Judge Rules Benjamin West Altarpiece Can Go to Boston

Posted in museums, on site by Editor on July 21, 2013

From The Art Newspaper (11 July 2013) . . .

Anglican Court Says Benjamin West Altarpiece Can Go to Boston
City of London church to sell the masterpiece to fund repairs

By Martin Bailey

Thomas Malton (1748-1804), St Stephen Walbrook, London, watercolour over pencil, heightened with scratching out 26  x 18 inches (646 x 447 mm), Lowel Libson LTD (London).

Thomas Malton (1748-1804), St Stephen Walbrook, London, watercolour over pencil, heightened with scratching out, 26 x 18 inches (646 x 447 mm)
Lowell Libson LTD (London).
West’s Devout Men Taking Away the Body of St Stephen is visible at the altar.

A Church of England court has ruled that Benjamin West’s altarpiece, Devout Men Taking Away the Body of St Stephen, 1776, which was made for one of the most important churches in the City of London can be sold for display in the US. The $2.85m painting is being bought by an anonymous foundation, which is due to lend it to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (The Art Newspaper, April 2013, pp6–7 and June 2013, p3). West was born in America, but worked in England.

In his judgment, delivered on 10 July, Judge Nigel Seed, chancellor of the consistory court of the Diocese of London, ruled that St Stephen Walbrook should be allowed to sell the masterpiece. The painting had been removed from the church in around 1987, in what he described as “perceived illegal actions”, and has since been kept in storage. . .

The full article is available here»

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

As a starting place in the scholarly literature:

Jerry D. Meyer, “Benjamin West’s St Stephen Altar-Piece: A Study
in Late Eighteenth-Century Protestant Church Patronage and English
History Painting,” The Burlington Magazine 118 (September 1976): 634-41.

Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Posted in on site by Editor on July 20, 2013
siehe Dateiname  Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe, Kassel, Germany
Photo, 2005, Wikimedia Commons

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

From UNESCO (23 June 2013) . . .

Sites in Germany and Italy Bring to 19 the Number of Sites Added to the World Heritage List

Two new sites and one extension to a Polish site were inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List on Sunday afternoon, bringing to 19 the total number of sites added to the List during the 37th session taking place in Phnom Penh.

Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe, Germany

Descending a long hill dominated by a giant statue of Hercules, the monumental water displays of Wilhelmshöhe were begun by Landgrave Carl of Hesse-Kassel in 1689 around an east-west axis and were developed further into the 19th century. Reservoirs and channels behind the Hercules Monument supply water to a complex system of hydro-pneumatic devices that supply the site’s large Baroque water theatre, grotto, fountains and 350-metre long Grand Cascade. Beyond this, channels and waterways wind across the axis, feeding a series of dramatic waterfalls and wild rapids, the geyser-like Grand Fountain which leaps 50m high, the lake and secluded ponds that enliven the Romantic garden created in the 18th century by Carl’s great-grandson, Elector Wilhelm I. The great size of the park and its waterworks along with the towering Hercules statue constitute an expression of the ideals of absolutist Monarchy while the ensemble is a remarkable testimony to the aesthetics of the Baroque and Romantic periods.

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

Also from UNESCO:

Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe (Photo by Jens Haines, 2012 from Wikimedia Commons)

Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe
Photo by Jens Haines, 2012 from Wikimedia Commons

Inspired by the dramatic topography of its site, the Hercules monument and water features of the Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe created by the Landgrave Carl from 1689 combine in an outstanding demonstration of man’s mastery over nature. The monumental display of rushing water from the Octagon crowned by the massive Hercules statue via the Vexing Grotto and Artichoke Basin with their hydro pneumatic acoustic effects, Felsensturz Waterfall and Giant’s Head Basin down the Baroque Cascade to Neptune’s Basin and on towards the crowning glory of the Grand Fountain, a 50-metre high geyser that was the tallest in the world when built in 1767, is focused along an east-west axis terminating in the centre of the city of Kassel. Complemented by the wild Romantic period waterfalls, rapids and cataracts created under Carl’s great-grandson the Elector Wilhelm I, as part of the 18th-century landscape in the lower part of the Bergpark, the whole composition is an outstanding demonstration of the technical and artistic mastery of water in a designed landscape. Together with the 11.5m high bronze Hercules statue towering above the park and visible from many kilometres, which represents an extraordinary sculptural achievement, they are testimony to the wealth and power of the 18th- & 19th-century European ruling class.

Criterion (iii): The towering statue of Hercules and the water displays of the Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe are an exceptional symbol of the era of European Absolutism.

Criterion (iv): The water displays of Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe are an outstanding and unique example of monumental water structures. Cascades of similar size and artificial waterfalls of comparable height can be found nowhere else. The Hercules statue, towering over the 560 hectare park, is both technically and artistically the most sophisticated and colossal statue of the Early Modern era. The ensemble of water features with their monumental architectural settings is unparalleled in the garden art of the Baroque and Romantic periods. (more…)

Fire Severely Damages the Hôtel Lambert in Paris

Posted in on site by Editor on July 13, 2013

As reported by BBC News (10 July 2013) . . .


Hôtel Lambert, 2 rue Saint-Louis-en-l’Île, Paris
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons, 2010)

A fire has damaged the landmark 17th-century Hotel Lambert in Paris. Dozens of firefighters tackled the blaze, which broke out overnight on the roof of the riverside mansion in the centre of the French capital. The building was being renovated after its purchase by a Qatari prince in 2007. Located on the World Heritage-listed Seine embankment, the mansion was once home to the 18th-century philosopher Voltaire.

It took six hours for the fire brigade to put out the blaze, which started in an area below the rooftop which emergency services found difficult to access. A large portion of the roof has been destroyed. A spokesman for the fire service, Lieutenant Colonel Pascal Le Testu, said 650 square metres (7,000 sq ft) of the roof had gone, along with a section of a central staircase. Some of the brickwork on the front of the building has collapsed. Renowned fresco ceiling paintings by Charles Le Brun in the Gallery of Hercules were also “severely damaged by smoke and water”, Lt Col Testu said. . .

The full article is available here»

Campaigning to Save the Chapel at Bretton Hall Park

Posted in on site by Editor on July 2, 2013

Press release (20 May 2013) . . .


Sir William Wentworth, Chapel of Bretton Hall Park, 1744
Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield, West Yorkshire

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) is campaigning to save one of the oldest surviving buildings on the Bretton Estate and transform it into a gallery space. The 270-year-old YSP Chapel is in an urgent state of repair and must be restored soon, in order to keep it open to the public. The Park’s fundraisers have secured financial support from English Heritage, Country Houses Foundation, The Wolfson Foundation and The Pilgrim Trust but are £100,000 short of the £500,000 needed to complete the full restoration plan. They are now asking visitors and supporters to give whatever they can to help reach the total.

Andy Carver, Director of Development at YSP said: “At a time when public funding is becoming increasingly scarce, we depend on the people and organisations that love YSP to give us their financial support. Restoring the chapel is an important and exciting project for us; it will mean that we can keep this historic building open for future generations to enjoy and allow us to programme new exhibitions of sculpture in the beautiful, tranquil space. At the moment, the conditions in the chapel aren’t suitable for some types of art works and structurally it is deteriorating quite badly. The restoration will bring the building back to its former glory and give us a unique and versatile space for exhibitions and events.”

Built in 1744 by Sir William Wentworth, the Georgian sandstone chapel is a historically important part of the Bretton Estate. Nestled within the YSP Country Park, the Grade II* listed building was at the heart of life on the estate during the 18th and 19th centuries. Renovation plans include replacing the roof, making extensive structural repairs and installing heating. An improved path from YSP Centre and disabled access to the building is also in the pipeline. (more…)

Visiting the Anna Maria Garthwaite House, Spitalfields

Posted in on site by Editor on April 12, 2013

I earlier noted the Huguenots of Spitalfields Festival taking place now in London (8-21 April), but Alicia Weisberg-Roberts usefully draws our attention to this gem, the Anna Maria Garthwaite House, by Christ Church, which will be open for visits on Tuesday, 16 April, in conjunction with the festival (the celebration is occasioned by the 250th anniversary of Garthwaite’s death). Photographs of the interior are available at Spitalfields Life, an amazing blog generally. For details and tickets see the Huguenots of Spitalfields Festival.

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

From Spitalfields Life:

IMG_6907Anna Maria Garthwaite, the most celebrated texile designer of the eighteenth century, bought this house in Spitalfields when she was forty years old  in 1728, just five years after it was built. Its purchase reflected the success she had already achieved but, living here at the very heart of the silk industry, she produced over one thousand patterns for damasks and brocades during the next thirty-five years.

