Art News Roundup: Merry Valentine’s Day Edition

Today is the first day of Winter, and it doesn’t look as though we’re going to have a white Christmas here in the Nation’s Capital, given that it’s currently about 63 degrees. Yet be that as it may, as we approach the 4th Sunday of Advent, I was rather appalled to drop into my local CVS on Tuesday evening and find that Christmas-related items were already being removed. The emptied shelves were in the process of being filled with items for Valentine’s Day.

You can see the photographic evidence of this here, and quite frankly I find this utterly appalling, for many reasons. What message does this send to children, for example? That they cannot even be satisfied with the gifts they will receive on Christmas in a few days’ time, because they have to be salivating over chocolates that they will be eating two months from now?

A follower on Instagram commented that at her local Giant Supermarket, she could not find any peppermint candy canes, and asked the clerk if they would be getting any more before Christmas. “No,” he replied, “Christmas is over.” Well, Christmas is most emphatically NOT over, because it hasn’t even begun yet. So whatever it is that the powers that be at places like CVS, Giant, and the like are celebrating at the moment, it certainly isn’t Christmas.

I happen to be someone who *does* celebrate Christmas, as it happens, since I may be a great sinner, but I’m one who believes in the veracity of the Christian faith. I will definitely, therefore, be celebrating all twelve days of Christmas when they arrive. Therefore, I’m going to use my prerogative as the lord of this virtual manor to share some interesting art stories involving the restoration of works that represent three types of sacred art: sculpture, painting, and musical instruments.

Pisano’s Pistoia Pulpit
One of the most important sculptural works of art of the Early Renaissance is about to go under tarps and scaffolding for the next two years. Giovanni Pisano (lived about 1245-1315) was an architect and sculptor, son of the more famous Nicola Pisano (lived about 1210-1278), who executed major commissions for churches throughout Italy and possibly elsewhere [there is currently an art history theory that the magnificent alabaster tomb of St. Eulalia, in the Cathedral of Barcelona, is by a member of their studio.] Giovanni created the pulpit for the church of Sant’Andrea (St. Andrew) in Pistoia, a city about 20 miles from Florence; the piece is stylistically related to other pulpits by the Pisanos, including those in the Cathedrals of Pisa and Siena, but shows how the Gothic was coming to an end and what we would consider “Modern” sculpture was born. Thanks to a grant from the American charitable foundation Friends of Florence, and the cooperation of government officials along with expertise from the University of Florence, structural analysis of the entire sculpture is currently underway, and as cleaning begins visitors to the church will be able to see live camera images of the restorers at work on monitors.

Pisano

Bononi’s Beautiful Biohazard
Staying in Italy for the moment, Italian scientists have discovered that some works of art may be changing over time for the same reason why milk turns into cheese, or why your kid comes home from school with strep throat: microscopic organisms. The expert team analyzed a painting of the “Coronation of the Virgin” by Carlo Bononi (1569-1632) which hangs in a church in the Italian city of Ferrara, and found that the entire piece, front and back, was covered with microscopic colonies of fungi and other microbial organisms, including Staphylococcus(!), Penicillium, and others. Interestingly enough, different pigments and materials used in creating the painting attracted different populations, since one type of fungus might prefer to live in or snack on certain environments more than others. This research may well have long-term implications for how restorers go about treating and conserving works of art in the future.

micro

Bodet’s Blessed Bells
An interesting and heart-warming story from Art Daily, on the efforts of one company to restore the sounds that once marked the daily rhythm of life throughout France. Bodet is one of the only companies in Europe that specializes in the repair of church bells, and since 1991 has brought back well over one thousand church bells into working order. While it’s a pity that hardly anyone in France goes to church anymore, at least the call to Mass, the marking of the hours of the Angelus, and the commemoration of baptisms, weddings, and funerals will provide a regular opportunity for these revived bell towers to do their job and remind listeners that they are in a country shaped by two millennia of Christianity.

Bodet

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Thought-Pourri: Flamethrower Edition

Before sharing some (good) news stories from the art world this week, I need to beg the reader’s indulgence in allowing me to give vent to what I believe to be a very, very bad one. If you are a subscriber or a regular reader, you know that I usually try to keep things fairly positive and informative hereabouts. For the most part, that tends to be a more effective way of sharing what I have to say.

But sometimes, you need to light up the flamethrower.

More details of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s forthcoming “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” exhibition and associated Met Gala have been released. As I expected, the whole thing makes my skin crawl. Described as the largest exhibition ever mounted in the history of the Met, spread across 25 galleries, the show will feature 40 items from the sacristy of the Sistine Chapel, along with religious art, high fashion and couture garments, and other objects assembled from various collections.

On Monday, Met curator Andrew Bolton spoke at a press conference in Rome flanked by Gianfranco Cardinal Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Vogue Magazine doyenne Anna Wintour, fashion designer Donatella Versace, and others. Bolton seemed to be aware of the fact that this forthcoming carnival sideshow has rankled many even before it opens on May 1st:

While the fashions that are featured in the exhibition might seem far-removed from the sanctity of the Catholic Church, they should not be dismissed lightly, for they embody the storytelling traditions of Catholicism. Taken together, the fashions and artworks in ‘Heavenly Bodies’ sing with enchanted, and enchanting, voices.

The “storytelling traditions of Catholicism”, as he puts it, are not merely “stories”. They are articles of faith for the 1.2 billion Catholics who currently live on this planet, and for those now-deceased billions who, over the course of the last 2,000 years, have believed, suffered, and died for it. They did so all the while spreading what was originally viewed as a tiny heretical Jewish sect to the four corners of the earth, in obedience to Christ’s Great Commission before His Ascension to “Go teach all nations.”

Catholics do not share tales about the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, or the humility and grace of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or the persecution of martyrs, or the spiritual teachings of the doctors and mystics of the Church, in the same way that we might talk about what we did on vacation, or what happened on the most recent episode of “Homeland”, or how Cinderella had a magical fairy godmother who gave her a pair of glass slippers. We do not represent these things in paint, textile, or metal merely for the purposes of decoration, as if they were nothing more than representations of some old chestnut or fish story from a murky past with which we no longer have any connection. Moreover, even with the promised segregation of sacred objects from secular fashions in this show, the visitor will be confronted with a montage whose very title – particularly the term “Heavenly Bodies” – when spoken aloud suggests concepts which ought not to be considered in the same breath.

I have no doubt that some of the objects on loan from Rome are splendid, in themselves, and had this been an exhibition solely about liturgical or papal vestments, textiles, or the like, standing independently, I’m sure it would have been a fascinating display of centuries of history. But that’s not what this is: it’s an ill-advised attempt by Rome to try to seem hip and current, and will provide those who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular with plenty of ammunition to fire at the Church. I find the entire concept of this exhibition to be offensive, tacky, and grossly ill-informed – much like this Papacy – and shame on the Vatican for even considering being a part of this travesty.

I urge my fellow Catholic readers in particular not to go see this show, nor to have anything to do with it.

Here endeth the rant. Now, on to some better news.

Missing Degas: Found

In one of the strangest art recovery stories I’ve read in some time, news outlets have been reporting about the recovery of a stolen work by Edgar Degas (1834-1917), “Les Choristes” (1877), which was found by French Customs inspectors on a bus parked at a gas station outside of Paris. The work was one of a number of pieces left to the French nation by Impressionist painter Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894), a close friend of Degas, and had been stolen nine years ago while on loan from the Musée d’Orsay to an exhibition at a museum in Marseilles. The Orsay has now announced that the piece will be part of a Degas exhibition next year, which will eventually travel to the National Gallery here in DC.

Degas

Missing Monet: Found

A long-lost painting by Claude Monet (1840-1926) is now back home – in Japan. “Water Lilies: Reflection of Willows” (1916), a study for the artist’s set of water lily paintings now in the Musée de l’Orangerie, was purchased in the 1920’s by Japanese industrialist Kojiro Matsukata, who amassed one of the first great collections of Western art in his country. The painting was moved to France for safekeeping during World War II. No one seems to know for certain exactly how it ended up in the Louvre, but in 2016 it was discovered in a storage area of the museum, rolled up and heavily damaged; currently, the surface is being held together by tape, as you can see below. The piece is now undergoing restoration at Japan’s National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, and will subsequently be placed on public display.

Monet

Missing Caravaggio: A Clue?

You may recall that back in November, I shared a story about the search for a stolen altarpiece by Caravaggio (1571-1610): his “Adoration of the Shepherds” (1609), a detail of which appears below, which was painted for the Oratory of St. Lawrence in Palermo, Sicily. At the time, well-known art detective Charley Hill indicated that he believed he was on the trail of the missing painting, which was allegedly stolen to order by the Mafia. The latest development, according to a crime informant anyway, is that the painting was sold to a now-deceased Swiss art dealer, and cut into pieces so that it could be shipped to Switzerland undetected. Let’s hope that it still exists somewhere.

Shepherds