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Flora the ambitious blonde

By Elevenses, Renaissance Art, Talking art
Palma Vecchio Flora

Palma Vecchio, A Blonde Woman, 1520, National Gallery

Flora the ambitious blonde? Well, yes. Palma Vecchio’s A Blonde Woman is most certainly blonde. But where does ‘Flora’ come in? And why might we say that this lady has ambition?

Read on!

Firstly, that is a knowing gaze. Also, because her eyes are sliding off to the left, our eye is drawn to the gorgeous pink nipple first and then to the posy of flowers. Before we get onto the flowers, I need to linger on the nipple and the breast (!) because, whoops, does she even know that her pretty blue ribbon has come undone? Or that the loop of the ribbon against this again rather soft and sensual abundance of white chemise perfectly frames her perfectly pert right bosom?

And so to the flowers. Firstly, isn’t it gorgeous the way that the colours echo the gold of her hair and jewellery, her ribbon and the green of her dress and of course the rosy pink of her nipple. They also may have symbolic meaning. The forget-me-nots ask us to do what they say on the tin, buttercups are all about dazzling charms and the primrose (pink flower) associated with first love ‘prima rosa’ because they flower in early spring.

It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out that perhaps this unapologetically erotic portrait is of a courtesan. But if you were in any doubt, let’s delve deeper into the clues, starting with the gaze. No up standing member of the 16th century community is going to sit around for hours on end with her chemise undone and slipping off her shoulder to expose a boob. And they are definitely not going to look invitingly at you as they do it!

Palma Vecchio, A Blonde Woman detail of posy of flowers

The posy of flowers, however, is fairly innocent, right? Wrong! The flowers allude to the goddess Flora which in itself is lovely. Classical antiquity was all the rage in the 1520s and to depict a goddess showed a certain erudition. But Flora, ah! Flora was the goddess of the flowering or blossoming of flowers and plants, especially agricultural crops. Violently abducted by Zephyr the west wind , she was subsequently given a beautiful garden. So she is the goddess that makes things grow, by which I mean ‘things’ other than flowers and crops. We can thank ancient Rome for that bit of double entendre. Courtesans in the Renaissance era were commonly called Flora as a result of this. And just another connection to antiquity; all prostitutes in ancient Rome had to have blonde hair. Do we think she’s a natural blonde? Unlikely!

There was, in the 16th century, a fashion for Venetian women to bleach their hair. This 16th century version of sun-in may well have had similar results but was quite a lot more disgusting to apply and seems to have involved pigeon shit rinsed off with horse urine. It’s surprising perhaps, given the smell, that bleaching the hair was a sure sign of vanity – I look good but I smell like shit (literally) – although many women apparently succumbed.

In a world in which portraits were essentially displays of wealth and the importance of lineage, why a courtesan and who commissioned this? Well, courtesans played quite an important role in 16th c Venice. There was absolutely a distinction between the honest or intellectual courtesan who often had what we would call ‘sugar daddies’ and the ladies that hung around the Rialto Bridge. The intellectual courtesans were relatively frequently not low born but born into patrician or merchant families and were, to a degree, educated. The problems started when they were at marriageable age because dowries were exorbitant. So if a couple had several daughters, they were in real danger of going bankrupt trying to marry them off. The options were that they remained spinsters and stayed at ‘home’ and then could be in the really weird position of having their baby brother’s wife as the mistress of the house; they could go into a nunnery – that also required a dowry albeit less; or they could become a courtesan which meant that they earnt a lot of money, often becoming the sole support of their family. In a society in which wealthy men often weren’t expected to marry until they were in their 30s, a cultured woman who provided entertainment and extras was almost a necessity.

‘Honest’ courtesans, as they were known straddled the gap between the noble and the lower classes but had the opportunity to mix in interesting circles and, to an extent, had power over their destiny. Those canny enough could wield considerable influence.

In sixteenth-century Venice, therefore, it wasn’t unusual for images of beautiful young women to be commissioned by collectors and the wealthy clients of courtesans. There is also evidence that successful courtesans commissioned such paintings of and for themselves, both as solid financial investments and as lasting records of their charms to be prominently displayed in their own apartments.

An ambitious blonde? Oh yes!

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page.

True Blue? Ask Yves Klein!

By Elevenses, Talking art, Yves Klein Blue

Anyone who has heard of the French artist Yves Klein may well think of International Klein Blue or IKB which was a colour that he trademarked in 1957.

He patented a formula based on the pigment ultramarine. Ultramarine was, in Renaissance times, more expensive weight for weight than gold. It comes from lapis lazuli which is naturally found in Afghanistan and it’s really difficult to extract hence a very laborious process, and hence the high price tag.

Yves claimed this colour as his own which is slightly less audacious that declaring that ‘The blue sky is my first artwork’ which he did in his late teens gazing at the sky on a beach in Nice.

Yves Klein Blue

Yves Klein, IKB 79, 1959(?), Tate Modern, London

IKB 79 is on display in the Tate Modern. It’s one of nearly 200 extremely similar works. The numbering came after his death at the age of just 34 of a heart attack. It was instigated by his widow, Rotraut Klein-Moquay, a visual artist in her own right, but the works weren’t numbered in chronological order probably because even at that point no one knew which order they’d been painted in. Rotraut wrote to the Tate saying that she was fairly certain that IKB 79 was one of about four monochrome paintings Klein made in Germany in 1959.

Klein exhibited eleven of his IKB works in Milan in 1957. Each was ostensibly identical (they were all blue monochromes), but he gave them all different price tags because each, he explained, had a different spirit which was reflected accordingly. The extraordinary thing is that there were buyers who pondered and chose between them. All paid the price requested. Perhaps they felt the cost was justified not for the materiality of the work purchased but for the exact opposite. Klein associated IKB with an immateriality that he called ‘the void’.

With this kind of ideal, it’s not surprising that he wanted to move past easel painting and into a different sphere with his art. Cue his series of ‘anthropométries’.

Anthropometrie Yves Klein

Anthropométries, 1960, photo courtesy of snippetofhistory.wordpress.com

Yves Klein naked human paintbrush

Anthropométries, 1960, photo copyright Harry Shunk and Janos Kender J.Paul Getty Trust

It’s 1960 and you fancy an evening out with a difference so you decide to join one of Klein’s anthropométries (which translates as the measurement of the human body).

You take your seat and in front of you is a huge vertical board covered by a sheet of white paper. Or a sheet of paper covering the floor. Perhaps even both.

You are handed a blue cocktail and as a band starts to play, Klein leads several naked young women into the area in front of you.

The tune the band plays is a bit repetitive as it’s just a single chord. It’s Klein’s Monotone Symphony. You don’t think it will catch on.

The women start to douse themselves in IKB and conducted by Klein, they press body parts against the paper, or slither or drag each other across the floor.

Exactly 20 minutes later the music ends and the women depart.

You sit in silence for another 20 minutes.

What remains is a memory and the bodily impressions made by Klein’s ‘human paintbrushes’ (his term). Oh, and probably quite a few drips of paint where there shouldn’t be drips of paint.

Anthropométrie 1960, Pompidou Centre

Yves Klein, Anthropométrie de l’Époque Bleue (ANT 82), 1960, Pompidou Centre, Paris

Yves Klein Anthropometry

Yves Klein, La Grande Anthropométrie bleue (ANT 105), ca. 1960, Museo Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page.

Salomé: the dance that will make you lose your head!

By Elevenses, Salome, Talking art

Oh yes! Salomé’s dance really did make someone lose their head. And definitely not in a good way.

First broadcast on International Dance Day, this looks like the ultimate Burlesque routine, I reckon. I mean, wow! Great back bend, elegant arms and head, the shoes completely match the outfit and she’s either brought along a leopard or is completely comfortable dancing with one in the room…

Salome dancing for Herod and Herodia

Armand Point, Dance of Salomé, 1898, private collection?

The couple she’s dancing for are pretty into it too. Clearly wealthy, he’s on a throne and they are both wearing a crown. Who are they? What’s with the peacock?

Well, if I say ‘dance of the seven veils’ does that give you a clue?

This is Herod – or actually Herod II, son of Herod who was King of Judea, and infamous for the massacre of the innocents. By his side is wife, Herodia. So of course the dancer is Salomé, the daughter of Herodia and Herod. But not this Herod, oh no. Nor Herod’s dad, but a different Herod altogether, Herod Philip, from whom Herodia was divorced. So many Herods! And the problem was that they were all related. Because both Herods were the sons of Herod… got it?

Let’s go back a few weeks, months, even years, before this dance took place.

Herodias and Herod Philip marry and have a daughter, Salomé. Then they fall out and get divorced. Herodias eyes up his half-brother Herod Antipas and, as she has a way of getting what she wants (as we’ll see), they end up marrying, much to the vehement condemnation of one John the Baptist which really upset Herodias. Herodias suggested quite strongly to her new husband that they could easily get rid of John the Baptist but as the saint was pretty popular, Herod refused and said he wasn’t interested.

What DID interest him, however, was the beautiful Salomé. So Herodias took her chance on his birthday and said if Salomé dances for you what will you give her? I imagine his eyes misting over here as he wrings his hands in anticipation and declares (greedily) that frankly give her anything she wants! Hmmm.

So here is Salomé, in a late 19th century work by the French symbolist artist Armand Point, looking fabulous and working the room alongside a peacock and leopard.

Aubrey Beardsley Salome

Aubrey Beardsley, The Peacock Skirt, Illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s Salomé, 1894, Print in V & A, London

Peacocks have been a symbol of wealth, beauty and rebirth (in a Christian context) since ancient times but they were hugely fashionable in the 1890s – they were used as a motif by the illustrator Aubrey Beardsley throughout his 1894 illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s play, Salomé. I suppose their extravagant, beautiful exoticism fit the bill perfectly. And, by the way, Oscar Wilde is the man that coined the phrase ‘the dance of the seven veils’ in his one act play.

The leopard is a hunting animal, sleek and elegant; perhaps a sign of things to come?

The trade-off is of course that Salomé, prompted by her vengeful mother, asks for John the Baptist’s head on a platter. Against his better judgment, Herod reluctantly acceded to her request. Not that you’d get much of the horror of what’s to come from Point’s offering.

Fra Lippi Feast of Herod

Fra Lippi, Herod’s Feast, between 1452 and 1465, Prato Cathedral

The fabulous early Renaissance artist Fra Lippi, on the other hand, tells us exactly what’s going on in his mid 15th century fresco. No peacocks here, just good old fashioned story telling.

Centre left we can see Salomé dancing, not looking quite as happy and seductive as she does in the 19th century version, but youthful and lovely nonetheless.

She is seen again to the left of the fresco receiving Saint John the Baptist’s head on the platter, and a third time to the right of the picture presenting it to Herodias who appears to be saying, ‘no, no, it’s for him’ whilst pointing at Herod. I’m not sure whether the couple to the far right are about to have a cheeky snog whilst everyone’s distracted, or whether they are reacting to the horror of having a head brought to the table!

Some artists just didn’t bother with the dancing and went straight for the head on a platter scenario.

I love this fashionable lady of the Wittenberg court as depicted by Lucas Cranach the Elder with her reddish necklaces that echo the horrible red blood of St John’s decapitated head. Cranach painted this theme a lot. Most of the works are quite small in size and would have been for private patrons. They share the common theme of depicting a haughty woman with a high forehead, the beauty ideal at the time, perfectly dressed in extremely fashionable clothes and calmly displaying a severed head. The thrill of the horror combined with the sensuality of Salomé proved a winning combination. Plus ça change!!!

Salome Cranach

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Salomé with the Head of John the Baptist, 1530s, Fine Art Museum, Budapest

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page.

Luncheon of the Boating Party

By Elevenses, Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party, Talking art

This week is all about dining al fresco!

And here is one of the most famous and delicious luncheon scenes ever to be painted. Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party.

Renoir Luncheon of the Boating Party

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1881, The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.

It dates to 1881 and I suppose would be classified as an Impressionist work – it prioritises colour, it’s of a modern, everyday scene, it was mostly painted outdoors – he spent 16 months painting individual portraits in situ but then finished the whole thing off in the studio which wasn’t so Impressionist. It has to be said, however, that the Impressionists actually didn’t have a manifesto that they worked to.

The scene depicts a group of young people enjoying the tail end of what looks to have been a rather fabulous lunch. The location is a restaurant called Maison Fournaise which was closed in 1906 but with a rising interest in the Impressionist artists throughout the 20th century, there was a campaign to restore it. So you can go and dine there once again.

In the 1880s it was a popular hangout for rowers who would congregate there because you could access it via the river and artists, and actresses and bourgeois types; all of whom are represented here, in glorious 3D. Renoir wanted them all to be substantial, properly modelled and convincing, hence he spent time on them and he painted them in a different way to the background which is far more ‘impressionistic’, they are also almost life size.

Look at these figures; they’re so much sharper than the background because they’re painted with finer brushstrokes.

The objects on the table are less defined too – look at the way that the glasses are brilliantly depicted using light and shadow.

Luncheon of the Boating Party really was, and still is, considered Renoir’s masterpiece. It’s three genres rolled into one (still life, landscape and portraiture),  and is full of interaction which gives it real dynamism. The interaction in terms of the composition was certainly staged as the composition works so well but it was also genuine as the people depicted where Renoir’s friends.

The guy leaning against the balcony is Alphonse Fournaise, Jr. and the lady is Alphonsine Fournaise; brother and sister and the children of parents with little imagination. They are also, of course, part of the family who own the restaurant.

The lady cooing at her terrier is Aline Charigot, Renoir’s future wife. You might notice that the dog is looking slightly surprised, and that’s because he’s not looking at the same person that he was originally! Aline replaces the original model who had her face scraped away when Renoir fell in love with the young seamstress and decided that she needed to be in the painting!

Opposite Aline is the artist Gustave Caillebotte and amidst other recognisable faces of the day is one that is in the centre but, unlike all of the other people depicted, not interacting at all. She’s completely in her own world. This is the actress Ellen Andrée who also modelled for Degas.

The painting became part of the collection of Durand-Ruel who was an art collector and the main patron of the impressionists but when he died in 1922 the work was bought by an American collector called Duncan Phillips who had founded Washington D.C.’s The Phillips Collection, America’s first museum of modern art. It’s still there. It went to a great home, Duncan Phillips LOVED the work. Legend has it that one bitchy fellow collector once commented to Phillips that ‘that’s ‘s the only Renoir you have, isn’t it?’ and Phillips replied, ‘It’s the only one I need.’

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page.

Hair Matters!

By Elevenses, Good hair / bad hair, Talking art
mock up of Lynne Hanley as Marie Antoinette

Hair matters. As I write this, half the nation have hair like Rembrandt. Well, if not actually the same, they are sporting a frizzy, unkempt look born of not being able to get to a hairdresser for six months or so. The other half are luxuriating in newly coiffed fabulousness.

I’m going to the hairdresser as soon as I’ve posted this. I’ll post an update.

Bad hair day

Rembrandt first self portrait

Rembrandt van Rijn, Self-portrait, c.1628, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Good hair day

close up of Empress Elizabeth and her glorious hair

Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Empress Elisabeth of Austria, 1864, Collection of the Prince of Thurn and Taxis (detail)

Back to Rembrandt. This is one of his very early self-portraits, possibly the earliest, created in 1628 when he was 22, before he moved to Amsterdam from Leiden.

What a selfie debut! It takes quite an artist to decide to basically hide their face in a portrait. You don’t see the eyes for a second or two when usually they are the focal point. And he’s used really loose brushwork by his ear, and probably the end of the brush to make squiggles in the wet paint to create highlights where the sun has caught his hair. So innovative. So modern!

But it’s still bad hair.

Perhaps during lockdown, you might have felt like turning to wigs, hairpieces and decorations? Cue the fashionable ladies of the late 1700’s. Here’s the most famous up-do wearer not just of her time, but, perhaps, of history. Marie Antoinette is rocking her ‘up do’ in this portrait of her by Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun. It’s the first of 30 portraits the artist painted of the French queen. Vigée Le Brun recalled, probably in the memoire that she wrote in her later years, that the queen ‘walked better than any other woman in France, holding her head very high with a majesty that singled her out in the midst of the entire court’.

Not surprising with that hairdo!

Marie Antoinette by Vigee Le Brun

Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun, Portrait of Marie Antoinette, 1778, Met, New York

But how did she manage it? Well, I guess part of the point of having hair like that is that she didn’t manage it herself. Frames, padding and hair extensions all played a part. The hair was curled with hot tongs and then covered in lard which acted as 18th century hairspray. Delicious. The piece de resistance, however, was created when the whole thing was dusted with lead powder. So smelly, toxic and altogether a bit of a nightmare because, of course, this kind of do was a bit of a mission to create and therefore you weren’t going to wash it for a while. Cue head lice at one end of the scale (there was such a thing as a scratching stick), and actual mice at the other end of the scale. It has been said that women wore cages to protect their hair at night. Sounds crazy but it might be true?

The men definitely got the easy end of the bargain as they were the ones wearing the wigs.

Vigée Le Brun, by the way, encouraged Marie Antoinette to go for a more relaxed look, which, it’s said, the queen actually favoured. This was exhibited at the artist’s first Salon in Paris very briefly because she was asked to remove it after a day or so as it was condemned as inappropriate for the public portrayal of royalty because Marie Antoinette looked ‘undressed’.

You can see that Vigée Le Brun herself went for the same look!

Marie Antoinette Vigee Le Brun

Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun, The Muslin Portrait, 1783, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun Self-Portrait with Straw Hat, 1782, National Gallery, London

Now this is beautiful hair! This is Empress Elizabeth of Austria. Her hair was absolutely her pride and joy. It fell to her knees apparently – at least it did when she was 15 – and in later years she was completely paranoid about it falling out altogether. Which it may have done because she suffered from eating disorders. She used to have a light coloured silk cloth placed underneath her whilst her hair was brushed, after it had been washed with brandy and egg whites; presumably the egg whites first (?!), and then she’d count to see how many she’d lost. I imagine her maid was always worried about it being too many as life probably wasn’t nice for a while.

This is a completely mesmerising portrait by Franz Xaver Winterhalter. The stars in her hair! The shine! She’s absolutely stunning.

Winterhalter Empress Elizabeth

Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Empress Elisabeth of Austria, 1864, Collection of the Prince of Thurn and Taxis

Stunning and very sadly absolutely miserable. Apart from her eating disorder, she suffered from very low self-esteem and bouts of depression, was exceedingly unhappy in her marriage, and, at one stage, had a nervous breakdown.

The thing that she wanted to hold on to was her beauty which became an obsession. According to her various biographers, she began to live on a diet of meat juice, fresh milk and egg whites mixed with salt. She travelled with her own cows, not sure about the hens or other animals…

To keep her waist tiny, she slept with hot towels around it and wore a silk mask with raw veal in it, presumably not to bed, but hopefully only when she was alone.

Her strange, troubled life was cut short when she was assassinated aged 60 by a crazy anarchist who just wanted a murder a royal. Sadly he crossed paths with her first when she was walking by Lake Geneva. I’m sure she still had great hair.

On that note I’m shortly off to get my hair washed in brandy.

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page.

Tom Selleck stars as Phrixus in ‘The Origin of Aries’

By Elevenses, Origin of Aries, Origin of Starsigns, Talking art

This week’s blog is all about the origin of Aries, the Ram, which is the first sign of the zodiac.

The pretty grim tale of the origin of Aries goes back, naturally, to Greek mythology and the ram that got separated from its golden fleece (hello, Jason!) to become a constellation.

It’s a tale of jealousy and resentment and frankly some extremely bad parenting on the part of King Athamus and his wife Ino. Here they are, erm, playing with their children. Or not so much!

Athamas and Ino killing their children

Gaetano Gandolfi, Athamas Killing Ino’s Son, 1801, Villa Molinari Pradelli, Marano, Italy

Legend has it that when King Athamus took a second wife, Ino she was extremely jealous of his existing children, especially his son, Phrixus.

So instead of conspiring to send him away to boarding school or similar, she set about ensuring that the corn crop would fail. WHY? Because she knew that the failure of the crop would guarantee that her husband called on the Oracle for advice, and wily Ino (or I should say Ino the completely immoral psychopath?!)  had somehow managed to convince the Oracle (how? blackmail? bribery?) to decree that the only way for the King to save his people from starvation was to sacrifice his son Phrixus. Guess what? He agreed!

This isn’t actually Phrixus in this image. If it were, there would be a magnificent ram with a golden fleece entering the scene to carry him off. His real mother, Nephele, prayed with such force for him to be saved that at the last minute Zeus intervened and the boy, along with his sister Helle, were scooped up by the ram and spirited away.

Here they are in this ancient Roman fresco from Pompeii, not looking terribly childlike. As you can see, however, Helle isn’t quite on the ram. Is she about to be pulled to safety by Phrixus? No! Unfortunately, as the ram crossed the straits between Europe and Asia, Helle fell off and died. The straits are still known today as Hellespont. Phrixus, on the other hand, was carried away to safety. He gave thanks for his deliverance by sacrificing the ram to Zeus and giving its golden fleece to King Aeetes from whom it was eventually nicked by Jason. Zeus, of course, cast the ram into the heavens in honour of its courage.

Pompeii Phrixus and Helle

Phrixus and Helle, fresco, Pompeii

Here’s another image of Phrixus and Helle, taken as many others seem to have been, from the Roman original. It’s by a Greek folk artist called Theophilos Hatzimihail who painted numerous scenes of the Greek myths, this is probably early 20th century.

Theophilos Hatzimihail Phrixus and Helle

Theophilos Hatzimihail, Phrixus and Helle, late 19th/ early 20th century, Theophilos Museum, Mytilene, Greece

By all accounts Theophilos was bit eccentric and liked to wear traditional Greek costume at all times. He seems to have been the butt of practical jokes wherever he went throughout his life, poor thing. I was wondering whether he’d modelled Phrixus on himself in this image, then I realised….

Theophilos Hatzimihail, Mytilene, Greece

Theophilos Hatzimihail, photograph, early 20th century, courtesy of Theophilos Museum

Tom Selleck as Phrixus

The one and only Tom Selleck, photo Donaldson Collection/Getty Images

Finally, back to the original image of Athamas and Ino. If the the kids aren’t Phrixus and Helle, who are they? There’s one hell of a postscript to this story. You will notice that Ino is holding Athamas’s hair as though to stop him hurting yet another child. I’d like to say that it’s because she’s become a nicer person, but really it’s because these are her children. In a whole other tale of woe, the couple have managed to upset Hera who exacts her revenge by making Athamas mad and he kills one child whilst the other dies when he plunges into the sea with his mother, Ino.

Good grief! All that for the origin of Aries.

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page.

April Fools!

By April Fool, Elevenses, Talking art

The exciting news in this week’s episode, should you have chosen to believe it, is that I announced that some of my work is going to exhibited by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. According to me, the foundation are preparing an exhibition around his work ‘Erased’ (the one where he took a drawing by William de Kooning and rubbed it out), which is going to raise money for artists affected by COVID-19. For those that have followed me for a while, you will know that I created a ‘Curated Canapés and Cocktails’ video on the subject along with a trailer that involved me drawing the most embarrassing self-portrait EVER to then, well, erase. I was delighted to be giving the foundation the rights to show the video and display my erased portrait.

If only. The date of the original broadcast was 01 April.

Here are my self-portraits(!!) and you can see the full video of ‘Erased’ here and the trailer here.

Lynne Hanley masterpiece for Erased

Lynne Hanley, Self Portrait, 2020

Self-portrait Lynne Hanley mercifully erased

Lynne Hanley, Self Portrait mercifully erased, 2020

The theme of this episode continues with the Council of Trent. Or at least with a painting of the council of Trent, which is in the Museo del Palazzo del Buonconsiglio (palace of good council) in Trent. At some point during the Council of Trent the ‘good council’ was to switch to the Gregorian calendar which meant that the start of the year switched to 01 Jan instead of 01 April, which the French did in 1582.

Council of Trent

The Council of Trent, Museo del Palazzo del Buonconsiglio

Only some people missed the memo and continued to go crazy and party like mad during the last week of March and the first day of April. For their ignorance those poor folk became the butt of jokes and hoaxes; I guess it was quite easy for others to play tricks on them if they were in the party spirit anyway. I have to say that I would likely have joined them (the party-goers, rather than the pranksters!).

Saatchi collection, Thierry Bruet, April Fool

Thierry Bruet, Poisson D’avril, 2018, Saatchi collection

This painting by Thierry Bruet depicts an elegantly dressed lady who is clearly being made fun of as she has a fish attached to the back of her lovely ball gown. Possibly it’s nothing more than a child’s prank and we can see that this little girl on the sofa is happy to share the joke with the viewer, the paper and scissors are on the floor. However, the fish looks as though it’s swimming upstream right towards a certain part of her anatomy which marries with the slightly obsequious expression of the ‘groper’ which leaves me wondering whether something else is going on? The work is contemporary – it was created in 2018 – but it references one of the most common pranks of late 16th century France which was to pin a paper fish on someone’s back. Why a fish? Because when they’re young and gullible they are easily hooked. So in France, an April fool is a poisson d’avril – an April fish!

The tradition found its way into Britain in the 18th century and it was also taken up in the US where the theme was expanded.

This final image comes from an April edition of the Saturday Evening Post in 1943 and it’s a fun April Fool celebration full of inconsistencies and jokes.

There’s too much going on to mention here – there are apparently 45 ‘errors’ in this illustration. We might not count as many today as the fact that she is wearing trousers was classed as one of them! After its initial publication, Rockwell said that he’d received a letter from a guy who claimed to have counted 184!

But the thing that really got people talking was not so much that there are fish swimming up the staircase to the left of the image, but the position of the staircase itself! People raged that architecturally staircases don’t go behind chimneys, until someone from Ohio sent a photo of his staircase behind his chimney and shut everyone up.

How many errors can you see? I’d love you to list them in the comments – maybe we’ll get to 45. If we get to 184 we should all start to worry!

Norman Rockwell, April Fool: Checkers

Norman Rockwell, April Fool: Checkers, 1943, private collection

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page.

The tender and cruel Sofonisba Anguissola

By International Women's Day, Renaissance Art, Talking art

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about an incredible female artist called Lavinia Fontana. This week is all about the ‘tender and cruel’ Sofonisba Anguissola who made her name in Rome and later worked for Philip II Spain in Madrid.

Anguissola’s talent was recognised very early on, she was lucky enough to have a forward thinking and liberal father who was keen to educate his daughters (he had six in total and just one son) and he encouraged her to draw and paint and even got her a tutor, the artist Bernadino Campi.

self portrait Sofonisba Anguissola

Sofonisba Anguissola,
Self-portrait, 1560-1,
Pinacoteca Brera, Italy

That isn’t to say that life as a female artist was plain sailing for Anguissola. It is true that when she met Michelangelo in Rome in 1554 when she was in her early 20s he gave her sketches from his notebooks to help her develop her own style. There’s also evidence that he helped and guided her quite substantially over at least a couple of years. She must have really impressed him; Michelangelo was known to be massively grumpy and critical!

Around the same time that Anguissola met Michelangelo, the Florentine painter Francesco Salviati wrote a letter to her tutor, Campi, congratulating him on his great achievement. It went on to say that this achievement was born of his beautiful intellect. Was it that Anguissola was being educated and trained by the best of the best? Michelangelo and Campi?

Not so much.

Campi’s achievement was Anguissola!

The slight must have made Sofonisba at least a little bit peeved and we all know that revenge is a dish best served cold. Although there is no documentation that I’m aware of that lays out Anguissola’s intent, take a look at this double portrait.

It was described to me once as both incredibly tender and incredibly cruel.

It is an image of Bernadino Campi painting Sofonisba Anguissola’s portrait painted by Anguissola in 1559. Got it?! Anguissola has imitated his style in the painting of her portrait – the one that Campi is supposed to painting – but the thing is that he was a less accomplished artist than she was. So she is imitating his style, which should be flattering, but because he is the lesser artist, it isn’t. There’s another thing. She has also made herself the larger of the two so that she dominates him. Two fingers to Salviati? I think so. On the other hand, honouring Campi in her work in the first place was a lovely thing to do and the intimacy between them is, I feel, very apparent, especially when her original design is taken into account.

Anguissola portrait of Campi

Sofonisba Anguissola, Bernardino Campi painting Sofonisba Anguissola, c.1559, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena

Take a look at these three images. The first is of the painting before it was restored in 1996. The second is during restoration and the third is post restoration.

Anguissola's portrait of Bernadino Campi pre restoration
Sofonisba Anguissola portrait of Campi during restoration
Anguissola portrait of Campi

In the the first and third image her left hand is holding a pair of gloves. During restoration, she appears to have grown a limb! A second left hand is visible reaching up as though to remove the brush or at least the mahlstick from Campi’s grasp. Or maybe she’s helping by holding the mahlstick steady as he paints the delicate lace of her dress?

You could say that this is a simple pentimento – a change that occurs as the artist works through their design on the canvas – but this version is very detailed so Anguissola got a long way down the line before she decided to let Campi get on with it and stopped trying to intervene / help, instead occupying her hand with the gloves.

It was decided to restore the painting to the image that Anguissola finally intended, hence the after restoration image doesn’t include the third arm.

Finally, I had to include this by painting by van Dyck of Anguissola in the last year of her life. It was painted in 1624, she died in 1625 aged 93.

Sofonisba Anguissola by Van Dyke

Van Dyke, Sofonisba Anguissola, 1624, Knole House, Kent

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page.

The Origin of Pisces

By Origin of Starsigns, Pisces, Talking art, Typhon

There’s a room in the Villa Farnese just outside Rome which is decorated by a fresco that details the whole of known world in 1572 plus a ceiling fresco comprising all the stories behind the creation of the twelve signs of the zodiac. In this blog post we’re talking about the origin of the star sign Pisces.

sala del mappamondo

Sala del mappamondo, fresco by Giovanni di Vecchi in Villa Farnese. Image courtesy of ilturista.info

zodiac ceiling villa farnese

Zodiac ceiling, image courtesy of travelingintuscany.com

The mythology of Pisces generally follows a single legend which takes us back to the Titanonmachy  – the battle between the Gods and Titans after Zeus has overthrown Cronos.

The baddie of the tale is a monster called Typhon who was the child of Gaia and Tartarus, conceived (poor thing) primarily to fight Zeus and the gods. He is an eclectic assortment of body parts, generally depicted with a man’s torso and snake legs, but he’s always really tall with incredibly long arms and to top it off, terrible breath that turned into fire. He terrorised the gods for a while until they dumped a mountain on his head, which inevitably became a volcano, now known as Mount Etna.

detail of pisces in zodiac ceiling
Zeus and Typhon, Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich

Typhon as imagined on an ancient vase – with Zeus to the left about to whack him with a thunder bolt, c. 540–530 BC, Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich, Germany

Typhon and harpies, Wenceslas Hollar

Typhon not looking particularly scary in an image by Wenceslas Hollar, a prolific graphic artist in the 17th century. The harpies on either side are his offspring in some versions of the story (Typhon’s, not Hollar’s!). Image courtesy of Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library.

So, Typhon has it in for all the gods on Mount Olympus and he storms over to the mountain ready to do some damage.

Loads of the gods and goddesses see him coming and disguise themselves by turning into animals but Venus and Cupid are having a lovely walk along the river, miss all the warning signs and to avoid serious injury or death by Typhon (from which we take the modern term Typhoon), they jump into the river and turn into fish, tying their tails together to avoid becoming separated, which is what you see in the ceiling fresco, and once in the river, a couple of other fish who know their way around the place swim them away to safety.

The fish that saved them were later honoured by being placed in the heavens as a constellation. Some would argue that these fish must be Venus and Cupid but that doesn’t make sense to me as you usually disappear from earth when you become a constellation and they were both very much around after this point in Greek mythology. Either way, that’s the origin of Pisces!

stained glass window, Chartres Cathedral

This glorious image is ‘Pisces’ from the Zodiac window in Chartres Cathedral. Chartres Cathedral has 176 stained glass windows, the most complete group surviving anywhere from the Middle Ages. Several windows date to the mid-12th century CE while over 150 survive from the early 13th century CE.

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page.

Erm, a bum squeeze for International Women’s Day?!

By Elevenses, International Women's Day, Lavinia Fontana, Talking art

I suppose this could really have been the prequel to last week’s Mars by Velázquez. This is the God of War with his lover Venus, tentatively wondering whether he’s going to get away with touching her bum! This is for International Women’s Day – what am I thinking?!

Lavinia Fontana Venus and Mars

Lavinia Fontana, Mars and Venus, c. 1595, Madrid, Fundación Casa de Alba

We have a similar concept to the Velázquez painting in that all the trappings of war are on the floor, Venus has shimmied out of her chemise and taken off her slippers ready to climb into bed and love, rather than war, certainly seems to be the order of the day. Once again we are invited to come to the conclusion that that love conquers all.

The vase that is so prevalent in the foreground could be a reference to the womb, most often used in reference to the Virgin Mary, or it could be part of anyone of a number of complex rebuses, the simplest of which takes the first letter of shield and vase – s and v (handily the same in Latin), which is an abbreviated form of sotto voce – as in ‘shhh! keep it quiet’ because Mars and Venus were in an illicit love affair. There are various other suggestions along these lines in a book called Lavinia Fontana’s Mythological Paintings: Art, Beauty, and Wisdom by Liana De Girolami Cheney.

Now we get to the point (finally) of this post. The reason that I’ve chosen this work is to celebrate International Women’s Day. Crap choice then, you might be thinking. But is it?!

Fontana Venus and Mars detail

You can and should read this as a gratuitous bum touching moment. It was created at a time in which the view of a bottom squished on a cushion was sending pulses racing all over Europe, but this is so much more than that.  This was painted by a lady called Lavinia Fontana.

Fontana was from Bologna, born in 1552 and trained by her father – as pretty much all female artists of that time were, otherwise they didn’t have the opportunity to become artists. She became the main bread winner in her house and ran her own workshop whilst her husband acted as her agent and raised their eleven children. In later life she worked in Rome under the patronage of the Pope and was the first female painter to be elected into the Academy of St Luke in Rome. Some art historians credit her with being the first woman artist to paint female nudes.

So why has she painted this? It was almost certainly a commission, and it references the slightly out of control desire for the nude seated female bottom.

But look more closely. That hand isn’t quite right on her bottom; the bottom and the hand don’t have a relationship somehow, it’s almost as though the hand is on the canvas rather than in it – or it’s both? Does that make it a double grope?! That’s making a bit of a statement. Then we have phallic symbols, the spiky centre of the shield and the sword, both a bit useless on the floor and instead the sleeve of her chemise has found its way between Venus’s legs. A limp bit of white material. You might also notice that Mars is lower than Venus so she’s dominating him psychologically and physically. I feel that it’s all a bit subversive. If Venus can’t do anything about the arse grab she can certainly wither a man with her superiority! In which case is her look over her shoulder an invitation or is it a look of ‘see what I have to put up with!’?

The flower doesn’t offer much of a clue. It’s been identified as a daffodil or narcissus which could variously allude to the potency love, or rebirth which goes hand in hand with death, or to Mars himself – they bloom in late February and March and he does have some on his helmet too.

But in all this, I have to wonder why they think it’s okay to get jiggy with Cupid in the room? He looks as though he’s fallen asleep over his laptop! Of course he’s there to help us identify Venus, he’s her son, just as the pearls she wears (and sits on!) reference her birth from the sea.

Cupid detail Mars and Venus Lavinia Fontana

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page