My Week in Assorted Thoughts

This week I’ve been thinking about several random art historical facts and ideas. Several of you might have seen some of these links on my Twitter feed, but I wanted to flesh out a few ideas here:
  • Norman Rockwell included a portrait of Grandma Moses in his painting Christmas Homecoming (1948, see right). You can see Moses on the left side of a painting, wearing an old-fashioned dress. The two artists were friends who lived relatively close to each other at one time. (In fact, you can read parts of a story about Norman Rockwell at Grandma Moses’ surprise 88th birthday party here.)
  • I really don’t know that much about Grandma Moses. She never was discussed in any of my art history classes, but I didn’t focus on American art from the 20th century. But could she have been excluded from courses and textbooks because she is a folk artist? Out of curiosity, have any Americanists studied Grandma Moses’ work in an academic setting?
  • I was surprised to learn that Johann Winckelmann, one of the early scholars of art history, was murdered in 1768. He was fifty years old. What if Winckelmann had lived a full life? I wonder if he would have retracted any of his ideas about unpainted classical sculpture, “good taste,” or how Greek art has “noble simplicity.”1 (For example, scholars in the early 19th century were able to document the traces of paint on certain Greek statues after their excavation. If Winckelmann had lived longer, would he have learned this news and changed his ideas about white marble and beauty?) Maybe it’s a stretch, but I like to think about how the Western canon might have been different if Winckelmann had not been murdered.
  • I’ve been reading about the Laocoön statue lately, partially because I want to know more about the theory that Michelangelo created the Laocoön (which is a rather far-fetched idea, in my opinion). I’ve also enjoyed looking at this annotated chronology of the statue: this piece has a pretty rich history!
  • A comment from a student also led to me to look at a pre-20th century restoration of the Laocoön statue. This restoration depicts the arm of the priest as being fully-extended. (The restored arm (now lost) was the work of Renaissance artist Bandio Baccinelli. For those interested, Vasari wrote a little bit about Bandio Baccinelli’s work on the Laocoön here.) It appears that has been a lot of debate regarding how Laocoön originally appeared. As recently as 1989, one scholar argued that the whole composition needs to be more compact and pyramidal in order to be historically accurate.2

How was your week? Were your art historical thoughts as assorted as mine?

1 Johann Joachim Winckelmann, “Reflections on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture,” in The Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology by Donald Preziosi, ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 31-39. For an interesting critique on Winckelmann’s theories, see also Kenneth Lapatin, “The Fate of Plate and Other Precious Materials: Toward a Historiography of Greek Minor (?) Arts,” from Ancient Art and its Historiography by A. A. Donohue, ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 69-91.

2 Seymor Howard, “Laocoon Rerestored,” in American Journal of Archaeology 93, no. 3 (July 1989): 417-422.

  • H Niyazi says:

    Interesting reflections M! Interesting about the Laocoon sculpture's 'attribution' being under a cloud.

    My only thought about that is why would Michelangelo bother hiding it was by him. It's not like he was happy with being anonymous, we are told when there was confusion of the author of the Pieta that he went back and wrote his name on it! Would he really hide that he did something as stunning as the Laocoon piece!

    From a scientific point of view, I wonder what means there are to date a sculpture. Was it a Roman copy or imported from Greece? I'm sure Geological types would be able to determine this via an analysis of the actual marble.

    Unless someone does such an analysis or turns up some documentation to the contrary, it's more speculation than theory.

    As for art historical thoughts, I have been working on a project that will hopefully be very useful for *anyone* interested in art and history, from academia to laypersons like myself. More will be revealed soon!


  • LeGrand says:

    I thought the thing about Norman Rockwell and Grandma Moses was very interesting. I think those were the first 2 artists that I knew by name. My grandparents had some Rockwell books I loved looking at as a kid, and I used to live in Northern Indiana near some Amish country. Grandma Moses was very popular in that area, and my mom had 1 or 2 prints of her paintings. I've actually never taken the time to look her up to see what she looks like so that was great seeing a portrait. And for some reason, I love when artists include other artists in their paintings!

    Fun assorted thoughts!

  • Dr. F says:


    Rockwell also put himself in the painting holding his characteristic pipe.


  • sarasrati34 says:

    That is a delicious bit of information about Winkelmann. I was not aware of how he died; thank you for sharing.

    This past week I gloriously had the chance to hear both Phillippe de Montebello and Ernst van de Wetering speak. So, many thoughts about museums. And Rembrandt, and how he used light, and the place of studio skills in art history.

  • M says:

    Thanks for the comments! H Niyazi, I also agree with your point about Michelangelo. He loved to receive credit for his work; if he had created the Laocoon, it seems logical that he would have wanted recognition for this statue.

    You've brought up an interesting idea about geological analysis. I know that marble can't be dated in the same way that other materials can, but I wonder if the type of marble could reveal more information about the sculpture.

    LeGrand, sounds like Grandma Moses' work helped to form your early interest in art and art history! I better look into her work more. 🙂

    Dr. F: Yes! You're right. Thank you for pointing that out.

    sarasrati34: Thanks for your comment! It is an interesting bit about Winckelmann, isn't it? (And it sounds like you've had some great lectures lately! How fun.)

  • heidenkind says:

    I've heard about Grandma Moses but I can't say I know ANYTHING about her. I think part of the reason is that she is a folk artist, not to mention American. Maybe it's difficult to fit her into the "story" of art history?

    As for the Laocoon sculpture, I've heard of both those theories. I agree with H Niyazi that Michelangelo trying to hide anything that he did is a pretty far-fetched idea, although I think it's accepted as fact that he did see the excavation of the statue and was influenced by it?

    I've been thinking about Japonisme all weekend. Now it's time to get back to it. *sigh*

  • M says:

    Yeah, heidenkind, I wonder if Grandma Moses is difficult to fit into the "story" of art history. Or maybe it has to do with her widespread popularity, too? (Would she be the 1950s equivalent for Thomas Kinkade today? Or is that comparison too harsh?)

    Good luck with the Japonisme! 🙂

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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.