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Badabing Badaboom: Stolen Van Gogh paintings found in Mafia den

Badabing Badaboom

 Two Stolen Van Gogh paintings found in home of Naples Mafia boss

In honor of Van Gogh’s birthday this week (Happy Birthday, Vincent Van Gogh!)

a Flashback to a news story from 3 years ago, 2016, when 2 Pilfered Van Gogh Paintings were found!

by Leticia Marie Sanchez


Two Vincent Van Gogh paintings that were stolen from a museum in Amsterdam fourteen years ago have been recovered in the house of a mafia lord at Castellammare di Stabia, near Naples.

The two paintings, Seafront at Scheveningen and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen, were stolen from the Van Gogh museum in 2002 by thieves who climbed to the roof of the museum using a ladder and then absconded by means of a rope. One of the agile art thieves earned the alias “The Monkey,” and the FBI Art Crime Team listed the brazen heist as one of the Top 10 Art Crimes.

What is murky is how the stolen Van Gogh paintings made their way from the hands of the original Dutch art thieves to the luxurious den of the Italian mobster where authorities found the paintings in decent condition.  According to an Italian prosecutor, the mobster runs “one of the most dangerous and active crime groups” in the region. The mafia boss, Rafaelle Imperiale, flew the coop and is believed to be currently running a construction business in Dubai. Italian authorities have requested his extradition from the United Arab Emirates. Investigators have also seized other loot belonging to Signor Imperiale, including apartments, villas and a plane worth an estimated total of $22.3 million. Quite a stash there, goodfella.

Painting Above: ”Seascape at Scheveningen” (The Van Gogh Museum)

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This week in LA


Hiking the Poppy Reserve in Lancaster this week, March 2019

“Through the dancing poppies stole a breeze, most softly lulling to my soul.”

John Keats

All Photography  © 2019 Leticia Marie Sanchez


Poppies 1

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Review: Oscar Rejlander and Reenactment in Contemporary Photography at the Getty Center

Oscar Rejlander: Artist Photographer

Encore: Reenactment in Contemporary Photography

On View March 12-June 9, 2019


Leticia Marie Sanchez

With the advent of I-phones, Instagram, and social media, photography is the artistic medium most often at people’s fingertips. Aided by the use of filters, users attempt to curate frothy artistic images out of everyday items like cups of Espresso or Pumpkin Chai.

But photography was not always viewed as an artistic medium on par with Fine Arts like painting and sculpture.

The Getty Center’s new exhibit Oscar Rejlander: Artist Photographer sheds light on an artist who became known as “the father of art photography.”

The exhibition, curated by Lori Pauli, curator of photographs at the National Gallery of Canada, and Karen Hellman, assistant curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum, is comprised of 150 photographs and includes images of some of the most seminal figures of the day including Charles Darwin, Lewis Carroll, and Julia Margaret Cameron. Rejlander worked first as a painter before experimenting with photography. His photographs exude a painterly quality, particularly in the pose of the sitters. For instance, Non Angeli sed Angli (Not Angels but Anglos), alludes to the cherubim in Raphael’s Sistine Madonna.


Oscar Gustaf Rejlander

British, born Sweden, 1813-1875. Non Angeli sed Angli (Not Angels but Anglos), after Raphael’s Sistine Madonna, about 1854-1856.

Albumen silver print

Image: 20.5 X 26.3 cm (8 1/16 X 10 3/8 in.) Princeton University Art Museum. Museum purchase. David H. Mc Alpin. Class of 1920. Fund. EX.2019.5.91

The exhibit is filled with works that shed light on the time period. One of the most hilarious photographs is Rejlander clad as Italian nationalist and general Giuseppe Garibaldi. At the time, Garibaldi was a world superstar with legions of fans. Apparently, the emulation of celebrities is nothing new.


Another Rejlander work not to be missed is the epic photograph, the Two Ways of Life, or Hope in Repentance. Similar to Angeli sed Angli , this work was influenced by Raphael. The composition of the Way of Life alludes to Raphael’s School of Athens. The photograph is a complex allegory of two divergent paths in life, the road of Vice and the road of Virtue. The ghastly portrayal of vice includes dark and depressing depictions of those spiraling into a world of gambling, idleness, and desire. The uplifting portrayal of Virtue includes orderly depictions of industriousness, education, and religion.  What was avant-garde for the time was Rejlander’s technique of combination printing. This process involved the combination printing of over 30 separate wet collodion on glass negatives, a technique which took more than three days. The Two Ways of Life is considered one of the finest examples of combination printing from this era.

As a companion exhibit, Encore: Reenactment in Contemporary Photography depicts the reimaging of events for the camera as a means to explore historical art narratives. The visually arresting exhibit includes works by seven photographers: Eileen Cowin, Christina Fernandez, Samuel Fosso, Yasumasa Morimura, Yinka Shonibare CBE, Gillian Wearing, and Qiu Zhijie.

Highlights of the Encore: Reenactment in Contemporary Photography Exhibit include:

371825EX1_x1024Yinka Shonibare, CBE

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (America) 2008

Chromogenic print

Image: 182 X 125.9cm (71 5/8 X 49 9/16 in.) Collection of Michael W. Rabkin and Chip Tom. © Yinka Shonibare CBE. Courtesy James Cohan, New York. EX. 2019.4.2

Based on a Goya etching, the “reenactment” helps one to better understand the horror in the original Goya etching.

Just as color functions to highlight emotions in German Expressionist paintings, the vibrant color in Shonibare’s work intensifies the experience of the work.

The original Goya is accompanied by the following epigraph: “Fantasy abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters: united with her (reason), she (fantasy) is the mother of the arts and the origin of their marvels.” Viewiing Shonibare’s work, the frightful monsters are experienced in a bright, visceral way, the bats flying straight towards the viewer, making the original Goya etching pale in comparison to the visceral, three-dimensional impact.



The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters by Francisco Goya; c. 1799

Etching, aquatint, drypoint and burin
Dimensions 21.5 cm × 15 cm (​8 7⁄16 in × ​5 7⁄8 in)
Location Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York







Another highlight in the Reenactment exhibit is Christina Fernandez’ photographic narrative depicting her great grandmother’s migration to the United States. In this reenactment Fernandez photographed herself as the character of her great-grandmother. Fernandez’ narrative has a cinematic quality: the various stages of her intrepid grandmother’s odyssey are depicted in black and white. The last image, the only one in color, emerges like a burst of Technicolor, possibly depicting the artist herself, safely ensconced in her middle-class 1950’s home, a comfortable life only made possible due to the sacrifice of her great-grandmother.Christina Fernandez, American, born 1965, 1927, Going back to Morelia, 1995-1996; Gelatin Silver Print. Image: 44.8 X 30.5cm (17 5/8 x 12 in.) The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles © Christina Fernandez 2014 37.3

Both of the exhibits challenge the viewer to look at photography in a new light, one in which art historical narratives shaped the camera lens.

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Art and Nature

“Great art picks up where nature ends”- Marc Chagall.

On a post-rain walk at the Huntington where clouds combine with Alexander Calder’s sculpture “Jerusalem Stabile

Photography  © 2019 Leticia Marie Sanchez

Calder Statue Huntington

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Art News: Is the world’s most expensive painting a fake?


The latest Da Vinci mystery 


Leticia Marie Sanchez

The Salvator Mundi, supposedly painted by Leonardo Da Vinci, sold for a staggering $450.3  million at Christie’s in New York was bought by a Saudi prince.

Yet rumors have surfaced that the Louvre Abu Dhabi postponed an unveiling of this painting, due to disputes about its authentication.

The painting is  set to make a cameo appearance at the Louvre Paris this Fall to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the death of Da Vinci.

What is mind-boggling is that this “Da Vinci” was purchased at a Louisiana estate sale in 2005 for a measly $10,000. And tracing its provenance, further, the Kuntz family purchased it in London in 1958 for a mere $120, not as a Da Vinci painting, but instead attributed to the “school of Da Vinci.” *

Jonathan Jones’ informative article in the Guardian includes the revelation that Oxford academic Matthew Landrus, an Oxford academic, has  suggested that this work was painted by Da Vinci’s “third-rate imitator” Bernardino Luini.

For more information please read:

*For information on the “Patchwork Provenance” please see

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On A Winter Walk at Descanso Gardens

On A Winter Walk at Descanso Gardens

Photography  © 2019 Leticia Marie Sanchez

“Each moment of the year has its own beauty,” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Descanso 1 2019

Descanso 2 2019Descanso 3 2019

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CCH Interviews the Getty’s “Miraculous Encounters” curator Davide Gasparotto, about a Pontormo art mystery!!

Cultural Cocktail Hour is a registered trademark 


VasariGiorgio Vasari is pretty much the world’s first famous art historian. He was in the circle of Michelangelo, Pontormo,  Andrea del Sarto, and other world-class artists. Vasari book Lives of the Artists, first published in 1550, lays the foundation for art historical writing. Yet despite writing extensively about Pontormo, Vasari never once mentioned Pontormo’s resplendent painting, The Visitation.

Why not?

Once having viewed this mesmerizing painting, it would be impossible to forget it. Yet Vasari ignored it completely.

Some have speculated that since Pontormo painted it during a historic siege, there may have been political reasons for the mysterious omission. At the time Vasari’s patron, the Medici Duke was an adversary of Bartolommeo Pinadori, the patron for Pontormo’s “Visitation.”

Cultural Cocktail Hour’s Editor-In-Chief Leticia Marie Sanchez asks Davide Gasparatto, Senior Curator at the Getty to shed light on this art mystery.

CCH: “My question to you is a mystery. Why is this painting not in Vasari’s Lives of the Artists? Does it have to do with the patronage of the families, the Medici versus the patrons of Pontormo?

DG: “I think that probably Vasari did not know of this painting. This painting was in some ways executed during the dramatic moment of the siege. And then it probably was executed for a church or for a place that maybe was demolished, maybe destroyed. Then it ended up in this sort of very peripheral location. So Vasari didn’t know.

He didn’t know of its existence.

CCH: Thank you for clarifying this great mystery for us. Grazie Mille!


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“Pontormo: Miraculous Encounters”- A MUST SEE exhibit at the Getty Center

“Pontormo: Miraculous Encounters”

A MUST SEE Exhibit at the Getty Center


Leticia Marie Sanchez

Organized by the Getty Museum in conjunction with the Gallerie degli Uffizi in Florence and the Morgan Library and Museum in New York, “Pontormo: Miraculous Encounters” is curated by Getty Museum Senior Curator of Paintings, Davide Gasparotto and Bruce Edelstein, coordinator of graduate programs and advanced research at NYU Florence.

The paintings and drawings presented in the exhibition were created by Jacopo Pontormo between 1528 and 1530, during an intense historical period. Battles between Florentine Republican forces and the Medici family in 1527 resulted in a siege. Incredibly, all three Pontormo paintings in the exhibit were painted during this tumultuous time, when Mannerist painter Jacopo Pontormo bravely remained in Florence to guard his home.

The opportunity to see the Visitation is somewhat of a miracle, not only because it’s the first time this riveting painting has left Italy, but more importantly because it was considered, according to Getty Director Timothy Potts “lost to the world,” until it was discovered within the last century.

The theme of the exhibit, “Miraculous Encounters” not only alludes to the miraculous meeting between the pregnant Virgin Mary and Saint Elizabeth in the “Visitation,” it also refers to a dialogue between drawings and painting by Pontormo and his pupil Bronzino.

The exhibit includes:

The Visitation by Jacopo Pontormo


Pontormo’s Visitation utterly captivates, holding the viewer spellbound with its expressionistic color and serenely moving subject. More than six feet tall, the painting depicts Mary’s meeting with her cousin, Saint Elizabeth, when both were pregnant. As patrician women, they are both accompanied by female attendants of the same age. When observing the painting, compare and contrast the rigidity of the architecture and the stoic mien of the female attendants with the dynamic, electric fluidity of Mary and Elizabeth. Vibrant flowing robes conceal epic, Biblical heroes waiting to be born: Jesus Christ and John the Baptist. Despite cloudy skies overheard warning of impending tempests, the strength of Mary and Elizabeth’s gaze is firm and unbroken. Similarly, by prolifically painting masterpieces during a historic siege, when the walls of his own city were being destroyed, the painter Pontormo himself embodied resilience.

Visitation, about 1528 – 1529, Pontormo, oil on wood panel. Parrocchia di San Michele Arcangelo a Carmignano (Prato). Image: Su concessione della Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio per la Città Metropolitana di Firenze e per le Province di Pistoia e Prato. Photo © Antonio Quattrone, Florence

Cultural Cocktail Hour Trivia: Did you you know that the painting was commissioned by Bartollomeo Pinadori, a merchant of art supplies, particularly pigments? This explains why, even for a painting of its time, the colors are exceptionally resplendent.

  • Who are the two mysterious tiny figures at the bottom left of the panel? Bruce Edelstein suggests that they are Zacharias and Joseph, the husbands of Elizabeth and Mary.



  • Edelstein also revealed that Michelangelo saw Pontormo as his successor; Pontormo was considered the greatest living painter in Florence.

Indeed, the rich orange hued folds of Elizabeth’s robe evokes Michelangelo’s Delphic Sibyl in the Sistine Chapel.






00094501_x1024Portrait of a Halberdier (Francesco Guardi?)

Dr. Gasparotto called the Portrait of a Halberdier a “glory” of the Getty’s permanent collection.

When observing the painting, note the medallion in this young man’s cap. The medallion contains the image of Heracles, a symbol of Florence. Just as the statue of David symbolized the power of the Florentines to vanquish powerful adversaries, Heracles also epitomized the intrepid spirit of the Florentines during this epoch of military strife.

Portrait of a Halberdier (Francesco Guardi?), about 1529 – 1530, Pontormo, oil on canvas (transferred from wood panel). The J. Paul Getty Museum


Attendant's Face Visitation

Another aspect to note is the uncanny similarity between face of the Halberdier and the face of one of the female attendants in the Visitation.






Portrait of a Young Man in a Red Cap (Carlo Neroni?)

Pontormo’s painting depicts Carlo Neroni, a volunteer in the army for the Florentine Republic. In his hands, this serious young man holds a letter. What does the letter represent? Is it a love letter? Is it a secret political letter? The only clue that we have are the few letters visible on the letter “Dom”- which could refer to a lord or to a house. Yet another file for the Art Mysteries!

Jacopo da Pontormo (1494-1557).Portrait of a Young Man in a Red Cap (Carlo Neroni?) ca. 1530, oil on panel. Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Tomilson Hill. Photo Courtesy of Shepherd Conservation, London

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In the news: Selfies and artistic collateral damage

Selfies: Artistic Collateral Damage?


 Leticia Marie Sanchez

This article first appeared in Cultural Cocktail Hour in 2016


 One cannot enter a gallery, museum, or even concert venue without encountering a selfie taker, some more subtle and thoughtful than others.

Taking a selfie as a souvenir of an artistic experience is one thing.

But what happens when I-phones become Weapons of Mass Destruction?

Unfortunately, at the 14th Factory, a pop-up gallery in Los Angeles,  a clumsy student taking a selfie apparently caused more than $200,000 worth of damage to a series of crowned pedestals by Hong Kong based multimedia artist Simon Birch.

Birch decided not to press charges against the individual because

1) she was a student and

2) it was an accident.

In a statement released by Birch, the artist reveals:

“Each sculpture was painstakingly designed and built from all kinds of materials and involves 20-30 hours of man labor each. There are 64 unique ones, some made in the US, others in China. Four different creative collaborators and artists were involved in the process … It took years for the sculptures to be designed …”

An article in this week’s New York Times about the Birch incident reveals that this is only one of many episodes around the world of selfies causing artistic destruction.

Even the powerful, mythical Hercules has been crushed by a selfie; in 2015, a 300 hundred- year-old statue depicting the demigod was damaged by two eager selfie takers in Cremona, Italy.

A thoughtless selfie taker in Lisbon caused a statue of a 16th- century Portuguese king, Dom Sebastiao, to topple over and shatter.

Other news outlets report that the 19th Century Greek sculpture “Drunken Satyr” was damaged by a selfie taker in Milan who thought it was a good idea to jump into the statue’s lap. Unfortunately, the sculpture lost a leg.

Destruction by selfie is not limited to the artworks themselves; rather the collateral damage can extend to the entire artistic experience. Last year, I missed the overture to a lovely Mozart opera due to two selfie takers sitting in my row, snapping away and chatting loudly, long after the performance had begun. There is no reset button on a live performance. Once you miss the notes, they’re gone. On another occasion, my two-year old’s quiet discovery of the fountains at the Getty Center was brusquely interrupted an individual who barked, “Move out of the way of my selfie.”

At what point does an individual’s quest for a selfie take precedence over the artistic experience of those around them? There can be no doubt that we currently live in a solipsistic society. The most popular gadgets begin with the self-serving pronoun “I”: I-phone, I-pad, I-Tunes. Me. Me. Me.

Even if we were to ignore the damage to the artworks or the irritating distraction to those around them, how meaningful of an experience can an individual have with a work of art if his eyes and fingers are consumed by his I-phone?

The 19th century art critic John Ruskin once observed, ”

All that is good in art is the expression of one soul talking to another.”

And by soul, I don’t think that Ruskin meant Siri.

Photo: “Immortalization of Self” by Jana Cruder and Matthew La Penta photographed by Leticia Marie Sanchez at 2016 LA Art Show

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Young Verdi: Altar Boy


By Leticia Marie Sanchez

      Cultural Cocktail Hour® is a registered Trademark

In his Book of Musical Anecdotes, Norman Lebrecht relates a revealing incident from Verdi’s childhood.

The seven-year-old Verdi, born into a modest family, once served as an altar boy at the church of Le Rencole. During Fête Day, the young boy heard the organ for the first time. Transported by the emanating musical harmonies, the child did not hear the priest’s request for water. Three times did the priest make his demand, to no avail. Enraged at the child with his head in the clouds, the priest struck a severe blow, pushing young Verdi down the three altar stairs, knocking him into unconsciousness.

When the child thankfully awoke from his ordeal, what was the first thing for which he asked his parents? A painkiller? A glass of water? A restraining order on the belligerent priest?


Young Verdi asked for music lessons.


To learn how an older Verdi handled a brazen opera-goer, please read:

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