SAM Celebrates Pride: The Talented Mr. Delafosse

In honor of Pride Month, SAM Blog features reflections by SAM voices on collection artworks that explore LGBTQIA+ art and artists. Queer lives matter every day of the year, but this month is a particular opportunity to celebrate histories of joy, advocacy, and resistance. Stay tuned for more Pride-related content on SAM Blog, including another object spotlight and a list of queer film recommendations curated by SAM’s LGBTQIA+ affinity group.

If you Google “Léon Delafosse,” you’ll get more information on John Singer Sargent’s portrait of the French composer and pianist—part of SAM’s collection since 2001—than on Delafosse’s life story: his early years of poverty, rise as a piano virtuoso and composer, and the eventual destruction of his promising career by powerful men.

Before the arrival of recordings, musicians who were not independently wealthy or well-connected needed patrons and made money by performing in the private salons of rich people. Delafosse made two famous gay friends who propelled his career in Paris: Count Robert de Montesquiou (a social snob and poet-poseur) and writer Marcel Proust. Each of these men acted as unofficial “agents” for Delafosse, promoting his talents to their powerful friends. It’s long been assumed Montesquiou, in addition to being Delafosse’s principal patron, was his lover, too, and that their fraught relationship is immortalized in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (with the bisexual violinist Charles Morel as Delafosse and the gay Baron de Charlus as Montesquiou).  

Gay sex was decriminalized in France in 1791, but men who loved other men emotionally and sexually remained (for the most part) quiet about their private lives. Men who were suspected to be homosexual, who had “feminine” voices or mannerisms, wore colorful and outlandish clothing,  engaged in non-traditional (unmanly) careers were described in code words such as “dandy,” “decadent,” “artistic” and “aesthete” (admittedly better than the alternatives of the time:“sodomite,” “invert,” and “pederast”!)

Montesquiou was easily bored and his temper was volcanic. When Delafosse made the inevitable mistake (unknown, but believed to be the fact he was more interested in music than in anything or anyone), their breakup was cataclysmic. Montesquiou and his accomplice, Proust, set out to destroy Delafosse’s reputation and have him barred from important musical salons all over Paris. They succeeded. Delafosse was devastated and hopeless as he became a laughingstock in the capital. 

Enter: John Singer Sargent.

Sargent (whose obsession with the male body is evident in his work) took a liking to the handsome Delafosse and in genuine friendship promoted his talents to influential Americans like arts patron Isabella Stewart Gardner. Beginning in 1895, Sargent painted Delafosse (then in his early twenties) and gave him the portrait as a lavish gift. Delafosse kept the painting until the day he died.

Pride Month is a celebration of LGBTQ+ history and a time to ponder the world as it is. Community is fragile, and examining the story of Léon Delafosse presents a warning and a quandary. In Belle Époque France, anyone who did not fit easily into standard society, whose sexual identity or gender expression made them outsiders, had to examine and monitor their appearance, their every move, their every spoken or written word. Such nonstop, intense, and protective self-scrutiny must have been exhausting, infuriating. And seeing “yourself” in another man or woman who was like you must have been frightening and intimidating, and it often led to betrayals, based not just on what was held in common but what was different: money, class, looks, and the power that those things bestow.

When I examine Sargent’s image of Léon Delafosse with contemporary eyes and in the current worldwide political climate, I wonder: is Delafosse emerging from the darkness or receding into it? 

– Kevin Stant, SAM Docent

Kevin Stant has been a docent at SAM since 2002. Kevin’s next assignment will be at the Seattle Asian Art Museum; beginning August 31, he’ll give Saturday tours on the exhibition Meot: Korean Art from the Frank Bayley Collection.


Celebrate Pride Month in Seattle with these suggested events:

Sat Jun 22
Youth Pride Disco
Break out your disco wear for this LGBTQIA+ Pride party, planned for and organized by LGBTQ+ youth between the ages of 13 and 22! Join us for drag performances, great music, friend-making activities, food and soft drinks, a quiet room, and more.

Through Sun Jun 23
Jinkx Monsoon and Major Scales: Together Again, Again!
Experience the comedy, music, and saucy stylings of two of the Pacific Northwest’s standout drag entertainers, in this wildly hilarious extravaganza set in an apocalyptic future. Check the event calendar for information about performances for teens, ASL interpretation, captions, and masking.

Fri Jun 28
Trans Pride Seattle 2024
Started in 2013, Trans Pride Seattle is an annual event organized by Gender Justice League. Visit the Volunteer Park Amphitheater from 5 to 10 pm for live music, community speakers, performances, and a resource fair all dedicated to increased visibility, connection, and love of the Seattle-area TwoSpirit, Trans, and Gender Diverse (2STGD) community.

