The Death of Socrates by Jacques Louis David

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simon Bening’s April

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, April (f. 21v),c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK

Praise the spells and bless the charms, / I found April in my arms. / April golden, April cloudy, / Gracious, cruel, tender, rowdy; / April soft in flowered languor, / April cold with sudden anger, / Ever changing, ever true — / I love April, I love you…wrote Ogden Nash (1902 – 1971), the 20th-century American writer of humorous poetry! Could Simon Bening’s Calendar page for the Month of April be an example of a Renaissance April Love?

Folio 21verso of Simon Bening’s Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, is dedicated to the Month of April and exhibits a magnificent scene of Renaissance courtship! It all takes place in a beautiful garden, possibly in a town, surrounded by a low fence containing three trees, whose crowns are rather sparse because of their recent blossoming, grass, flowers, and a hexagonal fountain topped by a bronze-colour statue of a discreet Venus pouring water into a hollow in the garden, where a dog drinks. Simon Bening, the inventive painter of the Book of Golf presents the viewer with a detailed vista of impressive Flemish buildings, a magnificent Italianate colonnaded tower, and a lovely vignette… of a pair of storks nesting on a chimney, one of them flying over it. The scene, apart from the courting couple, is quite busy with a lady strolling about the garden alone… a couple of sweethearts talking and a man with a falcon perched on his left hand. In the foreground of the composition, Bening painted a boy, picking up flowers, and a young girl stretching her hands out towards the water, enjoying a crisp day of Spring.

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, April (Details, f. 21v),c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK

The protagonists of Bening’s April arrangement, depicted in the center of the composition, outshine everything else! The young Lady, beautifully dressed in the latest of 16th-century fashion, wears a loose-fitting blue gown, revealing a red petticoat underneath when raised, with a wide, square neckline with a white ruff (a large round collar of intricately pleated muslin).  She demurely gives her left hand to a gentleman, even more impressively dressed, who sits on the edge of the fountain, holding with his right hand a hooded falcon, and leaning towards her. The depicted man seems older than his mistress. He wears French garb consisting of a square-necked gown over a fastened shirt with a high, ruffled-edge collar, a skullcap (close-fitting cap), and a hat, long, dark-coloured hose, a very short type of footwear that appeared in the last quarter of the 15th century, and, hanging from his belt, an impressive, long sword.

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, April (Detail f. 21v),c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK

This is an elegant scene of courtship between members of the aristocratic society. A romantic scene of a couple emotionally and socially attached is a symbol of a tacit agreement of commitment between the two persons. What I like most in Bening’s April scene is how the young Lady lowers her eyes shyly while her gallant suitor looks at her…amorously smiling! What a scene!

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

For a Student Activity on Simon Bening’s April Page, please… Check HERE!

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, April (f. 22r),c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK
Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, April (f. 21v and 22r),c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK

Camille Pissarro Flower Arrangements

Camille Pissarro, French Artist, 1830–1903
Pink Peonies, 1873, Oil  on Canvas, 73 x 60 cm, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, UK

The flower that smiles to-day / To-morrow dies; / All that we wish to stay / Tempts and then flies. / What is this world’s delight? / Lightning that mocks the night, / Brief even as bright.    /    Virtue, how frail it is! / Friendship how rare! / Love, how it sells poor bliss / For proud despair! / But we, though soon they fall, / Survive their joy, and all / Which ours we call.    /    Whilst skies are blue and bright, / Whilst flowers are gay, / Whilst eyes that change ere night / Make glad the day; / Whilst yet the calm hours creep, / Dream thou—and from thy sleep / Then wake to weep. Everything is ephemeral and transitory for Percy Shelley like bouquets of flowers… like Camille Pissarro Flower Arrangements! Could this be the reason why the artist painted so few Still Life Paintings of Flowers? Was he afraid of all hopes, desires, and delights the world has to offer are short-lived and doomed to fade away? and

Camille Pissarro was the only painter to exhibit in all eight Impressionist exhibitions organized between 1874 and 1886. He became a pivotal artist and mentor within the movement, and he is best known for his landscapes and his images of the day-to-day life of French peasants.

