Archive for the ‘Object of the Month.2013’ Category

Object of the Month: December 2013

The Adoration of the Shepherds

Oil on panel

Hans von Aachen

German, 1552-1615

At Christmas, our thoughts naturally turn to gifts. Given a choice, would you choose a large package or a small one? Perhaps it would be wise to remember the adage, “Good things come in small packages.” That sentiment is certainly true of M&G’s Object of the Month, a small painting (9.25” x 7”) that is like a precious jewel in a small gift box.

In addition to the Holy Family and the shepherds, the crowded scene includes women, another child, barn animals, the requisite angels tumbling from heaven, and a huge mastiff. Other innovative additions include bagpipes and a shovel. Far in the background the light of the angelic host can be seen illuminating the hillside. The painting is housed in a tabernacle-type frame with decorative gold tooling and stone insets. Tabernacle frames often held large pieces of art; this version captures the architectural features in miniature.

Aachen lived in Italy from 1574–1588, studying the great Italian masters, and in 1592 he became Court Painter to Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II in Prague, a prestigious position that entailed diplomatic as well as artistic responsibilities. Rudolf was the greatest patron of the arts of his time, acquiring works by Dürer, Brueghel, and Veronese as well as works of contemporary northern Mannerist artists such as Aachen, Archimboldo, Spranger, and Savery.

The provenance, or history, of the painting can be traced to English ownership in 1834. English collectors of the nineteenth century amassed great quantities of art, much of it available because of wars and unrest in Europe. This work was part of an 1834 bequest to the Fitzwilliam Museum of Cambridge University; they retained ownership until 1959 when it was sold at Sotheby’s and acquired by the museum.

Anne Short, Former Research Supervisor

 

Published in 2013

Object of the Month: November 2013

Julius Weitzner

Oil on canvas

John Koch

American, 1909-1978

The influence of an individual can be far reaching, if not profound. Just as the old masters’ legacy lingers with us even today revealing the technology and culture of previous ages, so the legacies of other masterful individuals endure in collections near and afar.

Dealers in the early to mid 20th century played a significant role in the development of many private and public collections which are highly respected today.  At that time, the large auction houses were closed to the public, and dealers were the only buyers permitted. Dealers connected with private collectors and museum directors for nurturing their interests in making acquisitions for their growing collections.

One of the dealers whose impact is still felt is Julius Weitzner.  Of Jewish birth and Hungarian roots, he was a concert violinist with a PhD in chemistry. He began his career as an art dealer in the late 1920s, when he opened the first of a succession of galleries in New York.  He quickly gained a reputation for his discerning eye in spotting undervalued paintings and was known to impatiently clean dirty canvases in order to discover the artist, who many times proved to be significant.  M&G’s founder, Bob Jones Jr., once stated in a media interview that Weitzner’s “wife used to say that Julius made his living selling unsalable pictures.”  He died at the age of 90 in January 1986.

Weitzner was instrumental in painting acquisition for many collections, such as the national galleries in Washington and London, and the metropolitan museums of Philadelphia, Boston, Detroit, Cleveland, Birmingham, and Raleigh.  Over a period of three decades, he sold more than 75 Italian paintings to the Bob Jones University collection, now the Museum & Gallery at Bob Jones University.

It is disappointing to find that little is recorded about this talented man, but perhaps the perspective of M&G’s founder may provide insight into the significance of Weitzner’s influence both in broader terms and in M&G’s own setting.  In a letter to Weitzner himself dated June 1977, Bob Jones, Jr. expressed his opinion that Julius was the “best expert, the most cognizant . . . most successful dealer in the world.”  In an interview with the Washington Post, printed Sunday, August 26, 1984, Dr. Bob prized Weitzner as “a great friend, almost like a brother.”