Sat Jun 29
PrideFest Capitol Hill
Spanning six blocks of Broadway and Cal Anderson Park, this all-day market features queer local businesses, beer gardens, family and youth programming, and three stages with an unforgettable lineup of live performances.

Sun Jun 30
Seattle Pride Parade
Spend the final day of June by taking part in the 50th annual Pride Parade led by grand marshals Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe. Then, head over to Seattle Center for the can’t-miss performances, hundreds of acts, beer gardens, food vendors, a new family area—and dancing in the iconic International Fountain.

Visit the official Seattle Pride website for even more suggested events.

Image: Léon Delafosse, ca. 1895–98, John Singer Sargent, Born Florence, Italy, 1856; Died London, England, 1925, oil on canvas, 39 3/4 x 23 3/8 in. Given in honor of Trevor Fairbrother by Mr. and Mrs. Prentice Bloedel by exchange, and by Robert M. Arnold, Tom and Ann Barwick, Frank Bayley, Jeffrey and Susan Brotman, Contemporary Art Council, Council of American Art, Jane and David R. Davis, Decorative Arts and Paintings Council, Robert B. Dootson, Mr. and Mrs. Barney A. Ebsworth, P. Raaze Garrison, Lyn and Gerald Grinstein, Helen and Max Gurvich, Marshall Hatch, John and Ann Hauberg, Richard and Betty Hedreen, Mary Ann and Henry James, Mrs. Janet W. Ketcham, Allan and Mary Kollar, Greg Kucera and Larry Yocom, Rufus and Pat Lumry, Byron R. Meyer, Ruth J. Nutt, Scotty Ray, Gladys and Sam Rubinstein, Mr. and Mrs. Allen Vance Salsbury, Herman and Faye Sarkowsky, Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Scheumann, Seattle Art Museum Supporters, Jon and Mary Shirley, Joan and Harry Stonecipher, Dean and Mary Thornton, William and Ruth True, Volunteers Association, Ms. Susan Winokur and Mr. Paul Leach, The Virginia Wright Fund, Charlie and Barbara Wright, Howard Wright and Kate Janeway, Merrill Wright, and Mrs. T. Evans Wyckoff, 2001.17. Photo: Elizabeth Mann.

TAG Talks: An Ancient Tour of Achaemenid Arts and Culture

SAM’s Teen Arts Group (TAG) is an intensive internship program for high school-aged youth who are eager to learn about themselves and the world through art, and are excited to make SAM a fun and engaging space for teens. TAG members meet weekly from October to May to learn about the behind-the-scenes work of an art museum, lead engaging gallery tours, plan Teen Night Out, and so much more. TAG Talks is an ongoing SAM Blog series on SAM Blog that serves as a space for SAM’s teen leaders to express themselves and their love of art. Keep up with all TAG adventures by following @samteens on Instagram and stay tuned for more TAG Talks to come!

I’m assuming you are confused as to what is happening. Where you are, how you will get back, why you are here, all these questions are dancing in your mind. It’s okay, all will make sense in due time. Here are the basics we should begin with. Yesterday, on your way home from work, you stumbled upon a rectangular, wooden box. The box had the symbol of a lion and a sun engraved on its wooden exterior. Naturally curious, you opened the box and saw spinning gears. The gears seemed to get faster as you continually observed them. That can’t be right; there was nothing powering the box. Yet it was. The gears kept accelerating until they vanished completely and the box was left empty. Confused, you placed your hand inside. This was the turning point. 

Sucked into a cloud of debris, your senses blurred, losing contact with the physical realm. The sensation of disconnect lasted for five or so minutes. Covered in dust, you tumbled to the foot of an elderly woman dressed in robes draped in sweeping folds. Are you beginning to remember now?

I am the woman you met. I welcome you to the sixth century BC Achaemenid Empire. You are one of the first to make it here successfully. I know you may be scared; the Greeks painted our history to be uncivilized compared to their own. Under Cyrus the Great however, our reign has promoted religious tolerance and human rights regardless of nationality. We also contributed to innovations in commerce and trading networks, as well as funding for public works to improve the lives of our people. But that’s all textbook information I doubt you care for. Your purpose here is to travel and explore, that’s it. You’ll be home before you realize, so make the most of your stay.

