Saturday, 22 November 2014

What's this Titian?

Tiziano Vecelli or Tiziano Vecellio, or Titian in English, was born somewhere between 1488 and 1490 (must have been a long pregnancy!) and died on 27 August 1576 (can't tell you the exact time).

He was an Italian painter and the most important one of the 16th Century Venetian school. 

He was known as "The Sun Amidst Small Stars" (a line from Dante's "Paradiso") because of his mastery of the paintbrush. You can see above his self portrait painted in about 1567. 

He was very versatile painting portraits, landscape backgrounds and mythological and religious subjects and was famous for his use of color - no black and white monochromes from good old Titian.  

Here's another painting of his known as "The Man with a Quilted Sleeve" which he completed in 1509 - the painting that is, not the sleeve.

See how the man is gazing at you as if to say "What are you looking at? Do you want a fight?"

By the size of that sleeve, one would be best advised to run away fast before feeling the effect of all those muscles.
And here's another Titian painted in 1515 known as "Portrait d'une Femme à sa Toilette"; which does not mean a woman in the toilet, but in English has been translated as "Woman with a Mirror".

Whilst you admire the beautiful brush strokes and the vivid use of colour, I on the other hand, am still trying to work out whose arm in a blue sleeve is on the bottom right trying to steal her bottle of perfume.

Maybe it's the man with the quilted sleeve!

Now when I first started this series of art critiques, the intention was to comment on really weird and unusual works of art out there. And I am very pleased that the series has proved popular amongst my readers, some of whom have suggested paintings for me to research and write about. (More suggestions please).

Someone wrote reecently suggesting I am like Sister Wendy (Wendy Beckett) the art historian who presented a series on art on the BBC in the 1990s.

Whilst I can assure you all that I am not as knowledgeable as Sister Wendy, one thing is for sure; I find it sometimes really confusing as to why certain artists find it necessary to paint totally unrealistic and unusual paintings.

Look at this one for instance, also by Titian, and painted in 1550.

It is entitled "Venus and Organist and Little Dog". I don't know about you, but I find this scene most odd and disturbing. Imagine for a moment a woman who wants to relax after a long day's work cleaning and cooking and doing the housework; and she wants to listen to some music.

She takes all her clothes off and lies on the bed and calls in one of her minions and asks him to play the piano whilst she spends some "quality time" with her dog.

As you can see, the pianist is somewhat distracted and, because he knows the tune by heart anyway, decides to take a swift look where he shouldn't whilst the lady is occupied with the dog.

The dog notices the naughty peeping Tom and yaps to warn the lady.

Whereupon the lady casually says to the man, "Keep your eyes on your organ please. And whilst you're at it, would you mind drawing the curtains. I don't want the gardener outside to see my behind!"

All that captured in just one painting by the marvellous Titian. Art is such a wonderful thing!

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

What's this Rodin?

Once again our art critique turns to a marble sculpture. This one is by Auguste Rodin and is known generally as The Kiss. It was completed in 1882.

The sculpture was originally titled Francesca da Rimini because it was in fact meant to be the 13th-century Italian noblewoman from Dante's "Inferno" (Circle 2, Canto 5).

Apparently, Francesca fell in love with her husband's younger brother, Paolo. If that's not bad enough, it seems she fell in love with Paolo whilst reading a story about Lancelot. (Hmmm ... I wonder what was in that book!).

Her husband Giovanni Malatesta, (which means John Headache) - he should have been called Ivor, (think about that for a moment).

Anyway, as I was saying before I interrupted myself, Francesca's husband Giovanni, discovers the couple reading the book, and more besides, and so he kills them.

In the sculpture, if you look carefully, the book about Lancelot is seen in Paolo's hand. You can't see it in this photo but the book is behind Francesca's back. I wonder what chapter he was reading just before he kissed her.

Also, in the sculpture, the couple's lips do not actually touch, suggesting that they were interrupted by Giovanni and killed before they actually kissed.

OK ... by now your mind should be doing somersaults as mine certainly is.

Imagine the scene for a moment. We have a couple secretly in love with each other. They read a book which somehow encourages them to take their clothes off and kiss. They are discovered by the irate husband who kills them both.

How? Does he shoot them? Attack them with a sword? Or hit them on the head with the book?

Unfortunately, we do not have the answer to that question; but as I explained earlier, all this is supposed to have happened in Dante's story "Inferno" years previously.

For some inexplicable reason Rodin decided it would be a good idea to make a marble statue of it all.

Obviously, he can't chisel a big block of marble from memory. And I doubt that Dante had any photos in his book from which Rodin could copy.

So the sculptor goes out searching for two really good looking models.

He finds a good looking man and a beautiful woman and asks them if they wouldn't mind taking off their clothes and kiss. After he recovers from the punch on the nose which the man gave him, Rodin tries to stop the nose bleed, and suggests they all go to the taverna for a few glasses of vino.

A bottle or two of wine later he explains calmly that he wants to make a large marble statue of Francesca and Paolo in an amourous embrace.

Well, with the wine and possible fame going to their heads they agree to pose for him; but the young woman is concerned about posing in the nude.

"What will mamma say when she sees me?" she asks Rodin.

"Don't worry about that," replies Rodin, "no one will be looking at your face!"

So they go to the studio, which is a marble stone throw's away from the taverna, take off their clothes, brush their teeth, and pretend to kiss.

One thing I've discovered in my research for this critique is that sitting naked in that particular pose on a piece of marble for hours on end can be very uncomfortable indeed; especially in the freezing cold. The male model in particular was somewhat nervous of the whole thing, especially considering where the lady's right knee is positioned.

Eventually, when the sculpture was finished it quickly became controversial because of what and who it represented. When critics first saw it in 1887, they suggested the less specific title Le Baiser (The Kiss).

And somehow, this made all the difference and it became very famous and a great work of art.

Which goes to prove ... It's all in the title folks, not in the mind. You can paint or sculpt anything you want, as long as you give it a great title it will become famous and admired.

Monday, 17 November 2014

What's this L S Lowry?

Continuing my series of art critiques, I would like to introduce you to L S Lowry, an English painter who lived from 1887 to 1976.

Laurence Stephen "L.S." Lowry was born in Stretford, Lancashire, in the North of England and many of his paintings depict scenes from Pendlebury, Salford and surrounding areas. His paintings were usually of urban landscapes and he painted human figures in a simplified way which was referred to as "matchstick men."

The scene you see above is of the Northern town of Huddersfield which was painted in 1965.

Those of you who have read my book "VISIONS", and my other books and stories about Father Ignatius, will know that they are set in an un-named Northern town in England in the 1950's and 60's. The scene above is the sort of view one would imagine Father Ignatius would have from his office window high up in St Vincent Parish House.

You can see the hills fare away, often covered with snow in winter; the small terraced houses huddled together, sharing whatever warmth they have between them, and hiding behind the large tenements providing shelter from the Northern winds blowing down the hills; with people rushing to their homes or places of work as the acrid smelling smoke from those factory chimneys fill the gloomy skies.

In 1932 Lowry's father died leaving the family with debts, whilst his mother became ill and bedridden, relying on her son for care.Lowry often painted well into the night after his mother had fallen asleep.

He regretted that he had not received recognition as an artist until the year his mother died and that she was not able to enjoy his success.

Two years after his death, a famous song about Lowry by "Brian and Michael" topped the UK charts in 1978. I post a video below which shows a number of Lowry paintings and, in case you have difficulties with the accent, I also post the lyrics to the song for you to enjoy.

If you watch carefully, at about 3 minutes 30 seconds of the video, this is the sort of church St Vincent Parish would look like.




He painted Salford's smokey tops
On cardboard boxes from the shops
And parts of Ancoats where I used to play
I'm sure he once walked down our street
Cause he painted kids who had nowt on their feet
The clothes we wore had all seen better days.

Now they said his works of art were dull
No room, all round the walls are full
But Lowry didn't care much anyway
They said he just paints cats and dogs
And matchstalk men in boots and clogs
And Lowry said that's just the way they'll stay

And he painted matchstalk men and matchstalk cats and dogs
He painted kids on the corner of the street with the sparking clogs
Now he takes his brush and he waits outside them factory gates
To paint his matchstalk men and matchstalk cats and dogs

Now canvas and brushes were wearing thin
When London started calling him
To come on down and wear the old flat cap
They said tell us all about your ways
And all about them Salford days
Is it true you're just an ordinary chap

And he painted matchstalk men and matchstalk cats and dogs
He painted kids on the corner of the street with the sparking clogs
Now he takes his brush and he waits outside them factory gates
To paint his matchstalk men and matchstalk cats and dogs

Now Lowries hang upon the wall
Beside the greatest of them all
And even the Mona Lisa takes a bow
This tired old man with hair like snow
Told northern folk its time to go
The fever came and the good Lord mopped his brow

And he left us matchstalk men and matchstalk cats and dogs
He left us kids on the corner of the street with sparking clogs
Now he takes his brush and he waits outside them pearly gates
To paint his matchstalk men and matchstalk cats and dogs

And he left us matchstalk men and matchstalk cats and dogs
He left us kids on the corner of the street with sparking clogs
Now he takes his brush and he waits outside them pearly gates
To paint his matchstalk men and matchstalk cats and dogs

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Michelangelo's Pietà

The Pietà is possibly the most famous of carvings and paintings in the history of Christian art. The scene depicts the body of Christ just after it has been taken down from the Cross cradled in the arms of His Mother, the Virgin Mary. Other Pietàs depict the body cradled by other figures, but in most paintings and sculptures it is Mary.

The sculpture shown above is by Michelangelo and is located in St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.

It is unique among Michelangelo's sculptures, because it was the only one he ever signed. When he heard that people thought it was sculpted by another sculptor, Cristoforo Solari, Michelangelo carved his signature on the sash the Virgin Mary wears on her breast.
Michelangelo sculpted another Pietà known as The Deposition, or Florence Pietà.

It depicts the dead body of Christ, Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea in the hood, Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary.

Michelangelo worked on this sculpture from 1547 to 1553. It is believed he wanted it to decorate his tomb, and that the hooded figure is a self-portrait of Michelangelo himself. However, he smashed the sculpture after working on it for about eight years because he discovered an impurity in the marble.

It was eventually restored by its new owner.

Friday, 14 November 2014

What's this Lucas van Valckenborch?














Years ago, when I worked in London, I had this huge painting in my office. Not the original, of course, but a very large print. It hung on the wall in pride of place and was the first thing that caught the eye of anyone coming in to visit me.

Unfortunately I cannot make it any larger here, because, believe me, it needs to be full size to be better appreciated.

I believe the painting is called September 1585. I can't find any other title, perhaps that's when it was painted by Lucas van Valckenborch, a Flemish painter who lived between 1535 and 1597.

When I started this series of posts about art, the intention was to show various masterpieces which I classified as somewhat unusual or "odd" and see the humourous side behind the work of art. This particular painting is not "odd" in the sense of the word, but I found it at the time somewhat unusual because of the great details that it encompasses.

Look for example at the forefront in the left - people are bringing in a harvest of apples or fruit, and someone is trying to sell them to the two people by the table.

Behind the two men there's a horse drawn cart, a gathering of people and children playing in a circle.

Behind the cart there's a castle scene where people in a boat are trying to catch something hanging off a rope - another sport I suppose.

Then there's the landscape in the background with the castle, the trees, the clouds and the birds in the sky.

In the foreground, there's a feast being laid on a table surrounded by hungry people; and some people playing a game with a ball and a circle.

It's as if every bit of this huge painting is a scene in itself worthy of its own frame as a work of art.

Many a time at work, when I had a difficult managerial problem to solve, I stood infront of this painting to try to clear my head for a moment or two. I'm quite pleased that I have now found it and post it here for you to enjoy.

One thing though ...

I never worked out what that man on the extreme right facing the wall is doing. Any ideas?

Thursday, 13 November 2014

What's this Rembrandt?

In this art critique we consider Manny's suggestion "The Anatomy Lesson" by Rembrandt. In this oil on canvas dated 1632 we see Doctor Nicolaes Tulp explaining the "musculature of the arm" to other medical professionals.

Basically he had nothing better to do one day, and instead of carving a joint of meat and enjoy a good lunch with his family, he decided to cut a human being instead. He asked a short man living next door to him to volunteer for the experiment by paying him a few pence.

"Will it hurt?" asked the short man.

"No, it is a completely armless procedure!" replied the good doctor.

