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Object of the Month: March 2023

Majolica Vases

Glazed terracotta

Italian, 16th or 17th century

Earthenware that has been coated with a white glaze and then decorated with other pigmented glazes was first made in Africa around the 6th century. By the 13th century multi-colored designs were possible. A final clear glaze added luster and insured the pieces were watertight. Large quantities of decorative earthenware were produced in Africa and Spain and passed through ports on the island of Majorca on their way to Italy.  Thinking the colorfully painted pieces had originated in Majorca, Italians called them majolica.

By the 16th century, techniques for producing majolica had reached Italy. As would be expected, Italian ceramicists stretched the artistic limits of the medium. Although many early majolica pieces were purely functional and received little decoration, others were elaborately decorated and served as status symbols. In wealthy homes large collections of vibrant dishes, bowls, platters, pitchers, jars, and vases were displayed and used to impress guests.

However, many Renaissance majolica containers were used for storage. In the kitchen, these useful jars stored liquids, grains, nuts, dried fruits and the like. What an apothecary of the period might keep in one can only be imagined. Generally larger majolica containers did not have lids. They usually have a short neck, and the opening has an everted edge, allowing the jar to be covered with cloth, paper, or leather and tied in place over the mouth with a string or strap around the jar’s neck.

Smaller Renaissance majolica containers were rectangular boxes or cylinders with concave sides. The lack of handles permitted them to be stored close together on a shelf, and their shape allowed handling without slipping. Larger vessels were generally spherical or, like M&G’s, ovoid with the smaller end toward the bottom. Today these larger containers are often called majolica vases, though their original purpose wasn’t decorative.

Smaller majolica vases could be picked up by putting hands under the wide part of the vase. M&G’s 15½-inch tall and 13-inch diameter vases are considered large. Each vase weighs nearly 12 lbs. and holds about 4.5 gallons of liquid. A full vase would weigh nearly 50 lbs., which would require considerable strength and balance to lift and carry.

M&G’s Majolica Vases have a 5-inch diameter opening. Although the rounded lips would aid in pouring, the mouth is wide enough for a hand or a ladle to access the contents.

The decoration on M&G’s vases includes white, daisy-like flowers with a blue ring around the darker center.  These flowers with scrolling foliage (sometimes protruding through the flower) and swirling, plume-like shapes are common on Italian Renaissance containers. The blue background would have been painted after the design of the floral decoration. The short, irregular white curves were inscribed into the blue areas before it was fired. Because of the stability of the pigments and the clear glaze, the colors are still vibrant.

Prior to the 1800s few European ceramics have an identifying mark or a signature, and it is extremely rare for any Italian Renaissance piece to be signed or dated. Documented provenance would help determine age and origin or perhaps a design with a family crest or istoriato (having a portrait or a historical or biblical image). However, typical of most such pieces, M&G’s vases lack marks and embellishments, and their provenance extends to just under 100 years.

The opinions of museum curators and experts which specialize in the genre are the primary remaining source for information. M&G’s vases have been examined by experts, who believe the vases were made in Sicily during the late 16th or early 17th century.

Renaissance majolica is strong, but it can easily be broken. For a pair of large vases to have endured 400 years is remarkable, especially surviving their practical role and years spent in cellars and storerooms. Today museums proudly display glued-together objects of Italian Renaissance majolica, even if they are missing sections of the piece. M&G’s large and unbroken Majolica Vases are a treasure indeed.

 

William Pinkston, retired educator and M&G volunteer

 

Special thanks to students from the Honors Geometry classes of Bob Jones Academy for determining the vase volume and weight.

 

 

Published 2023

Object of the Month: February 2023

Pentecost

Oil on canvas

Charles Le Brun

French, 1619–1690

Though perhaps not as well known today, the fame of this French artist outlasted his years for at least a century, if not longer. Charles Le Brun was born February 24, 1619 and died twelve days before his 72nd birthday in 1690.

Le Brun was recognized for his prodigious talent at only 11 years of age, when he was noticed by the Chancellor of France, Louis Seguier. The Chancellor connected Charles with Simon Vouet, one of France’s most important painters of the seventeenth century (and also represented in M&G’s collection by two works, King David Playing the Harp and Salome with the Head of John the Baptist). He furthered his artistic study in Rome under fellow countryman Nicolas Poussin, developing a more classical Baroque style.

Charles had the skill and opportunities to develop political connections with French nobility and royalty, earning commissions and support from the most powerful of the French court. He was one of the twelve founding directors of the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, accepting leadership of it under the Sun King, Louis XIV and his powerful advisor, First Minister of State Jean-Baptiste Colbert. Unfortunately, as Charles’ successes increased, he snubbed his teacher Vouet, excluding him from involvement in the academy.

Le Brun’s influence and administrative ability enabled him to direct and determine the style of painting and design from a royal perspective. His texts, theories, and styles would be followed for at least a century. He is credited with making Paris the center of the art world, eclipsing the position first held by Rome. Many other works for which he was responsible as either artist or director are found in the great edifices of Versailles and Vaux-le-Vicomte.

Acquired in 1965, M&G’s Pentecost is a modello or final color study for a large altarpiece of the same subject Le Brun painted for the chapel of the seminary of St. Sulpice (now St Honoré-d’Eylau) in Paris. Engraved copies exist and attest to Le Brun’s ability and popularity. On the middle left, the figure looking out at the viewer is none other than the artist himself—Charles Le Brun, around 37 years old and in the prime of his career. By including himself in this occasion, he not only reveals himself as the artist but also as a disciple inviting the viewer to participate in the event. Le Brun transported the believers and the spectators of the painting to a classical architectural representation of the upper room for the place of the Spirit’s descent.

Christ told His disciples to stay in Jerusalem until the Comforter or the Holy Spirit came. Acts 2 gives account of the fulfillment of Christ’s promise. The coming of the Spirit was the source of comfort and power for the early church to successfully carry out the work that Christ commissioned them to do in Matthew 28:18-20. Pentecost was not only a Jewish feast in the Old Testament, but it was the beginning of the Holy Spirit’s work that continues today. It was more than a historical event. True believers today are also indwelt by the same Spirit and commanded to be Spirit-filled as the apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:18.

As you consider this painting and Le Brun’s invitation, may you also remember his February birthday and the wonderful truths of God’s Word that the Comforter has indeed come. “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” John 14:26.

 

John Good

M&G volunteer and former M&G docent and Security Manager

 

 

Published 2023

 

Object of the Month: January 2023

St. Sebastian

Oil on panel, c. 1529–30

Andrea d’Agnolo, called del Sarto (studio of)

Florentine, 1486–1530

Andrea d’Agnolo grew up in Florence and was nicknamed del Sarto meaning “of the tailor” after his father’s profession. Like other early Renaissance artists, he initially trained with a goldsmith, then studied under a series of three separate painters until he began producing his own works in 1506. He spent most of his life in Florence—except for a visit to Rome and a brief stint as court painter to King François I at Fontainebleau in 1518.

As the son of a tailor, del Sarto’s works reveal a unique understanding and love of fabrics—even seen in his 1517-1518 Portrait of a Young Man in London’s National Gallery, which may be a self-portrait (on right). Notice the finishes of the puffed sleeve, ruched white undershirt, and the vest’s seam at the shoulder.

Andrea was also influenced by his contemporaries who outlived him: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael. Once these masters left Florence for other parts of Italy, Andrea became Florence’s leading artist in the early 1500s. He is overlooked in art history; yet he is equal in skill and quality to the three greats, and his works are beautiful and still revered today. Julian Brooks, curator of drawings at the Getty, recognizes del Sarto as the “revolutionary engine of the Renaissance and the transformer of draughtsmanship” due to his careful and creative preparatory drawings, a practice which inspired the next generations of artists to follow.

However, he has been underappreciated, even to the point of his students overshadowing him to become famous including Rosso Fiorentino, Jacopo da Pontormo, and Giorgio Vasari, biographer of contemporary Renaissance artists. Vasari records details about his teacher as related to M&G’s work. A Florentine charitable organization for plague victims, the Company of St. Sebastian commissioned Andrea del Sarto to paint a picture of St. Sebastian, the patron saint for plague victims. He became a member of the Company in February 1529, perhaps as a result of negotiations surrounding the commission. Ironically, shortly after completing the painting in 1530 during Florence’s plague epidemic, del Sarto died from the plague at 44 years old.

Several 17th-century documents list the original St. Sebastian as the property of the Company of St. Sebastian. Publications in 1759 and 1770 mention that the painting moved to the Pitti Palace in Florence. By the early 19th century, writers could no longer trace the location of the original painting—apparently it was removed from the Pitti Palace and lost.

M&G acquired St. Sebastian in 1970 from the former great British collection of the Cook family. In 2005, the National Gallery of Canada requested St. Sebastian to participate in an exhibition, and we sent our work in advance for study and conservation. The conservator Stephen Gritt found, “In its materials and construction, the painting is entirely consistent with one from Sarto’s workshop. The complete absence of any change in the design from the drawing stage on the panel through to the painting would indicate perhaps that the design had reached a point of satisfactory refinement by the time this version was produced. While this may mean that some artist other than Sarto could have painted the work, it does not exclude his participation in its production as a supervisor.”

Regarding del Sarto’s workshop practice, Julian Brooks notes that “Andrea would have been closely involved in the production of all versions, or at least those produced in his workshop during his lifetime, and these were produced side by side in the studio.” He also made, used, and reused partial cartoons.

It is difficult to confidently confirm if M&G’s St. Sebastian is the missing painting by the master, thus the current attribution, studio of Andrea del Sarto. At the least, someone very close to del Sarto painted the work. Found in Italy, Spain, England, and Austria, more than 10 other variants of the St. Sebastian exist. Even so, M&G’s is considered by specialists as the “best surviving reflection of the original.”

 

Erin R. Jones, Executive Director

 

Resources:

 

Published 2023

 

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

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