Thursday, July 23, 2009

Edwin Austin Abbey : Paintings


Edwin Austin Abbey : Biography

Edwin Austin Abbey (April 1, 1852 – August 1, 1911) was an American artist, illustrator, and painter. He flourished at the beginning of what is now referred to as the "golden age" of illustration, and is best known for his drawings and paintings of Shakespearean and Victorian subjects, as well as for his painting of Edward VII's coronation."[1][2]. His most famous work, The Quest of the Holy Grail, resides in the Boston Public Library. Abbey was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1852. He studied art at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts under Christian Schuessele. Abbey began as an illustrator, producing numerous illustrations and sketches for such magazines as Harper's Weekly and Scribner's Magazine. His illustrations began appearing in Harper's Weekly at an early age: before Abbey was twenty years old. Abbey was an illustrator with Harper's Weekly from 1871-1874. He moved to England in 1878 where he was made a full member of the Royal Academy in 1898. In 1902 he was chosen to paint the coronation of King Edward VII. It was the official painting of the occasion and, hence, resides at Buckingham Palace. In 1907 he declined an offer of knighthood in order to retain his U.S. citizenship. Friendly with other expatriate American artists, he summered at Broadway, Worcestershire, England, where he painted and vacationed alongside John Singer Sargent at the home of Francis Davis Millet. He completed murals for the Boston Public Library in the 1890s. The frieze for the Library was titled "The Quest for the Holy Grail." It took Abbey eleven years to complete this series of murals in his England studio. In 1908-1909, Abbey painted a number of murals and other artworks for the rotunda of the new Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. His works in that building include allegorical medallions representing Science, Art, Justice, and Religion in the Capitol Rotunda, large lunette murals underneath the Capitol dome, and a number of works in the House Chamber. Unfortunately, Abbey became ill with cancer in 1911 slowing his work. At the time, he was working on the "Reading of the Declaration of Independence Mural" which was later installed in the House Chamber. Abbey was so ill, that his studio assistant, Ernest Board completed the work with little supervision from Abbey. Later in 1911, Abbey died, leaving his commission for the State Capitol of Pennsylvania unfinished. John Singer Sargent, a friend and neighbor of Abbey, and studio assistant Board completed the "Reading of the Declaration of Independence Mural." Abbey's works were installed in the Rotunda and House Chamber. Two rooms from Abbey's commission were left undone, and the remainder of the commission was given to Violet Oakley. Oakley completed the works from start to finish using her own designs. Abbey was elected to the National Academy of Design and The American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1937 Yale University became the home for a sizable collection of Abbey's works, the result of a bequest from Abbey's widow.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Giuseppe Abbati : Paintings


Giuseppe Abbati : Biography

Giuseppe Abbati (January 13, 1836 – February 21, 1868) was an Italian artist who belonged to the group known as the Macchiaioli. Abbati was born in Naples and received early training in painting from his brother Vincenzo. He participated in Garibaldi's 1860 campaign, suffering the loss of his right eye at the Battle of Capua. Afterwards he moved to Florence where, at the Caffè Michelangiolo, he met Giovanni Fattori, Silvestro Lega, and the rest of the artists who would soon be dubbed the Macchiaioli. While his early paintings were interiors, he quickly became attracted to the practice of painting landscapes en plein air. His activity as a painter was interrupted during 1866 when he enlisted again in the army for the Third Independence War, during which he was captured by the Austrians and held in Croatia. Returning to civilian life at the end of the year, he moved to Castelnuovo della Misericordia and spent the final year of his life painting in the countryside. Abbati died at the age of thirty-two in Florence after his own dog bit him, infecting him with rabies. His paintings are characterized by a bold treatment of light effects. He often painted a luminous landscape scene as seen through the doorway of a darkened interior, as in the View from the Wine Cellar of Diego Martelli (1866). Some of his late landscapes are in the greatly elongated horizontal format often favored by the Macchiaioli.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Riza Abbasi : Paintings


Riza Abbasi: Biography

Agha Reza Reza-e Abbasi (also Riza Abbasi) (1565 - 1635) was the most renowned Persian miniaturist, painter and calligrapher of the Isfahan School, which flourished during the Safavid period under the patronage of Shah Abbas I.
He is considered to be one of the foremost Persian artists of all time. He received his training in the atelier of his father, Ali Asghar, and was received into the workshop of Shah Abbas I at a young age.

At the age of about 38 he received the honorific title of Abbasi from his patron, but soon left the Shah's employ, apparently seeking greater freedom to associate with simple people. In 1610 he returned to the court and continued in the employ of the Shah until his death.
His specialty was the Persian miniature, with a preference for naturalistic subjects often portrayed in an effeminate and impressionistic manner,[1] a style which came to be popular during the late Safavid court.

