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Art History Today
Midlands, United Kingdom
Professional Art Historian, Phd in Poussin,
Interests: music, art history, films, (classical through to rock), literature (mainly modern crime mystery).
Recent Activity
1) John Hamilton Mortimer, Death on a Pale Horse, 1775, pen and black ink and gray ink on moderately thick, moderately textured, cream wove paper, Yale Centre for British Art. 2) Albrecht Dürer, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, 1498, woodcut, Metropolitan Museum, New York. 3) Benjamin West, Death on a Pale Horse, 1796, oil on canvas, 23 ½ x 50 ½ inches, Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit. 4) Phillipe de Loutherbourg, Vision of the White Horse, 1798, oil on canvas, 48 x 31 inches, Tate, London. 5) William Blake, Death on a Pale Horse, about 1800, w/c, Fitzwilliam, Cambridge.... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Art History Today
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Turner’s Vortex Vision & the Apocalyptic Sublime Turner’s engagement with the sublime was more complex than Martin’s, largely because he drew on a variety of influences and sources to create his apocalyptic works. From classical history Turner took accounts of Hannibal’s trek across the Alps, but imbued it with a sense of imminent catastrophe conveyed by the whirling vortex of the composition as well as the colour black blotting out the sky. And Turner yoked his apocalyptic colour paintings to events in his own society with such paintings as Slavers Throwing the Dead Overboard, as did Danby with his allusion... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Art History Today
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John Martin, Milton & and the Industrial Revolution For the poet Robert Southey, one of the wonders of the British Industrial Age, the Caledonian Canal, was strongly reminiscent of the scenes in John Martin’s pictures of both coalmines and Satan’s Hell in Paradise Lost. And in fact sometimes there is very little difference between Martin’s painting of engineering works and the fires of Hell since, to use Klingender’s words “John Martin gave Hell the imagery of industry” while “contemporary illustrators gave industry the image of Hell.”[1] Inspired by the anti-Newtonian Blake, Martin smelted the ore of Milton’s imagery into the... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Art History Today
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Dark Satanic Mills: The Return of the Sublime in the Age of Capitalist Endeavour. According to Klingender, the sense of despair at the rise of political economy and divorce of art from science caused painters to turn back to the eighteenth-century to reclaim the sublime. Then as now, Mary Wollstonecraft’s Frankenstein conceived at the Villa Diodati might have suggested the dangers of unleashing forces beyond the control of humans on the world; but for painters there was a ready-made symbol of the “scientific forces in society”- Milton’s Satan.[1] Added to this was an interest in the ruins of the ancient... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Art History Today
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Of Pyramids & Brick Kilns: The Industrial Sublime. After his Tenth Plague of Egypt, Turner did one more- the Fifth Plague which he also included in his Liber Studiorum, a sort of boiled down compendium of his core works and ideas in drawings and etchings. Commenting on the Fifth Plague in the Liber Studiorum, John Ruskin expressed his displeasure at what Paley calls a possible “presentiment of modernity.” For Ruskin, the pyramids looked like “brick kilns” and the fire running along the ground resembled “the burning of manure.”[1] What Ruskin probably discerned is a link between scenes of apocalypse and... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Art History Today
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Manfred in the Mountains: The Byronic Sublime. In 1816 with his reputation in tatters, separated from his wife, rumours of an affair with his half-sister Augusta, and besieged by bailiffs, Lord Byron sold his library and left England for ever with his valet and his companion Dr Polidori who was to provide a written account of the journey for the poet’s publisher John Murray. At the Villa Diodati near Lake Geneva in Switzerland, Byron and Polidori met up with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, his lover Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, and Mary Jane Clairmont, step daughter of William Godwin. Out of... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Art History Today
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After the Deluge. Apart from animals out in the wilds, the best way of representing the power of the sublime in nature was to depict some natural disaster like a tempest or a flood. Noah’s biblical flood was a favourite with romantic painters, and by far the exemplar for romantic, apocalyptic painters was Nicolas Poussin’s The Deluge which with its sense of hopelessness in the face of relentless nature and divine vengeance was hugely influential on later generations of artists and critics. The author of the gothic extravaganza, The Castle of Otranto, Horace Walpole first saw Poussin’s Deluge in the... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Art History Today
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Ride a Pale Horse. “When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come.” I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.” Revelations, 6:8. The terrifying sight of Death represented by a crowned skeleton astride a ferocious white charger which tramples over everything and everybody originates in the... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Art History Today
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Painting the Apocalypse For the uninitiated, the word apocalypse- apokalypsis- means revelation. In the words of the scholar of literary romanticism, M.H. Abrams, apocalypse is “a prophetic vision, set forth in arcane and elaborate symbols, of the imminent events which will bring an abrupt end to the present world order and replace it by a new and perfected condition of man and his milieu.”[1] Apocalypse is predominantly concerned with eschatology, i.e. the judgement of the divine in “the end of days” when a set of horrible disasters and violent events are visited upon the world followed by the appearance of... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at Art History Today
Good review by CH of the “In the Age of Giorgione” exhibition just finished at the R.A. I went a few days before the end- but I’m not sure if I’ll get around to a review. We’ll see… On the LRB website- here. Continue reading
Posted Jun 12, 2016 at Art History Today
1) Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, 1818, oil on canvas, 98.4 cm × 74.8, cm, Kunsthalle Hamburg, Hamburg. 2) Caspar David Friedrich, Giant Grave by the Sea, 1806-07, Pen, brush and sepia over graphite, 645 x 950 mm, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Weimar. 3) Karl Joseph Stieler, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1828, oil on canvas, 78.0 x 63.8 cm, Neue Pinakothek, Munich. 4) Philipp Otto Runge Colour Spheres, 1809, copper engraving with watercolour, 225 x 189 mm, Kunsthalle, Hamburg. 5) Caspar David Friedrich, Evening, c. 1824, oil on cardboard, 20 x 27,5 cm, Kunsthalle, Mannheim. 6) Johan Christian... Continue reading
Posted Jun 10, 2016 at Art History Today
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A Vision of Landscape in the Romantic Period Joseph Leo Koerner has argued that there were several illustrious art sources that Runge used when creating his complex allegory of childhood in nature. [1] Firstly, Runge’s embodiment of the dawn in the Morning cycle may have been inspired by Guido Reni’s celebrated ceiling painting Aurora in Rome which in fact Runge mentions when theorising about the origins of landscape out of history painting. Secondly, for his series Runge may have extracted the putti or children who are at the bottom of Raphael’s famous Sistine Madonna which Runge saw in Dresden where... Continue reading
Posted Jun 10, 2016 at Art History Today
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Romanticism & the Child in Nature In his De Rerum Natura, the ancient writer Lucretius states the child “lies naked upon the ground, speechless, in need of every vital support, as soon as nature has split him forth with throes from his mother’s womb into the regions of light”[1] This description closely fits the allegorical painting The Small Morning (1809-10) by Runge which shows a bared, vulnerable child exposed to the dawn light who in the picture is symbolised by the goddess Aurora. Runge was obsessed with images of childhood; in addition to the eight canvases that form this series... Continue reading
Posted Jun 10, 2016 at Art History Today
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Intimations of Immortality in the Landscape. The German literary romantics comprised a group of individuals, men like Ludwig Tieck, the Schlegel Brothers, and Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg, better known as “Novalis.” One of their governing ideas was that God was the author of two books- the Book of Scripture and the Book of Nature which could be read- to the initiated- as easily as the Holy Bible.[1] These individuals were known to Friedrich and his art cannot be appreciated without understanding the ideas these men held about art and nature which almost certainly influenced his art. The influence... Continue reading
Posted Jun 10, 2016 at Art History Today
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Between Studio & Landscape. In Kerstang’s At the Mirror, a woman stands in a room while looking into a mirror to arrange her hair, almost in imitation of a classical motif found in artists like Bellini who perfected the image of the beautiful nymph looking into a glass. However, Kerstang’s room itself is clearly modelled on a contemporary source: Freidrich’s views of his own studio which show austere rooms with windows opening out to the world. This is not surprising as Kerstang knew Friedrich and painted two views of the artist in his studio with windows. Kerstang’s woman at her... Continue reading
Posted Jun 10, 2016 at Art History Today
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Seen from the Back: Friedrich’s Rückenfigur If the self-portrait gives out to the world while striving to conceal something of the artist’s private essence, then the paintings with individuals with their backs to the spectator shun the world completely and show their back to the beholder. One of the most conspicuous compositional devices in Friedrich’s art, the Rückenfigur immediately marks the painting as a work by Friedrich, but from where does this astonishing convention derive? As Koerner rightly says, the figure that has its back to the spectator wasn’t Friedrich’s invention; it can be seen in early renaissance artists like... Continue reading
Posted Jun 10, 2016 at Art History Today
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Seen from the Front: The Face of Friedrich. In a series of drawn self-portraits done when he was young Friedrich enacted the process of simultaneously observing and sketching. Enact is used here because the black chalk self-portrait of 1800 done in the style of 18th century French engraving shows the artist dramatizing his encounter with himself, with the world as audience. What we witness is the struggle to study the face while recording it, almost at the same time, an occupational hazard for any artist painting himself. This awkwardness in drawing the face is seen by Koerner as indicative of... Continue reading
