Exhibition | Crafting Freedom: Thomas W. Commeraw

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions, lectures (to attend) by Editor on February 6, 2023

Detail of a stoneware jug with ornament and lettering in blue glaze, 'COMMERAWS STONEWARE. . .'

Thomas W. Commeraw, Jug, detail, ca. 1797–1819, salt-glazed stoneware, cobalt oxide, 12 inches (30 cm) high
(New-York Historical Society, purchased from Elie Nadelman, 1937.820).

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From the press release (6 October 2022) for the exhibition:

Crafting Freedom: The Life and Legacy of Free Black Potter Thomas W. Commeraw
New-York Historical Society, 27 January — 28 May 2023
Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, 24 June — 24 September 2023

Curated by Margi Hofer, Mark Shapiro, and Allison Robinson, with Leslie M. Harris

The New-York Historical Society presents Crafting Freedom: The Life and Legacy of Free Black Potter Thomas W. Commeraw, the first exhibition to bring overdue attention to Thomas W. Commeraw, a successful Black craftsman who was long assumed to be white. Formerly enslaved, Commeraw rose to prominence as a free Black entrepreneur, owning and operating a successful pottery in the city. Over a period of two decades, he amassed property, engaged in debates over state and national politics, and participated in New York City’s free Black community. The exhibition explores Commeraw’s multi-faceted history as a craftsman, business owner, family man, and citizen through approximately 40 pieces of stoneware produced by Commeraw and his competitors between the late 1790s and 1819, in the largest presentation of his work to date. Alongside these pieces are the primary documents that enabled historians to reconstruct the arc of his professional career and personal life, and through them convey a deeper understanding of free Black society in New York in the years between the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.

Stoneware jug with ornament and lettering in blue glaze, 'COMMERAWS STONEWARE. . .'

Thomas W. Commeraw, Jug, ca. 1797–1819, salt-glazed stoneware, cobalt oxide, 12 inches (30 cm) high, (New-York Historical Society, purchased from Elie Nadelman, 1937.820).

Crafting Freedom continues the tradition at New-York Historical of presenting groundbreaking exhibitions that reveal the complex dimensions of race in the early years of New York City and our nation,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of New-York Historical. “Through this exhibition of Thomas W. Commeraw and his work, we gain an in-depth understanding of a Black artisan’s life in New York, while also seeing how our understanding of history continues to evolve to give us greater insight into issues that affect our society today. This exhibition will transform our visitors’ perspective on New York’s free Black community, challenging long-held myths about post-revolutionary race relations in northern states.”

“This exhibition illuminates the story of a man who was emancipated as a child, went on to own and operate his own business, and advocated for the rights of full citizenship for his fellow Black Americans,” said Margi Hofer, New-York Historical’s vice president and museum director, who co-curated the exhibition. “While Commeraw’s distinctive pottery has been admired and collected for over a century, his true story has been obscured for far too long. It is incredibly meaningful that we are able to bring to light a true portrait of the man, both as a citizen and as a craftsman.”

The New York City directories first list Thomas “Commerau” working as a potter in 1795, living near Pot Baker’s Hill in the vicinity of today’s City Hall. By 1797, he had established his own workshop at Corlears Hook on the East River. There, he produced vessels in the local tradition, often decorated with distinctive flourishes of swags, tassels, and bowknot motifs filled with vivid cobalt. Stoneware vessels were essential kitchenware in that era and stored everything from milk, butter, salted meat, and preserves, to molasses, cider, and beer. Commeraw also manufactured oyster jars for the city’s oystermen, who were predominantly from the free Black community. His crocks and jugs traveled on ships to ports along the eastern seaboard and as far afield as Guyana and Norway. Most of the Commeraw vessels that survive today are boldly stamped with his name and the location of his pottery at Manhattan’s Corlears Hook. In addition to signaling pride in his work, Commeraw’s prominent branding helped him attract and retain customers.

In addition to revealing Commeraw’s successes and struggles as a pottery owner in a city riven by racism, the exhibition explores his commitment to securing a better future for the Black community through his work with abolitionist, political, religious, and mutual aid organizations. In 1790, the majority of Black New Yorkers were enslaved. By 1810, 6 out of 7 were free. Businessmen like Commeraw faced daunting challenges, not just raising capital but building civic and religious organizations to support the Black community. Free Black men had voted in New York since the Revolution, but in 1811, the state legislature passed a law to suppress Black voters, requiring them to submit a Certificate of Freedom that included a sworn statement from a third party attesting to the voter’s free status and residency and to pay a filing fee. A highlight of the exhibition is the 1813 Certificate of Freedom held by New-York Historical’s Patricia D. Klingenstein Library that bears Commeraw’s confident signature as witness. It is the only confirmed manuscript in his hand. The exhibition also examines how Black New Yorkers responded to economic and political oppression by developing a lively cultural and artistic community.

The final chapter in Commeraw’s story concerns his effort to promote the emigration of Black settlers to Sierra Leone, as the prospect of full citizenship for Black New Yorkers dimmed. Commeraw traveled there with his extended family in 1820 on the first voyage of the American Colonization Society. He arrived full of optimism and plans to found a Black republic; instead, he experienced unimaginable hardship and tragedy. What began as a venture for political rights ended as a struggle for survival. Many of the settlers died of malaria, including Commeraw’s wife and niece. He returned to the U.S. in 1822 and died the following year in Baltimore. The exhibition closes with a coda that describes future generations of the Commeraw family carrying forward the potter’s entrepreneurial energy and political engagement.

Additionally, Queens-based ceramic artist and activist Sana Musasama has created a new work that reflects on Commeraw’s life as a New York potter, his transatlantic odyssey of two centuries ago, and her own artistic journey. Passages will be installed in New-York Historical’s grand lobby, the Robert H. and Clarice Smith Gallery, to introduce the exhibition and encourage visitors to contemplate how Commeraw’s story continues to resonate today.

Crafting Freedom is co-curated by New-York Historical’s Vice President and Museum Director Margi Hofer, potter and Commeraw researcher Mark Shapiro, and Mellon Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow in Women’s History and Public History Allison Robinson. Leslie M. Harris, professor of history and African American studies at Northwestern University, served as scholarly advisor. The exhibition next travels to the Fenimore Art Museum, where it will be on view from June 24 until September 24, 2023.

Major support for Crafting Freedom: The Life and Legacy of Free Black Potter Thomas W. Commeraw is provided by the Decorative Arts Trust and Emily and James Satloff.

Leslie Harris in Conversation with David Rubenstein, The Shadow of Slavery and the History of African Americans in New York City, from the Settling of New Amsterdam to the Civil War
New-York Historical Society, 10 April 2023

Detail of a newspaper from 20 August 1814, notice to "The People of Color throughout the city and county of New-York" with name of "THOS. W. COMMERAW."

“Test of Patriotism,” Commercial Advertister (20 August 1814)
(Patricia D. Klingenstein Library, New York Historical Society)

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A. Brandt Zipp, Commeraw’s Stoneware: The Life and Work of the First African-American Pottery Owner (Sparks, Maryland: Crocker Farm, 2022), 311 pages, ISBN: ‎979-8218002909, $95.

Book cover.Presented here for the first time in two centuries is the lost story of New York City potter Thomas W. Commeraw, a key early African American figure whose identity slipped through the fingers of history. Rediscovered by the author in the first years of this century, Commeraw stands as one of the most fascinating of all historic American decorative artists: an abolitionist, activist, highly influential craftsman and, ultimately, the hopeful founder of a new African republic. Topics include: Commeraw’s fascinating life story, from childhood to death; a comprehensive discussion and illustration of Commeraw’s pottery, made from the mid-1790s to late 1810s; Commeraw’s abolitionism, political activism, and role as an important local free black figure; a thorough history of New York City stoneware; an in-depth breakdown of the work of other New York City stoneware manufacturers including Clarkson Crolius Sr., John Remmey III, and David Morgan; and Commeraw’s harrowing experiences on the west coast of Africa.

Brandt Zipp is a founding partner of Crocker Farm, Inc., the nation’s premier auction house specializing in historic American utilitarian ceramics. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University, Brandt’s research regularly breaks important new ground, no greater example being his serendipitous discovery of Thomas Commeraw’s heritage. Commeraw’s Stoneware represents the culmination of almost two decades of research, writing, and lecturing.

Exhibition | Flora Danica: The World’s Wildest Dinnerware

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on February 5, 2023

From the Royal Danish Collection:

Flora Danica: The World’s Wildest Dinnerware / Verdens Vildeste Stel
Library Hall, Koldinghus, Kolding, 7 October 2022, ongoing

With 1,530 intact pieces, the Flora Danica dinnerware is not only the best-preserved luxurious porcelain service from the 18th century but also undoubtedly the world’s wildest dinnerware in terms of splendour, storytelling, and decorations. This grand exhibition of the Flora Danica dinnerware at Koldinghus offers a close look at the magnificent set and tells the story of the fascinating ideas and myths associated with it and their connections to national and international politics. With its numerous pieces and painstaking reproductions of wild Danish botany on fragile white porcelain, the service offers an important key to understanding Denmark during the Enlightenment. Like the Danish crown jewels, the dinnerware is still in use today for very special occasions in the Royal House.

The Origins of Flora Danica

The exhibition explores the origins of this historic porcelain service, which is inextricably linked with Flora Danica, the world’s most ambitious reference work on wild plants, which took more than 122 years to complete and features beautiful copperplate prints and precise descriptions of more than 3,240 plant species. The goal of the project was to collect knowledge and facilitate the use of wild plants, lending lustre to the absolute monarchy. Around 1789, it was decided to transplant this prestigious project to precious porcelain. No specific information has been preserved about when this wild idea first arose, who came up with the almost absurd notion of decorating porcelain with wild plants, or for whom this lavish service was intended. Indeed, our knowledge about the early chapters in the story of this magnificent service is as limited as the myths about it are numerous!

Wild Rumours and International Drama

Flower Basket from the Flora Danica set (Photo by Iben Kaufmann).

Even while the service was in production, rumours abounded about the purpose of this lavish dinnerware decorated with wild plants. Rumor spread like wildfire throughout Europe, and there was persistent speculation that it was intended for the Russian Empress Catherine the Great, a porcelain enthusiast. Indeed, the Flora Danica service may have been intended for her, as a diplomatic gift in a time of international tension. Or perhaps, the dinnerware with the wild plants were created for the table of the Danish king as a wild act of political nudging to promote a particular policy.

At the time, the dramatic state of international politics was easily matched by the drama surrounding the political direction of the monarchy in the Danish realm, where a fierce political battle was playing out between pro- and anti-reformists. The exact role and position of the Flora Danica service in the cross-fire of reforms, diplomacy, and wild rumour remain a mystery to this day. Around 1879, that mystery put forth an outstanding flower in the form of this stunning service, unparalleled in scale and wondrous decorations.

Poisonous Mushrooms and Sophisticated Advertising

Each of the many pieces of the Flora Danica service features images from one of the copperplate prints from the reference work, carefully reproduced in full scale. Tureens, wine coolers, and plates are covered in wild flora: from humble algae on Norwegian rocks to poisonous mushrooms in Danish forests and long grasses on the moors of Holstein.

