Archive for the ‘Museums’ Category

Galle Chandelier restored sans goldfish

Monday, April 22nd, 2019

A magnificent gilded bronze chandelier with a uniquely whimsical design is the subject of a new exhibition at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. The Galle Chandelier was made in 1818-9 by bronze caster and gilder Gérard-Jean Galle in Paris.  Acquired by the Getty in 1973, it has been on display at the Getty Center, one of the gems of its decorative arts collection, since 1997. Earlier this year it was removed for conservation and is now back on view in Flight of Fancy: The Galle Chandelier.

The new exhibition places the chandelier at eye-level so visitors can view the piece up close. On display along with it are images of some of the design details and prints and illustrations that explore Galle’s inspiration for the work. There are also be interactive video panels that will show a rendering of what the chandelier looked like with the candles lit.

Gérard-Jean Galle came from a family of casters and gilders. His father Claude was one of the premier producers of gilded bronze of his time, creating works for Marie Antoinette, among others. The son took over the family business after his father’s death in 1815, but expensive decorative ornaments weren’t in high demand in post-Napoleonic France. The restored Bourbon monarchy was constitutional now and keen to distance itself from the dizzying spending and ostentation of the Ancien Régime. While what was left of the old nobility did return, they did so in highly reduced circumstances, their ancient feudal powers gone and their lands worked by people they actually had to pay. The new money, businessmen and the professional class, didn’t have the same passion for festooning shiny gold geegaws in every possible nook and granny.

Galle’s skill and craftsmanship were certainly recognized. He won the silver medal at the 1819 Exposition des Produits de L’Industrie Française (Exhibition of French Products of Industry), but got little business from it. He tried the direct approach, writing a letter to Louis XVIII offering to sell  the works he had exhibited at the Exposition for a price that would be “modest for the government.” The government declined.

One of those objects was a chandelier that was either the twin of the one owned by the Getty or the very same. Galle called it a lustre à poisson (fish chandelier) and described it thus in the letter:

Fish chandelier: In the middle of a blue enameled globe scattered with stars is a circle with the signs of the zodiac and six griffins carrying candles … [below is a glass bowl fitted with] a plug intended for the removal of the water which one places in the bowl with small goldfish whose continuous movement will give agreeable recreation to the eye.

The idea of a live fish swimming in a bowl under a chandelier lit by 18 candles is certainly, uhh, innovative. I can’t imagine the fish would have had a good time of it. The globe design was a novelty as well. The gold zodiac symbols on the blue field remind me of the Montgolfier brothers’ historic hot air balloon which first took to the skies before King Louis XVI of France and Queen Marie Antoinette at Versailles in 1783.

Galle’s workshop stayed in business despite the royal refusal. He received a gold medal at the Exhibition of Products of French Industry in 1823 and finally did sale some of his pieces to Louis XVIII, earning the title fournisseur de sa majesté (supplier to his majesty), but it wasn’t enough to bring him any financial security. The Revolution of 1830 kneecapped his market yet again. He was forced to cut his workforce in half and the business ultimately went under. He died in poverty in 1846.

Flight of Fancy: The Galle Chandelier will run through April 19th, 2020.

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Treasures emerge from Rijksmuseum storage

Friday, April 19th, 2019

The Rijksmuseum is showcasing some of the humble magnificence from its storage depot. This group of domestic and everyday use objects haven’t been on display for at least a hundred years, overshadowed by the museum’s extraordinary collection of masterpieces.

They’re getting their moment in the sun thanks to the Netherlands Collection Centre , a new shared storage building currently under construction in Amersfoort which will maintain the stored treasures of the Rijksmuseum, Paleis Het Loo, the Dutch Open Air Museum and the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands all in one state-of-the-art facility. To prepare for the move, the Rijksmuseum is revising their inventory entries for each piece, taking new photographs and writing new descriptions.

The objects range in date from the Middle Ages to the 19th century and will be displayed in five different galleries. The Middle Ages are represented by the museum’s entire collection of bronze mortars and pestles, used in pharmacology and perfume-making and for grinding spices in the home. The oldest mortar is a marquetry red copper and niello piece made in Khorasan, Persia, between 1100 and 1225. It is octagonal on the outside and cylindrical on the inside. The rest of the collection are of European, mosty Dutch, manufacture and decorated with all kinds of motifs from florals to lion heads to saints and hearts and slightly threatening studded ribs.

