Sargent, Whistler, and Venetian Glass: American Artists and the Magic of Murano(October 8, 2021 – May 8, 2022, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC, USA) brings to life the Venetian glass revival of the late nineteenth century and the artistic experimentation the city inspired for visiting artists. It is the first comprehensive examination of American tourism, artmaking, and art collecting in Venice, revealing the glass furnaces and their new creative boom as a vibrant facet of the city’s allure… write the Smithsonian American Art Museum experts, and I was “hooked” to virtually explore this amazing Exhibition. I was particularly intrigued by the reference to the Magic of Murano, and the age-old Venetian industry of glassmaking. Exploring the artworks exhibited, I came upon a Byzantine-Style Mosaic Necklace with Christ and Twelve Apostles in the Smithsonian Collection, and I was determined to learn more about it! Well, I learned more… and less… https://americanart.si.edu/exhibitions/sargent-whistler-glass and https://s3.amazonaws.com/assets.saam.media/files/documents/2021-09/SWAVG%20checklist_FINAL.pdf
Back in 1929, the Byzantine-Style Necklace was part of an impressive donation to the Smithsonian’s “National Gallery of Art” (now SAAM), by the art collector John Gellatly. Originally, it was thought to be a piece of 6th century Byzantine Jewelry, but contemporary conservators believe it’s more likely a nineteenth-century imitation or forgery.
The necklace consists of 15 medallions presenting Christ in the middle (the biggest in size), the Twelve Apostles (receding, slightly, in size, six on either side of Christ), and medallions with Constantine’s Cross (the smallest two of the fifteen), at the two ends of the necklace. The necklace medallions are connected with gold chains of hollow wire! The rims of each medallion are decorated with hundreds of small gold balls, applied in a technique called granulation… a technique invented in the ancient world… declined in popularity after the first century BC, and was revived by the Castellani jewelry firm in the mid-19th century. Could the use of granulation make scholars begin to question the necklace’s Byzantine attribution?
Apparently, the conservator’s examination brought up more questions than answers, and as the Pietre Dure technique was popular in Florence, they jokingly question if the Smithsonian necklace was created by an itinerant nineteenth-century Florentine Pietre Dure stone craftsperson who moved to Venice to restore the San Marco mosaics and was commissioned by a wealthy patron to make a Byzantine-style necklace… One can only wonder!
Information on my presentation of the Necklace comes from the December 8, 2021article The Mystery Around a Byzantine-style Necklace – When SAAM’s “Art Doctors” Become Art Detectives by Ariel O’Connor and Sarah Montonchaikul… https://americanart.si.edu/blog/byzantine-art-mystery
“For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures; and that He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve; after that, He was seen of above five thousand brethren at once.” 1 Cor. 15:3-6… Holy Week in the Greek Orthodox Churchhttps://www.goarch.org/-/holy-week-in-the-eastern-orthodox-church
Lazarus Saturday… “Six
days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany…” (John 12:1)
According to Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, a Christian theologian and philosopher of the late 5th to early 6th century, colour RED is the colour of fire, flames, and Devine Energy… It is also the colour of blood, Christ’s blood to be more specific and thus the colour of Salvation for Mankind… https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pseudo-dionysius-areopagite/
The Raising of Lazarus, in this amazing 12th century Icon from Mount Athos, takes place in front of a blazing Byzantine RED background… It is part of the Collection of the Byzantine and Christian Museum at Athens, a Museum that houses over 25,000 artefacts dating from the 3rd century AD to present time. The Byzantine and Christian Museum is housed in Villa Ilissia, one of the loveliest buildings erected in Athens during its early years as the capital of the newly-founded Greek state. Villa Ilissia, designed by the architect Stamatis Kleanthis, was the winter residence of Sophie de Marbois-Lebrun, Duchess of Plaisance, a formidable lady with a remarkable fortune! https://www.byzantinemuseum.gr/en/ and https://www.byzantinemuseum.gr/en/museum/villa_ilissia/
Palm Sunday… “Rejoice greatly…O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, the
King comes unto Thee; he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon
an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.” (Zech. 9:9)
The Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem Manuscript Illumination in the 6th century Rossano Gospels is yet another blazing RED coloured Byzantine artwork. The fragmentary manuscript presents scenes from the Life of Christ, and sometimes small portraits of Old Testament prophets, prefiguring an event described in the New Testament. It contains the texts of Matthew and Mark written in fine silver and gold uncials on purple vellum. https://www.artesacrarossano.it/eng/codex.php
“The Rossano miniatures are painted with extraordinary refinement and economy. Like the illustrations in the Vienna Genesis, they distil the narrative action in a few convincing gestures. Hellenistic naturalism survives in the soft, highlighted garments, dramatic action, and details of the setting. Christ’s trial, for example, is depicted as an authentic court procedure. Nevertheless, a weakening of classical verisimilitude and vigour is evident throughout the manuscript; in the Mark page, the personification and garden wall appear flattened and show a tendency toward abstract pattern.” https://www.thebyzantinelegacy.com/rossano-gospels
Great Monday… “May no fruit ever come from you again!”
Monday of Holy Week commemorates the blessed and noble Joseph
and the fig tree which was cursed and withered by the Lord. The story of Joseph
of the Old Testament (Genesis 37-41) serves as a great example of a virtuous
man, a model of propriety and sincere observance of ethical principles. https://www.goarch.org/-/holy-week-in-the-eastern-orthodox-church
The Throne of Maximianus, in the Archiepiscopal Museum of Ravenna, is one of the greatest examples of 6th century Byzantine Art. The wooden core of this monumental Cattedra was covered with panels of ivory carvings wonderfully encased with strips of vine scrolls inhabited by birds and animals. Ivory panels decorating the back of the Throne show scenes from the Life of Christ, while the side panels depict scenes from the Story of Joseph from the Book of Genesis. The panels used in the front of the Throne depict the Four Evangelists left and right of John the Baptist, who is holding a medallion with the Lamb of God and Maximianus’s name above him. Scholars identify two different artists working on this amazing Early Byzantine masterpiece. The explanation can be simple… the Plague of Justinian probably caused the death of the first, maybe of Alexandrian origin, artist, so that a second artist was introduced to finish this amazing imperial commission. https://www.thebyzantinelegacy.com/maximian-throne
Great Tuesday… “Lord, she who has fallen in many sins, Recognizing Your Divinity, Took up the myrrh-bearer’s office, With tears brought you myrrh before your entombment.”
Great Wednesday… “Let no fear separate you from Me…” this
is the evening of repentance, confession and the remission of sins by Christ,
preparing the faithful to receive Holy Communion…
Walters manuscript W.592
is an illuminated and illustrated Arabic manuscript of the Gospels by Matthew
(Mattá), Mark (Marqus), Luke (Luqa), and John (Yuhanna) and was copied in Egypt
by Ilyas Basim Khuri Bazzi Rahib, who was most likely a Coptic monk, in Anno
Mundi 7192/AD 1684. The text is written in Naskh in black ink with rubrics in
red. The decoration is comprised of illuminated headpieces, numerous floral
paintings, and approximately fifty illustrations. It is worth browsing through
its pages… https://art.thewalters.org/detail/17922
The Walters Art Gallery Manuscript 592, is becoming one of my favourites… I enjoy the clarity of the compositions, the vibrancy of colours applied, the bold outlines and the pure joy of the floral decorative patterns used by the artist!
Great Thursday… “Take, eat;
this is my Body. Drink of it all of you; for this is my Blood of the New
Covenant” (Matthew 26:26-28)
Scenes of a Byzantine Mystical Supper, usually depict the event in a straight-forward manner, as described in the Gospels: the Twelve Disciples are seated around an oval table, John usually rests on Jesus’ bosom, and Judas dips his hand in the dish, revealing him to be Christ’s traitor. This is not the case in the 6th century Church of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna. Chris, dressed in purple, along with the 12 Disciples dressed in white, recline around a central table. The bread and fish on the table may refer to the miracle of the loaves and fishes portrayed on the opposite wall of the Church while the Bread explicitly relates that miracle to the Eucharist, which Jesus is believed to have instituted at the Last Supper. This is one of the 13 mosaics of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ along with the upper band of the right wall of the nave. https://www.christianiconography.info/Edited%20in%202013/Italy/sApolNuovoRightNave.lastSupper.html
Oh my sweet
spring, my sweetest child, where does your beauty fade? (Excerpt from the
Lamentations of Good Friday)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has among its many Byzantine Treasures, an Ivory Icon of the Crucifixion I particularly like. It is small in size like all Byzantine Ivory panels, but so rich in quality work… Under a richly textured canopy, the MET Crucifixion emphasizes Christ’s victory over death. Christ’s body lifelessly “suspends” on the Cross while his head gracefully falls forward and leans to his left shoulder. Mary and John stand on the sides of the Cross mourning with dignity, the three soldiers divide Christ’s garment, and at the very bottom, unique to this small ivory piece, the personification of Hades! Panofsky’s Renascence at its best! https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/464428
Great Saturday… “Arise, O God, and judge Thou
the earth…” (Vespers and Divine Liturgy of Saturday evening)
This amazing Icon at the Hellenic Institute in Venice comes from Constantinople and dates from the late 14th century. It is elegant and sophisticated, a fine example of the Late Paleologean style in painting. It depicts the Resurrection of Christ, or in true Byzantine style, the Descent of Christ into Hades, according to the occult gospel of Nicodemus. Christ is depicted in the center of the composition, within a radiant glory, stepping at the gates of Hades and lifting Adam from within an open sarcophagus. Behind Adam are Eve, the prophets and on the opposite side Biblical kings like Solomon, David, and prophets from the Old Testament. In the lower central part, an angel chains Hades, while at the top, against a glorious golden background, two angels fly, holding the symbols of Christ’s Passion… http://eib.xanthi.ilsp.gr/gr/icons.asp
For a PowerPoint on The Holy Week in the Greek Orthodox Church, please… click HERE!
“I paint because the spirits whisper madly inside my head.”El Greco: Formative Years introduces us to the world of Domenikos Theotokopoulos, and his Cretan period Icon of the Dormition of the Virgin, in the Cycladic Island of Syros.
Domenikos Theotokopoulos was a Cretan Greek, born at Handaka-Candia, present-day Herakleion, part of the thriving Republic of Venice. Archival research in Venice showed that between 1526-28 his family relocated from Chania to Handaka, where, in 1541 Domenikos was born. His Orthodox-Greek family belonged to the upper-middle class, as his father, Giorgos Theotokopoulos, worked for the government of the Venetian Republic, most probably as a merchant and a tax collector. Very little is known of Domenikos’s mother and early childhood. He was undoubtedly talented, and his father, realizing it, placed him as an apprentice in a painter’s workshop to learn this profitable trade. The name of his teacher is unknown, but judging from Domenikos’s earliest paintings, he was a great master of the Post-Byzantine Cretan School. Crete at the time was the center of a thriving artistic community and understanding the artist’s early influences and style is important in decoding his later work!
Very little is also known of Domenikos’s early years as a painter in Handaka, except a1563 reference on him as “a master painter” on a document issued by the Venetian Administration of Candia, and later, in 1566 his testament as a witness in a Candia solicitor’s document in which he is mentioned as ‘maistro Menegos Theotokopoulos, artist’. By late 1566, Domenikos was ready to pursue his career and artistic prospects in Crete were limited. On December 26, 1566, he asked permission from the Venetian authorities in Handaka to auction one of his paintings depicting the Passion of Christ, a painting estimated to be worth 80 ducats but sold for 70. This valuable information comes from the Venetian archives and proves two things. First, Domenikos was still in Crete in 1566, and second, he was an extremely important artist because the price of 70 ducats his small painting fetched was as high as any great Italian artist of the Renaissance would get. https://www.historical-museum.gr/webapps/elgreco/xronologio.php?lang=en
For a PowerPoint on El Greco: Formative Years, please… click HERE!
The Dormition of the Virgin, on the Island of Syros, is a fine example of Theotokopoulos’s 16th-century Cretan period where his personality and artistic being were formed. Greco’s signature on the base of the central candelabrum was discovered, in the process of restoring the Icon, in 1983 by archaeologist George Mastoropoulos. The Dormition’s undoubted attribution to Theotokopoulos helps scholars better understand and interpret the artist’s unique artistic idiom and early production.
The Icon follows the Post-Byzantine Orthodox tradition of painting, introducing at the same time elements of the Renaissance Mannerism. Today, in juxtaposition to his most “sublime” work, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, the Dormition is seen as Domeniko’s Archetypal representation of “a visionary experience” of two worlds, “the physical world of earth and the spiritual world of heaven, each portrayed in their own ways. Earth is captured on a normal scale with more proportional figures, whereas heaven is composed of swirling clouds and abstract shapes, with a more intangible quality to the figures. This clear distinction greatly allows for two ideas: on the one hand, a union between both worlds is proposed, on the other, the separation of the worlds is enhanced.” https://www.theartstory.org/artist/el-greco/artworks/#nav