La Pieta - Michelangelo 1475-1564
For me, Michelangelo is the greatest artist in western culture. There are many of his works I could talk about, like the Sistine Chapel, his unfinished sculptures, David...But the Pietà in the Vatican and the Pietà Rondanini affect me the most.
He was 23 years old when he created his first Pietà! (Mercy or Pity). He created this masterpiece in a single block of marble! His skills were phenomenal! But there is more than technical skills! He shows so much maturity for then such a young man! Even though the Pietà was a common subject for Artists of the Renaissance, for him it had an additional meaning - his mother died when he was six years old. Despite his conflicts with the Catholic Church, Michelangelo was a devout Christian. The loss of his mother is never separated from his relationship with God during his life.
And this can be seen in his last work, the Pietà Rondanini. Mary is also holding Jesus, but not like the Pietà in the Vatican, where she is keeping him on her knees, but by being more subdued. She is placed behind Jesus, on top, looking like she is lifting him up. His mother was a gateway to God easily associated with Mary, making them one. His mother gave him birth, Mary takes his soul back home to God. (Michelangelo was looking for lightness in this sculpture). The Pietà in the Vatican is the only Artwork Michelangelo signed.
Salvador Dali (1904-1989)
The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of Salvador Dali is a commercial. As a little girl I was very impressed when he advertised a brand of chocolate on TV with this declaration: "Je suis fou du Chocolat Lanvin" (I am crazy about Chocolate Lanvin). Advertising about chocolate and about himself, playing with the fact that he had a reputation for being crazy... But as he used to say: "The only difference between me and a madman is that I'm not mad.”
Born in Spain in 1904, he was an eclectic artist: painter, sculptor, designer and showman. Both modern and traditional, making an art of his showmanship and influenced by the artists of the Renaissance. He is one of the best known Surrealist painter in popular culture because of his colorful personality. He wore a very long mustache, a cape and a walking stick in public.
Surrealism is a movement that started in the early 20th century as a reaction against the first world war. It included painters as well as musicians and writers. They put aside rational thinking and logic and emphasized on the unconscious, the psyche and dreams. Dali explored a world revealed previously by the work of Freud and the psychoanalysis.
He collaborated with many artists during his life, like film director Alfred Hitchcock in Spellbound (1945) where a dream sequence is represented with his paintings. and fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli in creating one of her most iconic work "the lobster dress".
Rosa Bohneur (1822-1899)
Rosa Bohneur was famous for painting animals. She was a French painter born in 1822 in Bordeaux. There aren’t too many famous women artist painters in European Art before the 20th century, especially in the period Rosa Bohneur was born into. Interestingly enough, more women had careers as painters in the century before the French Revolution. Of course they were from the Aristocracy, a woman painter from a lower class was unthinkable.
Rosa Bohneur was an original for her time and was able to live her life in her own terms - and it’s pretty amazing for a woman in the 19th century! She preferred to paint wearing pants, but she had to ask permission to the “Gendarmerie” (local police) to do so! Her work could be on a large scale, like her most famous painting “Ploughing in the Nivernais”, 52” × 100” (above) and she went to farms, markets, fairs to sketch animals and slaughterhouses to study anatomy. She was very successful during her life and travelled to England and the United States. where she was very much admired,
Because of her success she was able to purchase a castle (Le chateau de By) and an estate where she kept live animals like lions! There is a museum in it today dedicated to her. Her paintings reflect an enormous amount of work and passion. She worked the classical way with studies of advanced anatomy and exhaustive preparations. There is no pretense, her work is down to earth and honest. She was able to put herself at the same level as the animals, almost identifying with them, immersing in their world. The animals are not just part of the landscape but are the main subject, having more predominance than the people around them.
Her figurative paintings fell out of fashion at the beginning of the 20th century. It was a new and exciting time in the Art world, the invention of photography and new discoveries in science were influential on Artists who experienced their surroundings in a complete different way. Unfortunately, the contemporary Art world is very condescending towards classical painting, dismissing its demanding work and discipline, categorizing it has a "mere reproduction of reality". Rosa Bohneur is very relevant today. Her humanity towards animals reminds us that we are not separated from them and nature and that ultimately they are part of our survival.
Van Eyck, a Northern European Renaissance painter, is one of my favorite artist. It's possible to spend hours in front of his paintings because of the amount of details!
Such is the case of the "'Arnolfini and his Wife" painting. Despite its title, nobody is really sure about the subject: It is believed the couple depicts Giovanni Arnolfini and his wife, merchants from Lucca in Italy, but dates discrepancies, between documents surrounding the painting, make the subject difficult to understand. There is this idea, among Art Historians, that the painting could have been part of a legal marriage contract. Is it Arnolfini's first or second marriage? The chandelier on the ceiling has only one candle with a flame on the side of the husband, but not on the side of the wife. Certain dates would make the first wife dead at the moment the painting was finished, suggesting that it could have been also a commemorative portrait. She seems also to be pregnant, and the hand of the husband looks like a blessing towards her belly. She is the main focus of attention, receives the most light and her green dress contrasts with the red color of the bed. There is an expression of a Divine in the picture about marriage.
This masterpiece is an oil painting on oak panel. (32"x24""). I know Van Eyck had assistants, but it must have taken a long time to finish it! Plus, oil painting takes a long time to dry and the basic technique was to apply a layer of transparent paint on top of the other. I cannot imagine the amount of work and patience! The treatment of cloth and jewelry is outstanding!
There are two details that attract my attention (among many!) : The first is the mirror in the center. It creates another dimension, almost saying "there is more to the story". The other is the dog at the bottom center representing fidelity.
I like to think that this dog has more meaning. He has such personality, he probably was part of the family. The wealthy women of this period had often lapdog as companions. He almost smiles, showing how happy he is! He actually looks happier that the couple who looks so serious! And he is the only one looking at us, inviting us to be part of the moment! Each hair seems to be painted separately. There are thin brush strokes of different colors, grey, ochre, white and red against a dark, almost black background, that gives an effect of fluffiness.
When I looked at the painting for the first time, I found it somber (Arnolfini’s face is a little strange). But now I think the opposite and it’s because of the little dog! I don’t think it was just part a legal marriage contract, my guess is that it’s a commemorative portrait. To celebrate his wife, Arnolfini had one of the most famous Artist of his time to celebrate her memory.
Giuseppe Arcimboldo 1527-1593
I almost forgot about this painter! I found him again by accident looking at one on his painting titled The Librarian. I thought the painting was contemporary, to my surprise it was done in 1566!
Giuseppe Arcimboldo was a Renaissance painter. In his youth he worked on the stained glass windows and frescoes of the Cathedral of Milan and later became a portraitist at the court of Vienna and Prague. Even though he was very much appreciated during his time he was forgotten after his death and was rediscovered in the 19th century and got the attention of the Surrealists in the beginning of the 20th century.
I found his paintings disturbing, beautiful and funny at the same time! If you look closely you will see a lettuce, a flower or a carrot, painted with a lot details, and if you go back a couple of feet a portrait will appear! Some are comical, others are really scary, like the judge with a face made of fish and roasted chicken!
He is the painter of the ego: “I am a gardener, I am a judge, I am a librarian and I take myself very seriously!” He represents human beings full of greed and pride and in a way a little pathetic, represented cleverly with dead animals and fruit that will quickly spoil, reminding us of our mortality.