@ the MoMa
The Grolier Club in Manhattan is an old society of bibliophiles that occupies a remodeled townhouse in midtown. I don’t know what their daily business is, but they put on some wonderful free exhibits, including one on Wunderkammers that closes soon.
These ‘rooms of wonder’ were the forerunners of our museums, particularly museums of natural history, and the exhibit documents their place in the Europe of the Enlightenment. It also includes two color volumes from the catalog of Albertus Seba’s collection, perhaps the most magnificent such publication. I have a copy of the one-volume Taschen full-size facsimile of the book, and it is a favorite of mine: I never tire of paging through it. The alligator below is from the facsimile; the original is on display at the Grolier. Always wonderful to see the real thing.
By chance, a second, upstairs exhibit began the day I was there, and it illustrated the history of microscopy, mostly with printed matter, but a few antique microscopes were also on display. There was a beautiful copy of Robert Hooke’s seminal publication on display, opened to his most famous illustration, a large-scale drawing of a flea. I have a copy of the book as a high quality Adobe PDF which has the advantage of letting me page through it in its entirety. What a shock of recognition and revelation this book must have been to the fortunate few who read it in the 17th century!
The exhibit of paintings by Sakai Hōitsu, Korin, the earlier master who inspired him, and his student, Suzuki Kiitsu, ends tomorrow at the Japan Society. I caught it the other day, and saw a related exhibit, also on the Rimpa style, at the Met earlier this summer.
It’s not easy to isolate the elements of the Rimpa style, other than to say it is deeply involved with nature, uses highly stylized and abstract patterns, and is very sumptuous and beautiful, employing expensive materials such as gold and silver leaf. In fact, one blurb I read said that the style has become practically synonymous with Japanese art, so deeply embedded is its aesthetic approach in the nation’s culture. On the other hand, as the exhibit points out, Hōitsu began his career working in the style of Ukiyo, a popular form that focused on the ‘Floating World’ of Japanese urban pleasure districts, well known to us through wood block prints.
The images below are of a dragon rising before the faint, abstract, silhouette of Mount Fuji, by the student, Suzuki Kiitsu. The images hardly do justice (click to enlarge them) to the wet on wet technique that creates the swirling dark cloud emanating from the skin of the dragon.
A common secular theme in medieval artifacts, often in beautifully wrought ivory cases for whatnots and mirrors. Knights attack the castle of love, defended by maidens who have only buckets of roses with which to repel the attackers. Sometimes Cupid lends a hand…to whom? The knights use the usual run of siege tactics, and sometimes a trebuchet is present.
For a change of pace, the two left-hand panels on the case below show the story of that lovable old coot, Aristotle, tutor of Alexander the Great, being humiliated by Phyllis. The ones on the right tell the tale of Pyramus an Thisbe, from Ovid, and known to most through its later incarnations, such as Romeo and Juliet and The Fantasticks.
More siege craft and love below.