Camille Pissarro, French Artist, 1830–1903
Self-Portrait with Hat, 1903, Oil on Canvas, 41×33 cm, Tate Britain, UK

Jacob Abraham Camille Pissarro was born and raised in St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, then the Danish West Indies. His parents were merchants of modest means, but in 1842, young Pissarro was sent away to a boarding school in Passy near Paris, France, where he was introduced to the arts and encouraged to draw directly from nature and to use direct observation in his drawings, empirically rendering each object in its truest form. Pissarro returned to St. Thomas to immerse himself in the family business; however, he got quickly tired of mercantile pursuits and upon meeting the Danish painter Fritz Melbye, in the early 1850s, he abandoned the family business, following his Dutch friend to Caracas, Venezuela, and committing himself to becoming a painter.

Camille Pissarro, French Artist, 1830–1903
Tropical Landscape with Farmhouses and Palm Trees, 1856, Oil on Cardboard, 24.8×32.7 cm, National Art Gallery, Caracas, Venezuela

By 1855, Pissarro had returned to Paris, where he was exposed to the artwork of Eugène Delacroix, and Realist landscapists like Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet, and Jean-François Millet. Largely if not entirely self-taught at the time, Pissarro started taking classes at the Academie Suisse in 1859 where he met Cézanne, one of his closest lifelong friends. In 1861, Pissarro registered as a copyist at the Musée du Louvre, and around this same time, he met Julie Vellay, the daughter of a vineyard owner in the Burgundy region. He got married in London in 1871 and became the caring father of eight children.

Pissarro began submitting to the Salon in the late 1860s with landscape paintings reflecting his profound knowledge of and exposure to the compositional techniques of the eighteenth-century French masters. However, spending time and painting en plein air in Louveciennes, an area much favoured by the Impressionists, Pissarro’s style gradually changed. He focused on light effects and atmospheric conditions created by the change of the seasons developing a pure, mature Impressionist style. As he grew older, he worked hard to keep his art avant-garde and relevant by testing new theoretical concepts like the Pointillist technique.

Camille Pissarro, French Artist, 1830–1903
Medley of Still Life Paintings of Flowers

In 2005, at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Exhibition “Pioneering Modern Painting: Cézanne and Pissarro, 1865–1885” placed Camille Pissarro, the artist pretty much behind every art movement of the 19th century, in the same league as Paul Cézanne, the artist whose art will define the 20th century. Pissarro’s landscapes are indisputably important… but, I like to focus on Pissarro’s few Still Life paintings… discover his modernist approach, notice his ability to manipulate colour for a “truer” visual image, and relish at his direct, unadorned approach to his subject matter.

Paul Cézanne (left) and Camille Pissarro (right) at Auvers-sur-Oise, Private Collection, by an Anonymous Photographer and

To end this short presentation I will quote Paul Cézanne, who three years after Pissarro’s death, identified himself in a retrospective exhibition, as “Paul Cézanne, pupil of Pissarro.” and

When I teach Impressionism… I like to stress how important Pissarro’s Still Life paintings of Flowers are! I use Visual Learning Strategy Questions to help my students reflect upon their significance, and experience a process of enduring understanding!

For a PowerPoint of Camille Pissarro’s paintings of Flowers, please… Check HERE!

Joseph Karl Stieler’s Portrait of Katerina “Rosa” Botsaris

Joseph Karl Stieler, German Painter,1781–1858   
Katerina “Rosa” Botsaris, 1841, oil on canvas, 72,4 x 59 cm, Gallery of Beauties, Schönheiten-Galerie König Ludwig I, Nymphenburg Palace, Munich, Germany

The diarist Christiane Lüth (1817–1900), whose husband was appointed personal chaplain to Queen Amalia of Greece wrote about Katerina “Rosa” Botsaris in her diaries: Of the two young ladies-in-waiting, Miss von Wiesenthau was not very well mannered, Catholic and not very pretty, although she talked constantly. The Greek, very beautiful Rosa Botzaris was not agreeable, but stingy and hated everything German. She was poor, but the glory which surrounded the name of her father, the freedom hero, Marko Botzaris, shone its light over her. When she travelled with the Queen, she was much celebrated for her beauty, which was highlighted by her national costume. She hid the fact that she understood the German language and spread dangerous political comments around her which much damaged Their Majesties, her benefactors. It is obvious Christiane Lüth did not like much, either of Queen Amalia’s Ladies in Waiting, but Rosa’s beauty is undisputed, and Joseph Karl Stieler’s Portrait of Katerina “Rosa” Botsaris is an excellent testimony!

