Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Rare Find For Rosemary

My blogging friend Rosemary of Where Five Valleys Meet says in her May 30th posting that her favorite animal is the Pygmy Hippopotamus. And that reminded me that I just happened to have one in my gift drawer. It's embedded in a piece of amber found in Greece. How the hippopotamus migrated to Greece I don't know, but there's still so much that we're learning!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Illustrator Fritz Kredel

Fritz Kredel (1900-1973) was a marvelous illustrator whose work rests firmly in my consciousness. He was born in Michelstadt-im-Odenwald, Germany, and studied under Rudolf Koch, a noted German calligrapher. In this early part of his life, Kredel was noted primarily as a woodblock engraver. He worked with Koch on two books, The Book of Signs (1923) and The Book of Flowers (1930).

click to enlarge  |
In 1938, Kredel left Germany for the United States, for political reasons. He was already well known in the U.S., and found work in New York teaching at Cooper Union. He also began a very successful career as an illustrator of more than 400 books, including works for Reader's Digest and the Limited Edition Club.

This image is actually three separate scans — the spine wasn't damaged!

This is a book of Grimm's Fairy Tales from my own childhood, and as you can see, unwashed little hands opened it many times. Kredel painted the cover art.

The recent death of author and illustrator Maurice Sendak got me to thinking how illustrators of children's books inform and influence us at our most formative stage. At an early age — if we are lucky — we are introduced to so many morality plays, and while the morals of the stories are important, so too are the indelible cast of characters, and the way in which they are presented.

The characters of Fritz Kredel were charming . . .

. . . romantic . . .

. . . witty and delightful.

As a child, I was charmed by how Kredel played with scale. I remember looking at the illustration on the left and wondering whether such a structure actually existed.

Fritz Kredel's illustrations are masterpieces of line work. He had the great ability to show personality, movement and emotion with a tremendous economy of line. Doubtlessly his drawing skills were greatly enhanced by what he had learned as a wood engraver. If you look at the two enlargements I've made, you can see that they could easily translate as woodblocks.

from eBay
This is one of a series of prints of historic American military uniforms. Each print depicts two men interacting, typical of Fritz Kredel's thoughtful approach to his work.

Illustrations not otherwise credited come from:
Andersen's Fairy Tales  |  The Heritage Press, 1942
Grimm's Fairy Tales  |  Grosset & Dunlap, 1945


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Baker's Dozen for Mrs. D.

I went to my blog site Monday morning and discovered that I was the fortunate recipient of a most original and handsome suede bag, a gift from Mrs. D. of 1893 Victorian Farmhouse. She cleverly incorporated my profile portrait, as well as her signature fob with a double button. Isn't that neat?!

 There's a surprise on the inside, too!
Thank you, Mrs. D.! I will be looking forward to mail call!

Mrs. D. let me know that she was going to do this project (she'd been thinking about it for a while), so I told her that I'd reciprocate with some antique buttons. This would be a blogging "cultural exchange."

from A Girl and Her Duenna  |  Murillo  |  c. 1670  |  National Gallery of Art

For Mrs. D., I've chosen a set of twelve 19th-century steel cut buttons, above. It's rather rare to find sets like this. It comes from a generation that removed and reused buttons, so I suppose one garment wore out, and these were set aside for another.

A view of an individual button,
which is slightly cup-shaped.

To make it a baker's dozen, here's a Victorian button that has an Art Nouveau look to it. It's approximately two inches in diameter, and I believe it might be made of celluloid.

Thanks again, Mrs. D.!


Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Little Surprise

I have a number of collections. In fact, when friends visit, I sometimes feel like a docent in my own house. I've never consciously collected wooden boxes, but as I look around my house, I realize that I've certainly accumulated a lot of them.

There's a mellowness to antique wooden boxes, especially when one sees all those different honeyed tones side by side.

I bought one of my favorite boxes on impulse at an antique show. I suppose it was meant to hold some article of clothing, perhaps handkerchiefs or gloves. Wouldn't you say that it's a lovely work of inlaying?

But upon closer inspection . . .

 . . . it turns out that this isn't inlaid at all, but a box of one wood, carefully painted with different varnishes! I'd love to know if there's a name for this artistry. Have you seen this type of varnish painting before, and do you know what it's called?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Victorian Mechanical Cards

Regular readers of this blog know that I enjoy collecting 19th century trade cards. You can read all about my advertising collection here.

Among my rarer finds are what antique dealers call "mechanicals." That term doesn't refer to the products sold, but rather to the fact that such cards had moving wheels of images. The handsome card above, which was printed in Philadelphia, reveals five Hayes products, seen below:

The Keystone Manufacturing Company depicted Uncle Sam within an international community, a popular Victorian theme as the world was just beginning to seem smaller.

