Mr. Pergolesi's Curious Things

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/exhibitions/2318806803/

Mr. Pergolesi's Curious Things

In Western architecture and design, the term “ornament” refers to purely decorative embellishment, compelling patterns and motifs that add visual interest to whatever they adorn. As with any art form, different styles of ornament go in and out of fashion, responding to popular tastes and trends. In late 18th-century Britain, innovative architects and designers, energized by archaeological discoveries at sites like Pompeii, embraced a neoclassical style that employed ornament inspired by artifacts from ancient Greece and Rome. This exhibition showcases fanciful drawings and prints by Michel Angelo Pergolesi (died 1801), an Italian-born artist whose professional specialty, in his words, was “the ornaments of the ancients.” In the early 1760s, Pergolesi moved to London, England, where he helped popularize a visual vocabulary of elegant, airy decoration inflected with the art of antiquity that came to define British neoclassicism. Today, the best representation of his work is found in New York City: drawings and prints held at Cooper Hewitt and the Morgan Library & Museum show how Pergolesi transformed ancient relics—what he called “curious things”—into charming decorative motifs. Although his name is now largely forgotten, these rarely seen works call attention to Pergolesi’s legacy, to the Beaux-Arts neoclassical decoration of Cooper Hewitt’s historic mansion (built 1897–1902), and to the ways in which ornament of all kinds enlivens our built environment. Mr. Pergolesi’s Curious Things: Ornament in 18th-Century Britain is made possible with generous support from the Marks Family Foundation Endowment Fund. This exhibition is organized by Julia Siemon, Assistant Curator of Drawings, Prints & Grpahic Design. Exhibition design by Field Guide Architecture. Graphic design by Kelly Sung. We are thankful to all who directly or indirectly made this exhibition possible.

Mr. Pergolesi's Curious Things

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18186493/

  • Manufactured by Josiah Wedgwood and Sons
  • stoneware
  • Gift of Mrs. Frederick F. Thompson

This object is currently on display in room 105 in Carnegie Mansion.

Mr. Pergolesi's Curious Things

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18307723/

  • wood, paint, gilding, textile
  • Gift of the Countess Costantini
  • furniture
  • display
  • flowers
  • animals
  • gilt
  • capitals
  • griffins
  • seating
  • heads
  • chairs
  • leaves
  • foliate
  • carved
  • chinoiserie
  • berries
  • acanthus
  • cornucopias

Pergolesi, an Italian designer who spent much of the 1780s in London, created engravings that influenced Italian and English furniture makers. His designs featured fantastic animal-like creatures mixed with a classical vocabulary. This chair was a gift of Countess Costantini, a Hewitt friend who collected and sold antique Italian furniture in New York.

This object is currently on display in room 105 in Carnegie Mansion.

Mr. Pergolesi's Curious Things

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18349581/

  • Manufactured by Wedgwood
  • stoneware ("black basalt")
  • Bequest of Erskine Hewitt
  • decoration
  • ceramics
  • figures
  • container
  • neoclassical
  • women
  • traditional
  • urns
  • female
  • garlands
  • foliate
  • customization
  • fabricator
  • musical instruments
  • lyres

This object is currently on display in room 105 in Carnegie Mansion.

Mr. Pergolesi's Curious Things

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18418329/

  • earthenware
  • Gift of Mrs. Leo Wallerstein

This object is currently on display in room 105 in Carnegie Mansion.

Mr. Pergolesi's Curious Things

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18506107/

  • pen and ink, brush and watercolor, over graphite on laid paper
  • Gift of Unknown Donor

Cooper Hewitt is home to 67 large watercolor drawings by Pergolesi, a series of brilliantly hued ornament drawings created in 1776–77. These drawings inspired Pergolesi’s most enduring project: a set of influential ornament prints published over the span of more than 20 years. This design appears as the second plate in the series, which has had various titles but is generally known today as his Designs for Various Ornaments.

This object is currently on display in room 105 in Carnegie Mansion.

Mr. Pergolesi's Curious Things

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18506115/

  • pen and ink, brush and watercolor over graphite on laid paper
  • Gift of Unknown Donor

Neoclassicism (meaning “new classicism”) refers to the revival of classical (that is, ancient Greek and Roman) styles in art and culture. The type of neoclassicism popular in Great Britain in Pergolesi’s time looks different from the Beaux-Arts neoclassical style of Cooper Hewitt’s Carnegie Mansion (built around 1900), but the two versions have much in common. Both repeat patterns and motifs that have been popular in Western art and design for thousands of years. At the right of this drawing is an undulating pattern called a “Vitruvian wave,” which appears as a carved wooden ornament in the upper register of the wall niche at left, and as a painted ornament on an ancient vase in the case nearby.

This object is currently on display in room 105 in Carnegie Mansion.

Mr. Pergolesi's Curious Things

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18506135/

  • pen and ink, brush and watercolor over graphite on laid paper
  • Gift of Unknown Donor

Pergolesi’s astonishing technical skill as a watercolor artist is showcased in this vibrant selection of his ornament designs. First, he worked out each composition and the strategy for how it would be colored on a separate piece of paper. (A few examples of such preparatory drawings are on view across the gallery.) Then, using a fresh sheet, he drew the contours of his designs in faint graphite, over which he painstakingly applied watercolors with a thin, dry brush. The combination of Pergolesi’s remarkable technical proficiency and his lighthearted sensibility results in charming works that are simultaneously rooted in the past and brimming with life.

This object is currently on display in room 105 in Carnegie Mansion.

Mr. Pergolesi's Curious Things

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18506139/

  • pen and ink, brush and watercolor over graphite on laid paper
  • Gift of Unknown Donor

Pergolesi’s astonishing technical skill as a watercolor artist is showcased in this vibrant selection of his ornament designs. First, he worked out each composition and the strategy for how it would be colored on a separate piece of paper. (A few examples of such preparatory drawings are on view across the gallery.) Then, using a fresh sheet, he drew the contours of his designs in faint graphite, over which he painstakingly applied watercolors with a thin, dry brush. The combination of Pergolesi’s remarkable technical proficiency and his lighthearted sensibility results in charming works that are simultaneously rooted in the past and brimming with life.

This object is currently on display in room 105 in Carnegie Mansion.

Mr. Pergolesi's Curious Things

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18506141/

  • pen and ink, brush and watercolor over graphite on laid paper
  • Gift of Unknown Donor

Pergolesi’s astonishing technical skill as a watercolor artist is showcased in this vibrant selection of his ornament designs. First, he worked out each composition and the strategy for how it would be colored on a separate piece of paper. (A few examples of such preparatory drawings are on view across the gallery.) Then, using a fresh sheet, he drew the contours of his designs in faint graphite, over which he painstakingly applied watercolors with a thin, dry brush. The combination of Pergolesi’s remarkable technical proficiency and his lighthearted sensibility results in charming works that are simultaneously rooted in the past and brimming with life.

This object is currently on display in room 105 in Carnegie Mansion.

Mr. Pergolesi's Curious Things

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18506147/

  • pen and ink, brush and watercolor over graphite on laid paper
  • Gift of Unknown Donor

Cooper Hewitt’s watercolors are developed from Pergolesi’s ornament sketches in the collection of the Morgan Library & Museum. This striking composition, featuring fantastic griffons whose tails morph into leafy spiraling coils called “rinceaux,” derives from the sketch seen in the center of the scrapbook page at left. What sets the finished watercolor apart is Pergolesi’s skillful use of constantly shifting color, which he has carefully planned in the sketch. There, we find his annotations indicating areas to be colored, for example, in pink, golden yellow, deep purple, and Prussian blue, and instructions to create highlights by reserving areas of blank white paper. In the watercolor, these blank areas can be spotted among the pink leaves and flowers.

This object is currently on display in room 105 in Carnegie Mansion.

Mr. Pergolesi's Curious Things

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18506153/

  • pen and ink, brush and watercolor over graphite on laid paper
  • Gift of Unknown Donor

Comparison of Pergolesi’s watercolor drawings with the black-and-white illustrations upon which they are based reveals the artist’s remarkable skill with color. His lively palette favors candy tones of green, pink, purple, and blue combined in surprising and delightful ways. Pergolesi created three differently colored versions of this design, each depicting a side of the Roman altar that appears in the encyclopedia in the case at left. Here he has faithfully copied the entire ancient object, while in other watercolors he reproduces only a single small detail.

This object is currently on display in room 105 in Carnegie Mansion.

