Archive for the ‘Museums’ Category

One of the earliest Persian garden carpets in the world to go on display in the US for the first time

Tuesday, April 10th, 2018

One of the greatest Persian carpets in the world is traveling from Glasgow to the United States for the first time to go on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The Wagner Garden Carpet was made in Kirman, modern-day southeastern Iran, in the 17th century. It one of the three earliest Persian garden carpets known in the world (the other two are at the Albert Hall in Jaipur, India, and the Museum of Industrial Art in Vienna, Austria) but its design is unique. There are no other carpets known that use its base pattern in whole or in part.

Its four-quartered garden layout is inspired by the Safavid royal gardens and the concept of the earthly paradise described in the Quran. In the middle is a basin where the channels that divide the garden meet. All along the H-shaped channels trees, plants and shrubs flower and animals — birds, butterflies, goats, rabbits, lions, gazelles, peacocks, leopards — roam amidst their lushness. Fish and waterfowl frolic in the canals.

It was named after its German owner who acquired it at the turn of the century. Sir William Burrell bought it in 1939 from the Royal Bank of Scotland. He displayed it in his drawing room at Hutton Castle in Northumberland, but only owned it for five years before donating it to the City of Glasgow.

It is huge, more than 17 feet long and 14 feet wide. The warps are all cotton; the wefts wool, cotton and silk; the pile wool. Because of its massive size and the delicate condition of its textiles, it has only been on display twice in the past three decades, and has never been seen outside the UK since the Burrell purchase in 1939. It is traveling now only because the Burrell Collection closed for an extensive £66 million refurbishment in October 2016 and doesn’t reopen until late 2020.

Dr Frances Fowle, Burrell Trustees chairman, said: “The Burrell Trustees are delighted to support the loan of one of the world’s most spectacular and important carpets to one of the world’s greatest museums.

“The loan will raise international awareness of the significance of Sir William Burrell’s collection while the museum undergoes much-needed refurbishment.” […]

While on display in New York the artwork will accompanied by a supporting display relating to the importance of gardens in Islamic culture and a full public programme including a symposium and a guest lecture by Noorah al Gailani, curator of Islamic Civilisations at Glasgow Museums and the Burrell Collection.

It will be exhibited at the Met’s Islamic Galleries from July 10th through October 7th, 2018.

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Met returns two stolen artifacts to Nepal

Sunday, April 8th, 2018

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has returned two stolen religious icons to Nepal more than 30 years after they were looted. One is a 11th-12th century Standing Buddha that was stolen from a shrine in the Yatkha Tole neighborhood of Kathmandu in 1986. The other is a stele known as the Uma Maheshwor idol that depicts the god Shiva and his wife Parvati and is estimated to date to the 12th-13th century. It was stolen from the Tangal Hiti temple in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Patan in the Kathmandu Valley. The third largest city in Nepal, Patan is famed for its temples, palaces and rich tradition of artisan crafts.

The Met was given the Uma Maheshwor by a private collector in 1983. It wasn’t until the donation of the Standing Buddha in 2015 that the museum realized both pieces had been looted. Both statues feature in a 1989 book entitled Stolen Images of Nepal by Nepalese art expert Lain Singh Bangdel documenting the uncontrolled rash of thefts that ravaged Nepal from the 1950s through the 1980s. Temple deities were particular targets, stolen by the thousands. Easily portable — nobody thought to anchor them firmly when they were created a thousand or so years ago — and highly desirable to collectors, they weren’t guarded by security personnel. The local residents who worshipped them and prayed to them didn’t imagine they’d be ripped off and sold to unscrupulous Western collectors and institutions.

To its credit, the Metropolitan Museum of Art reached out to Nepal once it became aware the pieces were stolen. On March 6th, museum officials and Nepal’s Consul General in New York City signed a repatriation agreement, and less than a month later both idols were back in their native land.

The sculptures arrived at the Department of Archaeology in Kathmandu last Wednesday, April 4th. After the crates were opened, three men from the city of Patan traveled to Kathmandu to see their revered Uma Maheshwor stele for the first time in 35 years. The moment was all the more meaningful because Patan was devastated by the Gorkha earthquake that struck on April 25th, 2015, and many historical and religious structures and art works were damaged or destroyed.

Both works will now go the National Museum of Nepal in Kathmandu. This decision is not an uncontroversial one. The idols have profound spiritual meaning to the communities from which they were looted. They are considered living representations of deities. When they are put on display in a museum, they are exhibited as mere art pieces, a sharp decline in significance compared to the reverence they receive in their communities of origin.

