Eleanor of Aquitaine

The effigies of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II of England, 1122-1204, Fontevraud Abbey, France https://www.medievalists.net/2013/11/eleanor-queen-of-france-and-england-and-duchess-of-aquitaine/

Imagine a gender-equal world. A world, free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that’s diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. Today, the 8th of March, many countries around the world celebrate International Women’s Day, a day when women are recognized for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic, or political. The United Nations page on Women’s Day reminds us how… the growing international women’s movement, which has been strengthened by four global United Nations women’s conferences, has helped make the commemoration a rallying point to build support for women’s rights and participation in the political and economic arenas.  A BLOG POST on Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of the most celebrated political figures – male or female – in the Middle Ages, will be my humble contribution to the importance of the day. https://www.internationalwomensday.com/ and https://www.un.org/en/observances/womens-day/background

Admired for her intellect and physical beauty, an astute manager of her estates and finances, a renowned patron of the arts, considered to be the queen of troubadour poetry, Eleanor of Aquitaine, wife of two Kings, Louis VII of France (r. 1137-1180), and Henry II of England (r. 1154-1189), and mother of two other, Richard the Lionheart (r. 1189-1199), and John Lackland (r. 1199-1216), was a political force to reckon. As the Duchess of Aquitaine,  Eleanor controlled much of southwestern France, making her one of the wealthiest, most powerful, and most sophisticated women of the Middle Ages.   

In 1147 Eleanor took part in the Second Crusade along with her ladies-in-waiting, her ‘Amazones,’ and a combat unit of 300 non-noble Aquitainian vassals under the leadership of commander Geoffrey III of Rancon. As the Duchess of Aquitaine, she was the feudal leader of the soldiers from her duchy, and although she was accused of carrying a mile-long baggage train for adornments, and behaving, at times, as if she was attending a palace ball, the same people who criticized her, made clear she was admired, trusted, and respected by her troops.

I can only imagine how Eleonor must have felt when, during November of 1147, she arrived at the Gates of Constantinople… To the Byzantines, she stood out from the rest (her ‘Amazons’) as another Penthesilea, and from the embroidered gold which ran around the hem and fringes of her garment,  was called Chrysópous (Goldfoot). Niketas Choniates, in his O City of Byzantium (Book 1 on Emperor Manuel Komnenos, page 35), singles her out, compares her to the mythical Queen of the Amazons, and compliments her on her style. https://www.academia.edu/36547117/O_City_of_Byzantium_Annals_of_Niketas_Choniates_Ttranslated_by_Harry_J_Magoulias_1984_pdf

Donor portrait, A noble lady kneeling, maybe Eleanor of Aquitaine, (KB 76 F 13, folium 028v), ca. 1180-1185, Manuscript with Illuminations on Vellum, Height: 232 mm, Width: 169 mm, Royal Library of the Netherlands https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Donor_portrait_-_A_noble_lady_kneeling_-_Psalter_of_Eleanor_of_Aquitaine_(ca._1185)_-_KB_76_F_13,_folium_028v.jpg

Many years later, while married to Henry II of England, Benoît de Sainte-Maure, one of the poets patronized by Henry II and a member of the Queen’s literary circles in her court of Aquitaine, wrote for her… For this, truly, I fear to be blamed / by her who has so much kindness/ who has nobility, esteem and merit, / honesty, wisdom and honour, / goodness, temperance and cleanness, / noble generosity and beauty; / in whom the misfits of many ladies / are by her goodness extinguished; / In whom all science abounds, / and she is second to none / who may be in the world in any law. / The great lady of the great king, with no evil, wrath, or sadness, / may you always have joy” file:///C:/Users/aspil/Downloads/Dialnet-TheQueenOfTroubadoursGoesToEnglandEleanorOfAquitai-3867018.pdf page 28

Judy Chicago, American Artist, b. 1939
The Dinner Party, Eleanor of Aquitaine place setting, 1974–79. Mixed media: ceramic, porcelain, textile, Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Foundation, NY, USA https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/dinner_party/place_settings/eleanor_of_aquitaine

The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago, a milestone in 20th-century feminist art, presents a ‘symbolic’ ceremonial banquet, arranged on a triangular table, for thirty-nine carefully chosen female guests, all of them exceptional and unique! Each guest is represented with a bespoke place setting, consisting of an intricately embroidered runner executed in a historically specific manner, a china-painted porcelain plate rendered in a style appropriate to the individual woman being honored, and a gold chalice and utensils. Eleanor of Aquitaine, independent, spirited, inquisitive, and resilient, is one of these thirty-nine women… and rightly so! https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/dinner_party/place_settings/eleanor_of_aquitaine

For a Student Activity titled An Interview with Eleanor of Aquitaine, please… Check HERE!

For Student Activities inspired by Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party, please Check… http://s3.amazonaws.com/brooklynmuseum.org-public/education/docs/Dinner_Party_Edu_resources.pdf

Fontevraud Abbey in France and the Interior of the Church
The four tombs belong to Henry II of England (r. 1154-1189) and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine (l. c. 1122-1204), Richard I of England (r. 1189-1199), and Isabella of Angoulême (c. 1186-1246), wife of King John of England (r. 1199-1216) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fontevraud_Abbey

Cameo of two Emperors

Busts of Two Emperors, late 3rd century – early 4th century, Chalcedony on Gold, 3.5 cm x 4.3 cm, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington DC, USA

The period of the Tetrarchy in the Roman Empire began around 293 CE, twenty years into the rule of the emperor Diocletian. Due to the sheer size of the empire, Diocletian established four regions and appointed two augusti and two caesars, one to govern each section. During this time period, there was an explosion of art being produced emphasizing peace, or concordia. This trend is best shown in official artworks and coins presenting the four rulers in incredible similarities. Such artworks, displayed across the empire were intended to illustrate the unity of the empire despite the 4 rulers and the hierarchy of power ranking them. The Cameo of two Emperors in the Byzantine Collection of the Dumbarton Oaks is one such artwork of incredible beauty! https://sites.rhodes.edu/coins/imperial-imagery-tetrarchy

It was Christmas break 1977, a university student at the time when I first visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and saw the Dumbarton Oaks Cameo of two Emperors. Visiting the Exhibition Age of Spirituality was a ‘Christmas gift’ I will never forget! Many years later… many ‘Exhibitions’ later, I am still surprised and excited when I stand in front of small ‘gems’ like the Dumbarton Oaks Cameo…

According to James D. Breckenridge, the Dumbarton Oaks Cameo presents… two male busts carved in dark stone against an opaque white background. The man on the left of the cameo is frontal, with head turned right, bearded and mustached; his chlamys is fastened at his left shoulder – apparently an arbitrary choice of the gem cutter – with a round brooch. The man on the right appears younger – beardless and without moustache; he is slightly behind his senior and slightly lower. Whereas the older man’s hair and beard are in short curls, his hair is in wavy strands. Pupils and irises of both men are incised. https://books.google.gr/books?id=efLuB7QPDm8C&printsec=frontcover&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false  

Busts of Two Emperors, late 3rd century – early 4th century, Chalcedony on Gold, 3.5 cm x 4.3 cm, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington DC, USA

Unfortunately, it is not clear who the depicted men are. The roughly incised inscription DIOCL(etianus) MAXim(ianus) AVG(ustus) on the gold plaque at the back of the gem, the style of execution and details of its iconography, identify, by the majority of scholars, the Cameo portraits, as a product of the Tetrarchy, and subsequently, the depicted men as members of it. Taking into added consideration that the Dumbarton Oaks gem is cut from a larger work, it is highly plausible that the original gem might have shown all four Tetrarchs.  

Back in 1956, Richter suggested Diocletian and Maximian as the represented Tetrarchs, and James D. Breckenridge put forward the names of Maximianus Herculeus and Maxentius. Interestingly, Dumbarton Oaks expert J. Hanson, sets forth the popular, among experts, identification of the two presented leaders as Diocletian and Galerius, who jointly ruled the Eastern half of the Empire from 293 to 305, and the two Western tetrarchs on the lost/missing section, as Maximian and Constantius Chlorus. https://books.google.gr/books?id=efLuB7QPDm8C&printsec=frontcover&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false and http://museum.doaks.org/objects-1/info?query=Portfolios%20%3D%20%223671%22&sort=0&page=466

For a Student Activity on the Cameo of two Emperors, please… Check HERE!

Busts of Two Emperors, late 3rd century – early 4th century, Chalcedony on Gold, 3.5 cm x 4.3 cm, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington DC, USA
Map of the Roman Empire, The Period of Tetrarchy, around 293 AD https://sites.rhodes.edu/coins/imperial-imagery-tetrarchy

The Twelve Months of Flowers, March

Pieter Casteels III (Flemish Painter- 1684–1749), H. Fletcher (British Engraver- active 1715–1738), Robert Furber (British Horticulturist and Publisher- c. 1674–1756)
March, from Twelve Months of Flowers, 1730, Hand-colored Etching on
Paper, 53.9 × 43.8 cm, Private Collection

Snowy, Flowy, Blowy,     /     Showery, Flowery, Bowery,     /     Hoppy, Croppy, Droppy,     /     Breezy, Sneezy, Freezy… wrote George Ellis, best known as a satirical writer in both prose and verse, and I think of The Twelve Months of Flowers, March… the wonderful set of hand coloured engravings masterminded by Pieter Casteels III, Henry Fletcher, and Robert Furber! https://allpoetry.com/The-Twelve-Months

Who was Pieter Casteels III? Pieter Casteels III 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, and later, after 1717, as 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. 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. https://en.artsdot.com/@@/A2686B-Pieter-Casteels-Iii-Bouquet-of-flowers-in-an-urn-on-postamente

Pieter Casteels III (Flemish Painter- 1684–1749), H. Fletcher (British Engraver- active 1715–1738), Robert Furber (British Horticulturist and Publisher- c. 1674–1756)
March, from Twelve Months of Flowers (Detail), 1730, Hand-colored Etching on Paper, 53.9 × 43.8 cm, Private Collection https://www.aspireauctions.com/#!/catalog/98/545/lot/25670/image

Who was Henry Fletcher? Fletcher was a London-based engraver possessing artistic merit. He excelled as an engraver of flowers, notably The Twelve Months of Flowers and The Twelve Months of Fruits, engraved from drawings by Pieter Casteels, made in 1730 for a publication by Robert Furber, the well-known gardener. His vignettes for the first edition of Voltaire’s Henriade, published in London in 1728, were equally noted by the art critics of the time, along with his set of Views of Venice, engraved after Canaletto. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Fletcher_(engraver)

Who was Robert Furber? Robert Furber was a British horticulturist and the author of the first seed catalogue produced in England. He had a nursery in Kensington in London, near modern Hyde Park Gate, from around 1700 until his death in 1756. Furber was also a member of the “English Society of Gardners”, a group formed in 1724 to protect the reputations of plant growers.

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. Each one of the three invested £500, and 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, March is the third month of the year presentation of the first illustrated nursery catalogue published in England. It presents twelve pages of different flower arrangements, one for every month of the year, that illustrate seasonal flowers, more than 400 different species, that could be ordered from Furber’s nursery. To facilitate the subscriber of the set, each presented flower is marked by a number, and the list of the corresponding species names is provided at the bottom of each page. No wonder the well thought and carefully executed business venture by Casteels, Fletcher, and Furber became an instant artistic hit and a great economic success! https://en.artsdot.com/@@/A2686B-Pieter-Casteels-Iii-Bouquet-of-flowers-in-an-urn-on-postamente

For a PowerPoint of the set The Twelve Months of Flowers, March, please… Check HERE!

The Art of the Amarna Period

The Bust of Nefertiti by Thutmose, 1340 BC, Limestone, and stucco, Height 48 cm, Egyptian Museum, Berlin, Germany

“With the move to Amarna the art becomes less exaggerated, but while it is often described as ‘naturalistic’ it remains highly stylized in its portrayal of the human figure. The royal family is shown with elongated skulls and pear-shaped bodies with skinny torsos and arms but fuller hips, stomachs, and thighs. The subject matter of royal art also changes. Although formal scenes of the king worshipping remain important there is an increasing emphasis on ordinary, day-to-day activities which include intimate portrayals of Akhenaten and Nefertiti playing with their daughters beneath the rays of the Aten… While traditional Egyptian art tends to emphasize the eternal, Amarna art focuses on the minutiae of life which only occur because of the light – and life-giving power of the sun.” writes Dr Kate Spence for BBC History and I use this quote as an introduction to The Art of the Amarna Period, my new BLOG POST on Egyptian Art.     http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/egyptians/akhenaten_01.shtml

I would like to continue with another short quote by Dr Kate Spence “Akhenaten is a source of endless fascination and speculation – this often masks the fact that we actually know very little about him.” This quote can actually mark the beginning of any Unit on the Art of the Amarna Period. I have been teaching this Unit for years and I can only testify to the fact that the Amarna Period allure, attracts my student’s attention and captivates their imagination. They like to read and listen to their teacher describe the genesis of an almost “monotheistic” religion, the dynamics within a powerful royal family, the building of a new capital city, and how Egyptian Art of the period moved towards naturalism and informality.

The Amarna Idiom is an artistic style that captivates human reaction. My students are “hypnotized” by the unique Amarna pictorial beauty of deformation. They are charmed, yet question how in the depiction of faces, thin, long necks, hold greatly elongated skulls… facial folds are the norm, narrow, slitted eyes are prominent, and jaws seem to be “hanging” low. The Amarna style body rendering amazes my students as well, particularly the discrepancy between the upper, lower, and middle parts of the human body… the dropped, thin shoulders, heavy potbelly, large hips, and thighs, and the rather thin almost frail, legs.

Known especially for Akhenaton’s radical religious reforms, the Amarna period leads to endless speculation about the Pharaoh’s background and motivation, the role played by Nefertiti and the Royal women, and the new artistic quest for naturalism and informality. From ca. 1353 to 1336 BC, Egypt stood still… went through changes, the country never experienced before… and then, radically, once more, moved back to its familiar norms!

There is so much to explore… A PowerPoint, presentation of over fifty artifacts will assist us in further understanding the ‘secrets’ of Art during the Amarna Period, and our 4-Steps to Success Lesson Plan will keep us… on track!

For the PowerPoint ‘The Art of the Amarna Period’, please… Check HERE!

For the New Kingdom/Amarna Period Timeline, please… Check HERE!

