Exhibition | The Art of the Site: Building and Demolishing

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on December 5, 2018

Now on view at the Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine:

The Art of the Site: Building and Demolishing from the 16th to the 21th Century
Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine, Paris, 9 November 2018 — 11 March 2019

Curated by Valérie Nègre and Marie-Hélène Contal

The exhibition juxtaposes different viewpoints, bringing together a collection of works and documents produced by artists, journalists, and amateurs, as well as those who work in situ: engineers, architects, contractors, and—what is rarer—labourers, through votive offerings or masterpieces produced by the Compagnons charpentiers des Devoirs du Tour de France. The exhibition ends with the statements of three contemporary architect-engineers: Patrick Bouchain, Marc Mimram, and Martin Rauch, for whom the building site is ever increasingly the space where architecture meets complexity, inventiveness and the aspirations of the modern-day world.

As the result of close collaboration between specialists of art and specialists of techniques, the exhibition offers a diverse interpretation of the theme: it casts a light on the technical dimension, as well as the social, political, and artistic dimensions. The path begins with what you would expect to find on a site: construction processes, machines, and men at work. It then highlights the political and social issues about the place that is being built. Even though the site is a highly technical area, it is also a theatre for those in charge, who like to show themselves there, and for the labourers, who are sometimes viewed as oppressed masses, sometimes viewed as heroes.

L’Art du chantier: Construire et démolir du 16e au 21e siècle (Paris, Snoeck, 2018), 283 pages, ISBN: 978-9461614728, 42€.

Print Quarterly, December 2018

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions, journal articles, reviews by Editor on December 3, 2018

The eighteenth century in the current issue of Print Quarterly:

Print Quarterly 35.4 (December 2018) . . .

François Vivares after Samuel Wale, Trade Card of Henry Scott, Gardener and Fruitseller, Weybridge, Surrey, 1754, etching and engraving, 281 × 211 mm (London: The British Museum).


• Bryony Bartlett-Rawlings, “Jonathan Richardson (1667–1745) as Etcher,” pp. 392–406.
On the basis of the 1772 auction catalogue for the sale of Jonathan Richardson Jr’s collection, the article sheds light on Richardson’s activity as a printmaker, his working method, and intended audience. By quoting contemporary correspondence by and on the artist, the article also places Richardson’s etchings within the context of his life and work.

• Martin Hopkinson, “Gardeners’ Trade Cards by William Kilburn and François Vivares,” pp. 420–26.
Deservedly famous for his outstanding textile designs and illustrations to William Curtis’s Flora Londinensis, Kilburn also etched a trade card for the gardener Thomas Greening, an image of great botanical precision. A comparison is drawn with two elaborate trade cards for gardeners by François Vivares.

N O T E S  A N D  R E V I E W S

• Jean-Gérald Castex, Review of the exhibition catalogue, A Kingdom of Images: French Prints in the Age of Louis XIV, 1660–1715 (Getty Research Institute, 2015; and Bibliothèque National de France, 2015–16), pp. 430–32.

• An Van Camp, Review of Ad Stijnman and Simon Turner, ed., The New Hollstein Dutch & Flemish Etchings, Engravings, and Woodcuts, 1450–1700: Johannes Teyler and Dutch Colour Prints, parts 1–4 (Sound and Vision Publishers, 2017), pp. 432–34.

• Ger Luijten, Review of Nico Boerma, Aernout Borms, Alfons Thijs, and Jo Thijssen, eds., Kinderprenten, Volksprenten, Centsprenten, Schoolprenten: Populaire grafiek in de Nederlanden 1650–1950 (Uitgeverij Vantilt, 2014), p. 434.
“At more than a thousand pages,” this volume “is a reference work that deserves a place in any library striving to cover the history of printmaking … Written and compiled by Dutch and Flemish specialists of popular prints over a period of some ten years, it provides a mine of information that is nowhere else to be found … The book has a useful summary in English and German.”

• Anthony Dyson, Review of Richard Goddard, Drawing on Copper’: The Basire Family of Copper-Plate Engravers and Their Works (Maastricht University Press, 2016), pp. 437–39.

