National Gallery ushers in the New Year with new Gentileschi

The Finding of Moses, a monumental painting by Baroque artist Orazio Gentileschi, father of Artemisia, has been acquired by the National Gallery after 20 years of trying. The Gallery first attempted to buy it in 1995 and failed. In 2002, its owner, sofa magnate Graham Kirkham, loaned the work to the museum where it has been the centerpiece of its Baroque collection. This year they were again given the opportunity to acquire The Finding of Moses for £19.5 million. With the goal in sight thanks to large grants from American Friends of the National Gallery, the National Gallery Trust and National Heritage Memorial Fund, the National Gallery launched a campaign last month to raise the remaining £2million. They announced on December 18th that the full sum has been raised and the painting acquired.

The large-scale work — 257cm (8’5″) by 301cm (9’10.5″) — depicts the scene from Exodus when the baby Moses is discovered in the reeds of the Nile by pharaoh’s daughter and her handmaids. The young woman kneeling on the left pointing at the infant in the basket is his sister Miriam. It is one of the finest examples of Orazio’s late period when he’d set aside his earlier Caravaggesque style and embraced the lush vibrancy of Late Renaissance history painters like Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese.

It was painted in 1630 when Gentileschi was a court painter for the King Charles I. Charles commissioned it as a gift for his wife Queen Henrietta Maria in honor of the birth of their son, the future Charles II. Orazio was one of the Queen’s favorite painters and The Finding of Moses joined his ceiling paintings at Queen’s House, Greenwich. The sumptuous silks of the princess and her ladies and the green, woodsy rolling hills reflect the style and landscape of Henrietta Maria’s court rather than pharaonic Egypt’s.

The painting had been an acquisition priority for us since 1995, when we first attempted to buy it.

Not only is it a wonderful example of Orazio’s rich colouring, skill at painting shiny, sumptuous fabrics, and sense of courtly elegance, ‘The Finding of Moses’ has an important place in British history.

It is the first painting from the time when Orazio travelled to England to be a painter at the court of Charles I in London.

Orazio Gentileschi painted a second version of the monumental piece in 1633, this one for King Philip IV of Spain. He made the details of the textiles and jewelry even more sumptuous and bared less flesh, in keeping with the fashion of the Spanish court. Orazio gave it to the king as a gift, dispatching his son Francesco to Madrid to deliver it in person. It is now in the Prado Museum in Madrid.

The Finding of Moses will be moved to the newly renovated Baroque room in April when it will go on display in an exhibition dedicated to Orazio’s brilliant daughter Artemisia.

Rare Bronze Age funeral pyre found in Denmark

A rare Bronze Age funeral pyre was unearthed in Bellinge, a suburb of Odense, Denmark. The site was excavated by Odense City Museums archaeologists in spring 2019 in advance of construction of a housing development. There was a burial mound there, but excavation revealed no central burial as is customary in ancient mounds. Instead, the team found the remains of an early Bronze Age (ca. 800 B.C.) cremation bonfire.

The deceased was cremated on a 3×2-meter pile of wood contained within pilings. After the funerary conflagration, the bones were removed and buried elsewhere. What remains today is a thick layer of charcoal peppered with bone fragments and the postholes from the pilings. Bronze Age cremation pyres are extremely rare, and this one is in particularly good condition, rich with remains that will give archaeologists an unprecedented opportunity to discover new information about Bronze Age ritual. Using the archaeological information, the team recreated the pyre, a pig standing in for the Bronze Age human.

The mound was built on top of the cremation site. It was created by piling turf into a mound 75 feet in diameter and lining its perimeter in large stones. It overlooked the landscape for a thousand years before again being used for funerary purposes. Over the course of three centuries, more than 100 individuals were buried on the mound surface, making the Bellinge Common mound one of the largest Iron Age burial grounds on the island of Funen.

Most of the burials were cremated remains in earthenware urns. There are also some inhumations with grave goods including jewelry (silver, glass, amber and pearl), daggers, pottery with food and drink offerings.

The urns have been transported to the Møntergården museum in Odense where they will be excavated in public view beginning on January 21st, 2020. The museum is setting up a laboratory in the foyer where visitors can see the archaeologists at work and look into the urns as their contents are unearthed.

Manchester’s gold mummies visit the US

Manchester Museum, part of The University of Manchester, is undergoing a huge £13-million, three-year renovation that requires the closure of multiple galleries for the duration. Egyptian Worlds, which houses Manchester Museum’s extensive collection of mummies and artifacts from 5,000 years of Egyptian history, is among them. The galleries closed in August 2018 and are scheduled to reopen in 2021 in the transformed museum.

While the collection’s home is being rebuilt, Manchester Museum has arranged the first travelling exhibition of some of its most exceptional pieces from Greco-Roman Egypt (c. 300 B.C. – 200 A.D.). Golden Mummies of Egypt is centered around eight mummies unearthed over a century ago during University of Manchester excavations in Egypt. Through the mummies and other artifacts, including the always-evocative Fayuum mummy portraits, the exhibition explores beliefs about death and the afterlife from Greek and Roman Egypt and their link to the ancient traditional religion of dynastic Egypt.