Many of his works depict handsome youths, often in the role of saqi, or "wine pourer," who at times are the focus of the admiring gaze of an older man and according to Louis Crompton, a manifestation of the Persian tradition of "appreciating youthful male beauty" (2003, p.171).

Today his works can be found in the museum that bears his name in Tehran, as well as in many of the major museums of the West, such as the Smithsonian, the Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Pacita Abad: Paintings


Pacita Abad: Biography

Pacita Abad (1946-2004) was born in Basco, Batanes, a small island in the northernmost part of the Philippines, between Luzon and Taiwan. Her more-than-thirty-year painting career began when she travelled to the United States to undertake graduate studies. She had over 40 solo exhibitions at museums and galleries in the U.S., Asia, Europe, Africa and Latin America. She also participated in more than 50 group and traveling exhibitions throughout the world. Abad’s work is now in public, corporate and private art collections in over 70 countries. Abad studied painting at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington D.C. and The Art Students League in New York City. She lived on 5 different continents and working in more than 80 countries, including Guatemala, Mexico, India, Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan, Mali, Papua New Guinea, Cambodia and Indonesia. Her early paintings were primarily figurative socio-political works of people and primitive masks. Another series was large scale paintings of underwater scenes, tropical flowers and animal wildlife. Pacita’s most extensive body of work, however, is her vibrant, colorful abstract work - many very large scale canvases, but also a number of small collages - on a range of materials from canvas and paper to bark cloth, metal, ceramics and glass. Abad created over 5,000 artworks and painted a 55-meter long Alkaff Bridge in Singapore and covered it with 2,350 multicolored circles. Abad developed a technique of trapunto painting (named after a quilting technique), which entailed stitching and stuffing her painted canvases to give them a three-dimensional, sculptural effect. She then began incorporating into the surface of her paintings materials such as traditional cloth, mirrors, beads, shells, plastic buttons and other objects.


Hans von Aachen: Paintings


Hans von Aachen: Biography

Hans von Aachen (1552, Cologne - March 4, 1615, Prague) was a German mannerist painter.

His name is derived from the birth place of his father, Aachen in Germany. Other variations of the name include Johann von - and - von Achen and various concisions like Janachen, Fanachen, Abak, Jean Dac, Aquano, van Aken etc.

Hans von Aachen began painting in Germany as a pupil of the Flemish master E. Jerrigh. He then moved to Italy in 1574 to study further. He toured Rome and Florence, but eventually settled in Venice. He initially became a pupil of Kaspar Rems, but soon decided to develop his own mannerist technique, by studying Tintoretto and Michelangelo's followers. However, during all of his life he was influenced by the style of Bartholomeus Spranger and Hendrick Goltzius who dominated the art scene in Germany at the time.

He returned to Germany in 1588 where he became well known as a painter of portraits for noble houses. He painted several works for Duke William V of Bavaria. He married Regina, the daughter of the composer Orlando di Lasso in Munich. In Munich he came into contact with the Imperial Court in Prague. In 1592 he was appointed official painter of Rudolph II, Holy Roman Emperor. However, Von Aachen only moved to Prague in 1601, where he stayed painting commissions from Emperor Rudolph II who conferred knighthood on him in 1605.[1] Von Aachen continued working on commissions under the newly appointed ruler, Matthias I.

Amongst van Aachens pupils were Peter Isaak and Joseph Heinz. His works have been copied by Wolfgang Kilian, Dominicus Custos and Jan Sadeler.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Herb Aach: Drawings


Herb Aach: Paintings


Herb Aach: Biography

Herb Aach was recognized by the New York art scene of the 1960s-80s for his individual and unique use of color. Born in Cologne, Germany in 1923, Aach studied painting as a young boy with expressionist Ludwig Meidner (1884-1966), for whom he also served as atelier boy, until Nazi persecution forced his immediate family to flee to New York, where he arrived in 1938. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1942 and became a United States citizen in 1943. The Army sent him back to Europe where he later served in Military Government in Kassel, Germany. Upon his return to New York in 1946, he resumed his art studies at The Brooklyn Museum Art School with John Ferren and Rufino Tamayo. He would always consider himself an American painter. In 1948, after marrying, he moved to Mexico for two years to study art at the Escuela de Pintura y Escultura in Mexico City.
It was in this period that, in part due to the influence of John Ferren, Aach acquired the strong preoccupation with color that shaped the rest of his career. For nearly 10 years, between 1954 and 1963, he experimented with and consolidated his thinking about color, developing a style he called color expressionism in the relative isolation of Hazleton, PA, where while formulating paints for the Art Crayon Company, he gained access to otherwise unobtainable pigments. A note on the back of one painting from this period reads "This is most likely the first painting to use the new Monastral reds, yellow, and blue shades, developed by Dupont. Pigments were lab samples prior to plant production given to me and began use on April 30, 1958." He made his own paints and packed them with pigment, and by the mid 1960s, because of their intensity and inner light, he turned to fluorescent pigments.
Aach continued to develop these ideas on his return to New York in 1963. He began teaching at Queens College in 1965, where he taught studio courses and color theory. Seeking a purer framework in which to explore color relationships, Aach abandoned the sensuous brush strokes of his earlier paintings and began working with larger regions of color (see Three Muses). He quickly became a favorite of students and was featured in the 1968 yearbook in a special section entitled "We love you Mr. Aach!" By 1969, he began working out a theory of color through experiments that featured large series of paintings whose colors and shapes were programmed. Color relationships were central, built on innate physiological predispositions, and color was therefore too important to waste as a mere "label" for establishing objectural references. He credited as influences the impressionists, post-impressionists, and expressionists (thus, e.g., Bonnard Country), whom he revered as having first liberated color from form and subject matter. He also cited Giotto, whose "dry, matter of fact, but not local" color was both non-personal and non-intuitive. Aach produced a major book in 1971 as American editor and translator of the Matthei edition of Goethe's Color Theory, and a major series of paintings in 1974 based on his color theory (see Precession of the Equinoxes). Interested in a fresco-like Giotto surface, he grounded his canvases with thin layers of gesso. Despite the sharp lines between color regions and the optics of joining fluorescent hues, Aach did not feel these were "hard edge" paintings. Instead he believed the edges were overpowered by his highly saturated volumetric colors.
As the 1970s progressed, Aach took part in a broad range of activities. He participated in a series of trips to East Germany under the aegis of IREX (International Research and Exchanges Board) to encourage cultural exchanges with the West, against the backdrop of the ongoing politics of "detente." This gave him the opportunity to study at the Goethe archives in Weimar. He took up an interest in Gothic rose windows. In New York, dissatisfied with the dull and fading blue color used to paint bridges throughout the city, he agitated authorities to use a more uplifting palette. The Madison Avenue bridge on 138th street was ultimately painted lavender on his recommendation, inviting it to be seen as a light and lacy construction rather than as a massive steel bulk, emphasized by the drab blue. In 1979 Aach was diagnosed with cancer. Though weakened by disease, he maintained his busy teaching and travel activities, and when painting became too difficult he still continued to draw (go here for drawings). He died in 1985.

In a catalog to a memorial exhibition at Queens College in 1986, his colleague Louis Finkelstein summarized the achievement of the early "color expressionism" which represented Aach's maturation as an artist:
It is too soon after the artist's death and too abrupt an occasion to trace and to evaluate the many threads of import and development in these works, which represent a limited, but extremely vital, place in Aach's entire oeuvre. His relation to a number of predecessors and contemporaries is manifest. One thinks first of his teacher John Ferren, but also of Pollock, of Pousette-Dart, of Gorky, Rothko, Tamayo, Matisse, Redon, of Manfred Schwartz, and also of Irish manuscripts, Persian textiles, Chinese and pre-Columbian art in many of their forms, so that as a late modern, he is densely located in a cultural tradition. Yet these relations are not simple borrowings. There is not only indebtedness but also repayment and enlargement of that tradition. There is commentary and extension of the world's themes, which remain to be explored and recognized.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Michael Angelo: Paintings


Michael Angelo: Biography

Michelangelo (full name: Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni) was born at Caprese, a village in Florentine territory, where his father, named Ludovico Buonarroti Simoni was the resident magistrate. A few weeks after Michelangelo's birth the family returned to Florence, and, in 1488, after overcoming parental opposition he was formally apprenticed to Domenico Ghirlandaio for a term of three years. Later in life Michelangelo tried to suppress this fact, probably to make it seem that he had never had an ordinary workshop training; for it was he more than anyone else who introduced the idea of the 'Fine Arts' having no connection with the craft that painting had always previously been. His stay in the Ghirlandaio shop must also have coincided with his beginning to work as a sculptor in the Medici Garden, where antiques from their collection were looked after by Bertoldo. Although this connection drew him into the Medici circle as a familiar, the account by Vasari of an established 'school' is now discredited. It must, however, have been Ghirlandaio who taught him the elements of fresco technique, and it was probably also in that shop that he made his drawings after the great Florentine masters of the past (copies after Giotto and Masaccio; now in the Louvre, in Munich, and in Vienna). Michelangelo produced at least two relief sculptures by the time he was 16 years old, the Battle of the Centaurs and the Madonna of the Stairs (both 1489-92, Casa Buonarroti, Florence), which show that he had achieved a personal style at a very early age.

In 1492, Lorenzo de' Medici died. Michelangelo then studied anatomy with the help of the Prior of the Hospital of Sto Spirito, for whom he appears to have carved a wooden crucifix for the high altar. A wooden crucifix found there (now in the Casa Buonarroti) has been attributed to him by some scholars. The next few years were marked by the expulsion of the Medici and the gloomy Theocracy set up under Savonarola, but Michelangelo avoided the worst of the crisis by going to Bologna and, in 1496, to Rome. He settled for a time in Bologna, where in 1494 and 1495 he executed several marble statuettes for the Arca (Shrine) di San Domenico in the Church of San Domenico.

