An Unlike Comparison

Shrine Head, by unknown Ife (Nigeria) artist, 12th-14th century, Terracotta, 31.1 x 14.6 x 18.4 cm, Minneapolis Institute of Art, MN
Roger van der Weyden, Portrait of a Lady, c. 1460, oil on oak panel, 34 × 25.5 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

They are both beautiful and aristocratic, they look demure but haughty, they represent two different cultures… two different continents, yet they share an “attitude” I find intriguing! Can they be compared? An Unlike Comparison is a RWAP (Research-Writing-Art-Project) my students like a lot!!!

The Yoruba people have a long tradition in creating unique terracotta portrait sculptures characterized by naturalism and a sense of individuality and humanism. The Minneapolis Institute of Art Shrine Head is striking… blending aesthetic charisma with strong technical skills. The Ife Lady in Minneapolis has a lovely oval face with almond-shaped eyes under heavy lids, full cheeks, and fleshy lips. She has a condescending attitude in the way she carries her posture, she looks decorously downwards, yet, you can easily “imagine the glint in her eye and the gleam of her lips.” The unknown artist of this amazing portrait follows the Yoruba fashion of the time and the face is rendered with “vertical lines following the natural contours of the woman’s face…” This is a tradition “associated with scarification, the practice of cutting designs into the skin as marks of beauty and lineage.” There is, however, a new theory among scholars suggesting that “the lines may be shadows cast by the veiled royal crown worn in her day.” https://collections.artsmia.org/art/4866/shrine-head-yoruba

Rogier van der Weyden is an unquestionably charismatic portraitist. He has the ability to “grasp” the essence of the sitter and “deliver” it, pure and genuine. He is also able to create balanced compositions, combining the elements of art and expressing “an aristocratic ideal of control.” The NGA Portrait of a Lady, a member of the flamboyant court of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, is one such example. May I say, my favorite? Her name may be lost to us, but her high position in Burgundian court is, however, undisputed. She poses as the grand lady she is, in three-quarters view, resting her clasped hands under her chest, exquisitely groomed and dressed, eyes cast down, tranquil… lost in her thoughts. Is she? Rogier van der Weyden rendered her with great “affection.” Every aspect of the composition is well thought… the fall of the veil, the V of the neckline, the triangles formed by dark color schemes, the sharp juxtaposition of black and white in the sitter’s dress, and finally, la pièce de résistance, the bright red ornate belt, in the lowest part of the painting, behind her clasping hands, heightening up her rosy, fleshy lips. How masterful can Rogier be! https://www.nga.gov/collection/highlights/van-der-weyden-portrait-of-a-lady.html

Grade 10 student work

This is An Unlike Comparison, we love to talk about in my Secondary School Art History class and a RWAP (Research-Writing-Art-Project) my students really like to explore.

For the Student RWAP, please… click HERE!

For a PowerPoint, please… click HERE!

Feast of the Gods

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Feast_of_the_Gods#/media/File:Feastofthegods.jpg

The Feast of the Gods is the story of a Renaissance Patron of the Arts, three Master Painters and a… very special Room, the camerino d’alabastro (alabaster study) of the Ferrara Castle.

The story starts with the desire of Duke Alfonso d’Este to decorate his studiolo, the camerino d’alabastro, with a series of bacchanals, mythological paintings that celebrate Bacchus and Venus, the gods of wine and love. Alfonso’s private studiolo in Ferrara was his retreat, where he would collect, exhibit and admire his collection of ancient medals, antique statuettes, and mythological paintings, celebrating the delights of nature and love. It was a very private place, only a handful of people ever saw while the Duke was still alive. Soon after he died, the room was disassembled, the paintings were taken to Rome, ending up in Washington DC, London, and Madrid.

For his first bacchanal, Alfonso turned to Giovanni Bellini, the Venetian master, who “very old, but still the best there is” as Albrecht Dürer said in one of his letters, was famous at the time for his “luminous color that would be the glory of Venetian painting for centuries to come.” The Feast of the Gods, Bellini’s creation, turned to be a very unique painting. Bellini, reluctant at first, accepted the Duke’s invitation and drawing inspiration from Ovid’s Poems, created “a wooded pastoral setting, in which the gods, with Jupiter, Neptune, and Apollo among them, revel eating and drinking, attended by nymphs and satyrs.” The painting has all the characteristics of Bellini’s excellence: brilliant colors, lush pastoral setting, an engaging story and an ambiance of sensuality.

The painting was completed in 1514 but a few years later Alfonso commissioned two artists, Dosso Dossi and Titian, to rework parts of the painting’s landscape background. Dosso Dossi changed parts of the landscape on the left side and added a pheasant resting on bright foliage at the upper right part of the painting. Then, Bellini’s student, Titian, added his own alterations. He reworked Dosso’s alterations adding the dramatic, mountainous backdrop that can be seen now, leaving only Dosso’s pheasant intact. The painted figures and decorative elements of the painting were untouched and remain Bellini’s own. There is, however, an enigma and further questions! “Did Alfonso, an amateur painter who was reported to fancy pheasants, paint the bird himself? Did Alfonso “picture” himself in another way as well? Some evidence suggests that Feast of the Gods contains cryptic references to the duke’s marriage to Lucrezia Borgia, perhaps even portraits of the couple.” https://www.nga.gov/collection/highlights/bellini-titian-the-feast-of-the-gods.html and https://www.nga.gov/collection/art-object-page.1138.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Feast_of_the_Gods#/media/File:Giovanni_Bellini_and_Titian_-_The_Feast_of_the_Gods_-_Detail-_trees_&_pheasant.jpg

Many scholars believe that Alfonso’s studiolo was the finest of its kind, a shining jewel box! The first commission went to the elderly Giovanni Bellini and the Feast of the Gods (NGA Washingon DC) was the result. Michelangelo and Raphael were also commissioned to create works of art for the Duke’s studiolo but their commissions never materialized.   With Bellini’s death in 1514, Titian, and the Duke’s court artist, Dosso Dossi, stepped in to complete this ambitious project. Dosso Dossi’s painting was destroyed centuries ago, but Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne (National Gallery, London) The Worship of Venus (Museo del Prado, Madrid) and the Bacchanal of the Andrians (Museo del Prado, Madrid) still survive to tell us their story. https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2003/feb/08/artsandhumanities.arts1

For Student Activity, please… check HERE!

The Month of January

The Month of January, late 14thcentury-latest 1407, possibly by Maestro Venceslao, Fresco, Torre Aquila, Castello del Buonconsiglio in Trento, Italy
https://www.cultura.trentino.it/eng/Cultural-venues/All-cultural-venues/Documentation-centres2/Torre-Aquila-Aquila-Tower

The Month of January is a fresco, and it 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. 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.

The Cycle of the Twelve Months is a favourite theme in the arts of the Middle Ages and the Early Renaissance. Often linked to the signs of the Zodiac, the Cycle of the Months is often perceived as a link between the work of man, the seasons of the year and God’s ordering of the Universe. As a theme, it recurred in the sculptural decoration of cathedrals and churches across Europe, in illuminated manuscripts like the popular Books of Hours, palace frescoes and rarely, panel painting.

The fresco panels in Torre Aquila are rare and special. They document life in the Trentino area, with references to the aristocratic pastimes throughout the year, or the peasant activities and duties to their masters. They also depict a vivid landscape, romanticized even then, from bare and covered with snow, to rich and fertile, to autumnal, covered with fallen leaves.

The Trentino frescoes love presenting anecdotal details. The depiction of fashionable outfits for the rich, multicoloured and extravagant in style, or shabby for the farmers and artisans, is only one such striking example. The January panel is “a case in point: nowhere else in art do aristocrats come to play in the snow, men and women alike, chuckling snowballs about with determined, impish delight, their long sleeves dragging in the drifts. Oddly – but surely intentionally – the castle’s roof is snow-free, and its garden is full of summer growth. It’s an image of the warmth of their protected life. Maestro Venceslao was painting a dream, but he wanted to make it as real as possible…”

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

For a PowerPoint, please… check HERE!

For a Student Activity on the discussed Fresco Panel depicting the Month of January, please… check HERE!

Mystical Nativity by Sandro Botticelli

Sandro Botticelli, about 1445 – 1510
 Mystical Nativity, about 1501, Tempera on canvas, 108.6 x 74.9 cm, National Gallery, London

Our 1st Christmas story is about the… Mystical Nativity by Sandro Botticelli.

“I Sandro painted this picture at the end of the year 1500 in the troubles in Italy in the half time after the time according to the 11th chapter of St. John in the second woe of the Apocalypse…”

This small Botticelli painting makes us dream, encourages us to be pensive, romantic and adoring, urges us to study details in the composition, colours, conflicting perspectives and depicted figures. It is a mystery, difficult to solve! John Ruskin saw it in London and referring to its ‘mystic symbolism’ became the painting’s godfather! Its composition is rather unusual combining all of the traditional events of the birth of Jesus and more. Is Botticelli, an ardent follower of Girolamo Savonarola, presenting us with a vision of the Nativity inspired by the prophecies in the biblical Book of Revelation of Saint John? Does Botticelli’s Nativity reveal Christ’s second coming and the end of the world?”

“The infant Christ reaches up towards the Virgin Mary, oblivious of his visitors – the Three Kings on the left and the shepherds on the right. The golden dome of heaven has opened up and is circled by 12 angels holding olive branches entwined with scrolls and hung with crowns. In the foreground, three pairs of angels and men embrace; among their feet demons scuttle for shelter in the underworld through cracks in the rocks. The Greek inscription mentions ‘the troubles of Italy’, a reference to the invasion of the French, who took Naples in 1494 and Milan in 1499, and to the civil strife in Florence itself. Botticelli associated these events with the turmoil mentioned in the biblical Book of Revelation, which talks about the end of the world and Christ’s second coming. The period of upheaval it described would end upon Christ’s return, when the devil would be buried, as in this picture.” This is the description provided by the National Gallery of London https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/sandro-botticelli-mystic-nativity

For a PowerPoint on Botticelli’s Mystical Nativity, please… check HERE!

