Welcome to WAM Updates

WAM Updates are short, informal posts that put the spotlight on small, but exciting, Museum-related projects, such as the addition of a new painting or sculpture to a gallery. They also serve as updates on staff, new services or programs, and other WAM news.

We hope you like reading the Updates! If you are interested in learning about something specific, or have a suggestion for a WAM Update, please update us at wamupdates@worcesterart.org

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Getting Pandora out of her Box

In the world of the collections management and registration, nimbleness and a willingness to think outside of the box is ever constant. As the collection database administrator, it sounds like my job is self-explanatory. So, if someone had asked me if I ever planned on developing a niche specialty for large object movement, I would have laughed and said no.

A protective box was placed around the sculpture prior to moving it.

Well, after over a year of close planning with multiple specialists, I now know the ins and outs of what is involved to move large, heavy objects—especially those trapped in WAM’s basement storage rooms!

Between November 4 – 6, 2019, Edward Augustus Brackett’s masterwork, Shipwrecked Mother and Child (1904.64), was freed from her storage tomb and put back onto public view. You may remember that the move was covered by the Worcester Telegram & Gazette and I was interviewed for WAM’s winter/spring 2020 issue of access magazine. However, since I am unable to take breaks from my desk at home to go admire her beauty, here’s a more in-depth, pictorial play-by-play of how the sculpture was moved.

One of the most stressful parts of this journey was clearing some major
 ductwork and landing on the other side. We just cleared it!

I hope, when you can visit our galleries again, you see the sculpture to gain an even deeper appreciation for what was involved to make her available to you. Please watch the exciting time-lapse video showing only one phase of the journey. Enjoy!

Congratulations to the intrepid team that successfully completed the move
of the sculpture to its current home.

  • A recent WAM Update, “Conserving a Shipwrecked Mother and Child,” examines the beginning stages of the sculpture’s conservation treatment. Read more here.

  • Watch the time-lapse video that shows one phase of the journey.

  • View a more in-depth, play-by-play of how the sculpture was moved here.

  • Learn more about this important conservation project here.

—Sarah Gillis
Associate Registrar for Collection Documentation
April 28, 2020

Friday, April 24, 2020

When in Rome: Hairstyles of the Rich and Famous

Missing your trips to the hair stylist? You can select your next style from 400 years of Roman coiffures. Remember that sculpture was normally polychromed to appear as lifelike as possible so let your imagination run wild as you peruse the possibilities!

Etruscan, Cinerary Urn, 160-140 BCE,
terracotta with traces of polychrome,
Museum Purchase, 1926.19

In the Museum's Roman Gallery is the Cinerary Urn, 160-140 BCE, from a tomb near Chiusi in central Italy. The old gent, reclining on top in a pose of eternal banqueting, is a fine example of late Roman sculpture in that he is naturalistically portrayed in a style known as verism. Derived from the Latin words for “real or “true” (verus), verism emphasized the solemnity and gravity of the person portrayed in a “warts and all” fashion.

Our old gent’s appearance is clean-shaven with short hair combed forward, which became the fashion since the coming of a Sicilian tonsor (barber) around 300 BCE to Rome. One thing you’ll notice is that Roman men never parted their hair, while this was common with women’s hair.

Men’s faces were shaved with iron or bronze razors with little more than water to soften the beard. Hair was cut with “spring” scissors, which resembled wool shears; pivoting types were not made until the first century CE though not in common use. The ordeal of being shaved and shorn was required for admittance to the Senate, as no beards were allowed.

Roman, Bust of Venus, first century BCE,
white marble, Museum Purchase, 1914.57

Thought to be a head and neck of a young Venus carved in a Greek style, the Bust of Venus, first century BCE, was made to be inserted in a full-length statue. She has ideal Greek features including the “Greek profile” with a straight nose bridge. Not Roman per se, she does illustrate the typical parting of the hair in both Greek and Roman women’s hairstyles.

Roman, Portrait of a Roman Matron, marble, 
circa 40-30 BCE, Museum Purchase, 1978.78

Another example of late Republican verism is along the east wall of the Roman Gallery. With male heads to either side, a respectable Roman matron stands in a niche just as she would have in her necropolis tomb.

To make sure everyone would know she was up-to-date with the latest style, her hair was done up in a “nodus”; a style popularized by Augustus’s sister Octavia. The hair was divided in three sections with the sides tied back in a bun and the center section looped back on itself creating a pompadour-like effect. As her head is veiled, we can only see the rolled-up hair.

One theory for Octavia’s adoption of the nodus was to compete with Cleopatra VII, who wore a royal crown and made off with her husband, Marcus Antonius. Big hair gives you power.

Roman, Caligula (Caius Caesar Augustus Germanicus)
37-40 CE, marble, Museum Purchase, 1914.23

Caligula (12-41 CE) was born Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus and earned his nickname meaning “Little Boots” from a little soldier’s outfit he wore traveling along with his mother on his father’s military campaigns.

After Caligula’s great grandfather, Octavian defeated Marcus Antonius at the battle of Actium, he took possession of what was to become the Roman Empire. Octavian, now called Augustus, credited his victory to the god Apollo and decided to create a personal image based on that god.

Augustus choose to adopt a Classicizing style of sculpture in the spirit of the canon or rule of Polyclitus merged with traditional Republican verism. The ultimate purpose was to project youth, beauty, and benevolence. The style is known as Julio-Claudian referring to the Julian (Augustus) and Claudian (Livia) families. The hallmarks of the style are a cap-like hairstyle combed forward into comma like curls on a broad forehead and a “V”-shaped face. All male family members until Claudius used this style to give themselves an air of legitimacy.

Is the WAM portrait a good likeness? Suetonius described Caligula as “… very tall and extremely pale, with a huge body, but very thin neck and legs. His eyes and temples were hollow; his forehead broad and grim ... his face was naturally forbidding and ugly.” As the upper classes hated Caligula, it would be natural for Suetonius to exaggerate negative aspects of Caligula’s appearance. Losers do not get to write history.

Roman, Emperor Nero, 64-68 CE, marble,
Museum Purchase, 1915.23

Nero, the last of the Julio-Claudian emperors was sort of an odd man out in terms of hair. A great enthusiast of chariot racing, Nero decided on a style in favor with charioteers who were themselves popular athletes. He even added a penchant for sideburns to complete a look. WAM’s Emperor Nero, from 64-68 CE, has a recessed area above his bangs, which would have cradled a radiate crown or laurel wreath. There are square holes at the ears that also may have been involved with some sort of headgear.

With the death of Nero, the succeeding emperors rejected the Julio-Claudian style and reverted to the republican virtue of verism. This lasted through the Flavian Dynasty down to the reign of Trajan. Hadrian (117-138 CE), a devoted Grecophile, added a beard to his image, an affectation that continued in fashion through to the reign of Constantine the Great (307-337 CE). Hair was grown longer in the second and early third centuries and often appeared quite curly.

Editor's note (March 31, 2021): When this WAM Update (one of our most popular posts!) was originally published in April 2020, the Museum was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This in-depth look at select Roman hairstyles was written to promote our onsite "Festa Roma Community Day," which was cancelled when the lockdown began in mid-March 2020. 

We are delighted to welcome spring, Roman-style, throughout April with a series of virtual Festa Roma programs held via Zoom and Facebook Live. Visit our online calendar for details and links to all programs.

Now that WAM is reopen, please visit our Roman Gallery to see these impressive sculptures and stylish coiffures.

—By Mark Mancevice
    Worcester Art Museum docent
    April 24, 2020

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Conserving a "Shipwrecked Mother and Child"

The conservation treatment of Shipwrecked Mother and Child by Edward Augustus Brackett (American, 1818–1908) is in full swing!

Soon after the sculpture arrived in the Museum’s Jeppson Idea Lab from the basement storage room last October, as the conservator of this project, I moved my equipment, tools, and materials into this gallery. I then began the conservation treatment of this slightly over-life-size sculpture depicting a shipwrecked mother and her child lying on the edge of the ocean on a rocky shore outcrop. Many visitors have already enjoyed watching me work through the glass doors as I engaged in the first major chapter of the conservation treatment—cleaning the sculpture.

When I began cleaning the white marble surface, it became immediately apparent how much dirt and grime had accumulated on it over the 150 years since Mr. Brackett carved this imposing artwork from one huge piece of marble. During careful examination over the last few months, I discovered—to the great delight of WAM’s assistant curator of American Art, Erin Corrales-Diaz—that the marble base is not a separate piece of stone but the very same as the bulk of the artwork.

In the initial testing phase, I also found that many different types of dirt, grime, accretions, and other deposits exist on the surface—each one needing a slightly different chemical or chemical mix to be dissolved and removed. To address these, I developed a cleaning protocol that will take place in three steps. Before the Museum closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was currently engaged in the first and most time-consuming step of removing the thickest of dirt and grime layers using a water-based, scientifically-formulated cleaning solution using brushes and swabs.

The second step will involve using a gel that holds the cleaning agents, which includes solvents that will dissolve waxes and greasy components on the surface of the sculpture. The gel is applied with a brush and, after a minute or so, the gel with the dissolved unwanted substances is removed with brushes and cotton pads. Finally, the gel residues are cleared off with a solvent. For this step, I will use a local fume extractor because of the toxicity of some gel components.

Edward Augustus Brackett (American, 1818–1908),
 Shipwrecked Mother and Child, 1848–1851, white marble,
Gift of Edward Augustus Brackett, 1904.64
The third and final cleaning step will involve using a laser to specifically remove numerous dark markings and scuffs scattered over the entire surface.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the project was halted but will resume when the Museum re-opens to the public again. Please come back and visit us then to check out the progress of this exciting conservation project!

Learn more about this important conservation project:

—Paula Artal-Isbrand
   Objects Conservator
   April 21, 2020

Friday, April 17, 2020

"The Boy on a Ram in Context"

The Boy on a Ram, painted by the Spanish artist Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828), represents the artist’s early work, as a painter of designs, known as cartoons, for the Royal Tapestry Factory of Santa Barbara in Madrid. This was Goya’s first position at the court of Madrid, where he would eventually attain the highest possible rank of first court painter in 1799. The painting is currently on loan to WAM from the Art Institute of Chicago.

Francisco de Goya, Boy on a Ram, 1786/87,
oil on canvas, the Art Institute of Chicago,
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Brooks McCormick, 1979.479.
The tapestries woven after Goya’s cartoon decorated the private rooms of the crown prince and princess (known in Spain as the Prince and Princess of Asturias) in royal palaces outside of Madrid, at El Pardo and El Escorial. After they were copied by the weavers, the cartoons went into storage, and it was thus that Goya’s designs were lost until their rediscovery, rolled up in the basement of the royal palace of Madrid, in 1868. All but seven of the cartoons are today in the Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Goya’s work began when he received measurements for the room the tapestries woven after his cartoons would decorate. If you look around the room where you are sitting, you better understand the variety of formats demanded:  large cartoons decorated the walls, smaller overdoor cartoons—as the name suggests—were painted to fill spaces over doors or balconies, and narrow corner pieces would fill small spaces between doors and corners. Goya then submitted small sketches of his designs to be approved by his royal patrons, before he began painting the cartoon, equal in size to the tapestry to be woven after it.

The Boy on a Ram, painted in 1786, or perhaps early 1787, served as an overdoor for a series of cartoons for tapestries to decorate what was either a dining room or a sitting room in the palace at El Pardo. Who is this boy, and why is he riding a ram? As in his other series of cartoons, Goya used the overdoors to expand the theme introduced in the larger scenes, in this case, the seasons.

Goya calls on tradition in visualizing the seasons, in which aristocrats and the well-to-do enjoy the temperate weather of spring and fall, and peasants endure the harsher elements of summer and winter. In Spring, a woman kneels to offer a flower to another woman—clearly, her social superior—in a spring landscape: behind the standing woman, a male peasant shows us a rabbit, a symbol of fertility and renewed life. In Autumn, a woman--perhaps the same woman—sits with her husband and child, as behind them laborers toil in the fields at the seasonal vintage.

The well-to-do are absent from summer’s harvest, a theme familiar to many through its representation by Breughel the Elder in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Like Breughel, Goya depicts peasants relaxing after their labors, seated around a hay wain, talking and drinking, as women care for the children. In Winter, he depicts men bringing in a slaughtered pig. In fact, the slaughter of pigs and production of meats and sausages took place every February at the palace of El Pardo, and we might guess that the workers depicted by Goya are servants of the royal household.

Having portrayed the passage of time in nature in his larger cartoons in four overdoors, Goya turned to the theme of the passage of time reflected as the ages of man, bringing us to the Boy on a Ram. Goya’s charming little boy wears a one-piece skeleton suit, the preferred dress of noble children in Goya’s portraits. He rides before a fresh and verdant landscape. But the identification of this scene with spring is only confirmed by the ram, a symbol of Aries, the first astrological sign of the year, transited by the sun from about March 20 to April 21—the first full month of spring.

Three other overdoors for this series corroborate the meaning of the Boy on a Ram as a representation of childhood. In the second overdoor, youths, older and poorer than the Boy on a Ram, stand before an arid, summer landscape. Like the men in Winter, theses boys are probably servants in a wealthy household, for they hold prize hunting dogs wearing the engraved collars of their owners.

Youth gives way to maturity in the third overdoor cartoon, in which a well-dressed hunter, with rifle in his lap, pauses for refreshment a brook. Hunting was a sport, identified with autumn, and enjoyed by the land-owning rich, or by the fortunate who had permissions to hunt on those lands.

Finally, the winter of man’s life is represented by a shepherd who sits alone on a hillock, before a single, almost leafless tree, and plays his flute, leaving us to imagine his melancholy tune. His posture, borrowed from the classical sculpture of the Dying Gaul, implies his imminent death.

Only when we see the Boy on a Ram within the context of the other cartoons created for the same room, can we understand its meaning. But we also appreciate that the tapestry cartoons, like Goya’s later series of etchings, including Los Caprichos, invites the viewer to participate, to draw together images to create a meaning greater than the sum of the parts.

The Museo del Prado in Madrid offers a wonderful website dedicated to Goya, Goya en el Web. It offers high-quality images of his tapestry cartoons:


For the series of the seasons and the ages of man, visit:


—Janis A. Tomlinson, PhD, Director of Special Collections and Museums, University of Delaware, was scheduled to present an Art Talk on “The Boy on a Ram in Context" at WAM’s Master Series Third Thursdays on March 19, which was cancelled.

She is the author of seven books on Goya and on Spanish painting, which have been translated into six languages. Her biography, Goya: A Portrait of the Artist, will be published this fall by Princeton University Press.
Goya: A Portrait of the Artist
By Janis A. Tomlinson 

April 17, 2020

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Conservation of "Paul Revere" by Charles de Saint-Mémin

Take a peek behind the scenes at WAM's current exhibition Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere. In preparation for the exhibition, Charles de Saint-Mémin's 1801 print Paul Revere underwent conservation treatment by WAM conservators. During the planning of an exhibition, curators and conservators discuss the condition of each work, and determine goals for the treatment should it be pursued. Paul Revere was discolored overall with broad areas of dark brown stains. We decided to try to reduce the stains as much as safely possible, restoring the viewer’s focus to the portrait. Careful examination and research was conducted before embarking on the treatment of this portrait of the famous revolutionary war hero.

Fig 1. Before treatment
Charles Balthazar Julien Fevret de Saint-Mémin, 
Paul Revere (1801). Etching, engraving, and roulette 
on paper. Bequest of Mrs. Albert W. Rice 1986.69

Charles de Saint-Mémin (1770-1852) served as an officer in the French Army and was exiled during the French Revolution (1789-1799). Shortly after, he came to the United States and began to teach himself printmaking and painting techniques. His first works of art were landscape views of New York City.

From 1798 to 1810, Saint-Mémin traveled down the East Coast of the United States drawing and engraving more than 800 portraits. Saint-Mémin’s portraits included important figures of Federal America such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and of course, Paul Revere. As much a businessman as an artist, Saint-Mémin would sell a package to his clients that included the original portrait, copper plate, and 12 impressions, delivered for $25. WAM is fortunate to have portraits of several individuals by Saint-Mémin in its collection.

Saint-Mémin’s portrait prints began with an original black chalk on paper drawing of his sitter. A mechanical drawing instrument called a physignotrace was used as an aid to generate the outline of the sitter’s features in profile. The drawing was then transferred to a copper plate using a pantograph, a mechanical copying device used to easily reduce the image proportionally. Linear marks were produced from a combination of engraving and etching techniques and shading was achieved by using a custom roulette, a printmaking tool of his own invention.

Treatment of the print began by testing how the printing ink and paper reacted to various treatment techniques. Testing is done on a very small scale and allows the conservator to see how the artwork reacts to techniques to determine their safety and efficacy. After testing, the print was selectively surface cleaned to remove loose grime. Localized and overall discoloration was reduced using a range of aqueous techniques. The final step was to fill the small losses along the top edge with a compatible paper support. Viewing the before and after treatment images (Fig. 1 and 2), we can see that visual and physical integrity of Paul Revere has been restored. Overall the paper is more even in tonality, distracting passages of dark brown stains have been reduced, and losses repaired.

Fig 2. After treatment
—Elle Friedberg, Pre-Program Intern in Conservation
   Eliza Spaulding, Paper Conservator
   April 14, 2020

You know him as a revolutionary war hero. But did you know that Paul Revere also was an artisan, entrepreneur, inventor, and master networker? Learn more about the man behind the legend in this highlights tour of Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere, narrated by Erin Corrales-Diaz, WAM's Assistant Curator of American Art.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Vallotton’s Modern Paris Reveals the Greatness of Art in Turbulent Times

Félix Vallotton (Swiss, 1865–1925), La Modiste (The Milliner),
1894, woodcut, 17.8 × 22.5 cm (image), 25 × 32.6 cm (sheet).
William Grimm Fund, 2014.1201

Turn-of-the-century Paris was the place to be. Like today, the city was a major cultural hub for the arts, but in the decades surrounding 1900 (known as the “Belle Époque”) it also was at the forefront of rapid societal changes. Even the streets were new. From the mid- to late 1800s, a massive urban redevelopment project led by Baron Georges Haussmann replaced narrow and chaotic medieval streets with an orderly system of wide boulevards and uniform, stone buildings—the Paris we know today. Cafés, theaters, shops, train stations, and parks were filled with bustling crowds in search of the latest fashions and entertainment. While some artists and intellectuals considered this new Paris to be vulgar (famously, around 40 French writers and artists signed a petition against the Eiffel Tower, which was completed in 1899), it provided ample material for those who wanted to record the pace of modern life.

Eugène Atget (French, 1856-1927), Eclipse, 1911, gelatin silver print.
Anonymous Gift, 1963.113. This photograph of a crowd watching a solar
eclipse shows Haussmann’s modernized Paris in the background.

Swiss printmaker and painter Félix Vallotton (1865–1925) joined those artists fascinated by the urban crowd, but Vallotton’s work has a darker twist. Living in Paris and eventually becoming a French citizen, Vallotton was linked to anarchist circles, making anti-authoritarian, anti-bourgeois illustrations for journals like La Revue Blanche. Many of his stark, black-and-white woodblock prints depict surprising violence: police brutality, anarchist bomb-throwers, and the chaos of a fleeing mob. Even in his series Intimités, which ostensibly depicts the private life of middle-class couples, themes of deception, greed, and hate simmer just beneath the surface decorum. Vallotton shows us modern Paris as a dystopia—a theater for capitalism and authoritarianism.

Vallotton takes an obsessive, and often ironic, approach to his subject matter. Consider his 1894 woodblock print showing a milliner’s (hatmaker’s) shop, La Modiste, from the WAM collection. The subject matter is an ordinary scene for this era, yet it is presented in a visually overwhelming manner. A forest of hats perched on stands is swarming with female shop assistants and customers, who examine the wares and themselves in a full-length mirror. In the foreground, two potential customers wearing fashionable jackets cock their heads, scrutinizing a hat held aloft by the milliner. Using a slight bird’s eye view, Vallotton plays with perspective to trap the viewer in this world, with neither windows nor ceiling for the eye to rest upon and escape. Is this an enchanting realm, or a trap?

Many of the shop assistants lean forward with raised hands and hunched shoulders, an attitude that can be read as helpful and meek, or over-eager, even vulture-like. Even the milliner—the woman in charge of this shop, who takes ownership of the scene by standing in the center of the composition—presents her wares with a deferential smile and shrug. With nuanced visual cues, Vallotton takes this ordinary scene and elevates it to the level of social commentary, even caricature. He shows us fashion as defined by commerce, and a world in which merchants and their customers morph uncomfortably into subjugated predators and oblivious prey, raising the question: who is in control?

La Modiste (detail)
La Modiste (detail)

Vallotton was certainly not the only artist to turn a critical eye to modern Parisian life, or to French consumerism and fashion as the capital continued to grow in cultural importance. For example, in the 1920s, the Surrealists took a special interest in the uncanny valley provided by mannequins, and prized photography that captured storefronts, such as the documentary street photography of Eugène Atget.

Eugène Atget (French, 1856-1927), Men’s Fashions,
1925, printed 1956, gelatin silver print.
Anonymous Gift, 1963.112.

While Vallotton remains an artist particularly interesting for his politics, his irony, and his misanthropic views of Parisian life, his work forms part of a broader story of art, one in which Parisians and the city of Paris play a central role in defining modern, urban life. What enchants a crowd of shoppers, or forms an uneasy mob? What does it mean to be a face in the crowd? To be a witness, or part of the spectacle?

Through the lens of current events in 2020, these artworks hit home in a new way, too. With the COVID-19 pandemic shuttering storefronts, quieting cities, and discouraging people from standing within six feet of one another, we may be prompted to view a work like La Modiste with renewed anxiety, or conversely, the warmth of nostalgia. As an art historian, I strive to set aside my personal, emotional interpretation of an artwork when researching it; to reveal the intent behind a work of art, it is important above all to understand the artist and his era. However, art can obtain new resonance for viewers through the lens of our own experiences, revealing to us meanings that the artist may never have envisioned. Though distant in time and place, Vallotton’s crowds still have the power to make us pause and consider our own modern moment, particularly with regard to our economic anxieties, and our attitude toward fellow city-dwellers. The power of this kind of reflection—of reaching into the past to think about the present—reveals the greatness of art.

—Olivia J. Kiers, Curatorial Assistant

April 9, 2020

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