Orchids and elephants

I have always loved thes gorgeous Sèvres elephant vases at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Only 22 remain in collections today and due to their complexity, they were produced in a very limited quantity. Dating to about 1758, the two examples below are of soft-paste porcelain and were the work of the modeler Jean-Claude Duplessis (ca. 1695–1774).  Much favored by the French court, owners included Madame de Pompadour who owned 3 sets! 

  

 

Madame de Pompadour, mistress to Louis XV,  had retreat away from the Court, the Petit Trianon, a small palace built for her by the king.   

Though by the early1750s she was no longer the king’s mistress, she over saw new construction at Versailles as well as recommending the establishment of the Sèvres porcelain factory.

 

Madame de Pompadour at her Tambour Frame,  François-Hubert Drouais, 1763-4, The National Gallery, London 

In her honor I also share some gorgeous images of orchids from The New York Botanical Garden show earlier this year.  None of these are the Dendrobium Orchids actually named Madame Pompadour, but they are quite beautiful and I think she would approve.

                

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Midwestern Idyll

I went to The Metropolitan Museum of Art of a rainy day this week when it was relatively calm and quiet – most galleries I had to myself – perfect for the contemplation of art. And this is not usually possible when there is a mad crush of people in the rooms.  By steering clear of special exhibits most of the permanent collection, with the exception of the Egyptian rooms, can be enjoyed crowd free during weekdays now that summer has ended.

 John Steuart Curry’s Wisconsin Landscape, 1938-39

I grew up in Wisconsin and Iowa – in a suburb of Milwaukee and then later in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. And finally a stint in Missouri while attending Washinton University in St. Louis. After a summer in Washington, DC interning at the now defunct Corcoran Gallery of Art, I was more determined than ever to move to the East Coast. So by the next summer I was living in Boston.

But I still had my family in Wisconsin and Iowa, so there have been many trips back – some in summer when the fields look as gorgeous as they do in Curry’s landscape above. And other times in late December when the fields are frozen and covered in crisp white snow and the few remaining red barns stand out as cardinals do amidst the more modest plumage of their avian companions.

 Thomas Hart Benton’s July Hay, 1943

And Missouri landscapes such as Thomas Hart Benton’s July Hat harken back to Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s The Harvesters. Though Benton’s figures and the land have that strange twisted aspect, almost Mannerist in feel, but contorted in a more compact way.

 Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Netherlandish, Breda (?) ca. 1525–1569 Brussels),     The Harvesters, 1565

And finally the last in the trio of Regionalists, Grant Wood, who lived and had his artist’s studio for many years in Cedar Rapids at 5 Turner Alley.

 Photo by Mark Tade

Interior view of 5 Turner Alley, looking east, c. 1925, courtesy of Figge Art Museum, Grant Wood archives, photo by John W. Barry.

Here again as with Benton, and unlike the realism of Curry, we have a contrived bird’s eye view of a little Massachusetts hamlet. Cartoonish hills and rounded surveys set against the angular architecture and a huge spotlight on the town center – the light of an over bright moon to light Paul Revere’s way? Wood subject derives from history by way of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. And so full circle from the Midwest to the East Coast. Enjoy the poem! 

 Grant Wood’s The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, 1931

Paul Revere’s Ride 

Listen my children and you shall hear

Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,

On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;

Hardly a man is now alive

Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, “If the British march

By land or sea from the town to-night,

Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch

Of the North Church tower as a signal light,–

One if by land, and two if by sea;

And I on the opposite shore will be,

Ready to ride and spread the alarm

Through every Middlesex village and farm,

For the country folk to be up and to arm.”

Then he said “Good-night!” and with muffled oar

Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,

Just as the moon rose over the bay,

Where swinging wide at her moorings lay

The Somerset, British man-of-war;

A phantom ship, with each mast and spar

Across the moon like a prison bar,

And a huge black hulk, that was magnified

By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street

Wanders and watches, with eager ears,

Till in the silence around him he hears

The muster of men at the barrack door,

The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,

And the measured tread of the grenadiers,

Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,

By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,

To the belfry chamber overhead,

And startled the pigeons from their perch

On the sombre rafters, that round him made

Masses and moving shapes of shade,–

By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,

To the highest window in the wall,

Where he paused to listen and look down

A moment on the roofs of the town

And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,

In their night encampment on the hill,

Wrapped in silence so deep and still

That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,

The watchful night-wind, as it went

Creeping along from tent to tent,

And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”

A moment only he feels the spell

Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread

Of the lonely belfry and the dead;

For suddenly all his thoughts are bent

On a shadowy something far away,

Where the river widens to meet the bay,–

A line of black that bends and floats

On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,

Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride

On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.

Now he patted his horse’s side,

Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,

Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,

And turned and tightened his saddle girth;

But mostly he watched with eager search

The belfry tower of the Old North Church,

As it rose above the graves on the hill,

Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.

And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height

A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!

He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,

But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight

A second lamp in the belfry burns.

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,

A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,

And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark

Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;

That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,

The fate of a nation was riding that night;

And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,

Kindled the land into flame with its heat.

He has left the village and mounted the steep,

And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,

Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;

And under the alders that skirt its edge,

Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,

Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock

When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.

He heard the crowing of the cock,

And the barking of the farmer’s dog,

And felt the damp of the river fog,

That rises after the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,

When he galloped into Lexington.

