The Milan Cathedral

Milan Cathedral, 1386-1965

Made in the Italian-Gothic image, construction on the Milan Cathedral began in 1386. Per the Gothic style, it was to originally be built with brick, but then brick was switched to marble. Hence what I said about the Italians having that need to make everything their own. Of course the unprecedented use of marble caused unprecedented difficulties, forcing the architects and builders to outsource. French and German architects poked and prodded at the new design, with the head architect switching from one to the next.

I'm not a huge architecture person. Besides the fact that I like my homes Tudor and my windows French, I have little to no knowledge of what an apse or a spire even is. Buildings don't speak to me the way paintings do, yet that didn't stop me from choosing this. Perhaps it was my deeply ingrained aversion to popularity that made me choose something other than a Duccio or Giotto that so many others in my class did, but I would like to believe it was a different and less stubborn reason.

My grandma always makes sure to tell me that people see the world in different way. She sees the world a certain, a very black and white way, because she is a doctor and that it just how she is. Conversely, she knows someone (an uncle, a distant friend... I forgot which) who is a gifted painter who sees the world in shades. When he looks at a tree he identifies all of the different shades of green in the leaves.  Now, I don't see the world in shades or numbers like the Matrix, but I try to see the beauty in everything. Cliche as it may sound, my eyes lock on anything that I identify as aesthetically beautiful. I find beauty in architecture. That's just my perspective.

So, while I may not be an expert or able to make Gothic architecture interesting and controversial, I can tell you that the Milan cathedral is beautiful and completely Italian. The Italians saw the world in a different way than the Germans who built the Ulm Cathedral or the English that built the Salisbury. The Milan Cathedral perfectly displays, what I believe to be, the Italian artists best quality: to make something entirely their own. Essentially, what makes this cathedral so unique boils down to a matter of perspective.
  • 7:00 AM

Betrayal of Jesus

Duccio, The Betrayal of Christ, 1308-1311

A vibrant disarray of chaos and agitation, Duccio’s The Betrayal of Christ leaves for few moments of relaxation. Above, gold permeates the sky accompanied by slender trees, cryptically sprouting out of slanted layering of rock. Below, a beautiful convulsion of robes sway without heed to their wearers’ discomposure. When focusing on these aspects alone, perhaps the painting’s airless claustrophobia would diminish.

Foul expressions and crude actions within the painting create a horizontal line across the middle. Even Jesus is thrown off his usual Jesus-y serenity, looking especially uncomfortable as Judas trespasses his halo’s radius. Peter slices off the ear of Malchus with a knife in his hand, a scowl across his face. Peter’s halo is not present in this painting, as his holiness is compromised by his actions.

The Betrayal of Christ is one piece of forty-three that compose Duccio’s Maestà, a highly decorated altarpiece. The Maestà was dismantled later, causing panels to scatter throughout the world. The divergence of the Maestà comes as a blessing and a setback. Panels are readily available to view in various museums, but will likely never converge back into its original state.
  • 7:00 AM

St. Francis Renounces his Worldly Goods

 Giotto, St. Francis Renounces his Wordly Goods, c. 1300

Giotto’s paintings mystify
the viewer. They dominate a room regardless of their size. On the wall of the Basilica of St. Francis basilica d’ Assisi lies a fresco that doesn't catch the eye at first, but when seen, the viewer sees its true beauty. Giotto paints a series of frescoes addressing St. Francis’s life ranging from his early life to late life. In this particular fresco, Giotto paints St. Francis when he renounces his father prior to traveling the road of sainthood. Legend has it, Pietro, his father, yearned for Giovanni (Future St. Francis) to renounce his beggar-like qualities through beatings and abuse. However, one day he decides to throw the first recorded temper tantrum in history and does it big at that. He throws his clothes and garments down as he dedicates his life to God, renouncing his father in the process.


Initially my eyes are drawn to the center toward St. Francis and his father’s dispute as well as the church, but as I continue looking at the painting, I begin noticing this bright illuminated woman who stands two people to right of St. Francis. Giotto uses bright colors for the priest (covering St. Francis) and a boring yellow for Pietro. There are also two girls being abused by their mothers on either side of the painting.

St. Francis’s ideals have really inspired me life. Prior to this class, I have never even heard the name St. Francis. However, his forgiving nature and his ability to see God in everything has made me appreciate his existence. St. Francis is a role model to all human beings. Thank you St. Francis.
  • 7:00 AM

Marriage of the Virgin

Giotto, Marriage of the Virgin, 1305

Marriage of the Virgin was painted by Giotto in 1305, the painting now hangs in the Arena Chapel in Padua, Italy. I hope I am not the only one who has looked at this painted and immediately thought "wait Mary the Virgin got married? Since when?" that would be embarrassing. With some research I found out it is common knowledge that Mary was married to Joseph. I have already shown my lack of knowledge of The New Testament, but it appears Mary to pregnant. Her forearm and hand rest on her stomach, an act that many pregnant women do.

