Category Archives: Research

Professor Matthew Rampley’s New Grant Award

The Department of Art History, Curating and Visual Studies is delighted to announce that Prof. Matthew Rampley has been awarded an Advanced Grant by the European Research Council. The award of €2.4 million is for the five-year project Continuity and Rupture in Central European Art and Architecture, 1918-1939. It examines how the arts responded to the political upheavals in central Europe after the First World War, in particular, the collapse of Austria-Hungary and the creation of the new states of Austria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. How did such huge political change affect architecture and the visual arts? Many artists and architects were keen to embrace the new opportunities that were available, and happily consigned the memory of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to oblivion, but others were either ambivalent about its loss or mourned its passing. How were such varied attitudes expressed? Moreover, how did the governments of the newly created states define themselves, and how did they use the arts to promote such definitions? The project is thus an examination of the culture and politics of memory in the visual arts, and it has contemporary relevance. Most states of the former Austria-Hungary still enjoy a special relationship as members of the Visegrad group; there is a sense, therefore, that the old Empire cast a long shadow into the present.

Jaromir Funke. Photograph from the Cycle “Time Persists” (1932). Source Artstor.

Jaromir Funke. Photograph from the Cycle “Time Persists” (1932). Source: Artstor.

 

Vilmos Huszár Composition (1921) Source Artstor.

Vilmos Huszár. Composition (1921) Source: Artstor.

 

 

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Students’ diary: a week in Paris

Each year, 2nd year History of Art students embark on a University-funded, week-long study trip to a European city, in order to study its art, architecture and culture up-close as part of the module Art History in the Field. In the past, students have visited, among other cities, Rome, Berlin, and Brussels. This year, however, the destination was Paris, led by lecturers Dr Fran Berry and Dr Greg Salter, and Sara Tarter (PhD student and teaching associate). Here, 2nd years Hannah Binns, Louise Greenhill, Rozeena Jabeen, Beth Moody and Elizabeth Shih tell us all about what they got up to …. 

Group -- Paris

Group shot at the Pompidou

Monday 12 Febuary (Hannah Binns)

In the ever-bustling New Street Station, we all gathered bright and early on Monday morning to set off for Paris. Some, me and one other nervous traveller, arrived a solid hour early and watched as everyone else gently congregated by Pret in various states of awakeness. Some light competition about who had packed most efficiently, the distribution of the various train tickets, and several litres of coffee later, and we were off. The Virgin train to Euston was painless due to my decision to purchase Travel Boggle, although the clatter of sixteen dice every three minutes was perhaps not overly popular with fellow passengers ….

Before we knew it, we were trekking down the Euston Road to St Pancras where we all made it through security and border control unscathed and the excitement began to set in. The Eurostar, like the Virgin train, was made infinitely better by Boggle – I even managed to rope in a few more players. Then suddenly, we were pulling into Gare du Nord, Paris. We piled into a coach and trundled through the city to our hostel which was, to everybody’s delight, lovely.

My friends and I pootled off to explore the surrounding streets and find food and drink before collapsing into bed to recharge before an art-filled week.

Tuesday 13 February (Louise Greenhill)

After a busy day of travelling, our first stop Tuesday morning was Musée d’Orsay, one of Paris’s most well know museums, with around 2,997,622 visitors in 2016. Its extensive collection is housed inside a nineteenth-century railway station, which means that the whole museum is filled with light, even on a rainy day in February. That, in combination with the surprisingly small crowds — although, we did get there early! — meant that this was my favourite museum of the trip. The collection comprises eighteenth- and nineteenth-century art, many of which were originally in the Louvre. The museum’s collection includes paintings, sculptures, objets d’art, and old photographs, which, along with the architecture itself, means there’s something for everyone to enjoy. One of the highlights that we all got to study was Manet’s famous and, in its day, controversial painting Olympia, which was amazing to see and think about in real life having seen reproductions of it so many times since arriving at University.

d'Orsay d'Orsay2

Olympia

Musée d’Orsay is situated on the banks of the Seine so after the visit we took a walk along the unusually high Seine, taking in the famous padlock bridge and the beautiful architecture. We also admired the traditional Parisian sight of a few brave book and art sellers, or “libraries forain, that were still out despite the freezing temperatures and light snow. Then we visited Sainte-Chappelle, a truly beautiful thirteenth-century building commissioned by Louis IX as an “architectural reliquary,” which, among other things, is famous for its original stained glass windows (miraculously, they survived the French Revolution). This is definitely a place worth visiting for those interested in the medieval history of Paris.

For lunch we found a suitably French-looking café and feasted on camembert and bread — all the walking on this trip definitely made us very hungry! We then took a leisurely stroll to Notre Dame, which, don’t get me wrong, is impressive but was somehow smaller than I had imagined ( … perhaps our expectations have been spoiled by Disney?).

The evening concluded with a visit to Sacré-Coeur and Montmartre by metro. Unfortunately, we did not have time do go inside Sacré-Coeur itself but were assured by several course mates that the interior is amazing. A favourite place for artists such as Monet, Renoir and Degas, Montmartre offers beautiful views of Paris from the top of the hill (be prepared for leg ache) and its old squares have lots of shops and restaurants to choose from.

Overall, the first day was a very interesting, action-packed start to what promised to be a brilliant week ahead!

Wednesday 14 February (Rozeena Jabeen)

Louvre.jpg

Wednesday was the day we were all anticipating and dreading. Yes, it was the day to visit the Louvre, which we all knew had lots of amazing art on offer but had also heard all the horror stories about crowds, queues and hostile “selfie sticks”. The daunting task of navigating our way through as many wings as possible within a few precious hours was beyond me, but it was a challenge worth taking. After an initial introduction, we were free to make our own way through the museum.

Of course, Leonardo’s Mona Lisa was certainly not to be missed and most of us had it our list of must-sees. All the horror stories we’d heard about seeing this picture — of tourists climbing on top of each other, elbowing one another, or even shoving a camera in someone else’s face — didn’t seem to hold true on the day we visited: we were able to slip in through the sides and take a glance at the revered artwork before moving on to the rest of the collection.

I’ve been to the Louvre a couple of times before so I was determined to view part of the collection I haven’t seen before, the Early Netherlandish works. I was desperate to see Jan van Eyck’s Madonna of Chancellor Rolin, especially after studying it in Dr Jamie Edwards’s Renaissance Art in Italy and Netherlands c.1400-60. In fact, many of us who had taken that module in the Autumn were really keen to go and see many of the works that we’d discussed. Unfortunately, however, the Early Netherlandish galleries were closed. Nonetheless, we were able to see many other wonderful northern works of art, albeit from a little later, by the likes of Bruegel, Brueghel, Rubens, van Dyck … Rembrandt … the list goes on ….

Louvre2.jpg

A little respite was in order so some of went to explore the subterranean shopping centre inside the Louvre, where, to my pleasant surprise, I found out that the French have a penchant, shall we say, for cat-themed gifts – who knew! We then re-fuelled at lunch, met up with everyone else and split into two groups. One group visited the Jeu de Paume photography museum with Greg, while the rest of us went to the Musée de l’Orangerie with Fran to feast our eyes on a whole bunch of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works.

Monet.jpg

More serene and peaceful than the Louvre, the Musée de l’Orangerie allowed us to view and to think about the works more carefully. One of the first things we saw was Monet’s amazing Nymphéas (Water Lilies), which adorn an oval-shaped gallery that was designed by the artist himself. Due to its immense size, I was able to get extremely close to the picture and examine every quick brush stroke, thick application of paint and its vibrant colours. Besides works by Monet, we studied many a famous work by artists including Matisse, Cézanne, and Renoir. Overall, the Musée de l’Orangerie was definitely a gem, and a lovely change of pace compared to the Louvre.

Due to our aching feet, some of us went back to the hostel and then went to the hostel’s cafeteria for onion soup. We chit chatted about the day’s adventures and new friendships were born. It was the perfect way to end an inspiring and thought-provoking day.

Tuilleries

 

Thursday 15 February (Beth Moody)

Thursday was the perfect Parisian day for those of us with a passion for modern art. It started with a trip to Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, the national art gallery of France that opened in 1977. Much like its British equivalent, Tate Modern, the building’s architecture is imposing and industrial. The enormous gallery contains a huge variety of collections of modern art, by artists such as Pollock, Braque, Kandinsky and Matisse. The grand scale of the gallery and vast art collection meant there was not enough time to view everything (which most of us were craving to do) and so was a popular place to return to on a free afternoons.

Pompidou2.png

After crêpes for lunch, we split into two groups, one of which went to the Foundation Cartier pour l’art contemporian, whilst the others went to the Picasso museum. I visited the Foundation Cartier, which had a Malick Sidibé exhibition entitled ‘Mali Twist’. This was a contemporary photography exhibition that celebrated not only the power of the photographic image, but the happiness of the Bamako community and the love amongst those within the community. The black and white photographs, accented by the bright yellow walls of the exhibition space, together with the rock and roll vibes and overarching expression of joy omitting from the photographs, made this exhibition definitely worth visiting. Everyone left feeling content and in a good mood.

In the evening, a group of us that hadn’t been already went to see the magnificent Notre Dame, followed by a stroll to Quartier Pigalle for some authentic French food and vin (of course!) – a lovely relaxing end to a busy, modern-art-filled day.

Friday 16 February (Elizabeth Shih)

In the morning, following an introduction by Fran, the focus was on architecture, visiting works by Hector Guimard, Le Corbusier and Robert Mallet-Stevens. The walk was not long, but most of us were feeling pretty frazzled after a fun and inspiring, but nevertheless tiring, art-filled week à Paris! The sun gave us a smile, so a flurry of Instagram posts seemed essential: #LeCorbusier.

In the afternoon, I intrepidly ventured out of the City for Versailles, and whizzed into the Hall of Mirrors. The Palace was opulent, but the garden got most of my attention. There were swans swimming in the pond, submerging their head into the water. I walked down to the fountain, and saw the golden frogs and a woman with infants on the top, gathering like a choir opening their mouths prepared to sing. I sat on a bench alongside the river in the garden of Versailles, taking it all in and reflecting on the week. Absolute tranquility!

I could have wandered aimlessly and timelessly around Versaille, but a group dinner in Montmartre beckoned. We went to Le Bouillon Chartier, which is over a hundred years old. It was founded for Parisian residents, and is beloved by tourists. The restaurant didn’t disappoint but was a little busy, not to mention loud, so my voice seemed to become part of the din. Nevertheless, we ordered some good wine and food and immersed ourselves in the Parisian atmosphere.

Bouillon Chartier

Van Gogh was said to be inspired by the French writer Guy de Maupassant to paint his Starry Night Over the Rhône, who described the starlit night in Paris in his novel Yvette. This painting is now in the Musée d’Orsay, hanging in the same room as van Gogh’s self-portrait. I had seen both in real life just a few days earlier, on Tuesday during our visit to the Orsay. It was not the best representation of night, nor was it the best representation of Paris; but seeing it has made a lasting impression on me, and is a fond memory from our time in Paris.

Saturday 17 February (Hannah Binns)

And so we came to our final day in Paris. We’d all certainly given the city our all and experienced a good chunk of what it has to offer, but I’m sure we’ll all be back there soon to see all the things we didn’t have time for this trip. There was time, though, for a final bit of art history in the morning ….

Half of us went to Musée Rodin with Fran and the other went to Musée de Gustave Moreau with Greg. I had been looking forward to this particular trip all week and it did not disappoint. All the works are displayed in Moreau’s house. The first floor contains much of the artist’s furniture and memorabilia, while the second and third floors, where he had his studio, are home to a huge number of his paintings and sculptures.

Camille Claudel, La Petite Châtelaine, 1895-6, at the Musée Rodin

Camille Claudel, La Petite Châtelaine, 1895-6, at the Musée Rodin

 

I spent a long time on the very top floor looking at the various depictions of Salomé as I find late nineteenth-century femme fatale figures really interesting, partly thanks to studying art in fin-de-siècle Vienna last term with Dr Sam Shaw. Two of Moreau’s paintings of Salomé become the obsession of Des Esseintes in J K Huysmans’ 1891 novel, À Rebours, which I briefly studied in one of my English modules this year (I am a joint honours student, Art History and English). Moreau’s paintings of Salomé, through their featuring in Huysmans’ novel, also had a profound effect of Oscar Wilde who I also studied as part of the same English module. When Wilde wrote his play Salomé in 1891, he sent Moreau an inscribed copy by way of acknowledging the effect that Moreau’s works had had on him.

After a fantastic morning, a few of us headed for a final coffee and sandwich before we had to return to Birmingham, a city that, for all its charm, does not have quite the same calibre of baguettes. We all gathered at the hostel quite early, a definite feeling of fatigue hanging over us by this point. When the time came, we all boarded a coach, tootled to Gare du Nord, checked in and eventually climbed aboard the Eurostar back to London. Boggle made a brief appearance, but even I, renowned Boggle enthusiast, was too tired for many rounds. Then, before we knew it, we had made it to London Euston and were Birmingham-bound.

Truly, it was truly an incredible week. I’m sure that I speak for the whole group when I say that I am so grateful to Fran, Greg and Sara Tarter for making it so interesting, enjoyable and memorable! Here’s a drawing I made to give to Fran, Greg and Sara to say thanks for such a wonderful trip:

Binns, Fran, Greg and Sara

 

Life, Art and the Spaces in Between: Reflections on “The Vanishing Man: In Pursuit of Velásquez” by Laura Cumming, “War and Turpentine” by Stefan Hertmans and “The Last Days of New Paris” by China Miéville

BY JON STEVENS, MRES HISTORY OF ART

Last year, prior to my arrival in the Department of Art History, I read three books, which had a lasting impact on me. Reflecting further on these books, I realised that, among other things, they all have something intriguing to say about the relationship between art and life: about the uncertainty and indeterminacy between the real and the invented and the dreamed and the experienced.

In this piece, I have tried to articulate some of my reflections and to explain how these three books, each in their own way, seems to inform and enrich the continual dialectic between art and life. In doing this, my hope is that I might encourage those of you, who haven’t read the books, to seek them out; you will be well rewarded. And for those of you who might have read one or more of them, I hope that you find my take on them of interest.

Vanishing Man

In February last year I took a trip to Madrid and Seville with my wife. Our visit would provide a long-awaited opportunity to see the magnificent collection of Goya’s work in the Prado; not least the assembly of his ‘Black Paintings’. In Foyle’s bookshop, just before we left, Laura Cumming’s The Vanishing Man: In Pursuit of Velásquez caught my eye. I read it on the train, on our flight and finished it in our hotel, so that by the time of our visit to the Prado, I found that Velásquez was competing for my attention with Goya.

Laura Cumming’s book tells two interwoven stories. In the first story she relates her personal encounter with Velásquez, when she spent time in Madrid grieving for the early death of her father, the painter James Cumming. At first, she tells how she couldn’t bring herself to enter the Prado but when she does and – as she is searching for works by El Greco, one of her father’s favourite artists – she comes upon Las Meninas and like many before her she is overwhelmed by the experience.

The second story is about John Snare, a provincial Victorian bookseller from Reading, who dabbled in art dealing. In 1845, in his mid-twenties, he spots a painting up for auction at nearby Radley Hall. It is described as ‘A portrait of Prince Charles, later Charles I’ and in the catalogue it is suggested that it might be by Van Dyck. Snare was an autodictat, who had already acquired enough knowledge to question this attribution. He knew that the young king-to-be had visited the Spanish court in 1623 on a fruitless mission to arrange an advantageous marriage; might it have been possible that he had his portrait done at this time by the court painter Velásquez? Little was known about Velásquez’s works in England in the mid 1800’s. There were a handful of examples in private collections and, of these, several had misleading attributions. However, first-hand accounts of Velásquez’s works on display in the Prado were beginning to circulate and Snare was convinced that this painting was the genuine article.

John Snare spent the rest of his life trying to prove that this painting, which he acquired for the sum of only £8 (less than £1000 in today’s money), was a lost masterpiece by Velásquez. Laura Cumming first came across the story when she found a pamphlet by Snare that he published in 1847, prior to the painting being put on show in London. ‘The History and Pedigree of the Portrait of Prince Charles’ is a testament to Snare’s thorough research – at a time when little had been published on Velásquez and when what was available was often highly misleading – and it shows his tenacity in seeking out sources, when many doors would have been closed to him.

Art as an all-consuming obsession

Laura Cumming’s recounts the many vicissitudes of Snare’s travels with his beloved painting. The painting is a popular success wherever it is shown; many reputable observers are persuaded that it is indeed a Velásquez and Snare uncovers more evidence to support his case; although gaps and contradictions remain. On the way, he has many misfortunes and he makes a number of enemies; the painting is possessed twice and he pays substantial sums to redeem it; his ownership of the painting is contested leading to a tortuous trial in Edinburgh, which he eventually wins; by then, however, he has absconded taking his painting with him to America. Ultimately, the Velásquez is all he has; his business has been bankrupted and his marriage is over. Yet still he feels compelled to press his claims; it is not for money, as he receives several substantial offers for the work, rather, it is to prove his point.

Snare’s fortunes improve in America. His painting is generally lauded but sadly he misses its greatest triumph; he dies before it is shown to general acclaim at the Metropolitan Museum in 1889. After that, the painting returns home to his family. It is shown one more time in his hometown and then it unaccountably vanishes from history. Laura Cumming pursues every conceivable lead and goes down some fascinating paths but, in the end, the object of John Snare’s magnificent obsession remains elusive. Could the painting have been by Velásquez? And might it be hanging somewhere forgotten and unrecognised? Cumming interlaces the many questions about the lost painting with her own reflections on Velásquez’s life and practice.

Going back to Laura Cumming’s midwinter encounter with Las Meninas, last February, I followed in her footsteps. Arriving at the Prado as soon as it opened, I was able to spend 30 minutes almost undisturbed with this celebrated painting. Much has been written about Las Meninas and many artists have marvelled at it. In 1865, Éduard Manet stood entranced before it and later wrote to Charles Baudelaire that Velásquez was “the greatest painter that ever was”. Almost a century later, Picasso obsessively painted 58 versions of Las Meninas in one year and, late in his career, Francis Bacon spent long hours – after the galleries were closed to the public – trying to comprehend this “amazingly mysterious painter”.

Art as a mysterious illusion

Velásquez is a master of illusion. The figures in Las Meninas are life-size and as you approach the painting you are caught by the quizzical gazes of the little princess and her attendant dwarf in the foreground, of the chamberlain in the rear doorway, of the ghostly presences of the king and queen in the mirror (who might be standing beside you) and, above all, of the artist himself poised before his canvas. You find yourself as the latest participant in a drama that has been played out for over 350 years.

Yet as you draw closer, the illusion dissolves before your eyes. The paint surface becomes a pattern of “dots, dashes, flicks and spatters of paint”, which only a moment ago represented the shimmering dress of the princess, the soft fur of her dog, the indistinct image in the mirror and the glint in the artist’s eye. Because Velásquez’s technique is so baffling, there is a danger (as Cumming notes) that we assume “the illusion is all there is”.

Art as a balm for troubled minds

Yet Velásquez’s illusionism is only the means by which he explores both the outward appearance and the inner lives of his subjects; whether they are effete kings, arrogant aristocrats, looked-down-upon servants or ridiculed court entertainers. This was brought home to me most forcefully when I passed into the ‘Dwarves and Buffoons’ room. The name of the room may jar in a modern context but (as Cumming eloquently suggests) Velásquez’s intimate portraits of the two dwarfs, Francisco Lezcano and Sebastián Morra, and the full-length portrait of the court performer, Pablo de Valladolid, are works of compelling empathy and psychological insight. Their images have stayed with me since my visit and I can fully understand how they acted as a kind of balm for Cumming’s pressing grief.

turpentine

Last June, I attended some lectures in Oxford on American art by David Lubin. I had met him earlier in the year, following a research seminar he gave at the Department. Before his final lecture, we had coffee together and, when I told him of my possible research interest in late 19th century Belgian art, he enquired if I had read War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans. I had not heard of the book and purchased it on my return. On the back cover, War and Turpentine is described by the New York Times as a “masterly book about memory, art, war and love”; it is a sweeping family history written by the Flemish writer Stefan Hertmans about his grandfather, Urbain, and the tumultuous times he lived through from his birth in 1891 until his death in 1981.

In writing the memoir, Hertmans drew heavily on two notebooks, which his grandfather gave him before he died at the age of 90. In the notebooks, his grandfather recollects his early life in Ghent, his experiences as soldier in the Belgian Army in the Great War and his return home. Hertmans reconstructs his grandfather’s life from a rich amalgam of extracts from the notebooks (skilfully edited), personal memories and his imagining of his grandfather’s inner life.

Art as an article of faith

The book opens with Hertman’s catching a glimpse of his grandfather in old age “silently weeping” over a reproduction of what we later discover is Velásquez’s Rokeby Venus. He goes back in time to describe his grandfather’s impoverished upbringing in Ghent at the turn of the 20th century. Urbain’s father, Franciscus, is a jobbing artist, spending his time restoring murals and paintings for Catholic churches and monasteries around Ghent, working long hours for “starvation wages”. Franciscus is a man of absolute faith; it suffuses his whole being and the life of his family. The young Urbain is fascinated by his father’s calling and spends his spare time acting as his assistant. Then out-of-the-blue, Franciscus is commissioned to create some original murals for a church in Liverpool, this is a great opportunity and he leaves the family for several months. On his return, the family have little time to celebrate his achievement. He is ill and dies from pneumonia.

Hertman’s quotes selectively from his grandfather’s notebooks in his rich account of his upbringing in Ghent and of the hardships he and his family endure, particularly after Franciscus’s early death. Then, in the second section of the book, his grandfather’s experiences in the Great War are related more or less verbatim from his notebooks. Writing thirty years after the event, Urbain gives a visceral and gut-wrenching account of the horrors of the German invasion of neutral Belgium. In the first few months of the war, over 5,000 civilians are executed in reprisal for Belgian resistance to the invasion and the Belgian army, in which he is a corporal, suffers catastrophic losses.

Art as a refuge from unspeakable horror

Miraculously, Urbain survives the first chaotic battle of Schiplaken and he lives to fight through the war on the front at Yser. He suffers serious injuries and on three occasions he is sent to convalesce in England. The first time he ends up in Liverpool and, as he recovers, he remembers the murals created by his father, Franciscus. He scours the city for the church or monastery where they might be found, without luck. Then, one day wandering along the docks, he stumbles into a cloister and there before him is a mural of St.Francis. He recognises his father’s hand immediately. He is enthralled by the experience, all-the-more-so when he notices St Francis’ face. It is a likeness of his dead father and then he looks at one of the shepherds standing by the saint and he sees…his own face, as a child.

This is a revelatory episode and it is not entirely clear whether this is a real experience or an intense dream or both? He searches for the cloister again but he never finds it.

Urbain is much decorated for his heroism but he ends the war a disillusioned man, not only because of the horrors he has witnessed but also because, as a Flemish speaker, he is never promoted above the rank of sergeant-major.

Art as an escape from a humdrum and loveless life

On his return to Ghent, Urbain finds work with the railways and he falls in love with a merchant’s daughter, Maria Elena. The final words in his notebooks attempt to describe his passionate love for her. But tragedy strikes again, his young wife-to-be is struck down by the Spanish flu that sweeps Europe after the war. He is inconsolable but, after a time, he agrees to marry her older sister, Gabrielle, and they settle down to a humdrum and loveless life together. At this time, he turns to painting and “this becomes his only escape”.

He is a relatively talented amateur painter, who has no truck with modernism. He turns out competent still-lives and workmanlike copies of the works of the Dutch painters he loves, including Van Dyck and Rembrandt. When he is 45, the traumas of the past catch up with him and he has the first of several breakdowns. He is pensioned off and spends the rest of his days painting; this is how Stefan remembers him. Then, in his seventies, he decides to tell the story of his life; for thirteen years he labours over this until he reaches his early meetings with Maria Elena and he can’t continue. Five years later, he dies leaving the notebooks to his grandson.

Art as an expression of overwhelming loss

In the final part of the book, Stefan Hartmans tries to untangle his grandfather’s life and the reasons for the sadness that seems to have engulfed him. He recalls that in summer, the family would go on almost weekly pilgrimages to Bruges and, after his grandfather’s death, he finds a well-thumbed copy of Georges Rodenbach’s Bruges-la-Morte, the notorious Symbolist novel, which dissects the grief felt by a man who has lost his young wife and the false hope he experiences when he meets a woman who has an uncanny likeness to her. Folded into the pages of the book are some mementoes, a half-finished sketch and a reproduction of the Rokeby Venus. Does this provide some clues to his grandfather’s silent tears?

(The grandfather’s attachment to Bruges-la-Morte was of particular interest to me as this novel triggered off some of my own research interests)

In a second revelatory passage, he finds a collection of old photos of Maria Elena and he goes back to his grandfather’s careful copy of the Rokeby Venus, which had been found in the attic. It provides him with an almost unbearable testament to his grandfather’s love for Maria Elena and the sense of loss he carried with him until his death.

new paris

The Guardian’s review of China Miéville’s genre-bending The Last Days of the New Paris described it as a “dazzling scholarly fantasy”. Being unfamiliar with Miéville’s works – this was enough to attract my interest. The novella opens in Paris in 1950; but it is a Paris still under Nazi occupation in which strange forces battle for control of the city. A young freedom fighter, Thibaut, leads one of the factions, Le Main á Plume or The Feathered Hand, which is based on an historical grouping that sought to keep Surrealism alive in Paris during the occupation and which was linked to the French resistance.

However, this is Paris after the mysterious ‘S-blast’, which shortly after the occupation, unleashed all the powers of Surrealism on the Nazis. Nine years later, Paris, which is isolated from the rest of France, is engulfed in an unending conflict that pits a cast of Surrealist manifestations or ‘manifs’ against unspeakable subterranean devils or monsters conjured up by the Nazis.

Art becomes life, life becomes art: the Surrealists’ invocation

The range and extent of Surrealist and other references in the novella is extensive and it reminded me of the many different artists who were drawn into Surrealism and of the substantial and only recently fully recognised contribution to the movement by women artists. These references are explained in notes that accompany the account and these notes maintain the conceit that The Last Days of New Paris had been related to Miéville by Thibaut in his old age. When I first tried to read the book, I found it difficult to visualise the references, most of which refer to specific artworks. But I was fortunate to come across an online guide, called Graphic Annotations of China Miéville’s The Last Days of New Paris by Nicky Martin, which reproduces nearly all of the artworks that inspired the ‘manifs’. With this in hand, I was able to relish the diversity and richness of Miéville’s sublime metafiction; a work in which art comes to life and in which boundaries of all kinds are constantly crossed and re-crossed.

A few of his imaginings. The first ‘manif’ to appear is of a curious machine smashing though the Nazi barricades; it appears to be a sort of tandem. “Only one woman rode…the other was a torso, jutted from the bicycle itself…” It is Leonora Carrington’s 1941 drawing I am the Amateur of the Velocipede brought to life. The Velo crashes on the “Surrealist side of the street” throwing its human rider onto the ground before careering off again. The woman is dying, she seems to be a foreign agent, she mutters “Fall Rot” or “Code Red” before she dies.

Thibaut senses that the Nazi forces are about to launch some kind of new offensive to break the stalemate, which has kept Paris in a state of limbo. He sets off on a journey across the blighted ruins of the city. On the way, he encounters a succession of ‘manifs’, which although they are ‘on his side’ seem to have a life of their own. And he passes a number of landmarks transformed by ‘irrational embellishments’ (as suggested in a 1933 article by seven Surrealists which proposed modifications to a number of Paris sites). For example, he finds the church of Sacré Coeur is now “a tram depot, painted black” as imagined by André Breton.

En route, he is joined by two companions, Sam, a journalist apparently from the outside world, and by an ‘exquisite corpse’, which is reproduced at the front of the book. It is perhaps the most famous image of its kind and was ‘assembled’ by André Breton (head), Jacqueline Lamba (torso) and Yves Tanguy (legs) in 1938; one of many products of the Surrealist’s version of the parlour game, Consequences.

Fleeing poetry for reality or fleeing reality for poetry?

The novella moves back and forward in time. We learn that when the teenaged Thibaut joined the Main á Plume he recited their mantra “We refuse to flee poetry for reality. But we refuse to flee reality for poetry” as part of his entry test. The action switches to Marseille in 1941, where a group of (real) Surrealists, awaiting safe passage out of France, play invented games. One of these is based on a Surrealist card pack usefully detailed in the notes and illustrated in Martin’s guide. The game is joined by a crazed occult rocket scientist, Jack Parsons; his arrival has very unexpected consequences that lead to the later developments in Paris.

The division between real and invented characters and between fictional and imaginary events becomes increasingly difficult to divine as Miéville’s phantasmagorical imagination runs riot. Amidst all of this strangeness, the novella reaches a climax with further perverse surprises; Thibaut confronts what might be seen as the ultimate Nazi ‘manif’ and he has a final encounter with ‘the banality of evil’. Thibaut survives, he “takes a deep breath and steps across the boundary into New Paris, the old city” and life and art return to normal. Or do they?

Five months in Paris

As our second years head off to Paris for their Study Trip, one of our lecturers, Dr Elizabeth L’Estrange, tells us about her recent fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study, based in the beautiful Hotel de Lauzun on the banks of the Seine…

From September until the end of January this academic year I was lucky enough to be a fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study in Paris so I could pursue my research project on early modern women’s writings and libraries.

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Outside the Hôtel de Lauzun, home of the Institute for Advanced Study, with fancy 19th- century drainpipe…

The Institute offers residents an office in the beautiful Hotel de Lauzun, overlooking the banks of the Seine, and the opportunity to conduct their research in an interdisciplinary environment: amongst the other fellows were neuroscientists, musicologists, historians, sociologists, anthropologists, and psychologists from America, Europe and the Middle East. Being in Paris for five months meant I was able to access on a regular basis the archives and libraries that hold the majority of the primary sources for my project, as well as meet researchers and academics working in similar areas. In addition, I had the opportunity to see some amazing art, not least two very different exhibitions – one on Northern Renaissance artists at the French court and the other an installation by Sophie Calle, of which more in a later post.

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The gilded balcony of the Hôtel de Lauzun hints at the lavish interior

The hôtel particulier where the Institute for Advanced Study is based sits on the Quai d’Anjou, on the Ile Saint-Louis, a short walk from Notre-Dame cathedral.  It was designed by Charles Chamois and built between 1656 and 1660 for the financier Charles Gruyn (d. 1680), a member of the rising middle classes whose wealth allowed them to invest in property and engage in activities usually reserved for the nobility. The interlaced initials G and M can be found throughout the decorated rooms and might refer to Gruyn and his wife, Geneviève de Möy although it has also been suggested that the letters refer entirely to Geneviève herself, and that she may also have had a hand in the choice of the decoration of some of the rooms. Another symbol found through the hôtel is a wild boar: “Gruyn” being the noise that a pig makes in French,  Charles chose a wild boar (slightly more “heraldic”-seeming than a pig!) as his symbol.

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Top of the staircase, reworked in the 19th century

Unlike many other residences of this kind, the building still contains much of its original decoration. The façade, however, is quite plain, and was probably intended to draw attention away from the more elaborate interior. Only the gilded balcony perhaps gave a hint to passers-by of what lay inside. The positioning of the main living rooms on the first floor of the building allow for an impressive view of the river, as well as protection from any flooding (though during my last few weeks in Paris the Seine was incredibly high and many galleries and libraries were on standby for evacuation).

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The view from my office…with the Seine at over 6 metres high.

Standing in the ante-chambre on the first floor, one has a view through all the doorways which are designed to appear as if they fit one into the other, like Russian dolls.

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View through the doorways on the first floor

The rooms are decorated with gilded panelling and painted ceilings displaying themes from classical antiquity. Some of these, such as the Triumph of Ceres and Diane and Endymion, were painted by Michel Dorigny (1616-65), a pupil of Simon Vouet. The Hôtel acquired its modern name from a later owner, the Duke of Lauzun and it remained in the hands of various aristocrats until the French Revolution. During the 1840s, parts of the hôtel were rented out as apartments to Charles Baudelaire and Theophile Gautier. Not only did Baudelaire write part of his famous Fleurs du mal while living here, but he and Gautier used the hôtel as a meeting place for the Club des Haschischins (the hashish-eaters), a society which was interested in experimenting with drugs like cannabis and opium. Other famous names, like the Three Muskateers’ author, Alexander Dumas, and the painter Eugène Delacroix, were also members of the club.

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Ceiling of the ‘Music Room’, with Paris and Venus (right) and Venus and Adonis (left). In the centre, above the grisaille cartouche, are the initials GM

Since the early twentieth century, the building has been a heritage site and is now owned by the city of Paris. The Institute for Advanced Study has been housed there since 2013.

A week in Prague

REBECCA SAVAGE (finalist)

Each year, 2nd year History of Art students embark on a University-funded, week-long study trip to a European city, in order to study its art, architecture and culture up-close. In the past, students have visited, among other cities, Rome, Berlin, and Brussels. Last year, however, the destination was Prague. Just weeks ahead of the current 2nd years heading off on their trip, here is Rebecca Savage reviewing her week in Prague last year …. 

February reading week rolled around again and, with it, the much anticipated History of Art second year field trip, which each year sees a group of excited students set off to explore art a little further afield! 2016’s trip took us to the beautiful city of Prague in the Czech Republic, led by Professor Matthew Rampley, lecturer (and 2nd year personal tutor) Claire Jones and PhD student Sara Tarter. The trip is a core component of the second-year curriculum and is fully-funded by the University.

Prague is a city famous for its range of architecture which tells the story of the country’s complex political history, moving from Habsburg rule to the Austro-Hungarian empire and later Communist Government, all of which have made a lasting impression on the city: its streets, buildings, monuments and institutions. The sheer diversity of the city became obvious to us the minute we arrived by coach, in the low light of the evening, and, despite our tired eyes and rumbling stomachs, we were all struck by the range of buildings, bridges and statues that were there waiting to be explored.

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Bright and early the next morning, after a somewhat bizarre hotel breakfast – I observed at least two fellow visitors topping their porridge with cold meat and eggs – we headed out to explore the city some more, hopping on a tram to take us into the centre. Matthew led us on a tour of the older areas of Prague, taking in sights such as Old Town square which features the famous Jan Hus monument and the astronomical clock (which Matthew dismissed as “too touristy”).  Day one also featured a steep uphill trek, which despite the chilly weather and our aching legs, offered us one of the best views of the city (above) and the opportunity to visit the St Vitus Cathedral, and to view the changing of the guard outside Prague Castle!

