Art News Roundup: Invisible Hand Edition

Scottish Enlightenment economist and philosopher Adam Smith (1723-1790), who played a profound role in the development of free market economics, and indeed in the foundation of this country, is perhaps best known today for his seminal work, “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations”, first published in 1776. On December 12th, Christie’s will be auctioning off Smith’s own, first edition copy of “The Wealth of Nations” in London, with an estimated sale price of between $650,000 to over $1 million. Given the provenance of the book, and the love of both conservatives and libertarians for Smith’s work, I predict that the final hammer price will be at the high end of this range, if not even a bit higher. All you really need for this to happen is for two modern capitalists with deep pockets to get into a bidding war with one another, and the sky’s the limit.

Granted, neither Smith himself nor the book in question have much of anything to do with art in a direct way. Yet Smith’s principle of the “Invisible Hand”, by which positive, public outcomes can result from the self-interested, private actions of individuals, are a major philosophical underpinning of museums as we know them in the Western world. A collector who accumulates great works of art, historic artifacts, or important specimens for his own private delectation, and whose collection subsequently becomes broadly available to others for enjoyment and education is, in a sense, an exemplar of that “invisible hand” creating a public good from what was originally a private motivation. Many paintings, sculptures, and drawings have been preserved for future generations because individuals in the past acquired them for themselves, and kept them safe from the ravages of time, war, natural disasters, the vicissitudes of fashion, and so on.

And now, on to some other news which you may find hand-y.

Michelangelo: The Hands of a Master

The so-called “Rothschild Bronzes”, once owned by the famous Rothschild banking dynasty, are a superb pair of early 16th century sculptures of warriors mounted on giant panther-like beasts, which of course anticipate “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” by nearly 500 years. After considerable scholarly debate, as well as technical analysis using various methods of dating, measurement, and comparison to contemporary drawings, a group of art history experts at Cambridge recently announced their conclusion that the pair are by Michelangelo (1475-1564), making them the only known bronze figures of the Italian Renaissance genius to have survived to the present day. A book chronicling the 4-year research project involving these figures has just been published, and will be receiving a great deal of scrutiny from other art experts. Is this a rush to claim authorship? Or is there a legitimate body of evidence to err on the side of this attribution, which would fill a major hole in the record with respect to Michelangelo’s work in metal? Stay tuned.

Michaelangelo Bronzes

Rembrandt: The Fingers of a Master

A number of my readers – clever folk that you are – wrote to me over the past week regarding the interesting news that an oil study by Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) may bear the Dutch Old Master’s fingerprints. The work, which is roughly the size of an 8×10 photograph, depicts a model with his hands clasped in prayer, looking upwards. The young man in the picture, who was probably a Jewish neighbor of the artist, posed as Christ for Rembrandt on several other occasions that I’m aware of, such as in the Louvre’s “Supper at Emmaus” (1648); a number of other, related oil studies are known, including this slightly larger sketch in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. While at present there’s no way to know for certain whether the fingerprints are indeed those of Rembrandt, in time they may be able to establish a baseline for comparison to other works believed to be by the artist, should unexplained fingerprints be found on those paintings. This particular work is going up for sale at Sotheby’s in London next week, with a pre-sale estimate of about $7.6-$10.2 million.

Christ

Valadier: The Marketing of a Master

You’ve probably never heard of the Italian silversmith Luigi Valadier (1726-1785), a master of 18th century sculpture, decorative art, and jewelry, who was based in Rome but had an international clientele thanks to his excellent craftsmanship and the not-so-subtle marketing of his luxury goods by one potentate to the other: “If the King of Poland has one of Valadier’s goblets, I want one, too,” is how this sort of thing always works. Should you find yourself in New York over the holidays however, drop by The Frick Collection to see their current show on the work of this remarkable artist and artisan, who created jaw-dropping luxury goods for decades while managing to keep up with the changing tastes of the aristocracy, from Baroque to Rococo to Neoclassical. His opulent objects were so popular for palace decoration, diplomatic gifts, and tokens of friendship, that the studio couldn’t keep up with the orders pouring in from all over Europe. For example, shown below in an overhead shot is the 9-foot long plateau (base) of a massive 1778 dining table centerpiece by Valadier from a collection in Madrid, made out of precious stones, bronze, silver, and gold. If you want to see the whole thing, you’ll need to get to The Frick by January 20th.

overhead

 

Advertisements

Giving Tuesday Letter to Readers: Please Support Little Portion Hermitage

Dear Readers:

The newish tradition of Giving Tuesday, coming after the consumer shopping over-indulgences of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, is a fitting way to take a step back from all of the seasonal excess and let others know about needs that are close to one’s heart. In this case, I’m asking for your support for the Friends of Little Portion Hermitage (FLPH), a not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization which I have been honored to be a part of for several years now. I personally want to invite and encourage my readers to take a look at the Giving Tuesday post on the FLPH Facebook page, or on the FLPH website, to see how you can get involved. I also encourage you to share this post, whether it comes to you via email subscription or if you read it online, with anyone whom you think may be interested or in a position to help.

The overall goal of FLPH is to promote the eremitic life inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, Christ-centered solitude, contemplative silence, intercessory prayer and the spiritual works of mercy. Our more specific goal is to establish a permanent Little Portion Hermitage, named for the spot where the Franciscan movement began, with the help of our hermit friend Brother Rex Anthony Norris, a consecrated Franciscan hermit who is under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Portland, Maine.  A dear friend and wise counsel to me and to many others, Brother Rex provides encouragement, insight, and prayer to those who seek him out [he also welcomes your prayer requests and inquiries via the FLPH website.] Brother Rex lives his spiritual vocation every day in a way that most of us, caught up in the demands and distractions of the everyday, material world, cannot.

So in the spirit of St. Francis, I beg you to consider if you’re able to help out materially if possible, and through prayer for the success of this campaign regardless of your means. Your deductions are tax-deductible, and you can donate through Facebook, via the FLPH website, or the traditional pen-and-paper way by sending your check made out to “Friends of Little Portion Hermitage” to:

Friends of Little Portion Hermitage

Post Office Box 15

Auburn ME, 04210

 Thank you, dear readers, and many blessings to you and yours.

Kind regards,

The Courtier

francesco