Pandora and Epimetheus

Attributed to El Greco – Domenikos Theotokopoulos
Pandora and Epimetheus, 1600 – 1610, Polychromed, Carved Wood, Height: 43 cm, Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain
https://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection/art-work/pandora/86a6b73f-8ef3-4132-aa68-4648a27a4b6a

In Greek mythology, Pandora was the first woman on Earth. Created by the god Hephaestus at the request of Zeus, her creation was part of a divine punishment for humanity. This punishment was in retaliation for Prometheus, a Titan, who defied the gods by stealing fire and giving it to mankind. Endowed with gifts from each god and made irresistibly alluring to humans, Pandora was given in marriage to Epimetheus, the brother of Prometheus. Despite warnings from Prometheus not to accept any gifts from Zeus, Epimetheus accepted her. Pandora and Epimetheus thus became the first human couple. However, disaster loomed nearby. Driven by curiosity, Pandora opened a box she was forbidden to touch and released into the world all sorrows and death-bringers. Only Hope remained, trapped under the box’s lid, narrowly missing escape when Pandora hastily closed the lid. This calamity unfolded exactly as Zeus, the cloud-gatherer, had planned. Do Pandora’s actions illustrate the profound and often unintended consequences of human curiosity and disobedience?

Domenicos Theotokopoulos, known as El Greco, was born in 1541 in Crete, which was then part of the Republic of Venice. Initially trained in the Byzantine tradition of icon painting, he moved to Venice around 1567, where he adopted elements of the Venetian Renaissance style under the influence of painters like Titian and Tintoretto. Seeking greater opportunities, El Greco relocated to Rome in 1570 and later moved to Toledo, Spain, in 1577, where he spent the remainder of his life. In Toledo, El Greco developed a distinctive style characterized by elongated figures and vibrant, expressive use of colour and light, often infused with dramatic spirituality. Despite his critical reception being mixed during his lifetime, El Greco is now celebrated as a precursor to both the Expressionist and Cubist movements, profoundly influencing the evolution of Western art. He died in 1614 in Toledo.

El Greco’s art is distinguished by its unique blend of Byzantine and Western painting traditions, resulting in a highly personal and spiritual style that pushed the boundaries of the Mannerist period. His figures are elongated and anatomically exaggerated, often imbued with a sense of spiritual intensity and inner turmoil that seems to stretch towards the divine. He used unconventional, vivid colour palettes and bold, almost expressionistic brush strokes that imbued his compositions with a dramatic, almost otherworldly quality. His treatment of light is particularly notable. It often seems to emanate from within the figures themselves, highlighting their ethereal and transcendent nature. This handling of form, colour, and light not only enhances the emotional depth and mystical atmosphere of his paintings but also foreshadows the emotional expressiveness of the Expressionist movement and the structural experimentation of Cubism, making El Greco a pivotal figure in the transition from the Renaissance ideals of harmony and proportion to the more subjective and distorted approaches of modern art.

The unique statues of Pandora and Epimetheus housed in the Prado Museum hold significant artistic and stylistic importance as they represent a rare excursion into sculpture by an artist renowned primarily for his paintings. These works are critical for understanding El Greco’s artistic language in a three-dimensional form, showcasing his ability to translate the intense emotionality and spiritual expressiveness characteristic of his paintings into sculpture. Stylistically, these statues exemplify his signature approach of elongation and dramatic posturing, traits that underscore his departure from conventional Renaissance forms and anticipate the emotional intensity of the Baroque period. The representation of such complex mythological figures in sculpture by El Greco adds a profound layer to the interpretation of his artistic legacy, demonstrating his innovative approach to volume, movement, and the human form, which challenged and expanded the aesthetic boundaries of his time.

Considering El Greco’s unique interpretive style and his known penchant for blending the spiritual with the human form, in what ways might his statues of a nude man and a nude woman be seen as symbolic representations of Pandora and Epimetheus? How do these sculptures reflect the themes of innocence, curiosity, and the inevitable consequences of human actions as depicted in the myth? …The woman removed the heavy lid of the jar with her own hands, and / driven by her own thoughts, unleashed sorrows for men, death-bringers. / Hope alone remained in its unbreakable home, / caught underneath the lip of the jar. Its escape / was only a short flight away, but, just in time, she slammed the lid down. / All according to the plan of aegis-bearing, cloud-gathering Zeus… https://pressbooks.library.torontomu.ca/myths/chapter/lesson-5-primary-readings-prometheus-and-pandora/

For a PowerPoint Presentation titled, Domenikos Theotokopoulos, 10 Masterpieces, please… Check HERE!

Bibliography: https://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection/art-work/pandora/86a6b73f-8ef3-4132-aa68-4648a27a4b6a and https://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection/art-work/epimetheus/8abbfd9f-27f9-44b6-bbc6-e19854e7a69c

The Allegory of Calumny

In a world where misinformation can spread with the click of a button, the echoes of truth and deceit battle in the court of public opinion. This timeless struggle was vividly captured in the brushstrokes of The Allegory of Calumny, an intriguing 16th-century painting attributed to ‘Botticelli’s’ Workshop. Displayed as part of the exhibition titled ‘ΝοΗΜΑΤΑ’: Personifications and Allegories from Antiquity to Today at the Acropolis Museum, this Renaissance masterwork travelled from the Galleria Colonna in Rome to Greece, offering a unique opportunity to explore the multifaceted world of allegorical art.

Rising above the primary notion of the image, an allegorical painting seeks to uncover hidden, deeper meanings, visualizing abstract concepts with the aspiration of yielding educational outcomes. In this context, allegory emerges as a powerful form of expression that succeeds in cloaking the true meaning, engaging both written words and visual arts in a delicate dance of revelation and concealment. The Allegory of Calumny painting stands out as one of the most instructive examples from antiquity and the Renaissance, embodying the intricate layers of meaning that such symbolic representation can convey. To understand the painting, we first need to travel back to the 4th century BC and seek information on a lost painting by Apelles, then explore the Renaissance painting Calumny of Apelles by Sandro Botticelli, and finally discuss the painting in the Collection of Galleria Colonna in Rome.

The story of the painting Calumny by the legendary 4th century BC ancient Greek artist Apelles, as recounted by the writer Lucian (Luciano di Samosata, 2nd century BC), is a fascinating narrative that has inspired artists and thinkers through the ages. In Lucian’s telling, the celebrated Greek painter Apelles crafted the painting Calumny after becoming the victim of slander himself. The allegorical painting illustrated a tale of injustice and deception, where a blameless man was falsely accused by Calumny (Slander), personified as a beautiful but deceitful woman. Flanked by Malice, and Deceit, and led by Evil, Slander was depicted taking the innocent man before a judge, who was depicted with donkey’s ears, symbolizing his foolishness and inability to discern the truth. Beside the judge stood his advisors, Ignorance and Assumption. Apelles’ work served not only as a personal reflection on his experiences with slander but also as a universal commentary on the nature of truth, justice, and the destructive power of false accusations. Through this allegory, Apelles conveyed a poignant message about the ease with which innocence can be marred by malevolence, a theme that resonates as deeply today as it did in antiquity. http://lucianofsamosata.info/wiki/doku.php?id=home:texts_and_library:essays:slander

Alessandro Filipepi known as Sandro Botticelli, 1445-1510
Calumny of Apelles, c. 1495, Tempera on Wood, 62×91 cm, The Uffizi, Florence, Italy https://www.uffizi.it/en/artworks/calumny-botticelli

Next, the journey through the Allegory of Calumny takes us into the heart of the Renaissance. It is here that Sandro Botticelli, drawing inspiration from ancient texts that describe Apelles’ work, reimagines this timeless theme through the lens of 15th-century Florence. Botticelli’s Calumny of Apelles not only pays homage to the original masterpiece but also enriches it with the nuanced intricacies of Renaissance artistry and thought, inviting us to explore how the allegorical message has been transformed and recontextualized for a new era. Crafted around 1495, this painting emerges at a pivotal moment, marking the transition from the flourishing Laurentian era to the dawn of a Republic under the influence of Girolamo Savonarola. This piece stands as Botticelli’s final foray into the realm of allegorical and mythological themes, showcasing his unparalleled ability to weave intricate narratives and interpret complex ideas through his art.

