Thought-Pourri: Sheepish Summer Edition

A very happy First Day of Summer to you, gentle reader. This is definitely not my favorite season, but fortunately even as those of us in the capital wilt under oppressive humidity, there’s still plenty of art news out there, since even as art auctions tend to tail off until the autumn, museum exhibition and announcement season tends to crank up during the summer holidays. So rest assured there will be plenty of stories for me to share with you, even as I remain wary of this time of year and try to stay in the air conditioning as long as possible.

An example is news surrounding the legendary Ghent Altarpiece, created in the 15th century by the brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck. Regular readers will recall that I’ve written about it before, and it’s the subject of a fascinating 2012 book by Noah Charney. Unusually, two major stories about it have broken in the past week.

The first involves a possible location for the two missing panels of the altarpiece, a mystery which I mentioned in my earlier post and which Charney discusses at length in his book. The second involves the ongoing cleaning and restoration, which has resulted in a rather new, rather ugly appearance for the Agnus Dei which stands at the center of the lower panel. At some point in the past, someone decided that the Van Eyck version was rather unpleasant to look at, and painted a more docile, pleasant looking face over top of the original. While I’m all for authenticity in art, I’m not sure that the removal of this particular bit of overpaint has actually improved the picture.


Gutted in Glasgow

Just last week, I drew your attention to the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the early 20th century Scottish artist, architect, and designer, as the world marks his 150th birthday. Three days later, one of his greatest masterpieces was, for all practical purposes, destroyed. As restoration was nearing completion following a devastating fire back in 2014, Mackintosh’s seminal Glasgow School of Art caught fire this past Friday, and this time it looks to be a total loss. Sorting out the blame and what to do next will take some time, but reports indicate that there may be little left to save. This is a tragic, highly significant loss for world architecture.


Worrying in Worcester

A piece I spotted in yesterday’s Art Net is worth reading and thinking about, as it stirs up some uncomfortable truths about art, with respect to those represented in it, the artists themselves, and those charged with displaying and interpreting it. The piece is largely focused on a new series of placards at the Worcester Art Museum in Massachussetts, identifying the ties of some of those depicted in the museum’s Early American portraits collection to the slave trade. By way of conclusion, the article also points out that some institutions are debating whether works by Picasso, Schiele, and others should bear labels detailing the moral culpability of the artists themselves. I leave it to the reader to determine whether the selective pinning of scarlet letters to works of art is ultimately an advisable course of action.


Outstanding in Oklahoma

I’ve never been to the great state of Oklahoma, but for those of you who find yourselves there between now and September 9th, the must-see at the Oklahmoa City Art Museum is what looks to be a terrific exhibition by Contemporary Artist Isabelle de Borchrave. “Fashioning Art from Paper” is a retrospective of the Belgian artist’s work, in which she creates intricate, life-sized paper costumes based on both works of art and fashion created over the past five centuries. Among the standouts in the section dedicated to the court of the Medici in Florence is this astonishing recreation of the costume worn by the young Lorenzo de Medici in Benozzo Gozzoli’s famous “The Journey of the Magi” (1459) from the Magi Chapel at the Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence.


8 thoughts on “Thought-Pourri: Sheepish Summer Edition

  1. William, I cannot thank you enough for the info on the Ghent Altarpiece which has become a little hobby of mine. Perhaps you can tell me how the restorers knew the paint they removed was by a later “restorer” and not a change made by Van Eyck himself? He was known to make many changes in fact in every work of his that remains, he made changes. And somehow I cannot believe any restorer worth his salt would have the audacity to completely repaint the head of the Lamb of God so it bore no likeness to the original which the public would have known by heart. This altarpiece is a powerful and beloved icon so much so restorers used to kiss the surface of the work as if it were a relic. Unless this was done when it was taken away and done to alter the appearance on purpose I cannot imagine it to be a reality. Do the restorer’s know for certain the paint they removed was not applied by van Eyck? What do you say? And if the underpainting is the original we need to rethink the figure as van Eyck if not a theologian himself, worked with theologians of his time. So if this is the original, that human look has a reason for being there.


    • I’m not enough of an expert to be able to explain why the restorers were persuaded that the change was not by the Van Eycks themselves, as that involves technical analysis that I don’t have access to, but if you visit the press announcement that I linked to in the piece, there is more information there from the group carrying out the restoration. Thanks for reading and glad you found this interesting!


  2. In regards to the placards indicating art works depicting those in the slave trade, allow me to quote “those who are without sin, let them cast the first stone.” This is nothing but rampant political correctness. What is next: condemning the image of the Lamb of God as animal cruelty?


  3. I was very happy to read about the Isabelle de Borchrave exhibit in Oklahoma, even if unfortunately I doubt anything would bring me there to view it. I saw an exhibit of hers at Hillwood a few years ago and it was outstanding, well worth seeing what this woman can do with paper. It is really extraordinary. She is able to manipulate paper as if it were fabric and the results are just beautiful.


  4. Pingback: Thought-Pourri: Protesting Pygmalions Edition | Blog of the Courtier

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