Acquisitions 2012

C. Griffith Mann Deputy Director and Chief Curator

 

In the past three articles highlighting acquisitions at year end, we outlined the process through which works of art enter the collection, considered the criteria that guide the museum’s acquisition work, and reviewed the sources from which the museum has obtained works of art. Looking back on the acquisitions made during 2012, several additional themes emerge as noteworthy. 

As in the past, curators engaged in the major reinstallation work have been active not only in planning the display of the collections in their care, but have also identified new work that would further enhance our newly installed galleries. This year, the major permanent collection reinstallation projects focused on the museum’s late medieval, Renaissance, and Islamic holdings. Stephen Fliegel, Jon Seydl, and Louise Mackie are especially proud to have made a number of purchases that further distinguish the collections now on view in these galleries. The building project has shaped our acquisition work in other areas as well. Reto Thüring, who arrived in May 2012, has worked closely on the commission of a work of outdoor sculpture by Jim Hodges that will eventually take its place in the Kohl Sculpture Garden on the north lawn of the museum facing Wade Oval. A major gift from the family of Sol LeWitt in honor of Agnes Gund has also taken its place along a corridor that overlooks Wade Oval and provides access to the museum’s contemporary art galleries, which were reinstalled for the second time in 2012. 

 

Wall Drawing 590A

Wall Drawing 590A 1989. Sol LeWitt (American, 1928–2007). Color ink wash; 543.6 x 1,240.8 cm (overall). Gift of the LeWitt Family in honor of Agnes Gund 2012.66

 

A second thrust of acquisition work in 2012 focused on the museum’s exhibition activities, where notable purchases will take center stage in shows developed or staged by the museum. A work acquired by Jane Glaubinger, William H. Johnson’s Jitterbug III, entered the collection just in time to join the William H. Johnson exhibition, which inaugurated the Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Exhibition Gallery. Works by Jared French, one of the preeminent magic realist painters, and Francis Towne, a master of mountain scenery, will feature prominently in upcoming exhibitions originated by curators Mark Cole and Heather Lemonedes. 

In other areas of the collection, such as ancient art, acquisitions occur with less frequency. All acquisitions require painstaking research and testify to the museum’s ongoing commitment to add works of major cultural and aesthetic significance across the full scope of its historic collections. The year 2012 was especially notable for purchases that strengthen the museum’s holdings of Roman and Pre-Columbian art. Indeed, we are extremely proud to announce that Apollo magazine celebrated the acquisition of the Portrait Head of Drusus Minor by Michael Bennett as one of the top ten acquisitions by any museum in 2012. This honor is the third such recognition that a Cleveland Museum of Art acquisition has received since 2009, a laudable achievement. The Maya objects highlighted by Susan Bergh will have pride of place in the museum’s Pre-Columbian galleries when they open in June 2013. In the realm of contemporary art, acquisitions of works by living artists speak directly to the museum’s historical collections of Chinese and Islamic art, where the work of artists like Ji Yun-fei (Chinese, b. 1963) and Afruz Amigi (Iranian, b. 1974) reference traditional art-making traditions. Barbara Tannenbaum’s acquisitions of new photography strengthen our representation of photo-based work from the late 20th and early 21st century. 

Finally, we are especially proud to celebrate the generosity of donors who have given major works to the collection, and the long-term stewardship that makes these gifts possible. The gift of a stunning Newport desk by Harvey Buchanan, in memory of his late wife Penny and her mother Dorothy Draper, is one of the most notable donations of a single work to the collection in many years, and will serve as an anchor for the museum’s holdings of early American decorative arts. Asian art and photography also benefited enormously from major gifts to the collection. In the selections that follow, the curators responsible for acquisitions made in 2012 highlight some of the most notable new additions to the collection. We look forward to sharing these works with you in the museum’s galleries and upcoming exhibitions.  

 

The Calumny of Apelles

The Calumny of Apelles (after Luca Penni), 1560. Giorgio Ghisi (Italian, 1520–1582). Engraving; 36.9 x 31.9 cm. Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 2012.8

In the 16th century, an age before photography, Europeans were acquainted with great but inaccessible works of art only through prints. Graphics, relatively inexpensive, spread aesthetic ideas and allowed many people to own original works of art. Print publishers across the Continent flourished. A superb draftsman and artist like Giorgio Ghisi, however, did not merely copy a drawing or a painting onto a copper plate, but interpreted it, appropriately transforming the subject from one medium into another. Ghisi engraved The Calumny of Apelles after a drawing by Luca Penni (Italian, 1500/04–1557). A popular subject in Renaissance Italy, the work follows the description of a painting executed by the ancient Greek artist Apelles. The allegory is depicted by a man with large ears; flanked by two female figures, Ignorance and Suspicion, he motions toward Calumny, the woman dragging by the hair a young man who protests his innocence. The clarity and precision of the scene is due to Ghisi’s skill as an engraver. Using a linear technique to achieve pictorial results, he manipulated light and shade to model the sculptural figures in a wide range of tones. The full effects of the rich shadows and glowing highlights can only be fully appreciated in early brilliant impressions like this one.

 

Jitterbugs III

Jitterbugs III about 1941. William H. Johnson (American, 1901–1970). Screenprint with hand-coloring; 27.9 x 40.6 cm. The Severance and Greta Millikin Purchase Fund 2012.9.a    

William H. Johnson, who grew up in Florence, South Carolina, spent a decade in Europe painting expressionist landscapes and still lifes. Returning to New York in 1938, he joined the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project and was assigned to teach at the Harlem Community Art Center. Meeting important African American artists like Jacob Lawrence and drawing African sculptures and African American models radically changed his work. “I want to paint Negro people in their natural environment,” Johnson wrote in 1941. “I wish to study my people thoroughly.” Influenced by the power and spirituality of folk art, Johnson developed a style of simplified, geometric shapes executed in intense, flat color.

Johnson’s work explored the daily life of southern African Americans, religious subjects, and the militarization of World War II. Inspired by jazz and clubs in Harlem like the Savoy Ballroom, Johnson also depicted couples doing the jitterbug, capturing the vibrancy, energy, joy, and passion of the dancers. Jitterbugs III, where the scene is constructed of jigsaw-like shapes moving to a lively rhythm, is a prime example of the artist’s most desirable motif.

 

Portrait Head of Drusus Minor

Portrait Head of Drusus Minor probably after ad 23. Roman, North Africa. Marble; H. 35 cm. Leonard C. Hanna Jr. Fund 2012.29

This monumental marble portrait head of Drusus Minor (13 bc–ad 23) is the most accomplished image of the son of the emperor Tiberius among the approximately 30 portraits of the Julio-Claudian prince to have survived from antiquity. Such a judgment is founded on several qualitative factors: the powerful refinement and sensitivity of the carving, the excellent state of preservation, and the monumental scale. The Julio-Claudian dynasty (ca. 27 bc–ad 68) inaugurated the Roman Imperial Period beginning with Augustus, and included the reigns of Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero. The portrait was carved during a momentous transitional period in world history, roughly contemporary with the ministry of Jesus Christ.

What sets the portrait apart is the way it combines the best aspects of Classical and Hellenistic Greek art with stylistic traits meant to place the portrait within a dynastic lineage descending from Augustus, the first Roman emperor. The masterful carving describes the features of Drusus Minor by striking an artful balance between the emotional charge of Hellenistic sculpture and the cool idealization of earlier Greek classical prototypes, selectively employed to convey an ennobled likeness of the emperor’s son and heir. An impression of divinely sanctioned power held in reserve, amplified by the monumental scale, gives the portrait its brooding presence. If standing, the figure would have loomed seven to eight feet in height. Traces of paint remind us that the sculpture originally was painted to enhance the illusion of a living person. Specific facial features common to both large portrait sculptures and coins securely identify this marble portrait as Drusus Minor: the undulating contours of the broad forehead, the pronounced ridges of the brow, the large hooked nose and thin lips (the lower withdrawn), the jutting chin, the strong neck, and the full head of hair combed forward in the manner popularized by Augustus.

The idealized nobility of the portrait is somewhat at odds with the cruel reality of the subject. According to first- and second-century writers, Drusus was prone to fits of rage, made worse by his heavy drinking. He was said to have been in the habit of eating bitter almonds as a prophylactic against hangovers. Most disturbing to modern sensibilities was the way he relished gladiatorial blood sport with a passion that alarmed even his father. He was an able military commander, much liked by the legionnaires under his command, who named a particular type of short sword after him, calling it the “Drusian.” His star ascended quickly. Second in line to the imperial throne after Germanicus, he married Germanicus’s sister Livilla. In ad 14 he delivered a funeral oration for Augustus from the rostra in the Roman Forum despite being a less than gripping public speaker. The following year he was appointed to the high office of consul. After a successful military career and the death of Germanicus, he was in direct line to become emperor but died in ad 23 at age 34, allegedly poisoned by his own wife, who was having an affair with Sejanus, a general and personal rival.

  

Standing Yakshi

Standing Yakshi ca. early 2nd century. Mathura, Northern India, Kushan period. Spotted red sandstone; 74.5 x 30 x 15 cm. Bequest of Jeptha H. Wade III in honor of Emily V. Wade 2012.19

During the early centuries of Buddhist art in India, carved stone railings demarcated sacred spaces from the ordinary world. The railings were sculpted with imagery that included worshipers, divinities, and scenes from Buddhist stories. This female devotee is depicted in the process of approaching the place of worship carrying a covered wicker tray filled with fresh flower garlands.

Her form exemplifies the ideal of the young mother with breasts full of milk and broad hips traversed by a beaded girdle that secures her lower garment. The clasps of the girdle have a vegetal ornament called the srivatsa, or the “baby of the goddess of good fortune.” The pearl strings dangling from the center of the rosette point directly to her genitalia, further emphasizing her nature as a fertile mother capable of generating life.

Life-affirming imagery dominated the sculptural programs of gateways and exterior railposts of early Buddhist sites, for such imagery was considered cleansing, purifying, and auspicious. When devotees passed these images as they entered the sacred space, they were metaphorically cleansed, as though they had passed through pure water to wash away the dust of the ordinary world in preparation for their devotions in the sanctuary.

The powerful legs have been carved to indicate that her weight rests on her right leg, and her upper body bends to counterbalance the movement. This sense of dynamism in the stance, the masterful transformation of stone into the suppleness of youthful voluptuous flesh barely interrupted by clothing, and touches of naturalism as seen in the slipping of the large bangle down the spiral cuff, are all stylistic characteristics of female figures made during the early second century.

If an animal or subjugated dwarf-like figure had originally been carved beneath her feet or a tree behind her back, this figure could be considered to be a divinity, such as a Yakshi. Yakshis are the female personifications of sap, the water thought to contain the essence of life for a plant or tree. They were local nature divinities who were propitiated for the conception, safe birth, and protection of children. Tradition holds that Yakshis manifested themselves in human form only when in the presence of one greater than themselves. A Yakshi’s human presence on a Buddhist monument would have signaled to visitors that the Buddha was revered even by the Yakshis. Potential converts to Buddhism would have recognized the exceptional form of a Yakshi and understood that the Buddha to whom she brings garlands for worship must be even greater and worthier of worship than she.

 

Timur Distributes Gifts from His Grandson, the Prince of Multan

Timur Distributes Gifts from His Grandson, the Prince of Multan From the Zafarnama (“Book of Victories”), 1598–1600. Sravana (Indian, active ca. 1560–1600). Opaque watercolor, ink, and gold on paper; 14.7 x 9.8 cm (image). Gift of Dr. Norman Zaworski 2012.301

The folio above is from an illustrated manuscript of the Zafarnama, or “Book of Victories,” written in Persian by Sharaf al-Din Ali Yazdi in 1425. It relates the history of the reign of Timur—known as Tamerlane in medieval European sources—who ruled much of the Near East and Central Asia from 1370 to 1405. Timur’s descendant, Akbar, the third Mughal emperor of India (r. 1556–1605), commissioned this copy of the text toward the end of his rule, when his interests turned away from adventure stories to Mughal dynastic histories.

In this painting Timur and his entourage have camped 40 miles outside the city of Multan, in present-day Pakistan, where his grandson, Prince Pir Muhammad, ruled the region. The prince orchestrated a feast in his grandfather’s honor and presented him with costly gifts, which Timur, in turn, distributed among his followers in a gesture of power and magnanimity. The text lists the valuable items, which included textiles, vessels of gold and silver, and Arabian horses in such quantities that Timur’s secretaries were “busy for two days registering all those goods.”

Remarkably, the artist’s name has been written at the bottom of this page: ‘amale srun, or “made by Sravana.” This is significant for a number of reasons. The earliest painting ascribed to this artist dates to about 1560 and is on the recto of folio 67 in the Tutinama of the Cleveland Museum of Art, which was also commissioned by Emperor Akbar. Until now, the only other known painting by Sravana was made around 1580, leading scholars to conclude that he was no longer active after that time, except as a colorist. This painting, never published before, was painted entirely by him in the late 1590s, showing that he achieved master status and was active for about 40 years in the imperial atelier. Thanks to this recent acquisition, Cleveland now houses the earliest and latest known paintings by this imperial court artist—a rare circumstance in the field of Indian painting.

 

Peter Beard and Friends, East Hampton, August 1976

Pat Sabatine’s Eighth Birthday Party, April 1977

Peter Beard and Friends, East Hampton, August 1976 1976. Larry Fink (American, b. 1941). Gelatin silver print; 24.4 x 25 cm. Gift of Mark Schwartz and Bettina Katz in honor of Barbara Tannenbaum  

Pat Sabatine’s Eighth Birthday Party, April 1977 1977. Larry Fink (American, b. 1941). Gelatin silver print; 24.6 x 25 cm. Gift of Mark Schwartz and Bettina Katz in honor of Barbara Tannenbaum  

Larry Fink’s “Social Graces” series addresses the power of the image—not just the photographic representation but also the self that we project, or try to assume, in social situations. The series juxtaposes two social settings: New York City high society events and the familial celebrations held by the artist’s working-class neighbors in rural Pennsylvania. Mark Schwartz and Bettina Katz generously donated a complete set of the 92 photographs in the artist’s expanded 2001 version of “Social Graces.”
Photographing the New York events, Fink writes, was a process “fueled by curiosity and my rage against the privileged class—its abuses . . . and unfulfilled lives” that made him aware “of the camera’s prying aggression.” He is equally probing, but more sympathetic, in his documentation of his neighbors’ birthday and graduation parties. As unflattering as both sets of portraits can be, they nonetheless resonate with empathy for the human failings that too often surface on such occasions and replace our desired image with a truer reflection of self.

 

My Left Hand (with Young Mao)

My Left Hand (with Young Mao) 2004. Sheng Qi (Chinese, b. 1965). Chromogenic print; 99.1 x 68.6 cm. Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 2012.102

In 1989 Sheng Qi participated in the famous Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing, but fled when the tanks approached. Finding himself unable to make art in the repressive atmosphere that ensued, Sheng decided to go into exile. Before leaving, he cut off the little finger of his left hand and buried it in a flower pot. The politically based but highly personal performance signified that while his body might be in Europe, his soul was still deeply rooted in China.

After ten years of self-imposed exile, Sheng returned to China and began photographing his mutilated hand cupping personal, political, and historical images. The “Hand” series, which reflects Sheng’s deep physical pain and emotional agony, has become an icon of the late-twentieth-century Chinese Diaspora. This is one of 16 photo-based pieces by four Chinese artist-photographers to enter the collection in 2012. The works of Liu Zheng, Chen Ziagang, Zhang Huan, and Sheng Qi present a diversity of approaches characteristic of contemporary Chinese photography.

 

Scarred Chest

Scarred Chest 2004. Hank Willis Thomas (American, b. 1976). Digital chromogenic print; 152.4 x 101.6 cm. Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 2012.59

Scarred Chest is part of the “Branded” series, in which Hank Willis Thomas added logos or subverted brand information in images borrowed from advertisements. This provocative 37-year-old artist uses photography, video, and installation to explore how history and culture are framed, who does the framing, and how it influences our society.

The truncated view and lean muscularity of the larger-than-life African American athlete in Scarred Chest evokes classical Greek sculptures of athletes and heroes. Thomas’s athlete has been repeatedly “branded” with the Nike swoosh, suggesting that while today’s professional athletes are heroicized, their bodies are traded as commodities in a manner that recalls the African American slave trade. Is the swoosh a burn scar or a tribal scarification, a mark of possession or a sign of pride and belonging?
Scarred Chest is one of five photographs and a video by Thomas acquired by the museum in 2012. All will be on view in an exhibition of his work at the museum and the Transformer Station during the fall and winter of 2013–14. 

 

Last Days of Village Wen
 

Last Days of Village Wen (details from beginning, middle, and end), 2011. Ji Yun-fei (Chinese, b. 1963). Handscroll, ink and color on paper; 34 x 1,400 cm. The Severance and Greta Millikin Purchase Fund 2012.99. 

Last Days of Village Wen evokes the human experience of migration. In a 14-meter-long handscroll, the contemporary artist Ji Yun-fei skillfully adopts the traditional Chinese painting format and uses fictional images and words for storytelling. The scroll is among his finest and most spectacular work.

The painting begins with a quiet village reminiscent of a place of retreat in classical Chinese painting. In a seemingly timeless natural environment, villagers pack their belongings in preparation of a move. Away from their lands, they struggle to eke out a meager existence. Those who sell scraps on the streets are driven away by city officials; others appear as skeletons threatened by demonic figures, monstrous beasts, and gigantic bugs. All are swept along in a vortex of wind, drifting in an environment lacking gravity or orientation. Following the painting is the artist’s colophon, which tells the story in his own words.

Ji’s painting is lyrical, metaphorical, and powerful, combining history, fantasy, and the grotesque to connect with reality. The story is based on China’s South-North Water Transfer Project, a controversial undertaking that calls for water diversion from the Yangtze River in the south to drier regions in the north. It has caused undesirable problems, including environmental degradation and human migration. “We risk losing ourselves even more, metaphysically, as we become more and more disconnected with nature and memory,” Ji says, alluding to the human cost of rapid development. The artist creates a narrative inspired by China’s rich cultural tradition, drawing from memories of folktales and ghost stories. His imagery, both fanciful and realistic, provides metaphors for reflection on human conditions.

Here the Chinese handscroll serves to carry multiple messages that relate to contemporary experiences and welcome open interpretations. To Ji, the theme of migration is relevant to many who leave home on sojourns to different places. “I feel this is the contemporary story—we all move around so much, we uproot ourselves and go elsewhere,” he says. “It is a story that is repeated again and again.”

 

Vessel with Battle Scene

Vessel with Battle Scene about ad 600–900. Meso-america, Maya, Late Classic Period. Ceramic and slip; H. 16.9 cm, Diam. 15.1 cm. John L. Severance Fund 

The Maya created one of Mesoamerica’s most famous art styles, celebrated for its refined realism and the hieroglyphic writing lavished on artworks of many kinds. Maya art is above all a courtly art that, in both its imagery and hieroglyphic writing, chronicles and glorifies the lives of the royalty who governed independent city-states scattered across Guatemala’s rainforests and the Yucatán Peninsula. These polities were not unified politically but shared characteristics of culture. Together their fortunes rose and fell, blossoming into an extraordinary period of expansion and artistic achievement during the Late Classic Period (ad 600–900). During this time, the Maya lived in a crowded political landscape torn by rivalries in which elites scrambled to gain advantage—including tribute—through alliances and war.

The museum’s recently acquired Vessel with Battle Scene commemorates the importance of such power struggles. Likely used in a gift exchange that helped to cement an important political relationship, the vessel depicts the aftermath of a battle: the presentation of prisoners. A frontally posed lord turns to review a register of ten elegantly drawn warriors, some humiliated and stripped of battle regalia and others dressed in elaborate headgear and garments that, in three cases, are made of a jaguar’s pelt. The shirts may be padded with cotton to blunt the thrusts of long spears, a basic Maya weapon that three of the warriors brandish. The hieroglyphs encircling the rim form a standard dedicatory statement that appears on many Maya vessels. The glyph for cacao (chocolate) in the inscription indicates that the vessel was used to drink an elite beverage made of cacao beans. The vessel belongs to a group of several similar vases painted by the same master artist in the Nebaj region of Guatemala. The vessels, known as the Fenton Group, portray a related series of events that involved Kan Xib Ahaw (Lord Kan Xib), the frontal figure on the museum’s vessel.

 

Figurine with Removable Headdress
 

Figurine with Removable Headdress about ad 600–900. Mesoamerica, Maya, Late Classic Period. Ceramic and slip; H. 21 cm. John L. Severance Fund 2012.33a–c

The museum also acquired another Maya object last year: Figurine with Removable Headdress, which represents a male, perhaps a warrior, who wears a spectacular headdress in the shape of a zoomorphic head with gaping mouth. A skeletal face, its jaw articulated, descends from the headdress to fit as a mask over the lord’s face. The figurine comes from the vicinity of Jaina Island near the western coast of the Yucatán peninsula, where thousands of Maya figurines have been recovered from tombs.

 

Waterfall between Chiavenna and Mount Splügen

Waterfall between Chiavenna and Mount Splügen 1784. Francis Towne (British, 1739–1816). Inscribed, lower left in pen and brown ink: Francis Towne / dell. 1784. Watercolor with graphite, point of brush, and selective glazing on blued white antique laid paper; 47.3 x 56.8 cm. Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 2012.35

Over the past few years the museum has assessed its collection of British drawings, identifying underappreciated masterworks and embarking on a campaign of strategic acquisitions. This monumental Swiss landscape by Francis Towne brings to the collection a highly finished example of the artist’s distinctive style, characterized by elegant simplicity. Towne made only one trip to the Continent and spent a year painting the architectural wonders of Rome and its beguiling environs. On the journey back to England, he traveled over the Alps, visited the Italian Lakes, and crossed over the Splügen Pass into Switzerland, recording the journey in sketchbooks. Towne’s alpine views have been described as “unquestionably among the greatest by any 18th-century artist of mountain scenery.” In this watercolor based on sketches made en plein air, he confronted the monumental forms of the cliffs, choosing neither to subdue them into the picturesque nor to etherealize them. Rather, he rendered the great masses of rock, ice, and snow in stylized shapes, irresistibly appealing to a 21st-century sensibility. Against the earth tones of the brooding cliffs, the crash of the waterfall is like a white explosion, arching diagonally across the composition. 

 

Apollo with Erato and Cupid

Apollo with Erato and Cupid 1595. Johann Kellerthaler (German, 1560/62–1611). Inscribed lower left in brown ink: Johan Kellerdaler aurifaber 1595; lower right in brown ink: Zu Breslave. Pen and black ink and brown wash heightened with white gouache on laid paper; 19.1 x 15 cm. Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 2012.98

Johann Kellerthaler worked as a draftsman, sculptor, and engraver, but was most active as a goldsmith known for his silver reliefs made for the Saxon court of his native Dresden. Kellerthaler’s drawings are very rare. Fewer than 20 are known today, each one a finished work of art, clearly signed and sometimes annotated with an indication of place and date. The inscription aurifaber (goldsmith) identifies Kellerthaler’s profession; the annotation Zu Breslave indicates that the work was made in Breslau, probably as part of a craftsman’s journey.

The drawing’s subject is classical, depicting Apollo—the god of music, poetry, and prophecy—with his attribute, the lyre. He is accompanied by one of the nine muses, Erato, the muse of lyric poetry. Because of her association with love poetry, Erato frequently was depicted, as she is here, with the youngest of the gods, Cupid, the mischievous god of love.

Kellerthaler’s style combined the refined grace of international Mannerism with the bold angularity more typical of German draftsmanship—expressed in this drawing by the elegant figures’ elongated limbs framed against bold cross-hatching. The juxtaposition of smooth, gleaming nude bodies with a densely ornamented background echoes Kellerthaler’s experience as a goldsmith. The acquisition of this rare sheet brings a quintessential example of Mannerist draftsmanship to the collection. In terms of rarity, beauty, and condition, Apollo with Erato and Cupid exemplifies “Cleveland quality.”

 

Portrait of Philip II, King of Spain

Portrait of Philip II, King of Spain mid-1550s. Alessandro Cesati (Cypriot, active Italy, before 1538–after 1564). Citrine, mounted in a gold and enamel pendant; cameo 3.2 x 2.5 cm; pendant 4.3 x 2.8 cm. By exchange: Bequests of Mrs. Severance A. Millikin and John L. Severance; Dudley P. Allen Fund; Gift of Carrie Moss Halle in memory of Salmon Portland Halle; Gift of S. Livingstone Mather, Constance Mather Bishop, Philip R. Mather, Katherine Hoyt Cross, and Katherine Mather McLean in accordance with the wishes of Samuel Mather; Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Severance A. Millikin; and the Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Collection; and Sundry Purchase Fund 2012.53

In December, one of the most extraordinary acquisitions of the past year debuted in the newly installed Renaissance galleries, anchoring the section devoted to portraiture. Though often overlooked today, carved gems stood among the most important and characteristic art forms of the Renaissance, perceived then, as now, as connecting directly with the ancient Roman art of gem carving. Our work would have been prized in the context of a learned, courtly culture, tied to a Renaissance art of conversation, where both ancient and modern gems were hotly pursued by princely and papal collectors such as the Medici and the Gonzaga. While at times worn as jewelry, these objects were more often contemplated and discussed among like-minded collectors and scholars. They are thus archetypal High Renaissance objects.

Our cameo is one of only three known works signed by Alessandro Cesati, one of the most significant practitioners of gem carving. Philip II, king of Spain, appears in profile, clad in armor, with the Order of the Golden Fleece around his neck. Cesati’s remarkably precise and varied cutting describes the texture of cloth, metal, skin, and hair with astonishing precision, presenting the king’s physiognomy with striking naturalism—complete with receding hairline and prominent chin—as well as conveying his strong character. Signed on the shoulder drape with the Greek letters ·Α·Ε·, an abbreviation for ΑΛΕΞΑΝ∆ΡΟΣ ΕΠΟΙΕΙ(Alexander made this), this work also retains what is likely its original enameled setting, an uncommon survival.

Cameo carving, in which the subject emerges in relief from the surface, is unforgiving, especially in a transparent stone where the cuts are essentially uncorrectable. Citrine, a yellow quartz, is common today, owing to vast South American sources, but rarely seen in the early modern period, and—significantly—was never used in antiquity. This atypical citrine has no inclusions; it is perfectly clear and evenly colored. Citrine historically came from the Horn of Africa. However, new mines had just been opened in Uruguay during the 1550s, and this rock may have come from that New World source, a brand-new marvel of natural history linked to the discovery and exploitation of South American resources central to Philip II’s reign. Alessandro Cesati came from Cyprus—hence the Greek signature—but moved to Italy, becoming one of the most significant Renaissance medalists and gem carvers. The biographer Giorgio Vasari described Cesati’s gems such that “nothing better could be imagined” and recorded Michelangelo’s acclaim for one of Cesati’s papal medals as the summit of the medallic arts. Beyond their role as critical elements in Renaissance humanist culture, carved gems were luxury arts of the highest order. They served as diplomatic gifts and played a prominent role at the Spanish court, where numerous portraits show the royal family holding cameos of Philip II. The provenance is also illustrious, in both of the most important post-Renaissance gem collections: the 2nd Earl of Arundel in the 17th century and the 3rd Duke of Marlborough in the 18th.

 

Virgin and Child in Majesty (Sedes Sapientiae)

Virgin and Child in Majesty (Sedes Sapientiae) about 1150–1200. France, Auvergne. Wood (walnut) with polychromy; 40 x 22 x 24 cm. Severance and Greta Millikin Purchase Fund 2012.52

This sculpture belongs to a group commonly known to art history as Sedes Sapientiae (the Throne of Wisdom). The subject embodies a complex and core Christian doctrine of the Virgin’s role in the Incarnation and ultimately in the redemption of humankind. Mary sits frontally and hieratically on a throne, her gaze toward the beholder. Just as she is seated on a throne, she in turn becomes the throne to the Christ Child, thus symbolizing her role in giving birth not only to the human Jesus, but also to the divine Christ. The Incarnation gave Mary a unique role as principal mediator between heaven and earth, and between God and humankind. As a result, her image proliferated, especially after the 12th century, a period of surging interest in Mary’s life and increased devotions to her person and images.

Sculptures of the Throne of Wisdom were once abundant across Europe during the 12th and 13th centuries, especially in France. Representations in wood generally have not survived well; some 170 have been documented. However, this newly discovered sculpture belongs to a much smaller and elite group produced in the Auvergne region of central France during the second half of the 12th century. These “Auvergne” Sedes Sapientiae, estimated to number only about 25 or 30, are characterized by softer sculptural qualities and linear, calligraphic draperies which form beautiful swirls and contours. This sculpture, though lacking its throne and lower extremities, presents a powerful and beautiful example of these Auvergne Virgins in Majesty. All surviving sculptures are smaller than life-size. The small wooden Auvergne sedes figures were intentionally mobile, and evidence suggests that they were frequently carried within churches and through town streets on Marian feast days. Their removable heads allowed “dressing” them in costumes for such processions. The sculpture’s upper portions have survived especially well. With its visual integrity intact, it provides an important addition to the museum’s small collection of Romanesque wood sculpture.

 

Pair of Wheel-lock Petronel Pistols

Pair of Wheel-lock Petronel Pistols about 1630. Georg Kurland (Silesian, Teschen, active 1595–1632). Steel with gilding, walnut inlaid with ivory, bone, and mother-of-pearl; L. 70.5 cm. Dudley P. Allen Fund 2012.97.1–2

These guns form a matched pair of wheel-lock pistols conforming to the type known as “petronel,” a long pistol usually made with a wheel-lock ignition. Despite its length, the petronel was fired at the wrist like a pistol or held against the chest, and not at the shoulder like a rifle. Pistols of the period customarily were made in pairs, often along with primer and powder flasks to form a garniture. The wheel-lock ignition mechanism required a key to wind or “span” a spring, which in turn released a rapidly rotating serrated wheel. This ignited the main charge by striking against a piece of iron pyrite to create a shower of sparks. The invention of the wheel-lock made possible small arms that could be fired with one hand. Applied initially to firearms used on horseback for cavalry or for the hunt, such pistols normally were carried in tubular holsters on the sides of the saddle.

These elaborate petronel guns are true decorative arts objects, their walnut stocks inlaid with mother-of-pearl and stag horn in a theme of stags, lions, dogs, and scrolling plant vines. The butt cap on both guns includes the initials of the gunmaker, Georg Kurland, recorded as working in Teschen from 1595 to 1632 and supplying guns to the Saxon court. Gilding, chiseling, and engraved decoration embellish the octagonal barrels. Luxury firearms as a rule were intended as sporting weapons for hunting or target practice. As these examples demonstrate, finely crafted guns became true works of art utilizing the skills of gunsmiths, woodcarvers, chiselers, goldsmiths, inlayers, engravers, and other specialized craftsmen.

Wheel-lock pistols were made in military and civilian variants, the military versions generally less elaborate. Such guns also attracted the interest of rich noblemen as emblems of rank, and sporting guns soon became luxury objects for their enjoyment. Gunmakers lavished all forms of embellishment on these firearms: chiseling, engraving, and gilding of the metal parts, as well as the use of rare woods like ebony for the stock, enlivened with inlays of horn, bone, and ivory. The highly elaborate decoration of these guns indicates they were made for an unidentified aristocratic client. They provide the museum’s Armor Court with superb examples of the gunmaker’s craft from the early 17th century.

 

Gallery

Opened in December 2012, the new gallery of Islamic art offers the opportunity to display works of art by contemporary artists inspired by Islamic traditions, thereby providing a bridge between historic Islamic art and the contemporary Islamic world. The Iranian-born Afruz Amighi created His Lantern, a stunning shadow work, in 2006 with a pattern influenced by Iranian prayer rugs. On a large white sheet of woven polyethylene, she meticulously hand-cut the design with a heated knife that seared the edges. Light projected on the suspended work casts a magnified shadow on the wall 17 inches away. In the process, light and shadow are reversed as the cut-out voided areas in the fabric are transformed into the illuminated pattern on the wall. Both the concept and the effect are magical. 