The latest technology will give visitors a literal view from the inside.

The exhibition includes 360 degree interactive CT-scans of each mummy on display, allowing the visitor to see beneath the wrappings; audio-visual translations of texts bring the words of ancient people to life; iconographic visualisations animate the gods the Egyptians hoped to meet.

Golden Mummies of Egypt opens in the US at the Buffalo Museum of Science on February 8th, 2020. Its next stop will be the North Carolina Museum of Art where it will run from September 19, 2020, through January 10, 2021.

Never-before-seen details from the golden funerary mask of Isaious. Photo courtesy Manchester Museum. Detail from Isaious' brilliantly colored wrappings. Photo courtesy Manchester Museum. Detail from Isaious' brilliantly colored wrappings. Photo courtesy Manchester Museum.

Prototype of iconic red telephone box gets listing upgrade

The first of the iconic red telephone boxes has gotten an upgrade in its protection listing from Grade II (of special interests) to Grade II* (particularly important building of more than special interest).

Heritage Minister Helen Whately said:

“The red telephone box is an internationally famous British icon and I am delighted that we are able to protect the first of its kind.

In an increasingly digital world, it is important to preserve structures – like the K2 prototype phone box – that have played a part in our nation’s industrial story.”

The General Post Office’s first public telephone box, the concrete Kiosk No. 1 (K1), introduced in 1921, was rejected by London’s local councils, so in 1924 the Royal Fine Arts Commission asked architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and two other highly respected architects (Sir Robert Lorimer and Sir John Burnet) to submit designs for a new and improved phone kiosk. Five prototypes were manufactured and displayed outside the National Gallery in Trafalgar.

Scott, a trustee of the Sir John Soane’s Museum, drew inspiration from the domed canopy of the tomb Soane designed for his beloved and much-lamented wife Eliza in the churchyard of St. Pancras Old Church, London. The prototype with its curved dome was made of timber. After judging the K2 prototype was moved to Burlington House, home of the Royal Academy, where it remains to this day.

In 1925, Scott’s design for the prototype K2 (Kiosk No.2) telephone box was chosen as the “most suitable for erection in busy thoroughfares of large towns.” Scott had planned for the finished booths to be made of steel with blue-green interior. The General Post Office decided to go with cast iron painted red.

After the successful competition, the first cast iron K2 was installed in London in 1926, with more than 1,700 appearing across the city over the course of the next decade. Only a small number were placed outside London and just over 200 K2s survive today. The K2 was replaced in 1935 by the streamlined, more compact and cost-effective K6 model which was also designed by Scott and is the most common red telephone box still in existence today.

France blocks export of kitchen Cimabue

The panel painting by Cimabue that was found in an elderly woman’s kitchen outside Compiegne and sold at auction for $26.6 million in October won’t be leaving France anytime soon. Minister of Culture Franck Riester has refused to issue an export certificate the buyers. Now France has 30 months to scrape up the hefty sum necessary to claim the masterpiece for the national collections.

Christ Mocked is a 10-inch panel painted by the late medieval pioneer Cenni di Pepo, aka Cimabue, in around 1280 as part of an altarpiece diptych. Two other panels believed to be part of the altarpiece are in the Frick Collection in New York and National Gallery, London. The three panels share significant detail — the architecture, the gold background, the rich pigments and the design of the halos — and the poplar plank serving as a support to Christ Mocked and the National Gallery’s panel matches precisely. They were once a single continuous piece.

With only 11 other Cimabue works known to exist, all of them in museums, the bidding for this panel was hot, to say the least. The Acteon auction house did not reveal the buyer’s identity, but it did obliquely refer to a “foreign museum” having been among the bidders. That turns out to have been the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which, despite its copious funding, was only the second-to-last man standing. The Met lost out to the Alana collection, a private collection of Italian Renaissance art based in the United States. It applied for an export license that was denied on Monday, December 23rd.

Following the opinion of the Advisory Committee on National Treasures, the Minister of Culture signed the decree refusing the export certificate last December for this rare panel, thus conferring on it the status of national treasure for a period thirty months which will start from the notification of this decision to the owner of the painting. This period will be used to raise the funds necessary to carry out an acquisition for the benefit of public national collections in order to allow this panel to join the Maesta of the Italian master already kept at the Louvre museum.

“I salute the eminent role played by the export control system for cultural goods for the protection and enrichment of the national heritage and I thank the members of the Advisory Committee on National Treasures, under the leadership of its chairman, Edmond Honorat, whose careful examination of the certificate refusal proposals clarifies my decisions. Thanks to the time given by this measure, all efforts can be mobilized so that this exceptional work can enrich national collections,” declared Franck Riester.