Microscopic ornaments bedazzle a Lilliputian Christmas tree. A tiny dreidel is tucked into a box. Miniscule mistletoe hangs from a chandelier. For the holidays, tiny festive additions have been added to the Thorne Rooms, which delight in their miniaturization of period rooms, to greet the season. In the galleries of European art, a masterwork of miniatures unfolds in the Neapolitan Crèche. But further into the Art Institute, another set of tiny treasures is debuting for the holidays.
For the first time in over 50 years, 38 ancient Egyptian amulets are on view in When the Greeks Ruled: Egypt After Alexander the Great, a special exhibition in gallery 154 of the Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Art. Despite their diminutive size, these amulets pack a lot of power and magic. For the ancient Egyptian, one prepared for life after death by providing all the accoutrements of daily life and assurances for rebirth into the afterlife in the tomb, one’s eternal home. One also needed to guarantee that the body itself would be in working order in the afterlife. The two-centimeter long leg (top image) and foot amulets were typically encased in the wrappings of the mummified body at the ankle to assure the ability to walk. Likewise, a glass heart amulet (image immediately above) was placed on the upper torso to protect what Egyptians considered to be the most important organ of the body. To them, the heart was the origin of thought, emotions, and a storehouse for memories; the heart amulet takes the form of a vessel. One of the most popular amulets was the wedjat (image below), or Eye of Horus, that has the iconic markings of a falcon. In a divine battle the god Horus was blinded by the god Seth, however, the eye of Horus rejuvenated and became a symbol of rebirth. Amulets were also worn by the living as protective, and even magical, talismans.
While a group of spectacularly small amulets glitter in the galleries, there are over 700 Egyptian amulets in the Art Institute’s collection, including a one-inch silver hatchet, many half-inch stone headrests, centimeter-long animals such as cows, frogs, geese, and rabbits. Each of these, though seemingly mundane, carried symbolism of power or regeneration. Amulets were so popular that they were made and used continuously from around 3000 B.C. to the Ptolemaic period (330 B.C.-30 B.C.), which is the focus of the exhibition, and even into the Coptic Christian period in the 4th century A.D.
Because of their minute size, these amulets are actually some of the most complicated types of artworks to display. For the exhibition, each amulet received a custom-made mount, or apparatus that securely holds the object while carefully placed padding protects their delicate surfaces. These mounts are tightly fitted into holes drilled directly into the back of the case. For the smallest amulets, such as the golden Eyes of Horus seen in the above photo, pins coated in plastic to protect the artwork hold the amulets in place. When working on such a small scale, exact measurements are key!
Stop by the exhibit When the Greeks Ruled Egypt, which is open through July 27, and explore the myriad of amulets, including a pantheon of Egyptian gods and goddesses that can fit in the palm of your hand. But don’t let their diminutive size fool you, the ancient Egyptians made amulets with the design that their power would last unto eternity.
—Terah Walkup, Research Associate, Department of Ancient and Byzantine Art
Leg and Foot Amulet. Egyptian, Late Old Kingdom – First Intermediate Period, Dynasties 5-11, (about 2494-2055 B.C.). Carnelian; 2 x 1 x .25 cm (3/4 x 3/8 x 1/8 in.). The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Charles L. Hutchinson, 1894.861.
Heart Amulet. Egyptian, New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, (about 1550–1295 B.C.). Glass, rod formed technique; 2.1 x 1.9 x 0.6 cm (7/8 x 3/4 x 1/4 in.). The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Charles L. Hutchinson, 1894.855.
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 Guest Blogger, ON October 22, 2013, Comments Off
Opening just in time for everyone’s favorite spooky holiday, Dreams and Echoes: Drawings and Sculpture from the David and Celia Hilliard Collection features 115 drawings, prints, and sculptures spanning five centuries. Extraordinarily generous with strong ties to the Art Institute over the years, the Hilliards have already given or promised 61 of the works on display, which bolster areas of weakness in the Art Institute’s collection and develop areas of strength. The exhibition’s title, Dreams and Echoes, refers to the thematic threads that weave through the collection, from the broad selection of French and British landscape drawings, to important groups by Edgar Degas, Jean-François Millet, and Odilon Redon, and a stunning array of fantastical, psychological, and macabre works from nineteenth-century Symbolist artists.
The array of charming landscape drawings that make up the beginning of the exhibition takes a turn for the sinister, dark, and stormy in George Romney’s A Foregathering of Witches, a Scene from “Macbeth” (above). Two figures whirl around a bonfire, casting their dark magics. The drawing illustrates a moment in Act 4, scene 1 of Macbeth, where the witches rattle off their revolting recipe. Romney’s swirling brush strokes throughout the drawing evoke the frenzy of the witchcraft and invokes the fear of the unknown.
1 WITCH. Round about the caldron go;
In the poison’d entrails throw.—
Macbeth, Act 4 Scene 1
The eldritch and eerie theme continues into the spectacular works of Odilon Redon, James Ensor, and Jan Toorop. European Symbolist artists were fascinated with sex and sexuality, life and death, spirituality and myth. Their works are populated by figures ranging from delicate, virginal women to femme fatales, masked beings, and skeletal harbingers of death—in other words, zombies.
The two figures in the opening work by William Degouve de Nuncques, The Servants of Death would not be especially out of place in any of today’s zombie movies, despite being put to paper in 1894. These shambling servants are busy sawing planks over a grave-like hole in the ground, the purpose of which is unknown—but with a title like The Servants of Death and complexions like theirs it can’t bode well for anyone. The dying embers of the fire and the blood red of the setting sun add to the sense of a turn-of-the-century Belgian horror movie about to happen.
