Joseph Cornell

Planet Set, Tête Etoilée, Giuditta Pasta (dédicace)


Joseph Cornell 1903–1972
Glass, crystal, wood and paper
Object: 305 × 457 × 102 mm
Purchased 1974

Display caption

Cornell’s glazed boxes contain assemblages of found objects that have mysterious and poetic associations. This work is dedicated to Giuditta Pasta, a nineteenth-century Italian opera singer. Cornell idolised a number of almost-forgotten stars of the ballet and opera, who epitomised for him the ideals of the Romantic era. The box includes astronomical charts and two balls balanced on rods, which suggest planets orbiting the sun. This astronomical theme may relate to a contemporary account, which Cornell kept among his cuttings, in which Pasta’s voice is described as evoking the beauty of the night sky.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Joseph Cornell 1903-1972

T01846 Guiditta Pasta (dédicace) 1950

Inscribed 'Joseph Cornell' on a label on the back
Liqueur glasses, crystal, wood and paper collage in wooden box; overall dimensions 12 x 18 x 4 (30.5 x 45.7 x 10.2)
Purchased from Fourcade, Droll Inc. (Grant-in-Aid) 1974
Prov: Private collector, New York (purchased from the artist through the Egan Gallery, New York, 1950); with Fourcade, Droll Inc., New York, 1973
Exh: Night Songs and Other New Work - 1950 by Joseph Cornell, Egan Gallery, New York, December 1950 (works not listed)
Lit: Dore Ashton, A Joseph Cornell Album (New York 1974), pp.23-4, 77, 103 and 105
Repr: The Tate Gallery 1972-4 (London 1975), p.26 in colour

Cornell dedicated this work to the memory of the famous Italian singer Giuditta Pasta (1798-1865), noted especially for her roles in the operas of Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti.

There are three typewritten labels on the back of the box inscribed as follows:

(1) Giuditta Pasta | (dédicace). [A small purple star has been stuck to the left of the title].

(2) PLANET SET | Tête Etoilée | Joseph Cornell | Joseph Cornell | 1950. [The first 'Joseph Cornell' is the artist's handwritten signature].

(3) disposition of loose elements: - one wooden ball in each lane at top of box - crystal ball in second glass from left - blue ball in third glass from left - rock crystal in second glass from right.
The back wall of the box has been covered with maps of the northern and southern celestial hemispheres; wooden tracks near the top support two loose wooden balls; there is also a row of six small liqueur glasses along the bottom, three of which contain balls or pieces of rock crystal as specified above. The crystal ball, the blue ball and the piece of rock crystal may have been intended to symbolise air, water and ice respectively.

The 1950 exhibition at the Egan Gallery in which this work was first shown was entitled Night Songs and Other New Work, a title possibly inspired, as Dore Ashton points out, by Cornell's affection for Novalis's Hymns to the Night (and which also relates to the inclusion of star maps at the back). The announcement/catalogue for this exhibition lists the following themes:

Glass Sets
Villa Violetta
High Wire Act
Hotel Domenici
Chambre Gothique
This box would have been among those classified as 'Glass Sets'.

Cornell, a life-long bachelor, had a very idealised attitude to women and set high among the objects of his adoration certain of the great prima donnas of the Romantic period such as Pasta and Malibran García, and ballerinas such as Fanny Cerrito, whose art, considered sublime by their contemporaries, is now sadly lost to us. Pasta was one of those on whom he assembled a dossier of engravings, articles and other related material, and to whom he dedicated works as an act of homage.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.133-4, reproduced p.133


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