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Picture Books of the Past: Bartolommeo Neroni

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

In contrast to the large altarpieces commissioned by churches, the Tondo’s circular format was well suited for private homes.

Psuedo Pier Francesco Fiorentino

Madonna and Child with St. John and an Angel

Psuedo Pier Francesco Fiorentino

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Picture Books of the Past: Master of Staffolo

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

It is unusual to find a complete altarpiece from the late Gothic era, but this beautiful triptych (or three-paneled altarpiece) is still intact.

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.


Published 2022

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


David L’Eglise, partner at Village Antiques at Biltmore


1st Dibs


French Accents


Published 2022

Picture Books of the Past: Carlo Dolci

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

Take a closer look at M&G’s Madonna and Child by sensitive painter Carlo Dolci, noting how Dolci uses color to identify characters and to highlight their graces.

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: February 2022

Jacob Mourning over Joseph’s Coat

Oil on canvas, c. 1625

Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called Il Guercino

Bolognese, 1591–1666

The nickname “Guercino” (the squinter) was given to the artist due to an eye defect which in no way deterred his ability or ambition to paint as evidenced by his lifelong production of hundreds of paintings, thousands of drawings, and numerous frescoes. He worked for Pope Gregory XV in Rome where his style began the transition from baroque to classical. The vigorous brushwork, saturated colors, and bold, naturalistic modeling of the figure of Jacob are hallmarks of this transitional period.

The composition of this work is unusual for Guercino. First, the work portrays, not a saint, but the biblical character, the mourning father Jacob. Second, only a single figure is rendered and not a scene of the biblical event, whereas most works illustrating this tragedy show Joseph’s brothers in addition to the patriarch. Because of these compositional choices, Guercino presents a moment in time for the observer to ponder the emotions of Jacob. As such, the work could be seen as an allusion to God the Father’s loss of His Son or as any parent’s loss of a child. Either way, the work is more devotional than historical.

But it is impossible to separate the figure from the story. The work’s primary impact is the pathos it generates in the viewer. Not only has Jacob lost his favorite son, but he becomes the victim of deceit, his lifelong characteristic. After deceiving his father, Jacob is deceived, in turn, by his father-in-law, who first marries him to Leah and later to Rachel whom he loves. Jacob favors Joseph, his eleventh son and elder of Rachel’s two sons, making him a coat of many colors. Their increased jealousy causes the brothers to sell Joseph into slavery and use the blood-stained coat to deceive their father into believing the teen was killed by wild beasts. A devastated Jacob looks to heaven. Is it to ask for God’s comfort or to ask God why He has brought evil into his life? Regardless, Jacob goes to the right source, though he receives no answer. Uncomforted, he declares, “I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning” (Gen 37:35).

The painting, however, does not match the biblical account. Rather than a vibrant cloak, Guercino’s white garment succeeds on both the literal and symbolic levels: the bloodstains which clinch the lie are clear evidence, and the color white (which indicates innocence) argues that Joseph has been unjustly treated by his brothers. However, God is at work. Ultimately, innocent Joseph is vindicated with the most powerful position in Egypt, second only to Pharoah, allowing him to save all of Jacob’s household during a prolonged famine.

This moving work, illustrating one of the most devasting losses a parent can experience, offers much to contemplate. But as with all proper devotional art, this work points the viewer to the God of all the earth who will do right. Bad things do happen to good people; this world is a vale of sorrows; and character flaws do bear fruit—but God guides the lives of His children, using even those “bad things” to work together for good.

Dr. Karen Rowe Jones, M&G board member

Published 2022

Object of the Month: November 2021

Christ Cleansing the Temple

Oil on canvas, c. 1660

Luca Giordano, called Luca fa presto

Neapolitan, 1634–1705

As M&G celebrates 70 years this month, it is only appropriate to highlight a wonderful piece in the collection that has been a part of the museum since its inception. This canvas has often been referred to as a favorite of our visitors to the Museum & Gallery. Its imposing size and theme have left an indelible effect on many viewers since the beginning.

M&G is indebted to the generosity of Carl Hamilton (1886-1967) for this work. Carl Hamilton, art connoisseur and dealer, is credited with suggesting in 1948 the idea to Dr. Bob Jones Jr. of beginning a museum. Around the same time, he was also involved in the formation of the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh. Dr. Bob found him to be very helpful and encouraging during the early acquisition years. Not only did Hamilton provide introduction to dealers, advise on purchases, and shape collecting criteria, he also gifted many pieces in the period furniture collection.

Hamilton’s upbringing in rural Pennsylvania with an alcoholic father and firm, loving mother shaped his outlook on life. Exposed to Methodism through his mother, it enabled him to not only preach on occasion, but also to influence others in practical and financial scenarios. As a capable entrepreneur, he paid his way through Yale with a business pf pressing suits and shining shoes. His ability to invest and create income allowed him to adopt a son, pay the tuition of many students, and become an industrialist that owned a significant share of copra production in the Philippines at that time. Later, when his interest in art grew, he was mentored by Joseph Duveen and Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Berenson. A lifelong bachelor, he owned an ornately decorated apartment in New York City covered with Old Master paintings, period furniture, and sculpture.

Baroque master Luca Giordano began his artistic career during his childhood in Naples, Italy. His father, Antonio, was his first teacher, and he ensured that one of the best contemporary artists available would instruct his son—master painter Jusepe de Ribera. Luca proved a talented artist and a fast-painting one, which earned him the nickname of “fa presto” meaning to “work fast” or “go quickly.” Over his lifetime, he painted more than 5000 works, not including frescoes and etchings. His career involved travel to Rome, Venice, and Florence; he also spent a decade in Spain, where he was court painter to King Charles II. Giordano was incredibly skilled and adaptive—he often adopted styles of other artists, whose works he encountered. Several of his contemporaries are also represented in our collection: Rubens, Preti, Veronese, and Dolci.

Completed in 1660, Giordono’s Christ Cleansing the Temple is recognized as one of his most important paintings in America. It measures 10 feet wide and over 7 feet high. Noticeable through the paint are three panels of coarse canvas woven together, which reflects a Neapolitan influence. The effect of golden lighting is indicative of his connection to Venetian artists during his mid-twenties, when he was creating this work.

The Gospels mention the temple cleansing four times. Matthew, Mark, and Luke refer to the event near the end of Christ’s ministry, during the final Passover just prior to Christ’s passion. However, John describes a temple cleansing that takes place at Passover during Christ’s first year of public ministry and reveals Christ’s reason for the cleansing. He was God incarnate, and His place of worship was being defiled by the dishonesty of the money exchangers. Tyrian currency was used to pay the temple tax since it was the closest form of currency to the old Hebrew shekel, and exorbitant rates were charged to exchange the money. Also, the sacrificial animals were in the only area of the temple grounds that non-Jewish people were allowed to worship—an expectation and promise that God Himself declared in Isaiah 56. The Gentiles were disregarded by temple authorities for the sake of commerce.

Since the painted narrative includes a quizzical-looking ox and ruffled doves near several broken eggs, Giordano may have referenced John’s account (Jn. 2:13-25), which includes a list of sacrificial animals: ox, sheep, and doves. With Christ positioned in the center forefront, the artist skillfully captures the turbulence that ripples throughout the scene using a drybrush technique and the drama of diagonal lines.


John Good, Security Manager



  • American Dionysus: Carl W. Hamilton (1886–1967), Collector of Italian Renaissance Art, Tiffany L. Johnston
  • Botticelli to Tiepolo: Three Centuries of Italian Painting from Bob Jones University, Richard P. Townsend

Luca Giordano is also represented by two other works in the Collection: The Triumph of Miriam and St. Barbara.


Published 2021