Restored #2

Following on from yesterday’s post on successful and unsuccessful restoration projects, here are a few more. Let’s start with this example of when a more cartoony, less realistic painting was deliberate rather than the result of a botched job.

Ghent altarpiece restorations reveal the alarmingly humanoid face of the famous mystic lambSmithsonian Magazine
To be fair, the lamb—which features prominently in a panel appropriately titled Adoration of the Mystic Lamb—is meant to represent Christ himself. But perched atop its fluffy woolly-white body, the penetrating, close-set eyes, full pink lips and flared nostrils of the original lamb are, at a minimum, eye-catching, if not alarmingly anthropomorphic. Its “cartoonish” appearance is a marked departure from the serene, naturalistic style characterizing the rest of the scene surrounding it, as well as the other panels, Hélène Dubois, the head of the Royal Institute’s restoration project, tells Hannah McGivern at the Art Newspaper.

For that reason, during the century or so that the painting hung in its full, unadulterated glory, onlookers gazing upon the lamb probably got a more “intense interaction” than they bargained for, Dubois suggests. Perhaps the anomalous nature of this riveting stare was part of the motivation behind a spate of modifications to the painting in 1550, when a second set of artists swapped the lamb’s soul-penetrating gaze for a more “impassive and … neutral” expression, restorers explained in a statement, as reported by Flanders Today’s Lisa Bradshaw in 2018.

As we read yesterday with the Vermeer, these restoration projects can take years…

The restoration of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch begins: Watch the painstaking process on-site and onlineOpen Culture
“It is like a military operation in the planning,” said Dibbets, and it has required the utmost precision and expert teams of restorers, data experts, art historians, and the professionals who moved the enormous painting into the glass case it will occupy during this intense period. The crew of restorers will work from digital images taken with a macro X-ray fluorescence scanner, a technique, says Dibbets, that allowed them to “make a full body scan” and “discover which pigments [Rembrandt] used.”

…but here’s an approach I wasn’t expecting with this painting.

AI helps return Rembrandt’s The Night Watch to original sizeThe Guardian
In 1715, three-quarters of a century after it was painted, the canvas was trimmed – 60cm (2ft) cut from the left side of the painting, 22cm (9ins) from the top, 12cm from the bottom and 7cm from the right – so that the masterpiece might fit between two doors at Amsterdam’s city hall. But using high-resolution photography of what is left of the original, computer learning of Rembrandt’s techniques and a contemporary copy of the full painting by Gerrit Lundens hanging in London’s National Gallery, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam was able to reproduce the work in all its glory.

I’m a big fan of Antony Gormley’s spooky and solemn sculptures on Crosby beach near Liverpool, so I was happy to read that they’re being looked after.

Antony Gormley asks for ‘vandalised’ beach sculptures to be cleanedThe Guardian
Antony Gormley has asked for paint to be removed from his iron men sculptures on Crosby beach after they were embellished with colourful outfits by an unknown artist. At least nine of the famous group of statues, which face out to sea and have been standing naked on the Merseyside beach for a decade, have been brightly decorated in the past week.

Antony Gormley hopes Crosby statues last 1,000 years after resetThe Guardian
One hundred cast-iron statues modelled on Gormley were installed in 2005 at Crosby beach, spread across 3km (2 miles) of the foreshore and stretching almost 1km out to sea. The installation, Another Place, was only supposed to last 16 months in Crosby, and the men were almost sent packing early amid safety complaints including cases of the coastguard being called out to “rescue” them. Sixteen years on, the artwork has become a tourist attraction for the Sefton borough of Merseyside and a beloved local institution. But unnoticed by all but the keenest eye, 10 of the men have been missing in action for the past few years after their concrete support piles disintegrated, plunging them face-first into the mud.

Of course, restoration isn’t just limited to paintings and sculptures. There are people who also want to restore … letters of the alphabet?

Petition · Restore the ampersand as the 27th letter of the alphabetChange.org
The ampersand dates all the way back to 45 AD and Johannes Gutenberg even included it on his first printing press in 1440. During the 19th century, American schoolchildren were taught to end their ABC’s with “X, Y, Z, and per se and” because the ampersand was indeed the 27th letter. But then it mysteriously and inexplicably disappeared from the alphabet. […]

This isn’t just for us. Think of all the uses of the ampersand out there, and all the people and organizations that could benefit from allowing the ampersand back into our alphabet. We’re not asking for much. And to be completely honest, we’re not exactly sure who calls the shots on these sorts of things, but having Merriam-Webster on our side seems like a good start.

For law firms, the ampersand is a character worth savingABA Journal
Paul Hastings, Norton Rose Fulbright, Hogan Lovells, Proskauer Rose, Baker Botts: the list of new BigLaw titles built on the corpses of ampersands is almost endless. All these firms discarded their ampersands as if they were ashamed of them. The BigLaw ampersand now stands on the precipice of extinction. Accordingly, it is up to BigLaw partners and associates to see to its survival. You’re thinking, “But what can I do? I’m only one lawyer among tens of thousands?” You have answered your own question: You are one of tens of thousands. Your voice, added to the voices of your brother and sister lawyers across the land, can be a mighty chorus demanding the restoration of the ampersand to its rightful place in American law.

The artists behind the names

Can you ever really know someone? Are we more than just a name?

The many faces of Rembrandt van Rijn
In the 350 years since his death in 1669, Rembrandt van Rijn has been reinterpreted time and again. The Victorians considered him a reclusive genius. Critics in the mid-20th century thought he was a misunderstood experimentalist. In the 1980s there was a fashion for seeing him as a brilliant businessman. More recently, he has been depicted as an empath, the supreme explorer of human emotion in paint. …

Curators seeking to shore up their characterisations of the artist have often done so by hanging him alongside other painters. Put Rembrandt alongside Caravaggio and he looks like a realist, alongside Auerbach and he looks almost expressionistic. … In these strange and turbulent times, it seems that the organisers could not help but show off Rembrandt’s comic sensibilities. The effect of pairing “Self Portrait as the Apostle Paul”—from which Rembrandt gazes out in exhausted forbearance—with Velázquez’s portrait of a Court bufón, scholarly and self-possessed, is humorous. Velázquez understands the dignity of a comedian, while Rembrandt demonstrates the comedy of dignitaries.

It is an insight that reaches its raucous climax in the Rijksmuseum’s prize Rembrandt, “The Night Watch”, which is currently undergoing the first stage of a public restoration. The painting depicts an Amsterdam militia company, the men’s gazes shooting off like misfired bullets, their gestures obscuring each other’s faces. The uniforms are mismatched, some a century older than others. The Rembrandt who painted it is an artist of political disorder—undoubtedly a Rembrandt that resonates in 2019.

From an artist with many faces to one who keeps his hidden.

Banksy caught on camera: New photo book documents street artist’s early years
More than 12,000 film negatives of his time with the artist “sat in files for years because I had no contact sheets,” Lazarides said. Then, he finally decided to start scanning them into a computer. The painstaking process took more than two years.

“It was a very strange period of time,” said Lazarides. “Film cameras were on their way out. It was incredibly expensive. But digital cameras hadn’t really come in. The internet wasn’t really that up and running. There was no social media, so you’re in a period in time when I suddenly realised, ‘Oh fuck, I’m the only person in the world with these pictures.’”

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Selfie portraits

There’s no escaping the selfie, they’re everywhere. But have we really stopped to consider them as an art form? Here’s a critique of this new genre, with some famous and infamous examples.

Art at arm’s length: A history of the selfie
In some way, selfies reach back to the Greek theatrical idea of methexis—a group sharing wherein the speaker addresses the audience directly, much like when comic actors look at the TV camera and make a face. Finally, fascinatingly, the genre wasn’t created by artists. Selfies come from all of us; they are a folk art that is already expanding the language and lexicon of photography. Selfies are a photography of modern life—not that academics or curators are paying much attention to them. They will, though: In a hundred years, the mass of selfies will be an incredible record of the fine details of everyday life. Imagine what we could see if we had millions of these from the streets of imperial Rome.

And here’s Jason Bailey from Artnome suggesting we could see Rembrandt as the Paris Hilton of his day…

How Rembrandt and Van Gogh mastered the art of the selfie
Next time someone gives you a hard time for spending 15 minutes fussing with filters on your selfie, remind them that Rembrandt spent a full 10% of his career perfecting selfies.