Teaching with Antonello da Messina

Antonello da Messina, 1430-1479
Portrait of a Man (detail), about 1475-6, Oil on poplar, 35.6 x 25.4 cm, National Gallery, London
https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/antonello-da-messina-portrait-of-a-man

“Now there was one Antonello da Messina, a person of good and lively intelligence, of great sagacity, and skilled in his profession, who, having studied design for many years in Rome, had first retired to Palermo, where he had worked for many years, and finally to his native place, Messina, where he had confirmed by his works the good opinion that his countrymen had of his excellent ability in painting. This man, then, going once on some business of his own from Sicily to Naples, heard that the said King Alfonso had received from Flanders the aforesaid panel by the hand of Johann of Bruges, painted in oil in such a manner that it could be washed, would endure any shock, and was in every way perfect. Thereupon, having contrived to obtain a view of it, he was so strongly impressed by the liveliness of the colours and by the beauty and harmony of that painting, that he put on one side all other business and every thought and went off to Flanders…” Teaching with Antonello da Messina is a set of student activities and worksheets inspired by a very curious Italian artist, a daring creator and an amazing innovator! A few years back in Palermo, in front of his Virgin Annunciate, all I could do was, silently whisper “Ἁγνὴ Παρθένε Δέσποινα, Ἄχραντε Θεοτόκε, Χαῖρε Νύμφη Ἀνύμφευτε. / Παρθένε Μήτηρ Ἄνασσα, Πανένδροσέ τε πόκε, Χαῖρε Νύμφη Ἀνύμφευτε.     /     Ὑψηλοτέρα οὐρανῶν, ἀκτίνων λαμπροτέρα, Χαῖρε Νύμφη Ἀνύμφευτε. / Χαρὰ Παρθενικῶν Χορῶν, Ἀγγέλων ὑπερτέρα, Χαῖρε Νύμφη Ἀνύμφευτε…” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fiK8wHm4JGM and https://www.saint.gr/236/texts.aspx and http://www.travelingintuscany.com/art/giorgiovasari/lives/antonellodamessina.htm

Antonello da Messina, 1430-1479
Portrait of a Man, about 1475-6, Oil on poplar, 35.6 x 25.4 cm, National Gallery, London
https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/antonello-da-messina-portrait-of-a-man 

“…Having arrived in Bruges, he became very intimate with the said Johann, making him presents of many drawings in the Italian manner and other things, insomuch that the latter, moved by this and by the respect shown by Antonello, and being now old, was content that he should see his method of colouring in oil; wherefore Antonello did not depart from that place until he had gained a thorough knowledge of that way of colouring, which he desired so greatly to know. And no long time after, Johann having died, Antonello returned from Flanders in order to revisit his native country and to communicate to all Italy a secret so useful, beautiful, and advantageous. Then, having stayed a few months in Messina, he went to Venice, where, being a man much given to pleasure and very licentious, he resolved to take up his abode and finish his life, having found there a mode of living exactly suited to his taste. And so, putting himself to work, he made there many pictures in oil according to the rules that he had learned in Flanders; these are scattered throughout the houses of noblemen in that city, where they were held in great esteem by reason of the novelty of the work. He made many others, also, which were sent to various places. Finally, having acquired fame and great repute there, he was commissioned to paint a panel that was destined for S. Cassiano, a parish church in that city. This panel was wrought by Antonio with all his knowledge and with no sparing of time; and when finished, by reason of the novelty of the colouring and the beauty of the figures, which he had made with good design, it was much commended and held in very great price. And afterwards, when men heard of the new secret that he had brought from Flanders to that city, he was ever loved and cherished by the magnificent noblemen of Venice throughout the whole course of his life…” I think… let Vasari “speak,” he is probably the best to introduce to my students, Antonello da Messina’s contribution to Italian Renaissance Art… http://www.travelingintuscany.com/art/giorgiovasari/lives/antonellodamessina.htm

Antonello da Messina, 1430-1479
San Cassiano Altar (detail), 1475-76, Oil on panel, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
https://artinwords.de/antonello-da-messina-pala-di-san-cassiano-sacra-conversazione/

Teaching with Antonello da Messina References – References, a PowerPoint and Activities…

For a List of ONLINE References on Antonello da Messina TeacherCurator put together, please… Click HERE!

For my PowerPoint on Antonello da Messina, please… Click HERE!

I always feel confident discussing an artist with my students when I prepare my Steps to Success Lesson Plan Outline

For Student Activities (3 Activities), please… Click HERE!

I hope, Teaching with Antonello da Messina, will prove easy and helpful. Do you think it justifies my BLOG name Teacher Curator?

Antonello da Messina, 1430-1479
Virgin Annunciate (detail), c. 1476, Oil on wood, 45 x 34,5 cm, Galleria Regionale della Sicilia, Palermo
https://eclecticlight.co/2019/08/02/the-first-italian-master-in-oil-antonello-da-messina-2/

Mother’s Day

Mary Stevenson Cassatt, 1844–1926
Maternal Caress, 1890-91, Drypoint, aquatint and softground etching, printed in color from three plates, 36.5 × 26.8 cm, the MET, NY, USA
https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/364213

“Sonnets are full of love, and this my tome / Has many sonnets: so here now shall be / One sonnet more, a love sonnet, from me / To her whose heart is my heart’s quiet home, / To my first Love, my Mother, on whose knee / I learnt love-lore that is not troublesome; / Whose service is my special dignity, / And she my loadstar while I go and come. / And so because you love me, and because / I love you, Mother, I have woven a wreath / Of rhymes wherewith to crown your honoured name: / In you not fourscore years can dim the flame / Of love, whose blessed glow transcends the laws / Of time and change and mortal life and death.” I miss my mother… and on Mother’s Day, I think of her with Art and poetry, because my heart and thoughts are … full of love. https://poets.org/poem/sonnets-are-full-love-and-my-tome (Christina Rossetti’s (1830-1894) Sonnets are full of love)

For the Mother’s Day BLOG POST two Works of Art from two different parts of the world… yet, Mary Stevenson Cassatt’s Maternal Caress, and Kitagawa Utamaro’s Mother and Sleepy Child, have so many similar stories to tell… https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/364213 and https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/51137

Mary Stevenson Cassatt, 1844–1926
Maternal Caress, 1890-91, Drypoint, aquatint and softground etching, printed in colour from three plates, 36.5 × 26.8 cm, the MET, NY, USA
https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/364213
Kitagawa Utamaro, 1753–1806,
Midnight: The Hours of the Rat; Mother and Sleepy Child, Edo period (1615–1868), ca. 1790, Polychrome woodblock print, The MET, NY, USA
https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/51137

Mary Stevenson Cassatt (1844 – 1926) was a fortunate lady! Born into an affluent family in Pennsylvania who believed it was important for women to receive an education, she grew up attending school in Philadelphia and travelling to Europe where …Art kept changing. Reaching adulthood she persuaded her parents that her life’s destination was Europe and professional pursuit will be painting! It was not easy for her father to accept it, but after serious deliberation, it was decided… in 1866, with her mother and family friends acting as chaperones, she settled in Paris and was accepted to study Art in the private studios of Jean-Léon Gérôme, Charles Joshua Chaplin and Thomas Couture. She expanded her training with daily copying in the Louvre and trips to the French countryside where she drew from life. Two years later, in 1868, her painting A Mandoline Player, was accepted for exhibition in the Paris Salon. She was noticed as a professional painter, but she was not fully content!

Everything changed in 1877 when paintings she submitted to enter the year’s Salon were rejected by the committee. Disillusioned with academic painting and eager to experiment, Cassatt met Edgar Degas, an artist she greatly admired, who invited her to collaborate with the Impressionists and exhibit with them in 1879, at the 4th Impressionist Exhibition. She was finally happy in an artistic environment that suited her needs… plein air painting, ordinary subjects, vibrant, metallic in some cases, colour, in short, dancing brushstrokes, flat space, the discovery of Japanism…

On the 9th of May, celebrating Mother’s Day, a tribute to Mary Cassatt as “…in her clear-headed treatment of mothers and infants, (she) was, for her time, entirely alone. The bunch of English and French daubers have put them in such stupid and pretentious poses! complained the critic J.-K. Huysmans, contrasting them with Cassatt’s irreproachable pearls of Oriental sweetness.” I couldn’t agree more! https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/364213

Kitagawa Utamaro, 1753–1806,
Midnight: The Hours of the Rat; Mother and Sleepy Child, Edo period (1615–1868), ca. 1790, Polychrome woodblock print, The MET, NY, USA
https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/51137

One of my favourite classroom games, teaching my students the accomplishments of Impressionist artists like Mary Cassatt, is to present them with Japanese Woodblock prints and assist them to draw comparisons and conclusions. The MET experts present Kitagawa Utamaro as “one of the most prolific artists of the genre of the portrayal of beautiful women… extremely interested in images of mother and child in daily life.” Midnight: The Hours of the Rat; Mother and Sleepy Child “belongs to a series entitled Fuzoku Bijin Tokei (Women’s Daily Customs). To illustrate midnight, Utamaro has chosen a mother who sleepily emerges from her mosquito net to attend to her child, who rubs the sleep from his eyes. The personal, quotidian nature of the subject exemplifies the new interest in the individual that emerged during the Edo period.”

For a PowerPoint on Mary Stevenson Cassatt and Japanism, please… Check HERE!

The Labours of the Months: May

The Labours of the Months: May, about 1580, oil on canvas, 13.6 x 10.6 cm, National Gallery, London
https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/italian-venetian-the-labours-of-the-months-january#painting-group-info

Pink, small, and punctual, / Aromatic, low, / Covert in April, / Candid in May,     /     Dear to the moss, / Known by the knoll, / Next to the robin / In every human soul.     /     Bold little beauty, / Bedecked with thee, / Nature forswears / Antiquity. Writes Emily Dickinson, but for The Labours of the Months: May small painting in the National Gallery in London, the feeling is different.  https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/may-flower/

Starting the 1st of January 2021 and for every month so far, I “travel” to the National Gallery in London and present one, out of twelve, small picture, “painted on canvas and then… glued to a wooden panel. It is possible that (these twelve pictures) were made to decorate the recessed panels of a pair of doors. The paintings seem to have been planned in pairs with the figures facing each other and are currently displayed in two frames in groups of six. They show the ‘labours of the months’ – the rural activities that take place each month throughout the year.” This set of painted Doors combine simplicity in execution and extravagance in visual effect! The paintings, very small in size, about 13.6 x 10.6 cm, were achieved in vivid, bright, luxurious colours, like “ultramarine blue for the sky, strong vermilion and red lake for the clothing, with rich greens and yellows in the landscape. The restricted and repeated use of colour gives the group of little pictures a charming, decorative simplicity. All but one of the scenes show a man working outdoors on what appears to be the estate of a large villa, seen in several of the paintings, at the foot of the distant blue mountains.”     https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/italian-venetian-the-labours-of-the-months-january#painting-group-info

The Labours of the Months: May (detail), about 1580, oil on canvas, 13.6 x 10.6 cm, National Gallery, London
https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/italian-venetian-the-labours-of-the-months-january#painting-group-info

The panel that represents the month of May, according to the National Gallery experts, “is the most puzzling picture of the series.” Observing the picture’s composition the viewer will see a seated young man, he seems alert and ready to stand up, holding “two rods, with one crossing the other at the top.” He is simply dressed, barefoot but wearing a broad-rimed straw hat, looking, as if he is expecting a nod, coming from someone straight in front of him, to continue the task he is planning to finish. “ It looks as though (the young man) might be making a supporting frame for vegetables or fruit,” the experts suggest, as there seems to be “a tradition in Italy for one of the spring months to be represented by a youth holding crossed branches, often in bud…” ttps://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/italian-venetian-the-labours-of-the-months-may

Whatever our Venetian young man is about to do… Whether or not this is the correct attribution… Enjoy an unpretentious Renaissance painting and Best Wishes for the Month of May!!!

For a PowerPoint on The Labours of the Months: May at the National Gallery in London, please… Check HERE!

The Raising of Lazarus by Duccio

Duccio di Buoninsegna, 1278 – 1318
The Raising of Lazarus, 1310–11, Tempera and gold on panel, 43.5 x 46.4 cm, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, USA https://www.kimbellart.org/collection/apx-197501

Lazarus Saturday… “Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany…” (John 12:1) and The Raising of Lazarus by Duccio is a wonderful painting to start our 2021 Journey of the Holy Week in the Greek Orthodox Church

Duccio di Buoninsegna, 1278 – 1318
The Raising of Lazarus (detail), 1310–11, Tempera and gold on panel, 43.5 x 46.4 cm, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, USA https://www.wikiart.org/en/duccio/raising-of-lazarus-fragment-1311

Duccio di Buonisegna is one o the greatest Μasters of Early Renaissance Art. Giorgio Vasari in his Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, introduces the great Sienese artist with admiration and respect… “Without doubt those who are inventors of anything notable receive the greatest attention from the pens of the writers of history, and this comes to pass because the first inventions are more observed and held in greater marvel, by reason of the delight that the novelty of the thing brings with it, than all the improvements made afterwards by any man whatsoever when works are brought to the height of perfection, for the reason that if a beginning were never given to anything, there would be no advance and improvement in the middle stages, and the end would not become excellent and of a marvellous beauty. Duccio, then, painter of Siena and much esteemed, deserved to carry off the palm from those who came many years after him…” http://www.gutenberg.org/files/25759/25759-h/25759-h.htm#Page_7

My decision to start the 2021 Holy Week in the Greek Orthodox Church presentation with a painting by Duccio was carefully thought. James H. Stubblebine’s 1975 article Byzantine Sources for the Iconography of Duccio’s Maestà triggered my imagination… It was finally in his hands! A centuries-old Manuscript Codex from a Monastery somewhere in the land of ancient Macedonia. He felt curious and lucky and privileged to hold such a treasure in his hands! His spirit lifted, in awe… ideas and images wildly dancing in his head, a tingling sensation going down his hands… he felt the urge to start painting… a spiritual golden world, divine, yet with layered hills and trees effortlessly arranged to create a feeling of depth, ethereal figures clad in spring-like coloured robes… How can I combine His World and mine, he thought, and he started painting… The Art Bulletin, Vol. 57, No. 2 (Jun. 1975), pp. 176-185 (10 pages), Published by CAA https://www.jstor.org/stable/3049368?seq=1. (The text in italics is purely fictional)

Duccio di Buoninsegna, 1278 – 1318
Maesta – Back Side, 1310–11, Tempera and gold on panel, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena, Italy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maest%C3%A0_(Duccio)#/media/File:Maest_001_duccio_siena_duomo.jpg

In 1771 the Maesta was dismantled and damaged in the process. Few pieces were lost forever, some of its original panels were sold, and today, like orphan siblings, these panels are housed in European or American Museums. I always seek them out when I visit the National Gallery in Washington DC or the National Gallery, for example, in London. Viewing a Duccio panel is always a pleasure! Visiting, however, the Tuscan city of Siena, its splendid Cathedral and finally the first floor of its Museo Dell’Opera, where Duccio’s Maesta is exhibited, I am in “exaltation.” The Duccio Altarpiece, painted from 1308 to 1311 in Siena and exhibited in Sienna “visible from both sides, is one of the most prodigious artistic undertakings of all time.” If I may humbly add, it is also Duccio’s remarkable gesture of respect to the Byzantine artistic tradition, surprisingly still alive in Tuscany of the early fourteenth century. https://operaduomo.siena.it/en/sites/museum/ and https://www.kimbellart.org/collection/apx-197501

“Thus, under Duccio’s aegis, Byzantium had its last, and perhaps noblest stand on the Italian field.” https://www.jstor.org/stable/3049368?seq=1 Page 184

For a Student Activity on Duccio’s The Raising of Lazarus, please… Check HERE!

Duccio di Buoninsegna, 1278 – 1318
The Raising of Lazarus (detail), 1310–11, Tempera and gold on panel, 43.5 x 46.4 cm, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, USA https://twitter.com/roisin_donohoe/status/1276307352501784576/photo/2

The Interceding Theotokos at Dumbarton Oaks

Interceding Theotokos – Virgin Hagiosoritissa Relief, Middle Byzantine, mid-eleventh century, Marble, 104 cm x 40 cm x 7 cm, Dumbarton Oaks Museum, Washington, DC, USA https://www.doaks.org/resources/bliss-tyler-correspondence/art/bz/BZ.1938.62.jpg/view

