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Still a Paris Street, But a Less Rainy Day

April 18, 2014 - 3:20pm

When first-time visitors ascend the Grand Staircase and enter Gallery 201, they are drawn immediately to the monumental Paris Street; Rainy Day (1877) by Gustave Caillebotte. The painting—a perennial visitor favorite since it joined the collection in the 1960s—shows the (then) new boulevards of Paris and the modern, fashion-conscious crowd attempting to stay dry. The picture seems both real and choreographed, dreary yet optimistic. It’s no wonder so many find it magnetic.

The painting made a special appearance in Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity in 2013, and then went off view to undergo conservation. But it was what happened next that landed it a special profile in the Wall Street Journal and its very own video.

Conservator of paintings Faye Wrubel began work on conserving the painting last fall after its big cameo. Her routine conservation and cleaning turned into something much larger once Ms. Wrubel removed the varnish and discovered the painting took on a different tone: the skies are now more blue and dynamic, there are more pronounced contrasts, and there’s more light—almost like the rain is ending and the sun is about to break from the clouds. So you can better see the change, our “before” image is immediately below and the “after” image is below that.

The conservation team used x-ray, infrared, and ultraviolet analyses to survey the painting. The ultraviolet photos told a story different than what most assumed about the painting—she learned that sometime between when Caillebotte finished the work and it joined the Art Institute’s collection, the work had been retouched to make the sky more consistent. After examining painted sketches and the ultraviolet photos, Ms. Wrubel concluded that Caillebotte painted a sky of greater complexity than what most of us were accustomed to.

The conserved work has elicited “wow”s from those who have seen it. There’s definitely more sparkle to an already beloved Art Institute piece. And to decode what that means, we invite you to see the painting for yourself. Paris Street; Rainy Day will be back on view in Gallery 201 on April 23.


Want to See This Everywhere?

April 11, 2014 - 3:40pm

And by everywhere, we really do mean everywhere. In fact, we mean Art Everywhere, the largest outdoor national art show ever conceived. Starting in August, approximately 50 masterpieces of American art from the five participating museums—the Art Institute of Chicago, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art—will pop up on as many as 50,000 displays nationwide, including billboards, subway platforms, and on bus shelters, and the selection will be curated with the help of an online vote. Which is where you come in. Currently there are 100 artworks that will be culled down and every day through May 7, you can vote for 10. Over the years, we’ve highlighted a number of our paintings in contention, but we thought we’d take a look at one of the lesser known works, Winslow Homer’s The Water Fan.

This painting depicts a young black man intently searching for coral using a glass-bottomed bucket. Referred to as a “water glass” or “sponge glass,” this device was used to stabilize the surface of moving water in order to improve visibility. Homer may have been attracted to the subject because it draws attention to the constantly moving surface of the water as well as its transparency, aspects of the sea that especially intrigued him in the Bahamas. This work originally had more visible red washes in the water, hinting at the pink coral beneath the surface. While these areas have faded over time, the fluid strokes of darker blue over layers of transparent turquoise are effective in suggesting the play of light, both direct and reflected, over water.

So start thinking now about your summer road trip and what you might want to see along the way. And as they say in Chicago, vote early and often!

Image Credit: Winslow Homer. The Water Fan, 1898/99. Gift of Dorothy A., John A., Jr., and Christopher Holabird in memory of William and Mary Holabird.


Our Very Own Game of Thrones

April 7, 2014 - 4:46pm

Full disclosure: there are quite a few of us here at the museum who are big fans of (or mildly obsessed with) the HBO series Game of Thrones, which premiered its fourth season last night. And while you might think that it’s a bit of a stretch to discuss the show here, there are actually quite a few connections we could make between aspects of Westeros and the museum’s collection.

But we decided to start with the titular throne. The Iron Throne that Joffrey Baratheon currently sits on does not look very cozy. Made from the blades of one thousand swords, it is the seat of ultimate power, but also the seat that makes you the biggest target in Westeros. In fact, in the words of Ned Stark, “it is a monstrous uncomfortable chair. In more ways than one.”

And while all thrones do indicate some kind of power, not all thrones are quite so forbidding. We took a closer look at the museum’s holdings to find some examples:

This 15th-century Netherlandish print illustrates a story from the life of King Solomon, who was renowned for his wisdom. He’s seated on a throne at the top of this dramatic print and judges a case case of two children, one of whom had recently died, and two women claiming to be the mother of the survivor. He threatened to divide the child between them (using the sword held by a servant at left) in order to determine the truth. With this clever ruse, he easily identified the child’s mother, who would rather her child live with another woman than be killed.

In this composition of four figures, the king is not the largest, but as the only person who is seated and crowned, he is seen as the most powerful. His senior wife stands prominently behind him, her imposing height conveying the powerful role she plays in maintaining his power. But her position behind him indicates her support for and loyalty to him. The two smaller figures represent a junior spouse and another attendant. This vertical piece would have served as an architectural embellishment in a palace and would have projected the authority, prosperity, and power of royalty.

This statuette is thought to depict Concordia, the Roman personification of harmony, one of the four principal virtues of the Roman Empire. Concordia sits on a high-backed throne and wears an ornamental headband, a long tunic tied above her waist, and a cloak, which drapes over her left shoulder and lap. The figure likely held a libation dish in her extended right hand and a cornucopia (horn of plenty) in her missing left hand.

