Archive for the ‘Museums’ Category

Two Boys with a Bladder head for LA

Monday, January 20th, 2020

The J. Paul Getty Museum has acquired, and even more importantly received an export license for, Two Boys with a Bladder, a chiaroscuro masterpiece by 18th century British painter Joseph Wright of Derby.

The recently rediscovered painting depicts two young boys, boldly lit by a concealed candle, inflating a pig’s bladder. In the 18th century, animal bladders served as toys, either inflated and tossed like balloons or filled with dried peas and shaken like rattles. While bladders appeared frequently in 17th-century Dutch painting they were depicted less frequently in 18th-century Britain. It was a motif that Wright made his own; the elaborate costumes that the boys wear are of the artist’s own invention, in the style of British “fancy pictures.” The dramatic pictorial effect created by the concentrated candle light within a dark interior setting was in vogue in much of Europe in the late 16th and 17th centuries, but it was not until the 18th century that English artists picked up the theme, Wright being among the first to do so.

Wright is famed for his nocturnal scenes. His “Candlelight Pictures” used a single candle in the center of the canvas as the sole light source to create high-contrast scenes of people clustered around a subject (the Borghese Gladiator, an orrery, a kitten) in rapt attention. Wright deployed the dramatic chiaroscuro effect pioneered by Caravaggio in his religious themed paintings for the Enlightenment interests of science, philosophy, natural history in domestic settings. Joseph Wright made the Enlightenment literal with his inky black and warm, textured light illuminating the big and small wonders of the Age of Reason, and his works were immediately popular, reproduced as large-scale prints and widely sold.

Wright’s engaged the scientific approach in his method as well as his subjects. His niece explained his inventive technique for creating nocturnal scenes:

“His mechanical genius… enabled him to construct an apparatus for painting candlelight pieces and effects of fire-light. It consisted of a framework of wood resembling a large folding screen, which reached the top of the room, the two ends being placed against a wall, which formed two sides of the enclosure. Each fold was divided into compartments, forming a framework covered with black paper, and opening with hinges, so that when the object he was painting from was placed within the proper light, the artist could view it from various points from without.”

He made the canvas itself something of an scientific experiment, layering metal leaf underneath the focal lit area of the painting, in this case the bladder. This was a technique Wright invented to use the reflective properties of the metal to boost the shine of the faux candlelight through the layers of paint.

When another candlelight picture, An Academy by Lamplight, sold at Sotheby’s in 2017 for just under $10 million (a new record for a piece by Wright), the Arts Council recommended the government impose an export bar in the hope a British institution might raise the large sum needed to keep the painting in the country. None did and the work is now in a private collection somewhere. This time around, the Arts Council let it go without a fight.

“Two Boys with a Bladder is a remarkable discovery that sheds new light on Wright’s work at the most important moment of his career,” said Davide Gasparotto, senior curator of paintings at the Getty Museum. “It is a compelling example from his most important and successful genre, candlelight paintings. Moreover, Wright’s innovative experimentation with the use of metal foil embodies a sense of technical and scientific exploration that typifies the intellectual milieu of the midlands on the eve of the industrial revolution. It is a major addition to the Getty’s holdings of art from the English golden age.”

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Stolen painting found in gallery wall verified as missing Klimt

Saturday, January 18th, 2020

Portrait of a Lady, the painting by Gustav Klimt found last month in the garden wall of the modern art museum it had been stolen from 22 years earlier, has been authenticated. The Ricci Oddi Gallery of Modern Art in Piacenza announced Friday that art experts engaged by the city prosecutor’s office verified that the painting was the original completed by Klimt in 1917.

Since the gardener’s discovery on Dec. 10, the canvas had been kept in a vault of a local branch of Italy’s central bank while experts used infrared radiation and other non-invasive techniques to determine if it was the original “Portrait of a Lady.”

Experts said the painting was in remarkably good condition. One of the few signs of damage was a scratch near the edge of the canvas that may have resulted “from a clumsy effort to remove the portrait from its frame,” said Anna Selleri, an art restorer from the National Gallery in Bologna.

X-rays revealed the earlier work — 1912’s Portrait of a Young Lady — that Klimt had painted over to create the current portrait, making this work his only known double portrait. X-rays also found that Klimt had largely reused the whitish skin of the earlier portrait’s face for the second portrait, keeping the head in the same position and location.

The mystery of who stole Portrait of a Lady in 1997 is no closer to being solved. Police can’t even tell at this point if the painting ever left the gallery grounds or if it’s been whiling away a couple of decades in a niche in the wall behind a metal door. Traces of organic material found on the canvas may lead investigators to new information.

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Edith Wharton’s copy of The Age of Innocence donated to her home

Friday, January 17th, 2020

The only surviving copy of The Age of Innocence known to have belonged to Edith Wharton herself has been donated to the Mount, Wharton’s former home and now a museum dedicated to her. Donated by book collector Dennis Kahn, the edition is a 1921 sixth printing of her most successful novel. It bears her signature and a bookplate from Sainte-Claire-du-Château in Hyères, a restored convent on the French Riviera where Wharton wrote The Age of Innocence between September 1919 and March 1920.

Wharton gave away books, including signed volumes for charities to sell, and her heirs scattered others. More than 1,000 nonfiction volumes that she owned were destroyed during a World War II bombing while stored in London. Another portion of her library, preserved at a castle in Kent, England, was cataloged and assembled by the British bookseller George Ramsden and acquired by the Mount in 2005.

Mr. Kahn’s gift bears the bookplate of a Wisconsin businessman and philanthropist, Norman D. Bassett, who died in 1980 at 89; Mr. Bassett had collected autographed books since he met Mark Twain as a teenager. Nynke Dorhout, the Mount’s librarian, said, “We are still researching the Bassett connection” to flesh out the provenance.

Published in 1920, The Age of Innocence was Wharton’s 12th novel. By then she was already an acclaimed author, but this was her greatest success to date. It was a popular and critical smash, garnering her the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1921. She was the first woman to receive the award, beating Sinclaire Lewis in a twist reversal of the committee’s decision.

This year is the centennial of its publication and the Mount, the home Edith Wharton designed and had built in 1902 in Lenox, Massachusetts, is planning numerous events to celebrate the occasion. The donation of the only known surviving English-language edition of her masterpiece to have belonged to the author will usher in the centennial year with an official unveiling on January 24th, Edith Wharton’s 158th birthday.

Only tenuously connected to the above but I’m taking the opportunity anyway: at the Mount are buried Wharton’s beloved long-haired Chihuahas Mimi and Miza. They were laid to rest on a hillside visible from the library and sitting room. I bring this up solely as a pretext to post this picture of Edith Wharton, stylish as hell in her mutton chop-sleeve seersucker suit, with Mimi and Miza on her lap looking witheringly into the camera, eyes so narrow they put the Frye “not sure if” meme to shame. The picture was taken in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1889-90.

Just for comparison’s sake, and because I can never get enough of Mimi and Miza’s baleful expressions, here they are three years earlier (1886) with Edith’s embezzling, unfaithful, mentally ill husband Edward and his terrier Jules.

Miza and Mimi are said to haunt the Mount. I can’t imagine a more chilling pair of ghosts.

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World’s largest medical galleries open at London’s Science Museum

Monday, January 6th, 2020

London’s Science Museum is now home to the world’s largest medical galleries. Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries features interactive exhibits , films and audio recordings of patients and doctors, contemporary art installations and more than 3,000 medical artifacts assembled from the collections of Henry Wellcome and the Science Museum Group.

Among them are a panoply of memento mori pieces from different times and places, one of the first stethoscopes, a wooden tube made by French doctor René Laennec around 1820, the prototype MRI made in the early 1970s and a scale model of a hospital so awesome that it bears on its architecturally sound frame the entire responsibility for this post.

Made in 1932 to publicize King Edward’s Hospital Fund for London, an organization founded by the future King Edward VII to raise money for London’s voluntary hospitals which provided free medical care to the poor, the miniature hospital was made to 1/16 scale and is meticulously detailed.

The board room has sycamore paneling. More than 13,000 tiles were made to line its floors and walls, some of them painted with cheerful scenes for the pediatric ward. Wee doctors, nurses and patients, all of them different, all of them realistically posed and accessorized. It even has a working elevator! To operate it, you had to drop a coin in the box and press the button. A sign enjoys admirers in emphatic caps and periods “PLEASE. TAKE. LIFT EITHER UP – OR DOWN. ONCE. ONLY. PLEASE. DO. NOT. USE. AS. A. TOY.” It is an absolute wonderland of miniaturization and medical history.