The Dutch Golden Age, so often associated with great artworks by the likes of Rembrandt, is viewed through a homier perspective in 17th century fireplace and kitchen bricks and tiles and cast iron firebacks. They performed an important function, protecting homes from areas of open flame, but that’s no reason not to make them a beautiful adornment as well. If I didn’t love my kitchen and fireplace as they are, I would be sorely tempted to get my mastic on and cover every conceivable surface with them. I mean, Scipio and Hannibal glowering at each other across a roaring fire? Yes please.

We may think of them as relatively mundane objects today, but when the mirrors in this collection were made in the 16th through 19th centuries, they were extremely expensive in materials, craftsmanship and human life as toxic mercury was essential to the process. This is reflected in their frames, which featured elaborate gilding, carving, molding and marquetry inlay. Some aren’t even looking glasses, but rather used as a striking medium for portraiture.

Small in size but not in stature are textile samples from 19th and early 20th century designers. Fabric swatches by Theo Nieuwenhuis, a student of Pierre Cuypers, architect of the Rijksmuseum whose design paid a great deal of attention to interior decoration with colorful, highly patterned wall frescoes and furnishings, are examples of the upholstery and wall textiles that once adorned Amsterdam’s Shipping House and other important city buildings. Most of the original interiors were discarded and replaced when fashions changed or they wore out.

Because the Rijksmuseum is very kind to those of us not fortunate enough to have regular access to it, almost all the objects on display in this exhibition have been collected in a Rijkstudio gallery so we can browse them online.

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Nero’s Domus Transitoria opens to public

Saturday, April 13th, 2019

Nero was so closely associated with his insanely huge Golden Palace on the Oppian Hill that his previous abode, the Domus Transitoria, was entirely eclipsed by its successor. It was called the Transit House because it extended from the Esquiline to the Palatine so the imperial family could move from one hill to the other moving solely through the buildings, gardens and pools of his private 9,000 square foot palace. It too was constructed of opulent materials from patrician estates that had gradually fallen into imperial hands and was considered obscenely luxurious when it was built in the 50s A.D. It burned down in fire of 64 A.D. and Nero took advantage of the destruction of large swaths of the city to build the Domus Aurea by way of replacement.

The first remains of the Domus Transitoria were discovered in 1721 by the noble Farnese family. Like with the Domus Aurea, it was the surviving frescoes that caught the eye, their small fantastical details inspiring artists in the grottesque style. The Farnese helped themselves to whatever they wanted and what they wanted was those frescoes. They were chiseled off the walls and wound up in the collection of the Archaeological Museum of Naples. Most of what’s left of the palace — a triclium surrounded by porphyry columns, opus sectile floors, vaulted ceilings, an elegant nymphaeum, a communal latrine facility that sat 50 and is believed to have been built for the work crews who built the Domus Aurea after the fire — was excavated by Giacomo Boni in the 1910s.

The Domus Transitoria has never been open to visitors before, but after a decade-long program of structural reinforcement and renovation, you can now descend into the ruins of palatial rooms and gardens that were once ground level. As with the phenomenal Domus Aurea tour, there’s a virtual reality component here too.

Visitors receive virtual reality goggles which bring the dank chambers to life, showing them as they were 2,000 years ago – part of a huge palace decorated with marble pillars, lavish frescoes, mosaic floors and fountains.

The walls were painted with garden scenes, including trees, flowers and song birds.

Inspiration for the design of the sumptuous residence came from a palace built for the Egyptian pharaoh Ptolemy in Alexandria, said Alfonsina Russo, the director of the archeological zone that encompasses the Roman Forum, the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill.

“It reflects the personality of Nero, one of the most controversial figures of the Roman Empire,” said Prof Russo.

The Archaeological Museum of Naples has loaned the frescoes looted from the palace in the 18th century for the reopening. The Palatine Museum just a few steps away has a few frescoes of its own removed in the 1950s as well as statues and other decorative pieces recovered from the Domus Transitoria.

