The Fresco Frenzy of Art Traditions

Follow Ciao! Things are swimming along quite nicely here in Amelia (quite literally swimming right now – I’m currently enjoying a mid-afternoon thunderstorm). In addition to my busy class schedule and pile of books I need to read, I’m absolutely loving … Read More

Ciao! Things are swimming along quite nicely here in Amelia (quite literally swimming right now - I'm currently enjoying a mid-afternoon thunderstorm). In addition to my busy class schedule and pile of books I need to read, I'm absolutely loving being surrounded by such incredible architecture. Living in an Italian city that has Etruscan roots and has Roman ruins around every corner is such an interesting reminder of how deep European history runs, and furthermore, how big of a role it plays in the citizens' everyday lives. I am lucky enough to go to class everyday in this beautiful complex, the Palazzo Boccarini. Built in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, it was adapted in the early-sixteenth century as a cloister of the convent of San Francesco. The chiostro, as we call it, not only houses the classroom for my program, but also the city's lovely archaeological museum. It also plays host to many cultural events such as small concerts for the local Amerini, or the citizens of Amelia. It even has a little room right off of the street, Piazza Vera, where people gather to play cards with their friends to escape the afternoon heat.
amelia cloister italy
[caption id="attachment_4066" align="aligncenter" width="224"] The Chiostro Boccarini[/caption] Adorning the corridor of the Chiostro are three beautiful frescos that I pass by at least eight times a day. Frescos are such an important part of the art historical tradition, and I'm trying to absorb and appreciate as much of it as possible whilst I'm in Italy. [caption id="attachment_4067" align="aligncenter" width="300"] The ground-floor corridor of the Chiostro[/caption] Fresco, from the Italian affresco, meaning "fresh," is a technique of mural painting that has been used since antiquity, but gained popularity and prominence with the Italian Renaissance. Contrasted with secco, or dry, painting, pigments are added directly into wet plaster, the result of which is that the painting itself becomes an integral part of the wall itself. The frescos at the Chiostro Boccarini depict both religious scenes and also the life of the Boccarini family, who were the patrons of the complex itself. [caption id="attachment_4068" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Fresco at the Chiostro Boccarini[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4069" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Fresco at the Chiostro Boccarini[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4070" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Fresco at the Chiostro Boccarini[/caption] These beautiful paintings act as daily reminders of the artistic history of the community here in Amelia. Do you have a favorite fresco? What about Michelangelo's Creation of Adam? Or perhaps Raphael's School of Athens? Maybe Leonardo's Last Supper (which is technically an example of a secco mural, but we can overlook that for now - it's still pretty impressive)?

Art Historical Inside Jokes

Follow Greetings from Italia! My first two weeks here have been full of pasta, sunshine, and adjusting to countryside-Italian living. In addition to visiting an olive oil mill, adventuring into the nearby town of Orvieto and seeing its beautiful duomo, or … Read More

Greetings from Italia! My first two weeks here have been full of pasta, sunshine, and adjusting to countryside-Italian living. In addition to visiting an olive oil mill, adventuring into the nearby town of Orvieto and seeing its beautiful duomo, or cathedral (more on that later), and sampling the local pizza, I've been thoroughly ensconced in art historical education. One of my professors here in Amelia (see my last post) is an expert in early seventeenth-century Italian art, and so naturally, he began our first class by talking about Caravaggio. Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio is perhaps one of the most important and influential figures in the history of western art. He was also, incidentally, a total rebel. He was quick to anger, and was at one point arrested for killing a man over a disputed tennis match. The drama in his personal life directly translated into his art, as his command of drastic changes from light to dark (also known as chiaroscuro) make his scenes emotionally moving and incredibly engaging. He was also, unsurprisingly, incredibly full of himself, and deemed himself the most famous painter in Rome. He even went so far as to call himself "The Better Michelangelo," referring, of course, to his preeminent predecessor, Michelangelo Buonarroti, while simultaneously referencing his given name. His comparison of himself to Michelangelo, however, did not stop there. At the end of the sixteenth century, Caravaggio began his so-called Saint Matthew Cycle, which consisted of three paintings depicting the life of Saint Matthew for the San Luigi dei Francesi church in Rome. One of the first paintings he completed was The Calling of Saint Matthew, which depicts the moment at which Christ calls Matthew to be one of his disciples.
caravaggio calling saint matthew
[caption id="attachment_4043" align="aligncenter" width="528"] Caravaggio's Calling of Saint Matthew[/caption] Caravaggio intentionally inserted a sort of wink to his forebear in a small detail that often goes unnoticed. Namely, the hand of the figure in the upper-right hand register mirrors that of the hand of Adam in Michelangelo's masterpiece The Creation of Adam. [caption id="attachment_4044" align="aligncenter" width="475"] Detail of Caravaggio's Calling of Saint Matthew with detail of Michelangelo's Creation of Adam[/caption] By making this visual homage, Caravaggio asserts his own position within the art historical canon while also reinforcing the religious message of his painting. The implied cue to the viewer of the painting is that Caravaggio is as talented - and as important - as Michelangelo, which was a pretty grand statement to make at that time. It may seem like a silly coincidence, but Caravaggio never did anything unintentionally. And besides, it's these kinds of visual jokes and puns that keep art historians such as myself trudging along the hard road of academia.

To the Age its Art, to Art its Freedom

Follow I had just turned 21 and was on my third year of Architecture school.  Life has never been a straight line for me and my interests were all over the place.  For some reason in the previous years I … Read More

[caption id="attachment_3364" align="alignnone" width="300"] The Secession Building in Vienna featuring the Secession "motto":"To the Age its Art, to Art its Freedom" ("Der Zeit Ihre Kunst. Der Kunst Ihre Freiheit")[/caption] I had just turned 21 and was on my third year of Architecture school.  Life has never been a straight line for me and my interests were all over the place.  For some reason in the previous years I had fallen in love with the German language and had plunged into the German culture and literature while going to Architecture school.  After a few years, I found myself with a plane ticket to Freiburg-im-Breisgau (a small student town in the south of Germany, in the Black Forest) and a scholarship to study German at the Freiburg University.  At that time, one of my favorite Professors from the Architecture School was living in Vienna.  Well, this Professor, Rosa, was kind enough to invite me to spend some time with her in her apartment in the very heart of Vienna, before my classes started. When I look back, what else could a 21-year old want from life? I had no money, but I had friends, adventurous perspectives and my whole life ahead of me. Life was good – very, very good. In fact, every time I hear the Timbuk3 song, I think of that time:

(...) I got a crazy teacher, he wears dark glasses Things are going great, and they're only getting better I'm doing all right, getting good grades The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades (...)

I arrived in Vienna after a long train ride from Belgium, where I was "based" (my mom's sister has been living in Belgium forever, and she has always been kind enough to embrace me as a daughter all the times I was in Europe. By the way, I am Brazilian and was living in Rio at that time). When I arrived in Vienna, Rosa was waiting for me with some friends and a glass of wine at the train station. I remember that night: we hit a few pubs, I ate my first Goulash (Goulash is a Hungarian dish, and Budapest is just around the corner…) and I also lost my recent-Paris-acquired red beret in one of the restaurants we visited. It was December and cold, dark and windy; in spite of that, the streets were crowded and the people were in coffee houses, pubs, restaurants. Rosa knew a lot of people. Life was pulsating and there was no doubt about that. While I walked downtown, I noticed that the old buildings had sometimes a beautiful plate next to the door, saying something like "Here lived Schubert - or Freud - from (year) to (year)". Those plates were everywhere, mostly with great musicians names. At night, in the narrow and curvy streets illuminated by old lanterns, I felt that I had come to a magical place that I did not want to leave. Vienna was definitely a mix of East and West Europe, and having Eastern Europe in my blood (my dad was from Belgrade), that city could not speak more to my heart. Why this long introduction? Well, you can imagine how easy it was for me to fall in love with the art and architecture that I saw in Vienna. Let me explain that what first caught my eyes in Vienna was the Jungendstil (German for "youth style") : the Viennese / German version of the Art Nouveau. It was everywhere, but most obviously at the buildings doors. The Art Nouveau or Jungendstil was a reaction to academic art of the 19th century, and it was inspired by natural forms and structures. Curved lines, twisted iron, experiences with curves. Architects tried to harmonize with the natural environment. It is hard to figure out exactly what brought up that style (how can you really pin-point one single cause?). Real artists can grasp the Zeitgeist and translate it into forms, and that's what happened in Vienna, at the turn of the century (1890-19….). Wikipedia says that "The style was influenced strongly by Czech artist Alphonse Mucha, when Mucha produced a lithographed poster, which appeared on 1 January 1895 in the streets of Paris as an advertisement for the play Gismonda by Victorien Sardou, featuring Sarah Bernhardt. " Gallery Direct has Mucha's poster - see it here. [caption id="attachment_3355" align="alignleft" width="103"] Alfons Mucha - Gismonda, 1894[/caption] Of all the artists involved in the Jungendstil movement, Gustav Klimt is certainly still the best known. In the years of 1895 to 1900, Klimt pressed a personal crisis of middle age into a service of radical reorientation of his professional work (just like Freud, also living in Vienna and already a famous doctor). Klimt decisively rejected the realism in which he had been reared. He plunged into the self and embarked into a "voyage interieur". When he exhibited to the public the results of his explorations inside his world of "instincts", he encountered resistance from two ends: from liberal-rationalist academic orthodoxy, and from anti-Semites. In the face of hostility, Klimt withdrew from the public scene to the shelter of a small cottage house - to preserve and further explore the terrain he had just conquered and discovered.   We need to remember that at that time, Vienna was not in Austria, but part of the the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and all over the world Imperialism had its days counted. Klimt represented the cultural situation in which psychoanalysis also arose. He, like Freud, confronted a period of historical transition. With other intellectuals of his class and generation, Klimt shared a crisis of culture characterized by the search of a new self. Gustav Klimt finally rose to fame in the service of wealthy families of Vienna. He decorated the Museum of Art History and the Burgtheather. During the years when these paintings won Klimt his fame, the social layer whose values he expressed was being undermined. The liberal society was crying for reform and a widespread, collective revolt began to spread through the Austrian middle class. "Die Jungen" ("The Youth") became the common name chosen by the rebels in one filed after another. In the mid-nineties, the revolt agains tradition finally spread to art and architecture. Within the principal artists' association – die Jungen – the name was used again – organized themselves to break the prevailing academic constrains in favor of an open, experimental attitude toward painting. They rejected the classical realist tradition of their masters in the search for modern man's true face. [caption id="attachment_3360" align="alignleft" width="528"] Section from Klimt’s ‘Beethoven Frieze’ with the character of ‘Lasciviousness.’
She’s the redhead seated on the back of the beast. Secession, 1902.[/caption] Klimt, though himself a young master of the old school, early assumed leadership in the revolt of die Jungen in the visual arts. In 1897, he led them out of the established artists' association to found the Secession. Like I once heard, un-learning is so often so more difficult than learning! And in order to deconstruct, it is so important to have achieved the knowledge of the "conventional". In 1898 the movement gained its own building, a project by the architect Joseph Maria Olbrich. The exhibition building soon became known simply as "the Secession" (die Sezession). This building became an icon of the movement. You can see more photos of Secession building below, with Klimt's paintings inside. Check the poster for the first exhibit on sale at Gallery Direct here. It is fascinating, how strong this image still is! I could write more, but what about giving you a break and continuing next week in "Vienna - Part ii?" Also, next time you buy a Klimt, think about all that the man went through, and all the freedom that his paitnings represent. No wonder they're strong until today. I found the images in this post in the web. I don't think my own photos survived these years, unfortunately. If you want to read more about Vienna and the "Fin-de-Siecle", I firmly recommend this book, which I consulted to write this post: "Fin-De-Siecle Vienna: Politics and Culture", by Carl E. Schorske.
Klimt's 1902 Beethoven painting in the Secession Building
[caption id="attachment_3290" align="alignnone" width="300"] The Secession Building from another angle[/caption]
Being an art history geek has its quirks. How do I unwind after a long day at work? I scan through my old art history textbooks. I know it's kind of weird, but it gives me a sense of calm to flip through the well-loved pages and read the words of the scholars and thinkers who inspire me, and in turn, the artists who inspire them. Working with Gallery Direct adds a whole new dimension to my little meditation - with a quick click of a button, I can find high resolution images of my favorite paintings and prints. Last night, I was all zenned out while looking through one of my favorite books, Carol Armstrong's Manet Manette. Not only is this a groundbreaking text, but  it is also one of the first books that made want to go into art history. Armstrong spends her final chapter contemplating a single painting, Edouard Manet's A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882). This so happens to be one of my favorite paintings of all time, so I was thrilled to discover that it is also on Gallery Direct. Often heralded as Manet's last great painting, it certainly makes an impression. Not only is it beautifully executed - from the considered palette to the purposeful brushstrokes - it is a veritable field day for art lovers. Reading about this painting for the first time blew my mind. It simultaneously subverts traditional notions of perspective and viewership and yet is still utterly readable and relatable for any viewer. At first glance, it is simply a bar scene - the bottles on the counter frame the beautiful bartender as she waits to take an order. But upon further examination, you realize that the customer the bartender is waiting on is you, the viewer. She stares right at you, waiting. Digging even deeper, you realize that the background of the painting is in fact a reflection in a mirror, and to the right of the bartender, a face is reflected. Like I said, this painting can (and has) been discussed every which way for hours on end. One of my favorite things about it, though, is how it brings together so many of Manet's interests as an artist. While the Impressionists, his contemporaries, were interested in painting en plein air, or outdoors, and capturing the light and colors of nature, Manet's paintings are concerned with the emergence of modern Parisian life. Urban scenes and quotidian subjects abound in his oeuvre, along with a meditation on how art relates to consumerism. Fin-de-siècle Paris was a place of spectacle, and consumption of that spectacle was on the minds of its painters and writers. In Bar at the Folies-Bergère, Manet examines the idea of consumption from multiple angles - the subject itself, a bar, is a place for the consumption of alcohol and food. Moving beyond literal consumption, Manet examines how nineteenth-century Parisians consumed culture at the Folies-Bergère, a popular nightclub, how does the male customer depicted in the mirror "consume" the beautiful bartender, and how do we, as the audience, consume this piece of art? Manet is one of the most complex and confounding artists that I've come across, which is why, I think, he is my favorite artist. His paintings are beautiful and striking, and on top of that, they make me think. When it came down to it, my meditation last night turned into retail therapy - on a whim, I ordered a print of the painting, framed and on paper, through Gallery Direct. I am so excited to have a bit of art history right there on my wall for me to contemplate every day.