The Power of Beauty

Imagine visiting Rome and coming back home with a micromosaic tabletop as a souvenir; being sister, wife, and mother to three different emperors; or an average woman going about her daily handwork with a ”globustisch” as your workstation.

Nothing average about the objects.

Micromosaic Tabletop with Nine Views of Rome, ca. 1830-1850
Glass tesserae with marble, lapis lazuli and malachite

Marble tables with elaborate decorations of inlaid precious stones and micro-mosaic pictures were among the most prized souvenirs available to 19th-century tourists. This table-top features nine vignettes of Rome’s chief attractions: the Pantheon, Tomb of Cecilia Metella, Temple of Vesta, Forum, Coliseum, Arch of Titus, Castel Sant’Angelo, and Capitoline Hill, with St. Peter’s Basilica in the center. 

Each micro-mosaic vignette is composed of remarkably thin rods of brightly colored glass (smalti filati) cut into tiny pieces (tesserae), and arranged with as many as 1,400 tesserae per inch. Greek patterns and borders of malachite and lapis lazuli complete the composition. This table top was probably made in the mosaic studio at St. Peter’s Basilica, which had been in operation since the late 16th century. Tourists would purchase the table top in Italy, then commission a local furniture-maker to construct an appropriate base after returning from their travels.

Portrait of Agrippina the Younger, ca. 40 CE
Marble (from Paros) heaed, 18th-century coloured marble bust

Agrippina the Younger (AD 15 – 59) was a powerful woman: the sister, wife, and mother to three different emperors. According to ancient authors, Agrippina’s brother Caligula sent her into exile for involvement in a conspiracy in AD 39. Her uncle Claudius recalled her from banishment and married her in AD 49. Agrippina is said to have poisoned Claudius so that her son Nero might become emperor. The empress ruled in Nero’s name while he was young, but he eventually turned against her, ordering assassins to murder her. While Agrippina is said to have written an autobiography, it has not survived. Her portraits provide the only remaining clues as to how she wished to be represented during her lifetime. These depict her with a slightly protruding upper lip and chin that are reminiscent of Caligula’s portraits. Of the RISD version, only the head is ancient.

Globe Table (Globustisch), 1810-1820
Mahogany, burl mahogany, oak, ebony and boxwood with brass, mirror, ivory, mother of pearl, pewter, tortoiseshell, painted faux tortoiseshell, engravings and velvet

Fashioned from a profusion of costly materials, this table spotlights the virtuosic skills of its makers. Designed to provide a space for sewing and other handwork, the upper half of the burled mahogany globe rotates into the lower half to reveal ivory bobbins and compartments for materials.

Neoclassical style is seen in the three curved legs topped with ram heads, as well as the interior replica of a Greek temple with a geometric inlaid floor. Engravings of the Roman goddesses Minerva and Flora flank the mirrored back, reflecting the owner’s education and appreciation of the ancient world.

RISD Museum, Providence, RI

November 23rd, 2018

Niobe’s Hubris

Fragmentary Sarcophagus front and lid depicting the slaughter of the Niobids
end of the 2nd century CE
Marble (from Luna, modern Carrara, Italy)

Only the fronts of this sarcophagus’s lid and chest survive; together they show the slaughter of Niobe’s children by the gods Apollo and Diana (the Greek Apollo and Artemis). Niobe, a mortal woman with fourteen children, demanded more honor than Leto, mother of the two deities. To punish Niobe’s pride (hubris), Apollo and Diana killed all of her children.

On the lid of the sarcophagus, Apollo stands at left and Diana at right, both taking aim at the persons portrayed in the scene below. Between them are Olympian deities, including the central figure of Zeus, king of the gods. To the left of Zeus, Athena stands with Apollo and Diana, depicted as children. On either end of the relief is a bearded male head with an open mouth and wings in his hair. The heads may be personifications of the winds, but their meaning remains unclear.

On the chest, Niobe’s dying children gaze up at the vengeful gods. Older figures support the fallen children, including their father, Amphion, on the left. Presumably, the missing portion on the right showed Niobe herself. The myth was popular from the classical age of Greece to the end of the Roman Empire.

RISD Museum, Providence, RI

November 23rd, 2018

Spot the Difference

Fragment of Relief with Captives, 1525-1504 BCE
Limestone
Egyptian, Dynasty 18, Reign of Amenhotep I – From the Karnak Temple Complex

This fragment was once part of a temple relief depicting King Amenhotep I grasping bound captives by the hair. The seemingly identical appearance of the bearded captives functioned as visual shorthand for foreign enemies of the Egyptian state. Closer inspection, however, reveals some individualized features, including different beard styles.

RISD Museum, Providence, RI

November 23rd, 2018

Caustic

James Montford, b. 1951
Holocaust Blankets with Smallpox, 2015
Cotton and wool blankets, vinyl lettering

Holocaust Blankets with Smallpox is part of a larger body of work focused on the notion of who “owns” the use of the word holocaust. . . . I see this as being part of a longstanding tradition in art of addressing inequality, injustice, and intolerance, reaching as far back as Goya’s time-honored painting The Third of May 1808. As a Black Indian, the oppression I have experienced is due, in part, to the ongoing power we subscribe to hate words. I created this work to present a multilayered approach to the demystification of racial, ethnic, and gender-based discrimination.

–James Montford

RISD Museum, Providence, RI

November 23rd, 2018

 

Politics are More Scary and Hideous than Ever

The artwork was created during President Obama’s re-election campaign [description below and on gloves (zoom to read)]. If ”politics were more scary and hideous than ever” then, which words would better describe the situation today?

Jessica Deane Rosner
The Election Gloves, 2011-2013

“You would think that worrying about who is going to lead our country would make all other concerns vanish or at least fade to a pale gray. But, for me, a huge crisis only piles on top of all my other worries. I find myself anxious about cleaning my home AND what happens if Roe v. Wade is overturned.” –Jessica Deane Rosner

Created during President Obama’s re-election campaign, Rosner’s dishwashing gloves recount her daily chores, creative challenges, and personal anxieties on one side. On the other, she outlines national and international headlines, sometimes critiquing political affairs. This text, initially written in detailed diary entries, was edited and rewritten on the gloves. The faded ink and rubber deterioration remind us that everything is ultimately ephemeral. The more permanent-looking flag, a bandana Rosner bought at the Army/Navy Surplus on Thayer Street, features simplified versions of the dishwashing gloves—a metanarrative on the interconnectedness of personal and political obligations.

Paired with:

Dr. Martens
Men’s Shoes with Flag
Pattern, ca. 1990

RISD Museum, Providence, RI

November 23rd, 2018

My Providence!

My Providence! What airy hosts
 Turn still thy gilded vanes;
What winds of elf that with grey ghosts
 People thine ancient lanes!

– from ”Providence”, a poem by H.P. Lovecraft

A fanlight’s gleam, a knocker’s blow,
     A glimpse of Georgian brick—
The sights and sounds of long ago
     Where fancies cluster thick.

From the ”Superman” Building to the Fleur-de-Lys that Lovecraft despised – and made sure to tell the world, when he wrote in ”The Call of Cthulu:

”Wilcox still lived alone in the Fleur-de-Lys Building in Thomas Street, a hideous Victorian imitation of seventeenth century Breton Architecture which flaunts its stuccoed front amidst the lovely colonial houses on the ancient hill, and under the very shadow of the finest Georgian steeple in America, I found him at work in his rooms, and at once conceded from the specimens scattered about that his genius is indeed profound and authentic.”

The spirit of H.P. Lovecraft is alive, in Providence.

November 23rd, 2018

Providence || The Rhode Island State House

Sitting atop Smith Hill, overlooking downtown Providence, a grant building of white George marble, in inverse proportion to the size of the State it was built to serve. Designed by the New York firm of McKim, Mead and White and constructed between 1895 and 1904, it is crowned with the fourth largest self supporting dome in the world, behind only that of St. Peter’s in Vatican City, the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul and the Taj Mahal in Agra, India.

The Senate Chamber, home to the 38 members of the Senate; it’s design was influenced by the Pantheon in Rome.

”Hope” is the official state motto of Rhode Island, inspired by the biblical phrase “hope we have as an anchor of the soul.” This little flag made it to the Moon and back.

Thomas Wilson Dorr, 1805-1854
”The People’s Governor”, thanks to whom Rhode Island adopted a state constitution.

This is the Gettysburg gun from the First R.I. Light Artillery, damaged during the battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863 with a cannonball still stuck in the barrel.

The Royal Charter of 1663 granted by King Charles II of England, on July 8, 1663, resides safely in a custom steel  vault. The Charter guaranteed Rhode Island settlers complete religious liberty, established a self-governing colony with local autonomy and strengthened Rhode Island’s territorial claims. The most liberal charter of any colony, it served as Rhode Island’s basic law until the adoption of the state’s first constitution, which came into effect on May 2, 1843.

The Rhode Island State House, Providence

November 23rd, 2018