Images of women martyrs have always been popular in art. Their stories are ripe with dramatic moments that capture the imaginations of both artist and audience. The subject also offers examples of moral virtue. Images of martyrs could be used as teaching tools for women in the early modern era, visually showcasing the moral ideals that they should embody.
Because of this didactic nature, female martyrs are often depicted in one of two ways: the moment of her martyrdom, or as if a portrait, surrounded by symbols. Showcasing the female martyr in the moment of her death offers the audience a dramatic story, while a portrait clearly illustrates the appropriate virtues for the viewer.
The subjects of today’s post, the Milwaukee Art Museum’s recent acquisition The Martyrdom of St. Justina of Padua, will let us look at this subject matter more closely.
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.
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:
The current exhibition in the European works on paper rotation space (on view until July 30) isAlluring Artifice: Mannerism in the Sixteenth Century. The show features 30 prints that explore Mannerism, a movement that emerged in European art around 1510-20 and lasted until about 1600. Characterized by densely packed compositions and a focus on the human form, the style resulted in images that are deliberately challenging in both design and technique. One of the prints featured in the show is Preparations for the Wedding Banquet of Cupid and Psyche, an important recent acquisition by the Italian female engraver Diana Mantuana (ca. 1547–1612), who is sometimes referred to as Diana Scultori.
The Milwaukee Art Museum’s current feature exhibition,Milwaukee Collects, includes more than 100 objects from nearly 50 private collections in the Greater Milwaukee area. It offers an opportunity to see treasures that are typically not on public view. At the same time, it reminds us that the Milwaukee Art Museum’s collection is part of a long tradition of collecting in the community. This is the second in a series of blog posts that will explore the provenance of selected artworks in the collection and how they came to be here.
Evening on the Seashore—Tangiers is a highlight of the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Orientalism gallery. Orientalism is a style in which the Near East is interpreted by western artists. This interest in the “exotic” was extremely popular in nineteenth century Europe and provided subject matter not just for paintings, but also decorative arts and interior decoration.
Even houses in small-town Wisconsin might have a “Turkish Corner” featuring a table, platter, and rug just like those found in the foreground of our painting. Just check out this one at the Hixon House in La Crosse!
The French painter Jean Joseph Benjamin Constant (1845–1902) found a ready clientele for his Orientalist works in late nineteenth century American collectors. The relaxed atmosphere, monumental figures, and Mediterranean setting of Evening on the Seashore-Tangiers would have been of particular interest to wealthy patrons who had large new homes to decorate.
One of those homes would have been the Pillsbury mansion of Milwaukee. The red-brick Queen Anne home stood at what is now 1626 N. Prospect Avenue. The house was razed in the 1960’s and to be replaced by the highrise apartment building known as Prospect Towers.