Holy Thursday – Μεγάλη Πέμπτη

Domenikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco), 1541 – 1614
The Agony in the Garden, c. 1590, oil on canvas, 104 x 117 cm, Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio, USA https://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/g/greco_el/index.html

Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.”  He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” (Luke 22:39-46 Holy Thursday – Μεγάλη Πέμπτη) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%2022&version=NIV

Domenikos Theotokopoulos was a Cretan Greek, born at Handaka-Candia, present-day Herakleion, part, at the time, of the thriving Republic of Venice. He was young, talented, and ambitious, well-versed in the Creto-Byzantine style of painting, and eager to establish himself among the greatest of his time! By 1567/8 Theotokopoulos traveled to Venice, by 1570, he was in Rome, by 1576 he relocated to Spain, and in 1577 the artist settled in Toledo where he found his spiritual home and remained for the rest of his life. He died on the 7th of April 1614, admired for his unique fluid style, temperamental character, and humanist education. One of his friends and admirers, Hortensio Félix Paravicino y Arteaga (1580-1633) the Spanish poet, preacher, and a member of the Trinitarian Order, wrote for the artist “O Greek divine! We wonder not that in thy works / The imagery surpasses actual being.” Paravicino also wrote, foreseeing Theotokopoulos’s legacy “Future generations will admire his strange genius, but for centuries he will not be imitated.” http://www.nccsc.net/essays/spanish-style 

The Agony in the Garden is a mature El Greco painting circa 1590, created in Toledo. The artist, known for his unique style that combined elements of Renaissance and Byzantine art, depicts the biblical scene of Jesus’ agony (in Greek, agonia, “agony”) in the Garden of Gethsemane, located on the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem before his arrest and crucifixion. Christ prays to God for strength and comfort. He is depicted as a tall and slender figure, surrounded by his disciples who are asleep. He is shown with his head raised to heaven, as he prays in a state of intense emotion and expressive distress. El Greco gives visual form to Matthew 26:42, My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done. http://emuseum.toledomuseum.org/objects/54729/the-agony-in-the-garden

My thoughts on why this is a very ‘special,’ one of my favourites, Theotokopoulos paintings:

The composition is unique! El Greco’s figures and landscape are isolated in individual pockets of ambiguous, shallow space. There are four such areas, the sleeping disciples, the imposing Angel to the left, the approaching Roman soldiers to the right, and Christ in the middle, depicted kneeling, praying… in agony. The contrast between the individual pockets of shallow space creates a sense of emotional tension, with Jesus in a state of intense distress and the disciples in peaceful slumber. http://emuseum.toledomuseum.org/objects/54729/the-agony-in-the-garden

El Greco’s use of light and color is one of the most distinctive features of his work. In The Agony in the Garden, the intense light source illuminates Jesus and creates a strong contrast with the dark background, emphasizing his centrality and importance. The use of warm, golden tones adds to the emotional impact of the scene.

The figures in the painting are depicted with elongated forms, a hallmark of El Greco’s style. The two larger figures in the composition, Christ in the middle and the Angel of Compassion and Consolation to the left, facing each other, contribute to the emotional and spiritual intensity of the scene and highlight the dramatic nature of Jesus’ anguish.

The Agony in the Garden is considered one of El Greco’s most important works and is considered a masterpiece of Spanish Renaissance art. It is widely regarded as one of the most powerful and expressive religious paintings of the period and continues to be widely admired and studied by art enthusiasts and scholars today.

For a Student Activity on Holy Thursday – Μεγάλη Πέμπτη, please… Check HERE!

Holy Monday – Μεγάλη Δευτέρα

Domenikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco), 1541 – 1614
Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple, c. 1570-75, oil on canvas, 115.57×147.32 cm, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, MN, USA https://collections.artsmia.org/art/278/christ-driving-the-money-changers-from-the-temple-el-greco

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.  And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city. (Mark 11:15-19 Holy Monday – Μεγάλη Δευτέρα) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark%2011&version=NIV

El Greco’s painting of Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple in The Minneapolis Institute of Arts presents a dramatic scene from the New Testament, told in all the Gospels. According to the Gospels, Jesus entered the Temple in Jerusalem and became angered by the commercial activities taking place there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and drove them out, accusing them of turning the temple into a marketplace. This scene was rarely painted in its own right before the Reformation. After the Council of Trent, it gained a new significance and for the Catholics, the image came to symbolize the purification of the Church through internal reform. https://collections.artsmia.org/art/278/christ-driving-the-money-changers-from-the-temple-el-greco

The Minneapolis painting is known for its powerful composition, dynamic figures, and vibrant colors. It was probably executed in Rome, in about 1570/1575. Set in a grand architectural interior, the scene reflects El Greco’s experiments with Italian linear perspective and break from the Byzantine style he employed in the Greek icons painted, while in Crete, in his youth. The composition seems less crowded, and the figures, distorted, but fuller and more clearly articulated, dominate the spatial setting. The lines are bold, the brushstrokes are expressive, and the colours are intense and pulsating. The use of light and shadow is masterful, casting a theatrical glow over the scene, highlighting the central figure of Christ, and adding to the sense of drama. Overall, the painting is a powerful and emotive depiction of this moment in the life of Jesus. https://collections.artsmia.org/art/278/christ-driving-the-money-changers-from-the-temple-el-greco

Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple is a theme that interested El Greco throughout his career. He painted this subject at least five times. What distinguishes the Minneapolis version is the inclusion of four male portrait heads in the lower-right corner of the painting. It turns out that these four men are famous artists whose lives and work inspired El Greco. They are four major figures in the arts during the Renaissance, and they are, from the left: Titian, Michelangelo, Giulio Clovio, and Raphael.

For Holy Monday – Μεγάλη Δευτέρα and a PowerPoint of all five versions of El Greco’s painting of Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple, please… Check HERE!

Domenikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco), 1541 – 1614
Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple (Detail), c. 1570-75, oil on canvas, 115.57×147.32 cm, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, MN, USA https://www.flickr.com/photos/museumnerd/5207337688

Face to Face with Emperor Ioannis VIII Palaiologos

Pisanello’s Medallion of Ioannis VIII Palaiologos, a loan from the Galleria Giorgio Franchetti at the Ca’ D’Oro, Venice, as exhibited in the Hôtel de la Marine, in Paris, France, My amateurish attempt at photography…

A page of Pisanello’s sketchbook in the Louvre Museum presents the mounted figure of the Byzantine Emperor Ioannis VIII Palaiologos and the short descriptive passage reads… The hat of the Emperor should be white on top and red underneath, the profile red all round. The doublet is green damask and the mantle on top crimson. A black beard on a pale face, hair and eyebrows alike. The eyes between grey and green, and the stooped shoulders of a small person. The boots of pale yellow leather; the sheath of the bow brown and grained, and also that of the quiver and of the scimitar. On the 5th of March, while in Paris, I visited the Hôtel de la Marine, and I came Face to Face with Emperor Ioannis VIII Palaiologos. Pisanello’s famous Medallion of the penultimate Byzantine Emperor was among the selected artifacts presented at the Exhibition Ca’ d’Oro, Masterpieces of the Renaissance in Venice (November 30, 2022 – May 7, 2023). I was touched… Some Preparatory Drawings for Pisanello’s Medallion of John VIII Palaeologus, by Michael Vickers, The Art Bulletin, Vol. 60, No. 3 (Sep. 1978), pp. 417-424 (8 pages) https://www.jstor.org/stable/3049816?read-now=1&seq=8#page_scan_tab_contents

Pisanello’s Medallion and two pages with preparatory drawings and comments, by Pisanello as well, one in the Louvre, the other in the Art Institute of Chicago, are vital in reconstructing the features and the physique of the Emperor. The Medallion I saw in Paris, like the rest of the exhibited artworks, loans from the Galleria Giorgio Franchetti at the Ca’ D’Oro, Venice, was an opportunity to read and refresh my knowledge of Ioannis VIII Palaionogos… his ‘works and days.’ https://www.thealthanicollection.com/hdlm/ca-doro-masterpieces-of-the-renaissance-in-venice

Ioannis VIII Palaiologos (or John VIII Palaiologos) was a Byzantine Emperor who ruled from 1425 to 1448. He was born on December 18, 1392, as the oldest son of Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos and Helena Dragaš. He was an intellectual, well-educated, and a patron of arts and learning. He was fluent in several languages, including Greek, Latin, and some Turkish. His reign was marked by a series of desperate attempts to save the Byzantine Empire from its rapid decline, particularly due to the increasing pressure from the Ottoman Empire.

In an effort to save his empire, he sought the aid of the West by advocating for a union of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. This led him to attend the Council of Ferrara/Florence (1438-1439), where he personally negotiated with Western leaders and agreed to a theological compromise that would allow for the churches to reunite. However, this decision was met with strong opposition from many within the Byzantine Empire, particularly the clergy and the people who saw the reunion as a betrayal of their Orthodox faith. Ultimately, the church union failed to secure the military and financial assistance Ioannis had hoped for, and the empire’s decline, continued, with a loss of territory and influence. Ioannis VIII Palaiologos died on October 31, 1448. Five years later, the Byzantine Empire ceased to exist. It was the 29th of May, 1453.

The Medallion of John VIII Palaiologos is a bronze portrait medal created by the renowned Italian artist Pisanello in 1438. This medallion, an outstanding example of Renaissance art, is considered one of the earliest examples of portrait medals in the history of art and stands as a testament to the diplomatic, cultural, and artistic exchanges that occurred during this tumultuous period in history. The medal is not only significant for its portrayal of the Byzantine Emperor but also for its role in the development of the art of medal-making in Europe.

Pisanello, c. 1395 – 1455
Medal with John VIII Palaeologus (Ioánnis VIII), Emperor of Constantinople, 1438, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, USA
https://www.nga.gov/collection/artist-info.2228.html#works

Looking at Pisanello’s portrait of the Emperor, I wonder how John VIII Palaiologos felt during his trip to Italy. I am sure he hoped that by engaging in negotiations and pushing for the reunification of the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, he could secure much-needed assistance from Western Europe. At the same time, he was also likely to have felt anxiety and pressure. The theological differences between the two churches were deeply rooted, and reaching a compromise would be a delicate and complex process. Furthermore, the Byzantine Emperor had to navigate diplomatic and protocol arrangements that were probably, at times, difficult and offensive, to put it politely.

Pisanello keeps his distance from the political intrigues and nuances. On the obverse side, the Emperor is depicted, in profile, dignified, imposing, and elegantly groomed. The artist displays individualized facial features, such as his well-groomed beard, high forehead, and strong nose. These details suggest an attempt to capture the likeness of the Emperor, rather than relying on stylized or idealized forms that were common in earlier periods. The clothing and adornments the Emperor wears, like his characteristic hat, reflect the luxurious aspects of Byzantine culture and provide a sense of authenticity to his portrayal. Around the perimeter of the obverse side, an inscription, in Greek, identifies the Emperor by name and title.

The reverse side of Pisanello’s Medallion, ‘signed’ by the artist in Latin and Greek, shows something entirely different. The Emperor, identified by his characteristic hat, is depicted astride his famous Eastern European horse, groomed for hunting. He is probably presented in the area of his residence, a convent outside Ferrara, where he indulged in his passion for the chase during the autumn of 1438. Was the Emperor depicted enjoying ‘personal time’ of relaxation, away from tension and stress? I wish he did…

For a PowerPoint inspired by Face to Face with Emperor Ioannis VIII Palaiologos, please… Check HERE!

For Face to Face with Emperor Ioannis VIII Palaiologos and Pisanello’s Medallion, please Check…

Some Prepatory Drawings for Pisanello’s Medallion of John VIII Palaeologus, by Michael Vickers, The Art Bulletin, Vol. 60, No. 3 (September 1978), pp. 417-424 (8 pages) https://www.jstor.org/stable/3049816?read-now=1&seq=8#page_scan_tab_contents

Some Notes on Pisanello and the Council of Florence, by James A. Fasanelli, Master Drawings, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Spring, 1965), pp. 36-47+84-93 (22 pages) https://www.jstor.org/stable/1552781?read-now=1&seq=10#page_scan_tab_contents

The Emperor John VIII Slept Here… by Kenneth M. Setton, Speculum, Vol. 33, No. 2 (April 1958), pp. 222-228 (8 pages) https://www.jstor.org/stable/2850780?read-now=1&seq=8#page_scan_tab_contents

GIOVANNI BELLINI Influences croisées

Giovanni Bellini, c. 1435/40 – 1516
The Madonna and Child at a Ledge with an Apple: “The Philips Madonna”, c.1459-1460, tempera, oil and gold on a panel of poplar, 76.8 x 53 cm,  Private collection
https://www.sortiraparis.com/album-photo/101484-exposition-giovanni-bellini-musee-jacquemart-andre

Giovanni Bellini opened the way to the art of colour and tones that came to be characteristic of the art of the sixteenth century in Venice… 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). For a private, intimate, Museum like the Jacquemart-André, gathering fifty artworks of the great Venetian master, from public and private European collections, some of which were put on display for the first time, this exhibition was one more great accomplishment. The Exhibition’s goal is to compare the artist’s works with those of his intellectual models, and thus showcase how his artistic language has never ceased to renew itself while developing its very own unique style. Not an easy task… but in creating an effective ‘dialogue’ between Bellini’s works and the ‘models’ that inspired them… the Museum experts were successful in organizing a most interesting Exhibition! While in Paris for four days, the Musée Jacquemart-André Exhibition on Bellini was the first to visit, and thoroughly enjoy it! https://www.musee-jacquemart-andre.com/en/giovanni-bellini

The Exhibition Poster at the Musée Jacquemart-André

Giovanni Bellini (c. 1430 – 1516) was an Italian Renaissance painter, considered one of the greatest Venetian painters of the 15th century. Born in Venice, he was part of a famous family of artists, including his father Jacopo Bellini, his brother Gentile, and his brother-in-law Andrea Mantegna. His style is characterized by the use of rich, glowing colors, an interest in light and atmospheric effects, and his ability to create a sense of depth and space in his paintings. He is known for his religious paintings, which often featured devotional themes such as the Madonna and Child.

Giovanni Bellini, c. 1435/40 – 1516
The Madonna and Child at a Ledge with an Apple: “The Philips Madonna”, c.1459-1460, tempera, oil, and gold on a panel of poplar, 76.8 x 53 cm,  Private collection
https://www.sothebys.com/en/buy/auction/2022/master-paintings-sculpture-part-i/the-madonna-and-child-at-a-ledge-with-an-apple-the

The Madonna and Child at a Ledge with an Apple, also known as The Philips Madonna, caught my eye. I am always attracted to Byzantine-influenced Venetian paintings of the Madonna, and Bellini’s Phillips Madonna, painted circa 1460 was no exception. In 1453, when Constantinople fell into the hands of the Ottoman Empire, thousands of refugees flocked to Venice, bringing with them many Greek manuscripts, icons, and relics. It was only natural for the young artist, who had just set up an independent workshop in 1459 in the parish of San Lio, near the Rialto Bridge, to be attracted to an artistic tradition with deep roots in his native city. https://www.musee-jacquemart-andre.com/en/giovanni-bellini

My amateurish iPhone attempt…

Yet, Bellini’s progressive approach to the subject of the Madonna and Child is evident. The Philips Madonna gold ground on which the image is painted represents the Byzantine influence still evident and popular in the city of Venice, but the dynamism of the pose of the figure of the infant Christ… demonstrates Bellini’s awareness of the “new style” being formulated throughout Italy. https://www.sothebys.com/en/buy/auction/2022/master-paintings-sculpture-part-i/the-madonna-and-child-at-a-ledge-with-an-apple-the

Giovanni Bellini, c. 1435/40 – 1516
The Madonna and Child at a Ledge with an Apple: “The Philips Madonna”, c.1459-1460, tempera, oil and gold on a panel of poplar, 76.8 x 53 cm,  Private collection
https://www.sothebys.com/en/buy/auction/2022/master-paintings-sculpture-part-i/the-madonna-and-child-at-a-ledge-with-an-apple-the
Attributed to Donatello, 1386–1466
Madonna and Child (The Borromeo Madonna), circa 1450, terracotta, 83.5×52.1 cm, Kimbell Art Museum, TX, USA https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Donatello_Borromeo_Madonna_Kimbell.jpg
Putti of the throne of Saturn, 1st century AD, marble, 58,5 x 69 cm, National Archaeological Museum of Venice https://www.facebook.com/archeovenezia/photos/a.335181736569328/3017256798361795/?type=3

According to Sotheby’s experts, who auctioned the painting on the 27th of January 2022, Bellini’s composition echoes the terracotta reliefs of this same theme by Donatello, whose own work had made such an impression in Venetian artistic circles during the previous two decades. The painting’s Child is also connected, by Mauro Lucco, to the putti in the so-called “Trono di Saturno,” a pair of ancient reliefs that decorated an archway between Piazza San Marco and the Frezzaria. These amazing Roman bas-reliefs furnished inspiration not just for Donatello and Giovanni Bellini, but also for Mantegna, Titian, and Sansovino.

A delightful painting in an Exhibition worth visiting!

For a Student Activity on GIOVANNI BELLINI Influences croisées, please… Check HERE!

Eros and the Bee

Lucas Cranach the Elder, c. 1472-1553
Venus with Cupid Stealing Honey, 1530, Oil on Panel, 38 x 58 cm, Statens Museum for Kunst, Denmark
https://open.smk.dk/artwork/image/KMSsp719

A wicked bee once filching Eros stung, / As from hive unto hive the sly god flew. / Looting the flower-sweet honeycombs among; / With finger-tips all pierced he cried and blew     /    
His hand, and stamped upon the ground with pain, / And vaulted in the air; to Aphrodite / Sadly he came commencing to complain, / “Although the bee is small his wound is mighty.”     /     Then said his mother smiling, “Are you not / A creature small just like the bee, I pray? / But ne’ertheless it must not be forgot— / The cruel wounds you deal—how great are they!”
Idyll XIX, Eros, and the Bee, attributed to the ancient Greek Poet Theocritus of the 3rd century BC, is the source of inspiration for a number of paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder depicting an alluring Venus, and Eros, a stolen piece of honeycomb in hand, stung by Bees.  My favourite version, in the SMK Art Museum in Denmark, is expecting us to probe and explore… http://nicholasjv.blogspot.com/2009/11/sweetness-of-honey-and-sting-of-bees.html

Venus with Cupid as a honey thief was probably one of the most successful mythology-inspired compositions created by the German artist of the Renaissance period Lucas Cranach the Elder. Scholars suggest there are twenty versions of the same theme, dated between 1527 and 1545, painted by the artist, his workshop, or followers of his theme and style.

Lucas Cranach the Elder, c. 1472-1553
Cupid complaining to Venus, c. 1526–27, Oil on Panel, 81.3×54.6 cm, National Gallery, London, UK
Venus and Cupid as Honey Thief, 1527, on beech wood, 83×58.2 cm, Güstrow Castle, Germany
Venus and Cupid, the Honey Thief, 1529, Oil and Tempera on Beech Wood, 38.1×23.5 cm, Cook collection, National Gallery, London UK
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cupid_complaining_to_Venus
Lucas Cranach the Elder, c. 1472-1553
Venus and Cupid, 1531, Oil on Panel, 51×35 cm, Fondation Bemberg, Toulouse, France
Venus and Cupid, the Honey Thief, circa 1537, Oil on Lime Panel, 50.1×34.4 cm,
Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, Germany
Venus with Cupid as a Honey Thief against a Black Background, 1537, Oil on Lime Panel, 175.4×66.3 cm, Bavarian State Painting Collections, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Munich, Germany
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cupid_complaining_to_Venus

These paintings depict the same two figures, Venus, the Greek Goddess of beauty and love in glorious nudity, and her son, Eros, god of love as well, holding a stolen piece of honeycomb, stung by bees, and in obvious pain. My favourite painting of Venus with Cupid Stealing Honey is exhibited in the Statens Museum for Kunst in Denmark and combines all the important elements of the composition.

In the upper, left corner of the painting in Denmark, a sign with a reference to Idyll XIX of Theocritus clearly explains the theme. “As Cupid was stealing honey from the hive / A bee stung the thief on the finger / And so do we seek transitory and dangerous pleasures. / That are mixed with sadness and bring us pain.” The wording does not reproduce Theocritus’ exact Greek text, but rather a Latin epigram based on the poem. Painted on a cream-coloured ‘panel’ on the upper left side of the painting, the epigram is related to the work of the great German humanist Philipp Melanchthon. with whom Cranach was closely connected in producing illustrations for Luther’s Bible translation. (A short but comprehensive presentation of Philipp Melanchthon’s contribution to Humanism in Germany… Melanchthon: A German Humanist by A. Pelzer Wagener, The Classical Weekly, Vol. 22, No. 20 (Mar. 25, 1929), pp. 155-160 (6 pages). I particularly like his point of view that Greek and Latin should be studied side by side by all who sought to grasp the substance of the involved rather than its shadow”. https://www.jstor.org/stable/4389299?read-now=1&seq=2#page_scan_tab_contents) https://open.smk.dk/artwork/image/KMSsp719

Lucas Cranach the Elder, c. 1472-1553
Venus with Cupid Stealing Honey (Detail), 1530, Oil on Panel, 38 x 58 cm, Statens Museum for Kunst, Denmark
https://open.smk.dk/artwork/image/KMSsp719
Lucas Cranach the Elder, c. 1472-1553
Venus with Cupid Stealing Honey (Detail), 1530, Oil on Panel, 38 x 58 cm, Statens Museum for Kunst, Denmark
https://open.smk.dk/artwork/image/KMSsp719

Examining Cranach’s painting at SMK, depicting Venus, Eros, and the landscape that surrounds them, I see, compared to the rest of Cranach’s paintings of the same theme. elegance and grace, an understated sense of humor, and a subtle mood of morality. The Landscape, in a true Norther European Renaissance tradition, is glorious, lush, and detailed. It invites you to examine the luxurious foliage, the city reflections on the depicted water, and the travelers’ mannerisms. Eros, a blond toddler with blue wings, ever so charming, is displaying his surprise and pain with gusto. Venus looks at the viewer, and laughs, explaining to him that the effect is comparable to the wounds he himself inflicts on all those struck by his arrows. What a painting to consider Love, Euphoria, and Heartache!

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

Lucas Cranach the Elder, c. 1472-1553
Venus with Cupid Stealing Honey (Detail), 1530, Oil on Panel, 38 x 58 cm, Statens Museum for Kunst, Denmark
https://open.smk.dk/artwork/image/KMSsp719

Saint John the Baptist by Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci, 1452-1519
Saint John the Baptist, 1508–1519 (?), Oil on walnut wood, 69×57 cm, the Louvre, Paris, France https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_John_the_Baptist_(Leonardo)#/media/File:Leonardo_da_Vinci_-_Saint_John_the_Baptist_C2RMF_retouched.jpg

…an Angel who raises in the air an arm whose part from the shoulder to the elbow, coming forward, appears in foreshortening, while with the other he brings his hand to his heart. And it is an admirable thing that this genius (Leonardo), having the desire to give the greatest relief to his works, had, with the dark shade, gone to find some of the darkest backgrounds, so much so that he was looking for blacks that shade and were darker than the other blacks, so that by their means the light would be more lucid, and that, in the end, there would have resulted from it this manner so dark that, not remaining there any light, his works had the appearance of things. made to counterfeit night rather than the finesse of daylight; but all this was intended to give a greater relief, to reach the end and the perfection of the art. This is how Vasari describes a now-lost Leonardo painting in the collection of the Grand Duke Cosimo I. Could Saint John the Baptist by Leonardo da Vinci be the natural development of a previous composition by the master? https://collections.louvre.fr/en/ark:/53355/cl010062374

I carefully read Vincent Delieuvin, July 2021 text, on the Louvre presentational page for Saint John the Baptist. I also read The Mysterious Meaning of Leonardo’s “Saint John the Baptist” by Paul Barolsky, and Vasari’s Life of Leonardo just to remind myself of the painter’s significance. The bibliography is exhaustive… the scholarly opinions diverse… and I need to read more! https://collections.louvre.fr/en/ark:/53355/cl010062374 and https://www.jstor.org/stable/23202683 and http://www.artist-biography.info/artist/leonardo_da_vinci/

I particularly like how Paul Barolsky relates the painting in the Louvre, to the first verses of the Gospel according to Saint John: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not stopped it. There was a man sent by God; his name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness to the Light, that all might believe through him. This man was not the Light, but he was there to bear witness to the Light. https://bible.usccb.org/bible/john/1 and https://www.jstor.org/stable/23202683

For Vincent Delieuvin of the Louvre, Leonardo’s Saint John the Baptist is undoubtedly the most accomplished illustration of the Gospel’s text where the last prophet is defined as the witness of the light. The artist uses chiaroscuro to stress the spirituality of the scene. He also uses the characteristic gesture of the upraised hand, expressive as well as prophetic, to create the ideal twist of a body, the perfect rendering of the play of light and shadow to magnify movement, build volume and enliven the smile, with an extraordinary economy of means, almost colourless.

