Know Your School of Athens Military Boss: Alexander the Great

Raphael, School of Athens, 1511 (detail of Alexander the Great)

This could be either one of two people: Alcibiades or Alexander the Great.

Bust of Aclibiades as every Greek man
Although I don’t have any schools of thought to ramble about, I do have strategic geniuses who were actually pretty stupid in their free time. While history may try to glorify these two, let me assure you that I will expose them for the dudebros they are.

Alcibiades was basically anything but a philosopher. First, he worked for his native home of Athens, but evidently decided that Sparta looked so much cooler (that and he was charged with sacrilege). While in Sparta, he worked against his former ally of Athens, but he eventually made more powerful enemies in Sparta, and was forced to leave. He defected to Persia where he was the adviser for the satrap until his enemies demanded a recall. Yet, when he returned to Athens, he did not fall from power. On the contrary, Alcibiades became an Athenian General until (surprise, surprise) his enemies had him exiled. All in all, Alcibiades war tactician for not one, not two, but three different empires.

On the other hand, Alexander the Great spent his formative years in a pissing contest with his father that lasted for years after his death. For a brief time, 
Alexander was tutored by Aristotle beginning at the age of thirteen. In return, Alexander’s father Philip II, restored Aristotle's hometown, which he had formerly razed.

Super Alex: short, ginger, and angsty
What leads me to believe that Raphael stuck Alexander in there rather than Alcibiades was that, while Alexander may have been more jock than nerd, his contribution and intellectual legacy lives on through Alexandria. After Alexander founded the city, it became a wealth of knowledge. Of course, this didn't last for very long. It was soon destroyed by the growing Christian presence in the city.

At any rate, maybe Raphael should have just painted the city of Alexandria in there, but I digress.

  • 7:00 AM

Know Your School of Athens Mathematicians: Pythagoras

Raphael, School of Athens (Detail), 1511

A lot of words are used to describe Pythagoras. A philosopher, mathematician, scientist, and even a mystic, Pythagoras embodied the perfection and extent to which knowledge could elevate you. Pythagoras was described by many other philosophers in his day (including Herodotus and Isocrates) as but one of few who were capable of extending the reaches of modern math and science.

Pythagoras was born on the Greek island of Samos sometime around 570 BC. Very little is known of his childhood but accounts during his time claimed him to be an avid traveler visiting places like Egypt and parts of Asia all before he hit twenty. It was after his studies away that he went to Croton and created a secret society with a new religion. However, when he involved the society with town politics, he was thrown out of the city with the meeting places burned and thus, his religious group disbanded. He lived the rest of his days in Metapontum, Greece.

His contributions to the worlds of Science and art were countless. His two most important contributions to the world of science are the Pythagorean Theorem and the Musica Universalis. The Pythagorean Theorem is a well-known formula that is required knowledge for any math course involving right triangles and geometry in general. Less known is the Musica Universalis. Pythagoras was among the first people who discovered timing and occurrence of solar eclipses and lunar eclipses saying that both occur during a lapse during this theory. The theory itself states that the sun, the moon, and the earth all move according to a harmonic plan or song. Although that that is wrong, Pythagoras was among the first to realize that the moon, sun, and earth were all set by a pattern.

  • 7:00 AM

Know Your School of Athens Polymaths: Ptolemy

Raphael, School of Athens, 1511

What an exquisite back. I'm sure, at some point in time, someone looking to get their artistic weight up said something to that effect while looking at Ptolemy in Raphael's School of Athens. In fact, someone not looking deeply would likely mistake Ptolemy as an extra, one of only a handful of purposeless people in a sea of Super Important People.

Despite this cameo-as-afterthought, Ptolemy is actually just as important as Plato or Diogenes with regards to his contributions to the academic community. Known for his theories on mathematics and astronomy, he was one of the first to publish a book theorizing the distance between the Earth and the other planets. This tome, called the Almagest, was the main point of reference for astronomers and amateur stargazers alike for the next few hundred years. He also published a book called The Geography, which compiled the best and most comprehensive maps of the regions into one (somewhat) concise book.

  • 7:00 AM

Know Your School of Athens Philosophers: Epicurus

Raphael, School of Athens, 1511

In Raphael's School of Athens, Epicurus is depicted on the left side reading a brown book. He is thought to have lived from 340-270 B.C.E. Epicurus is the founder of the philosophy called Epicureanism.

Epicurus believed everyone should try to have a happy life, peace from fear, and no pain. He says we can do this by surrounding ourselves with family and friends. He says if something does not have scientific proof, it should not be trusted. He wants the world to respect and honor the gods, he says they do not interfere with the modern world but they are still a necessity in humans lives. Another philosophy of Epicurus is to have a moderation in the appetite. 

Raphael pictures Epicurus with a small smile on his face. He believes everyone should be happy so it would make sense to be pictured with a smile.

  • 7:00 AM

Know Your School of Athens Philosophers: Heraclitus

Raphael, School of Athens, 1511

If you do not expect the unexpected you will not find it, for it is not to be reached by search or trail. These were the words of philosopher, Heraclitus, an early philosopher of the presocratic era was also known as the weeping philosopher or obscure philosopher. Heraclitus was one of the first philosophers that caught my eye in this 
painting because of his loneliness and somber expression. His detachment from the other figures in the painting led me to believe that there was something different about him, some new ideas that I wanted to discover.

Heraclitus grew up in a wealthy family, but cared nothing for reputation and status. He wrote on paradox, a flow of never ending change, the unity of opposites, and the importance of strife and tension in revealing logos or word. What is left of his work is found in the book he wrote called On Nature. He believed that to understand nature one must understand how one thing changes to its opposite and that ethics is very much connected to physics.

Raphael must have appreciated Heraclitus's knowledge because he is placed almost in the front center of the painting. His ideas were very influential to later philosophers, and although some found his theories illogical, others found them inspirational, such as the Stoics who used his physics to advocate a periodic destruction of the world by fire followed by a regeneration of the world. 

Although it was hard for me to understand much of Heraclitus's theories, I appreciate his work and determination to learn through self teachings. He did not follow in the footsteps of others but created his own path, and I was inspired by his originality.

  • 1:55 PM

Know Your School of Athens Gods: Apollo

Domeninchino, The Judgement of Midas, 1918

Apollo the sun archer. Many stories have been written about him: his birth, the slaying of Python, Hermes stealing Apollo's sacred cows. But today I am going to recount the story of the competition between Apollo and Pan.