In Rome he carved the first of his major works, the Bacchus (Florence, Bargello) and the St Peter's Pietà, which was completed by the turn of the century. It is highly finished and shows that he had already mastered anatomy and the disposition of drapery, but above all it shows that he had solved the problem of the representation of a full-grown man stretched out nearly horizontally on the lap of a woman, the whole being contained in a pyramidal shape.

The Pietà made his name and he returned to Florence in 1501 as a famous sculptor, remaining there until 1505. During these years he was extremely active, carving the gigantic David (1501-4, now in the Accademia), the Bruges Madonna (Bruges, Notre Dame), and beginning the series of the Twelve Apostles for the Cathedral which was commissioned in 1503 but never completed (the St Matthew now in the Accademia is the only one which was even blocked in). At about this time he painted the Doni Tondo of the Holy Family with St John the Baptist (Florence, Uffizi) and made the two marble tondi of the Madonna and Child (Florence, Bargello; London, Royal Academy).

After the completion of the David in 1504 he began to work on the cartoon of a huge fresco in the Council Hall of the new Florentine Republic, as a pendant to the one already commissioned from Leonardo da Vinci. Both remained unfinished and the grandiose project of employing the two greatest living artists on the decoration of the Town Hall of their native city came to nothing. Of Michelangelo's fresco, which was to represent the Battle of Cascina, an incident in the Pisan War, we now have a few studies by him and copies of a fragment of the whole full-scale cartoon which once existed (the best copy is the painting in Lord Leicester's Collection, Holkham, Norfolk). The cartoon, which is known as the Bathers, was for many years the resort of every young artist in Florence and, by its exclusive stress on the nude human body as a sufficient vehicle for the expression of alt emotions which the painter can depict, had an enormous influence on the subsequent development of Italian art - especially Mannerism - and therefore on European art as a whole. This influence is more readily detectable in his next major work, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. In fact, however, the Battle of Cascina was left incomplete because the Signoria of Florence found it expedient to comply with a request from the masterful Pope Julius II, who was anxious to have a fitting tomb made in his lifetime.

The Julius Monument was, in Michelangelo's own view, the Tragedy of the Tomb. This was partly because Michelangelo and Julius had the same ardent temperament - they admired each other greatly - and very soon quarrelled, and partly because after the death of Julius in 1513, Michelangelo was under constant pressure from successive Popes to abandon his contractual obligations and work for them while equally under pressure from the heirs of Julius, who even went so far as to accuse him of embezzlement. The original project for a vast free-standing tomb with forty figures was substantially reduced by a second contract (1513), drawn up after Julius's death; under this contract the Moses, which is the major figure on the extant tomb, was prepared as a subsidiary figure. Two others, the Slaves in the Louvre, were made under this contract but were subsequently abandoned. The third contract (1516) was followed by a fourth (1532), and a fifth and final one in 1542, under the terms of which the present miserably mutilated version of the original conception was carried out by assistants, under Michelangelo's supervision, in S. Pietro in Vincoli (Julius's titular church) in 1545. Michelangelo was then 70 and had spent nearly forty years on the tomb.

Meanwhile, the original quarrel of 1506 with Julius was made up and Michelangelo executed a colossal bronze statue of the Pope as an admonition to the recently conquered Bolognese (who destroyed it as soon as they could, in 1511). In 1508, back in Rome, he began his most important work, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican for Julius, who, as usual, was impatient to see it finished. Dissatisfied with the normal working methods and with the abilities of the assistants he had engaged, Michelangelo determined to execute the whole of this vast work virtually alone. Working under appalling difficulties (amusingly described in one of his own poems), most of the time leaning backwards and never able to get far enough away from the ceiling to be able to see what he was doing, he completed the first half (the part nearer to the door) in 1510. The whole enormous undertaking was completed in 1512, Michelangelo being by then so practised that he was able to execute the second half more rapidly and freely. It was at once recognized as a supreme work of art, even at the moment when Raphael was also at work in the Vatican Stanze. From then on Michelangelo was universally regarded as the greatest living artist, although he was then only 37 and this was in the lifetimes of Leonardo and Raphael (who was even younger). From this moment, too, dates the idea of the artist as in some sense a superhuman being, set apart from ordinary men, and for the first time it was possible to use the phrase 'il divino Michelangelo' without seeming merely blasphemous.

The Sistine Ceiling is a shallow barrel vault divided up by painted architecture into a series of alternating large and small panels which appear to be open to the sky. These are the Histories. Each of the smaller panels is surrounded by four figures of nude youths - the Slaves, or Ignudi - who are represented as seated on the architectural frame and who are not of the same order of reality as the figures in the Histories, since their system of perspective is different. Below them are the Prophets and Sibyls, and still lower, the figures of the Ancestors of Christ. The whole ceiling completes the chapel decoration by representing life on earth before the Law: on the walls is an earlier cycle of frescoes, painted in 1481-82, representing the Life of Moses (i.e. the Old Dispensation) and the Life of Christ (the New Dispensation). The Histories begin over the altar and work away from it (though they were painted in the reverse direction): the first scene represents God alone, in the Primal Act of Creation, and the story continues through the rest of the Creation to the Fall, the Flood, and the Drunkenness of Noah, representing the human soul at its furthest from God. The whole conception owes much to the Neoplatonic philosophy current in Michelangelo's youth in Florence, perhaps most in the idea of the Ignudi, perfect human beauty, on the level below the Divine story. Below them come the Old Testament Prophets and the Seers of the ancient world who foretold the coming of Christ; while the four corners have scenes from the Old Testament representing Salvation. The Prophet Jonah is above the altar, since his three days in the whale were held to prefigure the Resurrection. On the lowest parts - and very freely painted - are the human families who were the Ancestors of Christ. There can be no doubt that the splendour of the conception and the size of the task distracted Michelangelo from the Tomb, but he at once returned to it as soon as the ceiling was finished, from 1513 to 1516, when he returned to Florence to work for the Medici. (For details on the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel take a guided tour.)

His new master was Pope Leo X, the younger son of Lorenzo de Medici, who had known Michelangelo from boyhood; he now commissioned him to complete the façade of S. Lorenzo, the family church in Florence. Michelangelo wasted four years on this and it came to nothing. In 1520 he began planning the Medici Chapel, a funerary chapel in honour of four of the Medici - two of them by no means the most glorious of their family. The chapel is attached to S. Lorenzo. Leo X died in 1521 and it was not until after the accession of another Medici Pope, Clement VII, in 1523 that the project was resumed. Work began in earnest in 1524 and at the same time he was commissioned to design the Laurenziana Library in the cloister of the same church. Both these buildings are turning-points in architectural history, but the sculptural decoration of the chapel (an integral part of the architecture) was never completed, although the figures of Giuliano and Lorenzo de' Medici set over their tombs, eternally symbolizing the Active and the Contemplative Life, above the symbols of Time and Mortality - Day and Night, Dawn and Evening - are among his finest creations. The unfinished Madonna was meant to be the focal point of the chapel.

In 1527, the Medici were again expelled from Florence, and Michelangelo, who was politically a Republican in spite of his close ties with the Medici, took an active part in the 1527-29 war against the Medici up to the capitulation in 1530 (although in a moment of panic he had fled in 1529) and supervised Florentine fortifications. During the months of confusion and disorder in Florence, when he was proscribed for his participation in the struggle, it would appear that he was hidden by the Prior of S. Lorenzo. A number of drawings on the walls of a concealed crypt under the Medici Chapel have been attributed to him, and ascribed to this period. After the reinstatement of the Medici he was pardoned, and set to work once more on the Chapel which was to glorify them until, in 1534, he left Florence and settled in Rome for the thirty years remaining to him.

He was at once commissioned to paint his next great work, the Last Judgement on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel, which affords the strongest possible contrast with his own Ceiling. He began work on it in 1536. In the interval there had been the Sack of Rome and the Reformation, and the confident humanism and Christian Neoplatonism of the Ceiling had curdled into the personal pessimism and despondency of the Judgement. The very choice of subject is indicative of the new mood, as is the curious fact that the mouth of Hell gapes over the altar itself where, during services, stands a crucifix symbolizing Christ standing between Man and Doom. It was unveiled in 1541 and caused a sensation equalled only by his own work of thirty years earlier, and was the only work by him to be as much reviled as praised, and only narrowly to escape destruction, though it did not escape the mutilation of having many of the nude figures 'clothed' after his death. Most of the ideas of Mannerism are traceable implicitly or explicitly in the Judgement and, more than ever, it served to imprint the idea that the scope of painting is strictly limited to the exploitation of the nude, preferably in foreshortened - and therefore difficult - poses. Paul III, who had commissioned the Judgement, immediately commissioned two more frescoes for his own chapel, the Cappella Paolina; these were begun in 1542 and completed in 1550. They represent the Conversion of St Paul and the Crucifixion of St Peter.

Michelangelo was now 75 years old. Earlier, in 1538-39, plans were under way for the remodeling of the buildings surrounding the Campidoglio (Capitol) on the Capitoline Hill, the civic and political heart of the city of Rome. Although Michelangelo's program was not carried out until the late 1550s and not finished until the 17th century, he designed the Campidoglio around an oval shape, with the famous antique bronze equestrian statue of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius in the center. For the Palazzo dei Conservatori he brought a new unity to the public building façade, at the same time that he preserved traditional Roman monumentality. However, since 1546 he had been increasingly active as an architect; in particular, he was Chief Architect to St Peter's and was doing more there than had been done for thirty years. This was the greatest architectural undertaking in Christendom, and Michelangelo did it, as he did all his late works, solely for the glory of God.

In his last years he made a number of drawings of the Crucifixion, wrote much of his finest poetry, and carved the Pietà (now in Florence Cathedral Museum) which was originally intended for his own tomb, as well as the nearly abstract Rondanini Pietà (Milan, Castello). This last work, in which the very forms of the Dead Christ actually merge with those of His Mother, is charged with an emotional intensity which contemporaries recognized as Michelangelo's 'terribilità'. He was working on it to within a few days of his death, in his 89th year, on 18 February 1564. There is a whole world of difference between it and the 'beautiful' Pietà in St Peter's, carved some sixty-five years earlier.

Unlike any previous artist, Michelangelo was the subject of two biographies in his own lifetime. The first of these was by Vasari, who concluded the first (1550) edition of his 'Vite' with the Life of one living artist, Michelangelo. In 1553 there appeared a 'Life of Michelangelo' by his pupil Ascanio Condivi (English translations 1903, 1976 and 1987); this is really almost an autobiography, promoted by Michelangelo to correct some errors of Vasari and to shift the emphasis in what Michelangelo regarded as a more desirable direction. Vasari, however, became more and more friendly with Michelangelo and was also his most devoted and articulate admirer, so that the very long Life which appears in Vasari's second edition (1568), after Michelangelo's death, gives us the most complete biography of any artist up to that time and is a trustworthy guide to the feelings of contemporaries about the man who can lay claim to be the greatest sculptor, painter and draughtsman that has ever lived, as well as one of the greatest architects and poets. He is the archetype of genius.

Pure fresco was his preferred painting technique; he despised oil-painting, though the now authenticated unfinished Entombment (London, National Gallery) is in oil over a tempera underpainting. The Doni Tondo is in tempera. In sculpture, his usual method was to outline his figure on the front of the block and, as he himself wrote, to 'liberate the figure imprisoned in the marble', by working steadily inwards, with perhaps a few more finished details. Occasionally he made drawings for parts of a figure, and a few small wax models survive as well as one large one, made for the guidance of assistants working on the Medici Chapel figures. The four abandoned Slaves intended for a later version of the Julius Tomb (Florence, Accademia) and the two marble tondi left unfinished in 1505 provide fine examples of his direct carving technique and his consistent use of various sizes of claw chisel. No modelli exist for any paintings or frescoes, and only one cartoon (London, British Museum), made to help Condivi, has survived.

Apart from the works mentioned above, there are others in Florence (Bargello, Santo Spirito - the house of his family, which contains relics of him - and Palazzo della Signoria) and in Siena, Rome (Santa Maria sopra Minerva), and St Petersburg (The Hermitage). There are also some 500 drawings by him, the majority of which are in Windsor (Royal Collection), Florence (Casa Buonarroti), and Paris.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Leonardo da Vinci "Paintings"


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Leonardo da Vinci "The Artist"

Leonardo got his start as an artist around 1469, when his father apprenticed him to the fabled workshop of Verocchio. Verocchio's specialty was perspective, which artists had only recently begun to get the hang of, and Leonardo quickly mastered its challenges. In fact, Leonardo quickly surpassed Verocchio, and by the time he was in his early twenties he was downright famous.

Renaissance Italy was centuries away from our culture of photographs and cinema, but Leonardo nevertheless sought a universal language in painting. With perspective and other realistic elements, Leonardo tried to create faithful renditions of life. In a culture previously dominated by highly figurative and downright strange religious paintings, Leonardo's desire to paint things realistically was bold and fresh. This call to objectivity became the standard for painters who followed in the 16th century.

No slouch when it came to the techniques of the day, Leonardo went beyond his teaching by making a scientific study of light and shadow in nature. It dawned on him that objects were not comprised of outlines, but were actually three-dimensional bodies defined by light and shadow. Known as chiaroscuro, this technique gave his paintings the soft, lifelike quality that made older paintings look cartoony and flat. He also saw that an object's detail and color changed as it receded in the distance. This technique, called sfumato, was originally developed by Flemish and Venetian painters, but of course Super-Genius Leonardo transformed it into a powerful tool for creating atmosphere and depth.

Ever the perfectionist, Leonardo turned to science in the quest to improve his artwork. His study of nature and anatomy emerged in his stunningly realistic paintings, and his dissections of the human body paved the way for remarkably accurate figures. He was the first artist to study the physical proportions of men, women and children and to use these studies to determine the "ideal" human figure. Unlike many of his contemporaries -- Michelangelo for example -- he didn't get carried away and paint ludicrously muscular bodies, which he referred to as "bags of nuts."

All in all, Leonardo believed that the artist must know not just the rules of perspective, but all the laws of nature. The eye, he believed, was the perfect instrument for learning these laws, and the artist the perfect person to illustrate them.


Leonardo da Vinci "The Inventor"

Artists have always found it difficult to make a living off their art. Even a master like Leonardo was forced to sell out in order to support himself, so he adapted his drawing skills to the more lucrative fields of architecture, military engineering, canal building and weapons design. Although a peacenik at heart, Leonardo landed a job working for the Duke of Milan by calling himself a military engineer and outlining some of his sinister ideas for weapons and fortifications. Like many art school types in search of a salary, he only briefly mentioned to the Duke that he could paint as well.

Lucky for Leonardo, he was actually really talented as an engineer. Good illustrators were a dime a dozen in Renaissance Italy, but Leonardo had the brains and the diligence to break new ground, usually leaving his contemporaries in the dust. Like many crackpot geniuses, Leonardo wanted to create "new machines" for a "new world."

Throughout his life he had brilliant and far-out ideas, ranging from the practical to the prophetic. As military engineer and architect to the notorious Cesare Borgia (son of the Pope!), Leonardo proposed creating a dry route across the Gulf of Istanbul, connecting the Golden Horn and the Bosporus with a bridge. Alas, like most great ideas, the bridge plan was squelched by those killjoy engineers, who flipped when they found out how big it was supposed to be. Leonardo watchers got the last laugh, though, because modern engineers have determined that the bridge would have been completely sound. Furthermore, they show its construction would have been entirely feasible, proving yet again that Leonardo was the smartest man ever.

Nearly a century before Galileo, Leonardo butted heads with the challenge of measuring time. For him, the most interesting part was the use of mechanical gears, and he studied them with relish (see "Levers and Gears"). Based on the gear, he came up with loads of different thingamajigs, including the bicycle, a helicopter, an "auto-mobile", and some gruesome weapons of course.

The biggest mechanical bee in his bonnet, however, was water. Recall that nobody had harnessed electricity yet, so water was at that point the ultimate source for power. Leonardo studied all forms of water -- liquid, steam, and ice -- and he had all sorts of swell ideas of what to do with it. He cooked up plans for a device to measure humidity, a steam-powered cannon, many different waterwheels, and oodles of useful industrial machines powered by flowing water. He also devised some highly ambitious plans to revitalize Milan with canals, which he intended to implement with some equally ambitious construction machines. In fact, once he started on the subject of water te couldn't really stop, forever envisioning things like floating snowshoes to walk on water, breathing devices (including a diving hood) and webbed gloves to explore underwater, a life preserver to remain afloat, devices to attack and sink ships from underwater, and an "unsinkable" double-hulled ship and dredges for clearing harbors and channels.


Leonardo da Vinci "The Scientist"

Leonardo the scientist bridged the gap between the shockingly unscientific medieval methods and our own trusty modern approach. His experiments in anatomy and the study of fluids, for example, absolutely blew away the accomplishments of his predecessors. Beginning with his first stay in Milan and accelerating around 1505, Leonardo became more and more wrapped up in his scientific investigations. The sheer range of topics that came under his inquiry is staggering: anatomy, zoology, botany, geology, optics, aerodynamics and hydrodynamics among others.

While greatly influenced by the writings of the ancient Greeks and Romans, Leonardo, unlike many of his contemporaries, saw the limitations of seeking the truth solely in those writings or the Bible. Instead, he took the startling approach of actually observing nature and asking deceptively simple scientific questions like, "How do birds fly?" To finish the bill, he then systematically recorded their solutions in his sketches.

Leonardo certainly had an uncanny ability to observe nature and record it. And to this he added a preternatural, even spooky determination. The first biographer of Leonardo da Vinci, Paolo Giovi, wrote in 1520: "in the medical faculty he learned to dissect the cadavers of criminals under inhuman, disgusting conditions...because he wanted [to examine and] to draw the different deflections and reflections of limbs and their dependence upon the nerves and the joints. This is why he paid attention to the forms of even very small organs, capillaries and hidden parts of the skeleton."

In a study of cervical vertebra shown from different perspectives, Leonardo notes: "[Both] former and contemporary authors have produced written reports [about anatomy] in tormentingly long-winded and confused styles. However, through a concise portrayal from different perspectives, things are described definitively; and to avoid that my gift to mankind could be lost [to time], I teach the technique of reproducing things by printing." These remarks heralded the birth of a new method of scientific study: the systematic, descriptive method of the natural sciences, which was the predominant method of scientific study well into the 19th century.

As his curiosity took him in ever wilder directions, Leonardo always used this method of scientific inquiry: close observation, repeated testing of the observation, precise illustration of the subject object or phenomenon with brief explanatory notes. The result was volumes of remarkable notes on an amazing variety of topics, from the nature of the sun, moon and stars to the formation of fossils and, perhaps most notably, the mysteries of flight.


