How much does it cost to find a Leonardo?

June 8 2015

Image of How much does it cost to find a Leonardo?

Picture: Duke of Buccleuch

The case of the stolen Leonardo, the Madonna of the Yarnwinder, rumbles on, years after the picture was returned to its owner, the Duke of Buccleuch. Now, a former solicitor who was charged - and cleared - with involvement in trying to extort money from the Duke is seeking £4.25m he says he's owed. The 'debt' apparently came about when the Duke helped undercover police in trying to return the picture by signing a letter authorising the payment of a finder's fee for the painting. The picture was recovered by police, but the sting and the subsequent court case collapsed. Marshall Roland is now suing for the payment. 

For more see here. For earlier AHN on this affair, see here. The picture is now on loan to the Scottish National Gallery, and very fine it looks there too. 

It's worth bearing in mind though the seemingly standard practice of offering payments to seek the return of stolen paintings. In many cases, these payments are dressed up as 'finder's fees', but are in fact little more than ransom money paid eventually to those who stole the painting. The whole business of stealing and recovering paintings is now almost a standardised affair, with insurance companies ready to pay to secure an asset, and middle men - sometimes presenting themselves as 'lawyers' - to whom payment is made. The situation is in contrast to human kidnapping, where, at least in Britain, ransoms are seen as counter-productive, and merely encourage further kidnaps. 

I am not saying that is the case here. 

Van Dyck show at the Frick

June 5 2015

Image of Van Dyck show at the Frick

Picture: New York Times/Frick Collection

Well, regular readers will know how excited I am about this - a new exhibition on Van Dyck at the Frick show. Apparently it will contain 'about 100 works' - wowee. Here's what the New York Times has to say about the exhibition, which was announced today:

Featuring about 100 works, it will be the first major show in the United States on this 17th-century Flemish painter since a 1990 exhibition by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, and the most comprehensive examination of his creative process as a portraitist, the Frick says. The exhibition will juxtapose preparatory drawings alongside prints and paintings, some of which remain unfinished.

The show covers the span of van Dyck’s career, including his early works, when, as a teenage prodigy, he was influenced by Peter Paul Rubens; his Italian period; and finally the English years, when he flourished at the court of King Charles I. It is organized by Stijn Alsteens, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Adam Eaker, a Frick curatorial fellow.

“We all felt it made sense to focus on an artist that we had never really focused on here at the Frick, surprisingly so since we have so many of his paintings,” said Xavier F. Salomon, chief curator at the Frick.

A prolific artist and a favorite for collectors during the Gilded Age, van Dyck (1599-1641) is among the best represented in the Frick’s collection — it has eight — but many works have been in storage for years. The Frick will bring out six of its best for the show, including the masterpiece portraits of the animal painter Frans Snyders and his wife, Margareta de Vos, and “Portrait of a Genoese Noblewoman,” which is currently being cleaned at the Met.

The remainder will come from loans, including possibly the star of the show, “Portrait of Cardinal Guido Bentivoglio,” arriving for the first time from the Palazzo Pitti in Florence.

The exhibition will be from March 2nd to June 5th. See you there!

£35m Rembrandt on offer

June 4 2015

Image of £35m Rembrandt on offer

Picture: Telegraph

In The Telegraph, Colin Gleadell reports that one of the greatest Rembrandts in the UK, his 1657 Portrait of Catrina Hooghsaet, is to be sold by Sotheby's. The picture is currently hanging in Penrhyn Castle, and belongs to the family of the Barons Penrhyn. The guide price is £35m. Because the picture is currently conditionally exempt from inheritance tax, UK museums have been given a head start to try and raise the cash. But is the sum too large? Let's hope not.

Killer conservation irons

June 4 2015

Image of Killer conservation irons

Picture: BG

I came across these old lining irons in a conservation studio recently. They are, or rather were, used when bonding a new canvas lining onto the back of an old one. The technique was to heat the irons, which are seriously heavy, on cookers. The weight and heat of these irons would then melt the glue or wax lining material and force it into the original canvas, bonding it to the new lining, and at the same time providing a new adhesive for any flaking paint. Sadly, the irons also used to flatten any impasto, melding the paint layers into each other, and sometimes caused a chemical change in the paint surface.

Happily, they're not often used these days - vacuum tables can be used instead. But when I occasionally say that no single group of people has done more damage to paintings in art history than conservators, these are the sort techniques I have in mind.

Hunting Hitler's Cranach

June 4 2015

Image of Hunting Hitler's Cranach

Picture: TAN

Martin Bailey in The Art Newspaper reports that a German museum is trying again to find a Cranach looted from Germany after the war. The picture, Venus and Cupid the Honey Thief, was part of the Weimar state art collection, but was hung in Hitler's breakfast room at the Elephant Hotel in Weimar.

The curator of a new exhibition on Cranach has suggested it must have been taken by a US soldier, though there is no hard evidence of this. It was sold at Sotheby's in London in 1970, and is now thought to be in the posession of a Zurich banker, or his family. Apparently, under Germany's statute of limitations - the same ones which complicated restitution in the Gurlitt case - the picture will be hard to legally return. There's an irony in there somewhere.

How effective is the Art Loss Register?

June 4 2015

Image of How effective is the Art Loss Register?

Picture: TAN

In The Art Newspaper, Charlotte Burns has an interesting follow up to the case of the recently restituted El Greco portrait, above. It turns out that despite being on a number of looted art databases, the Art Loss Register missed a number of opportunities to return the work. It was even cleared for exhibition and sale at TEFAF in Maastricht.

he ALR cleared from claim, on at least two occasions, an El Greco painting seized by the Nazis from its war-time owner Julius Priester. Portrait of a Gentleman (1570) was one of numerous works taken by the Gestapo from the collection of the Viennese industrialist, who fled the Third Reich in 1938.

It was recently returned to Priester’s heirs after the Commission for Looted Art in Europe (CLAE) spotted the work on a New York dealer’s website and filed a claim. Working with Art Recovery International, the firm representing the dealer who owned the painting, a settlement was made.

The Art Newspaper has obtained a copy of the claim document filed by the CLAE. This describes the extensive efforts that were made to locate the work by Priester, who died in 1955, and then his former employee, Henriette Geiringer, between the late 1940s and the early 1970s. Efforts resumed again after the 1998 Washington Conference on Nazi Confiscated Assets. In 2000, a new heir was appointed to Priester’s collection, Kurt Schindler, who, according to the claim document, “contacted the Art Loss Register, the Holocaust Claims Processing Office, Sotheby’s and many other organisations, lawyers and researchers providing them with details of the missing works of art”.

Anne Webber, the director of the CLAE, says she has evidence of “extensive correspondence consisting of letters, emails and faxes” between the ALR and the heirs dating back to 2001, including a “comprehensive section on the El Greco, with images of the painting”. She says that, in 2004, the ALR told the heirs that the El Greco had been included in an exhibition in Crete in 1990. The heirs then found out that a London dealer had sent the painting to the exhibition, and that it had been returned to him afterwards. The heirs “conveyed this information to the ALR”, Webber says.

We asked the ALR about the extent of its correspondence with the heirs. The organisation initially said that its “first recorded contact” was in “August 2005… seeking clarification as to who the heirs were—the number and identification of the heirs appears to have been an issue at times”, Ratcliffe said. This contact concerned the Priester collection as a whole, not the El Greco painting specifically.

The ALR has since revised its statement. “We have been looking further at the Priester case,” Ratcliffe says. “With the extra time available we have now tracked down some earlier correspondence... going back to 2001.”

The ALR says it initially registered four works from the Priester collection on its database that year. These did not include the El Greco painting because relevant information, such as the title, date or dimensions of the work, was not provided, Ratcliffe says. In 2006, he says, the ALR offered to register the works free of charge, and told the heirs that more information was needed in order to do so. “They did not in fact take us up on the offer or provide the further information requested,” he says. In around 2010, the ALR added another 12 works from the Priester collection to its database, but “the El Greco was not amongst these”, he says.

The CLAE is “puzzled by the ALR’s statement about the registration”, Webber says. “The ALR was provided with details and individual photographs of the missing paintings in 2001.”

Van Dyck, on the money!

June 4 2015

Image of Van Dyck, on the money!

Picture: BG*

The Bank of England are planning to put an artist on the new £20 note - and they're taking nominations from the public. Says the Bank:

The next £20 note will celebrate Britain’s achievements in the visual arts and we would like the public to nominate who they would like to feature on the back of the £20 note.

Visual artists include architects, artists, ceramicists, craftspeople, designers, fashion designers, filmmakers, photographers, printmakers and sculptors.  

The Bank will not feature fictional or living characters, with the exception of the Monarch, who appears on the front of our notes.

Since Britain's single greatest contribution to the history of painting is the genre of portraiture, then who better to put on the note than the most influential portraitist ever to work in Britain - Van Dyck?

AHNers - please do your bit, nominate him yourself, and spread the word!

* with apologies for the rubbish Photoshopping. If anyone can send in a better example, please do...

Frick garden wins

June 4 2015

Image of Frick garden wins

Picture: WSJ

The Frick's planned extension has been shelved, following months of dispute about whether to build over a garden created in the 1970s. More here in an announcement from the director. The Frick still plans to create additional display space - good.