Mechanicals are relatively rare because they weren't preserved in albums like other trade cards. They almost always were also distributed with expensive purchases, like reapers.

The mechanicals are literally windows onto American farm life of the 1880s, and the latest technology of that time.

The reverse of the Hayes mechanical reads:



Monday, May 7, 2012

The Duke's Artist

My blogging friend Jim of Road to Parnassus, familiar with my blog portrait, recently sent me this great magazine cover featuring Piero della Francesca's profile of the Duke of Urbino. I wrote earlier about Duke Federico II da Montefeltro, and the fun I had using his image to make my own portrait. You can read about that here.

When I received the cover art, I thought it was a good time to revisit this image and talk a little more about the artist, Piero della Francesca (c. 1415-1492).

Piero, the son of a cobbler and tanner, was apprenticed in Florence as early as 1432. He would have known the work of masters of the early Renaissance in an exciting atmosphere of discovery, inspiration, sharing, teaching and copying. One who inspired Piero greatly was the short-lived Masaccio, possibly the greatest painter of the early Renaissance, and one of the first masters of perspective. Below are frescoes by Masaccio, who died at age 26.

Frescoes in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence, by Masaccio |

Here would be a good place to mention that Piero della Francesca, while remembered chiefly as an artist, was also a mathematician who wrote treatises on arithmetic, geometry, algebra and perspective. It's amazing to realize that in the whole span of art history, it was only in the 1400s that the principles of perspective were understood and first used in painting. Piero della Francesca did much of the groundwork. As we look at his paintings, we can see that he approached them as mathematical studies.

click to enlarge
Possibly Piero's most important painting is The Flagellation of Christ (1455-60), above. Much has been written about this work, since it not only relates a Biblical event, but also possibly alludes to church politics of della Francesco's time. There is much speculation as to the identity of the three foreground figures. Notice that each is neatly framed within a rectangle.

The Madonna and Child of the Brera Altarpiece (1472-74) is another painting that shows Piero's mastery of perspective. I am drawn to the egg hanging within the shell, so reminiscent of the work of Salvador Dali. Don't you suppose Dali spent some time studying this image? The egg is said to represent the incarnation of the Christ.

In the lower right corner, Piero depicts Federico II, Duke of Urbino and Piero's chief patron. The duke was a man of great learning and cultivation, and I have no doubt that the two engaged in long intellectual conversations.

click to enlarge
Piero della Francesca might be best remembered for his c. 1474 double portrait of the duke and his duchess, Battista Sforza. Seen together, the portraits provide a vast panoramic landscape.

click to enlarge
The reverse of the frame is an identical structure that showcases these two panels, the "Triumphs" of Federico and Battista. Such an unusual framing job is explained by the fact that originally these painting were not framed at all, but hinged like a book.

click to enlarge
This unframed view is perhaps how the portraits would have been presented to Federico and Battista. Notice how the landscape is now smoothly unified?

Piero della Francesca died in his late 70s on October 12, 1492, the very day that Columbus first set foot in the Americas.

With the exception of the first two, all images in this posting are from
Piero della Francesca, one of the Rizzoli Art Classics series.

I have manipulated the images of the Duke and Duchess in the last picture
to reveal how the portraits would possibly have originally appeared.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Greek Keys No. 6

detail of a photograph by Guillaume de Laubier  |  The Most Beautiful Libraries in the World
Pope Sixtus V (1585-1590), known as The Iron Pope, came from a poor family from the village of Montalto. The family name was Peretti, so Pope Sixtus V designed his crest to include a lion holding a branch of pears. The image above is a painting of the pope which hangs in the Vatican library that bears his name. Notice that above the painting is a Greek key that incorporates pears. I've recreated the key below.

And now from the Vatican to the Royal Family. Here is the Meander Tiara, which was worn by Princess Alice of Greece, mother of the Britain's Prince Philip.

Princess Alice of Greece   |

The tiara was a wedding gift from Princess Alice to her daughter-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II, who in turn gave it to Princess Anne.

An 18th century decorative frame
is shown with details of the keys.

This is a Louis XV table of ebony and inlay.

Here, I've recreated the key design of a Roman mosaic floor found in Britain. To see and learn about the Sea God Mosaic, featuring a portrait of Oceanus, go here.

My entire series of Greek key designs can be found on my side bar — just look for the brown stele.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Two Woodies

Regular readers of this blog know that one of my passions is collecting antique buttons. The two buttons shown here (the bottom one is also my current  "Antique Button of the Month" — seen on my sidebar) are both referred to by button collectors as "woodies." They were constructed of metal decorative designs that overlaid pieces of wood. I think these are pretty neat, but it's just as well that I have only two because I consider three of anything the start of another collection!

I'll have a new posting tomorrow.