Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Last Knight

Most of us celebrate our birthdays annually but they rarely go further than double digits and if they do, they rarely go above 100.  The Metropolitan Museum in New York has decided to celebrate the 500th birthday of Emperor Maximilian I (1459-1519).  They have come up with a title for their exhibition that should entice young and old to visit, “The Last Knight”. The term in reference to Maximilian, however, was first used by 19th century Romantic writers. However, when I looked up “The Last Knight” online, I found a 2017 science fiction action film based on Transformers toys!  

One anecdote if I may: when I was still quite young, I fell in love with arms and armor. After I had been to see a movie about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table,  my mother asked me how I liked the film about the “Rounds of the Night Table”! That became a family saying with many applications.

Maximilian I was born a minor Central European prince of the House of Habsburg.  He amassed territories over much of Europe and his grandson, Charles V, was to extend them even to the Americas. Maximillian worked his way up in the world thanks to marriage, diplomacy, inheritance and election, culminating in becoming Holy Roman Emperor in 1508. He had a passion for the concept of the heroic knight, using the image to further his ambitions and desire for his and his family’s legacy.  

Curator of the exhibition, Pierre Terjanian, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Curator in Charge of the Department of Arms and Armor at The Met says that Maximilian’s goal in amassing this magnificent array of armor was to impress. He compares this to a modern public relations campaign. 

The exhibition includes 180 works of art from some 30 public and private collections in Europe, the Middle East and the United States.  It covers Maximian’s life and times with an accent on his commissions of armor.  It opens with the model of horse in a magnificent set of body armor, known as a bard. It was presented to Henry VIII, as one of Maximilian’s diplomatic gifts intended to curry favors with other rulers.   It was lent by the Royal Armories in Leeds and is fully documented as wrought by Guillem Margo and punched and engraved by Paul van Vrelant around 1505.

There are so many fascinating objects, many new to me, for instance, the Padded Coif for the Joust of Peace, Innsbruck, Austria, 1484, lent by the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Imperial Armory.  It immobilized the contestant’s head inside a special massive helmet protecting it from the blow of a lance in the tournaments that Maximilian sponsored.   It was made for Archduke Sigismund of Tyrol, Maximilian’s great-uncle.

Here is another unusual object, a steel skirt, also made in Innsbruck, circa 1510-15 with an attribution to Conrad Seusenhofer.  It is from the Met’s own collection.  Having this additional safety measure, naturally, only came with luxury armor.

Among the many cool works in this show is a Mechanical Breastplate for variants of the Joust of War, thought up in Southern Germany circa 1480-1500.  It has settings for adjusting the force required to trigger the mechanism that released the shield.  I think I would leave it on the highest setting!

I am sure you have heard of the order of the Golden Fleece and you have seen it worn in a number of old master portraits.  This exhibition actually has one of the three known extant examples to survive from the Netherlands in the 16th Century.  This enameled and gold collar was lent by the Louvre in Abu Dhabi.  One reason there are so few around is that they were supposed be returned after the recipient’s death.  This one may have belonged to a childhood friend of Charles V.

The last objects in the show are a pair of steel Gauntlets belonging to Maximilian attributed to Lorenz Helmschmid of Augsburg, circa 1490 and  lent by the Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid, Real Armeria. They were brought to Spain by Charles V when he retired to a monastery as a memento of the grandfather he revered.  I don’t know if it was placement or lighting but if you gave me a choice of one object from the show.  These are what I would take with me!

I guess it is only fair to show you a likeness of Maximilian I in life and in death.  The first image was painted ca. 1525-30(?) in the workshop or by a follower of Albrecht Durer and lent by the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. It contrasts with the death portrait from The Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdnandeum in Innsbruck Austria. It is South German or Austrian, after 1519 but the artist is not known. This image is most unusual in that Maximilian is not shown in all his finery and symbols of power. It is assumed that Maximilian himself, who had presided over the plans for his memorial, requested that this portrait be made after his instructions had been followed, that his head be shaved and his teeth knocked out demonstrating him to have been a humble mortal.

The show ends with a quote from Maximilian which has not grown out of date. “He who makes no memory of himself during his lifetime will have none after his death and will be forgotten with the tolling of the final knell. Therefore, the money that I expend on perpetuating my memory will not be lost.”

I have concentrated on the armor which is the focus of this spectacular show but there are more paintings, plus prints and stained glass as well that you will have to see for yourselves.  “The Last Knight” runs until January 5, 2020. 

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Bertoldo di Giovanni

The Frick Collection in New York has continued its series of wonderful shows on renaissance bronzes.   This exhibition, Bertoldo di Giovanni: The Renaissance of Sculpture in Medici Florence, is the  first to be devoted this sculptor who lived ca. 1440–1491.  He was the student of one of the most famous sculptors of that or any other period, Donatello, and went on to be a teacher of Michelangelo.  To top that off he was a great favorite of Lorenzo “il Magnifico” de’ Medici, the most important collector and patron of the period. I believe this is so significant because if the greatest patron of the arts at the time was a huge fan, the artist must have been doing something right.

The “excuse” for the show, as if one is needed, is the Frick’s own bronze, “Shield Bearer” which is the only known work by the Bertoldo outside of Europe.  It is as well a wonderful example of the artist’s work, being very detailed and tight.  Note the hair on this figure’s head and beard.

Monographic exhibitions are put together for a number of reasons, often depending on the taste of the curator.  These days, however, Museums will not lend on a whim, but want to see that the show will advance art history .  One of the most frequent reasons being that if we see these works of art all in the same place, we can make distinctions and draw references.  Here they have brought together more than 20 examples representing the majority of Bertoldo’s work. Also, these shows give the opportunity to reunite objects that were created together but have been separated.  For instance, Liechtenstein: The Princely Collections in Vaduz-Vienna lent their Shield Bearer, which offered a prime opportunity for comparison with the Frick’s. At first it appears to be the mirror image but if you look closely you will find many differences. 

The exhibition opens with Bertoldo's largest bronze. It is an incredibly complicated relief that is an adaptation of an ancient sarcophagus that depicts a battle between Roman soldiers and barbarians. The bronze was lent by the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, with whom the Frick collaborated on the show.

One of my favorite pieces is Hercules on Horseback lent by the Gallerie Estensi, Modena.  It was probably made for the Duke Ercole I d'Este, who associated himself with his namesake.  Ercole even rode through Ferrara in antique costume, bringing flowering branches to the city's most beautiful women.

Being close to life size, the most impressive sculpture is a full-length figure of St. Jerome,  in wood, gesso and paint, ca. 1465–66. The startling realism comes from a great period of innovation.  It was lent to the show by the Pinacoteca Comunale, Faenza. Today’s scholars propose it was begun by Donatello at the end of his life and completed by his student, Bertoldo. Who am I to dispute that? If you look closely you can see the blood dripping from the wound caused by St. Jerome beating himself with the stone he holds.  It is thought that it was meant to go on a plinth where the blood would be better seen from below.

Bertoldo was an innovator in the field of medals but I will leave that for you to discover.

The fully illustrated catalog accompanying the show is the most substantial text on Bertoldo ever produced.  Why is this important?  Because Bertoldo is the direct link between the two greatest names in Renaissance Sculpture, Donatello and Michelangelo.  The latter having the ego that went along with his talent made himself out to have been self-taught and did not mention the instruction from Bertoldo.  An issue for Bertoldo was that he did not have his own studio and relied on other artists to work with him. Artists did work together sometimes! Also, If art historians think that something is just too good to be Bertoldo it gets attributed to Michelangelo.  Many great names are buried by history.

I, for one, am delighted that the Frick has done this exhibition which runs until January 12, 2020. I am only disappointed that it is not travelling in this country.  The show was organized by Aimee NG, Curator, Alexander J. Noelle, Anne L. Poulet Curatorial Fellow and Xavier F. Solomon, Peter J. Sharp Chief Curator with the assistance of Julia Day, Conservator. Listing all those credited with contributing scholarship would take a couple of Missives, however special credit is given to our old friend James Draper, a former Metropolitan Museum of Art curator, who was the first to devote scholarly attention to Bertoldo and wrote the catalog raisonnĂ© published in 1992.  Sadly he passed away 3 days ago.

Aside from the exhibition catalog, the Frick’s website has a great deal of material and I urge you to watch the 5-minute video where you will not only learn more, but be able to see much of the show that I have not even touched on.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

TEFAF - New York - 2019

The European Fine Arts Fair (TEFAF) was established in Maastricht, the Netherlands in 1988, thanks to the efforts of art dealer, Robert Noortman.  His gallery happened to be in Maastricht, which is a small medieval town historically important for trade as it is located at the junction of two rivers.  Important treaties have been signed here as It is near the border of modern-day Germany, Belgium and France.  It has the advantage for an art fair as being somewhere that is lovely, restful and there is not much else you can.  So, when people make the trip, they do with the thought at least of maybe buying something.  I am told that there are 10,000 visitors to TEFAF Maastricht every day.

New York is not that kind of town so though many may come, an art fair is just one of many cultural choices you might have any day of the week!  We were at TEFAF New York 10 days ago for close to 6 hours on the opening day. We managed to at least pass and look into all 90 stands which is less than half the number of dealers that you find in Maastricht.  Of course, we went back for a shorter time a few days later.  A curator at the Maastricht edition once told me he had been in the fair for 3 days and not seen everything yet!

In this year’s New York fair, the passages before you get to the booths are hung with an exhibition titled, “Artfully Dressed: Women in the Art World”.  The large-scale portraits by photographer Carla van de Puttelaar are of women dealers, curators, artists and patrons of the arts.  The show was sponsored by Bank of America and curated by art dealer, Rachel Kaminsky.  Rachel told us that the project came about when she met the photographer who had asked to photograph her and Rachel realized that she was in a position to introduce her to other powerful women in the art world.  I must say that I knew quite a number of these women, but they were so artfully dressed and posed that I recognized few. Here are two of the images.  The first is of Rachel and the second is of mega collector and philanthropist Agnes Gund with her granddaughter Ellie Traggio.

I am sure there were celebrities among the visitors, but I just saw colleagues and friends.  At functions like these if you have been in the art world over a long period of time you see these folks again and again.  At 75 I am lucky enough to have spent many years in this group.

Our first stop was at the Wildenstein Gallery. My family has dealt with the Wildensteins  for generations as we have always been in similar fields of art.  At this fair they were one of the few dealers to occupy one of the historic rooms not just a stand on the Armory floor.  They showed some wonderful French 18th century paintings of which my favorite was Jean Francois de Troy’s, circa 1714, “Danae Receiving Zeus Disguised as a Shower of Gold”.

Also, from my old world contacts were the Kugel brothers from Paris. They had an incredible object, “The Comte de Charolais Fountain”, which has a distinguished provenance back to the 18th century. It is composed of a Chinese late 17th or early 18th century celadon vase and two porcelain fu dogs mounted as a fountain on a gilt bronze base. It must have been assembled around 1749 by a Paris marchand mercier (dealer who put together the various parts to create precious novelty wares).  It was described in detail in the inventory of the Comte de Charolais (1700-1760).

The founder of the Lillian Nassau Gallery in New York was responsible for the revival of interest in Louis Comfort Tiffany. The gallery continues the tradition, under the aegis of Arlie Sulka and Eric Silver with an example of his work that they had the good fortune to recently acquire. It is a monumental wrought iron fireplace hood ornamented with Japanese sword guards created by Tiffany for a New York mansion on 72nd street.

An object that really got to me was this Spanish terracotta Head of Saint John the Baptist by Jose de Mora (1642 – 1724) which was exhibited by the Mullany Gallery from London.

Many of the booths had creative installations such as this large silvered frame hanging at the front of the booth introducing the English silver wares of  Shrubsole from New York.

