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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

March on!

By Elevenses, Origin of March, Talking art

What makes this fresco from Pompeii relevant to the origin of the month of March? It’s all about the God of War. The Greeks called him Ares. The Romans called him Mars. That’s a clue! March was named after Mars in the Roman calendar because it was at this time of the year that military campaigns could recommence after the winter months.

I’m slightly worried for this chap that he’s off to war wearing only a helmet and a cape. I understand that we have to distinguish him as the God of War but I feel he might get chilly – it’s only March after all, not the middle of summer.

Roman God of War Mars

Fresco Painting of Mars, God of War, Pompeii, 1st century BC

Why is he basically nude? Well, the ancient Greeks came before the ancient Romans, the ancient Romans thought the ancient Greeks were marvellous and copied much of their art – the sculptures in particular. Only they copied the original bronze sculptures in marble and then melted down the originals to use the bronze, hence not many of the original Greek statues survived. The nude in Greek culture was a symbol of the hero, disassociated with reality, elevated from the troubles and conventions of the real world. So in this fresco, the Romans have emulated Greek statuary and portrayed Mars as a hero ready to go into battle. Got it?!

Diego Velázquez, Mars, c.1638, Prado, Madrid

Diego Velázquez, Mars, c.1638, Prado, Madrid

If he looks heroic but unready to our eyes, Velázquez’s Mars is properly peeved to be popping his armour back on. That might be because, in Velázquez’s hands, he has something possibly just as energetic but hopefully rather less dangerous that he’s leaving behind. Look at all that sumptuous bedlinen – that’s definitely not a soldier’s single bed.

Velazquez Mars detail

As a side comment and a bit of a giggle, does that not look like the top of a hold-up on his left thigh? It’s the result of a correction that has become apparent as paint has become more translucent over time I would imagine so sadly, I don’t think we can claim that Mars was into wearing stockings or hold-ups, but so what if he was?

This is Mars as he’s rarely depicted. Older, perhaps slightly defeated, magnificent handlebar moustache, absorbed in his own thoughts.

How do we know he’s Mars then? The helmet again and the rest of his armour still on the floor – it’s a sort of transitional moment from man to soldier.

It is unusual but as it was in the Torre de la Parada, the royal hunting pavilion on the outskirts of Madrid, the leisurely, off duty feeling of the work can I think be explained.

There is also a tradition in art that when armour and the instruments of war are scattered on the floor, especially with a sumptuous bed in the frame, we can assume that war has been defeated by love, or that love conquers all.

Tom Selleck as Mars

P.S. it has been mentioned that Velázquez’s Mars bears a little resemblance to a certain moustachioed film star… what do you think? Comments please!

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

Did Cupid ever grow up?

By Cupid, Elevenses, Talking art, Valentines day

When you think of Cupid, what do you think of? A cute toddler with wings and a bow and arrow? That’s definitely the image I conjure of him, which begs the question, did Cupid not actually grow up?

If you take this glorious image by Titian and look closely at Venus’s face, she might have been a little worried too.

Worship of Venus Titian

Titian, The Worship of Venus, 1518, Prado, Madrid

Detail of Venus from Worship of Venus for Alfonso d'Este

Detail from Titian’s Worship of Venus, 1518, Prado

There is a story within Greek mythology in which Venus complains to Themis that her son is really cute but he’s never left the toddler stage and she’s worried.

So Themis has a moment of contemplation and says you know, I think he’s not growing up because he’s always alone – get him a companion and they’ll grow together.

Venus has another baby, Anteros, the god of requited love, and as soon as Cupid, or Eros to give him his Greek name, saw his brother, he grew. Unfortunately, as soon as he was separated from Anteros, he reverted back to a toddler.

What’s the moral of the story? In order to grow, love needs to be reciprocated.

They made quite a good little team – Cupid maintained the task of hurling his arrows to ignite passion and Anteros protected those who found a love match. Here they are in this tondo with Eros forging arrows in a fire on the right and Anteros stoking the flames with his bellows on the left. Sweet.

Eros and Anteros Gods of Love and Requited Love

Unknown artist, Eros and Anteros, tondo in courtyard of the Villa Salviati, Florence, Italy

Of course, however, they also had brotherly spats.

In this fresco from the Casa dell’ Amore punito, literally translated as the House of Love Punished, in Pompeii, Peithò (Greek goddess of persuasion and oratory) is leading Cupid/Eros in on the left to be told off by his mother, Venus, for firing his arrow at the wrong target. Peithò looks encouraging but I think Cupid has seen the look on his Mother’s face! Behind Venus, Anteros is delighted that Cupid’s in trouble. It’s nice to know that there’s something normal about this pair.

Eros and Anteros House of Love Punished Pompeii

Wall painting in the House of Love Punished, Pompeii, 1st century AD, Archaeological Museum, Naples

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

Be my Valentine? No way, you’re in the Tower of London!

By Art Tours, Elevenses, Valentines day

The first known Valentine was sent from prison and involves a tale of royal in-fighting, warfare and imprisonment in the Tower of London.

The ‘valentine’ itself wasn’t a card but a few lines in a poem, written by Charles, the Duke of Orléans, in 1415, when he was 21 years old. Charles was caught in the crossfire of a fight for the control of France between his father, Louis I, who presided over the House of Orléans, and his uncle’s family which oversaw the House of Burgundy. His uncle also happened to be ‘mad’ Charles VI of France. When Charles Duke of Orléans was captured at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, he was held as a pawn by the Burgundians in the Tower of London and wrote his wife a letter from his cell that included the lines:

‘God forgives him who has estranged / Me from you for the whole year. / I am already sick of love, / My very gentle Valentine.’

Charles I Duke of Orleans Golden Fleece

Unknown artist, Miniature from Statutes, Ordonnances and armorial of the Order of the Golden Fleece, 1473, Gerard Collection

Charles writing a Valentine from the Tower of London

Unknown artist, Charles of Orleans in the Tower of London, Book of Poetry of Charles d’Orleans, 15th century, Royal MS 16 F II, British Library

OK, this might not look like a dank and dingy cell in this image, but here is Charles writing his letter, over on the right side of the picture at a table under the archway. I’m thinking that the artist has taken a liberty with the actual architecture of the Tower of London to allow us a peek inside, not to mention the tiny walls, but is that London Bridge in the background? I think it is! There were houses on it in the early 15th century, as this fantastic model created in 1987 by David T Aggett, a liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Plumbers shows. Photo credit the Londonist.

Old London Bridge

Back to Charles who is also at the window in the centre of the composition, and then featured again outside giving his masterpiece to a courier to take to his wife, who by the way he was never to see again. He was held prisoner for 25 years, and she died before he was released.

Another early adopter of the term ‘Valentine’ was Margery Brews who wrote to her one true love in February 1477 pleading with him not to leave her over her underwhelming dowry! They do get married, you’ll be happy to hear, and Margery has gone down in history as the first person to write a Valentines note in English.

Margery Brews first Valentine note in English

Margery Brews, The Paston Letters, February 1477, Add MS 43490, f.24r, British Library

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