I looked at the painting and immediately knew it was by Giotto. The blue background is a signature color of Giotto's that appears in many of his paintings. The structure behind the marriage ceremony looks similar to other buildings in Giotto's work. This structure draws your attention to Mary and Joseph. It encompasses them and makes them the center of the fresco.

  • 7:00 AM

Sermon to the Birds

Giotto, Sermon to the Birds, c. 1290

A part of Giotto's collection, Legend of St. Francis, Sermon to the Birds illustrates the Snow White-esque personality of St. Francis. Adored by his followers, the commonest of commoners are free to be led to salvation to this ground-hearted saint. However, irony lies in the side character's expressions of bewilderment and almost repulsion. With a large following, St. Francis actions, portrayed in many of Giotto's paintings, conflict with the normality of the character's around him. Which issues the question, how well do the followers understand their Saint? Although renowned for his humbleness, Giotto and many other cultish Giotto followers ignore this quality and instead embellish St. Francis onto large scale panels. 


Despite this, the story portrayed in Giotto's work expresses that Snow-White true to St. Francis. The hypocritical nature relevant in all human beings reflects through the religious hypocritical backing of these series of paintings. However, for me this hypocrisy makes the stories more tangible. Understanding that the followers practice, but aren't perfect copies of their beloved leader, makes these people relevant. This concept peeks through in Sermon to the Birds in the expression of the character beside St. Francis. His overall weariness parallels the general weariness a person would have as they watch a saint talking to birds - accentuating the false reality in fables, and the underlying morals in which St. Francis truly preaches. 

  • 7:00 AM

Betrayal of Christ


Giotto, The Betrayal of Christ, c. 1306

This painting depicts the kiss of Judas, during Jesus's arrest in the new testament. It was finished in 1306. It currently resides in the Arena chapel in Padua, Italy. Jesus is, as usual, marked with Giottos signature halo, as is Peter. 

The chaos of the scene below contrasts with the calmness of the dark blue sky above. The faces of the subjects are drawn in painstaking detail, which allows the observer to feel what the subjects do. The chaos and emotional turmoil is reflected on the faces of Judas and the other disciples, while Jesus maintains a composure that is both serene and angry as if to say, "Don't lie to me Judas, I know it was you." While the rest of the scene is a violent tumult, Jesus serves as a calm center, focusing the observer on him. 

I really like this painting, not just because of the numerous shades of blue, but because of the way Giotto sets the scene. he doesn't just paint it with colors and details, he paints with emotions. The observer doesn't just see chaos, they feel it. Within the chaos, the contrast of the faces of Jesus and Judas give off sadness, too. And its this skill for emotion that made Giotto such an influential painter.

  • 7:00 AM

Madonna Enthroned

Giotto, Madonna Enthroned, c. 1310


Twenty years after the work of Cimababue and Duccio, Giotto paints the Madonna Enthroned for the church of Ognissanti. Unlike Giotto's other works, this piece introduces a hint of Byzantine and gothic characteristics through its golden background, pointed arches, and "heavier" more "human-like" figures.

With Mary staring so proudly right at you and the meticulous use of space and proportion to create an illusion of depth, Madonna Enthroned just about earns the title of perfection. But, there is one small detail that refuses to leave me alone: The halos.

Oh my Giotto, the halos.

More specifically, Miss Mary's halo. Though I'm hardly one to dabble in the gripes of the OCD, Mary's halo sits just far enough off-center to keep me up at night. It's a simple fix, really. All Giotto needs to do is turn her face just slightly to the left and then the halo a tad to the right. Mary would still be staring out and in proportion but her halo would be center and universe can continue to expand.

Nonetheless, the balance in the rest of the painting is impeccable. The crowds' strong focus on Mary and Jesus portrays the strict devotion towards them creating quite an endearing little scene.

Considering all the Madonnas (and there are trillions), this is one of my favorites. Giotto's portrays Mary more realistically and proportionally (save for her halo) than the other artists of the time. Although Duccio's Mary may be the prettiest, there's a curious human quality about Giotto's. Thus creating one of the most charming spectacles of the 1300s.

