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Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Monday, 27 December 2010

The Adoration of the Magi, Leonardo Da Vinci, 1481-1482, yellow ochre and brown ink on panel, Uffizi, Florence

Although never completed by Leonardo, it is one of the most famous paintings related with nativity and a very good way to send seasonal greetings!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Artwork of the day

The Diadoumenos, 1st c. AD Roman copy of a c 430 Greek original. Marble, National Archaeological Museum, Athens     
The Diadoumenos’ belongs to the so-called High Classical period of the 5th century BC and demonstrates all the ‘qualities’ of the style: it shows the beauty of the ideal male nude, it has clear boundaries, a main frontal viewpoint, while its surfaces have been polished similarly to give the eye a sense of a homogeneous effect.
It is believed that the original Greek bronze was a work of the sculptor Polykleitos -one of the few artists whose name has survived in modern time- who was greatly admired for his skill. His statues have been prototypes for many other classical works both Greek and Roman and he is credited with the creation of basic characteristics of the so called Canon with the ideals for symmetry and beauty.
The Diadoumenos represents a young athlete just after his victory. Originally, the bronze, would probably be placed in a sanctuary, most likely to commemorate a victory.

Sources used for this post:

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Artwork of the day

David, Michelangelo, 1501-1504, Academia Gallery, Florence
Seen in the turbulent context of the first years of the 16th century in Florence, David a statue that is still considered one of Michelangelo’s greatest works- is better understood. A magnificent colossal statue, made from Carrara marble, the artist's favourite material, David was made to impress and to show the magnificence of the city of Florence, as seen by a proud Florentine. David is in reality a symbol of the “courage” and “strength” of a city that had just come out of Savonarola’s theocratic regime and the turmoil that followed his fall and execution. At the same time, David exhibits the artistic ideologies of the Renaissance, of which Michelangelo was one of the primary exponents. The Classical influences in terms of the representation of the male nude, the posture, proportions and idealised male beauty are clear. The theme –David, a biblical hero, instead of an ancient Greek god- has been Christianized and for Michelangelo’s contemporaries this combination achieved the unthinkable: it surpassed the ancient prototypes.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Art history book of the week

Courbet by James Rubin (Phaidon)
A basic text for the work of one of the most important realist painters. Rubin manages to discuss not only the artist and his work but also what gave rise to them. Courbet can not be seen outside the political, social and economic context of the 19th century and his paintings are clearly associated with the world in which he lived, whether this was his native Ornans and its inhabitants or the nude females of his later life. Rubin recognizes this close association throughout the book creating an interesting and higly informative biography of the artist.

Artwork of the day

Gravestone from the Coptic Period of Egypt, 5th century AD, limestone, Coptic Museum, Cairo
A work of art with a highly functional role as it is a gravestone placed above the tomb of the deceased. It represents a woman raising her hands in prayer, a traditional pose for Coptic gravestones. The work combines many different artistic traditions that have existed in Ancient Egypt through the course of its long history. Gravestones were common in Ancient Greece; the long mantle the woman wears is Roman, while the architectural structure under which she is placed also reminds of a classical temple.
The representation of the deceased in his/her grave has a very long tradition in Egypt coming from the Dynastic period and connected with the belief that an image of the person must survive in order for his/her soul to live eternally. At the same time the lamps above the woman's hands are parts of the Christian tradition, the religion the Egyptian Copts adopted in the first century AD.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Artwork of the day

The Peasants of Flagey, Gustave Courbet, 1850-55, oil on canvas, Musée des Beaux-Arts et d'Archéologie, Besançon
The final Courbet painting in this context  is the Peasants of Flagey returning from the fair. The picture is less crowded than the burial at Ornans and certainly more crowded than the Stonebreakers. Here, a group of peasants returns from a fair, as the title of the painting suggests. The fair was a business event of rural life, so the people involved return to their home after having sold their products and perhaps bought other things themselves. The thin oxen in front of the peasants might symbolize poverty, or may be the result of an economic deal .However the most important thing about this painting is that this is a representation of the third class in rural France. After the exhausted workers and the indifferent bourgeoisie, Courbet depicts the peasants, those people who have been lucky enough to own some estates and be able to make a living out of them. This painting therefore completes a trilogy that aims at representing the whole of rural life from a social, critical and even political point of view.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Artwork of the day

The Burial at Ornans, Gustave Courbet, 1849-1850, oil on canvas, Musée d'Orsay, Paris

The second of the three works by Courbet to examine the French rural life, the Burial at Ornans deals not with the deprived poor but with the rural bourgeoisie. The occasion is a burial, perhaps, a real event from the social life at Ornans. The people represented, are “the public face” of the town, mixed with members of Courbet’s own family. However if one’s looks closer, understands that very few among the crowd actually mourn for the dead. Many look out of the picture, others talk with each other. This is clearly then a social event, where the bourgeoisie of Ornans gathered to show off. It is how the sarcastic eye of the artist saw all these people, and the burial at Ornans is the way he chose to criticize them. This painting is a visual contrast to the miserable situation of the Stonebreakers. These people are quite wealthy even if their status is much lower than this of the urban bourgeoisie that claimed power in Paris and the other big urban centers of France. 

Clark, T.J. 1969. “A Bourgeois dance of death: Max Buchon on Courbet-I” The Burlington magazine. pp 208-213
Rubin, Henry James. 1997. Courbet. France: Phaidon

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Artwork of the day

The Stonebreakers, Gustave Courbet,1849, oil on canvas

One of the paintings representing people from the artist's hometown, Ornans, the Stonebreakers is one of Courbet's most celebrated works, although it does not survive today as it was destroyed in the bombing of Dresden in 1945. The artist chose to depict his two protagonists in a three-quarter view, hiding thus their faces. What the viewer needs to know though is clear at one glance. The picture shows two people: an old man and a boy, in the process of breaking stones at the end of a provincial road. Courbet described these two figures in a letter to his  friend Champfleury as “pitiable”. The old man is for Courbet “an old machine”, “sunburned” and dressed with rags. The boy is fifteen years old according to Courbet and he is already “suffering from scurvy”. These two persons belong to the lowest part of the French rural society of the 19th century, who have most probably lost their farms from poverty. They are in this state and have no hope of ever getting out of it. The old man represents the end of the existence of the French proletariat, the boy, the beginning. 
This painting along with the Burial at Ornans and The Peasants of Flagey are thought to form a coherent whole of French rural life and as large scale paintings their theme (neither historical nor heroic) scandalized the French Salon of 1850.

Rubin, Henry James. 1997. Courbet. France: Phaidon

Friday, 10 December 2010

Artwork of the day

St George, 17th century, Chalandri, Athens, Greece

This small church is probably unknown even for the inhabitants of Chalandri, a suburb of Athens. However, buildings like this can be found all over the country and a close examination of their construction and style is important when examining the Post-Byzantine, Ottoman history of the Greek world.  
St George is a one-aisled basilica, an architectural type that began in the Roman period and was adapted with minor changes in Christian architecture. It is a small church, obviously constructed to serve the needs of a parish in the outskirts of Athens. At the moment of the chapel’s construction, Chalandri was no more than a village whose inhabitants were peasants and shepherds. No influence from Islamic art can be seen, although the Ottomans occupied the area in the 17th century when the building was constructed. The simple basilica plan was very popular in the Greek mainland throughout the Byzantine period. It is suggested that it was used until the 15th century, however the presence of this and a number of other basilicas in Attica shows that in a local level it never ceased to be a popular plan. 
Another interesting feature is the interior decoration of the church. It consists of wall paintings representing saints of the Orthodox pantheon.  
Looking at the chapel’s wall paintings it is impossible to speak of any humanism in the bodies or the faces of the figures that would denote Western influences. Instead, they are represented ascetical, thin with no emphasis on personal characteristics or emotions. Even the figure of baby Christ looks like that of a small adult. The emphasis is therefore placed not in the figures’ humanity, but in their symbolic nature as ambassadors of God on earth. This austerity and rigidity is typical of the austere Byzantine style which once again seems to have survived even in the Ottoman period.
A final important point to be discussed in connection to style is the presence of a considerable number of parts of ancient structures, whether on the building or at its courtyard. The whole northern wall consists of a mixture of stone and ancient structures. (look at the third picture).
In front of the façade one can easily identify parts of columns. Inside the building there two more ancient decorations, while an altar has been found at its courtyard. Although the use of spolia is common all over the Greek world, its presence in a small chapel in a suburb of Athens is more than interesting. It can denote another attempt to connect the parish with its past, albeit this time, the classical past of the 5th century BC and also shows that the area could have been a place of worship even in antiquity.  

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Art History book of the week

Renaissance Siena: Art for a City by Luke Syson, Alessandro Angelini, Philippa Jackson and Fabrizio Nevola, Yale University Press

I have not read the book, but it's definitely on my wish list for the New Year. Here is a summary from Amazon UK:"Sienese art was very deliberately shaped and sustained by the patronage of powerful and wealthy families, such as the Petrucci, Piccolomini and the Spannochi, to provide an artistic language for an ambitious city. These commissions drew on Siena's famed decorative traditions and introduced the influences of foreign artists, such as Signorelli, Pintoricchio and Raphael. Rarely enslaved to the emerging naturalistic convention, a direct line can be traced from Sienese artists such as Vecchietta and Francesco di Giorgio to Matteo di Giovanni, Neroccio de' Landi, Pietro Orioli and Beccafumi. These artists combined exquisite colour, decoration, sinuous line and delicate beauty, with ambitious compositions and figure style. This beautiful catalogue reveals Sienese painting, drawing and sculpture as one of the most distinctive, elegant and moving schools of Italian art, created during a period of fascinating power shifts within the city itself".

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Artwork of the day

Mary Cassatt, Woman in Black at the Opera, 1879, oil on canvas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
In the 19th century Parisian bourgeois society the public sphere was a forbidden area for a honourable woman on her own but as in all rules there was an exception. There was one public space that was actually available to both men and women: the opera. This painting by Mary Cassatt has been –for obvious reasons- central when discussing feminism and 19th century French art. When compared with paintings from male artists, striking differences can be noted.  For example in Renoir’s famous La Loge some the female protagonist seems to invite with the position of her body, the clothes she is wearing and the abstract look the gaze of the viewer while at the same time she avoids direct eye contact with him/ her.
Auguste Renoir, La Loge, 1874, oil on canvas, Courtauld Institute Galleries, London

On the contrary, in Cassatt’s Woman in Black at the Opera, the woman is actually involved in looking turning her head away from the viewer. This is not only an apparent defiance of traditional roles from a female artist, but a defiance by at the same time a critical departure from the part of the Cassatt from the traditional representations expected from her as a woman, but as an artist as well. She enters the world of artistic creativity and defies the traditional role of art object assigned to her. A sign of Cassatt's realisation and deep understanding of these social conventions might be the man in the background who has turned his head away from the spectacle and concentrates on the protagonist of the painting, although she seems to have not noticed him.