Cabinet of Curiosities

By Mary Jo Gibson

Today I am highlighting one particular item in my Cabinet of Curiosities, called a Kabinettschrank (display cabinet in German), also known as a Kunstkammers/Cabinet of Wonders. This beautiful piece of antique artisanship was shared with me by the Getty Museum; the accompanying video opens the compartments for the closest scrutiny possible, giving a glimpse of the riches found in a nobleman’s private chamber.

Conceived to store items of artistic, natural and intellectual interest for the aristocracy and customized according to the interest of its intended, but now unknown, owner. Created around 1630, this example from Augsburg, Germany, might be from the workshop of merchant/collector Philipp Hainhofer. This artisan studied law at the Universities of Siena and Padua, later traveling extensively through Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, acquiring knowledge of art and several languages.

Elected to the senate of Augsburg in 1605 he was chosen as the political correspondent to the city by the King of France, the Margrave of Baden and Duke Philip II of Pomerania. His close association with the Duke came while acting as agent in the purchasing of art and objects for a curiosity chamber. He composed the famous Pomeranian Curiosity Cabinet, constructed in 1615 and gave it as a gift to the Duke. Tragically, the cabinet was destroyed during a fire at the end of WWII.

Philip of Pomerania and other princes used Hainhofer for various diplomatic missions, the contacts on these journeys also served to develop his business as an art agent. Letters in the Medici Archive from 1618 received by the cavalier Camillo di Francesco Guidi, ambassador to France, share correspondence with Hainhofer. In 1632 he presented a cabinet to King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, now one of the best preserved of his creations, on display at the Museum Gustavianum at the University of Uppsala. Another made for Augustus, Duke of Brunswick-Luneberg, resides in the Rijksmuseum in Amersterdam.

Kunstkammers became status symbols for the Renaissance princes, intended to reflect the prestige of both prince and principality. Philipp Hainhofer conceived miniature editions of Curiosity Chambers, produced for the nobility and displayed in the owner’s drawing room for his enlightenment and entertainment. The contents of the cabinet were, as a rule, taken from Hainhofer’s own collection.

This cabinet’s design reflects the perceptions of the known universe in the 1600s, giving a holistic view of the cosmos through references to history, mythology and Christian faith. Much of the imagery as well as the types of materials and techniques used have evolved since antiquity. Exterior double doors open to reveal an elaborate interior, featuring tiny devotional paintings on the drawers and a miniature chapel behind a smaller door at the center.

The door covering is pietra paesina, an Italian marble with evocative natural patterning, concealing a space designed to suggest a chapel. The arched entryway inlaid with lapis lazuli, architectural details such as tiny doors add to the illusion of a room.

Agate, jasper and lapis lazuli pave the floor of the chapel; jasper imported from India, lapis lazuli came from Afghanistan. Such gemstones were not valued for their beauty and rarity, but for their perceived supernatural properties.

Doors represented at the back of the miniature chapel may allude to the passage of the soul from death to eternity. The veneered tortoise-shell in the central panels tinted red in reference to Christ’s blood, underscoring the belief of faith as a key to the afterlife.

Prominently displayed on the ceiling are instruments of Christ’s passion. Framed portrait medallions hang over each door.

Symbols of death displayed with those of eternal life above, a funerary urn and oil lamp, behind a scorpion and crossed torches. The leaves of certain trees represent resistance to death; oak is associated with strength and religious faith; holly and laurel are evergreens.

A mythical creature, the Basilisk combines the features of a rooster, snake, and a bird of prey. Its gaze fatal, it often serves as a symbol of death, encircled by a snake eating its tail representing eternity.

An armillary sphere is an astronomical instrument with rings encircling a model of the earth. Astronomers used it to demonstrate planetary rotations and star positions. A wealthy, educated individual like the owner of this cabinet may have owned an armillary sphere.

“To collect”, means to gather and by extension, to organize what has been collected. For that reason, display cabinets are considered forerunners of systems of classification, from encyclopedias to museums. I enjoyed researching this masterpiece of antiquity. In the coming weeks I will share information on the other compartments and the mysteries hidden therein.

Mary Jo Gibson, This Write Life

Does the thought of the Grand Tour fascinate you? The idea began in the 17th century, gaining popularity throughout the 18th and 19th century and continuing through today as a popular reference for travelers. First considered a mobile finishing school in art and manners, practiced by royalty and aristocratic families with an enthusiasm for travel; the benefits of elevated social status and educational enhancement were considered a pedigree of ‘good breeding’ from new cultural experiences and adventures.

The greatest site I have found on the World Wide Web so far; Imago Urbis: Giuseppe Vasi’s Grand Tour of Rome; bringing two completely unrelated time periods into one comparative tour. From the grand master of Roman topography, Giambattista Nolli, who published the first accurate map of Rome, and Giuseppe Vasi, whose documentation of the city and its monuments inspired famous Europeans such as Byron and Shelley to take the “grand tour.”

Over 240 of Vasi’s topographic prints are presented in detail and in relationship to Nolli’s map. Their work and methods are interpreted through analysis of the artistic and historic context. With photographs of the current appearance of the sites, the text gives detailed historical content, record of buildings, street names, architect, dates and demolition histories of the area. The three half-buried columns of the Temple of Castor and Pollux at the Chiesa di S. Maria Liberatrice, includes descriptions of a cattle trough where three jets of water pour into a circular basin.

All the background information is available on one page, this is a rare find for anyone wanting to view history in contrast with the current day. This site is sponsored by the University of Oregon, and funded by the generosity of the Getty Foundation. I am grateful to the Getty for connecting me to their prodigious online archive, and have a plethora of things to share with you; most notably, a mirificent cabinet of curiosities that will have a featured page in my next cabinet column.

Stamps-tiny pieces of art

A new set of stamps has been released honoring pioneers of American Industrial Design.

Unable to make careers in the fine arts, this group turned to industrial design as a way to make a living. Many were previously set and costume designers, involved in the advertising profession or window display. Industrial design emerged from the 1920′ and 30’s, when manufacturing turned to designers in order to create products with a modern look. After WWII products were mass produced and designers experimented with new materials, plastic, vinyl, chrome, aluminum, plywood, also reducing the price and providing wider availability.

The stamps honor Peter Muller Munk, Frederick Hurten Rhead, Raymond Loewy, Donal Deskey, Walter Dorwin Teague, Henry Dreyfus, Norman Bel Geddes, Dave Chapman, Greta von Nessan, Eliot Noyes, Russel Wright, and Gilbert Rohde.

Related artifacts can be found in the Cooper Hewitt collection, where the dedication ceremony of the new stamps took place. Rhead’s Fiesta ware, cameras designed by Teague who worked with the Eastman Kodak company; dinnerware designed by Loewy for the Concorde airliner; drawings and examples of flatware from Wright; drawings for John Deere tractors and models of Bell telephones by Dreyfus. The Cooper Hewitt also holds the archives of Henry Dreyfuss and Donald Deskey.

Dutch and Flemish Masterworks

The de Young Fine Arts Museum has a new collection opening this weekend “Dutch and Flemish Masterworks.” On their website is a great timeline to refresh your 17th century historical facts. From 1600 when wigs and dress trains became fashionable and Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, the founding of the first university in North America, Harvard College, to the year ice cream became a popular dessert in Paris. All interspersed with highlights of this collection, Anthony van Dyck, Rembrandt van Rijn, painting during the era when William Henry announced the discovery of the circulation of blood.

Furniture as Art

Art Babble will introduce you to a French writing desk, but this is not an ordinary piece of furniture. A video from the Getty Museum shows how a small table could be transformed through mechanical ingenuity with just the turn of a key opening many drawers and compartments. The 3-D visuals and intricate design of the table make it a true work of art to engage all the senses. Imagine what could be hidden away in this small piece of furniture, waiting to be found.

Renaissance Men on Television

Peabody Award winner, Emmy winner, Grammy winner, free Pepsi winner, but is Steven Colbert truly a renaissance man? Or does he have only puissant skills? Steven Colbert and James Franco expostulate on the lower common denominators, and true aesthetic moments. Enjoy clips from the Colbert Report and a deep Tolkien discussion.

By Mary Jo Gibson

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.

By Mary Jo Gibson

Time Travel, by way of a Tiny Painting, by Michael Kimmelman.
A small painting by Velazquez at the Prado of the Villa Medici around 1630; the descriptions in this short article are what I wish I could personally convey every time I discuss what I think great art is and why.


A daily source of anything and everything related to the 18th century. This particular page has a painting by Jean Honore Fragonard (1732-1806), “Italian Interior”. The chaotic domestic scene makes one glad for the advances of time.

A wonderful collection of photos from around London, and short essays on the history of the subject. This picture of a church by Sir Christopher Wren in South London, post the Great Fire, and the accompanying story gives an informative overview on architecture and the rebuilding of the city.

The Family Recorder shares a link from Documentsonline and the digital microfilm initiative. A must for anyone researching family history using the British National Archive, the extensive record is also a great place to find character names and research the lives of ordinary citizens of the realm.

Beloved Eleanor
The National Trust for Scotland has made available online virtual tours of their sites. These are incredible! The Falkland Palace alone is worth looking over, the oldest tennis court in Britain, the stained glass outside the chapel, and don’t forget to look at the ceilings.

The Secret History of Art tells a reader’s story about a possible lost Renoir and his quest to validate the mystery. Noah Charney adds this to his wonderful blog about art historical mysteries and art crimes. Perhaps you have a painting you believe is a lost masterpiece, if so, this would be the place to start.

Museums and Libraries:

The New York Public Library has a great new online collection called Biblion. Unfortunately it is only available through iPad, but does contain a great archive of the 1939 New York World’s Fair. The site opens hidden parts of the collection and the myriad storylines they hold through a unique immersive experience.

Black Book Magazine has an excellent article “An Inside Look at the Lives & Art of Those Who Guard at the Met Museum.” Putting into perspective the job of a guard, their influence on visitors, and their response to the art they protect. This group of individuals set a standard many museums need to follow. I make this statement from firsthand experience with a guard that had no idea where the Rembrandt was, nor the Bernini, but was more than happy to tell me he knew all the latest basketball scores.

If you are looking for some random art inspiration, the National Gallery of London can give you an idea or two. Their new generator is designed to give their collection more online exposure, 10 masterpieces at a time. Easier than browsing Artist A to Z when you don’t know exactly what you are looking for, but your muse does.

Indiana University has acquired the library of Bernardo Mendel, collector of early Latin American exploration texts that include geographical maps, navigational records, early Mexican imprints and atlases from the late 16th century through the 19th century. A sequence of letters from Vespucci, Cortes, Columbus, de la Vega are just some of the authors giving first hand information of this historical time.

Rebecca West, the Forgotten Vorticist
The Tate has a new exhibit on the Vorticist movement in art and literature. A writer from this intellectual melting pot leading up to the first world war, Rebecca West could not be contained in a single genre. A career lasting 70 years, she worked in journalism, polemics, travel writing and fiction with a distinctive voice that would be at home in a contemporary audience.


Akashic Books
An indie publisher with a hit book on his hands, you may have heard about Adam Mansbach’s new book, “Go the F— to Sleep,” but the story behind how it came to be is fascinating in itself.

And finally, this blog would not be complete without the mention of a possible new Caravaggio. Discovered in a private collection in Britain, it will appear in print for the first time in a book produced by Yale University Press. For a painter that has been dead over 400 years, this is a great find, but the mind wonders, how much art does the owner have that this monumental piece of work has been ignored? You be the judge and tell me if you think it is a comparable work by this great, albeit short lived, master.

Mary Jo Gibson

This week’s cabinet starts with the ‘Causes of Color’ from WebExhibits.  Several topics can be explored on this site, including Bellini’s ‘Feast of the Gods’, Van Gogh’s Letters and the History of Butter.  The overview of the Bellini painting covers many facets of the story behind the work, Titian’s contribution to the landscape, and the National Gallery of Art’s 1950 X-ray photographs.  These reveal previously unknown compositions of landscape, and several comparative styles and methods are portrayed to illustrate the conclusions of the investigation.

The Secret History of Art, a website by Noah Charney author of Stealing the Mystic Lamb, offers many articles on art related topics.  He is currently teaching an ARCA Masters Certificate Program and has posted the syllabus of the course.  Studies include Art History and Criminology covering the ancient period of Egypt, the sack of Rome, Velaquez’ Rokeby Venus, the IRA and Rubens’ Adoration of the Magi, and Plain Old Idiocy: Ammanati’s Neptune.  These topics are a great way to start researching art history for those of us that just can’t stop learning.

The Birmingham Museum and Library was shared with me by @HistoryNeedsYou on Twitter.  Containing the largest online collection of PreRaphaelite Resources, the archive provides a full record of information, allowing users to examine images in great detail.  Paintings, sketches, detailed hand drawings and personal collections makeup the over 3000 images available.  The record includes basic data with additional factual and interpretative information on the image.  Related works are listed and can be viewed without the need for another search.  There is also discussion and contributions from the online community and experts in the Pre-Raphaeliltes.

The British Library shared its collection of 19th century books with iPad, providing a new app.  These are not an ebook but scanned original copies, including illustrations and pull out maps, giving readers the best way to experience old books the way classic authors intended.  Other formats, including Android are being looked at for the project in the future.  As the owner of a smart phone and a PC person who cannot afford the fancy i-Life, why are these things not considered altogether?  I impatiently await their update.

Bloomsday is being celebrated by the James Joyce Center on June 16th.  This anniversary commemorates the day the author of Ulysses first went out with his future wife, Nora Barnacle.  The novel Ulysses follows the life of Leopold Bloom and a selection of curious characters from 8am on 16 June through to the following morning.  There will be readings, performances, re-enactments and a host of other events across the globe, and this author may even find a moment to read a chapter of the infamous book.

Edward Goldberg, PHd from Oxford, teacher at Harvard and founder of the Medici Archive Project; his latest endeavor “The Jews at the Medici Court” stems from a collection of letters from Benedetto Blanis to Giovanni de Medici in the Medici Archive.  Blanis was librarian to the illegitimate son of Grand Duke Cosimo, Don Giovanni, managing the library in the Florentine palace.  Reading the letters of this historically ‘lost’ individual in the communiqués with Don Giovanni, is a researcher’s dream come true.  I look forward to the release of this book in October 2011.

The British Postal Museum Archive has two significant collections that span over 400 years, the Royal Mail Archive and the National Postal Museum.  The leading resource for all aspects of British postal heritage; from staff records to stamps, transport to telegrams; the visual and written records cover the innovation and service including the history of the first postage stamps begun as a government reform by Rowland Hill in the 1830s.  An interesting entry under Curious Objects presents W Reginald Bray who tested the limits of postal regulation by mailing a frying pan, seaweed, and even himself more than once, earning him the nickname ‘the human letter’.  My favorite is a rabbit’s skull, unwrapped, with the stamps on the back of the head and the address written across the nasal bone.

The Indianapolis Museum of Art display online “Sleeping Cupid” by Caravaggio, 1595.  Cupid enjoyed great popularity after Michelangelo revived the image in the 16th century.  Although many artists were inspired to take up the subject, Caravaggio’s dark Cupid is remarkable for its affirmation of love’s peril.  The provenance of this painting is short, starting in the private collection of convent in Ireland(1), Count Ivan Podgoursky(2), 1948, to GHA (George) Clowes, 1952, The Clowes Fund collection, 1958, on long-term loan since 1972, and given to the museum in 2010.

“Look out Pilgrim, don’t get so close, don’t rouse him, pretend that he sleeps forever and never wakes up.  If you break the clever boy’s sleep, right away you’ll see him take up more strongly those weapons that make him worse than Death.”
Gimabattista Marino, La galleria, 1620

{1} A. Ian Frasier, former curator of the Clowes Collection, writes in A Catalogue of the Clowes Collection, Indianapolis 1973, p. xxvii: “For a long time this picture was in a convent in Ireland.” This information has not been verified.
{2} In an undated photo, Sleeping Cupid appears on an easel in Walter Friedlaender’s classroom at New York University, see Karen Michels, “European Art Historians Meet the New World,” in Michael F. Zimmermann, The Art Historian: National Traditions and Institutional Practices, New Haven and London, 2000, p. 64.


University of Wyoming Digital Herbaria
This collection contains plant specimens dating from the late 1800’s, recently digitized and put into an online database, searchable by type, genus, offering 1669 specimens currently.  Using Google Map technology to identify locations of species and expandable images, this is an excellent resource for any writer searching for that elusive bit of flora information crucial to a story point.  University of Wyoming Digital Collections

JJ Grandville, 1803-1847, French caricaturist and cartoonist, enjoys renewed interest on the worldwide web thanks to Andy Saurus.  This collection of drawings is taken from two German books, Grandville I and II, featuring animals, political satire, and death comes calling. The small thumbnails only give you a taste of what each picture has in store for your imagination.

Foundling Voices from the Foundling Museum is a digital collection of memories, photographs from the Foundling Hospital covering the years 1739-1954.  A rich depository of the orphan experience not only from the child’s point of view, but also the parent.  Notes, trinkets and swatches of cloth give the site an emotional connection to the life of an orphan.  London’s first home for abandoned children, funded through a campaign by philanthropist Thomas Coram, artist William Hogarth and composer George Frederic Handel,  a meticulous archive includes Baptism Registers, Inspection Books, Nursery Books and Apprenticeship Registers, and a catalog of the hospital archive.  Researchers in family history can find information on lost family foundlings, and any writer looking to include the orphan experience will be thrilled with the information and oral histories provided here.  Foundling Museum

The Venice Biennale takes place this week, displaying the latest cutting-edge art, but a collection of 400 year-old canvases is also on display. Three paintings from Jacopo Tintoretto moves the Biennale out of their comfort zone.  The emphasis is to provide stimulation to new and original expressions in today’s art, a market some consider overrun with repetition.  These priceless works will be restored through funds from the Biennale Foundation, to be displayed later this year with the three other pieces from Tintoretto’s “St. Mark’s Cycle”, at the Gallierie dell’Accademia.  Venice Biennale

A great research project came to light this week, Tracing Bosch and Bruegel, Four Paintings Magnified.  The goal of the research is to discover the origin and inventor of the composition using infrared imaging, x-radiography, and pigment sampling to gain information on the art market of the 16th century Netherlands, providing a historical perspective on the practice of making copies and replicas in this period.  The four paintings can be ascribed to the most innovative and influential artists of the day, Hieronymus Bosch, 1450-1516, or Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1527-1569, who in the 16th century was nicknamed ‘the second Bosch’.  Tracing Bosch and Bruegel

The Musee d’Orsay, a bastion of impressionism style ranging from 1848 and 1914, includes sculpture, photography, decorative arts, and paintings.  Countless styles influenced each other during this period reflecting not only the art, but scientific mediums as well.  Witness to the relentless progress of the day and displayed in a former train station the collection offers a unified display for its large diversity of volumes.  An interactive floor plan allows the virtual visitor to explore without knowledge of what is available, allowing a surprise for the senses with each click of the mouse.  Musee d’Orsay

The Hispanic Society Museum and Library is one of the hidden gems I found through @MuseumNerd on Twitter.  It houses not only an El Greco, but also a Velazquez, Portrait of a Little Girl (1638).  The collection covers early Spain, Medieval Art, the Golden Age and Modern Art.  Housed in the Beaux-Arts building on Audubon Terrace, the society, founded in 1904 by Archer Milton Huntington, is a free museum and reference library for the study of arts and cultures of Spain, Portugal and Latin America.  Hispanic Society Museum and Library

A unique survivor of old New York is the Merchant’s House museum.  Home to a prosperous family for almost 100 years, showing complete furnishings, decorative objects and memorabilia while giving a rare glimpse in to domestic life during the mid-19th century when New York City was transformed from a colonial seaport into a thriving metropolis.  The website offers a 3-d, panoramic view of the rooms, giving excellent reference to the living situation of the times for any writer or artist.  An interesting tab on ghosts and paranormal experiences at the house give an added dimension of possibilities.  The Merchant’s Museum

Beginning in May, 2011, Yale University began offering free online access to images of millions of objects housed in its museums, archives and libraries in accordance with a new ‘open access’ policy.  Rubens to Blake, Mozart original scores, the Book of Hours, Hieroglyphs from Egypt, and maps from Francis Drake are now accessible within the collection.  The Digital Commons contains 1,464,694 unique items ranging from Paleontology to Coins.  Yale University Digital Commons

In this week’s cabinet, I have several museums that have embraced social media by sharing pieces of their collections with the online community.  This new movement to expand their audience in the digital age has been slow in coming due to many reasons, Copyright is the biggest hurdle, but thanks to Facebook, Twitter and the Google Art Project, new exhibits and permanent pieces are finding a whole world of art lovers.  The physical museum visit can never be replaced with the small screen, but take a moment and fill your senses with these offerings.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Washington Haggadah, Delights of Ornament, on loan from the Library of Congress.  This illuminated manuscript portrays scenes from daily life with decorative motifs found in contemporary Italian manuscripts.  The artist chose individual elements with suggestive detail to enliven each page.

Couch & Footstool from the Imperial Villa of Lucius Verus (co-emperor, 161-69 AD).  Carved bone with friezes from scenes of imperial Roman life.  Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917.

Motherhood Connections, narrative by lecturer Jean Sorabella, shares several images of the idealized depictions of mothers through an array of mediums.

Fatherhood Connections, narrative by gallery supervisor Tim Healing, features work by Van Gogh, several American painters and timeless photographs of fatherhood.

The Art Walters Museum has a special Facebook feature, What Will You Discover, that is one of my favorites.  Not only do they offer glimpses of their latest exhibit, they also showcase pieces from their extensive collection.

Arab Kneeling in Prayer, Charles Bargue, 1826-1883.  This intimate charcoal drawing is not on view in the regular collections.

Hercules and the Erymanthian Boar by Antoine-Louis Barye (1795-1875), depicts Hercules in the third of the twelve labors assigned to him by Eurystheus, King of Mycenae.

Intaglio of a Kneeling Warrior, Etruscan, 1st century BC, a rare piece of antiquity with exquisite detail.

The Morgan Library and Museum exhibits the diaries of Henry David Thoreau, Jan Austen, Anais Nin and Bob Dylan,The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Life.  Sharing the private pieces of emotional havens, memoirs and uncensored confidences.  Included are “The Diary” podcasts are, Do you remember your wedding day? Listen to Charles Seliger’s diary entry on his wedding day… “The great and magical day has arrived…” and “Boating with Thoreau”.

The Morgan also has a blog with excerpts of letters and art such as the “Great Horse Controversy” by John Ruskin.  “Give a horse a nut & see if he can hold it as a squirrel can.”

Detroit Institute of Art, Search the Collection link,The Wedding Dance, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.  This painting has a great rollover effect that allows the viewer to study the individuals depicted, their own unique identity and actions in the dance.  Thankfully, codpieces are no longer in fashion!

I have been watching the restoration of the Peacock Room belonging to founder Charles Lang Freer where he displayed his collection of ceramics.

This exhibit started with the bare walls and shelves designed by architect Thomas Jeckyll for shipping magnate Frederick Leyland in London.  The current rolling presentation is based on photographs taken in Freer’s Detroit residence in 1908.

Amy Stewart, author of Wicked Plants from Algonquin Books, now releases Wicked Bugs.  Museums and Botanical Gardens have seized on this concept to tell the history of plants, their interaction in human life and their secrets.  The Tuscan Botanical Garden even created their own fictional character “Dr. Ergot Ratbane” and his mad plant laboratory.

The Chicago Art Institute, created a Twitter persona, @CourtierRobert, for their Kings, Queens and Courtiers exhibit.  Communicating with 140 characters in Renaissance English shows what great minds are at work in Chicago.

The Mighty Hamster Roared

That smell wafting across France is not because someone neglected to change the cage filling; the European Commission has brought a case against Paris for allowing the Great Hamster of Alsace, the only wild hamster in Western Europe, to decline to the point of extinction; Cricetus cricetus is larger and prettier than its familiar domesticated cousins, and the remaining 250 animals have had their habitat decimated by suburban sprawl.

Read more on the plight of this creature at the Independent of Scotland.

Goldsmiths’ Company

The oldest livery in London, established in 1327, teaching technique and artistry skills while focusing on design, art and concept. They have an extensive library, and an archive of drawings that would inspire any artist.

Sherman Library and Gardens

California offers a unique twist on many artistic frontiers. Chef/restaurateur Pascal Olhats and artist Timothy J. Clark combine the concept of eating and viewing art inspired foods. A soothing watercolor of the seaside combined with a filet of sole or California mussels inspire new thoughts during a contemplation of senses combined.

