The Princess from the Land of Porcelain by James Abbott McNeill Whistler

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, American Artist, 1834-1903
Rose and Silver: The Princess from the Land of Porcelain (Portrait of Christine Spartali),
1863-1865, Oil on Canvas, 201.5×116.1 cm, Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, USA

The sitter’s sister Marie (artist Spartali-Stollman) told Pennell: ‘At first the work went quickly, but soon it began to drag. Whistler often scraped down the figure just as they thought it all but finished, and day after day they returned to find that everything was to be done over again … Mrs. Stillman remembers that Whistler partly closed the shutters so as to shut out the direct light; that her sister stood at one end of the room, the canvas beside her; that Whistler would look at the picture from a distance, then suddenly dash at it, give one stroke, then dash away again … The sittings went on until the sitter fell ill … The head in the “Princess” gave him most trouble … During her illness, a model stood for the gown, and when she was getting better, he came one day and made a pencil drawing of her head, though where it went to Mrs. Stillman never knew. There were a few more sittings after this, and at last, the picture was finished.’ The Princess from the Land of Porcelain by James Abbott McNeill Whistler has more stories to tell… (Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 2 vols, London and Philadelphia, 1908, vol. 1, pp. 122-25, 130, 157, 203-04; Young, Andrew McLaren, Margaret F. MacDonald, Robin Spencer, and Hamish Miles, The Paintings of James McNeill Whistler, New Haven and London, 1980.)

Image of the Peacock Room featuring the Princess in the Land of Porcelain painting by James McNeill Whistler, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M Sackler Gallery, Washington DC, USA  

During the 1860s until the final years after the First World War, Japanese Art was all the rage amongst the world of Western Αrt ant Ιntelligentsia. At the time, James Abbott McNeill Whistler was a most fervent Japonist. Inspired by ukiyo-e prints, ancient Greek sculpture, music, and dance, Whistler created works of art of entranced female figures…Japanese and ancient Greek art set the tone. Rose and Silver: The Princess from the Land of Porcelain is one such happy consequence. Painted between 1863 and 1865 with Christine Spartali as the model, and described in 1865 as “unready for display and lacking in substance” by the art critic Gustave Vattier, the painting was not an immediate success. Without a direct buyer, the work changed hands for a few years – at one point landing in Dante Rossetti’s studio – before it was purchased by Frederick Leyland for his dreamed porcelainzimmer! In 1903, the painting was bought by Charles Lang Freer, and today Rose and Silver: The Princess from the Land of Porcelain can be seen in Washington DC, the Freer Gallery of Art, a much-appreciated part of the Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room. and

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, American Artist, 1834-1903
Sketch for Rose and Silver: The Princess from the Land of Porcelain
, between 1863 and 1864, oil on hardboard, 61.3 × 35.1 cm, Worcester Art Museum, MA, USA

Whistler’s painting Rose and Silver: The Princess from the Land of Porcelain was part of a series of costume pictures undertaken by Whistler in the mid-1860s in which western models appear in Asian dress, surrounded by Chinese and Japanese objects from Whistler’s own collections. He modeled the princess on Christina Spartali, a young woman of Greek descent who is dressed in a kimono and surrounded by luxurious objects that suggest an imaginary “land of porcelain.” Not intended as a portrait, the painting instead demonstrated a new ideal of beauty, one derived from Japanese ukiyo-e prints and the elongated figures painted on Chinese porcelain.

Kitagawa Utamaro, Japanese Artist, 1753-1806
Washing and stretching cloth
, 1796-1797, Color woodblock print on paper, Triptych: each sheet 38.1 x 25.4 cm, NY Public Library, USA

When I teach American Art, and James Abbott McNeill Whistler, in particular, I like to compare Rose and Silver: The Princess from the Land of Porcelain to Kitagawa Utamaro’s Washing and stretching cloth print of 1796-1797. The elegant postures of Ukiyo-e Ladies, their body language, grace, style, and refinement captivated Whistler’s imagination, creating… wonderful paintings! and

For a PowerPoint on paintings by James Abbott McNeill Whistler depicting European Women wearing Asian costumes, please… Check HERE!

