Cabinet of Curiosities

By Mary Jo Gibson

August 31, 2012

The changes of the season will soon be upon us, but as the last days of summer wane, I bring a new Cabinet of Curiosities with several bits of interest. The cabinet picture is from the Victoria and Albert Museum, showing a Japanese lacquered incense box that may have belonged to Queen Marie-Antoinette of France.  The museum’s team of scientists have tested the materials and found that metals such as gold, silver and tin were used to decorate the surface, and what was thought to be red coral is actually made with a red pigment called vermilion.  Let’s open the drawers a take a look inside…

Restoration Secrets from the Vatican

Museum Secrets has added new content to their website, including an interactive tool for users to experience restoration of a fresco.  A back story tells of restoration work in the Papal apartments on several masterpieces by Raphael.  Old repairs that concealed damage to the faces of several popes revealed the name of the leader of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther.  How did this name appear on a work of Catholic religious art?  Find out at their link, Museum Secrets.

Opening up the Soane

The Soane Museum in London has added a video to their site showing the unique restoration project that is currently being undertaken.  Their archival library includes an inventory of all objects from Sir John Soane himself, and several books with watercolor drawings of the rooms.  Armed with this research, the restoration will be completed to the highest satisfaction of the donor’s standards.  The video offers a glimpse of the miniscule water closet, which contains one of the smallest sinks I have ever seen.  Take five minutes and find your imagination in awe of what awaits behind the door at Soane’s private residence in London, there is even a sarcophagus in the basement.

What exactly is a Cotehardie?

Clothing through the ages has changed radically, with art recording the variety of the times.  The Cotehardie was the first tailored garment in European history.  Prior to this, clothes were a variation on a bag with sleeves and a hole for your head, not exactly flattering.  An enterprising individual whose name has been lost through the passage of time experimented with cutting the fabric to fit the body like a glove, and a revolution began.  Images from art of the period showing women dressed in Cotehardies can be found at this link.

The true journey of the lost sock

I never thought that an old pair of stockings would have any significance, but a small collection from the Costume Institute is available on the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.  This particular pair dates from the late 18th century, made of silk with metallic thread.  A gift from Henri-Marcel Cadgene in 1955, I am truly amazed at what people have stored away in their homes.  I doubt the television program Hoarders would find anything of this value, but there is the possibility.

Tudor Roses and enough history to fill volumes

This emblem of King Henry VIII, the Tudor Rose, represents the combination of the House of York and the House of Lancaster.  When Henry took the crown of England from Richard III in battle, he brought about the end of the War of the Roses.    Given the symbolism and branding through the centuries at the historic King’s College Chapel, a virtual tour with explanations would greatly enhance their website.  Perhaps writers of the Dan Brown variety will find inspiration in this storied chapel.  Founded in 1446, I am sure there is some historical intrigue that can be fleshed out through research.  After all, master masons of the highest caliber were involved in the construction and decoration of this historic place.

Another lost Masterpiece makes news

Horse and Rider, the only known three dimensional piece of art created by Leonardo da Vinci was unveiled this week.  Taken from a 504 year old beeswax image, the sculpture is believed to contain a thumbprint of Leonardo.  Created in 1508 as gift for his patron, French military governor Charles d’Ambroise, it measures 12 inches high and 7 inches wide, and believed to be intended as a model for a much larger sculpture.  After Leonardo’s death in 1519, it was given to his apprentice, Francesco Mezi, remaining in the family until 1930.

When studied in detail, it was discovered that along the horse’s right breast a thumbprint exists.  While there is no possible verification available, it is believed to be Leonardo’s.

The beeswax sculpture was authenticated by Dr. Carlo Pedretti, widely considered the world’s foremost authority on Leonardo, and professor emeritus of art history and the Chair of Leonardo studies at UCLA.    The statue is currently on display at the Imagine Exhibition Gallery at the Venetian Hotel, Las Vegas.

Around the world with a virtual vacation

If funds are scarce this holiday weekend, take a tour from Best Places in the World.  Beautiful photographs of unusual points of interest across the world.  A short description of the historical context is just enough to whet the appetite for more research.  This photo of Mont Saint-Michel in France gives the briefest of vignettes, but the Wiki page provides a depth of detail.

Thank you for joining me for this week’s Cabinet of Curiosities.  Museum Monday will offer a virtual tour of the historic Red Rocks Amphitheater and their museum.  Join me for some of the most beautiful views outside the city of Denver, and a little music to complete the experience.



What I am reading over the holiday weekend.



Filed under August

2 responses to “Cabinet of Curiosities

  1. I have to respectfully disagree with the comment that, prior to the development of the cotehardie, clothes were “a variation on a bag with sleeves and a hole for your head, not exactly flattering.” While the cotehardie was the most fitted garment up until that time, what came before it could hardly be called a bag or unflattering. 12th century Norman women’s dresses, while loose in the body, had some beautiful and complex “angel-wing” sleeves. Into the 13th century, the gown became smaller and closer-fitting. Lacing was sometimes needed in order to get into the dress (meaning you couldn’t just pull it over your head), and the sleeves below the elbow were so fitted, they typically laced up. Viking women’s apron dresses could be quite fitted (even though they pull on over the head) and were elaborately embroidered.

    Calling pre-14th century clothing a bag implies that there was no attempt to shape it or construct it in any way, but most of that clothing was very well-engineered. Gussets in the armpit (which are not for a novice sewer) helped create ease in the sleeve and kept the underarm seam from ripping out. Numerous gores were needed to make narrow cloth much wider. And medieval people certainly knew how to lay out a pattern to avoid wasting fabric. Even if the clothing wasn’t hugging the body, it was as well-engineered as anything we’re wearing today, and often considerably more complex.

    And there’s the fact that a lot of our clothing today isn’t fitted (think a T-shirt). That hardly makes it a bag. 🙂

    Now, a pancho–that’s a bag with a hole cut out for your head!

  2. I remove my feathered cap and bow respectively to your superior knowledge!
    Thank you for correcting my flaw in such a well worded and informed response. You are a treasure.

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