Art News Roundup: Naming and Shaming Edition

Last week the Museum of Science and Industry (“MSI”) in Chicago announced a major gift from one of the city’s wealthiest residents, and the internet quickly lived up to the old adage that no good deed goes unpunished.

Ken Griffin, founder and CEO of the Citadel hedge fund, has pledged $125 million to the popular Chicago institution, which preserves a vast collection of scientific and technological objects of great historic, scientific, and industrial design importance, such as the Apollo 8 command module and an entire World War II German U-boat, as well as a host of interactive educational exhibits on topics such as genetics, optics, and electricity. Since 1933 the museum has been housed in the former Palace of Fine Arts, a Beaux-Arts masterpiece built for the now-legendary architectural assemblage known as the “White City”, the site of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Mr. Griffin’s is the largest single gift ever made to the institution, and as part of the donation negotiations, the museum’s board agreed to rename the place after him: henceforth, the institution will be known as the “Kenneth C. Griffin Museum of Science and Industry.”


Almost immediately after the announcement, social media went into overdrive to criticize the move as shameful.  While many characterized the renaming as “ego-centric”, others were critical of Mr. Griffin’s past support of conservative political candidates, such as Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio. Still others posted tweets that were (rather predictably) along the lines of Judas Iscariot’s complaint in St John 12:5.

More curious perhaps, is the fact that, for about 24 hours after the donation was announced, the Wikipedia entry on Mr. Griffin contained the following text [edit mine], as shown in the screencap:

“Somehow despite his vast wealth and narcissism, he’s still such an insecure turd that he paid a ton of money to put his name on The Chicago Museum of Science and Industry like anyone is going to give half a sh[*]t in twenty years. Good job, Ken. You really spit in the face of mortality with that.”


Presumably, Wikipedia was too busy trying to figure out whom Miley Cyrus was fooling about with to get around to removing that scurrilous edit, one which strikes this scrivener as more reflective of its composer’s own personal inadequacies, rather than a legitimate criticism of the donor in question.

The convention of naming cultural institutions or parts of them after major donors is nothing new. For example, initially called simply the Music Hall when it opened in 1891, New York’s Carnegie Hall was renamed by its board in 1893 to honor steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie, who had paid for its construction, even though initially he didn’t want his name on the building. The aforementioned Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago was originally called the Columbian Museum of Chicago when it opened in 1893, but in 1905 it was renamed to honor its original benefactor, department store magnate Marshall Field.

More recently, the main concert hall at New York’s famous Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts was renamed for music mogul and philanthropist David Geffen. The same hall had formerly been named for a previous major donor, acoustics millionaire Avery Fisher. Another building at Lincoln Center, the David H. Koch Theater, was named for the late businessman and philanthropist, after he pledged over $100 million to the theatre for its renovation and upkeep.

Suffice to say, not only is naming a long-standing tool in philanthropic giving, but as Mr. Griffin explained to the Chicago Tribune, named gifts can have a significant influence on encouraging other wealthy people to make gifts of their own. “Everybody watches what their fellow peers are doing,” he noted, “and there’s no doubt this gift to the MSI will encourage others to be generous in their giving.” Mr. Griffin indicated that he himself was inspired by the $100 million gift given by Ann Lurie, another Chicago philanthropist, to build a new home for the city’s Children’s Memorial Hospital. That institution was subsequently renamed, “The Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital”, and despite its bearing the name of wealthy people on its front door, somehow the practice of medicine managed to muddle through.

While some may not like the fact that the wealthy – and indeed, people of ordinary means – sometimes need incentives to donate to our cultural institutions, the notion that many of our cultural, scientific, medical, research, and other institutions would be able to survive, à la Blanche DuBois, upon the kindness of strangers is completely unrealistic. All human beings like receiving public recognition, and if they don’t, then they retire to La Grande Chartreuse, or close themselves in hermetically sealed apartments and use Kleenex boxes for slippers. If the cost to Chicagoans of ensuring the future of one of their greatest institutions is the renaming of said institution after an individual who helped assure its future for another few decades, that seems a small price to pay.

And now, on to some headlines of interest since we last met.

Pompeiian Particles

Speaking of science and technology, there may be a major breakthrough coming in one of the most daunting challenges facing archaeologists for the past two centuries. The so-called Villa of the Papyri is a palatial country house located on the coast near the doomed city of Pompeii, which is believed to have been the property of Julius Caesar’s father-in-law and his family. It was buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., and when it was rediscovered in the 18th century, by some miracle almost its entire library of hundreds of scrolls had been preserved, making it the largest collection of books to survive from the ancient world. Unfortunately, because the paper was carbonized, many of the scrolls have proven virtually impossible to unroll or read, despite several attempts using methods both invasive and otherwise. Recent x-ray scans have been partly successful, but now a new effort is underway to examine some of these extremely fragile objects using a particle accelerator, which in theory would allow scientists to unroll the scrolls in virtual reality. If it works, who knows what unknown or lost works of Greek and Roman drama, history, poetry, or the like might be recovered for posterity?


Egyptian Error

And while we’re in the ancient world, you may have seen in the mainstream press how the Metropolitan Museum of Art recently ended up with egg on its face, when it was forced to return a gilded coffin it had on display to the Egyptian government. The beautiful Ptolemaic-era mummy case, which once contained the remains of an Ancient Egyptian priest, had apparently been looted during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, and was sold to The Met two years ago by French art dealers using falsified documents. Over on the ARCA crime blog this week, there’s a fascinating deep dive into the case showing that, as has been the case for quite a long time, people sometimes don’t ask questions which they don’t really want to learn the answers to, even if they’re not technically culpable of doing anything wrong.


Van Dyck Vindication

Thanks to the interwebz (a series of tubes), a portrait long-believed to be a studio copy of a lost work by Antony van Dyck (1599-1641) has now been identified as the original. “The Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia” (after 1621/before 1641), which hangs in the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, depicts the daughter of Philip II of Spain, who ruled over the Spanish Netherlands on behalf of her father during the first third of the 17th century. The painting shows her in later life, following the death of her husband Archduke Albert VII, when she became a Third Order Franciscan. As recounted in The Guardian, a lively forum discussion on the Art Detective site – a place which I can state from personal experience is HIGHLY addictive – led experts to take a closer look at the picture, and confirm that it was by the hand of the master. Hopefully the example set by the cousins in putting up this virtual catalogue of all the works held in public collections throughout the UK, and combining it with a place for the public to discuss these pieces, will inspire other countries to do the same, since undoubtedly there are other lost or misidentified art treasures out there, just waiting to be rediscovered.

van Dyck, Anthony, 1599-1641; The Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia (1566-1633)


Hideous building – outstanding headline.


From The Federalist: Scheming Guardians Of Taste

My latest for The Federalist is out this morning, reviewing the superb new book, “Duveen Brothers and the Market for Decorative Arts, 1880-1940,” by the Frick Collection’s Charlotte Vignon, Ph.D. While a very readable survey of the business practices of the Duveens, the most powerful art and antiques dealers in America and Europe during the late 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, this is a dense, heavily footnoted work which, as a work of painstaking scholarship and attention to detail, should be applauded on its own terms. Dr. Vignon must have spent countless hours going through hundreds of pages of correspondence, ledgers, invoices, and receipts to present us with an overview of how one company came to dominate the art world a century ago, although she is too good of an historian to impose her own value judgments on either the Duveens or their famous clients, such as the Hearsts, Morgans, the Rockefellers.

Ultimately this detachment is very much to Dr. Vignon’s credit, rather than otherwise, for the recounted actions of the buyers, sellers, and supporting characters, and the data that she uncovered as part of her research, all paint a picture that speaks for itself. This is a classic tale of how the supply and demand needs of market forces, in the pursuit of scarce, valuable resources, are often met in ways that are not always, to say the least, above board. If you’re ready for a deeper dive into how many of the beautiful things that you see in American museums or historic homes ended up where they are, then this book absolutely needs to go onto your reading list.

“Duveen Brothers and the Market for Decorative Arts, 1880-1940,” by Charlotte Vignon, Ph.D., is published by Giles, Ltd., and is out now in hardback.



Art News Roundup: Saving the Strip Mall Edition

It inevitably proves to be the case that things made by human hands, no matter how utilitarian those things are, eventually become the subject of human study. If you want to learn more about Pennsylvania Dutch barns or Japanese tatami mats, chances are you’ll find that someone, somewhere, wrote an academic paper or book on the subject that triggered further investigation and scholarship. It appears that the time has now come to turn our attention to something that most of us think very little about, if at all: the strip mall.

In a review published yesterday in The Architect’s Newspaper, architect Shane Reiner-Roth looks at the new book, “Sunset Market Plaza: Meditations on Strip Malls in Los Angeles”, a limited-edition collection of reflections, proposals, and what we might call “strip mall sightseeing” information. It’s true that for the most part, these stand-alone buildings, or groups of these buildings clustered around a parking lot, are not protected structures. Yet Mr. Reiner-Roth and the editors of the book are clearly raising the question as to whether at least some of them should be considered for preservation, just as we would any other type of older, vernacular architecture.

Strangely enough, I think there may be something to this, but I think a larger question is whether we ought to consider the possibility that a more subtle strip mall may have some restrained architectural merit to it. Particularly telling in the article is a quote from L.A. developer Sam Bachner, a major builder of strip malls in southern California, who likes his projects to be something more than purely utilitarian boxes. He asks the architects working on his projects “to incorporate elements which are reflective of the specific community in which they are located… Some places might care more about color schemes, or I might have one place with a bell tower, or maybe I will use a blue tile roof in Koreatown—it’s all about community context.”

It’s interesting to note that this conceptualization of what a strip mall ought to look like is largely unchanged since the post-war period, since in many smaller towns and cities or out-of-the-way neighborhoods you can still find strip malls built 50 or 60 years ago which perfectly reflect this way of thinking. For example, the Colonial Shopping Center in York, Pennsylvania serves a colonial era city in the heart of the Pennsylvania Dutch country. The shopping center however, is a small complex well outside of downtown, consisting of a pair of small-scale strip malls built in 1955 that sit on two sides of a mid-sized parking lot. It’s not a remarkable group of structures in any way, nor are these structures particularly ersatz colonial in style.


On the other hand, if we look more closely at the details of the shopping center we can see subtle references to York’s colonial past. The shop fronts feature wood paneled doors, as well as mullioned display windows and transoms. Square columns with plain, cubical capitals and bases support a vaguely Mount Vernon-esque porch running the length of one side of each building. The effect is to create something that seems familiar, without looking like a theme park attraction.


Back in the 1950’s, the developers of this project could have simply built a plain group of boxes lined up next to each other and called it a day. Instead, they added just enough unifying architectural detail that the complex references the city’s history, without hitting us over the head with things like faux fan lights or fiberglass dentil molding. You may disagree of course, but I think one of the reasons that this pair of strip malls has survived relatively intact is its very subtlety. Having recently been purchased by a local college however, which to my knowledge has still not announced what it intends to do with either the buildings or the land on which the buildings sit, it’s a case in point as to the question of whether these utilitarian buildings are deserving of preservation and further study.

And now, on to some interesting news stories from the past several days.

Exit to Ethiopia
In a story worthy of a film script, an 18th century Ethiopian ceremonial crown that sat in a suitcase in Holland for decades after being illegally smuggled out of the country for safekeeping is about to return home. You can read the rather twisty-turny tale of how and why it ended up in Rotterdam over on Art Daily, but as you can see in the photograph below from Agence France Presse, it’s quite an elaborate, heavy piece of metalwork. Made of gilded copper, the cross on top of the crown features the Holy Trinity in the center, the square section toward the bottom has twelve panels depicting the twelve Apostles, while the lowest panel (I’m guessing that’s a breastplate?) features the Madonna and Child seated on a throne and accompanied by two angels.


Back in Bordeaux
Speaking of significant lost and found objects, a parish in France is celebrating at the moment. The Basilica of Saint-Michel in Bordeaux is an important French Gothic church with an absolutely massive, 375-foot tall free-standing bell tower, the tallest in the south of France. Among the church’s treasures is a 15th century altarpiece composed of alabaster panels carved in Nottingham, England, which at the time was the center for alabaster sculpture in Europe. Back in the 1990’s, four of the panels were stolen and replaced with plaster copies, so that the crime went undetected for an unknown period of time. The originals disappeared into the black market in stolen art and might have remained lost. Fortunately, they were unwittingly purchased by British art dealer Russell Strachan who, upon learning their true origin, recently returned the sculptures to their home; as you can see, there’s a space just waiting for their re-installation.


Payments in Paris
In other positive French basilica news, the two French billionaires who offered considerable sums for the restoration of Notre Dame de Paris are now getting out their checkbooks. Bernard Arnault and François Pinault pledged roughly $218 million and $109 million, respectively, in reaction to the devastating fire that took place at the Cathedral back in April. M. Arnault signed his installment agreement last week, and M. Pinault did the same this past Tuesday. To date, roughly half of the promised donations have actually come in or been formalized.




Botticelli Backstory: Exploring A Picture’s Provenance

On these virtual pages I often share news and views with you about art, from exhibitions and sales to new discoveries and concepts. Yet even though I sometimes touch on aspects of a work’s provenance, i.e., the ownership history of a piece, it’s an area that I’d like to explore at greater length. So, I’m interested in learning whether you’d be interesting in coming along for the ride.

Let’s take a look, for example, at the “Portrait of Michele Marullo” (c. 1496), a painting by the great Italian Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli (c. 1450-1510), that will be going on display at the Frieze Art Fair in London this weekend:


Marullo (c. 1458-1500), also known as “Marullus”, was a prominent poet and mercenary soldier, whose parents had fled Constantinople when it fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. His family subsequently lived a rather peripatetic existence, moving further and further away from the growing Ottoman Empire until arriving in what is now Italy. He eventually came to Florence to work for the Medici sometime before 1494, and was celebrated both for his poetry and his military prowess.

Most of the press reporting on this story will be focused on the rather breathless marketing around the picture, which is being described as “The Last Botticelli in Private Hands”: a phrase very reminiscent of the publicity campaign before the sale of the Leonardo “Salvator Mundi” two years ago. Of course, while the portrait is probably the last known, undisputed Botticelli in private hands, that doesn’t mean it’s *actually* the last Botticelli in private hands. Adding that clarifier would lead to a more accurate description, even though it would be a dud as far as marketing is concerned.

Subscribers and followers may recall that back in July, we looked at how a buyer’s perception that a work of art is by a major Old Master painter can have a significant impact on the sale price of that piece, even when the seller makes no such claim. The case study involved a portrait of a young man being offered for sale in Zurich, which the auction house described as being “in the style of” Botticelli, but which it never attributed directly to the artist himself or indirectly to members of his workshop. We also did some comparing and contrasting on the question of whether the portrait might not be by Botticelli’s pupil Filippino Lippi (1457-1504). Whoever painted it, despite the lack of attribution several potential buyers got into a bidding war over the piece, which carried a pre-sale estimate of $5,000, so that it ended up selling for about $6.4 million.

So now, let’s consider the painting that will be for sale in London. Experts generally agree that the portrait is entirely or mostly by Botticelli himself, is in good condition, and its subject is a prominent figure of the time well-known to 15th century scholars. The piece also has a reasonably good provenance for a Renaissance painting that was not in a royal collection, including ownership by the son of the Empress Josephine, cleaning and conservation carried out by the chief restorer at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg over a century ago, and more recently a long period of public exhibition at the Prado in Madrid. The picture is presently the property of the Cambó family in Spain, who have owned it since it was acquired at auction in Paris back in 1920 by the prominent Catalan businessman, party leader, and former government minister Francesc Cambó i Batlle (1876-1947).

Curiously however, the press release on this picture isn’t entirely clear on an interesting aspect of the painting’s more recent provenance. The release notes that Cambó was “[a]n exile after 1936 and the rise of Franco,” and ties Cambó’s exile to his love of the painting, since the subject of the portrait had been an exile himself. While that’s quite a romantic image for the purpose of marketing this piece, there’s actually a bit more nuance to the story than that.

Like many conservative Catalans at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Cambó took the view that, although General Franco and the Nationalists were bad news, the Republicans were far worse: “los otros son peores”, he later wrote in his journal, explaining his thought process when he chose sides, a phrase which since then has become indelibly associated with his views and indeed the views of many others on both sides of the conflict. His self-imposed exile, which actually first began in 1931 with the downfall of the Spanish monarchy and the proclamation of the Second Republic, only became permanent after 1936 once war broke out, but even then he quietly gave money to support non-bellicose aspects of the Nationalist cause.

In the end, we can say that the story of the painting’s provenance is accurate. However, if someone were to read it with only a basic knowledge of the Spanish Civil War, they might conclude that the previous owner supported the Republican, rather than the Nationalist side in the conflict. The truth, as it turns out, is something more along the lines of, “I’m sick of all y’all.”

This is just one example of the interesting information that often emerges from a more in-depth examination of provenance, when it comes to art objects. So, gentle reader, if you find these stories interesting as well, perhaps you’ll be so good as to leave some comments, regarding particular works of art whose backstories you’d be interesting in reading more about? The how and why of how these pieces came to be where they are often involves tales that, for the most part, go untold, because we focus on the appearance, subject, or value of a work of art, rather than its history as an object that has been bought and sold, stolen or recovered, over long periods of time. Oftentimes, the histories connected with these objects can be just as interesting as the aesthetic or material aspects of the objects themselves.


Art News Roundup: Kitchen Cimabue Edition

If you’ve not seen the story already – and it both pleases and amuses me greatly that a number of my readers immediately contacted me about it when the story broke – an extremely rare painting by one of the most important figures in art history was recently discovered hanging in a French kitchen.

Cimabue (c. 1240-1302) was a Florentine artist who could be considered either among the last of the Gothic painters, or among the first of the Early Renaissance painters, depending on how you look it. He worked in a style that was largely dependent upon accepted Byzantine models, but he pushed the boundaries of that style in search of a greater degree of realism than had been seen in Italian art since the fall of the Roman Empire in the West. He was also the teacher of Giotto (c. 1267-1337), a multi-faceted artist who took many of the lessons learned from his master and ran with them, leading to an even greater degree of expressiveness and sense of volume in his art.

Although he was highly regarded in his day, very few paintings by Cimabue have survived down to the present, which makes the discovery of this small, otherwise unremarkable painting all the more significant. It depicts the scene in the Bible described in St. Matthew 27:27-31 and elsewhere, when Jesus was mocked, slapped, and beaten by the Roman soldiers. The small panel, which about the size of an 8×10 photograph, is believed to be a part of a now-dismantled polyptych, i.e., an altarpiece made up of many individual paintings on panels. Two other panels by Cimabue of roughly the same size, scale, and date are known, one of which is in the National Gallery in London, and the other of which is at the Frick Collection in New York, and when you see the three works together – the image below shows the newly-discovered work in the center, and to-scale reproductions of the other panels on either side – the relationship between them is obvious.

The most focused-upon aspect of the story in the mainstream press has been the fact that the elderly woman who owned it, and didn’t realize what she had, hung it on a wall above the hotplate she used for cooking. However to my mind the most interesting part is the theory that the altarpiece of which this was originally part was split up at some point by an art and antiques dealer in the late 19th century, since the parts were worth more than the whole. If that supposition is correct, it means there’s a reasonable likelihood of other Cimabue panels from this same polyptych floating around out there. The Frick painting turned up at an art dealer’s in Paris in 1950, while the National Gallery painting turned up at a stately home in England in 1900. Perhaps somewhere else in France, Italy, or the UK, more of these little jewels are languishing, forgotten, above a night stand in a guest room or perhaps on the landing of a back staircase, just waiting to be brought back into the light.

The painting will be sold by Acteon Enchères at their salerooms in the city of Senlis, about half an hour or so north of Paris, on October 27th. If you happen to find yourself in Paris today however, you can trundle along and see the painting at the Acteon showrooms, located a couple of blocks from the Palais-Royal. The pre-sale estimate for the picture is somewhere around $6-7 million, which may seem like a lot for something that isn’t very large, but in terms of rarity and importance to the history of Western art, it’s truly a small price to pay.

And now, let’s move on to some other art stories of interest this week.


Speaking of astonishing art discoveries made in humble circumstances, here’s another one for you. An amateur art collector who loves to scour auction houses, flea markets, and the like, looking for what he calls “orphaned art”, i.e., works by important artists that go unrecognized and unloved, came across a cracked, flaking painting of an elderly nude man, a detail of which is shown below. He was convinced that this was something rather special, and after a great deal of research over a number of years, his hunch turned out to be correct: the piece, as he suspected, is an extremely rare, early oil sketch of a live model by Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641). It was painted as a preparatory study for Van Dyck’s “St. Jerome with An Angel” (c. 1618), which is now in a Dutch museum, one of three variations on the same theme from around the same time, painted while the artist was still an apprentice to Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). The picture is currently in dire need of conservation and restoration – as its discoverer noted during a press conference, it’s even got bird poop on the back, which makes me think it resided in a barn at some point – but it’s currently on exhibit at the Albany Institute of History & Art in Albany, New York through October 6th.

Saint Jerome sketch at Albany Institute


Readers may recall my previous reporting on the missing “Adoration of the Shepherds” (1609), also referred to as the “Nativity With St Lawrence and St Francis”, by Caravaggio (1571-1610), which was stolen in 1969 from the Oratory Church of St. Lawrence in Palermo, where it had hung above the high altar since its creation. This week The Guardian dropped something of a bombshell discovery in the still-unsolved crime, in the form of a previously unknown interview of Monsignor Rocco Benedetto, the now-deceased parish priest of St. Lawrence’s who, at one time, was unjustly targeted by police as having a hand in the picture’s disappearance. Apparently, the mafia attempted to extort a ransom payment from the Church in exchange for the return of the painting, going so far as to cut off a part of it and mail a piece of it to the Monsignor as a kind of proof of life. The priest tried to get the Italian authorities involved, but according to his videotaped testimony, they didn’t seem to be interested. Sadly, the whereabouts of the masterpiece remain unknown, and some question whether the painting even still exists.



On a much happier note, my dear friends travel and documentary filmmakers Diana and David von Glahn have a new series premiering on Catholic TV this coming Monday. “The Faithful Traveler In Portugal” is a highly informative, thoughtful, but fun tour of Fatima, Lisbon, Coimbra, Porto, Braga, and many other locations around Portugal, with the added benefit of a distinctively Catholic perspective which is sensitive to the deeper meaning of many of the sites and stories presented. Simultaneously, the camera eye feasts on things like beautiful art and architecture, or the subtle pleasures of things like breakfast pastries, coffee, and port wine, inviting the viewer to pause to reflect, enjoy, and savor.


The combination of host Diana in front of the camera, while her husband David is doing the filming, allows them to use their respective strengths to work together on the content and form of the films, so that they can pick up on aspects of Portuguese history, art, and culture that other travel shows would simply miss or gloss over entirely. For example, I particularly loved seeing the highly unusual architectural design of the confessionals at Lisbon’s former Hieronymite monastery church, as well as the nearby royal sarcophagi held up by rather charming pairs of miniature elephants. This attention to detail, as well as the taking of time to connect art and Christian spirituality, is something unique to their presentation: I’ve always appreciated that aspect of “The Faithful Traveler” shows over the years, and that is certainly the case yet again with the latest series.


“The Faithful Traveler in Portugal” premieres Monday, September 30th at 8:00 pm Eastern on CatholicTV. See the full upcoming schedule for all 9 episodes, and learn how you can watch from wherever you are on almost any device, by visiting the Faithful Traveler’s series site.



Listening In: The Federalist Radio Hour

Just a brief post this morning, gentle reader, as a number of things are currently afoot here in my world and require my attention.

In case you missed it, my appearance on The Federalist Radio Hour was released yesterday, and you can listen in on my conversation with Federalist publisher Ben Domenech by following this link. We tackled a wide range of current topics in the art world, from museum funding controversies to the future of public collections in a time of greater scrutiny. While I dislike the sound of my own voice, I had a great time, as I enjoy being able to talk about art matters in an off-the-cuff way.

If you enjoy listening to the show as much as I enjoyed being a guest on it, do please drop some feedback in the mail to that effect to, and by all means feel free to share with others whom you think might be interested in the discussion.


Art News Roundup: By the Numbers Edition

Earlier this week, I shared some thoughts about a significant New York Times investigation into the alleged failures of French authorities to adequately address public health and safety concerns during and in the aftermath of the devastating fire at the Cathedral-Basilica of Notre Dame de Paris. Yet despite the negative stories arising from that tragedy, there are also positive tales to tell. Among them is the news that a massive tapestry-carpet created in 1838, and in the possession of the cathedral for the past 176 years, has been saved from almost certain destruction. The story of what happened involves quite a few figures for us to consider, so here we go.

