Tag Archives: John Singleton Copley

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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Museum Monday

Timken Museum of Art

July 11, 2011

By Mary Jo Gibson

One of the best examples of the small museum experience is a hidden gem found in Balboa Park, San Diego, California, The Timken Museum of Art.  Home to a unique collection acquired by Anne and Amy Putnam who spent decades acquiring European old masters and Russian icons, spanning 600 years of Western art from early Italian altars to mid-nineteenth century French landscape paintings.  A special highlight is the only painting by Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn in the San Diego area, Saint Bartholomew, painted in the later period of the artist’s life, 1657.

St Bartholomew, Rembrandt, 1657

The historical roots of the Timken date back to the early 1900s when Anne and Amy Putnam arrived in San Diego with their parents, transplanting from Vermont.  The sisters had a deeply felt love of fine art and spent decades acquiring these masterpieces.    No time was more auspicious for the purchase of European paintings.  The Spanish Civil War and the beginning of WWII in Europe liquefied the art market.  Old masters of quality became available at reasonable prices.  Anne and Amy began to buy.  Their early purchases encompassed Spanish, Dutch and Italian canvases; the Spanish a nod to their adopted hometown’s Spanish colonial past. The sisters researched in depth and in several languages about artists’ whose paintings they considered for purchase.  Never trusting their own judgment in buying these works, they consulted curators and dealers, scholars and historians.

Magnolia Blossom, Martin Johnson Heade, 1888

In 1951, the sisters established the nonprofit Putnam Foundation designating the artwork as the Putnam Foundation Collection.  Paintings traveled the country on loan to various prestigious art museums, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery, and Harvard University’s Fogg Art Museum.

Portrait of a Lady in a Green Dress, Bartolomeo Veneto, 1530

Madonna and Child, Niccolo di Buonaccorso, 1387

The Timken Museum of Art opened in 1965,with a small collection of forty major pieces owned by the Putnam Foundation, construction of the building was funded by the Timken family.  Shortly after the opening, John Walker from the National Gallery of Art offered high praise for its collection: “It is one of the finest small museums I have ever seen … I congratulate you on the discrimination shown.  You have been wise.  Some cities have built large museums, and then hoped that innumerable works of art of true excellence would miraculously appear.  I am afraid they won’t any longer.  Money is not the problem.  The problem is to find pictures to buy.  I can’t replace those which have come to San Diego.  Paintings like these are virtually unavailable at any price.”

Lovers in a Park, Francois Boucher, 1758

Mrs. Thomas Gage, John Singleton Copley, 1771

Mrs. Thomas Gage, John Singleton Copley, 1771

The museum opened with a five-room gallery in marble and bronze designed by architect Frank Hope,   displaying the paintings, sculpture and tapestries, enhancing their environment through natural lighting.  The collection has expanded to sixty major holdings through subsequent acquisitions.  All this from the generosity of two reclusive sisters from Vermont, with traditional New England values who chose to put their fortune into the gift of artistic masterworks, enjoyed by the following generations.

Rembrandt's Recession

All images are courtesy of The Putnam Foundation, Timken Museum of Art, San Diego.

I would like to thank Elle B at Late Bloomer for suggesting this museum.  If you would like to share a museum that has been a treasure to view, please feel free to share it in the comments section below.  Next week I will return to the Chicago Art Institute from a physical visit, I look forward to posting the wonderful art and new stories from my museum experience!


Mary Jo


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