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Object of the Month: December 2022

The Virgin Annunciate and The Archangel Gabriel

Oil on canvas, Monogrammed: AV (lower left)

Andrea Vaccaro

Neapolitan, c 1605-1670

Andrea Vaccaro initially trained with the mannerist artist Girolamo Imparato, but was influenced by several other prominent artists of the time: Stanzione, Reni, Ribera, and van Dyck as well as the early Neapolitan Caravaggisti. During his lifetime he was in demand for church altarpieces, public works, and private commissions by the wealthy. According to historian Anna Kiyomi Tuck-Scala, he was elected “first prefetto of the renewed Corporation of Painters” in Naples in 1665, making “him a model religious painter of the period.”

Vaccaro’s pendant paintings portray the moment that the angel Gabriel announces that God has chosen Mary to be the Messiah’s earthly mother, a role that had been aspired to by countless Jewish maidens since the Fall of Man. Traditionally addressed by Gabriel in her bedchamber, Mary is usually reading Scripture, doing needlework. The angel often brings white lilies, signifying Mary’s purity.

Here Vaccaro instead focuses on the two actors. Since the Messiah is God’s Son come to earth to redeem humanity through His life, death, and resurrection, Vaccaro presents His mother as both exquisitely beautiful and devout. The sculptural smoothness of her face and neck, the delicate skin tones and the rich jewel colors of her attire combine to portray her as the ideal daughter of Israel. Though her upraised left hand betrays her startlement, her face remains serene. Being found at her devotions shows a spirit as lovely as her figure. Perhaps she is reading the book of Isaiah where the prophecy of the Messiah’s coming is given? Gabriel’s reverent facial expression reveals him to be cognizant of his role—and his news.

While the figures are on separate canvases, the single light source and the chiaroscuro so associated with Caravaggio unite them in submission to God’s will: he as messenger, Mary as handmaid of the Lord. The earthly and heavenly come together, pre-figuring the Incarnation itself.

Similar works are also attributed to Vaccaro. The Ackland Art Museum at Chapel Hill has a more “standard” Gabriel who holds a stalk of lilies. His hands are the long-fingered Mannerist hands of Vaccaro’s early training. Artnet’s version of Mary’s portrait appears to use the same model as M&G’s, but the addition of the neck drape on M&G’s Mary creates a more elegant, idealized portrait.

The treatment of both Marys’ hands is intriguing. The left hands are similarly posed, but the right hand of Mary in the M&G’s collection (see above) is much fleshier, contrasting with the elongated fingers of the left. According to Riccardo Lattuada, Vaccaro used his monogram (clearly seen on Mary’s book) only during his “first mature stage, 1636-1640.” Perhaps the contrasting hands indicate the artist’s transition from his mannerist roots. If as Marchesa Vittoria Colonna suggests that “contemplation of religious paintings . . .  encourage[s] meditation on the kingdom of heaven,” these companion works by Vaccaro indeed picture a beautiful moment in the history of the world—and of eternity—to ponder.

 

Dr. Karen Rowe Jones

M&G Board Member & volunteer

 Sources Cited:

Marchesa Vittoria Colonna, Marchesa Vittoria. The Bob Jones University Collection of Religious Paintings, 1962.

Lattuada, Riccardo. “Andrea Vaccaro’s David and an Outline of Vaccaro’s Early Career,” MUSE. 2017, vol. 51, pp. 45-69.

Tuck-Scala, Anna Kiyomi. “The Documented Paintings and Life of Andrea Vaccaro (1604-1670),” 2003.

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Happy Thanksgiving from M&G!

Picture Books of the Past: Pieter Fransz. de Grebber

Enjoy this series of segments highlighting Picture Books of the Past: Reading Old Master Paintings, a loan exhibition of 60+ works from the M&G collection. The exhibit has traveled to The Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. and the Orlando Museum of Art in Florida.

This intimate, interior setting highlights the wonder of beholding the child whose birth inspired angels to break through the heavens with the news. The dramatic lighting, eye-level viewpoint, and “crowding in” of characters provide an informal portrait of familial love.

Juan Sanchez, the Younger

The Flight into Egypt and The Nativity

Juan Sanchez, the Younger (formerly, Master of the Large Figures)

Below the image, click play to listen.

M&G Christmas Events for Families

All these events are FREE and open to the public—especially for families seeking to initiate the holiday season with special opportunities to celebrate together.

 

M&G Christmas Scavenger Hunt

Welcome Center, campus of Bob Jones University

Available Monday-Saturday from 10 AM-5 PM through December 16.

In search of a family-fun outing? For kids K5-8th grade, this adventure leads your young explorers in pursuit of the Christmas story in art all around the campus, including a peek inside M&G! Every child who completes the hunt, gets a prize! The search begins (and ends) at the Welcome Center, where you can pick up your guide, clipboard, and pencil. There are extended hours to 9PM on Friday, December 2.

Estimated time to complete: 35-40 minutes

OR if you prefer, enjoy a digital scavenger hunt HERE.

 

M&G Christmas Guild & Gift Shop

M&G Parking Lot, campus of Bob Jones University

As part of the Christmas Market, shop M&G’s booth! Our Guild & Gift Shop offers a variety of distinctive items you’ll be interested in: Medieval weaponry and accessories for kids, M&G’s 2022 glass Christmas ornament, M&G boxed notecards, our new collection catalog, artsy stocking stuffers, and more!

 

Christmas Village

Front Campus, Bob Jones University

Friday, December 2, 4-8:30 PM

Begin the Christmas season celebrating together as a family! From storytelling to cookie decorating to crafting, children K5-6th grade are invited to come with their families to explore a variety of holiday booths and activities!

 

Annual Christmas Carol Sing & Lighting Ceremony

Front Campus, Bob Jones University

Friday, December 2 at 7 PM

Welcome the Christmas season with the traditional holiday melodies at the front-campus fountain area, where you can join a Christmas carol sing-along and watch the campus transform into a twinkling wonderland.

For more information about the events offered by Bob Jones University on December 2nd, visit here.

 

 

Picture Books of the Past: Lorenzo di Niccolo di Martino

Enjoy this series of segments highlighting Picture Books of the Past: Reading Old Master Paintings, a loan exhibition of 60+ works from the M&G collection. The exhibit has traveled to The Museum of the Bible in Washington, D. C. and the Orlando Museum of Art in Florida.

Each member of the Trinity has distinguishing attributes. However, when illustrating the unity of the Godhead, Old Master painters highlighted similarities rather than differences among the three. This groundbreaking composition is a good illustration.

Denys Calvaert, called Dionisio Fiammingo

St. Francis Receiving the Christ Child from the Virgin

Denys Calvaert, called Dionisio Fiammingo

Below the image, click play to listen.

 

 

Object of the Month: October 2022

Cabinet on Stand

White Oak with Ivory and Ebony

Italian, 17th or 18th century

Donated to the Museum & Gallery in 1973, this beautiful antique was described merely as a “Chest of Drawers,” believed to be Dutch, from the late 16th century. During the cabinet’s history in the collection, the mirrored base on which it was first displayed was swapped out for the more suitable, baluster-turned legs on which it currently stands (though not original).

The Cabinet is substantial, standing five-and-a-half feet tall (including the base), almost four feet wide, and 15 inches deep. Beyond that, not much has been known about the Cabinet beyond its style (Baroque) and composition (finely detailed ebony and inlaid ivory veneers on the face of oak drawers and doors). Three etched ivory plaques, possibly based on engravings, grace the front of the piece. These picture the Apostle John on the left lower door and John the Baptist on the right. Both doors are lockable with the original key. The central, etched ivory plaque depicts Mary, the mother of Christ, framed by three-dimensional carved ivory columns to either side.

While those details of the Cabinet are basic, they communicate a significant amount about the furniture’s place and date of origin, as well as the type of owner it was likely built for. First, however, it’s helpful to know some of the history of cabinets as furniture.

Cabinets utilizing ebony wood date back at least to Egyptian times, like several discovered in Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922. Such dedicated, highly decorated storage furniture demonstrated the status and wealth of its owner. Over intervening centuries of adaptation, storage and collection cabinets proliferated in both Eastern and Western cultures, though only the wealthy could afford the most finely constructed and exotically decorated pieces.

Ebony wood was a favorite material, sourced only from ebony tree varieties in western Africa, India, and Indonesia.  Because ebony was scarce, craftsmen learned to shave and apply thin veneers of the jet-black ebony heartwood on top of readily-available wood species used for the rest of the object. The dark background was then inlaid with contrasting materials such as ivory, metal, lighter woods or semiprecious stone.

As early as 1566, the inventory of a room in the Ducal Palace of Mantua (in northern Italy) lists an ebony cabinet with inlaid ivory panels. Though the Ducal version was likely made 150-plus years prior to M&G’s Cabinet (dating sometime in the late-17th or early 18th century), both share similar intricate ivory inlay and metal filigree.

Piecing together that general history helps in suggesting the origins and ownership of M&G’s Cabinet on Stand The condition of the ivory and construction methods distance the cabinet from the 19th-century revival of ebony and ivory furnishings.

However, the ivory demonstrates some discoloration and shrinkage from age, while the cabinet frame, back, and drawer construction seem more consistent with an earlier date. The white oak used as the secondary wood was common only in northern Italy (Venice or Milan, but not Rome) and Northern Europe (German, Holland, and Flanders).

The etched biblical figures expressed in the inlaid ivory seem more “lively” and less restrained than is common when artists in Protestant countries present the same figures. That suggests a Roman Catholic country of origin, such as Italy.

Finally, the totality of the Cabinet—exotic materials, time-consuming craftsmanship, and subject matter—indicate a prominent and wealthy patron. The religious subject matter likely indicates that the original owner was a highly-placed churchman, perhaps a bishop, using the cabinet as a way to flaunt both his religious devotion and his prominence/wealth.

Good examples of similarly inlaid antique chests exist. Some of the best examples can be found in the collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum (dating from about 1600), the Museum fur Kunst & Gewerbe (Hamburg, Germany), and some auction sites such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s, as well as high-end antique dealers.

 

Dr. Stephen Jones, M&G volunteer

Resources

David L’Eglise, partner at Village Antiques at Biltmore

Sotheby’s

Anticstore.art 

1st Dibs

Antiques-Atlas 

Amherst.edu  

French Accents

 

Published 2022

Picture Books of the Past: Unknown Follower of Paolo Caliari, called Paolo Veronese

Enjoy this series of segments highlighting Picture Books of the Past: Reading Old Master Paintings, a loan exhibition of 60+ works from the M&G collection. The exhibit has traveled to The Museum of the Bible in Washington, D. C. and the Orlando Museum of Art in Florida.

This work introduces one of Jesus’s most devoted followers, Mary Magdalene. Notice that her clothing is of silk and velvet, the rich fabrics of a prosperous woman. However, this imagery of prosperity is offset by the murky background and the presence of a skull. Her body position (which turns her away from death’s symbol) and her long, flowing hair (reminiscent of her repentance) shifts the narrative mood from one of despair to hope.