The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and the Goya Tapestries

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, 1746-1828
An Avenue in Andalusia or The Maja and the Cloaked Men (detail), 1777, Royal Tapestry Factory, from a Goya Cartoon, Tapestry – Wool and silk, 337×217 cm, Santiago de Compostela Cathedral Collection, Spain

On the 10th of May, I visited The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and the Goya Tapestries, among the masterpieces I was anxious to see intrigued by their unbelievable charm and allure …

Francisco Goya, renowned for his masterful paintings and prints, also delved into the realm of tapestry cartoons, creating a series of remarkable works that showcased his artistic versatility. Commissioned by the Spanish royal family, Goya produced a collection of tapestry cartoons between 1775 and 1792, intended to be transformed into large-scale tapestries to adorn the royal residences. These cartoons, characterized by their intricate detail, dynamic compositions, and vibrant storytelling, demonstrated Goya’s adeptness in translating his painterly vision into the medium of woven textiles. The tapestries created from his designs adorned the grand interiors of palaces, reflecting the royal court’s opulence and Goya’s unique ability to capture the essence of human experience through his art.

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, 1746-1828
An Avenue in Andalusia, or The Maja and the Cloaked Men, 1777, Oil on Canvas, 275×190 cm, Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain
An Avenue in Andalusia or The Maja and the Cloaked Men, 1777, Royal Tapestry Factory, from a Goya Cartoon, Tapestry – Wool and silk, 337×217 cm, Santiago de Compostela Cathedral Collection, Spain

The Cathedral Museum of Santiago de Compostela houses an exceptional collection of tapestries, originally woven at the Royal Tapestry Factory of Santa Bárbara from designs by the celebrated Francisco Goya. These tapestries, based on cartoons mostly preserved at the Prado Museum, were part of a commission by King Charles III between 1777 and 1780 intended to adorn the Royal Palace of El Pardo. The illustrious Pedro Acuña y Malvar, a canon who served as Secretary of State for Justice under King Charles IV, bequeathed these artworks to the museum upon his death in 1814. Acuña, noted for his significant art collection in Madrid, thus ensured that the Cathedral Museum became the custodian of these invaluable cultural treasures, enriching its offerings and preserving a vital piece of Spain’s artistic heritage within the sacred walls of Santiago Cathedral.

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828)Tapestries including An Avenue in Andalusia or The Maja and the Cloaked Men, Wool and silk, 337×217 cm, Santiago de Compostela Cathedral Collection, Spain – Photo Credit: Amalia Spiliakou, May 10, 2024

Francisco Goya’s artistic legacy is marked by his masterful exploration of costumbrista themes and his adept use of colour and light. His tapestries, such as The Maja and the Cloaked Men, eschew religious motifs in favour of depicting local customs and traditions. Through these works, Goya invites viewers into the vibrant world of 18th-century Andalusia, capturing the essence of everyday life with keen observation and wit. His cartoons, serving as blueprints for the tapestries, reveal his meticulous attention to detail and his ability to convey emotion through the interplay of light and shadow. Goya’s use of wool for darker hues and fine silk burlap for lighter tones further accentuates the richness of his palette, showcasing his unparalleled skill as both a painter and a storyteller.

Boys Playing Soldiers, 1777, Royal Tapestry Factory, from a Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828) Cartoon, Tapestry – Wool and silk, 337×217 cm, Santiago de Compostela Cathedral Collection, Spain – Photo Credit: Amalia Spiliakou, May 10, 2024

The exhibition of Goya’s tapestries at the Cathedral Museum provides a captivating glimpse into the artist’s oeuvre and the cultural milieu of his time. Originally housed in the cathedral’s tailor’s workshop, these remarkable works were later unveiled to the public during the Corpus Christi festivities. Now, as part of the museum’s permanent collection, these tapestries are prominently displayed in dedicated rooms, offering visitors a comprehensive overview of Goya’s contributions to the art of tapestry-making. The legacy of Pedro Acuña y Malvar, who bequeathed these treasures to the cathedral, ensures that Goya’s legacy survives, providing a testament to the enduring significance of his work in shaping the artistic landscape of Spain.

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

For a PowerPoint of Goya’s Tapestries in the Museum of the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela, please… Check HERE!

Bibliography: and

Meissen Porcelain for Thanksgiving

Meissen Porcelain Manufactory, active 1710 – present, Dresden, Germany
Modelled by Johann Joachim Kändler, 1706 – 1775
A Turkey, 1733, white glazed hard-paste porcelain, 53.5 × 51 × 20 cm, the Getty Museum, CA, USA

In Meissen’s porcelain menagerie, each bird or animal whispers tales of craftsmanship and elegance… In my latest BLOG POST titled Meissen Porcelain for Thanksgiving, I am excited to present the 1733 Meissen menagerie life-size model featuring the iconic Thanksgiving Bird!

Its head half-turned to its right, with incised eyes, an extended drooping comb suspended from the curved upper beak, the neck with deeply incised wrinkled skin, its overlapping short rounded body-feathers each with a raised central spine and incised spines covering its plump breast and back, its wings with long divided wing feathers falling to the ground and partially obscuring its three-clawed feet, the raised humped back terminating in its displayed fan-shaped tail with two tiers of radiating feathers, with a short forked tail below, supported on a circular rockwork base applied with moss and plants with short broad leaves… This is how Christie’s experts describe the 1733 life-size white model of a turkey-cock created at the Meissen porcelain factory, by master sculptor Johann Joachim Kändler.

Kändler’s Model of a Turkey was one of many animals and birds—ranging from exotic birds to fierce dogs and elephants—that were created for the foremost 18th-century collector of oriental porcelain: Augustus the Strong, elector of Saxony and king of Poland, who was also the founder of the Meissen porcelain factory. In the early 1720s, just a little over a decade since the establishment of the Meissen factory in 1710, Augustus the Strong, captivated by the beauty of porcelain, envisioned a life-size porcelain menagerie for his Japanese Palace in Dresden. He was by far the greatest collector of Chinese and Japanese porcelain, what he was missing was a breathtaking assemblage of porcelain produced by his own factory at Meissen. His dream was put into practice in 1728, and by 1735, it had become a reality.

Nicolas de Largillierre, 1656–1746
Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, 1714–15, Oil on Canvas, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, USA

According to Christie’s experts… Two principal modellers were involved in this huge undertaking: Johann Gottlieb Kirchner and Johann Joachim Kändler. The latter became Kirchner’s successor and a major figure in the history of Meissen. Kändler’s skill was to breathe life into the models and give them a sense of dynamic movement, and his work is still very much admired by collectors.

Johann Joachim Kändler’s importance as an artist at the Meissen porcelain factory lies in his pioneering artistry, diverse artistic contributions, innovative designs and techniques, collaborations and partnerships, royal patronage, and enduring legacy within the realm of porcelain art. Kändler was known for his exceptional ability to depict animals or birds, like the white life-size Turkey model, with a high degree of naturalism and accuracy. His menagerie models captured the essence of various creatures in a lifelike and realistic manner. This naturalistic representation showcased his mastery of form, anatomy, and attention to detail.

He is also known for his attention to detail and realism. The menagerie models he created were meticulously crafted, paying careful attention to the intricate details of each animal. From the texture of feathers and fur to the expressions on their faces, Kändler’s models displayed a remarkable level of realism, featuring dynamic and expressive poses, and capturing the animals in various states of movement or repose. These dynamic poses added vitality and energy to the models, making them visually engaging and captivating.

Meissen Porcelain Manufactory, active 1710 – present, Dresden, Germany
Modelled by Johann Joachim Kändler, 1706 – 1775
A Turkey
, 1733, white glazed hard-paste porcelain, 53.5 × 51 × 20 cm, the Getty Museum, CA, USA

The use of porcelain as the medium for these models added to their aesthetic allure. Porcelain, with its smooth texture, translucency, and delicate nature, provided a perfect canvas for Kändler to showcase his artistic vision. The whiteness of the porcelain allowed for intricate painting and detailing, enhancing the overall aesthetic quality of the menagerie models. Kändler’s models were not only aesthetically appealing but also held cultural and historical significance. They were reflective of the 18th-century European fascination with the natural world and the desire to bring aspects of the natural world into the realm of art and decoration.

If Meissen’s animal porcelain figurines tell us stories in delicate forms… Kändler’s models of animals and birds showcase artistic brilliance and significantly contribute to the world of porcelain art.

Happy Thanksgiving Day!

Give thanks for each new morning with its light, / For rest and shelter of the night. / For health and food, / For love and friends, / For everything they goodness sends… (Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882)

Please… Check HERE! for the Meissen Porcelain for Thanksgiving PowerPoint, titled The Meissen Managerie: 10 Outstanding Examples!

A May 17, 2023 Video, titled Meissen Porcelain Animals: Getty Conversations by Smarthistory…

Olympe de Gouges

Alexander Kucharsky, 1741–1819
Portrait of Olympe de Gouges, 18th century, pastel on canvas, Private Collection

Yesterday, at seven o’clock in the evening, a most extraordinary person called Olympe de Gouges who held the imposing title of woman of letters, was taken to the scaffold, while all of Paris, while admiring her beauty, knew that she didn’t even know her alphabet… She approached the scaffold with a calm and serene expression on her face and forced the guillotine’s furies, which had driven her to this place of torture, to admit that such courage and beauty had never been seen before… That woman… had thrown herself in the Revolution, body, and soul. But having quickly perceived how atrocious the system adopted by the Jacobins was, she chose to retrace her steps. She attempted to unmask the villains through the literary productions which she had printed and put up. They never forgave her, and she paid for her carelessness with her head… wrote an anonymous Parisian who kept a chronicle of the 1793 events.

Olympe de Gouges was a French playwright, novelist, and political activist who is best known for her writings on women’s rights and social justice. She was born Marie Gouze on May 7, 1748, in Montauban, France. Her mother, Anne Olympe Mouisset Gouze, was the daughter of a bourgeois family, but the identity of her father is ambiguous. Marie Gouze encouraged rumors that Jean-Jacques Lefranc, Marquis de Pompignan was her father, and their relationship is considered plausible but historically unverifiable.

In 1765, Olympe de Gouges married Louis-Yves Aubry, a man much older than her. The marriage was an unhappy one. In 1766 her husband died, and Olympe, funded by her wealthy friend, Jacques Biétrix de Rozières, moved to Paris in 1770 to pursue a career in writing. Described as one of the prettiest women in Paris, de Gouges socialized in fashionable society, attending the most artistic and philosophical salons of Paris. She wrote plays, novels, and pamphlets on a variety of topics, including women’s rights, slavery, and political reform. Her most famous work is the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen, which she wrote in response to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen during the French Revolution.

She was an advocate for women’s suffrage and believed that women should have the same rights as men. She also spoke out against the slave trade and called for the abolition of slavery. De Gouges was an active participant in the French Revolution and supported the Girondists, a moderate political group. However, her views were unpopular with the radical Jacobin faction, and she was arrested and executed by the guillotine on November 3, 1793, during the Reign of Terror. De Gouges’ legacy as a feminist and social justice advocate has been recognized in recent years. Her name is now engraved on the Pantheon in Paris, a mausoleum that honors distinguished French citizens.

Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen, 1791

Olympe de Gouges wrote The Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen in 1791, during the French Revolution. The revolution brought about a lot of discussion about individual rights and freedoms, and Gouges saw this as an opportunity to advocate for women’s rights as well. As a feminist writer and activist, who believed in the equality of men and women, Gouges was particularly concerned with the ways in which women were excluded from political and legal rights, and the ways in which they were treated as inferior to men in society. She believed that women were capable of reason and should be granted the same rights and opportunities as men.

The Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen was Gouges’ response to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which was passed by the National Assembly in 1789 and proclaimed the equality of all men. Gouges argued that this declaration did not go far enough and that women were also entitled to the same rights and freedoms. In her declaration, Gouges called for women to have the right to vote, to hold public office, and to receive education. She also argued that marriage should be based on mutual consent and that women should have the right to divorce if they wished. Her declaration was a radical and controversial document at the time, and it was not widely accepted by the French government or society.

Hoping to expose the failures of the French Revolution in the recognition of gender equality.. Houges’ The Declaration of the Rights of Woman starts…

Mothers, daughters, sisters, female representatives of the nation ask to be constituted as a national assembly. Considering that ignorance, neglect, or contempt for the rights of woman are the sole causes of public misfortunes and governmental corruption, they have resolved to set forth in a solemn declaration the natural, inalienable, and sacred rights of woman: so that by being constantly present to all the members of the social body this declaration may always remind them of their rights and duties; so that by being liable at every moment to comparison with the aim of any and all political institutions the acts of women’s and men’s powers may be the more fully respected; and so that by being founded henceforward on simple and incontestable principles the demands of the citizenesses may always tend toward maintaining the constitution, good morals, and the general welfare.

In consequence, the sex that is superior in beauty as in courage, needed in maternal sufferings, recognizes and declares, in the presence and under the auspices of the Supreme Being, the following rights of woman and the citizeness…

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

Henri III being Welcomed to the Contarini Villa

Giambattista Tiepolo, Italian Artist,1696 – 1770
Henri III being Welcomed to the Contarini Villa, circa 1745, fresco mounted on canvas, 7,29 x 4,02 m, Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris, France (my amateurish attempt to Photography)

No other work by Tiepolo could be closer to our hearts, as it seems to have been created for us (the people of France). The last great Venetian painter and an episode in the history of France: is this not the finest possible blend of everything Venetian and French? This is how the fresco Henri III being Welcomed to the Contarini Villa, in Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris, was presented to the French public by the ‘librettist’ of the Gazette des Beaux-Arts in 1896. (page 121-130) and

Giambattista Tiepolo, also known as Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, is widely regarded as one of the greatest painters of the Rococo period. Tiepolo came from a family of artists, and he received his initial artistic training from his father, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo the Elder. Tiepolo’s talent and artistic abilities quickly gained recognition, leading to commissions for various decorative frescoes in palaces and churches across Europe. His works showcased his mastery of composition, grandeur, and a distinctive sense of lightness and elegance.

