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Category Archives: Object of the Month.2016

Object of the Month: December 2016


Bovine Bone

Flanders, 15th century

Acquired with funds from the Audrey Love Charitable Foundation

Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.

Special boxes or caskets were once made to hold valuable items or at least the personal items of the wealthy. These containers, used for storage and transport, are often beautifully decorated and constructed of rich materials themselves—a practice that has existed for centuries as far back as Egyptian culture.

Many of the surviving caskets focus on romance—decorated with scenes from medieval literature including Tristan, Taking the Castle of Love, Aristotle’s infatuation with Phyllis, poems by Homer, and the concept of chivalry in the characters of Sir Gawain, Lancelot, Percival and others. Thomas T. Hoopes, former curator at the MET explained, “In nearly every case they are decorated with scenes from popular legend and romance, especially with such as would have an allegorical significance appropriate to the occasion for which they were designed.”

In the middle ages, France was the primary creator and market for the luxury items of carved ivory and bone, but by the fifteenth century the center of industry shifted.  The best known craftsmen were the and Florence. For four decades, this group of artisans created and satisfied the demands of fashion crafting beautiful objects in ivory, wood, bone, and horn. The workshop produced a variety of carvings including large and small altarpieces, but their principal output seemed to focus on special, personal items such as caskets, mirror cases, and small toilet articles—many of them bridal gifts or gift sets for the wealthy and noble of the court.

However, the Embriachi weren’t the only entrepreneurs in carving; the industrious and creative Dutch also continued the French tradition.  The workshops in both the southern and northern Netherlands innovated and developed commercial centers for a variety of products including textiles, metalwork, and oil painting. Specifically, the workshops in Flanders developed an export trade of bone boxes and ivory products that traversed the Rhine river routes to European cities and markets—bone boxes like the present Casket.

M&G displays a number of cassone and chests used by our European forbears to store their household items as well as a few smaller versions of storage containers in the form of coffers and now a casket for protecting one’s precious personal items: jewelry, documents, and sentimental objects.

At one time, it was the height of medieval fashion to own a casket, but with the delicate nature of the material it is unusual to have an intact box that has survived time, use, and past repairs.

The Casket is constructed of bovine bone mounted on a wood structure. The bottom of the box is a checkerboard pattern of wood and bone, and the sides and top are carved in low relief, which still retain some gilding and color.  The carved decoration is religious depicting Christ, apostles such as Peter holding the keys, and various saints including St. Catherine identified by her wheel. Perhaps the religious decoration on its exterior reveals that this Casket formerly sheltered a manuscript or religious text.

Since the background of the individual bone plaques is crosshatched, it may indicate that the workshop was influenced by religious prints and engravings from the time period, such as Biblia Pauperum (the Pauper’s Bible).

While the interior is lined by worn and repaired green fabric, interestingly, what was so valued to be safely stored inside is now lost. Once an expensive, beautiful container for holding something of great value, however, it is now the container itself that has become the treasure.

M&G is grateful for the generosity of the Audrey Love Charitable Foundation, without whom we could not have acquired this beautiful, mysterious medieval object.

Erin R. Jones, Executive Director


Published in 2016

Object of the Month: November 2016

Bust of Henri II, King of France 

Bust of Catherine de’ Medici, Queen of France

Glazed Terracotta

Girolamo della Robbia (attr. to)

Italian, 1488–1566

Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.

Heading into the month of November, the themes of family and tradition are strongly emphasized. Throughout the Museum & Gallery, there are many examples of studio traditions passed down between family members such as father to son, uncle to nephew and even father to daughter.  Of these there are few families who have achieved such renowned fame as the Della Robbia family.  Founded in Florence by Luca Della Robbia, the family workshop produced sculpture for more than 100 years and was considered one of the most successful studios of the Renaissance.

What made the Della Robbia family so successful was their contemporary approach to sculpture and their luminescent glazing.  Sculpture began to take new forms in the Renaissance, especially in the use of a forgotten medium—clay, which was revived for many reasons.  It was easy to model and cast, which allowed delicate detail; and it was an inexpensive material.  Clay was considered a humble medium that encouraged piety and did not distract from the holiness of the subject it depicted.

Luca is credited with the invention of the glaze, the family studio’s distinctive trademark, which effectively combined painting and sculpture.  Many reasons are given why he developed the new glazing technique ranging from aesthetic to economical or both.  The glaze was a ceramic treatment of the clay that protected the clay, making it impermeable.  It also rendered sculpture, in Giorgi Vasari’s words, “almost eternal.”  Hailed as a major artistic and scientific discovery, the glazed terracotta rapidly became desired throughout Florentine society.

After Luca, the studio was passed on to his nephew, Andrea, and then to Andrea’s sons.  From Florence, the studio was carried to France in 1517 by Girolamo della Robbia, the youngest son of Andrea.  At this time, King Francis I had been inviting many Italian artists such as Girolamo to encourage an artistic Renaissance in France.  Girolamo created many sculptures, altarpieces and intricate architectural elements for the king and his court.  After the death of King Francis, Girolamo went home to Florence but later followed Queen Catherine de’ Medici to Paris to continue making art until his death in 1566.  Two years later, Vasari wrote “not only did [Girolamo’s] house die out…but art was deprived of the knowledge of the proper method of glazing.”  Despite the family’s closely guarded glazing secrets, legend tells that a Della Robbia housemaid stole the glazing technique and passed it on to Benedetto Buglioni and his family.

Located in the Italian Mannerist gallery at M&G, two large terracotta busts immediately arrest the attention of guests.  Their powerful presence and beautiful glazing draw viewers in to inquire the identity of the sitters.  Both are attributed to Girolamo and are reminiscent of the works for which the della Robbia family is so famous.

When Dr. Bob Jones Jr., founder of M&G, purchased the pair, the figures were originally thought to be Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia, son and daughter of infamous Pope Alexander VI.  However, due to Girolamo’s workshop being more centrally located in France, it is more likely the figures are King Henri II (son of Francis I) and Queen Catherine de’ Medici.  The figures could also be French courtiers who were wealthy enough to afford their portraits in sculpture.

Even though the art of sculpture seeks to capture a likeness or identifiable features, it should be noted that most sculptural portraits remain unidentified.  Whoever these two actually were, they have truly been immortalized and given as Vasari says an “almost eternal” look.  From their pedestal, they stand as a testament to the artistic tradition and genius of the Della Robbia family.

KC Christmas, Docent and Guest Services Attendant


Published in 2016

Object of the Month: October 2016

Salome with the Head of St. John the Baptist

Oil on panel, Signed: winged dragon symbol (upper right)

Lucas Cranach, the Elder

German, 1472–1553


Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.

A young girl in a lavish red dress with gold trimming stands against a stark black background. Ornate gold necklaces hang from her neck, and on her left index finger, a ring peeks through intricate slashed gloves. Her face has a smug expression as she holds a platter on which rests a man’s severed head.

This painting, by Lucas Cranach the Elder is a sixteenth-century portrayal of Salome with the Head of St. John the Baptist and is based on the Biblical story recorded in Mark 6:14-29. While the image appears morbid to many, one author has pointed out that beheadings like this are frequently seen in Cranach’s oeuvre.

As is often the case with the Old Masters, Cranach did not paint Salome in traditional Middle Eastern clothing, with which he would have been unfamiliar. Instead, he painted her as a contemporary German noblewoman, giving us a glimpse of the beautiful clothing of the time period. It is interesting to note that Cranach’s paintings have proven invaluable to fashion historians and costumers studying and recreating Renaissance dress. One New York designer even created a special exhibition focusing on the slashed gloves that Cranach’s models are often shown wearing!

Perhaps the painting’s most fascinating detail, however, is distinct from the subject matter.  In the upper right hand corner is the kleinod, which served as his signature stamp. This symbol of a winged serpent biting down on a ruby was given to Cranach by Frederick the Wise of Saxony.  Since Cranach painted at a time when many artists were not even signing their works, this unique signature is particularly striking.

Cranach’s kleinod does at times pose a conundrum for art connoisseurs. Like many well-known and established artists of that time period, Cranach had a large workshop with many craftsmen working with him. Oftentimes these craftsmen worked on details and even produced entire pieces so similar to those of the master that scholars are sometimes left to wonder whether a painting with the kleinod symbol was actually produced by him or simply received his stamp of approval.

In addition to his many Biblical scenes, Cranach was a renowned portraitist. In fact, we owe him a debt of gratitude for providing us with more than one picture of Martin Luther, a personal friend of his. Cranach’s workshop was located in Wittenberg, Germany, the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation. It was here on October 31, 1517 that Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the church door. Eyre Crowe, an artist for London’s Royal Academy, captured the event over three hundred years later with drama and historical accuracy.  Cranach is the bearded man seen looking out at the viewer.

Cranach, who adopted Protestant theology, went on to become the key Reformation artist. As 2017 will mark the 500th anniversary of Luther’s world-changing actions, many museums, including M&G, are paying tribute to his artistic friend, Lucas Cranach the Elder.

Katie Neal, Docent and Customer Service Assistant


Published in 2016

Object of the Month: September 2016

King James Bible, Third Folio Edition, 1613

Fore-edge Painting of “Caleb’s Daughter Pleading for a Watered Land” and “Christ at the Well of Sychar”

John T. Beer, fore-edge artist

ca. 1826–1903

On loan from the Collection of Jason and Ruth Speer

Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.

The Collection on display at M&G has a wide array of objects—not exclusively Old Master paintings, but furniture, wood carvings, architectural elements, stained glass, and more.  The value of visiting a well-rounded display presents a broad view of the lives and cultures of people in the past.  As you visit, you begin to see how little a difference there is between us today and those hundreds of years ago.  Back then, the people had their innovative technologies, shortcuts, and battles with “old and new” just as we have today.

One such debate between the past and future has to do with books: bibliophiles who love the smell of a book and feel of its pages and others who prefer an e-reader or watching the movie instead.

Successful Victorian clothier from Merseyside, England, John T. Beer was most definitely a book lover in its purest meaning.  He demonstrated his affection for books, not only by collecting hundreds for his library but by decorating them too.

Unlike the spine and covers of books, the page edges are not usually decorated; however this 1613 Bible (on loan from a private collection to M&G) illustrates an obscure art form, called fore-edge painting revealing an image on the fourth edge of the book. Most often, this art is only seen when the edges of the book are fanned open at the appropriate angle; then, when the book is closed shut, the image is obscured.

These two Biblical narratives, Caleb’s Daughter Pleading for a Watered Land and Christ at the Well of Sychar are hand-painted by Beer. He is considered one of the most highly skilled artists of fore-edge painting and one of the most original thinkers in developing scenes to paint. He produced nearly 200 fore-edge paintings in his retirement years using books from his own collection, like this one.

According to Jeff Weber, who has collected data on more than 20,000 fore-edge examples and authored the Annotated Dictionary of Fore-Edge Painting Artists & Binders, John T. Beer is “the only fore-edge painting artist from the nineteenth century that is known by name.”

Bookbinders were primarily the artists applying fore-edge painting and commissioned by book owners; although some anonymous, yet professional artists embellished too.  So, “it is rare for a collector to apply fore-edge paintings to books in his own collection… [but] he decorated his own books simply for the joy of doing so,” blogs Erin Black from the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Interestingly in viewing this large book, Beer beautified a Bible in his collection, which reveals some insights into the era. The religious complexion of Victorian society was varied; however, one uniting factor was the centrality and presence of Scripture. The stories, references, and allusions to the Bible were instantly familiar across the range of Victorian society.  This 1613 King James Third Folio Edition of the Bible provides an example not only of the era’s traditional values, but also the Victorians’ appreciation for literary and artistic skill.

Erin R. Jones, Executive Director


Published in 2016

Object of the Month: August 2016

Justice and Temperance Overcoming Vice

Prudence and Fortitude Overcoming Evil

Oil on canvas

Sebastiano Conca

Roman, 1680–1764

Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.

Although born in Gaeta, Italy in 1680, Sebastiano Conca received his early training in Naples as a student of Francesco Solimena. Conca’s teacher followed the style of his great Neapolitan predecessor, Luca Giordano as well as Giovanni Lanfranco and Mattia Preti, all of whom are represented in M&G’s collection.

Sebastiano eventually moved to Rome (along with his brother Giovanni) in 1706 to begin his own practice. He remained in Rome for about 45 years rising in popularity and becoming one of the most sought after artists of his day. Some of his most notable patrons included Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, various members of the royal families of Spain, Portugal, and Poland, and even Pope Clement XI himself. He returned to Naples, his artistic roots, around 1752 where he remained the rest of his career. Considered his best work, the Coronation of St. Cecilia adorns the ceiling of the nave of the Basilica of St. Cecilia in Rome.

His style evolved from the Giordanesque influence of his early teacher, Solimena, to Baroque classicism and eventually the Rococo for his smaller works. He was not only an artist, but he was also twice the director of the Accademia di San Luca, a teacher (one of his most notable students being Pompeo Batoni), and a published author.

This pair of small, cabinet paintings appear to derive from four, large wall paintings Conca created for the Palazzo Lomellini-Balbi-Lamba-Doria in Genoa. While the four large works each feature an individual Virtue, these smaller pendants present them in pairs. Richard P. Townsend notes, “the painter’s combinations are particularly appropriate: prudence should always inform fortitude and justice should be dispensed with temperance.”

The four Cardinal Virtues are the foundation on which all others rest: Justice, Temperance, Prudence, and Fortitude. Artists and authors alike portray these virtues as women. Conca’s personification of the four Cardinal Virtues appears to be loosely based on Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia, which was the primary resource for many artists active in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries looking to personify virtue and vice.

Here Conca draws symbols from three different types of justice described in Ripa’s book. Justice sits on the left with her symbolic scales used to weigh and measure the two sides of a court case. The crown on her head and sword in her hand show her power and authority to execute the verdict.  Resting beneath her lies the fasces (a group of wooden rods bundled together with an axe-blade protruding), the emblem of authority for magistrates in ancient Rome.

To the right, Temperance reclines holding a bridle by which she reigns in affections and passions with moderation and self-control. Clutched in the opposite hand, she holds a palm frond, a sign of victory in Roman culture. She is often portrayed tempering wine with water a task carried out by an angel in this work.

Crushed between them lies Vice, an immoral behavior or negative character trait. Together Justice and Temperance overcome Vice, depicted here by hiding her true face with a mask of deceit.


Aristotle describes prudence as “right reason applied to practice.” Conca’s Prudence features two characteristic attributes: a mirror and serpent. A mirror allows for self-examination from multiple angles. It reveals the truth about oneself. The serpent alludes to Matthew 10:16 where Christ tells the disciples to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”

Fortitude, “strength of mind which enables one to bear adversity with courage,” sits beside Prudence, clothed in armor and holding a shield by which she is prepared to battle Evil. Fortitude is often portrayed near or leaning on a column which lends her support (in reference to the Biblical Samson). Her spear shows her “superiority gained by strength,” and the lion resting by her side expresses strength and courage.

An angel holds Evil bound with a chain at their feet showing the triumph of Prudence and Fortitude over Evil.


Rebekah Cobb, Guest Relations Manager


Published in 2016

Object of the Month: July 2016

Landscape with the Baptism of Christ

Oil on canvas, c. 1655–60

Salvator Rosa

Neapolitan, 1615–1673

Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.

The Landscape with the Baptism of Christ represents an innovative, naturalistic school of landscape painting developed in seventeenth-century Naples by Salvator Rosa and Micco Spadaro. Rosa, the creator of this work, is said to have used oil on paper to sketch his landscapes directly from nature.  This preparatory technique may well account for the lush details evident in Rosa’s rocky, river scene. The meticulous realism of his looming wilderness also serves as a visual metaphor of Christ’s humility. Here the Creator is willingly enveloped by His creation.

The Baptism (which came into the museum collection in 1955) was first brought from Italy to America in 1836. Art scholar Ian Kennedy notes: “At that time the 18th century taste for the picturesque still remained in fashion in the new world and found ready acceptance in a young country engaged in conquering the wilderness.” Although aesthetic emphases and stylistic techniques have varied widely since that time, the transcendent allure of capturing nature’s beauty inspired by Baroque landscape painters like Rosa remains.

David Clayton in The Way of Beauty observes, “The baroque landscape is based upon an assumption that mankind is the greatest of God’s creatures and has a uniquely privileged position within it. The rest of creation is made by God, so that we might know Him through it.  Creation’s beauty calls us to itself and then beyond, to the Creator. Man is made to apprehend the beauty of creation.”

Donnalynn Hess, Director of Education


For more on David Clayton’s book,  The Way of Beauty, visit


Published in 2016

Object of the Month: June 2016


Polychrome and giltwood

Italian, 16th century

Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.

In the not-too-distant-past, young women acquired hope chests to hold clothing, linens, and other items needed to set up housekeeping after marriage. In medieval and Renaissance Italy, similar chests, called cassoni (singular, cassone) served the same purpose. The ornate chests reflected the wealth and status of the families; even the size and grandeur of the cassoni conveyed the importance of the bride’s family, which in this case must have been substantial. Part of the wedding celebrations included the parading of cassoni through the streets from the bride’s home to her new home.

Portraits of the bride and groom are painted at each end of the Cassone.

To complete a cassone, the project required a variety of artisans—woodworkers, ironworkers, artists working in gesso for the ornate pastiglia  and gilding, and painters for the inlaid painted panels. It is probable that this cassone once had a decorative back called a spalliera, which is now missing. All of these components combined to make the cassone more impressive and expensive. The portraits of the bride and groom on each end of the cassone provide a beautiful, personal touch.

Sometimes an object of art contains clues on the back as to the history of its ownership, known as provenance. For example, a brass plate on the back of this cassone gives the information of “A. van Dyke 1599-1641.” Obviously added at a later date, there must have been some evidence to support the claim. It is known that Anthony van Dyke lived in Italy for six years (1621–1627). It seems especially appropriate that he would have owned this object which beautifully exhibits Renaissance portraiture since he became one of the best known portraitists who ever lived.

Another clue bears the name “Mrs. Rockefeller McCormick.” Edith Rockefeller McCormick was at one time one of the wealthiest women in America. She built an Italian-inspired villa on Lake Michigan and filled it with antiques. A chest such as this one would have fit in perfectly with the décor of the villa.

Anne Short, Volunteer Collection Researcher & Retired Docent

Published in 2016

Object of the Month: May 2016

Vashti Refuses the King’s Summons

Oil on canvas, Signed and dated: E. Long, 1879 (middle right on servant’s bracelet)

Queen Esther

Oil on canvas

Edwin Long, R.A.

English, 1829–1891

Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.

Esther is one of only two women who merit an entire book in Scripture, but that is not the only characteristic that makes Esther unique. The elegant style and tightly woven plot used in the telling of her story has also made this book one of the most admired literary works in western as well as eastern culture.

Nineteenth-century British artist Edwin Long “translates” this storytelling power into a visual format. A member of the London Royal Academy, Long was known for his meticulous attention to historical detail and for his ability to use visual texture to enrich his scenes. His painting of Vashti (left, M&G’s Collection) captures the dramatic opening of the biblical narrative—Vashti’s refusal of the King’s summons.
The servant girl in the foreground of this work then becomes Queen Esther in his second painting (right). The demure pose and restrained, melancholy expression of both Queens not only illuminates each character but also anticipates the tension that will soon unfold in each of their lives.

Both works were first exhibited at Burlington House in 1879 (though not side-by-side). Vashti Refuses the King’s Summons is now part of the collection at M&G; an original variant copy by Edwin Long of Queen Esther currently hangs in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.

Click on the video to hear art collector Andries van Dam’s response to M&G’s Vashti painting.

Donnalynn Hess, Director of Education


Published in 2016

Object of the Month: April 2016

The Mocking of Christ

Oil on canvas, c. 1620–30

Unknown French or Dutch (follower of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio)

Active 17th century

Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.

One of the most important (and revolutionary) painters in history was the Italian artist, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. He broke free from mannerist conventions and stylistic artifice in the late 1500s and set a new path for artistic expression. At first, Caravaggio experimented in such genres as still life and scenes of common people including musicians and gamblers. These subjects were not depicted in mainstream art and neither was his conception of them.

As he earned commissions, he applied this personal vision to familiar Biblical themes. However, Caravaggio’s interpretation of these narratives was anything but traditional. The heightened realism, use of ordinary people as models (whom he presented without an idealistic lens), and novel, masterful compositions attracted many Romans to his genius.

The most influential and singularly astounding element of his style is his dramatic use of light that illuminated his figures as if they emerged from deep shadows; this contrast of light and dark is known as chiaroscuro, a technique also used by Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt van Rijn.

Not only the Romans turned their attention to Caravaggio, but soon other artists and patrons around Europe began to take note. As the artistic capital of Italy, Rome was viewed as the final experience for artists seeking to complete their training; many painters visiting from Spain, France, Germany, Flanders and Holland found inspiration in Caravaggio’s fresh approach—including one of the favorites of M&G’s guests, Gerrit van Honthorst.

The unknown French or Dutch author of the present painting likely saw Caravaggio’s paintings first-hand in Rome and sought to emulate his style. He may very well have seen the artist’s conception of this same subject, The Crowning of Thorns, now housed in the Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna.

The same characters, a man wearing armor and plumed hat and a torturer with a gaping white shirt, are found in both paintings. Even the “V” shape made by the bamboo reeds above Christ’s head are echoed in each composition. Furthermore, several of the figure types in this painting are similar to models in some of Caravaggio’s paintings.

While M&G cannot claim to have an autograph Caravaggio painting (there are only a handful in America), this painting is the closest we have to the master’s style and is clearly by the hand of an accomplished artist who sought to emulate not only one of the greatest artists of his time, but of all time.

John M. Nolan, Curator


Published in 2016

Object of the Month: March 2016

Nazi-looted Art


Click on the links throughout the article to view additional artists’ works and reference material.

Seventy years ago this month, German Reichsmarschall, Hermann Goering took the stand at the Nuremburg War Trials where Hitler’s highest government officials were prosecuted for crimes against humanity. In Robert Edsel’s book, The Monuments Men, he relates the following: “Hitler’s would-be successor and rival for the cultural treasures of Europe, Reichsmarshall Hermann Göring…. saved his denials for accusations about his collection of art. ‘Of all the charges which have been leveled against me,’ he is quoted as saying in the Nuremburg Interviews, ‘the so-called looting of art treasures by me has caused me the most anguish.’”

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553) is one of the greatest German artists in history. To northern Renaissance painting, his fame is comparable to the recognition level of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo in Italy.

Because of Cranach’s standing in German art history, he became a coveted artist to the Nazi regime in Hitler’s agenda to conquer Europe and establish a “super museum” full of works by the great artists in Scandinavia and in European history.  This museum would not only represent the greatness of the Aryan race, but would also demonstrate Hitler’s power over the conquered and plundered nations by seizing their cultural treasures as trophies of the Third Reich.

Aryanization was the Nazi’s process of forcing Jews to transfer their property and wealth to Aryan hands—a sanctioned, organized course of looting. For some Jews, the trade of property (at low rates) in this discriminatory transaction allowed safe passage from Germany, but ultimately aryanization meant for Jews the confiscation of all property, eviction from business and cultural sectors, and outright deportation to the ghettos and eventually the concentration camps.

The Nuremburg Trials began November 20, 1945, and Goering took the stand March 13-22, 1946. In the Nuremberg Interviews, he expressed: “They tried to paint a picture of me as a looter of art treasures. In the first place, during a war everybody loots a little bit. However, none of my so-called looting was illegal… I always paid for them… Perhaps one of my weaknesses has been that I love to be surrounded by luxury and that I am so artistic in my temperament that masterpieces make me feel alive and glowing inside. But always my intention was to contribute these art treasures …to a state museum after I had died or before, for the greater glory of German culture. Looking at it from that standpoint I can’t see that it was ethically wrong.”

M&G’s Art of Sleuthing exhibition at Heritage Green shares behind-the-scenes stories of the art world, including those narratives of a painting’s life experiences. The story of North Carolina Museum of Art’s Madonna and Child in a Landscape by Lucas Cranach represents the voices of many people, particularly the victims of the Nazi aryanization scheme.

On exhibit is the beautiful, detailed Cranach along with its own story of aryanized looting from the Gomperz family in Vienna, Austria.  A high-ranking Nazi official and Governor of Vienna, Baldur von Schirach, hung the painting in his office, and at the war’s end claimed it had been destroyed. Decades later, the Cranach was gifted to NCMA from the estate of WWII Jewish refugees from California, without knowledge of its difficult past. Then, in 2000, New York Holocaust Claims Processing Office contacted the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) with an ownership claim by the heirs of Philipp von Gomperz for Cranach’s Madonna and Child in a Landscape.

Because Cranach, like most Old Masters, painted multiple versions of the painting, extensive research was necessary to determine if the Gomperz Cranach was indeed the same painting at NCMA. The moment of truth came when an old black and white photograph was discovered—an image that was taken while the painting was in Gomperz’s collection. A detailed comparison between the photo and the painting revealed that NCMA’s work was the same one.

On the basis of this clear evidence, NCMA made an unprecedented decision: to return the painting to the family rather than take the matter to court. Later, the museum expressed interest in purchasing the Cranach from the Gomperz heirs that it might become a permanent part of the NCMA collection. In gratitude for the unusually gracious manner in which the museum restituted the painting, the family sold the painting to NCMA at half of its estimated value. The Cranach now serves as an illustration both of cultural injustice and amicable art restitution.

Erin R. Jones, Executive Director


Published in 2016