Our empire is in the lands you now call Egypt, Eastern Europe, and east of Asia to the Balkans. It will go on to be considered one of the largest empires of the ancient world. Even as a resident, I can’t help but marvel at the sheer magnificence of what we have. While you’re visiting, I recommend you see Persepolis, the ceremonial capital of our empire. Thank goodness you are arriving in the springtime. Due to the remoteness of the region, travel is often difficult here during the rainy Persian winters. The mountainous terrain, however, allows the city to remain a secret from the outside world, protecting our art, artifacts, archives, and royal treasury.

Here you’ll also find residential quarters, a treasury, and ceremonial palaces. One palace you can’t miss is the Apādana Receiving Hall. Built by Darius I, the roof of the structure is supported by 72 columns each standing at 24 meters, with the whole palace having the footprint of 1,000 square meters. The column capitals are either twin headed bulls, eagles, or lions to represent authority and kingship. The monumental stairways on the North and East sides depict 23 subject nations bearing gifts to the King. If you tell the King I sent you, he will take you as a guest. Don’t forget to bring some form of tribute though. A cypress tree will do.

One final thing – you will need money and proper clothing. I will give you some gold coins known as daric. Use these at the market and buy yourself some long robes. As the palace welcomes you, you shall be greeted with lavish feasts, drinks, and games. Do wander into the sensuous gardens and hunt if you so please. Alright, now I believe my job here is done. I recommend you embrace the chaos and uncertainty this land will reveal. I’ll send you the box once when you’re ready to go. I wish you the best on your journey. 

– Smriti Tiwari (she/her), 16, Second-Year Teen Arts Group Leader

Photos: Chloe Collyer.

The Boys in the Boat: See UW Rower Robert Moch’s Vase Collection at SAM

Originally published in 2014, The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown recounts the true story of how nine University of Washington rowers beat the odds to win gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Following the December 2023 release of the story’s film adaptation, we thought we’d take this opportunity to share about one of the rowers’ special connection to the Seattle Art Museum.

While browsing through SAM’s European art galleries, you may spot the name Robert G. Moch. Known as Bob and Bobby to those who knew him, Moch led the University of Washington rowers to victory as the team’s coxswain. Following his retirement from rowing and an illustrious law career, he and his wife, LaVerne Moch, donated several pieces of 19th century French glass to the museum. 

These 10 vases, donated by the Moch family in 1995, were designed by well-known glass designer Émile Gallé (1846–1904) around the end of the 1800s and utilize the popular technique known as cameo glass. With their stylized floral patterns—like silhouettes layered atop the lighter glass—the artworks demonstrate the Art Nouveau style and the influence it derived from Japanese designs.

The 1936 Olympics in which Moch and his teammates competed were particularly notable as a result of increasing political tensions brought on by Adolf Hitler’s dictatorial rule. Although the city of Berlin had been chosen to host the Games before Hitler’s rise to power, he used the international attention of the Olympics  as a way to propagandize Germany’s superiority and bolster his fascist and racist beliefs. The Nazi Party intended to ban Black and Jewish athletes from competing, but decided against enforcing these restrictions after the US and other nations threatened to boycott the Games.

Some Jewish members of the US Olympic team, including Moch, described feeling tense as they competed in front of Hitler and other Nazi leaders. Moch had learned of his Jewish heritage shortly before making the voyage to Berlin. 

Despite the fraught political and social circumstances of 1936, the story of the “boys in the boat” is inspiring in itself. The rowing team was composed of young men attending a public university to seek a better life and financial stability amid the hardships of the Great Depression (1929–1939). They beat out other Ivy League collegiate teams to qualify for the games and launched a public fundraising campaign to travel to Berlin. During the actual race, the team faced horrible crosswinds, one of their rowers was dealing with a severe bronchial infection, and Moch missed the starting call. Yet, the rowers managed to steadily pull up from last to first place in a nail-biting finish.

In addition to rowing, the US brought home the gold in many other events, including Black athlete Jesse Owens’s historic four gold medals in track and field.

The release of Daniel James Brown’s book brought renewed attention to this epic moment in American history. In 2016, PBS produced the documentary The Boys of ‘36 and in December 2023, a film adaptation of the book directed by George Clooney was released with Luke Slattery portraying Moch.

Ten years after donating his vases to SAM, Moch passed away. While we don’t know much about how he and LaVerne collected these glass vases, the museum is grateful for their donation to SAM and to retain a piece of Moch’s legacy. Many of the vases the Moch family donated are now on view in SAM’s fourth-floor European art galleries through March 2024 and will return later in 2024 when the museum’s European art galleries reopen!

– Nicole Block, SAM Collections Associate

Photos: Alborz Kamalizad.

