Villa Pisanella in Boscoreale

Villa Pisanella, 40-20 BC, Fragment of a Fresco wall decoration from the upper floor of the Villa, featuring a Woman on a black background presenting fruits, Boscoreale Antiquarium, Italy

Boscoreale, write the Metropolitan Museum experts, an area about a mile north of Pompeii, was notable in antiquity for having numerous aristocratic country villas. This tradition endured into the time of the Bourbon kings, as is attested by the region’s name, the “Royal Forest,” which implies that Boscoreale was a hunting preserve. Some of the most important Roman “treasures” surviving from antiquity come from Roman Villas at Boscoreale built shortly after the middle of the first century BC. Villa Pisanella in Boscoreale was buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, but in 1868 excavations by Modestino Pulzella brought it back to a “second” life. During the 1895 excavation period, archaeologists came across a large quantity of gold coins, a few pieces of jewellery and an exceptional collection of silverware afterwards presented to the Louvre by Count Edmond de Rothschild. and

Villa Pisanella (old photo), looking North across Area A, the courtyard/peristyle and cella vinaria.

Villa Pisanella has been the subject of excavations, or rather of explorations, which date back to the last century, and were essentially aimed at the recovery of “treasures,” now dispersed in various museums, and at the preparation of building archaeological plans. During the 1894 and 1903 seasons, the famous Boscoreale Treasure of gold coins, jewellery, and silver tableware was unearthed, along with many bronze furnishings, household utensils, and parts of the Villa’s unpretentious fresco decoration in the Fourth Pompeian Style. All finds are now dispersed among the Louvre, where the gold and silver artefacts are housed, Berlin, the Field Museum in Chicago, and the Boscoreale Antiquarium in Italy. On completion of the 1894-1903 “excavations,” the villa was reburied.

Plan and Model of the reconstruction of the Villa “alla Pisanella” before the volcanic eruption of 79 AD

The Villa’s archaeological ground plan shows a modest “Villa Rustica.” It was the headquarters of a farming estate producing olive oil, grain, and enough wine to have two presses and 84 dolia (round fermentation vessels) in its court for fermentation. The owners lived in an apartment arranged in the Villa’s upper story. On the ground floor, archaeologists discovered a single big triclinium, a bath complex, a large kitchen, and the necessary rooms/areas for the management of the farm.

The most important Rooms/Areas in Villa Pisanella are: 1. The letter marks the Entrance of the Villa near the middle of the southwest side as shown in the plan. 2. The letter b marks the Inner Court, wide enough for carts and wagons. 3. Room d is the Villa’s large Kitchen with an open hearth almost in the center of the room, on which the remains of a fire were found, and Room k is the Bakery with a single mill and an oven. 4. Rooms e, f, and g indicate the Bath House of Villa Pisanella beautifully adorned with black and white, simple but elegant, floor mosaics. In the narrow area between Room g and Room i, opening to the Kitchen, archaeologists discovered the Villa’s Boiler Room with a lead-heated water reservoir standing on a masonry foundation. 5. Room i, is the Villa’s main Tool Room. 6. Room J marks the Villa’s only ground-floor Triclinium in which the remains of couches with luxurious bronze trimmings were discovered. 7. The long Room l on the northeast side of the court was the Torcularium where grapes were pressed to produce wine. At each end was a large press with a raised floor. 8. Room r and Room s were dedicated to the making of olive oil containing a small oil press in Room r and an olive crusher in Room s. 9. Area m is the Cella Vinaria, the area where 84 Dolia (round fermentation vessels) were discovered sunk in the ground. Local wine was stored in the Villa’s Dolia to ferment. According to Pliny’s ‘Natural History’ in Campania the best wine underwent fermentation in the open air, exposed to sun, wind, and rain.10. Area o is the Threshing Floor of Villa Pisanella. 11. Rooms marked c, are the Villa’s Cubicula (bedrooms).

In 1895, while excavating Room l, the Villa’s Torcularium for wine, archaeologists discovered a Hoard consisting of a large quantity of aurei coins (aureus is a Roman gold coin valued at 25 pure silver denarii), a few pieces of valuable jewelry, and an exceptional collection of silverware. After the Hoard’s amazing discovery, Vincenzo de Prisco, the owner of the property where Villa Pisanella was discovered, travelled to Paris where he sold the Boscoreale Treasure, as the Villa’s Hoard was named, to Museums and wealthy collectors. Part of the treasure, 109 pieces of silverware and jewelry, was bought by Baron Rothschild, who donated it to the Louvre Museum. A POST dedicated to the Boscoreale Treasure will be the subject on another BLOG presentation.

