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Posts Tagged ‘art history

“We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell”*…

 

cabinet_kiosk_9_june_2020_nagel_alexander_01

Artist unknown (Cristovão de Figueiredo?), Hell, Museu da Arte Antiga, Lisbon, ca. 1515. Oil on oak, 119 x 217.5 cm.

 

Naked people are tumbling into the picture through a circular opening at top right, their features immediately blurred by rising heat and smoke. Below, various bodies are being put to the flames, a traditional punishment for those consumed by lust in their lifetimes…

No one knows who painted this depiction of hell, or who asked for it to be made, or even what purpose it served. We only know that it was done in about 1515 in Lisbon. To my eye, the facial types resemble those of the royal painter Cristovão de Figueiredo, who died in 1525. Several of the strange motifs—the figure with bent knee on a crutch, the pig orifice, the spurting fire, the beak-nosed figure, and the albino monster—are closely drawn from a triptych by Hieronymus Bosch that was in Portugal (probably in the Portuguese royal collection) at the time, and now hangs in the same museum as this painting.

Our painting of hell is big, much bigger than you might expect from looking at a photo. It doesn’t fit clearly into any category of picture known at the time. It is an independent panel, not a scene in a fresco cycle that gains meaning from the larger program. It’s not an altarpiece, nor is it a typical private devotional image, which would have been smaller. Its oblong shape suggests it was not part of a larger structure, as in triptychs by Bosch and others, where hell occupies one compartment, one part of a larger statement about human life and the world. This is a big stand-alone painting of a subject that normally didn’t stand alone. The painting lowers you right down to the sub-basement of hell and lets you look. The looking begins as voyeuristic fascination and then sinks into self-reflection…

There had been paintings of hell before, showing people (much like the people for whom the paintings were made) undergoing various punishments for their sins. But this painting no longer represents generic humanity. Here, the tortured are marked as white Europeans, being punished by mostly swarthy monsters with distinctly exotic trappings drawn from the newly encountered inhabitants of the farthest ends of the world—all the way down the African coast, all the way across the (Atlantic) Western Ocean, and, possibly, as far as India. And the punishments seem to concentrate on the sins unleashed by the European expeditions, the sins of rapaciousness: lust, gluttony, and greed. The monks and friars who accompanied these expeditions, tacking missionary work onto commercial exploits, are emphatically included among the damned…

Turning the colonial gaze back on the colonizers, the painting presents the hairstyles of the Europeans, such as the tonsures, in the manner of recent European reports and images depicting the strange hair and stylings of outlandish natives. Here, Europeans themselves go naked, just as bestselling accounts were then describing the inhabitants of America, Africa, and India. Here, white people are the rapacious ones, the lusty ones, the ridiculous ones, and the defeated ones. Two faces, the albino monster to the left and the flame mask to the right, turn toward us as if to say, yes, I know you’re enjoying watching this, and have you considered this might be you?

Some images from the period—just a few—show the costs of subjection and colonization for the native populations of America, Asia, and Africa. Almost none, apart from this one, prod their viewers to imagine the costs for the colonizers themselves…

Alexander Nagel offers a close reading of a remarkable work, a 1515 painting that turns a mirror on its viewers: “Hell is for White People” (much larger reproduction of the painting available there).

* Oscar Wilde

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As we see ourselves in others, we might recall that Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro González died on this date in 1541.  In the event Pizarro was assassinated in the palace he’d built himself to rule over Peru, after he’d conquered the Incas (and executed their leader Atahuapla).  Pizarro’s death was in retaliation for his own murder of an old partner, then rival, Diego de Almagro.

220px-Portrait_of_Francisco_Pizarro source

 

Written by LW

June 26, 2020 at 1:01 am

“The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled”*…

 

Ways of seeing

 

Ways of Seeing is a 1972 BBC television series of four 30-minute films created chiefly by writer John Berger, with producer Mike Dibb.  Berger’s scripts were adapted into a book of the same name.  The series is partially a response to Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation series, which offered a traditionalist view of the Western artistic and cultural canon.  Berger criticizes those conventional Western cultural aesthetics by raising questions about hidden ideologies in visual images.

A BAFTA award winner, it rapidly became regarded as one of the most influential art programs ever made.

Episode One is here (others available at the links on that page):

 

For appreciations of the series’ continuing relevance, see “7 reasons why you should watch of John Berger’s Ways of Seeing,” “How John Berger changed our way of seeing art,” and “Lessons We Can Learn From John Berger.”

* John Berger, Ways of Seeing

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As we interrogate images, we might recall that it was on this date in 1863 that an exhibit was created in Paris from the paintings that were rejected by the jurors of the Salon of the French Academy. 

In that year of the Annual Salon more than half of the works of art, over 2,000, were not selected to be part of the exhibit. Therefore the “Salon des Refusés” was held, giving those artists a chance to exhibit their work.  The idea for this alternative Salon was that of Emperor Napolean III who felt the jurors were too harsh, and this would give the public a chance to decide for themselves.

As Robert Rosenblum wrote in the book 19th-Century Art:

“This so-called Salon des Refusés, however, immediately took on the stature of a counterestablishment manifestation, where artists at war with authority could be seen and where the public could go either to jeer or to enlarge their ideas of what a work of art could be.  The counter-Salon opened two weeks after the official one, on May 15, and immediately attracted hordes of Parisians, who numbered as many as four thousand on a Sunday, when admission was free.”

The Salon des Refusés was a turning point in French 19th century art and included works by Manet, Whistler, and Henri Fantin-Latour. [source]

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Manet, The Luncheon in the Grass, 1863

 

“The commonality between science and art is in trying to see profoundly – to develop strategies of seeing and showing”*…

 

science-philosopher

 

The Science Museum is always alive with children. School groups scribble on clipboards, five-year-olds drag parents and grandparents by the hand, push buttons, and make lights flash. Toddlers flag for ice-cream. The halls and galleries ring with noise. By contrast, in the softly lit exhibition space on the second floor, a sudden quiet descends. But almost at once, on entering the museum’s new show, “The Art of Innovation: From Enlightenment to Dark Matter,” here are the children again. In Joseph Wright of Derby’s A Philosopher Giving that Lecture on an Orrery in which a Lamp is put in the Place of the Sun (1766) [above], they lean over, faces lit up, as the girl, her eyes glowing, points over her brother’s shoulder at the tiny planets circling the sun.

That sense of excitement defines the exhibition, as visitors zig-zag from The Lecture on the Orrery through 250 years of art and science. In the book that accompanies the show, far more than a catalog, the curators, Ian Blatchford and Tilly Blyth, lay out their stall. “Throughout history,” they write, “artists and scientists alike have been driven by curiosity and the desire to explore worlds, inner and outer. They have wanted to make sense of what they see around them and feel within them: to observe, record and transform. Sometimes working closely together, they have taken inspiration from each other’s practice.” To illustrate this dual heritage and point to the leaps of imagination in both fields, they have placed twenty works—painting, sculpture, film, photographs, posters, and textiles—alongside the scientific objects that inspired them. Thus A Lecture on the Orrery hangs near James Ferguson’s wooden pulley-operated mechanical model of the solar system [below], an orrery from the Museum’s collection…

science-planetary-model

 

A glorious (and gloriously-illustrated) appreciation: “Beauty in Ingenuity: The Art of Science.”

* Edward Tufte

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As we bask in beauty, we might spare a cartographically-correct thought for, one of history’s most impactful scientific artists: Gerardus Mercator; he died on this date in 1594.  The most renown cartographer of his time, he created a world map based on a new projection– the Mercator Projection— which represented sailing courses of constant bearing as straight lines, an approach still employed in nautical charts used for navigation.

While he was most esteemed as the foremost geographer of his day, Mercator was also an accomplished engraver, calligrapher and maker of globes and scientific instruments.  And he studied theology, philosophy, history, mathematics, and magnetism.

 source

 

 

Written by LW

December 2, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Thou art a very ragged Wart”*…

 

ear-knife-figurine-e1490681511252

 

Few painters have created as rich a world as Hieronymus Bosch did in The Garden of Earthly Delights. The late 15th- or early 16th-century triptych, which depicts the creation of man, the licentious frolicking of all creatures on a paradisiacal Earth, and the subsequent fall into damnation, draws a scrutiny — and causes an amusement — as intense as ever…

Bosch not only created a world with The Garden of Earthly Delights, he populated it thoroughly. And despite the human-centric story the work appears to take as its basis, the cast with which it retells it extends far beyond mere humanity: the panels feature not just wildlife of all shapes and sizes but a variety of mythical grotesques, from imps to chimeras to hybrids of man and animal to much more besides. He drew from the same surreal imaginative well to fill his other paintings, and you can now pull out a few of these colorful, menacing, preposterous, and darkly humorous characters yourself in collectible figurine form…

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More (including a link to the figurines) at “Hieronymus Bosch Figurines: Collect Surreal Characters from Bosch’s Paintings & Put Them on Your Bookshelf.” [TotH to Mark S]

You can also take a virtual tour of the painting (there’s even an app for it), see it brought to life with modern animation, and hear the song tattooed on the posterior of one of the work’s many characters.

See also: “Bosch is great because what he imagines in color can be translated into justice.”

* Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 2

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As we get weird, we might recall that it was on this date in 1859 that Jean-Francois Gravelet (stage name, Charles Blondin) became the first person to cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope. Then he did it again.

On the morning of June 30, 1859, about 25,000 thrill-seekers arrived by train and steamer and dispersed on the American or Canadian side of the falls, the latter said to have the better view. Both banks grew “fairly black” with swarms of spectators, among them statesmen, judges, clerics, generals, members of Congress, capitalists, artists, newspaper editors, professors, debutantes, salesmen and hucksters. Vendors hawked everything from lemonade to whiskey, and Colcord gave tours to the press, explaining the logistics of what the Great Blondin was about to attempt.

A light rope, not even an inch thick, had been attached to one end of his hempen cable so it could be conveyed across the Niagara River. On the American side the cable was wound around the trunk of an oak tree in White’s Pleasure Grounds, but securing it on the Canadian side presented a problem. Blondin’s assistants feared that the light rope wouldn’t bear the weight of the cable as it was drawn up the gorge for anchorage in Canada, but the rope dancer, to the delight of his audience, executed a daring solution.

After tying another rope around his waist, he rappelled 200 feet on the small rope, attached the second rope to the end of the cable, and then blithely climbed back to Canadian ground and secured the cable to a rock. To prevent swaying, guy ropes ran from the cable at 20-foot intervals to posts on both banks, creating the effect of a massive spider web. Blondin could do nothing, however, about the inevitable sag in its center, approximately 50 feet of cable to which it was impossible to fasten guy ropes. At that spot, in the middle of his crossing, he would be only 190 feet above the gorge. “There were hundreds of people examining the rope,” reported one witness, “and, with scarcely an exception, they all declared the inability of M. Blondin to perform the feat, the incapacity of the rope to sustain him, and that he deserved to be dashed to atoms for his desperate fool-hardiness.”

Shortly before 5 p.m., Blondin took his position on the American side, dressed in pink tights bedecked with spangles. The lowering sun made him appear as if clothed in light. He wore fine leather shoes with soft soles and brandished a balancing pole made of ash, 26 feet long and weighing nearly 50 pounds. Slowly, calmly, he started to walk. “His gait,” one man noted, “was very like the walk of some barnyard cock.” Children clung to their mothers’ legs; women peeked from behind their parasols. Several onlookers fainted. About a third of the way across, Blondin shocked the crowd by sitting down on his cable and calling for the Maid of the Mist, the famed tourist vessel, to anchor momentarily beneath him. He cast down a line and hauled up a bottle of wine. He drank and started off again, breaking into a run after he passed the sagging center. While the band played “Home, Sweet Home,” Blondin reached Canada. One man helped pull him ashore and exclaimed, “I wouldn’t look at anything like that again for a million dollars.”

After 20 minutes of rest Blondin began the journey to the other side, this time with a Daguerreotype camera strapped to his back. He advanced 200 feet, affixed his balancing pole to the cable, untied his load, adjusted it in front of him and snapped a likeness of the crowd along the American side. Then he hoisted the camera back into place and continued on his way. The entire walk from bank to bank to bank took 23 minutes, and Blondin immediately announced an encore performance to take place on the Fourth of July…  [source]

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Blondin and his camera, as rendered in “Blondin: His Life and Performances.” [source]

 

“Design came into being in 1919, when Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus at Weimar”*…

 

Bauhaus

 

The Bauhaus—literally “school of building”—was a German avant-garde arts and crafts academy. Inaugurated six months after the end of World War I, the school encouraged artists and designers to use their talents to help rebuild the broken society.

With Germany in total ruins many thought it was time to start from scratch. The Bauhaus grammar—a triangle, a square, and a circle—evoked this back-to-basics mentality. They challenged everything, including the usual method of schooling. [Walter] Gropius borrowed the idea of Gesamtkunstwerk, or “synthesis of the arts, from composer Richard Wagner, envisioning a school that would “unite every discipline, architecture and sculpture and painting.” (Architects today love dropping the term.)

Gropius instructed students to leave “sentimental, aesthetically decorative conceptions… drawn mostly from past cultures.” Shedding decorative cruft built up over generations meant studying the “nature” of objects and designing from that. You can easily draw a line from the Bauhaus to the iPod—Steve Jobs said as much in 1983 when he addressed the International Design Conference at the Aspen Design Institute, which itself is part of the Bauhaus diaspora.

But Nazis thought the school’s rejection of traditional aesthetics was a rejection of Germanic pride. They chased down the Bauhaus from Weimar, to Dessau, then finally to Berlin, where they were forced to shut down in 1933—and in doing so, spread its influence throughout the world…

Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus movement 100 years ago on a simple but powerful rule, “our guiding principle was that design is neither an intellectual nor a material affair, but simply an integral part of the stuff of life, necessary for everyone in a civilized society.”  Learn more about the movement that he started and the extraordinary impact that it had: “The Bauhaus.”

*  Bruno Munari, Design as Art

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As we integrate form and function, we might send evocative birthday greetings to Mel Edwards; he was born on this date in 1937.  An abstract sculptor who worked almost entirely in steel, he marshals straight-edged triangular and rectilinear forms to make political statements.  He  has had more than a dozen one-person show exhibits (including at  the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the New Jersey State Museum), and has been in over four dozen group shows.

PS_08_Mel-Edwards_small-400x500 source

 

Written by LW

May 4, 2019 at 1:01 am

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