Archive for June, 2009

Dark Day Picks

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Contemporary Art, Female Artists, Liz Hager, Painting, Photography with tags , , on June 29, 2009 by Liz Hager

On Mondays Venetian Red celebrates the day of the week when galleries and museums are closed. Every Monday we highlight a few current exhibitions, new installations, or art world tidbits. Get a jump on a week filled with art.

Legion of Honor—John Baldessari: A Print Retrospective from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer. July 11—Nov. 8.

Room for Painting Room for Paper, 49 Geary Street—Rachael Jablo, Under a Circus Sky. July 2—August 1.

Aurobora Press, 370 Brannan , SFSummer Off South Park, revolving show of gallery artists, including Richmond Burton (above), David Ireland, Wes Mills, Laurie Reid and others. Through August 31.


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A History of Lace in Seven Portraits: Beatrice d’Este

Posted in Fashion, Fine & Decorative Arts, Lace, Liz Hager, Painting, Textiles with tags , , , , on June 27, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in VR series on lace in portraiture. Other chapters include Prologue, Elizabeth I, Nicholaes Tulp, Louis XIV, Clement III, The Duchess of Alba, Gloria Swanson; or click here for all posts in the series.

 

Da Vinci—Bearice d'Este

Leonardo da Vinci or Ambrogio de Predis, Beatrice d’Este, ca. 1490
Oil on canvas
(Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan, Italy)

Our history begins with Beatrice d’Este, despite the fact that in this portrait she wears no lace. Although lace is explicitly mentioned in documents as early as the 13th century, the first detailed portraits of figures wearing lace generally don’t appear until the 16th century, when lace was widely fashionable among the nobility and growing merchant classes.

It is somewhat curious that Beatrice wears no lace in this portrait. Lace, which could require as many as ten hours of concentrated work to produce a single square inch, was available and highly-coveted. Indeed, an Este family inventory dating from 1493 lists, among a vast array of jewels and personal property, ricamo a reticellapunti and lavoro ad ossa (bone lace), all common laces of the period.

And yet, the portrait is emblematic of its time. Completed at the dawn of the Renaissance (commonly set at 1492), the painting hints at the transformation of the world to come, during which great power and wealth would be accumulated by families in a position to profit from the re-emerging trade along Silk Route. And those families would impress the world with their unapologetic and ostentatious display of wealth, the legacy of which has reached us in the form of various “masterpieces.”

Beatrice was a member of the Este-Sforza family, which joined by marriage two of the oldest reigning and already powerful houses in Italy. The house of Este, which held court in Ferrara, traced its lineage to the 11th century Dukes of Saxony and Bavaria. Beatrice’s father, Ercole I ruled the Ferrara commune for 34 years, catapulting the city-state (and the Estes with it) to an unmatched level of economic prosperity and cultural prominence. The family was renowned for its love of letters and patronage of the arts.

By comparison, the Sforza (“force”) dynasty were young upstarts. At the time of this portrait, the Sforzas controlled another rising city-state, the Duchy of Milan. (Although this would not be for long, as the French ousted Beatrice’s husband Ludvico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, in 1498, and this led to centuries of skirmishes between various European factions for control of Milan.)

The houses of Este and Sforza had always been on friendly terms. Since Ludvico was one of the most powerful princes in Italy, he might have been expected to eventually woo the Este daughters. His first choice for a wife was Beatrice’s older sister, Isabella. Ercole I readily saw in the alliance an opportunity to ally Ferrara with powerful Milan as a safeguard against the rival Papal State and Venice. Unfortunately, Isabella was already spoken for. So Ercole proffered up his younger daughter (then under 10 years old). The two were subsequently married in the winter 1490 when Beatrice was 16.

The true attribution of Beatrice’s portrait is still in doubt. Ludvico Sforza was accomplished as a warrior, businessman, and a patron of the arts, who over time commissioned both Ambrogio de Predis and Leonardo for various projects.  De Predis was already employed in the Sforza court when Ludvico first invited Leonardo to Milan in 1483 to design an equestrian statue of his father, Duke Francesco Sforza. (Though the Leonardo model was never cast, a “replica” prances today outside the Ippodromo in Milan.)  The Duke may have had his doubts throughout the duration of the project, but the patron and artist must have stayed on good terms. Leonardo remained at court, helping the couple with all manner of additional projects, even the interior decor for the marriage celebration. Regrettably, no documentation of a portrait by Leonardo of either the Duke or his wife exists. Further complicating matters, de Predis was known to have assisted Leonardo with many of his Milanese commissions.

We may never know who executed this portrait, but that need not deter from an appreciation of its singularity.  Following the portraiture convention established by painters of the Quattrocentro, the artist has chosen to portray his sitter in profile. In doing so, he magnificently captures essence of his sitter, a girl on the threshold of womanhood.  Bedecked in the adornments—silk, velvet, pearls and embroidery (brocade) crafted of spun gold threads—afforded her by birthright and marriage, Beatrice looks forward in noble serenity. And at the same time her profile with its upturned nose and slight smile betrays an innocence that must have been the basis of the oft-repeated epithet: la più zentil donna in Italia” (“the sweetest lady in Italy”).

