Las Meninas and Interview with the Vampire

Velazquez, Las Meninas, 1656

The Infanta Margaret Theresa monopolizes the piece, without a doubt. Taking up barely any space in the huge, busy room, she still strikes the viewer and stands proud in the center, gazing directly forward. Other characters look forward as well, like the tall painter and the small girl near the dog, but they are in darker colors and do not command the attention the little girl demands. Almost completely in white, the sunlight illuminates her entire form, from her angelically light hair to the hem of her ridiculous dress. She holds such power in such a tiny container, doted on by every single person in that room from her maids of honor, chaperone, and bodyguard to the two dwarfs and the dog. Reflected in the mirror are her parents, completely separate from the space but watching over her nonetheless.

She immediately reminds me of Claudia from Interview with the Vampire, both adored by those around them and so very proud. Claudia, of course, has darker elements. Forever cursed to be stuck as child, she must live a child-like existence even though she's hundreds of years old. The forced immaturity infuriates her, specifically in this scene. She cuts and cuts her hair, trying to change herself so that she can evolve or just not be the exact same girl she's been for hundreds of years. But it grows back, turning her back again into the one person she does not want to be.

Louis and Lestat, the two vampires who watch over her, do what they can to keep her safe even she is truly powerful and old enough to take care of herself. Her duality comes across painfully, the viewer taking part in her inner conflict as well. I think the thing that truly connects the two with me is how they seem so very small and restrained in their respective worlds, but they are so very important to those around them. There are aspects of the two girls that are far different, of course. One is a little princess, the other is a vampire cursed to eternal childhood. But the restraints on both of them are very similar, both made to look like dolls, porcelain and perfect, and never able to - or allowed to - be independent of their caretakers or their own image. It seems a caged existence, one expertly depicted through both film and paint and crystal clear to viewers of either.

  • 7:00 AM

The Sleepwalking Lady Macbeth

Henry Fusili, The Sleepwalking Lady Macbeth, 1781-1784

One of the most pervasive theater superstitions is that a curse was placed on the name of one of Shakespeare's plays. If you ever say the name backstage, you're doomed to be mobbed by angry, shrill-voiced actors who will insist on dragging you out of the building to dispel the hex. Oh yeah, and something bad will happen during the performance. Actors have suffered everything from minor inconveniences to severe injuries, like when Charleton Heston's pants apparently caught on fire during a 1953 production. How you "accidentally" soak someone's tights in kerosene, I'll never know. The play is, of course, Macbeth, semi-affectionately referred to as "The Scottish Play" by many superstitious actors. (This might be stretching the assignment a bit, but, darn it, there are at least a dozen movie versions.)

The eerie, sinister qualities of the play make it a perfect fit for Henry Fuseli's work. Fuseli, born in Switzerland, is most famous for his creepy erotic revenge fantasy The Nightmare, and he frequently painted and sketched scenes from Shakespeare's works. His painting style was described as slapdash at best; one former student wrote that since he was "very nearsighted, and too vain to wear glasses… sometimes… he would put a hideous smear of Prussian blue in his flesh, and then, perhaps, discovering his mistake, take a bit of red to deaden it…then turn round to me, and say, 'By Gode, dat's a fine purple! it's vary like Corregio, by Gode!'" The Sleepwalking Lady Macbeth depicts Macbeth's wife as she wanders through the halls of the castle, tormented by the phantom smell of blood on her hands. Her face, starkly lit by the candle in her hand, reveals anguish and horror, complimented by the billowing of her dress and hair. The two figures cowering in the back, a doctor and an unnamed noblewoman, rear back in uncomprehending fear. Macbeth deals with the occult, with the price of ambition, and with the darkest parts of human nature. Fuseli, who, frankly, was a conceited and petty man, captures this shadowy, sinister atmosphere perfectly.

  • 7:00 AM

Mean Girls and Warhol

Andy Warhol, Gold Marilyn Monroe, 1962

The Plastics - Regina George, Gretchen Weiners, and Karen Smith -  rule the school. Their expensive clothes, freshly-colored hair and flirting skills make them the girls all the guys want and who the other girls want to be. Take this description back to the 1950s, and you have Marilyn Monroe. A young girl who wanted to become a face recognized by millions. And boy did she become just that. Both Marilyn and the Plastics are idolized for their looks. The Plastics with their “fake” features that never seem to be amiss, and Marilyn for her classic red lips, black eyeliner, and white dress. The girls are glamorous, desirable, role models to some, but their looks are more than just something to idolize. They are something reproducible.

“On Wednesdays, we wear pink.” Translation – if you want to sit with us, you must match us. Copy us. Reproduce the look that has made us famous. Become one of us, and you too will be popular. Produce TV shows, movies, paintings, release photos, dress up as Marilyn for Halloween, and you to can reproduce her image. Andy Warhol’s 
Gold Marilyn Monroe does just this. He produced this glamorous painting silkscreen combination from another image, one from a movie, and then released his creation to be imitated by others. Different colored copies of this image litter the Internet, each one portraying Marilyn through a new filter. Marilyn can have pink lips, a yellow face, blue hair, purple eye shadow, and yet, everyone recognizes her and connects the altered image to her natural image: Blonde hair, pale skin, red lips, glamorous smile. An image that can be recreated. After all, Marilyn created this image for herself, as did the Plastics. They molded themselves into the women everyone watched, everyone idolized. They produced their own images. 

Through makeup, clothing, language, and mannerisms, people today can reproduce these images for themselves. But do you really want to wear pink every Wednesday?

  • 7:00 AM

Ferris Bueller and Seurat

Georges-Pierre Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 1884

What teenager isn't familiar with Ferris Bueller's Day Off?  Everyone who has been through high school can understand the appeal of skipping out on droning teachers and playing hooky for one day of fun.  But Ferris's day off becomes an adventure intangible to the average high school student as he, his best friend, and his girlfriend lie their way into a high-end restaurant, catch a baseball at a Cubs game, and commandeer a parade.

Yet beneath Bueller's glossy, fun pretense lies a less happy story.  Cameron, Ferris's best friend, has a history that the film only hints at until confronting it at the climax.  Cam has an unhappy relationship with his parents, just as they do with each other, and his father seems more obsessed with his rare Ferrari model than his family (at one point, Cam says, "Look at my mother and father...They hate each other...He loves the car, he hates his wife.").  Cam needs to tap into Ferris's escapism to lessen his anxiety and self-consciousness.

The trio's gallivanting around Chicago, in Cameron's dad's Ferrari, eventually leads them to the Art Institute of Chicago, where Cameron becomes transfixed to Georges-Pierre Seurat's A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (skip to around 1:11 in the video).  According to John Hughes in his voiceover commentary of the film, "...the more he looks at it, there's nothing there. I think he fears that the more you look at him the less you see. There isn't anything there. That's him."  The pointillism at its closest becomes an unintelligible array of meaningless dots.  Cameron, by Hughes's suggestion, feels no sense of identity.

But I believe that the significance of this scene and the painting in the film are greater than Hughes lets on.  The subject that he stares at in the painting is a young girl in a white dress whose mother does not seem to be paying her much attention, which clearly reflects Cameron's yearning for his parent's, specifically his father's, attention.  Seurat situates his people in groups that do not interact or pay much attention to each other,  as they look away and are cloaked in shadow.  These techniques may reflect Cameron's simultaneous identity crisis and mistrust of adults in general, extending far beyond his father.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off has plenty of humor and glamour, but upon a second or third viewing, you can see another reason for its genius.  Between the happiness on the surface, the unexpected adventures, the nearly unspoken hardships that we overcome, and the support of good friends, the film serves as a microcosm for high school life.

Editor's Note: While we may not want to date ourselves by saying we saw(and drove our 16-year-old-self)  Ferris at the Mid-State Cinema in Salina, Kansas, in June of 1986, we do want to mention the song in the above clip, a sweet Dream Academy cover of The Smiths "Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want." The original song was also featured in Hughes' Pretty in Pink, seen in March of 1986 at the self-same cinema.

  • 7:00 AM

Black Lines/Several Circles

Kandinsky, Black Lines, 1913
Kandinsky, Several Circles, 1926

Starting on Monday, the students of the Modern Art History class will post writings that link painting and film. What makes me happy about this - they are the ones that came up with the idea. 

As I thought back to film that actually made me think about art, I came back to the adaptation of John Guare's play Six Degrees of Separation. In the 1993 film (and play) a young confidence man, Paul, intrudes upon the rarefied world of Flan and Ouisa Kittredge. Flan looks to sell a mid-period Cezanne to a Japanese syndicate, but his plans are temporarily interrupted by the arrival of Paul, who claims to be friends with the Kittredge's kids. The film and play each explore questions of identity, self-absorption and empathy. They are also each littered with literary and artistic references ranging from a theory on Holden Caulfield's cap to a non-existent Kandinsky. 

The rotating Kandinsky, which would be quite cool, doesn't actually exist. Guare invented it to help deepen the themes of chaos and control that define the lives of Ouisa and Flan. The paintings now live  at the Guggenheim, but they were painted 13 years apart. I have always loved each side of the Kandinsky - the vibrant, often violent abstractionist and geometrically-obsessed Apollonian. Here, though, it's Flan's quotation of Kandinsky that brings me a smile. 

Kandinsky said, "It is clear, therefore, that the choice of object that is one of the elements in the harmony of form must be decided only by a corresponding vibration in the human soul." In other words, the work must speak to us on a level that can't necessarily be expressed. Learning to see will always be a part of any Art History class; however, what I hope you can see in all the posts here is the rather joyous process of students learning how to hear and feel the vibrations of art. 

  • 7:00 AM


Fragonard, Bolt, 1777

Too much. It's just too much. The subject matter is enough in itself, but the movement and colors are the truly unsettling parts. Their interaction looks like a violent dance. From the sweeping gesture his arm makes for the bolt to the weak stretch of the woman's leg, the piece is tense and blatant in the most theatrical of ways. Fragonard's usual style is far different than a piece as dark as this one, but there are little tell-tale signs of his influence. The color of the curtain is reminiscent of the drapery in Caravaggio's Death of the Virgin, the dark red hue far too similar to blood. Her dress, even though it is so bright, cannot compete with the intensity of that red, slowly eating away the rest of the piece.

Looking at this piece for the first time, I couldn't even tell it was Fragonard's work. Parts are similar to his other works, but the subject matter is violent and serious and completely contrasting to the glamorous - almost comically so - scenes he usually does. There is blatant sexuality in all of them, but in others it is lighthearted and tongue-in-cheek rather than this dark scene. Immanuel Kant speaks of the Enlightenment era this piece was made in, saying that "Enlightenment is man leaving his self-caused immaturity." This rings true in this piece, with Fragonard's usually playful work taking a much more mature form. Isaac Newton takes this point further, speaking of the human body and how "the bodies which we handle we find impenetrable... we conclude that the least particles of all bodies to be also all extended, and hard and impenetrable, and moveable..." In this way, Fragonard extends his figures' bodies and fills up the space from arm to leg, with their interaction both frozen in time and taking place right before the readers' eyes.

I just want to run in there and stop him, to help push him off of her and unbolt the door. Her arm has such tension as she pushes against him, though her face confuses me. I can't tell if it is the face of someone who has resigned to her fate or if Fragonard just focused more upon body language. Either way, the tension between the two is palpable and overwhelms the piece, making even the gentle drapery feel like another obstacle to saving the woman. It feels voyeuristic and unsettling. But there's a small part of me that is in awe of Fragonard's ability to make both of those emotions come across so adeptly in just one half of a canvas. This piece is something special.

  • 7:00 AM

Immaculate Conception

Placido Costanzi, Immaculate Conception, circa 1730

Although Costanzi's Immaculate Conception now sits at The Getty, you can tell that it was once destined for - you guessed it - a church. Costanzi, an Italian rococo painter, painted the sloping boughs as a modello of what would actually be built (personally, I like it better that way). The painting, as titled, depicts the moment of Mary's miraculous pregnancy - only here in high Rococo style. As opposed to Fra Angelico's painting of Gabriel's announcement, Costanzi's Mary rises from the clouds, surrounded by angels and almost enough cherubs to be dubbed Fragonard-esque. 

Two saints flank the emergin' virgin, and even more cherubs hanging off of them. Saint Luke, on the left, points towards Mary with one hand while holding a piece of paper that reads "Ecce Virgo" which translates to "Behold the Virgin." Saint Luke was the writer of Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, and thus naturally holds a script in his hand. To the left of Mary, sits the Apostle St. John the Evangelist, dressed in his traditional red and green robes. He holds a pen and papers in his hand, documenting the miracle of Mary's pregnancy, like a really, really old fashioned pregnancy test of the Lord. Front and center Mary stands, with eyes turned upwards and arms open in acceptance. She wears blue, as always, and a halo of stars can faintly be seen encircling her head. Angels play music at her feet, while cherubs climb on her, around her, and even hide under her clothes, celebrating. Costanzi's career consisted of mainly religious paintings, but I think that his Immaculate Conception most accurately portrays the artistic influence that Rococo had on religious works 

  • 7:00 AM

Titania and Bottom

Fuseli, Titania and Bottom, 1790

Come, sit thee down upon this flowery bed,
While I thy amiable cheeks do coy,
And stick musk roses in thy sleek smooth head,
And kiss thy fair large ears, my gentle joy.
 - A Midsummer Nights Dream, Act IV, Scene 1, 

As previously discussed, Henry Fuseli studied Shakespeare and many of his plays. This fascination drives from his amusement in the supernatural. Fuseli looks to paint scenes that give him more freedom to explore things like the contemporary dress that Queen Titania's fairies are wearing. In this piece, Oberon has cast a spell on the Queen which makes her fall in love with Bottom who's head is now that of an ass. Fuseli paints her desperately seductive as she tries to win Bottom's affection.

Here, Fuseli uses common Rococo techniques, such as the detail in the light. The fairies are wonderful, they are also wonderful at creeping me out. The baby fairy on the bottom right has a butterfly for a head and looks disconnected from the ones above who await orders from their queen. The fairy on the left holds the dwarf by a leash represents the young and beautiful conquering the old, and "the senses over the mind." These two characters reflect the play as a whole and mystery verses fact throughout the story. 
Leonardo da Vinci, Leda, 1506       
Fuesli brings this piece together quite well with influences from many other artists. He is known for having studied Leonardo da Vinci's work and paints Tatiana's seductive pose from da Vinci's, Leda. He uses the curve of the head to show her eyes locked on him as she whispers to him promising him anything he wishes. The smooth curves of the body draws the eye up her body through her hand in both pieces, but Titania and Bottom, Titania's hand is raised, which forms a stronger line and divides the canvass.

Henry Fuseli paints other scenes from this Shakespeare play, but this one is my favorite. It stands out to me because of the clash of styles, not in the style of painting so to speak, but the choices of clothing and different stories illustrated the fairies in a circle around Bottom and Tatiana. The dwarf-like fairies dispersed throughout creep me out and interest me. Yet the subject is so big and illuminated that if you weren't looking for them, you could miss the small details Fuseli can put in his imaginative, mystical scenes.

  • 7:00 AM

The Toilet of Venus

Sticking to Boucher's ultra-extravagent style, The Toilet of Venus perfectly exemplifies a Rococo piece.  Rococo art was most popular during the reign of King Louis XV. In this piece, Venus is modeled after a good friend of Boucher named Madame de Pompadour. Madame de Pompadour was a mistress of King Louis, which helped jump-start Boucher's career. Not only did the painting have a strong tie to politics at the time, but it also possesses many other Rococo aspects. In many Rococo pieces, there are upper class people doing something elegant. Though the painting is of Venus, it shows the elaborate lifestyle the wealthy French experienced. 

The cherubs dressing Venus immediately reminded me of Snow White being dressed by the animals of the woods. The painting is so elaborate that it is obvious that its sole purpose was to showcase extreme wealth. The casual chaos of the jewelry and flowers show how the wealthy felt they were too good to care about even the nicest of things. The curtains in the background also provide a feeling of acting. Though the lack of realism of the setting is acceptable for Venus, it is meant to play up the luxuriousness of Madame de Pompadour. In addition, though the grace of God is not shown through beams of lights, Boucher uses white doves to represent de Pompadour's religious side.

  • 7:00 AM

The Blue Boy

Thomas Gainsborough, The Blue Boy, 1770

One of the many aspects I love about this Art History blog, is that I am able to freely express my thoughts, feelings, and opinions towards artwork. In the short time I have been a part of this group, I have learned not only how to identify what art period such and such is from, or what type of paint was used here, but to search for what a painting tries to convey, what it wants to tell me. Some opinions I have previously had about art have changed, giving me a new perspective on a time period, painter, or artwork. I am able to form opinions about which painting I believe to be the one of the greats or one of the worst. This painting, right here, is one of the latter. 

Thomas Gainsborough was an English painter and the artistic rival of Joshua Reynolds. A majority of his work consisted of landscapes depicting the British countryside and portraits. In about 1740, Gainsborough moved from Sudbury to London, where his clientele transitioned from middle class farming families to a more aristocratic crowd. After painting a portrait of both the king and the queen, his constituency became quite exclusive. The Blue Boy, Gainsborough's most famous work, portrays the son of a wealthy merchant. 

Besides the way that the clothing shines, I see little to appreciate in this painting. Something about The Blue Boy makes me irrationally angry. Maybe it's the 100% concentrated sass I am receiving just from just looking at him (Tyra Banks would be proud of that smile), or maybe it's those ridiculous bows on his shoes. It could even be the odd choice of venue. Why would a random rich kid be standing in the middle of a field, posing next to a rock? He's going to get those fancy little bows quite dirty.

Much of Gainsborough's often repeats itself, especially his landscapes. Thus, when trying to interpret a piece of his artwork and point out the feeling it gives me leads me to frustration and staring contests between the subject and myself. From this painting, and also from Gainsborough's other work, I can't help but feel that he was going after the money. 

  • 7:00 AM

Lady Macbeth Sleepwalking

Fuseli, Lady Macbeth Sleepwalking, 1781-1784

Henry Fuseli was born in Zurich, Switzerland and was an active member in the church. Growing up, his father, a landscape painter, planned for him to work in the church. Fuseli had other ideas, so he left and pursued writing, He had many artistic influences in his life so it was not shock that when he first left home Fuseli wrote random pieces to bring in money. When he became tired of writing he found another interest that he fell in love with, drawing and painting. This led to his art pilgrimage that started in 1770 in Italy and ended in Britain in 1779.

While in Britain, Fuseli acquired his first commission at a Shakespeare gallery. He had studied many of Shakespeare's works, so this project led to many sketches and interesting works. This particular piece, Lady Macbeth Sleepwalking, Fuseli paints a scene towards the end of the play where Lady Macbeth starts sleepwalking and dreams of blood on her hands after her crusade to power. She runs through the dark halls obviously frightened and holding her hand in the air. She is turning away from her hand not wanting to see all of the damage she has caused.

During his Shakespeare project Fuseli was quoted saying, "All minute detail tends to destroy terror." The quote certainly explains the lack of background, but we stills see his talent in the shadows. A trend of rococo painting is this use of space and darkness which Fuseli uses well here. He shows the rushed movement of Lady Macbeth as she hurries down the hallway in her clothing and body, as well as the light in her hand pushing backward. The couple in this picture look extremely interrupted. They are positioned as though they were enjoying their time in the dark until the frazzled Lady Macbeth ruins their fun. With some imagination you can see my amusement with the couple. Regardless, Fuseli does a wonderful job here playing with the ribbon in the fiery red hair and the work is spectacular. It's nice to be able to take something like Shakespeare's plays and be able to read, study, act, and paint these sorts of things so that the mind can absorb the original work in different ways.

  • 7:00 AM

Maximilien Robespierre

 Pierre Roch Vigernon, Maximilien Robespierre, d'après Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, 1786

Adélaïde Labille-Guiard was a female painter and miniaturist, who was constantly in bitter competition with her contemporary, Madame Vigée-Lebrun, a female rival in the field of Rococo portraiture. She was involved in a number of scandals and ethically and sexually… oh wait, I got the legitimate historical accounts mixed up with slander from her male rivals and enemies, who didn’t consider a woman able to properly participate in the world of high art. Sorry about that.

Seriously though. Labille-Guiard was not as considerate as Lebrun, who wrote a detailed memoir of her life, training, and experiences. Many details of Labille-Guiard's life have been lost, as well as several of her works, including the miniature she painted for her entry into the Académie de Saint-Luc. Her early education remains a mystery; she would not have fit into the normal male-dominated structure of mentors and pupils, but we know she did receive some tutoring from a family friend, François-Élie Vincent (whose son she would marry, then later divorce), and from Quentin de la Tour. Although Enlightenment philosophy, as summarized by Emmanuel Kant’s dictum “Sapere aude! (Dare to know!) Have the courage to use your own intelligence!” was coming to the fore at this time, rejecting old beliefs in favor of new rational, logical conclusions, a good deal of prejudice towards women still existed. Labille-Guiard nevertheless championed women’s rights and took on female students, as well as building up patrons and connections among the nobility and eventually getting one of her pieces into the Salon, Self-portrait with Two Pupils. She was eventually given the title Peintre de Mesdames (painter to the king’s aunts, believe it or not) and a cushy government pension.

After the French Revolution, her connections to the nobility made her suspect in the eyes of the new order. However, she adapted, and managed to obtain sittings with Maximilien de Robespierre, a famously influential member of the National Assembly. The painting shown above is a reproduction of the original - like many of her other works, it has been lost or destroyed. Robespierre exchanged correspondence with Labille-Guiard and even flirted with her. He smiles confidently in his portrait, a smartly dressed man with his hat tucked under one arm. The waist-up format with a simple background is Labille-Guiard’s standard for portraiture. His simple but elegant clothing is richly detailed, in all its folds and frills. Although some protested her use of pastels to immortalize l’Incorruptible, with criticisms like “Ah ! peignez un Robespierre à l’huile, (Paint a Robespierre in oils!)," her delicate touch and diligent eye for detail creates a warm and charismatic image of an influential young man, painted with a woman’s hand.

  • 7:00 AM

The Arrival of the French Ambassador

Canaletto, The Arrival of the French Ambassador, 1735

Here comes the ambassador, arriving in an ornate Venetian gondola. Rowing up the San Marco Canal, landing right in front of Palazzo Ducale, the political heart of Venice, the French ambassador meets Venetian Renaissance. Coming out of the playful, sumptuous French rococo, I wonder what the ambassador thinks when he sees the imposing Renaissance architecture and the works of the old masters. Only a century ago, the haughty Italian genius Bernini arrived in Paris with a condescending manner to show the French what art looked like. I wonder if the French still look at their Southern neighbors with awe and admiration. Even the reception scene is depicted as one of magnificence and splendor, Venice is past its most glorious days. Perhaps the French have already won the race, at least in terms of the flamboyance of upperclass life. If what Watteau paints is the case, the Italians are far out of their league.

While the French nobels are catching ladies' shoes, the pragmatic Englishmen are putting their flags all over the world under the guidance of the Enlightenment. Ironically, the rising British seem to have more interest in Italy than the French do. For a long time, the British felt that Italy and Venice are places they have to visit in their lifetime. So the wealthy young men of England would take the "Grand Tour" to Italy to round off their education, and bring back townscape paintings as souvenirs. Noblemen hang these paintings on the walls of their living rooms, and say to their friends, "Look, this is where it all started." Just like their predecessors did in Renaissance, the people of 18th century take another huge step towards the re-born of arts and science. Sapere aude - Dare to know. Having the courage to use your own intelligence and leaving men's self-caused immaturity become the motto of Enlightenment. While the pioneers of 18th century search their way towards enlightenment, it seems that Italy has always remained in their hearts, as the sanctum of arts and science, the birthplace of humanity after long nights of medieval age, and where it all begins.

  • 7:00 AM

Head of a Girl

Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Head of a Girl

In my research of Jean-Baptiste Greuze, the word “sentimental,” or “sentimentality” often came across my radar, which was deemed so essential to Greuze’s work that critics then described his style as “sentimental art.” I never comprehended the meaning of it until I saw this portrait, Head of a Girl.

The majority of Greuze’s later work (1769-1805) consisted of titillating portraits of young girls, some of which involved girls who exposed their breasts under thin gauze, strongly suggesting sexuality under the surface appearance of childhood innocence. This portrait captures the immediacy of beauty. The young girl turns her head around, and gazes into the direction of the painter. The pigment of her face looks incredibly real, her natural blush adds color to the skin, and her dark eyes look peaceful.  Greuze’s artistic skills undoubtedly are showcased on this face. The brush strokes are light and delicate, with a certain ambiguity in application that blends the colors and adds softness to the painting.

The girl’s dress falls half down, exposing her left shoulder: all of a sign of flirtation. She exposes her back while looking back, as if inviting the painter/viewer to join her. Now we realize her true reason for blushing. Greuze achieves sentimentality through his careful work of facial expressions that exudes emotions, especially innocence. While having the face of a child, the girl’s sexually suggesting actions tell the opposite. Under the thin disguise of purity, she remains inherently corrupted.   

  • 7:00 AM

Soap Bubbles

Jean-Siméon Chardin, Soap Bubbles, 1734

Chardin’s Soap Bubbles, painted at the pinnacle of his abilities, exemplifies the values of the Enlightenment as well as the style of the man himself.

Born in Paris in 1699, Chardin always had talent with painting. Perhaps more than any painter I’ve researched, he took the traditional route to painting success. He apprenticed to several lesser-known painters during his early years, although little of his work from this time survives. In 1728 he was admitted at an unusually young age to the French Royal Academy, where he would remain an active member for the rest of his life. His first Salon exhibition came in 1737. In both of these organizations he took a leadership role. He held every major position in the Royal Academy, and even took the honor of deciding which paintings should be hung where in certain years. He never left Paris, and he began painting more and more for the king. Eventually, he became the highest-paid painter in the king’s retinue before Chardin's death in 1779.

His style was cold and analytical. He painted most of his scenes with much emotion—many were still-lifes and even his domestic scenes generally depicted chastity and calmness rather than a violent event. This painting in particular seems to be an apt flagship for his life’s work. It is hard to imagine this painting having a huge emotional effect on someone. The subject matter seems more than a little dull, and the way it is painted seems dedicated to accuracy rather than effect. Chardin instead emphasizes the creative and investigative aspects of the enlightenment. The soap bubbles symbolize the spirit of discovery, or as Kant puts it “ escaping from their own immaturity by cultivation of the mind.”

Chardin is honestly not my favorite artist. I think that his paintings show disturbingly little emotion and his still-lifes generally creep me out at best. His domestic scenes, though kind of pretty, feel like they’re encased in ice. However, I can understand his value as an artist. His sense of color and proportion, particularly in his later still-lifes, is unparalleled. He paints everything true to form and subtly uses lighting to bring out the beauty in his domestic scenes. More so than that, he provides a heavy counterbalance to the extravagance of rococo, providing painting as an additional example of western thought’s trend towards enlightenment rationality in the 18th century.
  • 7:00 AM

The Iron Forge

Joseph Wright of Derby, The Iron Forge, 1772

In 1772, in the middle of the First Industrial Revolution, Joseph Wright painted The Iron Forge, one in a series of five paintings in this particular setting. The Iron Forge was contemporary, innovative, and anything but gaudy. This industrial scene exemplifies the change in Britain, pulling the focus from the aristocracy to the working class. Despite the modernity of the painting, Wright’s style appears remnant from a different time. The Iron Forge bears striking resemblance to Caravaggio, with the strong contrasts between light and dark and the austerity of the space. The glowing piece of iron in almost the direct center illuminates the painting with a warm light, yet the effect is ominous. The iron creates a glowing circle of light, illuminating the family in the back and the two men whose fronts we cannot see – the man holding the iron and a mystery man in red with a miserable-looking child on his knee. The utilization of space reminds me of The Calling of Saint Matthew by Caravaggio.

The circle of men at the table and the circle made by the family, the worker, and the glowing iron take up similar space in the paintings. Then there are the subjects in the shadows, Jesus Christ and Saint Peter in Calling of Saint Matthew and the mystery man in The Iron Forge. Both paintings have a heightened sense of drama and urgency. In Saint Matthew, the story makes it dramatic. In Iron Forge, it is the setting that creates the sense of power and danger. For an unconventional painting, maybe Wright’s style didn’t stray too far from tradition after all.

  • 7:00 AM

Embarkation for Cythera

Antoine Watteau, Embarkation for Cythera, 1710

The Rococo style emerged right in the middle of the Enlightenment, an era where religion was questioned and science took its place. Philosophers and scientists garnered respect and fame, entering the global stage as figures of authority. For once, religion fell to the wayside in favor of humanity and its comforts - specifically the lavish lifestyles of the wealthy. In all aspects of art, ranging from architecture to painting, the Rococo style celebrated glamour and was the first art style to so highly elevate nobility in such flamboyant manners.

Watteau paints these rich nobles in their expensive attire enjoying the beauty of nature and the beauty of their possessions. All around them the landscape is "blooming," filling the canvas entirely. In signature Rococo style, Watteau's Embarkation to Cythera was thought to be the re-discovery of sense of self and humanity. Sense of self was very important during this period, specifically through scientific humanism. Descartes describes this idea, declaring, "I resolve to seek no other knowledge than that which I find within myself, or perhaps in the great book of nature.” The Enlightenment was a time of great prosperity and decadence as the noblemen of France became able to show off their lives in art, gaining celebrity along the way. This piece is adorned with gold, soaked in color revealing the desire for human intimacy with one another and with nature. The figures in the scene prance around and enjoy each other’s company, in their own fairytale world that they made sure to have painted so that others can look on in envy.

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The Sacrifice of Isaac

Tiepolo, The Sacrifice of Isaac, 1729
If any one Tiepolo painting could represent the painter's work as a whole, The Sacrifice of Isaac could be it.

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo captures a biblical story in which God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, to test his faith.  When Abraham consents and prepares to strike the fatal blow, an angel descends from the heavens to stop him, declaring that he has proven his loyalty to God's word, sending a bull for the ritual instead.  The painting, like the story, crackles with emotion and power.

Stylistically, The Sacrifice of Isaac represents something unique.  Marking his departure from his master Gregorio Lazzarini's dark colors, Tiepolo creates an airy but tense scene.  He renders his subjects from an unusual perspective, from slightly below to add physical depth and drama.  The subjects' angular limbs and billowing robes all hint at movement and energy.  Notice the mirrored positions of the angel's and Abraham's arms, the look of initial mistrust and then realization and relief in the father's eyes.  A ray of unearthly light creates a line through the sky matching the lean of the humans' bodies and the tree in the background, as though the figures were bending to their creator.

The Sacrifice of Isaac typifies Tiepolo's work with its biblical narrative and lighthearted hues juxtaposed with serious subject matter.  Tiepolo depicts God as neither loving nor malevolent but powerful and omniscient, and he asks the viewer to judge God's nature for himself.  This Enlightenment era line of thinking challenges religion and society.  As Descartes wrote, "...Never has my intention been more than to try to reform my own ideas, and rebuild them on foundations that would be wholly mine...The decision to abandon all one's preconceived notions is not an example for all to follow..."
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Upper Belvedere Palace

Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt, Upper Belvedere Palace, 1721 - 1724 

The Belvedere Palaces of Vienna appear to have been pulled off the page of a fairy tale book and plopped onto a gorgeous property complete with a reflection pool and immense garden. However, this is not the case, no matter how convinced your imagination may be. The structures were actually crafted by Austrian Rococo Architect, Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt. 

Hildebrandt, a sought after architect for the upper class, showed off his architectural talents in the design and construction of multiple palaces. Commissioned by Prince Eugene of Savoy, who had met Hildebrandt while teaching civil and military engineering in Piedmont and had taken a liking to the architect, construction of the two palaces, Lower and Upper Belvedere, began in 1713. The two palaces are masterpieces of the Rococo period, displaying ornate and intricate details both inside and out. Upper Belvedere highlights Hildebrandt’s talent to put as much detail into the outside of a structure as the inside -  and highlights the cohesion Hildebrandt creates by doing so. Natural curves, meticulous detail, soft colors, sculptures that appear to be holding up the walls of the palace, and gold appear both inside and out. 

Hildebrandt’s use of gold especially stands out to me. While the majority of the Rococo architects displayed gold on almost every facade in their structures, Hildebrandt used it sparingly to make it capture the eye. The front façade of the palace only contains one large exhibit of gold, so when you look at the front, your eye is instantly drawn to the gold crest. On the inside, Hildebrandt employed the same method to make the gold details distinct. Many halls and rooms are meticulously designed in white or other pastel colors, making a more striking contrast between those rooms and the rooms and halls of gold. 

Hildebrandt separated himself from other Rococo architects through the method of using gold sparingly. Immanuel Kant explains that, “Enlightenment is man’s leaving his self-caused immaturity. Immaturity is the incapacity to use one’s intelligence without the guidance of another… Have the courage to use your own intelligence! Is therefore the motto of the enlightenment.” Hildebrandt followed this explanation of the enlightenment in two ways. First, by joining the movement of the Rococo artists and architects; and second, by advancing his own view of Rococo architecture. Hildebrandt ventured from the other architects who were solely using gold as a method of cohesion in their buildings, and he found other ways to create a sense of cohesion in his magnificent palaces. 

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