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

Matisse Cut-Outs

Henri Matisse, 1869-1954
Polynésie, la mer, 1946, paper cut-outs painted in gouache glued on paper on canvas, 196 x 314 cm, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris

Henri Matisse once said… “There is no interruption between my older paintings and my Cut-Outs. Just that with an increasing sense of the absolute, and more abstraction, I have achieved a form that is simplified to its essence.” My students love Matisse Cut-Outs!

It all started back in the late 1940s when scissors assisted Matisse in turning almost exclusively to cut paper as his primary creative medium and thus… initiate his unique and famous Cut-Outs. There is something magical about Matisse’s Cut-Outs… they offer us such pure, candid, unreserved joy, our life, just by looking at them, becomes gratifying and amusing!

‘It was like drawing, but with scissors… there was sensuality in the cutting’
Henri Matisse on the Cut-Outs
Matisse working at the Hôtel Régina, Nice, c. 1952 on The Parakeet and the Mermaid
© Hélène Adant – Centre Pompidou – Mnam – Bibliothèque Kandinsky – Hélène Adant
https://www.tate.org.uk/tate-etc/issue-31-summer-2014/it-was-drawing-scissors-there-was-sensuality-cutting

“Matisse would cut painted sheets into forms of varying shapes and sizes—from the vegetal to the abstract—which he then arranged into lively compositions, striking for their play with colour and contrast, their exploitation of decorative strategies, and their economy of means. Initially, these compositions were of modest size but, over time, their scale grew along with Matisse’s ambitions for them, expanding into a mural or room-size works. A brilliant final chapter in Matisse’s long career, the cut-outs reflect both a renewed commitment to form and colour and an inventiveness directed to the status of the work of art, whether as a unique object, environment, ornament, or a hybrid of all of these.”    https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/1429?locale=en

Henri Matisse, 1869-1954
Large Decoration with Masks, 1953, Gouache on paper, cut and pasted, and ink on canvas, 35360 x 9964 mm, National Gallery of Art, Washington
https://www.tate.org.uk/tate-etc/issue-30-spring-2014/his-brilliant-final-chapter

Matisse is a favourite artist among my students and I always enjoy teaching a Unit on his life achievements, culminating with his amazing Cut-Outs!  Whether I teach Grade 1 Mythology, Grade 4 Cultural Geography, or High School Art History, Matisse’s Cut-Outs are always there to enrich my curriculum in the most remarkable way. Getting a taste of their fascinating stories, my students “read” them, in ways, appropriate to their level, they are always 100% engaged … and my teaching gets to be more than gratifying!

Student Work on a Matisse Cut-Outs RWAP (by Haylee M.)

Matisse Cut-Outs Lesson Plan

Essential Questions: What conditions, attitudes, and behaviours encouraged Matisse to take creative risks?

Goals: Facilitate students to understand and connect Matisse’s use of Colour from Fauvism to the Cut-Outs.

Enduring Understanding: Henri Matisse was a French painter in the early 20th century, known as one of the founders of Fauvism, an art movement that is identified with the emotional and bold use of colour,  and the creator of the Cut-Outs technique.

Steps to Success  

At first, I Introduce the Lesson to my students and present the Essential Questions we will work on. Then, I show a Youtube Video on Matisse’s Cut-Outs (Here is my favourite    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rLgSd8ka0Gs) and Being Inquisitive I initiate a conversation. The Lesson continues with my PowerPoint, more discussion follows and the Unit on Matisse’s Cut-Outs culminates with students achieving an Enduring Understanding of our Lesson and performing an Assessment Activity.

For my Matisse PowerPoint, please… Check HERE!

The student RWAP (RWAP stands for Research-Writing-Art-Project) is… HERE!

Student Work on Matisse Cut-Out RWAP, please… Check HERE!

Student Work on a Matisse Cut-Outs RWAP (by Kalypso I.)

Alexandrian Mischievous Dog

Mosaic of a Mischievous Dog, Ptolemaic period, 2nd century BC, Length 3.25 m; width: 3.25 m, Museum of Antiquities – Bibliotheca Alexandrina     

There was once a Dog, according to Aesop, who was so ill-natured and mischievous that his Master had to fasten a heavy wooden clog about his neck to keep him from annoying visitors and neighbours. But the Dog seemed to be very proud of the clog and dragged it about noisily as if he wished to attract everybody’s attention. He was not able to impress anyone. You would be wiser, said an old acquaintance, to keep quietly out of sight with that clog. Do you want everybody to know what a disgraceful and ill-natured Dog you are? This is definitely not the case for the Alexandrian Mischievous Dog depicted in the most adorable Mosaic!    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gQDRKs8tfag    and    https://fablesofaesop.com/the-mischievous-dog.html

If you are a dog lover this Alexandrian Mosaic will become your favourite! It is about a kind but mischievous dog, that looks at you with big, guilty eyes because he has just dropped a pitcher down and spilt perfectly good wine… The Alexandrian Mosaic of this mischievous but remorseful Dog makes your heart leap and your hands open up for a big embrace!   

This wonderful 2nd century BC composition once decorated a floor in the royal quarter of Alexandria in Egypt. It is an astounding floor mosaic executed using the tiniest cubes in the Opus Vermiculatum (“worm-like work”) technique. Developed in Greece during the Hellenistic period, the “Opus Vermiculatum is a method of laying mosaic tesserae to emphasise an outline around a subject.”  This mosaic method allowed very fine details, imitating the illusionistic approach of Hellenistic painting. “It was generally used for emblēmata, or central figural panels, which were surrounded by geometrical or floral designs in opus tessellatum, a coarser mosaic technique with larger tesserae; occasionally opus vermiculatum was used only for faces and other details in an opus tessellatum mosaic.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opus_vermiculatum    and    https://www.britannica.com/art/opus-vermiculatum

We will never know if the Mischievous Dog Mosaic depicts a scene from a popular Hellenistic literary work performed in Alexandria. The mosaic itself gives no clues. The mosaicist created a circular composition, stark and minimal, with the Dog mosaic as a precious emblēma in its center. Quoting the Library of Alexandria Museum site where the mosaic is exhibited “the mosaic illustrates a dog sitting next to an inverted Greek vase. The details of the scene highlight the artist’s ability to make a realistic portrait of the dog so as to express the strength and vitality of the animal. Thus, the dog’s coat, spotted with black, is finely depicted, as well as the red collar that surrounds its neck. The central stage includes several colours, including black, white and yellow. The artist was able to accentuate the shadow-light contrasts by representing the dog from the angle of 3/4; the front part reflects the light while the rest of the body is in the shade. The same is true for the bronze vase, the gradation of its colours shows the reflection of light on the central part, while the sides are more and more shaded. The artist, using these rigid and inanimate materials, has indeed managed to give depth to the scene presented. This piece testifies to the virtuosity of the mosaic design workshops in Alexandria.” http://antiquities.bibalex.org/Collection/Detail.aspx?lang=fr&a=859

For a Student Activity, please…Check HERE!

A view of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt

Early Christian Funerary Paintings

Tomb Painting of a Bird (Lark?), early 5th century, fresco painting,  Museum for Byzantine Culture, Thessaloniki (Photo: Makis Skiatharesis, ΜΒΠ archive)

“A Work of Art which did not begin in Emotion is not Art” Paul Cezanne said… and I think of him every time I visit Room 3, “From the Elysian Fields to the Christian Paradise” in the Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki, to admire the exhibited Early Christian Funerary Paintings.    http://mbp.gr/en/room-3-elysian-fields-christian-paradise

Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki

Visiting the Thessaloniki Museum of Byzantine Culture is a true cultural experience. For years now, I have visited it with my Pinewood students, trying to instil upon them the fine essence of Byzantine art and culture. The actual Museum building comes to my assistance… every time!  In 1989, the Museum’s architect, Kyriakos Krokos, wrote: I wanted a space within which movement would create a feeling of freedom, stirring up the senses, and where the exhibit would be a surprise within the movement. Walking through the Museum with my students, one surprise surpasses the other. The floor and wall mosaics in the first Early Christian Period Room, attract everybody’s attention, the Byzantine tunics with their fine embroideries are eye-catching, the icons and the intricately illuminated manuscript in the Middle Byzantine Period Room are definitely noticed. Finally, as we are about to leave, one last surprise: a beautiful Post-Byzantine golden eikonostaasi, one last startling work of art to ponder. After each visit, my students, pencils, notebooks and cameras, in hand, surprised and dazzled, come one step closer to understanding our Byzantine heritage! What more can I ask…    

Grade 6 students eploring the Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki, photographed by Kostas Papantoniou

When I visit the Museum of Byzantine Culture alone and am in a mood, I cannot fully describe, my steps take me directly to Room 3: “From the Elysian Fields to the Christian Paradise.” Dimly lit, usually very quiet, full of elusive treasures to discover, this is my place, the Room, I love…

Room 3: “From the Elysian Fields to the Christian Paradise” was the first Exhibition Room in the Museum to open, back on the 29th of March 1997. It was the result of an EU funded Research Program,  titled “The Transformation of the Roman World AD 400-900.” As the title of the Exhibition Room connotates, this is an area dedicated to afterlife during Late Antiquity. All exhibited items come from tombs in cemeteries excavated outside the Walls of Thessaloniki. They consist of funerary gifts, inscriptions, and items of worship of the dead. According to the Museum experts “The exhibit is complete with a series of extremely rare and unique funerary paintings. These illustrate in an exceptional way the transition from the Late Antiquity concept of the afterlife into a heavenly place of material prosperity, along with the shift from the funerary customs and decoration of Antiquity that still survives to the final triumph of the Cross with the emergence of the New Religion and the establishment of the belief for the Last Judgment and the Resurrection of the Dead.” http://mbp.gr/en/room-3-elysian-fields-christian-paradise

View of Room 3: “From the Elysian Fields to the Christian Paradise” in the Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki (Photo: ΜΒΠ archive)

It is these unique funerary paintings I seek out every time I visit my favourite Museum in Thessaloniki. They carry Hellenistic Naturalism and Roman Verism, traditional Late Antique or novel Christian subject matter, higher or poorer quality craftsmanship… all together, these amazing frescoes transfer me to an exciting world of unwavering changes and exciting cultural developments… the world of the Early Christian period and the artistic milieu of Thessaloniki, a city worth visiting!

Articles you might find interesting about Early Christian Funerary Paintings in Thessaloniki:    https://www.academia.edu/24852527/Iconographic_Programs_of_the_Early_Christian_Tombs_of_Thessaloniki_in_the_Context_of_the_Contemporary_Traditions_of_the_Funerary_Art_English_translation_     and    https://bookonlime.ru/lecture/8-early-christian-funerary-painting-thessaloniki-macedonian-and-roman-traditions    and    https://www.didaktorika.gr/eadd/handle/10442/13516

For a Student Activity on Early Christian Funerary Painting, please… Click HERE!

Small Arch of Galerius

Small Arch of Galerius, early 4th century AD, carved from a single block of marble, Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki

“The Galerian Complex, the most important monumental group in Thessaloniki, was built at the turning-point of two worlds, the Roman and Byzantine. Its erection began in the late 3rd century-early 4th century AD when the Caesar Galerius Valerianus Maximianus (293-311 AD) chose Thessaloniki as the seat of the eastern part of the Roman Empire.”  The Small Arch of Galerius found in the Octagon area of the Complex, valued and cherished, is exhibited today in the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki. http://galeriuspalace.culture.gr/en/

One of the most important buildings within the Galerian Complex, the Octagon is a significant and luxurious structure worth exploring. It was the first important building that visitors arriving at the Palace by sea would enter and be dazzled. Facing the glorious Thermaic Golf of Thessaloniki, the Octagon is massive and opulent. All Palace buildings were meant to impress the visitor and set the tone… the Octagon area did an excellent job!