While the copperplate images were easily transferred to the larger pieces, such as tureens and serving dishes, the porcelain painters needed all their skill and ingenuity when it came to the smaller pieces. Long stalks were cut, grasses were laid horizontally, and leaves were twisted to fit the floral decorations onto round and curvy small dishes, custard cups, and salt cellars. The mantra was accuracy above all else, with correct representations taking precedence over beauty. Thus, despite its impressive volume and splendour, the service was mainly conceived as PR for the underlying publication. In fact, it is so inextricably linked to the reference work that the service should not be seen as an independent artistic achievement by the Royal Danish Porcelain Factory but rather as a sophisticated advertising stunt.

The World’s Wildest Dinnerware

Since the large exhibition about the Flora Danica dinnerware in 1990 at Christiansborg Palace, it has not been possible to stage a comprehensive presentation of this wild service, which is almost as storied as it is voluminous. The upcoming exhibition will shed light on the wild myths surrounding the service and offer the audience an up-close look at the unusual decorations and the use of the historical service, which was first used in 1803 at the birthday banquet for Christian VII. Since then, it has been used on very special occasions in the Royal House. Most recently, it was in use at the golden jubilee of HM Queen Margrethe II in January 2022. No other Danish service can boast as long a legacy or a presence at such historic banquets as the Flora Danica service, which remains the world’s wildest dinnerware—in terms of history, storytelling, and decoration.

The exhibition is made possible by loans of items from the State Inventory and contributions from Royal Copenhagen and Georg Jensen Damask. It opened at Koldinghus on 7 October 2022 and will be followed up by events and communication initiatives to shed light on the history, use, and continued relevance of the porcelain service.

Jesper Munk Andersen, Flora Danica: The World’s Wildest Dinnerware (Copenhagen: Kongernes Samling / The Royal Danish Collection, 2022), 104 pages, ISBN: 978-8789542256. Also available in Danish.

More information is available here»

Exhibition | Johann Gottfried Schadow: Embracing Forms

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on January 31, 2023

Johann Gottfried Schadow, Double Portrait Statue of Princesses Luise and Friederike of Prussia, detail, 1795–97, marble
(Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie)

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From the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin:

Johann Gottfried Schadow: Embracing Forms / Berührende Formen
Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin, 21 October 2022 — 19 February 2023

Curated by Yvette Deseyve

The life-size double statue of Princesses Louise and Frederica of Prussia, known as the Princess Group, is the magnum opus of Johann Gottfried Schadow (1764–1850). Seen as the founder of the Berlin School of sculpture, Schadow came to epitomize German neoclassicism, with this work being emblematic of the movement. As the first sculpture depicting two female historical figures, this work wrote art history, and continues to be a highlight for visitors to Berlin from around the world. The first retrospective in some 30 years, this exhibition presents Schadow’s major sculptural, graphic, and art-theoretical works, arranged into 11 thematic sections. Following extensive conservation and restoration work, the original plaster model of the Princess Group (from 1795) is exhibited alongside the original marble rendering (1797) for the first time ever.

Book cover.With more than 150 works, the collection of the Nationalgalerie is home to the world’s largest selection of Schadow’s sculptural works, including both originals of the Princess Group. Since the last retrospective almost 30 years ago (which was first exhibited at the Alte Nationalgalerie), a great deal has been uncovered about the artist, his oeuvre, the functioning of his workshop, and his working methods. This knowledge comes in large part from the major research and restoration project focused on the original plaster model of the Princess Group, the findings of which are here presented to the public for the first time. Numerous international loans of sculptures, paintings, and graphic works, as well as art-theoretical writings, offer insights into the genesis and critical reception of the Princess Group. The exhibition also features works by some of Schadow’s contemporaries, including Gainsborough, Tischbein, Weitsch, Chodowiecki, and Begas.

Johann Gottfried Schadow: Embracing Forms is curated by Yvette Deseyve and is accompanied by catalogues in both English and German. The exhibition was made possible by the Freunde der Nationalgalerie, the Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung, and the Cultural Foundation of the German Federal States. The three-year conservation and restoration project on the original plaster model of the Princess Group was funded by the Hermann Reemstma Stiftung, the Rudolf-August Oetker-Stiftung, and the Cultural Foundation of the German Federal States. The Bern University of Applied Sciences and the Bern Academy of the Arts supported the project as cooperation partners.

Yvette Deseyve, ed., with contributions by Sintje Guericke, Johann Gottfried Schadow: Embracing Forms (Munich: Hirmer Verlag, 2023), 304 pages, ISBN: 978-3777440873, $65.

Exhibition | Fortune and Folly in 1720

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on January 27, 2023

Installation view of Fortune and Folly in 1720
The New York Public Library, 2022

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At the NYPL (and on view during this year’s CAA conference) . . .

Fortune and Folly in 1720
New York Public Library, 23 September 2022 — 19 February 2023

Curated by Nina Dubin, Meredith Martin, and Madeleine Viljoen

In 1720, everyday citizens converged on the banking streets of Paris, London, and Amsterdam, speculating in New World trading companies and other maritime ventures. By the close of that year, an unprecedented bull market would culminate in the world’s first international financial crash. Orchestrated by the insolvent governments of France and England, and fueled by illusions of colonial wealth, these investment bonanzas—henceforth known as the Mississippi and South Sea Bubbles—have remained synonymous with the temptations of get-rich-quick schemes and the dangers of herd behavior. Three centuries and many booms and busts later, their imprint is indelible. Not only did the bubbles accelerate the growth of a financial system overflowing with stock shares, newly created banknotes, and other mysterious paper devices imbued with financial alchemy—they also illustrated the power of trust and dread, faith and fear, as drivers of market volatility.

