Now that I’ve dipped my proverbial toe into the weird cult world of art museums, I’ve found a few more items that might be of interest for fellow EMEMHians who are procrastinating from their many research projects. I’ve accumulated a few museum exhibit guides that give the reader the opportunity to read the background of Karl V’s Tunis tapestries, and get more background on each of the pieces on display (see online Zotero group). Admittedly, it’s not the same as being there, but, still, these catalogs allow you to look silly and pretentious pointing at art in the comfort of your own home (or library).
Since we’ll be going to the Frick to check out Watteau’s French soldiers, I thought I’d check out the massive Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC) online, remembering that they have quite the collection of arms and armor – largest in the Western hemisphere they claim. Turns out they have a fair number of art pieces in their online catalog – or ‘catalogue’, if you think ‘theater’ should be spelled ‘theatre’. So, for example, if you were ever wondering what great-grandpa Louis le Grand gave to Prince Luis of Asturias for his fifth birthday c. 1712, you can, thanks to the Met:
But to make a short story long, I’ll circuitously wind back to the title of the post. Turns out Europe and the U.S. both have rich people who pay lots of money to buy artwork. While in the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum (Vienna’s Military History Museum) a month back, I came across a collection of large prints of the ‘greatest Austrian hits’ of the War of the Spanish Succession, such as they were. The intimidating Latin title of the volume is Representatio Belli, ob succesionem in Regno Hispanico auspiciis trium potentiis. Invictiss. et gloriosiss. Caesarum Leopoldi. I. Josephi. I. et Caroli VI. intra 14. annos (Der Spanische Successions Krief unter drei Gossmächtigst. Unüberwindlichst-und Gloruwürdigsten Kenssern Leopoldo I. Josepho I. und Carolo VI. innerhalb 14 Jahren…), c. 1714, published by Jeremias Wolff. You’ve likely seen the format before, you can find similar illustrations of individual triumphs from the English, Dutch and French sides: triumphal engravings of battlefield victories (battles, sieges, naval victories) textually explicated on cherubim-suspended drapery and humanized by likenesses of selected participants. And don’t forget the marginal panoplies (martial cornucopia?) and allegorical figures. Something like this, in other words:
If so inclined, you can download the whole book, in all its gory detail, at several places online.
Adding the work to my list, I just now happened upon an even more interesting variation in the Met’s collections. Turns out somebody wasn’t happy just looking at the pictures in a book, or maybe they wanted to look at the pretty pictures while having their cuppa and were afraid of stains. So the market, always efficiently satisfying demand, led one Ignaz Preissler to create a tea set with some of these same images. The Met acquired most of the tea service (and tracked down the rest), a researcher wrote up a description for art fans and the occasionally-interloping military historian, and Bob’s-your-uncle:
(Note that Figure 10, the upper-right bowl, illustrates soldiers stripping a body.) For details, you can read all about it in Cassidy-Geiger, Maureen. “Repraesentatio Bell, Ob Successionem in Regno Hispanico…: A Tea Service and Garniture by the Schwarzlot Decorator Ignaz Preissler.” Metropolitan Museum Journal 24 (1989): 239–54, available here.
The Met has other publications online as well. Those of interest to EMEMHians include catalogues of fencing manuals, early modern crossbows, and of arms and armor more generally. So if you’re interested, head on over to the MetPublications page and choose the Thematic Category of European Art 17C-18C. Undoubtedly you can find similar online resources at other major museums. But, unfortunately for me, my research projects won’t finish themselves, so it’s back to the grind.
I’ve been writing up personal summaries of our recent trip to Vienna-Salzburg-Munich (and sprinkling them with photos off the web, which are usually far better than what we can manage), lest the memories fade from view too quickly. Pursuant to this task, I started looking up a bunch of early modern artists’ works in Google image search. Concurrently, my RSS feed alerted me to Amy Herman’s Visual Intelligence, which I acquired and have been reading with interest. In a suitably artistic state of mind, I thought I’d look up the Frick Collection (where Herman worked), just to see what kind of museum it was. Turns out, it’s in New York City (a few hours from me), and has some early modern works. So on a further whim, keenly aware of the fortuitous timing that allowed us to see the ephemeral Feste feiern and Kaiser Karl V erobert Tunis exhibits in Vienna, I checked to see what special exhibits the Frick had coming up. And, lo and behold, I find this exhibit, starting July 12 and running through October 2: Watteau’s Soldiers: Scenes of Military Life in Eighteenth-Century France. The description of the exhibit:
It would be difficult to think of an artist further removed from the muck and misery of war than Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684–1721), who is known as a painter of amorous aristocrats and melancholy actors. And yet, early in his career, Watteau painted a number of scenes of military life. They were produced during one of the darkest chapters of France’s history, the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–14), but the martial glory on which most military painters trained their gaze held no interest for Watteau. Instead, he focused on the most prosaic aspects of war — marches, halts, and encampments. The resulting works show the quiet moments between the fighting, when soldiers could rest and daydream, smoke pipes and play cards.
Presented exclusively at The Frick Collection in the summer of 2016, Watteau’s Soldiers is the first exhibition devoted solely to these captivating pictures, introducing the artist’s engagement with military life to a larger audience while exploring his unusual working methods. Among the paintings, drawings, and prints will be four of the seven known military scenes — with the Frick’s own Portal of Valenciennes as the centerpiece — as well as the recently rediscovered Supply Train, which has never before been exhibited publicly in a museum. Also featured will be thirteen studies of soldiers in red chalk, many directly related to the paintings on view, as well as a selection of works by Watteau’s predecessors and followers, the Frick’s Calvary Camp by Philips Wouwerman among them.
An accompanying book by Anne L. Poulet Curatorial Fellow Aaron Wile, published by The Frick Collection in association with D Giles, Ltd., London, will be the first illustrated catalogue of all Watteau works related to military subjects.
So if you’ll be in the region this summer, make some time to check it out. I know I will. And if you can’t, at least consider checking out the catalog. Hopefully it’ll explain why Watteau’s short career should be divided into “early” and “late” works.
More posts on the military art to come.