Posts Tagged ‘Leonardo’

Blackpaint 628 – Skinned Alive in Dulwich and Striped in Hanover Square

October 21, 2018

Jusepe de Ribera, Dulwich Picture Gallery

The most effective heir to Caravaggio, Spanish painter who worked in Naples (1591 – 1652)

I’ve been looking forward to this exhibition for months, having seen fantastic de Riberas in the Prado last year; vast canvases of stretched, prostrated male bodies undergoing torture… hang on, this is becoming rather weird.  They are not actually all that gruesome and it’s the brilliant rendition (unfortunate term, but the correct one) of the human body that’s fantastic, not the torture or bloodshed.

There are only four or five large canvases in Dulwich – St.Bartholomew, about to be skinned alive (two of those, I think); Marsyas, being flayed by Apollo; St Sebastian, having his arrows pulled out by a couple of women (the women rather perfunctory – de Ribera seems more interested in men).  There is a portrait of a man holding a knife and a flayed human skin, obviously inspired by the Michelangelo self portrait on the Sistine wall.

Additionally, there are a number of beautiful little drawings, some in red chalk, that are reminiscent in style of Leonardo, but Goya immediately comes to mind; the subject matter?  Executions, tortures such as the strappado, hangings, crucifixions, facial deformations…  You can imagine the visitor to Ribera’s studio, after seeing these: “And the one you’re working on at the moment, upstairs – would that be a harbour scene or some nice flowers in a jug, with butterflies?  Oh, a flaying…”.

 

St Sebastian

The sprawling male bodies are the obvious focal point – the skin often white or greyish, grainy, rippled over the belly, livid white and scooped out by shadow in turn.  Wher the flaying is actually in progress, it is the foot or arm that is being “done” and is easy to miss.  De Ribera is also pretty hot on fabric; see the example below.

 

By coincidence, the night before going to this, I watched the film “Bone Tomahawk” (dir. S.Craig Zahler, 2015) on TV, in which cave-dwelling cannibal throwbacks scalp a living man, then upend him and chop him in two from the crutch; it seemed to make an appropriate double with Ribera.

Amy Sillman, Camden Arts Centre, Finchley Road tube

By way of slight contrast, this beautiful set of paintings and drawings, and a cartoon film in the overheated Camden Arts Centre.  Lovely big, green, pink, blue abstract canvases (see below) and cartoony characters, like the crawling, vomiting (?) creature that make their way, like Kentridge’s people and coffee pots, into the film.  The pictures have surface; sometimes hard, smooth and glazed, sometimes rough, scraped, paint in bobbles and rills.  She seems, again like Kentridge and many other artists, to have recurring images; the thing that looks like an old vinyl record pickup in “TV in Bed” below; or is it an unconscious deep sea diver, lying on his back on the sea bed and wearing flippers…

Apart from Kentridge, Guston (the pinks), Oehlen and for some reason, Marlene Dumas came to mind.

 

What the Axe Knows

 

TV in Bed

 

Slant

 

 

 

Sean Scully, “Uninsideout”, Blain/Southern, Hanover Square

For some reason, someone tweeted that Scully “should be ashamed of himself” for this exhibition…  Why?  He did stripes before and he’s doing stripes now – what’s wrong with these stripes?  Too colourful, maybe…

Anyway, they are huge; lush, syrupy sweeps of paint on aluminium supports, very painterly, with a depth of colour like those he showed in that fabulous palace in Venice, at last year’s Biennale.  Additionally, there are a couple of enormous, quilt-like assemblages with inset panels (three pictures down, below).  Downstairs, smaller works on paper in pastel.  In Scully’s handwriting, some guff about clashing colours suggesting The Clash rock band – great art doesn’t, or shouldn’t need explanation or justification.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two of mine to finish with, somewhat smaller than Scully’s:

Ice Candle

Blackpaint

 

Little Crashing Out

Blackpaint

21.10.48

 

 

 

Advertisements

Blackpaint 306

November 19, 2011

Leonardo

I thought Laura Cumming said something interesting in last week’s Observer; referring to the “images” (presumably both the drawings and the paintings), she says, “The line (is) controlled, incised, repeated: nothing spontaneous, everything studied”.  It’s not clear to me whether there is an implied criticism in this statement but that, for me, in essence, is why I prefer Michelangelo’s line, in paintings at least; drawing is another matter.

Again, writing about Cecilia’s stoat, Cumming refers to “the sheer strangeness of this wild thing, so impossibly still” – she’s right; the animal is aroused, looking in the same direction as the girl, as if it has just spotted a movement, yet the body lacks that tension of the predator alerted.

She shares other critics’ reservations about the Salvator Mundi, too; the stoned eyes, the fingers holding an invisible joint…  All this is unremarkable really, except insofar as there has been a concert of inflated praise for this exhibition on the TV, that makes you want to find fault.  Everything is “incredible”, the pictures show us the “souls” of the sitters, and on and on.  I suppose I’ll go to see it, but I’ll be looking to find fault.  I expect Leo will be quaking, up there in painters’ heaven.

Venice Biennale

Since this is now over, I’ll just mention three more artists that made a (good) impression:

the first is Christian Boltanski, who was the French contribution.  A huge roomful of old-fashioned printing apparatus, producing poster-sized baby pictures, which are simultaneously thrown up on screens to make composite faces, half -child, half-adult.  Digital scoreboard with ever-increasing numbers in green (births?) and red (deaths?).  If this interpretation is correct, quite a “complete” artistic statement. 

Next, the Egyptian pavilion; filmed sequences of the demos in Tahrir Square, during which Ahmed Basiouny dressed in an Alien-shaped polythene head bubble and ran on the spot for 30 days.  Ominously, the film showed him pouring fluid on and around himself on “Last Day” – since the wall info said that he had died during the demos and rioting, with no further information, we thought he might have self-immolated on film.  Thankfully, this was not the case.

Finally, the Russian pavilion had a moving record of  Andrei Monastyrski and “Collective Actions” the guerilla art group in the 70s and 80s who did pop-up exhibitions in the open air, lasting until the FSB, (or KGB were they still then?) turned up to attack them and destroy the artworks.  Also Gulag hut/bunk mock ups, snow, fur hats, vivid coloured paintings against the blinding white of the snow….

Bela Tarr

At the risk of being boring – surely not – I must mention the above again, in terms of texture.  I’m watching “Satantango” again – Susan Sonntag said it should be watched once a year, but she obviously wasn’t a real fan – and almost every shot contains texture; soaked woollen garments, scabby cladding on mouldering brickwork, rotting wooden doors and casements, seamed, creased faces, running with rain, great clods of juicy mud with mirrors of rainwater (it often rains in Tarr’s Hungary).  But the sound is also all texture, the crunch and scrape of boots on lino, a drained bottle of fruit brandy clunking to the floor.  Just fantastic -you can chew it.

Blackpaint  (Chris Lessware)

19.11.11

Blackpaint 297

October 3, 2011

British Ceramics Biennial

This is taking place in Stoke-on-Trent at the moment, and there is a report on it by Charlotte Higgins in today’s Guardian, which contains the following arresting sentence: “Today, it (disused Spode factory) houses Sarah Younan’s ceramic pieces, very sexual and inspired by Eva Hesse:  teapots strung from the wall, with lids like nipples; others decorated with erect penises…”.  More tea, vicar?

“New” Leonardo

Again from the Guardian, recent article reports that Martin Kemp, a retired Oxford prof, is convinced that the drawing in question is genuinely an unknown Leonardo; the evidence is circumstantial, of course, but plausible.  First, there is a fingerprint on the top left of the drawing which is “highly comparable” to one on Leo’s St.Jerome in the Vatican; there are “stylistic parallels” to a Leonardo portrait kept at Windsor Castle; carbon dating puts the picture at the right period; the picture appears to have been done by a left-handed artist (Leo known to have been a left hander).

Elsewhere, I think in the Telegraph, there was a report that stitch holes in the parchment edge matched those in a sketch book of Leo’s and the thickness of the parchment corresponded – in that all the pages were of varying thickness and this one differed from the others (in other words, it matches because it doesn’t match…).

