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March 2005

Vol. 147 | No. 1224

Drawings, prints, manuscripts, letters


Wealth at death

WE HAD LONG thought that THE BURLINGTON MAGAZINE was ‘the one and only’. But the new Oxford Dictionary of National Biography reveals that we had an eponymous forebear, a short-lived literary periodical (1880–82) founded and edited by Helen Reeves, a writer of romantic and sensational novels, who had to disband the journal leaving herself ‘with large debts’; she died ‘virtually penniless’ in 1920. More can be learned about Mrs Reeves in the ODNB for, unfortunate though she may have been in her career, she is lucky in her ‘preservation from oblivion’ by being one of the nearly 55,000 individuals included in this monumental publication.

Editorial read more
  • New information on Jan van Eyck's portrait drawing in Dresden

    By Thomas Ketelsen,Ina Reiche,Olaf Simon,Silke Merchel

    UNTIL RELATIVELY RECENTLY, scientific examination of Jan van Eyck’s work was mostly restricted to illuminating the mystery of his technique as a painter. However, with the advent of infra-red reflectography, the focus of such analysis has shifted to the underdrawing of his paintings. this article considers Van eyck as a draughtsman, particularly in relation to his metalpoint drawing Portrait of a cardinal (?Niccolò Albergati) in Dresden (Fig.24). Since its discovery in the Dresden collection by Johann David Passavant in 1841, this work has been regarded as a preparatory drawing for the painted portrait now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (Fig.25). It is currently the only drawing securely attributable to Jan van Eyck, and it is the only known fifteenth-century drawing that can be securely attributed to a specific Netherlandish artist. The identification of the sitter as Cardinal Niccolò Albergati (proposed in 1902 by Max Rooses) has sometimes been questioned. To gain further insights into the drawing technique employed by Van Eyck, the physical and chemical properties of the drawing were analysed, and the results are presented here for the first time, permitting a more precise assessment of the role of the drawing in the production of the painting in Vienna.

  • A manuscript of the works of Archimedes in the hand of Piero della Francesca

    By James R. Banker

    It has been established that, in his Trattato d’abaco, Piero della Francesca employed several of Archimedes’ concepts derived from medieval sources, and in his later Libellus de quinque corporibus regularibus he made direct citations from the Greek mathematician’s work. A comparison of Piero’s handwriting in the autograph manuscript of his Trattato in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence (MS Ashburnham 359*; Fig.22), with that of a manuscript of Archimedes’ corpus in the Biblioteca Riccardiana, Florence (MS Ricc.Lat.106; Fig.23), reveals that Piero copied the latter work in his own hand. The decision to undertake and complete the onerous task of transcribing nearly all the manuscript in Latin and, in all likelihood, drawing its geometrical figures, attests to Piero’s fascination with Greek mathematics. Piero wrote, transcribed, edited or illustrated at least seven manuscripts, four of which were devoted to his De prospectiva pingendi. His scientific interests, evident in three manuscripts concerned with mathematical and geometrical problems, may have reduced the number of paintings that he was willing to undertake in the last one or two decades of his life. His citing and copying of Archimedes’ works in Latin also confirm his ability to read that language.

  • The lost 'Officiolum' of Francesco da Barberino rediscovered

    By Kay Sutton

    IN THE SUMMER of 2003 a package was delivered to an auction house in Rome. The removal of its wrapping – a page from a local newspaper – revealed a nondescript vellum binding of c.1800 with the title, ‘Officium B. M. Virginis’, written in amateurish letters on the spine. No hint was given of the extraordinary pages these covers contained. Yet the most cursory glance at the contents showed it to be an entirely exceptional manuscript: an early fourteenth-century Book of Hours, extensively and richly illuminated with a series of miniatures of arresting iconographic invention. Closer consideration and further investigation established that this anonymous book was, in fact, the long-lost Officiolum of Francesco da Barberino (see Appendix 1 below).