Museum accessions, part I

Editorial Staff Art

This short list of notable acquisitions began with a request to decorative arts curators in major American museums to choose and discuss a favorite recent gift or purchase.

This porcelain sculpture representing the ancient Roman goddess Juno is one of only eleven known examples in the world of large-scale figures produced by the Doccia manufactory in the middle of the eighteenth century. Carlo Ginori, founder of the factory, undertook an ambitious but short-lived plan to create a museum of porcelain sculpture, translating famous examples of ancient and modern sculpture into the challenging medium of porcelain. The rarity of Juno is matched by the beauty of the figure, the virtuoso modeling of the animated drapery, and the ambitious technical feat of firing and assembling the pieces. The model can be identified with an entry in the Doccia archives listing the molds for sculptures by Piamontini, and it would have been paired with a figure of Jupiter. Paris, a sculpture also based on a model by Piamontini and which seems to come from the same series, is in the Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna. — Marietta Cambareri, curator of Decorative Arts and Sculpture, Art of Europe, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

This medieval aquamanile, in very fine condition, is the type of important, rare medieval secular object that I have been seeking for decades. Aquamanilia (from the Latin aqua for water and manus for hand) are zoomorphic or anthropomorphic vessels used to pour water during hand washing and were the first hollow cast vessels created in medieval Europe. This superbly modeled functional sculpture represents a standing, roaring lion—a symbol of fortitude.

With an excellent patina and provenance the object belongs to a small group of rare aquamanilia, among the most beautiful of the late Gothic period—called the “Flame-Tail Aquamanilia” because of the long, finely chased flamelike tail, doubling as a handle. Together with the distinctive weblike feet, these features indicate production in Nuremberg between about 1400 and 1450 in one specific workshop, known for its precise casting and finely chased metalwork. The first secular medieval metalwork to enter the Detroit Institute’s notable medieval collection, the lion aquamanile is now on view for the enjoyment of visitors. — Alan P. Darr, head of the European Art Department and Walter B. Ford II Family Curator of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, Detroit Institute of Arts.

Textiles have long been celebrated as the principal contribution that women made to the discipline of early American decorative arts. Among the most heralded examples are the samplers worked at a school founded by Mary Balch (1762-1831) in Providence, Rhode Island. Closely related is a group stitched “Wrought at Warren,” of which Joanna Maxwell’s beguiling embroidery is among the earliest. These are ascribed to an academy that Martha Pease Davis established in this seaport about 1793. What distinguishes them are their acrostic verses in which the first letter of each line spells out the girl’s name.

The Maxwell sampler is a major addition to the Bayou Bend Collection. Founder Ima Hogg was not an avid collector of textiles, her reticence prompted by a sense of stewardship for maintaining them in Houston’s hot, humid climate. Eventually, she introduced some superb upholstered furniture, quilts, coverlets, and mourning pieces; however, she never did acquire a sampler. The museum is indebted to the Houston Junior Woman’s Club for this acquisition, which celebrates forty years of volunteerism at Bayou Bend. — Michael K. Brown, curator, Bayou Bend Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Colonial Williamsburg has long sought to enhance its noteworthy collection of southern furniture by acquiring an exemplary piece of cabinetwork from the lower Mississippi River valley. That goal was handsomely met in 2009 with the purchase of this striking New Orleans armoire, which neatly illustrates the city’s intermingling of French and Anglo-American cultures. The case features full-height doors, rounded corners, pied-de-biche legs, and other details that betray the unidentified cabinetmaker’s complete familiarity with French woodworking traditions. However, the exuberant inlays are more typical of contemporary ornamentation from England and the Atlantic Coast of the United States. They may be the work of the English inlay maker George Dewhurst, who worked in Baltimore and in Lexington, Kentucky, before moving to New Orleans. Among the most fully developed examples of the form, this armoire is on view at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum in Williamsburg. — Ronald Hurst, vice president for collections and museums, Colonial Williamsburg.

Images from above:
made at the Doccia manufactory, Florence, c. 1745-1755, after a model by Giuseppe Piamontini under the supervision of Gasparo Bruschi.  Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, partial gift in memory of I. W. Colburn by Frances H. Colburn, Clarissa Colburn Hunnewell, and Oliver C. Colburn, and museum purchase.

Lion aquamanile, Nuremberg, Germany, c. 1425-1450. Detroit Institute of Arts, Robert H. Tannahill Foundation Fund.

Sampler by Joanna Maxwell (1782-1847), Warren, Rhode Island, 1793.  Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Bayou Bend Collection, gift of the Houston Junior Woman’s Club in honor of their forty years of service to Bayou Bend.

Armoire, New Orleans, 1810-1825. Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Virginia, Sara and Fred Hoyt Furniture Fund.