Yesterday Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson completed the first free climb of El Capitan’s Dawn Wall. This granite monolith soars 3,000 feet above the floor of the Yosemite Valley and while it has long enticed climbers, it has also fascinated artists.
The image above by Ansel Adams—who has created some of the most famous images of Yosemite— illustrates how the early morning light hits the face of El Capitan and how the Dawn Wall gets its name.
Carleton Watkins (images below) took these photographs of El Capitan in 1861, years before Yosemite became a national park. In fact, it is said that Watkins’ majestic images of Yosemite helped to persuade President Lincoln to sign the bill that first protected the valley. Mount Watkins in Yosemite is named after the photographer and honors this contribution.
Ansel Adams. El Capitan, Sunrise, Yosemite National Park, 1956, printed 1960. Photography Gallery Fund. © The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust.
Carleton Watkins. Tutocanula, or El Capitan, 3600 ft., from the foot of the Mariposa Trail, Yosemite Valley, Mariposa County, Cal.1861/76. Restricted gift of the Kunstadter Family Foundation.
Carleton Watkins. Mirror View of El Capitan, Yosemite Valley, Mariposa County, Cal.1861/76. Restricted gift of the Kunstadter Family Foundation.
Ever wake up with a pimple in the middle of your forehead and wish that you could just make it go away? In the eighteenth century, Lima’s citizens had a solution that would not only hide the pimple, but that was simultaneously stylish and sexy! Faux beauty marks made of black velvet or taffeta covered in gum arabic were the height of fashion. An ample example can be seen in the portrait of the wealthy, American-born Spaniard, Doña María Rosa de Ribera Mendoza y Ramos Galbán, which is currently on view in Galleries 212 and 212A in the Art Institute’s exhibition, A Voyage to South America: Andean Art in the Spanish Empire. And they covered more than just pimples. Large beauty marks could easily cover smallpox scars as well as unseemly sores caused by syphilis. Their beauty came not only from their ability to obscure defects, but also from the striking contrast of the dark taffeta on the porcelain-white skin that was the ideal for elite women at this time. They positively screamed to the viewer “the sun never touches this face!”
The passion for beauty marks came to South America, like so many high-fashion trends, from that center of extravagance and style, France, where they first appeared in the sixteenth century. French ladies, in fact, might wear many beauty marks, cut not only into modest circles like the one on Doña María’s temple, but also into stars, suns, moons, even trees, horses, cupids, and doves. Satirical eighteenth-century prints show women with faces spotted by numerous beauty marks. By the eighteenth century in Europe, beauty marks had acquired a symbolic language all their own. In a satirical essay published in 1764, Luis de Velasco, Marques of Valdeflores, described Spanish ladies expertly employing beauty marks as tools of flirtation. The patches not only acquired symbolic meaning depending on where they were worn, but a true flirt might carry a box of beauty marks with her so as to be able to adjust her message depending on her audience. If we were to interpret Doña María’s mark based on Valdeflores’s description, we would find that “placed on the right temple [a beauty mark] implies that she is prepared to break [with her current lover] and find a new one.” Alternately, contemporary French writers tell us that placement near the temple might convey passion, while near the lips was coquettish, in the middle of the forehead was majestic, at the center of the cheek indicated gallantry, and near the nose was risqué.
It is likely that at least some of this significance traveled across the ocean to South American along with the black beauty marks themselves, although it is hard to imagine that Doña María sat down to be painted by one of Lima’s most renowned portrait painters while wearing a beauty mark that told the world she was looking to drop her current lover and take up a new one! Beauty marks were popular in Mexico as well, where they were known as chiqueadores and function today as headache remedies. The Brooklyn Museum collection houses two portraits of a distinguished Mexican lady, as a toddler ca. 1735 and then again as a young woman in 1760. As a toddler she wears one modest beauty mark, but by the time she was an adult she was wearing 5!
But perhaps the trend will return? Guests of both genders at the opening of the Voyage to South America exhibition enjoyed wearing their own chiqueadores, as instructed by a costumed 18th-century guide.
The Art Institute also offers temporary tattoos inspired by James Ensor’s Temptation of Saint Anthony to visitors who come to see our current exhibition, Temptation: The Demons of James Ensor, proving that the museum may just be at the forefront of a new fashion in body art!
—Emily Floyd, recent Prints and Drawings intern and Tulane University Ph.D student
Pedro José Díaz (Active in Peru 1770–1810), Doña María Rosa de Rivera, Countess of the Vega del Ren, 1780s, oil on canvas. Carl and Marilynn Thoma Collection.
Miguel Cabrera (Mexican, 1695–1768), Doña María de la Luz Padilla y Gómez de Cervantes, about 1760, oil on canvas, Brooklyn Museum of Art.
Attributed to Nicolás Enríquez (Mexican, active 1730–1768), Doña María de la Luz Padilla y Gómez de Cervantes, about 1735, oil on canvas, Brooklyn Museum of Art.
There are no less than 50 animals in the museum’s Neapolitan crèche, including dogs, cows, goats, sheep, chickens, horses, rabbits, and even a pet monkey. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the creatures figure prominently in the scene portraying the announcement of Jesus’s birth to the shepherds, but they are also included throughout the crèche for a variety of different reasons.
Tiny lambs are placed throughout the crèche, despite the fact that sheep generally give birth in the spring, rather than during the winter solstice, the time of Christ’s birth. However, the presence of the lambs symbolizes the innocence of the Christ Child and foreshadows Christ’s sacrifice.
Herding dogs are mixed with the sheep and goats, but if you look closely, you’ll also find hunting dogs. These animals wouldn’t have been relevant from a religious perspective, but reflected the favorite activity of the Neapolitan king and aristocracy.
While the crèche is symbolic on many levels—religious, cultural, mythological, political—it includes elements that also make it a charming scene, such as this rabbit perched on a nibbled winter squash.
To see these animals in person, you can visit the crèche in Gallery 209 through January 11.
Image Credit: Crèche (details), mid-18th century. Naples. Charles H. and Mary F. Worcester Collection, Ada Turnbull Hertle, Eloise W. Martin Legacy and Lacy Armour funds; restricted gifts of Mr. and Mrs. James N. Bay, Linda and Vincent Buonanno and Family, and Mrs. Robert O. Levitt.
POSTED BY Katie R., ON December 19, 2014, Comments Off
This Sunday marks the Northern Hemisphere’s winter solstice, otherwise known as the shortest day of the year. And while you might not bat an eye as the day comes and goes, throughout history solstices have been considered auspicious times of transition.
This Chinese hanging scroll was inscribed with the text “On winter’s solstice of the year dingyou , painted by Yuan Jiang of Hanshang [Yanghou]” and features an aristocratic villa and its surrounding wintry landscape. Yuan Jiang was a professional artist most renowned for his “ruled-line painting” which employed both carpenter’s tools and a flexible brush. His meticulous draftsmanship is best seen in the contrast between the strong horizontal lines of the house and both the garden of craggy rocks in the foreground and the mist-shrouded mountains in the background.
But chin up, Chicago! The winter solstice just means that it’s all downhill from here. Summer is basically around the corner. Right?!
Image Credit: Yuan Jiang. Villa in a Wintry Landscape, dated 1717. Gift of Naomi Donnelley.
POSTED BY Guest Blogger, ON December 17, 2014, Comments Off
In the current issue of the Art Institute’s Member Magazine, the “Insider’s Look” section spotlights Sarah Alvarez and Robin Schnur, two directors from our Department of Museum Education. Sarah and Robin specialize in outreach to students, teachers, and teens. Here is a continuation of our discussion in the January/February issue:
What was the first museum you visited and when did you know that you wanted to work in museums?
SA: I visited museums from a very early age and I knew I wanted to work in museum education as soon as I visited the JFK Memorial Library in Boston while I was in college. It was such a formative experience for me. The objects on display engaged my curiosity for culture and history in a way that textbooks had never been able to do. I began to realize that working in a museum could be a way to marry my love of art and my love of learning.
RS: Museums have been a part of my experience for as long as I can remember. My family often visited The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, and all the thrilling exhibitions and collections we visited when I was a child have merged together into one wonderfully rich memory. I didn’t know I could actually work in a museum until my senior year in high school when I took an internship at the Mystic Seaport Museum, just down the road from our house. For whatever reason, the head curator allowed me to write the labels for an exhibition about 19th-century whaling ship keels, to curate an exhibition of photographs of America’s Cup race winners, and to plan a show of needlepoint seascapes. It was all weird stuff, but what an empowering experience! I was 18 and the things I created were actually up and on view for the general public. Partly as a result of my own experiences, I feel strongly about creating opportunities for teens to engage in the life of the Art Institute. This is how aspirations are sparked and careers begin.
What is the most challenging aspect of engaging teachers and students through art?
SA: I can speak best to the experience of engaging teachers. The greatest challenge is that no one teacher is exactly the same as the next. It’s very common in our culture to make sweeping generalizations about teachers, but they are all individuals coming from different school contexts and with different motivations. As for engaging them through art, it can be particularly challenging for teachers who don’t really have a sense of the role that art can have across the curriculum—in science, math, or other subjects outside of art itself. A powerful and well-facilitated experience in our galleries is often the best way to break through that challenge.
RS: It’s challenging to figure out what is most interesting and relevant to a group of students who may come from vastly different places and experiences. When school groups arrive at the museum on the morning of their tour, we have only received limited information ahead of time about who the students are, what they’re studying, and what interests them. We have to ask ourselves how we can best use the one or two hours they’re here, making the experience relevant to their classroom studies and meaningful on a personal level. Our ongoing education program for docents, the volunteer educators who facilitate experiences for students in grades 1-12, prepares them not only to know about and be able to interpret the encyclopedic collection of the museum, but also to structure experiences in which students are encouraged to bring their own ideas, knowledge, and opinions into the conversation. Creating a space for an open dialogue about art with students you’ve just met, while at the same time taking into account the curricular needs of their teacher, and also sharing gallery space with other docents and their groups is a challenge, but it is a challenge that we enthusiastically undertake and satisfyingly meet daily here at the Art Institute.
Look for more in-depth interviews in upcoming issues of the Member Magazine. For a mobile-friendly reading experience, download the Member Magazine to your iPad today!