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Cabinet of Curiosities

 

Cabinet of Curiosities

By

Mary Jo Gibson

A memorable Museum Experience engages the visitor on levels expected and unexpected. Participation with new technologies opens deeper communication and understanding of the exhibit, inspiring intuitive learning; museums have this ability in spades.  Making the old new again with hands on exploration moves an exhibit to a level of relevance not considered in the previous scope of art, deepening the connection to the viewer; bringing all the senses into the Museum Experience.

Authors Own

Augsburg Cabinet, Chicago Art Institute

Viewing the Chicago Art Institute’s Augsburg Cabinet is stunning, however, not complete, as the hidden treasures within lie beyond the opulent doors.  Technology has produced a stunning video that shows the inner workings of the cabinet, the separate compartments, and the art that adorn the deeper recesses.

Authors Own Interactive

Cabinets made in the southern German town of Augsburg during the 16th and 17th century are famous for their showy decorations, typically executed in ebony veneer and ivory inlay, as with this excellent specimen on display in Gallery 234.  The craftsmanship of this decoration is matched by the inventiveness of the cabinets’ interior structure, part display case, part tool chest and part safe-deposit box.  These were usually commissioned by one craftsman who subcontracted the various specialized components and then sold the completed object from his shop.  Cooperation between silversmiths, cabinet makers and goldsmiths, a constant aspect of Augsburg craftsmanship, facilitated the production of elaborately mounted mirrors, clocks, traveling services and these specialized cabinets.  Produced in small series, the cabinets usually have only minor variations in decoration, they are calculated to appeal, in iconography, ornateness and expense to a limited circle of the court and the upper bourgeoisie.

Augsburg Cabinet, Chicago Art Institute

Augsburg Cabinet, Chicago Art Institute


Iconography


Charity is represented atop the cabinet as a mature woman with small children.  She represents the Greek principle of unselfish love.  Three children accompany the figure of Charity, one as a baby in her arms (sadly missing his head due to damage over time), and the others two entwined about her legs, clutching her hands.

Authors Own

Charity, Augsburg Cabinet


Ornamentation


The Arabesque Ornamental forms that cover the outside of the cabinet contrast sharply with the black sheen of its ebony veneer.  These sinuous forms were characteristic across the decorative arts during this period.  The motif was heavily influenced by contemporary engravings of Islamic and Moorish patterns.

Authors Own Detail

Duchamp’s Fountain

I had the pleasure of listening to the BBC podcast of Marcel Duchamp’s Urinal, and must say I was quite taken by the subversive nature of this artist.  I would like to thank Ben Street for sharing this podcast on Facebook.

Duchamps Valise

I looked into some more of Mr. Duchamp’s art, and found that he was a close friend of Peggy Guggenheim, who lived in Venice.  Several of his Box in a Valise (Boite en-valise) are famous 3-d efforts in the shape of a small suitcase or valise, each remarkable on their own. These small cases contain miniature replicas and color reproductions of works by the artist. He gifted one to his patron Guggenheim, which included a small version of the celebrated fountain, perhaps a sample version of the original.   The exhibited urinal has never been found since it was first viewed by the  Society of Independent Artists committee in 1917, subsequently rejected, photographed professionally by Alfred Stieglitz, never to be seen again.

Duchamps Fountain

While ‘modern’ art and the various movements have never been my cup of tea, this story and its destabilizing undertones gives me pause to re-evaluate my personal thoughts on these creations, and the artists.

 

Francis Willughby, Unsung Natural History Connoisseur, and Batman, The Dark Knight Rises


Newton

Sir Issac Newton’s Principia (Philosophaie Naturalis Principia Matrhematica) famously was to be the first book published by the Royal Society, however this was circumvented by another publication, A History of Fishes, by Francis Willughby and John Ray.  Samuel Pepys was president of the society at the time and is named on the title pages of both books.  While Newton is a name that has survived the centuries with his apple and gravity conclusions, Willughby and Ray have fallen aside through the annals of time.

frontspiece willughby and ray

Willughby was once Ray’s student and the two travelled together, studying, collecting birds and fish.  After the untimely death of Willughby, Ray oversaw the culmination of their notes and drawings into three books. These studies are considered the beginning of scientific ornithology taxonomy in Europe, dismissing the older inaccuracies of Aristotle.  Their collection of birds and fish is stored at Willughby’s family home, Wollaton Hall now the Nottingham Natural History Museum.  Wollaton Hall, incidentally, stars as Wayne Manor in the Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises.  Trumped by Willughby, again I believe, Sir Newton.

Batmans House

Batman on the stairs

Thank you for joining me for this edition of Cabinet of Curiosities. Albrecht Durer will be following soon!

Cheers,

MJ

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Cabinet of Curiosities

Inside of view 3

The Augsburg Art Cabinet virtual tour is a featured item in this week’s Cabinet of Curiosities.

inside the Augsburg cabinet

The Museum at Gustavianum developed an exciting interactive view of this historic masterpiece, referred to  as the Eighth Wonder of the World.  Such high praise raises expectations to the extreme, although well deserved.  Not only is the cabinet one of the best preserved pieces of 17th century antiquity, the collected contents survived intact, providing a microcosm of the day and showcasing how these cabinets were more than a storage area for the eccentric odds of a collector.

outside doors of view 3

The items range from a bird house and miniature cannon, to a complete toilet set.  Each side of the cabinet is functional, gaming tables appear in hidden drawers, and religious paintings reveal personal worship items including a small porcelain ring painted with images inside the cylinder and out.  The interactive features allow the viewer to open drawers and remove covers, exposing these private items.

outside cover of cabinet 2

inside the Augsburg cabinet 2

mirrortoilet stand

The website requires a Flash player download, but is well worth the time to view these pieces and learn more about the history behind this cabinet.

The first story I want to share in this week’s cabinet comes from the Wall Street JournalJanet Stephens, hairdresser by day, intrepid researcher and historian by night, morphing into hairdo archaeologist.  Amateur scholarship, once frowned upon in academic circles, is now considered groundbreaking, as teaching methods and rote memorization of dates become learning styles of the past.

Roman Empress Julia Doman at the Walters Art Museum

Ms. Stephens’ story begins at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, where she observed the bust of Roman Empress Julia Domna.   The hairstyle amazed her, but recreating the gravity defying design proved a daunting task, and she turned to the history books for more information.  Dismissing the scholarly belief that these hairstyles were wigs, she discovered that sewing the braids together produced the correct results.  The rabbit hole of research revealed a Latin term, “acus” which was misapplied in the context of hairdressing.  The word has several meanings: a single prong hair pin or a needle and thread.

Ms. Stephens shared her research with the Journal of Roman Archaeology and was published in 2008.  The only other article published by the Journal by a non-scholar was written by a soldier who discovered an unknown Roman fort in Iraq.  Drawing on these practical experiences can break new ground in the field of research.  I am thrilled the view is changing to accept more research from unconventional sources.  Dismissing these research efforts does a disservice to the advancement of history in the modern day.

Tesla Letterhead

Nikola Tesla knew the value of his inventions, and the value of a dramatic letterhead to reflect these achievements.  A letter to JP Morgan, Esq. in 1916 commanded the attention of the famous financier and philanthropist.  The contents discussed the war and the manufacture of nitric acid through electrical processes, but the statement of the company through these images has a lasting legacy.  The page was shared by the Morgan Library and Museum, where a seemingly endless archive awaits the virtual tourist.

skylight of FLW house

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has furthered their pursuit of a virtual museum through short films at its new site, 82nd & Fifth.  Episode two offers an in depth view of the Frank Lloyd Wright house outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota.  A lake view home designed with open space far ahead of its early 20th century time frame.  Take a walk through the living area, feel the expanse of the room and the light flooding through floor to ceiling stained glass windows.  These two minute stories will be featured twice a week, expanding the vision of the Met through technology.

FLW living room

mount athos cross

The Athos Cross at the Courtland Museum is a technical virtuosity from the celebrated monastic community of Athos.  A center of miniature carving between the 16th and 18th centuries, the craft is still practiced by the monks of Athos today.  The perfect spelling of the inscriptions accompanying each scene suggests the cultured environment where the cross was produced.  Dated to the 18th century, the provenance has recently been revised because of the size, the added elements of the edges and the absence of metal, seeming to point to a 17th century date of execution.  Bequeathed to the Courtland in 1966, the cross did not go on display until 2012.  The cross is double sided, with a separate group of carvings represented on each, continuing a biblical story in chronological order.  The Courtland provides an interactive experience with this treasure, with each tiny scene filling the screen with detail and surprising depth.

raising of lazurus

A Paris apartment, untouched for 70 years, the treasures waiting like Sleeping Beauty to be discovered.  The owner, Miss de Florian, left Paris at the outbreak of WWII, never to return.  Seven decades later she passed away at the age of 91, her rent dutifully paid each month.  Her heirs left with the unenviable job of opening that door, revealing the time capsule.

Marthe de Florian

A further twist to the story is the discovery of this painting, a very important piece of art history, along with stacks of old love letters tied with ribbon.  The painting was by Giovanni Boldini, a member of the Belle Époque.  The woman in the picture is Ms. de Florian’s grandmother, Marthe de Florian, an actress and French socialite of the Belle Époque.  Despite Boldini being married, she was his muse and lover, the ribbon bound letters a testament of their relationship.

Time capsule apartment

Finding such a treasure after nearly a century is a collector’s dream, perhaps the family will publish the letters to put a final chapter to the story.

Lastly, I am excited to share a new show on Starz coming in April, Da Vinci’s Demons. The story is taken from the diaries of Da Vinci himself, and the cast of characters includes Lorenzo Medici, Giuliano Medici, Pope Sixtus IV, Clarice Orsini, Nicolo Machiavelli and Lucrezia Donati. An exciting prospect for the spring, don’t you agree?

My blog posts have diminished in the past two months due to my return to school to finish my degree. As my schedule reverted to a manageable level, I am able to continue with my first love, research and sharing information in this forum. Your patience, comments and follows are deeply appreciated.

Kind regards,

Mary Jo

outside doors of view 4

outside doors of view 3

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