David with the Head of Goliath

Caravaggio, David with the Head of Goliath1610

If I ever commit murder, I would not think to paint a piece of artwork as penance, but that is what Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio did.  After being accused of murder, Caravaggio painted this work in order to gain a papal pardon.  He was granted the pardon, but died before given the fortunate news.  

Caravaggio's portrayal of David and Goliath differs from the typical story of the two.  I was told of their story in Sunday school when I was but a diminutive, gullible child.  The story goes as any underdog story would: the youngest boy of a sheep herder fights a giant of a man and miraculously kills him with a slingshot, which is a good story for a little kid and all. But looking back on it reminds me of the manner in which children are raised.  I was brought up thinking that the world was good and happy and no matter what everything will turn out my way.  That. is. wrong.  Caravaggio's David exhibits the exact distaste for reality as I do.  The majority of the world is corrupt and horrible.  The black background behind David perfectly shows that as despite his victory, the world is still just as dark before Goliath's death.

  • 7:00 AM

Joseph with Jacob in Egypt

Pontormo, Joseph with Jacob in Egypt, 1518
Pontormo uses his manneristics ways to insert four seperate scenes into one cohesive painting. All the scenes work together and make the painting flow in a certain direction. The first scene in the bottom left corner is Joseph introducing his father to the Pharoah of Egypt. Jacob is on his hands and knees on the ground out of respect for the Pharoah. Joseph is wearing a purple robe and pointing to his father on the ground.

The next scene in in the bottom right corner is Joseph sitting on a cart listening to a message about his father, read to him by a messenger who is on his knees next to Josephs cart. . This message is thought to be the news of his fathers illness. Joseph is sitting and holding his eldest son Ephraim on his lap.

The third scene is Joseph in the same clothing as the previous scenes walking up the mysterious stair case with his son. The stairs do not seem to be going anywhere in particular, a very maneristic thing to do. Pontormo is not accurately representing a set of stairs but puts them in the painting as a transition for all the scenes to cohesivly fit together as one piece of work.

The fourth scene is on the balcony at the top right of the painting. Jacob is on his death bed and is blessing his son and all of his grandsons before he passes away. All the scenes work in a way to bring the viewers eyes to the scene at the top.

Pontormo painted this painting for Pier Francesco Borgherini in his bridal chamber. This painting was a set of four panels all portraying scenes from the book of Genesis. Pontormo brings his own life in to the painting by inserting his apprentice Bronzino as a young boy sitting on the stairs in the front wearing a brown coat. Overall this painting is a great representation of four scenes from Josephs life and an example of a manneristic painting at work.

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Bacchus and Ariadne

Titian, Bacchus and Ariadne, 1523

Poor Ariadne. What’s a girl to do when your lover deserts you on an island? Have no fear, for Bacchus is here.

Alfonso d’Este commissioned Titian to paint Bacchus and Ariadne, which would be placed in his camerino d’alabastro or the Alabaster Room at the Ducal Palace. The painting would be placed amongst works by other masters, such as Giovanni Bellini and and Dosso Dossi. Many consider the Alabaster Room as the most outstanding collection of art in this period. Accompanying Bacchus and Ariadne would be The Worship of Venus and Bacchanal of the Andrians.

Bacchus and Ariadne requires context of Ariadne’s history to be understood. Ariadne’s father, Minos, battled with hero Theseus who sought to protect Athens. Rather than siding with Minos, Ariadne falls in love with Theseus and aids him in killing her father. Theseus and Ariadne sleep together, but Theseus quickly abandons Ariadne on the island of Naxos. Distraught, she wanders the island searching for any sign of her lover. In the process, she crosses paths with Bacchus, otherwise known as Dionysus.

Bacchus and Ariadne captures Bacchus’s first glimpse of Ariadne. Though every figure flows with dynamic movement, the painting is seemingly frozen in the moment -- the moment Bacchus falls in love. He throws himself towards her, turning his head and gazing with a look of eagerness and intensity. In this fleeting second, Bacchus creates a constellation for Ariadne, visible at the upper left of the painting. The weight of the composition is equally split into two halves, one side represented by rich blueness and the other by earthly tones of Bacchus’s company and the terra behind them. Not only does this balance the painting, but it symbolizes the merging of two worlds: the ethereal and the ephemeral.

The tale of Bacchus and Ariadne is but one instance of intimacy between the celestial and mankind. It represents the close bond between the two realms, and illustrates how remarkably human the gods were, despite their divinity. Bacchus and Ariadne offers a glimpse of this humanity.

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Last Supper

Tintoretto, Last Supper, 1592-1594

Last Supper by Tintoretto is my favorite work in Art History so far. Tintoretto’s colors envelop observers and bring them into another realm, stuck somewhere between Earth and Heaven, between Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead and the Messiah’s own Resurrection. Last Supper displays Tintoretto’s mastery of light and dark and his rich color use.

As the only two sources of light in this painting, Jesus and the lamp, which symbolizes the light of God, illuminate the scene and enlighten Jesus' guests. Tintoretto created wax models and observed them from different angles to ameliorate his use of light in this painting. Like other artists of this time and Mannerist painters, Tintoretto utilizes an extensive range of colors, and his tones create an eerie atmosphere without inducing uneasiness, especially in regard to the cloud-like spirits enclosing the work and its subjects.

Tintoretto reinvents a frequently-painted Biblical story by showing Jesus and his disciples not head-on, but from a diagonal viewpoint. This opens up the picture to include what happened behind the scenes. Tintoretto recounts the full story with servants who prepare this meal, clean it up, and allow it to take place.

This painting has no clear vanishing point. The diagonal lines seem to continue on into the remainder of Jesus’ life and his impact on the world for millennia to come. Judas sits on the opposite side of the table, as in usual depictions of this event, to symbolize his betrayal of Christ. This painting of the Last Supper looks the least arranged and most natural, with Jesus and his disciples actually interacting.

Tintoretto brought out the humanity of the Last Supper in his painting by making it more realistic and by bringing it into an environment more relatable to his audience. The aesthetic appeal of this painting allows me to escape from the stress and pace of life into this ethereal setting. Tintoretto used color inventively in Last Supper and set himself apart by testing boundaries. This painting’s ability to simultaneously calm and inspire creates an indescribable feeling for me and reaffirms my interest in the study of Art History.

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Pastoral Concert

Giorgione, Pastoral Concert, 1510

Undeniably one of Venetian Renaissance art's most mysterious works, Pastoral Concert embodies the allegory of poetry and the divinity of Arcadia thanks to the works of Giorgione. Although controversy stirs over who the painting is accredited to, with Giorgione's death in 1510 and his close partnership with Titian, the composition with no doubt follows the themes of poetry omnipresent in quite a few of Giorgione's other paintings. Additionally the figures of the women, the depth of the background in the endless valleys and mountain, and the muted storm-like sky pay tribute to Giorgione's respective style.

Nonetheless the scene evokes meaning in the actions of the figures, as the naked women are positioned on each side of the men depicting the Muses of poetry. The standing figure pouring water from a glass jar represents the superior tragic poetry, while the seated one holding a flute reflects the less prestigious pastoral poetry. Between these naked women is a well-dressed, upper class youth playing a lute with a man who looks like a 16th century peasant version of Napoleon Dynamite listening intently to the music.

The scenery is characterized by the concept of duality and harmony between the various classes through different forms of literature and music. What struck me most interesting in this painting however, was the Mannerist allusion to Arcadia, which became popular in its vision of pastoralism and unity with nature during the Renaissance era. Moreover, many subjects of paintings began to incorporate the imagery of women in lush forests in reference to the Greek story of Arcadia: Hera banishes the nymph Callisto to a lush forest, while imprisoning her in the figure of a bear as a punishment for sleeping with Zeus. In the end of the legend, Callisto's son encounters his mother in the Arcadia but does not recognize her, so he slays the bear before acknowledging the animal's true identity.

Tragic, the story really is. However, what's most interesting about this legend is that Giorgione paints these gracefully naked women in his composition to express the divinity of their beauty in harmony with their parallel to literature during this time period. But if you look closely, the men aren't even acknowledging the women's existence. So, the real speculation is if these women are actually present in the concert or if they are supernatural. It's arguable that in fact these women are representations of the nymph Callisto and her story in the utopian aura of Arcadia, as her true beauty is dismissed by the masking face of the bear. Giorgione might be on the verge of some pressing feminist ideals by addressing their divinity in assimilation to the concept of appreciating women in the muses of poetry as artists move towards Mannerism and intellectual sophistication. But who really knows... the painting could in fact just be a group of individuals enjoying a concert in the open air on a mildly cloudy day.

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The Vision of Saint Helena

Paolo Veronese, The Vision of Saint Helena, c.1580


What is this beauty that lays before mine eyes? 

Who is this fair maiden? 

They tell me her name is Helena--Saint Helena--and I'm not the least bit surprised. A lady of her beauty and opulence deserves a thousand sainthoods. 

Saint Helena, mother of Constantine, engrossed in a quest to find the lost Christian relics, sits upon her throne, plagued with visions of the True Cross. She rests her head so gingerly on her hand as a vision of the white whale of all Christian Relics floats across her consciousness.

Veronese's innovative lighting techniques and meticulous attention to detail provides a glimpse into Saint Helena's consciousness as if observed through a keyhole, as if one could simply reach out and grab the hem of her satin dress and wake her from her fantasies.

Oddly enough, Saint Helena lived almost 3,000 years ago, and her typical blue dress and a red cloak have undergone a bit of an upgrade here. Helena's 15th century attire, gilded crown and soft, graceful  disposition suggests a regality warrented to very few.

The style of Mannerism is delineated by the elongation of figures and use of unbalance in order to suggest sophistication and virtuousness. However, Veronese doesn't acquire elongation physically, rather: by modernizing Helena's wardrobe and heightening her social status, Veronese is able to achieve the sophistication, virtuousness and - essentially - the regality that Mannerism seeks to acknowledge.

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Diana and Actaeon

Titian, Diana and Actaeon, 1566-69

Titian's works are some of my favorite we have studied this year. His paintings based off the stories from Ovid are a refreshing change from the usual Resurrections, Annunciations, and Crucifixions. Tiziano Vecellio started his training in the workshop of Sebastiano Zuccato, then briefly joined Gentile Bellini's workshop, then joined his brother Giovani Bellini, the most important painter of the time. Titian later adopted his style from Giorgione. You can see this style in Diana and Actaeon with his rich, dark colors.

This painting was composed for King Phillip II of Spain. Titian painted six large paintings based off Ovid's Metamorphesis. In this painting, Actaeon, son of a herdsmen, accidentally stumbles upon the secret bathing spot of the goddess of the hunt, Diana. You can tell by the animal skull on the pillar, and the animal skins draped around the grotto that there is little hope for poor Actaeon. His arms and stance tell us that he knows his fate.

The lightest part of the painting is the light cast upon the women, which draws attention away from the rest of the painting. The women create a triangle, and the painting is cut diagonally down the middle with the sky stretching from corner to corner on the top half. The red drapery creates a barrier between Actaeon and the bathing women.

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Perseus with the Head of Medusa

Perseus with the Head of Medusa, Benevenuto Cellini, 1545

When I was younger, I was fascinated with the allure of Medusa, not Greek mythology, just Medusa. To be completely honest, there was a point in my life where all I read on the internet was the lore of Medusa and Perseus. When I learned the biggest ego of his time, Benevenuto Cellini, created a sculpture of my once guilty pleasure, I knew it was love. Headless, gory love.

In Greek mythology, according to the story of "Argonautica," Medusa was one of three sisters known as “The Gorgons.” While her sisters were blessed with godlike powers, Medusa was blessed with unworldly beauty. Men from everywhere would come for her, including Poseidon, who had a torrid affair with her. However, upon learning of her promiscuity, he cursed her, making sure anybody who looked upon her beauty ever again would see their last, turning to stone. To avoid harming civilians and to refrain from curious people who wished to look upon at medusa’s beauty, her sisters moved with her to a dark world, known as the lair of the gorgons, where medusa would never see another soul again.

Medusa seems nice, she moved away from her castle to not hurt anyone. Now why would anybody want her dead? Well, Perseus, born to Danae (a mortal) and Zeus (the promiscuous god himself), had to defend his mother’s honor. In doing so, a king who wished to be her suitor challenged Perseus to go and kill Medusa. For some reason Perseus accepts and the gods help him. Athena gives him the cap of invisibility to sneak past the gorgon sisters (guarding Medusa) and Hermes gave him the winged sandals to fly into the Gorgon’s lair. Perseus goes in with a sword and a mirror, and chops Medusa’s head off… Again… why did he do this? Doesn’t matter. She’s dead now.

Cellini is a master. He made the sculpture out of a single cast of bronze. The blood of Medusa’s head oozes down Perseus’s legs as he stands on the decapitated body of the Gorgon. Spewing from Medusa’s blood, according to mythology, are her unborn kids with Poseidon. Cellini even made the sculpture in this way so that he could “turn the spectators and critics in the Piazza della Signoria” into stone. I agree Sir Grand Master Cellini, who needs a sour critic anyway. Why not make them afraid? Afraid of the true beauty of the sculpture, and the true beauty of the Gorgon, Medusa.

  • 7:00 AM

Moses Defending the Daughters of Jethro

Fiorentino, Moses Defending the Daughters of Jethro, 1523

On just another day in the city of Jethro,
the daughters of which went to water their sheep.
Innocently attending to their chores without weep.

On that same day in the city of Jethro,
Some selfish Shepards chose to water their flock
Pushing away from the well the daughters with their squawk.

Enter Moses, king of chivalry, 
Who kicked the shepards' butts.

It's the small victories. Exaggerating such a small occurrence as Moses Defending the Daughters of Jethro, Fiorentino highlights the small peaks of humanity within everyday life. After all, in tribute to African History Through Fiction and Film, "the world is never saved in grand messianic gestures, but in the simple accumulation of gentle, soft, almost invisible acts of compassion." Although this painting does not necessarily portray a peaceful approach at humanity, Moses's compassion shines through as an Old Testament vigilante. Despite his approach, his goal was all for the good of justice.

I think Fiorentino's interpretation, depicting a menial well dispute as an intense battle, shows the importance of the small things. It's standing up for little moments that improves humanity. Not only does he cause reflection of morality, but Fiorentino also embarks on certain signature style. Fiorentino's exaggeration of lights and darks defines each muscle revealing the stylistic, eerily hyper-realistic strength of each man. The exaggeration of the story mirrors Fiorentino's painting technique.

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Supper at Emmaus

Jacopo Pontormo, Supper at Emmaus, 1525

Little known fact about Jacopo Carucci, better known as Pontormo, is that he lived in a Carthusian monastery for many years after the plague broke out in Florence. The monks in this particular monastery had taken a vow of silence, yet somehow they managed to commission Pontormo to paint Supper at Emmaus.”Presumably being the only one who could talk, Pontormo must have painted this according to his own vision, which explains why the painting, although technically Biblical, has elements of mannerism and follows less strict rules as typical Biblical paintings of the time.

Example 1: The eye. It’s not the illuminati so don’t even try to go there. It’s the Eye of Providence, or, the omniscient eye of God. This image of an all-seeing eye enclosed in a triangle with rays of light beaming off of it has pervaded paintings and even appears on the US $1 bill. In Supper at Emmaus, it hovers above Jesus’ head and looks directly at us. It also mirrors the triangular shape formed by Jesus’ head and the heads of his two disciples sitting at the table. This triangular symbolism likely represents the Holy Trinity (father, son, and the Holy Ghost). While most painters chose to keep God’s image in paintings symbolic and invisible, Pontormo chose to make viewers face their faith head on.

Example 2: The friars. Disclaimer: no actual friars were present at the Supper of Emmaus. The friars that appear in the shadows behind Jesus’ table are in fact the monks that Pontormo lived with at the monastery and who commissioned the painting. Including them in the painting was perhaps a nod of thanks for their hospitality while the rest of Florence suffered from the plague, or maybe they just wanted to have some kind of public legacy. Because they can’t talk, we’ll never know exactly what they wanted, so it’s anyone’s best guess.

Example 3: Artificiality. A main characteristic of mannerist painting is the high stylized and deliberately artificiality. Pontormo, one of the first mannerists, staged his figures in “Supper at Emmaus” almost like a play. The lighting is certainly stage-like, bright and over-exaggerated. The robes of the disciples also look defined and rigid, not naturally flowing. Pontormo also included a dog and a cat hidden in the shadows in the bottom left of the painting. While the inclusion of animals in Veronese’s “Supper in the House of Levi” caused Veronese to be accused of heresy in trial, Pontormo got away with it because his painting was not strictly Biblical.

Many artists have painted renditions of Supper at Emmaus, including Veronese, Caravaggio, and Rembrandt, but Pontormo’s is by far the weirdest. It now rests in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

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Return of the Hunt and I'll Make a Man out of You

Peter Breughel, Return of the Hunt, 1565

Be a man; We must be swift as a coursing river
Be a man; With all the force of a great typhoon
Be a man; With all the strength of a raging fire
Mysterious as the dark side of the moon.

Maybe it was because I had watched too many Disney movies these past couple of weeks, but the first song that came to mind when I looked at this painting was the song "I'll Make a Man Out of You" from the movie Mulan. Everything from deep dark colors, snowy scene, and men hunting with spears reminded me of Mulan. The song and painting connect because each portray masculinity and being strong during hard times. The men in this painting probably are not on their way to save China from the Huns, but they could be just as well, courageous men venturing out into the wild to hunt to feed their families. 

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The two sides of Albrecht Dürer

Nude Sel-portrait - Albrecht Durer
Albrecht Durer, Self-Portrait, 1505

"Battle the image inside of my mind"

Dürer's Nude Self Portrait depict's a more human version of himself, rather than the Jesus-like being seen in his other self-portraits. He seems to be troubled, as the lighting of his body almost indicates lighter and darker halves of himself. Although stern, a distraught look remains in his eyes, complementing his posture.

"People only in your life for seasons."

These contrasting images and opinions of himself draw me in most to Dürer's portrait and contradict the once constant god-like aura he had possessed or at least believed he did. Here he depicts himself in a more rugged, flawed fashion and his body appears as uncut and incomplete, further exhaustion his humanity

"Look around, everything changes."

Regardless of what Dürer had been struggling through, a present connection can be made, as images, opinions and personalities contradict each other in order to make up a whole. Dürer accomplishes a view of humanity and vulnerability while covering the incomplete aspect of of it all.

  • 7:00 AM

Retrograde and The Temptation of St. Anthony

Matthias Grünewald, The Visit of St Anthony to St Paul and Temptation of St Anthony, 1515

One of the most interesting features of the Northern Renaissance was its push towards permutation, not only of different artistic styles but also of different attitudes. Religious paintings became increasingly secular in aim and focus, while more secular works took on a transcendental/religious quality. Of the works that exemplify this shift, Grünewald's The Visit of St. Anthony and Temptation of St. Anthony shows just how gorgeous this permutation can be.

The painting itself is religious almost to a fault. The two scenes depicted show St. Anthony in various phases of his life, showcasing not only his permanence, but also his challenges as he attempted to bring his fiery rhetoric to non-believers. This sentiment, of austerity and boldness, is contrasted brilliantly by the languid and overgrown.

Enter James Blake.

James Blake's 2012 album Overgrown is largely an album of unrequited romances and failed ambitions. Nowhere on the album is that stated more boldly than the title track where Blake states, "I don't want to be a star/but a stone on the shore/a lone doorframe in a wall when everything's overgrown." Blake's production matches his sentiment, blending modern electronic beat programming and bass with a saturated piano line and elegiac pop strings. This idea of permanence, and having a message that lasts beyond your lifetime and into infinity, is at the root of St. Anthony's portrayal here.

Grünewald's presentation here is quite telling--not only are the colors somewhat darkened and disconnected, but the characters also exhibit a disconnection from their location in time. St. Paul, who lived way before St. Anthony, casually has a conversation with Anthony as if his anachronistic placement is nothing more than a slight misstep. The temptation has a similarly timeless quality, its monsters taken straight from a Bosch or Dali painting. All of this alludes to a divorce from notions of time and impermanence that Blake captures perfectly in "Overgrown."

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