The Thanksgiving turkey is America’s most iconic edible fowl, with a prominent role in countless cookbooks, novels, and printed ephemera. It even stars in the exhibition Art and Appetite: American Art, Culture, and Cuisine, now in the Art Institute’s Regenstein galleries. While Thanksgiving celebrates the unifying meal shared by Pilgrims and Native Americans, it wasn’t until 1864 that President Lincoln made it a national holiday. This dramatic Harper’s Weekly double-spread by Thomas Nast appeared the previous year, in the midst of the Civil War. As a result, the Pilgrims’ harvest festival became a plea for unity between the North and South.
Before the turkey became the mainstay of the Thanksgiving feast, like ducks and geese it was a staple of British holiday meals. George Cruikshank’s lottery ticket showing “The Grand Turk” from 1820 playfully confuses the fowl and the country, even giving the stately bird a turban. Cruikshank was not alone in making this glib connection, as an old chestnut of American culinary puns emphasizes the bird’s global significance: “What international catastrophe occurs when a waiter drops a platter on Thanksgiving? The downfall of Turkey, the overthrow of Greece, and the destruction of China.”
Although the bald eagle became the United States’ national bird, Benjamin Franklin preferred the turkey. John James Audubon agreed, and would eventually restore the wild turkey’s dignity by capturing it in two of his massive color plates in his important testament to local avian wildlife, The Birds of America (1826–1838). A smaller and more affordable edition appears here, but Audubon’s fascination remains the same: For its “great size and beauty, its value as a delicate and highly prized article of food . . . render it one of the most interesting of the birds indigenous to the United States of America.”
1. Thomas Nast and Harper and Brothers, Harper’s Weekly: A Journal of Civilization, Vol. VII, December 5, 1863. (Dorothy Braude Edinburg Art LLC).
2. George Cruikshank, “The Grand Turk,” from Twenty-six lottery tickets, c. 1820. (Prints and Drawings, RX16354/0117).
3. John James Audubon, The birds of America: from drawings made in the United States and their territories. Vol. 5: New York, V.G. Audubon and C.S. Francis & Co., 1855. (Ryerson and Burnham Libraries)
Devouring Books (November 19–January 27), the new exhibition in the Ryerson Library, investigates the relationship of books and food throughout the ages, and complements Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture, and Cuisine. Examples of books becoming the literal food of bookworms are on view, as are literary treasures with food acting as the catalyst for high adventure. But how early were these commodities linked in the popular imagination? Did literacy (and the advent of the cookbook) improve (and democratize) culinary pursuits? A look at one of the earliest objects in the show and its intended audience may offer some clues toward the most curious literary tastes of all.
“When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.”
This paraphrase comes from a letter the extremely well-read Erasmus of Rotterdam wrote to a friend on April 12, 1500. (In fact, the original Latin phrase discussed his obsession with books written in Greek, not just any books. But the sense remained the same.) Man (particularly a Renaissance humanist) could not subsist on bread alone.
The innovative German printmaker Albrecht Dürer never issued his dramatically illustrated Apocalypse (Book of Revelations) in the original Greek, as vividly imagining the end of the world in Latin and German seemed sufficient.
Yet Erasmus, who was one of the biggest champions of the artist’s prints, likely owned the Latin version of Dürer’s Apocalypse from 1498. One of the most startling woodcuts shows Saint John, who was said to have written this very Book of Revelations, receiving his inspiration from a fiery, disembodied being in the form of a book. This entity demands he eat the book, which he does, simultaneously devouring the knowledge it contains.
“And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire: and he had in his hand a little book open: . . . And I took the little book out of the angel’s hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter. And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.”
(King James Version)
While Erasmus retained his library to the end of his days (and did not have to liquidate or burn it to feed or warm himself), he too took on a proselytizing role. Erasmus even appeared in a much-copied Dürer portrait engraving with seven of his beloved books. Comments like his humorous privileging of books over food made clear his stance on the importance of education to feed the mind. From the beginnings of letterpress in the fifteenth century, printed books, including many by Erasmus himself, fed voracious appetites of all kinds.
Albrecht Dürer. Saint John Devouring the Book, from The Apocalypse, c. 1496–98, published 1511. The Charles Deering Collection.
Albrecht Dürer. Saint John Devouring the Book (detail), from The Apocalypse, c. 1496–98, published 1511. The Charles Deering Collection.
Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture, and Cuisine opens tomorrow to members (and November 12 for everyone), but we’ve got the first look at what might be the first exhibition ever to combine Norman Rockwell, Andy Warhol, and a recipe for Oyster Fritters.
Art and Appetite explores American art and American cooking through the lens of paintings, sculptures, decanters, teapots, vintage menus and cookbooks, and more over multiple centuries. Take a closer look to learn more about the ritual of the family meal, the rise of the restaurant in what is now a fast food nation, and the history of locavores.
POSTED BY Guest Blogger, ON October 31, 2013, Comments Off
Things are getting grim and grisly here at the Art Institute of Chicago. Artemisia Gentileschi’s painting, Judith Slaying Holofernes, has been the star of the show, but it is not the only work in the collection that features spurting blood and severed heads. This Halloween, check out some of the gory and gruesome images of decapitation at the Art Institute.
Artists often depict different interpretations of the same biblical stories, infusing in them their own sense of style and drama. In addition to the tale of Judith, the story of St. John the Baptist and Salome has long been a popular subject for painters. In this story, Salome dances for her stepfather Herod who rewards her with the fulfillment of any request. Per the wish of her mother, she asks for the head of John the Baptist. In the painting below by Guido Reni, we see a rather demure Salome being presented with the decapitated head.
