English history can appear to be a long list of kings and queens with the same names. The queen that most of us are familiar with today is Queen Elizabeth II. The first and only other Queen Elizabeth ruled from 1558 to 1603.
Before the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century, books were handwritten. Imagine… every time a copy of a text needed to be made, someone had to do it painstakingly by hand. In our world of quick reproductions and the ease of hitting “print”, this can be hard to believe!
The exhibition The Art of Devotion: Illuminated Manuscripts from Local Collections, on view at the Milwaukee Art Museum through June 16, 2019, aims to provide an introduction to these handwritten texts–called manuscripts–that were made in the middle ages and early Renaissance. A good number of those manuscripts are also illuminated, or decorated with gold, silver, and bright colors that make them literally look like they shine from within.
Ornamenting the Christian Bible and related texts reflected their holiness, as revealing the teachings of God. Monks and nuns would make the books in a scriptorium—or copying room—as a type of religious devotion. By the fourteenth century, commercial scriptoriums fulfilled the demand for books made by the aristocrats and nobles who commissioned them not only to use in private devotion but also to display their great wealth. As you can imagine, this leads to amazing and beautiful books!
It’s always exciting when new research comes to light!
Just last month, while preparing for a lecture on Meissen in the Milwaukee Art museum collection, I discovered new information related to an object from an earlier post, the Meissen urn at left.
When last researching the urn in 2015, I was pretty sure that it was made by Meissen Porcelain Manufactory, the important German company, because it was marked on the bottom with crossed swords in blue. It has the snake handles popular on these types of vessels, particularly in the nineteenth century. The scene on the vase is the Greek myth of the Calydonian boar hunt.
At the time, I thought that maybe our urn was a Meissen porcelain blank painted by a skilled artist not associated with the factory–this was based upon finding another vase with the same boar hunt online that was only identified as “German”.
But the high quality of the painting on our urn made it such a showpiece, that I was convinced that there was more to find. So, when I was asked to give a lecture on Meissen in the collection, I thought I’d take another look.
During my research three years ago, I had found a photograph of a vessel in the same shape (below left) in a history of Meissen published in 1911 and edited by Dr. K. Berling. The shape was modeled by Ernst August Leuteritz (German, 1818–1893), who invigorated Meissen’s lagging sales by introducing neoclassical shapes.
Today, in celebration of the holiday season, we’re going to discuss one of my favorite paintings in the collection.
In St. Nicholas Day, painter Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller (1793–1865) shows an Austrian family celebrating the feast of St. Nicholas on December 6. On St. Nicholas Eve, Austrian children would put their shoes on the windowsill. If they had behaved well all year, the children would discover the next morning that St. Nicholas had filled their shoes with fruit, sweets, and small toys.
While at first glance the crowded room is full of excitement and joy, a closer look shows why Waldmüller was considered one of the most important Austrian artists of the nineteenth century. Rather than a chaotic scene, the painting is balanced and orderly. The gestures and glances of each subject draw the viewer’s eye around the painting, creating a sense of harmony.
It’s always so exciting to get a painting out of storage! I’m happy to report that a lovely seventeenth century portrait is newly on view in the Renaissance galleries (Main Level S103). It has been carefully cleaned and looks marvelous.