Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Fingerprint and a Doorknob

Hello all!  We hope you're getting excited for the first showing of "Shock of the New" THIS SATURDAY, January 11!  The showing will be at 11am at the Zinema, followed by a discussion by the curator at the Tweed Museum of Art, Peter Spooner.  The topic of this week's installment is The Mechanical Paradise.  This episode shows how the development of technology influenced art between 1880 and end of WWI.  A longer synopsis can be found on the BBC's website.

Now for the fun stuff, our vocab word of the week!

prov·e·nance \ˈpräv-nən(t)s, ˈprä-və-ˌnän(t)s\
: The history of ownership of a valued object or work of art or literature.  French provenir, "to come from".

You can imagine how important this is when acquiring works at a museum.  By having the sufficient provenance of a piece you can make sure that the painting wasn't stolen and you can gather the actual worth of a painting based on its history.  An example of a very long and old provenance of a work is The Arnolfini Protrait by Jan van Eyck (see left).  The documented history of this piece dates back to 1434!  It's hard to believe this piece was purchased for a mere £600! ($950).  If you read through the entire provenance, you can see how the piece evolved over time; i.e. it used to have shutters and an original frame.

This painting is well recognized around the world because it is the only surviving panel from 15th-century northern Europe that specifically shows contemporary people interacting in a contemporary house.  It's also pretty baller that the literal translation of the artist's signature is "Jan van Eyck was here".  The signature of the artist in this case has been used in the literal interpretation that the artist was there; this meaning that he witnessed an event rather than only creating the work.  What did he witness?  A wedding?  A lawful transference of legal power to the gentleman's wife?  There has been a lengthy argument amongst art historians on the meaning behind this work, and unfortunately the provenance can only tell us so much!  We're not going to get into that now, but a nice little diddy on this painting can be found here

Speaking of a work of art getting stolen, we're now going to talk about one of the greatest art heists of all time...THE STEALING OF THE MONA LISA!  DUN DUN DUN.  Did you know that one of the first prime suspects in the pilfering of the Mona Lisa was none other than Pablo Picasso?!  Four years prior to the Mona Lisa heist he had been found with stone-heads that, unbeknownst to him, had been stolen from the Louvre.  Now, if Pablo's mother had heard she probably would have lectured him on the importance of provenance before buying art from a 'guy who knows a guy'.

Fun fact, his work titled Demoiselles d’Avignon was modeled after these stolen objects (see right).

Empty Space Unoccupied by Mona Lisa
Long story short, Pablo didn't steal the Mona Lisa.  A previous employee of the Louvre, Vincenzo Peruggia, who was Italian by birth thought that the work by Da Vinci belonged  in it's mother country, Italy.  Peruggia was found out whilst trying to 'return the painting to Italy' for a 'small fee' from a shopkeeper whose store a few streets away from where the Mona Lisa was originally painted.

Why did we name this post 'A Fingerprint and a Doorknob' you may ask?  The only piece of evidence linking Peruggia to the crime was a doorknob he had removed from the door to get out of the Louvre and tossed in the ditch, and one fingerprint that was left on the wall where the Mona Lisa had hung.  Why didn't this link him to the crime earlier?  The detective on the case had the fingerprints of all the past and present employees of the Louvre.  The fingerprint that had been on the wall was from Peruggia's left hand, and what the detective had on file were  right handed prints.  ZING!  That's a 'face-palm' moment if I've ever heard one.

Did the heist of the Mona Lisa add to it's historical worth?  We sure think so!  If not, at least it's an interesting story.  If you're curious about the details of the stealing of the Mona Lisa a good book to read is The Crimes of Paris: A True Story of Murder, Theft, and Detection, by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler.  You can read an excerpt from the book here.

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