13 December 2017

canon tables, bureaux plats, and cribs

When I was in grad school at Case Western Reserve University (1968-1973), one of the great advantages of the art history program was the close collaboration with the Cleveland Museum of Art and its curators. The curators taught courses, mostly seminars and mostly collection-related. Our regular library was the CMA Library. Memorably, I took a medieval seminar with William Wixom and worked on a 12th-century manuscript leaf, with Matthew on one side and canon tables on the verso. Working on the calligraphy of the canon tables to date and place the leaf was delightful.
(description below)

Four of us were in a seminar with decorative arts curator Henry Hawley. The topic was French furniture from 1735-1750. We got to crawl around in the gallery, on the rug, under the furniture. I got to work on a bureau plat by noted cabinetmaker Bernard II van Riesen Burgh (BVRB). It has a twin in the Jones Collection which is now in the Victoria & Albert.
(description below)

As I was finishing up my M.A. and starting my M.S. in Library Science, also at Case Western, we went on a field trip with Mr. Wixom to New York. We visited Ella Brummer whose late husband Ernest had been a dealer and collector. We also visited Ruth Blumka whose late husband Leopold had also been a gallerist and dealer. She still had the wonderful Crib of the Infant Jesus which has now been given to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It's just over a foot tall.

(description below)

I was reminded of our trip today when Michael Carter, now a librarian at the Cloisters, sent me a scan of a letter he had found in the archives. It was a thank-you note to Mrs. Brummer from a group of Clevelanders. Yes, our little group of eight grad students had sent a note, in the fine hand of Henry Kleinhenz.

When we were at the Blumka apartment on Park Avenue, Mrs. Blumka opened a linen-fold cabinet and took out a velvet-wrapped item. She carefully uncovered an ivory, a beautifully carved French High Gothic ivory. It was somewhat damaged so not considered "museum quality." It was not cheap but one could imagine finding the few hundred dollars and starving a bit. Oh how I wish that Dorothy and I had been more adventurous and bought the ivory.

A few years later when I was working at the Frick Fine Arts Library at the University of Pittsburgh, Carl Nordenfalk, noted manuscript scholar, was a visiting professor. We talked about "my" manuscript page. He read my seminar paper and thought it was publishable. I did not proceed with that. I don't regret that nearly as much as not buying the ivory.

Descriptions of the objects:
Miniature Excised from a Gospel Book: The Symbol of St. Matthew (recto) and Canon Tables (verso), c. 1125-1150 - Italy, Florence - ink and tempera on vellum.
Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund 1950.373 (photo from the CMA website)

Table Desk (Bureau plat), c. 1750-1760 - Bernard II van Riesen Burgh
wood marquetry with gilt bronze mounts, leather top.
The Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Collection 1944.123 (photo from the CMA website)

Crib of the Infant Jesus, 15th century. South Netherlandish.
Wood, polychromy, lead, silver-gilt, painted parchment, silk embroidery with seed pearls, gold thread, translucent enamels.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Ruth Blumka, in memory of Leopold Blumka, 1974 (1974.121a-d) (photo from an article on the Met's website)