Posts Tagged ‘Saint Sebastian

20
Nov
15

Exhibition: ‘The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Sydney Part 1

Exhibition dates: 24th October 2015 – 14th February 2016

 

I was lucky enough to be up in Sydney to review the Julia Margaret Cameron exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales… and the media preview for The Greats was on. What an unexpected bonus!

This is part 1 of a monster 2 part posting on the exhibition which, in all honesty, is a bit of a hotchpotch of a blockbuster. But my god, what a hotchpotch it is.

Highlights in part 1 of the posting include:

  • The vibrancy and folds of the pink dress of the Virgin as it flows down and under the Christ child in Botticelli’s The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child, c. 1485
  • The stillness and intensity, colouration of the figures in Johannes Vermeer’s Christ in the house of Martha and Mary, c. 1654-55
  • The glorious “atmosphere”, light and colour in Jan Lievens’ Young man in yellow c. 1630-31, one of the unexpected highlights of the exhibition
  • The intensity of the painting, the precision and care in Diego Velazquez’s An old woman cooking eggs 1618. Now that is really looking at the world
  • And the glorious frames of all these works. I do like a good frame!

Marcus

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Many thankx to the AGNSW for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All installation photographs © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Entrance to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Entrance to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Installation photograph of Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian, c. 1485/90–1576) 'Venus rising from the sea (Venus Anadyomene)' c. 1520–25

Installation photograph of Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian, c. 1485/90–1576) 'Venus rising from the sea (Venus Anadyomene)' c. 1520–25

Installation photograph of Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian, c. 1485/90–1576) 'Venus rising from the sea (Venus Anadyomene)' c. 1520–25

Installation photograph of Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian, c. 1485/90–1576) 'Venus rising from the sea (Venus Anadyomene)' c. 1520–25

 

Installation photographs of Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian, c. 1485/90-1576) Venus rising from the sea (Venus Anadyomene) c. 1520-25
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian, c. 1485/90–1576) 'Venus rising from the sea (Venus Anadyomene)' c. 1520–25

 

Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian, c. 1485/90-1576)
Venus rising from the sea (Venus Anadyomene)
c. 1520-25
Oil on canvas
74 x 56.2 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland

 

 

Titian was the most celebrated Venetian painter of his time. His wealthy and learned patrons spanned across Europe. Well-versed in classical art and literature, including the myths of ancient Greece and Rome, they fuelled a strong demand for paintings like Venus rising from the sea c. 1520-25. According to legend, Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, was born fully grown from the sea. She was then carried to land upon a scallop shell, blown by the zephyr winds.

In Venus rising from the sea, Titian has painted the goddess as a beautiful and voluptuous woman, emerging from the sea and wringing out her wet hair, with a miniature version of her scallop shell floating nearby. Her long auburn locks, milky skin and blushing cheeks are sensuous and tactile, suggesting her seductive powers as the goddess of love. Venus’s gracious, twisting pose recalls classical statues of the goddess. Titian rarely made preparatory drawings for his paintings, preferring to work straight onto the canvas, applying subtle gradations of colour in soft, feathery brushstrokes. He also used live models to pose for his figures, which was uncommon in the early 1500s. This lends the painting its great liveliness and sensuality – qualities that have made Titian justly famous.

 

Sandro Botticelli (Italian, 1444/45-1510) 'The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child' ('The Wemyss Madonna') c. 1485

Sandro Botticelli (Italian, 1444/45-1510) 'The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child' ('The Wemyss Madonna') c. 1485

 

Sandro Botticelli (Italian, 1444/45-1510)
The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child (‘The Wemyss Madonna’)
c. 1485
Tempera, oil and gold on canvas
122 x 80.5 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Sandro Botticelli (Italian, 1444/45-1510) 'The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child' ('The Wemyss Madonna') c. 1485 (detail)

Sandro Botticelli (Italian, 1444/45-1510) 'The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child' ('The Wemyss Madonna') c. 1485 (detail)

 

Sandro Botticelli (Italian, 1444/45-1510)
The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child (‘The Wemyss Madonna’) (detail)
c. 1485
Tempera, oil and gold on canvas
122 x 80.5 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Painted by one of the most outstanding artists of the Italian Renaissance, The Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child c. 1485 is the earliest work in the exhibition. It has not left the United Kingdom since 1846 and The Greats presents the first time in almost three decades that any painting by Botticelli has been exhibited in Sydney. In this devotional painting, the Virgin Mary kneels silently and prays before her son, the infant Jesus Christ, in a rose-filled garden. Her gown and cloak spill onto the ground to provide a pillow for the child, who is nestled among the flowers, asleep. Its simple composition, focusing on just the two figures, invites quiet contemplation.

Like many Renaissance paintings, the picture is rich in symbolism. The enclosed garden is a reference to the purity of the Virgin, who was often called ‘a rose without thorns’. Some symbols are more ominous. The sleeping child with his pallid complexion is presumably a reference to Christ’s eventual death. The red strawberry plant in the lower right corner symbolises the blood he will shed on the cross. Technically the painting is unusual for the Florentine artist: it is quite small and has been painted on canvas rather than wooden panel. This suggests it was intended for a private home or convent, rather than a public space like a church.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with, at left, Domenichino’s The adoration of the shepherds c. 1606-08
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Domenichino (Domenico Zampieri) (Italy, 1581-1641) 'The adoration of the shepherds' c. 1606-08

 

Domenichino (Domenico Zampieri) (Italy, 1581-1641)
The adoration of the shepherds
c. 1606-08
Oil on canvas
143 x 115 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased 1971
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with, at centre, Sir Anthony van Dyck’s Saint Sebastian bound for martyrdom c. 1620-21
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Sir Anthony van Dyck (Southern Netherlands, 1599-1641) 'Saint Sebastian bound for martyrdom' c. 1620-21

Sir Anthony van Dyck (Southern Netherlands, 1599-1641) 'Saint Sebastian bound for martyrdom' c. 1620-21

 

Sir Anthony van Dyck (Southern Netherlands, 1599-1641)
Saint Sebastian bound for martyrdom
c. 1620-21
Oil on canvas
230 x 163.3 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased by the Royal Institution, 1830; transferred, 1859
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Anthony van Dyck, the most successful pupil of Peter Paul Rubens, is regarded as one of the masters of the Flemish baroque. Painted just before Van Dyck left Flanders for Italy in 1621, this dramatic composition features Saint Sebastian, a Roman officer who converted secretly to Christianity. When Sebastian’s faith was discovered, he was tied to a tree and shot with arrows. Usually shown at the moment of his martyrdom, with the arrows piercing his body, here Sebastian has been portrayed prior to his execution. His twisting body and his upward-turned face seem to anticipate the punishment that is to come.

 

Sir Anthony van Dyck (Southern Netherlands, 1599-1641) 'Saint Sebastian bound for martyrdom' (detail) c. 1620-21

Sir Anthony van Dyck (Southern Netherlands, 1599-1641) 'Saint Sebastian bound for martyrdom' (detail) c. 1620-21

 

Sir Anthony van Dyck (Southern Netherlands, 1599-1641)
Saint Sebastian bound for martyrdom (details)
c. 1620-21
Oil on canvas
230 x 163.3 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased by the Royal Institution, 1830; transferred, 1859
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

The Greats: masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland is one of the most significant collections of European old master paintings ever seen in Australia and is presented as part of the Sydney International Art Series 2015-2016. Spanning a period of 400 years from the Renaissance to Impressionism, The Greats includes works by the most outstanding names in Western art, including Botticelli, Leonardo, Raphael, Titian, Rubens, Velázquez, Poussin, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Turner, Monet, Degas, Gauguin, and Cézanne.

This richly presented exhibition brings together over 70 of the greatest paintings and drawings from the National Galleries of Scotland, based in the beautiful capital city of Edinburgh. The Greats marks the first time these artworks have been exhibited in Australia, with the exception of Rembrandt’s A woman in bed (c. 1647) and Seurat’s La Luzerne, Saint-Denis (1884-85). Botticelli’s Virgin adoring the sleeping Christ child (c. 1485) has not been exhibited outside of the United Kingdom in 169 years.

Director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Michael Brand, said it is a tremendous privilege to host such a fine collection of masterpieces in Sydney and that the Art Gallery of NSW is extremely grateful to the National Galleries of Scotland for their generosity and collegiality. “The Greats is a statement of unequivocal artistic excellence – each piece in this exhibition is of extraordinary quality. We are excited to provide Australian audiences the rare opportunity to come face to face with such unique and masterful artworks,” Brand said.

“Approaching the entrance to the Art Gallery of NSW, we are reminded of Sydney’s historic aspirations for viewing the creations of European old masters, with names such as Titian, Rembrandt and Botticelli adorning the Gallery’s sandstone facade. It is with great pleasure that we now welcome incredible works by these artists to our interior walls, into a sublime exhibition space that promises a moving and absorbing experience for all visitors,” Brand added.