Just two days following Weitzner’s death, Dr. Bob’s letter to Weitzner’s widow Ruth warmly comforts, “Julius was one of the dearest friends I ever had . . . He was a remarkable man who had a most profound influence in getting me interested in paintings and involved with them in what has been a 35-year experience.  I always trusted his knowledge more than any other man’s, even the so-called ‘experts.’ He is going to be missed by many people; but aside from you and [your son], I am sure no one will feel his loss more than I.”

M&G has been given a vivid reminder of Weitzner’s friendship with and influence on our collection.  Appropriately hanging in the Weitzner gallery (gallery 10) is a beautiful portrait by John Koch of the dealer surrounded by his love, Old Master paintings.  The old master painters influenced the development of art, while dealers like Weitzner heavily influenced the landscape of today’s collections and museums, especially our own.

Erin R. Jones, Director

 

Published in 2013

Object of the Month: October 2013

 

Wittenberg, October 31, 1517

Oil on canvas

Eyre Crowe, A.R.A.

English, 1824-1910

Wittenberg, October 31, 1517

Click on the image to learn more about Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation!

Created by Donnalynn Hess, Director of Education

 

Published in 2013

Object of the Month: September 2013

St. Mary Magdalene Turning from the World to Christ

Oil on canvas

Jan Hermansz. van Bijlert

Dutch, 1597/98-1671

Mary Magdalene, the penitent sinner, is one of the most popular figures in religious art. Mentioned in all four gospel accounts, Mary followed Christ after He cast seven demons out of her. She witnessed His crucifixion, was present at His burial, was the first to speak with Him following His resurrection, and was sent by Him to tell His apostles that He was no longer dead. Her own story is often confused with other biblical and traditional figures:  the sinner of Luke 7 who wiped Christ’s feet with her hair before anointing them with oil, Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus, and Mary of Egypt (a penitent prostitute who lived as a recluse in the desert).

In art, Mary Magdalene’s symbols are as varied as the stories attributed to her. Most common is her flowing hair and a jar of ointment, referencing the sinner in Luke 7 as well as the anointing of Christ’s body for burial. A skull and book represent her reflection on the transitory nature of life. A crucifix shows her faith in Christ. And even an egg, more common in Eastern art, references her witnessing Christ’s resurrection.

Jan Hermansz. van Bijlert’s St. Mary Magdalene Turning from the World to Christ (1597/98–1671) breaks from more traditional depictions of Mary Magdalene. As a Dutch Baroque portrait painter, van Bijlert reflected the daily life of those who commissioned his work, the rising middle class merchants. Mary Magdalene, one of his few religious subjects, lacks most of Mary’s traditional symbols. Instead, like his portraits, it reflects Dutch middle class fashion. Mary’s dress, hairstyle, and even the objects representing the world that she is rejecting—the globe, fine fabric, and pearls—would have been familiar to the Dutch middle class.

Though the artist’s style is Dutch, his message is universal: no one can follow both Christ and the world. The treasures of the world are on one side of the painting, and the crucified Christ on the other. Christ Himself taught that no one can serve both God and the world (Luke 16:13). Like Mary Magdalene, every person must choose which he or she will follow. As Mary kneels to the crucified Christ, an angel lays his hand on her arm and points upward, possibly to the risen Christ “who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us” (Romans 8:34).

Amy Beach Ruley, former M&G Graduate Assistant

 

Published in 2013

Object of the Month: August 2013

Sir Henry Irving as Richard, Duke of Gloucester

Oil on canvas

Edwin Long, R.A.

English, c. 1829-d. 1891

Henry Irving, the foremost actor in England from 1866 to 1902, was the first actor to be knighted for his artistry, which helped raise the social standing of the acting profession. As the premier actor and director of the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Irving produced plays known for their lavish spectacle and melodrama. The expensive productions included the musical talents of composers Mackenzie, German, Sullivan, and Stanford and the literary contributions of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Irving’s major achievement was in presenting a play as a unified whole rather than as an excuse to showcase one great talent. In Irving’s productions, the music, lighting, costume, sets, and interpretation of his character all supported the text and the author’s intent. This revolutionary approach to drama gave Irving a permanent place in theater history.

