Art, Art & Archives, Education, Getty Center, J. Paul Getty Museum, Sculpture and Decorative Arts

Hidden Gems of the Collection: Reliefs

We’ve asked our Museum educators, who work in the galleries and get to know the art as intimate friends, to let us in on lesser-known objects they especially love—and that we ought to explore.

First up are three relief sculptures that deserve a close look. All three combine the complex composition of painting with the virtuoso craftsmanship and sumptuous materials of sculpture.

Marine Scene
Gerard van Opstal
About 1640, Alabaster
Getty Center, East Pavilion, Gallery E101

I’ve always loved Gerard van Opstal’s Marine Scene, teeming with busy fishermen and their catch. It may not seem like it, but fishing can be a very dangerous profession; even more so before modern advances in navigation sciences, boat technology, and weather prediction. We can only imagine how fishermen and their loved ones alike would pray for their safe and bountiful return from sea. In this artwork, the artist is imagining the answer to such prayer; many little angels sent to assist the struggling fishermen at work in a blustering storm.
—Robin Trento, Gallery Teacher

Marine Scene / van Opstal

Marine Scene / van Opstal - detail of fish

Carved Relief (Allegory of the Constitution of 1791)
Aubert-Henry-Joseph Parent
1789, Limewood
Getty Center, South Pavilion, Gallery S114

A true tour de force of sculpture, Aubert-Henri-Joseph Parent’s Carved Relief was made from one piece of wood. Both a breathtaking still life and a timely political allegory, Parent’s relief was made during a moment of hope, when Louis XVI agreed to become a constitutional monarch, sharing his power with the National Assembly. With the knowledge of history, we now know that this moment was fleeting.
—Alice Jackel, Gallery Teacher

Carved Relief / Parent

Carved Relief / Parent - detail of dead bird and medallions

Venus Reclining on a Sea Monster with Cupid and a Putto
John Deare
1785–87, Marble
Temporarily off view for the Leonardo exhibition; returns to the West Pavilion in August 2010

A symphony of textures and movement tantalizes the eye in John Deare’s depiction of a sensuous marine Venus, who languorously reclines on a sea-goat. Venus seems to spring forth from the hard marble, just as she was born of the sea foam, according to the myth, to entice the shaggy-furred hybrid. Legend has it that the sculptor fell asleep on a slab of marble for inspiration and caught a fatal chill at the relatively youthful age of 38. Try to spot the inscription “John Deare Made It”—it’s signed in Greek, which demonstrates his commitment to Neo-classicism.
—Christine Spier, Gallery Teacher

Venus Reclining on a Sea Monster / Deare

Venus Reclining on a Sea Monster / Deare - detail of Venus and the monster

Venus Reclining on a Sea Monster / Deare - detail of Venus's foot and drapery

If your interest in reliefs is piqued, check out the Wikipedia entry on the topic, which boasts a list of notable examples from Persepolis to Mount Rushmore.

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  1. Patrick Damiaens
    Posted October 8, 2010 at 5:39 am | Permalink

    Aubert-Henri-Joseph Parent’s Carved Relief ! OH, MY GOD !!!!!

    I feel myself a beginner

  2. Posted October 8, 2010 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    I came back to take another look at this wonderful piece of woodcarving, I visit already 22 years The Tefaf (Thats 15Min. away) . And I have never came across anything like this. It’s Grinling Gibbons style carving, Yet another way cut. More Refined, delicate and accurate. I drool ! If I ever get the money together for a visit to America. This is what I want to see.

  3. Ahmed Elshamy
    Posted December 31, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    I feel it in my self you also master Patrick are a special woodcarver in our time , thanks master .

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      A Brief History of the Fleur-de-lis in Art

      The fleur-de-lis, a familiar symbol with varied meanings and a rather obscure origin.

      If you read the labels of objects in museums bearing the fleur-de-lis (in French, fleur de lys, pronounced with the final “s”), you might notice that they were all made in France before the French Revolution of 1789. 

      What’s less apparent is that the fleur-de-lis marks objects that bear witness to a dramatic history of monarchy, democracy, and war: they speak to the inherent power of trappings commissioned for and by France’s pre-revolutionary kings.

      Adopted as a royal emblem in France by the 1100s, the fleur-de-lis can be traced to early Frankish monarchs including Clovis I, who converted to Christianity in 496, and the renowned Charlemagne. 

      A French word, fleur-de-lis translates literally to “lily flower.” This is appropriate given the association of lilies with purity (and the Virgin Mary) and given that France has long been known as the “Eldest Daughter of the Church.” In truth, the stylized flower most closely resembles a yellow iris. 

      As a heraldic symbol used in the arms of the French monarchy, the fleur-de-lis often appears in yellow or gold tones and set on a blue shield. 

      Given its intimate royal associations, the fleur-de-lis invoked the ire of revolutionaries even before the fall of the monarchy in 1792. In addition to toppling royal statues, vandals chipped away at crowns and fleurs-de-lis adorning the façades of buildings.

      Full blog post on the Getty Iris here.


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