Huge Japanese urn “lost” for 100 years and found in fish restaurant sells big

February 21st, 2019

A monumental Japanese cloisonné vase that represented in spectacular form the art of its country at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago was recently rediscovered after hiding in glaringly plain sight for a century and sold at auction on Sunday. The masterpiece of porcelain, enamel and woodwork 8’8″ high went to a private buyer in New York for $135,000 hammer price, almost five times the high estimate of $50,000.

The vases were the largest examples of cloisonné enamel ever made up until that time, and they had a large statement to make at the Chicago World’s Fair. Placed in a group under a canopy in the East Court of the Palace of Fine Arts under a canopy were three exceptional pieces, the work of Japan’s greatest masters: two monumental vases and an incense burner. The combined effort of metalworkers, potters, wood carvers and painters, they were designed especially for the Exposition and took four years to make and decorate. Before they were shipped to Chicago, they were viewed and approved by the Emperor and Empress of Japan.

The designs on the vases and incense burner were conceived by Shin Shiwoda, Special Counsellor for Arts of the Japanese Commission to the Exposition. The ostensible motif is the seasons of the years: chickens symbolize spring, dragon summer, eagles autumn and winter. A full moon and flight of plover on the back of the dragon vase symbolize summer and fall. The birds under a snow laden branch on the back of the eagle vase represent winter. A cherry tree in blossom on the censer represents spring. The dragon, chickens and eagles also symbolize the three virtues of, respectively, wisdom, honesty and strength.

The vases and censer were placed on pedestals of carved keyaki, a hardwood native to Japan. These were not created from freshly hewn lumber, but from pieces salvaged from a temple that had been destroyed in an earthquake. The wood was more than 200 years old when it was carved with 70 different types of flowers in 1890-3.

There was political meaning embedded in the design that far eclipsed the innocuous seasonal imagery in significance. The dragon on one vase represent China. The two eagles on the other vase represent Russia. The chickens are stand-ins for the Korean islands. A rising sun represents Japan.

Japan’s concerned over China’s military and political influence over Korea was escalating in this period and would break out into the First Sino-Japanese War less than a year after the Columbian Exposition. Russia was a looming presence as well, having established the first diplomatic relations in 1884 and quickly gaining a political foothold in support of the Korean ruling dynasty against Japanese interests. That tension would come to a head in the Russo-Japanese War a decade later.

On the tops of the three pieces were designs symbolizing the friendship between the United States and Japan: the red and white stripes and stars of the US flag strewn with the chrysanthemums of Imperial Japan. A bronze eagle on top of the censer represents the United States.

The political implications of the imagery caused some difficulty at the World’s Fair. Organizers wanted to display the works in the Japanese pavilion of the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building, but Japan’s commission wanted them in the Palace of Fine Arts with the finest examples of artistry from countries around the world. Ultimately Japan got its way and the three-piece garniture went on display in the Japanese Department on the ground floor near the central rotunda of the Palace of Fine Arts.

The censer is now at the Tokyo National Museum. One monumental vase is in the Khalili Collection at Oxford but is missing the original pedestal. The location of its pair was unknown from immediately after the World’s Fair until it was recognized sitting bold as brass in the center of the main dining room of Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto in Berkeley, California. The venerable restaurant is one San Francisco’s Bay oldest and most revered culinary icons. The gigantic urn in the middle of it somehow managed to go unidentified by experts, including the Vice President of Decorative Arts and Furnishings of the auction house that sold it, until the restaurant closed.

The story of the missing vase begins to unfold in 1892 when Michael H. de Young of San Francisco, a businessman and journalist who founded the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper and the de Young Museum, was appointed as a national commissioner to the 1893 Columbian Exposition by President Benjamin Harrison. Through this position, de Young saw the opportunity to stimulate California’s economy by proposing an 1894 California Midwinter Fair, which was held the following winter in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, CA.

Following the Chicago World’s Fair, de Young brought one of the Japanese cloisonné vases to San Francisco for exhibition at the Midwinter Fair. It was at this point, following the fair, that Frank Spenger, avid collector and owner of Spenger’s Restaurant in Berkeley, bought this one vase from Michael de Young and placed it inside the main dining room where it has remained until October 2018.

