Exhibition and publication – Of Earth and Heaven: Art from the Middle Ages | 27 January-10 March 2018

An exhibition devoted to the Art of the Middle Ages, which took place at Luhring Augustine Gallery in New York, from 27 January to 10 March 2018. The accompanying publication, beautifully designed by Richard Ardagh Studio, draws on influences as diverse as pre-war monographs on German Renaissance sculpture, Modern British art reference books, Blackletter typefaces, letterpress printing, and the tradition of tipped-in image plates.

The centrepieces of the exhibition were three monumental sections of carved stonework from the south transept window of Canterbury Cathedral, one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Europe. The window was designed by Thomas Mapilton (d. 1438), a master mason who worked on Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London prior to his appointment at Canterbury. Made from limestone specially quarried at Caen in Normandy in 1428, Mapilton’s window was one of the most ambitious projects of English Gothic architecture, filling almost the entire height and width of the cathedral’s vast south transept.

The exhibition also featured a carefully selected group of paintings, sculptures, and goldsmith’s work that underscore Europe’s artistic flowering between the twelfth and early sixteenth centuries. Highlights included an extraordinary stained-glass window depicting the Creation of the World and the Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, painted in 1533 by the celebrated Renaissance glass-painter Valentin Bousch. Among the smallest-scale objects presented were a precious 13th-century Limoges reliquary chasse, a silver arm reliquary made in Auxerre in the 1530s, and a pristinely preserved gilt-bronze corpus of Christ, cast by a master goldsmith in Cologne, in around 1180.

ISBN 978-0-9553393-9
128 pages, 270 x 230 mm
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Exhibition and publication – Maiolica before Raphael | 8 May-16 June 2017

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Published in conjunction with the exhibition ‘Maiolica before Raphael’ held at Sam Fogg between 8 May and 16 June 2017, this publication brings together an important group of late-medieval and early Renaissance ceramics made in Italy between around 1275 and 1500.

Later Renaissance istoriato, or narrative, maiolica, produced in the orbit of Raphael and other Italian artists, is widely known and has been extensively studied. But not for a hundred years has the same level of attention been focused on the magnificent works that preceded it in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, which were at times prized by contemporary patrons more highly than precious metals.

Maiolica before Raphael refocused the spotlight of contemporary scholarship onto the development of Italian maiolica from c. 1275 up until 1500, centring on the key period of development in the Quattrocento – the age of Donatello, Mantegna and Botticelli.

Presenting forty-three rare objects from the foremost centres of production that have survived in private hands, this catalogue explores the spread and evolution of the medium, as well as the history of collecting and the changing taste for Italian pre-Renaissance pottery in the modern era. Co-written with Elisa P. Sani and Justin Raccanello, with a preface by Timothy Wilson.

 

ISBN 978 1 911300 20 5

Paperback, 300 x 245 mm
200 pages, 60 colour illus.

The Three Fates

The Three Fates Southern Netherlands c. 1510 - 1520 London, Victoria & Albert Museum
The Three Fates
Southern Netherlands
c. 1510 – 1520
London, Victoria & Albert Museum

Many artists are drawn to images of death to express a process of reckoning with the impermanence of human life. Such expressions are visualised in a vast spectrum of ways, veering from the very concrete, blunt, or obvious (for me Hirst’s skull seems to grace this end of things no matter how much he likes to mystify his objects), to the metaphorical, the subtle allegory, or the palimpsest of history. Nothing speaks with a more searing combination of brevity and expansiveness than the ancient Moirai, or ”apportioners”, the three female figures who were said to spin, measure, and cut the thread of life between them; “To these powerful goddesses was assigned the imperative influence which governed all things on earth, and decided the lot of man.”[1]

