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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Raising the Dead

Yesterday I took a trip to The Cloisters – a part of a The Metropolitan Museum of Art way up in Inwood in gorgeous Fort Tryon Park and along the Hudson River. 
      

One of my favorite paintings is there – The Merode Altarpiece by the Workshop of Robert Campin (or the Master of Flémalle) – one of his assistants was the young Rogier van der Weyden.  I could spend hours taking in each detail of this Annunciation scene packed with symbolism. For example, St. Joseph, in the panel on the right, works in his carpentry shop and has built a mousetrap. The trap  –  an illusion to the Crucifixation and St. Augustine’s analogy of the Cross as the Devil’s mousetrap.

  

And this angel from the north transept portal of the cathedral of Saint-Lazare at Autun. Named for Lazarus – Christ’s friend raised from the dead in a miracle. It is the season of celebrating memories of the dead – Halloween, Dia de los Muertos  – decorations and altars are all around the city.

 

   

Celebrating Dia de los Muertos at El Museo del Barrio.  
 

How will you celebrate the holiday or honor your dead?

I leave you with “Lady Lazarus” by Sylvia Plath
I have done it again.   

One year in every ten   

I manage it——
A sort of walking miracle, my skin   

Bright as a Nazi lampshade,   

My right foot
A paperweight,

My face a featureless, fine   

Jew linen.
Peel off the napkin   

O my enemy.   

Do I terrify?——
The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?   

The sour breath

Will vanish in a day.
Soon, soon the flesh

The grave cave ate will be   

At home on me
And I a smiling woman.   

I am only thirty.

And like the cat I have nine times to die.
This is Number Three.   

What a trash

To annihilate each decade.
What a million filaments.   

The peanut-crunching crowd   

Shoves in to see
Them unwrap me hand and foot——

The big strip tease.   

Gentlemen, ladies
These are my hands   

My knees.

I may be skin and bone,
Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.   

The first time it happened I was ten.   

It was an accident.
The second time I meant

To last it out and not come back at all.   

I rocked shut
As a seashell.

They had to call and call

And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.
Dying

Is an art, like everything else.   

I do it exceptionally well.
I do it so it feels like hell.   

I do it so it feels real.

I guess you could say I’ve a call.
It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.

It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.   

It’s the theatrical
Comeback in broad day

To the same place, the same face, the same brute   

Amused shout:
‘A miracle!’

That knocks me out.   

There is a charge
For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge   

For the hearing of my heart——

It really goes.
And there is a charge, a very large charge   

For a word or a touch   

Or a bit of blood
Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.   

So, so, Herr Doktor.   

So, Herr Enemy.
I am your opus,

I am your valuable,   

The pure gold baby
That melts to a shriek.   

I turn and burn.

Do not think I underestimate your great concern.
Ash, ash—

You poke and stir.

Flesh, bone, there is nothing there——
A cake of soap,   

A wedding ring,   

A gold filling.
Herr God, Herr Lucifer   

Beware

Beware.
Out of the ash

I rise with my red hair   

And I eat men like air.
Sylvia Plath, “Lady Lazarus” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 1960, 1965, 1971, 1981 by the Estate of Sylvia Plath. Editorial matter copyright © 1981 by Ted Hughes. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Source: Collected Poems (HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 1992)

Beasts Magnificent and Mythical

Animals, animals everywhere – beasts magical, mythical as emblems of human power and status. Below is the Este family crest emblazoned with two white eagles as well as six fleur de lys and exhibited by two rampant leopards with a third perched on top of the helmet. A white ribbons binds his eyes symbolizing  loyalty as this panel was likely a gift to someone in the court of Philip the III, Duke of Burgundy (1369 -1467). This is the obverse of a Rogier van der Weyden portrait of Francesco d’Este painted around 1460 and in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  
                           Philip the III, Duke of Burgandy, Rogier van der Weyden

And in Vienna, outside the Hofburg Palace’s Imperial Treasury gilded griffins exhibit the coat of arms of the king of the Romans in honor of Ferdinand the I, a Holy a Roman Emperor.

  Inside, a talberd for the Herald of the King of Bohemia with a rampant lion exquisitively embroidered in gold thread on red velvet.

 As the weather turns colder in New York I had a last outing to the beach yesterday – the only beasts there were many varieties of seagulls, but the light on the water was spectacular.

  
   

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 

 

Dürer and Callahan at the MFA

 

 There are two recent exhibits at the Museum of Fine Arts that you should check out. The Albrecht Dürer exhibit highlights his intensely detailed prints including engravings, woodcuts, etchings and drypoints. These are all choosen from the MFA’s own collection.  He was a vituoso draftsman and if you are not familiar with his work, the 45 prints that have been selected are a wonderful introduction to this German Renaissance artist.

http://www.mfa.org/exhibitions/albrecht-dürer

The second exhibit is in the room adjacent to the Dürer show – Harry Callahan is a talented American photographer, who worked in the the mid-20th century. The photographs are in both color and black and white and Callahan’s wife Eleanor is the subject of many of the works. I particularly enjoyed the images of trees and shadows.

  
Be sure to note Callahan’s color portrait of a woman entitled “Chicago” and Dürer’s engravings of women – the likeness is quite striking not only in the facial similarities of the women but in their head gear as well.

These tough economic times have stalled  many expensive loan exhibits and collaborations with distant museums, but the upside is the opportunity museums have to display treasures from their own collections.