Meet Zimeng Li, the freshest face in our picture department. Join us as we uncover more about her background and sit down for an enlightening discussion as she reveals her top selections from the forthcoming Old Master, British & European Art auction.
15 September 2023
Zimeng grew up in Harbin, a snowy little city located in the northeastern part of China. She completed her History of Art MA programme at the Courtauld Institute of Art in 2023, specialising in Byzantine and Islamic Art. Before coming to the UK in 2022, she earned her first MA degree in religious studies at the University of Copenhagen, Lund, and Oslo, and studied philosophy at the University of Bologna, where she developed a strong interest in material culture and religious art while visiting churches and cathedrals around Italy. She has prior front-of-house working experience at the Courtauld Gallery, Sir John Soane’s Museum, and St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Zimeng is enthusiastic about religious art, ranging from the smallest, most delicate personal devotional items to large-scale mosaics and religious architectures, spanning both Eastern and Western cultures. She has a deep appreciation for figurative art, constantly marvelling at how artists use various visual languages to translate, interpret, and depict human bodies. She is proficient in both Chinese and Italian, and is excited about her new role, hoping to expand her knowledge within the auction industry.
Maria Ivanova (Ukrainian, b.1968)
'Model by the Mirror'
This painting immediately reminds me of Diego Velázquez’s ‘Rokeby Venus’: a curvaceous body against the silky red background, the causally relaxed female pose and the central positioning of a mirror as well as the femininity it reflects. The various shades of reds used in this painting - the flaming red of the model’s hair, the silky-smooth red of the sheet on which she reclines, the wooden red of the mirror frame, the light pinkish red of her earlobes and skin, and the bloodily bold red of the artist’s signature, just stimulate the senses.
Maria Ivanova (b.1968) 'Model by the Mirror', signed in Cyrillic and dated '2005' u.l., also signed, inscribed and dated verso, oil on canvas, 100 x 120cm (£700-900)
Vito D'Ancona (Italian, 1885-1884)
A young woman reading
Women, especially reading women, wasn’t an uncommon subject for 19th portrait painters. However, this painting is one of this category’s finest representation. D’Ancona’s delicate capture of light: shadowing her forehead and neck while lightening her cheeks and chest, grasps her shyness, pureness and youth, as well as her blossoming maturity. Without glamorous clothing nor a single piece of jewellery, she is depicted with great simplicity, which focuses the spotlight on herself as the shining desirable luxury. Her youthful skin and her rounded shoulders make her a fine pearl against the burgundy and dark green background. The sensible shyness in the transparent blouse, her blushing cheeks and concentrated eyes and give the portrait an intimate atmosphere.
Vita d'Ancona (Italian, 1825-1884) A young woman reading, signed with initials u.r., oil on canvas, 42.5 x 28.5cm (£1,500-2,000)
Italian School, 19th century
St Dorothea of Caesarea;
St Catherine of Alexandria
This pair of panels depicts two of the most lovable female saints: St Catherine of Alexandria with a palm branch symbolising her martyrdom, a crown showing her rank as a princess and the spiked wheel as her attribute; and St Dorothea of Caesarea, with a bowl of appealing fruit and blooming roses as her identifiers. The portrait is unsigned but clearly by an academy-trained hand. The details are exquisite.
During the 19th century, the stories of these two female saints’ were widely adored and worshipped. These portraits, of this scale and shape, were probably commissioned and used in a women-dominated space. It is very hard to ignore the fine pearl necklaces on both saints, which gives these religious paintings a secular touch.
Italian School, 18th century St Dorothea of Caesarea; St Catherine of Alexandria, a pair, octagonal, oil on panel, 23.5 x 16cm (2) (£400-600)
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