Fat Tuesday marks the height of the Mardi Gras festivities and is celebrated—at least in New Orleans—with parades, parties, and other general revelry. Also masks. Lots and lots of masks. And while Mardi Gras masks are commonly feathered or bedazzled in some way, they come in all shapes and sizes, similar to the masks in the Art Institute’s collection. So if you’re looking for a little inspiration for your own Fat Tuesday mask, we’ve got some ideas for you. . .
The Kuba, who live in central Africa, use masks like this Mukenga mask in funeral ceremonies for the highest ranking men. In this particular mask, the artist uses luxurious symbolic materials to give expression to its power. The face is covered with the fur of the fearsome leopard; the ruff of the regal colobus monkey forms a beard; the protruding eyes recall the rotating, all-seeing eyes of the chameleon; a long, protruding trunk suggests the power of the elephant. A cluster of red parrot feathers accents the trunk and contrasts the weighty power of an elephant with the air flight of a bird. I think it goes without saying that Mardi Gras attendees would applaud such an elaborate mask.
If you’re looking for something a bit simpler, we recommend looking to Saul Steinberg. Steinberg made no distinction between high and low art, creating covers and drawings for The New Yorker alongside masks made from brown paper bags and crayons.
This mask was not meant for a human, but a horse. It originally would have been attached to cloth or leather as part of an elaborate bridle and would have been placed on the horse’s forehead, between the ears. The mask resembles a medusa-like monster, with a mouthful of bared teeth and long tusks hanging from either side.
A bit morbid, but facial molds of the dead—or death masks—have been taken since ancient times, and this death mask of Napoleon is one of the best known ever. The mold was taken by the Corsican physician Antommarchi on the island of St. Helena two days after Napoleon’s death on May 5, 1821. The gaunt face with prominent cheekbones is a haunting image, recalling Napoleon the revolutionary war hero rather than the self-satisfied imperial image projected at the peak of his power.
What else can we say but laissez les bon temps rouler!
Mask (Mukenga), Kuba, Western Kasai region, Democratic Republic of the Congo, late 19th/mid-20th century. Laura T. Magnuson Fund.
Saul Steinberg. Untitled (Mask), 1959–62. Gift of The Saul Steinberg Foundation.
Monster Mask from a Horse Bridle, China, Western Zhou dynasty (c. 1050–771 B.C.), c. 9th century B.C. Lucy Maud Buckingham Collection.
Dr. C. Francesco Antommarchi (from a mold by), cast by: Louis Richard and E. Quesnel. Death Mask of Napoleon, modeled 1821 (cast 1833). Estate of E. Blake Blair.
In my post last week, I mentioned that both of the Art Institute’s Egyptian mummies would be CT scanned in the near future. In fact, their appointment was later that week! And now, while we await the results, I thought readers might be interested in learning about how we coordinate a project like this.
The planning took about 4 months. First, the mummies had to be examined to ensure they could make the trip without sustaining any damage. After a careful assessment by objects conservators, and a few quick treatments to reattach loose areas of linen and flaking paint, we were good to go.
Colleagues in the packing department modified the mummies’ storage crates to provide the necessary support for safe transport. This included adding interior foam structures and tyvek padding to both hold the mummies firmly in place and to absorb any bumps and vibrations they might encounter along the way.
Another interesting aspect of this project was the decision to use Superior Ambulance Service for transporting the mummies to their appointment at the University of Chicago Hospital. We typically use specially equipped trucks for transporting artworks, but ambulances are designed for moving bodies, which is exactly what we had. By modifying the hydraulic gurneys used by Superior, we were able to minimize the number of times the mummies had to be handled and moved.
Once in the scanning room, museum art handlers carefully uncrated the mummies and placed them on the scanning table. Because modern CT scanners are rarely used for full body scans, there were some challenges in getting the scans we needed. Both mummies had to be scanned once from the head down, and then manually rotated 180 degrees for a second scan from the feet up.
During the scanning, detailed images and 3D renderings were generated in a viewing area just outside of the scanning room where radiologist Dr. Michael Vannier, Egyptologist Dr. Emily Teeter, and Art Institute curator Mary Greuel saw the results as each mummy passed through the tube. Some interesting discoveries were instantly visible, such as an outer shroud around the wrappings of Paankhenamun’s head and a cylindrical object, possibly a papyrus scroll, placed alongside the arm of the female mummy.
While the final results of the scans will not be made public for some time—there are over 66,000 images to analyze!—we look forward to presenting some of our findings in future galleries of Near Eastern and Egyptian Art here at the museum.
A special thanks to Dr. Michael Vannier, Dr. Emily Teeter, Superior Ambulance Service, and Terry and Cynthia Perucca for their generous support of this project.
—Lorien Yonker, Technician & Art Handler, Department of Ancient & Byzantine Art
Art Institute art handlers Lorien Yonker, Eric Warner, and Milan Bobysud place the mummy of Paankhenamun for scanning
Objects conservator Rachel Sabino inspects both mummies before approving them for travel.
