1. Sometimes it is just too late.
Sure some of you are familiar with the work of Giovanni Battista Lusieri (c. 1755 – c.1821), but it has taken me about three and a half decades, plus this review in the FAZ about Expanding Horizons, the current retrospective in the Scottish National Gallery, to come across this absolute master of landscape painting. To make things worse, the show is just closing on October 28, and even the catalogues are sold out! The only consolation is to reserve one of the reprints, planned for early December.
2. Also late, but still on time.
A recent visit to the Museum of Barcelona’s Cathedral, a small annex in the building’s cloister that also houses its chapterhouse, came with a nice surprise. It seems that since at least July 2009, you can admire here not only the Pietat Desplà, (oil on panel, 175 x 189 cm, signed and dated 1490) the key masterwork of Bartolomé Bermejo (active between 1468-1561), but also the so called Chair of King Martin, a wooden, silver-gilded portable throne that works as a seat for one of the finest monstrances from the International Gothic. The spectacular set (approximately 140 cm high) is probably the high point of the famed early 15th century Barcelona silversmiths.
3. Books: The Brueghels at work.
I learn through La Tribune de l’Art about this monumental work on Pieter Bruegel the Elder, his copyists, and his son and close follower Pieter Brueghel the Younger (C. Currie, D. Allart, The Brueg(H)el Phenomenon. Paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Pieter Brueghel the Younger with a special focus on technique and copying practice,1062 p, Brepols, 2012, €160 from the publisher’s website). It is not a light matter. The most important recent rediscovery and purchase of a work by Bruegel (the Elder) was made by the Spanish Ministry for Culture for the Museo del Prado in 2010. But the museum wanted to acquire The Wine of Saint Martin’s Day (glue-sized tempera on linen, 148 x 270.5 cm, c. 1556 – 1568) then attributed to the son, only if its own research on the painting’s technique revealed that the work was in fact by the father. The owners were brave enough to agree, and their good luck was eventually confirmed not only by the technical aspects, but also by the finding of the signature of the artist itself (see the Prado’s report here).
4. Books: Looking for Ottonian manuscripts? Please help yourself.
Medieval Histories, by Karen Schousboe, is one of the most readable, and interesting blogs on art history you can find. In the October issue, she urges us to fly to Munich, and pay our respects to Pracht auf Pergament, the exhibition in the Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung (until January 13th), a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to see the precious, rare and very fragile collection of Caroligean, Ottonian and Staufern manuscripts held in the Bavarian State Library (including the Gospel of Otto III, Reichenau, c. 1000; pictured above.). But in these days of digital access, the real wonders come out of true academic generosity, which is now the norm. On the exhibition’s website, they loaded up the 74 manuscripts, most of them illuminated, dated between 800 – 1175, ready to be downloaded, free and fast, directly to your computer (I tried, and it works). Perhaps steps like this can bring about a new push on teaching Early Medieval Art by starting with illuminated manuscripts?
5. Manuel works.
As you have surely noticed, I like to follow the work of those interesting academics I have the good luck to know. This time, it is Dr. Manuel Castiñeiras, who is participating in the upcoming Fourth Annual Anne d’Harnoncourt Symposium, on The Art of Sculpture 1100 – 1500: Sculptural Reception, and organised by The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Penn University and the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art, Paris (November 2-4. Penn University Campus). The title of Castiñeira’s paper is quite suggestive: They Are All the Work of Artists (Jer. 10, 9): the Romanesque Portal as liturgical Performance, following his brilliant essays on Saint James in Compostela. You can read the rest of the programme here.
6. A wrong approach – and an error in political strategy.
I am sad to note that the electoral manifesto of Convergència i Unió (the Nationalist Catalan party that everyone expects to win the crucial elections on November 25th) is very clear about its proposal for a referendum for independence (more than happy with that), but extremely weak when it comes to cultural matters. You have a bit of illustrated democratic despotism (“The Government will guarantee, and govern the network of basic facilities”, including museums), combined with an inward vision on cultural heritage, which seems to work only as evidence of Catalan culture’s self-sufficiency. Thank God, the professionals at the fore of basic facilities tend to follow a more advanced form of nationalism – an open one, which knows you cannot explain Catalan culture, nor any other European culture, without taking into account some of the rest of European cultures (here is my humble attempt in August to explain that).
7. Roma locuta.
The union of The Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church and The Pontifical Council for Culture, ordered by the Motu Propio Pulchritudinis Fidei signed by Pope Benedict XVI in July and recently made public, might sound like a very unimportant piece of Vatican bureaucracy. Not so, perhaps. In fact it could be very good news for the endless buildings and artworks under the care of the Catholic Church – because it means the Holy See is willing to make use of them for its renewed purpose of dialogue with non-believers through culture. Hopefully that will lead to joint restoration campaigns and research – and also a wider openness to contemporary art. Just to see how far this can go, read this interview with the mastermind of this policy, Card. Gianfranco Ravasi, in which he discusses the Vatican pavilion in the upcoming Venice Biennale (June 1st – November 24th, 2013), and also the tragic death of Amy Winehouse.