Posts with the tag: university museum

The Archivist’s Nook: Reflecting The Renaissance – Andrea della Robbia’s Annunciation

The following is a selection from Catholic University student Moira McCoy’s class paper on Andrea della Robbia’s Annunciation, a piece of Renaissance-era Italian art held by Special Collections at the University. Ms. McCoy’s piece was submitted as an assignment for Professor Tiffany Hunt’s course ART 272: The Cosmopolitan Renaissance and edited by Special Collection’s Dr. Maria Mazzenga. The students used art from the University collections for their papers.

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Andrea della Robbia’s Annunciation is a prime example of the movement of Renaissance art from the late fifteenth century into the present-day world. This terracotta relief sculpture, currently displayed at The Catholic University of America, has very little documentation prior to its donation to the University in 1960 by Mr. Arthur T. Roth. This piece was created for a Florentine audience, but we might ask how the message of this art piece changed throughout time and location.

Figure 1: Metal Plaque shown on the wooden shelf of Andrea della Robbia’s Annunciation as displayed at Catholic University of America.

The Annunciation’s archival file in Special Collections offers a foundation for research. Though Robbia’s Annunciation is not extremely well documented, readers do get a general idea of the artist, the donor, and other aspects through the file. There is no signature of the artist that tells us for certain that this is an original Andrea della Robbia, though the metal plaque on the bottom of the sculpture is associated with the Florentine sculptor (Figure 1). This sculpture has little known transaction prior to its donation to the University in 1960. There appears to be no documentation of how Roth, a prominent New York banker, purchased the Robbia sculpture, indicating that the piece may have itself been a gift to him.

Along with the file is information about the artist, Andrea della Robbia. His role as a sculptor under the influence of his uncle, Luca, lead us to understand that the Florentine artist’s pieces were to attract the local audience. Personal research shows that there is very little evidence of Robbia pieces in the western world today, indicating that they were primarily meant for the Italian viewers of the fifteenth century. There is no confirmed date of completion of Andrea’s Annunciation, nor is there information on this specific piece on public online sources. When viewing the object file, the date of execution is vaguely indicated as “fifteenth century (?).” Of the pieces in Florence today, there is a highly designated purpose that these pieces fulfill. Andrea della Robbia appears to be a sculptor of religious scenes primarily, as most pieces are in correlation with religious institutions. Many of these pieces remained in Florence due to the sculpture type, as they are attached to their original space, and removal would be difficult.

Figure 2: Front view of Andrea della Robbia’s Annunciation, terracotta relief, late fifteenth century, Catholic University of America.

The Annunciation appears to the viewer in a semi-circular arch with a peaked top, (Figure 2). At first glance, viewers may find this piece to have little detail due to the dominating white-blue color tones of the sculpture. The deep, muted blue provides a background to the whitened figures of Mary and Gabriel, as well as other features such as the dove, flowers and vase. This blue background is also the deepest layer of the relief whereas the white objects and figures appear in the higher relief layer. But why use these two tones as the main colors of the piece? It is believed that the cerulean blue and ivory white color scheme is a trademark of the Robbia workshop founded by Luca della Robbia, Andrea’s uncle. These colors are functional and unique colors which mark all pieces from the Robbia. In other pieces, such as Luca della Robbia’s Resurrection (Figure 3), we are sampling the earlier model of this blue-white glazing technique that is constant in all Robbia works, including a brighter green to the work for forestry and brightness. A secondary claim as to why these colors are utilized is in the remembrance of the Florentine aesthetic of the Renaissance. The memory of Florentine Renaissance leaves us with the idea of Humanism and the imagery of the Florence artists’ personal touch. Nineteenth-century essayist Walter Pater wrote on Luca della Robbia’s use of blue and white terracottas, stating that “…nothing brings the real air of a Tuscan town so vividly to mind as those pieces of pale blue and white earthenware . . . like fragments of the milky sky itself, fallen into the cool streets, and breaking into the darkened churches..” (1) which reinforces the statement that the use of these duochromatic palettes in the Robbia art space are reminiscent of the Florentine art style and appeal to the fifteenth century audience. The last claim is the significance of the subjects, and the importance of these colors in a religious sense. Though there is a paragraph on the religiosity of the scene ahead, it is important for researchers to understand how the light blue is seen in many different versions of the Annunciation pieces, from Northern territory artists such as van Eyck to the Italian Fra Angelico. The blue is often associated with Virgin Mary whereas the white is to symbolize the purity of the Annunciation scene, with iconography of white lilies and a dove. Overall, it is important to note that something as simple as the color palette connects to the location of Florence, the iconography of religious symbols and figures to the individualism of the artist.

Figure 3: Luca della Robbia, Ressurection, polychromed and glazed terracotta,1442-1445, Duomo di Firenze.

A major feature of Andrea della Robbia’s artwork and style is his material use and glazing techniques. Terracotta is a form of clay-based material that is fired under extreme heat to solidify into a ceramic texture. This clay is found in many parts of the world, such as Asia, the Mediterranean & Africa, and is used in pieces from sculptures to brick making. Its application in Renaissance art was popularized by Ghiberti and Donatello during the early fifteenth century (2). Terracotta was used for two main reasons. First, the Mediterranean region where it existed was accessible to Florentine artists. Second, the clay material was easily pliable for artists of the era. The soft shape of the material allowed artists to decorate and create free flowing shapes very different from metals, marble, and other resources. Andrea was introduced to the making of terracotta sculpture while an apprentice to his uncle Luca. Luca’s innovation of developing glazed and colored terracotta that, when fired with glazes, would fuse with the clay underneath and result in brightness and shine. Furthermore, Andrea’s improvement in the creation of these enameled figures was to leave the face, hands and other parts bare. The emphasis of polychrome, or multiple colors, on Andrea’s pieces gives the Florentine artist a sense of individuality within the della Robbia workshop.

Andrea della Robbia’s Annunciation was made as a religious motif that includes all of the classical iconography of the biblical scene of the Annunciation of Mary with Gabriel. The event takes place when Gabriel the Angel descends to the Virgin Mary and announces that she will bear the child of the Holy Spirit, reiterated in the Book of Luke. The Holy Spirit is symbolized by a dove or rays of light in these scenes whereas the inclusion of white lilies is the symbol of the Virgin Mary, indicating her purity. Specifically in Andrea’s Annunciation, we see all four of these characters. Gabriel and Mary face each other with a vase of lilies filling the space between them. Above head, a swooping dove represents the Holy Spirit. Even if the viewer does not know the name of the art piece, these subjects tell the story of the Annunciation. In the Renaissance eye, the Annunciation scene was popularized to portray the old to new transition through the world, just as the change from the Old to New Testament. More importantly, the Annunciation connects with the Renaissance ideology of a new age of religion and mankind. Appealing to the Franciscan ideals of contemplation upon art, Andrea conceived many of his pieces to the influence of Franciscans in Florence during the Early Renaissance period. Contemplation of art allows the viewer to meditate on the Annunciation scene, which can evoke the reliving of the biblical event to the viewer and give a sensational understanding of the Holy Spirit’s role during the Renaissance era. Furthermore, the role of Gabriel could be the concept of Renaissance, or rebirth, who is appointing new changes upon the Virgin Mary, symbolizing the European society of the times.

The function of this art piece is to appeal to the religious perspective of its audience. Though we do not know the original location of this piece, many parts of this terracotta sculpture tell us that this was made for a religious institution and serve the purpose as a religious piece. Other than the obvious iconographic traits of this piece, the shape also indicates an interesting aspect. The arching shape with the semi-pointed top, known as a tympanum, is noticeably similar to the shape of Luca della Robbia’s piece Resurrection, a terracotta piece that is found above the left sacristy in the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Fig. 3). The shape of tympanums have changed drastically through time and with the ideas of reconnecting with the classical Roman features, the shapes of the Andrea and Luca della Robbia pieces act not only as a symbol of Renaissance art, but also gives researchers some insight that Andrea’s Annunciation may have been originally placed or created as a tympana for a religious site or church. What appears as a little detail actually gives lots of context to the religious function.

Andrea della Robbia’s Annunciation allows viewers to gather insight as to how important documentation is for pieces of historical artwork. With the thin file and little to no information on the actual piece itself, the interpretation of the piece relies on the audience members to recognize the iconography and biblical importance of this scene. Being able to comprehend the symbolic message of this terracotta sculpture was a task for this viewer, as it was a noticeably religious scene and would have been reinforced by the original location. The world of Florentine Renaissance highlights the importance of rebirth and return to the humanistic view of antique Greek and Roman society. The Renaissance was a new turning point for Europeans in means of politics, society, literature and philosophies and though that time has passed, the significance of Andrea della Robbia’s Annunciation has not lost its importance, but merely been lost to time and underappreciation for the original Florentine piece.

Sources:
(1) Pater, Walter The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Literature, February 1873. Page 63-72

(2) Victoria and Albert Museum, “Italian Terracotta Sculpture,” Italian Terracotta Sculpture (London September 4, 2013)

 

The Archivist’s Nook: The Durwards of Scotland and Wisconsin – Catholic Converts, Artists, and Poets

Madonna of the Dove, 1875. Charles P. Durward. (1) Special Collections, Catholic University.

Primarily known as a portrait painter in Milwaukee, Bernard Isaac Durward (1817-1902), was a native of Montrose, Scotland  In addition to portraits, he also painted numerous religious subjects and still life paintings as well as creating several altar pieces for churches in the Milwaukee area.  He also became known for his poetry. His volume of poetry, Cristofero Colombo (1889), was celebrated at the 1893 World’s Fair at Chicago as the “best original and extended epic yet written in this land.” (6) Additionally, he was a collector, having acquired a number of works for his gallery at Durward’s Glen from other Wisconsin artists of the time. Bernard’s son, Charles Durward (1844-1875), was also a painter, especially of religious scenes and sites in Europe.

Bernard I. Durward in his garden, ca. 1895. (2) Special Collections, Catholic University.

The youngest of five children, Bernard’s father died when he was an infant and the family struggled financially. He had to work as a youngster, becoming a shepherd boy in the Grampian Hills at age 8 and apprenticed to become a shoemaker at 12 to James Horne who also provided instruction in reading and writing. Bernard’s introduction to art was through the imitation of the works of others, which he sought to replicate in watercolor and crayon.  He later became adept with the use of oils. He married Margaret Hillyard in 1842 and briefly settled in England where their sons Bernard Jr. and Charles were born in 1844. In 1845 the young artist embarked with his wife and two children on a one month ocean voyage across the Atlantic and made his way by the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Bernard’s uncle Martin lived.  After a short lived attempt to homestead in Dodge County near Neosho, the Durwards moved back to Milwaukee where they eventually had an original home built called the ‘Octagon House’ on the land now called Gordon Park. Bernard became a successful portrait painter, with his subjects being many of Milwaukee’s elite, including Solomon Juneau and Bishop John Henni, the first Bishop of Milwaukee, who would influence Bernard to convert to Catholicism in 1853.

Wild Kalydon and other Grapes, 1887. (3) Bernard I. Durward. Special Collections, Catholic University.

Bernard also had literary success as fifty of his short poems were printed in the Milwaukee Sentinel, the Crayon of New York, and the Leader of St. Louis. His poem, May (1855), won special praise while his most famous was St. Mary’s of the Pines, written during the Civil War. When St. Francis Seminary in Milwaukee opened in 1856 he joined the faculty teaching English and elocution. He also taught painting to the School Sister of Notre Dame in Milwaukee. In 1862, the Durward family moved for a final time to the Baraboo Hills at a place they called ‘Durward’s Glen.’ Bernard sought the contemplative solitude of nature to inspire his religious art though as he aged he focused more on writing and poetry.  He continued to support his family through painting commissions and teaching at the seminary until his death. Besides Charles, his other children included Bernard Jr. (1843-1855); two who became priests, John (1847-1918) and James (1851-1933); musician and writer, Wilfred (1857-1927); farmer, Andrew (1861-1926); and two daughters, Emma (1850-1852), and Mary Thecla (1863-1946), the only one born at the Glen.

Charles P. Durward, ca. 1875. (4) Special Collections, Catholic University.

Charles Durward was baptized a Roman Catholic in 1853 and attended St. Francis School. He traveled to Europe, where he painted Chester Cathedral from St. John’s Priory Window, Immaculate Conception of Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Charles Borromeo, the Madonna of the Sleep, and the Stable of Bethlehem. He later purchased six acres from his father and built a small home (later a guest house of the Order of St. Camillus) where he painted Madonna del Colombo and Stations in 1874, shortly before his untimely death due to eating the poisonous water hemlock plant. He was buried at St. Mary of the Pines. This artistic family was summed up “as eccentric, a reputation which was not diminished when the son, Charles, also began to paint and erected in the glen a studio and gallery for the quiet pursuit of religious art. These unusual proceedings, coupled with the ritualistic devotion of the family members toward one another (referring to each other as ‘the Artistic Brother,’ ‘the Poet Father,’ etc), were not calculated to bring art very close to the interests of the farmer natives.”(7) The bulk of the Durward Collection now resides in the Museum section of Special Collections at The Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. Father John Durward had visited Catholic in 1909, striking up a friendship with Rector, Thomas J. Shahan. Subsequently, the initial donation of three paintings was made in 1919 by the John Durward Estate, and two of these, Madonna of the Dove and Madonna of the Sleep, are prominently displayed on campus. A further, substantial donation of 41 paintings was made in 2007 by the Order of St. Camillus. It is also of note that four of the paintings were returned to Catholic University in 2021 after being on long term loan to the Museum of Wisconsin Art.

A stone church building with a white monument in front. (5) Bernard I. Durward, Special Collections, Catholic University.

(1) NMC 19, A framed oil painting, 30 by 38 inches.

(2) Mary Grace Terry. The Story of Durward’s Glen. Order of St. Camillus, 1958, p. 7.

(3) A framed oil painting by Bernard I. Durward, 24 x 35.5 inches. NMC 1163

(4) Terry, p. 31.

(5) A framed oil painting by Bernard I. Durward, 16.25 x 18.75 inches. NMC 1154

(6) Porter Butts. Art in Wisconsin. (1936), p. 78.

(7) Ibid, p. 78.

The Archivist’s Nook: Numismatic Teaching Tool – Catholic University’s Coin Collection

H197-1: Justin I – Gold – Tremissis; (Wt.) 1.21, (Mod.) 14; (Ob. Type) Bust, facing, wearing helmet with plume and diadem; (Ob. Legend) DNIVSTINVSPPAVC; (R. type) Victory walking, looking r.; (R. legend) VICTORIAAVCVSTORVM in ex. CONOB, 518-527 A.D. Byzantine. Research by CUA Greek and Latin Class in 2013.

The Catholic University of America (CUA) coin collection, part of the museum administered by the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, contains nearly seventeen hundred numismatic pieces, primarily from ancient Greece, the Roman republic and empire, and Byzantium, as well as medieval and modern specimens, including coins from Western Europe, Persia, and China. A Roman poet once said: “Quidquid praecipies, esto brevis” (whatever you want to teach, be brief),¹ so let us begin.

From the late nineteenth century to as late as 1938, there were more than twenty donations, some 1682 coins. With the exception of the Nablus series, the collection was acquired entirely by gift. One of the earliest donations came from Claudio Jannet (1844-1894), a professor of Economics at Paris who also wrote about American political and economic institutions. He was known to be an admirer of the United States and probably interested in the establishment of CUA, hence the CUA Bulletin 1894 description of him as one of the University’s best friends who had donated a large collection of Greek and Roman coins. This donation of 806 coins represents the largest donation of the entire collection. Another early addition to the collection was 72 coins from Professor Henri Hyvernat and Msgr. Paul Muller-Simonis after their trip to India, 1888-1889. Hyvernat traveled extensively throughout the world and donated hundreds of eclectic items to the university museum from five continents.

1058-1: Caesar – silver – denarius; (Wt.) 3.91, (Mod.) 20, (Die axis) 12; (Ob. type) Pontifical emblems: culullus, aspergillum, axe, and apex; (Ob legend) BLANK (R. type) Elephant r., trampling dragon; (R. legend) CAESAR (in exergue); (Mint) Moving with Caesar, 49-48 B.C. Late Republic, military issue. Research by CUA Greek and Latin class, 2010.

The Nablus Collection, numbering 178 coins, came to the university in 1927 from the Samaritan Community of Nablus, Palestine, then under British administration. Due to its unique nature as a coin hoard discovered during an archaeological dig, Rev. Romain Butin, curator of the Museum and a professor of Semitics, had to obtain written permission from the Governor of Palestine, and the Department of Antiquities, Jerusalem, to export the collection to CUA. There were also several other donations between 1916 and 1938.  In 1975, CUA archivist George Hruneni created a preliminary inventory of the coins. In 1977, New York coin dealer Alex Malloy examined the collection, stating the overall quality was not superb, but with many good pieces it would be a valuable teaching aid.  In 1987 a numismatist named John D. Mac Isaac reported that the Roman Imperial material was the overall strength of the collection, illustrating Roman art, economics, and political propaganda for the period 100 B.C. to 450 A.D. He also noted several coins he believed to be Greek forgeries and the presence of over 300 virtually illegible coins. The following year, Stephen Koob, an art conservator at the Smithsonian Institution, recommended improving the storage conditions of the coins. He also believed the collection would be a useful educational tool, providing tangible artifacts for the classroom, and, for some of the more valuable coins in good condition, as items displayed in exhibitions.

1058-669: Ptolemy I – Bronze piece; Head of Alexander the Great with horn of Ammon, wearing diadem, elephant’s skin and aegis. (r) Eagle with wings closed stdg. On thunderbolt with head turned (left). Egypt, 305-285 B.C. George Hruneni. Preliminary Inventory to the Coin Collections of The Catholic University of America, 1975, p. 46. Also, special thanks to Douglas Mudd of the Money Museum.

In 1991, volunteer students began transferring the coins from acidic envelopes and boxes to polyethylene sleeves housed in a series of binders to facilitate better storage and access. A student of Greek and Latin, Daniel Gordon, wrote a number of important notes on accompanying cards to individual coins in the collection. The coins are housed in the binders, usually ten (10) pages each in a covering box. Roman Empire coins dated 27 B.C. to 284 A.D., the accession of Diocletian, are listed as ‘early empire,’ those dated A.D. 284 to 476, the fall of the empire in the west, are designated ‘late empire.’ The first series contains the 806 coins donated by Jannet, collection number 1058, ca. 600 B.C.-1878 A.D., in binders 1-4. These are primarily Roman coins, but with a nice selection of Greek, Byzantine, Carthaginian as well as a few from Carolingian France. The second series has 31 coins donated by Grindell, collection number 2474, in binder 5. These are primarily Roman and Byzantine Coins, with one from Carthage. The third series has 115 coins donated by Pierre Court, collection number 2945, also in binder 5. These are primarily Roman coins. The fourth series, binder 6, has coins donated by Schrantz. The fifth series, binder 7, has coins donated by Ignatius Lissner. The sixth series, binder 8, has coins of poor quality from Luigi Gassi, designation no. 5281, consisting of 148 Roman, Greek, and Byzantine coins plus a no. 5282 Arabic coin. The seventh series, binder 9, has coins of the Nablus Collection. The eighth series, binder 10, has coins donated by Henri Hyvernat. The ninth and final series, binder 11, has miscellaneous coins donated by several sources.

1058-786: Louis the Pious – Christiana religio; Obverse Legend: +HLVDOVVICUS IMP, cross; Reverse Legend: +XPISTIANA RELIGIO, temple, 822/823-840 A.D. Carolingian France. Research in 2011 by CUA Professor Jennifer Davis, special thanks to Dr. Elina Screen, Fitzwilliam Museum, The University of Cambridge, and Dr. Simon Coupland, The University of Oxford.

In the past decade, Professor William Klingshirn of Greek and Latin has organized several classes of students for the purposes of examining specific categories of coins; learning how to properly weigh, identify and catalogue them; and consulting reference tools to compile new databases of portions of the coin collection for a more accurate inventory.² For more information on access, please contact lib-archives@cua.edu.


¹Horace (65-8 B.C.), Ars Poetica, 333.

²See the article by one of the CUA students: Lionel Yaceczko. “The Riddle of the Nablus Collection: An Unusual Hoard of Fourth-Century Roman Bronze Folles,” Studies in Late Antiquity 1.2 (2017), 173-203.