a painting in the louvre

Selected works from The Louvre: All the Paintings

Meeting not Really by Chance

32775_p0005444_002Entry 29 August 24, 2014

I ended the last entry with a forecast of what I’d be writing next, that is, more about Canaletto, but I’ve decided, as I did when writing blog entry 27 (“The Apple in the Baby’s Hand”), to let Canaletto wait a little longer. Like other blog entries, my last got in the way of looking at new paintings from The Louvre: All the Paintings. But looking at new paintings is important to me. It was how I started two years ago: with the Louvre book and its 3,022 reproductions of all the paintings hanging in the museum at the time of the book’s publication, which I received as a birthday gift after a visit to Paris in August 2012. I had decided back then that looking at the book every day, even for only a few minutes, would keep me in touch with one of the visit’s special events, a day at the Louvre.

So I decided that, while I continued gathering material about Canaletto, I would also look at some more paintings from the Northern Schools section of the book. But I quickly put Canaletto aside because I kept noticing links between my life and the paintings that I happened to be looking at: I reached a portrait of a friend’s patron saint the day before the friend’s birthday; there were two works by Bernaert van Orley (1488-1541), whose painting, Rest on the Flight into Egypt (Art Gallery of Ontario), was chosen by my husband for the cover of one of his books of poetry; I examined a painting of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) by Joos van Cleve (1485-1540) called St. Bernard of Clairvaux in Prayer in Front of the Virgin and Child or The Vision of St. Bernard (ca. 1505), which was of particular interest to me because Bernard’s sermons on the Song of Songs figured prominently in my doctoral thesis on medieval love poetry; there were other examples as well.

It seems my relationship with the Louvre is changing. When I started, I felt I was learning something altogether new, different from anything I had studied before. But now it seems I’m often recognizing things in the paintings that I already know something about.

I didn’t start the Louvre project because I wished to go deeply into something I knew well already; on the contrary, my purpose was to explore something that was largely unknown to me. True, the chronological arrangement of the paintings in the book’s sections means that the first paintings in the Italian section I looked at were not wholly unfamiliar to me in technique or subject due to my medieval training and my religious upbringing. Still, I hadn’t designed my project with this convergence in mind; moreover, my early impressions always registered how little I knew about the paintings and how much I wanted to learn more. When I got the idea for a blog based on the daily paintings, I hesitated precisely because I wondered whether I had anything worth saying.

I was encouraged to try by something that I remembered from a book by C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (1958): “I write for the unlearned about things in which I am unlearned myself…in this book, then, I write as one amateur to another, talking about difficulties I have met, or lights I have gained, when reading the Psalms, with the hope that this might at any rate interest, and sometimes even help, other inexpert readers.”

I decided I would try writing as an amateur, not an expert, and I’ve kept this principle in mind throughout the blog. I’ve written about questions and my efforts to answer them. I’ve often written about the relative merits of the sources, e.g., Wikipedia, I’ve consulted and admitted how much more might be done to develop an idea thoroughly. Is there a risk that I might be losing my amateur status?

Perhaps there isn’t really much to worry about; the risk, if it can be called by such a dire name, has always been there. Lewis, for example, emphasizes what he doesn’t know about the Psalms, but he doesn’t acknowledge, as I think he might have, the learning in related subjects that drew him to the exercise, the many personal impressions of and responses to the Psalms that he had gathered from years of prayer, and, perhaps most of all, the scholar’s gift of connecting a new subject to the context that the scholar brings to its examination.

I took the title for this entry from “The Street Where You Live,” a song that comes near the end of My Fair Lady, where hapless Reggie sings, “I walk down the street on the chance that we’ll meet, and we meet not really by chance.” There’s something in what he says that suits my situation. When I meet something familiar in the Louvre book, it isn’t really by chance.

Consider the painting today of St. Bernard and the Virgin Mary. I didn’t go expecting to see it, the way I hoped to see the Mona Lisa (see blog entry 12), and I didn’t go even expecting to see a portrait of Bernard; I am much more familiar with his wrtings than I am with his representations in art or with stories of his life. But when I see a painting of him, I’m apt to be drawn to the figures and the story they tell; aware of Bernard’s devotional writings on the Virgin Mary, I was not surprised that he would be shown kneeling before her, but I was not familiar with the particular scene presented, in which Mary is pictured with her right breast uncovered. The Louvre website’s commentary on the painting, included in the “Artwork of the Day” series (see blog entry 18 for more on this series), refers to “the miracle of lactation” and states, “During the Virgin’s appearance to the saint, the latter’s lips were wetted with a few drops of the milk that nourished Jesus.” Other Louvre paintings I’ve looked at contain images of Mary breastfeeding Jesus, but there are variations on this basic image as well: the Child Jesus presenting a lactating breast, the virtue of Charity breastfeeding a child.

So much to see, so much to learn!


The Print on My Bedroom Wall

entry28louvreEntry 28 July 9, 2014

The paintings of Canaletto (1697-1768) are very dear to me, and I was delighted to find three of them in The Louvre: All the Paintings. One of the three, The Molo Seen from the Bacino di San Marco (after 1730), gave me a marvelous thrill of recognition, but, if a copy of the Mona Lisa is still only a copy, I can’t really boast that my recognition was real recognition. After all, I didn’t see the painting while I was at the Louvre in August 2012, almost two years ago now, and I’ve never been to Venice. Nevertheless, it was an image I felt very familiar with; for more than 20 years, in fact, I have seen it almost every day, because there is a print of it in my bedroom.

Or, rather, I thought I had seen it almost every day, and I thought I had a print of it in my bedroom. When I carried the Louvre book upstairs to delight in the coincidence, I discovered that, despite many similarities, the print on my wall was not a duplicate of the Louvre painting. Although the Ducal Palace (called the Molo) is virtually identical in both, and Canaletto has reproduced some of the very same boats across the foreground view of the basin of San Marco, and even the human figures on the boats are uncannily alike, nevertheless, there are differences, in posture, in number of figures, etc.

