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Innocence, Temptation, and Power: The Evolution of Women in Art

February 16th, 2015 | posted by Sue Loustalot
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Giovanni dal Ponte, Madonna and Child, Circa 1420

A mystifying creature with the ability to nurture, seduce, create and conquer, women have served as an endless source of inspiration for history’s  most iconic artists, representing archetypes of ideal beauty, model behavior, and the ultimate temptation. These canvases invite viewers to peel back their many layers, each telling a different story about the woman it depicts, the artist who painted her, and the times in which they lived. At times empowering and others objectifying, these images offer a visual narrative of the evolution of women’s roles throughout history.  The story begins here with one of the most recognizable images of woman: the Madonna.

Arguably one of the most widely depicted women in the history of art is the Virgin Mary, a woman who has bore numerous roles over the centuries. Traditionally represented as the Madonna figure, as in Giovanni dal Ponte’s early 15th century work, she stands as the pinnacle of motherhood, womanhood and religious devotion. At a time when the Church was the largest patron of the arts, representations of women in art served primarily as allegories for religious virtue, and these images would perpetuate the Christian ideal of womanhood for centuries to come.

 

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Portrait of Mary Townshend by Sir Joshua Reynolds

 

 

 

 

Along with virtue, innocence and beauty remain constants in the representation of ideal womanhood throughout the history of art. Even after the Church rescinded its role as major patron of the arts to the aristocracy, the model of the virtuous woman would remain consistent, particularly in portraits of the aristocracy. Rather than religious subjects, 18th-century portraitists turned their focus to social roles, which, for women, were largely dictated by their fathers and husbands. The elegance of a woman, both in art and in life, served as an affirmation of the status of her family, and an opulent, well-executed portrait stood as a demonstration of wealth and status.

This notion is clearly seen in the elegant portrait of Mary Townshend by the legendary Sir Joshua Reynolds. Rendered with an air of quiet dignity, the work provides a glimpse into 18th-century London society through the figure of Mary. While the viewer garners no real sense of her character through the work, the family’s wealth is very much on display in her opulent clothing, and the pearls that she clutches are a testament to her virginal innocence. Considered little more than a possession herself, the figure of Mary, in her virtue and beauty, serves as a visual symbol of the status of the Townsends.

Portraits of the upper class such as this expose a high culture that was defined by the Church and the male aristocracy, who largely ascribed qualities such as truth, innocence, morality and virtue to the ideal of womanhood. It would take another century before women were considered in a new light by artists and society alike, with the roots of women’s suffrage towards the end of the 18th-century signifying tremendous changes ahead.

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Jan van Kessel the Elder, Allegory of Europe, Circa 1670

To learn more about the story of women in art, please join us for Innocence, Temptation and Power: The Evolution of Women in Art, on view at M.S. Rau Antiques from March 27 – May 4.

Art Deco Mastery: The Work of Cartier

February 12th, 2015 | posted by Phillip Youngberg
The sleek design and bold colors reflect Cartier’s popular Oriental aesthetic

The sleek design and bold colors reflect Cartier’s popular Oriental aesthetic

Elegance and prestige. Jewelry, timepieces, and objects d’art created by Cartier are highly distinguishable by any other jewelry by their striking beauty. Exceptionally crafted in high detail and quality, Cartier pieces are everlasting. King Edward VII of England once referred to Cartier as “the jeweler of kings and the king of jewelers.” Though stated in 1903, this testimonial stands true.

Founded in Paris in 1847 by Louis-Francois Cartier, the family owned workshop transformed from a financially unstable company into a successful and popular brand name that created some of the finest and distinctive men’s watches. These wristwatches offered an entirely new and fashionable design. Later, along with the creation of Cartier’s first women’s wristwatch, Cartier expanded its design reach to include exotic orientalist and modern aesthetics. Most importantly, Cartier incorporated the use of Art Deco in their products in 1906. Largely popular at the beginning of the 20th century, the Art Deco movement characterized geometric, abstract, and linear aspects.

This 18K gold case features two compartments and a sliding coral and diamond latch

This 18K gold case features two compartments and a sliding coral and diamond latch

This decorative art movement, which developed alongside the emerging industrial economy in France, was part of a rapidly changing culture. Nodding to the advancements and processes of technology, Art Deco aesthetics represented a paired down vision of an embrace of machinery and modernism. In other words, Art Deco showed the demands of mass production and embrace of new material as it showcased linear, modern, and paired down symmetrical forms. Such an example of the style of Art Deco can be seen in our Cartier Diamond Clock, 1950. Enhanced by rich diamonds and beautiful mother-of-pearl face, this clock is cased in a sleek, stylish casing. Gold Roman numerals punctuated with white diamonds and red and black enameling complete this extraordinarily beautiful and geometrical piece.

While catering to numerous members of French royalty, bankers, and well-to-do industrialists, this prestigious company flourished in success. By 1910, Cartier was able to enhance their jewelry, wristwatches, make-up compacts, and other objects d’art with influence from a variety of orientalist cultures and art movements. The Cubist work of Braque and Picasso and the recently traveled exotic areas such as the Far East and Persia, all gave Cartier access into new types of design. Pairing these influences with the geometry of Art Deco, Cartier was able to create stunning time pieces and objects d’art.

This stunning diamond and sapphire bracelet by Cartier absolutely sparkles

This stunning diamond and sapphire bracelet by Cartier absolutely sparkles

This Cartier Art Deco Compact, 1920, represents timelessness, value, and the true forms of Art Deco. Made of 18K gold, this rectangular red box contains a beveled mirror and a stylized Oriental latch that completes the piece. Most importantly, the outside of the box is decorated in symmetrical and geometrical interwoven basket weave pattern that is completed by delicate coral and diamonds. Marked “Cartier, Made in France” this sublimely elegant accessory boasts excellence and luxury.

As Cartier is so known for its fine and unmistakably gorgeous jewelry, this 4.50 carat sapphire and diamond bracelet embodies all the true Art Deco fundamentals. The diamonds are particularly set to represent a stunning symmetrical, streamlined form and two striking blue sapphires are set in the middle.

 

 

 

 

A Monumental Classic in a Small Case – Granddaughter Clocks

January 21st, 2015 | posted by Lyndon Lasiter
The mahogany body is slender and understated.

The mahogany body is slender and understated.

The grandfather clock has long been considered a grand and important element of any beautiful interior. These longcase clocks stand on the floor and exude monumental prowess over any room. Typically, a wooden encasing of any variation of decoration encloses the clock and movements of the pendulum. Appearing in 1656, scientific innovations allowed for findings of the time-keeping properties of the pendulum. However, the term “grandfather clock” did not appear until much later, 1875.

While grandfather clocks, the largest and tallest type of longcase clocks, are frequently used and most often referenced, there are other types of longcase clocks. Few know of these other stunning and prominent types, in particular, the Granddaughter clock.

The inscription “Tempus Fugit” adorns the metal face, and a motif of flowers and foliage completes the etched design.

The inscription “Tempus Fugit” adorns the metal face, and a motif of flowers and foliage completes the etched design.

The granddaughter clock is known by its petite stature and delicate decoration. Charming in appearance, the granddaughter type clock is usually between three and five feet. This vastly differs with the colossal size of the grandfather clock, which can reach nearly eight feet. Not developed until the 1930’s, the granddaughter clock perfectly embodies a delicate, elegant style and would be the impeccable addition to any parlor.

In the MS Rau Gallery, the Mahogany Granddaughter Clock features a slender case that incorporates classical styling and detailing. The frieze features a fabulous scrolling design, the casing is decorated by carved classical columns, and beautiful fluting bring all the elements together. The beautiful mahogany creates a splendid aesthetic that speaks to value and beauty. The metal face features the inscription “Tempus Fugit” that is adorned by delicate floral and foliage motifs. Crafted in the last decade of the nineteenth century, this piece speaks to the splendor of English craftsmanship and artistry. It is an endearing 43 inches and a pure example of a magnificent granddaughter clock.

This magnificent piece is one of the many examples of beautiful granddaughter clocks that flourished in the late 19th century. Small, yet striking, these elegant pieces would complete any setting.

A Lasting Impression: Rembrandt’s Incredible Etchings

January 16th, 2015 | posted by Bill Rau
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“St. Jerome in a Dark Chamber” displays the stunning artistry and emotional depth for which Rembrandt is renowned.

 

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The quality and paper of this etching entitled “Joseph Telling His Dreams” indicates it is a lifetime print of a subject he explored in both his etching and painting.

Rembrandt is one of the greatest artists in history, with his name alone being synonymous with fine art itself.  His portraits and genre scenes are iconic, enriched with a level of realism that gives them an exquisite ethereal quality unmatched by any other artist before or since. Yet, few realize that Rembrandt was also a master etcher, and is responsible for not only creating some of the most amazing etchings in history, but he also evolved and gave new life to the entire process of printmaking.

Rembrandt’s painting and etching careers run parallel, and in many cases, it was his etchings that propelled his tremendous popularity during what scholars call the Golden Age of Dutch Painting.  Between 1626 and 1660, the artist created some 300 etchings, with only about 79 known in existence today. Since he owned and operated his own printing press, he was able to experiment with etching techniques and continuously push the envelope often treating them the same way he would his canvases. In fact, his findings are so important, that many of his techniques continue to impact printmakers to this day.

M.S. Rau Antiques acquired one such print, titled St. Jerome in a Dark Chamber, in which Rembrandt extends his mastery of chiaroscuro (the sharp contrast between light and shadow) to impart the emotional and spiritual element into this resplendent religious scene. It is believed that he experimented creating such dramatic effects by leaving deposits of ink on the etching, then wiping away excess in spots he wanted to illuminate. Every etched line is visible, yet the appearance that the forlorn saint is the focus of the sunlight is simply stunning. Rembrandt typically kept his printmaking and painting separate, seldom creating an etching of one of his completed paintings. However, this etching in the Rau fine art collection, Joseph Telling His Dreams, is one of the handful of rarities in which he created both the oil on canvas and the etching.

The art of etching allowed Rembrandt to explore techniques simply impossible to do with paint. And, because he had his own press, he had the freedom to rework and experiment with his subjects, giving his prints a level of quality that has inspired artists for over 300 years.

To see more from M.S. Rau Antiques’ selection of Rembrandt etchings, click here.

The Importance of Jade + Our Giveaway Winner Announced!

December 16th, 2014 | posted by Deanne Martin
A beautiful Qing Dynasty censer crafted of grayish-green nephrite jade

A beautiful Qing Dynasty censer crafted of grayish-green nephrite jade

Until very recently, the purchase and acquisition of Jade has been extremely difficult as it has been the exclusive domain of China. With extremely special significance and long-lasting symbolism, this mineral is one of the most important and sought after in its nearly 7000 year existence. As early as 3000 BC, the jade was known as the “royal gem” in China and was used for weaponry in prehistoric times, due to its sturdiness.

Regarded as signifying the beautiful and precious, it also symbolizes Confucian values of wisdom, justice, courage. Worldwide, however, it is safe to say that prehistoric peoples, such as the Aztecs, Mayans, and Olmecs, and Ancient Egyptians observed jade as more valuable and powerful than gold.

This gemstone reconciles its toughness materiality with elegant streaky veins that range from dark to light green. The patterns that these veins form are endless, deeming some more valuable than others.  In extremely valuable cases, the colors are particularly well blended into a rarity of look that dazzles any viewer.

The MS Rau Gallery has many examples of ornamental and fine jade. Our Nephrite Jade Censer features Chinese aesthetics that form into a pierced phoenix figure and dragons atop the lid. Crafted during the Qing Dynasty, this object was used to burn incense for spiritual and religious purposes. Dragon feet hold this historical and striking piece upright in a display of unique craftsmanship.

An incredibly large floor screen inset with remarkably carved spinach jade plaques

An incredibly large floor screen inset with remarkably carved spinach jade plaques

Most stunning, however, is our gorgeous Jade Floor Screen.  This piece has thirty-six fabulously carved panels of Chinese Jade. Of even more importance is that each panel represents scenes from the life of 7th century Emperor Taizong who was the second emperor of the Tang Dynasty. The scenes begin in his childhood and lead up to his accomplished and glorified adulthood. Surrounding these frames is reticulated jade, medallion motifs, and jade carved figures of native fowl that border the entire screen. Lacquered wood with brass inlay complete this piece.

The importance and elegance of jade is long-lasting and infinite. Behind the gorgeous swirling greens is everlasting symbolism of the greatest aspects of human life.

 

 

 

GIVEAWAY WINNER!!

The winner of the Nineteenth-Century European Painting Book by William Rau is James Chandler. We will notify you via email.  Congratulations!

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