Wider Connections

Sir Kenneth Clark—Leonardo da Vinci (Revised Edition)
Cristoforo Romano: bust of Beatrice d’Este
Fashion: Beatrice d’Este’s tomb
Ambrogio de Precis only signed and dated work: Maximilian I
Niccolò Machiavelli—The Prince

Venetian Red Notebook: God Is In The Details

Posted in Christine Cariati, Fine & Decorative Arts, Painting, Textiles with tags , , , , , on June 26, 2009 by Christine Cariati

A septet of paintings and tapestries spanning the 15th-20th centuries. All very different in mood and intent, yet each filled with exquisite, finely-patterned detail.

KlimtGustav Klimt, Die Tanzerin (The Dancer)
Oil on canvas, c 1916-18
Courtesy: Neue Galerie

bonnardnudePierre Bonnard, Nude in the Bath and Small Dog, 1941-6
Courtesy: Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

tapunicornLa Dame a La Licorne, Le Toucher (detail)
Tapestry, wool & silk, end of 15th century
Courtesy: Reunion des musees nationeaux, Paris

jpgWilliam Blake, Beatrice Addressing Dante from the Car, 1824-7
Pen and watercolor
Courtesy: the Tate Gallery, London

TangkaParamasukha—Chakrasamvara (detail) Tangka, Gouache on cotton
Tibet, late 15th-early 16th century
Courtesy: Robert Hatfield Ellsworth Private Collection  Photo: Kaz Tsuruta

TapbirdsThe Hunt of the Unicorn, Flemish, c 1500
Detail, Fourth tapestry in the series, The Unicorn Defends Himself
The Cloisters, Metropolitan Museum of Art

vuillardEdouard Vuillard, Mother and Sister of the Artist, c 1893
Courtesy: The Museum of Modern Art

A History of Lace in Seven Portraits: Series Prologue

Posted in Fashion, Fine & Decorative Arts, Lace, Painting, Textiles with tags , , , , , , , on June 24, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Editor’s Note: Today Venetian Red begins a short series on the history of lace, as depicted through seven portraits that span five centuries. Lace is delicate and fragile textile, and much of what we know about the styles and customs of lace, especially before the 17th century, are derived from the clues provided in paintings.

This is the first installment in the series. Other chapters include: Beatrice d’Este, Elizabeth I, Nicholas Tulp, Louis XIV, Clement XIII, The Duchess of Alba, Gloria Swanson; or click here for all posts in this series.



Duchesse Bobbin Lace Collar, ca. late 19th century.

It is the one costly wear which never vulgarises; jewels worn without judgment can be rendered offensive to good taste in their too apparent glitter, but lace in its comparatively quiet richness never obtrudes itself and is recognised in its true worth and beauty only by those whose superior taste has trained them to see its value. . .

—Mrs. F. Nevil Jackson, A History of Hand-Made Lace, ca. 1900.


“It’s difficult to see why lace should be so expensive; it is mostly little holes.”

—American author Mary Wilson Little (ca. 1904)


Chantilly Fan19th-century fan with Chantilly lace covering.

It’s safe to say that the average person today doesn’t think much about lace as a fashion statement. Prince aside, if it is worn at all by average people, lace is usually worn mainly by women and then generally out of sight in undergarments or as part of a specific “costume.” (We’re thinking of brides and Madonna.)  Since machines fabricate pretty much everything in our world (including lace), it’s easy to understand how a frilly item once made laboriously by hand, never mind an article of clothing once de riguer for men, seems outmoded and quaint.  Lace hasn’t disappeared (lace as table top linens is still widely available), but it has been relegated to the fashion specialty bin.

Yet, for many centuries, lace enjoyed a substantial and luxurious life as a fashion accoutrement. The history of lace is intertwined with the history of another class of luxury goods—fine art.  It’s no accident that northern Italy and Flanders, the two pillars of lace-making during the era of its greatest prominence—the 15th through 17th centuries—rose to become principal artistic centers. Local populations made affluent through trade with the East were eager to telegraph their prosperity and power through display of their de luxe possessions.

16th c laceCuff of Maltese lace, probably 17th century.

Technically different from woven fabrics, true lace (vrai dentelle) is an ornamental open-work textile produced by looping threads around one another to form an intricate pattern. Lace is related to, but distinguishable from, other open-textured woven fabrics such as gauze; from knotted openwork such as net and macramé; from tatting; and from knitted openwork like crochet. Textile experts refer to these forms as “Other Laces.”

The origin of lace is speculative. Open-work fabrics were certainly produced in the ancient civilizations. However, the earliest existing samples of openwork, which date to dynastic Egypt, are simply woven fabric with holes created by removed threads, not lace as we understand it. (These are often referred to as drawn thread work). Because the fishermen’s net, among the oldest of human implements, is a form of lace, many textile experts believe that lace derived from netting, not from embroidery, its other cousin.

Punta in Aria lace panel, 1620Punta in Aria lace panel, ca. 1620.

It wasn’t until the Renaissance, however, that looping threads around each other became the accepted method for making lace. Beginning in the 15th century, lace proliferated, along the way acquiring both prosaic names for the places in which it originated—Belgian, Irish, Reticella, Chantilly, Valenciennes—as well as more poetic names relating to its various styles—Point Arabe, Punta in Aria, Ave Maria. Regardless, all descend from two common ancestors—Punto Tagliato and Point Coupé. Hand-made lace is still made according to one of two techniques: by using a needle to interlock the threads, principally an Italian method derived from passementerie, or through the interweaving of bobbins wound with threads, a method associated principally with Flanders.

Beginning in the mid-18th century, machines have also produced lace.  With large-scale improvements in production made during the Industrial Revolution lace came within the financial reach of the middle class. Gradually machines replicated most of the lace patterns previously made by hand.

19th century table linen.

Once a vital visual ornament and a viable alternative to jewelry, lace, like other forms of decorative ornament, fell out of favor during the 20th century.  Perhaps, it too was a victim of the severe modernist aesthetic. As architect Adolf Loos proclaimed at the dawn of the 2oth century: “the evolution of culture marches with the elimination of ornament from useful objects.”

Despite this condemnation, one cannot fail to appreciate lace as a luscious form of decorative adornment.

Queen VictoriaAlex Bassano, Portrait of Queen Victoria (for her Jubilee Celebrations),
1887
(Note the exquisite veil in the Florentine style.)

Portraits offer us an insightful commentary on the evolving varieties of lace and the style conventions associated with them. Conversely, the depiction of this delicate substance might well be the best test of a painter’s virtuosity.

Wider Connections

Judith Gwynne—The Illustrated Dictionary of Lace
Lace collections around the World
Evolution of Lace
A Lace Lovers Diary
Is the veil of modernism lifting? Lace Trends for 2008

Dark Day Picks

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Drawing, Liz Hager, Painting, Photography with tags , , , , , on June 22, 2009 by Liz Hager

On Mondays Venetian Red celebrates the day of the week when galleries and museums are closed. Every Monday we highlight a few current exhibitions, new installations, or art world tidbits. Get a jump on a week filled with art.

Creativity Explored, 3245 16th Street, SF—Inscriptions. Though the artists working and exhibiting here may have developmental disabilities, that hasn’t prevented them from communicating movingly and often quite beautifully through their art.  Possibly there’s an undiscovered  Martín Ramírez working here. . .

De Young—Toward Abstraction: Photographs and Photograms (June 20-Nov.15). This exhibit features the work of Edward Weston, Arthur Siegel, Harry Callahan, Lee Friedlander, Imogen Cunningham, and Robert Mapplethorpe.

(Photo courtesy zincsaucier442.)

1 AM Gallery, 1000 Howard, SF —Into the Darkness. 60 artists present toy creations under the manifesto “Vinyl is the new canvas.”


Venetian Red Notebook: The Long and Winding Road

Posted in Christine Cariati, Fine & Decorative Arts, Painting with tags , , on June 21, 2009 by Christine Cariati

stanthony

Master of the Osservanza Triptych,
St. Anthony Abbot Tempted by a Heap of Gold

Tempera on panel, c 1435
The Robert Lehman Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art

This amazing small painting (approximately 19 x 14 inches) is one of my favorites in the visual feast that is the Lehman Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I’ve been visiting this painting for decades and never tire of it, always see something new. The painting was once thought to be by the 15th century Sienese master, Sassetta, but has since been attributed to the Master of the Osservanza Triptych.

The painting is one of eight panels that narrate the story of the life of St. Anthony Abbot. St. Anthony wanders through this lonely landscape under a brilliantly blazing twilight sky. His path has taken him past a stark though luminous church (painted in the transparent yet vibrantly rich Carthamus Pink) through a landscape of desolate rocky hills and bare trees, softened only by the benign presence of some lovely, docile beasts. The first time I saw this painting I was confused by the saint’s apparent recoil from a sweet little rabbit at the base of the tree, until I read that a pot of gold, the symbol of all earthly temptation, was originally painted on the left foreground, and had, early in the painting’s long history, been scraped away.

stanthonydetail

Venetian Red Notebook: Artemisia’s Hand

Posted in Christine Cariati, Drawing, Female Artists, Fine & Decorative Arts, Painting with tags , on June 19, 2009 by Christine Cariati

righthandPierre Dumonstier, Right Hand of Artemisia Gentileschi Holding a Brush
Black and red chalk, 1625, British Museum
photo courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1652), the first woman artist to become a member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno, led a very tempestuous life. Leaving aside all the controversy and melodrama, however fascinating and instructive, I’d simply like to reflect briefly on this drawing of her right hand by her contemporary Pierre Dumonstier (1585-1656). It is a lovely, expressive drawing that suggests both skill and strength, which seems apt, because in Gentileschi’s historical, religious and allegorical paintings, the eye is often drawn to her depiction of women’s hands. Whether clutching a paintbrush, drapery or a sword, her female subjects have powerful, expressive, strong hands. No where more so than in her arresting self-portrait as the allegory of painting, La Pittura.

AGLaPitturaArtemisia Gentileschi, La Pittura, c1630
Royal Collection, Kensington Palace, London

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