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Tag Archives: Renaissance

Antiphonary

Antiphonary

Italian, 16th century

Below the image, click play to listen.

This object is currently on display in Mack Library, and it is featured in M&G’s 2023 Christmas Scavenger Hunt for K5-8th grade adventurers.

 

 

Object of the Month: October 2023

Scenes from the Apocalypse

Oil on panel

Unknown French, mid-16th century

These M&G panels are painted sections from a winged altarpiece, positioned on, above, or behind the church’s altar. The wings or hinged doors would be opened for liturgical feasts and events. When the wings were closed, the side facing the audience was often painted in monochrome colors depicting various saints’ lives; as the wings were opened, the interior (including the other side of the doors) revealed more colorful pictures with a large feature painting in the center.

The Scenes from the Apocalypse by an unknown 16th-century French artist illustrates the medieval tradition of the Signs of the Apocalypse (drawn from Mark 13 and Revelation). These five separate panels were once joined in a single winged altarpiece with a total of fourteen or fifteen panels detailing the Signs and with the central interior panel possibly featuring the Last Judgment. Viewing these works from left to right,

  • Panel 1 is the Third Sign: sea monsters that ravage the seas.
  • Panel 2 is the reverse of Panel 1, being once united as a single panel.
  • Panel 3 is the Second Sign: the seas disappearing into the earth.
  • Panel 4 is the reverse of Panel 5, being once united as a single panel.
  • Panel 5 is the Fourth Sign: the burning of the seas and rivers.

Two ideas are fundamental to understanding this altarpiece. First, these panels illustrate the Word of God. According to Pope Gregory the Great (lived c.540-604), “Illiterate men can contemplate in the lines of a picture what they cannot learn by means of the written word.” Seeing the horrors of the End Times should motivate the viewer to take action to avoid them. These panels become visual conviction.

The Bible portrays man’s sinfulness and presents the atoning work of Christ as the remedy. The panels’ subject matter confronts the viewer with the penalty for sin even before the Last Judgment arrives. Juxtaposing these panels directly with the altar argues that Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross, accepted by God the Father as payment for man’s sin and ratified by Christ’s resurrection from the dead, is man’s rescue from the Apocalypse. In view of these coming events, the physical placement of these panels prompts the viewer to appropriate for himself Christ’s sacrifice.

Secondly, the reverse of the panels—scenes from the lives of Old and New Testament figures—argues for the ability of humans to react properly to the revelation of God’s Word.

  • Panel 2 references the conversion of Saul of Tarsus when confronted with the crucified Christ. The presence of the Holy Spirit as the dove and the holding of the slain Christ by God the Father clearly teaches the unity of the Trinity: Saul’s persecution of followers of Christ is persecution of the God that his pharisaical upbringing revered. The panel directly challenges the viewer to answer the Trinity in the same way Saul did: “What would you have me to do, Lord?”
  • Panel 4 is the Woman Clothed with the Sun. She is labeled in the Revelation as a sign (12:1), but not included in the medieval list of signs. The artist portrays the Woman just as the Scripture does: “clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.” Though many critics identify this Woman as the Virgin Mary, a continued reading of the biblical text—and a careful examination of the panel—shows that this Woman symbolizes the nation Israel whose annihilation the Dragon seeks in the Last Days. Note the dragon tail just visible at the bottom of the panel. The Jewish child is Christ who escapes the Dragon. But “the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days” (12:6). Mary is not present at the end of the world, but the nation that brought forth the Messiah is. This panel, too, points to Christ as the provision of salvation from destruction of the Last Days.

Like the Pricke of Conscience, a series of stained-glass windows also based on the Signs of the Last Days, M&G’s panels challenge the viewer to consider the Apocalypse from a personal point of view.

 

Dr. Karen Rowe Jones, M&G board member

 

Published 2023

Picture Books of the Past: Marietta Robusti

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.

Marietta Robusti’s Allegory of Wisdom is replete with both Christian and mythological symbols. (Following your video viewing click HERE to access the additional information provided on the exhibition’s text panels.)

Homeschool Days Activity Sheets: 2023-2024

Below are the Activity Sheets for M&G’s American Masters series for Homeschool Days 2023-2024 academic year.

 

September: Benjamin West: The Father of American Painting

Click HERE to access the elementary pdf.  Click HERE to access the Middle School pdf

October: Dave the Potter: Poetry in Clay

Click HERE to access the elementary pdf.  Click HERE to access the Middle School pdf

November: Louis Comfort Tiffany: Innovator of the Decorative Arts

Click HERE to access the elementary pdf.  Click HERE to access the Middle School pdf

February: Grandma Moses: America’s Folk Artist

Click HERE to access the elementary pdf.  Click HERE to access the Middle School pdf

March: Norman Rockwell: Illustrator of Small Town America

Click HERE to access the elementary pdf.  Click HERE to access the Middle School pdf

April: Georgia O’Keeffe: The Mother of American Modernism 

Click HERE to access the elementary pdf.  Click HERE to access the Middle School pdf

 

Object of the Month: July 2023

St. Barbara, St. Catherine, and St. Euphemia

Oil on panel

Unknown Rhenish School

Rhenish, active c. 1500

Although there is no biographical material on the painter of these works, we do know two facts. First, he was Rhenish (a designation coined in the 1300s referencing those who lived in a loosely defined region of Europe bordering the Rhine). Second, we know that he was active around 1500—at the height of the Renaissance. During his lifetime literacy and learning were increasing, capitalism emerging, scientific discoveries flourishing, and with the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press mass communication was transforming every aspect of European culture. In The Panorama of the Renaissance Margaret Aston notes, “The invention of printing changed the whole intellectual world forever. Without it, classical learning would have been confined to a Coterie of scholars; the reformation would have been a quarrel between theologians; popular literature would have been impossible; scientific discoveries would have languished unread” (p. 206).

This “revolution” had a tremendous influence on the visual arts as well. Artists across Europe could now readily disseminate images of their paintings, woodcuts, and engravings for critique and profit. In addition, printed versions of works like Jacobus de Voragine’s The Golden Legend reinvigorated the visual imagination. Originally compiled between 1260 and 1298, de Voragine’s hagiography (idealized biography of the saints) became the most printed book in Europe between 1470 and 1530. One 16th-century historian observed that “artists found in The Golden Legend a storehouse of events and persons to be illustrated,” and the imagery created in these “illustrations” helped codify the iconographic tradition we still reference today. For example, the figures in this panel painting are identified by their attributes—objects, clothing, colors, and symbols linked to their specific biographies. As we’ll see in our analysis, attributes may be shared by more than one saint; however, each saint usually has at least one key attribute that highlights his or her individuality.

Although St. Barbara, the first of the three saints in this panel, was one of the most popular saints during the Middle Ages, her story is most likely fictional. In Lives of the Saints, Alban Butler notes “There is considerable doubt of the existence of a virgin martyr called Barbara, and it is quite certain that her legend is spurious.” Regardless, her story is a fascinating read. According to legend, she was the beautiful daughter of Dioscorus—a wealthy Roman who built a lavish tower to hide her from the world. Dioscorus’s motivation for this sequestration varies. In some versions he is driven by protective love, in others simple cruelty. Details of her conversion also vary. In one of the more popular accounts, while her father is away on a journey Barbara invites a Christian disciple to visit her in the tower and is persuaded to accept Christianity. Soon after her conversion she summons a workman and insists that he create a third window in her tower wall. Upon his return, Dioscorus questions this architectural alteration. Barbara replies: “Three windows [symbolizing the trinity] lighten all the world and all creatures, but two make darkness.” She also reveals to her father her newfound faith. Enraged Dioscorus turns her over to the Roman authorities to be tortured. Then, at his own request, he is given a sword and “permitted to strike off her head.” But this cruel deed does not go unpunished. As Dioscorus travels home, he is struck down by a bolt of lightning and dies. In addition to the sword, Barbara’s key attributes include the sacramental cup and wafer pictured in M&G’s work and the three-windowed, cathedral-like tower shown in Jan van Eyck’s metalpoint brush drawing. The palm frond (which Romans used as a symbol of victory) is also included in van Eyck’s portrait and is a common symbol of a martyr’s triumph over death.

The sword held by the remaining two figures is also a commonly shared symbol of martyrdom by beheading. However, both figures are also pictured with an additional symbol unique to their individual narratives. Notice the broken, spiked “wheel” entwined in the hem of the central figure’s robe; this object identifies her as Catherine of Alexandria whose martyrdom involved not only a sword but also a spiked wheel.  Dr. Karen Jones covers the details of this Egyptian princess’s life and iconography in an article highlighting another M&G portrait of Catherine by Francesco Casella.

St. Euphemia is memorialized in both Catholic and Greek Orthodox hagiographic literature and art. The M&G image with its subtle blending of flesh tones and more complex figuration is characteristic of a western painting style, while the inset portrait to the right highlights the stylized form and painstaking precision of Greek icon painting. Both images, though vastly different, are equally compelling. Differences in the literary texts are minimal. In almost all versions, Euphemia is born in Chalcedon in 304 A. D. when Rome ruled the known world.  height. The narrative begins when the Chalcedon governor Priscus orders all inhabitants to attend a festival honoring the god Ares. Unwilling to participate in this pagan ritual 49 believers (including the young Euphemia) gather in a house to pray. Their hiding place is soon discovered, and the worshipers brought before Priscus. For 19 days they are tortured but all refuse to deny the faith. So Priscus sends all but Euphemia to Emperor Diocletian in Rome for execution. Separated from her fellow believers, the governor tempts her with promises of earthly blessings; still Euphemia stands firm. Enraged the governor orders her cast into fire, but the flames fail to burn her; he then sends her into the arena, but the wild animals refuse to attack her. It is here in the climax of the narrative that Greek and Catholic versions of the legend diverge. In the Greek version Euphemia prays that the Lord will allow her to die a violent death in the arena. In answer to her prayer a she-bear approaches and gives her a small wound in the leg. Blood begins to flow from the wound and eventually she dies. In the Catholic version she is eventually beheaded for neither lions nor bears will do her harm. Hence, her distinguishing attribute is either a bear or a lion like the one languidly resting at her feet in our Rhenish panel.

This is one of two panels created by this unknown master. His second panel (equally lovely) showcases Saint Margaret, Saint Ursula, and Saint Agnus. We’ll take a look at their stories in our next month’s article.

 

Donnalynn Hess, Director of Education

Additional Resources:

The Golden Legend or Lives of the Saints. Compiled by Jacobus de Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa, 1275. First Edition Published 1470. Englished by William Caxton, First Edition 1483, Edited by F.S. Ellis, Temple Classics, 1900 (Reprinted 1922, 1931.)

One Hundred and One Saints: Their Lives and Likenesses Drawn from Butler’s “Lives of the Saints and Great Works of Western Art.” A Bulfinch Press Book: Little, Brown and Company (Compilation Copyright 1993).

 

Published 2023

Object of the Month: June 2023

Jonah Under the Gourd Vine

Oil on panel, monogrammed: D.F.

Maerten van Heemskerck (attr. to)

Dutch, 1498–1574

Maerten van Heemskerck was born the son of a farmer June 1498 in the Netherlands. He left the farm to study art under Cornelis Willemsz. in Haarlem and Jan Lucasz. in Delft. Between 1527-1530, Heemskerck placed himself under the tutelage of Jan van Scorel in Haarlem. M&G’s collection includes works by Scorel and Heemskerck’s biographer, Karl van Mander. Scorel had extensively studied in Utrecht (with Jan Gossaert), Germany (with Albrecht Durer), Switzerland, Venice, Jerusalem, Cyprus, Crete, and finally Rome. During his time in Rome, his artistic style was heavily influenced by the works of Michelangelo and Raphael. Scorel brought these new artistic ideas back with him to the Netherlands and taught them to Heemskerck.

Perhaps Scorel’s adventures inspired Heemskerck. Like many today in modern society, Heemskerck planned his own summer vacation. In 1532, he set off for an adventure with the primary purpose of seeing the Seven Wonders of the World. He left a parting gift for colleagues in the form of an altarpiece for St. Luke’s altar in Bavokerk depicting St. Luke painting Mary. He landed in Rome, July 1532. On his travels, he “made accurate, conscientious sketches of antique ruins and statues” (National Gallery of Art). He also was able to view for himself the works of Michelangelo and Raphael. In 1537, he returned to Haarlem where he remained for the rest of his life. He became well known for portraits, religious paintings, and producing designs for engravers.

M&G’s Jonah Under the Gourd Vine displays elements from Heemskerck’s travels. In the background behind Jonah, he includes the Vatican Obelisk as well as a bridge over the Tiber River which he probably saw during his time in Rome. In fact, the city of Nineveh looks more like the city of Rome than a city in the Middle East. Even the figure of Jonah mimics Michelangelo’s figures in The Creation of Adam. The whole composition imitates Heemskerck’s The Last Four Things as well as his Panorama with the Abduction of Helen Amidst the Wonders of the Ancient World.

Heemskerck depicts the portion of the story of Jonah where he has finally obeyed God’s call to preach repentance to the city of Nineveh. In Jonah 1:1, God commissioned Jonah to go to Nineveh and give the city a chance to turn from evil to God. However, Jonah thought that Nineveh deserved condemnation and judgment not mercy (Jonah 4: 2), so he attempted to run in the opposite direction toward Tarshish. Jonah’s disobedience resulted in his spending three days and three nights in the belly of fish before he repented, and God mercifully rescued him. Jonah now had a second chance to obey.

Jonah consented; he went and preached repentance to Nineveh. To his surprise, the whole city repented, including the king. Instead of rejoicing over those who repented, Jonah pouted in anger. Here Heemskerck portrays Jonah taking shelter under the leaves of a gourd vine overlooking the city of Nineveh with God looking down from the heavens. Trailing from his hand is a banner inscribed with BENE IRASCOR EGO VSQVE AD MORTEM IONA CA 4 16 which communicates Jonah’s true feelings: “Rightly I myself am exceedingly angry unto death, Jonah 4:16.” Having experienced God’s mercy first-hand and himself been given a second chance, Jonah should have delighted in God’s compassion. Sadly, he placed himself in the position of telling God what he believed God should have done—to pass judgment on the Ninevites. James 1:19-20 reminds us that unlike Jonah, we should follow God’s example and be “slow to wrath.”

 

Rebekah Cobb

M&G Collections Support Staff

Published 2023

Object of the Month: May 2023

Cassone

Walnut and pastiglia

Italian, 15th century

The antique furnishings in the Museum & Gallery collection elevate each visitor’s experience of the artwork on the walls, but the pieces also provide a historical context of the eras and cultures from which the artworks sprang. Indeed, the furnishings are also artworks in themselves.

This is certainly true of the many cassoni (plural of the Italian term for “chests”) in the collection. Like other furnishings in Renaissance homes, the quality of workmanship and materials employed in decorating each cassone convey a great deal about the fashion of their times, the technologies available to craftsmen, and the wealth and social status of their owners.

Unfortunately, much has gone against their survival to our day. Cassoni were used for storage of personal items, opened and closed numerous times over the years. That wear, along with the environment in a home, infestations of termites, dry rot, changes in taste and reversals of family fortunes all conspire against the preservation of these furnishings.

These rich, showy Italian types of chests became widespread in Northern and Central Italy, particularly Tuscany (with a number of the best artists hailing from the cities of Siena and Florence). Weddings served as the occasions for which cassoni were made, and they were in fashion from the 14th-16th centuries, a period spanning the very late-Middle Ages to the beginning and middle of the Renaissance. The oldest surviving cassoni feature primitive panel designs, while later works demonstrate lavish carving, gilding, polychrome, and more complex narrative scenes.

Much like moving trucks, boxes, and barrels accompanying the establishment of new homes, cassoni had a very specific use. Practically speaking, the chests were designed to contain the bride’s dowry and jewels, her family’s contribution to the marriage, and became one of the couple’s most important household furnishings—often at the foot of the bed. They quite literally became a vehicle displaying the status, wealth and sophistication of the intermarrying families, carried in a procession (the domum ductio) from the bride’s parent’s home to her groom’s abode.

Decoratively speaking, cassoni often feature heraldic imagery relating to the families’ crests, and the pictorial panels often contained biblical, mythological, or allegorical imagery which ranged from learned and literary to humorous and light-hearted. Cassoni themselves were so common in the early- and middle-Renaissance that they’re included in Old Master paintings (most familiar may be scenes of the Annunciation in which Mary is seated on or kneeling near a cassone situated at the foot of her curtained bed) and even picture-within-picture vignettes on cassoni panels themselves.

This particular M&G cassone entered the collection in 1957, and its features suggest a date very early after 1400, likely from Tuscany. Unlike many cassoni today, which have the panels removed and presented as separate works of art in their own right, our chest is in good original condition and is structurally sound, despite surviving 600 years of use and change. The lid is still attached with its original hinges and has a simple locking mechanism. While the lid opens and closes easily, the tight fit and years of use have worn off some of the gesso along the top edge.

Composed of thick walnut planks and framing, the chest has a large front center panel decorated with gilt and polychrome over trellis-embossed gesso. Heraldic lions (possibly leopards or even hunting dogs) face each other across the front, and the two vertical end panels blossom with delicate arabesques and outline colored shields, which likely contained familial coats of arms.

Carved, fluted pilasters frame the two pictorial end panels and are topped with vague Corinthian capitals. The primitive-style narrative at the right end is now entirely obscured, but the imagery at the opposite end remains. The subject matter is indistinct and may be biblical or mythological. Most likely, perhaps, it is the myth of Diana (Artemis) and Actaeon, from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in which the bathing goddess is startled by a young hunter. In her anger, Diana turns Actaeon into a stag who is then hunted and killed by his own hounds. This identification seems to make sense of the simplistic representation of forest, pool, a stag’s head (lower right) and a hound in the left background. As an allegory or fable for a young couple, it may emphasize modesty, self control, and consequences for the lack of either or both.

This cassone provides insight into the artistry, fashion, and domestic life of those living in the early years of the Italian Renaissance and is a valuable part of the M&G collection.

 

Dr. Stephen B. Jones, M&G volunteer

 

 

Additional Resources:

The Oxford History of Western Art.  Kemp, Martin, ed.  Oxford University Press, 2000.

Pooley, Eugene.  “Scenes from a Marriage.”

https://blog.dorotheum.com/en/classic-week-florentine-school/

https://www.medieval.eu/bridal-chests-or-cassoni-from-medieval-italy/

 

 

Published 2023

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.

Holy Kinship

Holy Kinship

Vincent Sellaer, called Geldersman

Below the image, click play to listen.

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