Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Calendar Pages for October

The Old English name for October is Winterfylleð, Bede says because it contains the first full moon of winter.

Here in California, with our balmy climate (and continuing drought), these illuminations of winter to come are not something to be felt in a realistic way. Plus we are city dwellers so the medieval rhythm of agriculture is as far from us as earth is from the moon.

But for the illuminators of these pages, this life was real, present and very important. Summer may have been over, but farm work never ended.

On the opening folio is a roundel miniature of a man scattering grain in a plowed field.  Behind him are some turreted buildings and a bridge, while above, some hopeful birds are circling.   On the facing folio is a small painting of an ominous-looking scorpion, for the zodiac sign Scorpio.  Below, a tired man is heading home from his labors in the field, carrying a bag on his shoulders.  His dog is bounding before him, and swans can be seen swimming in the river beside.

--> Calendar page for October, with a roundel miniature of a man sowing grain, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 10v 

--> Calendar page for October, with a roundel miniature of a man heading home after his work is done, with the zodiac sign Scorpio, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 11r  (images and text courtesy of Sarah Brigs, British Library). -->

Huth Hours:

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

James Dean. Still Mad About the Boy?

James Dean wasn't a visual artist but he was the icon of disaffected youth for a whole generation. He died today in 1955, and his films are still making money.

 James Dean in a still from Giant. 1955

 The other two roles that defined his stardom were as loner Cal Trask in East of Eden (1955), and as the surly ranch hand, Jett Rink, in Giant (1956).

Dean's enduring fame and popularity rests on his performances in only these three films, all leading roles. His premature death in a car crash cemented his legendary status

Years after the making of the movie, teenagers are still trying for the cool that was James Dean, the poster boy for the tortured netherworld between child and adult.

From Time Magazine: What Price Celebrity

Germaine Greer was "Mad about the Boy "

From the lack of views and comments, I would say that most are not "mad about the boy," if they even know who he was. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Tintoretto, born today in 1518

Jacopo Robusti (September 29, 1518 - May 31, 1594) was born in 1519, the son of a wool dyer; it is from his father's profession that he derived his nickname Tintoretto (little dyer). The tale, probably aprophycal, is that he studied for a few days in Titian's studio, until the old master, seeming his talent, kicked him out.

Early biographers report that Tintoretto worked with a variety of artisans, from muralists to furniture painters, to learn his craft. Although he may also have apprenticed in the shop of a second-tier painter, he was essentially self-taught as an artist. How he got from his beginnings as an artist in the 1540's to his first masterpiece in 1548 is not really known. The early records have been lost, yet the original sources emphasize his intelligence and relentless determination.

Giorgio Vasari, the Florentine artist and writer, disliked Tintoretto's work, yet nevertheless proclaimed he had "the most prodigious brain ever seen in the art of painting." Pietro Aretino, the poet and chief arbiter of taste in Venice, said he was brilliant and headstrong. Carlo Ridolfi, Tintoretto's main biographer, stated that his mind was "filled to the brim with countless ideas" and that "he was always thinking of ways to make himself known as the most daring painter in the world."

John Ruskin during his first visit to Venice wrote: "I never was so utterly crushed to the earth before any human intellect as I was today before Tintoret. Just be so good as to take my list of painters, and put him in the school of Art at the top, top, top of everything, with a great big black line to stop him off from everybody.... As for painting, I think I didn't know what it meant till today."

Christ Washing the Feet of His Disciples. 1547
Tintoretto combined originality with superb technical skills. He was also not afraid to paint big. Only in Venice can one see the full scope of his achievement - for instance, the series of paintings he made for the confraternity of the Scuola di San Rocco between 1565 and 1588. Covering the walls and ceilings of two floors of a large building, the paintings are simply an astonishing tribute to his talent and his prodigious imagination. Although much ot Tintoretto's murals have been lost or destroyed, enough remains for visitors to Venice to come away with the impression that he painted every church and public building in the city.

