Monday, October 16, 2017

Anthony Blunt on Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472)

Leon Battista Alberti
Self-portrait
ca. 1435
bronze relief-medallion
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

"Alberti was the illegitimate son of a Florentine merchant.  He was born in 1404 in Genoa, where his father had moved after the decree of exile which had been passed on the whole Alberti family, one of the richest and most powerful in Florence.  He was educated in the north of Italy, principally in Bologna, where he studied Law.  He seems to have gone to Florence in 1428, when the ban on his family had been lifted, and the next few years, which must have been of vital importance in his formation, coincided with the end of that period when Florence was dominated by the big merchants, who had achieved a greater power than they had held for nearly a century."

"The rest of Alberti's life was spent for the most part either in Florence or following the Papal Court, in which he held a secretarial post from 1432 to 1464.  Papal policy was at this period increasingly concentrated on central Italy, and relied largely on the merchant class and its support.  The outlook, too, in Papal circles was Humanist in character, so that Alberti found there a similar atmosphere to that of his own city, Florence."

"In his width of knowledge, as well as in his rational and scientific approach, Alberti was typical of the early Humanists.  He worked apparently with equal ease in the fields of philosophy, science, classical learning, and the arts.  He wrote pamphlets and treatises on ethics, love, religion, sociology, law, mathematics, and different branches of the natural sciences.  He also wrote verses, and his intimacy with the Classics was so great that two of his own works, a comedy and a dialogue in the manner of Lucian, were accepted as newly discovered writings of the ancients.  In the arts, he practised and wrote about painting, sculpture, and architecture." 

Leon Battista Alberti
Façade detail
1446-51
Palazzo Ruccelai, Florence

Leon Battista Alberti
Façade detail
1446-51
Palazzo Ruccelai, Florence

Leon Battista Alberti
Façade
1450
Tempio Malatestiano, Rimini

Leon Battista Alberti
Relief detail
1450
Tempio Malatestiano, Rimini

Leon Battista Alberti
Façade
1458-70
Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, Florence

Leon Battista Alberti
Façade detail
1458-70
Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, Florence

"The outstanding characteristic of Alberti's life is this rationalism, based more on ancient philosophy than on the teachings of Christianity.  But this does not imply that he was opposed to Christianity.  On the contrary he constantly pays his respects to it, but it is before a curious form of Christianity that he bows, a typical Humanist religion in which elements of pagan and classical philosophy blend without any difficulty with Christian dogmas, in which churches are referred to as 'Temples' and in which sometimes 'the gods' in the plural seem to receive as much honour as the Christian God.  With this humanized religion Alberti felt himself entirely at home, but he will not give up the right to individual judgement on every matter.  Even the ancients, for whom he has a deeper reverence than for any other persons, human or divine, he treats on a level and does not feel himself obliged to follow either their precept or their example if his own judgement tells him otherwise."

"We shall find many of Alberti's ideas on these general philosophical and political subjects reflected in his theoretical writings in the aesthetic field, but before we go on to them we must consider the actual works which he left behind him in the arts.  In painting and sculpture nothing survives from his hand, but in architecture his contribution is considerable.  His position is that of a younger member of the group which, under the leadership of Brunelleschi, dominated Florence at the time of his return there in 1428.  He carried on their work and developed many of their principles a stage further."  

"Alberti was a more fully self-conscious classicist than Brunelleschi and his contemporaries.  He was more learned in the study of antiquity than they, more scientific in his application of the archaeological knowledge which he had acquired.  In architecture he eliminates the last traces of the Gothic, which were still so evident in Brunelleschi, especially in the dome of the cathedral.  He was far more scrupulous in his treatment of the orders; and in the Palazzo Rucellai he adapted them for use on a façade of more than one story, by using a single order for each  a method which was later universally adopted."  

