White Baroque

If you strip the grandiose language of the Baroque of its color, does it lose any of its flavor?

• Marc Quinn’s Archeology of the Baroque eliminates the vibrant color of the orchid to focus on the ornate frills of its petals.

• The Valentino Spring 2012 Couture Collection took inspiration from the extravagant and pastoral tastes of Marie Antoinette.

• Jamie Desel’s Frame is made of hardwood with plaster detailing inspired by 19th century decorative art.

• Alice Word’s Earrings suspend freshwater pearls from sterling silver quatrefoils.

• This Necklace is a single strand of blue-grey pearls.

• This Chair by Fabulous and Baroque is made of mahogany upholstered with shiny white faux croc.

• Esther van Schagen’s Shoes are hand made from burnished gold leather for a little Baroque-inspired extravagance.

• Amy’s Framed Chalkboards display your to-do list in ornate teal-green carvings.

• Stacy El Khudary’s Mirror is a double dose of white Baroque detailing with a slightly distressed finish.

• Dan Kemp’s Ring is a heavy, ornate Baroque flourish carved from sterling silver.

Wild Wine

It is the wine that leads me on, the wild wine that sets the wisest man to sing at the top of his lungs, laugh like a fool – it drives men to dancing…it even tempts him to blurt out stories better never told.
– Homer, The Odyssey

• Gian Lorenzo Bernini created his Bacchanal when he was just eighteen, but it already displays his unique ability to charge marble with drama and dynamic movement. He repeats the upwards spiral of figures in his much larger work, Daphne and Apollo. Both are tales of metamorphosis which he freezes in the process of transformation. The Bacchanalia, or Dionysia, were often secret parties of drinking, drama, crime, and political conspiracies.

• Etienne Menau’s Carafes are glass veins that turn red as you pour the wine.

• Paulette Tavormina’s Fish Bone is a photograph that recreates the luscious and quiet atmosphere of Pieter Claesz’ several still lifes depicting half-eaten fish. The leftovers of a feast, a small glimpse into a private corner of someone’s life, are just as engaging now as they were in the 17th century.

• This Wine Rack by Scrap Iron Designs is made from an industrial sprocket that transforms into an elegant and unusual way to store your wine.

• Joseph Ryan’s Wine Glass depicts creamy drapery fluidly moving into the background and crystal with the natural linen fiber occasionally showing through.

• Jennifer’s Wine Glass has a plum-colored blown glass spiral going around the outside.

• Jaime Marr’s Wine Holder displays one glass with a deep red glass curve that’s attached to a wood base.

• Michael Weiss’ Hanging Lantern frames two lights in interlocking rings of recycled wine barrels.

• Brad Evans’ Votive (or dipping sauce holder) is made from the inverted curve of a wine barrel.

• Elena’s Cufflinks frame cork stained with Pinot noir wine in scratch and tarnish resistant brass.

• John Almaguer’s Goblet has a sculpted glass spiral as the stem and foot filled with another spiral of ruby red.

Sicilian Still Life

But the garden, hemmed and almost squashed between these barriers, was exhaling scents that were cloying, fleshy, and slightly putrid, like the aromatic liquids distilled from the relics of certain saints; the carnations superimposed their pungence on the formal fragrance of roses and the oily emanations of magnolias drooping in corners; and somewhere beneath it all was a faint smell of mint mingling with a nursery whiff of acacia and the jammy one of myrtle; from a grove beyond the wall came an erotic waft of early orange blossom.
– Giuseppe di Lampedusa, The Leopard

• Caravaggio’s Still Life with a Basket of Fruit (1601) embodies the saintly and putrid qualities of the Leopard’s garden in Sicily. Insects have eaten into the fruit and the leaves are dry and shriveled. But the golden background gives the composition a saintly glow, as if the decayed fruit was on display as a relic. Today is Caravaggio’s 441st birthday.

• The Dolce & Gabbana Spring 2013 Collection played with Sicilian straw and raffia craftsmanship by using the materials as the visible infrastructure of their dresses.

