Monthly Archives: June 2012

Unnatural History

I have no idea what I was searching for, but somehow I came upon some images from Henry Louis Stephens’ Comic Natural History of the Human Race this past weekend and was immediately captivated: anything anthropomorphic always has that effect on me. This book represents both actual people (mostly from the Philadelphia area where Stephens lived and worked) and stereotypes in the guises of those birds, insects, animals and fish that match up with their natures. I imagine that Stephens got away with his particularly unflattering caricatures by using general types (a sanctimonious religious moralist, for example, is depicted as a blood-sucking vampire; there are several rats) rather than specific people. Published in 1851 by Samuel Robinson of Philadelphia, the book is also an early example of color lithography, with plates by Louis Rosenthal and Peter Kraemer.

Here are some of the images, beginning with the only name in the book that I recognized:  P.T. Barnum, portrayed by Stephens as a “Hum-Bug”. The “Stool Pigeon”, the “Woodpecker” (William P. Gihon, an engraver), the “Bird of Paradise”, and the “Taylor Bird” (Mary Cecilia Taylor, an opera singer) follow. On the title page, Stephens presents himself as the hen that hatched this egg, thus mitigating any hurt feelings that might have ensued.

Henry Louis Stephens, The Comic Natural History of the Human Race (Philadelphia: Samuel Robinson, 1851), accessed via Internet Archive.


Our Ship Comes In

Yesterday the Friendship of Salem, a reproduction 1797 three-masted East Indiaman, returned after an absence of many months. It was a beautiful, breezy day, so I went down to Derby Wharf to wait for it, and promptly fell asleep (right in the midst a crowd of people, pretty embarrassing).  When I woke up, the ship was almost upon the wharf (a startling sight to wake up to, actually), so I missed its approach. It rounded the wharf and glided to its berth, negotiating a graceful turnaround along the way so it could back in–its accompanying little pilot boats doing much of the work.  And then The Friendship was home.

For a geographical overview and some historical context, here are two bird’s-eye views of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site by National Park Service illustrator Fred Freeman:  where once there were many busy wharves, now there is only the long Derby and the much shorter Hatch’s and Central wharves. Imagine not one Friendship, but many.

More harbor views, both romantic and realistic:  the scene from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Custom House office, from an interesting article entitled “The Salem of Hawthorne” by Julian Hawthorne in The Century Magazine (1884) , an illustration from an article on post-fire Salem in The New England Magazine (1914), and an undated advertisement for coal, which I found among other papers in the third-floor eaves of my house last week. Mr. Phillips lived in the house in the second half of the nineteenth century, a time when Salem’s wharves were housing less glorious goods than those brought in by The Friendship many years before.


My Renaissance Crush

I check in with the clever blog My Daguerrotype Boyfriend (“where early photography meets extreme hotness”) on a regular basis, but I must admit that nineteenth-century men just don’t do it for me; I prefer to go back several centuries, to the Renaissance. This summer I’m teaching a course on the connections between art, science, and technology in Renaissance Europe, which has given me the opportunity to become reacquainted with my long-time Renaissance crush:  Domenico Ghirlandaio, whose formal name was Domenico di Tommaso Bigordi (1449-1494). Ghirlandaio, meaning “garland-maker”, was a nickname, and a reference to the garland-like jewelry made by his goldsmith father, with whom he trained. Since he is my crush, I’m simply going to call him Domenico from now on.

I have a crush on Domenico for a number of reasons.  I think he’s a great painter, and he must have been an effective teacher as well, as he ran one of the most important workshops in Florence and counted Michelangelo among his students.  Above all, though, I admire him because he’s such Renaissance man:  putting himself in the picture (literally, and several times) and striving to represent humanity above everything else, even beauty.  And on top of all this, he was very handsome, at least the way he depicted himself!

Such a Renaissance statement:  putting yourself in the picture, staring posterity in the eye:  here is Domenico in his 1488 painting Adoration of the Magi, cropped and in its entirety.

Collection of the Spedale degli Innocenti, Florence.

And here his a few years earlier, in Adoration of the Shepherds (1483-85; the Sassetti Chapel in the basilica of Santa Trinita, Florence), right in the thick of things, looking more thoughtful, less clean-shaven, and absolutely overwhelmed by the sight of the baby Jesus.

We also see Domenico on one of the St. Francis frescoes that surround the Shepherds altarpiece above in the Sassetti Chapel:  The Resurrection of the Boy.  He is on the extreme right, in the company of men who would no doubt be instantly recognizable to contemporaries.

In The Expulsion of Joachim from the Temple, a fresco in the Tornabuoni Chapel in Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Domenico has apparently placed himself in the company of his own relatives. This would be his last self-portrait, as he died four years later from a “pestilential fever”.  That year, 1494, was a terrible one for Florence, as the invading French King Charles VIII’s army entered the city, effectively ending its role as the center of Renaissance patronage.

But Domenico lives on, obviously.  Despite my crush, my very favorite Ghirlandaio painting does not feature the artist at all, but rather an old man.  The man depicted in An Old Man and his Grandson (circa 1490; The Louvre) is far from beautiful; viewed objectively, and apart from his setting, he could even be called repulsive.  But Domenico has made him beautiful as he gazes with obvious wonder and adoration at his young grandson, a perfect Renaissance specimen.  No better expression of Renaissance humanism can be found, in my opinion, which was confirmed by the choice of this painting for the cover of the catalog of the recent exhibition of Renaissance portraits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Renaissance Portrait:  from Donatello to Bellini). 


The Splashy Thames

Watching from afar, the highlight of this past weekend’s Diamond Jubilee celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s long reign for me was the spectacular 1000-boat flotilla, floating theater on the Thames.  All the “color” commentary, on the television and in print, referred to the precedent of Charles II’s 1662 river pageant, organized to celebrate his marriage to the Portuguese royal princess Catherine of Braganza. The historical narratives of this particular pageant do indeed describe a spectacle.  The very detailed diarist John Evelyn wrote: “His Majesty and the Queen came in an antique-shaped open vessel, covered with a canopy of cloth of gold, made in the form of a cupola, supported by high Corinthian pillars, wreathed with flowers, festoons and garlands” and his contemporary Samuel Pepys observed that you could not see the water, as there were so many barges and boats.  But for visual inspiration, Canelleto’s panoramic painting The Thames on Lord Mayor’s Day (1746) cannot be beat.  It is in the permanent collection of the Lobkowicz Collection of the Czech Republic, and was loaned to the National Maritime Museum in Britain for its timely exhibition Royal River: Power, Pageantry and the Thames, on view until September. A mural was reproduced on the side of the London Bridge tube station to advertise the exhibition.

The Lord Mayor’s river pageants seem to precede those of royalty, but the Tudor and Stuart monarchs definitely used the river as the backdrop for their public displays of royal majesty, including coronations and funerals. They were experts at this sort of thing:  a procession, was great, but a floating procession, even better. Anne Boleyn had a coronation flotilla as well as one that accompanied her to her execution; river pageants also marked the beginning of her daughter Elizabeth’s reign in 1558 and its end in 1603. There was a three-day river pageant, including a staged fight by several ocean-going vessels, in May of 1610 to celebrate King James I’s proclamation of his eldest son Henry Frederick as the Prince of Wales. The pageant for King Charles II and his new queen Catherine in August of 1662 consisted of barges representing the twelve livery companies (guilds) of London as well as masques on the water; Catherine’s court painter, Dirk Stoop, captured the event for all posterity in an engraving entitled Aqua Triumphalis.

Dirk Stoop, Aqua Triumphalis, 1662. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, before the industrial revolution and intensive urbanization generated a “great stink” emanating from the river, the Thames continued to be the setting for municipal and national celebrations, while simultaneously serving as the “highway” that it had always been.  I think that the seventeenth-century map below illustrates this last function very well.  I couldn’t resist the pageantry of the Lord Mayor’s barge gliding by Windsor Castle in the 1813 aquatint, and then there is an image of perhaps the last national Thames pageant before the twentieth century, Lord Nelson’s grand maritime funeral procession in 1806, by Daniel Turner.

London. Part of the County of Middlesex, 1662 Lithograph, Crace Collection of Maps of London, British Library; The City of London State Barge Passing up the Thames by Windsor Castle, 1813 Aquatint, British Library; Daniel Turner, The Procession of Barges attending Lord Nelson’s Funeral, 1806, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

The last Diamond Jubilee, that of Queen Victoria in 1897, seems to have featured only a terra firma procession; perhaps the Thames was still too stinky, though it had been several decades since the installation of London’s sewage system. “Henry VIII” made an appearance on the river upon the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the beginning of his reign in 2009, and then there was the smiling Queen Elizabeth II on the water this past weekend.

Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee procession passing over the Thames in 1897; “King Henry” in 2009; and the Spirit of Chartwell bearing the royal family down the river this past weekend.


An Adaptable Artist

I am indeed surrounded by the former homes of Salem painters from a century ago, with Frank Benson’s and Philip Little’s houses across the street and the home of a particularly prolific painter, Isaac Henry Caliga (1857-1944) nearly next door. I continue to wonder what Salem’s pre-war (World War I), pre-fire creative community was like. Of all the Salem artists that I’ve written about here, Caliga is the most difficult to categorize and pin down:  his works encompass everything from Sargent-like portraits to pastel drawings to illustrations for turn-of-the-century romance novels.  Unlike Benson and Little, he did not come from a wealthy New England family, but rather from a Midwestern family of German immigrants (apparently his unusual last name was a latinized version of the family name “Steifel”).  He did not summer in the Maine or New Hampshire, but rather on Cape Cod, in the company of the earliest members of an emerging artists’ colony in Provincetown.  To my knowledge, he never painted a maritime scene, unless you count the outer Cape dunes.

Caliga was born in Indiana and trained in New York and Munich.  By the later 1880s he was in Boston, and after the turn of the century he was residing in Salem, in a stately Italianate house at the eastern end of Chestnut Street. What drew him here I do not know, but I found several juried art exhibitions in which he was presenting and Benson was judging, perhaps the latter was the link. There are scattered references to his activities over the next few decades–references to restoration work and a centennial celebration Hawthorne portrait in the Collections of the Essex Institute, brief summaries of his career in The New England Magazine and Who’s Who in America, pictures of his pewter collection in American Homes and Gardens, trial records for the successful defense of his copyrighted Guardian Angel illustration (which seems to have been extremely popular–hence the copyright infringement–but which I cannot find), mentions of his participation in Charles Hawthorne’s Cape Cod School of Art, and a notice of his 1924 marriage to Provincetown printmaker Elizabeth Howland. He was clearly no dilettante, but a working artist who sought “serious” commissions while simultaneously engaging in illustration work—lots of illustration work.

First, the serious paintings:  society portraits and a few genre paintings.

Portrait of John J. Enneking, 1884 (Vose Galleries, Boston); Portrait of  Thomas Allen, 1885 (WalkerCunningham Fine Art); Portrait of Mrs. William Kesson Vanderbilt (Simpson Galleries); The Pink Kimono, 19101915 (Brock & Co.); The Politicians, n.d. (Sotheby’s).

Then there are the illustrations, rendered for books that were hardly classics but probably pretty popular:  early examples of “women’s fiction” catering to an audience that was quite different from his society patrons.  He seems to have been working full-time for Little, Brown in Boston during the first decade of the twentieth century, turning out illustrations for such provocative titles as The Awakening of the Duchess by Fannie Charles (1903), A Detached Pirate:  the Romance of Gay Vandeleur by Helen Milecete (1903), The Effendi:  a Romance of the Soudan by Florence Brooks Whitehouse (1904), A Woman’s Will by Anne Warner (1904), and The Castle of Doubt by John Whitson (1907). A middle-aged divorcée is romanced!  Romance in the desert!  Romance on the high seas! Caliga’s name is always featured very prominently on the title pages and in accompanying advertising:  I do wonder if his artistic reputation suffered a bit because of this rampant commercialism?

Evidently not.  Caliga’s obituary in The New York Times (18 October 1944) focuses exclusively on his portraits:  Provincetown, Massachusetts.  Isaac Henry Caliga, widely-known as a portrait painter and the oldest member of the art colony here, died yesterday on Cape Cod after a week’s illness.  His age was 88.  Born in Auburn, Indiana, he studied in Europe and formerly lived in Salem. Among his portraits are those of the late President Charles W. Eliot of Harvard, Governor Alexander Rice, which now hangs in the State House, Boston, and James B. Colgate, financier, which is in the New York Chamber of Commerce.  Two images of Caliga’s Massachusetts life, his Salem house and the Cape Cod dunes, are below.

Truro Dunes, 1890.  Boston Art Club.


The Little Studio

As the Salem Arts Festival is happening this rainy weekend, I thought I’d offer up a few artistic posts.  I have long been interested in a Salem artist named Philip Little (1854-1942), whose house is located diagonally across the street from ours, so I was very pleased to come across an article about his Salem studio in an old journal called Art and Progress.  Entitled “An Artist’s Studio in Old Salem”, the article was published in November 1914; it contains a brief description of the studio and two great images of the artist in his milieu.

This first view of Little-in-context is amazing, as he stands (and presumably paints) on the deck of his studio, the ruins of a post-fire Salem are in the background, including the twin towers of St. Joseph’s Church.  The article text makes this very point:  On the water-front in old Salem is the studio of  Philip Little, well known as a painter of outdoor pictures.  This is near the historic Derby Wharf and not far from the House of the Seven Gables.  It is a simple concrete structure about 30 x 40 feet and about 20 feet to the ridgepole.  The walls are concrete and the reddish roof is of a fire-proof material….The [interior] walls of the studio are tinted a warm gray.  The furniture consists of a large working easel, a palette stand, and a few chairs. On the polished floor there are a few rugs. Fortunately this studio was just outside the zone destroyed by the great fire of the past summer.

The interior view, just as described:

Though I couldn’t find the exact painting that is on view here, Little’s views of Salem’s old wharves, which must have been painted from the vantage point of this studio, are among his most popular. Certainly Salem Harbor, the 1913 painting below was conceived in the studio, and I like to imagine that the etching Harbor View (1927) was as well (although it looks rather more Maine-ish to me).  Little was no starving artist:  his family’s textile wealth enabled him (as well as his brother Arthur, an architect) to pursue his passion for art:  he began his education at MIT but wound up at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Nevertheless, he led a long life characterized not only by creativity but also by public service (the Salem School Board, the Massachusetts Militia) and generosity.  Like his fellow impressionist and Chestnut Street neighbor Frank W. Benson, Little summered in Maine and while he was up north he let his Harbor studio to a succession of artists, including up-and-coming Connecticut printmaker Philip Kappel.  The little studio of Philip Little lives on as a private home, little changed except for the addition of a small second story, which no doubt provides an even better view of Salem Harbor.

Salem Harbor (1913) and Harbor View, possibly Salem (1927; from a 2009 sale at Skinner Auctioneers & Appraisers); the Little Studio on Salem Harbor today (in the middle, with the outbuildings of the House of the Seven Gables in the background).


%d bloggers like this: