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February 18, 2015

Roy Lichtenstein Foundation awards $75,000 to Artstor

Photographer D. James Dee and his archive

Photographer D. James Dee and his archive

The Roy Lichtenstein Foundation has awarded $75,000 to Artstor in support of the James Dee Archives project. The Archives are composed of approximately 250,000 slides, transparencies, negatives, and photographs documenting contemporary art in New York City over the last four decades, and Artstor is digitizing and maintaining the archive for use in research and education. The gift will support the processing of the collection, developing crowdsourcing software for collaborative cataloging, and the outreach to galleries and individuals who would be helpful in interpreting the images.

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February 4, 2015

The infinite variety of artists’ books

Sandra Rowe, Snake, 1991. Bucknell University: Artists' Books Collection

Sandra Rowe, Snake, 1991. Bucknell University: Artists’ Books Collection

Whether you consider illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages the beginning, or you start with William Blake’s self-published books of poetry in the 18th century, artists have been making books for centuries. But as Toni Sant recounts in his book Franklin Furnace and the Spirit of the Avant-garde, the term “artists’ books” is fairly recent. It only appeared in 1973 as the title of an exhibition at Moore College, and it wasn’t until 1980 that the Library of Congress adopted the term in its list of established subjects.

This delay might stem from the infinite variety of forms that artists’ books take, sometimes pushing our understanding of what a book is to unexpected extremes.

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February 2, 2015

The art of looking slowly

Workshop of Raphael, probably Giovanni da Udine, Cupid on a Wagon Drawn by Snails, 1516. Image and original data provided by SCALA, Florence/ART RESOURCE, N.Y. ; artres.com; scalarchives.com, (c) 2006, SCALA, Florence / ART RESOURCE, N.Y.

Workshop of Raphael, probably Giovanni da Udine, Cupid on a Wagon Drawn by Snails, 1516. Image and original data provided by SCALA, Florence/ART RESOURCE, N.Y. ; artres.com; scalarchives.com, (c) 2006, SCALA, Florence / ART RESOURCE, N.Y.

“I didn’t know how to look at art,” Phil Terry, founder and CEO of Collaborative Gain, confessed to ARTnews a few years ago. “Like most people, I would walk by quickly.” As the article points out, a study in Empirical Studies of the Arts estimates that museumgoers spend an average of just 17 seconds looking at an individual painting. But with Slow Art Day, Terry might just be changing those statistics.

It all started in 2008, when Terry decided to try an experiment at an exhibit at the Jewish Museum. Instead of rushing through the show glancing at everything, he looked at just a few works, slowly. He found that he loved it.

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January 15, 2015

The Top Ten Posts of 2014

We had another busy year at the Artstor Blog, with 161,000 visits in 2014. What were people clicking on? Here’s the list of the top ten most popular posts from last year:

  1. From Babylon to Berlin: The rebirth of the Ishtar Gate
  2. Finding the phenomenal women in fine art
  3. Dürer and the elusive rhino
  4. The travels and travails of the Mona Lisa
  5. The Museum of Natural History in The Catcher in the Rye
  6. Now available: Masterworks from the Berlin State Museums
  7. IFA Archaeological Project at Abydos: Shared Shelf in action
  8. Michelangelo, Raphael, and the Swiss Guard uniforms
  9. Après la Bastille: the changing fortunes of Marie Antoinette
  10. Reginald Marsh’s Coney Island

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December 15, 2014

The endangered art of bookplates

This post has been updated to include new information about Artstor’s public collections, formerly made available on Shared Shelf Commons.
William P. Barrett, The Library of George Frederick Ernest Albert Prince of Wales, 1904. UD Library: William Augustus Brewer Bookplate Collection

William P. Barrett, The Library of George Frederick Ernest Albert Prince of Wales, 1904. UD Library: William Augustus Brewer Bookplate Collection

Despite entreaties to the contrary, the debate about e-books vs. printed books doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. Traditionalists frequently tout the sensual pleasures of paper (smell, which doesn’t have much to do with reading, comes up often), while readers of electronic devices usually point to convenience. There have even been studies about which format is better for comprehension and retention.

One thing that never comes up? Bookplates! Laugh if you want, but those small decorative labels with the book-owner’s name can be quite beautiful, and we haven’t yet seen an e-reader with one. Take a look at these examples from the University of Delaware’s William Augustus Brewer Bookplate Collection to see what they’re missing.

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December 8, 2014

The travels and travails of the Mona Lisa

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Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa, 1503-1506, Musée du Louvre. Image and original data provided by Erich Lessing Culture and Fine Arts Archives/ART RESOURCE, N.Y.; artres.com

In 2012, 150,000 people signed a petition asking the Louvre to return Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa to its “home city” of Florence, Italy. Not surprisingly, the Louvre declined. The Mona Lisa has done its share of traveling in the past 500 years, and more often than not it has proven nerve racking.

Before we get to the travel stories, let’s look at Florence’s claim. Leonardo da Vinci did start painting the Mona Lisa in 1503 or 1504 in the Italian city, but in 1516 he was invited by King François I to work in France, and scholars believe he finished the painting there, and there it has remained. After Leonardo’s death, the king bought the Mona Lisa and exhibited it at the Palace of Fontainebleau, its home for more than 100 years, until Louis XIV took it to the Palace of Versailles.

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December 5, 2014

Surface beauty: neoclassicism and Napoleon’s scandalous sister

Antonio Canova, Pauline Bonaparte Borghese as Venus Victrix; detail of figure, Galleria Borghese. Image and original data provided by SCALA, Florence/ART RESOURCE, N.Y.artres.com, scalarchives.com, (c) 2006, SCALA, Florence / ART RESOURCE

Antonio Canova, Pauline Bonaparte Borghese as Venus Victrix; detail of figure, Galleria Borghese. Image and original data provided by SCALA, Florence/ART RESOURCE, N.Y.artres.com, scalarchives.com, (c) 2006, SCALA, Florence / ART RESOURCE

Antonio Canova began working on Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Victrix in 1805, the same year that Pope Pius VII appointed him Inspector General of Fine Arts and Antiquities for the Papal State. By this point, Canova’s reliance upon classical sources, idealized perfection of the forms, fluidity of line, graceful modeling, and exquisitely refined detail had solidly established his reputation as the preeminent sculptor in Europe.

Venus Victrix is an outstanding example of the neoclassical style, which was influenced by the archeological discoveries in Pompeii and Herculaneum and considered the works of the Greeks and Romans to be the pinnacle of artistic achievements. The life-sized reclining nude exemplifies Canova’s superlative technique; the modelling of the form is both idealized and extraordinarily realistic, while Canova’s treatment of the surface of the marble captures the soft texture of skin. This luster was enhanced through a patina of wax and acqua di rota, and it was once set upon a rotating mechanism, which allowed the static viewer to observe it from all angles.

Yet the sculpture’s owner, Prince Camillo Borghese, refused to allow the sculpture to be displayed and would only show it to close acquaintances by torchlight. How did this come to happen?

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November 12, 2014

Leonardo’s Last Supper through the ages

Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper during restoration, 1982-1999

Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper during restoration, 1982-1999. Image and original data provided by Erich Lessing Culture and Fine Arts Archives/ART RESOURCE, N.Y. http://www.artres.com/

I continually come across astounding images when crafting our resources for use in the AP® classroom; they serve as a reminder that a work of art is often subjected to dramatic events. Moreover, that these images stem from so many different places underlines the special value of the Artstor Digital Library.

Recently, in gathering the 24 images to support the teaching of Leonardo’s Last Supper, I found that we had seamlessly accessed eleven different repositories, from the Royal Library in Windsor Castle to the Musée national de la Renaissance–Château d’Écouen.

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November 4, 2014

Michelangelo, Raphael, and the Swiss Guard uniforms

Raphael, Stanza di Eliodoro (Expulsion of Heliodorus), 1511-12, Vatican. Image and original data provided by SCALA, Florence/ART RESOURCE, N.Y.; www.artres.com; scalarchives.com; (c) 2006, SCALA, Florence/ART RESOURCE, N.Y.

Raphael, Stanza di Eliodoro (Expulsion of Heliodorus), 1511-12, Vatican. Image and original data provided by SCALA, Florence/ART RESOURCE, N.Y.; www.artres.com; scalarchives.com; (c) 2006, SCALA, Florence/ART RESOURCE, N.Y.

With the recent news that the Vatican’s Swiss Guard is releasing a book of recipes, I’m again hearing the myth, perpetuated by Dan Brown among others, that Michelangelo designed the uniforms of the Guard at the behest of his patron, Julius II.

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October 30, 2014

Unwinding mummies

Mummy of Ukhhotep, Middle Kingdom

Egypt, Mummy of Ukhhotep, Middle Kingdom, ca. 1981-1802 B.C. Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Come tomorrow evening, droves of miniature monsters will haunt our neighborhoods, jack-o-lantern-shaped candy bowls in tow. Amongst the groups of trick-or-treaters, though, one spooky creature will likely be absent: the mummy, which, despite being the star of many a horror film, never seems to be a Halloween costume favorite.

My guess as to why the mummy costume has never attained the cult status of, for example, the ghost is a purely pragmatic one. Dressing up as a mummy is a difficult task; cutting eyeholes into a white sheet is pretty straightforward. This is a fact that my own failed childhood attempt at dressing up as a mummy—which ended in my mother watching the rolls of gauze bandages she had dutifully wrapped around me immediately unravel—confirms.

An Egyptologist, however, might answer this question differently. For though the mummy of horror cinema is unrestful and vengeful, rising from the tomb to wreak havoc upon the living, in reality mummification was nothing more than a sophisticated burial ritual, meant to help lead the deceased to a peaceful afterlife.

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