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Showing posts from April, 2012

The Brush of Pellegrini

Autoritratto, 1717

Born on this day in 1675, Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini was a Rococo painter from Venice who helped to merge the perfect figures of Veronese with the drama of Pietro Da Cortona, with Luca Giordano as an important influence also. One of his greatest teachers was Sebastiano Ricci, another giant of the Venetian Baroque who was a master of composition and dramatic scenes. Pellegrini was also known for having married the sister of pastel artist Rosalba Carriera, herself another talented Venetian who was born in the same year as Pellegrini. What really makes Pellegrini particularly unique among his contemporaries was his loose brushwork and glowing colours, often experimenting with warm beside cool, dark beside light, and soft beside hard textures. While he often sacrificed accurate anatomy for expressive emotion, his knowledge of colour and chiaroscuro would have an influence on another Venetian who would master both anatomy and colour: Giambattista Tiepolo.

In the above s…

Philippe de Champaigne

La Cène, ca. 1652

Born this day in 1602, Champaigne came from a poor family from Brussels—in contrast to Van Dyck who came from Antwerp from a well-to-do family—and his work is characterized by both portraiture and religious scenes, which he excelled at equally brilliantly. Champaigne embodies the French Baroque, and although he may have lacked some of the compositional genius of Rubens, he made up for it with drama, color, and always attention to anatomy without exaggeration.

In the above example, his take on The Last Supper reveals the very French contrast of warm and cool colours that is immediately pleasing to the eye. Despite the horizontal composition, it is the facial features of the apostles, especially against the dark background, with faint light coming in from the far right window in a small room that makes this rendition more intimate, more real. Placement of the hands seems to have been a Flemish fascination, and Champaigne had a definite gift for arm gesture. It is inte…

Co-Founder of the Baroque

Ludovico Carracci, Emilian school ca.1600's

It is hard to underestimate the importance of the Carracci family on the Baroque, and the eldest member, Ludovico who was born today in 1555 formed a historic art school along with his cousins Agostino and Annibale, Accademia dei Desiderosi which later became Accademia degli Incamminati to symbolize the arduous path artists must undergo in developing their craft. Ludovico was the first to resist the Mannerist tendency of the late 1500's and return to an appreciation of nature, teaching such innovations as life drawing from the nude model as a regular curriculum, anatomy, and with help from Agostino and Annibale, the return to Humanism with the blending of Florentine and Venetian art. Ludovico wasn't the most talented of the three, but was a highly influential teacher and ran the school alone when Agostino and Annibale headed to work in Rome. Tingere non leccare, tint don't lick literally, meaning paint don't polish, was…

Adrien Moreau

Carnival procession in the 17th century, 1887


Yesterday was the birthday of French painter, sculptor and illustrator Adrien Moreau. A contemporary of Émile Friant, Moreau's oeuvre is more dramatic and focuses more on grand scenes than portraiture. He is a storyteller in the purest sense of the word, in a similar vein to Friant but with more attention to atmosphere and surrounding details. Moreau is actually another master of color, but in a style totally different than Tiepolo that uses contrast to lead the eye around the painting. In The Carnival Procession above, Moreau uses very warm light against the almost theatrical architecture behind the main figures. Shiny golden costumes separate most of the figures from the observers, while the body language and bold color itself act as a design element to lead the eye to the main two characters: the devil and the mandolin player, effectively dividing the entourage in half so that we look both in front of and behind them. The large foun…

Émile Friant

Les Amoureux, 1888

Friant is an artist I know relatively little about, admittedly, but his work is definitely worth appreciating. Born on this day in 1863, in North East France, he avoided his father's wishes to become a chemist and found his path into painting. Initially, he studied the Academic Atelier method under Cabanel but he must have found it stifling and soon discovered his own realism, a natural style that avoided stiff posing and instead focused on people just being themselves, yet still managing to capture their dignity and character. In the above painting, The Lovers we see what appears like a scene from a movie...a man and woman talking on a bridge overlooking a scenic river view. Compositionally, we never see the main subjects of a painting with their backs to the viewer, and yet their body language and facial expressions are so real, so natural, it is as if we are spying on their conversation. It is also quite rare for an artist to incorporate nature and people in…

Leonardo, Master Genius

The Virgin and Child with St. Anne, ca.1510

Yesterday was the 560th birthday of history's greatest artistic genius and polymath, the legend that intrigues and astonishes half a millenium after his time. Leonardo da Vinci. It is difficult to understate the influence this single human being had on art and the world itself, and to still fascinate scientists and artists (and Dan Brown) alike after such a period of time is obviously a testament to his very unique greatness. I want to talk here about why the hype of a centuries old artist is still amazing. (The Dan Brown theories you can read about elsewhere.)

His name alone is interesting in itself. Born in a modest farmhouse actually a couple of miles away from the small comune of Vinci, east of Florence— at a time when surnames were already being used for a few centuries— it is indeed interesting that his father and Leonardo's grandfather lived in Vinci all their lives, hence the namesake. Leonardo was the bastard son of his fath…

Study for Transfiguration in Colored Pencil

Study for Transfiguration, 2011


Last year I decided to do a study of Raphael's St. Andrew from the Transfiguration using coloured pencil for the first time. It's a highly underrated medium for drawing. Rich colours can be built up in layers yet with a softness of tone that doesn't smear like pastel, yet from a distance has the same qualities as a painting. I think if the Old Masters had coloured pencil in their day, they would have made use of it in their own studies. They made extensive use of red and black chalk...this would have given them full-colour without wasting a single drop of paint.

In this study I was less patient than typical color pencil artists. Normally, lights are built up slowly and then darks, but I decided to work from dark to light then erase my highlights to create them. Hey, it works. I used Prismacolor in this study but I found Faber-Castel's Polychromos set to be even more rich with pigment and better selection of colours. I buy my colours indi…

Raffaello's 529th

Heads and hands of the Apostles, ca. 1518-1520


Head of a Woman,ca. 1517-20



If there is one artist I wish I could go back in time and meet with...well, there would be too many to mention, but Raphael is the guy I could see sitting down to chat with you over wine and bread. His reputation as well-liked, amiable, smart, and a ladies man puts him in a unique category--Michelangelo was introverted and brooding, easily irascible, Leonardo highly intelligent and easily distracted by his own curiosities, but Raphael is the dude. Combining the knowledge of both, he forms that holy trinity of the Renaissance genius. I admit at first I didn't quite care for his paintings, but after my uncle from Italy bought me a book on him in Italian, Raphael grew on me fast. His draftsmanship had few equals in his day, and his compositions are Classically perfect. It is interesting that he has been adored and reviled over the centuries, and his life is the great tragedy of art history: he died on his own 3…

Old Master Drawings

Drawing is not the form; it is the way of seeing the form.
Degas



A male nude from behind, c.1630 Gian Lorenzo Bernini

In this blog I talk about painting but the importance of drawing cannot be understated of course, and I believe we can learn just as much from studying their techniques of line and strokes as we can from brushstrokes...more in most cases as the drawing is more expressive and intimate. It reveals the personality and character of the artist.

The above drawing apparently comes from the period of Bernini's teaching at the Accademia di San Luca in Rome, one of four from the exact same model. This drawing is fairly big for a study, at 55.6 x 42cm (21 x 16 inches). Consider Michelangelo's study for Libyan Sibyl, is only 28.9 x 21.4 cm (11 3/8 x 8 7/16 inches), a small study for a fresco which would be painted several times larger than life size. I can only guess that Bernini was teaching a big class and that maybe his work was on display for students to study, or it ma…