“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”St. Augustine once said and the Rotunda Ambo, where many books were read, in front of many “travellers,” came to my mind.
As a ‘traveller,’ interested in Byzantine Art, the Rotunda Ambo is a ‘page in my book’ I like to read about again and again. I imagine… a 6th-century pilgrim entering the great Rotunda of Thessaloniki for Vespers… uplifted and overwhelmed by its size and domed inner space, awe-struck by its shimmering mosaics, stirred by the opulence of the service, the ‘logos’ and the chanting, moved by the sculptural decoration on the walls of its impressive Ambo…
As a young student reading and ‘travelling’ through the pages of Ralph F. Hoddinott’s book of 1963, Early Byzantine churches in Macedonia and southern Serbia – A Study of the Origins and the Initial Development of East Christian Art, I was intrigued to enrich my ‘world book’ with stories and pictures and memories. Many more ‘travels’ later, many more written pages, I take out Hoddinott’s book to read and further explore one specific monument of great importance, the Rotunda Ambo of Thessaloniki! http://macedonia.kroraina.com/en/rheb/index.htm
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, an “Ambo…”, is “a raised stand formerly used for reading the Gospel or the Epistle, first used in early basilicas. Originally, the ambo took the form of a portable lectern. By the 6th century, it had evolved into a stationary church furnishing, which reflected the development and codification of the Christian liturgy…” We know that the position of each Ambo in an Early Christian Church, centrally placed or on the sides of the nave, varied consisting of “…raised platforms on three levels reached by steps and protected by railings. Each level was consecrated to a special part of the service.” https://www.britannica.com/topic/ambo-church-architecture
The Rotunda Ambo, the only Early Christian sculptural piece to have survived, in fragments and quite battered, still impressive and beautiful, is now exhibited in the Museum of Antiquities in Istanbul while its marble base survives in Thessaloniki. Dates suggested for the Rotunda Ambo vary, starting as early as the late 4th century. Most scholars, however, believe that the carving of the ornamental decoration of the ambo should date to the early 6th century.
According to Hoddinott… “Below bands of delicately worked acanthus and vine motives, the ambo, in its original state, presented the Adoration of the Magi. Each figure is set individually beneath scalloped niches and between Corinthian columns, the three Magi are shown on one side of the ambo searching for the Christ Child, and on the other bringing Him their gifts. The Virgin, enthroned upon a round backed chair, holds the Child upon her knees. An angel introduces the Magi. Another figure, the upper part of which has been lost, represents a shepherd with his sheep around him and the skin of an animal over his shoulders. Eagles, or other large birds, their wings outstretched, occupy the spandrils between the scalloped niches.”
An interesting article for further reading…, by Nino Zchomelidse The Epiphany of the logos in the Ambo in the Rotunda (Hagios Georgios) in Thessaloniki
For a PowerPoint on the Rotunda Ambo and a Collection of old photos, please… Click HERE!
Henri Matisse once said… “There is no interruption between my older paintings and my Cut-Outs. Just that with an increasing sense of the absolute, and more abstraction, I have achieved a form that is simplified to its essence.” My students love Matisse Cut-Outs!
It all started back in the late 1940s when scissors assisted Matisse in turning almost exclusively to cut paper as his primary creative medium and thus… initiate his unique and famous Cut-Outs. There is something magical about Matisse’s Cut-Outs… they offer us such pure, candid, unreserved joy, our life, just by looking at them, becomes gratifying and amusing!
“Matisse would cut painted sheets into forms of varying shapes and sizes—from the vegetal to the abstract—which he then arranged into lively compositions, striking for their play with colour and contrast, their exploitation of decorative strategies, and their economy of means. Initially, these compositions were of modest size but, over time, their scale grew along with Matisse’s ambitions for them, expanding into a mural or room-size works. A brilliant final chapter in Matisse’s long career, the cut-outs reflect both a renewed commitment to form and colour and an inventiveness directed to the status of the work of art, whether as a unique object, environment, ornament, or a hybrid of all of these.” https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/1429?locale=en
Matisse is a favourite artist among my students and I always enjoy teaching a Unit on his life achievements, culminating with his amazing Cut-Outs! Whether I teach Grade 1 Mythology, Grade 4 Cultural Geography, or High School Art History, Matisse’s Cut-Outs are always there to enrich my curriculum in the most remarkable way. Getting a taste of their fascinating stories, my students “read” them, in ways, appropriate to their level, they are always 100% engaged … and my teaching gets to be more than gratifying!
Matisse Cut-Outs Lesson Plan
Essential Questions: What conditions, attitudes, and behaviours encouraged Matisse to take creative risks?
Goals: Facilitate students to understand and connect Matisse’s use of Colour from Fauvism to the Cut-Outs.
Enduring Understanding: Henri Matisse was a French painter in the early 20th century, known as one of the founders of Fauvism, an art movement that is identified with the emotional and bold use of colour, and the creator of the Cut-Outs technique.
At first, I Introduce the Lesson to my students and present the Essential Questions we will work on. Then, I show a Youtube Video on Matisse’s Cut-Outs (Here is my favourite https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rLgSd8ka0Gs) and Being Inquisitive I initiate a conversation. The Lesson continues with my PowerPoint, more discussion follows and the Unit on Matisse’s Cut-Outs culminates with students achieving an Enduring Understanding of our Lesson and performing an Assessment Activity.
The Month of June is an amazing fresco that comes from the Torre Aquila in the Castello del Buonconsiglio, in Trento, Italy. It is part of a fresco Cycle of the Twelve Months painted on the walls of the tower’s 2nd-floor main room. Today, only eleven of the original 12 panels survive as a 16th-century wooden spiral staircase, connecting the tower floors, destroyed the painted panel of March. The famous painted Cycle of the Months is divided into twelve panels, one for each month. Each one of the twelve panels is separated by a slender column, distinctive yet subtle, so as not to disturb the natural continuity between months and the seasons.
This exceptional room, 6 x 5,8 x 3 m in size, was commissioned by Prince-Bishop George of Liechtenstein, as a quiet, atmospheric retreat, away from the rest of the Castello’s busy and noisy state quarters. It has been suggested and widely accepted that the painter of this extraordinary fresco Cycle of the Months was Maestro Venceslao, a Czech painter, popular in the Tyrol area of the time.
June is the 6th month of the Year and the beginning of summer. A glorious, busy month for both the aristocrats and the peasants of Trento. With snow disappearing even at the highest peaks, the shepherds and the servants of the Prince-Bishop George of Liechtenstein, need to move to the mountainous pastures, where most of the Prince’s possessions are. They need to take care of his cows, while their women do the milking, and the processing of milk to butter and cheese. Are they making a 15th century version of the famous Trentino cheese Bela Badia? In May, all citizens of Trento had a moment to rest, but in June, they all go back to their daily chores! https://www.tasteatlas.com/most-popular-cheeses-in-trentino-alto-adige-sudtirol
One might wonder how the young Trento noblemen and ladies spend their June days… think no further, the answers are in the Trento fresco. Enjoying the best time of the year, young men and ladies of noble birth spend their days in the countryside! They walk out of their walled cities, as depicted in the upper left side of the painting, wearing their finest clothes, and join in the festivities of the month. Long summer days are on their thresholds and they embrace them! The lower part of the painting shows 5 couples dancing in a circle accompanied by their dogs and a group of musicians who set the tone. Are they celebrating the first day of Summer? The scene is inviting to say the least… a garden surrounded by green hedges, beautiful lilies, playful dogs and a quintet of merry musicians! https://www.worldwidewriter.co.uk/frescoes-of-trento-the-painted-city.html
“The Galerian Complex, the most important monumental group in Thessaloniki, was built at the turning-point of two worlds, the Roman and Byzantine. Its erection began in the late 3rd century-early 4th century AD when the Caesar Galerius Valerianus Maximianus (293-311 AD) chose Thessaloniki as the seat of the eastern part of the Roman Empire.” The Small Arch of Galerius found in the Octagon area of the Complex, valued and cherished, is exhibited today in the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki. http://galeriuspalace.culture.gr/en/
One of the most important buildings within the Galerian Complex, the Octagon is a significant and luxurious structure worth exploring. It was the first important building that visitors arriving at the Palace by sea would enter and be dazzled. Facing the glorious Thermaic Golf of Thessaloniki, the Octagon is massive and opulent. All Palace buildings were meant to impress the visitor and set the tone… the Octagon area did an excellent job!
