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The IMA in Egypt, Part 3: ‘Wrapping up’ our Mummy Coffin Research

Today’s blogger is Dr. Gregory Dale Smith, the Otto N. Frenzel III Senior Conservation Scientist at the IMA. Dr. Smith is reporting through a series of blog posts on the IMA’s involvement in an exhibition at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology in Ann Arbor, Discovery! Excavating the Ancient World.

Fig. 1.  A portion of a painted headdress from a Late Period wooden coffin. The annotations provide the unique data label, the chemical elements identified by X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, and the most likely pigment inferred from the elements found.

Fig. 1. A portion of a painted headdress from a Late Period wooden coffin. The annotations provide the unique data label, the chemical elements identified by X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, and the most likely pigment inferred from the elements found.

A year ago this week, I boarded a plane for Egypt carrying a small “mobile lab” to take part in a collaborative fieldwork project studying ancient wooden funerary objects. As I reported earlier, the goal was to determine better conservation methods for stabilizing these beautiful, but fragile painted artifacts, which include decorated sarcophagi and statues. As the group’s chemist, my job was to use portable analytical instruments to identify the pigments, adhesives, and binding media used in the surface decoration of these deteriorated objects. On this one year anniversary, I wanted to wrap up my blog series by presenting some of our results from this exploratory season in the field at Abydos.

Our analyses showed that the ancient Egyptian artists used natural materials to decorate the tombs of their dead (Fig. 1). The binding agents for their paints included glue made from boiled animal skins and resinous gums exuded from plants. The colorants were also largely natural minerals including white chalk, yellow and red earths, soot black, and the poisonous arsenic containing yellow mineral orpiment. The primary blue pigment, however, was synthetic; Egyptian blue, a copper-containing glass frit was first made in Egypt as early as the 4th Dynasty around 3000 BC. Armed with this information about the paint composition, conservators are able to choose the most appropriate consolidants to stabilize these often disintegrating artifacts.

Fig. 2. A composite “eye” from a Ka statue composed of copper sheet, marble, and obsidian. The left eye is shown in pieces while the right one has been reassembled by conservators.

Fig. 2. A composite “eye” from a Ka statue composed of copper sheet, marble, and obsidian. The left eye is shown in pieces while the right one has been reassembled by conservators.

We also encountered other decorative elements including the inlaid eyes (Fig. 2) from wooden Ka sculptures found in the chapels associated with royal tombs. These are composite structures that include metal eyelids identified as pure copper sheet soldered together with lead and limestone whites of the eyes carved around a central black pupil of imported volcanic obsidian. The black gemstone was held in place with a plug of beeswax. Future work might include using chemical analysis to trace the foreign source of these luxury trade items.

Fig. 3. A display panel from the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology’s exhibit Discovery! Excavating the Ancient World showing the Abydos wood project team onsite.

Fig. 3. A display panel from the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology’s exhibit Discovery! Excavating the Ancient World showing the Abydos wood project team onsite.

One further outcome of this highly successful exploratory field season is the exhibit Discovery! Excavating the Ancient World at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at the University of Michigan.  The work of the conservation team was included in the exhibition’s didactics to show the diversity of disciplines that contribute to our understanding and preservation of archaeological materials (Fig. 3). All of those who were part of this field season are extremely grateful to our home institutions for the latitude to come together to participate in this exciting project, and to the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) who along with the University of Michigan funded the expedition. Aside from being a fascinating study with components of ancient technology, complex biodeterioration, and delicate preservation interventions, our work in Egypt was a lot of fun (Fig.4)!

Fig. 4. Team leader and Kelsey Museum conservator Suzanne Davis shows off the Ka statue inlaid eyes after reassembling the excavated pieces.

Fig. 4. Team leader and Kelsey Museum conservator Suzanne Davis shows off the Ka statue inlaid eyes after reassembling the excavated pieces.

Filed under: Art, Conservation, IMA Staff, Technology, Travel

 

Getting “To The Point”

What do Brussels and Indianapolis have in common? Belgium spawned several artists who fell under the spell of Georges Seurat, the French artist who invented the technique of Pointillism (also known as Neo-Impressionism) upon seeing the ground-breaking painting “Sunday on the Grande Jatte” (The Art Institute of Chicago) at an exhibition in Brussels in 1886. These artists carried on Seurat’s innovative style, and the IMA is proud to have masterpieces in its collection by several of these Belgian masters as well as our own painting by Seurat and his French and Dutch followers.

Photo by David Miller.

Photo by David Miller.

However, our finest pointillist portraits are not on display now because they have made a trip to Brussels to be included in the IMA organized exhibition To The Point – The Neo-Impressionist Portrait, 1886-1904. Angie Day, Associate Registrar for Exhibitions, and David Miller, Chief Conservator and Senior Conservator of Paintings, also made the trip to Brussels to accompany the IMA paintings and install the exhibition at the ING Cultural Center.

Angie was responsible for managing the arrival of the paintings and works on paper that had been lent to the exhibition from prestigious collections in the US and Europe: including transport, unpacking, safe handling, and installation according to the lenders’ requirements and international

ING lighting designer with IMA’s "Portrait of Père Biart" by Henry van de Velde, 79.320. Photo by David Miller.

ING lighting designer with IMA’s “Portrait of Père Biart” by Henry van de Velde, 79.320. Photo by David Miller.

exhibition standards. David performed detailed condition reporting of each artwork to ensure that they had travelled safely and were stable for exhibition, and monitored that light levels, temperature and humidity settings, and security of the artworks were correct. The IMA team worked with Belgian customs brokers, contract art handlers and conservators, lenders’ couriers, and the ING co-curators over six long days to prepare the exhibition for its gala opening on February 17.

Angie and David will return to Brussels to bring the exhibition to the IMA, where it will open on June 15 as Face to Face: The Neo-Impressionist Portrait, 1886-1904.

Here it will include some fantastic artworks not shown in Belgium, including a Self-Portrait by Vincent Van Gogh – not to be missed!

Filed under: Art, Conservation, Exhibitions, Guest Bloggers, IMA Staff, Travel

 

Style and Science: Assessing a Rembrandt, Part 2

Today's blogger is Jacquelyn N. Coutré, the Allen Whitehill Clowes Curatorial Fellow, European Painting and Sculpture before 1800.

Figure 1:  Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669), Self-Portrait, about 1629 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Courtesy of the Clowes Fund, C10063

Figure 1: Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669), Self-Portrait, about 1629
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Courtesy of the Clowes Fund, C10063

In the last posting on the Rembrandt self-portrait in the Clowes Collection (Fig. 1), we considered how art historians evaluated its status according to characteristics visible on the picture’s surface. But we can also gather scientific data to support this stylistic analysis.

In the early 1980s, IMA conservator David A. Miller examined the surface of the painting with a stereomicroscope and looked below its surface using X-rays (Fig. 3). The high magnification showed the “RHL” monogram to be contemporary with the painting, which means that it was applied while the painting was still wet. The x-radiograph, in turn, provided important insights into the artist’s creative process. It illustrates, in fact, two significant changes below the surface: the beret was originally poised more squarely on the head, and the contour of the proper left shoulder had previously extended further to the right. In other words, the artist had made changes to his painting while working on it, changes that would not have been visible to a student in his workshop or a later artist making a copy. The best of the other versions of this painting, the one in Atami, Japan, shows a strong correlation between the surface and underlying layers – telling evidence for the Atami version being a copy after the Clowes original! (It also omits those pesky pimples.)

Figure 3: X-radiograph of Figure 1

Figure 3: X-radiograph of Figure 1

But could the Clowes panel have been done by a later artist in order to look like a painting by the 17th-century master?

The investigations of Peter Klein, a wood biologist at the University of Hamburg, in 1999 help us to understand more about the panel upon which the painting was executed. It is made of oak and comes from the Baltic region, a profile typical of panels used by 17th-century Dutch artists. Relying on the facts that tree rings grow at different rates in different years and that trees of the same species in a particular region will show similar growth patterns, Dr. Klein has determined that the youngest growth ring in our panel dates to 1581. Add on a few years for the panel to dry and become less porous, and the painting could have been executed as early as 1598. While this may seem quite a few years before our estimated date of c. 1629, it confirms that the panel was ready to be used during Rembrandt’s lifetime.

Combining the stylistic and technical evidence yields the conclusion that our painting is indeed a self-portrait by Rembrandt. What was first supported only by connoisseurship is now augmented by scientific study – a wonderful demonstration of the important role that science plays in the museum.

Filed under: Art, Guest Bloggers, Technology, The Collection, Uncategorized

 

An Act of LOVE: Photographic documentation of Robert Indiana’s iconic sculpture

Photo from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charioteer_of_Delphi

“Charioteer of Delphi,” photo from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Charioteer_of_Delphi

One of the greatest sculptures in the history of art is the bronze “Charioteer of Delphi”. The life-sized figure is a masterpiece of balance between realism and formality, true to the tradition of Classical Greece but singular in its perfect achievement of cherished artistic ideals. The sculpture, which was erected in Delphi in 474 BC, was unearthed along with sections of the chariot horses in 1896. The base contained an inscription that credited the financial patron for this sculptural commission (a political figure) but the artist is not named, and even the city where the sculpture was conceived and fabricated is not conclusively known to scholars. Fortunately, the available documentation surrounding great works of art increased slowly through the ages. Prepatory drawings, sketch notations, diaries, letters, bills of sale, estate records and contemporary critiques are at times obtainable for study. But sadly, even a relatively thorough paper trail could be decimated through migrations, natural disasters and violent conflicts, and we are often left with fragments that must be bridged with speculation.

It is incumbent upon the art historian and the conservator to discover as much information as possible about an artwork in order to create both a cultural and technical context for the diverse works in museum collections. They utilize this augmented perspective in the service of insightful presentation in the galleries and informed preservation in the conservation labs. It is the mission of museums to provide not just a safe haven for art but to build an experience around a painting, a drawing, or a sculpture that will be infused with a greater knowledge – a sense of time and place, an understanding of the artist’s personality and inspiration, and the challenges and triumphs in the creative process itself. In this way we hope to turn the act of “looking” into an act of “appreciating” which carries the visitor into a genuine sense of empathetic connectedness to an art object.

Robert Indiana (American, b. 1928), “LOVE,” 1970 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of the Friends of the Indianapolis Museum of Art in memory of Henry F. DeBoest. Restoration was made possible by Patricia J. and James E. LaCrosse, 75.174 © Morgan Art Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Robert Indiana (American, b. 1928), “LOVE,” 1970
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of the Friends of the Indianapolis Museum of Art in memory of Henry F. DeBoest. Restoration was made possible by Patricia J. and James E. LaCrosse, 75.174
© Morgan Art Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Which brings us to the LOVE sculpture of Robert Indiana. It could be confidently stated that this particular artwork enjoys international recognition within the IMA’s holdings, and its monumental form is much beloved by museum patrons. It was a pivotal work for Robert Indiana, serving as a commanding foray into the rapidly evolving artistic climate of non-traditional aesthetics in the 1950s through 1970s. This was also a time of awakening for artists who desired to work in large scale formats, which helped in turn to fuel a new zeal for public art commissions. The fabrication of the 12 foot tall, three ton sculpture at the Lippincott foundry in North Haven, Connecticut, was completed in 1970. It proceeded to Indianapolis in October of that year, and in 1975 LOVE was formally accessioned by the IMA and permanently settled on the grounds of our campus.

Tom Rummler (American), “Photograph of ‘LOVE’ in the Making in North Haven, Conn.,” 1970 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of Robert Indiana, 72.78.14

Tom Rummler (American), “Photograph of ‘LOVE’ in the Making in North Haven, Conn.,” 1970
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of Robert Indiana, 72.78.14

Fortunately for scholars of Robert Indiana and his iconic accomplishment, a sizeable group of gelatin-silver photographs by Tom Rummler had slipped quietly into the IMA collection in 1970, a gift from Robert Indiana himself. This body of work documented the construction process of the LOVE sculpture from the foundry floor and beyond, which is an invaluable record that informs the vital questions of who, how, when, and where in art historical inquiry. For the conservator, these images of process are a solidly reliable source of information regarding the assemblage of this imposing Cor-ten steel structure. I became aware of these photographs during the IMA’s conservation condition survey for all collection photographs that has been undertaken by contracted photograph conservator Paul Messier. This survey was generously funded through a grant from the Institute of Museum & Library Services (IMLS) in 2012, and we are profoundly grateful for this preservation project that has brought our photographs to the focused attention of the staff. The Rummler images document the creation of the LOVE sculpture at Lippincott Inc., and this massive undertaking is chronicled in views that celebrate the complexity, verve, and joy of the process. These photographs are beautiful in their own right as skillful compositions of light and texture; they visually convey the thrill of elemental industrial power harnessed to creative forces. A young Robert Indiana strikes poses worthy of a brave new world in art, and the faces of the fabrication crew are also preserved, a rare treat in art history up until the age of video. Paul confirmed that the 30 gelatin-silver Rummler photographs are currently in excellent condition. They are stored among works of photographic art, not in the library or the Registration office, which is a testament to the museum’s determination that they are at the same time art and document, a treasure of multiple virtues that deserves the highest level of care.

The Rummler photographs are offered here in light of the IMA’s designation of 2014 as a year in celebration of Robert Indiana – his art, his contribution to art history, and his ongoing relationship with the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Visitors can view Robert Indiana’s graphic work and the Rummler photographs as part of The Essential Robert Indiana.

If only photographers had been on hand in Delphi in 474 BC …

Filed under: Art, Conservation, Contemporary, Guest Bloggers, Installation, Uncategorized

 

A Monuments Man from Indiana

Today's guest blogger is Annette Schlagenhauff, Associate Curator for Research at the IMA. She is in charge of researching the provenance, or history of ownership, of European paintings in the IMA’s collection.

The Monuments Men, 2014 © Columbia Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox

The Monuments Men, 2014 © Columbia Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox

On February 7, all eyes will turn to a movie called The Monuments Men, a much anticipated film directed by George Clooney and featuring a star-studded cast. It tells the story of several brave World War II soldiers who were tasked, against all odds, with preserving monuments in the paths of advancing Allied armies in the final months of the war. Once the war had ended, their mission was to find and safeguard treasures of European art stolen by the Nazis. Until now, their story was largely unknown to the general public, although art museums and provenance researchers had long been amazed by the valiant efforts of the men and women in the Monuments, Fine Art & Archives section of the military. They put their lives on the line in an effort to guarantee that Europe’s finest cultural treasures were preserved for future generations.

As it goes with many Hollywood movies, the broad outlines of the story are true, but names and circumstances have been changed to fit a two-hour narrative structure. So if you are expecting a documentary, you might be disappointed and should watch The Rape of Europa instead, a film released in 2008 which is based on the ground-breaking book of the same title by the historian Lynn Nicholas. But The Monuments Men is to be commended for its ability to focus our attention on the hardships and tragedies as well as the successes of these cultural soldiers, most of whom were older than the average GI and elected to leave careers as artists, architects, archivists, conservators and other museum professionals in order to bring their particular expertise to bear in the Allied war effort.

One of the real-life Monuments Men was Thomas Carr Howe Jr., a native of Indiana. Born in 1904 in Kokomo, Howe was raised in Indianapolis before he left for the east coast to attend university. (If the name sounds familiar to Indianapolis residents or Butler University alumni and students, it’s because his father taught at Butler and then served as its president from 1907 to 1920.) The younger Howe chose to pursue an art museum career and, in 1931, he was appointed assistant director at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, becoming that museum’s director in 1939. During WWII, Howe joined the U.S. Navy and served there for two years before being recommended to serve as a Monuments Man.

Salt Mines and Castles: The Discovery and Restitution of Looted European Art by Thomas Carr Howe Jr.

Salt Mines and Castles: The Discovery and Restitution of Looted European Art by Thomas Carr Howe Jr.

When Howe returned to San Francisco in February 1946, the head of Bobbs-Merrill, the Indianapolis-based publishing company, asked him to commit his experiences as a Monument Man to writing. Howe agreed to do so, and later that same year his recollections were published with the title Salt Mines and Castles: The Discovery and Restitution of Looted European Art. Here we can learn that Howe was present at the Alt Aussee mine when Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna and van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece, both looted by the Nazis, were packed up and brought out of the depths of the mine under considerable time pressure due to the advancing Russian armies. He was also present several weeks later when a group of Monuments Men evacuated the art stored at Schloss Neuschwanstein in Bavaria. Movie goers will recognize these place names, and Howe’s published recollections were no doubt carefully studied by the team that created and produced the movie.

Saltmines and Castles tells yet another interesting story – and one that can be linked to a specific painting currently in the IMA’s collection. Howe’s first solo assignment in Europe – and the Monuments Men often travelled alone rather than as a team — was to retrieve a cache of 81 cases full of art from Grassau, a small town in southeast Bavaria, where Nazi loot had been discovered. In one of these cases was the IMA’s masterpiece by Paul Gaugin, Still Life with Profile of Laval. This painting had been looted, along with many others, from a prominent Jewish collection (the Herzog Collection) by Hungary’s Nazis in 1944. To safeguard their haul from the Russians, it was moved to the small town in Bavaria. Howe’s efforts were almost thwarted by the Hungarian museum curator who was charged with safeguarding the art, but Howe prevailed and he brought the paintings to Munich where the Central Collecting Point was located. Several years later, it was restituted back to Hungary, and then back to the widow of the Herzog heir. She allowed a dealer to sell it, and it had a number of owners before it was acquired by the IMA in 1998. Long story short, a painting now located in Indianapolis was safeguarded by a Monuments Man from Indianapolis!

Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903), Still Life with Profile of Laval, 1886 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Samuel Josefowitz Collection of the School of Pont-ven, through the Generosity of Lilly Endowment Inc., the Josefowitz Family, Mr. and Mrs. James M. Cornelius, Mr. and Mrs. Leonard J. Betley, Lori and Dan Efroymson, and Other Friends of the Museum, 1998.167

Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903), Still Life with Profile of Laval, 1886
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Samuel Josefowitz Collection of the School of Pont-ven, through the Generosity of Lilly Endowment Inc., the Josefowitz Family, Mr. and Mrs. James M. Cornelius, Mr. and Mrs. Leonard J. Betley, Lori and Dan Efroymson, and Other Friends of the Museum, 1998.167

Filed under: Art, Conservation, Guest Bloggers, History, Indiana, Museum Community, The Collection

 

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