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Category Archives: Object of the Month.2022

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.

Object of the Month: November 2022

Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist and an Angel

Tempera on panel

Pseudo Pier Francesco Fiorentino

Florentine, active late 15th century

In the 15th century, Florence enjoyed a robust cultural and economic environment. One prominent idea of the era was the rediscovery of the circle and the variety of ways it was used. It may be somewhat humorous in our current culture to recognize that a simple shape could dominate life, but the circle did.

The Renaissance was about advancement—an era full of discoveries. Dias, da Gama, Columbus, and Vespucci found places previously unknown through geographical exploration of our planet, understood then to be round instead of flat. Rediscovery of Greek and Roman mathematical perfections included the circle. The shape was incorporated into architecture in a variety of public and private buildings in Florence. The circle became a symbol of God, the universe, and heaven. Between late 1430 to early 1450, artists began using the circle as part of their painting design in a format called tondo, the Italian word for round.

As a spiritual symbol, the circle became a means of representing the patron saint of Florence, John the Baptist. He was often depicted as a youth, an example to the young people of Florence. Before the Renaissance, paintings focused on individual depictions of saints and biblical characters; however, artist Fra Filippo Lippi is credited with being one of the first to paint John the Baptist together with Mary and the infant Christ in the 1450s. Additionally, Lippi was the first to paint the figures worshipping the Christ Child in adoration as seen in his work, the Annalena Adoration in the Uffizi, Florence. This new subject was the beginning of a popular focus in the late 1400s and well suited to the tondo format.

Filippo Lippi had a bustling workshop with many apprentices including Pesellino and Botticelli. As a favorite of the Medici, Lippi fulfilled numerous private and public commissions, including a Medici tondo now in the National Gallery. While Botticelli is credited with making the round format popular in the late 1400s, Lippi’s studio and apprentices created tondi and essentially mass-produced paintings depicting Mary and John the Baptist adoring the Christ Child to satisfy the public demand.

The Medici family was partly responsible for the popularity of tondi because these round paintings became not only a status symbol of wealth, but also were of spiritual significance in private, devotional settings. To have an object of art that the Medici possessed was a means of connection to them. Tondi existed in the homes of wealthy Florentines and public spaces and soon became popular in other Italian cities. They were not commonly used in churches since they were smaller.

The creator of M&G’s tondo, Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist and an Angel, is enigmatic. Scholars have been unable to attribute a specific artist, but the work seemed influenced by Pier Francesco Fiorentino yet not painted by him. Hence, the designation of “Pseudo.” However, careful study of the work indicates that its construction predates the surge in popularity of tondi in the 1480s. M&G’s painting is one of the earliest surviving tondi produced after Fra Filippo Lippi’s initial exploration of the adoration subject—a strong representative of the Florentine tondo tradition.

The painting’s details include a unicorn in the background, which is a symbol of Mary’s purity along with the white lily. Her adoring the Christ Child in a country landscape setting may be based on St. Bridget’s Revelations. The halos reveal the influence of naturalism prevalent in the Renaissance style. While the halos of Mary and the angel are typical of the flat Gothic style, the foreshortened, elliptical halo of John the Baptist is shown from a three-dimensional perspective.

As a “window into heaven,” M&G’s tondo has delighted viewers since entering the collection in 1951—the museum’s inaugural year.

 

John Good, M&G volunteer

 

Published 2022

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

Object of the Month: September 2022

Esther before Ahasuerus

Oil on canvas, c. 1624

Claude Vignon

French, 1593–1670

Vibrant reds. Golden yellows. Burnt oranges. These colors typically signal the arrival of autumn, but French artist, Claude Vignon, used them to bring to life a scene in the story of Esther. Vignon was born in Tours, France on May 19, 1593, to a wealthy family. His father served as a valet to King Henry IV of France. Claude’s earliest training was probably in Paris in the workshop of Georges Lallemand where he learned the mannerist style. He eventually traveled to and spent time in both Italy and Spain. These travels exposed him to the works of the great artists Caravaggio, Guercino, Reni, and Caracci. He also joined the French community of painters in Italy who followed Caravaggio such as Simon Vouet and Valentin de Boulogne.

Upon returning to France, he became a member of the Painter’s Guild in Paris and received patronage from King Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu. This patronage boosted his career and earned him respect and success as an artist. He also dabbled in printmaking, etching, and illustration as well as working as an art dealer and art expert for notable clients including Marie de’Medici. His work in a variety of mediums as well as his art expertise earned him admission into the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in 1651. Three of his children continued his legacy studying in his workshop: Claude-François, Philippe, and his daughter, Charlotte (who focused solely on still life and was also admitted to the Academy). His eclectic work demonstrates a wide array of influences such as mannerism, Venetian, Dutch, and German making it difficult to describe or define his style.

In 1624, Vignon painted Solomon and the Queen of Sheba now in the Louvre. This painting bears a striking resemblance to M&G’s Esther before Ahasuerus. The common compositions feature a king on a richly embellished throne to the far left of the painting. In the center, a beautifully adorned queen approaches the throne. Behind the queen and off to the right are several servants, guards, and pages. Vignon used this composition numerous times for various paintings including both M&G’s and the Louvre’s as well as Saint Catherine Refusing to Sacrifice to Idols, and his Adoration of the Magi (though in this painting, he reverses the scene by placing the infant king on the far right side of the painting). It is likely that Esther before Ahasuerus was also painted around 1624.

The scene depicted here by Vignon comes from the fifth chapter of the book of Esther. Through a series of events outlined at the beginning of the book, Esther, a Jewess, is selected by King Ahasuerus to be the new queen of Persia. The name Esther means “hidden or concealed” and is fitting as her cousin Mordecai advised her to keep her background secret. One of the king’s officials, Haman, hated the Jews and deceived Ahasuerus into ordering the annihilation of the Jewish people in the Persian empire which would include Queen Esther. Mordecai pleaded with Esther to go to the king to plead for mercy. However, Esther was afraid. In Persian culture, to appear before the king without being summoned could mean death unless the king held out his golden scepter. After much prayer and fasting, Esther chose to risk her life to save her people from destruction.

Vignon captures the moment where Esther humbly and courageously kneels before the king. The king in turn holds out his scepter to Esther granting his favor. Vignon’s use of vibrant, heavily saturated colors shows his Venetian influence. He excelled at painting textiles, gold and precious stones which are abundant throughout this work in which the gold especially glimmers off the canvas. The clothing he used in the scene displays 17th-century European fashion rather than 4th-century Persian garments. Vignon’s color palette and brushstrokes reveal the intensity of this pivotal moment in Esther’s life. To find out how the story ends, read Jan Victors’ Esther Accusing Haman.

 

Rebekah Cobb, M&G Registrar

 

Published 2022

Object of the Month: August 2022

Young Nix and Young Faun

ceramic

Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse

French, 1824 – 1887

The Minton Company

English, c 1859

It has been said that the Industrial Revolution robbed the common people of beauty. Leaving the verdant countryside, they moved to cramped cities, worked in dingy factories, and lived in bare housing. Prince Albert, the progressive-thinking consort of Britain’s Queen Victoria, desired a change for his hard-working countrymen. But the beautiful, unique pieces that surrounded aristocrats were expensive. Could not everyday, practical items be beautiful? Could they be mass produced inexpensively? Since one must have a teapot, could it be functional, affordable, and beautiful?

Although Prince Albert addressed the lack of beauty on several fronts, he saw ceramics as part of the answer.  At the Great Exposition of London (1851), primarily organized by Prince Albert, a “Ceramics Court” displayed large and small, elaborately decorated, English-made pieces. Exhibits from many countries also featured their unique ceramics. At booths and shops near the Crystal Palace everything from embellished ceramic teapots to ornate chamber pots could be purchased for “reasonable prices.”

Lending royal clout to the Victorian ceramic boom, Prince Albert purchased ceramic brackets matching those in M&G’s collection. They were passed down in the family and today belong to Queen Elizabeth.

Manufacturer: The Minton Company

From humble beginnings in Stoke-upon-Trent (1793), the Minton Company developed procedures and glazes that permitted them to became one of Europe’s leading ceramicists of the Victorian era. What was originally called Palissy-ware and later Victorian majolica won top prizes for “beauty and originality of design” at the Great Exposition and later international exhibitions as well. The company produced decorative tiles and sculpture for major buildings, including the Palace of Westminster and the US Capitol.

In time the Minton Company dwindled and eventually merged with other firms. The Minton Archive, which contains drawings of the pieces the company produced, remains intact. The records reveal that shape 524 is a pen and ink drawing of M&G’s Faun bracket, labeled “Bracket—Hunting.” Shape 522 is M&G’s Nix (or merbaby) bracket, labeled “Bracket—Fishing.”

The Archive has a pair of Hunting brackets (525 labeled “Companion Bracket—Hunting”) and a pair of Fishing brackets (523 “Companion Bracket—Fishing”). Both Hunting bracket fauns appear to be male. However, different hair lengths indicate Fishing 522 merbaby is male, and 523 is female.

Sculptor: Albert-Ernst Carrier-Belleuse

Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse was a prolific 19th-century French sculptor. At age 13 he apprenticed to a goldsmith and learned precision and honed his technique. This enabled him to produce pieces with unusual forms and detail that were able to be mass-produced. He produced monumental statues, portrait busts and a wide array of decorative objects. His works vary from stark realism to ornate neo-Baroque and frequently combine several artistic styles.

In the mid-1800s political turmoil caused a number of artists to leave France. Carrier-Belleuse went to England in 1850 and became “modeling master” at two art schools. He was also employed as a sculptor by the Minton Company. During his 5-year English sojourn he sculpted for other ceramic firms, including Minton’s competitor, Wedgewood. Returning to France his reputation grew, and he was appointed to prestigious positions in the art world.

Astute in business, Carrier-Belleuse maintained a large studio producing copies and variations of his works. He passed on his artistic techniques and business practices to his students, including Rodin, Dalou and Falguière. He also sold reproduction rights for various of his designs to other manufacturers. The Minton Company appears to have had exclusive reproduction rights for his Hunting and Fishing brackets.

In the mid-1800s chubby infants were in vogue and are in a number of Carrier-Belleuse works. It was, however, unusual to combine infants with non-human features, as seen in the Hunting and Fishing brackets.

M&G’s Brackets

M&G’s Hunting bracket is a 19-inch faun, blowing a hunting horn over his left shoulder. On the infant’s waist is a draped, grey animal skin, which also forms the background for his lower body. Over his right shoulder he holds the feet of a fox. The head and front legs of the fox are draped around his neck to the faun’s left side. Below the knee the faun has crossed goat legs, typical of this mythological creature. In his hair and behind his head are oak leaves and acorns. Stamped into the reverse is “MINTON” and shape number “524.”

M&G’s Fishing bracket is a 19-inch, male merbaby. He holds a brown fishing net over his right shoulder. It is then wrapped around him. Below the knee each leg becomes an elongated, twisted fish tail. Behind his head and in his hair are cattails.

Most Hunter and Fisher brackets are glazed in the same colors as M&G’s. The Minton Company also produced them in Parian ware, a biscuit porcelain, designed to imitate marble. Parian brackets have more sculptural details than the colored ones.

Because of their similar size and subject matter, all four wall brackets could be used in a single decorating scheme. Several sets of only the Hunting pair or the Fishing pair are in private collections. The most famous are the pair of Fishing brackets Prince Albert gave Queen Victoria in 1858 for her 39th birthday. Wooden shelves and an angled backing were attached to mount in the corners of the bay window of her bedroom in Osborn. Located on the Isle of Wight, Osborn was the family’s get-away, a beachfront home. Merbabies seem appropriate adornment for windows featuring an ocean view. The bracket shelves still hold busts of Victoria and Albert.

M&G’s brackets are a mixed set: one Hunting and one Fishing bracket. Mixed sets were probably part of their original plan and date back to their manufacture. When Prince Albert redesigned the Royal Dairy on the Windsor Estate, he commissioned ceramic tiles, statues and other decorative and functional ceramic features. However, still hanging on one wall in the Dairy are a mixed pair of Hunting and Fishing brackets (without a shelf), which he did not commission. Interestingly, the Royal Dairy brackets are the exact opposite of M&G’s brackets.

During the Victorian era, substantial amounts of ceramics were produced. Many were nicely styled and decorated, functional pieces. But there were also more elaborate ones with restricted functionality, like M&G’s brackets. Rather than being a unique and thus expensive piece, multiples were manufactured, lowering the price of owning their beauty. Prince Albert would probably be pleased to know that many of these ceramics are still being appreciated today.

William Pinkston, retired educator and M&G volunteer

 

Bibliography

Albert-Ernst Carrier-Belleuse, Philippe Meunier & Jean Defrocourt

Majolica Mania: Transatlantic Pottery in England and the United States, 1850–1915 by Paul Atterbury

The Life and Work of Albert Carrier-Belleuse by June Ellen Hargrove

Victoria & Albert – Art and Love, Royal Collection Enterprises Ltd

 

Published 2022

 

 

 

 

Object of the Month: July 2022

King David Playing the Harp

Oil on canvas, c. 1630s

Simon Vouet

French, 1590-1649

 

The creator of this moving portrait of King David is Simon Vouet, one of the most influential French Baroque masters. He was the son of painter Laurent Vouet. Although little is known of the elder Vouet’s work, Simon’s oeuvre is well documented, for his prodigious talent emerged at an early age. At 14 he was sent to England to work as a portraitist. Then in his early twenties he moved to Constantinople where he spent two years before traveling to Venice and finally settling in Rome. Vouet’s career flourished in Italy. During this time, he received numerous prestigious commissions, and in 1624 he became president of Rome’s renowned Accademia di San Luca.

In 1626 he married Italian artist Virginia Vezzi who was regarded as one of Italy’s best miniaturists. The painting to the right (perhaps a self-portrait) is attributed to her. A year after their marriage, the couple returned to France at the request of Louis XIII who promptly appointed Simon official court painter. Vouet became a dominating force in Paris. He was so prolific that it is difficult to create a clear timeline of all the altarpieces, mythological, and devotional works he produced. As one biographer noted, Vouet was a natural academic who studied and absorbed everything in his environment, from the rich color palette of Veronese to the dramatic lighting effects of Caravaggio.

King David, the subject of this portrait, was one of Israel’s most gifted (and complex) kings. He is unique among Old Testament figures by virtue of the fact that he is “fully known.” His remarkable biography is well documented in I and II Samuel, but it is his innermost thoughts revealed through his more than 70 lyric poems (or psalms) that render him most lifelike. Here we come to know “the man after God’s own heart” who despite this intimate relationship with God sins egregiously. Vouet’s masterful technique powerfully captures the complexity of David’s personality.

Although initially captivated by the dramatic naturalism of the Italian Caravaggisti, by the time Vouet returned to Paris, he had integrated classical elements into his painting style. For example, in this portrait the dramatic compositional line and naturalistic portrayal of the aging King is offset by the figure’s classical pose and the diffused (rather than stark) lighting. This stylistic integration of the dramatic and restrained is well-suited to the dualism of the portrait’s iconography.

Color symbolism was prevalent in 16th-century religious art, and often a single color would have more than one meaning. Here, Vouet uses vibrant red and yellow gold fabrics not only to accentuate David’s kingly wealth but also to insinuate the frailty of his nature. In religious iconography, red can symbolize both love and hate, yellow gold sacredness or treachery. All of these qualities are interwoven into David’s complicated history and readily acknowledged by him in his Psalms. In addition, Vouet masterfully captures the emotional depth of “Israel’s singer of songs”(II Samuel 23:1). Notice the intricate detail in the weathered face and hands; notice, too, the tear in the psalmist’s eye as he gazes heavenward and prays. It’s as if we hear him plead: “Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear unto my cry; hold not thy peace at my tears: for I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were” (Psalm 39:12). It is not surprising that the harp, David’s attribute, has come to symbolize not just the Psalms but all songs and music created to honor God.

Donnalynn Hess, Director of Education

 

Published 2022

 

Object of the Month: June 2022

The Rest on the Flight into Egypt

Oil on canvas

Giuseppe Bartolomeo Chiari

Roman, 1654–1727

Giuseppe Bartolomeo Chiari was born in Italy in 1654. Scholars still dispute Chiari’s origins with some believing he was born in Lucca and others Rome. With encouragement from his mother, Chiari learned the foundations of painting around the age of 10 from Carlo Antonio Galliani. He moved on at the age of 12 to study under the well-known Carlo Maratta, who drew inspiration from the classical style of Raphael and the Renaissance. Chiari’s earliest documented work, Venus with a Hermit, was dated 1675. Sadly, the work is lost.

Chiari was active in the late-Baroque period. His body of work displays the characteristics of both the High Baroque style as well as the Rococo which is reflected in his color choices. His paintings exhibit the influences of Annibale Carracci, Guido Reni, Cortona, and Andrea Sacchi. While he clearly drew inspiration from his predecessors, he took those ideas and transformed them into his own. His early commissions consisted of frescoes for various churches and chapels in Italy, and he also helped prepare cartoons for mosaics that would later be installed in St. Peter’s Basilica. Perhaps his most important client was Pope Clement XI who commissioned Chiari to paint St. Clement, the pope’s patron saint, most likely for the Basilica San Clementi. This led to an ongoing patronage by the Albani family (of whom the pope was a member). He also served as the director of the Academy of St. Luke from 1723-1725.

The landscape and composition of M&G’s Rest on the Flight into Egypt show similarities to both Chiari’s Christ and the Samaritan Woman and Adoration of the Magi. In this scene, Mary and Christ are seated on a plant-carpeted rock beneath the shade of a palm tree. Mary (wearing her signature colors of red and blue) wraps a comforting and supporting arm around Christ while holding a book in her opposite hand. Christ reaches out to obtain some of the fruit foraged and offered by Joseph. Several putti arrange the palm branches to provide the maximum amount of shade to cool the weary travelers. Another putto dangles from the left of the tree passing dates to be put in the basket held by the two below him, and a young angel kneels in front of the Holy Family offering a jar of water from the small brook at Mary’s feet. To the right of Joseph in the background, two angels appear deep in conversation as they tend to the donkey.

Chiari nods to his possible birth city through the Romanesque architecture in the distant town. Chiari’s work beautifully illustrates a scene of refreshment and reminds the viewers that even the Holy Family too needs time to rest and refuel.

M&G’s painting has an interesting provenance as it was once owned by the Earls of Dunraven from Adare County in Limerick, Ireland and possibly displayed in the family’s Clearwell Castle in Gloucestershire, England. It was probably in the collection at Adare Manor, principal home of the earls until the manor’s sale by the 7th Earl of Dunraven in 1982 to a family from Florida. Today, it is a luxury hotel. M&G’s painting was purchased in a 1982 Christie’s auction by renowned art dealer, Julius Weitzner. Dr. Bob Jones, Jr., a close friend of Weitzner, was able to acquire the painting for the Museum & Gallery where today it serves as a beautiful representation of Roman Baroque painting.

Rebekah Cobb, M&G Registrar

 

Published 2022

Object of the Month: May 2022

St. Matthew with the Angel

Oil on canvas

Salomon Koninck

Dutch, 1609-1656

Salomon Koninck was a Dutch Baroque painter and engraver. Throughout his career, he was heavily influenced by the innovative Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn and adopted the great artist’s theatrical lighting and composition. It is only fitting then that Koninck’s St. Matthew with the Angel has been displayed in M&G’s Rembrandt Hall, featuring works by Rembrandt and many of his students. While not a household name like Rembrandt, Koninck and his work provide a wonderful reminder of the spectacular.

St. Matthew with the Angel is not an unusual subject for Koninck as many of his paintings focused on philosophers and scholars. One example is The Hermit, which bears similar resemblance to his Matthew. Both include an elderly man poring over a book, but the distinction between the two is the presence of the youthful angel at Matthew’s side. Throughout art history, Matthew has been paired with many objects, including a halberd or sword, but his most common attributes are a book and an angel. In M&G’s painting, the angel leans next to him as if offering words of inspiration for his empty manuscript. By placing the two so close together, Koninck creates an intimate conversation that draws the viewer into the scene and the mystery of the apostle’s text.

While the other gospel writers certainly had divine support when they penned their descriptive records of Christ’s life, Matthew is the only one consistently shown in art with a winged man or angel. This pairing has been a tradition since the early depictions of Matthew, and many art historians credit the second-century bishop St. Irenaeus as one of the first to ascribe the imagery. In his Against Heresies, Irenaeus argued that all four gospels were necessary to understand a complete picture of Jesus Christ. He referenced Revelation 4:6-7, which talks of “four living creatures” surrounding the throne of God. These winged beings appeared to be like a lion, ox, eagle, and the fourth had a face of a man. Irenaeus assigned each evangelist one of the four creatures, and he chose the latter to represent the gospel of Matthew because the disciple and former tax collector focused on Jesus’ human lineage. While some of the gospel writers’ attributes changed from Irenaeus’ original designation, Matthew maintained the angel or winged man.

Another figure in church history, Rabanus Maurus, helped solidify the visual pairing of Matthew with an angel. In the ninth century, Maurus wrote a commentary on the Old Testament book of Ezekiel, which discusses the four faces of the creatures described in Ezekiel 1:10. Like Irenaeus, he claimed Matthew’s symbol is the man because of the inclusion of Jesus Christ’s earthly genealogy. However, Maurus further distinguished each gospel writer’s iconography, explaining that each symbol represents a mystery surrounding the life of Christ. And for Matthew, the symbol of man recalls the miraculous Incarnation. With such extensive research and support, it is no wonder that Matthew was paired with an angel. For nearly two thousand years, artists in the Western world have carried on this traditional iconography for the apostle.

As shown, Koninck’s St. Matthew with the Angel is not unusual in its symbolism and its subject matter, nor groundbreaking in in its use of artistic technique. However, Koninck does emphasize a closeness in the relationship between the earthly and the spiritual. Through divine direction and inspiration, the gospels were written by feeble men. It is through that spiritual intervention that we are able to read the gospels and remind ourselves of the wonders of God. Art is simply one reminder that when God uses frail, earthly things, He creates something spectacular.

KC Christmas Beach, M&G volunteer and former graduate assistant

 

Published 2022

 

Object of the Month: April 2022

Oval Dish: The Baptism of Christ

Earthenware with lead glaze

Bernard Palissy (follower of)

French, 16th or 17th century

Click on the links throughout the article to further your learning.

The Artist

Bernard Palissy (1510-1590) has been called “the Leonardo Da Vinci of France.” Both artists came from poor, country roots and became famous for their artistic and scientific achievements. Palissy wrote about the causes of natural phenomena like springs, earthquakes, and the crystallization of salt. He proposed agricultural methods and designs for gardens and cities. Many of his conclusions were correct, and his writings were studied for scientific insights hundreds of years after his death.

Like Da Vinci, Palissy is most famous for his artistic accomplishments, particularly for what he called rustiques figulines (today called rustic ware or Palissy ware). Snakes, frogs, crayfish, fish, insects, ferns, flowers, leaves, shells, rocks, and other natural items were cast in plaster or similar materials and then used as molds for the clay figures that would be artfully affixed to basins, platters, pitchers, and vases.

Da Vinci experimented with various media as he created masterpieces, and not all his explorations were successful. To achieve certain effects, Palissy tested clay from different sources in a single piece. Since clays respond differently when fired, there were many failures. Various glazes also require different temperatures to bond properly to clay. During one of his experiments Palissy needed more fuel to reach the proper temperature. He used his wooden furniture and the flooring of his house to feed his kiln.

Da Vinci was christened a Catholic, and his religious paintings reflect traditional catholic iconography, although often with a humanistic twist that reflected his worldview. Palissy was also christened a Catholic, but sometime in the 1550s became a Huguenot. This Protestant group adhered to Calvinistic doctrine (John Calvin and Palissy were contemporary Frenchmen, but it is doubtful they ever met). Palissy helped found the first Huguenot church in the city of Saintes and occasionally served as its lay preacher. The Catholic government sought to remove the Protestant heresy through trials, imprisonment, torture, and wars. Being a well-known Protestant, Palissy was repeatedly arrested, tried, and imprisoned for his beliefs.

Just as Da Vinci had powerful, wealthy patrons, so did Palissy. One of the most powerful men in France, Anne de Montmorency amassed an impressive art collection, including a Michelangelo. Several Palissy rustic ware pieces were in his collection, and he used his influence to have Palissy appointed Inventor of Rustic Ware to the King, which aided in his being released from imprisonment. De Montmorency commissioned Palissy to build a grotto—a garden building with an interior designed to appear like a “natural” cave—for his chateau. Grottoes usually included mythological or symbolic figures, often with a fountain centerpiece. They developed into a key expression of wealth, artistic taste, and political views.

In 1562, Palissy was charged with destroying “sacred church images” during a Protestant riot. He denied the charge in court but was imprisoned and his studio ransacked. Cunningly, Palissy wrote to his patron but did not deny the charges nor plead for release. Instead, he described the grotto and how de Montmorency was being defamed by those who destroyed its expensive pieces kept in his studio, which had been “admired by thousands.” Palissy published the letter after which he was soon released.

When de Montmorency died, the unfinished grotto project was abandoned. Meanwhile Catherine de’ Medici (daughter of Lorenzo, wife of the French King Henry II, and later regent for her 10-year old son) was building the Tuileries Palace as her Paris residence. Since Palissy was no longer employed by de Montmorency, she commissioned him to build a grotto for the Tuileries Palace. Palissy brought pieces and molds originally designed for de Montmorency’s grotto to a space set aside for his workshop in the Tuileries gardens.

Little is known of Palissy’s plans for the queen’s grotto; however, the design would be on a grand scale, with the most fashionable artistic illusions. When a visitor looked into the basin of the fountain, for example, he would see the backs of ceramic fish. Ceramic frogs and other creatures spitting water into the basin would create ripples, causing the fish to appear as if they were swimming.

At the end of Da Vinci’s life, he summoned a priest to hear his last confession and was buried in ground consecrated by the Catholic church. As Palissy was approaching 80, he was again condemned for heresy. He spent his last months in the Bastille, where he was poorly treated. Although a friend had secured his release, Palissy knew nothing of it before he died. There is no known grave, although several Palissy monuments have been erected in France.

M&G’s Oval Dish

M&G’s ceramic dish of The Baptism of Christ is a 10 ¼ inches by 8 ¼ inches oval. The face and its lip are bas-relief with colored glazes. The design on the blue and white lip represents palm trees, and the dish is mounted on a concave pedestal. The reverse of the dish and the base are mottled blue and maroon glazes.

In the center of the scene, Jesus appears to stand on the water of the Jordan River while John the Baptist (clothed in brown) pours water onto Christ’s head. There is no mention in Scripture of an angelic presence (as pictured in the sky and two on left); although Matthew 3 does reveal that when Jesus was baptized the Spirit of God descended from heaven in the form of a dove and a voice proclaimed, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Attending Jesus’ baptism were Pharisees and Sadducees, who had questioned John about his baptizing. These are omitted by the sculptor; however, the kneeling character on the left may be either John the beloved disciple or Mary the mother of Christ.

Later, as John the Baptist describes the event to Jewish rulers, he tells of the dove and the voice which assured him that he had indeed baptized the Messiah. Then seeing Jesus, John proclaims, “Behold the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:19-39). Within the dish’s picture, this pronouncement is symbolized by the lamb reclining at John’s feet.

Other Dishes

Early ceramists often copied their images from prints or other works of art, which can help to establish a date for a piece. A source to parallel the image on the Baptism of Christ dish is unknown. The image may be a compilation from several sources. Besides the Baptism of Christ, Palissy and his followers created various allegoric or historic scenes. Two other biblical scenes were frequently repeated: Abraham’s Sacrifice of Isaac and the Beheading of John the Baptist.

Dishes similar to M&G’s are in the Louvre, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Gallery in Washington DC, the Cleveland Museum of Art, French National Gallery of Ceramics and other collections. In the past many of these were attributed to Bernard Palissy, but their documented provenance rarely extends prior to the 19th century. Today most are attributed to “a follower of Palissy” or an anonymous 16th or 17th- century ceramist.

It is simple to make a mold of such a piece and produce copies of it. This would have been common practice for popular objects, certainly for Palissy’s lifetime, but also for centuries following. Craftsmen created “stock” objects of art, many devotional pieces, to sell at fairs and in shops—repeating copies from one mold. Over time, copies are made, details become lost, “touch ups” are needed, and glazes (as well as the skill of the glazer) differ.

Palissy did not mark or sign his works. Following his death, contemporary ceramicists, including family members and his studio, continued produced his rustic ware, which was considered inferior. Palissy had not revealed his methods of achieving his ceramic’s characteristic lifelikeness, and his name and work drifted into obscurity until the early 1800s, when a Palissy following emerged, and demand for rustic ware increased. Ceramists of the period discovered how to produce rustic ware that matched Palissy’s quality. Although many signed their work, some passed off pieces as Palissy originals.

The area of Palissy’s Tuileries workshop was excavated in the 1800s and again in the 1900s. Molds and fragments of grotto pieces were found, including the popular spitting frog. Recent scientific analysis of the clay and glazes of these excavated pieces has been compared to works attributed to Palissy. The authenticity of some rustic ware has been reevaluated because they contain materials not available to Palissy.

During excavation in the Tuileries, a fragment of a plaque was found. It bears a similar image of the Baptism of Christ found on M&G’s Oval Dish and on similar dishes in the Louvre, The Victoria and Albert Museum, and other collections. These dishes are probably copies and more likely copies of copies.

M&G’s Oval Dish entered the collection in the mid-1900s.  It is difficult to know its creator, but the design certainly reflects the style and techniques of the great innovator Bernard Palissy.

William Pinkston, retired educator and M&G volunteer

 

Bibliography

Leonard N. Amico, Bernard Palissy – In Search of Earthly Paradise

Christian Study Library

Patricia F. Ferguson, Pots, Prints and Politics: Ceramics with an Agenda, from the 14th to the 20th Century

Marshall P. Katz and Robert Lehr, Palissy Ware – Nineteenth-Century French Ceramists from Avisseau to Renoleau

Marielle Pic, “Un céramiste de légende : Palissy à Sèvres”

Hanna Rose Shell, “Casting Life, Recasting Experience: Bernard Palissy’s Occupation between Maker and Nature”

 

 Published 2022

Object of the Month: March 2022

Esther Accusing Haman

Oil on canvas, signed and dated on lower left: J. Victoors, fc, 1651

Jan Victors

Dutch, 1619–after 1676

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One of life’s more pleasurable experiences is eating a good meal. Although, food shared with a friend or a group has the additional benefit of fellowship besides nourishment. There are a few food-related paintings in the M&G collection; however, this Dutch work includes a meal, and it is considered a favorite of many patrons. Added to the collection in 1968, it arrived from Europe unframed and in a shared crate with M&G’s Adoration of the Magi by Jan Boeckhorst.

Jan Victors was born in Amsterdam. His birthdate was deduced from a marriage license in 1642, which he signed at 22 years old. He was predeceased by his wife in 1661 with whom he fathered seven children. In his family there are two other painters, a brother and a son. He was raised in a strict Calvinist environment and painted only biblical scenes that did not include representations of God or Christ—most often themes from the Old Testament. In 1673, he left painting and a comfortable life in Amsterdam to minister to sailors of the East India company. He continued in this missionary endeavor until 1676 when he apparently succumbed to a fever while in the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia.

Victors studied under Rembrandt and was part of his studio from 1632 to 1635. M&G’s work represents the pinnacle of his artistic skill. The precision and opulence of the table settings and garments reflect the wealth of the upper classes or royalty. Note the variety in the scene’s rich textiles: the heavy and lush curtains, the ermine-trimmed robe and brocade garment on King Ahasuerus, Queen Esther’s pearls and jewels as well as her silk dress embroidered with gold, and Haman’s silk-lined velvet garb featuring the 17th-century’s highly fashionable paned sleeves. The silver tableware is linked to well-known silversmiths of the day, the Van Vianens. The pineapple-shaped goblet resembles a design that was created by none other than Albrecht Durer.

Victors painted this same subject at least two other times prior to M&G’s work. Both are in Germany, one in Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne (1645-1639) and the other in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister  in Kassel (c.1640).

Like many of his Dutch contemporaries, he painted biblical subjects representing Israel’s history. The Dutch identified with the captivity and persecution of the Jewish people having fought for their own independence from Roman Catholic Spain in the Eighty Years’ War.

Esther is a wonderful example of the providence of God, revealing His care for His chosen people—a quality of God’s character that believers can still trust today. The story for this painting is found in chapter 7 of the book of Esther, and the Jews’ victory over the evil Haman is still observed annually in March as the Feast of Purim.      

John Good, Security Manager

Published 2022