Excavation of this amazing structure started in 1950 and continued up until 1981, bringing to light all that survives today. A splendid conservation and restoration program continued and in 2008, the archaeological site of the Palace of Galerius in Thessaloniki was awarded a EUROPA NOSTRA medal by the European Union. Today, the Galerian Complex, right in the heart of the city, is one of the most popular archaeological sites in Thessaloniki.
… Agathoniki was on an official visit to the Court of Emperor Galerius in Thessaloniki… powerful and rich, she was treated with respect for her age and the loyal services extended to the Emperor… She was modestly dressed but her gifts to the Emperor were valuable and exotic, coming all the way from Seres, the mythical lands of the East. She was guided to enter the Palace Complex through the grand, South Peristyle Court, its Porticos adorned with magnificent floor mosaics and a beautiful garden in the center. It was her first visit to Thessaloniki and she enjoyed every single thing she saw… she was, however, on a mission, so she briskly walked through a triple arch, a Tribelon with two columns, to enter an impressive Vestibule with two semi-circular niches on its narrow ends. She stopped for a minute to compose herself, reflect on her mission, and confidently entered the grandest room of the Palace… the domed Octagon! The room was magnificent! Its walls were covered with multicoloured marble revetments and square panels intricately worked in the opus sectile technique. The floor, featuring marble geometric motifs, created simple yet elegant chromatic oppositions… and there were four different Emblemata, right where she was standing, worthy of a great master! What a wonderful Audience Hall this is, she thought, as the entrance of the Emperor brought her to her knees…
Agathoniki, the imaginary visitor of our story, saw many more wonderful rooms and artefacts in the Palace of Galerius… My favourite artefact, still surviving today, is a small, marble Arch. Discovered at the north end of the eastern portico of the South Peristyle Court, the Small Marble Arch crowned a horseshoe-shaped niche framed by pilasters. This Arch, known by the conventional name “The Small Arch of Galerius”, is on display in the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki. Could this small, luxuriously adorned, niche be a Palace Temple?
This Arch, known today as “The Small Arch of Galerius”, is on display in the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki. According to Thessaloniki Museum experts, “The arch, a work of high artistic quality, is the product of a local workshop in Thessaloniki. The rich relief decorations occupy three sides of the arch. The main side depicts two men from the East, possibly Persians, raising two circular medallions with their hands. The right medallion depicts Gaius Galerius Valerius Maximianus, while the left one initially depicted his wife, Galeria Valeria. During a later intervention, after Galerius’ death, a mural crown was added to the female portrait. This alteration transformed the female bust into the depiction of a deity, most probably the “Tyche (fortune) of Thessaloniki”, who accompanied Galerius, the deified ruler of the city. Two winged Eros figures holding a garland fill the space between the medallions. Another medallion with a bust of Dionysos is located at the inner part of the arch, surrounded by vine branches. The right side of the arch depicts the hooved god Pan playing a pipe and holding a lagobolon (stick for hunting hares). The left side depicts a maenad.” http://galeriuspalace.culture.gr/en/monuments/oktagono/ and https://www.amth.gr/en/exhibitions/highlights
Along with my Grade 6 students, we study the history of Thessaloniki, visit the Archaeological Site of the Galerian Complex and prepare a RWAP (Research-Writing-Art-Project) that they thoroughly enjoy…
For a PowerPoint on the Galerian Complex Octagon Hall, please click HERE!
For a student RWAP on the Small Arch of Galerius, please click HERE!
For examples of Student RWAP Work, please click HERE!
“A visit to a museum is a search for beauty, truth, and meaning in our lives. Go to museums as often as you can” wrote Maira Kalman and she couldn’t be more right. Go to the Mauritshuis in the Hague, stand in front of the Portrait of a Woman from Southern Germany and quietly wait for the experience to envelop you!
Back in 2006, I visited the Mauritshuis in the Hague for the first time, and I will never forget the Experience. It is the kind of Museum I particularly enjoy and love… small, intimate and colourful! https://www.mauritshuis.nl/en/
Designed as a private house for Johan Maurits of Nassau, Count (from 1664), Prince of Nassau-Siegen, Grand Master of the Order of Saint John (Bailiwick of Brandenburg) and governor of Dutch Brazil, the Mauritshuis is palatial in both, inspiration and essence. The Prince of Nassau-Siegen hired the finest architects of the time in The Netherlands, Jacob van Campen and his assistant Pieter Post, to design and materialize his dream residence. Johan Maurits, however, was not in a harry! As governor of the Dutch Brazil and one of Holland’s preeminent military leaders, he travelled extensively, while his architects were busy building important architectural works to establish their name. So, the Mauritshuis started in 1636 and finished in 1641. The Prince lived in the house for only three years, from 1644 to 1647, after which he moved to Germany for yet another important post, to become stadtholder of Kleef.
Mauritshuis is often referred to as Sugar Palace, but this is not a reference to the light-coloured natural stones used for building its façade. Johan Maurits earned a lot of money in Brazil trading in sugar cane, and Mauritshuis was made possible thanks to cane sugar and to the efforts of enslaved men and women from Africa. Sugar Palace is just one reminder of European colonialism and exploitation! https://www.mauritshuis.nl/en/discover/mauritshuis/history-of-the-building/
Today, the building Johan Maurits of Nassau commissioned is one of the finest examples of Classicist Dutch Architecture in The Netherlands and the Home of a Great Collection of Dutch Masterpieces. Mauritshuis is the home of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring or the astounding View of Delft, Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp or his 1669 Self-Portrait, Carel Fabritius’ Goldfinch of 1654, Paulus Potter’s Bull of 1647, and The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man of 1615 by two famous Flemish masters: Rubens and Brueghel.
Today, I would like to stand in front of a Renaissance Painting I find alluring… the Portrait of a Woman from Southern Germany of 1520-25, formerly attributed to Hans Holbein the Younger. Her face is so striking, standing out well against a rather cool, blue background… beautiful but stark, pale, yet bright, clear and strong. She wears a finely pleated collared blouse, a fur-lined jacket fastened with a red cord and a rather old-fashioned cap and veil, like those worn by townswomen in Southern Germany. Whoever painted this magnificent Portrait, the Woman from Southern Germany, young and demure, greets us with her hands clasped, her eyes modestly cast down, and a faint smile to brighten her whole face! She is grand! https://www.mauritshuis.nl/en/explore/the-collection/artworks/portrait-of-a-woman-from-southern-germany-275/detailgegevens/
For a PowerPoint on more Renaissance Paintings in the Mauritshuis Museum, please… clickHERE!
The Month of May fresco comes from the Torre Aquila in the Castello del Buonconsiglio, in Trento, Italy. It is part of an amazing fresco Cycle of the Twelve Months painted on the walls of the tower’s 2nd-floor main room. It was commissioned by Prince-Bishop George of Liechtenstein, who wanted to show life and prosperity in his “well-governed” territories. The painter of these remarkable frescoes, Master Wenceslas, understanding well what he was commissioned to do, created the best 15th-century advertising brochure for the Alpine city of Trento. The Month of May presents a bright spring scene, crowded with well-dressed aristocrats who, in the lush local countryside, serenely enjoy the splendours of their privileged life.
Master Wenceslas, a Bohemian painter active in Trento since 1397, creates an amazing May scene, full of natural beauty… the sun triumphs, nature is in full bloom, and roses are present wherever you see! This is the time for Trento peasants to rest after a busy April, preparing and sowing the fields, repairing or rebuilding the fences of the vegetable gardens. Their duties accomplished by April 23, the feast of San Giorgio, as the custom dictates, they are out of the “picture.” The Month of May scene is dedicated to the local ladies and gentlemen and their idle aristocratic activities.
Master Wenceslas paints a striking May scene introducing themes and focusing on details. A city on the upper left side of the panel, surrounded by bright red walls sets the tone… bright, elaborate, almost otherworldly. The white Gothic church within its Walls balances the effect and stands out, introducing one of the four main colours present in the composition, white, red, green and blue. Next to the walled city but connected with it through a bridge, two aristocratic couples are about to eat al fresco, as a circular white-clothed table displays an abundance of delicacies. What an amazing and luxurious “picnic” setting this is… rugged mountains, a deep dark green forest, and a well-constructed fountain of spring water! They sit comfortably and talk amicably around the table, dressed in their brightest and finest, while one of the ladies is about to fetch water from the spring. Is this vignette a reference to the Fountain of Youth, which, according to legend, could renew beauty and youth for eternity?
“For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures; and that He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve; after that, He was seen of above five thousand brethren at once.” 1 Cor. 15:3-6… Holy Week in the Greek Orthodox Churchhttps://www.goarch.org/-/holy-week-in-the-eastern-orthodox-church
Lazarus Saturday… “Six
days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany…” (John 12:1)
According to Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, a Christian theologian and philosopher of the late 5th to early 6th century, colour RED is the colour of fire, flames, and Devine Energy… It is also the colour of blood, Christ’s blood to be more specific and thus the colour of Salvation for Mankind… https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pseudo-dionysius-areopagite/
The Raising of Lazarus, in this amazing 12th century Icon from Mount Athos, takes place in front of a blazing Byzantine RED background… It is part of the Collection of the Byzantine and Christian Museum at Athens, a Museum that houses over 25,000 artefacts dating from the 3rd century AD to present time. The Byzantine and Christian Museum is housed in Villa Ilissia, one of the loveliest buildings erected in Athens during its early years as the capital of the newly-founded Greek state. Villa Ilissia, designed by the architect Stamatis Kleanthis, was the winter residence of Sophie de Marbois-Lebrun, Duchess of Plaisance, a formidable lady with a remarkable fortune! https://www.byzantinemuseum.gr/en/ and https://www.byzantinemuseum.gr/en/museum/villa_ilissia/
Palm Sunday… “Rejoice greatly…O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, the
King comes unto Thee; he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon
an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.” (Zech. 9:9)
The Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem Manuscript Illumination in the 6th century Rossano Gospels is yet another blazing RED coloured Byzantine artwork. The fragmentary manuscript presents scenes from the Life of Christ, and sometimes small portraits of Old Testament prophets, prefiguring an event described in the New Testament. It contains the texts of Matthew and Mark written in fine silver and gold uncials on purple vellum. https://www.artesacrarossano.it/eng/codex.php
“The Rossano miniatures are painted with extraordinary refinement and economy. Like the illustrations in the Vienna Genesis, they distil the narrative action in a few convincing gestures. Hellenistic naturalism survives in the soft, highlighted garments, dramatic action, and details of the setting. Christ’s trial, for example, is depicted as an authentic court procedure. Nevertheless, a weakening of classical verisimilitude and vigour is evident throughout the manuscript; in the Mark page, the personification and garden wall appear flattened and show a tendency toward abstract pattern.” https://www.thebyzantinelegacy.com/rossano-gospels
Great Monday… “May no fruit ever come from you again!”
Monday of Holy Week commemorates the blessed and noble Joseph
and the fig tree which was cursed and withered by the Lord. The story of Joseph
of the Old Testament (Genesis 37-41) serves as a great example of a virtuous
man, a model of propriety and sincere observance of ethical principles. https://www.goarch.org/-/holy-week-in-the-eastern-orthodox-church
The Throne of Maximianus, in the Archiepiscopal Museum of Ravenna, is one of the greatest examples of 6th century Byzantine Art. The wooden core of this monumental Cattedra was covered with panels of ivory carvings wonderfully encased with strips of vine scrolls inhabited by birds and animals. Ivory panels decorating the back of the Throne show scenes from the Life of Christ, while the side panels depict scenes from the Story of Joseph from the Book of Genesis. The panels used in the front of the Throne depict the Four Evangelists left and right of John the Baptist, who is holding a medallion with the Lamb of God and Maximianus’s name above him. Scholars identify two different artists working on this amazing Early Byzantine masterpiece. The explanation can be simple… the Plague of Justinian probably caused the death of the first, maybe of Alexandrian origin, artist, so that a second artist was introduced to finish this amazing imperial commission. https://www.thebyzantinelegacy.com/maximian-throne
Great Tuesday… “Lord, she who has fallen in many sins, Recognizing Your Divinity, Took up the myrrh-bearer’s office, With tears brought you myrrh before your entombment.”
Great Wednesday… “Let no fear separate you from Me…” this
is the evening of repentance, confession and the remission of sins by Christ,
preparing the faithful to receive Holy Communion…
Walters manuscript W.592
is an illuminated and illustrated Arabic manuscript of the Gospels by Matthew
(Mattá), Mark (Marqus), Luke (Luqa), and John (Yuhanna) and was copied in Egypt
by Ilyas Basim Khuri Bazzi Rahib, who was most likely a Coptic monk, in Anno
Mundi 7192/AD 1684. The text is written in Naskh in black ink with rubrics in
red. The decoration is comprised of illuminated headpieces, numerous floral
paintings, and approximately fifty illustrations. It is worth browsing through
its pages… https://art.thewalters.org/detail/17922
The Walters Art Gallery Manuscript 592, is becoming one of my favourites… I enjoy the clarity of the compositions, the vibrancy of colours applied, the bold outlines and the pure joy of the floral decorative patterns used by the artist!
Great Thursday… “Take, eat;
this is my Body. Drink of it all of you; for this is my Blood of the New
Covenant” (Matthew 26:26-28)
Scenes of a Byzantine Mystical Supper, usually depict the event in a straight-forward manner, as described in the Gospels: the Twelve Disciples are seated around an oval table, John usually rests on Jesus’ bosom, and Judas dips his hand in the dish, revealing him to be Christ’s traitor. This is not the case in the 6th century Church of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna. Chris, dressed in purple, along with the 12 Disciples dressed in white, recline around a central table. The bread and fish on the table may refer to the miracle of the loaves and fishes portrayed on the opposite wall of the Church while the Bread explicitly relates that miracle to the Eucharist, which Jesus is believed to have instituted at the Last Supper. This is one of the 13 mosaics of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ along with the upper band of the right wall of the nave. https://www.christianiconography.info/Edited%20in%202013/Italy/sApolNuovoRightNave.lastSupper.html
Oh my sweet
spring, my sweetest child, where does your beauty fade? (Excerpt from the
Lamentations of Good Friday)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has among its many Byzantine Treasures, an Ivory Icon of the Crucifixion I particularly like. It is small in size like all Byzantine Ivory panels, but so rich in quality work… Under a richly textured canopy, the MET Crucifixion emphasizes Christ’s victory over death. Christ’s body lifelessly “suspends” on the Cross while his head gracefully falls forward and leans to his left shoulder. Mary and John stand on the sides of the Cross mourning with dignity, the three soldiers divide Christ’s garment, and at the very bottom, unique to this small ivory piece, the personification of Hades! Panofsky’s Renascence at its best! https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/464428
Great Saturday… “Arise, O God, and judge Thou
the earth…” (Vespers and Divine Liturgy of Saturday evening)
This amazing Icon at the Hellenic Institute in Venice comes from Constantinople and dates from the late 14th century. It is elegant and sophisticated, a fine example of the Late Paleologean style in painting. It depicts the Resurrection of Christ, or in true Byzantine style, the Descent of Christ into Hades, according to the occult gospel of Nicodemus. Christ is depicted in the center of the composition, within a radiant glory, stepping at the gates of Hades and lifting Adam from within an open sarcophagus. Behind Adam are Eve, the prophets and on the opposite side Biblical kings like Solomon, David, and prophets from the Old Testament. In the lower central part, an angel chains Hades, while at the top, against a glorious golden background, two angels fly, holding the symbols of Christ’s Passion… http://eib.xanthi.ilsp.gr/gr/icons.asp
For a PowerPoint on The Holy Week in the Greek Orthodox Church, please… click HERE!
“I paint because the spirits whisper madly inside my head.”El Greco: Formative Years introduces us to the world of Domenikos Theotokopoulos, and his Cretan period Icon of the Dormition of the Virgin, in the Cycladic Island of Syros.
Domenikos Theotokopoulos was a Cretan Greek, born at Handaka-Candia, present-day Herakleion, part of the thriving Republic of Venice. Archival research in Venice showed that between 1526-28 his family relocated from Chania to Handaka, where, in 1541 Domenikos was born. His Orthodox-Greek family belonged to the upper-middle class, as his father, Giorgos Theotokopoulos, worked for the government of the Venetian Republic, most probably as a merchant and a tax collector. Very little is known of Domenikos’s mother and early childhood. He was undoubtedly talented, and his father, realizing it, placed him as an apprentice in a painter’s workshop to learn this profitable trade. The name of his teacher is unknown, but judging from Domenikos’s earliest paintings, he was a great master of the Post-Byzantine Cretan School. Crete at the time was the center of a thriving artistic community and understanding the artist’s early influences and style is important in decoding his later work!
Very little is also known of Domenikos’s early years as a painter in Handaka, except a1563 reference on him as “a master painter” on a document issued by the Venetian Administration of Candia, and later, in 1566 his testament as a witness in a Candia solicitor’s document in which he is mentioned as ‘maistro Menegos Theotokopoulos, artist’. By late 1566, Domenikos was ready to pursue his career and artistic prospects in Crete were limited. On December 26, 1566, he asked permission from the Venetian authorities in Handaka to auction one of his paintings depicting the Passion of Christ, a painting estimated to be worth 80 ducats but sold for 70. This valuable information comes from the Venetian archives and proves two things. First, Domenikos was still in Crete in 1566, and second, he was an extremely important artist because the price of 70 ducats his small painting fetched was as high as any great Italian artist of the Renaissance would get. https://www.historical-museum.gr/webapps/elgreco/xronologio.php?lang=en
For a PowerPoint on El Greco: Formative Years, please… click HERE!
The Dormition of the Virgin, on the Island of Syros, is a fine example of Theotokopoulos’s 16th-century Cretan period where his personality and artistic being were formed. Greco’s signature on the base of the central candelabrum was discovered, in the process of restoring the Icon, in 1983 by archaeologist George Mastoropoulos. The Dormition’s undoubted attribution to Theotokopoulos helps scholars better understand and interpret the artist’s unique artistic idiom and early production.
The Icon follows the Post-Byzantine Orthodox tradition of painting, introducing at the same time elements of the Renaissance Mannerism. Today, in juxtaposition to his most “sublime” work, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, the Dormition is seen as Domeniko’s Archetypal representation of “a visionary experience” of two worlds, “the physical world of earth and the spiritual world of heaven, each portrayed in their own ways. Earth is captured on a normal scale with more proportional figures, whereas heaven is composed of swirling clouds and abstract shapes, with a more intangible quality to the figures. This clear distinction greatly allows for two ideas: on the one hand, a union between both worlds is proposed, on the other, the separation of the worlds is enhanced.” https://www.theartstory.org/artist/el-greco/artworks/#nav
“Sometimes, staring at Hegeso. I am thinking that through tears the best smiles grow up.” The smile and the tears of Hegeso, daughter of Proxenosby Katerina Samara
The amazing Funerary Stelae of Hegeso, daughter of Proxenos, is one of the many masterpieces exhibited in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. Found during the 1870 archaeological excavation period at the ancient Athenian Cemetery of Kerameikos, Hegeso’s Stelae was made of Pentelic marble and has been attributed to the sculptor and architect Kallimachos. She was a cherished member of a prominent Athenian family, as the magnificence of the relief sculptural Stelae and the family grave plot to which the Stelae was paced, indicate. https://www.namuseum.gr/en/collection/klasiki-periodos-2/
Hegeso’s Stelae is an exquisite example of the so-called “Rich” style that dates to the end of the 5th century and its main characteristics are the artists’ interest in the human body, on garments with elaborate pleats and on airy figures that move gracefully in space. Hegeso is depicted seated on a smart seat (klismos), her feet resting on a footstall. She wears a chiton, a himation, and a transparent veil on her head. With her right hand, she takes a jewel (originally painted) from a pyxis (jewel box) handed to her by a young servant girl, who solemnly stands before her. The servant wears a “barbarian” (not Greek) garment, with long sleeves, and a net on her hair. What a simple, and unpretentious composition the artist achieved! At the same time elegance, grace, class, and sophistication prevail.
The relief sculpture of Hegeso, daughter of Proxenos, according to the epigram on the top of the stele which kept alive the Lady’s name for 25 centuries, is probably the work of a skillful artist called Kallimachos. Little is known about the artist, not even if he was Athenian or Corinthian. He is, however, reputed to have worked in the building of the Athenian Acropolis, and for designing the first Corinthian Capital at the Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae, after observing acanthus leaves growing out of a basket placed on top of a young girl’s tomb. Kallimachos, according to Pausanias, is described as clever, innovative, and “catatexitechnus,” meaning he was an extreme perfectionist. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Callimachus_(sculptor)
The Theban poet Pindar wrote that “We are things of a day… When brightness comes, and the gods give it, there is shining light on man, and his life is sweet.” Let me quote Gabriela Chartier and her comments on how “People should not strive only to be remembered after death, but instead to enjoy the sweetness of life…” and how “Hegeso’s stele seems to coincide with Pindar’s idea. Hegeso is not doing anything heroic; the image does not refer to myths or to the epic past. Instead, she is shown in an event of everyday life: a moment in democratic Athens when the light was shining on her. The fact that this image is on a grave stele reinforces Pindar’s message. Placing such scenes along the main road in the Kerameikos would have offered a constant reminder: human life is passing. We are things of a day.” https://archaeologystudentsspeak.wordpress.com/2016/05/02/gabriela-chartier-on-the-grave-stele-of-hegeso/
Hegeso, daughter of Proxenos RWAP (stands for Research-Writing-Art-Project) is… HERE!
Examples of student RWAP (stands for Research-Writing-Art-Project) Sketchbooks… HERE!
Who can really resist an Exhibition, titled Van Eyck – An Optical Revolution? Particularly when over half of Jan van Eyck’s artistic oeuvre will be on display? Paintings from all over the world will travel to the Museum of Fine Arts (MSK) in Ghent “to contextualize the optical revolution he inspired.” Painting by Van Eyck, his workshop and from “his most talented peers from Germany, France, Italy and Spain” are placed side by side. This is an opportunity to study, compare and draw conclusions!
“Hubrecht van Eyck, the most famous painter ever known, started this work of art; his brother Jan, who was second in the art, finished the task at the request of Joos Vijd. With this verse the donor consigns the work to your charge on May 6th 1432. Admire what they have done for you”.
The main focus of the Ghent Exhibition is to present the recently restored outer panels of The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb or as it is widely known as the Ghent Altarpiece. According to the experts of Saint Bavo’s Cathedral “This painting by Hubrecht and Jan van Eyck is the principal work of the Flemish school in the 15th century. The main theme is the glorification or the heavenly apotheosis of man’s salvation and sanctification by the sacrifice of Christ. This subject is treated in a more visionary than narrative or dramatic manner. It is painted on oak panels; the paint consists of mineral pigments in a cement of drying oil.” https://sintbaafskathedraal.be/en/art/the-mystic-lamb.html
The outer panels of the Ghent Altarpiece, beautifully restored and exhibited at MSK, are divided into three registers. The upper register “lunettes” show prophets and Sibyls looking down on the middle register, the Annunciation scene. The four lower-register panels are divided into two pairs, the central sculptural paintings are in grisaille, presenting St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist, while the two outer panels, in astonishing naturalism, stage the donor portraits of Joost Vijdt and his wife Lysbette Borluut.
Jan van Eyck was a revolutionary, ground-breaking artist and the Ghent Exhibition is a learning experience!
He perfected the Oil Technique by adding siccatives. With oil paints, he created rich, deep, lustrous colours, flawless golden tones, and amazing life-like textures.
Observation of reality is key to Jan’s Art. His portraits are lifelike in the minutest detail. His depiction of nature and natural phenomena are credible and authentic. He is so good at creating reality, his art seems like it is competing with reality itself!
Observing and Painting Optical Light Phenomena shows an artist deeply interested “in the painting of light, so crucial to his optical revolution.” Scholars believe that Jan van Eyck “not only gathers practical but also theoretical knowledge in order to reproduce the effects of light.” https://vaneyck2020.be/en/the-optical-revolution/
Artworks presented in the PowerPoint were put together, thanks to an MSK Catalogue… HERE!andHERE!