The Holy Family in the Open by Hans Baldung

The Holy Family in the Open by Hans Baldung (Grien) c.1512

For me, the joy of walking around art galleries is to discover artist I had never heard of and then later examine their life and other works of art they have completed.   When I was walking around The Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna I came across this quirky picture of the Virgin and Child which was unlike any other I had seen before.  It is often used on Christmas cards as it has a jolly feel to it.  The painting entitled The Holy Family in the Open is by Hans Baldung, a German Renaissance artist born in Swäbisch Gmund in 1484.   In Briesgau and Strasbourg he was the dominant influence on religious panel painting in the early sixteenth century.

Baldung joined the Albrecht Dürer workshop in 1503 and remained there for four years where he was looked upon as a most talented pupil and was even left in charge of it whilst Durer made his second journey to Italy.   Maybe because of his love for the colour green, which he used a lot in his works, he was nicknamed Grien.  His work was very varied in its nature and included religious paintings, allegorical and mythological pictures, portraits, and designs for stained glass, tapestries and book illustrations.   He also had a great fascination with witchcraft and made many beautiful images on this subject in different medias some of which were of an erotic nature. 

In 1509 he bought a citizenship to the, then, German city of Strassburg, now the French city of Strasbourg, where he became a member of the town council and owned a number of local properties.  He died there at the age of sixty one.

Today’s painting; The Holy Family in the Open, tempera on wood, was painted around 1512.  Baldung adopted a view of landscape that was close to the Danube School and reflected the unique romantic character of the alpine foothills.  Today’s painting features this atmospheric mountainous landscape.  The main character in this composition is Mary who lovingly holds the Christ Child in her arms.  She can be seen sitting on the ground beneath the crown of a vast mossy tree which acts as a canopy, and the scene is set in the midst of a flowery meadow with animals and plants.  A spring trickles out of the earth besides her where a small putto quenches his thirst, secretly watched over by Joseph.

All the elements in this picture, namely, the spring, the stream, the lush meadow, the shady tree, Mary embracing the child in such a loving manner all call to mind the atmosphere of a paradise garden even though it is not enclosed but incorporated in a mountainous scene.

Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe by Édouard Manet

Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe by Edouard Manet (1863)

My Daily Art Display for today is the Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe (Luncheon on the Grass) by Édouard Manet which can be found in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

 Manet, who is acknowledged as one of the most famous artists from the second half of the nineteenth century, was born in Paris in 1832 to a wealthy and well connected family.   His father Auguste was a French judge and his mother, Eugénie-Desirée was the goddaughter of the Swedish crown prince.   Although his father expected Édouard to follow him into the judiciary his uncle encouraged him to become an artist.

Today’s painting is an intriguing one for many reasons and caused a stir over its alleged indecency when it was first exhibited in 1863 under the title Le Bain at the Salon des Refusés in Paris having been previously rejected for exhibition at the Paris Salon.  Here the presence of two fully clothed men with a naked woman scandalised some, whilst others found it humorous.   As with all controversies the perpetrator of a public controversy and outrage often becomes a cult hero and the same was true in this case as it made Manet a hero in the eyes of the young painters of the time and brought together in his support the group from which the Impressionists emerged.

Raimondi engraving Judgement of Paris

In the foreground of the picture is a basket of fruit which lies on the lady’s blue dress and seems to take as much importance as the main characters but shows Manet’s skill has a still-life painter.   The main characters in the painting were two fully clothed males and a nude woman looking directly out at us with a relaxed air and with little sign of embarrassment.     Manet must have known this would be controversial.  The subject of the painting was possibly borrowed from Titian/Giorgione’s Concert Champêtre and the posture of the male figure on the right hand side closely resembles that of a reclining figure in Raimondi’s engraving Judgement of Paris.   Whether he cared or not is a moot point as recently his father had died leaving him a substantial inheritance and he no longer needed commercial viability for his works of art.  The female in the painting was Manet’s favourite model Victorine Meurend and her two male companions in the scene were his younger brother Eugène Manet and his brother-in-law Ferdinand Leenhof. 

At the time, the painting style itself also brought about critical comments in some quarters.  There was no transition between the light and dark elements of the picture.  Gone were the subtle gradations and in their place was a brutal disparity of colour.  Depth and perspective seem to be lacking.  Look at the size of the woman standing in the water in the background in comparison to the rowing boat seen to the right of her.   Was this deliberate or was it just Manet’s refusal to conform to convention?

 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.

The Glass of Wine by Johannes Vermeer

The Glass of Wine by Jan Vermeer (c.1659)

My painting today entitled The Glass of Wine was painted around 1662 by the Dutch Artist Johannes Vermeer and now hangs in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin.  The picture shows a woman seated at a table drinking a glass of wine.  Her face is almost hidden by the nearly empty glass. She is elegantly clothed wearing a red satin tabbaard with its dazzling ornate gold brocade suggesting that she has dressed to please her guest.  An elegantly dressed and debonair looking man stands at her side, keeping a respectful distance from her.  He looks straight at her with his hand, enclosed by a ruffled cuff, on a porcelain pitcher and seems to be waiting to fill her glass.  His drab coloured clothing is in contrast to the woman’s attire and aids the visual divide between the two characters in the painting.

A number of song books lie on the table which is covered by a heavy ornamental cloth.  On the Spanish chair there is a blue cushion on which sits a cittern, a stringed instrument dating from the Renaissance.   This is an instrument that often occurs in Vermeer’s pictures and symbolises both harmony and frivolity.  Should we believe, that moments before, the man had serenaded the woman?   Vermeer gives no indication as to the relationship between the man and woman or whether consuming alcohol will lead to the softening of her heart towards the gentleman.   Maybe Vermeer just hints at a relationship. 

The stained glass window to the left of the picture features a woman holding a level and bridle, personifying Temperantia (temperance).  The level symbolises good deeds and the bridle symbolises emotional control. The coat of arms has been identified as that of Janetge Vogel, first wife of Moses van Nederveen, who lived in a house on the Oude Delft canal.   Why this coat of arms?  Janetge Vogel had died in 1624, eight years before Vermeer was born and some thirty five years before he painted this work and even though Vermeer lived close to this house, it is unlikely that he had ever lived in it.  This coat of arms also appears in another of Vermeer’s painting The Girl with Two Men. 

The clothes of the figures, the patterned tablecloth, the gilded picture frame hanging on the back wall, and the coat of arms in the stained window glass all suggest a wealthy and high-class setting.  Vermeer has an interesting way of showing the light coming in through the leaded window and how it interacts with the people and objects in the room.

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.