Archive for the ‘Renaissance’ Category

Titian’s Crucifixion torn in a fall

Tuesday, October 9th, 2018

A painting of the Crucifixion by Old Master Titian was seriously damaged in a fall at the 16th century royal complex of El Escorial near Madrid in central Spain. The 8 x 4.5-foot oil-on-canvas Christ Crucified was discovered by security personnel around 10:00 AM on Wednesday, October 3rd, in the sacristy of the Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. It had become detached from the wall and struck the 16th/17th century furniture underneath it before bouncing onto the marble floor. The accident caused a considerable horizontal 7-shaped tear in the canvas across the lower portion of the painting.

Experts from Spain’s National Patrimony, the public institution responsible for the management of property of the State that was formerly property of the Crown, were immediately dispatched to examine the masterpiece, assess its condition, come up with a repair plan and determine if possible the cause of the fall. They found that detachment was likely caused by the degradation of the plaster layer on the wall to which the painting had been anchored. Over the years the plaster that held the nails of the mount had gradually crumbled without anybody realizing what was happening. The tipping point came the night of October 2/3 and down came the painting.

Officials are quick to reassure that the figure of Christ himself was not torn. The entire pictorial layer appears to have been spare from any paint loss. The work has been protectively wrapped and packaged for transport to the central National Patrimony workshop in Madrid. There it will be analyzed thoroughly, treated and repaired to ensure its stability. When the restoration is done, the painting will be returned to the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo, presumably, one hopes, in a new location.

Crucified Christ entered the Escorial collection in 1574, added by King Philip II who was an unabashed Titian fan and commissioned almost all of Titian’s outlay in the last 25 years of his life (from 1550 until his death in 1576). It’s not known exactly when Titian painted it. Stylistically it dates to the beginning of his late period characterized by experimentation with daring chiaroscuro night scenes and flesh tones, probably around 1555. It was already on its way to Philip II in 1556.

Share

Lost Henry VIII tapestry found in Spain

Tuesday, September 25th, 2018

A monumental tapestry commissioned by King Henry VIII as part of a set whose whereabouts have been unknown since the 18th century has been found in Spain. The tapestry was one of nine depicting scenes from the life of Saint Paul designed by Flemish master Pieter Coecke van Aelst and woven in his Brussels workshop in the late 1530s. Eighteen feet wide without its original borders and woven with gold and silver threads, the tapestry was of the highest quality available in Europe.

This tapestry is entitled Saint Paul Directing the Burning of the Heathen Books at Ephesus and it shows three episodes from Paul’s visits to Ephesus as reported in Acts of the Apostles. In the upper left Paul converts 12 men of Ephesus and the Holy Spirit descends upon them. In the upper right Paul resurrects Eutychus after he fell asleep during one of Paul’s interminable sermons and fell out of a three story window. The main scene in the center of the tapestry is Paul burning books of magic.

The Paul series was delivered to Hampton Court between September of 1538 and September of 1539. If those dates ring a bell, they should. That’s when Henry sent out his minions to dissolve the monasteries, take their stuff and destroy what they didn’t take. The tapestry was a big neon sign of support for Henry’s destruction of religious iconography, relics, “erroneous books and Bible translations,” so-called idols, etc. No less a Christian leader than Paul burned books, after all, so clearly the Bible and God were on Henry’s side in his fight to quash ungodly Christian denominations.

Tapestries were the ultimate artistic displays of wealth in the 16th century. They cost far more to make in materials, artisanship and work hours than paintings of any medium, and when the nobility and aristocracy were the customers, tapestries were literal treasures, made of precious metals, sumptuous fabrics and colored with dyes derived from expensive raw materials. The luxury-loving Henry VIII was an avid tapestry collector and assembled a collection of some 2,500 pieces of exceptional quality. Pieter Coecke van Aelst was one of his favorite designers.

