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 What is Art?

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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sun 25 Nov 2012, 11:40

That school looks like it would have been much more fun to attend! It even includes some mythical students. It seems position number 11 is up for grabs - maybe it's not too late (if a Toyota car can get in then surely I can too)
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sun 25 Nov 2012, 12:02

There's a Renault, one of the Broons and a chain of dodgy restaurants in there as well so you should be able to slip into the empty space.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sun 25 Nov 2012, 12:09

Ferval's post has come up first, but this is what I originally typed.

Oh heck - oh Lord, even - how on earth am I supposed to respond to *that*?

Peace and contentment? If only. The bunch who go regularly to the BCP service aren't the joy-freaks who go later. If the truth be known we are a sad little group comprised of the aged, the sick, the lonely, plus other assorted losers. Typical old-fashioned Christians, I suppose.

And yes, I do have self-esteem issues, but perhaps most people do, if they're honest.

Oh well, I suppose at this point I'm supposed to have a massive huff, and then exit stage left. I don't really want to, as I want to post something about Caravaggio. Like you, he hated the Catholic church and everything to do with it. In his film of the painter's life, Derek Jarman has a spitting, cursing Caravaggio die just after he's hurled a crucifix across the room ( a desperate young priest was trying to get him to repent). Yet his religious painting was sublime. He was a sinner all right, but nearer to God, I think, than most of them up at the Vatican.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sun 25 Nov 2012, 12:10

It's a Citroen.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sun 25 Nov 2012, 12:32

"Supper at Emmaus" is one of my regular pit-stops when visiting London and has been for years. I still can't get over the fact that (a surprisingly unholey) Jesus, after all he's been through, still sees fit to complain about the food which, after all, he's getting for nothing. An art teacher of mine once postulated that it was an Italian comment on Jewish cuisine. His real assessment of the painting however was based on the masterly application of chiaroscuro, and it is mine too. A truly wonderful painting to view in the flesh and worth the inane comments from the inevitable coterie of deluded individuals who tend to assemble around it that one is bound to overhear if one spends any time in front of it oneself.

Once a guided tour went past and the gallery employee identified the subjects - the sitting ones being surprised disciples and the one standing being the tavern keeper, she said. To which an American inquired "Why ain't he surprised? Ain't he christian enough?". An authoritative voice from within the same group replied, with a worrying amount of satisfaction in his tone, "Don't worry. As I explained in bible class those guys who didn't rejoice were reserved a special place in the fires of hell. They don't worry us any more." A round of "Amens" met this remark (along with one or two muttered "F**ing Jews!") and I think I detected the guide shaking her head a little before forcing a smile back on her face and then marching them off in the general direction of Raphael's "Mond Crucifixion" (the one where Jesus is being tickled by angels as he hangs on the cross). I decided not to follow them.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sun 25 Nov 2012, 13:05

I would have been more inclined to ask about why Jesus morphed into a clean shaven, chubby chops during his sojourn post crucifixion, at least in that version as compared with this one.



And it's a Renault, ask Nicole at Papa.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sun 25 Nov 2012, 13:22

Yes, "Supper at Emmaus" is superb: we are lucky to have it in London.

My favourite Caravagggio is "Penitent Magdalene". Caravaggio caused outrage because he insisted on using real prostitutes as models, including the girl in this picture. She had been publically whipped for her sins just before Caravaggio started the work, and the artist insisted that the pot at her feet (which contained salve the girl had been applying to soothe the weals on her back) remain in the picture. A little touch of genius that.

I like the tilt of her head too - similar to the usual position of Christ's head on the cross. Another inspired touch of genius.

The picture's in Rome.


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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sun 25 Nov 2012, 13:47

This is the left hand panel of Paolo Uccello's triptych,The Battle of San Romano, now housed in the National Gallery in London[the centre and right hand panels are in the Uffizi and the Louvre respectively]. The painting is believed to have been done in 1438-40, and is important in the development of perspective and in that it depicts a secular subject.



The central figure on the white horse and with the funny hat, is Niccolo da Tolentino, commander of the Florentine Army.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sun 25 Nov 2012, 15:21

I learnt that Uccello was a step backwards in terms of placing importance on mathematically configured perspective after all the hard work done by Giotto and a few others. His work is cited as a graphic set of examples of how the commissioners of the works still rather ignorantly and self-importantly placed more value on their likenesses in the finished paintings than in the style or context, and how lazy artists were only too happy to oblige them. As a contemporary of Da Vinci he should have been ashamed of himself. He was capable of much better.

For those who have wondered why people invented the term chiaroscuro for Caravggio's style when artists had been painting light and dark parts of compositions for centuries the Penitent Magdalene is a classic example of his mini-revolution. If one isn't told to look out for it specifically then Magdalene simply has a white blouse on her. If you look at her arms however you will see a huge contrast in the colour and tone of each. Without stopping to analyse anything therefore the viewer's eye has instantaneously discerned to within a matter of millimitres which arm is not only nearer the light source but nearer the viewer, and to a degree with which a real object in real light would struggle to compete. Multiply that technique out over all the surfaces depicted and one has an effect that goes beyond 3-D, it becomes almost a second and invisible character in its own right within the composition, acting as a facilitator to perceptions beyond those associated with vision.

I'm a happy punter. Just been to a jumble sale where i picked up a 1949 Oxford Press hardbound edition of Plato's Socratic dialogues for less than two quid.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sun 25 Nov 2012, 20:11

Temp - this from the Malta Times in May this year might appall you as much as it did me. I knew I never liked that mafia shower.

"Journalist, painter and antiquarian Pierluigi Massimo Puglisi asked the head of the anti-Mafia unit Pietro Grasso if he knew where the painting by Caravaggio dated 1609, Natività con i Santi Lorenzo e Francesco d’Assisi, which was stolen from the San Lorenzo oratory in Palermo in 1969 and never found, ended up?

The anti-Mafia’s head’s reply was a chilling one: “We need more time because the situation is rather complicated, but we believe the painting ended up in the hands of ignorant people who hid it in a pigsty where the pigs ate it.”

The rumours about this disappearance had also been revealed by ‘pentito’ Gaspare Spatuzza towards the end of 2009, but the information was not considered to be trustworthy.

Now the confirmation has come from no less than Pietro Grasso and seems very clear: it is useless for people to expect the painting to be found in some mafia boss’s strongroom, because the painting does not exist any more.

A similar painting would today be sold for not less than €200 million.

Author Leonardo Sciascia wrote a story centred on this theft entitled ‘Una Storia Semplice’. Many mafia officials have, over the years, described a power struggle at the top of the Mafia in Sicily and it would seem that the painting ended up as part of the contention.

Spatuzza said that, in the 1980s, the painting was handed over to the Pullarà clan who hid it in a shed outside Palermo where, without any protection, it was eaten by rats. The remains were then burned. Rats or pigs – the result is the same: it’s another priceless painting that is no more."

Isn't "Grasso" a great name for the head of the anti-Mafia unit? Anyway here's the painting now converted to pig doo doo:

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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sun 25 Nov 2012, 23:04

I knew this altarpiece had been stolen, but I didn't know the rest of the awful story.

He painted another nativity in 1609: "The Adoration of the Shepherds". I find this painting so beautiful that it hurts to look at it. It has been described as "the most tragic of nativities".

Caravaggio's biographer, Andrew Graham-Dixon, considers this picture to be "an uncanny allegory" of the artist's own emergence into the dark world of Milan under plague back in the 1570s - "born to a mother soon to be bereaved, born to be abandoned by all save her...Iconographically, the gnarled and saddened men are Joseph and the shepherds. Emotionally, they are Caravaggio's father, his uncles, his grandfather - all the men in the family he might have had, but lost. Caravaggio's own father's tools had been those of a simple stonemason. Here they are replaced by the equally humble tools of the carpenter, placed with such desolation to the other side of Mary...The picture is almost unbearable."



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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sun 25 Nov 2012, 23:12

No haloes, just chiaroscuro doing the job. I love it.

What I like about the stolen nativity too is the guy in the foreground swinging around and obviously wondering what the hell Larry and Frank are doing there. I'm wondering the same thing myself.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Tue 27 Nov 2012, 10:52

@nordmann wrote:

What I like about the stolen nativity too is the guy in the foreground swinging around and obviously wondering what the hell Larry and Frank are doing there. I'm wondering the same thing myself.

Not sure about this. But the stolen painting was done for the Franciscans - for an oratory in the possession of a confraternity known as the Compagna di San Francesco. Perhaps that's why he included St. Francis. But while in Palermo he had also done a similar work for the Oratorio of San Lorenzo...

Caravaggio was centuries ahead of his time with his use of light and shadow - his "lightning flashes in the darkest of nights". He has apparently been an influence on many photographers and film makers (including Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott and, of course, Derek Jarman). Some interesting interviews here in a Guardian article, Caravaggio: how he influenced my art.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2010/jul/25/caravaggio-scorsese-lachapelle-peter-doig
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Wed 28 Nov 2012, 18:34

So we're agreed that Caravaggio, at least, produced "art" (we are, aren't we?). And not only "art" but great "art" mainly due to his masterly and innovative ability to employ light and shade in his paintings.