Excavation of this amazing structure started in 1950 and continued up until 1981, bringing to light all that survives today.  A splendid conservation and restoration program continued and in 2008, the archaeological site of the Palace of Galerius in Thessaloniki was awarded a EUROPA NOSTRA medal by the European Union. Today, the Galerian Complex, right in the heart of the city, is one of the most popular archaeological sites in Thessaloniki.

The Galerian Complex and the Octagon Area

… Agathoniki was on an official visit to the Court of Emperor Galerius in Thessaloniki… powerful and rich, she was treated with respect for her age and the loyal services extended to the Emperor…  She was modestly dressed but her gifts to the Emperor were valuable and exotic, coming all the way from Seres, the mythical lands of the East. She was guided to enter the Palace Complex through the grand, South Peristyle Court, its Porticos adorned with magnificent floor mosaics and a beautiful garden in the center. It was her first visit to Thessaloniki and she enjoyed every single thing she saw… she was, however, on a mission, so she briskly walked through a triple arch, a Tribelon with two columns, to enter an impressive Vestibule with two semi-circular niches on its narrow ends. She stopped for a minute to compose herself, reflect on her mission, and confidently entered the grandest room of the Palace… the domed Octagon! The room was magnificent! Its walls were covered with multicoloured marble revetments and square panels intricately worked in the opus sectile technique. The floor, featuring marble geometric motifs, created simple yet elegant chromatic oppositions… and there were four different Emblemata, right where she was standing, worthy of a great master! What a wonderful Audience Hall this is, she thought, as the entrance of the Emperor brought her to her knees…

Agathoniki, the imaginary visitor of our story, saw many more wonderful rooms and artefacts in the Palace of Galerius… My favourite artefact, still surviving today, is a small, marble Arch. Discovered at the north end of the eastern portico of the South Peristyle Court, the Small Marble Arch crowned a horseshoe-shaped niche framed by pilasters. This Arch, known by the conventional name “The Small Arch of Galerius”, is on display in the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki. Could this small, luxuriously adorned, niche be a Palace Temple?

This Arch, known today as “The Small Arch of Galerius”, is on display in the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki. According to Thessaloniki Museum experts, “The arch, a work of high artistic quality, is the product of a local workshop in Thessaloniki. The rich relief decorations occupy three sides of the arch. The main side depicts two men from the East, possibly Persians, raising two circular medallions with their hands. The right medallion depicts Gaius Galerius Valerius Maximianus, while the left one initially depicted his wife, Galeria Valeria. During a later intervention, after Galerius’ death, a mural crown was added to the female portrait. This alteration transformed the female bust into the depiction of a deity, most probably the “Tyche (fortune) of Thessaloniki”, who accompanied Galerius, the deified ruler of the city. Two winged Eros figures holding a garland fill the space between the medallions. Another medallion with a bust of Dionysos is located at the inner part of the arch, surrounded by vine branches. The right side of the arch depicts the hooved god Pan playing a pipe and holding a lagobolon (stick for hunting hares). The left side depicts a maenad.”    http://galeriuspalace.culture.gr/en/monuments/oktagono/    and    https://www.amth.gr/en/exhibitions/highlights

Along with my Grade 6 students, we study the history of Thessaloniki, visit the Archaeological Site of the Galerian Complex and prepare a RWAP (Research-Writing-Art-Project) that they thoroughly enjoy…

For a PowerPoint on the Galerian Complex Octagon Hall, please click HERE!

For a student RWAP on the Small Arch of Galerius, please click HERE!

For examples of Student RWAP Work, please click HERE!

Grade 6 student RWAP
RWAP stands for Research – Writing – Art – Project

Singer with a Glove…

Edgar Degas, 1834 – 1917
Singer with a Glove, c. 1878, pastel on canvas, 53.2 x 41 cm, Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see,” Edgar Degas once said. What do we really see in his pastel painting of a Singer with a Glove?

“What a creature he was, that Degas!” Renoir said about him, and he was right! A reluctant Impressionist, the offspring of a wealthy family with Creole ties, Edgar Degas studied in the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and then in July 1856, he travelled to Italy, where he would remain for the next three years drawing and painting numerous copies of works by the great masters of the Renaissance. However, Degas’s Italian art studies were not conventional. He learnt the secrets of each painter’s art by focusing his attention to a particular detail that had caught his attention, a secondary figure in a large composition, or a minor portrait in a master’s painting.

Edgar Degas, 1834 – 1917
Self-Portrait, 1863, oil on canvas, 925 x 665mm, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon

Upon his return to France in 1859, and for the next thirteen years, Degas kept busy exhibiting, annually, at the Salon (1865-1870) drawing attention with his historic paintings, defending Paris as an enlisted member of the National Guard, during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, and travelling extensively visiting friends in France or spending a year visiting family in New Orleans (1972). In 1873 Degas was back in Paris, facing the death of his father and financial ruin due to enormous business debts amassed by his brother René. He sold his house and Art Collection to preserve his family’s reputation, and started fresh, producing much of his greatest work, joining a group of young artists who were soon to be known as the Impressionists.

Edgar Degas, 1834 – 1917
A Cotton Office in New Orleans, 1873, oil on canvas, 73 cm × 92 cm, Musée des beaux-arts de Pau, France

Degas participated in seven of the Impressionist Exhibitions (1874-1886) taking a leading role in their organization and final disbanding in 1886. Deeply conservative in his social views, Degas disliked the term “Impressionism” that was popularly attached to the group as much as he disliked and mocked painting “en plein air” like Monet and others did, writing “You know what I think of people who work out in the open. If I were the government I would have a special brigade of gendarmes to keep an eye on artists who paint landscapes from nature. Oh, I don’t mean to kill anyone; just a little dose of bird-shot now and then as a warning.”

He was very much, however, an Impressionist in painting the reality of the Parisian world around him with a strong sense of immediacy, using blazing and luminous colours, the force of light, and off-centre compositions. By the late 1860s women became Degas’s source of inspiration, and conforming to contemporary ideas, Degas painted hard-working women like milliners and laundresses, but women entertainers as well, like Ballet Dancers and Singers.

Edgar Degas, 1834 – 1917
Singer with Glove, 1878, pastel on paper marouflé on toile, 62,5 x 48 cm, Copenhague, Ordrupgaard, Danemark
Café Singer, 1879, oil on canvas, 53.5 × 41.8 cm, Art Institute of Chicago
Singer with Glove, 1878, drawing on paper, Louvre Museum
http://www.degas-catalogue.com/fiches.php?id=25

The Singer with a Glove is one such painting. Using the harsh artificial light needed to illuminate the stage of the famous Parisian Café Chantant, maybe his favourite Café des Ambassadeurs, Degas presents the singer as she holds an operatic note holding her gloved hand up to stress her effort! He uses harsh light and strong colours… shades of orange, washes of pink and green, stark black and pure white. Degas uses light and colours to dominate his composition and create… drama needed to stress new values for France’s newly established Third Republic!

Bibliography on Degas is extensive and interesting. For easy access to Internet short articles on the painting in focus, please go to https://www.harvardartmuseums.org/art/228652    and    https://fashionhistory.fitnyc.edu/1884-degas-singer-in-green/    and    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_Degas#cite_note-26

For a student Activity on the painting of the Harvard Art Museums Singer with a Glove by Edgar Degas, please… click HERE!

The work of my Dear Student Kalypso I.

The Iron Crown

The Iron Crown, dated between the IV-V and IX centuries, gold, silver, enamel and cabochons with garnets, blue corundum, amethysts, Teodolinda’s Chapel, Monza Cathedral

“…And so I left her to her prayers, and went    To gaze upon the pride of Monza’s shrine    Where in the sacristy the light still falls    Upon the Iron Crown of Italy    On whose crowned heads the day has closed, not yet    The daybreak gilds another head to crown…” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, A Last Confession

Once upon a time… there was a Bavarian princess named Teodolinda (570 – 627) whose fate was to prudently rule over Lombardy, and bequeath the people of Italy, a great treasure… the Iron Crown of Monza! She was the wife of two Lombard kings, Authari (c. 540 – 590) and Agilulf, (c. 555 – 616) and mother, and regent of king, Adaloaldo (603-629).

She is described as a beautiful and intelligent woman, a follower of the Nicene Creed (the First Council of Nicaea, 325 – adopted to resolve the Arian controversy) and a devoted friend of Pope Gregory the Great (c. 540 – 604). She is also described as a great patroness of the arts, providing Monza, the Lombard summer capital, with its Cathedral, a spectacular basilica dedicated to St. John the Baptist. A local legend describes how Queen Teodolinda while riding alongside the Lambro River in the area of Monza met with a dove which instructed her to build a church in the area…and how, dutifully, she did! Today, gazing upon the Monza Cathedral one can only think of the truth behind the legend!

Queen Teodolinda and Pope Gregory the Great are responsible for bringing to Monza some astonishing Early Christian works of art and relics. The Iron Crown is one such extraordinary relic, an item of veneration and great mastery of Early Christian goldsmithery.

The Crown consists of six golden, rectangular plates beautifully embellished with enamelwork and cabochon gems… garnets, amethysts and blue corundum. Each plate is divided into two uneven in size, parts. The right part is narrow and consists of a vertical row of three cabochon gems, one under the other. The other one is three times bigger in size and rectangular in shape. It is decorated with a central cabochon gem, four gold rosettes, and four amazing enamelled floral motifs. The combination of shining gold, opaque and translucent enamels add to the grace and beauty of the Crown, making it an alluring artefact of the Early Christian period.

The Iron Crown of Monza is one of the most venerated relics in Italy as tradition and legend ties it up with the Passion of Christ and the first Christian emperor, Constantine. According to Ambrose, Archbishop of Milan,  Saint Helena while visiting Palestine in 326, found the nails used for Christ’s martyrdom. One of these nails was inserted as an inner circle in the creation of the Iron Crown that was first worn by no other than Emperor Constantine himself! That Crown, always according to Ambrose, was brought to Milan by Emperor Theodosius, and after many interesting adventures passed to Queen Teodolinda and finally, the Cathedral of Monza. Historically, the Iron Crown was used for the Coronation of all Italian Kings since the Carolingian Period.

Ambrogio (active 1441 – 1481) and Gregorio (active 1453 al 1481) Zavattari
Teodolinda, queen of the Lombards, marries Agilulf, duke of Turin (detail), 1444, fresco, Chapel of Queen Teodolinda, Monza Cathedral

The original Monza oraculum (chapel) built on the Greek Cross plan Teodolinda commissioned back in 595, is long gone… only some walls exist today. On the exact site, however, starting from the 13th century, the Monza Cathedral was built,  a Basilica church in the Latin Cross plan with an octagonal tiburium. The famous Teodolinda chapel was built at the same time. Today, the Chapel is famous for the mid-15th century wall paintings, painted by Milanese artists from the Zavattari workshop, that recount 45 episodes from Queen Teodolinda’s life and a consecrated altar, built by Luca Beltrami in 1895-96, that holds this most important of Italy’s relics… the Iron Crown of Monza.  https://www.wmf.org/project/duomo-theodelindas-chapel

For a Student Activity, please check HERE!

