Gianna Visits the Making Marvels Exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

March 15, 2020 | By Gianna Pergamo

Making Marvels

Artist Gianna Pergamo Visits the Making Marvels Exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Turban Snail Cup. Carving and engraving: Cornelius can Bellekin, Amsterdam, second half of. the 17th century. Mount: Johann Heinrich Kohler, Dresden, 1724. Green turban snail shell, silver (gilded).

When I was in New York two weeks ago, I lucked out because I was there right before the Making Marvels show ended at the Metropolitan Museum of Art… and I mean literally 3 days before it closed. I had been wanted to see this exhibit and didn’t think I’d make it to New York in time. The full name of the exhibit was, Making Marvels: Science & Splendor at the Courts of Europe. It basically covered 1550-1750 European creations made in the name of science, as science was growing and changing vastly. So basically, amazing inventions made out of gold, jewels, pearls, etc that were incredibly beautiful!! There were also a lot of objects from kunstkammers (cabinets of curiosities). I took a class called “Coconut Shells and Unicorn Horns” on kunstkammers in college and have been in love ever since!

Here’s the synopsis from the museum website:

“Between 1550 and 1750, nearly every royal family in Europe assembled vast collections of valuable and entertaining objects. Such lavish public spending and display of precious metals was considered an expression of power. Many princes also believed that the possession of artistic and technological innovations conveyed status, and these objects were often prominently showcased in elaborate court entertainments, which were characteristic of the period.

Making Marvels explores the complex ways in which the wondrous items collected by early modern European princes, and the contexts in which they were displayed, expressed these rulers’ ability to govern. Approximately 170 objects—including clocks, automata, furniture, musical instruments, jewelry, paintings, sculptures, print media, and more—from both The Met collection and over fifty lenders worldwide are featured. Visitors will discover marvelous innovations that engaged and delighted the senses of the past, much like twenty-first-century technology holds our attention today—through suspense, surprise, and dramatic transformations.”

There’s more photos on the MET website, but here are my photos of the things I found most intriguing!

Ewer and Basin with Lift Casts. Peter Kuster, German, ca 1550. In the Kunstkammer, wonders of art and nature were equally prized. Perfect imitation of plants and animals was difficult, and life casting allowed prices to examine elusive natural marvels.
Detail of Ewer and Basin with Life Casts. Note the tiny turtle!
Ostrich Egg Ewer. Hans Clauss I, German, ca 1630. Ostrich egg, silver (gilded). This piece blends observed behaviors of a an exotic animal with symbolic associations. For example, the ostrich is holding a horseshoe as they believed ostriches able to digest iron, which was viewed as a metaphor for strength.
Welcome Cup in the Form of a Fox Holding a Goose Paulus Tullner, 1565-1570, Silver (partially gilded)
Love this one so much!
Triumphal Arch with Obelisks. Johann Heinrich Kohler, German, before 1705. Silver (gilded), gold, enamel, cameos, gemstones. This is patterned after the ephemeral festival architecture of the Dresden court. The many black African busts show Augustus’s interest in the “exotic” world south of the Sahara.
Turned-Ivory Cup and Cover with Flower Finial. John William, German, 1688. Ivory (turned).
Musical Automaton Clock. Movement by Jan Carel Lambreghts (Belgian, Antwerp, ca. 1777 Metal (gilded), bronze, copper, silver, glass paste (cut), enamel
Close-up for the clock. These little dragon dudes have wings that would move on the hour!
Two spherical clocks, George Seydell, second half the 17th century. Silver and steel. YES THIS IS A CLOCK THAT IS HELD OUT BY A FAKE ARM! One sphere shows the hour, the other the minute. Is it weird I want this for my house?
Another angle. BTW, the hand represents the hand of God.
Automaton Clock in the Form of Diana on Her Chariot. South German ca. 1610. Case: ebony, bronze (gilded). Dials: silver (partially enameled). Movement: iron, brass. This clock would scoot across your table! The weirdest part is that the eyeballs move.
Automaton Clock with Bacchus Figure and Case. German, late 16th century. Iron, brass, copper (gilded), cold painting, opals, glass stones, leather. I’m not sure what to say about this one. It’s so opulent and the bacchus is so gross.
But the little animals are cute!
Turtle Automaton with Neptune as Vinter. Leodegar Grimaldo, German, 1626. Wood (painted), silver (gilded), iron, tortoiseshell. I love the automatons that were used in drinking games! This lil turtle would scuttle across the table, you’d drain the wine cup, and wind it up for the next person. Also the mix of natural materials with the metal is awesome.
Two more drinking game automatons
Mechanical Painting with Scene Changes. Attributed to Antoine Watteau, French, 1710. King Louis XIV of France collected these moving paintings. This reminds me of the kind of pop-up books that have all different kinds of moving parts. This painting is cool, but I feel like the things that change could be more interesting.
The back mechanic of the moving painting.
Reproduction of the Chess Player (The Turk). Original: Wolfgang von Kempelen, Austria ca 1769. Reproduction: John Gaughan, late 20th century. This was the last piece in the exhibit. The original Turk was touted as an android that could defeat chess masters. The original and its secrets were destroyed in a fire in 1854, but its creation inspired technology such as the power loom, telephone, and computer. I need to learn more about this one.
Grotesque Wild Boar. Caspar Beutmuller the Elder, German, 1603-9. Coconut, silver (gilded), residue of cold paint. Let’s end it on one of my favorites, this grotesque boar! Created it at a time when zoomorphic vessels were fashionable, this boar proudly sports a beak, wings, bird-like feet, and a curly tail.

I hope you enjoyed this post and learned a little something! I will be posting some personal art updates this week as I’ve been taking video of myself collaging. We are not sure if the Pinellas Arts Village Block pARTy will be happening this month or not yet because of the coronavirus situation. If you’d like to support an artist (me!) in this uncertain time, check out my website here

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