Picasso once said that… Art washes away the dust of everyday life. During our COVID 19 Days, the dust of everyday life rests heavily upon us… Let’s shed it away with Art… We may not be able to travel to Italy right now… but we can do a Virtual Italian Weekend!
Stay in the comfort of your HOME! Snack on something deliciously ITALIAN! …and ACTION!
Let’s travel to San Gimignano: Towering Hill Town and visit all its Attractions
The Taming of the Shrew is a 1967 American-Italian romantic comedy film based on the play of the same name by William Shakespeare about a courtship between two strong-willed people. The film was directed by Franco Zeffirelli and stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton as Shakespeare’s Kate and Petruchio. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0061407/
Tea with Mussolini is another good one. It takes place in Florence between 1935 – 1945. It follows a group of very proper and or eccentric English ladies (including Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright, Judi Dench) and one crass American (Cher) in this turbulent time. Again, sweet, funny, touching, and a painless way to absorb a little recent history. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120857/
The Month of April fresco comes from Torre Aquila in the Castello del Buonconsiglio, in Trento, Italy. It is part of an amazing fresco Cycle of the Twelve Months painted on the walls of the tower’s 2nd-floor main room. It was commissioned by Prince-Bishop George of Liechtenstein, who wanted to show how well-governed his territories were and how his labourers thrived. The painter of these remarkable paintings, Master Wenceslas, understood well what he was asked to do, created the best 15th-century advertising brochure for Trento, and for the Month of April fashioned a dazzling spring scene, crowded with a well-dressed crowd who, in the lush local countryside, serenely performed their necessary everyday chores.
Master Wenceslas, a Bohemian painter active in Trento since 1397, creates a rich April scene, full of natural beauty and pastoral activities. Nature awakens and the citizens of Trento are busy. The farmers catch up with their activities and the Ladies of the Court and enjoy a stroll in the woods. The scene is rich, dense and joyful… inspired by real-life but immensely beautified. The commissioner of this fresco, Prince-Bishop George of Liechtenstein, wants to give the idea that his territories flourish under his good governance. and prudent guidance. The painter, Master Wenceslas, understood this very well, and created a verdant scene of dazzling colours, the winter greys have disappeared, crowded with well-dressed farmers and elegant ladies. https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ciclo_dei_mesi
Wenceslas’s countryside is fertile and well organized. The fields are separated in an orderly manner and protected, like precious gardens, by braided willow fences. Everything is represented with such precision… the land, the buildings, the farmers’ chores. The April fresco looks as if it is the page of a textbook for a young farmer to study and learn! https://www.ilmiraggio.com/ciclo-dei-mesi-torre-aquila/
At the top of the composition, a lush fir forest offers refuge to one of those bears that populated the Alps at the time. Further down, a pilgrim, fully dressed in white with a hat and a cane, walks through a borough of thatched-roof houses arranged around a small church, empty of villagers… silent. Even the dogs in this village keep silent, as they are both dozing.
The farmers are busy with their pastoral duties. In a fenced and already ploughed field a farmer sows, while another farmer works the land with a harrow pulled by a horse. Further down to the left, two men, probably coming from a water-mill, carry sacks of flour on a cart driven by oxen. In the foreground, two other farmers plough the land with a heavy wheeled plough pulled by a pair of oxen and a horse. Women do not remain idle. Two of them, taking advantage of the beautiful weather, participate in the fervour of spring activities, gardening their well-fenced plot! Their precious land is on the border of a small forest where, among immense mushrooms, a dog chases a hare!
The month of April fresco is not only about hard work. The presence of two aristocratic young ladies, in the lower, right part of the composition, can not be missed. Depicted on the edge of the painted scene, the elegant ladies seem to walk towards the festive procession depicted in the following month of May. One of them, wearing an elegant green gown with long sleeves, crosses the thin, pillar-like, frame that divides the two months, and effortlessly, just as the succession of seasons is constant and uninterrupted, guides us to the next composition… that of May!
Until Next Month… check HERE!for a student Activity!
A dear former student of mine, Juan N., a young doctor, is fighting Covid 19 in Spain so that we can all stay Safe… at HOME! My weekend proposal is to have a… Virtual Spanish weekend… Visit Toledo… Meet El Greco… and send positive vibes to Juan…
Pythagoras of Samos once said that… Do not seek for happiness. It is always within yourself. During COVID 19 Days, happiness is so close… It’s our family and friends and Art within us all…
We may not be able to travel to Spain right now… but we can do it Virtually! Stay in the comfort of your HOME! Snack on something deliciously SPANISH! …and ACTION!
Let’s travel to Toledo
and …meet El Greco! the Cretan artist of the Renaissance who chose Toledo as his final destination of artistic voyaging and exploration. El Greco, born Domenikos Theotokopoulos, the precursor of both Expressionism and Cubism, was so unique, scholars believe his art belongs to a no conventional school.
El Cid is a 1961 epic historical drama film that romanticizes the life of the Christian Castilian knight Don Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, called “El Cid” (from the Arabic as-sidi, meaning “The Lord”), who, in the 11th century, fought the North African Almoravides and ultimately contributed to the unification of Spain. The film stars Charlton Heston in the title role and Sophia Loren as Doña Ximena. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0054847/
The story of the uncompromising artist, Domenikos Theotokopoulos, known to the world as El Greco. Based on the fictionalized biographical movie, El Greco: the Painter of God, it was released in 2007. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0905329/
Life and events of the man who realized one of the most important discoveries of the 19th century: Altamira’s Caves and its Paleolithic Paintings. The film chronicles the groundbreaking discovery of stone age cave paintings in the Cave of Altamira in Cantabria, Spain, and the subsequent controversy by leading religious and scientific figures of the day. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3014910/
Who can really resist an Exhibition, titled Van Eyck – An Optical Revolution? Particularly when over half of Jan van Eyck’s artistic oeuvre will be on display? Paintings from all over the world will travel to the Museum of Fine Arts (MSK) in Ghent “to contextualize the optical revolution he inspired.” Painting by Van Eyck, his workshop and from “his most talented peers from Germany, France, Italy and Spain” are placed side by side. This is an opportunity to study, compare and draw conclusions!
“Hubrecht van Eyck, the most famous painter ever known, started this work of art; his brother Jan, who was second in the art, finished the task at the request of Joos Vijd. With this verse the donor consigns the work to your charge on May 6th 1432. Admire what they have done for you”.
The main focus of the Ghent Exhibition is to present the recently restored outer panels of The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb or as it is widely known as the Ghent Altarpiece. According to the experts of Saint Bavo’s Cathedral “This painting by Hubrecht and Jan van Eyck is the principal work of the Flemish school in the 15th century. The main theme is the glorification or the heavenly apotheosis of man’s salvation and sanctification by the sacrifice of Christ. The subject is treated in a more visionary than narrative or dramatic manner. It is painted on oak panels; the paint consists of mineral pigments in a cement of drying oil.” https://vaneyck2020.be/en/van-eyck-from-home/
The outer panels of the Ghent Altarpiece, beautifully restored and exhibited at MSK, are divided into three registers. The upper register “lunettes” show prophets and Sibyls looking down on the middle register, the Annunciation scene. The four lower-register panels are divided into two pairs, the central sculptural paintings are in grisaille, presenting St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist, while the two outer panels, in astonishing naturalism, stage the donor portraits of Joost Vijdt and his wife Lysbette Borluut.
Jan van Eyck was a revolutionary, ground-breaking artist and the Ghent Exhibition is a learning experience!
He perfected the Oil Technique by adding siccatives. With oil paints, he created rich, deep, lustrous colours, flawless golden tones, and amazing life-like textures.
Observation of reality is key to Jan’s Art. His portraits are lifelike in the minutest detail. His depictions of nature and natural phenomena are credible and authentic. He is so good at creating reality, his art seems like it is competing with reality itself!
Observing and Painting Optical Light Phenomena shows an artist deeply interested “in the painting of light, so crucial to his optical revolution.” Scholars believe that Jan van Eyck “not only gathers practical but also theoretical knowledge in order to reproduce the effects of light.” https://vaneyck2020.be/en/the-optical-revolution/
Artworks presented in the PowerPoint were put together, thanks to an MSK Catalogue… HERE!andHERE!
The 6th century Church of San Michele in Africisco has an amazing story to tell! It all started in Ravenna… when Giuliano Argentarius, a Byzantine court official and banker of great wealth and devotion, commissioned, as a votive offering to Archangel Michael, a new church in the Ravennate neighborhood known as Frigiselus.
