Study of George Dyer in a Mirror

Francis Bacon, Study of George Dyer in a Mirror, 1968
I did not want to watch Resevoir Dogs, my dad made that choice for me. Siting through the grueling movie waiting for an end taught me that I would never be very good doctor or fighter. However, I love Tarantino. Upon viewing Francis Bacon's Study of George Dyer in a Mirror, I want to turn away. I'm going to be honest, I hate it. I don't like Bacon in general, but this painting especially leaves me with an empty feeling. Everything in the painting seems there by coincidence: the man, the reflection, and the viewer.

I've thought about why I dislike this Bacon so much more than the rest, and I believe it's because of the factions of the painting and the abruptness of it all. His skull has come apart. His face is no more. His body has been painted in an uncomfortable juxtaposition as he is torn between positions. Bacon splashes paint onto his canvas. which only adds to the confusion of the piece separating it from figurative art and abstraction, both categories of his time.

Yet, maybe it is good because what is human cannot be grasped. Instead of making his figures clear and limiting himself, he branches out. The reality in this moment becomes apparent when everything we believe we know fades. The viewer sees the picture for what it really is: ugly, raw, scathing, dirty, alone. Among the chaos, the mirror remains perfectly intact  The shape magnifies the disconnect of reflection and reality, the impossible truth that the mirror's image is one of a battered dream.

Like Reservoir Dogs this painting lifts the veil of human nature and exposes the sometimes dark truth behind it. So while I won't be ordering prints of Bacon's portrait, it doesn't mean I haven't gained an affinity towards it. I've come to an understanding and the scene no longer looks so gruesome; instead, it looks so true.

  • 7:00 AM

Europe after the Rain II

Max Ernst, Europe after the Rain II, 1941
Its hard to say how at first glance you would like this painting, its simply too difficult to pinpoint something that's done masterfully. Spend some time simply tracing lines with your finger on the computer screen and you manage to lose your place. Every time (well, at least I did).  A complete mess, greatly resembling my room, so I shouldn't be one to critique. Once I finally gave up tracing, it hit, the tragedy that is Europe after the Rain II:t The mangled faces, shear destruction, pinning you down, drowning you in sorrow and happiness that you are nowhere near that.

WWII instilled fear, not just fear like my sheer hatred for spiders fear, but an uncertainty of waking up the next day fear. Max Ernst, a German national felt strongly about his roots and his country, was heartbroken by the images of this destructive human abomination, so he decided to paint what he saw in his mind. Separating each section of the painting you notice each level of destruction, even the people painted are denouncing their surroundings in hopes of escaping the ravaged landscape. The volume of emotion this painting expels after closer examination is astonishing, almost reaching out and clenching your heart, grossly unsettling. 

By far the most striking aspect of this piece is the use of color. Light hughes of blue green mixed in with white clouds merge into black, the dramatic end to Europe as it was once known.

  • 7:00 AM

Garden of Earthly Delights

Hieronymus Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights, 1480
Throughout history, artists have long been trying to present their audience the premonition of the coming apocalypse. In Hieronymus Bosch's mind, human's original sin rests on their lust and desire, which eventually leads humans to hell. Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch provides a hallucinatory warning against a life of lustful pleasure. From left to right, the triptych depicts Christ blessing the union of Adam and Eve, a world of debauchery, and the doom that inevitably follows. Bosch's message is Christian, yet his way is profane.

In the middle panel, young people are talking and interacting with each other and with plants and animals. Animalism, temptation, and other bizarre behaviors are ubiquitously exhibited in front of our eyes. In the middle ground, young men riding on horse-like animals, circle around the bathing women in a round pound--a rite that was viewed as symbols of heresy and passion by Bosch's contemporaries. In the background, structures in pink and blue are depicted in an organic manner, and again, with sexual innuendo. Even in the wildest dream wouldn't one imagine such a phantasmagoria of outlandish phenomena. Critics commonly believe Bosch here depicts a false paradise, where all physical desire is fulfilled in exchange of human reason and soul.

I was amazed by the unique way that Bosch propagates his belief. This image is pretty surrealistic even in the eyes of the 21st century. However, the message that Bosch trying to preach here repels me. Under his brush, people animalized, sexuality as a sin floods, and humanity is on the verge of doom. On some level, the perverted false paradise and the sadistic panorama of the hell really demonstrates Bosch's pessimistic vision of the world, and maybe, his morbid mind as well. After all, who could deliberately depict such a image if he has not pictured it in his deepest mind? In a Freudian manner, like Dali did in the 20th century, one could argue that these images are surrealistic expressions of Bosch's repressed desire. If desires like these exist even in the most Christian heart, the question becomes not just "can you practice what you preach?" but rather "should we believe what you preach?"

  • 7:00 AM

Moneychanger and His Wife

Quentin Massys, Moneychanger and His Wife, 1513

Everyday families are praying their economic status will keep them afloat.  Today Americans are experiencing high unemployment rates and substantial drops in income.  Statistics clearly imply the economy “is down the drain.”  As one of the technological advanced and richest nations, The United States has homeless citizens on its streets.  Congress and the executive branch should feel a shock of embarrassment.  Since Obama took office, the average income dropped from 55,198 to 50,058 dollars. The employment rate increased from 5 to 7.8 percent.  And 14 million more people are on food stamps.  The question is: how can we allow this? 

As becoming president in the 2009 recession, citizens did not believe unemployment rates would be perfect or the increase of national dept. would end.  But over four years, we trusted the economic situations would be substantially better. Under Obama, gas prices raised $1.24 more than he first took office, not to mention other commodities.  Obama also spent 40 cents extra for every dollar the US barrowed, leadings us 9 trillion more dollars in dept.  Obama’s radicle spending takes money from US jobs and other US benefits.  And the American people simply cannot afford this.  

In The Moneychanger and His Wife, a couple experiences the same situation.  The only differences between now and then are: the man on the moon, inventions galore, and overcoming fatal diseases (just minor details).  Why can’t modern society solve poverty?    

In conclusion, the man in the mirror symbolizes the federal government.  Either high inflation to a decrease in income, the government controls the regulations, interest, and the economy. 





 
  • 6:00 PM

Woman at the Window

Edgar Degas, Woman At the Window, 1871 
When I first saw this painting all I could think about was how it had an incomplete look to it. The woman lacks facial structure and her dress fades into the background and the furniture also looks like it has not been finished. The woman becomes a silhouette against  a brown and yellow-toned background. I was not star-struck when I first saw this painting. 

Edgar Degas had been considered one of the leaders in the impressionist movement, however he referred to himself as a realist. He leaned away from the impressionist movement in his colors. While others experimented with bright vivid colors, Degas used more somber tones and depicted Parisian life as he saw it being performed, adding his realist perspective. His style changed a bit with the introduction of photography, which influenced him to paint paintings from unusual angles and add more color. 

The painting here demonstrates one of the most complex subjects Degas painted, which is the topic of human isolation. The woman sits alone staring out a window. Although she has no facial expression the mood of the painting gives the feeling of isolation and loneliness. The colors also highlight this aspect. The darkness and use of browns, yellows, and oranges gives the viewer this feeling of loneliness and really plays on these emotions. The lack of facial expression allows the viewer to imagine what she would be feeling and the painting's mood influences what facial expression you would imagine on this woman at the window. This painting made me realize how beautiful it really is. 

  • 7:00 AM

Herodias and the Head of John the Baptist

Francesco Cairo, Herodias and the Head of John the Baptist, 1625
Self-proclaimed wimp, I personally despise gruesome paintings. In fact, I shy far away from them by uttering a gasp and slamming my computer screen shut.  Herodias and the Head of John the Baptist was no different. Poor John the Baptist and his unhappy severed head just filled me with a strong urge to stop looking at the painting immediately and search the internet kittens and puppies to relieve the image.

However, the more I force myself to look at Cairo's painting, the more I begrudgingly appreciate the darkness and horror of the work. It's horrifyingly beautiful with the lighting that appears from the right and the eloquent facial expressions.

Upon cautious, closer inspection, however, once again the enormous urge to vanquish the painting from my sight resurfaced. His tongue! Herodias is swooning in happiness as her hand hovers over the tongue of John. Clearly, someone's excited that John died. But she's holding something faint between her fingertips.

Apparently she's holding a thin needle and the source of her happiness is because she hated John's preaching to her husband, Harold, earlier. Perhaps he insulted her attempt at swag with her hanging chains. But whatever the reason for her abhorrence, she ordered for his death and his head. When the beheaded John was brought to her, she delightedly pierced his tongue - a revenge for speaking against her. What a hardcore woman. Joan of Arc could only dream of such a vengeful attitude.

The intricacy of the painting finally surpassed all automatic impulses to delete the photo off my computer. The awesome detail to Herodias' delighted expression and the slightly-agitated facial expression of John the Baptist brings out an inexplicable feeling of awe and terror simultaneously.

Though I still don't fully like this and plan on deleting this after I finish the blog post, I've at least come to appreciate the dark event portrayed beautifully in the painting.  

  • 7:00 AM

Durer's Self-Portrait

Durer, Durer's Self-Portrait,1500
Durer bravely painted a picture of himself resembling Christ. Seeing a painter portraying himself as Jesus was unheard of. Durer's posture fits Christ's perfectly, making no question of his motives. For Durer’s artistic detail, the dark tone gives me an uninviting feeling. 

But maybe Durer illustrated himself as an ordinary human. His fancy cloak has a tear, resembling the corruption of greed. Or the dark background implies the difference between good and bad or dark and light. Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but Durer paints a mug shot of himself as if he was convicted of murder.  

Like it or not, Durer’s self-portrait hangs in the Louvre. Is it good?...That is your decision.    

  • 7:00 AM

Wheatfield and Cypress Trees


Vincent Van Gogh, Wheatfield and Cypress Trees, 1889
After spending a lot of time with this painting, I think I probably erred in my initial reaction. I usually like Van Gogh, and after learning about this painting and particularly the significance it had for him, I really like it. However, it originally held no appeal for me at all, so I decided to write about it.

Van Gogh painted this painting as part of a series shortly after leaving a mental institution where he had stayed after a series of mental breakdowns. These paintings built on a series of earlier works he had painted of the view into the meadows outside his hospital from the window of his room. Van Gogh’s new feeling of freedom bursts out of the canvas in the rich luxurious blue of the sky and the graceful curves of the cypress trees. I think now my favorite part of this painting is the sky. I love the color he uses; it seems delicate and fragile in its beauty. Looking at the sky makes me feel that I am missing something. The clouds fit into the sky in a pattern that seems to lie just beyond my grasp.

A horizontal line sharply divides the middle of the painting. The warmth of a sunny, windblown meadow contrasts with the cold austerity of the mountains beyond and the sky that lies above. However, the painting retains a sense of continuity. The reason lies in the lines—no change seems sharp when made with a series of sinuous lines that seem to flow like water across the page. I don’t really remember why I didn’t like this painting at first. I certainly can’t think of a reason to dislike it now.

  • 7:00 AM

Saturn Devouring His Son

Francisco Goya, Saturn Devouring His Son, 1819-23
I first encountered this piece on my first day of English class during my sophomore year. For quite awhile after that, I doubted my English teacher's sanity. Just a little bit. It immediately deterred me, and I couldn't like it. It still sits taped onto the wall behind where I sit in class.

Goya's paintings have proved the most difficult for me to stomach. Something about the way he portrays life and people in his later pieces disturbs me. Saturn's skin tone here is sickly and uneven, his wide eyes bugging out of his face. He seems driven mad by his horrific act, such desperation in his expression as he grips to the bloody form of his son, white-knuckled and ferocious. Saturn doesn't seem guilty, doesn't seem conflicted about his actions. It's all to preserve himself and his power at all costs, even his own flesh and blood. It's painful to view.

The back story of the piece is equally offputting. Goya came to live in a home called the Quinta del Sordo, or Villa of the Deaf Man, named after its past owner. After contracting a fever about 20 years prior, Goya became deaf, so the name of the home fit him as well. In this very home, Goya created a series of 14 works painted with oil right onto the walls of the property. This piece was one of six in the dining room. Goya had survived two life-threatening illnesses in his life, and the pieces in the house depict an awareness of mortality and a disturbed, dark outlook of life never meant to be seen by the public. These pieces now make up his Black Paintings, named by others after Goya's death, not by him.

The challenging part for is how truthfully Goya imbues this piece with the horror and malevolence held within wherever he pulled these pieces from. It's difficult to analyze something so personal, so cruel, but so beautiful in its own dark right. In my opinion, this piece is one of Goya's greatest. But I cannot like it or say that I personally enjoy viewing it. The darker side of humanity so expertly, desperately portrayed here is not something I've had to experience in such a visual way. The naked Saturn is both so vulnerable and so cruel, making me question the purpose Goya meant for this piece - if he had ever wanted anyone to see this dark scene or any of the others found in his home, or if he even meant for Saturn to seem a bit like himself. Questions unanswered, of course.

  • 7:00 AM

Brera Altarpiece

Piero della Franchesca, Brera Altarpiece, 1472
Painted by Piero della Franchesca for Lord Frederico da Montefeltro, a dedicated patron of Italian artists, the Brera Altarpiece shows an assembled half-circle of various saints and angels gathered around the Madonna and Child. In the foreground, an armored Montefeltro is kneeling before Jesus. Because of a dueling accident, Montefeltro had a scar across the right side of his face, and part of the bridge of his nose was missing - meaning he had to be portrayed in profile, from his good side.

Although the faces and proportions of the assembled saints may be questionable, and baby Jesus looks about to roll off Mary's lap, above them stands a strikingly gorgeous barreled arch in perspective, a seashell-like dome, and an egg dangling from its tip, a symbol of the creation. Various theories about this enigmatic symbol link the seashell to depictions of Venus or to a symbol of the immaculate conception (since oysters create pearls without male intervention). The egg may also represent a hope of regeneration or simply be a reference to the ostrich in the Montefeltro crest. This painting is not unique in showing an egg hanging from the ceiling, and indeed real ostrich eggs were sometimes hung in churches as curiosities and reminders of God's grace.

When rediscovered in the 19th century, the paint had darkened almost out of recognition; modern reconstruction allowed the intricate details of the clothing, the reflections on Montefeltro's armor, and the Oriental rug beneath Mary's throne to return to focus. The painting, some scholars suggest, was commissioned to celebrate the birth of Montefeltro's son Guidobaldo. Whatever its original purpose or the true symbolism of the enigmatic egg might be, this altarpiece holds layers of symbolism and intricate details not obvious on a first viewing.

  • 7:00 AM

Self Portrait at Easel

Sofonisba Anguissola, Self Portrait at Easel, 1560
Unaffected by social constructs in her home, Anguissola's father stressed to his daughters the importance of developing individual skill as early as possible. By age 7, Sofonisba's gift for painting was evident beyond her immediate family. She left for Rome at 22 and was introdcuted to Michealangelo. Impressed by her young talent, Michelangelo informally became her master, enhancing her work and supplementing her natural gift.

The times, however, were not so kind. Being a female artist, Anguissola was not allowed to look at nudes, recreate biblical images, or access the same materials and teachings as men. Limited but not squelched, she turned to portraits to continue her work without the same luxuries as the male artists of the day. This particular portrait highlights the genius of Anguissola within the slim context of her artistic freedoms. As she paints the romanticized Madonna and Child, she paints herself in the casual, simple, attire, she typically wore while in practice. Here her ability to restrict color to one side of the piece and contrast the regal with the simple is made clear. In painting a biblical figure alongside herself, new-found notion of personal faith and feminist presence are depicted. A innovative female of the period, Anguissola battles boundaries to create exquisite influential works.

  • 7:00 AM

The Tribute Money

Masaccio, The Tribute Money, 1420

This painting by Masaccio truly is a picture that says a thousand words, if not more. Not only is Masaccio's talent depicted in the painting, but the historical background within the painting is shown. Masaccio had become the Renaissance's first master in linear perspective and vanishing point. All the figures in this painting have dimension to them and their legs and feet have shadows and highlights giving them definition. No flat space can be detected in this painting. The light source seems to be coming from the church and making Jesus the brightest central figure in the painting. 

The painting also packs into it three scenes. In the scene in the middle Jesus tells Peter that in order to pay off his taxes all he has to do is go to the river and catch a fish. Toward the left the viewer can see Peter catching fish in order to pay off the tax collector. On the right, Peter pays off the tax collector. The three scenes do not occur in order, traditionally left to right, but middle, left, then right. It is interesting that Masaccio chose to take this perspective on the scene. However, it makes it unique and makes Masaccio identifiable as a painter. 

  • 7:00 AM

Triumph of Galatea

Raphael, Triumph of Galatea, 1513
Raphael, Triumph of Galatea, 1513
Galatea, a sea-nymph, fell in love with a you shepherd named Acis. She lived in the sea where she also encountered the monstrous one-eyed cyclops, Polyphemus, who fell madly in love with Galatea as well. One night, Polyphemus caught Acis and Galatea asleep and proceeded to murder Acis with a large rock. Raphael crated this scene as one of many in the Villa Farnesina for Agostino Chingi. The fresco to the left of this in the Villa shows Polyphemus coming for Galatea.

In this particular piece, Raphael creates a dramatic high renaissance picture displaying his detail of the human body with contortions and curves similar to those of Michelangelo's sculptures. Specifically, Galatea is positioned in such a way that her physical momentum pushes her away from Polyphemus, but the wind causes the flowing hair and clothing to move the opposite way. In addition to the sea-nymphs that surround her, she looks as is she is being pulled in every direction. The shifting of the bodies and colors Raphael uses in the frescoes filling the Villa provides a great example of Renaissance painting.

  • 7:00 AM

Marriage of the Virgin


 Raphael, Marriage of the Virgin, 1504
Self-contained and certain, Mary’s marriage to Joseph by Raphael takes symmetry to new levels. Everything is crisp. The lines, the vanishing point dead center, the height of the wedding party, and the social event they depict, all collaborate in an appropriate composition with a clean border. Pregnant and a virgin, Mary’s depiction in a wedding scene represents the social stigma of Raphael’s time...and our time. A pregnant woman should be wed. Surrounded with decoration, the work itself does not send the eye beyond. All that is to be seen is seen, very rare in a biblical painting, especially one with an accompanying narrative.

Not pictured in white, though the purest of the pure, Mary appears in her classic blue robes with Raphael’s added red dress, representative of the blood of Christ. The priest, most directly in line with the church, symbolizes the value of those most closely related to God. Her left hand is placed on her pregnant stomach and right hand accepting her ring. Mary’s dual commitments are represented: one to bear the Son of God, and one to her new husband. Raphael’s signature in the Church also adds to the symmetry of the piece, refusing to make one side heavier with significance. Mary and unborn Jesus, the focal point of the narrative, are balanced in importance by the Priests tilted head to the left, presenting symbolic symmetry even when visually lacking. Sharp, straight, and proper, Raphael’s work appeals to viewers and socialites through centuries.

  • 7:00 AM

Tomb of Pope Julius II

Michelangelo, Tomb of Julius II, 1505-1545

Resting in its home in the San Pietro Vincoli in Rome The Tomb of Pope Julius the II was one of the most laborious tasks undertaken by Michelangelo Buonarroti. Built as the third revision, the tomb retains elements of its past like the three levels that separate it. On the bottom: man, weak unholy and impure. Michelangelo sculpted the slave statues that would surround base of the monument, a footing for the holy. The second tier: the prophets and saints where the gorgeous stature of Moses rests. The beautiful statue receives much controversy as some scholars argue that Michelangelo interpreted the story of Exodus incorrectly and gave him horns, while others argue that they are simply an accident. Either way the detail in his face as well as his intricate clothing is intense, explaining how one sculpture could take months and even years. The third tier: those who surpass the last judgment, home to the sculpture of Mary. The third tier originally had angels bringing down Jesus, but that was later done with as the marble became more scarce. The tomb was awe- inspiring despite its leap from the holy masterpiece it was originally destined to be.