Giambattista Tiepolo, Italian Artist,1696 – 1770
Henri III being Welcomed to the Contarini Villa (detail), circa 1745, fresco mounted on canvas, 7,29 x 4,02 m, Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris, France (my amateurish attempt to Photography)

Circa 1745 Tiepolo was commissioned to paint a historic event for the Contarini family, and specifically for Villa Contarini in Piazzola sul Brenta. Standing in the Veneto area, only a few kilometers from Padua and Vicenza, on the ruins of an ancient castle built by the Dente family around the year 1000, the Villa was a farmhouse up until the mid-17th century, when Federico Contarini, one of the procurators of San Marco, expanded the building, turning it into a palace. Villa Contarini reflects Palladio’s signature style, which is characterized by symmetry, proportion, and the grandeur of Venetian nobility.

Andrea Michieli, called Vicentino, 1542-1617
Entrance of King Henry III of France at San Nicolo al Lido, 1593, oil on canvas
400 x 810 cm, Sala delle Quattro Porte, Palazzo Ducale, Venice, Italy
Andrea Michieli, called Vicentino, 1542-1617
Entrance of King Henry III of France at San Nicolo al Lido, 1593, oil on canvas
400 x 810 cm, Sala delle Quattro Porte, Palazzo Ducale, Venice, Italy

Venetian grandeur was what Henri III of France experienced in 1574 while traveling from Poland to France in order to accept the French Crown. He arrived in Venice on 18 July 1574 and stayed in La Serenissima for ten days of official festivities and sightseeing. His host, Doge Alvise Contarini, welcomed him in front of the church of San Nicolò on the Lido for the day’s lavish reception, in front of a triumphal arch and an open loggia supported by ten Corinthian columns, designed by Andrea Palladio. The days that followed were dazzling with regattas, theatrical and musical performances, sightseeing, attendance of administrative events, phantasmagoric balls, and meetings with all members of Venice’s aristocracy and intelligentsia.

The day of his departure, Tuesday, the 27th of July, was equally grand. Henri III, accompanied by the Doge of Venice and all the members of the Venetian Senate, traveled up to Lissa-Fusine, where they bid farewell. The French Prince, soon to be King of France, was not left alone during his boat trip down the Brenta en route to Padua. He was still accompanied by ambassadors of La Serenissima, and Federico Contarini, a close relative of the Doge, who invited the Prince to visit the countryside Contarini Villa, for an impromptu stopover, probably the last lavish luncheon on Venetian soil. Henri III graciously accepted… and the rest is history, documented, two hundred years later, by Giambattista Tiepolo. (pages 121-130)

Tiepolo’s style was characterized by vibrant colors, graceful figures, and dramatic, dynamic compositions. His brushwork displayed a remarkable sense of movement and fluidity, and his use of light and shadow added depth and dimension to his paintings. His fresco for Villa Contarini is a remarkable composition that showcases the artist’s style, his mastery of the fresco technique, and his ability to depict grand scenes with intricate details. The fresco depicts the historical event of Henri III being welcomed to the Contarini Villa by members of the influential Contarini family. The composition is visually captivating, with a dynamic arrangement of figures, a strong sense of movement, and attention to detail. The artist’s skillful brushwork and use of chiaroscuro contribute to the overall richness and realism of the fresco, while the intricate costumes and ornate accessories worn by the depicted figures reflect the fashion of the period. The fresco serves as a testament to Tiepolo’s technical prowess and his ability to capture historical events in a visually captivating and engaging manner.

Giambattista Tiepolo, Italian Artist,1696 – 1770
Henri III being Welcomed to the Contarini Villa, circa 1745, fresco mounted on canvas, 7,29 x 4,02 m, Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris, France

The amazing fresco Henri III being Welcomed to the Contarini Villa, is in Musée Jacquemart-André, in Paris. It is the Museum’s piece de resistance as it crowns the mansion’s spectacular Winter Garden. Edouard André and his wife Nélie Jacquemart, were great collectors of art. They bought the Tiepolo fresco in 1893, dismantled it, and transferred it from Veneto to their townhouse on the Boulevard Haussmann in Paris, the site of what today is the Musée Jacquemart-André.

The Winter Garden, the Staircase, and Tiepolo’s painting of Henri III being Welcomed to the Contarini Villa, Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris, France

For a PowerPoint on Tiepolo’s oeuvre, please… Check HERE!

I enjoyed reading Diplomatic Gifts on Henri III’s Visit to Venice in 1574, by Evelyn Korsch, Nicola Imrie, Pamela J. Warner, Evelyn Korsch, Studies in the Decorative Arts, Vol. 15, No. 1 (Fall-Winter 2007–2008), pp. 83-113 (31 pages)

The short Video, titled, TIEPOLO au musée Jacquemart-André, by Patricia Carles, is also interesting to watch…

Photo Credits: and and and

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun with Her Daughter Julie

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, French Artist, 1755–1842
Self-portrait with Her Daughter, Julie, 1786, oil on panel, 105 × 84 cm, the Louvre, Paris, France
Self-Portrait with Her Daughter, Julie (à l’Antique), 1789, oil on canvas, 130×94 cm, the Louvre Museum, Paris France

Sonnet IV by Victorian Poet Augusta Davies Webster, the Victorian Poet, reads… ‘Tis but a child. The quiet Juno gaze /     Breaks at a trifle into mirth and glow, /     Changed as a folded bud bursts into blow, / And she springs, buoyant, on some busy craze, / Or, in the rhythm of her girlish plays, /     Like light upon swift waves floats to and fro, /     And, whatsoe’er’s her mirth, needs me to know, And keeps me young by her young innocent ways.    /    Just now she and her kitten raced and sprang /     To catch the daisy ball she tossed about; /     Then they grew grave, and found a shady tree, / And kitty tried to see the notes she sang: / Now she flies hitherward–“Mother! Quick! Come see! /     Two hyacinths in my garden almost out!” Presenting two paintings of Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun with Her Daughter, Julie is my humble contribution to May 14, and Mother’s Day!–Sonnet-Sequence

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842) was a French portrait painter who became one of the most celebrated artists of her time. Born in Paris, she was the daughter of a painter, Louis Vigée, and began studying art at a young age. She showed a remarkable talent for portraiture, and by the age of fifteen, she was supporting herself and her family through her art. In 1776, Vigée Le Brun married a wealthy art dealer named Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Le Brun, which helped to expand her social and professional networks. She soon became a favorite painter of the French aristocracy, including Queen Marie Antoinette, whom she painted numerous times.

During the French Revolution, Vigée Le Brun fled France due to her close association with the royal court. She spent several years traveling throughout Europe, painting portraits of various members of the nobility and aristocracy. She eventually settled in Russia, where she became a favorite painter of Catherine the Great. After the fall of Napoleon and the restoration of the French monarchy, Vigée Le Brun was able to return to France. She continued to paint portraits and exhibited her work regularly at the Paris Salon. She was also an accomplished writer, publishing several memoirs that detailed her life and career.

Vigée Le Brun’s art is known for its refined elegance and sensitivity to the individual character of her subjects. She painted many of the leading figures of her time, including royalty, politicians, and artists, and her work is now housed in museums and collections around the world. She was a pioneer for women in the male-dominated world of art, and her legacy as a ground-breaking female artist continues to inspire generations of artists today.

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, French Artist, 1755–1842
Self-portrait with Her Daughter, Julie, 1786, oil on panel, 105 × 84 cm, the Louvre, Paris, France
Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, French Artist, 1755–1842
Self-portrait with Her Daughter, Julie (detail), 1786, oil on panel, 105 × 84 cm, the Louvre, Paris, France

In 1786, Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun painted her first Self-Portrait with her daughter Jeanne Julie Louise, whom she called Julie, and caused a scandal! She presented herself holding her child most affectionately, looking straight to the viewer and smiling with her lips parted and her teeth showing. The 1787 gossip sheet ‘Mémoires secrets’ wrote… An affectation which artists, art-lovers and persons of taste have been united in condemning, and which finds no precedent among the Ancients, is that in smiling, [Madame Vigée-Lebrun] shows her teeth. Yet, Count of Angiviller, director general of the King’s Buildings, liked her Self-Portrait, as exhibited in the Salon of 1787, and requested that the artist paint a second version of the same subject. In 1789, Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun complied and presented Self-Portrait with Her Daughter, Julie (à l’Antique).

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1755–1842
Self-Portrait with Her Daughter, Julie (à l’Antique), 1789, oil on canvas, 130×94 cm, the Louvre Museum, Paris France

Both paintings by Vigée Le Brun are beautiful examples of the artist’s work and a significant representation of the Late Rococo Style. The paintings are notable for their emotional depth and the strong depicted bond between mother and child. They are a testament to the artist’s skill and her ability to capture the essence of her subject in a way that is both truthful and beautiful.

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

The Twelve Months of Flowers by Pieter Casteels III

Pieter Casteels III, 1684-1739
The Twelve Months of Flowers, 1730, Oil on Canvas, 76.2×63.5 cm, Private Collection

January brings the snow, / Makes our feet and fingers glow.     /     February brings the rain, / Thaws the frozen lake again.     /     March brings breezes, loud and shrill, / To stir the dancing daffodil.     /     April brings the primrose sweet, / Scatters daisies at our feet.     /     May brings flocks of pretty lambs / Skipping by their fleecy dams.     /     June brings tulips, lilies, roses, / Fills the children’s hands with posies.     /     Hot July brings cooling showers, / Apricots, and gillyflowers.     /     August brings the sheaves of corn, / Then the harvest home is borne.     /     Warm September brings the fruit; / Sportsmen then begin to shoot.     /     Fresh October brings the pheasant; / Then to gather nuts is pleasant.     /     Dull November brings the blast; / Then the leaves are whirling fast.     /     Chill December brings the sleet, / Blazing fire, and Christmas treat… writes Sara Coleridge (1802-1852), the English translator and author of children’s verse… and I think of The Twelve Months of Flowers by Pieter Casteels III!

Pieter Casteels III, painter, etcher, and designer, was a leading Flemish artist of lavish Still Life paintings. He was born in Antwerp, the son of Pieter Casteels II, a painter of landscapes and history paintings. He trained with his father, but soon, as early as 1708 he traveled to England where he established himself first as a copyist of Old Masters. While in England, Pieter became an active participant in London’s artistic community, subscribing to the Kneller Academy of Painting and Drawing in 1711 and becoming a member of the Rose and Crown Club.

The artist returned to Antwerp in 1712 and stayed for the next five years. In 1717 he settled permanently in England becoming a successful painter of exotic Still Life paintings of flowers, game, and birds that chiefly served a decorative purpose, as over-door and over-chimney pieces of ornamentation.

During the 1730s Casteels became interested in the business of printing and came into partnership with leading professionals like the engraver Henry Fletcher, and the nurseryman Robert Furber. The three of them undertook the commercial venture of designing, producing, and selling sets of hand-coloured engravings to a group of subscribers. The Twelve Months of the Year is one such set, the most popular and ambitious of all sets, the team had created.

The Twelve Months of Flowers by Pieter Casteels III presented today, is a set of twelve flower arrangements, painted in oil on canvas, the artist created in 1730. The twelve extravagant compositions represent nearly 400 different species of flowers grouped according to the month in which they bloom. The compositions reflect the grand style of the Baroque period, with the flowers arranged in perfected bouquets, set in decorative and stylized urns resting on a plinth. This amazing set of flower bouquets served as the prototype for the colour engravings Casteels produced with Fletcher and Furber, his business partners.

For a  Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

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…

The Bastille in the first days of its Demolition

Hubert Robert,  French Artist, 1733-808
The Bastille in the first days of its Demolition, 1789, oil on canvas, 96×135 cm, Musée Carnavalet, Paris, France,_by_Hubert_Robert_(cropped).jpg

More than any other event of the eighteenth century writes Prof. Mircea Platon, the French Revolution, which began in 1789, changed the face of modern politics across Europe and the world. And it all began one July day when the people of Paris captured a fourteenth-century gothic prison known as the Bastille. The 14th of July is the anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille, a major event of the French Revolution, and the most important French Fête Nationale! Hubert Robert’s,  painting of The Bastille in the first days of its Demolition shows us how important and hated Bastille was by the French Revolutionaries.

In the summer of 1789, Paris was at a boil. In May, the Estates-General, France’s Parliament, met for the first time in more than one hundred years, but it was a failure. Members of the Third Estate broke ranks and declared themselves to be the National Assembly of the country. On the 20th of June 1789, they gathered in a tennis court near the royal palace and solemnly swore not to separate before having established a Constitution. There was more… heavy taxation, food shortage, army mobilization around Paris, and the dismissal of the popular minister Jacques Necker on the 11th of July. The political situation in Paris was explosive! and

Early on the 14th of July, the angry Parisian crowd besieged the Hôtel des Invalides where they looted approximately 3,000 firearms and five canons. The weapons, however, required gunpowder, which was stored in the Bastille. After arriving at the prison and negotiating with its governor, marchers burst into an outer courtyard and a pitch battle erupted. By the time it was over, the people of Paris had freed the prisoners held in the Bastille and taken Governor de Launay captive. All of this happened on July 14, which has been known in France and all over the world as “Bastille Day” ever since. Hearing that the Bastille had fallen, Louis XVI asked the duke de La Rochefoucauld: “So, is there a rebellion?” To which the duke retorted: “No, Sire, a revolution!”

On July 15, 1789, the day after Bastille was captured by the angry Parisian crowd, its demolition was decided and entrusted to the contractor Pierre-François Palloy. It was an important decision the citizens of Paris wanted to remember! As workmen tore down the spires on the roof, ordinary people ripped stones off the base. These stones soon became collectors’ items, souvenirs of the people’s role in the outbreak of the Revolution. and

One of the many artists who painted Bastille’s Demolition was Hubert Robert. Known for his capricci paintings, real or fictional compositions of contemporary buildings, and/or archaeological ruins, the artist was famous, popular, and prolific. His painting of Bastille’s Demolition presents a historic event. The medieval fortification is depicted as monumental in size, strong, and commanding. The dramatic use of chiaroscuro acquires a symbolic and meditative dimension. According to the Musée Carnavalet experts, the Bastille state prison symbolized absolutism and the monarchy. Hubert Robert’s painting of  The Bastille in the first days of its Demolition encourages us to remember the stormy, and bumpy road toward representative democracy, and the noble ideas of liberty, equality, and fraternity.

Joyeux Quatorze Juillet à tous!

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

John Singleton Copley’s Portrait of Paul Revere

John Singleton Copley, 1738 – 1815
Portrait of Paul Revere,
1768, oil on canvas, 89.22 x 72.39 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston MA, USA  

Listen, my children, and you shall hear /  Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere, / On the eighteenth of April in Seventy-Five; / Hardly a man is now alive / Who remembers that famous day and year. / He said to his friend, –“If the British march / By land or sea from the town to-night, / Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry-arch / Of the North-Church-tower, as a signal-light— / One if by land and two if by sea; / And I on the opposite shore will be, / Ready to ride and spread the alarm / Through every Middlesex village and farm, / For the country-folk to be up and to arm…     /     So through the night rode Paul Revere; / And so through the night went his cry of alarm / To every Middlesex village and farm,— / A cry of defiance, and not of fear, / A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door, / And a word that shall echo forevermore! / For, borne on the night-wind of the Past, / Through all our history, to the last, / In the hour of darkness and peril and need, / The people will waken and listen to hear / The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed, / And the midnight message of Paul Revere. Thus, begins and ends Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous poem “Paul Revere’s Ride.” On the 4th of July 2022, I want to remember and honour the man, the brave Massachusetts Minuteman, and the talented silversmith… by looking at John Singleton Copley’s Portrait of Paul Revere!

By 1867 Paul Revere was a member of the Massachusetts Minutemen, a group of patriots ready to act against the British army at a moment’s notice, had joined the Sons of Liberty group and was an active political figure. He was also famous for his considerable talents as a silversmith. Today his fame springs from Longfellow’s poem “Paul Revere’s Ride.”, a work that was first published in the January 1861 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, his remarkable portrait of 1768 by John Singleton Copley, and a select group of silverware like the “Sons of Liberty Bowl,” commissioned by 15 members of the Sons of Liberty in 1768, and made by the artist.

John Singleton Copley, 1738 – 1815
Portrait of Paul Revere (details),
1768, oil on canvas, 89.22 x 72.39 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston MA, USA

It is interesting how John Singleton Coplay portrayed Paul Revere in his traditional job as a silversmith, and not as the important revolutionary figure he was. He stands behind his highly polished table, holding a silver tea-pot, tools of his trade in front of him, modestly dressed… showing an industrious and humble character. It is no surprise that Revere was portrayed this way, for the revolutionary Americans, especially those of the north, were very proud of their industrial nature.

Copley’s portrait of Paul Revere is, according to Dr. Bryant Zygmont, striking in many ways. The way he is dressed is one of them… Revere, shown by Copley in half-length, wigless, holding his chin with his right hand and regarding the viewer as if he has just looked up, is not portrayed wearing his “Sunday’s Best” clothing, as was the custom of the time. Revere wears, for example, no Jacket or Coat, as every Colonial American man would have worn if they could afford to do so. Instead, he wears simple working attire, a decision that underscores his artisan, middle-class status. Details not to be missed are… the open-collared shirt, made from plain white linen, the lack of cravat, a kind of formal neckwear, the open undershirt peeking from underneath his linen shirt, and a wool (or perhaps a dull silk) waistcoat, unbuttoned as well, yet featuring two gold buttons.

There are more details to notice. Revere’s, for example, open white shirt and the blue-green waistcoat is worn without a jacket are associated with work clothes. Yet, the cleanliness of his attire, the golden buttons of his vest, the nearly completed silver tea-pot in his left hand, and the polished, pristine table in front of him, do not reflect the garments Revere actually wore to ply his trade, nor the craftsman’s workbench. Is John Singleton Copley’s Portrait of Paul Revere an idealized image of the American artisan at work? One can only wonder!

Happy 4th of July

Information for my short presentation was sourced in and

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

For a Student Activity on Copley’s Portrait of Paul Revere, Check the Teachers Resource Book of Picturing America by the National Endowment for the Humanities, pp. 10-11

Photo of the 2019 Exhibition Becoming a Painter in 18th-Century Boston: Copley and Others. Copley’s Portrait of Paul Revere and the “Sons of Liberty Bowl,” created by Paul Revere Jr. and commissioned by 15 members of the Sons of Liberty in 1768.

The Death of Socrates by Jacques Louis David

Jacques-Louis David, French Artist, 1748-1825
The Death of Socrates, 1786, Pen and black ink, over black chalk, touches of brown ink, squared in black chalk, 27.9 × 41.6 cm, the MET, NY, USA

Jacques Louis David: Radical Draftsman (February 17 – May 15, 2022 – the MET, NY) is the first exhibition devoted to works on paper by the celebrated French artist who navigated vast artistic and political divides throughout his life – from his birth in Paris in 1748 to his death in exile in Brussels in 1825. His iconic works captured the aspirations and suffering of a nation, while addressing timeless themes that continue to resonate today. Among the works exhibited at the MET, in New York City, The Death of Socrates by Jacques Louis David, a most delicate and fragile drawing of 1786, is a priceless treasure in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum. Every time I see the drawing or the oil painting of the same theme, I remember my senior High School year… reading The Apology of Socrates by Plato, on the quest for Wisdom, on piety and the corruption of youth… and the acknowledgment that philosophy begins with an admission of ignorance. and

In 1786, on the verge of the French Revolution, Jean Charles Philibert Trudaine de Montigny, French administrator, scholar, and scientist, commissioned David to paint The Death of Socrates, a theme inspired by a pivotal moment in ancient Greek history, when the ideals of Athenian Democracy were questioned and challenged. David was fascinated by Antiquity, Greek or Roman. The recipient of the coveted Prix de Rome, the artist first traveled to Italy in October 1775. By 1786, he was familiar with the dynamics of Classical Art, and although he declared, the Antique will not seduce me, it lacks animation, it does not move, he kept twelve sketchbooks with drawings of antique sculptures that he and his studio used as model books for the rest of his life. He was also acquainted with the German artist Raphael Mengs, who advocated the rigorous study of classical art. He was familiar with the writings of the German scholar, and many considered to be the founder of modern Art History, Johann Joachim Winckelmann, and in 1779, had visited the ruins of the newly discovered city of Pompeii. David, a great admirer of the High Renaissance, Raphael in particular, and Classical Culture was ready to render a theme of ancient Greek origin, The Death of Socrates, and do it justice.

Jacques-Louis David, French Artist, 1748-1825
The Death of Socrates, ca. 1782, Pen and black ink, with brush and gray wash over black chalk, with light squaring in black chalk 24.4 × 37.8 cm, the MET, NY, USA

Two drawings on paper, one in the Metropolitan Museum and the other in a Private Collection, testify to the fact that David was intrigued by the circumstances of Socrates’s Death, as early as 1782. Both these drawings were a starting point for the final version of the theme, an impressive oil painting,  dated 1787, in the MET Collection as well.

Jacques-Louis David, French Artist, 1748-1825
The Death of Socrates (Detail), 1786, Pen and black ink, over black chalk, touches of brown ink, squared in black chalk, 27.9 × 41.6 cm, the MET, NY, USA

Thanks to the MET Exhibition Jacques Louis David: Radical Draftsman, we can closely examine David’s 1786 preparatory Drawing of the theme of Socrates’s Death. Perrin Stein, an expert on the subject par excellence, emphasizes how David’s drawing in the MET,  is a working drawing, that sheds light on the artist’s main concerns. For example, the perspective lines in the lower left recede toward a vanishing point just above the head of Plato, the somber figure seated at the foot of the bed. In this subtle way, Perrin Stein explains, David calls attention to the special role of Plato, who was not present in Socrates’ prison cell, but who described the scene in Phaedo, one of his Dialogues. Another interesting feature is Socrates’s gesture toward the heavens which suggests that Socrates’s final moments were spent describing to his disciples his notions on the immortality of the soul. It is also interesting to note the ancient lyre, lightly sketched, just behind Socrates’s right leg. The musical instrument in David’s drawing figures—metaphorically—in Plato’s text as a proposed analogy for the relationship of the human soul (music) to the body (instrument). Finally, it is important to notice the many visible pentimenti, or changes, in the disciple’s hand holding the cup, in Socrates’s hand pointing up, and in both of Socrates’s legs, all indications of the artist’s exacting focus on the nexus of forms and gestures that would become the resonant and haunting focal point of the final oil painting.

Jacques-Louis David, French Artist, 1748-1825
The Death of Socrates, 1787, oil on canvas, 129.5 x 196.2 cm, the MET, NY, USA

For a  PowerPoint on Jacques-Louis David’s The Death of Socrates, please… Click HERE!

Jacques-Louis David, French Artist, 1748-1825
The Death of Socrates, after 1787, Oil on canvas, 133 x 196 cm, Princeton University Art Museum, NJ, USA

An interesting MET Video titled: “What is the path to a masterpiece?” by Dr. Perrin Stein, who presents and analyzes the dynamics of  Jacques Louis David’s The Death of Socrates drawing…

The Legacy of Jacques Louis David (1748–1825) is a short MET presentation worth reading…

The Exhibitions Catalogue… Jacques Louis David: Radical Draftsman by Perrin Stein with more contributions by Daniella Berman, Philippe Bordes, Mehdi Korchane, Louis-Antoine Prat, Benjamin Peronnet, and Juliette Trey, is published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press.