Sunday, July 19, 2015

Reviving The Greatest Forgotten Artist of the Renaissance

Andrea del Sarto: The Renaissance Workshop in Action

At the Getty in Los Angeles until Sept. 13, 2015  
At the Frick in N.Y. from Oct 7, 2015, to Jan. 10, 2016

“The greatest forgotten artist of the Renaissance,” according to J. Paul Getty Museum curator Julian Brooks, Andrea del Sarto was once well-known like Michelangelo and Raphael, and collected by the Medici family and European royalty. Over the years, the Florence-based artist lost favor and fame, but a new exhibit at the Getty aims to resuscitate Del Sarto’s renown and reputation.

The exhibit features 48 drawings and paintings from provate art collections and museums worldwide. It includes 18 on loan from the Uffizi Gallery Museum in Florence, Italy, which owns half of the 180 surviving works by the artist.

The exhibit includes the “deconstruction” of two of  most admired paintings, The Sacrifice of Isaac and  The Medici Holy Family, to show the process by which they were made. Using infrared reflectograms, viewers can see beneath the layers of paint to the under-drawings that outlined the artist’s plan for figures ahd their positions, and the changes that he made as the paintings evolved.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Alexander the Great Meets Hebrew Priest

 An ancient  mosaic believed to depict Alexander the Great meeting a Hebrew high priest has been discovered in a 5th century synagog in Hoqoq,  Israel, unearthed by a team of archaeologists led by Professor Jodi Magness, of the University of North Carolina.

The scene shows a bearded soldier wearing battle dress and a purple cloak leading a bull by the horns, followed by other soldiers, and elephants with shields tied to their sides. He is meeting with a bearded elder who wears a ceremonial white tunic and mantle, accompanied by young men with sheathed swords, also in ceremonial clothes.

According to Professor Magness “Battle elephants were associated with Greek armies beginning with Alexander the Great, so this might be a depiction of a Jewish legend about the meeting between Alexander and the Jewish high priest.” 

An article in the Daily Mail describes other fabulous mosaics discovered previously during this excavation project, which began in 2012 in cooperation with a team from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

This is a unique and important discovery because of the high level of artistic skill it evidences, as well as the fact that the depiction of Alexander the Great is the first non-Biblical figure ever to be discovered in a mosaic in an ancient synagogue.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Seven Museums Celebrate Sin

Collaboration is in the cultural air this summer.   

Here in Santa Fe, we have the Summer of Color, with museums each featuring an exhibit celebrating a different color. For example, at the Museum of Internatinal Folk Art, The Red that Colored the World  (through September 13, 2015) is a beautifully curated exhibition that tells the story of the extraordinary global spread of cochineal after its first encounter by Spain in 16th century Mexico. Most people know red, but few know of its most prolific and enduring source: American Cochineal, a tiny scaled insect that produces carminic acid.

On the other side of the country, seven cultural institutions of the Fairfield/ Westchester Museum Alliance (FWMA) are doing a similar thing, concurrently presenting exhibitions that explore the Seven Deadly Sins. Interpretations range from Old Master paintings to cutting-edge contemporary art.

For example, at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich CT, The Seven Deadly Sins: Pride (through October 18) explores the heights of human hubris and vanity -- as well as the sometimes cataclysmic falls that have resulted -- through objects of art and material culture from the Renaissance into the contemporary period. In an exhibition of exquisite master prints, drawings, paintings, rare books, and a video installation the breadth and endurance of the imagery of this deadly sin of arrogance is explored, including the peacocks and lions that have long symbolized the sin.

The other museums participating in this collaboration are
The FWMA museums are offering a two-for-the-price-of-one same-day pass. Print it and have it validated when you pay for admission at the admissions desk at any one of the participating museums. The pass will entitle you to free admission at any other one of the eight museums that same day. Simply present the validated pass to receive free admission.

Hot summer day?  Head for a museum!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Two Michelangelo Bronzes Discovered?

Michelangelo was a stone cutter … we know this from David and his other extraordinary sculptures in marble.

So how could a pair of  three-foot tall bronze sculptures be attributed to him recently? On what basis, when there is no other Michelangelo bronze to compare to, stylistically?

The figures are a non-matching pair of men riding in triumph on two sinuous panthers, one man older and lithe, the other young and athletic. They have long been admired for the beauty of their anatomy and expression, their first recorded attribution was to Michelangelo when they catalogued in the collection of Adolphe de Rothschild in the 19th century. But, since they there was no other documentation and they are unsigned, this attribution was dismissed and, for the past 120 years, the bronzes have been attributed to various other sculptors.

That changed last autumn when Prof Paul Joannides, Emeritus Professor of Art History at the University of Cambridge, connected the bronzes to a drawing by one of Michelangelo’s apprentices. The drawing is in the Musée Fabre, Montpellier, France.

According to the press release issued by The FitzwilliamMuseum in Cambridge, England, “A sheet of studies with Virgin Embracing Infant Jesus, c.1508, is a student’s faithful copy of various slightly earlier lost sketches by Michelangelo. In one corner is a composition of a muscular youth riding a panther, which is very similar in pose to the bronzes, and drawn in the abrupt, forceful manner that Michelangelo employed in designs for sculpture. This suggests that Michelangelo was working up this very unusual theme for a work in three dimensions.”

So, the drawing provides a clue.  And – although none remain to us – there is the documented knowledge that Michelangelo did produce works in bronze. I’d say it that production of works in bronze was expected of a Renaissance sculptor of any standing. It’s known that one of two documented Michelangelo sculptures was destroyed during the French Revolution; the other, a twice life-size statue of Pope Julius II,  was melted down for artillery just three years after it was completed.

The recent  insight provided by the drawing triggered a program of concentrated art-historical research. When compared with other works by Michelangelo the bronzes were found to be very similar in style and anatomy to his works of 1500-1510. That dating was confirmed by preliminary interpretation of initial scientific analysis. Interdisciplinary research continues. 

Dr Victoria Avery, Keeper of the Applied Arts Department of the Fitzwilliam Museum says, "It has been fantastically exciting to have been able to participate in this ground-breaking project, which has involved input from many art-historians in the UK, Europe and the States, and to draw on evidence from conservation scientists and anatomists.

The bronzes and a selection of the evidence are now on display in the Italian galleries at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, from February 3 until 9 August 2015.

Monday, April 20, 2015

A Surprise! The Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University

A “WHO KNEW?” surprise at another of America’s lesser-known, university-based museums …

The Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX, houses one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of Spanish art outside of Spain. With works dating from the 10th to the 21st century, the internationally renowned collection presents a broad spectrum of art covering a thousand years of Spanish heritage.

During business trips to Spain in the 1950s, Texas philanthropist and oil financier Algur H. Meadows spent many hours at the Prado Museum in Madrid. The Prado’s spectacular collection of Spanish masterpieces inspired him to begin his own collection of Spanish art. In 1962, through The Meadows Foundation, he gave SMU funds for the construction and endowment of a museum to house his Spanish collection. The Meadows Museum opened in 1965 as part of a new arts center at SMU. Until his death in 1978, Algur Meadows provided the impetus and funds for an aggressive but highly selective acquisitions program through which an extraordinary collection was developed in a remarkably short period of time. The Foundation continues to provide ongoing support for collection-development, education, and more.

The Meadows Museum collection includes masterpieces by some of the world’s greatest painters: El Greco, Velázquez, Ribera, Murillo (St. Justa), Goya, Miró, Gris (Cubist Landscape) and Picasso. Highlights of the collection include Renaissance altarpieces, monumental Baroque canvases, exquisite Rococo oil sketches, polychrome wood sculptures, Impressionist landscapes, modernist abstractions, a comprehensive collection of the graphic works of Goya, and a select group of sculptures by major 20th-century masters, including Auguste Rodin, Jacques Lipchitz, Henry Moore, Claes Oldenburg, David Smith and Fritz Wotruba. At the base of the plaza is a 40-by-90 foot moving sculpture, Wave, designed by Santiago Calatrava.

And, now through August 2nd,  
The Abelló Collection: A ModernTaste for European Masters makes its international debut 
at the Meadows Museum.   
Ranked among the top of private art holdings of Spain, the Juan Abelló Collection comprises works by some of the greatest artists from the sixteenth to the twenty-first centuries. For more than thirty years, impresario Juan Abelló and his wife, Anna Gamazo, have collected the finest and rarest of masterpieces by Spanish artists such as El Greco, Francisco de Goya, Pablo Picasso, and Juan Gris. In several instances, Mr. Abelló and Mrs. Gamazo spent several years in search of particular works, to bring back to Spain national masterpieces dispersed over the course of history.

Among the works in this special exhibit are works by Juan de Flandes (c. 1465-1519) as well as The Virgin with the Christ Child, or The Virgin of the Milk (c. 1485-90) by the Palencian master Pedro de Berruguete (c. 1450-1504), masterpieces by Fernando Yañez de la Almedina (c. 1475-1540) and El Greco (1541-1614) including The Stigmatization of Saint Francis (c. 1580).  The baroque period is represented by Spain’s great expatriate artist Jusepe de Ribera (1591-1652), The Sense of Smell (c. 1615) from his Five Senses, and from his later period, Saint Peter (c. 1644), which relates to the artist’s series of apostles and philosophers. Also included are magnificent examples of still life, a genre that flourished during seventeenth-century. From farther afield, vedute by Francesco Guardi  (1712-1793) and Canaletto (1697-1768) capture dazzling, sun-drenched visions of Venice. Goya’s nineteenth-century portraiture is represented in two works.

The Abelló collection also holds an impressive array of twentieth-century works. The display from this period is about as varied as the number of art theories and movements spanning that era. Several of Spain’s most important artistic representatives of the past century play a prominent role. Included are masterpieces by Juan Gris, Salvador Dalí, Miquel Barceló, and a suite of rare drawings by Picasso.  Non-Spanish artists of the twentieth century are also included, such as Braque, Léger, Matisse, Modigliani (Portrait of Brancusi), and Francis Bacon.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Tortured Soul of Borromini's Architecture

One of my favorite “secret” spots in Rome – right in the congested center – is Francesco Borromini’s Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza, which he designed in the 1640s. Hidden away at the end of a long courtyard (designed by Giacomo della Porta), it is a unique little gem of curves and unusual geometry, topped by a corkscrew bell tower.
The interior of  little church is equally charming. The vault of the cupola supporting the bell tower is a kaleidoscopic froth of pleats and bulges and light and shadow.

Borromini’s style of Roman Baroque architecture could be said to reflect his tortured soul. His work was pure genius, but too unconventional to have long-lasting impact on later architects. He was a melancholy man with a quick temper which limited his career, and he died by his own hand in 1667.

I’m amused by the reproachful statement of the Neoclassic art historian Francesco Milizia (in his 1781 Memorie degli architetti antichi e moderni) who criticized Borromini thusly: “Questo artista non poteva soffrire il retto” (“This artist could not stand straight lines”).  Like that was a bad thing!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Rubens and Temporal Chauvinism

         The current show, Rubens and his Legacy, at the Royal AcademyLondon (until April 10th) is intended to illuminate the Old Master’s influence on later artists … but in her review, Jackie Wullschlager says “the Royal Academy set itself a challenge which could have been magnificently met, but has resulted in the most misjudged Old Master show I have ever encountered." 

I haven’t seen the show, so I can’t agree or not. I mention the review primarily because I think both the analysis and writing are exemplary. Too many reviews of exhibits seem intended more to display the erudition of the reviewer and less to inform the reader.

Wullschlager goes on to say, “… no Old Master is in greater need of reviving for contemporary taste and rescuing from clichéd response than Peter Paul Rubens, the eloquent, erudite and now remote pioneer of the Flemish baroque. He has been out of fashion for generations. Van Gogh called him “superficial, hollow, bombastic”, and, to audiences reared on modernism’s introspection and angst, Rubens’ easy self-confidence was anathema.”

Being “out of fashion” is one thing … tastes change. But to criticize Rubens as “superficial, hollow, bombastic” displays temporal chauvinism … my term for judging a thing in today’s terms rather than in the context of its own times.

The reviewer compares two works in the exhibit: Rubens’ “The Garden of Love” (1633, Prado) and Watteau’s “The Pleasures of the Ball” (1714, Dulwich Picture Gallery)

Speaking of the Rubens painting: “It is a voyeur’s paradise — buoyant, celebratory, but touched with moral seriousness: an allegory of joys — bourgeois order, affluent display — that seem alien today. Lacking is a frisson of qualities we value more: the mystery, fragility, melancholy underlying a similar scene exhibited nearby, Watteau’s The Pleasures of the Ball.”
Apparently, Constable’s comment when he saw Watteau’s ephemeral figures and light brushstrokes: “So mellow, so tender, so soft and so delicious . . . this inscrutable and exquisite thing would vulgarise even Rubens.” 

If you have a few minutes, I recommend reading the review.