Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Paths to Prayer II:

Italian Renaissance Sculpture 
From Florence Cathedral*
  
Nanni di Banco (ca. 1380/85–1421) or 
Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi, known as Donatello (ca. 1386–1466) (?),
Vir Dolorum (Man of Sorrows), ca. 1407–9, marble
18 7⁄8 × 26 × 4 3⁄4 in. (48 × 66 × 12 cm)
Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, inv. no. 2005/280
© Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore / Antonio Quattrone 

More than half the sculpture on display at the Museum of Biblical Art's (MOBIA) exhibition, Sculpture in the Age of Donatello: Renaissance Masterpieces from Florence Cathedral, are small in scale. Their modest size offers particular enjoyment.  Visitors are able to take in the totality of these works at close range.  Most are unobstructed by glass. Viewing details is easy.  A good example is the marble relief Vir Dolorum (Man of Sorrows) variously attributed to Donatello or Nanni di Banco but now  largely accepted as an early Donatello. Designed for the Florence cathedral's northeast entrance as the keystone for the upper register arch, this beautifully rendered Christ figure is the embodiment of pathos.  He represents the "man of sorrows" from the Old Testament's Book of Isaiah, 53.3, which contains the prophetic description of the coming Messiah: "He is despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief...."  The sculpture portrays Christ just after resurrection, neither dead nor alive. 


Luca della Robbia ((1399/1400–1482)
Dialectic (Plato and Aristotle?), 1437–39,
marble, 32 7⁄8 × 27 1⁄8 × 5 in. (83.5 × 69 × 13 cm)
Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, inv. no. 2005/437
© Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore / Antonio Quattrone

While many of the pieces displayed evoke sadness or reverence, those of Luca della Robbia charm.  In 1437, the artist was commissioned to create five marble hexagonal panels for the lower level of the cathedral's bell tower.  These would complete a cycle portraying the activities of man which was begun in the mid-fourteenth century.  

Luca was a well-known sculptor, considered by contemporaries on the level of Donatello and Brunelleschi.  Today, he is better known for his polychrome enameled terra-cotta reliefs than his marble or bronze sculptures.  The latter works, however, are equally important.  The exhibition includes three of the artist's marble panels destined for the bell tower.  They  illustrate the liberal arts, pursuits related to the intellect.  

The artist's Dialectic shows two classically garbed men engaged in a spirited discussion.  Both open-mouthed figures gesticulate with animation. The younger man points to a section in an open book as if to support his argument while the older gentleman' s gesture underlines his point. The two have been identified as Aristotle and Plato whose writings were studied in fifteenth-century Florence.  The scene's realistic actions, brings to mind present day Florence where you may witness such disputations. For the Florentines still love to enter into a good debate.  

In the excellent exhibition catalogue, Monsignor Timothy Verdon, Director of Museo dell'Opera del Duomo and one of the two curators of the exhibition, draws attention to the idea that church decorations, whether sculpture, painting, stained glass or whatever medium, should be viewed in a religious context.  The imagery foremost was created as an expression of faith, intended to inspire faith.  In the case of the bell tower reliefs, he proposes that the iconographic program refers to the writings of a Florentine Dominican theologian active in the thirteenth and early fourteenth century.  Specifically, the scenes relate to the text which describes the church as bringing new life to human knowledge activities and the role these activities have in disclosing Christ's perfection.  Interpretations aside, Luca's naturalism captivates.


Installation View, Sculpture in the Age of Donatello:  Renaissance Masterpieces from Florence CathedralMuseum of Biblical Art, New York,  
left to right, attributed to Filippo Brunelleschi (1377–1446), 
model (two vitrines) for the Dome of Santa Maria del Fiore, ca. 1420–52, wood
and model (one vitrine) of the Lantern for the Dome of Santa Maria del Fiore, 
15th or 16th century, wood (elm and walnut), wax, and plaster
Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, inv. no. 2005/493 and 485.
Photo:  Hillary Ganton  

Not to be forgotten is the architectural masterpiece of Filippo Brunelleschi:  the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore, the main church of Florence.   Six hundred years after its creation, the dome still dominates the city.  Until St. Peter's in Rome was built, Brunelleschi's construction was the highest dome ever made.  


Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence, Italy
Photo:  TesoroTreaures Web site     

Traditionally, domes were built using wooden scaffolding which would support the structure as it went up.  The cathedral's space was just too big.  The dome had to cover a width of approximately 150 feet - almost as big as the ancient Pantheon built around 129 A.D.  Furthermore, the dome had to start about 180 feet above the ground.  There was just not enough wood around to make this method feasible.  Brunelleschi came up with an ingenious plan to solve the problem.  He would create a double shell - one dome within another - made with masonry that locked in place as each layer was completed.  The dome's downward and outward pressure would be counter-balanced by stone and wood chains secured with iron.  To accomplish the task, Brunelleschi invented new types of lifting mechanisms as well as innovative means to obtain the needed supplies down the city's Arno River.  At the time, there was much doubt his dome would hold up.  Its success put all criticism to rest.

Attributed to Filippo Brunelleschi (1377–1446),
Model for the Dome of Santa Maria del Fiore, ca. 1420–52, wood, 
dome: 39 3⁄8 × 27 ½ in. (100 × 70 cm);
apses: 21 5⁄8 × 24 ¾ × 13 ¾ in. each (55 × 63 × 35 cm each)**
Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, inv. no. 2005/493
© Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore / Antonio Quattrone

The authorship and dating of the two models in the exhibition**,  the dome's model and the model of its lantern, remain debatable.  They were made to give a more complete idea of how the structure would look.  However, the originally polychrome exterior decorations were lost during their restorations carried out after the disastrous flooding of the Arno in 1966.  Today, they look bare but still give viewers an idea of Brunelleschi's genius and working procedures.   He would create models to explain particular construction details that workers could follow.  To maintain control, Brunelleschi made sure not all was revealed in these mock-ups. 

The Florence cathedral was consecrated on March 25, 1436 some sixteen years after it was begun.  For this occasion, Guillaume Dufay, the most important composer in Europe during the mid-fifteenth century, wrote his celebrated motet, Nuper rosarum flores.  The music's  verses describe the church as magnificent and "...a temple of great ingenuity...." Enjoy the music and, above all, do not miss the MOBIA's show. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.


Guillaume Dufay (c. 1397 - 1474) - Nuper rosarum flores


Sculpture in the Age of Donatello:  
Renaissance Masterpieces from Florence Cathedral
February 20 - June 14, 2015
1865 Broadway at 61st Street, Manhattan
Tuesdays  - Sundays 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Closed Mondays  

*Please note:  this is the second part of a two-part blog post.  For part I see ArtWithHillary April 2015.
**In the exhibition installation, the model for the dome and the model for the apses are in separate vitrines.  

Postscript:  Sadly, the Museum of Biblical Art will close on June 30, 2015.  The museum was unable to secure the needed funding to continue.  Over its ten years of existence, MOBIA has presented critically acclaimed exhibitions contributing to New York City's cultural and intellectual life.  The current presentation, Sculpture in the Age of Donatello: Renaissance Masterpieces from Florence Cathedral, assures the museum will go out on a high note.

                                                      

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Paths to Prayer I:

Italian Renaissance Sculpture 
From Florence Cathedral
  
Attributed to Giovanni d’Ambrogio (active 1382–1418)
Archangel Gabriel of the Annunciation (detail), late 14th century,
marble, 56 3/4 x 17 1/4 x 11 7/8 in. (144 x 44 x 30 cm)
Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, inv. no. 2005/276
© Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore / Antonio Quattrone       

The great art historian Erwin Panofsky described the difference between short lived renascences that occurred during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance that occurred in Italy from the fourteenth to the fifteenth century.  Panofsky wrote, "The Middle Ages had left antiquity unburied....The Renaissance stood weeping at its grave and tried to resurrect its soul.  And in one fatally auspicious moment it succeeded."*  

The realization of these remarks can be seen in the twenty-three sculptures on view at the Museum of Biblical Art's (MOBIA) exhibition, Sculpture in the Age of Donatello:  Renaissance Masterpieces from Florence Cathedral.  These works rooted in antiquity inspired faith and prayer.  Indeed, they were created with this in mind.  They were paths to prayerfulness.  As this exhibit makes apparent, the seemingly opposing mix of pagan world forms and Christian theology yielded some of the most moving imagery in the history of art.  