Julia Margaret Cameron, 1815-1879
Christina Spartali (later Countess Edouard Cahn d’Anvers), 1868, albumen cabinet card, National Portrait Gallery, London, UK

Christina Spartali, the model for Whistler’s Princess from the Land of Porcelain,  was Michael Spartali and Euphrosyne Varsini Spartali’s second daughter. Her father, a prosperous London resident merchant, became Consul-General for Greece in 1866. From 1864, the family lived in London at “The Shrubbery” in Clapham Common, and through their relatives, the Ionides, prominent patrons of the arts, became acquainted with members of the contemporary art world, including James McNeill Whistler. The photographer Julia Margaret Cameron was the Spartalis’ neighbor at Sandford, the family’s estate on the Isle of Wight, where photographs of the Spartali sisters were taken. In 1868, Christina married Count Eduard Joseph Cahen D’Anvers, a Jewish banker from Belgium, moved to Paris, and live the life of an upper-class, apparently not so happy, socialite. and

Love of Virtue by François Lemoyne

François Lemoyne, 1688-1737
Study of a head for Love of Virtue in The Apotheosis of Hercules, circa 1733,
Pastel, trois crayons and stump blending on formerly blue paper, © château de Versailles, France

The Doors of the Versailles Exhibition… Drawings for Versailles, 20 years of Acquisitions… closed for the interested visitors, but the preparatory drawing of a head for the Love of Virtue by François Lemoyne has become a favourite! The exhibition displayed acquisitions that have joined the Palace of Versailles Graphic Arts Department over the last 20 years. On display, in Madame de Maintenon’s apartments, visitors were able to admire pastels, gouaches, watercolours, and other works that are often kept in storage because of their great fragility. Portraits and scenes from life at court, such as Louis XIV portrayed as a Roman emperor or Charles Perrault drawn by Charles Le Brun, plans, architectural drawings, and preparatory sketches for the major painted decors of the Palace of Versailles were on display and greatly admired! The visitors traveled through four centuries of graphic creation, discovering a Versailles as envisioned by great artists like Charles Le Brun, Charles de la Fosse, François Lemoyne, Richard Mique, Jacques Gondoin, and Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer… a place of great wonders!

Around 1733, while François Lemoyne was painstakingly working for the Apotheosis of Hercules ceiling decoration of the Versailles Hercules Room, a small preparatory drawing of a head for the Love of Virtue was quickly drawn… and if I may humbly say, the finesse of French Baroque Art turning to Rococo comes to fruition.

The Hercules Room-View of the Ceiling and the Paolo Veronese Painting of the Feast in the House of Simon, Palace of Versailles’Hercule_(24302264315).jpg

Part of the King’s (Louts IV 1638-1715) State Apartment, the Hercules Room was lavishly decorated in the Italian-style with exceptional marble wall paneling, splendid chimney bronzes, a monumental painting by the Venetian Paolo Veronese depicting the Feast in the House of Simon and the largest painted ceiling, representing the Apotheosis of Hercules by François Lemoyne. The decoration of the Hercules Room initiated in 1712, was interrupted by the death of Louis XIV in 1715; it resumed in 1729 and was completed in 1736. The Hercules Room is undoubtedly one of the finest in the palace. and

The Room’s pièce de resistance is Lemoyne’s Apotheosis of Hercules. This vast, impressive, allegorical work, depicting no fewer than 142 persons, can be considered on a par with masterpieces by Italian fresco painters. It was created, however, using the marouflage technique, that is the scenes were painted on canvas and then stuck onto the ceiling. When the painting was finally cleaned and restored in 2000 the composition’s drama and bright colours were justly revealed and the room was once more lit up enhancing the other great exhibited masterpiece, the Renaissance monumental painting of the Feast in the House of Simon by Paul Veronese.

François Lemoyne was a hard-working and ambitious artist of the early 18th century, aspiring to be seen as the new Charles Le Brun. He was admired by his contemporaries for covering vast spaces with bold mythological scenes, graceful figures, and elegant, pastel colours. In 1728, he was awarded a royal commission to paint the ceiling of the Hercules Room at Versailles, at à ciel ouvert style. The Apotheosis of Hercules painting (finished in 1736) received unanimous praise, Voltaire complimented the artist’s talent, and Lemoyne was appointed 1st painter of King Louis XV. It was a short triumph. Six months later, Lemoyne committed suicide exhausted by work, court intrigue at Versailles, the death of his wife, and psychological instability.  

For a PowerPoint on François Lemoyne, please… Check HERE!

Simon Bening’s January

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, January (f. 18v),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

It’s the 1st of January 2022… It is time to start a new Calendar Presentation… and Wish you ALL a Happy New Year, Health, Love, and Prosperity!!! Let’s start the Year with Simon Bening’s January, our new BLOG POST.

My search for the perfect Calendar for the new year is a long process, and starts during summer! I want each “Calendar under Focus” to embrace and present every month in a comprehensive way… to make me wonder how effectual it can be. I search for information on the artist who created it and the patron who commissioned it. I want to explore and present you with Calendars of different mediums… For example, the 2000 Calendar presentation was on the Maestro Venceslao Fresco Calendar in Torre Aquila, Castello del Buonconsiglio in Trento, Italy. In 2021 I focused on a Venetian Set of Doors presenting the Twelve Months created by an anonymous Venetian artist in the National Gallery in London. This year it is time to turn to an Illuminated Manuscript, a medium I love, and present you a 16th century famous Book of Hours with an interesting name… the Golf Book! and and

Some of the greatest paintings and drawings of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, according to Wendy A. Stein, are not displayed on church and museum walls; instead, they shine forth from the pages… of very special illuminated manuscripts known as Books of Hours. Thousands of Books of Hours made between 1250 and 1700 survive today in libraries and museums, a testament to their popularity in their heyday, especially in northern Europe. They were functional prayer books made for the nonordained, and the paintings in them were intended to foster reflection and devotion. Each Book of Hours was unique, serving the spiritual needs of its patron. Book of Hours were devotional books containing prayers to be recited at set times of the day. By the 15th century, the norm was to contain the Hours of the Virgin, a Calendar, a set of Gospel lessons, Hours focusing on the Cross, a group of Psalms, and prayers to saints called Suffrages. It is interesting how most Books of Hours begin with a Calendar, to help the owner keep track of saints’ days and other feasts. Each month gets a page with listed days, holy days are often written in red (the origin of the term “red letter day”), and significant feast days are written in gold letters.

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, January (f. 18v – f. 19f ),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 16th century Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, is a very unique and special manuscript in the Collection of the British Library. Unfortunately, the Golf Book is not, in its present state, a complete manuscript as most of the text is now missing. Thirty parchment leaves, however, remain, twenty-one pages of which, are full-page miniatures, in colours and gold, surrounded by a historiated border (12 pages are part of the Calendar section). The remaining forty pages feature historiated borders as well, that incorporate medallions, architectonic decoration, and cameos in grisaille and semi-grisaille. The text pages present large and small initials and line-fillers, in colours and gold. Simon Bening (d. 1561), with the assistance of his workshop, was the artist from Bruges responsible for this amazing manuscript. Bening’s accomplishments will feature in the Month of February Presentation.

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, January (details of f. 18v),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 miniatures for the Month of January (ff. 18v-19r) cover two pages facing each other. Folio18v is a full-page miniature of a winter landscape with peasants busy with their chores or simply relaxing, and enjoying the pleasures of a cold, snowy day. The protagonists of the composition are the couple in the foreground chopping and collecting wood. Next comes the couple inside the house behind them – one wall of which is conveniently missing to show the indoor scene. The room, showing signs of certain wealth, is warm and cozy with a linen-covered table, set with food and drink – the fruits of their hard work. The Lady of the house is breastfeeding her baby in front of a raging fire, the Lord of the house is relaxing… talking to her, I want to imagine, planning their family future! A busy landscape completes the composition… a windmill on a promontory with a peasant carrying his load towards it,  a church with a person coming out of it, and other people talking or simply strolling about wrapped up in capes or warm clothes to protect themselves from the cold. Several bare trees with snow-lined branches, birds resting on the roof-top, a smoking chimney, and a clear, blue sky, complete the full-page composition. The historiated borders of both folios presenting to the Month of January (ff 18v and 19r) include depictions, in cameo fashion, of children or youths pulling sleds. What an amazing scene Simon Bening’s January is!

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

For a Student Activity on Simon Bening’s January page, please… Check HERE!

Santa Maria foris portas at Castelseprio

Nativity, Church of Santa Maria foris portas in Castelseprio, Italy

I have been fascinated by the Santa Maria foris portas at Castelseprio frescoes since I was a student, and I was introduced to their unique beauty and… ‘mysteries!’ When I finally visited Castelseprio in 1988, inside the Church of Santa Maria foris portas, enveloped in their splendor… I was transfixed, spellbound, awe-struck, entranced…  forever. Years passed by, and I yearn to visit Castelseprio once more… stand in the middle of the Church, and experience… moments of the sublime.

Church of Santa Maria foris portas in Castelseprio, Italy

When the extraordinary Mariological programme of paintings on the walls of the church of Santa Maria foris portas at Castelseprio was first uncovered, and then quickly made known to the art historical community in an exemplary publication, historians of early medieval art were transfixed. Here was the missing link, the key which would provide the key which would provide the means to unlocking and understanding the role that the classical Byzantine tradition of art, played in the evolution of elite artistic developments in the various theatres of state formations in post-Roman western Europe, from papal Rome to Carolingian Aachen and Northumbrian Lindisfarne, in the early medieval centuries. The artists responsible appeared to be masters of an almost undiluted tradition of Greco-Roman painting, testifying to the enduring existence of a strain of what has been designated by Ernst Kitzinger as ‘perennial Hellenism’, continuing unbroken in one or more centers in the eastern Mediterranean and potentially available to the artist in western Europe, minded to recover some of the elements of ancient classical practice in an age in which overt classical form and subject-matter were valued at a high premium in the rival courts of Europe… write John Mitchell and Beatrice Leal… and I can not think of a better introduction to my Christmas POST on Santa Maria foris portas at Castelseprio Nativity Scene.

Nativity (detail), Church of Santa Maria foris portas in Castelseprio, Italy

The Church of at Castelseprio is so special and unique, many great scholars of Byzantine Art wrote about it… one way or another, more or less. I am fascinated by the surviving frescoes within the Church, the “ambiance” they create, their “Hellenistic” origin, stylistic characteristics (brushwork, colour, light), and drama in their compositions. I find it irresistible how the unknown “Greek” painter of the time, used diagonal perspective, a three-quarter view of both persons and objects, and a constant search for depth of space, to enhance his brilliant style. In compositions like the Nativity scene, I admire the portrayal of illusionistic forms within a deep, open landscape, and how the master artist used illusionism to enhance and at the same time, transfigure reality. I like… everything!

Merry Christmas

Preparing for this POST (this is the most important part for every BLOG POST of mine)… wondering how “Hellenistic,” in rendering and mood, the Castelseprio frescos are… I reread The Hellenistic Heritage in Byzantine Art, by Ernst Kitzinger, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Vol. 17 (1963), pp. 95-115 (37 pages) , and Castelseprio and the Byzantine “Renaissance,” by Charles R. Morey, The Art Bulletin Vol. 34, No. 3 (Sep. 1952), pp. 173-201 (37 pages),  

For a PowerPoint on Castelseprio’s Nativity Scene, please… Check HERE!

David with the Head of Goliath by Andrea del Castagno

Andrea del Castagno, c. 1419-1457
David with the Head of Goliath, c. 1450/1455, tempera on leather on wood, H. 115.5 cm, width at top: 76.5 cm, width at bottom: 40.6 cm, NGA, Washington DC, USA,_scudo_di_david_con_la_testa_di_golia,_1450-55_circa,_02.JPG

The Philistine Goliath said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” and David replied… “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head…” As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground. So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him. David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword. David with the Head of Goliath by Andrea del Castagno presents the famous Biblical story described in the Book of Samuel (1 Samuel 17) in an exemplary Florentine style that fascinates me!

David with the Head of Goliath, exhibited at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, is one more example of the Florentine fascination with David, the Biblical King, and Hero. David, early in the 15th century, became the embodiment of the city’s Republican identity and a favourite theme for artistic commissions. The people of Florence, a small political power at the time (15th century), identified themselves with young and untried at war David, his intelligence, his motivation, and ultimate success. Goliath was compared to the big Renaissance political entities like Milan… crushed by the will of God and Florentine “diplomacy.” The story is endlessly told by great masters like Donatello, Verrocchio, Michelangelo… and Andrea del Castagno in an amazing and unique painting!

Andrea del Castagno, c. 1419-1457
David with the Head of Goliath (detail), c. 1450/1455, tempera on leather on wood, H. 115.5 cm, width at top: 76.5 cm, width at bottom: 40.6 cm, NGA, Washington DC, USA

This is actually an amazing, unique, and rare painted Heraldic Shield, a type of shield, that would be carried in civic processions and then housed in the owner’s bedroom chamber. According to the NGA experts, young… David has been victorious in battle against the giant Goliath, whose decapitated head lies at his feet. David is shown with his hand raised in a gesture that speaks of determination and self-possession and may have been taken from an antique model. Furthermore, Andrea’s Shield of David, combining references of personal and civic valor, and painted by a highly esteemed artist of the period, would have underscored the owner’s readiness to do battle on both a metaphorical and an actual level, testifying to his civic and personal virtues. An amazing, unique, and rare work of Art, to say the least.

For information on the relationship between Andrea del Castagno and Domenico Veneziano… the fictional story of how Domenico Veneziano was murdered by his good friend Andrea del Castagno… a story masterfully said by Gorgio Vasari, but totally untrue… please go to my Teacher Curator Post:

For a National Gallery Podcast on Andrea del Castagno’s David with the Head of Goliath, check…

For a PowerPoint on Andrea del Castagno, please… Click HERE!

…a student interpretation of David’s story!

Theseus and Antiope

Theseus and Antiope, sculpture from the West Pediment of the Temple of Apollo Daphnephorus in ancient Eretria, late 6th century, Marble, 110 cm, Archaeological Museum of Eretria, Greece

The multiple aspects of the concept of Kallos in the everyday life and the philosophical discourse of ancient Greece are presented in the major, emblematic, archaeological exhibition of the Museum of Cycladic Art, titled ΚΑLLOS. The Ultimate Beauty. Τhis exhibition displays three hundred emblematic antiquities from fifty-two museums, collections, and Ephorates of Antiquities throughout Greece, as well as from Italy, and the Vatican. The overwhelming majority appear for the first time outside of the museums of their provenance. They meet and mingle in the Museum of Cycladic Art, so as to give an integrated picture of the ideal of Kallos, inadequately translated into English as Beauty. On the 6th of November I presented you one such exhibit… the Kore from Chios today, I will present you a favourite Archaic work of art… Theseus and Antiope!

The story of  Theseus and Antiope has it all… adventure, strife, love, and devotion! According to Pausanias and his Description of Greece… As one enters the city (of Athens) there is a monument to Antiope the Amazon. This Antiope, Pindar says, was carried off by Peirithous and Theseus, but Hegias of Troezen gives the following account of her. Heracles was besieging Themiscyra on the Thermodon, but could not take it, but Antiope, falling in love with Theseus, who was aiding Heracles in his campaign, surrendered the stronghold. Such is the account of Hegias. But the Athenians assert that when the Amazons came, Antiope was shot by Molpadia, while Molpadia was killed by Theseus. To Molpadia also there is a monument among the Athenians.