Between 1827 and 1850 Joseph Karl Stieler, court painter of Bavaria, was commissioned by King Ludwig I to create 36 portraits of the most beautiful women from the nobility and middle classes of Munich, Germany. These portraits were to decorate the south pavilion of Ludwig’s Nymphenburg Summer Palace. Among these very popular portraits was that of a Greek lady, Katerina “Rosa” Botsaris, the daughter of Markos Botsaris, the hero of the 1821 Greek Revolution.

Katerina’s life was not easy. Born to the prominent Souliot Botsaris family, Katerina was the daughter of Chrysoula Kalogirou and Markos Botsaris, the famed, and revered leader of the Greek War of Independence, who died on the night of August the 8th, 1823, at Kefalobryso in Karpeisi, while with 450 Souliotes, ambushed the enemy camp of Mustafa Pasha of Shkoder (modern northern Albania) inflicting serious casualties. At the time, a child of 5 or 3 years old, Katerina Botsaris lived the life of a “hostage” in the city of Drama, at the harem of Dramali Mahmud Pasha, under the protection of upper-class Ottoman women. Katerina was apparently a particularly charming child, so much so that one of her “protectresses” wanted to officially adopt her. It was not meant to be, and during a prisoner exchange initiative, Katerina was returned to her family and reunited with her mother. Many “adventures” later, the orphaned family of Markos Botsaris settled at the newly created Greek state where members of the Botsaris family were to play an important role.

While in Athens, the importance of the Botsaris name, her delightful personality, and great beauty attracted the attention of Amalia of Oldenburg, Queen of Greece from 1836 to 1862 as the spouse of King Otto (1815–1867), who appointed Katerina as her 1st Greek Lady-in-Waiting. In 1841, Katerina Botsaris accompanied Queen Amalia to Munich, the birthplace of King Otto of Greece. Tradition has it that upon arrival, as she was getting out of her carriage King Ludwig of Bavaria noticed Katerina’s Mediterranean beauty and hurried to assist her. Later on, the royal couple of Greece, Otto, and Amalia, suggested Katerina’s Portrait for the Gallery of Beauties, and King Ludwig wholeheartedly agreed. It is said that she was given the name Rosa, leaving behind her real name, from the ruby ​​color of the rose … that her lips and cheeks had… and

Katerina “Rosa” Botsari Costume, mid-19th century, crimson velvet, and embroidery of gold cords, National History Museum – Historical & Ethnological Society of Greece (EIM), Athens, Greece
Photograph Credit: Christina Hilla Famel

Stieler’s Portrait of Katerina “Rosa” Botsaris shows a great Mediterranean beauty. Her complexion is glowing and creamy, her cheeks blushed with youth. High arched eyebrows frame a long straight nose and brown heavy-lidded eyes, which look out at us kindly, a light smile drawn at the corners of her mouth. Glossy chestnut hair flows down her neck, blending into the tassel of her jauntily placed hat and the fur collar of her jacket. She poses in front of the blue, tranquil Aegean Sea, and the pale blue but luminous Greek sky… a landscape that is atmospheric and tranquil,  matching her character and demeanor. She wears an exquisite, fitted Kontogouni (vest)of crimson velvet, embroidered with gold cords, a crisp white Poukamisa (shirt), and a full, silk, pleated skirt, emphasizing her feminine shape. The Kontogouni survived time and it is still a prized treasure of the National History Museum of Greece. The artist Joseph Karl Stieler, trained in the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts and in the Parisian atelier of François Gérard, a student of Jacques-Louis David, created, inspired by the Greek beauty of Katerina “Rosa” Botsaris, the perfect example of a controlled and romanticized Neoclassical portrait. and pages 546-548

In 1845 Katerina “Rosa” Botsaris married Prince George Karatzas. a military man of Fanariot descent and had four children, two of whom died at a young age. The marriage was not particularly happy due to her husband’s strict and authoritarian character and the death of her children. The beautiful Souliotissa died at the age of 57 in January 1875.

Katerina Agrafioti wrote a book (in Greek) about Katerina’s life… the story of a woman who, always respecting her origin, unreservedly served the social “musts” and overlooked her personal pursuits with the power and dignity she derived from her father’s name. and

Pietro Luchini,  Italian Painter,1800-1883
Ekaterini Botzaris Caradja, 1845, oil on canvas, 207×159 cm, Private Collection

A Damask Rose species bred in 1856, brightly white and very fragrant, was named Rosa Botsaris after her.

For a Student Activity, please … Check HERE!

Rose named after Katerina “Rosa” Botsaris

Spring by Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, 1527-1593
The Four Seasons – Spring, 1563, oil on canvas, 76×63.5 cm, Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid, Spain

Festive Spring has arrived, / The birds salute it with their happy song. / And the brooks, caressed by little Zephyrs, / Flow with a sweet murmur. / The sky is covered with a black mantle, / And thunder, and lightning, announce a storm. / When they are silent, the birds / Return to sing their lovely song     /     And in the meadow, rich with flowers, / To the sweet murmur of leaves and plants, / The goatherd sleeps, with his faithful dog at his side.     /     To the festive sound of pastoral bagpipes, / Dance nymphs and shepherds, / At Spring’s brilliant appearance. This is Antonio Lucio Vivaldi’s (1678 – 1741) Sonnet A Primavera (Spring). The great composer wrote it as a descriptive accompaniment, experts believe, for the music of his “Four Seasons.” Today the first day of Spring, I took the time to listen and read Vivaldi’s music and sonnet, looking at Spring by Giuseppe Arcimboldo! It was a magical time!

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

Arcimboldo’s friend, the Milanese art critic, and travelogue author, Paolo Morigia writes for him… This is a painter (Arcimboldo) with a rare talent […] having proved his worth both as an artist and as a bizarre painter, not only in his own country but also abroad, he has been given the highest praise, in that word of his fame has reached the Emperor’s court in Germany.” The “court” Morigia refers to, is the court of the Habsburg rulers in Vienna first, where Arcimboldo moved in 1563 at the age of thirty-six, and Prague later, where he served as court painter for twenty-five years. and file:///C:/Users/aspil/OneDrive/Blog/Renaissance%20Mannerism/Arcimboldo%20ScoopNGA.pdf

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, 1527-1593
The Four Seasons – Spring (detail), 1563, oil on canvas, 76×63.5 cm, Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid, Spain

While in Vienna, to celebrate the reign of Emperor Maximilian II, Arcimboldo created his “ signature Portraits of the 4 Seasons,” composed of imaginatively arranging elements of nature like plants, flowers, fruits, and vegetables. For each “Portrait” (Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter), created in 1563, Arcimboldo combined plants associated with a particular season to form a portrait of that time of year. The series proved extremely popular in the Habsburg court, and Arcimboldo reproduced it several times so the emperor could send versions to friends and important political figures. file:///C:/Users/aspil/OneDrive/Blog/Renaissance%20Mannerism/Arcimboldo%20ScoopNGA.pdf

Closely associated with Mother Earth, Arcimboldo’s “Spring”, the first in his Four Seasons series, takes the form of a youthful woman composed entirely of flowers and bright green leaves. Arcimboldo uses roses and daises, tulips and lily buds, green leaves like strawberry stems, and large leaves of a dandelion plant. In profile, and smiling, showing her lilies of the valley teeth, “Spring” seems fully aware of her beauty and the joy that looking upon her countenance will bring to a viewer. Her youth and beauty are a fitting opening to the series, and the beginnings of the cycle of life and the seasons.–the-fantast/fourseasons/spring

For a PowerPoint of the 4 Seasons by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, please… Check HERE!

A monumental installation in the grounds of the Dulwich Picture Gallery in South London of The Four Seasons, a set of four fifteen-foot fiberglass sculptures by American artist and film-maker Philip Haas in 2012

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

A monumental installation in the grounds of the Dulwich Picture Gallery in South London of The Four Seasons (photo of The Spring), a set of four fifteen-foot fiberglass sculptures by American artist and film-maker Philip Haas in 2012

Church of the Parigoritissa in Arta

Church of the Parigoritissa in Arta, 1294-1296, Arta, Greece

According to a popular Epirote legend… the anonymous “πρωτομάστορας” (master architect), commissioned to build the Church of the Parigoritissa in Arta was accomplished, famous, and much in demand! Hired to design plans for another church, while still working in Arta, the “πρωτομάστορας” was obliged to travel away, leaving his assistant in charge. The assistant, anonymous as well, was young, ambitious, innovative, and highly creative. He decided to change the original plans… implement a novel architectural proposal, and, in the process, created an original Church design we still admire today! Upon his return, the “πρωτομάστορας” was stunned, envious and… vengeful! He wanted revenge and he planned carefully… He tricked his unsuspecting assistant into climbing to the roof under the pretext that he was going to show him a mistake he made and then… the plan was, to push him over. But the plan did not materialize as wished! As the young assistant was falling, he grabbed the master-builder dragging him along to their death. The mother of the young assistant was devastated… but one night the Virgin Mary appeared to her dream and “την παρηγόρησε,” consoled her for her unjust loss. Mary’s consolation was considered a miracle and thus… the Church in Arta was called “Παναγία η Παρηγορήτισσα,” the Church of the Virgin Mary of Consolation.

Ιn Arta the Parigoritissa Church is considered the city’s Αρχόντισσα… most Aristocratic edifice! Built on the western slope of Peranthis hill, the church is associated with the Komnenos Doukas ruling family of the Despotate of Epiros. Archaeologists discern 2 construction phases. The older 1st phase dates to the middle of the 13th century and is associated with Michael II Komnenos Doukas (1230 until his death in 1266/68 ruler of the Despotate of Epirus) and his wife Theodora Petraliphaina (canonized as Saint Theodora of Arta, ca. 1225 – after 1270). Recent archaeological discoveries show that large parts of its original masonry were preserved to a sufficient height and incorporated via various modifications for the construction of the church’s 2nd phase which materialized under the sponsorship of Nikiphoros I Komnenos Doukas (c. 1240-1297) and his wife Anna Palaiologina Kantakouzene (d. 1313). On the western wall of the main church, over the entrance, an inscription verifies the fact that the Parogoritissa church was founded in the period 1294-1296 by the despot of Epirus Nikephoros I Komnenos Doukas, his wife Anna Palaiologina Kantakouzene, and their son Thomas. The aspiration of the princely couple was to create a Metropolitan Church worthy of a Byzantine Capital, impressive and original in design, luxurious and imposing on its exterior and interior decoration!

Thomas Smart Hughes, Travels in Sicily Greece, and Albania… Illustrated with engravings of maps scenery plans &c., vol. Ι, London, J. Mawman, 1820, Collection: Hellenic Library – Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation

The church of Parigoritissa was dedicated to the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary and was formerly the Katholikon of a large Monastery, of which 16 cells and the Refectory are also preserved. It is one monumental, voluminous, cubic in essence (has dimensions of 20,30×22 m) building, which external masonry and design “elusively” resemble the Italian mansions of the Early Renaissance period. The exterior façade of the church is divided into three zones: The lowest one is irregularly built and unadorned because until 1865 it was covered by a portico, as evidenced by the existence of 12 pilasters on the three sides of the temple to support its roof. The two upper zones of the church are meticulously built according to the isodomic “cloisonne” system, adorned with a large number of double (dilova) windows with a colonnette in between, and further embellished with elaborate brick decorations. The Parigoritissa like many other churches in Arta, uses bricks and clay tiles in a variety of colours and designs, to decorate their walls with designs like meanders, concentric rhombuses, and toothed strips to name just a few. Finally, the church is crowned by five domes, from which the central one is larger and taller. Among the two western domes, there is a smaller, open dome, which gives the impression of a ciborium. and

Church of the Parigoritissa in Arta (Keramoplastika), 1294-1296, Arta, Greece

For an interesting 3D Video on the Byzantine city of Arta and its Monuments created by the Greek Ephorate of Antiquities of Art, go to:

For interesting Photographs, go to…

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

My thoughts on the interior architectural plan and decoration of the Parigoritissa Church will be presented in another BLOG POST…

Visiting the Parogoritissa with my students…
Photo Credit: Kostas Papantoniou

Marie Euphrosyne Spartali-Stillman

Marie Spartali Stillman, 1844-1927
Self-Portrait, 1874, gouache and pastel with gum arabic on paper, 63.5 by 50.8 cm, property of a private collector and

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 Marie Euphrosyne Spartali-Stillman, a Pre-Raphaelite artist par excellence, will be my humble contribution to the importance of the day. and

Marie Euphrosyne Spartali-Stillman was a Grecian beauty! She was statuesque, nearly 1.90 m in height, with big, dark eyes and long, thick brown hair. Along with her sister Christina, the daughters of Michael Spartali, a wealthy Greek-born businessman and Consul-General of Greece in London, the Spartali girls frequented London’s artistic and literary salons of the 1860s creating a stir. The artist Thomas Armstrong, for example, met the two young women at a Sunday get-together at their parents’ house in 1863 and recalled, “We were all à genoux before them, and of course every one of us burned with a desire to try to paint them.” The poet Algernon Charles Swinburne seeing Marie wearing a white dress with blue ribbon sashes was short of words but quite emotional, writing… “She (Marie) is so beautiful that I want to sit down and cry.” Along with her cousins, Maria Zambaco and Aglaia Coronio were known collectively among friends as “the Three Graces”, after the Charites of Greek mythology (Aglaia, Euphrosyne, and Thalia), as all three were noted beauties of Greek heritage. and

Thus… she became the muse and the model to several important artists of the time, particularly artists of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, enchanting them with her elegant stature and classical feature! Her beauty, however, was not easy to capture! Dante Gabriel Rossetti loved her to pose for him but on a letter addressed to Jane Morris, dated  August 14, 1867, he wrote… “I find her head the most difficult I ever drew. It depends not so much on real form as on a subtle charm of life which one cannot recreate.”

The young woman was artistic and an intellectual. Starting in 1864, and for several years, she became the student of artist Ford Madox Brown. Once more, in a letter addressed to Brown, Rossetti writes “I just hear Miss Spartali is to be your pupil. I hear too that she is one and the same with a marvelous beauty of whom I have heard much talk. So box her up and don’t let fellows see her, as I mean to have first shy at her in the way of sitting.”

In 1871, against her parents’ wishes, she married American journalist, diplomat, author, historian, photographer, and trained artist William J. Stillman (1828 – 1901). A captivating personality, Stillman served as a war correspondent in Crete and the Balkans, a United States consul in Rome, and afterward in Crete, during the Cretan insurrection. He is known for training the young Arthur Evans as a war correspondent in the Balkans, remaining a lifelong friend and confidant. He is also known for considering taking over the excavation at Knossos from Minos Kalokairinos! The couple, along with their children, lived an exciting life between England, Italy, and the United States, Marie being at the time, the only Pre-Raphaelite artist to work and exhibit in the United States.  

According to Margaretta Frederick, curator of the major monographic exhibition, “Poetry in Beauty: The Pre-Raphaelite Art of Marie Spartali Stillman,” (November 7, 2015–January 31, 2016, at the Delaware Museum of Art) Marie  “…abhorred publicity and never wanted to put herself forward, because she was suspicious of critics and publicity.” She was also a victim of the Victorian mentality, further wrote Margaretta Frederick, that dictated that a woman should not compete with men, or at least not appear to do so… explaining that even Spartali Stillman’s choice of medium—watercolor—was guided by this code of conduct: “In a middle- to upper-middle-class family, women painted in watercolor. So she was fixated on this medium that allowed her to situate herself next to the men and compete on their level without transgressing too many social barriers.”

Marie might have abhorred publicity, but she did not labor in obscurity. She exhibited at the Royal Academy starting in 1870 and had dealers selling her work on both sides of the Atlantic. Influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite movement and the Italian Renaissance, she is known for creating over one hundred paintings of dreamy medievalism, plenty of Dante-and-Boccaccio scenes, and Portraits of unusual psychological acuteness. Her style, free, and painterly, is an integral link in the chain of Victorian Aestheticism.

For a PowerPoint of artwork by Marie Spartali Stillman at the Delaware Art Gallery in the USA, please… Check HERE!

The Shropshire Gold “Sun” Bulla-Pendant

The Shropshire Gold “Sun” Bulla-Pendant, 1,000-800 BC, Gold, 3.6×4.7cm, British Museum, London, UK
Photo Credit: British Museum

Towering above the Wiltshire countryside, Stonehenge is perhaps the world’s most awe-inspiring ancient stone circle… write the British Museum experts introducing The World of Stonehenge an important Exhibition that will reveal the secrets of Stonehenge, shining a light on its purpose, cultural power, and the people that created it. The Exhibition (February 17 to July 17, 2022) follows, the British Museum experts continue, the story of Britain and Europe from 4000 to 1000 BC… a period of immense transformation and radical ideas that changed society forever. Visitors will be able to admire and learn from a variety of fascinating objects among them astonishing examples of early metalwork including the Nebra Sky Disc – the world’s oldest surviving map of the stars and the Shropshire Gold “Sun” Bulla-Pendant, I find particularly “beautiful.”

The Shropshire Gold “Sun” Bulla-Pendant is a breathtaking object! All we need do is imagine the impact this object would have had on the viewer worn in bright daylight, or in flickering firelight…  It definitely would have seemed as if it was constantly moving.

The Shropshire Gold “Sun” Bulla-Pendant, 1,000-800 BC, Gold, 3.6×4.7cm, British Museum, London, UK
Photo Credit: British Museum

Buried for centuries in the Shropshire Marches, the breathtaking pendant was discovered in May 2018, by an anonymous metal detector (detectorist). It is interesting how the Shropshire Finds Liaison Officer Peter Reavill who had worked with the detectorist in question for 15 years, regularly recording his finds, describes the initial telephone he received, and how he knew that something out of the ordinary had happened when the detectorist was almost too excited to speak. Soon after the discovery, photographs followed, and Peter Reavill found himself looking at a D-shaped gold pendant incised with delicate geometric decorations. Interestingly, and following the UK Treasure Act 1995, the discovered pendant was brought to the British Museum and the coroner (who adjudicates in Treasure cases) found the Shropshire Gold “Sun” Pendant to be Treasure and the independent Treasure Valuation Committee recommended the £250,000 price tag. In the words of the British Museum Neil Wilkin, curator of Early Europe and The World of Stonehenge Exhibitions… The elegant form and brilliantly executed decoration of the sun pendant was accomplished with an ingenious skill. It tells us how important the sun – and its path through the sky during the course of the day and the year – was to people’s beliefs during this period.” and

Before visiting The World of Stonehenge Exhibitions, and if interested in the Shropshire Pendant… read, if you please, and

A short PowerPoint presentation can be accessed… HERE!

Simon Bening’s March

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, March (f. 20v and 21r),c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK

Never mind, March, we know / When you blow / You’re not really mad / Or angry or bad; / You’re only blowing the winter away / To get the world ready for April and May… writes Annette Wynne… just as in Simon Bening’s March Page preparations for Spring are in order! What a magnificent scene… an introductory full-page miniature showing the agricultural labours associated with the beginning of the agricultural season. and

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, March (f. 20v),c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK

The main miniature on f. 20v of the Golf Book by Simon Bening, shows, in the foreground, an organized, enclosed Medieval Garden. The depicted labourer, a neatly dressed peasant, is presented to stop digging and to dock his cap to an aristocratic lady who gestures eloquently and energetically to him with her left hand as if she is instructing him on what his gardening chores should be. Followed by her lady-in-waiting the “principal” female figure of the composition is quite impressively dressed in a tunic with a fur collar and wide sleeves with a small, white dog in her right hand. Even her companion/maid is beautifully groomed in a dress with a generous neckline that is straight across the lower edge and covered by a high ruff of thick fabric. This is a lovely introductory scene to medieval gardening and the importance of medicinal plants for the people of the Middle Ages.

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, March (f. 20v) (detail),c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK

What I find particularly interesting about this composition, is the depicted garden or orchard – possibly containing medicinal herbs and vegetables – that Bening depicted in the left forward part of his March verso page composition. For my students, the March page is a perfect opportunity to discuss Gardening during the Middle Ages, the importance of herbal or medicinal gardens, and how they are depicted in art. A fascinating book to read, beautifully illustrated is Sweet Herbs and Sundry Flowers: Medieval Gardens and the Gardens of The Cloisters by Tania Bayard, which I use for a Student Activity… HERE!

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

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, March (f. 20v and 21r) (details),c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK

Little Dancer Aged Fourteen by Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas, French Artist, 1834 – 1917
Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, circa 1878-1881, Bronze with brown patina, tulle skirt and satin ribbon on wooden base, Cast by A. A. Hébrard, Paris, circa 1922, 96.5×47×35 cm, Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation, Athens, Greece

You may write me down in history / With your bitter, twisted lies, / or may trod me in the very dirt / But still, like dust, I’ll rise.    /    Does my sassiness upset you? / Why are you beset with gloom? / ‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells / Pumping in my living room.    /    Just like moons and like suns, / With the certainty of tides, / Just like hopes springing high, / Still I’ll rise.    /    Did you want to see me broken? / Bowed head  /and lowered eyes? / Shoulders falling down like teardrops.    /    Weakened by my soulful cries.    /    Does my haughtiness offend you? / Don’t you take it awful hard / ‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines / Diggin’ in my own back yard.    /    You may shoot me with your words, / You may cut me with your eyes, / You may kill me with your hatefulness, / But still, like air, I’ll rise.    /    Does my sexiness upset you? / Does it come as a surprise / That I dance like I’ve got diamonds / At the meeting of my thighs?    /    Out of the huts of history’s shame / I rise / Up from a past that’s rooted in pain / I rise / I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide, / Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.    /    Leaving behind nights of terror and fear / I rise / Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear / I rise / Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, / I am the dream and the hope of the slave.    /    I rise    /    I rise    /    I rise… writes Maya Angelou and I think of the Little Dancer Aged Fourteen by Edgar Degas in the Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation in Athens…

Edgar Degas, French Artist, 1834 – 1917
Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (detail), circa 1878-1881, Bronze with brown patina, tulle skirt and satin ribbon on wooden base, Cast by A. A. Hébrard, Paris, circa 1922, 96.5×47×35 cm, Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation, Athens, Greece

Edgar Degas found ballet dancing irresistible and at the Paris Opéra, he frequently attended grand ballet productions on stage and small ballet classes in rehearsal studios. He was an astute observer of the ballerinas’ daily routine of rehearsing, stretching, and resting. He studied dance movements and filled numerous notebooks with sketches to help him remember details so he could later compose paintings and model sculptures in his studio. His penetrating observations are best exemplified in the artist’s statue of the Little Dancer Aged Fourteen exhibited in the Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation in Athens. The Little Dancer’s name was Marie van Goethem… and she was a young student at the Paris Opéra Ballet School. and

Adolescent Marie, according to Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation experts, is presented standing in a dynamic but relaxed way, her feet in the “fourth position,” her hands held behind her back, the head slightly raised, and the entire appearance revealing all the ambiguity of an adolescent figure deformed by the dancing practice. The thinness of her body, the possible malnutrition suggested by a slightly swollen belly, does not diminish the girl’s sensuality, whose proud position, almost with an air of defiance, may seem, according to observers, dignified, provocative, or despisingI rise / Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear / I rise

Edgar Degas, French Artist, 1834 – 1917
Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (back view), circa 1878-1881, Bronze with brown patina, tulle skirt and satin ribbon on wooden base, Cast by A. A. Hébrard, Paris, circa 1922, 96.5×47×35 cm, Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation, Athens, Greece
Edgar Degas, French Artist, 1834 – 1917
Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (side view), circa 1878-1881, Bronze with brown patina, tulle skirt and satin ribbon on wooden base, Cast by A. A. Hébrard, Paris, circa 1922, 96.5×47×35 cm, Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation, Athens, Greece

Degas worked on Little Dancer Aged Fourteen for more than two years. He first created an armature of metal, wood, wire, rope, and two long paintbrushes for the dancer’s shoulders. Then, he modeled the figure first with clay to define the muscles, and then he modeled the final layer of the sculpture in wax. It was not enough… He dressed the statue in real ballet satin slippers, a linen bodice, a muslin tutu, and a wig of human hair, braided and tied with a ribbon. Finally, to complete the illusion, a coat of wax spread smoothly with a spatula over the surface of the sculpture, giving it an overall waxy,  lifelike look. After Degas died in 1917, copies of this wax figure were cast in plaster and bronze, and Little Dancer Aged Fourteen grew in fame around the world.

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

Edgar Degas, French Artist, 1834 – 1917
Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (Museum Hall view), circa 1878-1881, Bronze with brown patina, tulle skirt and satin ribbon on wooden base, Cast by A. A. Hébrard, Paris, circa 1922, 96.5×47×35 cm, Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation, Athens, Greece