Installation View, Sculpture in the Age of Donatello:  Renaissance Masterpieces from Florence CathedralMuseum of Biblical Art, New York, Archangel Gabriel of the Annunciation on left, Virgin Mary of the Annunciation on right, attributed to Giovanni d’Ambrogio (active 1382–1418), late 14th century, marble
Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, inv. no. 2005/276 and 277.
Photo:  Hillary Ganton    
  
Most of the exhibition's sculptures have never before left Florence. After their return, they will probably never travel again.  This unprecedented loan was made possible by the closing of the Florence Cathedral’s Museo dell’Opera del Duomo while undergoing expansion and renovation.  

Setting the stage:  the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is Florence's main church.  Begun in the 13th century, the cathedral developed by the early 15th century into the largest enclosed space in the world.  The edifice was crowned by an enormous masonry dome, an engineering achievement devised by the illustrious architect, engineer and artist Filippo Brunelleschi.  The cathedral, its baptistry and bell tower, called the campanile, make up the building complex known as the Duomo.  The decoration of these buildings, both interior and exterior, occupied the wealthy, commercial city of Florence for several hundred years.  

The Duomo was not just a source of civic pride but expressed Florentine's profound religious sense. With money from wool production and international banking, the city had the resources to hire the best artists of the day to create in the most modern style works that would glorify God.  The results were revolutionary artworks in marble, bronze, painting, stained glass and more.  A glimpse of this accomplishment is on view in the MOBIA show beginning with the Annunciation, a sculptural ensemble attributed to Giovanni d'Ambrogio.   The work exemplifies the transition from the late Gothic to the early Renaissance style of art.  Under elegant drapery folds of toga-like garments, the figures sway in the rhythmic earlier Gothic manner but their heads are purely classical like Roman portraits.  

The exhibit quickly moves along into the brilliance of the Renaissance when mind and motion are coordinated in one form.  Life-like figures seem capable of speech.

The star of the show is without doubt Donatello, the great Renaissance sculptor.  New York has none of his works.  In fact, in the United States there is only one Donatello:  a small relief in Boston's Museum of Fine Arts.  Thus, to see three of Donatello's major sculptures along with seven others wholly or partially attributed to him is a special treat.  
  
Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi, known as Donatello (ca. 1386–1466),
St. John the Evangelist1408–15, marble,
831⁄2 × 353⁄4 × 241⁄2 in. (212 × 91 × 62 cm)
Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, inv. no. 2005/113
© Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore / Antonio Quattrone       

The St. John the Evangelist was Donatello's first large scale commission.   The artist took into account the placement of the figure: a niche about ten feet above ground, approximately four plus feet above the head of an average viewer, on the right side of the main entrance of the Florence Cathedral.  When seen at eye level, St. John's torso appears elongated and his thighs unnaturally downward sloping. Viewed from below, the figure seems anatomically correct.  The evangelist holds a book in his left hand, perhaps the Gospel of John or some other religious text.   His right hand, resting on his right thigh, probably had held a writing implement, likely a metal pen.  He looks out suggesting contemplation.  He may be ruminating on something already written or thinking of new ideas.  Michelangelo (1475 - 1564) who lived in Florence would have passed this statue on many occasions.**  Some 100 years after its creation, the St. John would be the inspiration for Michelangelo's Moses on Pope Julius II's tomb.


Nanni di Banco ( (ca. 1380/85–1421),  St. Luke the Evangelist, 1408–13, 
marble,  81 ½ × 35 7⁄8 × 24 7⁄8 in.  (207 × 91 × 63 cm)
Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, inv. no. 2005/112
© Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore / Antonio Quattrone       

Paired with the St. John is Nanni di Banco's St. Luke the Evangelist. The work originally flanked the left side of the cathedral's main portal in the niche opposite St. John's.  While St. John seems lost in thought, St. Luke appears to look down to his left at those who pass by perhaps about to enter the cathedral.  An open book resting on his left thigh might indicate he has been interrupted by them while reading.  Like St. John, the full effect of Luke's pose only becomes apparent when the statue is confronted from below.

Installation View, Sculpture in the Age of Donatello:  Renaissance Masterpieces from Florence CathedralMuseum of Biblical Art, New York, 
far right Donatello's St. John the Evangelist
second from far right Nanni di Banco's St. Luke the Evangelist
Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, inv. nos. 2005/113 and 112.
Photo:     Hyperallergic.com Web site


The exhibit's installation has done well by placing the two Evangelists next to one another each on pedestals about six feet from the ground - four feet short of their first location.  The sight is awe inspiring.  Both seated figures are approximately seven feet tall and weigh about 1,600 pounds.

Installation View, Sculpture in the Age of Donatello:  Renaissance Masterpieces from Florence CathedralMuseum of Biblical Art, New York, 
on left Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi, known as Donatello (ca. 1386–1466)
Prophet (possibly Habakkuk), known as the Zuccone, 1435–36, marble
76 3⁄4 × 21 1⁄4 × 15 in. (195 × 54 × 38 cm);
on right Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi, known as Donatello (ca. 1386–1466) 
and Nanni di Bartolo, known as Rosso (active 1419–51)
Abraham and Isaac (the Sacrifice of Isaac), 1421, marble,
74 × 22 × 17 3⁄4 in. (188 × 56 × 45 cm)
Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, inv. nos. 2005/374 and 366.
Photo:     Hyperallergic.com Web site

Two other monumental pairings are stand-outs: Donatello's Prophet known as the Zuccone (pumpkin head or bald head) and Abraham and Isaac (the Sacrifice of Isaac) by Donatello and Nanni di Bartolo.  Both sculptures were made for niches on the Florence Cathedral's bell tower, the campanile. The earlier work, the Abraham and Isaac group, was carved for the upper row, east side of the tower.  It was the only narrative sculpture on the edifice and the first Renaissance sculpture of two figures carved from the same marble block.  


Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi, known as Donatello (ca. 1386–1466) 
and Nanni di Bartolo, known as Rosso (active 1419–51),
Abraham and Isaac (the Sacrifice of Isaac), 1421,
marble, 74 × 22 × 17 3⁄4 in. (188 × 56 × 45 cm) 
Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, inv. no. 2005/366
© Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore / Antonio Quattrone       

As usual with Donatello, adjustments were made in the figures's anatomies so when viewed from the low vantage point, the figural proportions appear natural. Most scholars today attribute the majority of the work to Donatello. The sculpture renders the moment when Abraham begins to realize that he would not have to sacrifice his son to prove his faith in God.  He has heard the unseen angel's order and looks up.  His open-eyed, closed-mouth expression seems to denote a moment of comprehension.  


Abraham's right hand holds the knife that would have been the instrument of slaughter.   His grip has just begun to slacken.  Pressure of blade against skin has relaxed.  The knife's sharp edge has been turned away from the youth's neck.  The patriarch's left hand still holds back his son's hair readying the boy for the kill.  The nude youth's head turns downward and away from the father.   Yet, his body is almost nestled within his parent's powerful legs as if to indicate the source of his life.  Details are realistic:  Abraham's right sleeve is rolled up for the intent work, sacrificial wood is piled under his right leg, materials are differentiated - hair, beard, cloth, wood and skin are portrayed with consummate skill. 

Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi, known as Donatello (ca. 1386–1466),
Prophet (possibly Habakkuk), known as the Zuccone, 1435–36, marble,
76 3⁄4 × 21 1⁄4 × 15 in. (195 × 54 × 38 cm)
Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, inv. no. 2005/374
© Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore / Antonio Quattrone     

The Prophet is a masterwork of Donatello's mature style.  It was made for the third story, north side of the bell tower.  The work is an intensely realistic portrayal.  One can easily assume it depicts a specific person.  Immediately acclaimed and much valued, the Zuccone was moved to a more visible location on the campanile's west side some thirty years after its original placement.  Archival documents suggest the statue may represent the prophet Habakkuk whose writings stressed faith in God's justice.   Be that as it may, Giorgio Vasari (1511 - 1574), painter, architect, historian and writer, recorded that Donatello considered the work his masterpiece and, at times while the statue was still in  his studio, commanded it to speak.  

More to come.

*Erwin Panofsky, Renaissance And Renascences In Western Art (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1969), 113.

**The cathedral's main facade statues were removed in 1587 and placed in the cathedral's east tribune.  They entered the Duomo Museum in the mid-nineteenth century.

