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.

Mary Jo Gibson

July 22, 2011

History and Museums

Jan Lievens out of Rembrandt’s shadow -Lievens has spent centuries as a pale reflection in the bright light of Rembrandt, trained from the tender age of ten with Pieter Lastman, grand master of the complex narrative scenes found in ancient history, classical mythology and the Bible.  In the winter of 1631, the Flemish master Anthony Van Dyck painted Lievens’ portrait and not Rembrandt’s, a likeness that would appear in Van Dyck’s Iconography, a who’s who of celebrities of that art world.  View a selection of this forgotten master’s works at the Smithsonian Magazine.

Large -scale puppetry from the Detroit Institute of Arts, shared by the Paul McPharlin Puppetry Collection, on display through January 1, 2012.  Interesting history of touring marionette troupes from the late 18th and 19th century, on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the American Puppeteers founded in Detroit, MI at the Statler Hotel.  Art Babble has the story in video.

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography contains the histories of those persons famous and infamous.  Madame Tussaud, or Anna Maria Tussaud, enjoys a lengthy and colorful entry.  Having learned the art of wax modeling from her mother’s employer, she impressed Madame Elizabeth, Louis XVI’s sister, who invited her to Versailles where she stayed for nine years, giving lessons in wax modeling, and producing busts of the king, Marie Antoinette and two of their children.

It was Rembrandt’s birthday this week, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art shared their online collection of Rembrandt prints.  He created some 300 etchings and drypoints over the course of his career, paralleling his activity as a painter, rarely using his paintings in prints.  A great innovator of technique, using traditional materials in unconventional ways, his impact on printmaking carries through the centuries to the current day.

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts offers a new exhibition, Jewels, Gems and Treasures, ancient to modern. Featuring pieces owned by Coco Chanel, Mary Todd Lincoln and cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, in the first museum gallery dedicated entirely to jewelry.  A mode of self-expression that is traced back to the earliest civilizations, the exhibit features Rene Lalique hair ornaments to a gold, silver, carnelian and glass Egyptian Pectoral, circa 1783-1550 BC.

This week saw the anniversary of Caravaggio’s death.  The Museo del Prado has an invited work, “The Deposition” featured on their page, from the Vatican Museum.  The death of the “greatest artist in Rome” is surrounded in mystery, with the exact date uncertain.  An outlaw and exile, he was making his way to Rome to request a pardon for his crimes, with him the last three of his paintings, gifts for Cardinal Scipione.  He died of a fever in Porto Ercole, Tuscany.  Human remains found in a church in 2010 are believed to belong to Caravaggio, due to DNA testing, carbon dating of the bones and other analysis. Lead poisoning was the probable cause of death, as the paints used at the time contained a high amount of lead salts.  Caravaggio’s increasingly erratic and violent behavior towards the end of his life, may have been brought on by this exposure in the workplace.

A virtual recreation of Lisbon, one of the most populated cities of the time, prior to the earthquake of November 1, 1775.  Lisbon acted as a seaport, international trading station and political heart of an empire that extended from India to Brazil.  Portrayed by travelers as a mixture of abject misery, extreme religious devotion, baroque opulence and extravagance, the old Lisbon became a mythical city for 18th century Europeans.  Notably Voltaire’s Candide ou l’Optimisme (1759) had a significant impact on European 18th century thought, but after the earthquake, the old city with its particular morphological and social characteristics disappeared.

The Chrysler Museum is exhibiting American Masterpieces from the Batten Collection, featuring works by Winslow Homer, George Wesley Bellows, James Butterworth and Edward Willis Redfield, to name a few.  This museum founded by the many residents of Hampton Roads, Virginia, creating the Norfolk Academy of Art and Sciences, but through one of the most varied gifts ever made in American history to a single museum, Walter Chrysler, Junior, scion of the automotive company founder, donated nearly 10,000 objects to their collection, creating the museum that now bears his name.


Bibliodyssey is a digital archive of illustrated books covering a wide variety of styles, history and genre.  Artilleriebuch by Walter Litzelmann at the Bavarian State Library is the featured work.  This 500-page manuscript from 1582 is filled with sketches of bombs, cannons and fireworks.  Secrets of Saltpeter and gunpowder production are revealed within its beautiful calligraphy pages.

The National Trust has a great blog called Treasure Hunt.  If you follow this link and page down a bit, you discover an article on the library at Sissinghurst.  Filled with old first editions of some great art books, Edward Bunyard’s ‘Old Garden Roses’, Arsene Alexandre’s ‘The Decorative Art of Leon Bakst’, and WB Yeats ‘The Tower’.   Other inscribed first editions include Arthur Conan Doyle, Violet Trefusis and Virginia Woolf.  Vita Sackville West bought the ruinous castle in 1930, filling it with great objects, works of art, making it a home in tune with its great history.

