Saturday, December 13, 2008

Dali's Dalliance With Mass Production

Salvador Dali apparently labored less for art than for his purse.

In May 1973, a witness affirmed that, at the Hotel Meurice in Paris, Dali had signed 4000 sheets of paper, weighing in at about 750 pounds! The following year, French customs agents waylaid a small truck heading to Andorra loaded with 40,000 blank pieces of paper signed by Dali.

Apparently, “on a good day”, the Surrealist was capable of signing 1800 sheets in an hour, with the assistance of three helpers who whisked the papers under and out from under his pen. Now that’s a surreal image! He joked about what easy, profitable work it was.

Needless to say, questionable
Dali lithographs have been surfacing in Europe, the US and Canada in recent years.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Is Culture Just Politics By A Different Name?

The frieze, the metopes and the wondrous pediments that constitute the Parthenon Marbles represent the acme of classical Greek art, and Athens' fantasitc new Acropolis Museum now provides a proper display for the parts of the Marbles which remain in Greece.

The remainder famously, or infamously, are owned by London’s British Museum, having been "rescued" in the early 19th century by the Scottish aristocrat Thomas Bruce, seventh earl of Elgin, from the neglect of the Ottoman regime that then occupied Greece.

Peter Aspden's article, A manifesto for the Parthenon Marbles, (Financial Times Nov 29th) navigates through the controversy-laden history of the Marbles with clarity and thoughtfulness.

As he unfolds the history of the separation of the marbles, Aspden wonders if the positions of Athens and London ever be reconciled. A self-described "interested observer and of Anglo-Greek parentage", he has spent years following the arguments on both sides of the issue, and here proposes a five-point reconciliation plan to help break the deadlock.

Aspden points out, “We owe it to the remarkable humanistic legacy of ancient Greece to move forward on this vexed issue; for culture is politics by a different name, and if we cannot decide on the future of a few marble stones, what chance do we have to do the right thing for all the world’s dislocated peoples?”

Friday, December 05, 2008

Quelle Surprise! C'est un Tiepolo!

I do love stories about extraordinary artworks that have been lost -- sometimes not even known to be lost -- turning up in attics or behind bedroom doors (see my Nov 14 , 2006 post, and Dec 17, 2007).

Imagine the shock: rummaging around in Grandmamma's attic and finding a Tiepolo! Of course the rummaging was taking place in the attic of a French château, so the discovery would perhaps have been less of a surprise than if the family home were a farmhouse in Kansas. Nonetheless ... how exciting!

The rediscovered masterpiece, Portrait of a lady as Flora, by the great Italian artist Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770), had been hidden two or three generations ago because of the semi-naked subject. It is thought to have originated as part of a series of pictures commissioned by Empress Elizabeth of Russia (1709-1762), probably intended for the Winter Palace.

This is one for Antiques Roadshow ... the painting was just sold at auction for $4,227,780!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

125 Reasons to go to Amsterdam

125 years ago, the Rembrandt Association was founded by a group of individuals who were bent on keeping and returning significant works of Dutch art to the country. In the late 19th Century there was little governmental support for retaining important works of art, and the museums didn't have the financial resources to compete for acquisitions with foreign collectors. The Rembrandt Association began bringing works by artists such as Rembrandt van Rijn, Jan Davidsz de Heem and Hendrick TerBrugghen back to the Netherlands. In its 125 year history, the Association has participated in the purchase of more than 2500 works for public ownership.

2008 marks the 125th anniversary of the Rembrandt Association. To celebrate the occasion a major exhibition is being mounted at Amsterdam's fabulous Van Gogh Museum. It will run 3 October 2008 - 18 January 2009.

More than thirty Dutch museums have collaborated to stage this one-time exhibition showcasing a selection of the best works of art the Rembrandt Society has helped them to acquire over the years.

It was due to the Association’s efforts that paintings by Rembrandt and Vermeer were purchased for public collections. In later years the Association also turned its attention to foreign and modern works of art, which enabled museums to become more than simply temples of the Dutch artistic heritage. In this exciting exhibition some 125 of the most important and striking acquisitions will be shown together for the first and only time.

