Monday, March 25, 2013

A Little Known Event in History Interesting to History Nerds Like Me!

Unknown artist (United States)Brooklyn Sanitary Fair, Knickerbocker Hall, 1864. Chromolithograph on paper, 35.7 x 41.2 cm (14 1/16 x 16 1/4”), published in “Henry McCloskey’s Manual of the Common Council for the City of Brooklyn 1864.” © Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, NY. (BMA-1654)
Many Americans are interested in the American Civil War (1861–1865). Let’s face it, the Civil War was a major turning point in American history. It paved the way for giving African Americans the vote and, ultimately, desegregation and the Voting Rights Act in the 1950s and 1960s. I find myself not so much interested in the political and military aspects of the war, but rather the social side. The catastrophic casualties and destruction lead to a rise in the participation of American women in public service. At one point there were 3,000 volunteer nurses in the North alone. But that was not the only arena in which women served. I came across a series of lithographs for this Brooklyn Sanitary Fair of 1864. It’s absolutely fascinating and, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, it is more proof that there has never been a time in American history when women did not play a significant role.

The United States Sanitary Commission was founded by the federal government after the outbreak of the war. Its mission was to supply safe, healthy supplies to Union soldiers. Already in 1861 the government was aware that four out of five deaths in the war were caused by diseases related to poor medical attention or sanitary conditions, not from battle. While men were the fighting force of the war, women were the backbone of the Sanitary Commission, working with laundry, cooking, sewing, and—most of all—nursing. Taking place across the northern states, the series of “Sanitary Fairs” were organized by charitable women’s organizations, and raised $25 million toward the relief of sick and wounded Union soldiers.

The Brooklyn Sanitary Fair was organized by Brooklyn women. It was housed on the grounds of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, on which two temporary structures were erected to house a wide-ranging group of exhibits, from fine art and “curiosities” to regional cuisine and an ice-skating rink. Knickerbocker Hall was a temporary structure that housed a restaurant in which delicacies were served, staffed completely by women volunteers. The fair lasted from February 22 to March 8, 1864, netting donations of over $400,000, the modern equivalent of $4 million!


Chromolithography evolved from the lithographic process as early as the 1830s. It involved the use of multiple stones copied from an original drawing, each stone printing a different color. The process became very popular for mass-production of color advertising. This image of Knickerbocker Hall is fascinating to me for the way the artist achieved an ambient lighting, and particularly for the emphasis on the numerous figures of women in giant crinolines (hoop skirts). It’s a hint of how important the role of women was during the Civil War.

Views of the fair:

Interior of the Academy of Music, from the Dress Circle, published in “Henry McCloskey’s Manual of 1864.” © Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY. (BMA-1867)
View of the Academy of Music as Seen from the Stage, published in “Henry McCloskey’s Manual of 1864.” © Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY. (BMA-1657)
View of the Academy of Music, published in “Henry McCloskey’s Manual of 1864.” © Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY. (BMA-1656)

Studio activity:  A collage of people in an important place. Using a piece of heavy construction paper, sketch the setting for a group of people at an important event in pencil. Then use colored pencils or markers to fill in the space. Using magazines cut out figures of people of varying sizes and overlap them on the construction paper to indicate a space full of people. Once finished, explain the nature of the event and why the figures were placed where they are.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 2: 2.9, 2.10; Explorations in Art Grade 5: 1.3; 1.6; A Personal Journey: 2.4; Exploring Visual Design: 1, 5, 10; The Visual Experience: 9.4

Monday, March 18, 2013

My Kind of Pope

John Russell Pope (1874–1937 US); Temple of the Scottish Rite; Washington, DC; 1910–1915. Photo © Davis Art Images. (8S-13765)

 A pope was chosen last week in Rome. I also have a pope of choice, and he isn’t of the Roman Church bent. Since many were oohing and aahing about the new head of the Roman Church, I decided to put forth my nomination for pope, and he’s an American architect whose work I find absolutely stunning: John Russell POPE! He is one of the persons responsible for making our nation’s capital the gorgeous, gleaming, classically-themed envy of the world. To understand Pope’s architecture is to understand the history of our country, and it’s a fascinating story of how political ideals influence aesthetic consideration.

From the very beginning of the building of Washington, DC, it was in the minds of the Founding Fathers that America was the first true democracy since ancient Greece. With this is mind, and the Roman Republican period (ca. 509–27 bce), the founders’ desired architecture for Washington’s public buildings that reflected this belief. The aesthetic was revived in 1901 with the McMillan Plan, devised by the Senate Parks Commission to restore the plan by the original 1700s designer of the capital city, Pierre L’Enfant (1754–1825, born France). L’Enfant, influenced by the Neoclassicism rage in Europe, envisioned streets lined with temple-like buildings that harkened back to ancient Greece and Rome.

Pope studied architecture at Columbia University, and subsequently in Greece, Italy, and Paris. In Paris he studied at the École des Beaux-Arts, a bastion of classical revival styles, as well as revivals of Renaissance and Baroque architecture (both more or less dependent on ancient Greek and Roman architecture). The Temple of Scottish Rite in Washington is a perfect merging of Greek Revival and Roman Revival styles. Pope firmly believed that public architecture should bear the gravity and dignity of classical ancient architecture. The design of the Scottish Rite Temple is a merging of the two, while owing its overall form to the Hellenistic period (ca. 320–100s bce) in the form of the Mausoleum in Halicanarssus, Asia Minor (now Bodrum, Turkey).

In 1917, Pope joined the Commission of Fine Arts (which grew out of the McMillan Plan to oversee building in Washington, DC) and helped to guide the building of Washington in what was considered to be L’Enfant’s original intent. After 1922, he focused more on designing architecture. Perhaps his most famous work of that period, among many, is the Jefferson Memorial.

John Russell Pope, Jefferson Memorial, general view, Washington, DC, 1943. © Davis Art Images. (8S-13722)
Studio activity:   A collaborative architectural model in a Neoclassical style. In groups of three or four, design with pencil on paper a building that represents some sort of contemporary public entity, e.g. a church, government building, school, or monument. Look at buildings from ancient Greece and Rome, and use elements of those styles to build a model: the column, pediment, arches, domes, etc. Use small boxes, heavy paper, paper tubes and found three-dimensional forms to construct the building. Use a Styrofoam or cardboard base, and tape, glue or staples to connect the parts. Finish by using paint or markers.

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 1: 2.12; Explorations in Art Grade 2: 6.31, 6.32; Explorations in Art Grade 4: 3.15, 3.16, 3.18; Explorations in Art Grade 5 2.12; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 4.19, 4.20; Exploring Visual Design: 1, 7, 8.

Monday, March 11, 2013

East-West Influence, Revisited

Peter Shire (born 1947, US), Sake Pot, 1981. Earthenware, 11 x 19 x 4 cm (4 3/8 x 7 1/2 x 1 9/16"). Cleveland Museum of Art , © 2013 Peter Shire. (CL-1065)

 When one thinks of “influence” concerning Asian and Western art, one tends to think of Western inroads into traditional Asian styles and subject matter. However, Western art has been influenced enormously by Asian art ever since Western Europeans began trading with China and Japan in the 18th century, and since the US forcibly opened China and Japan to trade with the West in the 1800s. I’m using this sake pot by Peter Shire, an obvious reference to Japan, as a jumping off point for a survey of a variety of Western artists influenced by Japanese, Chinese, and Korean art over the years.

Shire, born and raised in California, has been a master of ceramic arts since the 1970s. Although he has explored architecture, furniture design, large-scale sculpture, and painting (in clay of course), he always returns to ceramics as his main art form. His earliest explorations in the medium were sculptural, geometric interpretations of the teapot, which he continues to create to the present day. While he rejects the idea of a linear progression in art forms based on past styles, his work does strongly reflect the ideals of Bauhaus, Art Deco, and the pioneering California ceramic artists Peter Voulkos (1924–2002) and Ken Price (born 1935). These two artists were particularly influential for liberating ceramics from the stereotype of strictly a utilitarian form.

Peter Voulkos, Jar, ca. 1956. Stoneware, height: 56 cm. Museum of Modern Art, New York. © Estate of Peter Voulkos. (MOMA-D0141)
Kenneth Price, Cup, 1973. Porcelain, 10 x 9 x 14 cm. © Kenneth Price. Photo courtesy the artist. (8S-19444)

Shire also produces interpretations of the sake pot, a natural extension of the tea pot. It is a logical stimulus from the multi-faceted Asian culture of Los Angeles. This particular pot combines the traditional configuration in Bauhaus- and Art Deco-inspired shapes, combining utility with aesthetic emphasis.

Here are some other examples of Asian influence on Western art:

Bertha Lum (1869-1954), Rain, 1908. Color woodcut on cream, thin, Japanese wove paper; image: 27.9 x 16 cm. © Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY. (BMA-1528)
Bertha Lum was a printmaker who spent much time in Japan studying the traditional woodblock printing process typified in the Ukiyo-e style. This print reminds me of Hiroshige.

Learn more about Lum in my first East-West Influence post.

Royal Danish Porcelain Manufactory (maker; firm founded ca. 1781, Copenhagen) and Gerhard Henning (designer, 1880–1967), Figurine: Asian Lady, 1920s. Porcelain decorated with polychrome glazes and gold, 30.5 x 12.8 cm. © Cleveland Museum of Art. (CL-454)
I’m not quite sure if this artist ever actually saw an Asian woman. What’s she wearing anyway, a bathrobe? The only connection I can figure out is a vague reference to Chinese tomb figurines from the Tang Dynasty (618–907 ce).

Nicolas Le Camus de Mézières (1721–1789, Chanteloup, Château, Pagoda, 1775–1778. Amboise, France. Photo © Davis Art Images. (8S-12799)
This whimsical pavilion is on the grounds of a country palace. Although it owes the stacked levels to the pagoda form (vaguely), each level with its columns and arches is firmly within the popular Western style of the time: Neoclassicism.

Claude Monet (1840–1926), The Japanese Footbridge, 1899. Oil on canvas, 81.3 x 101.6 cm. © National Gallery of Art. (NGA-P1129)
I don’t think Claude Monet intended to present his series of the Japanese bridge in his garden at Giverny as a strict interpretation of Japanese architecture. However, his reverence for nature certainly places it in the ballpark of Japanese aesthetic.

Unknown Artist, curtain: Chinoiserie scene, ca. 1785. Printed cotton, 222 x 106 cm. © Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-1954)
Whether imitating Chinese, Japanese or Korean art, Western designers termed such fancies as “Chinoiserie” (literally Chinesery). Such motifs often combined influences.

Eduardo Paolozzi (1924–2005, Britain), Japanese War God, 1958. Bronze, 163.83 x 55.88 x 33.02 cm. Albright-Knox Art Gallery, New York. © Estate of Eduardo Paolozzi / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (AK-475pzars)
An interesting interpretation by Eduardo Paolozzi of Japanese religious subject matter executed after World War II (1939–1945).

Monday, March 4, 2013

One of My Many Obsessions: Illuminated Manuscripts

Belbello da Pavia (Luchino di Giovanni Belbello, active by 1430, died after 1473, Italy), Annunciation in an initial M(issus est), excised section of an antiphonary, 1440–1450. Ink, tempera, and gold leaf on parchment, 19.7 x 16.5 cm (excised piece of page, 7 3/4 x 6 1/2”). © Cleveland Museum of Art.   (CL-578)


I’ve posted about manuscripts previously, because I LOVE THEM! That love has since extended to myriad cultures around the globe that produce such artworks. Therefore, in this post I won’t blah blah too much about the evolution of the genre. What I find fascinating, after coming across this example, is the wide variety of approaches in different cultures!

Belbello da Pavia was a very busy manuscript illuminator in the mid-15th century in northern Italy. What I find fascinating is that, at a time when Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378–1455) and Fra Angelico (1387–1455) were actively employing the recently “discovered” one-point linear perspective, Belbello worked in his own charming, yet naïve interpretation of this element of design.  

Lorenzo Ghiberti, Baptistry, Gates of Paradise, Solomon panel, detail: Solomon and Queen of Sheba, ca. 1425-1452. Gilt bronze, 80 x 80 cm. Photo © Davis Art Images. (8S-5861)
Fra Angelico, Annunciation, ca. 1440-1445. Fresco, 215.9 x 325.2 cm. Photo © Davis Art Images. (8S-29464)
One can see a partial understanding of the idea of recession to a vanishing point in Belbello’s work, but the piled up landscape is far more like the medieval idea of vertical perspective, in which layers of “depth” simply fall on top of each other in a composition.

Belbello was not satisfied having a studio in only one city. At one time he had workshops in Mantua, Milan, and Ferrara. He settled permanently in Pavia in about 1461. He was famous for his use of strongly modeled figures, another attribute of Renaissance painting, and the use of strong colors such as blues, pinks, and yellows (the primaries!). Late in his career he collaborated on manuscripts with such famous Renaissance masters as Andrea Mantegna (1431–1506) and Girolamo da Cremona (active 1450–1485).
This image from the Cleveland Museum of Art shows how whoever inherited this manuscript page cut it out from the whole, abandoning not only the text which accompanied this initial, but also the beautiful floral borders for which Belbello was also renowned.

Here are some other manuscript illuminations from the same period that show a somewhat naïve concept of space, but are nonetheless beautiful for their jewel-like color and detail:

Attributed to Giacomo Caporali (active by 1450, died 1478, Italy), Bifolium from a dispersed Antiphonary: The Prayer of King david in an initial B(beatus), ca. 1450. Ink, tempera, and gold leaf on vellum, page: 58.6 x 43 cm. © Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA. (WAM-423)
Master of the Maximilian School of Books (15th century, Vienna, Austria), from a Book of House, full-page minitare, Christ Nailed to the Cross, ca. 1465. Ink, tempera, and gold leaf on vellum, 12 x 8.3 cm. © Cleveland Museum of Art. (CL-286)

Islamic manuscripts were influenced by European examples from earlier periods. They show the same type of vertical recession. This beautiful Iranian work is a really good example of vertical perspective:

Unknown. Timurid Dynasty or Safavid Dynasty (1350-1736, Iran), folio from a dispersed Shahnama (Book of Kings), A King and Visitor with Attendants, from Shiraz, late 15th or early 16th century. Opaque watercolor, ink on paper, 24.13 x 13.14 cm. © Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY. (BMA-2246)

 Studio activity: Make an illustration of a favorite event in a favorite book. Using markers, colored pencils, or crayons, purposely depict the scene in the idea of vertical perspective, by piling on one layer of depth on top of another. Begin with a pencil drawing to get the ideas down, and practice with sketches beforehand.

Correlations to Davis Programs: Explorations in Art Grade 1: 1.6, 2.9; Explorations in Art Grade 2: 1.3, 5.25, 5.26; Explorations in Art Grade 3: 1.3, 3.14; Explorations in Art Grade 4: 1.2; Explorations in Art Grade 5: 1.5, 5.26; A Personal Journey: 1.1, 4.2; A Global Pursuit: 2.2, 4.1, 4.2;  The Visual Experience: 9.3, 15.8; Discovering Art History: 7.4