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Object of the Week: Woman Playing a Harp

In honor of Women’s History Month, Object of the Week will highlight works by celebrated women artists in SAM’s permanent collection throughout the month of March.

Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807) was born in Switzerland, but she traveled extensively throughout Europe in her early life. She started painting by assisting her father, a muralist, but she was somewhat of a child prodigy who quickly developed her own career as a history painter and portraitist, which soon supported both her and her father. At age 25, she moved to London, where she made such an impact on the arts community and market that a contemporary quipped, “The whole world has gone Angelica-mad.”[1] At age 27, she was elected as one of two female members of London’s newly-formed Royal Academy of Arts (RA). Kauffman’s trademark was to put female subjects first and foremost, and she often used her own likeness. Her Neoclassical personifications of art were more than the inert Renaissance damsels commonly used: they were women artists (see Self-Portrait Hesitating Between the Arts of Music and Painting below). Pretty impressive stuff.

Self-Portrait Hesitating Between the Arts of Music and Painting

But even knowing this illustrious resume, the feeling that pervades this possible self-portrait Woman Playing a Harp (ca. 1778) is one of uncertainty. The woman’s fingers seem too hesitant to be making any sound, and her eyes telegraph a wariness of her audience. My reading could be influenced by the strange times we currently find ourselves in, but I don’t think it’s just me. A Seattle Art Museum staff member, working from home, gave this painting new life as a quality art meme.

The more I looked into Angelica Kauffman’s work, the more I witnessed refreshing moments of “un-confidence.” Just look at Self-Portrait Hesitating Between the Arts of Music and Painting (1791). Kauffman was a talented cellist and singer, and as a young woman she was torn between a career in painting and one in the opera. This self-portrait honestly portrays the common agony of having to choose a life path, decades after Kauffman chose painting. Many women today can likely identify with this feeling: you can be London’s finest hostess, speak five languages, take the art world by storm, and still feel completely unsure and inadequate sometimes. And that’s okay.

Admittedly, there are benefits to being multi-talented. Kauffman was commissioned not only for portraits and history paintings, but also for decorative work that adorned some of England’s greatest estates. However, her practice was not easily categorized in a culture of male super-painters, and this brought its own challenges. In the words of painter and Kauffman scholar Sarah Pickstone, “She was so flexible as an artist, making furniture decorations, ceiling decorations, that when the Victorians came along, they dismissed her as a purely decorative artist, and I think that can sometimes happen to women’s work.”[2] Kauffman’s history as a founding member of the RA was largely erased after her death, and over a century passed before the academy elected any more female members.[3]

Kauffman’s legacy has started to shift, however, as creative historians have come to appreciate her complex life and practice, including those “feminine” decorative arts. It follows a promising trend toward women being valued for their professional activities and qualities outside of a patriarchal framework. The RA is bringing Kauffman back into their history by planning a major exhibition of her work for Summer 2020. Though it may likely be postponed, as the museum is temporarily closed due to the coronavirus, that’s just another uncertainty we will have to embrace.

Linnea Hodge, SAM Curatorial Coordinator

[1] Brighton Museums, “Angelica Kauffman: An Eighteenth-Century ‘Wunderkind,’” 19 February 2015, https://brightonmuseums.org.uk/discover/2015/02/19/angelica-kauffman-an-eighteenth-century-wunderkind
[2] Royal Academy of Arts podcast, “Sarah Pickstone and Rommi Smith discuss Angelica Kauffman,” 3 April 2018
[3] Annette Wickham, “A ‘Female Invasion’ 250 Years in the Making,” 13 May 2018
Images: Woman Playing a Harp, ca. 1778,Angelica Kauffman, oil on canvas, 34 7/8 x 27 1/4 in., Gift of Mrs. Lew V. Day in memory of her husband, 66.63. Self-portrait of the Artist hesitating between the Arts of Music and Painting, 1794, Angelica Kauffman, oil on canvas, 70 x 98 in., Nostell Priory, West Yorkshire

Macha Theater Works Visits Flesh and Blood

This dramatization of Artemisia Gentileschi’s painting Judith and Holofernes certainly brings out the blood in Flesh and Blood: Italian Masterpieces from the Capodimonte Museum, currently on view at SAM.

One of the few successful female painters of her time, Gentileschi’s famous painting is hanging at SAM in Flesh and Blood, an exhibition of Renaissance and Baroque paintings. Judith and Holofernes provides one of the characters from the play, Blood Water Paint, recently restaged at Seattle’s 12th Ave Arts Studio by Macha Theatre Works. Playwright Joy McCullough‘s YA novel adaptation of Blood Water Paint won the 2019 Washington State Book Award and we couldn’t pass up the chance to bring these actors into the galleries to recreate a scene for you!

See this important artwork at SAM during Flesh and Blood, on view January 26. This exhibition offers a rare opportunity to experience the fierce beauty of art from the 16th and 17th centuries. Renowned Renaissance artists such as Titian and Raphael join Baroque masters including Artemisia Gentileschi, Jusepe de Ribera, Guido Reni, and Bernardo Cavallino to reveal the aspirations and limitations of the human body and the many ways it can express love and devotion, physical labor, and tragic suffering.

Blood Water Paint

Based on true events, Blood Water Paint unfolds lyrically through interactions with the women featured in Artemisia’s most famous paintings and culminates in her fierce battle to rise above the most devastating event in her life and fight for justice despite horrific consequences.

Macha Theatre Works

Macha Theatre Works is a fearless female non-profit arts organization showcasing exceptional artists, delivering innovative education programs, and staging new theatrical works that feature strong female characters.

Seattle Historical Arts for Kids Visits Flesh and Blood

The paintings in Flesh and Blood: Italian Masterpieces from the Capodimonte Museum span the High Renaissance and the Baroque eras, so it’s only fitting that the Early Music Youth Academy from Seattle Historical Arts for Kids would play these two pieces by Salamone Rossi in SAM’s galleries while this exhibition is hanging through January 26.

Rossi’s music displays the transition from late Renaissance compositions to more Baroque-style arrangements. This selection, “Gagliarda detta la Norsina” and “Passeggio d’un Balletto” was published in 1607. Behind the talented youths performing this music, glimpse Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith and Holofernes, painted sometime between 1612 and 1617. You can also spot Ribera’s Saint Jerome, 1626, and The Virgin of the Souls with Saints Clare and Francis, 1622–23, by Battistello Caracciolo. Don’t miss seeing these paintings that have never before been exhibited in Seattle—Get tickets to visit SAM today!

Seattle Opera Visits Flesh and Blood

We partnered with our friends at Seattle Opera to bring you a double dose of all things Baroque. Here is “Vidit suum dulcem natum” from the Stabat Mater by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi performed in front of Guido Reni’s painting, “Atalanta and Hippomenes,” on view at SAM right now as part of “Flesh and Blood: Italian Masterpieces from the Capodimonte Museum.”

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi studied in Naples and premiered all but one of his operas there. This piece, Stabat Mater, was composed in 1736. An example of Guido Reni’s more Baroque approach to painting that developed during his time Naples, “Atalanta and Hippomenes” was completed between 1620–25 and is visiting Seattle Art Museum from Naples. Enjoy this video of these Baroque works of art together before you visit SAM to see this and other important Italian paintings in person. Let this opera set your mood!

“Flesh and Blood” offers a rare opportunity to experience the fierce beauty of art from the 16th and 17th centuries. Renowned Renaissance artists such as Titian and Raphael join Baroque masters including Artemisia Gentileschi, Jusepe de Ribera, Guido Reni, and Bernardo Cavallino to reveal the aspirations and limitations of the human body and the many ways it can express love and devotion, physical labor, and tragic suffering. You have until January 26, 2020, to see this exhibition.

SAM Connects Free Days to Flesh & Blood

Experience the fierce beauty of High Renaissance and Baroque art at the free Community Opening for Flesh and Blood: Italian Masterpieces from the Capodimonte Museum on October 17. From 5–9 pm, watch these artworks come alive as Palace Theatre & Art Bar takes the stage for a series of eclectic performances reflecting the darkness, drama, and human emotion of Flesh and Blood. Make a masterpiece of your own as you draw from live models during an art activity led by artist Barry Johnson. Seattle Opera singer will be in the galleries expressing love, devotion, and tragic suffering with pop-up performances. Living representations of the artworks will be embodied by dancers Mikhail Calliste and Michele Dooley. Flesh and Blood presents, as they say in Italy, il meglio del meglio—the best of the best.

Make sure to RSVP, but if you can’t make it to the opening, don’t worry! There are many other ways for you to visit SAM for free or at a discount during Flesh and Blood!

  • Free community passes may be available for community organizations or colleges and universities.
  • Many of our programs include free admission to our special exhibitions on the day of the event. Keep an eye on exhibition-related events.
  • First Thursdays mean discounts to Flesh and Blood!
    Adult: $9.99
    Seniors 65+, Military (w/ID): $7.99
    Students (w/ID): $4.99
    Ages 19 & younger: Free
  • First Friday: Admission to Flesh and Blood is $7.99 for anyone 65 years and older.
  • As part of Museums for All, SAM offers free admission to low-income families and individuals receiving SNAP benefits when you show your EBT card.
  • King County and Seattle Public Libraries offer free passes to special exhibitions.
  • City of Seattle’s Gold and FLASH card program. If you have a Gold or FLASH card, your caretaker gets free admission.
  • Teen Tix pass program makes it possible for teens to visit for just $5!
  • Bank of America’s Museums on Us: On the first full weekend of every month, Bank of America cardholders receive free admission at SAM.
  • Blue Star Museums: free admission to military personnel and their families. Just show your military ID. The military ID holder plus up to five immediate family members (spouse or child of ID holder) are allowed in for free per visit (special exhibition surcharge may apply).
  • UW Art Students get free admission with the sticker on their student ID

SAM is for everyone and we’re here to make sure anyone can see the art they love! Don’t forget, entry to SAM’s permanent collections is always suggested admission! You can experience our global collection year-round and pay what you want.

Images: The Ecstasy of Saint Cecilia, 1645, Bernardo Cavallino, Italian, 1616–1656, oil on canvas, 24 × 18 7/8 in., Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte. The Virgin of the Souls with Saints Clare and Francis, 1622–23, Battistello Caracciolo, Italian, 1578–1635, oil on canvas, 114 3/16 × 80 11/16 in., Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte.

Volunteer Spotlight: Charlotte Beasley

We can’t imagine what SAM would be without our hundreds of volunteers. Besides making the museum run, our volunteers are a talented bunch! Charlotte Beasley, for instance, is a robotics wiz at school and a coat check volunteer at SAM. One of our youngest volunteers, we asked Charlotte to answer a few questions about what it means to her to volunteer at SAM. Read below and share your reaction to the art at SAM with her the next time you pick up your umbrella at the end of your visit!

SAM: What is your current role?

Charlotte Beasley: I am a coat check volunteer at the downtown location.

How long have you been volunteering at SAM?

Since December 2016 (almost a year!)

If you could give only one reason, what do you most like about volunteering at SAM?

My favorite thing about volunteering at SAM is getting happy reactions of guests first hand. At the coat check, I am the first and last person people see, and I can chat with them on how much they loved the exhibits. I love that art makes people happy, and we do a good job of making people happy at the SAM.

Is there a favorite short story relating to volunteering at SAM you would like to share?

There are so many good stories, even though it’s been less than a year. I am on my high school’s robotics team, Reign Robotics. I was working coat check when a group of kids from Top Gun Robotics came in, wearing their team t-shirts. We got chatting about this year’s season, and we ran into each other again at a competition. They remembered me, even when I was out of team uniform when we first met! Small world, huh?

What is your favorite piece of art in SAM’s collection, and why?

I can’t just choose one piece of art, there are too many good ones! I was a huge fan of  Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style  last year. I visited with my AP French class shortly before I actually started volunteering at the SAM and the different outfits were so colorful and interesting! My family and I are also huge fans of going through European Renaissance art and giving each piece funny alternate titles based on the poses (we love when paintings and statues look like they’re taking selfies).

When not at SAM, what do you do for fun?

I make my own art in my free time (when I’m not playing video games). If you come to SAM on a slow day, you might see me sketching on my Surface. I do a lot of cute, digital art inspired by games, books, movies, etc., and have recently created my own website. Go check it out!

What is something that most people might not immediately know about you?

I am a tiny pacifist, but I also know Kung Fu (only for self-defense purposes, don’t worry!)

What is a simple hack, trick, or advice that you’ve used over time to help you better fulfill your role?

I am just shy of five feet tall, which can make getting large bags out of cubbies or the overhead bins difficult, but not impossible. My strategy is to grab what I can and use gravity and the edge of the cubby to make the bag fall into my arms. This can scare people, since I’m so tiny, but if I do it right, I can carry a lot of bags to the counter. People always apologize for the weight of their bags, but it’s honestly fine; my school books are heavier anyways, so I have lots of practice lifting heavy things!

What are the some steps you take to ensure that you are most effective during your shift?

Charlotte’s Coat Check Plan:

Step One: Look outside to see if it’s raining. If so, expect umbrellas (and lots of them).
Step Two: Sign in.
Step Three: Say “hi” to your fellow volunteers!
Step Four: Analyze the number of bags in the cubbies and ask yourself if you will have to get creative with bag placement or not.
Step Five: Get to work!

– Jenny Woods, Manager of Volunteer Programs

Object of the Week: Father Time

Lurking deep in SAM’s dark halls, a scythe-wielding, wizened figure strides toward you—and he can’t wait to turn the clocks back on Sunday.

As an allegory meant to inspire ruminations on aging, Father Time figures as part of a larger story of allegory in the fine and decorative arts of the 18th century. In paintings and sculpture, as in porcelain, personifications of the four seasons, four elements, four (known) continents, five senses, and twelve months acted out their meaning by looking the part and carrying symbolic items. Artists tapped into established systems of iconography—such as Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia (1603), which established fundamental characteristics for allegories of the four continents—to create these groupings. For collectors and connoisseurs, the challenge of spotting every symbolic reference in the appearance and accoutrements of the figure provided an opportunity to show off one’s learning.

"Father Time", ca. 1745, Meissen manufactory

Here, the German porcelain figure of Father Time combines a couple of symbolic and mythological traditions in an allegorical mishmash that honors an 18th-century tradition of incorporation. His bald dome, resplendent in hard paste porcelain, marks his advanced age. Wisps of hair cascading over his ears and the long locks of a flowing beard complete his look. He’s not a harvester of death, as his threatening scythe might suggest. The scythe symbol developed from a lack of verbal distinction between the Greek god of agriculture, named Cronus, and their word for time, chronos. Father Time’s wings were a contribution by Renaissance artists to an already confused allegory. A youthful boy lounges at his feet, grasping a yellow flower. The boy’s presence, and the flower, mimicking humanity’s life cycle at an accelerated tempo, reminded viewers that age, and his companion death, would come for all.

Appropriately meta, Father Time presents a watch holder in his left hand. Originally the porcelain figure would have served to store and display a pocket watch, and in the symbolic program of the artwork, the pocket watch fills the place of the hourglass that one would expect to find in representations of Father Time.

"Father Time", ca. 1745, Meissen manufactory

As it allegorizes and visualizes time, SAM’s porcelain figure enters into a long tradition that includes masterpieces dating back to the Renaissance, like Bronzino’s An Allegory of Venus and Cupid. That it aims to incorporate an actual time-keeping element places it more in the line of contemporary thinking. One of the notable, innovative works to do this recently is Christian Marclay’s video installation The Clock (a portion of which can be viewed here). In the same vein, Maarten Baas’s Analog Digital Clock comprises a video work in which the artist manually creates a representation of a digital clock, continually painting, obscuring, and then re-painting the clock’s minute digits as they pass.

However you’re keeping time this weekend, I say forget counting minutes and make your minutes count.

–Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections  Coordinator

Image: Father Time, ca. 1745, Meissen manufactory, German, hard paste porcelain, height: 14 1/2 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Martha and Henry Isaacson, 91.103, Photos: Natali Wiseman.