Pollaiuolo’s Apollo and Daphne

Piero del Pollaiuolo, about 1441 – before 1496Apollo and Daphne, 1470-1480, oil on wood, 29.5 x 20 cm, The National Gallery, London

Daphne, daughter of Peneus, was Apollo’s first love, which not blind chance, but Cupid’s savage anger, gave… One suddenly loves, the other flees the name of lover, rejoicing in the hiding-places of the woods and with the spoils of captured beasts (and) as an imitator of unmarried Diana: a ribbon was restraining hair placed without rule… Having barely finished the prayer, a heavy numbness seizes her limbs, her soft breasts are girded by thin bark, her hair grows into foliage, her arms into branches, her foot, just now so swift, clings by sluggish roots, her face has the top of a tree: a single splendor remains in her… since you can’t be my bride, at least you will certainly be my tree! Metamorphoses by Ovid, translated by Wikisource, Daphne and Apollo help us better understand the dynamics in Pollaiuolo’s Apollo and Daphne painting.     https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Translation:Metamorphoses/Daphne_and_Apollo

A tiny picture in the National Gallery, inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses, tells us so many stories… “the rivalry of the gods, the power and danger of desire and the tragedy of unrequited love.”     https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/piero-del-pollaiuolo-apollo-and-daphne

The literary source for this amazing panel painting comes from the Metamorphoses, a narrative poem, built upon the Hellenistic erudite tradition, written during the period of Augustus, c. 8 AD, by the Roman poet Ovid. The poem includes 11,995 lines and is divided between 15 books and presents 250 myths. It is a record of world history starting with the creation of the world and finishing with the deification of Julius Caesar. Ovid’s Metamorphoses is considered the poet’s magnum opus. It was popular among the Romans and later highly regarded among Renaissance artists, as, rich in myths… transformations, personifications, loves, rivalries, jealousies, happy ends and tragic ends, communicated the greatest of stories!

Piero del Pollaiuolo’s painting of Apollo and Daphne depicts the most crucial of moments… the rivalry between Apollo and Cupid is a fait accompli, as one (Apollo) suddenly loves, and the other (Daphne) flees the name of lover. Apollo’s desire frightens Daphne who cries for help Father bring help! Rivers, if you have divinity, destroy my shape by which I’ve pleased too much, by changing it. Apollo’s love is not returned, and Daphne is slowly turned into the beautiful Laurel Tree. The god is, however, still enamoured and he loves this one too (the Laurel Tree) and with a right hand placed on the trunk feels that her heart still trembles under the new bark… As Daphne is slowly metamorphosing, he softly talks to her since you can’t be my bride, at least you will certainly be my tree! My hair will always have you, my lyres (will have you), my quivers (will have you), O Laurel…

For Polaiuolo, the Greek Myth of Apollo and Daphne becomes a Florentine affair. Daphne like Petrarch’s Laura becomes the ideal, unattainable love of the Renaissance courtly circles, “fair-skinned, blonde and seemingly modest.” She “allows young men to nobly strive for an ideal beauty beyond their reach.” Apollo, fair, blonde and aristocratic as well, seems persistent but genteel. Is he symbolically representing an idealized “portrait” of Lorenzo de’ Medici? Let’s not forget that the leader of the Florentine privileged society saw himself as the forceful god Apollo and had adopted the laurel as part of his personal emblem. The background landscape scene is definitely presenting the Tuscan countryside with the Arno river valley and the distant vista of the city of Florence itself. The painting may be small in size, but Piero del Pollaiuolo realized a small treasure, to “be admired close up by an educated patron.”     https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/piero-del-pollaiuolo-apollo-and-daphne

If you please… access a PowerPoint with artwork depicting the Myth of Apollo and Daphne HERE!

For a Student Activity on the Myth of Apollo and Daphne, please… check HERE!

A Bulletin Board with Elementary School level Activities on Plants and Myths, very popular among my students.

The Month of July

The Month of July, latest 1407, possibly by Maestro Venceslao, Fresco, Torre Aquila, Castello del Buonconsiglio in Trento, Italy

The Month of July fresco comes from Torre Aquila in the Castello del Buonconsiglio, in Trento, Italy. It is part of an amazing fresco Cycle of the Twelve Months painted on the walls of the tower’s 2nd-floor main room and presents summer at its best. This exceptional room, 6 x 5,8 x 3 m in size, was commissioned by Prince-Bishop George of Liechtenstein, as a quiet, atmospheric retreat, away from the rest of the Castello’s busy and noisy state quarters. Master Wenceslas, a Bohemian painter active in Trento since 1397, creates a rich July scene, full of natural beauty and pastoral activities.

Valle dei Laghi is one of the sixteen districts of Trentino in the Italian region of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol. https://www.discovertrento.it/valle-dei-laghi/territorio#.XvucvSgzZPY

July is a busy month for labourers at Trento and Master Wenceslas is documenting it in the best possible way. The farmers catch up with their activities and the Court aristocrats enjoy summer bliss. The scene is rich, dense and joyful… inspired by real-life but immensely beautified. The commissioner of this fresco, Prince-Bishop George of Liechtenstein wants to present the idea that his territories flourish under his good governance and prudent guidance. The painter, Master Wenceslas, understood this very well, and created a summer scene of dazzling colours, greens and yellows dominating the open expanse of the countryside!

Castello Toblino is located in the valley of the lakes between Padergnone and Sarche in the municipal area of Madruzzo, in the province of Trento. https://www.trentino.com/en/highlights/castles/castel-toblino/

Multi-coloured mountains, lush shrubbery, a lake, a Castello by its shore and a red country Villa are just a few of the landscape props Master Wenceslas uses to identify the area as the beautiful Trentino Valle dei Laghi. Castello in particular, defensive walls, crenellations, drawing bridges, large glass windows, balconies full of flowers and stork nests on the rooftop make up for a beautiful vignette on a lakeshore.

Right in the middle of the composition the depiction of the lake, the boat and three fishermen set the tone. The lower part is a vivid illustration of the activities of the nobles and their servants as summer settles in. It is falconing season, and Master Wenceslas beautifully presents it. Hunting with a hawk was the favorite activity of the Trento nobility, an expensive one to keep up with, as specialized servants, destined exclusively for the care and breeding of precious birds, were required and handsomely payed for. In the July fresco, one such falconer, carrying two hunting hawks returns from hunting. A little further down an elegant gentleman, dressed in a red and black doublet, with a gesture of polite refinement, seems to offer the hunting catch, two beautiful birds, gallantly to a lady dressed in white. A truly generous gift for a beautiful Lady!

Horizons are kept high in Master Wenceslas’s July fresco to make room for the depiction of busy Trento farmers and their agricultural activities. Surrounded by a crown of colourful mountains, purple, white or ochre, up in the highest Trento meadows, the typical activity of the season takes place: haymaking. Farmers are depicted mowing and raking, one of them even scythe sharpening. It is a vivid illustration of the month’s required work for both men and women. They wear perfectly white cloths and hats, cloth or even made of straw, and against a bright green background, they effortlessly move, carrying their instruments of work, as if they are part of an elaborate ballet chorus. The reality is that haymaking is a hard and tiring job, not a summer holiday for sure! Entire families were involved in mowing grass, letting it dry in the sun, and turning it over very often with the hay pitchfork, in order to make it dry faster. 

Prince-Bishop George of Liechtenstein was probably very happy looking from a distance the work accomplished on the meadows of his territories by his “loyal” farmers. His guests probably marveled at how busy and well-ordered life was under his rule. At Torre Aquila the aristocracy was allowed to dream… Reality was, however, different and peasants, exhausted and exasperated were on the verge of revolt…

For Student Activity please… check HERE!

The Months of July and August

Bernardo Bembo and La Bencina

Hans Memling, 1433 –1494
Man with a Roman Coin (Bernardo Bembo), ca. 1471-1474, oil on panel, 31 x 23,3 cm, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen
Leonardo da Vinci, 1452-1519
Ginevra de’ Benci, 1474-78, oil on wood, 38,8 x 36,7 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC – On the reverse side of the portrait of Ginevra: juniper, laurel, palm branches: VIRTUTEM FORMA DECORAT (Beauty adorns Virtue)     https://www.nga.gov/collection/art-object-page.50724.html     and     https://www.nga.gov/collection/highlights/da-vinci-ginevra-de-benci.html and https://www.facebook.com/mauritshuis/posts/allow-us-to-introduce-bernardo-bembovarious-details-reveal-that-this-man-is-the-/1438404546228025/

“Therefore we will sing of the chaste love of Bembo, so that Bencia may rise up, made known by my verses. O lovely Bencia, Bembo marvels at your beauty, with which you could surpass the goddesses of heaven. Great Mars would wish to prefer this to his love for Venus, and Jupiter himself would abandon Europa and desire it. But Bembo in astonishment marvels more at you ancient virtue, you chaste heart and hands with the skill of Pallas…” writes Cristoforo Landino for the LOVE of Bernardo Bembo and La Bencina.    http://www.italianrenaissanceresources.com/units/unit-2/sub-page-03/poems-about-ginevra-and-bembo/?fbclid=IwAR34DOVq8MMQgt7ZBJ651Bd2l-HGxjM6gTJFNNx0CHHsp2hZVi26XyAkHkM

The Venetian Ambassador to Florence, the intellectual Bernardo Bembo, first saw Ginevra on the 28th of January 1475, during the splendid Giostra Giuliano de Medici staged in Piazza Santa Croce in Florence. Ginevra de’ Benci, the daughter of Amerigo de’ Benci, director of the Medici Bank in Geneva and the second wealthiest man in Florence, seventeen years old, witty, enchanting and rich, married to Luigi di Bernardo Niccolini, a Florentine cloth-trader of importance, was present, dazzling with her charm, the elite of Florence. “In all the city you will not find a more beautiful girl, nor any more modest” wrote the poet Alessandro Braccesi. Suave Bernardo Bembo, a man in his early forties, married with children, with a mistress and a love-child, took little time in becoming La Bencina’s cavaliere servente. Among them, Leonardo da Vinci, young and amazingly talented, ready to immortalize an interesting story that still “haunts” us with its beauty and secrets, created one of his earliest masterpieces.    https://books.google.gr/books?id=KWCNItrBe6oC&pg=PT163&lpg=PT163&dq=Florence+1475+Giostra&source=bl&ots=jY6VGoEF7e&sig=ACfU3U3t2D0MaOTr2VF5cHfdBamVl8s_Zg&hl=el&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwio79a81YHqAhXBw8QBHb37B5AQ6AEwEHoECAUQAQ#v=onepage&q=Florence%201475%20Giostra&f=false

Leonardo’s painting of La Bencina, characterized as “the earliest of all psychological portraits” and depicting “a new sense of mystery and uniqueness of the human personality” is for me an alluring mystery behind rich foilage and an “alabaster” façade. The surviving poems, however, of her beauty and character is another story…

The reverse side of Leonardo’s painting of Ginevra de’ Benci

“I beg for mercy; I am a wild tiger” LaBencina wrote in one of her poems, the only verse that survives of her entire oeuvre. We can only wonder about her response to Bembo’s “Courtly Love.”

“…Therefore, lovely Bencia, imitating such arts as these, you come as an example to Tuscan ladies. Well known, I confess, is the love of Paris and the frenzy of the Spartan woman, but it is known for its base adultery. You, Bencia, are more beautiful than Leda’s child and are known to all peoples for your rare chastity…” by Cristoforo Landino

“Ginevra shed tears as you go, Bembo./ May she desire long delays and / Beseech the Gods above that / Every difficulty may hinder your journey. / And may she wish that the kindly stars / With adverse winds and heavy storms / Prevent your departure” by Alessandro Bracessi

Lorenzo de’ Medici, on the other hand, addressed two poems to her praising her decision to “leave the passion and evil of the city and to devote herself to prayer in the country… never looking back!” https://books.google.gr/books?id=fMDoImNWqHQC&pg=PA302&lpg=PA302&dq=Lorenzo+de+Medici+sonnets+Ginevra&source=bl&ots=DFGL8O9riU&sig=ACfU3U1FKJK0wSGfLjtePymRgLwoRWYOPg&hl=el&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi7jdXxvIPqAhUFNOwKHTZ3BIgQ6AEwAnoECAYQAQ#v=onepage&q=Lorenzo%20de%20Medici%20sonnets%20Ginevra&f=false    and    http://www.italianrenaissanceresources.com/units/unit-2/sub-page-03/poems-about-ginevra-and-bembo/?fbclid=IwAR34DOVq8MMQgt7ZBJ651Bd2l-HGxjM6gTJFNNx0CHHsp2hZVi26XyAkHkM

For a RWAP dedicated to Ginevra de’ Benci (RWAP stands for Research-Writing-Art-Project) please… Check HERE!

For student work on a RWAP dedicated to Ginevra de’ Benci, please… Check HERE!

Student work

The Month of June

The Month of June, latest 1407, possibly by Maestro Venceslao, Fresco, Torre Aquila, Castello del Buonconsiglio in Trento, Italy

The Month of June is an amazing fresco that comes from the Torre Aquila in the Castello del Buonconsiglio, in Trento, Italy. It is part of a fresco Cycle of the Twelve Months painted on the walls of the tower’s 2nd-floor main room. Today, only eleven of the original 12 panels survive as a 16th-century wooden spiral staircase, connecting the tower floors, destroyed the painted panel of March. The famous painted Cycle of the Months is divided into twelve panels, one for each month. Each one of the twelve panels is separated by a slender column, distinctive yet subtle, so as not to disturb the natural continuity between months and the seasons.

This exceptional room, 6 x 5,8 x 3 m in size, was commissioned by Prince-Bishop George of Liechtenstein, as a quiet, atmospheric retreat, away from the rest of the Castello’s busy and noisy state quarters. It has been suggested and widely accepted that the painter of this extraordinary fresco Cycle of the Months was Maestro Venceslao, a Czech painter, popular in the Tyrol area of the time.

June is the 6th month of the Year and the beginning of summer. A glorious, busy month for both the aristocrats and the peasants of Trento. With snow disappearing even at the highest peaks, the shepherds and the servants of the Prince-Bishop George of Liechtenstein, need to move to the mountainous pastures, where most of the Prince’s possessions are. They need to take care of his cows, while their women do the milking, and the processing of milk to butter and cheese. Are they making a 15th century version of the famous Trentino cheese Bela Badia? In May, all citizens of Trento had a moment to rest, but in June, they all go back to their daily chores!    https://www.tasteatlas.com/most-popular-cheeses-in-trentino-alto-adige-sudtirol

One might wonder how the young Trento noblemen and ladies spend their June days… think no further, the answers are in the Trento fresco. Enjoying the best time of the year, young men and ladies of noble birth spend their days in the countryside! They walk out of their walled cities, as depicted in the upper left side of the painting, wearing their finest clothes, and join in the festivities of the month. Long summer days are on their thresholds and they embrace them! The lower part of the painting shows 5 couples dancing in a circle accompanied by their dogs and a group of musicians who set the tone. Are they celebrating the first day of Summer? The scene is inviting to say the least… a garden surrounded by green hedges, beautiful lilies, playful dogs and a quintet of merry musicians! https://www.worldwidewriter.co.uk/frescoes-of-trento-the-painted-city.html

The Best Art You’ve Never Seen: 101 Hidden Treasures From Around the World by Julian Spalding, Rough Guides Reference, 2010 https://books.google.gr/books?id=L3e0BgAAQBAJ&pg=PA11&lpg=PA11&dq=cycle+of+the+months+paintings&source=bl&ots=PDmmhZPn37&sig=ACfU3U0ZvpPwd-ZSa8dnhL4AUn2uBLt26g&hl=el&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjVxcGIzNzmAhWRGewKHQiuD5g4ChDoATAGegQIBxAB#v=onepage&q=cycle%20of%20the%20months%20paintings&f=false

Until Next Month… check HERE! for a PowerPoint!

The Mauritshuis

Hans Holbein the Younger (formerly attributed to)
Portrait of a Woman from Southern Germany, c. 1520 – 1525, oil on panel, 45×34 cm, The Mauritshuis in The Hague

“A visit to a museum is a search for beauty, truth, and meaning in our lives. Go to museums as often as you can” wrote Maira Kalman and she couldn’t be more right. Go to the  Mauritshuis in the Hague, stand in front of the Portrait of a Woman from Southern Germany and quietly wait for the experience to envelop you!

Back in 2006, I visited the Mauritshuis in the Hague for the first time, and I will never forget the Experience. It is the kind of Museum I particularly enjoy and love… small, intimate and colourful!    https://www.mauritshuis.nl/en/

Designed as a private house for Johan Maurits of Nassau, Count (from 1664), Prince of Nassau-Siegen, Grand Master of the Order of Saint John (Bailiwick of Brandenburg) and governor of Dutch Brazil, the   Mauritshuis is palatial in both, inspiration and essence. The Prince of Nassau-Siegen hired the finest architects of the time in The Netherlands, Jacob van Campen and his assistant Pieter Post, to design and materialize his dream residence. Johan Maurits, however, was not in a harry! As governor of the Dutch Brazil and one of Holland’s preeminent military leaders, he travelled extensively, while his architects were busy building important architectural works to establish their name. So, the Mauritshuis started in 1636 and finished in 1641. The Prince lived in the house for only three years, from 1644 to 1647, after which he moved to Germany for yet another important post, to become stadtholder of Kleef.

Mauritshuis is often referred to as Sugar Palace, but this is not a reference to the light-coloured natural stones used for building its façade. Johan Maurits earned a lot of money in Brazil trading in sugar cane, and Mauritshuis was made possible thanks to cane sugar and to the efforts of enslaved men and women from Africa. Sugar Palace is just one reminder of European colonialism and exploitation! https://www.mauritshuis.nl/en/discover/mauritshuis/history-of-the-building/

Today, the building Johan Maurits of Nassau commissioned is one of the finest examples of Classicist Dutch Architecture in The Netherlands and the Home of a Great Collection of Dutch Masterpieces. Mauritshuis is the home of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring or the astounding View of Delft,  Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp or his 1669 Self-Portrait, Carel Fabritius’ Goldfinch of 1654, Paulus Potter’s Bull of 1647, and The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man of 1615 by two famous Flemish masters: Rubens and Brueghel.

Hans Holbein the Younger (formerly attributed to)
Portrait of a Woman from Southern Germany, c. 1520 – 1525, oil on panel, 45×34 cm, The Mauritshuis in The Hague

Today, I would like to stand in front of a Renaissance Painting I find alluring… the Portrait of a Woman from Southern Germany of 1520-25, formerly attributed to Hans Holbein the Younger. Her face is so striking, standing out well against a rather cool, blue background… beautiful but stark, pale, yet bright, clear and strong. She wears a finely pleated collared blouse, a fur-lined jacket fastened with a red cord and a rather old-fashioned cap and veil, like those worn by townswomen in Southern Germany. Whoever painted this magnificent Portrait, the Woman from Southern Germany, young and demure, greets us with her hands clasped, her eyes modestly cast down, and a faint smile to brighten her whole face! She is grand! https://www.mauritshuis.nl/en/explore/the-collection/artworks/portrait-of-a-woman-from-southern-germany-275/detailgegevens/

For a PowerPoint on more Renaissance Paintings in the Mauritshuis Museum, please… click HERE!

The Month of May

The Month of May, latest 1407, possibly by Maestro Venceslao, Fresco, Torre Aquila, Castello del Buonconsiglio in Trento, Italy

“Fresh new rose Delighting Spring,    By field and stream,    Singing gaily,    I declare your rarity    – to the flowers.” by Guido Cavalcanti (between 1250 and 1259 – August 1300), the Italian poet, troubadour, and best friend of Dante Alighieri. https://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Italian/Italianpoetry.php

The Month of May fresco comes from the Torre Aquila in the Castello del Buonconsiglio, in Trento, Italy. It is part of an amazing fresco Cycle of the Twelve Months painted on the walls of the tower’s 2nd-floor main room. It was commissioned by Prince-Bishop George of Liechtenstein, who wanted to show life and prosperity in his “well-governed” territories. The painter of these remarkable frescoes, Master Wenceslas, understanding well what he was commissioned to do, created the best 15th-century advertising brochure for the Alpine city of Trento. The Month of May presents a bright spring scene, crowded with well-dressed aristocrats who, in the lush local countryside, serenely enjoy the splendours of their privileged life. 

Master Wenceslas, a Bohemian painter active in Trento since 1397, creates an amazing May scene, full of natural beauty… the sun triumphs, nature is in full bloom, and roses are present wherever you see! This is the time for Trento peasants to rest after a busy April, preparing and sowing the fields, repairing or rebuilding the fences of the vegetable gardens.  Their duties accomplished by April 23, the feast of San Giorgio, as the custom dictates, they are out of the “picture.” The Month of May scene is dedicated to the local ladies and gentlemen and their idle aristocratic activities.

Master Wenceslas paints a striking May scene introducing themes and focusing on details. A city on the upper left side of the panel, surrounded by bright red walls sets the tone… bright, elaborate, almost otherworldly. The white Gothic church within its Walls balances the effect and stands out, introducing one of the four main colours present in the composition, white, red, green and blue. Next to the walled city but connected with it through a bridge, two aristocratic couples are about to eat al fresco, as a circular white-clothed table displays an abundance of delicacies. What an amazing and luxurious “picnic” setting this is… rugged mountains, a deep dark green forest, and a well-constructed fountain of spring water! They sit comfortably and talk amicably around the table, dressed in their brightest and finest, while one of the ladies is about to fetch water from the spring. Is this vignette a reference to the Fountain of Youth, which, according to legend, could renew beauty and youth for eternity?

The lower part of the composition is entirely devoted to the pleasures and amusements of courtly society. In a lush meadow filled with roses and wildflowers, gracious gentlemen and beautiful ladies gather, mostly in pairs, to celebrate spring and the month of love! A young man kneels, in an act of homage, in front of his lady, another bends his forehead to be crowned with a wreath of flowers, and couples talk intimately or hold hands, lovingly. They wear their finest multicoloured garments, jewelled crowns or wreaths of flowers. Men wear tight-fitting jackets with coloured socks, or large cloaks with frayed edges, women are dressed in tight-fitting overcoats. The most fashion-conscious wear the long-toed shoes that are furious in France. The Trento scene of May is cheerful, sunny, elegant and optimistic! http://italianocontesti.ru/il-calendario-medievale-torre-aquila-a-trento-maggio/ and https://www.discovertrento.it/en/citta-di-trento/eventi/dettaglio/-/dettaglio/Torre+Aquila-Buonconsiglio+Castle/569149#.Xqui86gzZPZ

For a PowerPoint, please… check HERE!

The Philadelphia Crucifixion

Rogier van der Weyden, 1399 or 1400 – 1464
Crucifixion Diptych, c. 1460, oil on oak panels. Left panel: 180.3 × 93.8 cm – Right panel: 180.3 × 92.6 cm, Philadelphia Museum of Art

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” the first thing that comes to my mind when I see Rogier van der Weyden’s Philadelphia Crucifixion!

Spiritual, innovative, intense, unique, sophisticated… here are some adjectives I can use to describe this very special Diptych, the great master of Northern Renaissance, Rogier van der Weyden, created back in 1460. Painted with vibrant colours, warm and engaging in some parts, but equally cool and standing apart, in others, Rogier’s colours create an atmosphere of poise, composure and utter sorrow. The two panels are quite distinct, as the right one, heavenly and unearthly, is dedicated to Christ’s greatest moment of Sacrifice, and the left, depicting Saint John the Evangelist supporting a devastated Mary, grounds us to human reality. Yet, the two panels unite through homogeneity in the background, and Mary’s tunic that trails from left to right, creating together, a unique composition.

Not only so… as the Philadelphia Crucifixion, his finest, in my humble opinion, masterpiece, proves Rogier to be the master conductor of a symphony in lines, shapes and glorious colours.

Just observe how masterfully he uses straight, vertical and curved lines… Bold straight lines mark the cornice of the background wall and highlight the face of Christ. The vertical lines of the cross and Christ’s body enhance the necessary need for monumentality and stability, while the outstretched and crossed hands add to Christ’s Pathos. Curved lines observe the postures of both figures on the left panel, John and Mary, adding emotional warmth and humanity. Finally, an imaginary diagonal line, pulls us towards the lower part of the right, Crucifixion panel, emphasizing the meaning of Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross with the depiction of “Adam’s” Skull on the hill of Golgotha.

Equally important to consider are the shapes Rogier incorporates in his composition and the colours of his palette. The highlight, similarly important in both panels, is undoubtedly the use of two vivid red rectangular pieces of cloth hanging over the background wall, creating the ideal setting for the three protagonists of this amazing Crucifixion. While the hanging cloth is painted a vivid red, the garments the three figures in the composition wear, bathed in stark light, are the palest, crispiest tints the artist could use.

The meaning of this composition is complex. The way these amazing panels were used is equally perplexing… The following Bibliography might help…

Mark S. Tucker, from the Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2014, pp. 98–99. http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/102845.html    and    https://www.facebook.com/rvdweyden/posts/crucifixion-diptych-the-crucifixion-with-the-virgin-and-saint-john-the-evangelis/10162026910315231/

Dr. Christopher D.M. Atkins and Dr. Beth Harris, “Rogier van der Weyden, The Crucifixion, with the Virgin and Saint John the Evangelist Mourning,” in Smarthistory, June 20, 2018, accessed April 15, 2020… https://smarthistory.org/rogier-van-der-weyden-the-crucifixion-with-the-virgin-and-saint-john-the-evangelist-mourning/

The Wikipedia site on Rogier’s PhiladelphiaCrucifixion is interesting and rich… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crucifixion_Diptych_(van_der_Weyden)

For a Student Activity on the discussed Diptych, please… click HERE!

The Month of April

The Month of April, 1407, possibly by Maestro Venceslao, Fresco, Torre Aquila, Castello del Buonconsiglio in Trento, Italy

The Italian proverb “Aprile dolce dormire” certainly does not suit the fourth scene of the calendar of the Cycle of Months of Torre Aquila in Trento. Here, under the great April sun, one does not sleep, nor is one idle, but it is all a fervour of activity. http://senzadedica.blogspot.com/2013/04/il-ciclo-dei-mesi-aprile.html

The Month of April fresco comes from Torre Aquila in the Castello del Buonconsiglio, in Trento, Italy. It is part of an amazing fresco Cycle of the Twelve Months painted on the walls of the tower’s 2nd-floor main room. It was commissioned by Prince-Bishop George of Liechtenstein, who wanted to show how well-governed his territories were and how his labourers thrived. The painter of these remarkable paintings, Master Wenceslas, understood well what he was asked to do, created the best 15th-century advertising brochure for Trento, and for the Month of April fashioned a dazzling spring scene, crowded with a well-dressed crowd who, in the lush local countryside, serenely performed their necessary everyday chores. 

Master Wenceslas, a Bohemian painter active in Trento since 1397, creates a rich April scene, full of natural beauty and pastoral activities. Nature awakens and the citizens of Trento are busy. The farmers catch up with their activities and the Ladies of the Court and enjoy a stroll in the woods. The scene is rich, dense and joyful… inspired by real-life but immensely beautified. The commissioner of this fresco, Prince-Bishop George of Liechtenstein, wants to give the idea that his territories flourish under his good governance. and prudent guidance. The painter, Master Wenceslas, understood this very well, and created a verdant scene of dazzling colours, the winter greys have disappeared, crowded with well-dressed farmers and elegant ladies.  https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ciclo_dei_mesi

…the month of April, Many and June

Wenceslas’s countryside is fertile and well organized. The fields are separated in an orderly manner and protected, like precious gardens, by braided willow fences. Everything is represented with such precision… the land, the buildings, the farmers’ chores. The April fresco looks as if it is the page of a textbook for a young farmer to study and learn! https://www.ilmiraggio.com/ciclo-dei-mesi-torre-aquila/

At the top of the composition, a lush fir forest offers refuge to one of those bears that populated the Alps at the time. Further down, a pilgrim, fully dressed in white with a hat and a cane, walks through a borough of thatched-roof houses arranged around a small church, empty of villagers… silent. Even the dogs in this village keep silent, as they are both dozing.

The farmers are busy with their pastoral duties. In a fenced and already ploughed field a farmer sows, while another farmer works the land with a harrow pulled by a horse. Further down to the left, two men, probably coming from a water-mill, carry sacks of flour on a cart driven by oxen. In the foreground, two other farmers plough the land with a heavy wheeled plough pulled by a pair of oxen and a horse. Women do not remain idle. Two of them, taking advantage of the beautiful weather, participate in the fervour of spring activities, gardening their well-fenced plot! Their precious land is on the border of a small forest where, among immense mushrooms, a dog chases a hare!

The month of April fresco is not only about hard work. The presence of two aristocratic young ladies, in the lower, right part of the composition, can not be missed. Depicted on the edge of the painted scene, the elegant ladies seem to walk towards the festive procession depicted in the following month of May. One of them, wearing an elegant green gown with long sleeves, crosses the thin, pillar-like, frame that divides the two months, and effortlessly, just as the succession of seasons is constant and uninterrupted, guides us to the next composition… that of May!

Until Next Month… check HERE! for a student Activity!

El Greco: Formative Years

Domenikos Theotokopoulos… El Greco, 1541 – 1614
The Dormition of the Virgin, before 1567, egg tempera on wood, Holy Cathedral of the Dormition of the Virgin, Syros island, Greece

“I paint because the spirits whisper madly inside my head.” El Greco: Formative Years introduces us to the world of Domenikos Theotokopoulos, and his Cretan period Icon of the Dormition of the Virgin, in the Cycladic Island of Syros.

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

Very little is also known of Domenikos’s early years as a painter in Handaka, except a1563 reference on him as “a master painter” on a  document issued by the Venetian Administration of Candia, and later, in 1566 his testament as a witness in a Candia solicitor’s document in which he is mentioned as ‘maistro Menegos Theotokopoulos, artist’. By late 1566, Domenikos was ready to pursue his career and artistic prospects in Crete were limited. On December 26, 1566, he asked permission from the Venetian authorities in Handaka to auction one of his paintings depicting the Passion of Christ, a painting estimated to be worth 80 ducats but sold for 70. This valuable information comes from the Venetian archives and proves two things. First, Domenikos was still in Crete in 1566, and second, he was an extremely important artist because the price of 70 ducats his small painting fetched was as high as any great Italian artist of the Renaissance would get. https://www.historical-museum.gr/webapps/elgreco/xronologio.php?lang=en

For a PowerPoint on El Greco: Formative Years, please… click HERE!

The Dormition of the Virgin, on the Island of Syros, is a fine example of Theotokopoulos’s 16th-century Cretan period where his personality and artistic being were formed. Greco’s signature on the base of the central candelabrum was discovered, in the process of restoring the Icon, in 1983 by archaeologist George Mastoropoulos. The Dormition’s undoubted attribution to Theotokopoulos helps scholars better understand and interpret the artist’s unique artistic idiom and early production.  

The Icon follows the Post-Byzantine Orthodox tradition of painting, introducing at the same time elements of the Renaissance Mannerism. Today, in juxtaposition to his most “sublime” work, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, the Dormition is seen as Domeniko’s Archetypal representation of “a visionary experience” of two worlds, “the physical world of earth and the spiritual world of heaven, each portrayed in their own ways. Earth is captured on a normal scale with more proportional figures, whereas heaven is composed of swirling clouds and abstract shapes, with a more intangible quality to the figures. This clear distinction greatly allows for two ideas: on the one hand, a union between both worlds is proposed, on the other, the separation of the worlds is enhanced.” https://www.theartstory.org/artist/el-greco/artworks/#nav

Domenikos Theotokopoulos or El Greco, 1541 – 1614
The Dormition of the Virgin, before 1567, egg tempera on wood, Holy Cathedral of the Dormition of the Virgin, Syros island, Greece
The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, between 1586 and 1588, oil on canvas, 480 cm × 360 cm, Iglesia de Santo Tomé, Toledo

The Dormition of the Virgin is the only Theotokopoulos Icon still serving today as an object of Christian Orthodox veneration. It is still “exhibited” in Syros, the 1828-29 Basilica Church of “Psarianon” (the church of the Psara islanders) or officially known as the Dormition of the Virgin. The Icon was brought to Syros in 1824, in the midst of the Greek War of Independence by Psara Island refugees, survivors of the Psara Island destruction. https://www.lifo.gr/articles/arts_articles/253223/sti-syro-vrisketai-enas-apo-toys-protoys-kai-mexri-protinos-agnostoys-pinakes-toy-el-gkreko

Correggio’s Jupiter and Io

Antonio Allegri da Correggio, 1489 – 1534
Jupiter and Io, 1531-32, oil on canvas, 163.5 × 70.5 cm, Kunsthisstorisches Museums, Vienna
Photo credited to https://da.khanacademy.org/humanities/renaissance-reformation/high-ren-florence-rome/late-renaissance-venice/v/correggio-jupiter-and-io

According to Kelly Richman-Abdou “Mannerism is the Style That Put an Elaborate Twist on Renaissance Art.” I like her comment, and how it applies to our Mannerist painting in focus, Correggio’s Jupiter and Io! MY MODERN MET, October 21, 2018, https://mymodernmet.com/what-is-mannerism/

My question is how can order, harmony, and balance, ideals of Classical Art and the Renaissance be “turned/twisted” into something fresh and exciting? Is Mannerism to Renaissance what Hellenistic Art was to 5th century BC Classicism? This is not an easy question to answer. Is Correggio’s mythological painting of Jupiter and Io a good example to start… better so, scratch the mere surface?

Antonio Allegri da Correggio is an interesting artist to consider. Famous today for his illusionistic, grand domed ceilings, Correggio is a protagonist of Mannerism! Giorgio Vasari wrote, “…everything that is to be seen by his [Correggio’s] hand is admired as something divine.” He is so right! Correggio’s paintings were appreciated by generations of fervent art patrons and artists… from Dukes to Emperors and from Rubens to Boucher. Vasari was also the first to write about Corregggio’s handling of colours, chiaroscuro, and textures, as well. “It may, at least, be held for certain that no one ever handled colors better than he and that no craftsman ever painted with greater delicacy or with more relief, such was the softness of his flesh-painting and such the grace with which he finished his works…” Today, describing the unique “softness” of his painting technique, we use the term “morbidezza,” meaning extreme softness, delicacy, and fuzziness. https://www.oxfordreference.com/noresults;jsessionid=58804597E272C2C21C9F375C6CEFC612?btog=chap&noresults=true&pageSize=20&q=morbid+ezza&sort=relevance

Correggio’s Jupiter and Io was most probably, one of four mythological paintings representing the Loves of Zeus, or Jupiter for the Romans, commissioned by the Duke of Mantua, Federico Il Gonzaga, for the decoration of his private Studiolo. These paintings render the myths of, 1. Jupiter and Io, 1531-32, oil on canvas, 163.5 × 70.5 cm, Kunsthisstorisches Museums, Vienna 2. Danaë, 1531, oil on canvas, 161 x 193 cm, Galleria Borghese, Rome 3. Leda and the Swan, 1532, oil on canvas, 156.2 x 195.3 cm, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin 4. Ganymede Abducted by the Eagle, 1531-1532, oil on canvas, 163.5 × 70.5 cm, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

The myth of Jupiter and Io, depicted in one of the two Vienna paintings by Correggio, is popular and well-liked since antiquity. Lust, deceit, jealousy, revenge and suffering, interwind, creating a fascinating story to render in art. Correggio did an amazing job! I love his Mannerist “twisted” use of posture, movement, and texture. Using a narrow upright format he creates a stable, vertical composition, but Io’s body turns, curls and entwines, so unnaturally, around the charcoal grey cloud of Zeus, it is impossible not to notice. Her firm naked body shimmers in the light and contrasts with the thick, dark, fuzzy cloud that envelops her. What a magnificent contrast of colours and textures. The faces of Zeus and Io make you wonder… what is he whispering to her ear that makes her look so “abandoned”?

For a Student RWAP (Research-Writing-Art-Project), please… check HERE!