Posts Tagged ‘Italian Renaissance’

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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Arcimboldo- Rudolf II of the Hapsburgs as VertumnusYou don’t often think of work of art from an Italian Renaissance painter as being whimsical. Generally, they seem to focus on themes of religion and myth or on portraiture of wealthy patrons of the time, most beautifully painted.  Then there is the work of Guiseppe Arcimboldo, who was born in Milan in 1527 and died there in 1593, although much of life was spent in the service of  the Hapsburg courts of Vienna and Prague.

Arcimboldo was trained as stained glass designer and painter and initially worked in these fields in a traditional manner.  Much of the work from this time has faded into oblivion, although there are examples of his windows and a fresco or two.  However, it was his other work that gained him fame in his time and which has came through the ages as a constant source of fascination.

Arcimboldo-Winter 1573The other work was creating portraits, sometimes of his patrons such as the portrait at the top of Rudolf II ,  that are composed using all sorts of objects to create the figure and features of the subject.  He used fruits, vegetables, birds, books, fish and many other objects in creating these unusual figures.  The final result was always striking, colorful and whimsically imaginative.  And sometimes grotesque, even a bit spooky– I’m thinking here of a series of pieces that Arcimboldo created portraying the Winter season as a person., such as this example on the right, painted in 1573.

Arcimboldo’s work always brings a smile to my face while also stirring my interest in how he must have worked at the time and how he was perceived in that era.  I am sure he was both admired and disliked for his unique work.  Whatever the case, the work remains a fascination.  I am showing several example here but you can go  a site– Guiseppe Arcimboldo: The Complete Works— that features a broader view of his work.  Very interesting.

Arcimboldo-TierraArcimboldo-The Waiter Arcimboldo-Air Arcimboldo- The Librarian Arcimboldo- The Admiral arcimboldo-winter_1563

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I was out in the driveway with some old pieces of stone when I heard a voice telling me to pick up my tools and start to work on a tombstone. I looked up in the sky and right there in the noon daylight He hung a tombstone out for me to make.

—–William Edmondson, on his inspiration to begin sculpting


My last post was about the grand paintings of the Renaissance era, beautifully crafted pieces from painters who were extensively trained under master artisans so that they could capture the religious spirit that was the subject and inspiration for most of the work of that time.  But that post made me think about how others, less schooled and less well equipped, translate this same inspiration into forms.

That  thought brought me quickly to William Edmondson,  a man born in 1874 in Tennessee to former slaves.  Edmondson worked in a number of jobs throughout his life, losing his job as a hospital orderly in the late 1920’s when he was in his mid-50’s.  It was at this point that he had the vision he describes above which led to him to begin sculpting for two African-American cemeteries in the Nashville area.

 Using handmade tools such as a chisel made from a railroad spike and working on discarded chunks of stone from building sites, it soon became clear that Edmondson had a true affinity for capturing the essence of figures in stone with forms that were spare but elegant with subtle shaping.  I see a simplified elegance in much of his work that cannot be taught, that is simply an expression of the artist’s self and spirit.

Edmondson sculpted for the next couple of decades until his death in 1951, gaining acclaim as perhaps the finest American folk sculptor of the century.  He was the first African-American artist to be featured  in New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1937 and his work is still celebrated today for its extraordinary qualities.

Edmondson’s called each of his sculptures “miracles,”  something that strikes very close to home for me.  I think it’s that feeling of having something emerge from your hand that seems to transcend what you are as a human, something that is more than the sum of your own parts.  I have sometimes been fortunate enough to have experienced this and have felt that same sense of wonder at this miracle of creation.  It’s a wonderful moment that serves as  inspiration to continue to push forward with the work, to continue the inward journey.  It’s a true  pleasure to see Edmondson’s inspirations come to life.

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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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