Archive for July, 2009

Venetian Red Notebook: Baked Earth, a Gallery of Decorative Tile

Posted in Ceramics, Christine Cariati, Fine & Decorative Arts, Textiles with tags , on July 31, 2009 by Christine Cariati

Dutch tileDelft tile, Holland, 16th Century

The Egyptians invented tile over 6000 years ago. Tile, made from baked clay, has been used for centuries on walls, entryways, floors, roofs and gardens. It has been used  to enhance every type of architecture, from modest domestic interiors to palaces and cathedrals. At its simplest, tile provides protection from heat and water—or can, through its pattern and design, reveal the history of ornamentation, dress or customs of a specific time and place. Painted tiles can also provide a narrative of events like this harbor scene below.

Azulejos tileAzulejos from the National Tile Museum of Lisbon

The surface of tile, cool and durable, can take many forms. Glazes—double-glaze, crackle, metallic—provide a depth of color that remains unchanged for centuries. Tile can be smooth or rough, raised or engraved.

Meredith TIle, sampleMeredith Tile, glaze sample

Tiffany tileTiffany & Co. favrile glass tile with iridescent glaze

Tiles can be a white, simply glazed in saturated color, or have elaborate complex patterns. Each tile design can be self-contained, or serve as an element in a larger, overall pattern. In some cases, as in the New York subway, the London tube or the Paris Metro, tiles can spell out directions, tell us where we are going, when to get off the train—and also bring art into a public space.

Astor PlaceNew York subway, Astor Place

Bleecker StreetNew York subway, Bleecker Street

Columbus CircleNew York subway, Columbus Circle

Gants HillLondon underground, Gants Hill

Hotel de VilleParis metro, Hotel de Ville

In other uses, patterns in tile may relay secret messages or contain symbolic representations. In the Topkapi Palace, this Iznik-style tile adapted Chinese motifs to create stylized flowers, since representations of living things were not allowed.

Iznik-style tileTopkapi Palace, Turkey, 15th century

The Arts & Crafts movement in England yielded a lot of beautiful tile work.

William MorrisWilliam Morris & Co. tile, 1861-1880
Birmingham Museum

Peacock tileWilliam de Morgan, Peacock House, London

Here’s a sampler of reproduction 1920-1930s California tile by Malibu Ceramic Works.

Malibu Ceramic Works

When patterned tiles are joined together, the effect is dazzling, as shown in these black and white illustrations. These are from Dover’s 376 Decorative Allover Patterns from Historic Tilework and Textiles.

Tile pattern

Tile pattern

Tile pattern

Tiles can be used to define spaces, large or small. So many effects are possible—laid side by side they can provide vast areas of clean, uncluttered space, densely packed ornamental design or depict legends, myths and historical events. This scene below is from the National Tile Museum in Lisbon.

Azulejo—Tile Museum, Lisbon

To read more about tiles, VR recommends: Tile by Jill Herbers, Photographs by Roy Wright, Artisan, New York.

Dagobert Peche, Genius of Ornament

Posted in Ceramics, Christine Cariati, Fine & Decorative Arts, Furniture, Jewelry, Textiles, Wallpaper, XC with tags , , , , on July 28, 2009 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

Dagobert PechePortrait of Dagobert Peche, c.1920

Dagobert Peche (1887-1923) was a brilliant, versatile and eclectic designer who, in fewer than 10 years with the Wiener Werkstätte, created more than 3000 decorative objects of great beauty, energy and imagination that were full of movement, light and playfulness. Peche’s decorative objects were wonders of linear grace and inventiveness; his jewelry designs were exquisite miniature sculptures; and his textile and wallpaper designs, with their extraordinary radiant color and pattern, are perhaps his greatest legacy.

Dagobert Peche—DeerDagobert Peche, Jewel Box, 1920

Josef Hoffmann, the founder, along with Koloman Moser, of the Wiener Werkstätte in 1903, said upon Peche’s premature death at the age of 36:

Dagobert Peche was the greatest ornamental genius Austria has produced since the Baroque Age…All of Germany has arrived at a new stylistic epoch thanks to Peche’s patterns.

Dagobert Peche—Schwalbenschwantz, fabric, 1911/13Dagobert Peche, Schwalbenschwantz, fabric, 1911/13

Josef Hoffman and Kolo Moser, who both taught at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Applied Art), founded the Wiener Werkstätte in Vienna in 1903. They were influenced by the ideas of John Ruskin and William Morris and the Arts & Crafts movement in England and inspired by their work in establishing a creative interaction of art, design and craftsmanship. Hoffman and Moser published a brochure outlining this philosophy of Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art) in 1905:

The limitless harm done in the arts and crafts field by low-quality mass production on the one hand and by the unthinking imitation of old styles on the other is affecting the whole world like some giant flood…It would be madness to swim against this tide. Nevertheless, we have founded our workshop…
We seek to establish close contact between the public, designer and craftsman, and to create a good and simple household object. We start with function, usefulness is our first requirement. Our strength lies in good proportions and proper use of materials. Where possible, we shall attempt to be decorative, but not compulsively so and not at any cost. The value of artistic work and its design needs to be acknowledged and appreciated once more. The work of craftsman is to be held to the same standard as that of the painter and sculptor. We cannot and will not compete with cheapness; it is mainly achieved at the expense of the worker, and we feel that recapturing for him the joy of creation and a humane existence is our foremost obligation…

They did not want to rely on overly expensive materials, especially in their jewelry, so they used a lot of silver, gilt, enamel, and semi-precious stones—but no diamonds, rubies and emeralds.

Josef Hoffmann—BroochJosef Hoffmann, Brooch, 1910

Initially, the aesthetic of the Wiener Werkstätte and Josef Hoffmann was one of simplicity, clarity of shape (often square), and a strict adherence to form. When Peche joined the Wiener Werkstätte, his more fluid, ornamental style began to dominate.

Josef HoffmanJosef Hoffmann, seated in a chair of his own design, c.1890

Josef Hoffmann—cigarette caseJosef Hoffmann, Cigarette case, 1912

Josef Hoffmann—Pot
Josef Hoffmann, Pot, porcelain, c.1905

Josef Hoffmann—Spoon
Josef Hoffmann, Serving spoon,c.1905

Dagobert Peche was born in Lungau, Austria in 1887. He wanted to be a painter, but his older brother Ernst claimed that role, so Dagobert went to Vienna in 1906 and trained as an architect at the Technische Hochschule. In 1911, at a banquet honoring Austrian architect Otto Wagner on his seventieth birthday, he met Josef Hoffmann. Peche did freelance textile design for the Wiener Werskätte from 1912 to 1915, when Hoffmann invited him to become a full member. In 1917, after a brief, unsuccessful stint in the  army, Peche moved to Zürich to take charge of the new Wiener Werkstätte branch there.

Wiener Werkstatte, ZurichWiener Werkstätte shop, Zurich, 1917

Peche had gone to secondary school in Stüttgart where became interested in Baroque and Rococo design. He also greatly admired the work of Aubrey Beardsley and was passionate about ornamentation. To Peche’s credit, he incurred the wrath of Adolf Loos by gilding the apples on a tree with gold leaf—unable to see the beauty or humor, Loos fumed that Peche had destroyed a whole year’s crop. In his polemic, Ornament and Crime, written in 1908, Loos wrote that “ornamentation was a grotesque relic of humanity’s unwholesome past.”

Dagobert Peche—Box in the Shape of an Apple, c.1920Dagobert Peche, Box in the Shape of an Apple, c.1920

For the Wiener Werkstätte, Peche designed metalwork, ceramics, mirror frames, glass, textiles, wallpaper, furniture, books and jewelry.

Dagobert Peche—ChairDagobert Peche, Boudoir Chair for an Elegant Lady, 1912

Dagobert Peche—Tea CaddyDagobert Peche, Tea Caddy, 1916

In all these pieces there is a quality of lightness, and a painterly, romantic touch. He integrated ornamentation into his designs, and often camouflaged the object’s function. He was pushing the limits of the Wiener Werkstatte’s philosophy of utilitarian design, but he justified it this way:

It is simply the product of art imposed on craftsmanship. The art enlivens the elements and branches of the craft in which the object to be created requires a certain look. Essentially, all of these are art objects, simply not fine art, for they generally have a function as well.

Dagobert Peche—Bird-shaped Candy BoxDagobert Peche, Bird-shaped Candy Box, 1920

Dagobert Peche—VaseDagobert Peche, Vase, c.1912

Dagobert Peche—Brooch
Dagobert Peche, Brooch, Zurich, c.1917-19

Dagobert Peche—fabric designDagobert Peche, Diomedes, fabric design, 1919

Dagobert Peche—Wallpaper designDagobert Peche, Wundervogel, wallpaper design, c.1914

Unlike the British Arts & Crafts movement which hoped to create a socialist state where excellent design and craftsmanship was universally available, improving the quality of life for all, the Wiener Werkstätte did not have such a clear agenda or widespread support. There was only a small segment of artistically engaged, wealthy Austrians who appreciated their efforts—among them the artist Gustav Klimt. His portrait below is of Eugenie Primavesi who, with her industrialist husband Otto, and cousin Robert, acquired a significant financial stake in the Wiener Werkstätte in 1914.

Gustav Klimt—Portrait of Eugenie PrimavesiGustav Klimt, Portrait of Eugenie Primavesi, c.1913-14

The Wiener Werkstätte closed in 1932. In future posts, Venetian Red will delve more deeply into the exquisite textiles produced by the Wiener Werkstätte and the interesting people, many of them women, who designed them. We can only imagine what amazing things Dagobert Peche would have designed if his life had not been cut short by a tumor misdiagnosed as TB. Toward the end of his life, Peche became nervous and solitary, and, frustrated with designing only for the wealthy, longed to create beautiful design that could be enjoyed by all.

To see many more examples of Peche’s designs and sketches, I highly recommend Dagobert Peche and the Wiener Werkstätte, Yale University Press, published with the Neue Galerie, New York.

Dagobert Peche—PosterDagobert Peche, Poster for Wiener Werkstätte Fashions, c.1919

Dark Day Picks

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Public Art, Sculpture with tags , , , , on July 27, 2009 by Liz Hager

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

The public arts project Hearts in San Francisco was created in 2004 as a fundraiser for San Francisco General Hospital Foundation. Based on the song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” in its first year project included 130 artists. The 5 foot-tall fiberglass base hearts were on view all over the Bay Area for many months, before they went off to their owners. Some have remained in public spaces. Every year since, various artists have created more hearts for auction.  A selection of previous hearts on permanent display, as well as new hearts on temporary display, appear below.

Michael Osborne

420 Montgomery St. SF—Heart by Michael Osborne. Special coins applied to the surface commemorate the Gold Rus and Wells Fargo’s 150 years in San Francisco. Permanent display.

Yerba Buena Gardens, SF—Heart by ExactMosaics. The Painted Ladies design on the front of this heart took over 500 man hours to complete. Permanent display.

Huntington Park, California Street between Taylor and Mason—Heart by Jeanine Briggs. Through the interweaving of salvaged fireplace curtains and wire rope and the shadows they cast on the smooth, shiny surface, evokes the webs of memories and relationships that define us. Through September.

Rebecca fox

Mission Creek Park—Heart by Rebecca Fox. Fox chose the interlocking heart design; it shows off her particular style of metal welding well. Through September.

Wider Connections

Donna Cleveland hearts images

More about Hearts in SF

Other heart locations

Venetian Red Notebook: Robert Franks’ The Americans

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Photography with tags , , on July 24, 2009 by Liz Hager


Robert Frank—Americans 72, San Francisco, 1956

Robert Frank, Americans 72. San Francisco, 1956

“Looking In: Robert Frank’s Americans,” which celebrates the 50th anniversary of the book’s publication, opened at the National Gallery in Washington just days before the Inauguration of our 44th President. In town for the latter event, I stole an hour to see the show, thinking at least it would be enough time to visit with a few old favorites. But I had forgotten the power of Frank’s work to arrest.  They compel you to stop and consider; across time and space, a Frank photograph has an uncanny ability to capture a shared piece of all of our American histories.

Nearly the hour had passed before I realized I was still in the first room. Unfortunately, I had to leave. Fortunately, there will be many more opportunities to see the show, as it will be at SF MoMA until August 23.

It’s hard to believe that the work for The Americans almost didn’t happen. Frank arrived in New York as a working photographer from Switzerland in 1947.  By 1953 he was deeply discouraged, frustrated that, after years of wandering and shooting images, he had been unable to publish his photographs more widely. In the midst of this dispair, he nevertheless recommitted himself to his photographic work.

In 1955 Frank received a Guggenheim fellowship, the first European-born photographer to be so honored. This allowed him the freedom and means to resume documentation of life in the United States. His output, The Americans, published first in France (1958) and then in the US (1959), consisted of 83 photographs culled from the thousands he made largely in 1955 and 1956 while traveling around the country.

As a foreign-born photographer,  Frank was uniquely positioned to peer into post-War American culture and capture its significant features. Among the scenes of everyday life, Frank recorded the particularly American penchant for cars, jukeboxes, gas stations, diners, and the open road. These photographs are compelling statements about what defined us then; in most respects their legacies are with us still.

Americans 72 captures the essence of place, both geographically and emotionally. Although the photo was shot 50 years ago, its location is instantly recognizable to anyone living in San Francisco, for that Victorian corner (like many others) has remained largely unchanged. Today, with no ethnicity a majority, we might lose sight of the fact that the Western Addition was once an African American enclave. The composition and tonality of the image mimic that segregation—the dark figures in the foreground separated by the park walkway from the lightness of the city beyond—although it’s not clear that this was Frank’s intention. The couple’s expressions define the emotional landscape. Unlike many of the subjects of Frank’s photographs, this couple has caught him in the act of photographing.  The woman turns in alarm, worry perhaps; someone has snuck up behind them. Her companion gives Frank a look that might be interpreted as a territorial warning (“back off buddy!”). Or maybe he’s simply scanning the scene, sizing up the potential danger posed by an intruder. With the benefit of hindsight, a lot could be read into this photograph.

Along with cars, jukeboxes, and diners, this scene also defined America in 1956. The Inauguration reminds me that we’ve come a distance since then.

