Reading Unopened Letters via X-ray Microtomography

Posted in journal articles by Editor on March 3, 2021

An unopened letter, dated 31 July 1697, from Jacques Sennacques to his cousin Pierre Le Pers, virtually unfolded and read for the first time
(Photograph: Unlocking History Research Group)

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

The latest from the Unlocking History Research Group, as published in Nature Communications:

Jana Dambrogio, Amanda Ghassaei, Daniel Starza Smith, Holly Jackson, Martin L. Demaine, Graham Davis, David Mills, Rebekah Ahrendt, Nadine Akkerman, David van der Linden, and Erik D. Demaine, “Unlocking History through Automated Virtual Unfolding of Sealed Documents Imaged by X-ray Microtomography,” Nature Communications 12 (2 March 2021), article number 1184.

Abstract: Computational flattening algorithms have been successfully applied to X-ray microtomography scans of damaged historical documents, but have so far been limited to scrolls, books, and documents with one or two folds. The challenge tackled here is to reconstruct the intricate folds, tucks, and slits of unopened letters secured shut with ‘letterlocking’, a practice—systematized in this paper—which underpinned global communications security for centuries before modern envelopes. We present a fully automatic computational approach for reconstructing and virtually unfolding volumetric scans of a locked letter with complex internal folding, producing legible images of the letter’s contents and crease pattern while preserving letterlocking evidence. We demonstrate our method on four letterpackets from Renaissance Europe, reading the contents of one unopened letter for the first time. Using the results of virtual unfolding, we situate our findings within a novel letterlocking categorization chart based on our study of 250,000 historical letters.

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

New outlets—including The Art Newspaper, CNN, and The New York Timeshave taken up the story. Here’s coverage from The Guardian:

In a world first for the study of historic documents, an unopened letter written in 1697 has been read by researchers without breaking the seal. The letter, dated 31 July 1697 and sent from French merchant Jacques Sennacques in Lille to his cousin Pierre Le Pers in The Hague, had been closed using ‘letterlocking‘, a process in which the letter is folded to become its own envelope, in effect locking it to keep it private. It is part of a collection of some 2,600 undelivered letters sent from all over Europe to The Hague between 1689 and 1706, 600 of which have never been opened.

The international team of researchers from universities including MIT, King’s College London, Queen Mary University London, Utrecht and Leiden, worked with X-ray microtomography scans of the letter, which use X-rays to see inside the document, slice by slice, and create a 3D image. They applied computational flattening algorithms to the scans to enable them to virtually unfold the letter without ever opening it, and discovered that Sennacques had been asking his cousin for a certified copy of a death notice of one Daniel Le Pers.

“It has been a few weeks since I wrote to you in order to ask you to have drawn up for me a legalised excerpt of the death of sieur Daniel Le Pers, which took place in The Hague in the month of December 1695, without hearing from you,” runs the letter. “I am writing to you a second time in order to remind you of the pains that I took on your behalf. It is important to me to have this extract & you will do me a great pleasure to procure it for me & to send me at the same time news of your health & of all the family.” . . . [as translated by the research team.]

The full article, by Alison Flood (2 March 2021), is available here»

Online Talk | Fortune and Folly in 1720

Posted in books, exhibitions, lectures (to attend) by Editor on March 2, 2021

Wednesday evening on Zoom, from the BGC:

Nina Dubin, Meredith Martin, and Madeleine Viljoen | Fortune and Folly in 1720: Picturing the World’s First Bubble Economy
Françoise and Georges Selz Lectures on Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century French Decorative Arts and Culture
Online, Bard Graduate Center, New York, 3 March 2021, 6.00pm

This talk will explore The New York Public Library’s upcoming exhibition Fortune and Folly in 1720 (Fall 2021) and its accompanying publication Meltdown! Picturing the World’s First Bubble Economy (Harvey Miller/Brepols, 2020). Co-curated and co-authored by Dubin, Martin, and Viljoen, they tell two parallel stories: one of the spectacular rise and fall of the first bubble economy, and another of the enterprising art industry that chronicled its collapse. The Mississippi and South Sea Bubbles, spawning the invention of French banknotes as well as joint-stock companies built on fantasies of New World trade, imposed on everyday Europeans a crash course in new financial products. In turn, a bubbling print market relentlessly caricatured the meltdown of 1720, offering viewers an entertaining primer on the otherwise bewildering realities of modern economic life. Three hundred years later, our current moment offers a uniquely fitting vantage point from which to reconsider the significance of the bubbles and of the artworks that channeled the fears and desires they unleashed.

