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Windows Into a Lost World: Pre-Columbian Pottery

January 18th, 2013 | posted by Bill Rau
This incredible Nayarit Warrior Figure represents a highly respected chieftain, as indicated by the horns, staff and seated posture.

This incredible Nayarit Warrior Figure represents a highly respected chieftain, as indicated by the horns, staff and seated posture.

The peoples of Central America used animal symbolism in their pottery, such as this Veraguas Feline Figure, which most likely illustrating a spiritual transformation

The peoples of Central America used animal symbolism in their pottery, such as this Veraguas Feline Figure, which most likely illustrating a spiritual transformation

While much of Europe was in the throws of the artistic and social decline known as the Middle Ages, across the Atlantic, the ancient cultures of the Americas were experiencing a vibrant cultural period distinguished by fascinating works of art, particularly pottery.The Pre-Columbian era generally refers to the span of time in the Americas prior to the voyages of Christopher Columbus in 1492. However, the term more accurately describes the history of Native American cultures before significant contact with or conquest by Europeans.

Regardless of the location in either North, Central or South America, archeological evidence proves that all of these cultures were incredibly proficient in ceramics. Since many Pre-Columbian cultures lacked formal writing systems, pottery became their history books–a visual vehicle to express and pass on their knowledge of the world, encompassing religion, cosmology, philosophy and even astronomy.

M.S. Rau Antiques’ collection of Pre-Columbian artifacts was assembled by a private collector in the 1960s and covers various cultures throughout Mexico and Central and South America from about 1800 B.C. to A.D. 1530. Many of these wares were used to venerate important figures in society, while others served more mystical purposes by depicting shamanistic rites and spiritual awakenings. This West Mexican Nayarit Warrior Figure with Staff was crafted in honor of a great warrior chieftain. Imagery including the baton, large horn-like extensions atop the head and seated posture are notable symbols of high social standing.

The peoples of Central America had a particular affinity for animal symbolism, as illustrated by this Veraguas Feline Figure from Panama. Most likely used as a ritual vessel, these animal-centric forms often referred to shamanistic transformations, giving animal qualities to individuals undergoing a spiritual transformation.

This Incense Burner, or Incensario, was likely used in a ritual and filled with a hallucinogenic herb that allowed for spiritual awakening.

This Incense Burner, or Incensario, was likely used in a ritual and filled with a hallucinogenic herb that allowed for spiritual awakening.

These ceramics are more than remarkable works of art, they provide unique insight into the fascinating ancient cultures that shaped our history.

Click here to view M.S. Rau Antiques’ entire collection of Pre-Columbian artifacts.

Treasures of the Sea: Amazing South Sea Pearls

December 21st, 2012 | posted by Bill Rau

South Sea Pearl Earrings

Baroque South Sea pearls are the perfect blend of classical elegance and modern flair. These dynamic jewels command considerable attention on the market..

Deep in the warm waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, between the northern coast of Australia and the southern coast of China in an area commonly referred to as the “South Seas,” one of nature’s most outstanding treasures is being created.

It takes a minimum of two years for the large Pinctada maxima oyster to create a single South Sea pearl. Each begins its life as a tiny bead of mother-of-pearl carefully implanted into the mollusk. It is these implants that serve as the pearl’s nucleus, accepting layer upon layer of the oyster’s unmistakably vibrant nacre (the shimmering mother-of-pearl substance of which pearls are made), ultimately giving birth to the most desirable pearls in the world. These dazzling gems of the ocean are renowned not only for their tremendous size, but their breathtaking luster; characteristics that set the South Sea pearl above all others.

Measuring between 9mm and 18mm, South Sea pearls owe their great size and brilliance to several factors. The favorably temperate waters of the South Seas speed the mollusk’s metabolism and increase the amount of nacre it is able to produce. The thick layering of this particular nacre is famed for its peerless glow, which appears to radiate from within the jewel, adding to the pearls rarity and desirability. The grand size of the Pinctada maxima itself, measuring upwards of a foot in diameter, allows the gem to develop unhindered in a spacious environment. Also, the waters of the South Seas are incredibly clean and rich in plankton, the oyster’s primary food. Truly, the more content the oyster, the more impeccable the pearls!

South Sea pearls come in a rainbow of colors. This opulent necklace showcases pearls of the highly sought-after gold hue.

This Golden South Sea Pearl Necklace boasts 31 magnificent jewels of the highly coveted gold hue. Ranging in size from 12mm-15mm, each of these brilliant pearls is exceptional in it’s own right, but combine them in one necklace, and you have reached a level of brilliance that took many years to achieve. When you consider that a single pearl of this size can take nearly a decade to form, combined with the fact that one must search thousands upon thousands of mollusks to maybe find a beautifully round, symmetrical gem, the true rarity of these precious treasures of the sea takes your breath away.

Click here to view and learn more about M.S. Rau Antiques’ selection of South Sea pearls

 

Bouguereau and the Impressionists

December 13th, 2012 | posted by Deborah Choate

Secrets de l’Amour by William Adolphe Bouguereau

The holidays are in full swing here in the French Quarter, and that means decorations, parades and parties! It is also a special time here at the gallery as we recently opened our very first exhibition Impressionism: Influences & Impact. Showcased are impressionist masters like Claude Monet, Alfred Sissley and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, along with artists like Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, who influenced them, and Vincent van Gogh, who was inspired by the revolutionary movement.

You may instantly recognize Secrets de l’Amour (Cupid’s Secrets) as the work of one of the most decorated artists of the 19th century, William Adolphe Bouguereau. With the influence of light and color from the Impressionists, Bouguereau painted classically themed portraits of women. This masterpiece is the ultimate expression of Bouguereau’s artistic ideals and even features his favorite model, Odile Charpentier.

The artist’s passion for the classical past is felt powerfully in this exceptional composition that depicts a coy cupid draped over a young woman’s shoulder, which he appears to be advising in matters of the heart. Finessed with the utmost academic rigor to which Bouguereau was dedicated, this painting also seems to have a deeply personal significance as it was painted the same year he married his long-time love Elizabeth Gardner.

Bouguereau received tremendous acclaim during his lifetime; he so dominated the Salons of the Third Republic that the official Salon became known unofficially as “Le Salon Bouguereau”. He is still highly sought-after today and his works are held in a number of prestigious private collections, as well as museums around the world.

We are fortunate to have this stunning piece in our collection, and as one of the gems of the exhibition. If you are in the New Orleans area, I encourage you to visit the gallery and explore the fascinating history of Impressionism. Impressionism: Influences & Impact runs until Janurary 4, 2013 and more information can be found here.

Wearable Art at M.S. Rau Antiques

September 21st, 2012 | posted by Deborah Choate

A 17th century painting of a "cabinet of curiosities" by Frans II Francken

The origin of the institutions we now call museums lies in the motley 18th century collections known as “cabinets of curiosities.” Assembled by the wealthy, who could afford to travel the world on the Grand Tour and amass souvenirs along the way, these cabinets (which were actually rooms and not furniture) contained everything from exotic animal specimens to automata to fine art. Meant to demonstrate the worldliness of the owner, the cabinets were part side-show spectacle and part educational dioramas.

Micromosaic Necklace, ca 1870. Image from V & A.

One of the most desired destinations of the Grand Tour in the late 18th century was Rome, where the medley of ancient cultures produced artifacts, jewelry and objets d’art were perfect for the educated collector’s “cabinet of curiosities.” Especially desirable were the mosaic jewelry pieces which demonstrated both exacting skill and historical importance.  Mosaic jewelry was made in two distinct styles: micromosaic and pietra dura, differentiated by both geography and technique.

The Romans perfected the micromosaic technique, and their workshops grew to the height of popularity through the entire 19th century. Only highly skilled craftsman could work with the tiny tiles – called tesserae – to manufacture the intricate and beautiful jewelry. Tesserae were formed from metal, marble, stone or glass, and dexterously positioned using cement and precious metals. Each piece could take many months to create, given the level of both complexity and artistry.

Victorian Micromosaic & Gold Necklace at M.S. Rau Antiques.

M.S. Rau Antiques owns one of these stunning examples, a 19th century micromosaic necklace created in the Etruscan Revival style, crafted of 18K gold and painted glass tesserae. Designed en esclavage – which refers to the swag chain and the multiple hanging pendants — the striking Egyptian motif is highlighted by rich, gold beading. Those in New Orleans will instantly recognize the fleur de lis accenting the pendants, suggesting a European’s take on ancient Egyptian style. A similar necklace is found at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, attesting to the importance of this piece.

Influenced by the burgeoning field of archaeology, this micromosaic necklace is a wearable work of art. After donning the piece, one could hang it as if a painting, perhaps in her own “cabinet of curiosities.”

Click here for more images of the necklace and to see more of M.S. Rau Antiques exciting jewelry collection.

Orchestrion Organ Brings Music To Life

August 1st, 2012 | posted by Bill Rau
Arburo Orchestrion

This early model features stand-alone instruments, including drums, an organ, a triangle and a piano accordion

Arburo Orchestrion
The Arburo Orchestrion Organ creates incredible music previously accomplished by a full orchestra.

You enter a room filled with spirited music; the rhythm grabbing you immediately as it travels through the air. Drums keep time to a bright organ and accordion melody peppered with the crisp ring of a triangle. Certainly such a lively and delightful sound would be the collaborative effort of several talented musicians…right? 

A complete musical band set within a sleek Art Deco cabinet, this remarkable Orchestrion Organ by the Belgian firm of Arburo has the ability to create an incredible level of sound. High air pressure is used to control the workings within via a large bellows. The mechanism utilizes actual, stand-alone instruments, including base and snare drums, an organ, a triangle and a piano accordion to create truly magnificent music. With the press of a button, the Orchestrion comes to life, including the visible piano accordion, which appears to press its keys and open its bellows by itself!

Arburo Orchestrion

Each Orchestrion was made to order, by hand. No two Arburos were ever made alike.

Each of Arburo’s Orchestrions were made-to-order, one at a time, and was crafted entirely by hand, even down to the paper music rolls. Very few examples of these stunning antiques exist today, especially early models in the exceptional working condition of this amazing machine. Considering too, that no two Orchestrions were ever made alike, this incredible organ is truly a one-of-a-kind masterpiece of ingenuity and craftsmanship.

Founded by Arthur Bursens and Gusatv Roels in 1928, Arburo was known for its tremendously high quality pieces, and insisted upon creating each piece by hand in their Hoboken workshop. The Orchestrion became the firm’s most famed creation, and this particular example dates to the early days of Arburo, sometime between 1928 and 1929, making it perhaps one of the first Orchestrions ever made.

To learn more and view a video of this amazing Orchestrion in action, click here.

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