A History of Lace in Seven Portraits: Louis XIV

Posted in Fashion, Fine & Decorative Arts, Lace, Liz Hager, Painting, Sculpture with tags , , , , , on July 22, 2009 by Liz Hager


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

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Louis XIV, 1665
(Chateau de Versailles)

The Sculptor and the Sun King

In April 1665 Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) succumbed to the ongoing entreaties of Louis XIV and went to Paris to work on designs for the east facade of the Louvre, then the royal residence. Everywhere along his route people lined the streets to get a glimpse of the famous artist, then in his 67th year.

A multi-talented artist, Bernini virtually single-handedly created Baroque Rome, in its totality perhaps the most elaborate visual statement of the Counter-Reformation anywhere.  Bernini was a fast-working and prolific artist, whose flamboyant personality was well-suited to hobnobbing with royals, aristocrats and popes in the pursuit of important commissions. In addition to being a virtuoso sculptor, Bernini was an accomplished architect, an expert draftsman, an adept caricaturist, and a designer of ornate fountain displays. He also wrote plays.

Bernini presented some designs to Louis, but ultimately the king rejected the ideas. Bernini soon lost favor at the French court, for he continually praised the art and architecture of Italy at the expense of that of France. Though his architectural pursuits in Paris may have ended in failure, the bust remains as a legacy of Bernini’s greatness as a sculptor.

Hyacinthe Rigaud, Portrait of Louis XIV, 1701
Oil on canvas
(Louvre, Paris)

Charles Le Brun, Portrait of Louis XIV, 1655
Pastels on paper

He re-conceived the art of sculpted portraiture, establishing the standard for a century to come. In contrast to the static Renaissance-style portraiture tradition (itself based on examples of Republic-era Rome), Bernini’s sculptures were highly-expressive renderings of their subjects. In many respects his portraits transcended reality. One sees from the other portraits of the era that Louis was not a particularly handsome individual. He is a foppish man typical of his time and station. Other imbued Louis with a regal quality. Bernini alone ennobled Louis.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Equestrian Statue of Louis XIV,
(Galleria Borghese, Rome)

Louis believed in the “Divine Right of Kings,” that the King was crowned by God and accountable to him alone. Bernini succeeded in capturing the majestic essence of the Sun King. His Louis is certainly dashing, enveloped as he is in the billowing fabric of his cape and the voluminous curls of a wig. But he is also supremely regal, gazing serenely and securely outward with the authority of a divine ruler.

The Lace

Among other accoutrements, Bernini’s Louis wears a lace cravat. In the mid-17th century, the cravat was a popular antidote to the ruff, which was too much of a nuisance to wear with the longer hair styles and wigs that had come into fashion at the French court. Curiously, though, the style was initiated by Croatian soldiers during the 1635 war between France and Spain.  Those cravats caught the eye of the French royalty. Concurrently, the ruff was giving way in many courts to the turned down shirt collar.  A fine cloth provided a natural solution to keeping the collar closed.

Louis XIV was the first to embrace the fashion item wholeheartedly. His “cravatier” reportedly laid out our several cravats from the extensive collection each day for the King’s selection. In time the fashion spread to Charles I’s court in London and from there to the colonies.

Charles Le Brun, Portrait of Louis XIV, 1661
Oil on canvas

The 17th century witnessed the production of the most elaborate and beautiful laces, as demand for lace was robust. Though Venice had led the fashions where lace was concerned in the 16th century, France had a small tradition making mostly inferior quality lace. Valenciennes (then in French-speaking part of Flanders) was already established as a center, though it didn’t reach its peak until the 18th century.

17th c. Versailles LaceBoots trimmed with point coupé, engraving after portrait of Marquis of Cinq-Mars

The French court had always been mad for lace.  With the ascension of Louis XIII, luxury knew no bounds. When Louis XIII married Anne of Austria, the lace ruff, along with other Spanish customs, arrived in France. By the 17th century, cuffs, collars, boot tops and stockings were all trimmed in lace.

Peter Paul Rubens, Anne of Austria, 1625
Oil on canvas, approximately 2.8 x 1.21 feet.
(Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

Is Louis wearing Italian, Spanish or French lace in his Bernini portrait? Throughout early part of the 17th century, various edicts forbad the wearing of Spanish and Italian laces, mostly as a measure to prevent enormous sums of money from leaving the country. The prohibitions were largely ineffectual; the nobles of Louis XIV’s extravagant court continued to wear the more expensive laces. Could Louis the cravat King really have worn inferior product?

Determined to improve the quality of French production, however, Louis’s finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert established Royal Lace Workshops at Alençon and Arras, even importing Venetian instructors to teach the coveted lace-making skills. This was in 1665, precisely the year of the Bernini portrait.