For a Teacher Curator BLOG POST on The Formidable Queen Tiye, mother of Pharaoh Akhenaton, please check… https://www.teachercurator.com/ancient-egypt/the-formidable-queen-tiye/?fbclid=IwAR2eC69pTXFUqA3Yg2fR4SoWp_3dmiezQ-hLeNt83piI-sRSLLfGTl0twv0

Enjoy a BBC Documentary titled Amarna, Egypt’s Lost Cityhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ucVQj9eNBA

Two more Videos about Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and Three Daughters and the Portrait head of Queen Tiye with a crown of two feathers by Khan Academyhttps://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ancient-art-civilizations/egypt-art/x7e914f5b:new-kingdom-third-intermediate-period/v/house-altar-depicting-akhenaten-nefertiti-and-three-daughters and https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ancient-art-civilizations/egypt-art/x7e914f5b:new-kingdom-third-intermediate-period/v/portrait-head-of-queen-tiye-with-a-crown-of-two-feathers

A National Geographic Video on The Mystery of Queen Nefertiti | Lost Treasures of Egypthttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eex2Vu6iGy8

Diana and her Companions by Vermeer

Johannes Vermeer, 1632-1675
Diana and Her Companions, circa 1653-1656, oil on canvas, 98.5×105 cm, Mauritshuis, The Hague, Netherlands

I read Homeric Hymn 27 dedicated to Goddess Artemis… I sing of Artemis, whose shafts are of gold, who cheers on the hounds, the pure maiden, shooter of stags, who delights in archery, own sister to Apollo with the golden sword. Over the shadowy hills and windy peaks she draws her golden bow, rejoicing in the chase, and sends out grievous shafts. The tops of the high mountains tremble and the tangled wood echoes awesomely with the outcry of beasts: earthquakes and the sea also where fishes shoal. But the goddess with a bold heart turns every way destroying the race of wild beasts: and when she is satisfied and has cheered her heart, this huntress who delights in arrows slackens her supple bow and goes to the great house of her dear brother Phoebus Apollo, to the rich land of Delphi, there to order the lovely dance of the Muses and Graces. There she hangs up her curved bow and her arrows, and heads and leads the dances, gracefully arrayed, while all they utter their heavenly voice, singing how neat-ankled Leto bare children [20] supreme among the immortals both in thought and in deed. Hail to you, children of Zeus and rich-haired Leto… and examine the painting Diana and her Companions by Vermeer. Why am I so attracted to this very early painting, probably a surviving first, by the great Dutch painter of the Baroque period? What can I learn? https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0138%3Ahymn%3D27

Well, the answers require a trip to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, for a very special Exhibition… https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/whats-on/exhibitions/vermeer

Never before have the Rijksmuseum visitors had the opportunity to see so many of Johannes Vermeer’s paintings in one Exhibition titled Vermeer (February 10 – June 4, 2023). The Museum managed to bring most of Vermeer’s paintings together from all over the world, and give visitors a chance to get to know the painter and get closer to his oeuvre. Intrigued by Diana and her Companions, an early mythological painting, rare in theme and unique in its rendering, I decided to learn… more! https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/whats-on/exhibitions/vermeer

According to the experts of Mauritshuis, the famous Art Gallery of The Hague where the painting is housed, goddess Diana is depicted taking a rest with her nymphs. She is the goddess of hunting and of the night, which explains the hound at her feet and the moon on her forehead. The dreamy atmosphere of the scene is typical of Vermeer’s work. The mythological theme of the painting is not so typical. Vermeer however, is best known for his small intimate genre paintings, early on in his career, painted a few larger biblical and mythological scenes, including the painting of Diana and her Companions. https://www.mauritshuis.nl/en/our-did collection/artworks/406-diana-and-her-nymphs/

Explore http://www.essentialvermeer.com/index.html for the most interesting information, and please… Check HERE! for a PowerPoint on Vermeer’s thirty-five surviving Paintings as presented in the Rijksmuseum https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/stories/themes/vermeer/story/all-paintings-by-vermeer

New Kingdom Rock Cut Tombs

Tomb of Ramose, 18th Dynasty, c. 1350 BC, Vizier of  Amenhotep III, Western Thebes, Egypt – Two male guests… the man in front is “the overseer of the hunters of [Amun], Keshy”. The one in the back is unknown. In front of them is Werel, the “Mistress of Goddess Mut.”https://www.flickr.com/photos/manna4u/11288833674

Digital Egypt for Universities site experts ( https://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt/thebes/tombs/index.html ) discussing their Unit on Thebes, some tombs of the New Kingdom (about 1550-1069 BC) write… The typical (elite) Theban tomb type is the rock-cut tomb. Several hundred were cut into the rock on the west of the city. These tombs consist of two main parts. There is the underground burial chamber, most often undecorated and there is the decorated chapel accessible for the living. The chapel was the place for the cult of the dead. The quality of stone is not very good at Thebes, and therefore most of the tomb chapels were plastered and painted rather than decorated with reliefs. My new Lesson Plan on the same subject is titled… The New  Kingdom Rock Cut Tombs and, may I add, their amazing interior decoration.