Only a tiny fraction of that great assemblage is known to have survived. Tapestries went out of fashion in the 18th century and the royal collections were either split up, given away or pilfered or simply fell apart from age. The Paul set were listed in inventories through 1770, after which they disappeared from the historical record. The Burning of the Heathen Books at Ephesus was only known to art historians from a preparatory drawing surviving in Ghent and a fragment of the original cartoon in New York.

Detective work by leading tapestry experts Simon Franses and Thomas P Campbell has confirmed that this was one of Henry VIII’s commissioned treasures, taken to Spain in the 1960s. Mr Franses described it as “the highest achievement of tapestry weaving”. […]

He added: “The comparable pieces are at Hampton Court, the Abraham tapestries, which Henry VIII owned. But they’re very polite, tame Biblical tapestries, whereas this is a dynamic, energetic piece…It’s absolutely splendid. There’s nothing to touch it in the Victoria & Albert, the Royal Collection or the National Trust.”

Research reveals that a Spanish dealer sold the St Paul tapestry to a Barcelona collector in the 1960s. It was eventually sold to an anonymous buyer in Madrid, who has now sent it to Britain to be cleaned and conserved.

The collector first began to suspect a Hampton Court provenance in 2013. He applied to the Spanish government for an export license but was denied.

Now research has firmly established the link. Franses called on Spain to grant an export licence. He hopes that a UK public collection could then acquire it for considerably less than its value of more than £5m, if it came on the open market.

The tapestry is going on public display for the first time in its long, storied life at Franses in London from October 1st through the 19th. The exhibition, Henry VIII: the Unseen Tapestries, features three other Henrician tapestries, including the Russell Garter Tapestry which is the only surviving tapestry portrait of Henry VIII. On display with the tapestries will be two important textiles from the Tudor period — the silk Armorial Table Carpet of Anne of Cleves’ brother, and the chasuble of Edmund Bonner, chaplain to Wolsey and Henry VIII — that are also on loan to the gallery.

Share

Gutenberg Bible gets new digs at Library of Congress

Saturday, September 22nd, 2018

The Gutenberg Bible is prized as the earliest full-size book printed in Europe with moveable type. Johann Gutenberg and his colleagues Johann Fust and Peter Schoeffer printed the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible written by Saint Jerome in the 5th century, in Mainz in 1455. Of that first run of the first printed book, 48 copies have survived, only twenty of them complete. It is so important and so rare that collectors spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on individual pages of a Gutenberg Bible.

The Library of Congress’ copy is especially rare. It was printed on vellum (animal skin parchment), not paper. Of the 48 surviving Gutenberg Bibles, 12 were printed on vellum and only three of those perfect, complete, intact copies of the Bible on vellum are known to survive. The LoC’s is one of the three complete ones and it is the only one of them to have been printed in three volumes. It is a spectacular example, the type deeply and cleanly impressed even though it was one of the first works produced on the brand-new moveable type printing press. The other vellum Bibles are at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris and the British Library in London.

For more than 350 years after its publication, the Bible belonged to the Benedictine abbey of St. Blasius in the Black Forest, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. In 1809, it was transferred to Abbey of St. Paul in Carinthia, southern Austria. It was bought by inventor, chemist and avid collector Otto Vollbehr for $250,000 in 1926. Vollbehr never actually held the book in his extensive collection. He planned to sell it in the United States — part of the sales pitch he made to St. Paul’s, in fact, was that he would sell it to an “American church prince” — but since he was hardly going to schlepp the precious and delicate three volume set all over the States, he made a sort of preview pamphlet and schlepped that around the country instead along with a collection of thousands of incunabula he was trying to sell.

In 1928 the incunabula went on display at the Library of Congress. Vollbehr offered to sell the collection and the Bible to the Library. It took some doing in the wake of the Great Depression, but on July 6th, 1930, President Herbert Hoover signed the act of Congress authorizing the purchase of 3,255 volumes and the St. Blasius-St. Paul Gutenberg Bible for a total of $1.5 million.

It has been on display in the corridor off of the Great Hall of the Thomas Jefferson Building, originally out in the open on a handsome wooden display, then in a closed case. The case is no longer up to snuff so it is being replaced with a new one custom designed to exhibit and protect one of the most precious books in history.

An 11-foot-tall vertical case has been designed for the Gutenberg Bible to meet exact specifications for its long-term conservation. It will be kept at a consistent, cool temperature of 50 degrees and a consistent humidity to help preserve the 563-year-old book, according to Elmer Eusman, chief of the Library’s Conservation Division. The case also includes a new early warning system for fire prevention that will constantly monitor the air.

Frosted mirrors and illumination within the display will create a special effect, emphasizing the Bible in a new way. Resting on a small cradle, the Bible will appear as if it’s floating. The design is meant to celebrate the historic book. Exhibition text will be presented on one side of the case for visitors.

On Friday, the Bible was taken off public view for the first time in more than 70 years to make the necessary arrangements for the installation of the new case. The case was built off site and will have to be broken down into component parts, moved to the Library of Congress and rebuilt The new case has been built by a vendor off site. It will be deconstructed, moved into the Library and rebuilt on site in the Thomas Jefferson Building. That will take place on October 29th. The Bible will move in to its new digs a month or so later after thorough environmental testing has been performed.

Share

To the victor belong the miniature spoils?

Saturday, September 15th, 2018

The Launching Of English Fire Ships On The Spanish Fleet Off Calais depicts Queen Elizabeth I watching from the shore as her navy attacks the Spanish Armada on the night of August 7th, 1588. A horseback gentleman next to her is believed to represent Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. The broad panorama, Spanish on the left, English on the right, English fireships in the center, belies its small dimensions. The gouache on vellum laid down on panel is just 5½ x 13¾ inches, but it is of such significant stature that it was on display at the Rijksmuseum for twenty years (1975-1995).

Painted around 1600, it is one of only two known examples of gouache miniatures depicting this momentous event close to when it occurred. The other has been in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich since 1938, and while they share the same theme, they are not the copies of each other. The NMM’s piece has no Queen Elizabeth, most notably, nor any shore in view whatsoever.

Both of the works were made by unknown artists in the Flemish style. Later prints and an oil painting also created by Dutch artists underscore the significance of the defeat of the Spanish Armada to England’s Protestant allies.

The miniature was recently sold at auction to an overseas buyer who applied for an export licence. Michael Ellis, Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, has placed a temporary export bar on the painting because of its immense value as a contemporary rendition of one Britain’s most important events. British institutions now have until December 13th to show that they can raise the price of £210,000 (plus VAT) to acquire the painting. If they’ve gotten a reasonable way to the goal, the Minister can extend the bar another three months.

Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest member Peter Barber said:

“This vibrant miniature is one of the earliest and most vivid depictions of an episode of crucial importance for the history of England. That it is the work of a Flemish artist and shows the role played by Dutch ships, additionally underline the Armada’s European-wide significance. Yet, familiar though the overall story may be, the miniature includes many intriguing details that need further investigation, such as the prominence given to the ship and arms of the commander of the English forces, Lord Howard of Effingham.

There can be few items more justly called a ‘national treasure’ and it needs to be retained in this country so that it can be further studied and enjoyed.”

Share

Roof of Mamertine prison church collapses

Friday, August 31st, 2018

The roof of the church of San Giuseppe dei Falegnami (Saint Joseph of the Carpenters) collapsed on Thursday afternoon, reducing to rubble one of the most beautiful original parts of the church: the wooden coffered ceiling built in the 1600s. It was the central vault which weakened and took the roof down.

San Giuseppe was built by the guild of carpenters starting in 1597. It was completed in 1663. The facade and apse were redone in an extensive 1886 renovation. Today the church suffers from structural issues (to state the obvious) and is mostly closed to the public during regular hours.