I’ve written before about the idiosyncrasies of my thrill of recognition, e.g., in entries 14 and 15, after a visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario, during which I mistakenly thought that I recognized a Giotto painting from the Louvre in a visiting show. I decided to spend a little more time with the curious similarities and differences of the two Canaletto images I had encountered. I hoped to answer two questions: Where was the original of my print, and could I track down any other images of the Ducal Palace that perhaps contributed to the feeling of recognition inspired in me by the Louvre Canaletto?

I started by reviewing another thrill of recognition I associate with the print in my bedroom, which I experienced when I saw Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Dashing archeologist Jones and a companion arrive in Venice from the U.S. in search of Jones’s missing father; as they leave their water taxi, the camera captures in the background the basin of San Marco and, across the expanse of lustrous water, the Ducal Palace. I remember attributing my strong impression of seeing something familiar to the exactness of the film’s reproduction of the image in my print. I didn’t have the same feeling at all when I watched the scene again on videotape; instead of confirming my impression that I had seen full front the lovely stone expanse of the palace, I discovered that the building was shown at a sharp angle and in sufficient distance that the light-drenched reddish brown color of Canaletto’s depiction was replaced by a grayish white.

entry28wallace3Despite this second revelation that I apparently pretty much see whatever I want to see, I decided to look through mementoes of galleries I associate with Canaletto. So far, the closest I appear to have come to the Molo in person was during a visit years ago to the wonderful Wallace Collection in London, where I could have seen, among more than 25 other paintings attributed either to Canaletto or to his imitators, a work entitled Venice: The Molo from the Bacio di S. Marco. There’s a reproduction of it on the Wallace Collection website; here’s a link: http://wallacelive.wallacecollection.org/eMuseumPlus. Search there for Canaletto; the results will include the painting of the Molo, along with notes that identify its original with a work housed in the Brera in Milan, rather than in the Louvre, and the comment that there are “six other closely related compositions by Canaletto.”

entry28uffiziI could see enough differences between this Milan painting—and its imitation in the Wallace Collection—and my bedroom print to conclude that I hadn’t found the original on which the print was based, so I kept looking. I didn’t have much to go on: the print itself had no textual information beyond a title, Palace of the Doge, and Canaletto’s name. I didn’t get any help from any of the other gallery websites I visited, so I tried another sort of resource, a website that stores reproductions from a wide selection of galleries. I had seen such databases before, but it was in an online database new to me that I found what I think is my print’s original while examining the more than 100 Canalettos (and imitations of Canaletto) it reproduces. The Web Gallery of Art (http://www.wga.hu/index1.html), a very handsome and user-friendly website, contains a reproduction of a painting entitled Palazzo Ducale and the Piazza di San Marco that hangs in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. It corresponds in every detail of boat and sailor with the foreground elements of my bedroom print. One curiosity: a copy of the Uffizi Gallery catalogue i was given years ago by a friend who had visited Florence calls the painting View of the San Marco Wharf. Still, despite this discrepancy in names, I think the Uffizi painting is likely the original I was looking for. I have included both paintings, the one from the Louvre and the one from the Uffizi here, for comparison, along with the painting from the Wallace Collection I mentioned above.

My research produced one other valuable resource: there’s a commentary on the Molo Seen from the Bacino di San Marco in the Louvre’s “Artworks of the Day” series, a feature of the website I wrote about in entry 18. I was searching for a reproduction of the Canaletto painting, and the results included a link to the commentary. Two especially notable pieces of information it provided: the Louvre says that there are not six but ten Canaletto paintings that closely resemble the Louvre’s view of the Ducal Palace and that, of these, the one closest to the Louvre’s is the one from the Uffizi, that is, the original of my print.

See for yourself. In the meantime, I’m going to try to collect anything else I have that can shed light on my acquaintance with Canaletto and hope to write about the results soon.

The Apple in the Baby’s Hand

39-19-05/20Entry 27 June 14, 2014

It’s been almost six months since my last post. During this long interruption, I’ve managed from time to time to continue the project the blog grew out of, which was to look every day at a painting, or the paintings of one artist, reproduced in The Louvre: All the Paintings, a 2012 collection that contains the 3,022 paintings on display in the museum at the time of publication. I’ve missed a lot of days, but I’ve managed to finish the 677 paintings in the Italian section and to begin the section on the Northern Schools (Dutch and Flemish, German, British and Other Northern Schools). I have been gathering material for one more blog post based on the works of Italian painter Canaletto, but I’ve decided not to wait any longer for that post to come together and, instead, to return to the blog with a comment on something humble and also wonderful from the Dutch and Flemish School, an apple in a baby’s hand, which appears in Virgin and Child Holding an Apple (1489), by an Unknown Painter from the Southern Netherlands (15th century).

The subject of the Virgin and Child appears often in the Louvre book, particularly in the opening pages of the Italian section and now in the Dutch and Flemish section; the index lists almost 100 works whose title begins “Virgin and Child.” Of the first 21 paintings in the Dutch and Flemish section, four show Mary holding the Child Jesus. Here’s something I wrote about another Virgin and Child more than a year ago, in the sixth blog entry: “There is nothing essentially miraculous about a painting of a woman with a baby sitting on her lap. But elements of scenery and dress, along with a painting’s title, can do a great deal to establish that the artist is attempting to describe something outside the everyday…. Observe how often largely realistic depictions of Mary and Jesus include small objects, such as fruits or flowers or animals, that commentators interpret as symbols of Christ’s future suffering.” The title Virgin and Child Holding an Apple calls particular attention to the fruit in the Child’s hand, but I feel now, despite the apple’s undeniable connection to Christ’s future suffering, that I should not have suggested that such objects only were meant to convey this one message.

The apple the Child holds here can certainly be thought of as connected to Christ’s future suffering, in that it is a link to another pair of figures central to Christian tradition, also male and female, who share an apple, although in the other pairing I’m referring to it is the female who holds the apple, and a male figure who considers it, and, of course, Adam and Eve are husband and wife rather than mother and child. In depictions of Adam and Eve’s sin, the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is usually depicted as an apple. George Ferguson, in Signs and Symbols in Christian Art, explains this tradition as stemming from a feature of the Latin language, in which the words for apple and evil are the same, that is, “malum”.