Queen Mary was so enchanted by it that she donated her lace handkerchiefs for use as bedspreads for the tiny patients. Alas, the royal hankies are no longer extant in the model. In January of 1933, the Prince of Wales, who three years later would become King Edward VIII for a minute before his infamous abdication, launched a national tour of the model. The miniature hospital traveled the country, raising money for the charity and teaching the public about the workings of a modern hospital. It was hugely popular. Thousands of people went to see it during the tour and contributed to the funding of London’s free hospitals.

Tiled room in hospital. Science Museum Group Collection © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum. Room in the miniature hospital, maybe a laundry facility to sterilize the linens? Science Museum Group Collection © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum.

Patient takes the elevator. Science Museum Group Collection © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum.

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Napoleon’s vision for a new imperial Rome

Saturday, January 4th, 2020

Napoleon’s forces occupied Rome twice. The first time was in February 1798 when General Louis Alexandre Berthier invaded the Papal States and Rome, for the first time since antiquity, was declared a republic, one of multiple “sister republics” established by Revolutionary France under the aegis of the Directory. The republic lasted barely a year (the Directory would follow it into the grave before 1799 was out) before the Kingdom of Naples invaded the city and reestablished the Papal States. On February 2nd, 1808, the French army under General Alexandre de Miollis (who also fought in the American Revolutionary War) took Rome again. He remained as governor of the former Papal States until Napoleon’s exile to Elba in 1814.

Between the first and second French occupation of Rome, Napoleon had gone from General to First Consul to Emperor and was at the apex of his career in conquest. On May 16th, 1809, he promulgated an imperial decree declaring the annexation of the Papal States to the French Empire. Rome was declared “a free and imperial city.” On Feburary 17th, 1810, Napoleon declared Rome the second city of the empire, subject to receive special privileges determined by the emperor himself. Any future imperial prince would receive the title and honors of “King of Rome.” A year later Napoleon’s wife Marie Louise of Austria gave birth to Napoléon-François-Joseph-Charles Bonaparte and the first King of Rome since Tarquin the Proud came into his title.

The February 17th decree also committed to maintaining Rome’s ancient monuments at the empire’s expense, and a special fund was created to support archaeological excavations, restorations and “embellishments of Rome.” The Forum was excavated and cleared, remains like what was then believed to be the Temple of Jupiter Tonans (the Thunderer) but is in fact the temple of the deified emperors Vespasian and Titus were liberated from the soil encasing 2/3rds of their height. Excavations at the Colosseum revealed for the first time its elaborate underground structures whose purpose was subject of great controversy and heated debate between architects, antiquarians, archaeologists and historians. Later homes and religious buildings squashed up against Trajan’s Column were Trajan’s Column to allow it to stand out. The Basilica Ulpia was rediscovered at the same time.

The Napoleonic administration wasn’t just about reviving Rome’s ancient splendors. There were plans for the emperor and the King of Rome to visit the city and they wanted to welcome them into a modern imperial capital with wide boulevards, green spaces and grand buildings. Prominent Roman architects like Giuseppe Valadier and Giuseppe Camporese and French ones like  Louis-Martin Berthault and Guy de Gisors were commissioned to design urban renewal projects — parks, bridges, new monuments, securing the banks of the Tiber to prevent flooding — and just outside of the city, new cemeteries to comply with the Napoleon’s 1804  edict prohibiting burials within city walls.

None of these plans came to fruition before the fall of Napoleon in 1814. Sketches, plans and watercolors are all that remains of the emperor’s new Rome. Very few of them have been studied. Most of them have never been published. Now more than 50 works from the collections of Rome’s Napoleonic Museum and the Museum of Rome at Palazzo Braschi have gone on display at the Napoleonic Museum.

Waiting for the Emperor: Monuments Archaeology and Urbanism in the Rome of Napoleon 1809-1814, looks at city as it was in the age of Napoleon, the exhuberant celebrations in the city for the birth of the King of Rome, archaeological digs and monumental projects (statues, arches of triumph, bridges) to create a modern imperial Rome inspired by the ancient one.

I’m intrigued by this might-have-been Napoleonic plan for the Tiber.

After a massive flood on December 28th, 1870, when the river’s water rose more than 56 feet (17.22 meters) above the banks, made the new capital of a fully unified Italy a stinky, soggy muckhole just in time for the visit of the first king of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II, the government built stone embankments 59 feet (18 meters) high. They largely solved the flooding problem, but they drastically altered the city’s relationship with its river, instantly transmuting it from the beating heart of the community to a forbidding, disconnected environment, and not a little scary.

The exhibition runs through May 31st, 2020.

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National Gallery ushers in the New Year with new Gentileschi

Tuesday, December 31st, 2019

The Finding of Moses, a monumental painting by Baroque artist Orazio Gentileschi, father of Artemisia, has been acquired by the National Gallery after 20 years of trying. The Gallery first attempted to buy it in 1995 and failed. In 2002, its owner, sofa magnate Graham Kirkham, loaned the work to the museum where it has been the centerpiece of its Baroque collection. This year they were again given the opportunity to acquire The Finding of Moses for £19.5 million. With the goal in sight thanks to large grants from American Friends of the National Gallery, the National Gallery Trust and National Heritage Memorial Fund, the National Gallery launched a campaign last month to raise the remaining £2million. They announced on December 18th that the full sum has been raised and the painting acquired.

The large-scale work — 257cm (8’5″) by 301cm (9’10.5″) — depicts the scene from Exodus when the baby Moses is discovered in the reeds of the Nile by pharaoh’s daughter and her handmaids. The young woman kneeling on the left pointing at the infant in the basket is his sister Miriam. It is one of the finest examples of Orazio’s late period when he’d set aside his earlier Caravaggesque style and embraced the lush vibrancy of Late Renaissance history painters like Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese.

It was painted in 1630 when Gentileschi was a court painter for the King Charles I. Charles commissioned it as a gift for his wife Queen Henrietta Maria in honor of the birth of their son, the future Charles II. Orazio was one of the Queen’s favorite painters and The Finding of Moses joined his ceiling paintings at Queen’s House, Greenwich. The sumptuous silks of the princess and her ladies and the green, woodsy rolling hills reflect the style and landscape of Henrietta Maria’s court rather than pharaonic Egypt’s.

The painting had been an acquisition priority for us since 1995, when we first attempted to buy it.

Not only is it a wonderful example of Orazio’s rich colouring, skill at painting shiny, sumptuous fabrics, and sense of courtly elegance, ‘The Finding of Moses’ has an important place in British history.

It is the first painting from the time when Orazio travelled to England to be a painter at the court of Charles I in London.

Orazio Gentileschi painted a second version of the monumental piece in 1633, this one for King Philip IV of Spain. He made the details of the textiles and jewelry even more sumptuous and bared less flesh, in keeping with the fashion of the Spanish court. Orazio gave it to the king as a gift, dispatching his son Francesco to Madrid to deliver it in person. It is now in the Prado Museum in Madrid.

The Finding of Moses will be moved to the newly renovated Baroque room in April when it will go on display in an exhibition dedicated to Orazio’s brilliant daughter Artemisia.

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Manchester’s gold mummies visit the US

Sunday, December 29th, 2019

Manchester Museum, part of The University of Manchester, is undergoing a huge £13-million, three-year renovation that requires the closure of multiple galleries for the duration. Egyptian Worlds, which houses Manchester Museum’s extensive collection of mummies and artifacts from 5,000 years of Egyptian history, is among them. The galleries closed in August 2018 and are scheduled to reopen in 2021 in the transformed museum.

While the collection’s home is being rebuilt, Manchester Museum has arranged the first travelling exhibition of some of its most exceptional pieces from Greco-Roman Egypt (c. 300 B.C. – 200 A.D.). Golden Mummies of Egypt is centered around eight mummies unearthed over a century ago during University of Manchester excavations in Egypt. Through the mummies and other artifacts, including the always-evocative Fayuum mummy portraits, the exhibition explores beliefs about death and the afterlife from Greek and Roman Egypt and their link to the ancient traditional religion of dynastic Egypt.

The latest technology will give visitors a literal view from the inside.

The exhibition includes 360 degree interactive CT-scans of each mummy on display, allowing the visitor to see beneath the wrappings; audio-visual translations of texts bring the words of ancient people to life; iconographic visualisations animate the gods the Egyptians hoped to meet.

Golden Mummies of Egypt opens in the US at the Buffalo Museum of Science on February 8th, 2020. Its next stop will be the North Carolina Museum of Art where it will run from September 19, 2020, through January 10, 2021.

Never-before-seen details from the golden funerary mask of Isaious. Photo courtesy Manchester Museum. Detail from Isaious' brilliantly colored wrappings. Photo courtesy Manchester Museum. Detail from Isaious' brilliantly colored wrappings. Photo courtesy Manchester Museum.