Casanova: Doctor, Lawyer, Writer, Lover, and Booty Spook – Did you ever wonder what the great womanizer did in his spare time?  This blog by Piper Bayard’s partner Holmes fills in some of the gaps of this towering historical figure.  While conflicted about a choice of career, he entered the service of the church as a low-level priest!  While not successful in that endeavor, he continued in the employ of the Vatican as a spy on several missions, and was knighted.  Written by Piper’s partner Homes, this piece will give you a new twist on history.

If you have ever wanted to leave it all behind and live on an isolated island, away from society and all that entails, Gene Lempp has the place for you at Dystopia Island.  In the archipelago of St. Kilda off the coast of Scotland is the island of Hirta, with a history of inhabitants as far back as the Neolithic age.  Gene spins a story through history and daily life experiences of the inhabitants that will make you rethink your wish to leave it all behind.

Those Who Will Not be Drowned is a great blog treasury of history filled with unique items. The Widow’s Coffee House is the one that immediately caught my attention.  Mrs. Rookes of Bury seemed to be a mere footnote of local history but with a little archival digging, her reputation and that of her “Widow’s Coffee House”; an establishment that could not be referred to in polite or mixed society; enjoys a continued mention throughout the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.

For a great story behind the painted image, and a poem to illustrate, ‘Manfred on the Jungfrau’ by Ford Maddox Brown, at My Daily Art Display, will fill your mind with Byron and Pre-Raphaelite philosophies.  The anguish on Manfred’s face, fingers tangled in hair, the wind whipping at his clothing, all speak to the torture suffered by this character from Byron’s poem, ‘Manfred’.  Standing at the precipice of decision, you can feel the struggle of the subject with his morality.

Never Refuse a Drink from a Fairy at The Carmichael Watson Project.  A blog based at the Edinburgh University Library, centered on the papers of the pioneering folklorist Alexander Carmichael (1832-1912).  A treasure chest of stories, songs, customs and beliefs from the Gaelic speaking areas of Scotland, and he knew a thing or two about fairies and their customs.

The Grow Spot blog features a post on “The 13 Most Amazing Gardens in the World“.  If your yard is suffering with the heat wave of 2011, take some inspiration from these beautiful places.  The Versailles Garden built by Andre Le Notre for Louis XIV, the Bobobli Gardens at the Pitti Palace in Florence, Italy and the Claude Monet Gardens in Giverny, to name a few.

That is all for this week!  Join me on Museum Monday when I take a virtual tour of the Marian Koshland Science Museum.

Until then,


Mary Jo



Filed under July

12 responses to “Cabinet of Curiosities

  1. Thanks for the mention Mary Jo! What a fantastic cabinet this week. You always find a broad assortment of fascinating collections, I don’t know where to start. Maybe a walk in the garden before sifting through the illustrated works.

    Excellent Post!

  2. What an awesome mashup, Mary Jo. I love the variety and the intelligence of it. It’s an honor that you included Holmes’ blog. Off to check out these sites. Thank you. 🙂

  3. OL Shepp

    This is an amazing post. You have shared a wealth of information to absorb. I look forward to your posts. Keep it coming. Thank You!

  4. This post is an intriguing treasure hunt in itself, Mary Jo! Saw Madame Tussaud’s London in the ’80s and was fascinated by the death masks, especially poor Marie Antoinette. Thanks for the Carmichael resource. Hadn’t seen that one before. Nothing like a good faery abduction story!

  5. jamilajamison

    Wow, what a fantastic collection of links and resources! I will be eagerly devouring all of these.

  6. I was delighted to come across such a beautifully crafted blog and look forward to returning many more times

  7. Thank you Piper! Sharing all this information is one of my favorite things to do with my blog.

  8. The gardens are exquisite! I can’t even imagine the years of work it would take to attain such beauty. Imagine your squirrel army living there among sculpted topiaries.
    Kind regards,

  9. Thank you for your comment Shepp! These collections are what keep me hunting through the web to find little jewels of quality. Glad you enjoy them!
    Mary Jo

  10. Hi Elle! When I saw the headline for that story I just had to look at it, and then to discover a whole archive of such wonderful information, all collected by one man! The folklore of days past is finding new life with compendiums such as the Alexander Carmichael record.

  11. Hi Jamila! Thank you for stopping by to check out my cabinet. So much information is available on the web, I count myself fortunate to be able to share these wonderful places with others.
    Kind Regards!

  12. Hi Jonathan! Your Daily Art Display is a treasure I look forward to everyday. Not only the paintings, but all the history you include keeps my mind spinning most of the morning at work. Thank you for perusing my Curiosities.

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