Sunday, October 3, 2010

Book Review: Heinzen, Nancy M.. The Perfect Square: a History of Rittenhouse Square.

Temple University Press. 2009. 203p. illus. index. bibliog. ISBN 9781592139880. $29.50. ISBN 9781592139903 (e-book). $29.50.

For two centuries, Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has captured the hearts and minds of Philadelphians, visitors to the City of Brotherly Love, social climbers, urban planners, novelists, and others. One of the five squares that William Penn (1644-1718) established when he founded Philadelphia in 1681, the southwest-situated Rittenhouse Square developed from a marshy plot surrounded by brickyards and workers’ homes into an urban oasis that evidences its unique and varied history. In this generously- illustrated (more than 50 black-and-white reproductions) and painstakingly- researched publication, with endnotes and a bibliography, Heinzen (formerly a counselor in the Philadelphia School District), a longtime resident of Rittenhouse Square, who enthusiastically is committed to preserving it, provides the first, full-length social history of one of America’s greatest, public, urban spaces. In nine chapters, covering the Square from its beginnings until the present, the author showcases the residents, groups, organizations, and businesses that made the Square a vital place over its continuing lifetime. She sets forth the social, cultural, and political developments that influenced the landmark’s development from a neighborhood on the margins of the city of Philadelphia into a thriving residential, business, and cultural district. Replete with many reproductions, historic photographs, and drawings, this thoughtfully-conceived, coffee table-like publication also is artfully- designed, being sized as a perfect square (8 X 8 in.). It will interest general readers, students, scholars, and others. Highly recommended for many large public and academic library book collections, particularly for those located in Philadelphia and its surrounding regions. Review copy. Availability:, Barnes &

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Brilliant, Virginia. Gothic Art in the Gilded Age: Medieval and Renaissance Treasures in the Gavet-Vanderbilt-Ringling Collection.

With contributions by Paul F. Miller & others. The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in collaboration with The Preservation Society of Newport County, dist. by Gutenberg Periscope Publishing, Ltd.. 2009. c.232p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 978-0-916758561. $55.00.

Accompanying a museum exhibition by the same name, being held at The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art (16th December 2009- 4th April 2010) and The Preservation Society of Newport County (8th May 2010- 31st October 2010), this lavishly-illustrated (over 150 reproductions mostly in color) publication examines the collection of fine and decorative arts objects forming the core of The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art’s Medieval and early Renaissance holdings. Comprising around 350 paintings, sculptures, and works of the decorative arts, including metalworks, wax miniatures, furniture, ceramics, timepieces, painted glass, and cameos, made in Europe chiefly between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries, the Gavet-Vanderbilt-Ringling collection originally belonged to Émile Gavet (1830-1904), a Parisian architect-decorator, art collector, and art dealer, who sold 340 pieces in his private museum, near the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris, France to Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt (born Alva Erskine Smith, 1853-1933) during 1889 when she journeyed to Paris to purchase furnishings for her summer residence, Marble House, in Newport, RI.. Mrs. Vanderbilt would display the collection in the reception room-library of Marble House, the “Gothic Room,” which became acclaimed nationally and internationally. By 1926, living abroad, having divorced and then remarried, Mrs. Vanderbilt Belmont consigned her collection to the art dealer Joseph Duveen, who sold it in 1927 to John Ringling (1866-1936), one of the world’s richest men. Purchasing the collection for the bargain price of $125,000 (equivalent to about $1.5 million today) (p. 39), Ringling may have been seeking to enrich his winter residence in Sarasota FL as well as expand the Old Master holdings that would comprise his newly formed museum there (p. 45). Featuring an introduction by Virginia Brilliant (Associate Curator, European Art, The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, FL; Ph.D, Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London, UK) and three essays on the Gavet-Vanderbilt-Ringling collection and its owners, written respectively by Alan Chong (Curator of the Collection, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, MA; Ph.D), Paul F. Miller (Curator, The Preservation Society of Newport County, RI; B.A., M.A.), and Brilliant, this book also contains a fourth contribution by Flaminia Gennari-Santori (Curator, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, Miami, FL; Ph.D) and Charlotte Vignon (Associate Curator, Decorative Arts, The Frick Collection, New York, NY; Ph.D), who discuss the practices of collecting Medieval art in America from 1890 to 1940. Additional topics covered in this publication’s essays include, but are not limited to, renown art collectors, their tastes, the aims and objectives of the art dealers and collectors, the arrangement of objects in the private and public collections, the history of Medieval and Renaissance art in American during the Gilded Age, and significant collections of Medieval and Renaissance Art in Europe and America. While the first part of this catalog consists of the aforementioned scholarly essays focusing on the history of the Gavet-Vanderbilt-Ringling collection and its display, the second section showcases the objects that constitute the collection, many of which were previously lost and never published. Signed catalog entries by the previously mentioned and other esteemed contributors examine the objects in considerable detail. They include analyses, color reproductions, and bibliographies. A back-of-the-book bibliography and authors’ biographies conclude this meticulously-researched, beautifully-presented, and noteworthy publication by an international team of experts. Of interest to museum visitors, graduate students, scholars, museum professionals, and others, this first comprehensive study of the Gavet-Vanderbilt-Ringling collection and its display is very highly recommended for large public libraries as well as for academic and special libraries. Review copy. Availability:, The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art Museum Store.