Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Gargoyles & Grotesques-

Someone was writing about gargoyles the other day, and that made me think of a passage in Robert Williams' 1835 book "An Historical Sketch of the Art of Sculpture in Wood" which is not precisely about gargoyles, but about such grotesque carvings in general, and what their inspirations often were-

"There are many bas-reliefs, particularly those carved underneath the seats of the choirs of different religious structures, that represent grotesque , and even obscene subjects, altogether at variance with the sacred character of the buildings in which they are placed. Something of this kind may be observed in Worcester cathedral, in Ely cathedral, in the priory church of Great Malvern, and in many other ecclesiastical edifices.

"What may be thought most singular, is, that these sculptures sometimes represent priests and other religious persons, engaged in actions of a very profane description. For a satisfactory reason for this, I am indebted to my friend, Mr. Cottingham. The sculptors who executed those carvings were the caricaturists of the time and, as different religious communities were frequently at variance with each other, they employed these artists to satirize their mutual follies and vices.

"Under their seats they concealed from the public eye, but exposed for their own private gratification, a series of pictorial libels. In one place, the monks of a certain order are represented as licentious, ridiculous, and depraved: -in the building belonging to these holy fathers, will, probably, be found a similar series of bas-reliefs, exposing the secret debaucheries of the sacred brotherhood by whom they have been libelled- but never, in any church, will a priest of that order be represented in an unholy character. He will very likely be discovered thus pictured in the church of the Franciscan, while the follower of St. Francis receives the same treatment from the Carthusian brethren in their own buildings.

"The various monastic establishments, which at one time were exceedingly numerous in England, generally regarded each other with considerable jealousy and, more than once, their animosities and squabbles have disturbed the peace of the kingdom, and brought disgrace upon the un-reformed religion. This occasioned some of our most ancient ecclesiastical edifices to be disfigured with grotesque and offensive designs"

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Cat Cam-

I've managed to get myself a bit behind the 8-ball today, with the new March catalog due to be shipped to the printer tomorrow by 5, and me still cataloging books this morning, with set-up, cut & paste, cover design, & proofing all still to be done (well, I can always say I proofed it, and the Book Elves snuck in later and retyped that entry to read "dust jacket lightly oiled".

Anyway, the point of this all is that I'm going to let one of our hardworking book cats, Pyewackett, entertain you. So I've set up a web-camera, and you can just keep checking back, because she does all sorts of interesting things.


I know it may look like this is just a .jpeg, not a live webcam, but I assure you, it's refreshed every 1/10th of a second.

Just look at her go.

Monday, February 19, 2007

How George Washington's Candlesticks Killed G.D. Smith

Reposted from last President's Day, but still a good tale.

On this President's Day we turn to the tale of a pair of "George Washington's" candlesticks which killed a leading rare book dealer.

In early 1917 a man named William Lanier Washington showed up at the doors of Mitchell Kennerly's Anderson Galleries, a leading New York auction firm. A “direct descendant of two of George Washington’s brothers”, William Lanier Washington arrived with cartloads of Washington-family memorabilia at an opportune time.

The craze for all things Colonial-related was reaching new heights, and in the first auction of this material, held in April, 1917, he offered many interesting and rare Washington busts, portraits, mourning items and other Washington-related memorabilia. He also offered personal relics, including George Washington’s shoe and sword buckles, wine glasses, snuff boxes, coat buttons, pants, a pair of Sheffield candlesticks from Washington’s Mt. Vernon desk, and many more items.

These relics were eagerly snapped up by the preeminent collectors of the day, including William Randolph Hearst and G.D. Smith, the man who single-handedly helped Henry Huntington assemble the famous Huntington Library and one of the greatest American book dealers of all time.

All seemed well until William Lanier Washington showed up at the Anderson Galleries with yet another cartload of Washington relics, at which point Mitchell Kennerly had the sense to send him packing. Not to be so easily discouraged, William simply switched venues and took his “relics” to the American Art Association, through which he held another sale in February, 1920.

He also sold his offerings door-to-door, and it was this which brought about the premature demise of G.D. Smith. On March 4th, 1920, William Lanier Washington arrived at Smith’s door, attempting to sell him yet another set of Sheffield candlesticks used by George Washington on his desk at Mt. Vernon. Smith, who had already bought “the” pair at the 1917 auction (lot 27), questioned just how many candlesticks George Washington kept on his desk, got into a heated argument with Washington, and dropped dead on the spot.

