Thursday, March 31, 2011

40 Days of Artists: Bernini

Gian Lorenzo Bernini was perhaps the greatest name in Italian sculpture in the 17th century, since Michelangelo a century earlier. Like Michelangelo, Bernini was also skilled in other disciplines like painting and architecture, but it was his hand in sculpture that gave him such a great reputation. He learned under his father, Pietro Bernino, a Florentine sculptor in his own right. But it was Gian Lorenzo who made the name Bernini a great name in 17th century art.
Bernini was influenced by Michelangelo, but took his art of sculpture in a different direction, as he created the Baroque style of sculpture that involved more emotion and movement. Unlike Michelangelo's still figures, Bernini captured moments of suspended animation in his sculptures that was characteristic of the Baroque style of painting. For instance, we can see Michelangelo's David as a great work of classical sculpture that focuses on the figure itself. However, Bernini also did a sculpture of David that is much different. Rather than being a figure standing still and practically posing, Bernini depicts the Biblical hero as he is about to throw the stone at Goliath. My personal favorite part of this sculpture is David's facial expression, which depicts the concentration, strength, and determination to take out his adversary in a single, swift move.
Perhaps Bernini's great masterpiece is his sculpture The Ecstacy of St. Teresa, for Cappella Cornaro in Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome. It is an altarpiece depicting St. Teresa of Avila in her vision as she is being pierced through the heart by an angel's arrow, representing the divine love. Bernini sculpted everything based on St. Teresa's own descripton of her vision. It is one of the most unique altarpieces, as it is more than a 2-dimensional painting, but rather a 3-dimensional scene illuminated by natural light that emerges from the space and into the worship setting, as well as bringing the worshipper into the experience of the scene.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini
The Ecstacy of St. Teresa
350 cm
c. 1647-52

Tribute to a forgotten Master

This is my latest work, and it is my personal tribute to an artist that deserves recognition in this generation.  It is a copy of a portrait featured in Jacopo Pontormo's painting Visitation, painted around 1515 (Not to be confused with another more famous piece of his also called Visitation from 1528).  It was a fresco, and one of his earliest works, and certainly one of his most beautiful paintings.  I chose to copy a work from Pontormo because he is a recent discovery for me, and I was instantly intrigued by his work the minute I saw it.  And thinking how he is a nearly forgotten master of the Italian Renaissance, I thought I would do a small part in revealing to others his mastery, and perhaps breathe a small breath of life back into his legacy.

Copy after Pontormo
oil on canvas
16x20 inches

Jacopo Pontormo
392x337 cm
c. 1515

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

40 Days of Artists: Guido Reni

Guido Reni began studying painting at around the age of nine, so it is safe to say he was destined to become one of the great masters of the 17th century. He was born in Bologna and by the age of 20 he had joined the Carracci Academy - a school of classical art that would greatly influence his style throughout his career. He was also admired Raphael, which also strengthened his adherence to the classical method of painting. This can be seen in some of Reni's works from Rome like Aurora, a piece that coupled the classical form and dramatic posing and scenery of the Baroque movement.
The combination of the dramatic Baroque style and the classical was only natural as Reni had lived most of his career traveling between Bologna and Rome. Caravaggio was probably Reni's greatest rival in Rome. One of Reni's greatest works in Bologna was The Massacre of the Innocents, which marks his mastery of depicting dramatic movement, color, and lighting with classical design and form in the figures and overall composition.
Guido Reni was without question among the greatest classical, academic artists of the 17th century Baroque movement in Italy. Throughout the centuries since his time, Reni's work has gone from being loved to being loathed, due to the changes of style and taste in art. 19th century art critics did not have a positive word to say about him, but hopefully in today's art culture and with the new rise of classical and technical skill in art that is slowly emerging, Reni's work will once again earn its well deserved reputation of being some of the greatest pieces of classical craftsmanship.

Guido Reni
St. Sebastian
oil on canvas
170 x 133 cm.
c. 1618

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

40 Days of Artists: Guercino

Il Guercino, otherwise known as Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, was a self taught painter of the Bolognese school. This was a traditionally classical mode of painting in the 16th and 17th centuries. Guercino's early influences included the Carracci family of painters, particularly that of Lodovico Carraci, and his classical figures. Guercino's style saw some changes from his early paintings to the later works, particularly in terms of color. Later on in his career, we can see a more vibrant use of color, but still with the classical influence, as though he combined the Florentine and Venetian schools of painting together. In a few of his paintings, we can see a fantastic use of blues and its compliment of the bright red-oranges. This is one of the influences that Carracci had, as we can see similar use of color in his paintings, as well as the classical drawing of the figures. Another painter of the Bolognese school, Guido Reni, was probably one of the great names in this art. Upon Reni's death, Guercino moved back to Bologna from Emilia where he had lived for nearly 20 years. He lived there until his death in 1666, and had taken up the reputation as the leading figure in Bolognese art of the time.

Il Guercino
St. Luke Displaying a Painting of the Virgin
oil on canvas

Monday, March 28, 2011

40 Days of Artists: Caravaggio

There are so many reasons to despise Michelangelo Merisi. He was a connoisseur of controversy and rebellious, deviant behavior. He would often have affairs with his models - both male and female, and may have even done so with his much younger male models as well. When he wasn't painting, he would often spend time in jail for various crimes - sometimes for inflicting bodily harm to others. Later on in his life, he even had to flee Rome because he was wanted by authorities for the murder of another man, supposedly over an argument of a disputed score of a tennis match.
So why would I pay tribute to him? Well, let's face it, he was an extraordinary painter. Merisi, most widely and famously known as Caravaggio took late Renaissance and Mannerism to a new movement known as Baroque. Caravaggio took the contrasting light/dark technique of chiaroscuro to the extreme with a technique called tenebrism, in which the figures seemed to emerge from the darkness into bright and dramatic light. Tintoretto was another notable artist known for having very similar dark paintings with areas of intense light. Caravaggio also abandoned the traditional, idealized interpretation of the "pious" looking religious figures, and would typically pick his models right off the street to give these figures a more "human" appearance. These were models that were more likely to act and pose, and just look like normal human beings. Many were prostitutes, or perhaps maybe drunkards from his favorite tavern.
As if it was not controversial enough to use prostitutes as models for the Virgin Mary, Caravaggio would also use young adolescent boys for some of his figures, and would often have them pose nude for the paintings. Paintings that today may be considered masterpieces would have certainly been considered grossly indecent at the time.
After being accused of the murder, Caravaggio fled Rome and eventually made it to Naples. There he completed another of his great masterpieces, The Seven Works of Mercy. It marked a new motif for Caravaggio, in which he began feeling this overwhelming sense of condemnation for his own actions. This guilt began to show in his paintings. He was after this mercy for himself, as there was a bounty on him in Rome. In a symbolic gesture, he painted David, in which the young David holds the head of Goliath. In this painting, Caravaggio does a self-portrait, but it is a far cry from his arrogant, somewhat narcissistic nature throughout his life, as he painted himself as the head of Goliath. It is thought that this was Caravaggio's way of offering his own head for the wages of his sin of murder. Caravaggio's influence as a painter can be seen throughout the Baroque age of painting in masters like Artemisia and Ribera, and even up in northern Baroque artists like Rembrandt. Though he had many crimes and controversies throughout his life, Caravaggio's work as a painter has managed to redeem the negative points of his reputation since his death 400 years ago.

St. John the Baptist in the Wilderness
oil on canvas
173 x 154 cm.
c. 1605

Friday, March 25, 2011

40 Days of Artists: Titian

Of all the artists I have and will be covering over Lent, I would imagine that Titian is the artist that had the most fun with paint above all others. Titian never had one set-in-stone style of painting throughout his life. Even near the end of his life, he was changing the way he painted. He was always experimenting and trying new ways of applying his medium. In other words, he was the quintessential Venetian painter.
The two main schools of art in Italy during the Renaissance were the Florentine and the Venetian. The Florentine artists focused heavily on the discipline of drawing with accurate proportion, and the Venetian artists tended to shift their focus on the medium - how to achieve great effects using color and application. Titian was a master at this. The critics of his time certainly noticed that drawing was not his strongest talent. Seems odd, because I am personally of the opinion that Titian had drawing down pretty well, even though he focused more on the painting part. Vasari is noted for saying that had Titian applied the art of drawing to his mastery of color, he would have been an even greater artist.
Titian's manner of painting is so widely discussed, and there are even stories of paintings of his being scraped down layer by layer to determine how he achieved his colors. X-rays of his paintings show how fluid he was in his style. He would often change his mind and work experimentally until he had his figures just right. Titian certainly embraced a trial and error manner of painting.
One of the things that Titian would have certainly made other artists jealous over was his palette of colors. Titian used some of the most rare and expensive pigments that an artist could use. Particularly colors like ultramarine blue, a pigment ground from a stone called lapis lazuli found in Afghanistan were among the most expensive at the time. Though ultramarine is most commonly manufactured chemically today, the lapis lazuli is still used today by some artists, and is one of the most precious pigments in the world. A prime example of Titian's that uses these most beautiful and purest pigments is Bacchus and Ariadne, painted in the 1520s. It is almost an attempt by Titian to show off all the colors he had on one painting.
By the end of his career, Titian once again changed his style, and it is believed he quite often abandoned his brush altogether for some paintings, and simply applied and manipulated the paint with his fingers. He would also quite often scumble the paint, using only a few quick and spontaneous brush strokes - a technique that greatly influenced perhaps the greatest painter of the next generation in Spain - Diego Velázquez.

Bacchus and Ariadne
oil on canvas
175 x 190 cm

Thursday, March 24, 2011

40 Days of Artists: El Greco

Domenikos Theotokopoulos was a native of Crete was first trained in the post-Byzantine style of painting, so his earliest pieces have a traditional iconic appearance, though few of them survive today. He settled in Spain where he became known by his nickname, El Greco.
Before arriving in Spain, he lived in Rome. El Greco's work during his Italian residence appears to mimic many of the typical Italian Renaissance pieces, and hint toward works by Raphael and Michelangelo. This is most evident in his Purification of the Temple.
In 1577, El Greco arrived in Toledo. Here he mastered his technique that is characteristic of his typical works, where the figures appear elongated in form and the colors - even the reds and yellows - appear strangely cool. His first major commission in Toledo was an altarpiece for the church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo, with the Assumption of the Virgin as the main panel. The Church was certainly pleased with this composition and El Greco was sought after for other altarpieces. Two of his most notable are El Espolio and The Burial of Count Orgaz. El Greco was confronted for his El Espolio, as it deviated from the Church's strict regulations to make art bibically accurate, and theologically traditional. The main issue was that Christ's head was not the highest in the composition, and the rationale was that nothing and no one should separate Christ from the heavens. El Greco's defense of the piece was that Christ, in relation to the proportion of all other figures, was the grandest figure of all.
El Greco's style was incredibly liberal for the time. Even in his commissions that were closely monitored and advised by the Church, he made every effort to make it his own painting. It is a wonder how he managed to dodge authorities of the Inquisition. He intentionally wanted to paint scenes from Christ's life that were imagined scenes from his heart, as opposed to make an effort to make every detail perfectly accurate and traditional to Scripture. His works bring heaven and earth closer together (as seen in The Burial of Count Orgaz), and the odd, elongated figures seem to more closely represent our spiritual bodies rather than our physical ones. This is certainly most evident in his later works.

El Greco
The Burial of Count Orgaz
oil on canvas
480 x 360 cm.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