The 82-foot long wool rug, designed by Jacques-Louis de La Hamayde de Saint-Ange-Desmaisons (1780-1860) and produced by the renowned Savonnerie factory, is rarely seen by the public, and then usually only on very special occasions, such as the visit of Pope St. John Paul II to celebrate Mass in the cathedral back in 1980. Although it survived the fire back in April of this year, the carpet soaked up an enormous amount of water during the effort of firefighters to bring the blaze under control, to the point that it had increased in weight from about 1 Metric tonne to over 3 Metric tonnes (about 6,614 pounds.) If you’ve ever forgotten to air out a wet scarf, sweater, or pair of socks made of wool, you know what happens next: mold and mildew can start to grow, not only creating a distinctively unpleasant odor, but also eating away at the very fabric of the item. Now imagine this happening on a scale many, many times that of an article of clothing.

To combat this, conservationists had to unroll the Saint-Ange tapestry, which is stored in two halves, and dry the pieces in an industrial wind tunnel. Then over a period of 24 hours they froze the fabric to kill any bacteria and mold, by gradually dropping the temperature down to -31F. Afterwards, it was transported to the Mobilier National, a conservation and restoration agency that is part of the French Ministry of Culture, which looks after many of the country’s artistic treasures, particularly period furniture and historic textiles. It will now take months of painstaking cleaning and restoration work to address issues such as water stains, tears, and so on.

The best part is, the experts have decided to perform their work for FREE, at no cost to the Archdiocese of Paris, which owns the tapestry. What’s more, before that work gets underway, the public are invited to come see the carpet in its current state this weekend, September 21-22, by visiting the Mobilier’s studios in Paris. If any of my readers happen to trundle along for a look, please let me know, as I’d love to see your photos.


And now on to some other numerically interesting stories from the art world this week.

Sculpture on 70th

Although he wasn’t as talented an artist as his contemporary Verrocchio, the Florentine sculptor Bertoldo di Giovanni (c. 1440-1491) was nevertheless an important figure in the development of Western art, and he is now the subject of a show which just opened at the Frick Collection in New York. As the informal dean of an artistic academy founded by Lorenzo de’ Medici in his palazzo in Florence, Bertoldo was a teacher of the young Michelangelo, among others, but is perhaps best remembered today among historians and art aficionados for the commemorative medals that he produced in the wake of the Pazzi Conspiracy. Among other works in the show is the magnificent glazed terracotta frieze in the Classical manner – a section is shown below – which he designed for the entrance portico of Lorenzo’s country house at Poggio a Caiano; at around 48 feet long, it’s the largest terracotta relief produced during the Renaissance.

Bertoldo di Giovanni: The Renaissance of Sculpture in Medici Florence” is on show at the Frick through January 12th.


Artists in the Aggregate

There’s a new online project that I encourage you to take a look at, particularly if you’re in a position to commission or acquire sacred art. The Catholic Artists Directory, which launched just recently, is “a starting place for those looking to commission a work of art or music for a parish, home, or other community,” and will eventually include artists from across many disciplines: from painters and sculptors to composers, cabinet makers, metalworkers, and everything in between. Among those already listed whom I know either personally or via online friendship are John Henry Folley (an in-progress shot of a Eucharistic-themed still life by him appears below), Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, Daniel Mitsui, Enzo Selvaggi, and Gwyneth Thompson-Briggs. This is definitely a resource worth adding to your bookmarks.


Paintings in the 8th

And to finish up in Paris where we began, those of you who find yourselves in the City of Lights this Fall/Winter need to visit the somewhat lesser-known Musée Jacquemart-André, in order to see the equally lesser-known Alana Collection of Italian Renaissance art. The collection was assembled by Chilean corporate magnate Àlvaro Saieh and his wife Ana Guzmán, and has never been exhibited in its entirety; this is the first time that a selection of pieces from the collection is being shown to the public. Works in the Paris show include paintings by Bellini, Bronzino, Fra Angelico, Tintoretto, Uccello, Veronese, and many more, in a virtual who’s who assemblage of Italian Renaissance masters. I’m already on the waiting list for the exhibition catalogue, because despite having studied Italian Renaissance art for many decades now, I’m unfamiliar with many of the pictures in this show, and need to feast my eyes upon them, albeit only in photographs.

The Alana Collection: Masterpieces of Italian Painting” is at the Musée Jacquemart-André through January 20th.



Parisian Paralysis: A Major Investigative Piece on the Notre Dame Fire

For those of you following the ongoing controversies surrounding the devastating April 15th fire at the Cathedral-Basilica of Notre Dame de Paris, I direct you to a major investigative piece published yesterday by the New York Times.

After conducting dozens of interviews, and having obtained access to a number of confidential government documents, the Times alleges that “French authorities had indications that lead exposure could be a grave problem within 48 hours of the fire,” but failed to take prompt action. Indeed, according to reporters,

The tests showed levels of lead dust above the French regulatory standard for buildings hosting children in at least 18 day care centers, preschools and primary schools. In dozens of other public spaces, like plazas and streets, authorities found lead levels up to 60 times over the safety standard. Soil contamination in public parks may be among the biggest concerns. The highest contamination levels, revealed in the confidential Culture Ministry documents obtained by The Times, were at different spots in, or near, the cathedral site. The authorities failed to clean the entire area in the immediate aftermath of the fire and waited four months to finish a full decontamination of the neighborhood.

As an art scholar from The Met explained recently, by destroying the roof, the fire effectively accelerated the natural deterioration process of lead when it is exposed to the elements, but on a massive scale. With – quite literally – tons of lead being released into the atmosphere as a result of the fire, all of those bits were eventually going to come down somewhere. They settled on plants and manmade structures in squares and parks, clung to nearby rooftops and the sides of buildings, floated down the Seine, etc. As the (very well done) animations in the Times article indicate, according to the French Ministry of Culture’s own confidential documents, in some areas of the Île de la Cité, where Notre Dame is located, those lead particles were found to be at 1,300 times the safe exposure level.

As you might imagine, those at greatest risk of developing health complications are, as was the case in the 9/11 attacks in this country, construction and cleanup workers, police, firefighters, and other safety personnel. For weeks following the blaze, people engaged in salvage, cleanup, and security operations at the site without wearing masks, breathing apparatus, or hazmat suits. In addition, journalists gave live reports and conducted interviews, while tourists wandered around nearby outside of the cordoned off areas, snapping pictures for social media. And as I’ve explained previously, lead exposure is a particularly dangerous situation for pregnant women, infants and children, since it can lead to serious developmental issues.

While there’s currently an environmental lawsuit related to the Notre Dame fire making its way through the French courts, the information revealed by the Times will most likely give rise to additional actions and inquiries. Much of this will depend on when or if evidence of lead-related illnesses begins to appear among those belonging to the more at-risk groups described above. Meanwhile, for the moment we’re simply witnessing the usual mixture of French bureaucratic claptrap: denials, shrugs, claims of “not my job”, etc., led by a finger puppet of a French President, whose primary concern seems to be getting reelected so that he can continue to afford his La Prairie under eye concealer.

Yet I think that some higher-level questions need to be posed here in the wake of the Times’ reporting, particularly given the fact that Notre Dame de Paris, like a number of other significant architectural monuments in France – including virtually all of the thousands of historic churches in the entire country – are the property of the French government, which is legally responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of these structures under the terms of a massive government land grab back in the early 20th century.

Who is ultimately responsible for coordinating disaster responses such as these, when cultural property is in danger? Whatever the unique circumstances that contributed to this colossal cock-up, does the government of France as it currently (sort of) functions possess the requisite competence to address a future disaster at another site of cultural importance elsewhere in the country? If it can’t properly handle such a situation within the very heart of its capital city, would it even be capable of dealing with a similar one taking place outside of Paris?

The French people, it seems to me, deserve better answers to that question than they have received to date.



Art News Roundup: Viewing Verrocchio Edition

My latest for The Federalist is out today, reviewing the new exhibition “Verrocchio: Sculptor and Painter of Renaissance Florence”, which opens at the National Gallery of Art here in the Nation’s Capital this coming Sunday. I had the privilege of attending the press preview of the show on Tuesday, and want to encourage those of my readers who find themselves in DC during the exhibition’s run to make sure to stop in and see it. There’s a lot to absorb, and I couldn’t address everything that came to mind in a single article, so I just wanted to share a bit more about the artist and his significance.

Florentine artist Andrea del Verrocchio (c. 1435-1488) died an untimely death in Venice at the age of 53, where he had moved after winning a competitive commission from the Venetian Republic to sculpt a bronze equestrian monument honoring Bartolomeo Colleoni (1400-1475), one of the greatest military strategists of the day. Understandably, the Colleoni was probably just a bit too big to ship over to the NGA. However the show does have two of Verrocchio’s preparatory drawings for the sculpture, showing how the artist thought about the figure of the horse.

Chronologically speaking, Verrocchio’s monument is the second great equestrian statue of the Renaissance. It was created about thirty years after Donatello’s bronze monument to Gattamelata, an earlier military leader, which is in the city of Padua. Yet in truth, Verrocchio’s sculpture really ought to come first in rank, for it had an enormous impact on the development of monumental sculpture for future generations, even though, sadly, Verrocchio himself didn’t live long enough to see it cast and erected.

Also, just as Verrocchio’s bronze “David”, shown below, which is the single most important highlight of the National Gallery exhibition, eschewed the introspective awkwardness of Donatello’s earlier bronze “David” in favor of portraying a self-confident young hero, Verrocchio’s monumental equestrian bronze rejected the somewhat staid aspect of Donatello’s earlier treatment of a similar subject. Whereas Donatello displays his subject as a man of quiet concentration, Verrocchio depicts an intense, terrifying man of action, who is very shortly going to be tearing you and your pathetic army into little pieces. It’s always reminded me of Klaus Kinski’s turn as the Spanish conquistador Lope de Aguirre in Werner Herzog’s epic film, “Aguirre, Wrath of God” (1972).


And with those thoughts out of the way, let’s move on to a few interesting stories from the art world over the past week.

Sotheby’s Sold

Following a shareholder vote that wasn’t even remotely a close-run thing, Sotheby’s is leaving the stock market behind after four decades. Despite four pending lawsuits (that I’m aware of), a whopping 91% of shareholders, including the company’s employees, voted in favor of the acquisition of the prestigious auction house by a company headed by French billionaire Patrick Drahi; the merger should be finalized by the end of the year. Sotheby’s and Christie’s will now both be privately held, British-founded but French-owned corporations, battling on more equal footing for dominance at the top end of the art market. Let the games begin.


Orientalism Offered

Speaking of Sotheby’s, an upcoming exhibition and auction of one of the world’s most important collections of Orientalist art looks to be well-worth seeing, if you get the chance. As I’ve mentioned previously, following many years of neglect by both academics and collectors, Orientalist work is hot once again, and dealers are making hay of it while the sun shines. Among the most beautiful of the pictures up for sale is “Riders Crossing the Desert” (1870), shown below, by the great French Orientalist painter Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904). The Najd Collection goes under the hammer at Sotheby’s London on October 22nd, following a tour of some of the highlights of the sale at Sotheby’s locations in several cities around the world, and a lengthy preview of all the lots at the London showrooms.


Loot Located

Los Angeles police recently retrieved a hoard of dozens of stolen antiques, collectibles, and works of art, taken from homes across Hollywood and elsewhere in the city back in the 1990’s. The breakthrough came via a call to the authorities from an eagle-eyed California auctioneer, who had been consigned several works for sale that, upon further research, appeared to match the descriptions of some of the missing items. Police now face the difficult task of identifying and tracking down the owners of these objects, some 25 years on. While pictures like the genuine Picasso and Miró works in the cache are interesting, I found this rather melodramatic pulp art piece perhaps *the* most interesting of the recovered items. You can scroll through the LAPD’s Operation Demetra gallery page to see more, and they would certainly appreciate your help if you spot anything that looks familiar.



As a final note for this week’s roundup, just a reminder that, if you don’t already do so, you may enjoy following my Instagram account. Apart from the usual IG fare, I often post pictures I’ve snapped at the exhibitions I visit. In taking pictures of art, architecture, and design objects to share online, I try to share observations of my subjects viewed both at a distance, as well as in close-up details that I find interesting, such as Verrocchio’s technical brilliance in the depiction of fabric, as shown below.

Be sure to visit my profile page at


Ivan To Go Home

It’s not often that I come across a story of art restitution that is more local in nature, but this one involves an auction house just down the road, more or less, and a painting that would be kind of hard to miss, given that it’s not exactly something that would fit hanging over your sofa or in the powder room.

“The Secret Departure of Ivan the Terrible Before the Oprichina” (1911) was painted by the Ukranian artist Mikhail Panin (1877-1963), a pupil of (arguably) the most important of all Russian artists, Ilya Repin (1844-1930). Like his master, in the early part of his career Panin specialized in those vast, historical canvases that governments like to commission to fill up the big, blank walls in official buildings. Eventually, the equestrian picture of Russia’s most infamous Tsar ended up in the State Art Museum in the Ukranian city of Dnipro, and there it probably would have remained, except that the Nazis stole it and a number of other works from the museum in 1941.

From there, the trail goes cold until after World War II, as the Art Crime blog explains:

The artwork eventually made its way overseas to a house in far away Ridgefield, Connecticut where the home and the massive artwork were both purchased by David Tracy and his wife Gabby, a Holocaust survivor in 1987. The Tracy’s purchased the home themselves from a previous couple who likewise purchased the home along with the painting in 1962, this time from a former Swiss soldier who emigrated to the United States in 1946 but whom had died in 1986. The artwork had remained in the Ridgefield residence all that time, until the Tracy family, downsizing their home for a smaller condominium, and assuming the canvas was of modest value, consigned the painting to Potomack Company Auctions & Appraisals in Alexandria.

Fortunately, the auction house did their homework and discovered that the picture was Nazi loot, and arrangements were made between the consignors and U.S. and Ukranian officials and law enforcement to return the painting to the Ukranian Embassy. That handover took place yesterday, at the auction house’s galleries in Old Town Alexandria. While it’s too bad for the Tracy’s that they weren’t able to realize the sale of the painting – for which, as the Post explained at the time of the initial discovery, they had actually built an extension onto their house in order to be able to display it properly, and had hoped to use the proceeds of the sale to pad their retirement nest egg – nevertheless, they absolutely did the right thing here.

Given the enormous amount of art looted by the Nazis during World War II, and the uncertain fate of a significant percentage of that art, this is by no means the last restitution story connected to World War II that we’ll hear about in the coming years. It was internet research that led the auction house to track down the origin of the picture, and email communications which led to its return. As more archival material concerning artists and collections becomes available online for researchers, more chances for discovering lost treasures such as these will continue to be forthcoming.


Art News Roundup: Kind Of Blue Edition

Due to the Labor Day holiday, I didn’t have time to give you a post earlier this week, gentle reader. So let’s make up for that by giving you a larger-than-usual usual helping of stories from the worlds of art, architecture, design, archaeology, and collecting, which may prove to be of some interest. And we’ll begin with some jazz, which is always a good place to begin.

The legendary Miles Davis (1926-1991) took a break from music in the late 1970’s, after a lifetime of alcohol and drug addiction. When he finally cleaned himself up and returned to performing, he ordered three new trumpets from the Martin Company in Chicago: one red, one black, and one blue, each decorated with gold moons and stars and bearing his first name. Apparently, it took multiple coats of blue lacquer to get the horn to the point where it could read blue, but it was a kind of blue – if you’ll forgive the pun/allusion to Miles’ classic 1959 album – that in a certain light can appear purple.

Davis died in 1991, and was buried with the black trumpet, while his family held on to the red one. The blue one entered the collection of the great George Benson, who later sold it along with many other instruments he was no longer using, at a massive sale at Skinner’s Boston back in 2007. That trumpet is now coming up for sale again, this time at Christie’s, and given my recent experience with the “Concierto de Aranjuez”, I particularly enjoyed this anecdote about the night Davis took delivery of it from Larry Ramirez, the man who helped Davis to design them:


Ramirez lived in Denver, which — as good luck would have it — was where Davis was playing one of his first comeback concerts, in the summer of 1981. The designer was able to hand-deliver the first two trumpets he’d finished (the blue and the black) to Davis’s motel room one night.


Ramirez told the story, in later life, of the nerves he’d felt at the moment Davis handed him back one of the horns and said, ‘You play, don’t you?’ He duly played a tentative passage from Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez and remembers his relief when Davis observed, ‘Man, you play pretty good.’

The “Exceptional Sale” will take place at Christie’s New York on October 29th; the pre-sale estimate on Miles Davis’ blue trumpet is between $70,000-$100,000.


And now, let’s scat on over to some other art news stories in brief.

Ashes to Ashmolean

We’re often told about how suddenly death and destruction fell upon the people killed during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., but a new exhibition at the Ashmolean in Oxford will allow visitors to get a sense of just how unprepared the residents of Pompeii were for the end of their way of life. “Last Supper in Pompeii” brings together a wealth of archaeological finds and technical analysis from the dining rooms, restaurants, taverns, and even kitchen sink drains of the doomed city, to give us a sense of the interrupted lives on that day. Among the highlights is this remarkably preserved loaf of 1st century A.D. Roman bread, that to me looks for all the world like Thanksgiving cornbread baked in a cast iron skillet. “Last Supper at Pompeii” is on view at the Ashmolean Museum through January 12th.


Atlanta Acquisitions

The High Museum in Atlanta recently received a major gift of 24 paintings from local philanthropists Doris and Shouky Shaheen, significantly expanding the High’s existing collection of Impressionist and Early Modern art. The gift includes works by Boudin, Corot – his wonderfully sketchy “La bohemiènne à mandoline assise” (c. 1860–1870) is shown below – Fantin-Latour, Matisse, Modigliani, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Sisley, Utrillo, Vlaminck, and Vuillard. By themselves they would constitute a substantial display of late 19th and early 20th century pictures, which is probably why they are getting their own gallery at the High. The Shaheen Collection is expected to go on display to the public before the end of this year.


Caillebotte Collection

Speaking of major gifts, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris recently unveiled an unexpected legacy of five almost-unknown works by the popular French Realist-Impressionist Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894), donated earlier this year by the great-granddaughter of the artist’s butler. The works include a landscape with the Caillebotte country house in Argenteuil, a town on the Seine particularly favored by Impressionist and Early Modern artists, as well as two paintings of the nattily-attired butler, and two pastels of the butler’s son. I’m sharing this particular image from Le Parisien because while researching this story, I spotted my friend Paul Perrin, Curator of Paintings at the Orsay, rolling out three of the Caillebottes. [Waves]


Tiffany’s Temples

And speaking of friends, in light of the new exhibition opening this weekend at Chicago’s Driehaus Museum, I wanted to point you both to that exhibition as well as a past one at the Corning Museum of Glass. “Eternal Light: The Sacred Stained-Glass Windows of Louis Comfort Tiffany”, opens this Saturday, and will feature a side of his work which may be unfamiliar to those who only think of him as a designer of table lamps and jewelry. Tiffany (1848-1933) also did public and private interiors, including an over-the-top renovation of the White House for President Chester A. Arthur, as well as commercial buildings, private residences, and churches; his window designs for the latter category are highlighted in the Driehaus exhibition. Meanwhile, back in 2017 the Corning’s show, “Tiffany’s Glass Mosaics”, explored Tiffany’s work in that particular medium, and the exhibition catalogue – which is available here – features a section on his ecclesiastical designs in mosaic written by my friend Natalie Zmuda Peters. “Eternal Light: The Sacred Stained-Glass Windows of Louis Comfort Tiffany” is at the Richard H. Driehaus Museum through March 8, 2020.


A View to a Car

Have you recently purchased a pricey ride, but find that the garage back at your lair is just not quite up to snuff, when it comes to displaying your latest acquisition? Legendary British luxury car manufacturer Aston Martin can help. The makers of Bond vehicles are now branching out into architectural design partnerships, enabling you to create the car hole of your – or Ernst Blofeld’s – dreams. The company sees this effort as not only a way of showcasing automobiles as beautiful works of art, but potentially providing an entire living space for the display of both owner and collection. The aquarium filled with sharks and poisonous cephalopods will run you a bit extra, natch.


Art News Roundup: Delightful Discoveries Edition

After 1066, England was a rather unsettled place to live.

The Normans under William the Conqueror had just invaded and killed Harold II, the last Anglo-Saxon king, at the Battle of Hastings. Harold, who had only taken the throne nine months earlier in a move whose legality is still heavily debated today by historians – as indeed is William’s claim to the throne – barely had time to mint coins bearing his name and visage before he met his end. While many welcomed their new overlords, as it were, armed resistance led to years of war all over the island, as the Normans tried to consolidate their grip on power.

At some point during all of the tumult, a very wealthy individual decided to stash their wealth, in the form of thousands of late Anglo-Saxon and early Norman coins, in what is today farmland in the county of Shropshire, close to the Welsh border. For whatever reason, they never returned to retrieve their hoard, and over the next thousand years or so it remained hidden, tantalizingly close to the surface, just waiting for the right moment to be rediscovered. That moment finally came earlier this year.

Back in January, a group of experienced and newbie treasure hunters using metal detectors were prospecting in the field in question, when they came across the coins. The find was so large, that it took the group between four and five hours to dig all of it up. Fortunately, they did the right thing and contacted the authorities, and the coins were taken to the British Museum in London for further study.

For the most part, the coins are evenly split between designs featuring Harold, and designs featuring William. However, as the Guardian explained following the Museum’s press conference yesterday to announce their findings, it appears that whoever owned the coins was probably cheating on his or her taxes, given the presence of three very rare coins in the stash:

Three of the coins have been identified as “mules”, a combination of two types of coin – essentially an early form of tax-dodging by the moneyer, the person who made them. These coins have designs and language that relate to both Harold and William, and would have been easy to pass off as legal tender as the average Anglo-Saxon was illiterate and the stylised images of the kings looked similar.

As to what happens next, there are still legal issues to sort out regarding ownership and ultimate disposition of the hoard, one of the largest ever found in the UK. Under the Treasure Act, a coroner must first determine whether or not the hoard is to be considered “treasure” for the purposes of the Act. Assuming that it is – which seems a reasonable assumption here – the coins will have to be offered for sale to a UK museum, with the price set by the British Museum’s team of valuation experts. If no museum can afford to purchase the hoard, then it can be sold at public auction. In either case, the proceeds will be split between the owner of the field where the coins were found, and the people who found it.

While the official valuation has not been made yet, one London auction house specializing in antique coins estimated the hoard as being worth at least $6 million. From an aesthetic standpoint, these are truly beautiful objects, as you can see below in a shot that only shows part of the hoard. Hopefully, at least a few of the coins will end up in a public collection, where they can be viewed and admired as remarkable bits of design, from a dangerous period in which design was the last thing on most people’s minds.


And now, let’s move on to some other discoveries from the art news world over the past week.

Secret Seville

Turning to something else dating from around 1066, there’s been a remarkable find at the Reales Alcázares de Sevilla, which is the main Royal Palace in the city of Seville. Today’s palace is a mostly later Medieval structure built in a fusion of Arabic and European styles by Muslim craftsmen and architects, who chose to remain in the city even after it was reconquered by the Christians. Little was thought to remain of the Moorish fortress cum palace which used to stand on the site, but researchers recently discovered that parts of it were built over by later occupants, who incorporated the standing bits of the old palace into their residences. This includes a pair of decorated horseshoe arches dating from the 11th century, shown below, first rediscovered in 2014 but only recently dated using radio carbon testing methods. At the moment, the city is hoping to acquire the houses from the Spanish Treasury Department, which currently owns the structures, renovated them, and turn them into a visitors’ center for the complex.


Carmona Catacombs

Meanwhile, just about half an hour or so up the road from Seville in the Andalusian town of Carmona, workers doing home renovations in the town center stumbled across a deep shaft in the cellar, which led to a completely intact subterranean Roman mausoleum with a barrel-vaulted ceiling frescoed in geometric patterns. The tomb is believed to date to sometime between the 1st centuries B.C. and A.D., and has a total of eight niches, six of which hold funerary urns made of different materials, including both stone and glass. The glass urns were placed inside protective lead caskets, and several bear the names of those buried within them. In addition, funeral offerings in the form of ceramic and glass platters, vases, bowls, etc., were found in the tomb. Carmona, once the Roman colony of Carmo, is already well-known to archaeologists for its extensive Roman ruins, including hundreds of intact, frescoed tombs in catacombs dating from the later Imperial period of the 2nd-4th centuries, but these appear to be the earliest intact tombs found thus far.


Pinched Pinturicchio

After a nearly thirty-year search, a missing “Madonna and Child” believed to be by the Italian High Renaissance painter Pinturicchio (1454-1513) has been recovered by Italian police. The picture was stolen in 1990 from a private residence in the region of Umbria, and somehow ended up at an auction house in London. Out of thanks for the work’s recovery, the owners have agreed to lend the painting for a special exhibition in Perugia, where it’s now on display alongside two works by artists who taught the young Pinturicchio; debate still rages over whether he himself painted this recovered piece, or whether one of his teachers did. Apart from the recovery itself, the interesting backstory here is that the Italian police have a unit which does nothing but monitor art auctions around the world, looking for stolen works of art. That’s got to be a task which leaves you bleary-eyed at the end of every work day.

Madonna col Bambino attribuita a Pinturicchio” is at the National Gallery of Umbria through January 6th.