The Burghers of Calais, completed in 1889, is one of the most famous sculptures of the French artist Auguste Rodin (12 November 1840 – 17 November 1917).
"The Burghers of Calais, commemorating an episode during the Hundred Years' War between England and France, is probably the best and certainly the most successful of Rodin's public monuments. Rodin closely followed the account of the French chronicler Jean Froissart (1333 or 1337–after 1400) stating that six of the principal citizens of Calais were ordered to come out of their besieged city with head and feet bare, ropes around their necks, and the keys of the town and the caste in their hands. They were brought before the English king Edward III (1312–1377), who ordered their beheading. Rodin has portrayed them at the moment of departure from their city led by Eustache de Saint-Pierre, the bearded man in the middle of the group. At his side, Jean d'Aire carries a giant-sized key. Their over sized feet are bare, many have ropes around their necks, and all are in various states of despair, expecting imminent death and unaware that their lives will ultimately be saved by the intercession of the English queen Philippa. The arrangement of the group, with its unorthodox massing and subtle internal rhythms, was not easily settled, and the completed monument, cast in bronze by the Le Blanc-Barbedienne foundry, was not unveiled in Calais until 1895." - taken from the Metropolitan Museum's website (the pictures are of the cast in the Met) because I could not think of how I would possibly explain this story within a few paragraphs nor all the characters and their emotive states.
This sculpture is one of my favorite works of art, and probably one of my favorite sculptures. Rodin's work is so compelling to me because he is able to express the depth of emotion his subjects feel. This ability is also very visible in another of his well-known works, the Gates of Hell, from which we have the very famous sculpture, the Thinker. The downtrodden stares of some of the figures conflict with the heavy sense of duty some carry upon their thin shoulders. The aforementioned over-sized feet and hands give the sense of weight that is pressing down upon these six individuals. Not only is the viewer aware of the moment but also of all that they endured during the siege, from hunger to pride. In this particular group Rodin showcases his extraordinary talent. The story itself is moving but Rodin's stark depiction of this harsh reality moves me to tears whenever I see it. I have included a detail of one of the figures that is especially compelling. Because of its multifaceted nature I have included a few views of the work and a second installation in Stanford, CA to show the individual poses more clearly.
This is the last entry for this week and I will return Monday with, by special request!, the Deposition (1525-28) by Jacopo Pontormo in the Chiesa di Santa Felicita in Florence! Buon fine settimana!
The gem shown above is known as the Gemma Augustea. It resides in the Kunsthistorches Museum in Vienna and is from the 1st century AD during Caesar Augustus' reign. The sardonyx cameo, is a low-relief cameo engraved gem cut from a double-layered Arabian onyx stone. The cameo is thought to have been by Dioscurides who as court gem cutter was a favorite of Augustus'. It was created to glorify the reign of Augustus and is full of symbolism and iconography in both its registers.
In the upper tier, Augustus sits enthroned, half-clothed in the guise of Jupiter, the king of the Roman pantheon of gods. Oikoumene, who is the icon or personification of the inhabited world, crowns Augustus' with a laurel of leaves as a Roman citizen. He is flanked by a personification of Roma and a female personification of Italy. The man behind him is thought to Neptune, the ruler of the seas. Victoria drives the chariot while urging a man who seems to be stepping off the chariot on. This male figure is thought to be Tiberius in his role as Augustus' heir and that Victoria urges him on to a new battles to be won. The other male figure standing near Victoria is considered to be either Drusus or Germanicus, his son. Drusus by this time was likely already dead and so it is more likely that is Germanicus, Augustus' other, adopted, son and possible heir.
The lower tier shows the barbarians Augustus, and maybe Tiberius, have been victorious over. Their identity or nationality is questionable but they are a defeated enemy. A tropaion, or victory monument of the foes' weaponry, is being raised on the left. The male figure helping to raise the tropaion is thought to be a personification of the god of War, Mars, due to his costume. The nearly identical figures to his right and left helping him are the Gemini or Twins, Castor and Pollux. This should not however give the impression that Augustus was partial to the Gemini constellation as the Capricorn, his favorite, is shown above his head in the upper register. The other figures, the two holding the barbarians' hair are thought to be the Gods Diana, with her long hair and customary spear, and Mercury who bring the fallen enemies to Augustus.
Overall, the gem is a statement about Augustus' rule. It also shows a pre-ordination of his apotheosis, of when he will die and on the back of Jupiter's eagle, shown near Augustus on the gem, will ascend to the ranks of the Gods. There are many interpretation questions and my account here is by no means the only one, but to me it seems the most coherent.
This is an object I will be returning to later on as I learn more as it is as fascinating as it is complicated!
Bronzino, Laura Battiferri degli Ammanati (1555)
For any of you who have been in my apartment in Madison you will know that this beautiful and austere lady hangs above my bed with pride of place between Velasquez and Caravaggio. She looks down her nose at the Rokeby Venus' blatant nudity and Caravaggio's Narcissus seems to be distracted by his own beauty with her to his right. My love affair with Laura began when a professor of mine at the Syracuse University in Florence program happened to mention that Bronzino had a very beautiful portrait in the Loeser collection that is on display within the Palazzo Vecchio, I saw her briefly that day and could not get her out of my mind.
Laura Battiferri was a close confidant of Eleanora di Toledo, Cosimo di Medici's Duchess, and was the wife of the great sculptor Bartolommeo Ammanati who was himself a great friend and adviser to Cosimo. Laura is especially interesting because of her activity as well-known and respected poet in Florence during her life. She was a public figure and was well regarded because of her piety and her poetry. She is cast her by Bronzino as Petrarch's beloved "Laura." She embodies Petrarch's love through her "unapproachable, unattainable beauty... as chaste as the adored mistress of a troubadour, as modest and devout as a 'Stilnovismo Beatrice'". "Laura's personality is even more elusive than her external appearance. She remains the incarnation of chaste and noble beauty." This passage is framed by Laura Battiferri's fingers in the portrait.
Laura is shown with Petrarch's sonnets in one hand as she turns disdainfully away from the viewer's eyes. Her profile evokes reference to the great poet Dante in her disproportional nose and stern gaze. Beautiful but austere, Laura looks down from her pedestal, a noble and intelligent beauty from above. Bronzino's characteristic elongation of limbs and neck give Laura a not-of-this-world quality that allows the viewer to associate her with the great poets and their muses of earlier times.
This portrait of Laura Battiferri is one of my favorite works of art, and is by far my favorite female portrait of all time. The symbolism shown in her features and the correlation between her own work and name with Petrarch's sonnets showcase Bronzino's love of riddles and high level of education while her luminous skin and textured clothing exhibit his amble technical ability.
Agnolo Bronzino (November 17, 1503 – November 23, 1572) was the court painter at the Ducal Court in Florence to the Grand Duke Cosimo and Eleanora. He was also a close friend of the Duke's and a close friend of Laura and her husband. Bronzino was part of the Mannerist movement that followed the High Renaissance chronologically in Italy. His teacher was Pontormo and many can see great similarities in their use of bright colors and elongated forms. His contemporaries included Parmigianino (Madonna with a Long Neck) and Giorgio Vasari. Other famous paintings of his include the Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time (c. 1545) in the National Gallery and the Portrait of Eleanora di Toledo (1544-45) in the Uffizi
I must give a personal thanks to Professor Nelson for introducing me to this fascinating work of art.
Link to more information on this painting:
Alberto Giacometti, L'Homme Qui Marche I (Walking Man) (1961)
As you may have heard a work of art at the Sotheby's London Sales of Modern and Impressionist Art became the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction. Going for $104,327,006 the work surpassed the previous record holder, Pablo Picasso's Man with a Pipe, 1905 which had gone for $104,100,00 in 2004.
Giacometti (10 October 1901 – 11 January 1966) was a Swiss sculptor and painter, best known for his elongated and rough surfaced sculptures of figures. His work is recognizable by the spindly limbs of his figures and their movement and restlessness that is evoked by their uneven surfaces and precarious positions. He was part of many artistic movements, like Expressionism, but he was, especially, one of the greatest Surrealist sculptors. He is also said to have identified with the Existentialism movement of thought as well. This was a seminal work for Giacometti. He did two versions of the walking man (I and II) but this cast is believed to be the last cast of the L'Homme Qui Marche I still in private hands, the rest being in museums or publically owned.
Here is an excerpt from the New York Times Art Section article on the piece by Carol Vogel:
"As perhaps the most recognizable of all Giacometti sculptures, “Walking Man I” is itself a trophy piece. Not only is the form impressive, but so is the size. The sculpture was cast in an edition of six and four artist proofs, most of which are in museums or private collections, where they are considered likely to stay. “Walking Man I” was being sold by Dresdner Bank in Germany, which acquired it in 1980. It had been commissioned — along with a group of others bronzes — by the architect Gordon Bunshaft for Chase Manhattan Plaza in downtown Manhattan, where it was to stand alongside Bunshaft’s 60-story glass-and-steel Chase headquarters. Although the installation was never realized, some of the sculptures — and others that Giacometti created as experiments for the project — were made; many, though, he destroyed."
Link to the New York Times article:
Link to an interactive guide through some of the Museum of Modern Art's collection of Giacometti's and an exhibition they put on in 2001:
I hope to share some of my love of art history and the objects I study with everyone. In speaking to my friends recently I have realized that while many people love looking at art, very few know much about the objects they have seen for years or where to start if they want to learn. I hope this blog will be helpful to anyone who seeks to learn about art in its various settings and enjoyable to anyone who knows about art but just wants to be exposed to new ideas or objects.
I hope you will enjoy my posts, and PLEASE do not hesitate to comment or correct me. I do not pretend I know everything but I would like to share some of what I do know. I hope to impart some knowledge but also to gather some as I research the works I present and hear back from readers. Many of my close friends are art historians and I know they will not hesitate to correct or add to any of my information.
With that, I will close my introduction and get on with the art.