The materials that make up this throne are a bit more atypical. The crowned Buddha is seated in the pose of meditation on a throne formed by the coils of the serpent king Muchalinda, whose own seven heads form a sheltering canopy around the figure.

If this hasn’t dissuaded you from coveting the Iron Throne, you can purchase your very own replica for a mere $30,000. But a final warning from Cersei Lannister: “when you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.”

Image Credits:

The Judgment of Solomon, c. 1475–1500. Netherlands. Clarence Buckingham Collection.

Olowe of Ise. Veranda Post of Enthroned King and Senior Wife (Opo Ogoga), 1910/14. Major Acquisitions Centennial Fund.

Statuette of an Enthroned Figure. 1st century A.D. Roman. Wirt D. Walker Endowment.

Buddha Shelttered by Muchalinda, 11th-12th century. Cambodian. Samuel M. Nickerson Endowment.

Closing Soon: The Year of the Horse

April 4, 2014 - 12:40pm

Closing this weekend in the Ando Gallery, The Year of the Horse celebrates Chinese New Year and this year’s featured animal within the Chinese zodiac. As far back as the 3rd century B.C., animals have been associated with each year in a 12 year cycle and their respective characteristics are supposed to relate to the attributes of humans born in that year. The horse is associated with strength, energy, intelligence, communication, and popularity, but also impatience and stubbornness. This year of the horse officially began at the end of January and lasts until the next Chinese New Year in February 2015.

Horses have been long revered in Asian culture and this small exhibition includes several prints that show young men on horseback. In the image above, the youthful rider takes part in “first riding,” an element of the coming-of-age ceremonies for a boy of the samurai class. He tentatively rides the prancing horse, while a maid carrying a parasol shields the rider from the sun.

It also features a new acquisition, a pair of folding screens (shown both above and below) from the turn of the 18th century that each measure over 12 feet long. These panels illustrate an expansive tableau with six tethered horses in various energetic positions. Several other horses are in the process of being washed by grooms in the lake between the buildings. Other groups of people work, nap, and even play board games in this idyllic scene. Screens like this one were popular at this time and were often commissioned by warriors to show off their horses, their prized possessions, or to remind them of military culture.

The Year of the Horse closes this Sunday and might be particularly interesting to those of you born in 1918, 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, and 2002.

Image credits:

Suzuki Harunobu. The Young Horseman, c. 1766/67. Clarence Buckingham Collection.

Horses in Stables (Umaya-zu byobu), c. 1688-1704 (Genroku Period). Japanese. Shinkokai Japanese Art Acquisition Fund, The Mary and Leigh Block Endowment Fund, Gookin FUnd, restricted gift of Roger L. Weston; Avery L. Brundage and Roger L. Weston funds.

Solving a Mummy Mystery

March 31, 2014 - 12:23pm

You’ve waited patiently and we are happy to announce that we’re ready to share some truly shocking findings from the recent CT scans of our Egyptian mummies. But first, let’s back up for a minute.

In 1988, while on loan to The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the mummy Wenuhotep underwent a CT scan. Based on the information obtained from the scans, a reconstruction (pictured below) was created showing a woman—the daughter of a priest—combing her hair while holding a mirror.

After the mummy returned to Chicago in 2007 the existing data was re-examined by Egyptologist Dr. Emily Teeter from the Oriental Institute Museum. The results lead to the first major discovery—that the coffin and the mummy were not a stylistic match. It states on the coffin that we have an inscription naming “Wenuhotep.” But while the coffin dates to around 780 B.C., the mummification style of the body is that of the Ptolemaic Period (323-30 B.C.). The two could have been created as many as 500 years apart. We now had an anonymous female mummy with little information other than the time period from which it was created.  So last month we set out to see if new, high-tech CT scans could help us learn more about this mystery woman. And what we learned was completely unexpected.

We enlisted the help of radiologist Dr. Michael Vannier, from the University of Chicago Medical Center and Dr. Teeter to rescan the two Art Institute mummies on February 19. Both had recently collaborated on the mummy “Meresamun” in the Oriental Institute Museum’s collection. For this project Dr. Vannier devised a new protocol using a Philips iCT spiral CT scanner on four energies (80, 100, 120, 140 KV), combining the data to give superior resolution and definition. To our knowledge, this is the first time Egyptian mummies have been examined with four energies. Dr. Vannier and Robert Klein, RT begin painstakingly reviewing the scans and creating state-of-the-art renderings.

But even as early as when the female mummy, formally known as Wenuhotep, was on the scanning table, did Dr. Vannier begin to notice some peculiarities.   For one thing, the skeleton is robust and the stature is atypically large for a female. Additionally, the pelvis is more characteristic of a male. We had hoped to learn details of her life—if she had had children or how she may have died—but our findings began to raise different questions.

To prove his suspicions, Dr. Vannier prepared 3D and multiplanar reconstructions (MPR).  The telltale sign that something was amiss was verified by the presence of male genitalia. Turns out, the mummy is a … daddy!

