what is the oldest painting depicting surviving object?
March 16, 2020 9:41 PM   Subscribe

What is the oldest painting that depicts an object that survived to our time? I don't mean a type of an object or a similar object, but a specific one that was painted. Also I don't mean a building like the Pyramid or Parthenon or Collosseum, but something smaller, something that can be lifted by one person.
posted by rainy to Grab Bag (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

If I'm understanding you right, the cave paintings showing ropes or spears don't count because those specific objects themselves don't survive today, even if the general type of object survived.

There's got to be something in one of the Egyptian tombs, where there's a painting on the wall of a significant object that was then buried with the pharoah (the royal staff, the royal chariot, etc). I don't know if that'd count for you if the painting was kind of stereotyped/icon-style, in the sense that the artist wouldn't have been trying to make a real likeness of the specific object?
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:55 PM on March 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Yeah, for an ultra-specific object, how about the beard on Tutankhamun's mask, which seems to be depicted in a painting on the tomb wall. The mask, mummy, etc. seem like candidates too.
posted by Wobbuffet at 10:57 PM on March 16, 2020 [4 favorites]

Hm, thinking further, that Tutankhamun painting probably represents an idea about what his head was like when unmasked, whether or not the mask inspired something about it.
posted by Wobbuffet at 11:15 PM on March 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Ah, yes, I see I misunderstood the question. But, for most extremely old objects, I'm not sure how you could possibly know for sure, especially as painting would not have aimed for realism or naturalism. Perhaps some particularly distinctive jewelry in a portrait of a ruler?
posted by praemunire at 11:23 PM on March 16, 2020

I'd say almost certainly the object in question is a crown jewel portrayed in a royal portrait. Or maybe a painting of a holy relic with an associated saint?
posted by potrzebie at 11:33 PM on March 16, 2020

The crown of Anne, queen to Richard II, is distinctive, still exists, and may have appeared in the Liber regalis, but that's allll the way into the fourteenth century.
posted by praemunire at 11:34 PM on March 16, 2020

Here's another candidate from the early 14th C. (a bit earlier than the crown of Queen Anne?): the Black Stone as depicted in the Jami' al-tawarikh.
posted by Wobbuffet at 12:11 AM on March 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

This exact brooch is in the case in front of the portrait in which it is featured, but it's not that old--1770. You would probably want to look at religious relics or crown jewels for older. I agree with above commenters that art was more symbolic than representational the further back you go, so this is tough.
posted by blnkfrnk at 6:31 AM on March 17, 2020

And the English crown jewels date from the restoration of the monarchy or later (1660) with a few small exceptions that individuals kept and hid during the Protectorate.
posted by tmdonahue at 6:37 AM on March 17, 2020

Response by poster: I was mostly thinking about something artificially made, though I forgot to specify it in the question. The reason I asked this question was that I was watching a documentary about Monet and there was a portrait of Zola with a book on the desk.

This made me think of Egyptian murals that may depict one of the objects found in the burial, just as one commenter said. If there's something special about the way object is made that makes it unique, it may be identified with what is painted, which would make a really cool connection with the past and an act of painting that was done so many thousands of years ago, which I thought would be really amazing. Another possible candidate would be a piece of armor which would be custom made in the middle ages and may be identified in a royal portrait, but many of those armor pieces have been lost, and not many portraits survive from early middle ages either, and they're not very detailed..
posted by rainy at 7:40 AM on March 17, 2020

Response by poster: The Tutankhamon mask is close but I feel it probably doesn't count because the painter probably painted how he knew a mask would look, and then mask was made based on how it's supposed to look, rather than painting that specific mask. Especially because most of art of that time and place was very formulaic, (but with some exceptions).
posted by rainy at 7:43 AM on March 17, 2020

Perhaps this is too self-referential to count, but there's a 10th Century manuscript illumination in which King Æthelstan is depicted presenting a book to St Cuthbert (personifying the religious community who were its recipients), where the book depicted is apparently the one into which the image was painted.
posted by misteraitch at 8:33 AM on March 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: It's not self-referenenciality that's the issue. But it's not clear it's the same book from that page at least, and because it's a copy and in the painting it could be any copy of that book, and the image is symbolic in that the book is presented to the saint in Heaven, so it's more of a concept of the work, expense and effort of making that book rather than physical object.

This is very close though!
posted by rainy at 9:13 AM on March 17, 2020

Anne's crown passed out of England well before the English Civil War, so if you agree that it appears in the illumination in question, it's still in existence (Germany, I believe).
posted by praemunire at 2:47 PM on March 17, 2020

Best answer: Margaret Layton's embroidered jacket, and the portrait of her wearing it, are in the Victoria and Albert museum. Thought to date c. 1620. I’m sure there are older examples, but this is a sound one.
posted by antiquated at 4:29 PM on March 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

At the Anatolian city of Çatalhöyük there is an 8,000 year old mural often interpreted as a map or a representation of the city with its unique array of nearly identical houses, which also includes an image of a distinctive nearby volcano which erupted around 8,500 years ago. Not everyone accepts this mural as a map but there is a very good argument for it.
posted by Rumple at 5:39 PM on March 17, 2020

This doesn't actually fit but is too weird not to share:

Here is a contemporary 1636 portrait of Galileo Galilei by Justus Sustermans, in which you will note his hands are visible.

And here is his middle finger of his right hand, which is preserved in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence.
posted by automatronic at 8:07 PM on March 17, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Gruesome jokes aside, I actually have a serious contender that predates the portrait of Margaret Layton by a good century.

Albrecht Dürer (1471 - 1528) painted this portrait of Charlemagne in 1512, which is now in the Germanisches National Museum in Nuremburg.

The likeness of Charlemagne (748-814) is imaginary - he died some 700 years before the painting. But Dürer painted the actual imperial regalia of the Holy Roman Empire as they existed in 1512. Those items survive today at the Imperial Treasury in Vienna.

In particular, the Imperial Crown is shown in great detail and is very clearly the same artifact. The Imperial Sword [closeup photo] is also very recognisable. Both items are much older than the painting, though still after Charlemagne's time - the crown is 10th century and the sword 12th.
posted by automatronic at 9:33 PM on March 17, 2020 [5 favorites]

This question is nagging at me. When I visited the Amsterdams Historisch Museum about a decade ago, I remember being very struck by a painting - perhaps a domestic interior, this being the Netherlands, but I honestly can't remember - because one or more of the specific items depicted sat in a glass case nearby. I think they were quite ordinary items, not regalia or jewellery, but I can't quite muster enough in the way of specific details to be able to pin it down; and while the museum, now renamed as just the Amsterdam Museum, says it has an online catalogue, in practice the link is broken.

Anyway. Posting this even though it's only a half-answer, partly in hopes that someone else might know what I'm talking about and be able to fill in the details, and partly because even this much information might be pleasing to know.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 9:59 AM on March 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @ManyLeggedCreature: that is very interesting and exactly what i was most interested in, more so than clothes or royal regalia. Do you happen to remember if the object(s) were identified as the specific objects by the curators or as very similar objects from the same time / place, or as possibly, (but uncertain), the same object(s)?
posted by rainy at 12:40 PM on March 18, 2020

Memory tells me I came away from the museum believing I had seen the specific objects, which suggests the English label text said as much. I don't *think* it's an assumption I'd have leapt to, and it made a real impression on me. But there are a lot of caveats here, sorry... it was a long time ago.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 5:41 PM on March 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This is later than Durer's imperial regalia painting but somewhat more interesting: Newton's telescope was drawn by himself in 1668 and still survives, can be seen in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ESW_NTIhBM
posted by rainy at 3:04 PM on March 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

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