Metropolitan Museum

An Extremely Rare, Centuries-Old Italian Violin Hit a High Note at Auction, Selling for a Whopping $9.44 Million

An exceptionally rare Guarneri violin—so fabled that it has its own name, the Baltic—sold for $9.44 million (premium included) at auction on March 16, just shy of its $10 million estimate. The final sale price smashed the $3.6 million auction record for a Guarneri instrument (set in June 2022) to become the third-highest price paid for any musical instrument.

The Baltic was the star lot of the online auction of more than 100 rare and important stringed instruments and bows at auction house Tarisio in New York. A leader in rare violin sales, Tarisio pulled in a total of over $11.1 million in the sale, while 18 new auction records were set for assorted music-making treasures.

“The Baltic is more than an exceptional instrument,” said Carlos Tomé, the director and head of sales at Tarisio. “It is a singular work of art.”

The Baltic was handcrafted around 1731 by master luthier Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù—known as del Gesù—in the small town of Cremona, Italy. His and his family’s stringed instruments are among the most prized in the world, perhaps owing to a deeper sound than other violins, attributed to the wood used, flamed maple wood. Violinists Isaac Stern, Jascha Heifetz, and Itzhak Perlman are among those who’ve performed on stage with Guarneri violins.

The Baltic violin. Courtesy of Tarisio New York.

The scroll and pegs of the Baltic violin. Courtesy of Tarisio.

Before the sale, the Baltic spent 50 years in the collection of the late Sau-Wing Lam, an American businessman and noted collector of rare musical instruments. Since his acquisition of the instrument in 1979, it was exhibited twice at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, once in 1994 in a show of exceptional Guarneri instruments, and again in 2012, when the museum hosted an exhibition and concert series dedicated to Lam’s collection.

Before Sau-Wing Lam, the Baltic belonged to the classical musician Dorotha Powers, who taught violin to baseball legend Mickey Mantle. She traded in two Stradivarius violins to acquire the Guarneri from the Wurlitzer Company, American makers of pianos and jukeboxes. Previously it was owned by a Baltic family, who were the first to refer to it as the Baltic—and the name stuck.

Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù was only 32 when he made the violin in 1731, breaking with practices established by his grandfather, father, and uncle. With its shorter body length, broader wings, and distinct “hatchet-shaped” sound holes, the Baltic is among the first violins to bear the trademarks of del Gesù’s own style.

More famous of the two violin makers, Antonio Stradivari was born in 1644, about a half-century before del Gesù. Both makers practiced their craft in their hometown of Cremona, Italy. But while some 600 Stradivarius violins have survived, only about 150 Guarneri violins remain, making them a much rarer find.


More Trending Stories:

Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun’s Portraits of Marie Antoinette Sparked Scandal—Here Are 3 Things You Might Not Know About the Royal Image

JR’s Gigantic New Installation in Hong Kong, Unveiled Ahead of Art Basel, Has Worried the City’s Feng Shui Masters. Here’s Why

Here Are 9 Treasures That Caught Our Eye at TEFAF Maastricht—From Antique Playing Cards to a Rediscovered Ambrosi Sculpture

A German Man Just Learning How to Use a Metal Detector Uncovered a Hoard of Buried Byzantine Jewelry and Silver Coins

A Series of Norman Rockwell Illustrations That Once Hung in the White House Is at the Center of a Legal Battle Between Family Members

Banksy Created His Latest Artwork on a Rundown Farmhouse by the British Seaside—Only to Have It Immediately Destroyed

The New York Art World Had High Hopes for Black Wall Street Gallery. Allegations Against Its Founder Have Soured Those Dreams

Blacklips Was a Performance Troupe That Thrived in a ‘Dank Corner’ of New York’s Late-Night Culture. A New Art Book Is Bringing It Back Into the Spotlight

Follow Midnight Publishing Group News on Facebook:

A Gilded-Age Mansion Across From the Metropolitan Museum of Art Has Hit the Market for a Breathtaking $80 Million

Gilded-Age mansions are a rarity nowadays, but on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, several still stand. One such tony establishment is the Benjamin N. Duke House, a palatial limestone-and-brick structure that has just entered the market with an asking price of $80 million.

Benjamin N. Duke House. Courtesy of Compass.

The 20,000-square-foot townhouse—located at 1009 Fifth Avenue—was constructed in the Italian Renaissance palazzo style with Beaux-Arts details. Features include eight bedrooms and 10 bathrooms across seven stories, one grand staircase connecting each story, towering ceilings, a private roof deck, and sweeping views of Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The stunning home, built between 1899 and 1901, last sold in 2010, when its current owner, Mexican business magnate Carlos Slim, purchased it for $44 million. At the time, Slim was the wealthiest person in the world. This is, however, not the first time the residence has been put up for sale by Slim. It was first listed for $80 million in 2015, but failed to move and was later taken off the market.

Benjamin N. Duke House. Courtesy of Compass.

Interior of the Benjamin N. Duke House. Courtesy of Compass.

Nor is it the only Gilded-Age mansion in New York City formerly owned by a Duke family member. Just blocks away is the James B. Duke House, named after original owner, the brother of Benjamin N. Duke. Both siblings owned and lived in the Benjamin N. Duke House at different points in the early 1900s.

The Duke family—who made their fortune from tobacco, textiles, and energy—maintained ownership of the abode for over a century, until 2006. James founded the American Tobacco Company and Benjamin served as vice president. 

Architectural firm Welch, Smith & Provot designed the dwelling, which was designated a New York City landmark in 1974 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.

View of the Metropolitan Museum from the Benjamin N. Duke House. Courtesy of Compass.

View of the Metropolitan Museum from the Benjamin N. Duke House. Courtesy of Compass.

According to the listing, held by Jorge Lopez of Compass, “The building can be reimagined as a private residence or converted into a gallery, store, museum, or foundation.” Perhaps its next buyer will transform it into Museum Mile’s latest fixture.

Follow Midnight Publishing Group News on Facebook:

The Medici Were History’s Greatest Patrons—and Also Tyrants. The Met’s New Show Tackles How Art Served Power

Portrait paintings are sometimes described as windows into the soul. The Renaissance likenesses presented in the Metropolitan Museum’s “The Medici: Portraits and Politics, 1512–1570” have other purposes. Their cold, opulent beauty is more akin to the calculated image curation typical of modern day influencers than to the revelation of character that permeates the paintings of the Met’s nearby Alice Neel exhibition. And that, it seems, is the point of this fascinating exhibition.

This is not the High Renaissance of the celebrated Lorenzo de Medici whose patronage brought us masterpieces by Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Leonardo da Vinci. The exhibition focuses on the later 16th century rule of Florence by Cosimo I de’ Medici and introduces the cast of Mannerist painters who helped him craft his image as the city-state’s benevolent dictator.

Organized by the Met’s Keith Christiansen and Florentine professor Carlo Falciani, the exhibition is laid out in thematic sections that tell the rollicking tale of Cosimo’s rise to power and consolidation of authority through the artworks that helped make it possible.

Installation view of "The Medici: Portraits and Politics, 1512–1570" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Photo by Hyla Skopitz, Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Installation view of “The Medici: Portraits and Politics, 1512–1570” at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Photo by Hyla Skopitz, Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Ruthless Medici

The story begins with the machinations that brought the Medicis back to power in Florence after the reestablishment of Republican rule following their expulsion in 1494.

For forty years, Florentine Republicans had mostly held off the onslaught of the Medician autocrats through periods of civil war, plague, and siege. A potent symbol of this struggle was Michelangelo’s David. Installed in 1504 outside the Palazzo Vecchio, the seat of Florence’s civic government, the figure’s stern resolve and youthful vitality provided inspiration for the city’s anti-Medici partisans.

The second coming of the Medici was aided by a pair of Medici Popes: Leo X, a hedonistic pontiff who bankrupted the Vatican with dynastic wars and personal luxuries, and the inept Clement VII who brought on the Sack of Rome and lost half the Church to the Reformation. However otherwise disastrous their reigns, they secured the return of the Medicis to Florence.

Jacopo da Pontormo, Portrait of a Halberdier (probably Francesco Guardi) (ca. 1528–30) with a display of arms in "The Medici" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo by Hyla Skopitz, Courtesy of The Met

Jacopo da Pontormo, Portrait of a Halberdier (probably Francesco Guardi) (ca. 1528–30) with a display of arms in “The Medici” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo by Hyla Skopitz, Courtesy of The Met

A series of skirmishes between Republicans and Medici supporters culminated in the 1529 siege of Florence which was led by Clement’s ally the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Following the city’s capitulation, Clement installed Alessandro de’ Medici as Duke. The licentious Alessandro, who may have been Clement’s illegitimate son, did not last long. He riled the city’s Republican families and was assassinated by a distant cousin in 1537 in what was celebrated as an act of tyrannicide.

Thanks to wars, murders, and early deaths of designated heirs, Florence was now running out of direct descendants of the original Medici family. As a result, the Dukedom passed to seventeen-year-old Cosimo de Medici, a descendent of a lesser branch of the family. Expected to be a weak leader destined for exile, assassination, or domination by stronger factions, he ruled Florence for over thirty years, established a Medici dynasty that lasted for two centuries and transformed Florence with art patronage and massive public works into the city we know today.


The Bronzino Touch

Although “The Medici: Portraits and Politics” includes works by such luminaries as Jacopo Pontormo, Rosso Fiorentino, Benvenuto Cellini, Giorgio Vasari, and Francesco Salviati, the real stars of this exhibition are Cosimo and his favored artist Agnolo Bronzino.

Bronzino was perfectly in tune with his patron. In numerous portraits he depicts Cosimo in a variety of guises: a young warrior in full armor whose hands caress his helmet; an older man of forty, now bearded and dressed in somber black as befitting the statesman he has become; and in an allegorical painting as Orpheus, naked from the back as he turns toward the viewer.

Bronzino, <em>Florence Cosimo I de’ Medici as Orpheus </em>(1537–39). Philadelphia Museum of Art; Gift of Mrs. John Wintersteen, 1950. Image: Courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Bronzino, Florence Cosimo I de’ Medici as Orpheus (1537–39). Philadelphia Museum of Art; Gift of Mrs. John Wintersteen, 1950. Image: Courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art.

In all these depictions, Cosimo offers the same gaze, mask-like in its impenetrability, presenting a picture of steadfast purpose and icy control. This essential message became part of Cosimo’s cultural diplomacy. The non-allegorical portrayals were repainted multiple times and distributed as gifts to friends and potential allies.

Bronzino’s portraits offer a similar treatment of Cosimo’s family. His impressive wife Eleonora di Toledo was a granddaughter of Lorenzo de Medici and served as his frequent political advisor while bearing him eleven children. She is seen here as a gravely modest young wife and as an equally serene mother subtly pregnant as she pushes forward her equally composed young son Francesco.

Bronzino, <em>Eleonora di Toledo and Francesco de’ Medici</em> (ca. 1550). Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Reale, Pisa. Image © Haltadefinizione® Image Bank by permission of the Ministry of Cultural Activities and Heritage—Polo Museale della Toscana.

Bronzino, Eleonora di Toledo and Francesco de’ Medici (ca. 1550).
Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Reale, Pisa. Image © Haltadefinizione® Image Bank by permission of the Ministry of Cultural Activities and Heritage—Polo Museale della Toscana.

Francesco reappears elsewhere as a slightly older boy, holding a letter, and, in a 1570 painting by Bronzino’s protégé Alessandro Allori as a young man suited for battle. Francesco would succeed Cosimo as Duke of Florence in 1571, when his father went on to the more august position as the first Grand Duke of Tuscany.


Art as PR Push

None of Bronzino’s depictions of Cosimo or his family match the fierceness of Cellini’s bust of the Duke. Two versions, one in bronze and one in marble, introduce the exhibition. They present Cosimo as a supremely confident military man swathed in armor ornamented with classical motifs.

Two portrait busts by Cellini in "The Medici: Portraits and Politics, 1512–1570" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Photo by Hyla Skopitz, Courtesy of The Met

Two portrait busts by Cellini in “The Medici: Portraits and Politics, 1512–1570” at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Photo by Hyla Skopitz, Courtesy of The Met

This representation was meant to underscore the association of Florence’s 16th century ruler with Rome’s imperious Caesar Augustus. All these official portraits seem designed to smooth over the messy trajectory of Cosimo’s rise to power, his suppression of civil liberties, the political intrigues that marked his reign, and his brutal campaigns against other city-states.

The exhibition includes portraits of other notable figures, both by Bronzino and by other artists. Among these are Francesco Salviati’s probing portrait of Bindo Altoviti, a leading banker and Republican sympathizer; Bronzino’s subtly sexualized depiction of naval commander Andrea Doria as a powerful, nearly naked Neptune; and his tribute to poet Laura Battiferri. The homosexual Bronzino carried on a long platonic relationship with this formidable woman and here depicts her in profile with features that deliberately echo those of a more allegorical painting of Dante he had created thirty years before.

Francesco Salviati, <em>Bindo Altoviti</em> (ca. 1545). Private Collection. Photograph © Bruce M. White, 2020.

Francesco Salviati, Bindo Altoviti (ca. 1545). Private Collection.
Photograph © Bruce M. White, 2020.

There are as well portraits of some of the more dubious characters in this drama: The ill fated Alessandro de Medici appears in Pontormo’s portrait as a sober, cultured young man captured in the act of sketching the bust of a woman on a piece of paper. Pope Clement VII, painted by Sebastiano del Piombo just before the disastrous Sack of Rome, is a regal figure blissfully unaware of the debacle to come.

The exhibition is dotted with various artifacts. These include rapiers, halberds, and ornamented axes of the sort used by both sides in the siege of Florence, original manuscripts, a red velvet dress that may have been worn by Eleonora di Toledo, and coins that celebrate Cosimo’s architectural projects. These public works were an equally important part of his cultural legacy, dedicated to cementing Florence’s place at the epicenter of Italian Renaissance.


The Problem of Michelangelo

So as to underscore the cool sobriety of Bronzino’s approach, the show ends with a face-off between him and painter Francesco Salviati, a fellow Florentine with more cosmopolitan tastes who had lived in Rome and traveled throughout Italy. Salviati’s portraits, many of them dotted with now obscure mythological motifs, exhibit a warmth and naturalistic approach that make a striking contrast to the chilly perfection of Bronzino’s figures.

Installation view of "The Medici: Portraits and Politics, 1512–1570" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Photo by Hyla Skopitz, Courtesy of The Met

Installation view of the “Florence and Rome: Bronzino and Salviati” gallery in “The Medici: Portraits and Politics, 1512–1570” at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Photo by Hyla Skopitz, Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

But perhaps a more telling comparison would have been the works of Bronzino and Michelangelo, then and now Florence’s most famous artist. Michelangelo casts a long shadow over the exhibition even though he appears here only in a portrait by Daniele da Volterra. Even unfinished, the work captures its subject’s life force and craggy vitality in a way that seems a rebuke to the flattering elegance of Bronzino’s representations.

Michelangelo posed a problem for Cosimo. Towering above other Florentine artists, he sided with the Republicans in Florence’s civil wars and fled the city forever when Cosimo came to power. Cosimo attempted unsuccessfully to lure him back and only succeeded after Michelangelo’s death, when the old master’s body was returned to Florence and given an extravagant state funeral. With this gesture, Cosimo hoped to tie himself to the revered artist and to obscure Michelangelo’s Republican sympathies. Cosimo had already brought artists of Florence under his patronage through the founding of Florence’s Accademia del Disegno. His embrace of the dead Michelangelo reveals his efforts to control the narrative of history as well.

Benvenuto Cellini, Cosimo I de' Medici (1545). Museo Nazionale del Bargello. By permission of Ministero della Cultura. Photo: Antonio Quattrone

Benvenuto Cellini, Cosimo I de’ Medici (1545). Museo Nazionale del Bargello. By permission of Ministero della Cultura. Photo by Antonio Quattrone.

But in the end, Michelangelo escaped Cosimo’s grasp. His David, now installed in Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia, is one of the world’s most famous works of art. The generic blandness of Bronzino’s court portraits pale next to the giant slayer’s steely gaze and taut determination. David remains Michelangelo’s compelling monument to the resistance to tyranny.

Is there a lesson here for our so-called Modern Medicis? The art world is currently engaged in an unprecedented inquiry into the political and economic entanglements of museum board members and the ethics of museum patronage. As history reveals, art often finds itself in service to power. But the saga of Cosimo de Medici also suggests there are limits to the control patrons have over the power of art.

“The Medici: Portraits and Politics, 1512–1570” is on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, through October 11, 2021.

Follow Midnight Publishing Group News on Facebook:

Former Met Staff and Others Say the Museum Would Set a Dangerous Precedent by Selling Art to Cover Costs

The practice of deaccessioning has never failed to incite controversy. But the stakes are even higher now that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York—one of the wealthiest, largest, and best-attended museums in the world—has suggested it is considering selling off some of its art as it faces a $150 million shortfall.

The fact that a leading professional organization relaxed its guidelines surrounding deaccessioning last spring, which means that the Met would draw no official censure from the move, is of no consequence to the many experts and observers—including former museum leadership—who swiftly voiced their opposition.

On Friday, the New York Times reported that the museum had initiated conversations with auction houses and department heads about selling artworks to pay for care of the collection.

“This is the time when we need to keep our options open,” the Met’s director Max Hollein said. A representative for the museum declined to comment further to Midnight Publishing Group News, as did spokespeople for Sotheby’s and Christie’s. The museum’s board is due to vote on whether to continue with the plan next month.

Metropolitan Museum of Art director Max Hollein. Photo by Eileen Travell, courtesy of the Met.

If the Met were to proceed, it would become the most high-profile institution to take advantage of the Association of Art Museum Directors’s decision to loosen its guidelines on how members use the proceeds of art sales. In light of the challenges posed by the pandemic, the AAMD has permitted museums to use the funds for the “direct care of the collection” for two years (until April 2022), as opposed to exclusively reinvesting it back into art acquisitions.

“Based on the information that has been reported in the New York Times, the Met’s steps are in line with AAMD’s April 2020 resolutions,” AAMD president Christine Anagnos confirmed to Midnight Publishing Group News. The Met is not alone: at least nine museums, ranging from the Indianapolis Museum of Art to the Brooklyn Museum, have sold off art during this window. The latter generated $31 million from the sale of art in a matter of months.

The most notorious example, the Baltimore Museum of Art creatively interpreted the relaxed rules, planning to use art-sale proceeds to boost staff salaries and pursue a DEI plan. After backlash and a letter from former AAMD presidents opposing the move, the museum withdrew the works hours ahead of their sale.

Many have found the Met’s announcement particularly bruising considering it has an endowment of $3.3 billion and a number of billionaires on its board. (The museum also reduced is staff by around 20 percent since the shutdown through a combination of layoffs, voluntary retirements, and buyouts.)

Installation view of "A New Look at Old Masters" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Installation view of “A New Look at Old Masters” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“The pandemic has caused untold suffering across the world, but many have found creative ways to cope with its impact,” said Maxwell Anderson, one of the signatories of the Baltimore letter, in response to the recent Met news. “Selling art to pay the bills is the most short-sighted solution imaginable. Gifts and bequests account for over 80 to 90 percent of the contents of public museum collections, and exiling artworks to the private sector endangers the mechanism of tax deduction while discouraging future donations. It also treats our shared cultural heritage as fungible elements of an asset class.”

At least one Met curator, Ian Alteveer, recognized that desperate times might call for desperate measures: “We’ve tried for years to get more robust funding for conservation, one of the prime things related to collections care,” he told the Times.

But another former staff member is less sanguine. “I would consider it shameful if the museum sold anything that is not a duplicate print,” said George Goldner, a longtime curator in the Met’s drawings and prints department who retired in 2015. “There is no such thing as a duplicate painting or duplicate sculpture or embroidery. I would consider it shameful and misguided, and a poor example to the field and completely unnecessary to sell works of art from the collection.”

Former Met director Thomas Campbell, who is now director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF), had harsher words on Instagram: “The danger is that deaccessioning for operating costs will become the norm, especially if leading museums like the Met follow suit. Deaccessioning will be like crack cocaine to the addict—a rapid hit, that becomes a dependency. I fear that the consequences could be highly destructive to the art museum industry.”

Campbell’s post prompted other prominent art-world figures to weigh in, most of whom agreed with his stance. Artist Vik Muniz wrote: “Museum acquisitions tell a story that can be undone by deaccessioning, thus affecting the meaning of a collection as a whole.”

Paul Schimmel, the former chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and a former partner at Hauser & Wirth, commented on Campbell’s post: “Been there done that and it’s the devil’s answer to a godly challenge!!! No one should ever give art for operation!!!”

Writer Tyler Green initiated a petition opposing the Met’s actions, which has drawn 140 signatures as of press time. “The Met’s board is responsible for the institution… Billionaire wealth alone increased $1 trillion during the first nine months of the pandemic,” Green wrote. “We call on the Met’s board to do the job they signed up for: to give, to support the institution. We call upon the Met’s senior staff leadership to resist any attempts to sell off the art the Met holds in the public trust.”

Follow Midnight Publishing Group News on Facebook: