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

English artists. 6 masters who changed the world art

Thomas Gainsborough. Portrait of a Lady in Blue (detail). 1778-1782

The artists of which country have contributed most to development of the world art?

When hearing this question, French artists are often thought of. And the Dutch. And of course, no one doubts the influence of Italian Renaissance.

However, if we consider the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, the English artists’ achievements are worth mentioning.

During this time period, several outstanding masters worked in the country of foggy Albion, who completely changed the world art.

1. William Hogarth (1697-1764)

William Hogarth. Self-portrait. 1745
William Hogarth. Self-portrait. 1745. The Tate Gallery, London

It was a difficult time Hogarth lived in. At the beginning off the 18th century in England, the bourgeois society had just appeared substituting for the feudal one.

Moral values were vague. Mercenariness and greed for wealth at any cost were seriously considered to be strong points.

Hogarth decided not to keep silent. But tried to open his countrymen’s eyes and show them decay of moral values. By using paintings and engravings.

He began with the series of paintings “A Harlot’s Progress”. Unfortunately, there are no paintings remained. We have only engravings left.

William Hogarth. A Harlot’s Progress: Caught by a Bawd. Engraving. 1732.
William Hogarth. A Harlot’s Progress: Caught by a Bawd. Engraving. 1732.

It’s a real story of a village girl called Mary, who came to a city to look for her luck. But fell into clutches of an old bawd.

We can see this scene on the first engraving. After becoming a fancy woman, she spent her short life among social outcasts.

Hogarth deliberately turned his paintings into engravings to distribute them widely. Thus, he tried to reach as many people as he could.

He wanted to warn not only poor girls like Mary, but noble people as well. This can be seen from the series of his works “Marriage a la Mode”.

The story described was extremely typical for that time. An impoverished aristocrat marries a daughter of a wealthy merchant. However, it is only a deal that implies no accord of hearts.

The most famous painting of the series “The Tete-a-Tete” demonstrates the emptiness of their relationship.

William Hogarth. Marriage a la Mode. The Tete-a-Tete. 1743.
William Hogarth. Marriage a la Mode. The Tete-a-Tete. 1743. The National Gallery of London

The wife had spent the night having fun with guests. And the husband returned home only in the morning, feeling ruined by revelry (judging by a spot on his neck, he already suffered from syphilis).

The Countess stretches her arms and is about to yawn. On her face, we can see that she is completely indifferent to her husband. No wonder. She has an extradyadic affair.

The story has a sad end. The husband will find his wife in bed with her lover and will be stabbed to death in a duel. The lover will be hanged. And the Countess will commit suicide.

Hogarth wasn’t just a caricaturist. He was too talented for that. His colour combinations were too complex and harmonious and the paintings were incredibly expressive.

You can easily “read” his paintings, understanding the relationship between people.

William Hogarth. Marriage a la Mode. The Duel and the Count’s Death. 1743.
William Hogarth. Marriage a la Mode. The Duel and the Count’s Death. 1743. The National Gallery of London

It’s difficult to overestimate Hogarth’s merits. After all, he invented the critical realism. He was the one to depict so many conflicts and social dramas in painting. Hogarth inspired Francisco Goya to create his famous Caprichos.

2. Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792)

Joshua Reynolds. Self-portrait. 1747.
Joshua Reynolds. Self-portrait. 1747. The National Portrait Gallery, London

There are only few painters in the world who were basking in the spotlight when alive and at the same time managed to survive in the descendants’ memory. An English artist Joshua Reynolds was one of those lucky ones.

Since childhood, he knew that the only thing he wanted was to paint. He gained recognition quickly. Indeed, his talent was complimented by a suitable character. Sociable and energetic. In every respect, he won the clients’ hearts easily.

No wonder that once Reynolds became the most influential official in the world of art. At the age of 45, he was elected the President of the Royal Academy of Arts.

Joshua Reynolds. Portrait of Colonel Banastre Tarleton. 1782.
Joshua Reynolds. Portrait of Colonel Banastre Tarleton. 1782. The National London Gallery

Using an appropriate suit, environment or landscape, expression on the face and postures, Reynolds could reveal a person’s most advantageous qualities.

This is true about the portrait of Colonel Tarleton.

It’s the best solution to show the truly courageous man of action against the background of flying colours and clouds of smoke. And the drawing of a sword successfully hides the hand with fingers lost in a battle.

When painting female portraits, Reynolds, undoubtedly, emphasized tenderness and beauty. But he never forgot about the heroine’s character.

Joshua Reynolds. Countess of Harrington. 1779.
Joshua Reynolds. Countess of Harrington. 1779. The Huntington Gallery, San Marino, USA

One can clearly see at once that the Countess of Harrington is a self-assured person. But the artist softens it with an appropriate scenery and dress. Assurance is clearly flattering to such a lady.

In his last years he didn’t see well. And didn’t touch the brush any more. But one order he couldn’t refuse. His client was Catherine II.

Since then, there are several late works by Reynolds in the Hermitage Museum. Including “Venus and Cupid”.

Joshua Reynolds. Cupid Untying the Girdle of Venus. 1788.
Joshua Reynolds. Cupid Untying the Girdle of Venus. 1788. The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

We see Venus making a gesture, non-trivial for Reynolds. She is embarrassed by the eyes looking at her.

The painting clearly shows how Reynolds skilfully copied the old masters’ achievements. The warm and deep colours of Titian. The languishing, soft lines of Rubens.

Reynolds didn’t reinvent the wheel. But he set extremely high standards for all European artists.

3. Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788)

Thomas Gainsborough. Self-portrait. 1758-1759.
Thomas Gainsborough. Self-portrait. 1758-1759. The National Portrait Gallery, London

Not for nothing Gainsborough can be called the most famous English painter of the 18th century. He lived at the same time as Reynolds. And they were rivals.

The difference between Reynolds and Gainsborough can be seen with the naked eye. The first one uses red and golden shades, majestic and solemn images.

Gainsborough prefers silver and blue, as well as olive and green shades. His portraits were aerial and intimate.

Thomas Gainsborough. Portrait of a Lady in Blue. 1778-1782
Thomas Gainsborough. Portrait of a Lady in Blue. 1778-1782. The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

All these we can see in the portrait “A Lady in Blue”. There is no emotional tension – just a beautiful and gentle image. To achieve this effect, Gainsborough used a thin, almost 6,5 feet (2 meters) long brush for working!

In the first place, Gainsborough always considered himself to be a landscape painter. But the need to earn money forced him to paint portraits on a by-order basis. The irony of it is that he became famous and remained in history precisely as a portrait painter.

But the artist compromised with himself. He often portraying his clients out in the country. Thus, he united hateful portraits and his favorite landscapes.

Thomas Gainsborough. Portrait of Mr. and Mrs. William Hallett (Morning Walk). 1785.
Thomas Gainsborough. Portrait of Mr. and Mrs. William Hallett (Morning Walk). 1785. The National Gallery, London

Clients could not decide which of the two portrait painters they liked more. And the aristocrats kept ordering portraits from both Reynolds and Gainsborough. They were too different. But there works were equally impressive.

But unlike Reynolds, his opponent was attracted by ordinary people as well. He painted a duchess and a commoner with the same passion.

Thomas Gainsborough. Girl with pigs. 1782.
Thomas Gainsborough. Girl with pigs. 1782. Private collection

Reynolds traded his painting “Girls with Pigs” from one collector for a Titian’s painting he possessed as he considered it to be the best work of his rival.

Gainsborough’s works are unique in their quality. Here, we can see unhidden touches, which at a distance make the painting look alive and breathing.

There are smooth and shaded lines. As if everything happens in humid air, which is really true for England.

And, of course, an unusual combination of portrait and landscape. All this distinguishes Gainsborough from many other portrait painters of his time.

4. William Blake (1757-1827)

Thomas Phillips. Portrait of William Blake. 1807.
Thomas Phillips. Portrait of William Blake. 1807. The National Portrait Gallery, London

William Blake was an extraordinary person. Since childhood he saw mystical visions. And when he grew up, he became an anarchist. He denied laws and moral, being sure that they oppressed human freedom.

He did not recognize religion either, considering it to be the main limitation of freedom. Of course, his opinion reflected in his works. “The architect of the world” is his dead-set at Christianity.

William Blake. The Great Architect. Hand-painted etching.
William Blake. The Great Architect. Hand-painted etching. 36 x 26 cm. 1794. The British Museum, London

The Creator holds compasses, tracing borders for humans – the borders that are impossible to cross. That make our thinking limited and existing within narrow frames.

For his contemporaries, his works seemed too extraordinary, so he didn’t lived to be recognized.

Some people saw prophecies and future disturbances in his paintings. They perceived Blake as a blessed one, a man out of head.

But officially Blake was never declared mad. He spent all his life working fruitfully. Moreover, he was a all around handyman. He was an excellent engraver and a brilliant illustrator. He was the one who created incredible watercolours for Dante’s Divine Comedy.

William Blake. The Whirlwind of Lovers. 1824-1827.
William Blake. The Whirlwind of Lovers. 1824-1827. Illustration to Dante’s Divine Comedy

The only thing that Blake had in common with his era is the fashion for everything terrible and fabulous. Indeed, in England of the 19th century, romanticism and fabulous motifs were rather popular.

Therefore, his painting “Ghost of a Flea” fits perfectly into the common series of works of that period.

William Blake. Ghost of a Flea. 1819
William Blake. Ghost of a Flea. 1819. Tempera, gold, wood. 21 x 16 cm. The Tate Museum, Britain, London

Blake assured that he had seen a bloodsucker’s soul. But it was placed in a tiny flea. If this soul was placed in a human being, a lot of blood would be shed.

Obviously, Blake was born ahead of his time. His works frighteningly resemble the works of symbolists and surrealists of the 20th century. They were the ones who remembered about this master 100 years after his death. He became their idol and inspirational figure.

5. John Constable (1776-1837)

Ramsey Reinagle. Portrait of John Constable. 1799
Ramsey Reinagle. Portrait of John Constable. 1799. The National Portrait Gallery, London

Despite his aristocratic appearance, Constable was a miller’s son. He loved hand labour. He could plow, build fences and fish. Maybe that’s the reason why we find no pathos in his landscapes. They are natural and realistic.

Before, artists used to paint idealized landscapes, often Italian ones. But Constable depicted a particular locality. A river, a cottage and trees that really existed.

John Constable. The Hay Wain. 1821.
John Constable. The Hay Wain. 1821. The National Gallery, London

His “Hay Wain” is the most famous English landscape. This was the work seen by the French public at the Paris exhibition of 1824.

Young impressionists were particularly impressed. In this painting, some of them saw something they were aiming at. No academic pomposity. No ancient ruins and spectacular sunsets. Just an everyday life in the countryside. Attractive in its naturalness.

After this exhibition, Constable sold as many as 20 of his paintings in Paris. However, his landscapes were almost never bought in his motherland.

But unlike Gainsborough, he rarely switched to portraits for the sake to earn money. He continued to improve his skills in landscape painting.

For this reason, he studied natural phenomena from a scientific point of view. And he could select colours that were extremely close to those found in nature. He was especially skilled at painting the sky – the contrasting light and dark clouds.

John Constable. Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop's Grounds. 1826.
John Constable. Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Grounds. 1826. The Frick Collection, New York


But Constable is famous for not only incredibly realistic paintings. But by his sketches as well.

The artist created a sketch of the same size as his future painting. He worked right outdoors. It was his know-how. This is the working method that Impressionists will adopt later.

John Constable. Boat and Stormy Sky. 1824-1828.
John Constable. Boat and Stormy Sky. 1824-1828. The Royal Collection, London

But quite often, Constable used these sketches to paint completed works in his studio. Although at that time, the public liked them more, they were not as lively and full of movement as sketches.

It was only in the 20th century that countrymen realized the greatness of Constable. And till now, he is one of the most beloved artists in England.

6. William Turner (1775-1851 )

William Turner. Self-portrait. 1799.
William Turner. Self-portrait. 1799. The Tate Gallery, London

An English painter William Turner was able to gain popularity and become a member of the art academy when he was still young. Almost immediately, people began to call him “the artist of light”, since the sun was often present on his paintings.

If you look at other artists’ landscapes, you will hardly see any sun. It is too bright.

This brightness is hard to depict. It is in the eyes. It distorts everything around. But Turner wasn’t afraid of this. He drew the sun in its heyday and at sunset. He boldly covered all around with its light.

William Turner. The Harbour of Dieppe. 1826.
William Turner. The Harbour of Dieppe. 1826. The Frick Collection, New York, USA


But Turner could not help experimenting, though he was an academician and set a high value on his title. His mind was too extraordinary and agile.

Therefore, as soon as in a couple of decades, his works evolved greatly. There were less details but more light. More sensations.

One of the most famous paintings of that time is “Last voyage of the Frigate “Brave”.

Here, we can see a bit of allegory. Sailing ships are replaced by steam ones. One era replaces another. The sun sets, and the moon rises to replace it (top left).

William Turner. Last voyage of the Frigate "Brave". 1838.
William Turner. Last voyage of the Frigate “Brave”. 1838. The National Gallery, London


Here, the sun still keeps dominating position. The sunset takes as much as the half of the picture.

And in the subsequent works the artist almost approaches the abstract art by hypertrophying all his previous aspirations. By removing details and leaving only sensations and light.

William Turner. The Morning after the Deluge. 1843.
William Turner. The Morning after the Deluge. 1843. The Tate Gallery, London

As you understand, the public failed to appreciate such works. Queen Victoria refused to knight Turner. And his reputation was shaken. In society, hints on his madness were heard more and more often.

This is the fate of all the true artists. He takes a step too far forward. And the public catches him up only decades or and even centuries later. That is what happened to the great Turner.

7. Pre-Raphaelites

It’s impossible to ignore the Pre-Raphaelites when speaking of the English artists. Moreover, they became extremely popular in the 21st century.

Where did such a strong love for these artists come from?

The Pre-Raphaelites started with setting high goals. They wanted to find a way out of the dead end of stiff academic painting. They were tired of depicting myths and historical plots that were little known to the general public. They wanted to show a real, lively beauty.

And the Pre-Raphaelites began to show female images. They turned out to be extremely beautiful and attractive.

Left: Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Beata Beatrix. 1864-1870. Right: John William Waterhouse. Boreas. 1903.
Left: Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Beata Beatrix. 1864-1870. The Tate Gallery, London. Right: John William Waterhouse. Boreas. 1903. Private collection

What are worth only of their red-haired beauties. As a rule, they were their lovers in real life as well.

The pre-Raphaelites began to praise female beauty. As a result, nothing was left in them apart from this.
It looked like posed, gorgeous shots for glossy magazines. Such images are easy to imagine as advertisements of women’s perfumes.

That’s why the people of the 21st century liked the Pre-Raphaelites so much. Since it’s the age of glamorous, bright advertising.

John Everett Millais. Ophelia. 1851.
John Everett Millais. Ophelia. 1851. The Tate Gallery, London

Despite the apparent emptiness of many works, it was these artists who stood at the origins of design development that later broke off from art. Indeed, the Pre-Raphaelites (for example, William Morris) worked a lot on sketches of fabrics, wallpapers and other interior decorations.

***

I hope that after reading this article, you have seen the English artists from a new point of view. It was not always only the Italians and the Dutch who influenced the world art. The English have also made their substantial contribution.

American artists. 7 masters who astonished the world

American artists are extremely motley. Some of them were sheer cosmopolitans, like Sargent. Being an American by birth, he spent almost all his life in London and Paris.

Among them, there are also authentic Americans, who depicted only the life of their countrymen, like Rockwell.

And there are even otherworldly artists, like Pollock. Or those whose art became a product of the consumer society. Of course, this is about Warhol.

Nevertheless, they are all Americans. Freedom-loving, audacious, brilliant. Read about seven of them below.

1. James Whistler (1834-1903)

James Whistler Self portrait
James Whistler. Self portrait. 1872. Detroit Institute of Arts, USA.

Whistler can hardly be called a true American. Growing up, he moved to Europe. And his childhood he spent… in Russia. His father built a railway in Saint Petersburg.

It was there that young James fell in love with art, when visiting the Hermitage and Peterhof thanks to his father’s connections (at that time, these palaces were still closed to the public).

What is Whistler famous for? Whatever style he applied in his paintings, from realism to tonalism*, you can almost immediately recognize him by two signs. Unusual colours and musical titles.

A part of his portraits imitates the old masters. For example, his famous portrait of “The Artist’s Mother”.

James Whistler The artist’s mother
James Whistler. The Artist’s Mother. Arrangement in Grey and Black. 1871. Musee d’Orsay, Paris. Commons.m.wikimedia.org

The artist created an amazing painting using grey colours from light to dark ones. And a little of yellow.

But it doesn’t mean that Whistler loved such colours. He was an extraordinary man. He could easily make a public appearance wearing yellow socks and carrying a bright umbrella. Despite the fact that in those times men dressed only in black and grey.

He has much brighter works than “The Mother”. For example, “Symphony in White”. The painting was called so by one of journalists at an exhibition. Whistler liked the idea. Since then, he gave musical titles to almost all of his works.

James Whistler Symphony in white no. 1
James Whistler. Symphony in White No. 1. 1862. The National Gallery of Art in Washington, USA

But at that time, in 1862, the public didn’t like the “Symphony”. And again, it was due to an unusual colour composition preferred by Whistler. People considered it strange to paint a woman in white on the white background.

The painting depicts Whistler’s red-haired lover. It’s the sort of thing the Pre-Raphaelites could do. After all, at the time, the artist was on friendly terms with one of the main founders of Pre-Raphaelism Gabriel Rossetti. A beauty, lilies, unusual elements (a wolf skin). Everything as is right and proper.

But Whistler quickly gave up Pre-Raphaelism. Since it was not external beauty that was important to him, but mood and emotions. And he created a new direction – tonalism.

His landscapes-nocturnes in the style of tonalism really resembled music. Monochrome, plaintive.

Whistler said that such musical titles helped him to focus on painting itself, its lines and colour. Without thinking about the place and people being depicted.

James Whistler Nocturnes in Blue and silver: Chelsea
James Whistler. Nocturne in Blue and Silver: Chelsea. 1871. The Tate Gallery, London

3. Mary Cassatt  (1844-1926)

Mary Stevenson Cassatt. Self portrait
Mary Stevenson Cassatt. Self portrait. 1878. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


Mary Cassatt was born in a rich family. She could have lived a careless life. Could have got married and had children. But she chose a different road. She vowed celibacy for the sake of painting.

She was on friendly terms with Edgar Degas. Once in the impressionist environment, she became addicted to this style once and for all. And her “Little Girl in a Blue Armchair” is the first impressionist painting saw by the public.

Cassatt little girl in a blue armchair
Mary Cassatt. Little Girl in a Blue Armchair. 1878. The National Gallery of Art in Washington, USA

But nobody really liked the painting. In the 19th century, children were portrayed as obediently sitting angels with curled locks and pink cheeks. And here we see a child, who is obviously bored and is sitting in an over-unstudied pose.

But it was childless Mary Cassatt, who was almost the first one to start showing them as natural as they were.

For the time, Cassatt had a serious “drawback”. She was a woman. She couldn’t afford to go to a park alone to paint from life. All the more, she couldn’t visit a cafe where other artists gathered. They were all men! What did she have to do?

Mary Cassatt. The Tea. 1880.
Mary Cassatt. The Tea. 1880. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA

To paint monotonous women’s tea parties in living rooms with marble fireplaces and expensive tea sets. A slow paced and extremely boring life.

Mary Cassatt didn’t live to see her paintings appreciated. At first, she was rejected for her impressionism and the alleged incomplete paintings.

Then, as recently as in the 20th century, it unexpectedly became “outdated”, since art nouveau (Klimt) and fauvism (Matisse) became en vogue.

Mary Cassatt. Sleepy Baby. 1910.
Mary Cassatt. Sleepy Baby. Pastel, paper. 1910. Dallas Museum of Art, USA

But she stuck to her style to the end. Impressionism. Subdued pastel. Mothers with children.

Cassatt gave up on motherhood for the sake of painting. But her female principle increasingly manifested itself in such tender works as “Sleepy Baby”. It’s a pity that the conservative society once presented her with such a challenge.

3. John Sargent (1856-1925)

John Sargent. Self portrait. 1892
John Sargent. Self portrait. 1892. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

John Sargent was sure that he would be a portrait painter the whole life. The career shaped well. Aristocrats lined up to order a portrait from him.

However, once the society thought that the artist crossed the line. Now, it’s hard for us to understand why the painting “Madame X” was so unacceptable.

Truly speaking, in the original version the heroine had one of her shoulder straps down. Sargent “raised” it later but it didn’t save the situation. There were no more orders.

John Sargent. Madame X. 1878
John Sargent. Madame X. 1878. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

What was the indecency seen by the public? The fact was that Sargent portrayed the model standing in a too confident posture. Moreover, translucent skin and pink ear are very eloquent.

The picture seems to say that this woman, being extremely sexual, has no objections to accepting the courtship of other men. Despite being married.

Unfortunately, contemporaries missed the masterpiece behind this scandal. A dark dress, light skin, a dynamic posture – a simple combination, which could be found by the most talented masters only.

But every cloud has a silver lining. In return, Sargent received freedom. He began to experiment more with impressionism. To paint children in spontaneous situations. That’s how the work “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose” appeared.

Sargent wanted to catch a certain moment of twilight. Therefore, it worked only 2 minutes a day when the lighting was appropriate. He worked in summer and in autumn. And when the flowers withered, he replaced them with artificial ones.

John Sargent. Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose. 1885-1886
John Sargent. Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose. 1885-1886. The Tate Gallery, London

In his last decades, Sargent acquired the taste of freedom so much that he began to refuse making portraits. Although his reputation had already been restored. He even fluffed off a client rudely, saying that he would paint her wicket-gate. with greater pleasure than her face.

John Sargent. White Ships. 1908.
John Sargent. White Ships. 1908. The Brooklyn Museum, USA

Contemporaries treated Sargent with irony. Considering him outdated in the age of modernism. But time has set things straight.

Nowadays, his works cost no less than the paintings of the most famous modernists. And the public affection goes without saying. The exhibitions with his works are always sold out.

4. Norman Rockwell (1894-1978)

Norman Rockwell. Self portrait. Illustration for “The Saturday Evening Post”, February 13, 1960.
Norman Rockwell. Self portrait. Illustration for “The Saturday Evening Post”, February 13, 1960.

It’s hard to imagine an artist who could be more popular while alive than Norman Rockwell. Several generations of Americans were raised on his illustrations. And loved them with all their hearts.

After all, Rockwell depicted ordinary Americans. But at the same time, he showed their lives from the most positive point of view. Rockwell didn’t want to show either evil fathers or indifferent mothers. And you won’t find miserable children on his paintings.

Norman Rockwell. Going and Coming. Illustration in “The Saturday Evening Post” magazine, August 30, 1947.
Norman Rockwell. Going and Coming. Illustration in “The Saturday Evening Post” magazine, August 30, 1947. The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, USA

His works are full of humour, vivid colours, and very skilfully captured expressions on his models’ faces.

But it’s an illusion that the works came natural to Rockwell. Before creating a single painting, he could first take up to hundreds of photos with his models to catch the right gestures.

Rockwell’s works had a tremendous influence on the minds of millions of Americans. Since he often spoke with his paintings.

During the Second World War, he decided to show what the soldiers of his country were fighting for. By creating the painting “Freedom from want” among other things. It depicts the Thanksgiving Day, on which all the family members are enjoying this family holiday, full-bellied and contented.

Norman Rockwell. Freedom From Want. 1943.
Norman Rockwell. Freedom From Want. 1943. The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, USA

After 50 years of work for “The Saturday Evening Post”, Rockwell moved to a more democratic “Look” magazine, where he was able to express his position on social issues.

The most outstanding work of those years is “The problem we all live with”.

Norman Rockwell. The Problem We All Live With. 1964.
Norman Rockwell. The Problem We All Live With. 1964. The Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, USA.

It was a real story of a black girl who attended school for white. Since the law had been adopted that people (and therefore, educational institutions) should be no longer racially divided.

But inhabitants’ anger knew no limits. On the way to school, the girl was guarded by the police. Such a “routine” moment was shown by Rockwell.

If you want to see a little airbrushed life of the Americans (the way they wanted to see it), don’t miss Rockwell’s paintings.

Perhaps, Rockwell is the most American painter out of all the artists represented in this article.

5. Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009)

Andrew Wyeth. Self portrait. 1945.
Andrew Wyeth. Self portrait. 1945. The National Academy of Design, New York

Unlike Rockwell, Wyeth wasn’t so positive. Being an anchoret by nature, he didn’t seek to airbrush anything. On the contrary, he depicted the most ordinary landscapes and completely unremarkable objects. A simple wheat field, a simple wooden house. However, he managed to find something magical even in them.

The most famous of his works is the “Christina’s World”. Wyeth showed the fate of a woman who was his neighbour. Being paralyzed since childhood, she crawled around her farm.

Thus, the painting contains no romance, as it may seem at first. If you look closely, you may see that the woman is unhealthy thin. And knowing that the heroine’s legs are paralyzed, you sadly realize how far she is from home.

Andrew Wyeth. Christina’s World. 1948.
Andrew Wyeth. Christina’s World. 1948. The Museum of Modern Art, New York (MOMA)

At first sight, Wyeth painted the most ordinary things. Here we see an old window of an old house. A shabby curtain, which is already turning into shreds. A forest darkens behind the window.

But there is some kind of mystery in these objects. Some kind of a different view.

Andrew Wyeth. Wind From the Sea. 1947.
Andrew Wyeth. Wind From the Sea. 1947. The National Gallery of Art, Washington, USA

Just like children can see the world with unbiased eyes. This is the way Wyeth does. And the way we do together with him.

Wyeth’s wife was responsible for all his business affairs. She was a good organizer. She was the one who contacted museums and collectors.

There was little romance in their relations. A muse was obliged to appear. And a simple, but extraordinary looking Helga became the one. She is the person we meet in his numerous works.

Andrew Wyeth. Braids (from “Helga” series). 1979.
Andrew Wyeth. Braids (from “Helga” series). 1979. Private collection

It seems that all we see is just a photographic image of a woman. But for some reason, it’s difficult to withdraw eyes from her. Her look is too complicated, her shoulders tense. We feel like we are internally strained together with her. Trying to find an explanation of this tension.

Showing reality in every detail, Wyeth somehow endowed it with emotions that cannot leave us unmoved.

For a long time, the artist’s works weren’t appreciated. Albeit magical, his realism didn’t fit into modernist trends of the 20th century.

When museum representatives bought his works, they tried to do it quietly without attracting attention. His exhibitions were rare. But all the modernists to spite, they always were stunningly successful. People came in flocks. And still come.

6. Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)

Jackson Pollock. 1950. Photo by Hans Namut
Jackson Pollock. 1950. Photo by Hans Namut

It’s impossible to leave out Jackson Pollock. He crossed a certain line in the art, and painting could be the same no more. He showed that in the art, it is possible to do without borders at all. When he put canvas on the floor and spattered it with paint.

The first step of this American artist was abstractionism, where there are still figurative traces. On his painting from 1940s “Stenographic figure”, we can see contour of both face and hands. And even crosses and zeros – the symbols we can understand.

Jackson Pollock. Stenographic Figure. 1942.
Jackson Pollock. Stenographic Figure. 1942. The Museum of Modern Art, New York (MOMA)

His works were appreciated but rarely bought. He was as poor as a church mouse. And drank like a fish. Despite a happy marriage. His wife thought the world of his talent and did everything possible for her husband’s success.