There is a chance they might return to their shrines, however. By the terms of Nepal’s Ancient Monument Preservation Act 1956, communities can apply to have idols returned to them, but they have to prove they can secure them effectively. If they can convince the Department of Archaeology that the sculptures won’t be in danger of theft again, they will be returned. It’s a slim chance at best.

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Painting by Dutch master found in Iowa gallery closet

Thursday, April 5th, 2018

Robert Warren, Executive Director of the Hoyt Sherman Place gallery in Des Moines, Iowa, was looking for some Civil War flags in a flower closet. He didn’t find any. Instead, wedged between a table and the wall, he found a late 16th century panel painting by Dutch master Otto van Veen. It had suffered significant water damage after spending who knows how long in a small, uninsultated room full of jumbled stuff, and before then experienced unfortunate attempts at restoration. It was also unsigned.

The scene depicts the figures of Apollo and Venus accompanied by her son Cupid. Venus, the Roman Goddess of Love, Beauty, and Fertility, is portrayed as an artist painting a landscape that includes a small image of Pegasus on the horizon. Apollo, holding a lyre, is the Roman God of Music, Poetry, and more. Cupid is the Roman God of Desire, Affection, and Erotic Love. The painting also contains four still-lifes referencing Venus’ beauty and fertility: a collection of jewelry, a basket of fruit and flowers, a sprig of roses, and a bowl of oysters. A fifth still-life of her painting supplies occupies the lower right corner.

The painting was coated with layers of discolored varnish and former restoration work that flattened the three-dimensional quality of the scene and falsified the artist’s intended palette. Areas of former loss were present along splits in the wood and throughout scattered areas especially pronounced in the left third of the painting. The surface was heavily overpainted after a succession of former restoration attempts.

Chicago conservator Barry Bauman conserved the piece, cleaning it, repairing flaking paint and faulty restorations. The artist was identified as Otto van Veen who painted it in Antwerp in the last years of the 16th century. It was brought to Des Moines by the Collins family who had owned it since at least the 1880s when they lived in New York and loaned it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The painting moved to Des Moines with them and the family donated it to the Hoyt Sherman Place gallery in the 1923. It is Des Moines’ earliest Old Master painting.

Born in Leiden to a prominent Catholic family, van Veen studied in Rome and built a successful studio in Antwerp where he received numerous commissions for altar pieces and other religious themed works from churches and aristocratic patrons. He also took in students, most famously Peter Paul Rubens who studied under van Veen from 1594 to 1600, just the time when he painted Apollo and Daphne. A humanist and scholar, van Veen would go on to publish three emblem books (illustrated compendia of symbols and allegories used in art accompanied by a motto from a famous author, usually from antiquity). His most popular by far was Amorum emblemata (published in 1608), which is replete with Cupids.

So even though Apollo and Venus might seem to lean towards the profane for someone with a thriving business painting Christian iconography, in fact it fits his education, understanding and pedagogical approach to perfection. There are so many symbols of love layered in the panel it would have made a very useful addition to the Amorum emblemata.

All those layers may be the reason the masterpiece was hidden away in the storage closet. When it was donated to the gallery, the Hoyt Sherman Place was run by the upstanding ladies of the Des Moines Women’s Club. They founded the Club in 1885 with the express purpose of creating an art museum open to the public free of charge. After more than two decades of hosting temporary exhibitions at various sites, in 1907 the DMWC finally found a permanent home when the city rented them the historic Hoyt Sherman Place for the token sum of $1 a year. The Club built an addition to house its art collection and the Hoyt Sherman Place gallery opened as the first public art gallery in Des Moines.

In 1921 construction began on another addition that would expand the gallery and create an elegant auditorium for performances and exhibitions. The closet where Warren discovered the Van Veen’s masterpiece is located on the balcony of the auditorium. He speculates that all the nudity, sex and fertility symbols were a little too spicy for the Des Moines Women’s Club when it was donated in the 1920s. At that time, there wasn’t a single nude in the 54-work collection.

Apollo and Venus debuted at the gallery in a preview last month. It will be displayed as part of the permanent collection this summer.

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Tut, Tut, Tut

Sunday, April 1st, 2018

The only American stop of a touring exhibition of more than 150 exceptional artifacts discovered in the tomb of 18th Dynasty Pharaoh Tutankhamun is now open to the public at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. Much like it blockbuster predecessor exhibitions, King Tut: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh is shaping up to be a monster best-seller, so even though it will run through January 6th, 2019, if you are in Los Angeles or can plan to be there, book your tickets early and often.

The objects on display are funerary treasures that were interred with the young king. Through the artifacts, visitors will learn about King Tut’s life, his death and the afterlife they were intended to accompany him into. This is the largest group of Tutankhamun’s burial treasures ever to travel. Fully 40% of them have never been outside of Egypt.

The show also coincides with the centennial of the tomb’s discovery, so there are historical photos on display from Howard Carter’s find of a lifetime.

“Each artifact presented in King Tut: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh is important to the story of King Tut – helping us to learn how they were used in his daily life and in preparations for his journey to the afterlife. Especially notable is what the discovery of his tomb meant to the world of archaeology and the insights gained from the state-of-the-art technology and scientific analyses of King Tut’s mummy and artifacts,” said California Science Center President Jeff Rudolph. “It is our honor to be the first institution to host the exhibition that will hopefully inspire people around the world to see the exhibition and visit the upcoming Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza to see more of these wonders of ancient Egypt.”

That last plug for a museum that won’t even be open until 2020 tells you why Egypt is willing to part with so many priceless objects it hasn’t been willing to part with, even for a temporary stretch, over the last century. The tour is one big, beautiful, shiny, rapturous lure for tourists in the US and Europe to make their way to Cairo once the new museum next to the pyramids is complete and open to the public.

And now, the reason for this post. Bring on the glorious artifact porn!





Be sure to click on the thumbnails to see the full-sized versions because they are in fantastically high resolution and look amazing.

This is one is more from the annals of “how the sausage is made,” in this case how the artifacts were unpacked an installed after their arrival in Los Angeles. It’s just such a beautiful, haunting image. It could be a stand-alone art piece.

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Vindolanda’s wood (toilet seat included!) goes on display

Saturday, March 31st, 2018

On March 30th, a new gallery dedicated solely to wooden artifacts unearthed from the Roman fort of Vindolanda in Northumberland opened at the site’s museum. Vindolanda’s oxygen-free soil is an exceptional preserver of organic materials, most famously the wood tablets recording the letters of soldiers, officers and civilians, but also leather objects (so many shoes), assorted textiles and plants.

Exactly 1,463 wooden artifacts have been unearthed at Vindolanda, some of them unique in the world. My personal favorite is the toilet seat, the only ancient Roman wooden toilet seat known to have survived, but there are plenty more treasures among the haul, including the only known surviving wooden potter’s wheel, a wagon wheel, bath clogs and the remains of doors with numerals carved into them.

There are an array of combs, boxes, tools, furniture and water pipes which are also very rare survivals. Most of the Roman pipes archaeologists find still intact are lead or tile. The smooth barrel stave from Spain engraved with the maker’s name discovered in 2016 is in the new gallery too, as is a toy sword.

Just 10 months after the initial ground work started on site the ‘Unlocking Vindolanda’s Wooden Underworld’ project is now complete and opens to the public on 30th March 2018. The new gallery has special display cases which not only allow temperature and humidity to be kept at safe levels but are also large enough to accommodate some of the current and future giant wooden objects.

Visitors can also hear the incredible survival story of the collection – from the science behind how they lasted two millennia to their conservation and the research that is uncovering their origins. […]

In addition to the gallery a new activity centre has also been created which allows more people to engage with the collection through a range of activities for all ages. Easter weekend starts the activity programme with a closer look at Roman cooking and Roman food specialist John Crouch will be demonstrating how wood was used in the Roman kitchen.

As more wooden objects are unearthed, more will be added to the gallery.

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University of Aberdeen painting is by Canaletto

Friday, March 30th, 2018

A painting donated to the University of Aberdeen 153 years ago has been authenticated as a work by the Venetian master Canaletto. It was long believed to have been the work of his studio or school, but university art history professor John Gash and leading Canaletto expert Charles Beddington are convinced it was painted by the hand of Giovanni Antonio Canal (1697–1768) himself.

Canaletto is famed for his views of Venice, but this work is more unusual in his oeuvre. It’s a capriccio, a fantasy composite of ancient ruins that don’t exist in real life, in this case a temple on which a modern cottage has been built. Peasant women hang out the wash they’ve done in the two fountains at the base and side of the ancient temple. On the left is a pyramid highly reminiscent of Rome’s Pyramid of Cestius, the only pyramid in Italy, which makes an appearance in several of Canaletto’s works.

There are three other capricci by Canaletto that share some features with the Aberdeen painting, and a collection of etchings by the artist also includes architectural and figural elements in common with this work. While it is not signed, many of Canaletto’s paintings were left unsigned by the artist. This one has a telltale mark of the artist, however: in the center of the ruined temple is a large circle which bears the coat of arms of his family.

