AGO Acquires Portrait of a Lady Holding an Orange Blossom

Posted in museums by Editor on March 3, 2020

Unknown artist, Portrait of a Lady, Three Quarter Length, Holding an Orange Tree Flower, mid-18th century, oil on canvas, 80 × 56 cm
(Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, purchase, 2020, 2019/2437)

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

Press release (25 February), from Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario:

If you’ve read about the AGO’s recent acquisitions, then you know it’s a top priority of ours to acquire dynamic and captivating works that will both strengthen and diversify our collection. With this in mind, we jumped at the opportunity to purchase the beauty you see pictured above. And what’s even more exciting is that it comes to us with a fascinating mystery to uncover.

Portrait of a Lady Holding an Orange Blossom is a striking and mysterious portrait that commands your attention. Its central figure is a young woman wearing a luxurious blue silk gown, woven with intricate lace trim. Around her neck and wrists are elegant pearls, which complement her bejewelled drop earrings. She is aware of her own radiance, smizing with piercing brown eyes and regal posture, clasping the front of her gown while presenting an orange tree blossom.

Though the subject’s presence is arresting and undeniable, her identity, as well as that of the artist who painted her, are currently unknown. Scholars agree that Portrait of a Lady is from the mid-1700s, painted by a male artist who was born and trained in Europe. With so many unanswered questions, we are left wondering: Who was this painter? What is the location of this painting and what brought him there? Who was his stunning subject?

Very few portraits of Black people by European artists survive from this time period. The painting raises important questions about the subject’s status within the transatlantic slave trade. While her opulent clothing and the mere existence of the portrait suggest that she was a free woman, her ancestors and even one of her parents may have been enslaved.

We continue to do research to find out more about her story. In the meantime, the presence of this figure in the European galleries reminds us that history is complex and diverse, composed of countless stories told from many perspectives. For the AGO, this acquisition is an important step toward acknowledging the rich and vital presence of people of colour in the history of Europe and its art. Portrait of a Lady Holding an Orange Blossom is currently on view on Level 1 in Frank P. Wood Gallery (Gallery 123).

New Book | Collecting and Empires

Posted in books by Editor on March 3, 2020

From Brepols:

Maia Wellington Gahtan and Eva-Maria Troelenberg, eds., Collecting and Empires: An Historical and Global Perspective (Turnhout: Harvey Miller Publishers, 2019), 404 pages, ISBN: 978-1909400634, 125€ / $156.

The comparative historical investigation of imperialism through the lens of collecting practices, museum archetypes, and museums proper helps shape our understanding of contemporary aesthetics and diversity management as well as helps identify what is imperial about our own approaches to material culture.

The creation and dissolution of empires has been a constant feature of human history from ancient times through the present day. Establishing new identities and new power relationships, empires also irrevocably altered social structures and the material culture on which those social structures were partly based. The political activities of empires are materially reflected in the movement of objects from periphery to center (and vice versa) and in the formation and display of collections which represent the potential for the production and the dissemination of knowledge. Imperial collecting practices tell stories that are complementary to and go beyond the classical sources of official history, the statistics of social history and even the narratives of collective or individual oral history. Building on previous work on European and Colonial object histories, this collection of essays—for the first time—approaches the subject of collecting and empires from a global and inclusive comparative perspective by addressing selection of the greatest empires the world has known from Han China to Hellenistic Greece to Aztec Mexico to the Third Reich.


• Collection and Power in the Near Eastern World — Alain Schnapp
• The Biopolitics of Collecting: Empires of Mesopotamia — Zainab Bahrani
• Princely Treasures and Imperial Expansion in Western Han China (second/first century BC) — Michèle Pirazzoli-t’Serstevens
• Collecting like Caesar: The Pornography and Paideia of Amassing Artefacts in and after the Roman Empire — Caroline Vout
• From a Culture of the Intimate to a Culture of the Remote. A Latin Epigram Collection between Two Universal Powers: Papal Rome and the Holy Roman Empire — Nadia Cannata and Maia Wellington Gahtan
• The Mexica Empire: Memory, Identity, and Collectionism — Enrique Florescano
• Jahangir’s Hazelnut and Shah Jahan’s Chini Khana: The Collections of the Mughal Emperors — Ebba Koch
• Global Aspects of Habsburg Imperial Collecting — Thomas Da Costa Kaufmann
• Collecting in the Dutch Colonial Empire, Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries — Michael North
• The Musée Napoléon as an Imperial Louvre — Dominique Poulot
• The Object Flows of Empire: Cross-Cultural Collecting in Early Colonial India — Tapati Guha-Thakurta
• The Other Victoria and Albert Museum: Royal Souvenirs, Victorian Science and the Itineraries of Empire at the Swiss Cottage Museum, Osborne House — Ruth B. Phillips
• The (Still)Birth of the Ottoman ‘Museum’: A Critical Reassessment — Edhem Eldem
• The Ruin and Restoration of the Russian Art Empire — Katia Dianina
• Collecting and the ‘Visual Evidence of Events’: Exemplary Reflections on Berlin between the Imperial and Post-Imperial Age — Eva Maria Troelenberg
• Looted Art, Booty Art, ‘Degenerate Art’: Aspects of Art Collecting in the Third Reich — Christoph Zuschlag
• The (De)Colonized Object: Museums and the Other in France since 1960 — Daniel J. Sherman
• Signs of Empire: Islamic Art Museums from European Imperialism to the Global Empire of Capital — Wendy Shaw
• Afterword: The Imperial Style of Collecting — Krzysztof Pomian

%d bloggers like this: