Morelli and Some Verrocchio Ears

May 2nd, 2011 § Comments Off on Morelli and Some Verrocchio Ears § permalink

Giovanni Morelli (1816 – 1891) trained as a doctor in Germany, but never practiced. Instead he was drawn to art and aesthetics, and to government. He served 4 terms in Italy’s newly formed government, helping to draft laws curtailing the export of art. Morelli was a collector of paintings and drawings, and his collection was left to the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo, his native city. It wasn’t until after his political career, at the age of 60, that he started publishing on what’s known as the Morellian Method, where art works are linked by seemingly small details. The 1911 Brittanica has a good entry on Morelli written by Constance Jocelyn Foulkes, a translator of Morelli’s work. In it she says of Morelli:

Studying one day in the Uffizi, it suddenly struck him that in a picture by Botticelli containing several figures the drawing of the hands was remarkably similar in all; that the same characteristic but plebeian type, with bony fingers, broad square nails, and dark outlines, was repeated in every figure. Turning to the ears, he observed that they also were drawn in an individual manner, and that in the numerous figures in which the ear was visible the same typical form recurred. Having noted these fundamental forms, he proceeded to an examination of other works by this painter, and found that the same forms were exactly repeated, together with other individual traits which seemed distinctive of the master: the characteristic type of head and expression, the drawing of the nostrils, the vitality of movement, the disposition of drapery, harmony of colour (where it had not been tampered with by the restorer), and quality of landscape.

Verrocchio and Morelli were on the same plane in their thinking on isolating parts of the body for study. Vasari tells of Verrocchio’s casting hands, feet, knees, legs, arms, and torsos.

I thought I’d see how this Morellian Method works by assembling some Andrea del Verrocchio ears. Pretty early on I realized it would be important to know the words to describe an ear, so here’s a link to a diagram of an ear. Morelli’s study of medicine and anatomy, of course, helped him a lot with this. The one thing I can really say about the ears below is that Verrocchio liked nicely round antitraguses.

"Head of a Young Woman" at Christ Church, Oxford LINK
"Grotesque Dancer" at Uffizi, Florence LINK
"Old Man Dancing" at Uffizi, Florence LINK
"Four Nude Babies and the Head of Baby" at the Louvre, Paris LINK
"Madonna and Child" in Gemäldegalerie, Berlin LINK
"Madonna and Child" in Gemäldegalerie, Berlin LINK
"Putto with Dolphin" at Palazzo Vecchio, Florence LINK

Palazzo Farnese Exhibition | 17 December 2010 to 27 April 2011

January 15th, 2011 § Comments Off on Palazzo Farnese Exhibition | 17 December 2010 to 27 April 2011 § permalink

There’s a certain amount of resentment against the French for their possession of two of Rome’s most beautiful buildings, the Villa Medici and the Palazzo Farnese. Their cultural program at the Villa Medici, or L’Académie de France à Rome, is the most lively and engaging of the Academies in Rome. In other words, the outreach is great, and this goes a long way in dampening jealous feelings. While Villa Medici was bought outright by Napoleon in 1803, the Italian government, for a token sum, leases the Palazzo Farnese to France. In exchange, the Italians are leased an 18th century building (w. Gobelin tapestries designed by Jean-François de Troy and murals by the relatively unknown Cignaroli) for their embassy in Paris. The long-term leases started in 1936 and last for 99 years.

Palazzo Farnese Exhibition Banner

Since the Palazzo Farnese is an embassy, it has been very difficult to visit, and especially so in recent years. (Interestingly, the idea for the exhibition came from Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sablière.) Tourists have had to content themselves with admiring the building from the outside; peering up at the Salviati and Zuccaro frescoes, partly visible from the piazza; and looking at the  didactic display cradled in plastic to the right of the main entrance. Now, for a few months, the palace is open for the exhibition Palazzo Farnèse (note the accent).  On view is the building itself, preparatory drawings for the building and its decoration, antiquities and other artworks from the Farnese collections, and images of the building over time. The exhibition opened on 17 December 2010 and runs through 27 April 2011. Here is the link to the exhibition website.

The Farneses were collectors of drawings. The cartoons of Raphael and Michelangelo, now in Naples at the Capodimonte Museum, were laid down on canvas, framed in walnut, and hung in Palazzo Farnese. These did not travel up to Rome for the show.  Smaller drawings were kept in fasci or bundles. There are a pair of beautiful Parmigianino drawings with Farnese provenance in the show. One wishes there were more drawings from their collection on view.

Palazzo Farnese with Exhibition Banner

What is most remarkable is to see the Annibale and Agostino Carracci cartoons for the Camerino dell’ Ercole and Galleria dei Carracci so close to the frescoes. In the case of the Camerino, the drawings are in cases within the same room. With the Galleria, the drawings are in an anteroom. When I was there looking back and forth between the drawings and the frescoes, I had this feeling of being the luckiest person alive. I couldn’t help but daydream of the brothers working, and imagined them drawing at large tables and then climbing scaffolding.  The drawing just below of an amorino in the Camerino came from Windsor. The cartoon shows some incision marks, and was a near final cartoon. Seeing the drawings just under the complex design of the ceiling also makes it absolutely clear how important drawings are for fresco painting. The Carracci drawings in the exhibition were not owned by the Farnese. Instead, they were kept by the artist, who left them to his pupil Domenichino, and then handed down to other artists including Maratti.

Annibale Carracci | Putto with Cornucopia | 1599 | Black and white chalks on 2 pieces of joined paper (once blue) | 526 x 395 mm | Windsor Castle

Carracci | Detail of Camerino Ceiling Fresco | Palazzo Farnese | Rome

The exhibition also features drawings by Architect Antonio da Sangallo Giovane for the palace. These make one dislike AutoCAD productions all the more.

Vincent Price, continued

May 16th, 2010 § Comments Off on Vincent Price, continued § permalink

In my last entry I mentioned posting images of drawings from the exhibition of Price’s collection in the late 80s. The scans are of black and white reproductions from the Bloomington exhibition catalog. They will have to do until I can find color images. The beautiful Battista Franco drawing of skulls seems like a fitting acquisition for Price, who had become known for his ghoulish parts in the cinema. It is a wonderful jumble of skulls, done at the same time that Vesalius was working on orderly anatomical studies. On the subject of skulls, I recently saw the church of Santa Maria delle Anime del Purgatorio ad Arco in Naples,  a church that is richly decorated with sculpted and real skulls. In speaking to a couple of older Neapolitan men, I said that I thought the skulls were a bit frightening, to which they responded that I shouldn’t be afraid of the dead, but of the living. Perfectly sensible advice.

Battista Franco | Study of Skulls | Pen and brown ink on laid paper | 115 x 303 mm. | Scan from Bloomington Cat., No. 1 |Vincent Price Collection | Current whereabouts unknown

Niccolo Circignani | Project for an Altarpiece with a Papal Coat of Arms | Pen and brown ink, brush and gray and brown washes on laid paper | 294 x 225 mm. | Scan from Bloomington Cat., No. 3 | Vincent Price Collection | Current whereabouts unknown

Attr. Lazzaro Baldi | Pagan Sacrifice | Pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash on laid paper | 104 x 266 mm. | Scan from Bloomington Cat., No. 7 | Vincent Price Collection | Current whereabouts unknown

The scans are from:

Cole, Bruce and Gealt, Adelheid M. Master Drawings from the Vincent Price Collection. Bloomington: Indiana University Art Museum, 1987. [Catalogue of an exhibition held at the Indiana University Art Museum, Bloomington, Jan. 21 – May 3, 1987].

Vincent Price | Collector | 1911 – 1993

April 26th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

I just saw His Kind of Woman with Robert Mitchum and Vincent Price. Price plays an actor with an ace shot for big game, and as the movie goes on, for mafia hoods.  The character’s enthusiasm, in this case for shooting his rifle, reminded me of other characters that Price played–usually keen ghouls–and for his appearances on television relating to art, where he comes off as a boyishly enthusiastic connoisseur.

His Kind of Woman Still | Robert Mitchum and Vincent Price | 1951

Price was born in 1911 in St. Louis. His grandfather, a chemist, had made a fortune in baking powder before losing it in the panic of 1893.  His father worked through the ranks to become president of the National Candy Company, makers of jawbreakers and other confections. Vincent Price had a comfortable upbringing and went first to Yale (grad. 1933) and then to the Courtauld in London. He collected in many areas, among them: contemporary art, tribal art, Asian art, old master drawings, and orientalist paintings. His daughter in an entertaining NYT (21 June 2001) piece talks of Price’s buying a motorhome, a Clark Cortez, and kitting it out with Mexican folk art, British oil studies, and renaissance drawings.

Sears Roebuck in 1962 hired Vincent Price to amass a group of art works to sell through their stores and catalogs. With a budget of three million dollars Price rounded up contemporary and earlier art works to sell. Fifty thousand oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, and prints were sold through Sears until the program ended in 1971. The Man Ray drawing just below was one of the “Vincent Price Collection of Fine Art” works sold at Sears.

Man Ray | Study for Tableau de Chevalet | Pen and India Ink on Paper | 348 x 258 mm. | Christie's London 5 February 2009, lot 156

Judging from the works shown in the instructional film for Sears salespeople, link here, much of the work would not interest serious collectors. (Lessing J. Rosenwald, the great print collector, donor to the National Gallery, and son of Julius Rosenwald, an early owner of Sears, would not have been a target customer.)  But that was not the point. Price wanted to introduce the American public to art collecting, thinking that owning art was the only way to truly value and understand it. Of course, he was being paid by Sears, but he seems sincere when he says “My satisfaction from running the Sears Art program is primarily the fact that I am able to bring art to literally hundreds of thousands of people the opportunity to become involved in the most enriching experience of my life–collecting or owning a work of art.”*

In the same piece, Price says of his collecting:

“As a collector of art, all the arts, during a long lifetime, I can only say that I have never stopped asking myself why I collect. The answers are many. First of all, I would think the greatest reason is that I feel by having a work of art around me continually I learn from it, not only about the artist but about myself. Collecting has helped me form my taste and I admit happily that my taste changes continually. Of all the areas of collecting in which I have been involved only two have remained constant, primitive art and drawings. In both of these areas I never seem to become bored with the individual work. Primitive art is a direct communication from the artist to the viewer and drawings have the same directness since they are the immediate response of the artist to the subject.”

Price made television appearances as an art expert, on the “64,000 Challenge” and in a more entertaining 1952 segment of “What in the World?” The show involves three panelists who are shown artifacts and have to come up with where, when, and why the pieces were created. The program was developed by the University of Pennsylvania and lasted through the 50s and into the 60s.  In the 1952 show, link here, Vincent Price is on stage with a museum professional and the sculptor Jacques Lipschitz.   Price seems the most eager of the panelists and sparks fly (collector hallmark) when he picks up and examines the objects.

In 1987 Price’s collection of drawings was shown in Bloomington at the Indiana University Art Museum. I haven’t seen the catalog, but I’m having a friend look through it and send along images, which I’ll post. Through a search of auction and museum databases, I found a Stefano della Bella, visible here,  and a drawing by Modigliani, visible here, that belonged to Price.

Beginning in 1951, Price began giving works of art to East Los Angeles College. The college now has 900 works from Price’s collection and the museum is named after Price, the Vincent Price Art Museum. In 2010-2011 the museum will have a new building and it will be interesting to see if they will create an online database of their collection, now numbering 9,000 works of art.