He saw the gilded weathercock

Swim in the moonlight as he passed,

And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,

Gaze at him with a spectral glare,

As if they already stood aghast

At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,

When he came to the bridge in Concord town.

He heard the bleating of the flock,

And the twitter of birds among the trees,

And felt the breath of the morning breeze

Blowing over the meadow brown.

And one was safe and asleep in his bed

Who at the bridge would be first to fall,

Who that day would be lying dead,

Pierced by a British musket ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read

How the British Regulars fired and fled,—

How the farmers gave them ball for ball,

>From behind each fence and farmyard wall,

Chasing the redcoats down the lane,

Then crossing the fields to emerge again

Under the trees at the turn of the road,

And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;

And so through the night went his cry of alarm

To every Middlesex village and farm,—

A cry of defiance, and not of fear,

A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,

And a word that shall echo for evermore!

For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,

Through all our history, to the last,

In the hour of darkness and peril and need,

The people will waken and listen to hear

The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,

And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

 

A Happy Discovery

  Several years ago my favorite postcard went missing. I use them as bookmarks and assumed I had accidentally left it in a book I returned to the library. I lost this particular bookmark before.  Luckily I missed it almost immediately and raced back and found the book reshelved in the Yorkville branch of the New York Public Library with my bookmark still inside!

This morning while doing some research I opened a book and viola!      

 Postcard of Laus Veneris, Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones

I’ve had this postcard since my freshman year of college. I bought it at the campus bookstore at Washington University in St. Louis little knowing that I would go on to study the Pre-Raphaelites for my senior project and later my MA thesis. And I found the bookmark in an exhibition catalog for a show at the Peabody Essex Museum on the Maya – the subject of my second MA thesis.  Not sure what the universe is trying to tell me – one obsession lost and lodged within another, both of them pushed aside too often as I work through my daily life in a largely unrelated field. 

The culprit that swallowed my bookmark.

The subject of the painting is from Tannhäuser, a German Minnesinger (writer of lyric poems and songs), who died after 1265. Little is known about him, his poems date from 1245 to 1265, and his lineage is assumed to related to the Lords of Thannhausen in Bavaria. He was a courtier at the court of Frederick II of Austria (1230–1246), 

  Tannhäuser in the Codex Manesse (1340) 

Here he wears the habit of the Teutonic Order and may have fought the Fifth Crusade (1213–21). Tannhäuser  became a legend and was transformed over the centuries into a knight and poet who found the Venusberg (Venus’ underground dwelling) and lived with her there, worshipping the goddess. For a year. He if silly leaves and travels to Rome to ask forgiveness from Pope Urban IV. The Pope declares this as impossible as it is for his papal staff to blossom and Tannhäuser leaves. Three days later, Urban’s staff blooms with flowers. Messeengers are sent to recall the knight but he has returned messengers to Venusberg and is never to be seen again.

Though the Tannhäuser story is only a legend I feel that the current Pope would not have sent Tannhäuser away with that answer.   

 Pope Francis at the 9/11 Memorial on Friday, September 25, 2015.                John Minchillo/AP Photo 

 

The of Triumph of Fame over Death

Loved this team of elephants pulling the cart

Loved this team of elephants pulling the cart

This South Netherlandish tapestry is on view in Gallery 305 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. What attracted me was the pair of white elephants. The theme is from Petrarch’s I Trionfi (The Triumphs) and Louis XII commissioned a series of tapestries after the work was translated into French. This particular one has been cut down and was from a series most likely created for Bishop Symphorien de Bullioud of Soissons, a man familiar with Italian culture from trips to Milan and Rome.

The figures include Alexander the Great and Charlemagne – both sporting symbols of the French kings including Charlemagne’s fleur-de-lys and Alexander’s scepter. Plato and Aristotle stand with them. And the women being trampled by the elephants? Death. Hope that should I ever meet white elephants that would not be my fate.

The Rise of Maya Civilization

Last weekend the 8th Annual Tulane Maya Symposium and Workshop was held in New Orleans. Sponsored by the Middle American Research Institute, the yearly gathering is smaller than a major conference and a real chance for scholars to hear about the recent research of their colleagues and meet up and coming graduate students from institutions throughout the country, but many from the Louisiana, Florida and Texas area. 

Normand Hammond, Professor Emeritus of Archaeology at Boston University, presented his research from the site of Cuello, Belize.  The site was inhabited from 1200 BC through the end of the Late Preclassic. He showed evidence from the Middle Preclassic of residential structures and a sweatbath grouped around a courtyard and persistent renovation programs for more than 500 years until they were finally buried beneath a later ceremonial structure. Floral and faunal evidence shows a community with a maize based diet and some root crop agriculture as well as hunting and puppy farming for additional protein sources. All the dogs were raised to the same age, just less than a year, and then butchered for food. There was trade in exotic goods and suggestions of  ranked society. That a community with such a small population (perhaps a little over 100 households and 600-700 people) should be this developed in the first half of the first millennium BC shows that much more work should be done to discover Middle Preclassic evidence at other sites which may have been destroyed or buried by later building programs. I’ll have to add Prof. Hammond’s “Cuello: An Early Maya Community”

Figurine from Cuello