Vehicles from Superior Ambulance Service, ready to transport the mummies to the University of Chicago Hospital
Art handlers finish uncrating the female mummy; Paankhenamun is placed on the table for the first round of scanning
Dr. Vannier inspects the results of Paankhenamun’s first round of scans
Christopher Wool opens tomorrow for members and Sunday for everyone, but Art Institute staff got a sneak peek today. See below for a first look at the exhibition that has transformed our special exhibition space, opening windows that haven’t been seen in over a decade. There are nearly 90 paintings, photographs, and works on paper—along with one sculpture just outside the exhibition’s entrance—including Wool’s best known “word paintings” and his more recent “gray paintings.” Enjoy!
There are just two ancient Egyptian mummies in the Art Institute’s collection. But while many visitors are familiar with the mummy of Paankhenamun, which stood in the Egyptian art galleries until their deinstallation in 2012, Wenuhotep, the mummy pictured above, hasn’t been on view since the beginning of the 19th century. Recent findings have also suggested that Wenuhotep’s not quite who we thought she was. . .
She was originally brought to Chicago in 1892 by Henry H. Getty and Charles L. Hutchinson, two early trustees who donated a significant proportion of the museum’s collection of Egyptian antiquities. In 1941 she was lent to the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. From there she traveled to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum in 1959, where she remained on display until 2007.
Upon her return to the Art Institute, Wenuhotep became the focus of a project sponsored by the Community Associates Research and Lecture Series by Dr. Emily Teeter, an Egyptologist from the Oriental Institute. In studying both the mummy and sarcophagus of Wenuhotep, Dr. Teeter quickly realized that the two were not a stylistic match. While the sarcophagus dates to around the 26th Dynasty (664-525 B.C.), the mummification style of the woman’s body is that of the Ptolemaic Period (323-30 B.C). The two could have been created as many as 500 years apart!
The hieroglyphs confirm that the sarcophagus definitely belonged to Wenuhotep. But if the woman contained inside is not Wenuhotep, then who is she? Her mummification style certainly indicates someone of status, with detailed scenes painted in vivid color and extensive gilding on the chest and head pieces. Even the soles of her sandals were painstakingly rendered. However her name is surprisingly not recorded, so her identity remains a mystery.
Some years ago the mummy underwent x-rays and CT scanning. While some of the results were lost, the reports we do have offer conflicting information regarding her age, height, and health as well as the presence of jewelry inside her wrappings and the preservation of her internal organs.
In the coming weeks radiologists from the University of Chicago will be utilizing the latest in CT scanning technology on both of the Art Institute’s mummies. The information they glean will be assessed by Egyptologists and Art Institute staff to see what can be learned about this mystery woman, and hopefully put some of the conflicting reports to rest.
Stay tuned for updates on our findings! In the meantime you can whet your appetite with gilded mummy masks and other ancient Egyptian treasures on display in When the Greeks Ruled: Egypt after Alexander the Great, on view through July 27 in gallery 154.
—Lorien Yonker, Technician & Art Handler, Department of Ancient & Byzantine Art
Image Credit: Coffin of Wenuhotep, 664 B.C.–525 B.C. Egyptian. Gift of Henry H. Getty and Charles L. Hutchinson.
There’s romance and then there’s Romance. This painting just happens to include both. But what exactly is the difference?
The Romantic era (the kind with a capital “R”) began in France and Great Britian in the early 19th century as a reaction to the Enlightenment, or as it was also called, the Age of Reason. Art of the Enlightenment favored rational order, logic, and Neo-Classicist ideals. But with the chaos of the French Revolution, artists began to insert emotional intensity and imagination into their work. This new kind of Romantic painting could manifest itself in a variety of ways: in a sweeping landscape with tumultuous weather, in a violent shipwreck with no savior in sight, or, in this case, in a portrait of a woman who’s not looking out at the viewer, but who is engrossed in her reading with her head in her hands.
In this painting, Isabella Wolff is contemplating a figure of the Delphic Sibyl from the Sistine Chapel ceiling in a book of prints. The Delphic Sibyl was one of several created by Michelangelo, all of whom represent priestesses of classical legend who made mysterious judgments and prophecies. Sibyls were frequently depicted in exotic costumes and Mrs. Wolff’s turban, shawl, and Asian textiles might just equate her as the present-day embodiment of Michelangelo’s (or the artist’s) feminine ideal.
And this is where the other kind of romance comes in. If you look at the credit line below, you’ll notice that this painting was created over the course of 12 years. In 1803 when it was started, Isabella was the wife of Jens Wolff, a wealthy Anglo-Danish timber merchant and shop broker. Then it was left unfinished in Lawrence’s studio for 10 years. When he took it up again in 1914, the couple had separated and Mrs. Wolff was living with one of her sisters. Over the course of this period, Wolff and Lawrence maintained a friendship and were thought to have had an affair. Did he idealize her because he was in love with her? Romance or romance or both?
Either way, wishing you whatever kind of romance you prefer this Valentine’s Day!
Image Credit: Sir Thomas Lawrence. Mrs. Jens Wolff, 1803–1815. Mr. and Mrs. W. W. Kimball Collection.