Lost art found – Fra Angelicos in Oxford?

The Daily Telegraph interviews clueless survivors and misses an interesting story.
Here’s a story headlined “Treasures Found Behind Bedroom Door” which entirely misses the point. The paper asserts that two Fra Angelico panel paintings have been found in Oxford and that their owner didn’t know what they were because she lived a modest life:

“She bought her clothes from a catalogue, ate frozen meals and went everywhere on the bus,” he [the owner’s nephew] said.

My suspicions were raised by this throwaway line in the story: She had been curator of manuscripts at two universities in America, Princeton and Huntingdon [sic].
Hmmm. Someone who is curator of manuscripts at the Huntington Library (not university, silly Englishman) is not a naive. So I googled and read this in her obituary on a page of the Early Book Society Newsletter (click and search for “Preston”):

Jean’s lovely little home in Oxford was filled with treasures: Jean was the largest private collector of manuscript leaves by the Spanish forger, and she owned several important pre-Raphaelite paintings.

Miss Preston may have been the twit’s maiden aunt, but she’s not sounding nearly so naive as to live for 45 years with two Fra Angelico panels without figuring out what they were – the woman collected forgeries! That’s someone who is well beyond mildly aware of her collection. I think she reveled in looking at the two paintings for a long, long time without ever having to increase her insurance premium. I salute Miss Jean Preston!
I first read about this at the Commonplace Book of Zadok the Roman.
About collecting forgeries . . .
There are a couple of reasons Miss Preston might have collected forgeries – I’ll speculate here. People who collect forgeries are often interested in conoisseurship – the study of determining who made what by careful analysis of works of art (and the word usually excludes technical examination in favor of the ‘trained eye’). Miss Preston was an expert on manuscript books (not necessarily manuscript painting – I don’t know enough about her to say) and the Spanish Forger (many of whose works have been detected but who evaded identification, so is still known by the sobriquet – here’s a quick link to a work) is a fascinating case. So she must have been interested in conoisseurship! Therefore she would have consulted friends with more expertise in 15th C. panel painting about her own examples (and given her profession and the places she worked she would have regularly met folks with a LOT of expertise).
Now there are two other reasons she might have collected forgeries – they’re cheaper than ‘real’ manuscript pages AND they don’t involve dismembering books. She may have developed a taste for a kind of 14th and 15th century ms painting that was beyond her price point. She may well have had a librarians’ distaste for people who dismember books to sell isolated leaves, but that’s not an issue with forgeries. Therefore collecting (relatively) inexpensive forgeries solves both the ethical and the financial problem.

The Best Thing I Learned on the Field Trip . . .

. . . and it wasn’t that our students now consider Austin Powers an OLD movie (as in “I love watching these old movies and seeing the previews for other movies I’ve seen!”).
There is a fullsize reproduction of Moses’ Tabernacle in Lancaster, PA!
Who knew?
And if you knew and hadn’t told me, shame on you!
The Fullsize reproduction of Moses’ Tabernacle as found in the book of Exodus is at the Mennonite Information Center – and I may have to order one of the Tabernacle Model Kits. I’m certainly going to bring the website up next semester when we talk about the Codex Amiatinus, which has a lovely full-page diagram of the Tabernacle.

Best thing I saw in DC? Well, it wasn’t Shear Madness . . .

Run don’t walk to the National Gallery for Prayers and Portraits: Unfolding the Netherlandish Diptych.
The diptychs are splendid – lots reunited for the first time in years, some artistic divorces presented (panels that have been mistakenly joined by modern collectors and museums), and everything clean and shiny. On a pedantic note, I saw the backs (or exteriors, I suppose) of lots of them for the first time – and even the ones I had seen photographs of are almost always published in black and white. I was thrilled to see them in color! The best exterior? A 5 Wounds of Christ (and now I can’t remember its interior). The best topical everyday life detail I’d never seen before? An exterior showing the cell of a Cistercian abbess c. 1500 with a wall clock in the corner!
The show opened yesterday and is up through early February (curses – not through Spring Break!). The Suspicious Cheese Lords, a group frequently promoted by Fr. Jim Tucker, concertized yesterday for the opening. I wish I could have heard them!

