The Labours of the Months: July

By an unknown Venetian artist…
The Labours of the Months: July, about 1580, oil on canvas, 13.6 x 10.6 cm, National Gallery, London
https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/italian-venetian-the-labours-of-the-months-january#painting-group-info

As an introduction to my new BLOG POST The Labours of the Months: July, let’s read Sir Charles George Douglas Roberts’s poem on July… I am for the open meadows, / Open meadows full of sun, / Where the hot bee hugs the clover, / The hot breezes drop and run.    /    I am for the uncut hayfields / Open to the cloudless blue,— / For the wide unshadowed acres / Where the summer’s pomps renew;    /    Where the grass-tops gather purple, / Where the oxeye daisies thrive, / And the mendicants of summer / Laugh to feel themselves alive;    /    Where the hot scent steams and quivers, / Where the hot saps thrill and stir, / Where in leaf-cells’ green pavilions / Quaint artificers confer;    /    Where the bobolinks are merry, / Where the beetles bask and gleam, / Where above the powdered blossoms / Powdered moth-wings poise and dream;    /    Where the bead-eyed mice adventure / In the grass-roots green and dun. / Life is good and love is eager / In the playground of the sun! https://discoverpoetry.com/poems/july-poems/

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. The Trentino Fresco Panels at Torre Aquila in Northern Italy for example, present trained and obedient peasants busy with their seasonal activities, but dominated by the local aristocracy who seem to only care for their idler activities. (I presented the eleven surviving Torre Aquila frescoes in 2020. Please check https://www.teachercurator.com/?s=torre%20aquila&cat=plus-5-results)

Starting the 1st of January 2021 and for every month so far, we “take a trip” to the National Gallery in London and “study” a small picture (there are twelve such pictures), “painted on canvas and then… glued to a wooden panel. It is possible that (these twelve pictures) 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 are currently displayed in two frames in groups of six. They show the ‘labours of the months’ – the rural activities that take place each month throughout the year.” https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/italian-venetian-the-labours-of-the-months-january#painting-group-info

By an unknown Venetian artist…
The Labours of the Months: July (detail), about 1580, oil on canvas, 13.6 x 10.6 cm, National Gallery, London
https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/italian-venetian-the-labours-of-the-months-january#painting-group-info

For the Month of July, we have a copious outdoors scene. National Gallery experts believe that this small painting presents July and shows a man (as he) threshes grain from the corn husks and stalks of straw. He holds the corn on a wooden block and strikes it with his wooden flail. The weather is warm and the man is barefoot with no hat on his head. He is a little older than the labourers in the other pictures – some streaks of grey appear in his beard. The depicted man kneels outside a small brick building with an overhanging roof supported on two posts. Perhaps it is the same building in which the elderly man sits in the representation of January. At the foot of the blue mountains in the distance, we see a fine villa, to which this farmland perhaps belongs.

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

White Ships by John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent, American artist, 1856-1925
White Ships, circa 1908, Translucent and opaque watercolor and wax resist with graphite underdrawing, 35.6 x 49.2 cm, Brooklyn Museum, NY, USA https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/20397

Strange flight, the body / Held at a threshold / And never quite freed    /    Or quite revealed— / One wing taut with wind, / One wing concealed    /    Until the wind grows calm / And it shimmers in a shadow-world, / The shape of a sail, yet softer—    /    The drifting boat / A bird half in air, / Half in water… writes Heather Allen, and I think of White Ships by John Singer Sargent and a perfect day in the sea… anywhere in the world! https://www.tweetspeakpoetry.com/2017/02/09/top-10-ship-sail-boat-poems/

John Singer Sargent is the par excellence representative American artist of the Gilded Age. His life represents its very characteristics! He was born in Florence, Italy, to expatriate American parents…  He had a nomadic childhood, spending winters in Florence, Rome, or Nice and summers in the Alps or other cooler locations. Early in his life, he realized what he wanted to do in life was to become an artist, and supported by his mother, Mary Newbold Sargent, who was herself an accomplished amateur watercolorist he accomplished it. Sargent and his mother carried sketchbooks throughout their extensive travels across Europe, and he developed a quick eye and fast reflexes for recording his impressions of the landscape. Eighteen years old, under the tutelage of the painter Carolus-Duran, who encouraged him to paint directly onto the canvas, without any preparatory drawing, and to study the Old Masters, John Singer Sargent developed his skills, exhibited both landscapes and portraits to much acclaim, and developed a reputation as a fine society portraitist on both sides of the Atlantic. What a life… Brooklyn Museum – Teaching Resource: Special Exhibition – John Singer Sargent Watercolors – April 5–July 28, 2013, p. 2

John Singer Sargent, American artist, 1856-1925
Self-Portrait, 1906, oil on canvas, 70×53 cm, the MET, NY, USA https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sargent,_John_SInger_(1856-1925)_-_Self-Portrait_1907_b.jpg