• Masao Seki’s Basket is made of wire so thin it looks like a line drawing floating in space.

• Brad’s Fruit Platter is section of a wine barrel that cradles your still-life perfectly.

• Billie’s Twined Basket is a simple yet timeless way to display your goods.

• Caravaggio’s Boy with a Basket of Fruit (1593) displays grapes, peaches, apples, cherries, figs, pomegranates, and pears in perfect condition. The leaves that extend over the edge of the basket show signs of decay. Sicilian painter Mario Minniti was the model for the boy, whose eyes and posture melt with overripe languor.

• Listen to the frequencies of fruit in the Natura Morta symphony.

• Julie’s Basket has a natural ceramic sheen with a golden yellow inside.

• Laetitia Florin’s Bidum Basket is a vibrating container that you can fit a human body into.

• This Sicilian Basket is handcrafted in Sicily from palma nana straw and decorated with colorful pompoms and mirrors.

Metamorphosis

Her slender arms were changed to branches and her hair to leaves. Her feet but now so swift were anchored fast in numb stiff roots, her face and head became the crown of a green tree.
– Ovid, Metamorphoses

• Bernini transformed sculpture with a story of transformation. He solidified Apollo desperately chasing Daphne as she turns into a tree. Solid marble becomes light and fluid, creating a continuous story as the viewer walks around the figures in motion. Cardinal Scipione Borghese commissioned it for his villa in 1622 where it remains today.

The Alexander McQueen Spring 2011 Collection includes a dress that covers the body just barely with a scattering of black flowers.

• The surface of Laura’s Morph Bowl resembles uneven washes of ink, with drawings of screw heads spinning butterfly wings into motion.

• Adriana’s Black Butterfly Ring spreads its sleek wings across your fingers.

• These Wall Butterflies by Bugs Loft create a congregation of 80 three-dimensional pairs of wings in various shapes and sizes.

• Alhad’s Paper Art Silhouette is cut from a single sheet of paper into swirling clouds and butterflies.

• Joo Lee Kang’s Metamorphosis questions how humans transform and manipulate natural processes with a spiral of of paper-cut wings that looks like a strand of DNA.

• By repetition and recombination, Foscarini’s Metamorphosis Installation transforms lamps into a symphonies of light.

• Martha’s Silver Cuff wraps floral motifs, butterflies, and birds around a black onyx gem.

• Stacy’s Black and White Vase depicts the stylized shape of a butterfly, wings folded into the curved side.

Perfect Fruit

• Francisco de Zurbarán, Still Life with Lemons, Oranges, and a Rose, 1633
Two White Coffee Cups
Japan’s Obsession with Perfect Fruit

Would you pay $25 for an apple, $83 for twelve strawberries, or $419 for three melons? That’s what Senbikiya, a store in Tokyo, asks for their perfect fruit, carefully cultivated, selected, and displayed as luxury items rather than food. The business would never succeed in New York, but giving perfect fruit as a gift is popular in Japan.

The rich tradition of still-life painting tells the story of fruit as a symbol of luxury, decay, perfection, and spirituality. Take a close look at Zurbarán’s Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Rose. The more you look at the painting, the less edible the fruit seems to be. Zurbarán renders each object with such precision and clarity that the three arrangements appear to float above the wood table, suspended and separate from everyday consumption. The composition alludes to the Holy Trinity, with the thornless rose and white cup symbolizing Virgin Mary. At the same time, it’s just an arrangement of fruit.

See and Be Seen

Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa is not simply a marble sculpture in its own right, but rather one part of a grandiose display of Baroque drama and Bernini’s unsurpassed innovation and skill. The onlookers are members of the Cornaro family, who commissioned the chapel, and by placing them in a theater box, Bernini sets up a relationship between the main sculpture and the viewer as that of a stage and audience. He fused architecture and sculpture in an unprecedented manner that exemplified the Baroque ideals of drama and ornamentation but took them to an even more intense level. The sculpture is unmistakably sexual in nature, which is such a bold move on his part that it fits with the already over-the-top setting.

Box Seats at the Theater by Félix Vallotton takes the opposite viewpoint, and the audience members are now the focus of the painting, gazing down as we observe unnoticed. The angle is strange in the sense that it’s hard to imagine an actual seat where the viewer is positioned, which might have been intentional on the part of the artist. Vallotton’s extensive work with woodcuts seems to have influenced his clean lines and minimal, yet effective, composition. The one shadow coming from the lady’s glove subtly anchors the scene to reality, but such a stylized depiction of a common subject leaves an eerie and unresolved feeling.

Lautrec’s La Loge is characteristic of the artist’s fascination with the Parisian crowd that frequented brothels, nightclubs, and theaters.

The performance was only a small part of the theater experience, and most people went in order to see and be seen. The balconies and box seats, as many of these works depict, were the ideal place to observe who was sitting with whom, who was not attending, and who was wearing what. Mary Cassatt’s At the Opera portrays this dynamic in a way that highlights the compositional nuances that appealed to artists at the time. Looking takes on a more complex meaning, as we are not sure whether the woman is looking at the stage or at someone in the audience, and the man in the distance staring in our direction remains a mystery. Our own viewpoint with respect to the woman is also questionable, as Cassatt further exploits the ambiguity of observation at the theater.

Drape Me in Red

While Michelangelo was painting large-scale musculature in the Sistine Chapel, Northern Renaissance artists were depicting the same religious scenes with a seemingly opposite visual outlook. Gerard David’s Virgin and Child with Four Angels is only about a foot in length with meticulous detail in the background and golden pattern on the edge of Mary’s robe, suggesting that each brushstroke was produced with a single hair. As Michelangelo displays his artistic skill through his evident understanding of human anatomy, Gerard chooses to focus on the sumptuous red folds of Mary’s robe. The drapery itself does not reveal anything about the shape of Mary’s body, but takes on a life of its own to reflect Gerard’s technique and religious sentiment.

Luther once referred to Pope Leo X as one who “allows himself to be called an earthly god and even tries to command the angels in heaven,” as though this was a contradictory and blasphemous notion. However, the papacy at the time was actively asserting its power with precisely this kind of image through the patronage of art, science, and learning in general. Raphael’s portrait of Leo X is not only living proof of this widespread patronage, but it is a direct visual representation of the connection between the Church, art, and power. The different tones of red envelop the viewer in a way that forces him or her to come to terms with the Pope’s power as tangible and ubiquitous.

Pope Leo X with two cardinals (1518) by Raphael • Fashion by Giambattista Valli via Style

The oozing eroticism of Caravaggio’s Musicians , on the other hand, was meant for the eyes of a few, including his patron Cardinal Del Monte. Here, the red cloth provides a focal point for the complex composition, while echoing the languorous eyes and fleshy lips of the figures.

While Caravaggio suggests sensuality through composition and realistic elements, John Singer Sargent uses loose brushstrokes to convey an uninhibited sexuality that seems to explode beyond the edges of the page. Underlying the strokes of watercolor is a deep understanding of form and anatomy, as the red cloth flows into his groin and around his body. Although any specific area looks abstract, the overall effect is quite powerful, proving that sometimes the sketches are more interesting than the finished products.

Schiele’s Female Nude Seated on Red Drapery evokes a similar idea through contour and bold color, as the red drapery is merely a tool towards expressing a raw sensuality free from associations with religion, money, and power.

Infanta Margarita

The 17th century Spanish court was beginning to show signs of decay. It was in serious financial trouble, sometimes not being able to pay the cooks or buy enough firewood, and yet had to maintain a semblance of the lavishness it was reputed for. Philip IV had no male heir, so his daughters, The Infanta Margarita Teresa and her sister, were his only hope of continuing the royal line. As the court painter, Velasquez sought to immortalize this delicate atmosphere, relying on the King’s support and enthusiasm for fine art.

Philip was the only one who would have seen Velasquez’s paintings, so it’s not surprising that many of his works are portraits of the Infanta, as she was virtually the only symbol of hope the king had. At the same time, Velasquez depicts a kind of doll-like fragility in her rigid stance and ambiguous expression that seems to mirror the unpredictability of her future and the one of the Spanish court. The thin, almost translucent layers of brushstrokes give her an ethereal quality that reveals Velasquez’s impeccable technical skills as well as his subtle and intellectual approach to painting.

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Strands of Expression

Piero di Cosimo’s Portrait of Simonetta Vespucci depicts the Florentine noblewoman and mistress of one of the Medicis in the characteristic early-Renaissance style. Emulating Roman aesthetics was an integral part of the intellectual and visual Renaissance world, evident in the elaborate hairstyle and associations with Cleopatra. The intricate braiding and delicate strands of pearls was an elaboration on the already individualistic and decorative styles of Roman times. Botticelli, on the other hand, applies the same dynamic quality to his hair as he does to his flesh and flowing outlines. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his depiction of the three Graces in Primavera, where the fluidity of the gestures, folds of transparent cloth, and long locks of golden hair all create a vivid harmony.

Italian Renaissance aesthetics influenced their northern neighbors, although there is a still a distinct Flemish flavor to St. Cecilia by the circle of Ambrosius Benson. The patron saint of music looks rather reserved, as the pallor of her face and black background highlight the sumptuous red hat, ordered rows of pearls and ruffles, and perfectly formed flaxen ringlets.

Velasquez’s portrait of Maria Teresa, an infanta of Spain, reflects a restrained ambiguity that he applied to his depictions of royal personages, as the court was slowly crumbling in its own decadence. The girl’s indecipherable face is surrounded by hair that is twice the size, decorated with translucent silver fans, as the creamy brushstrokes are illuminated against a dark background.

The risque locks of Courbet’s Woman with a Parrot were more provocative than the 19th century French audience was used to, as her languished pose sinks into the folds of sheets that flow into messy strands of curls.

On the other hand, George Romney’s Portrait of Lady Elizabeth Hamilton falls into the more gentile Georgian portraiture phase of English painting. He was known for his classical references in particular, and worked with a romanticized sensibility that was popular at the time, as her hair is swept up almost carelessly to fit with her pensive expression.

There seems to be an erotic quality associated with depictions of women combing their hair, bathing, etc. across cultures and time periods that involves an idealization of the female form. The simple outlines of Kitawana Utamaro’s woodblock print Bijin Combing Her Hair is reminder of how these mass-produced prints that became so popular in the west were often depictions of famous local beauties from Edo. Titian’s Young Woman Combing her Hair is suggestive in a different way, as the blouse slightly slipping off her shoulder might indicate, revealing the particularly fleshy form that Titian was known for.

Blood

The concept of blood has always had the power to evoke powerful emotion, so here are a few Halloween-inspired images and paintings.

Blood Orange Sorbet RecipeThirst — EarringsUntitled, 2005 by Anish Kapoor

Rubens was one of the only post-Renaissance painters to deal with the gruesome subject of Medusa, and his depiction of the famous myths focuses more on her chilling stare even in the pale state of death. He is able to display his skill as a painter through the detail of the insects which seem to be mingling with the blood, replacing his characteristic soft brushstrokes with a realism that portrays an emotional intensity, appropriately instilling fear in the viewer.

More about his Medusa

Fashion designer Giambattista Valli. Blood red • Head of Medusa by Peter Paul Rubens

Turner was one of the first painters to start using paint itself as a means of expression, and perhaps his Slave Ship is one of the most forceful examples. His brushstrokes have an agitated quality to them, as he depicts slaves being thrown overboard to die in the choppy waters. The blood of the dying blends in with the oranges and reds of the sunset, creating an almost suffocating sense of violence and tragedy. It is his brushstrokes that give us the right to interpret his view and criticism of how slaves were thrown overboard during his time because the owners of the ships could only receive insurance if they had drowned.

Fashion designer Giambattista Valli. Blood red • Phase 1—2 by Jordan Eagles. Blood preserved on white Plexiglas, resin • Slave Ship by J.M.W.Turner

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