40 Days of Artists: Bosch

The Italian Renaissance is honestly one of my favorite art movements, second to Spanish Baroque. But the northern part of Europe also has its great figures - particularly Van Eyck, Vermeer, and Rembrandt. But perhaps one of the most oddly fascinating artists to come out of the Northern Renaissance was Hieronymus Bosch. The first time I saw pictures of Bosch's work, I was a young kid and really into horror movies. So his work was right up my alley. I was both fascinated and freaked out by his paintings.
Bosch was an orthodox Catholic, however his work deviates so far from his religious affiliation that he was thought to be a heretic. It would seem that Bosch must have had some network of acquaintances, or perhaps a faithful following willing to commission him, because there is no way the Church would have been interested in commissioning him for an altarpiece. Though he did many triptych panels, none of them appear to depict religious piety or faithful devotion to God. They appear to be quite the opposite.
His Garden of Earthly Delights is perhaps his most well known piece to depict this very bizarre and nightmarish fantasy. It is one of the most hellish paintings ever created, not because it depicts a feeling of guilt, shame, or torment for sin - That is only one panel of the triptych. Rather, it depicts the epic story of sin from its origin in the Garden of Eden on the left panel, to the wages of sin on the right panel. But it is the main panel in the center that makes the painting so terrifying. It is a world engaged in sin, and depicts how pleasing sin feels, with no fear of damnation. There is no shame in it.
I would argue that Bosch is no heretic, but in fact has perfectly captured the nature of fallen humanity that makes a world of sin appear as a heavenly place. A world where the pleasure of sin is the pleasure of heaven, and earthly delights are both harmless to the body as well as the soul. His bizarre, haunting image of sin is indeed as relevant today as it was in 1500.

Hieronymus Bosch
The Garden of Earthly Delights
oil on panel
center panel 220 x 195 cm; wings 220 x 97 cm.
c. 1500

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

40 Days of Artists: Van Eyck

In the 1400s as Italian Renaissance painters were perfecting their art, up north it seemed that one particular Flemish painter had already perfected the art of oil painting. Painting like this had never been seen from any other artist of the time. At the time, his secret to oil painting had been a mystery. Today we know Jan van Eyck must have used optics to capture such intricate details, but in many ways it is still a mystery as to how he painted them so exquisitely and perfectly.
Van Eyck's date of birth is uncertain, but was probably around 1390. He is often traditionally credited with the invention of oil painting, but we know this is incorrect as there is documentation from Theophilus Presbyter on oil painting in his On Divers Arts written in the 12th century. Though many of the human figures in Van Eyck's paintings are conceptualized in form, he still no doubt perfected the art of oil painting in ways that no other painter of the time came close to. His work is notoriously known for almost microscopic details of jewels and gold painted to perfection.
Van Eyck's greatest masterpiece to depict such details is the Ghent Altarpiece. Though it is one of Van Eyck's earliest works and the figures are conceptualized, there is an astonishing realism, and almost photographic quality that practically no Italian Renaissance artist of the time ever captured. The altarpiece is a among the first paintings to incorporate a technique known as trompe l'oeil, where the figures seem to have such a natural 3-dimensionality and life-likeness that one would expect them to walk right off the panel and into our reality. This can be seen particularly in Van Eyck's painting of Adam and Eve on the altarpiece.
Another of Van Eyck's mysterious masterpieces is his Arnolfini Wedding, currently displayed at the National Gallery in London. Van Eyck only has a few masterpieces that we can admire today, but each one no doubt played a crucial role in influencing many of the great northern European painters, and certainly still influence painters of oil to this day.

Jan Van Eyck
Detail from Ghent Altarpiece
oil on wood

Monday, March 21, 2011

40 Days of Artists: Raphael

He was Michelangelo's most worthy rival in the early 1500s. What Michelangelo was to sculpture, Raphael was to painting. He was renown for his paintings of the Madonna and Christ child, and his large scale compositions for the Vatican.
Raphael was born Raffaello Sanzi in 1483 in Urbino. By age 11, he was orphaned, and is believed to have moved to Perugia around that time, where he eventually be came an apprentice under the master Perugino. Between 1501 and 1503 he had received some major commissions, particularly that of the Coronation of the Virgin for the Oddi Chapel. Another of Raphael's early works inspired by Perugino's careful detail of perspective was the Marriage of the Virgin in 1504. This work was one of the first of many to come that demonstrated Raphael's narrative approach to painting, in addtion to the influence of Da Vinci with the use of the sfumato technique that gives the figures a soft focus in the light and shadow, enhancing their realism.
By 1504, Raphael had arrived in the art capital of Italy - Florence. It was here where Raphael accomplished many of his great series of Madonna portraits, and where Leonardo's influence became much more evident.
He spent the last decade of his life in Rome, where he completed his greatest works for the Vatican, including a series of large-scale frescos for the papal residence. The two greatest of these frescos are the School of Athens and the Disputa. School of Athens is his great work of homage to the academic disciplines of theology, philosophy, literature and the arts. Raphael even incorporates portraits resembling Da Vinci as the philosopher Plato, his rival Michelangelo, and even a self-portrait.
Raphael was also commissioned later on by Pope Leo X to create tapestries that would hang in the Sistine Chapel. Before doing the tapestries, Raphael painted full-size cartoon paintings that would resemble the tapestries. But it is the cartoon paintings that seem to have a more dramatic, powerful impact, as the represent Raphael at his best as a painter.
Raphael died at the age of 37 on his birthday, and was greatly celebrated at his funeral by the Vatican. He was buried at the Pantheon in Rome.