The event will be live with automatic captions. It will be held via Zoom; a link will be circulated to registrants by 3pm on the day of the event.

Nina L. Dubin is an associate professor of Art History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Specializing in European art since 1700, she has published widely on the production of art within an economy of risk.
Meredith Martin is an associate professor of Art History at New York University and the Institute of Fine Arts. Specializing in European art of the long eighteenth century, she has published widely on gender and architectural patronage as well as maritime art, mobility, and exchange in the early modern world.
Madeleine C. Viljoen is Curator of Prints and the Spencer Collection at The New York Public Library. Responsible for the Library’s collection of prints and rare illustrated books, she has published widely on early modern printed images, with special attention to the goldsmith-engraver, the reproductive print, and ornament.

Exhibition | History in Motion: Tom Judd’s Subway Mural

Posted in exhibitions, on site, today in light of the 18th century by Editor on March 2, 2021

Installation photo of Tom Judd’s Portal to Discovery mural, 2020, produced for Philadelphia’s 5th Street-Independence Hall Station on the Market-Frankford Line.

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

The Woodmere Art Museum hosts a virtual opening reception with the artist this evening (Tuesday) at 7pm, ET:

History in Motion: Tom Judd’s Subway Mural
Woodmere Art Museum, Philadelphia, 27 February — 13 June 2021

In connection with the reconstruction of Philadelphia’s 5th Street-Independence Hall Station on the Market-Frankford Line, and as part of SEPTA’s Art in Transit program, artist Tom Judd was selected to create a permanent installation for the station. Titled Portal to Discovery, Judd’s mural on the eastbound and westbound platforms presents figures who contributed to the founding of the United States as well as those who fought for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for all. The mural includes portraits of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Philadelphians such as Frances E. W. Harper, one of the first African American women to be published in the United States, and Absalom Jones, an African American abolitionist and clergyman who founded the Free African Society with Richard Allen in 1787. Juxtaposed with these figures are familiar landscape views of Philadelphia, windows, doors, and other architectural elements of the city. The experience is one of a great historical dreamscape that poses questions and promotes civic dialogue.

The Museum’s exhibition includes preparatory studies for the mural as well as in-process photographs of the installation; the panels were fabricated by Ben Volta Studios and the installation was managed by James Shuster. The project was realized with help from graphic designer Wenlu Bao; David W. Seltzer, transit consultant and catalog producer; SEPTA; Burns Engineering, Inc.; Converse Winkler Architecture; and Marsha Moss, public art curator and consultant. The mural is an important addition to Philadelphia’s rich landscape of public art.

Judd grew up in Salt Lake City and attended the University of Utah from 1970 to 1972. He received his bachelor of fine arts degree in painting from the Philadelphia College of Art (now the University of the Arts). His work has been exhibited in museums and galleries across the United States, and is in the collections of numerous museums, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Birmingham Museum of Art, and Woodmere Art Museum. Judd works in a variety of media, including painting, collage, photography, and installation.

Exhibition | Treasures from the Gilbert Collection

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on March 1, 2021

Oval green snuffbox associated with Frederick the Great, ca. 1765, Berlin; chrysoprase, gold, hardstones, and foiled diamonds
(London: V&A, The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection)

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

Opening this week at Antwerp’s DIVA museum for diamonds, jewellery, and silver:

Masterpieces in Miniature: Treasures from the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection
DIVA, Antwerp, 5 March — 15 August 2021
Additional international venues to be announced

Curated by Alice Minter and Jessica Eddie

From March 5th to August 15th 2021, DIVA will host the touring exhibition Masterpieces in Miniature: Treasures from the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection, organised by the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London. This is the first time items from all categories of the Gilbert Collection will go on display on the European continent. Some objects, such as the sixteenth-century partridge cup, are exclusive to the Antwerp exhibition. Masterpieces in Miniature is an ode to Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert’s impressive legacy and a chance for the public to admire these treasures up close.