 

His Lantern

His Lantern 2006.Afruz Amighi (Iranian, b. 1974). Shadow installation; woven polyethylene (Pe-Cap). 254 x 177.8 cm. The Severance and Greta Millikin Purchase Fund2012.15.a

His Lantern, the first in a series of shadow pieces, uses the format of a prayer rug within a large niche, representing a prayer niche or mihrab in a mosque, enlivened with a foliate pattern. A prominent crystal chandelier replaces a mosque lamp with flames rising up to form the name of Allah, stylized into the shape of a tulip. Miniature skeleton keys hang from the chandelier, representing the martyrs of the Iran-Iraq war. Amighi’s work generally incorporates small coded religious and political symbols in geometric and foliate designs adapted from Islamic art which she invites viewers to investigate.

Born in Iran, Amighi was raised in New York City. She graduated from Barnard College and then went on to receive an MFA from New York University in 2007. In 2009, Amighi won the inaugural Jameel Prize awarded by the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. 

 

Untitled Noren  Partition (23)

Untitled Noren Partition (23) 2009. Rowland Ricketts (American, b. 1971). Indigo dyed antique mosquito netting, paste resist; 190.5 x 190.5 cm. Gift of the Textile Art Alliance 2012.50

Rowland Ricketts combines natural materials with tradi-tional techniques to create stunning works of contemporary art in fiber. He created Untitled Noren Partition (23) with five hand-woven antique mosquito-netting panels that are stitched across the top to form the beautiful partition. Each length is resist-dyed with indigo to create meticulously controlled large undyed circles that appear to float mysteriously on gradated shades of light to deep blue. 

In Ricketts’s words, “I see my noren occupying a space of transition. Designed as partitions, they are also screens that capture and filter a space’s shifting light and air, bringing life and movement to the indigo and the cloth.” It was selected for the Textile Department’s collection from the juried contemporary fiber art exhibition Focus: Fiber 2011–12, organized by the Textile Art Alliance, an affiliate group of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Ricketts has been working with indigo, the natural dye plant for the color blue, for 16 years, having trained in indigo farming and dyeing in Japan. After receiving his MFA from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in 2005, Ricketts now farms and dyes in Bloomington, Indiana, where he is an assistant professor of textiles at Indiana University and runs the IndiGrowing Blue project. He greatly enjoys facilitating the indigo processes, which nature nourishes from seeds and leaves to indigo dye. In his words, “Through simple forms and a straightforward presentation I strive to present the viewer with a color so rich that they see beyond the dyed material to examine all that lies within a color’s substance.”

 

Evasion

Evasion 1947. Jared French (American, 1905–1988). Tempera on canvas mounted to panel; 54.5 x 29.2 cm. John L. Severance Fund 2012.31

Set in an austere yellow interior, Jared French’s Evasion is a precisely rendered yet highly enigmatic tableau featuring several figures whose physical similarities suggest they represent the same man. This protagonist appears twice in the composition’s left foreground: in one instance, he confronts his naked body in a mirror while shielding his eyes in shame; in the other, he bows his head and covers his genitals in self-reprimand. In the right foreground, wearing a blue union suit, he kneels in prayer below a blank sheet of paper tacked to a wall. Down a dark and claustrophobic hallway in the center of the composition, his variously naked and clothed body ducks furtively through doorways in an implied infinite progression.

Although presently not a household name—a situation attributable in part to prevailing critical preferences for abstract painting in postwar American art history—Jared French was well regarded during the 1940s and ’50s as one of the most technically accomplished and iconographically compelling magic realist painters. A still understudied coterie of artists, the magic realists revived exacting Old Master techniques in order to make convincing their improbable, sometimes dreamlike images that address a wide range of personal and social concerns. Because of French’s preference for egg-yolk tempera, an extremely painstaking medium, his output was relatively small; indeed, during his mature career, he completed only one or two paintings annually.

Symbolizing an individual’s attempt to deny the physical self, Evasion is both an intensely personal and publicly resonant endeavor. It belongs to a series of works, titled “Aspects of Man,” in which the artist chronicled various biological and cultural phenomena typifying human existence. Yet despite its universal and timeless character, Evasion also reflects specific tensions regarding sexual mores in mid-century America. While it is reductive to attribute French’s iconographic interest here solely to his bisexuality, the fact remains that he ranks among the first American artists whose same-sex desires were recognized and acknowledged by contemporaries who viewed his work. In light of this, paintings such as Evasion carry additional import in the history of American art.

 

Desk and Bookcase

Desk and Bookcase about 1780–95. Attributed to John Townsend (American, active Newport, Rhode Island, 1732–1809). Mahogany, red cedar, chestnut, white pine, brass; 240 x 108 x 64.8 cm. Gift of Harvey Buchanan in memory of Penelope Draper Buchanan and Dorothy Tuckerman Draper 2012.43

In one of the most significant single gifts of a work of art to the museum in years, Harvey Buchanan, a retired art history professor from Case Western Reserve University, donated the magnificent 18th-century Newport desk and bookcase that had descended in the family of his late wife, Penelope (Penny) Draper Buchanan. Great case pieces of American colonial furniture are rare specimens of the cabinetmaker’s art. Examples from Newport, such as this one, are even more highly prized for their innovative construction and distinctive design. Only one other desk with similarly shaped panels on the upper doors is known to exist and helps attribute this work to the Townsend family of cabinetmakers working in Newport at the end of the 18th century.

