Heironymous Bosch, The Tree Man, pen and ink, The Albertina, Vienna
My last post of 2017 shows why ART is a better form of escapism than Star Wars. Bosch’s Tree Man has body of a crab held up by tree trunk legs riding in boats. The world is not as it expected. The many who made this fantasy portrait more than 500 years ago still gets more viewers than nearly any other other artist of any time period. Why? Because he is so much fun.
Two exhibitions last year celebrated the 500th anniversary of Heironymus Bosch’s death. One million people were expected to visit two different exhibits, first in the Netherlands, then in Spain. The Prado exhibition was so popular that the museum extended it an extra two weeks and kept the doors open until 10 p.m. The other exhibition had been held earlier that year in Bosch’s birthplace, s-Hergotenbosch.
Currently, The National Gallery of Art in Washington has a show of “Dutch Drawings from Bosch to Bloemaert.” They come from the Museum Boijmans Van Beunigen in Rotterdam. There are superb drawings by Pieter Bruegel, followers of Jan Van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden, Lucas van Leyden and lesser known artists such as Roelant Savery. An examination of the two drawings by Bosch shows how well he was attune to the realism in nature. The Owl’s Nest puts Bosch close to the same category as Leonardo and Albrecht Durer, when to his keen understanding and observation of nature.
The Owl’s Nest, pen and ink, 1500-1505, Museum Boijmans Van Beunigen, Rotterdam
Bosch repeated most of the Tree Man, top, in his most famous painting, The Garden of Earthly Delights. The metamorphosing figure is generally considered to be a self-portrait. The Owl’s Nest is not an idea or a study for any of Bosch’s surviving paintings. The faces, wings and nest are realistic. There’s a lightness and delicacy that goes with Bosch’s style, without falling into his usual diversion — fantasy. Strokes are very precise of various sizes and lengths.
Fox and Rooster, pen and ink
The Owl’s Nest was probably always planned to be a finished drawing. Bosch painted owls in nearly all his paintings. According to dailyartdaily, “There’s a lot of speculation about what his owls mean, and how they should be read.” Multiple and contradictory meanings are associated with owls. Sometimes they might signify wisdom. “But it seems around 1500, the owls were generally associated with menace and death and had an emblematic, moralistic significance.”
Two Women, pen and ink,
The other drawing by Bosch from the Boijmans Van Beuningen has two scenes. The scene that is Fox and Rooster. Presumably, the Fox is ready to pounce upon the rooster, but you really need a magnifying glass to see it. Once again, it’s a dark side of nature, with something ominous as in The Owl’s Nest. However, the Fox and Rooster have a rich folklore tradition, as part of Aesop’s Fables, and in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Of the two drawings on the same piece of paper, this one is considered to be of a later date. It is tentative and sketchy compared to The Owl’s Nest and Tree Man, drawings meant to appear finished.
A picture on the drawing on the other side of the paper, also a pen and ink, is believed to be the very first drawing by Bosch. Two Women, has an elderly woman on the right and a woman holding a spindle on the left. These figures variously interpreted as old women, or witches. They could relate to Netherlandish proverbs or folktales. Was there some significance attached to the spinning, as if spinning some devious fate?
Although one drawing is early from his career, and one from a later period, both have the type of reference to proverbs and/or folk life we come to expect with Bosch. When I say Bosch’s figures are frail, I mean it in two ways. They convey human weakness (or foolishness), and they lack the monumentality and weight that contemporary Italian artists gave their figures. One might argue that Italians were humanists, while the Dutch painters were still medieval in outlook. Even the Italian that is superficially most like Bosch, Piero di Cosimo, portrays monsters who are satyrs who seem to be descended from antiquity.
Grotesque Walking head and small toad monster
Grotesque walking head and small toad monster, a drawing from the Prado exhibition that is permanently in Berlin, presents what we expect from Bosch and why he fascinates. As one website says, “He externalizes the ugliness within, so that his misshapen demons have an effect beyond curiosity. We feel a kinship with them.” This is the essence of the Bosch fascination.
Bosch’s dates (c.1450-1516) are roughly the same as Leonardo da Vinci’s, who was born in 1452 and died in 1519. Da Vinci paintings have science, nature, perfection and a noble humanity while Bosch, painted a fantastical mixture of a frail humanity, along with demons and monsters. However, closer examinations shows that Bosch an equally gifted draftsman and a keen observer of both the nature world and human nature.
The wood has ears, the field has eyes, pen and ink.
While Leonardo also saw the greatest meaning in the extremes of beauty and ugliness in humans, we always remember him by the portrayal of perfection. He himself seems to gaze down on us humans as an all-knowing power. But if we think about it, so did Hieronymus Bosch. One of his drawings (not in the drawings exhibit) give us much insight into his way of thinking. It’s an ominous finished drawing called The wood has ears, the field eyes. Many eyes lie in a field and two ears are listening by the trees.There’s the owl, again, right in the center. It makes me wonder, is the world really as it always seems? Or is he just reminding us that God is always watching? We could imagine Salvador Dali or Rene Magritte interpreting a landscape this way, perhaps without the owl.
Bosch reveals hidden truths from a mind much deeper than our own. He’s just as wise as Leonardo, and he’s looking forward to the Surrealist artists of the 20th century.
The best artists of any time period speak to future generations nearly as well as they reflect the collective mindset of their time and place. So Bosch continues to be so popular today.
Piero di Cosimo, Giuliano da Sangallo and Francesco Giamberti. The two-part painting was on loan from Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum recently.
An exhibition of Renaissance painter Piero di Cosimo’s recently closed at the National Gallery in Washington a few months ago, and it’s taken me awhile to develop and express my understanding of him. Piero di Cosimo: The Poetry of Painting in Renaissance Florence continues a the Uffizi Gallery with a slightly different body of works in Florence, until September 27. It’s an interesting look at this quirky painter, someone who was living and working at the same time as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.
Piero di Cosimo’s Allegory, is part of the National Gallery’s own collection. It is seen as an allegory of overcoming one’s animal nature.
Many of my students who wrote reviews of the exhibition dealt entirely with his religious paintings, the subjects you expect to see most often in Renaissance art. Like most Renaissance artists, Piero also did portraits. Some portraits, especially the diptych of Giuliano da Sangallo, architect, and Francesco Giamberti, musician, (above) are fabulous. Each part of the diptych is a separate window view of the subjects stand in front of deep landscape space. The colors radiant, the textures exquisite.
However, Piero is best known for his paintings of mythological allegories. Allegory in the National Gallery, left, is usually interpreted as a classical story of the choice between good and evil, also called The Dream of Scipio. There’s a winged female figure taming the wild horse. The animal is a reminder of the bestial side of nature. (Most men need to be tamed by women.) The half-human mermaid on bottom is swimming to the right.
Piero di Cosimo, The Hunting Scene, c. 1510, Metropolitan Museum of Art
To me, his paintings are complex allegories of interrelated themes. Even the religious paintings carry the same themes as the mythological paintings. He’s very interested in man’s bestial nature, the choices between good and evil and the possibilities for transformation (redemption). Of interest are two scenes from the Metropolitan Museum. The Hunting Scene, (above) is web of animals fighting men and satyrs. It looks like two satyrs in front right have clubbed a man to death– a man who is radically foreshortened and ghostly pale. It is brutal, like The Battle of Ten Naked Men. According to the Metropolitan Museum, Piero was inspired by Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura.
Return from the Hunt (detail) Metropolitan, NY
Two rooms at the National Gallery were devoted to the mythologies, which I find to be his most imaginative and interesting works. Giorgio Vasari, the first Italian Renaissance art historian, writing after Piero died, explained the artist by saying,”It pleased him to see everything wild like his own nature.”