Ferguson goes on to note that in the Christ Child’s hand the apple, while referring to the sin, essentially has become a promise of salvation. In Virgin and Child Holding an Apple, the child’s posture and expression are formal and conscious beyond its years, and the mother’s eyes are lowered deferentially, both signs of the great deed the Child will accomplish, and yet the painting combines this theme with the wonder of a peaceful, domestic intimacy. There is no dread or sign of mourning here.

Images of the Virgin and Child often share a page in the Louvre book with images taken from other moments of their togetherness, some, like the Nativity or the Gifts of the Magi, full of celebration and others, like the Crucifixion and the Deposition, full of sorrow. It is worth noting how often all these paintings of events from the story of Christ make reference to more than one episode in the story. For example, Virgin and Child Holding an Apple refers through the apple to the suffering of Christ; the Deposition, with Mary cradling the body of Christ, recalls the scene of the infant in his mother’s arms, and so on. But I see something more operating in this tradition. I have come across a number of references in the Louvre book and on the Louvre website to painting as a two-dimensional medium struggling to achieve representations that equal those of sculpture, a three-dimensional medium. I have referred to this idea before, especially in blog posts 20 and 23. In Virgin and Child Holding an Apple, we have something more, a painting struggling to image not only the three dimensions of length, width and breadth, but also a fourth dimension, time.

62574_EL090458Moreover, Virgin and Child Holding an Apple spans time in other ways than those I’ve already mentioned. All the ways in which such a painting unites events from Christ’s life on earth are also often linked to the viewer’s time as well, in which Christ is restored to heaven after the Resurrection and enthroned in the lap of the Virgin. Some artists, for example, Michelangelo in his Last Judgment, portray Mother Mary seated beside her adult Son enthroned in heaven, but others portray them as mother and child together, the child seated in the lap of his mother, enthroned there. This is the image that appears in the Italian section’s very first painting, Virgin and Child in Majesty Surrounded by Six Angels (circa 1280) by Cimabue (active 1271-1320), which I wrote about in blog post 3. It appears as well in the very first Northern School painting, Chancellor Rolin in Prayer in front of the Virgin also known as The Virgin and Child with Chancellor Rolin (ca. 1434), by Jan van Eyck (1390-1441). The significance of meeting Christ in the viewer’s time is emphasized by placing the donor in the painting.

Linking the Christ Child with Christ’s future suffering might have been meant to stir sympathy and regret in the viewer at the thought of the suffering to come. But a link between the Child and the Risen Christ says something more: it equates salvation with the reunion of God and humanity accomplished from the earliest joining of Christ’s human and divine natures. Other events in this reunion—the Annunciation, the birth of Christ in the lowly Bethlehem stable—are frequently memorialized, but neither of these events is surrounded by the multiplicity of associations accomplished in paintings like Virgin and Child Holding an Apple. How remarkable that such a simple image as a baby resting in its mother’s arms could bear such a profound meaning of hope, that new life would be made the image of new life.

The Attraction of Two

65787_98-011653Entry 26 December 21, 2013

It has been almost two months since I last posted something on the blog. Although I started an entry late in November on Alessandro Magnasco (1667-1743), I kept getting interrupted by my university work. When I finally was able to open The Louvre: All the Paintings again, on December 8th, after a three-week interruption, I decided not to go back to Magnasco. Instead, I went farther back, to the start of my Louvre project: I began spending half an hour each day looking at the work or works of one painter and then noting down a few thoughts, without worrying about the blog. Over the past two weeks, I’ve looked at 48 works, bringing my painting total to 599, which means I’m about 20% of the way through the book’s 3,022 works. At this rate, I should finish by December 2019. I wonder whether anyone will still be writing, let alone reading, blogs by then. But raising this question in a blog about the Louvre offers a very different perspective on questions of time: here I am worrying about something that might be obsolete in six years while looking at paintings that have been treasured for hundreds of years. In Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night, Lord Peter Wimsey is humbled when he learns that Harriet Vane, the novelist he loves, has taken his advice about Wilfrid, the male protagonist of her latest mystery. He says, “I shall be honored to go down to posterity in the turn-up of Wilfrid’s trouser.” That’s how I feel: if only I could go down to posterity in the turn-up of the Louvre’s trouser.

This thought has taken me back to the blog; I will stick with it, although I will not attempt a regular schedule until the end of the academic year.

But what to write? During the first week of November, after finishing blog post 25, I managed to look at the work of five painters. Two of the five—Gianantonio Pellegrini (1675-1741), with five paintings, and Alessandro Magnasco, with seven paintings—both suggested promising topics. My first idea was to write about Pellegrini’s Modesty Introducing Painting to the Academy (1733). The title especially attracted me, which has happened before, viz. October’s The Continence of Scipio, and the 1685 painting, Thomyris Immersing the Head of Cyrus in a Vase of Blood, by Mattia Preti (1613-1699), which I wrote about in blog post 19. Unlike these two titles, Modesty Introducing Painting to the Academy doesn’t use familiarly a name unfamiliar to me. On the contrary, every word was familiar: modesty, patience, academy; still, doesn’t it seem surprising that Painting needed to be introduced to the Academy, where one might have supposed Painting would be known? And if an introduction was needed, why would Modesty be the one to conduct the ceremony? Was there some doubt as to Painting’s appropriateness for the Academy?

A little looking around convinced me not to write about Pellegrini. I was assured by the Louvre’s Atlas Database that what I had imagined might be a charming mystery was simply Pellegrini’s profession of modesty on introducing his work to the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in Paris, which he joined on December 31, 1733. So, the title of this blog post doesn’t reflect a struggle to choose between two painters who attracted my interest. Rather, it comes from Magnasco, whose work attracted me in many ways that included some element of “twoness”. First, two of his seven paintings in the Louvre mention “two” in their title: Landscape with Two Figures (ca. 1700) and Two Hermits in a Forest (ca. 1730). In both instances, two is used with reference to the number of human subjects in the painting. The first of these paintings, and others by Magnasco in the Louvre, also contain a wonderful balance between two very different elements, one a grouping of human figures performing a task and the other an extensive landscape rich in dramatic natural features. I sometimes find that monumental landscape paintings fail to make a strong connection between natural surroundings and human figures. I wonder if it’s because I find it easy to relate to the natural surroundings—mountains, trees, bodies of water, clouds, expanses of field and sky—and not so easy to relate to the minuscule human figures, who, despite the prominence they usually are given in painting titles, are often unfamiliar to me without further research. I had no such difficulty with Magnasco.

31368_p0003766_002But I do owe to research my favorite “twoness” about Magnasco. Beginning in his apprentice days, he specialized in adding figures to landscapes created by other specialists. Although Landscape with Two Figures is identified in my Louvre book as the work of Magnasco, a commentary on the French language Louvre website (a commentary not available on the English language website) identifies it as an early example of a longstanding collaboration between Magnasco and landscape painter Antonio Francesco Peruzzini (1643/6-1724), which is also represented in the Louvre by The Mule Driver, also known as The Landscape with Castle (ca. 1710). Magnasco went on after Peruzzini’s death to collaborate with other “paysagistes”.

Wikipedia and The Continence of Scipio

31412_p0008823_002Entry 25 October 20, 2013

Thinking about the Louvre this month has made me think about how many different kinds of knowing there are. I began this particular line of thought with a painting and a sketch, both from ca. 1720 and both entitled The Continence of Scipio, by Michele Rocca (ca. 1666-1750), the eighth 31411_p0008822_002artist whose works in The Louvre: All the Paintings I managed to look at during the first two weeks of October. I recognized the name of the painting, which I was sure I had come across previously in the book, although I didn’t remember where. This very patchy knowing is one of the kinds I’ve been thinking about: I knew enough to recognize the name, but nothing more.

I flipped to the book’s index of paintings and found only one other work with the same name, a painting by Giambattista Pittoni (1687-1767).Thus, since I’m working through the book in order, the Pittoni painting can’t be the source of my patchy knowing. Still, Pittoni’s painting is worth taking a look at, since it confirms the popularity of the subject in the early 18th century. According to the Louvre website, Pittoni painted the scene at least four times, with the first of these, the one in the Louvre’s collection, produced ca. 1733-37, which places it less than 20 years after Rocca’s. In addition, Pittoni’s Continence of Scipio is the subject of one of the Closer Look features on the Louvre website, at least in the French-language version. I talked about the Closer Look features in blog post 7, as part of my effort to locate the Madonna with a Rabbit (ca. 1525) by Titian (ca. 1488-1576), which like Pittoni’s Continence of Scipio is one of the paintings selected by Louvre curators for a Closer Look.

I had three other places I could look: my past blog entries, my private notes on all the paintings I’ve looked at so far, and the Louvre website. I quickly determined that, although the blog until now hasn’t mentioned a painting entitled The Continence of Scipio, the name does show up in my notes. One of the many, many paintings in the Louvre by Giovanni Francesco Romanelli (1610-1662), only a fraction of which show up in my Louvre book, perhaps because most of them are wall paintings rather than stand-alone works, is entitled The Continence of Scipio (1655-58). I wrote about Romanelli in blog entry 16, because I realized that I had been in some of the rooms decorated with his works and that I had even photographed a portion of one of them while taking photos of sculptures. Although I didn’t mention The Continence of Scipio in the blog post, my notes contained lists of Romanelli’s works I had pasted in from both the French- and English-language Louvre websites. The lists contained the painting’s name; I was satisfied that I had found the source of my memory.

69081_3418_001I went to the website hoping to get a look at the Romanelli, but the photograph accompanying the painting was no help. It was identified as containing several works on scenes from Roman history, but I couldn’t see anything that looked like it might be The Continence of Scipio. I tried without success to find a better reproduction on the French-language website, but I did find one more Continence of Scipio, this one from ca. 1555 by Niccolo dell’Abate (1509-1571). In January I had looked at two paintings by dell’Abate, the two that appear in my Louvre book, but neither of them was The Continence of Scipio. I was, however, able to see a reproduction of dell’Abate’s painting on the French-language website; it presents an interesting contrast to the large group scenes by Pittoni and Rocca; it is, instead, a tightly framed view of six figures. I should add that Rocca himself doesn’t show up in the English-language version of the Louvre website; I located the reproductions I’m including here from the French-language version.

I made one more stop: Wikipedia. A search for The Continence of Scipio sent me to the entry on Scipio Africanus (236-183 B.C.), where I learned that Scipio, hero of the Second Punic War and conqueror of Carthago Nova (210 B.C.), was known for having returned an enemy’s captured fiancée to him. I wondered if the Scipio of the painting was also the Scipio whose name I remembered from the title of a fifth-century Latin text, Macrobius’s Commentary on the Dream of Scipio. Just as with my search to find out if the Cyrus of Thomyris Immersing the Head of Cyrus in a Vase of Blood, which I encountered while looking at works by Mattia Preti (1613-1699), and which I wrote about in blog entry 19, was the same Cyrus whose name I knew from the Book of Esther, I discovered that the names matched but not the stories. Scipio Africanus is in The Dream of Scipio, but he is not the dreamer. Rather, he appears in a vision to his adopted grandson, also named Scipio, whom he takes on a journey through the heavens. I suspect that part of the charm for me of the painting’s name was from the first its likeness to this other name; thus, another way of knowing is to be reminded of something that had at one time been familiar.

The Wikipedia entry was interesting for two other thought associations. It mentioned that Chaucer referenced Macrobius’s dream theory in “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale”, which was not only a link to my graduate studies but also to some new artwork I have in my kitchen, cartoons based on Chaucer’s fable of Chauntecleer. Even more unlikely a cross-referencing with my life was this Wikipedia tidbit: “Bernard Field, in the preface to his History of Science Fiction, cited Scipio’s vision of the Earth as seen from a great height as a forerunner of modern science fiction writers describing the experience of flying in orbit—particularly noting the similarity between Scipio’s realization that Rome is but a small part of the Earth with similar feeling by characters in Arthur C. Clarke’s works.” I was interested because Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is included in a science fiction course I’m co-teaching this year, but I’ve just spent half an hour failing to track the book down: a Google search suggests, though, that I’m not the only person impressed by the sentence. Just another way of knowing, I guess. See my blog entry 21 on my search for the missing left leg of Michelangelo’s Deposition to understand why I’m abandoning the search for Bernard Field and his History of Science Fiction, regretfully, because I would so love to have been able to tell my students about a link between Macrobius and Clarke.

A Change of Plan


Entry 24 September 16, 2013

Starting in February 2013, a little more than six months after I started my project of looking at all the paintings in the Louvre, I added a second project, a blog about the experience. Although I didn’t admit it, I nurtured a dream that the blog would bring me the kind of public recognition achieved by the Julie of Julie and Julia fame or by the two bloggers I saw interviewed on CityTV’s Breakfast Television this morning, the morning of September 16th, the date I’m starting to write this entry for my blog about The Louvre: All the Paintings. They write at reasonsmommydrinks.com (Why doesn’t that website name trigger a spellcheck challenge from Word?) and were on the show to discuss their new book, which they got a deal for only shortly after starting the blog, apparently.

Despite my superior subject matter—Also from this morning’s early morning television comes the assurance from TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey that no one wants any fewer films at TIFF any more than anyone wants the Louvre to have fewer paintings than it does, book and movie deals didn’t arrive before the return of my students, so I’m going to have to cut back. I haven’t given up working my way through my Louvre book, and I don’t want to give up the blog, but I’ve decided to adjust my expectations. My plan is to spend two weeks each month looking at paintings, followed by a week of selecting a topic and drafting a blog entry, and then a week of putting together the final edited text and the images into a post.

Although this month I have had only a week, rather than two, for looking at paintings—my last blog entry under the old schedule was posted on September 6th, I identified several possible subjects: my 500th painting, which was Philosopher with Eyeglasses (ca. 1660) by Luca Giordano (1634-1705), along with a new calculation of how long it will take to finish looking at all of the Louvre’s 3,022 paintings; all of Giordano’s 10 paintings, since he’s one of only five of the 230 artists I’ve looked at so far with 10 or more pieces in the museum; and the many still lifes (7 of 18 paintings) that appeared on the two pages of the four I looked at this week that weren’t devoted wholly to Giordano.

I bypassed all of these in favor of two paintings on classical subjects, Diana with Orion’s Corpse (ca. 1685) by Daniel Seiter (1647-1705), and Juno and Argus (ca. 1685) by Gregorio de Ferrari (1647-1726). They had a striking amount in common: artist birthdate, composition date, subject matter, even the arrangement of elements in the frame. In both, a goddess resting on a cloud looks down at the body of a slain man, in whose death the goddess has had an important role, and for whose sake a memorial in nature will be created. In both, there are other figures in addition to the slain man and the goddess. There are differences between the works as well as similarities. The hunter Orion was killed by Diana, the goddess who is looking at his corpse, whereas Argus was killed by Mercury in order to set thwart a plan of jealous Juno to keep Io away from her husband Jupiter by putting Io under the guard of Argus with his 100 eyes. In Seiter’s painting, the other figure is an adult male holding a jar and looking up into the face of the goddess, while Ferrari places two winged cherubs and a peacock between Juno and the body of Argus. Orion is memorialized in the stars, while Juno is said to have placed Argus’s eyes on the tail of the peacock, her favorite bird.

I was drawn first to the paintings because I was uncertain about how to read the image of Diana and Orion; there seemed to be something of sorrow in Diana’s concerned expression, and yet she was distanced from the body before her, not only by the space between them but also by the great difference between their bodily attitudes, he sprawled and exposed, she lying above him in a dignified pose. The figures are sensuously rendered, as if there was powerful feeling uniting the couple, and yet this feeling could easily be hate rather than love, as signalled by the clear reversal of gender roles: she is powerful and strong, whereas he is defeated and without protection.

I realized that I didn’t know the story of Orion, that my assumption that he would be a hero mourned in death reflected my familiarity with the constellation named for him, a winter favorite of mine, rather than a thorough knowledge of his place in mythology. When I looked up Orion in Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, a book I have loved since first reading it in high school, I discovered another possible explanation for my uncertainty: there are many versions of the death of Orion, not just one, and in some of them Diana kills him deliberately because he has offended her, whereas in others she is tricked into destroying her favorite. Did Seiter find it difficult to choose among them, so that he focused instead on linking an act of violence with the painful realization of loss?

By comparison, the painting of Juno and Argus seems devoid of feeling, even the pain of loss that one might reasonably expect when an employer has lost a faithful servant. Absent is the sexual tension that Seiter evokes between Diana and Orion; absent also is the complex mixture of love and violence that the many versions of the story attribute to Diana. In Ferrari’s painting, everything is busy, filled with frivolous details in keeping with the self-involved dowager, Juno. The one touch of feeling I detect is in the decision to drape Argus’s corpse, a choice that forms a powerful contrast to Orion’s nakedness.

A Companion of Diana

parislondon201208 2114690_s0001542_002Entry 23 August 31, 2013

Over the past month, I have often thought about how wonderful it was last year at this time to spend a week in Paris, which has led me to look again at the things I brought home with me, including photos, 102 of which are of art objects in the Louvre, taken during the one day I spent in the museum.

I have only included two of the photos in the blog so far, one in blog post 12 and the other in blog post 16. In blog post 12, I used one of them to illustrate what the crowds were like around the Mona Lisa. In blog post 16, I used another because, in the background of a statue I had been photographing, a portion of a wall painting by Giovanni Romanelli (1610-1662) could be seen. Only two photos, but they record the only Italian paintings I photographed while I was in the museum, and the second one really doesn’t count as a photo of a painting, because I was aiming at the statue and got the painting by chance. It won’t be much better when I move on to other national collections in The Louvre: All the Paintings; I took far more photos of statues—79—than I did of paintings—23 (seven of these were of the Mona Lisa and the crowd in front of it). The only other paintings I photographed were from 19th-century France, and they all were housed in room 77 of the first floor of Denon.

The rest of the photos are of statues. I like to look at paintings more than I like to look at statues, but in museum visits I tend to take more photos of statues than of paintings. My preferences put me on both sides of a rivalry that some Renaissance Italian painters felt between their art and the art of sculpture. I have mentioned this rivalry before in the blog, in blog post 20, when I was writing about Daniele da Volterra’s two-sided painting of David and Goliath. I said there that “according to the Atlas Database, he was attempting to demonstrate that painting had the potential of creating effects similar to sculpture’s rendering of three dimensions”. I gave a link to a photo of the two-sided painting in its present Louvre location, which shows that the term “two-sided” doesn’t do justice to the physical impressiveness of da Volterra’s effort.

I have also come across a number of references to this rivalry between painting and sculpture elsewhere in the Louvre book. For example, in the commentary on a Self-Portrait by Giovanni Gerolamo Savoldo (ca. 1480-1548), Savoldo’s motive is described as “to demonstrate the superiority of painting over sculpture”. The same phrase is used a few pages later in a commentary on Woman in a Mirror by Titian (ca. 1488-1576).

I’ve been wondering whether my preference for photographing statues is somehow connected to this painting/sculpture competition. It occurs to me that, on a much, much humbler scale, I am like the Renaissance painter whose goal is to demonstrate that the visual impression of three dimensions can be captured in a two-dimensional image. But standing in the museum in front of the work of art doesn’t give me an opportunity to create the environment around the object that I’m hoping to recreate in all its glory, including its three-dimensionality; rather, I’m working with the environment that the museum designers have provided. The environment around the statue—the open space it occupies, the depth and textures of the surfaces that bound the space, the play of light within the space—is as much what I’m photographing as the statue itself. The environment around a painting—the painting’s placement on a flat surface, almost as if it is a window into another world—is very different from what typically surrounds a statue in a gallery setting. It occurs to me that the three dimensions the statue occupies are not only in the figure but also in the space that it commands around itself, something like the personal space psychologists talk about so much nowadays.

I have included here one of my favorite images from my Louvre photographs. It is of a sculpture by René Frémin entitled A Companion of Diana (1717), created for Louis XIV’s gardens at Marly, outside of Paris, and housed now in the Marly Courtyard on the lower ground floor of the Richelieu wing. I like that the statue and the wall behind it are both gray and with a smooth stone surface; there is a strong contrast between the activity in gesture and movement of clothing shown in the statue and the monumental stillness of the background. The young woman’s right forearm and hand repeat the strong line of the stone molding behind them, but her extended fingers expressively stand out against the uniformity of the molding’s parallel lines. Light adds a great deal here; there is the brilliant definition of features and details, but the light also provides a strong contrast to the pools of shadow that form wherever the light does not reach.

For comparison, I include a reproduction of the statue from the Atlas Database. I wish I had done better with the dog, but I was lucky in the light and the surroundings that came with the statue on the day I was at the Louvre.

Agnese Dolci, in the Workshop of her Father

Entry 22 August 11, 2013

One of the paintings I was looking at this week in The Louvre: All the Paintings, Christ Blessing, also known as The Institution of the Eucharist (ca. 1656), was attributed to the workshop of Carlo Dolci (1616-1686). I have come across references to artists’ workshops before when learning about Louvre painters, usually with respect to artists in training who are employed in another painter’s workshop, but very occasionally in the attribution of a painting: two of the Louvre’s works by Veronese (1528-1588), for example, are characterized this way and another as by Veronese and workshop, an interesting, subtle distinction; likewise, two of the Louvre’s works by Bassano (1549-1592) are “workshop of”, with a third labeled “follower of Bassano”. But Dolci’s workshop holds a special interest because it brought me very close for the first time to an attribution of a painting to a woman artist.

But only very close. I was excited for a while. The Catholic Encyclopedia article on Carlo Dolci by Leigh Harrison Hunt states, “Agnese Dolci, who died the same year as her father, not only made marvellous copies of the master’s pictures, but was herself an excellent painter. Her ‘Consecration of the Bread and Wine’ is in the Louvre.” In the Benezit Dictionary of Artists, a painting called The Consecration housed at the Louvre is listed as a work by Agnese Dolci. But the Grove Dictionary of Art, the reference I have been relying on, does not treat any painting in the Louvre as the work of Agnese, saying instead of her that “no securely autographed painting is yet known, although a supposedly signed Self-portrait is known from photographs (Florence, Fond. Longhi). A Christ and the Samaritan Woman with St Teresa was auctioned in Florence in 1984; Dolci’s autograph study for the figure of Christ is in the Louvre, Paris, but the finished painting clearly includes the work of other hands.” Thus, the Grove Dictionary account agrees with the Louvre’s attribution of the painting of Christ to the workshop of Carlo Dolci, and not to Agnese in particular.

Although it is rather a non-story, I’ve gone ahead with writing about Agnese; there is clearly almost a story here about all the daughters and wives and other aspiring female painters to whom we are indebted for art that has reached us only under the signatures of their male masters and for whom we should mourn because of the paintings they might have done.

Did Agnese consider herself fortunate, I wonder, to have a father who would teach her and then allow her a place in his workshop, or was she frustrated that her talent was not acknowledged as uniquely her own? In blog post 5, I wrote that the early life of St. Louis of Toulouse, when he was sent to Spain as a hostage to gain the release of his noble father, would be a great subject for a novel. I feel the same way about Agnese.

For the present, at least, I appear to be alone in finding such potential in Agnese, but a quick check confirmed that I was definitely not the first to find the theme of early women painters a likely fiction subject. Another painter’s daughter, Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653), whose career overlaps Agnese’s to some extent, was the subject of a novel by Susan Vreeland, The Passion of Artemisia, in 2002. On her website, Vreeland characterizes Artemisia as “the first woman to paint large scale historical and religious paintings, the first woman to be admitted into the Accademia dell’ Arte del Disegno in Florence, the first woman to make her living by her brush, the only female artist to adopt Caravaggism, and most significantly, one of the greatest artists of the Italian Baroque (17th century).” Artemisia’s father, Orazio (1562-1639), has two paintings in the Louvre’s collection, Rest on the Flight into Egypt and Public Happiness Triumphs Over Danger. Vreeland’s website includes the interesting story of her first encounter with Artemisia’s work: http://www.svreeland.com/gen-art.html.

