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Welcome to our January 2007   Newsletter!

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News from the world of art and antiques

Hunt for Da Vinci Painting Will Resume

ROME, Jan. 16, 2007— A real-life da Vinci mystery, complete with tantalizing clues and sharp art sleuths, may soon be solved, as researchers resume the search for a lost Leonardo masterpiece believed to be hidden within a wall in a Florence palace.

Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli and officials in the Tuscan city announced this week they had given approval for renewed exploration in the Palazzo Vecchio, the seat of power for various Florence rulers, including the Medici family in the 16th century. There, some researchers believe, a cavity in a wall may have preserved Leonardo's unfinished painted mural of the Battle of Anghiari for more than four centuries.

''We took this decision to verify conclusively if the cavity exists and if there are traces of the fresco,'' Rutelli said during a visit in Florence.

The search for the Renaissance masterpiece began about 30 years ago, when the art researcher Maurizio Seracini noticed a cryptic message painted on one of the frescoes decorating the ''Hall of the 500.''

''Cerca, trova''—''seek and you shall find''—said the words on a tiny green flag in the Battle of Marciano in the Chiana Valley, one of the military scenes painted by the 16th-century artist Giorgio Vasari.

Between 2002 and 2003, radar and X-ray scans allowed Seracini and his team to find a cavity behind the fresco that is the right size to cocoon Leonardo's work, which was long thought to have been destroyed when Vasari renovated the hall in the mid-16th century.

Shortly after the initial discovery, Seracini's decades-long quest came to a standstill when authorities refused to renew his survey permit.

''We are not talking about a search like any other,'' Seracini told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. ''We are searching for Leonardo's greatest masterpiece, considered as such also by his contemporaries.''

Leonardo began working on the Battle of Anghiari in 1505, when he was 53. He worked alongside fellow artist and rival Michelangelo, who had been commissioned to decorate the opposite wall of the council hall, which was to have scenes of the Florentine republic's military triumphs.

The pairing of two great artists created ripples of excitement in art-loving Florence, but both men soon left for other cities.

Michelangelo never went beyond the preparatory work for his Battle of Cascina, but Leonardo did eventually paint his battle's centerpiece—a violent clash of horses and men called the Fight for the Flag, which is known today through Leonardo's preparatory studies and copies made by other artists.

Some chroniclers of the time said da Vinci had experimented with unstable paints that had rapidly degraded, leaving the painting irreparably damaged.

But Seracini said documents show that at least the centerpiece was admired and copied for decades, until Vasari began his work at Palazzo Vecchio. Vasari himself, who wrote biographies of several artists including Leonardo, would have been loath to destroy Leonardo's work. He is known to have salvaged other art by leaving works cocooned between walls when he made renovations, the researcher said.

Seracini, whose research on another Leonardo painting is quoted in Dan Brown's best-selling novel ''The Da Vinci Code,'' is an engineer who has spent the last three decades conducting scientific investigations on art treasures.

Florence city officials said no date has been set for the new investigation because details still needed approval.

Once the work starts, researchers would need a year and a half to give a definitive answer on whether Leonardo's masterpiece is there, Seracini said.

The work would include documentary research to determine which chemicals Leonardo used to paint the fresco, and subsequent scans to see if those pigments are present behind the wall, he said.

Seracini declined to reveal how the scans would work, saying the method was still experimental. However, he said the analysis would not involve probes or other instruments that would damage the overlying Vasari fresco.

Copyright 2007 Associated Press

Churchill Painting Doubles Auction Estimate

"View of Tinherir"

Winston Churchill

LONDON, Dec. 12, 2006—A painting by Winston Churchill that was estimated at £250,000 sold for a record £612,800 at a Sotheby’s auction yesterday, the Birmingham Post reports.

Churchill painted the artwork, View of Tinherir, six years after the end of World War II and gave it to U.S. General George Marshall a few years later. The painting remained in the Marshall family’s possession for three generations.

It was virtually unknown in the art world until Marshall’s granddaughter, American actress Kitty Winn, put it up for auction.

Portraits the Picture of Popularity in London


LONDON, Dec. 18, 2006Portraiture is regaining its place in the spotlight, especially in London, the Toronto Star reports.

“Anyone who has doubts on this point is advised to spend a week in London, where every day, it seems, you can go to a different great museum and see another portrait show as enthralling as the one you saw the day before,” the Canadian newspaper writes.

As proof of its popularity: The British National Gallery’s current art exhibition, which highlights portraits by Diego Velazquez, has seen 150,000 visitors so far (and its gift shop has sold 100,000 Velazquez postcards).

Tate Britain is also showing portraits this season, by Hans Holbein. And the National Portrait Gallery is has on display portraiture by David Hockney—a departure from the California swimming pools for which he is known.

Divine Intervention?

a lucky strike

A Virginia church bought an old building and while cleaning it found a cardboard sign dumped under a stairwell. A smart collector thought it wasn't just trash and could be sold. The die-cut cardboard was an ad for Lucky Strike Cigarettes picturing 1928 baseball MVP winners Mickey Cochrane and Jim Bottomley as batter and catcher. Cost to the church, $0, price at Julia's auction in Maine, $34,500. See if you can do as well with your housecleaning.


Original Vapourri® by Claire Burke

With its long-lasting burst of fragrance, Original Vapourri Room Spray infuses any atmosphere with calming notes of rose, lavender and spice—taking home fragrance to new heights.

Infuse your surroundings with the soothing scent of Original room spray with its long-lasting burst of fragrance and sophisticated brushed aluminum container. It’s sure to please.

The Care and Feeding of Antiques

Antique ivory objects sometime require cleaning, and though it requires special care in order to remain in good condition, it isn’t very difficult. It’s actually quite easy if you follow some simple guidelines. The following instructions will help you keep your antique ivory treasures looking beautiful for many years to come.

Before cleaning, it is important to remember that ivory yellows naturally with age...this is desirable.  Also, some pieces, in particular Japanese or Chinese, are colored or stained when they are carved…these should not be cleaned off!

If your piece is dusty, and sooner or later it will be, use a soft paintbrush such as a fine-tip sable hair artist’s brush.

If the dust has solidified, or if the piece is truly dirty, then dusting with the paintbrush won’t help much.  Here are a few methods of further cleaning dirty that are gentle, safe, and effective.

Try dry methods before using cleaning methods that involve the use of water or other liquids. Since ivory is porous, water or other liquids can cause antique ivory to expand or even crack, so use extreme caution when cleaning ivory with liquids. If in doubt, do nothing without professional advice. 

Antique ivory may be cleaned with a white vinyl eraser. These are pure, free of contaminates and dyes, and they do a good job of cleaning dirty ivory. A white vinyl pencil tip eraser is an excellent tool.  The narrow tip makes it easy to clean crevices and intricate details and it can be sharpened to a fine point for better cleaning and control.

If your pieces aren’t cracked or dyed, you can clean them with a solution containing half water and half ethyl alcohol (same as denatured alcohol). Dip a clean cotton swab in the alcohol and water solution, dab off any excess liquid on a clean rag or paper towel, and gently clean an inconspicuous area before proceeding to clean the entire piece. If the alcohol and water solution successfully cleans the dirt from the antique ivory piece, continue cleaning the entire piece, carefully and meticulously. Be sure to dry each section of ivory as you clean it so the water doesn’t soak in.  Do not use water on any object that is cracked or otherwise damaged.  Never soak objects.

Hydrating Ivory

Ivory can become very dry and brittle, and dry ivory can become cracked and permanently damaged. Hydrate antique ivory twice a year by wrapping it in a soft white cloth soaked in pure mineral oil. Allow the antique ivory piece to remain wrapped in a dye-free oiled cloth for about eight hours. After unwrapping the antique ivory piece, carefully wipe off any excess mineral oil with another soft white cloth.

Storing and Displaying Antique Ivory

Don’t make the mistake of placing antique ivory pieces under bright lights or in areas of direct sun. The sun can cause bleaching, and the heat can cause extensive drying and cracking.

Knife Handles

Ivory knife handles often get loose or fall off.  This is caused by washing with hot water and detergent…NOT a good idea!  To mend, first clean off all the old glue from the spike of the knife and from inside of the handle.  Glue the two together with a synthetic rubber adhesive.  Ivory that has been washed in the above manner will eventually take on a ‘powdery’ surface look.  This condition can be somewhat corrected with a gentle use of four ought steel wool impregnated with microcrystalline wax.  While not difficult, it requires a light touch. 

Once restored…don’t go near the water!!!            - Dexter S. Augier

Did you know...?

Throughout the18th c. Settee was used to describe any piece of seat furniture made to accommodate two or more people, regardless of whether the back was carved or upholstered.  The term Sofa has Arabic origins, and originally referred to a raised alcove furnished with fine rugs and cushions.  Although today they are generally interchangeable, Sofa has tended to be used to describe larger, more heavily upholstered pieces.  Other terms that have found common usage here in the States are Couch, which originated in 14th c. France, and Davenport which correctly refers to a convertible sofa/bed.       - Dexter S. Augier  


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