The French effort was going well until religious politics intervened. In 1685 Louis’s revocation of the Edict of Nantes had catastrophic effect on the French lace-making industry. With their rights revoked, Protestants left France in the hundreds of thousands, taking with them knowledge of textile manufacture, including lace making.

Bobbin Lace, Louis XIV periodBobbin Lace, Louis XIV period (1643-1715).

Wider Connections

Rudolf Wittkower—Bernini
Louis XIV in pictures
Croatian cravats
“The Tie That Binds”

Dark Day Picks

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Contemporary Art, Drawing, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Mixed Media, Painting, Photography, Sculpture with tags , , on July 20, 2009 by Liz Hager

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

sculpturesite gallery, 201 Third Street, SF—Mark Chatterley: Beings, Clay Musings on the Human Condition. June 25-August 29. Chatterley’s contemporary sculptures channel elements of the Bronze Age figurative tradition.

Togonon Gallery, 77 Geary St., SF—Ted Lincoln: Plural Notions. Through August 2.  Lincoln’s paintings on rice paper explore contemporary themes utilizing ancient Chinese ink techniques coupled with modern and technology-based materials, including aluminum paneling and aircraft epoxy.

Oakland MuseumThe African Presence in México (1521-1810). A little-known history of African slaves in México, as seen through the visual arts.

A History of Lace in Seven Portraits: Nicholaes Tulp

Posted in Fashion, Female Artists, Fine & Decorative Arts, Lace, Liz Hager, Painting with tags , , , , on July 18, 2009 by Liz Hager


Editor’s Note: This is the fourth installment in VR series on lace in portraiture. Other chapters include Prologue, Beatrice d’Este, Elizabeth I, Louis XIV, Clement III, The Duchess of Alba, Gloria Swanson; or click here to read all posts in the series.

rembrandt—nicolaes-tulpRembrandt van Rijn, The Anatomy Lesson of Nicholaes Tulp,
1632, oil on canvas, approximately 5.5 x 7.1 feet.
(Mauritshuis Gallery, The Hague)

The Painting

The Anatomy Lesson of Nicholaes Tulp marks Rembrandt’s first large commission, painted when the artist was 26 and newly arrived in Amsterdam. Rembrandt was to prove adept at group portraiture, and this painting has the hallmarks of many of his later group works, among them dramatic focal point and dynamic composition. Pictorial prototypes for anatomy lessons were scarce in Amsterdam at in 1632, although Rembrandt may have been familiar with Aert Pieterz’s 1603 example and Piet Mierevelt’s 1616 painting. With this portrait, however, Rembrandt pushed the genre into new territory.

Rembrandt blended spiritual and earthly concerns as no other painter before him. The painting reflects the enormous interest in and advancements made by science during the period. The subject, Nicholaes Tulp, demonstrates the workings of the hand through manipulation of forearm flexor muscle. Though painted during a period of scientific advancement, the painting displays inaccuracies, perhaps in the service of art. While Rembrandt has rendered elements of the dissected arm with with scientific accuracy, the hand of the cadaver does not clench closed as the doctor pulls on the main tendon. Further, the body cavity, which would have been opened first in a true dissection, remains untouched.

Andreas Vesalius, plate from De Humani Corporis Fabrica, 1543

Apparently at Tulp’s own request, Rembrandt portrays him as the Andreas Vesalius of his age, in a pose replicated from the 1543 edition of Vesalius’ groundbreaking work De Humani Corporis Fabrica. Vesalius was hugely influential to Tulp’s generation. As the first doctor to dissect cadavers himself (the previous practice called for a surgeon to dissect while the physician read aloud suitable chapters from an anatomy tract), Vesalius was responsible for most of the anatomy that Tulp would have known.

Rather than the conventional “heads in a row” presentation, Rembrandt has arranged members of the Amsterdam Surgeon’s Guild more dynamically in a semi-circle around the highlighted corpse in various gestures of reaction. Curious given that it’s a dissection, no one looks directly at the body. Compare it to Eakin’s later painting, The Gross Clinic, in which the team is absorbed in their tasks:

Thomas Eakins, Portrait of Doctor Samuel Gross (The Gross Clinic)
1875, oil on canvas, 8′ x 6’6″
(Philadelphia Museum of Art)

The corpse is perhaps the most visually arresting element of the painting, bathed as it is in intense light. The body belonged to an executed criminal, and the painting is generally read as a statement about Tulp’s rendering good from evil.  In the particular pose of this cadaver with its white loin cloth, it is impossible not read into it religious martyrdom, recalling as it does various depictions of the entombment of Christ.

Tulp held the tenets of science and religion as complementary; he firmly believed the practice of anatomy led to a greater knowledge of God. In particular, the hand with its ability to create human civilization was proof to Tulp of divine wisdom.

