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Capturing El Capitan

POSTED BY , ON January 15, 2015, Comments Off

Adams El Capitan

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.

Watkins El Capitan

Watkins El Capitan 2

Image Credits:

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.

 


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A Neapolitan Menagerie

POSTED BY , ON December 26, 2014, 3 COMMENTS

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.

Creche Lamb

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.

Creche Dog

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.

Creche Rabbit

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.


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Winter Solstice

POSTED BY , ON December 19, 2014, Comments Off

Yuan Jiang

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 [1717], 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.


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The Crèche’s Cast of Characters

POSTED BY , ON December 16, 2014, Comments Off

There are quite a few characters in the crèche who are probably instantly recognizable to most people—Jesus, Mary, Saint Joseph, angels, shepherds, the Three Wise Men—but because the crèche involves scenes of daily life, many of the figures might seem a bit more anonymous. But you can actually learn quite a lot about the Christmas story and life in 18th-century Naples if you look closely. Here’s some insider information to help you decipher some clues and learn more about the figures in the crèche:

Creche Benito

The character of Benito—located in the far right recesses of the crèche—is actually quite common in Neapolitan crèches of the period. This figure is always dressed in blue and is always sound asleep. He is completely oblivious of the star and the announcement of the angel, symbolizing all of those who do not listen to the news of the birth of Jesus.

Creche Georgiana

The name of this woman on the left is La Georgiana, referencing the fact that she hails from Georgia, located in the Caucasus. She’s dressed in Turkish attire, with billowing pants, a tight embroidered vest, and men’s pointy-toed red boots, and symbolizes the exotic ethnicities that have come to Naples. This outfit would have been meticulously crafted on a miniature loom and is most likely made from silk from the royal silk factory in San Leucio.

Creche jewelry

The jewelry worn by the figures was not made by miniature artists, but rather the same jewelers who bedecked the Neapolitan elite. Around this woman’s neck is a necklace made of real coral. Greek mythology holds that coral came from Medusa’s blood, which fell into the Mediterranean when she was decapitated. Neapolitans believed that coral had protective powers against evil and bad luck. If you look closely, you can see many of the ladies in the crèche wearing coral necklaces and earrings.

To see these figures in person, you can visit the crèche in Gallery 209 through January 6.

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.


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Saint Anthony Across the Collection

POSTED BY , ON December 09, 2014, Comments Off

Ensor_St-Anthony

The centerpiece of the museum’s current exhibition Temptation: The Demons of James Ensor is undoubtedly Ensor’s 1887 The Temptation of Saint Anthony. This drawing is nearly six feet tall and features the eponymous saint surrounded by a variety of temptations sent by the devil himself.

But as you look closely, the temptations depicted in the painting might not be those that you would expect to see being used to tantalize an ancient saint. In fact, Ensor’s Saint Anthony is seduced by vices that modern audiences would have recognized, including fast food and government corruption. Traditionally, portrayals of Saint Anthony—which are fairly common throughout art history—depict temptations related to lust, greed, and demons.

We took a look through our collection to see how artists from the 16th to the 20th centuries have explored this dark subject:

Fantin Latour

Cranach

Brassai

Tiepolo

Image Credits:

James Ensor. The Temptation of Saint Anthony, 1887. Regenstein Endowment and the Louise B. and Frank H. Woods Purchase Fund. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Brussels.

Henri Fantin-Latour.  The Temptation of Saint Anthony, from the third album of L’Estampe originale, 1893. The Charles Deering Collection.

Lucas Cranach, the elder. The Temptation of Saint Anthony, 1506. Gift of Mr. Potter Palmer, II.

Brassaï (Gyula Halász). Tentation de Saint Antoine (Temptation of Saint Anthony), 1934/35, printed 1967. Restricted Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Gaylord Donnelley and Mr. and Mrs. Ralph J. Mills.

Giambattista Tiepolo. The Temptation of Saint Anthony, c. 1734. Helen Regenstein Collection.


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