Check It Out: Who Will Protect You

“Who Will Protect You”

MOBIA’s Exhibition Designer, Dean Ebben, is currently having a show at Johnson & Johnson World Headquarters in New Brunswick, NJ!  Check out the digital catalog!

Who Will Protect You will be on view until November 12th.

As the catalog states: “Dean Ebben states, ‘Who will protect you.’  This statement, though simple in syntax and composed of few words, is quite complex.  The ‘who’ in this statement can be almost anyone or anything.  Will your family, friends and loved ones protect you?  Will the government protect you?  Will modern medicine protect you?  Will spiritual entities protect you?  Will you protect yourself?  This proclamation begs even more questions to be asked.  What are you being protected from?  Are you being protected from something dangerous, something known or unknown?  Is this protection precautionary or reactionary?  And, most importantly, what, or rather who, are you?  What are you made of and what makes you worthy of protection?  The open-endedness of Ebben’s initial phrase allows for multiple interpretations and responses, both definitive and abstract, to emerge.  It is within this multiplicity that Ebben explores the notion of protection, working in a variety of media and with an array of imagery.”

Check out his website for more information:

Spotlight: Lydia of Thyatira

The New Testament is full of singular characters who are effected by Jesus or one of his followers and thereby leave their mark throughout history.  Lydia of Thyatira is one such figure.  She is mentioned briefly in Chapter 16 of the Acts of the Apostles, encountering St. Paul and his disciples and convincing them that she, though a Gentile, believes in Jesus.  Her minor place in the stories of the missionary work of the disciples created an interesting place for her in the religious and art historical imagination.

How to Know Her: In Acts 16: 13-15, it is noted that Lydia is a “dealer in purple cloth”.  The inclusion of this description indicates that this new follower was not just a woman but a woman of prominence, as she was recognized on her own as a merchant.  Specifically, she traded in a purple dye from Asia Minor that was known and sold throughout the Roman Empire.  Her name, as well as her job, is indicative of her location; it is believed that “Lydia” is an ethnicon, a name that is eponymous with one’s place of origin, denoting that she was from Lydia, in present-day Turkey.

If you think you might see Lydia in a work of art, you will know it’s her by her purple garments.

Where to Find Her: Lydia is regarded as a saint in the Eastern Orthodox churches, so she is much more often found in icons rather than in Western European paintings.

Though few examples of Lydia exist in NYC collections, you can see one example in person through January 20 in Louis C. Tiffany and The Art of Devotion on view at MOBIA.

Tiffany Studios, New York
Design attributed to Edward P. Sperry
Lydia Entertaining Christ and the Apostles, Griffin Memorial Window for Centennial Baptist Church, Chicago, Illinois, before 1910
The Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass, Long Island City, New York

 This window’s title is interesting in that it claims that Lydia is encountering Christ and his disciples, while the Bible records that she never actually met Jesus; she encountered Paul and his disciples. The three men with whom she is speaking, then, are most likely St. Paul, with his back towards the viewer, and his disciples, Timothy and Silas.

Lydia Entertaining Christ and the Apostles is an example of Tiffany’s experimentation with opalescent glass.  Though this type of glass was not an entirely new discovery, its application to decorative windows was innovative.  Initially made to imitate porcelain, opalescent glass was widely used to make pressed-glass objects, but Tiffany was quick to envision its creative potential as a means of giving greater detail and shading to leaded-glass windows. 

One of the first kinds of opalescent glass to be produced in sheets was known as “drapery” glass.  Tiffany manipulated this glass to effectively convey the folds and drape of fabric in glass.  For example, Lydia’s robe is rendered naturalistically through the use of fan drapery glass, which is made by holding one end of the roller still and pushing the other end in short, regular intervals across the molten surface of the glass to create fan-shaped folds that emanate from a single point.

- T.C. for MOBIA

MOBIA Supports Public Art!

This week MOBIA staff took some time to experience Tatzu Nishi’s Discovering Columbus in Columbus Circle, just down the block from MOBIA. We were all happily surprised to see that Columbus has a view of MOBIA and immediately crestfallen when we realized his back was turned to us. Despite this, we did have fun. Here’s our scrapbook of sorts:

“I was really impressed with his legs! I thought about all the days of rain, snow and heat and the amount of environmental wear the sculpture has endured. And I thought about all the people who have passed by and not had the opportunity for an up close view.”

