Monday, October 22, 2018

Imprints of Vanished Faces Left Behind by Vanished Hands

Hellenistic Greece
Head of Female Satyr
3rd-2nd century BC
marble
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Egypt (Fayum)
Mummy-portrait of a man
AD 80-120
tempera on panel
British Museum

Egypt (Fayum)
Mummy-portrait of a woman
AD 200
tempera on panel
Harvard Art Museums

"Darknesse and light divide the course of time, and oblivion shares with memory a great part even of our living beings; we slightly remember our felicities, and the smartest strokes of affliction leave but short smart upon us.  Sense endureth no extremities, and sorrows destroy us or themselves.  To weep into stones are fables.  Afflictions induce callosities, miseries are slippery, or fall like snow upon us, which notwithstanding is no unhappy stupidity.  To be ignorant of evils to come, and forgetfull of evils past, is a mercifull provision in nature, whereby we digest the mixture of our few and evil dayes, and our delivered senses not relapsing into cutting remembrances, our sorrows are not kept raw by the edge of repetitions.  A great part of Antiquity contented their hopes of subsistency with a transmigration of their souls.  A good way to continue their memories, while having the advantage of plurall successions, they could not but act something remarkable in such variety of beings, and enjoying the fame of their passed selves, make accumulation of glory unto their last durations.  Others rather then be lost in the uncomfortable night of nothing, were content to recede into a common being, and make one particle of the publick soul of all things, which was no more then to return into their unknown and divine Originall again.  Aegyptian ingenuity was more unsatisfied, contriving their bodies in sweet consistences, to attend the return of their souls.  But all was vanity, feeding the winde, and folly.  The Aegyptian Mummies, which Cambyses or time hath spared, avarice now consumes.  Mummie is become Merchandise, Mizraim cures wounds, and Pharoah is sold for balsoms."

– Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682), from Hydriotaphia, or, Urne Buriall

Giovanni della Robbia
Head of Christ
ca. 1520
glazed terracotta
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

attributed to Pietro Perugino
Head of the Virgin
ca. 1480
drawing
Royal Collection, Great Britain

Lorenzo di Credi
Head of a youth
ca. 1500
drawing
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Federico Zuccaro
Bust of a woman
ca. 1595-1605
drawing
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

"And therefore restlesse inquietude for the diurnity of our memories unto present considerations, seems a vanity almost out of date, and superanuated peece of folly.  We cannot hope to live so long in our names, as some have done in their persons, one face of Janus holds no proportion unto the other.  'Tis too late to be ambitious.  The great mutations of the world are acted, or time may be too short for our designes.  To extend our memories by Monuments, whose death we dayly pray for, and whose duration we cannot hope, without injury to our expectations, in the advent of the last day, were a contradiction to our beliefs.  We whose generations are ordained in this setting part of time, are providentially taken off from such imaginations.  And being necessitated to eye the remaining particle of futurity, are naturally constituted unto thoughts of the next world, and cannot excusably decline the consideration of that duration, which maketh Pyramids pillars of snow, and all that's past a moment."

– Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682), from Hydriotaphia, or, Urne Buriall

Hellenistic Greece
Roundel with Head of Perseus
3rd century BC
silver bridle ornament
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Hellenistic Greece
Roundel with Head of Medusa
3rd century BC
silver bridle ornament
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Hellenistic Greece
Roundel with Head of Herakles
3rd century BC
silver bridle ornament
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Giulio Bonasone after Raphael
Portrait of Raphael
ca. 1545-50
engraving
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Giulio Bonasone
Portrait of Pietro Bembo
ca. 1547
engraving
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Anonymous painter working in England
Portrait of Sir William Butts
ca. 1540-50
tempera and oil on panel
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Rome
Portrait of Marciana, sister of the Emperor Trajan
AD 130-138
marble
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

"Severe contemplators observing these lasting reliques, may think them good monuments of persons past, little advantage to future beings.  And considering the power which subdueth all things unto it self, that can resume the scattered Atomes, or identifie out of any thing, conceive it superfluous to expect a resurrection out of Reliques.  But the soul subsisting, other matter clothed with due accidents, may salve the individuality . . . "

– Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682), from Hydriotaphia, or, Urne Buriall

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Surviving Devotional Panels from Renaissance Europe

Barna da Siena
Mystic Marriage of St Catherine
ca. 1340
tempera on panel
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Barnaba da Modena
Virgin and Child
ca. 1360-70
tempera on panel
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

"Through the fourteenth century, the primary support for portable paintings  from monumental church altarpieces to diminutive works used in private devotion  was the wooden panel.  Masters were assisted by pupils and workshop members in their lengthy and complex preparation.  Modern technical analysis and x-radiography have deepened our understanding of this process, allowing for a close examination of the materials and techniques used by the artist.  The basis of our knowledge, however, is a 600-year-old source: a treatise on the art of painting called Il Libro dell'arte, composed about 1390 by the Italian painter Cennino Cennini (ca. 1370-ca. 1440)."

"A seasoned plank – one that had been allowed to dry out for some time – was first layered with several coats of size, a glue made from animal skins.  In Italy, the planks used for panel paintings were often made of native poplar, a widely available wood that was, however, soft and vulnerable to warping.  A piece of linen soaked in size was often laid over the front of the panel to conceal any surface flaws.  Over this, coats of gesso were applied. Gesso, a mixture of powdered calcium sulfate (commonly called gypsum) and animal glue, provided the ground for preliminary drawings."

"When the underdrawing was complete, the panel was ready for gilding.  Areas to be gilded were prepared with a layer of bole, a reddish clay that provided an adhesive surface for fragile gold leaf.  The gold leaf was made by pounding a small amount of gold into thin sheets, which were then applied to the panel using a tool called a gilder's tip.  The gilded surface was rubbed with a hard-tipped instrument to smooth and polish the gold leaf, a process known as burnishing.  Additional decoration could be incised or stamped into the surface using metal rods, called punches, with patterns cut into one end.  The tip of the punch, placed against the panel and struck from the other end with a mallet, pressed the design into the wood.  Punching was often used to achieve intricately detailed haloes surrounding the heads of holy figures.  Finally, the panel could be painted, [most commonly with] tempera paints, made by mixing ground pigments with egg yolk.  This medium produced a brilliant, pure hue."

– excerpted from an essay by Jennifer Meagher in the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 

Pellegrino di Giovanni
Archangel Michael
ca. 1428-37
tempera on panel
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Fra Carnevale
Presentation of the Virgin
ca. 1467
tempera and oil on panel
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Master of the Holy Kinship
St Peter and St Andrew
ca. 1475-1500
oil on panel
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Master of the Holy Kinship
Apostles Matthais and Matthew
ca. 1475-1500
oil on panel
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Hans Memling
Christ Blessing
1481
oil on panel
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

"The beginnings of oil painting are recorded as early as the twelfth century in Northern Europe.  But it was the virtuoso handling of the medium on panel by early Netherlandish painters . . . in the fifteenth century that represented a turning point in its eventual adoption as the major painting medium in Europe in the sixteenth century.  . . .  Oil painting is highly flexible in that it admits application both in thick impasto and fine detail: countless types of descriptive brushstroke are possible in oil.  Since it is slow drying, it can be carefully blended to make soft, seamless shadows essential for the suggestion of three-dimensional forms, as well as worked while still wet.  All these properties make it especially suitable to communicate the reflective properties of different surfaces, from polished marble to dazzling jewels, from soft velvet to luminous highlights on hard metal plate.  . . .  In stark contrast, the medium of egg tempera, tradition in Southern European panel painting, results in a more schematic rendition of light, shade, and color.  Egg dries quickly to a relatively light tone, is suitable for bright colors, and must be applied thinly in short, hatched strokes.  . . .  Artist in Southern Europe learned Netherlandish handling of oil through a combination of travel, imported paintings, and information gleaned from those who had contacts with the Netherlands."

– excerpted from an essay by Susan Jones in the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 

workshop of Domenico Ghirlandaio
Virgin and Child
ca. 1485-95
tempera on panel
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Jacopo da Valenza
St Jerome in the Wilderness
ca. 1485-1500
oil on panel
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Anonymous German painter
St George, St Michael, St John the Baptist
ca. 1500-1525
oil on panel
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Master of Hoogstraeten
Virgin and Child with St Catherine of Alexandria, another Female Saint and Angel
ca. 1500-1520
oil on panel
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Andrea del Sarto
Virgin and Child
ca. 1509-1510
oil on panel
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Lucas Cranach the Elder
Lamentation, with Two Thieves Crucified
1515
oil on panel
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Bernardino Luini
Salome with the Head of St John the Baptist
ca. 1515-25
oil on panel
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Saturday, October 20, 2018

French Enamel Plaques on Copper (1530-1625)