One day in Ancient Greece, Apollo and Pan were arguing who was the better musician. Apollo, being the God of music, said that he was superior due to his lyre. Pan argued that his pipes were musically better. Refusing to back down, they agreed on consulting an outside party to judge who was the better musician.  They asked the renowned king Midas to judge the contest.  

For the competition, Apollo played the most graceful tune on his lyre.  Pan played a quick and flighty tune on his pipes.  Unable to decide who was the superior musician, Midas made both of them perform again, but this time with their instruments upside down.  Pan did so and his music closely resembled that of before.  But when Apollo played his piece with his lyre upside down, the music sounded garbled and discordant.  Midas decreed Pan to be the winner.  Apollo, infuriated by this, shouted, "You have the ears of an ass to think Pan the winner" and thus Midas's ears become those of a donkey.  Midas attempted to hide them by wearing a large cap, but his ears were eventually known to all after his barber blabbed.

In The School of Athens, Raphael attempts to unite the arts and the sciences.  On the left half of the painting, a statue of Apollo resides in an alcove in the wall while Athena sits on an alcove on the right half.  Apollo, the  god of music, contrasts in essence that of Athena as she was the goddess of knowledge and therefore science. Raphael pays tribute to both gods through his depiction of them.  
  • 7:00 AM

Know Your School of Athens Philosophers: Xenophon

Raphael, School of Athens, 1511

Would you look at that! It's the School of Athens! Wait a second...zoom in a little bit. 

A little bit more...

Wow, someone clearly doesn't enjoy the presence of his teacher, Socrates. Xenophon appears to be having the worst day of his life, which seems hard to believe. Who could be so grumpy while standing among scholars, whom seems to embody the entire intellectual world. Xenophon was a man of war, and not only did he take part in military expeditions, but he also wrote accounts of them. Xenophon's life became a series of ups and downs as he was appointed as a leader, but eventually exiled from Athens for what appeared to be fighting for the other side (Sparta at the time). Xenophon's eviction from Athenian society would justify his grumpy face. After getting kicked out, he took all of his mercenary booty he had earned and decided to settle down. Xenophon was more than just a veteran, but also a philosopher, a man of thought and author of accounts. A true legend. 

  • 7:00 AM

Know Your School of Athens Philosophers: Diagoras of Melos

Raphael, School of Athens, 1511

As an ancient day myth-buster, Diagoras of Melos often expressed his detective side by proving many so called religious miracles false. Ultimately he became the first atheist. The humanism and Greek antiquity movement pushed social norms by combining pagan and Catholicism, and similarly, Diagoras of Melos challenged the common Greek Orphic doctrine of his time. Diagoras was on a completely different level. Evidently for him, limits were non-existent, as he cuts up a wooden sculpture of Hercules and throws it into the fire, claiming Hercules' thirteenth labor would be cooking turnips. It was these schemes that led to Diagoras' exile from Athens.

Although Diagoras often contradicted the Greek mythology that Italian humanism came to love, his free-spirited arguments could not be ignored in the quest for truth and knowledge that was the Italian humanism movement. Raphael acknowledges this as he paints Diagoras as a hot mess. It was Diagoras' persistence, courage, and drive that sparked other scholars to think in a new light. Whether right or wrong, Diagoras played the devil's advocate way back in the fifth century.

Do you think Diagoras is a cool guy? You can friend him on Facebook:

  • 7:00 AM

Know Your School of Athens Philosophers: Socrates

Raphael, School of Athens, 1511

Socrates did not write any philosophical texts, so everything we know of him comes from his students, mostly Plato. Plato was Socrates's favorite pupil, and is shown in the middle of the School of Athens, next to Aristotle. Socrates believed that life could be broken down into questions, and the solution to any problem was found by asking the right ones. This form of thinking is known as the Socratic method. In fact, Socrates was notorious for never giving answers, only asking questions. His most famous quote is, "What I know, I do not think I know," which many take as an acknowledgement of his own ignorance.

I really like his philosophy, although I mostly know it from various works of Plato's. It seems like Socrates didn't really care about answering questions, only asking them. While he believed that virtue comes from knowledge, he also contended that knowledge consisted of asking questions. So perhaps Socrates's idea of virtue came not from knowing everything, but from knowing that you cannot know everything, and will therefore always have something to learn.

Socrates was always at odds with the Athenian political elite, and because of this they charged him with heresy and sentenced him to death by poison. But even on the edge of death, he welcomed the new experience, and according to Xenophon, truly believed that it was his time to die.

  • 7:00 AM

Know Your School of Athens Philosophers: Aristotle

Raphael, The School of Athens, 1511

Aristotle, a renowned Greek philosopher, accomplished a multitude of feats throughout his life. His genius for intellectual and creative discovery remains a pristine example of innovation. To that end, it’s no surprise that Raphael features Aristotle and Plato in the center of The School of Athens. The painting's flow streams outwards from the two, as they are surrounded by many great scholars and artists. Juxtaposed, they walk and indicate their philosophical stance by their hand gestures. Plato’s philosophy centered around the concept that the true reality is an outlier, and what we can perceive within our unstable world is merely an abstraction of the truth. Plato’s raised hand demonstrates his belief that his ideal, stable reality exists above. In contrast, Aristotle’s reality simply exists in what we can sense. His outstretched hand moves in a downward motion, emphasizing the idea that reality exists in human experience and life. The contrasting colors of their robes, red and blue, also mark their differences.

Thus, Aristotle shares the spotlight with Plato as one of the greatest Greek philosophers in Raphael's The School of Ahtens.

  • 7:00 AM

St. Louis of Toulouse

Donatello, St. Louis of Toulouse, 1421-1425

Realism, it's an art. For sculpture, realism is accurately sculpting so that the sculpture represents the model. For Donatello's St. Louis of Toulouse, it is more accurately called a sculpture representing the person's character, ultimately contrasting the realistic majority of Donatello's work from this decade.

However, the work is often regarded as St. Louis the Blunder, the worst work in Donatello's career. Donatello backs his disastrous work by claiming "that he had done it that way only after careful study, since Saint Louis was a blunderer said by Vasari " to have abandoned his kingdom to become a monk." Although an obvious scapegoat for his own mistake, his reasoning takes on a whole new meaning of art. Applying character to modelling style surpasses typical sculpture. Similar to the annoyingly popular phrase, don't judge a book by its cover, the quality of this piece falls beyond the original blundering, and into the actual blundering of this character in biblical terms.

  • 7:00 AM

The Baptism of Christ

Perugino, Baptism of Christ, 1482

Perugino's The Baptism of Christ, a fresco composed in 1482 in the Sistine Chapel in Rome, is definitely a captivating one. Why is Jesus in several places at once? Why is God surrounded by floating baby heads? This painting along with Delivery of the keys are my favorite of Perugino's paintings for their intricate detail, depth, and emotion.

This scene follows Perugino's typical symmetrical pattern. St. John is baptizing Jesus in the front. Above Jesus's head is a dove symbolizing the holy spirit. Rome is shown in the background with the Colosseum and Pantheon. Also seen in the background is John preaching to the crowd, and on the opposite wall, the circumcision of Moses. Perugino uses good perspective in this painting and his figures are weighty and full of emotion and depth in the facial expressions. Despite the many number of figures in this painting, Perugino still manages to keep it balanced and not chaotic.

The floating baby heads and God, however, still  remain a mystery.
  • 7:00 AM

Penitent St. Jerome

Fra Angelico, Penitent St. Jerome, 1424

Throughout the year, our class has looked at a plethora of pieces of art. I might say that we have become accustomed to whenever we see a lion in a painting, that it must be St. Jerome in the work. I was wondering why that was. 

In the 4th century, Jerome lived in a monastery with other monks. One day, a lion limped into the monastery. The monks ran away except for Jerome, who approached it and upon examination, discovered a thorn in the lion's paw. Traditionally a thorn represents sin, as in the crown of thorns Jesus was forced to wear during his crucifixion. Jerome manages to remove the thorn, which makes the lion tame, and symbolically baptizes the lion. 

The story of St. Jerome and the lion speaks to me as it exhibits the rewards of facing your fears. The other monks ran away from the lion but Jerome faced the fear of a grown lion possibly attacking him. He healed the lion in turn endearing it to him. While standing up to my fears appears to be a good maxim to live my life, it also requires a certain amount of common sense as well. Walking straight up to a lion would probably not be the best decision I could make. And so I learn from St. Jerome that fear, although it is frightening, can be overcome.

  • 7:00 AM

Noli Mi Tangere

Fra Angelico, Noli Mi Tangere, 1442

So much swag oozes out of Jesus that if a man touched him, money would rain from the sky but as the man bent over to pick it up, the money would turn into five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus would then touch these and they would transform into enough food to feed five thousand people. Jesus possesses too much power for any man or woman to touch him. He heals men of leprosy, paralysis, and even cleanses souls. This predates any form of modern medicine, making Jesus the first super doctor.

One of his earlier works, Noli Mi Tangere. Fra Angelico begins to experiment with perspective and introducing nature elements. He adds dimensionality to the tomb in which Jesus was buried by making the hole appear more than black oil on a wall, but rather a doorway into the unknown. I find it remarkable how Angelico can make piece of a wall appear multi-dimensional simply by altering the shading and the curving lines. He shades the upper portions of the overhang darker to signify shadows and how the light does not hit it. The grass shows how meticulous Angelico forces himself to be with extreme detail with each blade of grass and flower petal. I can distinctly see each cluster of weeds and tree branch full of leaves. Frangelico, too, oozes swag.

  • 7:00 AM

An Open Letter to Paolo Uccello

Dear Uccello,

My first impression of you was a simple Google search: “Uccello paintings.” My prior readings of your work hailed you as an innovator of perspective, a great Renaissance artist, perhaps in the ranks of Donatello and Botticelli. But what I saw was a surprisingly mediocre gallery.

Paolo Uccello, The Battle of San Romano, 1435
Nothing was particularly striking or attention-grabbing. I was disappointed, to say the least. In an era of Ghiberti and Masaccio, your work pales in comparison. In fact, it quite literally pales, as no one bothered to properly preserve any of it and it is now in various degrees of deterioration. No one even bothered to preserve your mosaics, which were supposed to have been great masterpieces. However, based on your paintings, I am forced to question the accuracy of this statement. Clearly the tastes of patrons were less refined than modern perspectives.

Paolo Uccello, Miracle of the Desecrated Host, 1466
And then there is the question of your so-called perspective. I find it hard to believe that you spent hours on end in your workshop mastering the art of vanishing points and size relativity. For, had you really mastered these skills, your paintings surely would have utilized them? Or so one would think. Yet I look at The Miracle of the Desecrated Host and see botched perspective and unrealistic proportions. Why are the figures in Scenes from a Monastic Life as tall as trees? And, what really gets me is your strategic placement of lances in The Battle of San Romano, which serve to guide the viewers’ eye along the lines of perspective that you so clumsily created. This cheap shot at fabricating vanishing points only confuses viewers and adds to the chaotic untidiness of the painting. 

Paolo Uccello, The Hunt, 1470
So, why do you keep trying?

After studying your works for the better part of two weeks, I can decisively say that we are not on good terms. I do not like you, Uccello. I would rather look at a Fra Angelico or a Verrocchio. The only enjoyment I get from looking at your paintings is from laughing at them. Both representations of Saint George and the Dragon are laughably outrageous, The Hunt is filled with anatomically bizarre animals, and your cartoonish characters in pretty much all of your paintings are endlessly amusing. Your legacy is average at best. I will not apologize for my opinions in this letter, but I will leave you now to rest.

Sincerely, Emma Krasnopoler

  • 7:00 AM

Jacob and Esau

Lorenzo Ghiberti, Jacob and Esau, 1425-52

This relief, titled Jacob and Esau, is another relief from Ghiberti's magnum opus, the East Doors or Gates of Paradise. Crafted sometime between 1425 and 1452, the relief looks to tell the story of the twin brothers as they fight over their respective birthrights. While other parts of the story (e.g. the selling of Esau's birthright for stew) are depicted in the periphery, the ultimate end to the the biblical story, their reconciliation, is depicted in the front of the relief.

Looking at this relief for the first time, one of my biggest and most pressing questions was, "How"? With any ornate and detailed work of art there will be questions of how they decided to frame certain things or construct a scene, but for me this piece stands as both a technical achievement and an artistic one. Something that Ghiberti became known for, at least with his casting and relief work, was his exquisite detailing and positioning. His casts, unlike many of the ones at the time, possessed a level of detail and thematic consideration that was lost on contemporaries like Brunelleschi.