Leon Battista Alberti
Ruccelai Sepulchre, Apse
1467
San Pancrazio, Florence

Leon Battista Alberti
Ruccelai Sepulchre, 
Façade
1467
San Pancrazio, Florence

Leon Battista Alberti
Ruccelai Sepulchre, detail
1467
San Pancrazio Florence

Leon Battista Alberti
Ruccelai Sepulchre
1467
San Pancrazio, Florence

"Alberti does not explicitly define and describe this beauty which is not attainable in art by mere imitation.  In the treatise on painting he does not pursue the matter, but evidently assumes that his readers will know beauty when they see it.  In the later and much more elaborate De Re Aedificatoria he gives two definitions of beauty which are roughly those to be found in Vitruvius.  In one case he describes beauty as 'a certain regular harmony of all the parts of a thing of such a kind that nothing could be added or taken away or altered without making it less pleasing.'  In the second definition he says: 'Beauty is a kind of harmony and concord of all the parts to form a whole which is constructed according to a fixed number, and a certain relation and order, as symmetry, the highest and most perfect law of nature, demands.'  Perhaps more important is another passage in the same treatise in which he expands the idea, again with reference to architecture:  'What pleases us in the most beautiful and lovely things springs either from a rational inspiration of the mind, or from the hand of the artist or is produced by nature from materials.  The business of the mind is choice, division, ordering, and things of that kind, which give dignity to the work.  The business of the human hand is the collecting, adding, taking away, outlining, careful working, and things of that kind, which give grace to the work.  From nature things acquire heaviness, lightness, thickness, and purity.'"

–  quoted passages are from the chapter on Alberti in Anthony Blunt's Artistic Theory in Italy, 1450-1600 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1940)

Leon Battista Alberti
Façade
1472-92
Basilica of Sant'Andrea, Mantua

Leon Battista Alberti
Interior
1472-92
Basilica of Sant'Andrea, Mantua

Leon Battista Alberti
Interior
1472-92
Basilica of Sant'Andrea Mantua

Leon Battista Alberti never could have seen the realization of his stupendous barrel-vault above.  He died the year construction began, and it took another twenty years to complete.  That he left such monuments behind him  even that his name is till regularly invoked today in tones of awe  weighs against the blankness of his personal annihilation only in imagination.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Painted Compositions Reworked and Reused (part III)

Gian Paolo Panini
St Peter's, Rome
1735
oil on canvas
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Gian Paolo Panini
St Peter's, Rome
before 1742
oil on canvas
National Gallery, London

Pompeo Batoni
Hercules at the Crossroads
1748
oil on canvas
Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna

Pompeo Batoni
Hercules at the Crossroads
1765
oil on canvas
Hermitage, Saint Petersburg

François Boucher
Portrait of Madame de Pompadour
1758
oil on canvas
Victoria & Albert Museum, London

François Boucher
Portrait of Madame de Pompadour
ca. 1758
oil on canvas
National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh

"The party was an imposing one as it swept along, dominated by the resplendent figure of To no Chujo himself, who was noticeably taller than the rest and broad-chested to match, fulfilling in dignity of mien and gait all that the popular imagination expects of a great political leader.  He was magnificently dressed in long trousers of wine-red silk and a lined cloak, white outside and red within, with a very long and sumptuous train.  His costume contrasted in the strangest manner with that of Genji, who had changed into a plain cloak of Chinese silk thrown about him with just that touch of negligence which is proper to a great lord on a small occasion.  But the contrast, which would have put anyone else at a disadvantage, only served to show that Genji at his very shabbiest could hold his own against the most grandiose display of trains and trappings."

Louis-Jean-François Lagrenée
Amor and Psyche
1767
oil on panel
Nationalmuseum, Stockholm

Louis-Jean-François Lagrenée
Mercury, Herse, and Aglauros
1767
oil on panel
Nationalmuseum, Stockholm

Anton Raphael Mengs
Self-portrait
1760s
oil on panel
Prado, Madrid

Anton Raphael Mengs
Self-portrait
1774
oil on panel
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

"By now the evening wind was stirring among the red leaves that lay heaped upon the courtyard floor, weaving them into patterns of brown and red.  Here some pretty little boys, children of various noble houses, were imitating in play the dances of their elders.  They wore blue and crimson tunics, and shirts of yellow with dark-red facings.  Apart from their little Court hats they had no formal insignia, and it was a pretty sight to see them capering about amid the maple leaves, through which the setting sun now slanted its last rays.  The professional musicians were not called upon to give any very exacting performance, and at an early hour the private playing began, led by the Emperor, who sent to the Palace Library for a selection of zitherns.  Prompted by the beauty of the season and hour, one after another of the great personages there present called for his instrument and gave vent upon it to the feelings of the moment.  Suzaku was deeply moved at hearing the familiar tones of Uda no Hoshi.  Turning to the Emperor he recited the verse: 'Though, watcher of the woods, through many rainy autumns I have passed, such tints as these it never was my lot in any devious valley to behold.'  He said this in his usual tone of gentle complaint.  The Emperor answered: 'You speak as though mere leaves were on the ground; here rather has autumn woven a brocade that, could it be an heirloom, after-ages would covet to possess.'"

Joseph Wright of Derby
Annual Girandola at Castel Sant’ Angelo, Rome
ca. 1775-76
oil on canvas
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Joseph Wright of Derby
Fireworks display at Castel Sant' Angelo - La Girandola
1779
oil on canvas
Hermitage, Saint Petersburg

Thomas Lawrence
Portrait of Miss Harriet Clements
ca. 1805
oil on canvas
Indianapolis Museum of Art

Thomas Lawrence
Portrait of Caroline Matilda Sotheron
ca. 1808
oil on canvas
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

"As usual, her gentlewomen were not under very good control, and a patch of bright sleeve or skirt constantly obtruded, as some spectator, in her excitement, tugged back a corner of the curtains through which the ladies of the house were watching the game.  And behind the curtains there showed all the time gay strips of colour, flashing like prayer-strips at the roadside on a sunny spring day.  The Princess's screens-of-state were carelessly arranged; she was not in the least protected on the side from which she was most likely to be seen.  Still less was she adequately prepared for such an accident as now occurred; for suddenly a large cat leapt between the curtains in pursuit of a very small and pretty Chinese kitten.  Immediately there was a shuffling and scuffling behind this screen, figures could be seen darting to and fro, and there was a great rustling of skirts and sound of objects being moved.  The big cat, it soon appeared, was a stranger in the house, and lest it should escape it had been provided with a leash, which was unfortunately a very long one, and had now got entangled in every object in the room.  During its wild plunges (for it now made violent efforts to get free) the creature hopelessly disarrayed the already somewhat disorderly curtains, and so busy were those within disentangling themselves from the leash that no one closed the gap.  In the foreground was plainly visible a group of ladies in a state of wild excitement and commotion.  A short way behind them was a little figure standing up, dressed in a long robe without mantle.  It was a red plum-blossom gown, with many facings, that showed one overlapping another, in different tinges of the same colour, like the binding of a book.  Her hair, shaking like a skein of loose thread, was prettily trimmed and thinned out at the ends, but still reached to within a few inches from the ground.  The contrast between the numerous overlapping thicknesses of her dress and her own extreme slimness and smallness was very alluring, her movements were graceful, and her hair, above all when seen with her head in profile, was unusually fine.  Kashiwagi, as he peered through the growing darkness, wished that the accident had happened somewhat earlier in the evening.  At this moment the cat gave a frenzied scream, and Nyosan turned her head, revealing as she did so a singularly unconcerned and confident young face.  Yugiri feared that he would be held responsible for this indiscretion, and was on the point of going up to the window and protesting; but he felt that this would draw further attention to the incident, and contented himself with clearing his throat in a loud and significant manner.  Nyosan immediately vanished amid the shadows, rather too rapidly to suit the taste of Yugiri, who had a considerable curiosity about the girl, and would, had he dared, gladly have availed himself of this opportunity to look at her for a little while longer. But by now the cat had been extricated; the screens and curtains were restored to proper order, and there was no chance that the intriguing vision of a moment ago would be repeated."

Samuel Palmer
The Timber Wain
1833-34
watercolor, gouache
Yale Center for British Art

Samuel Palmer
The Weald of Kent
1833-34
watercolor
Yale Center for British Art
 
Édouard Manet
Execution of Maximilian 
1867
oil on canvas
Kunsthalle, Mannheim

Édouard Manet
Execution of Maximilian
1867
oil on canvas
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Gustave Moreau
The Apparition (Salome)
ca. 1874-76
watercolor
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Gustave Moreau
The Apparition (Salome)
ca. 1876-77
oil on canvas
Harvard Art Museums

"She was in an unlined dress of dark grey-brown that was pleasantly set off by her wide sedge-coloured trousers.  Some people are born to wear mourning  so far from being disfigured by it they look more radiant than ever, and it seemed that Kozeri was one of these."

 quoted passages from The Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki, completed around the year 1021 (though an early version was read aloud to the Emperor in 1008), translated into English for the first time by Arthur Waley (1925)

Auguste Renoir
Still-life with Peaches
1881
oil on canvas
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Auguste Renoir
Still-life with Peaches and Grapes
1881
oil on canvas
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Painted Compositions Reworked and Reused (part II)

Carlo Saraceni
St Cecilia and Angel
ca. 1610
oil on canvas
Palazzo Barberini, Rome

Carlo Saraceni
Martyrdom of St Cecilia
ca. 1610
oil on canvas
Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Peter Paul Rubens
Venus and Adonis
ca. 1610
oil on canvas
Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf

Peter Paul Rubens
Venus and Adonis
ca. 1610-11
oil on panel
Hermitage, Saint Petersburg

"Fortunately the cherry blossom was unusually early this year and in Suzaku's gardens it already made a delightful show.  A tremendous cleaning and polishing was set afoot at his palace in preparation for the Emperor's arrival; and meanwhile the noblemen and princes who were to accompany His Majesty thought of nothing but their new clothes.  They had been ordered to wear dove-grey lined with pale green; the Emperor himself was to be dressed all in crimson.  By special command Genji was also in attendance on the day of the Visit, and he too wore red; so that frequently during the day the figure of the Emperor seemed to merge into that of his Minister and it was as though the two of them formed but one crimson giant. Everyone present had taken unusual pains with his appearance, and their host, the ex-Emperor, who had grown into a far better-looking man than at one time seemed possible, evidently took much more interest in such matters than before, and was himself magnificently apparelled." 

Bartolomeo Cavarozzi
Holy Family with St Catherine
ca. 1617-19
oil on canvas
Prado, Madrid

Bartolomeo Cavarozzi
Madonna and Child with Angels
ca. 1620
oil on canvas
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Guido Reni
Cleopatra
ca. 1628
oil on canvas
Royal Collection, Great Britain

Guido Reni
Cleopatra
ca. 1640
oil on canvas
Prado, Madrid

Francisco de Zurbarán
St Casilda
ca. 1630-35-
oil on canvas
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Francisco de Zurbarán
St Elisabeth of Portugal
ca. 1635
oil on canvas
Prado, Madrid

"Murasaki had a peculiar talent in such matters, and there was not a woman in all the world who chose her dyes with a subtler feeling for colour, as Genji very well knew.  Dress after dress was now brought in fresh from the beating-room, and Genji would choose some robe now for its marvelous dark red, now for some curious and exciting pattern or colour-blend, and have it laid aside.  'This one in the box at the end,' he would say, handing some dress to one of the waiting-women who were standing beside the long narrow clothes-boxes; or 'Try this one in your box.'  'You seem to be making a very just division, and I am sure no one ought to feel aggrieved. But, if I may make a suggestion, would it not be better to think whether the stuffs will suit the complexions of their recipient rather than whether they look nice in the box?'  'I know just why you said that,' Genji laughed. 'You want me to launch out into a discussion of each lady's personal charms, in order that you may know in what light she appears to me. I am going to turn the tables. You shall have for your own whichever of my stuffs you like, and by your choice I shall know how you regard yourself.'  'I have not the least idea what I look like,' she answered, blushing slightly; 'after all, I am the last person in the world to consult upon the subject. One never sees oneself except in the mirror . . .'"

Anthony van Dyck
Lamentation
ca. 1634-40
oil on canvas
Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao

Anthony van Dyck
Lamentation
ca. 1635
oil on canvas
Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp

Nicolas Poussin
Ecstasy of St Paul
1641
oil on canvas
Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida

Nicolas Poussin
Assumption of the Virgin
1649-50
oil on canvas
Louvre, Paris

Georges de La Tour
Penitent Magdalene
ca. 1638-40
oil on canvas
Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Georges de La Tour
Penitent Magdalene
ca. 1640
oil on canvas
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

"After much debating the presents were distributed as follows: to Murasaki herself, a kirtle yellow without and flowered within, lightly diapered with the red plum-blossom crest  a marvel of modern dyeing.  To the Akashi child, a long close-fitting dress, white without, yellow within, the whole seen through an outer facing of shimmering red gauze.  To the Lady from the Village of Falling Flowers he gave a light blue robe with a pattern of sea-shells woven into it.  Lovely though the dress was as an example of complicated weaving, it would have been too light in tone had it not been covered with a somewhat heavy russet floss.  To Tamakatsura he sent, among other gifts, a close-fitting dress with a pattern of mountain-kerria woven upon a plain red background.  Murasaki seemed scarcely to have glanced at it; but all the while, true to Genji's surmise, she was guessing the meaning of his choice.  Like her father To no Chujo, Tamakatsura (she conjectured) was doubtless good-looking; but certainly lacked his liveliness and love of adventure.  Murasaki had no idea that she in any way betrayed what was going on in her mind and was surprised when Genji suddenly said: 'In the end this matching of dresses and complexions breaks down entirely and one gives almost at hazard.  I can never find anything that does justice to my handsome friends, or anything that it does not seem a shame to waste on the ugly ones' . . .  and so saying he glanced with a smile at the present which was about to be despatched to Suyetsumu, a dress white without and green within, what is called a 'willow-weaving,' with an elegant Chinese vine-scroll worked upon it.  To the Lady of Akashi he sent a white kirtle with a spray of plum-blossom on it, and birds and butterflies fluttering hither and thither, cut somewhat in the Chinese fashion, with a very handsome dark purple lining.  This also caught Murasaki's observant eye and she augured from it that the rival of whom Genji spoke to her so lightly was in reality occupying a considerable place in his thoughts.   To Utsusemi, now turned nun, he sent a grey cloak, and, in addition, a coat of his own which he knew she would remember  jasmine-sprinkled, faced with Courtier's crimson and lined with russet.  In each box was a note in which the recipient was begged to favour him by wearing these garments during the Festival of the New Year."

 quoted passages from The Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki, completed around the year 1021 (though an early version was read aloud to the Emperor in 1008), translated into English for the first time by Arthur Waley (1925)

Guercino
Allegory of painting and sculpture
1637
 oil on canvas
Palazzo Barberini, Rome

Guercino
Amnon and Tamar
1649-50
oil on canvas
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Claude de Jongh
London Bridge from the west
ca. 1632
oil on panel
Yale Center for British Art

Claude de Jongh
London Bridge from the west
1650
oil on panel
Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Jacob Jordaens
The Tribute Money
(Peter finding the silver coin in the mouth of the fish)

ca. 1616
oil on canvas
Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen

Jacob Jordaens
Holy Family with various persons and animals in a boat
1652
oil on canvas
Skokloster Castle, Sweden