Sargent wanted more… He grew restless at the height of his career, and sought escape from the constraints of the studio and the demands of his patrons for society portraits. What he did was to travel to remote spots, choose his own subjects, and paint without distraction inspirational watercolours… of landscapes, genre scenes, friends, and family. After 1900 Sargent spent his summers traveling throughout Europe, painting both oil paintings and watercolors. What a life… Brooklyn Museum – Teaching Resource: Special Exhibition – John Singer Sargent Watercolors – April 5–July 28, 2013, p. 2

Painting the characteristic Mediterranean sailing boats and fishing vessels was a favourite theme of Sargent’s watercoloures. The Brooklyn White Ships is by far my favourite. The subject matter is purely “marine,” the lines communicate energy and the colours bask on summer chaleur! The artist focuses on the sails, the mast and the prow of each boat, the blue of the sky and the reflections on the seawater. Controlled tones of blue and white suggest subtle shadows while brushstrokes of colour on the water create an interaction of light a shade. How more summery can it get!

When I discuss John Singer Sargent’s Watercolours with my Students I always give them a copy of the Brooklyn Museum – Teaching Resource: Special Exhibition – John Singer Sargent Watercolors – April 5–July 28, 2013. It is a great source of information and provides many sources for Student Activities.

For a PowerPoint on John Singer Sargent’s Watercolours, please…  Click HERE!

Rouen Cathedral in the Morning

Claude Monet, 1840 – 1926
Rouen Cathedral in the Morning (Pink Dominant), 1894, Oil on canvas, 100.3 × 65.5 cm, Basil & Elise Goulandris Foundation, Athens
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/20/Claude_Monet_-_La_Cathedrale_de_Rouen_Le_Matin%2C_dominante_rose_-_Goulandris_Museum.jpg

“The subject is something secondary, what I want to reproduce is what lies between the subject and myself” writes in one of his letters Claude Monet and the painting of the Rouen Cathedral in the Morning, a great masterpiece in the Collection of the Basil & Elise Goulandris Foundation in Athens, helps me explore this idea.

It was 1892, Monet was in Rouen and the city’s Gothic Cathedral, lofty and imposing, captivated, challenged, and stymied him. How can I capture the “invisible” that connects us and constantly “transforms” this amazing building, he probably thought. Can I “trap” that elusive  “light and atmosphere” that “hang” between us… design and create something substantial out of the intangible? Difficult questions to answer and most of all realize. Yet, Claude Monet was a persistent and resilient man. It took him 3 years, countless hours of painting, and over 30 canvases to create the Rouen Cathedral Series, an accomplishment to be proud of.

The artist’s idea was to create yet another series of paintings/studies of how the depicted subject matter, the façade of the Rouen Cathedral, changes under different conditions of light and weather. Monet was familiar with the idea… the famous paintings of the Haystacks in the outskirts of Giverny were created between 1890 and 1891, causing a sensation.

In Rouen, during the early months of 1892, Monet rented a studio space facing the West Façade of the Cathedral, set up multiple canvases, and working long hours, began painting many canvases at the same time, eager to capture the atmosphere corresponding to a particular moment in time. He worked as a dancer swiftly moving from one canvas to the other… but the process was slow and frustrating. Things don’t advance very steadily, primarily because each day I discover something I hadn’t seen the day before… In the end, I am trying to do the impossible… he wrote and by April 1982 he was back at Giverny. https://www.theartwolf.com/monet_cathedral.htm

In 1893 he returned at Rouen struggling, once more, to capture… the moment, the ephemeral, tonal subtleties and nuances of colour. I am furious at myself… he wrote to his wife Alice, I am doing nothing of value: I don’t know how many sessions I have spent on these paintings and do what I may, they don’t advance…it’s depressing. Yet, working and reworking on his canvases, at Rouen but in his Studio at Giverny as well (1894) and creating a very distinctive textured surface, Monet was finally pleased! More so, in May of 1895, to great acclaim, he selected twenty of his canvases and exhibited them at the gallery of his friend and art dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel. His canvases were highly-priced, but eight of them were sold before the exhibition was over! https://www.mfa.org/article/2020/rouen-cathedral-series

As for the Basil & Elise Goulandris Foundation version, the Museum Experts present the painting as “one of the most complete paintings of the series and probably the one Monet himself appreciated the most…”  and they continue describing how “the colour palette dominated by pink, automatically conveys us (the viewer) to the first minutes of the day. The viewer (the experts proceed) feels privileged before this spectacle, as it is portrayed at a time when few people go out. The sun, which is not yet shining on the façade, diffuses a light that allows us to gaze at it for some time and see all the details of the decoration. The cathedral demands respect regardless of the religious faith of the one standing before it, a fact that reminds us of the variable temporality of the passing time, but enlivens the same emotions daily.”

For a PowerPoint on the Rouen Cathedral Series, please… Check, HERE!

For the PowerPoint Photo Credits, please… Chek HERE!

The Labours of the Months: June

By an unknown Venetian artist…
The Labours of the Months: June, about 1580, oil on canvas, 13.6 x 10.6 cm, National Gallery, London
https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/italian-venetian-the-labours-of-the-months-january#painting-group-info

What is so rare as a day in June? / Then, if ever, come perfect days; / Then Heaven tries the earth if it be in tune, / And over it softly her warm ear lays: / Whether we look, or whether we listen, / We hear life murmur, or see it glisten; / Every clod feels a stir of might, / An instinct within it that reaches and towers, / And, groping blindly above it for light, / Climbs to a soul in grass and flowers; / The flush of life may well be seen / Thrilling back over hills and valleys; / The cowslip startles in meadows green. / The buttercup catches the sun in its chalice, / And there’s never a leaf nor a blade too mean / To be some happy creature’s palace; / The little bird sits at his door in the sun, / Atilt like a blossom among the leaves, / And lets his illumined being o’errun / With the deluge of summer it receives; / His mate feels the eggs beneath her wings, / And the heart in her dumb breast flutters and sings; / He sings to the wide world, and she to her nest,— / In the nice ear of Nature which song is the best? Writes back in the 19th century James Russell Lowell… and further back, in the 15th century, an anonymous painter creates The Labours of the Months: June! https://discoverpoetry.com/poems/june-poems/

The Labours of the Months is a theme that frequently occurs during the Late Medieval-Renaissance Period Art. It attracts our attention in sculptural pieces adorning Churches and Cathedrals of the time, striking Vitreaux Windows, amazingly colourful manuscripts, and paintings, monumental, like the eleven surviving panels in Torre Aquila I presented in 2020 (check: https://www.teachercurator.com/?s=torre%20aquila&cat=plus-5-results), or small, like the paintings in the National Gallery, in London, we explore in 2021… month by month… https://archive.org/details/labormonth00webs/page/n9/mode/2up Webster, James Carson – 1905-1989, The labors of the months in antique and medieval art to the end of the twelfth century, 1938, Evanston, Ill., Northwestern University,     and      https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/italian-venetian-the-labours-of-the-months-january

By an unknown Venetian artist…
The Labours of the Months: June (detail), about 1580, oil on canvas, 13.6 x 10.6 cm, National Gallery, London
https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/italian-venetian-the-labours-of-the-months-january#painting-group-info

For The Labours of the Months: June, we have an outdoor scene. “A barefoot young man sits holding a sheaf of corn he has cut in one hand and his scythe in the other. The sleeves of his blue jacket are rolled up and a straw hat shades his face, suggesting that this little painting represents one of the summer months.” The National Gallery of Art experts “think it may be June when grain crops are harvested in northern Italy, where this picture was painted.” https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/italian-venetian-the-labours-of-the-months-june

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

Amphora showing Athena and Hermes

Berlin Painter, ca. 500–ca. 460 BC
A:  Athena – B: Hermes,
ca. 480 B.C. Athenian Red-Figure Terracotta Amphora, Height: 33.20 cm, Yale University Art Galler, New Haven, CT, USA https://artgallery.yale.edu/collections/objects/1726 

The Orphic Hymn to Athena is an exuberant celebration of the goddess with intriguing images of her qualities… “Mother of Art in all your abundance, catalyst of progress! / You bring folly to the corrupt and a sense of purpose to the pure! / Indeed, you are male and female in one, / Patron of war and wisdom, / You are fluid of form, a dragon, / Infused with inspiration of the Gods! / Rightly-honored One, who brought Phlegran giants down to defeat, / You driver of steeds, Tritogeneia, save us from evil, bearing Victory in your arms! / Day and night, eternally, in even the loneliest hours, / Hear my prayer, and grant us an abundant peace, fulfillment, good health. / Make prosperous the hour, gray-eyed One, inventor of Art, / The object of the people’s ceaseless prayers– / My Queen!” I like it… and I will use it as an introduction to my BLOG POST Amphora showing Athena and Hermes. http://commonplacebook.com/journal/inspiration/ancient-greeks-hymns-to-athena/

Amphora showing Athena and Hermes comes from Yale University Art Gallery and is attributed to the Berlin Painter. It was purchased for Yale University by Rebecca Darlington Stoddard in 1913 and today, the Amphora is considered one of the Museum’s Highlights. Rightly so, as the Berlin Painter is one of the finest artists of Athenian 5th-century pottery painting.

We know nothing about him… the name we use today, Berlin Painter, is conventional, given to this talented Attic Greek vase-painter by Sir John Beazley based on the “system of forms” technique he used to identify ancient Greek pottery-painters. All scholars can attest, is that the Berlin Painter was most talented, a rival to the Kleophrades Painter, a prominent member of the Pioneer Group, who introduced red-figure painting… and more! The Berlin Painter introduced new principles of style and design. He set his figures free of frames and side pattern bands, allowing them to dominate the composition as they stand majestically against the black background. The Berlin Painter is the master of refined grandeur! https://www.beazley.ox.ac.uk/tools/pottery/collection/johnbeazley1.htm and https://www.britannica.com/biography/Berlin-Painter

As the Yale University Art Gallery experts write for the unprecedented 2017 Exhibition The Berlin Painter and His World at Princeton Art Museum The Berlin Painter’s style is distinguished by a suave elegance and a palpable tension between shape and decoration. His figures, and the ornament accompanying them, are executed with taut, dexterous precision, whether on water jars (hydriai), large wine bowls (kraters), or smaller shapes such as jugs (oinochoai) and oil bottles (lekythoi). The single figures on either side of his amphorae frequently share the same conceptual space. Accompanied by little or no ornament and spotlighted against the black ground, they are framed only by the contours of the vessel itself.” https://cfileonline.org/exhibition-athenian-vase-painting-makes-its-formal-debut-with-first-solo-show/

Berlin Painter, ca. 500–ca. 460 BC
A: Athena – B, Herakles,
ca. 500–490 B.C. Athenian Red-Figure Terracotta Amphora, Height: 79 cm, Antikenmuseum Basel und Sammlung Ludwi, Basel, Switcherland  https://artmuseum.princeton.edu/art/exhibitions/1656

References on the Berlin Painterhttps://artgallery.yale.edu/collections/objects/1726 and https://artmuseum.princeton.edu/art/exhibitions/1656 and https://static.artmuseum.princeton.edu/berlin-painter/ and http://artimage.princeton.edu/files/ProductionJpegs/BerlinPainter-web.pdf

For a PowerPoint on Berlin Painter Amphoras, please… Check HERE!

Teaching with Antonello da Messina

Antonello da Messina, 1430-1479
Portrait of a Man (detail), about 1475-6, Oil on poplar, 35.6 x 25.4 cm, National Gallery, London
https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/antonello-da-messina-portrait-of-a-man

“Now there was one Antonello da Messina, a person of good and lively intelligence, of great sagacity, and skilled in his profession, who, having studied design for many years in Rome, had first retired to Palermo, where he had worked for many years, and finally to his native place, Messina, where he had confirmed by his works the good opinion that his countrymen had of his excellent ability in painting. This man, then, going once on some business of his own from Sicily to Naples, heard that the said King Alfonso had received from Flanders the aforesaid panel by the hand of Johann of Bruges, painted in oil in such a manner that it could be washed, would endure any shock, and was in every way perfect. Thereupon, having contrived to obtain a view of it, he was so strongly impressed by the liveliness of the colours and by the beauty and harmony of that painting, that he put on one side all other business and every thought and went off to Flanders…” Teaching with Antonello da Messina is a set of student activities and worksheets inspired by a very curious Italian artist, a daring creator and an amazing innovator! A few years back in Palermo, in front of his Virgin Annunciate, all I could do was, silently whisper “Ἁγνὴ Παρθένε Δέσποινα, Ἄχραντε Θεοτόκε, Χαῖρε Νύμφη Ἀνύμφευτε. / Παρθένε Μήτηρ Ἄνασσα, Πανένδροσέ τε πόκε, Χαῖρε Νύμφη Ἀνύμφευτε.     /     Ὑψηλοτέρα οὐρανῶν, ἀκτίνων λαμπροτέρα, Χαῖρε Νύμφη Ἀνύμφευτε. / Χαρὰ Παρθενικῶν Χορῶν, Ἀγγέλων ὑπερτέρα, Χαῖρε Νύμφη Ἀνύμφευτε…” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fiK8wHm4JGM and https://www.saint.gr/236/texts.aspx and http://www.travelingintuscany.com/art/giorgiovasari/lives/antonellodamessina.htm

Antonello da Messina, 1430-1479
Portrait of a Man, about 1475-6, Oil on poplar, 35.6 x 25.4 cm, National Gallery, London
https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/antonello-da-messina-portrait-of-a-man 

“…Having arrived in Bruges, he became very intimate with the said Johann, making him presents of many drawings in the Italian manner and other things, insomuch that the latter, moved by this and by the respect shown by Antonello, and being now old, was content that he should see his method of colouring in oil; wherefore Antonello did not depart from that place until he had gained a thorough knowledge of that way of colouring, which he desired so greatly to know. And no long time after, Johann having died, Antonello returned from Flanders in order to revisit his native country and to communicate to all Italy a secret so useful, beautiful, and advantageous. Then, having stayed a few months in Messina, he went to Venice, where, being a man much given to pleasure and very licentious, he resolved to take up his abode and finish his life, having found there a mode of living exactly suited to his taste. And so, putting himself to work, he made there many pictures in oil according to the rules that he had learned in Flanders; these are scattered throughout the houses of noblemen in that city, where they were held in great esteem by reason of the novelty of the work. He made many others, also, which were sent to various places. Finally, having acquired fame and great repute there, he was commissioned to paint a panel that was destined for S. Cassiano, a parish church in that city. This panel was wrought by Antonio with all his knowledge and with no sparing of time; and when finished, by reason of the novelty of the colouring and the beauty of the figures, which he had made with good design, it was much commended and held in very great price. And afterwards, when men heard of the new secret that he had brought from Flanders to that city, he was ever loved and cherished by the magnificent noblemen of Venice throughout the whole course of his life…” I think… let Vasari “speak,” he is probably the best to introduce to my students, Antonello da Messina’s contribution to Italian Renaissance Art… http://www.travelingintuscany.com/art/giorgiovasari/lives/antonellodamessina.htm

Antonello da Messina, 1430-1479
San Cassiano Altar (detail), 1475-76, Oil on panel, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
https://artinwords.de/antonello-da-messina-pala-di-san-cassiano-sacra-conversazione/

Teaching with Antonello da Messina References – References, a PowerPoint and Activities…

For a List of ONLINE References on Antonello da Messina TeacherCurator put together, please… Click HERE!

For my PowerPoint on Antonello da Messina, please… Click HERE!

I always feel confident discussing an artist with my students when I prepare my Steps to Success Lesson Plan Outline

For Student Activities (3 Activities), please… Click HERE!

I hope, Teaching with Antonello da Messina, will prove easy and helpful. Do you think it justifies my BLOG name Teacher Curator?

Antonello da Messina, 1430-1479
Virgin Annunciate (detail), c. 1476, Oil on wood, 45 x 34,5 cm, Galleria Regionale della Sicilia, Palermo
https://eclecticlight.co/2019/08/02/the-first-italian-master-in-oil-antonello-da-messina-2/

Mother’s Day

Mary Stevenson Cassatt, 1844–1926
Maternal Caress, 1890-91, Drypoint, aquatint and softground etching, printed in color from three plates, 36.5 × 26.8 cm, the MET, NY, USA
https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/364213

“Sonnets are full of love, and this my tome / Has many sonnets: so here now shall be / One sonnet more, a love sonnet, from me / To her whose heart is my heart’s quiet home, / To my first Love, my Mother, on whose knee / I learnt love-lore that is not troublesome; / Whose service is my special dignity, / And she my loadstar while I go and come. / And so because you love me, and because / I love you, Mother, I have woven a wreath / Of rhymes wherewith to crown your honoured name: / In you not fourscore years can dim the flame / Of love, whose blessed glow transcends the laws / Of time and change and mortal life and death.” I miss my mother… and on Mother’s Day, I think of her with Art and poetry, because my heart and thoughts are … full of love. https://poets.org/poem/sonnets-are-full-love-and-my-tome (Christina Rossetti’s (1830-1894) Sonnets are full of love)

For the Mother’s Day BLOG POST two Works of Art from two different parts of the world… yet, Mary Stevenson Cassatt’s Maternal Caress, and Kitagawa Utamaro’s Mother and Sleepy Child, have so many similar stories to tell… https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/364213 and https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/51137

Mary Stevenson Cassatt, 1844–1926
Maternal Caress, 1890-91, Drypoint, aquatint and softground etching, printed in colour from three plates, 36.5 × 26.8 cm, the MET, NY, USA
https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/364213
Kitagawa Utamaro, 1753–1806,
Midnight: The Hours of the Rat; Mother and Sleepy Child, Edo period (1615–1868), ca. 1790, Polychrome woodblock print, The MET, NY, USA
https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/51137

Mary Stevenson Cassatt (1844 – 1926) was a fortunate lady! Born into an affluent family in Pennsylvania who believed it was important for women to receive an education, she grew up attending school in Philadelphia and travelling to Europe where …Art kept changing. Reaching adulthood she persuaded her parents that her life’s destination was Europe and professional pursuit will be painting! It was not easy for her father to accept it, but after serious deliberation, it was decided… in 1866, with her mother and family friends acting as chaperones, she settled in Paris and was accepted to study Art in the private studios of Jean-Léon Gérôme, Charles Joshua Chaplin and Thomas Couture. She expanded her training with daily copying in the Louvre and trips to the French countryside where she drew from life. Two years later, in 1868, her painting A Mandoline Player, was accepted for exhibition in the Paris Salon. She was noticed as a professional painter, but she was not fully content!

Everything changed in 1877 when paintings she submitted to enter the year’s Salon were rejected by the committee. Disillusioned with academic painting and eager to experiment, Cassatt met Edgar Degas, an artist she greatly admired, who invited her to collaborate with the Impressionists and exhibit with them in 1879, at the 4th Impressionist Exhibition. She was finally happy in an artistic environment that suited her needs… plein air painting, ordinary subjects, vibrant, metallic in some cases, colour, in short, dancing brushstrokes, flat space, the discovery of Japanism…

On the 9th of May, celebrating Mother’s Day, a tribute to Mary Cassatt as “…in her clear-headed treatment of mothers and infants, (she) was, for her time, entirely alone. The bunch of English and French daubers have put them in such stupid and pretentious poses! complained the critic J.-K. Huysmans, contrasting them with Cassatt’s irreproachable pearls of Oriental sweetness.” I couldn’t agree more! https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/364213

Kitagawa Utamaro, 1753–1806,
Midnight: The Hours of the Rat; Mother and Sleepy Child, Edo period (1615–1868), ca. 1790, Polychrome woodblock print, The MET, NY, USA
https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/51137

One of my favourite classroom games, teaching my students the accomplishments of Impressionist artists like Mary Cassatt, is to present them with Japanese Woodblock prints and assist them to draw comparisons and conclusions. The MET experts present Kitagawa Utamaro as “one of the most prolific artists of the genre of the portrayal of beautiful women… extremely interested in images of mother and child in daily life.” Midnight: The Hours of the Rat; Mother and Sleepy Child “belongs to a series entitled Fuzoku Bijin Tokei (Women’s Daily Customs). To illustrate midnight, Utamaro has chosen a mother who sleepily emerges from her mosquito net to attend to her child, who rubs the sleep from his eyes. The personal, quotidian nature of the subject exemplifies the new interest in the individual that emerged during the Edo period.”

For a PowerPoint on Mary Stevenson Cassatt and Japanism, please… Check HERE!

The Labours of the Months: May

The Labours of the Months: May, about 1580, oil on canvas, 13.6 x 10.6 cm, National Gallery, London
https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/italian-venetian-the-labours-of-the-months-january#painting-group-info

Pink, small, and punctual, / Aromatic, low, / Covert in April, / Candid in May,     /     Dear to the moss, / Known by the knoll, / Next to the robin / In every human soul.     /     Bold little beauty, / Bedecked with thee, / Nature forswears / Antiquity. Writes Emily Dickinson, but for The Labours of the Months: May small painting in the National Gallery in London, the feeling is different.  https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/may-flower/

Starting the 1st of January 2021 and for every month so far, I “travel” to the National Gallery in London and present one, out of twelve, small picture, “painted on canvas and then… glued to a wooden panel. It is possible that (these twelve pictures) 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 are currently displayed in two frames in groups of six. They 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.”     https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/italian-venetian-the-labours-of-the-months-january#painting-group-info

The Labours of the Months: May (detail), about 1580, oil on canvas, 13.6 x 10.6 cm, National Gallery, London
https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/italian-venetian-the-labours-of-the-months-january#painting-group-info

The panel that represents the month of May, according to the National Gallery experts, “is the most puzzling picture of the series.” Observing the picture’s composition the viewer will see a seated young man, he seems alert and ready to stand up, holding “two rods, with one crossing the other at the top.” He is simply dressed, barefoot but wearing a broad-rimed straw hat, looking, as if he is expecting a nod, coming from someone straight in front of him, to continue the task he is planning to finish. “ It looks as though (the young man) might be making a supporting frame for vegetables or fruit,” the experts suggest, as there seems to be “a tradition in Italy for one of the spring months to be represented by a youth holding crossed branches, often in bud…” ttps://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/italian-venetian-the-labours-of-the-months-may

Whatever our Venetian young man is about to do… Whether or not this is the correct attribution… Enjoy an unpretentious Renaissance painting and Best Wishes for the Month of May!!!

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

Villa Poppaea Viridarium Frescoes

Second Pompeian Style painting on the walls surrounding the Viridarium (small garden) of the Villa Poppaea at Oplontis (Italy), 1st century AD
Photo credit: Carole Raddato published on 06 May 2020
https://www.ancient.eu/article/1552/a-visitors-guide-to-oplontis-stabiae–boscoreale/

I wish I were standing in the middle of Villa Poppaea’s central sitting room (Room 18 on the plan), gazing at “the portico in front of the swimming pool and its surrounding garden… the large window (behind me, that opens) onto the principal garden of the villa… (more) windows, (on my sides) opening into rooms richly-painted with garden scenes, and (further beyond those) into tiny ‘garden’ courtyards, again decorated with garden frescos. Trees, greenery, flowers, birds and water (are) visible in every direction, both painted and real, with nature being brought into the interiors. …It’s hard not to imagine the building filled with …peace, …accompanied by the twittering of birds and the wind in the grass and leaves.” Villa Poppaea Viridarium Frescoes have a strange effect on me!     https://www.italyheaven.co.uk/campania/villa-oplontis.html

Villa Poppaea Plan: Room 16 marks the Viridarium area

Villa Poppaea, built on a plateau fourteen meters above sea level, took advantage of all the scenic pleasures of the Bay of Naples, the latest trends in architecture and the art of fresco painting. Rooms, one hundred of them, were in such a way organized so that its residents and their guests would be able to enjoy the open air and the dramatic view of the sea in an environment of the utmost luxury. Walls decorated with sumptuous frescos further enhanced the effect this Villa probably had on its residents and visitors. Please allow me to explain why exploring the fresco decoration in just one Room in Villa Poppaea, makes your trip to Oplontis, worth your time…

Digital model of the current state of the Villa’s Viridarium (Room 16 in plan)
Photo Credit: © King’s College London, 2011
https://www.kvl.cch.kcl.ac.uk/oplontis03.html

Back in the late 19th century, the German archaeologist August Mau (1840–1909), delineated and described a system of dividing Pompeian Frescoes into four distinct Styles. It is amazing how in Villa Poppaea visitors can see fine examples of the latter three of these four Fresco Styles by just walking from room to room. The amazing frescoes in the small Viridarium area (Room 16 in our Villa Plan) of Villa Poppaea are incredible!

The Viridarium is described as an indoor garden sitting room, decorated with frescoes depicting plants and birds. Room 16 in our Villa Plan is one such Viridarium beautifully embellished with what scholars describe as “Garden Painting,” a very precise genre that is distinct from landscape painting. Garden Paintings give viewers an interesting glimpse of the relationship that existed between architecture and landscape in the ancient world. Exploring the frescoes of Villa Poppaea I read OPLONTIS: VILLA A (“OF POPPAEA”) AT TORRE ANNUNZIATA, ITALY by John R. Clarke and Nayla K. Muntasser, and particularly Chapter 6: Wilhelmina Jashemski and Garden Archaeology at Oplontis, by Kathryn Gleason. The information provided in this presentation is the result of an enjoyable weekend of seeking more and more data…     https://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?cc=acls;c=acls;idno=heb90048.0001.001;node=heb90048.0001.001:21.7.2;rgn=div1;view=text

Second Pompeian Style painting on the walls surrounding the Viridarium (small garden) of the Villa Poppaea at Oplontis (Italy), 1st century AD
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Viridaria_Villa_Poppaea_30.JPG

The delightful frescoes in Room 16, the Villa’s Viridarium, display arrangements of evergreen foliage of arbutus, laurels and branches of roses, artfully shaped alone or around a decorative fountain. Hues of red and yellow, powerful primary colours, serve as a striking background. Birds twittering and drinking water from the fountains give an extra sense of joyful life. Kathryn Gleason describes them as Topiarii and continues presenting Ars Topiaria, as the art of creating displays of foliage and shrubs by clipping plants, the pruning and dwarfing of large trees… to the training of ivy into ornate patterns in small peristyle gardens.  https://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?cc=acls;c=acls;idno=heb90048.0001.001;node=heb90048.0001.001:21.7.2;rgn=div1;view=text

I found of particular interest the site of The Oplontis Project, a collaboration of John R. Clarke and Michael L. Thomas of the University of Texas at Austin and the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompe, along with the Visual Restorations of King’s Visualisation Lab, in the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London, by Martin Blazeby.     http://www.oplontisproject.org/     and     http://www.oplontisproject.org/index.php/visualization/

For a PowerPoint on Villa Poppaea Viridarium Frescoes, please… Click HERE!

Second Pompeian Style painting on the walls surrounding the Viridarium (small garden) of the Villa Poppaea at Oplontis (Italy), 1st century AD
https://historyandarchaeologyonline.com/ancient-roman-gardens/

Angelic Musicians

Domenicos Theotokopoulos, 1541-1614
The Concert of the Angels, c. 1608-1614, oil on canvas, 115-217 cm, National Gallery – Alexandros Soutsos Museum – Evripidis Koutlidis Foundation, Athens https://www.nationalgallery.gr/en/painting-permanent-exhibition/painting/domenicos-theotokopoulos-el-greco/the-concert-of-the-angels.html
Together with…
The Annunciation, 1614, oil on canvas, 2.940,00×2.090,00 mm, Banco Santander, Spain
https://el.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/%CE%91%CF%81%CF%87%CE%B5%CE%AF%CE%BF:Domenikos_Theotokopoulos,_El_Greco_-_The_Annunciation_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

Domenicos Theotokopoulos is in my heart. I find him an attractive personality in every aspect… talented, educated, ambitious, curious, adventurous, persistent…  Art is everywhere you look for it, hail the twinkling stars for they are God’s careless splatters…” he wrote and I think of his Angelic Musicians, shining like flickering stars, in the National Gallery in Athens. http://elgreco.net/el-greco-quotes.jsp and https://www.nationalgallery.gr/en/painting-permanent-exhibition/painting/domenicos-theotokopoulos-el-greco/the-concert-of-the-angels.html

Domenicos Theotokopoulos was a Cretan Greek, born in Handaka-Candia, present-day Herakleion, part, at the time, of the thriving Republic of Venice. Archival research in Venice showed that between 1526-28 his family relocated from Chania to Handaka where in 1541 Domenicos was born. His orthodox-Greek family belonged to the upper-middle class, as his father, Giorgos Theotokopoulos, worked for the government of the Venetian Republic, most probably as a merchant and a tax collector. Very little is known of  Domenicos’s mother and early childhood. He was undoubtedly talented, and his father, realizing it, placed him as an apprentice in a painter’s workshop to learn this profitable trade. The name of his teacher is unknown, but judging from Domenicos’s earliest paintings, he was a great master of the Post-Byzantine Cretan School. Crete at the time was the center of a thriving artistic community and understanding the artist’s early influences and style is important in decoding his later work! https://www.historical-museum.gr/webapps/elgreco/xronologio.php?lang=en

By 1567/8 Theotokopoulos travelled to Venice, by 1570, he was in Rome, by 1576 he moved to Spain and in 1577 the artist settled in Toledo, where he found his spiritual home and remained for the rest of his life. He died on the 7th of April 1614, admired for his unique fluid style, temperamental character and humanist education. One of his friends and admirers, Hortensio Félix Paravicino y Arteaga (1580-1633) the Spanish poet, preacher and a member of the Trinitarian Order, wrote for the artist “O Greek divine! We wonder not that in thy works / The imagery surpasses actual being.” Paravicino also wrote, foreseeing Theotokopoulos’s legacy “Future generations will admire his strange genius, but for centuries he will not be imitated.” http://www.nccsc.net/essays/spanish-style  

I would like the reader of this BLOG POST, titled Angelic Musicians, to focus on two paintings. One of them is in Athens and is titled The Concert of the Angels, the other is in Madrid, and is an Annunciation scene. Now imagine them together and you will see one of the last, if not the last painting, the artist created but never finished. The original painting, an Annunciation scene, was commissioned for the Chapel of the Hospital of St. John the Baptist outside the walls of Toledo. Today, separated, the product of 19h century vandalism, may look slightly odd, but still, enthral the viewer with their unique “beauty.”

Domenicos Theotokopoulos, 1541-1614
The Concert of the Angels, c. 1608-1614, oil on canvas, 115-217 cm, National Gallery – Alexandros Soutsos Museum – Evripidis Koutlidis Foundation, Athens
https://www.nationalgallery.gr/en/painting-permanent-exhibition/painting/domenicos-theotokopoulos-el-greco/the-concert-of-the-angels.html

The Concert of the Angels in Athens is for me a wonderful depiction of an imaginary, celestial concert, full of energy and vibrato. Domenicos Theotokopoulos, the so-called El Greco, loved music and treated it with respect. The painting in Athens shows a musical ensemble with seven “ecstatic” angels, reading music, singing or playing the spinet, a harp, a flute and a viola da gamba. I wonder what kind of music Domenico enjoyed most, and which musician of his time he favoured… https://www.nationalgallery.gr/en/painting-permanent-exhibition/painting/domenicos-theotokopoulos-el-greco/the-concert-of-the-angels.html

The artist uses swift brushwork and swaying movement in postures and robes to create excitement in his composition. Like tongues of fire, his swirling figures look more like spiritual beings than real bodies…

The colour palette that the artist uses is another distinctive characteristic of his mannerism. The colours are iridescent but bold. He uses oranges in red and green and yellow/gold in blue. Tints and shades are juxtaposed. Values of high or low intensity are treasured. Theotokopoulos’s final Annunciation was never finished but whether you see its upper part in Athens or the actual Annunciation part in Madrid, its expressive power is unquestionable.

For a PowerPoint on Theotokopoulos’s paintings of the Annunciation, please … Click. HERE!

The National Gallery – Alexandros Soutsos Museum – Evripidis Koutlidis Foundation in Athens has uploaded a wonderful (in Greek) Video to watch… https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=316373302403183  

Domenicos Theotokopoulos, 1541-1614
The Annunciation, 1614, oil on canvas, 2.940,00×2.090,00 mm, Banco Santander, Spain
https://el.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/%CE%91%CF%81%CF%87%CE%B5%CE%AF%CE%BF:Domenikos_Theotokopoulos,_El_Greco_-_The_Annunciation_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg