Spotlight: Fathers of the Church

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Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company, New York
Joseph Lauber, designer
“Fathers of the Church”, c. 1892
The Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass, Long Island City, New York

In 1892, Tiffany Studios created the monumental mosaic, Fathers of the Church, as part of the Tiffany Chapel display, designed for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, as a way to market the Studio’s Ecclesiastical Department to an international audience.   The chapel’s dramatic marble and glass mosaic interior was inspired by Byzantine and Romanesque models, fully furnished with an altar, reredos, lectern, baptismal font, a cruciform-shaped electrolier, and several stained glass windows.  This display was so evocative that many men reportedly removed their hats when entering this seemingly hallowed space.

The Church Fathers were writers of early Christian doctrine who lived before the eight century.  This mosaic depicts, from left to right, Saints John Chrysostom, Augustine, and Ambrose.  Though all three were bishops, only St. Augustine (who became bishop of Hippo, in northern Africa, in 396) and St. Ambrose (who became bishop of Milan in 374) are portrayed with the traditional miter (bishop’s hat) and crosier (bishop’s staff). St. John Chrysostom, though he became the bishop of Constantinople in 398, is shown holding a Bible, a reference to his renown as a preacher.  Each saint is identified by the name inscribed in the halo.  These three figures are often portrayed together in liturgical art in acknowledgment of the foundation they laid for Christianity.

Tiffany had a deep appreciation for traditional ecclesiastical vestments, which were also produced at Tiffany Studios.  As depicted in this mosaic, the resplendent robes of the Church Fathers are rich in detail.

The Tiffany Chapel earned 54 awards, more than any other exhibitor, at the 1893 World’s Fair.  It also won Tiffany Studios international fame for its religious work.  After the fair, Tiffany displayed Fathers of the Church in his showroom and featured it in the marketing booklet printed by the Studios in 1896, Glass Mosaic, to illustrate the Studios’ work as continuing in the grand tradition of European mosaic-making.  Fathers of the Church is part of The Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass, in Long Island City, New York, and on-view at MOBIA until January 20, 2013.  The Tiffany Chapel is on permanent display at the Charles Hosmer Museum of American Art in Winter Park, Florida.

–B.B. for MOBIA

“Louis C. Tiffany and the Art of Devotion” will be closing in two days!  Come see this great work and all the other beautiful works of art behind the exhibition’s end on January 20.

Breakfast at Louis C. Tiffany’s

As Louis C. Tiffany and the Art of Devotion draws to a close on January 20, 2013, the MOBIA staff continues to reflect upon what has been a memorable exhibition. Although as per regulation, food and drink are prohibited in the gallery, Truman Capote’s iconic novella and Blake Edwards’ later film were invoked as we took one last look. Featuring leaded-glass windows to mosaics and altar objects, as discussed in the Religious News Service article highlighted in the Washington Post and the Associated Press coverage from the NY Daily News, the exhibition has explored the vast array of Tiffany Studios’ production in the ecclesiastical sphere. Named one of the “best New York museum exhibitions of 2012” by Examiner.com and having received a comprehensive review by The New York Times critic Ken Johnson, we look forward to the reception of our upcoming exhibition Ashé to Amen: African Americans and Biblical Imagery which opens on February 15, 2013. On behalf of the Museum, we thank you for your continued support and send our best wishes for the New Year.

Photo by Gina Fuentes Walker

Photo by Gina Fuentes Walker

Photo by Gina Fuentes Walker

Photo by Gina Fuentes Walker

For additional installation images of Louis C. Tiffany and the Art of Devotion, please see those taken by the Associated Press that are featured in the timesunion.com slideshow.

Spotlight: The Magi

In honor of the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6th), Art, the Bible & the Big Apple is highlighting the Magi who are commemorated on this coming Sunday.

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“The Adoration of the Magi”
Hieronymus Bosch (Netherlandish, ’s Hertogenbosch ca. 1450–1516 ’s Hertogenbosch)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Accession Number: 13.26

In the infancy narrative of the Gospel of Matthew (Mt. 2:2-12), the Magi (sometimes known as the wise men) come to Bethlehem to pay homage to the newborn Jesus, claiming that they came from the East following a star.  They bring him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, offerings that respectively symbolize Jesus’s role in the eyes of believers as King of Kings, Priest of Priests, and the Suffering Sacrifice.

Before they found Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, the Magi approached Herod the Great, the king of Judea, and inquired as to the whereabouts of the newborn king whose star they saw.  Herod sends them off to find him, telling them to return to him and alert him of the new king’s whereabouts so that he may worship him as well.  Once they depart, Herod plots to have the child, whom he considered a rival, killed.  In a parallel of what happens later in Matthew’s Gospel when an angel tells Joseph to take Mary and Jesus into Egypt, an angel warns the Magi not to return to Herod, and so they bypass Jerusalem on their journey home.

Over time, the image of these wise sojourners has evolved.  While the Magi were most likely Persian astrologists, they are commonly identified as kings, and while the Gospel does not give a specific number of men who came to pay the infant homage, they are traditionally depicted as being three in number, most likely because of the number of gifts

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“The Adoration of the Magi”
Quentin Metsys (Netherlandish, Leuven 1466–1530 Kiel)
Date: 1526
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Accession Number: 11.143

presented.  A document dated to 500 C.E. called the Excerpta Latina Barbari identifies the Magi as Melchior, Balthazar, and Gaspar.  They are also traditionally assigned different areas of origin, though Scripture implies that they derived from the same country.  In art often one is depicted as being European, another as African, and another as Asian or Middle Eastern.  Sometimes they are even depicted as being in the throes of three different stages of life – young, middle aged, and elderly.

How to Know Them: The Magi can be identified most easily be their symbolic attributes, their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  They stand out from the other witnesses to the Nativity in their lavish costumes, in particular contrast to the shepherds who come directly from the fields to worship Jesus.

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“The Adoration of the Magi”
Giotto di Bondone (Italian, Florentine, 1266/76–1337)
Date: possibly ca. 1320
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Accession Number: 11.126.1

Where to Find Them: Nativity scenes so often and so prominently featured the Magi over time that many portrayals are known by the title The Adoration of the Magi.

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“Adoration of the Magi”
Date: ca. 1520
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Accession Number: 32.100.144

A Metropolis Full of Magi: The magi can be found mostly in nativity sets, but New York City museums have many depictions of this scene.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art contains a large collection, one of which was recently on view at MOBIA as the subject of the exhibition The Adoration of the Magi by Bartolo di Fredi: A Masterpiece Reconstructed.

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“The Adoration of the Magi’
Bartolo di Fredi (Italian, active by 1353–died 1410 Siena)
Date: ca. 1390
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Accession Number: 1975.1.16

Contemporary Kings: The Magi are staples of religious Christmas films and television specials.  They are major characters in the 1968 classic stop-motion animation classic The Little Drummer Boy, fitting into the perception of Melchior, Balthazar, and Gaspar as coming having come from Europe, Africa, and Asia, respectively.

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“The Adoration of the Magi”
Date: ca. 1175–1200
The Cloisters Collection
Accession Number: 30.77.6-.9

The Magi also act as comic relief in the 2006 film The Nativity Story.  The first act of the movie shows three calculating their destination based on the star, the second act focuses on their bumbling travels to Judea, and the third encapsulates the awe-inspiring faith they find at coming upon and his parents in the stable.

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Leaves from a Beatus Manuscript: Bifolium with part of the Genealogy of Christ and the Adoration of the Magi
Date: ca. 1180
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Accession Number: 1991.232.2a-d