Archive for the ‘Renaissance’ Category

New LED lighting illuminates St. Peter’s Basilica

Saturday, January 26th, 2019

The faithful assembled for Christmas mass were the first to be bathed in the glow of the new LED lighting system which was officially inaugurated yesterday in St. Peter’s Basilica. The product of two years of planning and work, the illumination project hits every possible mark: energy efficiency, unobtrusiveness, brightness, focal points, enabling the latest in video technology.

There are 780 new fixtures installed in the basilica at heights ranging from 40 and 360 feet, all artfully camouflaged. They add up to around 100,000 LEDs generating more than 10 times the light with 80% fewer fixtures. The energy savings are enormous, up to 90% over the previous system. The lighting can be controlled in minute detail by a digital system which will allow different elements to be emphasized on different occasions. It will allow video capture in 4K and 8K for ultra high definition television broadcasts and recordings.

More than 27,000 people visit St. Peter’s every day. These improvements will enhance the experience for the thousands of pilgrims who flock to the basilica to celebrate religious events, making it much easier to get a decent view of the Pope and other concelebrants. An even greater advantage will go to the lovers of art and architecture who also flock to St. Peter’s and wait in its insane lines without the consolation of religious fervor. The architectural and decorative features of one of the masterpieces of Renaissance construction are now visible in a whole new depth. The areas that were lit by the old system, like the main dome, originally designed by Bramante and redesigned and strengthened by Michelangelo, are now so clearly lit that details can be seen which were previously invisible. Places that could not be lit under the old regime are now dazzling, including the octagons and mini-cupolas of the side aisles. You simply could not see the rich mosaics that adorn these features from the ground unaided. Five hundred years ago they were lit by candles, so effectively not lit at all. Now they’re plain as day for the first time in half a millennium.

The photographs look so good I might even brave those insane lines myself next time I’m in Rome, which is saying something because I took one look at them and ran the hell out of there in 2017. I didn’t even attempt it in 2018.

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The Dresden Mars returns to Dresden

Friday, January 25th, 2019

A bronze statuette of the god Mars by Mannerist master Giambologna is returning to Dresden almost a century after it was sold away. Its homecoming is so heralded because the sculptor himself sent it to Dresden 432 years ago.

Born Jean Boulogne in Douai, Flanders, in 1529, Giambologna traveled to Rome in 1550 where he was influenced by Classical art and Renaissance masters like Michelangelo and Raphael. He moved to Florence in 1553 where his refined approach to the contortionist Mannerist style earned him a position as the top sculptor at the court of the Medici Grand Dukes of Tuscany by 1560.

The Medici were so protective of their greatest sculptor that they never allowed him to leave Florence out of fear that one of the Habsburg imperial courts would lure him away. His works were so famous they were widely copied. Very few of his sculptures have undisputed documentation of having been produced by his hand during his lifetime. The Dresden Mars is one of them.

It is the earliest cast of the artist’s Mars, made by Giambologna as a personal gift for Christian I, Elector of Saxony (1560-1591). It is the most significant and powerful of his male nudes, the strength of the mythological deity conveyed by his dynamic stride, detailed musculature and intense glare. The usual attributes of Mars — helmet, shield, spear — are absent, with only the hilt of a sword clutched in his right fist standing in for them.

It was made before 1587, the year it arrived in Saxony. Inventory records of the Dresden Kunstkammer note its arrival: “Brass cast portrait of Mars, sent by Giovanni Bologna to His Grace the Elector.” It’s the only Giambologna piece known to have been created for a prince and the sculptor made certain that it was of royal quality. Christian I was keenly aware that it was an exceptional work. In return, the Elector commissioned a hugely expensive necklace from goldsmith Urban Schneeweiss to thank Giambologna for his generous gift. It is believed he was wearing the prized jewel when he sat for a 1591 chalk portrait by Hendrik Goltzius now in the collection of the Teylers Museum in Haarlem.

After three centuries at the Kunstkammer, the masterpiece went into private ownership in 1924, a casualty of the complicated aftermath of World War I. In the wake of Germany’s defeat in 1918 and the abdication of the Kaiser, the last King of Saxony, Frederick Augustus III abdicated as well. The kingdom became the Free State of Saxony, a semi-autonomous state in the Weimar Republic. The new state confiscated the former king’s assets but he refuse to walk away from them as he had the throne. Instead he hired a lawyer and in 1919 sued the Free State of Saxony for illegally requisitioning his family patrimony. He claimed a passel of real estate, millions in cash and securities and 17.5 million marks’ worth of art.

A commission was formed to negotiate a settlement. It took many years of stops and starts, amendments and provisos before the deal was sealed. In 1924, Frederick Augustus got castles, lots of cash and a buttload of art from the collections of multiple museums, including the Kupferstichkabinett Dresden, now the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (SKD).

He was more into the castles and cash than the art. The Dresden Mars was consigned to an art gallery in Berlin which sold it to Theodor Plieninger, General Director of Chemische Werke Griesheim-Elektron, in 1927. Griesheim-Elektron gave it to a member of the board of directors Constantin Jacobi as a retirement present in 1943. Sure beats the usual gold watch. It remained in his family until 1988 when his son and heir Walter Jacobi gave it Bayer AG.

In 2018, Bayer decided to sell Mars at a Sotheby’s auction. The company’s art collection is almost entirely modern, with the Giambologna as its only Renaissance piece and the infusion of millions of dollars from the sale would give them the chance to grow the collection’s contemporary art. Sotheby’s pre-sale estimate was £3-5 million ($4-6.6 million) and it was thrilled to be handling an original Giambologna because they basically never come on the market.

A week before the auction, the SKD, armed with contributions from Free State of Saxony, the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and Media, the Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung, the German Federal Cultural Foundation and the Friends of the SKD, approached Bayer AG offering a private sale. On July 3rd, the day before the scheduled auction, the deal was made and the lot withdrawn.

The Dresden Mars will go on permanent display in the SKD’s Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister when it reopens after refurbishment in December of this year. As of this week, it is going on a Welcome Home Tour through Saxony, beginning at the Stadt-und Bergbaumuseum Freiberg then moving to the Schloss Hartenfels in Torgau and making its last stop on the tour at the Schlossbergmuseum Chemnit.

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Bodleian acquires rare medieval book chest

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2019

The University of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries has acquired a rare late 15th century book chest. The Bodleian’s collection of manuscripts and early printed books is one of the largest in the world, but this is its first book coffer and it’s a special one. At 8.5 x 12.6 x 5.5 inches in size, it is one of the largest examples of a book coffer from this period known to survive.

This acquisition gives us greater insight into the ‘everyday life’ of books and print culture more broadly. The coffer provides a link between books held at the Bodleian and cultural objects which were once united, but now usually live apart in libraries and museums around the world.

Dr Christopher Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections at the Bodleian Libraries, said:

“The Bodleian collects books and manuscripts but also objects which helps us to understand the history and culture of the book – how they were kept, used, moved and understood. The coffer is a remarkable item which is both utilitarian and devotional and preserves an exceptionally rare woodcut in its original context. Among other things, it shows us that our preoccupation with carrying information around with us in mobile devices – including texts and images – is nothing new.”

The coffer is made of leather-covered wood and is lined with red canvas. The cover is wrapped with nine iron bands, hinges and a lock to secure the high-value contents. Also known as a messenger’s box, it has two iron loops on the side through which leather straps would have been threaded through so it could be carried on a person’s shoulders or attached to a horse’s saddle.

A woodcut depicting God the Father in Majesty is affixed to the inside of the lid, one of only four surviving impressions of this print. His presence would have blessed the contents and protected them during their journeys. Other coffers from this time also contain religious prints on the inside lid, and it’s possible they served double duty as portable altars.

It is a version of an illumination in a 1491 Missal by the Master of the Très Petites Heures of Anne of Brittany, a Paris illuminator who was active in the last quarter of the 15th century. He was a versatile artist who created designs for woodcuts, metalcuts, tapestries and stained glass as well as creating illuminated manuscripts for his highest-end clientele. The hand-colored prints found in messenger’s boxes were produced in Paris between 1490 and 1510, which is how we know where and when this coffer was made. These boxes are the only sources of single-leaf French prints before 1500. They are literally the only examples we have of the dawn of printmaking in France.

