Philosophy, a Self Portrait by Salvator Rosa

Philosophy, a Self-portrait by Salvator Rosa (c.1645)

Philosophy, a Self-portrait by Salvator Rosa (c.1645)

Today’s featured work is another self-portrait, this time by the 17th century Italian Baroque painter, poet and printmaker, Salvator Rosa.  Salvator Rosa was a man of many talents and possibly one of the most daring and inventive artists of the Italian 17th century.   Although in Britain, he is often best remembered for his unparalleled wild landscapes and mountain scenery, and it was just those scenes which Horace Walpole, the English art historian, antiquarian and politician so memorably wrote that what he witnessed during his 1739 journey crossing the Alps into Italy, some fifty years after Rosa’s death was so like the landscape works of the late artist:

“…Precipices, mountains, torrents, wolves, rumblings – Salvator Rosa…

But Rosa was not simply a landscape painter.  It was Rosa who invented a series of new types of painting – novel allegorical pictures, which were characterised by poignant and melancholy poetry; whimsical portraits of romantic and mysterious figures; grisly and shocking subjects, which demonstrated the more sinister side of 17th-century triumphalism. Many believe that no other artist has managed to create windswept landscapes of such expressive and emotional power, or figures of such brooding intensity as those depicted in the artwork of Salvator Rosa.

Salvator Rosa was born in 1615 in Arenella, a hill-top suburb of Naples.  His father, a land surveyor, Vito Antonio de Rosa, believed that his son would be well-served if he became a priest or a lawyer and with this in mind enrolled him into the convent run by the Somascan Fathers.  Although his father had mapped out his future life, young Salvator had his own ideas for his future and had shown a liking and a propensity for the arts and a love of sketching and painting.  His first formal artistic tuition was given to him by Francesco Francanzano, the artist who had married Salvator’s sister and then he studied at the Naples studio of the Baroque painter Aniello Falcone.  Falcone although having painted numerous religious works and frescos for Neapolitan churches, will be primarily remembered as the first specialist of battle paintings.  It was this painting genre that won him an international acclaim and he was dubbed L’ Oracolo delle Battaglie.  It was also this genre that inspired Salvator Rosa. Falcone’s battle paintings generally depicted war as a disorderly struggle between unknown soldiers, and by so doing, created a depiction which was described as ‘the battle scene without a hero’.

In 1632 when Salvator was seventeen years of age is father died and his mother and five siblings, without their husband and father’s financial support, became destitute.  Salvator continued to work for and be mentored by Falcone and helped him with his battle paintings.  It is believed that the Rome-based painter Giovanni Lanfranco saw some of Rosa’s work and suggested that he would be best served artistically if he moved to and based himself in the Italian capital.  Rosa took Lanfranco’s advice and moved to Rome in 1634 and stayed there for two years.  In 1636 Rosa returned to Naples and concentrated on landscape painting.  There was a romantic and haunting element to his landscape work, often populated by shepherds, soldiers, brigands, and mythological characters. In general his landscapes avoided the idyllic and pastoral calm countrysides depicted by the likes of Claude Lorrain and Paul Brill and the contrast between his work and theirs was often commented on.     Claude Lorrain and Paul Brill created brooding, melancholic fantasies, awash in ruins and brigands. By the eighteenth century, the contrasts between Rosa and artists such as Claude was much remarked upon.   The 18th century Scottish poet and playwright wrote about such differences in his 1748 poem, The Castle of Indolence.  He wrote:

“…Whate’er Lorraine light touched with softening hue

Or savage Rosa dashed, or learned Poussin drew…”

I featured one of Salvator Rosa’s landscape painting, River Landscape with Apollo and the Cumaean Sibyl in My Daily Art Display of May 10th 2012.

At the age of twenty-three Salvator returned to Rome and worked on commissions including an altarpiece for the bishop of Viterbo, a town to the north of the capital.  The bishop treated him as his protégé and Rosa received many commissions from the Catholic Church.  It was during his stay in Rome that Rosa further developed his multi-talented skills, not just as an artist but as a musician, a writer and a comic actor.  Rosa founded a company of actors in which he regularly participated. He wrote and would often take part in his own satirical plays.  The plays were often political in nature and often lampooned the wealthy and powerful, and it was his devilish satire which gained him the reputation of a rebel, pitting himself against these influential people. However these acidic satires made him some powerful enemies including Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the famous and powerful architect and who was at that time, the most powerful artist in Rome.   He, like Rosa, was also an amateur playwright and it was during the Carnival in 1639 that Rosa ridiculed Bernini’s plays and his stature as a playwright.  Eventually Rosa had made too many enemies in the Italian capital and decided it was just too dangerous to remain in the city.

He left Rome and travelled to Florence, where he remained  for the next eight years.  One of his most influential Florentine patrons was Cardinal Giancarlo de’ Medici, who was a great lover and supporter of the Arts.  Rosa worked for the Cardinal at his palace but was still allowed the freedom to spend time on his own landscape paintings and he would go off and spend the summers in the Tuscan countryside around Monterufoli and Barbiano.   It was whilst living in Florence that Rosa did some work for Giovanni Battista Ricciardi who was at the centre of the literary and theatrical life of Florence and Salvator soon became part of Carlo’s circle of friends. Rosa used his own house as a meeting place for local writers, musicians and artists and it became known as the Accademia dei Percossi, or Academy of the Stricken.

He left Florence in 1646 being unhappy with the ever increasing restrictions put on him and his artistic and literary work by the Medici court.  Initially, he went back to Naples where he remained for three years before returning to Rome once again in 1649 for it was here that he believed his writings and paintings would win him even greater fame.  However, one of Salvator Rosa’s problems was himself for he often had a tempestuous relationship with his patrons, frequently ignoring their demands. Another of his quirks was that he refused to paint on commission or to agree a price beforehand.  He frequently rejected interference from his patrons in his choice of subject.  In a book by Francis Haskell, a twentieth century art historian,  entitled, Patrons and Painters: Study in the Relations Between Italian Art and Society in the Age of the Baroque, Haskell quotes from a letter Rosa wrote to one of his patrons, Antonio Ruffo, explaining his thoughts on his art and commissions:

“…I do not paint to enrich myself but purely for my own satisfaction. I must allow myself to be carried away by the transports of enthusiasm and use my brushes only when I feel myself rapt…”

The 17th century Florentine art historian Filippo Baldinucci could not believe Rosa’s attitude to his patrons and wrote:

“…I can find few, in fact, I cannot find any, artists either before or after him or among his contemporaries, who can be said to have maintained the status of art as high as he did… No one could ever make him agree a fixed price before a picture was finished and he used to give a very interesting reason for this: he could not instruct his brush to produce paintings worth a particular sum but, when they were completed, he would appraise them on their merits and would then leave it to his friend’s judgment to take them or leave them….”

