December 2 2015
The above small canvas (50 x 31.5 cm) came up in Austria the other day as 'Attributed to El Greco'. As such, a price of €54,000 wasn't too unusual. But the estimate of €400-€800, with a starting bid of just €200 certainly was cheap.
New research on Joseph Blackburn
November 20 2015
Picture: Portrait of Colonel Atkinson by Joseph Blackburn, Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Massachusetts.
Resarchers at Worcestershire Archive service here in the UK have unearthed fascinating new details about the life of Joseph Blackburn, a British painter who was one of the most successful portraitists in Colonial America.
Here is how the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography begins its entry on Blackburn:
Blackburn [is] of obscure origins: nothing is known of his birth, parents, geographical area of origin, or education. His career is documented primarily by about seventy signed portraits painted between 1752 and 1777 in Bermuda, New England, Ireland, and the west of England. An equal number of portraits, mainly of New England subjects, are attributed to him. [...] Nothing is known of Blackburn's death or burial.
But thanks to the new research we now know:
- He died in 1787 in the parish of St Nicholas in Worcester, England, where his family is recorded as living from 1768.
- He was an active member of the church there.
- We now have his will (which reveals he was wealthy).
- He had two daughters, Henrietta and Elizabeth.
- He was buried in St Nicholas Church in Worcester on 11th July 1787.
- The church is now a pub, called the Slug and Lettuce.
More details of this excellent work here. Many congratulations to Angela Downton, Julia Pincott and Teresa Jones, archivists at Worcestershire Archive Service.
New Michelangelo discovery!
September 29 2015
Picture: PR Newswire
Or perhaps not. Here's a press release from a Swiss art authentication firm:
The hitherto unknown pair of sculptures by Michelangelo Buonarroti from 1494 was presented to the public at a media conference on September 8, along with an explanation of the detailed study of the sculptures by the «Art Research Foundation».
The study analyzes the plausibility of the object's time of origin using technical and scientific methods.
An analysis report on the pigments and bonding agents has been written by Professor Dr. Hermann Kühn of Munich. The examination of the surface and the sequence of layers in the cross sections and their appearance under the microscope clearly verify that the paints represent the first or original polychromy. In addition, the analyses of the pigments and bonding agents confirm the time of origin as circa 1494 and the country of origin as Italy. Prof. Dr. Kühn has also written a report on the state of preservation of the Atlantese consoles, in which the pair of sculptures is described as being in a very good state, bearing in mind that the wood sculptures are more than 500 years old and still in their unspoiled, original condition, including the painting.
The14C-dating was carried out by Dr. G. Bonani of the Institute for Particle Physics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. The dating of the wood, which was performed using AMS (Accelerator Mass Spectrometry), showed that the assumed age (1494) was in the calibrated time frame (dendrocorrected), with a 100% probability.
Only when the period of creation had been proven beyond any doubt could the analysis in the context of art history be embarked upon and stylistic comparisons drawn with confirmed works. In the study, the subject of Atlantes putti consoles is identified in 52 cases in the authenticated works of Michelangelo. For comparisons with the authenticated work in the context of art history, the overall design of the figures was identified in 71 cases, with 79 stylistic parallels from head to foot drawn in detail and documented in more than 100 photographic plates.
In addition, it was impossible to find a single stylistic element on the sculptures which could not have been matched with the authenticated work. This fact should dispel any remaining doubts that this pair of sculptures are in fact the work of Michelangelo.
Note to scientists: proving that these curious cherubs, which might happily grace the bow of a ship, were made in the late 15th Century is not the same as proving they were made by one of the greatest sculptors who ever lived. A bit of documentation or art history would be much appreciated next time.
Update - a reader writes:
The putti are attractive but if they are fifteenth century & very early Michelangelo and in excellent condition then 1) what is the provenance which enabled them to remain intact and together, 2) who cleaned them and when. Anything half a millennium old accumulates a coating of smoke and pollution which has apparently been cleaned. That coating contains information regarding where they were and when. If they were cleaned regularly during the centuries it is unlikely that the paint would be intact so the cleaning was probably recent.
“Possibly by Michelangelo” is much better than some candidates that appear which are only “allegedly by Michelangelo”.
A Polish restitution
September 29 2015
Picture: Washington Post
The above portrait by Krzysztof Lubieniecki was looted during WW2 by the Nazis from the National Museum in Warsaw. It was recovered by Allied forces, but as seems to have happened quite often was quietly taken back to America by a US soldier. Recently, the picture was traced to Ohio, and the current owners have agreed to send the picture back to Poland. More here.
September 22 2015
Picture: AHN Reader
They're coming thick and fast at the moment. The above screenshot comes courtesy of a sleuthing reader, and shows the $870,000 closing bid on a '19th C Continental School, Portrait with Lady Fainting' sold today in the US. The estimate was $500-$800. Someone has taken quite a punt.
Still, $870,000 (or close to $1m with premium) is cheap for an early Rembrandt. It's a little expensive for an early Dou.
Judging by the head of the figure in a red hat, I'd say the former is a better bet. If you bought it, good spot - and good luck!
Update - a reader writes:
Sleeper is definitely by Jan Lievens.
Update II - another reader writes:
Surely can't be any doubt [Rembrandt] - from his senses series. But not so cheap - I seem to recall that the last one sold from the series didn't make that much more than this. Given relationship to the other accepted works, it's hard to see much room for debate in the attribution. But Wetering can be unpredictable.
Update III - another sleuthing bidder writes:
Definitely an early Rembrandt, as part of the five senses: Smell
I was for 2 seconds the highest bidder at 1800 dollar...
Ach! Better luck next time.
It seems the world and its wife had spotted this one (except me, I missed this sale entirely). Is there such a thing as a cheap sleeper in this internet age?
Still, I did fare a little better the other day, and somewhat closer to home. Phew...
Update IV - Paul Jeromack in The Art Newspaper reports further on the Sense series, and tells us that the underbidder was 'a British dealer'.
Update V - here in Volume V of the Rembrandt Research Project is more information on the Senses series. This latest sleeper is beginning to look like a slam dunk.
Update VI - a sleuthing friend writes:
Let us remember that we are only as good as the next one... we soon become Salieris to younger Mozarts unless we madly pursue what drives us...
Nice phrase that, I might have to steal it. In the meantime, I'm off to thesaleroom.com.
Update VII - Rembrandt scholar Gary Schwartz seems pretty convinced.
September 20 2015
Picture: Hargesheimer Auktion
The above picture was catalogued in a German auction house as a 17th or 18th century work, with an estimate of EUR500. Twelve phone lines later, the bidding stopped at EUR150,000. I thought it was certainly 16th Century, but didn't get any further than that, and didn't bid at all. The name Bonifacio Veronese has been mentioned to me by an underbidder.
Update - I'm told that actually there were 40 telephone lines.
New Churchill portrait discovered
September 16 2015
In The Telegraph, Colin Gleadell reports that a study of Churchill by Sickert has been discovered by the Court Gallery. It was on sale at the 20/21 art fair in London, and was apparently bought by the London sculpture dealer Danny Katz for about £50,000. The picture is a study for this famous portrait in the NPG.
A wee Scottish discovery
September 11 2015
Picture: Lyon and Turnbull
The main auction house up here in Edinburgh, Lyon and Turnbull, asked to me write an article about a re-discovered 17th Century portrait of King Malcolm III, best known as the slayer of Macbeth. The portrait is by George Jamesone, and was painted for the entry of Charles I into Edinburgh in 1633.
The article is on page 54 here, and the picture comes up for sale in December with an estimate of £20,000-£30,000.
July 10 2015
This picture, which was displayed unframed in two pieces on a table, soared above its £7,000-£10,000 estimate at Bonhams to make £230,500. The picture was catalogued as Follower of Francesco Furini, but the name of Jacques Blanchard has been whispered to AHN. I looked at it during the viewing, but couldn't make head nor tail of the likely artist. Way off piste for me...
July 10 2015
The above sketch by Jordaens, an early work, made €260,000 in Paris today, against a €600-€800 estimate.
New Gainsborough drawing discovery
June 30 2015
Picture: Bainbridges Auctions
A newly discovered drawing by Thomas Gainsborough is to be sold at auction, with an estimate of £20,000-£30,000. More here.
A Picasso in a suitcase?
June 29 2015
An artist here in Scotland claims to have found a painting by Picasso in an old suitcase of his mother's. The picture had lain undisturbed for decades, says Dominic Currie, above, but was opened after his mother's recent death. Apparently, Mr Currie's mother met and fell pregnant to a Russian soldier whilst on a holiday to Poland in 1955, and the picture was a gift from him. More here.
New Monet pastel discovery
June 24 2015
When the London-based art dealer Jonathan Green came to remove some tape from the back of a Monet pastel he'd bought at auction, he was pleasantly surprised to find another, completely unknown pastel by Monet. More here in The Guardian.
Getty buys lost Bernini sculpture
June 22 2015
The New York Times reports that the Getty has bought the above bust by Bernini of Pope Paul V. The 1621 bust was long thought lost. More here.
Fitzwilliam Michelangelo discovery conference
June 16 2015
Picture: Fitzwilliam Museum
The Fitzwilliam are having a special conference to discuss those newly attributed Michelangelo bronzes. Says the museum:
It was thought that no bronzes by Michelangelo had survived but now an international team of experts believe they have identified not one, but two.
Convincing evidence based upon stringent art-historical research, scientific analysis and anatomical observation argues that the Rothschild bronzes, which have spent over a century in relative obscurity and which are currently on display at the Fitzwilliam Museum, are early works by Michelangelo. If this attribution is accepted, these unsigned and undocumented works would represent a highly significant addition to Michelangelo’s oeuvre.
On Monday 6 July 2015 at Downing College, University of Cambridge, an international panel of art historians, conservation scientists, and other experts will present further research into how these enigmatic masterpieces were made, their likely iconography, meaning, patron and purpose. Papers will also consider how they fit into Michelangelo’s career more broadly and how they relate to the work of his contemporaries.
Tickets are £85, and can be booked here.
Much ado about nothing
May 21 2015
Video: Country Life
Country Life is a UK weekly magazine which normally focuses on, well, country life. It's an essential staple of the well-to-do, and the place to go for articles on garden history, phesant fricassé recipes, and advice on how to stop your spaniel crapping in the car. I sometimes buy it, if only to fantasise about buying a stately home (this week, Wentworth Woodhouse for £8m).
But now it seems to have gone extremely off-piste, and has issued a special gold-embossed 'Special Historic Edition' (see the cover above) to promote a new theory about Shakespeare's likeness: 'His True Likeness Revealed at Last', shouts the front cover, 'The Greatest Discovery in 400 Years'. In a breathless editorial, editor Mark Hedges talks of being 'at a loss for words - and sleep' as he tried to come to terms with the significance of the discovery first presented to him some months ago; 'a new portrait of Shakespeare, the first ever that is identified as him by the artist and made in his lifetime from the life'. This week's triumphant edition of a magazine that has been steadily going since 1897 is meant to mark one of the glorious highlights in the magazine's long history.
Unfortunately, Country Life has instead made itself a laughing stock. The 'greatest discovery for 400 years' is alas little more than a convoluted theory based almost entirely on speculation. It's a Tudor Da Vinci Code, and makes about as much sense.
The last time a major 'Shakespeare' portrait discovery was announced, I got into a certain amount of bother for daring to say that I didn't think the sitter was, in fact, Shakespeare. Legalistic missives were sent to me, amongst other things. So when I first saw this latest story, I was initially reluctant to get involved. But happily you can't libel a portrait, or indeed a theory. So here goes.
This latest Shakespeare discovery is the work of the distiguished horticulturalist and botanist, Mark Griffiths. About a decade ago he began to work on a biography of John Gerard (d.1612), a celebrated Elizabethan botanist and surgeon who in 1598 published a book called 'The Herball', an illustrated book on plants. The book, which was printed by John Norton, had an elaborate frontispiece (below) by William Rogers (d.1604), in which the title was surrounded by numerous plants, four male figures, a smaller pair of figures in a garden, and, at the base, two small motifs which resembled coats of arms.
After years of research, Griffiths decided that the plants and other symbols were part of a complex Tudor code, and by cracking it he could prove the identities of the four figures. The identity of the classically-attired 'fourth man' was the hardest to establish, but on a midsummer night no less (as he says in Country Life) Griffiths had a revelation; it was Shakespeare.
As Griffiths says, previous scholars had always understood that the four male figures were merely allegorical or historical figures, such as Dioscorides and Theophrastus who were a claissical botanists. Other frontispieces from the period show similar figures, and indeed a later 1633 edition of Gerard's Herball (published by John Norton's widow, Joyce) shows two figures similar to those seen in the 1598 edition, only this time actually identified as Dioscorides and Theophrastus (below, click here for a larger image).
But Griffiths is convinced the four figures in the 1598 edition were actual people merely 'acting out' the roles. The figure bottom left was Lord Burghley, Gerard's patron; above him was Gerard himself; then came another botanist, the Dutchman Rombert Dodoens; and finally Shakespeare. Griffiths also believed that the minute lady seen walking a garden was Elizabeth I (on account of a Tudor Rose and an eglantine - Elizabeth's symbols - in the frontispiece) and that the presence of the royal coat of arms denotes the Queen's special royal favour of Gerard.
But even here we can quickly see Griffiths optimistic interpretation of the design of the frontispiece. The inclusion of the royal coat of arms need not necessarily denote anything, and while the Tudor rose and eglantine were indeed Elizabeth's symbols (or some of them anyway) they were readily adopted in other uses to declare general loyalty or support. The presence of a Tudor rose or a royal coat of arms in a book or building does not indicate the personal approval of Elizabeth I, just as the Queen's head on stamps today does not mean she sent the letter.
And nor, alas, can we be at all certain that Griffith's most readily identifiable figure is Lord Burghley. It is true that Burghley was Gerard's patron, but the means by which Griffiths identifies him in the frontispiece are shaky, to say the least. He gets into a muddle over the imagined presence of a 'wart' in the frontispiece, which he believes links the bearded figure to Burghley, while the 'distinctive jewel' he sees in the bearded man's hat just is nowhere near close enough to that seen in many of Burghley's portraits for us to say, 'this is the same jewel, and thus the same man'. Really, the bearded man is just a generic bearded man, and we could choose any number of Tudor portraits of old bearded men, and say, 'Aha! here he is in Gerard's frontispiece'. William Rogers, the engraver, was one of the best in England at the time, and was quite capable of making accurate portrait engravings. Instead, these figures follow the design and conception of the more generic figures we see in his work (of which here is an example).
Of course, as a botanist, Griffiths sees various meanings in some of the plants around Burghley. The bearded man in a frontispiece is standing beside an ear of wheat. Wheat appears in the Cecil coat of arms. In the middle of the frontispiece we are told we see an olive tree. Burghley apparently grew olive trees. But the problem with this interpretation (which is the means by which Griffiths begins to identify the three other figures in the frontispiece) is that it selectively chooses from only a few of the vast array of plants seen in the whole picture. And with so many plants, latin names, visual puns and supposed meanings to choose from, it's possible to make up just about any theory, if you believe that the frontispiece is indeed some giant 'Tudor code' waiting to be cracked.
The trouble is, there is no firm evidence whatsoever that the frontispiece was meant to be interpreted as a 'code'. Because Griffiths believes it to be a code, we are asked to assume that it is. Instead, there are far simpler interpretations, as we shall see. It is true that the Elizabethans loved imagery with symbols and puzzles, but generally these were there to support the illiterate interpret such images, and not to be on the level of an ultra-fiendish Sudoku, unsolveable for 400 years. If there was just one contemporary record of someone thinking Gerard's frontispiece was such a code, Griffiths would be on firmer ground. But there is not, and the fact that the later edition of Gerard's book contains a similar design, but with the figures specifically identified, makes it far more likely that the traditional interpretation of the frontispiece is correct.
But - putting aside the question of whether the four figures are in fact identifiable Elizabethans - let's move onto the evidence which Griffiths says identifies the fourth figure as Shakespeare.
The main evidence is in two parts. First, the 'code' in the armorial shield beneath the fourth man (above). And second the flowers and plants that the fourth man is holding. Both elements are, to my mind, rather fanciful.
The shield contains, as Griffiths points out, what is known as a 'sign of four', due to the number '4' you can see at the top. These were commonly used, in this field at least, as printers' marks; identifiable sequences of letters, puns or numbers arranged in a symbol, which acted as a sort of trademark or signature. The below print from the British Museum has other examples of English printers' marks - as you can see, some are very close to the symbol in the frontispiece.
In the case of the Frontispiece, the sign has traditionally been interpreted as the printer's mark of John Norton, hence the 'N', the 'OR', the 'I' (for 'J') etc. As Ames 'Typographical Antiquities' says in 1749*;
'This curious Folio has the mark of William and John Norton together in a cypher [...]'
John Norton had been apprenticed to his uncle William Norton, also a printer. Though William Norton died in 1593, I suppose it is conceivable that at this stage in his career he retained a 'W' in the mark, hence the 'W' at the bottom of the symbol. Either way, we know little about how these printers and publishers identified themselves - certainly, not enough for us to be able to simply accept Mr Griffith's assertion that the symbol is nothing to do with a printer at all, even though it looks like it is.
Instead, Griffiths contends that the symbol is an elaborate code. Here is the relevant passage from his essay in Country Life:
The numeral in genuine specimens of the Sign of Four was always an unambiguous figure 4 - no messing with the hallowed symbol. But Rogers had turned this example into a roughly equilateral triangle with the number's stalk running down its midline. I wondered if it might, in part, be a rebus. I had a triangle atop a stalk - an arrow. Attached to it was E, as close inspection and other examples of Rogers's lettering confirmed. The triangle was engraved with slight asymmetry, to convey both an arrowhead and 4. Clearly, the numeral was key, but how in this context to read it? I decided to try Latin.
Quater is Latin for four in the adverbial sense of 'four times'. It was also a good Elizabethan term for a four in cards and similar contexts [...] Then this is quat., a standard abbreviation for quattor, 'four', which Gerard and his peers often used in recipes for herbal medicines [...]
The device is asking us to add the E linked to the 4 to either quater or quat. The first produces the infinitive of the Latin verb quatio; quatere, meaning 'to shake'. The second produces the imperative; quate, 'shake!'. The rebus is not an arrow, but a spear. The 'Fourth Man' [...] is William Shakespeare'.
On this piece of precarious symbology the whole thesis stands. And I'm afraid it seems to me to be bordering on the ridiculous. I have every respect for Mr Griffiths' integrity and expertise in horticulture. But he is asking us to accept too much here. First, that the symbol is not a printer's mark for 'Norton', as has been previously believed, and which it looks like. Second, that the '4' is some kind of strange and hitherto unnoticed Latin clue. Third, that we have to conjugate this Latin clue in a convaluted manner (why must we add an 'E' from the symbol, and not say the 'N'?). Fourthly that somewhere in this array of lines and letters is a spear. And fifthly, that we must intepret the first part of Shakespeare's name in Latin, but the last part in English. Why?
But there's more. Griffiths asserts that the 'OR' is a reference to Shakespeare's father's new coat of arms, which was on a gold shield. The Latin for gold is 'Or'. And then we move onto the flowers that the fourth man holds or is standing near to. Some of these crop up in Shakespeare's plays and sonnets, which I suppose is not unusual given his enormous output. Unfortunately for Griffiths' theory there is one plant, the Gladiolus italicus, which does not appear to have any connection with Shakespeare. But no matter! For Griffiths says he has discovered a previously unknown work by Shakespeare - which does indeed contain a reference to this plant.
By now we are of course really pushing at the boundaries of credulity. But to demonstrate Griffiths apparent misunderstanding of visual imagery in the 16th Century, the Country Life essay then treats us to a visual comparison between the head of the 'fourth man', and two other known portraits of Shakespeare, the Droeshout engraving and the memorial bust at Stratford. Griffiths maintains that the 'fourth man' shows a 'strabismus', or squint, in the left eye, and that this can be seen in the bust and Droeshout engraving. The 'fourth man', says Griffiths:
[...] corresponds well to the face in the Stratford monument, allowing for the ten year difference in their subject's ages and for damage to the effigy's nose - and both correspond to the Fourth Man, allowing that he is only 33 years old and has much hair to lose. All three likenesses exhibit the same cranial proportions, facial structure and details such as fine, arching eyebrows, narrow, prolonged earlobes and strabismus of the left eye.'
Come on. The 'fourth man' in the Gerard frontispiece is just a tiny print, from which none of the above physical features can be certainly identified. As with the whole of Griffiths' argument, it seems to be little more than (well intentioned) wishful thinking. I'm sure that with enough time, you could probably identify any of the figures in the frontispiece as any famous Elizabethan; a Latin clue here, a floral symbol here, and a blurry likeness - hey presto, there's - I dunno - Sir Walter Raleigh. Didn't he go to the Americas to find gold - aha, the 'Or'! And there's a 'W' in the symbol, for Walter! The 'fourth man' also has a moustache, like Walter! And he's holding a cob of American maize! Etc. etc.
So it seems to me that there is nothing in the Griffiths' theory that allows us to say, as Country Life attests, 'here is Shakespeare, drawn from the life'. Even if all that Mr Griffiths says were true, where then is the evidence - as opposed to a theory - that Shakespeare actually sat down to William Rogers, the engraver, for a life portrait, which resulted in little more than a doodle? There is none. Why would Rogers not pass down to us some other, more elaborate portrait of Shakespeare, if he was treated to a life sitting? It is yet more wishful thinking. I cannot quite believe that Country Life has embraced all this so enthusiastically.
And inevitably, the story has flown around the world's media - 'the true face of Shakespeare found at last!'. So now we have yet another non-Shakespeare portrait to contend with. Indeed, some papers are illustrating the latest story with the 'Cobbe' portrait as the 'true' Shakespeare.
Anyway, the nit-picking naysayers like me are now lining up. I hope Mr Griffiths doesn't take it personally. Here's Jonathan Jones in the Guardian doubting the new identification. And Griffiths' theory has already been questioned already by some Shakespeare scholars, as reported here:
Professor Michael Dobson, director of the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham, dismissed the picture, even saying that he ‘wasn’t sure that Country Life’s reputation will recover.’
‘One has seen so many claims on Shakespeare based on somebody claiming to crack a code,’ he said.
‘I can’t imagine any reason why Shakespeare would be in a botany textbook. It’s a lovely picture.
‘It’s nice that people are so fond of Shakespeare that they see him everywhere, even in the pages of a botany textbook. But it’s hallucination.’
Paul Edmondson, head of research and knowledge for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, added: ‘I see there a figure who is dressed like a Classical poet, with a green bay on his head, but that doesn’t make him Shakespeare.’
In his defence, Mr Griffiths has said that the theory must be correct, because:
“What we have here is a series of incontrovertible facts. I dare say people will think: ‘Oh no. it’s not him.’ But there is no other construction that can be placed on these facts. It is not an assumption that he is Shakespeare, it is algebra ... it is an equation.”
I won't here try to set out everything in Griffiths case - if you're interested in the details, then you need to read the full 20 pages of his argument in Country Life. And most importantly, let me know what you think!
Update - here's someone who thinks the 'fourth man' is actually Francis Drake. It probably isn't - but the point is the 'clues', if interpreted differently, allow you to make a claim that it is.
Update II - Shakespeare Magazine wonders (on Twitter) is this might be the great man too:
Update III - Mark Griffiths has a lengthy response to the point about the symbol beneath the 'fourth man' being a printer's mark, here on the Country Life website. The post is titled 'more evidence', but in fact it's just a rebuttal. He goes into a long explanation of why it cannot be a Norton mark, because he has looked at all the other known examples, and it doesn't match. But of course, he has only looked at those which survive, and which are known about.
And he also assures us that the '4' in the symbol is not a real '4', but a triangle. (A quick look at the printers' marks I reproduced above shows - to me at least - that the '4' could be arranged pretty much any way you liked.) And nor, says Griffiths, is the 'N' actually an 'N', because "William Rogers was remarkably consistent with N: he always engraved its diagonal with a heavier line than its verticals, and he would certainly have done so here had it been the all-important initial letter of Norton." So there you have it - we can discount the 'N' standing for Norton, because it's not quite the right 'N'. Instead, it must be something to do with a Latin imperative clue that nobody has ever noticed before - because that's the way William Rogers always did his special Tudor code 'N's.
At every turn, Mr Griffiths has a cunning explanation as to why the clues fit his interpretation, but not everyone else's.
Update IV - in the post above, I suggested, entirely in jest, that the 'fourth man' might in fact be Sir Walter Raleigh. Two historians have, however, wondered if it might be; the Shakespeare scholar Stanley Wells (here), and (here) Raleigh's biographer Mathew Lyons. Personally, I don't think the 'fourth man' is anyone, merely a generic Roman-esque figure. The art historian, Mark Gray alerts me (via Twitter) to another plant book also published in Frankfurt in 1598, which has a very similar frontispiece, though it is clear that the figures are classical ones.
Anyway, Stanley Wells' view of Griffiths methodology is rather damning; he calls the whole code thing 'inherently improbable'. And as to the claim that Griffiths has found a whole new Shakespeare play, well:
In fact the ‘play’, identified in the article, is a really rather boring speech of welcome delivered by a hermit along with a dialogue between a gardener and a molecatcher, both long known to scholars, and both of unknown authorship, which formed part of an entertainment given before Queen Elizabeth I at Theobalds in May 1591.
Mathew Taylor makes an entertaining allusion to Griffiths' midsummer moment of revelation:
Griffiths begins his piece with the revelation that he made the discovery on Midsummer’s Night. He might have paused at some point to reflect that if Shakespearean comedy teaches us anything, it’s that midsummer night is when hobgoblins and sprites famously plant foolish conceits in human heads to make them seem ridiculous in the morning.
Update V - a reader writes:
My feeling about it is that even if it could be shown to be an image of Shakespeare, it is clearly a generic 'heroic man' figure and would be of very limited, if any, value as a true portrait of the man. We know all too well that it is a loosing game to say - this man looks like that man only 10 years younger - so Griffiths's arguments that the 'facial structure' and 'cranial proportions' match the Stratford monument add nothing useful to his case.
Another reader, Dr Alexander Marr of the University of Cambridge, kindly alerts us to a similar-looking merchant's symbol in the Judde Memorial portrait (detail below).
Update VI - the valiant Mr Griffiths has had yet another go at defending his theories on the Country Life website, which now resembles a Shakespeare portrait blog.
First, he rejects any connection whatsoever between the first 1598 frontispiece to the Herball, and the second, published in 1633 (and reproduced above, and here). The clear identification of two figures as Theophratus and Dioscorides in the second frontispiece does not, Griffiths says, mean that the very similar looking, generic figures in the first frontispiece were the same figures:
"[The editor of the second edition], Thomas Johnson, despised Gerard and did everything in his power to distance his 1633 edition from that of 1597/98. This included suppressing many of the poetic translations in which Gerard and Shakespeare had collaborated and replacing the original title page with a wholly new design.
The 1597 Rogers engraving was too frivolous for Johnson’s tastes and it reflected a collaboration in which he’d played no part. He knew that the four men it portrayed had been alive and active not long ago. Now, they were yesterday’s men, and they had to go. In commissioning the new title page, Johnson reverted to the convention that Rogers had subverted. It does indeed show Dioscorides, in correct Roman dress and wearing no laurel wreath. In identity, iconography, portrayal and purpose, this image of Dioscorides has no connection whatsoever to the Fourth Man."
