Archive for the Blessed Virgin Mary Category

Hidden Within Plain Sight?

Posted in 16th cent, Blessed Virgin Mary, LACMA, Leonardo, Vasari on December 7, 2011 by babylonbaroque

In reading this mornings NY Times, I was once again confronted with the ethical squeamishness of the ongoing search for the missing Leonardo fresco, the Battle of Anghiari. I love Leonardo as much as the next fellow, but I have always worried about the fate of my beloved Giorio Vasari’s fresco that is indeed with us, allegedly covering  The Battle of Anghiari. Whether or not Leonardo’s fresco is still behind the Vasari seems to me unclear; there has been extensive, seemingly thorough research into the whereabouts of the glamorous lost Leonardo, as this August 26th 2011 NYT article details but I have reservations. I am admittedly a dilettantish art enthusiast, but Leonardo’s desire to experiment is well known- we need look no further then the Last Supper, what painterly concoction had Leonardo  experimented with that would lead to the Vasari  commission? One need to read Vasari’s account of Leonardo to see what a huge crush he had on the man and his talents; he would not willy-nilly deface a great Leonardo. I’m fearful we will lose a Vasari for a crumbled ghost of a Leonardo.

I may be biased, Vasari has become a great inspiration to me, he is a meat-and -potatoes sort of painter, gifted but not stellar, best known for chronicling the luminaries of his culture. As an artist struggling with his inadequacies I can relate. In no way am I able to claim even a hint of Vasari’s skill and accomplishment; yet his facing head on the brilliance of Raphael, Michelangelo and Leonardo is admirable and worthy of emulation.

Today’s article pointed out that given Leonardo’s (well deserved ) celebrity, the Vasari could easily be compromised for a publicity stunt. Alesandro Mottola Molfino (God, I wish I had a name like that), president of Italia Nostra, a conservancy dedicated to preserving Italy’s cultural heritage, said it best: ” We’ve grown weary of using art history as an event or a marketing opportunity”. I frankly could not agree more, how have our museums so thoroughly debased themselves with blockbuster shows aimed solely at pleasing  the gift-shop-hungry hoards? Why must art be viewed as stunt or performance? I am often disheartened at the empty halls of LACMA, where I have the galleries of 15th and 16th century paintings to myself while the tedious Tim Burton exhibition is teeming with lighthearted revelers.

 I must stop, I’m ranting once again.

That said in my lonely meanderings I recently stumbled upon a Vasari at LACMA, I was unaware that we had one in Los Angeles. It is rather typical, large and attractive , perhaps hastily painted in his workshop-the Virgin’s club foot attests to a certain lack of quality control. But even with its terribly minor flaws it tickled my eye, far more satisfying then the mid-century kitsch being celebrated in the Resnick Pavillion below. Given the upcoming season, the feast day of our Savior’s birth, I thought it a fitting image for this post.

Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574)

Holy Family with Saint Francis in a Landscape

1542

oil on canvas 

LACMA

Click to enlarge, the details are worth the effort.

As I mentioned in my previous post I will be packing up my studio, preparing for a move to San Diego- my mother-in -law is unwell, I must tend to her. But my concern for this matter trumped my mundane duties, plus I really hate packing.

But I must, so Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, joyous winter celebrations to all.

See you most likely in 2012.

Until that time, take care,

BabylonBaroque

Madonna of the Goldfinch

Posted in Bach, Blessed Virgin Mary on December 22, 2010 by babylonbaroque

As Christmas nears my thoughts turn to the Madonna. I love the universality of the Blessed Mother, there is of course no denying she is a Christian image, but the glories of motherhood expand beyond dogma.

I love the many incarnations she has taken, but a favorite theme is one in which she and the Saviour are playing with a tame goldfinch. I love the domesticity, I of course love the bird, and I love the symbolism.


Madonna of the Goldfinch Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

1760

National Gallery of Art

Washington

The Goldfinch

Carel Fabretius

1654

The Hague

 

The goldfinch most often depicted is not the one I grew up with, the bright yellow beauty;the finch most often depicted has a bright happy red head.

The allegory of the goldfinch stems from thorns and thistles, the spiny thistle a source of food for this dear bird.

source

The symbolism is rich, the thistles and thorns can be traced from the beginning, in this case Genesis 3:17-18 “…cursed is the ground…it will produce thorns and thistles for you…”. This is of course after the fall of Adam and Eve. The Saviour to come ,will wear a crown of thorns, the thistle of Adam transformed .The goldfinch will affectionately try to relieve His suffering , in doing so blood will mark her little head, forever staining the finch.

The finch is also thought to be a symbol of our souls waiting to be saved.

Much rides on this little bundle of feather and joy.


This little charmer was captured by my dear friend Victor at  his home in  Pittsburgh which he shares with his lovely wife Clare and their enchanting brood.

 

 


The Tiepolo I featured first, happens to be a favorite, but it is not the most celebrated, Raffael’s version holds that honor.

Madonna del cardellino

Raffael

1507

Uffizi

I would like to look at other less familiar yet equally lovely examples; many from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, familiar friends.

The following by Baroccio really delights me, the coloring is exquisite of course; but the interplay between St. John, the finch, and the young cat is beautifully captured.

The Holy Family

Federigo Baroccio

National Gallery

London

There is a really delightful description of this ethereal painting at this link.

Madonna and Child with Saints Francis and Jerome

1500

Francesco Francia

active 1482-d. 1517/18

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Madonna and Child with Two Angels

Vittore Crivelli

active 1465-d.1501/02

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Madonna and Child

1506-1510

Boccaccio Boccaccino

1466-1524/25

Metropolitan Museum of Art

A particular favorite follows, I always made a point of visiting this painting. Perhaps it was the odd selection of produce overhead .

The coloring drives me mad. I love how the Child is squeezing the poor little bird just a little too tight, soon he we will be scolded.

Madonna and Child

1480

Carlo Crivelli

active 1457-1493

Metropolitan Museum of Art

I happen to have a client, quite devout, who from time to time I have the opportunity to paint for. On my last trip I painted a small mural incorporating Catholic symbolism. I happened to squeeze in a goldfinch of the bright yellow New Jersey variety as the mistress of the house hales from the same state as the author.

Let’s close with Bach’s Magnificat in honor of the Blessed Mother.

The Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and soloists directed by Ton Koopman.

Pax Vobiscum

Wishing all a blessed Christmas,

Babylon Baroque


Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Posted in Alphonse Mucha, Blessed Virgin Mary, Chris Ofili, Me, Otto Mueller, Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12, 2010 by babylonbaroque

Although it is difficult to forget Her feast day in this City of Angels, I did.

Driving around the streets of Boyle Heights , exploring with the Beloved, I stumbled upon many charming vignettes dedicated  to Marian devotion.

Somewhere in Boyle Heights

I particularly love the images of household necessities flanking the deity.

The tale of Juan diego’s encounter on December 9th 1531 is well known.In 1754 Benedict XIV declared the Guadalupe as Patroness of New Spain.

This official recognition of this unusual apparition would henceforth inspire fierce devotion and nationalistic pride.

If the Spaniards thought that switching the goddess Tonantzin with a brown skinned Madonna would secure indigenous loyalty to the Mother Church; they probably hadn’t counted on Miguel Hidalgo’s rallying his countrymen to revolution with his 1810 Cry of Independence, “Death to the Spaniards and long live the Virgin of Guadalupe”.

Standard of Miguel Hidalgo

1810

source

It is difficult to not feel that Virgin of Guadalupe has been used as a political tool for multiple agendas.

She isn’t the first incarnation of maternity to have aroused controversy, Chris Ofili’s The Holy Virgin Mary (1996) comes to mind. This painting caused a bit of a row in 1999 when it was part of the Brooklyn Museum’ s Sensation exhibition. Although the painting in my opinion is inoffensive, the controversy arose when area Catholics objected to Ofili’s use of elephant dung as one of the materials used to create the image. Ofili had used elephant dung in previous works as an exploration of his Nigerian heritage. That was not how the area Catholics saw it; the Holy Mother was being defamed.

The Holy Virgin Mary

1996

Chris Ofili

b. October 10th 1968

Manchester, England

source

more info

Alphonse Mucha expressed his outrage at the cultural excesses of the Austro Hungarian empires desire to annihilate Czech culture. His 1912 poster the Lottery of National Unity was an elegant campaign for funds needed  to support the private schools devoted to preserving the Czech language in the face of Teutonic repression.

Lottery of National Unity

1912

Alphonse Mucha

source

Although I have little to substantiate the claim  I personally  believe the German Expressionist painting by Otto Mueller (1874-1930)  The Polish Family expresses similar outrage at injustice.

The Polish Family

Otto Mueller

source

The unconventional interpretations of the Virgin inspired me to create  my own, drawing upon my brief tutelage under the Russian iconographer Vladislav Andreyev I attempted to create a visual Act of Contrition for Western Excess. Upon a base of reclaimed plywood, I assembled a day’s worth of my recycled trash. It is telling that although the plywood was 4 feet by 3, I was unable to make use of it all. The following is the modest result of my efforts, I am afraid it was perhaps best left as a theory. I appreciate your indulgence.

Our Lady of Perpetual Refuse

by the author

2010

Please enjoy this feast day as it draws to a near, if you are as fortunate as I am to be able to stumble upon impromptu shrines, enjoy them for their charm and heartfelt sentiment.

Take care, and have a marvelous week.

Respectfully submitted,

Babylon Baroque



Mucha Madness

Posted in 19th cent., Alphonse Mucha, Blessed Virgin Mary, Me, Mucha, Orientalist, Sarah Bernhardt on October 1, 2010 by babylonbaroque

It is difficult to not explore Mucha when discussing divine Sarah. The man was essential to her image of HighGlamour.

He has greatly influenced my taste from very early on.

As a boy of eight my wildly eccentric Nana presented me with a wonderful  Whitman’s tin, it bore the image of the familiar “Zodiac” panel (inside Nana had stuffed it with lead soldiers from WWI, marvelous toys). The tin was a wonder to me,   I probably loved it more then the soldiers ( as I said before, I was a sissy boy). This exotic box with it’s  scratched and rusted Orientalist decoration opened a world of beauty known as Mucha to me.

Thank you Nana, recquiscat in pace.

As I mentioned Mucha controlled, with meddling, Sarah’s image.

This famous poster of Miss Bernhardt from the production of Gismonda is well known.

Gismonda

1895 printed by Lemercier

It is one of my favorites.

The glamour shot that follows, it’s inspiration.

It is tempting to go on about Mucha’s work, but others have done a much finer job then I am capable of.

He is justly popular.

I will focus on the trivial, as that is where my talents happily  lie.

Let’s discuss Mucha’s pretty Studio, it’s a grand affair.

I’m thinking this is his second studio, rue Val de Grace, 1895. He had another,charmingly described as” above Madame Charlotte’s cremerie”. I  don’t profess to be a Mucha scholar, I just like pretty pictures.

Location may be uncertain, but it’s influence on my taste is abundantly clear. It is a magical place.

Mucha’s studio.

Anyone who knows my taste is aware of my affection for graven images, the Madonna front and center drives me mad.

I wish my own work warranted such brazen display.

Loving the stuffed pheasant, always room for taxidermy.

In my own modest way, I have attempted to recreate Mucha-stile in my own home studio.

Mucha-stile on a budget.

Authors home studio, my pugdog Daisy in foreground, dachshund  Buddy further on.

As I said Mucha still inspires, I still have the Whitman’s tin, more scratched and rusty as ever, but still treasured.

Nana’s gift to her sissy grandson.

The inspiration for the tin, the Zodiac panel.

Zodiac panel.

In addition to a shared love of writhing foliate bejeweled ornament and overdecorated studios, Alphonse Mucha and I share a birthdate. I am quite pleased with that coincidence.

Alphonse Maria Mucha

self portrait

b. July 24th 1860

d. July 14th 1939

(as I was born in “62 perhaps I will live to 2039 or so, hope so)

Mucha died in Czechoslovakia, a victim of Nazi harassment. Shortly after German occupation, they interrogated poor Alphonse. clearly a man capable of making such loveliness couldn’t handle the thuggery. He died shortly after the assault.

Although the Nazis had banned attendance to his funeral, 100,000 bravely defied the order and gave Mucha the respect due to a great genius.

Recquiscat in Pace

for further interesting tidbits, please check out  the Mucha Foundation site

Have a great weekend.

Good Shabbos!

Recquiscat in Pace Sts. Peters and Paul, Trenton Churches

Posted in 19th cent., architecture, Blessed Virgin Mary, Gothic Revival, Sacred Architecture, Trenton on August 3, 2010 by babylonbaroque

Saints Peter & Paul

The Belles Heures of Jean, Duke of Berry

The Cloisters

My intention had been to finish the second installment of my Gems of the Centennial Exhibition.

In my research I stumbled upon some sad news. Sad on a personal, perhaps spiritual level.

My beloved little church in my hometown of Trenton, Sts. Peter and Paul, was on the auction block.

Peter and Paul’s as the natives referred to it as, was the home base for my paternal grandmother, a Slovak woman, born and raised in this industrial part of South Trenton. One of many little ethnic neighborhoods making a claim to the American Dream; establishing families, communities, and churches, wondrous churches. My ancestors poured , what seems from my perspective, ridiculous sums of money as donations to establish churches that would represent their particular ethnic interests. This was happening all over the East coast, Trenton has it’s share of really lovely churches, Italian, Slovak, and Pole. So many folks built so many impressive churches, sacrificing effort, time, and hard earned cash.

Unfortunately neighborhoods change, the factory worker’s children become middle class, leaving behind charming neighborhoods, shops, and sadly these really lovely churches and the communities built around them.

Peter and Paul’s was one such church.

Sts. Peter and Paul

395 -403 Second Street

Trenton, N.J.

Although possessing a modest exterior, a dour grey stone, softened only by our Blessed Mother gazing down upon her faithful, I quickly grew to love  this church.

When I was nineteen my first partner Douglas and I purchased a charming little rowhouse around the corner from the church, in the late 80’s, we paid $5000.00, cash.

The neighborhood had fallen terribly, gangs, welfare folks, illegals. I didn’t notice the squalor, it was a delightful little house to claim as my own, with a teeny patch of land in which to plant radishes. When we told my Grandmother where we had moved she was delighted and startled. I hadn’t known my new neighborhood had been  where she was raised; she regaled me with neighborhood tales, but her spirit was dampened by her fear for my personal safety. She took comfort in that we were “two boys”.

I discovered Peters and Paul’s through her stories. I was looking for a church, looking for something, I’m still looking. Peters and Paul’s seemed like an opportunity.

It was. They had an early Mass, 5:30 am, I would stumble out of bed, slip through the alley between my street and the Church, and enter the rear side door, past the altar to the Blessed Virgin Mary. I quickly secured my own pew and my own position in this odd ball little congregation. The last few Slovaks left, loyal to the neighborhood, it’s traditions, and this church.

Or they were just broke.

I was enchanted time and again. In May, the month devoted to our Blessed Mother, homemade bouquets, often sweet blue hydrangeas from their gardens, were gathered by the Altar Guild. They were adorable in their coffee cans decorated by tin foil and ribbons. So much more wonderful then the costly spiritless arrangements made by the local florists. These tender bouquets, modest and sweet against the faded grandeur of this really magnificent neo-Romanesque interior really touched my personally, spiritually, and aesthetically.

If the exterior was essentially un-inspired, the interior compensated for the modesty. Romanesque influences abounded, a magnificent painted ceiling complete with strangely large Archangels. A very impressive High Altar ,resplendent in it’s polychromed marbles, intricate carvings, ignoring  Romanesque archetypes but delighting this particular peasant’s eye. Early electrical fixtures, elaborately fashioned Seraphs from which one bare little electric bulb offered illumination.

Amidst this splendor, were water stains, broken pipes, and neglect due to lack of funds.

But certain traditions were not to be ignored, finances be damned.

The front doors, which in the sad photo show as an unfortunate dingy white, were initially finished in a vernacular form of  faux bois. A curious finish which included adding beer to the paint, the result, an almost alarming orange-ish “oak”. I spoke to the artisan, he lived in the neighborhood, had been taught his craft as an apprentice, finishes such as this were mandatory if you were to be a reputable painter. He bemoaned the fact that cheap latex paints and a desire for economy had all but eliminated the use of his talents. He donated his services to the church. God love him.

Secular maintenance, though important, was not as valued as sacred tradition. The Sacristan’s duties were stringently enforced, Vatican II be damned.

Statuary was draped in purple during Holy Week, the Blessed Sacrament interred in a mock Sepulcher, the ceremonial procession making theatric use of the thurible (censor) and patent sprinkler. Our Lord protected under the umbraculum, a strange handheld umrella, ornamental in it’s swags, tassels, and embroidery. Charming, emotionally touching, and doomed. I knew, as a very young man, that these traditions were coming to an end. No more would our Virgin receive her purple shroud to signify Her, and our heart’s mourning for the dead Lord. The “ombrellino” would go into storage as an artifact of a primitive faith.

#1-holy water pot

#2 patent sprinkler

#3 thurible

#5 baldacchina

#6 umbraculum, “ombrellino”

And so it happened.

As I was moving away to brighter happier places, Peter and Paul’s was in the process of  it’s own changes. To accomadate the evergrowing Hispanic flock, Spanish masses were added. Initially there was some Slovak grumbling, but the transition went surprisingly well. The new members were dutiful, sincere, and frankly young, with children, energy ,and joy. The mutual love both communities shared for the Holy Mother smoothed the way.

I had hoped that would ensure the  future of Sts. Peter and Paul.

I guess not. The auction  sheet states that the sacred elements will be removed prior to closing.

But what about the devotional window of St. Anne, donated through sacrifice by some long dead parishioner. What about the crumbling fresco of St. John in the Baptistry? Will he be primed out and given a fresh coat of Contactor’s white?

My heart breaks at these changes.

I treasure my being able to witness the last moments of this one little sweet church.

I close with a few of the churches that seem to still thrive in the Capital City of Trenton.

Basillica Church of the Sacred Heart

founded 1819

Final construction, 3rd, as shown, 1899

another view of Sacred Heart

St. Hedwigs

A thriving church, popular with the Polish community

Interior of St. Hedwigs

This particular type of splendor, is frankly quite typical of so many Trenton churches. The desire to outshine Rome apparent.

Again, the strangely large painted Archangels.

Detail of St. Hedwig’s interior.

The light Rococo coloring, lovely and fresh.

Church coloring has always influenced my own work. The altar angels are wonderful, I covet them.

A procession at St. Hedwig’s making happy use of the Baldacchina.

The Umbraculum apparently wouldn’t have been sufficient to protect our Lord from the noonday sun.

Immaculate Conception

built 1888

This church, built and loved by Trenton’s  Italian community, was my father’s church. As a boy I looked up with  wonder at  the Neo Gothic architecture, it’s rich carvings, and it’s paintings, endless painting.

Immaculate  Conception inspired me to be an artist. I will never forget this church.

To indulge our Protestant brothers I include a few beauties.

St. Michaels Episcopal

established 1703

Last major alteration 1870, in the Fantasy Gothic style, after Lambeth Palace, the residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

I close with this country church, outside of urban Trenton. This Methodist church is in Groveville, where I was raised. Groveville is an early little town, rural in nature, mid-19th century  architecture, as far away from the Sopranos, Jersey Shore, and Real Housewives as you can get. It is my particular understanding of  what being from “Jersey” is all about.

Groveville Methodist Church

established 1837

built 1887 in the vernacular Methodist “plan-book” style.

Sts. Peter and Paul

chromolithograph 19th cent.

Have a great day.