Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Supernatural Beings Painted Naturalistically

Minerva in her Study
oil on panel
Gemäldegalerie Berlin

Rembrandt's sumptuous Minerva in her Study was owned from a very early date by the hereditary Princes of Orange. William of Orange took Minerva along with him to England when he became that county's king in 1689. When he died in 1702, Minerva was bequeathed in his will to the King of Prussia. The first two centuries of the picture's life were thus passed in relative privacy, on the walls of various palace apartments. In the 1830s when the Prussian state opened a public art museum in Berlin, the painting was in the core-group of royal pictures that went on open view there for the first time in their history. Minerva in her Study was mistakenly but officially attributed to Jan Lievens or Ferdinand Bol until the 1880s, when Rembrandt's name became reattached. The panel was allowed only a little more than a century of peace for hanging on a brocaded wall in a public room at the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, when the Second World War sent her on a new round of travels and perils. German museum officials decided to bury the most important museum pictures in a salt mine to prevent destruction by American bombs. The conquering Americans naturally then became the ones who opened the salt mine, and this meant that they systematically shipped the masterpieces to America. Minerva along with other paintings owned by the German state went on a propaganda tour (or Roman Triumph) starting at the National Gallery in Washington DC and then wending her way through the municipal museums of New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago. As the 1940s turned into the 1950s, these former Gemäldegalerie paintings were finally sent home (but none to East Germany). This was not, however, a return to anything like the stability that prevailed on gallery walls during the 19th century, much less the unbroken peace at Sans Souci Palace during the 18th. Minerva has traveled recently both to Amsterdam and to Tokyo for purposes of temporary exhibition. And as has been noted here before (with persistent futility), the art public in general deludes itself into supposing that the shipping of old paintings is value-neutral. Works never travel without damage and loss. Their welfare is sacrificed to public relations.

Edwin Landseer
Scene from Midsummer Night's Dream - Titania and Bottom
ca. 1848-51
oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria. Melbourne

Maerten de Vos
Abduction of Europa
ca. 1590
oil on panel
Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao

Frederic Leighton
Perseus and Andromeda
oil on canvas
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Angelica Kauffmann
Ariadne Abandoned by Theseus
oil on canvas
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Frederic Leighton
Cymon and Iphigenia
oil on canvas
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Peter Paul Rubens
Prometheus Bound
ca. 1611-18
oil on canvas
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Jean-Jacque-François Le Barbier
Cupid in a Tree
ca. 1795-1805
oil on canvas
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Bartolomeo Guidobono
The Sorceress
ca. 1685-95
oil on canvas
Cantor Center, Stanford University

Annibale Carracci
ca. 1592
oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Cupid as Victor
ca. 1601
oil on canvas
Gemäldegalerie, Berlin

Cornelis van Haarlem
Fall of Ixion
oil on canvas
Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam

Bartholomeus Spranger
Hercules, Dejanira, and Nessus
ca. 1580-82
oil on canvas
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Anthony van Dyck and Jan Roos
Vertumnus and Pomona
ca. 1625
oil on canvas
Musei di Strada Nuova, Genoa