Eros Punished

Eros Punished, 1st century AD, Fresco, 126×162.3 cm, from the House of Punished Eros in Pompeii, National Archaeological Museum of Naples, Italy – Photo Credit: Amalia Spiliakou, February 18, 2024, ‘Meanings’. Personifications and Allegories from Antiquity to Today Exhibition, Acropolis Museum, Athens, Greece

On February 17, 2024, in Athens, attending an exceptional exhibition, titled ‘NοΗΜΑΤΑ’: Personifications and Allegories from Antiquity to Today, held at the Acropolis Museum, I came face to face with an adorable Pompeiian fresco titled Eros Punished. It is now part of the Museo Archaeologico Nazionale di Napoli, but back in the 1st century AD, adorned the wall of a triclinium in the House of Love Punished in Pompeii.

The fresco’s narrative unfolds amidst the timeless strokes of fine ancient artistry. Peithò, (Persuasion Personified), leads Eros to his mother Aphrodite, terribly crossed with him, for an impending punishment. Eros used his arrows to kindle Ares’s passion for another woman, and Aphrodite is unwilling to forgive such mischief. Peithò, Persuasion personified, affectionately holds Eros’s hand, who bearing the weight of his misdeed, seems like crying, hesitant to proceed. Aphrodite, seated regally upon a rugged perch, emanates an aura of solemnity. She holds Eros’s bow and cuirass and looks at him sadly, but firmly. Anteros, the younger sibling of Eros, lurks behind her, poised to witness the unfolding consequence with a mixture of anticipation and childish delight. This tableau, frozen in time, capturing the intricate interplay of familial bonds, divine intervention, and the immutable consequences of love’s transgressions, delights me!

Eros Punished (detail), 1st century AD, Fresco, 126×162.3 cm, from the House of Punished Eros in Pompeii, National Archaeological Museum of Naples, Italy
https://www.planetpompeii.com/en/blog/eros-and-anteros-the-love-needs-to-be-reciprocated-to-grow.html
Eros Punished (detail), 1st century AD, Fresco, 126×162.3 cm, from the House of Punished Eros in Pompeii, National Archaeological Museum of Naples, Italy
https://www.planetpompeii.com/en/blog/eros-and-anteros-the-love-needs-to-be-reciprocated-to-grow.html

In exploring this scene, I cannot overlook the intriguing presence of God Eros and his younger brother Anteros within the same composition. The relationship between Eros and Anteros, symbolizing the two counterparts of reciprocal love, finds its vivid portrayal in a fanciful myth recounted by the fourth-century rhetorician Themistius. Through Themistius’s narrative, we glimpse into the depths of brotherly affection and the profound consequences it entails…

When Aphrodite gave birth to Eros, the child was beautiful and befitted his mother in any respect but one: he did not grow to a size appropriate to his beauty… The baby’s mother and the Graces, his nurses, did not know what to do when confronted with this situation. They went to Themis… and asked her to find some means by which they might be delivered from their strange and astonishing misfortune. Themis said: “I shall put an end to your predicament. The problem is that you do not yet know the true nature of the baby. Eros, your genuine offspring, may perhaps have been born alone but he cannot grow up in any part of the body: you need Anteros if you want Eros to grow. These brothers will have the same nature; each will be responsible for the other’s growth. For when they see each other, they will both shoot up equally; but if one of them is deprived of the other, they will both shrink in size.” And so Aphrodite conceived Anteros, and Eros immediately had a spurt of growth and sprouted wings and was tall. Since this is Eros’s fortune, he often endures strange transformations, now sprouting up, now shrinking, then growing again. He always needs his brother’s presence. If he sees that his brother is of sizable stature, he is eager to appear bigger himself; but he often shrinks in size, against his own will, once he has discovered that his brother is shrunken and small.

Eros Punished (detail), 1st century AD, Fresco, 126×162.3 cm, from the House of Punished Eros in Pompeii, National Archaeological Museum of Naples, Italy
https://www.planetpompeii.com/en/blog/eros-and-anteros-the-love-needs-to-be-reciprocated-to-grow.html

For a PowerPoint on Eros and Anteros in Art, please… Check HERE!

Bibliography on Eros and Anteros: Eros and Anteros or Reciprocal Love in Ancient and Renaissance Art by Guy de Tervarent, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 28 (1965), pp. 205-208 p.272 https://www.jstor.org/stable/2853330?read-now=1&seq=8#page_scan_tab_contents  and Grecian and Roman mythology by Dwight, M. A. (Mary Ann), 1806-1858, p. 266 https://archive.org/details/cu31924029135651/page/n269/mode/1up and Anteros: On Friendship Between Rivals and Rivalry Between Friends p. 9 file:///C:/Users/aspil/Downloads/Post_columbia_0054D_11776.pdf

Rosa Bonheur’s painting Le Taureau Gris

Rosa Bonheur, French Artist, 1822-1899
Le Taureau Gris, c. 1886, oil on canvas, 47 x 64.5 cm, Private Collection, https://www.christies.com/lot/lot-6447174?ldp_breadcrumb=back&intObjectID=6447174&from=salessummary&lid=1

I hear the song of the nightingale. / The sun is warm, the wind is mild, willows are green along the shore, / Here no bull can hide! / What artist can draw that massive head, those majestic horns?… Just as Kakuan Shien’s poem Perceiving the Bull invites contemplation of the bull’s majestic presence and the challenge of capturing its essence, Rosa Bonheur’s painting Le Taureau Gris similarly commands attention with its mastery of detail and emotive power. The poem’s imagery of nature’s beauty and the formidable figure of the bull resonates with Bonheur’s own admiration for the natural world and her groundbreaking portrayal of animals. In Le Taureau Gris, Bonheur’s brushstrokes breathe life into the subject, inviting viewers to perceive not just the physical form but also the spirit and vitality within. https://towardtheone.org/the-oxherding-poems-by-kakuan/

Rosa Bonheur’s journey to artistic success was shaped by the nurturing guidance of her progressive father, Oscar-Raymond Bonheur, whose teachings instilled in her a fervent belief in gender equality. As the oldest of four siblings, born to a pianist mother, Sophie Bonheur, Rosa’s childhood was marked by her mother’s innovative approach to education. Recognizing Rosa’s reluctance toward traditional studies and her passion for drawing, Sophie ingeniously incorporated art into her daughter’s learning, sparking a lifelong fascination with animals and fostering a unique bond between mother and daughter. Rosa’s upbringing not only laid the foundation for her artistic talents but also ignited her unwavering dedication to championing the independence and equality of women throughout her life.

At the age of 13, Rosa Bonheur’s formal education took a decisive turn when her spirited demeanour clashed with the expectations of Mme. Gilbert’s boarding school. Rejected for her tomboyish ways, Rosa found solace and opportunity under the guidance of her father, Oscar-Raymond Bonheur. Under his tutelage, she embarked on a diverse artistic journey, honing her skills through meticulous pencil drawings and still-life paintings before delving into the vibrant world of landscapes, animals, and birds. Despite facing setbacks, Rosa’s determination led her to the prestigious halls of the Louvre at just 14 years old, marking the beginning of her remarkable ascent in the art world.

Defying societal norms to pursue her passion for art, Rosa Bonheur gained international acclaim for her remarkable depictions of animals, particularly livestock and equine subjects. Her meticulous attention to detail and mastery of realism captured the essence of her subjects with unparalleled precision and empathy. Bonheur’s groundbreaking achievements not only reshaped perceptions of gender roles in the art world but also left an indelible mark on the trajectory of animal painting, solidifying her legacy as one of the most influential artists of her time.

