St John the Baptist | Art for Advent 2C

Luke 3:2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

St John the Baptist in the Wilderness
St John the Baptist in the Wilderness
Oil on panel, 48 x 40 cm
Museo Lázaro Galdiano, Madrid
BOSCH, Hieronymus
(b. ca. 1450, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, d. 1516, ‘s-Hertogenbosch)
Click image for more information.

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Commentary by Hovak Najarian

St. John the Baptist in the Wilderness, c. 1489-1505, Oil on Panel, Hieronymus Bosch, 1450-1516

Until recent times, artists were not preoccupied with styles. Their work gave form to thoughts concerning their physical, emotional, and spiritual worlds; art was (and is) a product of its time and culture. When art became an area of academic study, codification was necessary and terms came into use to describe periods and styles. Today, when the work of an artist of the past is highly individualistic, they are recognized as part of their culture but often are regarded as a precursor of a category that was not yet named during their lifetime. The work of fifteenth century painter, Hieronymus Bosch, falls easily into a classification that today is known as “Fantasy.”

The word “fantasy” brings to mind make-believe and the imagination. In art, it includes a variety of types ranging from the playfulness and humor of Disney to the dream imagery of Surrealism (“beyond the real”). It may include science fiction, mystery, fear, naïve art, and various moods as well. A work of fantasy may seem unusual and we may think the artist is surely quite different from us. Many artists, writers, musicians, and actors, however, work routinely in areas of fantasy but remain anchored to reality. On the face of it, the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch might cause one to think he was at least a little strange, yet from all indications his life was quite normal.

Bosch lived in the Netherlands and his milieu was very different from that of an almost exact contemporary, Sandro Botticelli, who worked in Florence. In Italy, humanism and the work of the Greeks and Romans set the stage for the art of the Renaissance. The Netherlands was farther away from classical influences and in the fifteenth century, lingering aspects of a Gothic world were still present in parts of Northern Europe. While Botticelli was making paintings such as, “The Birth of Venus,” Bosch’s themes focused on morality. He painted everyday people in scenes that were sometimes satirical and pessimistic; punishment and sin seemed to be a preoccupation. His landscape settings include typically medieval-like imagery of imaginative oddities and beasties that interact with people or, at times, carry on in a world of their own. A lot of side action usually takes place in his paintings.

An oft-depicted version of John the Baptist is that of an intense person clothed in animal skins and a caveman-like appearance. In motion pictures he may be shown as a bellicose man preaching in a shouting manner. In contrast, Bosch’s depiction shows John as a quiet, gentle, and thoughtful person. John, the forerunner of Christ, exists in a fantasy landscape and seems to be at peace as he leans against a rock and points to a lamb. Viewers in his time would recognize the lamb as a symbol of Christ and understand the connection

Note

Surrealists of the twentieth century looked upon Hieronymus Bosch as a kindred spirit. Unlike the Surrealists, however, Bosch’s paintings were not an outgrowth of dreams, chance occurrences, or interest in the paranormal. Bosch’s work seems unconventional to us today but in his time and place he was known as an imaginative moralist and a well regarded, artist.

Hovak Najarian © 2012

Cross Formed by Clouds | Art for Advent 1C

Luke 21:27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.

Christ on the Cross Formed by Clouds
Christ on the Cross Formed by Clouds, 1734
Oil on canvas, 73 x 52 cm
Gemäldegalerie, Dresden
Louis de SILVESTRE,
(b. 1675, Sceaux, d. 1760, Paris).
Click image for more information.

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Commentary by Hovak Najarian

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Christ on the Cross Formed by Clouds, 1734, Oil on Canvas, Louis de Silvestre, 1675-1760

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In the motion picture based on Irving Stone’s novel, The Agony and the Ecstasy, Michelangelo was asked by Pope Julius II to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo resisted. He worked on the fresco for a short time and then left. He went into hiding and while the Pope was trying to locate him, movie goers were given “the inspiration scene.” Michelangelo was on a mountain when he saw clouds come together to form an image of “The Creation of Adam.” Being given a sign and a direction, he returned to paint the Chapel’s ceiling. The scene in the movie was the result of creative license but we all have had moments when we noticed images in rock formations, reflections, or even in mechanical objects. Leonardo da Vinci suggested artists use these images as points of departure when developing compositions for paintings. Louis de Silvestre did just that and his title, “Christ on the Cross Formed by Clouds” lets us in on the source of his inspiration.

Louis de Silvestre, a French artist of the Baroque Period, excelled in portrait painting. His patrons were primarily the wealthy noble class; among his patrons was Louis XV, King of France. He accepted a position of honor as painter at the court of Augustus II, King of Poland and worked there primarily as a portraitist for thirty years.

“Christ on the Cross Formed by Clouds” contrasts greatly from the rich color and baroque style found in de Silvestre’s portraits. The painting is simple in composition and subdued in its colors. There is no Roman soldier with a spear at the base of the cross or angels in the sky. Mary is not there nor are there people standing nearby in despair. None of the additions that artists have included typically in the crucifixion can be found in de Silvestre’s painting. Christ is alone. If we were not given the fact that it was painted in 1734 it would be difficult to place it in a time frame and it would be equally difficult to determine the artist. The style is neither characteristic of the baroque period nor of de Silvestre’s usual style. “Christ on the Cross Formed by Clouds” is related stylistically to some aspects of early nineteenth century Romanticism and would not seem out of place in an exhibit of early twentieth century Surrealism. There is a sense of mystery in its starkness. Louis de Silvestre was not interested in painting a series of cloud studies as did John Constable. It was this single unusual cloud formation that received his attention. Scientists could explain undoubtedly the cause of the phenomenon but for de Silvestre it was an inspiration. The cloud served as a catalyst to a spiritual moment that he painted to share with others.

Note

“Pareidolia” is the psychological term used to describe the seeing of images such as animals in clouds, faces in rock formations, or the familiar man in the moon; such observations seem to be an innate human response and universal. In 1996, the face of Mother Teresa was discovered on a cinnamon bun (dubbed the “nun bun”). An image of Jesus discovered on a grilled cheese sandwich was placed on eBay in 2004 and sold for $28,000. There tends to be an increase in religious image discoveries during holidays.

On the Way | 11/29/15

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Incredulity of St Thomas | Art for Easter 2

Incredulity of St Thomas
Incredulity of St Thomas
1572
Oil on panel
Santa Croce, Florence
VASARI, Giorgio
(b. 1511, Arezzo, d. 1574, Firenze)
Click image for more information.

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Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Incredulity of St. Thomas, Oil on Panel, 1572, Giorgio Vasari, 1511-1574

The High Renaissance took place in the last quarter of the fifteenth century and continued into the early part of the sixteenth century. By the time Giorgio Vasari was nine years old, however, many of the noted artists were no longer living. The exceptions were Titian and Michelangelo (who lived to be almost ninety years old). Renaissance advancements in art were now left to be sorted out by the next generation. Vasari regarded himself as part of the Renaissance; believing it continued until the death of Michelangelo (1564) and that he and his generation were part of it. In a broader sense he was correct but art historians today use the term “Mannerist” when referring to sixteenth century artists. Unlike artists of the prior century, it was not necessary for Mannerists to be pioneers in finding solutions to technical problems of art. Instead, they often used their abundant skills to emphasize style, dramatic effect, and virtuosity.

When Vasari was young, his precociousness was noted and he was selected to be schooled with members of the prominent Medici family; as an adult this contact was invaluable to his career. When Cosimo I de’ Medici funded changes at the Church of Santa Croce, Florence, he chose Vasari to be the architect and painter. Vasari painted scenes from Christ’s Passion – as well as events that followed – for the private chapels of the Church; the “Incredulity of Thomas” was painted for the Guidacci Chapel. Thomas, having said he would not believe Christ was resurrected until he himself saw the wounds on his hands and side, is shown with Jesus at a gathering with disciples. Vasari leads our attention immediately to center stage where Christ stands bare-chested with arms wide apart as though to say, “Go ahead, see for yourself.” Thomas examines the wound on Christ’s side as people rush out from a background door to also look. Angels have arrived and are floating above, and cherubs are on either side of the arch. The dramatic lighting and hand gestures of Christ and those in attendance add to the theatricality to this scene.

Note

Giorgio Vasari was immensely famous during his lifetime but now he is cited more often for his writings on the lives of artists. The necessity to rely on secondhand sources at times resulted in a few points of misinformation but on a whole, his work provides invaluable insights into the art and artists of his time.

When reference is made to the “High Renaissance” and the time period is elusive, it may help to know Christopher Columbus was a contemporary of Michelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo. While they were making art, he was sailing. “In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

Hovak Najarian © 2013

Adoration of the Kings | Art for Epiphany C

Adoration of the Kings
Adoration of the Kings
Apse mosaic, 1296, window level:3
Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome
TORRITI, Jacopo
(active c. 1270-1300)
Click image for more information.

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Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Adoration of the Kings, Mosaic, 1296, Jacopo Torriti, (13th Century)

During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries there was an extraordinary growth in the veneration of Mary and many churches honored her name. In France, cathedrals were named Notre Dame (Holy Virgin) and in Rome alone, twenty-five churches were named Santa Maria. The largest of these became known as Santa Maria Maggiore (Saint Mary Major). This ancient church was expanded numerous times and during the late thirteenth century the entire choir area was rebuilt. Jacopo Torriti was commissioned to design the mosaic for its new apse. By this time, Mary had been exalted to the status of royalty and in art she was usually shown seated on a throne. The theme that Torriti chose for the apse mosaic was the coronation of the virgin and its centerpiece was a large medallion depicting Christ placing a crown on the head of Mary. Scenes from the life of Mary are shown below the medallion and among them is “Adoration of the Kings.”

In the Book of Matthew (Chapter 2) an account is given of wise men from the East who – being guided by a star – traveled to Bethlehem, and brought three gifts to the infant Jesus. It is believed these visitors were magi from Persia; men known to be scholars who studied science, mathematics, philosophy, and the stars. Matthew’s account does not indicate how many wise men journeyed to Bethlehem but because three gifts were brought, the assumption has been that there were three.

Torriti’s, “Adoration of the Kings,” depicts Mary with the infant Jesus seated on a throne. An inconspicuous star is to the left of the throne and its rays point directly to the head of Jesus. The three kings with their crowns and splendid robes are raising their gifts as Jesus reaches out like a curious child. The kings, kneeling one behind the other in similar positions, create a sense of visual progression toward the infant; variations are introduced through differences in their crowns, the color of their beards, and the color of their robes. In the large pictorial space above them is an angel. Its active shape and large spreading wings fill the space and balance visually the stable and compact shapes of the kings below. All aspects – gestures, gazes, leanings – of the figures in this mosaic lead a viewer to the infant Jesus. The kings look directly at the child as they kneel and present their gifts while the angel looks at Jesus, extends an arm, and gestures, “Behold!”

Note

Artists before the Renaissance had difficulties when they tried to create a convincing likeness of a child. The face of Torriti’s infant Jesus has the facial features of his mother and a receding hairline. His proportions are like that of an adult’s body reduced in size.

A mosaic is an image created by cementing small pieces (called tesserae) of various hard colored materials – usually of uniform size – to a base such as a wall, floor or ceiling. Materials such as marble, glazed clay and glass have been used traditionally for tesserae and they continue to be used today.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

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