24 October 2007

Stopping for some beauty

The talk of artistic turtles had me thinking...

The Arnolfini Portrait or The Arnolfini Wedding
Jan van Eyck c.1434

This used to be my favorite painting, back when I was in my early 20s. I always found it amusing and liked the details and symbolism. It is in the National Gallery in London. When my husband, brother and I were in London, I told them I wanted to see this painting. It was around closing time and we ran across town, ran in the Gallery, up the stairs to where the painting was. It was nice to see it, but I was disappointed, once again, at how small all the famous paintings are.

The National Gallery describes the painting as:
This work is a portrait of Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and his wife, but is not intended as a record of their wedding. His wife is not pregnant, as is often thought, but holding up her full-skirted dress in the contemporary fashion. Arnolfini was a member of a merchant family from Lucca living in Bruges. The couple are shown in a well-appointed interior.

The ornate Latin signature translates as 'Jan van Eyck was here 1434'. The similarity to modern graffiti is not accidental. Van Eyck often inscribed his pictures in a witty way. The mirror reflects two figures in the doorway. One may be the painter himself. Arnolfini raises his right hand as he faces them, perhaps as a greeting.

Van Eyck was intensely interested in the effects of light: oil paint allowed him to depict it with great subtlety in this picture, notably on the gleaming brass chandelier.

For more on the work and to read about some of the symbolism, go here.

The Denial of Saint Peter, c. 1610
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

Around the time my mother died, I really liked Caravaggio. I still do. His paintings remind me of a dark basement and all the feelings that invokes. I am sure some psychologist would find my liking the darkness of these paintings as some allegory to my mother's death, but really they are just great works that appeal to me no matter what is going on in life.

About Caravaggio from Wiki:
Caravaggio was considered enigmatic, fascinating, rebellious and dangerous. He burst upon the Rome art scene in 1600, and thereafter never lacked for commissions or patrons, yet handled his success atrociously. An early published notice on him, dating from 1604 and describing his lifestyle some three years previously, tells how "after a fortnight's work he will swagger about for a month or two with a sword at his side and a servant following him, from one ball-court to the next, ever ready to engage in a fight or an argument, so that it is most awkward to get along with him." In 1606, he killed a young man in a brawl and fled from Rome with a price on his head. In Malta in 1608 he was involved in another brawl, and yet another in Naples in 1609, possibly a deliberate attempt on his life by unidentified enemies. By the next year, after a career of little more than a decade, he was dead.

The School of Athens
Raphael, 1509–1510

One of my favorite artists is Raphael. This work is not tiny and is in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. I like the scale and perspective of the painting. Raphael is almost the opposite of Caravaggio with all the color and light that are in his paintings. However, sometimes they are too dreamy for me.

From Wiki:
Because it was positioned over the philosophical section of the library of Pope Julius II, The School of Athens shows the greatest philosophers, scientists and mathematicians of classical antiquity. Plato and Aristotle, the Greek philosophers that were considered most important, are standing in the center of the composition at the top of the steps. Plato is holding his Timaeus. Aristotle is carrying a copy of his Nichomachean Ethics. Their gestures correspond to their interests in the philosophical field — Plato is pointing upwards towards Heaven and Aristotle is gesturing towards the earth.

Diogenes is lying carefree on the steps before them to show his philosophical attitude: he despised all material wealth and the lifestyle associated with it. To the left, the man leaning on the block is Heraclites, meant to be Michelangelo. This figure was an afterthought: it was not in the original cartoon. In 1510, Raphael snuck into the Sistine Chapel to view Michelangelo’s work on the ceiling by candle light. He was so awed by the unfinished work that he added Michelangelo after the manner of his depiction of the Prophet Jeremiah, to show his respect for the artist.

Check out the Wiki link to see who all the philosophers are.

Back when I lived in Seattle, a co-worker and I dressed up as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. She was Michelangelo, and I was, of course, Raphael. I still have the costume...wonder if it would fit me.


gemoftheocean said...

I LOVE the pics.--especially the first one. When I was 10 or so, my parents got me one of the best presents ever. A set of encyclopedias. It was unconventional in that the "articles" were often taken from magazine articles. Our Wonderful World. Along with that set of 24 vols. was a set aimed especially at children, one of which was "art and Music." It covered some of the world's most famous artworks, and that Van Eyck portrait was one of them. I also looked that one up when we went to the UK years later. I was so thrilled to see it "for real." Just a few years ago, for fun I took an Art History class at a local community college. I really got a lot out of it. It strikes me you might have fun doing something like that too. I'm not sure how old your kids are, but I bet they, and you would get a kick out of studying some of the old masters. Don't even tell them it's a lesson!

swissmiss said...

I took art history in college the first go round. I loved the class, which was pretty darn hard, but I really appreciated learning something about art for the first time in my life. I come from a long line of artists and currently have two cousins who are professionals. My father was a very good artist and had a scholarship for several years to the local art school when he was very young. My husband says I'm a good artist, but it's all relative...compared to him I'm a good artist, but compared to a real artist, I stink :)

Part of the homeschool curriculum includes art...well, it includes whatever you want it to include, but my homeschool will be full of art and music and beauty, along with being rigorous. My son already took a series of music classes and knows all his instruments. I have been starting a "one hour a day of the arts" lately where I play some classical-like music. I also plan to incorporate some art after Christmas.

The local Minneapolis Institute of Arts has a Georgia O'Keefe exhibit...at least they did. Don't know if I missed it. Would love to see that.

While I like a variety of art, I'm never going to be a connoisseur or snob. The only thing that has seemed to keep my attention for any length of time is genealogy. I like many things, but lack the desire to know every nuance or artist or song or painting. Like the title of my last post...I'm a jack-of-all-trades but master of none!

Anonymous said...

Jan Van Eyck--ohh--one of my favorite painters. Eyck uses the "Old Masters" painting technique, and if you ever notice Eyck's painted jewlery--it looks real--luminous--they glow! When I took up oil painting for fun--I studied Eycks technique--I love the detail and the realism--thanks for sharing this beautiful picuture!

WhiteStoneNameSeeker said...

Caravaggio rocks! I learned all about light from him-chiarascuro (or however you spell it).
I've been advizing my son to look hard at some of the old masters as he gets more skilled in his art. It is there he will truly learn to paint.