It was bequeathed to the university by physician Alexander Henderson who died on his estate Caskieben in Dyce, Aberdeenshire, in 1863. Henderson, an Aberdeenshire native who had attended Marischal College (which in 1860 merged with King’d College to become the University of Aberdeen) as a teenager, later went to medical school in Edinburgh where he had a successful practice. He was best known for having exposed Ann Moore, the fasting woman of Tutbury, as a fraud who had been eating just fine under the very noses of previous examining physicians. After moving to London, his medical career fell by the wayside, superseeded by his interests in art, literature and fine wines, on which he became a published expert. He traveled the continent collecting art and antiquities, amassing a notable collection of ancient Greek pottery mainly acquired from the freshly excavated ruins of Herculaneum.

In his 1857 will, he left his alma mater Marischal College his entire collection which he described in far too modest terms:

“To the Museum of the said College, my pictures, drawings, marbles, Vases, bronzes, and medals which, though not of high value, may assist in forming and diffusing among my fellow townsmen a taste for the fine arts, and may lead to farther [sic.] bequests of a similar kind.”

Two years after his death, the Aberdeen Journal printed an article listing the donated works and noting they were on display in a hall of Marischal College. The Ruins of a Temple was attributed to “B. Canaletti” which is not an accurate name. The author might have meant Bernardo Bellotto, Canaletto’s nephew, student and collaborator who was known to have used his patron’s nickname, but no art historians today think there’s even a slim chance of Bellotto having painted the capriccio.

“It was often thought to be from the Canaletto school – that is, by one of Canaletto’s pupils or someone imitating his style,” explains Mr Gash. “However I and others have long suspected it was a real Canaletto and now we have been able to confirm this.

“It is clear from the technique and the style, as in the language of forms and composition, that this is a Canaletto and is in fact an autograph work of the highest quality.”

The painting had previously decorated the University’s Principal’s house but has now been revealed as one of the University’s treasures.

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Antioch mosaics rediscovered at Florida museum

Sunday, March 18th, 2018

The Museum of Fine Art in St. Petersburg, Florida, has rediscovered two ancient mosaics from Antioch that for reasons unknown were buried under the east lawn behind the sculpture garden. On March 7th, they were excavated and, along with three other Antioch mosaics in the museum’s collection, will be conserved in full view of the public in an outdoor conservation laboratory on the east lawn.

The ancient city Antioch, modern-day Antakya, Turkey, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Rome, Constantinople and Alexandria as one of the great metropolises of the Roman Empire. Part of the Syria province, one of the richest of the Eastern Roman Empire, it was founded in the 4th century B.C. by Alexander the Great’s general Seleucus I Nicator. It became the capital of the Seleucid Empire and continued to be a center of Hellenistic culture long after the collapse of the Seleucid dynasty in the 1st century B.C.

Its mosaics are outstanding examples of Hellenistic art. At a time when the fashion in the Western Roman Empire was for black and white mosaics, the trend in Antioch was for a pictorial, colorful style with narrative depictions of scenes from mythology, prismatic rainbow effects and complex trompe l’oeil 3D patterns that mimicked naturalistic Greek paintings of the time, very few of which have survived. Even as traditional Greco-Roman polytheism was replaced by Christianity, brilliant color, pattern and naturalistic figures (animals and florals replacing scenes from Classical mythology) still flourished in the city. Roman Antioch produced exceptionally high quality mosaics from the beginning of the second century A.D. until the destruction of the city in a series of earthquakes between 526 and 528 A.D.

Between 1932 and 1939, Princeton University archaeologist George W. Elderkin, directed yearly excavations at Antioch and its environs during which hundreds of mosaics were unearthed. As was typical at the time, the right of excavation granted by the Syrian Antiquities Service also stipulated to a partage (meaning division or sharing in French) system as regards any recovered artifacts. The sponsors, in this case Princeton University, the Worcester Art Museum, the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Musées Nationaux de France (ie, the Louvre), would be entitled to a portion of the finds, including the mosaics.

The excavations ended in late 1939, before the contract was up, due to the outbreak of World War II and the secession of Hatay province from Syria. It was annexed by Turkey, which had far stricter laws regarding the export of antiquities and obviously was not bound by the terms of the Syrian excavation concession. After a tense negotiation with the new bosses, the partage system remained in place, only the government of Turkey got what would have been Syria’s share. Many of the raised mosaics from the Princeton Antioch excavations of the 1930s are now in the Hatay Archaeology Museum in Antakya.

Their share of the artifacts were divvied up among the sponsors. Princeton University got a large number of the finds, not just mosaics, but also sculpture fragments, terracotta figurines, lamps, glass and pottery vessels, jewelry, bronze, bone, ivory and iron tools and decorative elements and some 40,000 coins. Some of the mosaics were installed in various university buildings and the Princeton University Art Museum. The library got the massive coin collection. Much of the rest, 300 boxes and trays worth, was placed in storage.

Over the years, Princeton sold some of the Antioch pavements to other institutions. The Museum of Fine Art in St. Petersburg bought its five from Princeton in 1964, one of the first acquisitions of the museum before it was even open. (It would open to the public in the Spring of 1965.) Two wound up on display, one in the Membership Garden, one embedded in a fountain in the Sculpture Garden. One was placed in storage under the stage of the Marly Room. The remaining two were buried under the east lawn in 1989. While this choice was documented at the time, there are no references to the reasoning behind it, and people just sort of forgot about the two priceless Antioch mosaics under the lawn.

That changed with the appointment of Kristen Shepherd as executive director of the museum in January 2017. She had studied in the Membership Garden when she was a high school student and had fond recollections of the mosaic installed there. When she took up her new job, she researched the mosaic and was delighted to find there were another four from the Antioch excavations in the museum. She quickly found the one in storage and the one in the basin of the fountain and the records of the burial of the two remaining mosaics. The records were sparse, however, and didn’t include the precise locations.

Shepherd sought out former directors and museum staff to see if they had a better idea of where the mosaics had been buried and last year a test pit was dug which revealed the corner of one of the two. She also started fundraising, creating the Antioch Reclaimed: Ancient Mosaics at the MFA project to conserve the mosaics and reinstall them in a manner befitting their archaeological and artistic significance. The March 7th excavation, which required heavy equipment to lift the mosaics on their reinforced concrete beds, also discovered an additional fragment from the fountain mosaic that had not been recorded.

Of the two buried mosaics and the largest of the five came from Room 4 of the House of the Drinking Contest, named after the spectacular mosaic pavement of Room 1, now in the Princeton University Art Museum, whose central panel depicts Herakles and Dionysus knocking back the gifts of the vine. It comprises most of a rectangular floor decorated with a geometric pattern of four-pointed stars. The second is a rectangular panel raised from the East Portico of the House of the Evil Eye. It is a geometric piece as well, featuring diamond shapes over a grid pattern.

Of the three remaining fragments, two are also geometric and one has a figure and an inscription in Greek. The figural piece was raised from Room 20 of the House of the Menander. From Room 1 of the House of Ge and the Seasons comes a fragment with an elaborate combination of guilloche and meander patterns that was part of the border of a pavement mosaic. The last of the five came from Room 5 of the House of Iphigenia and is also geometric border, this one depicting cubes in one-point perspective. All five of the mosaics are generally dated between around 100-300 A.D. and are made of limestone and marble tesserae.

The Antioch Reclaimed project will proceed in three phases. The first is the excavation of the mosaics from the garden, the raising of the one embedded in the fountain and the cleaning and conservation of all five mosaics in the outdoor laboratory. Once the mosaics are looking their best and have been stabilized, in phase two they will go on display in a temporary exhibition that explores their history as part of the Hellenist tradition of mosaic art. That’s scheduled for the Fall of 2020. Phase three is their permanent installation. The site hasn’t been determined yet, but the Membership Garden is due for a renovation and they could well end up there, although I hope in a more protected and conservation-appropriate environment than the old setup.

The museum doesn’t all have the funds needed to complete all three phases yet, but they do have a $50,000 matching challenge on the table right now, so now’s a good time to donate, if you’d like to support the project. To donate any amount, click here. If you donate $50 or more, you’ll get a behind-the-scenes tour of the mosaic under conservation led by Michael Bennett, senior curator of early Western art. The tours are being offered on March 23nd and 24th at 11:30, 1:30 and 3:30, so if you want in on this, you don’t have a lot of time.

If you think embedding a mosaic in a fountain or burying a couple in the garden is a less than optimal way of treating an ancient artifact, then consider the example of Princeton itself which took an even more opprobrious approach to one of the Antioch fragments it did not sell off. It was installed on the exterior threshold of the entrance to the Architecture Laboratory in 1951 where it was pummeled by the New Jersey elements and the tromping of thousands of feet for six decades. When, as was inevitable, the tesserae were dislodged or loosened, layers of cement were slapped on top. It continued to be brutalized in this manner until finally in 2011 it was raised and conserved. Significant portions of it were lost beyond repair. This video shows the whole process — the raising, conservation and its final installation on an indoor wall in the School of Architecture.

