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Showing posts from March, 2012

Van Dyck the Great

Portrait of Peeter Stevens, 1627Four hundred and thirteen years ago two giants of art were born about three months apart— Velazquez, who was born in June and Anthony Van Dyck, who was born on this day. Child prodigy extraordinaire, he was already painting at a high level in his early teens, and by nineteen he was already Rubens' top assistant. Genius of this kind is rather difficult for most of us to really comprehend, and we can safely assume by the confidence in his early self-portraits how cocky he must have been. Still, even he learned a great deal working for a boss like Rubens, the multilingual scholar who made composition and colour seem like no sweat at all. Rubens would have instilled a deep understanding of skin tones and anatomy that would raise Van Dyck to the next level. I remember reading the story once of how while the master Rubens was out of the studio meeting aristocratic clients, the workshop boys were goofing off and someone got pushed into one of the paintings…

My Top Picks: Self-Portraits

I remember when I was younger I had photocopied self-portraits of all my favourite artists tacked to the wall in my basement studio...stern black and white faces looking at me...it made me feel safe, like I was surrounded by the All-Stars of Art, encouraging me silently to get over making mistakes and get past them. It was great support for a self-taught artist! And I needed all the support I could get back then.
When we think of self-portraits by famous artists, the usual suspects come to mind...Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Kahlo, or maybe Velazquez or Da Vinci, and it is interesting to note that the Renaissance was where the self-portrait really became popular. With the idea of the artist as more than just a faceless member of a guild (as was the case in the Middle Ages) artists began to study nature and, with better quality mirrors, themselves. This was not a conceit. The publicity machine back then was not quite as state-of-the-art as today, and I'm sure most people could not attach a …

Pastel study of St. Jerome

Last summer I did something quite ambitious, challenging...something I wasn't sure I could do...something that only after being in Italy for a month in the previous September would rouse my brain to attempt: I decided I needed to do an Old Master study. Up until this point I had done numerous sketches like most artists, but the extent of my practice was mostly visual. I went museum crazy all over Rome in 2010 and in the process I felt like I learned enough to move up to the next level. Somehow, the pastel work I had done made me want to give it a shot.I had found this image online from my usual research of Old Master Baroque paintings:


Vision of St. Jerome, c 1627

Johann Liss was a German Baroque painter of the seicento, or 17th century, who lived in Venice for most of his career. Having been inspired by Caravaggio and the deep colors of Titian and Tintoretto he blended those styles into his own craft of drama, solid figures and intense color. St. Jerome has been a subject of many p…

Crespi, Painter of daily life

La Cuoca, 1712Giuseppe Maria Crespi also known as "lo spagnolo" (the spanish one) because his clothing apparently had a spanish style, is a unique painter both for his technique and subject matter. It's difficult to compare him to anyone from his period, (except for Alessandro Magnasco, who painted more dramatic landscapes) . His brushwork was quite loose, his figures in haunting chiaroscuro, and his relentless sense of experimentation are what make him fascinating to study. Several years back I remember looking at this painting of his at a local art exhibit:



Allegory of the Arts, 1730


and I remember being hypnotized by it's pseudo-mannerist elegance, deep blues and Crespi's characteristic indistinct facial features. I love how the fold of her robes flow toward the canvas, along her wrist and curls back toward herself. Note how she is painting a sculptor sculpting (Pygmalion and Galatea) to pay tribute to that great art form. And the harp behind her represents mus…

bonjour Jean-Baptiste...

The rape of Europa,1750 Another March 6th birthday I completely missed, this French Rococo genius Jean Baptiste Marie Pierre was another one of those painters who was appreciated in his day but waned in popularity afterwards. Although some didn't like him— Diderot thought he was arrogant and couldn't stand him— I find his work important enough to mention because of three things:

1.superb composition
2.great color harmony
3.graceful figures Pierre has a notably brighter palette than those of his contemporaries, who placed more emphasis on chiaroscuro due to the influence of Titian, than mere color. Also the portrait was becoming immensely popular at this time and the rise of pastel helped usher in this change, whereas Pierre painted mostly mythology and allegorical subjects. Pierre's shadows are thin and transparent, rarely dark except as a framing device around the figures. In the example above for Europa, Pierre creates a three-dimensional space by a sort of circular comp…

Happy Birthday Michelangelo

I don't think there is any other artist in history who is as well known for painting a massive fresco by himself.The loner. The genius. The perfectionist. The terribilitá. The homosexual (if he was indeed gay, which is still being debated). We think we know him, but we really don't know him at all. His genius was based on a solid training with a fanatical attention to anatomy. His perfectionism comes from a father who was probably pretty hard on him for most of his life. His personality was probably not as dramatic as history conveys him— in fact, I suspect he was quite introverted, preferring to observe rather than talk excessively. Just don't piss the guy off. Even so, the labours of his art reveal he had to have had an inordinate amount of patience, or he would not have been able to deal with the many projects from Pope Julius II and their problems. Although I do love sculpture very much, it's painting that I want to talk about in this blog, and since Michelangelo …

Tiepolo: The Master of Color

Cacciatore a cavallo, 1718
Today is the 316th birthday of the Venetian master Rococo painter Giambattista Tiepolo, one of the last great painters of Italy's four hundred year heritage of Old Masters. It's interesting that Venice—once proud of its greats such as Titian, Veronese, and Tintoretto—began to fall into a kind of artistic recession in the 1700's, losing out the spotlight to Rome and Bologna. What Tiepolo did was reinvent the ceiling fresco in a way that few artists were able to equal. And he did with an uncanny ability to take the best elements from his past and contemporaries and make it his own, working quickly and with a remarkable use of color that is highly underrated.




Apollo and Daphne, 1745
In the example above Tiepolo uses warm skin tones to contrast with the deep blues of the sky behind them. If we look closely we see Apollo's cloak is a fiery red, a symbol of passion and infatuation in this case, but look how Tiepolo metamorphosizes it into a pinkis…