A more graphic interpretation of the same story by artist Giovanni di Paolo comes from a series of paintings illustrating John the Baptist’s life. In this much bloodier version, we see the moment immediately following the beheading, as the executioner sheaths his sword and blood gushes from his body.
In Arms and Armor you can see all kind of deadly weapons. You can also imagine how they might have been used to make heads roll, such as in this medieval Netherlandish painting, Emperor Heraclius Slays the King of Persia.
Although these jars don’t appear sinister, don’t be fooled. The museum has a collection of pottery and stoneware from Nazca in Peru with painted “trophy heads.” Many of the pots feature warriors and demons clutching the heads of their enemies.
19th century French painters found severed heads a delightful subject for still life. Jean Louis André Théodore Géricault’s Head of a Guillotined Man shows just how dark the French Revolution could be, and Gustave Caillebotte’s Calf’s Head and Ox Tongue is a chilling departure from his usual subjects of street scenes.
These are just some of the gory and grisly works that can be found at the Art Institute. What are some of your favorites? Let us know in the comments. And don’t lose your head this Halloween!
—Nina Litoff, Public Affairs
Guido Reni, Salome with the Head of Saint John the Baptist, c. 1639/42. Louise B. and Frank H. Woods Purchase Fund.
Giovanni di Paolo, The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, 1455/60. Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson Collection.
Nazca, South coast, Peru. Effigy Drum in the Form of a Masked Warrior Holding Trophy Heads and Darts, 180 B.C./A.D. 500. Kate S. Buckingham Endowment.
Nazca, South coast, Peru. Vessel Depicting a Masked Warrior Holding Trophy Heads, 180 B.C./A.D. 500. Kate S. Buckingham Endowment.
Emperor Heraclius Slays the King of Persia, 1460/80. George F. Harding Collection.
Gustave Caillebotte, Calf’s Head and Ox Tongue, c. 1882. Major Acquisitions Centennial Endowment.
Jean Louis André Théodore Géricault, Head of a Guillotined Man, 1818/19. Through prior gift of William Wood Prince; L. L. and A. S. Coburn Endowment; Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection.
POSTED BY Suzanne K.S., ON October 30, 2013, Comments Off
Violence and Virtue: Artemisia Gentileschi’s “Judith Slaying Holofernes” isn’t the only exhibition at the Art Institute that features this blood-spattered story. A dramatic example also appears in Dreams and Echoes: Drawings and Sculpture in the David and Celia Hilliard Collection, a fitting context for the tale’s macabre subject matter. But although these works focus on the same subject, they portray it in very different ways.
The tale of Judith slaying Holofernes is inspired by the biblical Book of Judith from the Hebrew Apocrypha. In the story, Judith seduces and beheads Holofernes, an Assyrian general whose troops are besieging Judith’s city. Gentileschi’s version presents a stalwart depiction of Judith as an athletic heroine fully capable of completing the gruesome act. Yet as the Italian prints accompanying the magnificent Uffizi painting attest (in Gallery 202a), most depictions skip directly to the bagging of the severed head and reduce her sword to a seductive fashion accessory, rather than a murder weapon.
In the Hilliard exhibition, Soldiers Discovering the Body of Holofernes (above), a startling drawing from around 1550 by the Master of the Liechtenstein Adoration, completes Judith’s saga by focusing solely on the aftermath. It is an exercise in contrasts and contortions, with black and white highlights dancing atop the Master’s distinctively deep purple ground. The resulting Mannerist excess palpably renders the enemy camp’s turmoil following Judith’s ferocious act. While the artist prepared a related drawing of Holofernes’s demise, he made at least two versions of this much rarer subject. Though she is physically absent, Judith’s recent presence is very much felt in the bloody severed neck on the toppled central body. It leaves no doubt of her peak physical form and commitment to her cause. A tiny detail in the distance further cements her tactical ingenuity. The minute dot at the end of a spike issuing diagonally from the besieged city’s gate in fact represents her dripping trophy. Mounted in plain sight before its owner had even been missed, Holofernes’s head became a rallying point for the Israelites that ended the siege.
This unusual focus on the discovery (rather than the slaying) of Holofernes reappears in a print series by Philip Galle after Maerten van Heemskerck from 1564 that expanded the Book of Judith narrative into eight scenes. Six of these curious prints are on display near the Gentileschi painting. They document each step of the story exhaustively, including Judith’s radical decision to save her besieged home city of Bethulia; her preparation for the seduction; her wily success with Holofernes; her efficient decapitation of the inebriated general; her victorious display of the head to her people, and finally, the discovery of the headless body and its disheartening effect on the Assyrian army (above). Visitors to both exhibitions will note that the diminutive head appears in the distance above the city walls in both instances (detail from Soldiers Discovering the Body of Holofernes below). Although the Book of Judith explicitly mentions her strategic use of the head, the similarity of the two depictions makes one wonder . . . Did Heemskerck somehow know the Hilliard drawing, perhaps through a painting? If so, he liked what he saw.
Master of the Liechtenstein Adoration (Netherlandish, active c. 1530-1560). Soldiers Discovering the Body of Holofernes, c. 1550. Pen and black ink and brush and black wash, over lilac wash, heightened with white gouache, on cream laid paper, laid down on cream laid paper. Celia and David Hilliard and Harold Joachim Memorial Endowments, 1999.683.
Philip Galle (Netherlandish, 1537-1612), after Maarten van Heemskerck (Dutch, 1498-1574). The Discovery of Holofernes’s Corpse, plate eight from The Story of Judith and Holofernes, 1564. Engraving in black on ivory laid paper. Gift of Ursula and R. Stanley Johnson in honor of Douglas Druick, 2011.1082.