Archive for the 'Antiques' Category

A Masterpiece for the Ages: Laocoön and His Sons

October 18th, 2013 | posted by Bill Rau

Artistic influence comes in many forms through numerous disciplines. One work of art, in particular, has influenced some of the greatest artistic minds in history. Inspired by the writings of Homer and Virgil, admired by Pope Julius II,

This awe-inspiring marble sculpture of Laocoön and His Sons is one of the few pre-1780 renditions not currently in a museum.

This awe-inspiring marble sculpture of Laocoön and His Sons is one of the few pre-1780 renditions not currently in a museum.

Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio, Rubens, Francis I, and even Napoleon,Laocoön and His Sons is truly a timeless masterpiece.

This incredible 18th-century Laocoön and His Sons is one of only a handful of pre-1780 interpretations ever created, and dates between 1650-1780. With the other known early examples now part of the Uffizi Museum of Florence and the Grand Palace in Rhodes, this is arguably the most important sculpture currently on the market. Crafted of exquisite Carrara marble, this incredible sculpture embodies the dynamic, masterful execution of the original housed in the Vatican.

Standing over five feet high, this imposing work of art captures the powerful emotion of Laocoön, a tale intertwined with the legend of the Trojan Horse. After an unsuccessful 10-year siege of Troy, the Greeks left a supposed “peace offering” outside the city’s gates–a giant wooden horse that was unknowingly filled with Greek soldiers. The Greek soldier Sinon was sent with the horse to explain the unusual gift, and it was Laocoön who was unconvinced of the story, and began to warn the people of Troy with the famed statement “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” It was then that the goddess Minerva sent sea serpents to kill the priest and his sons to assist her beloved Greeks siege of the city.

Heralded by Michelangelo as the “greatest piece of art in the world,” the original Laocoön and His Sons was created circa 35 B.C. on the island of Rhodes and was later discovered in 1506, immediately becoming one of the most famed works of art in the Western world. Pope Julius II purchased the statue and brought it to the Vatican. When the statue was excavated, the figure of Laocoön was missing its right arm, so the Pope summoned all of the famed sculptors of the day, including Michelangelo and Raphael, to submit ideas on how the arm should look. While most believed it should be outstretched, Michelangelo believed it would have been bent. Michelangelo was out-voted, and an extended arm was created to repair the missing appendage. By miraculous circumstances, the original arm, a bent arm, was unearthed. Michelangelo was proven correct over four centuries later!

From his work The Dying Slave and his amazing marble of Moses, to the figures on the famed Sistine Chapel ceiling, all were directly influenced by Laocoön. Michelangelo was far from the only artist to be inspired by this majestic work. Titian, Caravaggio and Rubens all found inspiration in this masterpiece. The sculpture also influenced literary authors from Dante to Dickens, the latter of which includes, in his famed A Christmas Carol, a description of Scrooge “making a perfect Laocoön of himself with his stockings,” rushing to get dressed on Christmas morning.

To view M.S. Rau Antiques’ entire selection of important sculpture, click here.

Why Lacquer?

October 11th, 2013 | posted by Justine D'Ooge

Used to decorate various objects, lacquer has come to be admired for it smooth, polished finish.  The beauty of this versatile material has been heightened with flecks of precious metals, materials such as tortoiseshell and ivory, and has even been set with hardstone and shells.  What many may not realize, however, is lacquer’s utilitarian roots.

Japanese Lacquer Tray.  Circa 1900.

Japanese Lacquer Tray. Circa 1900.

As early as 4,000-3,000 BCE sap was being harvested from the lacquer tree, rhus verniciflua, and used to protect everyday objects.  Finished lacquer is not only impressive in its appearance, but also in its durability; once the complicated task of polishing and burnishing lacquer is completed, it results in an impermeable surface, one that is resistant to moisture, alkali, and even acids.  Less elaborate versions of this tray, for instance, could be used daily without fear of it being ruined.

Turning extracted sap into the fine product you see on pieces such as these is serious business.  In Japan, by 701 AD, laws were made determining how many lacquer trees a household was allowed to grow.  Don’t mistake this to mean that the lacquer industry was easy money! There are over twenty steps required between the preparation of an item’s wood base and the finished work, and this is after the sap is tapped, stirred in the sun for evaporation purposes, and kneaded extensively.  Artisans that worked with lacquer had to be adept with a variety of tools as a myriad of stones, charred woods, and cloths were used throughout the polishing process.

Meiji-Period Lacquer Document Box

Meiji-Period Lacquer Document Box

 Just as porcelain became known as “china” in the West, lacquer became known as “Japan”.  This nomenclature took hold when the appetite for these objects grew following the arrival of the first Portuguese sailors there in the late 16th century.  The time-consuming nature of the process, however, meant that lacquer pieces were never exported at the same rate as porcelain, making these items highly collectable.  No other objects hold quite the same fascination, and luster, as lacquerware- they are true marvels of nature, as refined by man.  Click here to see more lacquer objects.

Life Before Barometers

September 27th, 2013 | posted by Justine D'Ooge

It is amazing that settled agriculture is considered to be a major contributing factor in humans’ shift towards civilization, yet instrumental meteorological observations did not begin until the early 17th century.  From farmers to fishermen,

Stick Barometer By John Bennett

Stick Barometer By John Bennett

humans relied on knowledge gathered from generations of observations to predict the weather; maxims such as “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.  Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning” were our guides before Doppler radar.

Barometer by Worthington of London

Barometer by Worthington of London

Instrument-based predictions that are indispensable to us now (especially for those of us that are put in the crosshairs every hurricane season) were begun in earnest with the thermometer developed by Galileo Galilei.  Even though the Italian physicist Evangelista Torricelli is credited with inventing the barometer in 1643, this original invention by Galileo did also, in fact, respond to atmospheric pressure just like a barometer does.

It is hard to overestimate the importance of barometers in pre-Industrial Revolution society.  In the early years of their use, we relied on them heavily for planning day-to-day routines; even the most modest of homes had some manner of this instrument.  However, few barometers dated before the 1770s, the early part of this significant point in human history, remain today, making this Georgian barometer from circa 1750 quite the find. Crafted by the leading London instrument-maker John Bennett, this exceptional barometer is known as a “stick” barometer.  While many attempts were made to improve upon the barometer’s  form, the stick barometer proved to be the most reliable.

Another fine example of a stick barometer is this one by the esteemed Worthington & Allan.  While the barometer by John Bennett bears a sycamore veneer, this piece from circa 1825 is crafted with another luxurious choice: Cuban Mahogany.

Nowadays you may rely on the news or your phone to stay updated on the weather, but nothing compares to the elegance of these barometers.  Without taking up much wall space, you have both a graceful form made from the finest of woods, and a functional reminder of what life was like centuries ago.

The Incredible Spherical Puzzle

August 6th, 2013 | posted by Deborah Choate
Chinese carved ivory tazza with the addition of a puzzle ball, Circa 1820

Chinese carved ivory tazza with the addition of a puzzle ball, Circa 1820

If you were to hear the word “puzzle,” the first thing that would probably come to mind would be the countless jigsaw puzzles that you solved throughout your childhood. Puzzles; however, come in many shapes and sizes and serve various purposes aside from entertainment. One characteristic that all puzzles share is a unique quality of mystery and their presentation of a mathematical or logistical problem.

Throughout history, the Chinese have been known for creating beautiful works of arts and crafts. The Chinese puzzle balls of the early 19th century are perhaps the most mysterious and nuanced crafts ever created. Even though these tiny treasures are not meant to be solved like a normal puzzle, they are called “puzzle balls” due to the mystery and puzzling explanation behind their making. Technically speaking, they can be solved by aligning all the holes from each layer together; however, due to their fragility and delicate material it is recommended that they be used simply for decorative purposes.

Carved from a single piece of ivory, the ball is comprised of a series of nested spheres that move independently.

Carved from a single piece of ivory, the ball is comprised of a series of nested spheres that move independently

Chinese craftsmen paid much attention to detail when crafting these delicate masterpieces. Puzzle balls are typically made of ivory and have 3 to 7 layers of concentric, hollow spheres. Using a small “L”-shaped tool, the artist would start with a solid ball of ivory, jade, wood or any other ductile material and carefully drill his way through to the center. He would then hand carve various holes within, working his way up, ultimately dividing the solid ball into many layers. This process required a great amount of time and of course, an incredibly steady hand.

The final result would be a ball containing multiple layers of unique smaller spheres within. While each layer would have its own unique design or symbols, the outermost shell showed the most extraordinary amount of craftsmanship and beauty while also telling a symbolic story. Loaded with important symbolism and charm, these puzzle balls were often used as good luck charms for Chinese royalty and nobles. A painstaking and costly process is required to create just one of these elaborately ornamented treasures; therefore, ivory puzzle balls are highly sought after by collectors today.

Each brilliantly carved figure stands atop a Chinese puzzle ball with a lotus blossom base

Each brilliantly carved figure stands atop a Chinese puzzle ball

 

These puzzle balls are truly amazing to see up close. Come stop by our gallery today to see one in person! Whether it’s our puzzle ball chess set or incorporated at the base of our carved ivory tazza, you will certainly be blown away by the incredible attention to detail found in each ball.

Bringing the Outdoors into Your Living Room

July 19th, 2013 | posted by James Gillis
Circa 1910, 27 1/2" diameter x 69 1/2" high

Circa 1910, 27 1/2″ diameter x 69 1/2″ high

Are you the type of person who is inspired by the aura of natural light? If you answered “yes”, then you share the same passion as Louis Comfort Tiffany. Tiffany was an American artist during the Art Nouveau period best known for his stained glass works such as the lampshade seen here. His distinct style emphasized organic forms and geometric designs, which often depicted beautiful, outdoor landscape scenes. Tiffany was fascinated by bright colors and the natural light of the outdoors; therefore, his goal was to create stained glass lampshades that would bring the beauty of the outdoors into peoples’ homes year-round.

Each lamp was carefully handcrafted using the copper foil method, which allowed the individual pieces of stained glass to adhere together creating a delicate masterpiece. While this process took patience and time, it is the reason why no two Tiffany lamps are alike. Each lampshade tells its own story and has its own distinct style; a feature that makes it truly a one of a kind collector’s item.

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