The works on display draw from the collections of The New York Public Library and include a trove of caricatures from a Dutch volume known as The Great Mirror of Folly (Het groote tafereel der dwaasheid). Published as the crisis was unfolding, these prints portray the bewildering forces of modern economic life. Loaded with jokes, often of a scatological nature, The Great Mirror of Folly lifts the curtain on a farcical political theater whose stars include bankers and statesmen—and that’s just for starters. Offering tragicomic depictions of malevolent traders, hoodwinked investors, and villainous seductresses, the prints hold up a mirror to our own age, with its ever more complex monetary instruments and periodic meltdowns. They also reflect on the intersections between art and finance, reminding us that both are products of human imaginings.

Madeleine Viljoen, Nina Dubin and Meredith Martin, Meltdown! Picturing the World’s First Bubble Economy (Turnhout: Harvey Miller, 2020), 157 pages, ISBN: 978-1912554515, $65 / €50.

Exhibition | A Japanese Bestiary

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on January 13, 2023

Co-organized with the Edo-Tokyo Museum, this exhibition brings together more than a hundred ukiyo-e prints, paintings, and everyday objects to explore the relationship between humans and animals in Japan during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Un bestiaire japonais: Vivre avec les animaux à Edo-Tokyo, XVIIIe–XIXe siècle
Maison de la culture du Japon, Paris, 9 November 2022 — 21 January 2023

La gentillesse avec laquelle les Japonais traitent les animaux surprend les premiers Occidentaux qui se rendent dans l’archipel. Les liens entre les humains et le monde animal sont cependant plus complexes comme en témoigne une remarquable réplique d’une paire de paravents de 1634 représentant un panorama détaillé d’Edo et de ses faubourgs. Outre des scènes avec le shogun poursuivant cerfs et sangliers, ou chassant au faucon, on y remarque des montreurs de singes, des chiens errants, des bœufs de labour, des chevaux sacrés…

Dans la section suivante sont présentés les différents rôles des animaux, en lien avec la vie de la noblesse guerrière, des paysans et des commerçants. L’établissement d’Edo comme capitale des guerriers explique une forte présence de chevaux militaires dans les premiers temps. Avec la paix durable, le nombre de chevaux de trait, soutien de la vie citadine, se met à croître. Les bœufs sont utilisés pour le transport des marchandises à Edo ainsi que pour le labour dans les zones rurales à l’extérieur de la ville. Les activités culturelles connaissent un essor important et on s’entoure volontiers d’animaux de compagnie : petits chiens et chats, rossignols et cailles, poissons rouges, ou encore grillons et criquets dont on apprécie le chant. Nombre d’estampes et d’ouvrages sur la façon de s’en occuper sont publiés.

Dans les zones périphériques d’Edo où vit une abondante faune sauvage, la noblesse guerrière pratique régulièrement la chasse. On chasse au faucon des grues, des oies et des canards. Organisées par le shogun, les grandes chasses au cerf visent les cervidés, sangliers, lièvres et faisans. Certains animaux sauvages sont associés à des croyances religieuses, tel le renard, connu pour être le messager d’Inari, dieu des moissons. Les habitants d’Edo, ville riche en collines, rivières, et ouverte sur la mer, vivent profondément en lien avec la nature.La vie des animaux sauvages est un élément familier, étroitement lié aux croyances religieuses et aux rites saisonniers.

À partir du début du XVIIe siècle, Edo s’urbanise rapidement et la population devient friande de nouvelles attractions. Des animaux rares, notamment les paons et perroquets provenant de Chine ou de Hollande, sont exposés dans des lieux spécifiques, ancêtres des zoos, avec des boutiques proposant nourriture et boissons. Très vite, la mode des animaux exotiques connaît un boom sans précédent. Avec l’entrée dans l’ère Meiji (1868–1912), période de modernisation et d’ouverture à l’Occident, le Japon construit des installations sur le modèle occidental, tels que zoos et hippodromes.

À l’époque Edo, la puissance financière nouvelle de la classe commerçante stimule la naissance d’une véritable culture citadine et le raffinement des objets du quotidien: les motifs décoratifs représentant des animaux évoluent vers une plus grande liberté de conception et des variations plus riches. Vers la fin du XIXe siècle, la symbolique des motifs animaliers commence à s’estomper et l’accent est mis de plus en plus sur le côté «kawaii» des animaux de compagnie.

Exhibition | Jean Bardin (1732–1809)

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on January 6, 2023

Banner image for the exhibition

Jean Bardin, Tullia Driving Her Chariot over the Body of Her Father, detail, 1765, oil on canvas, 114 × 146 cm
(Landesmuseum Mainz)

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Now on view at the Museum of Fine Arts in Orléans:

Jean Bardin (1732–1809), le feu sacré
Le musée des Beaux-Arts d’Orléans, 3 December 2022 — 30 April 2023

Curated by Frédéric Jimeno

Le musée des Beaux-Arts d’Orléans présente la première exposition rétrospective consacrée à l’un de ses grands hommes : le peintre Jean Bardin (1732–1809).

Book coverL’exposition Jean Bardin (1732–1809), le feu sacré réunit pour la première fois le corpus de l’artiste. Des tableaux provenant de cathédrales et églises françaises (Bayonne, Mesnil-le-Roi, Charmentray…), récemment restaurés, seront présentés aux côtés d’œuvres provenant des grands musées français (Louvre, Nancy…) et européens (Albertina à Vienne, Mayence…) ainsi que de collections particulières. L’un des temps forts sera le cycle monumental des Sept sacrements, réalisé entre 1780 et 1791 pour la chartreuse de Valbonne et aujourd’hui conservée à la chartreuse d’Aula Dei à Saragosse. Cette série monumentale est exposée en France pour la première fois.

