Getty acquires rediscovered Artemisia Gentileschi Lucretia

The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles is the proud new owner of a previously unknown painting by trailblazing Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi. It depicts the Roman heroine Lucretia in the moment before she plunges a dagger into her heart. Lucretia, raped by the son of Tarquin, king of Rome, demanded her relatives avenge her honor, then killed herself in front of them. Her act spurred the tyrannicide of Tarquin by Lucius Junius Brutus and the founding of the Roman Republic.

The painting is in exceptional condition, small details like the tears welling up in Lucretia’s eyes still clear and untouched by the passage of centuries, poor storage conditions or misguided restoration attempts. It’s rare for a Baroque era painting to survive in such a pristine state of preservation.

Lucretia first surfaced in 2019 when it was sold at a Paris auction. The sellers had bought it in Cannes in the 1980s and kept it in their Lyon home for 40 years, unpublished and unknown. There are only about 60 known paintings that can be attributed to Artemisia Gentileschi, and a good half of them cannot be conclusively authenticated as works of her hand, so her paintings are very highly coveted the rare times they come up for auction.  Surprisingly absolutely nobody, the rediscovered work blew past the risibly low presale estimate (€600,000 – €800,000) and sold for €4,777,000 ($5.3 million), including the buyer’s premium and taxes.

The auction experts dated it to between 1630 and 1635, the late part of her career when she lived in Naples. Lucretia’s suicide was a subject she returned to repeatedly in her career. Another from the early years of her life Naples sold at auction in 2018 for $2.2 million. The earliest known Lucretia was painted around 1623-5 when Artemisia lived in Rome. It is now in the private collection of paisley mogul Gerolamo Etro in Milan.

The Getty’s research indicates the rediscovered Lucretia likely predates her Naples sojourn and was made around 1627 when Artemisia lived in Venice.

There is evidence that Artemisia painted this Lucretia during her time in Venice in the late 1620s. With its swirling and exuberant drapery, and its free brushstrokes, the picture shows the profound engagement with the artistic legacy of 16th-century Venetian painting, especially with the female protagonists of paintings by Titian and Veronese. The painting also reflects Artemisia’s close contact with expatriates active in Venice in the 1620s, such as the French Nicolas Régnier, the German Johann Liss, and the Genoese Bernardo Strozzi.

In 1627, a pamphlet was printed containing a number of poems dedicated to four of Artemisia’s paintings executed in Venice: two on a self-portrait, one each on a Susanna and a Sleeping Cupid, and three on a Lucretia. The author was likely Giovanni Francesco Loredan, one of a close-knit group of writers, artists, musicians, librettists, and patrons who were associated with Artemisia during her Venetian sojourn. It is highly probable that the Getty’s Lucretia is the same painting praised in the poems published in Venice in 1627.

“With the discovery of new documents and the emergence of new paintings, our understanding of Artemisia’s art has become much more complex and nuanced in the last 20 years. This recently rediscovered work sheds a new light on a crucial and hitherto overlooked moment of her career, when the painter is transitioning from the Caravaggism that had been the hallmark of her formative years to a more graceful and idealized manner which will characterize her maturity,” said Davide Gasparotto, senior curator of paintings at the Getty Museum. “Lucretia is a powerful and compelling example of Artemisia’s most significant type of subject, the representation of dynamic female figures which appear in control of their own destiny; but with its lyrical and sophisticated expressivity, its creamy impasto and vibrant brushwork, the painting is also suggestive of new directions in her artistic itinerary”.

The Getty is currently closed due to you know what, but it is expected to reopen in the next few weeks. Lucretia will be on display to welcome visitors when it does.

136-year-old lifeboat found in hay shed rafters

The wooden lifeboat that carried the crew to safety after their ship wrecked off the western coast of Australia in 1891 has been found intact in the rafters of a hay shed. Archaeologist Bob Sheppard was taking a tour of the old farm’s historic outbuildings. John Grigson showed him the nifty boat in the rafters and told him it was the lifeboat of the Maid of Lincoln. The remains of the Maid were never found, so this is the only known artifact from the shipwreck and it is in excellent condition.

The Maid of Lincoln was a 12-horsepower wooden steamer built in Port Lincoln in 1885. It primarily served harbor duty for its first few years. In 1889 it caught fire while at anchor in South Bay and was heavily damaged in the conflagration. It was repaired and put back to work.

It wasn’t fire damage that brought it down in the end. The ship set out on April 11, 1891, carrying a load of guano from the Abrolhos Islands, rich seabird nesting sites, to Bunbury. Its captain, William Millar, ordered changes to the course heading but stayed below deck so much that he didn’t realize it was getting to close to the coast and that the visibility was too poor for the helmsman to adjust. At 2:00 AM, the Maid of Lincoln struck a reef eight miles south of Jurien Bay off Hill River and quickly sank.

The captain, a half-dozen crew members and one stowaway who only made his presence known when the ship was rapidly filling with water, managed to get on the ship’s lifeboat and launch it before the ship went down, but they didn’t have the time to salvage any supplies. Half of the crew didn’t even have the time to put shoes on. When they made it safely to Jurien Bay, the shoeless survivors stayed behind on the beach and the other half of the party went inland to Cockleshell Gully where they reached the Grigson farm. John Grigson’s grandfather transported the refugees to Geraldton on by horse and cart. Captain Millar gave the lifeboat to Grigson to thank him for his aid.

The family used it as a fishing boat and kept it out on the veranda. Around 70 or 80 years ago, they retired it permanently and stashed it up in the shed they’d built in 1901. It has been peacefully collecting spider webs ever since. The rafters are in worse condition than the boat. Devoured by white ants, they are not what you would call structurally sound at this point, and the boat was at risk of collapse.

Removing the boat was a delicate operation. An archaeologist and expert on ropes was enlisted and he designed a cunning rig made of old ladders, fencing and ropes to carefully raise the boat off the rafters and then lower it to the ground. They didn’t know how heavy it was or how it might react to the pressures of transport, but the old lifeboat proved remarkably sturdy yet. The team was able to remove it intact without incident.

For now it resides in a weather-proof storage shed. Sheppard hopes to find a permanent home for it in a museum. The Grigson family has stipulated that it must remain in Jurien Bay for the community to enjoy this rare piece of its maritime history.

Huge pottery production complex found in Poland

Archaeologists have found the remains of a massive Roman-era pottery production facility in Wrzępia, southern Poland. A geophysical survey of the five-hectare site found approximately 130 furnaces, which makes it by far the largest pottery production site of its type in Poland and one of the largest in Eastern Europe. The pottery was in operation from the late 2nd/early 3rd century to the 5th.

Two of the kilns have now been excavated, and the fragments found  indicate the facility specialized in one type of pottery.

“Our research shows that only storage vessels with characteristic thickened spouts were produced there. These were large vessels up to 50 cm in diameter and about 70 cm high. The vessels were most likely used for storage – e.g. food. type of vessels where they probably played the role of peculiar pantries “- explains archaeologist Jan Bulas. […]

Dishes fired in open furnaces were made with the use of a potter’s wheel, which became popular in this area at that time.

Veterans of the legions who settled beyond the Roman limes brought Roman technology (like the pottery wheel), craftsmanship and consumer goods which were adopted by the Germanic peoples, particularly by the elite who increasingly lived a Romanized lifestyle. We know from coin finds that there was a significant flow of Roman money to what is now Lesser Poland in the late 2nd, early 3rd century A.D. After a dip in the late 3rd century, transfers of Roman coinage picked back up in the 4th before coming to a halt in the middle of the 5th century.

This coincides roughly with the dates of the Wrzępia facility. Large-scale production facilities like the pottery attest to how Roman technology and mass-production of consumer goods spread outside the boundary of the Empire. The kilns were a local operation run by the Vandals who inhabited the area. Its large size and specialized production shows there was a thriving, active, complex economy in the area.

Excavation of the site has ended for now. Researchers will focus on cleaning, conserving and studying the artifacts they’ve recovered so far and hope to return next year to excavate as many of the 130 kilns as possible.

Curule chair found in Roman funeral pyre

The charred remains of a curule chair have been recovered from a 1st century A.D. funeral pyre in the town of Épagny-Metz-Tessy in southeastern France. Archaeologists discovered the remains of two Roman funeral pyres in a salvage excavation before construction of new residential buildings.

The first pyre is the oldest of the two. It contains the remains of a young child between five and eight years old at time of death. The pyre was furnished with a great abundance of goods, including 17 ceramic vessels, 10 bronze vases and four glass vessels containing the remains of food offerings (lentils, beans, pork, rooster, wine). It was the child’s final banquet, and it was a grand one. Other goods were use items — three copper alloy strigils, bone game tokens — and furnishings (the funeral bed, boxes).

The second pyre was far more elaborate. The deceased was an adult of relatively advanced age, and clearly someone of immense wealth and rank. His grave contained 20 ceramic vases, at least 20 glass containers, 46 bronze utensils and kitchenware containing the remains of wine, lentils, beans, beef, pork, hare, rooster, partridge, duck and fish. There were strigils in this grave too, silver ones, plus a pair of gold earrings and a fragment of a textile embroidered with gold thread.

Amidst all these fine treasures, one object stands out for its symbolism and rarity: an iron curule chair with bronze decorations.

The X-shaped seat is composed of two iron frames with “S” uprights, articulated and intended to work with a set of leather or fabric straps stretched to allow seating. The feet are flat circular shapes and arranged perpendicular to the uprights which themselves have a rectangular section. The two sets of crossbars have round sections. The heads of the uprights are divided into two lateral tabs forming a semicircle framing a rod of round section; a washer is affixed halfway up the rod. The end of the latter is put down to fix everything.

The curule chair is one of the major symbols of power in Rome. Of Etruscan tradition, its use is reserved in Rome, initially, to the high magistrates (consuls, praetors) holders of the imperium, that is to say the power to order and to punish. Under Augustus, it is one of the attributes of the emperor. Two types of seat are referenced. On the one hand, the sella curulis strictly speaking, recognizable by its “S” shaped legs: initially reserved for the civil magistracy, it became a luxury household item reserved for an elite from the 1st century AD. On the other hand, the sella castrensis with its “X” profile which is the prerogative of military officers.

Curule chairs are found carved on funerary stele where they symbolize the deceased’s important civic role, but the chairs themselves are vanishingly rare finds in funerary contexts or any other, for that matter. A grand total of eight folding x-shaped chairs have been found in Roman burials France, and this latest discovery is only the fourth full-featured sella curulis.

Of the eight examples listed in France, seven are cremations. This practice makes it almost impossible to determine the sex of the deceased. As for the only burial, it is attributed to a woman.

Thus, if the presence of the seat would be statistically more in favor of a male subject, the hypothesis of a deceased cannot be ruled out and the presence of the earrings would moreover plead more in favor of this possibility.

Restored Ghent Altarpiece returns to Saint Bavo

Almost a decade after a comprehensive multidisciplinary program of conservation and restoration began, the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, also known as the Ghent Altarpiece, has gone back on display at Saint Bavo’s Cathedral in Ghent in a new high-tech setting.

The double-sided 12-panel polyptych by Hubert and Jan van Eyck has been relocated from a small chapel near the entrance to the Sacrament chapel, one of the largest chapels in the cathedral and close to the location where the altarpiece was first installed. The space was enlarged to make way for a new bespoke display case and to aid in the flow of traffic when visitors can once again flock to see the Northern Renaissance’s greatest masterpiece.

The custom case cost more than $35 million. It is bulletproof, climate controlled and contains pneumatically controlled steel supports that allow the wings of the panels to be opened every morning and closed every evening so at different times visitors can see both the vividly colored front of the panels and the muted tones and grisailles on the reverse.

Experts from the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA, Brussels) discovered a great deal about the iconic masterpiece, removing centuries of discolored varnish, retouches and overpaint to reveal the original work by the van Eycks. From 2012 until its completion at the end of 2019, the program’s archival research, radiography, multispectral imaging and ground-breaking technical study cast new light on Van Eyck’s original vision for the polyptych. The Mystic Lamb, central figure of the composition, got a completely new face, or rather got his first, much more human-like face back.

The research, documentation and imaging data were integrated into a truly best-in-class website with high-resolution photographs of the Ghent Altarpiece. The website has been active for years, sharing the results of this seminal study of the altarpiece in granular, brushstroke-level detail. Most recently, the complete oeuvre of Jan van Eyck, his studio and followers has been added to the site, so its purview goes far beyond the altarpiece alone.

Visitors to Saint Bavo’s will first be directed to the crypt where art works and objects related to the altarpiece and the Van Eycks, including the grave of Hubert van Eyck, are exhibited. The experience is enhanced by Microsoft HoloLens, which unlike VR helmets allows users to see the space as it is while adding a digital layer of augmented reality. The headset tours will illuminate the history of the altarpiece, how it was created, the meaning of its dense allegories and portraits.

For now, pandemic measures restrict the number of visitors allowed into the crypt and the chapel — 350 tickets a day for the former, five people at a time for the latter.