Two of his early works, now in the Venetian Academy, are Adam and Eve and the Death of Abel, both noble works of high mastery, which leave us in no doubt that Tintoretto was by this time a consummate painter - one of the few who have attained to the highest eminence in the absence of any formal training.

Christ's Baptism.
Several characteristics of Tintoretto's painting technique stand out. One is the relative simplicity of layering in the application of successive strata of paint. A Renaissance painting is built of many layers of different hues that combine to create the desired colors and effects. This is especially true in the paintings of Titian and the other Venetian artists who pioneered the technical and pictorial capacities of oil, a comparatively new medium. Painting slowly over many work sessions, Titian would lay down a series of translucent glazes on his pictures, each layer adding to and blending with the pigments already applied.

Not Tintoretto. He devised a new method that entailed a minimum of layering. Working on top of a substratum of dark pigment, he would, with some exceptions, first paint a middle value of the color of an area of the picture; then he would add broad swaths of brighter or darker intensities of that color to indicate passages in light or shade; finally he would apply the highlights and shadows in large and bold strokes of the brush. (Butterfield, Andrew (2007-04-26). "Brush with Genius". New York Review of Books (NYREV, Inc.) 54 (7). Retrieved 2007-04-18.)

The Origin of the Milky Way. 1570

A comparison of Tintoretto's final The Last Supper with Leonardo da Vinci's treatment of the same subject provides an instructive demonstration of how artistic styles evolved over the course of the Renaissance. Leonardo's is all classical repose. The disciples radiate away from Christ in almost-mathematical symmetry. In the hands of Tintoretto, the same event becomes dramatic, as the human figures are joined by angels. A servant is foregrounded, perhaps in reference to the Gospel of John 13:14-16. In the restless dynamism of his composition, his dramatic use of light, and his emphatic perspective effects, Tintoretto seems a baroque artist ahead of his time.For his phenomenal energy in painting he was termed Il Furioso but for the timeless appeal of his work, he should be termed an Immortal of Art.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Robert Henri at the SJMA, Dickerman Prints, Robert Koch Gallery & lectures at Treasure Island

Tam Gan, 1914

The Failure of Sylvester, 1914

The Beach Hat, 1914

The Laundress

In my generation of art students, Robert Henri's “The Art Spirit,” was required reading. Henri was a leading member of the Ashcan School and one of the most influential artists and teachers in American art of the early 20th century. His philosophical and practical musings were collected by former pupil Margery Ryerson and published as "The Art Spirit" (1923), a book that remained in print for several decades. The spirit of his ideas are still important to artists today:

"It is harder to see than it is to express. The whole value of art rests in the artist's ability to see well into what is before him."
"Art cannot be separated from life. It is the expression of the greatest need of which life is capable, and we value art not because of the skilled product, but because of its revelation of a life's experience."
"Paint what you feel. Paint what you see. Paint what is real to you."
"Different men are moved or left cold by lines according to the difference in their natures. What moves you is beautiful to you."
"There is only one reason for art in America, and that is that the people of America learn the means of expressing themselves in their own time, and their own land."

A dozen of Henri’s oil paintings from his 1914 visit to California are on display at the San Jose Museum of Art. Portraits of everyday working people, including Indians, African Americans and newly arrived immigrants from China and Mexico, are on exhibit at the San Jose Museum of Art. “Robert Henri’s California Portraits: Realism, Race and Region, 1914-1925” runs through Jan. 18 and gives an artist’s view of an anti-immigrant period in California history marked by exclusionary laws and discriminatory legislation. The pieces came to San Jose from the Laguna Art Museum.

Henri considered himself a progressive and celebrated California's increasing diversity but modern eyes may see differently. Pretty Chinese girls and almost stock cartoon portraits of a young African-American boy spell racist to us today; but when looking at his art, as with any artist, it's important to consider the time and place as well as the the artist's intent.

Robert Henri’s California Portraits: Realism, Race and Region, 1914-1925: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, until 8 p.m. third Thursdays. Through Jan. 18. $5-$8; 6 and under free. San Jose Museum of Art, 110 S. Market St. (images courtesy of the SJMA)

More weekend picks at: