CHRISTMAS 2018 : PART II
from Byzantine, to Bouguereau
1000 to 1500 : THE LATE "MIDDLE AGES"
Welcome to the second of our 2018 Christmas catalogs,
making tribute to the foundation of both Western fine and decorative arts :
"The Madonna and Child".
The European Middle Ages (Medieval Period) spanned about 1000 years, from c500 to 1500 AD -
from the fall of the Roman Empire, to the rise of High Gothic.
Although this period of Western history is oft considered "secondary to the Renaissance",
it saw extraordinary advances -
particularly the late Middle Ages -
in culture, in sciences, and especially in arts and architecture.
Consider the bewildering complexity and endurance of Gothic cathedrals;
the many far-reaching geographical explorations and exansions -
Byzantium as the 'New Rome' and the Silk Road to the East;
the travels and introductions of the Crusadersand the Knights Templar
(the latter devising the AMEX International of the 13th century).
The Middle Ages also produced some of the most exquisite representations
of the "Madonna and Child" known to both Eastern and Western worlds -
rich in artistry, as well as a "pictorial symbolism" still apparent today ... throughout the arts.
And if you linger just a few moments - or more - with each of the selected pieces,
you can still sense the mind of the ancient artist whilst working. It is subtle, and humbling.
Along with these chosen "historic" representations,
we have included a few related examples from our stock -
that are - for your pleasure - for sale!
In 360 AD, Emperor Constantine II, in the new "Eastern capital" Constantinople,
had begun construction of
'The Hagia Sophia' - twice destroyed by fire - and twice rebuilt.
In 537 AD, the Emperor Justinian began the temple anew,
its magnificence still regarded as an 'engineering marvel'.
With soaring domes and arches, it said to have 'changed the history of architecture'.
The temple itself was so richly and artistically decorated that Justinian proclaimed,
"Solomon, I have outdone thee!"
Within the Hagia Sophia reside some of the finest mosaics in the world,
most dating from the 9th through 13th centuries.
These have not had a pristine history.
There have been further fires and earthquakes.
Many of the earlier mosaics were destroyed during the 8th century 'Iconoclasm'
(use of religious images opposed by religious and imperial authorities).
Many others were confiscated in the Crusaders' 1204 Sack of Constantinople.
During the Ottoman rule (beginning 1453), many mosaics were either destroyed -
or 'covered with plaster' - as was this exquisite mosaic below :
"Madonna Enthroned, Christ Child, Justinian & Constantine"
Hagia Sophia Mosaics, Constantinople (Istanbul,) 10th Century AD ...
... one of the Earliest Surviving Byzantine Mosaics, 'Rediscovered' During a Repair Process in 1849
Language for most was then "picture language" - one told by the artist and artisan.
Each depiction (mosaic, icon, painting, sculpture, etc.)
tells a story 'intended to raise soul and mind of the viewer'.
It is said iconographers worked whilst they prayed.
Constantine even relieved from taxation artists who made the mosaics for the churches.
Understanding This Iconography :
This mosaic depicts the complex interweaving of the Church, and the Roman Empire.
Centered between the Emperors Constantine (left) and Justinian (right),
is Virgin Mary 'Enthroned' and seated on a backless stool, her feet elevated upon a jeweled pedestal.
The Christ Child is giving His blessing, and holding a scroll (Holy Knowledge).
Emperor Constantine offers to Mary a model of the city he had built.
Emperor Justinian offers a model of the Hagia Sophia he had built.
The monograms above translate 'Mother of God'.
(Detail of the Madonna Above)
Byzantine Mosaics (Tesserae) :
Mosaics (tesserae) were originally chosen for Hagia Sophia decoration
due to "their jewel-like quality and sparkling radiance".
They were made from small pieces of colored or clear glass.
Byzantine gold tesserae employed two flatter pieces of glass, sandwiching gold leaf,
producing an extremely rich and luminous effect.
Halos were set at an angle to give sharper light.
