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.

A Marriage of Bronze and Ivory: From Antiquity to Art Deco

October 4th, 2013 | posted by Phillip Youngberg

Chryselephantine has been around for millennia, but it enjoyed a resurgence of popularity during the Art Deco period.  In fact, some items made using this technique have been dated to the Bronze Age.  When speaking of these early years of its use, the term often refers to sculptures made around a wood frame and covered with layers of ivory and gold; each material was used to represent either flesh or adornments, respectively.  Later, “chryselephantine” came to describe the combination of ivory and bronze as well.  Pictured here are a few examples of sculptures from the 1920s that were executed using this medium.

"Towards the Unknown" by C.J.R Colinet

“Towards the Unknown” by C.J.R Colinet

In this first piece, C.J.R Colinet used the technique to create “Towards the Unknown”.  As a Viking, the most desirable path to the afterlife was to fall during battle.  These lucky souls who died in the throes of combat would be escorted to the halls of Valhalla by one of the twelve Valkyries. It was these iconic battle maidens of Norse mythology that inspired the artists to create the stunning sculpture.  Riding on her swift steed to collect fallen warriors and escort them to Valhalla, this figure is the very image of Viking courage. Romanian born artist D.H. Chiparus is considered a master of this technique and is credited with championing its use during the Art Deco years.  This second sculpture is his endearing group “Friends Forever”.  In this piece the artist highlights Art Deco taste in the central figure’s delicate costume, as well as in the elegant lines that lend balance and grace to the sculpture as a whole.

"Friends Forever"

“Friends Forever”

Chiparus’ figures are among the most recognizable and collectible in the world and this depiction of the bond between humans and dogs is perhaps once of his more evocative creations. A unique technique unlike any other, chryselephantine creates a beautiful juxtaposition between the natural and manmade.  Working with such a delicate material as ivory is not without its challenges, and artists that were able to master the combinations necessary to create these beautiful pieces are truly gifted.  Either sculpture would be a valuable addition to a fine art collection.

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.

In An Instant, I Was Whisked Away…

September 20th, 2013 | posted by Susan Lapene

Staring deeply into the rich green hue of this emerald, so crisp and clean, I was transported back in time to a visit I made to the Emerald Isle.  The incredible green countryside almost looked like an impressionist artist had come along and painted this surreal scene just for me.

It is amazing what thoughts can be provoked by beautiful gemstones, especially when surrounded by diamonds and a setting that could be deemed a work of art in itself.  The lucky wearer may even have thoughts of a time long past and, for a moment, be transported back to that time.

An extraordinary Colombian emerald smolders in this sumptuous ring

This is such a ring.  It has it all: an Art Deco style setting that is a miniature work of art and an emerald so bright and clear, it’s unbelievable.  In fact, no other emeralds bear the captivating verdant hue for which Colombian emeralds, such as this one, are especially prized.

The ring's stunning floral motif adds to its incredible charm

The ring’s stunning floral motif adds to its incredible charm

A work of exceptional beauty and artistry, the rare 4.61-carat treasure from Colombia that this magnificent ring exhibits has been certified by the American Gemological Laboratories (AGL) as being completely natural and unenhanced. This jewel is supported in its eye-catching platinum setting by emerald accents on the top and in the intricate floral-motif gallery, as well as by approximately 2.00 carats of sparkling white diamonds

Surprise someone special in your life and create a memory that will last a lifetime.

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