Reading Inscriptions in the Collection

Our Reading Drawings Display, in the Gilbert and Ildiko Butler Drawings Gallery until 4 June, looks at a selection of works from The Courtauld Gallery’s collection which demonstrate the varying reasons both artists and collectors wrote on drawings. These range from straightforward signatures to lengthy captions, invented languages and marks of ownership. However, it’s not just this temporary display that features inscriptions revealing essential information about a work of art’s authorship, dating, subject matter, purpose and history. The Courtauld’s full collection has its own plethora of written word on a variety of materials, detailing an array of interesting snippets of information.

Monumental Inscriptions

Roman funerary altar (1st century AD)

Roman funerary altar (1st century AD)

The inscription here mentions the stone was made by Lucceia Hebene for her husband, Marcus Lucceius Optatus, and daughter, who died at five years and three months. What it does not tell us, but can be deduced from the name itself, is that Hebbene (or Hebene) was a freed slave, possibly a black freed slave. (There is an associated altar, dedicated to Lucceia Hebene herself, in a castle in Scotland.)

The art and craft of lettering

Inscription, 1918, Eric Gill (1882-1940)

This carved limestone inscription reads ‘OPTIMA ET PULCHERRIMA VITAE SVPELLEX AMICTIA’. This is adapted from Cicero’s De Amicitia and means ‘The best and most beautiful support of life is friendship’. Inscribed on the right side is the name of the sculptor and date of the work, ‘EGill 1918’.

Monograms and signatures

Portrait of Mette Gauguin, 1877, Paul Gauguin

The inscription on this bust is signed and carved below the collar: P. Gauguin. Only two marble sculptures by Gauguin are known, this portrait head of his Danish wife Mette and one of his son, Emile, carved in the same year. At the time the Gauguin family was living in an apartment in the Rue des Fourneaux, in Paris, which belonged to a sculptor named Bouillot. Considering Gauguin’s inexperience as a sculptor in marble, and the highly accomplished naturalism of this work, it seems likely that Bouillot assisted Gauguin in the carving, but to what extent is not known.

Virgin and Child, Circa 1365-70, Barnaba da Modena

This small work was made for private devotion. For this purpose, Christ’s scroll is inscribed with one of the beatitudes: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’. The text along the bottom, ‘Barnaba da Modena painted (this)’, is a rare early example of a painter’s signature. Born in Modena in central Italy, Barnaba spent most of his career in Genoa. The heavy shading of the Virgin’s face and the gold striations on her mantle are derived from Byzantine art. This slightly archaic style may account for Barnaba’s success in Genoa, where Byzantine painting had long been dominant.

Enamel plaque painted in grisaille with David and Goliath, probably French 19th Century in the style of the 16th century

This enamel plaque shows David and Goliath, with ‘P.R.’ on the bottom of the triumphal arch. Signed enamels with the monogram ‘P.R.’ usually means they were either made in the ‘workshop of Pierre Reymond’, or by Pierre Reymond himself. However, it is thought that this work is a highly skilled 19th century forgery done in the style of Pierre Reymond.

These are just a few examples of the types of inscriptions that can be found within The Courtauld Gallery’s collection, both online and in the Gallery itself. Next time you’re visiting us, why not take a closer look at the works and delve into the world of writing and markings on works of art, and for all art that is not currently on display, you can find out more on them on our Art and Architecture website.

Visit Reading Drawings, on display until 4 June 2017

CELEBRATING LONDON’S BEST PAINTINGS

 

Front cover of TimeOut London from 14 October 2014

Last week The Courtauld Gallery was recognised as London’s top destination for paintings, with A Bar at the Folies-Bergère taking first place in a poll by leading art world figures.

This masterpiece from our collection made it through a tough nomination process, 600 artworks were initially selected by ‘top figures in the art world’ and a second vote narrowed the number of paintings to just 100.

Édouard Manet, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, 1881-82

Édouard Manet, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, 1881-82

It wasn’t just the top spot we claimed, Gauguin’s Nevermore was also selected in the top ten and placed seventh.

View of Nevermore by Paul Gauguin, painted in 1897

Paul Gauguin, Nevermore, 1897

TimeOut is also asking its readers to tell them their favourite, voting is open so why not take part?

This isn’t the first time this year that A Bar at The Folies Bergeres has reached the top spot, winning “most unforgettable face” in poll by the The Guardian.

It’s not hard to see why it is one of the art world’s best-loved works; this masterpiece helped define modern painting in the 19th century with its unorthodox composition of figures in space, and with the barmaid’s notorious look conveying mystery and melancholy to the viewer.

Painted between 1881 – 1882 and first exhibited in 1882at the annual fine arts exhibition in Paris, the Salon, this work was  bought by Samuel Courtauld in 1926 and it consequently became part of The Courtauld Gallery Collection when Samuel Courtauld bequeathed his collection to The Courtauld Institute of Art.

For more information watch our short film here.

Why not tell us about your favourite works from our collection in the comments below?