Profile: The Iris

Behind the Scenes at the Getty

Welcome to The Iris, the blog of the J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles. Launched in April 2010, the blog is a project of the entire Getty community, written by our curators, educators, scientists, scholars, digital specialists, guest speakers, interns, and many others.
We strive to offer an engaging, behind-the-scenes look at art in all its aspects—history, conservation, research, publishing, education, and digital interpretation.
The name The Iris is a reference to the Getty’s best-known painting, Irises by Vincent van Gogh. The logo is inspired by color spheres of German artist Phillip Otto Runge, which map the spectrum much as an explorer would chart a globe.
We Want to Hear from You
We’re eager to hear from readers with questions, comments, and critiques, and we always enjoy receiving suggestions for stories. Leave a comment on a post relevant to the topic or email the editor directly.
The Iris team reads and moderates comments Monday through Friday, and we strive to respond to questions as soon as possible, generally within 24 hours.

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“Who is this man named J. P. Getty?”

J. Paul Getty is curiously absent from the sales records of M. Knoedler & Co. Why did such a prominent collector and gallery never finish a deal?
The stock and sales books of the art dealers M. Knoedler & Co. provide a who’s who of American art collectors, but J. Paul Getty is notably absent from the firm’s financial ledgers. Did the gallery include the prominent collector among its customers? Knoedler’s correspondence reveals information about the dealer’s relationship with Getty.
Post by Sarah Glover; 4 minute read.
Cover image: Portrait of James Christie, 1778, Thomas Gainsborough. Oil on canvas, 50 1/4 x 40 1/4 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Gift of J. Paul Getty, 70.PA.16
The Iris: Behind The Scenes At The Getty
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A Mysterious Man of Nineteenth-Century Paris

Research into a distinctive sitter formerly identified as an “Indian man” reveals new clues to his identity.
Post by Breanne Bradley; 5 minute read.
Cover image: Left: Nude Study of an Old Man (detail), about 1878–79, Georges Seurat. Graphite, 19 1/16 x 11 1/4 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2014.11. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program. Right: Nude Study of an Old Man, about 1878–79, Émile-Jules Pichot. Charcoal and powdered vine charcoal, 18 5/16 × 16 15/16 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2016.81. Gift of David Leventhal in honor of Lee Hendrix
The Iris: Behind The Scenes At The Getty
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Whale Tales and Sea Monsters

Slithery, scary, and sometimes sexy, fantastical sea creatures abound in European art across the centuries.
Shark Week is upon us, which means the Web is flooding with a sea of shark puns, pictures, and stories. Just as many of us land-locked humans are rushing to DVR new shark programming this week, the people of yesteryear shared their fascination with the oceans and their mysterious depths through art.
Post by Sarah Waldorf; 3 minute read.
Cover Image: Two Fishermen on a Sea Creature, about 1270, Franco-Flemish. J. Paul Getty Museum. Ms. Ludwig XV 3, fol. 89v
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Nazi Art Looting in Holland

Rare documents from the Dutch art market during World War II shed light on Nazi strategies for looting art for their planned Führermuseum.
The J. Paul Getty Museum recently announced the acquisition of a first-century carved gem that was transferred by forced sale to Adolf Hitler’s planned art museum in Linz, Austria, and later restituted to the family of its original owners. Thinking about this wartime sale, I recalled a recent discovery in the records of the G. Cramer Oude Kunst gallery at the Getty Research Institute, one that sheds light on how exactly artworks exchanged hands from dealers to Nazi officials.
Post by Isabella Zuralski-Yeager; 5 minute read.
Cover image: Postcard issued by Antiquitäten Gustav Cramer at Lennéstrasse 8 in Berlin, Germany, approximately 1938, showing the interior of the gallery. The new address in The Hague, Netherlands, is printed on recto. Photo: Wilhelm Jacob, Berlin no. 4, Kesselstr. 36. The Getty Research Institute, 2001.M.5
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The Treasured Testicles of the Medieval Beaver

Medieval medicine prized beaver testicles, but the beaver said, “not today!”
Meet 19 animals of the medieval bestiary in Book of Beasts, a blog series created by art history students at UCLA with guidance from professor Meredith Cohen and curator Larisa Grollemond. The posts complement the exhibition Book of Beasts, on view at the Getty Center from May 14 to August 18, 2019. —Ed
Post by Ranya Halbouni; 2 minute read
Cover image: A Beaver (detail) in a bestiary, about 1270, unknown illuminator, possibly made in Thérouanne, France. Tempera colors, gold leaf, and ink on parchment, 7 1/2 × 5 5/8 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. Ludwig XV 3, fol. 83. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program
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Monkey See, Monkey Do, Monkey Sin

Portrayals of primates’ transgressions in the medieval bestiary expose our own beastly natures.
Samiksha Chopra
3 Minute Read
Meet 19 animals of the medieval bestiary in Book of Beasts, a blog series created by art history students at UCLA with guidance from professor Meredith Cohen and curator Larisa Grollemond. The posts complement the exhibition Book of Beasts, on view at the Getty Center from May 14 to August 18, 2019. —Ed
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The Monstrous Ant of the Medieval Bestiary

Ants came in two forms in medieval bestiaries: small and industrious, or dog-sized and ferocious.
Meet 18 animals of the medieval bestiary in Book of Beasts, a blog series created as part of an history seminar taught by UCLA professor Meredith Cohen. The posts complement the exhibition Book of Beasts, on view at the Getty Center from May 14 to August 18, 2019. Getty Museum curator Larisa Grollemond contributes the first entry, introducing us to the fearsome medieval ant. —Ed.
Post by Larisa Grollemond
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Why Aren’t People Eating in Medieval Depictions of Feasts?

Even today, we interpret these vibrant images as celebrations of eating and drinking in a time when food was sometimes scarce for the poor and part of a conspicuous display of wealth and bounty for the upper classes. But amidst all the pageantry and spectacle, it is easy to overlook that something is amiss: Nobody’s eating.
Post by Christine Sciacca, 4 Minute Read
This post is part of the series Open Art, an arts engagement project of Zócalo Public Square and the Getty.
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What’s the Difference between a Selfie and a Self-Portrait?

Are selfies simply 21st-century self-portraits, or are they fundamentally different? In honor of #MuseumSelfie Day, we ask curator Arpad Kovacs and writer Alli Burness
Post by Annelisa Stephan
2 Minute Read
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Obelisks on the Move

Obelisks clearly have continued to capture the popular imagination long since their heyday in ancient Egypt. Our desire to possess them, along with the power and monumentality they represent, has not waned. One of the many questions about ancient obelisks is a logistical one: how did the Egyptians, and then the Romans, manage to transport and erect such massive monuments without the aid of modern technology?
Post by Sara E. Cole. 7 minute read
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Misconceptions about the Middle Ages, Debunked through Art History

We got a kick out of this recent io9 post fact-checking 10 misconceptions about the Middle Ages. Drawing on a particularly awesome reddit/AskHistorians thread, the post untangles popular myths about the “Dark Ages,” including that peasants were all the same (NOT), and that women never pursued a trade (FAKE).
As manuscripts curators who spend our days studying the visual evidence of the Middle Ages (and our nights watching fantasy shows), we’d like to offer yet more visual ammo to debunk four of our favorite myths.
Post by Bryan C. Keene and Rheagan Martin, 3 Minute Read
Cover image: Detail of The Trinity, Book of Planets, Anatomical Treatise, Liber synonimorum, shortly after 1464. German. The J. Paul Getty Museum
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Imagining the Culinary Past in France: Recipes for a Medieval Feast

In the French Middle Ages, as today, banquets were opportunities for the well-heeled to entertain guests in style!
Four of the recipes from the feast follow—Marinated Leeks in Mustard Vinaigrette, Grilled Fish Fillets with Yellow Sauce (Poivre Jaunet), French Country Sausage (Saucisse a Cuire) and Spiced Quince Butter Cake
Post by Annelisa Stephan
8 Minute Read
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Category: Food

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The Weird and Wonderful Edible Monuments of Early Modern Europe

Artworks made of food offered entertainment for the rich and a respite from hunger for the poor.
#ArtofFood is a series about food in art in medieval, Renaissance, and early modern Europe. It complements the exhibitions The Edible Monument: The Art of Food for Festivals at the Getty Research Institute and Eat, Drink, and Be Merry: Food in the Middle Ages and Renaissance at the Getty Museum. Visit the Getty Center to explore both exhibitions via the Art of Food mobile tour. Stories from two 2015 exhibitions about food in art in medieval, Renaissance, and early modern Europe.
Diane Lee 4 MIN READ
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Iphigenia in Aulis: on the Stage and in Art

This tragic story of sacrifice resonated across ancient Greece and Rome, where art provides evidence of the play’s enduring appeal.
The art and literature of Greece and Rome were dominated by the myths and legends of the early Greek Epic Cycle of the seventh or sixth century BC. Among these were the Iliad, Homer’s great poem about the Bronze Age war between Greece and Troy, and the Cypria, containing the myth that inspired Euripides’s Iphigenia in Aulis.
Post by Mary Louise Hart 8 Minute Read
Cover image: The Anger of Achilles is an 1819 painting by Jacques-Louis David . From right to left: Achilles, Clytemnestra, Iphigenia, and Agamemnon.
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Why Views of Venice’s Rialto Bridge Look So Familiar

If you’ve ever seen travel photos of Venice or been to Venice yourself, you’re probably familiar with the Rialto Bridge. The Ponte di Rialto is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Venice and one of the most iconic landmarks of the Italian city.
Post by Nicole Block; 5 minute read
Cover image: The Rialto Bridge on Venice’s Grand Canal, 2010. Photo: gnuckx, (CC BY 3.0).
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A Clean Frame for “Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph”

The Getty Museum’s frame conservator explains the ins and outs of cleaning the frame for a masterpiece.
This post is part of the series New Life for an Old Master, following the research and conservation of Guercino’s Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph by the Getty Museum and National Gallery of Ireland. To begin with the first post, please click here.
Post by Gene Karraker, 2 Minute Read
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The Rediscovery of Guercino

Sir Denis Mahon (1910–2011) is undoubtedly one of the greatest art historian-collectors of the twentieth century. He was a key figure who, starting in the 1930s, brought Italian Baroque painters back to the attention of English-speaking audiences, reversing the critical aversion to seicento art that had prevailed since the previous century.
This is the fifth post in the New Life for an Old Master series, following the research and conservation of Guercino’s Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph by the Getty Museum and National Gallery of Ireland. To begin at the beginning, please click here.
Post by Davide Gasparotto 3 MIN READ
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Cleaning Guercino’s “Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph”

When conservators clean a painting, we’re not trying to make it look brand new. We are trying to achieve a semblance of how an artwork may have looked upon leaving an artist’s studio, while also respecting the fact that a painting ages and will never look exactly as it did when it was initially created. It’s a painstaking process that involves careful research, decisions, and practice.
This is the fourth post in the New Life for an Old Master series, following the research and conservation of Guercino’s Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph by the Getty Museum and National Gallery of Ireland. To begin at the beginning, please click here.
Post by Devi Ormond 7 MIN READ
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An Introduction to Guercino’s “Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph”

The painting’s subject is taken from the book of Genesis (48:1-22), which recounts how Jacob, when old and infirm, called his son Joseph to him and adopted Joseph’s sons as his own. Then, he unexpectedly gave the right-handed blessing—typically reserved for the firstborn—to the younger son, Ephraim.
This is the third post in the New Life for an Old Master series, following the research and conservation of Guercino’s Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph by the Getty Museum and National Gallery of Ireland. To begin at the beginning, please click here.
Davide Gasparotto 3 MIN READ
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Conservators Get to Know Guercino’s “Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph”

A few months ago, we began a two-year long conservation and research project of Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph, a Guercino painting in the collection of the National Gallery of Ireland. We are now gaining significant insight into the condition of the painting by using a variety of non-invasive analytical techniques.
This is the second post in the series, following the research and conservation of Guercino’s Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph by the Getty Museum and National Gallery of Ireland. To begin at the beginning, please click here.
Devi Ormond And Douglas Maclennan 5 MIN READ
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An Italian Masterpiece Visits the Getty for Conservation and Study

Several months ago, a very large and beautiful 17th-century Italian painting arrived at the J. Paul Getty Museum. The painting is by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (better known by his nickname, “Guercino”) and entitled Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph (1620).
Part of the collection of the National Gallery of Ireland (NGI), it arrived safe and sound from Dublin for a two-year long stay at the Getty for conservation treatment and study.
This is the first post in the New Life for an Old Master series, following the research and conservation of Guercino’s Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph by the Getty Museum and National Gallery of Ireland.
Post by Yvonne Szafran and Simone Mancini. 4 minute read
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Enemies All Around—The Medieval/Modern Game of Thrones

The penultimate season of Game of Thrones is here (almost), and our medieval/modern episode recaps will return each week as well (see previous seasons here).
Our aim in recapping GoT episodes with art has been to share rarely seen objects from the collection (due to the light sensitivity of manuscripts, in particular), to inspire curiosity about history, to present a more global view of the Middle Ages, to be more inclusive and diverse in the stories we tell, and of course to have fun!
Post by Bryan C. Keene 
2 minute read
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The Ancient Origins of the Flower Crown

From symbol of victory to Snapchat filter, wreaths of leaves and flowers have had symbolic meaning in Western culture for over 2,000 years.
Post by Emilie Carruthers
5 minute read
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The Birth of Pastel

When is a drawing not a drawing (or a painting not a painting)? When it’s a pastel.
Post by Emily Beeny
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An Artist’s Dog Photobombs the Middle Ages

It goes without saying: people are devoted to their pets. The same charming dog appears in illumination after illumination by late-medieval artist Simon Bening. Was it possibly his own pet?
6 Minute Read
This post is by Elizabeth Morrison for The Iris: Behind The Scenes At The Getty
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The Bug That Had the World Seeing Red

Once there was a color so valuable that emperors and conquistadors coveted it, and so did kings and cardinals. Artists went wild over it. Pirates ransacked ships for it. Poets from Donne to Dickinson sang its praises. Scientists vied with each other to probe its mysteries. Desperate men even risked their lives to obtain it. This highly prized commodity was the secret to the color of desire—a tiny dried insect that produced the perfect red.
This post is part of the series Open Art, an arts engagement project of Zócalo Public Square and the Getty.
5 Minute Read
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