Vision of Ezekiel

Raphael, Vision of Ezekiel, 1516
Behold! A painting as equally bad-ass as its subject matter. Ezekiel fills the central space, his arms reaching out, seeming to almost pull open the heavens. His posture almost seems to say, "Look at the greatness I show to you!" Such heavy weight lies in the bottom of the painting, but it doesn't change the balance of the piece. A darkened Earth is completely eclipsed by the holy light Ezekiel seems to pull from the sky. The first psalm in the Book of Ezekiel serves as the model for this light, describing "a stormy wind [blew] from the north, a great cloud with light around it, a fire from which flashes of lightning darted, and in the center a sheen like bronze at the heart of the fire" (Ezekiel 1:4-6). One thing I love about this piece is how strong and non-threateningly imposing Ezekiel looks. His name literally translates to "God will strengthen," and that meaning is so evident in every facet of Ezekiel's figure.

Equally formidable, the other characters form a U beneath Ezekiel and support him into the sky. The book of Ezekiel reads, "In the center I saw what seemed four animals. They looked like this. They were of human form. Each had four faces, each had four wings. …As to what they looked like, they had human faces, and all four had a lion’s face to the right, and all four had a bull’s face to the left, and all four had an eagle’s face. Their wings were spread upward; each had two wings that touched, and two wings that covered his body;.." (Ezekiel 1:7-12). Raphael takes a different approach to the figures, focusing more upon the aesthetics of the creatures rather than giving form to the whole four-winged, three-faced idea. Each animal holds their own spiritual meaning; the eagle represents rising above the Earth, and in the piece he is Ezekiel's main support; the bull denotes power and strength, though in the piece he looks rather like a horse; the lion is a sun symbol and usually serves as an emblem of Christ, the "light of the world."

Ezekiel's vision itself is God-given, showing him the Four Cherubim who cover the Throne of God... and God's entire Plan of Salvation, shown by the animal symbols supporting his flight into the heavens. Only two cherubim are shown here, holding him up by his arms. On the left is an angel looking upon him, the angle of its gaze helping push the focus of the piece upward. Raphael creates an all-inclusive scene of Ezekiel's vision, each character's placement exactly where they fit best, and an onlooker immediately understanding the message Raphael gives. There is something incredibly poignant about the symbols Ezekiel receives totally supporting him into the light, each character integrated with focus to their true meaning as well as their aesthetic value.

  • 7:00 AM

Tribute Money

Masaccio, Tribute Money, 1427
A chronologically skewed narrative, Masaccio’s Tribute Money depicts the Gospel according to Luke, specifically, the catching of the dry fish and its aftermath. With Jesus’ forehead as the vanishing point, the eye is drawn straight to the center, where the initial miracle begins. Jesus tells Peter, a helpless fisherman amidst a drought, that with one more casting of his net, he will catch a fish. Following this miracle, a tax collector arrives, demanding the funds of Christ. To Peter, Jesus poses the question, "From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?" Peter argues for the exemption from taxes for the son a God, but Jesus sends him to the river. Peter catches a fish, and from its mouth collects Jesus’ tax. Heeding his redeemer, Peter goes to the river once again (portrayed on the left side of the composition) finds a coin in the fish’s mouth, and pays the tax collector on the right side of the composition.

Though generally barren and indicative of the drought described in the book of Luke, the strong vertical trees behind Jesus show at least scant signs of life. The gothic architecture on the right serves to provide viewer with a structured, regal, setting for the tax collector’s portion of the narrative. Seeming to disappear into a mountain, the building creates a barrier for the only non-religious member of the story portrayed.

Evident in the shadows, lighting, and drapery, Masaccio’s mastery of character drawing proves almost detrimental, had he not added halos. So realistic, Masaccio’s figures seem almost too lifelike to be holy. The meticulous placement of halos keeps the beings realistic, but frankly indicates their religious status. Jesus’ half-circle halo has been interpreted by scholars as a mathematical tribute to Jesus’ wisdom and power. A three-part story, Masaccio depicts one of Christ’s most obscure miracles with a clearly separated composition.

  • 7:00 AM

Three Graces

Raphael, Three Graces, 1503

In history, the three attendants of goddesses - Euphrosyne, Thalia, and Aglaea, known as the three Graces - have been interpreted in various ways. Generally, they are considered to represent the three aspects of generosity: giving, receiving, and returning gifts; or the three phases of love: beauty, desire, and fulfillment; or the three virtues: faith, hope and charity, as the Church claimed; or the personification of chastity, beauty, and love. One thing for certain is since ancient Greece, the Three Graces are usually depicted in the same manner: the two outer figures facing the spectator and the central figure facing away.

Raphael painted this fairly small masterpiece (only 17cm by 17cm) when he was barely twenty. Many believe that the panel and another of his works, The Knight's Dream, together may have formed a single diptych. In The Knight's Dream, Scipio, the sleeping knight, must choose between Venus (pleasure) and Minerva (virtue); and the Three Graces reward his choice of virtue with the Golden Apples of the Hesperides.

The composition reflects the classical idea of symmetry and balance. The middle figure centers the panel vertically and the landscape in the background gives the work its horizontal. Each Grace connects the other two, while contemplating her own idealized, spherical apple, which forms a sense of geometrical beauty. Dominated by great harmony, the three nude women figures transmit a sense of classical beauty rather than a sexual temptation, as we often see in the work of his contemporaries, such as Botticelli and Michelangelo. It may be due to the fact that the Three Graces are not based on living models, but on the classical sculpture group in Siena. It may also be as the influence of his peaceful, intellectual, middle-class family background. Raphael's work may not be as passionate as Michelangelo, as lively as Botticelli, or as mysterious as Leonardo, but his calmness, pensiveness and orthodox intellectual style make him one of the greatest artists not only in Renaissance, but also throughout history.

  • 7:00 AM

San Zeno Altarpiece

Andrea Mantegna, San Zeno Altarpiece, 1459
Regarded as the first acceptable example of Renaissance Art in Italy, The San Zeno Altarpiece is located in the Basilica de San Zeno in Verona. Mantegna used this piece to further experiment with perspective. Since the commissioner of the piece, Abbot Gregorio Correr, assigned to Mantegna the saints that were to surround the enthroned Madonna, Mantegna used other aspects of the painting to create an altarpiece that resembled the art he had been studying.

Using a trompe-l'oeil technique, Mantegna created illusions forcing the eye to see his impressive perspective of the room. He accomplished this by painting the life-like fruit that hangs from the top of the canvas. This technique not only helps to frame the work properly, but also helps to draw the eye though the room and to the detail in the shadows that helps give the work depth. The frame work done by the hanging fruit accompanied with the diagonal lines drawn by the saints to Madonna all set the stage for the beautiful Madonna and Child. 

In between the garnish on the top, we notice a lit candle which symbolizes the presence of God, or the light of God if you will. This light flows down through the middle canvass and brightens the Madonna and Child as well as the playful angels that surround them. These angels are painted in a more humanistic light to display the growing humanistic traits in the 15th century. They are also chanting and singing to the baby Jesus and Madonna. helping to glorify the moment and the presence of God. 

The top three canvases remain at the Basilica de San Zeno, where you can see San Zeno painted on the far left with a gold cloak over him. But the bottom three canvasses that display Jesus' prayer at the Mount of Olives, the crucifixion, and the resurrection are now copies that hang in the altarpiece. The originals were purchased by the Louvre in 1797 and have remained in France since then. The frame of the altarpiece was also thought to be designed by him because of the fruit pieces and the classic detail. Aside from the missing pieces, this work remains a symbol of one of the first great Renaissance art pieces in Italy. 

  • 7:00 AM

Pieta


Fra Angelico, Pieta,  1440-1445

Pieta, or Lamentation, by Fra Angelico, depicts the entombment of Christ. Fra Angelico does an excellent job here of conveying a sense of sadness. The rectangular void of the tomb yawns wide, waiting to accept Christ’s body. In addition to darkening the tone of the painting, the sepulcher creates a sense of gravity. The hole seems to drag the background of the painting and all of the characters towards it. Nicodemus, a Pharisee sympathetic to Jesus’ cause, drags him into the tomb. Even though he is not actually a follower of Jesus, his face still betrays a deep agony. When looked at close up, the eyes in particular haunt the viewer. St. John the Evangelist flanks Jesus to his left. St. John holds Jesus’ hand close to his face as his eyes well up with tears. Fra Angelico paints this work in his typical style, displaying a mastery of perspective, with all lines vanishing into the middle of the tomb. The bright colors and sharp lines cause the painting to pop, lending Angelico’s work his typical vivacity. The shading is beautiful—Fra Angelico does a particularly good job on the blanket beneath Jesus.

Fra Angelico’s work here exemplifies the new style of painting that accompanied the Renaissance. The trees flanking the tomb lose their form and gravitate toward the center of the canvas as they recede, creating the illusion of perspective. This single innovation represents a huge improvement over the works of older masters such as Giotto. Fra Angelico’s characters also benefit from Renaissance discoveries. A new knowledge of human proportions, as Da Vinci lays out in his notebooks, lends Angelico’s figures life and allows the viewer to feel immersed. While he stands tall on the work of previous artists such as Giotto and Duccio, Fra Angelico’s groundbreaking work with perspective and shape epitomizes the spirit of the Renaissance and represents a major step forward for western art.

  • 7:00 AM

Habakkuk

Donatello, Habakkuk, 1425
Donatello's Habakkuk, often known as Pumpkinhead, was the eighth of twelve minor prophets in the Old Testament of the Bible. As Habakkuk's self-titled book reveals next to nothing about the prophet himself, Donatello took some artistic license while rendering Habakkuk's form. Donatello departed from the traditional  way of portraying prophets and other significant biblical figures as perfectly handsome, relatively young men. Instead, Donatello created a more realistic version of the eighth prophet, one thin and tired from fasting and devotion to God.

This sculpture acquired its nickname, Pumpkinhead, from the oddly proportioned head that Donatello gave to the prophet. The problem corrects itself, however, when viewed from the position that the sculpture was originally designed for. Donatello customized each of his sculptures, keeping in mind the perspective that the viewer would have, and adjusting the proportions accordingly. What at first appears to be an error, upon a closer inspection, reveals yet another level of Donatello's genius.

The skillfully crafted drapery tells of the muscular form beneath, and Habakkuk's posture and expression give the sculpture a sense of weariness and age. Habakkuk has obviously persevered through trial and persecution alike, and his form, although thinned by time, won't be giving up anytime soon.

  • 7:00 AM

The Dream of St. Jerome



Piero Della Francesca, The Dream of St. Jerome, 1455         
The Flagellation is a rather endearing piece of artwork although - let’s not kid ourselves - its not really The Flagellation, rather it's The Dream of St. Jerome by Piero Della Francesca painted in 1455. For many years the panel was thought to be the moment in time where Christ is being flogged under Pontius Pilate, however in recent years it has been discovered that is not the case.

The dream consists of a young Jerome who is brought in front of a blinding and all encompassing light, and can not bring himself to look for the source. A judge sits in front of him and berates him with questions about his faith and devotion to God. Jerome answers he is a Christian, to which the judge corrects him and says he is a Ciceronian. Between his whippings, Jerome comes to the realization that his previous notions about the ancient Greek and Roman literary figures are distorted and ultimately destructive. Upon promising never to read another ancient text from his previous idols, he awakes unharmed but forever changed.

Leonardo Bruni, a Florentine humanist, talks about the importance of studying ancient Greek and Roman texts to supplement current teachings. In conjunction with Christian studies, he suggests that one also reads these early teachings. However, I argue that Francesca is ultimately trying to fight against the notion of incorporating such literature. Jerome basks in a marvelous light while he pays for his wrong doings and is shown the errors of his ways. The men on the side stand in a scholarly circle clearly unaware or indifferent to the torturous scene behind them. Francesca wants the viewer to understand that the revival of knowledge is enlightening only if that knowledge is derived from Christian lessons.

  • 7:00 AM

Journey of the Magi

Benozzo Gozzoli, Journey of the Magi, 1459
Gozzoli painted this fresco for the Medici Palace in Florence, and it's meant to picture the journey of the three wise men to Bethlehem, on their way to visit the newborn Jesus. Upon closer inspection, however, you might find some discrepancies with this. The clothing resembles, instead of traditional biblical attire, clothing of the modern age. Gozzoli went to great lengths to incorporate the Medici family into his work, painting in family members and using their faces as prototypes for the kings themselves.

The fresco actually spans three different walls in the Medici Palace, one for each king. This one features the youngest king. It has been speculated that he is meant to resemble Lorenzo Il Magnifico, but Lorenzo was, at the time, not more than ten years old and hence not able to be painted in. Cosimo de Medici's elderly figure sits atop the brown mule, the mule crowned with shining gold harnesses to separate him from the crowd. Gozzoli did a self-portrait in the third row, and is signified by his hat, which has his name on it. The castle in the background, meant to be Jerusalem, bears a resemblance to one of the Medici's villas.

The procession crowds the painting, and the perspective isn't entirely correct, but the piece features some improvements from the paintings of the pre-renaissance era. The trees and undergrowth depart from the unrealistic Giotto style, and, although still a far cry from complete accuracy, seem much more realistic than before.

Gozzoli's work doesn't necessarily come close to perfection, but it takes a step in the right direction.

  • 7:00 AM

Mary Magdalene

Donatello, Mary Magdalene, 1454-55
Mary Magdalene depicts a story of a woman who was a strong disciple of Christ. According to the Bible, Magdalene was a "woman of sin." In which her story dictates of her being saved from seven demons. After becoming a passionate follower of Christ, she became a role model for other female followers. At one point Magdalene refused to eat, she intended to rely on "heavenly nourishment" alone, which is why Donatello captured her with sunken, corpse-like eyes.

Donatello's attention to detail in this wood carving is astonishing, with every single drape of her dress and twist in her hair looks like it is dripping right off her. Magdalene's rugged body, brings back the idea of her only consuming heavenly nourishment. If one were to look at her face, she expresses a need for one last bite of heavenly nourishment which instills her loyalty to Christ.

Through Donatello's attention to detail comes along the striking humanistic qualities. Donatello goes as far as to carve her broken teeth poking out through dehydrated lips. What my eyes were drawn to were her eyes. The eyes are carved with an iris. Her head is pointing down, but her eyes remain looking up.

This portrait of Mary Magdalene is unlike any other done. Other works show her as a beautiful woman, with long blonde hair and fit. However, in other renditions, her eyes are all looking up, or at Christ himself. Donatello's version shows a different side of her, one that exemplifies her true passion for Christ.

  • 7:00 AM

Resurrection


Piero Della Francesca, Resurrection, 1463-65
Piero della Francesca’s Resurrection depicts Jesus emerging from his tomb. Della Francesca’s rather unremarkable work does have a few interesting features. Firstly, he depicts Jesus as “athletic,” in the words of Aldous Huxley. His abs stand out sharply against the rest of his body. Everyone seems to disagree with me, and I admit that it does not fit with the tone of the story overall, but I really think that Jesus’ expression in this painting betrays a sort of sadness. His face is at best emotionless, but his eyes stare past the viewer, forlorn. Francesca uses more than Jesus’ eyes to convey a sense of melancholy in the painting. The tree on the right behind Jesus is verdant with leaves, symbolizing Jesus’ resurrection, and in stark contrast to those on the left. However, the dismal grays of the background rob the painting of its joy and leave me wondering what kind of emotional state Francesca was in when he painted this fresco in the meeting hall of Sansepulcro.

On a weird note, the sleeping man with the spear has no legs.

I really struggled to enjoy this painting. While many appreciate this painting as a masterpiece, I cannot seem to make a connection with. I do not find Francesca’s craftsmanship particularly remarkable. Perhaps the only aspect of this painting I enjoy is the conflict in emotions we see in Jesus’ expression. Francesca seems perhaps to express himself beyond a strict interpretation of the events of The Bible.

  • 7:00 AM

The Holy Trinity

Masaccio, The Holy Trinity, 1425-1427
Five hundred years before Nick Romano, the Italian painter Masaccio lived by his motto - live fast, die young, and leave a pretty... fresco. His body of work is relatively small, since he died early at the age of twenty-eight. However, his paintings had an undeniable influence on other artists on his time and beyond. He mastered the relatively new technique of linear perspective and moved toward a more naturalistic style, creating truly beautiful and detailed frescoes.

Jesus is shown crucified, with God standing behind him, underneath a barrel vault that appears to extend back into the wall. Before him stand Mary and St. John, then two kneeling donors at a slightly lower level. Scholars disagree as to who the two may be; they belong to either the Lenzi family or the Berti. The figures are roughly human height and slightly above eye level, forcing the viewer to look up towards the promise of salvation. Directly at eye level is a memento mori, a skeletal reminder of our own mortality, with the not-so-subtle inscription "I once was what you are and what I am you also will be" carved above.

The limited palette of blues, reds, and greys, combined with the images of death and crucifixion, bears down relentlessly on the viewer, impressing upon them a sense of hopelessness. The tomblike arch of the background, unique among paintings with similar themes from the time, further encloses the scene. Other works depicting the Trinity were set outdoors, in rolling fields, or on a flat gold-leaf field. Little documentation exists on the creation of this haunting fresco, leaving the circumstances of its commission a mystery. What is known is that Masaccio died soon after, in 1428, and many of his frescos were damaged or destroyed in the interim. Only four surviving frescoes can be conclusively attributed to him.

  • 7:00 AM

Expulsion of Adam and Eve From the Garden of Eden

Masaccio, Expulsion of Adam and Eve From the Garden of Eden, 1424-27
Masaccio's individualism came with his work with linear perspective and vanishing point - the first of its kind. Masaccio used highlights and shadows in order to create dimension in his paintings. He also became one of the first to use facial expressions and humanism in his people in his paintings. Rather than blank faces and blank stares, his people had emotion in their faces that better depicted their surroundings. His work was revolutionary in his time and many artists would learn from his techniques.

In this painting, he depicts the scene of Adam and Eve's expulsion from the Garden of Eden.  Because Masaccio dealt with facial expression in his paintings, the viewer can see the pain in the faces of Adam and Eve. The sadness and regret is obvious in their expressions as they leave the garden. Masaccio's highlights and shadows are used in this painting as well. The shadows in their legs make them more detailed and more three dimensional. The angel however has been faded and the painting is no longer in good shape, and it is somewhat shown that the painting has been restored and not very well.

  • 7:00 AM

Drapery Study: Kneeling Woman

Leonardo da Vinci, Drapery Study: Kneeling Woman, 1477
I would like to draw your attention to the drapery on this piece. Notice the way the cloak folds over itself and the shadowing in between the fabric’s crevices - absolutely brilliant da Vinci. The cloth also gives the viewer a sense of her form. Her kneeling stature can be discerned beneath the layer of clothing the artist has given her. Ah, but here lies the most interesting part. Follow the curve of her back up towards the top of the painting. Do you notice something odd about da Vinci’s masterpiece? Do not think about it too hard. It will come to you.

If you realized she had no head, then you are a genius. Da Vinci appears to have forgotten to give his kneeling lady more than an outline of a head, torso, and arms, but this plays into our artistic viewing of the piece perfectly. Now we can make a triangle out of the lower portion of her body. Follow the slanting line of her back up until the point where da Vinci stopped painting. Then follow that line to where the fabric hits the ground. A ha! Triangle! Da Vinci, you have done it again. Your half-finished studies will never cease to amaze the easily amused public. Soon, there will be a whole room in the Louvre dedicated to this piece. Every day people will line up by the thousands to see it. And the scene will remind me of something that happened to me earlier in the week.

Dark Side of the Moon, 1973, Pink Floyd
While at a music festival for my younger brother’s school, a group of student performers where getting ready to perform Pink Floyd’s “Speak to Me/Breath” (for you uneducated lot, that is off of Dark Side of the Moon. You know, the album cover with the glass triangle revealing a beam of light’s electromagnetic spectrum. If you still don't know, look left.) As soon as the band started playing the song, my brother’s friend yelled, “This is one of the best songs from the greatest albums of all time!” As the room applauded my brother’s friend, signaling their agreement, I looked inside myself and came upon a startling realization. I suddenly yelled, “I think it’s overrated!” The room went silent. I was lucky to escape with my life, but that aside, da Vinci is overrated.

Even though I believe Masaccio, Caravaggio, and Donatello are better Renaissance Era artists, I can still find the artistic merit in da Vinci’s sketches and studies. During the Renaissance, a desire to paint naturally people and places became very popular. This was called Scientific Naturalism, and no one committed to Scientific Naturalism like Leonardo da Vinci. His sketchbooks are full of notes, sketches, ideas, and inventions. Da Vinci even went so far as to dissect human bodies to better understand them. He believed that with a better understanding of the body one could more accurately present and paint it. This study of a woman kneeling accurately represents da Vinci’s method and desire to further Scientific Naturalism. A painter cannot understand how to paint drapery without practicing and looking at how the shadows behave within the clothing’s folds.

This being said, I still think da Vinci and Dark Side of the Moon are overrated. Everyone knows Pink Floyd’s best album is The Wall

  • 7:00 AM

Man of Sorrows

Fra Angelico, Man of Sorrows, 1443
Now, I'm no expert on Jesus paintings, but Man of Sorrows by Fra Angelico has got to be one of the cooler ones out there. For once it wasn't the content or message of the work that drew my attention, but rather the boldfaced weirdness of it all. The use of black in the background is startling, especially given the ambiguity that surrounds its context. Is that the night sky, or a metaphorical space in which the scenes of the Passion of Christ may be displayed?

The scenes themselves borrow elements from Fra Angelico's other works that line the walls of the San Marco. Incredibly detailed and surreally arranged in the negative space, the scenes do not seem to adhere to any particular pattern or linear story. Rather they seek to evoke an emotion. They tell the story of Christ's betrayal and crucifixion in fragments: The Judas kiss, the nails used to crucify Jesus, the payment of 30 silver pieces to Judas Iscariot, the taunting of Christ. It is also notable that the work depicts an empty cross, with two streaks of blood running from the nails, still stuck fast into the wood.

In portraying the resurrection of Christ in this way, Fra Angelico seeks to portray a triumphant portrait, praising the Man of Sorrow for the trials he faced. As modern viewers, whether we buy the biblical story or not, at the very least we should find a sense of victory in the piece: an ultimate sacrifice for a cause outside of the self.

  • 7:00 AM

David


File:Florence - David by Donatello.jpg
Donatello, David, 1430-1440
Donatello’s famous sculpture, David, typifies the Renaissance. Donatello relied on wax for the foundation of David.  Unlike gothic culture, Donatello created David with ease and a realistic posture.  Wax enabled David’s relaxation and masculinity to demonstrate a normal appearance of the David and Goliath story.  In 1440, a bronze layer covered David to finish Donatello’s masterpiece.
During mid-1400s, King David symbolized power in Florentine Italy.  As the icon for the Florentine Republic, Palazzo Medici transferred David to the center of the courtyard.  David remains the first courtyard center piece in Florence.  Through the incredible work of David and other sculptures, Donatello experienced the rare popularity in society.   
  • 7:00 AM

Adoration of the Magi


 Boticelli, Adoration of the Magi, 1475 
It looks like things have not changed since the Renaissance.  Botticelli constructs Adoration of the Magi to display the social classes of the fifteenth century.  During the 1470s, the Italian classes were separated into four categories.  The relationship between the Renaissance culture and modern society portrays identical behaviors in wealth, greed, and values.
The pompous noble men, furthest from Jesus, reminds us of the “ Vice President Joe Biden.  Biden’s smirks and condescending comments ("That’s a bunch of malarkey" "Oh, now you're Jack Kennedy?") reflect those men in Adoration of the Magi.  Biden outward appearance implies a strong religious faith that cares for the poor.  Nice try, Biden.. and other “generous” Americans, your $5,540 of $379,035 (1.5%) of charitable giving is 6.1% less than the average donations given by the middle class.  Botticelli’s painting delivers the truth behind the hypocritical upper class.

Traveling deeper into the circle, we see a lack of devotion.  While Jesus sits several feet away, Botticelli paints men as if they finished watching five hours of “Dora the Explorer.”  In modern society, we would call this “the Christmas Eve attenders.”  
The people kneeling by Jesus are the charitable givers and the devoted.  As watching a crippled and abandoned Guatemalan woman walk to church every Sunday, the true definition of devotion and charitable giving reflects the poor.  The hope and happiness received by those in need has a significant value compared to all the money in the world. 

Botticelli paints Adoration of the Magi with refection of all social classes.        
  • 7:00 AM

Madonna of the Rocks

Leonardo Da Vinci, Madonna of the Rocks, 1506
Perhaps the artist most known by the average citizen, Leonardo Da Vinci has made himself renowned for Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. I considered him overrated and more often than not, scoffed at the praises sung at his Mona Lisa. Frankly, I don't see anything as fascinating about her smile as the other do. It's a nice, tight-lipped smile,  great, now let's move on to the next painting.

However, starting from the pre-renaissance era to the era of humanism in paintings, it has brought a few undeniable talents of Da Vinci to light. (And as much as it pains me to commend anything about him, the following are genuine, unbiased complements.)

In Madonna of the Rocks (1506 version), Leonardo Da Vinci portrays the scene where Mary and Baby Jesus escape from King Herod's Massacre of the Innocents (where Herod killed a bunch of babies in desperate hope that one of them be Jesus) and at the same time, coincidentally meet up with John the Baptist, Jesus's cousin. (Artists often identify John the Baptist with his cute cross staff.)
The he/she figure besides baby Jesus is an angel that currently has a gentle hand on baby Jesus's waist to prevent him from falling into some deep abyss only centimeters away. 

Here, Da Vinci makes brilliant use of his "sfumato" technique - which is a play of shadows on a person's face, mouth, and eyes. Instead of bluntly outlining his figures, he instead blends in white highlights and uses tonal gradation, giving a much more three-dimensional view to his figures. Also apparent in a majority of his paintings is the clear and humanistic form of his subjects. Unlike a few of his other fellow painters of the day, Da Vinci used real human subjects to sketch and paint from, evident in the perfect posture of both the he/she angel, Mary, and John the Baptist. 

Da Vinci also enjoyed using symbolism in his paintings. The rocks that decorate the background of the painting represent Mary and Joseph, both described in the bible as stable like rocks. The white flowers on the bottom left seem to be Stars of Bethlehem, symbolizing purity and innocence. Also the hand position of baby Jesus seems to be in the motion of blessing, perhaps a foreshadow. 

But with every Da Vinci painting comes some type of controversy and story. Critics often presume that this painting was a collaboration of more than just Da Vinci. Take the Stars of Bethlehem for example. They are extremely unrealistic and a enormous contrast to the rest of the painting. The flowers are flat, and unlike Da Vinci's sketches of flora. And detail apparently was not put into the flowers for the Stars of Bethlehem usually have six petals, not five. 

Though I cannot say I've become a fan of Da Vinci, with Madonna of the Rocks, I can at least say I won't scorn anything related to Da Vinci from now on. 

  • 7:00 AM

Return of Judith to Bethulia

Sandro Botticelli, Return of Judith to Bethulia, 1473
I could never count how many times those around me needed a punishment such as the one that Judith gave to Holoferness of Bethulia. A proper beheading would have put them in there place, six feet under and nowhere near me. Now that is, of course, an exaggeration as I would never wish death upon another human being, but surely needing some space from others and feeling bitter hatred towards these tormentors is not uncommon among my peers.

When I feel as strongly about something as Judith did about the safety and well-being of the Jews, I know that I have the responsibility to stand up for it. I feel this way, because I know I have a voice, and that I am a strong, independent woman, just like Judith, who is the symbol of a woman's strength, and who is the maiden of Peace.

  • 7:00 AM

Birth of Venus

Sandro Botticelli, Birth of Venus, 1482
Depicting the myth of the creation of the Goddess of Love, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus explores - in one of the first non-biblical female nudes - the use of body language in a work. A fresco technique on canvas, Botticelli’s methods resulted in brighter colors than seen in this time. The gold of Venus’ hair and radiant blues of waves and drapery highlight the achievement of Botticelli through an alternate approach. Contrasts in lighting depict movement, led by Venus’ nude body.

From the God of wind on the left to the Goddess of seasons on the right, Venus begins her transition from the divine to the worldly. Naked and with delicate force, Zepherus uses his wind to push Venus toward earth. Separation between the two places is created by Venus, appearing upright. On the left, blue vastness symbolizes the divinity Venus came from, contrasting the fertility and fruitulness of the earth on the right. At first glance, Venus stands firmly, creating a distinct separation between the two spheres. However, with closer examination as we follow the line of her legs, we see her sway more toward the right, already accepting and embracing her arrival in the natural world. A nude body, without the disruption of clothing and drapery made so popular in the Rennisance, more clearly accentuates the action of a body than did the flow and pattern of drapery in a work. For the first time, the flow of a body could be used to show movement.

Female nudity in this work, deemed sufficiently tasteful for a church setting, draws attention to Venus’ innocence and freshness upon being newly born. Pale skin, closely mirroring that of her "father" on the left, as well as a covering hand and elongated neck, assists the image of purity in the newborn. Sharp contrast between movement in Venus’ body and movement in Horae’s dress shows variation in methods of achieving movement and flow in a painting. The scantily clad bodies on the left, with arms, legs, and hair, behind the figure, show Venus’ transcendence to earth. On the right, with outstretched arms, and presenting a floral tapestry with which to swaddle her kin, the body of Horae welcomes and receives.

Born from a shell, Venus still manages to humanize her innocence, even being fully grown. The language of the figures, though without much support from detailed facial expressions, presents clear motion. Newfound accentuation of body lauguage through nudity allowed Botticelli to enhance motion and myth, while still allowing for enough modesty in his subjects to be displayed in a church for all of Italy to see.

  • 7:00 AM

Primavera

Sandro Botticelli, Primavera, 1481
Nothing is painted more elaborately or beautifully than the human desire. Deriving from "De Rerum Natura," written by poet Lucretiu, as well as "Fasti," Ovid's Roman calendar, Botticelli found inspiration to paint the scene. The Medici family was by far the most prominent entity in the Florentine social and political spectrum. Hired by Lorenzo De Medici, Sandro Botticelli became one of the family's stalwarts, painting political and private controversial scenes.

Primavera, translated to spring, was commissioned by Lorenzo De Medici for his cousin's wedding to depict the passion of the human desire. Venus stands in the center next to the pregnant Flora. Zephyrus, god of the wind, is infatuated with the nymph Chloris, and he grabs her completely filled with passion. Hovering above Venus is Amor, her son, shooting flaming arrows of passion that fill whomever they strike with intense love.


Primavera not only represents fiery human passion, but it also carries a striking yet subtle political message. The botanical elements provide contextual evidence to the prominence of the Medici. The orange fruits adoring the trees greatly resemble the golden balls of the Medici coat of arms. Hellbore, a toxic root which was used to cure melancholy and madness, is present under the feet of Venus. Translated to italian Pazzia, Botticelli used the root to refer to the Pazzi family, victims of the infamous Pazzi conspiracy that left many dead.


  • 12:12 PM

The Battle of San Romano

The Battle of San Romano, Paolo Uccello, 1455
Paolo Uccello, an Italian painter and mathmetician, made it his goal to dabble with linear perspective and vanishing point. This painting is one out of three of the paintings he did of the battle of San Romano. The battle took place in Florence in 1432. The Florentines battled the Sienese and came out victors. The man represented in the middle of the painting with a mushroom like red hat is Niccolo da Tolentino. Known for his courageousness and carelessness, he is depicted wearing a hat and not a helmet. The battle portrayed in the painting seems neat and clean rather than a bloody encounter between two armies.

Uccello tried hard to create linear perspective and vanishing point. While he made a painting with a foreground and a middleground and background, his figures all lack shadows which make them all quite flat. The horses and people look like cardboard cut-outs due to the lack of shadows and highlights. The depth in the painting is also poorly done. The soldier lying on the ground does not look realistic. Uccello tried to master these aspects in painting but never fully understood the concepts as other artists like Masaccio.

  • 7:00 AM

Adoration in the Forest

Fra Filippo Lippi, Adoration in the Forest, 1459
A funny thing about this piece is that Hitler banned it during World War II, adding it to his rather extensive "Degenerate Art" list, which usually only included modern art. However, this work was deemed "un-German." If Lippi hadn't been dead for half a century, I'm sure he would have been offended, as Hitler would have also forbidden him to produce any more art - ever.

Lippi's piece, Adoration in the Forest, painted for Cosimo de Medici, gives a non-traditional interpretation of the Nativity. The composition is dark and leaves out the usual parts of a Nativity scene, such as Joseph, the shepherds, the kings, and the ox. Lippi's emphasis on the characters in his work pulls not only from their spatial relation in the painting, but also from the brilliant light he gives them in such contrast to the dark woods around them. This contrast continues with a defined linear perspective softened by pastel colors in the clothes and skin tones. He adds some elements of humanism to his characters' faces, God himself personified in all his glory, actual wings spreading out behind him.

Fra Filippo divides the piece rather symmetrically among the Trinity, with the Holy Spirit's ray of blessed light tracing all the way down to baby Jesus. It gives such power to the baby, such light emanating from him, but it also draws the eye upwards to God, who looks down upon them all. The ray itself matches with the tree trunks, slicing through the dark background that still, somehow, give some room for the scene. But he also literally divides the piece with the ground cracked down the middle. He also depicts chopped-down trees in a row behind Mary, lining up perfectly with the forest behind her. The forest seems to almost wrap around the scene, especially with the characters shown off-center. Jesus rests upon a grassy knoll, surrounded by flowers and life.

Mary's gaze really gets me here. Her face has such delicate care for the Christ-child, but her expression is also somber, perhaps even morose, which complicates the emotions usually so simplistically portrayed in a Nativity piece. Her robe lacks movement and fluidity, the usual curves of cloth instead stiffened. The angle of her jawline and her gaze trace directly to Jesus, much like God's. A rather youthful Saint John, with his signature staff, steals the show by looking directly at the viewer with no focus upon the baby at all. Fra Filippo depicts a different side of the Nativity, adding some mystery and room for interpretation to the piece with his complex iconography of the Trinity, the Virgin, and Saint John.

  • 7:00 AM

The Journey of the Magi

Bennozzo Gozzoli, Journey of the Magi, Kelsey Thorp

In this period many artists were trained by goldsmiths, including Gozzoli. He was an apprentice to Fra Angelico for six to seven years. He worked on in the Dominion monastery of San Marco. This take on the journey of the Magi was displayed on the walls of the Medici household.

From this piece, the march is leaving the castle and heading toward the valley. Gozzoli exercises great detail in the piece. The vegetation looks soft in contrast of the harshness of the rocks. In many renditions of this idea, the artist chooses to only paint the magi, however Gozzoli depicts the Magi with a massive crowd that is never ending.

The use of the gold in this painting brings attention to the more important characters. Gozzoli utilizes the gold to highlight important sayings as well. As seen on the white horse to the slight left of the center. The martingale says "Semper" which means always, a common saying of the Medici family.
  • 7:00 AM

The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne


Leonardo da Vinci, The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, 1508-1510
We are merely people, not yet shaped but stable enough to go on day in and day out. We abide in a world that is not fully formed and constantly changing, we all live with a sense on instability great enough to allow us to live. Just as the landscape moves from young to old, so does the succession of subjects in the front. Leonardo da Vinci paints Mary sitting on her mother's lap returned to childhood innocence while she playfully grabs at her own son in The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne. The slightly bent bodies all resemble one another through their slight smirks, and clear familial resemblance. They all watch over each other and their stories intertwine. 

Saint Anne would be Mary’s mother for those of us who aren’t Mary historians; although, she is never mentioned in the New Testament. She began to come into popular culture because of the Apocrypha, more specifically "Protoevangelium of James"(a big word for gospel). The Saint Anne craze hit the West in the thirteenth century when it was coupled with the Immaculate Conception, and the new religious relics that the crusaders “peacefully” acquired. She is never depicted without her daughter and Jesus. For those of you now completely taken with Saint Anne Metterza, her feast in on July 26th, which should be noted is also the day Florence put an end to the rule of the Duke of Athens. 

Mary observes her son; her maternal eyes carefully monitoring his every move while she still has the ability to help him. She understands one day he will leave home, and fulfill the prophesy carved out for him. But, for now he is merely a child playing with a new friend, a lamb. The lamb symbolizes all Jesus will sacrifice in his short life.

The light shines directly unto the faces of Mary and Jesus, allowing the viewer to understand that they know their role on the Earth and their connections to the Heavens. The boy does not look for acceptance or approval from his mother, he wishes to show her what he will become; however, she already knows, for it is the viewer that must see the exchange and acknowledge it.

Despite all the seventeen years of life I have under my belt, I still run to my mother in cases of bad hair days, grades, or boy issues. She comforts me, and tells me I am unrepeatable. I am hers and she is mine. I dread the day when my bags will be waiting for me in the back of my family's car and they'll be dropping me off at college, letting me go. Telling me it is my time to make my own way in life. I'll look at my mother and see the look in Mary's eyes, although not quite as dramatic, as she realizes I'm going, and I really don't want too. I will restrain from reaching out to her and begging not to let me go, but she can't let me stay. I must begin to write my own life story without her reassuring hold.

  • 7:00 AM