I’m a book lover. Always have been, always will be. For me, the physicality of a book—the tactile qualities of holding it in my hands, the smell of the paper and ink, and the sound of turning the pages—it is part of a complete experience that I never want to give up. And I’m not the only one. Although e-readers have taken part of the book market, readers still prefer physical books and physical books outsell e-books.
I don’t own an e-reader, but I do a lot of reading on screens, usually on my computer. Compared to even ten years ago, an enormous amount of important scholarship for the art historian is on the internet. I still conduct good and thorough research using printed books, but it’s amazing what is available with a few taps of the keyboard.
Around this time each year the Museum places its beloved Neapolitan crèche in the galleries. But because the Museum is temporarily closed through the holiday season, we unfortunately can’t share the crèche with you in person. I invite you, however, to read on to learn more about it, and about the history of restaging the Nativity scene.
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.
The current exhibition in the European works on paper rotation space (on view until December 3) is The Temple of Flora. The show features fifteen large-scale color prints from the illustrated book The Temple of Flora. They reflect the true passion of English doctor John Robert Thornton: botany. In honor of the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778), Thornton hired eminent artists to produce the engravings, envisioning a series of seventy plates. The extreme cost of hiring top artists to create such labor-intensive prints, however, resulted in the creation of only thirty-three plates, which he released individually between 1799 and 1812. Learn more about what makes these prints so unique with today’s post.
What do you notice first about Miss Grace Ashburner? Maybe her porcelain-white skin highlighted by pink cheeks? Her fashionably powered hair decorated by a shiny blue ribbon? Or maybe her smart green coat with bright brass buttons?
This portrait of Grace, painted by fashionable English portraitist George Romney (1734-1802), shows her wistfully gazing off in the distance. In 1792, the year of the painting, Grace would have turned 18. She is certainly the epitome of a lovely young lady of late eighteenth century England.
Would it surprise you to learn that, just five years later, Grace was involved in a love triangle that resulted in a scandalous trial?
Details of Grace’s life come alive through some primary resources. The story first broke in a number of English newspapers in late June 1797. Notices appear all over the county, from Kent southeast of London, to Chester near Liverpool, to Norfolk on the east coast, to Staffordshire in the Midlands. It even made the newspapers in Ireland. Then, when the civil jury trial happened in September, more newspapers took up the story. There even exists a pamphlet that captures all of the details. It sold for twopence and had as its title:
[Last month, the Milwaukee Art Museum put on view three important Meissen tankards. Learn more about two of them with this re-posted entry from 2014.]
Previously, we demystified tin-glazed earthenware while putting it into a historical context. In this post, we’ll figure out the magic behind the material that tin-glazed earthenware attempted to fill in for: porcelain.
Introduced to Europe from China in the fourteenth century, porcelain was the most elegant and fascinating of materials. It was pristine, white yet translucent, and although it was thin and light-weight, it was also amazingly strong and durable. In other words, it was everything that tin-glazed earthenware and stoneware was not.