Ashmolean campaigns for Turner

June 4 2015

Image of Ashmolean campaigns for Turner

Picture: Guardian/Ashmolean

The Ashmolean museum is hoping to raise £1m to acquire the above view of Oxford High Street by Turner. There a long way there already, with sizeable grants from the Art Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund. The picture is apparently one of the best documented Turners ever painted. More here

'Fake or Fortune?' returns

June 3 2015

Image of 'Fake or Fortune?' returns

Picture: BBC

We're almost finished with series 4 of 'Fake or Fortune?' The programmes begin on Sunday 28th June on BBC1 at 8pm. This, I'm told, is as prime time as you can get. So there's no excuse for not watching. The series includes works by - or not by - Lowry, Renoir, Winston Churchill, Munnings, and a Venetian 16th Century artist we're still working on. 

Expect many more plugs for this over the coming weeks.

Update - after the four programmes of this series have been aired, the BBC will show four repeats from earlier series - a sort of greatest hits. These will be shown in the same Sunday 8pm slot. So (for British AHNers) you've eight weeks of me on the telly - enjoy!

Test your Connoisseurship

May 31 2015

Image of Test your Connoisseurship


I'm afraid I'm away today (Monday) and tomorrow with filming for 'Fake or Fortune?' So in the meantime here is (at least, what I hope is) a fiendishly difficult round of Test your Connoisseurship. Can you name the artist, title and date? Good luck!

Update - many guesses, nobody correct so far. It's not what you think...

Update II - only one correct answer! It is Zoffany's Tribuna of the Uffizi. Many of you correctly spotted the identity of the detail shown (the St John then attributed to Raphael). Very pleased to have caught some of you out...



Can art be too real?

May 29 2015

Video: Metropolitan Museum

Here's an excellent video from Luke Syson of the Met about Pedro de Mena's polychrome sculptures. 

Van Dyck in Manchester

May 28 2015

Image of Van Dyck in Manchester

Picture: Manchester City Art Gallery

The Van Dyck 'selfie' has made it to Manchester on the latest leg of its three-year UK 'tour. The picture will be there until 31st August. Go see him!

More here.

Guffwatch - Biennale edition

May 27 2015

Image of Guffwatch - Biennale edition

Picture: Contemporary Art Daily

Cristina Ruiz of The Art Newspaper alerts us to this years pick of the turkey's at the Venice Biennale - the ones which even the contemporary art crowd are baffled by. Guffwatch's antennae sprung into action with Cristina's mention of the Austrian pavilion, which is, er, entirely empty. This year, artist Heimo Zobernig pushes the emperor's-new-clothes analogy  to breaking point by filling the pavilion with nothing (although, cunningly, he has given it a lick of paint). You can see lots of photos of the empty space here.

Of course, the official press release is worthy of a place in the Guffwatch pantheon of greats:

Heimo Zobernig’s work is marked by its high level of precision in terms of both form and content. He often succeeds in involving the observer both intellectually and sensually at the same time. His spectrum ranges from drawing and painting through installation and sculpture to video and spatial settings of a practical nature. Already in his early years, Heimo Zobernig had a firm grasp of how to question the basic premises of art both critically and playfully, by using the exhibition and/or the catalog or book in itself as a medium of his analytical reflection. In this sense, the individual building blocks of his art became his actual oeuvre. Hence, he exposes the mechanisms of the art system, addresses hierarchies and examines concepts both for their concrete and metaphorical meanings. All the more impressive is how he succeeds in negotiating these issues in the form of what might almost be called classical, apparently autonomous canvases and sculptures, or by means of concrete architectural interventions and installations.

Heimo Zobernig will combine both approaches for the Austrian Pavilion, which was built in 1934 based on plans by Josef Hoffmann and Robert Kramreiter. Both spatial intervention and independent work of art will enter into a combination as equal, reciprocally commentating elements of his Venice contribution. No less than the concrete room, the situation of the Biennale itself is a starting point for Heimo Zobernig’s deliberations. How can a meaningful contribution be made in an environment based on nation-state representations and in which each voice competes for the most attention? What effects make sense in such a context? These questions also play a role in Heimo Zobernig’s concept for Venice. And the Austrian Pavilion, with its equally classical and modern language of form, offers an ideal space for this purpose.

Update - a reader writes:

A propos of the empty gallery gambit, my brother-in-law, who is an artist and art history professor at an American university, "thought it was funnier in 1958... (1968, 1969, 1970, 1974, 1975, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004…)”.


Much ado about nothing (ctd.)

May 27 2015

Image of Much ado about nothing (ctd.)

Picture: BG

I continue to be amazed at Country Life's emphatic pronunciation of 'The Greatest Discovery in 400 Years', with their claim to have found Shakespeare's only life portrait (in the frontispiece, above, of Gerrard's 1598 Herball). The theory, by Botanist Mark Griffiths, has been pretty neatly debunked now, but the magazine and Griffiths are holding firm, and back up their faith with statements like:

'We have a series of completely incontrovertible facts that this is Shakespeare'.

If you said that in an A-level history essay, you'd get an 'F'. The most important evidence Griffiths cites for his theory - that the symbol on the frontispiece says 'Shakespeare' if you add an 'E' to the number '4', which in Latin could translate as 'Shake' in English, and that the vaguely arrow-looking thing is in fact a spear, to be identified not in Latin but in English, thus giving you 'Shake, spear' - is not an 'incontrovertible fact' but an interpretation of self-identified clues. 

If Country Life wanted to publish this theory, then they should have done so as a fascinating conjecture - which it is - and not as the gospel truth. By doing so they devalue both the argument and themselves. On Twitter, Philip Mould described the publication as a 'Hitler Diary moment'. Ouch.

Still, the debate is an interesting one, and there has even been some defence of the claim. In The Spectator, Alexander Waugh leaps to Griffiths' side, and says it certainly is Shakespeare - but not for the reasons Griffiths thinks:

In those days poets were nicknamed after the works they had written – Sydney, for instance, was ‘Astophel’, Watson was ‘Amyntas’, Spenser was ‘Collyn,’ Nashe was ‘Pierce’, Drayton was ‘Rowland’ etc.  Three years before the publication of Herball Shakespeare was nicknamed ‘Adon’ by the poet Thomas Edwards in his ‘Envoy to Narcissus.’  Given, as Professor Wells concedes, that Mark Griffiths has persuasively identified the other three figures on the title page as Gerard, Dodoens and Lord Burghley, the identification of the poet holding the symbols of Adonis can only be ‘ADON’ who is indisputably Shakespeare, the author of the poem Venus and Adonis, so popular that it had already run to three editions by 1597. It should also be noted that the Narcissus lily grows out of Adonis’s blood only in Shakespeare, all other variations of the Greek myth make it an anemone.

In other words, the Gerard frontispiece on which Griffiths' claims are based can be interpreted in numerous ways. Waugh, incidentally, doesn't believe that Shakespeare (as in, the fellow from Stratford) wrote Shakespeare's plays. He thinks it might have been the Earl of Oxford.

On Huffington Post, Ros Barber lays into the corn on the cob that 'Shakespeare' is holding, which Griffiths says helps identify the playwrite:

Griffiths claims that the cob of corn in the figure's other hand is a reference to Titus Andronicus. But the "corn" mentioned in Titus Andronicus is very clearly wheat, not the newly imported American plant maize. We know it is wheat because it is thrashed ("first thrash the corn, then burn the straw" -- 2.3.123) and gathered into sheaths ("This scattered corn into one mutual sheaf" -- 5.3.70). You do not do this with corn-on-the-cob. "Corn" in Elizabethan England denoted any kind of grain, and according to the Oxford English Dictionary, maize was not referred to as "corn" without the modifier 'Indian' before 1809. This removes any argument that it might be Shakespeare who is holding a cob of corn.

Meanwhile, there seems to be more compelling evidence that the figures on the Gerard frontispiece are supposed to be seen as classical figures such as Dioscorides, who was a Physician in the Roman army (hence the roman toga he is depicted in) and viewed by those in the 16th Century as the leading authority on all things plant. Mark Gray points us to a German edition of Dioscorides' work published in 1598 (below), which has clear similarities to Gerard's frontispiece.

John Overholt of Harvard University (here) highlights that not only do we see a clear mention of Dioscorides on the frontispiece of the later edition (1633) of Gerard's Herball, but also on earlier editions of Rembert Dodoens' Herball, of which he illustrates the below example published in 1616, but which was first published in 1583. Gerard's Herball borrowed heavily from Dodoens' work. In Dodoen's title page, Dioscorides is shown lower right.

I haven't found an example of the 1583 edition online, but I learn from the website of the Edward Worth Library in Ireland that it was re-used on Carolus Clusius book of rare plants published in 1601. So it seems safe to say that many late 16th Century books on plants contained on overt reference to classical figures such as Dioscorides on their title pages. Mark Griffiths' claim, of course, is that in the case of Gerard's 1598 edition, these were subverted to mean four modern figures, only identifiable to master cryptographers (of whom none apparently existed, because there is no evidence anyone cracked the code until now).

Meanwhile, here's a 1578 edition of Rembert Dodoen's 'Herball' published in England (from which Gerard's 1598 Herball borrows heavily), which shows figures similar to those seen on the Gerrard frontispiece, but come with identifications. Dioscorides, however, is not shown. The imagery is taken from a 1563 Dutch edition of Dodoens' Herball.

Update - the Country Life website has sprung into life again. This time, Emeritus Fellow of Worcester College Edward Wilson, who backed Mark Griffiths' claims from the start, goes into bat. He was a tutor in medieval English. But he immediately sets himself up for a fall by beginning:

There is now growing acceptance, beginning with no less an authority than Prof Stanley Wells, that three of the men depicted on William Rogers’s 1597 title page of John Gerard’s Herball are real persons as identified by Mark Griffiths in Country Life (May 20)—namely, John Gerard, Lord Burghley and Rembert Dodoens.

Phooey. This is a curious way to defend an argument. Stanley Wells has said the 'fourth man' is not Shakespeare, but because he thinks the other three figures might be real people, he is still used to defend Griffiths' thesis. But as far as I can make out, the majority of people who have weighed into this debate think the figures in the frontispiece are, as seems to traditionally have been the case, merely generic figures related to the classical age. As I stated in my earlier post, the evidence that the 'first' man is Burghley is slight, and based purely on speculation. I do not find the likeness encouraging, when seen within the wider context of late Tudor portraits.

Anyway, because some have said the 'fourth man' might be Dioscorides, Wilson sets this theory up for demolition - because it isn't Dioscorides it must be, er, Shakespeare. Straw man, anyone?

Evidence in Wilson and Griffiths' favour is the frontispiece which I reproduced above, the 1578 Herball by Henry Lyte, in which we don't see Dioscorides but Apollo (top left) in Roman garb.

Wilson and Country Life then illustrate yet another frontispiece (above), which again bears remarkable compositional similarities to the Gerard frontispiece of 1598. It is from Jacobus Tabernaemontanus Neuw Kreuterbuch, and it was published in Frankfurt in 1588. Here we see not Dioscorides, but Apollo (on the right), in Roman garb but this time wearing a laurel wreath. This, says Wilson, must mean that we are dealing with a depiction of the poets Apollo inspired:

In short, there is a precise and incontrovertible precedent that establishes the fact that the Fourth Man on Gerard’s 1597 title page represents not Dioscorides, but Apollo and the poets he inspired. Given that the other three figures are portraits of persons alive in the 16th century camouflaged as the characters conventionally shown on botanical title pages, we are looking at a new likeness of an Elizabethan poet.

See what he did there? He made one massive assumption - that the three figures on Gerard's title page are beyond doubt correctly identified by Griffiths, and uses it to reinforce the assertion that the 'fourth man' must be Shakespeare. Historians amongst you - and lawyers - will know that this is a strange way of presenting evidence. (Alas, we are not treated to any Griffiths-like interpretation of the the Neuw Kreuterbach title page - might not the garden depicted be some Imperial Habsburg spot, or one of the figures the Emperor Rudolf II himself?)

As far as I can see, the only thing we can be sure about now - beyond doubt - is that there was a strong tradition that frontispieces of this kind featured classical figures such as Apollo and Dioscorides. In all the frontispieces we have seen so far, the figures are drawn like mythical or ancient figures, as opposed to actual portrait depictions, and are usually inscribed as such. In those frontispieces where modern figures are depicted, the manner of their portrayal is very different (as art historians will immediately be able to recognise), and they are identified by a further inscription - as Gerard is himself in the subsequent 1633 edition of his Herball.

In other words, we still await firm, contemporary evidence that the 'fourth man' is Shakespeare. Conjecture and theories will not do. Anyone who thinks it does needs to go to the back of the history class, and start again.

Update - prompted by Mark Gray, I've been having a look at some other frontispieces of the period, especially those that relate to Gerard's 1598 Herball.

Mark Griffiths begins his theory that the Herball's frontispiece contains all sorts of identifiable clues by stating that the garden seen at the bottom (detail above) is not a generic garden, but shows Lord Burghley's garden at Theobalds, in Hertfordshire. From there we get to Elizabeth I being in the garden, then to Lord Burghley being one of the 'four men' in the frontispiece, and so on until we get to Shakespeare.

To make this initial Theobalds identification fit, Griffiths states that William Rogers, the engraver of the Herball's frontispiece, took inspiration from Adriaen Collaert's c.1580 engraving 'April' (above, first published in Antwerp; see a high-res here), but that Rogers changed certain key elements. One of these was to replace the central tree with an olive tree. Burghley grew olives in his garden, we are told, and so the tree is a clear indication that the garden is Theobolds.

Also, Rogers was - Griffiths states - 'careful to include [Burghley's] prized olives' in the decorative borders of the above print of Lord Burghley. (Though I have to say not so careful as to make them stand out amongst the many other types of flowers one can see in the print.) 

Anyway, there is little architecturally in the Herball frontispiece that links us directly to the garden at Theobalds. True, the original manor house at Theobalds had a moat, but that seems to have been replaced by Burghley when he enlarged the house (see more on the history of the house here). The garden did have canals in it, but the waterway seen in the print seems more of a moat than a canal. And we know that the garden at Theobalds was large, so is it odd that we are shown a rather small parterre which looks out onto a field of crops?

But the main point is - are we really sure Rogers was being as ingenious as Griffiths attests? I wonder. The vast bulk of the illustrations in Gerard's Herball (some 1800) were taken from woodblocks that were rented by the Herball's printer John Norton from another printer in Frankfurt, Nicholaus Bassaeus. In 1590 Bassaeus had published an edition of a book by Jacobus Theodorus, also known as 'Tabernaemontanus', called 'Eicones plantarum seu stirpium', which had used these illustrations.

Now, in 1598, the same year that the Herball was published, Nicholaus Bassaeus also published another book on a related theme; a commentary on the works of the Roman naturalist Dioscorides by the Sienese doctor and naturalist, Pietro Andrea Mattioli (sometimes called 'Matthiolus'). The book was called Medici Caesarei et Ferdinandi Archiducis Austriae opera quae extant omnia. I have illustrated the frontispiece in full above, but here is a detail of the garden, which appears at the bottom of the page, as in the Gerard Herball.

Now, is the close similarity of the garden in the scene at the base of both Mattioli's work and Gerard's a coincidence? The garden in Rogers and Gerard's frontispiece seems to me to be much closer to that seen in the 1598 Mattioli book than the c.1580s Collaert 'April' print. Look closely and we see the apparent olive tree is in the centre of both the Mattioli and Gerard gardens, as well as similar architecture int he building, a full field in the distance, and the similarly attired walking couple (one of whom, Griffiths says, is Elizabeth I).

Therefore, my question is, instead of making his own interpretation of the c.1580s 'April' print, might Rogers instead have been following the latest type of garden print sent over by Nicholas Bassaeus from Frankfurt with the rest of the plates for Gerard's Herball? If indeed Rogers was following a print, and then made an engraving plate from that print, then this would account for the fact that the image appears back to front.

Given the similarities between the two, the alternative I suppose is that somebody in Frankfurt was struck by Rogers' interpreation of the garden, and thought, 'I'll follow that'. But I can't easily see that being the case, given that Frankfurt was a more sophisticated place for making such prints than London. 

'Aha!' you say - but what about the dates? Rogers' engraving is dated 1597, and the Mattioli one 1598. But this isn't perhaps as much as a problem as you might think. First, the Mattioli frontispiece might have been in preparation some time before the date of publication, and a print of some kind might have been sent over to London with the rest of Bassaeus' woodcuts. And second, though Rogers' engraving was dated 1597, publication of the Herball was in early 1598 in our modern calendar - the 'New Year' in those days coming at the end of March (hence our financial year running the same way today). The Gregorian calendar and the new style of beginning the new year on January 1st was introduced in Germany earlier (from c.1583 onwards) than in Britain which, being a Protestant country, resisted until much later the formal introduction of the Gregorian calendar announced by the Vatican in 1580.

But there's another key point here - the comparison between the Rogers/Gerard frontispiece and the Mattioli one takes on another significance when we realise that immediately beneath the garden in the Mattioli book we see a printer's mark, in this case for Nicholaus Bassaeus of Frankfurt. Also of interest is the fact that in a later 1674 edition of the Mattioli book (below) we see the same garden, but with a different mark, which this time appears to contain one of our famous 'signs of four'. Therefore, if Rogers did indeed get sight of a new type of botanical title page from Frankfurt when he was designing his own for Gerard's Herball, was he merely following that further when he decided to incorporate a printer's mark, which Griffiths has chosen to interpret as a code saying 'Shakespeare'?

I make no claim to know much about printing botanical publishing in the 16th and 17th centuries. But it seems to me that we can begin to see more logical explanations for the appearances of the various 'clues' on the frontispiece for Gerard's Herball in 1598 than Griffiths' imagines. Could it be that the garden is just a garden, the printer's mark is just a printer's mark, and that the figures are just figures?

Update II - another key aspect of Griffiths' claim is a supposed 'E' in the cypher, which we are asked to add to the Latin 'quater' to make 'quaterE', which can translate as 'shake'. The illustration printed in Country Life, below, is supposed to show what has been called 'a broken E'. In other words, because it doesn't quite look like a proper 'E', which is essential to the Griffiths thesis, an excuse has to be made for it.

Griffiths says this about the unusual 'E':

The cipher does not contain I (or J) for John Norton. The letter at top right is without doubt E. To determine that, I examined all other known extant specimens of William Rogers’s lettering. Where, as in this case, he was pushed for space, he radically shortened the top bar of E to something like a serif.

I'd like to see these other examples. But, a quick glance at other versions of the 1598 Herball reveals that it is most likely not an 'E' or even a 'broken E', at all. Here's another Herball online, and you can see in the detail below that it is a most unusual-looking 'E'.

This whole affair is like watching someone make a jigsaw puzzle come together by simply jamming all the pieces in, whether they fit or not. I wish it wasn't so, but so much of Griffiths' claim is based on what may be seen as optimistic interpretations like this. I'm afraid I cannot escape the conclusion that it is little more than wishful thinking at almost every step. But as with so much to do with Shakespeare we're likely to be stuck with it now, cropping up in news stories for years to come as a likeness of Shakespeare, courtesy of time-pressed sub-editors.

Update III - I made the mistake of voyaging into the comments section of the Country Life website. Alas, discussion of Griffiths' claim has descended into mud-slinging between 'Stratfordians' (those who believe Shakespeare was Shakespeare) and 'Oxfordians' (those who believe it was the Earl of Oxford). It's nasty out there, and poor Dr Griffiths has been caught in the cross fire, with some needless abuse thrown at him too.

Update IV - Dr Griffiths writes:

There’s good reason to believe that William Rogers took the garden at the base of the 1597 title page of Gerard’s Herball directly from Adriaen Collaert’s series The Twelve Months; also that Rogers’ engraving was the model for the very similar oval garden that appeared on the title pages of various Continental botanical works, beginning with an edition of Matthiolus published in 1598 and continuing over the next two centuries.

Rogers used not just one print from The Twelve Months but two. He drew mainly on Aprilis. This scene was too stark, however, for Gerard’s and Burghley’s purposes and so Rogers put leaves on its trees and raised the newly ploughed field in the middle ground to high summer ripeness. He also looked at September, another in Collaert’s series, and took from it the figure on the ladder who’s picking apples in the foreground. Rogers was probably familiar with another such apple-gatherer shown in the oval garden (unrelated to Collaert’s September) at the bottom of the title page of the 1588 edition of Tabernaemontanus – the page that features Apollo so prominently. With these models in mind, he placed his apple-picker at middle ground right in The Herball’s oval garden.

Having cannibalized these two images, he customized the resulting hybrid. He replaced the lanky non-descript tree at the centre of the parterre in Aprilis with an olive that rises before the steeple of the church in the distance. As I wrote in Country Life (May 20), Lord Burghley was a proud pioneer of Olea europaea in English horticulture. Rogers also turned its anonymous strolling couple into Gerard and Elizabeth I. We can be confident that this minuscule figure is the Queen because her presence in the garden is captioned in the most obvious floral code of her day. The oval is subtended  by sprays of the official Tudor rose and her signature Eglantine that are very close to those engraved by Rogers in Rosa Electa, one of his formal portraits of Elizabeth. Then there’s feasibility: it’s a matter of record that the Queen admired Gerard, visited Theobalds, and spent time in its gardens.

Now, in the oval garden on the 1598 Matthiolus title page, the olive tree is still in place, the trees are still in leaf and the corn is still high. But there have been some changes. Several features of the original Collaert prints that were used by Rogers in his 1597 engraving have disappeared: notably, the distant church from Aprilis and the apple-gatherer on his ladder from September. Given these omissions, I cannot see how the Matthiolus oval garden could have been the source for Rogers’s: transmission of this image would appear to have been the other way around – Gerard first, Matthiolus second, beginning with Rogers drawing on two Collaert prints to make one design for Gerard.

Gerard’s Herball was published early in 1598, and its title page may well have been finalized and proofed a good while before that. Its publisher John Norton moved swiftly to get books to markets on the Continent and to do deals with publishers there over assets such as illustrations. John Gerard, too, is likely to have sent copies of The Herball to friends and fellow botanists in France and Germany. The title page of the 1598 edition of Matthiolus has two features indebted to the Rogers engraving – the goddess Flora at the top, and the oval garden at the bottom. Caspar Bauhin, the editor of this volume, dated its dedication ‘xvi kal. vii’ 1598. This indicates that the book’s preliminaries went to press long enough after the publication of Gerard’s Herball for its title page to have been influenced by the Rogers engraving. Its dedicatee was Frederick, Duke of Wirtemberg. He visited Theobalds in 1592, and that may - just may - have had something to do with the decision to imitate Rogers’ imaginary window on its gardens.

The oval garden in the 1598 Matthiolus appeared in subsequent editions, and in the works of Tabernaemontanus, always without such details as the church and the apple-picker. It is apparent to me that Rogers’ design ex Collaert influenced these gardens, not vice versa. You may find that others make similar points to you: the relationship between Collaert, Gerard’s title page garden and that used for Matthiolus (1598) and others has been discussed in bibliographical studies since the 1970s and in a US PhD thesis not long ago.

Who owns Hugh Lane's works?

May 27 2015

Image of Who owns Hugh Lane's works?

Picture: National Gallery

In 1915, when the celebrated Irish collector Sir Hugh Lane was killed on the Lusitania, the National Gallery in London inherited 39 first class paintings, among them Manet's Music in the Tuileries Gardens (above). Lane had initially bequeathed the pictures to the National Gallery, but then changed his mind and made a codicil to his will stating that he wished the pictures to go to the new municipal gallery in Dublin. But the codicil was unwitnessed, and so had no legal effect. Two galleries in Dublin  and London have been in dispute about the pictures ever since, but have come up with a pragmatic sharing agreement (for more details on which, see here).

In comments reported yesterday by the Guardian yesterday, the National Gallery's director, Nicholas Penny, said:

“The National Gallery claims legal ownership of the paintings bequeathed by Sir Hugh Lane, but has long conceded that Dublin has some moral claim to them,” he said.

Penny added that it was a difficult but important topic because “there are so many cultural institutions which should, even if they don’t, acknowledge that some other institution or some other country, has some sort of moral claim on the works of art in their possession.”

He went on: “To have reached a compromise of the kind we have is something that I’m very pleased that we can advertise. We must always welcome people who feel we haven’t gone far enough in the type of acknowledgement we have made.”

The comments have been welcomed by those who campaign to have the paintings' ownership transferred to Ireland. But they don't in fact go any further than the National Gallery in London's existing position. So, as you were.

But I have to say I wasn't aware of this history; the moral case is very strong indeed.

Update - Neil Jeffares alerts us to W. B. Yeats' letter to the Spectator in 1916 on the whole issue. It seems beyond all doubt that Lane intended the collection to go to Dublin.

Picassos pinched?

May 27 2015

Image of Picassos pinched?

Picture: Telegraph

The case involving the Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev and the dealer cum art storage provider Luc Bouvier (for more on which here) has taken a new turn; it has been alleged that Bouvier sold a load of Picassos which were in fact stolen from a Picasso's stepdaughter, Catherine Hutin-Blay (above). She alleges that the works were stolen from another storage provider. More here in The Art Newspaper. M. Bouvier of course denies the allegations. 

A quick Google finds that Mme Hutin-Blay apparently also discovered another theft, in 2013, of over 400 works, which she said then were stolen by her handyman. 

Dictator art (ctd.)

May 25 2015

Image of Dictator art (ctd.)

Picture: Guardian

Regular readers will know I'm fascinated by dictator's relationship with art. The Guardian reports on a new gilt, equestrian sculpture erected in Turkmenistan by Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, the country's quirky leader who has recently been named, 'The People's Horse Breeder'. Berdymukhamedov is obsessed with horses.

Everybody out! (ctd.)

May 25 2015

Image of Everybody out! (ctd.)

Picture: TAN

The PCS union has called yet another strike at the National Gallery in London (the Mail reports). This time it is for ten days, and will cause much of the Gallery to be closed over half term. There have been 24 strike days since February alone.

The action is over the 'privatisation' of some services at the National Gallery, and the dismissal of PCS (and Socialist Worker's Party) member Candy Udwin (above). I have long suspected, however, that the PCS union is using the Gallery as a means to highlight its wider agenda - a National Gallery strike readily earns press attention. The PCS' secretary, Mark Serwotka, says this about the latest strike, and calls for a demonstration outside the Gallery on May 30th:

'This privatisation plan is totally unnecessary and is damaging the well-earned reputation of the gallery and the sacking of our representative, Candy, is a disgraceful attack on our union.'

'Our demonstration is not just about this sell-off and the victimisation of Candy, it is an opportunity to oppose the kind of Tory cuts being cited as a rationale to hive off staff to the private sector.'

But the real news of the day is that the National Gallery, exasperated by the Union's bone-headedness, has now decided to go ahead with the full 'privatisation' of certain visitor services, most notably the room wardens. The Gallery's Sainsbury Wing and exhibition space have been managed for some time by a private sector company, CIS, seemingly without incident, and have remained open throughout all the strike days.

The Gallery said today:

'The PCS opposes the introduction of a new roster for some visitor facing and security staff which would enable us to operate more flexibly. In conjunction with the new roster we also proposed not only to meet the London Living Wage, but to pay a basic salary in excess of it.'

'As a result of the PCS position, we are now appointing an external partner to manage these services. Affected staff will transfer across - there will be no job cuts and terms and conditions will be protected.'

A total defeat for the PCS Union then. The PCS Union used to say that the National Gallery were refusing to pay 'the living wage', but this is clearly not the case, and it is noticeable that they no longer make this claim.

As far as I understand it, the real issue was not over 'privatisation' as such, but over-time. Over the years, the wardens (and other staff) had had to make do with a low basic rate, but a more generous over-time one. The new arrangements seek to redress that balance. We can only hope that everything works out, and that all the NG staff are better off as a result of both the new deal, and a more stable working environment.

New Mary Beale painting discovered

May 25 2015

Image of New Mary Beale painting discovered

Picture: Art Daily

My former colleague at Philip Mould Ltd, Lawrence Hendra,* has spotted a lost Mary Beale painting in the collection of the McMaster Museum in Canada. Painted in about 1660, the picture was mistakenly attributed to the painter Michael Sweerts.

Nice one Lawrence! More here.

*long-standing readers may remember him as a sometime writer for AHN too.

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