Favorite Art in New York City

Wonderful article today in the New York Times about three art critics favorite works of art in town, link here. Made me think about which are the works of art that I constantly return to, always make sure out-of-towners see, and make me blissfully happy to live in this great city. My list follows, divided into individual works and rooms/collections.

Specific Works:

Georges de La Tour (French, 1593–1652), The Penitent Magdalen
Oil on canvas, 52 1/2 x 40 1/4 in. (133.4 x 102.2 cm). Metropolitan Museum of Art.
See my post on this work here to get the background on this beautiful work. The first paragraph of the post explains perfectly why I love this painting so much and mentions the New York aspect as well... Quoted from post, "As you may have guessed, I'm on a bit of a New York kick and am going to be posting about some of my favorite works that I was able to see while there. The Penitent Magdalen by Georges de La Tour was one of them, a painting I make sure to always visit when I am in the city. Its emotional resonance for me comes in the contemplative pose of the sitter and the deep shadows that seem to recall any night one has spent sitting alone, awake, lost in your own thoughts. A lifelong insomniac, there is much in this picture that speaks to me and I hope it will have some emotional pull for you as well."

Bronzino (Italian, 1503–1572), Portrait of a Young Man, c. 1530
Oil on wood, 37 5/8 x 29 1/2 in. (95.6 x 74.9 cm). Metropolitan Museum of Art
What is there not to love in this arrogant young man? The beautiful technique, the smooth finish to the fabulous textures of his clothes, the whisper thin pages of his book and his condescending gaze. Aristocratic portraiture at its best, nonchalant and elegant down to his perfectly articulated fingertips...

Auguste Rodin (French 1840–1917), The Burghers of Calais, 1884–95, this bronze cast 1985
Bronze, 82 1/2 in. (209.6 cm.); W. 94 in. (238.8 cm.); D. 95 in. (241.3 cm.) Metropolitan Museum of Art.
What is there to say that I did not say in my post on them? I stand by this work as something that will always evoke a visceral response within me and its power has not waned with my almost constant exposure to its beauty and monumentality.

George Minne, Kneeling Youths, ca. 1898
Marble, 83 cm x 40 cm x 25.5 cm
Neue Galerie
These two (only one shown above) sit beneath the frame of one of the most famous paintings in New York, Adele Bloch-Bauer I, the shining gold portrait restituted to the heirs of the sitter after being stolen during the looting of Jewish art collections in World War II. These two small sculptures were similarly stolen and when given back to the Bloch-Bauer family years after the painting of Adele had been sold to the Galerie, the heirs gifted the sculptures to the Galerie to be shown beside the painting as they were in the Bloch-Bauer home before the war. The poignancy of the family's story and the vulnerable quality of the two small youths come together to make a powerful experience of memory and perseverance.

To Be With Art Is All We Ask...
Gilbert & George (British), Gilbert Proesch (British, born Italy 1943) and George Passmore (British, born 1942.)
1970. Triptych: Charcoal and wash on partially charred folding sheets of paper in cardboard box, Triptych (.a-c) installed: 110 3/8 x 320 3/4" (280.3 x 814.6 cm).
Museum of Modern Art
This is a newly discovered work for me and I absolutely fell head over heels in love with this poetic homage to art in three parts. I can not begin to explain the work and ask only that you go to see it. You must. Second floor of the MoMA in the contemporary exhibition space you enter to the left of the large, scandalous!, mural.
--> the MoMA does not have an image of this work on their website so I stole these from random pages on the web, sorry! And no, that is not me in the top image!


Cubist Room at the MoMA
This is the type of art I grew up with and the MoMA's small permanent collection is world class and absolutely stunning! Its a favorite place of mine to go when I feel homesick or just need to be challenged by the art I look in an esoteric and theoretical way instead of emotionally or academically.
Image: Georges Braque, Man with a Guitar, 1911-1912. Oil on canvas, 45 3/4 x 31 7/8" (116.2 x 80.9 cm). MoMA.

Egon Schiele at the Neue Galerie
I know I mention his name so much that you may wonder if I work for his PR firm, but his canvases give me an emotional jolt that I often need in the sometimes lonely isolation life in New York can resemble. His paintings strike at the core of human conditions of love, lust, and loneliness and his ability to show the beauty and grotesque aspects of human beings always renders me speechless. Plus, the Neue's presentation of the works with the objects of art, furniture, sculpture and other painters of the same period give such a phenomenal sense of the period and always transports me to another time and place.

That's all for now, I'm sure this list will grow as I remember more and more works I can't live in this great city without!


The Only iPhone App Necessary for Art Lovers

Dear All,

What a season Fall is for art lovers in New York City! I can not believe everything that I have been doing and everything that is still to be done. With tons of exhibitions all over the city and so much to see there is very little time for much else (like blogging!). However, I am slowly putting together some new things for the upcoming weeks and wanted to let you in on one of my best secrets about art in New York.

The Exhibitionist NY
, an iPhone app that was recently created by the former New Yorker art critic, Kevin Conley, is a fantastic way to know what's going on where, with who and when.

On what the app can do for you, from a review on Vogue's website by Caroline Palmer, "the up-to-the-minute application allows you to track exhibitions based on your location or interests, create maps with routes, E-mail friends, and read reviews — all vetted and written by Conley (and his wife, a former drama critic at the Wall Street Journal) with the help of the city’s museums and galleries."

I'm off to the opening at the Sarah Meltzer Projects tonight! Maybe I will see you there...

Photo: Marko MacPherson from same article


Christie's Sets New Records for Matisse and Gris

Henri Matisse, Nu de Dos, 4 État (Back IV), (conceived in 1930, cast in 1978). Private Collection.

More Records Set at Christie's

Lots of bidding and big prices tonight, some of the highlights...

Matisse's “Nu de Dos, 4 État (Back IV)”, (conceived in 1930, cast in 1978), sold last night to famous dealer Larry Gagosian for $48.8 million after intense bidding between four parties. Though he related that he had bid for a client, the actual buyer remains anonymous. This is a record for Matisse at auction and was far above the pre-sale estimate.

Another new record for an artist at auction was set for Juan Gris last night when his “Violin and Guitar,” a masterpiece Cubist still - life. Though originally thought to bring $18 million to $25 million, went for $28.6 million, to another anonymous buyer, this time by telephone.

Schiele's “Man and Woman,” the 1917 work I had drooled over in the catalogue, went much higher than originally thought and ultimately sold for $7.3 million to Robert Mnuchin (L& M Arts) after heavy bidding over the drawing.

For more on the auction, see Souren Melikian's article from 'The New York Times'


Sotheby's Sets New Record for Artist Modigliani at Auction

As everyone will read tomorrow in the papers...

Tonight at the Impressionist and Modern Evening Sale at Sotheby's, Amedeo Modigliani's La Belle Romaine from 1917 set a new record for the artist at auction selling for $68.9 million dollars.

A bevy of bidders after the $5 million mark made the work soar past the $40 million estimate and into a new record. The final price was over four times the $16.8 million paid for the painting over a decade ago at another Sotheby's sale.

Updates will continue as the sales progress!! Great start to an exciting week...


Auction Watch: Impressionist and Modern Week, New York (Nov. 2nd - Nov. 4th)

So it is that time again! New York Fall = warm coasts, boots, and... ART AUCTIONS! Impressionist and Modern Auction Week is almost upon us and I thought it would be a bit fun to go through and pick out some of my favorites and share them with you. I also wanted to share the online catalogues with you so that you could find your own favorites and follow them as they either reach new records for artists or fall miserably below the low estimate (the horror!). I would love to hear what works are catching your eye! Let me know in comments or emails what works you will be watching/drooling over! I am going to be picking a few from each evening sale and a few from each day sale that I would love to take home if I had an extra $100 million or so lying around. I will also be following up this post with a auction watch for the Prints Sales because, well... that's what I actually collect.

A little background for those new to the game:

The Evening Sale, each auction house has one Evening and one Day sale, is the big-time players. This is where the huge numbers you hear about in the New York Times come from. When Francis Bacon's Triptych sold for millions? Evening sale. When Picasso smashed the highest price paid for a work at auction? Evening sale. I think you get my point. This sale is a social event. Beginning at night, people dress to the nines and watch art less than 1% of the world can afford go for prices that would feed a small country for a good amount of time. It is a SPECTACLE.

