Friday, March 27, 2015

Wandering through the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Here's an exciting discovery for me  - a lively conflation of Persian and Chinese painting in several folios of Hafiz-i Abru’s Majma al-tawarikh - an early 15th C.  history commissioned by Shahrukh from his capital at Herat (Afghanistan).

Unfortunately, the M.I.A. does not show these images online -- and it's difficult to photograph them through the reflective glass cases.  So all I can show is areas of detail.

This scene shows Moses sending a dragon to attack Pharaoh.
It's a beautiful composition, I just wish my photo were better.

Timur defeats the Sultan of Delhi, Nasir Al-Din Mahmud Tughluq
, in the winter of 1397–1398, painting dated 1595–1600.

Timur's destruction of Delhi is one of the darker moments in human history -- but here it is gloriously celebrated by Bhora, an artist serving the Mughal emperor Akbar, one of Timur's direct descendants.

BTW - this painting was acquired by the museum at auction last year for about $50,000.  Which seems a small price to pay.  I wish  the Art Institute of Chicago had acquired it - but their priorities appear to be elsewhere.

St. Catherine (and Maxentius), Austrian 1450-1460

This is a very sweet  late Medieval sculpture.  I probably would have noticed it even in a much larger collection, like the Met's.

St. Catherine was brave and studious.  But here, she also appears  insufferably self righteous.
The smart school girl who knows everything.

This face does not feel generic, and  might be a portrait of someone the sculptor knew, Perhaps his daughter?

I actually feel bad for poor old Maxentius who persecuted her. It looks like the wheel has turned.

He appears  surprised - but also gentle.

Is this a self portrait?


Hans Schnatterpeck, Tyrolean, active 1472-1510
Lamentation,  1490's

"Following a long-established buying strategy, the museum is trying to snap up important pieces in fields that are currently unfashionable and therefore less costly"

The above was written by a reporter in 2011 -- and it's quite a tribute to the management of this museum. Apparently, this piece was purchased from another museum who sold it to raise funds to buy a Tilman Riemenschneider, who currently commands a much higher price.

Since it is displayed in a glass case, reflections kept me from photographing the entire piece - so the above was lifted from the internet.

But it's a masterpiece of that strong and expressive late Gothic style that was more popular in the early 20th C. -- and which remains so important to me.


It takes my  breath away.

So much inner vitality


I failed to shoot its label, but I'm guessing that this fine bust is also from the 15th Century. It has that stately innocent feeling of the early Renaissance in northern Italy --  expressed by sculptors like Mino Fiesole.

He's gorgeous.
I don't know whether it was intended to be erotic,
but did Gothic sculptors ever imagine young dudes this handsome?

Jakob Jansz (1474-1509), Netherlands

The above detail was taken from a "Presentation at the Temple" -- because I found the faces so sweet, familiar and alive.  Especially the girl in the center.  The girl with the birds is a very child-like  Virgin Mary.

This scene would lose much of its charm if an intimate space were not created by that column in the foreground.


Ghirlandaio (?) - portrait of a lawyer in the Aldobrandini family, c. 1550


These two fine Renaissance portraits are hung side by side


Moroni, 'Portrait of an Ecclesiastic", 1550-1575

The hands of the attorney are disappointing - and the Moroni is a stronger design - but otherwise they are both good representations of intellectual men - with a strong sense of character and vocation.

I wish Moroni could paint a portrait of me.

Cornelius Jacobsz Delff, (1571-1643)
Allegory of the Four Elements, 1600 (detail)

I'm currently reading a book about the observation of reality in Dutch still life -- and this might  be an example of categorization -- the metallic-ness of pots and the airiness of birds.

Though I'm afraid that here, the whole is less than the sum of its parts.

Simon Vouet (1590-1649)

These two angels are carrying objects related to the Passion. The one in blue carries a tablet that reads "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews", while the one in red carries the basin in which Pilate washed his hands. (and he does seem repulsed by it, doesn't he?)

They both feel like architectural elements - within a great, spacious cathedral
Or, perhaps within an enormous concert hall.
They're quite musical.

Michael Sweerts (1618-1664)
Boy Drawing Bust of Roman Emperor (1661)

Not a great painting - but it does belong in my art club.  And there is something charming about that lively young boy and that dead ancient Roman confronting each other over the millennia.

BTW -- a Sweerts painting also caught my eye at the Met last year.

 Pieter Claesz, (1597-1661)
Still Life, 1643

I'm a bit nervous about whether that tasty crab is still fresh -  but it seems to have been one of the artist's favorite subjects.  Here's a another, very similar version

Jan Vonck (1630-1660)
Still Life with dead birds, 1660

Nothing is quite as dead as  dead birds -- the specialty of this artist who himself died at a young age, soon after making this painting

Henri Lehmann, (1814-1882)
Calypso, 1869

This is the sort of well-made but tired painting that made avant garde contemporaries like Manet look so exciting.  It's  like what Titian might have done -- with the life drained out.  It would make a fine accessory to the board room of a men's club - though I did not notice the aroma of cigar smoke.

It attracted my attention because "Calypso" is the name of our new kitten


Ammi Phillips (1788 - 1865)
Portrait of Katharina Van Keuren, 1819

Like the ancient Fayum mummy portraits, this character feels so present and alive - even if distant from sophisticated urbanity.

It's contemporary with one of my favorite paintings at the Art Institute, though, of course, represents a  more mundane kind of  life.

I'm going to have to agree with what Hilton Kramer wrote about another one of his portraits:

To the modern eye, the portrait of Mrs. Cox particularly speaks with a clarity, precision, and sympathy that places it considerably nearer to our own standards of artistic probity than anything to be found in the common run of 'serious' painting at the time. If this is 'innocent' painting, it is innocent only of those flatulent academic pretensions which remained the curse of so much of our art in the 19th century."

Alexis Jean Fournier (1865-1948)
After Rain on Minnehaha Creek, 1897

A very talented Minneapolis man who enjoyed both local  training and patronage.  The above was done after he studied in Paris.  He would later move from theis Barbizon style to the brighter,  more colorful intensity of Impressionism.

I have spent many happy hours in northern forests just like this one -- and yes, this is how it feels.



Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Habsburgs at the Minneapolis Institute

 Tintoretto (1518-1594), "Susanna and the Elders", 1555

A selection of  royal trappings (paintings, sculpture, costumes, armor, weapons, carriages, etc ) from the Kunsthistorisches Museum is now on view in  Minneapolis.  The focus is  more on the history of the Habsburg dynasty than the history of art, and the target audience seems to be age 15.   Many of the pieces, and most of the signage, does not interest me.

But it does include one of my very favorite paintings which, until now, I have only known in reproductions, the best of which, by the way, can now be found in glorious high-resolution on the Google Art Project. .About ten years ago, I made  my own version - now hanging from a fence in the  backyard.

One might notice that this dirty old man is  lurking rather than ogling.  Presumably because he, and the  lurker at the opposite end of the fence, are ashamed of their sinful concupiscence -- as should also be the gentlemen viewers  in the gallery,  as we gaze at the soft folds of  unprotected female flesh.

She's quite a woman -- even if a bit too plump for contemporary centerfolds.

By the way, you might notice how the edges along the right side of her body vary from sharp to blurry as her volumes weave elegantly back and forth in pictorial space. (which no photographic centerfold can offer)

Yes, the details are luscious - but actually - they are best seen on Google Art.

What can't be experienced online is the sense of the painting as whole, as it engages the space of the actual room and confronts the viewer with life-size human figures.


Hans Jakob I. Bachmann, German, 1574- 1651
Ivory Tankard with Lid, 1642

Continuing on the erotic theme -- here is one incredible display of carved ivory - wrapping itself all around this tankard.  Note the small cameo scenes on the bottom and top - as well as the magnificent frieze of interacting figures.

I don't find the faces of these frolicking girls to be very appealing -- but perhaps men of the 17th C. reacted differently.

Gallery signage suggested that this tankard was a wedding gift --- so all the drinking and  erotic play was appropriate for the  occasion

Furienmeister, active in the first quarter of the 17th century
Crucifix, first quarter of the 17th century

The anonymous Furienmeister is so named because of the wonderful ivory furies  that he carved.

The job of Holy Roman Emperor was probably quite stressful.  But if he gets to wake up each morning and look at this crucifix on the wall above his bed, I might apply for the position.

There's an entire cathedral in that small space.

Everything about this piece is incredible -- from the overall  gesture of the entire figure, to the detail areas that are too subtle to be believed.

Did he spend an entire year carving this piece -- carefully planning how to proceed with each area of detail ?

By the way, one might notice that the ivory pieces in this show have been dramatically lit.  A spotlight shines into their glass cases - explicitly contrary to the advice given by the Smithsonian regarding ivory preservation. Assuming that the curators have not behaved irresponsibly, that might suggest  that there is some disagreement in the museum community concerning just how damaging these spotlights can be.

Without  strong, revealing light, it's hardly worth putting such carving on display, as I noted in this review of a recent show of Buddhist art at the Block Museum in Evanston.


Attributed to Balthasar Moll, Austrian, 1717-1785
Carousel Sleigh, c. 1740-1750

More wonderful carving -- but on a different scale.  This fairy-tale prop weighs 400 pounds

Regretfully, more  close-up images cannot be found on the internet - but the above gives some idea of its intense organic design --- as if conjured by Louis Sullivan.


Antonio Canova, 1757-1822 Emperor Franz II, 1805

This powerful bust  (and forehead! ) was commissioned as soon as the Emperor took possession of Venice after the treaty of Campo Formio .  It was displayed outside a Venetian library to reassure citizens of the Emperor's cultural responsibility.

The Crowning with Thorns, c. 1602-1604

It's always a great event whenever a Caravaggio religious painting comes to America, since our museums don't have any.

As my wife's brother, an Evangelical minister,  noted:  Christ is being assaulted here by three orders of society: an aristocrat, a slave, and a peasant.

Correggio, 1489/94-1534 Jupiter and Io, c. 1530

There's a softness and wispy-ness about this painting that doesn't really attract me - even if it was
used to advertise this entire exhibition

These pieces  suggests that the Imperial court fluctuated between the extremes of piety and hedonism.


Giuseppe Arcimboldo, 1527-1593
Fire, 1566  (detail)

A man who invented his own genre.  And he was so good at it, no one else has tried to work it -- at least as far as I've seen..

Giorgione, Italian, c. 1477-1510
Three Philosophers, 1508-1509

Not many paintings are attributed to Giorgione -- and I'm waiting to see one that knocks the ball out of the park.

Hans Holbein  (1497-1543)
Jane Seymour (1509-1537), c.1536-1537

King Henry VIII liked her -- but there's much  spark in either her life or this portrait.

"Dutiful" is the key word for both.

Giovanni Battista Moroni, c.1520/1524-1578
Alessandro Vittoria (1525-1608), c.1552-1553

This portrait may not have Rembrandt's sense of self reflection -- but I really felt the presence of a young sculptor proudly showing off his work.

And it's strong, stately  design announces itself all the way across the room.


Niklas Reiser, active 1498-1512
Maria of Burgund (1458-1482), c.1500

A sadly posthumous portrait (she fell off her  horse while falconing)

But a wonderful portrait from an artist whom I had never seen.

"Venus adjusting her sandal", Roman, First Century

There was a case of small classical bronzes.  This was my favorite - though my favorite view was the long, slow curve of her back.

Titian c.1488-1576 Danaë, after 1554

I don't care for the old nursemaid, but I like the rapturous expression on the face of Danae.

The Chicago version

Apparently this theme was a big seller for Titian, so his workshop made quite a few, including this one at the Art Institute of Chicago.