Archive for November, 2010

Secret sealed room found in India’s National Library

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

Restorers working on the 18th century Belvedere House in Kolkata, home to the National Library of India, have found a large hidden room they had no idea was there. By found I mean they discovered that it existed, not that they’ve actually gone inside because there is no visible means of entrance or egress.

The house has suffered from neglect over the decades. Last year, all 2.2 million books were moved out of the old building into a new structure on the 30-acre estate so that the Belvedere House could be thoroughly restored.

The ministry of culture that owns the National Library decided to get the magnificent building restored by the Archaeological Survey of India since it is heavily damaged. Work has already started. It was while taking stock of the interior and exterior of the building that ASI [Archaeological Survey of India] conservation engineers stumbled upon a blind enclosure’ on the ground floor, about 1000 square feet in size.

A lot of effort has been made to locate an opening so that experts can find out exactly what it was built for or what it contains. But there is not a single crack to show.

“We’ve searched every inch of the first floor area that forms the ceiling of this enclosure for a possible trap door. But found nothing. Restoration of the building will remain incomplete if we are not able to assess what lies inside this enclosure,” said deputy superintending archaeologist of ASI, Tapan Bhattacharya. “We’ve come across an arch on one side of the enclosure that had been walled up. Naturally speculations are rife,” said another archaeologist.

Among the speculations are the classics: skeletons and hoarded treasure. Apparently prisoners were known to have been walled up and left to die in death chambers during the Raj, and secret treasure rooms aren’t unheard of either. Since the ASI can’t just go knocking down walls in 250-year-old historic buildings, they have to find a way to peek inside without damaging the structure. They’ve applied to the ministry of culture for permission to drill a small hole in the walled up arch through which they can shine a searchlight.

Belvedere House was built by Mir Jafar, the eighth Nawab of Bengal, in the 1760s and shortly thereafter he gave it to Lord Warren Hastings, the first Governor-General of India. It passed through various hands, private and public. Then in 1953, 3 years after Independence, the Imperial Library was renamed the National Library and the collection moved to Belvedere House.

It has long been rumored to be haunted, with lights mysteriously turning on in the ballroom and ghostly carriages seen driving up to the entrance. Certainly it has seen its fair share of intrigue. Hastings had a duel on the grounds with supreme council of Bengal member Sir Philip Francis in 1780. (Hastings had called him “void of truth and honor” in his private dealings, most likely referring to a number of affairs with ladies possibly including one Baroness Inhoff, a guest of Hastings’ at Belvedere House.)

Photo by Avrajyoti Mitra

Photo by Avrajyoti Mitra

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Michelangelo’s David on the Duomo roof

Friday, November 19th, 2010

Michelangelo's DavidMichelangelo’s iconic sculpture of David now stands in the Accademia Gallery in Florence, but that’s not where it was originally supposed to go. Before it was moved to the Accademia in 1873, it stood guard outside the Palazzo della Signoria, Florence’s city hall, for 370 years, but even that wasn’t where it was first meant to be.

David’s history actually begins a hundred years before Michelangelo picked up the chisel. It was commissioned by the Overseers of the Office of Works (the Operai) of the Duomo, Florence’s cathedral church, as one of a dozen Old Testament-themed sculptures which would adorn the buttresses of the cathedral. Donatello made a Joshua out of terracotta for this project in 1410 (Joshua disappeared in the 18th century and has been lost ever since).

It wasn’t until 1464 that the organization commissioned a David sculpture from Agostino di Duccio, a student of Donatello’s. They gave him a massive block of Carrara marble, but he made little progress and 10 years later another student of Donatello’s, Antonio Rossellino, was given the commission. He couldn’t hack it either (no pun intended), so the huge block of marble just sat on its side in the yard of the cathedral workshop, exposed to the elements, until finally in August of 1501, the Operai gave the job to the 26-year-old Michelangelo.

It only took him just over 2 years to finish the 17-foot-tall statue. It was immediately recognized as a masterpiece, but now there was a whole new set of issues to wrestle over: how were they supposed to hoist 17 feet and 6.4 tons of marble up to the cathedral roof? Also, given that the dozen Biblical figures thing never really panned out, was the roof of the Duomo really the best place for this symbol of the Florentine Republic and its scrappy struggle against the tyrants who had sought to conquer it?

The Operai called a meeting in January 1504 of illustrious Florentine artists including Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, Andrea della Robbia and Perugino, among other luminaries, to determine where the David should be placed. Botticelli thought it should go somewhere on or around the cathedral, but most everyone else thought it should go somewhere in the Piazza della Signoria. The debate continued to rage for months, until finally the Operai decided on the spot in front of the entrance to the Palazzo della Signoria. After a 4 day procession, the David, carried through the city inside a wooden cage running on greased beams, was placed in its spot, powerful glare facing Rome.

There is no more wooden cage or greased beams, but last week a fiberglass cast of the David was piled onto the back of a pickup, driven to the Duomo, and hoisted up to the buttress the original was meant to adorn. Look how teeny he seems:

Fiberglass David on the roof of Florence's Duomo Fiberglass David on the Duomo Fiberglass David on the Duomo

The installation is inaugural event of the Florens 2010 forum. Over the course of the week, fiberglass David was moved to the other locations proposed during the 1504 debate, like the Duomo’s sagrato (the consecrated area in front of the cathedral) and the piazza next to the Duomo’s workshop where Michelangelo worked on the sculpture.

You can see great footage of fiberglass David’s Duomo adventure this news story (in Italian):

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/v/P3udugvhnDk&w=430]

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New sphinx-lined road found in Luxor

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

One of the 12 newly-discovered sphinxesArchaeologists excavating near the Temple of Karnak in Luxor have unearthed a road lined with 12 sphinxes dating to the reign of the King Nectanebo I, (380-363 B.C.), the last pharaoh of the last pharaonic dynasty.

The 65-foot section is the last part of a 1.7-mile ceremonial route known as the Avenue of the Sphinxes because of the huge numbers of sphinxes lining each side. (So far the remains of 850 or so have been found, but archaeologists think there were about 1350 of them originally.)

The Avenue of the Sphinxes joins the two main temples of the city (then called Thebes), Karnak and Luxor, and was first built by Pharaoh Amenhotep III about 3,400 years ago, for religious processions.

Council Secretary-General Zahi Hawass said the statues were found at the end of the King Nectanebo I road that starts at the Temple of Luxor, crosses the road leading to the Temple of the Goddess Mut, and ends at the Temple of Karnak.

“It is the road of the sacred procession of the God Amun on his annual visit to his wife, Goddess Mut, in the Temple of Luxor,” explained Hawass. “This road was referred to in the ancient manuscripts.”

This is the first time concrete evidence of its existence has ever been found. It’s also the first ancient east-west road, running towards the Nile, ever found. The newly-discovered section suggest that the sacred route was more complex that we knew.

The road was kept well-hidden by development starting from the Roman period. In fact, the Supreme Council of Antiquities had to work for 18 months before they even broke ground. There was a modern apartment complex on the spot. The Council had to rehome everyone who lived there before they could knock down the building and excavate the area.

Given all that, it’s not surprising that the sphinxes are in poor condition, most of them missing their heads. Still, they will be restored as much as possible and displayed in an open-air museum come February of next year. By March, the entire Avenue of Sphinxes will be restored.

This is part of a push by the government to revive ancient Thebes and make it a tourist draw beyond just the temples.

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Oldest drinkable champagne gets drunk

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

Two bottles of 200-year-old champagne recovered from a Baltic shipwreck this summer were opened and offered to 100 journalists and experts for a wine tasting. It wasn’t until they opened and recorked them yesterday that experts were able to confirm that there are 2 different labels of champagne: Veuve Clicquot and Juglar, a house that went out of business in the early 1800s.

It has lost most of its fizz, sadly, but retains its sweetness (champagnes at that time used a brain-freeze inducing 100 grams of sugar in each bottle; a bottle of Veuve today has 9 grams of sugar) and the flavor imparted by the oak casks it was kept in before bottling.

Richard Juhlin pours the shipwrecked champagne into glassesAs the contents were poured into rows of waiting glasses, the aroma was more pungent than any modern wine or champagne: a thick, nose-wrinkling bouquet that could be smelled several metres away.

“Bottles kept at the bottom of the sea are better kept than in the finest wine cellars,” one of the world’s foremost champagne experts, Richard Juhlin, told reporters.

Juhlin described the Juglar as “more intense and powerful, mushroomy,” and the Veuve-Clicquot as more like Chardonnay, with notes of “linden blossoms and lime peels”.

“Madame Clicquot herself must have tasted this same batch,” Francois Hautekeur, a Veuve-Clicquot representative, told AFP, referring to Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin, who reigned over the famous house.

Madame Clicquot with her granddaughter, by Léon Cogniet, ca. 1860The Widow (“Veuve”, in French) Clicquot actively sought to expand the market for her champagne in royal courts all over Europe, particularly the Russian Imperial court. The bottles may have been on their way to Russia, or they could have just been on their way to nearby Finland.

When the shipwreck was first discovered, there was speculation that the champagne was a gift from Louis XVI to Catherine the Great, but that no longer seems likely. There are plates on board made by the Rorstrand porcelain factory between 1780 and 1830, and the twin-masted schooner that was carrying them when it met a grim fate at the hands of the remorseless Baltic was probably made toward the end of that date range.

So the precious cargo remains in the running for the title of world’s oldest champagne, but the race has tightened considerably since the current record-holder is an 1825 Perrier-Jouet. Only 3 or 4 of the 168 bottled recovered from the wreck are Veuve, but they are probably the oldest from that label since currently the oldest bottle the house knows of dates to 1893.

The government of Aaland, the autonomous Finnish archipelago in whose waters the wreck was found, plans to auction off two bottles, one from each label. They’re also planning on mixing some of the shiprecked champagne that is not in mint condition with younger vintages and sell them which sounds a little gross to me, frankly, but blending not-so-great vintage and modern is apparently a common practice.

Aaland will keep five bottles unopened, unblended and unsold as archaeological artifacts, which the Finnish government isn’t too thrilled about — they would prefer that the entire cargo be treated as archaeological patrimony to be preserved — but Aaland is keen on its autonomy and this discovery has caused a lot of excitement and discussion in the community.

As for the beer, another possible oldest drinkable record-holder found in the wreck, its being analyzed right now with an eye to allowing local microbreweries to recreate it, perhaps using the shipwrecked beer as a root.

As it happens, Christian Ekstroem, the diver who discovered the shipwreck, is also the manager of the pub of Stallhagen, a local microbrewery. He’s gunning for the brewing rights to remain local rather than sold to US brewers, who are also vying for them.

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Relics from tomb of Richard II found at NPG

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

Cigarette box with relics from Richard II's tombAn archivist working on a six-month cataloguing program at the National Portrait Gallery uncovered pieces of wood, leather and fabric from the tomb of King Richard II in a cigarette box marked “August 31, 1871, Westminster Abbey, GS.” The GS stands for Sir George Scharf, the National Portrait Gallery’s first director, who was at Westminster Abbey on August 31, 1871, when Richard II’s tomb was opened for cleaning.

Scharf's sketch of Richard II's skullScharf didn’t just keep souvenirs from Richard’s coffin. He also made thorough sketches of the king’s skull and bones, including detailed measurements. The drawings are so accurate archivists believe it may be possible to reconstruct Richard’s appearance. Chroniclers at the time described him as handsome. He was just 33 when he died on Valentine’s Day, 1400, probably of starvation, while being held in captivity at Pontefract Castle by his usurper cousin, Henry IV.

Richard II coronation portrait, ca. 1390The contents of the box were only listed as relics from a royal tomb when catalogued, no specifics about which royal tomb it was. Scharf witnessed the opening of several royal tombs, including those of Edward VI, Henry VII and James I, so archivists had to cross-check the date with diary entries to figure out whose relics they were.

Krzysztof Adamiec, National Portrait Gallery Assistant Archivist (Scharf Project), says: “It was a very exciting discovery and one that reveals the hidden potential of Scharf’s papers. By matching diary entries, with sketches, notes and other material in the collection a unique record is revealed. Scharf meticulously recorded almost everything he saw and experienced. In reading his papers, one is able to reconstruct in minute detail ‘a day in the life’ of this remarkable Victorian gentleman.”

The Scharf papers held in the National Portrait Gallery’s Heinz Archive & Library comprise business, personal and family records which reflect not only the history of the Gallery, but also the wider social history of Victorian England.

Scharf was a careful observer of life in his own times and his diaries, notebooks and sketches provide a detailed record of a changing London, everyday Victorian life, and important historic events of the era. They are also an exceptional resource for the study of portraits and portraiture. Alongside his responsibility, as Director, for building-up the National Portrait Gallery’s collection, Scharf also worked in a private capacity on various external projects. He was directly involved in some of the most significant exhibitions of the Victorian period, including Crystal Palace (after its relocation to Sydenham) in 1854 and the Manchester Art Treasures exhibition in 1857.

There are 230 notebooks among Scharf’s papers in which he recorded everything from a sketch of Sir Winston Churchill as a baby to detailed views of Coventry, whose remarkably well-preserved medieval city was completely destroyed by German bombing during World War II.

The Scharf papers are being catalogued as part of the National Cataloguing Grants Programme for Archives, an ongoing project to digitize masses of historical archives from the National Portrait Gallery. You can search the online archives here. It’s surprisingly fascinating stuff, even when it’s not sketches of medieval royal skulls.

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Tycho Brahe’s remains exhumed

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Archaeologist opening Tycho Brahe's tombA team of Czech and Danish scientists opened the tomb of Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe in Our Lady Before Tyn Church in Prague today. They hope to determine the cause of his death by analyzing his remains with a variety of scientific techniques that were not available when his remains were exhumed once before in 1901.

Samples of his mustache and hair retrieved during that exhumation were analyzed in 1996 and found to contain elevated levels of mercury, suggesting that perhaps his death was not from a kidney stone or, as urban legend has it, from his bladder exploding because he was too much of a gentleman to go to the can during a reception at the court of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II. Perhaps he was poisoned, or perhaps his alchemical efforts exposed him to toxic levels of mercury.

Brahe went to a dinner party in Prague on the 13th of October, 1601. He died 11 days later. The official cause of death given was a urinary infection, but rumors of a more nefarious cause began to swirl immediately and have continued to swirl ever since. One theory was that his assistant German astronomer Johannes Kepler killed him to misappropriate his brilliant astronomical observations, which he would later publish as The Rudolphine Tables. Another that he was poisoned by his own cousin, Eric Brahe, by order of King Christian IV of Denmark who was angered by rumors that Tycho had had an affair with the king’s mother.

Tycho BraheScientists are hoping CAT scans, X-rays, neutron activation analysis of not just his hair but for the time of his bones as well, will help pin down how much mercury Brahe absorbed and over what period of time.

Scientists said longer-term exposure to poison would indicate Brahe may have died from self-administered “medicine” or too much exposure from his experiments.

However, high concentrations of a toxic substance near the hair root could indicate a big one-time dose of poison.

“Generally the finding of high concentrations of a toxic element, such as arsenic, in sequential hair samples of a potential murder victim is considered an indicator of a murder and can be used as evidence,” said Jan Kucera from the Nuclear Physics Institute in Rez near Prague.

They’re also hoping to find residue on his skull that will fill in some blanks about the plate in Brahe’s nose. Tycho famous lost a piece of his nose during a duel when he was a student in Germany in 1566. The missing part was replaced with a plate, but the plate wasn’t found with his remains in the 1901 exhumation. At the very least tests on residue should be able to determine what metal the plate was made out of. According to one of the many tall tales about him, the plate was gold and silver.

The team will have 4 days to examine the remains before they are re-interred on November 19th in his Our Lady Before Tyn tomb. They’ve already found a whole new mystery. Tycho Brahe’s wife was supposedly buried with him when she died 3 years after he did. There were 2 other sets of human remains found in the crypt, one belonging to a young woman no older than 20, the other a child. Mrs. Brahe was nowhere to be found.

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Rare pistol found in 18th c. St. Augustine shipwreck

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

Archaeologists from the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) in St. Augustine, Florida, brought a couple dozen artifacts recovered from an unidentified shipwreck to the Flagler Hospital Imaging Center for CAT scans. The objects are heavily concreted — surrounded by a hard mass that grows around metallic objects rusting for long periods underwater — so archaeologists needed the scans to find out what was inside before beginning the long process of removing the concretions.

Concretion with pistol insideOne of them showed itself to be a rare gentleman’s pocket pistol also known as a Queen Anne’s pistol. That style of weapon was popular from the late 17th century through the beginning of the 19th. It was a personal sidearm, not something that would have been military issue or part of the ship’s defenses. Archaeologists at this stage believe the barrel is brass, the handle wood with some silver inlay. The weapon does not appear to be loaded, but we won’t know for sure until LAMP restores the pistol which could take as long as a year and a half.

CAT scan of concretion with pistol insideArchaeologists think there’s a good chance they’ll also find the maker’s name engraved on the side of the gun, which will not only flush out the history of the weapon itself, but also help date the wreck and pinpoint its origin.

“In so many ways this is exciting,” Lighthouse Archaeological Director Chuck Meide said, noting it’s only the second colonial period shipwreck found in this area. The other, Industry, was found by LAMP in 1997.

The shipwreck may be the oldest found in the waters off the First Coast, dating back to some time in the second half of the 1700s. Four cauldrons found onboard date to the 1740-1780 period.

Once the artifacts are cleaned, more details will be apparent.

“That could narrow it down. We’re just seeing it in a very ghostlike way now,” Meide said.

Archaeologists will be checking a data base of shipwrecks off the First Coast, trying to match the ship they found with one of the 30 or so listed wrecks from the 1700s. They may get lucky and discover something with the ship’s name on it.

Other artifacts found clumped together under concretions were large amounts of bird shot, an iron spike and a metal disk that archaeologists hope is a coin because it would be of great help in narrowing down the wreck.

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Richly illuminated collection of Arthur tales for sale

Saturday, November 13th, 2010

Illumination of Arthur fighting Saxons, from the Rochefoucauld Grail The Rochefoucauld Grail is a beautifully illuminated three-volume compendium of English and French Arthurian legends that was commissioned in the 14th century by the Baron de Rouchefoucauld, just a few decades after the first collections of those Camelot stories were compiled. Unlike its earlier brethren, however, this magnificent manuscript was not read until it fell apart. It’s in nearly untouched condition, and may well be the earliest surviving collection of Anglo-French Knights of the Round Table adventures.

It’s also of superb quality, royal quality even, although Guy VII, Baron de Rochefoucauld (ancestor of that Rochefoucauld who would write the maxims 300 years later) was not himself royalty. He was a representative of the Philip V of France in Flanders, however, and he came from a long line of feudal lords who were closely linked to the French monarchs. One of them even fought against the Richard the Lionhearted under King Philip II Augustus, and was taken prisoner at the battle of Gisors in 1198, the battle where Richard first used the phrase “Dieu et mon droit,” since Henry V the official motto of the British monarch, as a password to distinguish ally from enemy.

There are 107 vividly colored illustrations set against backgrounds of pure gold leaf. It was made in either Flanders or Artois around 1315-23, and is widely considered one of the greatest medieval manuscripts still in private hands. It remained with the Rochefoucauld family for 500 years until it was bought in the 19th century by collector Sir Thomas Phillips. It’s been on the market just twice since then. The current owner, Dutch businessman J.R. Ritman will be selling it at Sotheby’s London on December 7th. The estimated sale price is £2 million ($3.2 million).

“It is the most extraordinary thing, a manuscript of royal quality, on a stupendous scale – I put my back out twice carrying the three volumes,” Dr Timothy Bolton, a manuscript specialist at Sotheby’s, said.

Gawain in battle, from the Rochefoucauld Grail “It would have taken 200 cows to get the vellum, and the illuminations are in rare and costly minerals, against a background of thick gold made from coins beaten flat. Are we selling it cheap compared to its 14th-century cost? Of course we are.

“The scenes have a riotous energy, and often stretch beyond the boundaries of the picture frames, with lofty towers poking through the borders at the top, and figures tumbling out of the miniatures onto the blank page as they fall or scramble to escape their enemies.”

There is a fourth volume from this collection, currently split between the Bodleian in Oxford and the John Rylands university library in Manchester. I doubt either of them will have the wherewithal to bid for the bulk of the Grail. I’m rooting for the Morgan Library & Museum because they have a beautiful collection of illuminated medieval manuscripts, a sizeable purchase fund, are very generous with scholars and visitors, craft magnificent online exhibits, plus they just restored the landmark 1906 McKim building which hosts Mr. Morgan’s library and it looks drop dead gorgeous.

J.R. Ritman plans to use the proceeds from the sale to benefit his Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica in Amsterdam, a private library he created in 1984 to make his personal collection of manuscripts and books from the Christian-Hermetic and Gnostic traditions in Western culture accessible to the public.

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Chinese fish vase sells for world record $85 million

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Chinese Qianlong fish vase, ca 1740An 18th century Qianlong porcelain vase sold at a Bainbridges Auction House for a world record $85 million. It’s the highest price ever paid at auction for a Chinese work of art.

Nobody saw it coming, certainly not the sellers — a brother and sister who found the vase when cleaning out their parents’ house after they passed away — and not even the experts at the auction house. Sotheby’s and Christie’s may be used to this kind of huge ticket item, but a small West London auction company like Bainbridges is not. The pre-sale estimate was £800,000-1.2 million ($1.3-1.9 million), which was already 8 times more expensive than the previous top seller for Bainbridges (a Ming enamel bowl that sold for £100,000 a few years ago).

It only took 30 minutes for the bidding to go insane. There were 6 bidders in the room and 3 on the phone. The buyer was one of the people in the room, a Chinese man who declined to comment on his purchase but is thought to have been an agent for a buyer in Beijing. The sellers were also in the room and saw the madness go down. They had to step outside to get some fresh air at one point because of how surreal the bidding got.

So why this piece?

Standing 16 inches tall and decorated with fish, the vase is thought to date from the time of Qianlong, the fourth emperor in the Qing dynasty, around 1740.

Experts said it probably once belonged to Chinese royalty but was most likely taken out of the country at the end of the Second Opium War in 1860 when the palaces were ransacked. […]

The vase has a yellow painted trumpet neck and a double-walled construction, meaning an inner vase can be seen through the perforations of the main body.

Helen Porter, of Bainbridges, said: “In the 18th century it would have resided no doubt in the Chinese Royal Palace and was most certainly fired in the Imperial kilns.

“It is a piece of exquisite beauty and a supreme example of the skill of the ceramicist and decorator.”

The sellers believe it has been in their family since the 1930s. Obviously they had no idea whatsoever that it wasn’t a pretty vase so much as a winning multi-state lottery ticket. Peter Bainbridge, the auctioneer, hit the lotto too with this one. The buyer’s premium and VAT together comes out to $16 million, so since VAT is 17.5% of the sale price (£43 million), that means $12 million goes to Her Majesty’s government and $4 million to the auction house. That’s retirement money, right there.

This is a testament to the astonishing explosion of the market in Chinese art and artifacts.

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Sansovino terracotta taken apart and put back together

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Sansovino's 'Madonna and Child' after restorationA life-sized terracotta Madonna and Child by Renaissance sculptor and architect Jacopo Sansovino has been pieced back together by the experts at Florence’s Opificio delle Pietre Dure after centuries of damage and atrocious restorations.

The restoration took 3 years. It started with X-rays and CAT scans taken in Bologna to provided a detailed roadmap of the damage. Following that roadmap, restorers dismantled the statue into 20 pieces the put humpty back together again.

Sansovino 'Madonna and Child' in piecesFlorence art critics said they did not know exactly when the 1570 work had been broken and who was responsible for a series of botched-up restorations, including inserting nails, screws and stucco to hold it in place. “When we were given the statue, the Madonna weighed 120 kilos [265 pounds] but now that we’ve done away with its wooden support, the nails and screws, it only weighs 50 kilos [110 pounds],” said the head of the Opificio, Isabella Lapi Ballerini.

Critics said previous restorers had also altered the shape and colour of the piece as well as arbitrarily deciding to fix atop a wooden stand, which has now been replaced with a light-weight carbon-fibre support. The work was presented to the media in Florence before its return to the Civic Museum of Vicenza.

Restorers working on 'Madonna and Child'That 1570 dating is inaccurate, by the way. Sansovino died in 1570. He made the sculpture as a bas relief for the Villa Garzoni in Ponte Casale, near Padua, a lovely classically-inspired villa Sansovino designed some time after 1527 but before 1550. The sculpture remained there until the early 1900s when it was chiseled off the wall and taken to Florence to be sold at auction. It was around that time, the 20s and 30s, when one of the awful “restorations” took place, probably to keep it stable enough for transportation.

The buyer, Gaetano Marzotto, donated the sculpture to the Civic Museum of Vicenza, the current owners. The Madonna and Child will be on display at the Pietre Dure workshop for 5 days and then it will return to Vicenza.

Jacopo Sansovino is best known as the architect of some of Venice’s most beautiful buildings, foremost among them the Library of Saint Mark’s, the Biblioteca Marciana, the first library to require by law in 1603 that a copy of all books printed in the Republic of Venice be deposited therein.

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