Cette exposition, initiée en 2016 avec Frédéric Jimeno, spécialiste de l’artiste et commissaire scientifique de l’exposition, est le fruit de plusieurs années de recherches. Elle révèle un artiste parmi les principaux de son temps, dans les premières lueurs du néoclassicisme. Le catalogue de l’exposition constitue la première monographie du peintre et propose également une synthèse sur la naissance des institutions artistiques orléanaises sous son égide. Jean Bardin (1732–1809), le feu sacré déploie ainsi un parcours allant de ses débuts dans l’atelier de Jean-Baptiste- Marie Pierre jusqu’à sa mort, qui laisse en héritage les fondements du musée des Beaux-Arts actuel qui ouvrira en 1825. Cette exposition est par ailleurs l’occasion d’évoquer l’entourage familial du peintre, à commencer par la figure de sa fille, Ambroise- Marguerite (1768–1842), artiste formée par son père, seconde femme peintre orléanaise connue après Thérèse Laperche (1743–1814), elle-même révélée au public en 2020 dans le cadre de l’exposition Jean- Marie Delaperche.

Mehdi Korchane, ed., Jean Bardin (1732–1809), le feu sacré (Paris: Les éditions Le Passage, 2023), 304 pages, ISBN: 978-2847424973, €38.

Additional information and more images can be found here»

Exhibition | Hieroglyphs: Unlocking Ancient Egypt

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on January 4, 2023

Mummy bandage of Aberuait, linen, Egypt, Ptolemaic Period 332–30 BC (Paris: Musée du Louvre / photo: Georges Poncet). This bandage was a souvenir from one of the earliest ‘mummy unwrapping events’ in the late seventeenth century, where attendees would witness a mummy’s unwrapping and receive a piece of the wrapping linen, preferably inscribed with hieroglyphs. 

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From the press release (July 2022) for the exhibition:

Hieroglyphs: Unlocking Ancient Egypt
The British Museum, London, 13 October 2022 — 19 February 2023

Curated by Ilona Regulski

Hieroglyphs: Unlocking Ancient Egypt, a major exhibition at the British Museum, marks one of the most important moments in our understanding of ancient history: the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs. The exhibition explores the inscriptions and objects that helped scholars unlock one of the world’s oldest civilisations 200 years ago.

At the exhibition’s heart is the Rosetta Stone, amongst the world’s most famous ancient objects and one of the British Museum’s most popular exhibits. Before hieroglyphs could be deciphered, life in ancient Egypt had been a mystery for centuries with only tantalising glimpses into this forgotten world. The discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799, with its decree written in hieroglyphs, demotic, and the known language of ancient Greek, provided the key to decoding hieroglyphs in 1822—a breakthrough that expanded the modern world’s knowledge of Egypt’s history by some 3,000 years.

Book coverThis immersive exhibition brings together over 240 objects, including loans from national and international collections, many of which will be shown for the first time. It will chart the race to decipherment, from initial efforts by medieval Arab travellers and Renaissance scholars to more focussed progress by French scholar Jean-François Champollion (1790–1832) and England’s Thomas Young (1773–1829). The Rosetta Stone is on view alongside the very inscriptions that Champollion and other scholars studied in their quest to understand the ancient past. The exhibition also features stunning objects that highlight the impact of that breakthrough.

Star objects include ‘the Enchanted Basin’, a large black granite sarcophagus from about 600 BCE, covered with hieroglyphs and images of gods. The hieroglyphs were believed to have magical powers and that bathing in the basin could offer relief from the torments of love. The reused ritual bath was discovered near a mosque in Cairo, in an area still known as al-Hawd al-Marsud—‘the enchanted basin’. It has since been identified as the sarcophagus of Hapmen, a nobleman of the 26th Dynasty.

Rarely on public display, the richly illustrated Book of the Dead papyrus of Queen Nedjmet is over 3,000 years old and more than four metres long. A recitation of the texts demonstrates the power of the spoken word, with ritual spells there to be pronounced. The papyrus is presented alongside a set of four canopic vessels that preserved the organs of the deceased. These were dispersed over French and British collections after discovery, and this is the first time this set of jars has been reunited since the mid-1700s.

Among the exceptional loans to the exhibition is the mummy bandage of Aberuait from the Musée du Louvre, which has never been shown in the UK. It was a souvenir from one of the earliest ‘mummy unwrapping events’ in the 1600s where attendees received a piece of the linen, preferably inscribed with hieroglyphs. The exhibition also brings together personal notes by Champollion from the Bibliothèque nationale de France, and by Young from the British Library. A 3,000-year-old measuring rod from the Museo Egizio in Turin was an essential clue for Champollion to unravel Egyptian mathematics, discovering that the Egyptians used units inspired by the human body.

The striking cartonnage and mummy of the lady Baketenhor, on loan from the Natural History Society of Northumbria, was studied by Champollion in the 1820s. In correspondence with colleagues in Newcastle, Champollion correctly identified the inscription on the mummy cover as a prayer addressed to several deities for the soul of the deceased only a few years after he cracked the hieroglyphic writing system. Baketenhor lived to about 25–30 years of age, sometime between 945 and 715 BCE.

From love poetry and international treaties, to shopping lists and tax returns, the exhibition reveals fascinating stories of life in ancient Egypt. As well as an unshakeable belief in the power of the pharaohs and the promise of the afterlife, ancient Egyptians enjoyed good food, writing letters, and making jokes.

Many people in ancient Egypt could not read or write so language was enjoyed through readings, recitations, and performances. The exhibition includes digital media and audio to bring the language to life alongside the objects on display. As part of the interpretation, the British Museum has worked with Egyptian colleagues and citizens from Rashid (modern day Rosetta), with their voices featured throughout the exhibition.

Ilona Regulski, Curator of Egyptian Written Culture at the British Museum, said: “The decipherment of hieroglyphs marked the turning point in a study that continues today to reveal secrets of the past. The field of Egyptology is as active as ever in providing access to the ancient world. Building on 200 years of continuous work by scholars around the globe, the exhibition celebrates new research and shows how Egyptologists continue to shape our dialogue with the past.”

Hartwig Fischer, Director of the British Museum, said: “Hieroglyphs: Unlocking Ancient Egypt marks 200 years since the remarkable breakthrough to decipher a long-lost language. For the first time in millennia the ancient Egyptians could speak directly to us. By breaking the code, our understanding of this incredible civilisation has given us an unprecedented window onto the people of the past and their way of life. I would like to express my gratitude to our long-term exhibition partner BP. Without their support, the British Museum would not be able to present such exhibitions, allowing visitors to discover the art, culture and language of ancient Egypt through the eyes of the pioneering scholars who unlocked those ancient secrets.”

Ilona Regulski, Hieroglyphs: Unlocking Ancient Egypt (London: The British Museum, 2022), 272 pages, ISBN: 978-0714191287 (hardback), £35 / ISBN: 978-0714191294 (paperback), £20.

Exhibition | Kimono Style

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on January 3, 2023

From the press release (1 June 2022) for the exhibition:

Kimono Style: The John C. Weber Collection
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 7 June 2022 — 20 February 2023

Curated by Monika Bincsik, with Karen Van Godtsenhoven

Kimono Style: The John C. Weber Collection traces the transformation of the kimono from the late 18th through the early 20th century, as the T-shaped garment was adapted to suit the lifestyle of modern Japanese women. The exhibition features a remarkable selection of works, including a promised gift of numerous modern kimonos from the renowned John C. Weber Collection of Japanese art, as well as highlights from The Costume Institute’s collection. More than 60 kimonos, including men’s and children’s wear, are displayed alongside Western garments, Japanese paintings, prints, and decorative art objects.

“This outstanding exhibition presents the kimono from a transnational perspective, highlighting the artistic conversations between Japan and the West, and the garment’s continued impact on designers around the world,” said Max Hollein, Marina Kellen French Director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. “We are extremely grateful to John C. Weber for his promised gift, his loans to this exhibition, and his long-term support of Asian art at The Met.”

青竹色地輪宝瑞雲模様唐織, Noh Costume (Karaori) with Dharma Wheels and Clouds, Edo period (1615–1868), mid-18th century, twill-weave silk with silk supplementary weft patterning, 158 × 136 cm (John C. Weber Collection).

Monika Bincsik, the Diane and Arthur Abbey Associate Curator for Japanese Decorative Arts, said, “The kimono has served for centuries as a tableau on which to describe and record the histories of women. The variety of patterns and colors and the often-changing trends reveal much about Japanese culture and society when we shed light on the circumstances of the owners of these intricate garments and their production techniques. For many Western couturiers and designers, the kimono was a catalyst to inspire new motifs and novel cuts and to provide freedom to the wearer by creating space between the body and the clothes. At the same time, Western manufacturing techniques and materials along with artistic trends contributed to the modernization of the T-shaped garments and helped to create fresh styles.”

The weaving, dyeing, and embroidery techniques for which Japan is so well known reached their peak of artistic sophistication during the Edo period (1615–1868). Members of the ruling military class were the primary consumers of sumptuous kimonos, each one being custom made. At the same time, a dynamic urban culture emerged, and the merchant class used its wealth to acquire material luxuries. One of the most visible art forms in daily life, kimonos provided a way for townspeople to proclaim their aesthetic sensibility. The kimono-pattern books and ukiyo-e woodblock prints used during that time are comparable to modern fashion magazines and provide evidence of a sophisticated system of production, distribution, and consumption.

Depictions of kimonos in Japanese woodblock prints were widely studied by Western couturiers in the late 19th century who were first inspired by the garment’s decorative motifs. Later, the kimono’s comparatively loose, enveloping silhouette and its rectilinear cut would have a most profound and lasting influence on Western fashion, with couturiers like Madeleine Vionnet and Cristóbal Balenciaga taking inspiration for their avant-garde creations from the kimono’s construction and geometric lines.

In the Meiji period (1868–1912), Western clothing was introduced to Japan. Simultaneously, modernization and social changes enabled more women to gain access to silk kimonos than ever before. Later, some of the kimono motifs were even inspired by Western art. Around the 1920s, affordable ready-to-wear kimonos (meisen) became very popular and reflected a more Westernized lifestyle. These were sold in department stores modeled on Western retailers, following Western-style marketing strategies.

Katsukawa Shunshō (Japanese, 1726–1792), 勝川春章画 二代目中村傳九郎, Kabuki Actor Nakamura Denkurō II, Edo period (1615–1868), ca. 1770s, woodblock print (nishiki-e); ink and color on paper, 29 × 14 cm (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1914, JP125).

Kimono Style is organized thematically and largely chronologically across 10 galleries. A number of the textiles were rotated in October. The exhibition begins with a look at the costumes worn for Japan’s traditional forms of theater, Noh and Kyōgen, to highlight earlier traditions of clothing from which these elaborate costumes derive. While the two theater forms share roots, they grew from different stage conventions: Noh is solemn drama, while Kyōgen is comic and emphasizes dialogue. They developed together in the 14th century, with Kyōgen pieces performed during interludes or between acts of the main Noh play. The costumes—ornately decorated silk weaves, often made in the Nishijin district of Kyoto, for Noh, and simpler dyed fabrics for Kyōgen, such as the Kyōgen suit with rabbits jumping over waves—were integral to distinguishing the age, social status, and gender of the different characters, all played by male actors. Deriving from actual garments, these costumes preserved past traditions of apparel and shed light on Japanese textile history.