 “I never noticed the sassy pose of Christopher Columbus before.”

“My favorite detail was a miniature statue of a rearing horse placed near Columbus’ feet. It stood no taller than a pair of scissors balanced on end and its delicate, exuberant body made quite a comical contrast with the massive, earnest figure of the explorer.”

“Felt like a real room, and didn’t seem to bother anyone (including me) that we were 6 floors above ground supported by metal tinker toys. The giant sculpture/monument maybe helped to make think you were in a room that could support all that weight. According to the website, this is the point where all distances from NY are measured. Like if your town is 10 miles from NY, it’s 10 miles from Columbus circle. I don’t know anyone who would assume that that was where you measured from, I thought it was Times Square, but it felt like it when you look down all the avenues from up there.”

 “I was struck by the sheer size of the statue, which helped to emphasize the importance of perspective.”

“I was stunned to see the famous statue of Christopher Columbus poking through a coffee table!”

 

 “I think this is a wonderful way of transforming badly needed conservation treatment into an unforgettable visual experience. I never realized just how beautiful Columbus’ statue is and what impact New York weather had upon it. The new setting brought it closer to me both physically and emotionally.”

 

 “What’s Chris reading? Dave Egger’s Zeitoun, Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink and What the Dog Saw, Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Flora Miller Biddle’s, The Whitney Women, The History of Philosophy, and several books on baseball suggesting that Chris frequents The Strand, airport bookstands and perhaps a solid used bookstore.”

“Christopher Columbus has been a watchful eye over many of my New York comings-and-goings since I first arrived in the city.  So it was a truly humbling moment for me to understand that someone’s artistic concept had allowed me, for probably the only time in my life, a chance to stand beside this stone giant and see just how the city – its air, its weather, its automobiles – has transformed this looming presence over time.  Even Columbus cannot remain unaffected by New York.”

 “Never thought I would see Christopher Columbus, Mickey Mouse, Elvis, and Michael Jackson in a room together.”

And though we were saddened that the Met’s The American Wing was the sole book about America’s decorative arts to make it onto Chris’s coffee table (where was MOBIA’s Louis C. Tiffany and the Art of Devotion?), we really loved the opportunity to spend some time in the statue’s space. And his T.V.

Check out Tatzu Nishi’s Discovering Columbus on view until November 18. You need to secure timed tickets (free!) and you may need to wait in line for a bit, but even in this remarkable city there’s nothing else like it. Then stop by MOBIA to see Louis C. Tiffany and the Art of the Devotion. It’s free and there’s nothing else like it in the city either.

- The MOBIA Staff

Beyond Broadway at 61st: St. Thomas Fifth Avenue

Every week, Art, the Bible & the Big Apple will feature a New York City site with interesting biblical art that we think is worth a look. Whether uptown, downtown, across town, or in the boroughs, we’ll explore art in context, from well-known landmarks to buildings tucked away on quiet blocks. Visit New York’s hidden gems with us, see some old friends, and maybe discover some new ones.

The very first congregation of St. Thomas Episcopal Church gathered in a room at the corner of Broome Street and Broadway in 1823.  That is a far cry from the neo-Gothic structure on Fifth Avenue, across the street from Fendi, just a few blocks from Rockefeller Center and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  The current church is the parish’s fourth, consecrated in 1916 and designed by Ralph Adams Cram.  It is a staggeringly beautiful building that is well worth a walk-through in between food, sightseeing, and shopping breaks in Midtown.

A visitor will at first be drawn inside by the jamb figures lining the western portal, reminiscent of medieval times, a stark contrast to the atmosphere on the street.  Once side, there is much for the eyes to feast upon, but the instant draw is the massive choir screen behind the altar.  Festooned with saints huddled vertically around a gold cross, it is by far the most commanding thing in the room, but it not the only piece of artwork worth noting, as one of St. Thomas’s tour guides will tell you.  The stained-glass windows, like the small aisle window that depicts the Annunciation, add deep hues to the shadowy space, and the rendering of St. Michael fighting Satan, depicted as a dragon, over one of the archways, is an understated but impressive work.  St. Thomas gives off a Gothic glamour that should be seen by locals and tourists alike.

St. Thomas is located on Fifth Avenue between 53rd and 54th Streets.

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Spotlight: St. Monica

St. Monica (331-387) was the mother of St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), a Church Father whose writings were formative to early Christian doctrine and who described his mother’s  saintliness in his works.  The wife of an abusive, alcoholic pagan named Patricius, Monica fervently prayed for the conversion of her husband (which occurred on his deathbed) and her son, who at the time was leading a wild and promiscuous life.  Her devotion on behalf of her family made Monica the patron saint of housewives and mothers, an example of perseverance as well as great sorrow.

St. Augustine of Hippo (center)
Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company, New York
Joseph Lauber, designer
Fathers of the Church, ca. 1892
Exhibited at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois
Glass and plaster
The Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass, Long Island City, New York
Photo by Richard Goodbody, Inc.

How to Know Her: Monica is often pictured with her son, Augustine of Hippo. She is usually portrayed as an elderly, modestly dressed woman.  When shown on her own, Monica may be recognized by her symbolic attribute, tears.

Saints Monica and Augustine (on the left)
Giovanni di Paolo
Madonna and Child with Saints, 1454
Tempera on wood, gold ground
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931

Saint in the City: Though works depicting  St. Monica are rare in New York City, she does have her own church!  St. Monica’s Roman Catholic Church, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, exhibits the special devotion to the saint by the founders of the parish back in 1879 (check back in a few weeks to catch our spotlight on the church).

At MOBIA: St. Monica holds a unique place at MOBIA.  She is found in a sketch for a window depicting  her on her deathbed on view now in  Louis C. Tiffany and the Art of Devotion.  On loan from the Jeffrey Rush Higgins Collection at the Rakow Research Library of the Corning Museum of Glass, this work illustrates the thought behind a large, multi-figured window.  Designed by Frederick Wilson, this preparatory sketch for an eight-lancet window surmounted by a large rose and a pair of octagonal lobed lights shows Monica receiving the sacrament of Last Rites in the lower register of four lancets. The sketch, painted in grisaille, is particularly significant for all the marginal notes and comments Wilson appends to it. In addition to citing biblical references like “Rom. XII, 13-14” and possible inscriptions for the window, the designer also defines the type and use of liturgical garments and implements he depicts. For example, Wilson notes that an “ambule a vessel for consecrated wine or water or holy chrism, if latter add spoon.” For chasuble, he notes “with cappa a sort of hood similar to the hood of a cope…(casula processoria) …cassock purple stole.”  This marginalia indicates that Wilson approached his subject with a deep respect for liturgical context and a commitment to understanding and correctness.

Tiffany Studios, New York
Frederick Wilson, designer
Design drawing for Death of Monica at Ostia: A.D. 387, Signed and dated “United States, New York, Tiffany Studios, 1896″
Watercolor, ink, and pencil on paper
Jeffrey Rush Higgins collection, the Rakow Research Library of the Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York (126597)

In honor of Columbus Day, a word about early biography…

The exploits of Christopher Columbus are well known to Americans today, but did you know that the first biography of Columbus ever published was printed in a bible?  A 1516 Psalter published by a Genoese noble named Agostino Giustiniani (1470-1536) had a note appended to Psalm 19:4, which detailed the life of Columbus, a fellow native of Genoa.  This Psalter was exhibited in MOBIA’s Rare Bible show, A Light to the Nations: America’s Earliest Bibles (1532-1864).  As translated by Liana Lupas, Curator of the Rare Bible Collection @ MOBIA, the biography, written in Latin, begins: “Their words will go to the ends of the world: It happened in our time, when practically another world was discovered and added to Christendom through the amazing daring of Christopher Columbus of Genoa.”