Master of the Aeneid
Aeneas entreats Anchises to flee Troy
ca. 1530-40
enamel on copper
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Master of the Aeneid
Aeneas offers Sacrifice to the Gods of the Lower World
ca. 1530-40
enamel on copper
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Master of the Aeneid
Descent of Aeneas into Hell
ca. 1530-40
enamel on copper
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Master of the Aeneid
Suicide of Dido
ca. 1530-40
enamel on copper
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

"Since the Middle Ages, the city of Limoges in central France thrived on the artistic production of enamel on metal.  Similar in composition to glass, enamel consists of silica and a fluxing agent colored by metallic oxide or carbonate and fused to a metal surface by heat.  From the twelfth through the fifteenth century, Limoges enamel painters gouged into the surface of the metal (champlevé) or raised thin dams between areas of color (cloisonné) to establish the design and to prevent pigments from mixing.  By the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth centuries, materials and techniques developed that permitted painters to apply enamels more freely to copper surfaces, without obvious demarcations between areas of color, in a manner that approached the painting of oil on panels or canvas.  Unlike oil painting, enameled metal retains its hue without fading, or tel que l'ambre une fleur (like a flower in amber), as the poet Théophile Gautier wrote in a sonnet to the nineteenth-century enamel painter Claudius Popelin."

"This technical development paralleled the growing cult of antiquity in France and the widespread circulation of printed images.  While religious themes had dominated Limoges enamels in the Middle Ages and continued to cover the surfaces of Limoges plaques particularly in the first third of the sixteenth century, images of Greek and Roman subjects, readily available to painters through engravings and woodcuts, predominated from the 1530s.  The earliest series of Limoges plaques based on classical rather than religious subjects drew from the Aeneid.   It is also the largest: eighty-two plaques are known.  . . .  The production of this series is hardly surprising, since ancient texts in the original and in translation had a wide readership in the literate society of France at this time.  Courtly and allegorizing so-called Troy romances still circulated, but scholars like Guillaume Budé encouraged a new appreciation of more accurate versions of the epics."

– excerpted from Images of Antiquity in Limoges Enamels in the French Renaissance by Ian Wardropper, from the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Jean Pénicaud the Younger
Personification of Temperance
ca. 1540-45
enamel on copper (grisaille)
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Pierre Pénicaud
Acrobats
ca. 1550
enamel on copper
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Pierre Reymond
The Bad Shepherd
1537
enamel on copper
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Pierre Reymond
Jael and Sisera
ca. 1550
enamel on copper
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Pierre Reymond
Solomon turning to Idolatry
ca. 1550-75
enamel on copper
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Pierre Courteys
Cupid and Psyche
ca. 1550
enamel on copper
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Pierre Courteys and workshop
Susanna and the Elders
ca. 1580
enamel on copper
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Léonard Limosin
Dido, Queen of Carthage
ca. 1564-65
enamel on copper
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Léonard Limosin
Aeneas, Prince of Troy
ca. 1564-65
enamel on copper
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

"An important aspect of art in the provinces was the revival of the technique of enamel at Limoges in the second half of the fifteenth century after an interruption of nearly a hundred years.  The technique of painted enamel made it possible to produce new effects with greater ease than in the old method of champlevé enamel, thought the results were less brilliant.  . . .  The middle of the sixteenth century also saw the flowering of the school of painted enamels at Limoges, which in the person of Léonard Limosin produced an artist of a high order."

– from Art and Architecture in France, 1500-1700 by Anthony Blunt, revised by Richard Beresford (first published in 1953, reissued with revisions by Yale University Press in 1999)

Léonard Limosin
Goddess Ops
ca. 1540-49
enamel on copper (grisaille)
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Léonard Limosin
Hercules in his Cradle strangling Serpents
1570
enamel on copper (grisaille)
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Jean Limosin the Elder
Annunciation
1605
enamel on copper
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Jean Limosin the Elder
Resurrection
1605
enamel on copper
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Jean Limosin the Younger
Susanna and the Elders
ca. 1625
enamel on copper
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Suzanne de Court
Annunciation
ca. 1600
enamel on copper
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Friday, October 19, 2018

Painted on Copper, Canvas, Wood and Plaster Before 1600

Adam Elsheimer
Witch riding backwards on a Goat
ca. 1596-98
oil on copper
Royal Collection, Great Britain

