Boxes are an invention that probably predates recorded history, but were certainly present after the Neolithic revolution with a more sedentary lifestyle. By the Middle Ages every home had at least one chest given as part of the bride’s dowry. The chests in the Middle Ages were usually pretty simple affairs but that all changed in the Renaissance. The emergence of a wealthy merchant class meant that the the chest had to be more ornate, more expensive and bigger. The cassone (“large chest”) was one of the trophy furnishings of rich merchants and aristocrats in Italian culture, from the Late Middle Ages onward. The cassone was the most important piece of furniture of that time. It was given to a bride and placed in the bridal suite. It would be given to the bride during the wedding, and it was the bride’s parents’ contribution to the wedding. The casson pictured above would have been an extravagant wedding gift. I have collected photos of a number of beautiful chests and cabinets from around the world, from different time periods and I will show them here along with some very interesting history.
I have been meaning to expand my coverage of painters, particularly Flemish painters from the Dutch “Golden Age” and I have decided to begin with another of my favorites, Gerrit Dou (1613-1675). He created exquisite small, often dark paintings that often remind us of his contemporaries. These posts will cover paintings from multiple museums, rather than focusing on a single collection. After learning to paint from his father, a glass engraver, Gerrit Dou was apprenticed to a distinguished printmaker and glass painter, receiving additional formal artistic training from the Leiden glaziers' guild. At 15, he was appointed to the enviable position of apprentice in Rembrandt's studio, where he studied for six years. After Rembrandt left Leiden in 1631, his influence on Dou waned. Dou continued to paint on wood in a small scale but adopted cooler colors and a more highly refined technique characteristic of the fijnschilders (fine painters), a group of Leiden artists who painted small, highly finished pictures. Portraits in impasto gave way to domestic genre subjects (everyday scenes), enamel-smooth and rich in accessory details. These paintings are small, remember that you can click on any image in this website to enlarge them.
They have a nice collection of Peter Paul Rubens at the Getty Center including this very early painting of a hunting scene. In 2006, The Calydonian Boar Hunt was sold to the Getty Collection in Paris for more than €300,000. That figure pales against the millions that collectors are prepared to pay for a Rubens. It had been mistakenly attributed to a follower of Rubens for centuries until the attribution to Rubens was confirmed by David Jaffe, senior curator of Flemish paintings at the National Gallery in London. Michael Brand, director of the Getty Museum, said that The Calydonian Boar Hunt is one of the greatest paintings by Rubens in the United States. “It is seldom that a ‘lost’ painting of such an innovative historical subject by an artist of this caliber comes to light again,” he added. Scholars believe that Rubens kept the work in his studio to inspire him as he continued to develop the theme of the hunt and related subjects through the years. The story of the Calydonian boar hunt was told and retold during antiquity, most famously in Ovid's Metamorphoses. When King Oeneus of Calydon failed to honor the goddess Diana with offerings, she released a terrifying boar on his land. The king's son, Meleager, assembled a group of renowned warriors to slay the beast. Several of the huntsmen were killed or maimed before Meleager finally defeated the boar. He presented its head as a trophy to his beloved, the huntress Atalanta, who is seen behind Meleager, with bow in hand. Painted on his return from Italy, it reflects his study of statues from antiquity and reliefs on Roman sarcophagi, which inspired the pose of his subjects and the composition. Mr. Brand said, “The Calydonian Boar Hunt shows Rubens at his most daring and inventive.”
The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, opened in 1997, features works of art dating from the eighth through the twenty-first century, showcased against a backdrop of dramatic architecture, tranquil gardens, and breathtaking views of Los Angeles. The collection includes European paintings, drawings, sculpture, illuminated manuscripts, decorative arts, and European, Asian, and American photographs. Since L.A. lacks the piazzas and promenades of other major cities, the Getty Center is more than just a museum. Occupying an isolated, hillside perch, the giant multi-terraced art complex has become one of L.A.’s great urban spaces, where visitors can stroll and admire views over the city. Located in the Brentwood Hills above Los Angeles with spectacular panoramic views of the city and the ocean below, the Center comprises the J Paul Getty Museum, five separate arts and humanities institutions, and landscaped gardens and terraces on a 110-acre site. The complex represents a unique order of civic achievement and an intense collaboration between architect and design teams, clients and program coordinators. Richard Meier has created a cultural acropolis for the twenty-first century, striking a delicate balance between humanist, classical organization, and organic forms.
When we were at the Getty Center, I was surprised to see a lovely collection of Rembrandts and particularly this recently famous self portrait done early in his career, painted on copper. A crucial aspect of Rembrandt's development was his intense study of people, objects, and their surroundings “from life,” as is obvious in paintings as his early self-portraits and the Saint Paul in Prison of 1627. Even by Dutch standards, Rembrandt's preoccupation with direct observation was exceptional and continued throughout his career. This painting captures the universal emotion of laughter and joi de vivre of life which contrasts so sharply with his later self portraits. Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum said “The Getty Museum possesses the most significant collection of early Rembrandts in the United States, and if you had asked what addition would best cap it off, the answer would have been a self-portrait, which many regard as his greatest and most sustained achievement. But the chances of finding such a work seemed negligible, until the rediscovery of this painting in 2007. It is unquestionably one of the most remarkable works of art to become available in recent memory.”