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Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Artwork of the day

The Lady of Auxerre,  c. 640 BC, limestone, Louvre, Paris

The most famous example of the Daedalic style, the Lady of Auxerre, probably of Cretan origin, dates from 640 BC the period of Greek art traditionally called orientalising. The statue combines a mixture of different Eastern traditions with Greek elements. The female figure is dressed in a stylised cloth which ends at a long skirt decorated with almost geometric designs. Her hand is placed on her breast, a probable imitation of the Astarte figure or a sign of adoration. Her hair and face are reminiscent of Egyptian statues.
In sculpture the orientalising elements changed the rendering of the human figure and face. While in geometric statuettes the human anatomy and facial characteristics received minimum –almost non existent- attention, 7th century pieces are characterised by exaggerated features, especially when one looks at the eyes, the nose and the carefully rendered hair. Bronze nude warrior-gods common in Syria and the Hittite empire were adopted by Greek artists. In female statues, the nude goddess Astarte was soon replaced by a dressed Greek counterpart representing Aphrodite, a move that lead to the introduction of the so-called daedalic style. In sculpture too the Egyptian influence must have been catalytic. Probably inspired by Egyptian prototypes, Greek artists gradually started creating statues from more luxurious and lasting material, in particular bronze, limestone and later marble, while the size of these artworks gradually increased to over life size pieces.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Artwork of the day

The Berlin Stela, 18th dynasty, c 1340 BC, Egyptian Museum, Berlin

This relief is part of a unique phase in Egyptian history and art. The Amarna period saw a radical change in religious beliefs with the pharaoh, Amenhotep IV changing his name to Akhenaten and establishing a monotheistic religion. Art changed too to support the religious changes. The picture has two reading. At first, the viewer is invited to witness a tender, everyday family scene. The king and the queen, like every other family, play with their young daughters. This however, was a relief found inside a house shrine in Amarna, a place of worship. Automatically, this ceases to be an everyday scene and becomes religious. The stela was not made to commemorate an event. Instead it served as an icon with the protagonists being elevated to divine status. The young girls, daughters of the pharaoh and his chief wife need to be included in the pictures as pendants to the male and female “principles of the universe” represented by their parents.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Artwork of the day

Hieronymus Bosch, The Haywain, 1485-90, oil on canvas, Prado, Madrid

A moralizing painting, “The Haywain” embodies all the pessimistic views of Boch’s moral ideology and ultimately warns the viewer of the inevitability of death but also of punishment if he/she does not lead a moral life.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Art History book of the week

The Northern Renaissance by Jeffrey Chipps Smith (Phaidon)
The Northern Renaissance is often a neglected style as it coincides with the Italian Renaissance which receives more attention. This book aims at bringing this period in the spotlight, presenting some of the most impressive works of painting, sculpture and architecture and discussing artists from Germany, the Low Countries, France, Britain and Austria. The works of art are not only discussed in terms of their stylistic characteristics but are at the same time placed in the historical context of the Protestant Reformation, the Renaissance ideals and the discovery of the new world. The book is lavishly illustrated and easy to read providing thus a very good introduction to Northern Renaissance art.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Artwork of the day

Rogier van der Weyden – Diptych of Philippe de Croÿ, 1460

A popular feature of the Northern Renaissance this diptych follows a long tradition.

In the first panel the Virgin Mary looks tenderly towards her infant son whom she holds. The baby Jesus steps on a golden and red pillow examining with childish curiosity the clasp of the prayer book his mother holds. The golden background symbolizes the heaven where they reside. The second panel which was meant to be placed at the opposite site  presents the pious patron, Philippe de Croÿ, grand bailiff of Hainaut. Dressed in a velvet robe, set in the dark background of his home or private chapel, he kneels in praying  holding a common Catholic praying instrument: a rosary which ends with a crucifix.

The diptych aimed at denoting not only his status as a dominant member of the city’s society, but also his piety and devotion. The golden chain, the ring, the hilt of a dagger and his coat of arms on the exterior reflect his status on earth; his praying pose his role as a good Christian, while his gaze targeted to the other panel reflects his inner view and thus the realization of his prayers and his position in heaven after his death.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Artwork of the day

Bronze and gold statuette of a deity, probably of Syro-Palestine origin, 14th c. BC

When the excavations of the Uluburun shipwreck started in 1984 in the coasts of Turkey, the archaeological world was amazed by the quantity and quality of artefacts that the ship carried during its last trip. The ship has been dated through dendrochronology to the late 14th century BC (c 1316-1305 BC) which corresponds to the later part of the Bronze Age in the region. It was 15 metres long, made from cedar wood and could carry up to 20 tonnes of cargo from almost all the civilizations of the area. 
This statuette made of bronze and gold was carried by the ship and could have been used as the protective deity of the ship. Based on its style it is believed that it was probably of Syro-palestine origin.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Art History book of the week

Dialogues in Art History, from Mesopotamian to Modern: Readings for a new century
Published from Yale University Press, this book includes essays that address issues in Art History from Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt to Mexico and Peru and from the Islamic world, China and Japan to the Renaissance, 18th and 19th century Europe. The Illustrations are good and there is an emphasis on the historical aspect of art, something that is often neglected in the theoretical frenzy of the last decades.
The book is impressive (in both size and time span) and offers views from some very interesting art historians of our times.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

An invaluable source for art historians and anyone interested in art, the Timeline of Art History of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is regularly updated and provides brief analysis of works of art and artistic styles, as well as in depth thematic essays. It's worth visiting!

Artwork of the day

Caravaggio, The Cardsharps, c 1595, Oil on canvas, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth

A dark world of violence, full of quarrelsome individuals and prostitutes, whose company Caravaggio enjoyed in the various taverns and in the streets of Rome, is the scenery where his paintings are often set. This world influenced Caravaggio’s art and is reflected in his work. Various people from the streets and the brothels of Rome feature in his paintings along with other characteristic pieces of roman life. This is especially true for his genre paintings, like the Cardsharps. Inside a tavern three young men –probably portrayed by Caravaggio’s acquaintances- are playing cards. One of them however is clearly being cheated by the other two. Primary sources – particularly legal documents- help us understand this scene which must have been common in the social circles of the artist.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Artwork of the day

Chartres Cathedral, 1194-1260, Chartes, France

Among the monuments that feature in UNESCO's World Heritage List, the Cathedral of Notre Dame in the town of Chartres is one of the most revered gothic buildings in Europe.
Known both for its architecture and its interior and exterior decorations the Cathedral is considered to be the "high point of French Gothic art" (as stated by UNESCO).

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Artwork of the day

The Lion Gate, Mycenae (Greece), c  1250 BC

The entrance to the prehistoric citadel of Mycenae -the seat of the legendary king Agamemnon- the Lion Gate is one of the most famous remnants of the Mycenaean civilisation that flourished between c 1600 to 1100 BC. Situated in the district of Argolid, the Acropolis of Mycenae was constructed on a hill of 278 meters.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Statue of Djoser, Pharaoh of Dynasty III, c 2700 BC, limestone, Egyptian Museum, Cairo
Djoser was probably the first king of the third dynasty which inaugurated the period of the Old Kingdom in 
c 2700 BC. Even from this early period the status of the pharaoh was well defined. Seated majestically on his throne, Djoser looks straight ahead to an unidentified horizon (in its original placing in the step pyramid complex he was looking towards the north). His right arm is crossed on his chest holding emblems of royalty, which could symbolize his social and political authority. He is wearing ceremonial robes, symbolizing thus his religious role in the Egyptian society. The rigidity of the posture, the austerity of the facial characteristics, the gaze towards infinity, even the stylized wig and beard all give a sense of eternity, stability and order.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Artwork of the day

Honore Daumier, Gargantua, 1831, lithograph

Honore Daumier expressed a severe criticism to the social situation of his time and the political rulers themselves. In the 1831 lithograph Gargantua, his target is the Bourbon king, Louis-Philippe. The picture is a direct attack to the ruler, who is represented more as an industrial machine, rather than an actual human being. Louis-Philippe is depicted as giant, seated in a throne. The city behind him is no other than the French capital, Paris. The king is in the process of devouring all the food that his servants bring to his open mouth, while at the same time, from “his posterior, honours and concessions fall to politicians gathered outside the Palais Bourbon in the form of toilet paper”. In front of the king, the artist chose to depict the poor of Paris. They look more like living skeletons, wearing rags looking in despair. Daumier spent six months in prison for this lithograph, but he continued the harsh criticism on the 19th century French society.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Artwork of the day

Henri Matisse, Woman with a hat, 1905, oil on canvas, San Francisco Museum of Art

The 20th century saw a radical change in the way art was created and perceived. The beginnings can be found in the Impressionist movement of the second half of the 19th century and continued in the early 20th with a group of artists called Fauves.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Michelangelo, Pietà, c. 1499, marble, St. Peter’s, Vatican

In connection to this week's Art history book, today's artwork is created by Michelangelo. It is his famous
It is one of the first great works of the artists and was created in 1499 for the tomb of the French cardinal Jean de Bilhères. It is made from Carrara marble, known for its pure white colour, which Michelangelo prefered for most of his sculptures. The idealised characteristics of a very young Madonna have been widely discussed, while the work is being admired both for its beauty and its technique.