For a PowerPoint on Villa Pisanella, please… Check HERE!

Summer by Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, 1527-1593
The Four Seasons – Summer, 1563, oil on panel, 670×508 mm, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

Beneath the blazing sun’s relentless heat / men and flocks are sweltering, / pines are scorched. / We hear the cuckoo’s voice; then sweet songs of the turtle dove and finch are heard. / Soft breezes stir the air….but threatening north wind sweeps them suddenly aside. The shepherd trembles, fearful of violent storm and what may lie ahead.     /     His limbs are now awakened from their repose by fear of lightning’s flash and thunder’s roar, as gnats and flies buzz furiously around.     /     Alas, his worst fears were justified, as the heavens roar and great hailstones beat down upon the proudly standing corn. This is Antonio Lucio Vivaldi’s (1678 – 1741) Sonnet of L’Estate (Summer). The great composer wrote it as a descriptive accompaniment, experts believe, for the music of his “Four Seasons.” Today the first day of Summer, I took the time to listen, read and look at Summer by Giuseppe Arcimboldo! It was a magical time!

Giuseppe Arcimboldo was a very popular artist among royalty and wealthy patrons of 16th-century Europe. He became the official artist and Master of Festivals for three successive German Emperors. He was also in charge of creating costumes, stage settings, chariots, creative waterworks, and other diversions for courtly events and ceremonies. Last but not least, he directed the acquisitions for the royal cabinet of curiosities, which included art, antiques, curios, oddities of nature, and exotic animals and birds. 

Four hundred years later, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, is considered the great master of Renaissance allegorical painting. He is celebrated for using flowers, fruits, and vegetables, associated with the Seasons of the year, to create paintings of whimsical “composite heads,” and thus, he acquired international fame and fortune! For Emperor Maximilian II, for example, he painted in 1563, his signature Portraits of the 4 Seasons, exhibited today in Vienna, Paris, and Madrid. The 1563 set of four “composite” Portraits of the Seasons became so popular, that the artist replicated them multiple times over the course of his life. The originals, gifted to Maximilian II, were the plainest and most unadorned of all sets he later created.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, 1527-1593
The Four Seasons – Summer (detail), 1563, oil on panel, 670×508 mm, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

Archiboldo’s 1563 Portrait of Summer is the perfect example to celebrate the beginning of the Summer season. Interestingly, it is on “Summer” that Arcimboldo chooses to sign his name for the series, carefully woven into her gown. Hidden in the dress’s collar is “Giuseppe Arcimboldi • F,” where the F stands for “Fecit” meaning “he has done it,” and in the sleeve of the gown is the date of completion “1563.” The date in the original Portraits of the 4 Seasons is very important to help scholars date the artist’s subsequent copies, and discern changes in the composition.–the-fantast/fourseasons/summer

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, 1527-1593
The Four Seasons – Summer (detail of signature), 1563, oil on panel, 670×508 mm, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria
Giuseppe Arcimboldo, 1527-1593
The Four Seasons – Summer, 1563, oil on panel, 670×508 mm, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria The Four Seasons – Spring, 1563, oil on canvas, 76×63.5 cm, Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid, Spain

A comparison between Arcimboldo’s Portraits of Spring and Summer is helpful and revealing. Spring is presented as a youthful, flowery, “fresh” girl, while Summer, is a young woman, mature and fertile. The Portrait of Spring is composed entirely of flowers and bright green leaves. The Portrait of Summer is a lush arrangement of heavy, ripe fruit and vegetables, bountiful, unblemished, but matured. Arcimboldo uses a large peach for the cheeks, quince, garlic, young white onions, yellow beets, and white eggplant. The mouth and lips are formed of cherries and the open peapod within imitates a row of teeth. The nose is a young wild cucumber, and the chin is a pear, the eye shines as a glassy sour cherry between two small pears… What an arrangement! My favorite part is what Lady-Summer wears… a hat made of fruit and vegetables bedded in greenery, from which emerge oat spikes resembling a hat feather, a magnificent, sur mesure, woven straw jacket, and a single artichoke presented as a special, luxurious piece of jewelry! What an opulent vision the Portrait of Summer is! and and–the-fantast/fourseasons/summer

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

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 filmmaker Philip Haas, created in 2012. Interesting… to say the least!

Philip Haas, b. 1954
The Four Seasons – Summer, 2012, fiberglass, H. 4.572 m, first seen in the garden of the Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, UK

Donatello’s Pazzi Madonna

Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi (Donatello), ca. 1386-1466
Madonna and Child (the Pazzi Madonna), 1420-25, Marble, 74,5 x 73 x 6,5 cm, Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin

…Donatello was so admirable in knowledge, in judgment, and in the practice of his art that he may be said to have been the first to illustrate the art of sculpture among the moderns; and he deserves the more commendation because in his time few antiquities had been uncovered. He was one of those who aroused in Cosimo de’ Medici the desire to bring antiquities into Florence. He was most liberal and courteous, and kinder to his friends than himself; nor did he care for money, keeping it in a basket hanging from the ceiling, where his workmen and friends could help themselves without saying anything to him. When he got old, therefore, and could not work, he was supported by Cosimo and his friends. Cosimo dying, recommended him to Piero his son, who, to carry out his father’s wishes, gave him… enough… Giorgio Vasari writes back in 16th century Florence, to pass the rest of his life as friend and servant of the Medici without trouble or care.  Please allow me to present Donatello’s Pazzi Madonna of c. 1420, as an introduction to Donatello, The Renaissance Exhibition, currently at the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi and the Musei del Bargello in Florence, Italy (March 19-July31). and

Celebrated as one of the greatest Renaissance artists, Donatello’s Pazzi Madonna, depicts both mother and child with their faces turned towards one another and away from viewers, says Francesco Caglioti, curator of the Donatello, The Renaissance Exhibition. Their foreheads are touching, and they share a profoundly intimate moment which every mother has experienced, he continues. It is a profoundly intimate, emotional, and thus, a powerful work of art, proving Donatello to be an exceptionally talented artist in translating nature into art.

The Pazzi Madonna in the Berlin Staatlichen Museum is believed to originate from the Palazzo Pazzi in Florence, where according to a 1677 Florentine Guide Book, the sculpture could be seen in the Palazzo Garden. Although this identification is challenged, it is worth reading the Renaissance text… In the house of Francesco Pazzi there is a beautiful marble Madonna in low relief by Donatello; the Christ Child, seated upon a cushion, is supported by the Virgin’s right hand, while he, with his raised left hand, holds the veil that hangs from her head. It is charming in every part, the draperies are most beautiful, and the Virgin’s tenderness toward her son is expressed with great art and is such, that in the following succession, Alessandro, the father of Francesco, bought it for 500 scudi according to the valuation that was made.

Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi (Donatello), ca. 1386-1466
Madonna and Child (the Pazzi Madonna) (detail-faces), 1420-25, Marble, 74,5 x 73 x 6,5 cm, Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin
Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi (Donatello), ca. 1386-1466
Madonna and Child (the Pazzi Madonna) (detail-lower part), 1420-25, Marble, 74,5 x 73 x 6,5 cm, Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin

Donatello’s Pazzi Madonna is greatly admired for its Renaissance “modernity.” The artist revived, for example, Antiquity by using and “playing” with monochrome, off-white coloured marble for his bas-relief, diverging from the popular tradition of using color in sculpture. He employed linear perspective to present spatial perception, a novel, introduced in 1415, “invention” by Filippo Brunelleschi. He used strong foreshortening to accentuate the best point of vision for the viewer. He created a tender, yet emotionally powerful, very “humanized” composition. The Pazzi Madonna is a Donatello masterpiece that still inspires and enchants viewers today.

Today, Francesco Caglioti, curator of the Donatello, The Renaissance Exhibition believes that Donatello is a colossal artist, more important than Giotto, Raphael or Caravaggio because those three revolutionized the traditions of their time. Donatello broke with tradition completely, taking inspiration from the art of antiquity and the Middle Ages and mixing all those elements with his own vision to create an entirely new language for art. Donatello, The Renaissance Exhibition is currently on view in Florence (March 19-July31), will be presented in the Berlin Gemäldegalerie (September2-January 8 2023), and in London at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2023. This is a historic Exhibition hosting over 130 works from the world’s leading museums and collections set out to reconstruct the astonishing career of one of the most important and influential masters of Italian art of any age.

For a new PowerPoint on Donatello’s Masterpieces, please… Click HERE!

Teaching with Donatello is a set of student activities and worksheets inspired by the great Italian artist I much admire… Click…

The commemorative Donatello, The Renaissance Exhibition Book

Simon Bening’s June

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, June (f. 23v),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’s June presentation is part of an amazing, illuminated manuscript of the 16th century. It presents the quintessential games of chivalry… and I think of Gauvain Micaille, the gallant Frenchman squire from Beauce, a gentleman of tried courage, who had advanced himself by his own merit, without any assistance from others… Is there among you any gentleman who for the love of his lady is willing to try with me some feat of arms? He questions… If there should be any such, here I am, quite ready to sally forth completely armed and mounted, to tilt three courses with the lance, to give three blows with the battle-ax, and three strokes with the dagger. Now look, you English, if there be none among you in love… he continues, and he jousts for the honour of France showing his courage and bravery… an extraordinary man, a wonderful story, and a brilliant manuscript illumination by Simon Bening!

Unhorse Your Foe! people cried… and off “they” went to “battle.” “They” were armored knights striding armored horses who tested their skills in mock combats, called “tournaments.” These games were a way for them to practice for battle in between wars, and display their talents in front of a broad audience… writes Rachel Smith, of the MET in New York. The June page of the Book of Golf (f. 23v) displays a perfect tournament day in a Flemish city. and

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, June (Details, f. 23v and f. 24r), 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, combining cool, greys and blues, and warm tones of ochre and red, organized a “busy” three-parts composition. The background presents a Flemish city with impressive buildings and the tournament audience, in great numbers, enthusiastically looking at the event through windows, standing behind parapets, seated on tall parapets,  or sitting in the “royal box.” They seem to be finely dressed and adorned with elaborate headdresses, talking to each other, full of excitement… maybe contemplating, even debating whom they are going to favor!

The Knights, fully armored and crowned with striking plumes are depicted riding their equally remarkably armored horses. They “fight” for victory. Their goal is to show gallantry and honour… their hope is to attract the attention of “their” Lady and get a token of her favor… a veil, a ribbon, maybe a wreath!

The “busiest” part is definitely the foreground of Bening’s composition. Attended by their servants are two knights on their mounts attempting to strike the other down with their swords. Their broken lances lie on the ground. A mounted herald on the left sounds a small trumpet, whilst two armed riders on the right wait their turn to fight.

The middle ground area of June’s composition is where Jousting takes place. Simon Benning depicts two knights on either side of a palisade, ready for the tournament “game” to commence! They wear a full-length armor made of thin, sliding steel plates, over a velvet garment, a helmet, finished with plumes, and carry their battling lance. According to the Wikipedia… Jousting is a martial game or hastilude between two horsemen wielding lances with blunted tips, often as part of a tournament. The primary aim was to replicate a clash of heavy cavalry, with each participant trying hard to strike the opponent while riding towards him at high speed, breaking the lance on the opponent’s shield or jousting armor if possible, or unhorsing him. The joust became an iconic characteristic of the knight in Romantic medievalism. The participants experience close to three and a quarter times their body weight in G-forces when the lances collide with their armor.”

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

For information on the art of the armorer, and how arms and armor, are pivotal not only in conquest and defense but also in court pageantry and ceremonial events like tournaments… Check the Metropolitan Museum site…

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, June (f. 23v and 24r),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

Irises by Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh, Dutch Artist, 1853 – 1890
Irises, 1889, Oil on Canvas, 74.3 × 94.3 cm, The J. Paul Getty Museum, CA, USA

Well. Then we had the irises, rising beautiful and cool on their tall stalks, like blown glass, like pastel water momentarily frozen in a splash, light blue, light mauve, and the darker ones, velvet and purple, black cat’s ears in the sun, indigo shadow, and the bleeding hearts, so female in shape it was a surprise they’d not long since been rooted out… writes Margaret Atwood describing Serena Joy Waterford’s Spring Garden in The Handmaid’s Tale. Well, how can we best describe the Getty painting of Irises by Vincent van Gogh?

In May 1889, write the Getty experts, after episodes of self-mutilation and hospitalization, Vincent van Gogh chose to enter an asylum in Saint-Rémy, France. Within the first week, he began Irises, working from nature in the asylum’s garden. These deep violet-blue coloured Irises are popularly known as Iris Vulgaris or Iris Germnica, and they seem to grow, even unattended, in Southern France, like in the overgrown “deserted” garden of the Saint-Rémy Asylum. and, page 21

If you are wondering why van Gogh painted Irises… consider the following two reasons. Vincent van Gogh loved to paint flowers! They are colorful, and they allowed the artist to experiment with tints, and shades, intensity, and value. Like Eugène Delacroix, who he considered to be “the greatest colorist of all,” van Gogh used colour to offer contrasting effects and create depth by projecting specific parts of his paintings. The simplest explanation, however, is that Irises, magnificent in every aspect, were at the time available, in full bloom, in the Asylum garden… “begging” van Gogh to paint them! The artist considered the Getty Irises painting a mere study. His brother Theo, however, quickly recognized its quality and submitted it to the Salon des Indépendants in September 1889, writing Vincent of the exhibition: “[It] strikes the eye from afar. It is a beautiful study full of air and life.” Could these magnificent flowers provide the artist’s troubled psyche with feelings of hope? Did they help him ease the pain and temporarily appease his mental state? One can only hope! and  

Vincent van Gogh, Dutch Artist, 1853 – 1890
Irises (detail), 1889, Oil on Canvas, 74.3 × 94.3 cm, The J. Paul Getty Museum, CA, USA

The Vincent van Gogh Getty Irises painting is unique. He carefully studied the flowers’ movements and shapes to create a variety of curved silhouettes bounded by wavy, twisting, and curling lines. It is only right to mark that the French art critic Octave Mirbeau, one of Van Gogh’s earliest supporters, wrote: “How well he has understood the exquisite nature of flowers!”

For a PowerPoint on Irises by Vincent van Gogh, please… Click HERE!

It is interesting to Watch the Getty Museum Video presentation Van Gogh’s Irises: A Closer Look and Read the results of this examination…

A Rare Opportunity to Study Van Gogh’s Irises, The J. Paul Getty Museum, CA, USA

Listen to a Getty Museum Podcast on Irises by Vincent van Gogh…

Another interesting Video of an in-depth analysis of Irises by Vincent van Gogh…

Vincent van Gogh, Dutch Artist, 1853 – 1890
Irises (detail), 1889, Oil on Canvas, 74.3 × 94.3 cm, The J. Paul Getty Museum, CA, USA

Mother and Child by Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso, Spanish Artist, 1881–1973
Mother and Child, ca. 1921, Oil on canvas, 142.9 × 172.7 cm, Art Institute, Chicago, IL, USA

Mother’s Day is an age-old tradition that can be traced back to the ancient Greeks, who held spring festivities to honour Rhea, Μήτηρ θεών, the Mother of the Gods. Let’s celebrate Mother’s Day, the 8th of May in 2022, with a poem by Lola Ridge (1873-1941)… Your love was like moonlight / turning harsh things to beauty, / so that little wry souls / reflecting each other obliquely / as in cracked mirrors . . . / beheld in your luminous spirit / their own reflection, / transfigured as in a shining stream, / and loved you for what they are not… and the painting Mother and Child by Pablo Picasso at the Art Institute of Chicago…

Picasso’s painting of 1921 exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago, depicting a Mother and Child has an interesting story to tell! More so, the relationship Picasso had with the Art Institute and the city of Chicago, a city the artist never visited, is interesting, and goes back in time! In 1913, for example, the Art Institute of Chicago became the first American art museum to present Picasso’s work when it hosted the Armory Show from March 24 to April 16. In 1923, a gift to the Institute by Robert Allerton, a businessman and Art Institute trustee, a drawing of a Young Woman and a Man (1905), became the first Picasso work of art to enter the Institute’s collection. In 1926, The Old Guitarist (1903–04), became the first Picasso painting to be put on permanent display, definitely a daring step at the time. In 1954, the Art Institute acquired Picasso’s painting Mother and Child (1921). Today, the Art Institute of Chicago has in its collection 357 works of art created by Pablo Picasso.

The Picasso-Art Institute relationship gets especially interesting in 1968 when William Hartmann of the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill architect company, visited Picasso and showed him a photograph of the artist’s painting Mother and Child as exhibited at the Art Institute. Picasso, according to Stephanie D’Alessandro, Curator of Modern Art at the Art Institute on the 2013 Exhibit Picasso and Chicago, upon seeing the photograph disappeared and came back with a fragment of a painting depicting a seated man. Give this to Chicago. They’ll know what to do with it, the artist apparently said to Hartman. Picasso’s gift, the Art Institute experts realized, had once been part of the Mother and Child composition in the Institute’s collection. When we X-rayed the painting [to see the layers that had been painted over, D’Alessandro explained …we discovered that the man was originally dangling a fish over the child’s head. What a story…

Pablo Picasso, Spanish Artist, 1881–1973
Mother and Child and Fragment of the “Father”, ca. 1921, Oil on canvas, 142.9 × 172.7 cm, Art Institute, Chicago, IL, USA

Between 1921 and 1923, when the Chicago painting of Mother and Child was created, Picasso was a happy man! He was married to Olga Khokhlova, a Russian dancer of the Ballets Russes of Sergei Diaghilev, and the father of a boy named Paulo (Paul, b. February 4, 1921). During this relaxed period of time, Picasso produced according to the Art Institute experts, at least twelve works on the subject of mothers and children, returning to a theme that he had explored during his Blue Period. But whereas those figures are frail and anguished, his classical-period figures, with their sculptural modeling and solidity, are majestic in proportion and feeling. The 1921-1923 paintings were influenced by ancient Roman Art monumentality, figurative Renaissance frescoes, the finely modeled odalisques of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, the late, oddly proportioned female nudes of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and his own family life.

Pablo Picasso, Spanish Artist, 1881–1973
Mother and Child and Fragment of Mother and Child (as presented in the Art Institute of Chicago 2013 Exhibition Picasso and Chicago), ca. 1921, Oil on canvas, 142.9 × 172.7 cm, Art Institute, Chicago, IL, USA
Photo Credit:

The Mother and Child painting by Pablo Picasso at the Art Institute of Chicago is majestic in proportion and feeling. The depicted infant sits on the mother’s lap and reaches up to touch her. The woman, dressed in a Grecian gown, gazes intently at her child. Behind them stretches a simplified background of sand, water, and sky. Picasso’s treatment of the pair is not sentimental, but the relationship expresses the serenity and stability that characterized his own life at this time.

For a PowerPoint on the 1921-1923 theme of Picasso’s Mother and Child, please… Click HERE!

Woman in Monsieur Forest’s Garden

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, French Artist, 1864 – 1901
Woman in Monsieur Forest’s Garden, 1891, Oil on Board, 60,7 × 55 cm, Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation, Athens, Greece

How vainly men themselves amaze / To win the palm, the oak, or bays, / And their uncessant labours see / Crown’d from some single herb or tree, / Whose short and narrow verged shade / Does prudently their toils upbraid; / While all flow’rs and all trees do close / To weave the garlands of repose …     /     Fair Quiet, have I found thee here, / And Innocence, thy sister dear! / Mistaken long, I sought you then / In busy companies of men; / Your sacred plants, if here below, / Only among the plants will grow. / Society is all but rude, / To this delicious solitude… writes Andrew Marvell (1621 – 1678) back in the 17th century… and I think that maybe… Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s Woman in Monsieur Forest’s Garden, sitting uptight with fingers intertwined, seeks in the wild garden of Père Forestdelicious solitude… a place of repose and restfulness… an escape from the more frenetic world of public life that lies beyond the boundaries of the garden. and

In Montmartre, in Paris, where Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec lived, at the bottom of rue Caulaincourt, not far from Place de Clichy, Père Forest, an enthusiastic Parisian archer, owned a half-wild, half-cultivated garden where he often welcomed friends to walk in the undergrowth. Among Père Forest’s friends was Toulouse-Lautrec, whose studio was nearby, and upon the arrival of spring, used to walk down to his friend’s garden, where he would receive his models, paint en plein air surrounded by a large group of onlookers, and share many drinks with old friends and acquaintances till the late hours of the afternoon.

From 1889 to 1891, Lautrec experimented with the plein-air approach of the Impressionists, producing a group of studies showing figures set against the foliage in the garden of Monsieur Forest, his neighbor in the Paris district of Montmartre. Lautrec referred to these self-imposed exercises in technique as “impositions,” for which friends, as well as models, posed. One such “imposition” is the Basil and Elise Goulandris’s Foundation painting titled Woman in Monsieur Forest’s Garden of 1891. and

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, French Artist, 1864 – 1901
Woman in Monsieur Forest’s Garden (detail), 1891, Oil on Board, 60,7 × 55 cm, Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation, Athens, Greece

The woman depicted in the Lautrec painting in Athens was named Honorine. She was most probably not a professional model or prostitute, and she was painted at least twice. In the Athens version, according to the Goulandris Foundation experts, the model appears in a three-quarter pose, looking the viewer straight in the eye, with her fingers intertwined, without wearing accessories. The painter opted for a minimalist palette with white, green, violet, and a warmer touch for the reddish-gold hair. The face is undoubtedly more treated: the thin brush strokes are small and precise; the features are subtly rendered, refuting the accusations that the painter constantly pursued caricature at that time. The gaze, reflecting a subtle worry, is not at all distant, but straight and gracious.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, French Artist, 1864 – 1901
Woman with Gloves (Honorine Platzer), 1891, oil on cardboard, 54×40 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France  

Toulouse-Lautrec painted Honorine Platzer three times as he clearly had some affection for her. In the Musée d’Orsay painting Woman with Gloves, the artist captured his model almost in spite of herself, her gaze focused elsewhere… ignoring the painter. Honorine was a slim, elegant woman with beautiful strawberry-blond hair and a gentle yet strong character. Both paintings show how close Toulouse-Lautrec approach to portraiture was to the Impressionists, who frequently painted outside using colours splashed with sunlight. But whereas the Impressionists searched out the passing moment, the ephemeral nature of the effects of light, and did not linger over the features in this type of portrait, Lautrec, in contrast, would disregard the changing elements to capture the inner personality of his models.

For a PowerPoint on Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s Portraits of Women in the Garden of Père Forest, please… Check HERE!

Simon Bening’s May

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, May (f. 22v),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 American children’s poet Annette Wynne introduces us to charming spring with… May / Has such a winsome way, / Loves to love and laugh and play, / To be pretty all the day, / Never loves to sulk and frown, / As April does; when rain comes down, / May is sorry, says: “Rain, please / Go away soon, flowers and trees / Love the merry shining sun, / Want to laugh now, every one, / For the happy time’s begun.” / All you people who love play, / Love to love the livelong day, / Do you not love May / With her winsome way? The artist of the Golf Book, one of the finest manuscript illuminators of the Northern Renaissance introduces us to the month of May with an amazing miniature… Let’s celebrate with Simon Bening’s May…a day of boating, merriment, and joy!

Folio 22v of the Golf Book, showing the Month of May, is one of the most glorious pages Simon Bening, the renowned Flemish artist from the Netherlands, ever created. It is a characteristic Renaissance Maying scene in its depiction of a spring landscape (Bening is known for his landscapes), with green leaves, and branches of greenery… and much more! At first glance, it presents two distinctive scenes related to May Day and a glorious river-side cityscape background scene of fortification walls, several well-constructed secular buildings, and what seems like two impressive Gothic churches. It also includes an anecdotal scene of a small gate leading to the river and a young going down the gate steps leading to the river with a container in each hand, perhaps to fill them with water… so typical Flemish! and

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, May (f. 22v, 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

The main scene, in the foreground of the composition, depicts a May Day boating trip along the local canals. In this scene, two boatmen, one at each end of the boat, are rowing a nobleman and two well-dressed ladies along a river, just about to glide under an impressive arched bridge. Enjoying the trip are a man dressed in a large, loose French gown with a sable collar, playing, appropriately I would add,  an ambiguous-looking wind instrument that could be a flute, and two women, dressed in gold-toned garments, one of whom plays the lute, equally appropriate for a female, with a plectrum. The boat is filled with flowering branches reminding the viewer that this is a May Day excursion indeed. and

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, May (f. 22v, 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
Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, May (f. 22v, 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

The middle ground scene focuses on the activity taking place on the bridge connecting the city to the riversides. Horses are depicted crossing the bridge, and Bening directs the attention of the viewer to an aristocratic couple, well-dressed, crowned with large, white flowers and carrying branches. They seem to be returning “home” after a day of merriment in the countryside. Were they part of the elegant group of riding aristocrats depicted strolling through the wood in the bas-de-page scene of folio 23r? It would have been interesting to know what Simon Bening thought!

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

For references to Student Activities on Simon Bening’s May Day page, please… Check HERE!

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, May (f. 22v and 23r),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

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,_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 Fornarina and

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

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… and and

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

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…

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

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! pp. 132-135

For a PowerPoint on Raphael’s Portraits of Women, please… Check HERE!

Good Friday – Μεγάλη Παρασκευή

Book cover with a silver-gilt Spanish setting of a Byzantine Ivory Crucifixion, 10th century (ivory); late 11th century (setting), silver-gilt with pseudo-filigree, glass, crystal, and sapphire cabochons, ivory on wood support, Overall: 26.4 × 21.9 × 2.5 cm, the MET, NY, USA

Today he who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon a Tree. He who is King of the Angels is arrayed in a crown of thorns. He who wraps the heaven in clouds is wrapped in mocking purple. He who freed Adam in the Jordan receives a blow on the face. The Bridegroom of the Church is transfixed with nails. The Son of the Virgin is pierced by a lance. We worship your Sufferings, O Christ. Show us also your glorious Resurrection. (Good Friday – Μεγάλη Παρασκευή Twelfth Antiphon – plagal fourth mode)

Σήμερον κρεμᾶται ἐπὶ ξύλου ὁ ἐν ὕδασι τὴν γῆν κρεμάσας. Στέφανον ἐξ ἀκανθῶν περιτίθεται ὁ τῶν Ἀγγέλων Βασιλεύς. Ψευδῆ πορφύραν περιβάλλεται ὁ περιβάλλων τὸν οὐρανὸν ἐν νεφέλαις. Ῥάπισμα κατεδέξατο ὁ ἐν Ἰορδάνῃ ἐλευθερώσας τὸν Ἀδάμ. Ἥλοις προσηλώθη ὁ Νυμφίος τῆς Ἐκκλησίας. Λόγχῃ ἐκεντήθη ὁ Υἱὸς τῆς Παρθένου. Προσκυνοῦμέν σου τὰ Πάθη, Χριστέ. Δεῖξον ἡμῖν καὶ τὴν ἔνδοξόν σου Ἀνάστασιν/ (ΜεγάληΠαρασκευή Ἀντίφωνον ΙΒ΄ – ἦχος πλ. δ΄)

Panel with a Byzantine Ivory Carving of a Crucifixion, 10th century, Ivory, the MET, NY, USA

Byzantine Panels of Ivory Carvings were precious and treasured… just like the Ivory Panel in the MET coming from the Nunnery of Santa Cruz de la Serós in Spain. Set within an amazing gold frame of a Spanish goldsmith, the Byzantine Ivory Crucifixion Panel becomes an important testimony of Western admiration for the artistry of Byzantine craftsmanship, the high esteem accorded such Byzantine objects, and the cultural exchange, the artistic emulation, Byzantine artifacts initiated. The Glory of Byzantium, Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era p. 466

The Crucifixion plaque of Santa Cruz de la Serós originally formed the center of a Byzantine three-paneled icon. Typical to Byzantine Iconography, a Triumphant Christ stands erect on the Cross, his face serene, the eyes closed, his arms effortlessly horizontal, and his feet supported by a projecting platform. The “monumental” Cross in the center, seems to divide the compositional panel into 4 parts. The upper two smaller in size parts exhibit the sun and the moon, and two Angels. Standing under them, flanking the Cross, are the weeping Virgin Mary, and Saint John the Evangelist. They are both depicted holding a Book, an open one by Mary, and a bejeweled closed Book, by Saint John. Could the two represented Books be meant to remind the plaque’s viewer of Christ’s message of hope and redemption?

The Metropolitan Museum Ivory is associated (by Goldschmidt and Weitzmann) with the Cortona Reliquary of the True Cross Ivory panel, and a collection of Ivory plaques known as the Nikephoros Group. These Ivories display simplicity of composition, stylistic homogeneity, rough but monumental style of carving, broad, blunt facial features, and rather large hands. The Nikephoros Group Ivories are dated to the middle of the 10th century because of an inscription on the back of the Cortona Reliquary of the True Cross Ivory panel mentioning emperor Nikephoros, most certainly the Byzantine Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas (963-969). p. 466

The MET Byzantine Ivory of the Crucifixion has been one of the many gifts to the Nunnery of Santa Cruz de la Serós, outside the royal capital of Jaca, which was founded by Queen Felicia (d. 1085), wife of Sancho V Ramírez (r. 1076–94), king of Aragon and Navarre. It entered the Metropolitan Museum Collection in 1917 as a gift from J. Pierpont Morgan. and

A PowerPoint of all artworks presented for the Holy Week in the Greek Orthodox Church, 2022… is HERE!