  • 7:00 AM

The Miracle of the Spring

Giotto, The Miracle of the Spring, c. 1300
Fourteenth in Giotto's fresco series in the Upper Church of St. Francis, The Miracle of the Spring tells of St. Francis's journey to the monastery of Monte la Verna. Accompanied by two Franciscans, a peasant (kneeling), and his donkey, the journeyers become parched on this obscenely hot day. Tormented by this thirst, the peasant pleads for water. St. Francis prays fervently to God, and water comes bubbling out of the rocks in answer. In relief the peasant collapses at the spring, thanking St. Francis for his prayers.

Giotto's fresco clearly exhibits this tale with St. Francis's position as the center of the descending mountains in the background. Giotto illustrates light on the right-hand mountain to emphasize the godly status of St. Francis as a result of ministering to the poor. Moreover, as the eye trails towards the lower left corner of the fresco, Giotto creates emotion through the Franciscans glances on the scene, which suggests Giotto's admiration of the saint's humble actions to reflect the beauty of Franciscan lifestyles and ideologies. Lastly, Giotto juxtaposes the light with the darker mountain on the left and the suggested lines that lead to the peasant quenching his thirty. Giotto utilizes this contrast to suggest that St. Francis has not only restored the peasant's physical health, but has also satisfied the peasant's spiritual refreshment and enlightenment from his spiritual darkness.

When studying this painting and Franciscan lifestyle, I was astonished by how advanced some of St. Francis's ideals were. While followers strive to cultivate the founder's beliefs, they must emulate St. Francis's spirit through teachings, social service, and charity. Most emphasized in St. Francis's writing of this lifestyle was the respect of other's beliefs and St. Francis's request for his followers to reflect that admiration for others through humbleness. Giotto stresses the significance of the spring and spiritual refreshment to complement the Franciscan way of life.

While we're now in the twenty-first century, I think it's important to look back on this idea of spiritual refreshment and humbleness. I admire Giotto and St. Francis for encompassing perspective through their works. Looking at this piece, I reflect on times of stress and stubbornness that seem to have overtaken the past few months as my classmates and I apply to colleges, juggle after-school activities, and try to maintain a social life. Acknowledging the originality of these men's ideas, I blur out the chaos in the background in hopes find some sort of refreshment that I can carry out in the months ahead of me.
  • 7:00 AM

Maesta

Duccio, Maesta Altarpiece, 1311
"Holy Mother of God, grant peace to Siena, and life to Duccio because he has painted you thus."

The Maesta, a double sided altarpiece found in the main altar at the Cathedral of Siena, is the most famous work of art from Siena and one of the most recognized works from the 14th century. The title Maesta means The Virgin Mary and Majesty. It is made of many panels and 59 narratives in all. Mary's life and story is shown on the front, and Christ's on the back. The piece was painted on a wood panel with tempera paint, a mixture of egg yolk, glue and ground up minerals. The composition of the piece is symmetrical. There is no distinct light source in the piece, so there is little variation in the color of the faces. Maesta is the only signed work of Duccio's.

Mary is the largest figure and the center of the piece. Attention is drawn to the beautiful soft folds in the Virgin's lapis lazuli robe, which contrasts from the colors in the rest of the piece. The cloth around Christ is translucent and very delicate. His face is full of depth and he holds a stare of wisdom and maturity. There are three rows of angels and Saints around the Virgin and Christ, and despite the formal setting, their faces are informal, all looking in different directions. The wings of the angels are not flat, but very detailed with small curled brushstrokes giving them volume and a feathered appearance.

After looking at so much of Giotto's work, I really enjoyed studying Duccio more. Duccio's figures, unlike Giotto's, are less heavy with less illusion of three dimensional space. Duccio's work has heavy uses of gold, softened elongated figures with tender emotional faces, and detailed backgrounds.
  • 7:00 AM

Crucifixion

Giotto, Crucifixion, 1305

While some art historians snub Giotto based on his fame, he deserves prominence for his ingenuity and ability as an artist. Observing a work of Giotto, such as Crucifixion, one cannot deny feeling a rush of emotion. He captures pain, sorrow, and loss upon the face of every figure and not only creates individual subjects, but transmits this intensity to whoever views the piece. Giotto used individuality and emotion as only a few of his tools to break free of Byzantine restraints. He also utilized space that added movement and provided depth in ways unimaginable at the time.

Currently, Giotto is best known for his creations at Assisi, Padua, and Florence, but his talents ranged far beyond frescoes. He worked with mosaic, painting on wood, sculpture, charcoal, and architecture as well. As chief architect of Florence, he designed “Giotto’s Bell Tower,” which receives renown worldwide as an architectural and artistic feat.