In the above image two parallel forms can be seen between the legs.  In front of the penis is a larger object. According to Dr. Teeter it is not uncommon to have some sort of structure wrapped with the penis, such as a reed, an extra roll of linen, or another type of structure thickly coated with resin. By using multi-energy scans, Dr. Vannier should be able to discern the material used for this structure.  Stay tuned for more exciting results and for theories as to why the Egyptians may have been mummified the male member in this manner.  (A hint: Osiris, the fertility god.)

While reinstallation of the Egyptian galleries is still a ways off, we hope to make much of the data and images gained from this research available to the public on our website. The funding for this project, including the extensive conservation of the mummy, formally known as Wenuhotep, is generously provided by the Perucca Family Foundation. We are deeply grateful to Terry and Cynthia Perucca for their support and encouragement.

—Mary Greuel, The Elizabeth McIlvaine Curator of Ancient Art, Department of Ancient & Byzantine Art

Image Captions:

Reconstruction of Wenuhotep, Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, approximately 1989–2009

Scan of the Ptolemaic Mummy (formally known as Wenuhotep)

Scan of the Ptolemaic Mummy (formally known as Wenuhotep)



Christopher Wool: TRBL

March 28, 2014 - 5:10pm

Christopher Wool’s stenciled word paintings are among his best known works. Frequently coming from a place of anxiety or impending threat, these paintings make it deliberately difficult to read and assemble meaning, interrupting the normal flow of language. For example, we’re used to vowels and we’re accustomed to words being on one line (for the most part).

Most visitors do correctly read this painting and it is helpfully titled Trouble to ensure we’re all on the same page. Which is helpful considering it could be called Tribal or Treble and adhere to the same structure. But in the artist’s view, the word paintings function most effectively when their content is somehow matched to their affect—when the word “does what it says.” With Trouble’s jarring layout and redaction of letters, Wool reflects the disturbance implied by the word itself.

Christopher Wool is open through May 11.

Our Keys to Success: Nudity, Warhol, and Celebrities

March 19, 2014 - 3:37pm

It’s Museum Blogs day, which seems like the perfect time to take a look back at our own blog and see what’s kept you—our loyal readers—coming back for more over the last 4+ years. And apparently, nudity has been the key.

Our most read post tells the story of Rolla (pictured above) from last year’s blockbuster exhibition Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity and our second most read post provides a closer look at a censored print of the god Apollo (and admittedly has a quite provocative title). Thankfully, that’s not all you’re interested in. You also like Warhol, celebrity look-alikes, and commonly asked questions. Click through for your reading pleasure and thanks for reading! We’ll do our best to keep the nudity coming, but leave us a comment and let us know what you’d like to read more about. We love special requests!

1. When the Corset Hits the Floor, July 12, 2013

2. Last Chance for Renaissance Porn, July 5, 2011

3. Institute vs. Institvte, April 27, 2012

4. Celebrity Doppelgängers, May 22, 2013

5. Andy Warhol Polaroid GIFs, August 6, 2013

Image Credit: Henri Gervex. Rolla, 1878. Musée d’Orsay, bequest of M. Béradi, 1926, LUX 1545.

Still Hunting Masterpieces After All These Years

March 14, 2014 - 5:14pm

The Thrill of the Chase: Drawings for the Harry B. and Bessie K. Braude Memorial Collection will be opening soon in the Jean and Steven Goldman Prints and Drawings Galleries. These exquisite drawings belong to a very special friend of the museum. Dorothy Braude Edinburg, or as we affectionately call her for short, DBE, has been chasing the world’s best artworks on paper for some three quarters of a century. Her due diligence in the quest for only the very best keeps her going strong.

Dorothy has a keen eye, exceedingly high standards for style, attribution, and condition, and a relentless taste for new acquisitions. With these tools, she has accumulated a superlative collection of European drawings, prints, and illustrated books, many of which she herself bought at live auction. Most of these treasures have been welcome guests at the Art Institute for many of the 22 years we’ve known and worked with this amazing, tireless woman. This exhibition includes 87 drawings she purchased since 1991 in active consultation with Art Institute curators, conservators, and other museum specialists.

My first successful auction purchase in tandem with Dorothy was the 1587 drawing of a coat of arms by Daniel Lindtmayer, a Swiss artist who specialized in patterns for stained glass. Dorothy gave us a list of items in the January 2009 Sotheby’s New York sale that she liked, and we helped her narrow it down and further researched the best prospects. This piece was beautifully drawn with allegorical figures, and particularly lively with scribbled annotations suggesting the colors of glass for the final window. It included several other contemporary inscriptions, and, importantly, was securely signed and dated by the artist. I met Dorothy at Sotheby’s prior to the sale so we could see the drawing in person, out of the frame. Squeezed into a tiny narrow room with a black light, Dorothy herself checked the paper for obvious defects that would be invisible to the naked eye. Our Head of Conservation, who came by later to inspect it on her own, gave the final approval. With no signs of a weakened or over-conserved sheet, Dorothy went on to bid victoriously over the phone, and the piece is now hanging on the wall of Gallery 124B of The Thrill of the Chase, just around the corner from the Jean and Steven Goldman Study Center.

Over the years, we have shown Chicago hundreds of Dorothy’s prints in the second floor hallway galleries (including the current 19th-century rotations in 220a and 221a), dozens of her books in Ryerson and Burnham Library exhibitions, and her most prized drawings in a series of major exhibitions throughout the museum. The Thrill of the Chase is a fitting tribute to the history of her collection, which as yet shows no signs of being close to completion, and our collection, which has gained so much through her.

Image Credit: Daniel Lindtmayer. The Arms of Habsberg Flanked by an Elegant Couple, 1587. Gift of Dorothy Braude Edinburg to the Harry B. and Bessie K. Braude Memorial Collection.

Now Open: Nilima Sheikh

March 13, 2014 - 6:49pm

Nilima Sheikh’s scrolls are larger than life (the image above is 10 feet tall), but are best viewed from right up close to get a sense of the detail and labor that goes into her storytelling. And much of that storytelling focuses on the culture and history of Kashmir, an area known for both its natural beauty and its location between India and Pakistan. Sheikh’s scrolls are imbued with the tumultuous history of the region, but also, as curator Madhuvanti Ghose notes, “a contemporary view that encourages viewers to reflect and think about this contested territory, which is central to Sheikh’s identity as an artist.”

Kashmir’s history of violence is reflected in Dying Dreaming (pictured at top in its entirety and below that in detail) in the horizontal bands of orange and red that allude to bloodshed and include large demonic figures battling human warriors. Other bands include motifs of local flora and fauna, including deer, birds, and a growling tiger. Below you can see beautifully stenciled examples of birds and reptile-like animals.

One the back of the scroll are blocks of text that allude to scenes from the front. One story relates the folktale illustrated across two bands in the middle right portion of the scroll of a poor water carrier who gives everything she earns to the birds and, upon her death, is flown by the birds into the sky.

Nilima Sheikh: Each Night Put Kashmir in Your Dreams includes ten scrolls—including two created for this presentation—and is open through May 18.

Image Credit: Nilima Sheikh. Dying Dreaming, 2007–10. Collection of Lekha and Anupam Poddar.

A Masquerade Party

March 4, 2014 - 5:22pm

Fat Tuesday marks the height of the Mardi Gras festivities and is celebrated—at least in New Orleans—with parades, parties, and other general revelry. Also masks. Lots and lots of masks. And while Mardi Gras masks are commonly feathered or bedazzled in some way, they come in all shapes and sizes, similar to the masks in the Art Institute’s collection. So if you’re looking for a little inspiration for your own Fat Tuesday mask, we’ve got some ideas for you. . .

The Kuba, who live in central Africa, use masks like this Mukenga mask in funeral ceremonies for the highest ranking men. In this particular mask, the artist uses luxurious symbolic materials to give expression to its power. The face is covered with the fur of the fearsome leopard; the ruff of the regal colobus monkey forms a beard; the protruding eyes recall the rotating, all-seeing eyes of the chameleon; a long, protruding trunk suggests the power of the elephant. A cluster of red parrot feathers accents the trunk and contrasts the weighty power of an elephant with the air flight of a bird. I think it goes without saying that Mardi Gras attendees would applaud such an elaborate mask.

If you’re looking for something a bit simpler, we recommend looking to Saul Steinberg. Steinberg made no distinction between high and low art, creating covers and drawings for The New Yorker alongside masks made from brown paper bags and crayons.

This mask was not meant for a human, but a horse. It originally would have been attached to cloth or leather as part of an elaborate bridle and would have been placed on the horse’s forehead, between the ears. The mask resembles a medusa-like monster, with a mouthful of bared teeth and long tusks hanging from either side.

A bit morbid, but facial molds of the dead—or death masks—have been taken since ancient times, and this death mask of Napoleon is one of the best known ever. The mold was taken by the Corsican physician Antommarchi on the island of St. Helena two days after Napoleon’s death on May 5, 1821. The gaunt face with prominent cheekbones is a haunting image, recalling Napoleon the revolutionary war hero rather than the self-satisfied imperial image projected at the peak of his power.

What else can we say but laissez les bon temps rouler!

Image Credits:

Mask (Mukenga), Kuba, Western Kasai region, Democratic Republic of the Congo, late 19th/mid-20th century. Laura T. Magnuson Fund.

Saul Steinberg. Untitled (Mask), 1959–62. Gift of The Saul Steinberg Foundation.

Monster Mask from a Horse Bridle, China, Western Zhou dynasty (c. 1050–771 B.C.), c. 9th century B.C. Lucy Maud Buckingham Collection.

Dr. C. Francesco Antommarchi (from a mold by), cast by: Louis Richard and E. Quesnel. Death Mask of Napoleon, modeled 1821 (cast 1833). Estate of E. Blake Blair.


Mystery Mummy Update

February 25, 2014 - 10:23am

In my post last week, I mentioned that both of the Art Institute’s Egyptian mummies would be CT scanned in the near future. In fact, their appointment was later that week! And now, while we await the results, I thought readers might be interested in learning about how we coordinate a project like this.

The planning took about 4 months. First, the mummies had to be examined to ensure they could make the trip without sustaining any damage. After a careful assessment by objects conservators, and a few quick treatments to reattach loose areas of linen and flaking paint, we were good to go.

Colleagues in the packing department modified the mummies’ storage crates to provide the necessary support for safe transport. This included adding interior foam structures and tyvek padding to both hold the mummies firmly in place and to absorb any bumps and vibrations they might encounter along the way.

Another interesting aspect of this project was the decision to use Superior Ambulance Service for transporting the mummies to their appointment at the University of Chicago Hospital. We typically use specially equipped trucks for transporting artworks, but ambulances are designed for moving bodies, which is exactly what we had. By modifying the hydraulic gurneys used by Superior, we were able to minimize the number of times the mummies had to be handled and moved.

Once in the scanning room, museum art handlers carefully uncrated the mummies and placed them on the scanning table. Because modern CT scanners are rarely used for full body scans, there were some challenges in getting the scans we needed. Both mummies had to be scanned once from the head down, and then manually rotated 180 degrees for a second scan from the feet up.

During the scanning, detailed images and 3D renderings were generated in a viewing area just outside of the scanning room where radiologist Dr. Michael Vannier, Egyptologist Dr. Emily Teeter, and Art Institute curator Mary Greuel saw the results as each mummy passed through the tube. Some interesting discoveries were instantly visible, such as an outer shroud around the wrappings of Paankhenamun’s head and a cylindrical object, possibly a papyrus scroll, placed alongside the arm of the female mummy.

While the final results of the scans will not be made public for some time—there are over 66,000 images to analyze!—we look forward to presenting some of our findings in future galleries of Near Eastern and Egyptian Art here at the museum.

A special thanks to Dr. Michael Vannier, Dr. Emily Teeter, Superior Ambulance Service, and Terry and Cynthia Perucca for their generous support of this project.

—Lorien Yonker, Technician & Art Handler, Department of Ancient & Byzantine Art

Image Captions:

Art Institute art handlers Lorien Yonker, Eric Warner, and Milan Bobysud place the mummy of Paankhenamun for scanning

Objects conservator Rachel Sabino inspects both mummies before approving them for travel.

Vehicles from Superior Ambulance Service, ready to transport the mummies to the University of Chicago Hospital

Art handlers finish uncrating the female mummy; Paankhenamun is placed on the table for the first round of scanning

Dr. Vannier inspects the results of Paankhenamun’s first round of scans


First Look: Christopher Wool

February 20, 2014 - 4:54pm

Christopher Wool opens tomorrow for members and Sunday for everyone, but Art Institute staff got a sneak peek today. See below for a first look at the exhibition that has transformed our special exhibition space, opening windows that haven’t been seen in over a decade. There are nearly 90 paintings, photographs, and works on paper—along with one sculpture just outside the exhibition’s entrance—including Wool’s best known “word paintings” and his more recent “gray paintings.” Enjoy!

Wenuhotep: Mystery Mummy

February 17, 2014 - 7:00am

There are just two ancient Egyptian mummies in the Art Institute’s collection. But while many visitors are familiar with the mummy of Paankhenamun, which stood in the Egyptian art galleries until their deinstallation in 2012, Wenuhotep, the mummy pictured above, hasn’t been on view since the beginning of the 19th century. Recent findings have also suggested that Wenuhotep’s not quite who we thought she was. . .

She was originally brought to Chicago in 1892 by Henry H. Getty and Charles L. Hutchinson, two early trustees who donated a significant proportion of the museum’s collection of Egyptian antiquities. In 1941 she was lent to the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. From there she traveled to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum in 1959, where she remained on display until 2007.

Upon her return to the Art Institute, Wenuhotep became the focus of a project sponsored by the Community Associates Research and Lecture Series by Dr. Emily Teeter, an Egyptologist from the Oriental Institute. In studying both the mummy and sarcophagus of Wenuhotep, Dr. Teeter quickly realized that the two were not a stylistic match. While the sarcophagus dates to around the 26th Dynasty (664-525 B.C.), the mummification style of the woman’s body is that of the Ptolemaic Period (323-30 B.C). The two could have been created as many as 500 years apart!

The hieroglyphs confirm that the sarcophagus definitely belonged to Wenuhotep. But if the woman contained inside is not Wenuhotep, then who is she? Her mummification style certainly indicates someone of status, with detailed scenes painted in vivid color and extensive gilding on the chest and head pieces. Even the soles of her sandals were painstakingly rendered. However her name is surprisingly not recorded, so her identity remains a mystery.

Some years ago the mummy underwent x-rays and CT scanning. While some of the results were lost, the reports we do have offer conflicting information regarding her age, height, and health as well as the presence of jewelry inside her wrappings and the preservation of her internal organs.

In the coming weeks radiologists from the University of Chicago will be utilizing the latest in CT scanning technology on both of the Art Institute’s mummies. The information they glean will be assessed by Egyptologists and Art Institute staff to see what can be learned about this mystery woman, and hopefully put some of the conflicting reports to rest.

Stay tuned for updates on our findings! In the meantime you can whet your appetite with gilded mummy masks and other ancient Egyptian treasures on display in When the Greeks Ruled: Egypt after Alexander the Great, on view through July 27 in gallery 154.

—Lorien Yonker, Technician & Art Handler, Department of Ancient & Byzantine Art

Image Credit: Coffin of Wenuhotep, 664 B.C.–525 B.C. Egyptian. Gift of Henry H. Getty and Charles L. Hutchinson.

Romance vs. romance

February 14, 2014 - 7:00am

There’s romance and then there’s Romance. This painting just happens to include both. But what exactly is the difference?

The Romantic era (the kind with a capital “R”) began in France and Great Britian in the early 19th century as a reaction to the Enlightenment, or as it was also called, the Age of Reason. Art of the Enlightenment favored rational order, logic, and Neo-Classicist ideals. But with the chaos of the French Revolution, artists began to insert emotional intensity and imagination into their work. This new kind of Romantic painting could manifest itself in a variety of ways: in a sweeping landscape with tumultuous weather, in a violent shipwreck with no savior in sight, or, in this case, in a portrait of a woman who’s not looking out at the viewer, but who is engrossed in her reading with her head in her hands.

In this painting, Isabella Wolff is contemplating a figure of the Delphic Sibyl from the Sistine Chapel ceiling in a book of prints. The Delphic Sibyl was one of several created by Michelangelo, all of whom represent priestesses of classical legend who made mysterious judgments and prophecies. Sibyls were frequently depicted in exotic costumes and Mrs. Wolff’s turban, shawl, and Asian textiles might just equate her as the present-day embodiment of Michelangelo’s feminine ideal.

And this is where the other kind of romance comes in. If you look at the credit line below, you’ll notice that this painting was created over the course of 12 years. In 1803 when it was started, Isabella was the wife of Jens Wolff, a wealthy Anglo-Danish timber merchant and shop broker. Then it was left unfinished in Lawrence’s studio for 10 years. When he took it up again in 1914, the couple had separated and Mrs. Wolff was living with one of her sisters. Over the course of this period, Wolff and Lawrence maintained a friendship and were thought to have had an affair. Did he idealize her because he was in love with her? Romance or romance or both?

Either way, wishing you whatever kind of romance you prefer this Valentine’s Day!

Image Credit: Sir Thomas Lawrence. Mrs. Jens Wolff, 1803–1815. Mr. and Mrs. W. W. Kimball Collection.

The Olympics Across the Collection

February 12, 2014 - 12:27pm

Olympic fever has officially swept our office, with excitement and discussion on everything ranging from the team figure skating scoring process to whether or not Shaun White would break out the YOLO Flip in the halfpipe finals to the current status of Bob Costas’s eye infection. It’s been a big week. And it’s encouraged us to take a closer look at our collection because, with over 250,000 pieces, we figured there just had to be some works that celebrated the Olympics. We were not disappointed.

Contemporary Olympic gold medalists get endorsement deals, but some winners of the Ancient Olympic Games received an arguably larger perk. A minted coin celebrating their victory. In the Ancient Olympics, horse races were among the most prestigious competitions. Horses were symbols of socioeconomic status, since only the privileged could afford to buy, feed, and train them and transport their teams and trainers to Olympia every four years. In time, many of the victors in the horse races included kings and tyrants. The top coin shows Gelon of Syracuse, who minted this to commemorate his victory in the four-horse chariot race in 488 B.C. Three years later he became ruler of the city. The image below features Anaxilas, ruler of Messana and Rhegium, who commissioned this coin to celebrate the victory of his mule team in either 484 or 480 B.C. Both coins are currently on view in Gallery 151.

The next one might be cheating a little bit because Hannes Schroll (pictured below) never actually competed in the Olympics, but did finish first in the 1935 Olympic Trials in several alpine skiing events, including slalom, downhill, and combined. However, he was Austrian born and thus wasn’t eligible to be selected to the 1936 U.S. Olympic team. This portrait of Schroll was taken in 1935 in the Yosemite Valley, where he was a ski instructor. The photographer? None other than Ansel Adams.

The Cheetah Flex Foot pictured below was worn in the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, most famously by South African Oscar Pistorius. This custom-engineered prosthetic limb was designed for both above-the-knee and below-the-knee amputees and was inspired by a cheetah’s hind legs. The curved shape and carbon composite materials enable the prosthetic limb to store and release energy like a spring to closely mimic the anatomy of the human foot and ankle, allowing disabled athletes to sprint at new high speeds. It has been instrumental in the achievement of several world records.

Sadly (as far as I’m concerned), the model below will never be built. Local architect Stanley Tigerman created it for Chicago’s 2016 Olympic bid, which our fair city lost to Rio de Janeiro in 2009. This complex would have been part of the imagined Olympic Village, housing athletes and coaches alike.

If you weren’t already with us, we hope this gets you in the Olympic spirit!

Image Credits:

Greek, minted in Syracuse, Sicily. Coin Showing Quadriga with Bearded Charioteer, 485–478 B.C. Gift of William F. Dunham.

Greek, minted in Sicily, Messana. Tetradrachm (Coin) Portraying Biga with Mules, 484–476 B.C. Gift of William F. Dunham.

Ansel Easton Adams. Hannes Schroll, Yosemite Valley, California, c. 1935. Gift of Mrs. Katharine Kuh.

Van Phillips and Hilary Pouchak, Manufactured by Össur Icelandic. Cheetah Flex Foot, c. 2000. Gift of Ossur Americas.

Stanley Tigerman. Olympic Village Housing (project), Chicago, Illinois, 2006. © Stanley Tigerman


The Monuments Men’s Legacy

February 7, 2014 - 3:07pm

It isn’t every day that George Clooney and an all-star Hollywood cast make a movie about the fate of a drawing now at the Art Institute of Chicago. And yet, The Monuments Men, which is opening today nationwide, is a celebration of the soldiers who saved millions of purloined artworks from willful destruction by the Nazi regime during World War II. These men and women, officially known as the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section, were no ordinary soldiers, but trained art historians, architects, and archaeologists. They went into battle to save the irreplaceable cultural heritage that Hitler had amassed in his progress through Europe. He hid these riches everywhere from Austrian salt mines to Bavarian castles and then instructed his troops to destroy them as the Reich fell. Not only did the Monuments Men save the art, in the years following the war they returned it to its rightful owners, many of whom were Jewish.

The Art Institute rigorously publishes the known provenance of its artworks on our website under “Ownership History.”  For one luminous drawing by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, this history is truly the stuff of legend. Not only was the work confiscated from its Jewish gallery owner Georges Wildenstein in Paris in 1943, but a physical card survives marking it as one of the works recovered by the Monuments Men in 1945. Wildenstein took possession again in 1947, and eventually sold the work of his own accord. When the Art Institute purchased the Ingres drawing in 1972, it was free and clear of any connection to the years it was held hostage by the third Reich. (The full ownership history of the drawing is included below.) And most importantly, thanks to the Monuments Men, it survived for us to enjoy.

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, (French, 1780-1867)  Sheet of Studies with the Head of the Fornarina and Hands of Madame de Senonnes, 1814/16.  Graphite, with stumping, on light-weight yellowish-tan wove paper.  Restricted gift of the Joseph and Helen Regenstein Foundation, 1972.32.

Ownership History:

Estate of the artist [Lugt 1477]. Georges Wildenstein (1892–1963), Paris [E.R.R. card]; confiscated by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (E.R.R.), before January 15, 1943 [January 15, 1943 is the date the drawing was entered into the E.R.R.’s records at the Jeu de Paume Museum in Paris]; recovered by the American Forces’ Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Service (M.F.A.A.) and processed at the Munich Central Art Collecting Point, June 24, 1945 [Central Collecting Point card]; repatriated to France, September 19, 1946 and restituted to Wildenstein, March 21, 1947 [Central Collecting Point card; Cultural Plunder by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg: Database of Art Objects at the Jeu de Paume (on-line)]. Wildenstein and Company, London, by May 1956 [1956 exh. cat.]. Villiers David, London [according to a letter from Frederick Schab dated March 7, 1972 in the curatorial file]. Sold by the William Schab Gallery, New York, to the Art Institute, 1972.




Our Very Own Super Bowl

January 31, 2014 - 7:00am

In 1931, Victor Schreckengost received a commission for a large punch bowl for a special, anonymous client. The client requested that the bowl be “New Yorkish” in style. Schreckengost took inspiration from a memorable performance by Cab Calloway at New York’s famed Cotton Club and his design captured the excitement of the city’s nightlife, with signs flashing and lights illuminating the skyline. One side shows glasses, liquor bottles, and other evidence of drinking, somewhat ironic considering this was created during prohibition.

As it turns out, the anonymous client was Eleanor Roosevelt. She commissioned it to celebrate FDR’s reelection as governor of New York and the famous couple was quite unconcerned by the alcohol-related ornamentation. In fact, shortly after Roosevelt’s election to the presidency in 1933, prohibition was repealed. And future generations of Super Bowl viewers breathed a sigh of relief.

Image Credit:

Victor Schreckengost, made for Cowan Pottery Studio. Jazz Bowl, c. 1931. Through prior acquisition of the Antiquarian Society; Thorne Rooms exhibition Fund; Bequest of Elizabeth R. Vaughan; and the Winfield Foundation.

Sea Monsters in the Second Floor Hallway

January 30, 2014 - 3:55pm

Sea gods and monsters, shipwrecks, and other dramatic Dutch and British prints from the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries are now resplendently on view in Gallery 213a. Northern Renaissance and Baroque artists witnessed a golden age of seafaring expansion, and duly produced a cornucopia of art on paper littered with fantastical sea beasts that they imagined might be encountered, if one were only to travel far enough. As the German artist Hans Holbein the Younger’s 1532 map of the world suggests, most of the globe was covered by water, and it was those unexplored areas that might well contain leviathan whales, or perhaps even the proverbial dragon. These tales were the stuff of ancient mythology, and artists continued to tell the same stories with added verve of an ever more real threat across the ocean in the New World. By the nineteenth century, these versatile sea creatures could also express political statements rather than serving merely as excuses for imperiling classical nudes.

Among the works on view is a 1601 engraving by Jan Saenredam after a drawing by Hendrick Goltzius, that envisions the story of the princess Andromeda as a traditional Renaissance nude. The beautifully bare Andromeda has been chained to a bone-strewn rock as food for a ravening sea beast. Just then, Perseus swoops in on Pegasus to do battle with the creature and save the damsel from distress. Andromeda’s nudity is accentuated by her flowing locks, blown dramatically by the wind and waves; she is a comely tidbit for monster or man. Saenredam’s early training was in cartography, and his rendition of Goltzius’s sea beast resembles the hybrid stock characters that populate dangerous uncharted waters of Holbein and other sixteenth-century artists.

Finally, a later adopter of sea creature fright tactics, printmaker James Gillray’s raucous political satires often included biblical and nautical references. This dynamically hand-colored etching from 1806 bears a lengthy secondary title, which may have clarified the subject matter for contemporaries: “Representing an Empty-Barrel tossed out to amuse the great Leviathan John-Bull, in order to divert him from instantly laying violent hands upon the new Coalition Packet.” The monstrous whale with “John Bull” horns symbolizes the British nation (as personified by the heroic and comedic archetype, John Bull), who attacks a packet boat steered by an unpopular new political group.

Mapping the globe or a nation’s ever-changing political vistas evidently each had their own intricate difficulties. These prints will only be on view for a few months, and then, like the irregular and often cruel tides the artists immortalized, they must come back down. Check back in April for a new Gillray etching; its glorious handcoloring only allows it to stay up for half as long as a work in black and white.

Image Credits:

After Hans Holbein. Typus Cosmographicus Universalis, 1532, reproduced 1889. Lithograph on paper. Gift of Emily Crane Chadbourne.

Jan Saenredam after Hendrick Goltzius. Andromeda, 1601. Engraving on cream laid paper. Elizabeth Hammond Stickney Collection.

James Gillray. A Tub for the Whale!, published March 14, 1806. Handcolored etching and aquatint on cream wove paper. Gift of Thomas F. Furness in memory of William McCallin McKee.

When the Greeks Ruled Egypt

January 24, 2014 - 6:11pm

“This country has more marvels and monuments that defy description than any other.”

That’s Greek historian Herodotus’s account of Egypt in the 5th century B.C., then a land of wealth and exoticism that intrigued Greeks. A century later when Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in his successful war against the Persian Empire, the fusion of the two cultures led to the creation of new gods and ways of showing them (which you can see for yourself in When the Greeks Ruled Egypt, on display in Gallery 154).

To represent the combined cultures, Alexander joined the Greek god Zeus and Egyptian god Amon to create (wait for it). . . Zeus Amon. Egyptians thought of pharaohs as gods on earth, so descent from this god, as Alexander and his successors claimed, was an important part of adapting to their new home. Wander through the exhibition and you’ll notice figures with distinctive head gear: ram’s horns. In this tetradrachm, for example, Alexander is shown with this distinctive feature curling around his ear—an image that unmistakably identifies him as the son of Zeus Amon and consequently the legitimate leader of Egypt.

On another coin, Zeus Amon himself appears. Not only is he a hybrid of faiths, but so is the way he’s shown: with the symbolism of Egyptian religion, but in a naturalistic, Greek style.

It’s fitting that an exhibition about cultures coming together is presented at the crossroads of the museum, which itself is at the center of a vast, global city. See the over 75 fascinating objects, including mummy masks, portraits, coins, and magical amulets for yourself, along with enlightening quotes printed on the gallery walls, through July 27.

Image Credits:

Installation view of When the Greeks Ruled: Egypt After Alexander the Great.

Greek, minted in Ephesus, Asia Minor. Tetradrachm (Coin) Portraying Alexander the Great. 306-281 B.C., Issued by Kind Lysimachus of Thrace. Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Martin A. Ryerson.

Greek, minted in Cyrene, North Africa. Stater (Coin) Depicting the God Zeus Ammon, about 322-308 B.C. Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Martin A. Ryerson.


Martin Luther King in the Collection

January 21, 2014 - 1:27pm

Martin Luther King Jr. Day gives us an opportunity to celebrate and consider Dr. King, his impact on the course of history, the context for his life’s work, and the aftermath of his assassination. Art reflects life, as we all know, and three photographs in the Art Institute’s collection provide a look at the triumph and pain found in the story of Dr. King.

Tony Spina, a photojournalist for the Detroit Free Press, photographed Dr. King on June 23, 1963. This was the date of the Detroit Walk to Freedom, a large civil rights march that took place just a few months before the more well-known March on Washington. (In fact, King delivered an early version of his I Have a Dream speech in Detroit.) We see Dr. King waving to the crowd (estimated at 125,000) and walking alongside civic and state leaders; the image is a strong reminder of his ability to draw very visible support from politicians and citizens alike, and the boisterous energy of the Civil Rights Movement of the early 60′s. On April 4, 1968, as news of the assassination of Dr. King spread, cities around the country erupted in violent riots. Jack Jaffe, a Chicago photographer known for documenting the Civil Rights Movement, captured this somber image in Gary, Indiana. Jaffe’s photograph depicts a line of figures silhouetted by flames and dwarfed by a dark, looming sky—a moment of profound sadness amongst the violence. Finally, we have Terri Garland’s Martin Luther King Day, Pulaski, Tennessee, a photograph with a darkly ironic title. The image of a smirking bigot in a tasteless t-shirt reminds us that perhaps the only thing worse than a racist is a racist who thinks he’s funny. More importantly, it reminds us why we have a holiday in commemoration of the life and spirit of Dr. King: we are all responsible for carrying on his work. Tony Spina. Martin Luther King in Detroit, June 23, 1963, printed by June 24, 1988. Ernest N. Kahn Photography Fund.