Published: March 22, 2011
A singular Jacobean miniature, a Thomas Hope settee, a large and pristine British watercolor and a sculpture by contemporary Polish artist Monika Sosnowska are among the latest works approved by the collections committee of the Cleveland Museum of Art’s board of trustees. The museum is continuing to collect across all departments as it moves toward the completion of its transformational building expansion and collection reinstallation in 2013.
“Stairs” by contemporary artist Monika Sosnowska was created during Sosnowska’s residency at Artpace in San Antonio, Texas, in the summer of 2010. As in most of her work, “Stairs” is not a “ready-made” (an everyday object selected and designated as art), but an object planned and engineered by the artist.
The sculpture is based on the fire escape stairs that distinguish American buildings and was made with the assistance of a company that specializes in custom metal fabrication. Bent beyond use, the misshapen stair hangs on the wall and resembles a graphic drawing. Through interpretation, the object may be seen as a cross or an oversized insect even as it maintains its relationship to its original form.
The cabinet miniature, “Madonna and Child in Glory,” was painted by Isaac Oliver (1565‱617), one of the most significant practitioners of miniature painting in the history of the medium, as well as a prominent figure in the Jacobean period. Trained by skillful English miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard, Oliver was a favored painter of the English court. He built his reputation on portraiture, but was also an accomplished draftsman who executed complex religious, mythological and allegorical compositions.
“Madonna and Child in Glory” is a miniature in its original meaning, derived from the Latin miniare, to paint with red lead, a term that described manuscript illumination. In the 1500s, as the printing press overtook handmade manuscripts, miniature painting moved into the realm of small scale portraiture. An artistic trend towards this type of miniature occurred in Jacobean England and was spearheaded by Oliver. These works, significantly rarer than portrait miniatures, became known as cabinet miniatures.
“Madonna and Child in Glory” demonstrates Oliver’s complex and refined manner of painting. The object presents a familiar Christian subject, but in an atypical way. The artist places the Virgin and Child in a heavenly setting and incorporates the medieval iconography of the lactating Virgin with the Salvator Mundi (the savior of the world), early Netherlandish in origin but more commonly seen in Italy by the early 1600s.
The newly acquired settee designed by English Regency designer Thomas Hope is an object representing the neoclassical style and was included in the furnishings for his grand Robert Adam-designed residence in Duchess Street, Portland Place, London, around 1802. The house featured themed rooms with suites of furniture designed by Hope to provide a suitable background for his collection of classical and neoclassical statuary and objets d’art.
The settee was likely part of a larger suite of furniture, although only a “large arm-chair” of identical styling was illustrated in Hope’s Household Furniture and Interior Decoration of 1807. With its completely gilded surface in a manner resembling gilt-bronze and numerous references to classical carved friezes, this settee would have served as an elegant example of “authentic” Grecian design.
“The Temple of Vesta and the Falls at Tivoli” by William Callow is a large watercolor that augments the museum’s collection of British drawings, a recent area of acquisition focus. In addition, this incandescent and masterfully executed work stands strong next to the museum’s well-known and prized British watercolors by artists such as John Robert Cozens, John Martin, William Turner of Oxford and Samuel Palmer. The painting was shown at the Royal Water Color Society in 1859 and was based on sketches made on the spot when Callow visited Tivoli on his first trip to Italy in 1840.
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