Glass “Eye Candy”: A Decorated Window at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

“In the effort to make this building a credit to American architecture, many well-known American makers and designers took the most lively and liberal interest. Thus, Messrs. J.B. & J.M. Cornell presented the iron staircase extending from cellar to roof… the Belcher Mosaic Glass Company and Mr. W. J. McPherson decorative panels for the outer door, and a beautiful window for the staircase…”

The decorated window at the Director's residence

The decorated window at the ASCSA Director’s residence. Click to enlarge

This description is taken from an article published in The American Architect and Building News (AABN) in December of 1889 (no. 728, p. 263), a year after completion of the building destined to house the newly founded (1881) American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA). In addition to describing the mission and goals of the School, the author drew attention to all the American firms and designers who contributed to the building’s furnishings.  One comes away with the impression  that everything but the stone walls was imported from America.  J.B. & J.M. Cornell presented an iron staircase that still climbs from cellar to roof; the Hopkins & Dickinson Manufacturing Company gave all the necessary hardware; the Sanitas Company contributed plumbing fittings; A.H. Davenport & Company and Norcross Brothers, handsome mantelpieces for the library and the dining room, respectively… and the list goes on.

I have always been fascinated by the tall, exquisite window that looms over the first landing in the white marble staircase that leads from the ground floor to the first floor of the Director’s residence. It was once rumored to be a Tiffany creation, but in Louis Lord’s History of the American School, written more than fifty years after the construction of the building, McPherson was credited as the donor–“…and from Mr. W. J. Macpherson a fine decorated window for the main staircase” (1947, p. 29). One suspects that Lord was drawing his information from the AABN article, but it puzzles me why he did not also credit the Belcher Glass Mosaic Company, since in that place the decorated glassworks of the School’s building had been attributed to both Belcher and McPherson. Read the rest of this entry »


Le Noir et le Bleu: An Exhibit about the Mediterranean in Marseilles

The exhibit's catalog

The exhibit’s catalog

Fernand Braudel (1902-1985) declared “J’ ai passionément aimé la Méditerranée” in the preface of the first edition of La Méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen a l’ époque de Philippe II (1949). Archaeologists of my generation had to read or at least leaf through this three volume magnum opus written during Braudel’s captivity in concentration camps in Mainz and Lübeck during WWII (and delivered in lectures to fellow prisoners).  “Had it not been for my imprisonment, I would surely have written a much different book…” wrote Braudel in his “Personal Testimony.” Much more about Braudel’s life and work can be found in the excellent biographical essay by historian William McNeill (Journal of Modern History 73:1, 2001, pp. 133-147); McNeill himself was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama on February 25, 2010.

Braudel belongs to the first generation of post war “savants” who tried to reconfigure the Mediterranean world after the destruction and the division that WWII brought to the shores of the “Middle Sea.” This new “mediterraneité” would be inclusive and post-colonial –at least in the erudite world of scholarship.  Although Braudel’s approach has been criticized for overlooking certain fundamental conflicts (e.g., the clash of Islam and Christianity and the clash between Catholics and Protestants), it has cast a long shadow over subsequent study of the Mediterranean.  More than three decades would separate Braudel’s last revision in 1966 (and translation into English in 1972) from the next major tome written about the Mediterranean by an ancient historian (Nicholas Purcell) and a medievalist (Peregrine Horden).  Published in 2000, their study (The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History) is Braudelian both in size and depth and covers the period from about 800 B.C. through medieval times.  While receiving both praise and criticism, Purcell and Horden’s book has rightly become a classic. Read the rest of this entry »


One Portrait, Three Institutions: Anders Zorn’s Portrait of William Amory Gardner

The cover of the exhibit catalog

The cover of the exhibition catalog

From February 28 to May 13, 2013, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston hosted a large exhibit titled Anders Zorn: A European Artist Seduces America. The show re-evaluated the famous Swedish painter’s impact in the 1900s on America, where he was once held in high regard before being largely forgotten. The exhibit featured several international loans and was complemented by a series of lectures that experts on Zorn and his period presented.

Why am I writing about a retrospective on the activities of a Swedish painter in Boston? Because the American School of Classical Studies at Athens owns a portrait painted by Zorn—an image of William Amory Gardner (also known as WAG), the nephew of Zorn’s most important American patron and friend, Isabella Gardner. A balding WAG poses in three-quarter view while seated; he wears a black suit with an impressive red rose pinned on his left lapel. WAG himself never liked the portrait. Read the rest of this entry »