Tag Archives: Renaissance Art

#FineArtFriday: Forest Landscape by Jan Brueghel the Elder

Title: Forest landscape

Artist: Jan Brueghel the Elder

Genre: landscape art

Date: between circa 1605 and circa 1610

Medium: oil on oak panel

Dimensions: 40 x 32 cm

What I love about this painting:

Today’s Fine Art Friday offering is a further exploration of the works of the Flemish artist, Jan Brueghel the Elder. I began this two part series last Friday with his painting, the Great Fish Market.

The level of detail down to the leaves and the bark on the trees is amazing, but the rich colors are what attracted me, drawing me in. The heron on the rock seems poised to take flight.  Beyond the heron, on the other side of the creek, a path leads deeper into the forest, calling to us to cross over and see where it leads. The scene is beautiful the way a fantasy is, likely because it is, in a way. Brueghel most probably painted it from sketches and memory.

I quoted this last week when discussing the Great Fish Market, but it bears repeating:

“In his forest landscapes Brueghel depicted heavily wooded glades in which he captured the verdant density, and even mystery, of the forest. Although on occasion inhabited by humans and animals, these forest scenes contain dark recesses, virtually no open sky and no outlet for the eye to penetrate beyond the thick trees.” via Wikipedia.

In many ways, Jan Brueghel’s paradise landscapes paved the way for the great plein air painters of the 18th and 19th centuries. This is most definitely a Mannerist landscape painting, as it is highly romanticized.

About the Artist, via Wikipedia:

Jan Brueghel (also Bruegel or Breughelthe Elder  (1568 – 13 January 1625) was a Flemish painter and draughtsman. He was the son of the eminent Flemish Renaissance painter Pieter Brueghel the Elder. A close friend and frequent collaborator with Peter Paul Rubens, the two artists were the leading Flemish painters in the first three decades of the 17th century.

Brueghel worked in many genres including history paintings, flower still lifes, allegorical and mythological scenes, landscapes and seascapes, hunting pieces, village scenes, battle scenes and scenes of hellfire and the underworld.

He was an important innovator who invented new types of paintings such as flower garland paintings, paradise landscapes, and gallery paintings in the first quarter of the 17th century.

He also created genre paintings that were imitations, pastiches and reworkings of his father’s works, in particular his father’s genre scenes and landscapes with peasants.  Brueghel represented the type of the pictor doctus, the erudite painter whose works are informed by the religious motifs and aspirations of the Catholic Counter-Reformation as well as the scientific revolution with its interest in accurate description and classification.  He was court painter of the Archduke and Duchess Albrecht and Isabella, the governors of the Habsburg Netherlands.

The artist was nicknamed “Velvet” Brueghel, “Flower” Brueghel, and “Paradise” Brueghel. The first is believed to have been given him because of his mastery in the rendering of fabrics. The second nickname is a reference to his specialization in flower still lifes and the last one to his invention of the genre of the paradise landscape.


Credits and Attributions:

Forest Landscape by Jan Brueghel the Elder / Public domain

Wikipedia contributors, “Jan Brueghel the Elder,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Jan_Brueghel_the_Elder&oldid=963723468 (accessed July 17, 2020).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Jan Brueghel (I) – Forest landscape.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Jan_Brueghel_(I)_-_Forest_landscape.jpg&oldid=354133728 (accessed July 17, 2020).

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#FineArtFriday: The Great Fish Market by Jan Brueghel the Elder 1603

Title: Great Fish Market

Artist: Jan Brueghel the Elder  (1568–1625)

Date: 1603

Medium: oil on canvas

Dimensions:  Height: 59 cm (23.2 in); Width: 92 cm (36.2 in)

Collection: Alte Pinakothek  Current location: room 19

Inscriptions: Signature and date, bottom left: BRVEGHEL 1603

What I love about this painting:

Here we see a composite of all the places Jan Brueghel the Elder had visited. The scene is a fusion of his Flemish homeland and impressions of places he’d sketched on his travels.

In the middle of the picture is the Neapolitan Castel dell’ Ovo, on the right, in the distance, is St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. We have a little of Italy thrown in with the Flemish, his effort to create the feeling of a busy, prosperous market. He shows his imaginary city from a high perspective, the god-like view.

In writing, this would be the omniscient point of view.

The elements presented in this painting, the harborscape, the ruins, and even the sections that are simply landscapes are all features that later became genres in their own right.

The scene contains many elements of Mannerist landscape painting. According to the Tate website, mannerist is a sixteenth-century style of art and design characterized by artificiality, elegance, and an aesthetic portrayal of the human figure.

In other words, they painted fantasy. And why not?

Flemish genre painting is strongly tied to the traditions of Pieter Bruegel the Elder. It was a style that continued directly into the 17th century through copies and new compositions made by his sons Pieter Brueghel the Younger and Jan Brueghel the Elder.

In this painting, the story opens with a view across a downward-sloping foreground. It teems with life, hundreds of figures of many races, grouped around the stalls and booths of a fish market. The group at the center of the foreground is thought to be a self-portrait of the artist and his family. It was common for artists to insert self-portraits in their works, and Jan often included his family.

One of Jan Brueghel’s most significant contributions to the craft of painting landscapes was how he depicted perspective. The eye is drawn towards the harbor in the background. We look out across the bay, along the coastline, and see entire towns, with ruins, wharves, and castles. Beyond that, we see distant mountains, painted with a blue that merges with the blue of the sea.

This blending of shape and color into the distance is how a landscape appears in real life.

These painters, and the Brueghel family in particular, were the generation who paved the way for artists like Rembrandt. Their works were the foundation upon which the masterpieces of the middle-to-late 17th century were built.

About the Artist, via Wikipedia:

Jan Brueghel was the son of the eminent Flemish Renaissance painter Pieter Brueghel the Elder.  A close friend and frequent collaborator with Peter Paul Rubens, the two artists were the leading Flemish painters in the first three decades of the 17th century.

He was born in Brussels as the son of Pieter Brueghel the Elder and Maria Coecke van Aelst. His mother was the daughter of the prominent Flemish Renaissance artists Pieter Coecke van Aelst and Mayken Verhulst. His father died about a year after Jan’s birth in 1569. It is believed that after the death of his mother in 1578, Jan, together with his brother Pieter Brueghel the Younger and sister Marie, went to live with their grandmother Mayken Verhulst, who was by then widowed. Mayken Verhulst was an artist in her own right. The early Flemish biographer Karel van Mander wrote in his Schilder-boeck published in 1604 that Mayken was the first art teacher of her two grandsons. She taught them drawing and watercolor painting of miniatures. Jan and his brother may also have trained with local artists in Brussels who were active as tapestry designers.

Jan Brueghel the Elder is regarded as an important innovator of landscape art. By introducing greater naturalism in his Alpine mountain settings, his father had expanded on the world landscape tradition that had been founded mainly by Joachim Patinir. Some of Pieter the Elder’s works also foreshadowed the forest landscape that would start to dominate landscape painting around the turn of the 16th century. Pieter the Elder also developed the village and rural landscape, placing Flemish hamlets and farms in exotic prospects of mountains and river valleys.

Jan developed on the formula he learned from his father of arranging country figures traveling a road, which recedes into the distance. He emphasized the recession into space by carefully diminishing the scale of figures in the foreground, middle-ground, and far distance. To further the sense of atmospheric perspective, he used varying tones of brown, green, and blue progressively to characterize the recession of space. His landscapes with their vast depth are balanced through his attention to the peasant figures and their humble activities in the foreground.

Like his father, Jan Brueghel also painted various village landscapes. He used the surrounding landscapes as the stage for the crowds of anecdotal, colorfully dressed peasants who engage in various activities in the market, the country roads and during the rowdy kermesses. Jan Brueghel’s landscape paintings with their strong narrative elements and attention to detail had a significant influence on Flemish and Dutch landscape artists in the second decade of the 17th century. His river views were certainly known to painters working in Haarlem, including Esaias van de Velde and Willem Buytewech, whom Brueghel may have met there when he accompanied Peter Paul Rubens on a diplomatic mission to the Dutch Republic in 1613.

Jan Brueghel was, along with artists such as Gillis van Coninxloo one of the prime developers of the dense forest landscape in the 17th century. Jan Breughel in fact experimented with such works before Coninxloo’s first dated wooded landscape of 1598. In his forest landscapes Brueghel depicted heavily wooded glades in which he captured the verdant density, and even mystery, of the forest. Although on occasion inhabited by humans and animals, these forest scenes contain dark recesses, virtually no open sky and no outlet for the eye to penetrate beyond the thick trees.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Jan Brueghel the Elder-Great Fish market.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Jan_Brueghel_the_Elder-Great_Fish_market.jpg&oldid=406069557 (accessed July 9, 2020).

Wikipedia contributors, “Jan Brueghel the Elder,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Jan_Brueghel_the_Elder&oldid=963723468 (accessed July 9, 2020).

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#FineArtFriday: The Money Changer and His Wife by Quentin Matsys, 1514

  • Artist: Quentin Matsys  (1456/1466–1530)
  • Title: The Moneylender and his Wife
  • Date: 1514
  • Medium: oil on panel
  • Dimensions: Height: 70.5 cm (27.7 in)
  • Current location: Louvre Museum
  • Inscriptions: Signature and date

The Money Changer and His Wife is a 1514 oil on panel painting by the Flemish renaissance artist Quentin Matsys.