The Lace

By the end of the 16th century, Holland had thrown off the yoke of Spain and entered her Golden Age. In the 17th century, the Dutch were basking in the success that their  maritime prowess had brought through expanded trade opportunities and far-flung colonies. In 1632 the Dutch East India Company was in its 30th year and flourishing, returning annual profits in excess of 100%. True, Holland, with the rest of Europe, was embroiled in Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648), but a decisive victory against the Spanish fleet was not far off.

Nicholaes Pickenoy, Cornelis de Graeff,
1636, oil on canvas,
(Gemäldegalerie Berlin)

Although lacemaking in Holland never reached the dimensions that it did in Flanders, the Dutch were nevertheless wild about lace. It used not only on garments, but also to decorate household objects, including warming implements. A quaint custom even called for lace around the door knocker of a Dutch home to announce a new born baby. The lace kept the knocker from waking the baby.

The eight figures in The Anatomy Lesson reflect the new economic affluence of the Dutch. The men are depicted in the manner typical of the prosperous burghers of the period—plain tailored suits ornamented with costly and often elaborate collars (a legacy of Spanish fashion). The painting is remarkable for the variety of its neckware—the pleated ruff, the “fallen” ruff, and the rather unostentatious lace-trimmed flat collar worn by Tulp himself. (A clearer version of this particular collar can been seen in Pickenoy’s 1633 portrait of Tulp.) The flat collar could be fashioned into a mini ruff by pulling its string ends closed.

Jan Cornelisz.Verspronck, Portrait of a Girl Dressed in Blue,
1641, oil on canvas, 82 x 66.5 cm
(Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

Tulp’s collar may be a form of “Dutch” lace, which was often used in the 17th century to rim collars. Dutch lace, actually Flemish, was a thick, closely worked, strong bobbin lace, worked in chrysanthemum- or cauliflower-like designs.

The ruff survived longest as an accessory in Holland; it was separated quickly from the shirt and, as such, survived well into the 17th century.  Ruffed and flat dish collars often reached absurd lengths, up to a foot and a half, and special eating utensils required for use with them.

Judith Leyster’s self-portrait notwithstanding, it would be the French who took lace fashion to dizzy heights.

Judith Leyster, Self Portrait,
1630, oil on canvas,
(National Gallery of Art, Washington)

Wider Connections

Masquelet on The Anatomy Lesson
Alison Kettering—Rembrandt’s Group Portraits
Lace and Lace Making in the Time of Vermeer
“Ruffs, ribbons, cravats, and collars”

Venetian Red Notebook: The Art of Reading (and Writing) in Bloomsbury

Posted in Book Review, Christine Cariati, Female Artists, Fine & Decorative Arts, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 17, 2009 by Christine Cariati

CarringtonStracheyDora Carrington, Lytton Strachey, 1916

The Bloomsbury Group of painters, decorative artists, novelists and essayists were also apparently avid readers. Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and Roger Fry painted many portraits of each other, their friends and relations reading, writing and painting. One of their favorite subjects was writer Lytton Strachey, author of Eminent Victorians. Grant, Bell and Fry all painted his portrait, as did Dora Carrington, a great friend of Strachey’s, who chose to keep herself on the fringes of the Bloomsbury circle.

Paintings of people reading are very intriguing. They are quite unlike portraits and self-portraits wherein the subjects make eye contact with the viewer and present how they see themselves, and, perhaps more importantly, how they wish the world to see them. Portraits can be very reassuring, the artist shows us another human face, we look in to their eyes, we recognize something familiar, we connect.

Reading is a solitary, contemplative act—the subject’s gaze is inward, their relationship is with the written word, and we seem to catch them slightly off-guard. The sitter may be deeply absorbed in their book, or perhaps gazing off, lost in thought, musing about what they have just read, or dozing as the book falls into their lap. The artist draws us in to this intimate moment.

Grant, Portrait of Vanessa Bell in an ArmchairDuncan Grant, Portrait of Vanessa Bell in an Armchair, 1915
Yale Center for British Art, New Haven

In some cases we don’t see their face at all, as in Duncan Grant’s Crime and Punishment, below. Grant’s cousin, Marjorie Strachey, (sister of Lytton) is overcome with emotion— she has just finished reading Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, which lies closed beside her on the sofa. Originally titled Despair, the image reverberates with the sense of isolation that pervades the novel.

Grant, Crime & PunishmentDuncan Grant, Crime and Punishment, 1909
Tate, London

Duncan Grant painted Crime and Punishment on board, on the verso is this painting, below, of Lytton Strachey reading a large tome.

Grant, Lytton StracheyDuncan Grant, Lytton Strachey, 1901
Tate, London

James Strachey, the much-younger brother of Lytton Strachey, and later a well-known psychoanalyst, pauses in his reading to reflect.

Grant, James StracheyDuncan Grant, James Strachey, 1910
Tate, London

Leonard Woolf was an author, political theorist and publisher, who with his wife, Virginia Woolf, founded the Hogarth Press in 1917.

Vanessa Bell, Leonard WoolfVanessa Bell, Leonard Woolf, 1940
National Portrait Gallery, London

Winifred Gill was an artist, textile designer, puppeteer and social activist who was an important contributor to the Omega Workshop.

Roger Fry, Winifred GillRoger Fry, Winifred Gill by the Pool at Durbins, 1912
Private Collection

Vanessa Bell’s Impressionist portrait of Lytton Strachey.

Vanessa Bell, Lytton StracheyVanessa Bell, Portrait of Lytton Strachey, 1913
Private Collection

The writer Dame Edith Sitwell, in a contemplative pose.

FryEdithSitwellRoger Fry, Portrait of Edith Sitwell, 1915
City Art Galleries, Sheffield

Another Bloomsbury member, the writer and economist John Maynard Keynes in two portraits by Duncan Grant.

Grant, J.M.KeynesDuncan Grant, John Maynard Keynes, 1908
Provost and Fellows of King’s College, Cambridge

Grant, J.M.KeynesDuncan Grant, John Maynard Keynes, c 1917
Private Collection

Duncan Grant painted this portrait of his and Vanessa Bell’s daughter, Angelica, reading by the stove.

Grant, The Stove, Fitzroy StreetDuncan Grant, The Stove, Fitzroy Street, 1936
Private Collection

Since so many of these portraits were painted by Duncan Grant we will close with this portrait of him reading in the sitting room at Charleston.

Vanessa Bell, Interior with Duncan GrantVanessa Bell, Interior with Duncan Grant, 1934
Williamson Art Gallery and Museum, Birkenhead

In God’s Light: Bellini’s St. Francis (in Ecstasy)

Posted in Christine Cariati, Fine & Decorative Arts, Painting, XC with tags , , on July 15, 2009 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

BelliniStFrancisdetailGiovanni Bellini, St. Francis in Ecstasy, 1480 (detail)
Oil and tempera on poplar panel
The Frick Collection, New York

Giovanni Bellini’s St. Francis in Ecstasy, in the Frick Collection, has been my favorite painting since I first saw it when I was around 13 years old. When I stood in front of St. Francis for the first time it really hit me: art has power. Bellini’s painting reached out to me in a way no other painting had until that moment. It was incredibly beautiful—the composition, the color, the landscape, the compelling figure of St. Francis—everything was in perfect sync. Even on that first viewing, I knew it was rich with meaning, both tangible and symbolic, and that it would draw me back again and again. It made me want to be a painter.

I have a drawer full of post cards of it, most of them now faded and tattered (no matter, this luminous painting, in spite of technological advances, has resisted all attempts at reproduction, no photograph captures the light that emanates from this masterpiece and the color is always off—too cold, too blue, too yellow, too dark.) Every time I visit the Frick, I buy another post card, as witness to the fact that I was fortunate to see it again and because I always want to take a little piece of it home with me. When I lived in New York, I would drop in for a few minutes whenever possible to spend some quiet moments in its light. Now, when I visit New York, it’s always the first stop on my itinerary. (Obviously the Frick is filled with treasures—but St. Francis is always the first and last painting I visit.)

BellinStFrancisGiovanni Bellini, St. Francis in Ecstasy
acquired by H.C. Frick, 1915

Some years ago, I was surprised to notice that the title of the painting had been changed to St. Francis in the Desert. At first, I was tempted to seek an explanation, but then decided I didn’t really want to know—perhaps there was some scholarly reason, the curators deciding that the setting in the desert, with all its powerful symbolism, took precedence; or perhaps there had been some error in translation that was now corrected? What I feared is that the word ecstasy was deemed too potent, too provocative. Below is the definition of ecstasy, and it seems exactly right to me:

Ecstasy: The state of being beside one’s self or rapt out of one’s self; a state in which the mind is elevated above the reach of ordinary impressions, as when under the influence of overpowering emotion; an extraordinary elevation of the spirit, as when the soul, unconscious of sensible objects, is supposed to contemplate heavenly mysteries.

BelliniHandGiovanni Bellini, St. Francis in Ecstasy (detail)

Giovanni Bellini (c. 1430-1560), a master of Venetian art, was from a family of painters. He studied in the workshop of his father, Jacopo Bellini, and in 1483 succeeded his brother Gentile Bellini as painter to the Republic. His brother-in-law was the great Andrea Mantegna. Giovanni Bellini was one of the first Italian painters to master the oil painting techniques perfected in Northern Europe by the early Netherlandish painters, Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden.


bellenishepherdGiovanni Bellini, St. Francis in Ecstasy (details)

In St. Francis, as in his other sacred paintings, Bellini imbues the landscape with spiritual meaning. For Bellini, landscape did not only set the emotional tone and dictate the composition—it was symbolic of God’s presence in all of nature. Set in this profound landscape is the figure of St. Francis, slightly to the right of center, leaning back, arms open, gazing upward toward the mysterious light in the upper left-hand corner. The laurel tree, symbol of Christ’s cross, trembles and glows in this light and leans into the picture, towards St. Francis. The painting is filled with symbols of Christ’s Passion—the skull, the crown of thorns, the Bible, the grapevines. Every rock, animal and flower holds symbolic meaning for the Franciscan scholar. St. Francis stands barefoot, his sandals removed—he is standing on sacred ground.

