L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Sunday, August 28, 2022

The still garden of veneration - the Bardi Madonna, by Sandro Botticelli, circa 1485



The Virgin Mary is shown enthroned preparing to breastfeed the infant Jesus. She is flanked by a pair of Saint Johns; John the Baptist on the left, and John the Evangelist on the right. The figures are presented in a densely detailed setting; plants and flowers so dominate that only small patches of sky remain visible, all of it suggesting a hortus conclusus or closed garden, a very traditional visual reference to the Virgin Mary. The composition is loaded with iconographic symbols and text, some obvious, others more obscure. But the walled garden, the white lilies in vases, the red flowers, the palms, clearly evoke the purity of Mary, the future Passion of Christ, and illustrate the Virgin's place in Christian mysticism.

The tempera on wood panel measures 185 x 180 cm (approximately 73 x 71 inches). The altarpiece was commissioned by the rich Florentine banker Agnolo Bardi, who had returned home after more than twenty years as a banker and wool merchant in London, where he was known as "John de Barde." Installed in his family chapel at the Santo Spirito Basilica in Florence, it is now in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin. The frame is by Giuliano da Sangallo who, at the time, was just becoming Lorenzo de' Medici's favorite architect. It's thought that the altarpiece may have included other panels, now missing. 

Friday, August 26, 2022

When your one true possession is style - portraits of baron "Niki" de Gunzburg

Horst P. Horst, 1937.
Man Ray, circa 1928. (Three images.)
Horst P. Horst, 1934. He is costumed as "Archduke Rudolf" for his famous Bal de Valses.
George Hurrell, circa 1935-36.

Nicolas "Niki" Louis Alexandre, 5th baron de Gunzburg (12 December 1904, Paris - 20 February 1981, New York City), French-born magazine editor and socialite, he served as an editor at several American publications, including Town & Country, Vogue, and Harper's Bazaar, and was named to the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1971. He was born into a wealthy and influential Russian-Jewish family, whose fortune had been made in banking and oil. The Günzburgs, as they were originally known, were ennobled during the 1870s by the Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine; their Hessian title was made hereditary in 1874 by Czar Alexander II of Russia. (When the family began spending more time in France later in the century, the umlaut was dropped and the particle "de" adopted.) Raised primarily in England, where his father worked as a banker and director of the Ritz Hotels Development Corporation, he would spent his later youth in France, where he was accustomed to a lavish lifestyle. One that included constant parties, costume balls, and other entertainments, but little or nothing in the way of useful or gainful employment. It's said that when his father died in 1929, it was discovered that the family fortune had fairly vanished. Three years later he starred in and co-produced Danish film director Carl Dreyer's expressionistic horror film Vampyr, under the pseudonym Julian West. In July of the following year he threw his famous Bal de Valses, which had as its theme the milieu of the Viennese Imperial Court, circa 1860. Attended by le tout-Paris - the likes of Chanel, Carlos de Beistegui, Natalie Paley, Fulco di Verdura, and wall to wall aristocrats - it was a last hurrah. Having booked passage even before the night of the ball, he arrived in the United States shortly after, settling first in Hollywood, where he was one of a growing colony of European émigrés who sought refuge there. But he soon abandoned California for Manhattan; he arrived in New York City on 10 November 1936 and rented an apartment in the Ritz Tower. His certificate of immigration from the French Consulate General in New York listed him as sans profession. But he later worked as an editor at Harper's Bazaar and than as editor in chief of Town & Country. In 1949 he was appointed senior fashion editor of Vogue. He was also a mentor to three fashion designers who would go on to great success: Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta and, most notably, Calvin Klein. Gay, he never married, but had two long term relationships. The first was with actor/singer Erik Rhodes, best known for his comic roles in two Astaire/Rogers vehicles, The Gay Divorcee and Top Hat. The second was an artist from Texas, Paul Sherman. The two met in the late 1950s and remained together until Gunzburg's death at the age of seventy-six. He was buried in Glenwood Cemetery, near his summer home in Highland Lakes, New Jersey, with a small private service at which Blass, de la Renta, and Klein were among the mourners. The title of baron de Gunzburg became extinct on his death.

A writer at Vogue once described him as:

A slender, attractive man with a really dry wit, a gift for mimicry, and a sharply developed taste for the simple but cultivated amenities of living.


Five additional proofs from the Man Ray sitting, circa 1928.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Genuine, fraudulent, restored, or pastiche - "Renaissance" pendants, 16th or 19th century


Much/most of the design work of the nineteenth century - fashion, furniture, art, architecture - was a rehashing of earlier styles; nearly everything came with a label or description subtitled "Revival." Beginning as early as the 1850s, there appeared a taste for Renaissance Revival jewelry. Original antique pieces, copies, or new designs, all based on Elizabethan and continental jewelry of the late Renaissance period, were once again the height of fashion. 

A good deal of confusion later developed because the newly-made pieces so skillfully mimicked the stylistic qualities of the original pieces. And sometimes, these new items were even fraudulently marketed as being original. Perhaps more problematic was the fact that older pieces were often heavily restored, reconfigured, or augmented with additional features to make them more attractive to a contemporary audience. Original pieces that had languished unworn in aristocratic collections for two centuries were taken out and "spruced up", sometimes greatly altering - and effectively destroying - the original jewel.

The vogue reached its peak in the 1870s and was fairly over by the end of the following decade. The no longer fashionable jewels disappeared from the scene, put away again, only to reappear decades later - the originals, the altered, the fakes - in auction houses and museums, where those who would now possess them often couldn't be entirely certain of what they'd actually got. Expert jewelers, conservators, and the guardians of museums and private collections throughout the world are still trying to sift through the confusion left behind by these gorgeous but often - accidentally or intentionally - duplicitous objects.

I'm not going to wade into the task of labeling what is real and what is fake in the images here - though I think the latter predominates - I'm just going to share a selection of these odd and lavish, fantastical and sometimes even quite beautiful jewels.