• Notice of the exhibition catalogue, Marcela Vondráčková, Norbert Grund (1717–1767): Půvab všedního dne / The Charm of the Everyday, Czech and English (National Gallery in Prague, 2017), p. 459.
“This handsomely-illustrated exhibition catalogue gives a survey of the work of the delightful rococo painter Norbert Grund (1717–1767), who is scarcely known outside Central Europe … We look forward to learning more … in a comprehensive monograph on Grund’s oeuvre, which is due to be published by Marcela Vondráčková.”

• Patricia Emison, Review of Susanna Berger, The Art of Philosophy: Visual Thinking in Europe from the Late Renaissance to the Early Enlightenment (Princeton University Press, 2017), pp. 471–74.
“Berger’s readable and well-illustrated account tackles the topic of logic’s contribution to the history of visualization, and of scholastics’ interest in transmitting knowledge via images … Berger has dug deep in unusual places,” including a mnemonic treatise of 1725 and eighteenth-century student notebooks from Paris and Leuven. “This is fascinating material.”

• Sarah Grant, Review of April Calahan, Fashion Plates: 150 Years of Style (Yale University Press, 2015), pp. 474–78.

Exhibition | Georges Focus: The Madness of a Painter

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on December 3, 2018

From the communiqué de presse:

Georges Focus (1644–1708): La folie d’un peintre de Louis XIV
Palais des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 13 October 2018 — 6 January 2019

Curated by Emmanuelle Brugerolles

La découverte de l’œuvre de Georges Focus produite lors de son enfermement aux Petites Maisons suscite aujourd’hui l’étonnement, pour ne pas dire un choc, qui nous bouleverse. Elle nous inspire le sentiment de l’inédit, du jamais vu, et remet en cause nos idées reçues. Georges Focus, membre de l’Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture sous Louis XIV, eut une double production artistique, académique d’une part, personnelle et intime, d’autre part. L’étonnant corpus réuni en France pour la première fois au Palais des Beaux-Arts, soit environ 80 dessins ainsi que des estampes et des peintures provenant de l’université d’Édimbourg, de collections particulières et d’institutions publiques dont les Beaux-Arts de Paris, rend compte de sa trajectoire unique. Une occasion d’explorer l’oeuvre exceptionnelle et singulière d’un artiste de l’époque de Louis XIV, atteint de folie.

Emmanuelle Brugerolles, ed., Georges Focus: La Folie d’un Peintre de Louis XIV (Paris: Beaux-Arts de Paris Editions, 2018), 447 pages, ISBN: 978-2840565444, $80.

The full press release is available here»

Exhibition | Secret Tiepolo

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on November 26, 2018

Seven frescoes by Giandomenico Tiepolo are on public view for the first time in Vicenza:

Secret Tiepolo / Tiepolo Segreto
Palladio Museum, Vicenza, 3 November 2017 — 31 December 2018

Curated by Guido Beltramini and Fabrizio Magani

Sette straordinari affreschi di Giandomenico Tiepolo (1727–1804) da oltre cinquant’anni anni erano conservati nelle residenze dei proprietari che coraggiosamente li salvarono dalle distruzioni belliche. Oggi gli eredi, convinti dell’opportunità di un godimento pubblico di tali capolavori, li hanno destinati al Palladio Museum. Ad essi viene dedicata una mostra, realizzata grazie alle competenze e alla collaborazione della Soprintendenza di Verona diretta da Fabrizio Magani, che la cura insieme al direttore del Palladio Museum, Guido Beltramini.

In questa vicenda s’intrecciano più storie. Quella della straordinaria arte dei Tiepolo, in grado di trasformare dalla radice la tradizione frescante veneta. Quella della difesa del patrimonio artistico negli anni cupi della seconda guerra mondiale. Ma esiste una terza storia che lega in modo indissolubile gli affreschi di Palazzo Valmarana Franco agli studi palladiani: essi infatti sono realizzati due decenni dopo la straordinaria decorazione di Villa Valmarana ai Nani, per il figlio del committente, Gaetano Valmarana. Nella dimora suburbana a poca distanza dalla Rotonda palladiana, per il padre Giustino Valmarana, i Tiepolo celebrano la naturalezza di una vita ‘moralizzata’ in campagna. Vent’anni dopo, in città, a poca distanza dal Teatro Olimpico, il registro è completamente diverso: Tiepolo concepisce per il figlio una riedizione in pittura della magnificente scena del teatro all’antica di Palladio adottando non più il registro lieve e scherzoso della vita agreste ma il linguaggio aulico, monocromo ma nondimeno guizzante, della vicina architettura palladiana.

“Siamo orgogliosi di poter contribuire alla cultura della nostra città—dichiarano Camillo e Giovanni Franco, proprietari degli affreschi—con una parte della storia della nostra famiglia.” Fu fra l’altro Fausto Franco, zio dei generosi proprietari e Soprintendente ai Monumenti, a seguire il salvataggio degli affreschi di famiglia nel 1945. Dieci anni dopo lo stesso Franco, insieme—fra gli altri—a Rodolfo Pallucchini, Anthony Blunt, Rudolf Wittkower e André Chastel, fu fra i tredici fondatori del primo Consiglio scientifico del Centro palladiano, coordinato da Renato Cevese.

Tiepolo Segreto (Vicenza, Palladium Museum, 2018), 80 pages, ISBN: 978-8899765781, 17€.

Exhibition | Art of Native America: The Diker Collection

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on November 23, 2018

Press release for the exhibition:

Art of Native America: The Charles and Valerie Diker Collection
The Met Fifth Avenue, New York, 4 October 2018 — 6 October 2019

Opening October 4 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Art of Native America: The Charles and Valerie Diker Collection will feature 116 artworks from more than 50 cultures across North America. Ranging in date from the 2nd to the early 20th century, the diverse objects are promised gifts (first announced in spring 2017), donations, and loans to The Met from the pioneering collectors Charles and Valerie Diker. The collection has particular strengths in sculpture from British Columbia and Alaska, California baskets, pottery from southwestern pueblos, Plains drawings and regalia, and rare accessories from the eastern Woodlands.

Max Hollein, the Museum’s Director, commented: “The presentation in the American Wing of these exceptional works by Indigenous artists marks a critical moment in which conventional narratives of history are being expanded to acknowledge and celebrate the contributions of cultures that have long been marginalized. The extraordinary gift of the Diker Collection has forever transformed The Met’s ability to more fully display the development of American art, enabling an important shift in thinking.”

The exhibition is made possible by The Peter Jay Sharp Foundation, the Diane W. and James E. Burke Fund, the Enterprise Holdings Endowment, and the Walton Family Foundation.

A ceremonial opening of the exhibition involving contemporary Native American artists will be accompanied by a robust series of public programs.

Shoulder bag, ca. 1780; Anishinaabe, probably Ojibwa; possibly made in Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Ontario; native-tanned leather, porcupine quills, dye, metal cones, deer hair, vegetal fiber, and wool yarn (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Promised Gift of Charles and Valerie Diker, L.2018.35.70).

Art of Native America will be the first exhibition of Indigenous American art to be presented in the American Wing since it was established in 1924. Originally focused on Colonial and early Federal decorative arts and architecture, the Wing’s collecting areas have continued to evolve.

Sylvia Yount, the Lawrence A. Fleischman Curator in Charge of the American Wing, said: “We are committed to exploring thoughtfully and sensitively the entangled histories of contact and colonization from both Native and Euro-American perspectives. The Met takes seriously its curatorial responsibility to share with our broad audiences—in a variety of displays and contexts—the cultural endurance and creative continuity of Indigenous American artists.”

Art of Native America will highlight production from seven distinct regions: Woodlands, Plains, Plateau, California and Great Basin, Southwest, Northwest Coast, and Arctic. Featured works cover all of the major artistic forms by both identified and unrecorded Native Americans: paintings, drawings, sculpture, textiles, quill and bead embroidery, basketry, and ceramics. Highlights include a ca. 1800 shoulder bag made from finely tanned and dyed deerskin hide embellished with porcupine quills by an Anishinaabe woman, possibly from Ontario, Canada; a striking  ca. 1895–1900 ceramic jar depicting the Butterfly Maiden spirit being (Palhik Mana) by renowned Hopi-Tewa potter Nampeyo from Hano Village, Arizona; a monumental 1907 woven basket by Washoe artist Louisa Keyser from Carson City, Nevada; a masterfully carved 1820–40 Tsimshian headdress frontlet with abalone shell inlays from British Columbia; and an elaborate ca. 1900 dance mask by a Yup’ik artist from Hooper Bay, Alaska.

