The Pompeiian Portraits of Distinction shows a young couple, stylish, bold and educated at the prime of their life. They are both adorable in the way she brings her stylus to her lips, he holds his papyrus under his chin. They are both pensive… contemplative. They make you wonder… are they thinking of something they have just read or are they pondering on what they are about to write?
According to the experts at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, the two portraits are amazing examples of the IV Pompeian style, discovered in Pompeii on May 24th, 1760. They were among the first discoveries made and dazzled the world! The small painting of “Sappho” holding a stylus and wax tablets, is the companion of the male portrait, depicting a young man holding a Papyrus Roll just under his chin, quite romantic looking, with blondish hair and wearing a lush laurel wreath.
The 6th century Church of San Michele in Africisco has an amazing story to tell! It all started in Ravenna… when Giuliano Argentarius, a Byzantine court official and banker of great wealth and devotion, commissioned, as a votive offering to Archangel Michael, a new church in the Ravennate neighborhood known as Frigiselus.
Guliano’s Church in Figiselus, known as San Michele in Africisco, was magnificently adorned with mosaics and marble adornments. Unfortunately, the church as a place of worship no longer exists due to alterations and lootings. Very little of the original wall structures stand, while mosaics and sculptural pieces are scattered among the Bode Museum in Berlin, the National Museum of Ravenna, the Museum of Torcello, the Victoria & Albert Museum, and St. Petersburg. Today, in place of the church there is a Max Mara shop!
The Napoleonic Wars and conquest of Ravenna in 1805 are the beginning of the Church’s end. “San Michele was purchased by Andrea Cicognani and became a fish shop. In 1840 it was sold to antique dealer Giuseppe Buffa, who made a wood store out of it and built a wall to protect its apse mosaic. During those years an envoy of King Frederick William IV of Prussia was sent to visit the church, and he ordered the purchase of the apse mosaic. He obtained Pope Gregory III’s permission to take it to Berlin, but first, it was necessary to remove the mosaic from its wall support. Alessandro Cappi, secretary of the Accademia delle Belle Arti of Ravenna, refused to detach the mosaic… but Vincenzo Pajaro, a Venetian antique dealer, removed the mosaic…and eventually sent it to Berlin.” http://www.mosaicoravenna.it/convegno/la-diaspora-dellarcangelo-san-michele-in-africisco-e-leta-giustinianea/?lang=en
Today, the San Michele Apse Mosaic is the main attraction of the Bode Museum in Berlin. The mosaic’s main composition depicts a rare youthful and beardless Christ, standing between the winged Archangels, Michael and Gabriel, holding a monumental, bejeweled Cross and an open Bible. The apsidal mosaic is placed under a frieze of vines and doves, supposed to represent the Twelve Apostles. Missing today, the Apse mosaic is flanked by standing depictions of Cosmas and Damian, the early Christian medicinal saints. Right above the apse, on a frieze-like wall, the 6th-century mosaicist depicted an older looking, bearded Christ, seated on a throne, flanked, once more by the Archangels and seven angels sounding trumpets.
Very little is known about Giuliano Argentarius, the founder of San Michele in Africisco. However, I did find some information about his extraordinary deeds in an article titled “Banking in Early Byzantine Ravenna” by Salvatore Cosentino. For more… please check: https://journals.openedition.org/crm/13746
The Month of February fresco comes from Torre Aquila in the Castello del Buonconsiglio, in Trento, Italy. It is part of an amazing fresco Cycle of the Twelve Months painted on the walls of the tower’s 2nd-floor main room and presents the quintessential game of chivalry…
Is there among you any gentleman who for the love of his lady is willing to try with me some feat of arms? If there should be any such, here I am, quite ready to sally forth completely armed and mounted, to tilt three courses with the lance, to give three blows with the battle axe, and three strokes with the dagger. Now look, you English, if there be none among you in love. … and so Gauvain Micaille, the gallant Frenchman squire from Beauce, a gentleman of tried courage, who had advanced himself on his own merit, without any assistance from others, jousts for the honour of France showing his courage and bravery… https://uts.nipissingu.ca/muhlberger/FROISSART/GAUVAIN.HTM
The February fresco at Torre Aquila presents an impressive and festive Tournament where Jousting is the protagonist of the day. The Trento artist, maybe Maestro Venceslao, using warm tones of orange and ochre, organizes a two parts composition. The background presents Trento Ladies sitting behind an elaborate, purpose-built, parapet. They are finely dressed and adorned with elaborate headdresses, crowns, and wreaths, talking to each other, full of excitement… maybe contemplating, even debating whom they are going to favor! The Knights, fully armored and carrying their cotes-of-arm are depicted in the art of Jousting, their goal, to show gallantry and honour, their hope to attract the attention of “their” Lady and get a token of her favor… a veil, a ribbon, a wreath!
According to Wikipedia: “Jousting is a martial game or hastilude between two horsemen wielding lances with blunted tips, often as part of a tournament. The primary aim was to replicate a clash of heavy cavalry, with each participant trying hard to strike the opponent while riding towards him at high speed, breaking the lance on the opponent’s shield or jousting armor if possible, or unhorsing him. The joust became an iconic characteristic of the knight in Romantic medievalism. The participants experience close to three and a quarter times their body weight in G-forces when the lances collide with their armor.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jousting#CITEREFColtman1919
The Trento fresco for February has another interesting genre scene. In the narrow space between the room’s window and the staircase, the artist included a vignette of an older blacksmith toiling hard in his workshop. Let’s not forget this is a fresco cycle of the Labors of the Months, illustrating the activities of aristocrats and peasants, every month, throughout the year!
Portrait Bust of a Woman with Scroll is a Constantinopolitan in origin portrait of an aristocratic Lady, I find fascinating!
The MET’s portrait presents a woman of high rank, aristocratic, educated, sensitive and demure. She survived, self-possessed, centuries of Constantinopolitan destruction, fire and plunder, alone, to finally arrive at the MET without her companion… She originally stood next to her husband, both holding a scroll, wishing they were remembered as a sophisticated couple of learning and culture…
My imagination, as you can see, runs wild… I see them standing in front of their double portrait admiring the soft carving and the delicate contours of it. They look appreciative of the highly polished, alabaster like, finishing of the carving and approve the young master sculptor’s ability of fine quality workmanship. They are eager to commission a new set of statuettes presenting Mythological Hercules, symbolic Hero of their new Christian faith. They are great patrons of the arts. Their estate in Constantinople is famous for its beauty and treasures. Their library is legendary. As they stand admiring their new acquisition, they are expecting two new manuscripts, a scroll of Joshua’s adventures, and another scroll on the Book of Psalms…
According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art “This sensitively carved portrait bust presents a mature woman with a thoughtful expression and piercing gaze; the scroll held in her right hand signals an appreciation for classical learning and marks her as a member of the elite. She wears a mantle, tunic, and head covering, typical dress for an aristocratic woman. Such head coverings did not come into fashion until the fourth century. The bust likely formed part of a commemorative display, perhaps documenting a public donation, or was used in a domestic setting.” https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/468716
For me, art history teacher, this Portrait, a superb example of the Late Antique – Early Christian work in sculpture, is an opportunity to discuss artistic developments of the period. This is the reason why I prepared the attached PowerPoint on Female Portraits of the Late Antique-Early Christian Period… HERE!
This is an Exhibition I wish I could take my students to visit, explore and marvel! Troy: Myth and Reality is as intriguing or rather “tantalizing,” to use an adjective the British Museum does, as its title insinuates.
Created thousands of years ago, Trojan Myths tell us epic stories, adventures of heroes and Gods, tales of love, loyalty, betrayal, friendship, bravery… they show that the gods, very much like ordinary humans, men and women alike, can be right or wrong, fail or succeed, love or hate… they also present the extraordinary deeds of the Trojan War protagonists, displayed on every form of art, from pottery to statues, paintings, music, and poetry! Trojan Archaeology, on the other hand, touches upon reality in its quest to discover the truth behind the story and reality behind the fiction.
My Grade 3 students love the stories of the Trojan War and the adventures of its heroes. Every week for 1 class period we read about, and discuss, the fascinating events presented in the Iliad and the Odyssey. We explore how artists from antiquity to modern times depicted the many events of the story. At the same time, we explore Trojan archaeology and learn about its protagonists and the historical evidence it unearths. My students’ favorite hero is Achilles, and their preferred Activity is to imagine and… reconstruct his Shield… commissioned by his mother Thetis and made by God Hephaestus himself! (For student work, please… Click HERE!)
The British Museum Troy: Myth and Reality is a blockbuster exhibition, that directs visitors’ attention on the myths’ ‘human truth’, rather than their historical fact. The Exhibition is divided into 4 sections, Introduction. Troy: the myth, Troy: the archaeology, Troy: enduring stories, and presents well known as well as rare artifacts. The British Museum’s Exhibition site is a “treasure” to explore as well. The BLOG articles are worth your time to read. The Teachers’ Resources are fantastic, rich with information, Lesson Plans, and Activities. The Museum’s Trailer for the Exhibition is simply… fantastic!
They are both beautiful and aristocratic, they look demure but haughty, they represent two different cultures… two different continents, yet they share an “attitude” I find intriguing! Can they be compared? An Unlike Comparison is a RWAP (Research-Writing-Art-Project) my students like a lot!!!
The Yoruba people have a long tradition in creating unique terracotta portrait sculptures characterized by naturalism and a sense of individuality and humanism. The Minneapolis Institute of Art Shrine Head is striking… blending aesthetic charisma with strong technical skills. The Ife Lady in Minneapolis has a lovely oval face with almond-shaped eyes under heavy lids, full cheeks, and fleshy lips. She has a condescending attitude in the way she carries her posture, she looks decorously downwards, yet, you can easily “imagine the glint in her eye and the gleam of her lips.” The unknown artist of this amazing portrait follows the Yoruba fashion of the time and the face is rendered with “vertical lines following the natural contours of the woman’s face…” This is a tradition “associated with scarification, the practice of cutting designs into the skin as marks of beauty and lineage.” There is, however, a new theory among scholars suggesting that “the lines may be shadows cast by the veiled royal crown worn in her day.” https://collections.artsmia.org/art/4866/shrine-head-yoruba
Rogier van der Weyden is an unquestionably charismatic portraitist. He has the ability to “grasp” the essence of the sitter and “deliver” it, pure and genuine. He is also able to create balanced compositions, combining the elements of art and expressing “an aristocratic ideal of control.” The NGA Portrait of a Lady, a member of the flamboyant court of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, is one such example. May I say, my favorite? Her name may be lost to us, but her high position in Burgundian court is, however, undisputed. She poses as the grand lady she is, in three-quarters view, resting her clasped hands under her chest, exquisitely groomed and dressed, eyes cast down, tranquil… lost in her thoughts. Is she? Rogier van der Weyden rendered her with great “affection.” Every aspect of the composition is well thought… the fall of the veil, the V of the neckline, the triangles formed by dark color schemes, the sharp juxtaposition of black and white in the sitter’s dress, and finally, la pièce de résistance, the bright red ornate belt, in the lowest part of the painting, behind her clasping hands, heightening up her rosy, fleshy lips. How masterful can Rogier be! https://www.nga.gov/collection/highlights/van-der-weyden-portrait-of-a-lady.html
This is An Unlike Comparison, we love to talk about in my Secondary School Art History class and a RWAP (Research-Writing-Art-Project) my students really like to explore.
Heraklitos and the Asarotos Oikos Mosaic is one of the many reasons why you should visit the Gregoriano Profano Museum in the Vatican! It’s an exhibit I dearly love, a mosaic that amuses me, tests my observation… a work of art of the highest quality!
The story of the Asarotos Oikos theme in mosaic-work takes us back to the Hellenistic Period, to the great city of Pergamon on the coast of Asia Minor, and to a legendary mosaicist, called Sosus (εκ Περγάμου ψηφιδογράφος Σώσος). Pliny the Elder describes Hellenistic mosaic making and Sosus’s accomplishments as “…Paved floors originated among the Greeks and were skilfully embellished with a kind of paintwork until this was superseded by mosaics. In this latter field the most famous exponent was Sosus, who at Pergamum laid the floor of what is known in Greek as ‘the Unswept Room’ because, by means of small cubes tinted in various shades, he represented on the floor refuse from the dinner table and other sweepings, malting them appear as if they had been left there…” Pliny, Natural History, 36.60.25 https://www.loebclassics.com/view/pliny_elder-natural_history/1938/pb_LCL419.145.xml?readMode=reader
The Gregoriano Profano Museum in the Vatican has one of the finest Asarotos Oikos mosaics, carefully executed and brightly colored. It was discovered in 1833, on the Aventine Hill in Rome, and as the archaeologists established, it decorated the dining room floor of a Hadrian period villa. This is a unique mosaic, the masterpiece of Heraklitos, the mosaicist, proud to sign his name.
Heraklitos created a complex floor mosaic composition. The threshold of the triclinium (the Roman dining-room) greeted guests with a design of theatrical masks, ritual objects, and the mosaicist’s signature! The central mosaic decoration presented a complex Nilotic scene, now mostly destroyed. The Assarotos Oikos themed mosaic, boarder-like, covered the four sides of the room depicting, on a white background, “…the debris of a banquet, the remains that would normally be swept away.” It is amusing for me to try to identify what Heraklitos depicted on this amazing floor… fruit, leafy vegetables, lobster and crab claws, clams and oysters, sea urchins, chicken bones, and nutshells, even a tiny mouse, gnawing on a walnut shell. I am equally amazed at the artist’s skill to demonstrate an understanding of three-dimentionality by using contrasting colors and casting shadows against the white floor background. http://www.museivaticani.va/content/museivaticani/en/collezioni/musei/museo-gregoriano-profano/Mosaico-dell-asarotos-oikos.html
An interesting article titled “The asàrotos òikos mosaic as an elite status symbol” by Ehud Fathy of the Tel Aviv University provides an interesting explanation of how we should read this mosaic theme. “The asàrotos òikos mosaics have all been discovered exclusively in the domestic spaces of the Roman elite. The manufacturing of such detailed mosaics must have demanded great financial investment, and while the mosaics must have amused the guests with their Trompe-l’œil qualities, it is hard to believe that such an expenditure was made with this sole purpose in mind. The aim of this article is to explore the asàrotos òikos mosaics as a Roman status symbol of elitist erudition… ” file:///C:/Users/aspil/Downloads/Dialnet-TheAsarotosOikosMosaicAsAnEliteStatusSymbol-6037238%20(1).pdf
For a PowerPoint on the Vatican Asarotos Oikos Mosaic, please… click HERE!
The Reliquary in focus is a small rectangular silver box of hammered silver with a hinged lid. The lid has been badly damaged in several places, but its four decorated sides are in relatively good condition. The Traditio Legis, Christ’s passing of the law to Saints Peter and Paul adorns the front side of the reliquary. The other three sides, inspired by the Old Testament, present three very popular and symbolic scenes, the Three Hebrews, Daniel in the Lion’s Den and Moses receiving the Law. The lid is decorated with a Christogram flanked by the Greek letters α (alpha) and ω (omega) defining the omnipresence of God, the beginning and the end, as α is the first letter of the Greek alphabet and ω its last. The sides of the reliquary’s lid are decorated with a vine scroll with leaves, quite beautifully chiseled, and grapes. https://leipsanothiki.blogspot.com/2014/02/245.html
Kurt Weitzman in his “Age of Spirituality” the introductory essay says that “The transition from the dying classical to the rising and finally triumphant Christian culture was a complex process, extending over several centuries, in which the two coexisted and competed with each other.” He is so right! The Nea Herakleia Reliquary, a relatively unfamiliar example of silverwork, is an amazing example of this extraordinary era. An item of the Christian faith, decorated with New and Old Testament scenes, the Reliquary in focus, is an example of a movement in art, scholars often call the “Theodosian Renaissance.” The artist focused his interest in the depiction of the human body, facial expression, and movement. Very little else matters, with probably the exception of the two Lions flanking Daniel. There are restrictions or exaggerations in corporeality, but modeling is plastic in conception, postures are natural, facial expressions emotional and drapery softly modeled. This is indeed an exceptional work of art worth exploring further. http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/4/eh430.jsp?obj_id=4751
Visiting the Thessaloniki Museum for Byzantine Culture is a true cultural experience. In 1989, the Museum’s architect, Kyriakos Krokos, wrote: “I wanted a space within which movement would create a feeling of freedom, stirring up the senses, and where the exhibit would be a surprise within the movement. I believe that as visitors walk through the Museum Halls there are many pleasant surprises. The floor and wall mosaics in the first Early Christian Period Room, attract everybody’s attention. The Byzantine tunics with their fine embroideries, the icons and the intricately illuminated manuscript in the Middle Byzantine Period Room are definitely noticed. Finally, as the visitor is about to leave, one last surprise, a beautiful Post-Byzantine golden eikonostasi, one last startling work of art to ponder about. https://mbp.gr/en/building
For the PowerPoint Teacher Curator prepared, please… Click HERE!
Teacher Curator also prepared a student RWAP (Research – Writing – Art -Project)… presented HERE!
If you ask my humble opinion, Hals’s painting of a Young Man and Woman in an Inn epitomizes Baroque Bliss! There is merriment in the way the woman cautiously leans over the young man. There is joy in how the young man laughingly raises his flask with his right hand and affectionately caresses an attending dog with his left. Extravagance in the background decoration is obvious in every aspect. So much so that a landscape painting hangs over the tavern’s mantle! The artist’s painting technique is equally excessive. With fluid movement and loose brushstrokes… is Hals implying that the painting was executed with speed, to catch a moment of great enjoyment? In the words of Walter Liedtke “…all artificial elements are swept away by a way of sensations: light, air, movement, and, one imagines, taste smell, and noise.”
The Baroque is an elusive word and an interesting style to explain and understand. The first step I usually take, is to think of descriptive adjectives that best characterize the period: extravagant, theatrical, dramatic, grand, luxurious, sensual, majestic, opulent… to mention only a few. I also try to compare Baroque period artworks from different areas in Europe, a landscape painting for example by Claude Lorrain to a Rubens one. The differences are extraordinary, yet there are striking similarities. Finally, the word Baroque itself comes from the Portuguese word barroco, a term used to describe an irregularly-shaped pearl. How extravagant can it get! The Baroque style, dated during the 17th century, originated in Rome, spread all over Italy, from Sicily to Venice, and became particularly popular in Spain, France, and the Low Countries.
The Feast of the Gods is the story of a Renaissance Patron of the Arts, three Master Painters and a… very special Room, the camerino d’alabastro (alabaster study) of the Ferrara Castle.
The story starts with the desire of Duke Alfonso d’Este to decorate his studiolo, the camerino d’alabastro, with a series of bacchanals, mythological paintings that celebrate Bacchus and Venus, the gods of wine and love. Alfonso’s private studiolo in Ferrara was his retreat, where he would collect, exhibit and admire his collection of ancient medals, antique statuettes, and mythological paintings, celebrating the delights of nature and love. It was a very private place, only a handful of people ever saw while the Duke was still alive. Soon after he died, the room was disassembled, the paintings were taken to Rome, ending up in Washington DC, London, and Madrid.
For his first bacchanal, Alfonso turned to Giovanni Bellini, the Venetian master, who “very old, but still the best there is” as Albrecht Dürer said in one of his letters, was famous at the time for his “luminous color that would be the glory of Venetian painting for centuries to come.” The Feast of the Gods, Bellini’s creation, turned to be a very unique painting. Bellini, reluctant at first, accepted the Duke’s invitation and drawing inspiration from Ovid’s Poems, created “a wooded pastoral setting, in which the gods, with Jupiter, Neptune, and Apollo among them, revel eating and drinking, attended by nymphs and satyrs.” The painting has all the characteristics of Bellini’s excellence: brilliant colors, lush pastoral setting, an engaging story and an ambiance of sensuality.
The painting was completed in 1514 but a few years later Alfonso commissioned two artists, Dosso Dossi and Titian, to rework parts of the painting’s landscape background. Dosso Dossi changed parts of the landscape on the left side and added a pheasant resting on bright foliage at the upper right part of the painting. Then, Bellini’s student, Titian, added his own alterations. He reworked Dosso’s alterations adding the dramatic, mountainous backdrop that can be seen now, leaving only Dosso’s pheasant intact. The painted figures and decorative elements of the painting were untouched and remain Bellini’s own. There is, however, an enigma and further questions! “Did Alfonso, an amateur painter who was reported to fancy pheasants, paint the bird himself? Did Alfonso “picture” himself in another way as well? Some evidence suggests that Feast of the Gods contains cryptic references to the duke’s marriage to Lucrezia Borgia, perhaps even portraits of the couple.” https://www.nga.gov/collection/highlights/bellini-titian-the-feast-of-the-gods.html and https://www.nga.gov/collection/art-object-page.1138.html
Many scholars believe that Alfonso’s studiolo was the finest of its kind, a shining jewel box! The first commission went to the elderly Giovanni Bellini and the Feast of the Gods (NGA Washingon DC) was the result. Michelangelo and Raphael were also commissioned to create works of art for the Duke’s studiolo but their commissions never materialized. With Bellini’s death in 1514, Titian, and the Duke’s court artist, Dosso Dossi, stepped in to complete this ambitious project. Dosso Dossi’s painting was destroyed centuries ago, but Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne (National Gallery, London) The Worship of Venus (Museo del Prado, Madrid) and the Bacchanal of the Andrians (Museo del Prado, Madrid) still survive to tell us their story.https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2003/feb/08/artsandhumanities.arts1