365 Days of Art: December 31 – Brunelleschi Wins Competition to Top Duomo with Lantern

August 19-Duomo

December 31, 1436

Wardens for the Santa Maria Fiore cathedral meet in Florence to award the winner of a competition to top the Duomo with a lantern. There are five entries, and Brunelleschi wins. This is a like an Oscar-winner having to audition for a bit part, though: Brunelleschi has already built the duomo, inventing machinery to make it happen, engineering something many people think isn’t possible…and they didn’t trust him enough to put the cherry on top? That stings.

365 Days of Art: December 30 – Mob Destroys Michelangelo’s Statue

Raphael, Pope Julius II, 1511-1512
Raphael, Pope Julius II, 1511-1512

December 30, 1511

Michelangelo’s statue of his frenemy Pope Julius II, who is patron of the Sistine Chapel and other projects, is destroyed by a mob. The tie a rope around its neck and pull the 10,000 pound statue from its pedestal. It smashes into pieces, but not before it leaves a crater in the ground. Alfonso d’Este, an enemy of Julius, melts it into cannon–an ignominious end!

365 Days of Art: December 29 – Eisenhower Orders Soldiers to Take Responsibility for Protecting World’s Art

General Eisenhower surveying looted artwork.
General Eisenhower surveying looted artwork.

December 29, 1943

In an extraordinary memo, General Dwight Eisenhower clearly and directly charges each soldier with the responsibility of protecting the world’s cultural treasures:

To: All Commanders

Today we are fighting in a country which has contributed a great deal to our cultural inheritance, a country rich in monuments which by their creation helped and now in their old age illustrate the growth of the civilization which is ours. We are bound to respect those monuments so far as war allows.

If we have to choose between destroying a famous building and sacrificing our own men, then our men’s lives count infinitely more and the building must go. But the choice is not always so clear-cut as that. In many cases the monuments can be spared without any detriment to operational needs. Nothing can stand against the argument of military necessity. That is an accepted principle. But the phrase “military necessity” is sometimes used where it would be more truthful to speak of military convenience or even of personal convenience. I do not want it to cloak slackness or indifference.

It is a responsibility of higher commanders to determine through A.M.G. Officers the locations of historical monuments whether they be immediately ahead of our front lines or in areas occupied by us. This information passed to lower echelons through normal channels places the responsibility of all Commanders of complying with the spirit of this letter.


365 Days of Art: December 28 – Leonardo Sketches Hanged Corpse

Leonardo da Vinci, Study of the Hanged Bernardo di Bandino Baroncelli, assassin of Giuliano de Medici, 1479
Leonardo da Vinci, Study of the Hanged Bernardo di Bandino Baroncelli, assassin of Giuliano de Medici, 1479

December 28, 1479

Leonardo sketches the hanging of corpse of Bernardo di Bandino Baroncelli, who is executed for last year’s murder of Giuliano de Medici.

That murder is organized by the Pazzi family, in a power grab, as they hope to replace the incredibly influential Medici family as political and civic leaders. A gang of assassins surround Giuliano in the Duomo, with Baroncelli being the first to strike at him with a dagger. Giuliano dies, but the plot goes wrong, and Baroncelli has to flee to Istanbul. Unfortunately for him, Istanbul has very lucrative trade agreements with Florence, and they’re happy to extradite him back to Florence upon request.

Remember also that the Medici family is one of the biggest supporters of the arts, which may explain Leonardo’s marking of the event in his journal. Or perhaps he’s there only as a native Florentine, interested in current events; this would surely be big news and a well-attended public occasion.

Accompanying the drawing, Leonardo takes stock of Baroncelli’s clothing:

A tan colored skull-cap, a doublet of black serge, a black jerkin, lined and the collar covered with a black and red stippled velvet.
A blue coat lined with fur of fox’s breasts.
Black hose.
Bernardo di Bandino Baroncelli.

365 Days of Art: December 27 – NYC Mayor Doesn’t Understand Gorky’s Work

Arshile Gorky, Man's Conquest of the Air, 1939 World's Fair mural, now destroyed
Arshile Gorky, Man’s Conquest of the Air, 1939 World’s Fair mural, now destroyed

December 27, 1935

At the opening for a group exhibition that features one of Gorky’s sketches, for his airport mural, New York City Mayor Fiorella La Guardia meets Gorky, views his work, and tells a reporter:

I am conservative in my art, as I am a progressive in my politics. That’s why I perhaps cannot understand it.”

Poor Gorky!

365 Days of Art: December 26 – Diego Conquers NY

Diego Rivera, Agrarian Leader Zapata, 1931
Diego Rivera, Agrarian Leader Zapata, 1931

December 26, 1931

New York art critic Henry McBride describes Diego Rivera as “the most talked-about man on this side of the Atlantic”.

At this point, he’s installed as artist-in-residence at special studio space within MoMA, creating a total of eight “portable murals” that are exhibited for five weeks from December to January. The exhibition, only MoMA’s second to feature just one artist, is setting exhibition records. Diego is working around the clock with two assistants to depict Mexican subject matter, and for the final three murals, turns his attention to New York’s working class during the Great Depression. He loves the attention and publicity he’s getting, and the painting above, Agrarian Leader Zapata, is one of MoMA’s most prized works.

365 Days of Art: December 25 – Cornell Prefers His Exhibitions to Fall on Christmas

Cockatoo with Watch Faces, by Joseph Cornell, 1949
Cockatoo with Watch Faces, by Joseph Cornell, 1949

December 25

This is one of the most important dates on the calendar for Joseph Cornell, because he is born the day before, on December 24. His associations with happy childhood memories lead him to try to arrange all of his exhibitions to coincide with his birthday, and therefore, most of them fall on Christmas as well. Dealers are happy to comply with this request, since Cornell’s work–already attractively boxed–can easily be marketed as holiday gifts.

He’s emerged as one of my favorite artists of the year, from his children-only art exhibition, to his heartfelt sadness over Marilyn Monroe’s death, to his courteous correspondence, his sweet tooth and love of animals, and his genuine joy at small moments.

I feel compelled to point out that Cornell would’ve hated this project because he put no importance whatsoever on specific calendar dates.

365 Days of Art: December 24 – Las Meninas Saved from Fire; Over 500 Other Works Burned

Las Meninas, by Diego Velazquez, 1656
Las Meninas, by Diego Velazquez, 1656

December 24, 1734

Las Meninas by Velasquez is saved from a devastating fire by throwing it out the window. The fire at the Alcazar, where the Spanish royal family lives, originates in the rooms of French painter Jean Ranc. Alarm bells are mistaken for the call to Christmas Eve Mass, so the fire takes hold and burns for four days, completely destroying the Alcazar in the process. Many more artworks would have been lost, except that King Philip reorganizes and moves much of his art collection just before the fire.

365 Days of Art: December 23 – Vincent Cuts Off Ear

Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, 1889
Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, 1889

December 23, 1888

After an argument with his housemate and fellow artist Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh cuts off at least part of his own ear.

Many details are missing or unclear, since Vincent himself has no memory of the incident.

We know that Gauguin and Vincent are housemates, and that Vincent has been dreaming of this artist residency for some time. These two strong personalities clash, and as they continue to fight, Vincent probably becomes distraught as he realizes Gauguin wants to leave. There is probably a final confrontation earlier in the day. That evening, van Gogh cuts his left ear with a razor, either removing the entire ear, or a good piece of it. Ear wounds are known to bleed heavily, and he begins losing a large amount of blood right away. He bandages the wound, wraps up the ear, and delivers it to a brothel where both he and Gauguin are clients. (The local newspaper reports that van Gogh has given the ear to a prostitute with an instruction to guard it carefully). He goes home, collapses from loss of blood, and is discovered the next morning by the police.

At the hospital, Vincent repeatedly asks for Gauguin, who never comes. In fact, they never see each other again. Gauguin notifies Vincent’s brother Theo, and tells one of the policeman investigating the case:

Be kind enough, Monsieur, to awaken this man with great care, and if he asks for me tell him I have left for Paris; the sight of me might prove fatal for him.”

Vincent is able to return to the Yellow House by the beginning of January, but suffers repeatedly from hallucinations all month long.

Fun Fact: Gauguin discusses the incident in his memoirs, though many historians find his account to exaggerate his own role in what contemporary doctors have called Vincent’s psychotic break. For example, Gauguin says that Vincent attacks him with a razor prior to cutting his ear, and that Vincent’s instructions ask for the ear to be delivered to Gauguin.

365 Days of Art: December 21 – Donors Raise $68M to Keep Painting in Philly

The Gross Clinic, by Thomas Eakins, 1875
The Gross Clinic, by Thomas Eakins, 1875

December 21, 2006

A group of Philadelphia donors raises $68,000,000 to keep the painting The Gross Clinic by favorite son Thomas Eakins in Philadelphia.

A month earlier, the painting breaks auction records (highest price for an Eakins painting, and highest price for an American portrait) when it sells jointly to the National Gallery of Art and the Crystal Bridges Museum. The deal to keep it in Philly matches that price, and will display it alternately at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where Eakins once taught (and was fired).

365 Days of Art: December 17 – Man Buys Raffle Ticket; Wins a Picasso!

Pablo Picasso, Man in the Opera Hat, 1914
Pablo Picasso, Man in the Opera Hat, 1914

December 17, 2013

A 25-year old man wins a Picasso after buying a $140 raffle ticket.

Jeffrey Gonano, who works for his family’s fire sprinkler business, says he’s considering loaning the piece to a museum so that it can be enjoyed by the public. He sounds like a nice, down-to-earth guy, saying that entering the raffle is an extension of a newfound interest in art. His girlfriend even buys him a photograph by a Buddhist artist for Christmas.

I’m glad I actually gave it to him before,” she said, “because if I gave it to him afterward, that would look pretty insignificant compared to a Picasso.”