Posted Jun 10, 2016 at Art History Today
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Friedrich’s Early Training. A tension between following an academic training and responding emotionally to the motif would characterise Friedrich’s early career. Taking breaks from art classes, the artist walked on the sea shore imbibing nature through his senses. This interest in his natural surroundings would grow in Freidrich as he struggled to find his own identity as an artist at the various institutions where he trained. Born in the north German region of Mecklenburg, Friedrich’s family eventually moved to Greifswald, a port on the Baltic. Trained by the university’s drawing instructor, Quistorp, the young Friedrich benefited from his tutor’s art... Continue reading
Posted Jun 10, 2016 at Art History Today
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Classicists & Naturalists. In an exhibition at Weimar in 1805 the writer, scientist and polymathic intellectual Johann Wolfgang von Goethe awarded the painter Caspar David Friedrich a prize for a pair of sepia drawings. Despite being an ardent classicist, and perhaps in deference to the new breed of artists like Phillip Otto Runge and Friedrich, Goethe loosened the conditions of the annual competition which was reserved for classical subjects only. Author of a famous travel book on Italy and the classical play Iphigenia in Tauris, one might have expected Goethe to have been intolerant of these resolutely anti-classicists with their... Continue reading
Posted Jun 10, 2016 at Art History Today
1) Jean-Léon Gérôme, Bonaparte before the Sphinx, 1867-68, oil on canvas, Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California, United States. 2) Andrea Appiani, General Desaix, 1800-01, oil on canvas, 115 x 88 cm, Musée National du Château, Versailles. 3) Antoine Jean Gros, The Battle of Nazareth, 1801, oil on canvas, 135 x 195 cm, Museé des Beaux Arts, Nantes. 4) Jean Pierre Franque, Allegory of the State of France before the Return from Egypt, 1810, Oil on canvas, 261 x 326 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris. 5) Anne Louis Girodet, Hippocrates refusing the Gifts of Artaxerxes, 1792, oil on canvas, 99 x... Continue reading
Posted Jun 8, 2016 at Art History Today
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Orientalism between Cairo & Walton-on-Thames. Like the Arabic tiles in Gérôme’s Snake Charmer, Delacroix’s cryptic painted marks on the wall in the Women of Algiers seem to have no meaning. And in fact this sense of nothingness would be spoken of by critics who saw it less as a historical, ethnographic document and more of an exercise in pure painting. The watchword was rien- nothing, in the Salon of 1834. It may be the case that in the mid-nineteenth-century in orientalist pictures a tension appears between narrative paintings of the Near Orient and ones that are more about the presence... Continue reading
Posted Jun 8, 2016 at Art History Today
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Delacroix’s Algerian Women. As Kenneth Clark said, surely with his tongue firmly in his cheek, if this “whirlpool of carnality” (the Bain Turc) had been presented by the romantics instead of the frock-coated, academically tenured Ingres, than outrage would have ensued. In fact it already had when Delacroix presented his Byronic orgy of annihilation The Death of Sardanapalus at the Salon of 1827 to a shocked audience. It might have been re-titled “The Destruction of the Seraglio” because Delacroix shows the tyrant Sardanapalus, culled from a variety of sources including Byron’s eponymous play, Herodotus, Indian art, Rubens’s Medici cycle, ordering... Continue reading
Posted Jun 8, 2016 at Art History Today
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Art’s Abduction from the Seraglio: Ingres & the Odalisque. [1] If there is one convention that symbolises the erotic, mysterious, and increasingly banal facets of the Islamic Orient, it is surely the seraglio, the harem where the Sultan’s wives were kept. Unauthorised entry was strictly forbidden on pain of death, and although Byron has his hero Don Juan penetrate (en travestie) the seraglio at Constantinople, Byron never went inside the seraglio if an account of a journey to Turkey by his friend Hobhouse is to be believed.[2] With the exception of Delacroix, the most famous harem artist is probably Ingres... Continue reading
Posted Jun 8, 2016 at Art History Today
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Charm’d Casements Opening on the Foam: Orientalism & the Regency in England. In 1850 Delacroix was more optimistic about Persian architecture which he saw as original unlike the stilted attempts of Persian painting which he deplored. During a short break in Spain in 1832 Delacroix learnt more about oriental architecture in Seville where he marvelled at the Moorish style of the Alcazar Palace. By contrast England’s claim to an Orientalized building at this time would have been Brighton Pavilion, the former royal residence for the Prince of Wales, later George IV. Detested by Queen Victoria, Empress of India, because of... Continue reading
Posted Jun 8, 2016 at Art History Today
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An Orient for Painters: The Picturesque in North Africa. For art historians (and some literature scholars) the ruthless exclusion of visual art from Said’s Orientalism has provoked a range of reactions from mystification to irritation. It has even been suggested that Said thought that the Orient could not be represented visually at all.[1] Perhaps Said didn’t trust artists to get the Orient right since he told Nochlin “in conversation” that the inscriptions on the tile pattern at the back of Gérôme’s Snake Charmer were “unreadable,” perhaps implying they were simply picturesque decoration rather than linguistically accurate .[2] For Nochlin the... Continue reading
Posted Jun 8, 2016 at Art History Today