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Art Curatorial

From the Collection–Roman Portrait of a Man

Roman, Late Hadrianic (AD 117–138) or Antonine (AD 138–193) Period. Portrait of a Man, 2nd century AD. Marble. height: 16 1/2 in. (41.91 cm). Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Suzanne and Richard Pieper M2004.582.
Roman, Late Hadrianic (AD 117–138) or Antonine (AD 138–193) Period. Portrait of a Man, 2nd century AD. Marble. height: 16 1/2 in. (41.91 cm). Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Suzanne and Richard Pieper M2004.582.

Walk into any home today and you’re likely to see photographs of people.  Carefully posed family portraits, snapshots from vacation, and, of course, selfies surround us in our homes.  People have an almost innate desire to capture the faces of their friends and family, not to mention themselves.

Two thousand years ago, Ancient Romans didn’t have photography, but they did have the same desire to capture and remember the faces of those they loved.  Wealthy Roman homes were filled with portraits of family members both past and present, most often in the form of busts and full-length statues.  One such portrait, The Milwaukee Art Museum’s Portrait of a Man, was sculpted during the late Hadrianic (117-138 CE) or Antonine Period (138-193 CE).  Based on the size and detail of this marble portrait, it would have likely been placed in a prominent position in a house or garden.  Just like today, all portraits weren’t created equal, and sculptures like this one are akin to an expensive portrait you might commission from a professional photographer, rather than a snapshot developed at a convenience store.

Categories
Art Curatorial

Mythology at the Milwaukee Art Museum–Part 2

Corrado Giaquinto (Italian, 1703–1766), The Triumph of Galatea, ca. 1752. Oil on canvas; 33 1/2 x 48 1/2 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Myron Laskin M1970.68.2 Photo credit Larry Sanders.
Corrado Giaquinto (Italian, 1703–1766), The Triumph of Galatea, ca. 1752. Detail. Oil on canvas; 33 1/2 x 48 1/2 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Myron Laskin M1970.68.2 Photo credit Larry Sanders.

In my August post for the Museum’s blog, Mythology at the Milwaukee Art Museum-Part 1, I focused on some great examples of Classical mythological figures in the Museum’s Collection—hopefully with the result that you will be able to identify those characters the next time you see them.

This month, I am going to explore another aspect of mythology in art.  (Don’t worry, we’ll still learn how to identify a myth or two.)  But we’ll also see that classical mythology can be both straightforward and convoluted at the same time.

First, let’s start with a basic question: what is “myth”?

There is a lot of scholarship on the definition and meaning of myth in disciplines such as anthropology.

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Art Curatorial

From the Collection– “A Roman Amateur” by Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Lawrence Alma-Tadema (English, b. Dutch, 1836–1912), A Roman Amateur (also known as A Roman Art Lover), 1870. Oil on wood panel, 29 x 39 1/2 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Layton Art Collection, Gift of the following Layton Art Gallery Trustees, plus Layton funds, between 1892-96: George Dickens, Frederick Layton, William Plankinton, B.K. Miller, Samuel Marshall, J.H. Van Dyke, L149. Photo by John Neinhuis.
Lawrence Alma-Tadema (English, b. Dutch, 1836–1912), A Roman Amateur, 1870. Oil on wood panel, 29 x 39 1/2 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Layton Art Collection, Gift of the following Layton Art Gallery Trustees, plus Layton funds, between 1892-96: George Dickens, Frederick Layton, William Plankinton, B.K. Miller, Samuel Marshall, J.H. Van Dyke, L149. Photo by John Neinhuis.

On December 14, 1894, Frederick Layton, the Milwaukee meat packer and philanthropist who founded the Layton Art Gallery (the predecessor of the Milwaukee Art Museum), wrote a letter to Julius Gugler of the Milwaukee Art Association.

Layton requested the organization to raise $10,000 by subscription to purchase a painting by Lawrence Alma-Tadema which was currently on display at Milwaukee’s Pfister Hotel as a loan from one of Layton’s art dealer friends.

The subscription must have been successful, because the Layton Art Collection at the Milwaukee Art Museum has a wonderful painting by Alma-Tadema!

This painting, called A Roman Amateur, can be found in Gallery #10 with other works of 19th-century European art.

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Art Museum Buildings

From the Collection–Marble Through the Ages

Gaetano Trentanove, The Last of the Spartans (Detail), ca. 1892. Marble. Layton Art Collection, Gift of William E. Cramer. Photo by the author.
Gaetano Trentanove, The Last of the Spartans (Detail), ca. 1892. Marble. Layton Art Collection, Gift of William E. Cramer. Photo by the author.

The Museum Collection contains endless stories. Our paintings hold narratives of mythological legends; decorative art objects tell us of life way-back-when; contemporary art puts our finger on the pulse of what is going on now. But have you ever traced a story through the Collection? There are many ways to do this: you could follow an artist’s work through his or her lifetime, a collector’s vision (Mrs. Bradley, Mr. Layton, the list goes on…), or you could really veer off the beaten track and follow the story of a material–you know, what an art object is made out of. One of our super-star materials? Marble!

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Art Curatorial

From the Collection–Ancient Greek Vases

Niobid Painter (Greek, Attic, active ca. 470–ca. 445 BC). Hydria (Water Jar), ca. 460 BC. Red-figure terracotta. Gift of Mrs. Douglass Van Dyke, in Memory of Douglass Van Dyke, to the Milwaukee Art Museum. Photo credit Larry Sander
Niobid Painter (Greek, Attic, active ca. 470–ca. 445 BC). Hydria (Water Jar), ca. 460 BC. Red-figure terracotta. Gift of Mrs. Douglass Van Dyke, in Memory of Douglass Van Dyke, to the Milwaukee Art Museum. Photo credit Larry Sander

The Milwaukee Art Museum may have a small collection of ancient Mediterranean art, but we have some great pieces!

Take, for instance, our two ancient Greek Hydria.  Walk into Gallery 1, and you will see them in the free-standing case on the right. 

What is so exciting about Greek vases?  Well, for one thing, they are some of the only artwork that we have remaining from this important ancient civilization.  In particular, their decorations are the only hint that we have of what ancient Greek painting looked like.  Practically all ancient painting has been destroyed due to its fragility.  Greek vases survived because they were put into tombs and sanctuaries as offerings.  In fact, the accident of their survival has made them more important to us than to the Greeks, who for the most part did not seem them as great art and used them as everyday objects.