Posts Tagged ‘Fra Angelico’

Blackpaint 279

June 11, 2011

Franz Kline

Time, surely, for a Taschen book on Kline; I’ve just come across a painting by him called “Gay Street Rooftops” dated 1941.  Good, but pretty conventional cityscape stuff.  I’d like to know how he got from that to those black and white structures (Chinese letters, some compare them to) for which he is known.

Riopolle

“Vol de Chute” from 1961, a fantastic, Appel-like painting, lozenge shapes of colour with that spidery black scoring outlining them in bands, like barbed wire; blue, yellow, orange, white, green , grey…  it’s all there.

Pollock

“Grey Center”, (I know, but it’s an American picture) 1946, one of the Accabonac Creek series; lots of leggy, angular shapes – maybe more like  knees and elbows, I thought at first by Lee Krasner, rather than Pollock;  it’s in white, grey, pink and ochre – de Kooning colours.  Still appears to have vestiges of the figures he used to put at either side of his paintings; “Pasiphae”, for instance (name of the painting was supplied by his dealer, Pollock not being familiar with Ovid at the time).

Fra Angelico

A while back, writing about violence in paintings, I mentioned Caravaggio’s Abraham and  Isaac, saying that C ‘s painting showed a brutal realism. It is exemplified  in the way Abraham grasps the boy’s face and throat in preparation for the killing stroke with the knife.  Of all artists, Fra Angelico matches this in his “Massacre of the Innocents” (San Marco, Florence).  The soldier on the far right grasps a woman’s throat while thiusting the dagger into her baby’s throat; she is holding the blade, trying to push it away.  Expressions of grief and horror, and violence all around.

This contrasts strongly with Piero della Francesca, who was being discussed, I think by Tim Marlow on TV the other night.  The painting in question was a battle scene but it appeared to me to be absolutely static – something in the way Piero paints seems to drain all movement from his paintings.  And the faces appear expressionless; they don’t engage with the other figures, but usually stare out from the canvas.  I think they look like figures in surrealist paintings, say Delvaux or de Chirico.

Le Quattro Volte

Film by Michelangelo Frammartino.  A sort of seasonal portrait of an Italian mountain village, almost silent – the camera views from a distance much of the time.  It has the Brughel snow scene (cf. Tarkovsky’s “Mirror”); close-ups of wood surfaces, like a tree trunk with lichen and scrambling ants, drifting smoke, a spectacular sky – and lots of goats – those amazing rectangular retinal slots in their eyes.  It seems as if nothing much happens, but it does: a goatherd looks after his flock, coughs, and dies eventually-  we accompany him into the catacomb and hear the door shut on us.  There is a crucifixion festival, a tree felling and climbing festival, and eventually – second time I’ve said that, must say something about the film – we find out what they’re making and why all the smoke.

It skirts sentimentality – the little lost goat, the doughty dog, life and death, life goes on, the men  shake hands with each other  before doing business….  I suppose all films are romantic in one sense, though, as soon as you frame a scene and a narrative emerges.  What about Chien Andalou and l’Age d’Or?  Probably they’re romantic too – have to think about that one.

Blackpaint

Saturday

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Blackpaint 262

March 21, 2011

Anselm Kiefer

In Saturday’s Guardian, a pleasing quotation from Kiefer regarding “Salz, Merkur, Sulfur”,  a recent work: “..the salt-covered U boat is my Noah’s ark as the Flood was important to alchemists,…It is made out of the base metal lead; there are seven flames because seven is the alchemical number of perfection, and so on.  It all means something.  Not that anyone needs to know this, but if I’m asked I will tell you.” Well, thank goodness for that – the implication is that the work stands, for Kiefer, on the merits of its visual power alone, without the need to read a lengthy exposition on a gallery wall (or stand in everyone else’s way, gawping, while you listen to the explanation on one of those those audios).

Kiefer is the embodiment of those artists who build a career around a big idea; the core of his has been the exhumation of German history from under  layers of guilt and willful amnesia in the decades after WW2 – a worthy and courageous work in the 60s especially.  So someone asks, “What is this work about?”  No problem; he knows –  and, if he’s asked, he’ll be able to tell you.

Miro

Miro is another one.  As Tim Adams says, in Sunday’s Observer, “He had no interest in pure abstraction…”You get freedom by sweating for it,” he believed, “by an inner struggle…”.  Whatever this second part means, Adams’ piece quotes Miro to the effect that his pictures, even the most surreal, were made up of collections of symbols representing things in the real world: “I’ve shown the Toulouse-Rabat airplane on the left; …I showed it by a propellor, a ladder and the French and Catalan flags”.  The whole display of bacteria-like shapes and squiggles swimming in an orange and yellow background “means something”; everything is representative.

I’ve always loved Miro’s work, for its colour, movement, humour – and Kiefer’s, for almost completely opposite qualities, darkness, weight, gravity of purpose. I had no idea about the Toulouse – Rabat airplane and not much specific about alchemy; but the lack of detailed information didn’t stop me liking the work and knowing more hasn’t enhanced my appreciation.

I think it’s enough to say “It’s about itself”.  Paintings that are only about visual things like image, structure, texture, colour, movement, balance – pure abstraction –  are as valid as the “hidden meaning” efforts; and you don’t have to read the spurious Artspeak expositions.

Some early paintings that I think are stunning – and no problems with meaning:

Fra Angelico

St Nicholas of Bari (1437) – look at the castle and the pink mountain with the folds.

The Mocking of Christ (1441) – disembodied head spits in Christ’s face.

Giotto

The Stefaneschi Altar, the Martyrdom of Paul – yes, the decapitated head does still wear the halo; and the Martyrdom of Peter – upside down on his cross, as if diving, an angel reading the bible to the assembled watchers, from the sky.

The Arrest of Christ, Padua. – the Judas kiss, Judas enveloping Christ in that yellow cloak.

The Master of Flemalle (Robert Campin?)

The Annunciation, Merode Altarpiece – look at the folds in the fabric of both the angel’s and Mary’s gowns; and the tilting forwards of the table – like a Bonnard or Cezanne a few years later.

Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources

Finally got round to seeing these after meaning to for years; Yves Montand (I remember him in “Z”) and Daniel Auteuil, as the Soubeyrans -great, tragi-comic pairing. For some reason, keep watching films about peasants – Provencal, Iranian and Ozark hill folk so far.

Blackpaint

21.03.11

Blackpaint 241

January 10, 2011

Van Gogh

Interesting to read in the Taschen VG the symbolism of his painting of April 1885 of the Bible and Zola’s “Joie de Vivre”, which he called “Still Life with Bible”.  The bible represents his father (solidity, authority, religion) and the dead candle signifies his recent demise.  The Zola volume is VG himself.  Zola’s story asserts the value of life and the life force in the face of sufferings, whilst the bible is open at Isaiah 53, which exalts those who suffer.  This sort of reading is more familiar to those who have read the Hagens’ interpretations of Renaissance paintings, which abound with symbolism, but it can still be used with more modern artists. I don’t have Van Gogh’s complete Letters, but my selected Letters doesn’t include such an analysis by VG himself – I imagine that it is the (plausible) effort of the authors, Walther and Metzger.

Veneziano

In the Uffizi guide, the Santa Lucia dei Magnoli Altarpiece.  That green and rose pink background remind me of Fra Angelico (Man of Sorrows) and maybe Duccio.  The really memorable aspect, however, is the rough, vigorous peasant face of John the Baptist, staring out at the viewer.  Nobody in the picture – two other saints and the Virgin and Child – is looking at anybody else; it’s like a room full of statues (the flesh tones on the V and C are pretty stone-coloured too).  Oddly, it seems to increase the picture’s power, in the same way that della Francesca’s figures sometimes do.

Altdorfer

Still perusing the Uffizi guide and Altdorfer’s “the Martyrdom of St. Florian” strikes me.  Florian, with a massive white millstone chained to his neck, kneeling on the rough logs of a pier or bridge with a great throng of people behind him.  Several of them look surprisingly solicitous, taking his cloak, gesturing towards the water, as if assuring him that its not too cold.  Florian looks unpersuaded.  Things are not looking good for him.

Leonardo

His early painting (c.1480) of St. Hieronymus contains the first really credible picture of a lion that I have seen in the early Renaissance.  Durer’s efforts, for instance, seem to me to flounder when it comes to the eyes; his lions have human eyes, if somewhat large.  The Hieronymus lion, although unfinished, has the unmistakable profile of a genuine African male.

Quiz

In the Sickert picture “Ennui”, what is the old boy at the table doing?

Listening to Martin Carthy, “Newlyn Town”:

“I robbed Lord Golding, I do declare,

And Lady Mansfield in Grosvenor Square;

I shut the shutters and bid them goodnight,

And home I took my loot,

And home I took my loot to my heart’s delight…”

Blackpaint

10.01.10

Blackpaint 225

November 30, 2010

Hans Holbein

I’m intrigued at the difference between the realism or naturalism of the famous portraits and the highly stylised portrayal of characters in his religious/historical paintings; they look as if they were done by different artists.  The staggering portraits – Thomas Cromwell, Ellyot, More and that lady with the squirrel – could have been done yesterday, except maybe that no-one nowadays would do those beautiful coloured backgrounds (that green-blue in the lady).  But look at “Noli me Tangere” for example; the drama of the poses and the portrayal  of Christ with his big head and long face (like Wirtz, “The Miraculous Draught  of fishes”) in that karate master posture – you would never think  that was a Holbein, surely. 

Albrecht Durer

It seems to me that there is no such dichotomy with Durer, except for one portrait:  that of his father, aged 70.  In  this portrait alone, he approaches Holbein’s naturalism and the painting could be taken for one  by the younger artist.  Check them out on Google.

The painting which caught my attention today, however, was Durer’s “Christ as the Man of Sorrows” of 1493.  There is the usual display of torture instruments: the crown of thorns, a whip and a bundle of birch twigs.  Christ bleeds from numerous wounds.  What is strange is his pose and his expression – he rests one cheek on his hand, the other hand lies open on a bench at the fromt of the picture and he has on knee raised as if on a box.  The pose is casual.  His face displays boredom, not agony or exaltation – I can see him as  Tony Hancock in that famous radio sketch about a boring Sunday afternoon in 50’s Britain.

The Man of Sorrows theme has produced other oddities – see Fra Angelico’s  version, for example, with  a disembodied head spitting into Christ’s face.

Last Suppers

 Saw Andrew Graham Dixon’s programme on German art last night and there was yet another “round table” Last Supper; this one by Lucas Cranach the Elder, in Wittenberg Cathedral, I think. 

The Gospel according to Saint Matthew

By Pasolini, of course; wonderful film, fantastic music, Blind Willie Johnson, Bach, Mozart, Missa Luba…  And  those faces: Peter, Thomas the doubter, Judas, the soldier with the spear and sponge.  All the way through, I had this nagging feeling I’d seen Jesus’ face before (the Jesus in the film, that is – haven’t just had a conversion) and then I realised what it was – Richard Hamilton’s picture of “The Citizen”, wrapped in a blanket in the H Blocks, his own shit smeared all  over the walls of the cell.  I looked it up on Wikipedia where it said the portrait was of Hugh Rooney, one of the hunger strikers; another source said it was modelled by Hamilton’s son.  Whichever source is right, he is the image of Pasolini’s Christ (a 19 year old Spanish student, in fact – P. used non actors).

Bridget Riley

I’d remembered Riley’s spot picture as a disc; I was wrong – its a square, set on a point like a diamond.  And I was wrong about “Escape 3”; it DOES divide in the centre, so that the bottom half appears to fold out – or in.

Blackpaint

30.11.10

Blackpaint 212

October 28, 2010

Raphael v. Michelangelo (cont.)

Having made one of my usual sweeping generalisations ( great cliche that; you can see them sweeping in the mind’s eye, Horatio),  I am now having to qualify it repeatedly.  Raphael’s “static” compositions (see last blog) – the Fire in the Borgo is perhaps the least static.  The man hanging by his hands is very Michelangelesque.  Also, The Expulsion of Heliodorus. 

Michelangelo’s “Last Judgement”

So the angels swirling about in the top left and right lunettes are carrying the Instruments of the Passion.  On the left, the cross, the crown of thorns, the nails – invisible, but presumably in the hands which are being cradled by a second angel – but NOT the lash,  a strange omission, really; on the right, the whipping column (the huge phallic object, in case you hadn’t noticed), the sponges on a stick, the ladder, peeping up at the very top.  Vasari mentions a lance, the one that pierced Christ’s side presumably, but I was unable to make it out.

St. Bartholomew and St. Peter

These two seem oddly threatening to the Christ figure; the first, waving his skinning knife near the left leg, and Peter pointing a huge key at Christ, like some kind of Star Wars firearm.  Christ could be recoiling in alarm.  Opposite Bart, St. Lawrence sneaks away like a thief, with a backward glance, his grill over his shoulder.

Naked Lunch

From Michelangelo to William Burroughs.  Re-reading the above book, in the section titled “benway”, I found a description of interrogation and demoralisation techniques, short of out and out torture, that coincided very closely with the techniques in which British forces were trained, according to a Guardian article a day or two ago; I think the Guardian source was Wikileaks.  The Burroughs book was written in the 50’s.

“A naked lunch is natural to us,

We eat reality sandwiches.

But allegories are so much lettuce.

Don’t hide the madness.”

“On Burrough’s work”, Allen Ginsberg 1954.  What great advice for an artist.

Fra Angelico

I’ve already blogged about the above, in relation to his strange and beautiful “Mocking of Christ”, with the disembodied head spitting into his face.  Looking at other paintings, I have some questions:  why, in “The Dream of the Deacon Justinian”, are Sts. Cosmas and Damian replacing Justinian’s corrupted leg with a healthy – but black – leg (Justinian is white)?  And in the gruesome “Decapitation of St. Cosmas and St.Damian”, the sainted heads retain their halos, as they roll about in the dust, looking like space helmets; do saint’s heads always retain the halo after removal?  I shall be checking the web to find out.

Blackpaint

28.10.10

Blackpaint 202

October 6, 2010

Michelangelo’s God (Sistine Ceiling)

I find it amazing that the brain – my brain, anyway –  seems not to register things that should be obvious and impossible to miss.  God animates Adam with the famous touching finger, reaching out from his seat in the brain – shaped thing (see Blackpaint 165) .  Don’t look – is he alone in there?  I thought so, but I was wrong – the deity is surrounded by a group of attractive young persons of indeterminate sex, presumably members of a high order of angels, seraphim maybe.  The touch, of course, is also Michelangelo’s invention – Genesis speaks only of god breathing life into Adam.

All this stuff – about the Flood, Adam and Eve and the serpent, etc. –  is trivial, I suppose, but it does illustrate how freely M. took liberties with the text and got away with it.  I think it was only the nakedness that led to problems.  When you think that printers had their ears cropped for little errors – “thou shalt commit adultery”, for example – although that’s a bad example, because it’s quite a serious mistake…..

Balzac

I’ve been reading the story “the Unknown Masterpiece”, in which the painter Frenhofer believes he has created a masterpiece in his portrait of Catherine Lescault, “the beautiful courtesan”.  He invites two fellow painters in to see; what they see is an unintelligible mass of paint, with only a human foot recognisable in a lower corner of canvas.  Meanwhile, Frenhofer raves about the light falling on the hair, the flesh of the bosom quivering until he hears one of his friends remark that there is nothing on the canvas.  At this, he collapses in tears and self-pity, which rapidly turns to defiance and the assertion of his own mastery, which others are too small to recognise.  Typical artist.

Open House

The point of the above is that it reminds me of the reactions of some visitors when they come over your doorstep and see abstract paintings.  No doubt their hearts sink (cliche, sorry) and they try to think of something to say.  A frequent response is, “Well, there’s certainly a lot of paintings; you’ve been very busy.”  After an interval of, say, five minutes they leave, thanking you politely and heading for the next house on the list .  Fair enough, of course; there’s nowhere to go with abstract art, people are either pleased and/or excited with what you have done with the paint, repelled and appalled –  or it’s nothing.  A bad figurative painting is still a bad painting of Something. 

Still, sold five – a big one, a middle one and three small ones; not too bad and another weekend to go.

Devils

Last blog, I was looking at Gilles Neret’s little coffee table Taschen on angels; today, the companion on devils – which he interprets very loosely to include satyrs, fauns, pans, demons.  The sexual content is frank and startling and demonstrates clearly that these illustrations must have acted, perhaps unconsciously, as a safety-valve in medieval times and pornography in the 19th century.

My favourites are:

1.  Fra Angelico’s “Last Judgement”, in which the damned appear to be in a series of S and M parties in a block of flats, opened up to the viewer;

2.  Georgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari, “Punishment of lechery”, in which burning torches are being thrust by demons into vaginas and anuses (ouch!); and

3.  Hieronymous Bosch, “Last Judgement”, in which the various fantastical monsters have that luminous and translucent appearance that one associates with recent photographs of deep-sea creatures.

Gone but not forgotten.

Blackpaint

06.10.10

Blackpaint 202

October 4, 2010

Michelangelo’s serpent

Looking at the Sistine ceiling version of the Adam, Eve and serpent story (the section in which Eve appears to have been engaging in oral sex), I see that M. represented the serpent as a woman.  Incredibly, I have only just noticed this.  It appears from a perfunctory check on Google that this is the case with other versions of the story; artists show the serpent either as a snake, or as a serpent- or lizard-like female.  In the Hugo van der Goes version, it’s true, the lizard thing looks to me a bit like Max Wall, but the artist was clearly going for female.

Why is this?  Presumably,  it reflects the misogyny of the Early Church – and the artists – but I would have thought a predatory male serpent would be more appropriate for the seduction and suborning of Eve.  As to Michelangelo’s treatment, what is Adam doing there anyway?  Well, we know what he’s been doing – see above – but he’s definitely not there with Eve and the serpent in Genesis; if they were both there, the serpent’s job would have been that much harder and Eve wouldn’t have had the opportunity to corrupt Adam and the sexual politics of the whole thing would be much more complicated.  The Genesis story is nice and simple; serpent (sexless or male in sense of being phallic) corrupts Eve; Eve corrupts Adam.  Men beware women – they are weak and a corrupting force, given half a chance.

Milton and Genesis

In Paradise Lost, the serpent’s body is “occupied” by Satan for the purpose of seducing Eve, and Milton refers to the creature as “he” throughout.  The serpent is also “he” in Genesis, but there is no identification with Satan; the serpent is merely “more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made”.

Job

While I’m on the subject, Satan in the book of Job is clearly not the Devil but a trusted servant of God, who is sent to arrange the trials of Job on the instructions of the deity.  Not sure where or how the two – devil and Satan – became fused.

Angels

I have three favourite depictions:

1.  Giotto’s “Lamentation of Christ”, in which the angels in the sky look as if they are doing “grief”  in an acting class;

2.  Fra Angelico’s “the Annunciation”, in which the angel (Gabriel, was it?) has a lovely pair of butterfly- like wings, red, black, grey and cream, and

3.  Carlo di Braccesco, another “Annunciation”, in which the angel body surfs through the sky on a board, with a long-stalked flower, a lily I think, over his (its?) shoulder.

Listened to Angels Love Bad Men, by the Highwaymen.

“Angels love bad men, that’s how it’s always been,

They give their whole hearts when they fall;

Angels love bad men, that’s how it’s always been,

Love pins their hearts against the wall.”

Poor Tom (again, but I like it) by Blackpaint

4/10/10

Blackpaint 78

February 27, 2010

Fra Angelico

I’m thinking of this picture that he did on the walls of that monk’s cell in Florence.  It’s San Marco, cell 7, and its the “Mocking of Christ”.  The most strange picture for the time – there’s a disembodied head with a Robin Hood hat blowing on Christ, a couple of disembodied hands, presumably slapping him, and another disembodied hand holding a stick, forcing down the Crown of Thorns on his head.  And Jesus has a white mask painted over his eyes!  The background is a beautiful pastel green.  That’s like a wall painting, with two figures sitting in front of it: Virgin Mary on left and St Dominic, enjoying a good book (prob. THE good book) on the right.

It’s just beautiful and very weird, and the colours are mouth-watering.  Also see “St Nicholas addressing an Imperial Emissary and saving a Ship at Sea” – who or what is that in the sky, behind the ship’s sails? Yes, must be St. Nick.   sorry, can’t find a picture on the net – it’s in that Taschen by the Hagens, “Fifteenth Century Paintings”.

Henry Moore

Can’t believe the concerted slagging I’ve just heard on the Review Show (BBC2) for the Henry Moore exhibition at Tate Britain – they all weighed into him as if he was the most boring (laughably so) artist in British history.  The price of success, I suppose.  His work is only a cliche because he had a strong and consistent vision, thoroughly realised time and time again.  Another example of how the ever-growing need for extreme opinions and controversy is warping all comment on TV.  Anyway, going to see it tomorrow – no doubt I’ll change my mind and agree with them as usual.

Painting

Yes there’s no doubt, always best to paint when you are drunk.  Results might be crap but great fun, and you get a sense of integrity, which lasts all the way until the hangover next morning.

Blackpaint

Friday night,  telly broken.