But Pollock was initially a broken person. Since a young age, his behaviour made it clear that early death was his destiny.

And this personality breakdown resulted in his death at the age of 44. But he would manage to make a revolution in the art and become famous.

Jackson Pollock. Autumn Rhythm (Number 30). 1950.
Jackson Pollock. Autumn Rhythm (Number 30). 1950. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA

And he did it during the two-year long period of sobriety. He was able to work productively in 1950-1952. He had been experimenting for a long time, until he discovered a drip painting technique.

He laid a huge canvas on the floor of his shed, walked around it as if being inside the painting. And spattered or just poured paint.

People began to buy these unusual paintings for their incredible originality and novelty.

Jackson Pollock. Blue Poles. 1952.
Jackson Pollock. Blue Poles. 1952. The National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Pollock was stunned by his fame and sank himself into depression, not knowing where to move next. The deadly mixture of alcohol and depression left him no chances to survive. Once, he took to the wheel being extremely drunk. For the last time.

7. Andy Warhol (1928-1987)

Andy Warhol. 1979. Photo by Arthur Tress
Andy Warhol. 1979. Photo by Arthur Tress

Pop art could be born only in such a country as America, where a cult of consumption is so strong. And undoubtedly, its main pioneer was Andy Warhol.

He is famous for taking the most common objects and turning them into works of art. This is what happened to the Campbell’s soup can.

The choice was not a fluke. Warhol’s mother fed her son with this soup every day for over 20 years. Even when he moved to New York and took his mother with him.

Andy Warhol. Campbell’s Soup Cans.
Andy Warhol. Campbell’s Soup Cans. Polymeric material, hand print. 32 paintings 50×40 each. 1962. The Museum of Modern Art, New York (MOMA)

After this experiment, Warhol became interested in silkscreen printing. Since then, he took pop stars’ images and painted them in various colours.

That was how his famous painted Marilyn Monroe appeared.

He produced numerous Marilyns in acid colours. Art Warhol took the art to the assembly line. Just as it should be in the consumer society.

Andy Warhol. Marilyn Monroe. Silkscreen, paper. 1967.
Andy Warhol. Marilyn Monroe. Silkscreen, paper. 1967. The Museum of Modern Art, New York (MOMA)

It was not from scratch that Warhol invented his painted faces. And again, it was due to his mother’s influence. In his childhood, when her son was ill for a long time, she brought him bulks of colouring books.

This childhood hobby evolved and became his signature line and made him incredibly rich.

He painted not only pop stars but masterpieces of his predecessors as well. “Venus” by Botticelli didn’t evade her fate as well.

Just like Marilyns, there were lots of “Venuses” produced. Warhol completely destroyed the concept of the art exclusiveness. Why did the artist do it?

To popularize old masterpieces? Or vice versa, he tried to depreciate them? To immortalize pop stars? Or to season death with irony?

Andy Warhol. Venus Botticelli. 1982
Andy Warhol. Venus Botticelli. Silkscreen printing, acryl, canvas. 122×183 cm. 1982. The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, United States

Sometimes, his painted works of Madonna, Elvis Presley or Lenin are sometimes more recognizable than the original photos.

However, he could hardly outmatch the masterpieces. Come what may, the initial “Venus” remains priceless.

Warhol was an avid party-goer, attracting lots of fringe elements. Drug addicts, failed actors or simply volatile people. One of them once shot him.

Warhol survived. But 20 years later, the consequences of this wound resulted in his lonely death in his apartment.

The American melting pot

Despite the fact that the history of American art is rather short, its range is extremely wide.

The American artists include impressionists (Sargent), magic realists (Wyeth), abstract expressionists (Pollock), and founders of pop art (Warhol).

Well, Americans love freedom of choice in everything. Hundreds of confessions. Hundreds of nations. Hundreds of art branches. That’s why it is called the American melting pot.

* Tonalism – monochrome landscapes in grey, blue or brown shades with the image as if being in a fog. Tonalism is considered to be a branch of impressionism, since it conveys an artist’s impression of what he saw.

%d bloggers like this: