Come Home to Roost

Rose Standish Nichols published her third book, Italian Pleasure Gardens, in 1931. In preparation for this book, as well as at least twelve magazine articles that she wrote about Italian garden design and tradition, she took many trips abroad. Evidence of her travels through Italy can be found in letters, postcards, and dozens of objects in her collection of fine and decorative art. Her collection of Italian objects includes paintings, marquetry furniture, and even a reliquary. However, many of the objects that she collected from Italy are ceramic.

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Postcard of Sorrento, Italy from Rose Standish Nichols’ postcard collection

Included in her collection of Italian pottery are three majolica busts, including a copy of Andrea della Robbia’s “Bust of a Boy.”

Tin-glazed pottery, or majolica has a uniquely opaque and glossy finish, which allowed artists to create a pure white ground for brightly colored patterns that would be dulled on the natural surface of clay.[1] Luca della Robbia (1399/1400-1482) [2] was one of the Italian ceramicists who is credited with popularizing majolica during the Renaissance in his home city of Florence. While the technique of created tin-glazed ceramics was known before his time, Luca della Robbia’s elevated enameled terracotta to a fine art material, as he was considered a “sculptor first, and a potter afterwards.”[3] Luca della Robbia instructed his nephew, Andrea della Robbia, in the techniques he used to create his signature brilliant white and blue glazes and the subsequent della Robbia family workshop operated for close to a century. [4] 

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Andrea della Robbia, Bust of a Boy, ca. 1475. Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence.  Featured in the exhibition, “Della Robbia: Sculpting with Color in Renaissance Florence” organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, now on view at the National Gallery of Art.

In the mid to late-nineteenth century, a revival of Renaissance styles in architecture and decorative arts swept through America and Europe,[5] prompting ceramic studios to begin making majolica pottery once again, including Cantagalli.

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Cantagalli’s inscription seen on the majolica bust from Rose Standish Nichols’ collection.

Ulisse Cantagalli inherited a Florentine pottery studio from his father in 1878. Cantagalli took over his family’s business that had focused on functional earthenware, and began creating terracotta reproductions of Italian masterworks. These reproductions were moderately priced, making them more readily available.[6] Cantagalli’s maker’s mark is a gestural drawing of a rooster.[7] This inscription is found on Rose Standish Nichols’ copy of della Robbia’s majolica bust.

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1961.86 Majolica bust from Rose Standish Nichols’ collection.

In Rose Standish Nichols’ collection are two other majolica busts, possibly from Cantagalli’s workshop, including a reproduction of a Verrochio sculpture depicting Piero de Medici.

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1961.556 Majolica bust from Rose Standish Nichols’ collection.
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Bust of Bust of Piero de’ Medici by Andrea Verrocchio, ca. 1488, Museo del Bargello.

As Rose Standish Nichols was collecting these reproduction ceramics, she was also becoming familiar with the originals. Della Robbia’s Bust of a Boy, as well as Verrochio’s likeness of Piero de Medici, are both part of the collection of the Museo Nazionale Bargello in Florence. In her 1931 book, Italian Pleasure Gardens, she describes works now found in the Bargello as they were displayed in their original location at the Palazzo Medici in Florence.

To the fondness for art of Piero, Cosimo’s son and successor, and to the encouragement of his wife, Lucrezia Tornabuoni, the palace owed many of the famous works of art contained there…Of Piero’s own careworn appearance, however, we can obtain a more accurate idea from his bust by Mino da Fiesole now in the Bargello.

In the days of Lorenzo the Magnificent, the palace was a museum, overflowing with the paintings and sculptures he had added to the previous collections. Verrochio’s little David, now in the Bargello, stood in the centre of the court, while the Boy with the Dolphin above a fountain-basin, now transferred to the Palazzo Vecchio, seems to have ornamented the garden at the rear, and Judith with the head of Holofernes also stood there.[8]  

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Postcard of the Bargello from Rose Standish Nichols’ postcard collection

Rose Standish Nichols’ knowledge of Italian Renaissance artists and patrons clearly impacted her own collecting practice as well as her scholarship. The three majolica busts found on shelves and mantles throughout her home signify her interest in the influential collectors of the Renaissance and are reminiscent of her many travels through Italy.

 

[1]Solon, L. M. A History and Description of Italian Majolica. London: Cassell and, Limited, 1907. 76. Print.

[2]“Della Robbia.” Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. N.p., 08 May 2017. Web. 12 May 2017.

[3]Elliott, Charles Wyllys. “Italian Majolica.” The Art Journal (1875-1887) 3 (1877): 244. Web. 16 May 2017.

[4]”Della Robbia.” Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. N.p., 08 May 2017. Web. 12 May 2017. 

[5] Victoria and Albert Museum, “Style Guide: Classical and Renaissance Revival.” Victoria and Albert Museum. London, 31 Jan. 2013. Web. 12 May 2017.

[6] Solon, L. M. A History and Description of Italian Majolica. London: Cassell and, Limited, 1907. 53-54. Print.

[7] Cushion, J. P., and W. B. Honey. Handbook of Pottery and Porcelain Marks. London: Faber and Faber, 1980. 171. Print.

[8] Nichols, Rose Standish. Italian Pleasure Gardens. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1931. 67. Print.

 

By Emma Welty, Head of Collections and Education.

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Makers Marks: A Call for Artists

The “Object of the Month” blog has been a place for staff and interns from the Nichols House Museum to share research and insights about our favorite objects in the collection. Several of the featured objects have been more than just collection objects but were actually made by Rose Standish Nichols herself.

This fall, the Nichols House Museum is seeking art makers who are interested in showing their work alongside the objects in Rose’s collection.

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Detail of Rose Standish Nichols’ hand-embroidered bed hangings. Read more about this object in our October 2015 post.

The three Nichols sisters, Rose, Marian and Margaret, came of age during a critical time in American craft history: the Arts and Crafts movement, active from 1880ー1910. Following the Industrial Revolution and widespread abandonment of cottage industries, champions of the Arts and Crafts movement William Morris and John Ruskin, were calling for a return to handcrafts for the sake of beauty, quality and social progress. The values maintained and taught by members of the Arts and Crafts movement impacted the educations, careers and politics of the Nichols sisters.

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Detail of an oak chair with carved decoration by Rose Standish Nichols. Read more about this object in our July 2015 post.

The Nichols sisters were instructed in handcrafts from a young age. Letters, memoirs, and objects in the museum’s collection tell the story of their work with sewing, pottery and woodworking.

“Once a week we had clay modeling with Mrs. Holland, Any creations we wished to take home were baked for up and transformed from a soft mass of dark damp clay to firm white objects of beauty.”–Margaret Nichols Shurcliff, Lively Days.

“She has taken up carving again and is making some frames. Not having you to get up the designs she expects me to do it and I am helping her all I can.”–Elizabeth Nichols to Rose Nichols about Margaret Nichols, November 30, 1896.

“This is a most delightful morning. Margaret and I are writing on the piazza and Marian sewing in the garden.”–Elizabeth Nichols writing to Rose Nichols, June 5, 1901.

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Margaret Nichols Shurcliff knitting, ca. 1905.

The Nichols House Museum is inviting emerging and student artists working in craft disciplines (textiles, ceramics or woodworking) to submit proposals for site-specific works to be installed in the museum for an exhibit that will be on view from March to August 2017. The exhibit is part of a series of programs entitled “Makers Marks: Art, Craft and the Fiber of Change.” The Nichols House Museum aims to position the history of the Nichols family in dialogue with a wide range of contemporary perspectives to create new and mindful interpretations of the house, collection and family.

Applications are due no later than January 16, 2017. Click here to download the prospectus and application form.

Steeped in History

At first glance, this small object appears to be a fairly simple silver teapot. On closer inspection, however, this little teapot reveals its place in a craft history that spans over a thousand years: lusterware pottery. This teapot is not shaped from sterling silver as it appears, but is instead a molded ceramic vessel that has been coated with a “lustre” glaze made from metal oxides to create a shiny silver finish. [1] The object was created in Staffordshire, England by the pottery company, Fieldings Crown Devon, in the early 20th century although the tradition of lustre glazing dates back much further.

