Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Arrival of Maria de Medici, Rubens

The Arrival of Maria de Medici is an interesting merging of mythological elements and true historical moments. The posture of Maria is directly contrasted with the fluid, traditionally Ruben-esque women in the foreground. In fact, their positioning in the painting and the full range of their body that remains exposed, draw your eye to this portion of the painting and leaves you to discover the important moment of the queen's arrival on your own time, unassisted. 

Fall of Man, Durer

Durer was obsessed with the perfect form and proportions of human body. They stand in practically identical positions. Their weight is on one leg, with the other slightly bent. The right arm of each is bent and sloping slightly upward. The four animals represent the four temperaments according to the Medievals. These bodies are proportionally accurate and very realistic, although not as pleasing to the eye as Roman marble sculptures can be. 

Personally, I think that Eve's face is not attractive at all. She looks a little bit like George Washington. 

Sabine Woman, Bologna 

Though depicting a moment in history of great crime and disgust, this sculpture is exquisite in the way it captures the rapid movement of the body in stone and the emotions that coincide with those movements. The muscles in each of the men correlate with the motion they are participating in; you can see the muscles necessary for lifting and carrying a woman. Though melodramatic, the crouching man and elevated woman complete a fantastic line/column with the standing man. The balance between the three is extraordinary. The woman expresses a helplessness with her out-thrown arms and the man on the bottom expresses a deep regret in this quick motion of seizure of the woman that he cannot prevent. 

Venus and Cupid, Bronzino

Commissioned by Cosimo de Medici, Bronzino's painting of Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time is a great example of a piece that displays different genders, ages, and forms of bodies. Venus is a voluptuous woman, youthful and beautiful. Folly to her right is clearly a playful little boy, his body dictating the same characterization as his impending action. Cupid, Venus's son, however, tests the viewers' traditional conventions. His head and face is truly that of a boy, but his elongated body does not leave one with the same understanding as him as a child as we get with Folly. That and the fact that he's fondling his mother's breast...  Some expression of passionate love that could normally be pleasing or meaningful is turned uncomfortable and slightly disgusting once put into the context of incest. 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Venus of Urbino, Titian

Venus of Urbino shows the voluptuous body of a young lady. It is particularly erotic in that the woman is staring directly at the viewing audience and not in a coy manner; she almost invites your gaze, seeming unabashedly nude and proud. The women behind her do not seem to share her sense of immodesty. They search frantically for clothes from a similar chest that this piece of art would have been featured on top of. Between the open display of her body, her questionable left hand, and the sleeping symbol of fidelity at her feet, one can question the general decorum of this woman. 

David, Michelangelo

If you want to see what beautiful is, this is it. 

The body of Michelangelo's David is true to the human form and exudes youth and vitality. Not only does it boast accuracy of the human form, it also delivers the emotions flowing through David in the moment preceding his killing of Goliath. His gaze is intent on the goal ahead, his left foot grips the earth beneath it, as if the moment before push-off. His chest and ribcage suggest deep breathes and nervousness as they are drawn inward to be released in a deep exhale. His right hand grips the stone that will fell his enemy, but in an awkward way, indicating thought or nervousness behind the action, a nervous twitch or stance as he summons the courage. 

This sculpture is just seriously impressive. 

Primavera, Botticelli

Painted by Sandro Botticelli in 1482, this painting also known as the Allegory of Spring includes numerous citations of mythological stories. Featured within its scope are the Three Graces, Flora, Mercury, and Zephyrus and Chloris. The bodies of these characters themselves are interesting in that all of them are in some way seemingly bloated. Zephyrus' cheeks are puffed out and all of the midsections of each woman appears almost pregnant. Being a depiction of spring and its flourishing natural state, perhaps these women are swollen with impending life. Their forms could also be Botticelli's attempt at emphasizing the softness of the feminine form and their ability to birth new life--a less rolly-polly approach to the female body than Ruben. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Expulsion, Masaccio 

This painting by Masaccio depicting the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden provides great commentary for history and the evolution of the perception of the body over time. Originally painted as nudes, Cosimo III de Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, ordered for the genitals of the Biblical characters to be covered with fig leaves. It was claimed to be a matter of decorum. In 1980, when the painting underwent restoration, the fig leaves were removed and Adam and Eve once again stood exposed. More life-like than many of the Romanesque sculptures we've seen, Adam and Eve are distinctly masculine and feminine creatures and not just discernible by looking below the waist. Adam's physique is a realistic, manly frame and musculature, more familiar than some of the exaggerated Greek pieces. And Eve's curvy, fleshy, feminine look lends itself to maternity, as is fitting for the mother of all peoples. Their bodies also work beautifully to display the anguish felt at their dismissal from Paradise. 

But, is it just me, when I say that Eve has a very creepy face? 

David, Donatello

Donatello's David messes with the concept of a warrior in our mind. Donatello emphasized the youth of David at the time in his life when he slays Goliath, making him appear soft and feminine. He does not swell with musculature as in other representations of the Biblical hero. His stance is feminine and suggestive, almost sassy in his victory. This effect is only furthered as Donatello entwines David's toes into Goliath's beard. The hero is also chronologically mistaken--both the sword and hat that he wears is a salute to the Tuscan culture rather than the ancient Israelites.

Old Testament Kings, Chartres Cathedral

The Chartres Cathedral in France is known for not only its French-gothic architecture, but also the plentiful adornment on just about every surface of its exterior and interior. Pictured above are the "portals" into the cathedral and the bodies of various kings of the Old Testament as well as prophets and other religious figures stretch along the sides of these entrances. 

A more detailed look at the individual reliefs:

These kings, saints, and prophets are extremely elongated, their bodies kept to the same length as those next to it, a sign of more concentration on aesthetic appeal as opposed to realistic characteristics. With their intricate drapery, their bodies also fail to lend themselves to a realistic depiction of the human body. As you can see, the feet are simply just rounded stone, not even featuring toes while neither lending themselves to being called "shoes." The bodies are placed well above the eye-level of those that would be entering into the chapel, a symbol of their loftiness and their holiness. 

Creation/Temptation, Wiligelmo 

The Italian sculpture, Wiligelmo, carved the series of events within the biblical Adam and Eve story into the marble walls of the Cathedral of Modena. The relief is one meter high. This particular portion shows the temptation of of Eve, taking the apple. As you can see, within the progression, next comes the banishment from the garden. 
I think this is a unique display and commentary on gender roles. Adam sleeps while Eve is tempted, insinuating that all could have been prevented had he been awake and aware. The bodies also speak to the time period--lacking true accuracy and detail. They are simply columns with legs and arms, very Romanesque in their unspecific depiction. 

Crucifixion Mosaic and the Galway Cathedral

On our Art & Culture journal list, there is an item listed as Crucifixion Mosaic in the Church of the Domitian. Unable to find a picture of this said art, I opted to feature a crucifixion mosaic that I have seen myself. Though not as ancient as this other mosaic may have been, it is still amazing and absolutely breathtaking. 

In this picture that I took, the absolute exquisite detail is not visible. The small tiles that were used to create this luminous work will astound any onlooker--they are so tiny and this mosaic is so massive. It is such a combination of opposites to compose one of the coolest, most stunning pieces of religious art I've been privileged to behold in person. This mosaic is located in the Galway Cathedral in Galway, Ireland. In fact the entire cathedral is a work of art. The altar and communion railing glitter in gold and is polished devotedly after every service by women of the town. The entire church glitters with stained glass windows, gold touches, polished wood, and my favorite, the connemara marble floors. 

Yes, those are my Chacos. But please take note of the exquisite floors that gleam with the flash of my camera. This marble is no longer used for such massive projects because its quantity is limited and it's extremely rare. It is only quarried in Galway. 

Architecturally speaking, the Galway Cathedral is quite unique. It's not your typical European cathedral. But, it still inspires the reverence of its parishioners and speaks to the devotion of the people of Galway. The building of this massive, artful (and albeit expensive) cathedral was completely funded by the donations of the dedicated Catholics that Ireland is so populated with. I'm lucky to have been able to take it in myself.

Portrait of Constantine

The portrait head of Constantine was a distinct departure from coin portraits of his time and other statue portraits of preceding rulers. Instead of sporting a beard and a blocky structure to his face and physique, this display of Constantine shows a more youthful and calm face, one trustworthy in decision-making and level-headed. Many people draw similarities between Constantine's appearance in this example of sculpture and those pieces of Augustus and Trajan. His gaze is steady, looking ahead, and slightly upward, possibly indicating his recognition of heaven, his divine right, and the importance of Christian principle in his planning. By isolating just the head, this piece was able to be copied accurately and circulated around his empire, giving his subjects the opportunity to recognize his appearance and revere their champion. 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Portrait of Augustus

This full body portrait of Augustus was one with which he was very pleased, so much so that it was found in his personal villa under the care of his widow after his death. It is thought to be a marble copy of a bronze original. It displayed his status as emperor and the breastplate alone speaks to numerous triumphs and changes that occurred under his reign. 

Portrait Head from Osimo

This piece of sculpture not only shows the conveyance of the human form through artistic mediums, but also speaks explicitly to the culture from which it came. A piece of Roman work done in marble, it is simply the head of an elderly man of high societal importance. According to the Romans, it was not necessary to sculpt the entire body of a person to convey a portrait. However, the Greeks would have differed with this idea, always sculpting the head as attached to the body. The Roman artist took careful note to include every detail, including wrinkles and other signs of aging. No longer did sculptures only strive to convey perpetual youth and vitality even if it differed from their real subject matter. This portrait head is a testament to this changing philosophy.

Aphrodite of Milos

This larger than life sculpture depicts the goddess of beauty, Venus, and it displayed in the Lourve. The missing arms have always provided viewers of this work with something to ponder. It is generally accepted however that the right arm stretched across the body down to her knee to hold up the falling drapery. The pattern and creasing of the drapery is consistent with this theory. Some believe that her left arm reached out to hold an apple. She was originally intended for a niche in a gymnasium and would have been painted and adorned with real jewelry. Sculpted from all sides however, perhaps she was intended for more open viewing instead of just placed in a niche. Either way, her body is true to the form of a voluptuous female and serves to glorify that form.

Winged Victory of Samothrace

Now in the Lourve, it is believed that this most revered sculpture was carved around the time of 190 BCE. It used to stand on a fake prow of a ship, as if descending from the heavens to guide her fleet to victory. Though her arms and head are missing and have never been found, one hand has been found and sits on display close to the larger body of the sculpture. It is believed that her right hand was raised and cupped around her mouth to deliver the shout of Victory towards her enemy while simultaneously rallying her troops. 

The sculpture is one of the most revered in the world, mostly because of its amazing merging of motion into the unmoving medium of stone. The drapery around her body not only highlights her feminine torso, but reveals masculine legs, delivering the message of strength and femininity.  The drapery blowing back on her clearly conveys the wind off the sea and even appears wet with spray as it is weighted down and sticking to her legs as it is driven back by gales. 

Aphrodite, Hermes with Dionysus, Praxiteles

Praxiteles was an ancient Greek sculptor and a famous one at that. Sculpting during the 4th century, he was known to sculpt human subjects and gods that were not necessarily the "older" ones. He concentrated more on Venus, Apollo and the like rather than Zeus and Poseidon.  He also gained great fame for being the first to sculpt a lifesize female nude.

This is a replica of that very piece, the first female nude, entitled Aphrodite. It was praised for its life-like accuracy and for the cultural bounds that it broke. Many believe this form to be inspired by the artist's lover, Phyrne. 

Another one of Praxiteles most famous works is the above pictured Hermes and the Infant Dionysus. It was found at Olympia in 1877 and shows the god, Hermes, carrying the newborn deity, Dionysus to the nymphs that will raise him. It is hypothesized that in the arm of Hermes that no longer remains, he may have held a cluster of grapes, thus gaining baby Dionysus' full attention and making this infant baby more recognizable to his audience. 

Nike Adjusting Sandals

This relief sculpted during the Peloponnesian War depicted Nike, the goddess of victory, stopping to adjust her sandals. As her head is missing, one can only analyze the wealth of drapery in which she's dressed. This is also a departure from displaying nudes, perhaps indicating a shift in what subject matter was found most interesting. Though breasts are featured to indicate her womanhood, most attention is given to her dress. The phenomenal detail to the folds, creases, and twists of the fabric she wears echos the detail once given to the human body. The human form is actually difficult to discern beneath her numerous yards of cloth and the fact that she herself is stretching down to mess with her sandal shows the attention to outerwear that could have been taking place.

Also, considering the outcome of the Peloponnesian War, I wonder if this is a political commentary. Victory is being delayed, tarrying and being tripped up by her own sandals--an ominous sign for a country currently fighting a major war.

Spear Bearer/Doryphoros

A bronze Greek made around 450-40 BCE was made precisely to illustrate the ideal balanced form of a body. The musculature is overwhelming and certainly enhanced, and the spear balances the sculpture while silently praising the military prowess of its bearer. The figure displays a fluidness in his movement due to his contrapossto stance. One can almost see the follow-through of the behind leg.

The marble version aka the copied made by the Romans relied on a tree stump to support the weight of the stone and stay true to the athletic form and relaxed stance. 


The form of a man throwing a discus was a common depiction in Greek and, then later on, Roman art. The original bronze is lost unfortunately, but numerous Roman copies remain, two of the most impressive done in the to-be-expected-marble. These sculptures are amazing though in the way they capture a moment of tenuous movement, the moment right before the rapid turning of the athlete to launch the discus. The strength of the male body is evident in all versions of this captured act as they are nude as was the typical Olympic fashion. 

The above Townley Diskobolos, though legitimate in that it was discovered at Hadrian's Village, is said to be a poorly repaired sculpture as the head was positioned incorrectly. 

Bronze Zeus

The Bronze Zeus is another bronze sculpture discovered off the coast of Greece, presumed to have sunk in a ship wreck during ancient times.

Again, this is a piece that focuses on physical perfection. As a god, it was expected to be in the best physical condition and full of youth and vigorous strength. The position that this sculpture takes is one of impending action. However, it is this pose that has drummed up controversy over the years. Is he Poseidon or Zeus? Is he throwing a lightning bolt or a trident? Most have come to believe that this is indeed Zeus, because the length of a lightning bolt is shorter and would therefore not collide with his head as a trident most likely would. 
To add to its remarkable appearance, this statue is completely free-standing, made possible by the well-hidden additional support placed under the flattened left foot in the heel region. 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Oglethorpe University Museum of Art - French Masters Exhibit

The Schlossbergs graciously lent the OU Museum of Art some of the finest pieces of their collection to display in the museum here on our campus. Pictures above is Mr. Schlossberg, a doctor with a passion for collecting art, speaking to students from my class about each piece and its history, story, and its significance to him. It was so interesting to get his take on the pieces that he has purchased. Each has a story and each is special or exciting to him in one way or another. He certainly knows his stuff, and it is this knowledge and savvy that he says is essential to becoming a good collector. You have to start small, but with the right purchases, because each is an investment. 

The pieces in his wife and his collection are mostly drawings done by artists of other famous pieces. It's an interesting angle, seeing famous works sketched out by those whose art we've seen wow audiences countless times as well. It's a conglomeration of greatness in something completely simple and unsuspecting. The pieces vary in their levels of seriousness--some are simply sketches, studies of body parts of various scenes meshed together on one sheet of precious paper. Others have had highlighting color added to them and been carefully refined. Below I will show some of my pictures from the event, taken of pieces that I particularly enjoyed. 

I found this piece beautiful and quite interesting in terms of composition. "Black lithographic crayon with scratching out on transfer paper laid down on Japan paper." That's not a method you hear of too often. However, it gives the feeling of just rapid strokes of pencil or crayon to create this picture. No solid lines to outline subjects. Nor any real rigidness. It is fluid and thus fitting for the scene it is showing, a nymph being observed by a man. A beautiful sight and one that is linked to nature. 

This painting/drawing I just found simply amusing. The man has such presence, but of a quirky kind. It looks as though he belongs to the circus yet one might assume that he's quite important. Still, no matter how important he is, he still has that ridiculous countenance and mustache. 

 "Study in Hands and Feet"--an example of those drawings that just look to be practice pieces and are now featured in a museum. Still, I greatly admired this piece as it worked on capturing appendages that are so hard to master in such accurate detail. 

These two pieces are the headlining pieces of the exhibit. The first is Monet's famous piper, sketched by Renoir. According to Mr. Schlossberg, it is one of the most popular pieces of their collection as well, constantly called on to be photographed or anthologized. The second is by Edgar Degas. This piece has particular interest for Mr. Schlossberg. As he told us, many people think this is a lover of the artist or a famous society woman of his time. However, through Mr. Schlossberg's own research, he is of the opinion that it is of Degas' cousin. 

This is one of my favorites from the whole collection. It is simple and beautiful in it's original charcoal outline, but I love how it is enhanced by the glittering chalk placed on the headband's adornment. As we were walked around and told about everything, we were told that this piece could be depicting a prostitute or someone's mistress. Her alluring beauty is evident in this sketch and so that story becomes not so hard to believe. 

And finally, the Sappho sculpture. I was drawn to this piece because of a paper I had to write the second semester of my freshman year about any topic of my choosing from Ancient Greece. I chose this female poet with the fragmented works and really enjoyed all my research. This sculpture is particularly perfect in my mind because of the position that Sappho sits. She is clearly a woman and feminine in her form, dress, and accessories. Yet, she sits with her head cast down. It is a sign of anonymity. We know so little about her that it seems fitting. We know the basics about her being a woman and a teacher of girls but about her individually, we know little. This sculpture seems to say all this and that makes me happy.  

Warriors from Riace

The Warriors from Riace are two sculptures found by a scuba-diving chemist off the coast of Italy (although this picture only shows the back and front of one individual sculpture, not both). It is believed that en route to their destination, their transport ship was sunk and so these statues never made it to their final destination. These are prized for the fact that they are Greek bronzes as opposed to the marble Roman copies of Greek works that were melted down during the Roman conquest. They imitate the realistic stance of the Kritos Boy, however some of their anatomy is incorrect in that muscles that humans don't even possess are highlighted, bulging under their metal skin. The reason it is believed that these forms were slightly untruthfully elaborated on was to get across the theme and purpose behind these. It was to depict Greek dominance through its perfect, fit warriors. They are still impressive even in their lack of anatomical correctness and that was the most important factor. The artist certainly cared for details in these two works. The teeth are made from silver, the nipples and lips from copper, and the eyes are enhanced with bone and glass. 

Kritos Boy

 The Kritos Boy is a piece of Early Classical sculpture from Greece that shows the growing understanding Greek artists were gaining when it came to the human form.

Like some of the Egyptian statues we've seen so far, this boy is standing in contrapossto as well. However, it is not as rigid but a much more natural stance. There is a relaxed bend in his knee as well as a corresponding shift of the hips. Even from the back of the sculpture, one can see the relaxation of the right buttocks and the S-shape that the spine acquires when such a "crooked" stance is taken on. The "archaic smile" as seen in the Calf-Bearer has been replaced with a much more realistic portrayal of the lips. The ribcage seems to be breathing, in a natural state of expansion. The Kritos Boy was a marked step in the right direction for more accurate construction of the human body.