CLEVELAND, OH.- Significant recent acquisitions by the Cleveland Museum of Art include The Violin Player, a 17th-century genre painting by Dirck van Baburen; a drawing by Johannes Stradanus, a Netherlandish artist at the Medici court in Florence; an important painting from 1973 by the African American artist Emma Amos; a masterfully carved and unique wooden Bow Stand of the Luba people of south-central Democratic Republic of Congo; and an exceptional, silver-gilt and enamel cigar box by Russian goldsmith Peter Carl Fabergé.
Dirck van Baburen, The Violin Player
Superb example of Caravaggesque technique by 17th-century Utrecht painter
While in Rome in the early 1600s, the Dutch painter Dirck van Baburen became fascinated by the work of the Italian painter Caravaggio, known for a style of painting characterized by unprecedented naturalism and dramatic lighting effects. Baburen brought this Caravaggesque style back to the Netherlands to use in his paintings of historical subjects and scenes of everyday life featuring musicians, drinkers, and other marginal types. Fewer than 40 paintings by Baburen are known today, due to the artist’s early death.
The Violin Player represents one of the most characteristic themes addressed by the artist: a half-length figure of a musician, depicted at life size and close to the picture plane. The violin player’s colorful dress marks him as a marginal figure—evidenced by the man’s bold gaze, unshaven face, and cheeky grin complete with a broken tooth. The playful naturalism of Baburen’s painting reflects a typically Dutch interpretation of the Caravaggesque style: an unaffected character who openly enjoys life’s sensual pleasures—music and drink, with a hint of bared flesh. Painted in 1623, one year before the artist’s death, The Violin Player exhibits Baburen’s confident brushwork and characteristic cool, bright tonalities. It is a work of great quality and visual impact, and documents a key moment in the history of northern European painting.
The Violin Player will be presented in gallery 213 in December 2018 when the northern European galleries are refreshed and unveiled.
The Violin Player, 1623. Dirck van Baburen (Dutch, c. 1592/3–1624). Oil on canvas; 80.4 x 67.1 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art.
The Flaying of Marsyas by Johannes Stradanus
First Mannerist drawing of a mythological subject to enter the collection
An artist of Netherlandish origin and training who worked at the Medici court in Florence for most of his career, Johannes Stradanus’s work exemplifies the cross-fertilization between northern European and Italian styles and techniques in the 16th century. The Flaying of Marsyas represents the best of this exchange, with its elegant technique, inventive storytelling, and equal attention to the heightened dramatic moment and anecdotal detail.
Stradanus’s subject is a brutal mythological tale. Ovid describes how a musical contest between Marsyas and Apollo—a battle of the flute versus the lyre—ended tragically for Marsyas, a satyr and follower of Silenus. The muses declared Apollo the victor and gave him the prize of determining the satyr’s punishment. Apollo chose to tie Marsyas to a tree and flay him alive. Renaissance intellectuals understood the story as a contest between the intellect—embodied by Apollo and his lyre—and the passions, embodied by Marsyas and his flute. Christian humanists also interpreted the story as spiritual purification: the shedding of concerns of the body for those of the soul.
Stradanus depicted a lively gathering of the gods surrounding the central scene of Apollo and Marsyas. The artist’s inventive powers are on display with the range of reactions on the face of each spectator. The drawing was made in the chiaroscuro technique by preparing a white sheet of paper with a red-pink wash. Stradanus then delineated and highlighted his composition with pen and brown ink, brown and red washes, and white lead heightening. The color combination is warm and harmonious, and focuses on the light and shadow cast across a profusion of rounded and sculpted bodies.
The Flaying of Marsyas, c. 1570–1605. Johannes Stradanus (Netherlandish, 1523–1605). Pen and brown ink and brown and red washes, heightened with white, on paper prepared with red wash; 21.1 x 31.5 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art.
Sandy and Her Husband by Emma Amos
Significant 1970s painting comes from artist’s collection to the museum
For nearly six decades, Emma Amos has been developing a body of paintings, prints, and textiles that explores African American identity and culture, particularly celebrating women’s presence within that heritage. Amos grew up in Atlanta among a family active in the community of black professionals and local leaders facing racial segregation of the time. Soon after she moved to New York in 1964, Amos became the youngest and only female member of Spiral, a collective of African American artists founded by Norman Lewis, Romare Bearden, Hale Woodruff, and Charles Alston that addressed the relationship among art, race, and activism.
Sandy and Her Husband (1973), one of Amos’s most significant paintings from the 1970s, shows her affinity for color and pattern, which frame the work’s complex narrative. The dancing couple at the center of the painting is joined by Amos: the artist inserted herself into the composition by reproducing an earlier self-portrait, Flower Sniffer (1966), which hangs on the wall behind the couple. Amos is thus part of the composition—even engaging the viewer through her direct gaze—yet she is peripheral to the scene, unseen or ignored by the painting’s protagonists.
Sandy and Her Husband and Flower Sniffer are featured in the exhibition We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85, organized by the Brooklyn Museum and currently on tour. Other paintings by Amos were included in the celebrated touring exhibition Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, organized by Tate Modern in 2017–18. Amos’s first retrospective will open at the Georgia Museum of Art in 2021. Sandy and Her Husband will be on view in the final venue of We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women at the Institute for Contemporary Art/Boston (ICA), June 27–September 30, 2018, and will be installed in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s contemporary galleries later this year.
Sandy and Her Husband, 1973. Emma Amos (American, b. 1937). Oil on canvas; 112.4 x 127.6 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art.
Luba Bow Stand
Royal object is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece
The bow stand is a canonical art form of the Luba people of south-central Democratic Republic of Congo, known for their rich artistic traditions. With its lithe form, symmetry, proportion, rounded volume, detailed rendering of anatomy, sophisticated finish, and burnished surface, this bow stand is a masterpiece of Luba art.
A powerful symbol that affirms the status, prestige, and leadership of the Luba king, bow stands are cared for by high-ranking women, and honor women connected to the royal court. The female figure is very important in the Luba world because she is perceived as a sacred vessel; bow stands therefore typically feature a female figure. This example, however, depicts a figure whose combination of delicate facial features, svelte body, small pointed breasts, swollen belly, and male genitalia is highly unusual. No other bow stand with an androgynous or hermaphrodite figure is known. Scholars have suggested that this complex sculpture may have been made by the neighboring Hemba culture, due to the shape of the back of the head and inclusion of a phallus.
The bow stand adds an extraordinary object—one of the finest of its type—to the Cleveland Museum of Art’s collection, strengthening the holdings of Luba art. It will be on view in gallery 108 beginning in March 2019.
Bow Stand, c. 1800s. Luba, Democratic Republic of Congo. Wood; h. 57.2 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art.
House of Fabergé, Cigar Box
A fine example of the firm’s exceptional enamelwork
This enameled silver-gilt cigar box by the House of Fabergé, the firm of Russian imperial goldsmith Peter Carl Fabergé, is a masterwork in the old Russian style, distinguished not only by its very large size but also by its extraordinary craftsmanship. Created between 1896 and 1908 in Fabergé’s Moscow workshop, the work features the fluid, painterly quality of cloisonné enamel that became a hallmark of the firm’s silver production.
The exceptional quality of the enamelwork on this cigar box can be seen on all sides, especially the face, where an elaborate, preening peacock is rendered in vibrant opaque enamels of blue and green hues. The oversized work is destined for the tabletop rather than the breast pocket. Only one other similar example of a cigar box of this size and decoration is known; it currently resides in the Fabergé Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The Cleveland Museum of Art’s holdings by Fabergé include a tea and coffee service and two kovshi (cups) dating from the same period and decorated in the same traditional Russian style of cloisonné enamel. The cigar box will go on view within the next month in the recently redesigned Cara and Howard Stirn Fabergé galleries.
Cigar Box, about 1900. House of Fabergé (Russian, 1842–1918). Silver-gilt, enamel, sapphire mounted in gold; 20.2 x 13.5 x 4.2 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art.