Category: Research

In love with a Monet

May 9 2011

Image of In love with a Monet

Picture: 'Bathers at La Grenouillere' by Monet, National Gallery, London, one of the pictures used by researchers to study the effect of art on the brain.

At last, a link between the study of art history and sex (sort of). From the Daily Telegraph:

The same part of the brain that is excited when you fall for someone romantically is stimulated when you stare at great works of beauty, researchers have discovered.

Viewing art triggers a surge of the feel-good chemical, dopamine, into the orbito-frontal cortex of the brain, resulting in feelings of intense pleasure.

Dopamine and the orbito-frontal cortex are both known to be involved in desire and affection and in invoking pleasurable feelings in the brain.

It is a powerful affect often associated with romantic love and illicit drug taking.

In the basement

May 9 2011

Image of In the basement

Picture: Victoria & Albert Museum

I said recently that I would post the occasional ‘in the basement’ story, to highlight the risks of deaccessioning. Tomorrow (Tuesday), I will be a panelist at a conference on deaccessioning at the National Gallery, London. Speakers include Culture Minister Ed Vaizey MP, Chairman of the National Trust Sir Simon Jenkins, and the director of the National Gallery Dr. Nicholas Penny. My panel is at the end of the day, in the dying-for-a-drink slot.

I suspect most of the day will be spent debating whether deaccessioning is a good or a bad thing – but the fact is that the process has begun. A large number of regional and local authority controlled museums in Britain are already selling off works.

Above is a painting in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. It is catalogued on their website as ‘attributed to Joseph Highmore’, but is undoubtedly by Andrea Soldi. (See J. Ingamells: ‘Andrea Soldi—a Check List of his Work’, Walpole Soc., xlvii (1980), pp. 1–20 for other comparable examples.)

Who's Soldi, you might ask? True, he’s not a well-known artist, and it’s a not a particularly exciting painting  (and nor am I suggesting that the V&A would ever sell it). But the point is that you can’t decide to sell something until you know what you have to sell. There are many similar mis-catalogued paintings in museum basements across the country. And we need to have a structure in place to make sure no unfortunate mistakes are made. [More below]

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Top tip...

May 6 2011

Google translate have now added Latin to their list of languages. It isn't very good, but handy for a getting the gist of old inscriptions etc. 

Peering beneath the Frick's Bellini

April 8 2011

A complete image of the underdrawing in the Frick Collection's St Francis in the Desert by Giovanni Bellini has been captured for the first time, after the picture was subjected to exhaustive technical analysis by the Metropolitan Museum. See the full fascinating results in the video above, with more images and text here

Looking for Eworth

April 1 2011

Image of Looking for Eworth

Here's an interesting article by Hope Walker on what is thought to be Hans Eworth's only known drawing. Trouble is, nobody knows where it is. If you do, pray tell...

Van Gogh's 'weave maps'

March 31 2011

Image of Van Gogh's 'weave maps'

An electrical engineering professor, Richard Johnson Jr., has developed an algorithmic programme to help authenticate Van Gogh paintings. The programme analyses the 'weave maps' of Van Gogh's canvasses. Johnson, who has been working at the Van Gogh Museum in the Netherlands, said;

'This is pretty extraordinary... What's happening is some doubted paintings are being authenticated, and some that had been placed at a funny date are now being moved.'

More here.

Rembrandt Research Project to close

February 24 2011

Image of Rembrandt Research Project to close

Picture: Otto Naumann Ltd. Detail from Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo, 1658.

The Rembrandt Research Project, which has been cataloguing the works of the great master since 1968, is to be closed down. This means that the final planned volume will be published in a reduced format. 

When the project started it set about drastically reducing the number of accepted works. The tally went down to less than 250, but has now gone back up to around 320 under the famous connoisseurship of Ernst Van de Wetering. Pictures once excluded but now back in favour include the Frick Collection's Polish Rider, and the Royal Collection's Self-Portrait in a Flat Cap.

This story was in the Art Newspaper print edition last month, but has just been put online today. 

Have you seen this woman?

February 22 2011

Image of Have you seen this woman?

The new edition of the British Art Journal is out (Vol. XI, No.2), and it contains an appeal for information on the above painting. Yasmin Arshad is writing an article for a forthcoming BAJ on the possible identity of the portrait, and she is heading in the direction of Lady Anne Clifford. 

Also in the BAJ is;

  • A splendidly thorough article by David Wilson on Michael Rysbrack's bust of the Earl of Orkney (which is now on loan at the V&A).
  • An article by Stephanie Roberts and Robert Tittle on the elusive Stuart provincial portraitist 'T.Leigh'. This contains a checklist of up to 20 possible Leigh portraits, a commendable task in these days of unfashionable connoisseurship. 
  • A reconstruction of William and Catherine Blake's residence in South Molton Street, by Angus Whitehead.
  • An overview of the British paintings in the Doha Orientalist Museum, by Howard J M Hanley.

Well worth a read; you can order one here.

More on Caravaggio

February 21 2011

 

Here's a short video of the new Caravaggio exhibition, in which you can see the freshly restored portrait of Pope Paul V.

Some of the new facts on Caravaggio are:

  • He was born 29th September 1571 in Milan (not the nearby town of Caravaggio).
  • He arrived in Rome at the age of 25 (not 20, as previously thought).
  • The fight in which Caravaggio famously killed a man seems to have been planed in advance, and was probably over a gambling debt.
  • He died in a hospital at Porto Ercole in July 1610 (not on a beach).

You can download the full documentation at the bottom of this page (in Italian).

Caravaggio didn't like cooked artichokes

February 18 2011

Image of Caravaggio didn't like cooked artichokes

A new exhibition in Rome has uncovered some fascinating archival evidence about Caravaggio. We now know for sure where and when he was born (Milan, not Caravaggio) and died (in a hospital bed).

One document reports a fight over a plate of artichokes;

Statement to police by Pietro Antonio de Fosaccia, waiter, 26 April 1604:

About 17 o'clock [lunchtime] the accused, together with two other people, was eating in the Moor's restaurant at La Maddalena, where I work as a waiter. I brought them eight cooked artichokes, four cooked in butter and four fried in oil. The accused asked me which were cooked in butter and which fried in oil, and I told him to smell them, which would easily enable him to tell the difference.

He got angry and without saying anything more, grabbed an earthenware dish and hit me on the cheek at the level of my moustache, injuring me slightly... and then he got up and grabbed his friend's sword which was lying on the table, intending perhaps to strike me with it, but I got up and came here to the police station to make a formal complaint...

Full story in English here. Exhibition website, in Italian, here.

Van Gogh's Dying Sunflowers

February 15 2011

 

An international team of scientists has analysed the fading pigments used by Van Gogh, most notably his yellow. The findings confirm that over time his yellows have become brown, and will continue to get browner. 

Van Gogh's original use of ultra-bright colours was dependent on the limited type of pigments available at the time. Inevitably, they will not last as well as pigments available later on, when paint companies had to cater for the very style that Van Gogh and his like had created. 

Of course, Van Gogh was not the only artist who had trouble with his 'fugitive pigments'. Joshua Reynolds mixed his own experimental pigments, usually not very well. He had a particular problem with his reds and pinks. As a result, many of his portraits look like ghosts today. 

Will future generations wonder why Van Gogh was so interested in dead flowers?

A New Raphael self-portrait?

February 11 2011

Image of A New Raphael self-portrait?

Picture: Alessandro Vezzosi & Scripta Maneant

A new book claims that a little known copy of Raphael's self-portrait is in fact by Raphael himself. The picture, which follows the Uffizi image, has been in a bank vault for many years.

You can flip through a section of the new book, and zoom in on the pictures, here.  

It's hard to tell from the photos, but the 'new' picture is clearly much better than the ubiquitous copies one sees of the Uffizi image. Judging by the faded blue pigments of the background it appears to have some age to it. Elements of the face, such as the nose and lips, are well observed. 

Intriguing...

Hans Eworth Lecture

February 3 2011

 

Hope Walker, who is doing a PhD on Hans Eworth, has YouTube-d her recent illustrated lecture on the artist.

The world's most coveted painting?

December 29 2010

Image of The world's most coveted painting?

A new book makes the case for van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece.

Velasquez Upgraded

December 22 2010

Image of Velasquez Upgraded

Picture: New York Times/Metropolitan Museum

After a long campaign of conservation, curators at the Met in New York believe that their ‘workshop’ portrait of Philip IV is in fact an autograph work by Velasquez.  It had been downgraded in 1973. The New York Times has a fascinating article, where you can see the picture before and after conservation. 

Philip’s left eye had been totally obliterated, and has had to be recreated (very well I think) from other versions of the portrait. Despite appearances, the picture is actually in a relatively good state. The story is yet another example of how a picture’s condition can throw people off the scent – ‘dirty’ paintings, obscured by old varnish and over-paint, are often hard to read.

The Met’s attribution of Philip IV follows on from their earlier upgrading of Portrait of a Man from workshop to autograph.

Mona Lisa theory no. 672

December 13 2010

Image of Mona Lisa theory no. 672

Picture: Nick Pisa

It’s been a busy few days for Leonardo da Vinci stories. Now an Italian researcher has found clues hidden in the Mona Lisa, which may reveal her identity. They are tiny brushstrokes only visible under magnification, and are ‘LV’ in her right pupil, and ‘B or S’ in her left (or perhaps even ‘BS’?). 

Silvano Vincenti, President of Italy's Committee for National Heritage, who spotted the letters, says;

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The Tudor Giant

December 9 2010

Image of The Tudor Giant

A full-length portrait of 'The Giant Porter' (7 1/2 feet), who worked for Elizabeth I, has gone on display at Hampton Court Palace. The Royal Collection picture, attributed to Cornelis Kettel, has been recently restored.

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