I can only refer the reader to Blackpaint’s Law of Spurious Plausibility (see Blackpaint 165 et al.).  Briefly, the law states that the more reasonable a theory appears, the more likely it is to be wrong.  The portrait, however, looks very beautiful in reproduction, lost Leo or not.

Cezanne

Reading the Taschen on Cezanne at the moment, and I ‘ve realised for the first time how radical his vision was – how did he square his stated intention of painting absolute reality with tilting tabletops, jug mouths and bowls of fruit to show interiors and altering the size of objects to defy rules of perspective?  I mean, I can see all sorts of arguments which he might have put to himself and others, and it’s normal to us now – but at the time, he was going out on a limb.  Did he write about it?  Another example of my ignorance; will research and return to the subject.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

Watching this great Bunuel film again last night, I was struck by Stephane Audran’s character, embodying the sleek beauty, perfect surface manners, hospitality, resourcefulness with an underlying selfishness and amorality – powerful combination.  Fernando Rey also perfect, as always.

I was surprised that it didn’t contain the scene where they dine, sitting on toilets – guess that was another one, Obscure Object of Desire maybe…

Blackpaint

2/10/11

Blackpaint 295

September 19, 2011

Degas

Laura Cumming, reviewing the new show at the RA, says that Degas is more Michelangelo than Leonardo – what does she mean by this?  Maybe that Leo was more concerned with physical accuracy, the exact position and function of muscles, bones and flesh than Michelangelo; M was more ready to distort, exaggerate, generalise, to enhance the presentation of physical effort, posture. dramatic action… that seems fair enough comment.  She says that Degas seems to somehow project himself (spiritually, mentally) into the bodies of his ballet girls, to partake in their physical being in some way; that seems to me to be fanciful.  Surely it’s what anyone drawing a figure does, sort of, isn’t it?

Edward Lucie – Smith

I’m getting a lot out of his “Art Movements since 1945” (see previous blogs); he makes the connection between Kurt Schwitters and his Merzbauten and people like George Segal and Ed Kienholz, who produced environmental artworks in the 50s and 60s – that is, works that you walk through and round.  I’d thought of him as someone who produced beautiful little collages of wood, cloth etc.

Jasper Johns

Looking at those works of his from the 60s in which he “quotes” from art history – notably the Isenheim Altarpiece (Grunewald) in “Perilous Night”, but also Leonardo, Picasso and others.  These are quotes however, rather than the “re-imaginings” of earlier works by Picasso himself (Manet, Delacroix, Velasquez) or Auerbach (Rembrandt et al).  I suppose the most recent of this school would be Dexter Dalwood – he quotes like Johns, rather than doing his own versions.

As for Johns, the works which are my favourites are the big canvases with attachments like brooms, and collaged bits, those bolts of colour, red, yellow, orange, often on a blue background; the grey curtains of thinned paint soaking down into the fabric (see  “According to What” 1964), the stencilled lettering….

Bruegel

In “The Fight Between Carnival and Lent”, according to the Taschen book by the Hagens, the fat Lord of Carnival astride the barrel represents Protestantism, while Catholicism is personified by the lean, haggard, hungry figure with a beehive on his head (no explanation of the beehive offered!).  This is a novel presentation; Prots – or rather, the Puritan variety – are more usually lean, stern killjoys, the Catholics happy to feast and keep Christmas.  I suppose this is an English, or more precisely, Shakespeareian representation.

Willem de Kooning

I’ve never seen a contrast more clear and tragic than that between his paintings of 1983 onwards, as Alzheimer’s or whatever variant it was, took hold, and those from before.  The later ones are cleanly painted snakey loops of pastel colour on empty canvas, tangled but spaced out, textureless.  Go back to 66/67, say, “Two Figures in a Landscape” or “The Visit” – splotches, streaks, swathes, bleeds and trickles, pink, green, yellow, white, blue-black, scratched, scored and worked like Appel but much more subtle somehow; rich, swarming texture… fantastic.

Larry Rivers

I love the loose way he paints figures and faces – reminds me of Jim Dine or even more, Kitaj’ s figure drawings.  See “Parts of the Body; French Anatomy Lesson”.

Far From the Madding Crowd

Reading this, it strikes me that the old film was perfectly cast.  I can’t imagine any actors better than Stamp, Christie, Bates and Peter Finch in their respective roles as Troy, Bathsheba, Gabriel and Farmer Boldwood.  And of course, Dave Swarbrick as the fiddler at the post-harvest piss up…

Blackpaint

19/09/11

Blackpaint 273

May 11, 2011

Ai Weiwei

I understand that the Tate Modern has “Release Ai Weiwei” in enormous letters on the outside of the building; if this was the case when I wrote, criticising the management, I hope they will accept my apologies.  I was up there the other day – Sunday, I think – and didn’t notice it; maybe it was on the other side.  Good to see two new exhibitions at Somerset House and Lisson Gallery and campaign for his release gaining momentum.

Tate Modern

The Rothkos are back in their central “temple” after being temporarily replaced by Agnes Martin and the bloody Austrians.  Looked a long while at the Dubuffet, “Busy Life” –  saw the boulder thing.  The figures, scattered at all angles, look as if they are scraped into rock.  Maybe this is because I saw Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” the other day (see 270).

Stanley Spencer

His “St. Francis Feeding the Birds” looks very much like a portrait of Mike Leigh in costume – unlikely, given the disparity of dates.  This brings me to today’s main theme, which is top ten portraits.  I have two lists of my favourites:  20th Century and pre – 20th century.

Portraits pre 20th Century

1.  Holbein – Thomas Cromwell.

2.  Holbein – Unknown Lady with Squirrel and Starling

3.  Velasquez – Pope Innocent X

4.  Rembrandt – self in age.  Any of them – but especially at the age of 63.

5.  Gainsborough – Mrs.  Siddons, or the Linley Sisters

6.  Leonardo – Lady with an ermine, Cecilia Gallerani (doesn’t the ermine resemble her?)

7.  Ingres – the landlady in the National Gallery.

8.  Goya – Duchess of Alba

9.  Salvatore Rosa – Self portrait.

10.  Whistler – Symphony in White no.2

20 th Century Portraits

1.  De Kooning – Marilyn Monroe.

2.  Marlene Dumas – Jule the Woman.  The red face.

3.  Francis Bacon – 3 studies of Muriel Belcher, or 3 studies of George Dyer.

4.  Gerhard Richter – Betty.

5.  Lucien Freud – Harry Diamond next to the Aspidistra – it’s called “Interior in Paddington”.

6.  Larry Rivers – David Sylvester.

7.  Frank Auerbach – all of them!

8.  Otto Dix – Von Harden

9.  Singer Sargent – Ena and Betty Wertheimer.  And, of course, Lady Agnew.

10.  Joyce’s father – Patrick Tuohy.

Bela Tarr (cont)

The accordion plays the melancholy, repetitive tune, while two drunken old men execute a dance by a snooker table, involving brandishing a chair.  A crowd of unshaven, capped, feral, moustached, semi-drunken men wait in a cobbled square; one forces spirits down the throat of a timid youth who is foolish enough to approach him.  The same youth comes eyeball to eyeball with a rotting, stinking whale in a huge wooden container in the same square – it resembles the recent Balka installation at the Tate Modern (container, not whale).  A drunken mob invades an asylum and lethargically beat the occupants with sticks, fists and feet.

The Banks of the Nile

Blackpaint

11.05.11

Blackpaint 269

April 25, 2011

Repulsion

Watching this great Polanski film the other day (starring Catherine Deneuve), I was staggered when a character started telling Deneuve the plot of a film she had just seen – starring Charlie Chaplin, in a tramp role!  “Repulsion”, for those who might not know, is set in the 60’s, around South Kensington.  Maybe they still showed Chaplin shorts at the old cartoon picture houses, along with Bugs Bunny and the Cockerel newsreels – I’m far too young to know.