* Vincent Price. “Museum or Marketplace,” Art Education, Vol. 19, 2 Feb. 1966, pp. 29-32.

Lugt Online | Free Access

March 29th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Frits Lugt’s great work Les Marques de Collections de Dessins & d’Estampes is now online, courtesy of Lugt’s Fondation Custodia. HERE is the link and just below is a screenshot of the search fields.

Les Marques de Collections de Dessins & d'Estampes Screenshot

The first volume was published in 1921, a supplement printed in 1956, and the 2010 supplement is just now available online (from what I can tell, there won’t be a paper edition). All three are online and together they add up to being an invaluable database.  I immediately bookmarked the site and set it as a start page on my phone.   The search fields are easy to understand, navigate, and reset.  For the name and place fields, you can start typing and without completing the word, a selection of names or places materializes. Many of the mark entries reproduce just the line drawings from the earlier Lugt volumes. Especially useful are the entries that have both the published reproduction and a photograph. In time, maybe all of the reproduced marks will be supplemented by photographs.

After a quick look through, one can see that there are still many marks needing to be identified.  If enough people use it, especially museum people with their vast holdings, and they share their findings, more and more marks will be identified. Since it is so easy and fun to use, the database will surely grow. It is also free, wonderfully free.

Collector’s Marks

December 19th, 2009 § Comments Off on Collector’s Marks § permalink

Seaon's Greetings | Lugt marks

Collection marks, whether of an individual collector or an organization such as a museum, library, or those tasked with the dispersal an artist’s estate, show ownership. A drawing’s provenance, or ownership history, is traced through these marks. Frits Lugt in 1921 published the standard reference Les marques de collections de dessins et d’estampes (a supplement was published in 1956, and an expanded online version is due in 2010). The marks that he cataloged are arranged alphabetically (most marks involve initials); by symbol type, for example geometric figures; animals; those that are difficult to understand; idiosyncratic mounts and mats; and by examples of handwriting with emphasis on inventory systems. Entries for important collectors and their marks are fairly detailed, listing the choicest prints and drawings and sale dates (Lugt’s other great contribution to art history was his Répertoire des Catalogues de Ventes Publiques).  Lugt assigned a number to each mark, and catalog or auction entries on drawings with a collector’s mark,  will give the collector’s name and a Lugt number, say Pierre-Jean Mariette (Lugt 1852 or more simply L. 1852) and will note in what color ink the mark is stamped and where the mark is located.

I made the holiday card above in about 2000 with the assistance of clever friends who were able to scan the collection marks I’d chosen from Lugt and I then arranged the letters to read “Season’s Greetings.” I remember being very pleased with myself (seems pitiable now) going to the photocopy shop and printing from a disk rather than with bits of paper pasted down with a glue stick and whiteout covered seams. I don’t have a copy of Lugt with me, but the marks I recognize as being by important collectors are the apostrophe, made with a star, of Nicholas Lanier (1588 – 1666) ; and the palette with the letter “R” which is of the painter Jonathan Richardson Senior (1665 – 1745). Both of these collectors are associated with more than one mark.

Marks appear both on the recto and verso, or front and back, of drawing sheets. Marks are the least disfiguring if they are on the back or on the edges away from the drawn images. Some stamps are embossed and are known as “blind stamps” and are more unobtrusive than the more usual inked stamps. Occasionally marks are in the central part of the sheet, within the lines of the drawing, and are applied like the stamps of vengeful bureaucrats. Presumably the owners feared theft and that a stamp in the middle would discourage thieves, not giving them the opportunity of trimming off a mark on the edge. Nowadays most collectors do not mark their drawings because marks are distracting and disfiguring and one can document one’s collection with photographs.