Guliano’s Church in Figiselus, known as San Michele in Africisco, was magnificently adorned with mosaics and marble adornments. Unfortunately, the church as a place of worship no longer exists due to alterations and lootings. Very little of the original wall structures stand, while mosaics and sculptural pieces are scattered among the Bode Museum in Berlin, the National Museum of Ravenna, the Museum of Torcello, the Victoria & Albert Museum, and St. Petersburg. Today, in place of the church there is a Max Mara shop!
The Napoleonic Wars and conquest of Ravenna in 1805 are the beginning of the Church’s end. “San Michele was purchased by Andrea Cicognani and became a fish shop. In 1840 it was sold to antique dealer Giuseppe Buffa, who made a wood store out of it and built a wall to protect its apse mosaic. During those years an envoy of King Frederick William IV of Prussia was sent to visit the church, and he ordered the purchase of the apse mosaic. He obtained Pope Gregory III’s permission to take it to Berlin, but first, it was necessary to remove the mosaic from its wall support. Alessandro Cappi, secretary of the Accademia delle Belle Arti of Ravenna, refused to detach the mosaic… but Vincenzo Pajaro, a Venetian antique dealer, removed the mosaic…and eventually sent it to Berlin.” http://www.mosaicoravenna.it/convegno/la-diaspora-dellarcangelo-san-michele-in-africisco-e-leta-giustinianea/?lang=en
Today, the San Michele Apse Mosaic is the main attraction of the Bode Museum in Berlin. The mosaic’s main composition depicts a rare youthful and beardless Christ, standing between the winged Archangels, Michael and Gabriel, holding a monumental, bejeweled Cross and an open Bible. The apsidal mosaic is placed under a frieze of vines and doves, supposed to represent the Twelve Apostles. Missing today, the Apse mosaic is flanked by standing depictions of Cosmas and Damian, the early Christian medicinal saints. Right above the apse, on a frieze-like wall, the 6th-century mosaicist depicted an older looking, bearded Christ, seated on a throne, flanked, once more by the Archangels and seven angels sounding trumpets.
Very little is known about Giuliano Argentarius, the founder of San Michele in Africisco. However, I did find some information about his extraordinary deeds in an article titled “Banking in Early Byzantine Ravenna” by Salvatore Cosentino. For more… please check: https://journals.openedition.org/crm/13746
The Month of February 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 the quintessential game of chivalry…
Is there among you any gentleman who for the love of his lady is willing to try with me some feat of arms? If there should be any such, here I am, quite ready to sally forth completely armed and mounted, to tilt three courses with the lance, to give three blows with the battle axe, and three strokes with the dagger. Now look, you English, if there be none among you in love. … and so Gauvain Micaille, the gallant Frenchman squire from Beauce, a gentleman of tried courage, who had advanced himself on his own merit, without any assistance from others, jousts for the honour of France showing his courage and bravery… https://uts.nipissingu.ca/muhlberger/FROISSART/GAUVAIN.HTM
The February fresco at Torre Aquila presents an impressive and festive Tournament where Jousting is the protagonist of the day. The Trento artist, maybe Maestro Venceslao, using warm tones of orange and ochre, organizes a two parts composition. The background presents Trento Ladies sitting behind an elaborate, purpose-built, parapet. They are finely dressed and adorned with elaborate headdresses, crowns, and wreaths, talking to each other, full of excitement… maybe contemplating, even debating whom they are going to favor! The Knights, fully armored and carrying their cotes-of-arm are depicted in the art of Jousting, their goal, to show gallantry and honour, their hope to attract the attention of “their” Lady and get a token of her favor… a veil, a ribbon, a wreath!
According to Wikipedia: “Jousting is a martial game or hastilude between two horsemen wielding lances with blunted tips, often as part of a tournament. The primary aim was to replicate a clash of heavy cavalry, with each participant trying hard to strike the opponent while riding towards him at high speed, breaking the lance on the opponent’s shield or jousting armor if possible, or unhorsing him. The joust became an iconic characteristic of the knight in Romantic medievalism. The participants experience close to three and a quarter times their body weight in G-forces when the lances collide with their armor.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jousting#CITEREFColtman1919
The Trento fresco for February has another interesting genre scene. In the narrow space between the room’s window and the staircase, the artist included a vignette of an older blacksmith toiling hard in his workshop. Let’s not forget this is a fresco cycle of the Labors of the Months, illustrating the activities of aristocrats and peasants, every month, throughout the year!
