|Antonio, Allegri da Correggio, Leda and the Swan, around 1532|
|Duccio di Buoninsegna, Madonna and Child, c. 1300|
(Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Mr. de Montebello started his lecture regaling the audience with his predatory instincts that surfaced as soon as the Madonna and Child, one of the few surviving paintings by the Sienese artist, Duccio came into the market. He revealed he had intimated to the board of trustees at the Met that the Louvre was after it and they (the Met) had to have it! Today the Duccio is in it's home at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, surprising visitors with its small size and the rumors of it's exorbitant price. The photograph of the back of the painting was just as interesting as the front with the burn marks from the votive candles that would have been lighted underneath this devotional piece marking the physicality of a work of art. "A picture is an object that can be held in the hand with a front, back and a history long after leaving the artist's studio" were the words, that led the way to a talk on the afterlife of objects.
|Domenikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco), The Assumption of the Virgin, 1577-79|
(The Art Institute of Chicago)
|Monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos Retable, (with a copy of the El Greco)Toledo|
|Place de la Concorde with the Obelisk from the Temple of Luxor|
|Victory Stele of Naram-Sin, |
c. 2250BC, Mesopotamia
|Law Code of Hammurabi, |
c.1792-1750 BC, Mesopotamia
It seems to be problematic when museums actually do want to return certain artifacts to their country of origins; which country should they be returned to - where they were made or where they were found? The Louvre faced a very interesting conundrum according to de Montebello when they considered returning two of the greatest works made in Babylon to their homeland only to realize they were discovered by French archaeologists in Iran where they had been taken after the victory of the Persians over Mesopotamians in 12th century.
|Cimabue's Crucifix after the flood of 1966|
|Cimabue, Crucifix, 1287-1288|
When listing trauma, natural disasters as well as iconoclasm as some of the reasons for the changing context of works of art, Phillipe de Montebello showed the devastating photographs of the aftermath of the flood of 1966 in Florence. It was estimated that the flood which had reached a height of seventeen feet had ruined around 1,500 works of art, the most valuable being the Crucifix by Cimabue. De Montebello explained that after the flood works of art had changed their context altogether, ruined frescoes were taken apart, the signs of the destruction, the holes as can be seen in the Cimabue were left as a memorial to the floods and the works were moved to the museum behind the Duomo.
From Florence we moved onto Berlin, where the photograph of the 19th century church of Kaiser Wilhelm with its damaged spire, a telling monument to the horrors of World War II was followed by two pictures of Byzantine ivories taken at the museum - one pristine white, the other charred black. The white one was the product of zealos conservation which Philippe de Montebello classified as another form of iconoclasm.
|Livia, Ephesus Museum|
|Emperor Augustus, Ephesus Museum|
Statues from antiquity were defaced, Christianized or reworked to represent saints during the Christianization of the Roman empire. Although Mr. De Montebello showed a picture of an antique female head that had been reworked to wear a veil and became an acceptable Christian statue, the heads of Emperor Augustus and his wife Livia from the Ephesus museum can also help us to visualize the concept.
These three heads, all from Osiride Statues of Hatshepsut, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Collection demonstrate the different characteristics a statue can take during the conservation process depending on the conservators.
|The Loggia, Palazzo Rucellai, Alberti, 1460's|
The Loggia originally built by Alberti being converted into a high-end retail store is another example of the reuse overtime changing certain monuments into another entity.
|Notre Dame de Paris|
|Original heads of the biblical kings, Musee de Cluny|
Nortre dame de Paris was probably one of the most interesting monuments mentioned by Philippe de Montebello. He apologetically announced to anyone in attendance who had taken photographs of the gargoyles and the ornaments on the facade that these were actually the 19th century interpretations of the architect Viollet-le-Duc. The statues of the biblical kings on the facade were mistaken as the Kings of France and destroyed (beheaded) during the French Revolution only to be rediscovered in 1977 during road construction. They had been bought and then buried, lined up, facing the Notre Dame by a fervent royalist according to De Montebello. Today these heads have a further museum life where they are displayed at the Musee de Cluny in Paris.
|Les Halles, Paris|
The Crystal Palace burning in 1936 as well as the dismantling of Les Halles in Paris as a byproduct of which "the flavor, the life, the gastronomy of the city were lost" are prime examples of city planning iconoclasm.
Of the multiple life of paintings that had survived artistic iconoclasm Antonio Allegria da Correggio's, Leda and the Swan (top of the page), from Gemaldegalerie in Berlin is one with a riveting tale. This painting originally in the collection of Duc d'Orleans, upon his death, was found too licentious and ordered to be slashed by his religious son Louis d'Orleans, luckily it was reconstructed and sent to Frederick the Great of Prussia. When the painting ended up in the hands of Napoleon the lost head was restored in accordance with the taste of the day. Finally,the painting entered the collection in Berlin, and the head was found to be too French and restored for a fourth time to its present condition.
|The Agony in the Garden, 1408, French|
|The Agony in the Garden, 1408, French|
|Reclining Hermaphrodite, 1st century BC,|
(Museo Nazionale de Roma's Palazzo Massimo Alle Terme)
|Borghese Hermaphroditus, 2nd c. Roman copy of 2nd c. BC. Greek original, mattress by Gianlorenzo Bernini (1619)|
|Ai Weiwei, Coca-Cola Vase, 1997|
(Neolithic Vase 5000-3000BC)
Mr Philippe de Montebello ended his lecture with the image of a Neolithic Vase which was transformed by contemporary artist Ai Weiwei into a found object and painted with the Coca-Cola logo as the culminating stage of the fascinating transformations that take place when works of art go onto the transformation of history.
This lecture touched upon a collection of works of art as they made their way through history, in a constant state of motion, in some cases, a receptacle of knowledge and in others a metamorphosis into something delightfully different. It is an undeniable fact that museums are a fundamental part of our learning process and they need to be have access to important works of art in order for research and development in preservation techniques to continue. But, even if they take on a major significance in their new state, new homes, how will they continue to tell us the stories of their own time, their people and what those people saw and felt when they experienced these works of art.
There is a beautiful 6th century sculpture relief, Nike Bearing a Date Branch on the second floor of the Istanbul Archaeology museum. It is clearly labeled with a description stating where it came from, the Balat gate of the Walls of Constantinople. It is a captivating object to behold with its low relief carving, the fluttering drapery, the sense of motion but as it stands there against the wall, it begs so many questions... what did it look like to the visitor passing through those gates, what was her significance within the urban landscape, what was it welcoming, confronting or saying to the passerby. As long as she stands inside a museum, even within her own city, we will never know her secrets, what she was whispering as people came and left the great city of Constantinople. So where do we stand in regards to the multiple life of this work of art?
|Relief of Nike Bearing Date Branch, 6th c.|
(Istanbul Archaeology Museum)
Antonio Allegria da Correggio, Leda and the Swan, 1532, Wikipaintings - (link)
Duccio di Buoninsegna, Madonna and Child, c. 1300, Metropolitan Museum of Art - (link)
Domenikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco), The Assumption of the Virgin, 1577-79, The Art Institute of Chicago (link)
* This gallery can be visited virtually in the Google Art Project (link)
The Santa Domingo el Antiguo retable (link)
Place de la Concorde with the Obelisk from the Temple of Luxor (link)
Victory Stele of Naram-Sin, c. 2250BC, Mesopotamia, (link) more information on Louvre website (link)
Law Code of Hamurrabi, c.1792-1750 BC, Mesopotamia, (link) more information on Louvre website (link)
Photograph of the ruined Cimabue (link) Cimabue, Crucifix, 1287-88, (link)
Newpaper article 1982 (link)
Christianized Statue of Livia (link)
Christianized Statue of Augustus (link)
Head of an Osiride Statue of Hatshepsut, ca. 1473-1458 B.C, Metropolitan Museum of Art (link) - (Left)
Head of an Osiride Statue of Hatshepsut, ca. 1473-1458 B.C, Metropolitan Museum of Art (link) -(Middle)
Head of an Osiride Statue of Hatshepsut, ca. 1473-1458B.C., Metropolitan Museum of Art (link) - (Right)
The Loggia, Palazzo Rucellai, Alberti, 1460's (link)
Notre Dame de Paris (link)
Heads of Biblical Kings (link)
Les Halles, Paris (link)
The Agony in the Garden, 1408, French (link)
The Agony in the Garden, 1408, French (link) and
*it's fascinating story (link)
Reclining Hermaphrodite, 1st century BC, Rome (link)
Borghese Hermaphroditus, 2nd century AD. Louvre (link)
Ai Weiwei, Coca-Cola Vase, 1997 (link)