15th Century And Earlier
Bowes Museum acquires rare Bouts (ctd.)
January 6 2017
Video: National Gallery
Last year, the Bowes Museum in the UK acquired a panel painting by Dieric Bouts the Elder and his Workshop. In the above video, Rachel Billinge of the National Gallery's conservation department gives the painting a thorough technical assessment to find out how it was made.
November 14 2016
Picture: Karl und Faber
The above small 'Florentine School' painting at Karl und Faber auction house in Germany, estimated at €3k-€4k, made €375k last week. The name Filippino Lippi has been suggested, and indeed the cataloguing of the picture on the auction house website has subsequently been amended to say that. Here's a comparable picture in the North Carolina Museum of Art.
Poor Leonardo (ctd.)
May 8 2016
Here's a curious story on Sky News:
DNA from Leonardo da Vinci's paintings could be used to digitally recreate his face and confirm exactly where he was buried after his death in 1519.
Researchers are going to attempt to recover hairs and flakes of skin from within his paintings and notebooks, which could be used to construct how the Italian polymath's face looked.
They plan to use advanced genetic analysis techniques to determine his eye and hair colour, as well as face shape and skin tone.
They believe they could also discover clues about his lifestyle and states of health during his lifetime. [...]
Their first tests are due to take place on the Adoration of the Magi painting [above], which is being restored in Florence, Italy.
Any DNA recovered from his works will be compared to known living relatives - as well as to DNA recovered from the graves of his parents.
The shape of their skulls will also help the researchers to recreate his face, along with portrait paintings of the artist from his contemporaries.
What pointless nonsense. Who pays for all this stuff?
US National Gallery 'online editions'
April 4 2016
The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC has put a second volume on its excellent 'online editions' site. First we had Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, and now we have 'Italian Paintings of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries'.
Bish, bash, Bosch
February 21 2016
Picture: Ghent Museum of Fine Arts
The controversy around Bosch attributions continues, in light of the new exhibition at the Noordbrabants Museum, and the work of the Bosch Research and Conservation Project (BRCP). The latter seems to be going the way of the Rembrandt Research Project in its early days, and becoming 'exclusionist' - even to the extent that we must wonder if the number of Bosch attributions that they accept can ever reflect his subsequent reputation and art historical impact. Generally, committees always result in an excessive downgrading of attributions, because they tend to be follow the lead of the most cautious and sceptical member.
But we learn a worrying flavour of the BRCP's approach to connoisseurship in this report on Art Daily over a discussion about the attribution of Bosch's Christ Carrying the Cross (above) in the Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent. The Bosch Research Project says it isn't by Bosch. Partly because:
[...] the BRCP compared the shapes of human ears across several different works. Those in Christ Carrying the Cross are significantly different to those seen in Bosch’s other paintings.
So - great artists only ever had one way of painting ears? This is the Morellian method of connoisseurship. Which has been redundant for about a century now.
Update - a reader writes:
The Bosch team might have been exclusionist as far as the paintings are concerned, but they have almost doubled the amount of accepted drawings: from 11 to 19 sheets. This is quite amazing in the light of the wonderful work Fritz Koreny has recently done in this field. He occupied himself with the works on paper for decades and his 2012 book on Bosch’s drawings is truly exemplary. This prompts me to wonder if the members have really been looking at the material at hand instead of toying around with X-rays, IIR curtain style, paint samples etc.
Fitzwilliam Michelangelo discovery conference
June 16 2015
Picture: Fitzwilliam Museum
The Fitzwilliam are having a special conference to discuss those newly attributed Michelangelo bronzes. Says the museum:
It was thought that no bronzes by Michelangelo had survived but now an international team of experts believe they have identified not one, but two.
Convincing evidence based upon stringent art-historical research, scientific analysis and anatomical observation argues that the Rothschild bronzes, which have spent over a century in relative obscurity and which are currently on display at the Fitzwilliam Museum, are early works by Michelangelo. If this attribution is accepted, these unsigned and undocumented works would represent a highly significant addition to Michelangelo’s oeuvre.
On Monday 6 July 2015 at Downing College, University of Cambridge, an international panel of art historians, conservation scientists, and other experts will present further research into how these enigmatic masterpieces were made, their likely iconography, meaning, patron and purpose. Papers will also consider how they fit into Michelangelo’s career more broadly and how they relate to the work of his contemporaries.
Tickets are £85, and can be booked here.
June 13 2015
Regular readers will know I take a dim view of researchers who over-interpret paintings. The most recent example was supposedly seen in Country Life, in a tiny engraving that showed Shakespeare having a dodgy eye. But it was just the engraving, and the portrait was not Shakespeare in any case.
Now, we have from Discovery News an investigation into the foreskins of ancient Pompei, thanks to the study by two doctors of the penis in the above fresco of Priapus. Says Discovery News:
One of Pompeii's most recognized frescoes, the portrait of the Greek god of fertility Priapus, holds an embarrassing truth, according to a new study of the 1st-century A.D. wall painting.
Found in the entrance hall to the House of the Vettii, perhaps the most famous house to survive Mount Vesuvius's devastating eruption, the fresco shows the ever-erect Priapus with his engorged penis.
But this phallus-flaunting symbol of male potency and procreative power shows signs of a condition which can result in difficult sexual relations and infertility, says a study published in Urology journal.
"The disproportionate virile member is distinctively characterized by a patent phimosis, more specifically a shut phimosis," Francesco Maria Galassi told Discovery News.
Galassi is an M.D. now back in Italy who recently worked at Imperial College London. He co-authored the paper with his father Stefano, also an M.D.
An inability to fully retract the foreskin, phimosis was treated only with circumcision or prepuceplasty before the introduction of topical corticosteroids.
"This condition presents different grades of severity, and in this specific case appears to be of the highest grade, in which there is no skin retractability on the glans," Galassi said.
Defects of the genitourinary tract, including phimosis, have been depicted in artistic representation since prehistory, showing a high degree of precision.
But why someone would portray the god of fertility with a severe phimosis?
"It is not unlikely the painter might have desired to report objective evidence of a high prevalence of that anatomic defect in Pompeii, at a time mixing it with fertility attributes traditionally ascribed to Priapus," Galassi said.
In this view, widespread among the male population in Pompeii, phimosis might have been the reason for the abundance in Pompeii of anatomical votive artifacts used to dispel that anatomical and functional defect.
New clues in hunt for missing Ghent Altarpiece panel
March 31 2014
Every now and then someone says they know the whereabouts of the missing panel, Just Judges, from Van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece, stolen in 1934. In January this year, for example, a retired police commissioner said he thought it was buried in a cemetery outside Brussels. And in 2008, an anonymous tip off led Ghent police to dig up part of a house, but to no avail. Now, however, a Belgian politician and historian, Paul De Ridder, says he knows that the picture belongs to a prominent Ghent family. He says he is respecting their anonymity for now, but hopes to bring public pressure on them to return the work. More here at Flanders News.
Boijmans museum buys 15thC triptych
July 19 2013
Picture: Museum Boijmans van Beuningen
I'm afraid I can never get that excited about gold ground paintings, but if you can, then cheer at the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen's acquisition of the above c.1410-20 triptych by an unknown artist for more than 1 million euros. More here.
Update - a reader writes:
You say "I'm afraid I can never get that excited about gold ground paintings": but you just did get excited (rightly) about the Lorenzetti panel acquired by the Ferens!!
That was, I'm ashamed to say, more at a regional UK museum acquiring a such an expensive work.
Update II - another reader asks:
Not even a little bit excited about the Wilton Diptych?
Oh alright then. But mainly because it's Richard II.
Exclusive - Leonardo's 'Salvator Mundi' sold
May 13 2013
Picture: Robert Simon Fine Art/Tim Nighswander
I can't tell you for how much or to whom, but a deal has been done, and the greatest discovery of the age is 'no longer on the market'.
If you're in Tuscany...
April 25 2013
Picture: Palazzo Strozzi
...then Andrew Johnson of Renaissance in Tuscany says a new exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi on 'sculpture and the arts in Florence 1400-1460' is well worth a visit.
New Leonardo anatomy exhibition in Edinburgh
March 12 2013
Video: Royal Collection Trust/Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
This summer, the Royal Collection will mount a new exhibition at Holyroodhouse on Leonardo's anatomy drawings, called 'The Mechanics of Man'. 3D animations (above) and imagery will be used to fully explore Leonardo's drawings. From the RC press release:
An exhibition that sheds new light on Leonardo da Vinci’s anatomical work opens at The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, in August. Long renowned as one of the finest artists of the Renaissance, Leonardo was also one of the greatest anatomists the world has ever seen. Almost 500 years after his death, Leonardo da Vinci: The Mechanics of Man, part of the Edinburgh International Festival, uses 21st-century technology to explore the modern relevance of Leonardo’s anatomical research. Thirty sheets of his groundbreaking investigations into the workings of the human body will go on display alongside images prepared using the latest medical technology. The juxtaposition shows how far-sighted Leonardo’s work was, and how relevant he remains for anatomists today.
More details and images here.
Staatsgalerie Stuttgart returns looted Madonna
March 5 2013
Picture: Bloomberg/Concordia University
The Max Stern Restitution Project has achieved the return of another picture looted by the Nazis, this time a Virgin and Child attributed to the Master of Flemalle. More details over on Bloomberg.
Rare 15th Century wall paintings in Wales
March 4 2013
Picture: St Cadoc's Church/Jane Rutherfoord
I learn via the Society of Antiquaries of a project in Wales to uncover a rare series of 15th Century wall paintings from the Church of St Cadoc's, Llancarfan. More details here.