The Day Sale, always the day after the Evening sale, is for works that are also usually high quality but lack the rareness factor or star power that goes into the works shown at the ES. These works are just as beautiful, often by the same artists selling the night before but may be from a less desirable time period or a drawing instead of a painting. Often these works are just as good as those in the Evening Sale but can stand out more against works in this sale or go thematically with something already in this sale.

Christie's, Evening Sale (Nov. 3rd)
"http://www.christies.com/LotFinder/searchresults.aspx?intSaleID=22589#action=refine&intSaleID=22589&sid=ff871b1c-cb0d-4d9d-be8b-cd5f361cfa62">Online Catalogue

Lot 22
Egon Schiele (1890-1918)
Mann und Frau (Umarmung)
signed and dated 'Egon Schiele 1917' (lower center)
gouache and black crayon on paper
19¼ x 11 3/8 in. (48.9 x 28.9 cm.)
Executed in 1917
$4,000,000 - $6,000,000

Lot 23 Juan Gris (1887-1927)
Violon et guitare
signed, inscribed and dated 'Juan Gris, Céret. 9-13' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
39½ x 25¾ in. (100.3 x 65.4 cm.)
Painted in Céret, September 1913
$18,000,000 - $25,000,000

Lot 80
Kees Van Dongen (1877-1968)
Portrait de Mme Jasmy
signed 'van Dongen' (lower center)
oil on canvas
51 x 38 in. (129.5 x 96.5 cm.)
Painted in 1916

Christie's Day Sale (Nov. 4th)
"http://www.christies.com/LotFinder/searchresults.aspx?intSaleID=22590#action=refine&intSaleID=22590&sid=e5e61f51-61e7-423a-9ecc-5577eb55a767">Online Catalogue

Lot 125 Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Femme assise
signed and dated 'Henri Matisse 10/42' (lower left); signed and dated again and indistinctly dedicated 'H Matisse 11 May 1945 En hommage à Madame M' (lower right)
pen and India ink on paper
20¾ x 16 in. (52.7 x 40.6 cm.)
Drawn in October 1942
$400,000 - $600,000

Lot 140 Egon Schiele (1890-1918)
Mädchen mit rotem Haar
signed with initials 'ES' (lower right)
colored pencils and pencil on buff paper
11¾ x 12½ in. (29.9 x 31.8 cm.)
Drawn in 1909
$60,000 - $80,000

Sotheby's, Evening Sale (Nov. 2nd)
To see pictures of these objects head over to Sotheby's online catalogue...

I'm going with the masses on this one...

Lot 7 Amedeo Modigliani
Nu Assis Sur Un Divan (La Belle Romaine)
Signed Modigliani
Oil on canvas
39 3/8 x 25 5/8 in.
Painted in 1917
Estimate thought to be somewhere around $40 million

Lot 14 Amedeo Modigliani
Jeanne Hebuterne (Au Chapeau)
Signed Modigliani (lower right)
Oil on panel
26 3/8 x 20 1/4 in.
Painted in 1917
$9,000,000 - 12,000,000

Lot 22 Chaim Soutine
La Dinde Pendue
Signed Soutine (lower right)
Oil on canvas
36 x 28 1/2 in.
Painted circa 1925
$1,5000,000 - 2,000,000

Lot 61 Oskar Kokoschka
Orpheus und Eurydike (Orpheus and Eurydice)
Signed OK (upper left)
Oil on canvas
27 3/4 x 20 in.
Painted in 1917
$600,000 - 800,000

Sotheby's Day Sale, Session 1 (Nov. 3rd)
"http://www.sothebys.com/app/ecatalogue/fhtml/index.jsp?event_id=29934#/r=index-fhtml.jsp?event_id=29934|r.main=event.jsp?event_id=29934/">Online Catalogue

Lot 147 Pablo Picasso
Le Peintre Carlos Casagemas
Signed Picasso (upper left)
watercolor and ink on paper
7 3/4 x 5 7/8 in.
Executed circa 1900
$70,000 - 90,000

Sotheby's Day Sale, Session 2 (Nov. 3rd)

Lot 321 Kurt Seligman
L'impasse Pivote
Signed K. Seligman and dated 1938 (lower right)
Pen and ink on paper
25 1/2 x 19 in.
Executed in 1938
$10,000 - 15,000

Lot 352
Egon Schiele
Die Vision Des Heiligen Hubertus (The Vision of Saint Hubert)
Signed Egon Schiele and dated 1916 (lower right)
Oil on panel
11 5/8 x 18 1/8 in.
Painted 1916
$200,000 - 300,000


Exhibition Alerts

Jan Gossart (Netherlandish, ca. 1478–1532). Portrait of a Man (Jan Jacobsz. Snoeck?), ca. 1530. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Ciao tutti!

So as many of you know I recently got a job in the Old Masters world in New York city! It has been a really exciting time while I settle into my new work and explore the gallery but it has, alas, not left much blogging time. However, this is soon to change as my life is settling into a rhythm and I think that the blog is something I will be able to keep up. I do not think it will continue to be daily, I take each post very seriously and I would not be able to keep the caliber of post on the same level if I tried to post again every day. I have thus decided that I will be posting one serious, scholarly, artwork post once a week and adding articles, exhibition alerts, quotes and anecdotes as often as relevant ones appear. I hope you will stay with me in this new transition! I have recently received some of the nicest and most encouraging emails from readers who miss the posts so I want to thank you again for your support. Now, enough about me and onto some art!

If you are in New York (like me!) two shows that you must see:

Man, Myth, and Sensual Pleasures: Jan Gossart's Renaissance
@ the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Running from October 6, 2010–January 17, 2011
Go to the Special Exhibition Galleries on the 2nd floor

If you go, make sure you make it all the way through the exhibit to the last two rooms. They have placed his fantastic St. Luke in the second to last room, and Gossart's absolutely incredible portraits are in the last room. They really saved the BEST for LAST. So it is worth your time to go all the way through! Beautiful things.

The Spanish Manner: Drawings from Ribera to Goya
@ the Frick Collection
Running from October 5, 2010, through January 9, 2011

I liked the first room that had the Ribera and Murillo drawings more than the Goya room but it totally depends on where your interests lie. Look for the drawing of the bat in the room to the right when you descend the stairs, it looks like a flying mouse!

Next on my list is...

You guessed it! The Neue Galerie just opened a new show, Franz Xavier Messerschmidt 1736-1783: From Neoclassicism TO Expressionism,
running from September 16, 2010- January 10, 2011. Can't wait!


I know it is already September, but...

Hi Everyone! Again, I know it is September but I finally found an apartment and it has been quite an ordeal (continuous and ongoing!) to get an apartment (however tiny) furnished and livable with new things coming from Ikea and old things coming from Wisconsin. Anyway, I will be posting beginning the day after Labor Day (consider this my summer vacation), because if my labor over this weekend can't pull the apartment together then I'm giving up and living in my closet! Contemporary and more Modern works will be the first works to be covered, I'm going back to patronage and what it became after the Medicis. Sargent? Picasso? Gainsborough? Warhol? I will leave you with those questions.

P.S. with the help of a great friend, and a handy keepsake from the our illustrious past, I went to four museums in one day. FOUR. I believe this is a record and a deed worthy of recognition :)

Hope everyone is enjoying the last days of summer. It is so hot though that it is hard to enjoy much more than a cool glass of water and the A/C... A sad truth, indeed.


The Other ArtDaily: Larry Gagosian to Present Masterpieces from His Private Collection

Larry Gagosian to Present Masterpieces from His Private Collection

Now here is something I would love to see. I've also always wanted to go to Abu Dhabi...

Who wants to go? Group travel fares?

Just saying...

To read the article from artdaily.org click the link above or copy and paste the link below:

Image: Cy Twombly, The Rose (IV) 2001 © Cy Twombly.


The Art Newspaper: Luhring Augustine Looks Back at 25 Years

Lawrence Luhring, left, and Roland Augustine at Art Basel

Hi All!

Great article from the Art Newspaper with Luhring Augustine Gallery founders Lawrence Luhring and Roland Augustine on the 25th anniversary of the founding of their gallery!

Interviewed by Charlotte Burns, they discuss the beginning of their partnership, the state of the art market today, differences between people buying on the primary and secondary markets, artist/gallerist interactions and interactions and how it can work or disintegrate. A wonderful interview, very informative and interesting to read!


To read the article, click the title of the post or copy and paste the below link:


ARTnews: Joint Custody? Warhol Divides Time Between Mom (Whitney) and Dad (Met)


Ethel Scull 36 Times, 1963, was Andy Warhol's first commissioned portrait.

Very interesting short article about the Warhol portrait of Ethel Scull, the wife of taxi mogul Robert Schull, by Ann Landi for ARTnews. Bitter divorce, joint custody, and an incredible work of art. I'm heading over to see the painting tomorrow!

To read the article click on the title of the post above or copy and paste the site below:

So interesting to me --> the copyright under the image reads:


The Art Newspaper: Caravaggio: Sex, Violence and Film Noir

Now you see it: "I Bari (The Cardsharps)", around 1594-95, out of sight for nearly a century and now at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth

Hi Everyone!

My mini summer vacation spree has come to an end, I've spent the last few weeks traveling between New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. It was a wonderful time to see my whole family, go to museums (obviously) and now I have officially moved to the great island of Manhattan. This transition period has been slow but it is finally complete!!

I am posting a wonderful article today on Michelangelo Merisi, or Caravaggio as you probably know him, hope you will enjoy it. My artwork posts with begin again once I have unpacked my art library from boxes! I know that Caravaggio has been the most covered artist on this blog so far but what can I say? I'm a sucker for the bad boys... This article covers the interesting topic of trends and fads in the art world and how art history can be shaped by the taste of both the larger public but also a few opinionated scholars.

To read the article from the Art Newspaper click on the post's title or copy and paste the link below:


Vanity Fair: The City of Warring Angels

The City of Warring Angels Culture: vanityfair.com

An article (click on the title of the post) from Vanity Fair on the new forms of art patronage. Philanthropy through the arts goes back through the beginning of the 20th century and the greatest museums in the US to Abby Aldrich Rockefeller and Peggy Guggenheim. This article chronicles some of the faces of the current patrons in Los Angeles. Portraiture is no longer the main form of patronage, now it seems to be an avenue that benefits the public instead of the artist; a public mass with very few artists making the cut. Dennis Hopper (shown above weeks before he passed away) is one of the individuals from the arts scene in the West that was both artist and patron.



Short Hiatus/Brief Respite/Lovely Interlude.... Intermission.

Hello Everyone!

As I'm sure most of you (since I assume many of you can count) have noticed, I have not been able to post everyday, 5 days a week for the last few weeks. Everything is fine (I got some worried emails!) but I am currently in a bit of a transition period (graduating from university, going home for a bit, spending time between San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, then getting ready to MOVE to New York) and so am going to take about a month long hiatus from posting regularly as I work on my life in the real world! I will post news articles that seem particularly interesting, flashes about some of the art I am seeing, but will not be posting the titular single work of art posts daily as I re-order my life and wait for my art library to catch up with me once I am settled in New York.

I hope you will check back in after August, a notoriously dead month in the art industry anyway as galleries close and auction house employees generally take vacations, so it seems a fitting time to regroup and relocate! Hope to see you back soon, and that you enjoy some of the tidbits in the interim.

Above is a work by Alexander Calder that is currently in San Francisco at the SFMoMA as part of the Fisher Collection that was recently donated upon the death of Donald Fisher, the founder of Gap Inc.

And so, I sign off with a few cliche words... See you in September.

*above picture taken by Lydia at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA.


Bronzino, Portrait of Cosimo de'Medici in Armor (1543)

Bronzino, Portrait of Cosimo de’Medici in Armor (1543). Tempera on panel, 71 x 57 cm. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

Some recurring themes seem to be emerging this week in paintings of art patrons through the ages that were not originally meant but reflect on my tastes all the same. You may have noticed that two of these works reside in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. My interest in works from Florence should be obvious, I spent a lot of time drooling in front of them during my time there (I went to the Uffizi on average twice a week for the better part of nine months). I have long been interested in both Northern art and early modern Italian art and these two works come out of artistic moments that hold great appeal to me. Though my introduction to my own areas of study may allude to a specialty in Venetian art, the majority of my study has been into the lives, art and patronage of the Italian Mannerists, of which Bronzino is one of the most important. The artistic lineage of the Mannerists, from Andrea del Sarto to Pontormo to Bronzino to Alessandro Allori and obviously including the early influence of Guilio Romano, and Michelangelo and the involvement of Rosso Fiorentino and Parmigianino, is an epoch that has always fascinated me and is what led me to study in Florence in the first place. Phew, now that I have explained away any strange coincidences of repetition (because I can’t stay away from the Mannerists and the Portinari Altarpiece is just too perfect to pass up), back to the artwork.

Cosimo de’Medici was first Grand Duke of Tuscany. He came to power at the very tender age of 17 when the Duke Alessandro de’Medici was assassinated on January 6, 1537. Alessandro was the last member of the most senior branch of the family and had inherited the ducal title hereditarily. When he died with no legitimate heirs the most powerful men in Florence called Cosimo to Florence from the “provinces” to take over the duchy. Though this was initially a ploy to gain a weak leader, Cosimo would turn out to be one the most powerful, both locally and internationally Florentine rulers since Lorenzo the Magnificent (he who patronized Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo years earlier). Cosimo married the well-connected and very wealthy Eleonora di Toledo (she bought the large Pitti Palace, across the Arno from the Palazzo Vecchio, for a residential home for her new family soon after the wedding) in 1539. She is easily recognizably to anyone who has visited the Uffizi from her fantastic portrait with her oldest son (shown below). I will also, hopefully soon, cover the fantastic chapel she commissioned by Bronzino in the Palazzo Vecchio.

Continuing a long Medici tradition of art patronage, Cosimo most often used Agnolo Bronzino for his own portraiture and that of his family. Also often commissioned to paint works meant as gifts for the royal heads of Europe, Bronzino enjoyed unparallel success and patronage at Cosimo’s Florentine court. Other artistic luminaries of the court include the sculptor Bartolomeo Ammanati and his wife, MY FAVORITE, Laura Battiferri (I’m sure you remember her portrait from early on). Bronzino is one of the most commercially successful Mannerists, and this work is a brilliant example of the court patronage of Cosimo and Eleonora. Here, Bronzino demonstrates the early development in his career of the standard type for Cosimo’s portraiture. This type of standardized portrait, in which Cosimo is shown young, strong, controlled, formal and distant, would remain a constant in official portraiture for roughly fifteen years. The same type of posture and formality is seen in the portraits of Eleonora and all their children. These portraits were to show the public face of the first family of Florence. The paintings meant for private are of a very different nature, such as Bronzino’s Cosimo I as Orpheus from 1539 (also shown below), which Cosimo gave to Eleonora as a wedding present (I can only imagine her reaction…).

The public face of a patron can often be far from a realistic depiction of personality, but is always the idealized version that the patron needs projected to others. For Augustus and Cosimo, the powerful leader is shown taciturn and serious while for Portinari piety is the order of the day. The following days of modern and contemporary portraiture of patrons will, undoubtedly, have different motivations.

Bronzino, Portrait of Eleonora of Toledo with her Son Giovanni (1545). Oil on panel, 115 x 96 cm. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

Bronzino, Portrait of Cosimo I as Orpheus (c. 1539). Oil on wood, 93 x 67 cm. Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Sources Used:

Brock, Maurice. Bronzino. Paris: Flammarion, 2002.

For Cosimo in armor: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f9/Angelo_Bronzino_036.jpg

For Eleonora: http://www.wga.hu/art/b/bronzino/1/eleonora.jpg

For Cosimo (nude): http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/52029.html


Hugo van der Goes, Portinari Altarpiece (1475-76)

Hugo van der Goes, Portinari Altarpiece (1475-76). Oil on panel, 253 cm × 588 cm. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

Moving forward in time, we go next to patrons in the fifteenth century. Though I meant to write on one work from the Northern Renaissance and one from the Italian, I realized that I could not let this work pass just because it crosses boundaries into both of these territories. So this is going to stand in for a more wholly Northern work though the patrons were Italian. The artist, Hugo van der Goes was from Ghent, and the work was commissioned in Bruges and painted there so that's good enough for me!

The altarpiece's central scene is an Adoration of the Holy Family and Shepherds (Luke 2:10-19). Here Mary is shown deep in prayer as she accepts what her child must do during his life to become the salvation of all human souls. Mary's somber countenance is offset by the awestruck wonder of the poor and lowly shepherds. Though many Adoration scenes are that of the Magi, or the Three Kings as they are commonly known, this is a painting that depicts an more humble moment in the infancy of Christ. Crowned heads of state are not here offering gifts to the son of God, here peasants humble themselves before a child who they believe, before anyone, is holy. While many patrons of similar works in terms of size or subject matter might have preferred a more lavish work with themselves shown as one of the Magi or an attendant on a king, depending on one's social standing in real life, here the Portinari are shown as pious supplicants to Christ and Mary, while the altarpiece's size and beauty are left to highlight the wealth and power of the patron and his family.

Tommaso Portinari was a wealthy Italian banker who was the representative of the Medici family of Florence to Bruges. He lived there for over 25 years and during his time in the Netherlands was very successful for both his employer and himself. This work was commissioned to showcase his achievement in Florence and was created for his family chapel at the hospital of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. Tommasso is shown kneeling on the left wing of the altarpiece with his patron saint, Thomas (with spear), and his two sons, Antonio and Pigello, with Antonio's patron saint, Anthony also present. On the right shutter Portinari's wife, Mario Baroncelli and their daughter Margherita are shown with their patron saints, Mary Magdalen (on the far right with her jar of ointment) and Margaret (with holy book and cross). They had another son named Guido who is not shown but was born in 1476.

The artist, Hugo van der Goes, here amalgamates the painting styles of the best of his time. He is able to show the symbolic details and intricate technique of Jan van Eyck while retaining the emotional responsiveness of his subjects to the drama unfolding before them. Here, however, he surpasses van der Weyden in his ability to show the difference in responses in each group of onlookers. The Virgin Mary and St. Joseph (in the shadows on the left of the central panel) watch in a controlled and somber contemplation, while the peasants react to the moment with bigger gestures and emotive facial expressions.

Symbolic details abound in the work and are very evident in the small still-life composition at the bottom center of the central panel. The flowers, irises and scarlet lilies, shown in the intricate vase to the left are symbols, iconographically, of Christ's passon, royal lineage and purity. The flowers, columbines and carnations, in the glass container are common symbols of the Virgin Mary's grief and sorrow at his Passion. The sheaf of wheat and the grapes incised onto the earthen vase allude to the body and blood (wine) that makes up the Eucharist. This small tableau of iconographic objects is a particularly important aspect of the work and is given pride of place in the forefront of the scene.

Other aspects of that make this painting such a masterpiece come in the slanted lighting that illuminates the naked Christ child while throwing into darkness the small barn, and the beasts within, where he was born. The symmetrical composition of the work that revolves around the Virgin and Child is a masterful creation that gives each component of the work a place in the scene unfolding. The Virgin is shown as the bridge between the humble and divine but the angels that kneel in adoration are another way to bridge a gap between the patrons and the Holy Family.

The Portinari Altarpiece arrived in Florence in 1483 and was widely admired by court persons and artists alike. There are many instances of artists of the time attempting to emulate the wonder and awestruck expressions shown on the realistic depictions of the humble peasants. Though the altarpiece was well-received, it was one of Hugo van der Goes last major works. He retreated to the sanctuary of the monastery of the Roode Klooster between the years of 1476 and 1478.

Tommaso Portinari remained an avid patron of the arts and there are two famous portraits of himself and his wife by Hans Memling from around the same period (shown below).

Hans Memling, Tommaso di Folco Portinari & Maria Portinari, probably 1470. Oil on wood, Tommaso overall 17 3/8 x 13 1/4 in. Maria overall 17 3/8 x 13 3/8 in.

Sources Used:

Snyder, James. Northern Renaissance Art: Painting, Sculpture, the Graphic Arts from 1350 to 1575. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education, Inc., 2005.

Image source for Portinari Altarpiece: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/69/Hugo_van_der_Goes_004.jpg

Image Source for Hans Memling, Tommaso di Folco Portinari (1428-1501); Maria Portinari (Maria Maddalena Baroncelli, 1456-?) (14.40.626-27) Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History at the Metropolitan Museum of Art


Augustus of Prima Porta, early first century AD

Augustus of Prima Porta, early first century AD. Painted Carrara marble, 6' 8''. Musei Vaticani, Rome.

This week I will be working with portraits of patrons. Usually commissioned from a favorite artist, patron portraiture is always commissioned with a mind to have a very specific message and meaning depicted. I decided to start with one of the early, and most prolific, patrons of portraiture, the Roman Emperor Augustus.

The Prima Porta Augustus, from early in the first century AD, is a beautiful example of how portraiture can be propaganda for the patron. It can showcase wealth, education, power, social standing or more subtle nuances like refinement while alluding to historical moments the subject wishes to be associated with. This statue in particular is a piece of Roman propaganda from the highest echelons of power.

This statue was found in the villa of Augustus' wife, Livia, and is called the Prima Porta Augustus because the villa was situated near an ancient archway to the north of Rome. This work contains many of the key aspects of Augustus' larger propaganda program. Though this copy of an earlier bronze statue was probably commissioned by Augustus' adopted son, Tiberius, the original work, it can be very safely assumed, was commissioned by Augustus himself upon the triumph over the Parthians. The body of the emperor himself begins the subtle suggestive tone of the larger work. From his bare feet, which allude to his heroic actions (Roman mythological heroes are always shown barefoot), to the small figure at his left of Cupid and a dolphin, which are direct comments on the Julio-Claudian family's claim of ancestral descent from the goddess Venus through Augustus' adopted father, Julius Caesar. However, the most important aspect of this work, and its desired message, comes on Augustus' detailed breastplate.

Beginning on the shoulders, the gods of the sun and the moon grace the top part of the plate. Below them a Parthian barbarian, shown by his baggy uniform and shaggy hair, returns a military standard to a Roman legionary. This episode helps to date the work to being a later marble copy of a bronze statue commissioned after Augustus' victory over the Parthians in 20 BC. The allegory of the sky and Mother Earth, holding a cornucopia as well as the gods Apollo and Diana show the peace that encompasses all of the Roman empire now that Augustus has triumphed and protected it against their enemies.

This statue is a beautiful example of how Augustus used personal portraiture as a key aspect of his propaganda program in spreading his message of authority and peace. The symbolic allusions to peace on the breastplate, the small figures that support his claim to power and the idealized form of a powerful young emperor all combine to create a message of calm control and absolute power. This is probably the most famous statue of Augustus but there are legions of them, and those are only the ones that survived. This type of portraiture was the way that Augustus was able to reach to the far corners of his empire. He called on his ancestral lineage to confirm the validity of his claims, but also to showcase his own personal achievements. Many of the rural communities that lay far from Rome would never have laid eyes on the emperor himself, but this idealized image of authority and its message of peace would have been a powerful weapon spreading his message and in controlling the far-flung areas of the empire.

Sources Used:

Ramage, Nancy H. and Andrew Ramage. Roman Art: Romulus to Constantine. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education, Inc., 2005.

Images taken from: http://mv.vatican.va/4_ES/pages/z-Patrons/MV_Patrons_04_03.html


Apologies and Technical Troubles

El Greco, Portrait of a Cardinal, Probably Cardinal Don Fernando Niño de Guevara (ca. 1600). Oil on canvas, 170.8 x 108 cm. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Hi All!

So its Friday night and I am finally back in San Francisco after a rather long and arduous day of traveling, but I am writing now to apologize for my lack of posting in the latter half of this week. I was once again in New York staying with a friend, this time for job interviews, and once again the wireless at the apartment where I stay was down. As I ran around the city going to interview (nerve-wracking!) and apartment hunting (terrifying!) I just did not have the energy to lug my computer around to coffee shops to post. I will make it up to you in the coming week though! 5 full-blown, single artwork posts are on the way. Ranging from Ancient to Renaissance to Modern to Contemporary, I really hope everyone finds something they like!

I am also running low on the list that readers gave me a few weeks ago when I issued an open call for suggestions so if you have any... please let me know! I live only to please you :)

All my best,

Including image of one of favorite works of art I saw in New York. I can't seem to stay away from the Old Masters in the Metropolitan... and who can blame me? Have glasses ever looked so dashing on anyone? Especially a Cardinal? I think not.


Art Newspaper: Ownership of Egon Schiele's Portrait of Wally Finally Settled

The beautiful painting by Egon Schiele which has been at the center of a restitution law suit disputing the ownership of the work between the Leopold Foundation and the heirs to a Jewish art dealer forced to flee from the Nazi regime is finally settled. It has been decided the Leopold will pay the heirs $19million to keep the painting. To read more on the Art Newspaper, click on the Title of this post!


New York, New York

So I am in New York, on rather short notice, and am just now getting around to figuring out what is up at all the museums and what I am going to see this week. Thought I would share the information for anyone in the area or anyone who might be visiting soon.

Metropolitian Museum of Art
An Italian Journey: Drawings from the Tobey Collection, Correggio to Tiepolo
American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity

Frick Collection (one of the best, I always go even if only to see the permanent collection)
From Mansion to Museum: The Frick Collection Celebrates bSeventy-Five Years


Broken Forms: European Modernism from the Guggenheim Collection
The Geometry of Kandinsky and Malevich

Museum of Modern Art
Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1917 (which I saw in Chicago at the Art Institute but I NEED to see the Portrait of Yvonne Landsberg (above) again!)

And if there is time....

Neue Galerie
Otto Dix (yes I am going to see it again!)

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
National Design Triennal


Quotes About Art (from the menus of Natt Spil)

So, as I have mentioned before, I recently moved out of Madison, Wisconsin back to San Francisco (for the time being). One of my last nights in Madison I went to my favorite restaurant, Natt Spil (211 King Street Madison, WI 53703 (608) 258-8787, this phone number is for the restaurant next door because Natt Spil is so cool and hip they do not have a telephone... Makes things difficult but it is always worth it!). The menus at this restaurant never change in terms of the food on them but the covers are always decorated with funny quotes. It happened by lovely chance that my last night at my favorite place would coincide with the week that their menus were decorated with truly fantastic quotes about art by artists and famous cultural luminaries. I hope you enjoy them now as much as I did then. Looking at this menu has brought a tear to my eye.

In art the best is good enough.
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

All that I desire to point out is the general principle that life imitates art far more than art imitates life.
- Oscar Wilde

An artist cannot fail: it is a success to be one.
- Charles Horton Cooley

Art doesn't transform. It just plain forms.
- Roy Lichtenstein

Art is either plagiarism or revolution.
- Paul Gauguin

Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.
- Pablo Picasso

I choose a block of marble and then chop off whatever I don't need.
- Auguste Rodin

Modern art is what happens when painters stop looking at girls and persuade themselves that they have a better idea.
- John Ciardi


Guest Post: The Tudors (TV, History & Art) by Lauren Fliegelman

Hans Holbein, Henry VIII

Hans Holbein, Jane Seymour

Hans Holbein, Anne of Cleves

****WARNING: Spoiler Alert for the finale of the third season of Showtime's hit show, The Tudors starring Jonathan Rhys-Myers.****

Guest Blogger: Lauren Fliegelman, fourth year Art History/Journalism major at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Spent a semester studying the Italian Renaissance masters in Rome, 2009. Current area of research: Manet and Japanese Influences. See her previous post on Michelangelo's Florentine Pieta of 1515 or Japonisme.

The Tudors – It is better to have loved, lost, and remarried, than to never have loved at all.

This week, the Showtime series The Tudors has come to an end. Although I feel many will not mourn this loss, a small part of me is sad to see the decadent interiors, luscious costumes, and yes, the overly intimate, often explicit scenes of royal sex and seduction witnessed over the past three years draw to a close. Although the show, more often than not, scarified history for the sake of all things carnal and unscrupulous, the writers may have had it right in that interest in the women Henry VIII loved and married generally supersedes all else.

In the series finale, Henry sits for Hans Holbein the Younger as he paints probably the most iconic image to come out of this reign (I won’t even go into the quasi-Jonathan Rhys Myers/Henry VIII circa 1540 image the show chose to include in the end). Holbein, who was introduced to Henry’s court by Anne Boleyn in the early 1530’s, would continue to paint the king late into his reign. As Henry sits for his portrait, his “ghosts of girlfriends” past visit him with haunting messages of regret and remorse. Apropos of this episode, I thought it timely to brush up on the chronology of wives and the king that, next to his daughter Elizabeth I, is the most memorable monarch in English history.

The Tudors, or as Josephine Ross put it, “England’s Golden Age,” were made up of three kings and two queens. King Henry VII defeated Richard III and became the first Tudor king in 1485. His reign was one of relief as it ended a period of constant battle and turmoil for the British throne. Soon after his marriage to Elizabeth of York, the couple, who would have seven children between 1486 to 1503, welcomed their first son Arthur, then their daughter Margaret and their second son, Henry in 1491. Although their marriage was not necessarily one of great passion, mutual understanding and respect laid the foundations for the most famous succession of royals to rule England.
However, when one thinks “Tudors,” King Henry VIII and his succession of wives come to mind. After the death of his brother Arthur, Henry came to power in 1509 at the age of seventeen. The image of the ideal, albeit Disney prince, Henry was handsome, charming, athletic, and generally well-liked by the public and women alike. Honoring his rather drawn out engagement to Catherine of Aragon (complicated by her pseudo marriage to his brother Arthur), Henry married the princess on June 11, 1509 and the two were swept up in the passion that would mark the outset of many of his subsequent marriages. Early on, the couple suffered two losses when both their first baby girl was a stillborn and their son Henry died seven weeks after his birth. Catherine would suffer several more stillborns and premature deaths of her children until 1515 when she finally delivered a baby girl, Mary, who would live into adulthood. Despite their daughter, Henry began to lose interest in his wife as her pregnancies became fewer and far between. To make matters worse for Catherine, the king flaunted his ability to have sons as he had a healthy baby boy with his mistress Bessie Blount. The judgment of God was surely present in the royal couples inability to produce a legitimate male heir. The Book of Leviticus spelled out plainly in two distinct passages that when one has relations with his brother’s wife, their relationship will end childless. Henry’s religious proof, in conjunction with Catherine's infertility and ageing stature, were all the king needed to begin his lengthy divorce from the queen.

Enter Anne Boleyn stage left. Although she isn’t famous for saying, “let them eat cake,” she is partially responsible for dethroning a queen and permanently changing the religion of an entire country so I suppose we should give her some credit. Although her sister was first to share the kings bed (if you haven’t already done so and you are even remotely a fan of salacious historical fiction check out The Other Boleyn Girl for a great read on this rather odd love triangle) Anne made is clear that is was Queen or nothing as she cleaned house of all her enemies at court. In 1528 Anne made a permanent home at court and by 1532 she was pregnant with the kings child. At this point divorce from Queen Catherine was required to secure the legitimacy of the possible male heir Anne was carrying. On May 23 his marriage to Catherine was official dissolved. However Anne and Henry had already secretly married some time before then. Although Anne did not give birth to the boy the entire country had hoped for, on September 7th Princess Elizabeth was born (who would ironically enough far surpass any male heir Henry was ever able produce). Anne scheming flared as she suffered one after another miscarriage. Adding to her troubles, Anne’s former friend and religious reformer Thomas Cromwell began to plot against her, realizing that he better get behind the rising star at court, Jane Seymour. Beginning in 1536, several of her male associates including Mark Smeaton the musician, Sir Henry Norris, and her brother George Boleyn were all taken to the Tower of London and tortured for information regarding such accusations as treason, adultery, incest, and more. The queen herself was imprisoned on May 2nd in the same rooms where she has been prepared for her coronation. All were found guilty of the charges and either hanged, burnt at the stake, or beheaded. On May 19th Anne was beheaded by a master swordsman she had requested. Anne’s body was buried in an unmarked location in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula. Later her remains were identified during renovations of the chapter during the reign of Queen Victoria. Her grave is now indicated by a marker in the marble floor.

Jane Seymour: Jane was brought to court under the reign of Queen Catherine but served as maid to Anne. Beginning in February of 1536 it is clear that Henry began to favor Jane as he love for Anne waned. The exact opposite of Anne lively charisma and temper, Jane was benevolent and unconscious to the political game she had become a pawn in (however this view on her demeanor is somewhat debatable as it has been suggested she was more like the other wives than was projected by Henry who saw her in this favorable manner). Eleven days after Anne’s execution Henry and Jane were married. The weight on Jane’s shoulders to produce an heir was heavier than ever as Henry’s illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy died at 17 leaving the king with no male predecessors. However, in 1537 Jane became pregnant and delivered Henry’s long awaited male heir, Prince Edward. Although Jane attended Edward’s christening on October 15th, she died later that month on the 24th. Jane’s body was placed in the tomb Henry had been preparing for himself, making her the only queen to be buried alongside the king. Henry would consider Anne his first true wife and would always hold her in the highest regard.

Anne of Cleves: It seems after Jane’s death, allowing Henry to marry again for lust was not on the agenda of his associates. A political marriage which created an alliance between England and another power player country. Candidates were selected depending upon both their political and visual appeal. Anne of Cleves, the sister of the Duke of Cleves, was chosen on the chance France and the Holy Roman Empire made amends and moved against England for the religious reformation. Holbein was sent to paint a portrait of Anne of Cleves to bring to the king, upon which time Henry agreed to the marriage. In January of 1540 the two were married although Henry was already dissatisfied with Anne. Calling her a “Flanders Mare,” Henry did not taking a liking to Anne’s domestic upbringing. Furthermore, the political alliance their marriage has secured seemed obsolete as France and Spain continued their hatred of one another and the Duke of Cleves was pressing for a war with Spain Henry had no interest in becoming involved in. Anne cleverly consented to having the marriage dissolved and being appointed sister of the king, stating her marriage to Henry had never been consummated. She was appointed the former estate of Anne Boleyn where she lived in peace till her death.

Kathryn Howard: The mischievous baby queen who got into trouble with the king’s groom Thomas Culpepper was also the first cousin of Anne Boleyn. Kathryn has been brought to court as a lady for Anne of Cleves at the age of 19. Little more than two weeks after his annulment from Anne, at the age of 49, Henry married Kathryn in July of 1540. Although Henry began to suffer many of the maladies that would slowly end his life, Kathryn was able to restore the kings spirits for a short time until talk of adultery began around court. Archbishop Cramer (who had for all intensive purposes replaced Thomas Cromwell upon his execution close to the annulment of Anne of Cleves) investigated the young queen and found her guilty of the aforementioned infidelity as well as former indiscretions with prior to her marriage to the king. Her short life came to an end in February of 1542 when she was beheaded and buried in close proximity to her cousin Anne Boleyn.

Katherine Parr: Coincidently enough, Katherine’s parents, Sir Thomas Parr and Maud Green, had been at court during Henry’s early reign. Maud had served as a lady in waiting to Queen Katharine, Henry’s first wife, and had named her daughter after her. Katharine, whose mother had independently raised and educated her children after the early death of her husband, was a life-long learner, reader, and writer. Katherine was married twice before she wedded Henry. Her second husband, Lord Latimer died in 1543 leaving Katherine a widow for the second time at the age of 31. Although she had secretly proclaimed her love for Thomas Seymour, when the king requested her hand in marriage she had no choice but to oblige. The two were married in July of 1543 beginning a most interesting match for the reign of Henry VIII. Accusations of Katherine’s reformist faith began to swarm as members of the conservative alliance in Henry’s court interrogated and tortured members of the queen’s circle. Anne of Askew, a notorious Protestant preacher was racked however she refused to besmirch the queen or her ladies. Eventually, the king, whose health was failing, famously went to her after Katherine was made aware of a warrant for her arrest. He reprimanded her for her religious outspokenness and reminded her that others had been put to death for similar comments. Katherine was forgiven after she profusely apologized and claimed to only speak of such matters so that the king could teach her the err of her ways. Despite this political stumble, Katherine is famous for becoming the first English Queen to have her book, Prayers or Meditations, published in 1545. Soon after the death of the king Katherine married Thomas Seymour as originally planned. The two moved away from court together where they looked after the upbringing of Princess Elizabeth. However, around 1548 it was proposed that Elizabeth and Thomas Seymour had engaged in an affair and the princess was moved to another home. Katherine became pregnant for the first time at age 37 and gave birth to a daughter. She died shortly thereafter, never recovering form the birth.

Henry died in January of 1547 leaving his son, Edward VI king at age nine. Watched over by his uncle Edward Seymour, the Seymour family would essentially rule via the young king. Edward died in July of 1553 leaving the kingship in question. Shortly before his death Edward convinced to leave his crown to his cousin Jane Grey, avoiding the religious turmoil his sister Mary would bring to England. Eventually Mary would be declared queen July 24th. Along with her Spanish husband, Mary become widely unpopular for the religious persecution of Protestants that had been predicted. The English people looked to Elizabeth as their savior but Mary saw her as a threat. She had her imprisoned in the Tower at which point Mary realize she was pregnant and let her go shortly after because Elizabeth was no longer a threat. The queen, who was forty at this point never gave birth to a child. It is unclear what exactly happened medically, however she died in 1558. Elizabeth become queen upon the death of here sister and would rule until her death in March of 1603.

I have high hopes for the newest historical fiction drama to be released in 2011 by Showtime, The Borgias!

Best, Lauren Fliegelman


Returning to Full Force Tomorrow

Hello Everyone!

I have finally made it home. What a trip and I was able to see some lovely things along the way thanks to Robbie G. who suggested the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City. However, sometimes the most beautiful things in the world are the most familiar, and as I walked into the home I grew up in today for the first time in months I was struck by the work of art that hangs in my room.

It is a work by Squeak Carnwath (apologies for the horrific image, iPhones!), and it was the first work of art I ever purchased for myself. I was originally drawn to the horse (of course) but every time I see it now I find something new to love about it.

I will return to full posts tomorrow, apologies for the hiatus but it is hard to blog on the road!


Brief Hiatus from Important Posts

Hey Everyone!

So due to a lack of planning ahead, I will not be doing large posts for today or tomorrow as I drive across the country on my way home to San Francisco from Madison. I will just be posting small art snippets from my travels. It turns out there is a lot of great art in unexpected places.

For instance, yesterday I went to the fabulous Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, Missouri and was blown away by the incredible collection that included the beautiful Penitent Magdalen shown above by El Greco (and they have a fantastic Caravaggio! Who knew?! Not me, that's for certain!).

More to come tomorrow!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


A lot of posts later...

Andy Warhol, 100 Cans (1962)

The 100th Post!

I was going to do this huge article on someone big (see above, wink wink nudge nudge) but I realized that what I really need to do is to say thank you to everyone who has been reading and supporting this strange endeavor I signed on for. When I started the blog it was really to enable me to share my love of art and some of the knowledge that I have been accruing for roughly the last decade of my life (my first trip to the Louvre was when I was 9). I have since realized that so much of art and the understanding of it on the most basic level is relating it to current events and how we each move in the experiences of our lives. To this end I have sought to also share contemporary sources, news articles or blog posts, about how art presently existing in the grander scheme of things. I have missed posting on some of my favorite works of art, so I have to say that there will be more of those type of single-artwork-explained-and-interpreted posts going forward.

I have to say that I was not sure I would make it past a week with this project, and I am so pleased that it has grown to be a real part of my everyday life! For all those who read and enjoy the blog, please let me know if there is something you would like to see, hear explained, or some concept translated. I began this blog to share and to learn, to expand my own base of knowledge through self-directed but concerted study.

I hope you have enjoyed reading so far, I look forward to the next 20 weeks of posting, and hope it will be as enjoyable as the the last 100 posts have been.

A special thanks to Kellin Barlow-Wilcox and Lauren Fliegelman for their contributions, both ladies have promised to write again soon. Also, a special thanks to my readers who have passed on the website to their friends, I love getting emails from people outside my own circle saying so and so turned them on the blog! It is so great to have the support I do and stay tuned for more art to come! And to all of the writers whose stories I have shared with you from the ARTnews, The New Yorker, the New York Times, the Art Newspaper, and other news outlets!

Side note: I have also decided that it may be time to venture into new artistic territory with architecture, music, film and dance. Any suggestions where to start? The Bauhaus and Frank Lloyd Wright are my first leads....

All the best,


Hans Holbein the Younger, The Ambassadors (1533)

Hans Holbein the Younger, The Ambassadors (1533). Oil on oak, 207 x 209.5 cm. The National Gallery, London, UK.

This painting was commissioned by Jean de Dinteville (on the left) the French ambassador to England and his friend Georges de Selve, the bishop of Lavaur, who was, at different times, an ambassador to the Pope, the Republic of Venice and the Emperor. This work was meant to show the education and culture of two men, and to proclaim their status as part of the cultural and social elite. The objects shown behind them are various instruments such as globes, sundials, musical instruments and religious texts. The men's importance during the time period is attested to by the breadth of objects shown and their significance as a depiction of the varied interests and large range of knowledge they were portrayed to have.

"Holbein was one of the most accomplished portraitists of the 16th century. He spent two periods of his life in England (1526-8 and 1532-43), portraying the nobility of the Tudor court. Holbein's famous portrait of Henry VIII (London, National Portrait Gallery) dates from the second of these periods. 'The Ambassadors', also from this period, depicts two visitors to the court of Henry VIII. 'Christina of Denmark' is a portrait of a potential wife for the king. He was taught by his father, Hans Holbein the Elder. He traveled a great deal, and is recorded in Lucerne, northern Italy and France. In these years he produced woodcuts and fresco designs as well as panel paintings. With the spread of the Reformation in Northern Europe the demand for religious images declined and artists sought alternative work. Holbein first traveled to England in 1526 with a recommendation to Thomas More from the scholar Erasmus. In 1532 he settled in England, dying of the plague in London in 1543." - The National Gallery, London.

Holbein is, as mentioned above from an excerpt on the artist from the National Gallery's website, famous for depicting the royal wives of Henry VIII and other court luminaries, including the King himself in his most famous portrait. The complexity of this work makes it stand out from the other formal portraits he executed during his time in England. Though Holbein often included objects as symbols of his subjects, the objects represented here are so specific to the patron that their meanings would have been very evident and obvious to the contemporary viewer. The religious texts shown are allusions to the strife going on in Europe at the time, and the broken strong of the lute signifies the division that was occurring during the Reformation, on the continent and in England. The celestial and terrestrial globes represent the men's earthly and cosmic intelligence and education and allude to their understanding of things of both this world and the spiritual world.

However, by far the most interesting aspect of this work is the elongated skull in the foreground. This distorted image represents the mortality of human beings and the shortness of life. This type of allusion to death in painting, and the visual arts in general, is called 'vanitas'. Also, when the picture is viewed from a specific point to the right of the work, the distorition is corrected and the skull is clearly seen (as shown below).


Robert Rauschenberg, Erased De Kooning Drawing (1953)

Robert Rauschenberg, Erased De Kooning Drawing (1953). Traces of ink and crayon on paper, mat, label, and gilded frame with mount and hand-lettered ink by Jasper Johns on frame, 64.14 x 55.25. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California.

"The simultaneous unmaking of one work and the creation of another" - Robert Rauschenberg

I have been waiting a long time to write about this work because it is one of my favorites, but I could not figure out a way to adequately explain the history of the work and how it came to be while still giving the sense of its creation. However, I just found this clip on YouTube (above) of Rauschenberg explaining the work himself! I hope you will watch the clip to understand the work while I give blog today only about how the work effects me and why I have loved it for so long.

Rauschenberg has been a favorite of mine for a long time but it was only recently when I have come to understand more about art and the progression of the modern movements that his true importance and brilliance has become evident. Here, while the works drew me in, the artist's own progression is what kept me interested. Rauschenberg, working in New York, challenged viewers to interact with his works in a way that the Abstract Expressionists did not. By creating collages that used everyday material to creating monochrome white paintings that made the viewer's shadow the art work, his work is an experience that is on par with his frequent collaborator John Cage's music. A wonderful quote by Cage, when remarking on the praise his silent composition was eliciting, is:

"To Whom It May Concern:
The white paintings came first;
my silent piece came later."

Rauschenberg was interested in the creation and collaboration of art that could move and challenge an audience in its inception and completion. The erased de Kooning Drawing is an example of how he needed always to look outside what was being done at the time and use a new approach to evoke the feelings he felt needed to be expressed. As with other artists of the time his sometimes audacious tactics did not always please the general public or art world critics, but the work's continuing fame and importance proves just how necessary this idea was to the movements and the generational feeling in New York during the 1950's. The concept of this work and the idea of iconoclasm (the destruction of images) are often debated and discussed but as Rauschenberg explains, he did not need to destory de Kooning's art, but rather he wanted to make art out of art. By erasing a piece that would have been considered high art he was attempting to show how subtraction could also create something as important or expressive.

I hope you have listened to Rauschenberg's own words on the subject because it is his interpretation and the story of its inception that makes this work so absolutely fantastic.

Here is also a wonderful interactive site from the SFMoMA about the work and it will give you all the details and another video of Rauschenberg speaking about it.


Technical Difficulties

Hello Everyone,

I am currently having some problems with my connection at the apartment, and I must beg your pardon that I write this from an iPhone. Posts will resume tomorrow. My apologies!


Exhibition Alert: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco

Alexander Calder, Double Gong (1953). Painted metal and brass, 60 x 132 inches. Doris and Donald Fisher Collection at SFMOMA.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art will put on the first exhibition of the Fisher Collection of contemporary art from June 25 through September 19, 2010 called "Calder to Warhol: Introducing the Fisher Collection. This is something I have long wished to see and am so excited be able to make it to in my hometown! Hopefully some of you can make it, below is an introduction to the exhibition. The Fishers are some of the most prolific collectors of contemporary art and their sometimes combative relationship with San Francisco in terms of their contributions to the arts and their wish for a museum to house their collection if donated to the city makes this moment a wonderful ending to a long battle. With the death of Don Fisher, the works going on display tell the story of a couple whose legacy is a passion for art that created a huge, cohesive collection of masterpieces.


Leonardo da Vinci, St. Jerome in the Wilderness (c. 1480)

Leonardo da Vinci, St. Jerome in the Wilderness (c. 1480). Tempera and oil on walnut panel (41 in × 30 in). Vatican Museums, Rome.

As is mentioned in my brief blurb about myself on the right side of the page, I spent the entirety of my 3rd year of university studying abroad in Florence, Italy. While I was there I was able to work with Dr. Rab Hatfield and Dr. Jonathan K. Nelson at the Syracuse University in Florence Center. While working with Professor Hatfield, I undertook research on a few works by Leonard da Vinci and I would like to share one of my shorter essays (footnotes excluded for brevity's sake) which I created to present to my seminar class. This presentation centered on Leondardo da Vinci's early unfinished work St. Jerome in the Wilderness and I hope you will enjoy! I know this post is a bit longer than most but after quite a few news stories that have been breaking, it might be good to get some more scholarly posts in now and then. This work is really wonderful and I find it one of the Renaissance master's best emotive works.

St. Jerome in the Wilderness by Leonardo da Vinci
Essay Presented by Lydia Melamed Johnson
15 October, 2008 Florence, Italy

Long before the Last Supper or the Mona Lisa would make him famous for his subtle but powerful facial expression and beautifully correct anatomical studies of the human form, Leonardo da Vinci was depicting individuals suffused with heart-wrenching emotion.

A true example and indication of who Leonardo was to become can be seen in one of his earliest attributed works, the St. Jerome in the Wilderness that now hangs in the Vatican Picture Gallery. Begun around 1480, and never finished, this work of oil and tempera on panel is completed only to the point of monochrome under-painting and as such enables the viewer see the process Leonardo was working through on his way to his more complete masterpieces. This work has a varied provenance, and through its journey from Leonardo’s hand to its current place in the Vatican collection the work has endured large amounts of damage and unimpressive restorations. Its earliest known location was actually in the Vatican collections though how it got there or why it did not remain is unknown.
The next reference to the St. Jerome is found in the will of the Swiss-born British Royal Academician Angelica Kauffman in the year 1807, where it was listed as an unfinished work done by Leonardo da Vinci. From this point on it was, and still is, attributed to the artist without any challenges, as the style is most definitely Leonardo’s, even though there is no supporting documentation, sketches or provenance that goes back to Leonardo’s time. After its mention in Kauffman’s will it once again was lost until around 1820 when the French Cardinal Fesch, an uncle to the Emperor Napoleon, found a portion of the work containing the landscape, lion and the bottom part of the saint’s body being used as the doors to a cabinet in a second-hand shop in Rome. The Cardinal then searched for the missing portion containing the head and located it in the workshop of a cobbler, where it had a place of honor as a tabletop. The Cardinal, having rejoined the two parts, had it restored and the unskilled job of the restoration is very evident in the work.

Some years later, in 1845, Pope Pius IV bought the painting from the Cardinal’s heirs for, it is estimated by Angela Ottino della Chiesa in the Complete Paintings of Leonardo, 2,500 francs for his collection, and it is there in the Vatican’s Museum that it hangs today. For all the picture has been through, the fact that it retains much of its original power and beauty is a testament to Leonardo’s early skill. It is because of his advanced level of draughtsmanship and his extensive studies and sketches of humans, animals, and nature that Leonardo is able to carefully emphasize the most important characteristics of a penitent St. Jerome, and use the saint’s established iconography to highlight his implications. Leonardo depicts the saint in the wilderness, or desert, where he was said to have lived for many years in penitence as a hermit between stints of living in various parts of Europe. The saint, canonized for his translation the Bible from Hebrew to Latin that came to be known as the Vulgate, as well as many other religious writings, is one of the Four Western Fathers, or Doctors, of the Catholic Church along with the other literary saints of St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, and St. Gregory the Great. Many artists before and after Leonardo have shown Jerome in the wilderness, but another common mode of presentation is to place the saint in his study in the midst of his great translations, often clothed in Cardinal red as there were many who believed him to have been a cardinal at one time because of his close work with Pope Damascus. In discussing this work it is important to highlight the changes Leonardo makes to the conventional depiction of St. Jerome.

The saint is placed in the center of the work without a distracting desk, book or otherwise, with the core of his body creating the dividing line between the receding landscape and the action that takes place in the foreground. Jerome sits, not in constrained contemplation, but rather he strains forward with his emaciated chest as his left arm swings behind him in preparation of his self-flagellation performed with the rock clenched in his fist. Here is a man struggling to tame his internal desires and inflicting pain upon his own flesh in an attempt to rid his body of its impure urges that go against the doctrine he worships. His body already shows the effects these punishments have taken, especially in the area of his chest where there is a dark spot, probably the beginning of a large bruise from his repeated beatings. Also known to have imposed severe dietary restrictions on himself, the saint’s bony and gaunt flesh is one more indication of his piety and devotion to his vocation. St. Jerome gives the viewer an acute sense of the humanity underneath the holiness of a saintly individual. To accentuate the anguish of the moment, the lion in the foreground, Jerome’s most common attribute, opens his mouth as if to roar in response to what is occurring before him.

This bestial response to Jerome’s self-inflicted punishment underscores the religious piety of the moment with a more animalistic response, the type that would that tempt Jerome to fall from grace and give in to more base urges such as rage or sexual desire. This idea is accentuated by the story of Jerome’s acquisition of the lion. In the tale, an injured lion came across Jerome in the desert, and Jerome aided the animal by removing a thorn it had in its paw. Once the beast was freed from pain it became the constant companion of Jerome and refused to leave his side. As such, the lion goes from a rage and hunger motivated creature, to a domesticated pet shown lying by his keeper’s side. This story symbolizes the relationship between the wounded, or impious, and the ability of the church, symbolized here by Jerome, to heal and cure and bring beings into its fold through a type religious healing such as conversion.
Though it is hard to make out in most reproductions of this work, St. Jerome is turning his head away from the lion and his animalistic urges and actively gazing at an image of a crucifix, and a façade of a church, etched onto the rock wall to his left.

Jerome concentrates on the crucifix as he punishes his own body, aligning his pain with Christ’s in an attempt to beat out the parts of himself that do run parallel to the Savior’s doctrine. With this in mind the saint is looking ahead to years of a more peaceful existence once the trails of his penance are complete, a sort of paradise on Earth that can only be achieved through these agonized moments, a paradise where he is closer to Christ through his parallel trials. The work is a way to interpret and examine the path of Christianity on the way to eternal salvation and the goals of the devout Catholic saint.

Leonardo’s portrayal of Saint Jerome in the wilderness is at once arrestingly beautiful and disturbing in the way that only Leonardo could attain without moving into the realm of the unattractive or the grotesque. The landscape here, as with so much of Leonardo’s work, is not created only for the beauty of itself but rather also to use its subtle undertones to outline certain characteristics of the individual depicted. The beginnings of the landscape that would have surrounded Jerome are stark and unforgiving, characteristics similar to the saint’s opinion of temptation and his own path to Christian purity and piety. In this vein, Leonardo makes the landscape not completely without hope. Just as Jerome looks forward to the future, so too does the faint green coloring help to move the work out of complete desolation. Though this does indicate that suffering is not without end, the pain, both physical and emotional, shown in the figure of Jerome is the centerpiece of the work and as such must be appreciated for its brutally honest depiction of agony. However, as the painting is far from completed, these ideas on the color of the landscape are purely speculation based on the evidence before us, as we cannot know what Leonardo intended for the final product.

Much more obvious however is the facial expression of the saint. The pain etched on Jerome’s face gives indication to the amount of suffering the saint is enduring in his quest for penance and the amount of willpower he is exerting in order to resist temptation. Jerome’s facial expression is a foreshadowing of what was to come in Leonardo’s career, and strong likenesses of this Jerome in the Wilderness can be found both in the unfinished Adoration of the Magi, and even in Leonardo’s famous Last Supper in the expression and pose of St. Phillip. As Jerome strains forward with his left hand over his breast as if anticipating the blow of the rock, so too does St. Phillip seem to move toward the actions and reactions surrounding Christ’s pronouncement of the imminent betrayal of one of these Apostles. While this similarity is slight but apparent, the upturned gaze and gaunt features of one individual present in the Adoration of the Magi, from around 1481-1482, could be St. Jerome himself the similarity is so blatant.

From the closely shorn hair, the sunken eye sockets, and gaping mouth this old man seems to be St. Jerome’s close relative or even twin. However, unlike the penitent saint, this figure turns the agonized expression of the saint into one of confusion and disbelief. Here Leonardo uses the subtle change of angle and gaze to move away from physical pain into mental confusion and the pain that comes from opening one’s eyes to new things after so long under one belief. While both are undergoing a type of transformation, only St. Jerome does so with an alertness that shines through his eyes, as an individual not only physically there, but mentally understanding this internal transformation.

Because this picture is not completed, and maybe because of its sorted history, many of the writers on Leonardo do not give it the credit nor the time it truly deserves. Though each mention it, most do so only briefly to compare it to the later Adoration of the Magi, whose commission is often thought to be the reason the St. Jerome was left incomplete. Kenneth Clark is guilty of over looking the importance of this work, and I found myself disappointed in him as he gives the work less than a full page, and spends the entirety focusing on the provenance of the work and briefly mentioning that it displays Leonardo’s transformation between two major works. While the provenance of the work is indeed interesting, I would rather have learned Clark’s opinion about the compositional aspects of the work, and what makes the image so much more emotionally tense than other pictures of St. Jerome. As such I found that Frank Zollner, and Pietro Marani felt similarly to how I do, and both gave reasonable amounts of time and analysis of the work in their respective works, Leonardo da Vinci, and Leonardo da Vinci: the Complete Paintings. Though Clark mentions that portions of the work are uncharacteristic of the artist, he leaves very little room for real critique of his writing on the picture. As such I must say that I find fault with Clark in his dismissal of what seems to me to be one of Leonardo’s most moving works. While he might not find it as pleasing as the Virgin of the Rocks, and true it has neither the charm nor the subtlety of that masterpiece, he does the St. Jerome and Leonardo himself a great disservice by not giving it the moment it deserves as a precursor to two, and probably more, of Leonardo’s most important works. I say probably, because this work was begun and left unfinished, before Leonardo began his extensive studies into the anatomy of the human body. This picture shows Leonardo’s interest in the body derived first not in the scientific realm, but rather the artistic one, and while Jerome does not yet have the anatomical correctness of some of Leonardo’s later figures he was surely an inspiration to Leonardo in his later studies.