La Fornarina

Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino known as Raphael, 1483–1520
Portrait of a Woman – La Fornarina, about 1519–20, Oil on Panel, 85×60 cm, Galleria Nazionale di Arte Antica (GNAA), Palazzo Barberini, Rome, Italy
https://el.wikipedia.org/wiki/%CE%91%CF%81%CF%87%CE%B5%CE%AF%CE%BF:La_Fornarina,_por_Rafael.jpg

The life of Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino was short, his work prolific, and his legacy immortal. This is how the National Gallery in London experts introduce their audience to the blockbuster Credit Suisse Exhibition on Raphael (9 April – 31 July 2022)… But I want to return to Giogio Vasari… The liberality with which Heaven now and again unites in one person the inexhaustible riches of its treasures and all those graces and rare gifts which are usually shared among many over a long period is seen in Raphael Sanzio of Urbino, who was as excellent as gracious and endowed with a natural modesty and goodness sometimes seen in those who possess to an unusual degree a humane and gentle nature adorned with affability and good-fellowship, and he always showed himself sweet and pleasant with persons of every degree and in all circumstances… and take another look at La Fornarinahttp://www.artist-biography.info/artist/raphael/ and https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/exhibitions/the-credit-suisse-exhibition-raphael#content

Ever since I saw La Fornarina at Palazzo Barberini in Rome, I was intrigued by its captivating beauty and mysteries. Who is the beautiful woman who modestly tries to cover herself?

Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino known as Raphael, 1483–1520
Portrait of a Woman – La Fornarina (detail of the face), about 1519–20, Oil on Panel, 85×60 cm,  Galleria Nazionale di Arte Antica (GNAA), Palazzo Barberini, Rome, Italy
Foto di Mauro Cohen https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/exhibitions/the-credit-suisse-exhibition-raphael/a-brief-introduction-to-raphaels-life-and-times

Giorgio Vasari describes Raphael as a very amorous man,  fond of women, …always swift to serve them. This description “helps” Raphael enthusiasts identify the woman portrayed in La Fornarina with Margherita Luti, Raphael’s Roman lover, the daughter of a baker in Trastevere. Unfortunately, there is no description or record of such a painting created by the artist at the time. There are, however, “hints” that supporters of this interpretation like to consider. For example, her right-hand rests, gently, over her heart, holding her exposed breast. More so, her left hand, the hand of the heart, is adorned with a luxurious armband bearing the inscription “Raphael Urbinas,” the painter’s signature and her fourth finger is adorned with a ruby wedding ring, hidden under flesh-coloured paint for almost five centuries, and revealed in 2001 when an x-ray analysis was carried out on the painting. According to primary sources, Raphael died a young, unmarried man of 37, engaged at the time to a woman named Maria Bibbiena, the daughter of his patron Bernardo Dovizi. Could La Fornarina truly be the portrait of Margherita? There are “hints” but no evidence… https://www.barberinicorsini.org/en/opera/la-fornarina/ and http://www.artist-biography.info/artist/raphael/ and https://www.walksofitaly.com/blog/art-culture/art-history-mystery-la-fornarina-raphael

Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino known as Raphael, 1483–1520
Portrait of a Woman – La Fornarina (detail), about 1519–20, Oil on Panel, 85×60 cm,  Galleria Nazionale di Arte, Palazzo Barberini, Rome, Italy
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fornarina_03.jpg

Then come the Palazzo Barberini experts who have a different “reading” on the identity of the elusive young woman… They suggest that Raphael’s female Portrait in their Collection presents no other than Goddess Venus. The position of her hand, for example, one placed on her lap and the other on her breast, follows the classic statuary model of the “Venus Pudica”: a gesture of modesty that yet directs the viewer’s gaze to what she actually seeks to conceal. Other symbols are to be found in the painting’s background… the myrtle bush, laurel, and branches of quince are sacred emblems of Venus, marriage, lust, and fertility. Plausible but not decisive… https://www.barberinicorsini.org/en/opera/la-fornarina/

Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino known as Raphael, 1483–1520
Portrait of a Woman – La Fornarina (detail), about 1519–20, Oil on Panel, 85×60 cm,  Galleria Nazionale di Arte, Palazzo Barberini, Rome, Italy
https://claudiaviggiani.com/fornarina-di-raffaello-in-palazzo-barberini/

Finally, I enjoyed reading Rona Goffen’s article on Raphael’s Designer Labels: From the Virgin Mary to La Fornarina (Artibus et Historiae Vol. 24, No. 48, 2003). pp. 132-135). Raphael, the author believes, tantalized, and still tantalizes his audience with clues to the woman’s identity but withholds her name. Whatever La Fornarina’s real name might have been, the author concludes, whatever (personal amorous) considerations might have motivated Raphael, he painted her portrait as the embodiment of the beauty of his art, that is, not universal, but idiosyncratic, individual, unmistakable for any other. Redefining beauty according to his own criteria, asserting his possession of her, whose image he created, Raphael asserted possession of art itself. And so Raphael signed the Fornarina without a date, because his possession is forever, his achievement immortal. This is an article worth reading! https://www.jstor.org/stable/1483734?read-now=1&refreqid=excelsior%3A2d02ae94d96f8d5167a5b6a3fb35f281&seq=13#page_scan_tab_contents pp. 132-135

For a PowerPoint on Raphael’s Portraits of Women, 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
https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2020/mar/04/british-museum-acquires-3000-year-old-shropshire-sun-pendant

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.” https://www.britishmuseum.org/exhibitions/world-stonehenge

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. https://archaeology.co.uk/articles/features/the-shropshire-bulla-bronze-age-beauty-and-a-mystery-from-manchester.htm

The Shropshire Gold “Sun” Bulla-Pendant, 1,000-800 BC, Gold, 3.6×4.7cm, British Museum, London, UK
Photo Credit: British Museum
https://museumcrush.org/spectacular-bronze-age-sun-pendant-heads-to-shrewsbury-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.”https://archaeology.co.uk/articles/features/the-shropshire-bulla-bronze-age-beauty-and-a-mystery-from-manchester.htm and https://www.antiquestradegazette.com/news/2020/british-museum-buys-3000-year-old-bronze-age-gold-pendant/

Before visiting The World of Stonehenge Exhibitions, and if interested in the Shropshire Pendant… read, if you please, https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/H_2020-8005-1 and https://www.britishmuseum.org/sites/default/files/2021-07/sun_pendant_press_release_updated.pdf

A short PowerPoint presentation can be accessed… HERE!

The astonishing Tapestry of Dionysus at Abegg-Stiftung

Dionysos and his entourage standing underneath arcades lavishly decked out in climbing foliage and braided ornaments, Egypt, 4th century, wool tapestry on a linen ground, h. 210 cm, w. ca. 700 cm, Abegg-Stiftung, Canton Bern , Switzerland
https://twitter.com/Pythika/status/1141411261286146048/photo/1
https://abegg-stiftung.ch/en/
https://twitter.com/caitlinrgreen/status/616963854870970368?lang=el

[1] I begin to sing of ivy-crowned Dionysus, the loud-crying god, splendid son of Zeus and glorious Semele. The rich-haired Nymphs received him in their bosoms from the lord his father and fostered and nurtured him carefully [5] in the dells of Nysa, where by the will of his father he grew up in a sweet-smelling cave, being reckoned among the immortals. But when the goddesses had brought him up, a god oft hymned, then began he to wander continually through the woody coombes, thickly wreathed with ivy and laurel. And the Nymphs followed in his train [10] with him for their leader; and the boundless forest was filled with their outcry.    /    And so hail to you, Dionysus, god of abundant clusters! Grant that we may come again rejoicing to this season, and from that season onwards for many a year. The Homeric Hymns 26 on Dionysus is, I believe, a wonderful introduction to The astonishing Tapestry of Dionysus at Abegg-Stiftung, my new BLOG POST… Translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White. Homeric Hymns. Cambridge, MA, 1914, Harvard University Press, https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0138%3Ahymn%3D26

Regretfully, I never visited the Abegg-Stiftung, this amazing “cultural” center where the collection, conservation and study of historical textiles take place. Abegg-Stiftung is based just outside the village of Riggisberg in the foothills of the Bernese Alps, which is where the museum of textiles and applied art, the research library and the Villa Abegg, the Abeggs’ former home that is now a museum, are situated. The studio for textile conservation and restoration is also a training centre for budding young conservators. The Abegg-Stiftung publishes books and papers in which it shares its research findings with fellow historians and conservators as well as a lay readership. Year after year, its annual exhibitions shed new light on a material that has served humanity for thousands of years, whether made up into objects of everyday use or in the form of exquisite works of art. What an amazing place to visit and learn! https://abegg-stiftung.ch/en/

Dionysus and his entourage standing underneath arcades lavishly decked out in climbing foliage and braided ornaments (Museum Room View), Egypt, 4th century, wool tapestry on a linen ground, h. 210 cm, w. ca. 700 cm, Abegg-Stiftung, Canton Bern , Switzerland
file:///C:/Users/aspil/Downloads/ulfl202121_tm_Anexo%20(4).pdf

Among their rich collection of textiles from Late Antiquity, the visitor is astounded by grand and small examples showing figures from Graeco-Roman mythology and scenes from the Old Testament. What really fascinates me is the “Dionysus Hanging,” a monumental tapestry originally that served as a wall hanging in a Roman private home or cult building. The tapestry’s programme shows Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and ecstasy, and his entourage standing underneath arcades lavishly decked out in climbing foliage and braided ornaments. The cult of Dionysos was widespread in Late Antiquity. It promised its adherents life after death and was an articulation of the desire for a life of happiness and superfluity. https://abegg-stiftung.ch/en/collection/late-antiquity/

Dionysos and his entourage standing underneath arcades lavishly decked out in climbing foliage and braided ornaments (Detail), Egypt, 4th century, wool tapestry on a linen ground, h. 210 cm, w. ca. 700 cm, Abegg-Stiftung, Canton Bern , Switzerland
https://abegg-stiftung.ch/en/

An Abegg-Stiftung much-appreciated traditionis its dedication in publishing books and papers in which their experts share their research findings with fellow historians and conservators as well as a lay readership. Among the Museum’s rich List of Publications (for German readers) is a book titled Der Dionysosbehang der Abegg-Stiftung by Dietrich Willers und Bettina Niekamp, Riggisberger Berichte 20 | 272 S., 200 Abb., 32 Tafeln, 1 Falttafel, brosch., 23 x 31 cm, 2015, ISBN 978-3-905014-53-2 https://abegg-stiftung.ch/en/publication-category/riggisberger-berichte-en/

I was able to download Dietrich Willers’s Zur Begegnung von Heidentum und Christentum im spätantiken Ägypten – Der Dionysosbehang der AbeggStiftung (Schweiz) and read in Google translation… http://kgkw.de/Vortrags-Skripte/Willers/KGKW%20Willers.pdf  

Preparing for this BLOG POST I reread pp. 35-38 of Textiles of Late Antiquity, a 1995 Metropolitan Museum of Art Publication, and Woven Interiors: Furnishing Early Medieval Egypt, an Exhibition Catalogue of 2020, organized by the George Washington University Museum, The Textile Museum, and Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. https://museum.gwu.edu/woven-interiors-furnishing-early-medieval-egypt  

For a Student Activity on The astonishing Tapestry of Dionysus at Abegg-Stiftung, please… Check HERE!

Dionysos and his entourage standing underneath arcades lavishly decked out in climbing foliage and braided ornaments (Detail), Egypt, 4th century, wool tapestry on a linen ground, h. 210 cm, w. ca. 700 cm, Abegg-Stiftung, Canton Bern , Switzerland
https://abegg-stiftung.ch/en/

Titian in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Tiziano Vecelli (Titian in English), c. 1488/90-1576
The Rape of Europa, between 1560 and 1562, Oil on Canvas, 178 × 205 cm, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, USA
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a3/L%27Enl%C3%A8vement_d%27Europe_Rubens.jpeg

Titian in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is about an amazing Exhibition titled Titian – Women, Myth & Power running from August 12 to January 2, 2022. The Exhibition presents Titian’s poesie — or painted poetries — that envision epic stories from classical Antiquity. These poesies were created between 1551 and 1561, for King Philip II of Spain, by no other than the incredible Venetian artist, Titian! It is, undoubtedly, priceless, for the Exhibition visitor, to be able to see for the first time in over four centuries, the renowned paintings reunited… conversing with each other. For the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, inspiration was, I can only guess, their own painting of Titian’s… Rape of Europa. https://www.gardnermuseum.org/calendar/exhibition/women-myth-power

Tiziano Vecelli (Titian in English), c. 1488/90-1576
Philip II of Spain, between 1549 and 1550, Oil on Canvas, 103×82 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/ec/Philip_II_portrait_by_Titian.jpg

 Not every painter has a gift for painting, in fact, many painters are disappointed when they meet with difficulties in art. Painting done under pressure by artists without the necessary talent can only give rise to formlessness, as painting is a profession that requires peace of mind. The painter must always seek the essence of things, always represent the essential characteristics and emotions of the person he is painting… Titian believed and applied when, between 1549 and 1550, he painted the Portrait of his most important patron, Philip II of Spain, the man with whom, the artist established one of the most fruitful artistic relationships of the European Renaissance. This fruitful artistic relationship between the aging Venetian Master, and the 21-year-old Prince of Spain, at the time, led to the poesie paintings… large canvases inspired by stories taken from Ovid’s (43 BC–17 AD) Metamorphoses and other Classical works. https://www.azquotes.com/quote/1112271 and https://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection/art-work/philip-ii/7249afc2-e80c-4e47-8dba-0dda1758a9aa and https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/exhibitions/past/titian-love-desire-death/titian-s-poesie-the-commission

Titian, given free rein by Philip to choose the subjects and to create new and innovative compositions, outdid himself choosing Myths that involve Gods and Mortals, Love and Death… The artist chose Myths that rely on powerful emotions, curiosity, jealousy, love, and desire, for their drama. https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/exhibitions/past/titian-love-desire-death/mary-beard-on-titian-and-ovid

DanaëAlthough Danaë was isolated at the top of a tower by her father, King Acrisius of Argos, in an attempt to prevent her from becoming a mother, Zeus sought her out and in the form of a shower of gold, impregnated her. Titian’s Danaë, one of his favourite mythological women, ever sensual and voluptuous, was always a woman depicted at the moment in which Zeus possesses her in the form of golden rain, surprised, contented, and innocent looking. Danaë was the first Poesie presented to Prince Philip. https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/siteassets/home/visit/places-to-visit/apsley-house/history/significance/conserving-titians-mistress/titian-exhibition-guide.pdf

Titian’s Aphrodite and Adonis, presents a moment… not described in Ovid’s Metamorphoses or any other classical source. Invenzioned by Titianthe painting portrays Adonis, ready for the hunt, separating himself from Venus´s embrace. This is a scene of seduction, female initiative, and scandalous behaviour. Aphrodite, in a desperate effort, tries to restrain her lover with a seductive embrace… all in vain, Adonis’s fate is sealed!https://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection/art-work/venus-and-adonis/bc9c1e08-2dd7-44d5-b926-71cd3e5c3adb

While out hunting, Actaeon accidentally discovered the secret bathing place of Artemis, goddess of the moon and hunt. Titian’s Artemis and Actaeon, in the National Galleries of Scotland, chose to portray the exact inciting incident when the victims’ fate is sealed. A dramatic intrusion scene, a dynamic arrangement of figures, sparkling light, intense colour, and animated brushwork… Titian’s painting is a glimpse of the artist’s ability  to create magic! https://www.nationalgalleries.org/art-and-artists/8685/diana-and-actaeon

Every time I see the constellation of Ursa Major, I think of Callisto, Zeus, Hera, and Artemis, a myth of innocence, violence, wrath, and punishment… a Renaissance painting by Titian, Artemis and Callisto, and a Patron who loved women and hunting… https://www.nationalgalleries.org/art-and-artists/artists/titian-tiziano-vecellio

Titian’s Rape of Europa, painted in Venice in the 1560s, is inspired by a story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Infatuated with Europa, Jupiter—king of the gods—transforms himself into a beautiful white bull and joins a herd grazing near the seashore. Europa, close by with her companions, approaches the beautiful creature with her hand outstretched. Finding him tame, she plays with the bull in a meadow and entwines flowers around his horns. When she climbs playfully on his back, the mischievous god seizes the opportunity and springs into the sea, spiriting away the target of his affections while she clings to him in terror… waving desperately at her companions on the shore. https://www.gardnermuseum.org/experience/collection/10978

Arrogance, revenge, sacrifice, bravery…the Myth of Perseus and Andromeda, has it all! Painted between 1551 and 1562 by Titian, a poesie for King Philip II of Spain, is an epic scene of heroic bravery. Perhaps, the most dramatic of all poesie paintings, shows how Perseus, Danaë’s son, swoops down to rescue Andromeda, his powerful vertiginous descent contrasting vividly with her passive vulnerability. https://www.wallacecollection.org/blog/the-wallace-collections-first-transatlantic-loan/

Although never delivered to Philip II, the last of Titian’s poesie, the Death of  Actaeon, is another powerful painting of unprecedented originality as the subject is rare in Italian art and Titian may never have seen another painting of it. With dynamic brushstrokes and majestic colours, Titian depicts the moment of divine wrath and punishment… Actaeon in the process of transformation is torn to death by his own hounds! https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/titian-the-death-of-actaeon

Short Video Presentation on the five Poesies by Titian… https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/exhibitions/past/titian-love-desire-death/facebook-live

An interesting Video by Mary Beard on Titian and Ovid… https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/exhibitions/past/titian-love-desire-death/mary-beard-on-titian-and-ovid

For the PowerPoint on Titian’s Poesies, please… Click HERE!

Clean Monday Feast

Spero Vassiliou, 1903-1985
Clean Monday Feast, 1950, oil on wood, 125×78, Municipality of Rhodes Museum of Modern Greek Art
https://paletaart.wordpress.com/2012/08/06/%CE%B2%CE%B1%CF%83%CE%B9%CE%BB%CE%B5%CE%AF%CE%BF%CF%85-%CF%83%CF%80%CF%8D%CF%81%CE%BF%CF%82-spyros-vassiliou-1903-1985/#jp-carousel-4424

Could Isaiah (Isaiah 1:1–20) introduce us to the theme of Clean Monday with his Old Testament verses? “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Are the following Matthew verses (Matthew 6:14–21)  indicative of the Greek Orthodox festive, springtime atmosphere of Clean Monday? “When ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face, that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret…” I like to think that the painting Clean Monday Feast by Spero Vassiliou embodies Matthew’s recommendations and presents the glorious Greek Clean Monday at its best!     https://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Isaiah%201:1%E2%80%9320&version=nrsv     and     https://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Matthew%206:14%E2%80%9321&version=nrsv

Austerity and Affluence… two words that best describe, in my humble opinion, Vassiliou’s painting Clean Monday Feast in the Municipality of Rhodes Museum of Modern Greek Art. Let me explain…

Austerity… in the green, tripod, metal table, centrally displayed, full of traditional νηστίσιμα(fasting foods) humble delicacies that mark the beginning of Lent… for the day, Clean Monday, when relatives and friends celebrate the upcoming period of humility, self-criticism and mutual forgiveness. Vassiliou’s green coloured table displays a piece of Lagana, the unleavened popular bread of the day, Throubes, sun-dried black olives, crunchy spring onions, the grocer’s halva with tasty almonds, the heart of tender lettuce, a deep yellow plate full of crisp, local “greens,”  a white plate with salty, but so tasty red fish roe, and retsina, the Greek resinated white wine, popular in Greece for at least 2,000 years.

Affluence… in the love the artist held for the simple things of everyday life, insignificant at first sight, yet eloquent, meaningful and deeply moving for all the initiates of Greek Clean Monday rituals. Spero Vassiliou’s family tradition for Clean Monday was to invite his friends for a day’s feast on the roof(ταράτσα) of his house, below the Acropolis of Athens! The 1950 painting, titled Clean Monday Feast, is glowingly colourful, brightly sunny, gloriously festive!

Spero Vassiliou “studied painting at the “School of Arts” (later Athens School of Fine Arts) from 1921 to 1926. He was among the students who struggled for the reorganization of the School and who attended the studio of the newly elected professor, Nikos Lytras.” An active member of the Greek Artists Association, Vasiliou put together solo exhibitions as early as 1929, participated in creating stage design and costumes for about 140 plays, and won the prestigious Academy of Athens Award for designing the frescoes in the church of Saint Dionysius Areopagites in Athens. By the late 1940s, Vassiliou was an active member of the Greek intelligentsia representing a style linked to surrealism or pop art with a dominant dose of “aspects of contemporary Greek life in a picturesque and vivid way, sometimes inspired by folklore forms…”     http://dp.iset.gr/en/artist/view.html?id=1080

Municipality of Rhodes Museum of Modern Greek Art – The original Historic Building in Symi Square
https://www.rodos-palace.gr/discover-rhodes/510/Museums-and-Antiquities/

The painting Clean Monday Feast by Spero Vassiliou is part of the Collection of the Municipality of Rhodes Museum of Modern Greek Art. The driving force behind the creation of the Municipality Museum was Andreas Ioannou, “a distinguished scholar of modern Greek art, writer and prefect of Dodecanese.” He foresaw the leading role Rhodes could play as a cultural center of international fame and decided, back in the 1950s, to create an emblematic Museum of Modern Greek Art. “For this reason he came in contact with the leading Greek artists, acquired their emblematic works and housed them in the historic building of Symi Square at the entrance of the Medieval City of Rhodes, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.”     https://www.mgamuseum.gr/el/to-mouseio/  

Today, the Municipality Museum has 4 very distinct Art Galleries. The original Historic Building on Symi Square is the center where Engravings of the 19th – 20th centuries, Publications and Posters will be exhibited. The “Nestorideion Melathron” houses the Museum’s permanent collection of 20th century Modern Greek Art, including Vassiliou’s Clean Monday Feast. The Modern Art Centre, situated at the main thoroughfare in the Medieval Town “Palaio Syssitio,” has been chosen as the center for the first permanent exhibition dedicated to the famous and characteristic Rhodesian Ceramic Art. Finally, in 2010, the Museum inaugurated a new center dedicated to the cultural activities of the island.     https://www.mgamuseum.gr/el/to-mouseio/

Get enthused by Spero Vassiliou’s Painting Clean Monday Feast and prepare a Student Activity inspired by the depicted Kites! Use a List of ONLINE sites to find out what best suits your students! Click HERE!

Early Christian Funerary Paintings

Tomb Painting of a Bird (Lark?), early 5th century, fresco painting,  Museum for Byzantine Culture, Thessaloniki (Photo: Makis Skiatharesis, ΜΒΠ archive)

“A Work of Art which did not begin in Emotion is not Art” Paul Cezanne said… and I think of him every time I visit Room 3, “From the Elysian Fields to the Christian Paradise” in the Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki, to admire the exhibited Early Christian Funerary Paintings.    http://mbp.gr/en/room-3-elysian-fields-christian-paradise

Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki

Visiting the Thessaloniki Museum of Byzantine Culture is a true cultural experience. For years now, I have visited it with my Pinewood students, trying to instil upon them the fine essence of Byzantine art and culture. The actual Museum building comes to my assistance… every time!  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. Walking through the Museum with my students, one surprise surpasses the other. The floor and wall mosaics in the first Early Christian Period Room, attract everybody’s attention, the Byzantine tunics with their fine embroideries are eye-catching, the icons and the intricately illuminated manuscript in the Middle Byzantine Period Room are definitely noticed. Finally, as we are about to leave, one last surprise: a beautiful Post-Byzantine golden eikonostaasi, one last startling work of art to ponder. After each visit, my students, pencils, notebooks and cameras, in hand, surprised and dazzled, come one step closer to understanding our Byzantine heritage! What more can I ask…    

Grade 6 students eploring the Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki, photographed by Kostas Papantoniou

When I visit the Museum of Byzantine Culture alone and am in a mood, I cannot fully describe, my steps take me directly to Room 3: “From the Elysian Fields to the Christian Paradise.” Dimly lit, usually very quiet, full of elusive treasures to discover, this is my place, the Room, I love…

Room 3: “From the Elysian Fields to the Christian Paradise” was the first Exhibition Room in the Museum to open, back on the 29th of March 1997. It was the result of an EU funded Research Program,  titled “The Transformation of the Roman World AD 400-900.” As the title of the Exhibition Room connotates, this is an area dedicated to afterlife during Late Antiquity. All exhibited items come from tombs in cemeteries excavated outside the Walls of Thessaloniki. They consist of funerary gifts, inscriptions, and items of worship of the dead. According to the Museum experts “The exhibit is complete with a series of extremely rare and unique funerary paintings. These illustrate in an exceptional way the transition from the Late Antiquity concept of the afterlife into a heavenly place of material prosperity, along with the shift from the funerary customs and decoration of Antiquity that still survives to the final triumph of the Cross with the emergence of the New Religion and the establishment of the belief for the Last Judgment and the Resurrection of the Dead.” http://mbp.gr/en/room-3-elysian-fields-christian-paradise

View of Room 3: “From the Elysian Fields to the Christian Paradise” in the Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki (Photo: ΜΒΠ archive)

It is these unique funerary paintings I seek out every time I visit my favourite Museum in Thessaloniki. They carry Hellenistic Naturalism and Roman Verism, traditional Late Antique or novel Christian subject matter, higher or poorer quality craftsmanship… all together, these amazing frescoes transfer me to an exciting world of unwavering changes and exciting cultural developments… the world of the Early Christian period and the artistic milieu of Thessaloniki, a city worth visiting!

Articles you might find interesting about Early Christian Funerary Paintings in Thessaloniki:    https://www.academia.edu/24852527/Iconographic_Programs_of_the_Early_Christian_Tombs_of_Thessaloniki_in_the_Context_of_the_Contemporary_Traditions_of_the_Funerary_Art_English_translation_     and    https://bookonlime.ru/lecture/8-early-christian-funerary-painting-thessaloniki-macedonian-and-roman-traditions    and    https://www.didaktorika.gr/eadd/handle/10442/13516

For a Student Activity on Early Christian Funerary Painting, please… Click HERE!

The Mauritshuis

Hans Holbein the Younger (formerly attributed to)
Portrait of a Woman from Southern Germany, c. 1520 – 1525, oil on panel, 45×34 cm, The Mauritshuis in The Hague

“A visit to a museum is a search for beauty, truth, and meaning in our lives. Go to museums as often as you can” wrote Maira Kalman and she couldn’t be more right. Go to the  Mauritshuis in the Hague, stand in front of the Portrait of a Woman from Southern Germany and quietly wait for the experience to envelop you!

Back in 2006, I visited the Mauritshuis in the Hague for the first time, and I will never forget the Experience. It is the kind of Museum I particularly enjoy and love… small, intimate and colourful!    https://www.mauritshuis.nl/en/

Designed as a private house for Johan Maurits of Nassau, Count (from 1664), Prince of Nassau-Siegen, Grand Master of the Order of Saint John (Bailiwick of Brandenburg) and governor of Dutch Brazil, the   Mauritshuis is palatial in both, inspiration and essence. The Prince of Nassau-Siegen hired the finest architects of the time in The Netherlands, Jacob van Campen and his assistant Pieter Post, to design and materialize his dream residence. Johan Maurits, however, was not in a harry! As governor of the Dutch Brazil and one of Holland’s preeminent military leaders, he travelled extensively, while his architects were busy building important architectural works to establish their name. So, the Mauritshuis started in 1636 and finished in 1641. The Prince lived in the house for only three years, from 1644 to 1647, after which he moved to Germany for yet another important post, to become stadtholder of Kleef.

Mauritshuis is often referred to as Sugar Palace, but this is not a reference to the light-coloured natural stones used for building its façade. Johan Maurits earned a lot of money in Brazil trading in sugar cane, and Mauritshuis was made possible thanks to cane sugar and to the efforts of enslaved men and women from Africa. Sugar Palace is just one reminder of European colonialism and exploitation! https://www.mauritshuis.nl/en/discover/mauritshuis/history-of-the-building/

Today, the building Johan Maurits of Nassau commissioned is one of the finest examples of Classicist Dutch Architecture in The Netherlands and the Home of a Great Collection of Dutch Masterpieces. Mauritshuis is the home of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring or the astounding View of Delft,  Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp or his 1669 Self-Portrait, Carel Fabritius’ Goldfinch of 1654, Paulus Potter’s Bull of 1647, and The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man of 1615 by two famous Flemish masters: Rubens and Brueghel.

Hans Holbein the Younger (formerly attributed to)
Portrait of a Woman from Southern Germany, c. 1520 – 1525, oil on panel, 45×34 cm, The Mauritshuis in The Hague

Today, I would like to stand in front of a Renaissance Painting I find alluring… the Portrait of a Woman from Southern Germany of 1520-25, formerly attributed to Hans Holbein the Younger. Her face is so striking, standing out well against a rather cool, blue background… beautiful but stark, pale, yet bright, clear and strong. She wears a finely pleated collared blouse, a fur-lined jacket fastened with a red cord and a rather old-fashioned cap and veil, like those worn by townswomen in Southern Germany. Whoever painted this magnificent Portrait, the Woman from Southern Germany, young and demure, greets us with her hands clasped, her eyes modestly cast down, and a faint smile to brighten her whole face! She is grand! https://www.mauritshuis.nl/en/explore/the-collection/artworks/portrait-of-a-woman-from-southern-germany-275/detailgegevens/

For a PowerPoint on more Renaissance Paintings in the Mauritshuis Museum, please… click HERE!

The Philadelphia Crucifixion

Rogier van der Weyden, 1399 or 1400 – 1464
Crucifixion Diptych, c. 1460, oil on oak panels. Left panel: 180.3 × 93.8 cm – Right panel: 180.3 × 92.6 cm, Philadelphia Museum of Art

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” the first thing that comes to my mind when I see Rogier van der Weyden’s Philadelphia Crucifixion!

Spiritual, innovative, intense, unique, sophisticated… here are some adjectives I can use to describe this very special Diptych, the great master of Northern Renaissance, Rogier van der Weyden, created back in 1460. Painted with vibrant colours, warm and engaging in some parts, but equally cool and standing apart, in others, Rogier’s colours create an atmosphere of poise, composure and utter sorrow. The two panels are quite distinct, as the right one, heavenly and unearthly, is dedicated to Christ’s greatest moment of Sacrifice, and the left, depicting Saint John the Evangelist supporting a devastated Mary, grounds us to human reality. Yet, the two panels unite through homogeneity in the background, and Mary’s tunic that trails from left to right, creating together, a unique composition.

Not only so… as the Philadelphia Crucifixion, his finest, in my humble opinion, masterpiece, proves Rogier to be the master conductor of a symphony in lines, shapes and glorious colours.

Just observe how masterfully he uses straight, vertical and curved lines… Bold straight lines mark the cornice of the background wall and highlight the face of Christ. The vertical lines of the cross and Christ’s body enhance the necessary need for monumentality and stability, while the outstretched and crossed hands add to Christ’s Pathos. Curved lines observe the postures of both figures on the left panel, John and Mary, adding emotional warmth and humanity. Finally, an imaginary diagonal line, pulls us towards the lower part of the right, Crucifixion panel, emphasizing the meaning of Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross with the depiction of “Adam’s” Skull on the hill of Golgotha.

Equally important to consider are the shapes Rogier incorporates in his composition and the colours of his palette. The highlight, similarly important in both panels, is undoubtedly the use of two vivid red rectangular pieces of cloth hanging over the background wall, creating the ideal setting for the three protagonists of this amazing Crucifixion. While the hanging cloth is painted a vivid red, the garments the three figures in the composition wear, bathed in stark light, are the palest, crispiest tints the artist could use.

The meaning of this composition is complex. The way these amazing panels were used is equally perplexing… The following Bibliography might help…

Mark S. Tucker, from the Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2014, pp. 98–99. http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/102845.html    and    https://www.facebook.com/rvdweyden/posts/crucifixion-diptych-the-crucifixion-with-the-virgin-and-saint-john-the-evangelis/10162026910315231/

Dr. Christopher D.M. Atkins and Dr. Beth Harris, “Rogier van der Weyden, The Crucifixion, with the Virgin and Saint John the Evangelist Mourning,” in Smarthistory, June 20, 2018, accessed April 15, 2020… https://smarthistory.org/rogier-van-der-weyden-the-crucifixion-with-the-virgin-and-saint-john-the-evangelist-mourning/

The Wikipedia site on Rogier’s PhiladelphiaCrucifixion is interesting and rich… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crucifixion_Diptych_(van_der_Weyden)

For a Student Activity on the discussed Diptych, please… click HERE!

San Michele in Africisco has an amazing story to tell!

The San Michele Apse Mosaic is the main attraction of the Bode Museum in Berlin.

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.

Apse mosaic from San Michele in Africisco in Ravenna, partly labeled in Italian, signed Puhl & Wagner, 2nd half of the 19th century, watercolor, 48×61 cm, Berlin, sculpture collection and Museum of Byzantine Art SMB

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

Valuable information about the Church and its Mosaics can be accessed in “Reassembled Art and History: The San Michele in Africisco (Ravenna)Mosaics” by Carla Linville White, 2014, Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College Master’s Theses: https://docplayer.net/54185237-Reassembled-art-and-history-the-san-michele-in-africisco-ravenna-mosaics.html

For a 3D Reconstruction of San Michele in Africisco by Lorenzo Mariani, please see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FON1E-z5sIU

For a PowerPoint on the Church of San Michele Africisco, please… check HERE!

Troy: Myth and Reality

Filippo Albacini, 1777–1858
Wounded Achilles, 1825, marble, commissioned for the sculpture gallery at Chatsworth House, Achilles © The Devonshire Collections, Chatsworth. Reproduced by permission of Chatsworth Settlement Trustees
https://www.britishmuseum.org/exhibitions/troy-myth-and-reality

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!)

Grade 4 Student Works on the Shield of Achilles

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!

The British Museum asks us to “tread the line between myth and reality in this phenomenal new exhibition” and watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BntZ-34PCWY

Who can really resist such well-presented… drama!