The earliest known examples of lustre appear on ancient Egyptian glassware. The invention of lustre decoration offered an inexpensive alternative to gilded ornamentation [2]. While these early glass pieces date back to the third and fourth centuries, lustre fired earthenware did not make an appearance until the eleventh century in Egypt [3]. Early Egyptian lustreware was very opulent, with a range of colors and motifs including animals and scenes of daily life including fishing in the Nile and working in the fields [4].

The popularity of lustreware ceramics in Mesopotamia in the 13th century caused many to believe that the technique of lustre firing ceramics originated in Persia. Many of the pieces that survive today have designs and inscriptions that suggest Persian makers, even those objects that were discovered in Egypt [5]. Despite the presence of these apparently Persian ceramics, a traveler’s diary from the 11th century led ceramic scholars to the conclusion that the home of the ornate glazing technique was, in fact, Cairo. Nâsir-i-Khusrau was a well-known Persian traveler and writer visited Old Cairo (then known as Fustât) in 1047 A.D and described his first experience seeing lustre decoration on ceramics. He compared the appearance ornate decoration to a type of Egyptian silk fabric called bukalimun, or “chameleon fabric” which is called that because it “changes every hour of the day” [6]. The fact that a well-traveled Persian writer had never seen lustreware suggests that this technique was not yet practiced by Persian artisans. This account, combined with the presence of a ceramics school in Cairo led scholars to believe that Persian students later traveled the school in Cairo to learn the trade [7].

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Small cup, terracotta, lustre decoration, opacified glaze, overglaze painted. Fatimid Egypt, 11-12th century. Louvre Museum. Paris, France

From Egypt and Persia, lustreware moved to Spain where it was adopted by the Moors, and Italy, where the technique was further developed by sixteenth century artisan, Maestro Giorgio Andreoli at Gubbio [8]. Giorgio mastered a technique called maiolica, also known as tin-glazed pottery, where he used an extra layer of glaze in order to enrich the colors of a detailed painted scene with red or gold metallic lustre [9].

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Maiolica plate with Jupiter, Juno, and Io transformed into a cow, lustered in workshop of Maestro Giorgio Andreoli, Gubbio, or Vincenzo Andreoli, Urbino, c.1535-1540, National Gallery of Art, Washington

All of the potters that had utilized the technique up to this point had used it for ornamentation and not to glaze an object in its entirety. This changed somewhat when lustreware became popular in England during the late 18th century. While the tradition of using lustre techniques to embellish and combine multiple colors and patterns still existed, the British artisans also used it to create faux-silver pieces. Ceramic artisans began using traditional silversmith molds to create objects, specifically teapots and sugar bowls that could be lustre-fired completely to look like silver [10]. The teapot in the Nichols House Museum’s collection falls into that category, having been designed to look like a Georgian period silver teapot.

 

[1]Campbell, Gordon. “Lustre.” Grove Art OnlineOxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 4 Mar. 2016.

[2]Martin, F. R. “The Origin of Lustre Ware.” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 53.305 (1928): 91-92. JSTOR. Web. 04 Mar. 2016.

[3]Butler, A. J. “The Origin of Lustre Ware.” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 16.79 (1909): n. pag. JSTOR. Web. 04 Mar. 2016.

[4]Martin, F. R. “Lustred Pottery in Egypt.” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 17.85 (1910): n. pag. JSTOR. Web. 04 Mar. 2016.

[5]Butler, A. J. “The Origin of Lustre Ware.”

[6]Butler, A. J. “Egypt and the Ceramic Art of the Nearer East.” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 11.52 (1907): 221-26. JSTOR. Web. 04 Mar. 2016.

[7]Butler, A. J. “The Origin of Lustre Ware.

[8]”The Buckingham Collection of Old English Lustre.” Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago (1907-1951) 16.1 (1922): 2-5. JSTOR. Web. 04 Mar. 2016.

[9]”National Gallery of Art.” Andreoli of Gubbio, Giorgio, Maestro. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2016.

[10]”The Buckingham Collection of Old English Lustre.”

By Emma Welty, Curatorial and Administrative Specialist