Apologies for lack of post of Friday, March 5th

I am in Chicago taking in the Art Institute, and other museums as well as celebrating a birthday with family. We will be back on Monday with a guest essay by one of my best friends, a fellow art historian and an esteemed colleague, Lauren Fliegelman. She will be presenting on the Florentine Pieta by Michelangelo. Check back in on Monday for that post!

Buon fine settimana!


Gustav Klimt, Beethoven Frieze (1902)

Gustav Klimt, Beethoven Frieze (1902) Secession Building, Vienna.

Klimt was the pioneer of the Secession movement in Vienna. He had previously been a major part of the Austrian symbolist movement but moved away from them after familial deaths influenced his creative output. He was at the forefront of promoting the Secession movement and was widely respected and his works highly coveted. His main source of inspiration was the female body, which he liked to ornament with bright colors, gold leaf and incredible patterns. The Secession movement did not have a manifesto but its goal's were clear from the outset: the promotion of younger painters who were working outside the academy in new and interesting ways as well as publishing a periodical showcasing the movement's work. It is hard to define the Secession because there was no set style and different artistic modes working alongside each other within the Secessionist community. Painting was by no means the only medium of the movement. Other figures included clothing designers, furniture designers, and architects. Other important Secession figures include but are not limited to: Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka, Koloman Moser, Emile Floge, and to a certain extent (though not a formal member of the group) the architect Otto Wagner.

The Beethoven Frieze was executed before most of Klimt's most famous works but it shows a delicacy and interest in large design that is not apparent in The Kiss (1907, Galerie Belvedere, Vienna) or in his portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (1907, Neue Galerie in New York).

"In 1902, Klimt created one of his most famous works, the Beethoven Frieze, for an exhibition of the Secession movement. The entire show was an homage to Ludwig van Beethoven. Klimt’s monumental frieze greeted visitors in the entrance hall. Thirty-four meters wide and two meters high is this opulent, ornamental "symphony"; in which Klimt sought to immortalize Beethoven's "Ninth" and its interpretation by Richard Wagner.

Not only contemporaries were deeply impressed by this work - the world at large is still showing its appreciation. Originally, the cycle was intended to be dismantled once the exhibition had ended. A collector bought the frieze in 1903 and removed it from the wall, separating it into seven pieces. In 1973, the Republic of Austria bought the valuable work and made it accessible to the public in 1986 in a room specially created for it in the Secession." - from the Vienna Tourist website*.

Klimt's Frieze was based on Wagner's interpretation of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, celebrating humankind's 'struggle on the most magnificent level by the soul striving for joy', reached in the unification of all arts. The fresco, beginning at the left, forms a cohesive narrative.

On the first wall we encounter the Floating Genii, gliding female figures that symbolize a 'Yearning for Happiness'. They are followed by Suffering Humanity, a naked kneeling couple and a standing girl. Suffering Humanity offer their pleas to the Knight in Shining Armour, who stands for the external driving forces. The female figures behind him, Compassion and Ambition, represent internal motivation moving him to take up the fight for happiness.
The short end wall is devoted to the Hostile Forces, the giant Typhoeus and his daughters, the three gorgons. Above them are Sickness, Madness and Death (three women with black hair). To Typhoeus'(the bear-like creature) right are Lasciviousness, Wantonness and Intemperance (the woman with an engorged stomach seen above and the two behind her) with the cowering Nagging Care beyond. The yearnings and desires of humankind fly past them.
On the final wall the yearning for happiness finds appeasement in Poetry (the figure with lyre). An empty segment in the frieze, where a wall opening revealed a view of Klinger's statue in the 1902 exhibition, is followed by The Arts: five female figures representing the 'ideal realm', a place of 'pure joy, pure happiness, pure love’. The frieze concludes with a choir of angels 'singing in paradise' and the powerful image of a kissing couple.

This incredible series of works is a brilliant evocation of Beethoven's work and Klimt shows his aptitude for visually representing the emotion one feels while listening to the Ninth.

Link to website for dates and times the Secession Building is open to see it:


Venus of Willendorf, 24,000 B.C.– 22,000 B.C.

Venus of Willendorf, 24,000 B.C.– 22,000 B.C., but discovered in 1908. 11.5 cm high, Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna

The Venus of Willendorf, made from oolitic limestone, is one of the oldest known works of art in the world. It is from the area of Willendorf in lower Austria and was discovered by a man named Josef Szombathy who was an archeologist. There have since been discovered other statuettes from this site and they are called the "Venus figures."

Her body type is an idealization of the fertile woman that was worshiped then as the life-giver. Her breasts and even genitals are the prominent features while her face is completely blank, her legs have no feet and even her arms are tiny and very disproportional to her body. These elements give rise to many questions that have not been answered and probably never will be. Was this a deity or a more commonplace figurine? What role did women play in societies or family-like units during that time?

For me the Venus of Willendorf is more a beautiful and stunning example of how far-reaching art is than something I seek to understand. It also serves to remind me how much ideas of ideal female beauty can change and are contingent upon society and culture. Were this woman alive now in Austria she would probably never be considered a goddess of any kind and the artist would to told off for giving encouragement to obesity and health risks.


Hannah Höch, Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany (1919)

Höch, Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany (1919)

Made from a collage of pasted papers and at about 90 x 144 centimeters, Hannah Höch's most famous work is a direct critique of Weimar Germany. Höch (November 1, 1889 – May 31, 1978), born in Germany, was considered a fringe figure of the Berlin Dada movement. Her actual inclusion is evident in her work and her influence but because of her romantic involvement with Raoul Hausmann many of its main figures considered her as more woman than artist. However, in her later years she would develop friendships with Mondrian and Kurt Schwitters as well as other influential artists . Höch's work with photomontage was well before it was a common medium and as such she was a pioneer of this medium.

"The Dada movement was many things, but it was essentially an anti-war movement in Europe and New York from 1915 to 1923. It was an artistic revolt and protest against traditional beliefs of a pro-war society, and also fought against sexism/racism to a lesser degree. The word "dada" was picked at random out of a dictionary, and is actually the French word for "hobbyhorse" - from the Art History archive. The Dada movement's most famous name is probably Marcel Duchamp.

Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany
is, as I stated above, her most well-known work but she completed many other photomontages with many addressing serious topics that are remarkably similar to many ideas found in the contemporary art of today. She often commented on women's rights and was an early feminist, even going so far as to criticize women in the media and even marriage. She herself had abortions during her life. Other ideas that were important to her were the rising racial prejudices and homo- and bi-sexuality. Höch famously spent a lot of her life romantically involved with women as well as men.

For me this work is so important and beautiful because it begins to address rising concerns in Germany during the Weimar Republic but also because it is an early indication of feminism in art and the continued lack of respect for female artists.

Link to Art History Archive:


Jacopo Pontormo, La Deposizione (1526-1528)

Pontormo, La Deposizione (1526-1528)

The Deposition by Pontormo in the Chiesa di San Felicita in Florence is a masterwork of the Mannerist period in Florence. Pontormo's use of bright colors, attenuated and elongated figures their excessively artificial and stylistic movement places this work squarely in the mode of the maniera*.

A note about Mannerism**: As a movement it matured around the year 1520 and was an offshoot of the High Renaissance styles that were refined and promulgated by Michelangelo and then Raphael. The style can first been seen emerging in the late works of Michelangelo as he began to take his depiction of the body past the natural and into the supernatural. In the Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel one can see a difference in his priorities when depicting the human form. The artists who followed the great High Renaissance masters, like Michelangelo's student Giulio Romano, took on style as the main priority, abandoning the quest for naturalistic representations that their predecessors had accomplished. A new artistic direction was born. Some of the first artists to excel in this newer, more stylistic mode were Andrea del Sarto and his student, Jacopo Pontormo. They moved away from the subtler colors of Leonardo and worked more on representing a feeling than an object. This can be clearly seen in the The Deposition discussed above. As the style grew and spread it acquired the certain aspects that now define it. The elongation of figures and bodies into impossible proportions, the bright candy colors, the restless and sometimes frenzied movement of those figures. There also starts to be a lack of defined space with perspective falling away in favor of a flatter more nondescript plane. In all, the art looks very different than what had gone before and verges on the strange, weird or sometimes morbid and macabre.

The Deposition by Pontormo is something to be experienced more than understood. Though I will take you through the characters and the story, it is a painting that gives more depth of understanding in the visual account than in the knowledge of history and the Bible. This particular work, though called a Deposition, has elements of the Lamentation and the Pieta as well. These three subjects were commonly depicted in the Renaissance and Mannerist periods and continued to be well into the Baroque era. The Deposition shows Christ coming off the cross, deceased, into the arms of his Mother, the Virgin, and other apostles and mourners. Here Christ is delivered into the arms of his followers while the Virgin swoons into the arms of the Two Marys, Mary Salome and Mary Cleophas. Mary Magdalene is seen above with a pink veil. The two men that carry the body are most likely St. John the Evangelist and another disciple, maybe Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea, the three men usually present in a Deposition. The small drab figure who looks out from the right side of the work, the only one not in pastel colors, is thought to be a self-portrait of the artist. I have included a small detail of that figure above.

I hope that you will enjoy this work and the myriad ways it can tell the story of the enormous grief and sorrow of Christ's mourners. I should also mention that the Mannerist movement is one I have studied more than any other and it will definitely feature heavily in some of the works I show you!

This is a link to a fun video I found on YouTube, it is a montage of some of Pontormo's other work:

*If you are interested in this movement and the other works that came out of it, here is a list of the artists more formally considered as Mannerists: Andrea del Sarto, Pontormo, Parmigianino, Rosso Fiorentino, Bronzino (see previous entry on Laura), and Giorgio Vasari.

**THE defining work on Mannerism was done by John Sherman and is excellent art history.