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Object of the Month: November 2019


Walnut and pine

German, 17th century

Storage has been one of humanity’s challenges through the ages.  “Where do I put this?” is a question many of us may ask numerous times a day.  In the digital world it can be more challenging: “Which folder do I store this in?”

The schrank is an evolution of the storage chests from the Middle Ages. When it was discovered that chests placed on top of each other with front-opening doors were more useful, the schrank in miniature was introduced. At that time, it was called a cupboard. Later modifications of enlarging them gave us what is commonly called an armoire, which normally contained more compartments in the top section than a schrank.  

For practical purposes, both the schrank and armoire are used for storage, and the word is used interchangeably by many people. However, the difference between the two is more technical and geographical. Initially used to store armor, the French named the cabinet an armoire. The schrank  was so named by the Germans. The term is still part of several words used to describe a storage item, most notably a kuhlschrank or what is known to us Americans as a refrigerator. 

M&G’s Schrank joined the collection in 1964. It may have originated in southern Germany and was constructed in the 17th century or later.  The last owner prior to M&G was A. S. W. Rosenbach, an antique book collector and dealer living in Philadelphia during the last half of the 19th century into the mid-20th century. His aggressive skill and vast knowledge of books made him “The Terror of the Auction Room.”

The Schrank’s upper carcass is constructed with a single pine board for each side, top, and bottom. The lower carcass uses a single pine board for each side as well as the back and bottom—the lower portion doesn’t need a top since the upper section rests on it. Finely detailed, hand-sawn dovetail joints can be seen on the top of the upper carcass. Carved walnut is used for the decorative ornamentation for the front.

The left door panel displays a common 17th-century scene of Michael the Archangel overcoming Satan, in the form of a dragon. The other door depicts the apocryphal characters of the archangel Raphael with Tobias. The Book of Tobit from the Apocrypha gives detail to the legend presented. Other aspects of the ornamentation have been described in technical terms by Joseph Aronson in his catalog Furniture in the Bob Jones Collection. “The base cupboard features low doors paneled with wave-mouldings framing lion-heads, and its corners are embellished with panels framing scrolls. The astragal is a caryatid figure like the upper. The base mold, like the other horizontals, is quiet and rests on bun feet.”

Though the original craftsman is unknown, this piece of furniture represents well the skilled carving and furniture making from an era that no longer exists. Considering this Schrank was also part of a well-known bibliophile’s furnishings adds intrigue as to what treasures it may have stored more than a century ago.

John Good, Security Manager


Published in 2019

Object of the Month: June 2019

The Last Supper

Polychrome and giltwood walnut

Hans Waldburger (attr. to)

Austrian, 1570-1630


One of Scripture’s more commonly depicted stories in art is the Last Supper. This event is represented repeatedly in M&G’s own collection in at least three paintings (on both canvas and panel), a Greek icon, book engravings, Sitzendorf porcelain, and wood sculpture.

Created around 1625, M&G’s sculptural Last Supper is attributed to Hans Waldburger, an Austrian artist in both wood and stone. Little is recorded about him, but he learned his craft from his father, Hans Leonhard Waldburger, while growing up in Innsbruck, Austria.  Hans was later guided by Alexander Colin and Hubert Gerhard, a northern follower of the influential Michelangelo-emulator, Giovanni Bologna (or Giambologna).

During Waldburger’s life and work, there was a cultural shift through the influence of both the Protestant Reformation and the Roman Catholic Counter Reformation.  Artistically, that transition was expressed through the Mannerist style briefly bridging the movement of the simple, idealized forms of the Renaissance to the busy, dynamic embellishment of the Baroque. This developing ornamentation was articulated in a highly decorative, theatrical style often combining painted imagery with sculptural elements giving the illusion of the story emerging from the flat surface—almost coming to life.

Early in Hans’ career he was commissioned by Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau to Salzburg, where he essentially spent the rest of his life. Much of his known work is represented in Austria including such fine examples as the High Altar at both the Basilica Mondsee and Salzburg Cathedral.

M&G acquired The Last Supper in 1963. It is roughly 400 years old and still retains much of its painted color (polychrome) and gold leaf (gilding) in places. Hans’ mannerist style is noticeable in the extended physical features of the apostles as they are seated around the table. The possible supper conversation may be the point in the story when Christ reveals that one of the twelve disciples would betray Him. Their response was, “Is it I?” as recorded in the gospels (Matthew 26:22; Mark 14:19).  Though it is known in the culture of Palestine that the partakers would have reclined during the meal, here the group is seated around a table.  The sculpture measures approximately 4 feet wide by 4 feet high, and it is almost 1 ½ feet thick! Remarkably, the figures’ distinctive details including curling beards, facial features, and gesturing hands are still intact.

Dealer Edward R. Lubin summarizes the beauty and impact of Waldburger’s Last Supper, “A monumental, virtually in-the-round sculptural group of such quality and scale in this period of German art is truly exceptional.”

John Good, Security Manager


Published in 2019

Object of the Month: December 2018

The Visitation

Oil on canvas

Johann Friedrich Overbeck

German, 1789-1869

Friedrich Overbeck began art instruction at age 15 under the tutelage of Joseph Nikolaus Peroux. He then learned from artists in Hamburg and through close study of Italian Renaissance works on display. The move to Vienna in 1806 enabled him to study at the Akademie and learn the principles of drawing in the academic tradition. This traditional approach, however, led him to reject those principles and adopt the teachings of Eberhard Wächter, particularly in the area of moral tone. One of the fascinating concepts about the sister arts (writing, drawing, music, and sculpture) is that principles from one art often apply to another. So, the idea of moral tone, usually applied to literature, is quite appropriate to discuss in the area of painting.  Overbeck infused his religious beliefs into his beginning work in oils, an emphasis which became a hallmark of his work, especially following his 1813 conversion to Roman Catholicism. His family heritage was religious as well; the three previous generations of men in his family were ministers. It was Friedrich who broke with the family calling. 

Although, it would be wrong to say that he abandoned the ministry; his works “preach” in merely another medium. In 1809 he and friends began the group Brotherhood of St. Luke, also known as the Nazarenes. Living in an abandoned monastery and adopting a biblical style of hair and dress led to “Nazarene” becoming a derogatory term. The Brotherhood’s motivation to reject the sensuality and artistic virtuosity of artists beginning in the sixteenth century was accompanied by a belief that all art should serve a moral purpose. Their work emphasizes Christian symbolism and bright clear colors which are hallmarks of the later Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood members such as William Holman Hunt and Frederic James Shields.

While Overbeck embraced the art before Raphael, he also admired Raphael’s style. A look at The Visitation drawn c. 1517 by Raphael (in the Prado since 1837), suggests that Overbeck may have seen the master’s composition. The headdress of Elizabeth is strikingly similar to that in Overbeck’s painting as is the hairstyle of the Virgin. But there are purposeful differences as well. Raphael’s Virgin has no ornamentation on her dress; however, Overbeck chooses to give Mary a gold band of ribbon or lace, contrasting her gown with the matronly garb of her elderly cousin, Elizabeth, and showing her superiority.  

Overbeck also indicates Mary’s elevated position as the mother of the Lord Jesus Christ through the physical positioning of the figures. Though Elizabeth is heavily pregnant at the time of Mary’s visit, she is positioned kneeling toward her younger relative. Luke 1:39-56 details the interaction between the women. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth proclaims a three-fold blessing on Mary: she is blessed as a chosen woman, she is carrying the blessing of mankind’s Savior, and she is blessed for her faith in the promise of the Lord through Gabriel.  Then Luke records Mary’s praise of the Lord, the Magnificat.  Appropriately enough, Elizabeth gazes into the distance while Mary looks heavenward in a sign of her understanding of the privilege and position she has been accorded by God. John’s movement in Elizabeth’s womb at the arrival of his Lord is undoubtedly one of those things that Mary will keep and “ponder in her heart.”

In another work, Overbeck features Mary and her cousin, Mary and Elizabeth with Jesus and John the Baptist.  The title indicates the characters in the painting; yet the accepted iconography and religious symbolism of the time provides clear and immediate identification.  Mary is found in her blue robe holding her missal. John the Baptist wears his clothing of camel’s hair and grasps a sheep, signifying his task of proclaiming that his cousin Christ is the “Lamb of God.”  Christ, sitting on the lamb, could not be more closely identified as that “Lamb.”  In addition, He holds John’s cross-shaped staff indicating the manner in which the “Lamb of God” will be sacrificed for the sins of the world.  The background of this painting is more reminiscent of Raphael’s work with its Italian landscape; such scenery suits this family portrait. However, Mary’s Magnificat focuses on the Lord God, so this portrait-like composition of The Visitation directs the viewer’s attention to her message by eliminating a distracting setting. 

Overbeck’s biographer, Joseph Beavington Atkinson (1822-1886) records the artist’s mission in life: “Art to me is as a harp of David, whereupon I would desire that psalms should at all times be sounded to the praise of the Lord.”  The sacred mood and expression of Christian piety, the beautiful colors, and the clean lines found in The Visitation fulfill his mission well.

Dr. Karen Rowe, M&G Board Member and Volunteer Membership Coordinator 


Suggested Reading: Overbeck by Joseph Beavington Atkinson


Published in 2018

Object of the Month: September 2018

Iron Safe

German, 17th Century

Gift of Paul W. Doll

Since the fall of humanity, there has been a need to prevent theft.  At the end of Genesis 3, Adam and Eve were barred from Eden to keep them from partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Life. The cherubim armed with a flaming sword became the keepers of the Garden.

Securing one’s valuables is a universal priority, and man has devised various methods to accomplish the goal. One of the most common means of protection is the safe.  From hotel rooms to bank vaults, a safe seeks to provide both security and safety for treasured items including M&G’s Iron Safe, a type of strong box sometimes called a coffer, casket, lock box, or armada chest. 

Safes have existed for more than two millennia—even the Romans built and used money chests to protect valuables.  While locked chests were used primarily for storing and protecting special items, it was common practice through the eighteenth-century for the safe’s aesthetic design to equal the importance of its security. 

Early strong boxes were constructed of resilient and heavy wood that later was reinforced with metal straps and nails.  As advancements were made in metallurgy, corresponding improvements were made in safe construction.  M&G’s seventeenth-century safe would have been forged after the introduction of iron plates, and was probably crafted in Germany, where much of Europe’s iron work was manufactured.  The cities of Southern Germany, such as Nuremberg, were particularly known for the craftsmanship of their blacksmiths and locksmiths, and demand was high for their lock boxes not only in Germany, but beyond.

M&G’s safe exhibits the common elements of a top opening safe from the 17th century with a spring-loaded keyhole cover accessed by pressing a slightly disguised button. A large key releases an elaborate steel locking mechanism inside. Once unlocked, a hand crank is used to lift the heavy lid.  

Joseph Aronson explains that “the security of this safe lay in its great weight, probably self-defeating even in its own day. The whole top is the lock, with a naively hidden keyhole in the decorative plate on the center. Even though it would certainly foil pickpockets and larcenous domestics, the type occurs in pictures of war booty in transit.”  This safe was quite possibly bolted to a ship officer’s cabin to secure valuables and plunder.

Visit Historical Locks and LockWiki to learn more.

John Good, M&G Docent and Security Manager


Published in 2018

Object of the Month: May 2017

Allegory on the Fall and Redemption of Man

Oil on canvas

Lucas Cranach, the Younger

German, 1515-1586

Click on links for additional reference information.

Lucas Cranach the Younger and his father (also named Lucas) were prominent painters in the town of Wittenberg. The glory of Wittenberg was its university where Martin Luther taught and its village church where the great reformer posted his 95 Theses. At this time the printing press was still in its infancy and textual literacy still the purview of scholars. There was, however, a long tradition of using iconographic painting to educate the masses—most of whom were well-versed in “reading” images. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Cranachs, who were friends of Luther, would use their skill to instruct the populace in emerging Protestant theology. This painting which unfolds Luther’s tenet of justification by faith is a good example.

The tree in the center divides Cranach’s work into a two-chapter narrative that begins with the law (left side of the canvas). The tree overhanging the characters in these scenes is dead and bare—a signification of sin. Adam and Eve’s original transgression opens the story (upper left register). The continuity of sin throughout man’s history is then presented through the Israelites’ worship of the golden calf (toward the center in the upper left register). The high point of the chapter is “played out” in a final scene in the lower left register. Here we are introduced to a hooded prophet who joins Moses in drawing our (and the sinner’s) attention to the law. Condemned by these oracles, the unfortunate Everyman is hurried into hell by grotesque personifications of Death and Satan.

Chapter two opens in the lower right register under the tree’s green bough—a signification of life and resurrection. Here we see another prophet, but this one is facing John the Baptist who points this Everyman to the crucified Christ. At the foot of the cross is the risen Savior with Death and the Devil crushed under His feet. In the distant background is the Old Testament scene of the brazen serpent, referenced by Christ in John 3:14 and 15: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up. That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Mary Magdalene, one who has inherited this life, stands with a Lamb (symbol of Christ) on the hillside. Above her in the clouds are the Savior’s feet, signifying both His ascension and His promise to return.

Cranach also inserts into this story one of his contemporaries, Phillip Melancthon (the figure in the hat in the lower right register). Melancthon, a colleague of Luther’s and writer of the Peace of Augsburg, was an important proponent of grace in his own right. One other interesting detail is the artist’s use of text from Romans and Galatians. These Latin verses are a nod to emerging literary forms, including the translations of Scripture that were becoming more accessible through Gutenberg’s press.

To see this work and learn more about the Cranachs and their relationship to the great reformer Martin Luther visit M&G’s exhibition Luther’s Journey:  Experience the History on the campus of Bob Jones University. For more information click here.

Donnalynn Hess, Director of Education



Published in 2017

Object of the Month: February 2017

Christ before Pilate

Oil on panel

Master of St. Severin

German, active c. 1485–1515

Christ before Pilate

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

Little background history exists for the artist referred to as the Master of St. Severin. While scholars remain uncertain as to his identity, they have confidently identified a body of works they believe to be by his hand. The Church of St. Severin houses what are considered his best works, thus he became known by the pseudonym, the Master of St. Severin. His body of work primarily reflects oil paintings on panel, however, there is some indication that he might have also designed and produced stained glass windows.

Christ before Pilate brings together several of the events of the Passion Week leading to the crucifixion of Christ. He did a similar work called Passion Scene: Christ at the Mount of Olives. Both works embody his style evidenced in the stiffness of the figures and the similarity in facial features and expressions of all figures. In the foreground of M&G’s work, a solemn and calm Christ appears before Pilate for trial. The surrounding miniature scenes reveal the events preceding and following his trial. To the left in the distant background, the artist portrays Christ’s prayer and arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane along with Peter cutting off Malchus’ ear. Centrally located in the background and enclosed in a cathedral-like structure, Christ receives beating with the cat of nine tails and then just below He is crowned with a ring of thorns. Finally, to the far back right, Pilate presents Christ to the Jews.

Beautifully detailed in oil, the painting provides a window into the culture of the artist. Click the dropdown below to learn more about the clothing featured by the Master of St. Severin.

Dagging is cutting the edges of garments, hangidaggingng sleeve flaps, or even hats into pointed or squared scallops. This trend was especially popular during the late Middle Ages. The man in red at Christ’s crowning with thorns features dagging at the bottom of his doublet (jacket).


Also known as crakowes, these were an elongated, exaggeratedly pointed-toed shoe often worn by nobles or the wealthy. King Edward III poulainestried to take matters into his own hands by declaring a law that “no Knight under the estate of a lord, esquire or gentleman, nor any other person, shall wear any shoes or boots having spikes or points exceeding the length of two inches, under the forfeiture of forty pence.” The law was ineffective, and the trend lasted until 1480!  The man, at right foreground and near to Pilate, models poulaines.


These were a special non-functional, decorative sleeve attached to the jacket; in the early Renaissance, they were mostly ushangingsleevesed for ceremonial occasions as seen here on the soldier kneeling in the foreground.


Parti-colored is the sewing together sections of different colored fabrics within the same garment. This was used in both men’s and women’s clothing and could reflect the colors of a particular city or families joined in marriage. The man kneeling in front of Christ at his crowning with tparti-colouredhorns featuresparti-coloured2 a parti-colored doublet. At the beating of Christ, the man to the left of Christ also wears a parti-colored doublet.


Rebekah Cobb, Guest Relations Manager



Published in 2017

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: 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

Object of the Month: December 2013

The Adoration of the Shepherds

Oil on panel

Hans von Aachen

German, 1552-1615

At Christmas, our thoughts naturally turn to gifts. Given a choice, would you choose a large package or a small one? Perhaps it would be wise to remember the adage, “Good things come in small packages.” That sentiment is certainly true of M&G’s Object of the Month, a small painting (9.25” x 7”) that is like a precious jewel in a small gift box.

In addition to the Holy Family and the shepherds, the crowded scene includes women, another child, barn animals, the requisite angels tumbling from heaven, and a huge mastiff. Other innovative additions include bagpipes and a shovel. Far in the background the light of the angelic host can be seen illuminating the hillside. The painting is housed in a tabernacle-type frame with decorative gold tooling and stone insets. Tabernacle frames often held large pieces of art; this version captures the architectural features in miniature.

Aachen lived in Italy from 1574–1588, studying the great Italian masters, and in 1592 he became Court Painter to Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II in Prague, a prestigious position that entailed diplomatic as well as artistic responsibilities. Rudolf was the greatest patron of the arts of his time, acquiring works by Dürer, Brueghel, and Veronese as well as works of contemporary northern Mannerist artists such as Aachen, Archimboldo, Spranger, and Savery.

The provenance, or history, of the painting can be traced to English ownership in 1834. English collectors of the nineteenth century amassed great quantities of art, much of it available because of wars and unrest in Europe. This work was part of an 1834 bequest to the Fitzwilliam Museum of Cambridge University; they retained ownership until 1959 when it was sold at Sotheby’s and acquired by the museum.

Anne Short, Former Research Supervisor


Published in 2013

Object of the Month: May 2013

Meissen Urn

German, 19th century

While the Museum & Gallery’s collection of over 450 Old Master paintings garners most of the attention (and rightly so), there are other components to the collection, including furniture, tapestries, sculpture, antiquities, and objects of art. For example, this Meissen Urn arrests the attention of many guests with its intricate and delicate flowers and embellishments.

Europeans began collecting Chinese porcelain in the 16th century, even creating whole rooms to display the “china.” However, the formula for creating the beautiful substance eluded them.  The path to the discovery of that formula resembles the fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin, who spun straw into gold. In the early 18th century, Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony,  imprisoned Johann Böttger, an alchemist who claimed to know how to turn base metals, such as lead, into gold. As preposterous as that sounds, alchemy was the precursor to chemistry, as the name suggest.  Not surprisingly, Böttger had little success with his project. However, when he applied his knowledge to the making of porcelain, he discovered something even more valuable—“white gold.”

The factories at Meissen and nearby Dresden began producing porcelain in the early 18th century and are still known for their quality products today. In addition to innumerable types of tableware, the factories also produced decorative objects such as statues and vases. In spite of its delicate appearance, porcelain is actually very strong and resists chips and cracks more easily than its sturdier-looking “cousins,” stoneware and earthenware.

At the center of the Meissen Urn in gallery 19 is a beautifully painted scene of Abraham sending Hagar and Ishmael into the desert. Sarah stands in the background while the young Isaac, clinging to his father, seems upset that his half-brother is being sent away. The crown in the center is the crown of the Elector of Saxony. The crests below also refer to the Elector of Saxony. The crossed swords, one of his symbols, became the trademark symbol for Meissen porcelain.

Anne Short, Former Research Supervisor


Published in 2013