This makes no sense at all. And in any case, critics of Mr Griffiths' theory like me are not saying that the 'fourth man' in the first frontispiece is Dioscorides, we're just saying it's a classical figure, and not Shakespeare. And if the editor of the second edition despised Gerard so much, why did he put a portrait of him on the second edition's frontispiece? Finally, how can Shakespeare be considered 'yesterday's man' in 1633? Griffiths is, again, simply presenting his theories as fact, asserting motives on the part of people who lived 400 years ago, and for which we have no proof.
Mr Griffiths also makes a leap of logic in his latest piece, saying that the frontispiece contains an 'unquestionable portrait of Lord Burghley'. But the Burghley identification is really very questionable, and relies, I would say, on the same flawed interpretation of 'clues' in the frontispiece that allows Griffiths to believe that Shakespeare is the 'fourth man'.
And nor does Mr Griffiths answer any critics who claim that the relationship between Burghley and Shakespeare was not nearly as close as he believes it to be (and has to in order to make his theories work).
What Griffiths really needs to demonstrate - but it appears cannot - is some actual proof that Rogers' engraving, and the clues it contains therein, were intended to be a solveable riddle. We need just one jot of contemporary evidence that Rogers or Gerard, or even the printer John Norton, were in the habit of making puzzles that looked extremely like printers' marks, and were designed to be solved by mixing Latin with English symbology. If Mr Griffiths produces a rare 1598 edition of 'Ye Tudor Puzzler - curious Trickes for all ye Trippes', then he'll make some progress.
Update VIII - more AHN on this here.
*I'm grateful to John Overholt of Harvard University for drawing this to my attention via Twitter.
London mid-season OMP sales
May 4 2015
The 'mid-season' Old Master sales were held in London last week, and one or two prices caught my eye. The above Virgin and Child was offered at Sotheby's as 'Workshop of Murillo', with only one enticing line of cataloguing; 'This appears to be a unique composition'. The estimate was £15,000-£20,000, and I wasn't surprised to see it make £269,000 (inc. premium).
At Christie's South Kensingon, the above 'Follower of Van Dyck' made £104,500 against an estimate of £3,000-£5,000. It was the second time I had seen the picture at auction (it came up about a year ago, in a minor UK sale, if I recall correctly), but the first time I had seen it in the flesh. It is plainly a copy, and the speculative high price is all the more suprising when we consider that the original (below), of which there can be no doubt, sold in 2010 at Sotheby's in New York, for $1.53m.
The only picture I bid on last week - but alas unsuccessfully - was the below 'Follower of Claude', which made £206,500 against an estimate of £7,000-£10,000. Neither landscapes nor Claude come within my limited area of expertise, but I thought the picture looked right for early Claude. It had been rejected as the work of an imitator in the 1961 Claude catalogue raisonné. We may yet see it again, as the real thing.
April 27 2015
Pictures: Shannon's Auction, Charterhouse Auction, and Neil Jeffares via Twitter.
It's a been a busy week for the sleeper hunters. At Shannon's auction in the USA, the above 'possibly 14th/15th Century Italian School' panel made $144,000 against an estimate of $6,000-$8,000. I've no idea who it's by, not my area.
At Charterhouse Auction in Dorset, the below small canvas called 'Follower of El Greco' made £98,000 (inc. premium) against an estimate of just a few hundred pounds. I asked for some better photos of the picture, but didn't bid.
And somewhere in Europe (I learn via Neil Jeffares) the below pastel study by Maurice Quentin de La Tour made €11,047 (inc. premium) against an estimate of €400-€500. Neil says on Twitter that it is a 'first preparation for Belle de Zuylen'.
Prince Philip paints!
April 6 2015
I didn't know Prince Philip was a painter. One of his pictures, painted in 1965, has gone on display at Sandringham; it shows the Queen having breakfast.
Finland's first Monet
March 30 2015
Pictures: via BBC News
BBC News reports that technical analysis of a disputed Monet in Finland's Serlachus Fine Arts Foundation has revealed an overpainted signature, below. The discovery apparently means that Finland has its first Monet.