Magic

Scientist Marco Leona revels in the role of magic in the creation of art.

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I'm not afraid to tell you that I had a science chemistry box and made all kinds of stinking and staining and corrosive mixtures.

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  • Marco Leona
    1280852
  • Witch doctor  |  1922  |  Sergey Sudyekin (Russian)  |  Engraving; first state  |  Gift of William Wasserman, 1965 (65.715.8)
    6011024
  • Vivien and Merlin  |  1874  |  Julia Margaret Cameron (British)  |  Albumen silver print from glass negative  |  David Hunter McAlpin Fund, 1952 (52.524.3.5)
    7701024
  • Boys Behind a Science Experiment  |  late 1850s  |  Unknown Artist (British)  |  Ambrotype  |  The Rubel Collection, Purchase, Richard and Ronay Menschel Gift, 1997 (1997.382.50)
    11801024
  • Boys Behind a Science Experiment  |  late 1850s  |  Unknown Artist (British)  |  Ambrotype  |  The Rubel Collection, Purchase, Richard and Ronay Menschel Gift, 1997 (1997.382.50)
    1280986
  • Between Earth and Heaven  |  2006  |  El Anatsui (Ghanaian)  |  Aluminum, copper wire  |  Purchase, Fred M. and Rita Richman, Noah-Sadie K. Wachtel Foundation Inc., David and Holly Ross, Doreen and Gilbert Bassin Family Foundation and William B. Goldstein Gifts, 2007 (2007.96)
    13741024
  • Between Earth and Heaven  |  2006  |  El Anatsui (Ghanaian)  |  Aluminum, copper wire  |  Purchase, Fred M. and Rita Richman, Noah-Sadie K. Wachtel Foundation Inc., David and Holly Ross, Doreen and Gilbert Bassin Family Foundation and William B. Goldstein Gifts, 2007 (2007.96)
    1129964
  • Between Earth and Heaven  |  2006  |  El Anatsui (Ghanaian)  |  Aluminum, copper wire  |  Purchase, Fred M. and Rita Richman, Noah-Sadie K. Wachtel Foundation Inc., David and Holly Ross, Doreen and Gilbert Bassin Family Foundation and William B. Goldstein Gifts, 2007 (2007.96)
    14051024
  • Column-krater (bowl for mixing wine and water)  |  ca. 350–320 b.c.; red-figure  |  Attributed to the Group of Boston 00.348  |  Greek, South Italian, Apulian  |  Terracotta  |  Rogers Fund, 1950 (50.11.4)
    8091024
  • Column-krater (bowl for mixing wine and water)  |  ca. 350–320 b.c.; red-figure  |  Attributed to the Group of Boston 00.348  |  Greek, South Italian, Apulian  |  Terracotta  |  Rogers Fund, 1950 (50.11.4)
    1280880
  • Column-krater (bowl for mixing wine and water)  |  ca. 350–320 b.c.; red-figure  |  Attributed to the Group of Boston 00.348  |  Greek, South Italian, Apulian  |  Terracotta  |  Rogers Fund, 1950 (50.11.4)
    1280640
  • Scene at a Fair: A Magician  |  18th century  |  Anonymous (French)  |  Pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash  |  Gift of Cornelius Vanderbilt, 1880 (80.3.476)
    7941024
  • [Test Tube Shattering]  |  1934  |  Harold Edgerton (American)  |  Gelatin silver print  |  Gift of The Harold and Esther Edgerton Family Foundation, 1997 (1997.62.1)  |  © Harold and Esther Edgerton Foundation, courtesy of Palm Press, Inc.
    12801020
  • Frieze tile with phoenix  |  ca. 1270s  |  Iran (probably Takht-i Sulayman)  |  Fritware, overglaze luster-painted  |  Rogers Fund, 1912 (12.49.4)
    11161024
  • Frieze tile with phoenix  |  ca. 1270s  |  Iran (probably Takht-i Sulayman)  |  Fritware, overglaze luster-painted  |  Rogers Fund, 1912 (12.49.4)
    10241024
  • Frieze tile with phoenix  |  ca. 1270s  |  Iran (probably Takht-i Sulayman)  |  Fritware, overglaze luster-painted  |  Rogers Fund, 1912 (12.49.4)
    1112890
  • Frieze tile with phoenix  |  ca. 1270s  |  Iran (probably Takht-i Sulayman)  |  Fritware, overglaze luster-painted  |  Rogers Fund, 1912 (12.49.4)
    10241024
  • The Great Wave at Kanagawa (from a Series of Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji)  |  Edo period (1615–1868), ca. 1831–33  |  Katsushika Hokusai (Japanese); Published by Eijudo  |  Polychrome ink and color on paper  |  H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (JP1847)
    1280861
  • The Great Wave at Kanagawa (from a Series of Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji)  |  Edo period (1615–1868), ca. 1831–33  |  Katsushika Hokusai (Japanese); Published by Eijudo  |  Polychrome ink and color on paper  |  H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (JP1847)
    1280924
  • The Great Wave at Kanagawa (from a Series of Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji)  |  Edo period (1615–1868), ca. 1831–33  |  Katsushika Hokusai (Japanese); Published by Eijudo  |  Polychrome ink and color on paper  |  H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (JP1847)
    1280922
  • The Alchemist  |  after 1558  |  Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Netherlandish), Philips Galle (Netherlandish), published by Hieronymus Cock (Netherlandish)  |  Engraving; first state  |  Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1926 (26.72.29)
    1280921
  • The Alchemist  |  after 1558  |  Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Netherlandish), Philips Galle (Netherlandish), published by Hieronymus Cock (Netherlandish)  |  Engraving; first state  |  Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1926 (26.72.29)
    8301024
  • The Alchemist  |  after 1558  |  Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Netherlandish), Philips Galle (Netherlandish), published by Hieronymus Cock (Netherlandish)  |  Engraving; first state  |  Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1926 (26.72.29)
    9241024
  • Untitled  |  2007  |  Anish Kapoor (British, born India)  |  Stainless steel  |  Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, and Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon B. Polsky Fund, 2008 (2008.29)  |  © Anish Kapoor
    11951024
  • Untitled  |  2007  |  Anish Kapoor (British, born India)  |  Stainless steel  |  Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, and Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon B. Polsky Fund, 2008 (2008.29)  |  © Anish Kapoor
    10341024
  • Untitled  |  2007  |  Anish Kapoor (British, born India)  |  Stainless steel  |  Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, and Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon B. Polsky Fund, 2008 (2008.29)  |  © Anish Kapoor
    10291024
  • Marco Leona
    1280852
  • My name is Marco Leona. I am the chief scientist here at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and my topic is "Magic."

