November 10th, 2011

1.  New light on the Creation.

Dr. Manuel Castiñeiras González is one of the most respected specialists in Catalan Romanesque and also a kind of high-flying maverick. His strategy is to get himself involved with a key work in the field, apparently widely researched, and dare to approach it in a completely original yet reassuringly authoritative way. His last target was the Tapestry of the Creation, that astonishing 12th century embroidery masterpiece kept in the Treasury Museum of the Cathedral of Girona, North Catalonia (Manuel Castiñeiras González, “El Tapís de la Creació”, €15, 120pp).  Thanks to his in-depth research, he was able to establish a firm hypothesis about its authorship and, more critically, its function. I will not spoil either revelation, so you will feel a little sense of urgency about buying his book – which is not an easy process: after some fruitless visits to the usual bookshops in Barcelona, I finally got it by the old-fashioned way of asking for it directly from the publisher (that is, the Chapter of the Cathedral itself, t. +34 972 21 58 14). Its excellent presentation last 28th September in Girona probably gave the final push to Bishop Carles Puigdemont in allowing the Tapestry to travel to the Centre de Restauració de Béns Mobles de la Generalitat, the Catalan public restoration institute, where it will receive a much-needed treatment, sponsored by “La Caixa”, a local savings bank.  Let us hope all this leads to further collaboration, specially regarding to the Museu d’Art de Girona, one of these museums with fantastic collections that cannot develop its potential in full because of co-management issues. Meanwhile, Dr. Castiñeiras will give his view on another classic of the research in Catalan Romanesque, the so-called “Style of the 1200’”, in a public conference this 16th November, at the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya.


2. A way Europe did really work.


In these days when politicians and bankers in Europe are trying to shore up the old building, lets think about a visit to the mid-sized, highly interesting “Primitius. El segle daurat de la pintura portuguesa 1450 – 1550” (“Primitives. The Gold Century of Portuguese Painting 1450 – 1550”, from 2 November 2011 to 8 January 2012) in the Museu de Belles Arts in Valencia. Coming with 48 works from various collections in the Atlantic-facing country, its arrival in this part of the Mediterranean is perfectly suited, since the Museu’s core holdings are Valencia’s own “gold century” works of art, also from mid 15th century to mid 16th century. Expect therefore a typical European game, in which the goal is to discover how differently the Portuguese and Valencian local schools flourished, while negotiating the same growing influences of the Netherlandish and Italian Renaissances, the two dominating forces in the great part of the continental artistic landscape of the moment.


3. The case for Spanish Old Masters.



Lots 1139 and 1141 of last October’s auction in Balcli’s, a local house in Barcelona,  are a useful indicator of the good and evil of collecting Spanish Old Masters. Lot 1139, a Saint Barbara and Saint Lucy (tempera and oil on table, 45.5 x 86 cm) by the Master of Astorga (active 1510 – 1530) is in fact another panel of the same retable from which comes the Sacred Family with Saint John (tempera and oil on table, 45.5 x 85.8 cm) conserved in the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, as explained in the catalogue note. It was therefore natural that the lot was pre-empted by the Spanish State, hopefully to cede it to the Museu. On one side, therefore, it is a happy occasion when a work resurfaces, wich may be  the start of the reconstruction of the whole retable. But, on the other hand, the €30,000 paid for it seems too low. In my opinion, it shows how hard it is to get a fair price in this kind of situation, in which no private purchaser wants to enter the fight because he knows all his efforts will be defused, either by the pre-emption powers of the public institutions or by the prospect of a declaration of public cultural interest falling on the work (which will limit is market to the domestic one, and still with some duties on the owner’s part). Lot 1141’s dry attribution to the “Spanish School” (Still Life, 58,5 x 89,5 cm) was softened in the written catalogue with a suggested name, Bernando Polo (died c. 1700), himself an unknown master until William Jordan identified him, in this article in the Archivo Español de Arte (William Jordan, “El Pseudo-Hiepes es Bernardo Polo”AEA, n.328, October – December 2009, pp. 393-424). Starting at a mere €45,000 it rose to €120,000, which is still an attractive price when compared with its Italian or Flemish contemporaries, therefore making the case that someone with a good eye can find in the Spanish arena fine works of art at a reasonable price.


4. Forthcoming from Yale

There are some publishing houses that find it  difficult to advertise their books even after publication, but this is not certainly the case for Yale, which in fact issues its publishing plans far in advance. In their recent Spring / Summer Catalogue for 2012, I have found some interesting announcements. As a firm candidate for the title of art book of the year comes “Michelangelo. The Achievement of Fame 1475 – 1534”, described as “the first of two volumes in what will be the definitive modern biography of Michelangelo” and written by Michael Hirst, the noted specialist and Professor Emeritus of the Courtauld Institute (due for February, in cloth for $40, 416 pp).

From the rest of its vast offer, and with the extra $565 needed in my pocket, I would pick up the following:

– a new general guide to the Metropolitan (introduced by Director Thomas P. Campbell and written by the in-house specialists, due for April, paperback, $24.95, 448 pp.);

– some exhibition catalogues with suggestive subjects:

Byzantium and Islam. Age of Transition” (Edited by Helen C. Evans, with Brandie Ratliff, (due for April, cloth, $65, 384 pp., exhbition at the Met from 12 March to 8 July 2012);

Bellini, Titian and Lotto. North Italian Paintings from the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo”, by Andrea Bayer and Maria Cristina Rodeschini (due for June, paperback, $21.95, 96 pp., exhibition at the Met from 15 May to 3 September 2012);

Dürer and Beyond. Central European Drawings before 1700 in the Metropolitan Museum of Art”, by Stijn Alsteens and Freyda Spira (due for April, cloth, $65, 256 pp., exhibition at the Met from 3 April to 3 September 2012);

Capturating the Sublime. Italian Drawings of the Renaissance and the Baroque”, edited by Suzanne Folds McCullagh with Katie (about the Anne Searle Bent’s collection, due for May, cloth, $65, 328 pp, exhibition at the Art Institute Chicago from 24 March to 8 June 2012);

The English Prize. The Capture of the Westmorland, An Episode of Grand Tour”, edited by María Dolores Sánchez Jáuregui Alpañés and Scott Wilcox, (due for June, cloth, $75, 400 pp., exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, from 9 May to 29 August 2012);

-as regards catalogues raisonnés, a new volume on Sargent’s paintings (“John Singer Sargent. Figures and Landscapes, 1900-1907. The Complete Paintings, Volume VII”, by Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray, due for June, cloth, $75, 400 pp,.) and  Adriaan Waiboer’s work on Gabriel Metsu (“Gabriel Metsu. Life and Work: A Catalogue Raisonné”, due for February, cloth, $100, 320 pp.);

– finally, in the architecture field and because of its alternative approach to the traditional Italian one, “Renaissance Gothic. Architecture and the Arts in Northern Europe, 1470 -1550”, by Ethan Matt Kavaler (due for June, cloth, $75, 344 pp.).


5. Classical Netherlands.


This month’s web classics have a Netherlands flavour. First, I would point out the excellent RKD website (Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie/ Royal Netherlands Institute for Art History), whose databases combining visual with documental resources are unique of their kind and very useful in the begining stages of any research (specially the Artist’s Database). Closely related, there comes the CODART (Curators of Dutch and Flemish Art) website, which, despite being presented as a mere professional networking site for professional curators, is in fact a rich source of interesting events, places and people. Although it received different kinds of support, its funds come basically from the Dutch government -and I can only dream what could happen if the Catalan or the Spanish authorities decided to take an example from that. Finally, far more recent and with a wider scope, it is worth to mention Europeana, launched in 2008 “with the goal of making Europe’s cultural and scientific heritage accessible to the public” and based in the Royal Library of the Netherlands. Bruno Racine, President of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, has been recently appointed head of its board.


6. Hispanists in France.

Thanks to Didier Rykner’s La Tribune de l’Art, I came across to Afición, Association française pour l’étude et la promotion de l’art espagnol, portugais et latino-américain. Appearing from time to time, it manages to deliver all the news related to Hispanic Old Masters in France, to which they add a special feature on the Meadows Museum in Dallas as the door for hispanism in the US. It also offers a good selection of online resources and interesting webs.


7. Beltracchi the hero?

Almost all that could be said is already said about the Beltracchi case, the biggest forgery case in history in Germany, according to reports. Its protagonist has gathered some public sympathy, thanks to the fact that he was shrewd enough to dupe the art world twice – first when he marketed his fakes, and then now, when thanks to the closing deal, he can walk away with just three years in prison and, as it seems, his own fortune relatively untouched. Not satisfied with that, a good friend of mine argued that Beltracchi must be hailed as a real hero, since he was successful in attacking the modern trend of exaggerated worshipping of certain artists – by producing works of art under their names that were of greater quality than the original output. I disagreed, just reminding my friend that Max Ernst risked to create something new, whereas Beltracchi was just following a tired path.  But do you agree? Shall we celebrate Beltracchi or just consider him an artful, but cowardly, failed artist? At this point, it is perhaps convenient to remember the case of another fallen forgery hero, that of Han van Meegeren (1889 – 1947), masterfully recounted by Jonathan Lopez in his The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren”, New York 2008, 340 pp (available in Amazon for the record price of $2.93).


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