Sculpture in the Age of Donatello:  
Renaissance Masterpieces from Florence Cathedral
February 20 - June 14, 2015
1865 Broadway at 61st Street, Manhattan
Tuesday - Sundas 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Closed Mondays

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Heads Up or Should I Say, Heads East?

 March 13 - 21, 2015
GuanyinSong Dynasty (960-1279),
Wood, traces of polychromy and gilding
Ht: 52 3/4 in.(134 cm) 
Gisèle Croës s.a., Brussels, Belgium
Photo Studio Roger Asselberghs - Frédéric Dehaen
Photo:  Asia Week New York Web site

From March 13 - 21, 2015 New York will be filled with Asian artworks in what is the seventh edition of Asia Week New York.  Hundreds of collectors, curators and art enthusiasts from all over the globe come to view the myriad of artworks showcased at New York's annual event. This year's participants include more than forty dealers, five auction houses and over twenty museums and institutions. 


Portrait of Emperor Farrukhsiyar (r.1713-19),
Mughal India, circa 1715,
opaque watercolor with gold on paper
Folio: 17 3/4 by 12 3/4 in. (45 by 32.5 cm)
Painting: 7 5/8 by 4 3/4 in.  (19.5 by 12 cm) 
Photo:  Asia Week New York Web site

Gallerists, from Belgium, England, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Switzerland, and the United States present specialized shows of Asian art from China, India, the Himalayas, Southeast Asia, Tibet, Nepal, Japan, and Korea.  Lectures, symposiums, discussions, tours and even family activities round out the week-long happening.  

Sitatapatra, Central Tibet, eighteenth century,
mercury gilding, 19.9 in. (50.5 cm)
Photo:  Asia Week New York Web site

Whether you're interested in statuary, paintings, ceramics, jewelry or contemporary art, there is something for you.  For those unfamiliar with Eastern wares, the exhibits offer what amounts to a graduate-level course in Asian art.   

Gandhara head of Buddha, c. 2nd. century AD, 
grey schist,  H: 9 5/8 in. (24.5 cm)
Galerie Christophe Hioco, Paris, France
Photo:   Asia Week New York Web site

This coming weekend, March 14 - 15, is Asia Week's "Open House Weekend."  Galleries will be open and many will have refreshments on hand.  In addition, the Japanese Art Dealers Association (JADA) organizes a collaborative exhibition on view for only three days, March 14 - 16, at the Ukrainian Institute of America.   

Visitors will find dealers as well as seasoned Asian aficionados friendly and eager to impart knowledge.  Those new to this art and those in the know will  be equally enlightened.  

Minjung Kim, Pieno di vuoto, 2005
mixed media on rice paper,
59.1 x 82.7 in. (150 x 210 cm),
Photo:   Asia Week New York Web site

Much buying and selling takes place during the week.  Many objects enter private collections, never again to be on public display.  So now is the time to see them.  Go to the Asia Week New York 's Web site. There's an excellent map and calendar of events to help plan your visit. Who knows, you may start your own collection.





Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Coypel's Tapestries: Don Quixote Transformed


Gobelins Tapestry Manufactory (French)
under the direction of Michel Audran (French, 1701−1771)
and his son Jean Audran fils (French, d. 1794)
Main scene after Charles Coypel (French, 1694–1752);
alentours after Claude Audran III (French, 1658−1734),
Jean-Baptiste Belin de Fontenay fils (French, 1668−1730),
and Alexandre-François Desportes (French, 1661−1743) 
Don Quixote Delivered from Folly by Wisdom, 1773,
 wool and silk; modern cotton support straps and lining
12 ft. 2 in. x 12 ft. 8 in. (370.8 x 386.1 cm)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (82.DD.66)
Photo:  The Frick Collection Press Image

Want to feel regal?  Step into the Frick Collection's Oval Gallery where three wall-size tapestries are beautifully installed.  Products of the Gobelins Royal Manufactory, makers of the French king's furnishings, these colorful artworks along with paintings, prints, books and two other tapestries made in Brussels are part of the exhibition Coypel's Don Quixote Tapestries: Illustrating a Spanish Novel in Eighteenth-Century France.  