The first owner of the house was a glover who used the ground floor as a shop with customers entering through the door upon the right, while the door on the left gave access to the rooms above where the family lived. For Anna Maria Garthwaite, the ground floor may also have been used to receive clients who would be led up to the first floor where commissions could be discussed and deals done. The corner room on the second floor receives the best light, uninterrupted by the surrounding buildings, and this is likely to have been the workroom, most suited to the creation of her superlative designs painted in watercolours – of which nearly nine hundred
are preserved today at the Victoria & Albert Museum. . . .

Keep reading here»

This Week in Cleveland

Posted in on site by Editor on April 1, 2013

From the Editor

For those of you who will be in Cleveland this week for ASECS, these two items might be of interest: The Dunham Tavern Museum and Mitsuko Uchida’s performance of Mozart with the Cleveland Orchestra.

Screen shot 2013-03-31 at 9.34.33 PM

Dunham Tavern, Cleveland, Ohio (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Admittedly, I’m an easy sell for house museums. Built in 1824, the Dunham House is Cleveland’s oldest building. Rufus and Jane Pratt Dunham arrived in 1819 from Massachusetts, farming fourteen acres in the Western Reserve (previously known as ‘New Connecticut’, the region had been claimed by Connecticut as early as 1662 and finally turned over to the Connecticut Land Company only in 1800). Positioned on a stagecoach route, the house also functioned as a tavern during the middle decades of the nineteenth century. As for the history of the museum, it’s entirely typical of this sort of site: preservation plans and renovations took place in the 1930s; it became a Cleveland Landmark in 1973 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. It seems to be open only Wednesday and Sunday afternoons.

Richard Avedon

Richard Avedon, Mitsuko Uchida

British pianist and conductor Mitsuko Uchida has garnered an impressive array of critical recognition within the past few years: Dame Commander of the British Empire, an honorary doctorate from the University of Oxford, and a Grammy award. It’s especially fitting to hear her in Cleveland, for she served as artist-in-residence with the city’s Orchestra from 2002 to 2007, and her 2011 Grammy came in connection with her performance of Mozart also in Cleveland. She performs Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major, K453; Divertimento in B-flat major, K137; and Piano Concerto No. 25 in C major, K503 — April 4-6, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings at 8:00.

Setting Les Misérables

Posted in on site by Editor on January 10, 2013

As some of you may have noticed, it’s eighteenth-century Greenwich that stands in for nineteenth-century Paris in Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables. And the elephant also returns us to the XVIIIe siècle; see the 24 May 2011 posting from the ‘Lost Paris’ series of the blog, Culture & Stuff). Thanks to Jennifer Germann for the suggestion. -CH

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

From Architectural Digest:

Cathy Whitlock, “The Sets of Les Misérables,” Architectural Digest
Through dramatic set design and a pitch-perfect cast, the legendary story of a nation in turmoil comes to vivid new life in Hollywood’s adaptation

Greenwich Les Mis. . . Academy Award–winning director Tom Hooper and production designer Eve Stewart collaborate for the fourth time, having also worked together on the visually stunning and award-winning The King’s Speech, among other productions. In Les Mis, the duo translate the environs of the book, which include majestic French mountain ridges and the bleak Parisian streets of 1832, in all their glory via London’s Pinewood Studios in a shoot that lasted just 12 weeks . . .

The stately grounds of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England, were transformed into the Place de la Bastille, the square where the Bastille prison stood. Originally conceived by Napoléon as a symbol of victory, the 40-foot-tall elephant is front and center at French commander Jean Maximilien Lamarque’s funeral procession and and the subsequent student uprising. Producer Cameron Mackintosh was so fond of the pachyderm that after production he had it moved it to his home in England. . . .

Imperial Apartments at the Correr Museum Restored

Posted in museums, on site by Editor on December 28, 2012

This article by Gildas le Roux from the AFP appeared on Sunday, 16 December 2012 at ArtDaily:


Piazza San Marco with View of Museo Correr
(Photo March 2007 by Andrew Balet, Wikimedia Commons)

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

After a century of neglect, a magnificent palace built by Napoleon in Venice has re-opened its doors to the public on the island city’s famous St Mark’s Square thanks to a French restoration effort. The reasons for the long abandonment are easily explained — Venice is not Napoleon’s biggest fan. Nor do canal residents have fond memories of the Royal Palace’s most famous resident — 19th-century Austrian empress Elisabeth or ‘Sisi’ — a symbol of the city’s imperial domination. “In popular consciousness, Napoleon is primarily the man who ended the glorious republic of Venice (697-1797),” said Andrea Bellieni, director of the Correr Museum which oversees the Royal Palace.

A group called French Committee for Safeguarding Venice [Comité Français de Sauvegarde de Venise in partnership with the Napoleon Foundation] has financed the restoration of this sumptuous palace, which was in a pitiful state. With a budget of 2.5 million euros ($3.2 million) from private donors, the committee has restored the main halls and the empress’s apartment to its old-time splendour when a 19-year-old ‘Sisi’ and her husband, Emperor Franz Joseph I, stayed there. The furniture decorating the restored chambers is in the same neo-Baroque style popular at the imperial court in Vienna at the time. The empress’s boudoir is a highlight with its images of feminine allegories and flowery garlands.

Napoleon proclaimed himself King of Italy in 1805 and ordered the palace built in 1807 in front of the iconic St Mark’s Basilica after visiting Venice, but never actually lived in it. Built in six years and decorated by French-inspired painter Giuseppe Borsato, the structure is now the only neo-Classical royal palace in Italy. . .

The full article is available here»

Jewish High Holidays

Posted in anniversaries, on site by Editor on September 25, 2012

On Site

With Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) beginning this evening at sundown, it seems like an appropriate time to note an exceptional piece of eighteenth-century English architecture: the Bevis Marks Synagogue in London, the oldest synagogue in Britain, with a history of continuous worship stretching back 311 years. I was one of 2000 fortunate people to visit the building on Sunday in conjunction with London’s annual Open House weekend.

Joseph Avis, The Bevis Marks Synagogue in London, 1701

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

A short walk from the Aldgate Tube stop and historically just north of the actual gateway, the Bevis Marks Synagogue was completed in September 1701, the work of Joseph Avis, a Quaker carpenter who had previously worked with Christopher Wren on St Bride’s in Fleet Street. With a few exceptions, the interior and furnishings of this Grade I listed building are original. Some of the benches, in fact, date to the middle of the seventeenth century, when the community met in the upper floor of a house in nearby Creechurch Lane.

It was under Cromwell that these Spanish and Portuguese Jews–many of whom had strong ties to Amsterdam–were legally recognized and allowed to practice their faith openly (in addition to the right to a space for worship, they were granted permission to establish a cemetery). Services today are carried out almost entirely in Hebrew, though there are two exceptions: announcement are made in Portuguese, and prayers for the Queen are said in English.

Architecturally, the building relates to contemporary dissenting traditions and corresponds to the rebuilding of the fifty-one churches by Wren. One of the points I took away from the visit was simply how easy and useful it would be to include the Bevis Marks Synagogue when teaching Wren and the reconstruction of London following the Great Fire. It would provide a physically tangible way to engage the history of Jews in England, looking both backward and forward. One could, for instance, address the arrival of Jews with William the Conqueror, the expulsion under Edward I in 1290, and the migration of Jews from the Iberian Peninsula after 1492. Looking forward into the eighteenth century, I would like to know more about The Board of Deputies of British Jews, which was formally established on the accession of George III to the throne in 1760. With the synagogue, the character and limits of religious tolerance in the period are nicely introduced.  As I’m really just thinking aloud here, I’m sure many of you who teach have already been doing
this and doing it well in your classes–so by all means feel free to chime in
with suggestions.

To all those keeping the fast, G’mar Tov.


On Site | Kladruby Abbey Church, Czech Republic

Posted in Member News, on site by Editor on August 19, 2012

Eighteenth-Century Encounters: Kladruby Abbey Church, Czech Republic
By Michael Yonan

Jan Blažej Santini-Aichl, Abbey Church of Kladruby,
near Stříbro, completed in 1726 (Photo by Michael Yonan)

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

For most eighteenth-century specialists, the phenomenon of the period’s Gothic revival architecture is principally understood as an English one. Less well known is existence of another eighteenth-century Gothic, this one Central European. I’m speaking of the series of so-called Czech ‘Gothic Baroque’ churches by the Prague-born architect Jan Blažej Santini-Aichl (1677­–1723). This summer I traveled to western Bohemia and, generously stewarded by art historian Dr. Martin Mádl, was able to visit one of the more distinctive of Santini-Aichl’s buildings: the abbey church of Kladruby, part of a complex of ecclesiastical buildings that make up a Benedictine cloister, located not far from the town of Stříbro.1

From a distance, the church doesn’t immediately reveal its eighteenth-century origins. Its height, the pinnacled columns, exterior buttresses, and of course ogive arches all suggest a medieval vintage. That is until one notices the centralized cupola, an element whose arrangement and form is not typically Gothic. Dislocations of style and date increase as one enters the church. As with many Gothic buildings, Kladruby has a basilican plan and employs architectural forms like pointed arches and ribbed vaulting. But few, if any, Gothic churches look quite like this. The ribbed vaults zigzag into stylized lilies, the coat-of-arms of the local abbots. The interior’s pink and pistachio green tonalities, its original hues, are more reminiscent of the rococo than of medieval churches. And the illusionistically painted dome, replete with saints tumbling through the heavens and an oculus representing the Holy Spirit, recalls seventeenth-century Roman predecessors more than Chartres or Ulm. Kladruby reveals itself to be a surprising synthesis of late baroque and medieval architectural styles.

What could possibly explain this? As an American art historian trained to see eighteenth-century art through specific narratives, I’ll confess that this building floored me. To understand it, it helps to know the monastery’s history and the unique culture of Czech religious communities. A church was first consecrated here in 1233, not long after the abbey’s formation. In subsequent centuries the community’s fortunes waxed and waned; it fell into disarray in the sixteenth century and was conquered and plundered during the Thirty Years’ War. Repairs to its buildings began in 1653, but in 1712 the presiding abbot, Maurus Fintzguth, commissioned Santini-Aichl to build an entirely new church, the one we see today, which was completed in 1726.

‘New’ is not quite the right term, however. Most of what one encounters at Kladruby dates, in fact, from the eighteenth century, but scholars have speculated that somewhere within the walls are fragments of the original church. In constructing this new building out of and on top of its predecessor, Santini-Aichl described his architectural process as one of renovation. He did more than simply reconstruct an old church or build a new one on its site, but rather constructed something that simultaneously evokes its predecessor, incorporates it, and improves upon it. In this respect, Santini-Aichl’s building maintains and visualizes the monastery’s medieval history, which Fintzguth viewed as a Golden Age, even as it celebrates its modern resilience.

Some scholars have suggested that Kladruby is essentially an eighteenth-century building wrapped in Gothic skin, and indeed given what we know about the eighteenth-century love of surfaces, architectural and otherwise, this would seem to fit. But a recent article by the Czech art historian Pavel Kalina claims that the situation is actually more complicated.2 The interior ribbed vaulting is not used in a manner true to Gothic structural techniques, for sure, but neither is it entirely decorative. It’s somewhere in between, partially structural and partially ornamental, and in achieving this balance it combines medieval and eighteenth-century architectural knowledge. In this synthesis of old and new, Kalina argues, lie traces of dialogues between learned abbots and skilled artisans, as well as existential tensions between the abbey’s past and its present.

Kladruby isn’t an isolated example of such a synthesis. Santini-Aichl constructed a similar Gothic-baroque church at Sedlec, a village near the city of Kutná Hora, and he designed particularly daring synthesis of classical and Gothic architectural forms for the Pilgrimage Chapel of St. John Nepomuk at Žďár nad Sazavou. All are easily reachable as day trips from Prague.

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊


1. Three different 360-degree views of the church and its surroundings are available at 360globe.net. Martin Mádl’s wife, Claire Mádl, is editor and co-founder of the journal Cornova, the ‘Eighteenth-Century Studies’ of the Czech Republic.

2. Pavel Kalina, “In opere gotico unicus: The Hybrid Architecture of Jan Blažej Santini-Aichl and Patterns of Memory in Post-Reformation Bohemia,” Umění 58 (2010): 42–56.

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

President of HECAA, Michael Yonan is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Missouri-Columbia. His book, Empress Maria Theresa and the Politics of Habsburg Imperial Art, appeared in 2011 from Penn State University Press.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,092 other followers