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In contrast to the older areas visited on Tuesday, Wednesday gave us the opportunity to see some of Prague’s modern features, and to visit the National Gallery. Housing a collection of over 2,300 works, displayed over three floors, the gallery contains a number of Czech and European works from the 19th and 20th centuries. On the ground floor the gallery currently houses the monumental Slav Epic, created by Alfons Mucha between 1910 and 1928 and which represent the history of the Slavic people. Comprising twenty enormous canvases — each around 13 feet tall — they were, despite their mixed reputation amongst Czech nationals, perhaps the most memorable works from our visit to the National Gallery. Interestingly the gallery was also then exhibiting  Al Wei Wei’s Zodiac Heads, which I thought were made all the more impressive by the snow storm that surrounded them when we arrived:

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Thankfully the snow had cleared by Thursday, which saw us undertaking our second walking tour of the city, this time focusing on Prague’s modernist architecture, beginning with Wenceslas square. As with our tour earlier on in the week, this walk saw us considering and discussing a dizzingly-vast array of different sorts of buildings, all exhibiting such remarkable diversity in architectural styles. Highlights included the Hotel Jalta: a boutique hotel from the communist era which boasts a nuclear bunker and socialist statues as decoration. Matthew also pointed our attention to the statue of Wenceslas square’s eponymous king, a controversially parodic work by artist David Černý (an artist famous for his subversive works including the The Piss Sculpture in front of the Franz Kafka museum and the Olympic London Booster Bus):

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On Friday a group of us embarked on a walk up to the National Memorial on Vitkov Hill. Originally built as a monument to Czechoslovakian legionaries, and later used to promote the communist regime, the memorial was opened to the public by the National Gallery in 2009 — although it still maintains some of its previous sinister gravitas.  On Friday afternoon we visited the Municipal House and its Art Nouveau exhibition. Again this offered us another side to the city’s artistic legacy and rich holdings, featuring glass, fashion and furniture which often get otherwise overlooked.

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Alongside all the key visits just described, we also had ample opportunities to explore the city for ourselves, in our own time, taking in places of particular interest to each of us. This was particularly important as the trip will form the basis for our own research project, which generated an assessed presentation delivered in the Summer exam season. Indeed, the point of the trip is to identify the subject of your presentation, usually a work of art or architecture, then spend as much time as possible studying it at first hand, whilst still in Prague itself. For nothing compares to studying art objects in real life, and that is one of the joys of the trip!

However, studying works of art and buildings up close wasn’t the only joy and it wasn’t all academic study. We experienced the city’s other important offerings and highlights – cheap beer, hot wine and soup in bread bowls amongst them. We got lost on the tram and metro system; and let me tell you that, besides all the museum-going and walking, nothing gets you bonding with your peers quite like trying to figure out how, in planning to go from A to B on the metro, we’d actually ended up at Z. Another highlight was getting to know the lecturers more, and have fun with them exploring a foreign city. As cheesy as it is to say, I know that some of my fondest memories of being an art history student at Birmingham, as well as my closest friendships, were formed on the study trip to Prague. 

New Caravaggio found in attic?

JAMIE EDWARDS

BBC reports that a new Caravaggio might just have been discovered in the attic of a house in Toulouse. The picture, showing Judith Beheading Holofernes, came to light two years ago (on the occasion of trying to mend a leaking roof apparently). It subsequently fell into the hands of Eric Turquin (pictured below alongside the painting in question), who now suspects that the painting is another autograph version of Caravaggio’s famous Judith Beheading Holofernes (1598/99; Palazzo Barberini, Rome).

The French Government has placed a 30-month export bar on the picture. In the meantime, analysts at The Louvre are working on ascertaining an attribution; should they authenticate it as a genuine Caravaggio, the French Government will have first dibs on acquiring it.

Caravaggio, Rome

Caravaggio, Judith Beheading Holofernes (1598/99; Palazzo Barberini, Rome)

New Caravaggio? AFP:Getty Images

New Caravaggio? AFP:Getty Images

I’m no Caravaggio expert, but when you put reproductions of the “new” Caravaggio next to the version in Rome, the former doesn’t seem “right”–the composition’s a bit clumsy; the flesh colours a bit stark; the curtains behind, a tad sharp and staccato. These comments come, of course, with the important caveat that they are being offered about a pretty bad reproduction of a painting that is supposed to have spent its recent history under a leaky roof, so caution is needed. However, the fact that Caravaggio courted such a huge following, the so-called Caravaggisti, seems to me to be clearly relevant and imposes yet another reason to be cautious about making excited pronouncements about this discovery. I’m sure that The Louvre will be able to shed some light when their investigations begin to yield answers.

 

Review of The Journal of Art Historiography: Issue 13, December 2015

Faith Trend

The Journal of Art Historiography is a unique journal dedicated specifically to the specialised field of art historiography. It has been successfully edited since its conception by the University of Birmingham’s own Richard Woodfield and was the basis for the university’s recent summer symposium series. Each issue is packed full of articles, translations, reviews and reports of the highest academic standard and this abundant yet critically weighty output is what has made the journal an authority in the area of historiography. Indeed, the Dictionary of Art Historians calls it ‘the major research organ of the field’.

For those who attended the Birmingham art historiography symposium back in 2013 you will be delighted to see two articles by familiar faces in the most recent issue of the Journal: the University of Birmingham’s Daniel Reynolds and collaborator Rebecca Darley reflecting on their role as curators of the recent coin exhibition Faith and Fortune, and Australian academic Catherine De Lorenzo’s article on ‘The hang and art history’.

Darley and Reynolds curated the successful and long running coin exhibition, Faith and Fortune: visualizing the divine on Byzantine and early Islamic coinage at the Barber between November 2013 and January 2015. Their article focuses on how the duo and their team decided to shake up the traditional method of numismatic exhibition display and instead present the coins in a revolutionary manner with the aim of engaging and educating a wider and more diverse audience. As Darley and Reynolds explain, the field of numismatics has long been seen as a rather esoteric and dry area, with exhibitions doing very little to sway audiences from these preconceptions. Exhibitions of numismatics have also, on the whole, focused on the visual and aesthetic qualities of the coins, and have been limited by the typical presentation method of the coins – placed in rows on pH-neutral cloth covered board, separated from their accompanying labels. With the Faith and Fortune exhibition, Darley and Reynolds chose to mount the coins on a large Foamex board integrated around the text which focused largely on the coins economic qualities.

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One of the cabinets showing how printed boards were used to mount the coins to encourage visitor engagement with the objects and their interpretation.

The team’s decision to focus on representing the coins as economic artefacts marked another break in tradition and reminds the viewer that coins were not typically meant to be perceived as art. Their aim, as the article states was to ‘reflect upon the multiple ways in which seeing and interacting with coins gave the objects value in the late antique world and how the coins in turn generated networks of shared expectation, rhetoric and material exchange which defined people’s lives.’ Darley and Reynolds then go on to weigh up the limitations and opportunities that the space at the Barber provided them with, other factors that had to be considered in the lead up to the exhibition, as well as general reflections on the successes and failures of the exhibition as a whole. In particular they highlight the research that has been stimulated by the exhibition, achieving a key aim of theirs to make the exhibition a ‘a forum for research rather than purely dissemination.’ The account provides a fascinating background to the exhibition and those of our readers who managed to see the exhibition will be able to judge for yourselves how successful you believe Darley and Reynolds to be in achieving their goals.

Catherine De Lorenzo’s article ‘The hang and art history’ is, as mentioned earlier, another one which may be familiar with our readers who attended the 2014 conference. De Lorenzo’s paper is one strand of a wider research project analysing exhibitions of Australian art over the last 50 years and focuses in particular on the subject of Aboriginal art, the increase in its recognition and acknowledgement as ‘quintessentially Australian’, and the implications this has on art history. Tony Tuckson’s Australian Aboriginal Art (1960-61) is the key example that De Lorenzo works with and she gives a fascinating and in-depth analysis of the ‘cross-disciplinary and cross-institutional’ curatorial strategies that directed the exhibition. While De Lorenzo touches on the curatorial and art historiographical legacies of Tuckson’s exhibition it would be interesting if she had looked at other exhibitions in the same level of detail, however I suspect that will be forthcoming as part of the goals of the wider research project that she is a part of. De Lorenzo’s article ultimately demonstrates how much the museum sector has changed over the past 50 years in its handling and understanding of Aboriginal art and how it can be further shaped in the future to continue to educate both scholars and the public on Aboriginal art and its essential place within the canon of Australian art history.

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The book that followed Tuckson’s exhibition

Further Birmingham art historians Matthew Rampley and Nóra Veszprémi are to be found in the reviews section. Rampley considers Vlad Toca’s Art Historical Discourse in Romania, 1919-1947 and suggests that the work does not constitute a particularly deep critical analysis but praises it for providing ‘a useful start to the discussion of an understudied subject.’ While Veszprémi provides a response to Rebecca Houze’s Textiles, Fashion and Design Reform in Austria-Hungary before the First World War: Principles of Dress, which is incredibly detailed and thorough, giving real insight into the many highlights of Houze’s text.

Another article which may hold particular interest for our readers is Claire Farago’s review of The Lives of Leonardo, a subject of great discussion among the writers and readers of our blog. Farago looks in depth at Thomas Frangenberg and Rodney Palmer’s collection of articles taken from a symposium in 2006 on the subject of Leonardo Da Vinci’s biography. Farago highlights the central theme of the book as considering the legacy of Vasari’s Lives and her fascinating review of the book makes it one to perhaps recommend to our undergraduates in the future as they tackle Vasari in their first year. While generally praising of the book on the whole, Farago is withering in her disdain of the lack of female contributors to the volume, a reminder to us all that there is still a great deal of work to be done in balancing out the field. Indeed our first years have recently been tackling the problems that arise when men are solely responsible for our understanding of artists biographies.

I have barely touched the surface of the multitude of articles contained in December’s issue of the Journal of Art Historiography, so richly packed as it is with such an abundant range of pieces. However, I hope I have done enough to whet the appetite and encourage our readers to take a closer look at further articles in the journal. Anyone who would like to review one or two in greater detail is encouraged to get in touch.

 

To read the December issue and the 12 past issues the website is:

https://arthistoriography.wordpress.com/

Cosmin Minea, PhD researcher in the Department, publishes “New Images for Modern Nations: Creating a ‘National’ Architecture for the Balkan Countries at Paris Universal Exhibition of 1889”

AHRC/M3C scholar and PhD researcher Cosmin Minea has published part of his past research as an article in the book Ephemeral Architecture in Central and Eastern Europe in the 19th and 20th Centuries (Miklós Székely ed.) that has appeared with the French publisher l’Harmattan. In this work he describes the meanings of the pavilions and other constructions displayed by the three newly independent countries from the Balkan Peninsula, Greece, Serbia, and Romania, at the 1889 Parisian Universal Exhibition.

Cosmin lays the stake of the article at the very beginning that: “For the young Balkan countries, 19th century Universal Exhibitions were priceless opportunities to show off the unique characteristics that defined them as a nation, and architecture played a key role in a place of competing nationalisms, where visual displays where meant to be as attractive as possible.”

He then approaches the topic in three stages. First he describes how paradoxically French architects were those who designed “national” architecture to represent the Balkan countries. Then he takes a closer look at what exactly were the “national” architectural elements to discover yet another paradox: that some of the architecture taken to be national and thus specific for one country can actually be seen and have the same meaning as other countries. An example is the colourful glazed ceramic tiles that are taken to be “national” both by Serbia and Romania. Finally Cosmin analyses the importance of French views that played down the “national” specificities the Balkan countries wanted to promoted and rather associated them with the Oriental and exotic part of the Exhibition. In the end Cosmin concludes that the participation at the Paris 1889 Universal Exhibition proved to be an important step for newly independent countries form the Balkans to define artistic styles representative for the national state.

The article is part of a book that deals with a variety of constructions designed for national and international exhibitions in the 19th and 20th centuries and follows a conference held in Budapest in 2013. From very diverse geographical areas, these temporary buildings of the modern period stand for the latest trends in architecture and express contemporary ideas of nationalism, power, entertainment and art.

The book with the article (including lots of photos!) will be available soon by request. Meanwhile Cosmin’s former MA thesis that is the basis for the article and includes even more photos is free to download here.

Ephemeral - cover

 

The museum of the future! Technology advances research in the humanities (again)

Faith Trend

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A viewer looking at a graphic of Venice and seeing the reconstructed map of the city for a given year and the document that served for the reconstruction, in this case an image the church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo in the eighteenth century

 

Following on from Jamie’s fascinating blog post a little while back on the use of technology in the reconstruction of the church of S. Pier Maggiore in Florence, this week I’m highlighting a really fascinating project going on in Venice at the moment and it comes with a helpful 10 minute Ted talk.

Professor Federic Kaplan is part of a project run by EPFL and the University of Venice Ca’ Foscari to create a massive digital collection of Venice’s archives so that they can create a time machine using that data so that when you look at something like a Google map, as well as being able to move around the space, you can also move backwards and forwards through the space and see what it was like hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago.

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A helpful chart that Kaplan uses to show how we can create digital information for past centuries – through the digitisation of thousands of printed books and materials and through extrapolation (or simulation) of that material.

Kaplan explains it far more succinctly and passionately than I do so I’m going to let him do all the talking here.

Kaplan highlights that to construct such a time machine, one needs large archives and excellent specialists for those archives. Venice has both of these in abundance which is one of the many reasons it was chosen for this project. As a researcher who has spent many hours in Venice’s Archivio di Stato (which is indeed a very large archive!), the idea that all of their hundreds of thousands of archival documents will one day be online, possibly even transcribed and translated, is a source of major excitement. Kaplan gives just a few examples of the sorts of questions that could be asked of this material from: ‘who lived in this palazzo in 1323?’ or ‘how much did sea bream cost at the Rialto market in 1434?’ to mapping out Mediterranean trade routes to ask questions like ‘if I am in Corfu in June 1323 and want to go to Constantinople, when can I take a boat?’

Even better, for an art historian, is the idea that this type of time machine could be very visual and very interactive. Obviously art historians will be far from the only ones who benefit from this project, research in all areas of the humanities will be significantly impacted. As Kaplan says, ‘research in the humanities is about to undergo an evolution which is maybe similar to what happened to life science thirty years ago.’

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A fully 3D experience!

Imagine the huge impact that this sort of data collection, digitisation and manipulation (to make it interactive and accessible) will have on research in the humanities? The future of our field is going to be very exciting.

Bosch controversy.

JAMIE EDWARDS

Bosch (?), St Anthony (detail); Prado Museum

Bosch (?), St Anthony (detail); Prado Museum

Martin Bailey reports in The Art Newspaper that tensions have erupted between the Noordbrabants Museum in ‘s-Hertogenbosch and The Prado in Madrid, over its current major show on Hieronymus Bosch and the associated research conducted by the Bosch Research and Conservation Project (BRCP).

Regular readers will know that we’ve been awaiting the results of the BRCP for some time now, and over the last few months snippets of the findings have gradually been coming to light (see here, and here). With the opening of the show, however, and the publication of its associated catalogue, feathers have been ruffled all over the place, with the result that two works from The Prado, which had been promised to the show, were withdrawn at the last minute, leaving, I suppose, two conspicuous gaps on the exhibition’s walls (not to mention a strange incongruity between the show and the catalogue, since the two works in question are still, obviously, to be found in the latter but are now absent from the former).