Cimabue – Giotto – Duccio

Cimabue – Giotto – Duccio, how important are they? You simply have to visit the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Hall 2 to be more specific, stand in front of these three monumental panels and allow their masters to take you on a trip to the late 13th, early 14th century revolutionary Italian Painting.

According to Giorgio Vasari,“…instead of paying attention to his literary studies, Cimabue, as if inspired by his nature, spent the whole day drawing men, horses, houses and various other fantasies in his books and papers.” Cenni di Pepo, known as Cimabue, is recognized as the last painter of the Italo-Byzantine style. Yet. he is credited to step forward in moving his art towards achieving the first hint of naturalism, paving the way for the next generation of great Italian masters.

O vanity of human powers, how briefly lasts the crowning green of glory, unless an age of darkness follows! In painting Cimabue thought he held the field but now it’s Giotto has the cry, so that the other’s fame is dimmed. Writes about Giotto, the poet Dante in Canto XI of his Purgatorio, and he is so right. Giotto creates “a new kind of pictorial space with an almost measurable depth” and figures that are “volumetric rather than linear” expressing “varied and convincingly human rather than stylized” emotions. Justifiably, Giotto is considered the father of modern European painting. https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/iptg/hd_iptg.htm

“Duccio, painter of Siena and much esteemed, deserved to carry off the palm (of an inventor in the Arts) from those who came many years after him…” writes Giorgio Vasari in his book The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects. Today, Duccio Duccio is considered to bring through his art elegance, lyricism, and spirituality along with spatial complexity and refined use of colours.

There are two Uffizi Gallery sites you simply need to visit: https://www.visituffizi.org/halls/hall-2-of-giotto-and-the-13th-century/ and https://www.virtualuffizi.com/13th-century-and-giotto-room.html

For a student Activity, my Grade 9 Art History students enjoy… click HERE!

A PowerPoint on the three Madonnas is… HERE!

Leonardo da Vinci

La Belle Ferronnière (detail), 1495 – 1499, oil on wood, 62 cm × 44 cm, Louvre Museum, Paris Photo Copyright: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-50127095
…and her mesmerizing eyes

Five hundred years ago, one of the greatest Renaissance Homo Universalis passed away at the Château du Clos Lucé, in the Loire Valley. The Louvre Museum, wishing to commemorate the fifth centenary of the artist’s death, organizes an International Retrospective Exhibition on Leonardo da Vinci and his oeuvre. https://www.louvre.fr/en/expositions/leonardo-da-vinci

The Louvre Museum in Paris holds the largest collection in the world of the artist’s paintings, five of the fourteen to seventeen paintings now attributed to Leonardo, as well as 22 drawings. This collection is the core of the Retrospective that will also present “the latest research findings, critical editions of key documents and the results of the latest analysis carried out in laboratories or during recent conservation treatment by the Louvre.” https://www.louvre.fr/en/leonardo-da-vinci

A unique feature that the Exhibition presents to its visitors is the Virtual Reality experience for the Mona Lisa painting, the first of its kind at the Louvre. Virtual Reality enables visitors to go through the glass-case that protects the Mona Lisa and see minute details within the painting invisible otherwise to the naked eye. https://arts.vive.com/us/articles/projects/art-photography/mona_lisa_beyond_the_glass/ and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Au_UpzhzHwk

The PowerPoint I use for my Art History class on the artist… is HERE!

Renaissance Triptych… fresh

Duccio di Buoninsegna, Sienese, c. 1255 – 1318
The Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel, a component of the original Maestà, 1308/1311, tempera on a single panel, NGA, Washington, DC

Renaissance Triptych… fresh is a RWAP (Research-Writing-Art-Project) designed for my high school elective class on Art History. It touches upon Sienese 14th century Art, Duccio, the great master of the time, his most important oeuvre, the Maestà altarpiece, and Triptych Icons.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Triptych as “a picture (such as an altarpiece) or carving in three panels side by side.” It further defines Triptych as having Greek roots. “Triptych derives from the Greek triptychos (“having three folds”), formed by combining tri- (“three”) and ptychē (“fold” or “layer”),” and it continues “although triptych originally described a specific type of Roman writing tablet that had three hinged sections, it is not surprising that the idea was generalized first to a type of painting, and then to anything composed of three parts.” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/triptych

Wonderful information on Duccio’s Maestà can be accessed at https://www.nga.gov/collection/art-object-page.10.html and basically https://www.nga.gov/collection/highlights/duccio-the-nativity-with-the-prophets-isaiah-and-ezekiel.html

“On the day on which it was carried to the Duomo, the shops were locked up . . . and all the populace and all the most worthy were in order next to the said panel with lights lit in their hands, and then behind were women and children with much devotion; and they accompanied it right to the Duomo . . . sounding all the bells in glory out of devotion for such a noble panel as was this.” Anonymous mid-14th-century description of a procession to carry Duccio’s Maestà from the artist’s studio to the Siena Cathedral (L. A. Muratori, Rerum italiarum scriptores (Bologna, 1931–1939), xv/6, 90

The Renaissance Triptych… fresh RWAP is… HERE!

For a PP on Student work inspired by Renaissance Triptych… fresh RWAP, please… check HERE!