'Micromosaics' are a special form of mosaic, using unusually small pieces of glass,
or in later Italian pieces, an enamel-like materials.
A few ancient Roman & Pompeian mosaic panels used very small tesserae.
Only in Byzantine art are there micromosaic icons of these small tesserae -
those being very rare.
'Micromosaics' were produced in Italy from the Renaissance period,
the smallest mosaic pieces dating from the late 18th century to mid-19th century.
Late 18th / Early 19th Century (from our stock)
Mosaic Probably Italian, Depicting a 'Tower', symbolizing 'strength'
The Tortoiseshell Box Likely French
Glass, incidentally, was a symbol of 'purity' :
These are all excellent early examples of British glass related to wine.
As well, the escutcheon form is the earliest form of silver bottle ticket,
intended to elegantly replace the string and parchment label method of identification.
"The Morgan Madonna"
Auvergne, France, 1175-1200, Overall : 31 5/16"High
(Metropolitan Museum of Art)
"Walnut" with paint, tin relief on a lead white ground, and linen
(As a time reference, the "Morgan Madonna" coincided with Eleanor of Aquitaine,
woman extraordinaire, and wife of Louis VII, and Henry II of England).
Mary's mantle is carved as a 'wimple' - a 12/13th century cloth headdress.
(In many medieval cultures, it was unseemly for a married woman to show her hair).
Sometimes the 'wimple' is accompanied by a 'gorget' (binding up the neck and chin)
and secured by a wide 'fillet', placed low on the head,
as on this 'strange and wondrous' walnut root 'guglet' from our stock :
Likely English, 6 Inches High
(In the manner of 16c Stoneware 'Bellarmine' - 'Bartmann' - Jugs...however with Female Face).
There are some rather bizarre legends attached to these jugs - so do "click" for more information.
Iconography of "The Morgan Madonna" :
This type of sculpture is known as a 'Throne of Wisdom' (Sedes Sapientiae).
Mary again appears on a backless throne.
Her oversized hands direct attention to Jesus, enthroned upon Her lap.
Appearing as a miniature adult, the Son of God is Wisdom Incarnate.
He would have grasped a Bible as a further reference to the Divine Wisdom embodied.
Mary is both sculpture and vessel -
Her body has a cavity behind Her shoulder, suggesting the work was a container for holy relics.
Prior to the 18th century introduction of mahogany for furniture,
"walnut" was the favored wood (and still my own) !
Its excessive use and the 'little ice age' of the early 18th century,
as well as drought and fires, almost did it in.
In British furniture, the use of walnut declines about 1740,
not reappearing in large pieces until the Victorian era.
These stretchers are connected to the legs in the Continental manner -
round block into square block. Most English block joinery is square into square.
However, the late 17th century French Huguenot craftsmen recently
immigrating into England resulted in some overlapping of constructing techniques.
As well, until the late 17th and early 18th century,
arm chairs were reserved for the head of household or very wealthy.
Others sat upon stools.
When the elegant chairs of the early 18th century appeared,
stools were considered 'old fashioned', and, when damaged, thrown away.
Thus, simply by rarity, many stools are often more costly than chairs.
In Western culture, the "olive branch" symbolizes peace or goodwill.
The original link between olive branches and peace is unknown.
Some explanations center upon olive trees taking a very long time to bear fruit -
thus cultivation something impossible in time of war.
Additionally, when wood was scarce, the smaller branches were cut crosswise
to make beautiful marquetry - yet still leaving the tree in tact - to grow yet again.
"Virgin and Child Enthroned", Polyptych Altarpiece, Vittore Crivelli (Venice,ca.1430-1502)*
an intricately developed poplytych, chosen just for its elegant beauty :
(Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, England)
The altarpiece, of tempera and gold, is rich in Franciscan symbolism :
the Madonna Enthroned, holding the Christ Child, surrounded by angels.
She is sided by Franciscan Saints Bonaventure (left) and Toulouse (right)
and above a row of further Franciscan Saints.
It was commissioned by the Church of San Francesco (Monte Santo, Italy).
The trefoil is echoed throughout Gothic, 18th century, and 19th century Gothic revival arts
and architecture - even in this mid-18th century upholstered library chair :
With trefoil form shoulders;
As Shown in Thomas Chippendale's 1762
"Gentleman & Cabinet-Maker's Director", Plate XIX, "French Chairs"
As well, note the trefoil-type terminal of the of the early 18th century 'wavy-end' fork.
(An aside : I have never heard or read the exact reason for the transition from the
c1660 trefid spoon - there was no real dinner fork yet - to this sleeker design.
However, my imagination perceives the small outer tines of the 'French-forked' trefid
as being troublesome in carrying about on the person, and perhaps breaking off.)
This form is also known as a Dognose (Dog Nosed) fork,
due to the small upturned 'nose' to the terminal.
We have found dog lovers to be very drawn to this form!
Isaac Davenport, London, date mark rubbed out (c1707)
This form marks the beginning of the true "Table Fork" (c1700).
They are rare, collectible - and in Britannia silver, wonderful to use (with care).
'Eating-with-history' is a delight to both imagination and palette!
Robes of The Madonna, & The Color 'Blue' :
'Blue', symbolizing "holiness and purity",
has long been a preferred color for the robes of the Madonna.
However, the early blues (from 'indigo' ) faded quite rapidly when exposed to strong sunlight.
Historically there have been several sources for the color blue, each varying in color and characteristics :
'Egyptian blue' : a complex combination for crushing to make paint or glaze;
'cobalt' : primarily for ceramics and glass, but also for paint;
'indigo' : from plants for use in both paintings and textiles.
In the 13th century, a strong and permanent blue from powdered 'lapis lazuli' entered Europe.
Called 'ultramarine' ('beyond the waters'), it was imported from Afghanistan,
where it had been mined since the 7th millennium BC.
This blue was by far the finest, most permanent and expensive blue known.
So rare it was that Michelangelo (it is said) left his painting 'The Entombment' (1500-01
unfinished as he could not obtain the funds to buy the needed ultramarine.
with "two deer" in a garden.
In Christian symbolism, the "deer" and "stag" represent piety and renewal -
even Christ himself
(The Japanese blue is warmer and brighter than the Chinese blue -
a bit closer to ultramarine).
The dry cobalt powder applied to an oiled surface, with masked and separately painted reserves
'Ultramarine' is the deeper, more reddish (true) blue in this floral still life below :
"Mums", Oil on Masonite
Executed in the short curved brushstrokes of juxtaposed various greens
with cobalt and ultramarine blues, the brushwork
associated with the Acadamie Julian & Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where Kosa had studied during the '20s and '30s.
Kosa went on to take California painting into early Modernism.
However, personally, I am very drawn to this particular work.
Below is a remarkable painting - again chosen for it arresting beauty.
"Madonna of the Rose Bower", Oil on Panel, Stefan Lochner, 1440-42
The Madonna's robes glow with "lapis-based blues".
Immediately apparent is the romantic appearance of the Madonna and Child,
the red curtains held apart by angels with blue wings, to reveal the 'rose trellis' and richly 'brocaded' gold ground.
The patterns were carved into the chalk ground before gilding.
Further angels offer gifts and play music.
The symbolism is extensive :
Her crown and medallion (virginity);.
the roses ("rose without thorns"), as in the Garden of Eden;
the apple in the Christ Child's hand, to name a few.
All relate to the "Garden" itself, often called 'hortus conclusus'.
which can represent the Virgin - as can the garden itself.
Centering garden flora beneath a phoenix (Resurrection, Faith, Constancy)
and rim reserves of fish (ichthys) and shrimp set within trellis diapering;
the verso with prunus (cherry - fruits of Paradise) sprays
(the whole possibly referring to sky and water)
Unusually engraved with a fruiting vine, resting on a trellis support
arising from delicate grasses, and raised on a
double series opaque twist stem with two spiral tapes outside a gauze
The oval box two small "stand-away" hinges,
the tortoiseshell cover having engraved piqué posé inlay depicting
a seated flute player before a garden wall, serenading a shepherdess with staff
(Christ was often depicted as a shepherd)
Yongzheng / Early Qianlong, c1733-40
Finely painted in famille rose with iron red (known as 'Rose Imari'),
centering a cockerel (Resurrection) among garden floraand rocks ('The Lord');
the border with panels of garden flora with iron red fences,
alternating with finely painted scrolls; floral scrolls verso
'Famille rose' (family of pink) was developed by German Jesuits living in Beijing c1720.
It was formulated from chloride of gold suspended in water to produce pink enamels
for ceramics desired by the 'European market'.
"Mary with the Child and Singing Angels"
Sandro Botticelli, 1477, Florence **
Oil on poplar wood, Painted in the "Circular Form of Infinity"
A student of Fra Filippo Lippi at 19 and with sponsorship of the Medici,
Botticelli became one of the most respected painters of his time,
famous for his portraits, allegories and religious subjects.
He painted several versions of the Madonna and Child in circular form -
this being my personal favorite, for artistic reasons as well as simplicity of symbolism.
The scene is intimate - the depictions and expressions warm and inviting.
The Child has direct and engaging eye contact with the observer.
There are 8 angels singing antiphonally, as some look at their hymnals.
You can almost hear the softness of their song.
(Staatliche Museum, Berlin)
8 was the number of happy beginnings, spiritual rebirth, baptism,
Resurrection and good fortune.
There are 6 lilies, representing the days in which God created the world.
The lily symbolizes virginity and purity, the Trinity and the patronage of the Mother of God .
Note once again the rich lapis blue of Mary's robes.
** It is said that the muse for many of Botticelli's works, including his
'Madonna' paintings and 'Birth of Venus', was Simonetta Cattaneo -
a neighbor and 'icon of beauty in Florence at that time'.
Botticelli requested to be buried 'at her feet' in Church of All Saints,
where their tombs rest there, side by side.
Also in distinctive circular form :
The small circular cast silver box unscrewing to reveal two maps -
one of the Bishopric of Salzburg, the other of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania -
and 17 circular bannered leporello original hand-colored copper engravings,
all numbered and depicting the historic expulsion of Protestants from Salzburg,
and their subsequent emigration to Prussian Lithuania
at the invitation of King Frederick William I.
All within this tiny box : 1.75" Wide x .75" High.
And the engraving colors are still just this vivid and pristine!
Of similar circular - and "bannered" - design is
"Crown of the Most Blessed Virgin :
Corona Beatissimae Virginis Mariae" / Maker Unknown, c1500
(National Museum, Warsaw)
A Tablet Cover on Wooden Panel
In the Late Middle Ages, both established and new religious orders purchased 'tablets' for didactic and prayer use.
A monumental tablet - 14.9 feet high x 10 feet wide :
"Crown of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary - Corona Beatissimae Virginis Mariae" -
was produced c1500 for the Bernardine Abbey, Wroclaw.
While teaching the fundamentals of faith and worship, the tablet was also a tool for meditation in prayer,
and to extol the Virgin Mary.
The statuesque image of the Virgin in the mid-lower section served as an image for worship.
On the medallions are scenes to further aid in prayer and meditation.
These included portrayals of both joyful and sorrowful Marian mysteries,
images of choirs of angels, sins and virtues, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
As well, all combined to form a catechistic lecture on the truths of faith.
When viewing these works of history, of symbolism,
embodying both inexplicable beauty and devotion -
I have oft been reminded of the words of singer-songwriter Eva Cassidy :
"Sometimes ... you just take my breath away".
However, there always remains enough to say :
A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!
(I suspect these depictions can say it far better than words).
And yet more to come ...!