Leonardo da Vinci "Renaissance Man"

The illegitimate son of a 25-year-old notary, Ser Piero, and a peasant girl, Caterina, Leonardo was born on April 15, 1452, in Vinci, Italy, just outside Florence. His father took custody of the little fellow shortly after his birth, while his mother married someone else and moved to a neighboring town. They kept on having kids, although not with each other, and they eventually supplied him with a total of 17 half sisters and brothers..
Growing up in his father's Vinci home, Leonardo had access to scholarly texts owned by family and friends. He was also exposed to Vinci's longstanding painting tradition, and when he was about 15 his father apprenticed him to the renowned workshop of Andrea del Verrochio in Florence. Even as an apprentice, Leonardo demonstrated his colossal talent. Indeed, his genius seems to have seeped into a number of pieces produced by the Verrocchio's workshop from the period 1470 to 1475. For example, one of Leonardo's first big breaks was to paint an angel in Verrochio's "Baptism of Christ," and Leonardo was so much better than his master's that Verrochio allegedly resolved never to paint again. Leonardo stayed in the Verrocchio workshop until 1477 when he set up a shingle for himself.
In search of new challenges and the big bucks, he entered the service of the Duke of Milan in 1482, abandoning his first commission in Florence, "The Adoration of the Magi". He spent 17 years in Milan, leaving only after Duke Ludovico Sforza's fall from power in 1499. It was during these years that Leonardo hit his stride, reaching new heights of scientific and artistic achievement.
The Duke kept Leonardo busy painting and sculpting and designing elaborate court festivals, but he also put Leonardo to work designing weapons, buildings and machinery. From 1485 to 1490, Leonardo produced a studies on loads of subjects, including nature, flying machines, geometry, mechanics, municipal construction, canals and architecture (designing everything from churches to fortresses). His studies from this period contain designs for advanced weapons, including a tank and other war vehicles, various combat devices, and submarines. Also during this period, Leonardo produced his first anatomical studies. His Milan workshop was a veritable hive of activity, buzzing with apprentices and students.
Alas, Leonardo's interests were so broad, and he was so often compelled by new subjects, that he usually failed to finish what he started. This lack of "stick-to-it-ness" resulted in his completing only about six works in these 17 years, including "The Last Supper" and "The Virgin on the Rocks," and he left dozens of paintings and projects unfinished or unrealized (see "Big Horse" in sidebar). He spent most of his time studying science, either by going out into nature and observing things or by locking himself away in his workshop cutting up bodies or pondering universal truths.
Between 1490 and 1495 he developed his habit of recording his studies in meticulously illustrated notebooks. His work covered four main themes: painting, architecture, the elements of mechanics, and human anatomy. These studies and sketches were collected into various codices and manuscripts, which are now hungrily collected by museums and individuals (Bill Gates recently plunked down $30 million for the Codex Leicester!).
Back to Milan... after the invasion by the French and Ludovico Sforza's fall from power in 1499, Leonardo was left to search for a new patron. Over the next 16 years, Leonardo worked and traveled throughout Italy for a number of employers, including the dastardly Cesare Borgia. He traveled for a year with Borgia's army as a military engineer and even met Niccolo Machiavelli, author of "The Prince." Leonardo also designed a bridge to span the "golden horn" in Constantinople during this period and received a commission, with the help of Machiavelli, to paint the "Battle of Anghiari."
About 1503, Leonardo reportedly began work on the "Mona Lisa." On July 9, 1504, he received notice of the death of his father, Ser Piero. Through the contrivances of his meddling half brothers and sisters, Leonardo was deprived of any inheritance. The death of a beloved uncle also resulted in a scuffle over inheritance, but this time Leonardo beat out his scheming siblings and wound up with use of the uncle's land and money.
From 1513 to 1516, he worked in Rome, maintaining a workshop and undertaking a variety of projects for the Pope. He continued his studies of human anatomy and physiology, but the Pope forbade him from dissecting cadavers, which truly cramped his style.
Following the death of his patron Giuliano de' Medici in March of 1516, he was offered the title of Premier Painter and Engineer and Architect of the King by Francis I in France. His last and perhaps most generous patron, Francis I provided Leonardo with a cushy job, including a stipend and manor house near the royal chateau at Amboise.
Although suffering from a paralysis of the right hand, Leonardo was still able to draw and teach. He produced studies for the Virgin Mary from "The Virgin and Child with St. Anne", studies of cats, horses, dragons, St. George, anatomical studies, studies on the nature of water, drawings of the Deluge, and of various machines.
Leonardo died on May 2, 1519 in Cloux, France. Legend has it that King Francis was at his side when he died, cradling Leonardo's head in his arms.