Reading with Rose: Three Queens for BB

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Bernard Berenson in 1887 courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, London.

Bernard Berenson (1865-1959) was an art critic and historian whom some believe was the definitive art historian in America during the 20th century. Born in Lithuania, Berenson and his family moved to Boston in 1875. Bernard, or BB, as he was later called, attended many of this city’s most enduring schools: Boston Latin School, Boston University, and Harvard University. Upon his graduation, patrons such as Isabella Stewart Gardner supported his definitive Grand Tour of Europe. Berenson continued to travel throughout his life, learning and observing art on an international scale. Eventually, patrons solicited his opinion on Renaissance art in particular–his area of expertise. Today, Berenson is considered (by some) a controversial figure for his secret partnership with Joseph Duveen (1869-1939), an international art dealer. Upon his death, Berenson bequeathed his estate and works to Harvard University. (1)

 

 

Less renowned for her art collecting than her impressive activism, landscape architect and fellow world traveler Rose Standish Nichols became friends with the legendary art connoisseur. The two Bostonians shared an admiration for the Italian Renaissance in particular.

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Raphael’s “Madonna of the Tower;” postcard from Rose Standish Nichols’ collection.

As a friend and an admirer of his work, Rose’s library at the Nichols House Museum contains no less than four books by the art historian: Lorenzo Lotto; An Essay in Constructive Art Criticism, The Venetian Painters of the Renaissance (1894), The Venetian Painters of the Renaissance (1897), and Echi E Riflessioni (Diario 1941-1944); the last of which Berenson personally inscribed to Rose.

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Letter from Bernard Berenson  to Rose Standish Nichols, December 7, 1954.

 

Another friend of Rose’s provides us with a particularly humorous glimpse into Rose and Bernard’s friendship. In 1995, Polly Thayer Starr–whose portrait of Rose, you might recall, hangs in the Nichols House Museum library–gave an interview to Robert Brown for the Archives of American Art. Starr was the daughter of Rose’s friend Ethel Thayer. In 1927, Rose reluctantly agreed to sit as Starr’s subject, which she writes about here. With no shortage of anecdotes about Miss Rose Standish Nichols, Starr tells Brown one story about our matriarch which has become a favorite among the museum’s staff:

“There was one other story of Miss Nichols, that interested me because she had the Crown Princess of Greece come and stay with me. She was great friends with Bernard Berenson, the critic and writer, and one day she took a carriage out from Florence to see him, and the servant came to the door. She said she wanted to see Bernard Berenson, and the servant said she was very sorry, but Berenson was indisposed and couldn’t get up–wasn’t feeling well. “Well,” she said, “tell him I have three queens that have come to see him,” and wrote it on her card. The servant, quite impressed, took it up to Berenson, who looked out the window, and there he saw Queen Sophie of Greece, the Queen of Italy–Margarita, I believe her name was–and the Queen of Yugoslavia. So he said he’d be right down. [laughter] But she knew all the politicians, crowned heads and prime ministers that she could contact, and they were all amused by her. So when I went to Spain I went with her, and it was great fun.” (2)

 

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Letter to Rose Nichols from Queen Sophie.

*A note about the queens: if the Queen of Italy Thayer is referring to is Queen Margarita (reigned 1878-1900), she would likely not have been Queen at the time of this story. The above photograph, part of the Nichols Family Photograph Collection, shows Queen [H]elena, daughter-in-law of Queen Margarita, wife of Victor Emmanuel III, with whom she reigned from 1900 and 1946. Queen Sophia of Greece served from 1913 to 1917, then again from 1920 to 1922. Queen Maria of Yugoslavia reigned from 1922 and 1934. The photograph of Queen Olga Constantinovna of Russia shows that Rose was fascinated by many queens!

(1) Margaret Moore Booker“Berenson, Bernard.” Grove Art OnlineOxford Art OnlineOxford University PressWeb18 Jul. 2017.

(2) Oral history interview with Polly Thayer, 1995 May 12-1996 February 1. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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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.

“Lady in Rose Colored Robe”

In celebration of the Chinese New Year, we are exploring a set of four Chinese export paintings which adorn the walls of Rose Standish Nichols’ library. Often asked about by visitors, these eglomisé panels are popular objects in the Nichols House Museum. Eglomisé is a French term for the decorative technique of reverse painting on glass. These early nineteenth paintings are remnants of the Ch’ien-lung period (Ch’ing Dynasty, 1644-1912) produced for western export trade.

Direct trade between Europe and China began in 1517 when Manuel I of Portugal dispatched an embassy to Peking.[1] Commercial interests in China spread throughout Europe and by the nineteenth century, America had surpassed Europe in trade.[2] A cross-pollination of art and ideas across continents occurred and as a result, Asian export art became popularized.

Much of the art being produced in China at this time was intended for export. Chinese artists and makers anticipated the aesthetic values of European and American consumers. Both the anglicized faces of the women in these paintings and the eglomisé technique evidence this approach to selling Asian art on a western buyer’s market. This was, in essence, art for the foreigner:“Meeting the enthusiastic demand for colorful paintings, numerous studios were set up in Canton where foreign trade flourished and businessmen and merchants from around the world converged.”[3]

The luxurious dress and flirtatious smiles of these women would have been considered highly suggestive when the paintings were first created. Physical allure has been a central focus in depicting women in art across all cultures. In China, the visual culture of the region produced varying images of women in accordance with the fashions, aesthetics and concepts of beauty.[4]

Rose Standish Nichols purchased these paintings in 1941 from Yamanaka and Company Inc., a Japanese firm located at 424 Boylston Street, Boston. These paintings ranged in price from $17.50 to $35.00 at the time of their purchase.

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Receipt from 1941 purchase of eglomisé painting

 

Although she was extremely well-traveled, Rose never visited any Asian countries. Even still, her appreciation for Asian culture is evident throughout the Nichols House. Chinese export porcelain was incredibly prolific during the 18th and 19th centuries and the museum houses some beautiful pieces. The porcelain “slop” bowl shown here (ca. 1780-1800) is an excellent example of Chinese export porcelain in the Nichols House collection.

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Chinese export porcelain slop bowl, ca. 1780-1800

A slop bowl was a component of the traditional tea set. Early uses included emptying undrunk cold tea into the slop bowl before refilling the cup with fresh, hot tea. This slop bowl depicts a European scene of three children fishing against a background of trees and a parish church. Like the eglomisé paintings, the imagery demonstrates how Chinese artists were assimilating western culture in their work.

Rose’s postcard collection also reveals her interests in Chinese culture.

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Rose’s collection of over 1200 postcards speaks to her love of travel and curious personality. Born in 1872 under the Year of the Monkey, Rose is characterized as curious, quick-witted and intelligent. Happy Chinese New Year from the Nichols House Museum, Year of the Rooster!

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Nichols House Museum library, ca. 1940-1960.

[1] Palmer, Arlene M. 1976. A Winterthur guide to Chinese export porcelain. n.p.: New York : Crown, 1976: 10.

[2] Ibid, 11.

[3] Till, Barry and Paula Swart. “Art for the Foreigner: 19th Century Chinese Export Paintings from the Collection of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.” Arts Of Asia 45, no. 4 (n.d.):, 111.

[4] “Court Ladies or Pin-Up Girls?” Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. March 09, 2015. Accessed February 02, 2017. http://www.mfa.org/exhibitions/court-ladies-or-pin-up-girls.

By Laura Cunningham, Collections Inventory Associate

“No Pleasanter Place”: Reading with Rose

As many of our readers know, January 11th, 2016 marked Rose Standish Nichols’ 145th birthday. In celebration of this fiercely intelligent, independent woman, we will take a look at one of her own published books in this month’s ‘Reading with Rose:’ Italian Pleasure Gardens.

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Rose Standish Nichols in her garden in Cornish, New Hampshire. Courtesy Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

Rose Standish Nichols was not only a distinguished landscape architect, but a world traveler, too. She did not travel merely for pleasure, but conducted thorough research during her trips to Europe so that she could supplement her landscape commissions with firsthand experience in sprawling estate gardens. In 1931, Rose published her third book, this time focusing on Italian gardens in the aptly-titled Italian Pleasure Gardens.

In her book, Rose details the histories and contemporary features of gardens throughout Italy, including villas in Tuscany, Siena, Perugia, Florence, the Riviera, and the Lake District. We can trace Rose’s experiences within these cities through numerous letters she sent home during her many trips to the country. At times, she was accompanied by friends; she writes to Margaret below:

“This morning Frances Arnold Anita Dible and I have been to the Villa Papa Giulio, which is about ten minutes walk beyond the Porto del Popolo.  We had a very good time and took lots of photographs.”

Rose Nichols to Margaret Nichols [Shurcliff]- February 4, 1899

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One of the many images of Italian villas Rose included in Italian Pleasure Gardens.

After “Italian Pleasure Gardens” was published, Rose continued to enjoy travelling to the country where she conducted her research. Indeed, we can read Rose’s words with sincerity when she writes “to those travellers who are weary of cities and who love both art and nature I can recommend these gardens as a joy to the eye and a balm to the soul.”

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“It is cold and rainy here and I feel rather swallowed up by the immensity of this old city – after the cozy intimate atmosphere of Florence.  Before leaving there I spent a week in Mrs. Davis’ pleasant old villa where I had a suite of three rooms.”

Rose to Marian Nichols- March 4, 1931

“I am to spend tomorrow night at the heavenly Villa Sante and shall push on the following afternoon to Florence where Mrs. Lathrop is expecting me at the Villa Tomegiani.  From there I shall go to visit the Tomegianis at their handsome Lucca villa, at least it is four or five miles outside Lucca on a hill with a beautiful view.  After that I shall go to Venice to stay until the last of June.”

Rose to Marian- June 5, 1931

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An illustration from Italian Pleasure Gardens.

It is clear that Rose imbues into her writing the firsthand experience of traveling through these Italian pleasure gardens. Before the close of the book, she includes a “Garden Itinerary” that guides readers through their own tours of the country, through the very cities and gardens she herself visited. The book, as a whole, serves as simultaneously as a history lesson, as Rose takes us through the history of the  gardens in view of the country’s political and social cultures; a  guidebook; and a testament to the love Rose had for the career she devoted her life to: the garden, in all its splendor.

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Rose concludes her book with many tips and suggestions for readers seeking to visit Italian villas and their gardens.

Bibliography

Nichols, Rose Standish. Italian Pleasure Gardens. Dodd, Mead & Company, 1931.

 

By Victoria Johnson, Visitor Services and Research Associate.

Happy Birthday Rose!

Today marks Rose Standish Nichols’ 145th birthday. To celebrate this day we are looking back at a likeness of Rose created shortly after her eighteenth birthday: an oil painting showing Rose with a powerful gaze and a pink dress. This painting represents Rose during a time of her life when most women her age were expected to focus on attracting a male suitor. Whether or not Rose was interested in finding a husband is open for interpretation. A few letters suggest an interest in romance yet her posture and tone in this painting of her as a young adult illustrates a fiercely independent and assertive woman.

There are some very attractive people at this hotel.  Next [to] me at [a] table is one of the handsomest and swellest looking men I have ever seen…How I wish you could see this kind of perfection at dinner in a dress-suit with his moustache waxed to an inimitable points…Now I suppose you can’t help wondering if I am not deeply in love for once in my life. 

Rose to Marian, 1896.

Rose lived 88 years independently but was rarely alone. She had a large network of friends and colleagues from all walks of life, both at home and internationally. One of her friends, Margarita “Daisy” Pumpelly, was the artist that painted her portrait in 1890. Daisy was born in 1873, one year after Rose, and died in 1959, one year before Rose. Their families, both from Boston, vacationed in Cornish and Dublin, active artist communities in New Hampshire. Rose and Daisy were both artistically gifted, apprenticing with local artists in New Hampshire and continuing their studies in Europe. [1] Despite all the parallels in the lives of the two women, one thing set them apart: Daisy was married.

Daisy Pumpelly married Henry “Harry” Lloyd Smyth in November 1894, when she was 21 years old. Despite her marriage to Harry, a geologist at Harvard University, and their four children, Daisy maintained an independent lifestyle. [2] In September of 1894, two months before Daisy and Harry’s wedding, Daisy’s sister wrote to Rose’s sister, Marian about Daisy’s travels in Paris:

“Daisy writes glowing accounts of Paris they had several adventures on the way. I should think that she would be excited at the thought of seeing Harry so soon, but to all appearances she does not show it.”

Elise Pumpelly to Marian, September 6, 1894.

Throughout Daisy and Harry’s marriage, they often traveled independently. In the Nichols family’s correspondence, mentions of Daisy and Harry in the same place are infrequent. She even traveled out West in 1920 with her father and two siblings, while Harry remained in New England. [3]

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“Sunrise near Agua Caliente, From a water-color by Margarita Pumpelly Smyth” [4].
Harry and Daisy had residences in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, but Daisy also had a presence in New York City. In the 1940s, Daisy rented a brownstone at 48 West 10th Street in Greenwich Village where she lived with Juliet Thompson, also a fine artist. The two painters spent many years there, working in their studios and entertaining guests. [5] 

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Daisy Pumpelly Smyth (left) and Juliet Thompson (right)

 

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Like Rose, Daisy and Juliet were followers of the Baha’i faith. This photograph shows the interior of Juliet and Daisy’s house, complete with a portrait of Abdu’l-Baha painted by Juliet [6].

 

The link between Rose Nichols and Daisy Pumpelly Smyth is deeper than friend to friend or artist to sitter. Rose and Daisy both represent independent and artistic women at the turn of the twentieth century, committed to their careers and artistic practices despite societal expectations. On Rose’s 145th birthday we celebrate a portrait, connecting the lives of two female friends through art and social progress.

[1] Quirk, Lisa. “Margarita Pumpelly Smyth.” A Circle of Friends: Art Colonies of Cornish and Dublin. Durham: University Art Galleries, University of New Hampshire, 1985. 117.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid

[4] Pumpelly, Raphael. My Reminiscences. New York: Henry Holt, 1918. 779. Print.

[5] Thompson, Juliet, and Marzieh Gail. “At 48th West Tenth.” The Diary of Juliet Thompson. Los Angeles: Kalimát, 1983. X.

[6] Parsons, Agnes. Abdu’l-Bahá in America, Agnes Parsons’ Diary, April 11 1912 – November 11, 1912. Los Angeles: Kalimát, 1996. 154.

 

By Emma Welty, Head of Collections and Administration.

Unitarian in the Winter and Episcopalian in Summer

In Rose Standish Nichols’ parlor, a room that was home to much intellectual, political, and religious discourse, hangs a painting depicting Mary, Jesus and Saint John the Baptist. The oil painting is a nineteenth century interpretation of a common scene in religious art during the Renaissance, the rural landscape featuring the Holy Family in the foreground and a shepherd with his flock in the background. The work is unsigned and the artist is unknown, though the nineteenth century painter was likely studying similar scenes by Raphael, Leonardo, Giorgione and Titian in the sixteenth century. 

 

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Leonardo, The Virgin and Child with Saint Ann, c. 1503, The Louvre.

 

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Titian, Madonna and Child with Female Saint Ann and Saint John the Baptist, c. 1530s, Kimbell Art Museum.

Rose’s belief system has often been the subject of discussion, especially with such a religiously charged painting displayed in a very public room in her home. However, by all accounts Rose Standish Nichols was not a traditionally religious person. Her friend Southard Menzel wrote, in an article entitled Sketches of the Life and Character of Rose Standish Nichols, Artist, Collector, Social Reformer, Museum Founder, that Rose considered herself, “Unitarian in the winter and Episcopalian in summer” simply based on the fact that King’s Chapel, the family’s local Boston church, was Unitarian and the neighborhood congregation close to their summer home in New Hampshire was Episcopalian. [1] The Nichols family attended King’s Chapel when the girls were young and according to Margaret, the family had their own pew “in the front row of the balcony near the choir.” [2]

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Interior of King’s Chapel, Emmet Collection of Manuscrips Etc. Relating to American History, New York Public Library.

Later in her life, however, Rose became interested in the principles of the Bahai, a faith system that advocates for peace and unity, which resonated with Rose, a committed pacifist.

“To be a Bahá’í simply means to love all the world; to love humanity and try to serve it; to work for universal peace and universal brotherhood.” –Abdu’l-Bahá [3]

Abdu’l-Bahá, the son of the religion’s founder, was an acquaintance of Rose’s and according to Southard Menzel, he visited her home and was “given a platform at her house to introduce his doctrine (‘In that corner between the fireplace and the window’).” [4]

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Abdu’l-Bahá

Despite Rose’s personal belief system, she was still fascinated by the culture and iconography of the Catholic church. Her travel through Europe often included visits to churches and cathedrals where she was very taken with the traditions as well as the aesthetics.

“We have seen larger picture galleries, but no paintings as beautiful as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and those of Raphael, called his Stanze.  We took a last look at them today on our way to the Pope’s auto-chamber, where Margaret and I left a rosary for Bridget with the chamberlain to be blessed by the Pope.  We inquired our way of the Swiss guard, who seem to be everywhere in the Vatican, their orange and black costumes are striking if not picturesque.”

Rose writing to her father Arthur from Rome, November 18, 1891.

Rose also took a specific interest in Catholic monasteries while researching her book, Italian Pleasure Gardens. Her 1928 book includes an entire chapter on “The Cloister Garth”where she explores the horticulture and ornamentation of Italian monasteries.

“The outer walls of the cloister, back of the columns, were covered with paintings…Scenes suggested by descriptions in the Old and New Testaments, or episodes in the lives of saints were chosen as affording religious inspiration to the monks, who would have turned away their eyes in horror from the flippant representations that amused the pleasure-loving Pompeians.” [5]  

Several objects in her collection also suggest her fascination with religious objects including , books, postcards, tiles and even a bust believed to be a reliquary.

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Italian wooden bust, 18th century, possibly used as a reliquary.
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Dutch earthenware tile, 19th century, showing the story of Matthew 9, “Jesus Forgives and Heals a Paralyzed Man.”

She collected dozens of postcards with Catholic iconography, including twenty-five that depict the Holy Family.

Over thirty titles in her library reflect her curiosity in the church, including books of poetry, theology, stories of the saints and the Bible given to her by her father with both their names inscribed in their own handwriting:

“Arthur H. Nichols Boston Jan. 1, 1852 A present from his Mother

Rose S. Nichols from her Father Arthur H. Nichols”

 

Rose Standish Nichols may not have been a conventionally religious person but she was thoughtful about religion both in aesthetics and in theology. Her collecting practices and her proud display of religious art show her affinity for Christian iconography, but it was in her discussions with people she met throughout her life where her fascination with faith becomes clear. Southard Menzel told a story of Rose’s experience encountering a Cardinal on a steamer ship on his way to Rome:

“After much talk and no conviction, Rose had said to him: ‘I suppose you think I am going to Hell.’

‘Not necessarily so Miss Nichols,’ said O’Connell.

‘How can that be?’ asked Rose.

‘Well God may possibly pardon you on the basis of “invincible ignorance,”’ was his reply. 

Rose was charmed with this decisions, and apparently thought the term was invented for her. She loved to think that some day, because of, or in spite of, her ‘invincible ignorance,’ she might continue the pleasant discussion with his Eminence in Heaven.” [6]

 

[1] Menzel, Southard. Sketches of the Life and Character of Rose Standish Nichols, Artist, Collector, Social Reformer, Museum Founder, 1975. Unpublished work.

[2] Shurcliff, Margaret Homer Nichols. Lively Days: Some Memoirs of Margaret Homer Shurcliff. Taipei: Literature House, 1965. 25.

[3] Esslemont, J. E. Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era; an Introduction to the Bahá’í Faith. Wilmette, IL: Bahá’í Pub. Trust, 1970.

[4] Menzel, Southard. Sketches of the Life and Character of Rose Standish Nichols, Artist, Collector, Social Reformer, Museum Founder, 1975. Unpublished work.

[5] Nichols, Rose Standish. “The Cloister Garth.” Italian Pleasure Gardens. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1928. 25.

[6] Menzel, Southard. Sketches of the Life and Character of Rose Standish Nichols, Artist, Collector, Social Reformer, Museum Founder, 1975. Unpublished work.

By Emma Welty, Head of Collections and Administration.

 

A Crane, a Goat, a Lizard

The Nichols family’s love of travel is well documented through letters, diaries, postcards, and photographs. Rose Nichols visited Europe more than thirty times to visit friends, see museum collections, attend conferences, and study gardens for her many articles and books about European landscape architecture. Evidence of the family’s many tours through Europe is found throughout the house in the form of paintings, furniture, textiles, and other souvenirs. 

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Postcard from Rose Standish Nichols’ collection.

One piece in particular stands out as a fascinating example of the renewed interest in ancient Roman furnishing styles during the 19th century. This bronze oil lamp features a crane that is perched on a budding oak tree surrounded by a wreath of acanthus leaves. The tree emerges from a stand held up by three animal legs with cloven hooves and a small lizard meandering along the base.  The crane holds a wire form in its beak that holds two small vessels on chains along with a pair of tweezers. These small vessels would have provided the lamp’s light. They would have been filled with olive oil, which was used as the lamp’s fuel source. Wicks would be inserted into the vessels using the lamp’s tweezers [1]. As this lamp was manufactured in Italy in the late 19th century, it was most likely never used in the traditional fashion as a light source.

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Oil lamp, 1961.128

 

In During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, archaeological discoveries at Pompeii and Herculaneum caused a renewed interest in ancient Roman art throughout Europe and the United States, and reproductions of ancient artifacts became common [2]. Rose Nichols was aware of this trend in her home decor, as well as her garden scholarship and design. In her 1928 book Italian Pleasure Gardens she writes:

“For centuries Herculaneum and Pompeii lay smothered under masses of lava and ashes. Finally in 1748, skillful archaeologists began to remove this heavy mantle and discovered a wealth of artistic treasures buried in the buildings and gardens. These works are now scattered in various museums all over the world, but many of the finest objects have been claimed by the National Museum at Naples. Here we can study a superb collection of bronze and marble statuary, wall paintings, mosaics, furniture and household utensils. Even the humblest articles often show the hand of a skilled designer.” [3]

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The oil lamp in its current location on the second floor landing in the 1920s.

 

Etruria, an ancient civilization that spanned the geography north of the city of Rome from roughly 500-700 BC, was also a source of inspiration for eighteenth and nineteenth century designers [4]. This piece employs the characteristics of an ancient Etruscan lantern, including the traditional round hanging lamps and its tripod base, but this object’s strong relationship to ancient Roman and Etruscan history is also found in its symbolic representation of animals.

The main figure featured in this lamp is the crane.  The crane is rich with symbolism in the ancient world. The crane represented seasonal change, as the migration patterns were well observed by early Greeks and Romans [5]. The crane’s circular style of movement or “dance” was associated by the ancients with the seasonal movement of the sun [6]. The relationship to the changing of the seasons and the cycle of the sun’s movement have a clear connection to light, making the crane an appropriate figure to be holding up the oil vessels that provided the lamp’s glow.

 

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Bronze lampstand from the Etruscan period, British Museum.

The base is supported by three animal legs with cloven hooves. Three-legged lamp stands with hooves seemed to be common in Etruria, as examples of these footed lamps are found in museum collections in the British Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The three hooves seen on this lamp appear to be representative of the feet of goats: ancient Greek and Roman mythology included the god Pan, who represented the power of nature and was fabled to be able to control the weather by playing his flute [8].  As images of Pan often showed a man with the horns and legs of  a goat, the isolated goat legs of this lamp could be a reference to Pan and his connection to the natural world.

 

 

Pan_archmus_Heraklion
Statue of Pan, Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Greece.

 

The lizard crawling across the lamp’s base is a very small feature that is difficult to notice on first glance. But its symbolism throughout Etruscan and Roman history is fascinating in reference to the function of this object. The ancient Romans saw lizards as a symbol of death and rebirth, due to a belief that the animals hibernated in the winter months and reappeared in the spring. In Etruscan tradition, people also believed that lizards went blind as they aged but could regain their sight by bathing in bright sunlight [9]. This belief caused lizards to become symbolic of light and heat, making them a perfect image to adorn an oil lamp.

1961.128 detail
Detail of oil lamp base

This small bronze oil lamp is representative of ancient Roman and Etruscan civilization and the resurgence of their decorative tradition in the 19th century. The three animal seen on this small oil lamp – the crane, goat, and lizard – suggest the ancient understanding of light. Through referencing daily cycles of the sun, the shifting of the seasons, or by the changing of the weather, the animals that decorate this bronze lamp all give meaning to the lamp’s traditional function: to illuminate dark spaces.

 

[1]Haines, T. L. Museum of Antiquity; a Description of Ancient Life. By L. W. Yaggy. Chicago: Western House, 1884. 287-95.

[2]Wilton-Ely, John. “Pompeian and Etruscan Tastes in the Neo-Classical Country-House Interior.” Studies in the History of Art 25 (1989): 51.

[3]Nichols, Rose Standish. “Pompeian Peristyles.” Italian Pleasure Gardens. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1931. 5.

[4]Wilton-Ely, John. “Pompeian and Etruscan Tastes in the Neo-Classical Country-House Interior.” Studies in the History of Art 25 (1989): 51.

[5]Johnsgard, Paul A., “Cranes of the World: 8. Cranes in Myth and Legent” (1983). Cranes of the World, by Paul Johnsgard. Paper 11. 70.

[6]Ibid. 73.

[7]Fox, William Sherwood. The Mythology of All Races: Greek and Roman. Vol. 1. Boston: Marshall Jones, 1916. 268.

[8]Leland, Charles Godfrey. Etruscan Roman Remains in Popular Tradition. London: T. F. Unwin, 1892. 267-68.

By Emma Welty, Curatorial and Administrative Specialist