Director of the Scottish National Gallery, Michael Clarke, said, “We are delighted to present some of the finest masterworks from the National Galleries of Scotland at the distinguished Art Gallery of New South Wales. The Gallery provides a marvellous venue for our exhibition, which includes a selection of paintings that have recently toured to art institutions in America, including the de Young in San Francisco and the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth.”

Visitors to The Greats will experience the Scottish National Gallery’s famous interior with part of the exhibition space inspired by the Edinburgh gallery’s octagonal rooms with fabric walls of a sumptuous red – the traditional colour on which to hang old master paintings. This installation will serve to accentuate the grandeur of the paintings and foster an intimate experience with each of the artworks. A variety of associated public and education programs are on offer to visitors of all ages. Serving to engage the widest possible audience, the Gallery will host daily guided tours, lecture series, late night programs and a suite of other events designed to facilitate meaningful interactions with the artworks featured in The Greats.”

Press release from the AGNSW

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation views of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with Frans Hals’ Portrait of Pieter(?) Verdonck c. 1627 (left) and Johannes Vermeer’s Christ in the house of Martha and Mary c. 1654-55 (centre)
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Frans Hals (The Netherlands, 1582/3-1666) 'Portrait of Pieter(?) Verdonck' c. 1627

 

Frans Hals (The Netherlands, 1582/3-1666)
Portrait of Pieter(?) Verdonck
c. 1627
Oil on panel
Scottish National Gallery
Presented by John J Moubray of Naemoor, 1916
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

With his loose and seemingly spontaneous brushwork, combined with an exceptional ability to capture a sitter’s likeness and expression, Hals inspired generations of artists, from Jean-Honoré Fragonard to Édouard Manet. This portrait probably shows Pieter Verdonck, a Haarlem Mennonite, who was said to be aggressive and argumentative. In a contemporary engraving after the painting, an inscription reads: ‘This is Verdonck, that outspoken fellow, / whose jawbone attacks everyone.’ The jawbone that he holds is the same weapon used by the biblical hero Samson to kill the Philistines; here, it may refer to Verdonck’s ability to wound his enemies with his cutting words.

 

Frans Hals (The Netherlands, 1582/3-1666) 'Portrait of Pieter(?) Verdonck' c. 1627 (detail)

 

Frans Hals (The Netherlands, 1582/3-1666)
Portrait of Pieter(?) Verdonck
c. 1627
Oil on panel
Scottish National Gallery
Presented by John J Moubray of Naemoor, 1916
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Johannes Vermeer (The Netherlands, 1632-75) 'Christ in the house of Martha and Mary' c. 1654-55

 

Johannes Vermeer (The Netherlands, 1632-75)
Christ in the house of Martha and Mary
c. 1654-55
Oil on canvas
Scottish National Gallery
Presented by the Sons of WA Coats in memory of their father, 1927
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

The fame of Vermeer, now one of the best-known painter of the Dutch Golden Age, rests on just 36 paintings known to survive today. This canvas is music larger than his usual compositions and is the only one that illustrates a biblical subject. In spite of its uniqueness, the painting is replete with the quiet human interactions for which the artist is known. The scene depicts the story from Luke 10:38-42, in which Martha objected to her sister Mary listening to Jesus while she herself was busy serving. Given the substantial size of the canvas, it is likely that the painting was a specific commission, possibly intended for a Catholic church.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland' at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

 

Installation view of the exhibition The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney with, at centre, Rembrandt van Rijn’s A woman in bed 164(7?) and at right, Jan Lievens’ Young man in yellow c. 1630-31
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Rembrandt van Rijn (The Netherlands, 1606-69) 'A woman in bed' 164(7?)

Rembrandt van Rijn (The Netherlands, 1606-69) 'A woman in bed' 164(7?)

 

Rembrandt van Rijn (The Netherlands, 1606-69)
A woman in bed
164(7?)
Oil on canvas (formerly laid down on panel)
81.4 x 67.9 cm (arched top)
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh Presented by William McEwan, 1892
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

The model for this painting is still unidentified. She might be any one of the three main women in Rembrandt’s life: his wife, Saskia; his son’s nursemaid, Geertje Dircx; or his family’s servant girl, Hendrickje Stoffels. Though intimate in its appearance, the painting is probably not a portrait, as a bed would have been an inappropriate setting for a respectable female model. The figure most likely represents the biblical character Sarah from the Old Testament Book of Tobit. Rembrandt shows her watching anxiously as her bridegroom Tobias chases away the devil that had murdered each of her previous seven husbands on their wedding nights.

 

Rembrandt van Rijn (The Netherlands, 1606-69) 'A woman in bed' (detail) 164(7?)

 

Rembrandt van Rijn (The Netherlands, 1606-69)
A woman in bed (detail)
164(7?)
Oil on canvas (formerly laid down on panel)
81.4 x 67.9 cm (arched top)
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh Presented by William McEwan, 1892
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Jan Lievens (The Netherlands, 1607-74) 'Young man in yellow' c. 1630-31

 

Jan Lievens (The Netherlands, 1607-74)
Young man in yellow
c. 1630-31
Oil on canvas
112 x 99 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased with the aid of the Cowan Smith Bequest Fund, 1922
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

Jan Lievens (The Netherlands, 1607-74) 'Young man in yellow' (detail) c. 1630-31

 

Jan Lievens (The Netherlands, 1607-74)
Young man in yellow (detail)
c. 1630-31
Oil on canvas
112 x 99 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased with the aid of the Cowan Smith Bequest Fund, 1922
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Jan Lievens and Rembrandt van Rijn were two young artists working in Leiden in the years around 1630. They worked separately, though they engaged in artistic competition and exchange, as this painting suggests. The dramatically lit depiction of a young man posing as a commander with his gorget and baton is not a true portrait, but a tronie – a Dutch term for a painting that features an exaggerated facial expression or a figure in an almost theatrical costume. Both Lievens and Rembrandt experimented with tronies early in their careers, often introducing members of their families or their own likenesses.

 

Paolo Veronese (Italy, 1528-88) 'Venus, Cupid and Mars' 1580s

Paolo Veronese (Italy, 1528-88) 'Venus, Cupid and Mars' 1580s

 

Paolo Veronese (Italy, 1528-88)
Venus, Cupid and Mars
1580s
Oil on canvas
165.2 x 126.5 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased by the Royal Institution, 1859; transferred, 1868
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Veronese was famous in his lifetime as a master of rich colour. His paintings often show exotic figures, sumptuous fabrics and such seemingly incidental details as the spaniel pictured at lower right. The depiction of a dog, a symbol of marital fidelity, was intended as a clever and ironic commentary on the adulterous relationship between Venus, the goddess of love and wife of Vulcan, and Mars, the god of war. This canvas was presented as a diplomatic gift on behalf of the Spanish Crown to King Charles 1 of Britain during his trip to Spain in 1623.

 

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greece/Spain, 1541-1614) 'An allegory (Fábula)' c. 1585-95

 

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greece/Spain, 1541-1614)
An allegory (Fábula)
c. 1585-95
Oil on canvas
67.3 x 88.6 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax (hybrid arrangement), with additional funding from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund, and Gallery funds, 1989
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

This enigmatic composition has been described as an allegory to fable (fábula), though its specific meaning has long been debated. One possibility is that it is a recreation of a lost painting of a boy blowing a fire, made by the ancient artist Antiphilus of Alexandria and known from a text written in the 1st century by Pliny the Elder. The presence of the monkey evokes the classical notion of art as the ape of nature, while the man, whose toothy grin and red and yellow attire identify him as a jester, may allude to the ultimate folly of the painter’s aim of reproducing the visible world – or, perhaps, of imitating the ancients.

 

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greece/Spain, 1541-1614) 'An allegory (Fábula)' (detail) c. 1585-95

 

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greece/Spain, 1541-1614)
An allegory (Fábula) (detail)
c. 1585-95
Oil on canvas
67.3 x 88.6 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax (hybrid arrangement), with additional funding from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund, and Gallery funds, 1989
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland

 

Diego Velazquez (Spain, 1599-1660) 'An old woman cooking eggs' 1618

 

Diego Velazquez (Spain, 1599-1660)
An old woman cooking eggs
1618
Oil on canvas
100.5 x 119.5 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased with the aid of the Art Fund and a special Treasury Grant, 1955
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland

 

 

This simple scene of everyday life in seventeenth-century Spain displays the technical sophistication of painter Diego Velázquez. No Velázquez of comparable importance has been seen before in Australia. And indeed, the painting marks the Scottish National Gallery’s most expensive purchase to date. Painted in 1618 when the artist was just eighteen or nineteen years old, the work depicts an old woman cooking eggs in a red-glazed pot, while a young boy holds a flask of wine and a melon. The subjects were real people, perhaps family members or neighbours, and both reappear in other paintings by the artist. It is likely that Velázquez painted the objects and figures directly from life.

