Posts Tagged ‘Uffizi’

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

Blackpaint 238

January 4, 2011

1st blog of the year – but not necessarily the best, which is yet to come.

Posters

Looking at that Durer rhino in the British Museum the other day, I was reminded of the posters that used to cover the stains and graffitti on the walls of my room at university some years ago.  Decades, actually; several, in fact.  I can see them now, in my mind, through a cloud of swirling cigarette smoke, stuck crookedly to the internal breeze block walls of Suffolk Terrace; Cinnamon Girl pounding out and drowning the howling of the wind blowing from the Urals across the plains of Earlham Village.

Sorry about the digression.  Anyway, there was the rhino and another Durer – the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – in gold lines on black paper.  Later, when I moved in with my partner in the Fine City, there were new ones on the wall – a Hobbema treescape of somewhere in the Netherlands that looked more like Indonesian jungle, and Kandinsky’s “Cossacks”.  For months, I thought it was completely abstract, vivid squiggles of colour on an off-white ground – until one day, it was pointed out to me that the upright lines on the right were the Cossacks’ lances and the red squares were their furry hats.  This sort of reassured me and I began to like it, but it was many years before I was completely happy liking pictures that didn’t correspond to something in the “real world”.

The difference was that my Durers came from the poster shop in town, whilst my partner’s Kandinsky was from some gallery in London, probably the Tate.  Abstract didn’t sell well to students, but the Apocalypse – mounted dead men after all – were just like the Nazgul in Lord of the Rings.

Uffizi

My eldest son gave me a catalogue of the above for Christmas – when we went in 2002, the queue was too long.  I was looking at the Piero di Cosimo, “The Liberation of Andromeda”.  Weird monster, with its straight tusks – but then, the whole picture is weird.  There are, to quote the guide, “nordic woods and straw huts on the unlikely looking hilltops in the background.  The musical instruments are equally unlikely…they are all missing a soundbox or strings”.  This is also weird, since the strings are clearly visible – the writer is correct about the soundboxes however and the lute – like thing on the right seems to have a serpent’s head attached to a bagpipe chanter or a flute of some kind.   Didn’t I read somewhere that there is someone who specialises in building strange instruments depicted in paintings?  He’d have fun with this one.

Lorenzo Monaco

In the same book, Monaco’s altarpiece, “Coronation of the Virgin”, 1413.  On the left hand panel (looking at it, that is) a group of saints and martyrs with highly suspicious and disgruntled expressions.  some can be identified by their attributes; there is the Baptist with his staff ending in a cross, Stephen with two rocks on his head, Peter with his big key and one with a club – or is it a bundle of sticks?  If a club, I think it’s St. James the Less, who was beaten to death with a hatter’s club.  But who is that with the sword?  Someone who was beheaded, I suppose.

More on Uffizi, and on Cezanne and others in next blog.  Meanwhile, good to see Wolfie Adams through but a pity that he had to knock John Boy Walton out – what a game of darts though.

Blackpaint

Midnight

03.01.11