Category Archives: Works of Art

BMA Voices: A Grab Bag for Good Fortune

A Grab Bag for Good Fortune 1858, 4th month Utagawa Kuniyoshi (Japanese, 1797-1861) Publisher: Ebisuya Shôshichi Block cutter: Hori Chu Color woodcut; oban diptych, 359 x 244 mm. (each sheet) The Baltimore Museum of Art BMA 2001.104

A Grab Bag for Good Fortune 1858, 4th month. Utagawa Kuniyoshi (Japanese, 1797-1861). Publisher: Ebisuya Shôshichi. Block cutter: Hori Chu. Color woodcut; oban diptych, 359 x 244 mm. (each sheet) The Baltimore Museum of Art: BMA 2001.104

Frances Klapthor, Associate Curator for Asian Art

This curious scene is a diptych, printed on two sheets of paper, and crowded with a circle of figures – each one holding the end of a rope. Fukurokuju – the god of happiness (fuku), wealth (roku) and longevity (ju) – holds the ropes’ other ends. He is immediately recognizable by his large bald head and beard. All manner of objects, animals, people, and deities are participating in his fortune pull. The potential rewards to the lucky participants are shown at the upper left: longevity, symbolized by the three cranes; happiness, embodied by Mt. Fuji, which for many Japanese represented the heart of their country; and wealth, conveyed by the treasure ship. The dragon boat is loaded with many items of its standard treasure-laden cargo, including numerous wish-granting jewels, the lucky mallet, and rolls of valuable brocade fabric.

Those vying for good luck include gods – the fierce blue Fudo Myoo (a Buddhist guardian surrounded by flames, who holds his demon-subduing sword in his right hand), and Fukusuke (a lesser God of Good Luck); people – courtesan, princess, and pearl diver; birds and fish – shark, frog, scallop shell, bream, sparrow, and puffer fish; vegetables and flowers – pot of geraniums, sweet potato, radish, gourd squash, and lotus bulb; and a special category of household animated objects and tools. Tsukumogami are objects that are so old they have become alive and self-aware. Here these various spirit figures – the pack of tissue paper, pillow, bottle, kettle, calligraphy brush, lacquer letter box, and sandal – compete as equals.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi is regarded by many as the last great artist of Japan’s Edo Period (1615-1868). His work was notably diverse, ranging from more standard material such as battle scenes, depictions of everyday life, kabuki dramas, and portraits of actors, to supernatural subject matter. Kuniyoshi was especially fond of cats, and incorporated them into his work or featured them as his subjects often engaged in human activities. His evident sympathy for non-human elements is apparent throughout his career, beginning as early as the 1820s and continuing to the end of his life, with prints such as The Ghost of Yoshihira Strikes Down his Slayer (c. 1825), Animated Cherry Petals (c. 1840-42), Sparrows Killing a Black Crow (c. 1843-1845), and The Gathering and Gossiping of Various Tools (c. 1849-1853). Interestingly another print concerned with good luck, and featuring Fukurokuju, Fukusuke, Fudo Myoo, an animated piece of paper and birds, was issued in the same month and year as the BMA’s diptych – April of 1858 – shortly before Japan’s adoption of its first international trade treaty.

Perhaps Kuniyoshi drew on the country’s anxiety as it faced the unknown with the hope that good luck would prevail for all the occupants of the Japanese world, whether humans, plants, animals or tools. Certainly, as a museum curator focused on objects – many of great age – I respond strongly to the idea of an animating spirit within them!

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

BMA Voices: Rediscovering a rare David Smith sculpture

David Smith. Head with Cogs for Eyes. 1933. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Ryda and Robert H. Levi Collection, Gift under the Will of  Ryda H. Levi, BMA 2009.194. Art © Estate of David Smith/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

David Smith. Head with Cogs for Eyes. 1933. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Ryda and Robert H. Levi Collection, Gift under the Will of Ryda H. Levi, BMA 2009.194. Art © The Estate of David Smith/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Oliver Shell, Associate Curator of European Painting & Sculpture

Late in 2009, the BMA received a remarkable gift from the Estate of Ryda and Robert Levi, the same family whose generosity in the 1980s led to the creation of one of the Museum’s great treasures, the Levi Sculpture Garden. It included eight modern sculptures of the highest quality by artists including Alexander Archipenko, Naum Gabo, Henry Moore, Louise Nevelson, and David Smith.

