Dante and Beatrice by Henry Holiday

Dante and Beatrice by Henry Holiday (1884)

My Daily Art Display painting of the day is Dante and Beatrice by the English painter Henry Holiday who was born in London in 1839.  Holiday was a landscape painter as well as a stained glass designer, sculptor and illustrator.  At his death he was described as “the last Pre-Raphaelite.

The painting, completed in 1884, was considered to be one Henry Holiday’s most important painting.  The theme of the painting is based on the medieval poet Dante Alighieri’s work La Vita Nuova.   Dante concealed his love for Beatrice by pretending to be attracted by other women. The scene depicted in the painting is that of Beatrice refusing to greet Dante because of the gossip that had reached her. Beatrice is the woman dressed in white and she was modelled by Eleanor Butcher. The woman next to Beatrice is Monna Vanna, a companion of Beatrice and the mistress of Dante’s friend Guido Cavalcanti. Monna Vanna was modelled by Milly Hughes.  Whilst Beatrice looks stern and statuesque ignoring the presence of Dante, Monna Vanna, in contrast, looks back at Dante so as to judge his reaction to Beatrice’s behaviour.

Holiday paid much attention to detail, so much so, he visited Florence in order to carry out research for the painting and describes what his findings were in a letter:

“…..I wanted to get on the spot and see the general lie of the lines – the perspective in fact, of the buildings and still more the sense of colour, and as far as possible to collect such fragments, as remain of buildings of Dante’s time, so as to be able to alter the details to the character of the period… . “

He set the scene of the painting at the Ponte Santa Trinita, looking towards the Ponte Vecchio under which flows the River Arno.

Echo and Narcissus by John William Waterhouse

Echo and Narcissus by John William Waterhouse (1903)

The story of Echo and Narcissus comes from Greek Mythology and tells the tale of Echo, a wood nymph’s love for a beautiful youth, Narcissus.  Sadly for Echo although many loved Narcissus, who enjoyed the attention, praise and envy, he, on the other hand, loved nobody considering all his “worshippers” to be unworthy of him.  After Echo had died of a broken heart, Narcissus continued to attract many nymphs all of whom he briefly entertained before scorning and refusing them.  The Gods were angered by his behaviour and cursed him and made it so there was only one whom he would love, someone who was not real and could never love him back.

One day whilst walking through the woods, Narcissus came upon a pool of water.  He looked in it and caught a glimpse of what he thought was a beautiful water spirit but in fact was his own reflection.  He bent to kiss the image which mimicked his actions.  He reached into the pool to touch the spirit but of course the image was destroyed.  When the water settled the image reappeared only to be destroyed again every time he touched the water’s surface.   Narcissus could only lay by the pool gazing in to the eyes of his beloved vision.

My Daily Art Display painting today is entitled Echo and Narcissus and is by the English pre-Raphelite painter John William Waterhouse.  The painting which can be found in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool was painted in 1903 and shows the unhappy Narcissus gazing at his own reflection in the pool whilst the unhappy rejected nymph Echo looks on.  Waterhouse was of a younger generation of pre-Raphaelites than Dante Rossetti and his subjects of doomed and unhappy love were prettier, less disturbing and more widely popular than theirs.

Have you a favourite painting which you would like to see on My Daily Art Display?  

If so, let me know and tell me why it is a favourite of yours and I will include it in a future offering.

Three Philosophers by Giorgione

Three Philosophers by Giorgione (1509)

My Daily Art Display for today is entitled Three Philosophers and was painted in 1509 by Giorgione, one year before his death.   Little is known about the artist’s early life but Giorgio da Castelfranco, known as Giorgione, was born in Castelfranco, in the province of Venetia in 1477 and by 1500 had moved to the city of Venice.  There he studied under the great Bellini.  Sadly his life was cut short at the young age of 33 by the plague which raged through the land in 1510.  Less than a dozen of his paintings remain in existence and two of them hang in the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna.  

Today’s painting has left art historians in a quandary on how to interpret this work of art.    The picture shows three philosophers – one old, one middle-aged and one young.  The young man is looking at the cave at the left of the scene and could be measuring and noting down the features of the entrance.   Some postulate it is about three stages of man’s life viz., the young, the middle aged and the old.  Others say it concerns three different philosophical schools of thought; the young man representing the Renaissance, the man, maybe a Muslim, wearing a turban, the Muslim expansion age and the old man, the Middle Ages.  Yet others believe the three figures represent the three Magi, witnessing the first appearance of the star.  The figures seem to be astronomers or at least versed in interpreting the movement of the heavenly bodies, as confirmed by the charts and instruments held by the young man and the bearded old man.   The reason for this enigma is that the painting was made to order for an exclusive patron and the theme of it was only known to him, his friends and the painter.  This genre of the painting in which the landscape and the human figures attain the same importance was unusual in Giorgione’s work.   Giorgione’s painting methods for this work concentrated on colour effect.  The warm and delicately shaded colours he used over large areas of the canvas together with the way in which he allows one hue flow into another similar one creates an illusion of airiness and atmosphere.

Have you a favourite painting which you would like to see on My Daily Art Display?  

If so, let me know and tell me why it is a favourite of yours and I will include it in a future offering.

Dante’s Dream at the Time of the Death of Beatrice by Rossetti

Dante's Dream at the Time of the Death of Beatrice by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1871)

The poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti was born in London in 1828.   His father was an exiled Italian patriot and Dante scholar.  Torn between a lifetime concentrating on his poetry or a lifetime as a painter, he decided that painting was his first love although he never gave up his love of writing poetry.  In 1848 he co-founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais.  Maybe, because of his father, Dante Rossetti had a life-long interest in the Italian poet Dante Alighieri and today’s picture offering is Dante’s Dream at the Time of the Death of Beatrice which he painted in 1871 and which now hangs in the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.

The painting represents an episode from the Dante Alighieri poem La Vita Nuova (The New Life), a work made up of both verse and prose.  In this poem Dante Alighieri dreams that he is led by love to the death-bed of Beatrice Portinari, who was the object of his unfulfilled love.

This is Rossetti’s largest painting and with it he creates a visionary world using soft rich colours and complex symbols.  The two female attendants wear green, which is symbolic of hope.   The spring blossom held by the angel in red, who holds Dante’s hand, represents purity and the poppies strewn on the floor symbolise the sleep of dreams and death.   The model for Beatrice was Jane Morris, the wife of William Morris, whom Dante Rossetti had a long-term affair.  William Morris was an English textile designer, artist, and writer associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti abandoned Arthurian and Tennysonian subjects in his later works and concentrated on the subject closest to his heart – women.  He was a love poet and a love painter and there has been no greater worshipper of female beauty in English painting.

Have you a favourite painting which you would like to see on My Daily Art Display?  

If so, let me know and tell me why it is a favourite of yours and I will include it in a future offering.

Saint Justina with a Donor by Moretto da Brescia

Saint Justina with a Donor by Moretto da Brescia (c.1530)

Alessandro Bonvicino more commonly known as Moretto da Brescia was born around 1498 at Rovato, a town in the province of Brescia in Lombardy. He studied first under Fioravante Ferramola of Brescia and later with Titian in Venice.    He was the leading Brescia painter of the day and concentrated his works on religious subjects mainly producing altarpieces and other religious works.  The human figure in his paintings is somewhat slender and expressions are intently religious.  The backgrounds of his paintings tended to be of a radiant quality.  He was a very religious person and use to prepare himself before embarking on a work of sacred art by prayer and fasting. 

Today’s offering in My Daily Art Display is Moretto’s St Justina with a Donor which he painted around 1530 and was one of the major works of the Northern Italian High Renaissance.  This picture is one which I saw when I visited the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna. 

In this painting the union between a religious subject, in this case Saint Justina, and the figure of a patron has been brought to such a self-contained yet intimate whole.  Although in essence it is a devotional picture there emanates a feeling of a pastoral love scene.  Saint Justina is revered as the patron saint of Padua and is shown holding the martyr’s palm,  standing besides the unicorn.  Moretto merges the legendary figure of a sorcerer, who was converted by Justina, into the donor of the painting.  He gazes up at the saint with an enraptured reverence that seems to have affected even the unicorn.  The influence of Raphael is clearly evident in the statuesque, suspended form of the beautiful saint and Moretto was often alluded to as the Raphael of Brescia.

 Have you a favourite painting which you would like to see on My Daily Art Display?  

If so, let me know and tell me why it is a favourite of yours and I will include it in a future offering.

Autumn by Francesco Bassano (c. 1576)

Autumn by Francesco Bassano (c.1576)

Still at the Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna

After looking around the Hans van Aachen exhibition (see yesterday’s post) I went to the wing of the gallery which housed the museum’s collection of Italian paintings and I came across works of art by a father and son, Jacopo and Francesco Bassano. 

Francesco Bassano the Younger, sometimes known as Francesco Giambattista da Ponte or Francesco da Ponte the Younger, was an Italian Renaissance painter who was born in Bassano del Grappa a town 50 miles north west of Venice in 1549.  He was the eldest of four sons and came from a family of painters, his father being the celebrated painter Jacopo Bassano and his grandfather, a village painter, Francesco da Ponte.  His three brothers, Leandro, Gerolamo and Giovanni Battista, like himself followed in the footsteps of their father and both Francesco and Leandro gained reputations as fine painters.

Francesco was trained in his father’s workshop in Bassano del Grappa between 1560 and 1570.  Later he moved to Venice and ran a branch of the family business.  Francesco the Younger had a penchant for rural scenes begun by his father, and he developed this aspect of the workshop.  Sadly, all his life, Francesco was prone to hypochondria and other mental illnesses and soon after his father’s death in 1592, he committed suicide

My Daily Art Display painting today is Autumn by Francesco Bassano, which hangs in the Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna.  He painted this rural scene around 1576.  Against a lush mountainous landscape, he illustrates a country scene with workers busy picking, collecting and crushing the harvested grapes.  In the left foreground are two oxen hauling a cart on which is a large wooden barrel.  Beside the animals is a young girl kneeling, drinking the grape juice.  The background of the picture has a hare, seen in mid flight, and a couple of dilapidated timber-framed thatched dwellings.  The theme for the majority of Francesco’s paintings, notwithstanding whether the theme was religious, mythological or allegorical, was almost always that of a rustic and contemporary setting and decor.

The subject matter of the painting, harvesting of the grapes, is obviously secular and yet there is also a subtle religious aspect to the painting for if one looks closely at the background on the left hand side one can just make out, on the top of a grassy mound, a kneeling man dressed in a white robe.  He is seen receiving an object from a godly figure in the sky who is reaching down from the illuminated cloud.   This god-like figure extends his hands towards the arms of the kneeling individual. The interpretation of this is that it is probable that this small scene depicts Moses receiving the two stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. This was a popular iconography during the Renaissance and it was not unusual to include the detail within a larger genre scene such as the harvest.

Have you a favourite painting which you would like to see on My Daily Art Display?  

If so, let me know and tell me why it is a favourite of yours and I will include it in a future offering.

Portrait of Emperor Rudolf II by Hans van Aachen

The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna has three floors.  The ground floor has collections of Greek and Roman Antiquities as well as a collection of Egyptian and Near Eastern artefacts.  The top floor is set aside for special collections and a large coin collection.  I concentrated on the middle floor which housed the art treasures.  On one side were the Dutch, Flemish and German paintings and on the other side hung the Italian, Spanish and French works of art.  A central section of this floor was set aside for special exhibitions.

The day I was at the museum the special exhibition was of the extraordinary art of the German painter Hans van Aachen.  In all there were 112 of his works on display.  This exhibition was the culmination of a three-museum tour as it had previously been at the Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum in Aachen the birthplace of the artist’s father.  Then it moved to the Castle Gallery in Prague before finally ending its tour in Vienna.

Hans van Aachen, a German Mannerist painter, was born in Cologne in 1552.  He, like so many of the northern European artists spent time in Italy.  He lived in Venice from 1574 to 1588 and during that period in Italy, spent time in Rome and Florence.  He returned to Germany in 1588 where he built a reputation as an exceptional portrait painter concentrating on paintings of the nobility.  In 1592 he became the official court painter of Rudolf II, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.   In 1600 he went to live in Prague where he died, fifteen years later, aged 63.

My Daily Art Display painting for today is Emperor Rudolf II, a portrait by Hans van Aachen, which he painted in 1607

The Court Jester Gonella by Jean Fouquet

Interior of Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum

Just a short walk away from the Vienna Academy of Fine Art is the Kunsthistorisches Museum, which is one of the largest museum/galleries in the world.  It was built in 1872 and was opened in 1891 by Emperor Franz-Joseph the ruler of the then dual Austria-Hungary monarchy.  It had been his wish to find a home for the Hapsburgs’ remarkable art collection.  The interior of this rectangular building, above which sits a massive octagonal dome, is lavishly decorated with marble, stucco ornamentations, gold leaf and paintings which make the interior a fabulous work of art itself.

The Court Jester Gonella by Jean Fouquet (c. 1440/1445)

The painting featured in today’s My Daily Art Display hangs in the museum.  It is The Court Jester Gonella by Jean Fouquet. 

Jean Fouquet was born in Tours around 1420 and is now acknowledged as the greatest fifteenth century French painter.  He was an exceptional panel painter and manuscript illuminator.  Although little is known of his early upbringing it is known he lived in Rome between 1443 and 1447 before returning to France where he became court painter to Louis XI. 

In the Archduke Leopold Wilhelm’s collection the painting was described as a portrait of a court jester known as Gonella but the portrait of a wily old man remains a mystery.  With his arms are tightly folded, his head tilted to one side he seems to have been squeezed into the picture.  The minutely detailed reproduction of his face complete with wrinkles stubble and reddened eyes is precise and often likened to portraiture by Jan van Eyck.  Here we have a fool acting the part of a simple peasant who is able to amuse the court with his crude jokes or his rough wisdom.

Boreas abducting Oreithyia by Peter Paul Rubens

On Saturday, despite the heavy snow, I trudged through the streets of Vienna to visit the Academy of Fine Arts.  The Academy was opened in 1688 as a private academy by Peter Strudel, the court painter to Emperor Leopold I.  In 1877 a new building was constructed, where it remains today.  In 1907 and again in 1908 a prospective art student applied to join this seat of artistic learning but failed on both occasions to pass the entrance exam.   The student’s name was Adolf Hitler. 

It has had university status since 1998, but has retained its original name. It is currently the only Austrian university that doesn’t have the word “university” in its name.   It offers almost one thousand students a variety of courses which range from painting and sculpture to photography and video, performance and conceptual art, and also includes architecture, scenography and restoration. 

The Picture Gallery of the Academy is Vienna’s oldest public art museum that, since 1877, has maintained its collection at the same location.  The gallery, as a whole, represents the sum of countless acts of patronage.  The major one being seven hundred and forty Old Masters from the painting collection of Count Lamberg, which was bequeathed upon his death in 1822.  

After its renovation and restructuring, the Fine Arts’ Gallery of Paintings was reopened in September and is now accessible to the public again.  It has a world ranking collection of European painting from the 14th to the 19th centuries.

Boreas abducting Oreithyia by Rubens (1615)

Today’s work of art for My Daily Art Display can be found at the Academy and is a painting by Peter Paul Rubens  circa 1615 entitled Boreas abducting Oreithyia,  part of the Lamberg bequest.  It is Rubens’s interpretation from an episode in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  Boreas, the Tracian god and ruler of the north wind, carries off the daughter of Erechteus, King of Athens, who had been refused as a bride for him……

“…..Boreas shook out the wings which, as he beats through the air, causes great gusts of wind to blow over the earth and shrouded in darkness, engulfed the panic stricken Oreithyia in his dusky winds….”

Die Windsbraut by Oskar Kokoschka

die Windsbraut by Oskar Kokoschka

Today I am composing my My Daily Art Display blog from Vienna.   I have bestowed upon myself an early Christmas present – a three day holiday in the Austrian city and with it, a chance to visit three of the city’s wonderful art galleries.  As I am in Austria, I thought it only right to feature an Austrian artist in today’s blog.  One of the country’s three most illustrious painters, along with Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt, was Oskar Kokoschka, who was born in 1886 in Pochlarn, a small town on the Danube.  His father was a goldsmith from Prague and Oskar was his second of four sons.

Oskar graduated from a state school and then went to Vienna where he studied at the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts from 1905 to 1909.  During that time, he also worked at The Vienna Workshops, at which in 1908 they published his book, Die Träumenden Knaben (The Dreaming Youth).  His book, which as well as comprising of a number of his colour lithographs, was accompanied by some of his own poems.  Originally the book had been planned for children but the nature of some of his writings was deemed to be more suitable for adult readers.

In 1912, Kokoschka met Alma Mahler, the widow of the great composer Gustav.  Within a year of that first meeting they became inseparable.  The affair lasted for years but eventually their relationship deteriorated and their passion for one another waned and they began to drift apart.  Alma bargained with Kokoschka challenging him to paint a masterpiece for her and in return she would marry him.   Kokoschka was consumed with this task and the “reward” at its completion. 

The painting, die Windsbraut, (The Tempest) was one of his most famous works, which now hangs in the Kunstmuseum Basle.  The picture shows the lovers side by side sheltering from a ferocious storm.  His early preliminary sketches for this work show the bodies of the lovers almost as one, hand in hand but the final picture shows space between them and their hands apart.  Maybe Kokoschka, as time went by, realised that his relationship with Alma was coming to an end.  In the picture, whilst Alma looks peaceful and contented, the face of Kokoschka is more pensive and shows signs of worry.  Was this because of the storm or was it his realisation that his beloved affair with Alma was doomed.  It is not a look of a lover’s satisfied contentment.  It is a sad look, almost one of bereavement – the death of the affair – the imminent loss of his soul mate.