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Posts Tagged ‘Giovanni Bellini’

Very, very busy but I thought I’d pause for just a little Bellini this morning. Not the cocktail, though it is tempting on this particular morning. I am talking about my favorite Renaissance artist, the Italian painter Giovanni Bellini (1430-1516) who lived and painted in Venice.

While most of his work is religious in nature, as was almost art of that time, I am always thrilled and fascinated by his treatment of the background landscapes, especially in the way he composed them,  and his handling of color. His surfaces, on the few paintings of his that I have seen in person, are truly beautiful and seem to be fresh and new with colors, the blues in particular, that just pop off the surface.

Absolutely gorgeous stuff.

I have included a video to go along with a few pieces here that really spark me. Take  a look and have a great day.

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Giovanni-Bellini- The Resurrection 1475It’s Easter Sunday.  As I’ve pointed out here in the past, I had no religion of any sort in my upbringing so Easter was  a holiday marked by coloring eggs and eating big chunks of chocolate rabbits and multi-colored jelly beans for somewhat vague reasons.  Most things came down to the food involved for me in my youth.

Of course, I picked up on the tales behind the religious holidays I had eaten my way through as a kid.  And it’s hard to not be moved by the tale of the Resurrection, even from a decidedly non-religious perspective.  Whether you are a believer or non-believer, the tale of rebirth creates a template of hope for all people so that they may endure the many hardships of this life and rebuild new lives from failed pasts.

And it takes on even more significance when that new life is devoted to some purpose that is greater than our own needs.

The painting at the top is The Resurrection, painted by the great Giovanni Bellini, my favorite Renaissance painter, around 1479.  Just a beautiful piece, as most of his work is.

It being Sunday, it’s time for a little music.  I thought I would continue the theme of Resurrection into the music today.  Of course, after seeing this video, some of you might put me down as some sort of heretic.  It’s a song called The Resurrection Shuffle which was  a minor Trans-Atlantic hit in the early 70’s for a British band called Ashton, Gardner & Dyke.  It wasn’t a big hit, maybe just into the top 40, but I remembered the chorus.  Looking it up this morning I came across this version from Cher‘s self-titled television show in 1976 that features her in a duet with Tom Jones, who performed the song in his act for many years.  Maybe it is heresy but it made me laugh if only for the visual impact.  Maybe it will make you smile as well.

Have a great Sunday.

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Beltracchi Working on a Fake Max Ernst (Vanity Fair)

Beltracchi Working on a Fake Max Ernst (Vanity Fair)

This past Sunday, 60 Minutes did a segment on a German artist named Wolfgang Beltracchi.  I would be surprised if you had heard of him unless you know this story.  But you probably have seen his paintings if you have been in many of the great museums of the world.  You see, Beltracchi is an art forger who has dozens of fakes still hanging in many venues around the world.

There was a brilliant twist in his scheme to bring fake paintings to the public and especially to the big money collectors.  Rather than merely copy existing paintings from the masters, Beltracchi would more or less channel the artists, making paintings that he felt that they themselves might have painted if they had had the time to move in a given direction.  They are labeled as  lost masterworks. He would do great amounts of research into the artist’s body of work and biography as well as studying the materials and tools of the time periods so that everything gave it a genuine appearance.  His research was so meticulous that his paints often matched the chemical profile of the originals, making the fake almost impossible to detect with even the most sophisticated of scientific tools.

Helene Beltracchi posing as her grandmother in front of fakes

Helene Beltracchi posing as her grandmother in front of fakes

This genuine appearance made validating the work as original much easier.  But Beltracchi and his wife, Helene, completed the deal with a detailed backstory that made complete sense and was seldom challenged.  They claimed that the paintings were owned by Helene’s grandparents there in Germany and were hidden from the Nazis before World War II .  To make the illusion complete, they would make up Helene as her grandmother and take photos on old period photo paper in front of the paintings.

It was deviously clever deception that stumped the art world for many years.  Museums and high profile collectors (Steve Martin was duped by one of Beltracchi’s fakes to the tune of around $850,000) ate up his works, some being included in books of the best paintings of the last century as well on the cover of a high profile Christie’s Auctions catalog.

The deception was perfect.

Except for one tiny mistake.

On one of his paintings Beltracchi used a tube of white paint that did  not disclose that it included a bit of titanium.  Titanium white was not available as a pigment until 1921 and his use of it made the work instantly detectable.  The house of cards crumbled and both he and his wife were arrested.  They lost everything– the cars, the yachts, the plush homes and the huge stacks of  cash that their con had provided.  They are both serving terms in an German open prison, meaning that they go out each day to work and return at night.

Most of the works , which Beltracchi claims to be well over 1000 and maybe as many as 2000 by over 50 different artists, still hang in many museums around the globe.  It will probably take some time and effort to detect these fakes, if they do it all.  Nobody wants to admit they’ve been conned.

Bellini's "Saint Jerome Reading" at the National Gallery, DC

Bellini’s “Saint Jerome Reading” at the National Gallery, DC

It’s an interesting story.  I was immediately intrigued by Beltracchi’s claim that he could paint in the style of anyone except for perhaps Bellini.  I love Bellini’s work and was glad when this master forger thought it was beyond counterfeiting.  But I wondered how an artist who had this kind of ability, this technical prowess, could have no voice of his own.  The money and the thrill of the ruse were surely big factors in discarding his personal aspirations. For me, painting and art is all about personal expression and emotion.  To see someone with so much obvious talent to be without any personal expression that he would call his own is somewhat sad.

Perhaps he views this whole thing as some sort of performance piece in itself, in which case he may be the greatest artist of our time.  But I doubt it.

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Whenever we get to DC for any appreciable time, we try to get to the National Gallery.  We can spend hour after meandering through the maze of viewing rooms, taking a vurtual tour through the timeline of art history.  There’s so much to see that we never see it in its entirety, often leaving out entire eras and movements.  But one section that we never miss is that area that features the Byzantine and early Italian Renaissance art.  Maybe it’s the beauty of the gold-leafed backgrounds that give the religious scenes an iconlike feeling or maybe it’s the thought of all the history that many of these pieces had witnessed and how amazing it is that they have weathered the vagaries of many wars to survive in such beautiful condition.

Take for example, the painting above, St.. Jerome Reading from one of my favorite artists of this era, Giovanni Bellini.  The surface and colors of this piece are stunningly pristine looking even though it was painted in the 1480’s.  It looks as fresh as a newly painted work.  I don’t know how much conservation this painting has underwent but one of Bellini’s masterpieces and another of my favorites, St. Francis in the Desert, which is in the Frick Collection in NYC, underwent conservation last year and they said it basically just needed a good dusting off.  Even if it has underwent a little plastic surgery, which I doubt, it is incredible to see it’s surface.

Another favorite is a piece from Andrea del Castagno made from leather stretched over a wooden  frame called The Youthful David that features the image of the biblical David with his sling in hand and the head of Goliath at his feet.  The piece was painted as a shield for probably some wealthy Florentine family to brandish during  the festivals and parades of the time.  I love the color and action of this piece as well as the thought of how many events it has been witness to over the ages, how many parades in which it was carried since it was painted in the 1450’s.

I could go on and on about some of the work there, so many pieces that stop me in my tracks in awe.  I thought I would just mention these two because they hit me most the other day and continually inspire in ways that are not always evident.

Just plain good stuff…

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