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Rimini Altarpiece conserved at long last

Thursday, December 26th, 2019

The Rimini Altarpiece, a masterpiece of late medieval figural sculpture that is the highlight of Frankfurt’s Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung, is undergoing a comprehensive multi-year conservation project that will restore the luminous transparency of the alabaster it was made out of and repair the damage done by past invasive restoration attempts.

The altarpiece consists of 18 white alabaster figures and groups depicting the Crucifixion and apostles. The centerpiece is a very high crucifix with the figure of Mary Magdalen at its base hugging the cross. Flanking it are the two thieves, much smaller in scale. At the base of the left thief are the three Maries, the Roman soldier Longinus who speared Christ in the side and a servant. The base of the right thief features Stephaton, the man who offered Jesus the sponge soaked in vinegar, a centurion and a bare-footed youth. A freestanding figure of John the Baptist stands by the group. The 12 apostles, each individually carved, stand on both sides of the Calvary groups.

Traces of surviving pigment have been found on the white alabaster attesting to it having been partially polychrome originally. This Master of the Rimini Altarpiece embraced the idealized forms of the International Gothic style while also incorporating the anatomical realism of the Renaissance, in the contorted arms and bodies of the crucified thieves flanking Christ, for example. It was carved in the round and mounted in a framework, now lost, to display its exceptionally detailed carving on the church altar. Without the framework, scholars don’t know how it was originally arranged.

It was carved by a specialist alabaster workshop in Northern France or the Southern Netherlands in around 1430 to adorn the altar of the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Rimini. It remained in the church until 1910 when the Franciscans brothers sold it to an antiques dealer in Rome. The museum acquired it from him in 1913.

As unique and important as it is, the altarpiece has not been very well conserved. The last time it received thorough treatment was in the late 1960s, but the materials they used have discolored, penetrating the stone and making it more and more brittle.

Above all, however, the last restoration involved a massive alteration to the very structure of the altarpiece. For purely aesthetic and subjective reasons based on art-historical considerations – but justifiable neither objectively nor in terms of art technology – the original appearance of the central Crucifixion group was substantially altered. Using model plaster and iron reinforcements, the upright element of the cross was lengthened by more than half a metre and the crossbeam by several centimetres. And this is not only an aesthetic problem: the materials chosen at the time now confront us with extremely serious conservation problems, as they have led not only to extensive corrosion but also to a dramatic loss of stability. As a result, the object is almost impossible to move without risk of damage, although the changing exhibitions at the Liebieghaus make it absolutely necessary to move it. In addition, the fragility of the cross has made it quite impossible for the piece to be lent to other museums, enabling it to be shown in other countries.

Lastly, no fundamental technological analysis of the ensemble has ever been carried out. In the work on the “Rimini Altarpiece” that has now begun and is scheduled to take place over the next two or three years, the initial task will be to carry out and document a precise technological examination of the entire ensemble in preparation for its restoration. This will include, among other things, a meticulous analysis of the present condition of the stone as well as an examination of the figures for traces of the earlier polychromy, likewise a measure that has not been systematically undertaken before.

As alabaster is one of the most sensitive types of stone, which immediately rules out many of the standard methods of restoration, several series of tests will first have to be carried out in order to ensure the object’s gentlest possible restoration. For visitors to the museum there will be a conservation studio on view, complemented by a film and also, in due course, glass cases with educational material, while on our website we will publish results of the ongoing research and restoration. In these various ways, we aim to enable interested members of the public to follow and share in all the further phases of the work as the project progresses.

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British Museum acquires Seal of Wulfric

Monday, December 23rd, 2019

The British Museum has acquired a rare Anglo-Saxon seal matrix predating the Norman Conquest. It was discovered in a box in a garden shed in Sittingbourne, Kent, in 1976, and the British Museum has been trying to add it to its collection ever since. Now, thanks to funding from John H Rassweiler, the Ruddock Foundation for the Arts, the Henry Moore Foundation and British Museum Patrons, it has finally succeeded.

Shortly after its discovery, the circular piece 4 cm in diameter was identified by archaeologists as an exceedingly rare early 11th century seal Anglo-Saxon seal matrix, one of only five surviving seal matrices predating the Norman Conquest and one of only three made of walrus ivory. Comparison with other seals from the period pointed to a date of around 1040-1050.