On the other hand, I see that Piero as relating his depictions primeval themes to Christianity. The sequel to the brutal hunting scene, Return from the Hunt, has a the detail (right), a man sitting in a tree that resembles the cross, and another man making or carrying a wooden cross like Simon. Is it somehow connected to Jesus’ crucifixion, even if Jesus and Simon aren’t there?Couples are falling in love. It would seem that Piero believes that even the wildest of men can be redeemed and overcome their animal nature.
It was common for Renaissance artists to do graphic compositions to show off their knowledge of one-point linear perspective. The Building of a Palace is Piero’s showpiece of perspective. This interesting demonstration of building methods has multiple activities going on at once. Another wooden cross is visible in the upper right, attached to a piece of machinery in front of the grand palace. He repeats the cross in what appears to be a secular scene, somewhat like the way Dutch artists of the 1600s put in their reminders of death and redemption. Surely the Christian message was important to Piero no matter how secular or pagan he seems.
Piero di Cosimo, The Building of a Palace, 1515-20, Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida
When Piero painted Perseus and Andromeda, a classical tale from Ethiopia, he picked up a theme not so different from the familiar Christian story of St. George and the Dragon.
Perseus and Andromeda, 1510 or 1513, Uffizzi, Florence
The National Gallery’s painting, The Visitation with St. Nicholas and S. Anthony, is one of Piero’s most famous paintings. Vasari describes the reflections on the balls of St. Nicholas as a reflection of the “strangeness of his brain.” After his teacher Cosimo Roselli died, Piero shut himself up and led a life less man than beast, according to Vasari. “He would never have his rooms swept. He would only eat when hunger came to him, and then only eggs. He boiled 50 eggs at a time, at the same time he boiled his glue for paint.”
The Discovery of Honey, from the Worcester Art Museum
Vasari further described Piero’s eccentricities. He was deathly afraid of lightning. Is it the real Piero, or something Vasari arrived upon by hearsay or by his own deduction? We will never know. “And he was likewise so great a lover of solitude, that he knew no pleasure save that of going off by himself with his thoughts, letting his dance roam and building his castles in the air.” The small mythological paintings, like The Invention of Honey, show his greatest gift as an artist: the ability to tell a story with allegorical content. Along with this storytelling ability, he had a wonderful capability of creating panoramas with perspective and integrating the figures into nature.
Piero di Cosimo, Vulcan and Aeolus, c. 1500, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Piero is better at painting panoramic allegories than painting figures on a larger scale. Sometimes the anatomy is weak and his foreshortening is inaccurate, as in Vulcan and Aeolus. Yet the painting is enchanting and brings us into a dreamworld where an unexpected mix of events takes place. A Dutch painter who lived at the same time, Heironymous Bosch, also painted giraffes he never may have seen. Like Bosch, he’s an ancestor of Surrealists. What was he thinking?
The Myth of Prometheus, c. 1515, Alte Pinakothek, Munich
We don’t know if Vasari’s description of Piero holds a grain of truth. What seems to be true, though, is that the conflict between good in evil is an essential part of Piero’s work. The reconciliation of Christianity to pagan themes is also essential to our understanding of him and other Renaissance masters. Zeus looks just like Jesus in The Myth of Prometheus. The theme is punishments from too much pride. Zeus is destroying the man fashioned by Prometheus and Prometheus’s brother is turned into a monkey in the upper left, and several scenes are conflated together. The artist is trying to find an analogy with Christian morality in the stories of the ancients. Zeus has the long hair, beard and red and blue clothes we associate with Jesus. (Having taken a class in Renaissance Neoplatonism and knowing writers of the time like Pico della Mirandola and Ficino, it’s clear that many Florentines thought of Christian themes and ancient themes as complimentary, like two sides of the same coin.)
Madonna with Jesus, St. John the Baptist, Sts. Jerome and Bernard of Clairvaux
A round tondo painting by Piero, Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist, St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Jerome, is lovely. It also has narrative dramas to illustrate the human struggle between good and evil in the middleground. St. Jerome is beating his chest to ward off temptation. The lion is shown with him, because St. Jerome tamed a lion. Behind St. Bernard, a devil is tied to a column, symbolizing the conquest of temptation. Another gorgeous religious painting tondo painting is in Tulsa, where the child Baptist gives his lamb to Baby Jesus.
