Monday, April 12, 2021

Happy Cerealia

Happy Cerealia - This Roman Festival ran from 12th-19th April, for the Goddess of the Grain, Ceres. Women in white ran around with torches, representing Ceres searching for her daughter Proserpina. 

 Ovid mentions that Ceres' search for her lost daughter Proserpina was symbolized by women in white, running about with lighted torches. 

The painting is Spring by Alma-Tadema. 1894

Statue of Empress Vibia Sabina as Ceres. From Ostia Antica, Italy.Statue of Empress Vibia Sabina as Ceres. From Ostia Antica, Italy.

In this scene, a Dionysiac scene plays out with dancing, nudity, and veneration of the grape. The scene is thought to date from the 220s CE.

How the Romans celebrated Spring:

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Fragrances (and smells) of the Dutch Golden Age


While some museums are closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Apollo’s usual weekly pick of exhibitions will include shows at institutions that are currently open as well as digital projects providing virtual access to art and culture.

From fragrant perfumes and spices to the stink of sewage-filled canals, the 17th-century nose had much to contend with. Historic scents waft through galleries of Dutch Golden Age paintings at the Mauritshuis in this multi-sensory exhibition, which sniffs out the links between the olfactory and the pictorial; it will open as soon as coronavirus restrictions in the Netherlands allow (until 29 August). But in the meantime the museum has released a fragrance box, which you can have delivered to your home alongside a digital tour of the exhibition. (Perhaps warn whoever you live with before spraying the scent of ‘17th-century canal’ in your living room.) Find out more from the Mauritshuis’s website.

Experience the exhibition Fleeting – Scents in Colour from home! Especially for anyone who can not wait any longer for the museums to reopen, we created the first interactive virtual see-and-smell tour in the world!

During the tour, Dutch culinary journalist Joël Broekaert and Mauritshuis curator Ariane van Suchtelen take you as a viewer digitally behind the closed doors of the exhibition for a fantastic tour. View and smell the beautiful paintings of the exhibition. The fragrance box contains scent pumps which allow you to smell the scents at the same time that they appear in the tour.

The fragrance box is now available in our webshop and costs €20

Monday, April 5, 2021

Jan van Kessel the elder, Painter of animal, vegetable, mineral & human subjects


Born on this day in 1626, in Antwerp, the incomparable Jan van Kessel. Painted insects (as demonstrated here!), flowers, beetles and caterpillars.

From the Getty: Jan van Kessel II counted his uncle Jan Brueghel the Younger among his teachers. He joined the Antwerp painters' guild in 1645 and specialized in small-scale pictures of subjects gleaned from the natural world such as floral still lives and allegorical series showing animal kingdoms, the four elements, the senses, or the parts of the world. Obsessed with picturesque detail, van Kessel worked from nature and used illustrated scientific texts as sources for filling his pictures with objects represented with almost scientific accuracy. 

Scholars trace many of van Kessel's subjects back to a prototype by some eminent predecessor. Joris Hoefnagel's works inspired van Kessel's sensitive and delicate drawings of insects and flowers, executed mainly in watercolor on parchment. Van Kessel showed a preference for beetles, caterpillars, and butterflies and occasionally arranged caterpillars to spell out his name. The works of his grandfather Jan Brueghel the Elder, Roelandt Savery, and Frans Synders influenced his paintings of animals. His paintings frequently exhibited a fascination with the bizarre, the exotic, and even the grotesque, as in his Cannibalistic Indians. 

Asia, with all its flora, fauna, people, and (especially) insects, because Jan van Kessel. From his fab Four Continents series, 1660s.

Festoon of shells, 1656. Proving for all time that still-life painting can be hilarious. By Jan van Kessel of Antwerp, born OTD in 1626.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Francisco Goya, Spanish painter of the light and the dark parts of the human soul


The Clothed Maja

The Naked Maja
La Maja Desnuda (La maja desnuda) has been described as "the first totally profane life-size female nude in Western art" without pretense to allegorical or mythological meaning. The identity of the Majas is uncertain. The most popularly cited models are the Duchess of Alba, with whom Goya was sometimes thought to have had an affair, and Pepita Tudó, mistress of Manuel de Godoy. Neither theory has been verified, and it remains as likely that the paintings represent an idealized composite. From Wikipedia

The Third of May

Francisco Goya, in full Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes, (born March 30, 1746, Fuendetodos, Spain—died April 16, 1828, Bordeaux, France), Spanish artist whose paintings, drawings, and engravings reflected contemporary historical upheavals and influenced important 19th- and 20th-century painters. The series of etchings The Disasters of War (1810–14) records the horrors of the Napoleonic invasion. His masterpieces in painting include The Naked MajaThe Clothed Maja (c. 1800–05), and The 3rd of May 1808: The Execution of the Defenders of Madrid (1814).

Robert Hughes wrote that " Goya speaks to us with an urgency that no artist of our time can muster. We see his long-dead face pressed against the glass of our terrible century. Goya looking time at a time worse than his."

"He was right: Goya feels like our contemporary. In part, this is thanks to the nightmarish, abject plates of his Disasters of War, which, in hindsight, seem to anticipate the atrocities of mechanized conflict that scarred the 20th Century. For many people, Goya’s etchings even provide a pioneering example of tough, first-hand war reportage: plate 44 of the series, for instance, is entitled “I saw it”.

Although they were not published until 1863, the Disasters date from the second decade of the 19th Century, when Goya was already a mature artist with a reputation as a brilliant court painter and satirist. Years earlier, in 1793, he had suffered a mysterious illness, perhaps a series of strokes, which left him permanently deaf. This had a profound impact on his art, which became increasingly visionary and strange – arguably paving the way for the nihilistic worldview expressed in the Disasters of War. But it was the turbulence, hardship and depravity of the Napoleonic occupation of Spain during the Peninsular War (1808-14), when Napoleon’s brother Joseph Bonaparte was proclaimed Kingking, which actually prompted Goya to make the series. In October 1808, aged 62, Goya was summoned by General José Palafox y Melci to Zaragoza, the provincial capital of Aragon not far from his birthplace where he had trained as an artist. Palafox had become a national hero after inspiring thousands of Spaniards to resist French troops who had laid siege to the city. What Goya witnessed there provided the starting point for the series, which he began two years later, around 1810.

The genius of the Disasters is that they transcend particularities of the Peninsular War and its aftermath to feel universal – and modern. Perhaps this is because, as the British writer Aldous Huxley put it in 1947, “All [Goya] shows us is war’s disasters and squalors, without any of the glory or even picturesqueness.” So should we consider the series as the greatest war art ever created? Wilson-Bareau (curator of the show at the Imperial War Museum in 2014) certainly thinks so. “For me, yes,” she tells me. “I have lived with these prints, which many people consider too shocking, absolutely unbearable, and I find in them – besides the heartbreak and outrage at the unspeakable violence and damage – a great well of compassion for all victims of the suffering and abuses they depict, which goes to the very heart of our humanity.”

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Cherry Blossoms by Basho


A cloud of cherry blossoms;

The temple bell,-

Is it Ueno, is it Asakusa?

How many, many things

They call to mind

These cherry-blossoms!

Very brief –

Gleam of blossoms in the treetops

On a moonlit night.

A lovely spring night

suddenly vanished while we

viewed cherry blossoms

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Palm Sunday, Illustrated Medieval Style


Christ riding into Jerusalem on a donkey with crowds watching, Palm Sunday

Cotton MS Tiberius C VI; the 'Tiberius Psalter'; 3rd quarter of the 11th century-2nd half of the 12th century; (?) Old Minster, Winchester; f.11r 


Entry into Jerusalem and the Last Supper

BL Arundel 157; Psalter; England, Central (Oxford); 1st quarter of the 13th century; f.8v 


The Entry into Jerusalem as depicted in the Benedictional of Æthelwold..BL Add 49598; Benedictional of Æthelwold; 963-984; England, S; f.45v 


Thursday, March 25, 2021

Yayoi Kusama. Mistress of the polka dot


She received the order of culture in 2016

A polka-dot has the form of the sun, which is a symbol of the energy of the whole world and our living life, and also the form of the moon, which is calm. Round, soft, colorful, senseless and unknowing. Polka-dots become movement ... Polka dots are a way to infinity.
—Yayoi Kusuma, in Manhattan Suicide 

On March 22, 2021, Yayoi Kusama turned 92. She began her career in the late 1940’s in Kyoto but in 1957 moved to the United States, inspired by the abstract expressionists. She exhibited her works next to those of Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg.

Kusama's happening at the Statue of Liberty, Liberty Island, New York, 1968 / Image courtesy: Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo / © Yayoi Kusama, Yayoi Kusama Studio Inc.
Born into an affluent family, Kusama started creating art at an early age. An abusive mother and a playboy father left her with a lifelong contempt for male sexual behavior. At the age of 13, she was sent to work in a Japanese military factory, spending her teenage years in what she termed"closed darkness" only lightened by the hallucinations of dots and flowers which she began to experience at the age of 10 or so.

In the 1950's she had an early success in Japan, covering every item that she could with what would become her signature polka dots, based on her childhood hallucinations. But she began to feel that Japanese society was too servile and too scornful of women so she left for first France and then, NY City in 1957.

In New York, she connected with the avant guard, including Eva Hesse, learned how to manipulate her public image through photos of her with her signature colored wigs and heavy make up, as well as colorful, very stylish fashions. However, she did not profit financially and was hospitalized several times from over work. Nevertheless, she was active in arranging numerous public happenings along with performance art and in 1966, participated in the Venice Biennale.

One of the first Infinity Rooms

 In 1973 she returned to Japan where she wrote novels, poetry and short stories. Her art dealer business folded and she again checked herself into a hospital where she eventually took up permanent residence. From this base, she continued to work, producing huge paintings in a "ramped up" style. She was almost forgotten but her career revived in the 1990's with her work in the Japanese pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1993, a dazzling mirror lined room filed with small sculptures of pumpkins. From this work, she began to use the pumpkin as a form of an alter ego. From that time to this, the number of her successful exhibitions is too long to list

Her "Infinity Mirrors' room at the Hirshhorn Museum was the most popular exhibit in the museum's history, so popular that one person broke one of the pumpkins, taking her own selfie. Somebody should have pointed out to the visitor that she was no Kusama.

From an almost unknown, she has become the matriarch of truly avant guard art. Her polka dots and infinity rooms have tapped into the zeitgeist of our culture. While most of those who view her exuberant installations have no idea of the profound philosophical ideas behind them - at least consciously- it is hoped that they are responding in at least a subconscious way. Kusama has said that her spots saved her life; perhaps they can also save some aspect of our threatened culture. Her Infinity Rooms allow people to experience space outside of themselves and possibly both quiet and joy (assuming that they take the ear plugs out long enough to actually interact with the work.) During the 60's, she sent a letter to Richard Nixon....."Our earth is like one little polka dot, among millions of other celestial bodies, one orb full of hatred and strife amid the peaceful, silent spheres. Let's you and I change all that and make this world a new Garden of Eden.... You can't eradicate violence by using more violence." 

Kusama fully embraced Warhol's idea of the artist as celebrity, claiming, "publicity is critical to my work because it offers the best way of communicating with a large number of people... avant-garde artists should use mass communication as traditional painters use paints and brushes."