Rosa Bonheur’s painting Le Taureau Gris, auctioned at Christie’s in 2023, embodies a captivating aesthetic that charms viewers with its powerful realism and emotional depth. In this depiction, the bull emerges as a regal figure, his fiery gaze and flared nostrils imbuing him with an aura of commanding presence. With his tail proudly arcing above his robust frame, he epitomizes the Bazadaise breed, known affectionately as the “gris de Bazas,” hailing from the verdant lands of Gironde. These formidable creatures stand as monumental symbols of strength and resilience in the pastoral landscapes they call home.

Le Taureau Gris showcases Bonheur’s unparalleled skill in capturing the essence of her subject matter, depicting a majestic grey bull with remarkable precision and detail. The painting’s composition is striking, with the bull positioned prominently within the frame, its muscular form exuding a sense of strength and vitality. Bonheur’s use of colour is subtle yet evocative, with muted tones and delicate shading lending a sense of depth and texture to the scene. The artist’s attention to detail is evident in every brushstroke, from the intricate rendering of the bull’s fur to the subtle play of light and shadow across its body. Through Le Taureau Gris, Bonheur invites viewers into a world where the beauty and majesty of the animal kingdom are brought to life with extraordinary skill and sensitivity, making it a truly timeless work of art.

For a PowerPoint, presenting 10 Masterpieces by Rosa Bonheur, please… Check HERE!

Bibliography: https://www.christies.com/lot/lot-6447174?ldp_breadcrumb=back&intObjectID=6447174&from=salessummary&lid=1 and https://www.theartstory.org/artist/bonheur-rosa/

The House of the Bicentenary in Herculaneum

The Bicentenary House, the fresco of Aphrodite and Aris, 1st century AD, Tablinum, Herculaneum, Italy https://minervamagazine.com/grand-designs-at-herculaneum.html

The House of the Bicentenary in Herculaneum is one of the site’s jewels. Back in the 1930s, archaeologist Amedeo Maiuri described it as a sumptuous noble house of elegant proportions. It is one of Herculaneum’s largest townhouses, as would be expected for a property with such a prominent location on the main street of the town, close to the theatre, the law courts, and the forum. The stately 1st-century BC house was built on two storeys and its façade was decorated with a brightly coloured green-and-red chequerboard pattern, with a balcony looking over the street. Inside, a large atrium with a central marble pool led to an elegant room for receiving guests. Both were covered with lavish mosaic pavements and wall paintings, all indicating that this was a noble house that belonged at some point to prosperous owners… https://minervamagazine.com/grand-designs-at-herculaneum.html

The House of the Bicentenary is one of the best preserved noble houses at Herculaneum, with highly refined wall paintings and mosaic pavements, 1st century AD, Herculaneum, Italy https://www.getty.edu/conservation/our_projects/field_projects/herculaneum/overview.html

History of the Archaeological Site

The House of the Bicentenary was unearthed under the direction of archaeologist Amedeo Maiuri, in 1938, amidst the bicentennial celebrations of the excavations at Herculaneum. Concurrently, efforts were made to stabilize, restore, and exhibit the site, with artefacts showcased in the atrium’s left hall and a preserved wood screen displayed in the right hall. By 1983, however, the house faced severe deterioration, worsened by exposure to the elements and heavy tourist traffic. Structural instability, deteriorating wall paintings, crumbling tuffa walls, flaking paint layers, and lifting mosaics plagued the once-grand villa, necessitating urgent restoration efforts.

In a decisive move, the House underwent closure to visitors, heralding a transformative period in 2011. A collaborative effort ensued, with the participation of the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI), the Archaeological Park of Herculaneum, and the Herculaneum Conservation Project, united in a mission to comprehensively research, analyze, document, and stabilize the edifice’s architectural framework, wall surfaces, frescoes, and mosaic pavements. Particular focus was directed towards the restoration of the remarkable Tablinum area. The outcome of this concerted effort has been nothing short of remarkable. Such was the extent of the achievement that Domenico Camardo, the chief archaeologist at the Herculaneum Conservation Project, expressed the endeavour as not only a pivotal moment in the house’s preservation but also an opportunity for pioneering advancements in conservation methodologies and materials, with implications reaching far beyond the site itself. https://www.thehistoryblog.com/archives/56824

An Overview of the House of the Bicentenary…

Nestled along Herculaneum’s bustling main thoroughfare, the city’s Decumanus Maximus, the Bicentenary House once hosted Gaius Petronius Stephanus and his wife Calantonia Themis within its exquisite confines. Renowned as one of the city’s most opulent residences, sprawling across over 600 square meters and boasting an upper floor, its halls were adorned with meticulously preserved mosaic floors and frescoes breathing life into mythological narratives and intricate architectural and animal motifs. Particularly noteworthy is the Tablinum (Room 10 on the Plan), adorned with a collection of 4th Pompeian Style paintings renowned for their beauty and craftsmanship, offering visitors a glimpse into the peak of artistic expression within the site.

The Bicentenary House, 1st century AD, Tablinum, Herculaneum, Italy https://minervamagazine.com/grand-designs-at-herculaneum.html

On the Tablinum Frescoes…

The decoration of the Tablinum is superb. The room’s ensemble of wall paintings exhibits artistic and archaeological importance portraying mythological scenes, cupids in a variety of activities, and portraits of Dionysiac figures of the utmost elegance and sophistication. Finally, the unique mosaic pavement in opus sectile and opus tessellatum, creates a unique mosaic floor, blending opulent reds, yellows, and blacks in a sophisticated scheme.

The Bicentenary House, the fresco of Aphrodite and Aris with medallions of Dionysiac portraits, 1st century AD, Tablinum, fresco, Herculaneum, Italy https://minervamagazine.com/grand-designs-at-herculaneum.html

According to Amedeo Maiuri… The tablinum preserves a rich, sparkling marble pavement, like a polychrome carpet, and on the walls, paintings, medallions, and a frieze; in the panels are represented the myths of Daedalus and Pasiphae and of Venus and Mars; in the medallions are busts of Satyrs, Sileni and Maenads. On the upper part of the walls runs a frieze with cupids. From the tablinum, we reach the little portico with the garden and the rustic rooms on the ground floor. https://herculaneum.uk/Ins%205/Herculaneum%205%2015%20p3.htm

For a PowerPoint on the House of the Bicentenary, please… Check HERE!

The Bicentenary House, the fresco of Aphrodite and Aris with medallions of Dionysiac portraits, 1st century AD, Tablinum, fresco, Herculaneum, Italy https://minervamagazine.com/grand-designs-at-herculaneum.html

Darius Vase

Anonymous Apulian Vase Painter, commonly called the Darius Painter, worked between 340 and 320 BC
Darius Vase, 340-320 BC, Ceramic Red-Figure Volute Crater, Clay, Height: 1.15 m, Archaeological Museum of Naples, Italy – Photo Credit: Amalia Spiliakou, February 18, 2024, ‘Meanings’. Personifications and Allegories from Antiquity to Today Exhibition, Acropolis Museum, Athens, Greece

On February 17, 2024, during my visit to Athens, Greece, I had the pleasure of attending an exceptional exhibition titled ‘NοΗΜΑΤΑ’: Personifications and Allegories from Antiquity to Today, held at the Acropolis Museum. Curated by Professor Nikolaos Chr. Stampolidis and his associates, this exhibition forms a unique Tetralogy, wherein the Greek word ‘ΝΟΗΜΑ’ (‘Meaning’ in English) metaphorically transforms into a ‘ΝΗΜΑ’ (a ‘Thread’), weaving together diverse artworks including statues, reliefs, vases, coins, jewelry, Byzantine icons, and paintings. It marks a groundbreaking moment by uniting antiquity with Byzantium, Renaissance, and Modern Art for the first time. Among the Exhibition artworks that impressed me most was Darius Vase, a large Apulian Volute Krater from the Museo Archaeologico Nazionale di Napoli!