Alberto Giacometti: Walking Man I & Tall Woman IV

In 1958, Alberto Giacometti was invited to compete for a public artwork for the Chase Manhattan Bank in New York. Envisioning three outdoor sculptures including a Large Head, a Tall Woman, and a Walking Man, Giacometti set out to make them in plaster. After a year of several attempts—three versions of Walking Man, four of Tall Woman, and two of Large Head—Giacometti abandoned the commission due to his dissatisfaction with the results.

Discussing the abandoned project, Giacometti was quoted as saying, “I can see they are a failure, or rather, not fully achieved—they are all wide off the mark in a big way.” Despite the artist’s self-assessment, the sculptures were soon celebrated as some of his most iconic works.

In SAM’s ongoing exhibition, Alberto Giacometti: Toward the Ultimate Figure, Giacometti’s initial vision for the plaza is recreated with Walking Man I, Tall Woman IV, and the addition of Dog (Le Chien) (1951). In this audio recording, SAM Educator Yaoyao Liu guides visitors through a close-looking exercise of the two towering artworks Giacometti envisioned for the Chase Manhattan Plaza. Listen to all seven stops of the smartphone tour when you visit Toward the Ultimate Figure at SAM’s downtown location through October 9.

Walking Man I (1960) & Tall Woman IV (1960)

NARRATOR: Commissioned together in 1958, Walking Man I and Tall Woman IV were intended as outdoor sculptures for New York City’s Chase Manhattan Bank Plaza. Though the sculptures were never delivered, this initial context can help us think about how they relate to one another. Here’s SAM Educator Yaoyao Liu to guide you in a close looking exercise.

YAOYAO LIU: In the gallery, take time to move slowly around each sculpture, taking in details such as color, texture, and form. Then move back and view the two sculptures as a pair. What did you notice looking up close at each one, then seeing both at the same time? Where do you see connections between these two sculptures? And where do you see differences?

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: L. Fried.

Alberto Giacometti: Man with a Windbreaker

In Alberto Giacometti’s never-ending pursuit of a new vision of the human form, the artist often turned to nature for inspiration. Many of his early artworks—most notably in his paintings and sketches—focused on the dynamic landscapes of his upbringing in Stampa, Switzerland. This motif remained as his career progressed, yet his exploration with nature and man’s relationship to it was explored in new ways.

With its tiny head perched on an oversized mound, of which only the figure’s arms can be identified, Man with a Windbreaker (1953) is one of Giacometti’s sculptures which best demonstrates his evolving relationship to nature. While he experimented with scale, texture, and perspective in nearly all of his artworks during this artistic period, this sculpture stands out for its evocation of a geological concretion, with some scholars going so far as to call it a stalagmite.

In this audio recording, SAM Associate Director of Interpretation Erika Katayama discusses Man with a Windbreaker, comparing the rough texture of the mound to a “rocky mountainside.” Tune in to this, and seven other audio recordings which accompany artworks on view in Alberto Giacometti: Toward the Ultimate Figure, when you visit the exhibition at SAM’s downtown location through October 9.

Man with a Windbreaker, 1953

NARRATOR: Giacometti’s experimentations with scale and texture come to the fore in Man with a Windbreaker. Associate Director of Interpretation Erika Katayama:

ERIKA KATAYAMA: At this point in his career, Giacometti is constantly manipulating perspective and scale as a means for him to capture his vision of the human figure. Notice the dramatic contrast of proportion in this sculpture. The tiny head sits atop a large, almost mountainous body. The rough texture of his clothes reminds me of a rocky mountainside. As a viewer, this gives us the illusion that the body of the man is close to us, looming large, whereas the tiny head is far away.

VOICE OF GIACOMETTI: For me, any deformation is entirely involuntary. I simply try to recreate what I see. My struggle is to grasp and possess an appearance that constantly escapes me. I try to express what I see, but unfortunately I never manage to make something that truly resembles it.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: Man with a Windbreaker, 1953, Alberto Giacometti, Swiss, 1901–1966, bronze, 50 × 28.6 × 22.5 cm, Fondation Giacometti, © Succession Alberto Giacometti / ADAGP, Paris, 2022.

Object of the Week: The Creation of Eve

At the dawn of world history God gives life to the first humans under a luminous pastel sky. This small panel, painted around 1510 by Renaissance artist Bartolomeo di Paolo, known as Fra Bartolomeo, is titled The Creation of Eve and is currently on view in SAM’s European art galleries. While the religious content of this picture, based on the book of Genesis, would have been immediately recognizable to its prevalently Christian audience in 16th century Italy, the way Fra Bartolomeo chose to visualize this biblical story sheds light on Renaissance ideas around the role of women and the arts in early-modern western society that can still inspire us today. 