BelliniLecternGiovanni Bellini, St. Francis in Ecstasy (detail)

St. Francis is believed to have received the Stigmata in September of 1224 on Mount Alverna in the Apennines, where he retreated to pray and fast in preparation for Michaelmas. St. Francis wanted to bear the signs of the Passion so he could better understand Christ’s suffering, and to show gratitude to God for the sacrifice of his Son for humanity’s redemption. Brother Leo, witness to the event, described the moment: Suddenly he saw a vision of a seraph, a six-winged angel on a cross. This angel gave him the gift of the five wounds of Christ.

In Bellini’s painting, we see the signs of the Stigmata, but they are subtle—I see this painting not as a narrative of the event, but as a portrait of St. Francis in communication with the divine. There are two sources of light in this painting—one, the diffuse naturalistic glow that bathes the entire landscape. Every particle of air, every creature, rock and flower, vibrates with a translucent inner light. Then there is the supernatural light emanating from the upper left hand corner—this is not the powerful light that Brother Leo describes that transmitted Christ’s wounds to St. Francis—this is a spiritual illumination. St. Francis is basking in God’s light and presence—this is the “still point in the turning world” that T.S. Eliot evokes in the first of his Four Quartets, Burnt Norton:

After the kingfisher’s wing
Has answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still
At the still point of the turning world.

stfrancisTorsoGiovanni Bellini, St. Francis in Ecstasy (detail)


Bastille Day & Delacroix’s Erroneous Legacy

Posted in Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Politics with tags , , , , , on July 14, 2009 by Liz Hager


And, if I haven’t fought for my country, at least I’ll paint for her.
—Eugène Delacroix, October 12, 1830, letter to his brother

Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830

Eugène Delacroix, July 28: Liberty Leading the People,
1830, oil on canvas, approximately 11.8 x 8.2 feet.
(Louvre, Paris)

Despite the fact that it does not depict the storming of the Bastille, the image most associated in the public’s mind with this pivotal event is Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People.

The July 14 storming of the Bastille prison by Parisian citizens in 1789 is generally considered to be the start of the French revolution. The riot was more or less a symbolic gesture, as only seven prisoners were held in the Bastille at the time (under Louis XVI’s dictatorial lettres de cachet policy), none them of much political importance. The French Revolution was the first in a series of political upheavals in France that ultimately led to the dissolution of the monarchy and the establishment of the modern system of French Republics.

Liberty Leading the People commemorates the July Revolution of 1830, which toppled Charles X and laid the French monarchy to rest once and for all. Ordered by his brother, Louis XVI, to leave France soon after the fall of the Bastille, Charles eventually returned to Paris to be crowned king in 1824. His short amd inept reign was fraught with controversy. On July 26, 1830, in the wake of rising unrest, Charles issued a series of repressive ordinances, which provoked widespread revolt from the middle class. Thus was established the Second Republic.

In-depth studies of Liberty Leading the People abound. But two aspects are worth mentioning highlighting. First, the effectiveness of the painting’s carefully constructed, muted color scheme, which is punctuated by bright swatches of primary reds, blues and yellows. It simultaneously evokes the realistic haze of a battle site, while issuing rousing and overly romantic call to arms. Then there is the matter of bare-breasted Liberté, who holds the standard aloft. She was to become the standard for Marianne, the unofficial symbol of France, and the purported model for the Statue of Liberty.

Why is she bare-breasted? Many assume that she is an allegory of Greek democracy, and that, as such she naturally mimicked the style of classical Greek statuary. True, Aphrodite (or Venus, the most famous of which is the de Milo) is often depicted bare-breasted.  Yet, the most famous of the Liberté antecedents, Nike, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, is fully-clothed.

Winged Victory (Nike of Samothrace),
ca. 190 BCE, marble, approximately 12 feet high (Louvre, Paris).

It is more likely that Delacroix’s Marianne grew out of Neo-Classical clichés of the sort employed by Delacroix’s teacher, Pierre Narcisse Guérin.

Pierre Narcisse Guérin, Aurora and Cephalus
1810, oil on canvas, approximately 8.4 x 6.1 feet
(Louvre, Paris)

Wider Connections

Eugène Delacroix

French history timeline

July 1830 Revolution

Romanticism in France: Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People


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