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Local social history museum acquires Iron Age gold coin hoard

Wednesday, March 14th, 2018

Eden Valley Museum in Edenbridge is acquiring an Iron Age hoard of gold coins that was discovered by metal detector hobbyist Jonathan Barber in October of 2016 near the village of Chiddingstone in the Sevenoaks District of Kent, England. The exact find site has not been disclosed for its own protection. The 10 coins were dispersed, not found in a single cluster even though they were buried together. They are believed to have been scattered in later centuries through agricultural activity.

The coins are all of the same type: Gallo-Belgic gold staters minted by the Ambiani tribe of northern France whose main settlement, Samarobriva, is the modern-day city of Amiens. The Ambiani were defeated by Gaius Julius Caesar when he fought the Belgae in 57 B.C. and submitted to him only to join in the uprising against Roman occupation led by Vercingetorix of the Arverni in 52 B.C.

The Ambiani were famed minters, their coins being widely distributed throughout northern France and southern England. The type of coin in the Chiddingstone Hoard is known as a “Gallic War Uniface,” struck during the general time period of Gallic Wars (ca. 60-50 B.C.) in northern France and imported into Britain a few years later. High quality coins made of solid gold, they were in wide circulation in the south of England and a number of them have been found there. Finding a group of ten together, however, is extremely rare.

Interestingly, the obverse is smooth. There is no image or text stamped on it. The reverse features a stylized Celtic horse facing right. Hence the name “Uniface” because there is an image only on one side of the coin. Comparable Iron Age coins struck by Celtic tribes normally had a head on the obverse representing a local ruler or deity. Experts believe the obverse was left deliberately blank as a political message. The Gallic allies fighting against Caesar claimed no sole ruler. They were trying to get rid of one.

The smallest coin in the hoard has a diameter of 15mm. It is also the heaviest, weighing in at 6.16 grams. The largest is 19mm in diameter but is just a hair less heavy at 5.98 grams. The lightest of the coins weighs 5.96 grams and is 18mm in diameter. They’re a remarkably uniform bunch, all in all, with just 4mm and a quarter of a gram variance among them.

When the coins were unearthed, the finder alerted the Kent Finds Liaison for the Portable Antiquities Scheme who recognized the Iron Age gold coins and submitted them for consideration as treasure. One declared treasure, the coins were assessed for fair market value by a committee of experts at the British Museum. Local museums are given first crack at acquiring the treasure for the price of the valuation, a fee which is then split between the finder and landowner.

Claire Donithorn BA, resident archaeologist at the museum said, “These will be our first significant Iron Age exhibits. They date from precisely the time when Britain emerged from Prehistoric to Historic Times. Our aim now is to keep the hoard together and to ensure that it stays in the Valley for us and for future generations.”

Experts in the British Museum examined the coins and identified them. The Eden Valley Museum was then offered the chance to buy them. The Museum leaped at the opportunity. Claire Donithorn said, “These coins are an important part of the history of the Eden Valley. They show that the Valley was connected to great events in European History – the Gallic Wars. Whoever buried them may have been involved in those wars and was probably living here in the Valley.”

The museum needs to raise £13,000 to acquire the coins and to create a secure display for them. Grants from the South East Museums Development Programme, Arts Council England/V&A Museum Purchase Grant Fund and the Headley Trust put £11,315 in the kitty, which gets them almost all the way there. While the fundraising isn’t quite complete, the museum is close enough to move forward with the plan. The Chiddingstone Hoard will go on display starting April 11, 2018.

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Keen-eyed Hearst Castle guides spot key to painting’s long-lost author

Saturday, March 10th, 2018

The large painting of the Annunciation had been hanging on the walls of Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California, since 1927 when newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst bought it the California decorating company Cannell and Chaffin. Other than the obvious — its subject and impressive size (8.5 feet high by five feet wide) — nothing else was known about it, not where it came from, not its ownership history and not its author. That was unchanged for decades, even as the painting hung in the grand Assembly Room of the castle’s main building and was examined closely during two separate conservation treatments.

It took a shaft of light and two highly observant tour guides to illuminate the murky history of this artwork. Last November, Carson Cargill and Laurel Rodger were leading a tour in the late afternoon when the sun’s rays reflected off the mosaic floor lit the painting at just the right angle for them to see there was an inscription on Mary’s lectern. Neither of the previous conservations had recorded the presence of an inscription.

In a Feb. 21 interview, Cargill said, “the sunlight was reflecting off the mosaic tile floor in the West Vestibule” of the Assembly Room, shining on the painting and revealing the previously unreported name of the painter. He said, “at that point, you could see it” on the Virgin’s lectern.