A mark of an important collector adds value to a drawing. Of course, collection marks are easily faked, and have been. The falsifier Hebborn would draw them freehand, but for the unscrupulous dealer, getting an artisan to duplicate a stamp is not difficult–far, far easier than finding someone to counterfeit banknotes, for example. The marks that are most faked are those of the greatest collectors. With ever more precise measuring instruments, and if there were time and interest, marks could be evaluated for authenticity.

26 March 2010 – Lugt is now online and what a wonderful tool. Here is the Lugt start page.

Ian Woodner

July 27th, 2009 § Comments Off on Ian Woodner § permalink

Between 1984 and 1986, I worked as curator for Ian Woodner’s collection, and what I remember most about him was how he cooed at drawings, especially the most recently acquired and the ones he was about to buy. It was visceral, you’d see him start, move closer to the sheet, and then coo.

Woodner was a tall man, had good skin color from being in the sun, and had attractive white hair, sometimes quite long. He wore double-breasted suits with twin back vents, colorful suspenders, and occasionally fuchsia pocket squares. A little more eccentric was his use of eyeliner at night and the very strong tuberose and gardenia perfume called Fracas. He was handsome, even in his 80s.

He grew up in Minnesota, studied architecture at the University of Minnesota, and then Harvard. However, he was much more a real estate developer than an architect. I never remember his sketching out building plans or praising any particular architect, never mentioned White or Wright, and never bought any old master architectural drawings for his collection. A couple of times when we were out on the New York streets, I remember his saying how much he liked skyscrapers because of the reflections of sky and clouds in the glass. His buildings, mostly rental apartment buildings, were never very high or full of glass, they were maybe a bit ordinary, but there were many of them, and they paid for his collecting.

By 1984, when I went to work for him, he’d been collecting for some thirty years. He was born in 1903 and died in 1990. Much of his collection had been bought from the Schab Gallery on 57th Street. Frederick Schab had sold him his star Benvenuto Cellini drawing of a Satyr, many other good drawings, and also many lesser works. I felt lucky in that Konrad Oberhuber had recently come on the scene, advising Woodner on acquisitions, and involving his students in writing the catalog entries for the Woodner shows at the National Gallery in Washington, the Getty, and the Kimbell. (Oberhuber was a remarkable teacher and Harvard professor, who later went on to become the Director of the Albertina in Vienna. Many people had no idea they were interested in drawings until they’d met him.) The notoriety Woodner was receiving through the exhibitions, propelled him to buy more drawings. It seemed that every week, and sometimes every day, dealers and auction house representatives would come to his office hoping to interest him in a drawing.

Woodner’s collection was very broad, he didn’t take the more conventional and modest path taken by many collectors, that of concentrating on just one school, say French 18th century drawings. Instead he had drawings from all over Europe, from the 14th century forward. He had a taste for wonderfully awkward drawings. His early drawings, his Germans and Goyas and Redons were most interesting because of their standing outside of our usual sense of beauty.

Probably the artist he most admired was Odilon Redon and he had a large collection of Redon drawings, prints, pastels, paintings and watercolors. His own pastels and watercolors, mostly of flowers or landscapes, were strongly influenced by Redon. Here in Italy, they call vibrant colors “accesi” meaning turned-on or electrified, and that’s a way of describing Woodner colors. His garden on Long Island, where he painted on the weekends, had beds of seriously bright flowers and a peacock house.

He had a preference for large drawings, but also had many small sheets. The display of drawings was very important to him. He liked being involved in the matting of the drawings and always wanted the windows larger and played with the back color of the mats, hoping to make the drawings appear bigger. He had an excellent relationship with his daughter Andrea, or Andy, and she came to the office every week. She had a very easy way of explaining things, and this is when I learned to add and subtract fractions for mats.

Once, an important visitor was coming, maybe a museum director, but I can’t remember who it was. When prominent visitors came, works would be transported to his apartment from Morgan Manhattan, a storage company, and invariably the frames would be dinged and show ugly white nicks from the trip across town. After we’d hung the transported works, Woodner suddenly had the idea of using instant coffee and water to inpaint the white gesso areas and so we set to work and he joked, “Even if they don’t look good, the smell is wonderful.”

He’d drift away if anyone started talking about iconography. He was much more interested in how a drawing was made, made from the artist’s viewpoint. Woodner had, as so many successful men are allowed to have, a bad temper. It was generally around the real estate people that he’d let go–turn bright red and fulminate. He’d also become furious with Walter Strauss, the not very successful publisher of the Illustrated Bartsch and a kind of fixer for Woodner (the Lubomirski and Koenigs drawings were procured by Strauss). Visiting curators would sometimes witness his anger and combativeness if they expressed any doubts about his Hans Holbein the Younger portrait (now in the National Gallery and inventoried as after Holbein) or a Crucifixion he was certain was by Dirk Bouts (also National Gallery, and now given to the Master of the Coburg Roundels). He would get angry if other people weren’t seeing what he was seeing. While this seemed strange to me at the time, now it doesn’t. Those interested in old masters can get very exercised about attribution questions.

Woodner wasn’t particularly keen on seeing other people’s drawings, or visiting public collections and going through boxes. He was focused on what was his and what he could get. He kept a small library, apart from the larger office library, in a studio next to his apartment in the west 60s. Since he had trouble sleeping, he liked to look at exhibition catalogs and find drawings that were owned privately and see if anything could be done to shake them loose. He also loved looking through sale catalogs, whether old or new.

There was something very stable and reassuring about working at Woodner’s offices. The real estate people were genuinely kind and amusingly puzzled by these expensive pieces of paper called drawings for which they’d create stretch payment schedules. The place, with its plastic wood furniture, was strangely pleasing. It was endearing to see Woodner with Paula Vial, his business partner, having lunch together. Woodner with his burnt grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch (also burnt toast for breakfast) and always thinking towards the next acquisition.

Albums and The Preservation of Old Master Drawings

June 29th, 2009 § Comments Off on Albums and The Preservation of Old Master Drawings § permalink

The reason so many old master drawings remain, and in a good state of preservation, is that they were kept in albums. Giorgio Vasari (1511 – 1574), sometimes considered the first collector of drawings, kept his drawings in what is known as his “Libro de’ Disegni.” The Libro had at least five volumes.  It must have seemed quite natural to keep drawings in albums. So many drawings were bound together to form model books and precious illuminations were integral to bound manuscripts. For artists, portable books of drawings would have been great assets to bring to commission sites.

It is very rare to see drawings, the objects themselves, in paintings before the 17th century. An occasional St. Luke can be seen working on a portrait of the Virgin, sometimes in drawing, but usually in painting. Lorenzo Lotto’s Lucretia (1530-32) shows a woman holding a drawing of her namesake, not because she was a collector of drawings, but as a way of likening her to that virtuous Roman heroine, who killed herself rather than live with the shame of being raped by the Etruscan enemy.

Lorenzo Lotto | Lucretia | 1528-30 | National Gallery | London

Lorenzo Lotto | Lucretia | Oil on Canvas| 1530 -32 | National Gallery | London

It wasn’t until the 17th century that non-artists started collecting drawings in significant numbers and we start seeing the display of drawings in kunstkammer paintings. In this example of Frans II Francken drawings are displayed, mostly unframed, alongside paintings, sculptures, and natural history specimens.

Frans Francken II | Collector's Room | Oil on Wood | 1620-25 | Kunsthistorisches Museum | Vienna

Frans II Francken | Collector's Room | Oil on Wood | 1620-25 | Kunsthistorisches Museum | Vienna

Once drawings started being displayed on walls, great losses started to occur. Sunlight hitting, with flies and dust landing at will, contributed to losses. Fortunately, collecting drawings became so engrossing and many collectors so avid that they would have to find space saving methods of storage, including passepartouts, portfolios, boxes, and albums for their growing collections. Probably the greatest losses came from casual collections that had but few drawings.