'Sacred Geometry' in action
February 18 2013
Picture: Alfonso Rubino/MLF
The 'Iselworth Mona Lisa' proponents have published a photo of their 'sacred geometry' proof that their painting is by Mona Lisa. All it prooves, alas, is that copies tend to follow originals quite closely. Probably we knew that already...
They've also apparently developed a fool-proof way to attributing paintings:
Previously, four tests undertaken by Prof. John Asmus, nuclear physicist, who digitised the brushtrokes of both paintings, established scientifically that both the 'Earlier Version' [ie, the Isleworth picture] and the 'Mona Lisa' in the Louvre would have been executed by the same artist. This brushstroke analysis identifies conclusively an artist in the same way that DNA or fingerprints identify criminals'.
More details at the Mona Lisa Foundation here.
February 14 2013
Picture: Monda Lisa Foundation
The folks behind the so-called 'Isleworthless Mona Lisa', who claim their picture to be 'the first version' by Leonardo, have come out with yet more 'evidence' behind their claim. From The Independent:
New tests on a painting billed as the original version of the Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci's 15th century portrait, have produced fresh proof that it is the work of the Italian master, a Swiss-based art foundation claims.
The tests, one by a specialist in "sacred geometry" and the other by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, were carried out in the wake of the Geneva unveiling of the painting, the Isleworth Mona Lisa, last September.
"When we add these new findings to the wealth of scientific and physical studies we already had, I believe anyone will find the evidence of a Leonardo attribution overwhelming," said David Feldman vice-president of the foundation said.
Not me, alas. 'Sacred geometry' or not, it's just a (not very good) later copy. But don't take my word for it; read Leonardo scholar Professor Martin Kemp's view here.
Leonardo note-books in high-res
February 13 2013
Picture: British Library
The British Library has published Leonardo's 'Codex Arundel' online, in ultra-high resolution. You still need a mirror to read the text though.
Update - Three Pipe Problem tweets:
Surprised that @britishlibrary Leonardo manuscript viewer did not embed "horizontal flip" functionality to make text more accessible.
Prado discovers rare early 15thC panel
February 12 2013
Video: Museo Prado
The Prado has restored a newly discovered early 15thC panel showing Louis I d'Orleans. From the Prado website:
Shown to the public for the first time, the Museo del Prado is presenting The Agony in the Garden with the Donor Louis I d’Orléans (1405-1407/1408), a previously unpublished work acquired by the Museum in 2012. Following a lengthy process of restoration it will now be placed on display in the permanent galleries and represents a major contribution to the field of Early French Painting. The aesthetic and pictorial merit of the painting, recently restored with the sponsorship of Fundación Iberdrola, combined with the rarity of works from this school, make this panel a unique example of enormous historical importance given that it is the only known panel painting to depict Louis d’Orléans. With a possible attribution to Colart de Laon, Louis’ painter and valet de chambre, the panel will be presented in a special display until 28 April in Room 51A, alongside X-radiograph and Infra-red reflectograph images of it and a video that shows the different stages of its restoration.
Richard III? (ctd.)
February 6 2013
Video: Press Association
I'm afraid I just don't trust these facial reconstructions from skulls. According to the video above, 70% of the facial recreation from a skull is highly accurate. But then we all have two eyes, a nose and a mouth - that is, our faces all have a great deal in common. It's the tiny details that set us a part. I don't believe we can get details such as the precise length or shape of noses, eyes, eyebrows, lips or ears, even hair colour - all the things which make our faces so distinctive - from a skull. So please treat the face in the above video with some caution. In this other video at The Guardian, the lady behind the recreation says that the face is derived 'only from science', but then immediately contradicts herself by saying she used multiple contemporary references. This exercise would only have been valid had the recreators been given the skull, and not told who it was meant to be.
Update - here's an interesting article in Acta Biomedica in 2009 on the history of facial reconstruction by Laura Verze from the Department of Anatomy, Pharmacology and Legal Medicine at the University of Turin, Italy. She concludes:
In conclusion, over the centuries faces have been reconstructed from skulls for different reasons: religion, teaching, and more recently forensics, anthropology and archaeology of ancient or more or less famous people. The techniques are changing, and new more reliable methods are being studied. Nevertheless, it is clear that facial reconstruction methods and their traditional guidelines present some inaccuracies, and the challenge will be to increase the degree of accuracy of facial reconstruction.
Giotto, or Grotto?
November 7 2012
Restoration work at the Chapel of St Nicholas in the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi, which was damaged in an earthquake in 1997, has revealed evidence to suggest the frescoes may be the work of Giotto. More here.
Update - a reader writes:
If Ghiberti thought he was at Assisi it's good enough for me. If you look at his evolution between the Arena Chapel in 1305 and the Bardi Chapel in 1325, the St Francis cycle could be the same painter in the 1290s. The secondary figures in the Arena Chapel are like figures from Assisi. Giotto is the moment painting starts walking on two legs. I don't think he ditched the icon style overnight.