William de Morgan, Plate, ca. 1890-1907, @metmuseum
Known for his “Persian style” blue and turquoise ceramics inspired by Iznik pottery, De Morgan produced glazes with richer, softer colors than his contemporaries. Particularly fond of dragons, he used them, dancing between stylized flowers, to anchor this design. Chief assistant Charles Passenger painted the ornament at Fulham in London, where De Morgan moved his works in 1889 to avoid the long daily commute to Merton Abbey - gallery label “The Pre-Raphaelite Legacy’ exhibition.
John Singer Sargent, Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, 1885-6, Tate
This is what August dusk looks like… Life should be this beautiful and good. I love this painting! I remember spending many happy hours before it at the Tate, just admiring the light. When you look at a print or digital reproduction, it is hard to see the glow Sargent has captured. Standing before it, I thought I almost smelled the perfume of the lilies. I was so taken with the painting, I even tried to reproduce the same in my garden, Chinese lanterns and all… Well, except for the little girls in white dresses. Tate’s website gives an illuminating anecdote about how Sargent created this masterpiece…
Titian, Portrait of a Lady, c. 1555, National Gallery of Art, Washington
Levni, Woman in Green, 17th century,Topkapi Palace Museum, Istanbul
Starting in the 16th century, Turquerie was the craze for all things Turkish in Europe. Many artists depicted their subjects in Turkish dress by using the costumes and props they kept in their studios. Although in 15th- early 16th century some artists like Carpaccio and Bellini had been interested in authenticity, by the late 16th century, the oriental types found in the works of Renaissance painters were just figures used to either represent exotic or biblical types. Titian made numerous paintings of noble women in Turkish dress, the most notable of which is the portraits of Caterina Cornaro, the Queen of Cyprus. Although the Turkish miniature by 17th century artist Levni is obviously later than Titan’s Portrait of a Lady, this type of coat (it is actually called a yelek which translates as vest in Turkish) worn over a diaphanous shirt are the typical Turkish female attire. Women would wear these in the privacy of the harem (the women’s section of the house). The concept of female beauty in different cultures can also be observed by comparing the two paintings. Titian’s Lady is the epitome of idealized Renaissance beauty, maybe even recalling Petrarch’s Laura, while Levni’s Woman in Green has the features of an ideal Turkish beauty with the slanted black eyebrows, almond shaped eyes and a small mouth.*
*Gul Irepoglu, Levni: Painting, Poetry, Colour, Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture, Istanbul, 1999
Looking at Art Slowly at the Met, only to discover something from home…
Terracotta sarcophagus rim, East Greek, Clazomenian, last quarter of the 6th c. B.C. @metmuseum
Ruins of Klazomenai, present-day Urla, 2014
One of my favorite pastimes is to wander about museums, focusing on a few objects that capture my interest, letting them determine the course of my visit. I was in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York yesterday to do just that when I discovered something from home. I walked into gallery 152 casually, noticing the remarkable object hanging on the wall only after I had entered the gallery and turned my head to the left. As it turns out the sarcophagus rim was not only beautiful but it had also come from a place I had visited a min ago - ancient Klazomenai, present-day Urla.
The museum label states:
“A significant number of terracotta sarcophagi with a decorated upper rim have been found at Klazomenai and at Old Smyrna, East Greek sites on the west coast of Asia Minor; given their size and weight, it is assumed that they were manufactured locally. Before the funeral, the sarcophagus was apparently buried up to the height of the upper rim. After the deceased was laid inside during the funeral ceremony, a stone lid was placed over the sarcophagus and earth was piled up to mark the grave site .
On this example, the upper zone of the lid is decorated with a battle scene. Four foot soldiers clash over a fallen warrior, while a winged figure and a chariot approach from either side. Details on the figures were originally indicated in white. On the sides of the rim stand a centaur and a siren; below, two lions attack a boar.”
Some may call me crazy but I take looking at art very seriously and personally. The works I tend to linger over usually are those I feel a personal connection to. With a work like this, I found myself both elated and dismayed at the same time. This object had come from Turkey, the lands I had come from, but I couldn’t help but wonder how many of Met’s yearly 6 million visitors would actually realize that. Visiting the site of Klazomenai was also a but of a disappointment as well. The ancient ruins were hidden in plain site, behind wire screens, separated by the road that leads to the coast of Urla. It required a special effort to realize that this was an actual archaeological site waiting to be excavated and studied.
So, I can at least try to reunite this remarkable object with its place of origin here in some sort of virtual reality…
Pitcher with Bacchic Imagery, Roman, made in Alexandria, 35 B.C.-A.D. 25, thegetty
"Thamus,The Great God Pan is Dead!"
Half man. half goat, playing reed pipes and chasing nymphs in wooded glens, the god of the wild, who is responsible for inspiring panic in lonely places, Pan was the only Greek God who supposedly died. The Greek historian Plutarch in the De defectu oraculorum (Obsolescence of Oracles) writes that during the reign of Tiberius a sailor on his way to Italy heard a divine voice call to him proclaiming the Great God Pan was dead and he should let everyone know. Another version of this story goes something like this - When a ship sailing down the Aegean sea came close to one of the islands close to the Anatolian shores, the wind stopped suddenly and a hushed silence fell across the sea… pretty soon a voice was heard to call out “Tammuz! Tammuz!” So the ship sailed towards the voice and when they reached the shore, they received the news that the Great god Pan was dead. The month of July is Temmuz in Turkish, probalby deriving from the Sumerian God of food and vegetation, Tammuz. Which is why we believe that Pan died in the month of July.
According to some scholars it was actually “the all-great Tammuz is dead” (Thamos, Pan ho megas tethneke) due to a verbal misinterpretation but I like this much simpler and more fanciful interpretation better and wanted to share it before the month of Temmuz is over.
Happy Birthday Alphonse Mucha, born July 24, 1860
Chec Art Noveau artist Alphonse Mucha is probably best known for his work in commercial art, especially the theater posters he designed for Sarah Bernhardt. There is a wonderful museum of his work in Prague that I had visited with great joy. As it turns out, he was not happy to be known only for his commercial work and wanted to leave behind a true artistic legacy. Throughout the history of art, of all the different genres of painting, history had always been the most prestigious, the one that distiguished a true master. Mucha’s biggest dream was to paint a series of paintings depicting the history of the Slavs. He was finally able to find the financing for this mega project towards the end of his life and he painted a series of 20 paintings between 1910 - 1928, The Slav Epic. As great as these paintings are, people still love and recognize Alphonse Mucha for his decorative lithographs.His postcards and posters are still reproduced, and his work is very familar to a lot of people, even if they don’t know who he is. Mucha’s everlasting fame has always been and probably will continue to be through his commercial art - life is funny that way.
Happy Birthday Edward Hopper, born July 22, 1882
Edward Hopper is one of my favorite artists, his depictions of the disconnect so common in the American landscape resonating on a very personal level. Hopper has the amazing capability to express that feeling of isolation, whether his subject be a single individual in a private setting, many individuals in public settings or even a house by the side of the road with no protagonist in sight. He always seems to capture the sense of being on the outside, looking in - some even say it’s a voyeuristic point of view. I always fancied being able to feel the cold in those people’s… places’ souls, not reflecting on the fact that what I was actually seeing was the cold I felt in my soul as I endured my days in the Ameircan suburban environment. . I am living in the city for the summer and oddly enough, as walk about the type of places Hopper depicted in his work, I feel enveloped by a sense of belonging. The people I run into on the subway, in the street, in the cafes, seemingly isolated from their neighbors by their iphones or headphones don’t seem so bleak and lonely. And when I look out my window in the morning, it is not in search of the warmth of the sun like A Woman in the Sun but rather feeling the reflections of my own glow on the scene outside my window.
When I look at Hopper’s work with this lightness of being, I see great art… that I still love… but can’t seem to feel the desolation I felt before… So I can’t help but wonder how much of ourselves do we bring into our art vieweing experience?
How would Degas have painted contemporary New York I wonder?
Happy Birthday Degas, born July 19, 1834
Due to his bellowed ballerinas, Edgar Degas is probably one of the best known and most widely reproduced artist of the Impressionist era. Most little girls grow up with one of his ballerinas gracing the walls of their bedrooms, totally clueless to the subversive interpretation. Like the other Impressionists Degas painted scenes of modernity, mostly in or around Paris. Industrialization had changed the world and brought economic prosperity to France; Paris was going through what we refer to as “urban regeneration” these days and was home of spectacles. Degas chose to concentrate on behind-the-scenes, the vices caused by modern life - prostitutes in brothels, little ballerinas one step away from becoming prostitutes, being watched like a hawk by their mamas or elderly gentlemen, daily toils of the washerwoman, the shop-girl or even gentlemen at the races in search of a diversion.
Today as I look around New York, I see that it is the ultimate scene of modernity and spectacle. Although the people crowding the cafés around town may be artists, writers, students or even tourists as opposed to the people living on the fringes of society, I still can’t help but wonder how Degas would have painted them… What kind of vices would he have found to highlight ?
Mihrimah Sultan Mosque, Üsküdar, Architect SİNAN, 1543-48
Koca SİNAN (The Great SİNAN) as he is known in Turkey died on July 17, 1588 leaving behind over 360 architectural masterpieces large and small, constructed for the elite of Ottoman society. I have a personal preference for the two mosques he built for Mihrimah Sultan, the precious daughter of Suleyman the Magnificent due to the romantic mythology associated with them - one in Üsküdar on the Asian side of the Bosphorus and one on Edirnekapi next to the Land Walls of the city. The Üsküdar mosque was the first of the two mosques SİNAN built for Mihrimah Sultan. For more information on Mihrimah Sultan, her mosques and her relationship with the Great SİNAN (Koca SİNAN) ….http://www.sedefscorner.com/2014/01/ottoman-princess-mihrimah-sultan.html
Rembrandt van Rijn, Flora, ca. 1654, @metmuseum
Happy Birthday Rembrandt, born July 15, 1606
The figure of Flora is based on Rembrandt’s late wife, Saskia, who had passed away in 1642. I have always loved this depiction of the goddess of Spring for its reality. Although inspired by Titian’s Flora, Rembrandt chooses to interpret this sensual goddess as an aging woman in fancy clothes with an expression revealing real life experience. As the Met Label points out “She seems to understand that flowers - emblematic of youth, beauty and love - will fade away.”* And here in lies the significance and timelessness of art - the genius of Rembrandt does not fade away with time, neither does the love it inspires on all who lay their eyes upon it.