  • I grew up in Italy and magic is something that one would hear going out in the countryside and hearing about witches

  • and curses and legends. And science came in as a part of that. I'm not afraid to tell you that I had a

  • science chemistry box and made all kinds of stinking and staining and corrosive mixtures, many more than you can actually do today. And if it was not in the kit I supplemented it very quickly with all kinds of other stuff.

  • And that's magic that you have in your hand, right? You can make it there. Suddenly it's smoking; suddenly it's foaming; suddenly it has color. So, you sort of feel empowered.

  • Magic is traditionally about transformation: taking something that's baser

  • less refined, less valuable

  • and making it into something resplendent. If you look at a

  • sculptor's workshop from ancient Greece, you see a statue in the process of being finished. All sculpture was polychrome, it was painted in a naturalistic way. And so

  • we see that half of the statue's still white, the color of marble; there's a painter who is now making it lifelike.

  • The painter and the statue are not alone in their studio. The artist is assisted by the gods, so is part of a supernatural endeavor. He's performing magic.

  • Magic is what people in ages past used to call things they didn't understand. There are many things that we don't understand now, that we no longer call magic.

  • Very few people could explain how electric lights work, and we just decided that we don't call it magic, we know that it's science.

  • There's a wonderful frieze tile from twelfth century Iran, from a location called Takht-i Sulayman. The Persian artists went through a process of trial and error and logical deduction, trying to achieve something similar to porcelain from China.

  • Using their knowledge of glass technology, and through a very complicated firing procedure, they developed a technique to create gold, copper, or silver nanoparticles dispersed in glass layers.

  • And that interaction gives rise to green-yellow reflection. It's very complicated science that was understood in a functional way.

  • On anybody other than the person doing it and those in on the secret, this would have appeared like something absolutely magic.

  • The Great Wave by Hokusai, probably one of the most reproduced works of art in the world. What is so incredible about this piece of art, which everybody would say is quintessential Japanese art, is that, in fact

  • the deep blue in the wave that really gives us a sense of the ocean is Prussian blue, which had been discovered in Berlin in 1704. Without that blue, that print could not have been done.

  • When these prints appeared, because blue is associated with perception of depth and space, it's like a 3-D movie for us, it's like television. They changed the way of seeing, in a sense.

  • If you think about it, people like me a thousand years ago, were walking a very thin line, because

  • the powers that you had in creating things that were not known to the general population, not even to the powerful, were scary. Call them what you want—

  • artists, scientists, technologists, alchemists—were behind all of the objects you see at the museum.

  • Kapoor is playing some kind of magic. It's really a bag of tricks. It's a spherical mirror, it uses the same technology that's used in telescopes today, but

  • because of the way the image is returned to you—magnified, inverted, changing as you walk

  • in and out of its focus—it really engages you in a very physical, direct way. We are transformed, transfixed. So

  • magic is still possible.

  • 65.715.8
    Witch doctor, 1922, Sergey Sudyekin (Russian), Engraving; first state Gift of William Wasserman, 1965 (65.715.8)
  • 52.524.3.5
    Vivien and Merlin, 1874, Julia Margaret Cameron (British), Albumen silver print from glass negative David Hunter McAlpin Fund, 1952 (52.524.3.5)
  • 1997.382.50
    Boys Behind a Science Experiment, late 1850s, Unknown Artist (British), Ambrotype The Rubel Collection, Purchase, Richard and Ronay Menschel Gift, 1997 (1997.382.50)
  • 2007.96
    Between Earth and Heaven, 2006, El Anatsui (Ghanaian), Aluminum, copper wire Purchase, Fred M. and Rita Richman, Noah-Sadie K. Wachtel Foundation Inc., David and Holly Ross, Doreen and Gilbert Bassin Family Foundation and William B. Goldstein Gifts, 2007 (2007.96)
  • 50.11.4
    Column-krater (bowl for mixing wine and water), ca. 350–320 b.c.; red-figure, Attributed to the Group of Boston 00.348, Greek, South Italian, Apulian, Terracotta Rogers Fund, 1950 (50.11.4)
  • 1997.62.1
    [Test Tube Shattering], 1934, Harold Edgerton (American), Gelatin silver print Gift of The Harold and Esther Edgerton Family Foundation, 1997 (1997.62.1) © Harold and Esther Edgerton Foundation, courtesy of Palm Press, Inc.
  • 12.49.4
    Frieze tile with phoenix, ca. 1270s, Iran (probably Takht-i Sulayman), Fritware, overglaze luster-painted Rogers Fund, 1912 (12.49.4)
  • JP1847
    The Great Wave at Kanagawa (from a Series of Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji), Edo period (1615–1868), ca. 1831–33, Katsushika Hokusai (Japanese); Published by Eijudo, Polychrome ink and color on paper H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (JP1847)
  • 26.72.29
    The Alchemist, after 1558, Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Netherlandish), Philips Galle (Netherlandish), published by Hieronymus Cock (Netherlandish), Engraving; first state Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1926 (26.72.29)
  • 2008.29
    Untitled, 2007, Anish Kapoor (British, born India), Stainless steel Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, and Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon B. Polsky Fund, 2008 (2008.29) © Anish Kapoor
  • Witch doctor, 1922, Sergey Sudyekin (Russian), Engraving; first state Gift of William Wasserman, 1965 (65.715.8)
    Vivien and Merlin, 1874, Julia Margaret Cameron (British), Albumen silver print from glass negative David Hunter McAlpin Fund, 1952 (52.524.3.5)
    Boys Behind a Science Experiment, late 1850s, Unknown Artist (British), Ambrotype The Rubel Collection, Purchase, Richard and Ronay Menschel Gift, 1997 (1997.382.50)
    Between Earth and Heaven, 2006, El Anatsui (Ghanaian), Aluminum, copper wire Purchase, Fred M. and Rita Richman, Noah-Sadie K. Wachtel Foundation Inc., David and Holly Ross, Doreen and Gilbert Bassin Family Foundation and William B. Goldstein Gifts, 2007 (2007.96)
    Column-krater (bowl for mixing wine and water), ca. 350–320 b.c.; red-figure, Attributed to the Group of Boston 00.348, Greek, South Italian, Apulian, Terracotta Rogers Fund, 1950 (50.11.4)
    [Test Tube Shattering], 1934, Harold Edgerton (American), Gelatin silver print Gift of The Harold and Esther Edgerton Family Foundation, 1997 (1997.62.1) © Harold and Esther Edgerton Foundation, courtesy of Palm Press, Inc.
    Frieze tile with phoenix, ca. 1270s, Iran (probably Takht-i Sulayman), Fritware, overglaze luster-painted Rogers Fund, 1912 (12.49.4)
    The Great Wave at Kanagawa (from a Series of Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji), Edo period (1615–1868), ca. 1831–33, Katsushika Hokusai (Japanese); Published by Eijudo, Polychrome ink and color on paper H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (JP1847)
    The Alchemist, after 1558, Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Netherlandish), Philips Galle (Netherlandish), published by Hieronymus Cock (Netherlandish), Engraving; first state Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1926 (26.72.29)
    Untitled, 2007, Anish Kapoor (British, born India), Stainless steel Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, and Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon B. Polsky Fund, 2008 (2008.29) © Anish Kapoor
    8000–2000 B.C.
    2000–1000 B.C.
    1000 B.C.–1 A.D.
    1–500 A.D.
    500–1000 A.D.
    1000–1400 A.D.
    1400–1600 A.D.
    1600–1800 A.D.
    1800–1900 A.D.
    1900–Present

    Works of art in order of appearance

    Last Updated: August 19, 2013. Not all works of art in the Museum's collection may be on view on a particular day. For the most accurate location information, please check this page on the day of your visit.

    Witch doctor
    1922
    Sergey Sudyekin (Russian)
    Engraving; first state
    Gift of William Wasserman, 1965 (65.715.8)
    Not on view
    Drawings and PrintsSecond Floor
    Vivien and Merlin
    1874
    Julia Margaret Cameron (British)
    Albumen silver print from glass negative
    David Hunter McAlpin Fund, 1952 (52.524.3.5)
    Not on view
    PhotographsSecond Floor
    Boys Behind a Science Experiment
    late 1850s
    Unknown Artist (British)
    Ambrotype
    The Rubel Collection, Purchase, Richard and Ronay Menschel Gift, 1997 (1997.382.50)
    Not on view
    PhotographsSecond Floor
    Between Earth and Heaven
    2006
    El Anatsui (Ghanaian)
    Aluminum, copper wire
    Purchase, Fred M. and Rita Richman, Noah-Sadie K. Wachtel Foundation Inc., David and Holly Ross, Doreen and Gilbert Bassin Family Foundation and William B. Goldstein Gifts, 2007 (2007.96)
    On view: Gallery 350
    Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the AmericasFirst Floor
    Column-krater (bowl for mixing wine and water)
    ca. 350–320 b.c.; red-figure
    Attributed to the Group of Boston 00.348
    Greek, South Italian, Apulian
    Terracotta
    Rogers Fund, 1950 (50.11.4)
    On view: Gallery 160
    Greek and Roman ArtFirst Floor and Mezzanine
    [Test Tube Shattering]
    1934
    Harold Edgerton (American)
    Gelatin silver print
    Gift of The Harold and Esther Edgerton Family Foundation, 1997 (1997.62.1)
    © Harold and Esther Edgerton Foundation, courtesy of Palm Press, Inc.
    Not on view
    PhotographsSecond Floor
    Frieze tile with phoenix
    ca. 1270s
    Iran (probably Takht-i Sulayman)
    Fritware, overglaze luster-painted
    Rogers Fund, 1912 (12.49.4)
    Not on view
    Islamic ArtSecond Floor
    The Great Wave at Kanagawa (from a Series of Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji)
    Edo period (1615–1868), ca. 1831–33
    Katsushika Hokusai (Japanese); Published by Eijudo
    Polychrome ink and color on paper
    H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (JP1847)
    Not on view
    Asian ArtSecond Floor
    The Alchemist
    after 1558
    Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Netherlandish), Philips Galle (Netherlandish), published by Hieronymus Cock (Netherlandish)
    Engraving; first state
    Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1926 (26.72.29)
    Not on view
    Drawings and PrintsSecond Floor
    Untitled
    2007
    Anish Kapoor (British, born India)
    Stainless steel
    Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, and Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon B. Polsky Fund, 2008 (2008.29)
    © Anish Kapoor
    Not on view
    Modern and Contemporary ArtSecond Floor

    © 2011 The Metropolitan Museum of Art