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Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Artwork of the day

The Phaistos Disc, c. 1700 BC, clay, Archaeological Museum, Herakleion, Crete
The Phaistos Disc was found inside a room at the palace of Phaistos and approximately dates to 1700 BC. It is a circular clay object -almost 15 cm in diameter- stamped with the signs of writing (over 100 types 45 of which are repeated). The signs that are organized in groups and separated by lines form a spiral and they are divided from each other in sections. The text has not been deciphered yet and this has given rise to a lot of disputes regarding its meaning and purpose. Its script differs from other scripts and Linear A. For this reason some say that the disc is an import. Nevertheless, the evidence of the same type of script found in Arkalochori in Crete suggests that it might have co-existed with the Linear A perhaps for specific religious purposes or even used for keeping accounts.

Today's artwork is a generous contribution of Eleftheria Pavli, BA, MA

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Artwork of the day

The Kritios Boy, c. 480 BC, marble, the Acropolis Museum, Athens
Most place it at the end of the archaic period, others in the early classical. The Kritios Boy most likely named after his sculptor Kritias, was found on the Acropolis in Athens in the early 5th century BC where it was placed before or after the Persian Wars. The statue is not preserved in tact as parts of the right leg and hands are missing. His eyes are also missing because they were inlaid.
The Kritios Boy marks a turning point in Greek sculpture. Smaller than lifesize, the beautiful marble statue represents a calm young boy standing with the weight distributed to the right knee, while the left is bended (like a human stance). The weight distribution results in a most naturalistic form called the “contrapposto” (a pre-occupation of most greek artists).
Although the Kritios Boy is a frontal figure, he is depicted in a relaxed attitude with his muscles softened in a much more humanlike form and a life-like accuracy. The introduction of a new hairstyle and the missing of the “archaic smile” now replaced with the austere expression of the “Severe Style” characterized the transitional period from the Archaic to the Classical era.

Today's artwork of the day is a generous contribution of Eleftheria Pavli, BA, MA

Picture from:

Friday, 18 February 2011

Artwork of the day

The Kiss, Constantin Brancusi, 1908

A small break from Tudor art to commemorate the birth of Constantin Brancusi with a kiss.  
Brancusi was born 135 years ago on the 19th of February 1876 in Romania. He is one of first and major exponents of abstraction in sculpture and has developed a highly recognizable personal style.
The Kiss is his first major work. It was created from a single block of stone and deals with an old subject in a totally new way. Brancusi did several versions of this sculpture in his later career.  
For more information visit

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Artwork of the day

Katharine of Aragon, Michael Sittow, c.1502, oil on panel, 
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

Katharine is famous as the first wife of Henry VIII, the mother of Queen Mary I and the woman the king struggled to divorce in order to marry his second wife Anne Boleyn.
However, Katharine, a Spanish princess came first in England to marry Henry's brother and heir to the throne, Arthur. Arthur died six months after their marriage and Katharine remained in England not sure of her role while her father and father in law negotiated her fate.
This portrait was probably created in Katharine's Princess Dowager days and shows a young princess pensive and somewhat melancholic. Life in England was definitely not good for Katharine during these days as her future was uncertain and Henry VII was far from generous and kind with her. It is interesting to note that Katharine did not look like a Mediterranean brunette as she is often portrayed in popular culture today. She had auburn hair and a pale complexion. 

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Artwork of the day

The Family of Henry VII, unknown artist of the Flemish School, 1505-1509, oil on panel, The Royal Collection
The whole family of Henry VII including all seven children he had with Elizabeth of York, although four of them were probably dead by the time of the creation of the painting.(which was created probably to serve as an alterpiece). The family is kneeling as a battle unfolds above them. Their patron saint, St George is fighting with the dragon. It is this scene that makes the painting unique. While the lower part is a traditional votive scene, the upper part is not a traditional treatment of the subject. Usually, St George appears in art triumphant. In this case however, the outcome of the battle seems still undecided and although the viewer knows the outcome, the tension reminds of an actual battle like the ones Henry VII had to give in order to secure the crown and the stability of his kingdom. As St George eventually wins the dragon, so the king reached his goals and the presence of his children shows that the continuation of his dynasty is secured.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Tudor Art- Royal Portraits- part 1

The Tudor era has been very much in fashion lately mainly through modern popular culture. Cate Blanchett's Elizabeth from 1998 was a hit as was the TV series The Tudors a decade later. Of course Henry VIII hardly looked like Jonathan Rhys Meyers especially during the second half of his reign, while the art of the period is overshadowed -in the big and small screen- by wars, religion and of course endless scandals. This is probably how most non historians see the Tudor period today, which is a pity as English royal iconography at the time is a lot more than portraits in the covers of books or dead portraits in museum halls. 

Henry VII (Henry VIII's father) ended a period of political unrest and instability called the 'Wars of the Roses' by defeating Richard III and becoming the first Tudor King of England in 1485. He married a princess from the house of York, Elizabeth and united the two houses of England that fought for the crown. In the portraits of himself and his family the main concern of the artists was to show their king's legitimacy on the throne of England and the continuation of his dynasty.

In the two paintings below Henry VII and his wife Elizabeth of York are depicted each holding a flower: the king holds the red rose, symbol of the house of Lancaster which he represents, while the queen holds the white rose of the house of York, of which she is the last heir. 
Henry VII, Michael Sittow, 1505, oil on panel, National Portrait Gallery, London
Elizabeth of York, unknown artist,c. 1500, oil on panel, National Portrait Gallery, London

This is of course intentional, as is the fact that Henry VII's eyes engage directly with the viewer to show his active and determined nature, as opposed to Elizabeth's aloof and distant gaze. The portrait of the couple's first son and intended heir, Arthur, shows the blending of the two symbols. The garter the yound prince wears around his neck is adorned with the combination of the two roses which became not only the symbol of Tudor monarchy, but also an iconographical device employed excessively in art by both Henry VII and Henry VIII.

Arthur, Prince of Wales, unknown artist, c. 1500, oil on panel, The Royal Collection

Lloyd, C. and Thurley, S. 1990. Henry VIII. Images of a Tudor King. Oxford: Phaidon
Wooding, L. 2009. Henry VIII. London and New York: Routledge
Tudor England, online, available at

Friday, 11 February 2011

Art history book of the week

A Wordly Art, the Dutch Republic 1585-1718, by Mariet Westermann, Yale University Press
A great account of Dutch art in its golden age, with a special chapter on portraiture.

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Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Artwork of the day

Four Members of the Amsterdam Coopers Guild, Gerbrand Van de Eeckhout, 1657, oil on canvas, National Gallery London 
The final kind of Dutch portraiture to discuss (although after a long gap due to arm pains) is the group portrait. Closely connected to professional and civic identity, it was widely commissioned not by families or individuals but by guilds and other professional bodies. These paintings were usually displayed in professional board rooms and their number in the Dutch Republic is exceptionally great.
One example is the artwork examined today by Gerbrand Van de Eeckhout. Four men from the Amsterdam guild of coopers are represented, the individual characteristics of which are portrayed, while their names written in one of the documents on the table. Several parts of the painting show the professional identity of the sitters with most notable being the picture of St Matthew, patron of the guild, holding the axe symbol of his martyrdom but also of the coopers' trade. The dog in front of them is a symbol of fidelity that aims to inspire the trust of the viewer along with the calm but determined faces of the protagonists. The painting looks like a photographic snapshot as the four men seem to spontaneously interrupt their work only for a moment to look at someone who has just entered the room.