In this relief, we see Ghiberti's excellent workmanship at the forefront. The raised figures in the front lend it an acute sense of depth, and the structures (the building on the left and the circular veranda) are well done in their proportions and perspective. But the one thing that strikes me as "off" about this relief is how cluttered it seems. While there are many individual elements that are downright awesome, there is too much going on to identify what exactly the focus should be. The scene in the front where two factions appear to be confronting each other or the scene in the back in the mountains? While the scenes individually could make for a great relief, together they're at odds with each other. Despite this grievance, I still feel as though this piece only cements Ghiberti's reputation as an unparalleled goldsmith and relief crafter. 

  • 7:00 AM

Tobias and the Angel

Andrea Del Verrocchio's Workshop, Tobias and the Angel,  1470 - 1480

Although probably best known as a sculptor, Verrocchio, at one point in his life, turned to painting. His painting Tobias and the Angel, is taken from the Book of Tobit. Raphael, the angel Tobias walks with, tells Tobias about a remedy that will cure his father's blindness. He tells Tobias to take the liver, heart, and gall for the remedy. Raphael carries the completed concoction in his hand. 

This painting wasn't completed by just Verrocchio. A respected teacher, many of his students worked on this painting. If you look close enough, it becomes visible; some areas of paint application are stronger than others. For example, the background looks fairly weak in comparison to the smaller details like the fish. It seems almost impossible to talk about Verrocchio without talking about Leonardo, but it becomes one of, if not the only, controversial topic that involves my artist. And since I don't wish to bore anyone who may be reading this to death, I choose to once again defend my artist against those hated Leonardo fans (similar to those who act like Shakespeare is God). 

Rumor has it that Leonardo was the model for Tobias, also painting the fish and the dog. I maintain my opinion that the dog really isn't even that great since it falls into the background (most likely not well-preserved), but the model part is what irks me the most. Verrocchio is his own artist without Leonardo. Even if his apprentice did paint the best part of the painting (a dog and a fish, congrats), this is still Verrocchio's work. Yet, I sit here frustrated that while I attempt to defend Verrocchio from those that would label him outshined by Da Vinci, I can't stop talking about the apprentice, instead of the master. 

Unfortunately, the best part of Verrocchio is Leonardo and the rumor that surrounds them.

  • 7:00 AM

The Prophet Habakkuk

Donatello, The Prophet Habakkuk, 1423-1426

Lively statues comforting a lonely man, a battle for perfection, and free-loading artists. I do believe we have entered The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

"Speak! Speak! Or be damned!" Donatello dramatically yells as he bursts from frustration in creating realistic features in his Prophet Habakkuk, or as he likes to call it, Il Zuccone. One part of the five sculpture series, Il Zuccone accurately portrays Donatello's talent in facial features. Showing realistic expressions, thoroughly sets Donatello apart from any other sculpture in the Renaissance. Donatello's confidence in sculpting grew from his incessant craving for perfection in his art. Demonstrated by the swear-worthy Il Zuccone, Donatello shows self-improvement from his peasant-like Crucifix created ten years earlier.

Giving life to the lifeless, is arguably the common goal of all artists. Whether it be canvas, stone, brick, or the side of a converse shoe, the idea is apparent. Donatello's life work of attempting to sculpt vitality, to the point of yelling at his sculptures to speak back, reveals his own progressiveness as an artist. Before this, I often disregarded sculptures, un-entertained by the lack of color and the overall banality of using one substance. However, Donatello's greatness far surpasses my expectations when beginning my research. The beauty of creating life from one substance now impresses me, not to mention the amount of sass one artist can bring to stone.

  • 7:00 AM

Miracle of the Desecrated Host

Paulo Uccello, Miracle of the Desecrated Host, Scene 1, 1466

Donatello once told Paolo Uccello to stop wasting his time on the pointless endeavor of perspective painting.

But Uccello did not listen, and that brings us to Scene 1 of “The Miracle of the Desecrated Host.”

Uccello’s talents may have been misplaced but his intentions were good. As a trailblazer for Renaissance perspective painting, he was doing the best he could. Uccello, a mathematician and mosaicist in Florence in the early 1400s, began painting in the studio of Lorenzo Ghiberti. This is where he met and became friends with Donatello, and it was also where he fostered his interest in perspective. Influenced by Ghiberti and the simple geometry of the time, Uccello began implementing clumsy attempts at perspective in his sketches and paintings (for a particularly novice attempt, check out the 1458 version of St. George and the Dragon.) Uccello attempted to use perspective to give his frescoes depth, while the conventional application was to narrate different stories within the same painting. Despite his innovative notions, he lacked the skill and knowledge to execute his ideas very well. Since he worked in mosaics for much of his life, he was accustomed to flatness, and creating depth in his paintings was troublesome. He spent hours working at night trying to master the vanishing point and create depth of field, to no avail. We can laugh at his feeble attempts, but at least he was trying really,really hard. 

It's a mess. 

The Miracle of the Desecrated Host is arguably one of his best attempts, or at least it is one of his most obvious attempts. At face value, we believe that the room looks relatively correct-ish. But do not be fooled. Under further inspection, there appears to be many different vanishing points. This room just doesn’t make sense on a fundamental level. I’m not mad at Uccello. I commend him for trying to do something new and innovative, and without a textbook or Google search to guide him. I took a perspective drawing class six years ago, and I understand his frustrations. 

Thankfully, like many of Uccello’s works, my drawings have also been lost (okay, fine, I recycled them.) But at least we have this proof that Uccello wasn’t completely hopeless. It would take artists a few centuries to master the science and skill of true perspective. I’m glad Uccello didn’t heed Donatello’s advice. He sparked something new and exciting in the art world, and every artistic movement, from Impressionism to Realism, has benefitted from it.

  • 7:00 AM

The Dome of the Florence Cathedral

Filippo Brunelleschi, Florence Cathedral Dome, 1436

Brunelleschi came to be known as a father of architecture and a genius of design, but one thing he was never known for, was quitting. Filippo became a goldsmith and began to sculpt, he showed promise and creativity, but often fell short in competition. Of course he had very talented rivals, such as Lorenzo Ghiberti, but Brunelleschi continued and studied the new subject of architecture and of course never forgot Lorenzo's name.

After returning from Rome and eventually being commissioned to design the dome for the Florence Cathedral, Brunelleschi presented the world of architecture with a dome design that absolutely made a mockery of any competitors. The dome's base spans forty-two meters, making the dome a massive mathematical feat. As Filippo introduced a new way to support a dome of such massive proportion, he took pride in doing everything his own way. From the scaffolding to devices used to leverage building materials, Brunelleschi created the dome's design and the process in which it was built. Of course Brunelleschi still managed to let Lorenzo make mistakes, only for him to swoop in and make a fool of Ghiberti. All in all, Brunelleschi's architectural achievements, as well as his wit and eventual winning mentality, earn him admiration that I believe he has earned.

  • 7:00 AM

The Baptism of Christ

Piero Della FrancescaThe Baptism of Christ, 1453

In The Baptism of Christ, Piero Della Francesca once again shows his amazing talent for perspective. In this painting, the river Jordan flows towards the viewer, while John pours the water over Jesus's head. This painting is a perfect example of Piero's more traditionalist paintings, and yet he manages to perfectly blend classical Italian monumental-ism with progressive mathematical designs. He seems to pay special attention to the water at the feet of John and Jesus. The water swirls around their feet, reflecting the sky above and the mud below in a clever manipulation of light. He makes use of a vanishing point just under Jesus's knees, demonstrating his mathematical knowledge.

Francesca was meant to be a merchant, and so he began learning math when he was 10. However, he had a clear talent for the visual arts, and when he was 15 it was decided that he would learn to paint. Rather than quitting his math studies, he incorporated them into his paintings, and during his life he published many papers on perspective and use of light. His ability to mix traditional style with his own progressive techniques really shows through with this painting. This was after his trip to Florence, and so there are elements of Fra Angelico's works in his style. This painting was done at the high point of Piero's life, which is probably why it's my personal favorite. I love the emotive faces, the dove hovering over Jesus, the way the water reflects the sky, and the perfect proportions in this painting.

  • 7:00 AM


Andrea Del Verrocchio, David, c. 1475

Although my love for paintings seems vast and never ending, I have recently been turning to sculptures for some aesthetic pleasure. While I could probably stare at anything by Bernini for the rest of my life, I'm not writing my blog post about him.

Enter Andrea Del Verrocchio. When he was first assigned to me, I knew nothing about him, just that he was a sculptor. My first thought was, "This'll be a great way to appease my sculptor craving." Upon looking at his work, though, I was unimpressed. This will be great quickly changed into "He's no Bernini." Comparison can be tricky, especially when it comes to a statue like David. Verrocchio's rendition doesn't come close to Donatello's Pan-ish tribute or Michaelanglo's youth.

But to truly appreciate Verrocchio, you have to throw all of those comparisons out the window. He might not be great, but he is pretty darn good. Verrocchio creates soft beauty through the use of curls and drapery. His David may not be as slick or stunning as the others, but there is a boyish charm in the smirk he dons; Goliath's head thrown on the floor like it's dirty laundry.

He is an artist lost in the shadow of others, and I can connect to that.

  • 7:00 AM


Andrea Del Castano, Crucifixion, 1450

It seems like every painter has his own version of the crucifixion, but honestly I cannot blame them because it’s one of the most important scenes in the Bible. As stated in New Testament (shortly after the Last Supper), Jesus and the twelve apostles were captured by Roman soldiers and taken to court to be testified by the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate. Jesus was accused of claiming to be the “King of the Jews” and was dressed up in a purple robe and a crown of thorns. As he bled, he was spat on by other soldiers and furthermore humiliated.

Upon reaching Golgotha (Calvary), the Roman soldiers stripped Jesus, dividing his possessions among themselves. He was then crucified at the ninth hour (believed to be around 9 a.m.) and stood upon the cross for six hours. Jesus was crucified along with two thieves, one of whom embraced God.

This painting is one of Castagno’s few oil paintings. Castagno’s crucifixion is exquisite. The emotions of Jesus and the two thieves stress pain to the viewer who almost mimic their faces, while also staring upon Jesus’s lifeless face. The aura of the painting is clearly dark and negative as the clouds are a deep dark shade of grey. The only bright color is the red that streaks below the wounds of Jesus and the dresses of Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene.

It seems as if every time I write about another story of the Bible, I come back to the same point. The people in these stories exhibit a holy kindness which cannot be seen in today’s world. Jesus forgives the men who spat upon him and forced him to walk while being impaled by a crown of thorns. He yearns for his father to forgive all these people who murdered him for speaking his mind. 

  • 7:00 AM

The Mystic Nativity

Sandro Botticelli, The Mystic Nativity, 1500

Oh Botticelli, what exactly have you crafted for us here...?

In The Mystic Nativity, the angels and men celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Locals joyfully embrace one another, while twelve angels dance from the heavens and the others join in the Shepherds' festivities of praise.  In the center resides the Holy Family, which Botticelli illustrates as slightly larger than the surrounding figures to emphasize the significance of this holy day. Like many of Botticelli's other works, the painting encompasses emotion in the characters actions, perspective, and liveliness in the array of colors as demonstrated in the landscape and in their clothing. Moreover, the artist utilizes the proportions of the scene to create depth and harmony through its symmetry. 

However, unlike Primavera or Birth of Venus, which are acknowledged for their elegance and sharpness, this work has been renown for its mysterious symbolism. As Botticelli becomes far more independent from the Medici family, the talented painter takes a liking to friar Girolamo Savonarola. Under the sway of Savonarola, who calls for Christian renewal and reformation of the Italian government in preparation for a "biblical flood" when he declares Florence the New Jerusalem, Botticelli's character darkens. More than anything, Botticelli essentially has a religious freak-out, and emulates that obsession in the text at the top of the painting. 

The inscription translates as: "This picture, at the end of the year 1500, in the troubles of Italy, I Alessandro, in the half-time after the time, painted, according to the eleventh chapter of Saint John, in the second woe of the Apocalypse, during the release of the devil for three-and-a-half years; then he shall be bound in the twelfth chatter and we shall see him buried as in this picture".

Pretty intense, huh? 

As religious and political upheavals overflow in Florence,  Botticelli assembles this piece of work to combine Christ's birth with the ideas of Christ's Millennium, as promised in the Book of Revelation. Botticelli juxtaposes the spirit of this painting to his disclaimer in an attempt to portray the preachings of his mentor and fight the oppression of his religious beliefs after the friar's execution. Despite Botticelli's outreaches to revitalize Savonarola's prophecies, The Mystic Nativity initially prevails the end of Botticelli's career as an outstanding artist. After 1500, Botticelli becomes less invested in painting and eventually dies, a decrepit, worn-down man in 1515.

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Saint Augustine Reading Rhetoric in Rome

Benozzo Gozzoli, St. Augustine Reading Rhetoric in Rome, 1464

Benozzo Gozzoli's uniqueness stems mostly from his absurd yet flowing depictions of nature. His affinity for the Earth was unparalleled, crowding his art with trees, rocks, and animals. However, what do we end up with when all but the latter remains absent from his paintings?

Of course, that's not entirely true. Gozzoli sneaks in windows in the back to draw some buildings and a single tree. Yet, Gozzoli has no choice to divert from his adoration of topiary to focus on the primary subject of this painting. St. Augustine teaches rhetoric to his students gathered around below him. Some are enthralled, others are not. It's your typical classroom, with all but the exception of the presence of a small dog.

Amusingly, the tiny pup diverts most of the attention to itself, rather than St. Augustine, who we should be focusing on. The dog's position, being squarely in front of St. Augustine and settled comfortably in the middle, acts as the core of the picture. Does it ruin the painting? Maybe. True, we lose ourselves in the oddness of the dog's appearance rather than seeing the painting for what it is: Saint Augustine teaching rhetoric in Rome. Nonetheless, the painting remains pleasant. In fact, the dog only strengthens the shape of the painting, a neat triangle leading from St. Augustine down to his students.

Some could speculate about the dog's meaning. Loyalty, innocence, or any by the book canine symbolism could be fair game.

Or, alternatively, Gozzoli could have simply wanted to paint a cute dog, because that's what Gozzoli does.

  • 7:00 AM

Portrait of a Young Man

Masaccio, Portrait of a Young Man,  1423-1424

Portrait of a Young Man by Masaccio was painting in 1423-1425. The portrait is of a wealthy young man who is unknown. He is fashionably dressed and he is wearing headgear or a cloth around his head. The chaperon he is wearing shows the audience looking at the painting an accurate sense of facial detail and physical appearance. The lines in the headgear and strong and marked well, the expression on his face is serious. 

In this painting we see Masaccio's use of three-dimensionality in the turban that the young man is wearing. The turban makes the painting stand out, because without it this painting would be flat. The neutral background highlights the turban. There are no other folds and creasing in the painting other than the hat. The man's eyes stand out more than any other facial features. The shadowing brings our eyes to focus on them. 

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Portrait of a Young Girl

Ghirlandaio, Portrait of a Young Girl, 1490

Domenico Ghirlandaio, while not always an exceptional artist, loved to paint and to make people happy. He is said to have accepted every project that came to him in his workshop. He made an effort to complete all works by himself and rarely used the help of his apprentices, one of whom was Michelangelo.

This painting, Portrait of a Young Girl, was painted in 1490 not for a chapel or a famous family but for this young girl. He knew he would not become famous over a work like this, but did not care for fame but instead to please his customers.

Domenico Ghirlandaio was born Domenico di Tommaso di Currado di Doffo Bigordi. Him and his brothers changed their names to Ghirlandaio when they became famous for making hair garlands for young Florentine girls. Ghirlandaio is an adaptation of garland-maker in Italian. This young Florentine girl is wearing one of these hair garlands.

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San Giovenale Triptych

Masaccio, San Giovenale Triptych, 1422

Masaccio was the best painter in his generation.  Masaccio was skilled in creating life-like figures and movements. Also, he had a great sense of three-demensionality.
San Giovenale Triptych by Masaccio was painted in 1422. He finished it around the age of 20. It was discovered in the church of San Giovenale at Cascia di Reggello, which is near to the hometown of Masaccio. This painting represents the Virgin and Child with angels in the panel in the center. On the left panel are Saints Bartholomew and Blaise. On the right panel are Saints Juvenal and Anthony Abbot. The two angels at the bottom, near the Virgin, have their feet turned inwards. The angels are turned towards her, while the angel on the left gesturing with arms open and the angel on the right is praying.  

Christ is depicted as a infant in this painting. He is holding grapes in his left hand and eating them in his right hand. This is a reference to the Eucharist. At the bottom of Mary's throne used to be a inscription. The inscription read "Ave Maria Dominus Tecum Benedicta."

  • 7:00 AM

Martelli Annunciation

Filippo Lippi, Martelli Annunciation, 1440

With perspective like that, it must be Filippo.

Painted for the Medici church of San Lorenzo, the Martelli Annunciation has been noted as Lippi's most satisfying piece of work. Symbolizing Filippo's ability to be both innovative and derivative, Lippi created one of the first square altarpieces, split down the middle, featuring Brunelleschi-inspired architecture with it's lack of traditional gothic embellishments. 

Filippo is also no stranger to the ways of the Flemish. The small vase at the bottom, called an Ampulla, shows up in many paintings from the Netherlands.

Finding a piece that represented Filippo Lippi was extremely difficult for there's much controversy over which works he actually painted himself. Commissioned by the Medicis, Filippo made a pretty heavy salary, allowing him to hire assistants to counterfeit his own work.

I truly believe this to be his true work for there is a crispness to the lines, vibrance to the colors and a softness in the facial expressions. There's not so much a blatant horror to Mary's face, rather a understanding acceptance with her arm extended as if to say, "You know what? I'm chill." The two angels, I assume to be waiting outside in case Mary loses her head and needs subduing, also have quite lax expressions. The one further back looks down at Gabriel indicating "the lady is cool," the angel in the front pointing as if to draw attention to the fact that this whole operation is more or less going down without a fight.

I hate conflict. In order to avoid it, oftentimes I'll agree to anything - no matter how insane, and no matter where my own opinion or desire may stand. Whatever creates less tension. However, catering to every whim and want, so as to not be caught in some conflict of interests, has ironically caused a bit of tension of its own due to my reluctance to make a decision. . 


At any rate, I chose this annunciation out of all Filippo Lippi's because I felt it represented both Filippo and myself rather perfectly. 

  • 7:00 AM

The Sacrifice of Isaac

Filippo Brunelleschi, The Sacrifice of Isaac, 1401

Filippo Brunelleschi's The Sacrifice of Isaac depicts the biblical story of Abraham's test from God. In order to examine the strength of his faith, God put Abraham to the ultimate test and asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac and upon agreeing to do so, angels swoop in to stop the act. Although there are probably a million things wrong with the passage, and I would hope my father would never come this close to ending my life, Brunelleschi portrays the last gasp moment beautifully. I admired his quality craftsmanship that, of course, came from being the goldsmith that he was. However, after further investigation, his piece did not quite cut it. Lorenzo Ghiberti had done it again, beating him in competition, only to further generate the hatred felt for him by Brunelleschi.

Picking himself up from the defeat, Brunelleschi traveled immediately to Rome to study architecture. Judging by his architectural prowess, his change of field was very successful and yes, he managed to succeed in revenge as well. What else do you do when your sworn enemy works for you? Let him screw up of course, because Brunelleschi could clearly do it better, as he showed time and time again and ultimately embarrassed Ghiberti during their work with the Florence Cathedral.
  • 7:00 AM

The Last Supper

Leonardo da Vinci, The Last Supper, 1495-1497

The Last Supper characterizes da Vinci’s style and conduct as an artist. When commissioned to paint for churches or personal homes, Leonardo went days or even weeks without putting anything on canvas because he had to think about his work. This deep thought proved one of his greatest weaknesses as an artist. His boundless imagination prevented him from finishing works, because he had too many ideas to make a cohesive image that met his standards. Leonardo never finished Jesus’ face, because he did not believe that he could properly capture the messiah’s grace. Unable to find inspiration for the face of Judas, da Vinci modeled him after the patron church’s prior, who castigated Leonardo for taking too much time to think about the work. Da Vinci believed that the prior exemplified the treachery of Jesus’ apostate.

Leonardo’s attention to detail and individuality among subjects reach an apex in this work, as each apostle’s face captures love, fear, sorrow, and confusion concerning Jesus’ upcoming betrayal. Da Vinci used The Last Supper as an opportunity for experimentation. He examined optics and geometry in addition to dynamics, best exhibited through communication between subjects. Motion, expression, and complexity set The Last Supper apart as a masterpiece of da Vinci, worthy of examination by students of art. Leonardo also experimented with methods of preservation, which obviously proved unsuccessful. Although The Last Supper lost its original vibrancy after centuries of deterioration, it still garners praise for its detail and optical innovation.

  • 7:00 AM

Delivery of the Keys

Perugino, Delivery of the Keys, 1481

Pietro Perugino's Delivery of the Keys is one of his most well-known works commissioned by Pope Sixtus and painted in 1481. It is located in the Sistine Chapel in Rome. The fresco represents the story from Matthew 16 where Christ gives the keys to heaven to Saint Peter. The people in the background represent two biblical stories of Christ. Tribute Money and The Stoning of Christ.

The composition of this painting is beautifully done. It is almost perfectly symmetrical and has a strong use of perspective. Two vertical lines from the bottom left and right corners meet at the vanishing point at the door of the middle building. Perugino also uses a slight aerial view, which makes the hills appear to fade into a never-ending horizon. The slim-feathered trees and hills are Umbrian influenced, and the style of the figures in the painting is adopted from Verocchio. The figures are elegant and calm but tightly clumped in rows at the front of the painting. The faces are very realistic and full of emotion, however the heads are slightly small in proportion. Perugino uses Da Vinci's sfumata to make his characters hands appear less rigid.

I loved this piece for its beautifully vibrant and detailed composition and lively characters. The motion leads your eye around the painting from the scenes in the background to the engaging figures in the front. You can't help but notice each intricate fold in the robes and realistic shadowing in the faces and necks. The posture and arm gestures make you feel present in the painting. This is overall my favorite piece of Perugino's.

  • 7:00 AM


Sandro Botticelli, Primavera, 1478

Absolutely breathtaking. Maybe it's the characters' heartfelt expressions or the painstaking attention to detail in the meadow. But, wait. Where is Christ? Why on earth are there no saints?

Commissioned by the Medici family as a present for their newlywed family members, Sandro Botticelli seizes this moment to break from tradition by creating a large scale mythological scene with Venus as the central figure. Botticelli captures sensuality and fertility in this painting as encompassed in the ornate background and the other figures in the painting. Moreover, legend has it that the Medici family had a orange grove on their property, so Botticelli parallels the oranges to the notion of hopefulness in marriage and the opportunity to produce "fruit" for their family.

However on the right-hand side, Botticelli exhibits tension between Zephyr and Chloris to emphasize the conflict that arouses between marriages as a result of male domination in 15th century culture. According to Greek mythology, Zyphyr, the wind of March, kidnaps the nymph Chloris to marry her. Chloris then becomes the goddess of Spring and eternal bearer of life. Botticelli warns the viewers of the obstacles marriage can bring, as the artist illustrates frail trees and a lack of fruit to parallel to the lack of respect for women and how that may affect their inability to produce "fruit." Botticelli conclusively highlights the recurrence of oranges above the pregnant Flora to re-enforce the notion of respect for women in this dynamic.

Botticelli continues to reference these advanced ideologies throughout Primavera, as demonstrated in the relationships of the Graces, Cupid, and Mercury. Nonetheless he continues to depict emotion, depth, and detail in the figures and their surroundings that seems prevalent in almost all of his work. Most importantly, while this painting breaks from the Renaissance artistic structures and religious definition, Botticelli proves to address this notion of human interaction. Creating an new, abstract representation of beauty through the botanical gardens and Greek figures for the public to reflect on, we see that the lack of religious infliction only benefits Botticelli's status as a renowned and respected artist in the coming centuries.

  • 7:00 AM

Sketch of the Colosseum

Domenico Ghirlandaio, Sketch of the Colosseum. 1400s

I know this is not a painting, nor is this Ghirlandaio's most famous work, but it captures what type of artist he was and how he was not an impostor or fake.

It was said that Ghirlandaio was an expert at sketching without a ruler or compass. This is not typical of most painters or artists of this time. He was able to work with just his eyes and did not need to measure his subject. He sketched objects such as columns, birds, amphitheaters, and arches.  These were all studied and found to be perfect in proportion. Sometimes he would even sketch a little person next to his subject so the viewer can see that the proportions were perfectly even.

This sketch of the Colosseum is very impressive. Compared to a picture from now you can see no difference in the location of cracks, archways, and windows. It looks as if he used a ruler or a compass to get the measurements exact, but when you find out he did not, you cannot help yourself from being stunned and amazed.

  • 7:00 AM

Madonna and Child with Two Angels

Filippo Lippi, Madonna and Child with Two Angels1465

After escaping slavery by drawing his master's portrait, Filippo Lippi was commissioned by the Medici Family to paint large altarpieces and portraits of fellow clans. Although he was one of the most innovative painters of his time, he allowed much of his work to be greatly influenced by other artists and architects.

In his Madonna and Child with Two Angels (as with all his portraits) Lippi focuses on each persons "individual likeness." Eventually he was paid well enough to hire assistants whom he trained to counterfeit his own work allowing him to keep his myriad vices warm.

And warm his vices he did.

In 1456, he abducted one of the nuns in the Augustian Convent of St. Margherita (where he worked as Chaplain). Lucretia Buti was her name (and yes her last name was Buti) and she bore him two children. One of which went on to also become a painter, taught at the hand of Botticelli, one of Filippo's pupils.

It is believed that Lippi's Mary was done in the likeness of his Lucretia and the angels in the likeness of his children. Another reason why this painting represents Filippo more than any of his others.

Finally, looking at the majority of Filippo's collection, the work doesn't really blow my hair back. There are often hints of genius in each piece, but one can easily tell where he had gotten lazy or his assistants had ad-libbed in portions for him. His Madonna and Child with Two Angels, encompasses every stroke of his genius within every stroke of his brush. The soft, glowing warmth and pureness in Mary's face. And, despite baby Jesus' obvious state of inebriation, the children are portrayed both playfully and realistically; making this a true masterpiece.

  • 7:00 AM

The Gates of Paradise

Lorenzo Ghiberti, Gates of Paradise, 1425-52

There's something to be said for obsession. While never good in a vacuum, certain forms of obsession can help to create monumental things. This sentiment is evidence in Ghiberti's magnus opuses, a pair of gold and bronze doors dubbed by Michelangelo the "Gates of Paradise." Worked on excessively by Ghiberti through two commissions over 25 years, the doors show a meticulousness and attention to detail that is distinctly Ghiberti. While hardly resembling a gate (Michelangelo always did have a problem with distinctions), the so-called Gates of Paradise do indeed live up to a heavenly ideal, with their beautiful gold plates, all realizing scenes from the Bible. Ghiberti expertly crafted almost every part of this masterwork, lending an awesome amount of detail to each panel. Each face is emotive and relevant, even his own.

While Ghiberti's first work with the church through statue commissions and contests showed hints to the kind of intricate creations he was capable of, these doors stand as the most prominent and perfect presentation of his prowess as an artist.

  • 7:00 AM


Piero Della Francesca, Flagellation, 1448

Piero Della Francesca never got the credit he deserved. Much of his work was either destroyed or lost. After his death, many of his papers were stolen and published under the name of his student, Fra Luca dal Borgo. Yet, through the work that survives, it is clear he was a genius. Flagellation, painted in 1448, incorporated Piero's mathematical expertise in his use of perspective. His use of vanishing points to show distance was a totally new, innovative concept. While other artists were painting flat, stage-like artwork, Piero managed to add perspective and detail while still maintaining a calm monumental style,

This version of Flagellation is unique, mainly due to the position of Jesus. While he is front and center in the other versions, Piero paints him into the background. The subject of the painting seems to be the three men in the front, not Jesus. Art historians differ on their interpretations of this. Some say the front three are the duke or Urbino and his assassins, while others claim that it's the Byzantines and the Ottoman Turks. I personally think its meaning is religious, but it widens the focus of the painting to include the bystanders who sat passive while Christ suffered. If it looks like Jesus, it's probably Jesus.

  • 7:00 AM

Embryo in Womb

Leonardo da Vinci, Embryo in Womb, 1512

Leonardo da Vinci receives excessive praise for his work as a painter. The Louvre, home to some of the world’s finest classical paintings, dedicates an entire room to the diminutive Mona Lisa, and millions flock to it every year. Although da Vinci possessed natural artistic ability and an artistic eye, he revealed his preeminent talent as a student of science, not a portrait painter, through his journals on anatomy and nature.

Leonardo combined art and science by sketching his inventions and observations. He refused to accept secondhand accounts of nature and took an experiential approach, including working with cadavers, to observe muscle and bone structure. Da Vinci did not conduct these studies for medical or philosophical purposes. He had no interest in why birds take to the air or the connection between flight and soul; he simply wanted to discover how countless parts collaborate to form a working system.

Centuries ago, Leonardo sketched an embryo with accuracy commensurate with modern medical textbooks. One of thousands by da Vinci, this illustration showcases the delicacy and detail for which Leonardo gained fame. He transferred his knowledge of the human form to his paintings, but this sketch, found in one of his numerous journals, was created to aid understanding, not to be a masterpiece. Regardless of intention, so-called Embryo in Womb captures Leonardo’s facility and overlooked range of work.

  • 7:00 AM

Journey of the Magi

Benozzo Gozzoli, Journey of the Magi1459

The acme of Benozzo Gozzoli’s career, the Journey of the Magi serves as the accumulation of all of Gozzoli’s skills and admirations.

Gozzoli, pupil of Fra Angelico, is often overlooked in the assemblage of Renaissance artists. Little is known about Gozzoli, past his student-mentor relationship with Angelico. He boasts no awe-inspiring achievements or scandals. Thus, we see Gozzoli only for his art, rather than his life. His style is infamous for changing and many of his pieces fail to match stylistically when compared. However, Gozzoli did retain a style of his own, of which is displayed wholly in the Medici commissioned Journey of the Magi.

Gozzoli, enthralled with nature, featured sloping cliffs, tall trees, and a slew of animals in many of his paintings. The structures of rock are graceful and smooth, simulating drapery rather than stone. The impracticality of his favored painting subjects is imminent in his art, signaling that Gozzoli did not aim for a realistic approach. Rather, the Journey of the Magi is meant to depict the Medici family’s progression and glorify Lorenzo de' Medici, drawing the most attention out of the crowd of people. He sits on a white horse with adorned clothing, symbolizing one of three Magi traveling to visit the Christ child. Gozzoli gratuitously paints himself concealed in the crowd, recognizable by his gaze.

  • 7:00 AM