According to Giorgio Vasari, Botticelli’s painting was a gift to the artist’s friend Antonio Segni, with the following lines of his own composition beneath it: Indicio quemquam ne falso laedere tentent Terrarum reges, parva tabella monet. Huic similem Aegypti regi donavit Apelles Rex fuit et dignus munere, munus eo… Let any kings of the earth beware of attempting to harm anyone falsely; a small tablet warns them. Apelles, the painter, gave a similar one to the king of Egypt; he was both a king deserving of the gift, and the gift was deserving of him. http://www.artist-biography.info/artist/sandro_botticelli/ and https://www.uffizi.it/en/artworks/calumny-botticelli

Having traversed the historical and artistic landscapes shaped by Apelles’ ancient masterpiece and Botticelli’s Renaissance reinterpretation, our exploration leads us to a final piece: The Allegory of Calumny, created by ‘Botticelli’s’ Workshop and residing in the prestigious Galleria Colonna in Rome. This rendition, exhibited, currently, in the Acropolis Museum in Athens and crafted by an artist whose name has eluded history, embodies the aesthetic values of harmony, proportion, and beauty that defined the period. With a delicate and polished use of line and colour, the unknown artist skillfully captures the viewer’s attention, guiding it across an intricate narrative tableau. The painting, lucking Botticelli’s extravagant architectural ‘fantasy’, depicts the allegorical figures with grace and emotional depth, weaving a rich tapestry of human drama that invites the observer to delve into its complex layers. Furthermore, reaffirms the themes and aesthetic principles of its predecessors, serving as a vivid testament to the enduring legacy of the Calumny motif. It invites us to appreciate the nuanced layers of interpretation and craftsmanship that span centuries, from classical antiquity, through the Renaissance, and into the heart of Italy’s artistic heritage.

For a Student Activity, inspired by the Allegory of Columny painting, please… Check HERE!

Cardinal Bessarion in prayer before his Byzantine Reliquary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a magnificent story!

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

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

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

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1526/1530–1569
The Tower of Babel, 1563, Oil on Panel, 1,140×1,550 mm, Collection      
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria https://www.bruegel2018.at/en/the-tower-of-babel/

11 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward,[a] they found a plain in Shinar[b] and settled there. / 3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” / 5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” / 8 So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel[c]—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth. This is how the construction of the Tower of Babel is described in Genesis 11:1–9. The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, the painting in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, portrays this description within the context of Netherlandish Art. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis%2011%3A1-9&version=NIV

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, a prominent Netherlandish Renaissance artist, lived from around 1525 to 1569. Known for his distinctive style and masterful compositions, Bruegel excelled in depicting scenes of everyday life, landscapes, and complex narrative paintings. His works often showcased a keen observation of human behavior and a meticulous attention to detail. The Tower of Babel, The Peasant Wedding, and The Hunters in the Snow are among his notable paintings. Bruegel’s contributions to art extended beyond mere technical skill; he played a significant role in influencing subsequent generations of artists, leaving a lasting impact on the Northern Renaissance.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1526/1530–1569
The Tower of Babel (details), 1563, Oil on Panel, 1,140×1,550 mm, Collection      
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria https://www.bruegel2018.at/en/the-tower-of-babel/

Among the artist’s many notable paintings, The Tower of Babel in Vienna vividly captures the viewer’s imagination. The composition is a bustling panorama of a colossal tower in progress, set against a sprawling landscape that showcases Bruegel’s meticulous attention to detail. The architectural marvel dominates the canvas, with countless workers toiling at various tasks, creating a bustling scene of organized chaos. The painting skillfully combines elements of biblical storytelling with a keen observation of human behavior, portraying the futility of human arrogance and the inevitable consequences of divine intervention. Bruegel’s use of color, texture, and intricate details adds depth and complexity to the narrative, making The Tower of Babel a masterpiece that continues to captivate viewers with its rich storytelling and artistic brilliance.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1526/1530–1569
The Tower of Babel, 1563, Oil on Panel, 1,140×1,550 mm, Collection      
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria
The building of the tower of Babel, circa 1568, Oil and Wood, 59.9×74.6 cm, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, the Netherlands
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tower_of_Babel_(Bruegel)

The Renaissance artist painted two versions of the Tower of Babel. One is in Vienna, my favourite, and the other is housed in the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, in Rotterdam. Seen side by side, the two paintings may depict the same subject in a similar setting, but there are a number of important differences between the two compositions. The most obvious difference is the size of the Vienna panel, which is almost four times bigger than that of the Tower in Rotterdam – but if we were able to enter the compositions, we would realize that the Tower in Rotterdam is in fact 250 % bigger than the one in Vienna. https://www.bruegel2018.at/en/the-tower-of-babel/

Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s two renditions of The Tower of Babel, exhibit subtle yet significant distinctions. In the Vienna painting, the tower commands a central and meticulously detailed position, with a slender design featuring a distinctive spiral staircase. The foreground is bustling with a multitude of workers engaged in various construction tasks, contributing to a sense of organized chaos. On the other hand, the Rotterdam version offers a slightly elevated perspective, showcasing a more massive and block-like tower positioned towards the left side. The architectural structure differs, and the foreground activity, while still busy, is less intricately detailed, allowing for a broader view of the expansive landscape. These variations in composition, architectural design, foreground activity, and atmospheric elements highlight Bruegel’s nuanced approach to depicting the same biblical narrative, providing viewers with unique visual experiences in each rendition.

For a Student Activity, inspired by Pieter Bruelel’s paintings, titled The Tower of Babel, please… Check HERE!

Bliss Madonna by Luca della Robbia

Luca della Robbia, 1399/1400–1482
Virgin and Child in a niche, ca. 1460, Glazed terracotta with gilt and painted details, 47.3 × 38.7 × 8.9 cm, 13.2 kg, the MET, NY, USA
https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/204722

…It then occurred to Luca della Robia that clay can be manipulated with ease and little trouble, and that the only thing required was to discover a means whereby work produced in this material could be preserved a long time. By dint of many experiments he discovered a method of protecting it from the injury of time, for he found that he could render such works practically imperishable, by covering the clay with a glaze made of tin, litharge, antimony and other materials, baked in the fire in a specially constructed furnace. For this method, of which he was the inventor, he won loud praises, and all succeeding ages are under an obligation to him… The MET Bliss Madonna by Luca della Robbia is one such fine example of his skillful use of clay and a tin glaze! https://www.artist-biography.info/artist/luca_della_robbia/ Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, first published in 1550 and dedicated to Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici

Luca della Robbia (1399/1400–1482) was an Italian sculptor and ceramist renowned for his contributions to the Renaissance artistic movement. Born in Florence, he hailed from a family of artists and began his career as a sculptor. However, Luca is best known for perfecting the technique of glazed terracotta sculpture, a medium he elevated to new heights. His innovative use of vibrant polychrome glazes brought a lifelike quality to his works, distinguishing him from his contemporaries. His artistry, marked by a harmonious blend of classical influences and innovative techniques, left an enduring legacy and influenced later generations of artists.

The artist was an innovator. Before him, sculptors primarily worked with marble or bronze, and clay was mostly used for preparatory models rather than finished works of art. Luca’s innovation was to take terracotta, a material that had been traditionally associated with architectural decoration, and elevate it to the status of a refined artistic medium. His breakthrough was the development of a tin glaze that, when applied to terracotta, created a smooth, lustrous surface. This glazing technique not only added a layer of protection to the sculptures but also allowed for the application of vibrant and enduring polychrome colors. This marked a departure from the monochromatic nature of traditional terracotta works.

Luca’s creations, ranging from religious reliefs to freestanding sculptures, were characterized by a newfound vibrancy and a lifelike quality. This innovation made his sculptures more accessible to a broader audience and contributed to the democratization of art during the Renaissance. He even began a practice of reproducing his clay sculptures in casts, which members of his family and large workshop continued into the sixteenth century. His influence extended beyond his family workshop, inspiring other artists to explore the potential of terracotta and glazing techniques, thus contributing to the dynamic and transformative period of artistic flourishing in Renaissance Florence. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/204722

The artwork of the day is the Bliss Madonna by Luca della Robbia in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Luca della Robbia, 1399/1400–1482
Virgin and Child in a niche (detail), ca. 1460, Glazed terracotta with gilt and painted details, 47.3 × 38.7 × 8.9 cm, 13.2 kg, the MET, NY, USA
https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/204722

A classic masterpiece by Luca della Robbia, the Bliss Madonna captivates the viewer’s attention with its serene beauty and religious devotion. In front of a niche defined by gilded ribs against a lively turquoise backdrop, the Virgin Mary is depicted tenderly cradling the infant Jesus, who stands at the niche’s edge, leans towards her, and equally tenderly embraces her. The intimate connection is palpable as Christ reaches around her neck, and their heads gently touch, revealing blue-gray eyes that engage the viewer. The composition’s frame is adorned with an intricate floral design, and the upper corners proudly bear the Bartorelli and Baldi coats of arms, symbolizing a probable union between these prominent Florentine families.

Luca della Robbia’s terracotta sculptures of the Madonna with the Child, like the MET’s Bliss Madonna, represent a high point of Renaissance sculpture, showcasing the artist’s innovative approach to the medium. The application of polychrome glazes, like the turquoise in the discussed artifact, allowed him to achieve a luminous, almost ethereal quality in his artworks. The delicate expressions on the faces of the Madonna and Child, coupled with the intricacies of drapery and the overall harmonious composition, reflect della Robbia’s deep understanding of both classical ideals and the spiritual essence he sought to convey. These amazing, glazed terracotta sculptures became iconic representations of religious devotion during the Renaissance and contributed to the broader artistic movement’s exploration of new materials and techniques.

For a PowerPoint depicting 10 Masterpieces by Luca della Robbia, please… Check HERE!

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
http://www.travelingintuscany.com/art/loscheggia.htm

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!

Titian’s Portrait of Isabella d’Este

Titian, 1488-1576
Isabella d’Este, Marquise of Mantua (1474–1539), 1534/36 Oil on Canvas, 101.9 × 64 cm, Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, Austria https://tiziansfrauenbild.khm.at/en/

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, the faces 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.

Titian, 1488-1576
Isabella d’Este, Marquise of Mantua (detail), 1534/36, Oil on Canvas, 101.9 × 64 cm, Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, Austria https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/renaissance-reformation/high-ren-florence-rome/late-renaissance-venice/a/titian-isabella-deste-isabella-in-black
Titian, 1488-1576
Isabella d’Este, Marquise of Mantua (detail), 1534/36, Oil on Canvas, 101.9 × 64 cm, Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, Austria https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/renaissance-reformation/high-ren-florence-rome/late-renaissance-venice/a/titian-isabella-deste-isabella-in-black

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

Titian, 1488-1576
Isabella d’Este, Marquise of Mantua (detail), 1534/36, Oil on Canvas, 101.9 × 64 cm, Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, Austria https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/renaissance-reformation/high-ren-florence-rome/late-renaissance-venice/a/titian-isabella-deste-isabella-in-black

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)

Brunelleschi vs. Ghiberti

Lorenzo Ghiberti, 1378-1455
Sacrifice of Isaac, 1401, Gilded Bronze, 45 × 38 cm, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, Italy
Filippo Brunelleschi, 1377-1446
Sacrifice of Isaac, 1401, Gilded Bronze, 41 × 36 cm, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, Italy
https://idole-rivalen.khm.at/en/ 

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/   

For today’s BLOG POST allow me to quote and remember how Giorgio Vasari in his Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, first published in 1550 and dedicated to Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici, describes the famous 1401 competition for a bronze double door at the Baptistery in Florence. The life of Filippo Brunelleschi, and the Life of Lorenzo Ghiberti, as narrated by Vasari, provide the necessary information on how the competition and Lorenzo’s victory were seen in the 16th century by the artist/author considered to be the first Art Historian ever! https://filippobrunelleschifacts.tumblr.com/post/109790232722/vasaris-lives-of-the-artists-life-of  and http://www.artist-biography.info/artist/lorenzo_ghiberti/

Filippo Brunelleschi, 1377-1446
Sacrifice of Isaac, 1401, Gilded Bronze, 41 × 36 cm, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, Italy
https://www.artesvelata.it/concorso-1401/

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.

Lorenzo Ghiberti, 1378-1455
Sacrifice of Isaac, 1401, Gilded Bronze, 45 × 38 cm, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, Italy
https://www.artesvelata.it/concorso-1401/

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!

For a Video on the Competition Panels, please Check… smarthistory… https://smarthistory.org/filippo-brunelleschi-and-lorenzo-ghiberti-sacrifice-of-isaac/

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/

Virgin and Child

Attributed to Simon Bening, 1483/84–1561
Virgin and Child, ca. 1520, Oil on wood, 25.4 x 21 cm, the MET, NY, USA
https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/436103

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, 1483 – 1561
Self-portrait of Simon Bening, aged 75, 1558, tempera on parchment, 8.6×5.7 cm, the MET, NY, USA
https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/459254

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 vistashttps://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

Attributed to Simon Bening, 1483/84–1561
Virgin and Child, ca. 1520, Oil on wood, 25.4 x 21 cm, the MET, NY, USA
Gerard David, ca. 1455–1523
The Rest on the Flight into Egypt, ca. 1512–15, Oil on wood, 53.3 × 39.8 cm, the MET, NY, USA https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/436103 and https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/436101

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

Simon Bening was famous for his poetic landscape vistas. His manuscript illuminations, like the pages of the Twelve Months in the Book of Golf we have been examining, reveal various aspects of his innovative character. The MET painting Virgin and Child favors a landscape that recedes into the far distance, large trees with highlighted edges, and the inclusion of a vignette… a small house surrounded by trees near the edge of a pond. This is a wonderful example of early sixteenth-century art for all to enjoy! https://www.metmuseum.org/art/metpublications/From_Van_Eyck_to_Bruegel_Early_Netherlandish_Painting_in_The_Metropolitan_Museum_of_Art page 312

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

Bellini’s Portrait of a young man à l’Antique

Giovanni Bellini, c. 1435/40 – 1516
Portrait of a Young Man à l’Antique (Andrea Mantegna?), about 1475–80, oil on board, 35 x 28 cm, Pinacoteca del Castello Sforzesco, Milan, Italy Germany (my amateurish attempt at photography of Bellini’s Painting as presented in the Exhibition GIOVANNI BELLINI Influences Croisées (March 3 to July 17, 2023) at the Jacquemart-André Museum)

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.

Giovanni Bellini, c. 1435/40 – 1516
Portrait of a Young Man à l’Antique (Andrea Mantegna?) (detail), about 1475–80, oil on board, 35 x 28 cm, Pinacoteca del Castello Sforzesco, Milan, Italy
https://www.pinterest.dk/pin/609393393298256426/

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.

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!