The tour of the Domus is included in the new Roman Forum-Palatine ticket (16 euro) which is valid for a day. The Domus Transitoria can only be visited from Friday to Monday. Included in the price of the ticket is entry to the Palatine Museum, the Neronian Cryptoporticus, the Domus of Augustus, the Domus of Livia, the Temple of Romulus, Santa Maria Antiqua and the imperial ramp of Domitian. You have no idea how hard I tried to get into Santa Maria Antiqua and Domitian’s ramp my last two visits to Rome. No one’s keeping me away next time.

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Stolen de Kooning conservation, plus a crazy twist

Friday, April 12th, 2019

Woman-Ochre, the hugely valuable painting stolen from the University of Arizona Museum of Art in 1985 and rediscovered in the modest home of a New Mexico couple after their estate was sold in 2017, is being restored by conservators at the Getty Museum and specialists at the Getty Conservation Institute. Cut out of its frame and rolled up by the thieves, then crudely stapled to a frame, the canvas was in poor condition when it was recovered. The University of Arizona has wisely decided to bring in the heavy artillery in the form of Getty experts.

The Getty is well versed in the work of de Kooning, whose idiosyncratic working methods have created intense speculation and debate among conservators and art historians, primarily from visual inspection and anecdotal accounts rather than rigorous technical analysis. In 2010, the Conservation Institute worked closely with Susan Lake, then head of collection management and chief conservator at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C., on an in-depth study of de Kooning’s paintings from the 1940s through the 1970s, published by the Getty as Willem de Kooning: The Artist’s Materials.

The Getty-University of Arizona project will also be a teaching tool, providing access and information to graduate-level conservation and science students at local universities as well as those from the University of Arizona.

The restoration begins this month and is expected to take about two years. The painting will be briefly displayed at the Getty Museum in 2020 before returning home to the University of Arizona.

In the meantime, the investigation into the theft continues. The FBI won’t comment on the case until they’ve completed their investigation, but there is new information from non-law enforcement sources, and y’all, this is a crazy, CRAZY story.

Quick recap: November 29th, 1985, the day after Thanksgiving, a man and a woman entered the UofA Museum of Art in Tucson. The woman distracted the security guard while the man cut Woman-Ochre out of its frame, rolled it up and hid it under a coat. Fifteen minutes after walking in the door, the couple walked out and neither they nor the painting they stole were seen again for 32 years.

In August of 2017, David Van Auker, Buck Burns and Rick Johnson, owners of Manzanita Ridge Furniture & Antiques in Silver City, New Mexico, bought a bunch of stuff from the estate of Jerry and Rita Alter in Cliff, New Mexico, for $2000. Jerry, a retired music teacher, had died in 2012. Rita, a retired speech pathologist, died in June 2017. After her death, her nephew and executor of the estate, Ron Roseman, put the contents of their house up for sale.

It was customers of Manzanita Ridge Furniture & Antiques commented that the de Kooning sure looked a lot like a real one. A little Googling and a call to the University of Arizona and the next thing you know, its authenticity was confirmed and the painting was on its way back to Tucson.

The rediscovery of a painting that a conservative estimate based on past sales of works from the series would value at something in the neighborhood of $150 million in a little ranch house in rural New Mexico made big news, of course. How had the Alters acquired it? Nobody in their family knew anything about it. It was hanging in their bedroom blocked by the door and could only been seen from inside the room. Ron Roseman didn’t even know it existed until January of 2017 when he was helping out his aunt as she struggled with dementia in her final months.

After the find made the press, Ron found an interesting photo when going through some old family pictures. It was of his aunt and uncle smiling as they spent Thanksgiving of 1985 with family. In Tucson. This is that picture:

This is a composite sketch of the thieves published in the Arizona Daily Star of December 5th, 1985:

The getaway car was a rust color. Except for one blue one at a different time, the Alters only owned red cars. The painting only shows evidence of having been reframed once after the theft, an amateur hack job using a commercial pre-made frame, not custom work. Van Auker said it was coated in thick dust and that the frame’s outline was marked on the wall when he removed it. He’s sure the painting had been fixed in that place for decades.

Yeah. And it gets crazier.

The Alters wrote three books together, one about traveling, another about poetry and a twist on Aesop’s Fables.

“The Cup and The Lip: Exotic Tales” features fictional accounts of travel adventures. In one story, “Eye of the Jaguar,” a grandmother and her granddaughter case a local city museum and then return to steal its prize exhibit, a 120-carat emerald.

The thieves leave behind no clues. The jewel is kept hidden “several miles away” from the museum, behind a secret panel, “and two pairs of eyes, exclusively, are there to see!” he wrote.

No fingerprints were left at the scene of the crime. There was no security video in the museum at that time. There is no hard evidence to be found more than three decades after Woman-Ochre was purloined. But it sure does look like the Alters might just have done the unthinkable and pulled a massive heist for the sheer pleasure of looking at an abstract expressionist nude until the day they died. Is it weird that I can’t help but admire that a little? I mean, I can’t deny having fantasized about snagging some amazing artifact or artwork and cooing over it in secret for centuries as it shriveled me up and extended my life unnaturally like Gollum.

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Marie Antoinette’s rooms reopen at Versailles

Thursday, April 11th, 2019

In January of 2016, the Queen’s State Apartment, the grand rooms occupied by the Queens consort of France from Louis XIV’s wife Maria Theresa to the doomed Marie Antoinette, were closed to the public as part of the “Grand Versailles” project, a massive 17-year, €500 million program to restore, upgrade and improve the buildings and grounds of the palace. The Queen’s rooms were in need of significant conservation and upgrades to the fire safety systems, utility networks, air treatment and climate control.

The four adjoining rooms — the Queen’s Guard Room, the Royal Table Antechamber, the Nobles’ Room and the Queen’s Bedchamber — had been hard done by heat. King Louis-Philippe (r. 1830- 1848), seen here turning into a pear, had heaters blowing in the palace that were way too hot and couldn’t really be controlled. The heat of the summer was bad enough, raising the temperature at the highest point under the ceilings to 115F. A new climate-adaptive air system was installed with humidity regulation controls.

After more than three years of painstaking labour, the Queen’s State Apartment will reopen on April 16th. In order to replace the ductwork and pipes behind the walls, the decorative woodwork had to dismantled, bronzes and textiles removed. Carpenters, goldsmiths, the silk weaving house of Tassinari and Chatel and many other artisans and trades were involved in the reconstruction and restoration.

Extensive studies were undertaken to recreate the original paint schemes, restore textiles and other decorative elements. The rocaille decorations on the wall, a trompe-l’oeil technique that used plaster, rock and seashells to create the illusion of gilded swirls, crests and cupids, created for Marie Leszczynska, wife of Louis XV, was rediscovered under thick layers of overpaint. The delicate blue grey background paint has been restored making the faux gilded elements stand out again. A grisaille allegory by François Boucher’s representing the queenly virtues of charity, piety, liberality and prudence was restored to its original softness as well with the removal of discolored overpaintings and varnishes that had left the figures looking yellowed and flat.

Two exhibitions will open in the rooms on Tuesday dedicated to three queens who called this apartment home and gave birth to 19 princes and princesses of France there. Marie Antoinette has the biggest name recognition, but Marie Leszczynska (who I know almost nothing about beyond the fictionalized account in the awesomely entertaining and even more awesomely confusing anime Le Chevalier D’Eon) is finally getting a little attention too, as is Madame de Maintenon, morganatic wife of Louis XIV.

On a technically unrelated but in a weird way related note, the palace will be throwing a rave this summer in the Halls of Mirrors. It’s a celebration of French electronica label Ed Banger Records and will feature the label’s top four DJs spinning at the foot of the Hall of the Mirrors to the delight of crowds grinding it out on a massive dance floor that will be erected on the terraces of the Château de Versailles overlooking its impeccable gardens. Grab your gilded pacifiers and most rococo glow sticks and book your tickets for the June 8th event here.

Also, Google Arts & Culture has a nifty online exhibit called Sciences at Versailles that uses artworks and objects to explore the role technology, engineering, astronomy, geography and other scientific pursuits played at the courts of Louis XIV and his successors.