We have confirmation that these types of lockboxes were used to transport precious books as well as other valuables because depictions of them being used for this purpose have survived, most notably a Rest on the Flight into Egypt made in Antwerp around 1530 which shows a partially open coffer by Mary’s side. At the back is a small book with metal clasps. In front of it are a rosary, a pair of scissors and a brush.

The coffer has gone display at the Bodleian’s Weston Library in a new exhibition, Thinking Inside the Box: Carrying Books Across Cultures, which runs until February 17th. You can see 3D models of the box here.

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Teratoma time!

Saturday, January 12th, 2019

I can’t believe it’s been almost four years since my last ovarian teratoma story. Just goes to show how rarely they survive in an archaeological context. Well, if there’s a better way to usher in a new year than with a centuries-old calcified mass of tissue and teeth, I don’t know of it.

Today’s teratoma was discovered in the cemetery of the Church and Convent of Carmo in Lisbon, Portugal, a private burial ground for the religious of the order and its (largely middle class) patrons. It was in use from the 15th century until the 1755 Lisbon earthquake shut it down for good. The cemetery was only recently excavated by Lisbon Archaeological Centre archaeologists in advance of an urban renewal project. During its second dig season in March of 2011, the LAC team encountered skeletal remains with a large calcified mass in the pelvic area. Only the lower half of the body could be recovered at that time. The rest was unearthed in February of 2014, making it possible for all the remains of the individual to be studied.

Osteological examination confirmed the individual was a woman between 5″1 and 5″3′ in height who was more than 45 years old when she died. In her pelvic girdle was a calcified mass that was the same color and texture of her bones. It is small, 1.5″ in length and only a sliver more than that in diameter. Teeth were visible embedded in the inner surface of the base. Researchers cleaned the mass thoroughly and were able to observe irregular, erratic bone formation on the outer and inner surfaces and five malformed quasi-teeth. Four are molar-like, one canine-like. One of the molariform teeth is more malformed than the others, missing any semblance of a root. An X-ray of the teratoma found no further bone structures in the mass.

There’s no way of knowing with certainty whether the mass had an impact on her health or her cause of death. Teratomas are almost always benign and can easily go undiagnosed because they’re not really bothering anyone. Occasionally their shape, size and location can result in organ shifts, infections, anemia, but there is no evidence at all on the bones — no lesions or deformations.

While there is no osteological evidence of what did claim her life, she was buried under a thick layer of lime, unusual in that context. If the people who put her in the grave covered her with lime, it’s likely they thought she had died of an infectious disease.

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Discovering Caravaggio’s Saint Catherine

Wednesday, December 19th, 2018

One of the greatest masterpieces in the collection of Madrid’s Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza is Saint Catherine of Alexandria by Michelangelo Merisi, also known as Caravaggio. Commissioned by his early patron Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte around 1598, Saint Catherine is depicted in luxurious Renaissance garb kneeling next to the spiked breaking wheel that was supposed to kill her, the sword that did kill her after the former broke upon her touch and the martyr’s palm, all symbols of her martyrdom.

This painting and another commissioned by del Monte, The Lute Player, now in the Wildenstein Collection, are set in the same type of rooms as earlier works like The Fortune Teller and The Cardsharps, but the background walls are much more dense and inky tones, the scuro half of the chiaroscuro effect that would become so inextricably associated with Caravaggio’s genius. The strong directional light illuminating Catherine’s face and upper body is the chiaro bit. He upped the contrast in this piece, using the light flesh tones and white blouse to make Saint Catherine stand out in the penumbra, creating dimension and depth.

Saint Catherine has been part of the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza’s collection since 1934 when it was bought at a gallery in Lucerne after one of the Barberini family’s patrimony fire sales. Museum conservators have just completed a complex program of study, cleaning and restoration of the painting, returning to Catherine the full impact of Caravaggio’s mastery of light and shadow.

The primary focus of the work was the removal of many layers of varnish added to the work over the centuries. To ensure that original was preserved, microsamples of the paint were taken and analyzed to identify the materials Caravaggio used and assess their condition. Macrophotographs, raking light examination, X-rays and infrared reflectography were all used to reveal previously unseen details of the artist’s composition and technique. For example, raking light illuminated incisions in the first paint layer, a method Caravaggio used to figure out where to place the volumes (shapes, curves, lines) of the composition.

Conservators also discovered that Catherine’s dress started out red before the artist painted a dark charcoal grey over it. X-rays showed that Caravaggio changed his mind on hand placement too, as the saint’s left hand is veritably bristling with fingers underneath the top layer. The wheel is different as well, but that wasn’t a change in plan. Caravaggio drew the complete wheel first to make sure it would fit before painting over it to create the break representing Catherine’s miraculous destruction of the means of her martyrdom.

The deep blue of the robes was created by combining lapis lazuli, azurite grains, cochineal red, charcoal black, lead white and earth pigments. The lapis in particular was a very expensive ingredient, evidence of the financial support he got from the Cardinal.

Discovering Caravaggio. Technical study and restoration of Saint Catherine of Alexandria is now on display at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza. The restoration is as much of a part of the exhibition as the masterpiece itself.

The show includes X-ray images and infrared reflectograms which illustrate the most interesting aspects of the work performed, explain the methods used, and attest to the excellent quality of the painting. It also features a video of the entire restoration process, the most significant discoveries, and interesting details of the painting.

With this exhibition the Museum, aware of the interest aroused by restoration work, sets out to familiarise visitors with the working methods used by restorers, who are essential to deciding on the most appropriate treatments in each case and a source of important information for art historians. Knowledge of the techniques and materials used by artists is essential to be able to decide on which processes to use to halt the deterioration of artworks. Discovering the most intimate aspects of artistic creation furthermore provides an insight into the artist’s mind and period, as well as better-grounded arguments for understanding the creative process.

The exhibition is a short one, just six months long. It opened December 17th and closes May 26th, 2019.

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Mantegna works reunited after centuries apart

Sunday, December 9th, 2018

A rediscovered painting by Andrea Mantegna has been rejoined with its companion piece for the first time in centuries. The Resurrection of Christ is now on the wall above The Descent of Christ into Limbo at London’s National Gallery in its Mantegna and Bellini exhibition. The two works were originally the top and bottom parts of a single painting but were separated at an unknown time in the distant past.

The Resurrection of Christ panel painting has been in the collection of the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo for more than a hundred years. It had been in storage since the 1930s after art historian Bernard Berenson assessed it to be a late 15th or early 16th century copy of the lost original. In March of this year, Accademia Carrara curator Giovanni Valagussa was cataloging works in the collection created before 1500 when he noticed the painting seemed to be of very high quality for a copy. He was also intrigued by the unusual placement of a horizontal strut. These wooden supports were common in panel paintings to keep the wood planks from separating and warping, but they’re typically placed at the top and bottom of a painting, not in the middle. That oddly applied strut gave Valagussa the idea that the The Resurrection may have been part of a larger piece. Even for famous painters like Mantegna, artist in residence at the Gonzaga court in Mantua, Renaissance collectors were far more cavalier about cutting up artworks to fit their spaces and decorative motifs better.

When he examined the painting more closely, Valagussa found a key clue. In the bottom center of the piece, disguised by the inky darkness of the cave, there was a thin gold cross. It was just there; not connected to anything, almost a reflection of the cross at the top of the staff Jesus holds as he emerges from his tomb undeceased. He also spotted tiny cut marks at the bottom which had never been noted before.

The clues of the gold cross, the cuts and the wooden strut inspired Valagussa to seek out other known works of Mantegna dealing with the subject matter. He also had the panel’s surface infrared scanned. The CT scanner found that the soldiers’ full technicolor armor was painted over nude figures, a method Mantegna employed all the time.

With the evidence of a Mantegna authorship piling up, Dr. Valagussa sought out a possible work that would have been part of a large original. Jesus’ long weekend in Limbo between his death and resurrection was a popular subject often paired with depictions of the resurrection. Mantegna had made several paintings of Jesus visiting Limbo. One of them, now in a private collection after having been sold at Sotheby’s in New York for almost $30 million in 2003, also included a long staff in Jesus’ hand. When The Resurrection of Christ and The Descent of Christ Into Limbo were lined up to together, the gold cross of the former was perfectly perched on the staff of the latter, and the arches stones of the cave entrance matched up exactly.

Dr. Valagussa contacted Dr. Keith Christiansen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, John Pope-Hennessy Chairman of the Department of European Paintings and the world’s foremost expert on Mantegna. Christiansen studied the work assiduously and conclusively attributed it to the master himself, not his workshop, not a copyist. It would be impossible for a copy to match the undoubted Mantegna work so precisely. It had to have been cut in half.

Since the painting’s true authorship was rediscovered, The Resurrection of Christ has been restored in preparation for display. The owner of The Descent of Christ Into Limbo, an anonymous private collector who is not keen to let his $30 million masterpiece out of his hands, was prevailed upon to loan it to the National Gallery so the two works could be reunited at long last.

Mantegna and Bellini runs through January 27th, 2019. Next March it will move to the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin.

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Rembrandt’s Night Watch to be restored in public view

Thursday, October 18th, 2018

Like it’s not enough that to commemorate the 350th anniversary of Rembrandt’s death in 2019 the Rijksmuseum will be putting on an epic exhibition displaying every one of his paintings, drawings and prints in its permanent collection, the museum will also undertake its most ambitious conservation project ever: the full restoration of The Night Watch in public view.

The Night Watch last received extensive treatment in 1975 after a deranged former teacher slashed it with a bread knife he’d stolen from the restaurant where he had lunch that day. He explained to the security guards and bystanders who pried him off the masterpiece and restrained him that he had been ordered by God to slash the painting. That was an emergency salvage operation to repair the severe cuts in the canvas, some more than two feet long and one whole chunk cut out that was a foot wide and 2.5 inches wide.

The new restoration is occasioned by the regular monitoring of its condition. Conservators have begun to see alarming changes taking place gradually but surely. The little dog in the lower right of the canvas, for example, is getting whiter and whiter. He’s basically a ghost dog at this point. The first step is a complete examination and assessment of the entirety of the painting. Several imaging techniques, high-resolution photography, microscopic analysis and computer tools will be used to create a detailed map of the artwork at every level, from stretcher to canvas through paint layers to varnish.

The timing of the project is ideal from the standpoint of conservatorial expertise as well. Rijksmuseum experts complete the thorough restoration of the portraits of Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit last year, so they have fresh experience in conserving large-scale Rembrandts. The team that will work on The Night Watch will include experts from other museums and institutions of higher education around the world.

But wait, there’s more!

The Night Watch will be encased in a state-of-the-art clear glass chamber designed by the French architect Jean Michel Wilmotte. This will ensure that the painting can remain on display for museum visitors. A digital platform will allow viewers from all over the world to follow the entire process online continuing the Rijksmuseum innovation in the digital field.

Taco Dibbits, General Director Rijksmuseum: “The Night Watch is one of the most famous paintings in the world. It belongs to us all, and that is why we have decided to conduct the restoration within the museum itself – and everyone, wherever they are, will be able to follow the process online.”

I would like to take a moment to thank The Netherlands for being awesome. Their museums’ websites consistently provide the highest resolution images possible and have been doing so since cribbing off your office T1 lines was the only hope a regular person had of downloading such pictures in less than five hours. They do world-class renovations of the historic buildings the museums inhabit, generously loan out incredibly rare masterpieces to museums around the world while the spaces are being refurbished and then make the greatest of all promotional videos to celebrate the grand reopening.

The exhibition, All the Rembrandts of the Rijksmuseum, runs from February 15th to 10 June 10th, 2019. This will be the first time in history that the more than 400 artworks by Rembrandt in the Rijskmuseum’s collection will be on display at once.

Because I never need a pretext to repost it and this time I actually have one, here’s the greatest of all promotional videos:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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