Monday, May 28, 2007

Speaking of Raphael

Speaking of Raphael – which I have been doing a lot in preparation for the release of our newest title, Raphael’s Stanza della Segnatura -- one of the few of his works that remain privately owned is is going up for auction at Christies in London on July 5th.
I do hope it will be acquired for a museum collection, rather than being snatched up by one of the world’s super-rich. But I fear that the cachet of owning one of the last privately-held Raphaels will send the bidding beyond the reach of museum budgets.
"The portrait shows a swagger Lorenzo de’ Medici standing proud and resplendent against a rich green background. In the Duke’s right hand he holds what is probably a portrait miniature showing his future wife."
The resplendent color, and the delicate treatment of the fur on his cape highlight Raphael’s exceptional ability and technique. This explains is reputation of ‘the Prince of Painters'.
The Medici gained great power through a series of appointments, conquests and strategic marriages. The second son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, Giovanni di Lorenzo de' Medici (1475-1521), was elected Pope Leo X in 1513. "Seeking to consolidate the position of the Medici family on an international stage, the Pope arranged for his nephew, Lorenzo, to be married to Madeleine de la Tour d’Auvergne, a cousin of Francois I, King of France. At the time, France was an important ally of the Vatican against the Holy Roman Empire."
"As neither the Duke nor the bride-to-be had met, an exchange of portraits was arranged in order that they could see what to expect. On 2 May 1518 the Duke was married in the ch√Ęteau of Amboise in France. Returning to Florence with his bride, their entry to the city was celebrated with a banquet at which Raphael’s portrait of the Pope, now in the Uffizi, Florence, was exhibited. The couple had a child, Catherine de Medici, who went on to marry King Henry II of France, but less than a year after the marriage, the Duchess died. Lorenzo died soon afterwards in 1519."

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

3-Month Long, 40-Mile Long Art Exhibition

Although the Loire River no longer looks as it did in W.M.Turner’s day, it continues to inspire artistic endeavor.

For three months this summer, running for 40 miles along the river will be more than 40 installations created by an international cadre of artists. Visit

Artists including Anish Kapoor and Daniel Buren will install what we’re told will be a “lively, fun and unusual” variety of works in the cities and ports, on the riverbanks, on the water -- and even in the water -- to build a geographic and symbolic link between Nantes ando St Nazaire, two cities which share a common history of shipbuilding.

The works include “an 80 foot duck, astonishing feats of architecture, dramatic fountains and a floating house,” all of which can be viewed free of charge.

One way to see the river’s landscapes, its cultural and historic heritage, and the installations themselves will be to take a three-hour river cruise on a specially-built mirrored boat, while listening to the audio-guided tour designed by the artists (available in English and French).

Alternatively, the area is wonderful to explore on foot or by bicycle.

Not going to the Loire Valley this summer? Not to worry … you can start planning now to see the repeat of The Loire Estuary Project in 2009 and 2011!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

"Rafael Moneo has done something very odd, even unorthodox, to the Prado, Madrid’s world-renowned city-centre art gallery,” The Guardian newspaper reported in an article dated May 1, 2007. Over the past five years, the architect has overseen construction of a major new extension to the 18th-century neoclassical building that is surprisingly serious and well-crafted. “Flying in the face of 21st-century orthodoxy, he has avoided the temptation to design an ‘iconic’ (in other words, showy) gallery that might have rivaled Frank Gehry’s phantasmagorical Bilbao Guggenheim,” said the London newspaper.

"Those 'cool-seekers', as Madrid guidebooks have it, who are hoping for an all-singing, all-dancing extension to the Prado may well be disappointed by Moneo's quietly heroic work. Here, an architect of the first order has chosen to let the art that will be on display steal the show. What he has created over long years is a building of immense skill, craft, solidity and intelligence, which redefines a part of Madrid's city centre and makes the Prado itself a far more immediate gallery than it has been for some while."

The expansion was sorely needed. A few years ago I had the unpleasant experience of waiting in a v-e-r-y slow-moving line for upwards of an hour, outside -- in the pouring rain -- while their seriously inadequate and decidedly officious post-9/11 security efforts were exerted -- one visitor at a time – in a tiny log-jam of a foyer. Once inside, the experience was absolutely worth that discomfort, but how lovely I imagine it will be now that the space -- and undoubtedly the security process – have been enhanced. I so enjoy the sense of luxury about Madrid and about the Prado -- that dreary cattle-call entry was disappointingly unwelcoming and incompatible with that sense of elegance.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

More On Conservation Controversies

In light of my posting last week about the controversy among art historians and conservators about restoration techniques and their results, I was intrigued by a 4-year-old item I found on the ArtWatch International website, which I have copied in below.

I am in the process of creating a webpage presenting the newest Jane’s Smart Art Guides audio tour of Raphael’s Stanza della Segnatura in the Vatican, and I came across the ArtWatch article while searching Google Images for a complete view of Raphael’s panoramic Dispute Over the Sacrament (La Disputa).

It was no surprise, actually, that this article was illustrated with an image from the Stanza della Segnatura, given that the President of ArtWatch International is none other than James Beck, Professor of Art History at Columbia University. Professor Beck authored the book in The Great Fresco Cycles of the Renaissance series, on which the Jane’s Smart Art Guides audio tour, Raphael’s Stanza della Segnatura, is based.

Vatican Wins an Award for Restoration! 12/11/2003
Biennale in Florence Gives the Nod
It seems truly unbelievable. The fourth Biennale Internazionale dell'Arte Contemporanea, which convenes in Florence this December, has awarded one of its Premio Lorenzo il Magnifico awards to the restoration laboratory of the Vatican Museums (the other went to Ferrari) in honor of the laboratory's "unequalled and continuing efforts" in its projects, "above all the complex restoration of the cycle of frescoes (15th-century works and those by Michelangelo) the Sixtine Chapel".
All of this despite the fact that the restoration of Michelangelo's frescoes in the Sistina was -- and remains -- among the most controversial cleanings of the past decades, garnishing richly deserved criticism from both artists and art historians. Not deterred by public outcry or calls for open debate and discussion, the Vatican has continued its drastic cleaning methods, applying them not only to the lower register of 15th century frescoes in the Sistine Chapel by Perugino, Ghirlandaio, Botticelli and Cosimo Rosselli, but also to the Raphael's frescoes in the Stanza della Segnatura and Fra Angelico's frescoes in the Chapel of Nicholas V, all with equally drastic and irreversible results.
Perhaps this award is appropriate in light of the fact that the Biennale is celebrating contemporary art, which these radically cleaned 15th and 16th century works may now rightly be considered. Nonetheless, any celebration of the efforts of the Vatican's cleaning machine can only be considered an attempt to attract publicity and to flatter a powerful institution.