In his later years Rosa spent much time on satirical portraiture, history paintings and works of art featuring tales from mythology.   In 1672 he contracted dropsy and died six months later.  Whilst lying on his deathbed he married Lucrezia, his mistress of thirty years, who had borne him two sons. He died in March 1673 just a few months short of his fifty-eighth birthday.   From the absolute poverty he endured on the death of his father he had managed to accumulate a moderate fortune by the time of his death.

My featured painting today is a self-portrait by Salvator Rosa which he completed around 1645 whilst he was in Florence.  Rosa stands before us wearing a cap and gown symbolising a man of learning.  His giant-like figure is silhouetted against a turbulent sky, dark with the threat of a storm.  Rosa looks at us, tight-lipped.  His distinctive swarthy looks are easily recognisable from his other self-portraits.  His face is gaunt and yet animated.  He is brooding and like the weather depicted in the background, he looks as though a storm is also brewing within him. He looks somewhat angry.  His demeanour is challenging and rather scornful.   His dark hair is matted and his face is depicted with unshaven stubble.  The artist had obviously decided to portray himself as an “angry young man” intensely proud of his unshaven image.  His posture could possibly be likened to one of anti-establishment and could be compared to present day photographs we see of angry and sullen rock stars

His right hand rests on a stone tablet on which has been carved a Latin epigram:

“…Aut tace aut loquere meliora silentio..”

Which when translated reads:

“…Be quiet, unless your speech be better than silence…”

This epigram comes from the Ancient Greek historian and teacher, Dionysius of Halcarnassus.

The painting can be seen at the National Gallery in London.

Posted in Art, Art Blog, Art display, Italian artists, Salvator Rosa, Self Portraits | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Self-portrait at the Easel Painting a Devotional Panel by Sofonisba Anguissola

Self-portrait at the Easel Painting a Devotional Panel by Sofonisba Anguissola (1556)

Self-portrait at the Easel Painting a Devotional Panel by Sofonisba Anguissola (1556)

Let me introduce you to a female artist, whom I am ashamed to admit, I had never heard of, but whom Giorgio Vasari, the Italian biographer of artists, made the following comment:

“…[She] has shown greater application and better grace than any other woman of our age in her endeavours at drawing; she has thus succeeded not only in drawing, colouring and painting from nature, and copying excellently from others, but by herself has created rare and very beautiful paintings…”

My featured artist today is the Italian Renaissance painter Sofonisba Anguissola. Her christian name came from a strong family connection to ancient Carthaginian history and her parents named their first daughter after the tragic Carthaginian figure who lived and committed suicide during the Second Punic War.  Sofonisba Anguissola was born in Cremona, a city in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy, around 1532.  Her father was Amilcare Anguissola and her mother was Bianca Ponzone.  Both parents came from affluent and noble families and they lived a privileged and affluent lifestyle.  Sofonisba was the oldest of seven children.  She had one brother, Asdrubale and five sisters, Elena, Lucia, Europa, Minerva and Anna Maria.   All of her sisters except Minerva became artists.

Having come from such an advantaged family background was somewhat unusual for women artists of the sixteenth century, as any of note, tended to be daughters of impoverished artists.  The family wealth coupled with the father’s belief that all females should be educated ensured that Sofonisba received an all-round and extensive education, including studying drawing and fine art.   The fact that she came from a wealthy and privileged background did not however avoid the restrictions imposed by the Italian art establishment, such as forbidding female artists from studying anatomy or attending life drawing classes as it was deemed inappropriate for a female to view a naked model, which consequently meant a female could not study the human anatomy to the same extent as a male artist could and because of this she was unable to carry out the complex multi-figure compositions which were at the heart of the popular large-scale religious and historical works.  With those obstacles in mind, Anguissola decided to concentrate on portraiture using female models, which were accessible to her, and instead of historic settings she concentrated on having her sitters shown in homely and unceremonious settings.  Self-portraits and portraits of family members were her most frequent subjects and it was not until much later in life that she turned to paintings incorporating religious themes.

Self-portrait with Bernardino Campi by Sofonisba Anguissola (1550)

Self-portrait with Bernardino Campi by Sofonisba Anguissola (1550)

At the age of fourteen Sofonisba and her sister Elena attended the studio of Bernardino Campi, the Italian Renaissance religious painter and portraitist who was based in Cremona.  She pictorially recorded the time she was with Campi in her double portrait depicting her mentor painting a portrait of her.  The work, entitled Bernardino Campi Painting Sofonisba Anguissola, was completed by her during her last year as his pupil in 1550, when she was just eighteen years old.   After Campi, Sofonisba studied under the Italian artist Bernardino Gatti, often known as il Sojaro, and continued being tutored by him for three years, eventually leaving him when she was twenty-one years of age.

In 1554, Anguissola journeyed to Rome, where she spent her time sketching various scenes and people. The highlight of her stay in the Italian capital was when she was introduced to the great Master himself, Michelangelo Buonarotti.   We know the two met as in the Buonarrotti Archives held in Florence there is a letter, dated May 1557, from Sofonisba’s father Amilcare to Michelangelo in which he writes thanking him for spending time with his daughter:

“…honourable and thoughtful affection that you have shown to Sofonisba, my daughter,

to whom you introduced to practice the most honourable art of painting…”

Asdrubale Bitten by a Crayfish by Sofonisba Anguissola (c.1554)

Asdrubale Bitten by a Crayfish by Sofonisba Anguissola (c.1554)

Intrigued by her artistic talent Michelangelo asked her to sketch him a picture of a weeping boy and the result was her sketch entitled Asdrubale Bitten by a Crayfish.  Sofonisba rose to the challenge and sketched her young brother, Asdrubale, being bitten and being comforted by one of his sisters.  Michelangelo was so impressed with the drawing that he gave her some sketches from his notebook and asked her to copy them in her own style.  She complied with his request and the results of her efforts again astounded the Master and because he recognised how artistically talented she was, for the next two years, he agreed to mentor her.  Again we have been made aware of the high regard in which Michelangelo held Sofonisba’s work as in a letter dated May 1558, (held in the Buonarrotti Archives) her father wrote to Michelangelo thanking him for praising his daughter’s artwork:

“…[you were] kind enough to examine, judge, and praise the paintings done by my

daughter Sofonisba…”

In 1558, aged twenty-six, Sofonisba Anguissola left Rome and went to Milan and it was here she received a commission to paint a portrait of Ferdinand Alvarez de Toledo, the Duke of Alba.  The sitter was so pleased with the resulting painting that he recommended her to Philip II, the King of Spain.  Court officials invited Sofonisba to come to Madrid and be part of the Spanish court.  This fact alone is clear evidence of Sofonisba’s artistic talent and her success, as it would have been unheard of that such a powerful leader as Philip II would countenance an insignificant artist being invited to join and live at the Spanish court and paint for his new Queen.

Late in December 1559 she arrived in the Spanish capital and took up her role at the Spanish court as a court painter as well as being one of the attendants to the Isabella Clara Eugenia, the Infanta Isabella, and later as a lady-in-waiting to her mother, Philip’s new queen, his third wife, Elisabeth of Valois (the Queen consort, Isabel of Spain) who was an accomplished amateur portrait painter.  This shared love of art between Sofonisba and Elisabeth flourished and Sofonisba would often offer artistic advice and give the queen some artistic tuition.   Sofonisba soon received many official commissions to paint portraits of the king and queen’s family and courtiers.  These were very different to her earlier portraiture work which were very informal as Philip and his wife wanted the portraits he had commissioned Sofonisba to paint to show the wealth and power of the sitters by paying attention to background and peripheral objects such as fine and sumptuous clothing, jewelled adornments and priceless furnishings.  This type of portraiture took time and skill but the finished products were always well received by the sitters.

Her artistic talents were also recognised by another powerful leader, Pope Pius IV who asked Sofonisba to paint a portrait of the Queen consort, Isabel, and have it sent to him.  Giogio Vasari in his book, Le Vite de’ più eccellenti pittori, scultori, ed architettori (Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors and Architects) quotes a letter the pontiff sent Sofonisba thanking her for the painting and praising her work.  In the letter he wrote:

“… Pius Papa IV. Dilecto in Christo filia.

 We have received the portrait of our dear daughter, the Queen of Spain, which you have

sent… We thank you and assure you that we shall treasure it among our choicest possessions,

and commend your marvellous talent which is least among your numerous qualities

 Rome, 15 October 1561…”

In 1571 Sofonisba married Don Francisco de Moncada, who was the son of the Prince of Paterno, Viceroy of Sicily.  King Philip II facilitated the marriage, and paid her dowry of twelve thousand pounds.  She remained at the Spanish court for a further seven years after which time, and with Philip’s permission, she and her husband left Madrid and travelled to Palermo, Sicily. They arrived in Palermo in 1578 but sadly her husband died the following year.  The year following her husband’s death, Sofonisba decided to visit her family back in Cremona and embarked on a sea passage from Palermo to Genoa.   She never made it back home as she fell in love with the young captain of the ship and the couple married shortly after, in January 1580, in Pisa.  Sofonisba was forty-seven years of age and was much older than her seafaring husband.  The couple settled down at the seaport of Genoa and with her husband’s money, along with a pension from Philip of Spain, the pair had a comfortable lifestyle and Sofonisba had her own quarters including an art studio within her husband’s family’s large house.  Her reputation as an accomplished artist spread throughout Europe and she received many visits from young aspiring painters.  The couple moved to Palermo and were visited in 1624 by the Flemish painter, Anthony van Dyck, who at the time was twenty-five years old and travelling around the island of Sicily recording his travels in words and sketches in his diary.  At the time, Sofonisba was ninety-two years old and van Dyck sketched Sofonisba sitting in a chair.   All around the sketch he wrote notes in Italian, a rough translation of which is:

“…portrait of the painter Signora Sofonisba, done from life in Palermo in the year 1624, on 12 July: her age being 96 years, still with her memory and brain most quick, and most kind, and although she has lost her sight because of her old age, she enjoyed to have paintings put in front of her, and with great effort by placing her nose close to the picture, she could make out a little of it…”

It is interesting to note that according to van Dyck, Sofonisba was 96 years old in 1624 and this of course would make her birth date 1528 which is some four years earlier than the date given in a number of reference books.

Page from van Dyck's sketchbook

Page from van Dyck’s sketchbook

Van Dyck recorded in his diaries that her eyesight was weakened (it is thought she suffered from cataracts) but for a lady of 92 (or 96!) she was still mentally alert.  She had completed her last work in 1620 and had become a patron of the arts.  On November 16th 1625, Sofonisba died in Palermo aged 93.

On her birth centenary seven years later, her husband had a plaque placed on her tomb which read:
“…To Sofonisba, my wife…who is recorded among the illustrious women of the world, outstanding in portraying the images of man…

Orazio Lomellino, in sorrow for the loss of his great love, in 1632, dedicated this little tribute to such a great woman…”

Sofonisba was not only appreciated in her own lifetime but continues to be appreciated in modern society albeit I had to admit her name was new to me, which gives you some idea as to my artistic knowledge!

My Daily Art Display’s featured painting today is an early self portrait by Sofonisba Anguissola which she completed in 1556 and is entitled Self-portrait at the Easel Painting a Devotional Panel.  It is housed at the Museum-Zamek in the town of Lancut in south-east Poland.

This is one of many self portraits by the artist, which she sent as gifts to prospective patrons as she could not respectably enter into competition with male artists for paid commissions.   Around this time, there was a highly respected author, Baldassare Castiglione, the count of Casatico, an Italian courtier and diplomat, who held great sway with the public with regards manners at the court and how one should behave if of noble birth.  The book, which had a widely circulated publication in 1528, was entitled The Courtier.  In a way it was also a torch-bearer for women’s equality as it advocated the same education for aristocratic women as that offered to aristocratic men and one can only presume that Sofonisba’s father had read the book and agreed with its conclusions as he made sure that his daughters were not only educated in Latin, classical literature, history, philosophy, math, and sciences, but also that they were schooled in the courtly arts, such as music, writing, drawing, and painting.  Castiglione had written in his book about how aristocratic women of the court should dress.  He wrote:

“…she should always dress herself correctly and wear clothes that do not seem vain and frivolous…”

We can see by the way Sofonisba has depicted herself in this self portrait, wearing a modest black gown, lace collar and cuffs, the absence of jewellery and a simple hairstyle, which precluded any hint of easy virtue, that she had taken on board the advice given by Castiglione in his book.

Sofonisba looks out at us, brush in hand.  She is in the act of painting and is simultaneously the subject and object, the painter and the model of the painting.  Her painting is a re-working of the legend of St Luke the Evangelist, who it was believed, was the first to have painted a portrait of the Virgin but in this painting she has taken on the role of St Luke  and we see her painting of the Virgin and Child resting on the easel.

I love this self portrait.  There is nothing fancy about Sofonisba’s portrayal of herself.  It is an understated depiction.  It is a somewhat discreet portrait of a virtuous noblewoman and its beauty and exquisite artwork challenged the belief in those days that women artists lacked artistic skills.

Posted in Art, Art Blog, Art display, Female artists, Female painters, Italian artists, Portraiture, Sofonisba Anguissola | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Desiderius Erasmus and Pieter Gillis by Quinten Massys

Desiderius Erasmus by Quinten Massys (1517)

Desiderius Erasmus by Quinten Massys (1517)

We are in the run-up to Christmas and many of us will be struggling to come up with ideas for the perfect gift for a beloved friend.  The problem is even further exacerbated if the friend is wealthy and wants for very little.  What do you give somebody who has everything?  What gift can you give someone which will forever remind him or her of your close and enduring friendship?  My featured painting today is all about this.  It is about three friends, two of whom want to give the third a gift; a memento of their friendship and so they decided to present their friend with two portraits of themselves, known as a friendship diptych.  To make their gift even more special they decided to commission the foremost painter of the time to carry out the work.  The two gift givers were the humanists, Desiderius Erasmus and Pieter Gillis and the recipient of their gift was Thomas More.  The artist they commissioned to paint the friendship diptych was the Flemish painter Quinten Massys.

The beneficiary of the two paintings was Thomas More, an Oxford University graduate.  During his time at university he wrote comedies and studied both Greek and Latin literature.  In 1494, after he had obtained his university degree, he returned to London and was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn and in 1501 became a barrister.    He was a very religious man and at one time had decided to give up his career in law and become a monk and for a time lived at a Carthusian monastery.  His mental torment between following a secular or religious life was finally decided three years later when he chose to serve his country as a parliamentarian and entered Parliament in 1504.

Pieter Gillis by Quinten Massys (1517)

Pieter Gillis by Quinten Massys (1517)

In 1499, whilst Thomas More was living in London he met the Dutch Renaissance humanist and scholar, Desiderius Erasmus.  This initial meeting of the two men turned into a lifelong friendship and they continued to correspond on a regular basis during which time they worked collaboratively to translate into Latin and have printed some of the works of the Assyrian satirist, Lucian of Samosata.  It was through his meeting with Erasmus that Thomas More met Erasmus’ friend, Pieter Gillis, a fellow humanist, a printer by trade and town clerk of Antwerp.  One of Thomas More’s most famous compositions was his two-volume work entitled Utopia.  It is a depiction of a fictional island and its religious, political and social customs and was More’s way of commenting upon the social and political ideas of the day as well as highlighting and satirising the failings he saw all around him.  In the first volume, entitled Dialogue of Counsel, it began with correspondence between More himself and others, including Pieter Gillis.  The whole idea of the book came to Thomas More whilst he was staying at the Antwerp home of Gillis in 1515.  On his return to England in 1516, Thomas More completed the work and the first edition was edited by Erasmus and published in Leuven.  Thomas More dedicated this work to Pieter Gillis.

In 1517, a year after the publication of the first edition of More’s work, Desiderius Erasmus and Pieter Gillis, decided to send portraits of themselves to Sir Thomas More. This friendship diptych would act as a virtual visit to their English friend in London and they approached Quinten Massys to carry out the two paintings as he was the leading Antwerp painter at that time. Erasmus’ portrait was the first to be completed because the portrait of Gillis was constantly being delayed due to him falling ill during the sittings.  The two men had told Thomas More about the paintings which may not have been a wise move as More constantly queried them as to the progress of the paintings and became very impatient to receive the gift.  The two works were finally completed and were sent to More whilst he was in Calais.

The portrait of Erasmus, which is part of the Royal Collection and is currently on show at the Dürer to Holbein; The Northern Renaissance Exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery in London, depicts Erasmus working in his study. The way in which Massys has portrayed Erasmus was a popular way of depicting St Jerome, and so the setting used in the portrait probably alludes to the fact that Erasmus had just published a new edition of the writings of St Jerome.

It is interesting to look at the books on the shelves in the background.  On the upper shelf of the Erasmus painting there is a book which has the inscription Novum Testament which alludes to Novum Testamentum Graece, the first published edition of the Greek New Testament produced by Erasmus in 1516.  On the lower shelf there are three books.  The bottom tome has the inscription Hieronymus which refers to Erasmus’s editions of the New Testament and St Jerome; on top of that book there is one with the inscription Λουκιανός which is the Ancient Greek word for Lovkianos or Lucian and refers to Erasmus and Thomas More’s collaboration in translating Lucian’s Dialogues.   The inscription on the uppermost book is the word Hor, which originally read Mor.  The first letter was probably altered during an early restoration, for besides Mor being the first letters of Thomas More’s surname they almost certainly refer to the satirical essays written by Erasmus whilst staying with Thomas More in his London home in 1509 and entitled Enconium Moriae (Praise of Folly).  This collection of essays was considered one of the most notable works of the Renaissance.  We see Erasmus writing in a book.  This depiction has been carefully thought out for the words one sees on the page paper are a paraphrase of St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, the handwriting is a careful replication of Erasmus’s own hand, and the reed pen he holds was known to be Erasmus’s favourite writing tool.  If you look closely, in the folds of Erasmus’ cloak you can just make out a purse.  It could be that Erasmus wanted the artist to include this in order to illustrate his generosity.  Erasmus and Gillis made a point of informing Thomas More that they had split the cost of the painting because they wanted it to be a present from them both.  If you look at the two paintings side by side then one can see that Massys has cleverly continued the bookcase behind the two sitters and this gives the impression that the two men depicted in the two separate panels occupy the same room and are facing each other.

The Friendship Diptych

Copy of The Friendship Diptych
Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome

If we were to look now at the two paintings of Erasmus and Gillis, side by side, we would question whether they were in fact two halves of a diptych as they have different dimensions.  This has been explained away by the fact that the Royal Collection painting of Erasmus has been cut and the one of Gillis, which is in the private collection of the Earl of Radnor at Longford Castle, has been extended but it is believed that the original dimensions of both had matched perfectly. Furthermore, both panels have the brand of Charles I on the reverse and the fact that they were together in the seventeenth century seems to confirm that they constitute the original friendship diptych.

The artist, Quinten Massys also spelled Matsys or Metsys, was the foremost artist of his day in Antwerp.  He was born around 1466, in the town of Louvain which is situated in the Flemish Province of Brabant in Belgium.   His father Joost Massys was a blacksmith and his mother was Catharina van Kincken and they had four children.  For a time Quentin helped his father in his blacksmith and metalwork business.  Little is known about Massys’ early life and what we do know could be based on fanciful legends!  One such story was that Quentin abandoned working as a blacksmith and became an artist in order to impress a young lady, an artist’s daughter, who found art and artists romantic.  However a more mundane reason for Quinten to give up as a blacksmith was given by the painter, art historian and biographer of Netherlandish artists, Karel van Mander, in his 1604 Schilder-Boeck, who wrote that Quinten was a sickly youth and lacked the physical strength needed by somebody working in the metalwork and blacksmith profession.