View of the Exhibition ‘Meanings’. Personifications and Allegories from Antiquity to Today Exhibition, Acropolis Museum, Athens, Greece
https://hellasjournal.com/2023/12/christougenna-sto-mousio-akropolis-eortastikes-ekdilosis-dora-ke-giortina-piata-sto-estiatorio-ke-to-archeo-gouri-tou-mousiou/

The Darius Vase is one such example of Apulian pottery. It dates back to the late 4th century BC, 330 to 300 BC to be specific. It was created by the so-called Darius Painter in Magna Graecia, standing as a testament to the mastery of Greek pottery during this period. This amazing Volute Krater, measuring approximately 1.15 meters in height and 1.93 meters in circumference, features intricate red-figure decoration with additional white and red paint. Its provenance traces back to the city of Taranto (ancient city of Taras), an area known for its production of fine ceramics. With its distinctive style and historical subject matter, the Darius Vase remains a vital piece for understanding both Greek artistry and the cultural exchanges between Greece and Magna Graecia during antiquity. The Darius Vase was discovered in 1851 near Canosa di Puglia and is now on display at the Museo Archaeologico Nazionale, in Naples.

Standing as a testament to the artistic finesse of ancient Greek Apulian pottery, the vase features a rich and complex iconography divided into four main zones or registers:

Top Register (Neck): The iconography of the Neck of the Darius Vase is subject to diverse interpretations. While some scholars argue that the combat scene depicted signifies the conflicts between Alexander the Great and Darius III, others propose that the scene may represent an earlier battle between Greeks and Persians or even an incident related to the Amazonomachy. Thus, the iconography of the Neck of the Darius Vase invites exploration into both historical narratives and mythological symbolism, providing a rich tapestry of cultural significance.

Anonymous Apulian Vase Painter, commonly called the Darius Painter, worked between 340 and 320 BC
Darius Vase (Detail with Hellas, Zeus and Athena), 340-320 BC, Ceramic Red-Figure Volute Crater, Clay, Height: 1.15 m, Archaeological Museum of Naples, Italy
https://twitter.com/greece_heritage/status/1688905660803805184

The Second Register (from the top): A procession of Greek deities adds depth to the iconography, rich symbolism and mythological significance, as it portrays a visual narrative that intertwines Persian and Greek cultures. Artemis, the huntress, is depicted riding a stag, symbolizing her connection to the wilderness and fertility. Seated beside her is Apollo, God of light and music, cradling a swan, representing his multifaceted domains. Zeus, the king of the gods, is presented sitting in the middle, with a sceptre in his hand, the thunderbolt beside him and a winged Victory in front of him. He turns towards a woman who, as the inscription above her head states, is Hellas personified, accompanied by Athena, goddess of wisdom and warfare, fully armoured, ready for battle. Apate, the goddess of deceit, holds aloft two torches, perhaps suggesting the duality of truth and deception. Lastly, Asia, personified as a seated figure on an altar, is depicted in front of a Hermaic Stele. The arrangement of these figures on the vase not only showcases the artistic prowess of the era but also reflects the intricate interplay between Greek and Persian mythologies, offering insights into the complexities of ancient cultural exchange.

Anonymous Apulian Vase Painter, commonly called the Darius Painter, worked between 340 and 320 BC
Darius Vase (Detail with Darius and the Messenger), 340-320 BC, Ceramic Red-Figure Volute Crater, Clay, Height: 1.15 m, Archaeological Museum of Naples, Italy
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darius_Vase

The Third Register: The protagonist of the third register, is Darius, the King of Persia. He is depicted in the center of the composition, seated on a luxurious throne with a footstool, holding a scepter in his right hand and a sword in his left hand, and is identified, like other figures, by an inscription. Standing before him, on a two-tiered circular plinth that bears the inscription PERSAI, is a bearded man, arm raised with three fingers extended, clearly delivering a message to the monarch. The messenger’s countenance betrays the gravity of his news, suggesting its unwelcome nature. The remaining figures represent members of Darius’s entourage, his bodyguard for example, and his officials,  Greek and Persians alike.

Anonymous Apulian Vase Painter, commonly called the Darius Painter, worked between 340 and 320 BC
Darius Vase (Tax Collecting scene), 340-320 BC, Ceramic Red-Figure Volute Crater, Clay, Height: 1.15 m, Archaeological Museum of Naples, Italy
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darius_Vase

The Bottom Fourth Register: In the Bottom Register, a robed, bearded man takes center stage, seated before a table. In his left hand, he holds a diptych tablet inscribed with numbers, indicating his role in calculation. Ψῆφοι, that is white stones utilized by ancient mathematicians for arithmetic, are scattered across the table, emphasizing his pursuits. Flanking him, two ‘Persians’ approach, one bearing a bag of currency, the other presenting golden vessels, symbolic of their tribute. Meanwhile, additional ‘Persians’ kneel in deference, extending their hands in a gesture of submission. The scene vividly illustrates the dynamics of taxation and submission, with the Greek figure diligently calculating and recording the total, while the ‘Persians’ acknowledge their obligation to pay taxes and recognize Greek authority.

Is the composition of the Darius Vase inspired by an ancient Greek theatrical Drama? One interpretation suggests that the depicted events on the Darius Vase likely correspond to Alexander the Great’s campaign in Persia. Therefore, it is inferred that the Persian king portrayed on the vase is Darius III, depicted listening to the news of the defeat of the Persian army, as conveyed by a messenger after the battle of Granicus in 334 BC. Following this battle, Alexander asserted his dominance over Asia Minor up to the Taurus Mountains. Consequently, many regions either submitted willingly or were compelled to acknowledge Alexander’s authority, leading to the imposition of tribute and the consequent enrichment of his treasury.

The iconography of the Darius Vase, like many other Apulian vases, is a treasury of symbolism and storytelling, offering profound insights into ancient Greek mythology, history, and culture through its intricate imagery and narrative compositions. It appears that the news of Alexander’s initial triumph over Darius swiftly spread across Greece, igniting fervor, and inspiring the creation of masterpieces, in the visual as well as the performing arts, that captivated audiences from Greece to Lower Italy.

Could it be that the Darius Vase itself is a product of this inspirational fervour? Crafted by one of Taranto’s most esteemed vase painters, it stands as a potential testament to the enduring influence of Alexander’s victory on the artistic landscape of Magna Graecia. As we marvel at its intricate details and ponder its narrative significance, we’re drawn into a world where history, myth, and art intertwine, inviting us to contemplate the profound impact of past events on the creative expressions of ancient civilizations.

For a PowerPoint Presentation on Apulian Pottery, please… Check HERE!

Bibliography: https://www.greek-language.gr/digitalResources/ancient_greek/history/art/page_122.html (in Greek)

Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

Limbourg Brothers, Herman, Jean, Paul, c. 1370-80-1416         
Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, Anatomical Man/Zodiac Man (folio 14v), 1413-16, Painting on Vellum, 30×21 cm, Museum Conde, Chantilly, France https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Anatomical_Man.jpg

The Limbourg Brothers were a trio of Dutch Renaissance painters: Herman, Paul, and Johan Limbourg from Nijmegen. They are most famous for their work on the illuminated manuscript Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (The Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry), which they created in the early 15th century. This manuscript is considered one of the masterpieces of French International Gothic Art. The brothers were known for their meticulous attention to detail and their ability to capture the richness of color and texture in their work. Unfortunately, their careers were cut short when they died at a young age, possibly due to the bubonic plague. Despite their short lives, their contributions to art and illumination continue to be celebrated and studied today.

Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry is an exquisite, illuminated manuscript that stands as a masterpiece of artistry and cultural heritage. Commissioned by Jean de Valois (1340-1416), Duc de Berry, in the early 15th century, between c. 1412 and 1416, this lavishly decorated Book of Hours captures the essence of the era’s religious devotion, aristocratic splendor, and the beauty of the natural world. Created by the Limbourg brothers, but never completed, it showcases their unparalleled skill in miniature painting, with each page a vibrant tapestry of intricate details and vivid colors. Beyond its artistic magnificence, the manuscript serves as a window into the opulent lifestyle and spiritual fervor of the medieval French court, making it a treasured relic of both artistic and historical significance.

An anonymous painter, widely speculated by art historians to be Barthélemy d’Eyck, undertook further embellishments for the unfinished manuscript in the 1440s. Subsequently, between 1485 and 1489, the manuscript underwent significant modifications by the painter Jean Colombe, acting on behalf of the Duke of Savoy, ultimately achieving its present state. Following its acquisition by the Duc d’Aumale in 1856, the book now resides as MS 65 in the Musée Condé, located in Chantilly, France.

This amazing manuscript is a collection of prayers to be said at the canonical hours. It contains a rich assortment of religious texts, prayers, and beautifully illustrated scenes depicting the liturgical calendar and the life of Christ. Its pages feature elaborate depictions of saints, biblical events, the months of the year, and scenes from everyday life, meticulously crafted with intricate details and vibrant colors. Additionally, the manuscript includes annotations, psalms, and devotional readings tailored for personal prayer and reflection. Beyond its religious content, the manuscript also offers glimpses into the aristocratic life, and the life of the peasants, of the time, with illustrations of courtly gatherings, hunting scenes, idyllic landscapes, and peasant chords. Each page is a testament to the skill of the Limbourg brothers and their mastery of the art of illumination, making it a captivating blend of religious devotion, artistic excellence, and historical insight.

Folio 14v, the manuscript’s page presenting the Anatomical or Zodiac Man, is a rare motif in medieval art, an elusive miniature, a unique iconography, and a riddle for all scholars involved in interpreting its meaning. Folio 14v is my personal favourite!

Against a backdrop of magnificent blue skies adorned with golden clouds, two naked men stand back-to-back at the center of the mandola-shaped composition. Within the body frame of the human figure facing the viewer, the manuscript artists present the twelve Signs of the Zodiac. Each Sign, meticulously arranged and governing a specific part of the body, is steeped in the medieval belief— a Hellenistic inheritance, to be precise— in astrological medicine. This belief posited that the movements of celestial bodies influenced health and bodily functions. The second figure, as presented by the Limbourgs, is the most enigmatic aspect of the composition. Seen from the back in a mirror-like reflection, this figure starkly contrasts with the first. Not adorned with Zodiacal Signs, he possesses auburn hair, and his arms are positioned differently. Together, they remain open to interpretation, lacking a definitive explanation.

Limbourg Brothers, Herman, Jean, Paul, c. 1370-80-1416         
Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, Anatomical Man/Zodiac Man (detail), 1413-16, Painting on Vellum, 30×21 cm, Museum Conde, Chantilly, France
https://utpictura18.univ-amu.fr/notice/19788-homme-anatomique-tres-riches-heures-duc-berry-limbourg

The Anatomical or Zodiac Man is framed by three mandola-shaped bands. The outermost band corresponds to the 360 degrees of the circle of heavens, scaled and sub-divided into twelve thirty-degree sectors, each corresponding to one zodiacal constellation. The inner band marks the days of each month for the entire year. The calibrations are precisely synchronized so that each month spans the interval from the exact mid-point of one sign to that of its successor. https://www.jstor.org/stable/750460?read-now=1&seq=4#page_scan_tab_contents Harry Bober The Zodiacal Miniature of the Très Riches Heures of the Duke of Berry: Its Sources and Meaning Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 11 (1948), pp. 1-34 (45 pages)

Within the outer bands, which are narrow in size, the Limbourg brothers positioned a wider band, beautifully adorned in green, blue, and gold, where a second set of the twelve Zodiac Signs is shown. Meticulously rendered, each Sign highlights the Limbourg brothers’ mastery of detail and design. The mandola shape of the band is further accentuated by the incorporation of the Zodiac Signs within similarly mandola-shaped designs. Together, they enrich the folio’s aesthetic appeal, contributing to a harmonious visual balance that complements the central figure’s anatomical depiction. Through this carefully crafted frame, the manuscript not only presents scientific knowledge but also elevates it to an aesthetic realm, inviting viewers to explore the interconnectedness of earthly and celestial phenomena.

In a captivating display of detail, the illumination’s apexes are adorned with the heraldic symbols representing the Duke of Berry, lending an air of regal splendor to the manuscript’s margins. Positioned alongside these symbols are four Latin inscriptions, each describing the characteristics attributed to the Zodiac Signs based on their complexions, temperaments, and cardinal points. In the upper left, Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius are depicted as fervently warm and dry, imbued with the fiery essence of the choleric temperament, and bearing the masculine energy of the East. Meanwhile, the upper right unveils Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn, enveloped in a cold and dry temperament, steeped in melancholy, and embracing the feminine allure of the Western realm. Descending to the lower left quadrant, Gemini, Aquarius, and Libra emerge with a vibrant warmth and humidity, embodying the sanguine spirit, and exuding the masculine vigor of the Southern domain. Finally, the lower right quadrant unveils Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces, cloaked in a chilly dampness, embodying the phlegmatic essence, and emanating the tranquil femininity of the Northern expanse. This interplay of symbolism and description not only enriches the visual tapestry but also invites contemplation on the interconnectedness of celestial forces and human attributes.

The depiction of the Anatomical or Zodiac Man in the Limbourg brothers’ manuscript Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry exudes a captivating aesthetic that seamlessly intertwines scientific inquiry with artistic mastery. Positioned within the intricate framework of medieval illumination, the figure emerges as a harmonious blend of anatomical precision and symbolic richness. Each rendered detail, from the delicate lines delineating the body’s proportions to the illustrated Zodiac Signs, invites contemplation and admiration. The vibrant hues of the illuminations, delicately applied gold leaf, and intricate patterns that adorn the margins further enhance the visual allure, drawing the viewer into a mesmerizing exploration of the human form and its cosmic connections. This fusion of artistic technique and intellectual curiosity epitomizes the manuscript’s exquisite aesthetic, offering a window into both the scientific knowledge and artistic sensibilities of the era.

For a PowerPoint Presentation on the Limbourg Brothers, please… Check HERE!