Visitors will make the acquaintance of Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert and come to understand their collecting habits, traveling with them in search of exceptional craftsmanship and beauty and encountering famous historical figures such as Catharine the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Queen Victoria. The showpieces include a snuffbox belonging to Frederick the Great of Prussia, made of chrysoprase, a rare gemstone mined in Silesia and set with hardstones and diamonds, the latter coloured by placing them over pale-pink, green, and lemon-coloured metal foils.

The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection is a homage to exquisitely crafted objects, many in precious metals and often small in scale. The Gilberts spent over forty years amassing their collection of nearly 1000 items of fine silverware, gold (snuff)boxes, enamels, and mosaics made in Europe between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries. Their passion for craftsmanship and beauty resulted in a collection that is unparalleled today.

Arthur (1913–2001) and Rosalinde Gilbert (1913–1995) made their first fortune in the fashion industry in London in the 1930s. They swapped London for their newly designed villa in Beverly Hills and set up a successful property development business in America. A second success story soon followed. Their search for ‘beautiful things’ to decorate their home soon developed into a passion for collecting. The couple travelled the world looking for mosaics and the very best gold, silver, and enamel objects.

The desire to share their collection with others by putting it on public display was of real importance to the couple. In the 1970s the collection went to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, before being transferred to Somerset House in London in 2000 and from there to its current home at the V&A. This is the first time items from all categories of the Gilbert Collection will go on display on the European continent. The collection will travel on from here to America and Asia.

Dries Otten (°1978) has been commissioned to design the set for Masterpieces in Miniature. The Antwerp-based interior architect, furniture and set designer is famous for his playful use of colour with historical references. He has already designed exhibition sets for the TextielMuseum, Bozar, and Texture.

Alice Minter, Curator of the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection, V&A
Jessica Eddie, Assistant Curator of the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection, V&A

Williamsburg Bray School Initiative Launched

Posted in on site, the 18th century in the news by Editor on February 27, 2021

Established in 1760, the Bray School educated enslaved and free Black children in Williamsburg, Virginia. This 1921 photo shows the front elevation of the building, subsequently the Dudley Digges House, in its original location on Prince George Street. The school operated in the building from 1760 until 1765. It is likely the oldest extant building in the United States dedicated to the education of Black children. (Earl Gregg Swem/2010 The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation).

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

Press release from Colonial Williamsburg:

A small, white building tucked away on the William & Mary campus once housed the Williamsburg Bray School, an 18th-century institution dedicated to the education of enslaved and free Black children, researchers have determined. Now, the university and Colonial Williamsburg are working together to ensure current and future generations learn about the complex history of what is likely the oldest extant building in the United States dedicated to the education of Black children—and the stories of those who were part of it. The new partnership calls for relocation of the Bray-Digges House to Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area, where it would become the 89th original structure restored by the foundation. It also establishes the Williamsburg Bray School Initiative, a joint venture of the university and foundation to use the site as a focal point for research, scholarship, and dialogue regarding the complicated story of race, religion, and education in Williamsburg and in America.

Dendrochronology analysis of the building’s wood framing in 2020 by Colonial Williamsburg researchers confirms that the structure at 524 Prince George St. once housed Williamsburg’s Bray School, an institution that educated many of the town’s Black children from 1760 to 1774. Suggested for establishment in Williamsburg by Benjamin Franklin, the Bray School’s mission was to impart Christian education to Black children and for students to accept enslavement as divinely ordained.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam was scheduled to join the Williamsburg community for a special event at 5pm Thursday commemorating the history of the Bray School, its rediscovery, and plans for site and interpretation. Due to COVID-19 guidelines, the event was not open to the general public to attend in person but was available virtually via live stream.

“It is hard to overstate the importance of this discovery, of the robust history that will be uncovered through this partnership between William & Mary and Colonial Williamsburg” said William & Mary President Katherine A. Rowe. “So much of our history as a nation has gone unrecorded—the history of African Americans, their oppression, and resistance. By studying the legacy of the Bray School students, we will uncover and illuminate some of the most important impacts of education in the story of America.”

Colonial Williamsburg’s initial work to restore and interpret the Bray School’s historic structure is possible in part thanks to a grant of $400,000 from the Gladys and Franklin Clark Foundation. Cliff Fleet, president and CEO of Colonial Williamsburg, said the project is a critical step toward fostering a broader understanding of Americans’ shared history. The grant from the Clark Foundation will allow Colonial Williamsburg to relocate the structure to the Historic Area, and additional funds will be raised to complete the restoration and interpretive work.

“Colonial Williamsburg and William & Mary’s partnership to research, restore, and interpret the original structure of the Bray School is critical to our ongoing work to uncover our common past and expand our understanding of America’s founding,” Fleet said. “We’re very grateful to the Clark Foundation, whose generous support makes this effort possible. We invite guests, the community, and the nation to join us as we continue to pursue and present a more complete story of all who lived in Williamsburg during the Revolutionary era.”

A Virginia Department of Historic Resources marker commemorating the school’s 18th-century location was unveiled at Brown Hall, a William & Mary residence hall, in early 2019, and Rowe noted that the new joint venture aligns with other William & Mary initiatives that address the institution’s historical involvement with slavery. Construction is to begin this year on Hearth: Memorial to the Enslaved, a monument dedicated to the enslaved individuals who labored at William & Mary, while the Lemon Project is a scholarly and educational initiative that investigates slavery and its legacies— and particularly William & Mary’s involvement in the practice. The Lemon Project takes its name from Lemon, an enslaved worker at William & Mary.

Jody Allen, the Robert Francis Engs Director of the Lemon Project, explained that the Bray School legacy has long been a part of the Lemon Project’s programming. Identification and engagement of descendants of Bray School scholars are among the priorities of the Williamsburg Bray School Initiative. Allen was recently appointed by Governor Northam to Virginia’s Commission to Study Slavery and Subsequent De Jure and De Facto Racial and Economic Discrimination. She said she expects the Bray School Initiative to allow scholars to follow more closely the intriguing line of evidence of a Bray School education having influence that is deep and wide among Williamsburg’s Black population.

“When we talk about the history of slavery and the history of the African American experience at William & Mary, we include the Bray School,” Allen said. “We believe the Bray School not only impacted the children who actually attended the school, but it impacted their descendants. We believe very strongly that they went on to share their knowledge with brothers, sisters, neighbors.”

William & Mary and Colonial Williamsburg are both neighbors, and frequent collaborators. The Bray School has been the object of numerous research initiatives focusing on archival as well as material-culture sources aimed at expanding the collective understanding of history, including the joint archaeological excavation of the historic Bray-Digges House site at Prince George and Boundary streets. Currently, the university and foundation are partners in work led by the city’s Historic First Baptist Church to research and interpret its first permanent site on South Nassau Street. The Bray School partnership will facilitate continued research and interpretation, and a deeper examination of a number of aspects of history through the lens of the Bray School, including perspectives from families whose children attended the school and the motivations of white slaveowners who sent them there.

“Our knowledge of history is not static; it continues to reveal itself through critical work like the investigation of the Bray-Digges House,” said Stephen Seals, a Colonial Williamsburg interpreter, program development manager and community liaison. “The Bray School represents another complex chapter in our nation’s story, and its restoration and interpretation will be critical to our community’s work to foster a more complete understanding of our shared history.”

Nicole Brown, an actor-interpreter and scholar who portrays Colonial Williamsburg Nation Builder Ann Wager, the white teacher at the Williamsburg Bray School, is also a graduate student in William & Mary’s American Studies Program. Currently, Brown is studying the history and impact of the Bray Schools in Williamsburg and beyond. Her work has taken her to Oxford’s Weston Library, where she dove into some 8,000 pages of records of the Associates of Dr. Bray, the London organization that established or tried to establish Bray Schools throughout the New World in Philadelphia, Nova Scotia, and the Bahamas. Brown’s work with Colonial Williamsburg is supported by the Mary and Donald Gonzales Field Experience Fund.

“This research gave me a great deal of insight into Ann Wager and her students. You can learn a great deal about the school based on the books she used at the school,” Brown said. “Quite frankly, you learn a lot about the pro-slavery ideology of the school when you see how many of the books are extremely rooted in systemic racism.”

Julie Richter, a lecturer in William & Mary’s Department of History and the director of the National Institute of American History & Democracy (NIAHD), itself a partnership of William & Mary and Colonial Williamsburg, said there are surviving student lists from only three years: 1762, 1765, and 1769.

“I’m eternally optimistic that there will be a few more lists that someone will find in time,” Richter said. “But right now, we have these three slices in time to try to tease out what students were at the school and who sent them.”

Brown and Richter said slaveowners had varied motivations for enrolling enslaved children. Literacy and math skill increased the auction value of any enslaved individual, while Brown pointed out that a Bray School education increased a person’s usefulness to the slaveowner, in particular one who operated a commercial establishment. Students likely also had varying intentions for use of their education, often in direct contradiction with their owners’, Brown noted.

The first dots establishing the Bray-Digges link were unearthed and connected by Terry Meyers, Chancellor Professor of English, Emeritus, at William & Mary. Meyers was reading a memoir by a local resident when he came across a reference to an 18th-century cottage that in 1930 had been moved down Prince George Street from the corner of Prince George and North Boundary streets. He visited Colonial Williamsburg’s John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, where there was a file on the building.

“From that, I was able to go back and look at what is now 524 Prince George St.,” Meyers said. “And I realized that if you look at that structure and erase the two additions on the right and the left and change the roofline from a Dutch colonial roof to a proper cottage roof, you actually do have an 18th-century cottage.”

Researchers led by Matt Webster, Colonial Williamsburg’s executive director of architectural preservation and research, discovered the reconfigured roof line that Meyers had noticed and a window sash that dates to the original construction date.

“Our analysis of the structure’s oldest elements conclusively places the timber’s harvest between the winter of 1759–60 and the spring of 1760, with the establishment of the Williamsburg Bray School in 1760,” Webster said. “That, combined with existing evidence of the Bray School’s historical location on Prince George Street, makes a compelling case that this is the original structure, and the building still has a great deal more to teach us.”

Meyers found that the Bray School operated in the Digges building from its 1760 founding until 1765, when the school was moved, possibly out to Capitol Landing Road.

Meyers noted that “education is almost invariably subversive.” Like Allen, he said there is evidence that students at the Bray School took their literacy skills back home and spread them around.

“If you are taught to read the Bible,” Meyers said. “you will be able to read other things. Once you educate people, they are better equipped to think critically.”

The timeframe for relocation of the Bray-Digges building is yet to be determined, and Colonial Williamsburg and William & Mary are considering a number of potential sites. The building most recently housed offices for William & Mary’s Department of Military Science and has been known as Prince George House.

Exhibition | Signed in Silk

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on February 26, 2021

From the press release (27 January 2021) for the exhibition:

Signed in Silk: Introducing a Sacred Jewish Textile
Saint Louis Art Museum, 19 March — 3 October 2021

Curated by Genevieve Cortinovis

The Saint Louis Art Museum presents Signed in Silk: Introducing a Sacred Jewish Textile, an exhibition highlighting an extraordinary 2019 acquisition, an 18th-century Italian Torah Ark Curtain, or parokhet. In 1755, in the port city of Ancona on the Adriatic coast, artist Simhah Viterbo (1739–1779) embroidered a dedicatory inscription across the lower edge of this magnificent textile. About 15 at the time, Viterbo was continuing in a long tradition of Italian Jewish women who created sumptuous textiles for their synagogues. Drawing upon the Museum’s rich collection of 17th- and 18th-century sacred and secular textiles, the exhibition considers how Viterbo created an object that reflected not only her Jewish heritage but also her own place and time, at the center of a major trading crossroads during an era of increasing cultural connectivity.

Simhah Viterbo, Torah Ark Curtain (Parokhet), 1755; silk, silk and metallic thread, vellum, metal paillettes, cotton thread, velvet, metallic fringe, linen backing; 87 × 66 inches (Saint Louis Art Museum, The Deane and Paul Shatz Endowment Fund for Judaica 2:2019).

