Exhibition | Etruscan Enchantment

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on April 5, 2014

From Holkham Hall:

Etruscan Enchantment: From the Secrets of Holkham Hall to the Wonders of the British Museum
Seduzione Etrusca: Dai Segreti di Holkham Hall alle Meraviglie del British Museum
Museo dell’Accademia Etrusca e della Città di Cortona, Palazzo Casali, Cortona, 22 March — 31 July 2014



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2014 will see Holkham Hall’s largest international collaboration since the eighteenth century. From March to July, the MAEC (Museo dell’Accademia Etrusca e della Città di Cortona) in Cortona, Tuscany, will host an exhibition of sculpture, paintings, prints, drawings and manuscripts drawn from the Uffizi museums in Florence, the Vatican Museums, the British Museum in London, and Holkham Hall.

locandinaseduzioneetruscaThe exhibition, which will run from 22nd March to 31st July, centres on a moment of crucial importance in the history of archaeology and of Tuscany itself, that is the publication of Thomas Dempster’s De Etruria regali (On Royal Tuscany) in Florence in 1723 and 1726. The publication was entirely funded by the young Thomas Coke, the builder of Holkham Hall, and led to the foundation in 1727 of one of most important learned societies in Italy, the Accademia Etrusca. Since its beginnings, the Accademia has been housed in the medieval Palazzo Casali in Cortona, now the home of the MAEC itself.

Thomas Dempster (1579–1635) was an impoverished Scottish nobleman who taught at universities throughout Europe, and ended his career as Professor of Humanities in Bologna. Between 1616 and 1619, he compiled the De Etruria Regali, a monumental history of the Etruscan (broadly, Tuscan) people, the very first attempt to demonstrate the existence of a highly developed civilisation in Italy before the Romans. The work remained unpublished in Dempster’s lifetime, and survived in only one copy, in his own handwriting. This unique manuscript copy was purchased for Thomas Coke by his Grand Tour tutor-governor, Thomas Hobart, in July 1719, from the Florentine scholar Anton Maria Salvini, at a price of eleven guineas. It is still in the library at Holkham Hall, as MS 501.

Thomas Coke returned the manuscript to Florence and paid for the publication of work at a cost of over 2,000 Florentine scudi. Under the supervision of the antiquarian Senator Filippo Buonarotti, whom Coke and Hobart had visited several times while they were in Italy, a substantial programme of illustration was added to the printed edition. For the first time, a work of ancient history was based on the evidence of surviving artefacts and objects rather than on written sources, laying the foundations for modern archaeology. The printed volumes were dedicated to the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, whose dynasty was traced in the text back to the Etruscans themselves! The frontispiece to volume 2 is a portrait of Grand Duke Gian Gastone de’ Medici. He was the last of the line, and on his death in 1737, the family who had dominated Tuscany for centuries died out.

The importance of Coke’s role was only fully understood in 2007 with the discovery at Holkham by Dr Suzanne Reynolds of the accounts for the production process, documenting payments to the artists, engravers, and editors who worked on the project. These documents will be on display in the exhibition, along with the autograph manuscript of the text. Also on display will be the original drawings and copper plates for the illustrations which were discovered in the attics at Holkham by the 5th Earl of Leicester in 1964. The drawings were in the original leather wallet in which they had been sent back to England from Italy after publication.

Some three hundred years after Thomas Coke first arrived in Italy in November 1713, Holkham is also lending paintings, drawings and manuscripts that attest to his passion for Italian history and art. Highlights include Procaccini’s Tarquinius and Lucretia, paintings and drawings by Claude and Vanvitelli, and some of the most beautifully illuminated medieval manuscripts of ancient history from the Holkham Library.

-Dr Suzanne Reynolds (Curator of Manuscripts and Printed Books, Holkham Hall) September 2013

At Auction | Indian and Islamic Art at Bonhams

Posted in Art Market by Editor on April 5, 2014

From the Bonhams press release:

Bonhams Sale 21720 | Indian and Islamic Art
London, 8 April 2014


Lot 299: Painting from the Fraser Album of The Bullock-drawn Carriage of Prince Mirza Babur, Delhi, 1815–19

Bonhams will sell three stunning images from The Fraser Album, discovered amongst the papers of this Scottish family in 1979, at its next auction of Indian and Islamic art on April 8th in London. The Album consists of more than ninety watercolors of breathtaking quality, which provide an extraordinary portrait of life in and around Delhi in the early 19th century. This was an area which was relatively unknown to the British at that date, with Mughal control ceded to them only in 1803 and the Emperor nominally in power.

James Baillie Fraser (1783–1856) and his brother William (1784–1835) came from Inverness. William went to India aged 16 as a trainee political officer in the East India Company while James arrived a year later, taking a commercial position in Calcutta. James, a talented artist himself, published collections of views of the Himalayas and of Calcutta.

When James joined William in Delhi in 1815 the two brothers commissioned local artists to depict servants, tradesmen and figures from the irregular military units, some of which were employed by the British, including Gurkha soldiers and the colourfully-attired troopers of bodies such as Skinner’s Horse. More than one artist was employed on the paintings which go to make up the album. The best examples are usually attributed to Ghulam Ali Khan, but it is likely that the rest were produced by other members of his family. The works date between 1815 and 1820. The two lots in the present sale capture the richness of ceremonial life in Delhi, and are also representative of the British fascination with types of transport and servants which appears in other more typical examples of Company School painting.

The first image is of an elephant and driver, probably from the Mughal Emperor’s stable, with a hunting howdah equipped with a rifle, bows and a pistol, from Delhi or Northern India, 1815–19 (estimate £20,000–30,000).

The second Fraser Album image is of the bullock-drawn carriage of Prince Mirza Babur, Delhi or Northern India, 1815–19 (estimate £20,000–30,000). The inscriptions read: ‘The special chariot of the son of the spiritual preceptor of the horizons (Murshidzada-i afaq), Mirza Babur Bahadur’. The honorific title refers to Mirza Babur’s father, the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah II, in his role as a Sufi spiritual leader.

The third image is that of a cotton-carder at work, attributed to the artist Ghulam ‘Ali Khan (fl. 1817–55) Delhi, circa 1820 (estimate £20,000–30,000). This detailed and technically accurate painting shows a captured moment from daily life. The action depicted is in fact strictly referred to as ‘bowing’, running the taut string of the bow across the pile of fibers to fluff up the cotton.

Lot 292 A painting from the Impey Album, by the artist Bhawani Das: a Great Indian Fruit Bat, or Flying Fox (Pteropus giganteus) Calcutta, circa 1778-82

Lot 292: A painting by Bhawani Das from the Impey Album,
A Great Indian Fruit Bat, or Flying Fox (Pteropus giganteus),
Calcutta, ca 1778–82

Another important painting in this Bonhams sale of Indian and Islamic art is from the Impey Album, by the artist Bhawani Das: a Great Indian Fruit Bat, or Flying Fox (Pteropus giganteus) Calcutta, circa 1778–82. The Great Indian Fruit Bat, or Flying Fox, has a wingspan of 1.5 meters, well captured in this painting. This is a pen and ink, watercolor with gum arabic, heightened with bodycolour, on watermarked paper, inscribed at lower left In the Collection of Lady Impey at Calcutta/Painted by [in Persian in nasta’liq script, Bhawani Das] Native of Patna, (estimate £80,000–120,000).

Sir Elijah Impey was the East India Company’s Chief Justice of Bengal from 1774 to 1782. He was a well-known patron of Indian artists, but his wife, Mary, Lady Impey, who joined him in Calcutta in 1777, was particularly interested in the flora and fauna of the surrounding area, creating her own menagerie. She then commissioned studies of animals and plants from various artists from the nearby city of Patna, the most senior of whom were the Muslim Shaykh Zayn-al-Din, and the Hindus Ram Das and Bhawani Das, the painter of the present lot. The precision of these artists’ technique, which stemmed from the Mughal tradition, appealed to British patrons, and the technique and the subject-matter have become known as ‘Company School’. The series commissioned by Lady Impey (as well as others in a similar style by unknown artists) are particularly striking because of their large size, using sheets of English watermarked paper. There were 326 works in the original series, which were brought back to England with the Impeys in 1783, and were sold at Phillips (now Bonhams) in London in 1810.

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Note (added 10 April 2014) The painting of the great Indian fruit bat sold for £458,500, four times its presale estimate. More information is available here»


ed to sell for £80,000-£120,000, but

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