Thus ended the career of one of America’s greatest booksellers. William Lanier Washington would hold one more Washington-relic sale at the AAA, in February, 1922, which finally seemed to exhaust his supply. He died in 1933, but the legacy of his auctions, which contained at least some authentic memorabilia, and a whole lot else, continues on through the auction catalogs and an interesting tale.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Case of the Etruscan Terracotta Warriors in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This is the story of a gigantic (so to speak) scholarly “oopsie”-

In late 1915 Gisela Richter, renowned expert on Greek and Roman antiquities at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, received a letter from John Marshall, the Museum’s veteran purchasing agent in Italy, describing a newly discovered life-size Etruscan warrior figure in terra-cotta which had been discovered in an Italian field.

The “old warrior” (he had a white beard and was emaciated, somewhat like, as one observer commented later, a Giacommetti sculpture) was soon followed by a massive four-foot tall terra cotta warrior’s head, and there was even talk of a greater treasure waiting to be found...

It was, of course, all fakery, carried out on a grand, almost “mythic” scale, a scale meant to make experts put aside all their nagging doubts and see the “Etruscans” as what they were not (namely, ancient). The white-bearded warrior and the massive head had been created by Riccardo Riccardi and Alfredo Fioravanti, two young men of skill and a certain vision. Riccardo’s father and brothers had also specialized in historic pottery, but Riccardo was the true genius of the family. With his friend Alfredo he first created the anorexic, white-bearded warrior.

The figure was modeled as one piece and then broken up into 24 fragments for firing, as the kiln was not large enough to accomodate the entire figure. The warrior is missing his right arm for the simple reason that the two forgers could not agree on how to position the arm, so they compromised by breaking it off and discarding it.

After selling the figure to the Metropolitan, the pair began work on another figure, this time a gigantic warrior's head. Working from a description by Pliny of a 25-foot tall statue of Jupiter in a Roman temple, the pair made the head four and a half feet tall. This was broken into 178 pieces, fired, and shipped off to the Met. And then Riccardo and Alfredo had to leave to serve their time in the Italian Army.

When they returned they began their most audacious project yet- a Colossal Warrior in terra cotta, standing over eight feet tall. Then tragedy struck. Riccardo was killed in a fall from his horse that winter, and his place was taken by two less-skilled cousins. As with the earlier pieces, the statue had to be fired in pieces as it was much too large for the kiln.

It proved, in fact, to even be too large for the room it was being modeled in, and by the time they had modeled up as far as the waist it was obvious that the elegant classical proportions of genuine Etruscan sculpture would have to be ignored -there simply was not enough room for the upper body without going through the ceiling. The odd result- classical legs and a stocky, disproportionate torso, troubled some scholars.

In 1921 the Met. purchased the warrior for an undisclosed price said to have approached 5 million dollars in today’s money. The statue was reconstructed from the fragments by the Met's experts with one odd exception- the genitals, which had been carefully modeled (the warrior, like many Etruscan statues, was partially nude from the waist down) were left off and apparently kept in storage. It may have been just as well. One story that came to light later related that while the body of the figure was based upon that of Riccardo's cousin and helper Teodoro, the "privates" were modeled after Riccardo's own, and had been recognized by a number of young Italian ladies of his hometown...

Attempts to erase doubts that were already being whispered in art circles in Europe, as well as the hope that the “secret” field they had been found in might be divulged by their “discoverers”, delayed the publication of a scholarly monograph on the three figures until 1937. For Richter, bringing them to the Met. and publishing them represented one of the crowning achievements of her distinguished career, and it was undoubtedly this fact that blinded her to what was becoming all too obvious to other scholars who were not emotionally or professionally attached to the warriors.

The talk about their true origins swirled quietly for the next decade or two, but after a visiting Italian scholar was offered a chance to see all three statues in 1959, and commented that he did not need to see them since he knew the man who had made them, authorities at the museum decided something had to be done. In 1960 a series of tests concluded that the glazes on all three specimens contained chemicals which had not been in use before the 17th century, and in 1961 Fioravanti signed a confession of the whole affair, and supplied a missing thumb which fit perfectly.

At that point several other “bothersome” points that had been noted over the years began to make more sense- the Colossal Warrior, for instance, could not even support its own weight, and when compared to real Etruscan statuary, simply looks crude and even modern. Today the statues are stored far away from prying eyes, but they still provide an entertaining and sobering lesson in fake busting.

