17 may 2012

1. What an amazing job they have done.

The Tapestry of the Creation during the restoration process, showing the reverse side.

A few months ago, I posted here about the start of the restoration of the Tapestry of the Creation (wool on wool, 358 x 450 cm, end of the 11th century – beginning of the 12th century), and the accompanying publication of Dr. Manuel Castiñeiras’ study on the piece (The Creation Tapestry, Girona, 2011, 216 pp.; ISBN 978-84-930063-3-4; €20 from this website). A recent visit to Girona’s Cathedral Museum, where it was returned last March, confirmed me the excellent outcome achieved by the restorers of the Centre de Restauració de Béns Mobles de Catalunya (the public Catalan restoring centre), who have cleaned the delicate textile in a meticulous manner, removing up to 265 old repairs. But as the official report on the process explained, the real value of it was hiding on the back. The reverse of the tapestry, protected for centuries by burlap now peeled off, preserved the original colours almost intact, and retained bits that were missing on the face side. This led to the discovery, among others things, of purple as the colour of the Christ’s himation (robe), and the rest of a title referring to Hercules attached to a figure in the top right corner. Both point to the royal and Gregorian connections advanced by Castiñeiras in his book. In this album at fickr.com you can access a nice set of zoomable pictures recording the tapestry before restoration, after restoration, and the glorious reverse side.

2. Medieval South Michigan.

The Western Michigan University Medieval Institute has celebrated its 50th anniversary International Congress on Medieval Studies. Held from 10 to 13 May on its campus in Kalamazoo, it was, as usual, an impressive gathering of more than 3,000 Medievalists from around the globe.  It offered 574 different sessions, sponsored by an array of institutions, each of them comprising some three conferences, roundtables or seminars. A certain Catalan presence was felt. The North American Catalan Society sponsored two sessions (n. 39 Against the Grain: The Experience of Subject Religious Communities in the Medieval Iberian and Western Mediterranean World and n. 451, Exercise and Accommodation: Women and Power in the Medieval Iberian and Western Mediterranean World); Professor Manuel Castiñeiras talked about Paradise Lost: The Porta Francigena and the Beginning of the Great Portals in Romanesque Art (session n. 79), and in different papers on Catalan-related topics sprinkled here and there, subjects included kings, crusaders, chronicles and a surprising amount about food.  The call for papers for the 2013 Congress is open.


3. A What’s On for art history academics.


The ArtHist website (www.arthist.net) seems to be on the way to becoming the point of reference for art historians who want to know where the next important academia gathering will take place (besides, it also offers excellent reviews on new books). At the moment, it leans towards Germany, US and UK events, but it is more and more active in including the French ones as well – an alternative for France is the Apahau’s blog (Association des Professeurs d’Archéologie et d’Historie de l’Art des Universités) at http://blog.apahau.org/. I would like to hear about a Hispanic-related news service, so please let me know if you are aware of it. And for those who think art-historians meetings are required to be boring, just think about the call for papers by The Renaissance Society of America for their 59th meeting. Subject matter: The Violent Lives of Artists in Early Modern Italy; time and place: April 2013 in sunny San Diego, California.

4. Copying, this old issue.


Laura Gilbert penned a very interesting article in The Arts Newspaper on the so-called “appropriation practices” by contemporary artists, and how properly they actually addressed the issues with copyright involved in that kind of exercise – contrary to the general assumption (No longer appropriate? TAN, 9 May 2012, online).  Using previous works as models is an old art practice, sometimes fostered even by the creators themselves, as a teaching tool and also as a way to sell copies of their prints. This has been explained in many studies: one of the most recent, by Fransiska Gottwald, deals with Rembrandt, (Das Tronie. Muster-Studien-Masterwerk. Die Genese einer Gattung der Malerei vom 15. Jahrhundert bis zum Rembrandt, Berlin, 2011, 228 pages; ISBN: 978-3-422-06930-5, from €39.90 at the publisher’s website; a review here). Perhaps the difference is that what we face now is pure, simple, direct copying posing as sophisticated criticism. Gilbert also writes in her blog art-unwashed.

5. A double restitution case?

The restitution case Saher vs. Norton Simon Museum presents some very attractive nuances. As this article in the Los Angeles Times explains (Mike Boehm, “Suit over Norton Simon art work enters a final phase”, Los Angeles Times, 2 May 2012, online), the special feature of this case is that the pair of panels in discussion, Adam and Eve by Lucas Cranach (1472-1553), looted under Goering´s orders in 1940 from the Amsterdam dealer Jacques Goudstikker, was already the object of a restitution deal in the 1950s, between the Dutch State, which had received it from the US Army, and Goudstikker’s heirs. Marei Saher, one of the current heirs, is now attacking the agreement, saying it was the result of “unfair negotiations”. The Norton Simon Museum (Pasadena, CA), which owns the work, is shielded by the “external restitution” doctrine, under which, the US must stand by the restitution decisions made by the foreign governments to which the US Army returned works after the war. But to make things even more complicated, look at whom the Museum acquired the works from. In the 1960s, the Dutch government sold the painting to George Stroganoff-Scherbatoff, who then resold it to the Museum. The sale to Stroganoff might have involved some element of restitution, since he claimed the paintings were expropriated by the Bolshevicks from his ancestors in Russia, and then sold to Goudistikker in an auction staged in Berlin in 1931 to raise funds for the struggling Soviets. Ms Saher’s representatives are dismissing this claim.

6. Not that much to celebrate?

Divine Liberty, Francisco de Goya, c. 1812-14. Album C, 115, Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

 It seems that the current darkish mood in Spain has reached the Museo del Prado too. In a small, carefully curated exhibition marking the bi-centennial of the first Spanish Constitution in 1812, the museum has decided to pair a contemporary print of the book with some of the superb drawings by Francisco de Goya (1746-1848), plus one of his oil portraits of King Ferdinand VII (Temporary installation: Constitutional ideas in Goya’s work, Room 38, until 12 August, no separate admission). They portray the great hopes the new text brought in, but also the potential for violence and disillusion that was looming on the horizon. You can have a look at the exhibits, with comments, on the exhibition’s website.


7. Don’t panic, it’s just a change of cycle.

But no hurry to buy them!

 According to this article in the Washington Post (Associated Press, “Maya exhibit at Penn Museum in Philadelphia seeks to dispel apocalypse myth  in December 2012”, The Washington Post, 4 may 2012), devoted to the current exhibition Maya. 2012. Lords of Time in the University of Pennsylvania´s Penn Museum, co-curator Loa Traxler can deliver some good news to the world. What has been misunderstood as Mayas predicting the end of the world for this 21 or 23 December, she declared, is nothing more than the end of the first 13-segments-long cycle of their “Long Count” calendar. A new cycle is therefore about to begin, and the Museum has embraced this optimistic message both in time and economic terms: the show runs until 1 December 2013, and admissions are flying high between $18.50 and $22.50.

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