Lo Scheggia’s Reclining Youth

Giovanni di ser Giovanni Guidi (called Lo Scheggia), 1406–1486
The Inner lid of a wedding chest with the image of a Reclining Youth, first half of the 15th century, wood, Musée du Petit Palais, Avignon, France

The father, more than anyone, must labor with hands and feet, with every nerve, with zeal and wisdom, for he must attempt to make his children moral and upright. That they may serve the advantage of the family—moral character being no less precious in a young man than wealth—and be an ornament and credit to their family, their country, and themselves… It is generally thought better for a country, if I am not mistaken, to have virtuous and upright citizens rather than many rich and powerful ones. And surely children whose character is poor must be a terrible sorrow to any father who is not insensible and utterly foolish… writes Leon Battista Alberti and I think of Lo Scheggia’s Reclining Youth!

Giovanni di Ser Giovanni Guidi, known as Lo Scheggia, was an Italian Renaissance artist. He was born in 1406 in San Giovanni Valdarno, Italy, and was the brother of the famous artist Masaccio (Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Mone Cassai). Lo Scheggia is primarily known for his work as a painter, but he also engaged in the decoration of domestic furnishings, such as wedding chests, birth trays, spalliera panels, strongboxes, and headrests. http://www.travelingintuscany.com/art/loscheggia.htm

The artist received his nickname “Lo Scheggia,” which means “the splinter” in Italian, due to his slender build, but also probably because of his specialization as a painter of wooden artifacts. A decisive influence on Giovanni’s training, what probably set him on the path to his artistic career as a decorator of furnishings, was his grandfather Mone, who was a cassaio, that is a craftsman who specialized in the construction of chests. He was also influenced by his brother, Masaccio’s, innovative approach to perspective, anatomy, and realism, which were revolutionary during the early Renaissance. Lo Scheggia worked along with his brother, on Masaccio’s workshop, with whom he lived in Via de’ Servi along with their mother. http://www.travelingintuscany.com/art/loscheggia.htm

Although not as celebrated as his brother, and his career not as extensively documented as some of his contemporaries, Lo Scheggia made important contributions to the art scene of his time. He worked on various projects alongside other renowned artists of the Renaissance. His masterpiece, painted around 1449, is considered to be the Birth Tray for Lorenzo il Magnifico portraying the Triumph of Fame.

I find equally interesting his painting of a Reclining Youth created to decorate the Inner lid of a Wedding Chest or Cassone in Italian. A Renaissance Cassone was a large and ornate piece of furniture made on the occasion of an important wedding and contained the bride’s trousseau. As described by Gorgio Vasari, Italian Cassoni were created for… citizens of those times (16th century) who used to have in their apartments great wooden chests in the form of a sarcophagus, with the covers shaped in various fashions…and besides the stories that were wrought on the front and on the ends, they used to have the arms, or rather, insignia, of their houses painted on the corners, and sometimes elsewhere. And the stories that were wrought on the front were for the most part fables taken from Ovid and from other poets, or rather stories related by the Greek and Latin historians, and likewise chases, jousts, tales of love, and other similar subjects. https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O132970/cassone-unknown/

A common theme for the inner lid of a Cassone was the presentation of a male or female nude reclining in the entire length of the lid. These images of a private nature promoted, in most probability, fertility. The rest of the Chest’s inside was often decorated with textile patterns. Lo Scheggia’s painted panel is today exhibited in Avignon, in the Musée du Petit Palais. https://www.academia.edu/3091564/Botticelli_to_Titian_Two_Centuries_of_Italian_Masterpieces_Exhibition_catalogue_edited_by_D%C3%B3ra_Sallay_Vilmos_T%C3%A1trai_and_Axel_V%C3%A9csey_Budapest_Sz%C3%A9pm%C5%B1v%C3%A9szeti_M%C3%BAzeum_28_October_2009_14_February_2010_Budapest_Sz%C3%A9pm%C5%B1v%C3%A9szeti_M%C3%BAzeum_2009?email_work_card=view-paper page 101

For a PowerPoint on Lo Scheggia, please… Check HERE!

Abbey of Vézelay

Tympanum of the Central Narthex Portal of the Abbey Church of Sainte-Madeleine at Vézelay, Top Left: Sign of Capricorn, Top Right: A seated man holding a cup of wine with the Inscription: OMNIBUS IN MEMBRIS DESIGNAT IMAGO DECEMBRIS (representing December) (marked by a blue star), circa 1120-1132, Abbey of Vézelay, Burgundy, France https://www.cieldujour.net/basilique-de-vezelay/

Shortly after its foundation in the 9th century, the Benedictine Abbey of Vézelay acquired the relics of St Mary Magdalene and since then it has been an important place of pilgrimage. St Bernard preached the Second Crusade there in 1146 and Richard the Lion-Hearted and Philip II Augustus met there to leave for the Third Crusade in 1190. With its sculpted capitals and portal, Sainte-Madeleine of Vézelay – a 12th-century monastic church – is a masterpiece of Burgundian Romanesque art and architecture. https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/84/

The Abbey of Vézelay is renowned for its exceptional aesthetic value, characterized by its stunning Romanesque architecture, intricate sculptures, and historical significance. The architectural design is a masterpiece of Romanesque art. The sculptural elements of the abbey are awe-inspiring. Elaborate carvings adorn the capitals of columns, depicting biblical scenes, figures of saints, mythical creatures, and intricate foliage. These sculptures not only showcase the artistic skill of the craftsmen but also serve as visual narratives for pilgrims, conveying religious stories and moral lessons.

The Abbey Church of Sainte-Madeleine at Vézelay, circa 1120-1150, Burgundy, France https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V%C3%A9zelay_Abbey

According to the latest interpretation of the tympanum scene the main components of the tympanum (the peoples of the world/the zodiac and months/Christ) function as the mundus/annus/homo of a Neoplatonic macro/microcosm, with the divine/human Christ in the center and the Magdalene at his feet, the purpose of which was to encourage the pilgrim to model himself or herself on Christ or on the Magdalene. https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/10.1086/714579

Tympanum of the Central Narthex Portal of the Abbey Church of Sainte-Madeleine at Vézelay (figure of Christ), circa 1120-1132, Abbey of Vézelay, Burgundy, France https://www.basiliquedevezelay.org/agenda/?oaq%5Buid%5D=27328804

The composition presents an imposing figure of Christ with a halo, seated on a throne, surrounded by a mandorla, in a contorted pose, with His knees twisted to the right. Lines or rays of light come from his hands and go to smaller, highly agitated figures on his right and left sides, around six on each side. Most scholars read these figures as the Apostles because they’re holding books or scrolls. The figure with keys on the right side of Christ is identified as St. Peter.

Tympanum of the Central Narthex Portal of the Abbey Church of Sainte-Madeleine at Vézelay (including the 12 Zodiac Signs), circa 1120-1132, Abbey of Vézelay, Burgundy, France https://www.cieldujour.net/basilique-de-vezelay/

This scene, identified as the Pentecost by most scholars, is surrounded by a partial semicircle of sculpted compartments above and a fully sculpted lintel below depicting various “peoples,” including Cynocephali (people with heads resembling those of dogs), Sciritae (people with, in this case, pig-like noses), Panotii (people with extremely large ears), Pygmies, and Giants, all having their ultimate source in classical geographical and historical literature. It is these peoples, according to Dr. Conrad Rudolph, that have caused most scholars to see the portal as also referring to the Mission to convert all nations. The final part of the Tympanum Composition is an outer archivolt with 29 sculpted roundels of pictures of the 12 Zodiac Signs and 12 different Labours/Activities that happen during each month of the year. https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/10.1086/714579

Tympanum of the Central Narthex Portal of the Abbey Church of Sainte-Madeleine at Vézelay (signs for December), circa 1120-1132, Abbey of Vézelay, Burgundy, France https://www.cieldujour.net/basilique-de-vezelay/

Today, in celebration of the Month of December, I present to you the Vézelay Zodiac Sign of Capricorn. Also, I share the scene of a banquet, where the sharing of bread and wine takes place. The symbolism of the banquet has its roots far back in the early Christian period, and celebrates the ending year and the new year, the eternal return of the cycles of heaven which ensure life on earth.

For the Vézelay pilgrims and viewers of this majestic scene, December is a month filled with energy and anticipation for the upcoming Holiday Season… Days of festivities and feasting are on the horizon. The peasants will soon complete their tasks, and they will be able to enjoy the fruits of their labour, savoring the remnants of their hard work. https://www.cieldujour.net/basilique-de-vezelay/

For a PowerPoint Presentation, please… Check HERE!

Important Articles to read… The Central Tympanum at Vézelay: Its Encyclopedic Meaning and Its Relation to the First Crusade by Adolf Katzenellenbogen, The Art Bulletin, Vol. 26, No. 3 (Sep. 1944), pp. 141-151 (15 pages) https://www.jstor.org/stable/3046949 and Macro/Microcosm at Vézelay: The Narthex Portal and Non-elite Participation in Elite Spirituality by Conrad Rudolph, Speculum, Volume 96, Number 3, July 2021 https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/10.1086/714579

Gold Sandwich-Glass Vase at the Canellopoulos Museum

Bottom of a Gold Sandwich-Glass Vase with representation of a Christian Martyr, Mid-4th century AD, Diam. 4,9 cm., Canellopoulo Museum, Athens, Greece https://camu.gr/en/item/pythmenas-amfyalou-chrysografimenou-angeiou/

The Gold Sandwich-Glass Vase at the Canellopoulos Museum in Athens is a truly rare and precious exhibit. Also referred to as Verre Églomisé, Gold Sandwich-Glass is a decorative technique with a rich history dating back to antiquity, used to craft stunning and opulent objects. The example on display at the Canellopoulos Museum stands as a unique treasure in Greece, inviting keen exploration and admiration!

Displayed at the Canellopoulos Museum in Athens, Greece, this remarkable piece is organized within a tondo, defined by concentric rings, and embellished with gold leaf in the space between the innermost pair. The composition takes on a triangular form, exhibiting simplicity, stability, and balance. Positioned at the very center of the tondo is a male figure, devoid of a beard but adorned with a luminous halo. In his lowered right hand, he clasps a palm branch, a Christian symbol of victory over death, while his left hand extends upward in a gesture of acclamation. The figure, portrayed in a strikingly naturalistic manner, stands upright and is flanked by laurel bushes on either side. The combination of brown hues and gold against a background of transparent glass creates an aethereal, and delicate composition, suitable for a religious shallow bowl (phiale).

According to Constantine Scampavias, the Canellopoulos Museum expert… Although the piece is not inscribed, the halo and the palm branch (as well as the two bushes if they are laurels) identify the figure as a Christian martyr. Perhaps it is the martyr Gereon, whose cult was widespread in the Rhineland and particularly in Cologne, where this bowl was possibly made. https://camu.gr/en/item/pythmenas-amfyalou-chrysografimenou-angeiou/

The Gold Sandwich-Glass technique was particularly popular throughout the Roman Empire during the 4th century AD. Images in this technique were etched in gold leaf and then, the leaf was fused between two layers of glass… like a sandwich! Items of Gold Glass were usually created into circular bottoms of luxurious drinking vessels since the Hellenistic period. A popular practice for the Romans of the later period, was to cut out the Gold Glass decorated roundel of a cup and cemented it to the wall of a catacomb Grave to serve as a grave marker for the small recesses where bodies were buried. In Rome, where this practice was particularly popular, archaeologists discovered over 500 pieces of Gold Glass used in this way. Decoration themes for Gold Sandwich-Glass items vary from pagan mythology and portraits to purely Jewish or Christian imagery. Chapter 13 Making Late Antique Gold Glass by Daniel Thomas Howells, pp.112-120https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20190801105206/https://www.britishmuseum.org/research/publications/research_publications_series.aspx#AllResearchPublications

For a PowerPoint on 10 artifacts of Gold Sandwich-Grass, please… Check HERE!

