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Art

Notre-Dame: La pietà en marbre de Nicolas Coustou

Tuesday, 16 April, 2019

One of Notre-Dame’s centrepieces is the marble pietà by Nicolas Coustou (1658 – 1733) on the cathedral’s high altar. Initial photographs following yesterday evening’s fire showed that the sculpture was mostly unharmed, but its condition has not been confirmed.

Descente de croix has been compared with the art of Michelangelo and the comparison is valid because in 1681 Coustou won the Colbert Prize (the Prix de Rome), which entitled him to four years of education at the French Academy at Rome. There, the 23-year-old was immediately influenced by the sculpture of Michelangelo and Algardi and he tried to combine the characteristics of each in his later work.

Situated at the far end of Notre-Dame’s nave, Coustou’s pietà was backed by three major and several minor stained-glass windows. It was something of a miracle that it was never overwhelmed by its magnificent surroundings and it will require a real miracle now to restore those settings to their former glory.

Notre-Dame


Bermejo: Rebel pietà genius

Monday, 15 April, 2019

Bartolomé Bermejo (c. 1440 – c.1501) was a Spanish artist whose painting was very much influenced by the Flemish style of the day. Born in Cordoba, he worked in the Kingdom of Aragon, including what is now Catalonia, and the Kingdom of Valencia. His real name was Bartolomé de Cárdenas and his nickname, Bermejo, which means auburn in Spanish, may have been inspired by the colour of his hair.

At a time when painting was a serious business, there is evidence to suggest that Bermejo was somewhat unreliable. One contract contained a clause providing for his excommunication in the event of an unsatisfactory result. Still, his talent was such that patrons willing to take the risk of hiring him. Bermejo’s final years were spent in Barcelona, where he worked on the altar of the convent church of Santa Anna, the surviving panels of which were destroyed in 1936 during the Terror Rojo (Red Terror) waged by the Republican forces. However, Bermejo’s masterpiece, the Pietà, which he completed around 1490 for Canon Lluís Desplà i Oms’ private chapel, has survived.

Pietà

Bermejo. El geni rebel del segle XV” continues until 19 May at the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, which is located in the Palau Nacional in Montjuïc. It will resume in a somewhat different format on 12 June at the National Gallery in London as “Bartolomé Bermejo: Master of the Spanish Renaissance.”


One of those March days

Sunday, 3 March, 2019

“It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.” — Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

March

The March image above is by the Canadian artist Alex Colville and his paintings were discussed by Ingo F. Walther in Art of the Twentieth Century:

“Colville’s silent images are static. Yet practically all of them tell a story, in a brief, concise plot that does not always have a resolution. Fundamental human situations are their both simple and complex themes: loneliness, isolation, parting, work, leisure, estrangement, love. The only subliminally dramatic, often melancholy laconism of content corresponds to the absolute precision of form by which it is conveyed. Like hardly another artist, Colville maintains the difficult balance between imagination and sober calculation, formal interest and social commitment. Behind the realistic surface of his imagery lurks the surreal — but a surreal that lacks every trace of theatrical staging or borrowing from psychoanalysis, whose new myths Colville deeply mistrusts.”


How’s the writing going?

Tuesday, 5 February, 2019

The Landévennec Group is a collection of 10th and 11th century illuminated manuscripts of the Four Evangelists, probably all from the scriptorium of Landévennec Abbey in Brittany. In this manuscript illustration, we see Saint Matthew writing his Gospel and he appears to be somewhat troubled by the visible lack of progress.

St. Matthew


Super Bowl Sunday thoughts

Sunday, 3 February, 2019

Super Bowl LIII will take place at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta this evening. The contestants are the blue-blooded New England Patriots and the upstart Los Angeles Rams. The paintings of Michael Dumontier and Neil Farber, which are whimsical and witty and honest, offer lots of pre-match food for thought.

House


What some would call laziness…

Thursday, 31 January, 2019

…I call deferred productivity. Félix Emile-Jean Vallotton called it La Paresse.

Félix Emile-Jean Vallotton - Laziness


Assiettes & Broderies

Friday, 25 January, 2019

“Marie-Claude Marquis is an artist whose practice is rather multidisciplinary. Touching both graphic design and visual arts, she is inspired by souvenirs, nostalgia, pop culture, Québec identity and her own emotions which she expresses with a feminine touch and a colorful sensitivity.” Check out MC MARQUIS. Very stimulating.