The Van Gogn Museum website provides details of the five sections of the exhibit: 1) key purchases of the last 125 years; 2) works of Dutch art that returned to the Netherlands and works that were retained in the country; 3) old masters by non-Dutch artists; 4) modern and contemporary art; and 5) a selection of acquisitions of the last ten years.

The Van Gohn Museum is also home to the world's largest Van Gogh collection.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Rodin in New Mexico, Philadelphia and Paris

LAS CRUCES, NM – If you plan to be anywhere near Las Cruces between now and November 22, check out the special exhibit at the Las Cruces Museum of Art: Rodin: In His Owns Words. The show features forty-two sculptures and related works by French artist Auguste Rodin (1840 – 1917). Free admission. The exhibit includes bronzes of various sizes, a selection of photographs and portraits of Rodin, as well as journal entries and letters by the artist. Accompanying the show is an educational exhibit on the lost-wax casting process, the traditional method for creating bronze sculptures.

Auguste Rodin was a pioneer in sculpture, creating bold impressionistic pieces that have been exhibited at museums worldwide. Sculptures on exhibit will include such well-known works as The Thinker, Head of Balzac, and The Burghers of Calais, First Maquette. “Rodin: In His Own Words” offers ae rare opportunity to view these masterpieces in person … unless of course you’re in Paris, and can get to the exquisite Musee Rodin at 79 Rue de Varenne. It’s a gem, and the garden is not to be missed. Or, to the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia, at Benjamin Frnklin Parkway at 22nd St.

Throughout the run of the Las Cruces exhibition, the Museum -- located at 491 N. Main -- will be hosting a series of special events. On the second Saturday of each month, the Las Cruces Friends of Chamber Music will present “Musical Reflections on the Life and Times of Rodin.” The Museum of Art will also host a guest lecture series including New Mexico sculptor Michael Naranjo and Matthew Palczynski, Staff Lecturer for the Philadelphia Museum of Art (which administers the Rodin Museum in Philly.)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Quest and Quandary in Art Restoration

The mere suggestion that we might one day go to Prague started me poking around the web. (I'm always on the lookout for new Jane's Smart Art audio guide must-see sites!) I came across this ...

To help guide the restoration of the original Dürer altarpiece, The Feast of the Rose Garlands, the National Gallery in Prague is trying to track down an important lost copy.

The altarpiece was painted by Albrecht Dürer in 1506, during his stay in Venice, commissioned by German merchants for their chapel in the parish Church of San Bartolomeo. According to CultureKiosk, the patrons selected the theme: the painting depicts an ideal congregation of the Brotherhood of the Rosary. The Virgin with the Infant Christ, and Saint Dominic and angels dispense a symbolic blessing in the form of rose garlands. On the left are representatives of the clergy with the Pope at their head, while on the right representatives of secular power receive the blessing. Among these is a portrait the Holy Roman Emperor-in-waiting, Maximilian I. Undoubtedly the other figures portray prominent personages of the German colony in Venice. The man standing under a tree to the right is Dürer himself.

Dürer was proud of his achievement, writing to a friend in Nuremberg that "there is no better Madonna picture in the land than mine".

Considered a landmark work in the transition between the late Gothic and the Renaissance, contemporary writings tell us that the painting drew crowds of visitors from all over Europe. The Emperor Rudolf II was determined to acquire it at any cost.

The painting remained in the church in Venice for a century, until in 1606 when it was removed by Emperor Rudolph II for his art collection, and taken to Prague. The Durer was replaced by an Assumption of the Virgin painted by Johann Rottenhammer. But, before the Dürer altarpiece was removed, Rottenhammer painted a copy of it.

The original of The Feast of the Rose Garlands suffered a series of damages -- first while in Venice, then as it was carried over the Alps by four bearers, and yet again after its arrival in Prague. By the end of the 17th century, a considerable amount of the paint had been lost.

The Art Newspaper tells us that it was completely restored in 1841 by artist Johann Gruss. By modern standards his restoration was very crude -- for instance, he omitted a life-size trompe l'oeil fly which Dürer had painted on the Virgin's white drapery. A proper restoration must grapple with the difficult question as to whether there should be relatively minor conservation to remove the most glaring defects of the 1841 repainting, or a full restoration which would radically change the picture's appearance and return it closer to Dürer's original.

A very old black-and-white photograph of The Feast of the Rose Garlands exists, and there are several 17th-century copies, but the earliest and most accurate version is that by Rottenhammer. That copy originally went to the Palazzo Grimani in Venice, where it stayed until 1839. It then was sent to England where it was later purchased, in 1905, for £50, by the distinguished collector Herbert Cook. The picture was still in the Cook collection in 1945, which means that it was not looted on the continent during World War II, as some art historians had feared. It was later sold to a London-based gallery which has since closed. That's when the trail went cold.

Since it is known to have survived World War II, the chances of it being out there somewhere are very high. Check your attic!

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters

One of the grand things about life in central New Jersey is the proximity of the world-class museums in Manhattan and Philadelphia, as well as exceptional smaller museums like that at Princeton University and the Zimmerli at Rutgers.

This fall, the Zimmerli Art Museum in New Brunswick is showing Dark Dreams: The Prints of Francisco Goya, an exhibition of 100 prints demonstrating Goya’s technical and creative achievements as a printmaker. The exhibition will present two complete suites of prints by Goya (1746-1828), Los Caprichos and Los Disparates. In addition, a special display of 12 works by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Enrique Chagoya (born 1953) and Yinka Shonibare MBE (born 1962) demonstrates the continuing impact of Goya’s imagery and imagination on successive generations of artists.

The exhibition features Goya’s first major series of etchings, Los Caprichos (1799), comprising eighty works treating subjects ranging from witches and goblins to critical commentary on the contemporary state of education, religion, and relations between different social classes of that time. Later, Goya revisited the monstrous themes of Los Caprichos in the late etchings he referred to as Los Disparates (“Follies”), which he created between 1816 and 1824. The exhibition also includes Bullfight in a Divided Ring (1825), from the series of The Bulls of Bordeaux, a late work demonstrating Goya’s success with the new medium of lithography. The rare first-edition Goya prints in the exhibition are generously lent by the Arthur Ross Foundation, New York.

The exhibition opened on September 2 and will continue through December 14, '08. Apparently everyone is invited to a public celebration at the museum next Tuesday, September 16, from 5 to 7pm.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Would That I Could Get to the Getty

LOS ANGELES - To celebrate Italian Language Week, the J. Paul Getty Museum is offering a special one-hour overview -- in italiano -- of the current exhibition: Bernini and the Birth of Baroque Portrait Sculpture.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) is considered the greatest Baroque sculptor, and his unparalleled talent as a portrait sculptor transformed the practice and earned him the patronage of the Catholic Church and nobility in 17th- century Rome. Co-organized by the J. Paul Getty Museum and the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa , Bernini and the Birth of Baroque Portrait Sculpture is the first major exhibition of Bernini's work in North America and the first ever comprehensive exhibition of the artist's portrait busts.

On view at the Getty Center through October 26, 2008 , the special exhibition also includes Bernini's portrait drawings, as well as portrait busts by other important sculptors in 17th-century Rome such as Francesco Mochi, François Duquesnoy, Giuliano Finelli, and Alessandro Algardi. If you’ve been to Rome, you know Bernini. If you’ve listened to the Jane’s Smart Art audio guide to St. Peter’s Basilica, you’re also familiar with the work of Mochi, Duquesnoy, and Algardi.

As a complement to the Baroque portraiture exhibit, the Getty Center has mounted another temporary exhibit at , Faces of Power and Piety: Medieval Portraiture -- also through October 26, 2008.
The goal of medieval portraiture was to present a subject not at a particular moment in time, but as the person wished to be remembered through the ages. “While modern portraiture strives to capture the accurate likeness of a specific person, medieval portraiture was primarily valued for its ability to express an individual’s social status, religious convictions, or political position,” says Elizabeth Morrison, curator of manuscripts, J. Paul Getty Museum.

Art Daily provides a schedule of related lectures, gallery talks, & concerts in Sept and Oct.

New operating hours and parking fees
Henceforth, the Getty Center will close at 5:30 pm (a half hour earlier than previously) on Sundays and Tuesday through Friday. Saturdays it will remain open until 9pm. The Getty Center is closed on Mondays. Ticketed events and performances will still be presented on Friday evenings, but the galleries will not be open to the general public. Getty Villa hours will remain unchanged.

Admission to both Museums remains free.

In addition, beginning on Sept. 9, parking fees at both the Getty Center and the GettyVilla increased from $8 to $10.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Grand Canal Gets 4th Bridge, Finally

VENICE - Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava’s new Venetian bridge has been taking a beating from the critics. Focusing largely on its high cost, the local government has decided not to officially inaugurate it on September 18 as planned.

The first bridge constructed in Venice in 125 years, it connects the train station to the vehicular area of Piazzale Roma. It represents a decided break with the traditional architecture of the city.

An exquisitely historic thoroughfare, the the Grand Canal is lined with ancient palaces. Among them are the Ca’ Rezzonico, Ca’ d’Oro, Ca’ Foscari, Palazzo Barbarigo and the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, which houses the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. The churches along the canal include the basilica of Santa Maria della Salute. Centuries-old tradition such as the Historical Regatta take place every year along the Canal.

The famous stone Rialto Bridge that stands today was built in 1591, but was preceded by, first, a pontoon bridge erected in 1181, then a timber bridge built in 1255. For centuries this was the only bridge crossing over the Grand Canal. In the 1800s two more bridges, the Ponte degli Scalzi and the Ponte dell’Accademia, were built. There’s a nice little history of the Rialto Bridge on Wikipedia.

During the long period of construction, Calatrava's bridge project went though numerous structural changes because of the mechanical instability of the structure, and the excessive weight of the bridge which would cause the bank of the canal to fail. Over 10 years the project was inspected by at least eight different consultants, and the cost grew to more than three times original projections.

Santiago Calatrava Valls (b 1951) is an internationally recognized, award-winning Spanish architect, sculptor and structural engineer. His early career was dedicated largely to bridges and train stations, and his style has been heralded as bridging the division between structural engineering and architecture. Calatrava is currently designing the future train station at Ground Zero in New York City. He has also designed three bridges that will eventually span the Trinity River in Dallas. Construction of the first bridge, named after donor Margaret Hunt Hill, has been repeatedly delayed due to – once again — high costs. If and when completed, Dallas will join the Dutch county of Haarlemmermeer in having three Calatrava bridges.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Special Exhibits: Dali in Istanbul / El Greco in Zaragoza

I’ve learned to scan my art-related news sources super-quickly — otherwise I get sucked into daydreaming about traveling hither and yon to experience all the great art the world has to offer!

I've struck upon an excuse to pause in my scanning, when something grabs my interest, to pass it along in this blog to the traveling art-afficionados among you who might be in the enviable position to actually be able to hie yourselves hither!

Istanbul - Istanbul’s Sakip Sabanci Museum will host a huge modern art exhibition of 270 works by the late Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali, from September 19 until January 19.

With 33 oil paintings, 113 sketches and 123 graphics, it will be the largest ever mounted by the Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation outside the artist’s Catalan hometown of Figueres.

In 2005 and 2006 a major exhibition of works by another Spanish painter, Pablo Picasso, broke all records for a Turkish gallery, attracting a quarter of a million art lovers, so this show opens with high expectations for another blockbuster.

While you’re there be sure to check out the Museum’s permanent collection, which includes early Turkish painting as well as the works of foreign artists who worked in Istanbul during the later years of the Ottoman Empire; 500 years of the art of Ottoman calligraphy; and exhibited in the garden of the Museum, archaeological stone pieces of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman eras.

Zaragoza - Last week an exhibition “El Greco. Toledo 1900″ opened in the recently renovated Paraninfo Building of the University of Zaragoza until November 30.
The exhibition of 27 canvases produced by El Greco and his workshop, is a gathering of works which have hung in different public and private collections in the city of Toledo. Among the canvases is a group of portraits of the Covarrubias brothers, sons of the architect who designed the Cathedral in Toledo.

Admission to the exhibit is free. The open hours are Monday through Saturday 10am – 2pm and 5pm - 9pm (only 5pm - 9pm on Fri Sept 19); Sunday and holidays from 10am to 2pm.

From the Art Daily Newsletter: “El Greco was born in Crete, which was at that time part of the Republic of Venice, and the centre of Post-Byzantine art. He trained and became a master within that tradition before travelling at age 26 to Venice, as other Greek artists had done. In 1570 he moved to Rome, where he opened a workshop and executed a series of works. During his stay in Italy, El Greco enriched his style with elements of Mannerism and of the Venetian Renaissance. In 1577 he moved to Toledo, Spain, where he lived and worked until his death. In Toledo, El Greco received several major commissions and produced his best known paintings.

“El Greco’s dramatic and expressionistic style was met with puzzlement by his contemporaries but found appreciation in the 20th century. El Greco is regarded as a precursor of both Expressionism and Cubism, while his personality and works were a source of inspiration for poets and writers such as Rainer Maria Rilke and Nikos Kazantzakis. El Greco has been characterized by modern scholars as an artist so individual that he belongs to no conventional school. He is best known for tortuously elongated figures and often fantastic or phantasmagorical pigmentation, marrying Byzantine traditions with those of Western painting. ”

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Andrea della Robbia Injured in Fall

Can you imagine how it would feel to arrive at work one sunny summer morning to find a prized 15thC work of art – an Andrea della Robbia glazed terracotta relief sculpture – lying in pieces on the floor?

"Heartsick" I think would be the word for it.

Sadly, that happened this morning at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Apparently, the metal mounts that held 62-x-32-inch relief on the wall over a doorway gave out sometime during the night. The wood-framed lunette, Saint Michael the Archangel, fell to the stone floor below, crashing into pieces.

Della Robbia’s blue-and-white lunette of Saint Michael, dressed in armor and holding a sword and the scales of justice, was commissioned c. 1475 for the church of San Michele Arcangelo in Faenza, a small town between Bologna and Ravenna. The church was dismantled around 1798, and the Saint Michael ended up in private hands. It was acquired at auction by the Metropolitan Museum in 1960.

Curators and conservators were at work this morning assessing the situation. Their preliminary inspection indicates that the relief was not irreparably damaged, that it can be repaired and again put on display. The European Paintings and Decorative Arts Galleries will be temporarily closed, until the sculpture is transferred to the conservation area of the Museum for a full assessment of the damage.

Friday, June 06, 2008

What constitutes a “Major” museum?

What constitutes a “Major” museum? This announcement from gives us one way of looking at it:

Philippe de Montebello – the eighth and longest-serving Director of
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York – announced in January his plans to retire at the end of the year. To celebrate Mr. de Montebello’s long stint as Director, the curators of the Museum announced plans today for an exhibition of approximately 300 of the more than 84,000 works of art acquired during his 31-year tenure. The project will be a collaboration of the curators currently working in the Museum’s 17 curatorial departments.

The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions will be on view in The Tisch Galleries from October 24, 2008, through February 1, 2009. With so much to choose from, the 300 selected items promise to be significant. It's on my calendar.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Perhaps Nothing Is Meant To Last Forever

I suppose I’ve never actually thought about it until now, but I think I’ve been fooled into a subconscious assumption that modern science and civilized conscience can indefinitely protect whatever fragments of ancient life remain to us. But learning of yet another World Heritage Site in peril makes me realize that “indefinitely” is an unrealistically long time.

It’s been known since 2006 that melanin, a black pigment produced by a bacteria, has been staining the walls and permanently affecting the 17,000 year old cave paintings of Lascaux, in France.

According to CultureGrrl, Lascaux's administrators have been implementing an aggressive treatment they call "decolorization" to remove the melanin by physically scraping the affected areas. The scraping not only removes the melanin but also layers of the walls' surface, whether painted or unpainted, thus irrevocably altering one of mankind's most famous works of art.

While French officials assert the cave is close to reaching a microbiological equilibrium, members of the International Committee for the Preservation of Lascaux strongly disagree. They claim that just the opposite is happening. They can't both be right. We can only hope that this is not a case in which the cure is worse than the disease.

An incalculable amount of human creativity has been eradicated by war, arrogance and simple unmindfulness – realities of the human condition. But there’s something particularly sad about the destruction resulting from misguided preservation efforts. Our documentary use of today’s photographic technologies may be some consolation for generations to come who at least will have some visual evidence of what’s been lost. But they may well be saddened by the fact that they have the technology that could save what we couldn’t.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Valuing Art

I'm afraid I just don't get why a 4000 year old clay tablet from the fabled Sumarian city of Ur is expected to sell for just £30,000-40,000 at auction, while Jeff Koons’ and Damien Hirst’s work sells for multi-millions of dollars. I'd never make it in the art valuation business!

