Conservation Project: Technical Analysis of a Chinese Bodhisattva

Fig1_Tan_S3920_Condition MappingThe mission of Art Properties is to encourage the study and research of works of art from the University art collection. As noted in a previous blog post, in 2013 we began a partnership with the NYU Institute of Fine Arts Conservation Center as an extension of this educational mission in support of object-centered learning. Not all forms of conservation involve in-depth cleaning and restoration. In some cases the primary concern is scientific study of a work of art in order to better understand its historical origins. The following is an example of how technical analysis of a polychrome wood sculpture from the Art Properties collection has helped us further authenticate its origins to a particular time period and region in China.

Conservation Project & Report by Melissa Tan, 2014

Fig2_S3920_view4_Avery_AP_4160_008Bodhisattva Standing on a Lotus Base
960-1279, Song dynasty, China
Paulownia (foxglove) wood with polychromy
20 3/4 x 5 1/2 x 4 7/8 in. (52.4 x 14 x 12.3 cm)
Art Properties, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library
Columbia University in the City of New York
Sackler Collections (S3920)

This conservation treatment of a Columbia University polychrome wood figure of a Bodhisattva sought to inform the history and manufacture of the object through technical analysis. A primary goal of the research was to determine the region from where the sculpture originated. In general, scholars have had to base attributions of Chinese Buddhist figures on stylistic analysis. This stems from the limited documentation that exists on the de-installation and sale of Buddhist icons during the nineteenth century. More recently, the application of technical art history to Chinese Buddhist wood sculptures has teased out an apparent correlation between wood species and region of production. Whereas willow, linden, and poplar are identified with regions from Northern Manchuria to Shaanxi, the foxglove tree, also known by its botanical name of Paulownia, grows more centrally in China from the Yangtze River westward to Sichuan. Thus, sculptures from the Liao (907-1125), Jin (1115-1234), and Yuan (1271-1368) dynasties are generally constructed from willow, whereas statues and figures attributed to the Song dynasty (960-1279) are often carved from Paulownia.

 Fig3_Tan_S3920_WoodID-croppedThe potential to secure the provenance of the Columbia University Bodhisattva warranted conducting wood identification on the sculpture. After discussing the cost-benefit of micro-sampling with Dr. Roberto C. Ferrari, Curator of Art Properties, permission was granted to obtain a micro-sample for analysis. Thin shavings were removed from a discrete location and were mounted onto glass slides to be observed under magnification. The analysis revealed that the samples possessed characteristics associated with Paulownia, a deciduous tree native to much of China, though most common in the region noted above from the Yangtze to Sichuan. Use of Paulownia was particularly prevalent during the Song dynasty. Thus, the results of the wood identification suggests that the sculpture may have been produced between the 10th-13th centuries.

 Fig4_Tan_S3920_Radiograph_SideViewThe identification of Paulownia afforded a tangential observation to be made regarding the relationship between wood species and consecratory chambers. As part of the documentation process, the Columbia University Bodhisattva was imaged with X-radiography. In essence, X-radiography uses a high energy source to resolve the internal structure of an object. Examination of the X-radiograph revealed no consecratory chambers present in the Bodhisattva. Only Buddhist sculptures carved in willow have been found to contain consecratory cavities, while statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas carved from Paulownia have shown to have no such chambers. This discovery thus falls in line with recent findings noted by Denise Leidy, Donna Strahan, and Lawrence Becker in their text Wisdom Embodied: Chinese Buddhist and Daoist Sculpture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2010, pp. 38-39). The ostensible specificity of consecratory material then raises an obvious question: Why do sculptures carved in willow bear consecratory chambers? One explanation may stem from Buddhist lore. The Bodhisattva of Compassion, Kuan-yin (also known as Avalokitesvara), is closely tied to the willow. Thus, the religious significance imparted to willow may explain its apparent relationship to consecratory material. This also may suggest, then, that the Columbia University Bodhisattva is not Kuan-yin but rather a different Bodhisattva whose identify remains unidentified.

Ultimately, by studying the sculpture from substrate to surface, the conservation of the Bodhisattva demonstrates how technical analysis can guide decisions on how to approach treatment. Furthermore, the emphasis on research underscores how conservation can contribute to the body of knowledge on art history.

Rio viewbook

Rio_blogAs the world’s attention turns to Rio with the beginning of the summer Olympics, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library offers a glimpse into the city’s past. A souvenir album of Rio de Janeiro from the 1920s is included in the Viewbook exhibition, on display through October 31st in the Avery Classics Reading Room.

A cidade do Rio de Janeiro [AA857 R4 C48] features bird’s eye images of the city, along with street and waterfront views, and photographs of important public buildings. The Rio viewbook reveals both the way that the city viewed itself and what appealed to contemporary tourists. The distinctive green-tinted images are collotypes, a common and relatively inexpensive technique for the mechanical reproduction of photographs.

A.J. Downing & His Legacy

Downing_Blog_imageLast fall, Avery Library’s Classics Reading Room featured an exhibition exploring the legacy of A.J. Downing. Those of you who missed it  can now view the digital version of the exhibition!

A.J. Downing & His Legacy

Alexander Jackson Downing is known as the “father” of the American architectural pattern book. Downing saw both how books could transmit design ideas in words and pictures, and how modest houses with Romantic Revival design gestures could form the basis for an improved American housing for its middle classes, particularly in rural and small town settings. To further that end, he published three important works: A treatise on the theory and practice of landscape gardening (first issued in 1841); Cottage residences (first published 1842); and The architecture of country houses (first issued in 1852).

This exhibition, originally mounted in Avery Library’s Classics Reading Room to celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth, showcases several editions of Downing’s publications and those of his many successors. It offers a glimpse into the world of mid-19th century architectural publishing in the United States and reveals how Downing’s distillation of design ideas came to influence American housing for half a century.

Art Properties Description-to-Discovery Project

C00_110Searching for Art Work in the Columbia University Art Collection

For the first time, it is now possible to search for selected works from the Columbia University art collection. Art Properties, Avery Library, is pleased to announce the release of 1,728 item records for cultural artifacts and works of art. Among the items in this release are more than 400 oil paintings, 650 photographs, 400 drawings, watercolors, and prints, and decorative arts. Also included are records for the entire public outdoor sculpture collection, recent acquisitions to the collection, and highlights from the renowned Sackler Collections of East Asian and Near Eastern art.

This first release of descriptive data records in CLIO, the online catalog for Columbia University Libraries, represents approximately 15% of the entire collection stewarded by Art Properties. Additional records will be released on an ongoing basis, making CLIO the primary discovery space for art works in Columbia’s collection. To see a complete listing of the currently available item records:

Below is a sample CLIO record for the work you see above, a portrait of Columbia President Frederick A. P. Barnard, painted by Eastman Johnson in 1886.

CLIOscreenshot-AP

More search tips!

When searching in CLIO for a particular artist or topic, it is possible to narrow search results to show only art works from the collection. To do this, limit Format to “Art Works (Original).” For instance, if you search for “Andy Warhol,” you can limit your format option to see item records for all original works of art by Warhol in the University collection. Other advanced search options include using subject headings such as culture, century, and genre type to expand or narrow your search.

The amount of descriptive information that appears in each item record varies, but these records will be enhanced over time as new research is conducted on the collection. Although there are no images attached to these records, Art Properties gradually is advancing in its initiative to digitize the collection and make images available to the public as well.

Our thanks to colleagues in the Columbia University Libraries’ cataloging and technology divisions for their collaboration with staff from the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library and Art Properties on development of the Art Properties Description-to-Discovery Project.

Works from the University art collection are available for research and study, curricular integration, and educational programs, as well as for exhibition loans to museums and institutions. To make an appointment to see works from the University art collection, contact Art Properties at 212-854-2877 or artproperties@library.columbia.edu.

 

Viewbooks: Window into America

 

Chicago

Chicago, the city beautiful. Chicago, [194-?] AA735 C4 C4345 S

Viewbooks: Window into America

Curators: Teresa Harris and Lena Newman
June 20, 2016-October 31, 2016
Monday – Friday: 9:00am – 5:00pm

Avery Classics Reading Room, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library

Avery Library opens its summer exhibition with a delightful display of selections from its American Viewbooks collection. The exhibit celebrates the completion of our CLIR Hidden Collections grant project

The Rare Book and Manuscript Section of the American Library Association defines viewbooks as a type of published booklet “consisting primarily of views of particular places, events, and activities, sometimes connected by accordion folds.” Avery Classics holds more than 4,000 such titles, focusing almost exclusively on American towns and cities at the end of the 19th- and beginning of the 20th-century. These ephemeral publications were originally intended for a variety of purposes – as souvenirs to be purchased by tourists, as advertisements to prospective residents, and as published records of specific events. Heavily illustrated, viewbooks often include images of new civic buildings, businesses on Main Street and various other features of the local built environment.

For today’s researcher, viewbooks are a wonderful window into a past America, one in the midst of rapid urban and suburban development. Viewbooks have survived as accidental records of the changing architectural landscape across America at the turn of the century. They chronicle the developing and uniquely-American vernacular architecture vocabulary. They also provide a window into the rapidly changing printing and publishing landscape. Making use of new technologies to reproduce photographs quickly and cheaply, viewbooks are an excellent way to approach the history of printing and the accessibility of printed matter. Finally, viewbooks give modern-day readers a glimpse of how towns and cities across the country – some still thriving, others long faded – presented themselves and positioned themselves for the future. From New Holstein, Wisconsin to New York City, Viewbooks represent a place’s attempt to put its best foot forward and to situate itself in the greater American cultural landscape.

City of the Soul: Rome and the Romantics exhibition

Panoramic view of Rome from The Illustrated London News, Vol. 16 (Jan. to June 1850)

Panoramic view of Rome from The Illustrated London News, Vol. 16 (Jan. to June 1850)

City of the Soul: Rome and the Romantics

June 17-September 11, 2016
The Morgan Library, New York

Avery Classics materials feature prominently in a new exhibition at the Morgan Library & Museum entitled City of the Soul: Rome and the Romantics. As the curators of the show point out, “Rome exists not only as an intensely physical place, but also as a romantic idea onto which artists, poets, and writers project their own imaginations and longings. City of the Soul examines the evolving image of Rome in art and literature with a display of books, manuscripts, prints, photographs, and drawings.” Among the items loaned by Avery Classics are a panorama of Rome from The Illustrated London News (above), a travel album with hand-colored images of Rome that may have belonged to Friedrich Wilhelm, King of Prussia, and a detailed map of the city produced by Paul-Marie Letarouilly in 1841. Avery Digital Lab prepared a high-resolution digital image of the Letarouilly map, which was used by the Morgan to create a digital walking tour of Rome, allowing visitors to see some of the works on display next to modern-day images of the monuments.

Prince & Princess of Wales in Butler Library

DSC_0283-croppedsmallerAnyone who has ever visited Butler Library’s main reading room on the 300 level likely has looked up and seen the two life-size royal portraits that have hung high on the south wall for more than fifty years.  Donated by alumnus Edmund Astley Prentis in 1949, these paintings were presented to the University as portraits by unknown artists of Columbia’s eponymous founder King George II and his wife.  However, new research has now been published about these paintings, and the names of the artists and the sitters have been properly identified for the first time.

To learn more about these eighteenth-century British portraits of Prince Frederick Louis and Princess Augusta, read the essay written by Roberto C. Ferrari, Curator of Art Properties, and published in the Spring/Summer 2016 issue of the Historians of British Art Newsletter.  You can download the PDF for free through Columbia University Academic Commons by going to http://dx.doi.org/10.7916/D84J0F4Z.

Cutaway: Drawing the Architectural Section

Labacco_2Cutaway: Drawing the Architectural Section

Curator: Teresa Harris
March 14, 2016 – June 17, 2016
Monday – Friday: 9:00am – 5:00pm

By the early sixteenth century, architects had established conventions for depicting the most important aspects of buildings, namely their elevations, plans, and sections. These conventions have continued to the present day, although computer-aided drafting and three-dimensional modeling programs have begun to alter the architect’s relationship to drawing. This exhibition focuses on a single type of drawing – the section – created by cutting a plane through a structure, allowing an architect to evoke the interior spatial complexity of a building. The images range from Palladio’s section of the Villa La Rotonda (1570) to Ólafur Eliasson’s Your House (2006) in which each of the 454 leaves represent a vertical cross-section of the artist’s own house in Copenhagen.