Hannah, Emily, and the Artex truck outside The Jewish Museum (the police officer parked in front waved us into the space, so it’s not as illegal as it looks)
Note that this parking space was achieved after Hannah had zig-zagged the truck between a double-parked Rolls Royce and a double-parked utility truck on opposite sides of the already-narrow 93rd, around a tight corner onto 5th, then around two double-parked tour buses and another tight corner onto 92nd. Awesome.
After unloading, art handlers at the Jewish Museum took over and dollied the crate up to the exhibition space, where it would acclimatize overnight:
The crated painting as delivered to the exhibition gallery.
I’m not sure how the standard “acclimatize for 24 hours before uncrating” practice originated, but I suspect that it’s not strictly necessary in most cases. Because the Folger, the truck, and the Jewish Museum all have climate control, not much about the environmental conditions would have changed. Even if there had been a radical difference in humidity between the painting and the gallery, 24 hours probably wouldn’t be enough time for meaningful moisture equilibration anyway, since the painting was well-insulated in a double crate lined with thick sheets of polyethylene foam.
Installation began at 2:30pm the next day, a process that always seems like a light-bulb joke, “how many professionals does it take to hang a painting?” In addition to the courier (me, in this case) the process is overseen by the borrowing institution’s registrar and the exhibition curator. Two or three art handlers do the actual work of getting the painting out of its crate and moving it around, and a lighting technician stands by ready to adjust the lamps and light levels as needed. Sometimes there are one or two couriers from other institutions looking on.
As soon as the painting comes out of the crate, it gets “conditioned” – exhibition jargon for documenting its current physical condition:
Preparing to examine the painting’s condition.
Using the condition report made by Folger conservators before the painting was crated as my guide, I looked over every inch of the painting and its frame in direct light and raking light to make sure that any known issues hadn’t worsened, and no new ones had appeared. The registrar then does the same thing. It’s pretty much like looking over a rental car in order to note any dings and scratches on the diagram before driving off. Luckily, the Sieve Portrait is in pretty good shape and fared well on the journey: a straightforward case of checking the “no change” box on the form and signing our names.
And then… [insert anticipation-building drum roll using your imagination because I’m not interested in messing with sound files] the actual hanging!
Hanging the Sieve Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I at The Jewish Museum
Following the hanging, art handlers use a level to make sure that the painting is technically straight:
Checking with a spirit level to see if the painting is straight.
What this usually reveals is that although the picture is straight, it doesn’t look straight thanks to variations in ceiling height, wall decoration, or frame ornamentation. Accordingly, the final check is by eye rather than by laws of physics:
Checking with eyes to see if the painting looks straight.
After that, the painting is spot-lit, light levels are checked, security is verified, and the courier’s job is done.
And that’s the basic story of Elizabeth Goes to New York. It lacks just one thing: motivation. Why on earth would The Jewish Museum want to borrow the Sieve Portrait of Queen Elizabeth for an exhibition of Hebrew manuscripts from the Bodleian? It turns out there’s a really good reason, and it’s not that the highlights of her dress happen to be the exact same color as the exhibition’s walls. The exhibition strives to teach visitors about the cross-cultural influences of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity in the medieval period, and the importance of Hebrew texts to scholars in the medieval and early modern times. It culminates with “Sir Thomas Bodley and Queen Elizabeth I” in a room presided over by the Sieve portrait, with a portrait of Sir Thomas Bodley (1545–1613) holding a Hebrew manuscript on the adjacent wall. Bodley re-founded the university library at Oxford shortly after he retired from a career in Elizabeth’s diplomatic service.
“Crossing Borders: Manuscripts from the Bodleian Libraries” at The Jewish Museum
The Sieve portrait hangs next to Queen Elizabeth’s Book of Oxford, an illustrated guided tour of the university prepared as a gift to the queen during her visit in 1566, part of a “royal progress” that summer. The manuscript is open to the frontispiece, a tree representing Hebrew Learning followed by a Latin poem:
Thomas Neale, Queen Elizabeth’s Book of Oxford. Drawings by John Bereblock (active ca. 1559–1572), Oxford, ca. 1566, 19.1 x 10.2 cm, Ms. Bodl. 13 (A), fol. iiv
In the poem, Regius Professor of Hebrew Thomas Neale (ca. 1519 – ca. 1590) praises Elizabeth in advance for watering the roots of the tree planted by her father – Henry VIII’s generous support of the university included the foundation of the Regius Professorship in Hebrew. The manuscript as a whole provides an illustrated tour of the university, with an emphasis on philanthropy and its benefits to giver and receiver.
The exhibition opened this past Friday, and is on view until February 3, 2013. Note, however, that the museum is closed today and tomorrow for Rosh Hashanah. Shanah tovah!