A Teacher Curator POST, on another famous Gold Sandwich-Glass roundel, titled Portrait Medallion of Gennadioshttps://www.teachercurator.com/uncategorized/portrait-medallion-of-gennadios/?fbclid=IwAR2gufFAvOMcFrz9j2sGH55wP-ajBQUA4ELpGgXpTpp-SRTXMIzyr0GUVTw

A wonderful Video on the Gold Sandwich-Glass making technique created by the Corning Museum of Glass https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALNMn6DGQJg

Meissen Porcelain for Thanksgiving

Meissen Porcelain Manufactory, active 1710 – present, Dresden, Germany
Modelled by Johann Joachim Kändler, 1706 – 1775
A Turkey, 1733, white glazed hard-paste porcelain, 53.5 × 51 × 20 cm, the Getty Museum, CA, USA

In Meissen’s porcelain menagerie, each bird or animal whispers tales of craftsmanship and elegance… In my latest BLOG POST titled Meissen Porcelain for Thanksgiving, I am excited to present the 1733 Meissen menagerie life-size model featuring the iconic Thanksgiving Bird!

Its head half-turned to its right, with incised eyes, an extended drooping comb suspended from the curved upper beak, the neck with deeply incised wrinkled skin, its overlapping short rounded body-feathers each with a raised central spine and incised spines covering its plump breast and back, its wings with long divided wing feathers falling to the ground and partially obscuring its three-clawed feet, the raised humped back terminating in its displayed fan-shaped tail with two tiers of radiating feathers, with a short forked tail below, supported on a circular rockwork base applied with moss and plants with short broad leaves… This is how Christie’s experts describe the 1733 life-size white model of a turkey-cock created at the Meissen porcelain factory, by master sculptor Johann Joachim Kändler. https://www.christies.com/en/lot/lot-3933086

Kändler’s Model of a Turkey was one of many animals and birds—ranging from exotic birds to fierce dogs and elephants—that were created for the foremost 18th-century collector of oriental porcelain: Augustus the Strong, elector of Saxony and king of Poland, who was also the founder of the Meissen porcelain factory. In the early 1720s, just a little over a decade since the establishment of the Meissen factory in 1710, Augustus the Strong, captivated by the beauty of porcelain, envisioned a life-size porcelain menagerie for his Japanese Palace in Dresden. He was by far the greatest collector of Chinese and Japanese porcelain, what he was missing was a breathtaking assemblage of porcelain produced by his own factory at Meissen. His dream was put into practice in 1728, and by 1735, it had become a reality.

Nicolas de Largillierre, 1656–1746
Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, 1714–15, Oil on Canvas, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, USA https://art.nelson-atkins.org/objects/16759/augustus-the-strong-elector-of-saxony-and-king-of-poland

According to Christie’s experts… Two principal modellers were involved in this huge undertaking: Johann Gottlieb Kirchner and Johann Joachim Kändler. The latter became Kirchner’s successor and a major figure in the history of Meissen. Kändler’s skill was to breathe life into the models and give them a sense of dynamic movement, and his work is still very much admired by collectors. https://www.christies.com/en/stories/a-guide-to-collecting-meissen-porcelain-50def5394a5a4f6d8efaf91756720072

Johann Joachim Kändler’s importance as an artist at the Meissen porcelain factory lies in his pioneering artistry, diverse artistic contributions, innovative designs and techniques, collaborations and partnerships, royal patronage, and enduring legacy within the realm of porcelain art. Kändler was known for his exceptional ability to depict animals or birds, like the white life-size Turkey model, with a high degree of naturalism and accuracy. His menagerie models captured the essence of various creatures in a lifelike and realistic manner. This naturalistic representation showcased his mastery of form, anatomy, and attention to detail.

He is also known for his attention to detail and realism. The menagerie models he created were meticulously crafted, paying careful attention to the intricate details of each animal. From the texture of feathers and fur to the expressions on their faces, Kändler’s models displayed a remarkable level of realism, featuring dynamic and expressive poses, and capturing the animals in various states of movement or repose. These dynamic poses added vitality and energy to the models, making them visually engaging and captivating.

Meissen Porcelain Manufactory, active 1710 – present, Dresden, Germany
Modelled by Johann Joachim Kändler, 1706 – 1775
A Turkey
, 1733, white glazed hard-paste porcelain, 53.5 × 51 × 20 cm, the Getty Museum, CA, USA https://www.christies.com/en/lot/lot-3933086

The use of porcelain as the medium for these models added to their aesthetic allure. Porcelain, with its smooth texture, translucency, and delicate nature, provided a perfect canvas for Kändler to showcase his artistic vision. The whiteness of the porcelain allowed for intricate painting and detailing, enhancing the overall aesthetic quality of the menagerie models. Kändler’s models were not only aesthetically appealing but also held cultural and historical significance. They were reflective of the 18th-century European fascination with the natural world and the desire to bring aspects of the natural world into the realm of art and decoration.

If Meissen’s animal porcelain figurines tell us stories in delicate forms… Kändler’s models of animals and birds showcase artistic brilliance and significantly contribute to the world of porcelain art.

Happy Thanksgiving Day!

Give thanks for each new morning with its light, / For rest and shelter of the night. / For health and food, / For love and friends, / For everything they goodness sends… (Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882)

Please… Check HERE! for the Meissen Porcelain for Thanksgiving PowerPoint, titled The Meissen Managerie: 10 Outstanding Examples!

A May 17, 2023 Video, titled Meissen Porcelain Animals: Getty Conversations by Smarthistory… https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/renaissance-reformation/xa6688040:central-and-eastern-european-in-the-17th-18th-century/xa6688040:central-and-eastern-european-art-in-the-17th-18th-century/v/meissen-porcelain-animals-getty-conversations

Spedale degli Innocenti in Florence

Designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, 1377-1446
Spedale degli Innocenti, Construction: 1417-1436 – Inauguration: 1445, Piazza della Santissima Annunziata, Florence, Italy https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spedale_degli_Innocenti
Andrea della Robbia, 1435-1525
Infant in Swaddling Clothes, 1487, glazed terracotta, Diameter about 100 cm, Ospedale degli Innocenti, Piazza della Santissima Annunziata, Florence, Italy https://smarthistory.org/andrea-della-robbia-bambini-ospedale-degli-innocenti/

…Mothers, fathers, teachers, nurses, doctors, government leaders, civil society activists, religious and community elders, corporate moguls, media professionals, and even young people and children themselves all have a crucial role to play in making World Children’s Day meaningful within their societies, communities, and nations… In 1954, the United Nations designated the 20th of November as World Children’s Day, aiming to enhance children’s welfare, foster international unity, and raise awareness among children worldwide. …World Children’s Day provides each of us with an inspirational starting point to advocate for, promote, and celebrate children’s rights. This significant celebratory day is described in this manner by the United Nations… The Spedale degli Innocenti in Florence, an architectural masterpiece designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, holds historical significance as the first Renaissance orphanage, serving as a testament to Florence’s compassion and care for innocent children. In honor of this important UN Day, today’s BLOG POST will serve as my humble contribution. https://www.un.org/en/observances/world-childrens-day

Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) was an Italian Renaissance architect, engineer, and designer, known for his innovative contributions to architecture and engineering during the 15th century. He is considered one of the founding fathers of Renaissance architecture and played a crucial role in the development of perspective in painting and the use of linear perspective in architectural design.

Inspired by classical Roman architectural designs, Ospedale degli Innocenti, the Hospital of the Innocents (meaning innocent children), also known in the old Tuscan dialect as the Spedale degli Innocenti, is Brunelleschi’s first Renaissance architectural achievement. Constructed between 1419 and 1445, Ospedale was commissioned by the Arte della Seta (Silk Guild) or the Silk Merchants’ Guild, a powerful economic and cultural organization in Florence.

Designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, 1377-1446
Spedale degli Innocenti, Construction: 1417-1436 – Inauguration: 1445, Piazza della Santissima Annunziata, Florence, Italy

The purpose of the Ospedale degli Innocenti was to serve as an orphanage and foundling hospital, providing care and support for abandoned or orphaned children. The name “Innocenti” emphasizes the institution’s focus on providing care and support to the most vulnerable members of society—orphans and abandoned infants.

If the construction and establishment of the Ospedale degli Innocenti showcased a significant social and cultural development, representing the burgeoning Renaissance ideals of compassion, and humanism, Brunelleschi’s architectural design reflected the changing Renaissance aesthetic and laid the foundation for the Renaissance architectural style that followed. For example, by incorporating classical elements and proportions inspired by ancient Roman and Greek architecture, the building’s facade displayed a harmonious and balanced arrangement of columns, arches, and pilasters, showcasing the influence of classical design principles. Ospedale’s facade is characterized by its symmetrical layout, while its arcades and loggias add elegance and an open design. Thus, Brunelleschi’s building exhibits a sense of equilibrium and balance, a hallmark of Renaissance design influenced by classical ideals.

Let’s not forget how Vasari describes Brunelleschi’s sojourn to Rome and his meticulous investigation of the city’s ancient ruins. Vasari recalls how the artist did not apparently rest …until he had drawn every sort of building–round, square, and octagonal temples, basilicas, aqueducts, baths, arches, colosseum, amphitheaters, and every temple built of bricks, from which he copied the methods of binding and of clamping with ties, and also of encircling vaults with them; and he noted the ways of making buildings secure by binding the stones together by iron bars, and by dovetailing… He then distinguished the different Orders one from another–Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian; and so zealous was his study that his intellect became very well able to see Rome, in imagination, as she was when she was not in ruins. https://filippobrunelleschifacts.tumblr.com/post/109790232722/vasaris-lives-of-the-artists-life-of

Spedale degli Innocenti is the ‘canvas’ of yet another great master of Italian Renaissance art, that is Andrea della Robbia. In 1487, according to Dr. Rachel Boyd, Andrea della Robbia was hired to fill the loggia’s roundels (Brunelleschi’s design intentionally left the roundels on the loggia facade unadorned) with colorful works of art. Described as bambini di terra (“babies made of clay”) in an original payment record, these high-relief sculptures were made in glazed terracotta, a distinctive medium that was the signature of the Della Robbia family workshop. https://smarthistory.org/andrea-della-robbia-bambini-ospedale-degli-innocenti/

Andrea della Robbia, 1435-1525
Infant in Swaddling Clothes, 1487, glazed terracotta, Diameter about 100 cm, Ospedale degli Innocenti, Piazza della Santissima Annunziata, Florence, Italy https://smarthistory.org/andrea-della-robbia-bambini-ospedale-degli-innocenti/

The Della Robbia roundels in the Ospedale degli Innocenti are celebrated for their artistic beauty, mastery of ceramic technique, and their contribution to the visual identity of one of Florence’s historic landmarks. The babies are rendered with a remarkable degree of realism and naturalism. The facial features, anatomy, and proportions of the infants are meticulously crafted, displaying a lifelike quality that adds to their charm and appeal. Their cherubic faces and gentle expressions convey a sense of innocence and serenity, evoking a feeling of tenderness and care.

Andrea della Robbia, 1435-1525
Infant in Swaddling Clothes, 1487, glazed terracotta, Diameter about 100 cm, Ospedale degli Innocenti, Piazza della Santissima Annunziata, Florence, Italy https://smarthistory.org/andrea-della-robbia-bambini-ospedale-degli-innocenti/

I could easily add that the artistic qualities of the depicted babies in Andrea della Robbia’s glazed terracotta roundels include a blend of realism, expressive features, symbolism of childhood, and a mastery of the glazed terracotta technique, resulting in a timeless and captivating representation of infancy and innocence. What an achievement!

For a PowerPoint on Brunelleschi’s Oeuvre, please… Check HERE!

Bibliography: https://www.museodeglinnocenti.it/en/ and https://www.artesvelata.it/ospedale-portico-innocenti-brunelleschi/ and https://www.istitutodeglinnocenti.it/en/about-us/history

The Arts of the Romanesque Period

Abbey of Sainte-Foy, c. 1050–1130, Conques, France
Reliquary statue of Sainte-Foy (Saint Faith), late 10th to early 11th century, gold, silver gilt, jewels, and cameos over a wooden core, 85.09 cm, Treasury, Abbey of Sainte-Foy, Conques, France

The Romanesque Period, spanning roughly from the 11th through the 12th century in Europe, was characterized by a distinct style of art (in sculpture and painting) and architecture. During this time, the construction of massive, fortress-like buildings with thick stone or stone-and-brick walls was prevalent. Rounded arches, barrel and groin vaults, and small, often semicircular windows were common architectural features. Romanesque art and architecture were marked by an emphasis on symmetry, simplicity, and sculptural decoration, particularly on church facades. These structures, often adorned with intricate stone carvings depicting religious and historical scenes, were designed to inspire and educate the largely illiterate medieval populace. The Romanesque style was closely associated with the power and influence of the Christian Church, but it also found expression in secular structures like castles. It eventually evolved into the more elaborate and vertical Gothic style, but the Romanesque period remains a testament to the medieval European quest for stability, security, and spiritual enlightenment.


Romanesque architecture is often associated with the construction of churches and monastic buildings, reflecting the strong influence of the Christian Church during this period. However, the style was also used in the construction of castles, bridges, and other secular structures. It eventually gave way to the Gothic style, which introduced more complex and innovative architectural elements, such as pointed arches, flying buttresses, and larger stained-glass windows. Romanesque art and architecture remain an important part of Europe’s cultural heritage and a testament to the creative and architectural achievements of the medieval period.

Here are key characteristics of Romanesque architecture… Thick, massive walls: Romanesque buildings are known for their thick and sturdy walls, which often incorporate a combination of stone and brick. These walls provided stability and a sense of security, which was important during a period marked by political and social instability. Rounded arches: Romanesque architecture typically features rounded arches, both in doorways and windows. This contrasts with the later Gothic style, which is known for its pointed arches. Barrel vaults and groin vaults: Romanesque churches often have barrel vaults in their naves and aisles, with thick columns or piers supporting the ceiling. In some cases, groin vaults (intersecting barrel vaults) were used, which allowed for larger, more open spaces. Symmetry and order: The Romanesque church plan reflects a desire for symmetry and order, with a focus on creating a sacred space conducive to worship and religious rituals. The cruciform layout, combined with elements like thick walls, rounded arches, and decorative carvings, contributes to the overall solidity and spiritual significance of Romanesque architecture.


Romanesque sculpture, a prominent aspect of the Romanesque period’s artistic expression, is characterized by its highly ornate and intricate stone carvings. These sculptures adorned the facades, portals, and interior spaces of Romanesque churches and other buildings, serving both decorative and didactic purposes.

Key features of Romanesque sculpture include… Religious Themes: Romanesque sculpture predominantly featured religious subjects, such as biblical narratives, saints, and religious symbols. These carvings aimed to convey Christian teachings to an often illiterate medieval audience. Portals and Tympana: One of the most significant areas for Romanesque sculpture was the tympanum, the semicircular space above a church’s entrance. Here, intricate scenes from the Bible, such as the Last Judgment or the Nativity, were depicted in detail. Capital Sculpture: Sculpted capitals, found on the columns or piers within churches, were another prominent location for Romanesque sculpture. These carvings often portrayed various scenes and figures, both religious and secular, and were known for their expressive and stylized designs. Symbolism: Romanesque sculpture was rich in symbolism, with each element carefully chosen to convey a deeper message. For example, animals, grotesque figures, and intricate foliage were often used to represent moral lessons and the struggle between good and evil. Stylized Figures: The figures in Romanesque sculpture often exhibited a certain stiffness and formality, with elongated proportions and simplified facial features. This reflected the artistic conventions of the time and was influenced by the Byzantine and Carolingian traditions.

Romanesque sculpture played a vital role in conveying religious and moral messages to a largely non-literate medieval population. It also demonstrated the artistic and creative achievements of the period, setting the stage for the more dynamic and naturalistic sculptural traditions that emerged in the subsequent Gothic period.

For a PowerPoint on French Romanesque Art, please… Check HERE!

Bibliography: https://smarthistory.org/a-beginners-guide-to-romanesque-art/ and https://smarthistory.org/medieval-europe-byzantium/romanesque-art-2/

Achelous and Hercules

Thomas Hart Benton, American Artist, 1889-1975
Achelous and Hercules (and detail), 1947, Tempera and Oil on Canvas mounted on plywood, 159.6 x 671.0 cm, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC, USA https://narrativepainting.net/thomas-hart-benton-achelous-and-hercules-1947/

The myth of the fight between Achelous and Hercules is a captivating tale from Greek mythology. In this legend, Achelous, an ancient Greek river god, transforms into various shapes during his battle with Hercules in an attempt to defeat the hero and win the hand of Deianira, the beautiful Calydonian princess. Despite his shapeshifting abilities, Achelous is ultimately outmatched by Hercules, who manages to break off one of the river god’s horns. This horn becomes the Cornucopia, or the “Horn of Plenty,” symbolizing abundance and nourishment. The myth highlights Hercules’ strength and resourcefulness, as well as the enduring theme of divine contests and transformations in Greek mythology.

Ovid’s narrative in Book 9 of the Metamorphoses provides a detailed account of this myth, including the transformations of Achelous and his fateful battle with Hercules. Who wants to recall the battles he has lost? The great river God tells Theseus, the Athenian hero… But, I will tell it as it happened: since the shame of being beaten is no less than the honour of having fought. It is a great consolation to me that the victor was so famous… Ovid, a prominent Roman poet who lived during the 1st century BC, is known for his retelling of various Greek and Roman myths. He became famous and influential in preserving and popularizing these ancient stories. https://ovid.lib.virginia.edu/trans/Metamorph9.htm#483366540

Thomas Hart Benton, American Artist, 1889-1975
Achelous and Hercules (and details), 1947, Tempera and Oil on Canvas mounted on plywood, 159.6 x 671.0 cm, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC, USA https://narrativepainting.net/thomas-hart-benton-achelous-and-hercules-1947/

In 1947 American artist Thomas Hart Benton was hired by Lester Siegel Sr., proprietor of Kansas City’s Harzfeld department store, to decorate the wall above the store’s elevator area. Benton settled on a retelling of the Achelous and Hercules myth from ancient Greece, setting it in present-day Missouri. The artist viewed this legend as a parable of his beloved Midwest. The Army Corps of Engineers had begun, at the time, efforts to control the Missouri River, and Benton imagined, and depicted, a future where the waterway was tamed, and the earth swelled with robust harvests. https://ovid.lib.virginia.edu/trans/Metamorph9.htm#483366540 and https://narrativepainting.net/thomas-hart-benton-achelous-and-hercules-1947/

Photo Portrait of Thomas Hart Benton and Photo of his Studio from ‘The OFFICIAL Facebook page for the Thomas Hart Benton Home and Studio State Historic Site in Kansas’ https://www.facebook.com/ThomasHartBentonHomeandStudioSHS

The artwork features a dynamic and muscular Hercules wrestling Achelous, who is depicted as a ferocious bull. Benton’s composition is characterized by bold, exaggerated forms and a strong sense of movement, which is a hallmark of his unique approach to storytelling through art. This painting is a prime example of the artist’s ability to fuse classical themes with the American experience, creating a powerful and visually compelling narrative.

Thomas Hart Benton, American Artist, 1889-1975
Achelous and Hercules (detail), 1947, Tempera and Oil on Canvas mounted on plywood, 159.6 x 671.0 cm, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC, USA https://narrativepainting.net/thomas-hart-benton-achelous-and-hercules-1947/

In Achelous and Hercules, Benton not only showcases his technical prowess but also his deep appreciation for the human struggle and the mythological underpinnings that resonate with American themes of strength and determination. The painting stands as a testament to Benton’s skill in merging classical and contemporary elements, and it remains a significant piece in the realm of American art history.

Thomas Hart Benton was a prominent American artist known for his contributions to the American Regionalist movement in the early to mid-20th century. Born in Neosho, Missouri, in 1889, Benton’s work is characterized by its celebration of everyday life in rural America. He was a master of capturing the essence of the American heartland through his vivid and dynamic paintings, often depicting scenes of farmers, laborers, and small-town life. Benton’s art not only showcased his exceptional technical skill but also conveyed a deep sense of patriotism and a connection to the working-class people he portrayed. His distinctive style combined elements of European modernism with a uniquely American perspective. Benton’s legacy lives on as his art continues to be celebrated for its evocative storytelling and its role in shaping the American art landscape.

For a PowerPoint on Thomas Hart Benton’s oeuvre, please… Check HERE!

The Merovingian Dynasty

Augustinus Hipponensis, Quaestiones et locutiones, Heptateuchum, livres I-IV, 8th century. (around 750-770?), Cv-1r, Illuminated Manuscript, 305 x 220 mm, BnF, ms. Latin 12168, France https://archivesetmanuscrits.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cc34697k and https://www.medieval.eu/the-merovingian-times/

Once upon a time, in the ancient land of the Franks, there lived a great warrior named Merovech. Merovech was no ordinary man; he had a legendary tale woven into the very fabric of his being. His mother was the Queen of the Franks, An intelligent and powerful woman, who held a mysterious secret… One day, as she wandered along the shores of the great sea, a magnificent sea monster named ‘Quinotaur’ appeared before her. This creature was unlike anything she had ever seen, with shimmering scales and gentle eyes. They spent joyful days together, swimming in the sea, sharing stories and laughter. Their coming together brought forth the child Merovech, a blend of both sea and land, destined for greatness. He became the founder of The Merovingian Dynasty of the Francs, strong and wise. His legacy lived on through generations, becoming a testament to the magical love that had once graced the land and the sea. (my own presentation of the Merovingian legend)

So, let’s explore the ‘who,’ ‘how,’ and ‘what’ of the Merovingian Dynasty by answering some questions!

‘Who’ were the Merovingians and ‘What’ defined their dynasty? The Merovingians were a dynasty of Frankish kings that ruled over a significant portion of what is now modern-day France and parts of Germany from the 5th to the 8th centuries. They were named after Merovech, a semi-legendary figure who was thought to be their ancestor.

The dynasty was founded by Merovech’s son, Childeric I, and expanded by his son Clovis I, who is credited with uniting the Franks and converting to Christianity, specifically to Catholicism. Under Clovis I and subsequent Merovingian kings, the dynasty expanded its territory through military conquests, incorporating various Germanic and Gallo-Roman regions. The Merovingian kings were initially strong warriors but later became somewhat figurehead rulers due to a system of decentralization, where local rulers and nobles gained significant autonomy. This led to a weakened central authority. Over time, the dynasty faced internal strife, infighting, and challenges from other Frankish noble families. The decline of the Merovingian Dynasty ultimately paved the way for the rise of the Carolingians, with Charlemagne becoming a central figure in consolidating power and reuniting much of Western Europe.

‘What’ historical and archaeological evidence supports the early history of the Merovingians? The early history of the Merovingians is primarily supported by a combination of historical texts, archaeological findings, numismatic evidence (coinage), and contemporary accounts from neighboring cultures. For instance, works like “Historia Francorum” by Gregory of Tours, a bishop and historian, provide valuable historical accounts of the Merovingian Dynasty, including the reigns of various Merovingian kings and important events during their rule. Additionally, “Fredegar’s Chronicle,” compiled by an anonymous Frankish chronicler known as Fredegar, covers the history of the Franks and the Merovingian Dynasty, offering insights into their early history and political developments.

Diplomatic communications between Merovingian rulers and other contemporary powers, such as Byzantine emperors and popes, provide historical context and shed light on their political relationships, alliances, and conflicts, while Ecclesiastical Documents from the Merovingian period provide information on religious practices, conflicts, and the influence of Christianity on the Merovingian rulers and society. By synthesizing information from these sources, historians construct a comprehensive understanding of the early history of the Merovingians and their contributions to the development of medieval Europe.

Numismatic Evidence, particularly coins minted during the Merovingian era, offers information about their political and economic activities, rulership, and trade relations with neighboring regions. The design, inscriptions, and use of different metals provide insights into their economy and society.

Finally, archaeological excavations of religious sites, graveyards, and tombs associated with the Merovingian period provide valuable insights into their society, beliefs, culture, and burial practices. The discovery of artifacts, grave goods, and the architecture of these tombs helps in understanding their beliefs and social structure. Excavations of royal residences, on the other hand, provide clues about the lifestyle, architecture, and level of sophistication of the Merovingian elite. These sites reveal aspects of governance, art, and material culture.

‘How’ did the arts and culture flourish during the time of the Merovingian Dynasty? During the time of the Merovingian Dynasty, spanning from the 5th to the 8th centuries, arts and culture experienced a distinctive evolution and expression within the Frankish Kingdom. However, it’s important to note that the available historical evidence regarding the arts and culture of this period is relatively limited compared to later medieval periods.

The artistic style during the Merovingian era was influenced by a blend of Germanic, Roman, and early Christian artistic traditions. The Merovingians adopted certain Roman artistic elements, such as architectural designs, while incorporating their own unique styles and themes. For instance, churches and monastic complexes showcased a fusion of Roman architectural features and Germanic influences, often displaying simple designs, rounded arches, and timber construction.

Intricate metalwork, especially in the creation of jewelry like brooches and buckles, held significant artistic value. These pieces often boasted elaborate patterns, filigree work, and the use of gemstones. Additionally, though the number of surviving illuminated manuscripts from this era is limited, some notable examples exist. Manuscripts, typically religious in nature and including Gospel books and psalters, were adorned with colorful illuminations and decorated initials.

In conclusion, the arts and culture flourished during the time of the Merovingian Dynasty, showcasing a unique blend of Germanic, Roman, and early Christian artistic influences. Despite the limitations in available historical evidence, the Merovingians left a lasting legacy through intricate metalwork, expressive jewelry designs, distinctive architectural styles in religious structures, and the production of illuminated manuscripts adorned with vibrant illuminations. These cultural and artistic achievements reflect the dynamic evolution and creative expression within the Frankish Kingdom during the Merovingian era from the 5th to the 8th centuries.

For a PowerPoint on Merovingian Art, please… Check HERE!

Bibliography: The Oxford Handbook of the Merovingian World, edited by Bonnie Effros, and Isabel Moreira, published on the 8th of October, 2020 https://books.google.gr/books?hl=el&lr=&id=xST3DwAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=The+Merovingian+Dynasty&ots=zyZ-N5vg-x&sig=TvAontTndZCF2UAkmxsmpawr97Q&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=The%20Merovingian%20Dynasty&f=false, https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/display/document/obo-9780199920105/obo-9780199920105-0095.xml, https://gallica.bnf.fr/html/und/histoire/les-temps-merovingiens?mode=desktop and https://academic-accelerator.com/encyclopedia/merovingian-art-and-architecture  

November First

Andrew Wyeth, American Artist, 1917-2009
November First, 1950, Watercolour on Paper mounted on Paperboard, 55.2 x 75.4 cm, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC, USA https://americanart.si.edu/artwork/november-first-32150

Let me quote Andrew Wyeth… I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape – the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something awaits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show… and introduce to you November First, a landscape of loneliness, decay, and renewal. https://www.theartstory.org/artist/wyeth-andrew/

Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) was a highly acclaimed American artist known for his realistic and detailed paintings, primarily in a style known as American Realism. He was born in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and was the youngest of the five children of the well-known illustrator and artist N.C. Wyeth. He gained widespread recognition for his works that often depicted the rural landscapes and people of Pennsylvania and Maine. He had a deep connection with the natural world, which was reflected in his art. Some of his most famous works include Christina’s World, a haunting and iconic painting depicting a young woman lying in a field, and the Helga Testorf series, which portrayed a German model and became a subject of much interest and controversy.

The artist masterfully captured for example, textures, surfaces, and subtle variations in light and shadow, creating a sense of hyper-realism in his paintings. His work centered around nature, landscapes, and rural scenes showing a deep appreciation for the natural world and often depicting it with great accuracy and sensitivity. He preferred a subdued and muted colour palette, typically using earth tones, greys, and muted greens. This choice of colours and the interplay of light and shadow in his paintings contributed to the quiet and contemplative mood of his works, evoking a sense of isolation, solitude, and introspection, quiet contemplation, and emotional depth. Depicting scenes and characters from rural America, Wyeth managed to capture the essence of American rural life, and portray its beauty, simplicity, and the passing of time.

Wyeth primarily used two main painting techniques, egg tempera and watercolour. Egg tempera involves mixing pigment with a water-soluble binder made from egg yolk, resulting in a luminous and finely detailed surface. Watercolour, on the other hand, allowed for a more fluid and transparent approach.

Created in 1950, November First is a watercolour painting on paper mounted on paperboard. Part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Wyeth’s painting depicts tattered cornstalks in a harvested field, and captures the cold damp of late autumn, portraying the inevitable cycles of decay and renewal… The cornfield shown in this watercolor was located near his studio in Chadds Ford, behind the house of Dr. Margaret Handy, the pediatrician who cared for Wyeth’s two children. https://americanart.si.edu/artwork/november-first-32150

Employing a subdued and muted colour palette that resonates with the November scenery, shades of ochre, gray, muted greens, and hints of blue, dramatic contrasts of light and shadow, and a range of brushwork techniques in watercolour, including washes, and drybrush, Wyeth created a painting that evokes the distinct feelings associated with the month of November. His composition is simple yet elegant, focusing on the beauty and essence of the seasonal landscape, emphasizing a sense of quietude, contemplation, and peacefulness often associated with late autumn and winter.

For a PowerPoint presentation, please… Check HERE!

Peter McIntyre’s Paintings of the Battle of Crete

Peter McIntyre, Artist from New Zealand, 1910-1885
The Barge from Crete, 1941, Oils on Canvas, 746 x 635mm, New Zealand Archives.

It began just after dawn on 20 May 1941. Many of the 7700 New Zealand soldiers stationed on Crete were finishing breakfast when hundreds of German transport aircraft – some towing gliders – rumbled in over the Mediterranean island. The air above was suddenly filled with parachutes as thousands of elite German paratroops began to descend from the sky. This was the start of what is known as the Battle for Crete. For 12 dramatic days New Zealanders, British, Australian, and Greek troops, assisted by Cretan civilians, tried to repel a huge airborne assault by the Germans. They almost succeeded. Peter McIntyre’s Paintings of the Battle of Crete provide a visual record of the events and scenes during the Battle of Crete. As an official war artist, McIntyre had the unique opportunity to witness the battle firsthand and capture its moments on canvas. These paintings serve as a historical document that helps us better understand the conditions, landscapes, and experiences of those involved in the battle. https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/the-battle-for-crete/overview

Peter McIntyre (1910–1995) was a notable New Zealand artist known for his landscapes and depictions of rural scenes. He gained recognition for his ability to capture the natural beauty of New Zealand’s landscapes and the unique qualities of its light. McIntyre was born in Dunedin, New Zealand, and he displayed artistic talent from a young age. He attended the Dunedin School of Art and later studied at the Elam School of Fine Arts in Auckland. His early works were influenced by the Regionalist movement, which aimed to capture the essence of New Zealand’s unique landscapes and culture.

One of McIntyre’s significant accomplishments was his role as an official war artist during World War II. He was attached to the New Zealand Expeditionary Force and documented the experiences of New Zealand forces in various theaters of war, including Crete, North Africa, and Italy. McIntyre’s artistic contributions during this time were significant and provided a visual record of the war and its impact on the troops.

In Crete, McIntyre accompanied New Zealand forces during the Battle of Crete in 1941. He witnessed the intense fighting and documented the events through his paintings. McIntyre’s artwork from Crete captured the rugged terrain, the chaos of battle, and the resilience of the soldiers involved. His paintings conveyed the human side of war and reflected the courage, determination, and sacrifices made by the New Zealand forces.

The Blitz, Canea Crete area defended by New Zealanders, May 1941, Oils, 625 x 740mm, Archives New Zealand https://www.archives.govt.nz/images/the-blitz-canea-crete-area-defended-by-nz-ers-new-zealanders-may-1941

 McIntyre’s artistic interpretation of the battle brings a unique perspective to the historical narrative. His choices in composition, lighting, and focal points add an artistic layer to the historical record, encouraging viewers to engage with the events on both an intellectual and emotional level.
My favorite McIntyre painting of the Battle for Crete is titled The Barge from Crete! It illustrates, according to the New Zealand History Archives experts, the epic journey of a group of escapees who sailed an abandoned landing barge from Crete to Egypt. The 137-strong party, mostly Royal Marines, set out on 1 June. Nine New Zealanders were thought to be among this party, although the only one known by name was Private W.A. Hancox. He had been picked up 3 km offshore, paddling along on a plank of wood. https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/the-barge-crete-peter-mcintyre

After the barge’s fuel ran out blankets were rigged as sails. To make sure these caught the breeze the men often had to jump into the water and push the nose of the barge in the right direction. Conditions on board were tough. Food supplies were rationed to half a tobacco tin of water and a teaspoon of bully beef per day. During the voyage, one soldier died of exhaustion, and another committed suicide. On 9 June, eight days after leaving Crete, the barge drifted ashore 24 km west of Sidi Barrani in Egypt. https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/the-barge-crete-peter-mcintyre

Peter McIntyre’s paintings of the Battle of Crete are important as they combine historical documentation, personal perspective, emotional impact, artistic interpretation, and cultural memory. They help us remember, learn from, and emotionally engage with this significant moment in history.

For a PowerPoint of Peter McIntyre’s Paintings of the Battle of Crete, please… Check HERE!