For good measure he invited a few other doctor friends mainly for amusement, but when they discovered that Rembrandt would also be there painting the whole event, several of the doctors paid good money to be included in the painting. Fortunately for Renbrandt they all looked the same with pointed beards, so he agreed for all of them to be there since he could copy paste their faces over and again. To distinguish Doctor Tulp though, he asked him to wear a hat.

Cutting people up to learn anatomy was a yearly event in Amsterdam, in Holland and this one is dated 16 Januray 1632. Usually an audience attended the event to make notes and learn about different parts of the body. Real blood was used because tomato ketchup had not yet been invented at the time.

As already mentioned, the doctor in question was called Tulp. Originally, his name was Tulip but in one of these operations he accidentally cut his I and was hence known as Tulp.

Since that sad incident he unfortunately was no longer able to tip toe through the tulips, or through anything else for that matter.


Wednesday, 12 November 2014

What's this Rubens?

I am very pleased that this series of art critiques is proving popular judging by the number of new readers on my stats. But it is you, my loyal readers, to whom I should be grateful for your return visits, encouraging and often witty comments, and for suggesting artists and painters for me to research and critique.

I still owe Manny one more critique which I am currently working on. He has set me a real challenge I fear. 

But today we take a closer look at Sir Peter Paul Rubens as suggested by Mary. If you have not visited her Blog yet I urge you to do so. Mary has not been Blogging often lately but I assure you that when she does, whether it is a humourous post, or one of her serious devotionals, they are posts well worth reading. You can visit her HERE.


Peter Paul Rubens lived between 1577 and 1640 and was a very famous Flemish painter of the period.

He was a prolific artist and his works were mostly religious subjects, as well as a lot of mythological subjects, and hunt scenes. He also painted portraits of friends, as well as several landscapes. Basically, you name it, and he painted it. Except of course the garden gate and fence which remained un-painted despite being told and nagged many times by his wife. Believe me, I know the feeling; I have still to paint the garage door although in my opinion it looks fine ... you know how some women are? Always going on and on about the same thing ... I mean, I painted the wretched door three years ago. Why does it need re-painting?

Anyway, back to Rubens. He painted on canvas, slate as well as wood it seems. In fact he painted on anything except of course the wooden gate and fence which I've already mentioned. (I can hear voices in my head saying "Paint the garage door" - how can you switch your conscience off?)

Now one thing you'll notice about most of his paintings, (except landscapes), is that he had a special penchant, (fondness), for painting fully-rounded and plump women; hence the term "Rubensian" or "Rubenesque" to describe women of a certain size. None of these skinny models you see in modern magazines, for Rubens. They had to be fairly big and rotund. This is because he had a lot of flesh coloured paint to get rid off, and since no one paints gates and fences this colour he painted nudes instead.

In 1630, four years after the death of his first wife, at the age of 53, Rubens married his 16 years old niece, Hélène Fourment.

You can see her in the painting above, known as "Hélène Fourment in a Fur Wrap", getting out of the bath. Most people would use a towel I suppose, but there were none available that day - so a fur wrap it was. As you can see, she is no skinny lady is she?

The young niece inspired the voluptuous figures in Rubens paintings from 1630 onwards. The most famous of which is "The Three Graces",

I'm not sure which one is Ruben's niece, but judging from the colour of her hair I'd guess it's the woman on the left.

Now I can understand a painter wishing to paint nudes, nothing wrong with that I suppose, especially if you have bought a lot of paint which you want to use up before its "sell-by" date. So, asking a few people to model for you is in this case acceptable, I guess. But to actually paint your own wife naked, and then display the painting for all to see ... Well, that's another matter.

Can you imagine him saying, as she steps out of the bath, "Hold it there, darling! Just wrap this piece of fur delicately around you, showing enough interesting bits ... Don't worry about the fur moulting. It was a mangy old dog anyway; and you can have another bath. Let me get my paint brush!"

And then displaying the finished painting is like a modern day man taking a photo of his wife naked and posting it on social media for all to see. How would you react I wonder?

Can you imagine the conversation in the supermarket when Rubens' young wife met her friends?

"Oh ... you have put on some weight dear? Especially on the derrière!"

Or ...

"It's a good painting really. You should be proud of your healthy features. Do you think your husband would paint me naked? I have a lovely tattoo on my bottom!"

You can add your own imagined discussions below; and also, suggest more masterpieces for me to research and critique.