A core group of works from the Diker Collection will remain on view in the American Wing’s Erving and Joyce Wolf Gallery, while light-sensitive works will be rotated annually. Displays of Native and non-Native art—historical and contemporary—will also be organized in response to the Diker Collection.

The Met is collaborating with a range of  advisors on the exhibition, including: Kathleen Ash-Milby (Diné/Navajo), Associate Curator, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, New York; Bruce Bernstein, Executive Director, Ralph T. Coe Center for the Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico; Ned Blackhawk (Western Shoshone), Professor of History and American Studies, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut; Steven C. Brown, independent scholar, Olympic Peninsula, Washington; Elizabeth Hutchinson, Associate Professor, Art History, Barnard College and Columbia University, New York; and Brian Vallo (Acoma), Director, Indian Arts Research Center, School for Advanced Research, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Gaylord Torrence, with contributions by Ned Blackhawk and Sylvia Yount, Art of Native America: The Charles and Valerie Diker Collection (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2018), 232 pages, ISBN: 978-1588396624, $50.

Exhibition | Magnificent Venice!

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on November 22, 2018

Now on view at the Grand Palais (and also worth noting that the Royal Collection exhibition on Canaletto opens in Dublin in December) . . .

Magnificent Venice! Europe and the Arts in the 18th Century
Grand Palais, Paris, 26 September 2018 — 21 January 2019
Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia, Venice, 23 February — 9 June 2019

Curated by Catherine Loisel

Venice fascinated Europe in the 18th century. Its site, on islands transformed into a monumental city, its political regime, its artistic and musical traditions, and its carnival made it attractive and unique. At the time, the Republic of Venice, with its rich history, was among the key powers in Europe. But throughout the century, the city also suffered a series of crises, both economic and social, which led to its decline and precipitated its fall in 1797 at the hands of Bonaparte’s armies. Despite this difficult context, the city’s arts scene still displayed an exuberant vitality. Painters, sculptors, decorators, and designers were among the most illustrious on the Italian stage. Composers, playwrights, instrumentalists and singers were famous throughout Europe. It is this last golden age that the exhibition aims to recount, with an emphasis on the influence of Venetian artists in England, France, Germany, and Spain. It also evokes the power of the myth reflected in their works inspired by the joyful and decadent Serenissima. In addition to fine art, the exhibition also seeks to recreate the atmosphere of these last flames of a civilisation. To this end, the scenography has been entrusted to Macha Makeïeff, a set designer renowned for her lively inventiveness.

Catherine Loisel, Éblouissante Venise! Les arts et l’Europe au XVIIIe siècle (Paris: Les éditions Rmn-Grand Palais, 2018), 256 pages, ISBN: 978-2711870714, €45.

The exhibition booklet, in English, is available as a PDF file here»



Exhibition | De Vouet à Boucher

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on November 19, 2018

Now on view at Musée des Beaux-Arts d’Orléans:

De Vouet à Boucher, au cœur de la collection de Motais de Narbonne
Musée des Beaux-Arts d’Orléans, 15 September 2018 — 13 January 2019

Curated by Olivia Voisin and Viviane Mesqui

Le musée des Beaux-Arts d’Orléans présentera du 15 septembre 2018 au 13 janvier 2019 l’intégralité de la collection d’Héléna et de Guy Motais de Narbonne dans une exposition originale plongeant au coeur de l’univers des collectionneurs : entre culture muséale et connoisseurship, les Motais de Narbonne ont rassemblé 80 tableaux des XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles, italiens et français, résolument tournés vers l’histoire.

Leur collection, qui par ses artistes et par ses sujets entre en résonnance avec la collection de peintures anciennes du musée des Beaux-Arts d’Orléans, sera montrée pour la première fois au public dans son intégralité, en dialogue avec des oeuvres de collections publiques ou privées.

Cette exposition se place sous le parrainage de Pierre Rosenberg, membre de l’Académie française et grand connaisseur de la collection Motais de Narbonne, en collaboration avec de nombreux historiens de l’art. Tout au long du parcours, le visiteur pénétrera dans l’intimité d’une collection privée vivante, rythmée par les histoires et les coups de coeur qui ont conduit à sa constitution. Les Motais de Narbonne partagent avec cette exposition non seulement l’exceptionnelle collection qu’ils ont rassemblée, mais également une part de l’histoire intime qui se tisse entre un amateur et un tableau. L’émotion, les motifs insolites et surprenants occupent ainsi une place particulière dans le coeur d’Héléna et de Guy Motais de Narbonne, stimulant leur regard et générant parfois une acquisition. De même, leur vif intérêt pour les musées, qui a joué un rôle déterminant dans la formation de leur regard et de leur goût, ponctue le parcours par des rapprochements avec des peintures qui les ont inspirés.

The press kit (dossier de presse) is available here»

Viviane Mesqui and Pierre Rosenberg, De Vouet à Boucher, au coeur de la collection Motais de Narbonne (Heule: Snoeck, 2018), 263 pages, ISBN: 978-9461614742, $50.

Exhibition | Armenia!

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on November 18, 2018

Altar Frontal, detail, New Julfa, 1741; gold, silver, and silk threads on silk (Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, Armenia; photo by Hrair Hawk Khatcherian and Lilit Khachatryan).

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

Press release (20 September 2018) for the exhibition now on view at The Met:

The Met Fifth Avenue, New York, 22 September 2018 — 13 January 2019

Curated by Helen Evans, with C. Griffith Mann and Constance Alchermes

Armenia! explores the arts and culture of the Armenians from their conversion to Christianity in the early fourth century through their leading role on international trade routes in the 17th century. The exhibition emphasizes how Armenians developed a distinctive national identity in their homeland at the base of Mt. Ararat (widely accepted as the resting place of Noah’s Ark) and how they maintained and transformed their traditions as their communities expanded across the globe.

Kütahya Vessel, 18th century, stonepaste; polychrome painted under transparent glaze, 6.7 cm high (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 02.5.45).

More than 140 opulent gilded reliquaries, richly illuminated manuscripts, rare textiles, liturgical furnishings made of precious materials, khachkars (cross stones), church models, and printed books demonstrate Armenia’s distinctive imagery in their homeland and other major Armenian sites, from the Kingdom of Cilicia on the Mediterranean to New Julfa, in Safavid Persia. Select comparative works display Armenian interaction with other cultures. Major Armenian repositories of their culture provide almost all the works in the exhibition. Most are on view in the United States for the first time; many have not traveled for centuries.

Armenia! focuses on major Armenian centers of production from their homeland west and east. It includes images of Armenians, from self-portraits to depictions of male and female rulers, donors, theologians, and historians. Special attention is given to works by major artists such as T’oros Roslin, Sargis Pidzak, Toros Taronatsi, and Hakob of Julfa working in the Armenian homeland, the Kingdom of Cilicia, and New Julfa.

More than half of the works on display are on loan from The Republic of Armenia with the support of The Ministry of Culture. Imposing liturgical works are coming from the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, the primary site of the Armenian Church. In Yerevan, the ‘Matenadaran’ Mesrop Masthots` Institute – Museum of Ancient Manuscripts is lending exceptional manuscripts, and the History Museum of Armenia is lending monumental church sculptures. The Holy See of Cilicia in Lebanon, the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and the Armenian Mekhitarist Congregation in Venice are the other major Armenian religious communities lending exceptional works. Armenian collections lending select works are the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Portugal and in America, the Diocese of the Armenian Church (Eastern) (New York); the Armenian Museum of America (Boston); and the Alex and Marie Manoogian Museum (Southfield, Michigan). Additional works are coming from The Met and other American and European institutions.

Photographs of Armenian architecture and landscapes by noted Armenian-Canadian photographer Hrair Hawk Khatcherian and his assistant Lilit Khachatryan will provide context for the works in the exhibition, in the catalogue, and on the exhibition page of the website.

The exhibition was organized by Helen C. Evans, the Mary and Michael Jaharis Curator of Byzantine Art, with the support of C. Griffith Mann, the Michel David-Weill Curator in Charge, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters, and the assistance of Constance Alchermes, Research Assistant. Exhibition design is by Michael Langley, Exhibition Design Manager; graphics are by Chelsea Amato and Morton Lebigre, Graphic Designers; and lighting is by Clint Ross Coller and Richard Lichte, Lighting Design Managers.

The exhibition is made possible by The Hagop Kevorkian Fund. Additional support is provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Michel David-Weill Fund, the Armenian General Benevolent Union, The Giorgi Family Foundation, The Hirair and Anna Hovnanian Foundation, the Karagheusian Foundation, The Nazar and Artemis Nazarian Family, the Ruddock Foundation for the Arts, The Strauch Kulhanjian Family and The Paros Foundation, Aso O. Tavitian, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

The catalogue is distributed by Yale UP:

Helen Evans, ed., Armenia: Art, Religion, and Trade in the Middle Ages (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2018), 352 pages, ISBN: 978-1588396600, $65.

As the first people to officially convert to Christianity, Armenians commissioned and produced astonishing religious objects. This sumptuous volume depicts and contextualizes the compelling works of art that defined the rich and complicated culture of medieval Armenians, including carvings, liturgical furnishings, beautifully illustrated manuscripts, gilded reliquaries, exquisite textiles, printed books, and more. Situated at the center of trade routes that connected the East and West during the Middle Ages, Armenia became a leading international trade partner for Seljuk, Mongol, Ottoman, and Persian overlords, while also serving as a powerful ally to Byzantium and European Crusader states. Written by a team of international scholars, with contributions from Armenian religious leaders, this book will stand as the definitive text on the art and culture of medieval Armenia.

Helen C. Evans is Mary and Michael Jaharis Curator of Byzantine Art in the Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Exhibition | Empresses of China’s Forbidden City, 1644–1912

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on November 14, 2018

PEM press release:

Empresses of China’s Forbidden City, 1644–1912
Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts, 18 August 2018 — 10 February 2019

Freer|Sackler, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., 3 March — 23 June 2019

Curated by Daisy Yiyou Wang and Jan Stuart

The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) debuts Empresses of China’s Forbidden City, the first major international exhibition to explore the role of empresses in China’s last dynasty—the Qing dynasty, from 1644 to 1912. Nearly 200 spectacular works, including imperial portraits, jewelry, garments, Buddhist sculptures, and decorative art objects from the Palace Museum, Beijing (known as the Forbidden City), tell the little-known stories of how these empresses engaged with and influenced court politics, art and religion. On an exclusive U.S. tour, this exhibition is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see rare treasures from the Forbidden City, including works that have never before been publicly displayed and many of which have never been on view in the United States. Coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the establishment of U.S.-China diplomatic relations, the exhibition is organized by the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts; the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (Freer|Sackler), Washington, D.C.; and the Palace Museum, Beijing.

A leader in preserving and promoting Chinese art and architecture, PEM honors over 200 years of U.S.-Chinese commercial and cultural exchange through its renowned collection and exhibition program. Working closely with its partnering organizations, PEM presents this unprecedented exhibition in order to celebrate the vibrant legacy of cultural dialogue between these two countries.

With an international team of experts, exhibition co-curators Daisy Yiyou Wang, PEM’s Robert N. Shapiro Curator of Chinese and East Asian Art, and Jan Stuart, the Melvin R. Seiden Curator of Chinese Art at the Freer|Sackler, spent four years travelling to the Forbidden City to investigate the largely hidden world of the women inside. Delving into the vast imperial archives and collection, their fresh research unveils how these women influenced history as well as the spectacular art made for, by and about them. “This exhibition establishes a new model for future international research and museum collaborations,” says Dr. Shan Jixiang, director of the Palace Museum.

Revealing the Hidden World of the Empresses

Court painters in Beijing, possibly including Zhang Zhen or his son Zhang Weibang, Drinking Tea from Yinzhen’s Twelve Ladies, Kangxi period, 1709–23, hanging scroll, ink and color on silk (Beijing: Palace Museum, Gu6458-7/12).

China’s grand imperial era—the Qing dynasty—was a multiethnic and multicultural state founded in 1644 by a small northeast Asian group who came to call themselves ‘Manchus’. These conquering rulers adopted the Forbidden City in Beijing as the seat of the government. The Manchu ruling house differed from their populous Han Chinese subjects by language, history, and culture. In the Qing dynasty, Manchu customs prohibited foot-binding and encouraged women to learn to ride and hunt. In general, Manchu women enjoyed more freedom and rights than their Han Chinese counterparts.

While the Qing imperial court was strictly patriarchal and hierarchical, a few empresses stood out and helped shape the long history of the dynasty. The empress headed the imperial harem and could influence the emperor. She was regarded as the ‘mother of the state’ and a role model for all women. Presiding over the state ritual promoting silk production, empresses honored women’s vital role in the economic health of the state through textile production.

While the emperor-centric Qing imperial court recorded only skeletal outlines of the empresses’ lives, only recently have historians begun to fill in a more complete picture. Exhibition curators were able to reconstruct their rich and active lifestyles from the lavish art produced by the Qing court. Sumptuous objects showcased in this exhibition include the largest assemblage of imperial textiles and jewelry that have ever traveled to the U.S. from the Palace Museum. These works demonstrate how Qing dynasty empresses projected authority through what they wore, from stunningly embroidered socks to splendid dragon robes.

“We are very proud to reclaim the presence and influence of these empresses, about whom history has largely been silent,” says Daisy Wang, PEM’s curator for this exhibition. “The exquisite objects related to the empresses give us a better understanding of these intriguing women. Further evidence found in court archives and other historical sources help illuminate their hidden, but inspiring lives.”

Stories of Opulence and Influence

Out of two dozen Qing empresses, this exhibition focuses on three key figures: Empress Dowager Chongqing (1693–1777), Empress Xiaoxian (1712–1748) and Empress Dowager Cixi (1835–1908). Their life experiences revolve around six core themes: imperial weddings, power and status, family roles, lifestyle, religion, and political influence.

Imperial Workshop, Beijing, Stupa Containing Empress Dowager Chongqing’s Hair and Amitayus Buddha, Qianlong period, 1777, gold and silver alloy with coral, turquoise, lapis lazuli, and other semiprecious stones, and glass; pedestal: zitan wood (Beijing, Palace Museum, Gu11866).

Empress Dowager Chongqing came from humble beginnings, entering a princely household as a maidservant at age 11 and bearing her only child at age 18. Her son eventually became the Qianlong emperor, which made Chongqing the focus of his filial piety, a core Confucian virtue. He honored her as the Sage Mother of the state, a status vividly captured by two life-size portraits of her in the exhibition. After her death in 1777, she was commemorated by her son with a 237-pound gold shrine. Encrusted with gemstones, the shrine holds her hair to ensure her rebirth in the Buddhist paradise. As the largest of its kind in the Palace Museum’s collection, the shrine will be displayed at PEM and the Freer|Sackler for the first time outside of China.

Fifteen-year-old Xiaoxian married the future Qianlong emperor while he was a prince. She became the empress after her husband ascended the throne. As childhood soulmates and confidants, Xiaoxian closely attended to her husband as he endured a months-long illness. She was a caring daughter-in-law and a wise manager of imperial family affairs, qualities that garnered her widespread respect.

In 1748, at the age of 36, Xiaoxian fell ill and died while traveling with her husband. In response, the heartbroken emperor brushed a poem to mourn his beloved wife. Empresses of China’s Forbidden City is the first exhibition to ever reveal this soulful elegy to the public.

Though tradition declared that “women shall not rule,” there was room for ambitious Qing empresses.  Soon after giving birth to the Xianfeng emperor’s only heir, Cixi, a low-ranking consort, received a promotion. Facing a succession crisis after the death of her husband in 1861, Cixi, alongside the other empress dowager Ci’an (1837–1881), instigated a coup to gain political power and become co-regents to Cixi’s son, the child emperor. As the most powerful empress in Chinese history, Cixi ruled China for nearly half a century, bringing radical changes to the role of women in court politics and art patronage.

Hairpin with Figure and Vase, 18th or 19th century, pearls, sapphire, coral, turquoise, kingfisher feather, and silver with gilding (Beijing: Palace Museum, Gu10130).

The exhibition culminates with a commanding sixteen-foot oil portrait of Empress Cixi. It was her gift to President Theodore Roosevelt in 1905. Cixi directed the American artist Katharine Carl to create an image of a youthful and benevolent ruler to express her good will to people in America at a time when U.S. and China experienced challenging relations. A recent conservation project at the Smithsonian has restored the painting to its original splendor. Empresses of China’s Forbidden City marks its first public display in the U.S. since the 1960s.

“The study of women in history is exciting, timely and necessary,” says Jan Stuart, co-curator at the Freer|Sackler. “By focusing on the material and spiritual world of these women, we begin to fill in details absent from previous accounts of women in Chinese history. To the extent that the empresses’ experience of the expectations and constraints finds echo in our own world, we hope this exhibition will prompt broader reflection on the position of women in society and fosters a sense of commonality and connection across time and cultures.”

Surrounded by a dazzling array of imperial treasures, visitors will also discover engaging in-gallery interactive experiences, such as creating an empress’s robe. Other experiences include immersive videos and opera performance, as well as English and Chinese language label text and guided tours. In November 2018, halfway through the run of the six-month exhibition at PEM, an additional 30 artworks from the Palace Museum will be installed in the galleries, including magnificent paintings and imperial robes.

“This exciting exhibition fulfills our institutions’ shared commitment to expanding the appreciation of China’s rich culture, in this instance by recovering the preeminence of the Qing empresses through these stunning and rare objects,” notes Dan Monroe, the Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Director and CEO of Peabody Essex Museum, and Julian Raby, Director Emeritus, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

The catalogue is distributed by Yale UP:

Daisy Yiyou Wang and Jan Stuart, eds., with essays and entries by Daisy Yiyou Wang, Jan Stuart, Lin Shu, Luk Yu-ping, Ying-chen Peng, Evelyn Rawski, and Ren Wanping, Empresses of China’s Forbidden City, 1644–1912 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018), 264 pages, ISBN: 978-0300237085, $60.

Empresses in the Qing dynasty (1644–1912) played an influential role in the imperial court and the cosmopolitan culture of their time. Offering compelling insights into the material culture, activities, and living spaces of Qing empresses, this lavishly illustrated book features over one hundred spectacular works of art from the Palace Museum in Beijing—including large-scale portraits, court robes, and richly decorated Buddhist sutras—that bring the splendor of the Qing court to life. A series of insightful essays examines the fascinating ways that key imperial women engaged with art, religion, and politics. This unprecedented exploration of the Qing court from the perspective of its royal women is an important new contribution to our understanding of Chinese art and history.

Daisy Yiyou Wang is the Robert N. Shapiro Curator of Chinese and East Asian Art at the Peabody Essex Museum. Jan Stuart is the Melvin R. Seiden Curator of Chinese Art at the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Exhibition | Sidesaddle, 1690–1935

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on November 7, 2018

Johan Zoffany, The Drummond Family, detail, ca. 1769, oil on canvas, 41 × 63 inches
(New Haven: Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection)

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On view at the National Sporting Library & Museum:

Sidesaddle, 1690–1935
National Sporting Library & Museum, Middleburg, VA, 8 September 2018 — 24 March 2019

Curated by Ulrike Weiss and Claudia Pfeiffer

In art and sport, the poised equestrian riding aside embodies the essence of elegance, power, and grace. Hidden beneath the flowing skirts of the rider is the sidesaddle, the design of which has evolved dramatically in response to the physical demands of sporting women (and sometimes men) requiring a firm seat as they began to meet the challenges of jumping and galloping across the countryside.

Sidesaddle, 1690–1935 presents a revealing perspective on the history and culture of women as equestrians, their depictions in sporting art, and the evolution of sidesaddle tack and attire represented in British, Continental, and American art from the 17th to the 20th centuries. The exhibition showcases over sixty paintings, works on paper, and sculptures on loan from museums and private collections. Co-curators Dr. Ulrike Weiss, Lecturer at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and Claudia Pfeiffer, the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Curator of Art at NSLM, are contributing essays to the accompanying catalog.

Ulrike Weiss and Claudia Pfeiffer, Sidesaddle, 1690–1935 (Middleburg: National Sporting Library & Museum, 2018), ISBN: 978-0996890540, $25.