Ivan Konstantinovitch AivazovskyPainter of the Sea

Born in the Crimean peninsula, he studied painting at the Imperial Academy in St. Petersburg and became court painter to Nicholas I. His paintings of the sea show a fluid movement of nature, not the snap shot image. The viewer can feel the spray of the wave on their face, a true complement for an artist that did not work from nature, but from memory.

From Hairpin to Shoe Buckle

This exhibit offers more than 500 pieces of gold and silver clothing accessories at the Zilver Museum in Antwerp. The intricacies of ornament through the ages and the detailed artistic expression in these small pieces will give the visitor an appreciation of the distinct flair available from the smallest adornment.

A PDF on the exhibition with a few photos is accessible here.

La Bella Italia

Great Masters of Italian art are showcased in this exhibit to celebrate the heritage of the Italy provinces. 350 works displayed in the setting of “stables” highlight the different contributions made by pre-unification Italy’s distinct cultural centers and shed light on the historical contexts that shaped them.

“Art Tasting with Julian:” The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City has started a new monthly conversation designed to loosen up ways of looking at art for the public. Museum director Julian Zugazagoitia wants to “deepen the experience of the core group of regular visitors and make it relevant to those who haven’t been coming.”

The Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens will be showcasing “Wedding Belles; Bridal Fashions from the Marjorie Merriweather Post Family, 1874-1958.” If weddings are not your interest, the museum has a Russian collection with a research library, rare Russian books, Faberge eggs, porcelain, a chandelier once belonging to Catherine the Great and a crown worn by Alexandra at her wedding to Czar Nicholas II.

Aleksander Ivanov’s painting “Apparition of Christ to the People,” is available on the Google Art Project. Amit Sood, the visionary behind this groundbreaking effort, shared his purpose, “I think standing in front of the painting as it was supposed to be seen, as intended by the artist, cannot be replaced.” His inspiration has brought to the world the best second choice.

Vatican Splendors displays 170 works from the Vatican on its final stop at the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Two gilded, wooden angels from the workshop of Bernini, a 15th century cross from mass processionals, Pope Pius XI’s throne, and a reliquary rumored to contain the bones of St. Peter and Paul. The exhibit is multi-sensory with a touchable cast of John Paul II’s hand.

Great Blogs!

All Things Considered from author Gina Collia-Suzuki has recent posts from her trip to the Vatican. Her photos from this trip are tremendous!

Patrick Baty, owner of Papers and Paints in England, shares his fascination with architecture, paint and history. The story of Carlton House was of particular interest.

Stuff You Missed in History Class written by Sarah Dowdey gives short reports filled with detail on a variety of topics. Her piece on Caravaggio had an image from the Hulton Archive/Getty Images depicting the feisty artist that I had not seen before.

“So I Shot Him”

February/March issue of the Strand, contains the first of several recently discovered short stories by Dashiell Hammett.

The best of the European Fine Art Fairs at the Maastricht Exhibition and Congress Center, March 18-27.

Basel, Switzerland: From Daumier to Degas February 19 – July 07.
Lithographs including Honore Daumier, Delacroix, Bresdin, Corot, Pissarro, and Degas.

Blogger Laura Ruberto and the search in Oakland, CA for a misplaced Ralph Fasanella painting.

Rome: among high Renaissance Italian painters, Lorenzo Lotto, collaborator of Raphael and fellow Venetian Titian, but influenced by German contemporaries Durer and Grunewald. March 2 – June 12 show at the Scuderie del Quirinale, Italy.

London: Realist Jan Gossaert’s Renaissance, gets the recognition he deserves. February 23 – May 30 at the National Gallery.


5 responses to “Cabinet of Curiosities

  1. Pingback: Roman Paradise in the City of Angels | This write life

  2. Pingback: Morbid Curiosity at the Chicago Cultural Center | This write life

  3. why, what a profuse gathering of curiosities in your cabinet! most are absolutely intriguing. congratulations!

  4. Thank you! I love finding all these things, research is my passion. What kind of art or history interests you?

  5. Art in general is my cup of tea, but that produced between renaissance and the XXth century makes my wild passion. And history… history related majorly to art or intricate webs of political/social intrigues. So I venture to believe I share your love for researches on this sort of subjects.

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