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  • Empires - The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance
    Empires - The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance
    A fascinating and highly entertaining look at one of the most important families of the Renaissance era--the Medici.
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    “Sister Wendy Beckett has transformed public appreciation of art through her astonishing knowledge, insight and passion for painting and painters.” This set includes Sister Wendy's Story of Painting, Sister Wendy's Odyssey, and Sister Wendy's Grand Tour. Simultaneously delightful and scholarly--this is a must have for anyone interested in art history.

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Entries in Italian Renaissance (14)


Schiavone: Vigorous - Fluid - Painterly

Andrea Schiavone - The Marriage of Cupid and Psyche - 1540s - Oil on wood, transferred to masonite - Overall, with corners made up, 51 1/2 x 61 7/8 in. (130.8 x 157.2 cm); painted surface 50 1/2 x 61 1/2 in. (128.3 x 156.2 cm) - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (click photo for larger image)Andrea Schiavone (Andrea Meldolla) (c. 1510-1563) was an Italian painter and etcher, born in present-day Croatia.  His nickname "Schiavone" means Slav, reflecting the fact that he came from Zara, Dalmatia (then under Venetian jurisdiction).

He worked mainly in Venice, where he was on friendly terms with Titian, who—along with Parmigianino—was one of the main influences on his style. (The latter are both discussed elsewhere on What About Art?). Schiavone’s most characteristic works were small-scale religious or mythological scenes for private patrons, executed in a vigorous, painterly style. 

The painting featured here represents the marriage of the god Cupid (son of Venus) with the mortal Psyche, in the presence of Juno, Jupiter, Mars, and other gods of Olympus, as narrated by Apuleius in The Golden Ass. Originally an octagon (the four corners are additions), it was the central panel of a ceiling with scenes from the legend of Psyche painted by Schiavone in about 1550 for the Castello di Salvatore di Collalto, in the hills to the north of Venice. Schiavone’s fluid and painterly style and the exaggerated proportions of his figures were inspired by Parmigianino (discussed elsewhere on What About Art?) and were in turn important to a younger generation of painters, such as Tintoretto (also discussed elsewhere on this site).


Alessio Baldovinetti: Sensitivity and an Engaging Blend of Qualities

Alessio Baldovinetti - Nativity - 1460-62 - Fresco, 400 x 430 cm - Santissima Annunziata, Florence (click photo for larger image)Alessio Baldovinetti (c. 1425-1499) was a Florentine painter, mosaicist, and worker in stained glass. His training is unknown, but his graceful, and refined style shows the influence of Domenico Veneziano and Fra Angelico, both of whom are discussed elsewhere on What About Art?. Baldovinetti’s work reveals a remarkable sensitivity to light and landscape and an engaging blend of naivety and sophistication.

“Baldovinetti's Annunciation is in the atrium of Santissima Annunziata in Florence. His interest in local landscape is evident in the Arno Valley view that he chose as the background of this fresco. In fact he painted only a few portions of the picture in true fresco, and then waited until the plaster had dried so that he could paint 'a secco.' But because the fresco was located in an atrium exposed to winter fogs and even rain, in time the a secco faces, hands, and drapery peeled off, and his underdrawing is now visible. Even so, the painting is impressive in the airy openness of its setting and the view over the expansive Tuscan plain, which is filled with the light of a clear winter day.” (Web Gallery of Art)


Botticelli: Always a Mystery

Sandro Botticelli - The Mystical Nativity - c. 1500 - Tempera on canvas, 109 x 75 cm - National Gallery, London (click photo for larger image)Sandro Botticelli (c. 1445 - 1510) was one of the greatest Renaissance masters, largely because “…he bridged the gap between the Medieval Gothic style of painting and an emerging Humanist Realism” (The Art Story). He studied under Fra Filippo Lippi, and worked to improve the comparatively soft, frail figural style he had learned from his teacher. To this end he studied the sculptural styles of Antonio Pollaiuolo and Andrea del Verrocchio, the leading Florentine painters of the 1460s. Under their influence, Botticelli produced figures of sculptural roundness and strength. He also replaced Lippi’s delicate approach with a vigorous naturalism, shaped always by conceptions of ideal beauty. All of these artists, including Botticelli, are discussed elsewhere here on “What About Art?”. 

There is no documentary evidence to prove whether or not Botticelli was one of the Dominican monk Savonarola's followers. But certain themes in his later works, such as The Mystic Nativity, are certainly derived from the sermons of Savonarola, which suggests that the artist was definitely attracted by that personality.

Some scholars believe that this painting, the only surviving work signed by Botticelli, was created for his own private devotions, or for someone close to him. It is certainly unconventional, and does not simply represent the traditional events of the birth of Jesus and the adoration of the Shepherds or the Magi. Rather it is a vision of these events inspired by the prophecies in the Revelation of Saint John. 

Botticelli has underlined the non-realism of the picture by including Latin and Greek texts, and by adopting the conventions of medieval art, such as discrepancies in scale, for symbolic ends. The Virgin Mary, adoring a gigantic infant Jesus, is so large that were she to stand she could not fit under the thatch roof of the stable. These are, of course, the holiest and the most important persons in the painting.


Nakedness and the Nude

Michelangelo - The Fall and Expulsion - 1509 - Fresco - Sistine Chapel, Vatican, Rome (click photo for larger image)The nude is classic, timeless, elemental, primal, and universal. Although our physical being eventually ends—in the hands of an artist, that fleeting, imperfect, and fragile “package” gains a noble immortality and perfection that transcends its mere physicality. While the nude suggests beauty in its purest form—nakedness implies vulnerability, fear, and shame.

Although there we certainly nude figures created by non-Western cultures dating back many thousands of years (particularly fertility figures and figures associated with religious practices) the tradition of the nude actually begins with the heroic male of the classical period in Greece (6th-5th century BCE). Thus, historically, with a few exceptions, the nude is mainly a phenomenon of Western art. Notably, the nude male and the nude female of that tradition were treated quite differently—and remain so to this day. The male nudes of Greco-Roman antiquity portrayed gods—and idealized versions of real heroes. From around the 4th century BCE and following, sculptors did begin to depict female nudes, but there were generally of goddesses such as Aphrodite and Venus (the latter being the Roman counterpart of Aphrodite). Generally, however, it remained indecorous for female portraits to depict nudity.

During the Middle Ages—and with the development of Christianity—the nude is rarely found except in depictions of Adam and Eve. Such scenes often show lovely nude bodies of which the owners are unashamed—until their first sin is committed. The figures then become naked—riddled with shame and not nearly as attractive.

With the Renaissance revival of antiquity, nudity began once again to become not only respectable, but indeed a major theme in the visual arts. The distinction between nudity and nakedness, however, also remained quite compelling—as seen in Michelangelo’s Fall and Expulsion panels on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel. In his interpretation, the beautiful, perfect youths in the Garden suddenly become older, uglier, and even somewhat misshapen as a result of their sin.

It is interesting to note that the nakedness approach to the female form emerged quite strongly during the Modern era. But…that is a tale for another time!


Raphael in 3D

Raphael - The Agony in the Garden - completed ca. 1505 - Oil on wood - 9 1/2 × 11 3/8 in. (24.1 × 28.9 cm) - The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (click photo for larger image)Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino—more commonly known as Raphael (1483-1520)—is featured in numerous posts on this site. He is universally regarded as one of the great masters of the Italian Renaissance, right up there with Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) and Michelangelo (1475-1564) (also well covered by What About Art?).

The panel featured here was originally part of the base (predella) of the Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints. It shows Christ praying in the garden before his arrest with his disciples asleep around him. There were two accompanying panels: the Procession to Calvary and the Lamentation over the Dead Christ. The small angel holding the chalice was an afterthought, replacing an earlier idea to have the chalice sit alone on the rocky hill. Most scholars believe that the altarpiece was completed in 1505, but begun at an earlier date.

Trafalgar Releasing is promoting the release of an exciting film, Raphael. Raphael is the first film adaptation of the life and work of the artist. The project has been developed by the creators of Florence and the Uffizi Gallery in 3D and The Vatican Museums in 3D, and has been supported by contributions from some of the best creative talents from the Italian film industry. The film presents a unique opportunity for US-based audiences to immerse themselves in the world of the Italian master. Taking audiences on a journey through 20 different locations, the film features two major exclusives, the Vatican Logge and Cardinal Bibbiena’s apartment in the Apostolic Palace. It also allows viewers to enjoy over 30 of Raphael’s masterpieces and, with selected 3D screenings, Raphael promises to bring the artist, his art and the audience closer than ever before. By all means, try to catch it at a 3D theater. The experience will be unforgettable! 

Click on this LINK to check out the newly-released trailers on YouTube!