Cabinet of Curiosities

September 3, 2011

By Mary Jo Gibson

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.

The Barnes Foundation

This private museum in Merion, PA houses the collection of Albert Barnes, a stupendous assortment of Impressionist and early modernist paintings amassed by the pharmaceutical tycoon, opening in 1925.  What makes it extraordinary is not just the art, but the way it is displayed, in an antique looking salon with decorative metalwork like ax heads and hinges.  The move of this museum to a new facility in downtown Philadelphia created much hue and cry among the art community.  Whilst Mr. Barnes left a rigid charter stipulating that no picture in the collection “could be lent, sold or moved from the walls of the galleries he built”, mismanagement and the need for conservation have changed the future of this rarely seen exhibit.   The NY Times created a virtual visit to several of the rooms before the museum closed, so the history of the display and the building would never be lost.

Caravaggio for the iPad

CaravaggioMania has swept the world this year, the 400th anniversary of the artist’s death, bringing him back to life in the press with a variety of stories, from the illuminating autopsy of his remains to the recovery of the stolen masterpiece, The Taking of Christ.  Making the artist more accessible, an iPad app recently launched to spread his fame to the internet age.  Featuring video tutorials about the artist’s life and key works, pop-up images accompany explanatory texts, a map showing the artist’s tortured route through Italy, from the Rome of his birth to the Tuscan shore where he died.  An interactive 360 degree video of his paintings in the Galleria Borghese and a walking tour of the artist’s landmarks in the city are well worth the $1.99 price.


Dirt is waste, excrement, rubbish – is cleanliness next to godliness – or sterility?  In a throwaway society, does the battle against dirt depend on an exploited and half-seen underclass of cleaners?  The Wellcome Collection offers an informative and lavishly illustrated exhibition from the archives, featuring historical essays on the significance and implications of dirt from a microbial level through to the environmental.  Looking for a new twist on a story line?  Then this virtual museum may have the inspiration to prick your imagination.

Palazzo Doria Pamphilj

The Pamphilj family owe much of their fortune to prudently chosen marriages, amongst the most celebrated unions was the marriage of Pamphilio Pamphilj to Olympia Maidalchini, a rich widow whose inheritance enabled her brother-in-law Giovan Battista to engage on his religious career and later become Pope Innocent X (1644-1655).  It is through these alliances of great Italian families that the Palazzo’s collection was established.  Renowned masters Caravaggio, Tiziano,and  Raffaello can all be found.  The history of this building dates to the 16th century and includes some of the oldest Italian family names, Della Rovere, Aldobrandini, Doria and Pamphili.  The building itself is the outcome of 500 years of additions, annexes and expansion.  The quality and number of the masterpieces on display is not only remarkable, but the vast number completely covers the walls of the apartments.  Artists range from Annibale Carracci to Velazquez, and the history of the archive probably has a few stories as well.

The Holburne Museum

Sir Thomas William Holburne, 1793-1874, bequeathed a collection of well over 4,000 objects, pictures and books to the people of Bath, England; the second son, William first pursued a naval career, ultimately inheriting the Baronetcy in 1820 following the death of his older brother, Francis, at the Battle of Bayonne in 1814.  Sir William’s collecting was vast, covering 17th and 18th century silver and porcelain, Italian majolica and bronzes, old master paintings, portrait miniatures, books and furniture and a variety of other smaller items including Roman glass, coins, enamels, seals, gems and snuff boxes.  All of these give the exhibits a unique character.

This small piece, measuring 6.2 cm, is a miniature ivory carving, Garlanding the Herm; the breathtaking intricacy was produced by German ivory carvers G. Stephany and J. Dresch.

The Lost Leonardo

The art world saw continued coverage on the rumored lost Leonardo da Vinci, The Battle of Anghiari, possibly hidden behind a Vasari in the Hall of Five Hundred in Florence.  Financing is the major hurdle to achieving the end result of evidence that will compel those waiting for something other than supposition.  Having followed this story for several years since first viewing it on 60 Minutes, I can only imagine the frenzy involved if their theories prove correct.  Perhaps the city of Florence will realize the $265,000 needed for a gamma camera is a raindrop in the torrential downpour of tourism such a discovery will bring.  The NY Times has a great slide show of pictures and an up to date article on the continuing research.

Durer to Holbien

The royal collection surveys the influence of Northern Renaissance with images from Durer to  Holbein, Clouet and Gossaert thrown in for balance.  The years 1450-1550 saw a revolution in art and scholarship but with fundamental differences, setting it apart from the Renaissance of Italy.  Intense rivalry between the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor, the Kings of France and Henry VIII of England dominated the times.  Political ambitions mirrored the fierce competition between rulers to attract the best artists to their courts.  The invention of the printing press and the challenge of the Catholic Church by Martin Luther brought lasting effect on the arts.  The artists of the north responded to these changes with art of ingenuity, beauty and superb technical skill, creating the most compelling works of their time.  Many of these paintings were acquired by Prince Albert, who enriched the collection with rare Renaissance masters.

The Wallace Collection

Famous for old master paintings and 18th century French porcelain, this collection also includes princely arms, gold boxes, miniatures, sculpture, Medieval works of art and Renaissance majolica, glass, and Limoges enamels.  With an updated website that includes new features involving social media and interactive browsing, the Wallace Collection has expanded their digital information, sharing their unique pieces through the virtual museum experience.  A bonus is the Watteau App for iPad allowing instant accessibility for a global audience.


English Buildings by Philip Wilkinson

London’s Crystal Palace built for the great exhibition of 1852, later taken apart, re-assembled elsewhere, only later to disintegrate in a fire.  A few pieces of statuary remained, two purchased by Robert Heber-Percy, partner of Lord Berners, and installed on the grounds of Faringdon House.  The statue of Africa embracing Egypt is visible from the road, but others are locked away for security reasons.  Berners died in 1950, leaving the house to Heber-Percy, who added to the legacy by building a Gothic-inspired swimming pool.  Berners’ ghost is said to still stalk the grounds.

Murder in Weston-super-Mare

Splendid historical writing from Gina Collia-Suzuki based on intricate research of ancestry and newspaper information, featuring old photographs, maps and footnotes.  Having spent innumerable hours researching a lost family relative in an era I was unfamiliar with, I can appreciate the volume of work undertaken.  Gina succeeds brilliantly in presenting the story based on historical record.  Building the information into a story from resources such as parish registers, 19th century newspapers and magazines, and reprinted diary entries, the world her characters inhabit becomes a vibrant, imaginable place.

This week’s cabinet picture is the Hausburg Cathedral which I will explore further in the coming weeks. Museum Monday will be a virtual tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park, Illinois. Have any suggestions for the Cabinet? Please feel free to mention them in the comments section.





Filed under September

4 responses to “Cabinet of Curiosities

  1. One would think that Florence would make the investment given the millions that stand to made from the discovery of a new DaVinci. Hard to explain that to bean counters perhaps. Love the Durer to Holbein collection, magnificent drawings.

    Thanks for another excellent cabinet, Mary Jo!

  2. modemjunkie

    You mention that next week you will take us ti a Frank Lloyd Wright museum in Oakbrook, but I don’t think there is such a place. The Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio is in Oak PARK Illinois. There is an Oakbrook-Esser stained glass located in Wisconsin, but tha ts something else.

    Thanks again for your interesting curiosities this week.

  3. Thanks for catching that, Len! Have adjusted accordingly, should not have been in such a hurry.

  4. modemjunkie

    Too bad is it is a virtual tour, would love to have you visit us in the land of FLW.

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