Archive for May, 2010

wax in Italian art

May 27, 2010

I was recently talking to a art historian, and the topic of wax models came up. This was intruiging, so I might as well do a post on it and share some of what I learned today.
These waxes were pretty useful for both painters and sculptors. Tintoretto apparently created his Miracle of The Slave(mentioned on this blog here: with the aid of wax models; that was how he worked out the hovering angel. If Tintoretto did it, there’s a good chance others did it. Waxes were also used by sculptures as trials for larger works in marble. Several have survived, like this one:

Michelangelo, model for a slave from the tomb of Julius II. Wax, Victoria and Albert Museum, London

These are probably our most valuable record of Michelangelo’s working process.
One other variety of wax art, and one that unlike the preceding two was meant for public display, was devotional images and effigies. Contemporary sources describe wax ex-votos, often body parts that had been healed or death masks, that were given to churches and which have generally been lost. They are, however, reminders that the Michelangelos and Raphaels we are all familar with were by no means the whole or even the majority of the visual culture of Renaissance Italy.

Breaking news-Paris art theft

May 20, 2010

Today at 7 AM, the guards at the Paris Museum of Modern Art reported a theft of 5 major works. Regardless of the value of these works, they’re a fantastically important group and let’s all hope they are recovered soon. I’ll let Jonathan Jones do the talking:

poetry notes: Ted Huges

May 20, 2010

It’s always fun to stumble upon a new poet, even it it’s an already-famous poet, so I present two poems of my new poet of the hour, Ted Hughes. He’s mostly famous for having been married to Slyvia Plath before she comitted suicide, but he was a brilliant poet in his own right. Of all the poets I’ve read who talked about nature, his is by far the least “anthromorphised” vision of nature. Where he lets his subject speak, he does not present “an animal saying what we might wish it to say” but “an animal saying what it reasonably would say.”. He thus offers the natural world rather more respect than those who idealize it. To demonstrate this point, I first present “Hawk Roosting”:
I sit in the top of the wood, my eyes closed.
Inaction, no falsifying dream
Between my hooked head and hooked feet:
Or in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat.

The convenience of the high trees!
The air’s buoyancy and the sun’s ray
Are of advantage to me;
And the earth’s face upward for my inspection.

My feet are locked upon the rough bark.
It took the whole of Creation
To produce my foot, my each feather:
Now I hold Creation in my foot

Or fly up, and revolve it all slowly –
I kill where I please because it is all mine.
There is no sophistry in my body:
My manners are tearing off heads –

The allotment of death.
For the one path of my flight is direct
Through the bones of the living.
No arguments assert my right:

The sun is behind me.
Nothing has changed since I began.
My eye has permitted no change.
I am going to keep things like this.

Here there is neither sophistry nor cloudiness, as befits the killing machine shown here. And Hughes’s nature is unbroken and unbreakable at its finest:
The Jaguar
The apes yawn and adore their fleas in the sun.
The parrots shriek as if they were on fire, or strut
Like cheap tarts to attract the stroller with the nut.
Fatigued with indolence, tiger and lion

Lie still as the sun. The boa-constrictor’s coil
Is a fossil. Cage after cage seems empty, or
Stinks of sleepers from the breathing straw.
It might be painted on a nursery wall.

But who runs like the rest past these arrives
At a cage where the crowd stands, stares, mesmerized,
As a child at a dream, at a jaguar hurrying enraged
Through prison darkness after the drills of his eyes

On a short fierce fuse. Not in boredom—
The eye satisfied to be blind in fire,
By the bang of blood in the brain deaf the ear—
He spins from the bars, but there’s no cage to him

More than to the visionary his cell:
His stride is wildernesses of freedom:
The world rolls under the long thrust of his heel.
Over the cage floor the horizons come.

Ted Hughes
For comparison, read Rilke’s The Panther as translated by Stephen Mitchell:
His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars, and behinbd the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly—. An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.

Rubens and Helena Fourment

May 13, 2010

Sir Peter Paul Rubens.Rubens, His Wife Helena Fourment (1614–1673), and One of Their Children. Mid 1630s, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

Since it’s been kind of a grey day, I thought I’d do something that’s just plain sweet and there are few paintings sweeter than Ruben’s paintings of Helena Fourment. Some years his first wife died, Rubens married Helena Fourment, who was 37 years his junior. Despite the extreme age difference, it was by all accounts a very happy marriage and that’s obviously reflected in this painting. Rubens is famous for very dramatic, active compositions, but here is a stiller atmosphere. The artist and his wife are on the same level and holding hands, with one of the children at their feet. All are gazing at each other under a soft, light bower that is probably based on one in Ruben’s Antwerp Home. There is a larger signficance to this scene, too. The spanish netherlands had been devastated in the wars between Spain and the Dutch republic and Rubens was acutely aware of the geopolitical situation due to his work as a diplomat and possibly a spy. Hence, it is possible that on some level this picture articulates a desire that peace and prosperity return to the Spanish Netherlands, especially since it is part of a larger group of paintings(most notably Landscape with the Chateau of Steen) on peaceable subjects. If you’re intersted in Rubens, I’d suggest you look up a book called Master of Shadows about both his art and his diplomatic career. Even if you don’t always warm to his art, his diplomatic career is fascinating.

Music time!

May 6, 2010

First, one of Chopin’s great piano piano pieces:

have a listen.