Also in “Repulsion” – briefly, before Catherine slices him up with a cutthroat razor – is Patrick Wymark.  He strikes me as a perfect Francis Bacon character; thick neck, squat, erect body, sneering lips, braying voice, sweaty face, pushy, bullying, canine.  Surprisingly, the Deneuve character is not impressed.  He joins the rotting rabbit carcase and that of the previously murdered John Fraser in the stinking apartment, while Catherine is groped by the (imaginary) hands that emerge from the walls.  And a jazz score by Chico Hamilton.

Leonardo  

In one of the Saturday papers, Guardian or Telegraph, a drawing of a man’s head, newly discovered (loose) in a Leonardo sketchbook.  An Italian academic has claimed it as a Leonardo original – rashly, I think.  It looks more like a picture from a serial in the old Eagle Annual.  Something very modern about it; it’s not sculpted, in the way Leo’s other drawings are.  Italians seem prone to rushing in with these things – see previous Blackpaint entries (Blackpaint 111,212 and 215) on the Michelangelo Sermon on the Mount “discovery” .  Still, maybe I’m wrong and my hard-earned reputation will be destroyed.

Caravaggio

Looking again at the Uffizi catalogue and there are three Caravaggios listed:  Medusa, The Adolescent Bacchus and the Sacrifice of Isaac.  The last is quite startlingly brutal – Abraham is distracted by the angel as he is about to cut Isaac’s throat.  He holds the knife very convincingly and is forcing the yelling Isaac’s face down against a boulder by a hand round the back of his neck, the thumb mashing into his cheek.  Isaac is not looking submissive and reconciled to his fate – not one little bit.

Medusa, also apparently yelling, stares out in horror or shock from a lozenge of green.  Glistening snakes writhe round “her”  head – but it’s the face of a young man, surely.  The blood squirting from the neck gives the picture the air of a waxen guillotine victim at Tussauds.

The Bacchus picture shows a fleshy young boy, crowned with flowers and rouged, holding a big, shallow glass of wine over a bowl of rotting fruit.  The text refers to symbolism, but why?  Corruption, I suppose – but maybe Caravaggio just thought rotting fruit was more interesting.

El Greco

There is a large El Greco in Dulwich Picture Gallery at the moment – The Opening of the Fifth Seal, the Vision of St. John, which is so roughly finished and “modern” in its general aspect that it looks, to me at least, like a Kokoschka.  When you have checked out the El Greco, have a look at the Friends Open in the same gallery; one of mine is in there.

Sorry, old one – having to revamp this week’s, which I screwed up last night.

Blackpaint

25.04.11

Blackpaint 257

March 6, 2011

Tristram Hunt

What is it about politicians with this surname?  first, the Tory Jeremy hands the media over to Murdoch and now, the Labour( !?) MP Tristram wants London museums and galleries to start charging for entrance, not just for “special” exhibitions.  The Murdoch victory was, of course, to be expected, but what is Tristram up to?  I remember when Blair got first got in and abolished museum charges, thinking to myself, well, whatever else they do, at least there’s this – as New Labour developed in government, this became more and more important to cling to.

Comes the coalition, free entry remains (so far); and now, Labour is signalling its end, through Hunt – surely, he ran it past Ed first.  Why? Presumably, because only well-heeled middle classes go to museums and art galleries, and enjoy that poncy rubbish.  And/or it’s the London thing; why should well-heeled Londoners enjoy this “privilege” when hard-up folk in Stoke et al have to fork out? And anyway, they charge in US and Italy, so it must be right to charge here.

Art, culture, history – necessities, not luxuries.  Free entry to museums and art galleries, the people’s palaces, paid for by the taxpayer –  a right NOT a privilege.  Abolish charges everywhere rather than hitting Londoners, some of whom are not bankers or millionaire pensioners.  So the Americans and Italians charge for entry? they also make you pay for medical treatment.

Fellini’s Amarcord

Another magical Fellini film – at first, I thought, surely the source of the dwarf killer in “Don’t Look Now”; there’s a scene in Amarcord where a boy wanders in fog, wearing a duffle coat and hood and looking just like Roeg’s dwarf from behind (although coat is grey, not red) – but they were both completed in 1973, so maybe a coincidence.  Also, the scene with the large-bosomed lady; possibly a source, subliminal maybe,  for Bigas Luna’s “Jamon, jamon”?  I loved the mad motorcyclist who tears through the town at intervals, to scatter everyone and get shouted at.

Leonardo

Interesting how its really his drawings that we love now; same with Michelangelo, I suppose (except for a few minor works, like Sistine ceiling and wall and a few sculptures).  I’ve been looking at the Windsor Castle drawings – in a book of course, haven’t yet received my invitation to the castle – especially, the pen and inks of the Neck and Shoulder of a Man, the Foetus in the Womb and the Studies for the Legs of a Man and of a Horse.  They’re so much more interesting than the paintings, aren’t they, really?

Same with Turner; the sketches of Venice and the Petworth interiors and sea and weather things, compared to those highly finished, ornately framed, formal history paintings.  Like Penguin paperbacks, compared to big old leather-bound volumes; give me the paperbacks any day.

Quiz

Which Russian exhibited “Black on Black” as an answer to another Russian’s “White on White”?

Blackpaint

06.03.11

Blackpaint 242

January 16, 2011

Tate Modern

Dropped in the other day for a quick look; at first, same old pictures – although Jorn’s “Letters to my son” gone, and Dubuffet’s scraped pink picture there instead.  But there are a few new ones:

Shiramoto – “Holes”.  A grey and white abstract surface with holes bashed through – Shiramoto a member of Gutai, a movement that liked the tension and contrast of “delicacy and violence”, “destruction and creation” – very Japanese, that, chrysanthemums and samurai swords; it’s the delicacy bit.  Loads of others, The Austrians like Nitsch for instance, did the violence; not the delicacy, though.

Carol Schneeman – Video installation, bikini-clad girls slipping and sliding in a treacly substance – paint? Hard to tell, it’s black and white.  Engaging.

Francis Bacon – A big triptych; Dyer on the left panel, indistinct sexual wrestling in the centre, Francis on the right.  Dyer’s left leg is elided to a point, Bacon’s melting into a sheet of pink ectoplasm, echoing the disappearing lines of the Sarmantos in the adjoining room.

Beuys – His herd of sledges, loaded with felt and fat, escaping from the Volkswagen van – have escaped, and so has the van.  In their place, three or four new pieces: a photo of Beuys in his hat and long, heavy coat; “Campaign Bed”, institutional grey blankets with batteries(?) rolled underneath; “Accumulator”, a cell with wires attached to two clay balls, the source of power; and “Monument to a stag”, metal antlers, or rather some horn-like metal pipes and appendages.  The squad of red-brown turds by the girder are still there, though.

Lee Krasner – “Gothic Landscape”, dominated by crude black lanceolate blades, driving diagonally across canvas has little patches and touches of white, mint green and pink can be detected in the interstices.  Never noticed them before, which is why I’m mentioning this painting – it’s not a new, or newly-hung one.

Uffizi

Two strange paintings:

Pontormo – “The Supper at Emmaus”.  Floating above Christ’s head is a glowing pyramid, with an open eye in the centre of the outfacing plane.  The commentary says it is the symbol of the Trinity and was added later, but I think it is a Freemasonry symbol.  Presumably the Freemasons adopted it. On the floor, a skull-like dog face peers out, chewing in a bone and a couple of cats lurk amongst the human and table legs.

Rosso Fiorentino – “Madonna dello Spedalingo”.  The eyes of the Christ child and, to a lesser extent, those of all the surrounding figures, are large and sooty black – the effect, in reproduction, is as if someone had taken scissors to them.  The saint on the right looks like Death, from a Death and the Maiden.

Leonardo – The Fiorentino has to be the creepiest Christ child in Renaissance art – but the boy in “Madonna of the Carnation” must be the fleshiest (although Leonardo’s babies are always on the heavy side; see “Madonna Benois” or “The Virgin if the Rocks”).

Cezanne

A couple of Cezannes that you would never recognise as C’s if you didn’t know.  “The Orgy”, informed by Veronese’s “Wedding at Cana” – fleshy, writhing bodies round a white, tilted table against a cold, darkening blue sky; and “Temptation of St. Anthony”, more fleshy buttocks and bellies, poor St. Anthony accosted by a naked. writhing woman – the whole thing against a black background.

Listening to “Carrickfergus”, Van Morrison:

“I’m drunk today and I’m rarely sober;

A handsome rover from town to town,

Ah, but I am sick and my days are numbered,

So come all you young men and lay me down”.

Blackpaint

16.01.11


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 239

January 5, 2011

Mantegna

I’m back in the Uffizi catalogue today, looking at two works by the above:  The Madonna of the Rocks and the Adoration of the Magi triptych.  The latter was apparently not conceived as a triptych, but was put together later.  It consists of the Adoration, the Ascension (of Christ) and the Circumcision.

I’m always impressed by Mantegna’s hard, chiselled edges, the paint sculpted to give a relief effect at times; that, and his vivid, somehow cold colours that remind me of the Northern painters of the Netherlands.

The Madonna pre-dates Leonardo’s two versions of the Virgin of the Rocks (1493-5 and 1506-8); the Uffizi guide gives 1488-90 for the Mantegna, which was painted in Rome.  I wonder if Leonardo knew the painting, and whether “on the rocks” was a common setting or theme?  It seems rather a coincidence otherwise.

Mantegna’s virgin looks particularly doleful, whilst the pasty, pudgy faced Christ actually looks dead to me (I panicked a lot when my kids were young).  This dead look chimes rather with the tomb “visible below – an allusion to Christ’s sepulchre and a prediction of the destiny of the Child (sic) lying in the Virgin’s lap”, as the guide puts it.

The Adoration is a strange picture – sharply drawn against a cold, darkening blue sky, it features a circlet of those little putti, I think they’re called – winged half -babies, pinky red on the left, stone coloured on the right, surrounding the virgin and child as if mounted on a Christmas tree behind them.  A star – THE star – is set amongst four grown-up angels, immediately above the cave; the stable, presumably.  The tail of the star drops a perpendicular tail to the mother and baby, and there is a black, thread-like line, possibly a crack, dropping from the top of the picture down to the Magi.  the effect is that of grappling hooks and lines being lowered from heaven.

The Ascension also features a circlet of putti, all red this time, their little wings powering Christ’s ascent on a small round tablet of rock.   As he goes up, he grasps the pole of the red cross standard, like a boy scout on Church Parade.   A group of disciples gaze up at him, as well they might.

Cezanne

I’m very struck by the varying attraction of Cezanne’s paintings in the Phaidon book by Catherine Dean.  For me, they range from nothing much (Bay of Marseilles, seen from l’Estaque, Chestnut Trees at the Jas de Bouffon, building at Jas de Bouffon, Dr. Gachet’s House) to staggering (Lac d’Annecy, some Mont St. Victoires, Card Players, Boy in Red Waistcoat – with the really long right arm – the Still Lifes with apples and/or peaches and the fantastic Blue Vase).

The one that caught my attention today was “A Modern Olympia” – rather comical, cartoonish, especially the black servant whipping away the white sheet to reveal the naked woman, her legs scrunched up in front of her for modesty, before the upward gaze of the bearded, seated gentleman visitor – Cezanne himself?  Particularly striking, I thought, was the difference between this and all the other repros in the book.  I would never have guessed Cezanne.  The colours and the looseness of the brush strokes, as if the images were almost on the verge of disintegration, called to mind Cecily Brown – if only for a moment.

Rauschenberg

Cezanne’s picture is a “modernisation” of Manet’s 1863 Olympia, of course; I happened to come across Rauschenberg’s “Odalisque”, 1955-9, presumably another modernisation.  A stuffed white rooster stands atop an easel(?) on which is a colourful Rausch collage, topped by a small picture of a naked woman seated on the floor – looks like Marilyn, but I can’t quite make it out.

Fish Eye

Blackpaint

05.01.10