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.  Who better to raise the curtain on this installment than Charles Wilson Peale, whose 1822 self-portrait “The Artist in His Museum” appears above.  The Peale Museum was a wunderkammer of the first order, and its famous mastodon skeleton can be seen looming in the shadows behind the curtain.

Workshop of the artist
The concept of ‘artist’ is well defined as an individual with artistic talent who produces artwork credited solely to their name.  Historically, artistic practice has been a collaborative process with several artists or craftsmen working together in a workshop.  While the artist may serve in a supervisory capacity overseeing the implementation of the original design, workshops were the original training centers where the young artists learned from an experienced master.  The training of apprentices was an essential part of medieval workshop practice.  Artists were considered highly skilled craftsmen working as a member of a team in multiple media.  The subsequent period of the Renaissance brought wider, individual recognition.
The Mourners represent an exquisitely carved funerary procession made by the sculpture workshop employed by the Dukes of Burgundy.  In the 14th and 15th centuries, the Valois Dukes of Burgundy were among the most powerful rulers in the Western world, and their significant artistic patronage drew artists, musicians and writers to Dijon, France.  Innovative and prolific, the ducal court’s sculpture workshop produced some of the most significant art of the period, as well as its most talented sculptors, including the masters of the Mourners, Jean de la Huerta and Antoine le Moiturier.


Mary Rose Museum
Take a CGI fly through of the Mary Rose Museum at their YouTube site.  Note the use of light in this exhibit, from the display of artifacts and illustrative exhibition information describing the service of this ship, to its final battle and sinking. 
Experts have claimed that the wreck of the Mary Rose was located in the 1830s thanks to HMS Royal George, the largely forgotten flagship that sank at Spithead in August 1782. More than 900 people were killed when the 100-gun battleship took in water through its open gun ports during repairs on its sea cock – a valve on the hull. According to Stuart Haven from the Royal Marines Museum, local fishermen asked divers who were trying to recover the wreck of the Royal George to check beneath the waters nearby as their nets kept getting caught on something. A subsequent dive just one kilometer north-east of the Royal George revealed timber and guns from the Mary Rose.


Of Elephants and Roses
American Philosophical Society
Recalling the French golden age of natural science, this exhibition explores the exotic wildlife and flora that propelled science and culture during post-revolution France,1790-1830.  This collection is drawn from the Paris Museum of Natural History’s Jardin des Plantes and Malmaison, the private garden of Empress Josephine.
The artist Pauline de Courcelles Knip made studies of birds, particularly pigeons and created exquisite nature designs for porcelain reproduced by the esteemed Sevres Manufacture.   Her colleague, Pierre-Joseph Redoute, known as the “Raphael of Flowers”, specialized in the flowering plants adored by the Empress.  His spectacular painting of Amaryllis de Josephine, an extravagant species transported from South America, is a highlight of the exhibit. 
Black Swans for an Empress exhibits Josephine’s love of exotic birds, with images of rare African and South American birds including one of the Empress’ black swans, taxidermied 200 years ago, the likeness preserved forever on Sevres porcelain.  These are among the objects that will be on view from an era when Paris was the center of life sciences in the Western world, and Philadelphia, the center of science in North America.

A crazy labyrinth of art and architecture
A video showcasing the wonderful house designed by architect Sir John Soane, is the setting for his collection of antiquities.  This special treasure in the heart of London hides many secrets, including an Egyptian sarcophagus at the bottom of a cylindrical light courtyard.  For those not able to dash off to London and view this museum, the virtual experience is well worth watching more than once.

Gothic Ivories from the Courtland Institute of Art
The production of ivory objects flourished to an extraordinary extent during the Gothic period, especially in France; delicate statuettes, minutely carved diptychs and triptychs, mirror backs and wonderful caskets with secular scenes have survived in collections around the world.
This image from the National Museums Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery shows ‘Attack on the Castle of Love’, generally considered to depict the story of Guinevere and Lancelot.
The last comprehensive survey of Gothic ivories contained over 1300 items and was published in 1924 by Raymond Koechlin.  Since then, many more ivories have surfaced at auction, and in private and public collections.  These valuable articles have been catalogued, scientifically examined with increasing expertise to shed more light on the history of these exquisite objects.

 Trinity Church, Buffalo, NY
Trinity Church of Buffalo New York, built in 1886, is not only the home of wealthy congregants, but over 20 stained glass windows made by two great pioneers in the field; John La Farge, and Louis Comfort Tiffany.
La Farge may not enjoy the name recognition of his contemporary, but his achievements are equally noteworthy.  Trained as a painter, he turned to decorative work in stained glass and mural painting in the 1870s.  He revolutionized the centuries old practice of stained glass with several important innovations, including the use of opalescent glass, and the layering of sheets of glass to achieve depth and subtle color enhancements. He developed these techniques around the same time Tiffany was making similar experiments.  La Farge received a patent for opalescent glass shortly before Tiffany did.  These two artists set new standards of artistry in the medium, although competition between them turned the former friends into rivals.  The Sealing of the Twelve Tribes window helped to bring such advances to international audiences.  Before this window was installed in Buffalo, La Farge exhibited at the 1889 Exposition Universale in Paris, the French government awarding him the Cross of the Legion of Honor for the window’s technical originality.

 A Gorge in the Mountains, Kauterskill Cove, 1862
Sanford Robinson Gifford 1823-1880
I came across this tranquil image at the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.  The quiet beauty of the scene, be it either sunrise or sunset, gives one pause to appreciate the atmosphere of the vale.  Emulating JMW Turner, Gifford brings to life this storied locale, home to one of my favorite characters, Rip Van Winkle.  Take a moment to enjoy the dazzling sunlight between reality and reverie.

Thank you for visiting this week’s Cabinet of Curiosities.  Museum Monday will feature a virtual tour of the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine, Florida.  If you have any suggestions for the Cabinet, please add them in the comments section below.


Mary Jo


1 Comment

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One response to “Cabinet of Curiosities

  1. The Gorge in the Mountains is gorgeous, Mary Jo. Thanks for sharing these wonderful finds with us!

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