In the early days of Noh theater, during the Muromachi period (1392–1573), audience members often gave their own richly decorated clothing to actors in appreciation. These precious gifts subsequently were transformed into costumes, a tradition that likely led to the creation of exquisite garments specifically for the stage, such as the elegant Noh costume (nuihaku) with orchids and interlinked circles on view in the exhibition, decorated with refined gold foil and silk embroidery patterns

During the Edo period (1615–1868), the military government’s strict control of society meant that dress was not an entirely free or personal choice. Many aspects of clothing, such as the use of gold and expensive techniques, were regulated by the Tokugawa shogunate. At the top of the social hierarchy were the samurai. On the rare official occasions when elite samurai women were seen in public, they wore finely crafted silk garments rooted in conservative traditions, like the Summer robe (hito-e) with court carriage and waterside scene from the late Edo period, made for a woman in the Tokugawa shogun family. Of the three tiers of commoners who followed the samurai in the social order—farmers, artisans, and merchants—merchant-class women had the most freedom in deciding what to wear. Although their choices were supposed to reflect their class position and conform to sumptuary laws, they often disregarded such rules in order to be fashionable and to show off their families’ wealth. Their distinct looks will be illustrated through a number of Edo-period woodblock prints and fashion books depicting the patterns and dye techniques.

茶緑段蘭七宝模様縫箔, Noh Costume (Nuihaku) with Orchids and Interlinked Circles, Edo period (1615–1868), 18th century, plain-weave silk with gold- and silver-leaf application and silk embroidery, 168 × 136 cm (John C. Weber Collection).

Specialized apparel worn to conduct dangerous tasks—whether fighting enemy warriors or battling fires—exemplified the fusion of function and fashion in Japanese textiles. High-ranking samurai had access to the finest materials, including wool imported from Europe, and used boldly decorated battle surcoats (jinbaori) to project status and individual taste. Jinbaori, produced from about the 15th through the mid-19th century, were sleeveless garments originally worn over armor as protection from the weather that eventually became ceremonial wear, such as the Battle surcoat with tattered fan. Firefighters also enjoyed respect in Japan, especially in Edo (present-day Tokyo), where wood architecture led to frequent outbreaks of fire. Samurai firefighters wore expensive garments made of imported wool. The townsmen’s coats were reversible and made of thick, quilted cotton with a plain indigo-dyed exterior and an elaborately decorated interior, usually depicting warrior heroes and mythical creatures that instill bravery or are related to water. One example portrays a legendary warrior, Tarō Yoshikado, who acquired magical skills to be able to morph into a toad.

Access to cotton for commoners, especially those living in the north, increased in the late 17th century with the establishment of the kitamaesen, a commercial shipping route between northern and central Japan, which enabled the secondhand clothing trade to flourish. Castoff cotton clothing was brought from Edo to Osaka and dispersed to the north. Nothing was wasted. The respect for and ingenious use of scarce materials led to the emergence of regional folk textile traditions. On view will be sturdy working clothes for farmers and fishermen as well as lightweight indigo-dyed cotton kimonos for women intended for summertime.

After the collapse of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1868 and the abolition of the class structure, the modernization of the Japanese fashion system occurred first in textile production. Global trade and industrialization in the second half of the 19th century vastly expanded Japan’s access to expensive or restricted wool, cotton, and machine-spun silk. Kimono patterns in the early to mid-20th century increasingly drew from Western art movements, including the organic style characteristic of Art Nouveau and the bold, geometric forms of Art Deco, as can be seen in the Summer kimono (hito-e) with swirls. At the same time, Western couturiers looked to Japanese art and clothing. Kimonos were first reinterpreted as dressing gowns, and later, primarily their fabrics, became a source of inspiration for the creations of couture houses such as Worth. By the early decades of the 20th century, the garment’s rectilinear form and loose shape revolutionized Western fashion: couturiers gave up the S-shaped, corseted bodice for a flat, straighter, modern line. Parisian innovators such as Paul Poiret, Callot Soeurs, and Madeleine Vionnet borrowed Japanese ideas and draped their garments from the shoulder, rather than tailoring the fabric to follow the shape of the body. For example, Poiret’s modernist ‘Paris’ coat from 1919, one of the highlights from The Costume Institute’s collection, was constructed using a single 15-foot length of silk velvet with minimal cutting, recalling the concept of creating a kimono from a single bolt of fabric without any waste and using only rectilinear elements.

In the Edo period, dry-goods stores or fabric merchants (gofukuten) sold high-quality, made-to-order kosode (the predecessor of the kimono, with small sleeve openings) of silk or fine hemp to men and women of the samurai and wealthy merchant classes. Precursors to the department store, the best-known gofukuten all had branches in multiple cities, including Kyoto, from where they ordered the fabrics. Around the early 20th century, these gofukuten gradually transitioned into modern department stores, adopted Western retail practices, and promoted a modernized lifestyle.

Affordable, stylish kimonos made from meisen, an inexpensive silk woven from predyed yarns, a technique known as ikat (kasuri), became popular in the early 20th century. By the 1920s and 1930s, working- and middle-class women from high-school students to shop assistants could buy these casual, bright-colored, ready-to-wear modern kimonos with bold, graphic patterns. Department stores frequently released new designs to spark trends and inspire purchases. Many meisen kimono patterns were inspired by avant-garde art movements, such as Italian Futurism and the Dutch ‘De Stijl’. Piet Mondrian’s compositions were particularly influential, as demonstrated by a large ikat (ōgasuri) kimono in bright yellow, teal, and raspberry red.

Since the second half of the 20th century, the kimono’s iconic structure has been a source of inspiration in both Japanese and Western fashion. Some modern designers use its shape as a starting point for architecturally constructed garments, as seen in the work of Issey Miyake and Cristobal Balenciaga, whose Evening wrap from 1951 will be on view. Others play with the kimono’s symbolic associations. Remixed and reinterpreted by Japanese designers active in the West, including Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo, the kimono dynamically reflects Japanese culture both to the world and back onto itself as evident in Rei Kawakubo’s Ensemble for Comme des Garçons featuring a manga figure. Through all these iterations, the kimono has gestured toward a future beyond fashion trends, cultural boundaries, and gender norms.

Kimono Style: The John C. Weber Collection is curated by Monika Bincsik, Diane and Arthur Abbey Associate Curator for Japanese Decorative Arts, with guest co-curator Karen Van Godtsenhovenk. The exhibition is made possible by the Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Griggs Burke Foundation Fund, 2015. A fully illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition. Published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press, it is made possible by the Florence and Herbert Irving Fund for Asian Art Publications. Additional support is provided by the Richard and Geneva Hofheimer Memorial Fund.

Monika Bincsik, Karen van Godtsenhoven, and Masanao Arai, Kimono Style: Edo Traditions to Modern Design (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2022), 176 pages, ISBN: 978-1588397522, $35.

Monika Bincsik is the Diane and Arthur Abbey Associate Curator for Japanese Decorative Arts in the Asian Art Department at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Karen Van Godtsenhoven is an independent curator based in Belgium. Arai Masanao is a textile historian based in Japan.

Online Catalogue | The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, French Paintings

Posted in books, catalogues, museums by Editor on December 23, 2022

From The Nelson-Atkins:

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
French Paintings Catalogue

Learn more about the remarkable French paintings and pastels at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. View the entire collection online, delve into recent scholarly insights and technical discoveries, or read about the history of collecting French art in Kansas City. Art historians and conservators provide fresh perspectives on the French collection, and comprehensive research sheds new light on the provenance (ownership history), exhibition history, and publication history of each work. Whether you are seeking a quick overview or deep dive, the French Paintings Catalogue is the perfect place to explore and learn more.

The French Paintings Catalogue is generously supported by The Marion and Henry Bloch Family Foundation, The National Endowment for the Humanities, Adelaide Cobb Ward in honor of Donald J. Hall’s retirement, The Mellon Endowment for Scientific Research, The National Endowment for the Arts, The James Sight Fund, and The Samuel H. Kress Foundation.


Publication Installments
Director’s Foreword — Julián Zugazagoitia
Preface and Acknowledgments — Aimee Marcereau DeGalan
Timeline — Meghan L. Gray and Glynnis Stevenson

The Collecting of French Paintings in Kansas City — Aimee Marcereau DeGalan
Conservation Introductory Essay — Mary Schafer, Rachel Freeman, and John Twilley

Notes to Reader

Seventeenth Century, 1600–1699
Eighteenth Century and Pre-Revolution, 1700–1789
Neoclassicism and Romanticism, 1790–1860
Nineteenth Century, Realism, Barbizon, 1830–1890
Impressionism, 1860–1900s
Post-Impressionism, 1886–1900s
A Modern World, 1900–1945

Appendix I: Other Works in the Bloch Collection of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Appendix II: Other French Works in the Collection of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Photograph Credits

Exhibition Catalogue | Dare to Know

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on December 19, 2022

Now available for purchase, the catalogue for the exhibition is one of The New York Times’ ‘best art books of 2022’. Congratulations to everyone involved! The show is on view until 15 January 2023.

Edouard Kopp, Elizabeth Rudy, and Kristel Smentek, eds., Dare to Know: Prints and Drawings in the Age of Enlightenment (Cambridge: Harvard Art Museums, 2022), 334 pages, ISBN: 978-0300266726, $50.

Are volcanoes punishment from God? What do a fly and a mulberry have in common? What utopias await in unexplored corners of the earth and beyond? During the Enlightenment, questions like these were brought to life through an astonishing array of prints and drawings, helping shape public opinion and stir political change. Dare to Know overturns common assumptions about the age, using the era’s proliferation of works on paper to tell a more nuanced story. Echoing the structure and sweep of Diderot’s Encyclopédie, the book contains 26 thematic essays, organized A to Z, providing an unprecedented perspective on more than 50 artists, including Henry Fuseli, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Francisco Goya, Jean-Baptiste Greuze, William Hogarth, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, and Giambattista Tiepolo. With a multidisciplinary approach, the book probes developments in the natural sciences, technology, economics, and more—all through the lens of the graphic arts.

Edouard Kopp is the John R. Eckel, Jr., Foundation Chief Curator at the Menil Drawing Institute in Houston; Elizabeth M. Rudy is the Carl A. Weyerhaeuser Curator of Prints at the Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA; and Kristel Smentek is associate professor of art history in the Department of Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.

With contributions by J. Cabelle Ahn, Elizabeth Saari Browne, Rachel Burke, Alvin L. Clark, Jr., Anne Driesse, Paul Friedland, Thea Goldring, Margaret Morgan Grasselli, Ashley Hannebrink, Joachim Homann, Kéla Jackson, Penley Knipe, Edouard Kopp, Ewa Lajer-Burcharth, Heather Linton, Austėja Mackelaitė, Tamar Mayer, Elizabeth Mitchell, Elizabeth M. Rudy, Brandon O. Scott, Kristel Smentek, Phoebe Springstubb, Gabriella Szalay, and Christina Taylor.

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