The desk sings an even more lively tune with its illustrious provenance, having been commissioned by a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Oliver Wolcott Sr., who later went on to serve as governor of Connecticut. It then directly descended through the family to the well-known 20th-century interior designer Dorothy Draper, and finally to Penny, her daughter, who was a legendary educator at the museum for many years.

Penny and Harvey Buchanan lovingly cared for the desk in their Gates Mills home for nearly 50 years, considering over time its ultimate resting place to be the museum’s galleries where they both spent many hours teaching art to young people. After Penny’s death, Harvey decided to donate several works to the museum, including an important neo-classical French clock, currently on view, and several pieces of jewelry that were sold to begin an endowed fund in education in Penny’s memory. With these gifts, the museum has benefited immensely from the generosity and devotion of two of its most beloved community members.

 

Jim Hodges

Jim Hodges The museum has commissioned a monumental outdoor sculpture by the artist. These images are from an earlier work in the same series (Untitled, 2011; granite, stainless steel, and lacquer; 190.5 x 629.9 x 764.5 cm installed). Installation view: Gladstone Gallery, New York © Jim Hodges. Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels

One major acquisition approved last year will be installed this coming summer and fall on the grounds to the north of the east wing. Last summer Jim Hodges (American, b. 1957) selected three boulders in the Cape Cod region of Massachusetts. They will make an impressive outdoor sculpture, newly commissioned by the Cleveland Museum of Art, adding to the surroundings of the museum and its neighbors and providing a place to rest and to wonder. But until the three huge stones, each weighing 3 to 15 tons, are finally part of the Kohl Sculpture Garden, they still have a long way to go. In a fine art foundry in Rock Tavern, New York, parts of the boulders’ surfaces are being chipped away to accept thin stainless steel veneers. Layer by layer these steel sheets, painted with a clear-coat mixed with a dye typically used on motorcycles, will be added until they produce a perfect fit between skin and stone. In the flawless contiguity of the shiny metal and rough stone one can find the richness and metaphorical depth typical of Hodges’s oeuvre, along with his continual interest in the varied relationship between beauty and transience.

Installed in a triangular setting with the modified sides facing inward, the rocky trio will create a vibrating space of colors and reflections. Like Isamu Noguchi, whose sculpture Rock Carvings: Passage of the Seasons sits right in front of the museum’s main entrance, Hodges is interested in art’s ability to activate and transform the spaces it inhabits. The new work will not only enter a meaningful dialogue with Noguchi’s famous stones, it will also speak to other works inside the museum, as it is deeply influenced by the artist’s recent trip to India and his experiences there: a “layering, layering, layering of material, to the point where what’s being covered, its identity, seemed to start being erased by the accumulation of color,” as he puts it. His sculpture for the museum promises a multifaceted, thoughtful work of art that is not afraid of embracing beauty as an integral part of life.

 

Jim Hodges 2

Inside the bank of windows facing north between the Viñoly east wing and Marcel Breuer’s education building is another major contemporary acquisition. Joining the monochromatic pencil wall drawing by Sol LeWitt already in the museum collection (Wall Drawing #4: A square divided horizontally and vertically into four equal parts, each with lines in different directions), the colorful Wall Drawing 590A (1989) is very different in its visual effect and medium. The two works dramatically represent the difference between LeWitt’s wall drawings and wall paintings.

Installed on the wall outside of the contemporary galleries and fully visible from outside the building, the large-scale wall painting measures roughly 18 by 40 feet.Wall Drawing 590A connects in an interesting way with other collections of the museum, due in part to its Italian art historical roots. In producing the piece, LeWitt was influenced by Trecento and Quattrocento frescoes such as those of the Arena Chapel in Padua.

This gift from the LeWitt family in honor of museum trustee Agnes Gund marks a major and welcome addition to the contemporary collection, and significantly enhances the museum’s holdings of works by a major figure in contemporary American art.

 

Pipe Bowl

Pipe Bowl possibly 1800s. Southern Nguni, South Africa. Green stone (nephrite), metal; H. 5.5 cm. Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 2012.42

Carved from a deep green, translucent stone with a highly polished surface, this exquisite example of an extremely rare type of pipe bowl originates from the Eastern Cape Province in South Africa. Like the few other known examples, the Cleveland pipe bowl would have been complemented by a stem, now lost, made from wood or reed or another less durable material. It is believed that such nephrite pipe bowls were copied from stone examples introduced by 17th-century Dutch settlers in the Cape region.
In southern Africa smoking tobacco and taking snuff were and still are enjoyed as activities that establish or solidify harmonious social relationships. Because of its capacity to heighten awareness and increase sexual arousal, tobacco also was associated with procreation, fertility, and access to the ancestors. Pipes often were given as wedding presents or as gifts to maintain peaceful family or kinship ties, then passed down as heirlooms from one generation to the next and, over time, used only on special occasions.

In addition to their practical function as smoking devices, pipes of unusual and therefore costly materials and in fancy and refined shapes and forms, like this example, served as markers of rank and status and indicated prestige and socioeconomic prominence. Indeed, the Cleveland bowl’s aesthetic excellence, expressed in its design as much as in its craftsmanship, reinforces the belief that tobacco products were associated with generous and powerful humans and ancestral spirits alike. 

 


Cleveland Art, March/April 2013