As an artist who expressed raw talent in a variety of mediums, revolutionized the potential impact of painting, defined the Florencian School, and gave new meaning to realism, Giotto truly earned his place among the Masters. By today’s standards, Giotto’s works certainly merit distinction, but placed within context - during a time of flatness and emotional emptiness - they are inconceivable. Giotto’s innovation broadened the potential of art and made today’s standards possible. In the words of Machiavelli, “One change always leaves the way open for the establishment of others.”

  • 7:00 AM

Madonna and Child with Angels and St. Jerome

Parmigianino, Madonna with Long Neck, 1540
This piece of work was unusual by the elongated figures in the painting. Madonna with the Long Neck is also known as Madonna and Child with Angels and St Jerome.  Many critics have analyzed Parmigianino’s Madonna with Long Neck  and called it controversial. Madonna is seated on a high standing pedestal. She’s holding the baby Jesus on her lap while clothed in beautiful looking robes. In the left of the picture, four angels crowd around the Madonna, looking peacefully on Christ.

Unlike other paintings of the Madonna, Parmigianino’s shows movement and a sense of abandon. The posture of the Madonna is carefree and relaxed. The Madonna does not have normal human body proportions. Her neck, shoulders, and fingers have all been elongated. Which makes them appear more elegant and graceful. The person viewing the painting is forced to look all around the painting because of every persons disproportional body. Even the architecture around the Madonna is out of proportion with the column that has no supporting structures behind it.

  • 7:00 AM

The Gates of Hell

Auguste Rodin, The Gates of Hell, 1880-1917

"Whereto the Jew promptly answered, 'Meseemeth, God give them ill one and all! And I say this for that, if I was able to observe aright, no piety, no devoutness, no good work or example of life or otherwhat did I see there in any who was a churchman; nay, but lust, covetise, gluttony and the like and worse (if worse can be) meseemed to be there in such favour with all that I hold it for a forgingplace of things diabolical rather than divine…”

They say heaven is a place on earth, and apparently, hell is too. And that place is Rome, according to Abraham the Jew of The Decameron’s 2nd story. He details the evils in Rome he saw on an excursion to the “holy city,” including (but not limited to) gluttony, thievery, and lechery.  His Christian friend was sure that if the Jew went to Rome, he would surely be turned off by the rampant degradation. The Jew observed the sins of the Christians and cardinals of Rome and was completely and utterly disgusted… and intrigued. The punch line of the story is that the Jew decides to convert to Christianity even, or rather, especially after viewing the atrocities of the Christian people. Yes, you can laugh. Corruption is comedy, after all.

The story tries to teach us a larger lesson about humanity, how no one is spared from sin no matter how highly you laud yourself. The deterioration of integrity is apparent on both sides and the pursuit of pleasure trumps all morals. The culmination of this depravity is in Rome. When the Jew enters the city, miscreants and criminals welcome him, much like entering through Rodin’s Gates of Hell. Vagrants, thieves, and degenerates lurk in every crevice and around every corner. Figures from the Old Testament adorn the Gates, which were modeled after Dante’s Inferno, and other characteristics of the sculpture were taken from medieval cathedrals. Christianity is everywhere, however not all of it is holy. 

I'm not entirely sure which religion Giovanni Boccaccio is satirzing more, Judaism or Christianity. The Jew's loose morals allow him to be swayed by the enticements of Christianity. And the Christian church he depicts is just a mess of corruption and decadence and all things sinful. The message here isn't about a particular religion, but all religion. No matter what you get out of the story -- maybe a hearty laugh or a moral lesson -- the truths of this medieval adventure still ring true today. 



  • 7:00 AM

Adam and Eve

Peter Paul Rubens, Adam and Eve, 1598

The first story of the third day in The Decameron begins with Masetto of Lamporecchio pretending to be deaf mute and becoming a gardener at a convent. While working in the garden, Masetto discovers the nuns of the convent disregard their faithfulness to God in order to fulfill their "feminine longings." Eventually, the nun's craving for lust overwhelms Masetto, as he unlocks his lips and confesses about the nuns' sins.

In this story, Boccaccio mocks the status of women, created by male and religious dominance, in the 14th century. During this time period, young women were obligated to preserve their virginity or marry into wealth and motherhood; those who couldn't afford to marry off were often sent to convents to prevent impurity. Boccaccio utilizes the setting of the garden to parallel Masetto and the first nun to Adam and Eve.

The first nun states, "I wonder, whether you have ever considered what a strict life we have to lead, and how the only men who ever dare step foot in this place are the steward, who is elderly, and this dumb gardener of ours. Yet I have often heard it said, by several of the ladies who have come to visit us, that all the pleasures in the world are mere trifles by comparison with the one experienced by a woman when she goes with a man."

This sexual curiosity emulates that of Eve's sin in the Garden of Eden, which is also illustrated in Eve's gaze at Adam in Rubens Adam and Eve. Intrigued by this intimacy, the nun argues, "We are constantly making Him promises that we never keep! He can always find other girls to preserve their virginity for Him." This temptation to sleep with Masetto and encouragement of the other nuns to follow the first nun, echoes the first nun's defiance of God much like Eve's defiance of God when she eats the fruit and then tempts Adam to join her.

However, Boccaccio's short story addresses the overarching theme of human nature and the inability to suppress such instincts. Despite the nuns' faithfulness to God, the opportunity to satisfy the women's sexual curiosity outweighs the obligations of an ideal young woman in the 14th century. Portrayed in Adam and Eve, Rubens outlines sexual tension between Adam and Eve, further supporting that this instinctual desire cannot be prevented. Resonating with Boccaccio's tale of the convent, the author leaves us questioning if the nuns' actions were indeed sinful, as the nuns conclusively look to God once again for forgiveness.

  • 7:00 AM

Juliet



John William Waterhouse, Juliet, 1898

You see her. She is the picture-perfect adolescent girl with pearly skin and carmine lips. She clings to a necklace with quiet yearning. You think briefly that her eyes have locked with yours, but her far reaching stare says otherwise. Her name is Juliet, and her ambitions are decidedly beyond what’s in front of her.

The Decameron’s Ghismonda from the Fourth Day, First Story shares quite a bit in common with Shakespeare’s Juliet. Both are victims of their own undoing -- culminations of romanticized desperation and familial betrayal. Yet, there’s something engaging about concentrating on these young ladies as individuals, disregarding their respective ‘Romeos.’ Romeo and Juliet is likely something we don’t need to review, but not everyone’s heard of Ghismonda’s tale. The story of Ghismonda can be summarized like so: Ghismonda falls in love with Guiscardo, a man her father (Tancred) does not approve of. Tancred decides that he’ll send his daughter Guiscardo’s heart in a cup. Ghismonda stricken with grief but also somewhat unsurprised by her father’s actions, kisses the heart. She then fills the cup with poison and commits suicide. Sounds like your typical romantic tragedy, right?

Still, there’s something we recognize about these stories other than: “don’t be a jerkwad to your kids!” or “stop glamorizing dependency issues!” It’s about women who have wills that transcend the patriarchal cage they’ve been placed in, and their willingness to rebel. Though Ghismonda’s acts of disobedience wouldn’t entirely be feminist (her actions are still centered around fatal attachment to Guiscardo, after all), it still represents a divergence from her father’s firm grasp. She tells Tancred, with a tinge of sarcasm, “It should have been manifest to thee, Tancred, being as thou art flesh and blood, that thou hadst begotten a daughter of flesh and blood and not of iron or stone.” She goes on to beg for her lover’s life, her perceptiveness of her father’s ways twisting her plea into a brash argument of her frustrations, telling her father to “begone!”

It’s in these subtleties we can find morsels of a woman’s independent thought in the strictest of male-centric societies, despite the griminess of the rose-colored narratives of suicidal infatuations in which they appear. Hence, John William Waterhouse’s Juliet possesses an exquisiteness past simple grace and beauty. Though her pose is one of longing, her look commands incentive, thought, and undeniable presence.

Juliet’s character Romeo and Juliet is defined by her relationship with Romeo and their foolhardy, self-serving behavior. Consequently, we view Romeo and Juliet as two halves of a whole. Perhaps this explains why looking at a picture of Juliet -- and only Juliet -- throws me off. What sort of story would such an impulsive girl have without meeting Romeo?

  • 7:00 AM

Le Coup au Coeur

Rene Magritte, Le Coup au Coeur, 1952

When seeing Rene Magritte's Le Coup au Coeur it immediately reminded me of the fifth novel on the fourth day of The Decameron. The tale is about a young women named Isabella who falls in love with a man, but she must keep it secret from her brothers. Her brothers find out that she has a secret affair, and they go off to kill Lorenzo, Isabella's lover. She finds out and is heartbroken. Lorenzo comes to her in a dream and she figures out the truth. Isabella, enticed by her love, goes to where he was killed by her brothers and digs up her lovers body. She cuts off his head, wraps it in a napkin, and brings it back to her room where she plants it in a basil pot. Isabella becomes obsessed with her basil and does nothing else but tend to it and water it. He brothers become infuriated with her obsession and take her prized basil plant away. She dies a few days later from being heartbroken.

Le Coup au Coeur in French translates to The Blow to the Heart. This is exactly what happens to Isabella, she is in love with Lorenzo but takes a blow to the heart when her selfish brothers viciously murder him. The bright and vivid rose symbolizes the love Isabella has for Lorenzo and later her basil plant. The basil plant flourished with all the care Isabella put in to it. The brilliant rose dazzles the viewers to see love, but the thorns are replaced by a stinging dagger. The dagger is a symbol for the hatred Isabella had for her brothers and for her lose of her love.


  • 7:00 AM

Et Nous Aussi Nous Serons Meres and The Decameron


Jean-Jacques Lequeu, Et  Nous Aussi Nous Serons Meres, 1740

"If I thought thou wouldst keep the secret, I would tell thee what I have sometimes meditated, and which thou perhaps mightest also find agreeable."  - Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron

In the first story of the third day in The Decameron, Masetto, pretends to be dumb to get hired to work in a nunnery and to sleep with the nuns. This plan works out perfectly for Masetto at first. The nuns, curious and lusty, take advantage of the dumb gardener and his inability (or so they think), to let their dirty little secret out of the bag. But be careful what you wish for because you just might get it all. Masetto soon becomes overwhelmed with the constant attention he receives from all the nuns and simply cannot abide to their requests anymore. He eventually leaves the nunnery.

When I first saw this painting by Jean-Jacques Lequeu, I immediately thought of the nun story in The Decameron. The nun appears to promiscuous like the nuns in the story, but what I found interesting is that her face does not match the sexuality of her body. She has an innocent face which may have been painted to show deceitfulness. She is only human, and humans are naturally curious and have desires. I believe Lequeu is trying to send the message that if a nun was given the chance to sin without being caught she would. In the story in The Decameron, every nun sleeps with the gardener because they believe him to be too dumb to be able to expose them of their sins. The nun in this painting would no doubt join them.

  • 7:00 AM

Portrait of a Young Girl and The Decameron

Giovanni Battista Moroni, Portrait of a Young Girl,  1564

A rare portrait of someone so young, this young girl posing in such elegant clothing reflects the image of a young Ghismonda, placed on a pedestal by her obsessive father. In the first story of the fourth day in The Decameron, the possessive Tancredi, Prince of Salerno, kills his daughter’s secret lover because of his lack of rank. The daughter, Ghismonda, in grief, drinks her dead lover's heart blood with poison, and dies. Giovanni’s Portrait of A Young Girl follows the beginning of this same pattern.

Embellished with pearls, the young girl stiffly looks straight at the painter. However her hand’s playfulness lead the reminder of the child behind the parental decoration. Similarly, Ghismonda’s suppression, and overwhelming devotion brought upon her by her father ultimately led her to yield “to a man who was not [her] husband.”  The fact he was of lower rank shows her rebellion against the standard her father unknowingly provided her. It was the elaborating, and smothering of his daughter that Tancredi went wrong. When I see Portrait of a Young Girl, I see a wealthy child forced to pose for hours, in order to add a prop to her family’s household. The child is a prop that the family would be unwilling “to part with,” just as Tancredi feels about Ghismonda 

However, the bond Tancredi holds for his daughter surpasses any usual father daughter love. The obsession stage the Portrait of a Young Girl is in is only but a stage of every father/daughter relationship, and the daughter naturally will grow up, and be her own person-separate from her father’s image. But, Tancredi never outgrows this phase. Tancredi “was so devoted to her that he was in no hurry to make her a second marriage,” because letting her go the first time was hard enough of such a possessive man. Although odds are, the young girl in Moroni's portrait did not drink her dead lover’s heart besprinkled with poison, she probably did rebel against her father’s adornment at one time.

  • 7:00 AM

Christ's Descent into Hell


Christ's Descent into Hell
Hieronymous Bosch (?), Christ's Decent into Hell, 1550-1560

"If you don't let me in, I shall make you the sorriest man on earth. To which Tofano replied: And how are you going to do that?" - Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron

As often depicted in all sorts of media and entertainment, Tofano confronts a classic ultimatum. After locking his wife out of the house, which under no circumstance would ever end in his favor, she responded in the most rational of ways. Monna, his wife, decided to cleverly fake her death by throwing a massive stone down into a well. Naturally, this scares the living daylights out of Tofano as he quickly becomes aware of his what his fate will be if he is blamed for her death. With either his reputation or his head on the line, Tofano quickly makes his way to the well to find that he had been played. Now was the one locked out of the house.

Christ's Descent into Hell accurately reflects Tofano's mindset as the impact at the bottom of the well echoes through his ears. Everything goes downhill from that point on and his and Tofano is forced to fear the worst. Instantly terrified that he will be accused of murder, Tofano fears he will have to go through hell to survive his predicament. Regardless of avoiding death or forced fleeing, Tofano is still left with being simply outwitted by his wife.

Although relationship ultimatums have been used in modern entertainment, none will ever come close to the beautifully dramatized conditions that Tofano is confronted with. Monna showed great dexterity and courage to pull off such a feat against her husband, and will always have completed one of the most sinister pranks ever. This series of events also brings out the immaturity of both Tofano and Monna. Regardless of their age and length of their marriage, they successfully bring out their inner child.

  • 7:00 AM

Friendship and The Decameron

Egon Schiele, Friendship, 1913

"Oh, heart that I love so dearly, now that I have fully discharged my duties towards you, all that remains to be done is to bring my soul and unite it with yours." Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron

True love finds its way through all barriers.

What love stands for differs now than from a several hundred years ago.  High school students often use the word love as a hyperbole, not comprehending what it truly means.  They all say, "I love you, [insert name here]." In today's culture, love becomes meaningless.  People often use it insincerely, which detracts from its significance.  Not only do peopleuse "love excessively to each other, but also to describe their feelings of certain lifeless objects, incapable of returning their so-called "love."

Ghismonda and Guiscardo from Boccaccio's The Decameron have a "love for the ages"  that lasts through death.  Although her father kills her lover Guiscardo, Ghismonda still loves him despite his death.  And then she further surprises readers when she commits suicide through a toxic concoction of poisonous herbs and the blood from her lover's heart.  I cannot think of one person today who would do that if their boyfriend died. That is the definition of dedication.

Egon Schiele's Friendship depicts a lovers' embrace, one of endearment and intimacy, similar to Ghismonda and Guiscardo's love. The two lovers in Friendship share a bond deeper than love.  Love does not always mean infatuation, it also means  friendship as well.  Similarly to Guiscardo and Ghismonda, they would rather watch the world get incinerated than be separated.
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Aftermath of the Obliteration of Eternity and The Wife of Bath

Yayoi Kusama, Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity, 2009
“’Had God commanded maidenhood to all, marriage would be condemned beyond recall, and certainly if seed were never sown, how ever could virginity be grown? Paul did not dare pronounce, let matters rest, his master having given him no behest. There’s a prize offered for virginity; catch as catch can! Who’s in for it? Let’s see! ‘It is not everyone who hears the call on whom God wills He let His power fall. The Apostle was a virgin, well I know; nevertheless, though all his writings show he wished that everyone were such as he, it’s all mere counsel to virginity." - Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue”

Wow. If there was ever a point where eschatological claims rooted in sexual desire and progressive challenge of double standards meet, it’s here. The woman here, obviously not one for conventional marriage structures, comes off almost philosophical here, using notions of divine will and religious precedent as a straw man for her tiff against maidenhood. It takes a certain boldness to condemn these structures with such scathing wit. And while Chaucer isn’t a woman, his writing reflects what I would assume was a thought that entered many women’s minds. 

That’s where Kusama comes in. As one of the dominant figures in pop art and feminist art, she essentially embodies everything that the narrator was talking about—a uniquely critical lens on traditional religious ideas of self, intention and purpose mixed in with a feminist critique of such. Kusama’s Aftermath is on the surface tranquil and almost underwhelming—lights in a room with mirrored walls. But the title provides a fair bit of context for the installation itself. Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity packs quite the punch, especially when trying to interpret what exactly the lights are. They could be stars, souls or any number of material elements that make up the fabric of the cosmos.

In 1975, Kusama was admitted to a mental hospital for having hallucinations, as well as for statements that were regarded as harmful to herself and others. It became a tipping point in her life, one where she began to blur the lines between her visions, her idea of infinity and her art. Part of that is present in Chaucer’s linear depiction of this woman, but it’s mostly in the context, the ideas people must have had about this woman, the conception she has of herself as a renegade, an affront to the clergy and the citizenry of the time. This may be how the woman sees herself, but it’s definitely what Kusama is.

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A Woman, Possibly a Nun of San Secondo and The Decameron

Jacometto Veneziano, A Woman, Possibly a Nun of San Secondo, c. 1485

Fairest Ladies, there are a great many men and women who are so dense as to be firmly convinced that when a girl takes the white veil and dons the black cowl, she ceases to be a woman or to experience feminine longings.” Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron

I suppose there is no better occupation than “Possibly a Nun”

In the first story on the third day of The Decameron, Massetto of Lamporecchio goes to work in a nunnery only to find that the women there are just as lustful (if not more) than he had hoped. This raises the question, are these women still nuns? Is this woman of San Secondo a nun?

Judging by the disheveled state of this "nun's" habit, I have a feeling that this particular woman may not be as faithful to the Lord as her black robe suggests. Though this painting does not scream infidelity, it does not necessarily scream purity either. The way the landscape so consequently begins right at her bare shoulder and continues down her breasts (or lack there of) down beyond the frame. And her "wimple" severely lacks some sort of veil or cornette or...something to make the painting just a bit less, shall we say, uncomfortable.

To make matters worse, this particular painting was coupled with another painting featuring a man, Alvise Contarini, with whom this woman possibly had a "clandestine relationship." And the plot thickens. As silly as the story in the Decameron seems, it does allude to a much broader flaw in human nature - curiosity.

The Nuns in The Decameron are not inherently lustful, they are simply curious, comparable to the curiosity one faces when studying Jacometto's painting of A Woman, Possibly a Nun of San Secondo. When I look at it, I can not help but wonder about her story, her clothing, and how she feels about being "Possibly a Nun."
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David with the Head of Goliath

Caravaggio, David with the Head of Goliath, 1610

“Having shaken out the soil, they saw cloth and found the decomposing head inside it, still sufficiently intact for them to recognize it as Lorenzo’s from the curls of his hair. This discovery greatly amazed them, and they were afraid lest people should come to know what had happened. So they buried the head, and without a word to anyone, having wound up their affairs in Messina, they left the city and went to live in Naples.”  
Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron

While we read the Decameron, fourth day-second story, in class, I could not help but remember this painting by Caravaggio. It wasn’t only because both had a beheading in them, but because in Lisabetta’s agony, I remembered the troubled look of David as he held the beheaded Goliath, in Caravaggio’s likeness. While Caravaggio’s face could not compare to how I imagined Lorenzo’s, I could not help but to imagine this painting as Lisabetta pulled her dead lover’s head out of his unmarked grave. The amount of detail Caravaggio put into David’s slightly feminine face made me feel a similar feeling of agony as well as relief. Similar to the painting, when Lisabetta finds Lorenzo’s body, she feels a sense of agony (because her lover is dead), but she also feels a sense of relief (we can presume) because her vision proved to be true, thus she was not crazy. Instead, Lorenzo actually did come to her in her sleep, and tell her the location of the body. If she had gone to the spot and not found a body, she would have cried in agony and bought a ticket into a medieval mental hospital.

I commend Lisabetta’s and David’s bravery in the situations they were in. David convinced King Saul to let him go face to face with a seven-foot Goliath with nothing but a sling shot that hurled stones, and a shepherd’s staff. David emerged victorious, proving King Saul and everybody watching the “Lord almighty is the only weapon one needs.” Lisabetta, meanwhile, not only stayed calm while her dead lover came and spoke to her in her sleep, but she also had the bravery to go find said lover, and cut his head off, keeping it in a jar long enough to grow a basil plant in the same jar. Although they do not share the same challenge, they certainly share a courageousness to overcome those who defy them.

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Nighthawks and The Decameron

Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, 1942

"And so they were secretly in love with each other. The young woman was longing to be with him... how they could meet?"
- Boccaccio, The Decameron

When I look at the painting Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, the first thing that I notice is the loneliness of it all. The couple seen in the painting sit together, but the way the lines divide them from the others gives the appearance of isolation. In The Decameron's fourth day, first story, I feel this same isolation in the story of Ghismonda and Guiscardo. Ghismonda's father, Tancredi, refuses to allow her to marry, so she must hide her love for Guiscardo, along with their subsequent affair. They are together, but their togetherness must be hidden, and in this way they are isolated. Tancredi eventually finds out about their affair, however. He kills Guiscardo in retaliation and gives Guiscardo's heart to Ghismonda. She cannot bear to be alone, so she drinks his heart-blood mixed with poison to be with him in death. 

The couple in this painting seem to also be together, they are sitting quite close and drinking together. however, they are also alone. The are separated from each of the other two, and the rest of the painting is just empty space. However, the way the bar sits perpendicular to the wall draws the focus to these two. Whether they found each other in the diner that night or they're a married couple, their presence late at night in a near empty diner says that although they may be alone, they are alone together and seem to prefer it that way.

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