Know Your Chapeau: The Cardsharps

Caravaggio, The Cardsharps,  1594

Why did hats ever go out of style? They're great for everything. Balding? Hat. Sunburnt? Hat. Bad hair day? Hat. Want to advertise the fact that You Only Live Once? Stick on a stylish hat and you're good! Everyone cool, ever, wore a hat. My personal favorite is the Italian Hunters hat, also called the Archer's hat or the "Robin Hood," shown here in Caravaggio's The Cardsharps. There is no better hat for your cheating in card game needs! The stylish band goes great with your dagger, and is perfectly sized for an ace of spades!

While the this hat goes great with the striped jerkin, it wasn't as fashionable as you might think. This hat was mainly reserved for Italy's middle class. This suggests that while the wearer seems to be wealthy enough, as the jerkin and dagger would have been fairly expensive, he was not a part of Italian high society. The older gentleman stealing a look at the other boy's cards suggests that this isn't the first time he's made money this way.

I love this painting. All of the paintings from this time period seem to be either religious scenes, or stuffy upper class gentleman and women frowning in portraits. This one shows a lower-class cheater stealing money and rocking a hat. Caravaggio doesn't need your conventions, he paints what he wants...thank you very much.

  • 7:00 AM

Know Your Chapeau: Woman with Flowered Hat

Jean Dupas, Woman with Flowered Hat, 1940

Jean Dupas, an artist of many trades, achieved fame through his success two stylistic movements: Art Noveau and Art Deco. By fusing these two concepts, Dupas created paintings depicting elegant women in abstraction.

The woman below the absurdity of her flowery chapeau wears an absent smile that speaks levels about the probable discomfort she feels. Perhaps it’s the heaviness of the hat, or perhaps it’s the sheer ridiculous nature that weighs on her mind as she stares off into the distance. Her beautiful, yet giraffe-like features compete with the hat’s elevation in an attempt to not be completely dwarfed. Yet, the blossom-covered headwear remains proudly undefeated. Zero points for giraffe neck. No, not even her soulless alien eyes may distract from the hat’s magnificence.

In a way, the hat resembles a layered cake. At the top, white anthurium flowers (or something which resembles them – I’m no botanist) bloom healthily at the top. If we proceed with the cake metaphor, the anthurium flowers would be the icing. Below, a yellow rose and a pale camellia rest together. Camellias and roses aren’t too similar, but they’re similar enough in petals and color that the two together are rather jarring. Color contrast is a wonderful concept, and Dupas may have dropped the ball here. Thankfully, the scarlet flowers beneath provides enough pop to save the arrangement, despite their gaudiness. Admittedly, I have no idea what they’re called. My impaired knowledge of flora terminology aside, even I know that this leaning tower of flowers makes for a mediocre bouquet at best.

In a sense, perhaps the giraffe alien lady makes the perfect match for this oddity. Hats off to you, Dupas.
  • 7:00 AM

Know Your Chapeau: Bust of a Woman in a Striped Hat

Pablo Picasso, Bust of a Woman in a Striped Hat, 1939

Picasso’s cubist paintings are dissections of form. Something natural, like the female form, becomes geometric. Woman becomes a mass of shapes and lines and edges. She loses her identity, her flesh. Picasso has deconstructed her, and we put her back together like a puzzle. But the image in front of us, though we know it is a woman, does not register any of the female qualities usually expressed in painting – softness, femininity, beauty. It is strange and interesting, but I do not see a woman. I see shapes.

But I also see purple. The vibrant color reminds me of the 1932 poem by Jenny Joseph: “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple...” In the poem, the old woman wears a red hat, so it’s a stretch, but I consider the type of woman that wears purple. The Queen gets to wear purple because she is royalty, and baby girls wear purple when they run out of pink. In Joseph’s poem, the old woman wears purple to escape conformity and dullness. She wears purple because society tells her not to. In Picasso’s painting, perhaps this woman wears purple for the same reason. Her clothes (if she is wearing any) are grey and drab. Her expression is blank and her hair is neat. We do not know whether she is young or old – does it matter? She does not dance in the streets or scream at the top of her lungs or pick flowers from others’ gardens.

She certainly does not spit.

But she wears purple, so maybe she could.

  • 7:00 AM

Know Your Chapeau: Minecraft hats

George Stubbs, Turf with Jockey Up, 1765

The setting sun disappears over the horizon as I light the lanterns around the house. I go out to check on Jesus' stable to ensure that the zombies or skeleton archers will not disturb him during the night. Every night zombies just pound on the door and try to get in. After checking on Jesus, I walk back to my simple wooden plank shack before the nightly assaults, whether they be skeleton archer or zombie. The fire crackles in the furnace as the raw meat slowly transforms into my dinner to keep my hunger meter filled. Before I learned that raw meat could be cooked to restore my energy, I would venture out into the wilderness and slay herds of cow everyday just to sate my appetite. I hang my favorite baseball hat beside the collection of zombie heads, diamond pickaxes, and diamond swords and settle down for the night.
During the night, I hear "THWAP" against the house repeatedly from skeleton archers futilely trying to break in. The zombies pounding on the doors prevents me from fully replenishing all my hearts each night, so in the morning my health bar is not filled to the brim as it should be. But as the sun rises, the noises recede back with the darkness and all is serene. Unfortunately daytime is the only opportunity available to work the fields without disturbance from the nightly hordes, and so I work it tirelessly so that I may finish each day's work before the sun sets.

I have recently developed this backpack that allows me to carry up to nine different items at once. With it, I have become a walking armory even while working the fields. I hold my diamond swords, pickaxes, hoes, shovels, and my bow and arrow. A short time ago I stumbled upon an enchanted bow that only requires me to carry one arrow at a time and yet can fire limitless arrows. I have thus named the bow: "The Infinity Bow" but am ignorant of its durability. Zombies beware.

  • 7:00 AM

Know Your Chapeau: Three Cornered Hat

Walt Kuhn, Three-Cornered Hat, 1943

Kuhn's Three Cornered Hat, achieves a look of complete power. The woman depicted maintains a constant stern face and and piercing blue eyes (as if she needed any of this). The hat alone contains the capability to take control of an empire. Do not make the mistake of misinterpreting the flowers on the hat, the hat is more than just decoration, more than just an accessory.

The thing's mere size could be used as a weapon, even the hat's edges stretch further than the woman's own shoulders. The red streaks that outline the head wear might as well be stains of blood, as this woman means business with the symbol of power resting upon her head. Generally,  throughout history, people should know to never mess with a massive hat. This is more than a simple top hat or cap, the hat embodies the word "elite." The hat is more than just fashion (although it very much is so), it is power.

  • 7:00 AM

Know Your Chapeau: Picnic in the Mountains

Fernando Botero, Picnic in the Moutains, 1966

Picnic in the Mountains is a striking painting. All I can say is, "Hats off" to Francisco Botero for catching my attentions so quickly in my art history career. His painting style is… interesting to say the least. He always satirizes people into these strange pudgy beings who never fail to haunt my dreams. This painting in particular takes a bolder view in that as he sketched the two abnormally large beings who take up more space than the mountains. What is even more mind boggling is that the size of the man’s hat. It is just as big as the mountains.

Some could argue that Senor Botero’s perspective is way off, but after examining his paintings, you realize this man actually doesn’t care about what other people think (you can look at some notable works on Botero uses a vast color range in this painting as he uses many warm colors and wide variety of fruit

Fernando Botero changed my life. After looking at his obese renditions of some of art's most iconic paintings (like the Mona Lisa), my eyes have been opened. As an aficionado of art history, any kind of art intrigues me, but Fernando Botero almost immediately grabbed my attention.

  • 7:00 AM

Pazzi Chapel and Baxandall

Brunelleschi, Pazzi Chapel, 1460?

Brunelleschi, as an artist, ostensibly lost perspective. A perpetual number two to Ghiberti, his relief and painting work was also often overlooked in favor of other people's work. But, in the world of architecture, he was almost unrivaled in his brilliance. From the beautifully austere exteriors of his buildings (see: Pazzi Chapel), to their placement and humanist features, the architectural work of Brunelleschi trumps any of his other work, putting him in a building league all his own.

Michael Baxandall, a noted art historian, notes that Brunelleschi was a "rediscoverer" of perspective as an artistic positioning tool. His use of perspective in all of his different mediums showed him to be a special breed of academian, one that could take his pitfalls as a painter and fix them in his sculpture or his architecture. The somewhat rudimentary implementation of perspective in his paintings became wonderfully symmetrical architecture. The weird and uncouth dimensions on some of his figures would beget the sleek lines and perfect proportions of buildings like the Pazzi Chapel. Moreso than his greatest rival Ghiberti, Brunelleschi was a true renaissance man.

  • 7:00 AM

Woman with a Hat and Baxandall

Henri Matisse, Woman with a Hat, 1905

“There are no secret codes worth knowing about in the painters' colour” (Baxandall 81).

Art historians and artists often attempt to assign a unified code of meaning to colors used in paintings, regardless of the historical context and period norms surrounding them. In the fifteenth century, this primarily meant judging colors based on the cost of paint and their religious significance. For instance, gold represented nobility, and its expense added an air of dignity to artistic works. Some painters of the time challenged these regulations, believing that the meaning of a color varies based on the viewer or, more simply, that sometimes other colors just look better – even if they cost less to produce.

In his Painting and Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy, Michael Baxandall also disputes this color hierarchy and asserts that artists select their paints based on what they believe will best convey their ideas and communicate with audiences. In times of social or personal strife, painters attempt to reflect their emotions in new ways, and, in his later years, Henri Matisse used color to express the pain of war and his hopes for a better future.

Although Matisse painted Woman with a Hat technically before his Fauvist period. Fauvists used bright, violent colors to create pieces with more passion than ever before. Matisse introduced this movement during a particularly difficult period in his life when he had fallen ill, Nazis held his homeland, and his wife and daughter participated in the Resistance. He revealed his concern in his works of this period and experimented with various artistic styles. Despite his distress and the departure of fellow artists, Matisse refused to leave his country and, in so doing, diminish the value of French art. He instead utilized paintings to convey political meaning as a form of reserved protest. He asserted, "If all the talented people left France, the country would be much poorer. I began an artist's life very poor, and I am not afraid to be poor again… Art has its value; it is a search after truth and truth is all that counts."

Matisse’s brushstrokes in Woman with a Hat display his Neo-Impressionist style, and his subject wears melancholy in her expression. This work showcases Matisse’s imagination and his courage to rebel, even if simply from expectations of color use.

  • 7:00 AM

The Last Supper and Baxandall

Perugino, The Last Supper, 1496

“The Effective unit of the stories was the human figure. The figure’s individual character depended less on its physiognomy—a private matter largely left for the beholder to supply, as we have seen—then on the way it moved. But there were exceptions to this, and particularly the figure of Jesus.” (Baxandall 56)

The fifteenth century brought about an exciting new way to look at art. The times of Giotto and Duccio evolved into the more anatomically-correct renditions of Raphael and Perugino. Including them, the architectural front was led by a certain Michelangelo and Donatello. However, among so many changes to art, the depictions of Jesus got more intricate, but maintained the same aura as its predecessors.

Perugino’s Last Supper depicts this exactly. Perugino, a mentor to Raphael, painted many well-known (and well painted) scenes from the bible. In particular, his last supper shares many characteristics with those painted in the past, but also include some features unique to this piece. For starters, he has one of the few Last Supper pieces that include a view of the outside. In the last supper itself, Perugino uses techniques previously administered by Duccio  and gives Jesus his usual, forgiving facial expression as he looks upon the table, awaiting his demise.

Baxandall says it best when he says “The individual character depends less on its physiognomy then on the way it moved.” However, he is further correct when he says that the only exception is Jesus. In almost all depictions of Jesus, he gives off a serene sense of softness and untold grace. His lack of movement in the paintings is one of the only laws of art that stick through the time of the “Old Masters” (Giotto and Duccio) into the masters of the fifteenth century.

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Madonna of the Pomegranate and Baxandall

Sandro Botticelli, Madonna of the Pomegranate, 1487

Clearly I can't get enough of Botticelli's work, as I have yet another painting to present.

Despite being one of his later works, Botticelli demonstrates the same exquisiteness seen in his art by paying attention to color and emotion in his subjects of Madonna of the Pomegranate.  

The Virgin Mary holds Jesus in her arms, which Botticelli purposefully illustrates as oversized to symbolize Mary's motherly role in Jesus' birth and death. The six angels gather around the mother and child; their length not only demonstrates proportion, but also creates support for the painting in substitution for the lack of architecture. While they sit under the heavenly light, the subjects' faces provide a solemn environment for the painting, as they morn about the eventual crucifixion and death of Christ.

Although this painting is often referred to as holistically Biblical, the renowned artist does not fail to interject his favoritism for Greek Mythology. Botticelli paints a pomegranate in the child's hand to parallel this work to the myth of Proserpina. Hades imprisons Proserpina in Hell, but Hermes comes to rescue her as ordered by her father Zeus. In order to restore her freedom, Hades forces Proserpina to eat six pomegranate seeds as a representation of fidelity in their marriage. Proserpina must now spend six months with her traitorous husband, and the other six with her mother. Returning in the springtime, her mother decorates the home with welcoming flowers to compose a colorful and euphoric landscape. In the fall when Proserpina returns to Hades, the nature loses its color and joy is lost.

What I'm trying to get at here is that Botticelli applies this symbolism of the pomegranate in the Greek myth to the resurrection of Jesus in the spring and the joy of Christian community that is brought by his rebirth. Moreover, we see that Botticelli's colorful palette and illustration of the flowers on the most left angel are paying attention to Proserpina's story.

As Botticelli strategically crafts this piece of art, we as viewers are forced to look at the composition through Michael Baxandall's period eye. By looking at Botticelli's other works and then returning to this piece, the audience is forced to resist the instinctive "visual perception that ceases to be uniform, from one man to the next" (Baxandall 29). Botticelli's paintings are a prime example of period eye, as works like Primavera, the hilarious Mars and Venus, and Mystic Nativity all share an underlying theme about the painter's societal views on the class system or the time period's cultural impacts of religious suppression.

Here Madonna of the Pomegranate follows Baxandall's theory of symbolism through the color palette, as well as through the Rule of Three. The painting follows what Baxandall would consider a graceful, vibrant, and powerful composition, which speaks to the movement of art in Renaissance society, religious turmoil, and Botticelli's positive outlook on the future. In Baxandall's The Painting & Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy, he concludes by discussing how "the forms and styles of painting respond to social circumstances. It is symmetrical and proper to suggest that the forms and styles of paintings may sharpen our perception of the society" (151). Botticelli proves to follow Baxandall's ideologies in Madonna of the Pomegranate by implying that despite the religious turmoil the Renaissance is facing, there will eventually be change and restoration of peace in Roman society. Moreover, as this painting correlated with the start of Botticelli's fascination with Girolamo Savonarola, the artist may be force-feeding his audience his perspectives on his mentor's demand Christian renewal.

Regardless, I tip my hat to you Botticelli, for once again amazing me with the symbolism of your paintings, of which have most certainly altered my perception of Renaissance and modern day society.

  • 7:00 AM

The Annunciation and Baxandall

Fra Angelico, The Annunciation, 1445

Spoiler alert: “Most fifteenth-century paintings are religious pictures” (Baxandall 40).

Now that we’ve all recovered from that shocker, let’s move on. It’s not surprising that in the study of Renaissance art history, one is bombarded with countless Madonna and Childs and innumerable Crucifixions. You might think the artists didn’t have any creativity, or that 15th-century life wasn’t interesting enough to paint anything else, but there was a clear-cut reason for the abundance of religious paintings: instruction. In the days when the Church controlled the commission and production of art, art became a tool to educate the general public about their own religion. It was a way to envision stories so that people could better understand them, and to create a spark of interest and spark religious fervor in their minds.

