In a well-known passage in De pictura, Alberti describes the principal power of portraits,and even painting in general, as follows: Painting possesses a truly divine power in that it does not only make the absent present, as they say of friendship, but it also represents the dead to the living many centuries later […] Through painting, thefaces of the dead go on living for a very long time. Does Titian’s Portrait of Isabella d’Este possess a truly divine power in presenting the true likeness of the Marchioness of Mantua? https://scholarlypublications.universiteitleiden.nl/access/item%3A2889008/view page 125
Titian’s renowned painting of Isabella d’Este, commonly referred to as La Bella (The Beautiful), was created in 1534 when Isabella herself was approximately 60 years old. Notably, the Marchioness of Mantua did not directly sit for Titian’s brush; instead, she dispatched a portrait of herself executed by Francesco Francia (now lost) in 1511 to provide a reference for her likeness. Titian, the accomplished Venetian master, concluded his Portrait in 1536, earning Isabella’s delight with the outcome. In a letter to the Mantuan ambassador in Venice, she acknowledged… The portrait by Titian’s hand captures such a pleasing essence that we are prompted to question whether, during the age he depicts us, we ever possessed the beauty it encapsulates.
Titian’s Portrait of Isabella d’Este is currently housed in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. It portrays Isabella as a young and exquisite woman, dressed in elegant attire, with a sophisticated hairstyle and adorned with jewels. The portrait may not be an accurate portrayal of Isabella turning sixty, but it effectively captures the regal poise and demeanor that defined the Marchioness of Mantua.
In the painting, Isabella is portrayed in a three-quarter profile, with her gaze slightly averted from the viewer. She is adorned in a sumptuous gown that combines shades of blue and black, intricately embellished with the fantasie dei vinci pattern, which serves as a testament to her position as a prominent noblewoman of her era. The hues of her attire are both dark and vivid, and the fashionable accessories that Isabella wears, pearl earrings and a fur shawl gracefully draped over her shoulder, have been meticulously rendered. These details not only reflect Isabella’s significance but also highlight Titian’s expertise in capturing textures and fabrics. https://scholarlypublications.universiteitleiden.nl/access/item%3A2889008/view pp.22-23
1 am particularly drawn to the elegant arrangement of Isabella’s hair. The Marchioness wears a captivating bulbous headdress featuring a sizable brooch adorned with eight pearls encircling a gem. Isabella was a famous fashionista. The bulbous headdress (known as zazara at the time) was designed by Isabella herself, and the Titian painting served her own trendsetting fashion put on display. What a magnificent way to emphasize her majestic presence!
Isabella’s expression is both serene and confident, befitting her reputation as a powerful and influential figure. Her gaze conveys a sense of introspection and sophistication, while the faint hint of a smile gracing her lips adds an air of subtle allure. The play of light and shadow in the painting adds depth and dimension to Isabella’s features, enhancing the overall realism of the portrait. Titian’s skillful use of chiaroscuro, a technique that contrasts light and dark tones, gives the portrait a lifelike quality and a sense of depth.
The background of the painting is relatively simple, allowing the focus to remain on Isabella’s presence and personality, her elegance, grace, and authority. Through meticulous attention to detail, refined use of color and light, and a keen understanding of portraiture, Titian created a lasting image that captures the essence of Isabella’s character and her place in history.
For a PowerPoint, titled 9 Portraits of Isabella d’Este, please… Check HERE!… Check HERE!
An Interesting Video about Isabella d’Este the Marchioness of Mantua during Early Renaissance Italy by World History Encyclopedia (8:09 min)
In 1400, a competition was announced for a bronze double door at the Baptistery in Florence. While such contests were no rarity, this one is considered a classic of its kind. A jury of 34 declared the winner to be Lorenzo Ghiberti, whose composition was regarded as better balanced, not to mention its using around seven kilograms less of the valuable material. Hardly any history of Renaissance art fails to mention this event as a founding moment. The Brunelleschi vs. Ghiberti competition is the best introduction, in my humble opinion, to 15th-century Italian Renaissance Art. https://idole-rivalen.khm.at/en/
From the life of Filippo Brunelleschi… in the year 1401, now that sculpture had risen to so great a height, it was determined to reconstruct the two bronze doors of the Church and Baptistery of San Giovanni, since, from the death of Andrea Pisano to that day, they had not had any masters capable of executing them. This intention being, therefore, communicated to those sculptors who were then in Tuscany, they were sent for, and each man was given a provision and the space of a year to make one scene; and among those called upon were Filippo and Donato, each of them being required to make one scene by himself, in competition with Lorenzo Ghiberti, Jacopo della Fonte [Jacopo della Quercia], Simone da Colle, Francesco di Valdambrina, and Niccolo d’ Arezzo. These scenes, being finished in the same year and being brought together for comparison, were all most beautiful and different one from the other; one was well designed and badly wrought, as was that of Donato; another was very well designed and diligently wrought, but the composition of the scene, with the gradual diminution of the figures, was not good, as was the case with that of Jacopo della Quercia; a third was poor in invention and in the figures, which was the manner wherein Francesco di Valdambrina had executed his; and the worst of all were those of Niccolo d’ Arezzo and Simone da Colle. The best was that of Lorenzo di Cione Ghiberti, which had design, diligence, invention, art, and the figures very well wrought. Nor was that of Filippo much inferior, wherein he had represented Abraham sacrificing Isaac; and in that scene a slave who is drawing a thorn from his foot, while he is awaiting Abraham and the ass is browsing, deserves no little praise.
The scenes, then, being exhibited, Filippo and Donato were not satisfied with any save with that of Lorenzo, and they judged him to be better qualified for that work than themselves and the others who had made the other scenes. And so with good reasons they persuaded the Consuls to allot the work to Lorenzo, showing that thus both the public and the private interest would be best served; and this was indeed the true goodness of friendship, excellence without envy, and a sound judgment in the knowledge of their own selves, whereby they deserved more praise than if they had executed the work to perfection. Happy spirits! who, while they were assisting one another, took delight in praising the labors of others. How unhappy are those of our own day, who, not sated with injuring each other, burst with envy while rending others? The Consuls besought Filippo to undertake the work in company with Lorenzo, but he refused, being minded rather to be first in an art of his own than an equal or a second in that work. Wherefore he presented the scene that he had wrought in bronze to Cosimo de’ Medici, who after a time had it placed on the dossal of the altar in the old Sacristy of San Lorenzo, where it is to be found at present; and that of Donato was placed in the Guild of the Exchange.
From the Life of Lorenzo Ghiberti… He had not been long absent from home when the plague ceased, and the Signoria of Florence and the art of the merchants, seeing that there were a number of excellent artists in sculpture at that time, both foreigners and Florentines, thought that it would be a favourable opportunity to make the other two doors of S. Giovanni, the ancient and principal church of the city, a matter which had frequently been discussed. It was arranged by them that all the masters considered to be the best in Italy should be invited to come to Florence to compete in making bronze panels similar to those which Andrea Pisano had done for the first door. Ghiberti was working at Lesare at the time but although offers of higher wages were promised, he availed nothing, for to Lorenzo it seemed worth a thousand years to return to Florence, and he accordingly set out and reached his home in safety. Many foreigners had already arrived and reported themselves to the consuls of the arts. From among them seven masters in all were selected: three Florentines, and the remainder Tuscans. A provision of money was set apart for them, and it was stipulated that within a year each of them should produce, as an example of his skill, a bronze panel of the same size as those of the first door. It was determined that the scene represented should be the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham, which was considered to be a good subject in which the masters could grapple with the difficulties of the art, because it comprises a landscape, figures both nude and draped, and animals, while the figures in the foreground might be made in full relief, those in the middle distance in half-relief, and those in the background in bas-relief. The competitors for this work were: Filippo di ser Brunellesco, Donato and Lorenzo di Bartoluccio, Florentines, and Jacopo dalla Quercia of Siena, Niccolo d’Arezzo his pupil, Francesco di Vandabrina, 1 and Simone da Colie, sumamed “of the bronzes,” who all promised the consuls to have their panels ready at the appointed time.
They set to work and devoted all their study and diligence, all their strength and knowledge, to surpass each other, keeping what they did close secret, so that they might not light upon the same ideas. Lorenzo alone, who enjoyed the help of Bartoluccio, who made him take great pains and prepare many models before he resolved upon adopting any one of them, continually brought his fellow citizens, and also passing strangers if they understood the trade, to see his work and hear their opinion. By the aid of their criticisms he was enabled to produce a model which was beautifully made and absolutely without a fault. Having shaped his figures and cast the whole in bronze, it proved excellent; and he and his father, Bartoluccio, polished it with such devotion and patience that it was impossible for it to have been better finished. When the time arrived for it to be exhibited in the competition, his panel and those of the other masters were handed over to the art of the merchants to be adjudicated upon. When they came to be examined by the consuls and several other citizens many various opinions were expressed. Numbers of strangers had assembled in Florence, some painters, some sculptors, and some goldsmiths, who were invited by the consuls to come and judge the works in conjunction with others of the same professions who lived in Florence. They numbered thirty-four persons in all, each of them being an adept in his art, and although there were differences of opinion among them, some preferring the style of one and some that of another, yet they were agreed that Filippo di ser Brunellesco and Lorenzo di Bartoluccio had composed and finished a larger number of figures better than Donato had done, although his panel exhibited great powers of design. In that of Jacopo dalla Quercia the figures were good but lacking in delicacy, in spite of the good design and the care bestowed. The work of Francesco di Vandabrina contained good heads and was well finished, but the composition was confused. That of Simone da Colle was a good cast, because he was a founder by profession, but the design was not very good. The production of Niccolo d’Arezzo, showing great skill, was marred by stunted figures and absence of finish. Lorenzo’s alone was perfect in every part, and it may still be seen in the audience chamber of the art of the merchants. The whole scene was well designed and the composition excellent, the figures being slender and graceful, the pose admirable and so beautifully finished that it did not look as if it had been cast and polished, but rather as if it had been created by a breath. Donato and Filippo, when they perceived what diligence Lorenzo had devoted to his work, withdrew to one side and agreed that the work ought to be given to him, for it seemed to them that public and private interests would thus be best served, and as Lorenzo was a young man, not past twenty, he would be able to realize in the production of this work the great promise of his beautiful scene, which; according to their judgment, he had made more excellently than the others: adding that it would be more shameful to dispute his right to preeminence than generous to admit it. Accordingly Lorenzo began on that door opposite the opera of S. Giovanni,’ constructing a large wooden frame for a part of it of the exact size he desired, in the shape of a frame with the ornamentation of heads at the angles about the spaces for containing the scenes and the surrounding friezes. After he had made the mold and dried it with all diligence, he set up a huge furnace, which I remember having seen, and filled the frame with metal. He did this in some premises he had bought opposite S. Maria Nuova, where the hospital of the weavers, known as the Threshing floor, now stands. But realising that all was not going well, he did not lose courage or become distracted, but traced the cause of the disorder and altered his mold with great quickness without anyone knowing it, recasting the world, which came out most successfully. He went on similarly with the rest of the work, casting each scene separately, and then putting them in their appointed places. The division of the scenes was similar to that adopted by Andrea Pisano in the first door designed for him by Giotto.
It is always interesting to go as close as possible to primary sources!
For a PowerPoint on the competition panels, please… Check HERE!
Idols & Rivals, Artists in Competition (September 20, 2022 – January 8, 2023) was an interesting Exhibition in the Kunsthistorischen Museum in Vienna. It showed how in antiquity, the Renaissance, and the Baroque, artists competed with one another and how, in addition, they measured themselves against ancient models. This kind of competition has brought forth some of the best-known works in the history of art. Among the competitors were Brunelleschi and Ghiberti… https://idole-rivalen.khm.at/en/
Lady, Our Lady, writes Vittoria Collona (Sonnet 51), did you not press and pour / into your milk, like essential oils wrung, / the whole of you, like living breath into lung, / to nourish the whole of your divine son? Or / did his living fire scorch your holy breast, and more, / breaking into pure light and pure song / the pieces of you like a universe born? / Who can understand it, how spirit tore / into the material world like lightning, / did not burn but lit it up in a flash / that lasted through the long night, whitening / like snow the dark, dark world? In the flesh / he came and defied every logic, not frightening / but consoling like the evening’s red flush… and I think of a lovely painting of the Virgin and Child in the Metropolitan Museum attributed to Simon Bening.https://aleteia.org/2022/08/14/is-this-the-most-beautiful-sonnet-ever-written-for-mary/
Simon Bening is a master manuscript illuminator. Hailed by Portuguese art critic and artist, Francisco da Hollanda as the greatest master of illumination in all of Europe, Simon Bening was one of the most celebrated painters of Flanders in the 1500s. He served powerful aristocrats and worked for a group of international royal patrons including Emperor Charles V and Don Fernando, the Infante of Portugal. He is famous for creating some of the finest illuminated Books of Hours in the history of art. His specialty was painting, in the Flemish tradition, poetic landscape vistas… https://www.getty.edu/art/collection/person/103JTN
The painting of the Virgin and Child in the Metropolitan Museum attributed to Simon Bening exhibits the painter’s interest in artistic exploration. According to the Museum experts, the artist of the Virgin and Child was heavily inspired by Gerard David’s painting depicting the Rest on the Flight into Egypt. Both paintings present the Virgin as the very model of a nurturing mother. The context is, however, different. David’s painting refers to the Gospels (Matthew 2:13-14) and the arduous journey of the Family to Egypt. Bening, if the Virgin and Child painting is indeed his, presents a ‘genre’ scene of a nurturing mother and child. From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, pp. 308-313 https://www.metmuseum.org/art/metpublications/From_Van_Eyck_to_Bruegel_Early_Netherlandish_Painting_in_The_Metropolitan_Museum_of_Art
The MET painting of the Virgin and Child is typical of the Flemish tradition of ‘hidden’ symbolisms. Mary, for example, sits on the wall of an enclosed garden, the Hortus Conclusus, a symbol of her purity, which refers to the Garden of Eden of the Old Testament. Mint, present, in abundance, behind Mary, is a plant that grows wild in Palestine and is mentioned by Jesus in His discourse with the Pharisees. Bening uses it to further stress the virtue of Mary, as mint is a plant with healing and cleansing properties. The violets, at the lower part of the garden wall, are used by the artist as a sign of Mary’s humility. She is, after all, the Viola Odorata, meaning Our Lady of Modesty. Very important to underline is the stream of milk that flows from the Virgin’s breast to the lips of the Child, who turns to the viewer, spoon in hand, to directly communicate the notion of physical and spiritual nourishment. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/metpublications/From_Van_Eyck_to_Bruegel_Early_Netherlandish_Painting_in_The_Metropolitan_Museum_of_Art page 312
Born into a family of artists, Giovanni Bellini frequented, with his brother Gentile, the studio of their father, Jacopo Bellini, a painter of Gothic training who soon mastered the principles of Florentine Renaissance art. The young artist, write the Musée Jacquemart-André experts, Neville Rowley and Pierre Curie, introducing the Exhibition GIOVANNI BELLINI Influences croisées (Paris, from 3 March to 17 July 2023), immersed himself in the art alongside his father, brother and his brother-in-law Andrea Mantegna, whom his sister Nicolosia had just married. Classicism, sculptural forms, and a good command of Mantegna’s perspective had a great influence on the artist… Is Bellini’s Portrait of a Young Man à l’Antique, presented in the exhibition, the Portrait of Andrea Mantegna? https://www.musee-jacquemart-andre.com/en/giovanni-bellini
Mantegna’s marriage to Nicolosia Bellini was a positive development for both parties involved. Giorgio Vasari describes the event in his own, matter of fact, way… Andrea, thus left alone in the said chapel (Chapel of S. Cristofano, which is in the Church of the Eremite Friars of S. Agostino in Padua), painted the four Evangelists, which were held very beautiful. By reason of this and other works Andrea began to be watched with great expectation, and with hopes that he would attain to that success to which he actually did attain; wherefore Jacopo Bellini, the Venetian painter, father of Gentile and Giovanni, and rival of Squarcione, contrived to get him to marry his daughter, the sister of Gentile. Hearing this, Squarcione fell into such disdain against Andrea that they were enemies ever afterwards; and in proportion as Squarcione had formerly been ever praising the works of Andrea, so from that day onward did he ever decry them in public.http://www.travelingintuscany.com/art/gutenberg/vasarilives3.htm
The marriage of Andrea Mantegna to Nicolosia Bellini was significant in several ways. The marriage, for example, brought Mantegna into contact with the Bellini family, which had a significant influence on the development of Venetian art. Mantegna was already a highly respected artist in his own right, but his marriage to Nicolosia helped to solidify his reputation and establish him as a leading figure in the Italian Renaissance. For the younger brother-in-law, Giovanni Bellini, the marriage led to a cross-pollination of ideas and approaches between the two brothers-in-law. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that the two artists had, occasionally, a close working relationship. Mantegna’s influence on Bellini can be seen in his use of perspective, which was a technique that Mantegna had mastered. Furthermore, it is believed that Giovanni Bellini was influenced by Mantegna’s interest in classical antiquity, his Portrait of a Young Man à l’Antique is evidence enough, of the use of color, light, and shadow to create a sense of depth and three-dimensionality.
While in Paris, attending the brilliant Exhibition GIOVANNI BELLINI Influences Croisées, at the Musée Jacquemart-André, I was surprised, most pleasantly, by Bellini’s Portrait of a Young Man à l’Antique. The Exhibition curators present this unusual painting as a possible portrait of Andrea Mantegna. Searching the history and provenance of the painting, I came upon different identification names… Portrait of a young man à l’Antique, Portrait of a Humanist, or Poeta Laureato. Not just so, this is, I believe, a little-known painting with a complicated history of credit. It has been attributed to Antonello da Messina, Alvise Vivarini, and Giovanni Bellini. The depicted young man has been identified as the painter Andrea Mantegna, or the poet Raffaele Zovenzoni. Do I know the true identity of the artist and the represented young man? The answer is No! What I know is that the Portrait I saw was eye-catching, magnetic, bold, and alluring.
The painting depicts a young man dressed in classical clothing, with a serene expression on his face. The background of the painting is a neutral brown color, which helps to emphasize the figure’s features and clothing. What I found striking is the incredible level of detail in the young man’s face, which, painted with great care and with subtle gradations of color, creates a lifelike appearance. Painted in front of a dark background, the young man is depicted wearing an olive-green and brown garment à l’Antique. His rich auburn hair is crowned by a wreath of myrtle, he features a strong chin, a straight nose, and olive-green coloured eyes! Whoever the young man is, I would like to believe this is a liking of Andrea Mantegna, Giovanni Bellini’s painting is a beautiful example of Renaissance portraiture, characterized by its attention to detail, lifelike rendering, and incorporation of classical imagery. The painting is a testament to Bellini’s skill as an artist and his contribution to the development of Renaissance art in Venice.
Finally, after centuries of isolated beginnings and endings, rediscoveries and losses, Venetian workers in the mid-15th century commenced a tradition of enameling on glass vessels that would become widely disseminated in other European glassworking cultures—and continue to be practiced, without interruption, to the present day. A new BLOG POST on The Enameled Murano Beaker at Musée Jacquemart-André is my lead to investigating the art of glass enameling in the Venetian lagoon. https://www.cmog.org/article/enameled-glass-vessels-1425-bce-1800-decorating-process
I know little about Enameled Glass, but the Murano beaker I saw at Musée Jacquemart-André got me interested in investigating its type further. The internet site of the Museum, unfortunately, provided no information on the enameled beaker in its collection. The Corning Museum of Glass, however, provided valuable information on Enameled Glass in general. Based on the information I read, let me answer some questions starting with What, and How https://home.cmog.org/
What is Enameled Glass? Enameled glass is a type of glass that has been decorated with a layer, or more, of colored or opaque vitreous enamel. For a most useful and detailed description of how an Enameled Glass piece is created, you can read a 15th-century manuscript in the Library of San Salvatore in Bologna. It was brought to scholarly attention in 1982 by Hugh Tait… the text says: To paint glass, that is to say, cups or any other works in glass with smalti or any colour you please, take the smalti you wish to use, and let them be soft and fusible, and pound them upon marble or porphyry in the same way that the goldsmiths do. Then wash the powder and apply it upon your glass as you please and let the colour dry thoroughly; then put the glass upon the rim of the chamber in which glasses are cooled, on the side from which the glasses are taken out cold, and gradually introduce it into the chamber towards the fire which comes out of the furnace and take care you do not push too fast lest the heat should split it, and when you see that it is thoroughly heated, take it up with the pontello and fix it to the pontello and put it in the mouth of the furnace, heating it and introducing it gradually. When you see the smalti shine and that they have flowed well, take the glass out and put it in the chamber to cool, and it is done… All About Glass | Corning Museum of Glass (cmog.org)
How did Enameled Glass develop, chronologically up to and including the 16th century, in Murano, Italy? A. 1291 AD: The furnaces of all glassmakers in Venice were relocated to the island of Murano due to the risk of fires. This was the start of the concentration of the Venetian glassmaking industry in Murano. B. 14th century: During this period, Venetian glassmakers began to gain renown for their high-quality and innovative creations. The art of enameling glass, known in Venice since the Middle Ages, was probably inspired by Byzantine models. C. 15th and 16th centuries: The peak of the art of enameled glass in Murano was achieved. Artists such as Angelo Barovier and the workshop of the “Seguso” family introduced a refined style of painting on glass with enamels, creating objects of extraordinary beauty. During this time, Venetian Enameled Glass, often decorated with scenes from contemporary life or mythology, was sought after by the wealthiest and most powerful individuals in Europe.
According to Ferucci, Barovier Mentasti, and Tonini… The Annunciation was a subject of Venetian enameled decoration on glass since the early seventies of the 15th century, at least. A list, for example, dated March 31, 1474, of glass beakers by Giovanni da Lodi, enameller active in Murano, includes a beaker with the Annunciation (uno cieto a nuntiata). The 200-2001 excavations conducted in the Monastery of Santa Chiara in Padua revealed four enameled Glass beakers with an Annunciation scene dating towards the end of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th century.
The four Padua beakers with the Annunciation show the Virgin announced and the archangel Gabriel, each inside a simple roundel of white or yellow colour. The only difference is that in one of the beakers, a plush yellow and white laurel wreath is added around the white roundel. According to the authors, this embellished beaker is similar to the Annunciation blue beaker kept in the Musée Jacquemart André in Paris. Édouard André, (1833-1894), the authors add, and Nélie Jacquemart (1841-1912), his wife, collected Italian art and decorative art, showing a particular interest also in Venetian art, like the blue glass beaker. The only difference, according to my humble opinion, is that the green/terracotta red wreath of the Musée Jacquemart André is thinner and less luxurious looking, yet perfectly fitting and complementing the composition’s colour scheme.
The next information comes from the article of Françoise Barbe and Erwin Baumgartner. The authors stress the importance of the archaeological discovery in the convent of Santa Chiara in Padua. They also stress the stylistic similarities between the two glass beakers (in Padua and in Paris). However, when a glass analysis was performed for each glass beaker, the results showed differences in their composition. Thus, Barbe and Baumgartner presented three questions: 1. Was the Paris glass beaker in the façon de Venise, produced during the Renaissance period, but in a different location than Venice? Was it a copy made during a later chronological period to complete, for example, an antique-style series? Or was it a fake? The authors believe that there is no decisive answer to any one of the three questions and further investigation is in demand.
While in Paris, visiting the Exhibition GIOVANNI BELLINI Influences croisées (March 3 to July 17, 2023) at the Jacquemart-André Museum, I came upon a painting, Giorgone’s Madonna Cook, I did not know. The painting made an entirely unexpected impression on me. It is part of a private collection, on deposit at the Gemäldegalerie, in Berlin, and however hard I searched (on the Internet), little did I find. https://www.musee-jacquemart-andre.com/en/giovanni-bellini
Giorgio Barbarelli, universally known as Giorgione (Castelfranco Veneto, 1478-Venezia, 1510), is one of the most enigmatic painters of the Renaissance. Very little is known about Giorgione’s early life and training, but he is believed to have studied, along with Titian, with the Venetian painter Giovanni Bellini, who was a prominent figure in the Renaissance art scene. Unfortunately, Giorgione’s life and career were cut short by his premature death at the age of 33, probably from the plague. Despite his short career, he had a significant influence on the development of the Venetian school of painting, and his legacy continues to inspire and intrigue art lovers and scholars to this day.
A major innovator, Giorgione is acclaimed as the father of modern Venetian painting of the 16th century. As a student of Giovanni Bellini, Giorgione’s style in painting was characterized by his use of atmospheric effects, delicate modeling, and a subdued color palette. Influenced by Leonardo, the young Venetian artist is also known for his mastery of sfumato, a technique in which colours are blended together in such a way that they appear to merge seamlessly, creating a soft, hazy effect. Finally, paintings by Flemish artists motivated Giorgone to further explore the application of multiple thin layers of paint, so as to give a new dimension to light and colour. https://archive.org/details/giorgionemytheni0000unse/page/n3/mode/2up
What I find appealing is how Giorgone often painted landscapes or cityscapes as backdrops to his compositions, using them to create a sense of depth and space. The landscape scene in his Virgin and Child called Madonna Cook exhibited at the Jacquemart-André, caught my attention. It looks sparse and unfinished(?), yet a tower, a ‘leitmotiv’ in his landscape repertoire, is prominently displayed.
At the same time when Florence was acquiring such fame by reason of the works of Leonardo, no little adornment was conferred on Venice by the talent and excellence of one of her citizens, who surpassed by a great measure not only the Bellini, whom the Venetians held in such esteem, but also every other master who had painted up to that time in that city. This was Giorgio, who was born at Castelfranco in the territory of Treviso, in the year 1478, when the Doge was Giovanni Mozzenigo, brother of Doge Piero. In time, from the nature of his person and from the greatness of his mind, Giorgio came to be called Giorgione; and although he was born from very humble stock, nevertheless he was not otherwise than gentle and of good breeding throughout his whole life. He was brought up in Venice, and took unceasing delight in the joys of love; and the sound of the lute gave him marvellous pleasure, so that in his day he played and sang so divinely that he was often employed for that purpose at various musical assemblies and gatherings of noble persons. He studied drawing, and found it greatly to his taste; and in this nature favoured him so highly, that he, having become enamoured of her beauties, would never represent anything in his works without copying it from life; and so much was he her slave, imitating her continuously, that he acquired the name not only of having surpassed Giovanni and Gentile Bellini, but also of being the rival of the masters who were working in Tuscany and who were the creators of the modern manner. Giorgione had seen some things by the hand of Leonardo with a beautiful gradation of colours, and with extraordinary relief, effected, as has been related, by means of dark shadows; and this manner pleased him so much [Pg 110] that he was forever studying it as long as he lived, and in oil-painting he imitated it greatly. Taking pleasure in the delights of good work, he was ever selecting, for putting into his pictures, the greatest beauty and the greatest variety that he could find. And nature gave him a spirit so benign, and with this, both in oil-painting and in fresco, he made certain living forms and other things so soft, so well harmonized, and so well blended in the shadows, that many of the excellent masters of his time were forced to confess that he had been born to infuse spirit into figures and to counterfeit the freshness of living flesh better than any other painter, not only in Venice, but throughout the whole world…http://www.travelingintuscany.com/art/gutenberg/vasarilives4.htm#Page_107
For a Student Activity, inspired by Giorgone’s Madonna Cook, please… Check HERE!
VII And a certain woman named Bernice (or Beronikē, meaning in Greek “bearer of victory”) (Veronica Lat.) crying out from afar off said: I had an issue of blood and touched the hem of his garment, and the flowing of my blood was stayed which I had twelve years. The Jews say: We have a law that a woman shall not come to give testimony… Part VII of the Apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus or Acts of Pilate, is considered to be the first reference to the story of a woman called Veronica related to the Passion of Christ. This is where and how the legend of the Veil of Saint Veronica starts… https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Apocryphal_New_Testament_(1924)/Passion_Gospels/The_Gospel_of_Nicodemus
Hundreds of years later… The Estoire del Saint Graal, part of a larger work called the Lancelot-Grail or Vulgate Cycle, attributed to Robert de Boron, and written circa 1230, tells us the famous story of Veronica’s Veil as we know it today. My lord, says Veronica, on the day that the Holy Prophet was led away to be cruciﬁed, I passed before Him carrying a piece of cloth to sell. He called me and beseeched me to lend Him this cloth to wipe His face, which was dripping with sweat. After He had done so, I folded the cloth and took it home. And when I unfolded it, I found Jesus’ face as clear as if it had been painted on a wall. Since then I have kept it, and no matter how sick I have been, once I looked at it, I was completely healed. https://www.academia.edu/12112461/St_Veronica_Evolution_of_a_Sacred_Legend
Thus… the legend of Veronica’s Veil, the Acheiropoietos Icon of Christ’s image on a simple piece of cloth, became a great source of inspiration for many distinguished artists of the Renaissance like Memling, Bosch, Pontormo, and Dürer. It has been depicted as a symbol of piety, devotion, and faith. The imprint of Jesus’ face on the cloth is seen as a testament to his suffering and a reminder of his sacrifice on the cross. The veil has also been used as a symbol of comfort and solace, particularly for those who are suffering or in need of healing. It has also been seen as a reminder of Jesus’ love and compassion, and as a symbol of hope in the face of adversity. When Greco decided in 1577 to approach the subject of Veronica’s Veil, he joined an already well-established tradition in the Catholic iconography. https://goulandris.gr/en/artwork/el-greco-the-holy-face
Whether alone or in collaboration with apprentices in his studio, Domenikos Theotokopoulos carried out several paintings on this subject. In some of them, he focused merely on Christ, while in others he represented the veil as well. The painting in the Museo de Santa Cruz, in Toledo, includes the portrait of Saint Veronica as well. https://goulandris.gr/en/artwork/el-greco-the-holy-face
The painting of The Veil of Saint Veronica in the Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation in Athens, is, in my humble opinion, a version realized δια χειρός Domenikos Theotokopoulos.
The face of Christ looks tranquil, genteel, and collected. It appears to float on the moving surface of the silken Veil, bathed in light that ‘shines’ from within, rather than an external source. The composition, developed in three successive planes, is composed yet dramatic, as Christ’s face is placed first, on the white surface of the Veil, and then, on the bleak, black background of the painting.
The Goulandris painting of Veronica’s Veil summarizes El Greco’s entire aesthetic journey. Emotionless and serene, with hollow cheeks, a long and narrow face, and …almond-shaped eyes, Greco’s painting communicates a sense of nobility and grace. The wounds caused on his head by the crown of thorns do not affect Him at all. The single drop of blood running down in the middle of His forehead offers no pain… it symbolizes the route to Calvary, His immortality… and humanity’s salvation… https://goulandris.gr/en/artwork/el-greco-the-holy-face
For a PowerPoint on El Greco’s rendering of the theme of The Veil of Saint Veronica, please… Check HERE!
Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” (Luke 22:39-46 Holy Thursday – Μεγάλη Πέμπτη) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%2022&version=NIV
Domenikos Theotokopoulos was a Cretan Greek, born at Handaka-Candia, present-day Herakleion, part, at the time, of the thriving Republic of Venice. He was young, talented, and ambitious, well-versed in the Creto-Byzantine style of painting, and eager to establish himself among the greatest of his time! By 1567/8 Theotokopoulos traveled to Venice, by 1570, he was in Rome, by 1576 he relocated 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
The Agony in the Garden is a mature El Greco painting circa 1590, created in Toledo. The artist, known for his unique style that combined elements of Renaissance and Byzantine art, depicts the biblical scene of Jesus’ agony (in Greek, agonia, “agony”) in the Garden of Gethsemane, located on the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem before his arrest and crucifixion. Christ prays to God for strength and comfort. He is depicted as a tall and slender figure, surrounded by his disciples who are asleep. He is shown with his head raised to heaven, as he prays in a state of intense emotion and expressive distress. El Greco gives visual form to Matthew 26:42, My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done. http://emuseum.toledomuseum.org/objects/54729/the-agony-in-the-garden
My thoughts on why this is a very ‘special,’ one of my favourites, Theotokopoulos paintings:
The composition is unique! El Greco’s figures and landscape are isolated in individual pockets of ambiguous, shallow space. There are four such areas, the sleeping disciples, the imposing Angel to the left, the approaching Roman soldiers to the right, and Christ in the middle, depicted kneeling, praying… in agony. The contrast between the individual pockets of shallow space creates a sense of emotional tension, with Jesus in a state of intense distress and the disciples in peaceful slumber. http://emuseum.toledomuseum.org/objects/54729/the-agony-in-the-garden
El Greco’s use of light and color is one of the most distinctive features of his work. In The Agony in the Garden, the intense light source illuminates Jesus and creates a strong contrast with the dark background, emphasizing his centrality and importance. The use of warm, golden tones adds to the emotional impact of the scene.
The figures in the painting are depicted with elongated forms, a hallmark of El Greco’s style. The two larger figures in the composition, Christ in the middle and the Angel of Compassion and Consolation to the left, facing each other, contribute to the emotional and spiritual intensity of the scene and highlight the dramatic nature of Jesus’ anguish.
The Agony in the Garden is considered one of El Greco’s most important works and is considered a masterpiece of Spanish Renaissance art. It is widely regarded as one of the most powerful and expressive religious paintings of the period and continues to be widely admired and studied by art enthusiasts and scholars today.
For a Student Activity on Holy Thursday – Μεγάλη Πέμπτη, please… Check HERE!
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city. (Mark 11:15-19 Holy Monday – Μεγάλη Δευτέρα) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark%2011&version=NIV
El Greco’s painting of Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple in The Minneapolis Institute of Arts presents a dramatic scene from the New Testament, told in all the Gospels. According to the Gospels, Jesus entered the Temple in Jerusalem and became angered by the commercial activities taking place there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and drove them out, accusing them of turning the temple into a marketplace. This scene was rarely painted in its own right before the Reformation. After the Council of Trent, it gained a new significance and for the Catholics, the image came to symbolize the purification of the Church through internal reform. https://collections.artsmia.org/art/278/christ-driving-the-money-changers-from-the-temple-el-greco
The Minneapolis painting is known for its powerful composition, dynamic figures, and vibrant colors. It was probably executed in Rome, in about 1570/1575. Set in a grand architectural interior, the scene reflects El Greco’s experiments with Italian linear perspective and break from the Byzantine style he employed in the Greek icons painted, while in Crete, in his youth. The composition seems less crowded, and the figures, distorted, but fuller and more clearly articulated, dominate the spatial setting. The lines are bold, the brushstrokes are expressive, and the colours are intense and pulsating. The use of light and shadow is masterful, casting a theatrical glow over the scene, highlighting the central figure of Christ, and adding to the sense of drama. Overall, the painting is a powerful and emotive depiction of this moment in the life of Jesus. https://collections.artsmia.org/art/278/christ-driving-the-money-changers-from-the-temple-el-greco
Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple is a theme that interested El Greco throughout his career. He painted this subject at least five times. What distinguishes the Minneapolis version is the inclusion of four male portrait heads in the lower-right corner of the painting. It turns out that these four men are famous artists whose lives and work inspired El Greco. They are four major figures in the arts during the Renaissance, and they are, from the left: Titian, Michelangelo, Giulio Clovio, and Raphael.
For Holy Monday – Μεγάλη Δευτέρα and a PowerPoint of all five versions of El Greco’s painting of Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple, please… Check HERE!
A page of Pisanello’s sketchbook in the Louvre Museum presents the mounted figure of the Byzantine Emperor Ioannis VIII Palaiologos and the short descriptive passage reads… The hat of the Emperor should be white on top and red underneath, the profile red all round. The doublet is green damask and the mantle on top crimson. A black beard on a pale face, hair and eyebrows alike. The eyes between grey and green, and the stooped shoulders of a small person. The boots of pale yellow leather; the sheath of the bow brown and grained, and also that of the quiver and of the scimitar. On the 5th of March, while in Paris, I visited the Hôtel de la Marine, and I came Face to Face with Emperor Ioannis VIII Palaiologos. Pisanello’s famous Medallion of the penultimate Byzantine Emperor was among the selected artifacts presented at the Exhibition Ca’ d’Oro, Masterpieces of the Renaissance in Venice (November 30, 2022 – May 7, 2023). I was touched… Some Preparatory Drawings for Pisanello’s Medallion of John VIII Palaeologus, by Michael Vickers, The Art Bulletin, Vol. 60, No. 3 (Sep. 1978), pp. 417-424 (8 pages) https://www.jstor.org/stable/3049816?read-now=1&seq=8#page_scan_tab_contents
Pisanello’s Medallion and two pages with preparatory drawings and comments, by Pisanello as well, one in the Louvre, the other in the Art Institute of Chicago, are vital in reconstructing the features and the physique of the Emperor. The Medallion I saw in Paris, like the rest of the exhibited artworks, loans from the Galleria Giorgio Franchetti at the Ca’ D’Oro, Venice, was an opportunity to read and refresh my knowledge of Ioannis VIII Palaionogos… his ‘works and days.’https://www.thealthanicollection.com/hdlm/ca-doro-masterpieces-of-the-renaissance-in-venice
Ioannis VIII Palaiologos (or John VIII Palaiologos) was a Byzantine Emperor who ruled from 1425 to 1448. He was born on December 18, 1392, as the oldest son of Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos and Helena Dragaš. He was an intellectual, well-educated, and a patron of arts and learning. He was fluent in several languages, including Greek, Latin, and some Turkish. His reign was marked by a series of desperate attempts to save the Byzantine Empire from its rapid decline, particularly due to the increasing pressure from the Ottoman Empire.
In an effort to save his empire, he sought the aid of the West by advocating for a union of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. This led him to attend the Council of Ferrara/Florence (1438-1439), where he personally negotiated with Western leaders and agreed to a theological compromise that would allow for the churches to reunite. However, this decision was met with strong opposition from many within the Byzantine Empire, particularly the clergy and the people who saw the reunion as a betrayal of their Orthodox faith. Ultimately, the church union failed to secure the military and financial assistance Ioannis had hoped for, and the empire’s decline, continued, with a loss of territory and influence. Ioannis VIII Palaiologos died on October 31, 1448. Five years later, the Byzantine Empire ceased to exist. It was the 29th of May, 1453.
The Medallion of John VIII Palaiologos is a bronze portrait medal created by the renowned Italian artist Pisanello in 1438. This medallion, an outstanding example of Renaissance art, is considered one of the earliest examples of portrait medals in the history of art and stands as a testament to the diplomatic, cultural, and artistic exchanges that occurred during this tumultuous period in history. The medal is not only significant for its portrayal of the Byzantine Emperor but also for its role in the development of the art of medal-making in Europe.
Looking at Pisanello’s portrait of the Emperor, I wonder how John VIII Palaiologos felt during his trip to Italy. I am sure he hoped that by engaging in negotiations and pushing for the reunification of the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, he could secure much-needed assistance from Western Europe. At the same time, he was also likely to have felt anxiety and pressure. The theological differences between the two churches were deeply rooted, and reaching a compromise would be a delicate and complex process. Furthermore, the Byzantine Emperor had to navigate diplomatic and protocol arrangements that were probably, at times, difficult and offensive, to put it politely.
Pisanello keeps his distance from the political intrigues and nuances. On the obverse side, the Emperor is depicted, in profile, dignified, imposing, and elegantly groomed. The artist displays individualized facial features, such as his well-groomed beard, high forehead, and strong nose. These details suggest an attempt to capture the likeness of the Emperor, rather than relying on stylized or idealized forms that were common in earlier periods. The clothing and adornments the Emperor wears, like his characteristic hat, reflect the luxurious aspects of Byzantine culture and provide a sense of authenticity to his portrayal. Around the perimeter of the obverse side, an inscription, in Greek, identifies the Emperor by name and title.
The reverse side of Pisanello’s Medallion, ‘signed’ by the artist in Latin and Greek, shows something entirely different. The Emperor, identified by his characteristic hat, is depicted astride his famous Eastern European horse, groomed for hunting. He is probably presented in the area of his residence, a convent outside Ferrara, where he indulged in his passion for the chase during the autumn of 1438. Was the Emperor depicted enjoying ‘personal time’ of relaxation, away from tension and stress? I wish he did…
For a PowerPoint inspired by Face to Face with Emperor Ioannis VIII Palaiologos, please… Check HERE!
For Face to Face with Emperor Ioannis VIII Palaiologos and Pisanello’s Medallion, please Check…