ΚΑLLOS. The Ultimate Beauty Exhibition Photo, Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens, Greece
Photo Credit: Paris Tativian, Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens, Greece

The effigy of Theseus and Antiope, temporarily exhibited in the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens, was originally created for the West Pediment of the Temple of Apollo Daphnephorus in Eretria. Information regarding the Temple of Apollo in Eretria is unfortunately scarce. Eretria, a town in Euboea facing the coast of Attica, was first mentioned in Homer’s Iliad as one of the cities that provided ships against the Trojans. During the 8th century BC, the citizens of Eretria, a flourishing city during the Geometric and Archaic periods, built an impressive Temple to honour God Apollo, apsidal in architectural form. Soon after, a second, wooden Temple followed on the same site. Finally, around 520- 490 BC, a larger stone Temple was built, the remains of which are still visible today. Unfortunately, the Archaic Temple was badly destroyed during the Persian invasion of 490 BC.

Theseus and Antiope, sculpture from the West Pediment of the Temple of Apollo Daphnephorus in ancient Eretria, late 6th century, Marble, 110 cm, Archaeological Museum of Eretria, Greece
In colour reconstruction on plaster and on paper, Investigations by Vinzenz Brinkmann, executed by Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann, 1992–490
(c) Vinzenz Brinkmann 2018 & Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann, Polychromy Research Project

The late Archaic period (510-500 BC) pediment sculpture depicting the abduction of Antiope by Theseus portrays the moment of Theseus stepping onto a chariot’s platform while tightly holding Antiope in his arms… a decisive moment in the development of the story, a key moment in the development of ancient Greek Art. Notice the depicted entwined torsos and think of the evolution accomplished as figural depiction moves from the frontal and immobile Kouros and Kore type of sculpture to the more naturalistic modeling of the classical era. Notice how the psychological drama unfolds, and consider the subtle ways the artist of Theseus and Antiope presents the understated surrender of the elegant Amazon, and the restrained triumph of the victorious hero. Notice how the heads of both figures slightly bend and observe the created interplay of light and shade, shapes and forms. What an accomplishment for the unknown artist. Could he be the famous Athenian sculptor Antenor?

For a PowerPoint on the Theseus and Antiope theme, please… Check HERE!

Photograph of the actress Katharine Hepburn in the 1932 Broadway production of The Warrior’s Husband, March 1932

The Labours of the Months: December

By an unknown Venetian artist…
The Labours of the Months: December, about 1580, oil on canvas, 13.6 x 10.6 cm, National Gallery, London

Last, for December, houses on the plain,  /  Ground-floors to live in, logs heaped mountain-high,  /  And carpets stretched, and newest games to try,  /  And torches lit, and gifts from man to man  /  (Your host, a drunkard and a Catalan);  /  And whole dead pigs, and cunning cooks to ply  /  Each throat with tit-bits that shall satisfy;  /  And wine-butts of Saint Galganus’ brave span.  /  And be your coats well-lined and tightly bound,  /  And wrap yourselves in cloaks of strength and weight,  /  With gallant hoods to put your faces through.  /  And make your game of abject vagabond  /  Abandoned miserable reprobate  /  Misers; don’t let them have a chance with you. My new BLOG POST for The Labours of the Months: December starts with a sonnet by Folgore Da San Geminiano (c. 1250-1317), translated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in his book “Dante and His Circle,” (Roberts Brothers, Boston, 1893).

Depicting the Labours of the Months was a popular artistic theme that was frequently used in the decoration of Cathedrals and Churches, Castles and  Palaces, Psalters, Breviaries and Books of Hours across Europe during the Medieval and Early Renaissance period. Each month, depicting popular activities of peasants or/and the gentry through the year were sometimes paired with the Signs of the Zodiac circle. They would be either simple and small in size or large and elaborate, crafted in stone, wood, stained glass, painted in murals or often enough, painted in parchment. The Labours of the Months had a role in highlighting authority and privilege, hard work and occasionally, small, everyday pleasures. They are often perceived as a link between the work of man, the seasons of the year and God’s ordering of the Universe. Many great Monuments and Libraries in Europe display fine examples of such artefacts for art lovers to enjoy.

Throughout 2021, on the 1st day of every month, I presented you with a small painting, part of a group of twelve, from the National Gallery in London, depicting a young man busy with some kind of a pastoral chore. According to the National Gallery experts… painted on canvas and then glued to a wooden panel these paintings were made to decorate the recessed panels of a pair of doors. The paintings seem to have been planned in pairs with the figures facing each other and …show the ‘labours of the months’ – the rural activities that take place each month throughout the year.” This set of painted Doors combine simplicity in execution and extravagance in visual effect! The paintings, very small in size, about 13.6 x 10.6 cm, were achieved in vivid, bright, luxurious colours, like ultramarine blue for the sky, strong vermilion and red lake for the clothing, with rich greens and yellows in the landscape. The restricted and repeated use of colour gives the group of little pictures a charming, decorative simplicity. All but one of the scenes show a man working outdoors on what appears to be the estate of a large villa, seen in several of the paintings, at the foot of the distant blue mountains.

By an unknown Venetian artist…
The Labours of the Months: December (detail), about 1580, oil on canvas, 13.6 x 10.6 cm, National Gallery, London

The last painting for 2021… a simple brick building to the right, and a bare, uninviting landscape, introduces the viewer to the composition depicting the December Labour of the Month. It shows a popular theme… a slaughterman pinning an animal down with his right knee, holding its snout shut to stop it from struggling, whilst slitting its throat and moving its leg to make its blood flow quickly into the skillet on the ground. December is a month to celebrate the Birth of Christ, and the preparations for the festivities are about to begin!

For a PowerPoint on the Venetian paintings depicting the Labours of the Months, please … Check HERE!

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

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.

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

 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. and and

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.

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.

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!

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!

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…

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.

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.

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!

Short Video Presentation on the five Poesies by Titian…

An interesting Video by Mary Beard on Titian and Ovid…

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

First Steps by Georgios Iakovidis

Georgios Iakovidis, 1853-1932
First Steps, 1889, Oil on Canvas, 64×50 cm, Averoff Museum of Neo-Hellenic Art, Metsovo, Greece

World Children’s Day was first established in 1954 as Universal Children’s Day and is celebrated on the 20th of November each year to promote international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children’s welfare. …Mothers and fathers, teachers, nurses and doctors, government leaders and civil society activists, religious and community elders, corporate moguls and media professionals, as well as young people and children themselves, can play an important part in making World Children’s Day relevant for their societies, communities and nations. …World Children’s Day offers each of us an inspirational entry-point to advocate, promote and celebrate children’s rights, translating into dialogues and actions that will build a better world for children. This is how the United Nations describes this important Celebratory Day… First Steps by Georgios Iakovidis will be my humble contribution.

Iakovidis’s Painting of a Child taking his First Steps in the Averoff Gallery is one of my all times favourite 19th-century Greek Paintings. It touches me in a very personal way. It reminds me of my father’s love and unconditional devotion to my son, his Grandson… Του παιδιού μου το παιδί, δυο φορές παιδί (My child’s child, is twice my child), he used to say, and looked at him with unbelievable tenderness… First Steps, a circa 1889 painting executed in Germany where the artist resided at the time, is much admired, for the artist’s first, tentative steps towards aspects of luminosity in art… and much loved for the sentimentality of its theme.

Carl Teufel, 1845-1912
Gerorgios Jakobides in his studio in Munich, 1883, Photograph, Collection: Bildarchiv Foto Marburg, Marburg, Germany

Georgios Iakovidis painted the theme of a child taking his/her First Steps twice. The oldest painting (1889), part of the Averoff Collection at Metsovo, portrays a grandfather assisting an enthusiastic child walk towards the open arms of a seated, equally enthusiastic sister. The second painting (1892) at the National Gallery in Athens, favors a grandmother as the child’s First Steps assistant. Both paintings were created while the artist resided in Munich… both paintings have similarly structured compositions… yet, the Averoff painting shows changes in the way the artist is rendering light and colour. According to the Averoff Gallery experts… The light that permeates the room is diffused throughout the space, giving a special glow to the places where it falls – the baby, the girl’s head, and hands – and deleting the contours. On the other hand, the chiaroscuro precisely models the details of the faces, the clothing, and the furniture. It is interesting how these first, timidly attempted changes, led the artist into a freer, more luminous painting style, connecting him to the most progressive painters in Germany – the so-called German Impressionists.

A Video (in Greek) on Georgios Iakovidis’s life and artistic achievements…

For a PowerPoint on Paintings of Children by Georgios Iakovidis, please… Check HERE!

Georgios Iakovidis, 1853-1932
First Steps, 1892. Oil on canvas, 140×110 cm, National Gallery, E. Koutlidis Foundation Collection, Athens, Greece
First Steps, 1889, Oil on Canvas, 64×50 cm, Averoff Museum of Neo-Hellenic Art, Metsovo, Greece

The Labours of the Months: November

By an unknown Venetian artist…
The Labours of the Months: November, about 1580, oil on canvas, 13.6 x 10.6 cm, National Gallery, London

Waken, lords and ladies gay, / On the mountain dawns the day; / All the jolly chase is here / With hawk and horse and hunting-spear; / Hounds are in their couples yelling, / Hawks are whistling, horns are knelling, / Merrily merrily mingle they, / ‘Waken, lords and ladies gay.’     /     Waken, lords and ladies gay, / The mist has left the mountain gray, / Springlets in the dawn are steaming, / Diamonds on the brake are gleaming; / And foresters have busy been / To track the buck in thicket green; / Now we come to chant our lay / ‘Waken, lords and ladies gay.’ …sings Sir Walter Scott with his Hunting Song… a fitting introduction for the new BLOG POST The Labours of the Months: November.

Referred to as Labours of the Months… portrayed on the pages of an illuminated manuscript, sculpted areas of a church or on panel paintings… are decorative images that feature a seasonal agricultural or pastoral activity appropriate and different for every month of the year. Such artworks, popular during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, were created all over Western Europe, from countries of the colder North to Italy, France, and Spain of the warmer South. Depending on the area or the era these “pastoral” compositions were created, they vary in what is presented and how.

By an unknown Venetian artist…
The Labours of the Months: November (detail), about 1580, oil on canvas, 13.6 x 10.6 cm, National Gallery, London

The typical November Labour scene in a Northern European Calendar would be a composition depicting farmers gathering acorns for feeding their pigs. Not so in the Venetian November Labour panel in the Collection of the National Gallery in London… A young huntsman in a red cap and jacket, the Museum experts tell us, holds the leashes of his two hounds. He looks at his hawk, which perches on his hand. A hunting horn is tied from a cord at his waist… In other cycles of the labours of the months, the Museum experts continue, hawking and falconry are associated with courtly love and the months of April and May. For the London panel… hunting has been ascribed to November as a winter pursuit.

The National Gallery painting of November belongs to a group of 12 small painted panels that together decorated a set of painted Doors. These 12 paintings, very small in size, about 13.6 x 10.6 cm, were achieved in vivid, bright, luxurious colours, like ultramarine blue for the sky, strong vermilion and red lake for the clothing, with rich greens and yellows in the landscape. The restricted and repeated use of colour gives the group of little pictures a charming, decorative simplicity. All but one of the scenes show a man working outdoors on what appears to be the estate of a large villa, seen in several of the paintings, at the foot of the distant blue mountains. The small panel paintings in the National Gallery are rare and special. They document life in the Veneto area, with the peasant activities and duties to their land. They also depict a vivid landscape, romanticized even then, from bare and covered with snow, to rich and fertile, to autumnal, covered with fallen leaves.

For a PowerPoint on The Labours of the Months at the National Gallery in London, please… Check HERE!