Quinten Massys moved to Antwerp where he was admitted to the Antwerp St Lukas Guild.  He married when he was twenty-six years of age.  His wife was Alyt van Tuylt and the couple went on to have three children, two sons, Quinten and Pawel and a daughter Katelijne.  His wife died in 1507 and Quentin remarried a year later.  His new wife was Catherina Heyns and she and Quinten went on to have a further ten children, five sons and five daughters.  Shortly after their father’s death, two of his sons, Jan and Cornelis went on to become artists and members of the Antwerp Guild.

Thomas More was knighted in 1521 and in 1523, he became the speaker of the House of Commons and in 1525 chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Seventeen years after Thomas More received his friendship diptych from Erasmus and Gillis, he was dead.  He had risen to power under Henry VIII but had fallen foul of the English ruler in 1534 by refusing to swear to the king’s Act of Succession and the Oath of Supremacy, statutes which made Henry the supreme head of the Church of England.  Sir Thomas More believed that the supreme head of the church was the Pope and this stated belief lead to him being indicted for treason on charges of praemunire, which was the offense of introducing foreign authority into England and was intended to reduce the civil power of the Pope in England.  The jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, which was the usual punishment for traitors who were not the nobility.  However Henry VIII commuted this to execution by decapitation. Sir Thomas More was executed on 6 July 1535.   His last words were a declaration that he died “the king’s good servant, but God’s first”

Posted in Art, Art Blog, Art display, Portraiture, Quinten Massys | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

La Fornarina by Raphael Sanzio

La Fornarina by Raphael (1520)

La Fornarina by Raphael (1520)

My Daily Art Display today features an Italian lady, Margarita Luti.  She became known as La Fornarina which in Italian means “the baker’s daughter”.  She was the daughter of Francesco Luti, a local baker from Siena who worked in the Roman district of Santa Dorotea.  The reason she became famous was not because of her father’s occupation but because she modelled for and was the mistress of the great Italian High Renaissance painter, Raphael Sanzio.  It was well documented that Raphael Sanzio was a very passionate man and had many mistresses in his time.  In the book, The Lives of the Artists by Giorgio Vasari, the biographer described the artist and how his love of women affected his work:

“…Raphael was a very amorous man who was fond of women and he was always quick to serve them. This was the reason why, as he continued to pursue his carnal delights, he was treated with too much consideration and acquiescence by his friends. When his dear friend Agostino Chigi commissioned him to paint the first loggia in his palace, Raphael could not really put his mind to his work because of his love for one of his mistresses; Agostino became so desperate over this that, through his own efforts and with the assistance of others, he worked things out in such a way that he finally managed to bring this woman of Raphael’s to come and stay with him on a constant basis in the section of the house where Raphael was working, and that was the reason why the work came to be finished…”

Although Margarita Luti is not actually named by Vasari her name does appear in scribbled notes on the original pages of the manuscript which would become his second edition of his Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects.  The painting entitled La Fornarina, by Raphael hangs in the Palazzo Barberini in Rome and a further copy can be found in the Galleria Borghese, in Rome.  The work was completed around 1520 when Raphael was thirty seven years of age.  This was also the year in which on Good Friday, April 6th he died. Before us is a portrait of a beautiful young woman who is almost nude.  Her skin is flawless as alabaster. Her cheeks are flushed and pink, She stares out to her left and smiles, presumably at the artist as he works on her portrait.

Venus Pudica

Venus Pudica

She is pictured with an oriental style hat on which is attached a large jewel Her breasts are bare. Her right arm crosses her body and her right hand pulls a diaphanous veil over her stomach and abdomen in a gesture which mirrors the posture of women as seen in classical sculptures such as the Venus pudica, apose that became the custom for the nude Aphrodite figures in the Late Classical period.   It is a very suggestive pose and I am not sure whether she is attempting to cover her breast or in fact she is turning it slightly towards us and her lover, Raphael.  Or could it be that her right hand is pressed against her heart as she looks at Raphael as a gesture of her love for him?  Her left hand rests between her thighs, the fingers splayed out and outlined by the deep, bloody-red of her discarded gown.  On her left arm there is a narrow leather band on which is the name of the artist – RAPHAEL URBINAS.  On the third finger of her left hand she appears to be wearing a ruby wedding band.   The presence of a ring was only discovered in the early part of the twenty-first century when the painting underwent some X-Ray analysis during restoration and cleaning work.

The fact that Raphael painted her with a wedding ring would have been very controversial at the time for six years earlier, in 1514; he had become engaged to marry.   He had been pressured by Cardinal Medici Bibbiena’s to marry one of his nieces, a lady named Maria Bibbiena.   Raphael did not want to refuse the Cardinal, but managed to postpone the matter, saying that he would prefer to wait three or four years before entering into marriage.  However after stringing along the cardinal and his niece for four years, Raphael had to agree to the marriage, but managed to keep putting off the date for the big occasion with a string of excuses.   So why had this engagement lasted six years without it ever ending in marriage?  There are a number of theories.  One is that Raphael had already married Margarita Luti in secret years earlier and therefore could not marry Maria Bibbiena.  Another possible reason is that his engagement to Maria had brought him additional status.  He was made a “Groom of the Chamber”, a papal valet, which in itself afforded him status at court and more importantly an additional income.  He would not want to jeopardise that.  He was also made a knight of the Papal Order of the Golden Spur, an honour which was also bestowed on the artists Titian and Vasari.   All such honours would have been lost if he had had to admit to being already married.  So why was the ring on the sitter’s finger not discovered immediately?  It was not just the ring, which was painted out, as the restoration work also uncovered that the myrtle branches we see filling the background of the painting and which are thought to be symbolic of love and marriage were not always there.  The X-Ray analysis of the painting show that originally there had been a landscape background, similar to that seen in da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
The reason for the over-painting is that it is thought that the work which was found in Raphael’s studio when he died had “finishing touches,” added, including a cover-up of the Margarita Luti’s ring finger by his student, Giulio Romano, who then went on to sell the painting.

Raphael Sanzio died in April 1520 possibly even on April 6th, the day of his 37th birthday.  There are numerous speculative explanations as to the cause of his death.  Probably the most bizarre was put forward by Vasari when he postulated that Raphael died on his 37th birthday after a wild night of celebratory sex with Margarita causing him to lapse into a fever and when a doctor arrived Raphael was too embarrassed to admit to what had brought on this feverish state and then had been given the wrong medicine by the doctor which went on to kill him.  Other historians, who also disagree of the date of his death, have put his demise down to working too closely with arsenic and lead based paints or overwork or heart failure.

And so I leave you with one of the world’s greatest artists and his portrait of the love of his life, but is it?  Is this a portrait of the little baker’s girl who became Raphael’s lover?  Some would disagree.  Some art historians, including Doctor Claudio Strinati, superintendent of the National Museums of Rome, now believe that the way in which Raphael’s has depicted the lady is too refined to have been just done for his own pleasure and in fact, due to the quality of the work, was a commission for a wealthy and influential patron and that patron could have been his friend Agostino Chigi.  According to this theory, the woman in the painting was not Margarita Luti but Chigi’s long-time mistress, and later his wife, Francesca Ardeasca.  We know that Chigi had commissioned Raphael to work at his new “palace”, the Villa Farnesina, and the two had become friends so much so that when the lovelorn Raphael’s mind was so distracted having been parted from his beloved Margarita whilst working on the commission, Chigi had supplied a room in his palace for Margarita so that he could better focus on the work in hand.

So is this enchanting portrait of the dark-eyed woman we see before us today Raphael’s paramour or his patron’s wife?  Is this a painting carried out for love or for money?  We will probably never know for sure as there are no other portraits of Chigi’s wife, Francesca, and therefore no possibility to compare likenesses.  Maybe this doubt adds to the mystification of the portrait and I will let you make up your own minds.

Having extolled the beauty of some other women in featured paintings in early blogs I look at this lady and question her purported beauty but as “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” I will again allow you to decide and leave you with the comments made by French writer, Gustave Flaubert who wrote about La Fornarina in his satirical work entitled Le Dictionnaire des idées reçues (Dictionary of Received Ideas):

“…Fornarina.  C’était une belle femme; inutile d’en savoir plus long…”

(Fornarina. She was a beautiful woman. That is all you need to know)

Posted in Art, Art Blog, Art display, Italian artists, Portraiture, Raphael, Renaissance Painters | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Portrait of a Man and His Wife by Ulrich Apt the Elder

Portrait of a Man and His Wife by Ulrich Apt and Workshop (1521)Queen's Gallery London

Portrait of a Man and His Wife by Ulrich Apt and Workshop (1521)
Queen’s Gallery London

My featured artist today is probably unknown to most of you as he was to me.  He is the late Gothic painter Ulrich Apt the Elder, who was born in Augsburg around 1460.  The work I am featuring today fascinated me when I saw it the other day at the Northern Renaissance Dürer to Holbein exhibition, which is being held at the Queen’s Gallery in London and runs until April 14th 2013.  It is a wonderful exhibition and one I can thoroughly recommend.

Ulrich Apt the Elder was the fourth son of the German painter Peter Apt who trained and worked in the German city of Augsburg.    Little has been written about the artist but we do know from documents that he became an independent master at the age of twenty-one and became an important member of the Guild of Painters, Glaziers, Carvers and Gilders.  He concentrated on religious commissions and it is thought that his first major commission he obtained was in 1491 when he completed a very large fresco of St. Christopher in the Augsburg Cathedral.   He also accepted many portraiture commissions from the leading citizens of Augsburg society, who were enamoured by his conservative style. He was given a very important and lucrative commission from the city of Augsburg in 1516 for frescoes to decorate their town hall.  It is known that Ulrich had built up his business to such an extent that he had all but established a monopoly in mural painting in Augsburg, and from his tax records it can be seen that his business thrived and he had become extremely wealthy.  His three sons worked with him and he trained several Augsburg artists of the next generation.   There has been much discussion amongst art historians as to who actually painted the various works which came from the workshop as a number were done collaboratively and a number of the painters including those of his family had similar styles.    Apt’s eldest son Jacob became an independent master in 1510 and died in 1518.  The second, Ulrich Apt the Younger, was active as a painter in 1512 and continued until 1520.  The youngest, Michael, became a master in 1520 and is documented working as a painter until 1527.    It is thought that during his lifetime he made many journeys to the Low Countries and it is following these visits that his artistic style became noticeably more predisposed towards Netherlandish painting.   Ulrich Apt the Elder’s works, because of this, began to influence other Augsburg artists of the time.  Apt’s studio decided to follow the Netherlandish manner and tradition.  However not all of his contemporary artists from Germany followed this artistic path, for painters such as Hans Holbein the Elder and Hans Burgkmair favoured, and were influenced by, the works of Italian painters, particularly those from Venice

My Daily Art Display’s featured oil on limewood work today is entitled Portrait of a Man and His Wife and was completed in 1512.  In all, the artist painted three versions of this work.  One may wonder why he should do that and the answer could well lie with why the picture was painted in the first place.   It is thought to be a painting to commemorate a wedding and therefore, as we do nowadays, commemorative copies celebrating the marriage were given as gifts to various close relations as well as one being kept by the happy couple.  One copy of the painting is now held in a prívate collection, one is now owned by the Queen of England, having been first acquired for the collection of King Charles I, who received the painting as a gift from Sir Henry Vane, the Comptroller and then Treasurer of the King’s Household.   A third version is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which acquired their painting in 1912.

In the painting we see the bride and groom, behind which there is a landscape in which there is a centrally positioned church.  Bearing in mind the date of the painting and the fact that it was carried out in Augsburg, art historians believe it to be the wedding of Lorenz Kraffter and Honesta Merz, a couple, who went on to have nine children.  The groom was the son of James Lindsay of Crafford who immigrated to Augsburg from Scotland.   What is interesting to note is the positioning of the man and woman in relationship to the background landscape.  The man is placed in the middle of the finely and beautifully detailed landscape with a castle shown at his back.  From this, we are to deem that this man is of great importance and holds at position of great consequence in Augsburg society – a “man of the world”.  However, look at how the artist has positioned the bride.  She is placed against a blank and dark wall which alludes to her role in life, that of domesticity and enclosure within the marital home.  The landscape in both paintings is criss-crossed by narrow winding paths and two meandering rivers, which curve around the church and castle.  In the New York version the river is given a bluish tone.   Another interesting aspect of the paintings is the three sets of numbers, two of which one can see on the lower sill of the window.  They are “52,  “35”  and “1512” which although not clearly shown in my attached pictures is plainly on view in the painting I stood in front of, and is in between and above the two other numbers.  The “52” indicates the age of the man whilst the “35” denotes the age of the woman and the “1512” alludes to the date the painting was completed by the artist.  The husband is dressed sumptuously in a gown lined with marten and the manner in which he is dressed denotes his high-standing in the local society

The incorporation of a detailed landscape view seen through a window has probably derived from artists such as Hans Memling and its inclusion in this work highlights the power of the Netherlandish influence on the artists of Augsburg in the latter part of the fifteenth century.  Hans Holbein the Elder, another Augsburg painter, would often incorporate architectural settings in his portraits. Although this is essentially a wedding portrait and the focus of the painting is the bride and groom, look at how Ulrich has spent much time in the fine painstaking details of the background landscape with its trees and buildings.

Although I cannot find a picture of the third copy of this painting it is easy to see the differences in the two paintings on offer today, which may lead one to believe that different artists in Ulrich Apt the Elder’s workshop may have had some part in the execution of the works.   A tracing for the figures was obviously shared since they match almost perfectly.  The one in the privately owned Schroder collection is said to be of the highest quality and it is believed that all of that work was carried out by Ulrich Apt himself.  The version held in the Royal Collection, which was previously considered to be a seventeenth-century copy of that in the Schroder collection, has revealed that after recent cleaning and conservation work, it is a very good version by Apt and his workshop.

Originally thought to be by Quinten Massys, and at the end of the seventeenth century it was attributed to Holbein the Younger and furthermore, in the nineteenth century it was thought to be a portrait of his parents. However in 1928, the German art historian Karl Feuchtmayr identified the artist as Ulrich Apt.

Portrait of a Man and His Wife by Ulrich Apt the Elder (1512)Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Portrait of a Man and His Wife by Ulrich Apt the Elder (1512)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s copy, shown above, is different in a number of ways to the one held in the Royal Collection.   The first and most obvious difference is the colour of the woman’s dress.   In the Royal collection she is wearing a dress, the color of which is drab brown, whereas in the New York painting it is light turquoise.   According to the MMA, their copy of the painting has been severely overcleaned in the flesh tones. They also comment that splits that run horizontally across the panel at the levels of the sitters’s mouths and foreheads have been filled and in-painted.

Posted in German artists, Portraiture, Ulrich Apt the Elder | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Misers by Followers of Marinus van Reymerswaele

The Misers by the Followers of Marinus van Raymerswaele (1548-51)

Whenever one picks up a newspaper nowadays, or switches on the television or radio, one is regaled with tales of dastardly deeds done by bankers.  Story upon story is written about their misappropriation of our money.  We sit and read or listen to these tales which coincide with the deterioration of our own financial situation and we seethe with anger.  Over time we are convinced that our own personal financial woes can be directly traced back to and laid at the doorstep of the bankers.  In our minds, the government is also to blame as we are taxed to the hilt and our wrath is also levelled at the role of the tax collectors.  We would rather cling to this belief than question why our credit cards and stores cards are “maxed-out”.   Soon it is not just the bankers and tax collectors whom we despise but we begin to focus our attention on those who are financially sound and before we know it,  they too become targets for our dislike, our jealousy and our envy.   Why should we suffer pecuniary embarrassment when others seem to be untouched by the money problems of the country?  Now we read newspapers, listen to radio reports and watch television stories with glee when we see bankers are being bashed and rich people suddenly lose their fortunes.  We revel in this feeling of schadenfreude.  The media of course knows what we want and they continually feed us with such stories.

The Banker and his Wife by Quinten Massys (1514)

So is this a new phenomenon?   Actually it isn’t.   The portrayal of greedy bankers, money-lenders and tax collectors often with anti-Semitic connotations has been around for a long time and may have derived from paintings such as Jan van Eyck’s 1440 work entitled Banker and Client, which unfortunately has been lost.  Later, in 1514, the Flemish painter, Quentin Metsys, would carry on the theme in his work entitled The Banker and his Wife.   Just as the present day media are aware that we want to witness the vilification of these people, the artists of the past also knew what would strike a chord with the people of those days when it came to disparage those who had “taken” our money from us, whether it is bankers and money lenders or tax collectors.   In My Daily Art Display today I want to feature another 16th century painting on that very subject.

The Moneychanger and his Wife by Marinus van Reymerswaele (1539)

If you care to look back at my blog of January 2nd 2011 you can read about a 1539 work by Marinus Claeszoom van Reymerswaele entitled The Moneychanger and his Wife in which one sees seated at their table a married couple in 16th century Flemish dress totally absorbed, almost spellbound, as they count their money. Both husband and wife are gripped equally by this act and in some ways it maybe this common love of money which brings them happiness and cements their relationship.   However one should observe that they focus their attention on the coins on the table and seem to ignore each other.  It is also interesting to note that in the paintings, The Banker and his Wife by Metsys, The Moneychanger and his Wife by van Reymerswaele and today’s offering there is also something else in common in the depictions besides the two characters and that is behind these people there is a shelf which forms part of a still life depiction of items which add to the story behind the main theme of money.

Two Tax Gatherers by Marinus van Reymerswaele (c.1540)

My featured painting today is entitled The Misers and was completed between 1548 and 1551.  It is attributed to the “Followers of Marinus van Reymerswaele” and is part of the Queen’s Royal Collection.  It is a variation on a number of paintings by van Reymerswaele himself, one of which, entitled The Tax Gatherers, he completed around 1540 and is in the National Gallery in London.

In today’s featured painting we see the man on the left writing out a list of taxes and exchange rates on commodities such as wine, beer and fish,  which will then be given to private individuals to collect.  This was a common practice in those days.   The setting for the painting is one of congestion.  In it we see two figures positioned tightly together with their desk positioned ridiculously close to the door but, in a way, this has given the scene a claustrophobic and unsettling atmosphere. On the green baize table in front of the two men are piles of coins which are being counted and registered in a ledger.  There is also a four-bag money pouch with a handle, some jewellery and an ink pot.   The title of the painting, The Misers, is probably a misnomer as in fact these two men are simply tax collectors going about their every-day business. The man on the right points at the ledger being written in French by his colleague.  The exchange rates listed in the ledger gives us a valuable clues to the dating of the picture, as these rates first came into use on 11 July 1548 and were superseded on 16 December 1551.  The fact that the French language was used could mean that either this painting was commissioned by a French patron or the artist lived in the French-speaking region of the Netherlands.  The man on the right stares out at us.  He sneers.  He gloats.  His face is grotesquely distorted.  The artist has, through his depiction of this man, presented us with a “hate figure”.   There is an undoubted air of affluence about the clothes two men are wearing.  The man on the left wears a sumptuous red turban pinned to which is a large jewelled brooch.   He wears spectacles and in a way the artist may have wanted us to interpret the wearing of these as symbolic of moral shortsightedness.  However whoever chose to paint their rich garb decided to clothe them in 15th century costumes which at the time would have looked rather old-fashioned and maybe the artist had decided that by dressing them in such a manner,  he was subtly ridiculing them.

Look at the shelf behind them.  Art historians believe that this still-life depiction was probably painted by a different artist to the one who painted the two figures.  On the shelf there is a lit candle which is slowly burning away and this can probably be interpreted as a warning against greed, and questioning our attitude with regards wealth, because, like the candle, which will soon burn out, life is short and there is a futility about the desire to  accumulate wealth.

This painting which I saw last week when I visited the Queen’s Gallery is a beautiful work of art.

Posted in Art, Art Blog, Art display, Flemish painters, Marinus van Reymerswaele, Netherlandish painters, Quinten Massys, Reymerswaele | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Grindelwald Glacier by Thomas Fearnley

Grindelwald Glacier by Thomas Fearnley (1838)

Today I am concluding my look at the life of Thomas Fearnley and for those of you have just landed on this page,  my introduction to the Norwegian artist’s life was the subject for My Daily Art Display blog of November 24th.

The date is 1832 and that September, Fearnley, who along with his fellow artists, the Dane, William Bendz and the German painter Joseph Petzl, had just left the Bavarian Alpine village of Ramsau and were beginning their long and strenuous trek on foot over the Alps to Italy.  So why had this Norwegian artist and his friends set off on this gruelling journey?  Why did Fearnley spent most of his life wandering around Europe?   The answer probably lies in the fact that although the Norwegian landscape offered many beautiful vistas to paint, there were few commissions to be had from wealthy patrons in his native Norway.  Whereas in the art capitals of Europe such as Paris, London, Rome and Munich there were a large number of affluent patrons who would pay generous sums for landscape works.

Fearnley and his travelling companions headed for Rome but first stopped off in Venice in the late October of 1832.  The three travellers split up at this point as Fearnley was determined to carry on until he reached the Italian capital whereas Bendz wanted to stay in Venice.  As I told you in my last blog, William Bendz took ill in Venice but left the city and went to Vicenza where his health deteriorated rapidly and he died of typhoid, just ten days after he had parted from his friends.  Fearnley finally arrived in Rome in November 1832, just before his 30th birthday.  He settled down in the Italian capital, living amongst the Danish and German artistic community.  Fearnley made Rome his base for the next three years but was constantly setting off from there on his artistic trips.  In 1883, along with a Danish friend, he left the capital on a long walking tour of Sicily and on his way back to Rome, visited Naples, Sorrento and Capri.  This journey along the Amalfi coast had been carried out by his erstwhile mentor John Christian Dahl, ten years earlier.

Fearnley loved the practice of en plein air oil sketching and he followed earlier practitioners of this kind of art such as Claude-Joseph Vernet, Pierre-Henri Valenciennes and the Welsh artist Richard Wilson, all of whom had pioneered en plein air sketching whilst they were based in Rome.  The other aspect of this art, which Fearnley believed in, was to select views for painting that were “fresh”, even unorthodox rather than painting views which had been done so many times over by other landscape artists.  Another aspect of art which fascinated Fearnley was how various meteorological conditions affected the light and the view of the landscapes.  He strived for a true depiction of the skies and the cloud formations and was only too aware of the fast change in what he was looking at, due to varying changes in the weather conditions.   Having left the colder, duller and wetter climate of Northern Europe and Scandinavia he was now able to appreciate and take advantage of the warmer, sunnier climes of Italy which allowed him a greater opportunity to paint outdoors for lengthy periods of time.

In 1835, after his three year sojourn in Italy, Fearnley decided to move on.  He travelled north via Florence to Switzerland where he spent most of the summer studying the breathtaking Alpine scenery and especially the glaciers at Grindelwald, which would be depicted in his famous 1838 large studio oil painting entitled The Grindelwald Glacier, which is My Daily Art Display’s featured painting today.  From this Alpine area he once again moves north, crossing the Alps, heading for Paris, arriving in September of that year.  Whilst in Paris, he exhibits three of his works, including the “yet to be completed” Grindelwald Glacier painting.  During Fearnley’s stay in Rome he had met and befriended a number of wealthy English art lovers.  Many were rich aristocrats who were taking part in the Grand Tour.   It could have been this that made him decide to travel from Paris to London in the spring of 1836.  Whilst in the English capital, Fearnley took in the Royal Academy May Exhibition and at this exhibition he would have seen major works by the likes of Turner, Constable, David Wilkie and William Etty.  However the artist who most impressed Fearnley was the English landscape painter Augustus Wall Callcott.   This R.A. Exhibition was a special one as there were more than 1200 paintings being exhibited and it was the last one to be held at Somerset House.  Whilst in England Fearnley made a number of painting trips and in August 1837 he, along with his fellow artist friend, Charles West Cope, visited the Lake District.  He visited Derwentwater, Coniston and Patterdale, all the time recording the views in oil sketches.   In 1838 Fearnley became the founder member of the Etching Club, an artists’ society founded in London.  The club published illustrated editions of works by authors such as Oliver Goldsmith, Shakespeare, and Milton.  Other well known artists who became members of this club were the Pre-Raphaelite painters, William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais.

In 1838, Fearnley exhibited his now completed work The Grindelwald Glacier at the Royal Academy.    His wanderlust continued unabated and he leaves London in the summer for Germany.  He first visits Berlin and then on to Dresden where he once again meets up with his former mentor and teacher J C Dahl. He makes a brief stop-over in Switzerland before returning to his homeland, Norway, where he lives in the capital Christiania for the next two years.   Fearnley became a member of the Christiania Art Society.  On July 15th 1840,  he married Cecilia Catharine Andresen, the daughter of one of his patrons from previous years, the banker and Member of Parliament Nicolai Andresen.   In the autumn the couple went to Amsterdam, where they stayed for one year, and where their only child, a son Thomas, was born.  During their stay Fearnley becomes infected with typhus and on January 16th 1842 he died, aged just 39 years old.   He was buried in a Munich cemetery but 80 years later his son took the initiative to have his father’s remains brought back to Norway, and in 1922 the tomb was moved to Our Saviour’s Cemetery in Oslo.

Fearnley’s painting, which at the time was entitled The Upper Grindelwald Glacier, Canton Berne, Switzerland,  was started in 1836 and although not finished was shown at the Paris Salon that year.  It was two years later in 1838 that the painting appeared at the Royal Academy Exhibition, which was being held in its new home at the National Gallery, the R.A. having just moved from Somerset House that year.  This beautiful painting is dated 1838 which leads us to believe that the original work started in 1836 was re-worked in late 1838 whilst the artist was in London.  This large studio work derives from a number of oil sketches which Fearnley made in late 1835 whilst he was in the Grindelwald valley.  The spectacular view we are looking at is of the upper Grindelwald glacier, which lies on the northern side of the Bernese Alps.  In the middle ground we can just make out a lone shepherd silhouetted against the stunning white ice peaks of the glacier.  In the foreground of the work we see that Fearnley has put a lot of effort into depicting the flora, amongst which are dotted the shepherd’s flock.  Although my attached picture might not clearly show it, the artist’s signature “Fearnley” is on the rock in the right foreground, next to a fern ! Coincidence or a witty visual play on his name?

Posted in Art, Art Blog, Art display, Landscape paintings, Norwegian painters, Thomas Fearnley | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment