The Shepherds of Arcadia. Poussin’s most mysterious painting

Nicolas Poussin. The Shepherds of Arcadia
Nicolas Poussin. The Shepherds of Arcadia. 1650. The Louvre Museum, Paris
The painting by Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) “The shepherds of Arcadia” is unlikely to attract your attention in the Louvre as it is. Unless you adore Poussin.
However, if you know the painting’s plot, it becomes almost the most interesting one among all the paintings in the world.
So, what do we see in the picture?
As judged by the name, we see three shepherds and a lady, whose presence doesn’t make much sense.
Obviously, it’s all going on in ancient Greece, as judged by chitons, chaplets and sandals.
And we even know the location. It is a place called Arcadia that looks extremely attractive: curly trees, rocks, and high blue sky.
The shepherds discovered an old gravestone and are trying to read an unknown phrase on it. And here the most interesting thing begins.
The phrase “Et in Arcadia Ego” can be translated as “I also was in Arcadia”.

Arcadia as a clue

To understand its meaning, it is important to make it clear what Arcadia is so famous for.
Arcadia is a real place located in central Greece. In classical times, it was known only for cattle breeding. And shepherding was the main profession.
Shepherds led an ordered life and stayed in harmony with the nature. And gradually, a heavenly image of Arcadia was formed, as a place where people and the nature coexisted in harmony.
And now, the meaning of the mysterious phrase becomes much clearer.
The deceased is kind of speaking to the living — our life is swift-passing, we are all caducous. And even in such a heavenly place as Arcadia death awaits all of us.

Where did the story about the shepherds of Arcadia come from

The most amazing thing is that you won’t find such a plot by any of the ancient authors. Except for Arcadia existed in their times.
For the first time, we see this plot depicted by Poussin’s contemporary Guercino. He unequivocally tells us about the same thing by showing a smouldering skull in close-up — that there is death is even in Arcadia.
Guercino. Et in Arcadia ego.
Guercino. Et in Arcadia ego. 1618-1622. Palazzo Barberini, Rome
And it still remains a mystery, where Guercino took this phrase and the plot from. He didn’t have time to talk about it with Poussin. Guercino left Rome a year before the French artist arrived there.

An early version of “The Shepherds of Arcadia”

Poussin was so fascinated by the painting “Et in Arcadia Ego” that he created his own version. With a skull as well.
Nicolas Poussin. The Shepherds of Arcadia.
Nicolas Poussin. The Shepherds of Arcadia. 1627. The Art Collection of the Duke of Devonshire
And in 20 years he painted another version, which became the most famous one.
It is painted in an extremely recognizable classical style, implying that everything is subject to severe cannons. Everything is idealized. The slim and pretty shepherds. The traditional tricolor: red-blue-yellow.
The heroes are standing almost in a row, so that we can see each of them clearly. The idealized landscape.
Poussin removed the skull, at the same time getting rid of emotional Baroque. And made the plot more romantic and pastoral.
The shepherd girl changes as well. In the first author’s version, she was a frivolous girl baring her breast easily.
However, in the later version, she turned into a stately lady. Pay attention to the fact that her skin is too white to belong to a shepherd girl. Moreover, she is the one to be the least surprised by the discovery.
She put her hand on a young shepherd’s shoulder, as if calming him down and saying that nothing can be done about it, life’s like that.
Nicolas Poussin. The Shepherds of Arcadia (a fragment).
Nicolas Poussin. The Shepherds of Arcadia (a fragment). 1650. The Louvre Museum, Paris
Probably, Poussin turned the shepherd girl into an allegory of wisdom. Which is quite common for the artist.
Appeared in the Renaissance era, allegories completely floated paintings after Poussin’s works.
Girls, depicting Glory, Mercy, Faith, and etc., firmly established themselves in the 17-18 centuries’ art.

The catch phrase “I also was in Arcadia”

Nowadays, the phrase “I also was in Arcadia” or “I was also born in Arcadia” is associated with the work by Poussin only.
This catch phrase was extremely popular in the centuries to follow. It can often be found in poetical works.
But for some add reason, it was ignored by painters.
In the history of art, Poussin’s painting remained almost the only picture depicting this plot (apart from the early work by Poussin himself and Guercino’s painting).
If you know any paintings with the same plot, please write me in comments.
Authour: Oksana Kopenkina

10 incredible works by brave Banksy

Shot from a Banksy movie "Exit through a gift shop", 2010
Shot from a Banksy movie “Exit through a gift shop”, 2010
“The worst crimes are committed not by those who break the rules. But by those who follow them eagerly”.
– Banksy
No one really knows who he is.
Maybe he doesn’t even exist.
Some people suggest that several influential artists are hidden under the Banksy name.
Banksy (presumably born in 1973) gives his own comments on his incognito position : “If you want to be heard, you better wear a mask when speaking”.
His words contradict the familiar world view. Indeed, in this era of smartphones and social networks, almost everyone showcases their lives.
And being Mr. X in this kind of world turns out to be the best way to attract attention. And people really “hear” him.
And the artist finds an extremely eloquent way to “speak” to us.
I suggest that you should look at 10 of the most outstanding of his works and to understand what he wants to “tell” us.

1. A Girl With a Balloon. 2002.

Banksy. A Girl With a Balloon
Banksy. A Girl With a Balloon. 2002. London
A Girl With a Balloon is the most popular work by Banksy. And it became well-known before it was destroyed at the Sotheby’s auction.
For the first time, this graffiti appeared in South Bank area in London in 2002.
Probably, this is the only artist’s work, whose meaning is not known for sure.
A heart-shaped balloon is carried away from a girl by a gust of wind. She is upset, but too calm in NO childish manner. In short, she took her loss philosophically.
A common child would be crying and stamping her feet with annoyance.
The artist himself gave lengthy comments on this work: “When this happens, just leave quietly”.
Which means that he tells us to withstand our losses steadfastly, without strains and hysteria.
Probably, in 2002 he went through his own loss, and this painting expresses some personal experience.
And since we know nothing about the artist, we cannot “read” it to the end.
In this case, everyone chooses what to see in it: hope for the better, discontent with our children growing up too fast or importance of being courageous when facing any difficulties.
This image has become especially popular after an incredible incident.
As early as in 2006, Banksy created the author’s paper copy of the “Girl” using acrylic paints. He inserted it into a gilded frame. Such frames are used for Rembrandt. And sold.
Banksy. A Girl With a Balloon
Banksy. A Girl With a Balloon. 2006. Private collection
And in 2018, this work was put up for bidding. And when the hammer hit for the third time with the words heard: “And 1 million 400 thousand – three! Sold!” – the painting… self-destroyed! Well, almost…
Self-destruction of Banksy painting
Self-destruction of Banksy painting at Sotheby’s auction in 2018
Two-thirds of the paper with the painting was cut into thin stripes by a… shredder inbuilt in the frame.
It turned out that 12 years ago, Banksy was the one to build it into the frame. He expected that one day his painting will be sold at an auction and all he pull have to do is to press a button.
I see all this from the following point of view. In our world, the value of material benefits substantially decreases. We throw things away easily and change clothes every season. Now, the time for works of art has come. And Banksy was NOT the first me to start it.
As early as n the 1960s, artists created lots of paintings using acrylic paints. And they are nondurable and have already drastically faded.
Not to mention Warhol’s silk screen printing: museum workers have no more ideas how to save these works. These are no way oil paints that are almost eternal.
Thus, Banksy has just defined the problem: in 500 years, descendants will unlikely be able to see our art alive. There will be just nothing left of it.

2. Consumer hook. 2006.

Banksy. Consumer hook
Banksy. Consumer hook. 2006. Private collection
Just like “Girl with a Balloon”, Banksy used acrylic paint to create this work in 2006.
It is clear that in this painting the artist is extremely ironic about a consumer’ mind. About those who treat sales with almost religious awing.
Here, Banksy plays on the brink of blasphemy and humor, since he chose the images of Jesus’ loved ones, mourning him at the cross. And put them in front of the “Sale ends today” poster.
Well, the artist has no mercy on us. He puts it clearly that a rat race goods becomes the main reason for being. When people almost pray for brands.

3. Sweeping This Under the Carpet. 2006.

Banksy. Graffiti "Sweeping This Under the Carpet”
Banksy. Graffiti “Sweeping This Under the Carpet.” 2006
A girl in dressed as a maid is sweeping rubbish under the wall. For the firs time, one of the Banksy’s most popular works appeared on the wall of a Gallery in West London in the same 2006.
The artist plays with a metaphor: instead of solving too inconvenient problems, the government just hides them “under the carpet”, since they will affect the reputation of those in power as soon as they become public.
It is difficult to say which exactly problems Banksy had in mind. I can only guess that as early as in 2006, signs of a coming global financial crisis appeared. But no one spoke clearly about a forthcoming collapse.

4. Zebra Stripes Washing. 2008.

Banksy. Zebra Stripes Washing
Banksy. Zebra Stripes Washing. 2008. Somewhere in Mali, West Africa (presumably)
This work is interesting not only because of its meaning, but by an extremely successful image choice as well. A woman is hanging for drying just washed stripes of a … zebra!
It is curious, of course. What is surprising is that this work of Banksy is little known. Probably, because of its location. It appeared in 2008 in a settlement in Mali (West Africa).
Banksy
There are only few photos of this work. Most likely, it has been destroyed long ago. Just because the residents of this half-abandoned settlement have hardly heard anything about Banksy.
So what is the artist’s message?
It’s immediately becomes clear that people of Mali are facing great problems with water.
Meanwhile, the woman in the picture is wasting it. She spends it on the flat nonsense – is washing zebra stripes.
Thus, the artist hints at how easy it is for people from Europe and North America to get water. And how badly people on the African continent need it.
We are used to living in a world of abundance. And some people lack everything in this world, even common water.

5. Mobile Lovers.2014.

Banksy. Mobile Lovers (a fragment)
Banksy. Mobile Lovers (a fragment). Graffiti on a youth club door in Bristol. 2014
Banksy left this graffiti the door of Broad Plains Boys club in Bristol. Here, boys go in for boxing after school instead of hanging out in the street.
Perhaps, once Banksy also used to visit this club. The fact that the artist was born and raised in the English city of Bristol is probably the only known fact from his biography.
The meaning of the work is obvious. In the era of social networks and smartphones, virtual communication replaces real communication.
At the same time, the artist makes the problem even more acute: dependence on online communication is so strong that it can even distract people in love from a kiss! As they say, there is the limit.
Banksy. Mobile Lovers.
Banksy. Mobile Lovers. 2014. A graffiti on a youth club door, Bristol
This work is interesting not only because of its meaning, but by its history as well.
At the time when Banksy painted these graffiti, the youth club was on the edge of being closed. Its owner took off the door from the hinges and brought it into the club. He wanted to charge a small fee showing the work to let the club exist.
 the city authorities confiscated the door and placed it to a museum. The club owner turned out to be a brave man and sued the city mayor!
All this fuss went on until Banksy intervened. In a letter to the club owner, he wrote that he wanted to help his center. Therefore, he insisted that the work should belong to him, but not to the city.
The club owner sold the door with the painting by Banksy for 400 thousand pounds. The youth center was saved.
As good as modern Robin Hood 🙂

6. Steve Jobs Refugee. 2015.

Banksy. Steve Jobs is a refugee.
Banksy. Steve Jobs is a refugee. 2015. Suburbs of Calais, France (refugee tent camp)
Banksy painted Steve Jobs in the suburbs of the French city of Calais. He depicted the billionaire in his iconic black turtleneck. He is holding a knapsack behind his back, and an old model of an Apple computer in his hand.
The painting appeared among the tents of Syrian refugees. In the camp for those, who are waiting whether they will be allowed to live in the EU countries or will be sent home.
Banksy. Steve Jobs Refugee.
Banksy. Steve Jobs Refugee. Suburbs of Calais
Why is Steve Jobs portrayed as a refugee?
The case is that Jobs’s father is an emigrant from Syria.
Thus, the artist’s message is addressed to those who consider emigrants to be strangers who can harm their countries.
But people should think for a moment: if once Steve Jobs’s father had not been allowed to the United States, there would have been no Apple and no several billion of taxes. To say nothing of thousands of job opportunities that appeared thanks to… the son of an emigrant.

7. A Kitten in the Gaza Strip. 2015.

Banksy. A Kitten in the Gaza Strip.
Banksy. A Kitten in the Gaza Strip. 2015
In 2015 in the Gaza Strip, an image of a cute kitten with a pink bow appeared on a destroyed wall.
The contrast turned out to be incredible. A kitten on the back of ruins.
The life of Gaza people couldn’t be worse. During 8 hours a day they have electricity turned off. 90% of water from wells is not suitable for drinking. I’m not talking about thousands of people who died under shellfire.
A piece of this long-suffering land is surrounded by a fence: almost no one is let out. The residents have no opportunity to work in neighboring countries.
Attempts made by international sponsors to link this land with the surrounding world have failed. Construction of a port and an airport that has just begun was stopped by shellfire.
Only trucks carrying humanitarian aid, such as food and soap, are allowed inside this sector. Everything else is prohibited. Even building materials! And it’s simply impossible to rebuild the destroyed buildings .
And the worst thing is that more than half of the population are children. Here, birth rate is extremely high as in any poor country. And there is almost nothing to feed children.
This is a prison, a huge children’s prison. Those who were unlucky to be born here fell into this trap.
And amidst this prison, the Banksy’s Kitten suddenly appears.
The artist again criticizes us with no regret.
People are obsessed with watching cats. While there is such a horrible place in the world.
So, you are free to admire a cat in the middle of this hell. But there is a hope that one day you will look around.

8. “Brexit”. 2017

Banksy. Brexit.
Banksy. Brexit. 2017. Dover, England
In 2017, a huge mural with the European Union flag appeared in Dover. The worker is knocking down one of 12 stars so that cracks are spreading all over the flag.
A year before, 51.9% of UK citizens voted for their country to exit from the EU. Obviously, Banksy decided to be among those 48.1% who were against the exit.
Banksy, graffiti "Brexit". 2017.
Banksy, graffiti “Brexit”. 2017. Dover, England
And again the artist has found an extremely successful place for his work. His huge mural is located near a port in the English Channel.
Dover city by the English Channel is located next to France. When the weather is fine, one can even see the neighbor’s coastline. The countries are close, but decided to live far away from each other.
At the same time, I wonder how Banksy managed to create such a grand-scale work. After all, any actions of street artists are considered illegal. Therefore, they have to create very quickly.
Obviously, he used a rope to go down from the roof. Perhaps, he was not alone. Of course, he used stencil plates like n other works. But you must admit, still it was risky.
Just like Impressionists, he had only 15-30 minutes to create. However, the former had a goal of catching the special light. Banksy has a time limit, since he is in danger of being caught. Well, he managed it this time as well.

9. Merry Christmas. 2018.

Banksy. A boy enjoys "snow" flakes.
Banksy. A boy enjoys “snow” flakes. 2018. Bristol
At the end of 2018, a painting showing a boy appeared on a wall of a common garage in a small town of Port Talbot (Wales). A happy child is catching snowflakes with his mouth.
But when you look around the corner, you see … the next part of the work. And you immediately understand that it’s not snow that is flying on the child, but ash from a burning trash bin!
This time, Banksy decided to speak about ecology. And, as usual he has chosen a perfect place to do this, which ideally suits the message.
In the town, there is a steel plant that covers it with grey ashes from time to time. It’s easy to see smoking pipes not far from this garage.
It is of interest that the garage owner sold this work to a collector for 100 thousand pounds. But under the condition that the work will remain in the city.
Perhaps, it will be able to change the life of the town for the better. And this “snow” in the town will eventually stop.
As you understand, Banksy has made no profit from this work either. After all, the building does not belong to him. And he does not bother about the income from selling his work being earned by another person.
Such an easy attitude to money is captivating, don’t you agree?

10. Rat in a Clock. 2018.

Banksy. A Rat in a Clock
Banksy. A Rat in a Clock. 2018. Manhattan, New York
In 2018, Banksy panted a running rat inside the clock on a Manhattan building.
In general, the rat image is rather common for the artist.
One day, Banksy told a funny story.
One of his friends noticed that rat is an original anagram to “art”. After all, both words consist of the same letters.
Banksy had to pretend that he knew about it all his life. It’s a kind of a confession. Well, the artist may be ironic about himself as well.
In addition, he had got another reason to draw rats.
At the beginning, this unpleasant rodent was more a symbol of illegal art.
Banksy. A Rat in a Clock
Banksy. A Rat in a Clock. 2018. Manhattan, New York
But I think that this rat has another symbolic meaning. Especially in combination with clock.
This is the symbol of the rat race! After all, this metaphor is true for many people ‘ lives. Well, in some countries, a comparison with a squirrel in a wheel is more common.
But in general, it’s about marking time . When living according to “home – work – home” scheme does not allow us to take a step aside, to say nothing of moving forward. And there are a lot of office workers living on the rat race principle in Manhattan.
Now, the clock was removed by the building owners. They want to sell i. City authorities are against. City residents are also for the watch being returned. Who knows, maybe Banksy will intervene here as well.

To conclude: what is the secret of Banksy’s success?

It’s not for nothing that Banksy has attracted everyone’s attention.
The vast majority of graffiti painters wrote their names or the companies’ names in hard-to-read letters. Banksy was going another way.
He painted easily readable images dedicated to acute social and political subjects.
Any passerby, can easily read his painting when seeing it. And still have time to laugh at an ironic image.
It seems strange to me that some people consider him to be a common vandal, whose place is in prison.
Of course, it funny but he brought art back to where it once began. On the walls.
Once it was the cave walls. Now – the buildings walls. And no “third parties” such as museums between the viewer and the painting.
Banksy. Wall Washing.
Banksy. Wall Washing. 2008 (painted over). Lick Street in London
Banksy believes that “it is easier to ask to forgive than for permission”, when he creates his works, WITHOUT asking for permission.
But I think that he does not need to ask to forgive him either. After all, he makes the world a better place. Please go on creating, brave Banksy!
Authour: Oksana Kopenkina

The Renaissance era artists. 6 great Italian masters.

The Renaissance. Italy. XV-XVI centuries. Early capitalism. The country is ruled by rich bankers. They are interested in art and science.
The rich and powerful surround themselves with the talented and wise. Poets, philosophers, artists, and sculptors dialogize with their patrons every day. For a moment, it may seem that wise men really rule people, just as Plato wanted.
The ancient Romans and Greeks weren’t forgotten either. They also built a society of free citizens, where a person was the key value (excluding slaves, of course).
The Renaissance is related to not just replicating the art of ancient civilizations. This is a combination. Mythology and Christianity. Realistic natures and soulful images. Physical and spiritual beauty.
It was just a flash. The High Renaissance period lasted only about 30 years! From the 1490s to 1527. Since the beginning of high noon of Leonardo’s works and up to the looting of Rome.
A mirage of the perfect world faded quickly. Italy turned out to be too fragile. Soon, it wasenslaved by another dictator.
However, these 30 years set the main directions of European painting development for the next 500 years! Up to the impressionists’ movement.
Realistic images. Anthropocentrism (when a Human is the center of the world). Linear perspective. Oil paints. Portrait. Landscape…
It’s incredible, but during these 30 years several brilliant masters worked at the same time. At other times, one of them can be born in 1000 years.
Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Titian were the Renaissance titans. However, it is impossible miss two of their predecessors: Giotto and Masaccio, who made the Renaissance era possible.

1. Giotto (1267—1337)

Paolo Uccello. Giotto da Bondone. Fragment of the painting “The Five Masters of the Florentine Renaissance”. The early XVI century. The Louvre Museum, Paris.
The XIV century. The proto-Renaissance. Giotto is its main character. He is the master who revolutionized the art all alone. 200 years before the
High Renaissance. Without him, the era themankind is so proud of wouldn’t have ever come.
Before Giotto, there were icons and frescoes. They followed the Byzantine canons. Frontsinstead of faces. Flat bodies. No proportions. A golden background instead of a landscape. For example, something like this icon.
Guido da Siena. Adoration of the Magi. 1275-1280. Altenburg, The Lindenau Museum, Germany
And suddenly, frescoes by Giotto appear. With volumetric bodies. With noble people’s faces — old and young. Sad. Mournful. Surprised. Various.
Giotto’s frescoes in Scrovegni church in Padua (1302-1305). Left: Annunciation of St. Anne (Maria’s mother), a fragment. In the middle: Judas kiss (a fragment). Right: Lamenting of Christ (a fragment)
The main Giotto’s creation is his frescoes cycle in Scrovegni Capella in Padua. When this church was opened to the public, crowds of people poured into it. This they had never seen anything like that before.
After all, Giotto had made something unprecedented. He translated the Bible stories into a simple, comprehensible language, which made them much more understandable to ordinary people.
Giotto. Adoration of the Magi. 1303-1305. A fresco in Scrovegni Capella in Padua, Italy
That is exactly what will be many of the Renaissance masters characterized for. Laconic images.Live emotions of the characters. Realism.
Giotto was admired. However, his innovations had no further develop. The international gothicbecame of fashion in Italy.
It would take 100 years for a worthy successor to Giotto to appear.

2. Masaccio (1401—1428)

Masaccio. Self-portrait
Masaccio. Self-portrait (fragment of the fresco “Saint Peter in the pulpit”). 1425-1427. Brancacci Cappella at Santa Maria del Carmine Church, Florence, Italy
The early XV century. The so-called Early Renaissance. Another innovator appear on the stage.
Masaccio was the first artist to use a linear perspective. It was developed by his friend, anarchitect Brunelleschi.
From now on, the depicted world looked like the real one. Toy architecture was now a thing of the past.
Masaccio. Saint Peter Healing the Sick with his shadow
Masaccio. Saint Peter Healing the Sick with his shadow. 1425-1427. Brancacci Capella at Santa Maria del Carmine Church, Florence, Italy
He adopted the Giotto’s realism. However, unlike his predecessor, he already knew anatomy very well.
Instead of Giotto’s block-shaped characters, he depicted well-built people. Just like the ancient Greeks did.
Masaccio. Baptism of the Neophytes
Masaccio. Baptism of the Neophytes. 1426-1427. Brancacci Capella at Santa Maria del Carmine Church, Florence, Italy
Masaccio added expressiveness not only to characters, but to their bodies as well. Human emotions can already be read by their postures and gestures.
For example, like Adam’s masculine despair and Eve’s feminine shame on his most famous fresco.
Masaccio. Expulsion from Paradise
Masaccio. Expulsion from Paradise. 1426-1427. A fresco in the Brancacci Capella at Santa Maria del Carmine Church, Florence, Italy
Masaccio lived a short life. He died suddenly, like his father. When he was 27.
However, he had lots of disciples. The next generations of masters visited Brancacci Capella to learn from his frescoes.
Thus, Masaccio’s innovations were adopted by all the great artists of the High Renaissance.

3. Leonardo da Vinci (1452—1519)

Leonardo da Vinci. Self-portrait
Leonardo da Vinci. Self-portrait. 1512. The Royal Library in Turin, Italy
Leonardo da Vinci is one of the Renaissance era titans. He produced an enormous influence on the painting development.
Da Vinci was the one to raise the status of an artist. Thanks to him, representatives of this profession were no longer simple craftsmen. They became creators and intellectuals.
Primarily, Leonardo made a breakthrough in the portraiture genre.
He believed that nothing should distract from the main image. The look shouldn’t wander from one detail to another. This is how his famous portraits appear. Laconic. Harmonious.
Leonardo da Vinci. Lady with an ermine
Leonardo da Vinci. Lady with an ermine. 1489–1490. The Chertoryiskiy Museum, Krakow
However, Leonardo’s main innovation is that he found a way to make the images look… alive.
Before that, depicted characters looked like mannequins. The lines were clear. All the details were thoroughly painted. A colored drawing could not look alive.
Leonardo invented sfumato method. He shaded the lines. Made the transition from light to dark colors look extremely soft. His characters looked as if they were covered with a faint haze. The characters came to life.
Leonardo da Vinci. Mona Lisa
Leonardo da Vinci. Mona Lisa. 1503-1519. Louvre, Paris
Sfumato will be included in the active vocabulary of all the great artists of the future.
It often can be heard that Leonardo, of course, was a genius but couldn’t complete anything. He often didn’t finish his paintings. And many of his projects remained on paper (by the way, there are 24 volumes).
Moreover, he plunged first into medicine and then into music. He was eveninterested in the art of serving for some time.
However, just think. With only 19 paintings he became the greatest artist the world has ever seen. And someone can’t even approach his greatness despite creating 6000 canvases during hislife. It’s obvious, who has a higher efficiency rate.

4. Michelangelo (1475—1564)

Daniele da Volterra. Michelangelo
Daniele da Volterra. Michelangelo (a fragment). 1544. The Metropolitan Art Museum, New York
Michelangelo thought of himself as a sculptor. However, he was an undedicated master. Like his other colleagues during the Renaissance era.
Therefore, his pictorial heritage is no less great.
Primarily, he can be recognized by physically developed characters. He portrayed the perfect human, whose physical beauty meant spiritual beauty.
That’s why all of his characters are so muscular and enduring. Even women and old men.
Michelangelo. Fragments of the fresco “The Last Judgment”
Michelangelo. Fragments of the fresco “The Last Judgment” in Sistine Capella, Vatican.
Quite often, Michelangelo depicted his characters naked. And only after that he covered their bodies with clothes. This made them look as muscular as possible.
He painted the ceiling of Sistine Capella alone. Despite the fact that it contains a few hundred of characters!
He didn’t even allow anyone to rub the paint for him. Yes, he was unsociable. He had a harsh and quarrelsome character. But most of all he was unsatisfied with… himself.
Michelangelo. Fragment of the fresco “The Creation of Adam”
Michelangelo. Fragment of the fresco “The Creation of Adam”. 1511. Sistine Capella, Vatican
Michelangelo lived a long life. He faced decay of the Renaissance. He considered it to be hispersonal tragedy. His later works are full of sorrow and grief.
In general, Michelangelo’s artistic journey is unique. His early works praise a human hero. Free and courageous. In keeping with the best traditions of ancient Greece. For example, his David.
During his last years of life he depicted tragic characters. He boasted stone intentionally roughly. As if we look at monuments dedicated to the fascism victims of the 20th century. Look at his “Pieta”.
Sculptures by Michelangelo
Sculptures by Michelangelo at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence. Left: David. 1504. Right: Pieta Palestrina. 1555.
How was it possible? One artist completed all the stages of art from the Renaissance era to the XX century during a single life. What was left for the next generations?
To go their own way, keeping in mind that the standards have been set extremely high.

5. Raphael (1483—1520)

Raphael. Self-portrait
Raphael. Self-portrait. 1506. Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy
Raphael has never been in oblivion. His genius has always been recognized: during his life and after death.
His characters embody sensual, lyrical beauty. His Madonnas are believed to be the most beautiful female images ever created. The heroines’ external beauty reflects their spiritual beauty. Their mildness. Their sacrifice.
Raphael. Sistine Madonna
Raphael. Sistine Madonna. 1513. The Old Masters Gallery, Dresden, Germany
Fyodor Dostoevsky said his famous words “Beauty will save the world” about Sistine Madonna. It was his favorite painting.
However, sensual images are not the only Raphael’ strong point. The compositions of his paintings were extremely well-thought-out. He was a matchless architect in painting.
He always managed to find the simplest and most harmonious solution for organizing the space. It seems that there was no other way it could be.
Raphael. The School of Athens
Raphael. The School of Athens. 1509-1511. Fresco in stanzas of Apostolic Palace, Vatican
Rafael lived only 37 years. He died suddenly of the cold he caught and the mistake the doctor made. But it’s hard to overestimate his legacy.
Many artists idolized this master. And multiplied his sensual images in thousands of their canvases.

6. Titian (1488—1576)

Titian. Self-portrait
Titian. Self-portrait (a fragment). 1562. Prado Museum, Madrid
Titian was a matchless colorist. He experimented a lot with composition as well. In general, he was a daring innovator.
Everyone loved him for such an outstanding talent. He was called “the king of painters and the painter of kings”.
When speaking of Titian, I feel like putting an exclamation mark after each sentence. After all, he was the one who brought dynamics to art. Pathos. Excitement. Bright and shining colors.
Titian. Assumption of Mary
Titian. Assumption of Mary. 1515-1518. Church of Santa Maria Glorioso dei Frari, Venice
By the end of his life, he had developed an uncommon painting technique. With fast and thickstrokes.
He applied paint both with brush and fingers. This made his images even more alive andbreathing and his plots – more dynamic and dramatic.
Titian. Tarquin and Lucretia
Titian. Tarquin and Lucretia. 1571. The Fitzwillam Museum, Cambridge, England
Doesn’t this remind you of anything? Of course, this is Rubens’ technique. And the technique of the XIX century artists: the Barbizon painters and impressionists.
Like Michelangelo, Titian will complete 500 years of art during one single life. That’s why he is a genius.
***
Renaissance artists possess great knowledge. To leave such a legacy, they had to study a lot inthe field of history, astrology, physics, and so on.
Therefore, each of their images makes us think. What is it shown for? What kind of message is encrypted here?
They had almost never made mistakes, since they thought out their future works thoroughly, using all the accumulated knowledge.
They were more than artists. They were philosophers. By means of painting, they explained the world to us.
That is why they will always be of great interest to us.
Authour: Oksana Kopenkina

Mythological paintings. The main characters and symbols

Botticelli Spring

Ancient Greek myths are exciting adventures of gods, heroes, and evil creatures. They are interesting in every respect.

They are more entertaining than Hollywood blockbusters and give an opportunity to understand a completely different mindset of people of pre-Christian civilization.

But not only ancient authors gave us knowledge about mythology.

Artists who lived before the Common Era, also created lots of frescos depicting mythological plots. And some of them managed to survive down to our days.

A fresco in Stabiae
Dionysus (Bacchus) meets Ariadne on the island of Naxos. A fresco in Stabiae, Villa Ariadne, 1 BC

However, for almost 1.5 thousand years myths disappeared from the art.

They we reintroduced in painting only during the Renaissance era. In the 15th century in Rome, sculptures from the Roman Empire era were discovered and excavated (copies of works by ancient Greek masters).

People got interested in ancient Greece. Reading of the ancient authors became fashionable and later mandatory.

And as soon as in the 16-17 centuries, myths became one of the most popular topics for paintings.

Mythological paintings for the modern audience

When visiting a museum, you will hardly stay long in front of the paintings depicting mythological plots. For one simple reason.

We don’t know much about ancient Greek myths.
Of course, we know Hercules. Have heard about Perseus and Andromeda. And can remember a couple of ancient gods like Zeus and Athena.

But who can now boast of reading Homer’s Odyssey at least? Personally I read it only when I was 33.

And if you don’t understand the plot of a painting, it will hardly be able to enjoy it, since you’ll face a barrier of bewilderment “And who are all these people?”

However, if the plot is clear, the pictural features immediately open up before our perceiving eyes.
This article is a small collection of mythological paintings.

At first, I will help you to understand their characters and symbols. And then, we will enjoy all the excellency of these masterpieces together.

1. Botticelli. Spring

Botticelli Spring
Sandro Botticelli. Spring. 1478. The Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Botticelli was the first of European artists (after ancient Greeks and Romans) who began to paint mythological characters.

Botticelli’s mythological paintings are sometimes unflatteringly called pictural comics. The characters are depicted in a row. They don’t interact with each other. They lack only their speech frames.

But it was Botticelli who after 1.5 thousand years was the first to depict myths. So we won’t blame him for that.

Moreover, such a linear position does not prevent Botticelli’s “Spring” from becoming one of the most beautiful paintings in the world.

At the same time, “Spring” is one of the most mysterious paintings. It has lots of interpretations.

I have chosen the one that personally I believe to be the most plausible. And added a bit of my own reflections to it.

You can read about the painting in the article: “Spring” by Botticelli. The main characters and symbols of the masterpiece”.

2. Titian. Bacchus and Ariadne

Titian Bacchus and Ariadne
Titian. Bacchus and Ariadne. 1520-1523. The National Gallery, London

In the Renaissance era, Botticelli was followed by many artists who depicted myths. However, Titian was the most prolific.

His myths are completely different. He depicted full-fledged stories like “Bacchus meets Ariadne on the island of Naxos”.

His paintings are full of harsh movements, such as the god of wine jumping from his cart at the beauty’s feet.

We can see emotions expressed in poses, like Ariadne’s surprise and fear. At the same time, the background landscape is realistic.

About the painting you can read in the article: “Bacchus and Ariadne. The main characters and symbols of the Titian’s masterpiece”.

3. Rubens. Perseus and Andromeda

Rubens Perseus and Andromeda
Peter Paul Rubens. Perseus and Andromeda. 1622. The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

After Titian, mythological paintings finally came into fashion. The next generations of artists have learned all the lessons of the great master.

However, they made the compositions much more complicated.

The above-mentioned Rubens literally threw his characters’ bodies together. And we see an incredible interweaving of arms, heads, and legs.

That is why it is so difficult for us to enjoy the mythological paintings of the 17th century. Not only are the plots unknown, but we need to make out the characters.

But I have studied one of Rubens’ works in detail. Read about it in the article: “Perseus and Andromeda. The main characters and symbols of the painting by Rubens”.

***

Thus, the golden years of mythological paintings is 16-17 centuries.

In the 18th century, they were slightly challenged by completely earthy and sweetest Rococo beauties.

And by the end of the 19th century they were forced out by realism and impressionism. Myths were completely out of fashion.

But mythological paintings are still hanging in museums. After all, they are an extremely important cultural layer. And only small gaps in our knowledge prevent us from enjoying them to the full.

I hope I have helped you a little to understand them. Which means that your next visit to a museum will be much more pleasant for you.

Authour: Oksana Kopenkina

Perseus and Andromeda. The characters and symbols in the Rubens’ painting

Rubens Perseus and Andromeda
Peter Paul Rubens. Perseus and Andromeda. 1622. The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

The myth about Perseus and Andromeda is one of the best-known ones. Everyone knows the monster who wanted to devour a beautiful maiden and about the courages hero who defeated the demon and saved the beauty.

But we hardly remember the details. However, the myth details are one more intriguing than another.

Both the prehistory of why Andromeda’s parents obediently let their daughter to be given to the monster and the unexpected appearance of Perseus on a winged horse. And the legend about his one-hoofed pet’s origin is even more fascinating.

At the Rubens’ painting, we see the dawning feelings of the savior and the saved. But will they get marry? Will they be happy?

Leaping ahead – yes, the story of these two will have the happy end.

But it won’t be easy to reach it: there will have to face other obstacles on their way – and it will be not only the monster of the deep…

RUbens Perseus and Andromeda
Peter Paul Rubens. Perseus and Andromeda. 1622. The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

1. ANDROMEDA

Andromeda is not a common girl. After all, she is a king’s daughter. Her father ruled Joppa (today, Jaffa city in Israel). And matrilineally she is a bit of goddess. Her grand-grandfather was no other than Hermes.

But Andromeda is also a tragic heroine. She had to pay for her parents’ sins.

Her mother got carelessly proud of her beauty. And instead of being proud alone in front of a mirror, she managed to do this before niraids – the goddesses of the water element.

And as we know, ancient Greek gods weren’t extremely forgiving. If they are irritated with something, punishment follows immediately.

Niraids complained to Poseidon, and he sent the sea monster to Joppa. For many years, it kept ruining coastal villages, until the king learned from the oracle, that he could stop it by sacrificing his daughter Andromeda.

Thus, the beauty was enchained to the rock.
I call her beautiful only because it was written by ancient authors.

The interpretation of her beauty by Rubens is rather uncommon – the girl with the bun body, golden hair, and a bright glow occupying the whole cheek.

She is far, very far away from the classical beauty canons. So that you could understand what I’m talking about, compare her with Andromeda by Raphael Mengs.

Mengs Perseus and Andromeda
Anton Raphael Mengs. Perseus and Andromeda. 1778. The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

2. PERSEUS

Perseus is one of the most famous mythological heroes of. He the second popular hero to Hercules. By the way, they are paternal father.

The human mother of Perseus was Danae and his God-father was Zeus. Do you remember a girl to whom the Thunder-bearer appeared in the form of a golden rain?

Gentileschi. Danae
Orazio Gentileschi. Danae. 1621. The Getty Museum, Los Angeles, USA

You can easily recognize Perseus on any painting by his winged sandals. He got them from the three old sisters. Three of them had only a single tooth and a single eye. Perseus stole them and traded them for various magic things, including these sandals.

Just like Hercules, Perseus performed feats. Once, he was flying from yet another mission. He had just defeated the Gorgon Medusa. Flying over the coast near Joppa, he saw poor Andromeda.

His heart beat fast. Being astonished by Andromeda’s beauty, he decided to save her. When the monster approached the girl, Perseus showed the Gorgon’s head to it. And it turned into stone.

To my mind, it was the easiest way to fight a monster in the history of myths and fairy tales.

Before the battle, Perseus thoughtfully asked the girl’s father for permission to marry Andromeda. He promised, but didn’t say that his daughter already had a fiance – his brother Phineus.

The fiance didn’t put up with the insult. He broke to the wedding feast to kill audacious Perseus. But was turned to stone.

Carracci. Perseus and Phineus
Annibale Carracci. Perseus and Phineus. 1597. Palazzo Farnese, Rome

As a result, the couple got married. And they lived happily ever after and gave birth to several children.

3. CETO MONSTER

Ceto was a real monster. Moreover, it gave birth to lots of youngsters. All the dragons and snake-like girls are Ceto’s children. Including the Gorgon Medusa.

Yes, it turns out that the mother died from her daughter’s gaze.

At the Rubens’ painting Ceto is already defeated. Therefore, we don’t even notice it immediately. It is of stone-colour at the very bottom of the canvas.

Rubens. Perseus and Andromeda (a detail)
Peter Paul Rubens. Perseus and Andromeda. (a detail)

From the works of ancient authors it’s not completely clear how the monster was defeated. Whether it died by Perseus’ sword or by the gaze of the Gorgon’s cut head.

It’s obvious that Rubens preferred the second version.
However, he has another picture with the same plot, where the Gorgon’s head is missing. It looks like here the monster was defeated by the sword.

Rubens. Perseus and Andromeda
Peter Paul Rubens. Perseus and Andromeda. 1622. The Berlin State Museum

4. THE GORGON’S HEAD

Medusa was the youngest sister of the three Gorgons. Moreover, she was mortal. She was born with ordinary hair.

But once Poseidon wanted her. Medusa hid from him in Athena’s temple. Nevertheless, he found her there and possessed her right in the temple.

Of course, Athena didn’t like it. And she turned poor girl’s hair into snakes.

Rubens. The head of Medusa
Peter Paul Rubens. The head of Medusa. 1618.

Medusa turned all living creatures to stone with her gaze. But Perseus was able to cope with this danger.

When fighting with Gorgon, he was looking at her reflection in his shield. At a certain point he managed to make a strike at Medusa and behead her.

5. PEGASUS

When Perseus killed Medusa, she was pregnant from Poseidon. Their children appeared from her head. A warrior Chrysaor… and a winged horse Pegasus. He was taken by Perseus.

Burne-Jones. The Birth of Pegasus and Chrysaor
Edward Coley Burne-Jones. The Birth of Pegasus and Chrysaor. 1885. The Southampton City Art Gallery, Great Britain

At the same time, snakes from Medusa’s head scattered around and killed all the living creatures. And her blood got into the sea and gave birth to corals.

6. THE GODDESS OF VICTORY NIKE

Perseus has just performed his feat, and the Goddess of victory Nike is already here. With a triumphal wreath. And she is also winged. Oh yes, lots of wings for a single painting.

Why not Athena? This mighty goddess was responsible for all-triumphant power, wisdom, and war. Nike was more the patroness of triumph. It can be called a narrower specialization.

7. CUPIDS

Since we see the dawning feelings between two characters, the cupids seem to have flooded the picture.

Three cupids are helping Andromeda to get dressed. Another one is holding Perseus’ golden helmet. Another has the shield with Gorgon’s head. And one more saddled Pegasus.

They are plump to the max, just like all the characters by Rubens. It’s amazing that the artist was thin, watched his diet and took physical exercises. His wives weren’t very plump either.

So, why is Rubens so good with his “Perseus and Andromeda”?

The canvas “Perseus and Andromeda” is painted in the Baroque style. There are lots of characters on it, with each of them being busy with their own business.

But Rubens found a genius way to arrange them in the space. As a result, there is no sense of chaos. First of all, this is due to almost monochrome colour. The characters are in harmony with the background dark stone.

Rubens. Perseus and Andromeda
Peter Paul Rubens. Perseus and Andromeda. 1622. The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

The characters’ arrangement in triangular form smoothes the feeling of chaos as well. But to find place for the massive horse, the artist had to bring its croup to the forefront of the painting.

But somehow, we are not confused by it. It is shadowed and looks attractive in general (to the extent that a croup can look attractive).

To understand the Rubens’ genius, compare his masterpiece with a painting by Giorgio Vasari with the same plot.

Vasari has many characters as well, and the feeling of chaos is present in his picture.

Vasari. Perseus and Andromeda
Giorgio Vasari. Perseus and Andromeda. 1572. Palazzo Vecchio, Florence.

Thus, after making it clear about all the characters of the picture, the feeling of confusion and misunderstanding disappears.

And then, you want to enjoy the picture itself. Especially its colour. Rubens was the unsurpassed master in depicting skin shades.

He conveyed a human beauty through a pearly shine with pink and grey tints. Andromeda’s skin glows from inside and shines like silk.

Complement it with the girl’s modesty. This is shown by her lowered eyes, light tension due to the fact that she is naked, and the glow on her entire cheek.

It is a completely different kind of beauty that can’t be seen at once.

Rubens avoids the Baroque passion in this story. Otherwise, he would have shown the fight and terrified Andromeda.

Rubens. Perseus and Andromeda (a detail)
Peter Paul Rubens. Perseus and Andromeda (a detail). 1622

Here we see a lyric story. The battle is over. Young people touched each other for the first time. Cupids are obviously pleased.

Only Pegasus is still looking cautiously at petrified Ceto. Like any animal, he doesn’t trust its stillness.

Rubens liked this plot: when the noble Force defeats the absolute Evil and liberates the Beauty. The plot, which has been duplicated in countless tales of various nations for 2500 years.

Authour: Oksana Kopenkina

“Spring” by Botticelli. The main characters and symbols

Botticelli Spring
Sandro Botticelli. Spring. 1478. The Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Only few people knew about Botticelli’s “Spring” for as long as… 450 years!

At first, it was housed by Medici descendants. Later, it was moved to the Uffizi Gallery. However… You won’t believe it – it had been stored in repository for 100 years!

And only in the early 20th century it was introduced to the public after it had been recognized by a famous art expert. This is how its fame began.

Nowadays, it is one of the main masterpieces of the Uffizi Gallery. And one of the best-known paintings of the Renaissance era.

But it’s not so easy to “read” it. It seems to tell us about spring. But we see lots of characters here.

Why are there so many of them? Why didn’t Botticelli portray only one girl representing Spring?
Let’s try to make it clear.

Botticelli. Spring (the painting guide)
Botticelli. Spring (the painting guide). 1482. The Uffizi Gallery, Florence

To make it easier to read the painting, in your mind you should divide it in three parts:

The right part consists of three characters, who personify the first spring month MARCH.

1. ZEPHYR

Zephyr – the god of the western wind – begins to blow in early spring. He is the one we start reading the painting with.

He has the most unpleasant appearance among all the characters. The bluish skin tone. The cheeks are about to burst from the strain.

But it is explainable. This wind wasn’t pleasant for the ancient Greeks, since it often brought rains and even storms.

He handled both humans and divine creatures without mittens. He fell in love with nymph Chloris, and she had no chance to escape from Zephyr.

2. CHLORIS

Zephyr forced this gentle creature responsible for flowers to become his wife. And to somehow compensate her moral turmoil, he turned the nymph into a real Goddess. Thus, Chloris turned into Flora.

3. FLORA

Flora (nee Chloris) didn’t regret the marriage, though she had married Zephyr against her will. Obviously, she was a mercantile girl. After all, it had become much more powerful.

From now on, she was responsible not only for flowers, but for all the vegetation on Earth.

Melzi Flora
Francesco Melzi. Flora. 1510-1515. The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

The next five characters make up the APRIL group. These are Venus, Cupid and the Three Graces.

4. VENUS

Goddess Venus is responsible not only for love, but for fertility and prosperity as well. So, she is depicted here for a reason. The ancient Romans held a celebration in her honour particularly in April.

5. CUPID

The son of Venus and her eternal companion. It’s a common knowledge that this unbearable boy is especially active in spring. He shoots his arrows every which way.

Of course, he doesn’t even see, whom he is going to hit. Love is blind, since Cupid is blindfolded.

6. THE GRACES

Most likely that Cupid is going to hit one of the Graces. She is already looking at a young man to the left.

Botticelli Spring fragment
Sandro Botticelli. Spring (a fragment). 1478. The Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Here, Botticelli showed three sisters holding each other’s hands. They personify the beginning of life – beautiful and gentle due to its youth.

They also often accompany Venus and help to disseminate her messages to all people.

MAY is represented by a single figure. But what a figure!

7. MERCURY

Mercury – the god of commerce – dispels clouds with his rod. Well, not so bad to help Spring. He is related to her only through his mother, pleiade Maya.

It was in her honour that the ancient Romans called this month May. And they offered sacrifices to Maya on the 1st of May.

The case is that she was responsible for the soil fertility and people couldn’t do without it during the forthcoming summer.

So, why did Botticelli depicted her son, but not Maya herself? By the way, she was charming – the eldest and the most beautiful of the 10 sisters pleiades.

Botticelli Mercury
Sandro Botticelli. Mercury (a fragment of the painting “Spring”). 1478 . The Uffizi Gallery, Florence

I like the version that Botticelli was eager to show men at the beginning and at the end of this spring line.

Indeed, Spring is the birth of life. And this process is impossible without men (at least in the artist’s days).

After all, he depicted all women pregnant for a reason. Fertility is very important in spring.

Botticelli Spring detail
Sandro Botticelli. A detail of the painting “Spring”. 1478

In general, Botticelli’s “Spring” is full of fertility symbols. There is an orange tree above the characters’ heads.

It is blooming and bearing fruit at the same time. Not only in the picture: it really can do it.

Botticelli Spring detail
Sandro Botticelli. A detail of the painting “Spring”. 1478. The Uffizi Gallery, Florence

It will just suffice to mention a carpet of five hundred really existing flowers!

It’s just a kind of floristic encyclopaedia. Only their Latin names are missing.

The characters have done their best – there is plenty of fertility wherever they step!

And the characters’ beauty (apart from Zephyr) is extremely suitable for the Spring theme.

Botticelli. Spring (details)

As always, Botticelli managed to show the beauty that never goes out of fashion. His characters are so beautiful that it useless even to wonder why are we so fond of “Spring” so much.

So, the artist skipped the shortcuts. It wasn’t enough for him to portray a single beautiful woman and call her “Spring”.

He “sang” the whole ode to this time of the year. A complicated, multisided, and incredibly beautiful one.

Authour: Oksana Kopenkina

Bacchus and Ariadne. Characters and symbols in the picture by Titian

Titian. Bacchus and Ariadne. 1520-1523. The National Gallery, London

It’s not so easy to enjoy a picture with a mythological plot. At first, it is important to understand its characters and symbols.

Of course, everyone has heard who is Ariadne and who is Bacchus. But perhaps, we have forgotten why they met. And who are all the other characters in the Titian’s picture.

Therefore, I suggest that we should begin with unbricking the painting “Bacchus and Ariadne”.

And only then we will enjoy its pictural virtues.

Titian Bacchus and Ariadne
Titian. Bacchus and Ariadne (the painting guide). 1520-1523. The National Gallery, London

1. ARIADNE

The daughter of the Cretan king Minos. And Minotaur was her twin brother. They didn’t look alike, but were born by one venter.

Unlike his sister, Minotaur was a monster. And every year he ate 7 girls and 7 boys.

It’s obvious that Crete citizens were fed up with it. And they asked Theseus for help.

He defeated Minotaur in the labyrinth where he lived.

But it was Ariadne who helped him to get out of the labyrinth. The girl couldn’t resist his courage masculinity and fell in love.

She gave her beloved one a ball of yarn. Theseus used a thread to get out of the labyrinth.

After that, a young couple escaped to the island. But for some reason, soon Theseus disliked the girl.

Well, obviously at first he couldn’t help but pay back for her help. But then he realized that couldn’t love her.

He left Ariadne alone on the island. Such a deceptive person he was.

2. BACCHUS

Another name of Dionysus.

The God of winemaking and vegetation. And theatre as well. Maybe that’s why his attack on Ariadne is so theatrical and mannered? It’s not surprisingly that the girl shrank so much.

Actually, Bacchus saved Ariadne. Being desperate because of being left by Theseus, she was going to commit suicide.

But Bacchus saw her and fell in love. And unlike deceptive Theseus, he decided to marry the girl.

Bacchus was the favourite son of Zeus. After all, he bore him himself in the thigh. Therefore, he could not refuse him and agreed to make his wife immortal.

Bacchus is followed by his merry retinue. Bacchus was famous for relieving people from everyday troubles and making them feel the joy of life when he just passed by.

No wonder that his retinue always felt such a merry ecstasy.

3. PAN

A boy Pan is the god of shepherds and cattle breeding. Therefore, he pulls a cut head of a calf or a donkey.

The human mother abandoned him, being scared by what he looked like when he was born. His father Hermes took the baby to Olympus.

Bacchus liked the boy a lot, since he was dancing and having fun all the time. This is how he got into the retinue of the winemaking God.

A cocker is barking at Pan boy. This dog can also often be seen in the retinue of Bacchus. Apparently, the forest band loves this pet for its cheerful disposition.

4. SILENUS WITH A SNAKE

Silenuses were children of Satyrs and Nymphs. They didn’t inherit goat legs from their fathers. The beauty of their mothers overcame this gene. However, often Silenus is depicted with increased hairiness.

This one is not hairy at all. Obviously, his mother nymph was especially attractive.

Moreover, he looks like Laocoon a bit. This wise man persuaded Troy citizens not to take the Troic horse to the city. That’s why gods sent huge snakes to him and his sons. And they were suffocated.

In fact, in the texts written by ancient Roman poets, Silenuses were often described as nude and entwined with snakes. It was a kind of a decoration, merging with nature. Indeed, they were forest dwellers.

5. SILENUS HAIRY

Apparently, this Silenus had stronger genes from his father satire. Therefore, his legs are thickly covered with goat hair.
He is shaking a calf leg above his head – after all, it’s a feast. He has leaves instead of clothes that completely suit a forest creature.

6 and 7. BACCHAES

It can be understood from the name that these ladies were devoted admirers of Bacchus and accompanied him during his numerous feasts and orgies.
Despite their beauty, these girls were bloodthirsty. It was they who once tore poor Orpheus apart.
He sang a song about the gods, but forgot to mention Bacchus. And was punished by his devoted companions.

Emile Ben the death of Orpheus
Emile Ben. The Death of Orpheus. 1874. Private collection

8. DRUNK SILENUS

Perhaps, Silenus is the most popular character from the Bacchus retinue. Judging by his appearance, he had joined the retinue of the merrymaking God before everyone else.

He is over 50, he is overweight and always drunk as a sow – almost unconscious. Other satires put him on a donkey and supported him.

Titian depicted him at the end of the procession. But other artists often showed him in the foreground, next to Bacchus.

For example, Vasari painted the drunk, flabby Silenus sitting at the Bacchus feet, unable to pry himself away from a jug of wine.

Vasari triumph of Bacchus
Giorgio Vasari. Triumph of Bacchus. Around 1560. Radischev Museum, Saratov

9. THE CROWN CONSTELLATION

At Bacchus request, Hephaestus – the smith God – made a diadem for Ariadne. It was a wedding gift.

This very diadem was turned into a constellation.
Titian showed it in the form of a real diadem.

However, the real constellation is called Crown for a reason. On the one side, it doesn’t form a ring.

This constellation can be seen from many points of the Northern hemisphere. The best time to observe it is June.

10. THESEUS’ SHIP

A hardly noticeable ship in the left part of the picture belongs to that very Theseus. He is leaving poor Ariadne forever.

The pictural subtleties of the Titian’s painting.

Bacchus and Ariadne Titian
Titian. Bacchus and Ariadne. 1520-1523. The National Gallery, London

Now, after we have deciphered all the characters, we can get down to discussing the pictural virtues of the painting. Here are the most important ones:

1. DYNAMICS

Titian showed the Bacchus in moving fashion, by “freezing” him jumping from a cart. This is a great innovation for the Renaissance era. Before, characters used to just stand or sit.

When seeing this Bacchus’ flight, I reminded Caravaggio’s “Boy Bitten by a Lizard”. It was painted 75 years after Titian’s “Bacchus and Ariadne”.

Boy Bitten by a lizard Caravaggio
Caravaggio. Boy Bitten by a Lizard. 1595. The National Gallery, London

This innovation took flight only after Caravaggio’s works. And the figures’ dynamics will become the most important attribute of the Baroque era (17th century).

2. COLOUR

Look, what a bright blue sky Titian depicted. The artist used ultramarine colour. At his days it was an extremely expensive paint.

It became cheaper only in the early 19th century, when people learned how to produce it on a wholesale scale.

But Titian painted a picture by order from the Duke of Ferrara. Probably, he was the one who gave money for this luxury.

3. COMPOSITION

Titian’s composition is interesting as well.

The painting can be divided diagonally into two parts – two triangles.

The upper left part is the sky and Ariadne, wearing blue clothes. The bottom right part is a green and yellow palette with trees and forest gods.

And between these triangles, there is Bacchus in a fly-away pink cloak – like a kind of a binding force.

This diagonal composition is Titian’s innovation as well, which will turn into almost the main composition type for all the artists of the Baroque era (100 years later).

4. REALISM

Look, how realistic are the cheetahs harnessed to the Bacchus cart that Titian depicted.

It is extremely surprising, since at that time there were no zoos and of course, no special encyclopaedias with animal photos.

Where had Titian seen these animals?

I can assume that he had seen travellers’ sketches. Indeed, he lived in Venice, where foreign trade was the key business. And there were lots of traveling people in this city.

***

Many artists showed this amazing story of love and betrayal. But it was Titian who told us this story in his special way – making it vivid, action-packed, and exciting.

And we had to put forth only a little effort to reveal all the secrets of this masterpiece.

Authour: Oksana Kopenkina

The Young Pope: 9 paintings from the series deciphered

“The Young Pope” (frame from the series)

The Young Pope series by Paolo Sorrentino is one of the most incredible TV movies ever filmed. It is a masterpiece. It combines the beauty, and the deep message, and the creator’s mastery.

The main character Pope Pius XIII (born Lenny Belardo) is an extremely controversial person.

He smokes like a chimney. Drinks Diet Coke. Sends persona non grata in exile to Alaska. Does not want to make public appearance. At first, he even seems to be a sociopath.

But no. After all, he does miracles. Shows unprecedented piety. That makes even the hardest boiled Vatican intriguers to fall on their knees.

However, the series is also interesting due to intriguing selection of paintings. These are a series of canvases the Pope passes in the credits.

It is obviously that each of them appears in the movie not for nothing. I will try to decipher, why Sorrentino demonstrates them to us.

1. Honthorst. Adoration of the Shepherds. 1606

 Honthorst. Adoration of the Shepherds
Gerrit Van Honthorst. Adoration of the Shepherds. 1606. The Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

The first painting of the series, the newly-elected Pope passes by, is Adoration of the Shepherds by Honthorst.

It announces that the God’s son came into the world. But what it has to do with Lenny Belardo?

The series repeatedly tell us that Pius XIII is a saint. His teacher sister Mary believes that he is Jesus Christ, because he does miracles.

A childless woman got pregnant. A dying woman was healed in an instant. And all these is due to miraculous prayers of Pope Pius XIII. By the end of the series, almost everyone believes in his sainthood.

However, it is not clear why the director chooses the work by Honthorst out of thousands of paintings dedicated to the adoration of the shepherds. Moreover, not the most famous one.

To my mind, it has something to do with the tragic history of the painting. It was housed in Florence in the Uffizi Gallery. Once, a bomb exploded in a car parked next to the gallery wall.

The painting was almost destroyed. It couldn’t be restored completely. Perhaps, this story has something in common with Lenny’s life.

When he was 9, his parents left him at a monastery shelter. Forever. For a child, it’s a mental trauma that cannot be healed. Even being 47, he keeps suffering and doesn’t lose hope to find parents.

2. Perugino. Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter. 1482.

Perugino. Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter
Perugino. Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter. 1482. A fresco at the Sistine Chapel, Vatican.

The second painting we see in the credits is a reproduction of the fresco by Perugino (the Raphael’s teacher).

Christ gives the keys to heaven to his disciple, thus, giving him the right to decide whom he can give absolution and who doesn’t deserve it. Who can be admitted to Paradise, and who can’t.

In the second episode, Pius XIII speaks in front of believers for the first time. And laments, since believers decided that it’s easy to get to paradise.

Now, he is not going to give absolution upon first request. From now on, people will have to do their best to get to Paradise. Because now he has the keys.

Besides giving the keys, the painting contains the scene of “Stoning of Christ”. Lenny has gone through his own “stoning” as well. But it was a modern one.

Do you remember feminists lined up in the pope’s garden with “Bastard” inscription on the naked bodies?

In the distance, on the left side of the painting we can also see a Biblical story about Caesar’s denarius.

The famous response of Christ – give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s – for two thousand years has been treated as a symbol of division of spiritual and secular power.

In one of the episodes, we can see a wonderful scene related to this topic. When Pius XIII meets with the Italian Prime Minister. And of course, they compare decisiveness of their powers. The Pope wins the dispute.

As you might remember, he had a brilliant game changer, against which the prime minister had nothing to put up. And had to retreat in astonishment. Just like the Pharisee from the Biblical story after hearing Christ’s words.

3. Caravaggio. The Conversion of Saul. 1600.

Caravaggio. The Conversion of Saul
Caravaggio. The Conversion of Saul. 1600. The Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome.

The third painting in the credits is “The Conversion of Saul” by Caravaggio. Saul opposed Christianity. But one day, when he was riding a horse, God addressed him. Being stunned, Saul fell from his horse.

God ordered him to stop persecuting Christians. After that, Saul believed in God and later became known as St. Paul.

At the beginning of the series, Lenny admits that sometimes he doubts that God exists. He is going through a faith crisis. He is searching for God again. Perhaps, he expects the same direct message as Saul once got.

4. Fresco “The First Council of Nicaea”. 14th century.

The First Council of Nicaea the fresco
The First Council of Nicaea. 14th century. A fresco in Megala Meteora monastery, Greece.

The fourth painting is a reproduction of a fresco from a Greek monastery, dedicated to the First Council of Nicaea.

It was held in the 4th century. It was the event that laid the basic canons of Christianity, according to which clergymen live up to now.

For example, it was also decided during this council when Easter should be celebrated.

Of course, we see this picture not without a reason. Its appearance is related to Popolo Tonino – a shepherd with stigmata. Do you remember him coming home. Turning around. And seeing the Pope, surrounded by cardinals, sitting in his kitchen.

They came to judge heresy pronounced by the pseudo prophet. Who also dares to call his sheep Madonna. The same way, on the fresco the first Council of Nicaea defined what is heresy (the heretic is at their feet).

Unfortunately, Sorrentino hasn’t shown what happened to Tonino after he met the Pope. We look forward to seeing it in the next season.

5. Francesco Hayez. Peter the Hermit

Francesco Hayez. Peter the Hermit
Francesco Hayez. Peter the Hermit. 1820. Private collection.

In the series, Pius XIII tells a preacher that he wants to start a revolution.

But instead of making a breakthrough to the future, he wants on the contrary to return to the former traditions. To the former glory of the church, when its power was almost boundless.

And who was one of the most ardent revolutionaries in the history of Catholicism? Of course, Peter the Hermit. He even provoked a Crusade. Thanks to him, the Catholic Church became even more powerful than ever before.

Thus, it is no coincidence that we see the painting about this ardent Catholic.

6. Gentile da Fabriano, St. Francis Receiving Stigmata. 1419.

Gentile da Fabriano, St. Francis Receiving Stigmata
Gentile da Fabriano, St. Francis Receiving Stigmata. 1419. Magnani-Rocca Foundation, Parma, Italy.

Next, we see the painting by Fabriano “St. Francis”. Perhaps, this is an explicit reference to the current Pope Francis.

After all, the Pope from the series in many ways resembles the real Pope. First of all, he is extremely conservative. The current Pope strongly opposes both abortion and gay lobby as well.

7. Mateo Cerezo Jr., St. Thomas of Villanueva

Mateo Cerezo Jr., St. Thomas of Villanueva
Mateo Cerezo Jr., St. Thomas of Villanueva. 1660. Louvre, Paris.

Then, we see a painting depicting St. Thomas, who was famous for his eagerness to dispense charity.
It is not very clear, why we see this image.

In the series, there are no many motifs devoted to charity. Perhaps, it is related to the tiara, which we see in the very centre of the painting.

Do you remember that in the first place, Pius XIII ordered the return the papal tiara from the National Gallery in Washington?

8. Domenico Cresti. Michelangelo Presenting the Model of St. Peter’s to Pope Pius IV. 1618.

Domenico Cresti. Michelangelo Presenting the Model of St. Peter’s to Pope Pius IV
Domenico Cresti. Michelangelo Presenting the Model of St. Peter’s to Pope Pius IV. 1618. Villa Buanorotti, Florence, Italy.

Pope Pius IV was a benevolent person. Unlike his tough and proud predecessor Paul IV.

However, after coming to power, he turned into a completely different man. Thus, he cruelly disposed of the cardinals, who were appointees of the previous Pope. One of them was even suffocated, although he voted for Pius IV at the Conclave.

Cardinals also voted for Lenny Belardo, thinking that he would be easily to control. But their expectations were clearly missed. The state secretary was nearly fired. Another cardinal was sent into exile to Alaska.

9. Francois Dubois. The Massacre of St. Bartholomew. 1572.

Francois Dubois. The Massacre of St. Bartholomew
Francois Dubois. The Massacre of St. Bartholomew. 1572. The Cantonal Museum of Fine Arts, Lausanne, Switzerland.

St. Bartholomew’s Night is one of the most terrible episodes in the history of Catholicism. The night, when massacres were committed in the name of God.

What is it? A precaution to the Pope that the ends not always justify the means? That his revolutionary attitude will end badly? Perhaps, we will find it out in next season.

***

What is a general meaning of the paintings in the credits?

When the Pope is passing the paintings, a meteorite is following him. It is flying through the canvases. On its way, it sets a chaplet of an angel next to St.Thomas on fire. Burns an umbrella of Pius IV. And then, houses in the painting “The Massacre of St. Bartholomew” start burning as well.

Then, the meteorite breaks free into space outside the paintings. And crashes into Pope John Paul II. He falls down. As a result, we can see the scandalous work by Cattelan “The 9th Hour”.

Maurizzio Cattalani. The 9th hour
Maurizzio Cattalani. The 9th hour. 1999.

The old-aged Pope John Paul II dolefully performed his duties until he died. Cattelan shows that the meteorite “mercifully” stops his torments.

The same way as the torment of Christ was stopped by God the Father after 9 hours.

So, it is likely that the director’s idea is that Pius XIII personifies this meteorite, which will put an end to the old principles of the church. The church that was already dying of old age. The fact that the cardinals admitted in the movie.

He is a young Pope. He came to replace the old Popes. Like a deafening meteorite effect. After all, no one usually expects that a meteorite will fall…

Authour: Oksana Kopenkina

“The Savior of the World” (Salvator Mundi) by Leonardo da Vinci. 5 curious details of the painting

Leonardo Salvator Mundi
Leonardo da Vinci. The Savior of the World (Salvator Mundi). Circa 1500, Louvre in Abu Dhabi

In late 2017, the art society was shocked twice. A work by none other than Leonardo da Vinci* was offered for sale. And this may happen only once in 1000 years.

Moreover, it was sold for almost half a billion dollars! This is likely to never happen again.

But for many people this news outshined the picture itself. At the same time, it is full of extremely curious details.

Some of them prove that Leonardo was the one who really painted “The Savior of the world” (Salvator Mundi).

The others, on the contrary, throw into question that this Renaissance era genius could create it.

1. Sfumato

It is commonly known that sfumato was invented by Leonardo. Due to this technique, his paintings’ characters evolved from painted dolls to almost flesh-and-blood people.

He managed to achieve this by realizing that the real world contains no lines. Therefore, they shouldn’t be present on a painting either.

Leonardo started depicting shaded contours of faces and hands that looked like seamless transitions from light to shadow.

He used this very technique to create his famous “Mona Lisa”.

Sfumato is used in “The Savior” too. Moreover, it is hypertrophied here. We see the Jesus’ face as though in a fog.

Nevertheless, “The Savior” is called a male version of “Mona Lisa”. Partly, it is due to the similar features. Here we can agree. The eyes, the nose, and the upper lip look similar.

And because of sfumato as well. However, if we bring them into line, it will become obvious that we see the Savior’s face as if through a thick fog.

Leonardo’s paintings details
Details of Leonardo’s paintings: Salvator Mundi (left) and Mona Lisa (right)

So, it’s and ambivalent detail. It seems to prove the Leonardo’s authorship.

On the other hand, it’s too obtrusive. As if someone imitated the master, but overdid it.

There is something else that unites “Mona Lisa” and “The Savior”.

Leonardo intended to impart androgynous features to his characters. His male characters have female features.

Remember an angel in his painting “Madonna of the Rocks”. The Savior’s face features are quite soft as well.

Leonardo da Vinci Madonna of the rocks
Leonardo da Vinci. Madonna of the rocks (a fragment). 1483-1486, Louvre, Paris

2. A Sphere as a symbol of our world

Besides the Jesus’ face, the brightest detail in the painting is a glass sphere.

Someone may think that the ball in the Savior’s hands looks unusual.

Indeed, before Columbus discovered America in 1492, people believed that the Earth was flat. Could this new knowledge spread throughout Europe so quickly?

After all, if we look at other “Saviors” of that period, we will clearly see that the image is repeated by the German and the Dutch artists as well.

The Savior of the World (Durer and der Beke)
To the left: Dürer. The Savior of the World (unfinished). 1505, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
To the right: Joos van der Beke. The Savior of the World. 1516-1518, Louvre, Paris

The case is that even the ancient Greeks knew about sphericity of the Earth. Educated Europeans both in the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance era were well aware of this fact as well.

We falsely assume that people realized their mistake only after the Columbus’ voyage. The theory of the flat Earth always existed in parallel with the theory of its sphericity.

Even nowadays, there are people who will convince you that the Earth is a quadrangle covered by a dome.

The hand holding the sphere features another remarkable detail.

On closer inspection, we can notice pentimento. It means that the artist’s alterations are visible with the naked eye.

Please note that initially the palm was smaller, but the master made it wider.

Leonardo Detail of “The Savior of the World” (the glass sphere)
Leonardo da Vinci. Detail of “The Savior of the World” (the glass sphere). Circa 1500, Louvre in Abu Dhabi

Experts believe that pentimento always prove authorship.

However, every medal has its reverse. A student might have painted the hand and Leonardo just corrected it.

3. Composition of “The Savior”

It is that very detail that that gives evidence against authenticity of the painting.

The case is that you won’t find a single portrait by Leonardo, where he depicted his character completely full face.

His models are always half-turned to us. It doesn’t matter whether you look an early work or the latest one.

Leonardo did it intentionally. By using a more complicated pose, he tried to breathe life into his characters to impart them at least a bit of dynamics.

Leonardo’s artworks portrait of Ginevra Benci and St. John the Baptist
To the left: Portrait of Ginevra Benci. 1476, The National Gallery of Art, Washington.
To the right: St. John the Baptist. 1513-1516, Louvre, Paris

4. Leonardo’s artisanship

Being an anatomist, Leonardo was extremely good at painting hands. The right hand is depicted with really great skill.

Clothes are also painted in Leonardo’s style. The shirt folds and sleeves are shown very naturally.

Moreover, these details coincide with the master’s initial sketches that are exhibited in Windsor Castle.

Leonardo sketches
Sketches by Leonardo da Vinci. Circa 1500, the Royal Collection, Windsor Castle, London

All you need to do is to compare Leonardo’s “Savior” with the work by his student.

The contrast immediately reveals the true artisanship.

Leonardo and his pupil’s paintings
To the left: Leonardo da Vinci. Salvator Mundi. Circa 1500. Louvre, Abu-Dhabi.
To the right: unknown author (Leonardo da Vinci’s workshop). 1505, Louvre, Paris

5. Leonardo’s colours

“Madonna of the Rocks” is exhibited in the National Gallery in London. This very museum was the first one to recognize authenticity of “The Savior of the World”. The case is that the gallery employees had a strong argument.

By analysing the pigments of “The Savior’s” paint they proved that it is absolutely identical to the paint of “Madonna of the Rocks”.

Fragments of Leonardo’s paintings
To the left: a fragment of the painting “Salvator Mundi”. 1500.
To the right: a fragment of the painting “Madonna of the Rocks”. 1499-1508, The National Gallery, London.

Indeed, despite the damaged paint layer, the colours are selected with masterly skill.

However, this fact can easily prove another point of view – the painting was created by a Leonardo’s student, who used the same paint as the master, which is quite logically.

***

We can only guess, whether Leonardo painted every inch of “The Savior” himself or just corrected the work of his student.

However, over 500 years the painting was badly damaged. Moreover, its hapless owners added a beard and moustache to the Jesus’ image. Apparently, they weren’t satisfied with the androgynous look of “The Savior”.

As a result, in the middle of the 20th century it was sold at an auction for as little as $45! So poorly it looked.

But in the 2000s, after 6 years of meticulous work the painting was restored. Experts have done everything possible to make it look like work of Leonardo again.

Alas, in this case it is more the restorer’s work, but not the one by the Renaissance era master.

* At the end of March 2019, the media reported that the painting disappeared from the museum. It is no longer exhibited to the public.

Leading art experts express deepest regret, since it’s a great misfortune for all art lovers to be deprived of such a masterpiece.

Authour: Oksana Kopenkina

Dutch painters. 8 masters of the Netherlandic Golden Age

Holland. The 17th century country is flourishing unprecedentedly – it is the so-called Golden Age.

At the end of the 16th century, several of the country’s provinces won independence from Spain.

Since then, the Protestant Netherlands chose their own path. And Catholic Flanders (present-day Belgium) went its own way under the Spain’s wing.

In independent Holland, almost no one needed religious painting any more. The Protestant Church disapproved luxurious decorations. However, this circumstance played to secular painting’s advantages.

Every citizen of the new country gave his heart to this art type. The Dutch wanted to see paintings depicting their everyday lives. And painters willingly accommodated their requests.

The surrounding world had never been painted so much before. Common people, common rooms and the most common breakfast of a citizen.

Realism was flourishing. Up to the 20th century, it would be a peer competitor to academicism that portrayed nymphs and Greek goddesses.

These artists are called the minor Dutch. Why? Their paintings were small in size, since they were intended for small houses. Thus, almost all the paintings by Jan Vermeer are no more than half a meter high.

But I prefer another version. In the 17th century’s Netherlands, a great master lived and worked – the Major Dutchman. And all the rest are minor in comparison with him.

Of course, I speak about Rembrandt. Let him be the one we start with.

1. Rembrandt (1606-1669)

Rembrandt. Self-portrait at the Age of 63. 1669. The National Gallery, London

Throughout his life, Rembrandt happened to experience the widest range of emotions. Therefore, there is so much fun and chest-thumping in his early works and so many complex feelings in later ones.

Here, we can see him young and carefree in “The Prodigal Son in the Tavern”. His beloved wife Saskia is sitting on his knees. He is a popular painter. Orders are flowing like water.

Rembrandt The prodigal son in the tavern
Rembrandt. The Prodigal Son in the Tavern. 1635. Old Masters Picture Gallery, Dresden

However, everything will disappear in short 10 years. Saskia will die from consumption. Popularity will fade away like smoke. A large house containing a unique collection will be repossessed.

But it will be the time when that very Rembrandt appears, who will remain to the end of time. Who will nude his heroes’ feelings and their innermost thoughts.

The figures appear from the colourful depth of “The Return of the Prodigal Son”, illuminated by dim light. This light is only enough to see their emotions.

Great relief, replaced by the feeling of despair and guilt of the son. The father’s all-forgiving love. The audience’s sympathy and surprise.

Rembrandt The Return of the prodigal son
Rembrandt. The Return of the Prodigal Son. 1668. The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg.

Renewed Rembrandt couldn’t fit his epoch at all. In the age of outer beauty and naturalism, no one needed his profound paintings.

There was not a single patron in Holland who could appreciate the later works of the master. Therefore, they spread around the world so easily.

Frans Hals (1583-1666)

Hals Self-portrait
Frans Hals. Self-portrait. 1650. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Frans Hals is one of the greatest portrait painters of all time. Therefore, I would also reckon him among the Major Dutchmen.

At that time in Holland, people used to order group portraits. Thus, lots of similar portraits appeared depicting people working together: officers of one civic guard, doctors of one town, keepers of a rest home.

It was Hals, who was the most prominent representative of the genre. After all, most of these portraits looked like a deck of cards. People are just sitting around a table and looking with the same expression on their faces. Hals made it in a different way.

Look at his group portrait “Banquet of the Officers of the St. George Civic Guard”.

Hals “Banquet of the officers of the st George civic guard”
Frans Hals. Banquet of the Officers of the St. George Civic Guard. 1627. The Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, the Netherlands

Here, you won’t find a single repeating pose or facial expression. At the same time, there is no chaos. There are lots of characters, but no one looks like being an outsider thanks to a surprisingly correct figure arrangement.

When painting single portraits, Hals surpassed many artists as well. His models look natural. On his paintings, people from the upper-class society miss their artificial grandeur and models from the lower classes don’t look humiliated.

At the same time, his characters are extremely emotional: they smile, laugh, and gesticulate. Just like this Gypsy Girl with a cheeky look, for example.

Hals “The gypsy girl”
Frans Hals. The Gypsy Girl. 1625-1630. The Louvre Museum, Paris

Just like Rembrandt, Hals ended up in poverty. Due to the same reason. His realism was out of tune with his clients’ tastes, who wanted their appearance to be flattered. Hals didn’t recourse to blatant flattery and thus, signed his own sentence – “Oblivion”.

3. Gerard ter Borch (1617-1681)

Ter Borch Self-portrait
Gerard ter Borch. Self-portrait. 1668. The Royal Mauritshuis Gallery, den Haag, the Netherlands

Ter Borch was a master of the genre art. Rich and not very well-off burghers are talking leisurely, ladies are reading letters, and a procuress is watching courtship. Two or three closely spaced figures.

It was this master who shaped the genre art canons, which were later borrowed by Jan Vermeer, Pieter de Hooch and many other minor Dutchmen.

Ter Borch “Glass of lemonade”
Gerard ter Borch. Glass of Lemonade. 1660s. The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg.

“Glass of Lemonade” is one of the famous ter Borch’s works. It shows another excellency of the painter – an incredibly realistic representation of a dress fabric.

Ter Borch has unusual works as well, which proves his eagerness to go beyond his clients’ requirements.

His painting “The Family of the Stone Grinder” depicts lives of the poorest Dutch citizens. We are used to seeing cozy courtyards and clean rooms on the minor Dutchmen’s paintings. But ter Borch dared to show us the seamy side of Holland.

Ter Borch “The family of the stone grinder”
Gerard ter Borch. The Family of the Stone Grinder. 1653-1655. The Berlin State Museums

As you might have guessed, such works were in little demand. And they are rare even for ter Borch.

Jan Vermeer (1632-1675)

Vermeer “The art of painting”
Jan Vermeer. The Art of Painting. 1666-1667. Art History Museum, Vienna


No one knows for sure, what Jan Vermeer looked like. It is obvious that he depicted himself on the painting “The Art of Painting”. However, we can see his back only.

Therefore, it is surprising that a new fact from the master’s life has recently become known. It’s related to his masterpiece “The Little Street”.

Vermeer “The little street”
Jan Vermeer. The Little Street. 1657. The State Museum, Amsterdam

It turned out that Vermeer spent his childhood on this street. The depicted house belonged to his aunt. She raised her five children in it. Perhaps, she is a woman sitting on the threshold and sewing, and her two children are playing on the pavement. Vermeer lived in the house across the street.

However, more often he painted these houses’ interior and their dwellers. His paintings’ plots seem to be extremely simple. Here, we see a pretty lady – a well-off citizen – checking how her balance works.

Vermeer woman holding a balance
Jan Vermeer. Woman Holding a Balance. 1662-1663. The National Gallery of Art, Washington

So why Vermeer stood out from thousands of other minor Dutchmen?

He was an unrivalled master of light. On the painting “Woman Holding a Balance”, light gently enveils the heroine’s face, fabric and walls, making the pictured look mysteriously spiritual.

Moreover, the compositions of Vermeer’s pictures are carefully balanced. You won’t find any excessive details. If you remove any of them, a picture will “fall to pieces” and the magic will fade away.

It wasn’t easy for Vermeer. Such an amazing quality required meticulous work. He could complete only 2-3 paintings per year. As a result, he wasn’t able to provide for his family. At the same time, Vermeer worked as an art dealer selling works of other painters.

5. Pieter de Hooch (1629-1684)

De Hooch Self-portrait
Pieter de Hooch. Self-portrait. 1648-1649. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Hooch is often compared with Vermeer. They worked during one and the same time; there was even a period when they created in the same town. And they both preferred genre art.

On Hooch’s paintings, we can also see one or two figures in cozy Dutch courtyards or rooms.
Open doors and windows make space of his paintings look multi-layered and absorbing.

And the figures are extremely harmoniously painted in this space. For example, on his painting “Courtyard of a House in Delft”.

De Hooch “Courtyard of a house in Delft”
Pieter de Hooch. Courtyard of a House in Delft. 1658. The national Gallery, London

Up to the 20th century, Hooch was highly valued. On the contrary, inconsiderable number of works by his rival Vermeer was hardly noticed.

But everything changed in the 20th century. The glory of Hooch had set. However, it is difficult to ignore his achievements in painting. Hardly any of painters could combine environment and people so skilfully.

De Hooch “Card Players in a sunlight room
Pieter de Hooch. Card Players in a Sunlit Room. 1658 г. The Royal Collection, London

You should pay attention to the fact that in a modest house, shown on the painting “Card Players”, there is a picture in an expensive frame.

It demonstrates once again that painting was extremely popular among common Dutch people. Every house was decorated with paintings: both a rich burgher’ home, and a modest citizen’s one, and even a peasant’s dwelling.

6. Jan Steen

Steen Self-portrait playing the lute
Jan Steen. Self-portrait Playing the Lute. 1670. Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid

Perhaps, Jan Steen is the most cheerful minor Dutchman. But he’s fond of moral teaching. He used to depict taverns or poorhouse, where vice lived.

His main characters are revellers and women of easy virtue. He aimed at entertaining the audience and at the same time implicitly warn people against vicious life.

Steen in luxury, look out
Jan Steen. In Luxury, Look Out. 1663. Art History Museum, Vienna

Steen has more calm works as well. For example, “The Morning Toilet”. But even here, the painter surprises viewers with excessively immodest details.

Here, we can see both traces left by a stocking band and a full chamber pot. Moreover, a dog lying on the pillow looks completely inappropriately.

Steen”The morning toilet”
Jan Steen. The Morning Toilet. 1661-1665. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

But despite lack of seriousness, Steen’s colour solutions are extremely professional. In this regard, he had left many of minor Dutchmen behind. Just look, how the red stocking matches the blue jacket and the bright beige rug.

7. Jacob van Ruysdael

Ruysdael portrait
Jacob van Ruysdael. Portrait. 19th century

It’s not for nothing that Ruysdael can be called a revolutionary of landscape painting.

Before him and after him as well, painters created idealized landscapes with the single purpose of making a decoration.
However, Ruysdael depicted the real Dutch nature instead of the abstract one. Every his landscape has its own mood.

Here, we can see a gloomy and depressive “Jewish Cemetery” with a small piece of hope in the form of a rainbow and a spot of the lighter sky.

Ruysdael “The Jewish cemetery”
Jacob van Ruysdael. The Jewish Cemetery. 1657. Detroit Institute of Arts

And here is his famous “Marsh” housed in the Hermitage.

Mighty trees are struggling for survival at a swampy marsh. But not everyone is lucky enough – a birch has withered and there is a dead tree trunk lying.

Ruysdael “The Marsh”
Jacob van Ruysdael. The Marsh. 1660s. The State Hermitage Museum.

Landscape is an allegory of life full of obstacles, when not everyone has a chance to survive. At the same time, the “Marsh” doesn’t smack of horror. The bright sky and lovely water lilies make uneasy feelings softer. Even among these dangers there is a place for beauty.

The public didn’t quite appreciate such realistic landscapes either. Therefore, Italian-style landscapes depicting the abstract nature cost much more.

But this didn’t stop Ruysdael. He kept his character selling his paintings for peanuts. Only the next generations duly appreciated his works. In the 19th century, he already became an idol for many realist landscape painters.

8. Pieter Claesz

Claesz “Vanitas still life with self-portrait”
Pieter Claesz. Vanitas Still Life with Self-Portrait. 1628. The German National Museum, Nuremberg

In no other country has a still life genre developed to such an extent. It’s not surprising – what can be a better way to decorate a wall above the dining table.

All Dutch still life painters did their best to create so-called tangible paintings, meaning that objects were so realistic that you literally wanted to touch them. To such an extent glass looked like glass, a lemon was sour, and a loaf was golden.

But even in still life genre, every master had his own focused specialization. Thus, Pieter Claesz is famous for his “breakfasts”.

Claesz “Still life with a fish”
Pieter Claesz. Still Life with a Fish. 1646 г. The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow

Minor Dutchman did not aim for originality. Therefore, you can find the same breakfasts by Claesz in other museums. Except for there will be ham or crab instead of fish.

They were not afraid to be similar to other painters as well. As they say, try to find 10 differences when comparing Breakfasts by Pieter Claesz and his painter colleague Willem Head.

Heda “Breakfast with a fish”
Willem Heda. Breakfast with a Fish. 1629. The Royal Mauritshuis Gallery, den Haag, the Netherlands

In conclusion

During the Golden Age, worked 3000 painters in the Netherlands. But you can’t call them all great. Many of them were extremely focused specialists. There were even those who painted only moonlight landscapes or seashore at night.

This limited their self-expression greatly. They were just good craftsmen who had no chance to create masterpieces that would be remembered for centuries.

And only few of them were capable of it. But they often had to be out of tune with their clients’ tastes. Thus, Rembrandt painted in all genres without specializing in anything. Hals had never flattered his customers. And Vermeer preferred quality to quantity.

But that is the reason why we remember them…

Authour: Oksana Kopenkina

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