Hans Holbein

September 1, 2017 at 12:49 pm (Art)

[Click to enlarge]

What an astonishing portrait! The Sieur de Morette’s gaze is so piercing, one almost feels the need to turn away.

Hans Holbein the Younger – his father was also an artist – is probably best known for his portraits of King Henry VIII:

And then there is this lavish double portrait, with the strange and sinister object – called an anamorphosis – at the  bottom:

Although he was a skillful and inventive draftsman, printmaker, miniaturist and jewelry designer, Hans Holbein the Younger is best known as a painter, in particular as a portraitist. An assured, meticulous technician, Holbein’s insights into the character of his sitters are achieved, somewhat paradoxically, through his cool, emotional detachment and objective, astonishing realism. Working primarily in Switzerland and England, he is nonetheless one of the greatest German artists of the sixteenth century.

Hans Holbein the Younger, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

 

Permalink Leave a Comment

The eclipse at our house, with a poetical digression

August 23, 2017 at 4:22 pm (Art, Local interest (Baltimore-Washington), Poetry)

We were forewarned that in central Maryland, the eclipse would not be total. We weren’t expecting much, and frankly we didn’t get much. That’s not to say we didn’t try. And the sun was, in fact, shining – a happenstance not at all dependable here in the Old Line State.

We didn’t have  the special glasses and so did not gaze directly at the phenomenon. We were able to see this indicator, though, as the light penetrating through the leaves of the tree in our  front yard provided a sort of pin hole camera effect:

You will no doubt be impressed by the delicately calibrated scientific instrument that we also made use of:

At any rate, here was the sun once again, yesterday morning, being normal in our backyard:

Being of a literary turn of mind (and an incorrigible English major from way back),, I wish to cite three poetical allusions. The first is famous:

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.

Oh, thanks to thee, Shakespeare, for having words of beauty and meaning for every occasion.

And  then there’s John Donne, who in his poem “The Sun Rising”, is not praising the sun but chastising it. (Imagine scolding the sun! But then, lovers can  be a pretty cheeky lot):

Busy old fool, unruly sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices,
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

Thy beams, so reverend and strong
Why shouldst thou think?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long;
If her eyes have not blinded thine,
Look, and tomorrow late, tell me,
Whether both th’ Indias of spice and mine
Be where thou leftst them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw’st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, All here in one bed lay.

She’s all states, and all princes, I,
Nothing else is.
Princes do but play us; compared to this,
All honor’s mimic, all wealth alchemy.
Thou, sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world’s contracted thus.
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that’s done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy center is, these walls, thy sphere.

Finally there is W.H. Auden’s meditation on the sad fate of the too-audacious Icarus (and by implication the rest of us, sooner or later). This poem, titled “Musee des Beaux Arts,” was inspired by Auden’s viewing of Breughel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus:

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

 

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, c.1555 (oil on canvas) by Bruegel, Pieter the Elder (c.1525-69) [Click to enlarge]

Permalink Leave a Comment

‘Transcendence in Ordinary Domestic Life’ – and a transcendentally beautiful essay

August 23, 2017 at 1:13 pm (Art, Magazines and newspapers)

The above painting by Pieter de Hooch is variously titled “A Mother Delousing Her Child’s Hair” or, more succinctly and less specifically, “A Mother’s Duty.” Made some time between 1658 and 1660, it is currently housed in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum.

Of the artist, Willard Spiegelman tells us this:

About De Hooch we know little. Born in Rotterdam to a bricklayer and a midwife, he trained (perhaps) in Haarlem, and moved to Delft in 1652, where Vermeer also lived. It’s unclear if they had dealings. In 1661 De Hooch went to Amsterdam. He died impoverished, in a madhouse.

Spiegelman has more to say about the painting itself, which he calls ” a northern, secular version of a traditional Madonna and Child.”

In  the course of this eloquent explication, Spiegelman draws a subtle difference between the art of de Hooch and that of Vermeer:

We do not find in de Hooch what we most prize in Vermeer: a mysterious sense of human inwardness, an artist’s interest in the psychological depth of his characters, either alone or in small groups.

Reading this sentence, I felt a light turn on in my mind. So that is it, that is the secret – or at least, part of it – of Vermeer’s uncanny hold on those of us who are transfixed by his art. But Spegelman does not allow us to get sidetracked by Vermeer. The subject of this jewel-like essay is the many virtues of “A Mother’s Duty.”

Spiegelman refers to the dog at the left as an element in the picture that “…increases domestic charm.” In art, the dog is a symbol of fidelity and loyalty. Two of my favorite examples of this usage are the Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck and St. Augustine in His Study by Vittore Carpaccio:

(I highly recommend Jan Morris’s delightful little volume, Ciao, Carpaccio!: An Infatuation.)

(Willard Spiegelman’s essay appeared in the August 19 – 20 edition of the Wall Street Journal. The link provided in the previous sentence may not lead you to the full text. If that happens, the article can be accessed via the ProQuest database. Please see this post for instructions on how to do this through the Howard County Library’s website. Scroll down to the bottom to view those instructions.)

I am deeply grateful for the weekly Review section of the Wall Street Journal, in which literature and the arts have unquestioned pride of place.

Permalink Leave a Comment

The art of the Northern Renaissance, with a side trip to Colmar

August 19, 2017 at 11:48 am (Art)

I have fallen in love with the art of the Northern Renaissance. Can you blame me? Just look:

 

Adoration of the Shepherds –  Martin Schongauer  1475-1480

Depictions of the nativity, along with other images of Virgin and Child, abound in this period. Many share with this painting a powerful mix of awe and sweetness. Humble shepherds worship together with exalted rulers. Class distinctions have fallen away.

 

Rest on the Flight into Egypt – Gerard David  c. 1510

 

Madonna in the Church – Jan Van Eyck 1438

 

Madonna in the Rose Garden – Stephan Lochner c.1440

 

Nativity at Night – Geertgen tot Sint Jans c.1490

Geertgen’s Nativity at Night is one of the period’s most poetic paintings….Christ’s radiance illuminates Mary, who leans over the manger to adore her son, and the angels….Only rarely at this date had light been the organizing feature of an entire composition….Mary is the universal mother awed by her son’s majesty and haunted by his martyrdom….This humanization of the holy, promoted by the mendicant orders, such as the Franciscans and the Dominicans…would be one of the persistent characteristics of fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century art.

From The Northern Renaissance by Jeffrey Chipps Smith

 

Madonna of the Rose Garden – Martin Schongauer  c.1473

A great admirer of Schongauer’s work. Albrecht Durer traveled to Colmar in 1492 in the hope of studying with this great master. But when he arrived there, he discovered that Schongauer had recently died. He would have been about 43  years old. (It never ceases to astonish, the poignant fact of the tenuousness of life in those times.)

There was, of course, no stopping the prodigiously gifted Durer:

Self-portrait at age 13, in 1484

 

Self-portrait, 1498

 

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, 1498

 

Praying Hands, 1508

 

Young Hare 1502

 

Adoration of the Trinity 1511

Oil painting, wood block print, engraving, silverpoint, water color – Durer did all of them, and did them superbly. He also authored two theoretical works: Four Books on Measurement and Four Books on Human Proportion.

I highly recommend Professor Catherine B. Scallen’s lectures on The Art of the Northern Renaissance. They’re available on DVD on the Great Courses series.  If you’re lucky as we are, your local public library will carry these wonderful learning tools.
******************
Reading about Colmar put me in mind of two things, one artistic; the other, literary. First: Colmar is home to the Unterlinden Museum, which among its other treasures houses one of the most stunning works of the Northern Renaissance, an image of suffering so profound that it can almost seem painful to gaze upon: Matthias Grunewald’s early sixteenth century masterpiece, the Isenheim Altarpiece:

The Isenheim Altarpiece as it is currently displayed in the chapel of the Unterlinden Museum

For more views of the Altarpiece, with an in depth explication, click here.

The composer Paul Hindemith wrote an opera based on the life and work of Matthias Grunewald. Called Mathis der Maler – Mathis the Painter – it is rarely performed nowadays; however, a suite of music taken from it is frequently performed as a symphony and is widely admired as such:

***********

When I was in high school, I was fortunate in having a French teacher who was a knowledgeable and passionate Francophile. Her name was Gail Davis. She shared with us a short story by Alphonse Daudet called “La Dernière Classe” – “The Last Class.”  The time is approximately 1873. Victorious in the Franco-Prussian War, the Germans have decreed that in the schools of the Alsace-Lorraine region, the German language must be spoken to the exclusion of French. In this story, the author describes the effect that this decree has on one small boy and his teacher.

To read, click here.

 

 

 

Permalink Leave a Comment

‘The world holds its breath in this painting:’ The Baptism of Christ by Piero della Francesca

May 27, 2017 at 2:21 pm (Art)

The Baptism of Christ,by
Piero della Francesca
Date made: 1450s
 The National Gallery, London

The world holds its breath in this painting; as hushed and still, ordered, cool and clear as a crystal. This is the moment when Christ, being baptised by Saint John in the River Jordan, is revealed as the Son of God. The Holy Spirit descends on him ‘like a dove’ (Mark 1:10) and his hands are closed in prayer to his Heavenly Father. It is unique moment in history, and is also timeless. The original viewers would once have recognised Christ’s divinity anew every time they worshipped beneath this altarpiece. Now in the National Gallery many still do, but for others  today this lonely, pale figure at the centre of things is just a human being like ourselves. Stripped bare, he looks deeply into his own heart, reflecting on his destiny. We have all known decisive moments like this, when nothing will ever be the same again, and we ourselves will be changed. Soon the dove must fold its wings, the river flow again, and the baptismal water will trickle down over Christ’s head; and he will step forward to confront and embrace his future. Another man behind Christ readies himself for baptism. Because this picture shows a universal experience, Piero della Francesca has relocated Palestine to the familiar countryside of Tuscany, near his native town of Borgo San Sepolcro.

This description appears in Masterpieces from the National Gallery. First published in 2000, a revised edition came out in 2003; it was reprinted in 2004. The author is Erika Langmuir.

Stunned by the beauty and depth of insight reflected in this commentary, I resolved to find out more about this writer. She held a Masters in Art History from Stanford and earned a doctorate from London’s Warburg Institute, where she studied under the renowned art historian Professor Sir Ernst Gombrich. Having  led an extraordinarily eventful and fascinating life, Ms Langmuir passed away in December of 2015 at  the age of 84. An affectionate an illuminating  tribute by her daughter is well worth reading.

Erika Langmuir receiving an OBE (Order of the British Empire) in 1995. Daughter Val is at the far left.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Things of Beauty, for Joan

May 14, 2017 at 8:26 pm (Art, Family, Music)

For my entire adult life, Joan has been more sister than sister-in-law: an exemplar of quiet strength, generosity, and compassion, sustained at all times by her unwavering Jewish faith.

Like me, Joan has always loved the Impressionists. For Hanukah last December, I sent her Norbert Wolf’s magnificent new volume:

She was thrilled to receive it, filled  as it is with images we both love. (I also own this book.) Here are some of those images, with accompanying music by the great Impressionist composer, Claude Debussy:

View from Artist’s Window at Eragny, by Camille Pissarro

Lady Agnew of Lochnaw, by John Singer Sargent

For the Little One, by William Merritt Chase

Ballet Class, by Edgar Degas

Woman with Parasol (Madame Monet and Her Son), by Claude Monet

In a Park, by Berthe Morisot

La Loge, by Pierre-Auguste Renoir


Femmes au Jardin, par Claude Monet

Mother and Child Against a Green Background, by Mary Cassatt

The Pergola, by Sylvestro Lega

Irises in Monet’s Garden, by Claude Monet

Poppy Field in Argenteuil, by Claude Monet

Permalink Leave a Comment

London art museums: the National Gallery and the Tate Britain: Two

May 12, 2017 at 11:18 am (Art, Smithsonian Associates World Art History Certificate Program)

[Click here for One in this series]

Last Saturday, Professor Bonita Billman regaled us with numerous fascinating stories to go along with the spectacular art works on display. For instance:

The Origin of the Milky Way, by Jacopo Tintoretto – ca. 1575-1580

According to myth, the Milky Way was formed by the goddess Hera, wife of Zeus, in a fit of pique. (If my recollection of the field of mythology is correct, she was prone to these.) It seems that her half-sister Athena brought the infant Heracles to Hera so that she could nurse him. Hera was initially willing to perform this task – never mind that Heracles (Hercules) was the offspring of one of Zeus’s innumerable illicit love affairs – but Heracles suckled with such vigor that she cast him off. In the process of doing this, she scattered her mother’s milk over a wide area. So wide, in fact, that it coalesced into the galaxy we now call the Milky Way.

How to respond to such a tale except by exclaiming: Who knew??

There’s more on this in the Wikipedia entry on Heracles, along with wonderful additional illustrations.

 

 

Permalink Leave a Comment

London art museums: the National Gallery and the Tate Britain: One

May 11, 2017 at 2:23 pm (Art, Smithsonian Associates World Art History Certificate Program)

The Ambassadors, By Hans Holbein the Younger – 1533

[Click twice to enlarge.]

This extraordinary painting is one of many discussed last Saturday by our presenter Bonita Billman at our day long lecture on London’s National Gallery and the Tate Britain.  This was the second such outing for my fellow art lover and friend Jean and myself. It was just as enjoyable as Seductive Paris from last November, with the added attraction of the trains having run on time.

That strange object at the bottom of the canvas is what is called an animorphosis.  Wikipedia enlarges on its use here and also provides this normalized version of the image:

I read somewhere that if you hold the back of a highly polished spoon up to the image in the painting, you can resolve it into the image shown directly above. I tried it, and after much contorting and head twisting, had to admit defeat. Try it yourself, if you like, and let me know if you can make it work.

Permalink 1 Comment

Etta and Grandma ‘Berta visit the Art Institute of Chicago

April 28, 2017 at 4:06 pm (Art, Family)

My granddaughter Etta loves to make art:

So I thought she might enjoy a visit to one of our country’s premier Art Museums:

Art Institute of Chicago, founded in 1879: Michigan Avenue Entrance

This visit being for Etta, I let her set the agenda. First, we worked on a craft together at the Ryan Education Center. Then we proceeded to wander the galleries. First stop: Asian art, where we encountered many strange and beautiful objects.

Suspension Bell (Bo), Eastern Zhou dynasty (770–256 B.C.), first half of 5th century BC China

 

Bodhisattva, Tang dynasty, China (AD 618–907), 725-50

 

Seated Bodhisattva, c 775 AD Japan

 

Bird Shaped Ewer with Crowned Rider Holding a Bowl, Goryeo dynasty (918–1392), 12th century Korea

(What is it about that celadon green….I can envision an entire room filled with that dreamy color.)

Then, on to European painting and sculpture.  As we came through the doors to these galleries, Etta was quite literally stopped in her tracks. “It’s the Little Dancer!” she exclaimed. Her eyes grew round and saucer-wide. “There’s a story about this,” she continued excitedly, “and it’s true! I have a book about it.”

Little Dancer, Age Fourteen, ca 1881, Edgar Degas

 

Little Dancer and her Little Admirer!

Other attractions in this room:

Renoir’s Two Sisters (On the Terrace), 1881:

Gustave Caillbotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day, 1877.

(O painting, so beloved of tote bag makers, there you actually are! You can get this one from CafePress, last I checked.)

And of course, the unutterably wonderful “Sunday Afternoon on la Grande Jatte” (Le Dimanche Après-midi à L’ÎIe de La Grande Jatte”), 1884, by Georges Seurat:

By happenstance, we stumbled into a room full of gorgeous paperweights. This was the Arthur Rubloff Collection:

From time to time we found ourselves wandering through the museum’s modern wing, a structure designed by renowned architect Renzo Piano and opened in 2009. It is wonderfully light and spacious.

Then it was time for the Thorne Miniature Rooms. Etta was enchanted by these, and so was I.

(This  was Etta’s day to be pretty in pink. She received several compliments on her outfit from museum staff!)

Of course, no trip to an art museum is complete without a visit to  the shop. Etta selected several small decorated boxes. I threw in a book of postcards depicting the Thorne Miniatures. Etta also picked out a gift for her little brother Welles, another budding artist, as can be seen here: 

The Art Institute of Chicago is the second largest art museum in the U.S. (New York City’s fabled “Met” is the largest.) What a gorgeous place it is, filled with countless treasures beautifully and accessibly displayed. And to be in such a place with my lovely Etta – well, it was a very special day!

 

Permalink 3 Comments

A Centennial Album: Drawing, Prints and Photos at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

March 9, 2017 at 4:24 pm (Art, Photography)

magic-flute

Gazing at this beautiful graphic on the cover of the Met’s Winter 2017 Bulletin, I thought to myself: Why, that looks like Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s backdrop for Mozart’s Magic Flute. More precisely, it’s identified as being by Karl Friedrich Thiele, “after” Schinkel’s design for The Hall of Stars in the Palace of the Queen of the Night. Here is the original by Schinkel:

Here is Diana Damrau, singing the Queen of the night’s famous – and famously challenging – aria, Der Hölle Rache:

Born in Prussia in 1781, Karl Friedrich Schinkel was a man of extraordinary gifts. He was not only a set designer but a painter and architect as well.

Morning (Der Morgen)

 

Medieval Town by Water

 

Castle by the River

 

Konzerthaus, Berlin

Altes Museum und Lustgarten, Berlin

 

Stolzenfels Castle, Koblenz

 

Karl Friedrich Schinkel 1781-1841

*****************************

Back to the Met Bulletin: For two hours I’ve been lost in image searches prompted by this slender, unpretentious little volume. Here are some of the results:

Edgar Degas, Self-Portrait, black chalk and graphite, 1857

 

Edgar Degas, Self-Portrait, gelatin silver print, 1985

 

St. Jerome in His Study, Albrecht Durer, engraving, 1514

 

The Salon of Baron Gros, Jean-Baptiste-Louis Gros, Daguerrotype, 1850s

 

Louis-Remy Robert, by Alfred Thompson Gobert, salted paper print from paper negative, ca. 1850

If ever it could be said that a person’s very soul has been captured in an image, then surely it was done in this portrait of Louis-Remy Robert by his friend Alfred Thompson Gobert. The two were colleagues at the Royal Porcelain Factory at Sèvres.  Commentary provided on the Met’s site explains how technical necessity resulted in a striking work of art:

Robert’s colleague Alfred Gobert, head of the Enameling Workshop at Sèvres, is shown here with his head slightly bowed and his eyes half closed (in part to help maintain his pose during a long exposure in bright sunlight), as if lost in thought. The shallow depth of field—only Gobert’s face is in focus—and the flecks of light and soft massing of shadows so characteristic of prints from paper negatives heighten the sense that this portrait is a privileged meditation by Robert on the interior world of his friend.

 

The Mountain Nymph, Sweet Liberty, by Julia Margaret Cameron, Albumen silver print from glass negative, 1866

We know of this model nothing but her last name, Miss Keene.

Students from the Emerson School for Girls, byAlbert Sands Southworth, Daguerrotype, ca. 1820

I confess I exclaimed with delight upon seeing this photo! This school was founded in 1823 by George Barrell Emerson, second cousin to Ralph waldo Emerson. It is described in the Bulletin as “the most prominent school for young women in Boston.”

 

Spiraea aruncus, by Anna Atkins, Cyanotype, early 1850s

Described in the Bulletin as “a superb example of  Atkins’s cameraless photograms of algae and plant specimens,” these and similar images were created by placing “plant samples directly on light-sensitized paper. The resulting cyanotypes, or blueprints, appear as negative images against a sea of Prussian blue.”

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, London 1775–1851 London) The Lake of Zug, 1843 British, Watercolor over graphite

Ah, J.M.W. Turner, master of light….If you haven’t seen the film Mr Turner, featuring Timothy Spall’s brilliant and memorable portrayal of this genius of British painting, I recommend it very, very highly.

Just viewing this trailer made me yearn to see it again, in its entirety. Why aren’t there more movies like this?

 

St. George and the Dragon, Lewis Carroll, Albumen silver print from glass negative, 1875

 

Frontispiece design for “Peter Poodle, Toymaker to the King,” by William Henry Bradley, Graphite, black ink, watercolor and gouache, 1906

 

Sumner Healey Antique Shop, 942 Third Avenue Near 57th Street, Manhattan, 1936. Gelatin silver print, by Berenice Abbott

 

As usual, this intensive period of image searching took me far afield, in this case somewhat outside the province of the Met Bulletin:

Baron Antoine Jean Gros Rushing into Eternity, by Jacques Charles Bordier du Bignon

Date unknown, but probably not long after 1835, when Baron Gros committed suicide.

Study of cats, Eugene Delacroix

(Nine months later, our own Miss Marple, we still miss her so much.)

Eugene Delacroix, by Nadar, ca. 1855

 

 

 

 

 

Permalink Leave a Comment

Next page »