What I love about this painting:

The colors are rich and vivid, and the lines sharp and clean. The artist included the smallest details in the prayer book, the pewter plate in the background, and the crystal jar by the man’s right hand, showing a prosperous, well-educated young couple. In some ways, Matsys’ style reminds me of the work of the lesser known Flemish painter, Pieter Brueghel the Younger, who was born long after Matsys’ death, but whose original works also leaned toward caricatures and grotesques.

About this painting, via Wikipedia:

A man, who is weighing the jewels and pieces of gold on the table in front of him, sits next to his wife who is reading a book of devotion with an illustration of the Virgin and Child. The couple is not dressed as members of nobility, but rather as well-to-do burghers of Antwerp, where the painting was made. At the time, Antwerp had grown with the influx of many southern immigrants fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. Among this international community there was a demand for money-changers and money-lenders, as international commerce was increasing in the port city.

About the Artist, via Wikipedia:

Most early accounts of Matsys’ life are composed primarily of legend and very little contemporary accounts exist of the nature of his activities or character. According to J. Molanus’ Historiae Lovaniensium, Matsys is known to be a native of Leuven with humble beginnings as an ironsmith. One of four children, Matsys was born to Joost Matsys (d. 1483) and Catherine van Kincken sometime between 4 April and 10 September 1466. Legend states that Matsys abandoned his career as a blacksmith to woo his wife, who found painting to be a more romantic profession, though Karel van Mander claimed this to be false, and the real reason was a sickness during which he was too weak to work at the smithy and instead decorated prints for the carnival celebrations.

Matsys work is considered to contain strong religious feeling—characteristic of traditional Flemish works—and is accompanied by a realism that often favored the grotesque. Matsys’ firmness of outline, clear modelling and thorough finish of detail stem from Van de Weyden’s influence; from the Van Eycks and Memling by way of Dirck Bouts, the glowing richness of transparent pigments. Matsys’ works generally reflect earnestness in expression, minutely detailed renderings, and subdued effects in light and shade. Like most Flemish artists of the time he paid a great deal of attention to jewelry, edging of garments, and ornamentation in general.


Credits and Attributions:

The Money Changer and His Wife by  Quentin Matsys, 1514 Public domain. The work of art depicted in this image and the reproduction thereof are in the public domain worldwide. The reproduction is part of a collection of reproductions compiled by The Yorck Project. The compilation copyright is held by Zenodot Verlagsgesellschaft mbH and licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.

Wikipedia contributors, “The Money Changer and His Wife,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Money_Changer_and_His_Wife&oldid=937629150 (accessed June 26, 2020).

Wikipedia contributors, “Quentin Matsys,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Quentin_Matsys&oldid=960328863 (accessed June 26, 2020).

 

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#FineArtFriday: Landscape with a Watermill – Le Tresor des Histoires (15th C) The Cotton Library

Description: Landscape with a Watermill

Date: 15th century

Collection: British Library

Accession number: Cotton Augustus V, f.345v

Source/Photographer: Image taken from Le Tresor des Histoires: a universal history from the Creation to the time of Pope Clement VI.

Originally published/produced in 15th century.

Held and digitised by the British Library

About the Cotton Library, via Wikipedia:

The Cottonian Library was the richest private collection of manuscripts ever amassed. Of secular libraries it outranked the Royal Library, the collections of the Inns of Court and the College of Arms. Cotton’s collection even included the original codex bound manuscript of Beowulf, written around the year 1000. Cotton’s house near the Palace of Westminster became the meeting-place of the Society of Antiquaries of London and of all the eminent scholars of England. the Library was eventually donated to the nation by Cotton’s grandson and is now housed in the British Library.

Robert Bruce Cotton organized his library in a room 26 feet (7.9 m) long by six feet wide filled with bookpresses, each with the bust of a figure from classical antiquity on top. Counterclockwise, these were:

This is an incomplete list of some of the manuscripts from the Cotton library that today form the Cotton collection of the British Library. Some manuscripts were destroyed or damaged in a fire at Ashburnham House in 1731, and a few are kept in other libraries and collections.

In each press, each shelf was assigned a letter; manuscripts were identified by the bust over the press, the shelf letter, and the position of the manuscript (in Roman numerals) counting from the left side of the shelf. Thus, the Lindisfarne Gospels, Nero B.iv, was the fourth manuscript from the left on the second shelf (shelf B) of the press under the bust of Nero. For Domitian and Augustus, which had only one shelf each, the shelf letter was left out of the press-mark.

The British Museum retained Cotton’s press-marks when the Cotton collection became one of the foundational collections of its library, so manuscripts are still designated by library, bookpress, shelf, and number (even though they are no longer stored in that fashion). For example, the manuscript of Beowulf is designated Cotton MS Vitellius A.xv, and the manuscript of Pearl is Cotton MS Nero A.x.

Today’s image is a gorgeous, highly detailed illustration from the 15th century book,  Le Tresor des Histoires. Universal history, from the Creation to Pope Clement VI (died 1342). 15th century copy. Lavishly illuminated, the beautiful art was most likely done by an unknown artist in either a monastery or nunnery, as both priests and nuns were known to work at copying and illustrating books. In fact, nuns were as likely to be found working as scribes as monks, friars, and priests were.

About Sir Robert Cotton, 1st Baronet – via Wikipedia:

Sir Robert Cotton began developing the works and manuscripts into a collection for his Library shortly after the birth of his son in 1594. From the period 1609 to 1614 the deaths of various people (including Lord Lumley, Earl of Salisbury, Prince Henry, William Dethick and Northampton) all contributed to Sir Robert Cotton’s purchase of works for his library. Sir Robert Cotton resided in London, while his wife and son remained in the country. During his father’s absence Thomas Cotton studied to eventually receive his BA on 24 October 1616 from Broadgates Hall—the very same year that Sir Robert Cotton returned to his wife Elizabeth and family (a result of a hiccup with the law involving the death of earl of Somerset). At that point, Sir Thomas Cotton had taken the responsibilities of the home and the library into his own hands.

(c) Trinity College, University of Cambridge; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

In 1620, Thomas Cotton married Margaret Howard with whom he had his first son, Sir John Cotton, just one year later in 1621. Sir Thomas Cotton’s marriage with Margaret Howard ended in 1622, which had been the year that Thomas Cotton’s father, Sir Robert Cotton, permanently moved residence to The Cotton House, along with the library which remained in the Cotton House until Sir Robert Cotton’s death nine years later in 1631. The relocation of the library and residence to the Cotton House gave members of Parliament and government workers better access to the matter within the library to be used as resources for their work.

The Cotton Library offered important and valuable sources of reference and knowledge to many people, such as John Selden, “a frequent borrower from the library, and probably its protector during the civil wars” as stated in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Selden, in 1623 said of Cotton: “his kindness and willingness to make them [his collection of books and manuscripts] available to students of good literature and affairs of state”. In keeping with the notion that John Selden was a common presence in the Cotton library, The British Library holds a list of thirteen works, and the locations of those volumes today, that had been lent to Seldon by Sir Robert Cotton.

After another hiccup with the government, Sir Robert Cotton was forced to close the library by Charles I because the content within the library was believed to be harmful to the interests of the Royalists in 1629. In September 1630 Sir Robert Cotton and Sir Thomas Cotton, together, petitioned for renewed access to their library. One year later, in 1631, Sir Robert Cotton died without knowing what the future held for his library, but wrote in his will that the library be left to his son Thomas Cotton and that it be passed down accordingly. After the death of his father, Sir Thomas Cotton married his second wife, Alice Constable, in 1640 with whom they had their son Robert Cotton in 1644. Sir Thomas Cotton’s “ownership access to the Cotton library was more limited than under his father” according to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and Thomas Cotton maintained his ability to “protect,” “improve” and “maximize the profits” received during the civil war, as he had earlier on in his life as a result of his father’s absence. Upon the death of Sir Robert Cotton on 13 May 1662, Sir Thomas Cotton obeyed the will of his father and passed down the library to his eldest son from his first marriage, Sir John Cotton.

On 12 September 1702, Sir John Cotton died. Prior to his death, Sir John Cotton had arranged for the Cotton Library to be bought for the nation of England through acts of Parliament. If the library had not been sold to the nation, despite the wish of his grandfather Sir Robert Cotton, the library would have been taken over and inherited by John Cotton’s two grandsons, who, unlike the rest of the college-educated Cotton family, had been illiterate and put the Cotton Library at risk of potentially getting broken up and sold to different divisions within the family.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Landscape with a watermill – Le Tresor des Histoires (15th C), f.345v – BL Cotton MS Augustus V.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Landscape_with_a_watermill_-_Le_Tresor_des_Histoires_(15th_C),_f.345v_-_BL_Cotton_MS_Augustus_V.jpg&oldid=295714857 (accessed May 14, 2020).

Wikipedia contributors, “List of manuscripts in the Cotton library,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=List_of_manuscripts_in_the_Cotton_library&oldid=919448324 (accessed May 14, 2020).

Wikipedia contributors, “Sir Robert Cotton, 1st Baronet, of Connington,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Sir_Robert_Cotton,_1st_Baronet,_of_Connington&oldid=948522337 (accessed May 14, 2020).

Portrait of Sir Robert Bruce Cotton, 1st Baronet, by Cornelis Janson van Ceulen Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Robert Cotton.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Robert_Cotton.jpg&oldid=369753711 (accessed May 14, 2020).