But, how? An artist cannot just paint a religious scene however they want. An artist’s rendition of a scene must be ambiguous to appeal to many people’s internal visions, but succinct enough to keep a clear meaning. It wasn’t easy. Artists were expected to produce art that would excite, compel, and educate viewers. With the notion that the viewers of religious artwork were primarily ignorant and uneducated common folk, art could not be too complicated. One pope put it like this,“What a book is to those who can read, a picture is to the ignorant people who look at it,” (Baxandall 41). With the Bible as the book in question, artists did not have a lot of leeway in their art. Perhaps that is why so many Annunciations look so similar.

Take Fra Angelico’s rendition. The artist rendered the well-known story simply, with vibrant colors and interesting detail. The faces of Mary and Gabriel show little emotion, which allows viewers to decide what Mary was feeling when she received the big news. The reasoning behind this ambiguity is that, “The public mind was not a blank tablet on which the painters’ representation of a story could impress themselves; it was an active institution of interior visualization with which every painter had to get along” (Baxandall 45). No matter how Fra Angelico thought the story went – his art was for the public so it had to follow a certain code of objectivity. With this in mind, paintings that were once blank and emotionless transform into opportunities for imagination and personal interpretation.
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Brera Alterpiece and Baxandall

Piero Della Francesca, Brera Altarpiece, 1472

At first glace Piero Della Francesca's Brera Alterpiece of Madonna and Child looks like an awkward family portrait including the Virgin Mary with a very large lap. For some reason there is also an egg on a string above Mary and Baby Jesus.

While reading Michael Baxandall's Painting and Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy, we learn to look at the painting with a more critical eye. Baxandall taught us to look at the stance of a the figures and where they are placed. The Angels and Saints are focused around Mary and Jesus putting the focus on the center of the painting. It is thought that St. John the Baptist and St. Francis are in the group symbolizing a momentous occasion. He would also say look at the colors. Mary is wearing her typical blue robe,and Jesus has a necklace of red beads with the foreshadowing and symbol of blood.

The egg above is thought to be a round ostrich egg. This could be symbolizing the fertility and creation. Although I enjoy looking at this painting I cannot get over how awkward and uncomfortable the people look. How can Mary balance Jesus like that? Why is the man at the bottom in a full ninty degree angle? And of course, why is there and egg on a string?

  • 7:00 AM

The Holy Family and Baxandall

Joos Van Cleve, The Holy Family, c. 1525-1530

When I first came upon this painting, scrolling through Tumblr, I laughed out loud. Not a simple lol-like titter, but a genuine and hearty chortle. Ever since my first encounter with it a few months ago, I've been waiting for the most perfect time to debut this masterpiece. 

Reading Michael Baxandall's Painting & Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy, the phrase "One must enter into the spirit of the game" stood out to me above all others. I know this because I have underlined, highlighted, put brackets around it, and rewritten it at the top of the page.  "The game" I can only assume to be this idea of "the period-eye."

The Period-eye simply implores the viewer to attempt to regard a painting with the same experience, knowledge and conventions as those viewing and purchasing the work during the time of creation. It's an interesting request, especially in conjunction with Joos Van Cleve's painting The Holy Family (an artist whose name is just as funny as the painting). Truthfully, this painting could work well with many of Baxandall's ideas: the humorous facial expressions, the questionable attitude and position of baby Jesus,  or even the choice of colors. Heck, I could probably bring some math into this and measure the circumference of one of Mary's breasts or calculate the arc of Joseph's smirk. All these options would make for quite a hilarious and no doubt entertaining blog post, but going back to the period-eye. I figured perhaps it would be better to transcend the hilarity altogether, and enter into the spirit of the Game.  

Nudity is not inherently sexual. The positions of Mary and Jesus in The Holy Family act as the primary symbols for God's love for humanity. The position of Mary supporting the Jesus in a  more upright position is referred to in Latin as Maria Lactans, "The virgin's nursing breast." Once one is able to transcend the preverted hilarity of this work, and the works alike - one enters a whole new world of understanding and appreciation for art and even religion. 

I feel sometimes, in class this semester, we were often too quick to point out the funny face or booty on fire. While entertaining, I hope that next semester we can transcend the initial hilarity and better enter into the spirit of The Game. 

  • 7:00 AM

The Vision of St. Bernard and Baxandall

Filippino Lippi, The Vision of St. Bernard, 1480

Filippino Lippi's The Vision of St. Bernard portrays the St. Bernard in an outdoor with a desk made from stone and branch. This is different than setting the usual setting where the St. would be in the church. He receives a vision of the Virgin. Above him, two monks look towards the heavens and further above a sick man is being carried down the hills towards the building.

Using Baxandall's knowledge of composition, we know that pictures are composed of bodies, which are composed of parts, which are composed of plane surfaces. The rocks, angels, and the Virgin help create a pyramid with St. Bernard as the subject.

Naturally, the eye is drawn to Mary's beautiful robes that contrast in color and texture to the value of colors of the other figures in the painting. The vibrant colors add visual excitement to this piece. Baxandall writes, "There were expensive colors, blues made from lapis lazuli or reds made from silver and sulphur, and there were cheap earth colors like ochre and umber. The eye was caught by the former before the latter." Indeed.
  • 7:00 AM

Flagellation and Baxandall

 Piero Della Franchesca's Flagellation, 1449

As a 15th century Florentine painter, you didn't just paint, you practically did it all. Going through intensive schooling, painters such as Piero Della Francesca, had a pretty firm grip on mathematics, as the subject was stressed for years, The use of mathematics and geometry in painting at the time became a show of skill and intelligence, and allowed artists to boast of their structural proportions. As the population became more educated in math, the artwork had to follow. Francesca became aware of this and upped his geometric game to the point that almost every aspect of his paintings held some geometric significance. This became Francesca's challenge to the public as he invited viewers to test his accuracy.

Francesca's Flagellation makes no exception as it depicts accurate and attractive architecture. Although Francesca may to have gotten the order of importance wrong as it seems to be the three men in front first, then the pillars and architectural structures and,oh yeah, Jesus is being whipped in the back somewhere. Regardless of this, nicely done on those pillars, because after all that's what counts, right?
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Dream of St. Joseph and Baxandall

Anton Raphael Mengs, Dream of Saint Joseph, 1772

Perspective.  Perspective changes how one may look at a situation.  Change the perspective and the opinion may change as well. The author of Painting and Experience In Fifteenth Century Italy, Michael Baxandall, also asks us to view things through a different perspective, either of that lifestyle or era.  

Through a modern perspective, Mengs's Saint Joseph looks as if he is done with his wife's nagging as she constantly reminds him to take out the trash, "Not again...just leave me in peace," as would be a recurring phrase in contemporary society.  But to bear in mind Baxandall's teachings, let us view this piece through another light.  

To coincide with older teachings, Joseph would dream of a son, but rather not his own son, but that of God's.  Here he learns of the annunciation of Christ through a dream.  And so by looking at the artwork as is from that time period, we see the true nature of the piece.  It is not a man weary from his wife's nagging, instead it portrays a rather a joyous moment in Joseph's life.  Perspective is imperative in any situation and key to learning about the whole picture.

  • 7:00 AM

Da Vinci's Last Supper and Baxandall

Da Vinci, The Last Supper, 1498

In the 15th century, an increasing amount of attention was being placed upon figures. The motion and biology of figures was considered just as important as the color and placement. While quality of materials was previously of more emphasis, this shift meant artists needed more skill to create works, rather than just expensive materials. In terms of anatomy, Da Vinci was the best. Da Vinci's expansive study of the anatomy of the human body gave him the ability to paint the realistic figures seen in his painting, The Last Supper. Da Vinci's study allowed him to paint complicated and lively scenes without sacrificing proportion. Clients, however, still wanted the figures to lively and realistic without sacrificing movement.

The people on either side of Jesus from two distinct groups, while Jesus takes up the middle. This division of the painting into three parts adds motion to the figures, called "aria" by Baxandall. The use of placement to convey movement adds life to the painting, without destroying its monumentalist take on the religious story. Da Vinci's talent for this made him perfect for religious paintings like this one.

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Arion Riding on a Dolphin and Baxandall

Francesco Bianchi, Arion Riding on a Dolphin, c. 1500

I see whimsical, I see creepy, I see a naked kid playing a lute on a fish. However, according to Michael Baxandall, author of The Painting and Experience of Fifteenth-Century Italy, to fully understand the art the viewer must see through the eyes of the time, or in other words, a period eye.

