Fashion Fights In The 1600s: Parents Just Don’t Understand Their Kids’ Clothing Styles

Fashion trends come and go but one thing stays the same: Kids and parents often don’t see eye-to-eye on style. Even in 17th-century Amsterdam. A great example of this was recently unearthed by University of Delft researcher, Margriet van Eikema Hommes, when she took a closer look at paintings by the Dutch artist Govert Flinck. Flinck was a pupil of Rembrandt, but he had more commercial success than his teacher. Case in point: When Amsterdam’s new town hall was built in the mid 1600s, it featured several Flinck works but only one by Rembrandt, and this lone Rembrandt painting was removed after a year, van Eikema Hommes says. Flinck’s success was probably due to his strong familial connections to Amsterdam’s wealthy Mennonite community, who became his regular patrons. And therein lies the interesting historical fashion-friction. It turns out that Amsterdam’s Mennonite community favored solemn, dark outfits. Meanwhile 17th-century cool kids wore colorful tights. (Much as modern-day hipsters opt for brightly colored stockings…) In fact, some members of the Mennonite congregation would strike out against members who wore less conservative, fashionable clothing—clothing that the Mennonites considered indecent, van Eikema Hommes explains. Against this cultural backdrop, Flinck was asked to paint a portrait of his young Mennonite nephew Dirck. If you look at the final version of the portrait from 1636, the nephew looks pretty much like a conservative young Mennonite. But looks can be deceiving. When van Eikema Hommes started to analyze the portrait with X-rays, she discovered that beneath the painting was another portrait of Dirck (see the black and white image). The original portrait has Dirck in a left-foot-forward, aristocratic posture (compared to Dirck’s more somber pose in the final version), and the original has Dirck wearing substantially less conservative clothing. In particular, Flinck initially painted his nephew in a wider brimmed, fashionable hat, wearing a shirt with a wider, stylish collar and red tights instead of black ones. You can tell the tights were red in two ways, van Eikema Hommes says. First, you can actually see the red paint shimmering through the top layer of the artwork. But more conclusively, using X-ray fluorescence, she detected mercury on the artwork right where the legs were initially painted… and a common red paint of that era was vermillion, a mercury-based paint. So why did Flick paint over the original, fashionable portrait of Dirck? Probably because Flinck, Dirck or both men got cold feet about offending their Mennonite family members—and Flinck’s patrons. In the words of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, “Parents just don’t understand.” “There was nothing I could do, I tried to relax I got...

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Bringing A Controversial Mural in LA Back To Life

In 1932, David Alfaro Siqueiros got kicked out of Mexico for his political leanings so the artist spent six months in Los Angeles, California, where he produced a controversial mural called América Tropical. Siqueiros may not be as well-known as his teacher and contemporary Diego Rivera, but these two, along with José Orozco, formed “Los Tres Grandes,” the big three Mexican muralists of the early 20th century. During his stint in LA, Siqueiros was asked to paint a mural on a second story wall that overlooked Olvera Street, which was–and still is–a romanticized, somewhat kitschy Mexican market set up for tourists. The idea was for Siqueiros to produce something that celebrated tropical America. The expectation was probably that it might be a romanticized vision of Mexico—just like the street below. Instead Siqueiros, who was a die-hard Communist, produced a profoundly political piece of art: A crucified indigenous Mexican is at the forefront of the mural, with an American Eagle flying ominously above. A sharp shooter approaches from the right with his gun aimed at the Eagle. To say the piece made a splash is a pretty major understatement. Some praised the artwork for the potency of its political and social statement. But city officials were not impressed and they pushed successfully for the mural to be whitewashed, explains Leslie Rainer, a senior project officer at the Getty Conservation Institute who is leading the mural’s conservation, and who gave me and a few others a tour of the mural’s site in downtown LA. Since the site is under construction, the mural was covered for protection, as you can see in the photo below. The site will hopefully be reopened for public viewing in the next year or two—fingers crossed. (The $8.95 million project, which is being paid for jointly by the Getty and the City of LA, has faced many delays). Many decades of outdoor exposure as well as the whitewashing took a serious toll on the artwork, Rainer says. The mural has lost all of its color, leaving just a shadow of the original piece. Conservation efforts won’t reintroduce color.  This is because there’s no color documentation of the artwork, so any addition of pigment would be a misrepresentation, explains Susan MacDonald, head of GCI Field Projects. Instead, Rainer and the GCI team have carefully cleaned off the whitewashing and reattached parts of the crumbled plaster. They’ve also been doing non-invasive analyses of the artwork, which is an unusual marriage of traditional fresco painting and cement (instead of lime plaster), Rainer says. Siqueiros was really enamored with the (new-to-him) cement and concrete materials that he encountered during his stint...

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Post At Newscripts On Lavoisier Portrait

It’s not exactly conservation-related, but I’ve added a post to the Newscripts blog that may appeal to Artful Science Readers. It’s about the fascinating provenance of an iconic portrait of pioneering chemist Antoine Lavoisier and his wife.

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Uncovering the history of a St. Tammany weathervane

Guest post by Celia Arnaud, a senior editor at Chemical & Engineering News. Many pieces that started out as functional objects have crossed over into the realm of art. This is especially true for that genre known as folk art. Metal weathervanes are a prime example of such art. Because these pieces actually had a job, they weren’t carefully housed indoors. They were exposed to the elements—and the local gunslingers. At last week’s Eastern Analytical Symposium, Kate Payne de Chavez, a conservator at the Williamstown Art Conservation Center, in Massachusetts, described the steps she took to characterize and repair a St. Tammany weathervane that had seen some tough times. The St. Tammany motif features an Indian chief holding a bow and arrow and standing on the shaft of another arrow. He’s believed to represent a 17th century chief in the Lenni-Lenape tribe in the Delaware Valley, known alternatively as Tammany, Tamanend, or Tammamend. Because of his role in establishing peace between Native Americans and the English settlers in the Pennsylvania colony, he achieved near-mythic status, and his name was co-opted by various Societies of St. Tammany, the most famous of which grew into the Tammany Hall political machine. The largest and most famous St. Tammany weathervane—standing more than eight feet tall—is at the American Folk Art Museum in New York City. The one that Payne de Chavez repaired is only one-third the size, nearly three feet tall. When it was brought to Payne de Chavez by a dealer at Antiquarian Equities, the weathervane was covered with black paint. She analyzed several tiny samples from the weathervane and determined the many layers coating the underlying copper sheet metal and wire. The dealer who brought it to Payne de Chavez wanted to remove the modern paint to expose the corrosion, previous repairs, and the historic refinishing layers. Payne de Chavez discovered that the weathervane had undergone three “finishing campaigns.” The finishing campaigns were separated from one another by thin dirt layers. When the object was originally constructed, it was coated with a white ground layer, two oil layers, and gold leaf. Later refinishing campaigns included a yellow paint layer, an off-white paint layer, and the modern black paint. The dirt layers indicate weathering and are a good clue that the weathervane really dates back to the 19th century. “It’s hard to fake an actual dirt layer, because the particles are very fine,” Payne de Chavez says. “If someone were painting many layers trying to fake aging, they might not think about the dirt layer. It’s just one more indicator that the piece aged naturally.” Once she figured out that the underlying...

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Acknowledging Madame Lavoisier

For years, this painting was listed simply as Portrait of M. Lavoisier in the Metropolitan Museum of Art files, neglecting the fact that the painter Jacques-Louis David placed Mme Lavoisier gloriously in the center of the canvas, staring directly at the viewer. The omission might have been due to the fact that Antoine Lavoisier is an 18th century scientific superstar. Before getting beheaded in the French Revolution, he was the first to correctly explain the chemistry behind burning, rusting and respiration. He also studied infectious disease in urban zones, named the element oxygen and helped develop the metric system. Meanwhile, Marie Anne Pierrette Paulze Lavoisier’s fascinating life and contributions to science have often been neglected.* This insult may be remedied (partially) by a panel discussion to be held at the Metropolitan Museum in New York this Sunday between two Nobel Laureates, Roald Hoffmann and Harold Varmus, and Kathryn Calley Galitz, a scholar of French art. Some teasers: Married at age 13 to the 28-year-old Antoine, Marie-Anne immediately began studying English and chemistry so that she could translate texts from British scientists for her husband, who did not speak the language. Marie-Anne proceeded to make drawings of the experimental set-up for many of Antoine’s important experiments so that other researchers could emulate them. She also illustrated the first chemistry textbook, the famous Traité Élémentaire de Chimie for which she got no credit. “In my opinion, [Mary-Anne] played an essential role in their chemical research on respiration, and other work in his chemical laboratory,” says Hoffmann. “She drew up the list of experiments to be done, and as you can see from her drawings, recorded the experimental findings.” After Antoine was beheaded, Marie-Anne spend 65 days in jail. Eventually she married a man called Count Rumford. The unhappy second marriage is perhaps exemplified by her pouring of boiling water on his flowers. As Hoffmann puts it: “There is no biography of Mme Lavoisier. I think she deserves an opera.” — *Hoffmann and Carl Djerassi (inventor of the birth control pill) wrote a play together called Oxygen, which features both Lavoisiers. Hoffmann also wrote a piece about Marie-Anne in American Scientist in 2002. In addition, a small chapter is also devoted to her in European Women of Chemistry, which was published this year by...

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