Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, and other citizens and artists are consulted as to the best location for Michelangelo’s David.
After two years of work by Michelangelo, Florentine authorities had to acknowledge that the more than 6-ton statue couldn’t be placed on the roof of the Cathedral of Santa Maria de Fiore, as they originally intended.
Leonardo da Vinci and Sandro Botticelli sat on the committee of citizens and artists which was consulted to solve the problem of where to place David. They entertained nine different sites. One group, including da Vinci, believed that, due to the imperfections in the marble, the sculpture should be placed under the roof of the Loggia dei Lanzi on Piazza della Signoria. Botticelli advocated for placing the sculpture on or near the cathedral. The winning vote said to situate it at the entrance to the Palazzo della Signoria, the city’s town hall (now known as Palazzo Vecchio).
Today, David holds court in the Accademia Gallery.
Fun Fact: In 2010, a fiberglass replica was placed on the roof of the cathedral, for one day only, so that the sculpture could be seen as it was originally intended.
January 24, 1906
At his office on Wall Street in New York, multi-millionaire and book collector J. Pierpont Morgan met with Seattle photographer Edward Curtis to discuss funding for Curtis’ pet project: a visual and textual documentation of all Native American tribes.
Curtis had been distressed for some time over the forced assimilation of Native Americans by the US government. At that time, the government forcibly removed Native American children from their families and put them in special boarding schools designed to wipe away all traces of their heritage. Entire Native American nations were relocated to unfamiliar climates and geographies that didn’t support their survival skills, like the Nez Perce who were moved from the Northwest to an arid reservation in what is now Oklahoma. (Most of the Nez Perce nation subsequently died of starvation, as well as malaria).
Curtis recognized that the nations were rapidly losing their customs, rituals, and way of life, and while he couldn’t do anything to stop it, he decided to document what remained in order that they wouldn’t be forgotten.
Working independently, he spent several summers visiting many tribes. He photographed them, recorded their languages and songs on a wax recorder (when he was allowed) and attempted to learn their customs, religions, and world views. Although he was an extremely successful high-society portrait photographer, even photographing President Theodore Roosevelt’s children, his attempt to fund the project alone left him perpetually on the verge of bankruptcy (not to mention divorce). He began seeking support from institutions and individuals with an interest in the subject, or the means to make a difference. J. Pierpont Morgan mostly fell into the second category, though he had also built a reputation as a collector of rare and artistic books.
In a letter the day before the meeting, Curtis wrote to Morgan:
As to the artistic merit, it must speak for itself, and no one can be a better judge of that than yourself. I feel the work is worthwhile and as a monumental thing, nothing can exceed it. I have the ability, strength, and determination to finish the undertaking, but have gone to the end of my means and must ask someone to join me in the undertaking and make it possible for all ages of Americans to see what the American Indian was like.”
At the meeting, Morgan initially declined to contribute any funding for the project, but Curtis persisted and showed him a portfolio of his evocative and technically perfect Native American photos. Morgan finally agreed to fund $75,000 over five years for fieldwork (hiring interpreters and other staff, paying for travel, etc), for the documentation of all tribes that was eventually compiled into three volumes.
It should be noted that under the arrangement, Curtis actually worked for free, like so many artists before and after him. His photography and processing of the images, his writing the text, his labor on the fact-finding trips, and his hustling of subscriptions in order to pay for the printing and binding of the books–were all unpaid.
January 23, 1943
Peggy Guggenheim visits Jackson Pollock’s studio for the first time.
She was one of the most important art patrons ever, paying him a salary, giving him his first exhibition in 1950, and nurturing Abstract Expressionism (along with many other European and American artists, as well as Surrealism). Although the movie Pollock depicts them having an affair, the real-life Peggy thought Pollock drank too much and did not allow him to be one of her 1000+ conquests.
January 22, 2010
A visitor at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art accidentally fell into The Actor, a 105-year-old painting by Pablo Picasso, causing a 6-inch gash in the canvas. (It was a student doing research for a college class. Oops! As a teacher leading field trips, this was my nightmare). It has since been repaired.
The Actor is also notable for being the transition out of Picasso’s Blue Period (he’d recently found a new girlfriend, and the end of a cold winter was in sight), and into his exploration of the theatrical world of jugglers and acrobats.
Julia Morgan, brilliant architect at a time when women weren’t allowed to do that, and feminist pioneer, was born on this day in San Francisco.
She always wanted to be an architect, but had to study civil engineering at UC Berkeley (my alma mater) because there was no architecture major there. She was the only female in her class. She was a student of Bernard Maybeck, who encouraged her to apply to his alma mater: the architecture program at l’École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. She was initially denied entrance because they had a no-female policy.
She was the first female graduate there, and the first female architect ever licensed in California. Employed in John Galen Howard’s firm, she worked on several buildings on the UC Berkeley campus. Howard once told a colleague that Morgan was “an excellent draftsman whom I have to pay almost nothing, as it is a woman.”
She opened her own firm in 1904, and designed more than 700 buildings. She specialized in California buildings for institutions serving women and girls like the YWCA, Berkeley Womens City Club, and Mills College.
At Mills, Morgan’s designs included El Campanil, believed to be the first bell tower on a United States college campus. Morgan became fairly famous when the tower was not damaged in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. It also demonstrated her knowledge (which was rare then) of steel-reinforced concrete, which held up well in quakes.
She practiced in the Arts and Crafts style and is probably best known for her 30+ years of work on Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California. This compound is notable for being excessive and also gorgeous. It was the first zoo in the country, at a time when zoos weren’t organized yet; it was really just a private collection of exotic animals. It featured a private movie theater, before that was de rigeur. There is a movable ceiling that can be dropped down to change the look and feel of the room. It was the inspiration for the home in Citizen Kane. If you’re on California’s Central Coast, this is the best thing you can see. Make it a road trip! I absolutely love it.
We were very proud of Julia Morgan on the campus and in the city of Berkeley, although she was probably underrecognized outside of the Bay Area until recently. Not only was she an accomplished architect with an elegant eye, she was a pioneer for women. Julia Morgan is the first woman to receive the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal, which she received posthumously in 2014.
January 19, 1954
Cindy Sherman, American artist, was born. She is known for playing multiple roles in the creation of her photos, such as serving as her own make-up artist, hairdresser, and model, as well as photographer. Additionally, although her portraits are of herself, they aren’t truly self-portraits, since she takes on another persona. For example, she posed as 50s-style actresses in her film stills, or painstakingly reenacted famous paintings from art history by donning prosthetics as necessary, or posing as males.
Fun Fact: Cindy Sherman is the stepmom of actress Gaby Hoffmann (the little girl from Field of Dreams and Sleepless in Seattle, the girlfriend in You Can Count on Me–probably my favorite movie, most recently seen on TV in Louie and Girls).
January 18, 1890
Vincent Van Gogh shows six paintings at the opening of the 7th annual Vingtistes exhibition in Brussels. The Vingtistes were a Belgian group of avant-garde Neo-Impressionists, known for their use of bright color.
January 17, 1931
Diego Rivera, the great Mexican artist and muralist, begins work on the first of his murals in the United States. The mural Allegory of California graces the stairwell of the City Club (formerly the Pacific Stock Exchange Club). (By the way, the Club is considered the best interior in the Art Deco style in San Francisco, and among the best in California).
January 16, 1939 Arshile Gorky temporarily leaves the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration (which created employment during the Great Depression) to work on a mural called Man’s Conquest of the Air (now destroyed) for the Aviation Building at the New York World’s Fair.
Fun Fact: Gorky was born in Armenia, now Russia, and painted Garden in Sochi, where the Winter Olympics are about to be held.
January 14, 1506
The Vatican Museums got their start on this date with the purchase of the sculpture of Laocoön and his Sons.
Earlier, the marble sculpture had been discovered in a vineyard in Rome. After sending Michelangelo and another artist to evaluate the find, Pope Julius II decided to purchase it from the owner of the vineyard, based on the artists’ report. The pope put the sculpture on display at the Vatican a month later. (It’s still there).
The sculpture depicts the mythological priest Laocoön and his sons being attacked by sea serpents. In Greek mythology, Laocoön was a priest of Poseidon, living in Troy. When the Trojan Horse showed up at the city gates, he was suspicious. He believed it was a ruse and tried to prove it by striking it with a spear. However, he and his sons were swiftly killed by sea serpents, obviously sent by Poseidon. The deaths were interpreted by the Trojans as proof that the horse was a sacred object, and uh oh, it was let in the gates. We all know how that turned out.
The sculpture was probably commissioned originally for the home of a wealthy Roman, possibly in the Imperial family, between 27 BC and 68 AD.
January 13, 1911
A discharged Navy cook named Ligrist attacked The Night Watch by Rembrandt, one of the most popular paintings in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. He used a shoemaker’s knife, but luckily could not cut through the thick varnish on the painting. (Painters, take note!). This was the first, but not last, time this painting would be vandalized.
Jan 12, 1773
The Charleston Museum, in Charleston, SC, was established in 1773 while South Carolina was still a British colony.
Its founding was inspired in part by the creation of the British Museum in 1759. Operations were off to a rocky start in the early years, since museum business was suspended during the Revolutionary War, and many of the original collections were destroyed by fire in 1778. However, collecting resumed in the 1790s, and the museum is still in operation.
January 11, 1449
Domenico Ghirlandaio, a Renaissance painter, was born in Florence, Italy. One of his students was Michelangelo. They were not close, perhaps because Ghirlandaio was threatened by his student’s talent. Ghirlandaio was known for being aggressive and cutthroat, and once sent his brother out of town for an extended period in order to avoid the competition. Ghirlandaio died on the same date in 1494.