Art history book of the week

Michelangelo: The Artist, the Man and his times by William Wallace (Cambridge University Press, 2009)

One can find many faults at biographies as a way to write art history. However, it remains one of the most popular forms in the field due mainly to the appeal they have to wider public.
This book achieves a lot: it is very well written and therefore easy to read, it is informative and scholarly and presents to the reader a complete view of Michelangelo and the era he lived and worked in. It's only problem is that it has few illustrations and therefore one needs to look for them elsewhere.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Artwork of the day

Berthe Morisot, The Cradle, 1872

One of the most famous female artists of all time, Berthe Morisot is known as the impressionist who painted the 'domestic' life of the bourgeois women of 19th century Paris. Thus, her work features prominently in the writings of modern feminists like Griselda Pollock.
This painting, now in the Musee d'Orsay of Paris, reflects the life expected of a bourgeois woman and the roles she was expected to play: that of the dutiful wife and loving mother.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Artwork of the day

Alabaster figurines from Tell Asmar (located in modern Iraq), c. 2700 BC

These figurines from the Mesopotamian town of Tell Asmar were found buried together underneath the floor of the altar in the so called Square Temple dedicated to the god Abu and date from the Early Dynastic Period, c. 2700 BC.
Recent theories view the whole group as worshipers –including possibly a priest- who were supposed to pray in eternity to the god(s) on behalf of the people they represented. The only exception is probably the smallest, kneeling figure that is often interpreted as a mythical creature. Their excellent state of preservation (due to the fact that they were buried for thousands of years) is unique and makes them among the most impressive examples of Mesopotamian civilisation.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Artwork of the day

Michel Erhart, The Virgin of Mercy, c. 1480-  90, limewood, Staatliche Museen, Berlin.

Made from Limewood, a material commonly used by German Renaissance sculptors, this work displays the mastery of its creator.
Unlike stone, wood is neither homogeneous nor inert and thus it is more difficult to manipulate for the creation of a piece. Limewood however, was a favourable wood for carving because of its uniform, soft and elastic structure. Still great knowledge of the material was needed in order to avoid cracking during the process of drying, swelling from the water the wood held at the time of its cutting and shrinking because of internal moves inherent in an organic material.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Artwork of the day

Botticelli - Primavera, c 1482, Uffici Gallery, Florence, Italy

The painting with the many interpretations is Botticelli's most famous work (along with the Birth of Venus). A series of scholars have presented different –and often conflicting- interpretations of what it actually represents, for whom it was created, where it was placed and even when it was made.
What is generally agreed is that this is a secular painting based on ancient classical mythology. The most widely accepted view suggests that the central figure depicts Venus in her garden having to her right the Three Graces and Mercury and to her left the scene of the raping of Chloris by Zephyrus and the transformation of Chloris to Flora. Above Venus’s head stands her son, Cupid.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Artwork of the day

This ivory figure of a hunchback dates from the 1st century BC. It probably comes from Egypt and is today in the British Museum from the site of which I borrow the picture.
It is a perfect example of the way hellenistic art treated the human body and face departing from the idealization of the Classical period and adopting a more realistic approach.
It is worth trying to find this figure if you visit the British museum. It is in room 22!

Friday, 5 November 2010

Art history book of the week

Gardner's Art through the Ages

A good book that introduces the student and/ or art lover to the history of art through the ages. It's alredy in its 13th edition and the authors have tried to include everything, from prehistoric to modern and post modern art.
The illustrations are some of the best I've encountered so far!

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Art and propaganda -Hatshepsut's mortuary temple

There have been many times in the history of humankind where art has been used as a means for the creation and manipulation of political structures, with modern art historians citing most often the examples of Nazi Germany and Communist Russia as major examples of such practices. Political propaganda in the art of antiquity is less often discussed, although it was indeed part of most ancient civilizations. From the Assyrian Empire and the Egyptian civilization in the Near East to Rome and Byzantium in later antiquity, art served the purposes of the ruling elites that had the power and the resources to order and patronize exquisite artworks.