The little I’ve read to date about Carlo Dolci suggests that Agnese probably had a difficult life, especially if she loved her father. He planned laboriously and painted very slowly, which meant that he was rarely chosen for large-scale church fresco projects. The speed with which his contemporary Luca Giordano (1634-1705) worked is said to have caused Dolci to fall into a depression from which he never recovered. At the same time, the Dolci workshop was a busy place, particularly in making copies of his works, a project that Dolci shared with his pupils, including Agnese. Perhaps she was content with the task, since it was one that her father also engaged in as part of the painter’s craft.

The gender imbalance among artists is not repeated in the images the artists painted. Men did the painting, but many of their subjects were women, and, of course, the models they worked with to create paintings of women were women. Carlo Dolci is identified as the creator of two Louvre paintings; one depicts the Virgin Mary and the other a very feminine-looking angel of the Annunciation. The painting produced by his workshop, and therefore probably, at least in part, by Agnese, is an image of Christ. I’ve included it in this post.

The Marble Knee of the Missing Left Leg of the Christ from Michelangelo’s Deposition

4340_s0002189_001Entry 21 August 1, 2013

I ended my last blog post with a preview of this one: I would report on some research that was inspired by Wikipedia’s entry on Daniele da Volterra, in particular, a brief comment that says the artist’s will names him as the owner of “the marble knee of the missing left leg of the Christ from Michelangelo’s Deposition.”

Da Volterra’s Wikipedia entry is not the first one I’ve looked at in connection with paintings in the Louvre. Although at first I planned to concentrate on what I could learn from the information in my Louvre book and its DVD, I soon found that the book rarely gives more than a bare identification—artist’s name, life dates, name of painting, date of composition, dimensions, medium, location in the museum, inventory number—of any painting that is the sole Louvre example of its creator’s work. I began Googling any unfamiliar artist’s name, which, not too surprisingly, took me to Wikipedia.

Indeed, that’s where my Google search for da Volterra took me. I encountered not only da Volterra’s role in altering Michelangelo’s Last Judgment (see blog post 20) but also the “marble knee of the missing left leg of the Christ from Michelangelo’s Deposition.” I immediately wanted to learn more. I felt that Wikipedia was implying something about da Volterra, but I couldn’t tell what: was the possession of the knee from the “missing left leg” a sign that da Volterra had committed a crime against his old friend, Michelangelo, a crime that would perhaps be consistent with his willingness to paint over his friend’s work? The word “missing” also suggested to me that there was some kind of mystery associated with the sculpture. I thought the will, mentioned as containing the reference to the knee, might help me, but Wikipedia did not say where I could find the will itself or anything written about the will. This was also true of the Wikipedia entry on the Deposition, to which there is a link in the da Volterra entry; moreover, neither the marble knee nor the missing left leg was even mentioned in the Deposition entry. In short, what Wikipedia said was not sufficient to satisfy my curiosity, nor did it give me much reason to think that I should expect to find more information elsewhere.

I was, however, helped very much by the bibliography included in the Wikipedia entry on the sculpture. Two sources were especially useful: Jack Wasserman’s Michelangelo’s Florence Pietà (Princeton University Press, 2003) and Leo Steinberg’s “Michelangelo’s Florentine Pietà: The Missing Leg Twenty Years After.” Art Bulletin 71, 3 (1989): 480-505. Both of these sources refer to the Deposition by another name commonly applied to the piece, the Florence (or Florentine) Pietà. I recommend Wasserman’s book not only for its valuable commentary but also for the many beautiful photographs and informative analytical drawings of the sculpture. For a quick look at the Deposition, here’s a link to the Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Deposition_(Michelangelo).

I will not attempt to summarize all the additional information I collected; I will limit myself to what I now feel I can be sure of about the knee. First, the possession of the knee is much more likely a reflection of friendship than a sign of betrayal; all the sources I consulted, including Wasserman and Steinberg, emphasize the close ties between the two men in the crucial years from when Michelangelo worked on the Deposition (ca. 1547-1553) through his death in 1564 (witnessed by da Volterra). Second, there is indeed a mystery associated with the “missing left leg”, but it has to do with the process by which the sculpture was created, not with a criminal act. The leg is missing in the sense that the figure of Christ in the Deposition has only a right leg, no left leg; in addition, scholars, among them Wasserman and Steinberg, have spent considerable energy in arguing over whether Michelangelo crafted a left leg and, if he did, what happened to it; this leg would presumably be the one from which da Volterra obtained the marble knee.

The attention paid to the absent leg stems in part from aesthetic considerations but also because the Deposition is one of the very last sculptures worked on by Michelangelo, and one prominent theory has him becoming so frustrated with the piece that he smashed it, something he is not known to have done with any other project. Wasserman and Steinberg disagree as to what happened; neither doubts, apparently, that da Volterra had a marble knee sculpted by Michelangelo, but Steinberg believes the knee came from the Deposition and was part of the refuse created when Michelangelo,particularly disturbed by the left leg he had created for the figure of Christ, made it a special target in his effort to destroy the piece. Wasserman believes that the knee in da Volterra’s possession may have come from another work, the Rondanini Pietà, in part because he believes problems in the marble prompted Michelangelo to remove the partially completed left leg from the Deposition as part of a plan for refashioning the sculpture.

Wasserman was helpful on the subject of da Volterra’s will. He points out that the will does not name the Deposition in particular, but rather refers only to a pietà; this name, then, could refer to the Rondanini Pietà instead of the Deposition. He also makes clear why a visit to the will is impossible: the 1866 article by Benvenuto Gasparoni, in which the text of the will was published, did not give the document’s location.

Not only was Wikipedia’s information incomplete as to da Volterra’s possession of the knee, but also Wikipedia should have acknowledged that there is significant disagreement as to the accuracy of the information it does provide.

I’ve included a photo of a sculpture by da Volterra in the Louvre’s collection. It falls outside my usual material, but it is of special interest for this post, because it’s a bust of Michelangelo.

I’m done at last with the knee, but I do wish that someone would have said something as to its current location. Alas, for some reason, no one seems as interested in that as I am.

“Physical sensation through vision is the key”

38617_9741_00238616_9741_001Entry 20 July 10, 2013

I’ve had Daniele da Volterra (1509-1566) on my mind ever since I came across the information back in January, when first looking at his two-sided painting, The Battle of David and Goliath (16th century), that da Volterra was the artist who accepted a papal commission to put pants on the nude figures in Michelangelo’s Last Judgment. He’s a recurring presence in my blog, actually, having already shown up in blog posts 8 and 9, but each time I considered writing just about him I turned back. It was in part because I felt it was more his notoriety than his artwork that attracted me and in part because my only source for his notoriety was Wikipedia, which is rather notorious itself.

I decided to add him to the blog this week because something in the June 29th issue of the Globe and Mail made me think of his Battle of David and Goliath. In an interview, Toronto theater mogul and art collector David Mirvish was speaking about being in the presence of some of his best loved paintings, large-scale color-field works. He emphasized the physical impact of the experience. “Physical sensation through vision is the key,” the journalist Sarah Milroy reports him as saying. Mirvish went on, according to Milroy, to criticize “encyclopedic museums, where a smattering-of-each is the curatorial rule”; he wanted the private museum he plans for his collection to give paintings “their own space”. It is not surprising that Mirvish also sees deficiencies in other ways of experiencing his favorite works; Milroy writes, “He talks, too, about the difficulty of writing about colour-field painting, or doing justice to it in print reproduction, given the often gargantuan scale of the works and their vaporous visual effects.”

The concerns expressed here have relevance both to the Louvre’s display of da Volterra’s Battle of David and Goliath and to my experience of approaching it through the Louvre book, the Louvre website, Wikipedia, and other online and print sources. Although not gargantuan, Da Volterra’s work is quite large: 133 cm. by 172 cm., that is, 4.3 ft. by 5.6 ft. Moreover, it is two-sided: different perspectives on the same scene, with David about to strike off Goliath’s head, give views of the figures from front and back. Da Volterra painted in oil on two sides of a piece of slate; according to the Atlas Database, he was attempting to demonstrate that painting had the potential of creating effects similar to sculpture’s rendering of three dimensions. In addition, the Louvre displays the two-sided painting on a gold-embossed wooden base designed in 1715 to accompany the work when it was given in 1715 to Louis XIV. Housed for several years at Fontainebleau, The Battle of David and Goliath was restored and installed in the Grand Gallery of the Louvre in 2007.

I did not see the painting when I was there, so I’m dependent on print reproductions and online images for my “physical sensation through vision.” In this particular instance, I have to humbly agree with Mr. Mirvish that a print reproduction presents difficulties. My first sighting was of a reproduction only 2 in. x 2.5 in. Moreover, the two-sided painting is not visible in the Louvre website’s photographs of the Grand Gallery. Perhaps my expectations have sunk so low that I’m not a reliable judge, but I have found some online images helpful in getting a sense of scale. Here’s one from a photography blog, which includes a number of museum visitors in the frame: http://www.google.ca/imgres?imgurl=http://no-onions-extra-pickles.com/wp-content/uploads/louvre-gallery.jpg&imgrefurl=http://no-onions-extra-pickles.com/how-art-history-affects-my-travels/the-louvre-grand-gallery/&h=768&w=1024&sz=350&tbnid=lq2_2pGhKbCQZM:&tbnh=95&tbnw=127&prev=/search%3Fq%3Dgrand%2Bgallery%2Bof%2Blouvre%26tbm%3Disch%26tbo%3Du&zoom=1&q=grand+gallery+of+louvre&usg=__Feat7qBX-A-WXTVSDIPeK0od1Kk=&docid=f-T6y5ZBwB7ScM&sa=X&ei=oQjkUbXJFceCrgG3jYC4Dw&ved=0CDYQ9QEwAQ&dur=362.
Here’s another link, this one to a 2007 newspaper article about the work’s mounting in the Louvre: http://www.thearttribune.com/A-Daniele-da-Volterra-redisplayed.html. As good as they are, these online images nevertheless seem to me to demonstrate that the physical sensation of a painting is usually, if not always, better when the viewer and the painting are in the same room.

But the brief information on artist, title, dimensions, etc., that accompanies the painting in the Louvre book, the sort of labeling provided by the Louvre itself for most works, would never have been enough to lead me to the discovery of da Volterra’s place in art history. For that, I needed a work on art history, even one as notoriously unreliable as a Wikipedia entry. In fact, I have often thought that I should acknowledge in the blog how often I have found a Wikipedia entry on one of my one-painting-only artists. It’s not Wikipedia’s fault that so few of them carry with them the sort of notoriety that da Volterra does.

There were three topics in da Volterra’s biography that I decided to read more about. The first was da Volterra’s role in clothing the nudes in Michelangelo’s Last Judgment, which was easy to verify. The second topic was closely associated with the first: da Volterra was said to have scraped away and repainted the images of saints Blaise and Catherine of Alexandria (For more on images of Catherine of Alexandria in the Louvre collection, see blog post 6) that appear to Christ’s left in the Last Judgment in response to criticisms that the arrangement of the two figures suggested some type of sexual intimacy. This second topic, too, was easy to verify from other sources, including the official Vatican website. In addition, I learned that a copy of the Last Judgment by Marcello Venusti (1512/5-1579) is in the collection of the Museo di Capodimonte, Naples; there are reproductions available online.

The third topic that interested me was the statement in Wikipedia that “According to Daniele’s will, the marble knee of the missing left leg of the Christ from Michelangelo’s Deposition was in his possession at the time of his death.” My adventures in pursuit of this marble knee will be the subject of my next post.