Showing posts from March, 2012

Geertgen tot Sint Jans (c. 1460/65 - latest 1495)

This beautiful painting of St. John the Baptist in the Wilderness, lost in thought and forlorn, is by Geertgen tot Sint Jans, and dates c. 1485-1490.

Very little is known about the artist. He was probably born in the Dutch town of Leyden betweem 1460 and 1465, and died in Haarlem before 1495, possible aged 28. In the few paintings that survive he displays a mastery both in figures and in landscape.

Other works by Geertgen include:
The Lamentation of Christ 
Nativity at Night
Adoration of the Magi

Pietro Perugino (c. 1448-1523)

Born Pietro de Cristoforo Vannucci, Perugino was influenced by Piero della Francesca, from whom he learned how to balance surface with space and how to construct large-scale compositions. But his fame today has become eclipsed by his famous pupil Raphael, to whom he taught much about the art of composition. One has only to compare Perugino's Sposalizio della Vergine with Raphael's work of the same name to see the older man's influence.

In 1931 the National Gallery of Ireland purchased at auction at Christie's in London one of Perugino's most beautiful works - Lamentation over the Dead Christ (c. 1495). One of the first visitors to see the painting was Samuel Beckett, who wrote his impressions of the painting in a letter of 20 December 1931 to his friend Thomas McGreevy, one time director of the National Gallery of Ireland:

A clean-shaven, potent Christ, and a passion of tears for the waste. The most mystical constituent is the ointment pot that was probably added by …

Leonardo da Vinci and the Mona Lisa

The Louvre in Paris is once again the world's most popular art museum with 8,800,000 visitors in 2011. [Source: Art Newspaper] In 2007, the museum staff went on strike, citing as the reason the stress of looking after the Mona Lisa and other popular paintings. "The stress is clearly linked to the number of visitors", a Louvre attended told the AFP news agency at the time. "There can be 65,000 visitors on one day. It's unbearable...."

Leonardo's masterpiece is like a magnet attracting visitors from all corners of the world. It has become an icon, part of western mythology. But if you think that you know all about the lady with the enigmatic smile, then think again, for according to Dr Vito Franco of Palermo University, La Giaconda had high cholesterol, evident, claims the doctor, from a build-up of fatty acids discernible under the skin.

He also suggested the presence of lipoma, a benign fatty-tissue tumour, in her right eye. "The people depicted in a…

Giorgione - La Tempestà

The works of Giorgio Barbarelli, Giorgio da Castelfranco, known to the world as Giorgione, were often mysterious in their subject matter, but none will have provoked such controversy and discussion as his painting La Tempestà, described in around 1530 as a "Landscape on canvas with storm, gypsy woman and soldier".

Interpretation of the work was complicated further when X-rays revealed that the artist had originally intended a second nude in place of the soldier. Also the title suggests that it is the storm which is the subject and not the characters.

One suggestion is that the work represents the Rest on the Flight into Egypt, depicting Mary with the infant, and Joseph standing nearby. But where is the faithful donkey? Others interpretors see it as a scene from classical mythology or as an allegorical impression of paradise.

The painting is one of Georgione's last works dating from c. 1510 and is on display in Venice's Gallerie dell'Accademia.

The 'Lost Years' of William Shakespeare

The period between the baptism of Shakespeare's twins on 2 February 1585 and the oblique reference to him in 1592 in Robert Greene's notorious pamphlet Greene's Groatsworth of Wit, bought with a million of Repentance, are popularly known as the 'Lost Years', since there is no documentary record of him during these years.
[There is, in fact, one reference in 1587. Shakespeare's father, John Shakespeare, began a litigation against one John Lambert, in which he tried to regain possession of property mortgaged to Edmund Lambert, John Lambert's father. He argued that John Lambert had promised an extra £20 on condition that the Shakespeares and 'their eldest son William' handed over the estate outright.]
The Groatsworth of Wit is a thinly veiled autobiography 'Describing the folly of youth, the falsehood of make-shift flatterers, the misery of the negligent, and the mischief of deceiving Courtesans'. It's hero is called Roberto, a disinherited s…

Amsterdam: Bicycle Capital of the World

Amsterdam has a people population of 785,910 [trueknowledge dot com]and a bicycle population of around 465,000: a ratio of one bicycle for every 1.69 persons.

Running on pedal power instead of CO2 producing toxic fuel, Amsterdammers wend their ways along the colour-coded  bike paths, and if they run low of fuel simply stop to eat a banana, then with calories replenished continue on their way.

Cycling in the city crosses socio-economic as well as gender and age backgrounds."80% of all Dutch cycle at least once a week".[amsterdamize dot com] Bike rental companies abound allowing tourists to go native. And with 400 kilometres of bike routes there's no nook or cranny of the city which cannot be explored.

H.G. Wells said: "Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race". In our oil-driven, car-crazy, cult-consumer economy, these relics of the Nineteenth Century happily break the rules. And nowhere is the counter-culture mor…

George Bernard Shaw, the Left's new Fashion Guru

Mr George Bernard Shaw proved as enigmatic as ever when asked about his new role as fashion correspondent. "A fashion is nothing but an induced epidemic", he quipped, as he made his way in panama hat, ankle-length overcoat, summer pants and carrying a  parasol/umbrella, to his latest fashion assignment.

Mr Shaw, who is famed for his dramatic works on the most pressing social issues of the day, and for his socialist views on the class system, was asked about how he saw his new job. He thought for a moment and then shrugged his shoulders and said: "A day's work is a day's work, neither more nor less". He then hopped aboard a passing omnibus and went merrily on his way.

We wish him the best of luck in his latest enterprise.

Shakespeare's fat knight- Sir John Falstaff

"I am not only witty in myself, but the cause that wit is in other men". [Sir John Falstaff, 2 Henry IV]

Was the fat knight the Shakespeare's supreme creation? For sure he was a hit with the playgoers at the time, and we can imagine their disappointment when he failed to appear is Henry V, despite being trailed to do so by the Epilogue in the second part of Henry IV:
"One word more, I beseech you. If you be not too much cloyed with fat meat, our humble author will continue the story, with Sir John in it, and make you merry with fair Katharine of France; where, for all I know, Falstaff shall die of a sweat...."
What was the reason for this change of mind by Shakespeare? Certainly the actor that some believe was the first to interpret the role, Will Kemp, is known to have left the company around this time, in order to dance his way from London to Norwich. Was this the reason? Or did Shakespeare want to concentrate on the new king without the distraction of his large…

Dante Gabriel Rossetti & The Death of Lady Macbeth

'She should have died hereafter. There would have been a time for such a word'     [Macbeth 5.5.16]
Pen and ink and sepia wash drawing on paper of the death of Lady Macbeth from Macbeth, Shakespeare's intense study in the psychology of evil, as imagined by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), co-founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood art movement. Macbeth's lady is depicted trying to rub the stains of Duncan's murder from her hands as she struggles with her repressed humanity.

John Everett Millais of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

John Everett Millais (1829-1896) was one of the founders, along with William Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and four friends, of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848. 

The Brotherhood sought to revitalize British art with noble ideas and fidelity with nature, and Hunt and Rossetti prepared a list of 'Immortals forming our creed', wherein the 'first class' comprised Jesus and Shakespeare.

Many paintings from the Brotherhood explore tragic Shakespearean women. Rossetti painted The Death of Lady Macbeth (c1876), and the yearning Mariana (1868-1870) from Measure for Measure. Millais painted his Ophelia (1852) from Hamlet, depicting a scene which is only described in the play. And in 1849 he produced a scene from The Tempest entitled Ferdinand Lured by Ariel.

A statue of John Everett Millais is in place in front of the Tate Britain art gallery in London.

Pioneers of Photography #2 - Henry Peach Robinson

In 1895 the journal The Photogram wrote of Henry Peach Robinson:
'Mr Robinson stands, as he has done for years, as probably the best known man in photography, and the one whose words and example have done more than those of any other man to create and encourage photographic workers'.
H.P. Robinson was born in 1830 and during his lifetime was one of the most successful commercial photographers in Great Britain. He encouraged photographers to create a 'pictorial effect' in their pictures, making use of the darkroom to combine negatives, as well as costuming and posing his subjects. In his own work he would carefully stage elaborate tableaux in picturesque settings, using relatives to  serve as models. An example of this technique is his picture titled The Lady of Shalott, which was made from three negatives. The image also bears an affinity with the Pre-Raphaelites, of which Robinson was a keen follower.

Sadly, the long hours spent in his darkroom, with the consequent expos…

Pioneers of Photography #1 - Peter Henry Emerson

'Adopt the pace of nature, her secret is patience' [Peter Henry Emerson]

Peter Henry Emerson (1856-1936) was an early British photographer, raised in Cuba and the USA, then moving to England in 1869, where he spent the rest of his life. He continued his education in London and at university in Cambridge where he graduated with a degree in medicine and pursued a career as a surgeon. But in 1886 he abandoned medicine to become a full time photographer and writer.

His initial approach was to use photography as a tool to record precisely what the eye saw without enhancement or embellishment.[1] This put him at odds with the photography establishment, where the fashion was for combination printing, the technique of combining multiple photos to produce a single image. These opposing views were clearly unreconcilable, leaving each camp to go their separate ways.

Emerson's way was the rural English countryside. He took his camera to the rivers and broads of East Anglia, and in 1886 p…