Michelangelo's Original, 1505
Eight years before Pope Julius's death work on the grandiose tomb was to begin. Contracting Michelangelo to sculpt his dream, Julius had envisioned nearly an impossible feat. A massive free standing tomb surrounded by 40 of the finest marble states all sculpted by Michelangelo. The Shrine would adorn St. Peters Basilica in Rome, being the first tomb of its kind since ancient times to encase only one man. The project was set with a five-year deadline, a feat impossible for its dimensions 7 X 8 feet X 11 feet. The tomb would have three basic layers, the bottom for man the middle: prophets and saints the top: any who surpass the last judgement.Shortly after work had begun Michelangelo was called away on Papal matters - painting the Sistine Chapel.

Michelangelo's First Revision, 1513
The Pope's death in February 1513 drastically altered the course for the monument. Michelangelo realized the labor involved and re-wrote the contract to reflect a three-sided figure that would rest against the wall. The tomb was also moved to San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome, its current home. A new problem arose -  massive amounts of stone were needed; and at a soaring cost, the marble did not come easily. Pleading with the heirs of Julius, Michelangelo was unable to secure more funding and saw his project fall apart.

Michelangelo's Second Revision, 1516
After four years of agony, a scaled down revision was approved for the tomb, detracting greatly from the original majesty of the structure. With money in hand Michelangelo continued the project. With each sculpture averaging several months in duration to carve, the task remained daunting and furthermore not pressing as the Pope had already died work on the town was at a snails pace. The statues at this point were being carved by apprentices simply to complete the order and move on. The tomb was finally completed in 1545, and now rests as the third revision of a tomb that was fit for a pharaoh. 

  • 7:00 AM

Saint George Fighting the Dragon

Raphael, Saint George Fighting the Dragon, 1503-5
When I sit at my desk and prepare to write an entry for the Art History blog, I pull up the image of the piece I am to write on, and stare at it for a while. This takes between five to ten minutes. Normally I would then begin some research on the artist and the work itself to be able to address it formally. While I did look up the story of Saint George, I researched nothing else. I chose to write about this painting because I feel it represent part of me in this moment of time. For Saint George, the dragon represented Satan. He had come to slay the dragon, not only to save the princess, but also to free the city, which this dragon terrorized, feeding on its livestock.

For me, I see myself as the knight, coming to the rescue to save myself, because I also represent the city. The dragon stands for all the bad habits I have accumulated. I used to always be on time with my work, but over the last semester I feel I have sunken into a daze. Some call it Senioritis, but I think that’s too easy of a diagnosis. I can say that I do feel awful for my lateness when it comes to teachers - mainly because I respect them and because my step-father once told me “not doing your homework is like a slap in the face to your teachers.”

Now other than one instance in middle school, I would never want to do such a thing. Now that college only draws nearer, I have embarked on a quest, one that would improve who I am as a person in preparation for the future. My goals are to become better with time management and deadlines, because whether its for Painting honors or Chinese II, I struggle with the word deadline. So with that, I am off to vanquish such a terrible beasts that reside within me. Hopefully I make it out alive and that this will be my last late assignment.

  • 7:00 AM

St. Sebastian

Mantegna, St Sebastian, 1460
Sebastian was a Roman officer of the imperial guard. He tried to help two of his Christian friends, Marcus and Marcellianus, who were sentenced to death because of their beliefs. In the process, he converted many other Christianity. He was later discovered and sentenced to be shot with arrows. However, the wounds did not kill him. When Irene, the widow of one of his former converted fellow, came to bury him, she found him still alive and took him to her lodging and cared for him. 

Mantegna depicted the moment after the shooting. In this scene, Sebastian turns his beseeching gaze heavenwards. The halo indicates he has become a saint. His slightly twisted body and torturous visage reminds me of Michelangelo's dying slave, which both express some degree of sensuality. In comparison to the dying slave, Mantegna's Sebastian provokes more of a sense of masochism instead of inner struggle. Part of the reason that Mantegna creates this painting is because the ancient Greeks believed that Apollo caused diseases with his arrows, and the recurring plagues in 15th century led to dozens of works on the St Sebastian theme. 

Mantegna includes classical Roman architecture elements in this painting. Their ruined state implies that with the triumph of Christianity, the Roman empire was coming to an end. In addition, Mantegna perfectly unifies his signature into the painting by depicting the line on the column, which says in Greek letter "The work of Andrea." By doing so, Mantegna presents himself as an expert of Hellenic antiquities, which parallels the Renaissance idea of individualism. 

  • 7:00 AM

St. Jerome In The Wilderness

Leonardo da Vinci St.Jerome in the Wilderness, 1480
One of da Vinci's unfinished works, St. Jerome in the Wilderness displays his mastery of human anatomy as well as emotion. In 1480, according to his diaries, da Vinci was plagued by sorrow and depression. This corresponds well with St. Jerome's emotion in his face and body language,  as if he is in search of something. St. Jerome stares at a faint crucifix and holds a rock in the other hand. His life as a hermit living in a Syrian desert is accompanied by a lion who became his companion after he removed a thorn from the lion's paw.

This painting had been separated into two pieces and Cardinal Fesch was said to have found the pieces and brought them back together before selling the work to Pope Pius IX. Now the unfinished da Vinci hangs comfortably in the Vatican. The dark cave and rather bare background highlights the isolated and lonely life of St. Jerome and his lion. Da Vinci's drapery around the body of St. Jerome accentuates the pure form of the human body that da Vinci studied. Even though this work may be unfinished,  the work displays da Vinci's clear mastery of the human form and his wonderful ability to craft a dramatic scene.

  • 7:00 AM

Balthazar Castiglione


Raphael, Balthazar Castiglione, 1515
You wouldn’t notice him in the Louvre. He blends in with his surroundings, as his calm demeanor assures everyone who locks eyes with him. You might even become that person that strikes up a conversation with a painting because you feel so comfortable with the figure in front of you. We no longer feel like we are viewing a painting; more likely, the Balthazar Castiglione is watching us, and painstakingly taking notes.
The man holds incredible power in the courts of 16th century Rome and over many important figures of the time. He wrote Il Libro del Cortegiano (The Book of the Courtier), which served as a pivotal took for modern historians in understanding the Renaissance. The book describes what a true gentleman should be including moral, intellectual and physical attributes - basically a how-to bro guide. Although "bro" back then used to be some stature to attain, not one to degrade yourself to. The point that comes most across in Raphael’s 1514 genuine portrayal of Castiglione is the fact that a courtier should not have to show he is one, the simplicity is what shows everyone how much of a man he really is.

When observing his portrait, Castiglione seems to change his expression before your eyes. His eyes are neither raised nor lowered as he views you as an equal. Never known to raise his voice, or strike an unfair bargain, Castiglione was one of the most sophisticated minds of his time. The portrait does not suggest that he is a genius for the palette and reserved position offer a more unpretentious look at the man. The diplomat meditates between the two extremes of black and white with his gray ensemble, as he weighs multiple view points without coming to any hasty decisions.

  • 7:00 AM

The Martyrdom of St. Catherine of Alexandria


Luca Signorelli, The Martyrdom of St. Catherine of Alexandria, 1498

Signorelli’s animated Martyrdom presents a grisly act in a busy yet uncluttered scene that fits the eye nicely. Signorelli clearly makes the most of the innovations of his predecessors in the Renaissance to inject humanity into his characters and give the scene as a whole a sense of reality.

It almost goes without saying that St. Catherine didn’t get a happy ending. Like most saints prior to the reign of Constantine, her life ended violently. St. Catherine grew up a pagan princess, but the precocious girl began receiving visits from Christ and the Virgin in her teenage years. She vowed to remain a virgin, claiming that Mary had wed her to Jesus. She traveled from Alexandria to Rome and tried to persuade Emperor Maxentius from persecuting Christians. He tried to humiliate her, sending several of his best scholars to debate with her over Christianity. She won, and it wasn’t close. She won so badly that several of her opponents converted to Christianity. Maxentius killed these people and locked her in a prison cell, where she received regular visits from new converts, including the empress herself. The emperor sentenced her to die a painful death on the spiked wheel, but at her touch, the wheel disintegrated, as shown in the right half of the painting. Signorelli interprets this scene slightly differently—in his vision, angels intervened and shot the wheel to pieces. After that impressive display of divine intervention, the king had her beheaded—the left side of the painting. Her followers transported her body to a tomb in Sinai, where it remains today. She lives on in Christianity. Joan of Arc claimed that Catherine advised her, and I am sure Catherine would rejoice to learn that she is one of the 14 most helpful saints.

The bodies of other martyrs lie strewn throughout the composition as the cruel faces of the Roman heathens leer at Catherine, who awaits her end with a calm dignity. Maxentius may have ordered as many as 200 people executed on that day—anyone who had converted under the guidance of Catherine faced this end. Signorelii makes good use of perspective, although the painting seems confusing because it depicts two completely separate scenes with little to divide them. Signorelli’s illustration of the human form shows his interest in anatomy—humans look much more lifelike than just 50 years before.

This rather unusual work by Signorelli showcases his mastery of humanism and tells the story of the martyrdom of one of Christianity’s more interesting saints.

  • 7:00 AM

Basilica of Santa Maria del Santo Spirito

Filippo Brunelleschi and apprentices, Santo Spirito di Firenze, 1487
Filippo Brunelleschi began designs for the Santo Spirito in 1428 over the ruins of an Augustinian priory destroyed on the same site. After his death in 1446, his plans were carried forth by his apprentices/buddies Antonio ManettiGiovanni da Gaiole, and Salvi d'Andrea - with d'Andrea responsible for the gorgeous inner facadeUnfortunately, Brunelleschi's outer facade was left completely blank, never to be completed. Brunelleschi used a Latin Cross plan to use as much of the space as he could. Here, he was able to utilize this plan to its full potential, opening up the space much farther than he did when using the same plan in the Basilica of San Lorenzo. Within S. Lorenzo, he was forced to change his plans into a much less intricate form of his goals.

The wonderful thing about this building is that Brunelleschi's true plans were allowed to take form, rather than having to adopt a less creative composition like his plans for the S. Lorenzo. Everything about the structure, especially within it, celebrates faith and worldly life. There are 38 side chapels, each featuring work from talented artists of the period, almost all originals. The most significant is the Bini-Capponi Chapel, which houses the St. Monica Establishing the Rule of the Augustinian Nuns painting by Francesco Botticini. Fra Filippo Lippi's frescoes lie in the transept chapels. One of the only replicated pieces is a copy of Michelangelo's Pietà by Nanni di Baccio Bigio. Oh, if I could put more than one picture in this post, I would fill the page with these frescoes. Each piece has the beginning elements of the Humanist movement, the people within them actually seeming lifelike, celebrating the human form.

This Basilica opens the viewers' eyes, its marble pillars drawing the gaze upward to the angelic ceilings. Exemplary of the Middle Ages, this structure serves a religious function by lifting the mind to God... and, of course, the whole Basilica part. The entire building has such geometric precision to it, with each vestibule, chapel, and pillar put exactly where it should be. The sacristy itself is octagonal and features a devotional painting of Alessandro Allori's St. Fiacre Curing the Sick, commissioned by Grand Duke Ferdinando de Medici's wife, Christine of Lorraine. 

Though Brunelleschi wasn't there to see the completion of his grand piece, his apprentices followed his plans through and through, except for the outer facade. That part he'll have to writhe in his grave for, as there were never any plans to complete it. But other than that, Brunelleschi created a piece fully his own design and didn't have to make compromises with his work; which truly shows when looking at the details put into each and every element of the bigger piece.

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The Dead Christ

 Perugino or Raphael, The Dead Christ, 1495
Christ in the Tomb, Perugino, 1473
In my humble opinion, The Dead Christ appears too lively to be considered dead. The scientific community has performed countless experiments whose findings have been verified by the configurations of world renowned mathematicians and even some Nobel Prize winning economists, which all support the theory that dead people cannot climb out of their coffins. The situation would change, however, if that dead person had been resurrected. My conclusions for art historians to consider would be this; The Dead Christ is a gross misnomer as this Christ appears to be resurrected. Also, art historians have not been able to discern the painter of The Dead Christ, but research and careful analysis narrowed our choices down to two Renaissance artists: Raphael or Perugino. I am about to tell you why Perugino really painted The Dead Christ.

Saint Sebastian (Detail), Perugino, 1490
Exhibit A, background. While looking at numerous paintings of both Raphael and Perugino, I realized Raphael was very fond of his backgrounds. The total darkness, though somewhat out of character for both artists, appears to be more typical of Perugino (who painted another Dead Christ called Christ at the Sepulcher with a completely black background). Exhibit B, Christ’s body. Raphael exaggerates his subjects’ muscles far more deeply with crevices that usually are inhabited by shadows. Exhibit C, Perugino likes to paint the resurrection of Christ. There are two other paintings by Perugino depicting this exact same scene. One I mentioned before and is called Christ at the Sepulcher and the other bears the title Christ in the Tomb. Both of these paintings have Christ in the exact same position as in The Dead Christ. His hands are by his sides, spread out in a welcoming fashion. Christ tilts his head to the viewer’s left, and He always stands upright in his tomb. Exhibit D, Christ’s hip. Perugino had this odd way of exaggerating the curve between his people’s belly and hips. This can be seen in The Dead Christ, Christ in the Tomb, Christ at the Sepulcher, and Saint Sebastian to name a few.

So, review the evidence for yourself. Look at the paintings of Raphael and Perugino and get back to me. If you disagree, I would love to talk it over, but in the meantime I think we can all decisively agree that Christ is either alive in this painting or a puppeteer has rigged Christ’s body with all sorts of strings and now works him like a puppet. You decide.

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St. Michael Vanquishing Satan

Raphael, St. Michael Vanquishing Satan, 1518
Raphael, St. Michael
Overwhelming the Demon,
 1505
Nothing says "I'm a big deal now" like being asked to revisit a painting by the Pope. Such is the position that Raphael found himself in in 1518, when Leo X commissioned the painter to do a second rendition of St. Michael slaying Satan. The first rendition - completed in 1505 - had been commissioned by the head honcho of Raphael's hometown, Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, the Duke of Urbino. The original painting showcased a Northern European influence in its surreal presentation and apocalyptic preoccupations, and bore a striking resemblance to the style that would later define the work of Hieronymous Bosch. 

The transformation of Raphael's style in the course of a decade is shocking. By the time of the Pope's commission, the dramatic gloom and doom of this early work had been replaced by a fascination with the human form and the warmer palette of the classicist movement. Where St. Michael Overwhelming the Demon seemed primarily concerned with relaying the story of the archangel slaying Lucifer, St. Michael Vanquishing Satan displays a much keener interest in the painting itself. 

By the time of Leo X's request, Raphael had matured enough in his craft that his piece could stand alone and spend less time teaching a bible passage and more time celebrating the process of art itself.

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Pieta

Michelangelo, Pieta, 1498-1500
Created during the classical sculpture rage , Michelangelo, at a young age of 21, created this masterpiece-- often called his best work.   

Demolishing all opposition, Michelangelo wins for creating the most disproportionate sculpture of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. With a lap wide enough to fit another three sons and a towering body structure enough to intimidate Gilgamesh, Michelangelo's Virgin Mary in Pieta is slightly off-balance, to say the least. Jesus, on the other hand, has the enviously petite, thin, and "ab-tastic frame" of a modern male teen model. Clearly Michelangelo had a faulty measuring tool or desperately needed a pair of corrective lenses. Nonetheless, he was still proud of his work, and when he overheard someone claiming his sculpture to be someone else’s, he immediately set to work engraving his name across the sash on Mary’s chest. Were Michelangelo applying for college today, two words that’d describe him would be talented and territorial.

And despite it all, Pieta radiates of incredible sorrow and soft, holy serenity. Viewers can easily look past the odd proportions of the sculpture and see the intricacy of each detail. Unlike a majority of other sculptures and paintings that portray Mary swooning or hysterically sobbing, Michelangelo somehow incorporates inexplicable sadness and resignation into one expression. With her left hand poised in a palm-upward motion, she seems to be beckoning to the viewer, perhaps to share her impossible pain. Jesus, also unlike a majority of other sculptures and paintings that preceded this one has a face, void of sufferings and pain. Rather it’s peaceful, as if his work has been done to his contentment.
True to his era, Michelangelo shows us an extremely human portrayal of the figures. Mary’s draping robe is simply gorgeous as it pools gently beneath the Christ, and though their figures in general are off proportion, the details of the face, hands, and body are exquisite.  

Mary's expression in this sculpture brings in a new type of art form, unheard of even in the Roman and Greek sculptures that Michelangelo based a majority of his works off of. Pieta is a gorgeous representative for Michelangelo's talents.
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Delphic Sibyl

Michelangelo, Delphic Sibyl, 1508-12
Michelangelo was a promising sculptor. His works were exquisite and his human forms were life-like and beautiful to look at. However, Michelangelo's paintings did not have the same characteristics. The human form in his paintings were bulky and hulkish. His females were especially masculine and possessed very little feminine attributes. The contrast between his sculptures and paintings becomes evident when comparing the two. He had become a sought out artist to create paintings regardless of his lack of skills in the human form.

Michelangelo's Delphic Sibyl  shows how his females had masculine qualities. Her face reaches a certain point of feminine qualities but her body is bulky, and I personally wouldn't want to get in a fight with her. The Sibyls were females who were thought to have foretold the coming of Christ. The Delphic Sibyl was the voice of Apollo. The colors in her garments represent Earth, water, fire, and wind. Apollo was the Greek god of music, poetry, prophecy, and medicine. She seems to be looking up from a scroll that tells the future as she looks into the future as well.

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Madonna in the Meadow

Raphael, Madonna in the Meadow, 1505
Exuding harmony and simple brilliance, Raphael’s Madonna of the Meadow packs fearful foreboding in elegant composition. Madonna is pictured classically in a blue robe, but a red dress appears form underneath, representative of the blood of Christ. A matched red, the two flowers of Mary’s right closely resemble the role and position of the boys at her feet. Young John’s flower wanes to young Jesus, already knowing him to be the redeemer and master. Pictured on one knee, John shows an understood subservience to Christ, allowing Jesus to take the cross from his own hands. One of the sole sources of tension in the painting, this act serves to predict Jesus and John’s toil in the future.

Madonna atop Jesus and John creates a strong pyramidal structure centered in the piece, and rooted strongly in the ground. A simple foreground contrasts the detailed background, hazy enough to be peaceful, but complex enough to represent the coming complications for Jesus and John. Positioned with one hand on his mother and one on the cross, Jesus stands with the help of his mother, and accepts his fate. Raphael’s body positioning, though not always biologically correct, creates visual harmony. Madonna’s foot for example, far from any comfortable position, serves as the brightness of the right side of the painting, balancing the left side’s eye-catching action. Carefully portrayed characters and no unnecessary features makes Raphael’s Madonna in the meadow visually simple and symbolically dense.

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The Awakening Slave

Michelangelo, The Awakening Slave, 1525-30
The tomb of Pope Julius II, commissioned in 1505, was originally intended to be a grand, three-level, freestanding structure, adorned with more than thirty marble statues. However, due to difficulties with funding, Michelangelo's own difficulties, the interruption caused by the painting of the Sistine Chapel, and the death of the Pope a few years after the commission, the construction was gradually downsized into a much more modest work. The six statues that Michelangelo managed to complete did not fit into the final design.

Here, one of those six, The Awakening Slave, writhes its way out of the marble block encasing it as though it is forming itself from the rock before the viewer's eyes. The arched curve of his back and splayed limbs emerge and recede from the marble, their joining marked by a sharp and poignant contrast of textures between the rudely chiseled rock and smooth skin. Three of the five other Slaves follow this theme, displaying a thoroughly modern sensibility far ahead of Michelangelo's time. This work is the least defined of the six, and still retains much of the original shape of the marble. The rough, unfinished look, however, did not fit with the elegant, slimmed-down tomb after numerous budget cuts took their toll, and all six statues were left out of the final design. Two, Dying Slave and Rebellious Slave, now reside in the Louvre, and the others are held in the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence.

The Awakening Slave may be interpreted in a number of different ways. Is the bearded man entombed within the rock struggling to free himself from his constraints in order to achieve a physical or spiritual enlightenment? Is the conflict and anguish on the man's face Michelangelo's own, a marble scream at the monumental commission he was unable to finish?

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