Two PowerPoints, one dedicated to the Tomb of Nebamun, and the other to six incredible New Kingdom Tombs of importance and beauty, will assist us in further understanding the ‘secrets’ of Egyptian art. To access the two PowerPoints, please… Click HERE! and HERE!

I use the 4-Steps to Success ‘grid’ to organize my presentation… and focus on what the Enduring Understanding of this presentation will be… New Kingdom Tomb Paintings/Reliefs tell the history of people & events, recording not only facts but the spirit and emotions of the time of ancient Egypt.

The New Kingdom was Egypt’s Golden Age, as years of stability within its boundaries, on one hand, diplomacy, trade, and war, on the other, brought immense prosperity and political power. Money poured into Egypt from its foreign lands, particularly Nubia, home to the richest gold mines in the ancient world. Much of this money was used by the pharaohs and their administrators to give thanks to the gods who had helped them in their success. The New Kingdom became one of the most creative periods in Egyptian history and the wall paintings or relief carvings in the Theban Rock Cut Tombs, are an example of their extraordinary artistic achievements. https://www.pbs.org/empires/egypt/newkingdom/architecture.html

During the New Kingdom period (ca. 1539 – 1075 BC) the Pharaohs established the new funerary trend of building Rock Cut Tombs in the area across Thebes, the capital of Egypt, on the Western bank, of the river Nile. Building their tombs in what became known as the Theban Valley of the Kings, the Pharaohs were followed, as the tradition was, by their queens, members of their families, and members of their administration. These Tombs were exquisitely decorated with fine paintings or carved reliefs of religious texts that would help the dead successfully navigate their way to the afterlife. Not only so… Tombs of New Kingdom administrators contained idealized images of everyday life that represented the life of the tomb’s occupant and his or her hopes for paradise in the afterlife. https://www.pbs.org/empires/egypt/newkingdom/architecture.html

For the New Kingdom Timeline, please… Check HERE!

Enjoy a National Geographic Documentary titled Egypt Eternal: The Quest for Lost Tombs (2002)… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IgWbZvMSCGM  

Another Video about Egyptian Art History from Goodbye-Art Academyhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibp_i7bekQU

A Khan Academy Video on the Ancient Thebes with its Necropolis… https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ap-art-history/ancient-mediterranean-ap/ancient-egypt-ap/v/ancient-thebes-unescotbs

Eros and the Bee

Lucas Cranach the Elder, c. 1472-1553
Venus with Cupid Stealing Honey, 1530, Oil on Panel, 38 x 58 cm, Statens Museum for Kunst, Denmark

A wicked bee once filching Eros stung, / As from hive unto hive the sly god flew. / Looting the flower-sweet honeycombs among; / With finger-tips all pierced he cried and blew     /    
His hand, and stamped upon the ground with pain, / And vaulted in the air; to Aphrodite / Sadly he came commencing to complain, / “Although the bee is small his wound is mighty.”     /     Then said his mother smiling, “Are you not / A creature small just like the bee, I pray? / But ne’ertheless it must not be forgot— / The cruel wounds you deal—how great are they!”
Idyll XIX, Eros, and the Bee, attributed to the ancient Greek Poet Theocritus of the 3rd century BC, is the source of inspiration for a number of paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder depicting an alluring Venus, and Eros, a stolen piece of honeycomb in hand, stung by Bees.  My favourite version, in the SMK Art Museum in Denmark, is expecting us to probe and explore… http://nicholasjv.blogspot.com/2009/11/sweetness-of-honey-and-sting-of-bees.html

Venus with Cupid as a honey thief was probably one of the most successful mythology-inspired compositions created by the German artist of the Renaissance period Lucas Cranach the Elder. Scholars suggest there are twenty versions of the same theme, dated between 1527 and 1545, painted by the artist, his workshop, or followers of his theme and style.

Lucas Cranach the Elder, c. 1472-1553
Cupid complaining to Venus, c. 1526–27, Oil on Panel, 81.3×54.6 cm, National Gallery, London, UK
Venus and Cupid as Honey Thief, 1527, on beech wood, 83×58.2 cm, Güstrow Castle, Germany
Venus and Cupid, the Honey Thief, 1529, Oil and Tempera on Beech Wood, 38.1×23.5 cm, Cook collection, National Gallery, London UK
Lucas Cranach the Elder, c. 1472-1553
Venus and Cupid, 1531, Oil on Panel, 51×35 cm, Fondation Bemberg, Toulouse, France
Venus and Cupid, the Honey Thief, circa 1537, Oil on Lime Panel, 50.1×34.4 cm,
Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, Germany
Venus with Cupid as a Honey Thief against a Black Background, 1537, Oil on Lime Panel, 175.4×66.3 cm, Bavarian State Painting Collections, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Munich, Germany

These paintings depict the same two figures, Venus, the Greek Goddess of beauty and love in glorious nudity, and her son, Eros, god of love as well, holding a stolen piece of honeycomb, stung by bees, and in obvious pain. My favourite painting of Venus with Cupid Stealing Honey is exhibited in the Statens Museum for Kunst in Denmark and combines all the important elements of the composition.

In the upper, left corner of the painting in Denmark, a sign with a reference to Idyll XIX of Theocritus clearly explains the theme. “As Cupid was stealing honey from the hive / A bee stung the thief on the finger / And so do we seek transitory and dangerous pleasures. / That are mixed with sadness and bring us pain.” The wording does not reproduce Theocritus’ exact Greek text, but rather a Latin epigram based on the poem. Painted on a cream-coloured ‘panel’ on the upper left side of the painting, the epigram is related to the work of the great German humanist Philipp Melanchthon. with whom Cranach was closely connected in producing illustrations for Luther’s Bible translation. (A short but comprehensive presentation of Philipp Melanchthon’s contribution to Humanism in Germany… Melanchthon: A German Humanist by A. Pelzer Wagener, The Classical Weekly, Vol. 22, No. 20 (Mar. 25, 1929), pp. 155-160 (6 pages). I particularly like his point of view that Greek and Latin should be studied side by side by all who sought to grasp the substance of the involved rather than its shadow”. https://www.jstor.org/stable/4389299?read-now=1&seq=2#page_scan_tab_contents) https://open.smk.dk/artwork/image/KMSsp719

Lucas Cranach the Elder, c. 1472-1553
Venus with Cupid Stealing Honey (Detail), 1530, Oil on Panel, 38 x 58 cm, Statens Museum for Kunst, Denmark
Lucas Cranach the Elder, c. 1472-1553
Venus with Cupid Stealing Honey (Detail), 1530, Oil on Panel, 38 x 58 cm, Statens Museum for Kunst, Denmark

Examining Cranach’s painting at SMK, depicting Venus, Eros, and the landscape that surrounds them, I see, compared to the rest of Cranach’s paintings of the same theme. elegance and grace, an understated sense of humor, and a subtle mood of morality. The Landscape, in a true Norther European Renaissance tradition, is glorious, lush, and detailed. It invites you to examine the luxurious foliage, the city reflections on the depicted water, and the travelers’ mannerisms. Eros, a blond toddler with blue wings, ever so charming, is displaying his surprise and pain with gusto. Venus looks at the viewer, and laughs, explaining to him that the effect is comparable to the wounds he himself inflicts on all those struck by his arrows. What a painting to consider Love, Euphoria, and Heartache!

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

Lucas Cranach the Elder, c. 1472-1553
Venus with Cupid Stealing Honey (Detail), 1530, Oil on Panel, 38 x 58 cm, Statens Museum for Kunst, Denmark

Astragaloi Players

Alexander of Athens, 1st cent BC-1st cent AD
Astragaloi players from Herculaneum, 1st cent BC-1st cent AD, Marble and Pigment, 47.6×50.5 cm, National Archaeological Museum of Naples, Italy https://mann-napoli.it/affreschi/#gallery-8

Niobe ((P. Ovidius Naso, Metamorphoses)… So many things / increased her pride: She loved to boast / her husband’s skill, their noble family, / the rising grandeur of their kingdom. Such / felicities were great delights to her; / but nothing could exceed the haughty way / she boasted of her children: and, in truth, / Niobe might have been adjudged on earth, / the happiest mother of mankind, if pride / had not destroyed her wit… and Leto’s anger fell hard on her… Childless— she crouched beside her slaughtered sons, / her lifeless daughters, and her husband’s corpse. / The breeze not even moved her fallen hair, / a chill of marble spread upon her flesh, / beneath her pale, set brows, her eyes moved not, / her bitter tongue turned stiff in her hard jaws, / her lovely veins congealed, and her stiff neck / and rigid hands could neither bend nor move.— / her limbs and body, all were changed to stone… The Astragaloi Players, the painted marble Pinax from Herculaneum, takes the viewer to moments of contentment when Leto and Niobe certainly they loved each other like true friend (Sappho Fragment 142)… before Niobe’s Ύβρις (transgression against a god) and Leto’s painful Wrath!  https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0028%3Abook%3D6 and https://digitalsappho.org/fragments/fr118-168/

The famous painting of the Astragaloi Players was discovered in the House of Neptune and Amphitrite, in Herculaneum, on Cardo IV, in May 1746. Not one of the largest houses in ancient Herculaneum, yet one of the most famous, and visited, as it boasts three masterpieces.

The Villa’s Garden Court, with a summer triclinium, veneered with marble, on the far end wall, the Nymphaeum, and the famous Neptune and Amphitrite mosaic.

First, the mosaic decorating the Nymphaeum, located in the Inner Garden Court of the house. Adorned with geometric and floral motifs and hunting scenes with dogs and deer composed of glass paste tesserae, shells, and designs of mother of pearl, the Nymphaeum mosaic is brightly colorful and elegant. Second, in the center of the east wall, the mosaic after which the house is named shows Neptune and Amphitrite surrounded by an exquisite frame of decorative motifs. Third, the Marble Pinax of the Astragaloi Players is detached and exhibited today in Naples Archaeological Museum.

The depicted scene in the marble Pinax, titled Astragaloi Players, presents the act immediately preceding the massacre of the Niobids. The myth, also told by Ovid (Metamorphoses, VI), narrates that Niobe, wife of Amphion, king of Thebes, and mother of many children, dared to declare herself even superior to the goddess Leto, mother of only two children, Apollo, and Artemis. Leto, angered by Niobe and her outrageous presumption, ordered the killing of the queen’s seven sons by Apollo and the killing of her seven daughters with arrows shot by Artemis. https://mann-napoli.it/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/10.-Giocatrici-di-astragali.pdf

Astragaloi players from Herculaneum, Drawing of the painting on marble, in Antichità di Ercolano: Tomo Primo: Le Pitture 1, 1757, 1,5

The inscriptions in capital Greek characters, placed next to each figure depicted in the Pinax, identify the members of the story by name. In the background, three women are identified as Leto (left), Niobe (middle), and Phoebe (right). In the foreground, kneeling and involved in a game of Astragaloi, the artist of the composition placed two of Niobe’s daughters, Aglaia (left) and Ilaria (right). Another inscription, placed in the upper left corner, introduces us to the artist, a man called Alexander from Athens (ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ ΑθΗΝΑΙΟΣ ΕΓΡΑΦΕΝ).  

Antonio Coppa of the Naples Archaeological Museum believes that this marble painting is most likely a Neo-Attic remake of an original painting of the late 5th century BC, attributable to the famous Zeuxis. The archaeologist also believes that the presence of names identifying each figure depicted in the composition fits into the archaizing fashion of the Augustan age, allowing to date the work between the end of the 1st century BC and the beginning of the 1st century AD. https://mann-napoli.it/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/10.-Giocatrici-di-astragali.pdf

The painting of the Astragaloi Players was immediately defined as “monochrome”, believing it to be an example of those paintings in which the only color for their realization was the cinnabar. However, recent investigations into the picture pigment have highlighted the use of multiple colors: pink and yellow for the clothes, red for the sandals, and black for the hair; moreover, the different gradations of color gave volume to the figures, therefore the current monochrome is only the result of the action of time. https://mann-napoli.it/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/10.-Giocatrici-di-astragali.pdf

What a magnificent discovery!

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

The Enkolpion of Empress Maria

Enkolpion of Empress Maria, 398-407, Agate Cameo, Gold, Ruby or Garnet, Emerald, 2.6×1.8×1 cm, the Louvre, Paris, France https://www.doaks.org/research/byzantine/scholarly-activities/dynastic-jewels-a-late-antique-rhetoric-of-treasure-and-adornment

Late Antique poetry has often been characterized by its ‘jeweled style,’ in which authors mobilized ornament, variety, and tessellation for the purposes of visual splendor and immediacy. Jewels, and treasure more broadly, also serve as particularly effective metonyms for power. And historians frequently describe the programmatic effort to bolster dynastic power over the course of the fourth century as a ‘dynastic imperative.’ Is The Enkolpion of Empress Maria in the collection of the Louvre an example of Imperious Power? Worn around the neck of Empress Maria, was this unique Enkolpion an integral part of the sustained program of dynasty building in the tumultuous years following the death of Emperor Theodosius I? https://www.doaks.org/events/byzantine-studies/2022-2023/dynastic-jewels-a-late-antique-rhetoric-of-treasure-and-adornment

Empress Maria’s Enkolpion is a small piece of jewelry, 1.3 x 1.8 cm in size, and round in shape. It is a flat receptacle of earth grains probably from the Holy Land, smelling, at the time of its discovery, of musk. The two white and russet orange agate cameos it is made of are attached back to back by a band of gold adorned with emeralds and rubies. How splendid can it be! It can… if you consider the cameos’ simple, yet ‘powerful’ decoration.

Both cameos are embellished with inscriptions, in the shape of Christograms, cut in very low relief, arranged spikelike around a central ansate cross. One cameo reads: Honorius and Maria (the loop of the letter Rho), Stelicho, Serena, vivatis in Deo, and the other cameo reads: Stelicho and Serena (the loop of the letter Rho), Eucherius, Thermantia, vivatis in Deo. Everyone mentioned by name in the two inscriptions is an important member of the Theodosian Dynasty! https://www.metmuseum.org/art/metpublications/Age_of_Spirituality_Late_Antique_and_Early_Christian_Art_Third_to_Seventh_Century

Maria’s Enkolpion, suggested to be a wedding gift, is a family heirloom! Stelicho, for example, of Vandal origin, was a powerful military commander in the Roman army. Married to Serena, the niece of emperor Theodosius I, and guardian for the underage Emperor Honorius, Stelicho was the father of Maria, Emperor Honorius’s first wife, Thermantia, the young Emperor’s second wife, and Eucherius. If this isn’t a ‘dynastic imperative’ then what can it be?

The Enkolpion was found in February 1544, in Rome, in a sarcophagus in what was once the Mausoleum of Emperor Honorius, later, during the 8th century, converted into the Chapel of Saint Petronilla. The Mausoleum was built next to the Vatican Rotunda, another round structure on Vatican Hill, beside Old Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

The Mausoleum was used as the resting place for members of the Theodosian Imperial family. The first to be buried was Augusta Maria, the first wife of Honorius, who died young, before 408. Honorius, the first emperor of the Theodosian dynasty was also entombed there in 424. The Mausoleum was used as a resting place for Honorius’s second wife Thermantia, and probably, Honorius’s sister, Augusta  Galla Placidia, her husband Augustus Constantius III, and her sons Theodosius and Valentinian III. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mausoleum_of_Honorius  

For a Student Activity, inspired by The Enkolpion of Empress Maria, please… Check HERE!

Teika’s Poems for the Twelve Months presented by Tosa Mitsunari

Tosa Mitsunari, Japanese Artist, 1646-1710
Teika’s Poems for the Twelve Months, Edo period (1603-1868), 1646-1710, ink, color and gold leaf on paper, six-fold screen, 170.18x 61.92 cm (each panel), Indianapolis Museum of Art, USA

Before my eyes / the snowflakes fall upon the icy pond / piling up like the years gone by / like the layered feather coats of the oshi… wrote Fujiwara Teika back in 1214. Many years later Fujiwara Teika’s Poems for the Twelve Months presented by Tosa Mitsunari delight us with their elegance and beauty! http://collection.imamuseum.org/artwork/55793/

Who is Fujiwara Teika? Fujiwara Sadaie, also called Teika, or Fujiwara Teika, (born 1162, Japan—died Sept. 26, 1241, Kyōto), is one of the greatest poets of his age and Japan’s most influential poetic theorists and critics until modern times. The son of a great poet, Shunzei (or Toshinari, 1114–1204), Teika surpassed his father’s literary legacy and raised his family in political importance. His literary talent attracted the attention of retired emperor Go-Toba (1180–1239), who appointed him, in 1205, one of the compilers of the eighth Imperial anthology Shin kokinshū (c. 1205, “New Collection of Ancient and Modern Times”), and in 1232, sole compiler of the ninth anthology, Shin chokusenshū (1235; “New Imperial Collection”). This is a great accomplishment and honour. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Fujiwara-Sadaie

Who is Tosa Mitsunari? Tosa Mitsusuke (1675–1710) was a Japanese artist of the Edo era. In 1696, as the 18th head of the Tosa school of painting, Mitshunari was appointed  Official Court Painter with duties to serve the Emperor. He worked for the Imperial Official Bureau of Painting and managed to revive his family’s political and economic fortunes. In 1709, he did paintings of room partitions in the royal palace and in the Sento palace with Kano Tsunenobu. Mitsuoki was known for reintroducing the Yamato-e style and reviving the Tosa school of painting. He painted delicate bird-and-flower (kacho) paintings in the Chinese court manner and was especially noted for his precise depictions of quail. https://prabook.com/web/tosa.mitsuoki/3742785 and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tosa_Mitsusuke

Tosa Mitsunari, Japanese Artist, 1646-1710
Teika’s Poems for the Twelve Months, Edo period (1603-1868), 1646-1710, ink, color and gold leaf on paper, six-fold screen, 170.18x 61.92 cm (each panel), Indianapolis Museum of Art,

How are a poet and a painter connected in art? Japanese secular painting and poetry walk side by side. Poets composed verses about images in paintings and painters made works based on poems and inscribed them with erudite calligraphy, or pasted a poem in elegant characters onto the painting. The resulting synthesis exceeded the sum of the parts, creating many layers of meaning. http://collection.imamuseum.org/artwork/55793/

Tosa Mitsunari, Japanese Artist, 1646-1710
Teika’s Poems for the Twelve Months, Edo period (1603-1868), 1646-1710, ink, color and gold leaf on paper, six-fold screen, 170.18x 61.92 cm (each panel), Indianapolis Museum of Art,

Are Fujiwara Teika’s Poems for the Twelve Months painted by Tosa Mitsunari in the Indianapolis Museum of Art Screen an example of artistic collaboration? Yes, the Indianapolis Screen is a perfect example. The pair of six-fold screens in the Indianapolis Museum masterfully combines landscape painting and poetic texts. The texts, poems by Fujiwara Teika, subtly express emotions through metaphors of nature. The imagery, a typical landscape by Tosa Mitsunari, celebrates the changing aspect of nature. The depicted months are numbered according to the lunar calendar, and the first month, presented in the first panel, roughly corresponds to February. http://collection.imamuseum.org/artwork/55793/

For a Student Activity inspired by the Indianapolis Museum Japanese Screens, please… Check, HERE!