The scene is painted with utmost care and detail. His depiction of light and the textures of objects is meticulous – from the soft folds of the woman’s headscarf, to the thick glaze on a ceramic pot, to the warm sheen of light hitting brass or copper. Unlike other portrayals of everyday people and humble genre scenes, this portrait presents its subjects with dignity, without mockery or censure. The extraordinary skill of Velázquez was considered to be unprecedented in Spain at the time. Establishing himself as much-respected painter in his native Seville, the artist moved to the royal courts of Madrid in 1623 and was soon appointed painter to King Philip IV.

 

Gerrit Dou (The Netherlands, 1613-75) 'An interior with a young viola player' 1637

 

Gerrit Dou (The Netherlands, 1613-75)
An interior with a young viola player
1637
Oil on oak panel
31.1 x 23.7 cm (arched top)
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Purchased with the aid of the National Heritage Memorial Fund 1984
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
Photo: © Marcus Bunyan and the Art Gallery of New South Wales

 

 

Dou was the father of the so-called fijnschilders (fine painters), the Lieden school celebrated for its commitment to detailed illusionism and refined technique. This painting is rendered so precisely that it is possible to identify the open book, shown at centre, as De Friesche Lust-Hof (The Frisian pleasure garden), a popular Dutch songbook first published in 1621. The pages are turned to a comic number about the joys and sorrows of love, accompanied by an image of two lovers under a tree in a landscape. For the informed viewer, this depiction adds unexpected irony to the tranquil, melancholic portrayal of the young musician.

 

 

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14
Dec
13

Exhibition: ‘Masculine / Masculine: The Nude Man in Art from 1800 to the present day’ at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Exhibition dates: 24th September 2013 – 2nd January 2014

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The von Gloeden is stunning and some of the paintings are glorious: the muscularity / blood red colour in Falguière by Lutteurs d’Alexandre (1875, below); the beauty of Ángel Zárraga’s Votive Offering (Saint Sebastian) (1912, below); the sheer nakedness and earthiness of the Freud; and the colour, form and (homo)eroticism of The Bath by Paul Cadmus (1951, below), with their pert buttocks and hands washing suggestively.

But there is nothing too outrageous here. Heaven forbid!

After all, this is the male nude as curatorial commodity.

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Many thankx to the Musée d’Orsay for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

*PLEASE NOTE THIS POSTING CONTAINS ART PHOTOGRAPHS OF MALE NUDITY – IF YOU DO NOT LIKE PLEASE DO NOT LOOK, FAIR WARNING HAS BEEN GIVEN*

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“The high brow peep show is divided thematically into depictions of religion, mythology, athleticism, homosexuality, and shifting notions of manliness. Wandering the Musee’s grand halls you will see rippling Greco-Roman Apollonian gods, Egon Schiele’s finely rendered, debauched self portraits and David LaChapelle’s 90s macho-kitsch celebs. Edward Munch’s hazy, pastel bathers mingle with Lucian Freud’s grossly erotic fleshy animals and reverent depictions of Christ and Saint Sebastian, showing the many ways to interpret a body sans outerwear.”

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Priscilla Frank. “‘Masculine/Masculine’ Explores Male Nude Throughout Art History And We Couldn’t Be Happier (NSFW),” on the Huffpost Arts and Culture website, 26/09/2013

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Jean Delville (1867-1953) 'École de Platon' (School of Plato) 1898

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Jean Delville (1867-1953)
École de Platon (School of Plato)
1898
Oil on canvas
H. 260; W. 605 cm
© RMN (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

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In the late 19th century, Belgium was one of the great centres of European symbolism. Jean Delville’s paintings and writings expressed the most esoteric side of the movement. In the mid-1880s, Delville’s discovery of the symbolist milieu in Paris and the friendships he made there led him to break with the naturalism inherited from his academic training. Thus his friendship with the Sâr Péladan and his regular attendance at the Salon of the Rose+Croix, testified to his belief in an intellectual art which focused on evocation more than description.

School of Plato, a decoration intended for the Sorbonne but never installed there, is a striking work in many respects. Its monumental size and its ambitious message – an interpretation of classical philosophy seen through the prism of the symbolist ideal – set it apart. The manifesto makes no secret of its references, from Raphael to Puvis de Chavannes, but envelops them in the strange charm of a deliberately unreal colour range. The ambiguity emanating from this fin de siècle Mannerism knowingly blurs the borderline between purity and sensuality.

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Jules Elie Delaunay. 'Ixion Thrown Into the Flames' 1876

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Jules Elie Delaunay
Ixion Thrown Into the Flames
1876
© RMN-Grand Palais / Gérard Blot

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Camille Félix Bellanger. 'Abel' 1874-75

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Camille Félix Bellanger
Abel
1874-75
© Musée d’Orsay

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Eadweard Muybridge. 'Animal Locomotion' 1887

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Eadweard Muybridge
Animal Locomotion
1887
© Musée d’Orsay, dist. RMN / Alexis Brandt

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Kehinde Wiley. 'Death of Abel Study' 2008

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Kehinde Wiley
Death of Abel Study
2008
© Kehinde Wiley, Courtesy Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA & Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris

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Paul Cézanne. 'Baigneurs' (Bathers) 1890

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Paul Cézanne
Baigneurs (Bathers)
1890
© RMN (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

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“While it has been quite natural for the female nude to be regularly exhibited, the male nude has not been accorded the same treatment. It is highly significant that until the show at the Leopold Museum in Vienna in the autumn of 2012, no exhibition had opted to take a fresh approach, over a long historical perspective, to the representation of the male nude. However, male nudity was for a long time, from the 17th to 19th centuries, the basis of traditional Academic art training and a key element in Western creative art. Therefore when presenting the exhibition Masculine / Masculine, the Musée d’Orsay, drawing on the wealth of its own collections (with several hitherto unknown sculptures) and on other French public collections, aims to take an interpretive, playful, sociological and philosophical approach to exploring all aspects and meanings of the male nude in art. Given that the 19th century took its inspiration from 18th century classical art, and that this influence still resonates today, the Musée d’Orsay is extending its traditional historical range in order to draw a continuous arc of creation through two centuries down to the present day. The exhibition will include the whole range of techniques: painting, sculpture, graphic arts and, of course, photography, which will have an equal place in the exhibition.

To convey the specifically masculine nature of the body, the exhibition, in preference to a dull chronological presentation, takes the visitor on a journey through a succession of thematic focuses, including the aesthetic canons inherited from Antiquity, their reinterpretation in the Neo-Classical, Symbolist and contemporary eras where the hero is increasingly glorified, the Realist fascination for truthful representation of the body, nudity as the body’s natural state, the suffering of the body and the expression of pain, and finally its eroticisation. The aim is to establish a genuine dialogue between different eras in order to reveal how certain artists have been prompted to reinterpret earlier works. In the mid 18th century, Winckelmann examined the legacy of the divine proporzioni of the body inherited from Antiquity, which, in spite of radical challenges, still apply today having mysteriously come down through the history of art as the accepted definition of beauty. From Jacques-Louis David to George Platt-Lynes, LaChapelle and Pierre et Gilles, and including Gustave Moreau, a whole series of connections is revealed, based around issues of power, censorship, modesty, the boundaries of public expectation and changes in social mores.

Winckelmann’s glorification of Greek beauty reveals an implicit carnal desire, relating to men as well as women, which certainly comes down through two centuries from the “Barbus” group and from David’s studio, to David Hockney and the film director James Bidgood. This sensibility also permeates the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries as it questions its own identity, as we see in the extraordinary painting École de Platon [School of Plato], inexplicably purchased by the French state in 1912 from the Belgian artist Delville. Similarly, the exhibition will reveal other visual and intellectual relationships through the works of artists as renowned as Georges de La Tour, Pierre Puget, Abilgaard, Paul Flandrin, Bouguereau, Hodler, Schiele, Munch, Picasso, Bacon, Mapplethorpe, Freud and Mueck, while lining up some surprises like the Mexican Angel Zarraga’s Saint Sébastien (Saint Sebastian), De Chirico’s Les Bains mystérieux (Mysterious Baths) and the erotica of Americans Charles Demuth and Paul Cadmus.

This autumn therefore, the Musée d’Orsay will invite the visitor to an exhibition that challenges the continuity of a theme that has always interested artists, through unexpected yet productive confrontations between the various revivals of the nude man in art.”

