Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Three Views Of China's Past Give Life To History
Part I
Model of a Multistory House, Eastern Han dynasty (A.D. 25–220),
earthenware with pigment, H. 68⅞ in. (175 cm), L. 34¼ in. (87 cm),
excavated in 1988, Jiaozuo, Henan Province
Photo: Courtesy Henan Museum, Zhengzhou
On view in the exhibition Age of Empires:  Chinese Art of the Chin & Han Dynasties, 
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


Lucky New Yorkers and visitors to New York.  China's past is currently on view.  Ancient objects fascinate, amuse and illuminate new aspects of China's history in three noteworthy exhibitions.  The venues, Asia Society Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and China Institute Gallery, together display over 300 works that include sculpture, ceramics, metalwork, painting, textiles and calligraphy.  Many of the pieces have never before been shown in the West.


Changsha ewers trapped in a coral concretion on the top of the wreck mound
of the 9th-century vessel off the coast of Belitung Island, Indonesia.
Photography by Michael Flecker
Image provided by Asia Society, New York


To start, Asia Society Museum presents Secrets of the Sea:  A Tang Shipwreck and Early Trade in Asia.  In 1998, fishermen discovered a ninth-century sailing vessel in shallow waters, off the coast of Belitung Island, Indonesia. The discovery and subsequent excavation, changed our understanding of China during the Tang dynasty  (618 - 907) and global trade.  


Bowl with decorative inscription in cursive script,
China, Hunan Province, Changsha kilns,
Tang dynasty, ca. 825–50,
glazed stoneware with underglaze iron- brown,
H. 2 x W. 6 in. (5.1 x 15.2 cm)
Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore, 2005.1.00580
Photography by Asian Civilisations Museum
Courtesy of John Tsantes and Robert Harrell
Image provided by Asia Society, New York


The ship, an Arabian dhow built without nails or pegs, 21 feet wide and 58 feet long,  was returning with cargo from China to the Abbasid Empire, present day Iraq/Iran and a small part of Saudi Arabia. Approximately 60,o00 ceramics were salvaged from the cargo.  It has been suggested that originally there may have been 70,000 pieces on board.  The majority of them were Changsha wares - bowels, jars, large jugs and pitchers.  These were everyday, utilitarian items that China produced in quantity for export.  They were  boldly decorated in brown or green glazes.  Some 130 to 140  were packed with straw or some other protective material in large storage jars f0r travel.  The ship was filled with these large jars.  

The enormous amount of Changsha ceramics on board evidenced China's ninth-century mass production facilities as well as their astuteness in commerce.  Variety in design indicated different hands completed the decorations that were tailored to the Middle Eastern markets.  Foreign merchants themselves may have ordered particular motifs.  Such exchange of trade via the sea had been unexpected.  This ship, and subsequent vessels recovered, substantiated that the maritime trade routes were well-established and extensive by the ninth-century. Global trade did not rely mainly on the silk route - the land route - as previously thought.  In fact, sea trade may have been even more important than the overland way.

Export wares were not the only class of goods on the vessel.  There were also high-end objects.  Some 200 celadon and about 300 white ware ceramics were recovered.  These were particularly valued in China and would have been very impressive for a Middle Easterner to own. 

Dish with floral lozenge decoration China, Henan Province, 
Gongxian kilns, Tang dynasty, ca. 825–50,
glazed stoneware with cobalt-blue pigment over white slip,
Approx. H. 1 1/4 x Diam. 8 in. (4.5 x 22.5 cm)
Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore, 2005.1.00473
Photography by Asian Civilisations Museum, Courtesy of John Tsantes and Robert Harrel
Image provided by Asia Society, New York

Three blue and white dishes were a surprising find.  Blue and white ware were formerly thought to have begun production later and truly developed in the fourteenth century, the Yuan dynasty (1271 - 1378). These ninth-century examples shed new light on their evolution.  To date, they are the earliest complete blue and white wares known.  They also symbolized global trade at its best.  The blue color was produced by cobalt which is not found in China.  It was imported from the Middle East. The lozenge-shaped motif found on the blue and white dishes and other wares is a Middle Eastern design.  Thus, cobalt used for blue is shipped from the Abbasid Empire to China.  China gets it, makes blue and white wares and ships it back to the Middle East.  