Assiettes & Broderies


The madness and eclipse of King Lear

Sunday, 20 January, 2019

Tonight, the moon will noticeably, progressively get darker as the sun, the Earth and the moon converge in an instance of perfect cosmic alignment to create a lunar eclipse. This only total lunar eclipse of 2019 will be visible in North America, South America, Western Europe and North-western Africa.

There were many superstitions in the Elizabethan period, one being that an eclipse was an omen of evil. Shakespeare may have witnessed the partial lunar eclipse of 27 September 1605 and the total solar eclipse of 12 October that year, and both may have influenced his King Lear, which was first staged on St. Stephen’s day 1606. “Nothing will come of nothing,” goes Lear’s warning. The raging monarch has endured so many indignities — doomed by his vanity, deceived by sycophants, abandoned to madness… The Bard’s tragedy is a bleak depiction of family and state breakdown.

“These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend
no good to us: though the wisdom of nature can
reason it thus and thus, yet nature finds itself
scourged by the sequent effects: love cools,
friendship falls off, brothers divide: in
cities, mutinies; in countries, discord; in
palaces, treason; and the bond cracked ‘twixt son
and father. This villain of mine comes under the
prediction; there’s son against father: the king
falls from bias of nature; there’s father against
child. We have seen the best of our time:
machinations, hollowness, treachery, and all
ruinous disorders, follow us disquietly to our
graves. Find out this villain, Edmund; it shall
lose thee nothing; do it carefully.”

William Shakespeare, King Lear, Act I, Scene 2

King Lear


Roger Scruton on religion and culture

Wednesday, 16 January, 2019

“Culture, I suggest, has a religious root and a religious meaning. This does not mean you have to be religious in order to be cultivated. But it does mean that the point of being cultivated cannot, in the end, be explained without reference to the nature and value of religion.” — Roger Scruton

Saint Matthew was one of the twelve apostles and one of the four Evangelists. He was a tax collector by profession and when Jesus found him sitting with the other tax collectors he said, “Follow me,” and Matthew got up and followed him. “The Calling of St Matthew” by Caravaggio depicts this moment. Painting from life, Caravaggio developed a technique called Tenebrism, which was marked by dramatic contrasts of light and shade. This led him to create art of great emotional intensity. “The Calling of St Matthew” was a sensation when it was first displayed in San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome and it remains one of the most famous of Caravaggio’s works.

Caravaggio


Biro drawing of David Bowie

Saturday, 8 December, 2018

This Bic biro drawing of David Bowie is by the amazing Mark Powell, formerly of Yorkshire and now of Brick Lane in East London. Why a biro? “I choose a biro because it is the most simple and readily available tool to hand. I want to show how easy it is to have the chance to create. I want it to inspire people to give it a go without feeling the need to spend money on arts and crafts.”

Biro Bowie


Leda e il cigno

Wednesday, 28 November, 2018

According to the Greek myth that inspired the great W.B. Yeats poem, Zeus took the form of a swan and seduced Leda on the same night she slept with her husband King Tyndareus. Recently, a brilliant fresco depicting the event was unearthed in Pompeii and the artwork is best described in the original Italian:

Bellissima e sensuale, il corpo statuario solo parzialmente coperto da un drappo dorato, la regina Leda sembra incrociare languida lo sguardo di chi la avvicina. Tra le gambe di lei, in una posa che non potrebbe essere più esplicita, c’è il potente Zeus che per possederla si è trasformato in un grande cigno bianco e che secondo il mito insieme con il marito Tindaro, re di Sparta, diventerà il padre dei suoi quattro figli, i gemelli Castore e Polluce, ma anche la bella Elena, nel cui nome si scatenerà la guerra di Troia, e Clitennestra, che diventerà la moglie del re Agamennone.

Leda and the Swan

Here’s how Pliny the Younger recalled the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79 that destroyed Pompeii and preserved the fresco of Leda and the Swan:

“Ashes were already falling, not as yet very thickly. I looked round: a dense black cloud was coming up behind us, spreading over the earth like a flood.

‘Let us leave the road while we can still see,’ I said, ‘or we shall be knocked down and trampled underfoot in the dark by the crowd behind.’

We had scarcely sat down to rest when darkness fell, not the dark of a moonless or cloudy night, but as if the lamp had been put out in a closed room.

You could hear the shrieks of women, the wailing of infants, and the shouting of men; some were calling their parents, others their children or their wives, trying to recognize them by their voices. People bewailed their own fate or that of their relatives, and there were some who prayed for death in their terror of dying. Many besought the aid of the gods, but still more imagined there were no gods left, and that the universe was plunged into eternal darkness for evermore.”