It is carved out of walrus ivory and is inscribed “SIGILLUM WULFRICI +” (meaning “seal of Wulfric”) in Anglo-Saxon all caps. In the middle is the 3/4 length figure of a bearded man holding an upraised sword in his right hand. He faces left and points with his left hand. A flange above the matrix is in the form of a bird-headed dragon or serpent entwined with itself, biting its tail. It is perforated, indicating it was a suspension lug so the seal could be worn as a pendant.

The sword indicates that Wulfric was a secular figure rather than a cleric. He had to have been of high rank in order to have a seal, and based on comparisons to the closest of the other surviving Anglo-Saxon seals (the Godwin seal, also in the British Museum), he could have been a theyn or minister to the King of England.

It was sold at Christie’s auction in March of 1977 where the British Museum was outbid by the British Rail Pension Fund. The BRPF loaned the seal to the British Museum for almost two decades before deciding to sell the piece at auction in 1996. The museum tried a second time to acquire it, but again was outbid, this time by Norwegian shipping heir and avid manuscript collector Martin Schøyen. When the Schøyen Collection put its entire collection of medieval seal matrices up for auction this summer, the British Museum took no chances. They ensured that the third time would be the charm and arranged a private sale of the Seal of Wulfric beforehand.

Lloyd de Beer, the Ferguson curator of Medieval Britain and Europe at the British Museum said: “We’re delighted to have this incredible object join our collection. These things are extremely rare and it is an object that brings us close to a pivotal moment in history. Within a generation England would be completely transformed, and this object introduces us to one of its people.”

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V&A acquires flea market porcelain treasure

Saturday, December 21st, 2019

An 18th century “holy grail” of English porcelain sculpture discovered at a flea market in France has been acquired by the V&A (pdf). The 8-inch figure was found in southwest Brittany by retired English porcelain dealer Louis Woodford in 2011. He recognized its significance as an early and unique example of London porcelain manufactured by the Chelsea porcelain factory around 1746–49. There is only one other extant example of this design is in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum, but its original white glaze has been altered with colored enamel decoration.

It was produced during the Chelsea porcelain factory’s earliest years, the triangle period (1743-1749), named after the incised triangle-shaped mark on the bottom of the wares. The milky white, shiny, glass-like glaze with surface pitting was typical of this period. The figure was slipcast in porcelain from the original clay model sculpted by premier London sculptor Louis-François Roubiliac.

Born in Lyon, France, in 1702, Roubiliac learned his trade under Baroque sculptor Balthasar Permoser in Dresden before studying under Nicolas Coustou in Paris. He moved to London in around 1730 and worked for established sculptors before striking out on his own with a statue of Handel in 1738. Commissioned for Vauxhall Gardens, the statue was instantly famous, widely reproduced in prints for decades, elevating Roubiliac to the top echelon of sculptors in London and ensuring a thriving career primarily in portrait commissions. All of his known surviving works were made in London.

Art historical and stylistic analysis strongly suggest that Roubiliac was the creator of the original model for Head of a Laughing Child. Roubiliac was a friend of Nicholas Sprimont, the owner and founder of the Chelsea porcelain factory, and evidence suggests Roubiliac considered using Chelsea porcelain for a major sculptural commission in the first few months of the factory’s opening. Additionally, the quality of modelling and the style of the Head, which combines Italianate, French and German influences, all point to Roubiliac as the author of the work. This is supported by documentary evidence revealing Roublilac’s roots and training in both France and Dresden, where he acquired extensive knowledge of Ancient Roman and Baroque sculpture.

Roubiliac would have sculpted the head in clay approximately 20 per cent bigger than the resulting porcelain figure. From this model, multi-part plaster moulds were taken at the Chelsea porcelain factory and then used to cast several versions of the head in porcelain. These were then carefully dried in a process that saw them shrink considerably. The porcelain heads were then glazed and fired at a high temperature.

Sprimont was godfather to Roubiliac’s daughter Sophie. It’s possible that the joyous young woman captured in porcelain was modeled after Sophie. She was born in 1744 and would have been between two and five years old when the sculpture was made.

The Vauxhall Gardens statue of Handel is now in the collection of the V&A, as is another Chelsea porcelain based on a terracotta original by Roubiliac, a portrait of William Hogarth’s beloved pug, Trump. The newly acquired Head of a Laughing Child has gone on display with them in the V&A’s British Galleries.

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