At the center, Eve rises from the side of a sleeping Adam, reaching for support as she prepares to take her first step into the world. Her right hand is met by the Creator’s, who lifts and blesses her—his fluttering cloak and the motion of his feet indicating forward movement. His commanding presence contrast with her crouched pose and unstable balance, highlighting her suspended state of becoming. Scholars have termed this way of depicting Eve’s creation “emergence iconography” to stress the image’s departure from the Genesis text, where the first woman is said to have been modeled by God from a rib taken from Adam. The challenges to a naturalistic and efficient representation posed by that plot led artists to evolve this solution, which was interpreted most famously by Michelangelo in the Sistine ceiling just a few years before Fra Bartolomeo painted this picture.

In addition to emphasizing the corporeality of Eve’s body, softly modeled to accentuate the underlying structure of bones and muscles and imbued with the illusion of gravity, Fra Bartolomeo’s composition offers a visual translation of the first woman’s role as a companion and an equal to Adam that early Christian theologians had formulated in their interpretation of scriptures. They reflected on the fact that in Hebrew (the original language of Genesis) the term tsela used in the creation passage meant both “rib” and “side,” focusing on the latter translation to argue for the equality of man and woman, whose union they intended as the basic unit of human society. 

This idea materializes in Fra Bartolomeo’s Creation of Eve, unique among Renaissance depictions of this popular subject matter for combining the creation episode with a group portrait of the first family (Adam, Eve, and their children Cain and Abel are featured in the middle ground) and a cityscape in the distance to signify the modern accomplishments of their descendants. Sixteenth-century Florence—where this picture was likely painted—was a city-state whose strong tradition of independent self-governance and artistic excellence were a point of civic pride for artists and patrons alike. 

Here, the omission of the episode of The Fall that traditionally followed the creation of Eve in most Genesis cycles also suggests our artist’s intent to celebrate humanity’s achievements rather than emphasize the consequences of the first sin. In this respect, God’s physical hold on Eve’s hand may evoke the Renaissance trope of the artist as a divinely inspired creator, further exalting the intellectual potential of the visual arts.

While this picture offers a limited representation of humanity that reflects the ableist, heteronormative canons of its time, it also speaks to present-day concerns around bodily autonomy by reminding us of a time when Renaissance humanism affirmed confidence in the human potential to achieve greatness through free will, and in the dignity and beauty of the human body.

– Gloria de Liberali, SAM Guest Contributor & Art History Ph.D

Photo: Alborz Kamalizad.

Object of the Week: Rosary Bead

This 16th-century Flemish rosary bead or “prayer nut,” not even two inches in diameter, is a virtuosic display of wood and ivory carving. Floral patterns encircled by delicate ivory bands adorn each hemisphere. These swirling petals draw the beholder in for a closer look, which turns out to be worthwhile: the bead’s subtle hinge and clasp lead to hidden depths.

Opening the prayer nut reveals two impossibly small and detailed scenes from the life of Christ. The smaller side shows Saint Christopher bearing the young Jesus safely across the river, while the larger side bears an intimate scene of the Virgin and Child with Mary’s parents, Saint Anne and Saint Joaquim.

The sight of the intricate carvings alone is breathtaking, but these objects were wonderfully interactive as well. At the height of their popularity, most prayer nuts were worn on rosaries. These strings of beads were central to a multisensory experience of worship, where different beads loosely corresponded with recitations of ‘Aves’ and ‘Pater Nosters’, among other prayers. We can imagine the feeling of the prayer beads in hand, the sound of them clacking together in time with the holy words, combining into a trance-like meditation, in which the worshipper was meant to visualize and contemplate scenes from the Bible.[1] Those men and women lucky enough to have a beautiful prayer nut at the end of their rosary would open it carefully at the culmination of their prayers and be rewarded by an actual vision of these scenes.

However, we can’t only call these people lucky—they were also wealthy. Prayer nuts were symbols of status as much as faith, and church Reformers specifically criticized prayer nuts as empty claims to piety by the superrich.[2] This beautiful example in SAM’s collection would likely have been particularly precious, as it is made of sandalwood (an unusual choice) and ivory, both import goods from faraway continents.

I am continually in awe of the way objects like these, with a bit of context and empathy, can connect us to people we have not remembered in written archives. They never mean only one thing, and their stories will keep unfolding as long we care to look under the surface.