Four-lobed oval box with deer and lion decoration,
China, Tang dynasty, ca. 825–50, 
Sliver, parcel-gilt, H. 1 x W. 3 1/2 x D. 2 1/2 in. (2.5 x 8.9 x 6.4 cm)
Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore, 2005.1.00865 1/2 to 2/2
Photography by Asian Civilisations Museum, Tang Shipwreck Collection
Image provided by Asia Society, New York

Other treasured goods included coins and objects in silver and gold. The Chinese used chasing and  repoussé metalworking techniques acquired from the Middle East.  Forms, such as the lobed design, were adopted from Middle Eastern sources.   Again and again the show's pieces illustrate the fusion of cultures - motifs and forms transfer and mix.


Long-necked ewer,
China, probably Henan Province Gongxian kilns, Around 830s,
glazed stoneware with copper-green splashes over white slip,
H. 40 1/2 x W. 9 x D. 10 1/4 in. (102 x 23 x 26 cm)
Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore, 2005.1.00900 1/2 to 2/2
Photography by Asian Civilisations Museum, Tang Shipwreck Collection 
Image provided by Asia Society, New York
  
If there is a star of the show, it is the tall long-necked ewer with Middle Eastern lozenge and floral decoration incised on its body and leafy fronds on its neck and base pedestal as well as Chinese cloud scroll designs on its shoulder and top section under the dragon-head stopper. Based on smaller metal prototypes, this ewer probably could not be usefully functionally but would serve as an splendid object of skillfulness and artistic merit.

Visitors may be astounded thinking about the organizational and management abilities of those involved with ninth-century maritime trade.  

Learn more about this fascinating discovery by going to the museum. Also, don't miss seeing the lecture by Stephen A. Murphy, curator for Southeast Asia at the Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore, and curator-in-charge for the Tang Shipwreck Gallery at the museum. 

Connecting Empires: Shipwrecks, Ceramics, and Maritime Trade in Ninth-Century Asia, March 7, 2017, Asia Society, New York.  Stephen A. Murphy, curator for Southeast Asia at the Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore, and curator-in-charge for the Tang Shipwreck Gallery at the museum. 


More to come.
  
Secrets of the Sea:  
A Tang Shipwreck and Early Trade in Asia
March 7 - June 4, 2017
Asia Society Museum
725 Park Avenue, Manhattan
Hours:
Tuesday - Sunday 11 am - 6 pm
Friday 11 am - 9 pm (September - June)
Closed Mondays and major holidays.

Age of Empires:

Chinese Art of the Chin & Han Dynasties
(221 B.C. - A.D. 220
April 3 - July 16, 2017
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan
Hours:  
Sunday - Thursday 9 am - 5:30 pm
Friday and Saturday 10 am - 9 pm
Closed Thanksgiving Day, December 25, 
January 1, and the first Monday in May.

Dreams of the Kings:  

A Jade Suit For Eternity
May 25 - November 12, 2017
China Institute Gallery
100 Washington Street, Manhattan
(Temporary entrance: 40 Rector Street)
Gallery Hours:
Monday - Friday: 10 am – 5 pm
Thursday: 10 am - 8 pm
Saturday: 11 pm - 5 pm
Closed: Sunday and major holidays

Sunday, April 30, 2017

It's Been A Long Time Coming:

Making Space For Women Artists

Installation view of Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, April 15 - August 13, 2017
Photo: Jonathan Muzikar  

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)'s exhibition, Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction is an eye-opener in more ways than one.  The show focuses on work produced by women artists from the mid-1940s through the early 1960s - the end of World War II through the feminist movement.  This is a period when women artists had not received much attention.  

Atsuko Tanaka (Japanese, 1932 – 2005), 
Untitled, 1956, 
watercolor and felt-tip pen on paper, 
42 7/8 x 30 3/8″ (108.9 x 77.2 cm) 
Purchased with funds provided by the Edward John Noble Foundation, 
Frances Keech Fund, and Committee on Drawings Funds, 2010. 
© 2017 Ryoji Ito

Everything on display, about 100 works by more than 50 international artists, is from the MoMA's own collection.  Nearly half of the works have never, yes, never, been on view at the museum.  Many of the artists will be new to visitors.  The pieces, in a variety of mediums, are consistently inventive, thoughtful and engaging. 

The show reflects the MoMA's efforts to increase the representation of women artists.  The museum is not alone in this undertaking but the "Making Space"  show may be the game-changer for any future presentations concerned with art produced in the modern period. Women artists will simply have to be included.  


Lee Bontecou (American, born 1931), Untitled, 1961, 
welded steel, canvas, black fabric, rawhide, copper wire, and soot, 
6′ 8 1/4″ x 7′ 5″ x 34 3/4″ (203.6 x 226 x 88 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Kay Sage Tanguy Fund, 1963. 
© 2017 Lee Bontecou

Interestingly,  many works were acquired in the 1950s and 1960s, shortly after the art was made.  The pieces were subsequently exhibited then placed in storage.  There was a drop off in the museum's collecting art by women until the last 15 years.   


First a look at what is and what has been going on recently in New York's museums with regard to women artists.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art opened The Met Breuer in March of 2016 with two shows. One was a survey of works by the Indian artist Nasreen Mohamedi (1937 - 1990) which was followed by a Diane Arbus (1923 - 1921) exhibit.  Presently, Marasa Merz (1926 - ) and Lygia Pape (1927 - 2004) each have major shows going on there.  


The  career of Agnes Martin (1912 - 2004) was on view at the Guggenheim from late 2016 through January of 2017.   Now, the 2016 Hugo Boss Prize winner Anika Yi (1971 - ) has her multi-part installation filling a gallery on the museum's fifth floor.  


Late last year into January 2017, the Whitney Museum of American Art mounted the long-overdue show of about 50 works by Carmen Herrera (1915 - ).  About the same time, Virginia Overton (1971 - ) reimagined the museum's sculpture garden and Sophia Al-Maria (1983 - ) had her first United States solo exhibition in the museum's first floor public gallery.  Last summer, the performance artist Jill Kroesen (1949 -) had her first show in over thirty years in the Whitney's theatre.  Coming this summer is the first museum solo show in the United States of the multi-media artist Bunny Rogers (1990 - ).  


At the Whitney's Biennial 2017, now taking place, nearly 50% of the selected 63 artists and collectives are women.  This beats the 2014 Biennial which had 32% women artists, a 6% drop from the 2012 exhibition.


The Brooklyn Museum currently has three shows featuring women: Marilyn Minter (1948 - ), Georgia O'Keeffe (1887 0 1986) and an exhibition focusing on black women artists.  Not to be forgotten is the museum's Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.  The center's museum space has Judy Chicago (1939 - )'s enormous, iconic The Dinner Party (1974 - 1979).


MoMA PS1 is showing the landscape and still life paintings of Maureen Gallace (1960 - ) in addition to a site-specific installation by Cynthia Marcelle (1974 - ), her first solo exhibition in New York.  Opening in October is the first US retrospective of Carolee Schneemann (1939 - ) and the first solo exhibition in New York of the sculptural tableaux of Cathy Wilkes (1966 - ).  MoMA opens a Louise Lawler show in early May; a Martine Syms installation in late May; a film series by the Japanese filmmaker Naomi Kawase in June; and, a Louise Bourgeois exhibit in September.

The Jewish Museum presents a survey of the work of the painter, designer and poet Florine Stettheimer (1877 - 1944) also in May.  The New York Historical Society has opened a new Center for Women's History. The Historical Society's new Tiffany gallery highlights the women design team involved in the creation and making of Tiffany works


Although much "women's art" has been spotlighted, it is the MoMA's "Making Space" show that makes the most cogent case for the inclusion of women artists in the narrative of modern art, integrating them into permanent museum collections. 



Lee Krasner (1908 – 1984), Gaea, 1966, oil on canvas, 1977,
69″ x 10′ 5 1/2″ (175.3 x 318.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Kay Sage Tanguy Fund 1977
© 2017 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), 

The 
MoMA exhibition is divided into five sections: Gestural Abstraction, Geometric Abstraction, Reductive Abstraction, Fiber and Line and Eccentric Abstraction.  The first  part has the most familiar works by female artists.  These were women up against the macho world of Abstract Expressionism.  Lee Krasner (1908 - 1984) is here with her bold gestural strokes - a feminine take on aspects of Willem de Kooning (1904 - 1997) and her husband Jackson Pollack (1912 - 1956).  She shows how the color pink can be powerful and sensual at the same time.  



Installation view of Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, April 15 - August 13, 2017
© 2017 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: Jonathan Muzik

Helen Frankenthaler (1928 - 2011)'s Trojan Gates warrants a double take with its central Rorschach  inkblot-like black formation against a background that seems to be ever evolving into something recognizable.  There is Elaine de Kooning (1920 - 1989)'s Bullfight and Joan Mitchell (1925 - 1992)'s Ladybug as well as Grace Hartigan (1922 - 2008)'s Shinnecock Canal.  Colors sing out in this initial gallery. Photographs, by Lotte Jacobi (1896 - 2990), Barbara Morgan (1900 - 1992) and Naomi Savage (1927 - 2005) exhibited alongside paintings show how the reproductive medium can express abstraction.  Dorothy Dehner (1901 - 1994)'s six part bronze Encounter are animated totems - as if Dehner gave life to David Smith (1906 - 1965)'s Forgings. Dehner was the wife of David Smith. They divorced in 1950. Her work gesticulates as if the bronze pieces are abstracted figures in lively interaction. Interestingly, many of the women artists in the first segment of the exhibition were married to men who were artists.  These women are associated with their male companions.  By the last gallery, the question of who the artist was married to or involved with does not come up.  



Installation view of Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, April 15 - August 13, 2017
© 2017 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: Jonathan Muzik

Illuminating juxtapositions abound.  In the Geometric Abstraction segment, the painted iron sculpture Eight Squares by Gego (Gertrude Goldschmidt) (1912 - 1994), a Venezuelan born in Germany, made up of a series of of eight mesh squares, seems to be in a lively dance.  It enters into conversation with the Czech artist Běla Kolářová (1923 - 2010)'s Five by Four construction made up of twenty metal paper fastener grids against a blue background.  These two works relate to the nearby lattice-like gelatin silver print, Untitled, by Gerturdes Altchul (1904 - 1962), a German born Brazilian.  The Altchul photograph is one of a spectacular suite of abstract prints by the artist arrayed along one wall.  


Reductive Abstraction offers calm and restfulness with its simplified, minimalist surfaces.  It is a gallery for reflection with elegant works among which are the paintings by Agnes Martin (1912 - 2004) and Jo Baer (1929 - ).



Installation view of Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, April 15 - August 13, 2017
© 2017 The Museum of Modern Art
Photo: Jonathan Muzik

Women after World War II were able to go to universities and art schools with acceptance.  Those pursuing fine arts, however, were typically directed to crafts - weaving, textiles and ceramics.  Design and abstraction were explored.  In one small space, room dividers by Anni Albers (1899 - 1994), ceramic bowls by Gertrud Natzler (1908 - 1971) and Otto Natzler (1908 - 2007) as well as pottery by Lucie Rie (1902 - 1995) and textiles by Vera (Vera Neumann) (1909 - 1993) and Lucien Day (1917 - 2010) attest to these artists' achievements.  Not to be missed is the architect and designer Lina Bo Bardi (1914 - 1992)'s Poltroon Bowl chair.  Designed over six and a half decades ago, this great-looking seat, functional and aesthetically pleasing, can be adjusted to suit the sitter's preference. 



Magdalena Abakanowicz (1930 - 2017), Yellow Abakan, 1967-58, sisal, 
124 x 120 x 60″ (315 x 304.8 x 152.4 cm)
Gift of Mr. Walter Bareiss, Mrs. Watson K. Blair, Mr. Arthur Cohen, Mr. Don Page, and Anonymous Donor, 1974
© 2017 Magdalena Abakanowicz

Magdalena Abakanowicz (1930 - 2017)'s prodigious Yellow Abakan commands attention in the gallery devoted to Fiber and Line. Abakanowicz's hanging inspires awe.  Is it something fearsome or sheltering?  Do its appendages allude to body parts? Is it a reference to hanging carcasses - splayed animals like those seen in Rembrandt van Rijn (1606 - 1669)'s Slaughtered Ox or Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin (1699 - 1799)'s Ray or Chaim Soutine (1894 - 1943)'s Still Life with Stingray?  Abakanowicz's sculptures are always engrossing.  Other artists working with fiber or other mediums traditionally associated with craft are Sheila Hicks (1934 - ) with her hand-spun wool hanging, Mira Schendal (1919 - 1988) with her knotted rice paper sculpture and Lenore Tawney (1907 - 2007) with her linen wall piece.  



Alina Szapocznikow (Polish, 1926 – 1973), Belly-Cushions (Ventre-Coussins), 1968, 
polyurethane, five parts, each part 5 1/8″ to 7″ x 11 7/8″ x 13 1/2″ (13 to18 x 30 x 34 cm)
Promised gift of Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis, 2008

The section called Eccentric Abstraction shows works made of substances not normally used in the making of art.  An example is polyurethane, first produced in the 1960s.  It is used by Alina Szapocznikow (1926 - 1973) in her sculpture Belly-Cushions (Ventre-Coussins).  Eva Hesse (1936 - 1970) employs string over papier-mâché, inelastic cord and enamel paint in her sexually suggestive, suspended 1966 Untitled. Lynda Bengalis (1941 - ) uses beeswax coupled with dammer resin as a hardening agent in her 1967 Embryo II.  Lee Bontecou (1931 - ) employs steel, canvas, fabric, rawhide, wire and soot in her menacing 1961 wall sculpture Untitled.  Bontecou did not like to title her works because she wanted viewers to come up with their own associations and not be influenced by her words.  Atsuko Tanaka (1932 - 2005) makes use of a felt-tip pen and watercolor on paper in her 1956 Untitled.  


There is a lot to take in and ponder.  Visitors will want to make more than one visit.  Go and see it.


Making Space:  Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction
April 15 - August 13, 2017
11 West 53 Street, New York
Hours:
10:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m.
Open seven days a week.
Open until 8:00 p.m. on Fridays.
(Member Early Hours begin at 9:30 a.m.)

Saturday, March 25, 2017

A Woman Ahead of Her Time: Luisa Roldán


Portrait of Luisa Roldánescultora de Carlos II
Antonio Rotondò y Tabasco (1808 - 1879), Spanish, 1862,
engraving in Histoire descriptive, artistique et pittoresque du monastère royal de St. Laurent vulgairement dit de l'Escurial... (Descriptive, Artistic, and Picturesque History of the Royal Monastery), Madrid, 1863*
Research Library, The Getty Research Institute, 88-B6694
Photograph:  The J. Paul Getty Museum Web site 

March 2017 is Women's History Month.  This is the month women all over the world celebrate female achievements.  What better time to focus on Luisa Ignacio Roldán (Seville 1652 - 1704 Madrid), the first recorded female sculptor in Spain. Although relatively unknown today, she was famous in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century.  

Luisa Roldán (1652 - 1704), called La Roldana, is the only female artist mentioned by her contemporary, the painter and art historian Antonio Palomino (1656 - 1726) in his An Account of the Lives and Works of the Most Eminent Spanish Painters, Sculptors and Architects. Palomino's book, first published in Spain in 1724, was Spain's equivalent to Giorgio Vasari's (1511 - 1574) Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects  (1550) which had initiated the genre of artists' biographies.  During the eighteenth century, Palomino's work was translated into English, French and German. Luisa Roldán's inclusion was significant.

Luisa Roldán, called La Roldana (Seville 1652 - 1704 Madrid), 
Polychromer: Tomás de Los Arcos (Spanish, born 1661),
Saint Ginés de la Jara, about 1692, 
polychromed wood (pine and cedar) with glass eyes, 
69 1/4 x 36 3/16 x 29 1/8 ins.  (175.9 x 91.9 x 74 cm)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California
Photograph:  The J. Paul Getty Museum Web site 

La Roldana had her own workshop, first producing life-size or larger than life-size wooden sculptures and later small polychrome terracotta compositions for private devotion.  The latter became her speciality and she was the first artist in seventeenth-century Spain to make them. 

Luisa Roldán, called La Roldana (Seville 1652 - 1704 Madrid), 
The Entombment of Christ, 1700 -1701, 
polychrome terracotta, 
overall: 19 1/2 x 26 x 17 ins. (49.5 x 66 x 43.2 cm)
Photograph:  The Metropolitan Museum of Art Web site

She was appointed court sculptor to two Spanish kings:   Charles II and his successor Philip V.  The appointments were another first for a female sculptor.  A look at The Metropolitan Museum of Art's 2016 acquisition of the artist's The Entombment of Christ makes clear her talent.  Pain, suffering and grief are intensely rendered in a tableau vivant format evoking emotional response from viewers.  The work was probably given by La Roldana to Philip V as a gift prior to her court appointment. How did this female artist come to such proficiency at a time when women were normally prohibited from study at art academies or schools or apprentice to a master artist?  

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, female artists commonly received their training from their artist father or close family member.**  Lavinia Fontana (1552 - 1614), Artemisia Gentileschi (1593 - 1656), Elisabetta Sirani (1638 - 1665) and Josefa de Óbidos (1630 - 1684) are examples of painters who were taught by their painter fathers.***  Luisa was no different. Her father, the successful Sevillian sculptor Pedro Roldán (1624 - 1699), provided instruction.  She probably entered his studio at the age of 12 or 13.

Luisa Roldán, called La Roldana (Seville 1652 - 1704 Madrid), 
Detail of The Entombment of Christ, 1700 -1701, 
polychrome terracotta, 
overall: 19 1/2 x 26 x 17 ins. (49.5 x 66 x 43.2 cm)
Photograph:  Artstor Web site

Unlike other female artists, Luisa achieved an accomplished command of the human anatomy.  Her figures were astoundingly realistic which implied a familiarity with the naked body.  Female artists were generally barred from the study of nudes.  Luisa had an advantage of training in a sculptor's studio where nude models were more likely in use than a painter's workshop. Thus, exposed to live models which included male nudes, her education would have included something normally reserved for male apprentices.  


Luisa Roldán, called La Roldana (Seville 1652 - 1704 Madrid), 
Detail of The Entombment of Christ, 1700 -1701, 
polychrome terracotta, 
overall: 19 1/2 x 26 x 17 ins. (49.5 x 66 x 43.2 cm)
Photograph:  Artstor Web site

Her mastery of the human anatomy is apparant everywhere even from viewpoints not meant to be seen.  

Luisa Roldán, called La Roldana (Seville 1652 - 1704 Madrid), 
Detail of The Entombment of Christ, 1700 -1701, 
polychrome terracotta, 
overall: 19 1/2 x 26 x 17 ins. (49.5 x 66 x 43.2 cm)
Photograph:  Artstor Web site

These small works were made to be looked at from the front.  Yet,  from the rear or sides, her figures denote a robust sense of form.  They maintain a perception of reality.


Luisa Roldán, called La Roldana (Seville 1652 - 1704 Madrid), 
Detail of The Entombment of Christ, 1700 -1701, 
polychrome terracotta, 
overall: 19 1/2 x 26 x 17 ins. (49.5 x 66 x 43.2 cm)
Photograph:  Artstor Web site

Seville was a center of art production since the sixteenth century when the city flourished by holding the monopoly of trade with new world goods from America.  By the seventeenth century, Spain's empire was declining along with its economic power.  Nevertheless, the arts in Seville continued to thrive due to a Catholic revival.  

The metropolis was filled with churches, monasteries and convents.  These required religious art and kept artists, especially sculptors, busy.  Statues were in demand for the many saint days and Holy Week when wooden figures and groups were carried on platforms in processionals throughout the city streets.  Unlike Italy where marble and bronze were the preferred sculpture medium, Sevillian sculptors worked primarily in wood.  Labor was divided. Sculptors carved heads, hands and limbs. Polychromers painted the pieces.  Gilders embellished the work.****  

Luisa Roldán, called La Roldana (Seville 1652 - 1704 Madrid), 
Polychromer: Tomás de los Arcos (Spanish, born 1661),
Detail of Saint Ginés de la Jara, about 1692, 
polychromed wood (pine and cedar) with glass eyes, 
69 1/4 x 36 3/16 x 29 1/8 ins.  (175.9 x 91.9 x 74 cm)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California
Photograph:  The J. Paul Getty Museum Web site

The naturalistic  imagery was intended to elicit a strong response in worshippers - a call to piety, prayer and devotion as mandated by the Council of Trent (1545 - 1563).  

Luisa Roldán, called La Roldana (Seville 1652 - 1704 Madrid), 
Polychromer: Tomás de Los Arcos (Spanish, born 1661),
Detail of Saint Ginés de la Jara, about 1692, 
polychromed wood (pine and cedar) with glass eyes, 
69 1/4 x 36 3/16 x 29 1/8 ins.  (175.9 x 91.9 x 74 cm)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California
Photograph:  The J. Paul Getty Museum Web site

The seventeenth-century artists of Seville may be categorized as Counter-Reformation artists in that their art adhered to the Catholic Church's response to the Protestant Reformation.  

Luisa Roldán, called La Roldana (Seville 1652 - 1704 Madrid), 
Detail of The Entombment of Christ, 1700 -1701, 
polychrome terracotta, 
overall: 19 1/2 x 26 x 17 ins. (49.5 x 66 x 43.2 cm)
Photograph:  Artstor Web site

Art was to engage viewers in a personal religious manner that was based on the bible.  It should encourage an emotional reaction in the beholder who on viewing would empathize with the suffering of Christ, saints and martyrs - those who suffered for the sake of human salvation.    


Luisa Roldán, called La Roldana (Seville 1652 - 1704 Madrid), 
Detail of The Entombment of Christ, 1700 -1701, 
polychrome terracotta, 
overall: 19 1/2 x 26 x 17 ins. (49.5 x 66 x 43.2 cm)

It was in this atmosphere that Luisa developed her art. She must have been a feisty lady judging from what is known of her life.  At 19 years of age, against her father's wishes, she ran off and married one of his apprentices, Luis Antonio Navarro de los Arcos.  Antonio was said to have been a mediocre sculptor.  He never completed the required years of apprenticeship necessary to set up an independent workshop.  His economic prospects were dim.  

The couple initially lived with Antonio's family.  They had children right away.  Four died at an early age; a son and daughter lived till adulthood.  She had her own workshop where Antonio assisted with sculpting as well as marketing Luisa and her work. Antonio's brother, Tomás de los Arcos, a painter, worked as a polychromer.  There is some indication that later in life Antonio engaged in commercial trade but he does not seem to have ever been an independent "breadwinner."  

In 1687, Luisa and her family left Seville for the port city of Cádiz. A commission from a convent for a statue of the Ecco Homo initiated the move.  Seville had fallen on hard times and Cádiz, which was prospering, offered more work possibilities. In Cádiz, Luisa had some success.  Yet, a year later, she went to Madrid in the hope of securing a court appointment.  This she obtained in 1692 but it did not bring a secure income.  

The king, Charles II, was late in paying Luisa's salary. Petitions survive which document her pleas for payment. In 1697 she began to receive rumuneration but the king died three years later. She had to begin again to position herself for another court appointment with the new king, Philip V.  Although she succeeded in 1701, her money problems continued.  By this time, she was known for polychrome terracotta sculptures.  

Luisa Roldán, called La Roldana (Seville 1652 - 1704 Madrid), 
The Ecstasy of Saint Mary Magdalene, c. 1690,
polychrome terra-cotta,
overall: 13 3/4 x 17 1/2 x 9 13/16 ins. (30.5 x 44.5 x 25 cm)
The Hispanic Society of AmericaNew York
currently on loan to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Photograph:  David St.-Lescaux Web site

Luisa began to make her terracotta pieces when she arrived in Madrid.  Perhaps she developed her work in clay since there was not much demand for carved wooden figures.  Madrid's religious processionals were not a dominant activity for the city.


Luisa Roldán, called La Roldana (Seville 1652 - 1704 Madrid), 
Detail of The Entombment of Christ, 1700 -1701, 
polychrome terracotta, 
overall: 19 1/2 x 26 x 17 ins. (49.5 x 66 x 43.2 cm)

Her terracottas were probably made freehand since each piece is quite individualized.  If she did use molds, she personalized each one which would have taken just as long as working only by hand. 


Luisa Roldán, called La Roldana (Seville 1652 - 1704 Madrid), 
Detail of The Entombment of Christ, 1700 -1701, 
polychrome terracotta, 
overall: 19 1/2 x 26 x 17 ins. (49.5 x 66 x 43.2 cm)

These works were in demand by private patrons but the nature of this output could not bring in much money. Terracottas, clay objects, along with wooden statues, were not ranked high in the hierarchy of artwork mediums.  Be that as it may, Luisa produced highly affecting work that was and is greatly admired.  

Luisa Roldán, called La Roldana (Seville 1652 - 1704 Madrid), 
Detail of The Ecstasy of Saint Mary Magdalene****, c. 1690,
polychrome terra-cotta,
overall: 13 3/4 x 17 1/2 x 9 13/16 ins. (30.5 x 44.5 x 25 cm)
currently on loan to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Photograph:  Pinterest Web site from DeBeer on Flickr

La Roldana struggled financially most of her life. Time and time again, she was on the verge of extreme poverty.   In her last few years, her workshop was busy.  She may have finally achieved some monetary security.  Yet, when she died in Madrid in 1706, she was buried in a pauper's grave. This may have been the consequence of women's inability to have ownership at this time.  The reason for such a final resting place is still unanswered.  Sadly, she received a special award in recognition of her talents from a prominent art academy in Rome just when she passed away.*****  

Her legacy is not only of an artistic nature, but also of a woman determined to work and succeed in a male dominated world.  As a woman, her impediments were many.  Alas, women today still struggle.

You can see Luisa Roldán's terracotta The Entombment of Christ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, gallery 550, along with two other terracotta groups by the artist, The Ecstasy of Mary Magdalene and The Repose in Egypt, on loan from the Hispanic Society of America.  

*This is a presumed portrait of the artist.  The engraving is from Antonio Rotondo's Histoire, descriptive, artistique et pittoresque, du Monastère Royal de St.-Laurent, vulgairement dit de l'escorial.  Nine editions of the Histoire, descriptive, artistique et picturesque... were published between 1862 and 1863 in French and Spanish (Historia descriptiva, artística y pintoresca del Real Monasterio de S. Lorenzo, conmunmente llamado del Escorial).  The author was not only a writer and historian but also a painter, playwright and dentist.  For those whose language skills are weak, the book's title in English is Descriptive, artistic and picturesque history of the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo commonly called the Escorial.  There is a facsimile reproduction (ISBN: 84-7120-070-8) of the Madrid, Imp. de Eusebio Aguado, 1862 edition.

**A renown exception to this was the Italian painter Sofonisba Anguissola (c. 1535 - 1625).  Born in Cremona in north central Italy to a minor aristocratic family, Sofonisba studied art with local artists.  Her talent and fame led to an invitation to work for the Spanish court in Madrid.  She became art tutor and lady-in-waiting to the Spanish queen and painter to the king.  Sofonisba is praised by Giorgio Vasari (1511 - 1574) in his Lives of the Most Eminent Architects, Painters and Sculptors (1550).  

***The artists mentioned are all Italian with the exception of Josefa de Óbidos (1630 - 1684), a Seville born Portuguese painter.  Her father, Baltazar Gomes Figueira, a painter from Óbidos, Portugal, is said to have gone to Seville, Spain in the 1620s to improve his painting technique.  Seville was a famous center of artistic production. There he met and married a Spanish woman. Josefa was the result of this union. Josefa's godfather was the Sevillian painter Francisco de Herrera the Elder.  By 1634, Figueira and family were back in Óbidos. 

****For an excellent video on the making of a Spanish polychrome sculpture, see Making a Spanish Polychrome Sculpture, produced by The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

*****I am indebted to Stephanie A. McClure for her help in clarifying some points in my text and for her "The Terracottas of Luisa Roldán in The Hispanic Society of America," Masters of Arts Thesis, Hunter College of the City University of New York, 2008.

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