With that in mind, I see Arion, the poet of Greek myth being saved by a dolphin from pirates. In addition, I see the influence of Greek and Roman art on Renaissance artists inspiring the humanism movement. This is not just a naked kid on a fish, but a tribute to the ancient Greek arts. The unique choice by an Italian artist to paint a Greek myth, reveals the extent Greek antiquity and humanism had on artists willing to conflict with the orthodox. Thus Arion Riding on a Dolphin reflects the story that would otherwise be lost if the viewer failed to look at this painting through Baxandall's period eye.

The importance of period eye may reflect the historical, social, and political background of the piece, however this is completely led by the painter's intent. Similar to a piece of writing, there are many more ways to view and understand any piece of art. The author's intent should not matter in the formation of opinions, and neither should the artists. Their job is to create, leaving interpretation to the viewer. Although I agree period eye is important, the present reception and the effect each stroke has on the viewer at least balances the scale of significance.

So yes, this is Arion the Greek poet being rescued by a dolphin, but, the whimsical charm of the soft strokes, and seemingly shiny surface gives the subject a cartoonish happy feel only able to understand through viewing.

  • 7:00 AM

Know Your School of Athens Goddesses: Athena

        Raphael, School of Athens, 1511                                            Unknown, Athena Giustiniani, 17th Century

In Raphael's School of Athens, the phenomenal painter purposefully segregates the painting by categorizing the left side as philosophers of mathematics, science, poetry, and music, while the right side is composed of masters in realism, logic, and ethics. To further demonstrate this division in philosophy, Raphael juxtaposes Apollo on the left side to Athena on the right side.

As the goddess of war, wisdom, courage, law, and justice, Athena is most certainly dignified as the one of powerful female figureheads in history. Placing the talented goddess in her war attire, Athena embodies fierceness and strength, which is something you don't see everyday in the Renaissance. In Raphael's School of Athens, Athena also carries the shield with Medusas' head as a display of her victory; one look at the shield will turn any human into stone, and if that doesn't scare you that I don't what does.

Being one of few goddesses who aren't associated with fertility or love, Athena is actually depicted as righteous and fair. In almost all her tales, Athena demonstrates intelligence and selflessness, as she sought to aid Greek society in times of turmoil and rid of men's arrogance and dehumanization of women. Moreover, Athena became an icon of resilience for the women of Athens through extraordinary courage and refusal to lose a battle.

In Raphael's School of Athens, I believe that the artist is taking note and praising Athena and the other female figures in the composition for their fierce behavior and the wisdom that has earned them public appreciation. As the 16th century still juggles with a division in female and male dynamics as well as the equality of human rights, Raphael moreover utilizes their presence in the painting as an advocation for a movement of female patrons in the Renaissance time period. With Athena's statue illustrated to overlook the crowd of philosophers, the significance of the other figures become minuscule, conclusively suggesting that their intelligence derives from the impacts of Apollo and Athena through the introduction of wisdom to the human race.

  • 7:00 AM

Know Your School of Athens Grumpy Old Dude: Diogenes

Raphael, The School of Athens, 1511
Girolamo Forabosco, Diogenes Drinking from the Palm of his Hand, 17th Century

“Of what use is a philosopher who doesn't hurt anybody's feelings?” ― Diogenes

Diogenes, the founder of Cynicism, certainly stands out among the other philosophers chosen by Raphael for his masterpiece, The School of Athens. He sits alone on the marble steps, mulling over the document in his hands, and appears wholly unnoticed by the other savants, who form groups and appear to share ideas. Diogenes’ philosophy mirrors his positioning in this painting, as he preferred to stay as far from other people as possible and believed that man is selfish, foolish, and thoroughly flawed.

Diogenes had a multitude of interesting encounters in his life – including his capture by pirates and subsequent sale into slavery – but the most momentous was his trip to the Oracle of Delphi, during which Diogenes received instructions to deface currency. He took this to mean political institutions above actual coin, and this prompted his mission to challenging authority, which continued after his exile to Athens and throughout the rest of his life.

Presuming that virtue in action trumped that in theory, Diogenes followed his own teachings religiously and even devoted himself to a life of poverty in efforts to critique corrupt society. He constantly challenged himself to give up more, because he believed that “it is the privilege of the gods to want nothing, and of godlike men to want little.” Diogenes focused on the influence of custom and criticized those who blindly followed tradition instead of paying attention to the true nature of the world. He once roamed the streets of Athens in daylight, lantern in hand, and told all who asked that he was “looking for an honest man.” Diogenes philosophized a life shaped by ethics and added humor, which was an altogether original practice at the time.

Raphael clearly understood the importance of Diogenes when he created The School of Athens, seeing that he set him in the forefront of the painting. Diogenes taught Cynicism to Crates, and he passed it on to his pupil Zeno, who changed it to the popular school of Stoicism. Diogenes’ placement on the right side of the painting with Aristotle represents his realism. His brazenness enabled him to openly mock many of the other philosophers pictured in The School of Athens, incorporate humor into ideology, stand resolute in his principles, and gain a place in one of the most famous works of the Italian Renaissance.

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Know Your School of Athens Poets: Sappho

Raphael, School of Athens, 1510

I have no complaint 
prosperity that 

the golden Muses 
gave me was no 
delusion: dead, I 
won't be forgotten

Sappho: poet, lyricist, lesbian? It’s astonishing that a female intellectual from 620 B.C. is most renowned for her sexual preferences. Many of her poems chronicle the angst and frustrations of love. Sappho married a merchant and lived a comfortable life studying the arts and writing poetry on the island of Lesbos. She taught many female students in the ways of the art, and more often than not had affairs with them. Many of her students are the subjects of her more, shall we say, affectionate poems. For centuries, scholars and gossips alike focused more on the homoeroticism in her poems and social life than her genius. While this aspect of her life may be the most provocative, I don’t think it’s quite what Sappho meant when she said she wouldn’t be forgotten.

I love Sappho’s poetry, though I have seen little of it. The few works that have withstood time are only fragments of a larger collection. Too many poems have been lost entirely or almost, but we can tell from the remains that Sappho was rightly ranked among the best. Her use of lyric made her poetry accessible and beautiful, and she has been hailed as one of the greatest female poets in Greece. Plato called her the tenth Muse (he has the power to do that, apparently.) Sappho was the first poet to write in the first person. Her poems are personal and honest, and her messages of love, loss, and self still ring true today. It is comforting to know that, even in 600 B.C., the drama of love and life is still pretty standard.

Raphael recognized Sappho’s talent and timelessness in “School of Athens.” She stands next to Plato among the other great scholars of the age. Actually, and I’ll be honest here, no one is positive that it is Sappho next to Plato, but history scholars are pretty sure. To me, there is no disputing that it is Sappho standing there. She enriched the world and deserved to be recognized. Not many people can have a reputation that includes both sexual scandal and a vast body of intelligence. Even though only a few fragments and verses have survived the centuries, Sappho will not be forgotten.
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Know Your School of Athens Philosophers: Old man Antisthenes

Raphael, School of Athens, 1509

Gathered under grand arches are the greatest minds of history, all making witty jokes and sharing schools of thought, having such a wonderful time -  except for one man. On the far left, behind the stunning girl in the white robe and beside the sassy Alexander the Great, there is an old man, hands in his sleeves, just listening. Though no one quite knows for sure, this man is rumored to be the great Antisthenes.

Antisthenes believed solely in the power of Virtue. After meeting Socrates, Antisthenes eschews all pleasures and materialism and chooses to live in poverty. This is not a revolutionary concept, many people chose to abandon desire in order to live fully, but Antisthenes argues that Virtue alone is sufficient for happiness.

In his school, Antisthenes has eight laws of virtue.  My favorite, however, is the last one "The wise person knows who are worthy of love, and so does not disdain to love." I hope to one day be wise enough to decide who is "worthy of love," for I am one who hates to love and does not do so very easily. I am not much of a gambler.

Standing under grand arches in the School of Athens, Antisthenes quietly watches, filled to the brim with virtue and the ease of love, as the greatest minds in history mingle. Under his breath he requests "May the sons of your enemies live in luxury."

  • 7:00 AM