So, getting back to the original point of this thread, and bearing in mind that Uccello has already been mentioned both as a superior and inferior practitioner of the "art" of painting by Trike and myself respectively, at what point does "great art" become "less great art", or "bad art" or even not "art" at all? The Jesus representations raise the same question. If a Raphael crucifixion depicts in draughtsman's terms an anatomically correct figure replete with expressiveness and good context, and if a picture from The Watchtower of Jesus's baptism fulfils all the same criteria, why is one "great art" and the other hardly reckoned even a serious or good piece of artwork at all?

I confess I do not have any ready answers to these questions ...
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Thu 29 Nov 2012, 12:19

Well, did you watch "The Dark Ages: an Age of Light"? http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p00zbtmr/The_Dark_Ages_An_Age_of_Light_The_Clash_of_the_Gods/

it was almost as if he had been reading this thread and wanted to put in his tuppenceworth.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Thu 29 Nov 2012, 13:56

I did... a strange fellow, I'm glad you included the link. It went some way to at least explain some of the points being discussed here.

I shall look forward to watching it again... and again if needed.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sat 01 Dec 2012, 00:07

nordmann asks, at what point does "great art" become "less great art", or "bad art" or even not "art" at all?

If the question encompasses all forms of expressive creativity; music, poetry, literature, even architecture and design and so on there ought be an answer and, of course, far beyond me to define. However, would timelessness be considered part of it? By which I mean appreciation that overrides ephemeral fashion and self conscious critique. At a guess, a copy of the Watch Tower interpretation of a religious scene pinned on a wall is less likely to outlive a copy of Raphael's work even if nothing of either artist is known. Depth of talented enlightenment shines out of great work. In a very different context, I recall once hearing a computer programmer's way round a problem called elegant when compared to others on the same task.... called a 'list' at that time. When I asked why I was told it could be compared to the way a good composer or artist resolves the eloquence of expression; concise, inclusive,complete - and original......I am interested in what others think makes for great art.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Mon 03 Dec 2012, 13:49

@Priscilla wrote:
Depth of talented enlightenment shines out of great work.

Absolutely. I think enlightenment is the key to genius - whether in art, music, literature or the dance. Mastery of technique is talent. Caravaggio was great, not just because of his clever, innovative technique, but because he could combine that brilliant technique with enlightenment - something which for me at least means - paradoxically - a *questioning* and an *attempt* at understanding. Or sometimes just an invitation to contemplate what cannot be understood. When you get that combination - enlightenment, plus complete mastery of technique - in any of the arts - you get the sublime. I suppose in some "primitive" art you see enlightenment even if the technique is crude. Such work can also be deeply moving. Mere technique without enlightenment however makes for dull stuff - clever and competent maybe, but wooden and lifeless.

But how to explain all the popular crap - stuff which passes for "art", but which is actually sentimental and shallow? But am I straying into the realms of art snobbery with that comment? Who, after all, is to say what is "sentimental and shallow"? And my "sublime" can be meaningless to someone else - or worse - just pretentious crap.


PS I thought Waldemar Januszczak looked very hot and uncomfortable in that dark shirt and black jacket. He panted terribly as he trailed round all those temples. He should have worn a cool linen suit and a nice panama hat (like Diarmaid MacCulloch when he did his Origins of Christianity). I hope WJ is wearing something more sensible in tomorrow's programme.


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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Tue 04 Dec 2012, 08:38

I've been mulling this over since I posted above - thinking what an unsatistactory attempt at defining "great" art my comments were. Enlightenment is certainly part of the story, but not all.

Some famous portrait work is undoubtedly "great", but was perhaps more concerned with propaganda, politics or flattery than enlightenment. How many superb artists, working to commission for powerful clients, actually strove, as Titian claimed he did, to "capture the intention of the soul"? Holbein certainly, but even he had to be very, very careful as to what he revealed - and what he hid. Holbein, of course, was the master of the anamorphic image - often dismissed as a "party trick", but a technique that leaves me open-mouthed with wonder.

Then there's the problem of the "dirty" picture. Some art was technically brilliant, but did it border on the obscene rather than the great? There were many representations of classical themes offered as titillation for wealthy clients: Titian's "poesies" - beautiful classical nudes which he painted for Philip II of Spain - spring to mind. And what on earth are we to make of Francois Boucher's (attributed) incredible "Leda and the Swan" (1740 picture, not his later toned-down version of the same theme) - it has been described by one art critic as being little more than arty soft core porn. It is so explicit that I don't like to post it here - not at breakfast time anyway (google Leda and the Swan Boucher images and you'll easily spot the picture I mean). The antics of that bird! He makes Roy Hudd's Emu look well-behaved - and as for Leda!! I can't imagine having a reproduction of *her* in the sitting-room (good conversation piece though, I suppose).

But is it great art?

Here's the rather more discreet Rubens's version - Lord, what hefty thighs he's given Leda.