I started researching these works, in order to present them to the Accessions Committee, beginning with a whimsical sculpture by Smith named, Head with Cogs for Eyes. One of the Levi heirs had alerted me to the fact that the Estate of David Smith listed the work as “Lost” on its website. The Estate tracks the current whereabouts of over 675 sculptures by the artist. I had not yet fully understood the importance of the work when I shot off a quick email to the address listed on the website informing them that the work was no longer lost and that we had just received it as a gift.

Thinking that I would hear back from them in a week or so I was surprised when ten minutes after hitting the send button my phone rang. It was the Susan Cooke from the Smith Estate calling and obviously excited that the work had been located. As I soon discovered, Head with Cogs for Eyes is not just any David Smith. It is one of only four heads that make up the first of Smith’s completely metal sculptures–combinations of forged and found parts that he first produced in 1933. The catalogue of Smith’s earliest retrospective exhibition, held at Harvard University’s Fogg Art Museum a year after the artist’s death in 1965, lists Head with Cogs for Eyes prominently as plate number one. I started to understand Cooke’s excitement.

Head with Cogs for Eyes had special significance for Smith; he created a series of photographs of the head, carefully shot from multiple angles, and set against the open sky of the Bolton Landing, New York landscape where he spent most of his later life.

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

See also Melanie Harwood’s post on installing Ellsworth Kelly’s Untitled 1986 in the Levi Sculpture Garden.

BMA Voices: Who is the lady in this embroidery?

After William Hamilton. The Lady as Shepherdess. 1790 1820. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dorothy McIlvain Scott Collection, BMA 2012.452

After William Hamilton. The Lady as Shepherdess. 1790-1820. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dorothy McIlvain Scott Collection, BMA 2012.452

Who is the lady in this embroidery? Anita Jones, Curator of Decorative Arts for Textiles, shares the mystery behind this skillfully-created work of art. 

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

BMA Voices: When sculptures fly

Ellsworth Kelly. Untitled. 1986. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of Ryda and Robert H. Levi, Baltimore, BMA 1986.70. © Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly. Untitled. 1986. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of Ryda and Robert H. Levi, Baltimore, BMA 1986.70. © Ellsworth Kelly

Melanie Harwood, Senior Registrar

In the years I’ve been here I’ve moved a lot of art – of all sizes, weights and description. Art handling mainly requires focus, common sense and teamwork. Occasionally though there is an opportunity to install really big art, art that is so large and heavy that it involves specialized riggers and equipment. Relinquishing direct control of the installation process is difficult enough, but the added variables of weather, equipment and municipal permits involved in outdoor sculpture gardens make them particularly memorable adventures. On the positive side, however, there are moments of sheer exhilaration when it all comes together – as happened for me on May 25, 1988.

May began well enough with construction on the Levi Sculpture Garden proceeding on schedule in spite of an April 28 snowstorm. Arrangements were in place for the simultaneous move of works from the Levi’s Lutherville property to the BMA and delivery of new pieces from New York, Connecticut and Vermont. City permits for street closures were obtained as the only 100 ton crane on the East Coast was reserved to lift the largest single piece, Ellsworth Kelly’s, Untitled, from the Charles Street service drive. All was in readiness. Then, sometime in mid-month things got complicated. It began to rain, mostly at night. Work slowed and in one case, newly poured footings were washed down the hill in a downpour. The 100 ton crane blew a gasket and its arrival was delayed – which was just as well as there were last minute adjustments to Kelly’s piece at the Connecticut foundry and its delivery was delayed as well.

Finally on May 25, a cold, windy and drizzly day, we were ready to place two of the largest sculptures in the garden: Tony Smith’s Spitball and the Kelly. Just as the mammoth blue crane began to lift Untitled from the flatbed, Ellsworth Kelly himself appeared with our deputy director, Brenda Richardson. They watched nervously beneath dripping umbrellas as 35 feet of stainless steel wrapped in blue plastic rose 100 feet in the air over the trees. In spite of wind and a daunting tangle of large branches, the crane operator skillfully lowered the sculpture until the waiting crew was able to guide it onto pins submerged in the cold muck and water. Kelly was positively euphoric once the sculpture was safely in place. I know the sculpture was conceived as a fragment of a huge disc but I’ll always see it as an airborne fin!

Ellsworth Kelly’s "Untitled" being lowered through the trees.

Ellsworth Kelly’s “Untitled” being lowered through the trees.

Ellsworth Kelly’s "Untitled" being lowered through the trees.

Ellsworth Kelly’s “Untitled” being lowered through the trees.

The Levi Sculpture Garden opened on June 17, 1988. Visitors strolled the paths enjoying the sculpture and freshly established landscaping. Among the invited guests I saw Ellsworth Kelly and Mark DiSuvero chatting in front of the latter’s sculpture, Sister Lu, Kelly inquisitively sticking his head into the bucket!

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

Ellsworth Kelly. Untitled. 1986. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of Ryda and Robert H. Levi, Baltimore, BMA 1986.70. © Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly. Untitled. 1986. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of Ryda and Robert H. Levi, Baltimore, BMA 1986.70. © Ellsworth Kelly

BMA Voices: Three women connected by one piece of art

Pomo peoples (United States). Feathered Basket. Early 20th century. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Florence Reese Winslow, BMA 1953.220.B.230

Pomo peoples (United States). Feathered Basket. Early 20th century. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Bequest of Florence Reese Winslow, BMA 1953.220.B.230

This post is by Kathryn Wysocki Gunsch, former Associate Curator for African Art and Dept. Head of the Arts of Africa, the Americas, Asia & the Pacific Islands. She recently took up a position as the Teel Curator of African and Oceanic Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Three women are intimately connected with this beautiful feathered basket. An unknown Pomo woman living in central California made the basket; an entrepreneurial art-dealer and hotel owner in Arizona sold it; and a dressmaker from Baltimore bought it as part of her extensive collection of Native American art.

The basket is so small that it is reminiscent of a thimble. Woven around a support of willow or hazel twigs, the artist wove tight coils of sedge or pine root and inserted oriole and mallard feathers to create a dazzling color play, with brown quail topknot feathers contributing to the shape. Pomo basket-weavers are renowned for their masterful work, and beginning in the 1890s, women began to make tiny baskets like this one as art objects to show off their skills. Professional basket buyers and individual connoisseurs collected their work and traded it far beyond the state. Moved from their land to reservations in the 19th century, basket-weaving provided Pomo women with much-needed income.

Anna Fullen, owner of the Suhuaro hotel in Chandler, Arizona, may have been one of these professional basket buyers. Fullen owned a small shop within the hotel and sold Native American objects during the 1920s to visitors and art enthusiasts. Florence Reese Winslow, born in Maryland in 1870, lived in Hayden, Arizona with her husband from 1924 to 1931. Living near the Tohono O’odham people, she amassed one of the most extensive collections of Tohono O’odham miniature baskets in the world. This Pomo miniature basket likely entered her collection through Fullen’s shop.

Arizona was not Winslow’s only adventure—she lived in Dresden, Germany from 1889 to 1891, and from 1898 to 1912, she was listed variously as an artist, ladies’ tailor and dressmaker in Baltimore. Winslow died in Baraboo, Wisconsin, where she had lived since her time in Arizona. Although she was not in contact with The Baltimore Museum of Art before her death, Winslow left 391 baskets, rugs, beadwork and pieces of jewelry to the Museum and its visitors. These include spectacular examples of Navajo rugs, Pomo baskets, Tohono O’odham baskets, and Aleutian art.

So small that it could fit on your thumb, this basket holds a connection between three savvy business women, whether artists or art lovers.

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

BMA Voices: The Enchanting Working of Vija Celmin’s “Galaxy (Cassiopeia)”

Vija Celmins. Galaxy (Cassiopeia). 1973. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gertrude Rosenthal Bequest Fund, BMA 1991.24. © Vija Celmins

Vija Celmins. Galaxy (Cassiopeia). 1973. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gertrude Rosenthal Bequest Fund, BMA 1991.24. © Vija Celmins

Lauren Ross, Senior Conservation Technician Paintings & Objects

What I love about this drawing has everything to do with the mystery of the image, and the metaphysical nature of the object itself, describing something that is beyond tactility – a galaxy. It gets translated through the use of another powdery substance, graphite. I think that Vija Celmins is one of the great living artists of my time and someone whose work I deeply admire. I encountered a large retrospective of her work in Cologne, Germany, quite by accident, and feel really lucky to have seen it. There were galaxy drawings, videos, prints of waves, three dimensional “rocks”, images of static, and more. The works are all indefinable but precise, and in all there are definitely the elements of trickery, or at least they leave me feeling a bit tricked and even odd. Peculiar, but mesmerized.

I asked our Head of Conservation, paper conservator Tom Primeau, what he thought about the artist’s technique in Galaxy (Cassiopeia). He thought that perhaps the artist had prepared the paper and then found a way to create a misted resist using something as utilitarian and practical as soap, which then created the star/cloud formation of the galaxy over and around which she could form the negative “space” with the graphite. She uses a common artist material to execute highly finished resonant images, something of a strict challenge, and what I really enjoy in her work. In an interview in 1992 with Chuck Close from the book Between Artists, Celmins talks with him about the magic aspect in her stone sculptures:

Well, the best part is that they do have a little bit of a magic quality to them. I think that the impulse to make these was so complicated that I can’t say much about them without sounding silly. They’re really something to experience, I think.

It is no wonder that Celmins was included in the Magician Ricky Jay’s Magic Magic Book, a two-volume edition also in the collection here at the BMA. The first volume is all about magical “blow books”, wherein Jay has researched the history and technical varieties of blow books. In these, a reader manipulates the pages and astonishing things happen. In the second volume, the works of several artists are presented scattered throughout, but with the correct manipulation of the book, one can see examples of the trancelike repetition of Celmins’ engravings of ocean waves.

I think in some way the idea of the magic book being manipulated in such a way is somewhat a metaphor for her works. A simple repetitive motion employed in the art-making process can arrive in a mysterious and enchanting result that may seem otherworldly.

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

BMA Voices: James McNeill Whistler’s “Rotherhithe”, 1860.

James McNeill Whistler. Rotherhithe. 1860. From the portfolio "A Series of Sixteen Etchings of Scenes on the Thames (The Thames Set)". The Baltimore Museum of Art: The George A. Lucas Collection, purchased with Funds from the State of Maryland, Laurence and Stella Bendann Fund, and contributions from individuals, foundations, and corporations throughout the Baltimore community, BMA 1996.48.7637

James McNeill Whistler. Rotherhithe. 1860. From the portfolio “A Series of Sixteen Etchings of Scenes on the Thames (The Thames Set)”. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The George A. Lucas Collection, purchased with Funds from the State of Maryland, Laurence and Stella Bendann Fund, and contributions from individuals, foundations, and corporations throughout the Baltimore community, BMA 1996.48.7637

Nicole Simpson, George A. Lucas Cataloguer in the Prints, Drawings and Photographs Department 

A loud crash rang out in Rotherhithe – a shipping district on the south bank of the Thames in London. A brick had fallen from the roof of a building where workmen were doing repairs. Seated nearby on the terrace of a tavern was the dapper young artist James McNeill Whistler. He was in the middle of etching the scene before him when, startled by the noise, he jumped and accidentally left a long, vertical scratch on the copper printing plate. Although he could have removed this unintended mark, Whistler let it remain (it is visible in the center of the print, between the masts).

While Whistler delighted in such spontaneous occurrences, he was also a careful and deliberate artist. He was particularly sensitive to how the selection of paper could affect the look of his prints – here he selected Japanese paper, which is a thin, translucent paper, to add a luminous quality to the outdoor scene. Whistler was so pleased with this piece that he exhibited it at the Salon in Paris in 1863.

This print is part of the collection of George A. Lucas, who amassed nearly 20,000 prints, paintings, sculptures and books. A native Baltimorean, Lucas spent his adult life working in Paris as an art agent for wealthy and respected art dealers and collectors, including Samuel Putnam Avery (whose print collection is now at The New York Public Library), and William and Henry Walters (whose collection is the foundation for The Walters Art Museum). Lucas knew many artists, including Whistler. Whistler was notorious for his cantankerous spirit and could be a difficult friend – he frequently asked Lucas for favors and money, once challenged Lucas to a duel, and embroiled Lucas in his romantic misdeeds. Despite this undoubtedly trying relationship, Lucas continued to admire his work and collected nearly 200 prints by Whistler.

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

BMA Voices: The Feast of the Gods. c. 1575.

Diana Scultori and After Giulio Romano. The Feast of the Gods. c. 1575, printed 1613. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.2632

Diana Scultori and After Giulio Romano. The Feast of the Gods. c. 1575, printed 1613. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1984.81.2632

Thomas Primeau, Director of Conservation and Paper Conservator

The glories of Italian Renaissance painting, frescos by Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Mantegna, and Romano, were created within the cloistered walls of churches and monasteries, and in aristocratic palaces and villas. Outside of a small audience who were privileged to view the paintings in situ, how was it that artists and connoisseurs from far away came to know and appreciate these great, immovable works of art? Occasionally, artists had the opportunity to travel and see things first hand; in the early 16th-century, Dürer made the long journey from Nuremberg to Italy where he saw works by Leonardo and traded drawings with Raphael, but the primary means of artistic exchange over distance was through finely made printed copies. Masterpieces such as Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescos were influential far outside of Rome because of a flourishing trade in engravings after his compositions.

One of the most talented and interesting engravers of the mid-16th-century was Diana Mantuana, also referred to as Diana Scultori. Though it was unusual at the time for a woman to acquire printmaking skills, for Diana the trade of engraving was a family business. Her father, Giovanni Battista Scultori was an accomplished draftsman and engraver who taught the craft to Diana and her brother Adamo. Engraving is a difficult and laborious medium as each line is incised into a copper plate using a fine-tipped tool known as a burin. This requires both strength and control in order to cut lines in metal that will appear to be as fluid and immediate as those of a pen drawing. Diana excelled at creating strongly engraved, yet finely detailed, elaborate compositions.

Diana’s engraving The Feast of the Gods is a condensed rendering of a group of 22 frescos depicting the story of Cupid and Psyche that Giulio Romano created for Federico II Gonzaga’s Palazzo del Te in Mantua around 1528. The murals illustrate the myth as told in Apuleius’s Metamorphosis: Cupid fell in love with the beautiful mortal Psyche, but the two were separated by the gods and Psyche was forced to undergo a long period of wandering and many trials before she was permitted to be reunited with her lover.

In reducing a lengthy narrative told through a cycle of monumental paintings down to a tabletop sized print, some creative editing was required. Rather than attempting to recreate the entire story, Diana selected scenes from the cycle that highlight the luxury of a celebratory spectacle as the gods prepare a banquet for Cupid and Psyche. The print captured the exuberance of the murals and allowed Diana to demonstrate her technical virtuosity. Her skill and control of the engraving medium is on full display as she depicts a sumptuous assembly of classical nude figures and a menagerie of exotic animals set within an expansive garden.

Another remarkable feature of Diana’s engraving is its scale; this is a large print, 44 inches long, and 15 inches high. The size of this engraving exceeded the papermaking and printmaking technology of the day so in order to create an engraving this long, Diana actually needed to engrave and print 3 plates, which were then pasted together. Prints from the Renaissance as large as this rarely survived as collectors often displayed them tacked or pasted onto walls. The BMA impression of the print also has suffered from aging and rough handling, however it was likely preserved because it was folded and tipped into a book for storage.

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

BMA Voices: On Richard Diebenkorn’s “Woman Seated in a Chair”, 1963.

Richard Diebenkorn. Woman Seated in a Chair. 1963. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Thomas E. Benesch Memorial Collection, BMA 1970.21.3. © Richard Diebenkorn Foundation

Richard Diebenkorn. Woman Seated in a Chair. 1963. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Thomas E. Benesch Memorial Collection, BMA 1970.21.3. © Richard Diebenkorn Foundation

Katy Rothkopf, Senior Curator & Dept Head of European Painting & Sculpture, discusses Richard Diebenkorn’s Woman Seated in a Chair, 1963, and Diebenkorn’s artistic relationship to Henri Matisse.

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

BMA Voices: How can lace details indicate status and rank?

Milanese Bobbin Lace Flounce for an Alb. Late 17th early-18th century. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA Sheet 26

Milanese Bobbin Lace, Flounce for an Alb (detail). Late 17th-early 18th century. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA Sheet 26

Anita Jones, Curator of Decorative Arts for Textiles

In earlier centuries, lace was more than a frilly trim or symbol of feminine seduction. Men wore lace as a sign of status and rank in the Church, as well as in court circles. The need for lace decoration on altar covers, ritual cloths, and liturgical vestments made the Church a major patron of lace-making.

This lace flounce once graced the bottom of an ecclesiastic robe called an alb. It is a continuous band of Milanese bobbin lace over 16 inches high and 144 inches in circumference. In this type of bobbin lace, the cloth work (solid areas) and the ground (net) are made separately, thus allowing the work required to produce such large-scale items to be divided into manageable sections.

Milanese Bobbin Lace Flounce for an Alb. Late 17th early-18th century. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA Sheet 26

Milanese Bobbin Lace, Flounce for an Alb (detail). Late 17th-early 18th century. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA Sheet 26

While scrolls and flowers are typical of Milanese lace, sections of this flounce indicate a special commission for a churchman of some status. On one side, the lace makers recreated a dramatic version of The Vision of St. Paul, depicting the moment in which Saul, a persecutor of Christians, has a vision of the risen Christ. The experience results in his conversion to Christianity and eventual martyrdom as Paul.

Despite the lack of color in the lace, the details of clothing, faces, horses, bridles and other elements are discernible through the use of different stitches. This powerful representation of faith may also have had a personal connection to the clergyman wearing it.

Milanese Bobbin Lace Flounce for an Alb. Late 17th early-18th century. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA Sheet 26

Milanese Bobbin Lace, Flounce for an Alb (detail). Late 17th-early 18th century. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA Sheet 26

The other side of this flounce reveals an elaborate coat of arms, a privilege shared by the aristocracy and the Church. Coats of arms are not infrequent in Milanese laces, but required special designs and resulted in increased cost. Unfortunately, the identity of the owner remains a mystery. Claribel and Etta Cone, who purchased the alb flounce in Paris in 1926, believed the arms to be those of a Cardinal. However, according to the rules of ecclesiastical heraldry, 12 tassels (fiocchi) on each side of the hat (galero) and of a different color than the hat (indicated here by the use of different stitches) indicate a cleric of a different rank. Other secular motifs, such as the crowned eagle, signifying imperial power, and the lion passant (walking), associated with royalty, seem to indicate a connection to a powerful family, who might have sought to cement their social and political status by positioning one of their members in the Church hierarchy.

Milanese Bobbin Lace Flounce for an Alb. Late 17th early-18th century. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA Sheet 26

Milanese Bobbin Lace, Flounce for an Alb. Late 17th-early 18th century. The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA Sheet 26

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.