Bibliography: https://les-tres-riches-heures.chateaudechantilly.fr/ and https://www.jstor.org/stable/750460?read-now=1&seq=4#page_scan_tab_contents

Cardinal Bessarion in prayer before his Byzantine Reliquary

Gentile Bellini, active about 1460-1507
Cardinal Bessarion and Two Members of the Scuola della Carità in prayer with the Bessarion Reliquary, about 1472/3, Egg Tempera on Wood, 102.3 × 37.2 cm, The National Gallery, London, UK https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/gentile-bellini-cardinal-bessarion-with-the-bessarion-reliquary
The Byzantine Reliquary of Cardinal Bessarion, late 14th-early 15th cent., Wood, silver, gilt filigree, enamel, glass, and precious stones, Galleria dell’Accademia, Venice, Italy https://www.gallerieaccademia.it/en/reliquary-cardinal-bessarion

The painting by Gentile Bellini depicting Cardinal Bessarion in prayer before his Byzantine Reliquary, accompanied by two Members of the Scuola della Carità, housed in the National Gallery in London, captivates my fascination. Bellini’s masterpiece not only offers a tangible link to the historical context it portrays but also illuminates the cultural milieu of its time. Functioning as both an artistic treasure and a captivating historical document, this work by Bellini is a testament to the rich tapestry of the past. https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/gentile-bellini-cardinal-bessarion-with-the-bessarion-reliquary

Born Basilios Bessarion in 1403 in Trebizond, on the Black Sea, Bessarion emerged as a distinguished Humanist and a significant figure of the Renaissance. Initially devoted to a monastic life within the Eastern Orthodox Church, his trajectory took a pivotal turn during the Council of Ferrara-Florence. Here, he fervently advocated for the union of the Eastern and Western Churches, leading to his relocation to Italy. Immersing himself in the Renaissance’s revival of classical learning, Bessarion’s scholarly contributions and diplomatic acumen were acknowledged by Pope Eugene IV in 1439, culminating in his appointment as a Cardinal of the Catholic Church.

Beyond his ecclesiastical responsibilities, Cardinal Bessarion carried influence as a significant Arts Patron, amassing an extensive collection of Greek and Latin manuscripts including ecclesiastical and classical texts. His library considered a beacon of erudition, played a pivotal role in disseminating Greek knowledge to Latin-speaking scholars, thus nurturing the flourishing Humanist movement. This rich repository, comprising rare manuscripts and ancient texts, reflected Bessarion’s fervent commitment to preserving and transmitting the cultural heritage of both Eastern and Western traditions. This passion left a lasting mark on the intellectual landscape of the Renaissance. On May 31, 1468, Cardinal Bessarion bestowed his precious library upon the Serenissima Republic of Venice, endowing hundreds of rare manuscripts to shape the nucleus of the renowned library of St Mark’s, the Biblioteca Marciana.

Gentile Bellini, active about 1460-1507
Cardinal Bessarion and Two Members of the Scuola della Carità in prayer with the Bessarion Reliquary, about 1472/3, Egg Tempera on Wood, 102.3 × 37.2 cm, The National Gallery, London, UK https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/gentile-bellini-cardinal-bessarion-with-the-bessarion-reliquary
The Byzantine Reliquary of Cardinal Bessarion, late 14th-early 15th cent., Wood, silver, gilt filigree, enamel, glass, and precious stones, Galleria dell’Accademia, Venice, Italy https://www.gallerieaccademia.it/en/reliquary-cardinal-bessarion

While Cardinal Bessarion is primarily celebrated for his scholarly contributions, efforts in reuniting the Eastern and Western Churches, and the establishment of his extensive library, he is also associated with a remarkable religious artifact known as Bessarion’s Reliquary or Staurotheke in Greek. This magnificent example of Late Byzantine craftsmanship, donated by Bessarion himself to the Scuola Grande della Carità in 1463, now forms part of the Collection of the Accademia in Venice. The Reliquary features a movable, gilded central Cross with origins traced back to the Byzantine princess Irene Paleologina. Encased within a wooden frame/box adorned with painted scenes depicting the Passion, intricate goldsmithing featuring blue-colored enameling, and flanked by the figures of Emperor Constantine and his mother Helena, the Cross also incorporates four chambers made of rock crystal. These chambers, situated on either side of the Cross, house the precious Relics of the True Cross and Christ’s robe.

Moving from the exploration of Cardinal Bessarion’s Reliquary to Gentile Bellini’s depiction of it, one can discern the symbiotic relationship between the historical artifact and the artist’s creative interpretation. Executed in 1972/73, precisely when Bessarion’s Reliquary made its way to Venice, Bellini was commissioned to craft a painted door panel. This panel was an integral component of a tabernacle designed to encase and safeguard the precious reliquary.

Cardinal Bessarion and Two Members of the Scuola della Carità in prayer with the Bessarion Reliquary (detail), Egg Tempera on Wood, 102.3 × 37.2 cm, The National Gallery, London, UK
https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/gentile-bellini-cardinal-bessarion-with-the-bessarion-reliquary

Gentile Bellini’s artistic pursuit not only captures the religious significance of the Reliquary but also breathes life into the personalities linked to its donation. The painting prominently features the generous donor, Cardinal Bessarion, portrayed in profile and modestly attired in black. Accompanying him are two distinguished members of the Scuola della Carità, adorned in their characteristic white robes. One of them is depicted holding an instrument for self-flagellation, projecting a sense of distinction and prominence. Despite the varied depictions, the central focus remains on Bessarion’s Reliquary, commanding attention in the composition. It serves as both a symbolic and visual anchor, connecting the historical artifact to the narrative brushstrokes of Bellini’s portrayal. Consequently, Bellini’s canvas emerges as a bridge between the tangible beauty of the relic and the nuanced storytelling of the individuals tied to it.

Cardinal Bessarion and Two Members of the Scuola della Carità in prayer with the Bessarion Reliquary (detail), Egg Tempera on Wood, 102.3 × 37.2 cm, The National Gallery, London, UK
https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/gentile-bellini-cardinal-bessarion-with-the-bessarion-reliquary

The Reliquary’s connection to Venice is beautifully narrated by Holgera A. Klein… In July 1463, ten years after the conquest of Constantinople (1453), Pope Pius II had sent Bessarion to Venice in an attempt to rekindle and promote the idea of a Crusade against the Ottoman Turks. Befitting his role as a Catholic Cardinal traveling as papal legate, the Doge and Senate went out to meet Bessarion in the lagoon on the Bucintoro, the doge’s great ceremonial barge, with chants, acclamations, and church bells resounding from all parts of the city. It was not the only honor bestowed on Bessarion in Venice, for on August 29, a few weeks after his arrival in Venice, Marco della Costa, the Guardian Grande of the Scuola della Carità, and a delegation of its most prominent members went to visit the Cardinal on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore and solemnly invited him to join their confraternity as a member. Touched by the city’s exhibit of respect, Bessarion, accepted the honor, accompanied the Scuola’s delegation back to the Rialto in festive procession, and vowed in gratitude to bestow a special gift on the Confraternity, namely his precious Stavrotheke, that previously belonged to Gregory III Melissenos, the Patriarch of Constantinople, with the sole provision that he would like to hold on to it during his lifetime. https://arthistory.columbia.edu/sites/default/files/content/faculty/pdfs/klein/Klein_estratto.pdf Cardinal Bessarion, Philippe de Mézières and the Rhetoric of Relics in late medieval Venice, by Holger A. Klein, pp. 23-26

In the spring of 1472, in Bolognia, on his way to France on yet another Papal mission, the ailing Bessarion decided to hand over the promised gift, which he had meanwhile ‘further adorned with silver, and fitted with a pole so that it could suitably be displayed in the context of pious devotion’. Three trusted men from the Cardinal’s familia were sent as couriers to hand over the precious panel, which, according to the confraternity’s reply, arrived in Venice in early June. At the request of the Venetian Senate the reliquary was first displayed on the high altar of San Marco on Trinity Sunday, and then carried in solemn procession through the city and across the Grand Canal into the Scuola della Carità accompanied by the entire populace chanting hymns…https://arthistory.columbia.edu/sites/default/files/content/faculty/pdfs/klein/Klein_estratto.pdf Cardinal Bessarion, Philippe de Mézières and the Rhetoric of Relics in late medieval Venice, by Holger A. Klein, pp. 23-26

What a magnificent story!

For a PowerPoint Presentation on Gentile Bellini’s oeuvre, please… Check HERE!

Information on the Conference ‘La Stauroteca di Bessarione: Restauro, Provenienza, Ambito Culturale tra Constantinopoli e Venezia’ (The Stauroteca of Bessarion: restoration, provenance, cultural context between Constantinople and Venice), organized by: Gallerie dell’Accademia, Istituto Hellenico, Veneto Institute of Sciences, Letters and Arts, in collaboration with the German Center of Venetian Studies, 17 – 18 October 2013 https://www.istitutoveneto.it/flex/cm/pages/ServeBLOB.php/L/IT/IDPagina/862

For Photographs of the Staurotheke’s restoration… https://leipsanothiki.blogspot.com/2014/10/359.html

The Lady and the Unicorn

The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries, circa 1500, Wool and Silk, Musée de Cluny, Paris, France https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lady_and_the_Unicorn#/media/File:Lady_and_the_Unicorn_1.jpg

In the heart of the Cluny Museum in Paris, six exquisite masterpieces from the late 15th century quietly captivate visitors—The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. These splendid works of art, steeped in mystery and allure, weave a narrative that transcends time. As we embark on a visual journey through the intricacies of this enchanting work of art let’s remember the oldest reference to the Unicorn… there are in India certain wild asses which are as large as horses, and larger. Their bodies are white, their horns dark red, and their eyes dark blue… The quotation comes from the 4th century BC book Indica, a combination of geography, and zoology, by Greek physician, Ctesias from Cnidos. http://printedpearls.com/unicorns-in-medieval-manuscripts

Introduction

The Lady and the Unicorn is a series of six tapestries dating back to the late 15th century, widely regarded as masterpieces of medieval European art. Each tapestry depicts a Lady interacting with a Unicorn in a lush garden setting, with accompanying elements such as a lion, monkeys, and various flora and fauna. The symbolism within the scenes is rich, revealing the Medieval world of the human Senses and conveying themes of romance, chivalry, and morality. The precise meaning of the tapestries remains open to interpretation, adding to their mystique and enduring allure. Despite the passage of centuries, The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries continue to captivate viewers with their timeless beauty and enigmatic narrative.

The Patrons

Introducing the captivating narrative woven into The Lady and the Unicorn tapestry, the coat of arms featured, a vivid red shield with a blue band adorned with three silver crescent moons, offers a crucial historical clue. This distinctive heraldry connects the commission of the tapestries to the Le Viste family, notable figures in the Paris parliament during that era. The family’s ascent in social status is reflected in the tapestries, adorned with a profusion of heraldic symbols and emblems, a deliberate assertion of their collective and individual power. The full coat of arms, potentially linked to Jean IV Le Viste or his cousin Antoine, suggests a weaving date around 1500. The presence of the initials A and I in the “Mon seul désir” motto hints at a celebration, possibly related to an engagement between the groom and bride, particularly Jean IV and Jacqueline Raguier. Stylistic connections to the workshop of the Master of the Très Petites Heures manuscript and the intricate symbolism throughout the tapestries add depth to the rich tapestry, making it a fascinating exploration of familial power, social ascent, and symbolic storytelling.

The Discovery

Crafted around 1500, The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries have captivated the imagination and curiosity of admirers for centuries. Their historical emergence gained momentum in the 19th century when they were rediscovered at the Château de Boussac, a small castle in central France. Notably, novelist George Sand played a significant role in elevating their prominence by featuring the enigmatic tapestries in her 1844 novel Jeanne, where she described them as masterpieces with intriguing historical significance. Concurrently, Prosper Mérimée, the inspector general of historic monuments in France, became aware of their artistic importance through Sand and recognized their exceptional originality and quality. Motivated by concerns about their condition, Mérimée fervently advocated for the state’s acquisition of the tapestries. Following prolonged negotiations, the town of Boussac ultimately agreed to sell these exceptional artworks to the state in 1882. Since then, they have found a permanent home at the Musée de Cluny – Musée national du Moyen Âge in Paris, where they continue to inspire awe and admiration.

Description and Interpretation

The six tapestries of The Lady and the Unicorn form a harmonious ensemble characterized by balanced and understated compositions, unfolding against a striking red Mille Fleur background. Each tapestry features a central narrative where the protagonist, an elegant, aristocratic Lady, occasionally accompanied by her lady companion, is consistently flanked by a Lion and a Unicorn who carry banners with the Le Viste family coat of arms. The profound mystery embedded in these tapestries, a source of fascination for George Sand, primarily resides in their elusive meaning, subject to interpretations. While five of the six pieces are widely accepted as representations of the Five Senses, Touch, Taste, Smell, Hearing, and Sight, there is a sixth tapestry, the meaning of which, remains enigmatic, leaving viewers to ponder if this is a tapestry depicting a Sixth Sense!

The tapestry presenting Touch is captivating… The Lady demands attention with her commanding presence, her untamed tresses, and opulent attire, as she stands, her right hand firmly lifting the Le Viste family banner while her left delicately touches the Unicorn’s horn. A departure from the norm, this piece unveils unique elements like the Unicorn’s small size and the Lion’s bulging eyes, wide mouth, and pointed ears. The background introduces an array of captivating creatures, including two captive monkeys and collared animals – a wolf, a panther, and a cheetah.

Taste is the second scene presented in the Cluny tapestry series… Here, the protagonist engages in a delicate gesture, accepting a sweet from her lady companion to feed the parrot perched on her gloved hand. The harmonious arrangement centers around the triangular formation of the two women, their relaxed postures, and calm gestures in stark contrast to the lively movements of the Lion and Unicorn, adorned in billowing, armored capes. A rose-covered fence in the background adds depth and frames the elegant scene. The Mille Fleur background, however, teems with life, featuring a hornless young unicorn among other creatures.

The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries, Smell, circa 1500, Wool and Silk, Musée de Cluny, Paris, France https://theconversation.com/explainer-the-symbolism-of-the-lady-and-the-unicorn-tapestry-cycle-91325

In this picturesque tapestry scene presenting Smell, the third Sense… the Lady is occupied in crafting a floral garland using carnations from a tray tendered by her lady companion. The symbolic gesture is accentuated by a monkey in the background, engaged in the act of smelling a rose. Both women are fashionably groomed, showing luxurious inner and outer garments. The Lady’s hair, mostly concealed, is adorned with a short headdress intricately divided by rows of pearls and bordered with gems, creating a regal allure. Contrastingly, the lady companion’s hair is elegantly styled on the sides, secured with ribbons, and covered with a modest short band, adding a touch of sophistication to this enchanting tableau.

Hearing is presented with a captivating tapestry moment… the Lady is immersed in the melodious pursuit of playing a portative organ, its bellows deftly operated by her lady companion. Set upon an oriental rug, the instrument’s posts are adorned with intricate depictions of a Unicorn and a Lion, lending an air of regality to the scene. The composition, though narrow, exudes elegance, with banners gracefully concealing the trees behind them.

In this poignant tapestry tableau depicting the fifth Sense of Sight… the Lady assumes a seated posture, tenderly caressing the Unicorn with her left hand. The Unicorn reciprocates by resting its front legs on her lap, its gaze fixated on a mirror, a precious piece of gold work. Meanwhile, in the background, a lion cub, a dog, and a rabbit participate in the looking game, enriching the tapestry with additional layers of charm and symbolism.

The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries, Mon Seul Désir, circa 1500, Wool and Silk, Musée de Cluny, Paris, France https://theconversation.com/explainer-the-symbolism-of-the-lady-and-the-unicorn-tapestry-cycle-91325

In front of a captivating blue pavilion bearing the enigmatic inscription, Mon Seul Désir/My sole desire, a mysterious scene unfolds, prompting contemplation of its profound meaning. This is the sixth Tapestry in The Lady and the Unicorn series! Interpreted as a part of a larger allegory of the senses, this tableau is thought to convey the essence of a ‘sixth sense.’ In medieval symbolism, this transcendent sense could signify the soul, the mind, or the heart – the very core of moral life and carnal desire. The crux of the allegory lies in the phrase ‘My sole desire,’ which, while evoking courtly romanticism, also hints at moral reason or ‘free will.’ The ambiguity of the lady’s actions adds to the intrigue: is she adorning herself with jewels taken from the casket, or is her gesture one of renunciation? Whether embracing or rejecting the pleasures of the senses, her actions are driven by her own free will, epitomizing her ‘sole desire’ for agency and self-determination in this enigmatic tapestry scene.

The Lady and the Unicorn tapestry series at the Cluny Museum is an exquisite embodiment of medieval aesthetic refinement. Crafted around 1500, these masterpieces showcase a harmonious interplay of vibrant colors, intricate details, and symbolic depth. The balanced and elegant compositions feature an aristocratic Lady, a Unicorn, and a Lion against a rich Mille Fleur background, with each tapestry encapsulating a unique allegory of the human Senses. The tapestries’ aesthetic allure lies not only in their technical brilliance but also in the subtle conveyance of narratives, inviting viewers into a timeless world where beauty, symbolism, and craftsmanship intertwine seamlessly.

For a PowerPoint on The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries in the Cluny Museum, please… Check HERE!

Bibliography: https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/artboards/theladyandtheunicorn/ and https://bloginfrance.com/french%20life/2017/11/22/lady-and-unicorn.html and https://www.musee-moyenage.fr/en/collection/the-lady-and-the-unicorn.html and https://www.musee-moyenage.fr/media/documents-pdf/fiches-de-salles/fichesalle13damelicorne-histoireiconographie-ang.pdf

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema and Romantic Love

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, O.M., R.A., R.W.S., British Artist, 1836-1912
A Solicitation, 1878, pencil and watercolour on paper, 22.9 x 45.1 cm, Private Collection https://www.mutualart.com/Artwork/A-Solicitation/8FB915CF2DFA260B4CC9A753186F8298

On Saint Valentine’s Day, I think of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema and Romantic Love. I think of his many paintings portraying the emotional nuances of romantic interactions, the courtship scenes with a heightened sense of intimacy, the use of rich colors and the exquisite settings often applied to evoke a romantic ambiance.  I reflect upon his gentle gestures, unambiguous glances, and subtle expressions that capture the essence of romantic relationships in a bygone era. Alma-Tadema’s paintings, whether set in ancient Rome, Greece, or other historical periods, convey a sense of timeless beauty and the universal aspects of love and courtship. The artist’s ability to infuse his works with a sense of elegance and emotion allowed viewers to connect with the theme of courtship on a deeply human level, transcending the specific historical context of each painting. Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema was a master in representing Romantic Love!

On the 13th of December 2022, a small watercolour painting by Alma-Tadema, titled A Solicitation, was auctioned at Christie’s, with great success. The composition is entirely typical of his work, with a young woman sitting upright on a marble bench, listening to the entreaties of the young man who reclines beside her. Is she swayed by his ‘words? I do not know… I see her holding on to her lap the flowers ‘he’ probably gave her contemplating his ‘proposition’. https://www.christies.com/lot/lot-6408828?ldp_breadcrumb=back&intObjectID=6408828&from=salessummary&lid=1

The painting A Solicitation has all the characteristics of the Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema artistic style. Renowned for his expertise in portraying various facets of sun-soaked, glowing marble, the artist, for example, presents a large, almost luminescent bench to the viewer, by skillfully utilizing watercolour transparency to evoke the hues of the marble. Equally interesting is how the depicted young couple, dressed in off-white clothes, stands out, due to Alma-Tadema’s adept handling of different textures. Finally, it is essential to mention the Mediterranean oleander tree in the right part of the middle ground, which the artist used to harmonize the rectangular shape of the composition, and the blue hues of the sea and distant coast in the background that seamlessly merge with the bright sky, creating a splendid morning scene. https://www.christies.com/lot/lot-6408828?ldp_breadcrumb=back&intObjectID=6408828&from=salessummary&lid=1

Alma-Tadema’s patrons were captivated by the romantically appealing compositions depicting courtship, prompting the artist to create multiple versions of this theme. The inaugural scene, titled “Pleading,” was crafted in 1876 and is currently housed in the Guildhall Art Gallery in London. Following this, in approximately 1877, Alma-Tadema produced another courtship scene titled “The Question,” now part of the Colección Pérez Simón in Mexico City. The third installment in this series is the watercolor painting from 1878, named “A Solicitation.” Subsequently, three additional paintings, dating back to 1883, are dispersed across prominent locations—the British Museum (Op. CCLVIII), a private collection, and the Walters Art Museum in the United States (Op. CCLIX). Throughout these various iterations of the courtship composition, Alma-Tadema maintained a consistent portrayal of the fundamental relationship between the two figures: a contemplative female and a beseeching, submissive male gazing up at her. The compositions also feature an expansive, almost panoramic view extending beyond the edge of the bench, revealing the vast sea and its miniature sailing boats. https://www.christies.com/lot/lot-6408828?ldp_breadcrumb=back&intObjectID=6408828&from=salessummary&lid=1

The photograph shows Alma-Tadema’s studio at Townsend House, after its reconstruction following the destruction caused by an explosion on a barge on the Regent’s Canal in 1874. Alma-Tadema decorated the small first-floor studio in a Pompeian style, with a dark red ceiling and red and yellow wall panels with garlands and medallions. Over the fireplace can be seen a bronze bust of his wife backed by a curtain of cloth of gold. On the easel appears to be a variation of the watercolour ‘A Declaration’ 1883 and just below it, on the floor, is a reproduction of ‘Anthony and Cleopatra’, 1883. The studio also housed Alma-Tadema’s extensive collection of photographs. https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/art-artists/work-of-art/sir-lawrence-alma-tadema-r-a

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836–1912) was a renowned Dutch-born Victorian painter who achieved international acclaim for his vivid and meticulously detailed depictions of classical antiquity. Known for his mastery of historical accuracy and meticulous attention to architectural and ornamental details, Alma-Tadema’s paintings often showcased scenes from ancient Rome, Greece, and Egypt. His works, characterized by their sumptuous colors, intricate compositions, and a focus on the opulent lifestyles of the classical world, captivated audiences during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Alma-Tadema’s artistic contributions left an enduring impact on the academic art scene, and his legacy continues to be celebrated for the way he brought ancient history to life through his extraordinary talent and dedication to historical accuracy.

For a PowerPoint Presentation of six paintings by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, presenting Courtship Scenes, please… Check HERE!

Musée de Cluny

View of the 3 architectural phases of the Musée de ClunyMusée national du Moyen Âge (Roman, 20th century, Renaissance) in Paris, France https://www.paris.fr/pages/reouverture-de-cluny-le-musee-qui-modernise-le-moyen-age-21099

The Cluny Museum, officially known as the Musée de Cluny – Musée national du Moyen Âge, is a captivating institution located in the heart of Paris, France. Housed in the former Cluny Abbey, a medieval Benedictine monastery, the museum is dedicated to the preservation and display of artifacts from the Middle Ages. Its rich collection spans from the Late Roman Period to the 16th century and includes a diverse range of artworks that provide a fascinating glimpse into medieval life. The architecture of the Cluny Museum itself is a marvel, blending the 20th century, Medieval, and Renaissance elements, with beautiful gardens adding to its charm. Visitors can explore the intimate courtyards, chapels, and thermal baths, which are among the best-preserved Roman baths in France. The Cluny Museum stands as a unique space, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the art, history, and culture of the medieval period in an enchanting setting.

View of the Musée de ClunyMusée national du Moyen Âge, in Paris, France
https://joinusinfrance.com/episode/episode-8-cluny-museum-walking-tour/

Visitors to the Cluny Museum in Paris can explore a rich and diverse collection of artifacts from the Middle Ages. https://www.musee-moyenage.fr/en/ Some of the highlights include:

Medieval Sculptures and Architectural Fragments: The museum houses a remarkable collection of medieval sculptures, including statues, reliefs, and architectural fragments from churches and cathedrals. The sculptures depict saints, biblical figures, and scenes from religious narratives, revealing the profound influence of Christianity on medieval art. Additionally, the architectural fragments provide insights into the grandeur of medieval structures, allowing visitors to appreciate the ornate details and exquisite craftsmanship that adorned sacred spaces like the Notre Dame of Paris or Sainte-Chapelle.

Illuminated Manuscripts: The Cluny Museum features a splendid collection of illuminated manuscripts, showcasing the intricate and detailed illustrations found in medieval books. These manuscripts often include religious texts, literary works, and scientific treatises.

Stained Glass Windows: The museum displays a selection of medieval stained glass windows, offering a glimpse into the stunning visual artistry that adorned churches and cathedrals during the Middle Ages. These windows, meticulously crafted with vibrant colors and intricate designs, provide a vivid representation of the storytelling and symbolism embedded in medieval Christian traditions.

Musée de Cluny Faces, For more information on the depicted ‘Faces’, please check the attached PowerPoint https://www.musee-moyenage.fr/en/

Everyday Life Artifacts: Visitors can explore a variety of everyday objects from medieval life, such as ceramics, textiles, and metalwork. These artifacts provide insights into the daily lives, customs, and technologies of people during the medieval period.

The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries: This famous series of six tapestries is considered a masterpiece of medieval art. Each tapestry represents one of the senses, and the intricate designs and vibrant colors are a testament to the craftsmanship of the time.

Roman Baths, Gardens, and Courtyards: The Cluny Museum is situated on the site of ancient Roman baths, and visitors can explore the well-preserved frigidarium (cold room) and caldarium (hot room), gaining an understanding of Roman engineering and architecture. Additionally, the museum features charming gardens and courtyards, offering peaceful spaces for visitors to relax and enjoy the historic surroundings.

Musée de Cluny – Musée national du Moyen Âge,  View of the interior, Paris, Francehttps://www.studiogardere.com/en/projects/museum/musee-de-cluny-musee-national-du-moyen-age/

The Cluny Museum in Paris offers a unique and alternative experience for visitors exploring the French capital due to its singular focus on the Middle Ages. Amidst the iconic landmarks and modern attractions of Paris, the museum provides a serene escape into the rich tapestry of medieval history, art, and culture. Its diverse collection offers an immersive journey into a bygone era. The atmospheric setting of the former Cluny Abbey, complete with Roman baths and picturesque gardens, enhances the distinctive charm of this museum. It provides a more intimate and specialized encounter, allowing visitors to delve into the intricate details of medieval life, religious practices, and artistic achievements, creating an enriching contrast to the contemporary allure of Paris.

For a PowerPoint Presentation of Masterpieces from the Cluny Museum, please… Check HERE!

February and the Waterloo Cup

George Derville Rowlandson, British, 1861-1918
The Month of February: Coursing, the Waterloo Cup, unknown date, pen & ink and w/c on paper, Private Collection https://www.meisterdrucke.uk/fine-art-prints/George-Derville-Rowlandson/179537/The-Month-of-February:-Coursing-%28pen-and-ink-and-wc-on-paper%29.html

I’ll tell of the Magna Charter / As were signed at the Barons’ command / On Runningmead Island in t’ middle of t’ Thames / By King John, as were known as “Lack Land.”    /    …”We’ll get him a Magna Charter,” / Said Fitz when his face he had freed; / Said the Barons “That’s right and if one’s not enough, / Get a couple and happen they’ll breed.”    /    So they set about making a Charter, / When at finish they’d got it drawn up, / It looked like a paper on cattle disease, Or the entries for t’ Waterloo Cup… humorously wrote Edgar Marriott, and I think of February and the Waterloo Cup by George Derville Rowlandson. https://allpoetry.com/Magna-Charta

George Derville Rowlandson (1861–1928) was a British artist known for his contributions to the field of illustration and watercolour painting. Rowlandson was born on the 11th of December 1861 in Secunderabad, Madras, India, the son of George Rowlandson an Indian Army colonel, and studied at the Gloucester Art School as well as the Westminster School of Art, London, and in Paris. He was part of the Rowlandson artistic family, his grandfather being the famous caricaturist and satirist Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827).

His works often depicted charming rural scenes, equestrian portraits, sporting scenes and military subjects as he was one of the first official WWI artists of the UK. At first, that is between 1897 and 1900, Rowlandson worked as an illustrator for The Illustrated London News, and then, from 1899 to 1900, he worked for the English Illustrated Magazine. As a freelance artist, he exhibited oil paintings and watercolours at the British Institution and the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Derville_Rowlandson

On the 1st of February, I present you with a lovely watercolour by George Derville Rowlandson, titled February, The Waterloo Cup. It is part of a set of twelve small watercolour paintings depicting a sporting event, one for each month of the year.  

Every Month, a different Sporting Event, unknown date, pen & ink and w/c on paper, 11.4 x 14.9 cm, Private Collection https://www.christies.com/en/lot/lot-4210691

Christie’s experts have identified the Months along with their corresponding sporting events as: January, the skating championships; February, the Waterloo cup; March, point to point; April, cross country; May, Rotten Row; June, Hurlingham; July, not out; August, common objects by the sea; September, his first fish – a fifty pounder at least; October, a rocketer; November, forward away; December, well passed sir all signed with initials ‘G.D.R.’ (seven lower right); and five (lower left) and inscribed ‘January, the skating championships’ (lower centre); ‘February, the Waterloo cup’ (lower centre); ‘March, point to point’ (lower centre); ‘April, cross country’ (lower centre); ‘May, Rotten Row’ (lower centre); ‘June, Hurlingham’ (lower centre); ‘July, not out’ (lower centre); ‘August, common objects by the sea’ (lower centre); ‘September, his first fish -a fifty pounder at least’ (on the reverse); ‘October a rocketer’ (lower centre); ‘November, forward away’ (lower centre); ‘December, well passed Sir’ (lower centre) respectively. https://www.christies.com/en/lot/lot-4210691

Artistically, the scene depicting February and the Waterloo Cup stands out as my favourite, distinct from it being a favoured sporting event. Full of energy and excitement, the scene presents a renowned coursing event organized by the National Coursing Club (NCC). Established in 1836, the competition held a prestigious status in the world of greyhound coursing. The event took place annually at Altcar near Liverpool in England and was named after the Waterloo Hotel, which hosted the inaugural meeting.

Coursing involves setting greyhounds after a hare, and the Waterloo Cup was a prominent fixture attracting participants and spectators alike. The competition’s history spans decades, contributing to the rich tapestry of traditional British sporting events. Not only did it showcase the speed and agility of greyhounds, but it also became a social and cultural phenomenon. The Waterloo Cup held its last meeting in 2005, marking the end of an era in coursing history due to changes in legislation related to animal welfare. Despite its closure, the Waterloo Cup remains a significant historical chapter in the world of coursing and sportsmanship.

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