The Adoration of the Magi
Tempera on poplar (1426)
The Adoration of the Magi or Adoration of the Kings is the name traditionally given to the subject in the Nativity of
Jesus in art in which the three Magi, represented as kings, especially in the West, having found Jesus by following a star,
lay before him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and worship him. It is related in the Bible by Matthew 2:11: "On
entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening
their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not
to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another path".
Christian iconography has considerably expanded the bare account of the Biblical Magi given in the second chapter of
the Gospel of Matthew (2:1–22) and used it to press the point that Jesus was recognized, from his earliest infancy, as king
of the earth. The scene was often used to represent the Nativity, one of the most indispensable episodes in cycles of the
Life of the Virgin as well as the Life of Christ.
In the church calendar, the event is commemorated in Western Christianity as the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6).
The Orthodox Church commemorates the Adoration of the Magi on the Feast of the Nativity (December 25). The term is
anglicized from the Vulgate Latin section title for this passage: A Magis adoratur. wikipedia
Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Mone (1401-1428) was the shooting star in the Florentine firmament, gone almost as soon as
his brilliance had been seen. Standing on the threshold of the 15th century, the artist (whose nickname was Masaccio,
short for Tommaso, meaning "clumsy" or "messy" Tom) is often regarded as the founder of Italian Renaissance painting,
ushering in the classical revival. His work suggests a preference for the simple and immediate, both qualities he
inherited from Giotto. Masaccio was also guided by the sculpture of his day, drawing inspiration particularly from the
works of Donatello.
One of the most intriguing legacies of Masaccio’s short life is the altarpiece he executed for a wealthy notary in the
church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Pisa. The original polyptych altarpiece was dispersed when the church was
remodelled in the 16th century. The Adoration of the Magi predella is now in the State Museum in Berlin and would
have been placed under the panel of the Virgin and Child, now in the National Gallery, London.
The Adoration panel is Masaccio’s first narrative religious painting and is completed with admirable conciseness. The
oldest King kneels before the Virgin and Child and there is a wonderful sense of human warmth and intimacy between
the figures. The fluid line created by the careful positioning of the three Kings guides the eye towards the two striking
figures swathed in grey. These are supposed portraits of the patron and his son and hint at the burgeoning awareness
among commissioners of the social and political potential of art. Italy Magazine
Masaccio and the Italian Renaissance from Peter Beal on YouTube
The Flight into Egypt
Giotto di Bondone
Capella di Scrovegni, Padua
The flight into Egypt is a biblical event described in the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 2:13-23), in which Joseph fled to
Egypt with Mary and infant son Jesus after a visit by the Magi, because they learned that King Herod intended to kill
the infants of that area. The episode is frequently shown in art, as the final episode of the Nativity of Jesus in art, and
was a common component in cycles of the Life of the Virgin as well as the Life of Christ.
When the Magi come in search of Jesus, they go to Herod the Great in Jerusalem and ask where to find the newborn
"King of the Jews". Herod becomes paranoid that the child will threaten his throne, and seeks to kill him (2:1-8). Herod
initiates the Massacre of the Innocents in hopes of killing the child (Matthew 2:16-Matthew 2:18). But an angel appears
to Joseph in a dream and warns him to take Jesus and his mother into Egypt (Matthew 2:13).
Egypt was a logical place to find refuge, as it was outside the dominions of King Herod, but both Egypt and Israel were
part of the Roman Empire, linked by a coastal road known as "the way of the sea", making travel between them easy and
relatively safe. wikipedia
Flight Into Egypt was part of a commission made by Enrico Scrovegni, the son of a wealthy banker who was consigned to
hell for usury in Dante's Divine Comedy. His main purpose was the repentance of his father's sins to make sure that he
went to heaven, therefore the fresco media was appropriate because of its relatively cheap materials, including
limestone, water and pigments, which were inexpensive and therefore inoffensive to religious figures.
The entirety of the commission itself was the painting of the Arena Chapel of which Giotto had a part in the
architectural design, making sure that there were large amounts of wall space on which he could effectively paint
frescoes. Giotto wanted to allow for huge figures that were close to being life-sized (Flight Into Egypt is 2 x 1.8 meters)
to create a strong physical presence of the characters such as Mary. The near life-sized figures aided in relating the
narrative to a public audience, as the majority of them were not able to read and needed a simple, visual method of
following the stories of the Bible in the form of didactic art.
The large, clean and simple compositions that Giotto was able to create on the wall space the Arena Chapel provided also
allowed for a great amount of emphasis on the expression of human emotion that a public audience could easily relate to;
portraying characters like Mary and Joseph as human beings for a greater emotional impact. Art History 3.4A at www.nzqa.govt.nz
Giotto, Arena (Scrovegni) Chapel, Padua, from Smarthistory, art, history, conversation on YouTube.
Oil on canvas (1656)
Museo del Prado, Madrid
Las Meninas (Spanish for The Ladies-in-Waiting), is a 1656 painting by Diego Velázquez, the leading artist of the Spanish
Golden Age. Its complex and enigmatic composition raises questions about reality and illusion, and creates an uncertain
relationship between the viewer and the figures depicted. Because of these complexities, Las Meninas has been one of
the most widely analyzed works in Western painting.
The painting shows a large room in the Royal Alcazar of Madrid during the reign of King Philip IV of Spain, and
presents several figures, most identifiable from the Spanish court. The young Infanta Margaret Theresa is
surrounded by her entourage of maids of honour, chaperone, bodyguard, two dwarfs and a dog. Just behind them,
Velázquez portrays himself working at a large canvas. Velázquez looks outwards, beyond the pictorial space to where a
viewer of the painting would stand. In the background there is a mirror that reflects the upper bodies of the king and
queen. Some scholars have speculated that their image is a reflection from the painting Velázquez is shown working on.
Las Meninas has long been recognised as one of the most important paintings in Western art history. Luca Giordano said
that it represents the "theology of painting" and in 1827 the president of the Royal Academy of Arts Sir Thomas
Lawrence described the work as "the true philosophy of the art". More recently, it has been described as "Velázquez's
supreme achievement, a highly self-conscious, calculated demonstration of what painting could achieve.
Las Meninas is set in Velázquez's studio in Philip IV's Alcázar palace in Madrid. The high-ceilinged room is presented as
"a simple box that could be divided into a perspective grid with a single vanishing point". In the centre of the
foreground stands the Infanta Margaret Theresa. The five-year-old infanta, who later married Holy Roman Emperor
Leopold I, was at this point Philip and Mariana's only surviving child. She is attended by two ladies-in-waiting, or
meninas: doña Isabel de Velasco, who is poised to curtsy to the princess, and doña María Agustina Sarmiento de
Sotomayor, who kneels before Margaret Theresa, offering her a drink from a red cup, or bucaro, that she holds on a
golden tray. To the right of the Infanta are two dwarfs: the achondroplastic German, Maribarbola, and the Italian,
Nicolas Pertusato, who playfully tries to rouse a sleepy mastiff with his foot. Behind them stands doña Marcela de
Ulloa, the princess's chaperone, dressed in mourning and talking to an unidentified bodyguard (or guardadamas).
To the rear and at right stands Don José Nieto Velázquez, the queen's chamberlain who may have been a relative of the
artist. Nieto is shown pausing, with his right knee bent and his feet on different steps. Both this backlight and the open
doorway reveal space behind: in the words of the art historian Analisa Leppanen, they lure "our eyes inescapably into
the depths". The royal couple's reflection pushes in the opposite direction, forward into the picture space. The
vanishing point of the perspective is in the doorway, as can be shown by extending the line of the meeting of wall and
ceiling on the right. Nieto is seen only by the king and queen, who share the viewer's point of view, and not by the
figures in the foreground.
Velázquez himself is pictured to the left of the scene, looking outward past a large canvas supported by an easel. On
his chest is the red cross of the Order of Santiago, which he did not receive until 1659, three years after the painting
was completed. A mirror on the back wall reflects the upper bodies and heads of two figures identified from other
paintings as King Philip IV and Queen Mariana. The most common assumption is that the reflection shows the couple in
the pose they are holding for Velázquez as he paints them.
Of the nine figures depicted, five are looking directly out at the royal couple or the viewer. Their glances, along
with the king and queen's reflection, affirm the royal couple's presence outside the painted space. Alternatively, art
historians H. W. Janson and Joel Snyder suggest that the image of the king and queen is a reflection from Velázquez's
canvas, the front of which is obscured from the viewer. wikipedia
Las Meninas: Is This the Best Painting in History? from Nerdwriter1 on YouTube
Dali: The Persistence of Memory video from Khan Academy
Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Cézanne's final period in the early 1890s, there are five paintings in the series. The versions vary in size, the number of
players, and the setting in which the game takes place. One version of The Card Players was sold in 2011 to the Royal
Family of Qatar for a price estimated at between $250 million and $300 million, making it the third most expensive
work of art ever sold.
Each painting depicts Provençal peasants immersed in their pipes and playing cards. The subjects, all male, are
motif from 17th-century Dutch and French genre painting which often depicted card games with rowdy, drunken
gamblers in taverns, replacing them instead with stone-faced tradesmen in a more simplified setting.
Whereas previous paintings of the genre had illustrated heightened moments of drama, Cézanne's portraits have been
noted for their lack of drama, narrative, and conventional characterization. Other than an unused wine bottle in the
two-player versions, there is an absence of drink and money, which were prominent fixtures of the 17th century
genre. A painting by one of the Le Nain brothers, hung in an Aix-en-Provence museum near the artist's home, depicts
card players and is widely cited as an inspiration for the works by Cézanne.