School of Athens
base width 770 cm

Sunday, March 20, 2011

40 Days of Artists: Masaccio

If artists like Giotto and Fra Angelico were the early beginnings of the Renaissance, I would say it is Masaccio who brought it to full fruition.

Masaccio was born Tomasso Cassai in 1401 in San Giovanni Valdarno near Florence. It took only two influences combined for Masaccio to perfect his style - Brunelleschi's knowledge of mathematical and scientific accuracy in perspective, and Donatello's knowledge of the classical, naturalistic modeling of anatomy and proportion. Masaccio completely abandoned the old Gothic style of painting seen in Byzantine icons and embraced the naturalistic appearance, complete with perspective that gave his paintings a true sense of depth.

All of Masaccio's works were church altarpieces and frescos. Even his early works show the influence from the classical method by depicting the figures with natural, rounded and fleshy appearances, and a 3-dimensional use of shadow. His Trinity fresco, painted in 1425, was the one of the first paintings to use accurate one-point perspective in Western art.

Many of Masaccio's paintings have a noticeable difference in lighting than other paintings of its time. They appear to have a single light source, or an almost theatrical lighting that illuminates the figures and gives an obvious contrast between light and dark, adding to the realism and 3-dimensionality of the painting. Masaccio is one of the first artists to apply this principle known as chiaroscuro - a method used in many other later Renaissance artists, and even more so into the Baroque period. His fresco scenes for the Brancacci Chapel are considered his greatest masterpieces, particularly that of the Tribute Money and Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, where every detail is carefully thought out including the cast shadows from the figures.

Expulsion from the Garden of Eden
208 x 88 cm

Friday, March 18, 2011

40 Days of Artists: Fra Angelico

In 1982, the artist Fra Angelico was beautified by Pope John Paul II, and was declared a patron saint of artists. So, as one might suspect, Angelico must have been an important person.

He was born in 1395, and around the age of 23 he entered a Dominican convent in his hometown of Fiesole and became a friar and illuminator of religious texts. He also began painting altarpieces for the church. He was renown for his painting of religious subjects, and was referred to in his lifetime and after as "Il Beato Angelico," or "the Blessed Angelico." Angelico was his nickname over the years, as he was born Guido di Pietro, and later on became known as Fra Giovanni da Fiesole, or "Brother John from Fiesole."

Later on in 1436, Angelico painted for the convent of San Marco in Florence, where some of his greatest work was accomplished. His style had matured greatly, and his use of shadow gave the figures in his paintings a life-like appearance, particularly in his painting of the Transfiguration, and in figures of the Altarpiece for San Marco. For the time, paintings like these were just beginning to emerge, and Angelico was among few other artists such as Giotto and Masaccio to take part in this new movement of painting referred to by Vasari as the Renaissance. These paintings combined the style of the Byzantine icons with a new way of depicting realism in painting with use of shadow and 3-dimensionality that made the picture come to life.

Angelico died in Rome in 1455, and his tomb still exists at the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. In addition to his expert handling of paint, he lived a life of piety, and lived his life according to the Gospel, and according to his Dominican order to love the poor. He considered his works as divinely inspired. In looking at the reverent manner in which he painted his figures, it is safe to say that they were indeed.

Fra Angelico
Annunciation (Convento di San Marco, Florence)
230 x 321 cm.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

40 Days of Artists: Cennini

Cennino Cennini was a 14th-15th century painter, but very little is known about any of his paintings. It's not his paintings that gave him a great name, but much like Vasari, it was a book that he wrote. Except this was not a book on the masters of art. It was a literal "how to" of art creation.

The book, Il Libro dell' Arte, can almost be described as a magician's handbook - giving some of the greatest secrets and techniques of its time on how to do drawings and paintings. Cennini went into everything - how to draw on panels, ink drawing, ink wash, how to make tracing paper, making gesso, making pigments, making paints, and how to paint with the paints you make. This is only a sampling of the items found in Cennini's handbook.

Some of the most fascinating bits of information found in his book are in the nature of pigments, and the making of these pigments. Today, making pigments according to these recipes has become a near-lost art in and of itself. However there are a few manufacturers of pigments that still work according to Cennini's instructions. Who would think that the making of paint would be such a fascinating art? See for yourself:

Cennino Cennini
Diptych Altarpiece
14th-15th century

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

40 Days of Artists: Botticelli

When you think of paintings in the Sistine Chapel, who immediately comes to mind? Probably not Botticelli. But what is interesting is that he had frescos in the Sistine Chapel well before Michelangelo did. Almost 30 years before Michelangelo did, in fact.
Sandro Botticelli was born in 1445 and died in 1510 - two years before Michelangelo finished his work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Frescos by Botticelli can be seen on the left wall of the Chapel as you enter.
Though his frescos in the Chapel did not have the impact that Michelangelo's had, Botticelli's greatest work was perhaps in his mythological, allegorical paintings such as the Primavera, Birth of Venus, and Mars and Venus. These paintings were done in the 1470s and 80s, and have a unique ambiguity in their theme. Particularly with Primavera and Birth of Venus, one might venture to guess that they have a Christian religous theme associated with them. Especially given the central figures of the paintings, which appear as Madonna or Eve-like in their attitude. Botticelli's Venus, though a nude figure, still seems to portray a certain modesty and innocence in her stance.
This isn't particularly surprising, as Botticelli seemed to shift into strictly Christian religious-based motifs in his later work. He always seemed to have this theme in his mind, especially since there was a large demand for work that had a religious theme. Some of his greatest religious works include the Bardi Altarpiece, and his beautifully colorful Cestello Annunciation, which seems to mimic Fra Angelico's Annunciation altarpiece.

Sandro Botticelli
Birth of Venus
tempera on canvas
172.5 x 278.5 cm
c. 1485

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

40 Days of Artists: Pontormo

I would describe Jacopo da Pontormo as perhaps the greatest Renaissance painter that no one knows about.  Many of his paintings have been damaged, and very few surviving paintings are as beautifully preserved as that of his surviving masterpiece, The Deposition.  It is the altarpiece for the Cappella Capponi in Florence.
Pontormo's style of painting is classified as mannerist, a style of the late Renaissance that seemed to begin the transition into Baroque.  There was an artificial feel to the compositions, and had a much more dramatic and theatrical style of lighting and posing.  This is clear as we look at Pontormo's altarpiece.  The figures seem to float in space, and almost melt into each other like a jigsaw puzzle.
What also stands out in Pontormo's painting style is his use of color.  He uses so many odd and intensely vibrant pastels that are simply not seen in any other painting of the time.  That coupled with the gazes and facial features of his figures draw the viewer in.  At first glance, it looks like just another Italian Renaissance painting, but once one gets beyond the glance and begins to truly look at the painting, it sucks the viewer in and does not let go.  It becomes an almost surrealistic, dreamlike image.  It is as if Pontormo has painted spiritualism into the painting.
Giorgio Vasari featured Pontormo in his Lives, and is one of the most bittersweet biographies featured because Vasari gives vast descriptions of paintings that no longer exist by Pontormo.  He is among the many tragically neglected painters in all of art history.  Thankfully for Pontormo's case, though many of his paintings are lost, it only takes one surviving masterpiece to gain great respect and appreciation for this forgotten master.

 Jacopo da Pontormo
The Deposition
oil on wood panel
313x192 cm
c. 1528

Monday, March 14, 2011

40 Days of Artists: Michelangelo Buonarroti

In 1508, the Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo Buonarroti to do a little painting for his chapel.
"Your commission is to decorate the ceiling." And of course, Michelangelo's response was, "What are you, kidding me? I'm not a painter!"

The original commission was to paint the 12 apostles, but Michelangelo turned it down because his craft was sculpture, not painting. But with a little compromise, he would ultimately do it with a few changes to the composition. Instead of the 12 figures, there would be over 300, and they would be from stories in the Old and New Testaments. From 1508-1512, Michelangelo stood on scaffolding painting the frescos - from the Creation of Adam to the Flood, and other stories from the Bible. Upon seeing the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and the Last Judgment painting on the wall behind the altar, one almost forgets to look at the other frescos along the side walls painted by Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Perugino, and Roselli.

Another of Michelangelo's greatest masterpieces was carved out of an old abandoned block of marble. His statue of David prooved there was no block of stone that Michelangelo could not carve into a masterpiece. The sculpture stands about 17 feet, and is located at the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence. The statue originally stood outside the Pallazzo della Signoria, and today a replica stands in its place.

Other masterpieces of Michelangelo include the Pieta statue in St. Peter's Basillica in Vatican City, and the architecture of St. Peter's dome, originally designed by Michelangelo. Though the artist did not live to see its completion in 1590, it remains a powerful symbol of the Vatican, and also a powerful symbol of the hand of Michelangelo.

"Lord, grant that I may always desire more than I can accomplish." ~Michelangelo

Michelangelo Buonarroti
detail of The Creation of Adam, Sistine Chapel

Sunday, March 13, 2011

40 Days of Artists: Giorgio Vasari

I've already quoted him and referred to his critique and praise of certain artists, so now I will feature him in my 40 Days. Giorgio Vasari did a few paintings and frescos, but perhaps his greatest contribution to art was his survey of the greatest Renaissance artists - The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects. Or simply, Lives of the Artists. It was first published in 1550, and is still considered today to be the quintessential document of art historical criticism and scholarship.
Vasari's Lives gives some of the most finely laid out details of works by the masters of the Italian Renaissance - Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Giotto, Titian, Pontormo, Brunelleschi, and others. One of the striking, and almost bittersweet details of the Lives is detail that Vasari gives of works that have been lost or no longer exist. It leaves the reader longing to see what these works actually looked like. He also maps out bits of the historical Italy in his descriptions of the artists' lives and where they lived, grew up, and studied. The details are wonderfully recorded, so that art students and art appreciators of today can witness these works and places for themselves, and see with their own eyes what Vasari was talking about 460 years ago.
The main point of writing about different artists for 40 days of Lent is to give a glimpse of 40 of God's greatest creations - who were themselves creators. I believe God also used Vasari as a prophet of sorts for the world of fine arts. His Lives is basically a testament to art history - a written witness for the discipline of classical painting and sculpting, and one of the main reasons that we still appreciate this timeless manner of creating in the 21st century.

Giorgio Vasari
Self Portrait
oil on canvas
101x80 cm
c. 1550-67

Friday, March 11, 2011

40 Days of Artists: Leonardo Da Vinci

Sometimes I wonder how Da Vinci had time to live, or if he had a social life of any kind after all his work drawing, painting, sculpting, studying anatomy, studying mathematics, inventing things, designing architecture, and maybe eating and sleeping every once in a while.

Another master of the Italian renaissance, Da Vinci was one of the great multitaskers to have ever lived. He did everything as scientifically as possible. There seemed to be a formula for everything, and especially in his studies of anatomy he would demonstrate the schematics of how proportions of the human body worked. There are some doctors today that refer to his drawings and can identify information that Da Vinci recorded that is still relevant to modern medicine. Certain parts have informed surgeons in their procedures.

He is widely considered one of the greatest painters of his time, if not the greatest. His Mona Lisa hangs in the Louvre behind bulletproof glass, on its own wall, inside a room named after the painting. It is perhaps the most famous painting in the world. What makes it so famous and compelling is not only the mysterious smirk on her face, but the manner in which Da Vinci painted it. Using a technique called sfumato, the brush strokes seem to disappear in her portrait as the light and shadow appear to blend into each other to create a soft focus. Giorgio Vasari described this handling of the paint, saying that it would make even "the most confident master... despair and lose heart."

Leonardo Da Vinci
La Scapigliata
oil on panel
27x21 cm
c. 1508

Thursday, March 10, 2011

40 Days of Artists: Giotto di Bondone

"He made a decisive break with the crude traditional Byzantine style, and brought to life the great art of painting as we know it today, introducing the technique of drawing accurately from life, which had been neglected for more than two hundred years." -Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Artists

Vasari, states the most compelling quality of Giotto's painting in his biography of the artist - that he brought his paintings to life. His painting of the Lamentation shown below resides in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Veneto, Italy. Giotto presents a revolutionary new way of painting figures. They are no longer the rigid, Byzantine-style icons that appear almost emotionless and flat. Giotto incorporates a 3-dimensional illusion with shading, and depth that is not seen in other paintings of his time. Not only that, but the faces portray emotion. As Vasari would say, he makes the painting shed tears.

Giotto was the first great name in this style of painting. It was the birth of a style that would continue, and evolve into something greater than even Giotto probably could have ever imagined. Vasari was the first to use the term in his Lives, and described it as "a triumph of our time." The word was rinacita, or Renaissance.

Giotto di Bondone
Lamentation (The Mourning of Christ)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

40 Days of Artists: St. Luke

Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of the Lenten season... those glorious 40 days before Easter (46 if you count the Sabbaths). So this year I thought I would share with you 40 of the greatest figures in the history of art. These are just some of the greatest creations of God - His creators.

The first artist I thought would be fitting to share is St. Luke. Tradition suggests he was the first painter of icons. Nothing that is certainly attributed to St. Luke exists today, though there are a few pieces that traditionally point to him. For instance, a painting known as the Black Madonna of Częstochowa, resides in Poland.
Also, the Black Madonna of Guadalupe statue in the Santa Maria de Guadalupe monastery in the Province of Cáceres, Spain was believed to have been carved by St. Luke. The story is that in the 14th century, the Virgin Mary appeared before a shepherd and told him to ask priests to dig at the location of her appearance. Upon excavation, the statue was discovered.
Much of St. Luke's identity as an artist is legend at this point, though he is revered by the Roman Catholic Church as the first patron saint of artists.

St. Luke Displaying a Painting of the Virgin
Il Guercino
oil on canvas

Monday, March 7, 2011

6 Reasons To Draw

Here's a little something from Juliette Aristides: 6 reasons to draw.

1. Drawing forces you to slow down and become a more careful and powerful observer of the world around you.
2. In our culture it is easy to be passively entertained. By unplugging the computer, i-pod, cell phone etc and drawing you become an active, creative participant in the world.
3. Drawing impacts many careers from the design professions to carpentry. Studying drawing makes you more sensitive to what works visually and why.
4. You will have a greatly increased appreciation and understanding of art.
5. For the cost of a pencil and paper you get to unlock a whole world.
6. You will never be bored again.

Copy after Velazquez's Study for the Head of Apollo
red conté and charcoal

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Copying a Master

As if doing a copy of an old master's painting wasn't daunting enough, I choose my favorite of all time, the painter of painters, Diego Velázquez.  This portrait is pretty special for so many reasons.  The original was actually just recently re-attributed to him after years of discrepancies and debates over whether he actually did it, or if it was simply a workshop portrait... or someone of the artist's studio.
What brought about these discrepancies was the numerous restorations that the painting endured.  The painting was recently restored for the final time in 2009.  Upon its restoration, restorers and scholars of Velázquez were utterly amazed at what they saw.  Layers of varnish and re-painted areas were masking the true nature of the painting.  These layers were added over a number of years to make the original sketchy study of a man look like a fully finished portrait.  The original painting is a thinly coated, sketchy study for what would become a portrait seen in Velázquez's The Surrender of Breda. 
The one intriguing dispute is on the identity of the sitter.  It's not certain that this is a self-portrait, but given the likeness of other self-portraits of the artist, I can't possibly see how it could be anyone else.

Portrait of a Man (Copy after Velázquez)
oil on canvas
11x14 inches
Diego Velázquez
Portrait of a Man
oil on canvas
27x21.5 inches
c. 1630-35