The story of these sumptuous hangings begins in 1714 when the artist Charles Coypel was asked to create scenes for a Gobelins tapestry series based on seventeenth-century Cervantes's Spanish novel Don Quixote. The book had been an immediate success quickly becoming popular throughout Europe, particularly in France.


Charles Coypel (French 1694 - 1752), The Distressed Countess Trifald, 
Afflicted by Her Beard, Implores Don Quixote to Avenge Her,
probably 1716, oil on canvas,
48 3/8 x 51 in. (123 x 130 cm),
long-term loan from the Musée du Louvre, Paris (3575)
Photo:  © RMC-Grand Palais/ Art Resource, NY

For the commission, Coypel created twenty-eight paintings, called cartoons, used as full-scale models for the weaving.  Five of these are in the show.  The cartoons gave weavers the size, figuration, settings and coloration of each tapestry's central scene.  Compared to the tapestry's total area, the Don Quixote scenes are quite small.  The painter had to create forceful imagery that would hold its own against their elaborate surrounds. Copley succeeded and the Don Quixote tapestries based on his designs became the most repeated Gobelins series of the eighteenth century.  Over 200 panels were woven.*  

The exhibit's placement of tapestries next to cartoons highlight the different visual impact each medium makes.  The paintings appear flat with figures enacting in a shallow space while the woven scenes have more three-dimensionality and depth.   In fact, the Coypel models resemble stage sets with some scenes framed by theater-like curtains with characters looking directly out of the picture plane to an implied audience beyond. 

By the time Coypel began to work on the Gobelins project, the errant-knight's tales had been transformed into many plays, operas and ballets.  The artist himself had written two plays with ballet about the knight.  Keeping this in mind, that his tapestry designs resemble theatrical scenarios is not surprising.  Such settings would have been recognizable to the public and, possibly, added to the series success. There is a certain comfort level looking at things one is acquainted with. 


Charles Coypel (French 1694 - 1752), 
Don Quixote at Don Antonio Moreno's Ball,
1731, oil on canvas,
65 3/8 x 105 1/8 in. (166 x 268 cm),
long-term loan from the Musée du Louvre, Paris (3566)
Photo:  © RMC-Grand Palais/ Art Resource, NY


The tapestry's decorative border, called an alentour, could be modified while the work's central image remained unchanged.  The variability gave the tapestry makers enormous flexibility.  Orders could accommodate a patron's wishes by changing the surrounds. The size could be made bigger or smaller to fit into a specific location; the style could evolve to reflect up-to-date taste; and, accessories could be amended.  Indeed, the borders were refashioned six times during the eighteenth century.  The golden yellow background of earlier tapestries, for example, was replaced by a crimson color in 1760 when the Gobelins Manufactory created this hue which simulated rose damask wall coverings.   The earlier works were filled with references to classical art in a light, delicate curvilinear Rococo manner.**  In contrast, the later Gobelins panels like those in the exhibit here have a strong sense of  weight, robustness and materiality.

With dazzling trompe-l'oeil effects, and an abundance of flowers, animals, birds and more, these tapestries practically burst off the wall. Their complex layering challenges perception -  distinguishing what comes before what both confounds and delights.


Gobelins Tapestry Manufactory (French)
under the direction of Michel Audran (French, 1701−1771)
and his son Jean Audran fils (French, d. 1794)
Main scene after Charles Coypel (French, 1694–1752);
alentours after Claude Audran III (French, 1658−1734),
Jean-Baptiste Belin de Fontenay fils (French, 1668−1730),
and Alexandre-François Desportes (French, 1661−1743) 
Sancho Arrives on the Island of Barataria, 1772,
 wool and silk; modern cotton support straps and lining
12 ft. 1 in. x 13 ft. 7 in. (368 x 414 cm)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (82.DD.68) 
Photo:  The Frick Collection Press Image

A word about technique:  Almost all the tapestries from the set were woven on what is called high-warp looms.***  In this method, the cartoon was hung behind the weavers and loom.  Weavers  reproduced what they saw in a mirror facing them which reflected the cartoon's image. The result was a woven scene which did not reverse the initial design.  The high-warp process was slower, more labor intensive and costlier, upward of two-thirds more, than low-warp weaving.  The procedure resulted in tapestries of very fine quality.  Most importantly, the full-scale model could be exactly copied.   

What was produced was enormously expensive.  Tapestries were more costly than master paintings and other fine arts.  Only the very rich could afford them and as such, they were seen by few.  Yet Coypel's Don Quixote tapestry scenes came to dominate all eighteenth-century illustrations of the novel.  


 Louis Surugue père (French, 1686–1762)
after Charles Coypel (French, 1694–1752)
Don Quixote, Led by Folly, Sets Out from His Home to 
Become a Knight Errant1723–24, engraving
Plate:  15 5/8 x 12/ 3/8 in. (32.1 x 31.4 cm),
The Hispanic Society of America, New York (LQ 1679)
Photo:  George Koelle

This came about through the circulation of prints, an affordable art form, available to a large audience.  For artists, prints, black-and-white engravings, were a source of income and a means to international fame.****  Between 1723 and 1734, Coypel had 25 of his 28 Don Quixote cartoons engraved by the best print makers in France. Thousands of prints based on Coypel's designs were sold.

Pierre Tanjé (French, 1706–1761)
after an engraving by Marie-Magdeleine Horthemels (French, 1687–1774)
made ca. 1723−24 after Charles Coypel (French, 1694–1752)
The Entrance of Love and Treasure at the Wedding of Camacho,
 engraving,  
Plate 13 of De voornaamste gevallen van den 
wonderlyken Don Quichot (The Hague:  Pieter de Hondt, 1746)
Plate:  8 1/2 x 6 1/2 in. (21.6 x 16.5 cm),
Photo:  George Koelle

In reduced form, these prints were used to illustrate eighteenth-century editions of the Cervantes's novel.  Published not only in French but also in English and Dutch, book images were re-engravings of the original Coypel prints.  As such, we are dealing with original paintings transformed into prints by a particular engraver then transformed again into smaller plates by another engraver.  This is why the first printed sheets may reverse the original design but the book images based on the reversed designs would revert back to the original paintings's orientation.  Think about it.


Workshop of Peter van den Hecke (Flemish, 1680–1752)
after Philippe de Hondt (Flemish, 1683–1741)
Arrival of the Shepherdesses at the Wedding of Camacho
1730-45 (before 1748), wool and silk, 
10 ft. 3 in. x 18 ft. 3 in.  (313 x 555.2 cm),
The Frick Collection, New York (1965.10.20)
Photo:  Michael Bodycomb

Coypel's Don Quixote designs would once again be transformed back into tapestries.  His engravings became a source for other woven works. Between 1730 - 45, the Brussel's tapestry workshop of Peter van den Hecke completed a series of eight Don Quixote panels. Six were derived from Coypel's designs. Two from the Brussel tapestry set belong to the Frick and are displayed in the museum's East Gallery along with the exhibit's eighteen prints and books.  The  Frick's works are rarely on view due to space constraints.  Their appearance adds to the specialness of this exceptional exhibition. 

These tapestries are quite different from the Gobelins series.  Scenes are spread out across the whole woven surface.  Borders are simple:  an imitation of a carved and gilded frame. Background landscapes are relatively large and evoke the manner of seventeenth-century Dutch paintings. 

The Flemish artist did not reproduce out right Coypel's designs. Figurations or elements of different Coypel prints were combined and used in a variety of scenes.  For example, in the Arrival of the Shepherdesses at the Wedding of Camacho, the central female dances and wedding guests derive from Coypel's scene of the same name but the seated figure of Don Quixote on the right and Sancho on the left are quotes from Coypel's The Entrance of Love and Treasure at the Wedding of Camacho.  

The Van den Heckes tapestries were very much admired abroad. Even the French court acquired seven of the series including the two Frick panels.  This was at the same time the court was ordering Gobelins manufactured Don Quixote panels.  The French royalty seemed to have had a prodigious desire to acquire woven hangings. They wanted them, of course, to adorn their palatial residences as well as for impressive gifts to other royals and nobles.*****

With the the Frick's tapestries, the exhibit returns to its beginnings - from paintings, to tapestries, to engravings, to book illustrations and back again to tapestries.  Along the way, the wondrous tales of Cervantes's man from La Mancha are transmitted and transformed.  

Visitors may judge for themselves how Coypel captured the essence of the errant-knight.  The exhibition catalogue includes the novel's stories corresponding to the artist's designs.  Copies are available in the galleries.

Make a visit to the Frick.

*The Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection includes one of Coypel's Gobelins Don Quixote tapestry, The Memorable Judgement of Sancho Panza, 1752-54, wool and silk,  147 x 189 in. (373.4 x 480.1 cm), accession number: 52.215.  Currently, not on view.  Tapestry weavings were signficantly used as diplomatic gifts. The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Coypel Goebelin Don Quixote tapestry has been identified as part of an expensive Gobelins set given to the Grand Chancellor of Russia during the Seven Years' War in the hope of encouraging Russia to side with the French.  The Chancellor also received a large some of money (250,000 livres) called a "loan."  His Gobelins pieces had included four hangings, six smaller panels, sofa and armchairs and screens.  The total payment to the Gobelins Manufactury was 31,810 livres which was about a third what the material cost.  This was just a book keeping payment from one French royal department to another.  The king could pay what he wanted and often owed workers their salaries.  

**The alentour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Coypel Goebelin Don Quixote tapestry has a golden yellow background.  See below for a sample comparison of two border fashions:


Gobelins Tapestry Manufactory (French)
under the direction of Michel Audran (French, 1701−1771)
Main scene after Charles Coypel (French, 1694–1752);
alentours after Pierre-Josse Perrot (French, act. 1724 - 1735)
Don Quixote Guided by Folly1756 - 1757
wool and silk,
11 ft. 10 in. x 10 ft. 6 in. (360.7 x 320 cm)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia
Photo:  Artstor


Gobelins Tapestry Manufactory (French)
Main scene after Charles Coypel (French, 1694–1752);
Don Quixote Guided by Folly Setting Forth to be a Knight-Errant1780 - 1783
wool and silk,
12 ft. 2 in. x 11 ft. 8 in. (370.8 x 355.6 cm)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Photo:  Artstor

Research limitations prevent complete label information for above illustrations.

***With high-warp looms, weavers could easily see how the work was progressing by stepping in front of the loom.  Weavers using low-warp looms could not see the front view of the weaving unless they went under the loom.  Furthermore, the cartoons were reproduced in reverse. By the second half of the eighteenth-century, a mechanism was invented to improve the ability of low-warp weavers to view their work in progress. In addition, a new procedure ensured the tapestry scene would be identical to the cartoon.  This greatly enhanced the quality of low-warp woven work.  The Don Quixote tapestries utilized the low-warp looms only in their seventh weaving.

****The revenue from print sales was important to artists.  Coypel's compensation for the tapestry paintings had not amounted to much considering what other artists involved in the tapestry design earned.  Coypel was paid 200 livres for each of the first set's cartoons while Jean-Baptiste Belin de Fontenay, one of the border designers, received 1100.  Lowly but highly skilled weavers earned, of course, far less - from 7 to 15 livres a week.   

*****Given the state of the French royal finances in the mid-eighteenth century, the Gobelins Manufactury welcomed private outside orders.  After the end of the Seven Year's War in 1763, the English swarmed to France.  The sixth Earl of Coventry was among the English visitors.  He had come with a purpose to buy furniture, tapestries and other wares for his country seat Croome Court in Worcestershire, England.  The Gobelin tapestries decorating the walls and the furniture of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Croome Court room are the outcome of the Earl's visit.  A further note:  when the Earl of Coventry visited the Gobelins factory, he may very well have seen some Don Quixote tapestries in various stages of completion on the looms.  These would have had the new crimson background of the surrounds and could have been the inspiration for the Croome Court color scheme.  The Duke of Richmond had already purchased a Don Quixote panel with the crimson ground the same year as the Earl's French visit.  The influence is conjecture but possible. 


Coypel’s Don Quixote Tapestries: 
Illustrating a Spanish Novel in Eighteenth-Century France
February 25, 2015 to May 17, 2015
1 East 70th Street, Manhattan

Tuesday through Saturday, 
10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Sundays, 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Closed Mondays and holidays

Don Quixote Night 
Friday, May 1, 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.
A special free program of talks, performances, readings and after-hours viewing of 
Coypel’s Don Quixote Tapestries: Illustrating a Spanish Novel in Eighteenth-Century France
Visitors will be admitted on a first-come, first-served basis.
Reservations not accepted.