Sciences at Versailles chapter 1: science & power
Sciences at Versailles chapter 2: astronomy, queen of sciences
Sciences at Versailles chapter 3: discovering new worlds, geography
Sciences at Versailles chapter 4: cascade creation, water engineering
Sciences at Versailles chapter 5: botany & zoology, a taste for exoticism
Sciences at Versailles chapter 6: fit for a king, medicine and surgery
Sciences at Versailles chapter 7: the science show, physics and chemistry
Sciences at Versailles chapter 8: mechanics, automatons and hot-air balloons

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Canadian T. rex is world’s largest

Tuesday, March 26th, 2019

A study by University of Alberta paleontologists has confirmed that the fossil of a Tyrannosaurus rex found in Saskatchewan is the largest known T. rex specimen in the world.

The first piece of the 66-million-year-old giant was discovered on August 16th, 1991, by Eastend high school teacher Robert Gebhardt who was learning how to find fossils in the field with a team of University of Alberta paleontologists. In the exposed bedrock along Saskatchewan’s Frenchman River Valley, Gebhardt discovered the base of a teeth a tail vertebra. Their size and shape indicated they were from a Tyrannosaurus rex. That night the team celebrated the find with a bottle of Scotch and named the dinosaur after their celebratory tipple.

Getting him out of the rock would take another two decades of painstaking work by paleontologists, students and volunteers. Excavations began in June of 1994, each fossilized bone chipped out of the bedrock by hand one at a time. By the time the last bone had been recovered, it was 2014 and it was clear that not only had they found the Saskatchewan’s first T. rex, but that Scotty was a splendid example.

Approximately 65% of the skeleton was found and puzzled together over years. The reconstructed skeleton indicates Scotty was 43 feet long and weighed around 19,400 pound making him the largest known T. rex ever found. He was also the longest-lived.

“Scotty is the oldest T. rex known,” [U of A paleontologist Scott] Persons explained. “By which I mean, it would have had the most candles on its last birthday cake. You can get an idea of how old a dinosaur is by cutting into its bones and studying its growth patterns. Scotty is all old growth.”

But age is relative, and T. rexes grew fast and died young. Scotty was estimated to have been in its early 30s when it died.

“By Tyrannosaurus standards, it had an unusually long life. And it was a violent one,” Persons said. “Riddled across the skeleton are pathologies — spots where scarred bone records large injuries.”

Among Scotty’s injuries are broken ribs, an infected jaw and what may be a bite from another T. rex on its tail—battle scars from a long life.

Scotty will go on public view at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum this May. The museum has been working assiduously to create a new exhibition space that will do the massive creature justice. The RSM is doing a full renovation and redesign of its upper and lower gallery entrances that will give visitors the opportunity to view Scotty from two perspectives, foot level and eye level. The upper level isn’t just a catwalk or perch, but rather a fully functional second tier that can be used to host events supervised by the unblinking gaze of a T. rex’s eye (socket).

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Minneapolis Institute of Art acquires breathtaking Japanese textiles

Friday, March 22nd, 2019

The Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) has acquired an exceptional collection of Japanese textiles. The rare and beautiful handmade Japanese garments were assembled by researcher and Asian art collector Thomas Murray over the course of 40 years and were acquired by the museum in a combined purchase and gift.

Murray’s refined taste and depth of knowledge of Japanese textiles has created a collection of superlative condition, quality and breadth. Mia already had very fine collection of Japanese paintings, prints, sculptures and ceramics raises but before this acquisition it only had a few textiles — Noh robes from the theater, silk wedding kimono, early 20th century casual kimono made from meisen silk with bold graphic prints. Murray’s collection of 230 pieces elevates the museum’s Japanese textiles holdings from a handful of items to one of the top collections of Japanese clothing in the world.

The collection features traditional Japanese clothing and fabrics made for home, work, and festival celebrations between the late 18th and early 20th centuries. A kaleidoscope of materials and designs, the acquisition includes exceptionally rare, brightly colored bingata and ikat kimonos and wrapping cloths made of wild banana fiber from subtropical Okinawa, delicately patterned Mingei (folk art) costumes and textiles used by farmers and fishermen from Japan’s largest and most populous islands of Honshu and Kyushu, and boldly patterned garments of elm-bark cloth, nettle fiber, and salmon skin created by the aboriginal Ainu people residing on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido and formerly found on the Sakhalin island of Siberia. […]

Among the many outstanding textiles in the Murray Collection is an exuberant festival robe decorated with sea creatures and water motifs, used to celebrate a successful fish catch. The robe’s decorations were hand-drawn and painted with a rice paste resist dye technique, tsutsugaki, making this robe one of a kind.

Other important highlights of the collection include Ainu robes which have long been celebrated for their exacting, symmetrical designs revealing the skills and aesthetics of the women who created them. One of these robes is known as a kaparamip, meaning “thin cloth,” because it was made of cotton that was traded from the Japanese mainland. A decorative effect was achieved by using contrasting shades of trade cloth such as indigo that was then overlaid with a white cutout pattern appliqué and accented with red thread in a variety of embroidery stitches.

I asked Andreas Marks, the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s Mary Griggs Burke Curator of Japanese and Korean Art, what the biggest challenges were in conserving such a varied collection. He replied:

The biggest challenges in conservation of textiles are the protection from bugs and mold. This is primarily achieved through a sanitized and climate-controlled environment that includes storage in archival boxes. Furthermore, textiles that enter our collection undergo a time period of freezing that would kill any live insects. That way we can prevent bugs from entering. Certain textiles will have to be stored flat and not folded as they are too brittle because of material and/or age.

The Japanese textiles are currently undergoing conservation and will go on full display in the fall of 2020.

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Panorama of London 20 feet wide goes on display

Friday, March 15th, 2019

A huge panorama of London as it was at the end of the Napoleonic wars has gone on display at the Museum of London. The watercolour over pencil work was painted by Pierre Prévost in 1815. As huge as this panorama is, it is just a fraction of what it was meant to be. It’s a preparatory study for a panorama more than 100 feet wide. Prévost successfully completed the behemoth, the epitome of his work as a panoramist, but it is now lost.

Panoramas were all the rage starting in the late 18th century. The term was coined by artist Robert Barker in 1787 when he had the idea to create a 360° view of a city in detailed perspective. Viewers would stand in the center of a custom-built rotunda and immerse themselves in the vista of a distant city. Barker built his first rotunda and panorama in 1793 and by 1800 they had taken off like wildfire.

Prévost was one of the premiere artists of the form. His first panorama, View of Paris from the Tuileries, was created in 1799. Many others followed, including views of Amsterdam, Athens and Jerusalem. He went to London to make a panorama of the city in 1802 (also lost), during the brief break in the Napoleonic wars after the Piece of Amiens, and then returned after Waterloo in 1815 to create the view from Westminster Abbey of which this prep is all that remains.

Painted from the bell tower of St Margaret’s church, right next to Westminster Abbey, the view encompasses the Abbey, its graveyard, the Middlesex Guildhall (then only 10 years old), the medieval Houses of Parliament which would be destroyed in a catastrophic fire in 1834, St. James’ Park, the Palace of Whitehall’s Banqueting House, the future Trafalgar Square and the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Prévost captures not just London’s architecture, but its lifeblood as well. There are street scenes of people going about their business — carts carrying goods, shops, a factory — and views of the bustling shipping trade on the Thames.

The finished panorama was exhibited in a rotunda in Paris. That the preparatory drawing has survived is remarkable. Highly finished, detailed, scale sketches were necessary to create so enormous a finished painting, but only one other is known from the many panoramas in Prévost’s oeuvre, a view of Constantinople now in the Louvre.

It was recently rediscovered at sold at auction at Sotheby’s on July 4th, 2018, for 250,000 ($330,000). The Museum of London was able to acquire it with the support of the Art Fund, the Aldama Foundation and several private donors. Since then it has been conserved by museum experts and is on display for the first time as of today.

The photograph cannot do this work justice because it’s so much wider than it is high, but thankfully the Museum of London has create a neat video that scrolls over the panorama with key sites labelled.

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Campaign secures Neolithic ball for Perth Museum

Thursday, March 14th, 2019

An intricately carved Neolithic stone ball discovered in the Ochil Hills near Sherriffmuir in Perthshire, central Scotland, will stay in its native soil after a fundraising campaign secured it for the Perth Museum and Art Gallery. The 4,000-year-old stone was declared Treasure Trove according to Scottish law and allocated to the Perth Museum, but because budget cuts have slashed its acquisitions budget, the museum had to raise money to secure it. The Perthshire Society of Natural Science opened an online crowd-funding campaign and was able to raise £1625 well before the March 26th deadline. A grant from the National Fund for Acquisitions chipped in matching funds.

Stone balls carved in the Late Stone Age (around 3200 – 2500 BC) are a big thing in Scotland. Out of about 530 that have been found in Northern Europe, 520 of them were found in Scotland. More than a third of them are in the National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh. That the Sheriffmuir Ball will remain local is all the more significant because it is one of fewer than 50 of the known Neolithic balls to have decorative carving and it’s a particularly elaborate one. It’s also one of the most southernly balls ever found in Scotland.

Since the first one was discovered 150 years ago, archaeologists have debated what the purpose of the balls might have been. None of them have been found in or near burial, so they were not used as funerary offerings or grave goods. They could have been weapons, tools or status symbols, or perhaps a combination of any of those.

They are roughly the same size and while remaining circular in dimensions, they have been carved to have lobes or knobs. The ones that are decorated have spirals and curved carved into the surface. The Sheriffmuir Ball has a grid pattern on one lobe, five parallel lines on another and an off-center circle on a third.

You can explore it in the 3D model created by National Museums Scotland:

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Boston College tackified and neglected mascot is Meiji masterpiece

Wednesday, March 13th, 2019

A bronze eagle that spent 90 years exposed to the harshest of elements on a column like an aquiline Simeon Stylites has been found to be a masterpiece from Japan’s Meiji period (1868–1912). The 340-pound bronze of an eagle taking flight (or landing) was donated to Boston College in 1954 by Gus Anderson, a gardener who had inherited it from the estate of collectors Larz and Isabel Weld Anderson (no relation) after the latter’s death in 1948. The Andersons had acquired it in Japan during their 1897 honeymoon. They installed it in the Japanese garden of their palatial estate, Weld, in Brookline, Massachusetts, where it remains for five decades. When it moved to Boston College it was again placed outdoors, this time perched atop a 34-foot column in front of Gasson Hall. It was also gilded for some ungodly reason, possibly because the eagle is the mascot of the college’s sports teams and their colors are maroon and gold.

In 1993, a workmen making repairs to Gasson Hall saw from their high viewpoint that the eagle had taken a beating by the severe New England weather. It was removed from the column and disassembled into five component parts. Each of them was used to make a plaster cast from which a replica of the eagle was created. The replica was then put on top of the column and the original boxed up, each part in its own box, and stored in the studio where the casts had been made.

It was broken down and unappreciated for a couple of decades until an artist who had traced its history alerted the college that they actually had something special there.

The university called in the local firm Rika Smith McNally & Associates to conserve the work.

A Meiji attribution was confirmed by an analysis by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The high lead content corresponded with karakane alloys used by Meiji artists to achieve a hallmark fluidity in wavy parallel lines, which are “incredible” around the beak and eyes, says Rika Smith McNally.

“When we got to the pupil, we knew we were dealing with a Japanese Meiji work because the eyeball was made using the shakudo technique,” in which a raised black copper pupil is attached to the centre of a gold-leafed eye, she adds. “It gives a very animated appearance to the eye.”

The eagle, put back together and restored to its original glory, has gone on display at Boston College’s McMullen Museum of Art in Eaglemania: Collecting Japanese Art in Gilded Age America, an exhibition centered around the eagle, its importance as a motif in Japanese art and the fashion for Japanese art in among the wealthy bluebloods of late 19th century Boston. The exhibition runs through June 2nd of this year.

“The McMullen Museum is pleased to celebrate the painstaking restoration and research that recently revealed the artistic significance of a virtually lost monumental bronze masterpiece from Japan’s Meiji period,” said McMullen Museum Director and Professor of Art History Nancy Netzer. “The exhibition and accompanying scholarly volume contextualize the history of Boston College’s eagle sculpture and the argument for its probable attribution to the circle of master artist Suzuki Chōkichi (1848–1919) with an array of magnificent loans, many of which have never been displayed publicly in New England.”

This video recounting the bird’s journey from ruination to renewal has some breathtaking views of the details of the sculpture. I got a lump in my throat when the conservators removed ever so gently cotton swabbed away that hideous gilding.

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