Cabinet of Curiosities

At the end of every research week I have an assortment of interesting bits I find on the web, but have nowhere to share them. Creating this small post gives me a depository for extra information that I can share with my readers.

By Mary Jo Gibson

July 1, 2001

The Iris is a reference to the Getty Museum’s best-known painting, Irises by Vincent van Gogh.  The imagery is so real it has to be displayed behind glass because so many visitors want to reach out and touch it.

Vincent van Gogh, Irises

It is also the name of the Getty’s new blog The Iris: Views from the Getty, launching a conversation with readers about the inner workings of the center, with contributions by staff, scholars and grantees around the world.  Reaching beyond the community of Los Angeles to the larger international arts community will further the knowledge about their collection and the preservation of heritage.

Winged Hero Seal, Morgan Library

The Morgan Library and Museum shared some of the smallest objects in their collection, Ancient Near Eastern Seals.  Generally, an inch in height, these are the smallest objects ever produced by sculptors.  Pierpont Morgan collected 1,157 seals, becoming the core of Morgan’s holdings at the Yale Babylonian collection, which he founded.  To think that this amount of detail in an area so small was possible without sophisticated tools in these ancient times is almost unbelievable.  Perhaps there a technology that is lost to the ages that produced these unique carvings?

Henri Riviere, Breton Landscape

Henri Riviere created a collection of the finest complex woodcuts produced in 19th century France.  Emulating Japanese technique, the artist made his own tools, cut his own blocks, mixed the ink and did all of the printing himself.  Eager for authenticity, Riviere searched for antique Japanese paper to print from his blocks.  Critical commentary rewarded his efforts, the landscapes communicating the “quintessence of nature”.   The Cleveland Museum of Art has a vast online collection that includes these intricate examples of an artist’s dedication to his craft.

Tulip Staircase

Queen’s House was England’s first classical building, finished in 1638 and designed by Inigo Jones, following his study in Italy of Roman and Renaissance architectures.  All that survives of the original splendor is the painted ceiling of the Queen’s Presence Chamber, the ironwork of this famous staircase and the finely laid marble floor of the Great Hall. 
The elegant Tulip Staircase is the first geometric self-supporting spiral stair in Britain.  It is also the location of Rev. RW Hardy’s famous ghost photograph taken in 1966, which revealed what appears to be two shrouded figures on the stairs.  Here is a link to that photo, but I am unsure of the veracity of the story.

New York Public Library, 1911

This print from Scientific American shows the seven levels of the New York Public Library from 1911, a sectional view showing the elevators that moved books between the floors.  I find it interesting that there is not a single female in this picture.  Linked to a special lecture on Digital Humanities and the Future of Libraries, I do believe the digital age of libraries holds more than just the male interest of knowledge.  Don’t let on that women got the vote that year.

Works of art not on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art are available in the Collection Database.  Fifty-one unique prints and artistically bound books dating from the 16th century to 1970 cover a myriad of topics from architecture, a silver bound prayer book, furniture design and Condivi’s biography of Michelangelo from 1586.

Restoration of Saint Paul's Cathedral

After 15 years of restoration work, Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece, Saint Paul’s Cathedral is formally complete.  The work has transformed the interior, which included cleaning 150,000 blocks of white Portland stone and using state of the art conservation techniques, the light now floods the space highlighting mosaics, carvings and sculpture.  The work included a redesign and landscape of the gardens, restoration of the grand organ, and the American Chapel, dedicated to those who died in WWII, has been cleaned.  A virtual tour is available with the unique sound of footfalls on the marble floor with each click of the mouse.  Don’t miss the lower level crypt views.  This video clip will give you an inside view of the beauty that was the result of many years of work.

My final curiosity of the week is from the Cotswold History Blog.  A recent post “History, PR and Celebrity Culture” got me thinking about the way museums approach the public.  The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is offering a lecture on Lizzie Siddel the Original Super Model.  Is it necessary to use PR buzz terms to entice a younger audience?  Possibly, but will it really mean a measurable amount of attendance while alienating a core audience of repeat visitors?  These questions need consideration by each museum as it searches for better ways to communicate their exhibitions and lectures to a younger demographic.  Perhaps a survey or two will reveal the answer.  In the meantime, here is a link to the Costwold History blog.  How about some feedback on this subject?  I would be willing to share the views of my audience in a future post.

Until next time!





Filed under July

3 responses to “Cabinet of Curiosities

  1. Great Cabinet Mary Jo! The Tulip Stairway picture almost made me dizzy. It would be incredible to stand there and be able to see it in person.

  2. Hi Gene! Thanks for the comment. I believe I saw the staircase on the tours I attended so many years ago. The fact that the wrought iron flowers are not tulips sparked something in my memory. It is a great photo, glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Another fantastic roundup, Mary Jo! I took a course in Babylonian archaeology in grad school, was just fascinated with the delicacy of the seals. Thanks for the link to the Morgan and reigniting some memories of a favorite class!

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