From the ‘Journal of the History of Collections’ March 2013

Posted in journal articles by Editor on March 10, 2013

The eighteenth century in the March 2013 issue of the Journal of the History of Collections:


Linda Bauer and Nello Barbieri, “Forming a Collection of Paintings in Late Baroque Siena,” Journal of the History of Collections 25 (2013): 45-57.

1.coverBy the time of his death in 1727, the Cavaliere Marcello Biringucci possessed some 600 paintings. A group of unpublished documents, mainly forty-two sheets in the Archivio di Stato in Siena offers unusual insight into this Sienese nobleman’s collecting activities. The papers – memoranda, lists, invoices, orders for payment, receipts, accounts of expenses – many in the Cavaliere’s own hand, illustrate the range of sources he drew upon, not only geographical but those in the secondary art market. He employed agents, purchased from the estates of other collectors, acquired art at auctions, and even redeemed the pawn of a debtor. The documents include the names of artists – many well known – with prices or values for some works, and by reference to the largely unpublished inventory of his estate, give some indication of which works in the documents Biringucci acquired and how his taste conformed to the prevailing trends of the period. Online appendices to the paper, at http://www.jhc.oxfordjournals.org, reproduce the 1727 inventory, working papers, and a selection of letters.

Ellen Adams, “Shaping, Collecting and Displaying Medicine and Architecture: A Comparison of the Hunterian and Soane Museums,” Journal of the History of Collections 25 (2013): 59-75.

Collections played a critical role as teaching tools for particular disciplinary doctrines in Enlightenment Britain, including medicine and architecture. The two protagonists examined here are the architect Sir John Soane and surgeon John Hunter, whose museums now face one another across Lincoln’s Inn Fields in central London. Skeletons, body parts and artistic models illustrated and explained the workings of the body, while architectural pieces and casts, together with interior design and furnishings, supplied inspiration for architects. These collections dissect, respectively, bodies and buildings in order to build new schools of thought. Hunter’s and Soane’s original house museums were both designed to promote particular disciplinary practices and to impress polite society, through various kinds of representations and methods. They differ, however, in the use of the classical tradition. Hunter strode forwards, leaving this legacy behind, while Soane stood Janus-like, interweaving past and present into a multi-layered narrative.

Elena Dmitrieva, “On the Formation of the Collection of Gem Impressions in the State Hermitage Museum,” Journal of the History of Collections 25 (2013): 77-85.

This article deals with the history of the State Hermitage Museum’s collection of gem casts [initiated in the eighteenth century by Catherine the Great}, with a focus on the dactyliotheca stored in the Department of Classical Antiquity containing over 25,000 pieces and currently kept in storage. This collection of plaster impressions has never been displayed to the public and its contents have not yet been published. Nevertheless, it forms a unique example of a collection of casts made from cameos and intaglios, both antique and modern. It is important in a number of ways, including its usefulness in studying the evolution of engraving techniques and its value in contributing to the repertoire of images encountered on gems. It is also an important resource for the study of gems that have not survived in original form to present day.


Christian Tico Seifert, Review of Christien Melzer, Von der Kunstkammer zum Kupferstich-Kabinett: Zur Frühgeschichte des Graphiksammelns in Dresden, 1560-1738 (Zurich: Georg Olms Verlag, 2010), 821 pages, ISBN: 978-3487143460, €75, Journal of the History of Collections 25 (2013): 140-41.

Melzer’s book is a major publication on the history of collecting prints and drawings in Central Europe. The results of her study, a Ph.D. dissertation written under the supervision of Bruno Klein (Dresden) and Michel Hochmann (Paris), go far beyond tracing the history of the Dresdner Kupferstich-Kabinett (Print Room) from the sixteenth to the mid-eighteenth centuries. She combines thorough research on a huge amount of graphic art, treatises and archival material (much of it hitherto unpublished) with theoretical reflection on collecting and the development of classifications and display of collections, a field that has received enormous attention over the past two decades. . .

Mia Jackson, Review of Abigail Harrison Moore, Fraud, Fakery and False Business: Rethinking the Shrager v. Dighton ‘Old Furniture Case’ (London and New York, Continuum, 2011), 224 pages, ISBN: 978-1441115751, £65, Journal of the History of Collections 25 (2013): 143-44.

Abigail Harrison Moore weaves together a rich variety of sources in this account of the infamous ‘Old Furniture Case’, which preoccupied the British media and antiques trade in 1923. Adolph Shrager, a Jewish immigrant from Germany, brought a case of fraud against a prominent London firm of antique furniture dealers, Dighton & Co., in regard to a large quantity of furniture purchased from them between 1919 and 1921. In these two years, Shrager bought over 500 pieces to furnish his new house in Kent. The pieces were largely purported to be English eighteenth-century, and he spent in excess of £111,000. Shrager ran into financial difficulty and ill-health in 1921, and, unable to settle his account with Dighton, who were also feeling the pinch, decided to sell some of his burgeoning collection. The first suspicion that all was not as it might have appeared was raised by Dighton’s pessimism in reply to Mrs Shrager’s suggestion that they sell at Christie’s a suite of furniture for which Mr Shrager had paid £3,000 cash. ‘There is little chance of selling your suite of Chippendale furniture’, came the reply, ‘as there is practically no business’. Shrager called in an expert, (later, and under duress, revealed to be Frederick Litchfield), to advise him on which pieces he could sell ‘so as not to spoil the collection’, and received the devastating judgement that ‘some ninety-eight or ninety-nine percent of them could not be described as genuine antique pieces of furniture of the highest class’. . .

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