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#FineArtFriday: Salvator Mundi, by Leonardo Da Vinci

  • Artist: Leonardo da Vinci  (1452–1519)
  • Title: Salvator Mundi
  • Genre  religious art
  • Description: Photographic reproduction of the painting after restoration by Dianne Dwyer Modestini, a research professor at New York University.
  • Depicted people: Jesus Christ
  • Date: circa 1500
  • Medium: oil on walnut wood
  • Dimensions: Height: 65.6 cm (25.8″); Width: 45.4 cm (17.8″)
  • Collection: Ostensibly the Louvre Abu Dhabi
  • Object history: 1958: auctioned 2007: restored
  • November 2017: acquired by Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority
  • 15 November 2017: auctioned

Leonardo da Vinci was one of history’s greatest artists and thinkers. Only about 15 of his paintings are known to exist and one, the “Salvator Mundi” (Savior of the World), was thought to be lost forever. Leonard painted it sometime around the year 1500.

About this image, via Wikipedia”

Salvator Mundi is one of Leonardo’s most copied paintings, with about 12 known examples executed by his pupils and others. Leonardo’s version was thought to have been lost after the mid-17th century. In 1978, Joanne Snow-Smith developed a compelling case that the supposed copy located in the Marquis Jean-Louis de Ganay Collection, Paris, was the lost original based on its similarity to Saint John the Baptist. Many art historians were convinced, as she was able to establish a direct historical connection between Leonardo da Vinci, the engraving by Wenceslaus Hollar and the painting in the Ganay collection.[30]

In 2005, a Salvator Mundi was presented and acquired at an auction for less than $10,000 (€8,450) by a consortium of art dealers that included Alexander Parrish and Robert Simon, a specialist in Old Masters. It was sold from the estate of Baton Rouge businessman Basil Clovis Hendry Sr., at the St. Charles Gallery auction house in New Orleans. It had been heavily over-painted so it looked like a copy, and was, before restoration, described as “a wreck, dark and gloomy”. 

The consortium believed there was a possibility that the low-quality mess (with its excessive overpainting) might actually be the long-missing da Vinci original. They commissioned Dianne Dwyer Modestini at New York University to oversee the restoration. She began by removing the overpainting with acetone, leading her to discover that at some point, a stepped area of unevenness near Christ’s face had been shaved down with a sharp object, and also leveled with a mixture of gesso, paint and glue. Using infrared photographs Simon had taken of the painting, Modestini discovered a pentimento (earlier draft) of the painting which had the blessing hand’s thumb in a straight, rather than curved, position. The discovery that Christ had two thumbs on his right hand was crucial. This pentimento (literally ‘repent’) showed the artist had a second thought about the positioning of the thumb. Such a second thought is considered evidence that this is not a copy but indeed an original, since copiers would have no doubts about composition. 

Modestini proceeded to have panel specialist Monica Griesbach chisel off a marouflaged wood panel which had been tunnelled through by worms, causing the painting to break into seven pieces. Griesbach reassembled the painting with adhesive and wood slivers.  In late 2006, Modestini began her restoration effort.

The work was subsequently authenticated as a painting by Leonardo. From November 2011 through February 2012, the painting was exhibited at the National Gallery as a work by Leonardo da Vinci, after authentication by that facility. In 2012, it was also authenticated by the Dallas Museum of Art. 

More about this painting:

In 2005 restoration by the eminent conservator, Dianne Dwyer Modestini. She commented in a video interview for the Robb Report, “This picture is a paradigm of everything that he (Da Vinci) knew technically about painting and much of what he thought about time, eternity, and the cosmos. It wasn’t just a portrait of Jesus Christ painted for the king. This was something that became very important to him.” READ MORE: http://bit.ly/LostDaVinci


Credits and Attributions:

Salvator Mundi, by Leonardo da Vinci / Public domain Circa 1490-1519, oil on panel, 45.4 cm × 65.6 cm (25.8 in × 17.9 in), private collection. (Photo by VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images)

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Leonardo da Vinci, Salvator Mundi, c.1500, oil on walnut, 45.4 × 65.6 cm.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Leonardo_da_Vinci,_Salvator_Mundi,_c.1500,_oil_on_walnut,_45.4_%C3%97_65.6_cm.jpg&oldid=403092006 (accessed March 19, 2020).

Wikipedia contributors, “Salvator Mundi (Leonardo),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Salvator_Mundi_(Leonardo)&oldid=946001422 (accessed March 19, 2020).

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#FineArtFriday: Belshazzar’s Feast by Rembrandt ca. 1635-1638

Artist:  Rembrandt  (1606–1669):Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn

Title:   Belshazzar’s Feast

Genre: religious art (history painting)

Description: According to Daniel 5:1-31, King Belshazzar of Babylon takes sacred golden and silver vessels from the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem by his predecessor Nebuchadnezzar. Using these holy items, the King and his court praise ‘the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone’. Immediately, the disembodied fingers of a human hand appear and write on the wall of the royal palace the words “MENE”, “MENE”, “TEKEL”, “UPHARSIN”

Depicted people: Belshazzar

Date: circa 1635-1638

Medium: oil on canvas

Dimensions: Height: 167.6 cm (65.9″); Width: 209.2 cm (82.3″)

Collection: National Gallery


What I love about this painting:

Rembrandt went to a great deal of expense and trouble to paint what he hoped would be seen as a masterpiece. He wanted to be a history painter, as that is where the fame was in his time. While the money was in portraits, Rembrandt also wanted fame. We know this painting was painted before his wife Saskia’s illnesses  and death in 1642, because she was the model for woman behind Belshazzar. She is depicted as being terrified by what is being written on the wall.

Every detail is there, from the finely worked golden ornaments and crown in Belshazzar’s headdress to the king’s golden earring in the shape of a crescent moon. His garments are covered in delicate embroideries in gold thread and sewn with pearls and beads of jet. The garments and jewelry of all the diners are rich and sumptuous; they too wear golden jewelry, with pearls and beads of jet. The shock of the diners, the combination of fear and indignation of the king at the appearance of the hand—these emotions are depicted as perfectly as are the extravagant garments.

About this painting, Via Wikpedia:

Rembrandt’s handling of painting materials and his painting technique in Belshazzar’s Feast are both exceptional and do not compare to any of his other works. The palette of this painting is unusually rich encompassing such pigments as vermilionsmaltlead-tin-yellowyellow and red lakesochres and azurite.


About the story, via Wikipedia:

Belshazzar’s feast, or the story of the writing on the wall (chapter 5 in the Book of Daniel) The story of Belshazzar and the writing on the wall originates in the Old Testament Book of Daniel. The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar looted the Temple in Jerusalem and has stolen the sacred artefacts such as golden cups. His son Belshazzar used these cups for a great feast where the hand of God appeared and wrote the inscription on the wall prophesying the downfall of Belshazzar’s reign. The text on the wall says “mene, mene, tekel, upharsin“. Biblical scholars interpret this to mean “God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; your kingdom is given to the Medes and Persians”.

The inscription on the wall is an interesting element in this painting. Rembrandt lived in the Jewish Quarter of Amsterdam and “derived the form of Hebrew inscription from a book by his friend, the learned Rabbi and printer, Menasseh ben Israel, yet mis-transcribed one of the characters and arranged them in columns, rather than right to left, as Hebrew is written.” This last detail is essential as it relates to the question of why Belshazzar and his advisers were not able to decipher the inscription and had to send for Daniel to help them with it.

The biblical story does not identify the language of the cryptic message, but it is generally assumed to be Aramaic, which, like Hebrew, is written in right-to-left rows, and not in right-to-left columns as in the painting. Although there is no accepted explanation why the Babylonian priests were unable to decipher the writing, the point of this unconventional arrangement – reading the text in the painting in the conventional row-wise left-to-right order results in a garbled message – may be to suggest why the text proved incomprehensible to the Babylonian wise men; indeed, this explanation is in accordance with the opinion of the amora Shmuel, which is mentioned in the Babylonian TalmudTractate Sanhedrin, 22a, among various dissenting views.


Sources and Attributions:

Belshazzar’s Feast by Rembrandt PD|100 via Wikimedia Commons. Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Rembrandt-Belsazar.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Rembrandt-Belsazar.jpg&oldid=363468240 (accessed January 31, 2020).

Wikipedia contributors, ‘Belshazzar’s Feast (Rembrandt)’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 17 January 2020, 09:24 UTC, <https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Belshazzar%27s_Feast_(Rembrandt)&oldid=936202396> [accessed 31 January 2020]

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#FineArtFriday: Portrait of a Lady by the workshop of Sandro Botticelli ca. 1480

  • Artist: Workshop of Sandro Botticelli  (1445–1510)
  • Title: Idealized Portrait of a Lady (Portrait of Simonetta Vespucci as Nymph)
  • Genre: portrait
  • Date: circa 1480
  • Medium: tempera on wood
  • Dimensions: Height: 82 cm (32.2 ″); Width: 54 cm (21.2 ″)

About Portrait of a young woman, possibly Simonetta Vespucci, 1484:

The Roman engraved gem on her necklace was owned by Lorenzo de’ Medici. It is suggested that in Quatrocento paintings, hair and water are related. Certainly, the waves of her hair seem to suggest water.

Ronald Lightbown, author of Botticelli: Life and Works claims it is  a creation of Botticelli’s workshop and was likely neither drawn nor painted exclusively by Botticelli himself. He also reminds us that the model’s identity can’t be confirmed; that Botticell’s workshop most likely executed fancy portraits of idealized beauties, rather than real ladies.

About the Artist, via Wikipedia:

Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi (c. 1445[1] – May 17, 1510), known as Sandro Botticelli (/ˌbɒtɪˈtʃɛli/, Italian: [ˈsandro bottiˈtʃɛlli]), was an Italian painter of the Early Renaissance. He belonged to the Florentine School under the patronage of Lorenzo de’ Medici, a movement that Giorgio Vasari would characterize less than a hundred years later in his Vita of Botticelli as a “golden age“. Botticelli’s posthumous reputation suffered until the late 19th century; since then, his work has been seen to represent the linear grace of Early Renaissance painting


Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Sandro Botticelli,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Sandro_Botticelli&oldid=916319613 (accessed October 4, 2019).

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#FineArtFriday: Landscape with the Parable of the Sower by Pieter Bruegel the Elder 1552

Artist: Pieter Bruegel the Elder  (1526/1530–1569)

Title: Landscape with the Parable of the Sower

Genre: religious art

Date: 1552

Medium: oil on panel

Dimensions: Height: 74 cm (29.1 ″); Width: 102 cm (40.1 ″)

What I love about this painting:

Pieter Brugel the Elder was one of my first influences in the world of art appreciation. What always strikes me about his work is the innocent joy he infused in his art. This particular painting has a delicate, almost watercolor feel to it.

In this piece, the color of the river is the unique shade of blue that appears in his other works.

The parable he illustrates (via Wikipedia):

In the (Biblical) story, a sower sows seed and does so indiscriminately. Some seed falls on the path (wayside) with no soil, some on rocky ground with little soil, and some on soil which contained thorns. In these cases the seed is taken away or fails to produce a crop, but when it falls on good soil it grows, yielding thirty, sixty, or a hundredfold.

Jesus then (only in the presence of his disciples) explains that the seed represents the Gospel (the sower being anyone who proclaims it), and the various soils represent people’s responses to it (the first three representing rejection while the last represents acceptance).

About the Artist, via Wikipedia:

Pieter Bruegel (also Brueghel or Breughelthe Elder (/ˈbrɔɪɡəl/, also US: /ˈbruːɡəl, ˈbrɜːɡəl/, Dutch: [ˈpitər ˈbrøːɣəl] c. 1525–1530 – 9 September 1569) was the most significant artist of Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painting, a painter and printmaker from Brabant, known for his landscapes and peasant scenes (so-called genre painting); he was a pioneer in making both types of subject the focus in large paintings.

He was a formative influence on Dutch Golden Age painting and later painting in general in his innovative choices of subject matter, as one of the first generation of artists to grow up when religious subjects had ceased to be the natural subject matter of painting. He also painted no portraits, the other mainstay of Netherlandish art. After his training and travels to Italy, he returned in 1555 to settle in Antwerp, where he worked mainly as a prolific designer of prints for the leading publisher of the day. Only towards the end of the decade did he switch to make painting his main medium, and all his famous paintings come from the following period of little more than a decade before his early death, when he was probably in his early forties, and at the height of his powers.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Pieter Bruegel d. Ä. 030.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Pieter_Bruegel_d._%C3%84._030.jpg&oldid=356083009 (accessed September 20, 2019).

Wikipedia contributors, “Pieter Bruegel the Elder,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder&oldid=915292603 (accessed September 20, 2019).

Wikipedia contributors, “Parable of the Sower,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Parable_of_the_Sower&oldid=907267798 (accessed September 20, 2019).

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#FineArtFriday: The Chess Game, by Sofonisba Anguissola ca. 1555

Title: The Chess Game (Portrait of the artist’s sisters playing chess)

Artist: Sofonisba Anguissola

Date: 1555

Medium: oil on canvas

Dimensions: Height: 72 cm (28.3 ″) Width: 97 cm (38.1 ″)

 

What I love about this painting:

The colors are vibrant,

Because it is a game of war and strategies for winning a war, chess has historically been considered a predominantly male game. That Anguissola’s sisters are playing it at so young an age is a testimony to the atmosphere of education surrounding the home.

Their features are modern in the way they are shown with a roundness that is unusual in early renaissance portraits, which were often so highly formal that they were visually flat. These girls could be my granddaughters.

Anguissola has captured the emotions and happiness of a family at play. Her sisters’ personalities are clearly shown. The older sister has taken a pawn, the younger fears she might lose the game to a more experienced player. The youngest is enjoying the game immensely, seeing the sister who sometimes bosses her around being handed her own medicine.

About the Artist, via Wikipedia:

Sofonisba Anguissola (c. 1532 – 16 November 1625), also known as Sophonisba Angussola or Anguisciola, was an Italian Renaissance painter born in Cremona to a relatively poor noble family. She received a well-rounded education, that included the fine arts, and her apprenticeship with local painters set a precedent for women to be accepted as students of art. As a young woman, Anguissola traveled to Rome where she was introduced to Michelangelo, who immediately recognized her talent, and to Milan, where she painted the Duke of Alba. The Spanish queen, Elizabeth of Valois, was a keen amateur painter and in 1559 Anguissola was recruited to go to Madrid as her tutor, with the rank of lady-in-waiting. She later became an official court painter to the king, Philip II, and adapted her style to the more formal requirements of official portraits for the Spanish court. After the queen’s death, Philip helped arrange an aristocratic marriage for her. She moved to Sicily, and later Pisa and Genoa, where she continued to practice as a leading portrait painter.

On 12 July 1624, Anguissola was visited by the young Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck, who recorded sketches from his visit to her in his sketchbook.[25] Van Dyck, who believed her to be 96 years of age (she was actually about 92) noted that although “her eyesight was weakened”, Anguissola was still mentally alert.[24] Excerpts of the advice she gave him about painting survive from this visit,[26] and he was said to have claimed that their conversation taught him more about the “true principles” of painting than anything else in his life.[1][2] Van Dyck drew her portrait while visiting her.

About this painting, via Wikipedia:

Although Anguissola enjoyed significantly more encouragement and support than the average woman of her day, her social class did not allow her to transcend the constraints of her sex. Without the possibility of studying anatomy or drawing from life (it was considered unacceptable for a lady to view nudes), she could not undertake the complex multi-figure compositions required for large-scale religious or history paintings.

Instead, she experimented with new styles of portraiture, setting subjects informally. Self-portraits and family members were her most frequent subjects, as seen in such paintings as Self-Portrait (1554, Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna), Portrait of Amilcare, Minerva and Asdrubale Anguissola (c. 1557–1558, Nivaagaards Malerisambling, Niva, Denmark), and her most famous picture, The Chess Game (1555, Muzeum Narodowe, Poznań), which depicted her sisters Lucia, Minerva and Europa.

Painted when Sofonisba was 23 years old, The Chess Game is an intimate representation of an everyday family scene, combining elaborate formal clothing with very informal facial expressions, which was unusual for Italian art at this time. The Chess Game explored a new kind of genre painting which places her sitters in a domestic setting instead of the formal or allegorical settings that were popular at the time.[17] This painting has been regarded as a conversation piece, which is an informal portrait of a group engaging in lively conversation or some activity .


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:The Chess Game – Sofonisba Anguissola.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:The_Chess_Game_-_Sofonisba_Anguissola.jpg&oldid=359367567 (accessed September 12, 2019).

Wikipedia contributors, “Sofonisba Anguissola,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Sofonisba_Anguissola&oldid=908120352 (accessed September 12, 2019).

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#FineArtFriday: The Merry Family, by Jan Steen

Jan Steen was fond of painting peasants and ordinary people, and this picture is a good example of that.

What I love about this image is the chaos. The clutter of pans and dishes heedlessly fallen to the floor, the boisterous enjoyment of wine and song, and the obvious lack of parental restraint is wonderfully depicted. The numerous children are smoking and drinking to excess, vices that weren’t acceptable diversions for youngsters then any more than they are now. The baby is exceedingly chubby, which was uncommon and represents the vice of gluttony–in one hand it holds bread and in the other it waves a spoon.

I suspect the children grew up with a similar love of wine and song as their parents.

The note on the wall contains the moral of the story. According to the Rijksmuseum website, “The note hanging from the mantelpiece gives away the moral of the story: ‘As the old sing, so shall the young twitter.’ What will become of the children if their parents set the wrong example?”

The Age of the Puritan had swept across Europe and while it was waning in the mid-seventeenth century, puritanism had influenced life in Holland as much as elsewhere. This painting is a wonderful visual exhortation reminding the good people to live a sober life. Steen himself was not a puritan, as he was born into a family of brewers and ran taverns and breweries off and on throughout his life. But he did need to sell his paintings as he was never a successful businessman, and his allegorical paintings were quite popular.

Quote from Wikipedia: Daily life was Jan Steen’s main pictorial theme. Many of the genre scenes he portrayed, as in The Feast of Saint Nicholas, are lively to the point of chaos and lustfulness, even so much that “a Jan Steen household,” meaning a messy scene, became a Dutch proverb (een huishouden van Jan Steen). Subtle hints in his paintings seem to suggest that Steen meant to warn the viewer rather than invite him to copy this behaviour. Many of Steen’s paintings bear references to old Dutch proverbs or literature. He often used members of his family as models, and painted quite a few self-portraits in which he showed no tendency of vanity.


Credits and Attributions:

The Merry Family, Jan Steen, 1668 PD|100 via Wikimedia Commons

Moral (English translation) quoted from Rijksmuseum website,  https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/collection/SK-C-229, accessed 17 May 2018.

Wikipedia contributors. “Jan Steen.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 3 Jan. 2018. Web. 17 May. 2018.

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