Archive for the ‘Object of the Month.2020’ Category

Object of the Month: March 2020

The Mocking of Christ

Oil on canvas

David de Haen

Dutch, c. 1597-1622

And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews!

Matthew 27:29  

Artist David de Haen is the creator of this interesting canvas, which is called a lunette due to its half-moon shape. The painting is a variant copy painted by the artist of the original subject (and same shape) created for the Pietà Chapel in San Pietro de Montorio in Rome. The original lunette was designed to hang above the large altarpiece depicting Christ on The Way to Calvary. The church has multiple small chapels decorated by various prominent Italian painters from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; however, two seventeenth-century Dutch painters are also represented, and de Haen is one of them. 

De Haen was born in Amsterdam sometime around 1597 and lived very briefly—just 25 years—with much of his time spent in Rome. Before his death in 1622, he created some notable works including the Entombment, which was destroyed in Berlin during World War II. The commission for the Pieta Chapel was shared with Dirck van Baburen, an artist also represented in M&G’s collection with St. Sebastian Aided by St. Irene. Both de Haen and Baburen were influenced by Caravaggio’s dramatic style. After his time in Rome, Baburen returned home to Utrecht, where he is credited as a key influencer of the Utrecht Caravaggisti—a group of artists following Caravaggio’s well-known trademarks of realistic representations of people and stark contrast of brilliantly lit scenes against darkly shadowed settings.

Dr. Jones Jr., M&G’s founder, acquired the painting for the Collection in 1986 and explained his fortuitous find, “It came up in an auction at Christie’s, and I noticed in the catalog that, when I measured it and checked the proportions, they exactly fit the end of the room (Gallery 5); so I bought it and put it here, although it is later than the other pictures in th[at] small gallery.”  

A closer study of M&G’s painting reveals two men mocking Christ; both are dressed in period clothing of de Haen’s day. Two, less obvious individuals are seen in the background and could possibly represent Pilate and Herod or Caiaphas and his father-in-law Annas. The bench on which Christ is seated may allude to the stone slab that will ultimately entomb Him. The stone’s sculptural relief is similar to carvings found on Roman marble and limestone sarcophagi, which sometimes depicted narratives from the person’s life.  

As you enter this Easter season, consider these words written by one of His closest followers, the apostle Peter: “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit” (I Peter 3:18).

John Good, Security Manager and Docent

For Further Study:

Podcast about David de Haen by Dutch expert Dr. Wayne E. Franits

About the artist himself

 

Object of the Month: February 2020

Savonarola Chair

Walnut

Florentine, early 16th-century 

For a mundane piece of furniture with such a simplistic design as to be easily transportable, this folding chair bears the name of a big personality and has allowed countless VIPs to rest and rule simultaneously.

Girolamo Savonarola was a monk and religious reformer in Florence, Italy. He came to the Medici’s city in 1481 to serve at the Dominican monastery and church of San Marco (St. Mark).  He proved to be honest and sincere, and he studied and memorized Scripture, which he applied practically to everyday living for himself and in his teaching. His preaching was passionate and dramatic, and he spoke against corruption in the church and papacy. His influence for morality and reform held popular support for a while, even garnering respect from Lorenzo, the Magnificent. Eventually, however, Savonarola was bitterly opposed by Rome. The pope enforced excommunication, suspension of the sacraments from the faithful, and a ban of trade, which affected Florence’s prosperous economy. Ultimately, the Florentines turned on him too, and Savonarola was sentenced to death. He was hanged and his body burned in the town square in 1498—just seventeen years after his arrival.

Shaped in the frame of an X, this Italian Renaissance Savonarola Chair is one of a few in M&G’s collection. The chair is constructed of walnut and is considered “unusual” by furniture expert Joseph Aronson because it only has five pairs of the thick, pivoted S-shaped strips of wood to hold the hinged seat. Normally, a chair like this might have six, eight, or even twelve pairs. However, these five rung pairs are each held together at the floor with a trestle for sturdiness, and the pairs are joined at the top by heavy arms with carved rosettes. The back of the chair is a modest board, which is attached loosely—easily removed when the chair needs to be folded. 

The chair style has had many names through the centuries and geographical regions including the X-chair, curule, faldstool, scissors chair, Dante chair, and Luther chair. Because of its unique design, the chair traces its roots and practical service back to antiquity. A visual record exists of Egyptian Pharoah Tut’ankhamun sitting in the chair. Roman senators and consuls used a backless version of these portable seats, and in Romanesque and Gothic illuminations the kings of France are perched on it.  

With Italy’s interest in Greek and Roman culture and thought, the Renaissance also revived awareness in the architecture and design from antiquity including furniture. One writer explains the era as “an exhibition of emancipated modern genius fired and illuminated by the masterpieces of the past.” During the awakening, the chair’s status of power continues in the pictorial records of seated bishops, emperors, and popes. Artists also rendered respected religious individuals in the chair such as St. Ambrose and Christ’s mother Mary. 

The Museum of San Marco preserves and features the fifteenth-century Dominican monastery where Fra Angelico was Prior and who decorated many of the monk’s cells and interior spaces with beautiful frescoes. Girolamo Savonarola became the monastery’s Prior in 1491 and occupied three cells that today still display a few of his personal items, including a folding X-chair in his study and similar chairs in other parts of the museum.
However, it wasn’t until nearly 400 years after his torturous death that the chair became associated with Savonarola specifically. In 1878, Florentine sculptor Giovanni Biggi created for the church at San Marco a bronze statue of the monk sitting pensively in an X-shaped chair.

Erin R. Jones, Executive Director

Additional Reading: 

Furniture of the Italian Renaissance, Walter A. Dyer

Michelangelo and Seats of Power, Eric Denker and William E. Wallace

Faith of Our Fathers: Scenes from Church History, edited by Mark Sidwell

Anatomy of A Design Classic: The Savonarola Chair

Object of the Month: January 2020


St. Jerome 

Polychrome and giltwood

Unknown Spanish

17th century

The obsessive attention to realistic detail and heightened emotion that characterized many 17th-century paintings is also evident in this dramatic polychrome sculpture.  The adjective polychrome (meaning “many colored”) refers to the color on the wood which enhances the figure’s lifelikeness.  Although this technique can be traced back to the Greeks and Romans, it became particularly popular during the Renaissance. Spanish sculptors who preferred wood to stone became especially adept at using the technique, often adding “gilding and brilliantly imaginative lusters.”  

Jerome, the subject of this work, was born in the fourth century in the small town of Stridon (located in the Balkans today). Initially schooled by his father, he later traveled to Rome where he became proficient in Latin and Greek and excelled in oratory. His later biographical writings lament that this early success encouraged in him an overweening pride and ambition. He continued his education in Trier, a German city on the banks of the Moselle river. It was here that his Christian conscience was reawakened, and as one source notes, “his heart was entirely converted to God.” However, by his own admission his competitive nature and “rambling imagination” continued to trouble him throughout life. He lived in the desert of Chalcis for several years but eventually returned to Rome in 382 to become special secretary to Pope Damasus I. It was Damasus who assigned him the task of creating a revised Latin version of the Bible. The Vulgate, as it is known, was completed in 405. Jerome eventually retired to a monastery in Bethlehem where he died in 420. 

As is typical of the era the creator of this work uses numerous attributes to identify the figure and to illustrate his story.  For example, the books stacked on the rock and supporting the aged Jerome represent his writings (most notably the Vulgate but also his other letters and theological treatises). The skull resting atop two of the books signifies the transience of life or natural death; notice however, that Jerome is turning away from “death” to gaze heavenward–the source of new, eternal life. The brilliant red cloak “embroidered” with fleur de lis seems rather out of place in the wilderness setting. However, in this context it represents Jerome’s office as a cardinal. Although, the position of cardinal did not exist in the early centuries of the church, ecclesiastics of Rome, like Jerome, held the duties that later fell to cardinals.

One other imaginative story connected to Jerome and recorded in The Golden Legend occurs during his retirement in Bethlehem. According to this story, as the monks were going about their daily routine, a wounded lion suddenly appeared. All fled but Jerome. Examining the beast, he discovered and removed a thorn that was deeply embedded in its paw.  In gratitude the lion became Jerome’s constant companion and protector of the monastery. This beautifully carved attribute “rounds out” the base of the sculpture.

Donnalynn Hess, M&G Director of Education