Tag Archives: virtual tour

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

Scipione Borghese – Puppetmaster of Caravaggio


Caravaggio, Ottavio Leoni, 1621

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) created a world of darkness and light through his paintings.  What may appear as just another expression of art to the casual viewer is in actuality a true reproduction of his world.  I have returned to the well of Caravaggio for another story from the artist’s short life, the influence of his patron, Cardinal Scipione Borghese (1577-1633).  Drawing from Andrew Graham-Dixon’s book, Caravaggio, A Life Sacred and Profane, and M, the Man who became Caravaggio by Peter Robb, a portrait of sorts has appeared, detailing the obsession of the Cardinal and his ruthless collecting of the artist’s works.  No accidents of fate can be attributed to their relationship, only a hot- headed painter and one of the many who manipulated him to their own rewards.

Scipione Borghese, Ottavio Leoni

Scipione Borghese, Ottavio Leoni, 1610

Scipione Borghese, the nephew of Pope John V, is someone fit to be called the Cardinal Nephew, willing to bend all opportunities to his desired machinations in the name of the papacy.  Scipione built three major private estates: Palazzo Pallavcini Rospigliosi, the Villa Borghese and Palazzo Borghese.  The Villa Borghese art collection is a testimony of Scipione’s drive to establish the Borghese legacy with other ancient Roman families such as Colonna and Orsini.  Tireless and ruthless in his quest for art, the Cardinal considered extortion and outright theft to be tools of acquisition to complete his gallery.

The meeting of these men occurred in the Antechamber of Quirinale Palace, where Borghese was the papal representative of judicial administration.  Caravaggio was caught up in the net of his own violent arrogance, having assaulted the notary Mariano Pasqualone, who brought charges against him.  A settlement was the required agreement, and for this consideration, Caravaggio showed his gratitude to the Cardinal with a gift, Saint Jerome Writing.  The deal was private enough that no record of a commission or payment survives, but the painting does appear in the possession of Scipione Borghese following this interesting event.

Saint Jerome Writing

Saint Jerome Writing, 1605

Camillo Borghese, Pope Paul V,

Camillo Borghese, Pope Paul V, 1552-1621, Caravaggio, 1605-6

Soon after, Caravaggio found himself the latest flavor in the Roman carnival of fame.  Commissions came his way from several sources, including a portrait of Pope John V, and a commission for the Basilica of Saint Peter; The Madonna and Child with St. Anne, 1605-06; for the altar of the Archconfraternity of the Papal Grooms.  The dream of his fellow artists to be enshrined in this cathedral with the greatest names of the day was within his grasp, for two days.

Madonna of the Grooms, Caravaggio

Madonna of the Grooms, 1605-6

“In this painting there are but vulgarity, sacrilege, impiousness and disgust… One would say it is a work made by a painter that can paint well, but of a dark spirit, and who has been for a lot of time far from God, from His adoration and from any good thought…” note from a Cardinal’s secretary of the time.

This was not the first of Caravaggio’s paintings considered unacceptable, but it was rejected by the College of Cardinals, from Saint Peter’s.  Displayed from April 14 thru April 16, the painting was removed and purchased at a remarkably reduced price by Scipione Borghese.  Recent archival research has revealed that the Cardinal was involved in obtaining the painting at a very early stage of the commission.  Borghese was stepping up his collection of the temperamental artist, by fair means or foul.

Death of the Virgin

Death of the Virgin, 1606

The Death of the Virgin, commissioned by Laerzio Alberti for his chapel in the Carmelite Chuch of Santa Maria della Scala, was ultimately rejected by the Carmelites.  The public reason is the portrayal of the Holy Mother is considered too secular, showing her bare legs.  Accused by his contemporaries of using a local prostitute in the portrayal of Mary, sacrilege for the time, the church deemed it unacceptable, giving another wound to Caravaggio’s pride.  The painting was immediately purchased by the Duke of Mantua, on the recommendation of Peter Paul Ruebens, who called it Caravaggio’s “best work.”

The next masterpieces came to the Borghese collection in 1607, through the settlement of a tax bill.   Giuseppe Cesari, former teacher of Caravaggio, found himself an impediment to Cardinal Borghese’s obsession.  Cesari had a considerable stock of paintings from various apprentices, with two by Caravaggio; Borghese made an insulting offer, which Cesari had the temerity to refuse.  That mistake saw him arrested on false charges with a possible death sentence hanging over him; the payment came in the form of 107 paintings.  The Pope gave them all to Scipione including Sick Bacchus, and Boy with a Basket of Fruit, advancing the Borghese family collection further.

Boy with a Basket of Fruit, 1593

Boy with a Basket of Fruit, 1593

Sick Bacchus

Sick Bacchus, self portrait, 1593

I leave the story of Caravaggio for the moment, as he struggles between the love and hate of Rome, his ego filled with righteous indignation and praise.  The events of his life are ready to collide with the murder of Ranuccio Tommassoni and the artist’s life on the run from papal justice.  Scipione Borghese is not finished with Caravaggio, becoming a crucial figure in his final days.

Has Caravaggio influenced your view of art?  Is his story typical of the tortured artist or are his actions compounded by the puppetmasters of the time?  I would love to chat with you about this artist!

If you want to learn more about the artist Caravaggio, there are similar facets to his story posted here:

Caravaggio, before Fame and Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

Detail, Boy with a Basket of Fruit, 1593

Detail, Boy with a Basket of Fruit, 1593

Picture Links

Caravaggio, by Octavio Leoni

Scipione Borghese, by Octavio Leoni

Saint Jerome Writing, by Caravaggio

Pope Paul V, by Caravaggio

Madonna of the Grooms, by Caravaggio

Death of the Virgin, by Caravaggio

Boy with a Basket of Fruit, by Caravaggio

Sick Bacchus, by Caravaggio

Research Links

Andrew Graham-Dixon, Caravaggio, A Life Sacred and Profane

Peter Robb, M, the Man who Became Caravaggio

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