Irving and his leading lady Ellen Terry were especially famous for their Shakespearean roles, and this painting captures Irving in one of his most successful characters. Richard III is the story of an evil younger son who plots and murders his way to the throne of England. Here, the detailed medieval costume of dark, rich fabrics, along with Irving’s nervous gesture and shifting, sideways glance are meant to reflect the evil cunning of Richard’s character and his guilty conscience. Irving’s slight stoop reflects Richard’s physical deformity, described as a “crooked back” with “his left shoulder much higher than his right.”

Portraits of actors in costume were fairly common during the 1800s, and Irving was painted many times—most notably by Edwin Long and Sir John Everett Millais. This painting was one of three from Long commissioned by Baroness Burdett Coutts. When the portrait was exhibited at the Royal Academy of London in 1878, it was considered to be “the best portrait yet painted of the popular tragedian” and a good example of “the skill with which [Irving] made up for Richard after the best authorities for look and action.” Since Irving’s 19th-century audience knew his power as an actor and his association with this character, they would have easily understood the portrait’s significance; understanding the context increases our own appreciation today.

 

Published in 2013

Object of the Month: July 2013

Procession to Calvary

Oil on Panel

Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, called Il Sodoma

Sienese, c. 1477-d. 1549

The life and times of Giovanni Antonio Bazzi (1477-1549), better known simply as Il Sodoma, were filled with tumultuous events and dramatic historical change. Born under the auspices of the Renaissance in 1477, Bazzi lived during the apex of the High Renaissance style in art only to witness the style’s demise with the sacking of Rome in 1527.Bazzi contributed greatly to High Renaissance elegance, introducing the movement’s harmonious compositions and dignified, lifelike characters to his home city of Siena, Italy. In 1508, he had the good fortune to travel to Rome, where Pope Julius II commissioned him to assist in the painting of the Stanza della Segnatura in the papal rooms of the Vatican. Here, he worked with the incomparable Raphael Sanzio—who, as fortune would have it, was working in the same room!

Bazzi’s painting reflected the historical trends of his time, as the High Renaissance style that he made famous in Siena gradually intermingled with a new, more daring movement—  Mannerism. Nowhere is this blending more evident than in his 1525 work, Procession to Calvary found in M&G’s collection. In his painting, Bazzi combines the sfumato styling of Leonardo da Vinci with direct references to Raphael’s 1520 altarpiece, Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary.

However, Bazzi’s Procession moves stylistically beyond both master painters by employing full-blown characteristics of the Mannerist movement, including use of bright and garish colors, character’s featuring extreme body contortions and theatrical poses, and close cropping around the painting’s edges. As M&G former curator John Nolan writes, “The bodies of the tormentors writhe in their effort to scourge Christ. Their awkward poses add to the tension of the scene.”

Bazzi was disliked by Renaissance art historian Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574), who wrote critically of him in his famous Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (1550). As such, Bazzi’s immediate reputation suffered; however, taken together with his 1525 work entitled St. Sebastianthis period in Bazzi’s life was among his greatest in terms of artistic production, with this Procession rightly deserving recognition as one of Bazzi’s most exquisite masterpieces.

 

Published in 2013

Object of the Month: June 2013

The Holy Family

Oil on panel

Joachim Bueckelaer

Monogrammed and dated: JB (top middle column) 1565 (top left column)

Flemish, c.1534–d.1574

Joachim Bueckelaer received his training in Antwerp from his uncle, Pieter Aertsen, who originated a type of genre painting with peasants or biblical characters set amidst a kitchen or market scene. As an innovator in a new approach to narrative painting, Aertsen enjoyed considerable success with patrons, though not a large following from other artists. Bueckelaer emulated Aertsen’s style closely when he became an independent master in 1560 and remained inspired by his teacher-uncle’s style for the rest of his career.