Mr. Pergolesi's Curious Things

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18506161/

  • pen and ink, brush and watercolor over graphite on laid paper
  • Gift of Unknown Donor

Pergolesi’s astonishing technical skill as a watercolor artist is showcased in this vibrant selection of his ornament designs. First, he worked out each composition and the strategy for how it would be colored on a separate piece of paper. (A few examples of such preparatory drawings are on view across the gallery.) Then, using a fresh sheet, he drew the contours of his designs in faint graphite, over which he painstakingly applied watercolors with a thin, dry brush. The combination of Pergolesi’s remarkable technical proficiency and his lighthearted sensibility results in charming works that are simultaneously rooted in the past and brimming with life.

This object is currently on display in room 105 in Carnegie Mansion.

Mr. Pergolesi's Curious Things

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18506163/

  • pen and ink, brush and watercolor over graphite on laid paper
  • Gift of Unknown Donor

In 1777, Pergolesi described himself as an artist who “has had the Honour of designing and painting Rooms, Ceilings, Stair-cases, and Ornaments, for several of the Nobility and Gentry of this Kingdom” (i.e., Great Britain). Although very little of his interior design work survives, watercolors such as this encourage us to imagine whimsical, imaginative, and fabulously colored spaces. The purpose of these watercolors is not known, but it seems possible that Pergolesi intended them to be a type of portfolio, which he might have presented to potential clients as a demonstration of his skill and sensibility.

This object is currently on display in room 105 in Carnegie Mansion.

Mr. Pergolesi's Curious Things

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18506169/

  • pen and ink, brush and watercolor over graphite on laid paper
  • Gift of Unknown Donor

Pergolesi’s astonishing technical skill as a watercolor artist is showcased in this vibrant selection of his ornament designs. First, he worked out each composition and the strategy for how it would be colored on a separate piece of paper. (A few examples of such preparatory drawings are on view across the gallery.) Then, using a fresh sheet, he drew the contours of his designs in faint graphite, over which he painstakingly applied watercolors with a thin, dry brush. The combination of Pergolesi’s remarkable technical proficiency and his lighthearted sensibility results in charming works that are simultaneously rooted in the past and brimming with life.

This object is currently on display in room 105 in Carnegie Mansion.

Mr. Pergolesi's Curious Things

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18506175/

  • pen and ink, brush and watercolor over graphite on laid paper
  • Gift of Unknown Donor

Pergolesi’s astonishing technical skill as a watercolor artist is showcased in this vibrant selection of his ornament designs. First, he worked out each composition and the strategy for how it would be colored on a separate piece of paper. (A few examples of such preparatory drawings are on view across the gallery.) Then, using a fresh sheet, he drew the contours of his designs in faint graphite, over which he painstakingly applied watercolors with a thin, dry brush. The combination of Pergolesi’s remarkable technical proficiency and his lighthearted sensibility results in charming works that are simultaneously rooted in the past and brimming with life.

This object is currently on display in room 105 in Carnegie Mansion.

Mr. Pergolesi's Curious Things

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18506183/

  • pen and ink, brush and watercolor over graphite on laid paper
  • Gift of Unknown Donor

Pergolesi’s astonishing technical skill as a watercolor artist is showcased in this vibrant selection of his ornament designs. First, he worked out each composition and the strategy for how it would be colored on a separate piece of paper. (A few examples of such preparatory drawings are on view across the gallery.) Then, using a fresh sheet, he drew the contours of his designs in faint graphite, over which he painstakingly applied watercolors with a thin, dry brush. The combination of Pergolesi’s remarkable technical proficiency and his lighthearted sensibility results in charming works that are simultaneously rooted in the past and brimming with life.

This object is currently on display in room 105 in Carnegie Mansion.

Mr. Pergolesi's Curious Things

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18506185/

  • pen and ink, brush and watercolor over graphite on laid paper
  • Gift of Unknown Donor

Pergolesi’s astonishing technical skill as a watercolor artist is showcased in this vibrant selection of his ornament designs. First, he worked out each composition and the strategy for how it would be colored on a separate piece of paper. (A few examples of such preparatory drawings are on view across the gallery.) Then, using a fresh sheet, he drew the contours of his designs in faint graphite, over which he painstakingly applied watercolors with a thin, dry brush. The combination of Pergolesi’s remarkable technical proficiency and his lighthearted sensibility results in charming works that are simultaneously rooted in the past and brimming with life.

This object is currently on display in room 105 in Carnegie Mansion.

Mr. Pergolesi's Curious Things

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18506207/

  • pen and ink, brush and watercolor over graphite on laid paper
  • Gift of Unknown Donor

In his watercolor drawings, Pergolesi transforms real antiquities into decorative motifs. This drawing includes, at its center, an image of the so-called Portland Vase, a famous ancient Roman object brought to England in the early 1780s. Pergolesi, however, created this drawing from a monochrome illustration a few years before the vase arrived in England. He incorrectly assumed the vase would have the same black-and-red coloration characteristic of Roman terracotta vessels, like the large krater in a case nearby.

This object is currently on display in room 105 in Carnegie Mansion.

Mr. Pergolesi's Curious Things

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18797581/

  • Designed by Robert Adam
  • engraving on paper
  • Museum purchase from the Smithson Fund

This print depicts the library or “Long Gallery” at Syon House in London, a masterpiece of British neoclassicism designed by Robert Adam in the 1760s. Adam relied on several collaborators, many of whom were Italian immigrants. Payment records show that Pergolesi was responsible for painting the 62 pilasters—tall flat columns that run vertically up the walls. He decorated them with flowers and scrolling leafy decoration called “rinceaux,” a style of ornament emulating ancient Roman designs. The room still exists today.

This object is currently on display in room 105 in Carnegie Mansion.

Mr. Pergolesi's Curious Things

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/68776367/

  • 70 leaves of plates : all ill., engravings
  • Collection of Smithsonian Institution Libraries

Pergolesi intended his prints to appeal to collectors but also hoped that they might prove useful to other artists. In 1794, in the advertisement on view in a case at the center of this gallery, he wrote that “The Publisher [Pergolesi] flatters himself, that these Designs will give Pleasure to the Noblemen and Gentlemen, and will be of great Utility to the Architect, Painter, Sculptor, Modeller, Carver . . . , &c., or any person concerned in those branches of the polite Arts, where taste and ornament are required.”

This object is currently on display in room 105 in Carnegie Mansion.

Mr. Pergolesi's Curious Things

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318806807/

  • pen and brown ink, pen and black ink, graphite, red chalk with three rectangles of paper adhered to laid paper support. red chalk on verso of sheet. drawing lined overall.
  • Morgan Library & Museum, New York

To create prints of his watercolor drawings, Pergolesi first made a highly linear print study, such as this one. He then transferred the contours of the monochrome design to a metal plate (the red chalk on the back of this drawing is a remnant of that process), which he etched, inked, and printed. The earliest, relatively simple prints in the series are closest in format to Cooper Hewitt’s watercolors. Over time, the prints became more and more elaborate.

This object is currently on display in room 105 in Carnegie Mansion.

Mr. Pergolesi's Curious Things

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318806809/

  • pen and black ink, pen and brown ink, graphite, rectangle of laid paper and brown tracing paper circle adhered to laid paper support. red chalk on verso of sheet. lined overall.
  • Morgan Library & Museum, New York

When Pergolesi set out to reproduce his watercolor drawings in print, he began the process using a surprisingly idiosyncratic method. Rather than drafting new studies, he took the small sketches upon which he had already drawn his preliminary designs—the bits of paper from his ornament scrapbook—and rearranged them in a collage. He then reworked the drawings in pen and graphite, adding new details and dense borders. The resulting ornament prints are still closely related to the Cooper Hewitt watercolors but tend to be much more elaborate.

This object is currently on display in room 105 in Carnegie Mansion.

Mr. Pergolesi's Curious Things

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318806811/

  • pen and brown ink, pen and black ink, graphite, on five rectangles of paper on laid paper support.
  • Morgan Library & Museum, New York

This drawing, and the other pen-and-ink sketches in the gallery, come from a disassembled album in the collection of the Morgan Library & Museum. The album includes designs for all of Pergolesi’s ornament prints, as well as pages that the artist used as a scrapbook, where he gathered samples of ancient ornament. Here he has pasted together five panels of ornament, each extracted from printed images in Bernard de Montfaucon’s Antiquity Explained, on view nearby. Pergolesi has carefully noted the volume, page, and plate of the book where he found the designs.

This object is currently on display in room 105 in Carnegie Mansion.

Mr. Pergolesi's Curious Things

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318806813/

  • pen and black ink and wash, graphite on laid paper, red chalk on verso. lined overall.
  • Morgan Library & Museum, New York

Nothing is known of Pergolesi’s youth and training in Italy. He arrived in London, England, around 1760, probably summoned by the famous architect Robert Adam (British, 1728–1792), who in that year began one of his most celebrated neoclassical projects: the renovation of Syon House for the Duke of Northumberland. This drawing depicts a small room (the term “closet” then referred to a small private room) heavily decorated with ornament inspired by ancient Roman wall and ceiling paintings. It was the first space at Syon to be designed by Adam and his team. Pergolesi’s drawing, which he reproduced as a print in 1792, suggests that he was involved in the room’s creation

This object is currently on display in room 105 in Carnegie Mansion.

Mr. Pergolesi's Curious Things

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318806815/

  • pen and brown ink, graphite, pen and blue-gray ink, red chalk on verso on laid paper. extraneous white accretions.
  • Morgan Library & Museum, New York

Most of the drawings in this gallery depict isolated motifs, but in this sheet, Pergolesi shows how his designs might be combined to create an entire interior, covered floor-to-ceiling in harmonious ornament. Among these are several elements—including sphinxes, birds, palmettes, rosettes, and others—that are presented in close detail elsewhere in the gallery. Although this busy interior may seem fantastically dense, careful examination reveals familiar motifs such as acanthus leaves, tooth-shaped dentils, and eggand-dart pattern along the ceiling. Many of these can also be seen throughout the museum

This object is currently on display in room 105 in Carnegie Mansion.

Mr. Pergolesi's Curious Things

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318806817/

  • 70 plates, engravings on laid paper, bound in 3/4 black morocco, in black cloth box
  • Morgan Library & Museum, New York. Gift of Henry S. Morgan, 1965

Pergolesi first advertised his ornament prints in June of 1777, alerting potential clients to his plan to publish them monthly: he promised to produce 12 sets of five prints each, for a total of 60 prints published over the course of a single year. Instead, Pergolesi would work on this project until his death in 1801, at which point he had published 67 prints. He dedicated the earliest prints to the Duke of Northumberland, his patron at Syon House in London. Pergolesi sold the prints from his shop in London’s Golden Square, the center of the Italian émigré community. Many collectors of these prints had them bound together, as in this example.

This object is currently on display in room 105 in Carnegie Mansion.

Mr. Pergolesi's Curious Things

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318806820/

  • 60 engraved plates in 12 fascicles in original purple wrappers, plus one loose letterpress sheet, all in red cloth case
  • Morgan Library & Museum, New York. Purchased as the gift of Mrs. Christian H. Aall, 1984

To buy Pergolesi’s ornament prints, a client needed to visit his home and shop on Broad Street near London’s Golden Square. The area was popular with the city’s Italian artists, like Giovanni Battista Cipriani (1727–1785) and Francesco Bartolozzi (1727–1815). The prints were issued in sets of five or six, available only by subscription. They came wrapped in purple paper, numbered by Pergolesi on the front—the rare copies seen here are in their original state, appearing just as they were when sold in 1794. Pergolesi published his first ornament prints in 1777 and continued to add to the series until his death in 1801. This sheet from 1794 is a print proof (draft of a print) in which he solicits new subscribers. The project did not create sufficient profit to cover the artist’s expenses. In an addendum to the advertisement, Pergolesi notes that he “continues to teach Ladies and Gentlemen every branch of ancient and modern Ornaments, Designs, Paintings, &c. &c. on very reasonable terms, in a manner which. . . has gained him the patronage of many of the Nobility and Gentry of England.”

This object is currently on display in room 105 in Carnegie Mansion.

Mr. Pergolesi's Curious Things

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/2318806821/

Pergolesi based many of his ornament designs on illustrations found in this 15-volume encyclopedia of the ancient world, compiled and published in the early 18th century. The antiquities the book represents are generally authentic; their use, however, is not always correctly identified. In this case, the encyclopedia illustrates three views of a tripod identified as a three-sided Roman altar dedicated to the god Mars. The actual marble object, probably made in the 1st century CE, is in fact the base of a candelabrum, not an altar. Several ancient versions of this tripod survive, including examples in the British Museum in London, England, and the Louvre Museum in Paris, France.

This object is currently on display in room 105 in Carnegie Mansion.