Joseph Cornell. Taglioni's Jewel Casket. 1940

Joseph Cornell Taglioni's Jewel Casket 1940

  • MoMA, Floor 5, 517 The Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Galleries

The first of dozens of works that Cornell made in honor of famous ballerinas, this box pays homage to Marie Taglioni, an acclaimed nineteenth-century dancer of Italian origin, who, according to the legend inscribed in the box’s lid, kept an imitation ice cube in her jewelry box to commemorate the time she danced in the snow at the behest of a Russian highwayman. The box is infused with erotic undertones—both in the tactile nature of the glass cubes, velvet, and rhinestone necklace (purchased at a Woolworth’s dime store in New York) and in the incident itself, in which Taglioni reportedly performed on an animal skin placed across a snowy road. Adding to the intimacy of this delicate construction, the glass cubes were designed to be removed, revealing a hidden recess below that contains two beaded necklaces and rhinestone chips placed on a mirrored surface and seen through blue-tinted glass.

Although he spent his entire career based in Queens, New York, Cornell drew inspiration from the European art he saw at the city’s Julien Levy Gallery—the first in the United States to exhibit Surrealist work—and his art often inspired the European Surrealists in turn. In a press release for a 1939 show by Cornell at the gallery, Salvador Dalí heralded the artist’s work as “the only truly Surrealist work to be found in America.”

Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)

The first of dozens Cornell made in honor of famous ballerinas, this box pays homage to Marie Taglioni, an acclaimed nineteenth-century Italian dancer who, according to legend, kept an imitation ice cube in her jewelry box to commemorate dancing in the snow at the behest of a Russian highwayman. The box is infused with erotic undertones—both in the tactile nature of the glass cubes, velvet, and rhinestone necklace (purchased at a Woolworth's dime store in New York) and in the incident itself, in which Taglioni reportedly performed on an animal skin placed across the snowy road.

Gallery label from The Erotic Object: Surrealist Sculpture from the Collection, June 24, 2009–January 4, 2010.
Medium
Velvet-lined wooden box containing glass necklace, jewelry fragments, glass chips, and glass cubes resting in slots on glass
Dimensions
4 3/4 x 11 7/8 x 8 1/4" (12 x 30.2 x 21 cm)
Credit
Gift of James Thrall Soby
Object number
474.1953
Department
Painting and Sculpture

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