After the tour ended and the Assembly Room was empty, he and fellow guide Rodger investigated further. The two have been Castle guides for three years, having been in the same training class.

Then, Cargill recalled, “Laurel saw an inscription” on the painting’s lower-left corner. He said that they “stood on chairs and used flashlights” to confirm what they had seen.

“Once we realized there was something significant,” he said, they took details of their find to [Museum Director Mary] Levkoff.

Rodger said, “At first, we weren’t really sure if we should be excited. But when I saw how excited Mary (Levkoff) was.”

Levkoff said she was overjoyed. Cargill said, “Then we had permission to be excited, elated!”

Levkoff then climbed a ladder herself and examined the inscription closely with a lantern. A little cellphone Googling later, she was able to identify the artist as Bartolomé Pérez de la Dehesa, a 17th century Spanish Baroque painter. She confirmed his identity by comparing the monogram to an authenticated work in the Cleveland Museum of Art, and by consulting with Spanish Baroque expert Dawson Carr, curator of European art at the Portland Museum of Art.

Pérez specialized in depicting flowers, usually in vases and baskets, sometimes accompanying religious scenes or as garlands surrounding portraits of saints. He also did fine decorative work, ornamenting architectural features in palaces and painting elaborate theater sets. That was what earned him the title of court painter to Charles II in 1689. There are no flowers in this work, however, which makes it high atypical for Pérez.

The discovery includes an abbreviation of the artist’s name and his title, located on the base of the Virgin’s lectern: “B.me P.z / Pic[t]or Reg[is].” A lengthy inscription in the lower left corner provides the name of the patron and the date, which was 1690.

The Annunciation painting is unique for Perez, Levkoff said, because he’s known primarily for his floral still-life paintings. She said art experts know of only a few large-scale figural compositions by the artist who was named official painter to King Charles II in 1689.

The inscription indicates the painting was commissioned for a side altar of a church, but which church that might have been we still don’t know. Pérez died in a fall from a scaffold when frescoing the palace of the Duke of Monteleón and multiple religious works, now lost were listed in his will, so the genre was something he explored more widely than most of his surviving oeuvre would indicate.

The Hearst Castle staff have made up for lost time by adding a spotlight to the display so the artist’s name, the patron and the date can finally have their day in the sun even when the sun isn’t reflecting off the mosaic floor in just the right way.

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Adeline Harris’ masterpiece signature quilt

Thursday, March 8th, 2018

The Metropolitan Museum of Art contains many marvels of history and art. The Adeline Harris Sears Tumbling Block with Signatures quilt stands up to any of them for its uniqueness, artistry and unparalleled capture of the history and society of mid-19th century America. Quilts incorporating signatures weren’t new when the teenaged Adeline began her project in 1856, but they were community works, the product of families and churches working together to create a piece for an event like a wedding or baptism. The Met has a lovely example of that type of quilt: an Album quilt by members of the Brown and Turner families of Baltimore, begun in 1846. Adeline’ quilt is something else entirely.

The signatures include congressmen (including Elihu Washburne of Illinois, John Sherman of Ohio), senators (including Solomon Foot of Vermont, Charles Sumner of Massachusetts and William H. Seward of New York, later Lincoln’s Secretary of State), governors (including Sam Houston of Texas, William Buckingham of Connecticut) Union Army generals (including Ambrose Burnside, George McClellan, Joseph Hooker and George Meade, victor of Gettysburg), an astonishing eight presidents of the United States (Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant) and two vice presidents (Schuyler Colfax and Henry Wilson).

There are also notable academics, university presidents, journalists and editors, actors, reformers, scientists, artists, poets, essayists, novelists, folklorists, clergymen from numerous denominantions. Rubbing shoulders on this extraordinary quilt are the autographs of Samuel Morse, Horace Greeley, Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Julia Ward Howe, Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Cullen Bryant, Alexandre Dumas, Oliver Wendell Holmes, William Makepeace Thackeray and Charles Dickens.

And that’s just scratching the surface. Adeline assembled a who’s who of 19th century society for her quilt, the majority of which are still very much luminaries of their fields, even when, as in the case of most of the clergymen, they are not as well known as they were in their lifetimes.

The tumbling blocks pattern is characterized by a trompe l’oeil that gives it a 3D cube effect. Adeline Harris showcased exceptional skill and mastery in her needlework and fabric choice, emphasizing the 3D effect with her arrangement of the varied patterns of silk pieces. The white pieces with autographs all serve as the top of the cubes, while the two visible sides, corner center, are formed by contrasting silk panels. To these she sewed black silk triangles, thereby creating a deep, velvety background to make the cubes pop.

There are 360 blocks with signatures and 10 signatureless partial blocks in the top border, arranged in 20 columns and 36 rows (plus a half row up top). Adeline first put together the blocks, then stitched them together as columns, then stitched the columns together to form the rows. There are 1,840 pieces of silk of 150 different patterns and colors in the entire quilt, most of them imported from Europe and first used in clothing, hats and ribbons before being reincarnated in the quilt. Even the black triangles are diverse, with five different kinds of silks used to create the background.

Adeline’s stitching is the peak of quilt craftsmanship. Look at how sharp and regular the blocks are, how flawlessly they are sewed together so all the corners meet. Then there’s the condition of the fabrics themselves. These scraps were lovingly preserved for who knows how long, and then the quilt itself was preserved in pristine condition by the family for another 140 years. The colors are still brilliant with only minimal fading on the more delicate pink shades.

The quilt also showcases its maker’s logical mind, mathematical precision and thorough engagement in the politics and literature of her time. She was the daughter of a prosperous Rhode Island textile mill owner and had received what was considered a proper education for a girl of her class (mostly from private tutors in her home, plus three years at private boarding schools). Her granddaughter described her as “a great scholar and student with a brilliant mind” and the quilt certainly doesn’t contradict that glowing report. She placed the autographs in categories — presidents and vice presidents in column seven, generals in columns two and three, authors arranged first by gender, then by prominence, then by genre, etc. It’s like a giant matrix of 19th century celebrities.

The quilt is also a testament to her persistence, stamina and focus. It took her 11 years to collect all of the autographs (1856-1867), and even more years to stitch them together. This is evidenced by her placement of President Grant who was not president when he signed her silk diamond and his vice presidents Colfax and Wilson who signed theirs in the late 1850s long before they reached their highest offices. That means she worked on this quilt for nigh on two decades.

One of the personages Adeline wrote to soliciting her autograph was Sarah J. Hale, editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book. She explained her project in a letter that so impressed Hale that she wrote a two-part article about the quilt, describing its ambitious reach and design and complimenting its creator for her ingenunity and needlework abilities. Hale saw this quilt as both “intellectual” and “moral” endeavour, as it required brain power and taste to piece together the riot of color and pattern into a matched and pleasing geometry, and a virtuous understanding of “the fitness of things” to pick celebrities whose deeds and talents would make them worthy of being cast in this silken firmament.

In the April 1864 issue of Godey’s Lady Book, Hale wrote in “Autograph Bedquilt”, the first part of the article:

Notwithstanding the comprehensive design we are attempting to describe, we have no doubt of its successful termination. The letter of the young lady bears such internal evidence of her capability, that we feel certain she has the power to complete her work if her life is spared. And when we say that she has been nearly eight years engaged on this quilt, and seems to feel now all the enthusiasm of a poetical temperament working out a grand invention that is to be a new pleasure and blessing to the world, we are sure all our readers will wish her success. Who knows but in future ages, her work may be looked at like the Bayeux Tapestry, not only as a marvel of woman’s ingenious and intellectual industry; but as affording an idea of the civilization of our times, and giving a notion of the persons as estimated in history.

You called it, Ms. Hale.

Adeline’s daughter Sophie and her daughters in turn recognized what a masterpiece their mother and grandmother had created. It does not appear to have been used as a bedspread, but rather was treasured and preserved most careful. There is evidence that it was hung for display at some point.

Even so, close examination of the back of the quilt found an amusing interlude of censorship in its history. The last diamond was covered up at some point by a patch. The needle holes are still visible even though the patch had been removed by the time the Met acquired the quilt. Apparently the poem written on that piece, thought to be by Nathaniel P. Willis whose signature appears in column 18, caused some pearls to be clutched resulting in the application of a quilted fig leaf which thankfully did not endure. I hope your blushing eyes can handle it.

Miss Addie pray excuse
My disobliging Muse,
She contemplates with dread
So many in a Bed.

EDIT: I considered including a full list of the signatures in this post, but it is very long and my only source is a pdf of a 1998 journal article from the Met so formatting it for posting is a bit of a nightmare. Instead, I’m attaching the article with the appendix that lists all the signatures, complete with greetings and brief biographical line identifying the signers, by column. The appendix begins on page 277 (page 15 of the pdf). (But read the whole article because it’s awesome.)

“A Marvel of Woman’s Ingenious and Intellectual Industry”: The Adeline Harris Sears Autograph Quilt, by Amelia Peck, Associate Curator, American Decorative Arts, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum Journal issue 33, 1998.

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