The Moirai, or Three Fates, have been re-manifested in European history numerous times, evolving from Antiquity through Pagan and later Christian contexts, and into an increasingly secular, existential vein. Petrarch’s late Trionfi poems, in which the Fates feature as the third of six ‘triumphs’, offer a strongly rooted humanist point of contact with the cultural and societal questioning of death. The same removal from religious significances is expressed by visual art from the later Middle Ages, such as on a large-scale tapestry panel now in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Here the Three Fates appear in late fifteenth-century courtly dress comprised of richly brocaded fabrics gathered with golden chains and died leather belts, and they stand on the no-less-beautiful figure of Chastity lying across the lower registers of the panel against a background of mille-fleurs. At some point in its history, of course, the tapestry was removed from its original context, elided from its intended location and from the larger work from which it originates. Nevertheless this was courtly rather than spiritual art; It no longer relies purely on religious symbolism or ideology – the need to be a devout and goodly Christian – but instead communicates a religion of humanity, based on the desperate need to make each day count towards the enlightenment of our so-called civilisation, and the happiness of our closest relations, as we hang delicately from the fine thread of existence. The visual pun offered through a depiction of worked thread in the medium of a woven textile would also have injected the imagery of this tapestry in particular with incredible humour, of a type well-understood by elite medieval audiences. But, it plays too on the inevitable fate – and control? – of the tapestry weaver (as a representative of human craft more generally), that with the steady manifestation of the woven image their life and ours is being counted off. Time marked by the weaving process in this way ties the V&A tapestry (and others of its type) directly back to Penelope, sitting at her golden loom and structuring her denial of death in gilt thread.

Obsessively questioning, and acutely sensitive to pathetic fallacy, Francisco de Goya y Lucientes places his own version of the three demonic Fates in a human vortex, spinning over a burnt and barren landscape chillingly darkening before our eyes. His experience of their allegorical significance was both universal in its fear, and very private in its intended audience, communicable only to himself as he painted the figures a fresco across the walls of his own house. A tiny, globular manikin-like figure appears as if squeezed dangerously by the grip of Clotho (reminiscent perhaps of Fay Wray in the hands of the villainised Kong), not spinning but extracting the desperately short thread of life from its navel.

Francisco de Goya Atropos 1819 - 1823 Madrid, Museo del prado
Francisco de Goya
Atropos
1819 – 1823
Madrid, Museo del Prado

Scholars have found great difficulty interpreting this picture because of the unusual presence of a fourth figure at the very front of the floating group, with a face that bears no obvious relation to the Fates or their prey, Chastity. Interpreted by some as Prometheus, who was left bound on a mountain peak to be disgorged by eagles in recompense for stealing fire from Zeus, its overriding effect is one of tethered awkwardness, of writhing limb-locked captivity. We should be careful not to romanticise this figure, seemingly male within an otherwise all-female grouping, as a representation of Goya himself. Nevertheless, it may have manifested (to the artist’s introverted mindscape) a personal, human reality caught between the sisters as they run their haggard hands roughly over life.

In contemporary visual culture, artists diverse have utilised death (and Death) for both their medium and their message (it is pretty hackneyed to bring up Damien Hirst but he is ineloquently obsessed by the subject and is foremost in the public eye amongst his generation of artists). Yet often woven through their work are the shadows, revisions, or even wholesale reuse, of the elegiac figure types of the Three Fates, appropriated as they have been for millennia to cut at the quick of our limited time on the Earth. 

 

 

[1] E. J. Burrow, The Elgin Marbles, London, 1817, p. 209

Exhibition and publication – Gilded Light: Sixteenth-Century Stained Glass Roundels | London Art Week, 1-8 July 2016

Gilded Light: 16th-century stained glass roundels from the collection of Sir Thomas Neave and other private collections, an exhibition that took place at Sam Fogg, London, from 1 to 8 July 2016.

 

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An artist in the close circle of Lambert van Noort (c. 1520, Amersfoort – 1571, Antwerp), Nebuchadnezzar eating grass among the cows, Southern Low Countries, Antwerp, c. 1560 (after 1558), 26 cm diameter

 

This exhibition, the first of its kind in London for over a decade, brought together over 35 stained glass roundels and panels of other formats, the majority of which were made during the first two-thirds of the sixteenth century when the art-form was at its zenith. The core group of roundels featured in the exhibition were brought together in the early 1800s by one of the most important early-modern connoisseur collectors of Medieval and Renaissance stained glass, the second Baronet Sir Thomas Neave of Dagnam Park (1761-1848). An avid enthusiast of European artwork, and particularly of glass, Neave was one of the first private collectors to amass a collection of high quality stained glass from the Low Countries, purchasing many of his pieces directly from dissolved monasteries and foundations, or through agents such as the German cloth merchant John Christopher Hampp (1750-1825) who settled in Norwich and traded with Flanders throughout his career. Much of the Neave collection was destroyed by ordnance and fire damage over many years, or has subsequently been dispersed; some of those panels formerly in his collection and that have survived can today be found in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, the Burrell Collection, Glasgow, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and in English churches endowed by the Neave family. His family seat, Dagnam Park in South Weald, Essex, was demolished in 1950 and the remains of his glass collection dispersed by his direct descendants. Characteristic of Sir Thomas Neave’s taste and acute eye for detail and quality, the group of roundels presented in this exhibition mark a vivid and breath-taking high point in the medium.

The exhibition was accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, now unfortunately sold out.

Publication and Exhibition – Late Medieval Panel Paintings II: Materials, Methods, Meanings, Edited by Susie Nash

Late Medieval Panel Paintings II

In January of this year I had the privilege to work with three astounding Art Historians, Nicholas Herman, Anna Koopstra, and Nicola Jennings, on a publication entitled Late Medieval Panel Paintings II: Materials, Methods, Meanings. The book is edited by Professor Susie Nash and published by Paul Holberton, to accompany an exhibition mounted by Sam Fogg and held at the gallery of Richard L. Feigen, New York, from 22nd January to 22nd February 2016.

 

The book, the second volume in a series on the subject, presents a series of in-depth studies of late medieval panel paintings, as well as one tapestry, made between 1400 and 1530 in Spain, Germany, Austria, France, and the Southern Netherlands. Many of the objects examined are new to scholarly attention, offering steps forward in the discussion and analysis of medieval works of art, and significant insights into the artists and patrons of the period.

Late Medieval Panel Paintings II: Materials, Methods, Meanings

ed. Susie Nash, 2016

300 x 245 mm; paperback

352 pages

ISBN 978-1-907372-91-9

The publication is available through the Paul Holberton website, as well as at the gallery and website of Sam Fogg, and on amazon:

http://www.paul-holberton.net

http://www.samfogg.com

 

 

 

 

Palmyra is a visualisation of broader and total conflict

Religion is a fundamental shaper of the cultural, social, political, and written and spoken language of a people, and like the distinctions and variances between language itself, religion charts boundaries and confluences at the junctions between societies. To destroy the language of religion, and the art it has created, is to destroy the very history and identity of those who have created us.

It is with the totality of arrogance and the contradictions of denial that over the course of the last year so-called Islamic State made sweeping movements that helped to erase the reasons and desire for us to exist on this planet, but it remains one of the saddest truths that they are not the only group to have done so through the history of accidents that makes up what may be termed ‘human time’. In a recent article in Art Monthly (AM 394) concerned with the naming and nature of this temporal occupation, and the emergence of an ‘anthropocene era’, Jamie Sutcliffe brought into vivid focus the micro-engagement of biological systems, of which the human being cannot be considered an insular, hermetically sealed entity but rather a construct of mutually interdependent ‘species-assemblages’; a collection of billions of cells, organisms, and bacteria without the static form we commonly interpret our bodies as having. We are as much accidents of survival as the visual and non-visual cultures we have spawned – a matter made painfully tenuous with every new moment of destruction. Indeed, destruction appears to me at least to have had as much energy, significance, and substantiality as our concurrent attempts at creation. And what an indefinably beautiful idea creation has proven to be, both biologically and societally. This is what we must protect above all, I believe, but the issue remains thorny, for creation is on the whole inextricably linked to a greater or lesser degree with some form of destruction.