The painting came to the collection in 1963, three years after it was purchased at a Sotheby’s auction by dealer Julius Weitzner. Weitzner relates in a letter to Dr. Bob Jones Jr. (founder of the Museum & Gallery at Bob Jones University that the under-bidder for the sale was Phillip Pouncy (then Deputy Keeper of the Drawings Department at the British Museum) on behalf of Dr. Julius Held—representative for the Ferre Foundation and assembling works for the new Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico.

Dr. Held later wrote to Dr. Jones about the painting saying, “Congratulations on the acquisition of the Bueckelaer; I know the picture very well and have always liked it very much. You did well to buy it.” Dr. Alfred Stange also commented that “The Holy Family by Bueckelaer is an outstanding picture; and signed and dated pictures by this master are, besides that, extremely rare.” Thieme-Becker listed the painting first among the artist’s most important works. The same year it was acquired by the museum it traveled to the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique in Brussels for the important Le Siècle de Bruegel: La peinture en Belgique au XVIe siecle exhibit.

In the present work, the artist places the biblical scene front and center, forming a pleasing figural arrangement with limbs at active diagonals and a triangular focal point between the three main character’s faces. The large-scale figures of Joseph and Mary fill the immediate foreground, giving a monumentality and nobility to the peasant-looking characters. Bueckelaer’s other market scenes with biblical narratives often had a moralizing purpose, contrasting secular and spiritual values and/or illustrating the frivolity of pleasing the flesh. Here the spiritual tone is elevated throughout the scene, and the beautiful basket of fruits underscores the satisfaction and blessing that can be found only in Christ, the focus of the narrative.

Though Bueckelaer’s work influenced Northern Italians such as Bartolomeo Passarotti and Annibale Carracci, he had no close successors in the Netherlands. Nonetheless, his lifelong commitment to still life and genre painting proved an important on-going presence in Antwerp. Seventeenth-century painters such as Frans Snyders illustrate his continued influence into the Baroque era. His small, respectable output of about forty extant paintings and few followers can be explained perhaps by his early death at age forty.

 

Published in 2013

Object of the Month: May 2013

Meissen Urn

German, 19th century

While the Museum & Gallery’s collection of over 450 Old Master paintings garners most of the attention (and rightly so), there are other components to the collection, including furniture, tapestries, sculpture, antiquities, and objects of art. For example, this Meissen Urn arrests the attention of many guests with its intricate and delicate flowers and embellishments.

Europeans began collecting Chinese porcelain in the 16th century, even creating whole rooms to display the “china.” However, the formula for creating the beautiful substance eluded them.  The path to the discovery of that formula resembles the fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin, who spun straw into gold. In the early 18th century, Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony,  imprisoned Johann Böttger, an alchemist who claimed to know how to turn base metals, such as lead, into gold. As preposterous as that sounds, alchemy was the precursor to chemistry, as the name suggest.  Not surprisingly, Böttger had little success with his project. However, when he applied his knowledge to the making of porcelain, he discovered something even more valuable—“white gold.”

The factories at Meissen and nearby Dresden began producing porcelain in the early 18th century and are still known for their quality products today. In addition to innumerable types of tableware, the factories also produced decorative objects such as statues and vases. In spite of its delicate appearance, porcelain is actually very strong and resists chips and cracks more easily than its sturdier-looking “cousins,” stoneware and earthenware.

At the center of the Meissen Urn in gallery 19 is a beautifully painted scene of Abraham sending Hagar and Ishmael into the desert. Sarah stands in the background while the young Isaac, clinging to his father, seems upset that his half-brother is being sent away. The crown in the center is the crown of the Elector of Saxony. The crests below also refer to the Elector of Saxony. The crossed swords, one of his symbols, became the trademark symbol for Meissen porcelain.

Anne Short, Former Research Supervisor

 

Published in 2013

Object of the Month: April 2013

Joseph Interpreting the Dreams of Pharaoh’s Butler and Baker

Oil on canvas, signed and dated, 1643

Gerbrand van den Eeckhout

Dutch, 1621–1674

Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, the son of a goldsmith, studied with Rembrandt for five years (age 15-20) and was a “great friend” of the famous artist, according to his biographer. He also continued to imitate his teacher’s style throughout his career, especially in his religious paintings. His first signed painting is dated 1641 (age 20), which probably indicates the time he advanced from student to independent artist. Therefore the Museum & Gallery’s painting, dated 1643, was one of his earliest works. In addition to painting, he worked as an etcher and draughtsman. He never lost interest in his father’s work of goldsmithing, often including precisely painted metal objects in his paintings, as well as producing a book of patterns for ornamental designs for metalworkers. His family’s Mennonite faith influenced his preference for religious subject matter, although he was also known for portraiture and landscape painting.

The biblical story of Joseph is an inspiring one. After being sold into slavery by his jealous brothers and being falsely accused of attempted rape in Egypt, the depicted scene shows him in prison. Because of his trustworthiness, he has been placed in a position of leadership within the prison (notice the keys hanging from his waist) and is interpreting the dreams of two of Pharaoh’s servants. The butler (or person who tasted the king’s wine to make sure it was not poisoned) is shown to the right in fancier clothes with a jug at his feet; he would be pardoned in three days. The baker, however, would be killed in three days. We can see the look of despondency on his face as he learns his fate. Although the butler promised to remember Joseph to Pharaoh, it wasn’t until two years later that a circumstance caused him to remember. After all of Joseph’s trials, he praised God and told his brothers, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20).

The provenance, or ownership history, of the painting begins with a sale in Amsterdam in 1762, just a little over 100 years after its creation. The Dundas family of Scotland purchased it, where it remained by family descent until 1953; it became part of the Collection in 1963.

 

Published in 2013

Object of the Month: March 2013

The Holy Family in the Carpenter Shop

Oil on canvas

Gerrit van Honthorst

Dutch, 1592–1656

 

All museums have at least one or two works that visitors love to see again and again. First-time visitors often comment on their preferences after a tour through the galleries, and regular patrons tell us that they enjoy returning to see their favorite works. M&G’s Holy Family in the Carpenter Shop by Gerrit van Honthorst is one such crowd pleaser.

Honthorst’s mastery of lighting effects was inspired by the works of Caravaggio during a sojourn to Italy around 1612 or 1620. Even though Caravaggio only produced two known night paintings which depict artificial lighting such as a candle or a torch, Honthorst and a group of other Dutch artists from Utrecht followed this genre’s techniques and became known as the “Candlelight Painters.” In fact, the Italians gave Gerrit van Honthorst the nickname, Gherardo delle Notti, meaning “Gerard of the Night Scenes.”

For the viewer the primary, gripping element is the effect of light in the painting. Mary, Joseph, and Christ are gathered in a plain, dark room with a soft, warm light illuminating their forms from out of the darkness. Honthorst’s proficiency and sensitivity are noted in his ability first to concentrate the most intense light on the arms of Christ and Joseph and then subtly diffuse the beam as it stretches away from the light source. The emotional effect of the soft lighting is heightened by the characters’ gentle, loving facial expressions as well as the simple, natural portrayal of their manner. Christ holds the oil lamp while Mary carefully steadies His hand in order to position the flame for Joseph to see his work and to prevent Jesus from burning Himself.

In this favored work of M&G patrons, the meaning evoked by the light is as equally compelling as the painterly technique. Although Christ is but a child in the scene, the lamp which He grasps metaphorically alludes to the declaration of an adult Christ, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). Scripture further describes Christ in these words: “In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not” (John 1:4-5). Perhaps another layer of Biblical significance is present in the work; as the youth eagerly looks to His father to please him and help him, the act faintly implies not only a family value or work ethic of Honthorst’s time, but also a Biblical injunction to children to obey and honor their parents (Ephesians 6:1, 2).

In order to fully appreciate the impression and effect of this remarkable work, come and view the painting for yourself. You will surely come to understand why this painting has become the favorite of so many.

 

Published in 2013