"First recorded in the 1639 inventory of Charles I, this little copper, still so fresh and vivid, was stolen in 1969.  It appeared in a sale at Christie's that same year and was duly restored to the Royal Collection.  It originally featured in the 'newly erected cabbonett' in the King's Private Lodgings, where Charles installed 73 of his smaller pictures, sculptures and books.  It is thought to have been acquired by Sir Arthur Hopton, British ambassador to Spain, on his travels through Europe (either 1629 or 1635), presumably when passing through Germany; one assumes the previous owner would have supplied the attribution and information, which reads, "said to be done by Elsheimer before hee went to Italie."  The painting would originally have been commissioned as a kind of charm intended, on the owner's part, to ward off evil.  . . .  Britain was a major centre for collecting Elsheimer's rare and precious works, which perfectly suited the seventeenth-century collector's cabinet.  Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, the Duke of Buckingham, and Charles I all owned a number of Elsheimers.  In his Considerazioni sulla Pittura (ca. 1614-21), Giulio Mancini writes, "one sees so little of his work because he produced little and this little is in the hands of princes and those persons who, in order that they should not be taken from them, keep them hidden."  Charles I would certainly have kept the Witch "hidden" away in his cabinet at Whitehall."

– from curator's notes at the Royal Collection

Lavinia Fontana
Portrait of Ginevra Aldrovandi Hercolani
ca. 1595
oil on canvas
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Luca Fontana
Annunciation
ca. 1590
oil on copper
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Leandro Bassano
Portrait of sculptor Tiziano Aspetti holding a Statuette
ca. 1592-93
oil on canvas
Royal Collection, Great Britain

"This is almost certainly a portrait of Tiziano Aspetti, one of the leading sculptors in Venice at the end of the sixteenth century.  In 1590 Aspetti and Girolamo Campagna were commissioned to carve colossal figures to flank the entrance to the Public Mint.  The statuette here is probably the wax model for Aspetti's Hercules, and the portrait may mark the completion of the work."  

– from curator's notes at the Royal Collection

Scipione Pulzone
Portrait of an Architect
ca. 1582-85
oil on canvas
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Francesco Vanni
Holy Family with infant St John the Baptist
ca. 1580-86
oil on copper
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Santi di Tito
Annunciation
ca. 1580
oil on panel
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Jan Soens
Rinaldo and Armida in the Enchanted Garden
ca. 1580
oil on panel
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

In 1581 Torquato Tasso published Gerusalemme Liberata, an instantly popular epic poem set during the Crusades.  It was written as a romantic fantasy, recounting Satan's efforts to create obstacles for the heroic Christian knights, particularly the noble Rinaldo.  The beautiful sorceress Armida enticed Rinaldo to enter the lush garden of her castle.  There she kept him besotted with sensual pleasures.  Soens depicts him holding Armida's crystal mirror to her face while declaring that her worth and beauty are more perfectly painted in his heart.  In the background his Crusading comrades are shown about to burst in and show him a polished shield, in which he will perceive his "wanton habits."  Ashamed, Rinaldo then abandons Armida to return to the battle.  

– based on curator's notes at the Walters Art Museum

Anonymous artist working in Venice
St Christopher
ca. 1575
oil on canvas
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Anonymous artist working in Venice
Battle Scene
16th century
oil on panel
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Giorgio Vasari
Jacob's Dream
1557-58
oil on panel
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

This large panel, apparently intended for a ceiling, was executed in 1558 by the painter, architect and writer Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) for his Florentine patron Marsilio degli Abizi.  The figures of God the Father and Jacob are based on famous frescoes by Michelangelo and Raphael in the Vatican.  In his monumental Lives of the Painters, Vasari praised these Roman frescoes as the culmination of the art of painting.     

– based on curator's notes at the Walters Art Museum

Pieter Huys
Last Judgment
ca. 1553-54
oil on panel
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Giulio Romano
Ceiling of the Room of the Giants
1532-34
fresco
Palazzo del Te, Mantua

Giovanni Bellini and workshop
Madonna and Child with St Peter, St Mark and three Venetian Procurators
1510
tempera and oil on canvas, mounted on panel
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Giovanni Bellini (1430-1516) was the leading Venetian artist of his era, and particularly known for his naturalistic depiction of light.  He and members of his workshop painted this work as a commemorative piece to adorn the rooms of the Procuratia di Ultra, one  of the most important public offices of the Republic of Venice.  The procurators, high-ranking officials who administered public affairs and resolved judicial disputes, were depicted as kneeling donors.  The painting was intended as a votive offering, thanking the Virgin for her protection of the Venetian Republic.

– based on curator's notes at the Walters Art Museum