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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

From the Childhood of Michelangelo

St Anthony Torment by the Demons, c. 1487, was painted by Michelangelo when he was only 13. The panel, 18 x 12 inches, is warped as happens to many panels over time.

The Torment of Saint Anthony is a small panel painting which was recently discovered to have been painted by Michelangelo in 1487/88. Intensive cleaning in 2008/9 led experts to believe that Michelangelo painted it when he was 12 or 13 years of age. Only four easel paintings by Michelangelo are known, and this one of is in North America, at Fort Worth's Kimbell Art Museum.

Michelangelo's St. Anthony looks remarkably calm despite the demons who are scratching him

St. Anthony was an early Christian of the 4th century who lived as a hermit for many years. According to his biographer, the rigorous asceticism practiced by St Anthony in the Egyptian desert allowed him to float in the air, where he was attacked by devils trying to beat him to the ground. Anthony defeated these demons on more than one occasion, but not without a big struggle. It is not at all surprising that a young Michelangelo would have been attracted to this subject, because the artist always seemed to be battling his own internal demons, as the poetry he wrote and certain sculptures of slaves he made later in life would suggest.

Schongauer's, masterly engraving, St. Anthony Tormented by Demons, c. 1480, gave inspiration to the young Michelangelo
Michelangelo copied an engraving by a German artist, Martin Schongauer, who was Europe's greatest practitioner of printmaking at that time. Schongauer used a vivid imagination and great technical ability to show light, shadow and texture. These beasts are composite creatures of fanciful reptiles, fish and flying monsters, who scratch, pull and club the holy man. Schongauer left the landscape minimal, a small edge of rocks in the lower right-hand corner which describe the mountain he lived on in isolation. Saint Anthony seems to be suspended in the air, in a radiating, circular composition. Schongauer used short dots or stipples to get his deepest shadows into the small metal plate used for engraving.

We don't know the date of Schongauer's engraving--perhaps about 1480--but we know that his prints traveled throughout Europe. Michelangelo's biographers said that he made a painting after a Schongauer print when he was 13, and this new attribution fulfills that void in our knowledge. This connection also shows the important role of prints in spreading artistic ideas and iconography, with the engraving passed into Italy from Germany.I have seen the Schongauer original in the print room of the National Gallery and its details are incredible. No wonder the young genius was impressed.

Although Michelangelo borrowed many details
from the great German engraver, he went to
the fish market to observe. According to the
Kimball Art Museum, Michelangelo scraped away
lines of paint in the body of the fish-like creature,
revealing the primer beneath the paint in the
parallel lines of hatching.

When Michelangelo copied Schongauer, he was equally adept at detail. He straightened Saint Anthony's head, gave him a shorter beard and added an interesting landscape background. The brown-gray foreground is rocky and craggy, and in pristine detail. Critics of the Michelangelo attribution do not like the background. The painting has a high viewpoint just like St. Anthony who lived on a mountain near the Nile when the demons attacked and lifted him. So this landscape is a bird's eye view of river, hills and sky with a low horizon line. Using aerial perspective, it gets more and more indistinct as it goes back into space and turns nearly white as it hits the horizon. The cool colors of the background and the low horizon line allow the figures to come forward and stand out with warm colors. This setting may be more reminiscent of the Arno in Florence than the Nile River, but European artists of the time were not familiar with the desert.

Photos above and right were taken by the Kimball to AP. This demon was painted in tempera and oil with magnificent detail. Color changes and the meticulous line technique are visible.
His mouth is ferocious.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Roofs, Walls and Stones -- Illusionism in Quebec

Steep copper rooftops cover the old and new buildings of
Quebec City

Quebec City in Canada is one of the oldest cities in North America and the first historic city center to have been named a UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The fortified lower city has quite a few buildings dating to from the 17th and 18th centuries. The distinctive roofs made of colorful copper are necessary for the annual snowfall of 160 inches; the roofs are quite steep, just like the hills.
Old and new mingle; reality and illusion connect

Tourists in front of this 5-story trompe l'oeil mural painting blur the boundaries between painting and actuality. The skillful painting of shadows, and the buildings, stairs and balconies in perfect linear perspective, create the illusion.

Twelve artists painted a mural in perspective on the side of a 5- stor
y building to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Quebec City in 2008.
The roofs, stones, streets and store fronts of this trompe l'oeil cityscape feature ancient and modern people of Quebec and also explain a good deal of French Canadian and North American history. (Quebec was the capital of New France.) Amongst the faces in windows and on the ground are Samuel de Champlain who founded the city in 1608, as well as explorers such as Jacques Cartier and Louis Joliet.

The modern people include three Stastny brothers who had immigrated from Slovakia and became famous hockey players.

The realities of old and new come together in the
experience of Quebec City today.

Here is a blog showing more trompe l'oeil murals in Quebec City

Also, for the murals of Lyon, France, please see this website:

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

After the Hurricane: Environmental Art

Yesterday when I took a walk along my usual trail, I was curious to see how high the creek had risen after 24 hours of rain.....well it had stopped for at least 20 hours by that time. To my surprise, the site had been altered with wonderful "environmental art" or sculpture made from the earth. The hurricane, which had followed an earthquake four days earlier, were beyond our control, but turning nature's rocky debris into art was a good response to the power of nature. Someone (children or adults?) had piled towers of stones on top of the large boulders. The new shapes were quite interesting and artful sculptures. So I had to return home and get my iPhone. In the distance, colors came out vibrantly and beautifully, changing as the sun and water picked up various hues through the trees.

When I went back today all the towers were gone, but a few tumbled stones remained on the large rocks. There had been a little rain last night, but not much wind. I'm so glad to have captured that artistic moment of time in photos. And to the unknown artist who created these deliberate changes to the environment, your efforts are beautiful and well appreciated. Although so much art does not last in time, it is the thought, the act and the creative process which make it worthwhile.

While looking at one of the towers closely, I was reminded of a bird and thought of Brancusi's birds set on pedestals.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Archeology in Sicily: Giant Temples...........Fallen

In Selinunte, Sicily, the remains of several Greek temples from the 6th- 5th century BC reveal much about temple construction, although they fell to Carthaginian invasions and earthquakes not long
after their building. Temple E has most of its outer colonnade, the peristyle, restored.Classical harmony is apparent in the rhythm of fluted columns, continuing up into the triglyphs raised to the sky.

Architect Mark Schara, with his good eye for detail, took almost all of these photos.
But many of the capitals have fallen. On the ground level, we can appreciate their large scale.

Temple F was badly damaged. Much of the white stucco facing for the fluted limestone column on right is still visible.

ple G, below, was the largest of the 7 temples of Selinunte, the ancient city of Silenus.

This temple had columns about 54 feet tall. Here, we see the columns were made of individual segments called drums, each of which are 12 feet high.

The overturned capitals, echinus on top of the abacus, has an 11' diameter. Here, the abacus and echinus were carved in one piece, unlike above at Temple E.
At the time of destruction, not all of the capitals had been fluted. Thus we
know that the temple was never completed

Nearby in Agrigento, the ancient city called Akragas, had a series of ten te
mples in the Valley of the Temples.
The Temple of Concord is one of the best preserved Doric temples.
It had been converted into a church in the early Christian period.

In the 8th -3rd centuries BCE, Sicily was a battleground between Greeks who settled 3/4 of the island and Carthaginians who settled the western portion; then it became the target of Roman conquest.

Though only a small portion of the peristyle remains, the
Temple of Hera was in better condition than most of these temples
which fell victim to Carthaginian destruction, then earthquakes.

But an even taller temple to Olympian Zeus would have been the largest of
Doric Greek temples, the height of a 10-story building; it was incomplete when the disaster struck.
Construction began in 480 BCE and was still in progress when it was decimated in 407 BCE. The Telemon or Atlas figures whose bent arms support the architravemay in fact represent Carthaginian prisoners who had been made to build the temple.
But even these giants, who appear to have held up the building, have fallen,
struck down by the Carthaginians who conquered Akragras.
Only a replica of one of the ruined giants remains on the site.

Ancient Akragas may have had 200.000 people in the 5th century BCE.Today we witness the fallen giant as a symbol of human pride grown too large,
and, consequently, fallen.