Linnea Hodge, Curatorial Division Coordinator


[1] Reindert Falkenburg, “Prayer Nuts: Feasting the Eyes of the Heart,” in Prayer Nuts, Private Devotion, and Early Modern Art Collecting, ed. Evelin Wetter and Frits Scholten (Abegg-Stiftung, 2017), 15-17.
[2] Falkenburg, “Prayer Nuts”, 13
Images: Rosary Bead, Miniature Religious Scenes, early 16th century, Flemish, sandalwood, pear wood, and ivory, 1 9/16 x 1 7/16 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 67.4, photo: Craig Boyko Art Gallery of Ontario, 2016

19th-Century European Depictions of Africans: A Book Installation

During the run of Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic, whose work addresses ideas about identity and representation, the Bullitt Library is featuring a book installation that considers ways in which people of Africa were depicted in 19th-century book illustrations. The works in this installation, considered “costume books,” depict African subjects with an emphasis on clothing, published with the intent of educating an otherwise unacquainted audience. This tradition, derived from European 16th-century illustrated costume books, was created to satisfy a demand for information on dress and manners of both homeland and foreign lands. The depictions of non-European subjects, though beautiful in their presentation, are problematic in that they project a distinctly Western perspective and a lack of drawing from firsthand observation.

19th-Century European Depictions of Africans

Le Costume Historique: Cinq Cents Planches, Trois Cents en Couleurs, or et Argent, Deux Cents en Camaïeu…

19th-Century European Depictions of Africans

Published in Paris by the firm of Firmin-Didot et Frères between 1876 and 1888, Le Costume Historique: Cinq Cents Planches, Trois Cents en Couleurs, or et Argent, Deux Cents en Camaïeu… by Auguste Racinet (French, 1825–1893) was considered the most wide-ranging study of clothing of its time. Here, Racinet depicts “Senegalese tribesmen and women, from the lands by the River Senegal in Western Sudan” who “are a handsome people who take great care of their appearance.” And although Racinet’s work is an exceptional example of chromolithography, images like the ones shown are derived from a long illustrative tradition whereby images of “exotic” peoples were based on written accounts or secondhand drawings.

19th-Century European Depictions of Africans

Another work published by Firmin-Didot et Frères is Costumes Anciens et Modernes, a 19th-century reproduction of Cesare Vecellio’s (Italian, 1521–1601) Habiti Antichi et Moderni di Tutto il Mondo, an early costume book published in Venice in an expanded edition in 1598. Firmin-Didot’s version is written in Italian and French and covers the same geographic regions covered by Vecellio’s work.

In this example, we see an ordinary African woman: “Africana di Mediocre Conditione/Africaine de Condition Inférieure.” Referring to Vecellio’s original depictions, one scholar has noted that the images of African costumes, in particular,

“…were participating in ‘translations’ of African dress into costumes for European paintings and theatre. During this process, they accumulated new meanings. The dressed figures were copied from art objects with varying degrees of removal from immediate African encounters and combined with texts from published travel narratives to create mythic bricolages of Africans.”

19th-Century European Depictions of Africans

The Clothing of the Renaissance World: Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas: Cesare Vecellio’s Habiti Antichi et Moderni

19th-Century European Depictions of Africans

Costumes Anciens et Modernes

Additionally, when a comparison is made between Vecellio’s original image and Firmin-Didot’s replication of this particular subject, we see the result is a distinctly more Europeanized version.

This book installation is on view just outside the Bullitt Library on the fifth floor of the Seattle Art Museum during the library’s public hours: Wednesday-Friday, 10 am-4 pm.

—Traci Timmons, Librarian, Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library

Images: Le Costume Historique: Cinq Cents Planches, Trois Cents en Couleurs, or et Argent, Deux Cents en Camaïeu… 1876-1888, Paris: Firmin-Didot, Auguste Racinet, French, 1825–1893, SPCOL GT 513 R23 v. 2. The Clothing of the Renaissance World: Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas: Cesare Vecellio’s Habiti Antichi et Moderni, 2008 London; New York: Thames and Hudson, Margaret F. Rosenthal, American (birth date unknown), Ann Rosalind Rosenthal, American (birth date unknown), GT 509 V42 C57 2008. Costumes Anciens et Modernes = Habiti antichi et moderni di tutto il mondo, 1859-60, Paris: Firmin-Didot, Cesare Vecellio, Italian, 1521-1601, Ambroise Firmin-Didot, French, 1790-1876, From a private collection. Photos: Natali Wiseman.

Object of the Week: Virgin and Child

Wandering through our European art galleries at SAM one day, I overheard a visitor lamenting the space we had given to older art with Christian themes. His voice dripping with disdain, he said, “Oh, pictures of Mary and Jesus. I’d rather look at myself in the mirror!” Besides drawing laughter from his companion and from myself, his comment got me noodling and then writing this blog post.

Allow me to make a case for Mary-and-Jesus pictures this timely week.

A lot has changed since the holiday season of 1967, when SAM sent out a Christmas card with a reproduction of its great Francesco Bassano Adoration of the Magi painting, and since December 19, 1968, when the Beacon Hill News-Journal sported a similar reproduction of the Bassano, while inviting Seattleites to a long list of local Christmas services.

American museums today take the responsibility to honor the diversity of the human race , the American population, and the specific communities they serve very seriously by representing a range of viewpoints in the galleries. Religious as well as ethnic diversity and identity freedom are all at the forefront of these conversations. Diversity and inclusion are necessarily central to museum hiring practices, too. These core concepts represent steps forward to a more equitable global community. I believe SAM is rightly approaching diversity and inclusion with its focus and humility, understanding that it has areas in which to grow, aiming to address those head-on, and setting its sights on better serving our delightfully diverse city and world.

Painting on view at the Seattle Art museum

A painting like SAM’s Virgin and Child by the Master of San Torpè of Siena, dated to the end of the 13th century or early 14th century, does achieve a number of important goals for the museum. Simple in composition and small in scale, Virgin and Child has a very intimate presence. Whatever the artist’s ambition in creating the work—maybe a genuine sense of devotion to God or a devotion to being exceptionally good at his craft—he produced a picture of quality that has handsomely withstood 700 years.

Remarkable as a work of art, the painting shows a high level of craftsmanship and gives us a window onto a significant period in art history. Works produced in this Proto-Renaissance style of the 13th and 14th centuries directly precipitated, well, the Renaissance, with its focus on humanist ideas and a visual art that encouraged scientific perspective and a mimetic approach to representing the world. The religious subject, the Madonna and Child, is very representative of the time and place when it was painted, one of the most important themes for the period. I find the aesthetic really intriguing: the balance of heavenly gold and august blue gives the painting an appropriately impressive air, and the figures have oddly proportioned features like those crazy fingers.

Many of our visitors won’t experience a connection to the roles Mary and Jesus play in Christian theology, but quite a few more—I daresay all of our visitors—were born to mothers. The maternal affection Mary shows for her baby as she cradles him, the kind of loving, protective care that she embodies—these are essentially human feelings. To illustrate the longings of the human soul in visual art is, for me, one of the great challenges for an art museum, and one that this historical piece takes up well.

Very warm wishes to all this holiday season!

P.S. To those who celebrate Christmas, I hope it’s a very merry one!

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Images: Virgin and Child, ca. 1325, Master of San Torpè, Italian, active ca. 1290-ca. 1320, egg tempera and gold on wood, 21 1/8 x 14 1/8 in. Seattle Art Museum, Samuel H. Kress Collection, 61.152. Beacon Hill News-Journal, 1968.

Object of the Week: Fishing Boats at Étretat

There’s nothing like a good rivalry to spice up a moment in history. I’d say it’s a rare historical note that isn’t improved by some verbal sparring or a gauntlet being thrown. Happily for us, the European Impressionists not only created a remarkable group of paintings, but also produced a natural rivalry in Edouard Manet (1832-1883) and Claude Monet (1840-1926). Manet was a leading influence in the years before Impressionism flowered, and when it did, Monet took the torch from him, becoming the new movement’s unquestioned leader.

In John Rewald’s History of Impressionism, we read about Manet’s first encounter with the younger Monet. The scene is the Paris Salon exhibition of 1865:

The two canvases shown by Monet were views of the Seine estuary, done near the lighthouse of Honfleur. Since the works at the Salon were now hung in alphabetical order to prevent favoritism, Monet’s works found themselves in the same room with Manet’s. When the latter entered this room on the opening day, he had the disagreeable surprise of being congratulated by several persons upon his seascapes. Having studied the signatures on the two pictures attributed to him, Manet at first thought it to be some cheap joke; his anger was conceivably not lessened by the fact that the seascapes continued to have more success than his own works. He left in a rage and openly complained to some friends: ‘I am being complimented only on a painting that is not by me. One would think this to be a mystification.’

Although in time Monet and Manet grew to be friendly artist-peers, sometimes painting together outdoors, such was Manet’s frustration at the Salon that he refused his first chance to meet Monet. “Who is this rascal who pastiches my painting so basely?” spouted Manet, in a masterful artist burn.

Oysters by Edouard Manet

“Oysters” by Edouard Manet, 1862.

Argenteuil by Claude Monet

“Argenteuil” by Claude Monet, ca. 1872.

The two names were often confused in those years of Monet’s ascension and are sometimes still confused today, even with 150 years of distance. Comparisons were always inevitable, given the similarity of their names. It’s a great chance for some amusement, too. A famous caricaturist in 19th century Paris, Andre Gill, sketched a figure painting by Monet and attached the caption “Monet ou Manet?—Monet. Mais, c’est a Manet que nous devons ce Monet; bravo, Monet; merci, Manet.” (“Monet or Manet?—Monet. But it is to Manet we owe this Monet. Bravo, Monet; Merci, Manet.”) Cartoons over the years have picked up on the joke and taken it a number of directions. One of my favorite renditions is this Harry Bliss cartoon, originally published in The New Yorker (and for the record, it was Manet).

Comic "I said, was it Manet or Monet who had syphilis?"

Not only for the syphilis, fate was pretty cruel to Manet: Here’s an artist who cared deeply about being recognized and accepted, who continually submitted paintings to the Salon in search of official stamps of approval—and he was frequently confused with, or overshadowed by, a younger artist who ends up leading the Impressionist movement and becoming one of the most popular artists of all time. And the two were only separated by one letter!

Today, being so far removed from the historical moment makes it easier for us to appreciate Manet’s work on its own, and his contributions to art and painting are widely recognized. Here at the Seattle Art Museum, we also love Monet: our permanent collection features the beautiful harbor scene Fishing Boats at Étretat. So we all arrived at a happy ending. But, just because those rivalries are so much fun, here’s one more spat from Impressionist lore.

On one occasion, Manet went to Argenteuil and set up to paint the Monet family—the artist, his wife, Camille, and his son, Jean—in their garden (this painting is The Monet Family in Their Garden at Argenteuil, owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art). Colin Bailey, a scholar of French painting and director of the Morgan Library and Museum, recounts what happened next: “While Manet was at work, Renoir arrived, borrowed paints, brushes, and a canvas from Monet, and executed a vivid close-up of Camille and Jean, joined by the rooster. Irritated by Renoir’s intrusion, Manet is reported to have told Monet, ‘He has no talent, that boy. Since he’s your friend, you should tell him to give up painting!’”

Madame Monet and Her Son by Auguste Renior

“Madame Monet and Her Son” by Auguste Renior, 1874.

Come tour our brand new exhibition Intimate Impressionism from the National Gallery of Art to see Renoir’s painting of that day in the garden—and judge his talents for yourself! And don’t miss a related SAM Talks event this month with Colin Bailey and SAM’s own director, Kimerly Rorschach. —Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

References Bailey, Colin. “The Floating Studio.” The New York Review of Books, April 23, 2015. Rewald, John. The History of Impressionism, 4th revised edition. New York: New York Graphic Society, 1973.
Images: Fishing Boats at Étretat, 1885, Claude Monet, French, 1840-1926, oil on canvas, 29 x 36 in. Partial and promised gift of an anonymous donor, 92.88. Oysters, 1862, Edouard Manet, French, 1832-1883, oil on canvas, 15 7/16 x 18 7/16 in., National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Gift of the Adele R. Levy Fund, Inc. Argenteuil, ca. 1872, Claude Monet, French, 1840-1926, oil on canvas, 19 13/16 x 25 11/16 in., National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection Cartoon by Harry Bliss, © Condé Nast Collection. Madame Monet and Her Son, 1874, Auguste Renoir, French, 1841-1919, oil on canvas, 19 13/16 x 26 3/4 in., National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection

SAM Art: How did they say “selfie” in 16th-century Italy?

Portrait of a Young Woman “C A C,” dated 1565, attributed to Scipione Pulzone, Italian, 1540/42–1598, oil on wood panel, 7 1/2 x 21 3/8 in., Samuel H. Kress Collection, 61.153

Portrait of a Young Woman “C A C,” dated 1565, attributed to Santi di Tito, Italian, Florentine, 1536-1603, oil on wood panel, 7 1/2 x 21 3/8 in., Samuel H. Kress Collection, 61.153

In our image-saturated age, it’s hard to imagine a time before selfies, Snapchat and Instagram. But before photography made it a simple matter to capture a life, painters strove to convey an individual’s unique character in ways that would endure through the ages. Costume, gesture, and accessories tell us about the sitter’s family and status in society, while facial expression and gaze give as much of a sense of personality and inner life as the sitter was willing to reveal.

A new installation in the European galleries (fourth floor, Seattle Art Museum) introduces you to individuals who lived in 16th-century Italy, a time when prosperous citizens considered themselves worthy of the same kinds of visual commemoration that had previously been reserved for royalty. These portraits honored important life events—a new job, a new marriage—or simply served as visual reminders of people and places long gone—just like our digital photo albums do today.

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