Archive for August, 2009

Back to Venice

August 28, 2009
Giorgione de Castlefranco, The Tempest. Oil on canvas, 82x73 cm. Venice, Accademia

Giorgione de Castlefranco, The Tempest. Oil on canvas, 82x73 cm. Venice, Accademia

 If you’ve never studied art history, this work is probably quite unfamiliar. If you have, you almost certainly have seem it reproduced before.  Anyhow, it’s really, really, really important because it is one of the few Giorgiones on earth that everyone agrees was done by Giorigione(most of the other ones have spent the past century embroiled in controversy over whether they were by Giorgione or a very young Titian, although a consensus is emerging on some works). Nobody, however, disputes Giorgione’s great stature in the history of art.

The most striking thing about the picture, I think, is the way it’s organized by color. Although the people, the landscape, and the sky do not really have a explicit relationship, the picture is still coherent because of the bluish-green tint. The sky is that bluish-green, and it’s continued through the picture by the stream. Even the brown banks, the grass, and the figures(especially the young man) have that bluish-green glow cast on them. Now of course, you’re probably wondering “what’s it about?”. Well, nobody’s really sure, although I did read a peculiar article claiming that it was of the finding of Moses based on a theory claiming that Giorgione painted  for/supported a group of Venitian gentlemen who liked Judaism better than Christianity(or was Jewish himself, although there are fairly obvious problems with this). As intriuging as this theory is, it forces the author to reject the Castelfranco Altarpiece(another work pretty much universally considered to be Giorgione’s) and the increased acceptance of the Allendale Nativity also leaves it rather shaky. But enough blather. This work is actually an example of what was called a “poesie”, that is a painting that focuses on a establishing a mood instead of telling a story. It seems to be setting up a feeling of a moment’s happiness on the brink of being overwhemed by the storm. However, why is the gentleman so jaunty if that is the case? Prehaps that yellow streak is a crack in the storm. Prehaps we are seeing a storm break up or recede, rather than form. Prehaps that explains  why there is more light on the woman. Prehaps these are young lovers who have just had a narrow escape. Prehaps I need to stop speculating, go to Venice and see this painting in person.

York Minster

August 12, 2009

One of the great English cathedrals, York Minster was built over a few hundred years. We’ll start with the view down the nave:

View down nave facing towards Choir, York Minster

View down nave facing towards Choir, York Minster

The first thing that’s really noticable is how wide it is. The nave itself is quite wide, and since the aisles tend to blend into the nave(possibly a function of the lack of side chapels), the nave seems even wider. In a way, it’s more like the great basillicas of Italy than some other Northern cathedrals. I should mention right away that the roof is not original-it was rebuilt following a disasterous fire in the 19th century. The other thing thats’ striking is the amount of stained glass; York Minster has prehaps the largest collection of mideval stained glass in England.  We’ll see two of the largest on the tour, one right now. Let’s move on to the north transept:

Five Sisters window, south transept, York Minster.

Five Sisters window, south transept, York Minster.

While stained glass(and much mideval art, for that matter) is often associated with the concept of the “poor man’s bible”, there was nothing preventing stained glass from either depicting everyday life or being abstract, as is the case here. The grisaile(that is, grayish-white) patterns are almost certainly influenced both by arabic art(compare to just about any Koran manuscript) and the Insular style(compare to the Book of Kells). To comment on the architecture a bit, the transepts are the oldest parts of the cathedral and are in the Early English style. Thus, they are by far the simplest in ornamentation, as may be observed by comparing the lack of tracery in the Five Sisters window to the elaborate tracery we will see in the Chapter house now:

York Minster chapter house.

York Minster chapter house.

The roof is highly unusal since it was engineered to stand without a central pillar when it was built in the late 13th century. The panels are mostly modern, however, although the actual structure of the roof is mideval as far as I know. The blank tracery panel(it’s above the entrance) is also quite peculiar. The other thing the chapter house is noted for is the numerous amusing carvings, reminscent of droleries in manuscripts, although I’m franky too lazy to post any pictures.

Now, on to the choir(or as the English insist I spell it for unexplained reasons, quire) through the screen:

Choir Screen, York Minster

Choir Screen, York Minster

Thanks to a little thing I like to call the Protestant Reformation, not many of these survive in their original condition.  The other thing that’s unusal about this is the sculpture. If my belif that this is orginal(apparently, we can all thank the Parlimentarian commander in the Civil War, who was presumably a better Yorkshireman than protestant) is true, this is probably one of the largest reasonably intact mideval English sculpture groups. They do have the right ogee(sp) curve for late gothic work. Anyhow, there was a good reason for these; namely, separating the officiating clergy from things like what Benventuo Cellini colorfully and possibly accurately called “the corner in Santa Croce where people piss”(yes, I know that Cellini was Italian, but the quote makes the needed point). Now, on to the choir:

minsterchoir

The choir area with its seats is quite nice, but it’s dwarfed by the great west window that depicts the history of the world from creation to apocalypse. Yes, it’s as big as it looks.

Oy, it’s getting late. That’s all we have time for now. Bye!

Inaugural post.

August 6, 2009

Welcome to this new blast of hot air in the blogosphere. I will, at unpredictable times convienient to me, share various beautiful things here,with commentary, as well as the occasional poem. I’ll try to vary my choices, but things will probably skew towards the Italian school and stuff I see at the National Gallery of Art. On that note, I will commence with a fine Tintoretto I saw just this afternoon:

Jacopo Robusti, called Tintoretto. Christ  at the Sea of Galilee c. 1575/1580. National Gallery of Art, Washington
Jacopo Robusti, called Tintoretto. Christ at the Sea of Galilee c. 1575/1580. National Gallery of Art, Washington

There are a couple of things that are interesting about this painting. First of all, Tintoretto uses a lot of lead white, both in the whitecaps, on the boat(especially on the keel twards the bow) and on Christ’s garments. This lends the painting a rather sketchy feel, which is increased by the roughness of all the faces. It’s also compositionally clever. Christ, ostensibly the main actor, is shown with his back turned to the audience, and the boat is on a diagonal with him. This is typical of Tintoretto; his most famous work show the Last Supper on a diagonal. Here, though, it’s implied by the direction of Christ’s hand and the fact that the boat is not quite in the center and pointing towards the upper right-hand corner. The composition would be quite lopsided were it not for the salmon pink of Christ’s robes; as it is it enhances the drama inherent in the sketchy brushwork.

For an interesting contrast, check out Duccio’s painting of the same subject in the National Gallery.

Hello world!

August 6, 2009

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