The full biography reads:

“Their words will go to the ends of the world: It happened in our time, when practically another world was discovered and added to Christendom through the amazing daring of Christopher Columbus of Genoa. Since Columbus often declared that God had chosen him to fulfill this prophecy through him, I have not considered it inappropriate to insert here his biography. Christopher, surnamed Columbus, a citizen of Genoa, born to a humble family, through his diligence explored in a few months more land and sea than almost all other men during all past centuries. This fact is extraordinary, but one which has been investigated and verified by the evidence of many ships and also of fleets and armies who have gone and came back.

            As a child, Columbus had barely a rudimentary education. He devoted his adolescent years to seafaring and, when his brother left for Portugal and opened a business in Lisbon of drawing maps for sailors, depicting the seas and the ports and the coasts, he learned all that his brother had come to know about the gulfs and the islands from the many men who, by royal command, would go and explore each year the inaccessible lands of the Ethiopians and the remote regions of the ocean southward and westward. After many discussions with these men and comparing the information he got from them with the conclusions he had drawn both from poring over the maps and from reading the cosmographers, he formed the opinion that it would be quite possible for a man leaving the African coast of the Ethiopians and keeping a straight course between west and the African sea, to reach in a few months either an island, or the border of the Indian continent.

            He examined very carefully the information he gained from his brother, and after serious consideration he shared his belief with several of the king of Spain’s courtiers that if only the king would support the venture with the necessary means, he would be able to reach new lands and new peoples far more rapidly than the Portuguese, and discover at last regions previously unknown. This was swiftly reported to the king. Prompted partly by his eagerness to rival the king of Portugal, and partly by his passion fornew ventures of this kind and for the glory it could bring him and his descendants, the king held protracted negotiations with Columbus and finally ordered two vessels to be equipped for him.

            Setting out with these vessels and sailing towards the Canary Isles, Columbus adopted a course which deviated slightly to the left from a westward line, between the African Sea and West, more distant though from the African Sea and almost due West. When they had followed this course for several days they discovered through calculations they had already travelled four million paces in the same direction, and the crew lost all hope. They insisted that the sails be furled and the course reversed, but Columbus was determined to achieve what he had undertaken, following his theories as closely as possible, so he promised they would reach a continent or some islands by sailing no longer than a day.

His words did not lack confirmation. Next morning, to be sure, the sailors sighted some land; they praised him, and again put all their faith in him. There were some islands, almost innumerable, as it proved later, situated not far from a continent, as their appearance indicated. It was noticed that some of these islands were inhabited by savage men, named cannibals, who did not shrink from eating human flesh and harassed the neighboring peoples with plundering. They hollowed out great trees to use in crossing to the nearby islands and hunted men for food, like wolves. By good fortune, one of these small vessels was captured with its rowers, after a bloody fight, and conveyed safely to Spain.

            The first island to be discovered was named Hispana. In this island they found countless human beings, remarkable for their poverty and nudity. At first the Spaniards invited these people to join them in a friendly way by motioning and luring them with presents. When the natives came nearer, they were obviously amazed and stupefied by our whiteness, so unlike theirs, our clothes, our unexpected arrival, and all the other things belonging as it were to beings descended from heaven. To be sure, their color is quite different from ours, not at all black, though, but very like gold. A kind of cloak was hanging around their necks and clung to their breasts covering their private parts like a robe. A little gold is attached to this garment, which is worn both by males and the females who are no longer maidens. For the maidens go naked till some skilled men deprive them of their virginity with a bone instrument similar to a finger.

            They do not have any four-footed animals, except for some very small dogs. Their food consists of roots from which they make a kind of bread which tastes like wheat bread, and of acorns, which have a different shape from ours, but taste better.

            With his goal now achieved Columbus decided to go back to Spain. He fortified the first place he had occupied and leaving only forty men to guard it he sailed to Spain. Being blessed with a safe trip, as soon as he reached the Canaries he sent messengers with letters for the king. On being informed about everything, the king was immoderately pleased and made Columbus head of maritime affairs and bestowed great honors upon him. As he returned, all the noblemen came to meet him, and the discoverer of a new world was received with great joy.

            Without delay they equipped other ships, far more numerous and larger than the first ones, and loaded them with all kinds of things. Spain sent her poisons to an innocent world. Many garments of silk and gold were loaded aboard; and Luxury, not content with her triumph over our own world, sailed to these pure and innocent people. The woods, which were hardly able to satisfy our gluttony, though almost drained by continuous hunting, sent boar and hog to these most distant regions, to distend their unsuspecting bellies. And with them sailed men able to heal through the art of Aesculapius the diseases resulting from a stimulated gluttony that would inevitably overcome these people. Seeds and young trees were brought in. Later, however, it was discovered that when wheat was first sowed it seemed to flourish, but then it would wither, as if nature was condemning the new kind of food and commending them to be content with their roots.

            Columbus, then, weighing anchor with a fleet of twelve ships, equipped with arms, men, and an abundance of everything landed in the island Hispana after sailing no longer than twenty days. He found out that the men he had left behind had all been strangled by the barbarians on the pretense that they had been disrespectful and abusive to their women. He accused them of cruelty and ingratitude, but seeing their willingness to repent he offered them pardon if they would remain faithful and obey his commands in the future.

            He then sent scouts in all directions and discovered that the island was remarkable for its large size, its moderate temperature, the fecundity of its soil, and its large population. Since it was also reported that gold of the purest quality could be found in certain places in the rocks near the rivers, and that a seed that looked and tasted very much like pepper grew in abundance in the fields, he decided to found a city. So they gathered together materials, and by employing skilled workmen, in a short while they built a city which was named Elizabeth. Columbus took two ships and circled the island. Then, coasting the shore of the continental region which he had named Juana, he sailed along its coast for seventy-one days with his prow directed constantly towards the setting sun. Being quite experienced in appraising the course at sea, he counted the days and the nights and determined he had covered six million paces. He named the promontory where he stopped Evangelist and decided to reverse course and return there later, when he would be better prepared and better informed. For during the voyage he had marked on a map all the gulfs, shores, and promontories.

            He reported that this part of the universe had an elevation of 18 degrees northern latitude, while the north shore of the island Hispana had 24 degrees of the same latitude. He learned from what his own men observed, assuming they were able to form a correct opinion, that the eclipse which took place in the year of Our Lord 1494, in the month of September, was visible in Hispana almost four hours earlier than in Hispalis, whose vernacular name is Sevilla. Based on this reckoning, Columbus assumed there were four hours between that island and Cadix, ten hours between Cadix and Evangelist, which was accordingly no more than two hours (that is one twelfth of the equator) distant from the place Ptolemy called Cattigara and considered to be the last point of the inhabited world in the East. If the land was not an obstacle to navigation, it would soon be possible by sailing towards the Far East through the whole southern part of our hemisphere to make connection with those who would travel westward, in the opposite direction.

            When he completed these extraordinary voyages, Columbus returned to Spain and ended the course of his life. The King, who had conferred upon him many privileges during his life, after his death granted that his son should succeed him and have the superintendence of the Indies and the Ocean Sea. He is still alive, a man of the highest rank and greatest wealth. The grandest families in Spain have not disdained to be related by marriage to a young man of such distinguished nobility and character.

            Columbus did not forget his beloved country on his deathbed. He left the tenth part of all the revenues he had while alive to an institution called Saint George, which is most important to the Genoese and is an object of honor and reverence in the whole republic.

            Thus ended the life of a very famous man, who no doubt would have been considered a god, had he lived in the age of the Greek heroes.”

 Translated by Liana Lupas

This week… The Music of Devotion

On Thursday, October 4, MOBIA will be holding a concert!  Come hear celebrated soprano Angelica de la Riva, accompanied by classical guitarist, Nilko Andreas Guarin, as they set the stage for the upcoming exhibition, Louis C. Tiffany and the Art of Devotion, on view at MOBIA from Friday, October 12, 2012 through Sunday, January 12, 2013.  Tiffany’s travels throughout Europe and North Africa molded an eclectic collection of art works which inspired the designs created at Tiffany Studios.  Join de la Riva and Guarin on their musical journey through the countries and traditions that inform their repertoire.

The concert will take place at 6:30-8:30 pm at 1865 Broadway, New York, NY.  The concert is free, but registration is required.  To register, please visit http://www.rsvp@mobia.org or call 212-408-1251.

Angelica de la Riva & Nilko Andreas Guarin
Photo by Darryl Nitke