Rounding out the collection’s spectral, skeletal elements is a group of masks from Symbolist sculptors, the most recently acquired of which is the skull-like Mask of Death. Presiding over a case of masks with a grin, the Mask of Death by Jules Desbois, seems to shift from benevolent to malignant with a step to either direction. The sunken, decaying features and moldering colors of the ceramic glazes stir up the sensation that this is a head that until recently resided somewhere below ground—possibly excavated from the zombies’ hole. Unlike the crowned skull of the nearby bronze sculpture Nothing!! (Rien!!) by Jean-Baptiste Clésinger, the Mask of Death still appears to have skin and flesh, though it’s not necessarily an improvement.
Dreams and Echoes opened to the public last weekend and runs until February 16. The accompanying catalogue is available in the Museum Shop, so you can gaze upon the Mask of Death or call up your own Foregathering of Witches, whenever you like.
—Melissa L. Gustin, Research Associate
George Romney, A Foregathering of Witches, a Scene from “Macbeth,” early 1790s. Brush and brown and gray wash, over black chalk, on off-white laid paper, laid down on blue wove appear with an added border of ivory laid paper around the drawing; 381 x 538 mm. The Art Institute of Chicago, promised gift of Celia and David Hilliard, 2013.
William Degouve de Nuncques, The Servants of Death, c. 1894. Pastel on gray wove paper prepared with a greenish-gray ground, perimeter mounted to canvas, wrapped around a strainer; 930 x 730 mm. David and Celia Hilliard Collection.
Jules Desbois, Mask of Death, 1904. Enameled stoneware; 300 x 220 mm. David and Celia Hilliard Collection.
POSTED BY Guest Blogger, ON September 26, 2013, Comments Off
Who doesn’t love a good glass of wine? The French certainly do. For centuries, wine has been a quintessential part of the French culture, so it makes sense that wine and its less-French, but still popular sidekick, beer, find their way into the paintings in Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity.
Strolling through the exhibition, it’s impossible not to place yourself in the paintings and wonder ‘how would I spend an afternoon in Paris?’ What would I wear, what would I do? And the answer for me is pretty simple—I’ll hop into Monet’s Luncheon on the Grass and straight into that polka-dotted frock any day. In this painting, a fashionable group of people (for the record, they’re not in Paris, but in the forest of Fontainebleau) model their very en vogue summer fashions and picnic and lounge their way through what appears to be a lovely summer afternoon. In the bottom left corner of the central panel, a luncheon is spread out on the blanket, complete with a bottle of wine and a flagon of beer to wash it all down. The fact that it all seems so realistic speaks to Monet’s aim to represent a scene of present-day life in the open air, presumably recorded as it was being observed.
Since France is sadly out of the question for me, the next best thing is wine. If you feel similarly, treat yourself to a wine flight at Eno in the InterContinental Hotel created in honor of the exhibition. Check in on Four Square to get a discount on the Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity wine flight, as well as a free ticket to the museum! Hurry! The exhibition closes this weekend!
—Oksana Schak, Coordinator of Tourism Marketing
Image Credit: Claude Monet. Luncheon on the Grass, 1865–66. Musée d’Orsay, Paris, acquired as a payment in kind, 1987, RF 1987-12.
POSTED BY Guest Blogger, ON September 17, 2013, Comments Off
Pink may seem like a fairly innocuous color, but it became the surprise focus of critics’ response to Édouard Manet’s larger-than-life-sized painting of his favorite model, Victorine Meurent, in a salmon-pink dressing gown. One critic complained that while it might have been Manet’s intention “to engage in a symphonic dialogue, a sort of duet, between the pink of the dress of the young woman and the pink tones of her face… He did not succeed.” Another found the color “delicious” but also commented that her head was “lost in a modulation of pink.”
The arguments over pink, however, were somewhat colored by the piece of clothing that came in that much-discussed hue, the peignoir. Requiring no corset or crinoline, a peignoir was a loose-fitting dressing gown that was worn at home among family and the closet of friends. In spite of its intimate nature, the peignoir could still be quite elaborate and fashionable and was often the outfit of choice in paintings of ladies in domestic settings including Renoir’s Woman at the Piano and even in portraits of fashionable women of means, like the Marquise de Miramon.
Manet’s model, however, is not at home or in a domestic setting, nor is her peignoir terribly au courant, a detail that the ever-fashionable Manet would have intended. Rather Victorine wears her plain gown slightly unbuttoned in the artist’s studio in a setting carefully constructed with various, seemingly incongruous props—violets, a monocle, a parrot. It’s been theorized that these accoutrements can be read as an allegory of the five senses: the half-peeled orange as taste, the man’s monocle around her neck as sight, the nosegay in her right hand as smell, the satin of the peignoir as touch, and the squawking parrot as hearing. Allegory or not, at least two of these props—the monocle and the flowers, perhaps given by the monocle owner—tease at the rather suggestive presence of an unseen man. (The parrot could also be added to this group. Manet was known for making references to other artworks and genres in his work, and the Realist painter Gustave Courbet had just scandalized the 1866 Salon with his painting Woman with a Parrot depicting a nude woman sprawled amid her discarded clothes with a parrot on her finger. The bird was notoriously interpreted as a stand-in for a male lover.)
Add on top of all this the fact that French literature at the time was rife with references to peignoirs in connection to undressing, bathing, and, yes, being sexually available, and you can see why critics were saying that the painting of Victorine—with her confident gaze and coy pose—was “made with a pink that is both false and louche.” Pretty in pink, maybe, but for whom?
—Lauren Schultz, Associate Director of Communications
Image Credit: Édouard Manet. Young Lady in 1866, 1866. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, gift of Erwin Davis.