Art

The Last Supper: Nabokov and Leonardo

Friday, 3 May, 2019

The world is marking the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, artist and inventor. In the town of Vinci in Tuscany, the Museo Leonardiano is exhibiting the artist’s first known drawing, dated 5 August 1473. From 24 May to 13 October, an exhibition will open at The Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace, featuring 200 Leonardo drawings. The Louvre expects huge demand for its da Vinci exhibition in October, urging visitors to book a time slot ahead of their visit and, staying in France, a tapestry based on Leonardo’s Last Supper will be displayed at the Château du Clos Lucé in the Loire Valley, where he spent the final years of his life, between 1516 and 1519. It’s the first time the tapestry has been outside the Vatican museum since the 16th century.

The great writer Vladimir Nabokov was fascinated by The Last Supper and oblique references to the mural can be found throughout his books. In fact, the young Nabokov composed a poem in 1918 entitled, The Last Supper.

The Last Supper

The reflective hour of an austere supper
Prophecies of betrayal and parting
A nocturnal pearl illuminates
the oleander petals.

Apostle leans towards apostle
Christ has silvery hands
Candles pray brightly, and along the table
nocturnal moths crawl.

Vladimir Nabokov (1899 – 1977)

The Last Supper


Paintings painted

Sunday, 28 April, 2019

The Spanish artist Julio Anaya Cabanding paints paintings. Using graffitied walls as his canvas, he recreates famous paintings with astonishing detail, including their ornate frames. His logic? By taking a photo of an Old Master in a museum such as the Prado in Madrid, he “liberates” the image from “the sacrum of the institution” and he then puts it in a place where it has never been seen or will be seen in a very different way.

Painted Vermeer


A familiar feeling

Wednesday, 24 April, 2019

Alessandra Olanow is an illustrator living in Brooklyn, New York City.

Proofreading


The Extremadura Pietà

Friday, 19 April, 2019

The Counter-Reformation in Spain was dominated by mystics such as Saint Teresa of Ávila, Saint John of the Cross, Teresa de Cartagena, Saint Ignatius of Loyola and Juan de Avila. The artist who painted their prayers was Luis de Morales (1509 – 1586), who was born and buried in Badajoz, a remote town in Extremadura near the Portuguese border. Talent will out, however, and despite his relatively isolated location, Morales acquired fame and some fortune, as this snippet from his Prado profile highlights:

“For a large part of his life, Morales had an active artistic career that frequently obliged him to travel to arrange commissions, execute them or oversee their completion by the workshop. Otherwise, like many other artists in the region, he rounded off his finances with other sources of income. He owned houses and land in the city as well as vines, olives and livestock in the surrounding area. The markedly rural profile of both the artist and the milieu he lived in is evident too when we recall that Bishop Juan de Ribera paid him for several commissions in kind: wheat and barley, or ‘a Friesian horse with bit and saddle'”.

Luis de Morales completed his Extremadura Pietà sometime between 1565 and 1570. The figures of Mary and her crucified son are marked by grace and beauty despite the prevailing mood of anguish and grief. The Italian word pietà means “pity” or “compassion” and today, Good Friday, is when we should show some.

The Extremadura Pietà


The shock and awe of the Röttgen Pietà

Thursday, 18 April, 2019

Gothic art sought to create an impact. The Röttgen Pietà, sculpted in wood circa 1300 and now in the Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Bonn, succeeded in spades. It was created expressly to evoke an emotional response in its viewers. What did they feel when they saw it? Shock, awe, terror, horror, disgust, distaste, fear, fascination… It’s obvious that this Christ clearly died from his crucifixion, but it’s also obvious that this undernourished man led a hard life. The message is that he’s one of us mediaeval folk.

Then, there’s Mary. What does her expression convey? Traditionally, she’s often depicted at peace because she’s aware of the impending Resurrection so her son’s death, while tragic, is temporary. This Mary, however, appears to be bewildered and aggrieved There’s no hint that she’ll see her son alive again. Again, the intent of the artist is to show that God and his mother experienced enormous pain and suffering.

Röttgen Pietà

Our week of pietà meditations began on Monday in Spain and that’s where it will end tomorrow with another graphic work that seeks to get viewers to feel a personal connection to the pain and death of the divine as painted by “El Divino”.


Giovanni Bellini: Pietà di Brera

Wednesday, 17 April, 2019

One of the most elegant parts of Milan’s Centro Storico district is Brera. The streets are lined with upmarket food shops and hip fashion boutiques, and the cobbled alleys fill up at night with people enjoying fine Milanese dining at sidewalk restaurants and cafés. A must-visit is the fresco-filled, 15th-century Santa Maria del Carmine church and, soul saved, the next stop has to be the Pinacoteca di Brera, with its magnificent collection of Italian art spanning the centuries.

One of the great treasures of the Pinacoteca di Brera is the Pietà di Brera by Giovanni Bellini, which dates from around 1460. When it was first revealed, the pietà was accompanied by verses composed by Propertius, the great poet of the Augustan age. He speaks of the capacity of an image to provoke tears — and anyone looking at the faces of Mary and Christ here cannot be unaffected by the the mother and son drama being played out. The pain depicted by Bellini reflects all human suffering and solitude.

Pietà di Brera


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