Miniature Mosaic Icon of Saint Demetrios in Sassoferrato

Mosaic Icon of Saint Demetrios at Sassoferrato, Mosaic Icon: 14th or 15th century, Ampulla: 13th or 14th century, Silver Frame: mid-15th century, Mosaic set into wax on a poplar board, paint, silver-gilt (frame), lead (ampulla), 24.3 X 16 cm, Museo Civico, Sassoferrato, Italy

One of the inscriptions in the Miniature Mosaic Icon of Saint Demetrios in Sassoferratoinforms us that… This ampulla (at the top of the Icon), bears holy oil drawn from the well in which the body of the divine Demetrios reposes, which gushes here and accomplishes miracles for the entire universe and for the faithful… What a remarkable way to remember Saint Demetrios and celebrate his feast day!

In 1472, Niccolò Perotti (1430-1480), secretary to Cardinal Bessarion and archbishop of Siponto, donated to Sassoferrato, the city of his birth, a collection of reliquaries, including the Mosaic Icon of Saint Demetrios. That was a notable donation considering Niccolò Perotti’s position. As Cardinal Bessarion’s secretary, he was able to travel as far as Trebizond in the East, and acquire a collection of valuable reliquaries, manuscripts, and icons. It has been suggested that the Mosaic Icon of Saint Demetrios was gifted to Perotti by no other than Bessarion himself, known to be the owner of a collection of Late Byzantine Mosaic Icons… but there is no proof for this.

The Museu Civico in Sassoferrato is fortunate to hold such an important and rare relic of the Palaiologan Renaissance, the final period in the development of Byzantine art. On a poplar board, slightly excavated at its center, rendered in micromosaic, stands Saint Demetrios, patron Saint of Thessaloniki. He is placed against a gold background and a tiled ground. He is in military garb, holds a lance with his righthand, and, with the left, a blue shield decorated with a heraldic white lion against a ground strewn with gold stylized flowers. Based on stylistic analysis, according to Martin Donnert,  the mosaic icon at Sassoferrato was executed in the 14th century as a typical work of Palaiologan art. This date is further confirmed by the radiocarbon analysis dating of the wooden support of the icon to 1279 ± 26 years, which gives a terminus post quem. Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261–1557), Evans, Helen C., ed., with essays by… pp. 231-233 and

Mosaic Icon of Saint Demetrios at Sassoferrato (details), Mosaic Icon: 14th or 15th century, Ampulla: 13th or 14th century, Silver Frame: mid-15th century, Mosaic set into wax on a poplar board, paint, silver-gilt (frame), lead (ampulla), 24.3 X 16 cm, Museo Civico, Sassoferrato, Italy

The ampulla at the top of the Icon’s frame is a wonderful rarity! It turns the Mosaic Icon into a precious reliquary of Saint Demetrios’s cult. The text, on the right side of the Icon’s frame, explains the reasons why the ampulla was added to the Icon’s composition. Prof. Martin Donnert clarifies that …Since the 12th century, the existence of miraculous oil (the Myron) connected with the cult of St Demetrios is well attested in the sources. He also adds that lead ampullae from the late 12th to the 14th centuries that contained the holy Myron for pilgrims to the saint’s tomb, called koutrouvia… were found at various places in northern Greece and the Balkans. One of these ampullae, a cherished relic in itself, is the one incorporated at the top of the icon frame… showing St Demetrios holding a cross on one side, and, on the opposite side, St Theodora, the second myron-giving saint of Thessaloniki.

The silver-gilt frame, dated during the mid-15th century is rich in information. A number of inscriptions within star-shaped cartouches, along with the imperial symbol of the double-headed eagle and the tetrabasileion, may indicate a distinguished member of the Palaiologan family, to be the original commissioner of the Icon. Furthermore, Prof Martin Donnert suggests Demetrios Palaiologos and the Palaiologoi of Montferrat!

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

Interesting to read: The Historical Significance of the Mosaic of Saint Demetrius at Sassoferrato byA. A. Vasiliev, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Vol. 5 (1950), pp. 29+31-39 (10 pages)

Autumn by Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, 1527-1593
The Four Seasons – Autumn, 1573, oil on canvas, 76×64 cm, Louvre Museum, Paris, France

The peasant celebrates with song and dance the harvest safely gathered in. The cup of Bacchus flows freely, and many find their relief in deep slumber.     /     The singing and the dancing die away / as cooling breezes fan the pleasant air, / inviting all to sleep / without a care.     /     The hunters emerge at dawn, / ready for the chase, / with horns and dogs and cries. / Their quarry flees while they give chase. / Terrified and wounded, the prey struggles on, / but, harried, dies. This is Antonio Lucio Vivaldi’s (1678 – 1741) Sonnet L’Autunno (Autumn). The great composer wrote it as a descriptive accompaniment, experts believe, for the music of his “Four Seasons.” Today, I took the time to listen, read and look at Autumn by Giuseppe Arcimboldo! It was a magical time!

A scion of a noble and artistic family, his father was an artist, and his uncle held the position of Archbishop of Milan, Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1526–1593) was in all probability introduced to artists, scholars, and writers from a young age. Born and raised in Milan, the cradle of Renaissance naturalism, young Arcimboldo learnt a mode of artistic expression based on the direct observation of nature. Well-trained as an artist Arcimboldo was commissioned to do exceptional work at the age of 21. For example, in 1549 he was commissioned to design stained glass windows for the Duomo, in 1551 he painted coats of arms for the future Emperor, Ferdinand I, in 1556, he created frescoes for the Cathedral of Monza; and, in 1558, he drew the cartoon for the Dormition of the Virgin tapestry, which remains on display in the Como Cathedral in Lombardi to this day. and file:///C:/Users/aspil/OneDrive/Blog/Renaissance%20Mannerism/Arcimboldo%20ScoopNGA.pdf

In 1573 Giuseppe Arcimboldo painted a series of paintings of the four seasons for Habsburg Emperor Maximillian II. Autumn is one of them… with a berry for an eye, a pear for a nose, and grapes and leaves for a crown of hair, Arcimboldo’s Autumn is as captivating and quizzical as it was 500 years ago.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, 1527-1593
The Four Seasons – Autumn (detail), 1573, oil on canvas, 76×64 cm, Louvre Museum, Paris, France

Interestingly, while Spring and Summer appear as youthful women, Autumn and Winter have the faces of grizzled old men. Autumn is presented with rough features looking to the left. His thick neck, made up of pears and root vegetables, emerges from a partially destroyed wine barrel. His face is made of apples, and pears, a chestnut for his mouth, and a pomegranate for his chin. The mushroom ear is adorned with a fig-shaped earring, and the hair, made up of bunches of different-coloured grapes, is crowned with a pumpkin bonnet! How more Autumnal Arcimboldo’s portrait can be!

For a PowerPoint of the Four Seasons by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, please… Check HERE!

I would like to draw your attention to a modern take of Arcimboldo’s The 4 Seasons paintings… a set of four-and-a-half meters high fiberglass sculptures of the Four Seasons by American artist and filmmaker Philip Haas, created in 2012. Interesting… to say the least!

Philip Haas, b. 1954
The Four Seasons – Autumn, 2012, fiberglass, H. 4.572 m, first seen in the garden of the Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, UK

House of the Deer in Herculaneum

Still Life with Peaches and Water Jar, detail of a Fourth Style wall painting from the House of the Deer in Herculaneum, c. 62-69 C.E., fresco, 35.56 x 34.29 cm, Archaeological Museum, Naples, Italy

According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, a sustainable world is one where everyone counts. Governments, the private sector, academia, and civil society and individuals need to work together in solidarity to prioritize the right of all people to food, nutrition, peace and equality. Indeed, every one of us, including youth, can work towards an inclusive and sustainable future, showing greater empathy and kindness in our actions. On World Food Day, October 16, we need to build a sustainable world where everyone, everywhere has regular access to enough nutritious food. I would like to commemorate this important day by presenting a Still Life painting from the House of Deer in Herculaneum.

Panoramic View of the House of the Deer in Herculaneum, Italy

The House of the Deer, built during the reign of Emperor Claudius, is one of the most opulent houses in ancient Herculaneum. Its name comes from a set of statues depicting deer attacked by hounds. The marble sculptural decoration of the Villa, discovered in 1930, was part of its landscaped garden. Apart from the two statues of deer attacked by hounds, archaeologists discovered the statue of a Satyr carrying a Wineskin on his back, and a Drunken Hercules.            

Discovered in 1930, in the House of the Deer, this loaf of sourdough bread was baked on the morning of the 24th of August, 79 CE. It carries the stamp of Celer, a former slave of Quintus Granius Verus.

Interestingly, we know the name of the owner of this house. This was done after the discovery of a bread cake with the seal of a certain Seler, a former slave of Granius Veria. Shortly before the death of Herculaneum, Celer was released by his master with all the rights of a free citizen.

House of the Deer in Herculaneum Plan
Garden area (32), looking north to the central doorway into Cryptoporticus (28)
Garden area (32), detail of the mosaic decoration of the Great Portal.
Photo courtesy of Robert Hanson
Statue of a deer attacked by four hounds, 1st century AD, white Luna marble. The original statues are exhibited in Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompei, in Italy and and

The House of the Deer, one of the most luxurious waterfront dwellings so far discovered in Herculaneum, has an interesting layout. It focuses on the axis that runs from the triclinium (5) through the peristyle/garden area (32), and the tablinum (15) to the gazebo (18) set in the center of the panoramic terrace overlooking the Bay of Naples to the south.

An important part of the House of the Deer was the Cryptoporticus (28-31), a corridor that enclosed the central peristyle/garden (32) area, and opened onto the atrium (24), the triclinium (5), and the tablinum (15). The Cryptoporticus was decorated in the 4th Pompeian Style, featuring more than sixty individual panels. These panels (partly removed in the 18th century) represent scenes with tiny cupids, still-lifes, and various architectural landscapes.

Still Life with Peaches and Water Jar (left), Still Life with a Silver Tray with Prunes, Dried figs, Dates, and Glass of Wine (center), and Still Life with Branch of Peaches (right)
Still Life with Hen (left), Still Life with Two Cuttlefish, a Silver Jug, Bird, Shells, Snails, and Lobster (center), and Still-life with a Hare and Grapes (right)
Still-Life with Chicken and Hare (left), Still Life with Partridge, Pomegranate, and Apple (second from left), Still Life with Thrushes and Mushrooms (third from left), Still-Life with Partridges and Eels (far right)
Fourth Style wall paintings from the House of Deer in Herculaneum, Italy, c. 62-69 C.E., fresco, 35.56 x 34.29 cm, Archaeological Museum, Naples, Italy

My favorite panel presents Peaches and a transparent glass Water Jar. It was meant to be seen as a group of three Still Life paintings.  According to Dr. Lea Cline, all ten Still Life panels discovered in the Villa belong to a category of still life paintings known as xenia, that is as hospitality gifts. It is interesting to know that the ancient Greek and Roman hosts were expected to gift their guests with xenia, tokens of their hospitality, instead of receiving gifts as the tradition is today.

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

The Epiphany of Dionysus Mosaic in Delos

House of Dionysus, Epiphany of Dionysus, 2nd century BC, Mosaic, Delos Island, Greece

In Euripides’s Bacchae, it is Teiresia’s role, addressing Pentheus, to introduce Dionysus to the audience, just like the Epiphany of Dionysus Mosaic in Delos does… visually! …You have a rapid tongue as though you were sensible, but there is no sense in your words… [270] This new god, whom you ridicule, I am unable to express how great he will be throughout Hellas. For two things, young man, [275] are first among men: the goddess Demeter—she is the earth, but call her whatever name you wish; she nourishes mortals with dry food; but he who came afterward, the offspring of Semele, discovered a match to it, the liquid drink of the grape, and introduced it [280] to mortals. It releases wretched mortals from grief, whenever they are filled with the stream of the vine, and gives them sleep, a means of forgetting their daily troubles, nor is there another cure for hardships. He who is a god is poured out in offerings to the gods, [285] so that by his means men may have good things!

House of Dionysus, Epiphany of Dionysus (Detail), 2nd century BC, Mosaic, Delos Island, Greece

There is no easy way to describe God Dionysus. The Homeric Hymns 26 on Dionysus is, I believe, a wonderful introduction… [1] I begin to sing of ivy-crowned Dionysus, the loud-crying god, splendid son of Zeus and glorious Semele. The rich-haired Nymphs received him in their bosoms from the lord his father and fostered and nurtured him carefully [5] in the dells of Nysa, where by the will of his father he grew up in a sweet-smelling cave, being reckoned among the immortals. But when the goddesses had brought him up, a god oft hymned, then began he to wander continually through the woody coombes, thickly wreathed with ivy and laurel. And the Nymphs followed in his train [10] with him for their leader; and the boundless forest was filled with their outcry.    /    And so hail to you, Dionysus, god of abundant clusters! Grant that we may come again rejoicing to this season, and from that season onwards for many a year. The Homeric Hymns 26 on Dionysus is, I believe, a wonderful introduction! 

House of Dionysus, Epiphany of Dionysus (Face Close Up), 2nd century BC, Mosaic, Delos Island, Greece,_mosaic_of_the_House_of_Dionysos,_Delos,_Greece,_2nd_century_BC.jpg

The Epiphany of Dionysus Mosaic in Delos shows the God exactly as Homer describes him… splendid, thickly wreathed with ivy and laurel, god of abundant clusters of grapes! An anonymous 2nd century BC mosaicist, created on the island of Delos, at the House of Dionysus to be exact, a stunning mosaic emblema depicting Dionysus in all his glory. Against a black background, the God of wine and theater, ivy-crowned, wings outstretched, holding with his right hand a ribboned thyrsus like he is holding a spear, is shown on the back of a tiger that wears a necklace wreath of vines and grapes around its neck. They seem to ride within the boundaries of a landscape mosaic composition of plants, a beetle, and a kantharos-type cup. Is Dionysus depicted coming back from India, magnificently winged like a daemon? It would be nice if we were certain.

The mosaic in the House of Dionysus is one of the finest examples of Opus Vermiculatum. The tesserae used for carrying it out, measuring about one-millimeter square, were made of glass, faience, terracotta, and natural stones. Their small size made it easier for the mosaicist to produce a realistic figured scene, shading, known to the Greeks as skiagraphia, for three-dimensionality, and a sense of illusionism. The name and origin of the mosaicist are a mystery. The name and origin of the owners of the so-called ‘House of Dionysus’ in Delos is a mystery as well. Today, the House of Dionysus stands out from afar thanks to its huge marble columns that surround the courtyard where the Epiphany of Dionysus Mosaic, one of the most exquisite creations of the Hellenistic art of mosaic-making was placed, for all visitors, to admire.

For a PowerPoint on God Dionysus, please… Check HERE!

House of Dionysus, Epiphany of Dionysus (Detail of Panther), 2nd century BC, Mosaic, Delos Island, Greece

The Red School House by Winslow Homer

Winslow Homer, American Artist, 1836 – 1910
The Red School House, 1873, oil on canvas, 55.5 x 39.5 cm, NGA, Washington DC, USA

On the 5th of October, we celebrate World Teachers’ Day, acknowledging the critical role teachers play in achieving inclusive, quality education for all… and recognizing that during the pandemic …teachers have shown, as they have done so often, great leadership and innovation in ensuring that #LearningNeverStops, that no learner is left behind. Around the world, they have worked individually and collectively to find solutions and create new learning environments for their students to allow education to continue… I would like to celebrate World Teachers’ Day by remembering Homer’s words (Iliad 9.437-443)…  The old man and horse-trainer Peleus… sent me (Phoinix) for this reason: to teach you (Achilles) all these things, / how to be a speaker of words and a doer of deeds, and by looking deeper into a Painting… The Red School House by Winslow Homer.

Winslow Homer is one of the finest 19th-century American Artists. His career started as a graphic reporter during the American Civil War with paintings like Home, Sweet Home, and Sharpshooter on Picket Duty, of 1863, or Prisoners from the Front, of 1866 defining his early career. The late 1860s and the 1870s were, however, the artist’s finest years of artistic experimentation and prolific and varied output. Living and working in New York, but traveling to Paris, in late 1867, for the exhibition of two of his Civil War Paintings at the Exposition Universelle, Homer came face to face with the French avant-garde, and although there is little likelihood of influence, the artist shared their subject interests, their fascination with serial imagery, and their desire to incorporate into their works outdoor light, flat and simple forms (reinforced by their appreciation of Japanese design principles), and free brushwork.

Winslow Homer, American Artist, 1836 – 1910
The Red School House (details teacher), 1873, oil on canvas, 55.5 x 39.5 cm, NGA, Washington DC, USA and

The Red School House is one of several paintings Winslow Homer created from 1871 to 1874. They all shared the same theme… scenes of school life, with three consistent elements: a small red schoolhouse, its young female teacher, and a luminous mountain setting. The NGA experts believe that Homer working after the American Civil War was expressing a popular wave of nostalgia in late 19th-century America for small country schools and the simpler lifestyle and the country’s sense of optimism for future generations.

Winslow Homer, American Artist, 1836 – 1910
The Red School House (detail students), 1873, oil on canvas, 55.5 x 39.5 cm, NGA, Washington DC, USA

Although titled The Red School House the painting is in fact a portrait, NGA experts explain, in which the schoolhouse and its attendant figures are secondary and very abbreviated parts. The name of the person depicted is not known, but her high cheek bones and down-turned mouth are similar to the features of the person in such other works as The School Girl, c. 1871, who represents a school teacher, and Young Girl at the Window of 1875 (fi&- 4)5 who wears a black fichu at her neck. More information on The Red School House can be found in the NGA publication American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part I, pages 305-309, which is available as a free PDF at…

For a Student Activity on the Little Red School House, please… Check HERE!

Winslow Homer, American Artist, 1836 – 1910
The School Girl, 1871, oil on canvas, 47.6×39.7 cm, Worcester Art Museum, MA, USA
Young Girl at Window, 1875, watercolor, the New Britain Museum of American Art, CT, USA

Simon Bening’s October

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book October (f. 27v), c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK

Reading Thomas Parker’sarticle on Rabelais’s Table and the Poets of the Pléiade, I came across Autumn by Jacques Peletier du Mans, one of the early members of the Pléiade… Winey Bacchus readies his hoops, / Prepares wine presses, and repairs vessels. / The harvester has his feet completely soiled / From stamping and squashing the grapes. / And this first run (mère goutte) taste / That the pressed grape gives, / In an undulating torrent / Flows into the vat, / And the large barrel works hard, and groans / In a torturous embracing of the must…I thought, once more, of the Golf Book and of Simon Bening’s October miniature page depicting the harvest of wine grapes and the process of wine-making.

Wine-making, and the more agreeable labour of wine-tasting, write the British Library experts, is the focus of the main calendar page for the month of October. Simon Bening provides us with visual representations of the Flemish wine “industry,” sommelier aesthetics, and regional identity in the Renaissance.

Looking at folio 28v is like reading a specialized wine “vocabulary” book, where a representation of vineyards, a fancy screw wine press, barrels, and grape must, is complete… almost with the sounds of groaning…

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, October (Details, f. 27v), c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK

The entire scene is filled with different tasks related to the grape harvest on a lord’s estate, writes Dr. Carlos Miranda García-Tejedor. One nobleman next to his residence offers another a bowl of the wine obtained from his harvest whilst a woman, a lady and a servant holding a pitcher in his hand look on. Beside them are servants carrying out different tasks: filling a barrel with the grape juice flowing from the screw press turned by two peasants; sealing the casks, well-decorated with vine leaves, with a hammer or hatchet; collecting juice for tasting and wine in a barrel, as shown by one of the servants, with a dog beside him, kneeling with a small pitcher in his hand; and, as can be seen in the mid-ground, grape picking, as shown by a man with a large basket or qualus on his back coming through the entrance arch of the stately house crowned by a peacock. The harvest is set in the mountainous landscape in the background, shown in a fine aerial perspective.

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, October (Detail, f. 27v), c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK
Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, October (Detail, f. 27v), c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK

Simon Bening’s October page depicting scenes of grape-harvesting and grape-tasting gives me the perfect opportunity to introduce my students to viticulture and viniculture! The scientific term “viticulture” refers to the science, study, and production of grapes. The term “viniculture” also refers to the science, study, and production of grapes, but, specifically to grapes for wine.

My goal is to focus on Viticulture and plan a variety of Student Activities… HERE!

For a PowerPoint on the  Golf Book, please… Check HERE!

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book October (f. 27v and f. 28r), c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK

Fayum Portrait of a Man with a Cup

Funerary Portrait of a Man with a Cup, ca. 225-250 AD, Antinopolis (?), Egypt, Wax Paint on Wood, 42.7 x 23 x 0.9 cm, The Louvre Abu Dhabi, Emirate of Abu Dhabi

For those fascinated with the past, it’s a recurring dream… to be able to “unlock” the doors of history… and see the faces of people who lived two thousand years ago… look them in the eye, capture their expressions, their personalities, and feel their presence. It is precisely this unusual experience that the Fayoum Portraits offer… Sometimes thanks to their faultless realism, and sometimes thanks to the clarity of their schematization… writes Euphrosyne Doxiadi, and I think of the Fayum Portrait of a Man with a Cup in the Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum

The Funerary Portrait of a Man with a Cup in the Louvre Abu Dhabi is, rightly so, a Museum Highlight! Clad in a Roman tunic and holding a myrtle branch and a cup filled with wine, a man in his prime looks out on us from ancient times. He comes from Egypt, probably the city of Antinoöpolis… and hopefully, the Questions and Answers that follow will help us better understand the importance of the Fayum Funerary Portraits.

What is a Fayum Portrait? Fayum Portraits are Mummy Portraits of men, women, and children of all ages, created in Egypt during the Roman period. They were popular from the 1st century AD to the 3rd or, according to other scholars, until the 4th century AD.  Even though cremation was the preferred Roman custom for dealing with the dead, the Romans who settled in Egypt, like the Greeks before them, adopted the Egyptian rituals of embalming and mummification. It is believed that the Fayum Portraits were painted while the sitters were alive, to be specifically used after their deaths, and thus replace the Egyptian funerary three-dimensional mask on the mummies’ faces. This development achieved two complementary aims: to preserve the face of the deceased for all eternity and to honour his or her memory in accordance with Greek and Roman practices.

Why are they popularly called Fayum Portraits? The first Fayum Portraits to reach Western Europe and the US, back in the late 1880s, came from Egypt’s Fayum Oasis. Since then, Fayum Portraits have been discovered in various locations in Egypt, like the cemetery of Antinoöpolis, where the Fayum Portrait of a Man with a Cup in the Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum was probably excavated. Today, about 1,000 Fayum paintings exist in collections in Egypt and at many Museums around the world.

What materials were used to create these artworks? Fayum Portraits were created by anonymous but brilliant artists on a thin panel of wood or linen cloth with two different Greek painting techniques: encaustic or tempera. Artists using the Encaustic Painting Technique work with pigments mixed with hot liquid wax. After the paint has been applied to the support, which is usually made of wood, plaster, or canvas, a heating element is passed over the surface until the individual brush or spatula marks fuse into a uniform film. This “burning in” of the colours is an essential element of the true encaustic technique. It was the ancient Greeks who invented the encaustic technique with brilliant final results, attractive effects, elegance, and expressive brushwork. The artists who use the Tempera Painting Technique, on the other hand, operate with fast-drying colored pigments mixed with a water-soluble binder medium, usually glutinous material such as egg yolk and

What is so special about the Fayum Portraits? I can not write it better… The images seem to allow us to gaze directly into the ancient world. “The Fayum portraits have an almost disturbing lifelike quality and intensity,” says Euphrosyne Doxiadis, an artist who lives in Athens and Paris and is the author of The Mysterious Fayum Portraits. “The illusion, when standing in front of them, is that of coming face to face with someone one has to answer to—someone real.”

Who is the Man with a Cup on the Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum? According to the Museum experts… Clad in a Roman tunic and holding a myrtle branch and a cup filled with wine, the Man with a Cup, is depicted in his prime as he looks out on us from ancient times. Probably painted during his lifetime, his serious, hollow-cheeked face is rendered with remarkable skill. The anonymous artist of the Portrait was trained to combine Hellenistic naturalistic draftsmanship with Roman realism. While his long, straight, narrow nose, fleshy lips, moustache, and beard are all details that lend individuality, his disproportionately large eyes and fixed and captivating gaze are directly derived from the Egyptian tradition of representation. Interestingly, it combines two civilizations: the Greco-Roman aesthetics with ­ancient Egyptian culture all in one work of art. and

For a PowerPoint titled 10 Favorite Fayum Portraits, please… Click HERE!

A Lecture by Euphrosyne Doxiadi, on the funerary portraits of Fayum, in Greek…

Trilogy of Soap Bubbles

In Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin’s eulogy, he was remembered for having once said, “One makes use of pigments, but one paints with one’s feelings.” And feelings he presents in his Trilogy of Soap Bubbles… three paintings of playful boys and shiny, shimmering, iridescent soap spheres… and a game, suggesting the transience of life.

The Metropolitan Museum of New York experts, where my favourite Chardin painting of Soap Bubbles reside, inform us that… The idle play of children was a favorite theme of Chardin, a naturalist among painters. Apparently, the experts continue, he drew inspiration from the seventeenth-century Dutch genre tradition for both the format and the subject, but it is not clear if the artist’s intention was for his painting, understood then to allude to the transience of life, carried such a message.

Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin was the son of a modest cabinetmaker and the student of equally modest artists. Born and raised in Paris, the artist rarely left the city, drawing inspiration from Parisian genre scenes and arrangements of typically French objects and food. He lived on the Left Bank near Saint-Sulpice until 1757, when Louis XV granted him a studio and living quarters in the Louvre. He started his career by painting signposts for tradesmen and details in other artists’ works but in 1728, the Portraitist Nicolas de Largillière “discovered” him at an outdoor show, and Chardin was immediately admitted for membership in the Académie Royale. and

Chardin was a frequent participant at the Parisian Salon, a dedicated academician, and, later in life, a pensioner of the French King. He was much admired by Denis Diderot, who would prove to be a great champion of his work. All of his paintings exhibited in the Parisian Salons were outstandingly successful.  By 1770 Chardin was the ‘Premiere peintre du roi’, and his pension of 1,400 livres was the highest in the Academy. I am not surprised… even his simple, unassuming Still Lifes are treated with dignity and respect. So much so, that the novelist Marcel Proust wrote… We have learned from Chardin that a pear is as living as a woman, that an ordinary piece of pottery is as beautiful as a precious stone! and

According to the dealer and collector Jean Pierre Mariette, writing some fifteen years after the fact, Chardin’s first figural picture, the MET experts inform us, showed a head of a young man blowing bubbles and was studied from a model. Between 1733 and 1739 Chardin painted three paintings, titled Soap Bubbles. It is also known, that in 1739 a version of Soap Bubbles was exhibited at the Paris Salon. The question is… which version? The answer is probably none of the three that have survived, in the Metropolitan Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington. They are definitely similar but not identical, none of them is dated, two of them are horizontals, and one, at the National Gallery, is vertical.

Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin’s Trilogy of Soap Bubbles is popular and well-liked! The viewers are absorbed by the depiction of a boy poised on a stone windowsill blowing a big soap bubble and the younger boy next to him, fully absorbed in the activity. Although Chardin gives the illusion of capturing two youths in a candid moment, he has rigorously constructed his composition. Was his intention to present the viewer with an allegorical scene? Does it matter what the artist’s intention was? Are Chardin’s paintings of Soap Bubbles the perfect example of Rococo Art? My answer… I do not know… all I want is to feast my eyes and enjoy a moment of playfulness, and innocence…

For a PowerPoint on Chardin’s Soap Bubbles, please… Check HERE!

A wonderful Video for Children, prepared by the National Gallery of Art, on Chardin’s Soap Bubbles…

Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife

Jan Van Eyck, b. before 1395 – d. 1441
Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife, 1434, Oil on oak, 82 x 60 cm, National Gallery, London

When the time comes for me to introduce my students to Jan van Eyck’s Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife,  I start with his flamboyant signature, Johannes de Eyck fuit hic. 1434 – Jan van Eyck was here. 1434, inscribed immediately above the mirror on the portrait’s background wall. Unpretentious words… but how artfully do they draw attention to his extraordinary skills as a painter and a storyteller!

Jan Van Eyck, b. before 1395 – d. 1441
Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife (detail of inscription), 1434, Oil on oak, 82 x 60 cm, National Gallery, London,_d%C3%A9tail_(6).jpg

Then, I am in trouble… I look at my students and I am flooded with questions, I do not have the precise answers. Is this exactly the reason why the Arnolfini Portrait is so attractive? How do I proceed?

“Jan van Eyck is credited with originating a style of painting characterized by minutely realistic depictions of surface effects and natural light. This was made possible by using an oil medium, which allowed the building up of paint in translucent layers, or glazes.” These two sentences by the National Gallery in London embody the essence of van Eyck’s painting style and technique. I like to read them to my students emphasizing his contribution to Western European Art. Information about his training and his life is scarce, we do know, however, that he was a member of the gentry class and that by 1425 he lived at Bruges and Lille as a court painter to Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. We also know that in 1428 he traveled to Portugal to paint Philip the Good’s future wife, Isabella of Portugal.

I still hesitate… and start with the background, the decorative details, the room itself! Easier to say than do…

Jan Van Eyck, b. before 1395 – d. 1441
Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife (upper half), 1434, Oil on oak, 82 x 60 cm, National Gallery, London

First impressions… This seems to be a luxurious room in a house of brick, lit up by a window that opens onto a garden with a cherry tree, glimpsed through the open shutters. Colourful light comes in through the glass window at the top, with clear bulls-eye pieces set in blue, red, and green stained glass. What an amazing display of wealth and “hidden symbolisms”…  

Let’s start with the impressive, bronze chandelier, that has one lit candle, which represents the seeing eye of God. Consider the mirror, decorated with scenes from the Passion of Christ, unblemished so as to symbolize the piety of Mary, the Mother of God. The wooden sandals… could they imply a “sacred” ground, or are they another evidence of incredible wealth? Could the small dog between the couple symbolize marital fidelity? Last but not least… the figure of St. Margaret carved on the finial of the big chair by the bed is the patron saint of pregnancy and childbirth, while the cherry tree painted outside the window is a symbol of love! and

Jan Van Eyck, b. before 1395 – d. 1441
Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife (details of the dog and St. Margaret), 1434, Oil on oak, 82 x 60 cm, National Gallery, London

The Arnolfini room is full of smaller or bigger luxuries. The bed, for example, covered with expensive red woolen cloth dominates the scene along with ornately carved furniture, covered with red cushions and fabric. An intricately woven Oriental rug on the floor, oranges by the window, and beautiful rosary beads hanging next to the mirror… are all signifiers of great wealth in 15th century Belgium. and

The difficult questions must be addressed… Who are the people in this luxurious, very personal setting? So many questions… and so many diverse answers!

Jan Van Eyck, b. before 1395 – d. 1441
Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife (portraits), 1434, Oil on oak, 82 x 60 cm, National Gallery, London and

They are clearly, according to the National Gallery in London, husband, and wife, and for many years the painting was understood as representing a marriage ceremony, though not anymore. From early on the painting was identified as showing one ‘Hernoul le Fin’ or ‘Arnoult Fin’. The most likely candidate is Giovanni di Nicolao di Arnolfini, known as Giannino or Jehannin, who would have been in his late thirties in 1434. The lady is probably his second wife, whose identity is unknown. The large round mirror that hangs right in the centre of the composition is stunning! Its convex glass shows not just the compressed and contorted room but also two men coming in through a door behind us. Immediately above the mirror is the flamboyant signature: Johannes de Eyck fuit hic. 1434 (‘Jan van Eyck was here. 1434’). Are the two men in the mirror Jan van Eyck, in a red turban, and his servant, arriving on a visit?

Jan Van Eyck, b. before 1395 – d. 1441
Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife (detail of mirror), 1434, Oil on oak, 82 x 60 cm, National Gallery, London,_d%C3%A9tail_%282%29.jpg

So many questions…

For a Student WRAP Activity on the Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife, please… Check HERE!

An informative Video (3:59 min) presentation of the Arnolfini Portrait prepared by the National Gallery in London…

If you want to explore the Bibliography on the Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife… start with: Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait, by Erwin Panofsky, The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Vol. 64, No. 372 (Mar. 1934), pp. 117-119+122-127 (9 pages)

The Parthenon by Frederic Edwin Church

Frederic Edwin Church, American Artist, 1826–1900
Study for “The Parthenon”, 1869-70, Oil on Paper mounted on canvas, 33 x 50.8 cm, MFA, Boston, USA

The Parthenon by Frederic Edwin Church in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is one of my favorite paintings of all time. I look at it and think of the artist, who wrote to his friend William O. Osborn on the 14th of April 1869… The Parthenon is certainly the culmination of the genius of man in architecture. Every column, every ornament, every molding, asserts the superiority which is claimed for even the shattered remains of the once proud temple over all other building by man… I have made architectural drawings of the Parthenon and fancied before I came to Athens that I had a good idea of its merits. But, I knew it not. Daily I study its stones and feel its inexpressible charm of beauty growing upon my senses. I am glad – and shall try and secure as much material as possible. I think a great picture could be made of the ruins. They are very picturesque as well as imposing, and the colour is superb… American Paradise: The World of the Hudson River School by Avery, Kevin J., Oswaldo Rodriguez Roque, John K. Howat, Doreen Bolger Burke, and Catherine Hoover Voorsanger, 1987, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, pp. 263-265

And the colour Church employs for his MFA Study for “The Parthenon” is indeed superb! More so than the finished painting of the Parthenon in the Metropolitan Museum, Church’s MFA Study captures the unique Athenian light… its shocking ability to change into all the colours of ‘Iris’ in the course of a day… its vibrant, warm, and eloquent qualities… its ability to touch the Pentelic marble and give it meaning, significance, and a pulsating inner world… In April 1869 Frederic Edwin Church outdid himself… creating a superb representation of a superb architectural creation.

For Frederic Edwin Church traveling to Greece was part of a three-continent Grand Tour that included England, France, Egypt, Lebanon, Jerusalem, Syria, Turkey, Austria, Switzerland, and finally Rome in Italy. The trip started late in 1867, it included the whole year of 1868 and ended in 1869. In April 1869 Church sailed to Athens, where he spent several weeks. Impressed by the Parthenon, he wrote to his sculptor friend Erastus Dow Palmer… I recently visited Greece – Athens – I was delighted – the Parthenon is a wonderful work of the human intellect – but it must be seen – no photograph can convey even a faint impression of its majesty and beauty – fragments of sculpture are strewn all about – and let me say that I think Athens is the place for a sculptor… The Greeks had noble conceptions. They gave a large-godlike air to all they did and the fragments and bits are full of merit. I spend over two weeks there with immense pleasure and profit – and when I returned – Rome with its gross architecture looked cheap and vulgar.

Back in the United States, in January 1870, Church wrote once more to his friend William O. Osborn… I shall commence a large picture of the Parthenon soon, probably. This picture is now part of the Metropolitan Museum Collection. My favorite Picture of the Parthenon is, however, housed in the Boston MFA. It is one, of the finest in my humble opinion, of ten carefully recorded Studies the artist did before embarking on his final representation of the Parthenon.

Celebrating UN International Day of Democracy, allow me to quote UN Secretary-General António Guterres saying… Let us commit to safeguarding the principles of equality, participation and solidarity, so that we can better weather the storm of future crises… and enjoy the eternal symbol of Democracy… The Parthenon as painted by the great American representative of the Hudson River School of Painting, Frederic Edwin Church.

For a PowerPoint on Frederic Edwin Church’s 1869 trip to Athens, please… Check HERE!

Frederic Edwin Church, American Artist, 1826–1900
The Parthenon, 1871, Oil on Canvas, 113 x 184.5 cm, The MET, NY, USA