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January 2010

Rembrandt Discovered in Bathroom Cabinet

Lately there have been some connections between bathrooms and the discoveries of great/important art. Yep – I’m not kidding. Remember the couple that discovered a Raphael copy in their apartment? They found the copy after they decided to build a new bathroom in their home. And now, once again, the bathroom comes into play for another discovery:

The History Blog posted today about a Rembrandt etching that was discovered in the back of a bathroom cabinet (see above). Father O’Connell, president of the Catholic University of America (Washington, DC) found this etching in the bathroom of his office – he was looking for paper towels and ended up discovering a much older (and non-utilitarian) piece of paper. No one is sure how the etching ended up in the cabinet.

The etching was appraised and authenticated as a Rembrandt last year. This week, Catholic University of America opened a new exhibition which features this new discovery. The exhibition will be open until the May 24th.

This story sounds so bizarre – who would shove a Rembrandt in a bathroom cabinet? All I can say is, I’m positive that there’s nothing that significant in my bathroom.

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Loggia dei Lanzi and Subjugation

Several years ago, I sat in the Loggia dei Lanzi (Florence) and sketched some details of the statues found there. If I had thought hard about it, I might have noticed that several of the sculptures there share an interesting commonality. See if you can find the common theme:

Giambologna, Rape of a Sabine, 1581-83

Cellini, Perseus, 1545-54
(I recently wrote a post about Perseus here.)

Pio Fedi, Rape of Polyxana, 1866

Do you notice anything? All of these sculptures have subject matter which emphasizes the subjugation of women or “man’s longed-for control over woman.”1 I’ve been reading an article this week by feminist Yael Even who reveals this common theme in the loggia space. It’s quite fascinating. The most interesting thing to me, though, is that another sculpture used to be located here. Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes (1456-57, shown right) was the first sculpture placed in the Piazza della Signoria (where the Loggia dei Lanzi is located). However, over time, Donatello’s sculpture was shuffled around different sections of the loggia and elsewhere. In 1980, the sculpture was eventually moved (concealed?) to the inside of the Palazzo Vecchio. Yael Even points out that the difficulty with placing this sculpture has to do with the subject matter – instead of emphasizing the subjugation of women, Donatello’s sculpture depicts a woman killing a man.1

When looking at all the depictions of female subjugation in the loggia, it’s no wonder that this sculpture sat uneasily (literally!) with the Florentines. After all, wouldn’t it make a (male) viewer uncomfortable to know that women can retaliate?

I really recommend that you read Even’s article.

1 Yael Even, “The Loggia dei Lanzi: A Showcase of Female Subjugation,” in Woman’s Art Journal 12, no. 1 (1991): 10.

2 Ibid.

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Things Spotted by Students

One of the things I absolutely love about teaching is that students point out details in art that I have never noticed previously. Thanks to my students, I constantly find new discoveries in works of art that have long been familiar to me.

A couple of years ago, a student pointed out a detail in the Greek kouros statue from the Metropolian Museum of Art (ca. 600 BC, Archaic period, shown right). If you click on this image, you can see a small band that goes around the neck of this statue. I never, ever noticed that necklace until a student pointed it out.

So, what’s the significance of the necklace? To be honest, I don’t know. It reminds me of the torcs that was worn by ancient Gauls (see the Dying Gaul (ca. 230-220 BC)), but I don’t know if there is a direct connection to the kouros. Really, I can hardly find any discussion on the kouros necklace, except for a few things like this short passage in an old archaeology journal: “The Metropolitan Kouros is the only example in sculpture with a neckband in relief, and is further unique in having it tied in front – examples in vase paintings always have the neckband tied in the back.” 1

If anyone knows of any information on this neckband, please let me know! I’m sure that my past student has long-forgotten that he pointed out that necklace to me, but it has piqued my curiosity for a long time.

Yesterday, a student pointed out another detail that I have never noticed before. The class was looking at a reproduction of Pontormo’s Deposition (c. 1528, see left), and a student asked if we knew any information about the man who is on the right side of the painting (he is wearing a dark hat and staring out at the viewer). Until she said something, I never had even noticed that man before! In class I speculated that it might be a portrait of the artist, and I learned today that others have suggested the same thing (see similar speculations here and here). Some people think that the artist depicting himself as Joseph of Arimathea, and that makes sense to me.

I’m so glad that students point out new things to me. It’s fun to continually observe and discover new things, even as a teacher. I guess that my eye is trained to look at specific things in Western masterpieces, and sometimes I overlook small details without realizing it. Thanks for giving me a fresh perspective, class. I like to learn and find new things, too.

1 Stephen B. Luce, “Archaeological News and Discussions,” in Amerian Journal of Archaeology 48, no. 3 (1944): 283.

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The "LOST" Supper

Aside from the basic composition, I can’t find enough art historical references to justify a full-fledged comparison between this photo and da Vinci’s Last Supper. But I think some art history/pop culture savants might like to engage in some discussion, so I’ve posted a little about the photo on a “LOST” blog that I share with friends (see here). Feel free to take a gander.

Thanks for sending me this photo, Todd! It made my day. And if anyone does find some strong connections between the “LOST Supper” and da Vinci’s Last Supper, please comment. I’d love to know your ideas.

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Banksy + Degas = Simon Cowell

If someone asked me to guess American Idol judge Simon Cowell’s taste in art, I probably would have named something sensible, marketable, and creative – maybe some work by an abstract expressionist painter like Morris Louis. But my guess would have been way off.

Cowell, who reportedly is a secret art collector, is known to be a fan of the Impressionist painter Degas and the graffiti artist Banksy (yikes – what a combination!). I just read here that for Christmas this year, Cowell received a commissioned work by Banksy – and the painting is a remake of Degas’ The Rehearsal of the Ballet Onstage (c. 1874, shown above). Apparently, in this Bansky commission, Cowell has been painted in the scene as the ballet master.
Gulp. I like Degas, but I really question how this Banksy commission turned out. It sounds rather horrific.

So what kind of critique did Cowell give his Christmas present? According to sources, the judge looked at the painting and immediately called it “hilarious.” What a news flash – I guess Simon Cowell has a sense of humor! And in true Cowell fashion, this is an expensive sense of humor: this “hilarious” painting is estimated to cost $800,000. That’s a lot of money for a joke.

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.