A much more detailed account of the warriors was written by David Sox in his excellent book “Unmasking the Forger, The Dossena Deception” (1987), from which most of the material for this essay was taken; Thomas Hoving, the former Director of the Met., also deals with the story, and speculates on the role of John Marshall, in his book "False Impressions: The Hunt for Big-Time Art Fakes" (1996).

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

New Books on Ceramics Catalog-

The Book Elves have a tradition of being hard on pots and plates- there was the time they decided to "Class Up" the greenhouse by repotting all the cacti in the 18th century Sevres; there was that regrettable incident after too much eggnog last Christmas when they tried to find out how high "too high" was when it came to stacking the Wegdwood dinnerware; and we're all trying to forget last July 4th's infamous "Great Minton Shoot"...

But before they reduced 200 years worth of the potter’s art to several bucketfuls of shiny shards that are being donated to the local arts center to be made into a mosaic for the new bus station, the finished our latest catalog-

"BOOKS ON CERAMICS" is now available on our website or in printed format. It features 270 books and catalogs on pottery, porcelain and related topics, with highlights including-

-The catalog to Brother Thomas's first pottery exhibition.

-A scarce 1951 catalog of Masonic pottery.

-The uncommon original 1908 edition of Henry Mercer's guide to the mosaic tiles at the Pennsylvania State Capitol.

-A beautifully illustrated 1900 survey of Egyptian ceramics by Henry Wallis, limited to 200 copies..

-A massive biography of Lady Diana Beauclerk, 18th century Society Lady and Wedgwood artist.

- and much, much more!

Request a printed copy, or browse the catalog on our website.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Our February Catalog-

It was an odd January here at Foggygates- lots of cold, but no snow. That, however, was not going to stop the Book Elves from enjoying themselves, so after a hard day in the Cataloging Cave they planned to hit the “slopes” in the neighbor’s field, making snow with the help of two garden hoses, 300 feet of heavy duty extension cord and a dozen old industrial fans they picked up cheap at a local farm auction.

I’m not sure how the ski areas make snow, but I’m betting it’s not like that.

However, after blowing every fuse in the house out twice, the Book Elves got everything set, started the fans, turned on the hoses, and then left for Mama Maria’s bar & grill just down the street for a quick dinner and a few beers before some late-night sledding.

If only they’d remembered to anchor the bases of the fans… But before they encased the neighbor’s house in 3 inches of solid ice, the Book Elves finished our new catalog-

"RECENT ACQUISITIONS for February, 2007" is now available on our website or in printed format. It features 231 books and catalogs on furniture, silver, ceramics, glass, textiles, art, architecture and related fields, with highlights including-

-A rare 1840s Italian woodwork design book.

-A nice 1905 auction catalog of Japanese arms & armor, featuring items collected by noted dealer Bunkio Matsuki.

-An unusual 1873 book on soluble glass.

-An uncommon 1881 exhibition catalog of modern tapestries.

-The scarce original 1908 edition of Henry Mercer's guide to the tiles of the Pennsylvania state capitol.

-A rare 1824 biography of Jacques Louis David.

-A copy of Ure's important 1821 Dictionary of Chemistry with the 1850 ownership inscription of an American dyer.

and much, much more!

Our February Catalog.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

This was posted on an email list a few days ago. Apparently it has been around for a while, though I had never seen it-


'Twas potter, and the little brown
Did simon and schuster in the shaw;
All mosby were the ballantines,
And the womraths mcgraw.

Beware Jovanovich, my son!
The knopfs that crown, the platts that munk!
Beware the doubleday, and shun
The grolier wagnallfunk!

He took his putnam sword in hand,
Long time the harcourt brace he sought -
So rested he by the crowell tree
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in harper thought he stood,
Jovanovich, with eyes of flame,
Came houghton mifflin through the wood
And bowkered as it came!

Dodd mead! Dodd mead! and from his steed
His dutton sword went kennicatt!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went quadrangling back.

"And hast thou slain Jovanovich?
Come to my arms, my bantam boy!
Oh, stein and day! Giroux! McKay!"
He scribnered in his joy.

'Twas potter, and the little brown
Did simon and schuster in the shaw;
All mosby were the ballantines,
And the womraths mcgraw.