What a journey… so many questions I cannot answer!

For a PowerPoint on St John’s ‘gesture’, please… Check HERE!

Simon Bening’s December

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book December (f. 29v), c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK
https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/calendars/page/10/

Last, for December, houses on the plain,  /  Ground-floors to live in, logs heaped mountain-high,  /  And carpets stretched, and newest games to try,  /  And torches lit, and gifts from man to man  /  (Your host, a drunkard and a Catalan);  /  And whole dead pigs, and cunning cooks to ply  /  Each throat with tit-bits that shall satisfy;  /  And wine-butts of Saint Galganus’ brave span.  /  And be your coats well-lined and tightly bound,  /  And wrap yourselves in cloaks of strength and weight,  /  With gallant hoods to put your faces through.  /  And make your game of abject vagabond  /  Abandoned miserable reprobate  /  Misers; don’t let them have a chance with you. My new BLOG POST, Simon Bening’s December starts with a sonnet by Folgore Da San Geminiano (c. 1250-1317), translated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in his book “Dante and His Circle,” (Roberts Brothers, Boston, 1893).     http://www.sonnets.org/folgore.htm

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, December (f. 29v and f. 30r), c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK
http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=add_ms_24098_fs001r

The 16th-century Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, is a very unique and special manuscript in the Collection of the British Library. Unfortunately, the Golf Book is not, in its present state, a complete manuscript as most of the text is now missing. Thirty parchment leaves, however, remain, twenty-one pages of which, are full-page miniatures, in colours and gold, surrounded by a historiated border (12 pages are part of the Calendar section). The remaining forty pages feature historiated borders as well, that incorporate medallions, architectonic decoration, and cameos in grisaille and semi-grisaille. The text pages present large and small initials and line-fillers, in colours and gold. Simon Bening (d. 1561), with the assistance of his workshop, was the artist from Bruges responsible for this amazing manuscript. Bening’s accomplishments will feature in the Month of February Presentation. http://searcharchives.bl.uk/primo_library/libweb/action/dlDisplay.do?docId=IAMS032-002031376&fn=permalink&vid=IAMS_VU2

December is the Month to celebrate the Birth of Christ, it is also preparation time for the festivities that are about to begin! Simon Bening’s December (f. 29v) page introduces the viewer to a composition depicting the December Labours of the Month.

The painting’s December scene takes place in the courtyard of a country estate between two separate buildings. The estate, neatly fenced, extends to the hills in the background where two gentlemen with their huntsmen can be seen in the background setting off to hunt a stag being hounded in the top part by a pack of dogs. Further in the background, a church’s spire indicates the presence of a Flemish village. https://www.moleiro.com/en/books-of-hours/the-golf-book-book-of-hours/miniatura/167

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, December (Details, f. 29v), c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK
http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=add_ms_24098_fs001r
Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, December (Detail, f. 29v), c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK
http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=add_ms_24098_fs001r

The foreground of the composition depicts a slaughterman pinning an animal down with his right knee whilst slitting its throat and moving its leg to make its blood flow quickly into the skillet held by a female assistant. Behind them, preparation for baking bread is underway. To the right, a woman kneads bread dough in a large well-constructed trough. To the left side of the composition, a woman breaks branches of firewood with her hands to feed the fire of the oven where bread was baked, two loaves are ready and resting on a wooden bench. It is obvious more baking will take place, as a peasant harries up bringing four more loaves on top of a wooden try. This is a scene full of energy and anticipation… for the aristocracy and the depicted peasants days of festivities and feasting are about to come… for the depicted magpie perched on the estate’s fence, anticipation will end very soon.. the peasants will soon finish their jobs and he will be able to taste the leftovers of their labours.

For a PowerPoint on the  Golf Book, please… Check HERE!

Simon Bening’s November

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book November (f. 28v), c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK
https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/calendars/page/10/

I like spring, but it is too young. I like summer, but it is too proud. So I like best of all autumn, because its leaves are a little yellow, its tone mellower, its colours richer, and it is tinged a little with sorrow and a premonition of death. Its golden richness speaks not of the innocence of spring, nor of the power of summer, but of the mellowness and kindly wisdom of approaching age. It knows the limitations of life and is content. From a knowledge of those limitations and its richness of experience emerges a symphony of colours, richer than all, its green speaking of life and strength, its orange speaking of golden content and its purple of resignation and death… writes Lin Yutang (1895-1976) in  My Country and My People. Do we see sorrow and a premonition in Simon Bening’s November page? https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/123171-i-like-spring-but-it-is-too-young-i-like

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book November (f. 28v and f. 29r), c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK
https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/calendars/page/10/

Simon Bening, combining autumnal tones of cool, greys and blues, and warm ochre and reds, organized a “busy” three parts composition. The background sets the tone! Outside a well-tended, fenced farm, the Flemish countryside turns to winter. The land has been harvested, and the tall (poplar?) trees are thinning out, dropping their leaves. The sky is clear, but the birds fly low, suggesting a change in the weather. The middle ground of folio 28verso is my favourite. The depicted Flemish farm is bustling with activity! Peasants, male and female, can be seen feeding their chickens and pigs, while laborers are busy preparing the farm’s buildings for winter!

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book November (f. 28v and f. 29r, Details), c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK
https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/calendars/page/10/

While the farmers are shown busy with various activities, the scene in the foreground of folio 28verso, the return of the group of hunters, presents the aristocratic activity of hunting. The portrayed nobleman, in the center of the foreground area, dominates the composition. Riding his auburn mount, wearing gloves and carrying a fine javelin or thin whip in his left hand, he gallops next to a white horse, that carries the trophy of the day, a magnificently antlered stag. The two horses and their “riders” are flanked by the servants who must have hounded and attacked the “trophy” animal. The servant in front, the master of the hunt, with a spear leaning on his left shoulder and a large, sheathed knife hanging from one side of his belt and a hunting horn hanging from the other, holds the leashes of two whippets. The only visible part of the servant at the back of the group is the lance leaning on his right shoulder. They are followed by two pairs of dogs. The full-page miniature scene for November is dedicated to Hunting which takes center stage! https://www.moleiro.com/en/books-of-hours/the-golf-book-book-of-hours/miniatura/166

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, November (Detail, f. 28v), c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK https://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=add_ms_24098_fs001r

The 16th-century Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, is a very unique and special manuscript in the Collection of the British Library. Unfortunately, the Golf Book is not, in its present state, a complete manuscript as most of the text is now missing. Thirty parchment leaves, however, remain, twenty one pages of which, are full-page miniatures, in colours and gold, surrounded by a historiated border (12 pages are part of the Calendar section). The remaining forty pages feature historiated borders as well, that incorporate medallions, architectonic decoration, and cameos in grisaille and semi-grisaille. The text pages present large and small initials and line-fillers, in colours and gold. Simon Bening (d. 1561), with the assistance of his workshop, was the artist from Bruges responsible for this amazing manuscript. Bening’s accomplishments will feature in the Month of February Presentation.  http://searcharchives.bl.uk/primo_library/libweb/action/dlDisplay.do?docId=IAMS032-002031376&fn=permalink&vid=IAMS_VU2

For a PowerPoint on the  Golf Book, please… Check HERE!

For a Student Activity on Simon Bening’s November page, please… Check HERE!

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book November (f. 29r)c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK
https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/calendars/page/10/
Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book November (f. 29r, Detail)c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK
https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/calendars/page/10/

Autumn by Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, 1527-1593
The Four Seasons – Autumn, 1573, oil on canvas, 76×64 cm, Louvre Museum, Paris, France https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Arcimboldo_Oto%C3%B1o.jpg

The peasant celebrates with song and dance the harvest safely gathered in. The cup of Bacchus flows freely, and many find their relief in deep slumber.     /     The singing and the dancing die away / as cooling breezes fan the pleasant air, / inviting all to sleep / without a care.     /     The hunters emerge at dawn, / ready for the chase, / with horns and dogs and cries. / Their quarry flees while they give chase. / Terrified and wounded, the prey struggles on, / but, harried, dies. This is Antonio Lucio Vivaldi’s (1678 – 1741) Sonnet L’Autunno (Autumn). The great composer wrote it as a descriptive accompaniment, experts believe, for the music of his “Four Seasons.” Today, I took the time to listen, read and look at Autumn by Giuseppe Arcimboldo! It was a magical time! https://www.charlottesymphony.org/blog/vivaldis-four-seasons-poems/

A scion of a noble and artistic family, his father was an artist, and his uncle held the position of Archbishop of Milan, Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1526–1593) was in all probability introduced to artists, scholars, and writers from a young age. Born and raised in Milan, the cradle of Renaissance naturalism, young Arcimboldo learnt a mode of artistic expression based on the direct observation of nature. Well-trained as an artist Arcimboldo was commissioned to do exceptional work at the age of 21. For example, in 1549 he was commissioned to design stained glass windows for the Duomo, in 1551 he painted coats of arms for the future Emperor, Ferdinand I, in 1556, he created frescoes for the Cathedral of Monza; and, in 1558, he drew the cartoon for the Dormition of the Virgin tapestry, which remains on display in the Como Cathedral in Lombardi to this day. https://www.theartstory.org/artist/arcimboldo-giuseppe/life-and-legacy/#biography_header and file:///C:/Users/aspil/OneDrive/Blog/Renaissance%20Mannerism/Arcimboldo%20ScoopNGA.pdf

In 1573 Giuseppe Arcimboldo painted a series of paintings of the four seasons for Habsburg Emperor Maximillian II. Autumn is one of them… with a berry for an eye, a pear for a nose, and grapes and leaves for a crown of hair, Arcimboldo’s Autumn is as captivating and quizzical as it was 500 years ago. https://news.artnet.com/art-world/giuseppe-arcimboldo-autumn-three-things-2039018

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, 1527-1593
The Four Seasons – Autumn (detail), 1573, oil on canvas, 76×64 cm, Louvre Museum, Paris, France
https://news.artnet.com/art-world/giuseppe-arcimboldo-autumn-three-things-2039018

Interestingly, while Spring and Summer appear as youthful women, Autumn and Winter have the faces of grizzled old men. Autumn is presented with rough features looking to the left. His thick neck, made up of pears and root vegetables, emerges from a partially destroyed wine barrel. His face is made of apples, and pears, a chestnut for his mouth, and a pomegranate for his chin. The mushroom ear is adorned with a fig-shaped earring, and the hair, made up of bunches of different-coloured grapes, is crowned with a pumpkin bonnet! How more Autumnal Arcimboldo’s portrait can be!

For a PowerPoint of the Four Seasons by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, please… Check HERE!

I would like to draw your attention to a modern take of Arcimboldo’s The 4 Seasons paintings… a set of four-and-a-half meters high fiberglass sculptures of the Four Seasons by American artist and filmmaker Philip Haas, created in 2012. Interesting… to say the least! https://crystalbridges.org/blog/the-four-seasons-philip-haas-interprets-giuseppe-arcimboldo/

Philip Haas, b. 1954
The Four Seasons – Autumn, 2012, fiberglass, H. 4.572 m, first seen in the garden of the Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, UK
https://laughingsquid.com/giant-head-sculptures-representing-four-seasons/

Simon Bening’s October

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book October (f. 27v), c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK
https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/calendars/page/10/

Reading Thomas Parker’sarticle on Rabelais’s Table and the Poets of the Pléiade, I came across Autumn by Jacques Peletier du Mans, one of the early members of the Pléiade… Winey Bacchus readies his hoops, / Prepares wine presses, and repairs vessels. / The harvester has his feet completely soiled / From stamping and squashing the grapes. / And this first run (mère goutte) taste / That the pressed grape gives, / In an undulating torrent / Flows into the vat, / And the large barrel works hard, and groans / In a torturous embracing of the must…I thought, once more, of the Golf Book and of Simon Bening’s October miniature page depicting the harvest of wine grapes and the process of wine-making. https://content.ucpress.edu/chapters/12622.ch01.pdf

Wine-making, and the more agreeable labour of wine-tasting, write the British Library experts, is the focus of the main calendar page for the month of October. Simon Bening provides us with visual representations of the Flemish wine “industry,” sommelier aesthetics, and regional identity in the Renaissance. https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/calendars/page/10/

Looking at folio 28v is like reading a specialized wine “vocabulary” book, where a representation of vineyards, a fancy screw wine press, barrels, and grape must, is complete… almost with the sounds of groaning…

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, October (Details, f. 27v), c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=add_ms_24098_fs001r

The entire scene is filled with different tasks related to the grape harvest on a lord’s estate, writes Dr. Carlos Miranda García-Tejedor. One nobleman next to his residence offers another a bowl of the wine obtained from his harvest whilst a woman, a lady and a servant holding a pitcher in his hand look on. Beside them are servants carrying out different tasks: filling a barrel with the grape juice flowing from the screw press turned by two peasants; sealing the casks, well-decorated with vine leaves, with a hammer or hatchet; collecting juice for tasting and wine in a barrel, as shown by one of the servants, with a dog beside him, kneeling with a small pitcher in his hand; and, as can be seen in the mid-ground, grape picking, as shown by a man with a large basket or qualus on his back coming through the entrance arch of the stately house crowned by a peacock. The harvest is set in the mountainous landscape in the background, shown in a fine aerial perspective. https://www.moleiro.com/en/books-of-hours/the-golf-book-book-of-hours/miniatura/165

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, October (Detail, f. 27v), c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=add_ms_24098_fs001r
Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, October (Detail, f. 27v), c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=add_ms_24098_fs001r

Simon Bening’s October page depicting scenes of grape-harvesting and grape-tasting gives me the perfect opportunity to introduce my students to viticulture and viniculture! The scientific term “viticulture” refers to the science, study, and production of grapes. The term “viniculture” also refers to the science, study, and production of grapes, but, specifically to grapes for wine. https://www.pacificrimandco.com/blog/viniculture-vs-viticulture

My goal is to focus on Viticulture and plan a variety of Student Activities… HERE!

For a PowerPoint on the  Golf Book, please… Check HERE!

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book October (f. 27v and f. 28r), c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK
https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/calendars/page/10/