Tag Archives: Pope Sixtus IV

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



Filed under February

Drunken tourist herds at the Sistine Chapel


Vatican museum

Vatican Museum

The New Year will mark the anniversary of Michelangelo’s completion of the ceiling at the Sistine Chapel.  The Vatican worries about the future of these frescoes, and may restrict visitor numbers, citing safety and preservation of the art their paramount motivators.

Time will tell how the custodians of these great works will employ technology to keep the Sistine Chapel works viable to future generations.  It is a shame that art such as this will be viewed by fewer individuals, ones that will be vacuumed and cooled according to the Vatican, but preservation of these masterpieces is the critical factor in such decisions.  A bit of online debate has gone to greater lengths at The Guardian regarding how the Vatican has treated the frescoes over their 500 year history, referring to visitors as “drunken tourist herds.”


Drunken tourist herds?

According to the director of Vatican Museums, Antonio Paolucci, 20,000 visitors a day has produced “dust, temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide, the great enemies of these paintings.”

The Chapel features 300 figures painted across 2,500 square meters by artists including Botticelli, Perugino and Pinturicchio as well as Michelangelo.  I cannot imagine viewing these beautiful works while being jostled by crowds pushing through the room.  The sheer number of visitors is criticized for giving the space the feel of a busy train station.

One recent step forward is the virtual experience of the Sistine Chapel; a great view of the ceiling and surrounding walls.  Perhaps collaboration with the Google Art Project will propel this virtual site into the mega-pixel display that these frescoes deserve.

floor of the Sistine Chapel

Built in the 1470s under Pope Sixtus IV, from whom it takes its name, the Sistine Chapel is more than just Vatican City’s most popular tourist destination.  Beginning in 1492, the building has hosted numerous papal conclaves, during which cardinals gather to vote on a new pope.  A special chimney in the roof of the chapel broadcasts the conclave’s results, white smoke indicating the election of a pope and black smoke signaling that no candidate has received the two-thirds majority.

Michelangelo wanted nothing to do with the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling; he was busy working on Pope Julius II’s marble tomb in Rome’s San Pietro in Vincoli church.  When Julius asked the artist to switch gears and decorate the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, Michelangelo balked; he considered himself a sculptor rather than a painter; he had no experience with frescoes.  He reluctantly accepted the commission as funding for the tomb dwindled, money being a great motivator, signing the contract on May 10, 1508.  The artist spent the next four years of his life perched on scaffolding with a brush in his hand.  He did return to Julius’ monumental tomb over the next decade.

Tomb of Pope Julius II

Tomb of Pope Julius II

The artist and his assistants used wooden scaffolds that allowed them to stand upright and reach above their heads.  Michelangelo designed the unique systems of platforms, and attached to the walls with brackets.  The legend that Michelangelo painted on his back may come from the 1965 movie “The Agony and the Ecstasy”, with Charlton Heston portraying the genius painting on his back.

Evidence of the scaffolding on the Lunette

Evidence of the scaffolding on the Lunette

Michelangelo described the physical strain of the Sistine Chapel project to his friend Giovanni da Pistoria, in a poem from 1509.  “I’ve already grown a goiter from this torture,” and “I am not in the right place-I am not a painter.”

Michelangelos depiction of work accompanying poem

Michelangelo’s depiction of work accompanying poem

The frescoed ceiling has held up remarkably well in the five centuries since completion.  Part of the sky in the panel depicting Noah’s escape from the great biblical flood is missing.  The section of plaster fell to the floor and shattered following an explosion at a nearby gunpowder depot in 1797.

Work in the 1980s and 1990s restored selected artworks in the Sistine Chapel, including the ceiling and Michelangelo’s famed fresco known as “The Last Judgement.”  The restoration also undid the work of Pope Pius IV, who ordered the placement of fig leaves and loincloths on Michelangelo’s nudes during the 1560s.

Creation of Adam

Creation of Adam

Rabbit-hole of research:

The New York Times archive contains an interesting article regarding the Spark of Life in Michelangelo’s painting “The Creation of Adam.”  Was the artist allegorically portraying the moment when God bestowed Adam with intelligence?  Read more to draw your own conclusions.

What are your views on the preservation of art?  Is the virtual museum experience a necessary step for museums?  I look forward to chatting with you.



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