Press release from the Musée d’Orsay website

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Jacques Louis David (1748-1825) 'Academy Drawing of a Man, said to be Patroclu' 1778

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Jacques Louis David (1748-1825)
Academy Drawing of a Man, said to be Patroclu
1778
Oil on canvas
H. 122; W. 170 cm
Cherbourg, musée Thomas-Henry
© Cherbourg, musée Thomas-Henry

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Masculine / Masculine

Why had there never been an exhibition dedicated to the male nude until Nackte Männer at the Leopold Museum in Vienna last year? In order to answer this question, the exhibition sets out to compare works of different eras and techniques, around great themes that have shaped the image of the male body for over two centuries.

We must distinguish above all between nudity and the nude: a body simply without clothes, that causes embarrassment with its lack of modesty, is different from the radiant vision of a body restructured and idealised by the artist. Although this distinction can be qualified, it highlights the positive, uninhibited approach to the nude in western art since the Classical Period.

Today, the nude essentially brings to mind a female body, the legacy of a 19th century that established it as an absolute and as the accepted object of male desire. Prior to this, however, the female body was regarded less favourably than its more structured, more muscular male counterpart. Since the Renaissance, the male nude had been accorded more importance: the man as a universal being became a synonym for Mankind, and his body was established as the ideal human form, as was already the case in Greco-Roman art. Examples of this interpretation abound in the Judeo-Christian cultural heritage: Adam existed before Eve, who was no more than his copy and the origin of sin. Most artists being male, they found an “ideal me” in the male nude, a magnified, narcissistic reflection of themselves. And yet, until the middle of the 20th century, the sexual organ was the source of a certain embarrassment, whether shrunken or well hidden beneath strategically placed drapery, thong or scabbard.

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Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Desmarais (1756-1813) 'Le Berger Pâris' (The Shepherd, Paris) 1787

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Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Desmarais (1756-1813)
Le Berger Pâris (The Shepherd, Paris)
1787
Oil on canvas
H. 177 ; L. 118 cm
Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa
© Photo: MBAC

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The Classic Ideal

From the 17th century, training of the highest standard was organised for the most privileged artists. In sculpture and in history painting, the ultimate aim of this teaching was to master the representation of the male nude: this was central to the creative process, as the preparatory studies had to capture the articulation of the body as closely as possible, whether clothed or not, in the finished composition.

In France, pupils studied at the Académie Royale then at the Académie des Beaux-Arts, working from drawings, engravings, sculptures “in the round” and life models. Right up until the late 20th century, these models were exclusively male, for reasons of social morality, but also because the man was considered to have the archetypal human form. In order to be noble and worthy of artistic representation, and to appeal to all, this could not be the body of an ordinary man: the distinctive features of the model had to be tempered in order to elevate the subject.

Above all, the artists of Antiquity and of the Renaissance were considered to have established an ideal synthesis of the human body without being distracted by individual characteristics. For Winckelmann, the German 18th century aesthete, the ideal beauty of Greek statues could only be embodied by the male nude. But although it inspired numerous artists, the “noble simplicity and quiet grandeur” of Winckelmann’s gods was undermined by other interpretations of Classical art: the torment of Laocoon, a work from late Antiquity, can be seen in the work of the Danish painter Abildgaard, while David advocated a much more Roman masculinity. Even when challenged, reinterpreted and renewed by the 20th century avant-garde, the Classical male nude and its rich legacy remains an object of fascination right up to the inter-war years and up to the present day.

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George Hoyningen-Huene (1900-1968) 'Horst P. Horst, Photographie' 1932

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George Hoyningen-Huene (1900-1968)
Horst P. Horst, Photographie
1932
Tirage argentique
H. 19 ; L. 22,7 cm
Hambourg, FC Gundlach
© Droits réservés

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The Heroic Nude

The concept and the word “hero” itself come from ancient Greece: whether a demigod or simply a mortal transcending his human condition to become an exemplum virtutis, he embodies an ideal. The admiration for Classical art and culture explains the ubiquity of the hero in Academic painting, particularly in subjects given to candidates of the Prix de Rome: great history painting thrived on the exploits of supermen in the most perfect bodies.

This connection between anatomy and heroic virtue, conveying noble and universal values, goes back to the Neo-Platonic concept linking beauty and goodness. The hero’s nudity has been so self-evident that the “heroic nude” has become the subject of a recurrent debate about the representation of great men, past or present, no matter how incongruous the result may appear.

Heroism is not a state, rather a means by which the strength of character of an exceptional being man is revealed: although Hercules’ strength is inseparable from his exploits, it was David’s cunning that overcame the powerful Goliath. In both cases they are endowed with a warrior’s strength, which was particularly valued by a 19th century thirsting for virility and patriotic assertion: more than ever, this was the ideal to be attained. We had to wait for the 20th century crisis of masculinity before we could see the renewal of the status of the increasingly contemporary hero, and the diversification of his physical characteristics. However, whether a star or a designer like Yves Saint-Laurent, or even the young men on the streets of Harlem painted by the American Kehinde Wiley, the evocative power of nudity remains.

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Pierre et Gilles (born respectively in 1950 and 1953) 'Vive la France' 2006

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Pierre et Gilles (born respectively in 1950 and 1953)
Vive la France
2006
(models: Serge, Moussa and Robert)
Painted photograph, unique piece
H. 125; W. 101 cm
© Pierre et Gilles

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The Gods of the Stadium

The 20th century witnessed the start of a new way of looking at the human body where the focus was on medical aspects and hygiene, and this had a considerable impact on the concept of the artistic nude. Numerous physical education movements and gymnasia appeared. People were captivated by the figure of the “sportsman” and, as in the work of the painter Eugene Jansson, came to admire and covet the virile power of his body in action. This concept is realised in culturalism, the narcissistic admiration of a body that has become an object to be fashioned like an artwork in its own right. Modern man with his athletic morphology has become a new potential ideal: he embodies a beauty that invites comparison with Greco-Roman art.

Linked with the affirmation of national identity, the athlete has come to personify the brute force of the nation and an ability to defend the country in times of war. During the 1930s in the United States, the image of the athlete evolved in a distinctive way, highlighting the ordinary man as a mixture of physical strength and bravery. Totalitarian regimes, however, perverted the cult of the athlete in order to promote their own ideology: Germany linked it in a demiurgic way with the made-up concept of the “Aryan” race, while Mussolini’s government erected marble idols on the Stadio dei Marmi.

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Jean-Bernard Duseigneur (1808-1866) 'Orlando Furioso' 1867

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Jean-Bernard Duseigneur (1808-1866)
Orlando Furioso
1867
Cast in bronze
H. 130; W. 146; D. 90 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
© Musée du Louvre, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Thierry Ollivier

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It’s tough being a Hero

As he moves outside the established order, the mythological hero risks the anger of the gods and the jealousy of men. Although his passions, his moral shortcomings and occasionally his frailties stem from his human condition, he is happy to possess the perfect form of the gods: thus the artist and the spectator find expression of a perfect self. The great dramatic destinies thus give character to the compositions, and enable them to interpret a whole range of emotions from determination to despair, from hostility to eternal rest.

Although it is a platitude to say that feelings are expressed most accurately in the face – from the theorised and institutional drawings of Charles Le Brun to the “tête d’expression” competition at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts – one must not underestimate the key role of the body and the anatomy as vehicles for expressing emotion: certain formal choices even led to generally accepted conventions.

Mythology and the Homeric epic abound with stories of the ill-fated destinies and destructive passions of heroes, whose nudity is justified by its origins in ancient Greece: Joseph-Désiré Court displays the broken body of the ill-fated Hippolytus, a premonition of the transposition in the ancient world of Mort pour la patrie [Dying for The Fatherland] of Lecomte du Nouÿ.

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Nude Veritas

The Realist aesthetic, which came to the fore in western art during the 19th century, had a dramatic effect on the representation of male nudity. The human body, represented as nature intended, was no longer seen from the decorous distance that characterised the idealised image of the nude, a goal to be achieved through Academic drawing exercises. In this context, where revealing the body was an affront to modesty – in the male-dominated society of the 19th century, the unclothed male appeared even more obscene and shocking than the unclothed female – the male nude gradually became less common as female figures proliferated.

This reversal did not mean, however, that naked men disappeared altogether: scientific study of the male nude, aided by new techniques such as the decomposition of movement through a series of photographs taken in rapid succession – chronophotography – brought advances in the study of anatomy and transformed the teaching of art students. From then on, it was less a case, for the most avant-garde artists, of striving to reproduce a canon of beauty inherited from the past, than of representing a body that retained the harmony of the model’s true characteristics.

The evocative power of the nude inspired artists like the Austrian Schiele to produce nude self portraits that revealed the existential torments of the artist. Invested at times with a Christ-like dimension, these depictions, moving beyond realism into introspection, continued to be produced right up to the 21st century, especially in photography.

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William Bouguereau (1825-1905) 'Equality before Death' 1848

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William Bouguereau (1825-1905)
Equality before Death
1848
Oil on Canvas
H. 141; W. 269 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
© Musée d’Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

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Without compromise

The fascination for reality established in artistic circles in the mid 19th century prompted a thorough renewal of religious painting. Although resorting to the classical idealisation of the body seemed to be consistent with religious dogma, artists like Bonnat breathed fresh life into the genre by depicting the harsh truth of the physical condition of biblical figures.

This principle was already at work in Egalité devant la mort [Equality before Death], by Bouguereau, who, in his early work, in the final days of Romanticism, exploited the power of the image of an ordinary corpse. Rodin, far from enhancing the appearance of the novelist that he was invited to celebrate, sought to render Balzac’s corpulent physique with implacable accuracy, without diminishing his grandeur in any way.

The question is thus raised of art’s relationship to reality, a question Ron Mueck tackles in his work. And the strange effect brought about by a change of scale gives an intensity to the dead body of his father that echoes the dead figure in Bouguereau’s painting.

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Frédéric Bazille (1841-1870) 'Fisherman with a Net' 1868

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Frédéric Bazille (1841-1870)
Fisherman with a Net
1868
Oil on canvas
H. 134; W. 83 cm
Zurich, Rau Foundation for the Third World
© Lylho / Leemage

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Hippolyte Flandrin (1809-1864) 'Nude Youth Sitting by the Sea, Study' 1836

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Hippolyte Flandrin (1809-1864)
Nude Youth Sitting by the Sea, Study
1836
Oil on canvas
H. 98; W. 124 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
© Musée du Louvre, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Angèle Dequier

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Gloeden,_Wilhem_von_(1856-1931)-Cain-WEB

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Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856-1931)
Cain, Taormine, Sicile
1911
© Westlicht, Musée de la Photographie, Vienna

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In Nature

Including the naked body in a landscape was not a new challenge for 19th century artists. In many aspects, this was recurrent in large-scale history painting, and a demanding artistic exercise by which a painter’s technical mastery was judged. It was about making the relationship between the naked body and its setting as accurate as possible in terms of proportion, depth and light. Although Bazille’s Pêcheur à l’épervier [Fisherman with a Net] is one of the most successful attempts – in a contemporary context – at depicting a naked man in an atmospheric light that the Impressionists later took for their own, he nevertheless observed the principles of academic construction.

Masculine nudity in nature took another meaning as society was transformed through technical advances and urbanisation. Man was now seeking a communion with nature, that could reconcile him with the excesses and the sense of dislocation created by the modern world, while still conforming to the theories of good health advocating physical exercise and fresh air.

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In pain

In allowing themselves to deviate from the classical norms, artists opened up new possibilities for a more expressive representation of a body in the throes of torment or pain. The decline of the Academic nude and of classical restraint explains this predilection for ordeals: Ixion’s for example, condemned by Zeus to be bound to an eternally spinning wheel of fire.

The writhing body can also express torment of a more psychological nature. The pain experienced by the male body naturally relates to the issues of power between men and women in contemporary society: the naked body can be demeaning and, in certain circumstances, likely to call into question virility and male domination. In this respect, Louise Bourgeois’ choice of a male figure for her Arch of Hysteria was not a random one.

The martyr can, nevertheless, inspire compositions other than the tortured body: the death of Abel, killed by his brother Cain in the Book of Genesis, seems, on the contrary, to have inspired the pose of a totally relaxed body at the point of death. This abandon, however, conveyed a certain ambivalence that artists were determined to exploit: the body, often magnified and in state of morbid ecstasy, was in fact there for the spectator to relish. In these cases, suffering was merely a device to justify fetishising the body once again. In contrast with this seductive treatment, photographers engaged in experiments to divide the body into individual parts, in an aesthetic or even playful approach.

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François-Xavier Fabre (1766-1837) 'The Dying Saint Sebastian' 1789

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François-Xavier Fabre (1766-1837)
The Dying Saint Sebastian
1789
Oil on canvas
H. 196; W. 147 cm
Montpellier, Musée Fabre de Montpellier Agglomération
© Musée Fabre de Montpellier Agglomération – cliché Frédéric Jaulmes

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Ángel_Zárraga-Votive_Offering_(Saint_Sebastian)-1912-WEB

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Ángel Zárraga
Votive Offering (Saint Sebastian)
1912
Oil on canvas
© Museo Nacional de Arte, Mexico

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The Glorious body

Judeo-Christian culture has undeniably influenced the representation of the naked man since the beginning of modern art. However, the Catholic concept of the body has been at variance with nudity since Paleochristian times: the body is merely the corporeal envelope from which the soul is freed on death. Influenced by theologians advocating the union of the sensory and the spiritual, nudity gradually became accepted for important figures such as Christ and Saint Sebastian. Their martyred bodies, transcended by suffering endured through faith, paradoxically allowed the human soul to come close to God.

For the Catholic church, the vulnerability of Christ’s body, subjected to suffering and bearing the stigmata, is evidence of his humanity, while his divinity is revealed in his inspired expression and his idealised body, a legacy of the underlying classical models. The figure of Saint Sebastian is especially complex: this popular saint, the epitome of the martyr who survives his first ordeal, embodies the victory of life over death. This life force is no doubt related to his youthful beauty and his naked body, both of which made their appearance in the 17th century. This being the case, his representation gradually moves away from Catholic dogma, and acquires an unprecedented freedom and life of its own: his sensuality is more and more obvious, whereas his suffering is at times impossible to detect. In this quest for sensual pleasure, and until the 20th century, the only taboo was to reveal the penis.

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Paul Cadmus (1904-1999) 'The Bath' 1951

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Paul Cadmus (1904-1999)
The Bath
1951
Tempera on card
H. 36.4; W. 41.4 cm
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art
Anonymous gift
© Whitney Museum of American Art, NY – Art
© Jon F. Anderson, Estate of Paul Cadmus / ADAGP, Paris 2013

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Alexendre Alexandrovitch Deineka (Russian, 1899-1969) 'La douche. Après la bataille' (Shower, After the Battle) 1937-42

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Alexendre Alexandrovitch Deineka (Russian, 1899-1969)
La douche. Après la bataille (Shower, After the Battle)
1937-42
Oil on canvas

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“This male homoeroticism maintains close ties with the revolutionary project to destroy the family and traditional marriage and the construction of new types of social relations based on collective values ​​above all, with the idea that the bonds of friendship and camaraderie between men (homosociality, “male bonding”) are equally or more important than heterosexual bonding. It is mainly in the period from the Revolution to the 1930s the values ​​of friendship and camaraderie seem particularly highlighted the detriment of the bonds of love, very devalued as “petty-bourgeois”, but even more later, with the Stalinist project of “restoration” of the family, it can be assumed that the emotional and romantic in the heterosexual couple have never been a pervasive and rewarding cultural representation of magnitude of that which may be known in the West. [11] The researcher Lilya Kaganovsky, analyzing the Soviet visual culture (especially cult films of the 1930s and 1940s), speaks of “heterosexual panic” in response to the concept of “homosexual panic” coined by Eve K. Segdwick: according Kaganovsky, Soviet cultural works largely reflects the idea that the relations of friendship, especially homosocial, particularly between men, is a moral value than heterosexual relationships. [12] In such a cosmology, heterosexual relationships could be perceived from within oneself and risk jeopardizing the homosocial relationships of camaraderie and friendship, and the same social and national cohesion, thought to be based on collective values that conflicts with the value of exclusivity in the couple, “cozy comforts of home” [13].”

Mona. “Représenter le corps socialiste : l’exemple du peintre A. Deïneka (1899-1969),” on the Genre, politique et sexualités website, 16th April 2012 (translation by Google translate)

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Douche.-1932.-(Boris-Ignatovitch)-WEB

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Boris Ignatovitch
Douche (Shower)
1932
Silver gelatin photograph

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The Temptation of the male

An acknowledged desire for the male body, and the liberalisation of social conventions gave rise to some daring works from the mid 20th century onwards. In the United States, in spite of its puritan outlook since the Second World War, Paul Cadmus did not balk at depicting a pick up scene between men in a most unlikely Finistère. While the physical attraction of the body remained confined for a long time to the secrecy of private interiors, it was increasingly evident in public, in exclusively masculine social situations like communal showers or in the guise of a reconstructed Platonic Antiquity.

Eroticism is even presented quite crudely by Cocteau, whose influence on the young Warhol is undeniable. Beauty and seduction part company when the ideal transmitted by references to the past takes root in idiosyncratic practices and contemporary culture, as Hockney has expressed so accurately in his painting.

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Anne-Louis Girodet (1767-1824) 'The Sleep of Endymion' 1791

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Anne-Louis Girodet (1767-1824)
The Sleep of Endymion
1791
Oil on canvas
H. 90; W. 117.5 cm
Montargis, Musée Girodet
© Cliché J. Faujour/musée Girodet, Montargis

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Pierre et Gilles (born respectively in 1950 and 1953) 'Mercury' 2001

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Pierre et Gilles (born respectively in 1950 and 1953)
Mercury
2001
© Pierre et Gilles

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The Object of desire

For many years, the male body in art had been the subject of “objectification”. The unrestrained admiration for the perfection of the Greco-Roman nudes, a purely intellectual reconstruction of a body that had become the canon of beauty, meant that no interpretation of the nude was considered improper, even Winckelmann’s, with its powerful erotic charge.

Although Academic circles naturally encouraged the nude in great history paintings, certain subjects retained elements of sensuality and ambiguity. At the turn of the 19th century, discussion of the characteristics of the two sexes and their respective boundaries aroused interest in the bisexual amours of Jupiter and Apollo, while the formula of the young hero dying in the arms of his male lover was met with particular interest.

Girodet’s Endymion is depicted as an ephebe, his body caressed sensuously by the rays of the moon goddess, inspiring numerous homoerotic interpretations. With the Symbolists, as with Gustave Moreau, the difference between the sexes results in the downfall of a vulnerable man overcome by an inexorable and destructive force that is seen as feminine. However, at the other extreme, and in a less dramatic way, Hodler depicts the awakening of adolescent love between a self-obsessed young man and a girl who is captivated by his charm.

The sensuality and acknowledged eroticisation considered to be appropriate to the female body during the 19th century struck a serious blow against the traditional virility of the male nude: this blow was not fatal however, as the male nude was still very visible in the 20th century. Sexual liberation expressed, loud and clear, a feeling of voluptuousness and, often with few reservations, endowed the male body with a sexual charge. The model was usually identified, an assertive sign as a statement of the individuality: with Pierre and Gilles, where mythology and the contemporary portrait become one.

Text from the Musée d’Orsay website

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Antonin Mercié. 'David' 1872

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Antonin Mercié
David
1872
Bronze
© Musée d’Orsay, Paris

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David LaChapelle. 'Eminem - About to Blow' 1999

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David LaChapelle
Eminem – About to Blow
1999
Chromogenic Print

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Giorgio de Chirico (1883-1966) 'Les bains mystérieux' (Mysterious Baths) c. 1934-36

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Giorgio de Chirico (1883-1966)
Les bains mystérieux (Mysterious Baths)
c. 1934-36
Tempera on card
39 x 31 cm
© Musei Civici Fiorentini – Raccolta Alberto Della Ragione

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Egon Schiele. 'Self-Portrait, Kneeling' 1910

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Egon Schiele
Self-Portrait, Kneeling
1910
© Leopold Museum / Manfred Thumberger

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Henri-Camille-Danger.-Fléau!,-1901. Paris, musée d'Orsay-WEB

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Henri-Camille-Danger
Fléau! (Scourge!)
1901
© Musée d’Orsay, Paris

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Koloman Moser. 'Le Printemps' (Spring) c. 1900

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Koloman Moser
Le Printemps (Spring)
c. 1900

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Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929) 'Grand Guerrier avec Jambe' 1893-1902

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Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929)
Grand Guerrier avec Jambe
1893-1902
Bronze

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George Platt Lynes. 'Le Somnambule (The Sleepwalker)' 1935

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George Platt Lynes
Le Somnambule (The Sleepwalker)
1935
© Christoph Irrgang, Hamburg

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Lutteurs d'Alexandre. 'Falguière' 1875

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Lutteurs d’Alexandre
Falguière
1875
© Musée d’Orsay, Paris

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Lucian Freud. 'Naked Man on Bed' 1989

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Lucian Freud
Naked Man on Bed
1989
Oil on canvas

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Lucian Freud. 'David and Eli' 2004

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Lucian Freud
David and Eli
2004
Oil on canvas

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Masculin / Masculin – La video on YouTube

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Musée d’Orsay
62, rue de Lille
75343 Paris Cedex 07
France

Opening hours:
9.30am – 6pm
9.30am – 9.45pm on Thursdays
Closed on Mondays

Musée d’Orsay website

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17
Aug
13

Catalogue essay by Dr Marcus Bunyan / Exhibition: ‘Sudarios (Shrouds)’ by Erika Diettes at the Ballarat International Foto Biennale

Exhibition dates: 17th August – 15th September 2013

Entry free, open daily 10 am – 5pm

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This exhibition is one of the core programs for this year’s Ballarat International Foto Biennale and I had the privilege of writing the catalogue essay for the Colombian artist Erika Diettes. I met the delightful Erika and her husband today at the opening of BiFB on their first trip to Australia and I must say the art hangs very well in the Mining Exchange building.

This was one of the most difficult but rewarding pieces that I have ever had to write.
In reading, I hope you gather the full import of the text.

Text © Marcus Bunyan. All images © Marcus Bunyan, Erika Diettes and Ballarat International Foto Biennale.

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Intimations of Mor(t)ality: Sudarios (Shrouds) by Erika Diettes

by Dr Marcus Bunyan

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“There is now a vast repository of images that make it harder to maintain [a] kind of moral defectiveness. Let the atrocious images haunt us. Even if they are only tokens, and cannot possibly encompass most of the reality to which they refer, they still perform a vital function. The images say: This is what human beings are capable of doing – may volunteer to do, enthusiastically, self-righteously. Don’t forget.”

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Susan Sontag Regarding the Pain of Others 2003 1

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When I was asked to write the catalogue essay on Colombian artist Erika Diettes’ work Sudarios (Shrouds) by editor Esther Gyorki for the Ballarat International Foto Biennale the work gave me pause. What could I say about it that was relevant, insightful and spoke from the heart? I wrote back to Esther saying I needed to do some background research: “This is difficult subject matter and I want to make sure I can do it justice before I commit to writing about it.”2 In a synchronous way that often happens in the world, that is ultimately what this text is about – justice.

The basics are easily told. Artist and anthropologist Erika Diettes travelled to different cities in the department of Antioquia to interview women who had been present at the torture and murder of their loved ones.3 Diettes photographed the women, closely cropped in black and white, at a moment of great vulnerability – all but one with their eyes closed. The resultant twenty photographs were printed on seven feet tall silk panels and form the work Sudarios (shrouds are a burial cloak, a cloth that shrouds the body of the deceased). The artist always intended for these images to be printed on silk and had the installation in mind before she took the photographs: in other words previsualisation was strong. The work is usually displayed in sacred spaces such as churches and convents with a sound track of a barely audible, sighing female voice; here in Ballarat the work is hung in the former Mining Exchange building, a seat of colonial power and wealth which can be read as appropriate for the presentation of this work, for torture is always about the power of one person over another. The viewer can walk through these floating realities and be enfolded in the aggrieved women’s sorrow as if part of a ceremonial procession, perhaps a funeral cortege.

In her creation of an allegorical space for mourning, Diettes work acts as a funeral rite for both living and dead, acts of mourning placed in a context of splendour. The images evoke the representation of the death of Saint Sebastian, the faces recalling “the exquisite suffering of the Catholic saints and martyrs, but also of refugees and victims of contemporary traumas,”4 while the atrocities perpetrated on the body are hidden by the close cropping of the images. As Diettes observes, “You can’t help being a little pierced by their exhalations,”5 an indirect reference by Diettes to the arrows that pierce Saint Sebastian’s body. Diettes opens a space before the camera for the human ‘being’ in context, a terrain (of) or becoming, where the terrors are written on the countenance of the women, their mouths silently singing their song of mourning. Look at their mouths, each one contorted in agony, each one giving voice to the memory of terror.

These are confronting images about trauma and grief, documenting the ongoing effects of atrocity on the mind of the observer for they are portrayals of the effect of intim(id)ation, where intimations of mortality are evidenced by the removal of an identity, the beloved id, which reveals the intimate – expressed in the adoration/adornment of the women with jewellery which signifies the women’s dignity, comfort, and continuing engagement with the world as an extension of personal self/belief.

The signs of erasure of these murders are rearticulated through Diettes work. The bodies are held in suspended animation, in endless agony, through an act of re-terror-itorialization. Through the evacuation of loved ones, their discontinuity and deterritorialization, and the reterritorialization / re-terroring of that space through memory – portrayed on the faces of the women – the images recast and represent issues of power, domination and abuse. Through suspended sorrow, suspended mourning, the disappearance of some bodies and the speaking of others, the images become a representation of a doubled absence, a doubled momenti mori – for the photographs picture the women (making them dead) as they themselves remember the violence perpetrated before them from behind closed eyes (as the dead have their eyes closed), remembering in their mind’s eye the death of the beloved. The image of the victim has become a ghost, a trace etched upon the face of the relative, a trace of that which “persists and gives testimony of a vanished state” in art, for if art is linked to memory and to what survives, it is from the perspective of its own corpse-oreality, its own ghostly and fragile materiality that these images emerge: the hanged man, the hung woman. Remaking but always recording the past through interaction with the present, the shrouds are a palimpsest in which “personal memories are always interwoven with historical consciousness”6 and are constantly being rewritten.

Of course the photographs elicit our empathy but more than that they make us feel their terrible vulnerability while drawing us into uncomfortable complicity as subsidiary witnesses to the event.7 Normally when looking at a photograph the viewer is a secondary witness but here the viewer becomes a tertiary witness – the actual event, the memory of that event etched on the face of the women captured by the camera and now observed by the viewer. There is an osmotic effect taking place as one as one image is super imposed on another. Even after an event is over, “there’s an after image or an echo that exists… a spirit or a residue, a trace.”8 These visions are like images of the Holocaust. As soon as we see them we are implicated in a narrative – and we are helpless in this process – which is an essential part of history.

Diettes work reframes the subject because there is no traditional frame of reference for the viewer, only a memory of that reference in the form of a ghost-like shroud. The normal definition of a shroud no longer pertains to these images for the cloth is no longer around a dead body but represents / holds a trace of what was once dead.

As spirit photographs in the Victorian era solidified a fractured, unknown reality, so these apparitions of the departed are brought forth and solidified, just for a moment, in the faces of the suffering women. The viewer of these images does not see the (dead) carrier of messages, but only their shadows carried by the grief of their loved ones, shrouded as they are in remembrances of the past. We feel that the women are not looking at us but that the aura of their invisible seeing is directed toward us from outside of its normative context – from behind their eyes. It is this imprint on the Shrouds; the imprint of their memories that travels great distances towards us, that enfolds us in sorrow and shadow.

“It is the special feeling of the ‘presence’ of a work produced not by its remaining where it is but by its moving across boundaries where it reaches us from a distance, looking at us even when it appears not to. It is where the work seems peculiarly meant for us even in its indifference to or difference from us.”9

If photographs really are “experience captured” then Diettes explores this arm of consciousness in its acquisitive mood,10 probing the limitation of the medium, shaping the space within the available conditions. Her images become images of sentience that enable the viewer to live in the world with open eyes (while the victims eyes are closed) – to be made aware of the injustices of this world and not remain silent. Diettes work is not about remembering, it’s about an answerable “not forgetting” for hers… is to remind us of the responsibility to make art in response to mor(t)ality.

As human beings, we must fight for the right to be heard and use art as a visual language to textualise our experience and thereby make it available for interpretation and closure. Powerful, simple questions (and I believe) undeniable questions have to be asked; and in response to those questions (power: it will corrupt you, but if you don’t want it, it will be used against you), intelligence, justice and integrity must be used in the service of art. While human truth may be ephemeral qualities like justice are not; the struggle is to define justice and to live it. And for artists to display it.

You place innocence at the heart of human depravity – and hope it survives.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Melbourne 2013

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Endnotes

1. Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others. London: Hamish Hamilton, 2003, p.102.

2. Email to Esther Gyorki. Tue, March 26, 2013

3. The capital of the department of Antioquia is Medellin. The city is a 35-minute flight from the Colombian capital Bogota and has one of the highest rates of violence concerning drugs in Colombia. Most of the crimes were committed between 2001 and 2008.

4. Anon. “Berlinde De Bruyckere Into One-Another To P.P.P.” on the Hauser and Wirth website [Online] Cited May 5, 2013.
www.hauserwirth.com/exhibitions/899/berlinde-de-bruyckere-into-one-another-to-p-p-p/view/

5. Diettes, Erika quoted in Tobón, Paola Cardona. “The exhalation of sorrow,” in  El Colombiano, November 4, 2012 [Online] Cited Cited May 5, 2013.
erikadiettes.com/links/prensa/houston/02_ExhalationOfSorrow_ElColombiano_v2.pdf

6. Garb, Tamar. “A Land of Signs,” in Journal of Contemporary African Art 26, Spring 2010, p.11.

7. Op. cit. “Berlinde De Bruyckere Into One-Another To P.P.P.”

8. Rakes, Rachael and Goldsmith, Leo. “Pasolini’s Body: Cathy Lee Crane with Leo Goldsmith and Rachael Rakes,” on The Brooklyn Rail website. January 13, 2013 [Online] Cited May 5, 2013.
www.brooklynrail.org/2013/02/film/pasolinis-body-cathy-lee-crane-with-leo-goldsmith-rachael-rakes

9. Butler, Rex. “”Lines”, Leading Out of Sight?: Is Aboriginal Art Losing its Aura?” in Australian Art Collector No. 13, July-September 2000, p.87.

10. Campany, David. “Photography and Photographs,” on the Still Searching blog. April 14, 2013 [Online] Cited May 11, 2013.
blog.fotomuseum.ch/2013/04/1-photography-and-photographs/#more-1282

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of Sudarios (Shrouds) by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat
Photographs by Marcus Bunyan
© Marcus Bunyan, Erika Diettes and Ballarat International Foto Biennale

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Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Ballarat International Foto Biennale
Mining Exchange building
8 Lydiard St N
Ballarat VIC 3350
T: (03) 5333 4242

Ballarat International Foto Biennale website

Erika Diettes website

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03
Jan
12

Exhibition: ‘Caravaggio and His Followers in Rome’ at the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas

Exhibition dates: 16th October 2011 – 8th January 2012

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Observe if you will:

  1. The treatment of the background behind Boy Bitten by a Lizard (1594-96)
  2. The tension of the hands in this painting
  3. The pallor of the skin of Sick Bacchus (1593-94)
  4. The colour of the bunch of grapes in the same painting
  5. The critical distance between the two apricots and the bowed sash resting on the pediment in the same painting
  6. The youthful innocence of the dupe in The Cardsharps (c. 1595)
  7. The deep, foreboding shadows under the eyes of Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness (1604-5)
  8. The astonishingly beautiful skin tones in Gerrit van Honthorst’s Saint Sebastian (c. 1623) and how the blood from the leg wound at left runs in two directions: one direction when Saint Sebastian was standing up, one when he has slumped down. Inspired.

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Many thankx to the Kimbell Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the artwork in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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One of the most influential figures in the history of art, Caravaggio (1571-1610) overturned the artistic conventions of the day and created stunningly dramatic paintings, both sacred and secular. This ambitious exhibition explores the profound impact of his work on the wide range of painters of Italian, French, Dutch, Flemish, and Spanish origin who resided in Rome. Arranged by theme, it includes over 50 paintings, with Caravaggio’s compelling images juxtaposed with those he inspired. This is the second largest display of his paintings in North America and only the third Caravaggio exhibition to be held in the United States.

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Music and Youth

Many of Caravaggio’s early paintings feature handsome youths, whether singly or in groups. He seems to have used the same favorite models repeatedly – and sometimes his own features, which a contemporary tells us he studied in a mirror. The origins of these novel paintings lay in the types of pictures – portraits, still lifes, and allegories – that were painted in a realistic style in the artist’s native Lombardy, in the north of Italy, although he blurred the boundaries between genres to suggest real-life scenes. Caravaggio’s paintings of musicians would have appealed to Roman collectors who were passionate patrons of music, and likely were created to decorate rooms used for performances. They have a dreamy, slightly melancholy air. If the songs are about love, as we can assume they are, they are surely about the painful side of love rather than its joys. Caravaggio’s early paintings of youths are usually scenes of sensual pleasure but with a built-in warning against indulgence, as when a youth has his finger bitten by a lizard lurking in some fruit. He brings us close to his figures, often having them make eye contact with us, and includes lovingly observed still-life details that enhance the naturalism and immediacy of the scene. Even when there is a visitation from the beyond, like the winged Cupid in The Musicians, he treats this in a matter-of-fact way, attentive always to breaking down the boundaries between the painted world and our own. Caravaggio’s musical paintings caught on throughout Europe in the work of his followers, who brought their own innovations to the genre.

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Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (Italian, 1571-1610)
The Musicians
c. 1595
Oil on canvas
36 1/4 x 46 5/8 in (92.1 x 118.4 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Rogers Fund, 1952

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In this scene, Caravaggio shows some young musicians preparing for a concert. We are brought very close to the figures, as if we share the same space. Caravaggio breaks down the boundaries between art and life, and our reality and the painted world become entwined. The instruments are modern, but the musicians wear antique-inspired dress. The lute player tunes his instrument, and the horn player (possibly a self-portrait) catches our gaze. Another youth studies the musical score; it is no longer legible, but doubtless featured love madrigals. The winged Cupid with a quiver of arrows who is handling some grapes makes explicit the bond between music and love. Wine, like music, makes the spirits light. This painting belonged to Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte, who hosted concerts at his palace and invited musicians to live in his household, along with artists like Caravaggio.

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Theodoor Rombouts (Flemish, 1597-1637)
A Lute Player
c. 1620
Oil on canvas
43 7/8 x 39 1/4 in (111.1 x 99.7 cm)
Philadelphia Museum of Art. John G. Johnson Collection, 1917

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Caravaggio’s paintings of musicians inspired Rombouts’s depiction of a musician tuning his lute. His intense expression suggests that he is both listening to the sound and sizing up the viewer, his audience. The vividly described carpet and still-life objects on the table recall Caravaggio’s similar close-up presentations. However, the colorful treatment of the costume and the robust delineation of the objects place Rombouts’s work within traditions of Flemish and Dutch painting. The still life, like ephemeral music, serves to remind us of the pleasures of life, but also that pleasure is fleeting. The artist also alludes to the five senses: hearing (the lute), taste (the tankard), smell (the pipe), sight (the musical scores), and touch (the knife).

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Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (Italian, 1571-1610)
Boy Bitten by a Lizard
1594-96
Oil on canvas
25 5/8 x 20 1/2 in (65 x 52 cm)
Fondazione di Studi di Storia dell’Arte Roberto Longhi, Florence

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One of Caravaggio’s biographers wrote that “he also painted a boy bitten by a lizard emerging from flowers and fruits; you could almost hear the boy scream, and it was done meticulously.” The picture has suggested various interpretations. As an allegory of touch, it provides the basis for a study of how emotion is expressed physically, and arguably Caravaggio alludes to all the five senses (flowers as smell and so on). With the still life of fruits and roses, common emblems of love, he invokes age-old adages – pain can follow pleasure, and love is a rose with thorns that prick. Poets from Petrarch onward played on the similarity of the Italian words for “love” and “bitter” – amore and amaro – to which Caravaggio adds ramarro (lizard), ingeniously enlarging the joke.

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Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (Italian, 1571-1610)
Sick Bacchus
1593-94
Oil on canvas
Galleria Borghese, Rome

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Cardsharps and Fortune Tellers

The young Caravaggio introduced another new kind of painting to the Roman art world with his scenes from the seamy side of life, its frauds and ruses. He painted these works on a large scale with half-length figures, and they were among his most widely imitated creations. His followers played countless variations on the same themes, trying various levels of subtlety and buffoonery in the humor and facial expressions. These highly animated compositions conjure up an underworld of wily cardsharps, soldiers of fortune, foolish dupes, sensuous and deceitful gypsy women, pickpockets, and thugs. They are based partly on everyday observations in the streets, partly on the stock characters and improvised comedies of the commedia dell’arte, partly on sheer fantasy. In such works, Caravaggio and his followers developed ingenious ways of involving us in the action. We read these amusingly moralizing pictures through gestures and expressions – but to unravel the trickery takes time. Despite being frozen in a static image, the story seems to unfold before our eyes like one of the popular plays that were its inspiration. The artist extends the theme of deception by painting his subjects with such a high level of naturalism that the viewer is duped and astounded by his artistry.

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Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (Italian, 1571-1610)
The Cardsharps
c. 1595
Oil on canvas
37 1/8 x 51 5/8 in (94.2 x 130.9 cm)
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth

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The players are engaged in a game of primero, a forerunner of poker. Engrossed in his cards, the dupe is unaware that the older cardsharp signals his accomplice, who reaches to pull a hidden card from his breeches. The fingertips of the cheat’s gloved hand are exposed to better feel marked cards. According to an early biographer, Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte, a great patron of the arts, took the young Caravaggio into his household soon after purchasing this picture. It hung along with The Gypsy Fortune Teller in his palace. Together they would surely have reminded the cardinal and his guests of the story of the prodigal son, warning about the perils of greed and fraud. Caravaggio has treated this subject not as a caricature of vice but in a fresh way, in which the interaction of gesture and glance evokes the drama of deception and lost innocence in the most human of terms. He structures the picture to allow us to witness everything, implicating us in the trickery.

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Simon Vouet (French, 1590-1649)
The Fortune Teller
c. 1620
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

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Saints

Caravaggio grounded his saints in everyday reality, indicating their spiritual states by means of natural phenomena, especially light. In his early painting of Saint Francis, he shows the saint’s ecstasy – his mystic identification with Christ – by directing a strong light upon his figure and the consoling angel. God’s grace is signaled by light in other images of the saints, such as the scene of Mary Magdalene’s conversion from her former life of sin. In paintings of Saints Matthew and Jerome in their studies, much emulated in Caravaggio’s circle, light is a metaphor of divine inspiration. Generally the saints seem to be emerging from darkness into light, which adds drama, symbolism, and also a sense of mass – as if they were sculpted, not merely painted. In a break from Roman and Florentine traditions, Caravaggio rejected the practice of refining his composition through drawings before he began to paint and instead worked directly from a live model in the studio, preserving that model’s particular appearance, never making the features or body conform to an ideal of beauty. The effect, central to Caravaggio’s art and that of many of his followers, was startling. At this time, many people believed that the painting of sacred personages such as saints called for a special, elevated style that set them apart from the mundane reality of the here and now. Caravaggio’s radical departure from this principle brought him much harsh criticism. He was accused of merely copying and so failing to capture a higher truth. But others recognized in his work a new kind of religious art that directly engaged the faithful and made old subjects new and alive.

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Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (Italian, 1571-1610)
Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness
1604-5
Oil on canvas
68 x 52 in (172.7 x 132.1 cm)
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. Purchase William Rockhill Nelson Trust

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Caravaggio’s practice of painting a live model in his studio brings this young, brooding saint to life – as if his image were inhabited by the model’s being. Ottavio Costa, a Roman banker, commissioned this painting for a chapel on a pilgrimage route in the countryside outside of Genoa, where his family had its origins. We can imagine what a powerful experience it would have been to encounter the image of the scarlet-robed saint there, dramatically emerging from the shadows into a strong light. When Caravaggio delivered the painting, Costa decided to keep it and placed a copy in the chapel. But even the copy proved inspiring. An early guide described how it “moves not only the members of the brotherhood but also visitors to penitence.”

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Gerrit van Honthorst (Dutch, 1592-1656)
Saint Sebastian
c. 1623
Oil on canvas
The National Gallery, London

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The Sacred Narrative

Caravaggio was a masterful storyteller who could bring home the drama and significance of a biblical event with tremendous power. In his scenes from the Old and New Testaments, he created a new kind of painting – dramatic, even theatrical, yet grounded in the observation of ordinary reality – and it proved infectious among his contemporaries in Rome. His approach was to make the scene clear and simple, with the main actors in the drama seen close-up and caught in midaction at a decisive moment, embodying the whole meaning of the event. He played down the setting, sometimes to the point that it is a mere pool of darkness from which the figures emerge. It was the actions and states of mind of the characters in the story that counted, and Caravaggio presented these with sometimes shocking directness and intensity, breaking all the rules of decorum that restrained more conventional painters. He mastered the art of concealing art, re-creating a scene with such a flavor of reality that it comes across as an eyewitness account. It was his power to draw viewers into the emotion and importance of a scene that made his work an essential object of study, even for such an independent genius as the great Peter Paul Rubens.

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Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (Italian, 1571-1610)
Martha and Mary Magdalene
c. 1598
Oil and tempera on canvas
38 1/2 x 52 1/4 in (97.8 x 132.7 cm)
Detroit Institute of Arts. Gift of the Kresge Foundation and Mrs. Edsel B. Ford

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Martha’s expressive hands, intensely illuminated, underscore her attempt to convert her sister Mary Magdalene from a life of worldly pleasures to one of spirituality. Several details recall Mary’s life of indulgence: the elegant dress, the ivory comb, the alabaster cosmetic jar. The mirror, a powerful symbol of vanity, becomes here an instrument reflecting the divine light that is penetrating Mary’s soul. Martha’s words seem to have been convincing, and her open mouth signals her amazement as she witnesses Mary’s transformation. The orange blossom in Mary’s right hand and the ring on her left indicate her new status as the blessed bride of Christ.

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Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (Italian, 1571-1610)
Sacrifice of Isaac
1602-3
Oil on canvas
41 x 53 1/8 in (104 x 135 cm)
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

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Kimbell Art Museum
3333 Camp Bowie Boulevard,
Fort Worth, TX 76107

Opening hours:
Tuesdays – Thursdays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Fridays, noon – 8 p.m.
Sundays, noon – 5 p.m.
Closed Mondays, New Year’s Day, July 4, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day

Kimbell Art Museum website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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