Tag Archives: Antonello da Messina

The Red Leather Archive

This edition of the Red Leather Archive re-examines The Astronomer reviewed by Andrew Graham Dixon, Sunday Times, 2004.  Since that time Vermeer has been experiencing a renewed popularity, a fresh exhibition, Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting, at The Louvre drawing record visitors.  Continuing the relevancy of technology and historical art, apps were launched for both Apple and Google, bringing Vermeer to the cutting edge of art appreciation, redefining the museum experience.

The Astronomer, Johannes Vermeer, 1668, The Lourvre, since 1983

The Astronomer, Johannes Vermeer, 1668, The Lourvre, since 1983.

The idealized image of The Astronomer by Johannes Vermeer, 1632-1675, depicts a 17th century scientist rapt in his study of the heavens.  Juxtaposed with its twin, The Geographer, the themes in the pictures run parallel courses towards the same moment.  Produced in the later period of the painter’s life, these are two of the only three paintings Vermeer signed, the other being the Procuress.

The Geographer, Johannes Vernmeer, Stadel Museum, 1668-1669.

The Geographer, Johannes Vernmeer, Stadel Museum, 1668-1669.

A 2017 study indicated that the canvas for the Geographer and Astronomer came from the same bolt of material, confirming their close relationship.  The paintings are unusual for Vermeer for having a male subject.  Styled correspondingly, the same man appears in both paintings, his identity unknown.  The historical record suggests the cloth merchant and amateur scientist, Antony Van Leeuwenhoek.  A contemporary of the artist, both born in the city of Delft, where van Leeuwenhoek assisted the family in sorting out Vermeer’s financial matters post mortem.

378px-Rembrandt,_Faust

Faust depicted in an etching by Rembrandt (c. 1650). Faust, also a scholar, is depicted in the same pose as The Geographer, although facing in roughly the opposite direction.

The theme of the scholar in his study goes back to the Renaissance, where a number of artists including Jan van Eyck, Antonello da Messina and Albrecht Durer, depict St. Jerome in his study.  The celestial globe the model explores has been identified as one made in 1618 by the Amsterdam humanist Jodocus Hondius.  The book lying open on the table before him is a second edition of Adriaan Metius’ Institutiones Astronomicae et Is.  The painting scene appears mystical, and the oeuvre of Vermeer hints at mysterious beliefs, flooded by an otherworldly light suffusing the scene;  striking the celestial globe and the heavy ruck of carpet swag at the edge of the table; as intellect and knowledge fuse and combine, the artist capturing that moment, exquisitely.

St. Jerome in His Study

St. Jerome in his Study, Albrecht Durer

Vermeer and the Delft School

Vermeer and the Delft School

Thank you for joining me for this edition of the Red Leather Archive.  What art stories are you interested in hearing about?

Cheers,

MJ

Resources:

Johnson, C. Richard, Jr, and Sethares, W.A. (2017). “Canvas Weave Match Supports Designation of Vermeer’s Geographer and Astronomer as a Pendant Pair”. Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art.

Bailey, Anthony (2001). Vermeer: A View of Delft. pp. 165–170. ISBN 0-8050-6930-5.

Vermeer and the Delft School, Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Renaissance Portraits on Museum Monday

“Speak. Speak. I command you to speak.” The sculptor Donatello, said to have shouted this at one of his works, trying to will dead stone into animate flesh.

The Renaissance Portrait
Metropolitan Museum, New York

Sandro Botticelli, Ideal Portrait of a Lady, Simonetta Vespucci 1475-80

The first great age of portraits in Europe took place in the 15th century. Portraiture is the medium used historically to record the features of a family member for future generations, celebrate a prince or warrior, extol the beauty of a woman, or the exchange of a likeness among friends. Celebrating the Italian contribution to this individual art, The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini, is now on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Approximately 160 works by artists such as Donatello, Filippi Lippi, Botticelli, Verrocchio, Ghirlandaio, Pisanello, Mantegna, Giovanni Bellini and Antonello da Messina, displayed in media ranging from painting and manuscript illumination to marble sculpture and bronze medals, all pieces of the new vogue use of portraiture.

Gentile Bellini, Catarina Cornaro

 During the early Renaissance, artists working in Florence, Venice and the courts of Italy created magnificent portrayals of the people around them – from heads of state and church to patrons, scholars, poets and artists – concentrating for the first time on producing recognizable likenesses and expressions of personality. The rapid development of portraiture closely linked Renaissance society and politics with ideals of the individual, and concepts of beauty. The object may have been to commemorate a significant event – a marriage, death, the accession to a position of power – or may have been to record the features of an esteemed member of the family for future generations.

Maestro delle Storie del Pane, Portrait of a Young Man

Giovanni Bellini, Fra Teodoro of Urbino as Saint Dominic, 1515

Domenico Ghirlandaio, Portrait of an Old Man and a Boy, 1490

Beginning in Florence, where independent portraits first appeared in abundance, the exhibit moves to the courts of Ferrara, Mantua, Bologna, Milan, Urbino, Naples and papal Rome, ending in Venice, where a tradition of portraiture asserted itself in the late century. In Florence, the striking innovations occurred first in sculpture eventually taken up in painting. In court life, thanks in to the genius of Pisanello, the medal became the preferred means of recording a likeness. Medals were durable, produced in multiple casts, and easily exchanged among the social elite. In Venice the painted portrait held sway in society, thanks to the achievements of Antonello da Messina and Giovanni Bellini, whose paintings resolutely abandoned the dominant Italian convention for the profile to present the sitter turned three-quarter, his or her distant gaze and delicately modeled features expressing hints of an interior life.

Antonello da Messina, Portrait of a Young Man, 1478

“Painting possesses a truly divine power in that not only does it make the absent present, but it also represents the dead to the living many centuries later so that they are recognized by spectators with pleasure and deep admiration for the artist,” declared Leon Battista Alberti in his treatise on painting, composed in 1435.

Donatello, Saint Rossore, 1425

This now anonymous image reflects a life roundly and raptly lived; his face at one glance thoughtful then perturbed with a furrowed brow, gaze downcast and lips squeezed into a slim frown. Donatello’s imagining of Saint Rossore from 1425 commands the entrance to the exhibition, the vivid fictional creation of a saint over a millennium dead when the artist imagined his expression in this sculpture.

Fra Filippo Lippi, Portrait of a Woman and a Man at a Casement, 1440-44

Filippi Lippi produced portraits that flattered the subject’s vanity and pleased a highly placed clientele. The woman’s wrinkle-free, plucked forehead, blond hair, arched eyebrows and tiny, jewel-like mouth all embody the paradigm of feminine beauty. The artist’s other works can be harsher, but in portraits of the upper class, a finely tuned sense of hierarchy won out over the raw truth. The realism that dictates fidelity to detail, but in the end, paying homage to the client was the best way to receive payment.

Pietro di Spagna, Federigo da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, 1475

The portrait of Federigo da Montefeltro, the great mercenary also known as the Duke of Urbino, is portrayed around 1475 with his son Guidobaldo by the artist Pietro di Spagna; showing the Duke at ease in his quarters, reading in Latin, however in full armor.

Pisanello, Leonello d'Este, 1444

The 1444 portrait medal of Leonello d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, by the Italian innovator known as Pisanello; invented for the Ferrarese court, this commemorative coin with no value as currency was highly prized among members of the court.

Francesco Francia, Portrait of Federigo il Gonzaga, future Duke of Mantua, 1510

Francesco Francia’s 1510 portrait of Federigo Il Gonzaga, the future Duke of Mantua at the age of 10. Documentation tell us that the boy was involved in an elaborate diplomatic exchange that left him the hostage (or guest) of Pope Julius II in Rome, and that his mother, the Duchess, commissioned this portrait to remind her of the absent boy.

The Renaissance marked a turning point in the history of portraiture. Partly out of interest in the natural world and partly from the interest of the classical cultures of ancient Greece and Rome. Portraits – either painted or sculpted – assumed an important role in Renaissance society and valued as objects of earthly success and status. Painting in general reached a new level of balance, harmony and insight, with the greatest artists considered geniuses, rising far above the tradesman status to valued servants of the court and church.

I hope you enjoyed this Museum Monday from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, featuring their new exhibition The Renaissance Portrait.

Cheers!
Mary Jo

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