Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Habsburgs at the Minneapolis Institute

 Tintoretto (1518-1594), "Susanna and the Elders", 1555

A selection of  royal trappings (paintings, sculpture, costumes, armor, weapons, carriages, etc ) from the Kunsthistorisches Museum is now on view in  Minneapolis.  The focus is  more on the history of the Habsburg dynasty than the history of art, and the target audience seems to be age 15.   Many of the pieces, and most of the signage, does not interest me.

But it does include one of my very favorite paintings which, until now, I have only known in reproductions, the best of which, by the way, can now be found in glorious high-resolution on the Google Art Project. .About ten years ago, I made  my own version - now hanging from a fence in the  backyard.

One might notice that this dirty old man is  lurking rather than ogling.  Presumably because he, and the  lurker at the opposite end of the fence, are ashamed of their sinful concupiscence -- as should also be the gentlemen viewers  in the gallery,  as we gaze at the soft folds of  unprotected female flesh.

She's quite a woman -- even if a bit too plump for contemporary centerfolds.

By the way, you might notice how the edges along the right side of her body vary from sharp to blurry as her volumes weave elegantly back and forth in pictorial space. (which no photographic centerfold can offer)

Yes, the details are luscious - but actually - they are best seen on Google Art.

What can't be experienced online is the sense of the painting as whole, as it engages the space of the actual room and confronts the viewer with life-size human figures.


Hans Jakob I. Bachmann, German, 1574- 1651
Ivory Tankard with Lid, 1642

Continuing on the erotic theme -- here is one incredible display of carved ivory - wrapping itself all around this tankard.  Note the small cameo scenes on the bottom and top - as well as the magnificent frieze of interacting figures.

I don't find the faces of these frolicking girls to be very appealing -- but perhaps men of the 17th C. reacted differently.

Gallery signage suggested that this tankard was a wedding gift --- so all the drinking and  erotic play was appropriate for the  occasion

Furienmeister, active in the first quarter of the 17th century
Crucifix, first quarter of the 17th century

The anonymous Furienmeister is so named because of the wonderful ivory furies  that he carved.

The job of Holy Roman Emperor was probably quite stressful.  But if he gets to wake up each morning and look at this crucifix on the wall above his bed, I might apply for the position.

There's an entire cathedral in that small space.

Everything about this piece is incredible -- from the overall  gesture of the entire figure, to the detail areas that are too subtle to be believed.

Did he spend an entire year carving this piece -- carefully planning how to proceed with each area of detail ?

By the way, one might notice that the ivory pieces in this show have been dramatically lit.  A spotlight shines into their glass cases - explicitly contrary to the advice given by the Smithsonian regarding ivory preservation. Assuming that the curators have not behaved irresponsibly, that might suggest  that there is some disagreement in the museum community concerning just how damaging these spotlights can be.

Without  strong, revealing light, it's hardly worth putting such carving on display, as I noted in this review of a recent show of Buddhist art at the Block Museum in Evanston.


Attributed to Balthasar Moll, Austrian, 1717-1785
Carousel Sleigh, c. 1740-1750

More wonderful carving -- but on a different scale.  This fairy-tale prop weighs 400 pounds

Regretfully, more  close-up images cannot be found on the internet - but the above gives some idea of its intense organic design --- as if conjured by Louis Sullivan.


Antonio Canova, 1757-1822 Emperor Franz II, 1805

This powerful bust  (and forehead! ) was commissioned as soon as the Emperor took possession of Venice after the treaty of Campo Formio .  It was displayed outside a Venetian library to reassure citizens of the Emperor's cultural responsibility.

The Crowning with Thorns, c. 1602-1604

It's always a great event whenever a Caravaggio religious painting comes to America, since our museums don't have any.

As my wife's brother, an Evangelical minister,  noted:  Christ is being assaulted here by three orders of society: an aristocrat, a slave, and a peasant.

Correggio, 1489/94-1534 Jupiter and Io, c. 1530

There's a softness and wispy-ness about this painting that doesn't really attract me - even if it was
used to advertise this entire exhibition

These pieces  suggests that the Imperial court fluctuated between the extremes of piety and hedonism.


Giuseppe Arcimboldo, 1527-1593
Fire, 1566  (detail)

A man who invented his own genre.  And he was so good at it, no one else has tried to work it -- at least as far as I've seen..

Giorgione, Italian, c. 1477-1510
Three Philosophers, 1508-1509

Not many paintings are attributed to Giorgione -- and I'm still waiting to see one that knocks the ball out of the park.

Hans Holbein  (1497-1543)
Jane Seymour (1509-1537), c.1536-1537

King Henry VIII liked her -- but there's not much  spark in either her life or this portrait.

"Dutiful" is the key word for both.

Giovanni Battista Moroni, c.1520/1524-1578
Alessandro Vittoria (1525-1608), c.1552-1553

This portrait may not have Rembrandt's sense of self reflection -- but I really felt the presence of a young sculptor proudly showing off his work.

And it's strong, stately  design announces itself all the way across the room.


Niklas Reiser, active 1498-1512
Maria of Burgund (1458-1482), c.1500

A sadly posthumous portrait (she fell off her  horse while falconing)

But a wonderful portrait from an artist whom I had never seen.

"Venus adjusting her sandal", Roman, First Century

There was a case of small classical bronzes.  This was my favorite - though my favorite view was the long, slow curve of her back.

Titian c.1488-1576 Danaƫ, after 1554

I don't care for the old nursemaid, but I like the rapturous expression on the face of Danae.

The Chicago version

Apparently this theme was a big seller for Titian, so his workshop made quite a few, including this one at the Art Institute of Chicago.


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