Friday Art: Madonna & Child With Putto by Fiorentino Rosso (1522)

Mannerist paintings from the late Renaissance can often be a little bizarre, with long necks and weirdly shaped bodies… but this one, with it’s matching clown faced Jesus & Mary, has got to be my favorite.

I can’t believe a church actually hung this up after commissioning it. I guess I can understand whatever Tsar bought it for the Hermitage where it remains today. Hell, I’d put this on my wall just for laughs.

Jesus as baby Danny Bonaduce after the accident? Works for me.

Rosso came from Florence, but left Italy after one of the numerous sacks of Rome in the 1500s and wound up getting a steady position at the court of Francis I, the King of France.

To be fair, some of his other work is quite good – Descent From The Cross (1521) is considered his masterpiece, and it looks quite modern.

The stiffness of those bodies, the sharp lines and the colors reminds me of some Twentieth Century mural art. Here’s another one in the same style, Moses Defending The Daughters of Jethro, from 1523:

Same color palette, but this time those stiff bodies are slightly curvier.

Make them even more curvy, and I think you wind up with Thomas Hart Benton, which is why I find some of Rosso’s work so modern:

I mean, look at Benton’s People of Chilmark from 1920 – brighter colors, yeah, curvier bodies… but somehow the same vibe.

Even if Charlton Heston fought off those goat herders (including a young Mike Connors) without getting nekkid.

But Benton could have never come up with this kisser

Maybe Todd Phillips will make his dark-origins Taxi Driver-derivative film. Bethlehem as 1970s New York. I think it works, don’t you?

In the meantime, I’ll never tire of wondering what Rosso’s 1522 audience thought of his depiction of the Madonna & Child. Was there some sort of Susan Sontag-let’s-appreciate-kitsch movement lost to history? Or did they just think the world was ending and it didn’t matter anyway?

Whatevs. I’m glad it’s still around.

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Friday Art: Self Portrait With Doctor Arrieta by Francisco Goya (1820)

I’m home with a cold today, mostly resting.

Or trying to rest, while I keep one eye on the fire burning many miles away and another eye on the chance that my electricity might be turned off, since I’m in an area of North Korea California where they’re allowed to turn off people’s power so that they don’t have to pay for fires their unmaintained equipment causes.

Gee, I wish I had connections like that, don’t you?

So today’s theme is “feeling sick.” And while I’m not a victim of what may have actually been plague in Goya’s painting of Arrieta saving his life (which is what the inscription reads). Arrieta had studied plague and yellow fever in North Africa around this time, so it’s a plausible theory. Or, Goya was already in questionable health and was in his 70s, so he might have had a cold like mine and simply felt like he was gonna die.

Look at the doc, making the house call and also playing nurse – holding up the ailing Goya as he grips his bed sheet, while trying to get that glass of what I assume is medicine down as shadowy figures observe in the background.

Are they maids or servants? Doctor’s assistants? Ghosts and demons awaiting Goya, perhaps… sounds like something he’d throw in there.

Arietta would cure Goya, who’d live another 8 years. Goya painted this as a gift for Arietta. Hopefully he also paid his bill.

Maybe I’ll muster up enough energy to make some more mediocre football picks in another post later. Or maybe I’ll just take a nap.

Friday Art: Portrait of Theodore Duret by Edouard Villiard (1912)

Vuillard was a member of the Nabis, a group of French painters at the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries interested in composing pictures mixing tons of colors and patterns, mostly to create interior scenes inspired by Japanese prints. Later on, he painted more realistic scenes, although he continued to fill his canvases with a multitude of vibrant colors.

Duret, the subject of this portrait, was an art critic who wrote kindly of impressionists and post-impressionists and fauvists and Nabis and other assorted then-contemporary painters. With other critics often savaging them, I can see why Vuillard paints Duret so positively. He’s got his room filled with papers stacked high, some paintings on the wall – including a representation of Whistler’s portrait of Duret as a younger man reflected in the mirror in the upper right.

In a way, this creates a narrative of sorts for Duret’s life – we see that fuzzy mirror image of the portrait of the young man, well dressed in dark tails, hat in hand, ready to go out and review some piece of high culture, maybe. And now he sits as an older accomplished man, dignified with stacks of papers and books across his desk.

And most importantly – he’s got a cat in his lap. The BEST sign of success there is. And a hat-tip to Vuillard for capturing, in those impressionistic brush strokes, the annoyed look on the cat’s face that her routine has been interrupted by posing for the artist.

Dunno… I guess I sorta see myself in that painting. Just an old dude with a kitty, in a room piled high with books and papers. Life goals, y’know? Meow.

Here’s a bonus Vuillard, I like this one a lot because of it’s bright colors – and you can tell he’s gotten a bit more realistic with it, La Salle Clarac from 1922.

Friday Art: A Photograph Staged To Violate Every Aspect Of The Hays Code by A. L. “Whitey” Schafer, 1934.

I love the thinking behind this photo: “Tell me what I’m not allowed to do, and I’m going to do it just to flip you off.”

And what a great photo! A decade before film noir got going, and possibly what woulda been a fantastic lobby poster for a great sleazy murder story.

The photographer, A. L “Whitey” Schafer is, unfortunately, far lesser known than the more famous studio still photographers who specialized in glamour shots of the contract actresses. George Hurell or Clarence Sinclair Bull. He started out working for Thomas Ince in the early ’20s, moved on to run the photography department at Columbia by 1935, and then took over Paramount’s photo department in 1941. He died in a freak accident aboard a friend’s yacht in 1951. A stove exploded as he attempted to light it.

Schafer explained his technique of staging photos in an article for amateur photographers in Popular Science in 1943. Basically, never photograph anyone against a blank background (unless their outfit’s lines and patterns will draw the eye). Always have something there to frame them, and use those backgrounds to balance and frame the subject.

Here’s his publicity shot of Barbara Stanwyck for Double Indemnity (1944)

He uses that hat/coat rack in back of her, along with that rather loud necklace, to frame the soft shadows of her face. And is she ever in character for this one.

Don’t trust her, Fred MacMurray! Go back to Edward G. Robinson, he’s the true love of your life.

Shadows in the background can also be used for framing, especially when you want to emphasize darkness over light. How about some Marlene Deitrich?

Every now and then, some contemporary celeb will pose for black and white glamour shots like these, but it’s sadly a rarer and rarer art.

But kudos to Schafer, especially on that screw you to the Hays Code. In our current environment of overzealous speech policing, it’d be nice to see more of the same artful defiance from people these days.

Friday Art: Place Pasdeloup by Stuart Davis (1928)

Davis, an American artist from Philadelphia, started out influenced by Cubism, and then evolved into someone more interested in mixing symbols with his geometric shapes. I like all of his styles, but when he did material like Place Pasdeloup, the simple gray-black outlines of city corners and streets, combined with the solid blocks of color and primitive hand lettering, remind me of the backgrounds in old UPA cartoons.

Like this one:

Davis loved painting everyday objects like gas pumps or egg beaters, breaking them down into those wonderfully abstract geometric shapes and color blocks. He’d try to illustrate motifs and ideas he heard in Jazz, and influenced a lot of the pop artists of the 1960s.

Place Pasdeloup certainly looks empty and peaceful. Just an empty corner, no people, despite the sunny day and that wonderful scrawl in the sky – is it a wispy cloud? The path of a bird? A giant alien piece of string? Whatever it is, it just looks like it’s having a good time up there.

And the colors – the black against the yellow, opposite the French flag colors with some green on the bottom… all wonderfully balanced.

So happy Friday!

Friday Art: Contentment by Henriette Ronner-Knip

Ronner-Knip was a Dutch artist of the late 19th century who started out painting farms and animals, and after 1870, nearly exclusively painted cats.

Fluffy, pretty cats, too! Just look at that adorable momma cat and her kittens. Cats and kittens playing, or napping, or just sittin’ around looking adorable became her specialty, and she was one of the most widely known and popular woman painters in Europe during her lifetime.

She’d continue to paint cats just as pretty as this until her death. Unlike Louis Wain, an artists I really have to talk about more on here since his descent into CAT MADNESS makes me wonder about my own future, her style of painting them really didn’t change.

But cats’ beauty and elegance is eternal, isn’t it? Happy Friday!

Friday Art: Fragment of a Last Judgment Triptych by Hieronymus Bosch

This is one of two fragments of a lost triptych that’s attributed to Bosch because, well, come on! Nobody else in the entire history of art painted messed up visions of hell like this!

My favorite part of this are the two walking nun’s heads in the lower right. The Bosch visions of hell found in various triptych panels of his feature so many mutants, demons and animals dressed in human clothes torturing or sodomizing sinners in the underworld that after a while they start to look like weird acid trippy cartoons designed to scare kids on Saturday mornings. I’d like to think that’s why the churches hired Bosch to paint this stuff to put on display every week at Mass. What better way for the illiterates out there to get Clive Barker-esque imagery to match the sermon’s warnings about the results of sins?

This panel is also known as “The Death of the Reprobate,” who I assume is the central figure in the bed surrounded by demons and debauchery, never mind the weird lizards and spider-scorpion-thing on the floor.

Back to my favorite: those two walking monk & nun’s heads, a matching set. I’d like to hear them offering some sort of Statler & Waldorf commentary on the sins of the reprobate, with a few good punch lines.

I love Bosch. There’s always so much going on in his monster-sized tableau, always a new bit of weirdness to pick up on and wonder WTF? Breugel would do similar stuff, and while works like “The Triumph of Death” approach Bosch levels of horror movie weirdness, Bosch’s unreal creatures and mutations make the difference. The idea of people actually believing the reality of the cosmos he painted is mind blowing. In modern movies, we get deformed hell-demons and the like, whether it’s pea-soup vomiting Linda Blair or the apartment house full of demonic carnival freaks conjured up by Burgess Meredith at the end of The Sentinel (a must see item!), but Bosch’s stuff just looks… well…. comical. It’s like Charles Addams drew hell, or something only a few steps away from what Don Martin might have come up with.

After all, we all know hell really looks like this:

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