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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Tue 04 Dec 2012, 11:07

Quote :
Then there's the problem of the "dirty" picture.

Since this is such a culturally specific judgement, 'dirty', it's led me to wonder, is there any art that is considered 'great' cross culturally, and not because of its financial value or reputation but because of its intrinsic qualities?

Another question is, does the viewer, reader or listener have to be educated in the field to appreciate the 'greatness' of a piece of art? The Mona Lisa for instance is so often considered a disappointment to visitors to the Louvre when seen in the flesh whereas other works, some Degas perhaps or many nativities, seem to be enjoyed widely. Must great art be 'difficult'? The problem, I suppose, is the concept of what is 'beautiful', is this also entirely culturally constructed?

No answers from me, I'm afraid, just more questions.

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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Tue 04 Dec 2012, 15:55

Wish I hadn't put "dirty" now - should have said "erotic". "Dirty" sounds - er - dirty.

Some good questions there, ferval, but no answers from me either. What is beauty indeed? And what would - say - a Chinese art critic *really* think of the Rubens overweight, beefy Leda?

I've been looking at some more Ledas. I very much like this one from Man Ray, but ask me to explain why and I would be flummoxed (Norman, if you are reading this I bet you will *hate* it ):












But this one makes me giggle - it's awful. Crash landing coming up with those huge webbed feet!



But Tintoretto gets it just right - erotic, but elegant. There's a beauty here that Boucher completely misses with his vulgar Playboy Leda. Lovely drapery too - those beautiful folds and the sheen of the fabric add to the sumptuous classiness of the scene. And the swan's plumage is so soft and white. I absolutely love this one.




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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Tue 04 Dec 2012, 16:23

Oh dear, poor Leda looks thoroughly disgusted with herself in the Ray, unlike the Boucher where she looks thoroughly ........... satiated.

The second is, to my mind, smuttier than the Boucher though: that carefully placed arm and tactfully positioned legs. Is the swan Benny Hill in disguise?
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Tue 04 Dec 2012, 16:35

Have you been looking at the 1740 Boucher, ferval? He did another one which isn't so bad. The 1740 picture is so smutty I daren't post it. There are some very amusing comments about it in various art blogs.

I'm about to watch the 2012 Turner Prize programme. Whether I get to the end of it or not remains to be seen...
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Tue 04 Dec 2012, 17:15

Yes, that's the one, where the swan seems to have a close look at the lady's garden. You have a very filthy mind Temp, the lady is just having a nice rest after a good lunch and the swan's tired after its lengthy migration.
The other's the one where the swan has not been getting sufficient bread and appears to be trying to substitute milk. Actually, that one has an S&M feel about it which I find quite disturbing.

edit - I've just noticed the Tintoretto, there's something very odd about her right shoulder.


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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sat 08 Dec 2012, 12:11

Leda is one of several classical themes which lent itself to the production of paintings intended for private ownership by collectors who placed a high value on assembling works of erotic art. It became, from the Renaissance on, almost an industry in its own right, second only to religious commissions and portraiture for generating livelihoods for hundreds of painters, and even produced painters we now consider great whose reputations were established in that genre first as well as others who simply specialised in that genre throughout their entire careers. Nowadays, with all these great collections split up and the works normally now seen in galleries mixed up with other genres and the context in which they all once made total sense now almost impossible to detect, it is very difficult to gauge the actual relationship they once had, not only with the other genres of their day but with the societies that assigned them a value (often a great value) and in particular the expectations and beliefs of their initial audiences.

Another trap for the modern observer is to fail to identify what actually constitutes erotica in post-Renaissance terms, or at least how the definition has changed over the centuries. Nudity, for example, is most definitely not the key, as any cursory review of popular art from the medieval to the modern day reveals. Nor is reference to sexual lust alone, a device often disguised only thinly and incorporated into other themes from the religious (check out Mary Magdalene or Adam and Eve over the years) to the documentary (Fall of Rome etc). True erotica to those who were commissioning and executing the works of which some of the Leda portrayals are excellent examples was not simply an image which excited sexual arousal but which challenged the viewer to place that experience into a broader context, be it an invitation to consider himself absorbed into an ancient and mysterious classical age with facets no longer understood or approved of in their contemporary society, or sometimes even to see that arousal in a moral context, and not always a good one at that either. Basically, it was the elevation of sex to a theme worthy of contemplation in its own right. That was what made it radical, and as a radical departure what also made it shocking.

A painting which is regarded by many as exemplary in that respect, as well as an example of erotica's transition to a big money enterprise supported by some of Europe's richest and most powerful people, is "Amor Vincit Omnia" by Carravaggio (there's that man again). We look at it now and probably wonder how it could ever have been regarded as erotica at all, though in its day it was so erotic that its commissioner and owner, Marquis Vincenzo Giustiniani, was horrified when word got out about it during the feud shortly after between Caravaggio and Baglione. He went to the extreme of inviting his cardinal brother round to vet the painting, and according to the story then revealed it piece by piece from under drapes, promising to destroy it should the cardinal condemn it at any point. Not only did the brother like it but he then went off and took advantage of the enmity between the two artists to himself commission from each further erotically themed paintings, a development which then kick-started a fashion and trade in such art over the next few centuries.

Its eroticism, as you can see, is not in its central figure, the cupid. It is in the broken and disregarded devices used to gratify our senses strewn on the floor beneath him. "Love Conquers All" (a quotation from Virgil) has been subverted into "an abandonment to love (lust) destroys the gratification of all our other higher senses". Nowadays this would be rightly seen as a very clever anti-pornography statement. Then its reference alone to sexual abandonment was shockingly erotic. The cardinal opted for the moralistic interpretation and then swiftly commissioned even more shocking examples for himself. Leda, amongst others, suddenly got a new lease of life.

Here's the painting so shocking that it had to be revealed an inch at a time to a church leader:

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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sat 08 Dec 2012, 12:46

Thank you for that nordmann. I can understand the discarded symbols of the baser instincts - the armour, crown, laurels - but music? Is it intended to suggests that the emotional appeal of music is somehow debasing or is it a metaphor for something else?
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sat 08 Dec 2012, 13:09

The point is generally understood to mean that "all" means "all" and that none of the items should be seen as base at all, in fact the opposite in this case. The items on the floor have been interpreted as the passions and achievements of the man who commissioned the painting, Vincenzo Giustiniani, who then was a very high ranking Venetian with properties extending to Chios and other Greek territories yet to be taken by the Ottomans. He saw himself as a protector of ancient Greek values, wrote extensively on music, philosophy and astronomy, and the pure white satin sheet is said to represent his family's strong ties with the Catholic upper hierarchy. He loved this painting and prized it over all the rest of his collection, though whether he saw it as a warning never to give in to lust, or as a hugely romantic declaration of what he had risked when pursuing his Florentine wife, we don't know.

The painting remained behind drapes for the rest of the time he owned it. Favoured guests were shown it as a final dramatic "piece de resistance" on tours of his galleries. Others knew exactly what he thought of them by being denied a chance to view it. Its fame locally is hard to believe at this remove, it became almost more famous than its owner. Baglione attempted to purchase it once after Giustiniani's death (in order to destroy it, by his own admission) but it was rescued by someone who paid way over the odds for it and put it in his own private collection of erotica - Pope Innocent X.

English Catholics were admitted entrance to Innocent's private galleries when on visits to Rome so we have an account by the Civil War diarist Richard Symonds describing how Innocent had placed it amongst a series of erotic paintings in his Vatican quarters. It seems to have then been sold to Frederick the Great as part of another pope's spring cleaning (ie. periodic profiteering that they did when they took office) and can be seen now in the Germalde Gallery in Berlin.


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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sat 08 Dec 2012, 14:02

Ah, I see, I've inverted the whole meaning. Now cupid's expression, it's the look on the face of a child who has spitefully broken something of value, makes sense.

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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sat 08 Dec 2012, 14:28

He's also scratching his bum while smilingly challenging someone to tell him to stop. And that's not just my interpretation. In the court trial in which Baglione accused Caravaggio of libel based on the latter's accusations that the former was ripping off his style and subjects, Baglione derisorily remarked that he at least did not portray cupids doing such gross acts.

In one of history's great little ironies Caravaggio's painting now hangs in Berlin right beside Baglione's "Sacred Versus Profane Love", the very first version which so obviously ripped off "Love Conquers All" and which started all the acrimony between them. During the court case the magistrate was taken to view both and remarked that Caravaggio had a point, suggesting that if Baglione was as great an artist as he believed he could knock up another version which did not mimic Caravaggio's style so exactly.

Baglione, who won the case and had Caravaggio imprisoned, nevertheless obliged the magistrate and did a second version of "Profane" which now hangs in Pope Urban's Gallery of Antique Art in the Barberini Palace in Rome. Have a look at Satan in it - the face is Caravaggio's.



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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sat 08 Dec 2012, 15:02

"Profane"... I find that quite a scary picture.

But I have to say I have seen this long ago, as a poster on the wall of a student of the Royal College of Music in Kensington, in the late seventies. He claimed it represented a drug-induced dream... the fallen cupid has his spliff in his right hand, and lies back, sated, drugged, stunned whatever... while the avenging "angel" (in a hallucinatory dream?) trys to nick his spliff ... A demon, aka the bad trip, looks on and awaits his entrance.

Well that was how it was explained to me in 1979.

Just goes to show that each and every generation will make their own interpretation. But at least people are still discussing, re-evaluing, re-inventing their interpretations. Maybe that is an aspect of "great art' too.

Sorry, I'll go get my coat ... and my g'n't.

You can keep the spliff.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sat 08 Dec 2012, 15:17

In the days before moving pictures were even dreamed possible a gesture, pose or composition which could be interpreted four or five ways was as good as it got. Artists actually prided themselves on what used to be termed fluidity of gesture and actively attempted to include it on as many levels as possible within a work. Baglione, had he lived long enough to hear the spliff interpretation, might well have considered that an extreme compliment, though have been a little aghast if your student friend had arrived at it as a final definition of his work.

It annoys me when someone presents a "definitive" interpretation of an art work, especially one produced in the time when avoiding such over-definition was the goal of any artist worth his salt. It either means the artist was inferior, or that the assessor hasn't a breeze which orifice they sound best out of. I suspect the latter.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sun 09 Dec 2012, 14:09

Ah, the black wings of envy and human malevolence...

Karel van Mander's Schilderboek of 1604 includes some pithy remarks on the rivalries that divided Rome's competing factions of artists during the early years of the seventeenth century. According to van Mander, Clement VIII and his papal court commissioned so many new works that they stirred up a frenzy of competition among painters and sculptors: "a new ardour is kindled; lean Envy secretly begins to flap her black wings and everyone strives to do his best to gain the coveted prize."

The dark wings of Caravaggio's Cupid certainly fanned the flames of Baglione's envy - and those of his malevolence. His second Divine Love was an attack all right and a particularly nasty one: according to Andrew Graham-Dixon, the picture shown above, with its skulking Satanic Caravaggio and his cowed and cowering Cupid, the pair caught in flagrante, was a "vicious visual accusation of sodomy".

Whatever the reality of Caravaggio's relationship with Cecco di Caravaggio, the young model and general assistant ( he was the servant who prepared the artist's paints and canvases) who had posed as the Cupid in Omnia vincit amor, Baglione's smears were damaging and dangerous. Sodomy was a capital crime in Clement VIII's Rome, and, although the authorities were unlikely to investigate the well-connected Caavaggio's sexual behaviour (as long as he was reasonably discreet), the potential harm to the artist's name and prospects was immense. It was a bad business.

Cecco - Caravaggio's gleeful, challenging and provocative street-urchin - crops up in several other paintings. He is a very unlikely John the Baptist, a Baptist who appears to be laughing in delight at the absurdities and hypocrisies of the wilderness of Rome:





But he appears later in a picture that baffles me: David with the Head of Goliath - Cecco is now David, and the head of Goliath is Caravaggio's own. What are we to make of this haunting pair? How Cecco has changed - no longer exuberant and mocking, but older, seemingly now more tired - wiser and sadder. He is a strangely unexultant David - no delight here as he prevails over the powerful Philistine. The forces of good/love/God may have triumphed, but there is precious little joy in it for the young Israelite. Genius defeated?

But perhaps this picture was simply an appeal to its intended owner, Scipione Borghese - the immensely powerful nephew of the Pope - for mercy; was Caravaggio asking for clemency for his various crimes of violence, crimes which may even have included murder? I have no idea. Or does the Christ-like expression of David hint at the larger theological meaning in which the slaying of Goliath was to be understood? Graham-Dixon thinks so:

"David evokes the youthful Christ because the story of David slaying Goliath was often seen as an Old Testament prefiguration of Christ subduing Satan. The inscription on the blade of the sword held by David spells out the letters H.O.C. S. This is the acronym of a phrase from Saint Augustine's commentary of Psalm 33, in which he remarks that 'As David overcame Goliath, this is Christ who kills the Devil.' The Latin phrase used by Augustine is 'humilitatis occidit superbiam' - 'humility kills pride.' "

I don't know about that - all I do know is that there is something terrible in Caravaggio's anguish: the severed head still appears still to be alive, but to be alive like one of the damned souls glimpsed by Dante - an outcast moaning for ever in torment. David can only pity the defeated Goliath - which perhaps makes the torment worse.





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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sun 09 Dec 2012, 14:39

In Bernini's trials some decades later the use of accusations of sodomy in papal-controlled Rome was revealed for what it was. At one point Bernini produced a list of all public figures he could think of who had had this charge levelled against them in living memory and appealed to all intelligent observers to ask themselves what this meant - either that every man who ever lived indulges in the practise or that the fear of being labelled a sodomiser was simply something that could be utilised by anyone in pursuit of power or wealth who wished to remove an opponent. The tactic worked in that Bernini escaped conviction on that occasion though the truth of his defence was evident from the fact that his own reputation never recovered from the accusation.

During this list our friends Caravaggio and Bagniole of course received a name check but perhaps understandably, given the hatchet job Bagniole had conducted all his life, even after Caravaggio's death, it was Bagniole who even then was presented as the man most sinned against. We now know there was little in it either way - neither man, whether sodomising boys or not, could ever hold moral ground higher than the other.

A more interesting list would have been of great artists of the period and place who had quite literally got away with outright murder, sometimes on several occasions. Bernini did not examine this aspect of morality however as he himself would have been topping the list in all likelihood. Both Caravaggio and Bagniole however would have been running a close second.

I often wish this aspect to these "great masters", in addition of course to a brief summing up of the commissioner in each case, placing an emphasis on the actual events which surrounded each work when it was created, would give casual observers of these works now hanging in august and reverential surroundings a slightly more accurate insight into exactly what they're looking at.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sun 09 Dec 2012, 19:27

Bernini.

What is art?

This is.





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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sun 09 Dec 2012, 20:54

And speaking of Bernini, what is his 'Ecstasy of St Teresa' saying? Surely the angel/cupid is a sibling of Caravaggio's mischievous, amoral child? There's almost that same expression but if the arrow is that which pierces her heart with the divine rapture of union with Christ, what is the embodiment of lust doing holding it? Is Bernini implying something? I've rambled on before about medieval religious women using meditative imagery with an arguably sexual aspect; Is he perhaps nodding discretely at that? Or am I over-interpreting?

Oh heck, that's all questions.

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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sun 09 Dec 2012, 21:36

Big difference between cupids and angels, and also between arrows and spears. According to Teresa's own autobiography the angel repeatedly stabbed her with the spear (fire-tipped, for extra effect) in the heart and entrails, dragging both out of her with each thrust. I think Bernini catches the cold sadism very well indeed, though I suspect he was aiming for divine benevolence or something similar. Where he had to be extra careful was in the surrounding statues which are of Cardinal Cornaro and his family watching on like spectators at a theatrical event. He had to be sure that the wife and mistresses were not grouped together and also that none of them looked too feminine. The statues used commonly be described as "Cardinal Cornaro with others watch on ...".

A much more beautiful statue was found while excavating the foundations of the very same church, the Cornaro Chapel in the Santa Maria della Vittoria, when it was being built in 1602 - the Borghese Hermaphrodite by Polycles (ca 155BCE) which can now be seen in the Louvre. Personally if I had to choose between the two lassies ...



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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sun 09 Dec 2012, 22:07

Still getting my breath back from Homeland - did you see tonight's episode, ferval?

Here's a good article from Simon Schama on Bernini which you and nordmann may find interesting.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2006/sep/16/art
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Sun 09 Dec 2012, 23:25

No, Temp, I've recorded it, I had a presentation to prepare for tomorrow. Are you watching The Killing? I love it as well but I'm not sure I can cope with the adrenalin from the two series as they ratchet up the tension..
We're due another Graham-Dixon series to stimulate a different set of brain cells entirely. I think my next venture will be to do some Art History.

I'll read Schama tomorrow when I'm in a more receptive mood, bed is more attractive right now.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Mon 10 Dec 2012, 10:24

@ferval wrote:
And speaking of Bernini, what is his 'Ecstasy of St Teresa' saying? Surely the angel/cupid is a sibling of Caravaggio's mischievous, amoral child? There's almost that same expression but if the arrow is that which pierces her heart with the divine rapture of union with Christ, what is the embodiment of lust doing holding it? Is Bernini implying something? I've rambled on before about medieval religious women using meditative imagery with an arguably sexual aspect; Is he perhaps nodding discretely at that? Or am I over-interpreting?

Oh heck, that's all questions.


Not just the women - here's Caravaggio's St Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy:







This is a calmer sort of ecstasy - *definitely* more comfortable to look upon than Teresa's embarrassingly painful abandonment. A gentle swooning, rather than a violent paroxysm. One does not feel such a voyeur. But the principle is surely the same. Caravaggio, like Bernini, is contemplating one of the strongest and most intense strains of Counter-Reformation spirituality: the idea of a transfiguring love of Christ, a love so deep that it becomes a form of mystic self-annihilation - akin to the "little death", as the French so tactfully put it. That comparison is something we all struggle with today, I suppose - we just don't "get it" - even those people who like to think of themselves as being ""religious". It's just too uncomfortable - even embarrassing - for us, this provocative mingling of the sexual with the sacred (similar thing happens when one reads the Song of Songs). It is so much easier to raise eyebrows, and analyse with a knowing post-Freudian snigger or two.

The angels are so confusing, too - the one in Caravaggio's "Rest on the Flight to Egypt" completely baffles me. Graham-Dixon is no help with this one: he simply says that "the alluring and mysterious angel, sensuality and divinity entwined, splits the picture like a bolt of lightning."





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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Mon 10 Dec 2012, 10:32

That's ok - the post-Freudian snigger is a passing phase like any other. Just like as in art criticism.

For really hilarious reviews of Caravaggio et al read Ruskin - and the sun shone out of his nether regions in his day!
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Mon 10 Dec 2012, 10:35

His wife didn't think so.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Mon 10 Dec 2012, 10:50

To be honest there were very few who thought so privately. But it was emperor's clothes syndrome. Daring to diss the rusk was committing social suicide in its day (though Wilde enjoyed it very much).
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Mon 10 Dec 2012, 11:04

Wilde's best comment on a work of art was his remark on seeing William Powell Frith's huge - and hugely popular - Derby Day. Wilde said of this piece: "Is it really *all* done by hand?"



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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Mon 10 Dec 2012, 16:35

As you said, Temp, my ramblings over on the 'Bubonic plague' thread are probably better off here:

Meles meles - on the 'Bubonic Plague' thread - wrote:
Ah now, the magnificent but somewhat disturbing paintings of Hieronymous Bosch ... I know he lived a century later than the Black Death itself, but nevertheless he does rather capture that sense of mortal fear, chaos and panic when Hell is opened, and the horsemen of the apocalypse and all Satan's demons are unleashed on Earth ... At least it must have seemed something like that to most of Europe's population in 1347. Their world truely turned upside down.

But Bosch's 'Garden of Earthly Delights', .... is it great art? Or is it just the highly imaginative scribblings of a competent artist - albeit stuffed full of religious, secular, moral, classical and contemporary symbolism? But then of course it was presumably commissioned as a religious work since it is was painted directly onto the panels of a portable folding alterpiece. It's in the Prado now but is it known who originally ordered the work?




Fantastic imagery - literally - and more than just competently painted. But I'm rather drifting away from the 'Bubonic Plague' thread and into 'What is Art?' Sorry

Embarassed

So ... is Bosch good art too? And if not, why not?

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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Mon 10 Dec 2012, 17:38

Bosch was really a lad called Jehronimus von Aken - he was called Bosch only because he came from that town with the delightfully eccentric name in southern Holland, "'s-Hertogenbosch". I worked in Den Bosch for a few weeks once when I was doing a tour of lowlands rubber cheese factories and it's really very nice.

And very strange historically.

It was home in the 14th century to an outfit who called themselves Illustre Lieve Vrouwe Broederschap (The Illustrious Brotherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary) who were ostensibly anyone who fancied the wooden statue of BVM in the local church, but who also had an elite within them called "the swan brotherhood" made up of clerics, aristocats and university graduates. von Aken's father and grandfather, despite being none of these things, had been "swans" and so too became Jheronimus in his turn. The reason might well have been another aristocratic family in the district, the van Os. Peter van Os commissioned several works in the style of Bosch which survive (his "Ecco Homo" can be seen in the Getty Museum in New York) and it is quite likely that it was he too who commissioned Bosch's more famous works, of which only 25 survive.

In the 16th century the society grew a little too weird even for the Catholic Church and it was officially disbanded, though it is well known in Den Bosch that it carried on regardless as a very secretive sect with even more secret rituals and theological departures from the mainstream - a sort of religiously psychadelic freemason outfit. Bosch's paintings and a few others in the same style are probably the only clue as to what was going on in the private chapels of "'s". One can only shudder at the thought.


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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Mon 10 Dec 2012, 17:42

One too many magic mushrooms perhaps?
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Mon 10 Dec 2012, 17:44

I like his imagery - nothing is wasted symbolically. The artistic version of an historical and theological cryptic crossword.
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Mon 10 Dec 2012, 17:51

@nordmann wrote:
The artistic version of an historical and theological cryptic crossword.

I like that. Very nicely put if I may say so. And, probably, not very far at all from the truth - whatever the truth actually is!
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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Mon 10 Dec 2012, 18:02

Here is Bosch, circa 1550

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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Mon 10 Dec 2012, 18:06

Apart from Pieter Brueghel the elder, who to my mind never achieves quite the same harmonious whole when depicting utter anarchic chaos (if you get what I mean), HB's paintings do seem to have been fairly unique and in a school of their own. Yet I feel he was almost certainly inspirational to the surrealist movement: Gustave Moreau, Georges Seurat and then later René Magritte and Max Ernst. In that respect he was maybe 450 years before his time with very few others, at least of the same artistic calibre, in the years between.


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PostSubject: Re: What is Art?   Mon 10 Dec 2012, 18:14

He had a wicked sense of humour, I'll give him that much.

Another Bosch, The Cure of Folly.



Edit. I love the woman with the book on her head!


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