A Madman Distilling his Brains

The Robert Lehman Wing was built not only to showcase the vast Lehman Collection – donated to the museum by the family – but parts of it were made to look like rooms recreating the Lehman family residence. 

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos)
Saint Jerome as Scholar, 
ca. 1610

Oil on canvas


Goya (Francisco de Goya y Lucientes) 
Condesa de Altamira and Her Daughter, María Agustina – 1787–88
Oil on canvas


Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres  
Joséphine-Éléonore-Marie-Pauline de Galard de Brassac de Béarn (1825–1860), Princesse de Broglie
Oil on canvas

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, the neo-classical French artist par excellence, painted this masterpiece toward the end of his life when his reputation as a portraitist to prominent citizens and Orléanist aristocrats had been long established. Pauline de Broglie sat for the artist’s final commission. Ingres captures the shy reserve of his subject while illuminating through seamless brushwork the material quality of her many fine attributes: her rich blue satin and lace ball gown, the gold embroidered shawl, and silk damask chair, together with finely tooled jewels of pearl, enamel, and gold. The portrait was commissioned by the sitter’s husband, Albert de Broglie, a few years after their ill-fated marriage. Pauline was stricken with tuberculosis soon after completion of the exquisite portrait, leaving five sons and a grieving husband. Through Albert’s lifetime, it was draped in fabric on the walls of the family residence. The portrait remained in the de Broglie family until shortly before Robert Lehman acquired it.


The collection also comprises some extravagant, utterly amusing objects:Inkstand with Apollo and the Muses
Workshop of the Patanazzi family (Italian, active ca. 1580–1620)
Probably after Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio or Santi) (Italian, Urbino 1483–1520 Rome)
Date: 1584
Medium: Maiolica (tin-glazed earthenware)

This extravagant desk set celebrates the art of poetry while providing a writer with storage for the tools of his craft. The exterior decorations evoke ancient Roman art and honor the divine sources of creativity. Gods and muses perch beside famous poets atop an elaborate confection of drawers and removable containers, including inkwells and a sand-shaker (for drying fresh text). Inside, the compartments are decorated with images denoting their contents, such as scissors and quills.


Among which my personal favourite:
Inkstand with A Madman Distilling His Brains, ca. 1600
Maiolica (tin-glazed earthenware)

In this whimsical maiolica sculpture, a well-dressed man leans forward in his seat with his head in a covered pot set above a fiery hearth. The vessel beside the hearth almost certainly held ink. The man’s actions are explained by an inscription on the chair: “I distill my brain and am totally happy.” Thus the task of the writer is equated with distillation—the process through which a liquid is purified by heating and cooling, extracting its essence.


The Metropolitan Museum of Art
March 19th, 2017

6 thoughts on “A Madman Distilling his Brains

    1. One Muse only? Does this mean Apollo had a favourite? Maybe it was Calliope, his lover, with whom he had two sons apparently (although one can never be sure in Greek Mythology…) Ok, you can have the Apollo inkstand, I know you’re not a Madman 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  1. This Ingres is one of my all time favorite paintings. I stood in front of it for a long time, mesmerized by the detail in the lace of her dress, the delicateness in her hair piece and in the painting as a whole.

    Liked by 1 person

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