Simonetta Vespucci, not in the NGA show Musee Conde, Chantilly France
The National Gallery show had exquisite paintings of Saint Mary Magdalene and St. John the Evangelist that looked like portraits. Their iconographic details show that Piero was influenced by the details and symbolism of Flemish artists. St. John holds a chalice with a snake a symbol attesting to his faith when the Romans asked him to swallow poison. Piero di Cosimo’s most famous portrait, a painting of the beautiful Florentine icon Simonetta Vesupucci, who died too young, was not in the National Gallery exhibition. Piero painted her as if bitten by an asp, like Cleopatra, on left. Again, he used the theme of snakes, which would seem to fit with his
His bacchanalian scenes had “strange fauns, satyrs, sylvan gods, little boys and bacchanals, that is is of marvel to see the diversity of the bay horses and gameness, and the variety of goat like creatures,” describes Vasari. There is a “joy of life produced by the great genius of Piero. There’s a certain subtlety by which he investigates some of the deepest and most subtle secrets of Nature, but only for his own delight and for his pleasure in art.”
detail the Invention of Honey
Vasari wrote more about Piero other artists who are considered even greater painters, namely Giorgione and Correggio. Vasari had a Florentine bias, and Piero was from Florence. Vasari also wrote, “If Piero had not been so solitary, and had taken more care of himself, he would have made known the greatness of his intellect in such a way that he would have been revered. By reason of his uncouth ways, he was rather held to be a madman.”
Piero was a wonderful eccentric who painted many imaginative and poetic mythologies. What links him to the best of the Renaissance is his lush colors, his landscapes and deep perspective. Some of his work is excellent but others stand out for their uneven quality. What breaks the mold for this time is when his mythologies reveal mankind’s delightful, bestial nature. Like the mannerist images Arcimboldo came up with later in the 16th century, his paintings teach us about the dark side of our human nature. In fact, his knarled branches look much like Arcimbolodo’s portrait of the The Four Seasons in One Head.
Jan Van Eyck, Mary, part of the Deesis composition, detail
of The Ghent Altarpiece in St. Bavo’s Cathedral, Ghent, Belgium, c. 1430
photo source: Wikipedia
The Monuments Men is a true story about saving cultural artifacts in war. George Clooney has done a great job acting and directing this film which has an important message about art, what it means for us and the efforts some would go to save culture. One woman who played a huge part in saving art is shown and Cate Blanchett played that role with depth and finesse. An all-star cast doesn’t guarantee good reviews, but I often disagree with movie reviewers. Matt Damon, Bill Murray and Jean Dujardin star in the movie, too.
Tourists in front of the Ghent Altarpiece in recent times. A film, The Monuments Men,
explores its theft and recovery in World War II. Photo source: daydreamtourist.com
The star monument is Jan Van Eyck’s The Ghent Altarpiece, an example of one of the earliest oil paintings. (If students had seen the movie, they would have known it on a test, but the film was released only 5 days earlier and we had a snowstorm) In fact, the last missing part of the Ghent Altarpiece, was the panel of Mary, mother of Jesus from a Deesis grouping (an iconographic type western painters adopted from the eastern Orthodox Church). She is exquisitely beautiful and radiant. Van Eyck’s ability to visualize heavenly splendor and beauty in paint is astounding. I appreciate the film for showing how big the altarpiece actually is, and how a polyptych, of many panels, needed to be broken up into its parts to be moved. Actually, I wonder if Van Eyck and the patrons knew that using the polyptych format, rather than just a three-part triptych, would have its advantages in the time of war. Actually that painting has been the victim of crime 13 times and stolen 7 times, including the times of the Reformation, Napoleon and World War I.
Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna, the last work to be
recovered, is under glass at the Church of Our Lady
in Bruges. Photo source:Wikipedia
The other star monument is Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna, a free-standing sculpture the artist did shortly after The Pieta. It was the last and most precious piece to be found. The film makes an important point about the British man who insisted on protecting it during the war. I’m honored to have seen both monuments in their current homes and thank the determined people who sacrificed so much to do this for posterity. (I also love that the movie gives goes into the Hospital of Sint-Jans in Bruges and gives good views of the medieval cities of Bruges and Ghent, even in the night time. Thanks for acknowledging to what these places represent to earlier European culture.
Much of the film is about uncovering the mysteries, as well as anticipating the need for protection. It has both comic and tragic elements, as we watch injury and death and the dangers that common to all war. Not all paintings were saved, however. Some works ended up in Russia after the war and are still there. Picassos and Max Ernst paintings, even in German hands, were determined to be decadent and burned. The movie showed a Raphael portrait of a young man that has never been found.
Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine, c. 1490, is a
portrait of Cecilia Gallerani, and an early work of Leonardo. It’s
in the Czarytorski Museum in Krakow Photo source: Wikipedia
Among the paintings captured by the Nazis, saved and uncovered by the rescue team of Americans, French and English were: a Rembrandt portrait, a Renoir, a Van Gogh, Manet’s In the Conservatory and Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine which had been taken from Krakow, Poland. Most of these paintings were shown to be hidden in underground mines. I’ve checked a little bit into the history of each of these and found that the Leonardo had been hidden in a castle in Bavaria. The Nazis stole the Manet from a museum in Berlin, and it’s not clear to me why they would do that unless it was planned to be in Hitler’s own museum.
The movie may have intentional inaccuracies. It also looked like a poor replica of Leonardo’s Ginevre de’ Benci was in the movie, and I am not sure if that could be accurate. That painting, as far as I know, already had been in the Mellon Collection that became part of the National Gallery.
There is much more to the story, I know, because Italy was allied with Nazis during most of the war and those works of art needed to be protected, too. At the point of action where the movie had started, most of the works in France had already been protected. The Monuments Men deals mostly with works in Belgium and the Netherlands.
Robert Edsel wrote the book that is the basis for the movie. I certainly hope to read it now, as well as another followup book he published last year, Saving Italy.
Edouard Manet, In the Conservatory, 1879, Altes Museum Berlin Photo: Wikipedia
Albrecht Dürer, The Head of Christ, 1506 brush and gray ink, gray wash, heightened with white on blue paper overall: 27.3 x 21 cm (10 3/4 x 8 1/4 in.) overall (framed): 50 63.8 4.1 cm (19 11/16 25 1/8 1 5/8 in.) Albertina, Vienna
The National Gallery of Art is hosting the largest show of Albrecht Dürer drawings, prints and watercolors ever seen in North America, combining its own collection with that of the Albertina in Vienna, Austria. Across the street in the museum’s west wing is the another exhibition of works on paper, Color, Line and Light: French Drawings Watercolors and Pastels from Delacroix to Signac. The French drawings are spectacular, but it’s hard to imagine the 19th century masters without the earlier genius out of Germany, Dürer, who approached drawing with scientist’s curiosity for understanding nature.
Albrecht Dürer, Self-Portrait at Thirteen, 1484 silverpoint on prepared paper, 27.3 19.5 cm (10 3/4 7 11/16 in.) (framed): 51.7 43.1 4.5 cm (20 3/8 16 15/16 1 3/4 in.) Albertina, Vienna
Dürer’s famous engravings are on view, including Adam and Eve, but with the added pleasure of seeing preparatory drawings and first trial proofs of the prints. Some of his most famous works such as the Great Piece of Turf and Praying Hands, are there also. In both exhibitions, as always, I’m drawn to the beauty and color of landscape art, especially prominent in the 19th century exhibition. However, both shows have phenomenal portraits to give us a glimpse into people of all ages with profound insights.
Dürer drew his own face while looking in the mirror at age 13, in 1484. He still had puffy cheeks and a baby face, but was certainly a prodigy. Like his father, he was trained in the goldsmith’s guild which gave him facility at describing the tiniest details with a very firm point. Seeing his picture next to the senior Dürer’s self-portrait, there’s no doubt his father was extremely gifted, too.
Albrecht Dürer, “Mein Agnes”, 1494 pen and black ink, 15.7 x 9.8 cm (6 1/8 x 3 7/8 in.) (framed): 44.3 x 37.9 x 4.2 cm (17 3/8 x 14 7/8 x 1 5/8 in.) Albertina, Vienna
In his native Nuremburg, the younger Dürer was recognized at an early age and his reputation spread, particularly as the world of printing was spreading throughout the German territories, France and Italy. We can trace his development as he went to Italy in 1494-96, and then again in 1500, meeting with North Italian artists Andrea Mantegna and Giovanni Bellini and exchanging artistic ideas. Dürer is credited with bridging the gap between the Northern and Italian Renaissance. I personally find all his drawings and prints more satisfying then his oil paintings, because at heart he was first and foremost a draftsman.
Though we normally think of Dürer as a controlled draftsman, there are some very fresh, loose drawings. An image he did of his wife, Agnes, in 1494, shows a wonderful freedom of expression, and affection. He married Agnes Fry in 1494 and did drawings of her which became studies for later works. She was the model for St. Ann in a late painting of 1516 and the preparatory drawing with its amazing chiaroscuro is in the exhibition.
Albrecht Dürer, Agnes Dürer as Saint Ann, 1519 brush and gray, black, and white ink on grayish prepared paper; black background applied at a later date (?) overall: 39.5 x 29.2 cm (15 1/2 x 11 1/2 in.) overall (framed): 64 x 53.4 x 4.4 cm (25 1/4 x 21 x 1 3/4 in.) Albertina, Vienna
Also on view are Durer’s investigations into human proportion, landscapes and drawings he did of diverse subjects from which he later used in his iconic engravings. We can trace how the drawings inspired his visual imagery. There are also several preparatory drawings of old men who were used as the models for apostles in a painted altarpiece.
Albrecht Dürer, An Elderly Man of Ninety-Three Years, 1521 brush and black and gray ink, heightened with white, on gray-violet prepared paper overall: 41.5 28.2 cm (16 5/16 11 1/8 in.) overall (framed): 63.6 49.7 4.6 cm (25 1/16 19 9/16 1 13/16 in.) Albertina, Vienna
My favorite drawing of old age, however, is a study of an old man at age 93 who was alert and in good health (amazing as the life expectancy in 1500 was not what is today.) He appears very thoughtful, pensive and wise. The softness of his beard is incredible. The drawing is in silverpoint on blue gray paper which makes the figure appear very three-dimensional. To add force to the light and shadows, Durer added white to highlight, making the man so lifelike and realistic.
Léon Augustin Lhermitte, An Elderly Peasant Woman, c. 1878 charcoal, overall: 47.5 x 39.6 cm (18 11/16 x 15 9/16 in.) National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James T. Dyke, 1996
In the other exhibition, there’s a comparable drawing by Leon Lhermitte of an old woman in Color, Line and Light. Lhermitte was French painter of the Realist school. He is not widely recognized today, but there were so many extraordinary artists in the mid-19th century. What I find especially moving about the painters of this time is more than their understanding of light and color. I like their approach to treating humble people, often the peasants, with extraordinary dignity. Lhermitte’s woman of age has lived a hard and rugged life and he crinkled skin signifies her amazing endurance. We see the beauty of her humanity and the artist’s reverence for every crevice in her weather-beaten skin.
Jean-François Millet Nude Reclining in a Landscape, 1844/1845 pen and brown ink, 16.5 x 25.6 cm (6 1/2 x 10 1/16 in.) Dyke Collection
There are many portraits of youth in the French exhibition, too, including fresh pen and inks such as Edouard Manet’s Boy with a Dog and Francois Millet’s Nude Reclining in Landscape, who really does not look nude.
Camille Pissarro’s The Pumpkin Seller is a charcoal without a lot of detail. She has broad features, plain clothes and a bandana around the head. She’s a simpleton, drawn and characterized with a minimum of lines but Pissarro sees her a substantial girl of character. The drawing reminds me of Pissarro himself. He may not be as well-known and appreciated as Monet, Renoir, Degas, yet he was the diehard artist. He was the one who never gave up, who encouraged all his colleagues and was quite willing to endure poverty and deprivation for the goals of his art. Berthe Morisot‘s watercolor of Julie Manet in a Canopied Cradle has a minimum of detail but is a quick expression of her daughter’s infancy.
Camille Pissarro, The Pumpkin Seller, c.1888 charcoal, overall: 64.5 x 47.8 cm (25 3/8 x 18 13/16 in.) Dyke Collection
Taking in all the portraits of both exhibitions, I’m left with thoughts of awe for beauty of both nature and humanity. The friends I was with actually preferred the French exhibition to the Dürer. There were surprising revelations of skill by little known artists like Paul Huet, Francois-Auguste Ravier and Charles Angrand. The landscapes by artists of the Barbizon School and the Neo-Impressionists, are important and beautiful, but perhaps not recognized as much as they should be. In both exhibitions, we must admire how works on paper form the blueprint for larger ideas explored in oil paintings.
Berthe Morisot, Julie Manet in a Canopied Cradle, 1879 watercolor and gouache, 18 x 18 cm (7 1/16 x 7 1/16 in.) Dyke Collection
It was a curator a the Albertina who wisely connected a mysterious Martin Schongauer drawing of the 1470s owned by the Getty to a Durer Altarpiece. The Albertina is a museum in Vienna known for works on paper, much its collection descended from the Holy Roman Emperors, one of whom Dürer worked for late in his career. The French drawings come from a collection of Helen Porter and James T Dyke and some of it have been gifted to the National Gallery. They’re on view until May 26, 2013 and Albrecht Dürer: Master Drawings, Prints and Watercolors from the Albertina will stay on view until June 9, 2013.
Last weekend the annual Sydney J. Freedberg Lecture on Italian Art at the National Gallery of Art was “Not a Painting But a Vision.” Andreas Henning, curator from Dresden, Germany, spoke about The Sistine Madonna, a magnificent altarpiece Raphael painted in 1512 which is now in the Dresden State Art Museum. I have written about it in a previous blog, comparing the Mary of this painting to the Raphael’s lovely image of inner and outer beauty in La Donna Velata.
However, as the title suggested, it is painting of a vision and that Mary is not of this world. She has facial features of that generic beauty similar to those of the Donna Velata, but she is more ethereal and otherworldly. As much as we may want to reach out and hug the baby Jesus, we can’t. The Madonna also carries a tinge of sadness in this image, a practice artists used to reveal Mary recognition that her Son will die someday.
However, two saints, Saint Sixtus and Saint Barbara have brighter colors and lead the transition to the audience on earth. The curator explained that they represent a reconciliation of opposites, as we often find in Raphael’s paintings. They are male and female, old and young, the active life and the contemplative life. But the truth is that they, too, are in heaven.
When the Sistine Madonna was completed and set as an altarpiece in a monastery church in Piacenza, we must imagine curtains framing the Mary, her veil blowing in a wind, as separating one world from another. The drama is in the relationship of the audience to the vision in the work of art. Only the saturated green curtains and a balustrade on bottom are meant to be part of the material world. In fact, in this visionary painting, Raphael has gone behind the Renaissance perspective which aims for imitation of reality. He anticipated the triumphant late Renaissance artist Correggio and the visionary art of Baroque, such as Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa.
I’ve never seen this painting, but was thrilled to view the new slides since the painting’s cleaning. In the background, the clouds reveal the faces of many more cherubs. There are 42 faces in the clouds. (These faces are mainly visible in first image on the upper left side.) What glorious illusion!
The curator also pointed out that these sweet and precious angels, who look upward in observation and wonder, were an afterthought which Raphael felt the composition needed them for completion. What impeccable images of innocence, charm and love!
Since 1993, Martin Schongauer’s 10″ x 13″ drawing of Peonies has been in the Getty Museum, Los Angeles..
A painting of peonies came up for auction in 1990 under the vague label of Northern Italian. However, a museum curator at the Albertina in Vienna recognized it as an important drawing from about 1472-73 by Martin Schongauer, an artist who lived in Alsace on the French-German border. The drawing, now in the Getty Museum, is a study for the flowers in Madonna of the Rosary, 1473, painted by Schongauer for a church in Colmar (now in France). Albrecht Durer traveled to Colmar to visit Schongauer in 1491, but the great Alsatian master had died by the time 21-year old Durer arrived. Martin’s brothers met with him and gave him some of the master’s drawings. This drawing may have been one of the drawings owned by Durer; the same Viennese curator recognized a flower similar to one of the peonies in a Durer painting of 1501.
In 2007, a pastel drawing came up on the auction market and it was labeled as 19th century German. An astute Canadian collector who bought it had other ideas and sought expert opinion. Most experts now attribute this drawing to Leonardo da Vinci, and it is called La Bella Principessa. The sitter may be the 13-year old daughter of the Duke of Milan, Bianca Sforza. Interestingly, a fingerprint on the paper matches a fingerprint in Leonardo’s unfinished painting of St. Jerome. The technique is ink with black, white and red chalk on yellow vellum to give the flesh tones. Leonardo is said to have learned the pastel technique from a French artist.
A badly damaged painting supposedly by a student of Leonardo sold for 45 British pounds in 1958. Only in the past year has it been cleaned and recognized as an authentic Leonardo da Vinci. Called the Salvator Mundi, it was recently part of an exhibition at the National Gallery in London. In the frontal image, Jesus holds a glass globe and stares directly at the viewer while using the blessed gesture. His calm face is full of compassion and kindness. The penetrating sense of life in this image is clearly palpable, as revealed after its cleaning. It has Leonardo’s recognizable sfumato, the smoky quality which gives a dark softness to the shadows. It has the iconic and mysterious qualities reminiscent of as the Mona Lisa. Cleaning revealed this Salvator Mundi to be an authentic
Leonardo da Vinci dating to c. 1500
Martin Kemp, Leonardo expert in England, has identified the rock crystal orb to show the crystalline cosmos in Jesus’s hand as something only Leonardo could have painted with accuracy. Leonardo was quite the geologist and Kemp compared the painted example to crystal orbs in the geology collection of the Ashmolean Museum. Therefore, the painting could not have been done by a follower. The last time a painting was discovered to be by Leonardo was 100 years ago.
Only the master Leonardo, who intimately studied nature,
could have portrayed this rock crystal so accurately
Even more remarkable is the fact that a lost painting by Leonardo’s young rival, Michelangelo appeared in 2009. This Temptation of St. Anthony is now in the Kimbell Art Museum of Fort Worth. Michelangelo painted this oil and tempera when he was only about 13 years old. The first writer of art history in 1570, Giorgio Vasari described a painting that copied an engraving by Martin Schongauer.
The fact that the two greatest artistic prodigies born in Europe during the 1470s, Albrecht Durer and the divine Michelangelo, admired Martin Schongauer, speaks to that master’s incredible reputation as an artist in the 15th century. He died young, but his contribution to later art cannot be overlooked. Although Schongauer’s travels probably took him only to the center of Europe: Alsace, Burgundy, Flanders and the Rhineland, his prints gave him a reputation throughout Italy, France, Spain and even England. Italians called him Bel Martino. Perhaps he was born around 1448, a few years before another great observer of nature, Leonardo da Vinci. His drawings inspired the great drawings of nature by Durer, namely The Rabbit and Large Piece of Turf.