Acquisition Highlights 2009

The museum acquired a number of significant works of art at its September meeting. The three pieces described here are among the most noteworthy.

Mino da Fiesole (Italian, c. 1429–1484). Julius Caesar, c. 1455–60. Marble with traces of bole and gilding, mounted with mortar into limestone with traces of polychromy

A commanding 15th-century marble relief by Mino da Fiesole depicts Julius Caesar in profile, carved with a Latin abbreviation of his name. Caesar appears worn by the burdens of office, with signs of aging carefully described, including crow’s feet, a wrinkled brow, and sagging chin, while his idiosyncratic, antique-inspired robe is pinned in three locations. The relief rests inside a large  limestone block, suggesting that the object was originally set into a wall. Mino is one of a handful of great Italian sculptors of monumental objects working in the 1400s, and this particular work fills a significant gap in this part of the museum’s collection, until now almost exclusively composed of religious subjects and largely featuring small-scale objects. The work also makes key connections to the museum’s Italian Renaissance medals and plaquettes as well as one of the CMA’s great sculptures, the Madonna and Child by Mino da Fiesole, a marvelous religious counterpoint to the secular Julius Caesar. The work is on view in Gallery 214, on the sightline from the Rotunda through the Reid Gallery.

Nancy Spero (American, b. 1926). Codex Artaud XXI, 1972. Cut and pasted papers, printed text, watercolor, metallic paint, pen, and stamped ink

The Codex Artaud by Nancy Spero is a series of drawings uniting texts by Antoine Artaud, the French actor, playwright, and poet of highly allusive writings, with Spero’s decidedly personal imagery. The codex, 34 scrolls made of sheets of paper pasted end to end, centers on Spero’s creation of a specifically female pictorial language; the series is now considered the artist’s signature work. The Codex presents an extract from Atraud’s writings using a pristine array of typed capital letters along with Spero’s graphic additions of two converging cross-hatched triangles, a tiny woman riding a rat, and a heroic male nude holding a sword. Spero holds an important place in the feminist art movement of the 1960s and 1970s which addressed the exclusion and alienation experienced by most women artists in the aftermath of Abstract Expressionism and the engagement of younger male artists in the iconography of popular culture and mass media imagery.  Rock at Sea is a superb example of early American modernist painting by the little-known 

Raymond Jonson (American, 1891–1982). Rock at Sea, 1920–22. Oil on canvas

Raymond Jonson. Practicing his craft first in Chicago and then in Albuquerque, Jonson is best known for co-founding the Transcendental Painting Group, a consortium based in New Mexico and California that constituted a West Coast correlative to the Abstract American Artists organization in New York. Rock at Sea exhibits a number of diverse influences that, combined, give Jonson’s painting a unique character. The painting’s visionary rendering of nature, centered around a large stony mass in cobalt blue and violet hues, embodies the artist’s longstanding interest in communicating mystical concepts through art. Also apparent are a variety of visual cues adopted from Jonson’s avant-garde stage designs, as well as those by the Russian scenic designer and painter Nicholas Roerich, whom Jonson regarded as a kindred spirit. Dating to early in Jonson’s career, this work is apparently his first painting to exhibit the radically reductive and decorative tendencies seen in avant-garde scenic design.


Cleveland Art, November 2009