Art History News Today – A new book highlights 100 artistic curiosities, from the nude “Mona Lisa” to portraits of a dog-headed saint.
In the last years of his life, the German sculptor Franz Saver Messerschmidt created a series of busts depicting a variety of emotions, from disgust (see The Wext Man) to amusement (an introspective walk) to shame (hypocrisy and slander). Cast in pewter alloy or alabaster, the life-size character heads are compelling to behold, with exaggerated expressions similar to the titles given to them after their creator’s death in 1783: The Impotent Bassoon, Drowned and Constipated.
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Messerschmidt’s sculptures are among 100 works featured in Edward Brook-Hitching’s The Madman’s Gallery, featuring evil spirits, manifestations of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, and loss of connection between facial expressions and various body parts. : Strange paintings, sculptures and other curiosities from art history. Available now from Chronicle Books, this lavishly illustrated volume “offers an alternate guided tour of art history, … strange, forgotten, strange, with stories that offer glimpses into the lives and times of their creators,” according to the introduction.
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A London-based writer and rare book collector, Brooke-Hitching specializes in drawing readers’ attention to the unusual, from literary spectacles to dangerous games to mysterious drawings. He is the author of Antiques and Art Weekly’s Z.G. Burnett says, “I take a favorite fact or story from a little-known history and ask, ‘If it was in a book, what would the book be about?’ I think so.” Thus, strange material dictates a strange idea and fortunately, more often than not, the result is an original idea that helps readers discover new things.”
Consider, for example, the two-century-old marble statue of the god Glycon. Brooke-Hitching writes that the story of a “curious and disturbing” carving discovered under a railway station in Romania in 1962 “involves a trickster, a serpent deity and a doll”.
Said to be the serpent form of Asclepius, the god of healing, Glycon was Alexander’s creation of the Greek trickster Aponotechus. A self-proclaimed prophet of Clycon, Alexander carried a snake-shaped doll with a mouth that “opens and closes…with horsehair” and a black tongue “controlled by horsehair, [which] ejects”. A Syrian. Lucian the author of Samosata. The sculpture shows the serpent god with human form and long, disheveled hair.
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2015, he notes in the introduction, was “a particularly strong year of comparable artistic weirdness.” The author cites the dark example of Banksy at Disneyland (Dismalland Amusement Park) and performance artist Stelark’s decision to grow a third ear and attach it to his arm as prime examples of this trend.
Much in common with Brooke-Hitching’s earlier book, The Madman’s Library, it focuses on unusual written works rather than art.
Speaking to Smithsonian Magazine in 2021, the author said, “If you take this idea of weird books, it really takes you to different cultures around the world. You realize that everyone has their own visions, and that as a species, we’ve always been incredibly weird and weird, but really fun. We also had endless imaginations.”
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Brooke-Hitching’s new project has the same vibe of traveling the world exploring artistic interests. In Japan, the author elaborates
, watercolors depicting the nine stages of human decay, which were “used to highlight the impermanence and impurity of the mortal body,” as well as discourage lust among Buddhist monks and devotees.
In Russia, he highlights the dog-headed icons of St. Christopher—a reflection of the “widespread medieval belief in an alien race of dog-headed men living somewhere on the edge of the world.” In Peru, he revisits 17th-century portraits of Angels Arcapuceros, or Angel Musketeers. Dressed in a mix of pre-Columbian and Spanish clothing, these winged, armed angels “goddess of the stars” combine local mythology with “the imperial splendor of Christianity.”
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Some of the works included in the book are more recognizable than others. After all, no collection of enigmatic art would be complete without a reference to Hieronymus Bosch’s visions of heaven and hell or the surrealist works of Salvador Dali. But the most surprising entry is one that offers a fresh look at the world’s most recognizable painting:
. The Prado Museum in Madrid has a version believed to have been painted by a member of Leonardo’s workshop, while its most famous figure was at the time. The work portrays its subject from a slightly different perspective, yet it reflects each
“This suggests that it was painted at the same time by one of Leonardo’s pupils – most likely Salah – on a neighboring canvas,” the book notes.
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Salah, an apprentice described by Leonardo as “thief, liar, stubborn, gluttonous,” also painted a nude figure.
. The work’s existence, one of about 20 similar depictions, has led to speculation that Leonardo himself painted the nude La Gioconda, now thought to be lost. Some scholars believe that the charcoal painting housed in the Musée Conde in Chantilly, France, is a preparatory work for this missing painting.
Curator Mathieu Deltick told Charles Bremner of the London Times in 2017. “We don’t know if the portrait was actually painted, but there is a strong probability that it was. What we are told are retouches. There are small traces. … The creative work of this work is very close to the lower part.
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Ultimately, Brooke-Hitching writes, his imaginary gallery is “stolen art, foreign art, destroyed art and man-made art, scandalous and satirical art, art of the heart and art of men in flames.”
Smithsonian Magazine participates in affiliate marketing programs. If you purchase an item through these links, we will receive a commission. Jen Delos Reyes is the strong eldest daughter of an immigrant single mother. Through her upbringing on the prairies of Canada, she learned from her Filipina mother about ingenuity, community building, and how to prioritize happiness, fashion, and aesthetics. He is the first homeowner in his immediate family and a graduate. She focuses her practice on the transformative possibilities of sharing domestic space as an educational, ecological and social resource.
Jenn identifies with the description of Wendell Perry, “a kind of farmer and a kind of artist,” an educator, writer, and active community arts organizer. She is a negative optimist, a friend to all birds, and an advocate that our institutions become soft and vulnerable. Delos Reyes divides his time between Chicago and Ithaca, where he invests in developing projects that sustain the land-based community.
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*This visiting artist lecture will be recorded and viewed in the VRC archive in January. We hope you will attend the lecture and discussion in person.
Imani Jacqueline Brown is an artist, activist and researcher from New Orleans, now based in London. His work explores the “continuum of displacement” spanning settler-colonial genocide and slavery to fossil fuel production. By exposing the layers of violence and resistance that comprise the foundations of American society, Imani opens up a space to imagine a path to ecological reparation. In addition to her artist-activist practice, Imani is currently a forensic architecture researcher and PhD candidate at Queen Mary, University of London.
The Department of Art and Art History offers merit-based awards to undergraduate and graduate students that are made possible by the generosity of our donors. Typically, the funds associated with these awards cover tuition costs and are posted to the student’s bill. A faculty committee reviews applications each spring semester and determines the number and amount of awards. Scholarships range from $100 – $2,000.
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His current exhibit is at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art (BMoCA), but it provides an insight into his character and life. Lenka Clayton is an interdisciplinary artist whose work considers, exaggerates and transforms the accepted rules of everyday life, stretching the familiar. into the realms of poetry and absurdity. In earlier works, he sought out and photographed every person whose name appeared in a German newspaper; He worked with artists who identify as blind to recreate Franchise’s sculpture for the blind from speech interpretation, and reconstructed a lost museum piece from a painting found in an archive. Clayton is the founder of An Artist Residency in Motherhood, a self-directed, open-source artist residency program that takes place in the homes and lives of artists who are parents. There are currently over 1,000 artists living in 62 countries. Recent exhibitions include Fruit and Other Things (2019) at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, The Fabric Workshop and Temporarily Dismantled Object at the Museum in Philadelphia (2017), Apollo’s Muse (2019) at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. , at France’s Lyon Biennale (2020). In 2017, Solomon R. The Guggenheim Museum commissioned a major new work by Clayton and collaborator John Rubin.
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