1. A very long journey to Albion.
The exhibition at The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford that is about to open “The English Prize: The Capture of the Westmorland, an Episode of the Grand Tour” (17 May – 27 August 2012, admission: £9) springs from some fascinating research started in Madrid. For many years, the connection between the Westmorland, an English armoured merchant ship, and a generous group of paintings and art objects in the Real Academia de San Fernando and the Museo del Prado (among others), was hiding behind the “P.Y.” marks written in some of the drawings and books in the Academia collections. It was only in the 1990’s that ground-breaking research by Professor José Luzán established that they stand for “Presa Ynglesa” (English Prize). They came from the contents of the 54 crates full of artworks the ship was carrying when leaving from Livorno in January 1779, just to see itself capture by the French sent to Malaga. There the art treasure was secretly bought by King Charles III, and then dispersed among different Spanish institutions. The discovery led to a decades-long quest for the lost works, which instigated the identification of the hitherto anonymous sitters for some of the portraits in the lot. They included the likes of Francis Basset (pictured above) and Viscount Lewisham, unlucky British peers that lost all their Grand Tour purchases, including their fashionable renderings by stars like Pompeo Batoni (1708-1787), in the hands of the enemy.
2. Giving these days (continued).
One of the lesser-known great little museums in this country is the one at the Montserrat Abbey near Barcelona. It opened in 1963 as the merger of the old Biblical Museum and the works hanging there and those inside the monastery – among them, a Saint Jerome attributed to Caravaggio, but bought in the early 20th century as a very fine, yet anonymous portrait of the patron of the biblical studies. The collection received a boost in 1982 and in 1992, when the large gifts from two private collections (Sala Ardiz and Busquets) turned it into a reference point for Catalan art. The current exhibition, named Donations 2002-2012 , celebrates the success of current director Josep Laplana in attracting new donors, including not only local and noted collectors, but also international names like Sean Scully (pictured above) and Bill Viola.
3. The Cardinal’s opening.
According to Il Giornale dell’Arte (Alla 55 Bienale, per prima volta, di scena la Santa Sede, 8 May 2012, online), Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture (the culture department in the Vatican), is pushing for Holy See’s first-ever pavilion in the Venice Biennale, planned for 2013. A selection committee has been appointed, and the eleven first chapters of the book of Genesis have been chosen as the subject matter of the presentation. The move is part of the broad attempt by Pope Benedict XVI to foster in-depth dialogue between believers and non-believers (especially about art, culture and philosophy). Its most permanent feature is the Gentile Court, a new platform named after the court in Jerusalem’s Temple where non-Hebrews engaged in contact with the rabbis. Its first seasons, held last March in Paris, have seen Ravasi in public discussion with noted French intellectuals (videos here). The follow-up was in Palermo, and next stop will be on 17 and 18 May in Barcelona (with on-line streaming).
4. From imperial to cultural influence.
The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon has launched the online version of its three-volume plus indexes Portuguese Heritage around the World: architecture and urbanism – available on the publisher’s website from the publisher (no price or other details given). This new Internet venture is called Heritage of Portuguese Influence, and can be found at http://www.hpip.org. Like its off-line counterpart, it deals with architectural heritage in Europe, Africa, South America and Asia. Its criteria for inclusion is based upon a definition of Portuguese origins as “carried by order of Portuguese authorities or designed by Portuguese”, which allows it to exceed the limits of the old empire and deal with modern influences. The project, however, seems to be in an early stage of development.
5. An ideal library.
The blog of the French art magazine Connaissance des Arts features an excellent series of short films on works of art from the French public collections, launched in partnership with the Institut National du Patrimoine and the Bibliothèque Nationale. In this link you will find everything grouped together that refers to illuminated books, precious objects made for a particular patron, with an specific intention in mind.
6. Picturing what a museum is for.
As briefed by the French museum’s blog “louvre pour tous” (at www.louvrepourtous.fr), the French Department of Culture has decided to host a series of talks on the old issue of visitors taking photos of artworks in museum’s rooms, and making use of them. This move was prompted by an open letter signed by promoter Bernard Hasquenoph, the man behind the blog, and other people involved in museums and the Internet. Besides addressing a recurring practical problem, the matter fits cutting-edge museology proneness for “creative modes of appropriation and sharing”, and “democratization of culture”.
7. The ideal as criticism.
The non-mainstream ArtHS has published the May issue of its online bi-monthly Art History Supplement. It includes an article titled Museum Utopia. A Brief Architectural History of the Ideal Museum, submitted by Pablo von Frankenberg from the University of Tübingen. Its thesis has an unmistakable Parisian flavour (“ideal museums reveal the utopian potential of the inherently conservative museum”), but in 3,400 words it manages to deliver a compact, captivating review (sadly without illustrations) of the different attempts to lay out not actual museums, but judgemental projects set against the existing ones– interestingly, we learn that everything began as early as 1704.
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