Open Secret – Anthony Caro (1924-2013)

Below is a catalogue entry concerning Anthony Caro’s book edition Open Secret, written for the upcoming publication of an important private UK collection.

caro

Anthony Caro (1924-2013)

Open Secret

2004

Edition of 31 sculptures in four materials: three in stainless steel, three in grey cardboard, 10 in bronze and 15 in brass, plus one artist’s proof of each; accompanied by hand-written poems in German and English by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, and a passage transcribed by Caro from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.

Published by Ivory Press, London, UK

27 x 61 x 80 cm approx. (with variations between editions)

 

The Open Secret series was first exhibited as part of Blood on Paper, an exhibition of artists’ books held at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK, between 15/04/2008 and 29/06/2008. It has since been featured at the Whitechapel Gallery, London (25-27/09/2009) and the Lightbox Gallery and Museum, Woking (20/01/2009-21/04/2009), and will travel to Madrid in February 2015 as part of Books beyond Artists: Words and Images, hosted by Ivory Press. Each edition takes the form of a hinged metal case opening to reveal a collaborative portfolio by Caro and the German author and poet Hans Magnus Enzensberger, incorporating text and images.

Anthony Caro was one of the first artists to challenge the orthodoxy of post-war British sculpture. In what Adrian Stokes saw as the superseding of the traditionally predominant sculpting material – stone – Caro embraced the pourable, plastic, and moulded qualities of unrefined metals to redefine the language of sculpted forms. From roots in the iron foundry, he moved through a spectrum of media, incorporating clay, card and paper, brass, bronze and occasionally pigments into his work, forging particularised structural relationships out of planes, corners, curves and tubes in each case.

The Open Secret series provides something of a bridge between two related but divergent veins in Caro’s practice, combining the sense of monumentality and mass of material inherent to his increasingly large-scale installations from around 1974 onwards, and the intimacy and delicacy of poise that characterise the artist’s extensive body of table pieces. The result is a finely tuned spatial balance that incorporates both floating and solid elements in counterpoint, establishing a tactile table-top sculpture whose form is in a state of flux (these ‘books’ are literally made to be touched and opened), with a structure rooted in the solidity of its four-square geometric footprint. This middle ground is shared by certain larger works – Tundra (1975), or Jupiter (2005) for instance – along with many of his ceramic pieces, particularly examples in the Can Co series he created in the mid-seventies, but they are drawn here into a unique and charged state of formal dynamism. This touches on Michael Fried’s famous assertion that Caro’s sculpture always appears to be at the point of disintegration, that is, that through the movement of the viewer literal visual references can be conjured and crushed in consecutive moments.[i] As a result, the attendant connotations are both abstract and vivid; the open, fluid form of these ‘cases’ suggests the opening out of language itself, and the dynamic rather than static qualities of its rippling ‘leaves’ evoke both the turn of phrase and word inherent to the poetic format, and the literal turning of the pages within – an act of almost infinite and lyrical potential fundamental to our delight of the written word. In this respect, the variants of Open Secret are abstracted somewhat from the reality of comprehendible forms, so that they are not based solely on visible references in the outside world but operate, as Ian Barker notes, as ‘vehicles with expressions of feeling’ that touch on literary themes.[ii]

The artist’s choice of materials for Open Secret offers new and fruitful avenues for the interpretation of his wider oeuvre, and draws on tonal, textural, and visual subtleties that diverge from those more commonly associated with his practice. His interest in the materiality of metal in its supposedly pure form (the use of paint to disguise the true nature of metal was almost entirely abandoned early on in his career) seems key here. Each of the edition’s variants acts as an almost elemental substance (especially when seen collectively), with an identity and meaning related to but distinct from their counterparts. None of the selected metals, however, can finally be understood as being pure in an elemental sense– since they are all admixtures of other substances, and quite deliberately chosen as such. Like language, each embodies the consummation of a process of careful measuring and manipulation by experience, craft and the human mind.

Matthew Reeves

 

[i] Michael Fried, ‘Two Sculptures by Anthony Caro’, in Artforum, vol. 6, no. 6, Feb. 1968, pp.24-25

[ii] Ian Barker, Anthony Caro; Quest for the New Sculpture, London, 2004, p. 95