The models for the paintings were local farmhands, some of whom worked on the Cézanne family estate. Each scene is
depicted as one of quiet, still concentration; the men look down at their cards rather than at each other, with the
cards being perhaps their sole means of communication outside of work. One critic described the scenes as "human
still life", while another speculated that the men's intense focus on their game mirrors that of the painter's
absorption in his art. wikipedia
Oil on canvas (1872)
Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris
Impression, Sunrise depicts the port of Le Havre, Monet's hometown, and is his most famous painting of the harbor.
Shown at what would later be known as the "Exhibition of the Impressionists" in April 1874, it is attributed to
giving rise to the name of the Impressionist movement. The painting was stolen from the Musée Marmottan Monet
in 1985 by Philippe Jamin and Youssef Khimoun but recovered in 1990. Since 1991 it has been back on display in the
Monet claimed that he titled the painting Impression, Sunrise due to his hazy painting style in his depiction of the
subject: "They asked me for a title for the catalogue, it couldn't really be taken for a view of Le Havre, and I said:
'Put Impression.'" In addition to this explanation for the title of the work, art historian Paul Smith claims that
Monet might have named the painting Impression to excuse his painting from accusations of being unfinished or
lacking descriptive detail, but Monet received these criticisms regardless of the title.
While the title of the painting seemed to be chosen in haste for the catalogue, the term "Impressionism" was not
new. It had been used for some time to describe the effect of paintings from the Barbizon school. Both associated
with the school, Daubigny and Manet had been known to use the term to describe their own works. In critic Louis
Leroy's review of the 1874 exhibition, "The Exhibition of the Impressionists" for the newspaper Le Charivari, he
used "Impressionism" to describe the new style of work displayed, which he said was typified by Monet’s painting of
the same name.
Before the 1860s and the debut of Impression, Sunrise, the term "impressionism" was originally used to describe the
effect of a natural scene on a painter, and the effect of a painting on the viewer. By the 1860s, "impression" was
used by transference to describe a painting which relayed such an effect. In turn, impression came to describe the
movement as a whole. Initially used to describe and deprecate a movement, the term Impressionism " was
immediately taken up by all parties" to describe the style, and Monet’s Impression, Sunrise considered to
encapsulate the start of the movement and its name. wikipedia
In this painting, the sun is placed against the dawn sky, with orange and blue-violet contrast. Because it was a very
misty morning on the harbor, the clouds are colored by the rising sun, in the dense mist, and the boats take shape,
without great definition. The abbreviated, darker brushstrokes on the water, create motion and ripples, while
hints of orange and yellow appear as a reflection of the sunrise. The ships’ masts are sometimes disrupted by the
rippling water, as the silhouettes of the boats seem to be disappearing into the mist.
An interesting observation about this painting is that although the sun seems to be much brighter than the rest of
the scene, if viewed removing all color, the sun almost disappears. This supports Monet’s mastery of depicting light
effects on scenes which he painted. This accurate reproduction of Monet’s impression, and resulting mood of
atmospheric conditions dominate, and limit the importance of great detail. The viewer almost feels that he is
looking out the same window that Monet did that Spring morning. Once called an abstract piece of unfinished
work by critics, over one-hundred years later, Monet’s work is part of a historic art movement, and Monet helped
to make a name for the Impressionistic artists as well. Totally History
Monet's Impression, Sunrise: Painting & Analysis on study.com
Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion
Oil paint & pastel on fiber board (1944)
Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion were painted over the course of two week s in 1944 in the
ground floor flat at 7 Cromwell Place, South Kensington. During the day the converted billiard room served as
Bacon's studio, and at night as an illicit casino.
Bacon recalled that at the time he was drinking heavily and that he painted the studies in an alcoholic haze. Later
he was to admit that he hardly knew what he was doing, though he believed that alcohol had loosened his style.
Yet, despite this unpromising genesis, the triptych of three writhing, anthropomorphic figures, with their
featureless, scarcely human faces contorted into what might be either pain or exquisite ecstasy, set against a
background of visceral oranges, reds and blacks, marks a watershed in British painting.
Bacon had been painting the Crucifixion since 1933 but he considered the works unsuccessful and destroyed them,
and, for a while, abandoned painting. When he did return to the subject of the Crucifixion 11 years later he was
influenced by his reading of Aeschylus's savage drama The Oresteia (itself a trilogy) which tells the tale of the
curse of the House of Atreus and the pursuit, by the avenging Furies (or Eumenides), of those responsible for
murder. Generally considered to be his first masterwork, Bacon was at some pains to suppress the showing of any
paintings that pre-dated the Three Studies.
Bacon's Eumenides are barely recognisable as human figures, for they have no eyes but only gaping, silently
screaming mouths. The creature on the left, seated on a table of sorts, is the most recognisably human. Partially
draped in a length of cloth, this bent form, with its hunched white shoulders, its stumpy, malformed arms and
bowed head topped with a mop of dark hair, might be a mourner at some unnamed wake, while that in the central
panel, with its grimacing mouth set directly into its elongated neck, is blindfolded by a white cloth - a motif
taken, perhaps, from Matthias Grnewald's Mocking of Christ - and resembles some large, flightless bird. The
figure on the right appears to have most of its upper face missing. Its head is thrown back, its mouth stretched open
to reveal its teeth, as if in the grips of some bestial orgasmic spasm.
The heads of all three figures point downwards, following a series of converging lines that radiate out from the
central plinth and imply a room or an enclosed space. The mood is one of bleak isolation and violent angst. This
work is to painting what Sartre's Huis Clos is to literature; a paean to existential despair.
This is also a Crucifixion with a difference, for there is no evidence, not even a shadow, of the actual event. No
trace of Christ or his cross, though Bacon did say in a letter in 1959 that Three Studies were, "intended to [be]
use[d] at the base of a large Crucifixion which I may still do". Yet how genuine this remark was is hard to gauge
from the bleakly nihilistic non-believer who once said, "I think of life as meaningless; but we give it meaning
during our own existence …" "we are born and we die, but in between we give this purposeless existence a meaning
by our drives."
Like many other artists and writers of the early 20th century, Bacon had read Nietzsche, and shared something of
his hypothesis of "a strong pessimism". He had been particularly attracted to The Birth of Tragedy. Nietzsche's
passionate rejection of Christianity, and his passion for life resonated with Bacon, who said: "… you can be
optimistic and totally without hope. One's basic nature is totally without hope, and yet one's nervous system is
made out of optimistic stuff." Sue Hubbard
Francis Bacon and Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion on Vimeo
Judith Beheading Holofernes
Oil on canvas (1598-99)
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica at Palazzo Barberini, Rome
The deutero-canonical Book of Judith tells how Judith served her people by seducing and pleasuring Holofernes,
the Assyrian general. Judith gets Holofernes drunk, then seizes his sword and slays him: "Approaching to his bed,
she took hold of the hair of his head." (Judith, 13:7-8).
Caravaggio's approach was, typically, to choose the moment of greatest dramatic impact, the moment of the
decapitation itself. The figures are set out in a shallow stage, theatrically lit from the side, isolated against the
inky, black background. Judith and her maid Abra stand to the right, partially over Holofernes, who is
vulnerable on his back. X-rays have revealed that Caravaggio adjusted the placement of Holofernes' head as he
proceeded, separating it slightly from the torso and moving it slightly to the right. The faces of the three
characters demonstrate his mastery of emotion, Judith in particular showing in her face a mix of determination
and repulsion. Artemisia Gentileschi and others were deeply influenced by this work, and even surpassed
Caravaggio's physical realism, but it has been argued that none matched his capture of Judith's psychological
ambivalence. The model for Judith is probably the Roman courtesan Fillide Melandroni, who posed for several
other works by Caravaggio around this year. wikipedia
A whole book in the Bible is devoted to Judith, because as a woman she embodies the power of the people of Israel
to defeat the enemy, though superior in numbers, by means of cunning and courage. She seeks out the conquering
Holofernes in his tent, seduces him, makes him drunk, then beheads him. The sight of their commander's
bloodstained head on the battlements of Bethulia puts the enemy to flight.
In the painting, Judith comes in with her maid from the right, against the direction of reading the picture. The
general is lying naked on a white sheet. Paradoxically, his bed is distinguished by a magnificent red curtain, whose
color crowns the act of murder as well as the heroine's triumph.
This is the first time Caravaggio chose such a highly dramatic subject, and with good reason. His Judith is an
expression of an allegorical-moral contest in which Virtue overcomes Evil. In contrast to the elegant and distant
beauty of the vexed Judith, the ferocity of the scene is concentrated in the inhuman scream and the body spasm of
the giant Holofernes. Caravaggio has managed to render, with exceptional efficacy, the most dreaded moment in
a man's life: the passage from life to death. The upturned eyes of Holofernes indicate that he is not alive any
more, yet signs of life still persist in the screaming mouth, the contracting body and the hand that still grips at
the bed. The original bare breasts of Judith, which suggest that she has just left the bed, were later covered by
the semi-transparent blouse.
The roughness of the details and the realistic precision with which the horrific decapitation is rendered (correct
down to the tiniest details of anatomy and physiology) has led to the hypothesis that the painting was inspired by
two highly publicized contemporary Roman executions; that of Giordano Bruno and above all of Beatrice Cenci
in 1599. www.bc.edu
Judith Beheading Holofernes from Classical Harmony on YouTube.
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