This is an Exhibition I wish I could take my students to visit, explore and marvel! Troy: Myth and Reality is as intriguing or rather “tantalizing,” to use an adjective the British Museum does, as its title insinuates.
Created thousands of years ago, Trojan Myths tell us epic stories, adventures of heroes and Gods, tales of love, loyalty, betrayal, friendship, bravery… they show that the gods, very much like ordinary humans, men and women alike, can be right or wrong, fail or succeed, love or hate… they also present the extraordinary deeds of the Trojan War protagonists, displayed on every form of art, from pottery to statues, paintings, music, and poetry! Trojan Archaeology, on the other hand, touches upon reality in its quest to discover the truth behind the story and reality behind the fiction.
My Grade 3 students love the stories of the Trojan War and the adventures of its heroes. Every week for 1 class period we read about, and discuss, the fascinating events presented in the Iliad and the Odyssey. We explore how artists from antiquity to modern times depicted the many events of the story. At the same time, we explore Trojan archaeology and learn about its protagonists and the historical evidence it unearths. My students’ favorite hero is Achilles, and their preferred Activity is to imagine and… reconstruct his Shield… commissioned by his mother Thetis and made by God Hephaestus himself! (For student work, please… Click HERE!)
The British Museum Troy: Myth and Reality is a blockbuster exhibition, that directs visitors’ attention on the myths’ ‘human truth’, rather than their historical fact. The Exhibition is divided into 4 sections, Introduction. Troy: the myth, Troy: the archaeology, Troy: enduring stories, and presents well known as well as rare artifacts. The British Museum’s Exhibition site is a “treasure” to explore as well. The BLOG articles are worth your time to read. The Teachers’ Resources are fantastic, rich with information, Lesson Plans, and Activities. The Museum’s Trailer for the Exhibition is simply… fantastic!
A very unique Exhibition takes place in London these days. The Wallace Collection presents Forgotten Masters: Indian Painting for the East India Company honours historically overlooked Indian artists like Shaikh Zain ud-Din, Bhawani Das, Shaikh Mohammad Amir of Karriah, Sita Ram and Ghulam Ali Khan and brings to life a forgotten moment in Anglo-Indian history. Another unique Exhibition highlight is the guest curator of the Exhibition, William Dalrymple, Scottish renowned historian and writer, art historian and curator, as well as an award-winning broadcaster and critic.
Shaikh Zain ud-Din worked for Sir Elijah first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court at Fort William, Calcutta, and his wife, the natural historian Mary Impey. The Impeys moved to India in 1773 and soon fell under the spell of the subcontinent, establishing a menagerie of Indian and South-East Asian birds and animals in the extensive grounds of their estate. It was only natural for Mary to commission in 1777, a small group of artists, eminent among them Shaikh Zain ud-din, to paint her exotic flora and fauna. The result of this “brilliant” decision was a collection of paintings, 362 in number, known as the Impey Album. “These paintings,” Xavier Bray, director of London’s Wallace Collection says, “were made into albums to be leafed through back home, on a rainy day, drinking Earl Grey tea.” https://coromandelart.wordpress.com/
Shaikh Zain ud-Din’s paintings, although rendered in European materials, capture India’s natural history in a way that only a local could. They are an unprecedented hybrid of East and West. They “emulate, on a greatly enlarged scale, the refinement of 17th century Mughal natural history paintings,” and, believed to have been painted from life, they also exhibit the artist’s ability to assimilate European conventions. The 2012 Ashmolean Lady Impey’s Indian Bird Paintings Exhibition was the first major presentation of Shaikh Zain ud-Din’s oeuvre to the public, the current London Exhibition will further establish his work as a fine moment in the history of Indian Art. http://jameelcentre.ashmolean.org/collection/6980/10198
While in New York, and if you are an Ancient Greek Art aficionado, the Metropolitan Museum of Art Exhibition Watercolors of the Acropolis: Émile Gilliéron in Athens is a MUST!
Back in 2011, I saw the Historic Images of the Greek Bronze Age: The Reproductions of E. Gilliéron & Son Metropolitan Museum Exhibition, and today I am eager and hopeful, to see the new Exhibition on Gilliéron père work for the Acropolis Archaic sculptures. The Gilliérons are tightly connected with Greek Bronze Age Archaeology. They were astonishing artists, hired by Sir Arthur Evans, to reconstruct the fresco paintings in the palace at Knossos. Their copies of Minoan Frescoes are highly recognizable today, allowing the viewer to accurately observe the fragmentary parts of the original fresco along with their own creative proposal for the appearance of missing elements. The Gilliéron restored Minoan Frescoes, in watercolours or plaster, popularized and spread the study of Greek Bronze Age Art throughout Europe and America. https://www.metmuseum.org/press/exhibitions/2010/e-gilli%C3%A9ron–sons-reproductions-of-art-from-greek-bronze-age-on-view-at-metropolitan-museum
The current Metropolitan Museum Exhibition titled Watercolors of the Acropolis: Émile Gilliéron in Athens features five watercolours that depict architectural sculptures from Archaic Monuments discovered in the Acropolis of Athens.
Three of the largest watercolours depict the Hekatompedos Pediment. The central composition features two Lions tearing apart a Bull. On the left side, Herakles is depicted fighting a Triton and on the right, the Winged three-bodied Deamon, commonly known as “Bluebeard” with the symbols of the three elements of nature in his hands, fills the triangular space masterfully.
The third watercolour presents pedimental sculptures depicting the Introduction of Herakles into Olympos or as described in the Acropolis Museum of Athens, the Apotheosis (deification) of Hercules. This pedimental composition, made in an Attic workshop, belonged to an unidentified small temple. It shows an imposing seated Zeus, a frontally depicted Hera, Hercules dressed in his characteristic lion skin, Iris and Athena, the hero’s divine guardian. The entire composition, as Emile Gillieron shows us, was painted with bright colours, traces of which are still visible today.
The Hydra pediment is the last Emile Gillieronwatercolour in the MET Exhibition. Once more, the watercolour accurately shows pedimental sculptures of great aesthetic value, very descriptive and brightly painted. The Hydra Pediment comes from an unidentified small building on the Athenian Acropolis.
According to the MET, “In the days before color photography, hand-colored drawings and photographs were the principal means of documenting polychrome Greek art.” But “Reproductions and copies fell out of fashion, and Gilliéron’s work… retired to The Met’s basement… and remained in storage until 2015.” Today and after “the conservators’ heroic efforts to rehabilitate these forgotten pieces” we can once more admire the power with which these amazing watercolours “provide a fascinating insight into the sculptures found at the Acropolis as they appeared when they were first unearthed around the turn of the century.”
For a PowerPoint inspired by the Exhibition, please… click HERE!
If your Christmas “walking shoes” take you to Oxford, England, go the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology to see Last Supper in Pompeii, a wonderful Exhibition on the Roman love affair with food and wine! Inspiration for this Exhibition comes from Pompeii, this amazing time capsule of 79 AD Roman life. Dr Paul Roberts, Head of the Ashmolean Department of Antiquities and exhibition curator, says: ‘The evocative names given to the excavations (the Villa of the Mysteries; the House of the Tragic Poet) have inspired everything from Victorian exhibitions, swords-and-sandals romances to countless scholarly works. Our fascination with the doomed people of Pompeii and their everyday lives has never waned. What better connection can we make with them as ordinary people than through their food and drink?’
Last Supper in Pompeii displays 300 objects related to the culinary arts and the role they played in Roman history and culture. Exquisite floor mosaics from the villas of the affluent Pompeiians, frescoes depicting banquets, and statues, fountains or furnishings that decorated famous triclinia, are all present. Precious or humble dining sets and utensils, simple cooking pots and carbonised food that was on the Pompeiian tables when the volcano erupted tell us interesting stories or Roman culinary voyages and cultural connections.
My favourite Exhibition fresco is titled Distribution of Bread (AD 40–79) and comes from the House of the Baker in Pompeii. It shows a man behind a wooden counter handing a loaf of bread to a man, while a young boy reaches up eagerly. The shelves are heaped with loaves of the typical round Pompeiian bread, archaeologists even found carbonized one in its entirety. Scholars today believe that the fresco represents a politician’s free distribution of bread (annona) rather than a baker selling his loaves from a food stall.
The Distribution of Bread is a fascinating Pompeian fresco. I like the artist’s ability to create a sense of depth and space through a diagonal composition, his choice of earthy colours with touches of white and aubergine purple to accentuate the depicted figures. I also like the anecdotal details… the well-crafted wooden stall, the herringbone woven basket painted on the left side of the fresco, the abundance of displayed bread loaves… most of all, I like the human touch, the boy, impatient and eager to get his part of the Distributed Bread!