The church was built over another church, San Pietro in Carcere, which in turn was built over (and named after) the Mamertine Prison. Known in antiquity as the Tullianum, it is one of Rome’s most ancient prisons. Legend has it that it was built by the fourth king of Rome, Ancus Marcius, in the 7th century B.C.; its factual history can be traced back to the later Republican era when a variety of rebels, pretenders, usurpers and individuals deemed enemies of the Senate and the People of Rome were imprisoned there. Gallic leader Vercingetorix withered away to nothing in the Tullianum before being executed at Julius Caesar’s triumph. Jugurtha, King of Numidia, starved to death in that dank hole. Both Saint Peter and Saint Paul did bids there before their martyrdoms.

Located steps from the Capitoline overlooking some of Rome’s most iconic ancient marvels, the church makes an evocative setting for photographs and is an extremely popular wedding venue today, structural problems notwithstanding. Two were scheduled for this weekend, in fact. The timing of the roof collapse is therefore as fortunate as a tragedy can be. Only the priest was on site at the time, and he was taking siesta in his quarters so wasn’t in the church itself.

First responders arrived immediately after the collapse, alerted by the enormous boom and the column of smoke. Staff and visitors to the Mamertine were briskly removed and there were no injuries. The firefighters’ preliminary estimates are that three quarters of the roof came down in the collapse and they have a crane up right now taking down the remnants that are in imminent danger of falling. Basically, by the time the situation is stabilized, there isn’t going to be a roof to speak of.

The damage to the interior of the church is impossible to assess right now. It’s engulfed in massive broken beams and debris. No damage to San Pietro in Carcere or to the ancient Mamertine underground is known, but there has been a report of damage to a chapel adjacent to the prison.

Here’s an aerial view of the giant hole in the church roof:

Share

17th c. Copenhagen poop reveals its secrets

Sunday, July 22nd, 2018

It’s archaeological poop time! This blog has been deprived of essential fiber for too long and I’m sure you’ve missed having a solid, well-formed poop story as much as I have. Today’s satisfying movement is brought to you by Denmark, bless its organic material-preserving waterlogged soil. Two latrines were discovered during an excavation of Kultorvet square in Copenhagen in 2011-12. The square in the city center was built over the ruins of an old Renaissance neighborhood that had burned down in 1728, and thanks to a road that had been built 40 years earlier, the latrines could be conclusively dated to the 1680s.

Like the barrels full of 14th century excrement found in Odense that were originally used to transport herring, these too were trade containers repurposed into latrines. They held Rhineland wine before finding their true vocation of converting human feces into archaeological gold. They were three feet wide and had been dug into the ground a foot apart from each other. Both were about two-thirds full of excrementitious organic material. Wood remains found around the barrels attest to there having been a shed built over them.

Archaeologists could see right away that the contents were very well-preserved. Seeds and pits were clearly visible in situ. The barrels were cut in half vertically while still in the ground to determine if they had internal stratigraphy to sample. The western barrel was all one mass, while the eastern barrel had two defined deposit layers – an upper layer of feces and straw and a lower rubble layer with very little organic material — so it was selected for analysis of its contents.

The study is more far-reaching than others performed on similar deposits. In addition to analyzing grains, fruits and seeds found in the cess, researchers also tested for pollen, parasites and animal bones. The parasite eggs were DNA-tested to determine conclusively whether they were human parasites found in feces, or had hitched a ride with animal remains discarded in the latrines.

Large samples were taken from each of the two layers and then divided into sub-samples for analyses of four different categories: grains/fruits/seeds, pollen and spores, parasite eggs and animal bones. The samples from both layers were rich in plant remains. In the upper layer, 66% of the contents were food plants while 34% were wild taxa, primarily field weeds. In the bottom layer, the proportion of culinary to wild taxa was 60%-40%.

Out of the cereal bran soup, only barley, oats and rye could be securely identified. Within the soup were a plethora of fruit seeds, first and foremost figs. There were so many fig seeds in the barrel, in fact, that archaeologists identified them during the excavation. Other fruits found in the sample included grapes, apples, pears, raspberries, blackberries, black currants, elderberries, citrus (likely either lemon or bitter orange) wild cherries, wild plums and wild strawberries. There were herbs – ground elder, dill, coriander – and seeds – mustard, flax – and in the bottom layer, a small amount of hazelnut.

Pollen species were 49% crops, 45% of that barley, with dryland species, mostly grasses, taking second place at 43% of the pollen counts.

The parasite analysis identified eggs from roundworm, whipworm and tapeworm, far more of them on the top of the latrine than the bottom. This is the first evidence of human tapeworm found in an archaeological context in Denmark.

There were an impressive variety of animal bones: 162 bone fragments in the two samples. Most of them came from the bottom layer and included the bones of herring, eel and cat. The top layer had fragments of herring, eel, cod, bird and pig bones.

The results attest to the varied diet the residents of this area of late 17th century Copenhagen had. While cereals, likely in the form of bread, porridge and beer, form the basis of their diet, they clearly had access to a wide selection of fruits either from their own gardens or from the market. Figs, grapes and citrus are Mediterranean fruits and while they can all grow in Denmark in warm, sheltered places or in greenhouses, this deposit is the first time citrus has been found in an archaeological context in Denmark. They were probably expensive imports, dried fruits or jams rather than fresh.

“The people whose latrines we have investigated were well-fed on bread, fish and meat, alongside a variety of fruit, herbs and spices,” said lead study researcher Mette Marie Hald, a senior researcher of environmental archaeology at The National Museum of Denmark.

“Most of the food items were locally grown,” she added, “but some of the food plants were exotics, showing us that it was possible to buy, for instance, cloves, which would have come all the way from Indonesia.”

The mere presence of these cloves indicates that Copenhageners had access to goods from long-distance trade, probably through the Dutch trading companies, as Indonesia was a Dutch colony at the time, Hald said.

“We know that Dutch traders lived in Copenhagen in the 1680s,” she noted. “It’s fun to think of the fact that 300 years ago, we were already part of a global trading network.”

Share

Buon Compleanno, Artemisia!

Sunday, July 8th, 2018

Baroque master Artemisia Gentileschi would have been 425 years old today. The first woman granted membership to Florence’s Accademia del Disegno, she was famous in her time and counted the crowned heads of Europe among her clientele. Her striking works, often featuring illustrious women from history and the Bible, have become icons of female representation during a time when women were largely excluded from the painterly ranks.

Her private life has been inextricably woven into her oeuvre. She used herself as a model frequently — a number of self-portraits of her as saints, artists and allegories, particularly from her Florentine period, have survived — and her powerful female protagonists have been adopted as symbols of empowerment in the wake of her rape and the subsequent trial of the perpetrator, her art teacher Agostino Tassi. We know from the incredible survival of the transcripts that she stood up for herself at the 1611 trial even under torture. (Rape accusers in the Papal States were subjected to the thumbscrews, among other torture techniques, to ensure their veracity.) For many years she was treated by art historians something of a curiosity, a successful woman artist with a tragic personal history that seemed to be reflected in works like Judith Slaying Holofernes.

The worm has turned for Artemisia, and the understanding of her art on its own terms rather than as mere Caravaggista works or as fodder for five-cent psychological interpretations has led to a massive uptake in interest and demand from museums and collectors. In 2014, a rediscovered Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy broke the sale record for an Artemisia Gentileschi painting when it sold for €865,500 (ca. $1,175,000). In December of 2017, another rediscovered work, Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria (ca. 1615-1617), went up for auction in Paris. It broke the new record even more dramatically than the 2014 sale had broken the 1998 record, selling for €2,360,600 ($2,775,000).

Well, we can kiss that record goodbye too, because less than a year later, the dealer who acquired Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria has sold it to London’s National Gallery for £3.6 million ($4,784,000). Paying this eye-watering price was made possible by donations from the American Friends of the National Gallery, the National Gallery Trust, Art Fund, Lord and Lady Sassoon, Lady Getty, Hannah Rothschild CBE, and others who prefer to remain anonymous.

It is the first work by a female artist bought by the National Gallery in almost 30 years, and is only the 21st painting by a woman to join the 2,300 works in the NG’s permanent collection. It’s also just the third easel painting by Artemisia Gentileschi in England.

Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria depicts the saint turned toward the viewer. The figure is identifiable as the saint because of the spiked wheel on which she rests her left hand, the means by which Saint Catherine was supposed to be martyred in the 4th century by order of the Emperor Maxentius only for it to break the moment she touched it. He ordered her beheaded instead and that one did the trick. Unique for her time, Artemisia crops the scene very tightly around the upper body of the saint. This is something you see repeatedly in her portraits of herself as other people.

Letizia Treves, The James and Sarah Sassoon Curator of Later Italian, Spanish, and French 17th-century paintings at the National Gallery say:

“Artemisia is without question one of the most celebrated painters of her time, and we have long wished to acquire a painting by her for the national collection. The fact that this is a self-portrait adds enormously to the painting’s appeal and art historical significance. We are fortunate to have one of the strongest collections of Italian Baroque paintings but, with the exception of Caravaggio, no Italian artist of the 17th century surpasses Artemisia in terms of fame and popular appeal. Following conservation treatment and reframing Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria will find a natural home alongside other works by Italian Baroque painters, including Caravaggio and Artemisia’s father Orazio Gentileschi.”

Share

UofT acquires oldest English-language book in Canada

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

The University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library celebrated World Book Day today by announcing the acquisition of the Caxton Cicero. Printed in 1481, only four decades after the invention of the printing press in the West, the volume is believed to be the oldest English-language book in Canada, and it’s certainly the oldest in the library’s collection, eclipsing the previous record-holder (a copy of The Golden Legend printed by Caxton in 1507) by a quarter century.

William Caxton, the man who introduced movable type to England, included three translated Latin treatises in the untitled book: De Amicitia (“On Friendship”) and De Senectute (“On Old Age”) by Marcus Tullius Cicero, and De Nobilitate (“On Nobility”) by early 15th century humanist Giovane Buonaccorso da Montemagno the Younger. This was the first book by a classical ancient author to be translated into English, as well as the first Renaissance humanist author translated into English.

Unlike The Golden Legend, of which thousands of manuscripts and printed editions survive, there are only 13 known extant copies of the Caxton Cicero.

At the end of the first text, Caxton includes a colophon […], which is an imprint by the printer that includes information about the book’s publication.

The printed text states that the book is “imprinted by me simple person William Caxton into English at the pleasure, solace and reverence of men growing into old age.” The writing in ink below the statement is likely a person practising their handwriting, trying to emulate the type – likely from the end of the 15th century, says [interim head of rare books and manuscripts at Fisher Library, Pearce] Carefoote.

Through clues buried inside the book, one can trace the history of the Caxton Cicero back to one of its first owners, Thomas Shupton – thought to be a monk during the time of Henry VIII. It was then given to 16th-century politician Sir Robert Coke, who passed it on to his nephew. After his nephew’s death, the book was given to Sion College in London, which kept it until 1977 when it was bought by Mexican author Roberto Salinas Price through a rare book dealer.

U of T acquired the text from Price’s estate, which was made possible by many donors, led by the B.H. Breslauer Foundation and with the support from the University of Toronto through a matching grant.

In a random but satisfying numerological coincidence, it is the 15th millionth book in the Fisher Library collection. It will be of inestimable scholarly value to students of the classics, Renaissance, the history of the English language (Caxton’s publications were instrumental in establishing the primacy of the London dialect, standardizing English and spreading literacy), the physical object of the book and more. Library staff also plan to digitize the book so that it can be accessed by interested parties all over the world.

Share

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.

Share

Mary Rose cannonballs meet synchrotron X-rays

Sunday, March 11th, 2018

When Henry VIII’s flagship, the Mary Rose sank off the Portsmouth coast on July 19th, 1545, it was carrying 1248 cast iron cannonballs, all lined up next to each other, ready to be deployed. They slumbered under 14 meters (46 feet) of sediment, a virtually oxygen free environment, along with about 19,000 other artifacts and remains until excavations began in 1979. In 1982, the whole ship was raised.

That was when its real struggle for survival began. The ship and its contents had been protected for 450 years under the sea. As soon as they were exposed to air, they began to deteriorate. After decades of constant spraying in salt water and PEG, the Mary Rose is now dry, stable and in a new display at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, but stabilizing archaeological iron is a whole other kind of challenge. Exposure to air and moisture causes iron to break down into a number of iron compounds, and that deterioration is accelerated when there’s chlorine in the mix. Sea water is rich in chlorine, and after nearly five centuries spent absorbing it, the iron cannon shot is highly susceptible to corrosion now that it’s out of the water.

Conservators have attempted to prevent this ugly fate with a variety of approaches. The bulk of the iron balls were stored in a passive environment — a high pH solution — that kept them as stable as possible to their home under the sediment. This makes them unable to be exhibited and does not remove the corrosive salts and chlorine. Some of the balls were therefore subjected to active conservation techniques, either reduction-based desalination treatments which aim to remove chlorine from iron artifacts by chemically altering the molecules of Iron(III) chloride, or washing methods which remove the chlorine by diffusion it into water solutions.

The problem is that there isn’t much solid scientific evidence to go on that points to which solution works best, whether there are any unintended consequences in the short or long term, etc. There are no real comparable treatments of archaeological iron to go by, and it’s hard to say if the condition of a given artifact is caused by a conservation technique or one of a myriad other variables.

A new study is hoping to answer some of those questions using a few of the cannon balls of the Mary Rose as the canaries in the coal mine. The shot was produced in bulk at the single iron blast furnace that existed in Tudor England; it was new when it sank and it was all buried together. Their uniformity of design, manufacturer and history, and the careful application of diverse treatment protocols after their recovery eliminates a lot of those pesky variables and gives researchers the opportunity to study in detail at the molecular level how effective the different treatments have been.

The UK National Synchroton Facility at Diamond Light Source in Didcot in Oxfordshire has deployed the ultra-bright X-ray power of the particle accelerator to analyze the iron in exceptional detail. Researchers used synchrotron X-ray powder diffraction (SXPD), absorption spectroscopy (XAS), and fluorescence (XRF) mapping to identify the precise location of the chlorine inside the balls and determine what corrosion products have formed in the conservation process.

The study did require a sacrifice, however. In order to do the initial examination, and to move forward on a long-term study that puts samples embedded in lucite on a beamline and maps the chlorine and corrosion over time, six of the shots had to be destructively sampled. It was a difficult decision, but the Mary Rose has an enormous collection that makes it possible to sacrifice a few for the good of the many, so in 2016 conservators decided to cut segments out of the cannon balls that were already showing significant signs of deterioration.

Dr Eleanor Schofield continues: “We knew that we needed to really delve into the material and find out what was going on, and that this would require destructive sampling. This decision was not taken lightly, and was justified by sacrificing a small percentage of our collection for the benefit of the rest and other collections around the world which suffer the same problem.”

Hayley Simon, who is now part way through her PhD adds: “These results represent a first step towards the development of new protective techniques. We are launching next a long duration experiment, which will observe changes in the corrosion product during long-term immersion in various conservation treatments to monitor their effects.”

The first paper charting the results of the synchroton mapping of the elements has now been published (only available free to subscribers, available for rent or purchase for the rest of us).

Share

Navigation

Search

Archives

October 2018
S M T W T F S
« Sep    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031  

Other

Add to Technorati Favorites

Syndication