Theodoros Ralli

Theodoros Ralli, 1852-1909
Veiled Woman, 1889, oil on vellum, diameter 22 cm, ALPHA Bank Collection

“Art is ANYTHING you can get away with” Andy Warhol once said… How true is he when we consider the artistic oeuvre of Theodoros Ralli and his amazing Orientalism! A wealthy Greek ex-patriate artist, living between the West, mostly in Paris, and the East, Cairo during the cold month of winter, Theodoros Ralli is a true cosmopolitan of the late 19th century Gilded Age.

“A perfect Parisian type, wearing a beret à la Hermonville and a light brown vest with gold trim buttoned to the neck, still very youthful and of an open, jovial character, Mr. Ralli is a delightful conversationalist and very gallant.”

Not just so… Theodoros Ralli, born in Constantinople, at the crossroads of East and West, the mythical capital of the Byzantine Empire and the alluring EAST, was destined to become the most representative of the Greek, Orientalist painters. He was “the offspring of a wealthy family from the island of Chios, active in commerce in England and around the world.” Theodoros Ralli had no financial problems to pursue, unobstructed, his passion for the Arts. The photographs of his Parisian Studio that still survive today preserve his appearance and way of living. Documents of the period present him as a personality, and discuss “his courtesy, gentility, humour, patience, tenacity, smoking habit, love of Wagnerian opera, a weakness for watercolourists, aversion to long-term relationships, industriousness and his love for the fair sex, in Parisian Studios he had the nickname of Don Juan.”  All documents “reinforce the picture of a man who despite his genteel and fragile appearance, disposed of enormous psychic reserves, had an iron will and the perseverance to become what he had dreamed of becoming: a painter.”

The Artist’s Studio in Paris

Theodoros Ralli studied painting under the academic teacher and Orientalist painter Jean-Leon Gerome until approximately 1880, sharing his teacher’s aversion towards Impressionism and the avant-garde movements of the later 19th century. He exhibited, uninterruptedly, in the official French Salons, the World Exhibitions of Paris, as well as many other exhibitions both inside and outside France, winning medals and establishing international recognition. He travelled extensively to Greece and many Middle Eastern countries, drawing inspiration for his paintings. He kept two Studios, one in Paris and another in Cairo, where he kept warm and stimulated during wintertime.

Theodoros Ralli, 1852-1909
Veiled Woman, 1889, oil on vellum, diameter 22 cm, ALPHA Bank Collection

Orientalism in later 19th century Art is a tantalizing, multi-faceted, genre much loved by Europeans of the time. We can trace it back to the merchants of the Silk Road, the few adventurous Northern European travellers of the “Grand Tour,” or the Venetian Renaissance fiestas painted by Veronese, the Dutch Curiosity Cabinets, Rococo eroticism or to the many Odalisques that inspired both Ingres and Delacroix. Then we have to consider Napoleon, his Egyptian Campaign of 1798-1801, and the gradual European desire for… political involvement and colonialism. Whatever the cause of European curiosity and pathos for the East, it lingered for a long time, inspiring and creating great works of art. https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/euor/hd_euor.htm    and    https://www.artuk.org/discover/stories/inspired-by-the-east-thoughts-about-orientalism

For a Student Activity on Orientalism inspired by Theodoros Ralli, please… Click HERE!

Written both in Greek and English, this is a valuable source of information for the Artist: Theodoros Ralli, Looking East – The catalogue was first published on the occasion of the exhibition “Theodoros Ralli. Looking East” Benaki Museum, Museum of Islamic Art, 11th December 2014 – 22nd February 2015 https://www.benaki.org/images/publications/pdf/rallis.pdf

For Browsing through a collection of paintings by Theodoros Ralli, go to https://paletaart.wordpress.com/2012/07/09/%CF%81%CE%AC%CE%BB%CE%BB%CE%B7%CF%82-%CE%B8%CE%B5%CF%8C%CE%B4%CF%89%CF%81%CE%BF%CF%82-rallis-theodoros-1852-1909/

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!