National Gallery of Art announces new acquisitions
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National Gallery of Art announces new acquisitions
Giovanni Battista Gaulli, The Finding of Moses, c. 1685/1690. pPen and black ink with brush and gray wash, heightened with white, over traces of black chalk on brown laid paper, sheet: 20.6 x 31 cm (8 1/8 x 12 3/16 in.) National Gallery of Art, Washington. William B. O'Neal Fund.

WASHINGTON, DC.- Netherlandish artist Jan Muller (1571–1628) was among the most imaginative and refined of a group of engravers that flourished between Haarlem and the imperial court at Prague around the turn of the 16th century. The National Gallery of Art has acquired Muller’s Mercury Abducting Psyche (c. 1597), a series of three engravings based on a 1593 sculpture of the same name by Adriaen de Vries (c. 1556–1626).

In these prints, Muller rendered the statue from three different points of view. By translating a life-size marble of erotic subject and complicated torsion into black-and-white line work of remarkably abstract organization and exhaustive execution, the series demonstrates his extraordinary virtuosity. The series is a late and exceptional example in the paragone—the Renaissance argument about the relative merits of artistic media (usually sculpture and painting) and resulting attempts to demonstrate the superiority of one over another. Not only does this series epitomize the last flourishing of mannerism, but it also asserts the representational potential and high status of engraving.

Acquisition: “The Finding of Moses“ by Giovanni Battista Gaulli, called Baciccio

Giovanni Battista Gaulli (1639–1709), called Baciccio, was the leading painter in late 17th-century Rome. He combined the brilliant color, fluid movement, and decorative extravagance of his Genoese training with the plasticity and mystical fervor of Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680), with whom he collaborated for almost 20 years. The National Gallery of Art has acquired Baciccio’s drawing The Finding of Moses (c. 1685/1690), the first work by the artist in any medium to enter the collection. Not only does this work demonstrate Baciccio’s relationship to sculpture and help to explain the transition from high baroque to the rococo, but it also advances the National Gallery’s representation of Genoese draftsmanship.

The Finding of Moses recalls the popularity of this subject in Genoese art of the period, specifically of Paolo Veronese’s (1528–1588) many versions of the theme. The depiction of space ranges from a dense portrayal of the foreground to a light sketch of the background, while the movement of the figures is simultaneously sculptural and effortlessly mobile. A rich layering of techniques implies that the palette Baciccio used to create the work is unusually large and saturated for a drawing of the period. Despite the scale and economy of the work, the rhyming gestures and facial expressions of the figures portray sincere surprise, concern, and tenderness. This drawing reveals a creative process that is systematic, but completely personal, and demonstrates the Genoese preference for highly finished and marketable graphic works.

Gift of Tilt-Top Center Table by Duncan Phyfe

Duncan Phyfe (1768–1854) was the premier furniture maker in New York during the first half of the 19th century. Working in a refined neoclassical style, he won the admiration of wealthy homeowners in New York, Philadelphia, and the South. The National Gallery of Art has been given an important center table by Phyfe dating to 1825–1830 from the collection of John B. Bolton.

Featuring a tripod pillar-and-claw base, the table has a circular top composed of a rayed pattern of book-matched, flame-grained mahogany veneers. A star-shaped disk of light-colored burlwood sits at the center. Lighter and more mobile than traditional card tables, this example has a top that tilts up, allowing it to be tucked into the corner of a room where its surface could still be admired. The veneered pattern resembles those created by a kaleidoscope—an optical device that won international popularity after it was patented by the Scottish scientist David Brewster in 1817. Phyfe may have been directly inspired in his design by looking through a kaleidoscope. The table appears to have held personal significance for Phyfe. He gave it to his daughter, possibly as a wedding gift in 1825.

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