Stripes

August 14th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

There are two new wetsuits for surfers that are meant to protect wearers from shark attacks. There was an article and video in the Guardian (18 July 2013) on the suits, and here’s the LINK. One has a wavy camouflage print and the other has bold black and white stripes.

anti-shark wetsuit

The makers say the camouflage suit will hide you from a shark, while the striped suit will warn a shark to stay away.  It’s the striped one that made me think of stripes in art. First, because of Raphael’s Swiss Guards in the Mass at Bolsena fresco in the Vatican. However friendly and fetching the stripes of the Swiss Guard are, I guess they’re not meant to be so. (His Madonna della Seggiola in the Pitti has stripes that bring to mind the ancient Middle East and are more refined.)

Mostly, when I think of stripes I think of Domenico Tiepolo and have posted a number of his drawings below. Most of Domenico Tiepolo’s drawings are wonderful, but when he puts in stripes, they get to be extra wonderful. They’re worn by biblical era characters, entertainers, footmen, ladies and gentlemen, and even donkeys. Details of the stripes are below, and the full drawings are in the gallery.

Domenico Tiepolo - An Encounter During a Country Walk - Detail - National Gallery of Canada

Domenico Tiepolo – An Encounter During a Country Walk – Detail – Black chalk underdrawing, pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash – National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa – (inv. ref. 17582)

Domenico Tiepolo - Captive Birds - Detail

Domenico Tiepolo – The Captive Birds – Detail – Pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash – 296 x 421 mm – Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge (inv. ref. 75.1984)

Domenico Tiepolo - Supplicants Before Pope Paul IV -  Pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash - 463 x 362 mm - Princeton University Art Museum - (inv. ref. 1948-1289)

Domenico Tiepolo – Supplicants Before Pope Paul IV – Detail – Pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash – 463 x 362 mm – Princeton University Art Museum – (inv. ref. 1948-1289)

 

Domenico Tiepolo - The White Horse - Detail - Pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash - 300 x 420 mm - Comte de Ganay,  Paris

Domenico Tiepolo – The White Horse – Detail – Pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash – 300 x 420 mm – Comte de Ganay, Paris

Domenico TIepolo - Flight into Egypt - Detail - Morgan Library

Domenico Tiepolo – The Flight into Egypt – Detail – Pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash – Pierpont Morgan Library, New York (inv. ref. IV,148)

Domenico Tiepolo - Jesus Walking on the Water - Black chalk underdrawing, pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash -  487 x 375 mm - Louvre, Paris (inv. no. RF 1713.BIS, 75)

Domenico Tiepolo – Jesus Walking on the Water – Detail -  Black chalk underdrawing, pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash – 487 x 375 mm – Louvre, Paris (inv. no. RF 1713.BIS, 75)

Calamaro and Calamaio

July 18th, 2013 § 3 comments § permalink

In Italian the word for inkwell is calamaio, which is very close to the word calamaro, meaning squid, as in the calamari fritti one sees on the menus of seafood restaurants. Looking at a squid, you wouldn’t think that it’s part of the mollusk family, but by eating the chewy rings, you realize it’s pretty close to a clam. It’s a soft bodied mollusk or cephalopod, like cuttlefish or octopus. Unlike a clam, it doesn’t have a hard shell for protection. Instead it has “ink” that it can squirt out to confuse and arrest predators. (Nautilus are the only cephalopods with protective shells.)

As calamaio (inkwell) and calamaro (squid) are so close, it’s natural to want to recognize a calamaio as a receptacle for squid ink. However, this isn’t the case. Squid ink, or any other type of cephalopod ink, was rarely used, largely because of its tendency to fade. For a post on sepia ink, please see below or follow this link.

 

Workshop of Severo da Ravenna - Cleveland Museum of Art

Workshop of Severo da Ravenna – Inkwell and Candlestick with the Infant Hercules Killing the Serpents – c. 1510 – 1520 – Bronze – 21 x 11 x 13 cm – Cleveland Museum of Art – Inv. ref. John L. Severance Fund 1954.798

 

The Italian word calamaio actually comes from the Latin word calamus (kalamos in Greek) which means cane or reed. Pens, which were made from reeds, were known as calami, as were other objects made from reeds, like flutes and fishing poles. (Pens made from bird feathers or quills came into use only later, in the early Middle Ages.)

What’s fascinating about squid is that they carry not only ink, but also a reed-like pen within them. Just below is a photograph, courtesy of Shannan Muskopf and her site biologycorner.com, of drying pens dissected from squid. The Latin word for squid is lolligo. So it seems then that the Italian word for the sea creature comes from calamus, or reed. In English, “pen and ink fish” is a colloquial name for squid, and it makes good sense.

 

Squid pens

Squid Pens – Courtesy of Shannan Muskopf and biologycorner.com

 

To underscore the fact that cephalopod ink was seldom used, there aren’t squid decorated inkwells. Riccio, Severo da Ravenna, and the other crazily imaginative Paduan makers of small bronzes, would have found it irresistible to ornament inkwells with squid or cuttlefish if they were using their ink. Granted, they are not that easily represented, but this wouldn’t have stopped these sculptors.

Sepia Ink

May 17th, 2013 § 1 comment § permalink

It’s tempting to try and specify the kind of brown ink that’s been used in the making of an old master drawing. Iron-gall (black, but changes to brown over time) and bister were the two most commonly used inks. Sometimes, people will refer to any brown ink old master drawing as being in sepia. Maybe it’s because they’re so used to hearing that everything is made from petroleum, that the idea of ink coming from a sea creature is quaint and charming. Maybe it has to do with the 19th c. sepia drawings and the chemical approximation of sepia in 19th century photographs. (The continuing appeal of sepia coloration is clear from the photography edit for “sepia effect” on the computer or cellphone.) Instead, sepia was rarely used before the late 18th century.

Sepia (also called cuttlefish), as well as octopus and squid, are soft-bodied mollusks, known as cephalopods (cephalo-head/pod-foot). Most cephalopods produce a dark fluid that they can expel to hide themselves from predators. Its primary component is melanin, related to the pigment that colors our skin and hair.  Aristotle, whose accuracy and method continues to surprise biologists, said of the cephalopod ink sac,  “All the Cephalopods have this peculiar part but it is the most remarkable in the Sepia, as well as the largest in size. When the Sepia is frightened and in terror, it produces this blackness and muddiness in the water, as it were a shield held in front of the body.” [Aristotle, The History of Animals, Book IV. The translation comes from A.L. Peck & E.S. Forster. Aristotle XII: Parts of Animals Movement of Animals, Progression of Animals, 1937.)

Sepia (sepia officinalis), then, have more ink than other cephalopods. They have eight legs or arms, two tentacles, and are about ten inches long. Just below is a depiction of a cuttlefish from a Pompeian mural.

 

Pompeii Detached Mural - IV Style (45 AD - 79 AD) - Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli - inv. no. 8635

Pompeii Detached Mural – IV Style (45 AD – 79 AD) – Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli – inv. no. 8635

 

Sepia mural detail

Detail of sepia and clam

 

Because the mural is more pleasing than accurate, here is a scientific diagram of a cuttlefish.

sepia officinalis illustration from brittanica 11th

Cuttlefish or Sepia Officinalis – Encyclopaedia Brittanica (11th) Vol. VII, 674

 

Aristotle does not say that sepia fluid was used for writing, but there are Roman writers such as Cicero, who did. This link carries to the entry on atramentum, the Latin word for ink, in A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1875), where passages of ancient writers are cited and linked to.

At its simplest, the ink can be used directly from the cephalopod, mixed with a binder. This is probably what the Romans did. The ink may have developed a bad smell, but their tolerance was greater than ours (think of garum, the fermented fish guts they ate, and loved). Sepia is known to be fugitive, and as far as I can tell, no ancient papyri with sepia ink exist.

James Watrous, in his 1957 The Craft of Old-Master Drawings, noted the “powerful fishy odor” of the dried sepia chips and sepia splinters, that he found imported into the US from Italy (1975 edition, 88). Zecchi, the art supply shop in Florence that specializes in old master materials, sells sepia pigment (10 grams for 24 euros and 100 grams for 200 euros) and maybe in the intervening 50+ years since Watrous was writing, a way of deodorizing sepia has been developed. The cost would warrant it.

Zecchi was founded in the 1950s with the idea of furnishing the materials that the 14th century Cennino Cennini details in his Libro dell’Arte. Cennini does not discuss sepia at all. In fact, the expert writers on the subject of old master materials–Joseph Meder, James Watrous, and Carlo James and company–say that sepia ink was hardly used, and written about, before the late 18th or early 19th centuries. Courtesy Google Ngram, here’s a graph of phrases with the word sepia, found in English language books, between 1800 and 2008, which shows that “sepia drawing” was most used around 1910. This takes into account novels, and everything else, so it has to be taken lightly.

Natural sepia drawings are supposed to have a cool, rather than warm, brown color, and a purplish or red cast. It’s known that Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) drew with sepia ink. Just below is a Friedrich drawing at the Albertina, and the image is taken from the Google Cultural Institute. We can assume that they’ve taken some care in getting the color right. The Albertina describes the drawing as being in brown ink. The tendency in museum catalogues, and in museum databases, is to move away from describing the type/origin of ink, and describe it generically as brown ink. This makes a lot of sense, because you can’t get it wrong. However, because of Friedrich’s known use of sepia, and the color of this drawing, it would seem to me that it is in sepia.

 

Caspar David Friedrich - Albertina

Caspar David Friedrich – View of Arkona with Rising Moon – ca. 1805 – Graphite, brush and brown ink – 60.9 x 100 cm – Albertina, Vienna – inv. no. 17298

 

Scrutinizing and testing every drawing in collections, where there are thousands of sheets, would be an enormous undertaking, and the preference for simple “brown ink” is easily understood.  The fact that artists very often combined different types of inks and pigments, makes specificity even more complicated, and less documentable.

However, if one were curious enough, and were able to commission work from a lab, there is a test for sepia ink, which its developers describe as rapid and simple. The 2009 study is entitled Characterization of sepia ink in ancient graphic documents by capillary electrophoresis and is available as a pdf here.  Ana López-Montes, Rosario Blanco and others, studied maps and drawings in Granada’s Royal Chancellery Archives. The earliest map was from 1570 and the latest from 1817. Since the maps and drawings related to court cases, as exhibits, the dating is precise. The study is interesting also because its writers discuss taking the ink sac from a cuttlefish, being careful that too much air didn’t come in contact with the ink, and mixing it with gum arabic and water.

Carlo James, Marjorie B. Cohn, and the other authors of the 1997 Old master prints and drawings: a guide to preservation and conservation, spoke of Genova and Venice as being two places where sepia ink was used, before the 19th century. While Granada isn’t on the coast, it isn’t far, at about 20 miles. So, maybe one should keep an open mind about whether old master drawings, and especially those made near the sea, are made with sepia. (You can think sepia, just don’t write it. Plain vanilla. Brown ink. Basta.)

 

Biblioteca Nacional de España – Digital Collections

March 30th, 2013 § Comments Off § permalink

Mostly, drawings are in housed in museum collections, but if you live in a city like Turin, with its Biblioteca Reale; or Milan, with its Biblioteca Ambrosiana; you know that rich collections of drawings are also found in libraries. Paper is the common denominator and it’s worth remembering that drawings were kept in albums before they were put in mats and solander boxes.

The Biblioteca Nacional de España, which is celebrating its 300 anniversary, has made available a wonderful database of their collections. They have about 3,500 drawings online. The work of digitizing the collection began in 2008 and this month it launched the new interface. There are many ways to search. I filtered for drawings from between 1550 and 1600, and useful subcategories of drawings in pen, preparatory drawings, mythological drawings, drawings in albums, drawings of flowers, and many others appeared on the left of the screen. The images that appear are high resolution and can be magnified.

Among its riches is the Madrid Codex of Leonardo. It is full of drawings of pulleys, cogs, wheels–the stuff of industrial design–but of unimaginable fascination. There are places in the codex where the drawings are labeled with a + sign, where if you click on it, a short animation of the machine’s action appears.

Before and After

March 3rd, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

The Contadinella [Little Farm Girl] by Francesco Paolo Michetti (1851 – 1929) was sold at Il Ponte, a Milan auction house on 21 June 2007 (lot 927) for 2,100 euros. The drawing then reappeared, vandalized, at Bloomsbury Rome on 5 June 2008 (lot 213C) as the Contadina Abruzzese [Abruzzo Farmer], and sold for 9,500 euros. This happened five years ago, although I only learned of it from some alert art dealers recently. With everything photographed, and then posted on the internet, it’s incredible that they should have had the temerity to do this.

 

Michetti - before

Francesco Paolo Michetti – Contadinella – Pastel on paper – 440 x 280 mm

Michetti - after

Francesco Paolo Michetti and Anonymous – Abruzzo Farmer – Pastel on Paper – 450 x 285 mm

 

The pastel study by Michetti may have been left unfinished. Or maybe he had brought it to the state he wanted it to be. The unfinished nature of drawings is central to their appeal, at least to me. I’ve wondered whether the lack of finish allows the looker to complete it in their own mind, making them all the more satisfying.

Clearly, the someone who had the Michetti drawing, was not satisfied. The girl’s head was worked up, her hair was given highlights, she grew a bust, and the blue background was softened and lengthened. The raggedy little farm girl was even given a necklace. The paper measurements were ever so slightly changed. And, the someone was rewarded by a 7,400 euro gain.

One of my critics said that I should speak about Rubens’ retouching of drawings. However, I feel that’s for another post.

The RKD and their Research Services

January 29th, 2013 § 1 comment § permalink

A friend recently let me know that The Hague’s RKD, the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie or Netherlands Institute for Art History, has a research service where you can send an image of an artwork and they will look for comparative material. Their archive of photographs is immense. Erik Löffler, a curator at the RKD, has kindly answered some of my questions about the service and the RKD in general.

LV: Is it right that only a small percentage of the RKD’s images are in the online database? Is it the eventual aim to have everything online? Has Google approached places like the RKD offering their digitization services?

Erik Löffler: At this moment we have some 200.000 images online, out of ca. 7 Million. Until recently a total digitization seemed impossible, but things change, I notice that the subject is being discussed as a serious option now. We also started digtizing other useful sources, like the Hofstede de Groot Index Cards (comparable with the Getty Provenance index, 1.1 Million cards).

Erik Löffler at a free Art Evaluation Session

Erik Löffler at a free Art Evaluation Session

LV: How hard is it to index the collection and find the right keywords? How do you deal with different languages?

Erik Löffler: We use ICONCLASS which is in English and freely available for everyone; for fine tuning we also have our own keyword list. The interface for our databases (soon to be substituted by a more up-to-date version) is in Dutch and English; soon most of the content will also be available in English.

LV: What is your typical day like?

Erik Löffler: We often work on special projects: 19th Century atelier scenes, female artists, historical interior decorations. I am currently working on some 2000 new records in our databases: art collectors (of whom 258 American: from George Abrams to John Wrenn). We also write for specific exhibitions, and receive visitors at our premises: Dutch and foreign dealers, researchers and museum professionals; curators from the MET or the Hermitage are among our regular clients. We get some 6000 visitors a year (and 200.000 databse users). On a weekly basis we also check new publications and add literature to our database records, especially concerning Dutch and Flemish artists, foreigners who worked in the Netherlands and foreign artists who were influenced by ‘our’ painters.

LV: Can you speak about the RKD research services? Where do the requests for research come from? How many might there be in a month? Do you confer with other curators? How many people are there in your department?

Erik Löffler: I have more than one hundred colleagues; we may get between fifty and eighty requests a month. There are curators for Early Netherlandish Painting, 17th C. Landscapes, Still Lifes, 18th C., several for the 19th C., ‘Foreign Art’, Portraits, Topography, etc. I am specialised in Dutch and Flemish OMD.

LV: I expect you receive a lot of Rembrandt and Rembrandt school works to research. Any great discoveries there?

Erik Löffler: I must say we get less and less framed Rembrandt calendar pages… Prints are usually late impressions (or early reproductions), but last year we had a great Jan Victors painting, from a French castle (people drive to us from Belgium, France and Germany on these days). But at our free Art Evaluations Sessions  we always do nice discoveries in minor masters; still to be seen on our home page is a watercolor by George Hendrik Breitner which showed up at one of these days.

LV: What are the fees for the service? And, the fees for scans and photographs?

Erik Löffler: Our prices can be found here. But a ‘quick look’ is free, and we always ask your permission before starting a paid research.

Reading Room at the RKD

Reading Room at the RKD

 LV: What’s with that fabulous ceiling?

 Erik Löffler: The ceiling in the reading room, that’s after the Counts of Holland engravings by Cornelis Visscher II. As you may guess under these huge staring eyes non one would dare to maltreat our books and pictures… 

LV: I see that there’s a site dedicated to The Rembrandt Database, which is in its early stages, and has 12 paintings and close to 2,000 written documents relating to those pictures. To start, the project will focus on paintings, then drawings that relate to paintings, and then drawings that are not connected to pictures. Any ideas when this will be?

Erik Löffler: To the Rembrandt Database we will first add more paintings, it would be great if in the end all known Rembrandt drawings could be included as well… The project is very important with a.o. money from Mellon.’

LV: You grew up partly in Italy?

Erik Löffler: As I grew up in Italy and speak Italian but also French, Spanish and German, and read Russian, my colleagues tend to put through to my phone everyone who speaks some ununderstandable language; especially Italians, French and Spaniards feel safer when they can speak their own language, so they tend to contact me. Even if I am not the specialist they need at least I understand their complaints about food and weather…. As a matter of fact the RKD has an important network function, no matter which museum you need to contact, there is always a colleague who knows someone there, and if not there is CODART which (as not everyone knows) is housed at the RKD!

LV: In an email you mentioned the writer Couperus.

Erik Löffler: I am myself also board member at the Louis Couperus Museum; he was a Dutch decadentist writer. It is of course useful for the RKD to have someone in the local museum world.

Paper and Watermarks

January 15th, 2013 § 1 comment § permalink

I was able to put some questions about paper and watermarks to Neil Harris and Peter Bower. Professor Harris is the Director of the Department of History and Conservation of the Cultural Heritage at the University of Udine, where he teaches courses in Bibliography and Library Science. An outline of his scholarly career can be found here at the University’s site. His work Paper and watermarks is available online through the site of L’Institut d’histoire du livre. Peter Bower is a forensic paper historian and paper analyst. He has published two books on the papers used by J.M.W. Turner–Turner’s Papers: A Study of the Manufacture, Selection and use of his Drawing Papers 1787-1820 and Turner’s Late Papers: A Study of the Manufacture, Selection and use of his Drawing Papers 1820-1851. Many thanks to both for their informative answers.

LV: Was the paper used for books also used for drawing and printmaking?

Neil Harris: No, is probably the general answer. Paper for printed books seems to have been different in some respect (though we don’t know what, possibly with less sizing). Paper for artists on principle may have been different; but then artists, especially when short of money, will draw on anything that happens to hand, so Yes is also a possible answer.

Peter Bower: For most of papermaking history in Western Europe paper was made for three basic uses: writing, printing and wrapping. All three types of paper were made on the same moulds, from the same kind of rags, the main difference between them being the degree of sizing used. Drawing papers as such were not specifically made until the mid-late 18th century. Artists drew and painted on hard sized papers made for writing, or in the case of coloured papers, wrapping. Printmakers would use similarly sized sheets to book printers.

LV: Can you say something about how artists bought paper?

Neil Harris: Not really. It depends how much money they had.

Peter Bower: Papers were stocked by stationers and artists’ colourmen and could be bought as single sheets, quires or half reams and reams. Stationers and colourmen stocked what they thought their customers would like.  Some artists did buy paper from mills but this was not common.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-93) – Self-Portrait in Paper – Pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash on laid paper – 442 x 318 mm – Musei di Strada Nuova – Palazzo Rosso, Genoa

 

LV: Watermarks can often help in dating and placing a piece of paper, but what about a piece of paper without a watermark? Are there some general pointers about century and place?

Neil Harris: Yes, there are elements, and a piece of paper without a watermark may have been cut from a larger sheet.

Peter Bower: There is always a huge amount of information about the date and origin of a paper within the sheet. The type of mould used, the wire profile, felt impressions, the method of pulping, ie: stamper or Hollander, the blend of fibres used, the colour and tone, all contribute to narrowing down an identification.

A single-faced mould is a papermaking mould on which the wire forming surface sits directly on the supporting ribs, this produces an increased density of pulp either side of the chain wires, which show as slight shadows when viewed in transmitted light. A double-faced mould has a second set of wires, beneath the forming surface, lifting it off the struts.

The Wire profile describes the relationship between the Laid Lines, tightly spaced parallel lines seen in laid paper when it is held up to the light and the Chain lines, parallel lines visible at 90° to the laid lines, usually an inch or so apart. The wire profile also includes any watermarks or countermarks present in the sheet. In wove papers the wire profile details the gauge and number of wires used for the warp and the weft of the woven wire cloth.

Felt impressions are the marks left in the surface of the sheet when the newly formed wet sheet is transferred from the papermaking mould to the woven woolen blanket, called a felt., caused by the fibres used to make the felt. These vary from area to area, country to country and over time.

Stampers are an early form of a machine for making pulp, consisting of several sets of large wooden hammers, driven by a waterwheel, falling into mortars, filled with rag. Often leave tell-tale traces within the pulp, such as small hard nuggets of dried pulp that didn’t get cleaned out of the mortars.

 

Hydraulic Mutiple Hammer Mill – 18th Century – Fabriano Paper Museum

LV: Are there watermarks which are solely tied to one area?

Neil Harris: Successful watermarks will be faked or imitated in other areas, but generally they can be broken up on national lines. There are characteristics that tend to identity particular ways of making moulds, for instance the supplementary unsupported chainline for the watermark is a characteristic of Fabriano; the use of a countermark is Lake Garda; tranchfiles are French or Dutch and so on.

Peter Bower: Watermark designs do relate to specific areas, but they were often copied by mills in other areas or countries. A good example is the Dutch ProPatria mark which was also used by many different English makers.

 

Six-Pointed Star Above a Cross Watermark, 1412 Document on Loan from City Archive, Fabriano Paper Museum

 

LV: I‘ve read something about encircled object watermarks being Italian. Is this true?

Peter Bower: This is not strictly true, circled watermarks are found in use in Britain, Holland, Germany, Poland, Spain, Russia, etc

LV: I’ve read that J. Whatman paper was faked in Germany? Was counterfeit paper common?

Neil Harris: I think so, but of course “counterfeit” only really comes into play when paper-makers start using their names in watermarks and this only really happens from the 18th century onwards.

Peter Bower: In the 18th century several Italian Mills in the Veneto and also near Naples faked Dutch papers, including D & C Blauw, Cornelis Honig, Jan Honig & Zonen. They could charge more for “Dutch Paper” than their own products

Several famous makers’ initials were appropriated by other makers in Western Europe as a mark of quality, common examples include

WR         Wendelin Richel from Strasbourg. His initials are found as pendant marks all over western Europe for three hundred years or more.

IV         Jean Villedary. Several generations of Jean Villedarys worked mills around Angouleme in France as well as a mill at Hattem in Holland. The IV initials were very common as a countermark in English-made paper.

LVG         Lubertus van Gerrevinck of the Phoenix Mill in Holland. His initials were used by many other makers, either as a pendant mark or as a countermark.

 

Season’s Greetings

December 21st, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink


and best wishes for 2013

 

Canova show at the Museo di Roma, Palazzo Braschi

December 4th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Thanks to Antonio Canova’s half-brother, sole heir of the artist, Bassano del Grappa’s Museo Civico has the largest collection of Canova drawings in the world. Some 79 drawings from the collection’s 1,876 drawings are being shown at the Museo di Roma – Palazzo Braschi from 5 December 2012  to 7 April 2013.

Antonio Canova | Study of the Medici Venus – Before Conservation | Red chalk | Museo Civico, Bassano del Grappa

As you’d expect from the foremost Neoclassical sculptor, many of the drawings are after the antique. Like others in the show, the drawing above has Canova’s notations giving measurements–nice reminders that they inhabit real space. Even subjects of his own invention are strongly influenced by the classical world and very few of the drawings seem to be drawn from life.

Most of the works in the show relate to commissions. Canova was a great glorifier of the powerful–Clement XIV, Napoleon, Horatio Nelson, and George Washington among them. With his works, the word monument seems to fit them better than statue or sculpted portrait. Even if monument has a heavy ring to it, there’s something amusing about a work like the Napoleon as Mars the Peacekeeper (heroic nude didn’t appeal to the emperor and he sent it back), or young George Washington in Roman cuirass and pteruges (nowadays this kind of skirt is known as a car wash skirt). Though we might smile at these very Neoclassical portrayals, Canova was dead serious and immensely successful because of them. So successful that he could do things like buy the Giustiniani collection of antiquities and make a gift of them to the Pope. (Canova was also a curator at the Vatican.)

Antonio Canova | Hercules Hurling Lychas into the Sea | Graphite, pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash | Museo Civico, Bassano del Grappa

The exhibition is being held in permanent exhibition rooms, with the Canova works set apart by blue panels. The panels, often freestanding, are used to create rooms that concentrate on one commission. Because the Bassano museum is so rich in Canova, it can provide several drawings for a commission, along with models, and prints (ordered by Canova) of the artist’s finished works.

Antonio Canova | Toilette of Venus | Black chalk | Museo Civico, Bassano del Grappa

The drawings are in a range of media: graphite, black chalk, red chalk, charcoal, pen and ink, brush and ink. They are often roughly sketched out or vigorously drawn. Because Canova’s marble works are so refined, snow-white, and polished, the drawings provide relief.

Canova. Il segno della gloria. Disegni, dipinti, e sculture
Curated by Giuliana Ericani, Dir. Museo Biblioteca Archivio di Bassano del Grappa
Museo di Roma Palazzo Braschi
Catalogue published by Palombi Editore

Caricatures

November 8th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Caricature, a branch of portraiture, is much more associated with drawing and printmaking than painting and sculpture. Caricatures are humorous in nature, often affectionately playful, but they can also be merciless in their ridicule. They are generally executed rapidly, and some of the best are drawn with the fewest lines.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598 – 1680) – Caricature of Pope Innocent XI – Pen and brown ink on laid paper – 114 x 182 mm – Leipzig

Very often the portrayed doesn’t know they’re being caricatured, and the artist wishes to keep it that way. Bernini, who was deeply religious, would not have wanted his patron Pope Innocent XI to see his caricature of him. The pope, known as a sickly man, is propped up in bed, and his ant-like head is topped by a tiara, while his bony fingers signal orders. The sheet is small, and is meant for Bernini’s amusement, and for his friends. (The artist sometimes included caricatures in the margins of his letters.)

Bernini’s drawing and a drawing such as Pier Francesco Mola’s, just below,

Pier Francesco Mola (1612 – 1666) – Caricature of a Gentleman Viewing a Painting of a Monkey – Pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash on laid paper – 91 x 189 mm – Louvre

must have been satisfying to do. They must have had a therapeutic effect–there’s not much an artist can overtly do to get back at a powerful and difficult patron, but they could be cut down to size in a caricature.

The brothers Annibale and Agostino Carracci are often considered the first artists to create caricatures. An example of “ritrattini carichi” or small loaded portraits is just below. Annibale Carracci covered the sheet with little heads, some might be exaggerated likeness of real people, while others look like invented comic heads, the product of nervous doodling. As with much caricature,  heads are in profile allowing for the nose to be exploited to the fullest. With profile caricature, chins also get important treatment, whether exaggeratedly big or small; while with frontal caricature, the ears and eyes come into their own.

Annibale Carracci (1560 -1609) – A Series of Caricature Heads in Profile – Pen and gray-brown ink – 194 x 135 mm – British Museum

This drawing of Agostino is of mascheroni, or grotesque masks. The Carracci enjoyed crossing human and animal heads, like the ancient artists with their fauns  and satyrs. It is both amusing and disquieting. It seems like a particularly good example of grotesque heads since they are studies for gesso sculptures, the descendants of antique stucco work which came to be known as grotesque, from the subterranean grottoes where they were discovered.

Agostino Carracci (1557 – 1602) – Mascherone Studies – Red chalk – 258 x 197 mm – Albertina

The word caricature was first used in print in 1646 and ever since the 17th century, there has been a lot of discussion about what a caricature is, when the practice began, if Leonardo’s testine mostruose are caricatures or grotesques. It’s well worth reading this essay by Gombrich (link to pdf here), which discusses why caricature should be considered an invention of the late 16th century because of the growing self awareness of artists and their place in society. That may be true, but it is certainly easy to find exaggerated and comic representations of people–even real people–earlier in time. Just because we don’t know their names, does not mean they didn’t exist. The twisted, and often funny, damned in representations of the Last Judgement, Romanesque capitals with their leering heads, medieval manuscript margin drawings, and then the graffiti of hated emperors in Roman times. One can only imagine all the caricatures done on wax tablets in antiquity.

It seems logical that prehistoric man would also have found amusement in the warping of features. The sun can play atmospheric tricks making our shadow impossibly long or crushingly squat. A fire or candle’s light is usually flattering, but at the wrong angle it can grotesquely amplify features.