July 27, 2009 | London salerooms buzz through July with a frezy of activity. A more leisurely pace governs the rest of Europe at a string of exhibitions: Robert Adam landscapes in Edinburgh, medieval and Renaissance beauty in Paris, intercultural exchange in Vienna, and Böttger stoneware in Dresden.
When salerooms in the United States and on the Continent turn silent, London auction houses heat up for a seasonal finale of important sales of Western manuscripts and miniatures, old master paintings, nineteenth-century art, and European furniture. This July Sotheby’s features the sale of Barbara Piasecka Johnson’s extraordinary collection. Rich in Renaissance and baroque paintings and sculpture, including Jusepe de Ribera’s Prometheus, this staggering auction includes furniture and tapestries of the same periods.
Christie’s, at its sale of important European furniture, offers three pieces by the famed ébéniste André-Charles Boulle, whose tour-de-force marquetry—incorporating metal, tortoiseshell, and other exotic materials—and ormulu mounts defined taste in the latter part of Louis XIV’s reign. The Louis XIV cabinet-on-stand of about 1680 at right (estimate £700,000–1,000,000) and pair of Louis XIV coffres en tombeaux of about 1688 (estimate £2,500,000–4,000,000) have lived in Wrotham Park, Hertfordshire, since their purchase by the noted regency collector George Byng in the early nineteenth century. Sumptuous in both scale and design, these previously unpublished pieces enhance our understanding of Boulle’s oeuvre, particularly as he hit his mature stride in the 1680s.
The Barbara Piasecka Johnson Collection: Renaissance and Baroque Masterworks • Sotheby’s, London • July 8 • www.sothebys.com
Important European Furniture, Sculpture, and Clocks • Christie’s, King Street, London • July 9 • www.christies.com
Robert Adam's inner world goes on public display at an exhibition of his picturesque landscapes at the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh. The Scottish architect, interior designer, and furniture designer, who designed such neoclassical masterpieces as Kenwood House, Osterley Park, and Stowe, created the landscape watercolors and drawings on view toward the end of his life for his own private enjoyment. While some, such as this detailed depiction of Cullen Castle in Banffshire, painted about 1770 to 1780, portray real sites, the majority depict picturesque fantasies, evoking in an entirely Scottish guise the capricci of Giovanni Battista Piranesi, with whom Adam had studied while in Rome on an extended grand tour in the 1750s.
The more than thirty watercolors by Adam on view are accompanied by drawings by his sketching partners: his brother-in-law, John Clerk of Eldin, and Paul Sandby, an English landscape artist who traveled extensively through Scotland. These brooding, atmospheric renderings of steep cliffs, ancient castles, and gushing waterfalls offer up a cooling tonic to summer’s heat.
Robert Adam’s Landscape Fantasies: Watercolors and Drawings from the Permanent Collection • National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh • through August 2 • www.nationalgalleries.org
Inspired by the reopening of the frigidarium at the thermes de Cluny, the Musée national du Moyen Âge in Paris hosts a major exhibition about European attitudes toward the body and its care from the ancient world through the medieval period. The Musée de la Renaissance, at the Château d’Ecouen just outside the city, picks up the story where Cluny leaves off in an independent but related show examining these same subjects in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
The tale begins with the archaeological remains of the celebrated baths of Lutetia, which testify to the importance of bathing in ancient Roman society. Statues of Aphrodite at her bath, among other works, reinforce this theme. Shells and ampullae with visible traces of makeup speak to beauty practices of the period and to the international trade of perfumes and cosmetics spawned by them. A scientific study, undertaken with help from the research laboratories of l’Oréal, provides an unprecedented analysis of the chemical content of the traces of cosmetics and creams that survive on these and other objects on view.
Medieval mirrors, luxurious toiletry sets, and combs intricately carved from ivory,in addition to paintings and sculptures that depict the elaborate coiffures of the period, demonstrate the ways in which the quest for beauty continued in spite of entreaties by the church to disregard the physical body.
Écouen’s display of 130 objects illuminates beauty treatments of the Renaissance—from the communal bath, an elite recreation inherited from earlier times, to sixteenth-century treatments for pimples and blemishes advocated in surviving written texts. The last of the Valois monarchs, Henri III, is remembered as the cross-dressing, curled, waxed, powdered, and primped king of France. This insightful exhibition reveals that he was a product, as much as a leader, of his time.
The Bath and the Mirror: Body Care and Cosmetics from Antiquity to the Middle Ages • Musée de Cluny–Musée national du Moyen Âge, Paris • The Bath and the Mirror: Body Care and Cosmetics in the Renaissance • Château d’Ecouen–Musée national de la Renaissance, Ecouen • both through September 21 •www.musee-moyenage.fr and www.musee-renaissance.fr
MAK, as the Österreichisches Museum fur angewandte Kunst/Gegenwartskunst (Austrian Museum of Applied Arts/Contemporary Art) is known, celebrates the conservation of its folios from the Hamzanama—an exquisite sixteenth-century manuscript commissioned by the Mughal potentate Akbar the Great and produced between 1557 and 1577 by his court workshops—at a massive exhibition exploring intercultural exchange between European and Asian art from 1500 to 1700.
Defined by the museum as “a history of hi(stories),” the exhibition revels in the history of the MAK itself, which owns 80 percent of the 470 objects on display. Its sixty folios from the Hamzanama comprise the largest single holding of parts of the manuscript in the world. Acquired from the Persian government at the 1873 world's fair in Vienna, they bear witness to the early interest that this museum attached to Indian, Islamic, and Asian culture.
Simultaneously, by juxtaposing European tapestries and Chineseand Japanese screens around the Hamzanama miniatures, the show points out cross-cultural similarities and differences. This first section, on the theme of "princely prestige," is followed by three others: one addressing scientific discoveries, particularly in the fields of geography and astronomy; another, the transfer of artistic products across cultures; and the third, how art creates identity. Highlights include the Ricci Map, from the Österreichisches Nationalbibliothek (Austrian National Library), in which the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci reordered the continents from traditional European maps by placing China in the center, thus presenting Western learning in a form palatable to those from the "Middle Kingdom."
The Hamzanama miniatures have also spawned a second exhibition exploring the ten-year conservation process and its results.
Global: Lab-Art as Message: Asia and Europe, 1500-1700 and Adventure with Hamza: The Hamza-Nama, Research and Conservation • MAK-Österreichisches Museum für angewandte Kunst/Gegenwartskunst, Vienna • through September 27• www.mak.at
The Neues Grünes Gewölbe (New Green Vault) of the Residenzschloss (Royal Palace) Dresden, in collaboration with the Porzellansammlung of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, celebrates the three hundredth anniversary of the manufacture of so-called Böttger stoneware with a special exhibition that reveals the technical inventiveness and creative virtuosity of Johann Friedrich Böttger, the alchemist and inaugural administrator of Meissen who is commonly credited as the first European to replicate the formula for making hard-paste porcelain. The display focuses on the rare stoneware pieces that Böttger produced in Meissen as he experimented with various clays and minerals before developing porcelain.
This red clay pottery, notable for its density and hardness, lent itself to sophisticated finishing techniques, which Böttger, with the help of the Dresden court goldsmith Johann Jakob Irminger, exploited to its fullest potential. They cut and polished it into crisply sculpted forms with detailed relief ornaments, often inspired by those of Chinese porcelain or European silver; lacquered, glazed, enameled, gilded, and silvered its smooth, richly hued surface; and sometimes further embellished it with encrustations of precious and semiprecious stones, silver, and gold.
In addition to Böttger stoneware from the Neues Grünes Gewölbe, the Porzellansammlung, and a German private collection, the exhibition includes Böttger's design sketches from the Saxon State Archives and examples of his ruby glass and vessels carved from jasper and chalcedony. Deutscher Kunstverlag in Berlin has published the related catalogue.
Johan Friedrich Böttger and Treasury Art • Residenzschloss, Dresden • through August 3 • www.skd-dresden.de/en
Images from above: Cabinet-on-stand made by André-Charles Boulle (1642-1732), c. 1680. Photograph by courtesy of Christie's Images. Cullen Castle, Banffshire by Robert Adam (1728–1792), c. 1770–1780. National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh. Venus at her Toilette, French, c. 1550. Museé du Louvre, Paris; photograph © RMN/Daniel Arnaudet. Lifting an elephant single-handedly, Farrukh-Nizhad so astonishes two brothers that they convert to Islam, folio from the Hamzanama, India, c. 1570. MAK-Österreichisches Museum für angewandte Kunst/Gegenwartskunst, Vienna; photograph © MAK/Georg Mayer. Coffeepot made by Johann Friedrich Böttger (1682-1719), c. 1710-1713. Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden.