Friday, 7 October 2016

To recover history from peril: on the dealer Paul Rosenberg and the Nazi seizure of Modern art

My latest article for The Art Newspaper, a review of the exhibition 21 rue La Boétie at La Boverie in Liège...

Anne Sinclair with her grandfather Paul Rosenberg. 
Photo: Sinclair Family
Woman in Blue in Front of a Fire, which was painted by Matisse in March 1937, has an interesting history. From the year it was painted until the Nazis invaded France in 1940, it was in the possession of the influential art dealer and collector Paul Rosenberg (1881-1959). To save it from loss—or worse, destruction—Rosenberg locked the painting with others in a bank vault in Libourne in southwest France, but in March 1941, the Nazis seized its contents. Soon after, it entered the collection of Hermann Göring and later vanished. It was next displayed at the Henie Onstad Kunstsenter in Norway in 1968, and only recognised as one of Rosenberg's missing paintings in 2012, when it was lent to the Centre Pompidou. After it was returned to Paul Rosenberg's descendants two years later, the family sold it to a private collector.

This painting is on view in the exhibition 21 rue La Boétie at La Boverie in Liège, Belgium, and is just one of many intriguing stories to be discovered in this highly enjoyable presentation. The exhibition—named after the address of Paul Rosenberg's Paris gallery—follows the timeline of Rosenberg's life and profession: the rise of art dealers in the late 19th century; his dealings with some of the greatest artists of his day; the Nazi invasion of France and their looting of Modern art; and Rosenberg's time in New York and his attempts to recover his lost works of art.

To read the rest of the article, follow the link: To Recover History From Peril

Friday, 23 September 2016

Egypt’s Mallawi Museum reopens with looted collection mostly restored

My latest article for The Art Newspaper...

Mallawi Museum. Photo: Ministry of Antiquities
The Mallawi Museum, in Egypt’s Al Minya Governorate, reopened this week after a £864,000 renovation. Most of the museum’s 1,000-piece collection has also been recovered from looters and is back on display.

The museum was ransacked in August 2013 during a period of violence in the country following the ousting of the former president Mohamed Morsi. The looters shot one member of the museum staff dead and stole almost all of the artefacts on display. Other items, too large to remove, were vandalised, destroyed or burned. The objects stolen predominantly date to the Graeco-Roman Period and included jewellery, shabti figurines depicting workers in the afterlife, statues of the gods Osiris, Isis, Hathor and Thoth, pottery, papyri, gold coins and wooden coffins.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Portugal: The Pilgrim's Steps: Life, Death, and the Afterlife in Porto and Braga

Here's the opening of my latest article for Timeless Travels...

Bom Jesus do Monte. Photo: Garry Shaw.
Anybody who tells you that the first step is always the hardest has never tried walking the nearly 600 steps that lead to the Catholic church of Bom Jesus do Monte near Braga, Portugal. In my humble opinion, having completed the pilgrimage, the last one is far worse, particularly when it’s raining. This exquisite baroque church at the hill’s summit has been the goal of sweaty, panting pilgrims since the 19th century, but earlier incarnations have existed on the same spot for far longer, probably all the way back to the 14th century. Since that time, the climb from the bottom of the hill to its top has represented a journey towards purification and salvation – a stairway to heaven. And like any pilgrimage, it isn’t easy. To reach the peak, pilgrims must ascend three separate stairways – built successively since the early 18th century, set among the hillside’s dense forest – stopping at chapels on platforms along the way to make offerings. Each chapel, spread along the route, represents a stage in the story of the Passion of Christ – Jesus’ journey towards his crucifixion. Your struggle to reach the church is a spiritual quest, meant to bring you closer to Christ.

You can download a pdf of the full article here: The Pilgrim's Steps: Life, Death, and the Afterlife in Porto and Braga.

And if you enjoy it, please buy the Autumn 2016 issue of Timeless Travels! It's full of wonderful history-themed travel pieces. You can find it at:

Thursday, 15 September 2016

France: The Other Rome: Adventures In and Around Avignon

Here's the first paragraph of my article from the Summer 2016 issue of Timeless Travels...

The Palace of the Popes at Avignon
Photo: Garry Shaw
'Sur le Pont d'Avignon, l'on y danse, l'on y danse, sur le Pont d'Avignon l'on y danse tous en rond’ goes the French children's song, composed in the 19th century, but based on a much older tradition of songs about the Provençal city's famous bridge. Seemingly known by every French-speaking person on earth, the lyrics translate as, ‘On the Bridge of Avignon, we dance there, we dance there, on the Bridge of Avignon, we dance there all in a circle.’ Much to my embarrassment, until planning my trip to Avignon, I hadn't heard of this song, but for my Francophone friends, it was a completely different story: to them, I'd be embarking on a pilgrimage. ‘First see the papal palace,’ they said (popes? in Avignon? I thought, keeping quiet about my ignorance). ‘And then go stand on the bridge, sing the song and dance in a circle. It's what you're supposed to do there.’ Well, I figured, if it's what you're supposed to do. Why not?

You can download a pdf of the full article here: The Other Rome: Adventures In and Around Avignon.

And if you enjoy it, please buy the Summer 2016 issue of Timeless Travels! It's full of wonderful history-themed travel pieces. You can find it at:

Canada: Time Travelling in Nova Scotia

Here's the first paragraph of my article from the Spring 2016 issue of Timeless Travels...

Major's Point Acadian Cemetery in Nova
Scotia. Photo: Garry Shaw
The year is 1744, and I arrive at the gates of the fortified town of Louisbourg a little apprehensive – would the French sentry, dressed in his blue military uniform, and – a little more worryingly – holding a long rifle, let me, a Brit – the enemy – into the fortress? I’d read that the garrison allowed local people in and out of the fort during daylight hours (with the gates sealed at night), but the guards were always on the lookout for British spies. Their test, so I’d read, was simple: if you spoke French, then you were ok. If not, then you were a spy and imprisoned. Luckily, the sentries were also known for taking bribes, but what if I met one of those pesky rule-abiding ones?

You can download a pdf of the full article here: Time Travelling in Nova Scotia: Reliving Canada's Colonial Past

And if you enjoy it, please buy the Spring 2016 issue of Timeless Travels! It's full of wonderful history-themed travel pieces. You can find it at:

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Archaeological work at Ephesus shut down by Turkish government

My latest article for The Art Newspaper...

Conservators work on a mosaic in the court of a house in
Ephesus, showing a Nereid sitting on the back of a
hippocampus (Photo: CCA)
Turkey’s crackdown on dissent has spread to the field of archaeology, with a dig at the ancient site of Ephesus in western Turkey suspended because of a political dispute with Austria. The project, run by the Austrian Archaeological Institute, was forced by the Turkish government to stop work at the end of August, despite two more months of planned conservation at the site.

“I regret this decision very much because it mixes politics and science, and is inconsistent with the partnership that we have fostered over many years in Ephesus,” Austria’s vice chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner, told the Austrian edition of The Local. “With this step, the freedom of science is continuing to decline.”

You can read the rest of the article here: Archaeological work at Ephesus shut down by Turkish government.

Friday, 2 September 2016

The Michelangelo Code

A short piece that I wrote for The Art Newspaper...

The Sistine Chapel. Photo Jean-Christophe Benoist
The Sistine Chapel is decorated with some of the world's most famous frescoes, instantly recognisable and seen by millions of people every year. But a new article in the Journal of Clinical Anatomy argues that there’s more to Michelangelo’s masterpiece than first meets the eye. Researchers argue that Michelangelo encoded pagan female imagery in his frescoes, perhaps as a sneaky way of revering the feminine at a time when the Catholic Church regarded men as superior to women. At the ceiling’s exact centre is an image of Eve, her arms forming a downward-pointing triangle—a yonic symbol. Meanwhile, running along the edge of the ceiling, eight prominent triangles—this time pointing upwards, representing the phallus—contain family groups dominated by mother figures, perhaps to show the importance of both parents. At the peak of each triangle is a bull’s skull with horns, thought by pagans to resemble a uterus and fallopian tubes; by overlapping the peak of each male triangle with the skull, Michelangelo was probably representing sexual union. Perhaps Dan Brown should have written The Michelangelo Code instead?

The original article can be found here: The Michelangelo Code.