Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Brilliance and Grace of Federico Barocci

If you will be in London between  February 27 and May 19, 2013, you might want to check out the special exhibit, Barocci: Brilliance and Grace at the National Gallery. 

Dedicated to the art of Federico Barocci (1535-1612), the show will assemble some of his greatest altarpieces and paintings, including his famous Entombment from the seaside town of Senigallia, and Last Supper from Urbino Cathedral, neither of which has ever left Italy before. And from Rome, The Visitation from the Chiesa Nuova and the Institution of the Eucharist from Santa Maria Sopra Minerva will also be displayed.

In total 14 of his most important altarpieces and devotional paintings, four of his finest portraits, and his only secular narrative (Aeneas' Flight from Troy' will be on display. Alongside these, more than 65 preparatory drawings, pastel studies and oil sketches will be on view. His exceptional preparatory drawings will demonstrate how Barocci’s pictures evolved, showcasing the fertility of his imagination and the diversity of his working methods. He was an accomplished and prolific draughtsman, planning every composition with studies in various different media, pioneering numerous techniques long before they became standard artistic practice.   

Barocci was highly esteemed during his lifetime. His work combined the beauty of the High Renaissance with the dynamism of what was to become known as the Baroque. From his earliest work, in the 1550s, he began to challenge convention by positioning his figures in dynamic spatial arrangements, anticipating by almost half a century the innovations of Baroque art. Fascinated by human and animal forms, he fused compositional harmony with a superb sensitivity to color. 

The National Gallery tells us that “Barocci was predominantly a painter of religious subjects, his approach epitomizing the clarity and accessibility required by a Catholic church, then in crisis. Barocci’s unique warmth and humanity transformed familiar gospel stories and more unusual visions into transcendent archetypes with universal appeal.”

Federico Barocci was one of the most talented and innovative artists of late 16th-century Italy. He was born in Urbino, a town that had become one of the great cultural centers of the Renaissance, and was the birthplace of his famous predecessor Raphael, by whom he was much influenced. 

According to Art News, “He emerged as a promising young painter and, in the 1550s, moved to Rome for further study. During a second trip to Rome in the 1560s, Barocci lived and worked with a number of Rome’s leading painters. After participating in a fresco project for Pope Pius IV in the Vatican, he was allegedly poisoned by jealous rivals during a picnic. Suffering severely and in need of recuperation, Barocci returned to Urbino in 1563, where he remained for the rest of his career. 

"When he died in 1612, he was not only among the highest paid painters in Italy, but also one of the most influential. Many of Barocci’s most accomplished works remain in his home region of the Marches, Italy, on the altars for which they were made. Consequently, his name has not acquired the broad recognition of distinguished predecessors such as Raphael and Michelangelo, or successors such as Rubens, who, with other Baroque artists, drew inspiration from his sumptuous color palette, expressive compositions and innovative techniques.”

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Attribution Ups Portait's Value Ten-fold!

 Apologies for the very poor quality of this image!  To better see this painting, go to Christie's website.

I was delighted this Fall to take a Renaissance art history course with Prof. Elizabeth Pilliod at Princeton’s Italian club. A very entertaining lecturer, Elizabeth is also the author of  Pontormo, Bronzino, and Allori: A Geneaologyof Florentine Art

During our penultimate class she told us about having been asked by Christie’s to write a catalog entry about a Portrait of Francesco I de' Medici that was to go up for auction at their Old Masters and British Paintings Evening Sale in London on Dec. 4th.

Heretofore the painting had long been attributed only to an anonymous 16th century Florentine, but after doing some research, Elizabeth concluded that it was painted by FrancescoMorandini, called il Poppi (Poppi 1544-1597 Florence?). Morandini was a student of and collaborated with the artist and biographer, Giorgio Vasari (1511 – 1574).    

I was fascinated to learn about Elizabeth’s research process and to hear that her attribution of the work to Morandini caused Christie’s to put aside their original sale estimate of around $25,000 in favor of a new estimate of $96,180 - $128,240! Brava!

I went straight home and looked up Christi’s sale catalog to read her essay. Really interesting stuff … right up my alley! Unfortunately, I’m not able to find the pre-sale catalog on-line anymore, but the article is reproduced in the Lot Notes, without the accompanying secondary images, which added dimension to the intriguing tale. 

The sale took place during the ensuing week, and Elizabeth opened our last class by telling us the actual price realized … $253,015 … double the revised estimate ... and ten times the original estimate! Too bad she received a fixed fee for her work – as any honest professional art historian would – rather than a percentage!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Bernini's Bozzetti and Modelli

The temporary exhibit I've just seen at the Metropolitan Museum in NYC was right up my alley! Bernini: Sculpting in Clay was so informative for the Jane’s Smart Art Guides audio guide to the Fountains of Rome, Part 2: Fountains of the Acqua Felice.  (Part 1: Fountains of the Acqua Vergine will be available for download in a few weeks!) 

Among the fountains I’ll cover in Part 2 are Bernini’s Four Rivers and Il Moro in Piazza Navona, and Il Tritone in the Piazza Barberini, so it was fascinating to see the artist’s preliminary terracotta work for many of the marble figures in those fountains.  

Bernini: Sculpting in Clay looks at how Bernini changed the face on Rome during the course of his long 17th century career. The show features 39 of Gian-Lorenzo Bernini’s 52 known works in clay, along with some 30 related sketches. Besides the fountain sculpture, the exhibit also considers much of his other sculptural work, including Blessed Ludovica Albertoni (Altieri Chapel, San Francesco a Ripa, Trastevere) and The Ecstasy of St Theresa (Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome).

During the first stages of realizing a design, Bernini used clay to conceptualize his ideas, starting with very loosely worked bozzetti (from the Italian word abbozzare, “to sketch”). Once he’d achieved a design he was happy with he usually made a larger, more finished clay figure called a modello. He might show the modello to a patron or give it to an assistant to use as a guide for carving the much larger marble figure. In themselves Bernini’s modelli are awesome works of sculpture displaying a wealth of texture and details.

On the walls adjacent to the sketches on paper and the clay models are large pictures of the actual marble sculptures that resulted, providing real insight into Bernini’s artistic process from start to finish.

If you’ve seen Bernini’s Four Rivers Fountain (c.1650), you may remember the beautiful marble lion that emerges from a cavern in the rock to take a drink from the pool. Here was that lion, crouching as if to drink from a stream, modelled at half size. Even in clay, one can sense the power and alertness of the beast, despite the stillness of the moment. 

Bernini: Sculpting in Clay runs through January 6th at the Met, and then can be seen at the KimbellArt Museum in Ft. Worth TX, Feb 3rd - April 14th, 1213.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Long Arm of the Law

24 years after they were stolen from the Solomon Gallery on Madison Avenue in NYC, four important contemporary paintings -- by Robert Motherwell, Franz Kline, Jean Dubuffet, and Fernand Leger -- have been recovered in Cologne, Germany.

On July 4th, 1988, an unidentified intruder picked the locks of the gallery and made off with six paintings. At the time, the theft was reported to the NYPD, the FBI, and Interpol, and was registered with the International Foundation for Art Research and with the Art Loss Register.

Here's the story as released today by the Art Loss Register: “An oil on canvas by Karel Appel,was the first work to resurface and was recovered in 2003 when a German art dealer searched the ALR Database through his lawyer in Stuttgart, Germany. The dealer claimed to have purchased five of the six stolen works on a buying trip in New York but the lawyer could produce no documentation of the sale and refused to divulge the name of his client to authorities.

A German public prosecutor issued a warrant for aiding and abetting the sale of stolen goods but a police raid of the lawyer's home and office failed to uncover the other pictures. According to law enforcement, all references to the dealer had been removed from the firm's case files and in a bizarre series of events, one law firm partner was charged with threatening a police officer involved in the raid.

The sudden focus on the law firm meant the lawyer could no longer represent the art dealer who quickly retained new counsel. Hiding behind this second lawyer, a criminal specialist from Munich, the German dealer once again refused to cooperate and the case went cold.

Over the course of the next nine years, no attempts were made to contact the ALR or authorities over the stolen pictures. Finally, in 2012 the daughter of the now deceased dealer contacted the Dedalus Foundation in New York to authenticate the stolen Motherwell. The daughter, a fine art professional, had also approached a local auction house but was quickly referred back to the ALR. The ALR Recovery Team immediately flew to Cologne where they met with police authorities and positively identified the works as the paintings stolen in 1988.

Christopher A. Marinello, a lawyer who specialises in recovering stolen and looted artwork for the ALR, negotiated the return of the four paintings with the lawyer for the family. ‘At the Art Loss Register, we're going to make life difficult for those who attempt to sell stolen art. You can hide behind lawyers and look for loopholes in civil law jurisdictions, but eventually you're going to have to deal with some very uncomfortable issues. The problem will not simply disappear with the passage of time. Leaving stolen artworks to the next generation is a losing proposition.’

Marinello credits authorities in the US and Germany for their strong support: ‘International cooperation among law enforcement is alive and well when it comes to recovering stolen art. The determination and tenacity of Special Agent Meredith A. Savona of the FBI Art Crime Team, NYPD Detective Mark Fishstein and the Cologne Police Department were critical in bringing these pictures home.’

Despite this auspicious ending one final work remains unrecovered. Mulberry Centre by Franz Kline appears to have been separated from the others.”

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Museum Attendance Up In 2011

Attendance at museums was up in 2011.

The Louvre drew more than 8.8 million visitors last year — a 5% increase from a year earlier. Far more Russians and Chinese visited than ever before, but Americans remained the most numerous.

The Museo del Prado, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, and the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, which together form the triangular Art Walk in Madrid, also broke attendance recvords in 2011. The Prado itself saw just shy of 3 million visitors, plus another 864,000 who attended the two Prado International exhibitions held in St. Petersburg and Tokyo.

And … lest you think attendance is up only at the world’s top museums, special exhibits at regional museums have been drawing record crowds. The Detroit Institute of Arts, for example, has broken recent attendance records with their Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus exhibit. An exhibition that explored the history of graffiti and street art brought record-setting crowds into the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, attracting 201,352 visits over 81 days.

At the same time, sadly, the AP reports that Bosnia's oldest and most prestigious cultural institutions have begun closing their doors as a result of long-standing disputes among politicians from its three ethnic groups, and dwindling state funding. In 2011, the seven institutions — among them the 125-year-old National Museum whose collection includes the famed 600-year-old Jewish manuscript known as the Sarajevo Haggadah — received virtually no funding from authorities in the Balkan nation and can no longer finance their work or even cover their utility bills.