In the 18th century, Ancona was a bustling port, home to many, including a prosperous and cosmopolitan community of Jewish traders. It was also a Papal State that since 1555 systematically had oppressed the Jewish residents, most of whom were forced into a few low-skill trades, and isolated them in ghettos, the term then used for prison neighborhoods. Paradoxically, this segregation of culturally diverse Jewish communities coincided with a flowering of Jewish ceremonial art, and this Torah Ark Curtain exemplifies the lavish sacred textiles made by Italian Jews during this period.

The prevailing decoration of 18th-century Italian Jewish textiles was floral; however, Viterbo’s design is unusual in its oversized, symmetrical central motif and narrow enclosed border. Its metal embroidery—scrolls, shells and diapered baskets—was consistent with the ornate Late Baroque and early Rococo ornament that embellished fashionable European dress, textiles and silver of the same moment. Yet the overall composition of the parokhet has more in common with a group of embroidered curtains made within the vast Ottoman Empire, which at that time included parts of the Balkans, North Africa and the Middle East.

Rare Hebrew books, printed in Venice and borrowed from Washington University’s Shimeon Brisman Collection, join with splendid examples of Italian, Greek, Ottoman, and Indian textiles to make Signed in Silk a celebration of Viterbo’s skill in having synthesized a range of decorative motifs, techniques, and forms. The exhibition explores how influences from Baroque garden design, Christian ecclesiastical embroidery, botanical naturalism, Ottoman prayer rugs, and Renaissance pattern books coalesced in the handwork of a young woman confined to a ghetto. Viterbo’s accomplished work nevertheless reveals her connection—through textiles—to networks of trade from London to the Levant.

Signed in Silk is curated by Genevieve Cortinovis, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Assistant Curator of Decorative Arts and Design.


Online Workshop | Analysis of Reverse Paintings on Glass

Posted in conferences (to attend), online learning by Editor on February 25, 2021

From ArtHist.net:

Possibilities and Limits of (Non-destructive) Analysis of Reverse Paintings on Glass
Online, Vitrocentre Romont, Switzerland, 12 March 2021
Organized by Sophie Wolf and Francesco Caruso

Registration due by 7 March 2021

As part of the SNSF research project on the travel and recipe book of Ulrich Daniel Metzger (1671), reverse glass paintings by the artist and by his close friend and master Gerhard Janssen are being examined. The investigation has two aims: first, a technical and material characterisation of the artworks and secondly, a comparison of the results with the recipes and painting instructions noted in the book. The analysis of materials and techniques, however, is associated with difficulties that are based on the technical specificity of the works, namely so-called ‘églomisé’. The paintings are backed with leaf metals and sometimes also protected by an additional cover of paper, which cannot always be easily removed. There is therefore no direct access to the painting layers. In this workshop, we would like to discuss the limits and possibilities of (non-destructive) analysis of reverse glass paintings and stained glass. Short presentations will give insights into the analytical practice of various research groups active in the field and provide the opportunity to discuss specific issues of analytical techniques and procedures.

The workshop is open to the public, but registration is required as the number of places is limited. If you are interested in participating as a listener, please register via email by 7 March 2021: sophie.wolf@vitrocentre.ch. The video-conference will start at 9.00am. Please start joining the meeting at 8.45am. We regret that latecomers cannot be admitted until a suitable break.


9.00  Sophie WOLF (Vitrocentre Romont), Welcome and introduction

9.15  Uta BERGMANN (Vitrocentre Romont), Das Reise- und Rezeptbuch Ulrich Daniel Metzgers

9.30  Francesco CARUSO (SIK-ISEA, Zürich) and Sophie WOLF (Vitrocentre Romont), Non-destructive study of early 18th-century reverse glass paintings

10.00  Simon STEGER (Staatliche Akademie der Künste, Stuttgart), Non-invasive spectroscopic investigation of cultural artefacts: shedding light on modern reverse glass paintings (1905–1955)

10.30  Break

11.00  Patrick DIETEMANN (Doerner Institut, München), Challenges and limits of (non-destructive) modern binding medium analysis

11.30  Katharina SCHMIDT-OTT (Swiss National Museum, Collection Centre, Affoltern a. Albis), Comparability of two XRF analyzers on sanguine in stained glass paintings by H. J. Güder (1630–1691)

12.00  Panel Discussion
• Patrick DIETEMANN (Doerner Institut, München)
• Susanne GREIFF (Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Mainz)
• Maite MAGUREGUI HERNANDO (Universidad del País Vasco, Bilbao)
• Simon STEGER (Staatliche Akademie der Künste, Stuttgart)

Sophie Wolf (Vitrocentre Romont), sophie.wolf@vitrocentre.ch
Francesco Caruso (Schweizerisches Institut für Kunstwissenschaft SIK-ISEA), francesco.caruso@sik-isea.ch

Exhibition | The Search for Ancient Ionia, 1764

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on February 24, 2021

William Pars, Temple of Poseidon at Sounion, 1764, pen and grey ink with watercolour and bodycolour and some gum arabic
(London: The British Museum)

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

From the Soane Museum:

The Romance of Ruins: The Search for Ancient Ionia, 1764
Sir John Soane’s Museum, London, 3 March – 11 July 2021

Curated by Ian Jenkins

Produced in collaboration with the British Museum, this exhibition showcases a series of powerful and poetic watercolours made on an expedition to discover the ruins of ancient Ionia (modern Turkey) in 1764. The expedition, funded by the Society of Dilettanti, included artist William Pars, antiquary Richard Chandler, and architect Nicholas Revett.

The beauty and fame of the Ionian cities—part of the Greek world from the 8th century BC and ruined in antiquity—lived on in the writings of ancient commentators such as Herodotus and Strabo. This exhibition focuses on the published accounts of the expedition, produced in lavish volumes funded by the Society of Dilettanti, and the evocative images by the brilliant young artist William Pars, placing them in dialogue with the collections and architecture of Sir John Soane, who deeply admired ancient Greek architecture. Pars’ drawings record the classical ruins encountered in Turkey and Greece, and also the living landscape–its flora and fauna, and the customs, manners and dress of the people, bringing to life extracts from Chandler’s diary account. These images represent Enlightenment themes of travel and discovery and embody melancholy reflections on the passing of the great age of antiquity and the reduction of its monuments. They capture the spirit of Edward Gibbon’s reflection on the fall of civilizations and in so doing they portray the romance of ruins.

This exhibition has been made possible thanks to the generosity of David and Molly Lowell Borthwick. The accompanying catalogue has been kindly supported by the Society of Dilettanti Charitable Trust.

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

Ian Jenkins, ed., The Romance of Ruins: The Search for Ancient Ionia, 1764 (London: Sir John Soane’s Museum, 2021), 240 pages, ISBN: 978-1999693244, £40.

The Romance of Ruins: The Search for Ancient Ionia, 1764 focuses on a series of highly finished watercolours by the brilliant young artist William Pars. These were based on sketches and drawings made on the spot during the Society of Dilettanti’s 1764 expedition to Ionia. This remarkable set of pictorial documents has never been fully published in spite of their beauty and cultural significance. The book includes an introduction by the exhibition’s curator, Ian Jenkins, Senior Curator at the British Museum; a series of essays by eminent scholars including Alastair Blanshard, J. Lesley Fitt, Jason M. Kelly, Philip Mansel, and Kim Sloan; and a catalogue of works in the exhibition.

Online Conference | Building an Engaged Art History

Posted in conferences (to attend), online learning by Editor on February 23, 2021

From ArtHist.net:

Building an Engaged Art History
Online, Case Western Reserve University and Indiana University IUPUI, 22–23 April 2021

Registration due by 1 March 2021

A virtual convening about public scholarship, civic engagement, and community-based practices in the study and teaching of art history and visual culture.

How can art historians honor ways of seeing and knowing that have been historically marginalized in the art worlds and the academy? How can we work in ways that serve communities beyond our institutions? How can we learn from the methods of engagement that are well-established in other disciplines? How can we build structures within our institutions that support this kind of work? Where are we now, and where do we go from here? Experienced scholars in the public humanities will share their perspectives on the methods, ethics, and value of engaged approaches. Through a series of facilitated conversations, participants will reflect on their own engaged work and create a plan for making engaged art history more robust and more feasible in our institutions and our communities. The symposium is free of charge for all. Please send any questions to the symposium organizers, Erin Benay (eeb50@case.edu) and Laura Holzman (HolzmanL@iu.edu). Click here to register by March 1.

T H U R S D A Y ,  2 2  A P R I L  2 0 2 1

10.00  Opening Remarks
Building a More Inclusive and Equitable Art History with Erin Benay (Case Western Reserve University) and Laura Holzman (Indiana University IUPUI)

10.30  Public Humanities, Public Art History
Panel Discussion with Susan Smulyan (Brown University), Renée Ater (Brown University), and Larry Zimmerman (Indiana University IUPUI)
Art history arguably lags behind other fields in the humanities, such as public history (which has an established professional organization and scholarly journal of the same name) with established publicly engaged trajectories. What can we learn from these disciplines about our own?

11.30  Lunch break

12.30  Discussion Session One: Toward an Engaged Art History
With Laura Holzman (Indiana University IUPUI)
Drawing first from disciplinary training and practice, participants will identify key values, awareness, skills, and abilities that can shape our engaged work.

1.30  Coffee break

2.00  Discussion Session Two: What Can Art History Learn from the Community?
With Erin Benay (Case Western Reserve University)
Building a more engaged art history means moving beyond classrooms and museums; this session asks what art history (and art historians) can learn from our community partners and experts outside the academy.

F R I D A Y ,  2 3  A P R I L  2 0 2 1

10.00  Opening Remarks
Erin Benay (Case Western Reserve University) and Laura Holzman (Indiana University IUPUI)

10.30  Discussion Session One: Museums and Methods
With Key Jo Lee (Cleveland Museum of Art)
How can engaged practices and the philosophies behind them help make art museums more equitable institutions and how can museums’ methods of sharing knowledge shape engaged research and teaching?

11.30  Lunch break

12.30  Discussion Session Two: Teaching with Engaged Art History
With Jennifer Borland and Louise Siddons (Oklahoma State University)
What is the place of engaged art history in our classrooms and curricula? We will consider philosophies of teaching and learning as well as our experiences with activities such as applied projects service learning, and structuring degree programs.

1.30  Coffee break

2.00  Discussion Session Three: Engaged Art History in the Academy
With Carolyn Butler-Palmer (University of Victoria), Cynthia Persinger (California University of Pennsylvania), and Azar Rejaie (University of Houston-Downtown)
In breakout sessions dedicated to issues such as tenure and promotion and academic publishing, we discuss how to evaluate excellence in engaged art history and how to navigate systems of power that may not yet include its actions in policy or practice.

3.30  Concluding Discussion: Synthesizing the Priorities for Engaged Art History
With Mary Price (Indiana University IUPUI)
Participants will identify next steps for building an engaged art history and produce a Directory of Engaged Art History practitioners.

New Book | American Furniture, 1650–1840

Posted in books by Editor on February 22, 2021

Distributed by Yale University Press:

Alexandra Alevizatos Kirtley, American Furniture, 1650–1840: Highlights from the Philadelphia Museum of Art (Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2021), 336 pages, ISBN: 978-0876332962, $50.

American Furniture, 1650–1840: Highlights from the Philadelphia Museum of Art is the first publication dedicated to one of the finest collections of its type in the country. Best known for furniture by artisans from Philadelphia and southeastern Pennsylvania, the museum’s collection includes significant examples from cities and regions farther afield. Interpretive texts for each work focus on design sources, showing how early American furniture participated in an international visual language. A vibrant local economy was bolstered by coastal trade bringing Caribbean mahogany and European imports that continued to influence local production. By the 1740s Philadelphia had developed a distinctive idiom and led the developing nation in style and aesthetics. This volume provides an important resource for scholars of American furniture, illuminates the cultural and mercantile life of the fledgling nation, and offers a lively introduction to the donors, curators, and personalities who have shaped the institution from its earliest days to the present.

Alexandra Alevizatos Kirtley is the Montgomery-Garvan Curator of American Decorative Arts at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.