Tag Archives: Boston Museum of Fine Art.

Turn the key. Open another door…

Cabinet, antiques, antiquities, Metropolitan Museum of Art, David Roentgen

Cabinet lock from desk designed by David Roentgen

Welcome to this week’s Cabinet of Curiosities, with a special visit to the new exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Extravagant Inventions, The Princely Furniture of the Roentgens.  As always, the drawers hold even more mysteries, so let’s begin!

antiques, antiquities, Metropolitan Museum of Art, David Roentgen, Abraham Roentgen

Rolltop Desk by Roentgen

Abraham Roentgen, 1711-1793, may have lived life as a cabinet maker, but his works were in the castles and private homes of the aristocracy, such was the outstanding quality.  He was admired in England for his interesting use of inlay, inventive mechanical fittings and the hidden drawers he used in his furniture.

Another feature found at this exhibition is the Automaton of Queen Marie Antoinette which I featured on this blog when the Google Art Project went to the Palace of Versailles.  This exquisite piece was produced by David Roentgen, 1743-1807, Abraham’s son.   Expanding the business with shops in Berlin and Saint Petersburg, David sold furniture to Catherine the Great of Russia.  This suite is believed to still be in the Palace of the Hermitage, the hiding place of so much remarkable and forgotten art.

Versailles, Google Art Project, Queen Marie Antoinette, Automaton

Automaton of Queen Marie Antoinette

The French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars signaled the end of David Roentgen’s career.  The Revolutionary government regarded him as an émigré, seized the contents of his showrooms and his personal belongings.  Following the invasion of Neuwied, his workshops closed and prosperity never returned; he died half ruined at Wiesbaden in 1807; albeit, the craftsmanship of this family of cabinet makers survived, perhaps to inspire a new generation.

Walters Art Museum, Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe, New Times, Holland Cotter

Three Mulattoes of Esmereldas, 1599, Andres Sanchez Gallque

“In a fall art season distinguished, so far, largely by a bland, no-brainer diet served up by Manhattan’s major museums, you have to hit the road for grittier fare.”

When an art reviewer begins with the above sentence, it can only mean more to come of a witty, well written article celebrating a new exhibition at the Walters Art Museum, Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe.  Surprising links to ruling dynasties, and long ignored history is the focus of Joaneath Spicer, the museum’s curator of Renaissance and Baroque art.

Agnolo Bronzino produced a portrait of Alessandro de Medici, who ruled Florence for seven years before being assassinated in 1537.  He is considered by historians to be the illegitimate child of Giulio de Medici, Pope Clement VII, and a black or biracial woman.  His dark skin was remarked on by contemporaries who nicknamed him Il Moro.

Walters Art Museum, Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe

Portrait of Maria Salviate de Medici and Giulia de Medici, 1539

The portrait of Maria Salviati de Medici and Giula de Medici (1539) shows a child of the Italian aristocracy with black facial features, confirming the intermingling of African and European blood in the Medici family.  My own research on the Journey of the Magi fleshed out the story of Carlo di Cosimo de Medici, 1430-1492.  The illegitimate son of Cosimo de Medici and a Circassian slave name Magdelene.

The reviewer of this exhibition has supplied me with the final explanation of why I prefer historical art: “…one of the saving graces of art – what keeps you coming back – is that it isn’t a bottom-line business.  You think you’ve come to an end, a conclusion, and there’s always more: the exception, the extension.”   Like the many drawers in the cabinet, each waiting to be opened, explored, and imagined.  Thank you Holland Cotter, for taking that trip to Baltimore!

Watson and the Shark, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, coat of arms, history

Watson and the Shark, 1778, John Singleton Copley

Scuto Divino

A coat of arms and this painting tell another great drama from the time of travel on the high seas.  Painted by John Singleton Copley, Watson and the Shark depicts Brook Watson, 1735-1807, as the young merchant seaman in great peril.  Watson survived, but lost the power of his right leg in the attack.  He went on to great success in business and politics, even serving as Lord Mayor of London.  When he became a Baronet in 1803, Watson specified that the coat of arms designed to mark the honor must include a visual reference to his ordeal more than half a century earlier.  Thus the upper left of the crest depicts the leg Watson lost to the shark in 1749, and the motto Scuto Divino means “under god’s protection.”

A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Wolf in Sheep's Clothing, Chicago Art Institute, Vote Early and Vote Often

Allegory on the Defeat of the Duke of Alva at Brielle

The first flowering of images of “the wolf in sheep’s clothing” type occurred in Germany and the Netherlands during the Protestant Reformation.  While the iconography is now difficult to puzzle out, an anonymous engraving dated 1580 from the Netherlands casts the dastardly Spanish invader, the Duke of Alva, and his forces as foxes in clerical garb, and the courageous Dutch nobles as geese.  These humorously be-spectacled fowl routed the Spaniards back out to sea from the recently captured town of Brielle.  This surprise counter attack occurred on April Fool’s Day, 1572.  The town’s name literally translates as spectacles, so afterwards it was often said that the Duke had lost his glasses on April 1.

Thank you for joining me for this week’s Cabinet of  Curiosities!  A short trip to New York, Baltimore, Boston, and Europe, but with so many interesting pieces of art and vignettes of history to experience.  Museum Monday will be coverage of the Chazen Museum and the Uffizi paintings and tapestries.  I look forward to chatting with you!
A late entry sent to me about the upcoming Vincent Van Gogh movie, Loving Vincent.  Take a moment to watch this unique animation telling his story, it will make you thirsty for more!




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Cabinet of Curiosities

August 19, 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 Museum Experience:

Rodolphe Bresdin may not be a household name, but a view of his work at the Boston Museum of Fine Art should bring him out of obscurity.  Born in 1822, the self-trained Bresdin taught a young Redon before fading into impoverished obscurity.  Known for small, almost miniature works; his masterpiece “the Good Samaritan” depicting a Muslim helping a Christian during the Syrian civil war, measures 22 by 17 inches; a collection of 124 images is on display at the Art Institute of Chicago, accessible on line, and a personal favorite of this author.

The Wallace Collection has a great event for Adults only; iTea and Biscuits Out of the Frame.  A UK initiative, providing opportunities for an older audience to get a taste of benefits from digital technology; any museum looking to expand its audience online or through the museum experience can benefit from this type of program.  Also at their site, Treasure of the Month, with an archive going back several years.  Excellent articles accompany the objects telling the life of the artist, the subject, and the history of their time.  I expect to be spending an afternoon relishing these images.

The Thinker, Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) Originally conceived as a depiction of the poet Dante, meant to occupy the center of the tympanum for The Gates of Hell, the intended doorway of the proposed Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris.  The Legion of Honor shares the history of this sculpture representing all artists in the pivotal act of intellectual creation.

The National Gallery online offers an historical perspective on what goes on behind the closed doors of an artist’s studio.  Close Examination: Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries investigates workshop practices, collaborations, copies and replicas.  The Virgin and Child with Two Angels by Andrea del Verrocchio, 1476, is one of the chosen paintings examined in minute detail.   Infrared reflectograms revealed extensive underdrawing with evidence of pouncing on the heads, hands and the baby, while the remainder of the composition is underdrawn freehand.  Analysis of the pigments and technique showed that they were entirely consistent throughout, but the hands give away the obvious presence of two painters.  Read the exciting story of this painting and the slow, methodical process attempting attribution.

The Morgan Library & Museum shares a beautiful pen and brown ink drawing by Canaletto, Giovanni Antonio Canal; 1697-1768.  The artist worked primarily with affluent English clients, visiting Venice on the Grand Tour and depicting picturesque details of everyday life invoking the Venetian atmosphere.  This is a rendering of the eastern end of San Lorenzo with adjacent houses in the Castello neighborhood.  The Morgan has a great zoom feature to bring the detail into the greatest size for the best study of such topical work.

The Eastern State Penitentiary, once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, stands today in ruin, a haunting world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers.  Known for its grand architecture and strict discipline, this was the world’s first true ‘penitentiary’, a prison designed to inspire penitence of true regret in the hearts of convicts.
The vaulted, sky lit cells once held many of America’s most notorious criminals, including bank robber “Slick Willie” Sutton and Al Capone.  A haunting video on their site highlights images of the penitentiary today and shots from a 1929 silent film created to celebrate Eastern State’s 100th birthday.  Take a moment to view the online 360 tour with 20 areas of the prison available, including death row.

Best of the Blogs:

The Undeciphered Grimoire
Gene Lempp tells the story of the rare and undecipherable text, the Voynich Manuscript, in his Designing From Bones blog series.  Created in the 15th century, the author remains in dispute even after years of scientific research.  Named for Wilfrid Voynich, who re-discovered the volume in a box of books sold by the Collegio Romano in 1912, the illuminated manuscript now resides in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.  Vellum pages filled with drawings of nymphs, unknown plants, fold out pages of unknown destinations, written in a language with no punctuation or decipherable meaning.

That story grandfather used to tell really is true…
Legend passed down from the grandfather of a local archaeologist tells of a lost amphitheater in the northern province of Britain.  Aldborough was thought for years to have been a Roman fort due to impressive stonewalls with curved outlook towers, known for a strategic position on Dere Street where the Hispana legion marched to its unknown fate in Scotland around 120AD.  Britannia Inferior, the reference to northern Britain in Roman Times, has not received the scholarly attention in study more populated areas experienced, but a geomagnetic printout from scanning reveals the legend to be true; a great tiered bank of seats below ground in a field that is only frequented by a herd of cattle.

Peter Paul Ruebens

Hotties of Art History
This irreverent blog is full of images culled from every page of art history.  The snappy commentary makes a great read, “for anyone who appreciates the sexiness of the old masters”. You never knew Peter Paul Ruebens looked like this!

Why Pierre de Fermat is the patron saint of unfinished business; in 1637, the mathematician jotted a cryptic conjecture in the margins of a textbook.  Google celebrated Fermat’s Last Therorem, a marvelous proof, which “this margin is too narrow to contain” found after his death in the pages of an edition of Diophantus.

an + bn ≠ cn for n>2

From 1637 until 1994, the mystery remained elusive, receiving notoriety in the Guinness Book of World Records as the World’s Most Difficult Math Problem.  The legend of unfinished business was solved by Andrew Wiles in 1994, his proof taking seven years to complete and ran over 100 pages.

Join me on Museum Monday as I finish my virtual tour of the Getty Museum! If you know of any great art or history sites, please feel free to share in the comments below. What interests you more, the art or the history?



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