Arnaldo Momigliano and me

I’m trying to make all my reading right now do double duty – and since I’m teach 3 chronologically neighboring courses next semester that’s not difficult. I just packed a book of Arnaldo Momigliano reprints for the trip down to DC – On Pagans, Jews, and Christians (1987 – most of these are articles from the last 15 years of his life). He was always good on history and historiography – and what he has to say about Judaism in the Roman Empire is useful to me for both the Roman Art & Power course and early Christian (which I call First Christian Millennium – up to but not emphasizing Romanesque). The articles on “The Disadvantages of Monotheism for a Universal State” and “Some Preliminary Remarks on the ‘Religious Opposition’ to the Roman Empire” are both essential.
If I have time on the way back I’ll read more of Ittai Gradel’s Emperor Worship and Roman Religion, which is looking very interesting (after about 20 pages).
Both of these authors are interested in what really goes on in Roman religion – and if we can even use the word religion usefully about Romans. Gradel is pretty clear that it’s a word with an inherently christianizing meaning – which doesn’t mean that it’s useless or wrong, but that it must be handled carefully.
Two of the big topics of Roman Art & Power are Augustus’s Altar of Peace and the emperor cult. One of the things I’m going to have everyone do this time through is write a short paper about a coin (shades of T.S.Burns, for those of you who’ve known me too long) and imperial cultus. Last time I didn’t require the exercise, but one of the best things I got all semester was a short paper on a coin showing Augustus’s wife (or widow, and that was the point – was she the wife or mother of the emperor at the time of the striking?) Livia as SALUS AUGUSTA, which means something like “Imperial Welfare.”
This also helps me teach First Christian Millennium by reminding me in considerable detail what it is Christians are refusing to do in sacrificing to the emperor.

On the road!

Wish me luck – I’m off this noon-time to DC with 150 students (or so!), 25 of them my immediate responsibility. My folks will be hitting the Freer and Sackler Galleries and the National Galleries. The weather is supposed to be wonderful — should be fun!

Songs of my youth

I sorted an iTunes list by “last played” tonight and found out that I hadn’t listened to Psycho Killer for almost a year – 11/13/05 was the last time. That must be the longest time I’ve gone without that song since August of 1980. I’ve rectified the omission.
Of course, some of the recent omissions tell me something about the last year or 18 months – what have I clicked through, skipped, omitted, or evaded? The list makes a kind of sense as a sort of counter-most-recently-played.

Not ready for prime time, but take a look at some local history

I’m a medievalist. I live in Upstate New York. There’s no medieval architecture. However, there’s lots of Gothic Revival – and revival styles interest me.
I’ve been working on our chapel off and on for the last couple of years. One part of that project is the journal kept by Abner Jackson, president of Hobart College from 1858-1867. I’m very interested to see how much I can say about the intentions behind the building than I can ever say securely about Medieval buildings.
I had a little grant last year to have students transcribe the whole thing (we’re missing 1865, damn it, but we got the rest of it) and now the archivist and I are mounting it as a blog.
Take a look!
We’re posting photos and realia from the archives to enrich the document – and it’s already starting to be fun. I’d like to publish it, eventually, but an online version may satisfy that. The illustrations would certainly be richer this way!
Oh – when I say “not ready for prime time” I mean that we’ve got it on the WordPress free server right now, but there will eventually be a stable, campus URL for the site. Feel free to look and link, but the link will be broken sooner rather than later.


Ah, the joys of advisement time, that happy, happy season of appointment after appointment!
Our stranglehold to force students to see their assigned advisor is to distribute the PIN numbers needed for online registration to the advisors. I have only two PIN numbers left on my desk. Two miscreants have never responded to my emails offering appointment time sign-up lists. Both of them are sophomores, and I expect them to contact me today. You see, sophomores may begin registering tomorrow morning. Last semester’s PIN number won’t work.
Sadly for them, my dog has a vet appointment this afternoon. I will not be available for appointments. This has been announced on the emails. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth during this learning experience.

Piercing Reasoning

“I told her I was thinking of getting one on my nose, but she said, ‘No more piercings,’ ” Funderburg recalled. “I know my mom thinks it’s a form of mutilation, but it’s not. It’s a matter of self-expression.” The only downside of her eyebrow ring is that she had to remove it for her job, which has a no-facial-piercings policy.

It’s mutilation AND self-expression. What’s so hard for the young to understand about that? I love the anecdote about the girl catching her belly-piercing on a slamming car trunk. Me, if I were in med school I’d be going into piercing-hole-reconstructive-surgery, along with tattoo removal. There’s going to be a lot of work in the future.

One of the weirdest sentences in political coverage tonight

Oh my. I popped over to the Nashville Tennesseean in hopes of seeing news about a Ford defeat and read this sentence:

Corker, in part, drew the outburst from Ford by comparing his Memphis family to a political machine and suggesting conflicts of interest between Ford’s congressional work and his father’s lobbying duties.

Comparing them to a machine? I hope he called the Ford family a political machine. I can’t think of any other word that’s really appropriate. Here’s the story.