One of the most exciting objects in the show was also one of the smallest.  It was a Book of Hours made for Queen Claude of France created circa 1520-23.  The tiny vellum leaves are painted with text, patterns and full scenes.  I hope to devote a complete Missive to it in the near future.  When we spoke to the dealer, Heribert Tenschert from Switzerland I was delighted to learn that the missal came from the Vienna Rothschild Collection that my family handled in the 1940’s and beyond.  The jeweled and enamel gold cover for the missal was found separately but when the binder put the book inside, the fit was so perfect that he said he believed it was made for it.  These miracles happen in the art world, seldom, but they are not unique.

TEFAF organized a cultural program of lectures and panels during the fair.  We heard an interesting one on the restoration of Notre Dame after aa fire earlier this year. Panelists stressed the importance of restoring Violet le Duc’s work on the cathedral as it marked the beginning of the modern science of architectural preservation. 

Since I have not been traveling abroad in recent years, TEFAF New York, combined with visits to a few of the incredible museums in this town, gave us the fix we needed from the art of former times!

Sunday, November 3, 2019

3-2-1 Acting Studios

Well, we are in Pasadena California, a few minutes from the Hollywood Hills so what did you expect me to write about, another Museum?  

Seriously, we are visiting our brand new grand child but another birth does not stop the business of Hollywood.  99.9% of actors have a lot of down time between gigs and wish to continue to earn a living and contribute to their community.  So it is with our actor son, Hunter.  Therefore, twice a week he teaches at 3-2-1 Acting Studios and we have joined as spectators  for some of these sessions.

The studio was founded in 2007 by Mae Ross, known in-house as Miss Mae, as a place for kids to get the rudiments of acting.  Of course, I am always wondering where do the students for a children’s acting school come from. Is it the ambitions of loving parents who see their children as stars or do the kids themselves want to be like those who they idealize from stage or screen?

These students  are of all ages and our son works with the teens, age 12 to 18.  By this time one can see how serious they are. Some will just  gain skills through lessons in acting while others are serious about pursuing it as a profession.  After the class we saw, one father was asking Hunter if he would tutor his child for an audition  she was going to have in a few days time.  Of course, any such request within the school had to go through proper channels.

The class starts out with warm ups where they need to quickly come up with an action that someone else has to imitate and then immediately come up with something that the next person has to do.  Another exercise is called Zip Zap Zop where you quickly say one of those words hands pointing to someone else in your circle who must continue without  pause. Then, What Are You Doing?  Lessons for quick thinking on your feet.  You have to take up an action (for instance brushing your teeth) and when asked by the next student “What are you doing” you must reply with something completely different (mowing the lawn) without stopping tooth-brushing. The next person must act out  the verbal cue (mowing) and repeat the process. This forces the student to do one thing and verbalize another.  These are lessons for quick thinking on your feet, as well as improv and relating to your fellow actors.

After these warm-up games  they are given a fundamental  acting principle  to think about. What every student has to remember is— Who? (Who are you, what is your role) What? (What is your motivation) Where? (Literally, where are you located) Why? (Why are you where you are and with what motive) When? (What time period are you working in.)

If a student has an audition coming up they can bring their sides (scripts) and Hunter will help them rehearse and give notes for that piece.  If the student has nothing special to work on they are paired with a partner and given a short script which Hunter  picks out from a pile prepared for his students.  They  are  given 10 minutes to rehearse the piece before returning to perform and  watch each other  in turn.   We watched one impressive student deal with a script that had her being interrogated by an investigator and  confessing to drowning  the class bully.  The scene ended with her turning  to her (invisible) mother to plead “I am #1 now, aren’t you happy for me?”  I quote this line to show the kind of emotion that has to be demonstrated in the piece.

After each pair has done their bit the way they conceived it, Hunter gives them notes on how they might improve their performance and what their motives might be. He then films each vignette, plays it back to them, often with their parents present.

When I asked Hunter whether the children of working actors attended, he said only a few, because the school is not near to where most actors live.  I also wanted to know if any of these kids ever worked in the biz and he said that some actually did.  One acting coach that Hunter interviewed with when he was starting out said that you get one role out of every 100 auditions and that sounds like an accurate description, unless you get a break, which most actors don’t.  Talent, of course, is important but just as important is being in the right place at the right time- and having good basic training in the art form at an early age doesn’t hurt.