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
It isn’t every day that George Clooney and an all-star Hollywood cast make a movie about the fate of a drawing now at the Art Institute of Chicago. And yet, The Monuments Men, which is opening today nationwide, is a celebration of the soldiers who saved millions of purloined artworks from willful destruction by the Nazi regime during World War II. These men and women, officially known as the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section, were no ordinary soldiers, but trained art historians, architects, and archaeologists. They went into battle to save the irreplaceable cultural heritage that Hitler had amassed in his progress through Europe. He hid these riches everywhere from Austrian salt mines to Bavarian castles and then instructed his troops to destroy them as the Reich fell. Not only did the Monuments Men save the art, in the years following the war they returned it to its rightful owners, many of whom were Jewish.
The Art Institute rigorously publishes the known provenance of its artworks on our website under “Ownership History.” For one luminous drawing by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, this history is truly the stuff of legend. Not only was the work confiscated from its Jewish gallery owner Georges Wildenstein in Paris in 1943, but a physical card survives marking it as one of the works recovered by the Monuments Men in 1945. Wildenstein took possession again in 1947, and eventually sold the work of his own accord. When the Art Institute purchased the Ingres drawing in 1972, it was free and clear of any connection to the years it was held hostage by the third Reich. (The full ownership history of the drawing is included below.) And most importantly, thanks to the Monuments Men, it survived for us to enjoy.
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, (French, 1780-1867) Sheet of Studies with the Head of the Fornarina and Hands of Madame de Senonnes, 1814/16. Graphite, with stumping, on light-weight yellowish-tan wove paper. Restricted gift of the Joseph and Helen Regenstein Foundation, 1972.32.
Estate of the artist [Lugt 1477]. Georges Wildenstein (1892–1963), Paris [E.R.R. card]; confiscated by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (E.R.R.), before January 15, 1943 [January 15, 1943 is the date the drawing was entered into the E.R.R.’s records at the Jeu de Paume Museum in Paris]; recovered by the American Forces’ Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Service (M.F.A.A.) and processed at the Munich Central Art Collecting Point, June 24, 1945 [Central Collecting Point card]; repatriated to France, September 19, 1946 and restituted to Wildenstein, March 21, 1947 [Central Collecting Point card; Cultural Plunder by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg: Database of Art Objects at the Jeu de Paume (on-line)]. Wildenstein and Company, London, by May 1956 [1956 exh. cat.]. Villiers David, London [according to a letter from Frederick Schab dated March 7, 1972 in the curatorial file]. Sold by the William Schab Gallery, New York, to the Art Institute, 1972.
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.
Sea gods and monsters, shipwrecks, and other dramatic Dutch and British prints from the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries are now resplendently on view in Gallery 213a. Northern Renaissance and Baroque artists witnessed a golden age of seafaring expansion, and duly produced a cornucopia of art on paper littered with fantastical sea beasts that they imagined might be encountered, if one were only to travel far enough. As the German artist Hans Holbein the Younger’s 1532 map of the world suggests, most of the globe was covered by water, and it was those unexplored areas that might well contain leviathan whales, or perhaps even the proverbial dragon. These tales were the stuff of ancient mythology, and artists continued to tell the same stories with added verve of an ever more real threat across the ocean in the New World. By the nineteenth century, these versatile sea creatures could also express political statements rather than serving merely as excuses for imperiling classical nudes.
Among the works on view is a 1601 engraving by Jan Saenredam after a drawing by Hendrick Goltzius, that envisions the story of the princess Andromeda as a traditional Renaissance nude. The beautifully bare Andromeda has been chained to a bone-strewn rock as food for a ravening sea beast. Just then, Perseus swoops in on Pegasus to do battle with the creature and save the damsel from distress. Andromeda’s nudity is accentuated by her flowing locks, blown dramatically by the wind and waves; she is a comely tidbit for monster or man. Saenredam’s early training was in cartography, and his rendition of Goltzius’s sea beast resembles the hybrid stock characters that populate dangerous uncharted waters of Holbein and other sixteenth-century artists.
Finally, a later adopter of sea creature fright tactics, printmaker James Gillray’s raucous political satires often included biblical and nautical references. This dynamically hand-colored etching from 1806 bears a lengthy secondary title, which may have clarified the subject matter for contemporaries: “Representing an Empty-Barrel tossed out to amuse the great Leviathan John-Bull, in order to divert him from instantly laying violent hands upon the new Coalition Packet.” The monstrous whale with “John Bull” horns symbolizes the British nation (as personified by the heroic and comedic archetype, John Bull), who attacks a packet boat steered by an unpopular new political group.
Mapping the globe or a nation’s ever-changing political vistas evidently each had their own intricate difficulties. These prints will only be on view for a few months, and then, like the irregular and often cruel tides the artists immortalized, they must come back down. Check back in April for a new Gillray etching; its glorious handcoloring only allows it to stay up for half as long as a work in black and white.
After Hans Holbein. Typus Cosmographicus Universalis, 1532, reproduced 1889. Lithograph on paper. Gift of Emily Crane Chadbourne.
Jan Saenredam after Hendrick Goltzius. Andromeda, 1601. Engraving on cream laid paper. Elizabeth Hammond Stickney Collection.
James Gillray. A Tub for the Whale!, published March 14, 1806. Handcolored etching and aquatint on cream wove paper. Gift of Thomas F. Furness in memory of William McCallin McKee.
POSTED BY Carl K., ON January 24, 2014, Comments Off
“This country has more marvels and monuments that defy description than any other.”
That’s Greek historian Herodotus’s account of Egypt in the 5th century B.C., then a land of wealth and exoticism that intrigued Greeks. A century later when Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in his successful war against the Persian Empire, the fusion of the two cultures led to the creation of new gods and ways of showing them (which you can see for yourself in When the Greeks Ruled Egypt, on display in Gallery 154).
To represent the combined cultures, Alexander joined the Greek god Zeus and Egyptian god Amon to create (wait for it). . . Zeus Amon. Egyptians thought of pharaohs as gods on earth, so descent from this god, as Alexander and his successors claimed, was an important part of adapting to their new home. Wander through the exhibition and you’ll notice figures with distinctive head gear: ram’s horns. In this tetradrachm, for example, Alexander is shown with this distinctive feature curling around his ear—an image that unmistakably identifies him as the son of Zeus Amon and consequently the legitimate leader of Egypt.
On another coin, Zeus Amon himself appears. Not only is he a hybrid of faiths, but so is the way he’s shown: with the symbolism of Egyptian religion, but in a naturalistic, Greek style.
It’s fitting that an exhibition about cultures coming together is presented at the crossroads of the museum, which itself is at the center of a vast, global city. See the over 75 fascinating objects, including mummy masks, portraits, coins, and magical amulets for yourself, along with enlightening quotes printed on the gallery walls, through July 27.
Installation view of When the Greeks Ruled: Egypt After Alexander the Great.
Greek, minted in Ephesus, Asia Minor. Tetradrachm (Coin) Portraying Alexander the Great. 306-281 B.C., Issued by Kind Lysimachus of Thrace. Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Martin A. Ryerson.
Greek, minted in Cyrene, North Africa. Stater (Coin) Depicting the God Zeus Ammon, about 322-308 B.C. Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Martin A. Ryerson.