“…denuded of all help, and deprived of human alliance, we were spiritually led on by holding fast to our hopes in the Mother of the Word, our God, urging her to implore her Son, invoking her for the expiation of our sins, her intercession of our salvation, her protection as an impregnable wall for us, begging her to break the boldness of the barbarians, her to crush their insolence, her to defend the despairing people and fight for her own flock…” writes Patriarch Photius in the second of his two homilies on the siege of Constantinople by the Rus’ and  Sirarpie der Nersessian, in his 1960 Dumbarton Oaks Papers article titled Two Images of the Virgin, quotes him. I couldn’t find better introductory remarks for a BLOG POST on the marble Icon of The Interceding Theotokos at Dumbarton Oaks. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1291145?seq=15#metadata_info_tab_contents page 72 and https://www.doaks.org/resources/bliss-tyler-correspondence/art/bz/BZ.1938.62.jpg/view

The Dumbarton Oaks Museum is my favourite temple of the Muses in Washington DC! It breathes history, scholarship elegance and class… Its collection of Byzantine Art is top quality, the ways and the hows this collection was acquired fascinates me, the scholarship involved, I believe, is more than appreciated by everyone who loves Byzantium. https://www.academia.edu/3585132/_Royal_Tyler_and_the_Bliss_Collection_of_Byzantine_Art_in_James_N_Carder_ed_A_Home_of_the_Humanities_The_Collecting_and_Patronage_of_Mildred_and_Robert_Woods_Bliss_Washington_D_C_Dumbarton_Oaks_Research_Library_and_Collection_27_50?email_work_card=view-paper “Royal Tyler and the Bliss Collection of Byzantine Art,” in James N. Carder, ed., A Home of the Humanities: The Collecting and Patronage of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks

Dumbarton Oaks Museum – Byzantine Gallery
https://www.doaks.org/visit/museum/explore/byzantine-gallery

I confess, I first noticed The Marble Interceding Theotokos in the collection of Dumbarton Oaks when I visited the grand Metropolitan Museum Exhibition The Glory of Byzantium back in 1997. Exhibited then, along with the Lips Monastery Icon of Saint Eudokia from the Archaeological Museum of Istanbul, the two marble Icons “opened my eyes” in the genre of Sculpted Marble Icons from the Byzantine era. Ever since I seek them out, and when I visit the Museum of Byzantine Culture in my hometown Thessaloniki, I always pay my respects to the marble ΜΗ(ΤΗ)Ρ Θ(ΕΟ)Υ(=Mother of God) Icon in Room 4, where artefacts of the Macedonian and Komnenian dynasties are presented. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/metpublications/The_Glory_of_Byzantium_Art_and_Culture_of_the_Middle_Byzantine_Era_AD_843_1261 and https://www.mbp.gr/en/object/marble-icon-praying-virgin

Icon with Saint Eudokia, early 10th century, Marble, inlaid with coloured glass, 66×28 cm, Archaeological Museum of Istanbul, Turkey
The Interceding Theotokos – Virgin Hagiosoritissa Relief, Middle Byzantine, mid-eleventh century, Marble, 104 cm x 40 cm x 7 cm, Dumbarton Oaks Museum, Washington, DC, USA
Praying ΜΗ(ΤΗ)Ρ Θ(ΕΟ)Υ(=Mother of God), 11th century, Marble, 135×70 cm, Museum of Byzantine Culture, Thessaloniki, Greece
https://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2016/08/saint-eudocia-empress-wife-of-emperor.html
https://www.doaks.org/resources/bliss-tyler-correspondence/art/bz/BZ.1938.62.jpg/view
https://www.mbp.gr/en/object/marble-icon-praying-virgin

One more confession… the title of this BLOG POST was a decision that troubled me. At Dumbarton Oaks Museum the marble Icon of the Theotokos is presented as Virgin Hagiosoritissa Relief. The Glory of Byzantium Exhibition Catalogue uses a similar name Icon of the Virgin Hagiosoritissa. I thought, this is it…until I started reading Sirarpie der Nersessian article Two Images of the Virgin in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection, and I changed my mind! The author presents in detail the different styles, whereabouts and use of Interceding Theotokos Icons in every medium! Bottom line… I was not convinced the Marble Icon of the Theotokos is of the Hagiosoritissa type… and the title changed to The Interceding Theotokos at Dumbarton Oaks.

For a Student Activity on The Interceding Theotokos at Dumbarton Oaks, please… check HERE!

Villa Poppaea Viridarium Frescoes

Second Pompeian Style painting on the walls surrounding the Viridarium (small garden) of the Villa Poppaea at Oplontis (Italy), 1st century AD
Photo credit: Carole Raddato published on 06 May 2020
https://www.ancient.eu/article/1552/a-visitors-guide-to-oplontis-stabiae–boscoreale/

I wish I were standing in the middle of Villa Poppaea’s central sitting room (Room 18 on the plan), gazing at “the portico in front of the swimming pool and its surrounding garden… the large window (behind me, that opens) onto the principal garden of the villa… (more) windows, (on my sides) opening into rooms richly-painted with garden scenes, and (further beyond those) into tiny ‘garden’ courtyards, again decorated with garden frescos. Trees, greenery, flowers, birds and water (are) visible in every direction, both painted and real, with nature being brought into the interiors. …It’s hard not to imagine the building filled with …peace, …accompanied by the twittering of birds and the wind in the grass and leaves.” Villa Poppaea Viridarium Frescoes have a strange effect on me!     https://www.italyheaven.co.uk/campania/villa-oplontis.html

Villa Poppaea Plan: Room 16 marks the Viridarium area

Villa Poppaea, built on a plateau fourteen meters above sea level, took advantage of all the scenic pleasures of the Bay of Naples, the latest trends in architecture and the art of fresco painting. Rooms, one hundred of them, were in such a way organized so that its residents and their guests would be able to enjoy the open air and the dramatic view of the sea in an environment of the utmost luxury. Walls decorated with sumptuous frescos further enhanced the effect this Villa probably had on its residents and visitors. Please allow me to explain why exploring the fresco decoration in just one Room in Villa Poppaea, makes your trip to Oplontis, worth your time…

Digital model of the current state of the Villa’s Viridarium (Room 16 in plan)
Photo Credit: © King’s College London, 2011
https://www.kvl.cch.kcl.ac.uk/oplontis03.html

Back in the late 19th century, the German archaeologist August Mau (1840–1909), delineated and described a system of dividing Pompeian Frescoes into four distinct Styles. It is amazing how in Villa Poppaea visitors can see fine examples of the latter three of these four Fresco Styles by just walking from room to room. The amazing frescoes in the small Viridarium area (Room 16 in our Villa Plan) of Villa Poppaea are incredible!

The Viridarium is described as an indoor garden sitting room, decorated with frescoes depicting plants and birds. Room 16 in our Villa Plan is one such Viridarium beautifully embellished with what scholars describe as “Garden Painting,” a very precise genre that is distinct from landscape painting. Garden Paintings give viewers an interesting glimpse of the relationship that existed between architecture and landscape in the ancient world. Exploring the frescoes of Villa Poppaea I read OPLONTIS: VILLA A (“OF POPPAEA”) AT TORRE ANNUNZIATA, ITALY by John R. Clarke and Nayla K. Muntasser, and particularly Chapter 6: Wilhelmina Jashemski and Garden Archaeology at Oplontis, by Kathryn Gleason. The information provided in this presentation is the result of an enjoyable weekend of seeking more and more data…     https://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?cc=acls;c=acls;idno=heb90048.0001.001;node=heb90048.0001.001:21.7.2;rgn=div1;view=text

Second Pompeian Style painting on the walls surrounding the Viridarium (small garden) of the Villa Poppaea at Oplontis (Italy), 1st century AD
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Viridaria_Villa_Poppaea_30.JPG

The delightful frescoes in Room 16, the Villa’s Viridarium, display arrangements of evergreen foliage of arbutus, laurels and branches of roses, artfully shaped alone or around a decorative fountain. Hues of red and yellow, powerful primary colours, serve as a striking background. Birds twittering and drinking water from the fountains give an extra sense of joyful life. Kathryn Gleason describes them as Topiarii and continues presenting Ars Topiaria, as the art of creating displays of foliage and shrubs by clipping plants, the pruning and dwarfing of large trees… to the training of ivy into ornate patterns in small peristyle gardens.  https://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?cc=acls;c=acls;idno=heb90048.0001.001;node=heb90048.0001.001:21.7.2;rgn=div1;view=text

I found of particular interest the site of The Oplontis Project, a collaboration of John R. Clarke and Michael L. Thomas of the University of Texas at Austin and the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompe, along with the Visual Restorations of King’s Visualisation Lab, in the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London, by Martin Blazeby.     http://www.oplontisproject.org/     and     http://www.oplontisproject.org/index.php/visualization/

For a PowerPoint on Villa Poppaea Viridarium Frescoes, please… Click HERE!

Second Pompeian Style painting on the walls surrounding the Viridarium (small garden) of the Villa Poppaea at Oplontis (Italy), 1st century AD
https://historyandarchaeologyonline.com/ancient-roman-gardens/

Angelic Musicians

Domenicos Theotokopoulos, 1541-1614
The Concert of the Angels, c. 1608-1614, oil on canvas, 115-217 cm, National Gallery – Alexandros Soutsos Museum – Evripidis Koutlidis Foundation, Athens https://www.nationalgallery.gr/en/painting-permanent-exhibition/painting/domenicos-theotokopoulos-el-greco/the-concert-of-the-angels.html
Together with…
The Annunciation, 1614, oil on canvas, 2.940,00×2.090,00 mm, Banco Santander, Spain
https://el.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/%CE%91%CF%81%CF%87%CE%B5%CE%AF%CE%BF:Domenikos_Theotokopoulos,_El_Greco_-_The_Annunciation_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

Domenicos Theotokopoulos is in my heart. I find him an attractive personality in every aspect… talented, educated, ambitious, curious, adventurous, persistent…  Art is everywhere you look for it, hail the twinkling stars for they are God’s careless splatters…” he wrote and I think of his Angelic Musicians, shining like flickering stars, in the National Gallery in Athens. http://elgreco.net/el-greco-quotes.jsp and https://www.nationalgallery.gr/en/painting-permanent-exhibition/painting/domenicos-theotokopoulos-el-greco/the-concert-of-the-angels.html

Domenicos Theotokopoulos was a Cretan Greek, born in Handaka-Candia, present-day Herakleion, part, at the time, of the thriving Republic of Venice. Archival research in Venice showed that between 1526-28 his family relocated from Chania to Handaka where in 1541 Domenicos was born. His orthodox-Greek family belonged to the upper-middle class, as his father, Giorgos Theotokopoulos, worked for the government of the Venetian Republic, most probably as a merchant and a tax collector. Very little is known of  Domenicos’s mother and early childhood. He was undoubtedly talented, and his father, realizing it, placed him as an apprentice in a painter’s workshop to learn this profitable trade. The name of his teacher is unknown, but judging from Domenicos’s earliest paintings, he was a great master of the Post-Byzantine Cretan School. Crete at the time was the center of a thriving artistic community and understanding the artist’s early influences and style is important in decoding his later work! https://www.historical-museum.gr/webapps/elgreco/xronologio.php?lang=en

By 1567/8 Theotokopoulos travelled to Venice, by 1570, he was in Rome, by 1576 he moved to Spain and in 1577 the artist settled in Toledo, where he found his spiritual home and remained for the rest of his life. He died on the 7th of April 1614, admired for his unique fluid style, temperamental character and humanist education. One of his friends and admirers, Hortensio Félix Paravicino y Arteaga (1580-1633) the Spanish poet, preacher and a member of the Trinitarian Order, wrote for the artist “O Greek divine! We wonder not that in thy works / The imagery surpasses actual being.” Paravicino also wrote, foreseeing Theotokopoulos’s legacy “Future generations will admire his strange genius, but for centuries he will not be imitated.” http://www.nccsc.net/essays/spanish-style  

I would like the reader of this BLOG POST, titled Angelic Musicians, to focus on two paintings. One of them is in Athens and is titled The Concert of the Angels, the other is in Madrid, and is an Annunciation scene. Now imagine them together and you will see one of the last, if not the last painting, the artist created but never finished. The original painting, an Annunciation scene, was commissioned for the Chapel of the Hospital of St. John the Baptist outside the walls of Toledo. Today, separated, the product of 19h century vandalism, may look slightly odd, but still, enthral the viewer with their unique “beauty.”

Domenicos Theotokopoulos, 1541-1614
The Concert of the Angels, c. 1608-1614, oil on canvas, 115-217 cm, National Gallery – Alexandros Soutsos Museum – Evripidis Koutlidis Foundation, Athens
https://www.nationalgallery.gr/en/painting-permanent-exhibition/painting/domenicos-theotokopoulos-el-greco/the-concert-of-the-angels.html

The Concert of the Angels in Athens is for me a wonderful depiction of an imaginary, celestial concert, full of energy and vibrato. Domenicos Theotokopoulos, the so-called El Greco, loved music and treated it with respect. The painting in Athens shows a musical ensemble with seven “ecstatic” angels, reading music, singing or playing the spinet, a harp, a flute and a viola da gamba. I wonder what kind of music Domenico enjoyed most, and which musician of his time he favoured… https://www.nationalgallery.gr/en/painting-permanent-exhibition/painting/domenicos-theotokopoulos-el-greco/the-concert-of-the-angels.html

The artist uses swift brushwork and swaying movement in postures and robes to create excitement in his composition. Like tongues of fire, his swirling figures look more like spiritual beings than real bodies…

The colour palette that the artist uses is another distinctive characteristic of his mannerism. The colours are iridescent but bold. He uses oranges in red and green and yellow/gold in blue. Tints and shades are juxtaposed. Values of high or low intensity are treasured. Theotokopoulos’s final Annunciation was never finished but whether you see its upper part in Athens or the actual Annunciation part in Madrid, its expressive power is unquestionable.

For a PowerPoint on Theotokopoulos’s paintings of the Annunciation, please … Click. HERE!

The National Gallery – Alexandros Soutsos Museum – Evripidis Koutlidis Foundation in Athens has uploaded a wonderful (in Greek) Video to watch… https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=316373302403183  

Domenicos Theotokopoulos, 1541-1614
The Annunciation, 1614, oil on canvas, 2.940,00×2.090,00 mm, Banco Santander, Spain
https://el.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/%CE%91%CF%81%CF%87%CE%B5%CE%AF%CE%BF:Domenikos_Theotokopoulos,_El_Greco_-_The_Annunciation_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

Odilon Redon and Pandora’s Box

Odilon Redon, 1840-1916
Pandora, 1910/1912, oil on canvas, 143.5 x 62.9 cm, NGA, Washington DC, USA https://www.nga.gov/collection/art-object-page.46531.html#bibliography

It is nature also who orders us to obey the gifts she has given us. Mine have led me to dreams; I submitted to the torments of imagination and the surprises she gave me under my pencil; but I directed and led those surprises in accordance with the laws of the organism of art which I know, which I feel, with the single goal of producing in the spectator, by sudden attraction, the whole evocation, and the whole enticement of the uncertain within the confines of thought… writes Odilon Redon in his journals To Myself: Notes on Life, Art, and Artists… and I think of Odilon Redon and Pandora’s Box in Washington DC, at the National Gallery. https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/288740.Odilon_Redon

Odilon Redon is one of my favourite artists. As a student, I knew little of him. As a young teacher of Art History I hardly ever used his work… until, preparing for a Lesson Plan on the Myth of Pandora, I rediscovered his Pandora painting at the NGA and the Museum’s wonderful suggestions for Student Activities. My students responded positively to his imaginary world… and I was hooked!

Odilon Redon, 1840-1916
Self-Portrait, 1880, oil on canvas, 33.3×52 cm, Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille, France https://www.wikiart.org/en/odilon-redon/self-portrait-1880

I like how Odilon’s work is described at ARTSY… “Known for his unique blend of artistic naturalism and symbolic subject matter, Odilon Redon was highly influential among the late 19th century French avant-garde circle. Working in charcoal, pastel, oil, and lithography, Redon created imaginative scenes that, while often based in the supernatural, were nonetheless executed in a highly representational manner. Redon considered this descriptive accuracy essential, writing “every time that a human figure does not give the illusion that it is … about to come out of the picture frame to walk, act or think, the drawing is not a truly modern one.” Redon was influenced by the poetry of Charles Baudelaire and Stéphane Mallarmé and admired by the painters Gustave Moreau and Gustave Klimt—as such he is often remembered as a Symbolist, though Redon preferred autonomy and never actually considered himself part of the group.” What more could I add… https://www.artsy.net/artwork/odilon-redon-ari

My students and I are captivated by the Myth of Pandora and the elusive way Odilon presents her story… Off-centre, Pandora stands in front of an atmospheric background, misty and hazy, luminous, ethereal and a touch, mysterious. The power of the artist’s mind creates organic forms, indistinct and intangible. The colours the artist uses are subtle, understated, yet joyous, warm and earthy. The box in Pandora’s hands is small, easily discerned buts not ostentatious… http://www.hellenicaworld.com/Art/Books/en/BeyondTheVisibleTheArtOfOdilonRedon.html