To cut a long story short, The Prado is dissatisfied with the findings of the BRCP in relation to 2 pictures which they believe to be by Bosch–and had promised to loan to the Noordbrabants Museum–but which have since been “downgraded”.

The first is the Cure of Folly, which The Prado is convinced was painted by Bosch at around the turn of the 1500s but which the BRCP believes to have been produced in Bosch’s orbit, at some time between 1510 and ’20 (and Bosch died in ’16).

Bosch (?), Cure of Folly; Prado Museum

Bosch (?), Cure of Folly; Prado Museum

The other is the  S Anthony, again believed to be genuine by The Prado, who date it to about 1490, whereas the BCRP gives it to a follower of Bosch’s and dates it to the 1530s, if not the ’40s!

Bosch (?), Temptation of S Anthony; Prado Museum

Bosch (?), S Anthony; Prado Museum

The Prado has said that it is a shame the works have not, after all, gone on show in the new exhibition, citing what they call the “extremely subjective” stylistic evidence that they say underscore the BCRP’s revised attributions. It goes without saying that the Spanish Museum does not agree with the BRCP in these cases (bolstered in their conviction, I am sure, by the fact that both pictures are done on panels that date to Bosch’s lifetime: the Anthony panel could, according to the dendrochronology, have been painted in the 1460s; the Folly in the early ’90s–so the issue here concerns style, hence the Prado’s accusation of connoisseurial subjectivity!). Still, it’s not as though such doubts are entirely brand new. In 1987 Roger Marijnissen, for example, put a big question mark over the status of the Anthony

Anyway, it will be interesting to read more about this when I get my hands on the catalogue etc. etc.

*Update 1. Bosch scholar Bernard Vermet writes to say that

We had the same problem in 2001. The Prado threatened to withdarw the Anthony if it wasn’t presented as an original Bosch. So the caption in the exhibition and in the book, p. 96, said ‘Bosch or follower, c. 1500-1525’, but in the article(s) it was only discussed as by a follower (which they did not notice before it was already on view for a month or so). Jos Koldeweij was there too, so he could have known this was going to happen. We had less problems in presenting the Cure of Folly as an original, even though it is mainly a workshop job.

So The Prado has previous (which Koldeweij already knew…)

**Update 2. Vermet adds

B.t.w.: there is a very simple characteristic of Bosch paintings that fails in the Anthony (but is present in Kansas): the waterlevel does not follow the contour of objects in the water, but is always drawn as a straight line by Bosch.

***More updates. (You can view these in the comments tab, but since that’s difficult to spot on some devices, I’m adding them here.)

 

  1. Maaike Dirkx says:

    There is still the question of the very last minute withdrawal. Loans must have been requested a long time ago, but the two panels were withdrawn at the very last minute – two weeks before opening and with the catalogue already in print. Someone who saw the exhibition noted a number tag where the Saint Anthony was supposed to hang is still on the wall.

    • jamieedwards756 says:

      Yep. That’s it–they pulled them at the last moment. There is a gap on the wall where the Anthony was supposed to be, ditto the Cure of Folly (so Vermet tells me!).
      Very silly if you ask me, but there you go… Thing is, the BRCP presumably don’t have definitive evidence (say of a scientific kind) that they’re not Bosch, more connoisseurial opinion. So to deny other art historians, not involved with the Project, the chance to study the Anthony and Folly alongside the other Boschs seems counterintuitive to me (plenty of people might, after all and on balance, disagree with the Project’s findings). Alas, it’s happened now.

      • Bernard Vermet says:

        Don’t worry, you can still see them in the Madrid exhibition in june, with all works now in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, plus the Anthony tritych from Lisbon and the Garden, the Seven Deadly sins and all or most other (former) Bosch paintings of the Prado and Escorial. (And the weather will be nicer too).

  2. Maaike Dirkx says:

    Ilsink (see NY Times) said in response that “he and another researcher informed curators at the Prado about the findings in person several months ago, and also showed them a sample of the catalog for the exhibition in which the new attributions were described and explained.”
    It would have been understandable if the Prado would have declined to lend at that time, but at the very last minute? On the whole I was surprised that the BRCP throughout announced their more sensational findings in the media without the backing of their scientific publication.

    • Bernard Vermet says:

      The Prado acts in mysterious ways, way above the comprehension of ordinary earthlings. But in this case it is probably the result of an accumulation of what they feel as insults. Still, the BRCP hasn’t annaounced any sensational finding so far. The November “news” about the Seven deadly Sins and the Carrying of the Cross was a) not an announcement, because it was only an aside remark by Jos Koldeweij in a documentary that was picked out by the press (and only then, afterwards, quite stupidly reproduced by the museum in a press release) and b) not a finding but a fairly common opinion beween most, or at least half of the Bosch experts. And I don’t think there is any expert outside the Prado who has written that the Anthony is by Bosch for the last thirty years. The catalogue raisonné and the technical report will appear at the end of this month and then you will hear about some really interesting findings.

      • Maaike Dirkxsays:

        I know that the demoted works, including also the Ghent Carrying of the Cross, were already debated by scholars. I was referring, for instance, to the re-attributed drawing. In any case that led to interesting discussions here and which one hopes will continue among scholars when the catalogue raisonné and technical report are published. The Prado’s side in the present controversy was published in El Pais yesterday. Very much looking forward to learning more from the publications, not so much about attributions but about the paintings and drawings as works of art.

        1. jamieedwards756 says:

          Good points, Bernard, about Madrid (especially re: the weather!). Also interesting to read that the Prado were well informed about all this in plenty of time. But for me, that makes their behaviour seem all the more silly–it’s one thing to decline to loan a work, because there are big questions marks hanging over the attribution etc., but it’s another to say and then take it back at the eleventh hour! Indeed, the Prado acts in very mysterious ways…
          Anyway good points–look forward to the forthcoming publications and all the light they will shed (or not) on recent events. Also:

          “Very much looking forward to learning more from the publications, not so much about attributions but about the paintings and drawings as works of art.”

          Quite!

        2. Bernard Vermet says:

          Today in the Dutch Volkskrant: There was a press release by the Prado yesterday, stating that the loan was cancelled already on November 25, because the paintings were asked for “an exhibition entirely devoted to original works by Bosch”. De Mooij has confirmed and said they kept hoping they would change their minds until two weeks ago. Apparently their hope was very strong since otherwise it is quite silly to present so prominently the Golden Fleece coat of arms paintings without the Cure of Folly next to them.

          Maaike Dirkx says: February 18, 2016 at 10:54 am  (Edit)

          If what the Prado says (as reported in the Volkskrant) is true and the de-attributions came out prematurely when the documentary on the Bosch team premiered at the documentary festival in October, with the Prado not being the first to be informed, it is understandable that the Prado is not amused. An unfortunate faux pa

        3. Bernard Vermet says:

          PS: and the Haywain was not withdrawn because it was presented as an original, so no legal conditions were violated there. (Hope for them the forthcoming catalogue will not express doubts about the wings, in- and outside 🙂 ).

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