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.
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’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.
Olympic fever has officially swept our office, with excitement and discussion on everything ranging from the team figure skating scoring process to whether or not Shaun White would break out the YOLO Flip in the halfpipe finals to the current status of Bob Costas’s eye infection. It’s been a big week. And it’s encouraged us to take a closer look at our collection because, with over 250,000 pieces, we figured there just had to be some works that celebrated the Olympics. We were not disappointed.
Contemporary Olympic gold medalists get endorsement deals, but some winners of the Ancient Olympic Games received an arguably larger perk. A minted coin celebrating their victory. In the Ancient Olympics, horse races were among the most prestigious competitions. Horses were symbols of socioeconomic status, since only the privileged could afford to buy, feed, and train them and transport their teams and trainers to Olympia every four years. In time, many of the victors in the horse races included kings and tyrants. The top coin shows Gelon of Syracuse, who minted this to commemorate his victory in the four-horse chariot race in 488 B.C. Three years later he became ruler of the city. The image below features Anaxilas, ruler of Messana and Rhegium, who commissioned this coin to celebrate the victory of his mule team in either 484 or 480 B.C. Both coins are currently on view in Gallery 151.
The next one might be cheating a little bit because Hannes Schroll (pictured below) never actually competed in the Olympics, but did finish first in the 1935 Olympic Trials in several alpine skiing events, including slalom, downhill, and combined. However, he was Austrian born and thus wasn’t eligible to be selected to the 1936 U.S. Olympic team. This portrait of Schroll was taken in 1935 in the Yosemite Valley, where he was a ski instructor. The photographer? None other than Ansel Adams.
The Cheetah Flex Foot pictured below was worn in the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, most famously by South African Oscar Pistorius. This custom-engineered prosthetic limb was designed for both above-the-knee and below-the-knee amputees and was inspired by a cheetah’s hind legs. The curved shape and carbon composite materials enable the prosthetic limb to store and release energy like a spring to closely mimic the anatomy of the human foot and ankle, allowing disabled athletes to sprint at new high speeds. It has been instrumental in the achievement of several world records.
Sadly (as far as I’m concerned), the model below will never be built. Local architect Stanley Tigerman created it for Chicago’s 2016 Olympic bid, which our fair city lost to Rio de Janeiro in 2009. This complex would have been part of the imagined Olympic Village, housing athletes and coaches alike.
If you weren’t already with us, we hope this gets you in the Olympic spirit!
Greek, minted in Syracuse, Sicily. Coin Showing Quadriga with Bearded Charioteer, 485–478 B.C. Gift of William F. Dunham.
Greek, minted in Sicily, Messana. Tetradrachm (Coin) Portraying Biga with Mules, 484–476 B.C. Gift of William F. Dunham.
Ansel Easton Adams. Hannes Schroll, Yosemite Valley, California, c. 1935. Gift of Mrs. Katharine Kuh.
Van Phillips and Hilary Pouchak, Manufactured by Össur Icelandic. Cheetah Flex Foot, c. 2000. Gift of Ossur Americas.
Stanley Tigerman. Olympic Village Housing (project), Chicago, Illinois, 2006. © Stanley Tigerman
POSTED BY Katie R., ON January 31, 2014, Comments Off
In 1931, Victor Schreckengost received a commission for a large punch bowl for a special, anonymous client. The client requested that the bowl be “New Yorkish” in style. Schreckengost took inspiration from a memorable performance by Cab Calloway at New York’s famed Cotton Club and his design captured the excitement of the city’s nightlife, with signs flashing and lights illuminating the skyline. One side shows glasses, liquor bottles, and other evidence of drinking, somewhat ironic considering this was created during prohibition.
As it turns out, the anonymous client was Eleanor Roosevelt. She commissioned it to celebrate FDR’s reelection as governor of New York and the famous couple was quite unconcerned by the alcohol-related ornamentation. In fact, shortly after Roosevelt’s election to the presidency in 1933, prohibition was repealed. And future generations of Super Bowl viewers breathed a sigh of relief.
Victor Schreckengost, made for Cowan Pottery Studio. Jazz Bowl, c. 1931. Through prior acquisition of the Antiquarian Society; Thorne Rooms exhibition Fund; Bequest of Elizabeth R. Vaughan; and the Winfield Foundation.