Painted by: The Niobid Painter
The Creation of Pandora,
460BC-450 BC, Attic Red Figure Calyx krater, attributed to the Niobid Painter, Archaic period, British Museum https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/G_1856-1213-1

The myth of Pandora is beautifully told by the experts of the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC… According to Greek mythology, in the beginning the earth was free from toil and misery. The land was covered with flowers and the rivers flowed with milk and honey. Earth was inhabited only by men, who had been created by Prometheus. He made them of clay and modeled them after the gods, which angered Zeus, the king of the gods. When Prometheus offended Zeus again by stealing fire from heaven to give to man, Zeus exacted revenge. He ordered Hephaestus, the god of the forge, to create Pandora, the first woman. The gods gave her many traits including beauty, curiosity, charm, and cleverness. Hence her name “Pandora,” meaning “all gifted” or, alternately, “a gift to all.” Before he left Pandora on earth, Zeus handed her a beautiful box saying, “This is my own special gift to you. Don’t ever open it.” As Zeus anticipated, Pandora’s curiosity got the best of her, and she opened the box, ending earthly paradise. From the small chest flew troubles and woes—sorrow, disease, vice, violence, greed, madness, old age, death—to plague humankind forever. However, Zeus did not realize that hope had been secretly added to the box by Promethesus. When Pandora opened the box and released trouble and woe into the world, hope was there to help people survive. https://www.nga.gov/education/teachers/lessons-activities/origin-myths/pandora.html

For interesting Student Activities, please click and explore the NGA site… https://www.nga.gov/education/teachers/lessons-activities/origin-myths/pandora.html

The myth of Pandora’s box by Iseult Gillespie at TEDEd is worth exploring… https://ed.ted.com/lessons/the-myth-of-pandora-s-box-iseult-gillespie

For a PowerPoint on the Myth of Pandora Teacher Curator prepared, please… Click HERE!

Odilon Redon, 1840–1916
Pandora, 1914, oil on canvas, 143.5 x 62.2 cm, the MET, NY https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/437383

Lips Monastery in Constantinople

Lips Monastery in Constantinople, East Side of both South and North Churches, 10h and 13h cent., Constantinople. Today the Byzantine Church is a Mosque known as Fenari Isa Cami. https://grandeflanerie.com/portfolio/byzantineistanbul/7/

“The frequent fires that have caused such terrible destructions in Constantinople have, in some respect, facilitated archaeological investigation and the study of Byzantine monuments. As is well known, the byzantine churches that have been converted into mosques usually stood tightly surrounded by wooden houses in the center of labyrinthic Turkish quarters. Following the disappearance of these obstructive houses, many Byzantine monuments have emerged as isolated ruins in the midst of wide open spaces… This has been the case with the monastery of Lips to which the Empress Theodora added towards the end of the thirteenth century the church of the Prodromos, intended as a mausoleum for herself and the family of the Palaeoplogi…” writes Theodore Macridy as an introduction to his article… and I am indebted for all the information he provides for the Lips Monastery in Constantinople and the Theotokos Panachrantos Church BLOG POST https://www.jstor.org/stable/1291214?origin=crossref&seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

Nicholas V. Artamonoff, 1908-1989
Monastery of Lips, Exterior view from the west, December 1935, Nicholas V. Artamonoff Collection, Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection http://images.doaks.org/artamonoff/items/show/131

It was a summery June day of 907 (or 908) and Emperor Leo (Leo VI, called the Wise, 866-912) was on his way to the inauguration ceremony of a new Church dedicated to the Mother of God “Πανάχραντος.” The streets were quiet in the Lykos valley where Patrikios Constantinos Lips decided to commission his new Church taking into consideration novel architectural ideas. Constantinos Lips, aristocrat and military official, is at the peak of his career and he wants the Church of Πανάχραντοςto to reflect his status and… ambitions...

Lips Monastery in Constantinople (Today, Fenari Isa Camii, Istanbul), 10th to 14th century, Architectural Plan
http://projects.mcah.columbia.edu/medieval-architecture/htm/related/ma_theotok_of_lips_01.htm

The Church of Theotokos Panachrantos, or the North Church as is popularly known, is the oldest example of the cross-in-square domed type of Church Architecture in Constantinople. It is also a religious structure with a tripartite sanctuary to the east, and north to the west. The north and south vaults of the church terminate in huge windows that gloriously illuminate the interior of the church. The eastern vault extends over the church’s apse, creates a spacious Bema and is flanked by two tiny but elegant, quatrefoil structures that serve as the Prothesis and the Diakonikon. Apparently, the walls of this impressive church were further enhanced with marble veneering, both inside and outside. The Church of Theotokos Panachrantos was domed but the four columns supporting the vaults are missing, although three column bases survived the church’s probable fire destruction, and remain in their original positions. Equally interesting is the three-bay Narthex of the Church, which culminates, on its narrow sides, in shallow niches. Originally, the Narthex was preceded by a narrow exterior porch that covered the main entrance to the narthex. http://constantinople.ehw.gr/Forms/fLemmaBodyExtended.aspx?lemmaID=10907

Photo Reconstruction of the North Church by A. Megaw with minor alterations… https://www.byzantium1200.com/c-lipsos.html

The original Church of the Panachrantos, incorporated in its original design plan, had six additional Chapels. Two of them, single-naved, flanking the Prothesis and Diakonikon, are now lost in their initial state. The North Chapel suffered the most. Today only a part of its apse has been discovered and unearthed as the result of archaeological excavations. The Southern Chapel, on the other hand, located next to the Panachrantos Diakonikon, was partially saved, serving as the Prothesis of the, attached, thirteenth century Church of Saint John. Four more Chapels existed on the roof of the North Church. These Chapels, partialy destroyed during the fire of 1917, were not visible if you were inside the Church. Two of these Chapels, in quatrefoil shape, were situated over the western corner bays of the naos, and two more Chapels, located over the Diakonikon and Prothesis, were to be seen at the east end of the building. Access to the roof was through a staircase inside the tower south of the Narthex. https://www.thebyzantinelegacy.com/lips

Nicholas V. Artamonoff, 1908-1989
Monastery of Lips, Marble Cornice of the Apse Arch (North Church), May 1937, Nicholas V. Artamonoff Collection, Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection http://images.doaks.org/artamonoff/items/show/131

The North church provides probably the largest and the most “outstanding collection of Middle Byzantine sculptural decoration in Constantinople” write Cyril Mango and Ernest J. W. Hawkins in their 1964 DO article. What survived shows “a wealth of carved ornaments both inside and outside… (unique quality in execution, and the use of) …an endless variety of motifs – highly stylized palmettes, and “bouquets” of different forms, fleurons, stars and crosses (peacocks and eagles) – (that create) a sense of unit on the decoration as a whole.” The style of sculptural rendering is crisp, with sharp ridges that are carefully “smoothed down to the flat background upon which the forward contours of the motifs are repeated.” Mango and Hawkins proceed to an amazing description of amazing discoveries. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1291216?origin=crossref&seq=6#metadata_info_tab_contents, pp. 304-311

The Church Constantinos Lips, built in the early 10th century, survived time, devastating fires and invasions. Attached to it, Empress Theodora, widow of Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos (r. 1259–1282), established a second Church dedicated to St. John the Baptist known today as the “South Church.” Constantinos’s Church was now part of a prestigious Nunnery, a Xenon and the Burial “ground) of the Paleologean family. (…to be addressed)  

During the Ottoman period the Lips Monastery (South Church) served as a Mescit (a small mosque) and later, in 1636, after a fire in 1633, the South Church was upgraded to Camii while the North Church was converted into a Tekke (a dervish lodge). Two more fires down the path of history…the building was abandoned… but excavations in 1929, and a thorough restoration between the 1950s and the 1960s by the Byzantine Institute of America, gave it new life, so that today, known as Fenari Isa Camii, serves once again as a mosque.

An interesting Video of the exterior of Lips Monastery can be accessed … https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1703858606415101

For a Student Activity, please…Click HERE!

Monastery of Lips: The North Church Sculptural Decoration, early 10th century, Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Photo Credit: Dick Ossemann, https://pbase.com/dosseman/image/159013722

The Labours of the Months: April

By an unknown Venetian artist…
The Labours of the Months: April, about 1580, oil on canvas, 13.6 x 10.6 cm, National Gallery, London
https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/italian-venetian-the-labours-of-the-months-january#painting-group-info

Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote:   When April with its sweet-smelling showers  /  The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,  Has pierced the drought of March to the root,   /  And bathed every veyne in swich licour  And bathed every vein (of the plants) in such liquid  /  Of which vertu engendred is the flour;   By the power of which the flower is created;  /  Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth   When the West Wind also with its sweet breath,  /  Inspired hath in every holt and heeth   In every holt and heath, has breathed life into  /  The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne   The tender crops, and the young sun  /  Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne,   Has run its half course in Aries,  /  And smale foweles maken melodye,  And small fowls make melody,  /  That slepen al the nyght with open ye   Those that sleep all the night with open eyes  /  (So priketh hem Nature in hir corages),   (So Nature incites them in their hearts)… Geoffrey Chaucer first line for The Canterbury Tales refers to April…   for The Labours of the Months: April cer/gp-aloud.htm

In London, at the National Gallery there are 12 small pictures, “painted on canvas and then each glued to a wooden panel. It is possible that they were made to decorate the recessed panels of a pair of doors. The paintings seem to have been planned in pairs with the figures facing each other and are currently displayed in two frames in groups of six. They show the ‘labours of the months’ – the rural activities that take place each month throughout the year.” This set of painted Doors combines simplicity in execution and extravagance in visual effect! https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/italian-venetian-the-labours-of-the-months-january#painting-group-info

The painting that may represent “sweet-smelling” April, shows  a cooper making a wooden barrel. “He raises his mallet ready to strike the tool in his other hand. The work must be physically hard as he has tied a band of white cloth around his forehead to keep the sweat out of his eyes. The barrel will be used to store wine made from the grapes we see being pressed in September.”     https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/italian-venetian-the-labours-of-the-months-april

By an unknown Venetian artist…
The Labours of the Months: April, about 1580, oil on canvas, 13.6 x 10.6 cm, National Gallery, London
https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/italian-venetian-the-labours-of-the-months-january#painting-group-info

Coopers were important craftsmen during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. They created wooden barrels to store wine, spirits and salted meats, buckets to draw and carry water, wooden bowls and plates for daily use, pails, churns and tubs for various agricultural or home-industry needs. Coopers, like the one depicted in the small London painting, were respected and valued Renaissance professionals.

Depicting the Labours of the Months was a popular artistic theme that was frequently used in the decoration of Cathedrals and Churches, Castles and  Palaces, Psalters, Breviaries and Books of Hours across Europe during the Medieval and Early Renaissance period. Each month, depicting popular activities of peasants or/and the gentry throughout the year were sometimes paired with the Signs of the Zodiac circle. They would be either simple and small in size or large and elaborate, crafted in stone, wood, stained glass, painted in murals or often enough, painted in parchment. Many great Monuments and Libraries in Europe display fine examples of such artefacts for art lovers to enjoy.  http://www.livingfield.co.uk/ages/labours-of-the-months/

For a PowerPoint on The Labours of the Months at the National Gallery in London, please… Check HERE!