The clay tablet, dated to 2046-2038 B.C., is listed at Bonhams as Lot 145. The columns of cuneiform text record the administration of domestic animals, and lists the manner in which the flocks were divided during the course of one year. Some were marked as being for government supplies, while others were destined to be supplies for the officially supported religious cults.

The tablet provides a remarkable insight into the daily life of this ancient civilisation and details the particular manner in which animals of one type are distinguished from others within their group. Sheep, for instance, are described as grass-fed or grain-fed, unplucked or plucked, which shows the importance placed upon specific features of the livestock.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

News Flash: Oil painting NOT invented in 15th C Europe!

It’s been 7 years since the Taliban blew up two ancient colossal Buddha statues in the Afghan region of Bamiyan. What wasn’t widely reported at the time was that behind the statues were caves -- decorated with precious paintings from 5th to 9th century A.D. -- which also suffered damage.

According to ArtDaily Newsletter, the paintings are probably the work of artists who traveled on the Silk Road, the ancient trade route between China and the West, across Central Asia's desert.

Now a World Heritage site, thanks to UNESCO support for a conservation project, the Bamiyan paintings have recently become the source of a major discovery for art historians.

Painted in the mid-7th century A.D., the murals show scenes with Buddhas in vermilion robes sitting cross-legged amid palm leaves and mythical creatures. As a result of experiments performed at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), the scientists discovered that 12 out of the 50 caves were painted with oil painting technique, using perhaps walnut and poppy seed oils.

The Bamiyan cave murals predate by hundreds of years the first documented use of oil paint in Europe. Art history books have long proposed that oil painting was invented in 15th century Europe.

I was thinking about the Taliban’s destruction of the colossal Buddha statues at Bamiyan just a couple of weeks ago. It was hearing about the mind-bendingly oblivious Finnish tourist who broke off part of the ear of an Easter Island Maoi statue that got me thinking about the destruction of ancient art by humans.

There are nearly 900 moai on Easter Island, in various stages of construction, some of them more than 33ft tall and weighing more than 80 tons. The statues are believed to be up to 1,000 years old, representing Polynesian ancestors. Rapa Nui National Park, in which the moai are situated, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.

My reaction to the Taliban’s desecration was utter shock … and disbelief that people can be so full of hatred. My reaction to the Finnish fool’s desecration was a flare-up of anger … and disbelief that a person can be so selfish and ignorant. Was he drunk? Showing off? Or was he just arrogant and self-centered? When the vandal broke the earlobe off, it fell to the ground and shattered into small pieces, which he then attempted to steal. His spokeswoman said, "He really didn't realize the magnitude of his actions. We all make mistakes in our lives, and this was his mistake." And what a whopper is was!

In the end … is there any difference between the politically-motivated destruction of antiquities and that inspired by individual stupidity? The damage is done.

Monday, March 03, 2008

The Return of Samson & Delilah

Not long after his return from Italy in 1608, Rubens was commissioned to paint a Samson and Delilah for Nicolaas Rockox. Rockox was a wealthy and influential Antwerp burgher who was a great friend to Rubens and who become one of his greatest patrons.

If you've listened to my Jane's Smart Art audio guide to Antwerp Cathedral, you know that Rockox had a hand in commissioning Rubens to paint the magnificent Arquebusiers' Guild altarpiece, The Descent From the Cross -- for which Rubens expressed his appreciation by including a portrait of his friend on one of the side panels.

And if you've seen the Descent, you'll recognize the old woman who here peers over Delilah's shoulder. Rubens often repeated certain figural types that he'd used successfully in previous works ... which was one way he was able to be so prolific.

Although we're not told how it came to pass, The Art Newspaper tells us that, from 1700 until 1880, the Samson and Delilah was in the collection of the Prince of Liechtenstein, and then was sold to the National Gallery, London. The "return" of the title refers to the loan of the painting to the now-closed exhibition in Rockoxhuis, Antwerp, as well as to its appearance at the Palais Liechtenstein where it is now being shown (through 25 May, 2008) along with other works collected by Rockox.

I'd say this is a "don't miss" opportunity if you find yourself anywhere near Vienna in the next three months.

Monday, February 18, 2008

"The Most Beautiful Drawing inthe World"

People generally don't think of Birmingham, Alabama as a destination city for art, but there's now a good reason for art afficionados to plan a visit this Fall:

The Birmingham Museum of Art has just announced that between September 28 and November 9, 2008 it will be host to one of the most significant collections of Leonardo da Vinci drawings. This will be the first time the Biblioteca Reale (Royal Library) in Turin, Italy has made the collection available, in its entirety, outside of Italy.

Among the most celebrated of the Turin sheets is the preparatory sketch of the angel for the first version of the Madonna of the Rocks (ca. 1483), originally intended for a chapel altarpiece in the church of San Francesco Grande in Milan. Its powerful and expressive silverpoint parallel hatching led art critic and connoisseur Bernard Berenson (1865-1959) to describe it as the “most beautiful drawing in the world.

The works date from about 1480 to 1510 -- the most fertile period of da Vinci's career --and demonstrate his acutely observant, imaginative, and intellectual faculties. The collection includes one of his most celebrated notebooks, the Codex on the Flight of Birds, and 11 important drawings, including anatomical studies and utilitarian working drawings; one sheet includes a fragment of a poem. They are executed in a variety of media, including chalks, metal point, and pen and ink—some on color-prepared paper.

Quite a coup for the Birmingham Museum, and worth a trip.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Going Beneath The Surface

X-ray technology is used in the art world to see beneath the surface of paintings, and under plaster on walls, to document the artist's process and to find lost works. This is done despite the fact that x-rays can damage the organic pigments ... I presume, because the learning is deemed to outweigh the risks.

According to the Discovery Channel, however, there’s a benign form of electromagnetic radiation that is beginning to be used in the art world. Most of us have never heard of T-rays (terahertz rays), although the technology has been in use by electrical engineers for decades. The new technique should be able to detect particular pigments in old artwork that other types of scans miss -- such as sanguine, a reddish-brown color that Flemish painters often used.
Right now T-ray images are only generated in black and white, but scientists are working on developing the technology to produce color images. From what I understand there are just two T-ray machines currently being used for scanning art, and only one of them is portable. Researchers at the University of Michigan are planning on using it to find murals hidden beneath layers of plaster in centuries-old churches in France.
I'd wager that we're going to be hearing alot more about T-ray scanning projects in coming years.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Might David Really Leave Florence?

If you’ve ever battled the tourist crowds in Florence, and stood in line waiting to get into the Accademia to see Michelangelo’s magnificent David, you’ll understand at least part of the proposal being made by Tuscany's cultural chief, Paolo Cocchi, to move the statue to a new location some distance outside of the city center. He argues that moving David would ease tourist congestion in the historic center of Florence, and says, ''Keeping him in a museum where hundreds of tourists have to line a 45-cm wide pavement doesn't seem the best place for him''.

Opposition to the idea came fast and furious.

The idea of taking David out of his newly improved setting at the Galleria dell'Accademia elicited a quick response from the head of the city's museums, Cristina Acidini, who cited the millions of euros the city recently spent cleaning the statue and installing sophisticated anti-pollution systems to protect it.

According to, “Officials at the Accademia stressed it would be 'extremely risky' to move the masterpiece out of the building that has been its home since 1873, when it was removed from its original position in front of Palazzo Vecchio.

“‘The home of David must be in the centre of Florence, for historical reasons,’ said Accademia director Franca Falletti. Branding Cocchi's suggestion ‘absolutely out of the question,’ she recalled the statue's fragility. An eight-month restoration to get it ready for its 500th birthday in 2004 revealed structural frailty, especially in the ankles, and the continuing impact on its surface of the bad air and street dirt brought in by millions of tourists.

“In the light of these risks, some art experts even suggested the statue should be moved to the Accademia's cellar.”

Fortunately, a less radical solution was implemented. Instead of being removed from public view, the David was placed behind an insulating barrier of circulating air, whereby streams of air protect it against the dust and particles which could further corrode its delicate surface. Special carpeting traps dirt as visitors approach the sculpture.

Given the cultural, historical, and conservation issues that are being raised in opposition to Cocchi’s proposal, my guess is that people wanting to see David century from now will still inch along, single-file, on the same narrow sidewalk as they do today.