Apparently he first tried to put it in the family’s penthouse apartment. According to Frank Spenger’s great-granddaughter Alicia, Mrs. Spenger thought the eight-foot vase on its wood pedestal four feet wide was a little much for the living room, so she asked him to move it down to the restaurant with the rest of his ever-expanding collection of art, artifacts and maritime memorabilia. Even the Spenger Diamond, all 34.28 carats of it, wound up on display in the restaurant.

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Rare portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots, on display

February 20th, 2019

An extremely rare portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots, painted during her lifetime has gone on display at Hever Castle. The oil-on-oak panel painting depicts Mary “en deuil blanc” (in white mourning), wearing gossamer white veils instead of the heavy blacks of full mourning she wore in a later portrait.

It is believed to have been the work of the studio of François Clouet, a miniaturist and portraitist to the French royal family, made in late 1560/early 1561 when Mary was mourning the successive deaths of her father-in-law King Henry II of France (d. July 1559), her mother Mary of Guise (June 1560) and her husband Francis II (December 1560) of France. White had been a popular mourning color in France for centuries by the time Mary donned it. She had unusually bucked that association and worn white for her 1558 wedding to the then-Dauphin of France, only to find herself having to wear white again in its traditional symbolism after his death just two and a half years later.

Another Clouet portrait of her “en deuil blanc” shows her covered from chin to chest in a white pleated gauze “barbe” (beard). The original painting is lost but the image was widely copied. The Hever painting has the same head type as the other Clouet but depicts a less severe white veil with an open collar and tiny buttons down the bust. This may have been a less strict form of mourning worn after a certain amount of time had elapsed from the bereavement.

During her active reign in Scotland from 1561 to 1568, there were few artists of note and even fewer portrait painters of royal quality. If any solo portraits of her were painted during her time in Scotland, none have survived. A double-portrait of her and her second husband Lord Darnley now at Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire, is the only known extant portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots, painted when she was in Scotland ruling as Queen of Scots, ca. 1565.

After her forced abdication and imprisonment in England, she did get some access to court painters. Her caretaker/keeper/jailer George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, allowed her to sit for Nicholas Hilliard, the premiere miniature portraitist of the Tudor court. Copies of Hilliard’s work were distributed at Mary’s behest to her supporters during her lifetime, and after the ascension of her son James VI of Scotland to the throne of England and Ireland in 1603. He commissioned idealized versions of them to enhance his own position as king and the strength of the Stuart claim by depicting her as a martyr and victim of Tudor injustice. It’s those posthumous images of Mary that make up the bulk of her portraiture.

The Hever portrait was in a private collection in France (not Switzerland) for many years. It was thought to be a modified 17th century copy of the more famous Clouet. Dendrochronological analysis of the oak panels found that the wood dated to 1547. Coupled with stylistic examination, the age of the wood confirms that the portrait dated to the mid-16th century and was done in Mary’s lifetime.

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Unique deviant burial found in Sicily

February 19th, 2019

The remains of an adult male were discovered in 2013 in Piazza Armerina, a medieval village in central Sicily that was built over the ruins of a Roman latifundia, one of the immense agricultural estates that Sicily was largely divided into by the 2nd century. The body was isolated, not part of a cemetery or burial ground. As a matter of fact, the remains weren’t even in or near a settlement as they date to the between the first and second half of the 11th century, a time when the area was still unpopulated. The village’s first appearance on the historical record dates to 1122.

The skeleton was buried face down in a shallow grave in a southwest to northeast orientation. The right arm was extended along the side of the body. The left arm was extended over the back; the ulna was found resting on the left pelvis. The feet were so close together that it’s highly likely they were tied. There were no funerary objects found in the pit.

The isolation, orientation and position of the body mark it as a deviant or atypical burial that it not in concert with Christian, Jewish or Muslim funerary practices. The skeleton is almost complete and in excellent condition, allowing researchers to study this unique burial in detail using a combination of osteoarchaeological analysis, forensic anthropology techniques and technology to study the remains.

They identified six stab wounds on the sternum with the shape of the blade tip impressed on the bone. The weapon appears to have been a single-edged knife or dagger, a close-combat blade that nonetheless managed to pierce the thorax and penetrate the posterior sternum from entry points on the victim’s back. A large bone fragment on the right side of the sternum was dislodged when the blade was twisted with significant force.

To get an accurate picture of the dynamics of this fatal stabbing, researchers used 3D modeling technology. They created a virtual model of the chest, the entry points and angles of penetration. They were steep, indicating the assailant was standing behind the kneeling victim. As the blade went through the thorax into the breastbone, it probably punctured his lung and heart, killing him quickly.

The injury pattern is unique. There is nothing like it known in the archaeological record. It is not the result of hand-to-hand combat. There is no evidence of contact anywhere else on the victim’s chest, which almost certainly would have been present during the chaos of a fight.

There was no evidence of other injuries on the man’s vertebrae or ribs that would suggest that the man was involved in some kind of “uncontrolled” fight, said lead author Roberto Miccichè, an archaeologist at the University of Palermo in Italy.

The goal of the man’s killer, it seems, was to attack the victim in a “very effective and rapid way,” Miccichè said; in addition, the assailant likely knew human anatomy “very well.” In fact, the cuts were so clean and smooth, that the man may have been immobilized, perhaps with binding, Miccichè said.

The clear, deep stab wounds, the lack of defensive, uncontrolled action, the evidence of binding, particularly in the closeness of the feet, and the relative positions of aggressor and victim indicate this was an execution.

It is also the first thoroughly documented, archaeologically excavated deviant burial found in Sicily. A number of atypical burials have been recorded by archaeologists on the Italian mainland, but only one appears in the scientific literature for Sicily and it was not well-documented. Atypical burials are believed to have been employed for religious or magical reasons — like to prevent the dead from rising to harm the living — or as a form of post-mortem ostracism, a reflection of the deceased’s marginal position in the social order.

Researchers believe this death occurred in the aftermath of the Norman conquest of Sicily in 1061. It was a period of turmoil, of social and political realignment as the island transitioned from Islamic to Norman rule.

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Year of Four Emperors coin hoard found in Warwickshire

February 18th, 2019

A hoard of Roman coins in a small clay pot has been found in South Warwickshire. There are 78 coins in the collection, all silver denarii, in decent but not great condition. This is the second Roman coin hoard unearthed in Warwickshire since 2015. The first was larger, containing 440 silver denarii stashed in a large clay pot and buried in what is now Edge Hill, but what makes this one unique is that its coins date to 68-69 A.D., from the end of the reign of the Nero through the infamous Year of the Four Emperors.

The overthrow of Nero and his consequent suicide threw the empire into chaos. Competing generals vied for the throne, and coup followed coup installing Galba, Otho and Vitellius successively as emperors for a few months apiece. The civil wars ended when Vespasian became emperor in July of 69 A.D. and founded the Flavian dynasty that would rule Rome for 27 years.

Wars are expensive things and private armies don’t fight just for the principle. Galba found this out from day one, as he’d been acclaimed emperor by the Praetorian Guard who had been promised by their calculating leaders monetary reward for their support, something they had developed a taste for under the Julio-Claudians. But Galba had no intention of paying for the loyalty of his own guard, and with the imperial treasury in the doldrums, the coins he struck weren’t going to line the pockets of soldiers.

Seven months later, Galba was a stabbed and decapitated corpse and Otho, who had bought 23 Praetorians to secure Galba’s fate, was emperor. He couldn’t afford to buy the loyalty, even temporary, of the army of Germania Inferior, however, so three months later he was dead and Vitellius, commander of said army was emperor. He got to enjoy a whole eight months as emperor thanks to that support before he was defeated by Vespasian and the legions of the east.

With this constant turmoil, competing armies, supremely self-interested parties looking to benefit from their selection of one or another candidate for the throne, the emperors made as much use as possible of their minting powers. Yet, surviving coins from this period are exceedingly rare in Britain. The 78 examples found in the clay pot are the largest single collection of coins from the Year of the Four Emperors ever discovered.

The hoard has been declared official Treasure and experts from the British Museum have assessed its market value at £62,000. The local museum closest to the find site, Market Hall Museum in Warwick gets first crack at acquiring the hoard. It is applying for grants, throwing fundraising events and soliciting donations now.

Councillor Dave Reilly, Portfolio Holder for Environment, Heritage and Culture says:

“This is an amazingly important find for Warwickshire and our Roman past. Bringing the hoard back to the county and the Market Hall Museum will mean that Warwickshire’s residents can enjoy them for generations to come. The international significance of some of the coins in this hoard will increase visitors not only to Warwick, but the wider county, which can only contribute to our key objective of making the Warwickshire economy vibrant.”

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Still life thought to be fake Van Gogh is real

February 17th, 2019

A still life painting long thought to be a fake has been authenticated as a genuine work by Vincent van Gogh by experts from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Still Life with Fruit and Chestnuts has been in the collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco since it was donated by collectors Bruno and Sadie Adriani in 1960. It is unsigned, but an inscription on the back of the painting describes it as “Nature mort, peint par Vincent van Gogh.” Anyone can write anything on the back of a canvas, however, and it doesn’t make it so.

The main sticking point was with the date it was created, which at the time of the donation was believed to be 1884 when Van Gogh was in Nuenen. The coloring was off that period, so experts disputed its authenticity and the painting of two pears and an apple among chestnuts was not included in two of the standard catalogues of the artist’s work and again in a third published in 2013. The Fine Arts Museum mostly chose not to display it, although it has been exhibited for several years at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor Museum

For the past two years, Van Gogh Museum scholars have made a painstaking technical and stylistic investigation into the still life, as well as a thorough search through the historical record.

Specialists at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam have now accepted it as authentic. They determined that the canvas and the paints match Van Gogh’s work. Stylistically, it is regarded as fitting in with the still lifes which the artist made in Paris between October and December 1886.

The painting’s provenance can now be traced. There is reference to “pears and chestnuts” in an 1890 inventory, compiled shortly after Van Gogh’s death, with the word “Bernard” added. This is assumed to refer to his friend Emile Bernard. Bernard’s mother sold a work with that title (and the dimensions of the San Francisco picture) to the Parisian dealer Ambroise Vollard in 1899.

The first husband of Sadie acquired the picture in 1922. Sadie, an American artist, later married Bruno Adriani, a German lawyer and cultural official, and they emigrated to America in the 1930s.

Researchers also found a little surprise lurking underneath the fruits and nuts: the canvas was reused so the still life is actually not just an authentic Van Gogh, but two in one. Infrared reflectography found a portrait underneath the visible painting. It’s of a woman wearing a scarf and was likely made shortly before Van Gogh left Antwerp for Paris.

The freshly authenticated Still Life with Fruit and Chestnuts will celebrate its recognition with a trip to Frankfurt this fall. It will be loaned to the Städel Museum for the exhibition Making Van Gogh: A German Love Story which runs from October 23rd until February 16th 2020.

P.S. – I watched At Eternity’s Gate today and thought it was excellent, very evocatively filmed, especially how they shot Vincent-eye-view scenes. Willem Dafoe’s performance was understated and real. I found it so much more genuine and plausible that the than the tortured artist scenery-chewing of Kirk Douglas in Lust for Life which bears no relation, imo, to the Vincent of his correspondence.

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I fell for a “Swiss Private Collection” lie, dammit

February 16th, 2019

My only excuse, and it’s a terrible one that you should throw back in my face in disgust, is that the Metropolitan Museum of Art fell for it too. Had they accepted a fraudulent ownership record starring a Swiss private collector a few years back I would have laughed mirthlessly at the very idea of it, but the sensitivity to potentially looted artifacts is so much higher now that museums and auction houses have been dragged kicking and screaming into giving a damn by source countries creating legal and PR nightmares for them. That such a recent, high-profile, much-publicized sale could be a looted artifact with phony papers is an ugly testament to how deep the rot runs in the antiquities market.

In September 2017, the Met announced the acquisition of what is without question the most beautiful, perfectly-preserved and uniquely rich cartonnage coffin I’ve ever seen. Made from layers of linen, gesso and resin, covered in gilding front and back and lined with sheets of silver foil inside the lid, the mummiform coffin was the final resting place of Late Ptolemaic official Nedjemankh, a priest of Heryshef in Heracleopolis Magna.

The gilded coffin of Nedjemankh went on display immediately in the museum’s Egyptian Art gallery, and soon got a dedicated exhibition that ran from July 2018 until Tuesday, February 12th. Or at least it was meant to. There was supposed to be an exhibition tour beginning on February 22nd. No longer. I don’t know exactly which day, but the coffin was taken off display this week.

On Friday the museum announced that it was returning the coffin to Egypt because the Manhattan’s DA Office had found evidence that the Swiss private collection and legal export document from 1971 were nothing but happy horseshit conjured up by traffickers in looted antiquities. Not only was it not legally exported in 1971, it didn’t leave Egypt until 2011 and I don’t need to tell you the circumstances were very, very far from legal.

Notwithstanding the representations that the coffin had been exported from Egypt in 1971, recent evidence suggests it was looted from Egypt in 2011. Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said, “Stewards of the world’s most important artifacts have a duty to hold their acquisitions to the highest level of scrutiny. Following my Office’s investigation, this beautiful piece of ancient Egyptian history will soon be returned to its rightful place. Our Antiquities Trafficking Unit will continue to root out stolen antiquities in our fight to stop the looting of historic sites and the trade of stolen artifacts around the world.”

The seller was a Paris dealer named Christophe Kunicki. The Met is less than pleased with him having paid 3.5 million euros (just under $4 million) for the coffin in July of 2017, just six years after it was stolen from Egypt. This character has yet to comment on the fraudulent sale and the Met plans to consider “all means,” according to spokesman Kenneth Weine, for the recovery of the $4 million they were conned out of. There is no word on any criminal action that might be taken against him, and there probably won’t be.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced today it will review and revise its acquisitions process. Max Hollein, Director of The Met, said, “Our museum must be a leader among our peers in the respect for cultural property and in the rigor and transparency of the policy and practices that we follow. We will learn from this event—specifically I will be leading a review of our acquisitions program—to understand what more can be done to prevent such events in the future.”

Here’s one revision to any museum or collector’s acquisition policy that needs to be carved in stone from now on: buy nothing purporting to come from Swiss private collections. It’s a scam every damn time. The Met apologized to Egypt profusely and abjectly, as well it should, and I do the same to you, as well I should. I can’t believe I was so thoroughly duped by the oldest lie in the book, one I have mocked and excoriated ad nauseum in this very blog a million times before.

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Narcissus fresco found in Leda fresco house

February 15th, 2019

Another high-quality fresco has been discovered in the house where the fresco depicting the myth of Leda and the Swan was discovered last November in Pompeii. This one was found in the atrium and depicts the myth of Narcissus. The vain hunter is depicted staring at his handsome visage reflected in the pool of water beneath him. He is entranced and cannot be budged despite his hunting dog’s tugging desperately at his robe. Behind them is a winged youth, likely a representation of Eros, son and frequent messenger of Aphrodite who in her guise as Nemesis punished the love-rejecting Narcissus by making him falling in love with his own image.

When Leda was discovered in a bedroom of the villa late last year, archaeologists were concerned that the structure would be endangered by further excavation. The original intent of the dig was consolidation of the excavation fronts along Via Vesuvio in the Regio V neighborhood of the ancient city which has proved an archaeological gold mine beyond even the stratospherically high standards of Pompeii. The slopes of the dig along the 1.8 mile front of Via Vesuvio had put pressure on the already unearthed structures.

The exceptional quality and preservation of the frescoes of Leda and Priapus found in the home motivated the team to remodel of the slopes of the excavation fronts and stabilize the ancient structures. They were then able to proceed with the excavation of the villa and the fresco of Leda. On the other side of the bedroom they unearthed floor-to-ceiling frescoes of intense color, deep red and ochre backdrops to elaborate border decorations and the central panel of Narcissus.

Love and the sweetness of the senses, in all of their varied forms, ooze from the rooms of this elegant dwelling that, even in the entrance hall, welcomed guests with the vigorous and auspicious image of Priapus, which was also documented some months ago and is comparable to the image in the nearby House of the Vettii.

The entire Leda room is characterised by sophisticated Fourth Style decorations, with delicate floral embellishments, interspersed by griffins with cornucopia, winged cupids, still lifes and scenes of combat between animals. The harmony of these exquisite designs even extended to the ceiling, which completely collapsed under the weight of the lapilli, and whose fragments were recovered by restorers and used to reconstruct the story.

Of particular note in the atrium of Narcissus is the still visible trace of the stairs which lead to the upper floor, but above all the rediscovery of a dozen glass containers, eight amphorae and a bronze funnel in the space under the stairs, which was used for storage. A bronze situla (a liquid container) was also found next to the impluvium.

Pompeii Superintendent Massimo Osanna notes that the decorative motifs appear to be thematically connected so that beauty, sensuality and the pleasures of life would accompany the residents and visitors from room to room. The dramatic height of the first floor walls and the frescoes covering them attest to what a luxurious home this was. The colors are so vibrant that it was likely constructed shortly before Pompeii’s sudden cataclysmic demise.

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How Victorians trolled Valentine’s Day

February 14th, 2019

The tradition of giving cards to loved ones on Valentine’s Day in Britain was already established in the 1700s. Handmade billet doux were sent anonymously or hinting at the identity of the lover. By the 1820s, 200,000 valentines were given yearly in London. That number exploded when reforms to the Royal Mail ushered in a uniform rate of one penny to send letters of less than half an ounce from and to any post office in the British Isles. The Uniform Penny Post was introduced in 1840. By the late 1840s, 400,000 valentines were sent annually in London. By the 1860s it was 800,000. The mail was rife with lace, flowers, birdies, cupids and rhymes, motifs still now associated with Valentine’s Day.

Stationers and cardmakers took full advantage of the advent of inexpensive color printing, offering a wide range of valentines for the romance-mad, from ornate cards on expensive textured papers to simpler prints, some serious, some schmaltzy, some goofy. But with the day mired in saccharine sentimentality, bad poetry and even worse attempts at wit, some cardmakers took the opportunity to appeal to a related and woefully underserved market: people who wanted to send anonymous burns for a penny.

Vinegar Valentines were acidic where valentines were sugary, cheap cardstock took the place of fancy lace embosses, crude inking spilled over the lines of ugly caricatures of romantic motifs. One-liners and short poems delivered rejection, spite, insults and mockery, and not just to would-be lovers, but to friends and acquaintances of all categories. In short, they’re great fun.

The Royal Pavilion & Museums in Brighton has a fine collection of these bizarro-world valentines, and thanks to their digital media bank, you can apply their acid as an oddly soothing balm on the wounds inflicted by all the Cupid’s arrows zinging around today.

The Marriage Sucks Burn:

The Barfly burn:

The Nobody Wants You Anyway burn:

The Vanity burn:

The Cupid’s Arrow Misses Its Target burn:

The You’re No Gentleman burn:

The You Old/Ugly burns:

The Emasculating Tease burn:

Happy Valentine’s Day! :evil:

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Verrocchio’s Putto with Dolphin restored

February 13th, 2019

Putto with Dolphin, a bronze sculpture by 15th century master Andrea del Verrocchio, is undergoing much-needed restoration in time for a landmark exhibition of Verocchio’s work. This is the first scientific conservation the Putto will have ever undergone, which is remarkable considering it spent the first 500 years of its life outdoors.

The polished bronze depicts a chubby winged boy standing on one leg on a half-sphere. In his arms he holds a squirming dolphin. It was commissioned in 1470 by Lorenzo de’ Medici for Villa Medici at Careggi, one of the family’s country homes in the Tuscan hills. Cosimo died there in 1464, and when his grandson Lorenzo, the future Magnificent, took over as head of the family and de facto ruler of Florence in December 1469, he wasted no time in making improvements the Careggi villa and grounds, especially the gardens. The putto was made to top a fountain in the garden, with a spray of water emerging from the dolphin’s rostrum. In 1557, the bronze was moved to the Palazzo Vecchio where it was placed atop the porphyry fountain in the first courtyard. The priceless masterwork remained there until the 1950s, when it was removed from the fountain and put on display as a museum exhibit on the second floor of the Palazzo Vecchio. A replica was installed in its former position on the fountain.

The restoration project began in 2018 in view of the public in a dedicated workspace in the Palazzo Vecchio. A technical analysis of its condition underneath the surface found evidence of deterioration of the bronze. The surface needed extensive cleaning as calcium and water stains had built up over the centuries. There were also residues left by previous attempts at restoration, some of them using harmful substances. Conservators carefully removed those residues and revealed previously unknown details. They were then able to address the biggest threat: corrosion of the bronze. The last step is to cover the surface with gentle, non-invasive treatments to even out the color and protect the bronze from further corrosion. The process has been thoroughly documented through photographs and videos to learn more about Verrocchio’s sculpture and for the benefit of future conservation efforts.

The restored Putto will go on display next month in Verrocchio, Master of Leonardo at the Palazzo Strozzi, the first ever monographic Verocchio exhibition. It will illuminate his working process thanks to a new technical study of his work, and bring together for the first time more than 120 artworks, paintings, drawings and sculptures by Verrocchio and the masters who learned their art in his workshop. The most important artists of the Renaissance — Leonardo da Vinci, Domenico del Ghirlandaio, Sandro Botticelli and Pietro Perugino — all studied under Verrocchio. Together they defined the artistic output of Lorenzo the Magnificent’s Florence between 1460 and 1490. With loans from major museums worldwide, the show will trace the artistic connections linking Leonardo to Verocchio, reconstructing the formation of his style in the interchange between student and master.

The exhibition begins in Florence, running from March 9th through July 14th at the Palazzo Strozzi, with a special section at the National Museum of the Bargello (home of Verrocchio’s David, iconic symbol of Republicanism). It will then travel to the second and last location, Washington D.C., where the National Gallery of Art will host Verrocchio: Master and Mentor, from September 29th to February 2nd, 2020.

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When a nun faked her own death to escape the convent

February 12th, 2019

Sixteen heavy tomes that document 425 years of official business by the archbishops of York are being thoroughly read, translated and indexed for the first time. From the 13th century through the 17th, the registers of the archbishops were carried around wherever they traveled and clerks recorded every act, letter and order in them. After the English Civil War, they were stored in London and ignored until the late 18th century when they were returned to the Diocesan Registry in York Minster.

They are now in the care of the University of York where researchers have been able to publish a few parts of them, but only sporadically and only in Latin. Thanks to an ambitious new project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, medieval historians from the University of York and The National Archives (UK) will transcribe and translate every word in every volume. The entries will be indexed and uploaded to an online database freely accessible to anyone who is interested.

Already fascinating stories are emerging from the records. The register from August 11th, 1318, records a monition, a formal admonishment from the archbishop, to one Joan of Leeds. Archbishop William Melton, future Lord Treasurer of England, warns said Joan, “lately nun of the house of St Clement by York, that she should return to her house” which she had departed in deliciously dramatic fashion.

Melton, writing to inform the Dean of Beverley about the “scandalous rumour” he had heard about the arrival of the Benedictine nun Joan, claimed that Joan had “impudently cast aside the propriety of religion and the modesty of her sex”, and “out of a malicious mind simulating a bodily illness, she pretended to be dead, not dreading for the health of her soul, and with the help of numerous of her accomplices, evildoers, with malice aforethought, crafted a dummy in the likeness of her body in order to mislead the devoted faithful and she had no shame in procuring its burial in a sacred space amongst the religious of that place”.

After faking her own death, he continued, “and, in a cunning, nefarious manner … having turned her back on decency and the good of religion, seduced by indecency, she involved herself irreverently and perverted her path of life arrogantly to the way of carnal lust and away from poverty and obedience, and, having broken her vows and discarded the religious habit, she now wanders at large to the notorious peril to her soul and to the scandal of all of her order.”

There is no follow-up in the register as to whether Joan opted to return to her life of poverty and obedience or stuck with the carnal lust, but given all the Count of Monte Cristo shenanigans she had to go through to free herself of the former, I’d wager she went for the latter. I also can’t help but wonder whether all her sisthren really were deceived by whatever rudimentary dummy Joan could possibly have manufactured. Surely the ones who had direct contact with the non-body had to be willing conspirators.

The logs from Melton’s term as archbishop from his consecration in 1317 until his death in 1340 occupy an impressive five volumes, just shy of a third of the extant registers. He carried them with him as he went about the complex business of archbishopping, lord treasuring and tending to his enormous personal estates and riches. He played an important role in the wars of Scottish independence too, thanks to York’s strategic position on the northern border. In 1319, with England’s fighting men engaged in the Siege of Berwick, Melton mustered priests, clerics and civilians to fight Scottish men-at-arms at Myton on the river Swale. It was a slaughter, needless to say, with thousands of these amateurs either slain by professional fighters or drowned in the Swale. The archbishop barely fled with his life. Researchers hope to find out more about The White Battle, so named because of the high number of clergy, in the registers.

The records will be available via York’s Archbishops Registers Revealed, which currently provides free access to a database of 20,000 images of the registers from 1225 to 1650. So far more than 3700 entries have been indexed and are searchable by keyword, but there are no full transcripts or translations, just summaries. When the digitization project is complete, all of the registers, invaluable records of political, religious, military and family life in medieval York, will be fully searchable and readable for those of us who can barely make out the letters of British Church Latin of the Middle Ages, never mind read any of it.

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