Bosch at the Prado continued (if you understand Spanish)

JAMIE EDWARDS

The Prado have just released another video ahead of the opening of their new Bosch exhibition: Bosch. The 5th Centenary Exhibition (31.05.2016 – 11.09.2016).It’s presented by Pilar Silva, who is head of the Prado’s collection of flemish painting before 1600, and who has had the lovely job (gripes over the findings of the BRCP notwithstanding) of curating the Bosch exhibition.

To say that my Spanish is rusty is putting it generously. But unless I’m totally wrong, and if I am, sorry, I think that Silva mentions in the video that the Garden of Earthly Delights was probably commissioned by Engelbrecht II of Nassau. If this is indeed what she says (?!), it heralds an interesting shift in the accepted view.

Most scholars have up to now tended to view the Garden as a mature work by Bosch (usually 1510 or thereabouts; certainly post-1500). The earliest documented reference to the triptych comes from 1517, when it was seen by Antonio de Beatis in Henry III of Nassau’s Brussels Palace. Since this became known, it always been used as evidence to support the view that the Garden is late, since it has often been assumed that Henry commissioned the triptych from Bosch. Underlying all this, of course, has always been the idea that Bosch’s most visually spectacular work must have been the product of his fully-formed genius. Silva’s reference to Engelbrecht in the above video, though, signals serious interest in an alternative point of view.

Hieronymus Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights, Prado, ,Madrid

Hieronymus Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights, 1480s, Prado, Madrid

I’ve always believed that the Garden is an early work; Bernard Vermet has convincingly, in my view, championed just this. It is based on style (I, for example, don’t see how the Garden can seriously be thought of as a mature work when you put it next to the Haywain, which certainly is). The surprisingly early dating of the planks of wood from which the triptych is made–surprising, that is, to proponents of a late date for the Garden– fully supports an earlier dating: the tree concerned was felled in the 1460s, meaning that the panels could have been assembled and painted on, say, during the 1480s, which seems to be the most likely date for the picture’s execution. And if you believe this, that the picture could have been made as early as the 1480s (and note at the start of the Prado’s video that the dating has indeed been pushed back as far as 1490), then you have to look elsewhere for possible patrons. And it turns out that you needn’t look far: Engelbrecht II of Nassau was Henry III’s uncle, and when Engelbrecht died his estate fell into the hands of Henry. Engelbrecht could therefore have been the patron of Bosch’s Garden, who, it turns out, had the opportunity to commission the work from Bosch in 1481, when he stayed in Bosch’s hometown of ‘s-Hertogenbosch to attended a meeting of the Order of the Golden Fleece.

It’ll be interesting to read more about this when I get my hands on the literature…

Should also say–I am going to Madrid in a fortnight’s time, and will do a write up of the show. So watch this space.

DEPARTMENTAL RESEARCH SEMINAR: 18 MAY

‘Church Design in Counter Reformation Venice: San Nicolò dei Mendicoli.’

Faith Trend

(University of Birmingham)

Wednesday 18 May
4:10pm
Barber Institute Photograph Room

Untitled

‘In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the churches of Venice were a hive of activity as the majority were updated – either rebuilt entirely or retrofitted with new features – to correspond with the new requirements for ecclesiastic architecture that were triggered by the Counter Reformation. Until recently, this is an aspect of the architectural history of Venice’s churches that has not had enough academic attention and this paper considers the reasons behind this, as well as demonstrating through the renovation of the church of San Nicolò dei Mendicoli just how significant this climate of reform was on the city and how clearly it can be demonstrated.’

All welcome; refreshments served
Enquiries to Sara Tarter: SET497@student.bham.ac.uk

DEPARTMENTAL RESEARCH SEMINAR: THURSDAY 12 MAY

‘Sweetness and Light at the Grosvenor Gallery’

Dr Melody Barnett Deusner

(Indiana University Bloomington and Fulbright-University of Birmingham Scholar 2016)

Thursday 12 May
4:10pm
Barber Institute Photograph Room

GrosvenorGallery1877

Grosvenor Gallery, 1877 (more images below)

‘Sir Coutts Lindsay’s Grosvenor Gallery in London has long been known to art historians as the premiere showplace for Aesthetic Movement painting in the late 1870s and 1880s. To technological historians, however, the location has a different significance as the site of London’s first truly successful central electrical power station, operated by Coutts Lindsay and located in the basement of the gallery itself. This paper draws together these two parallel histories and probes the relationships between the individuals involved in both projects. The cadre of upper-middle-class and aristocratic investors that speculated in this new technological field and reshaped the city as a series of interconnected nodes included collectors and promoters of Aesthetic paintings by James MacNeill Whistler and Albert Moore—pictures that elevate compositional arrangement and systemic organization to the level of the highest art.’

Biographical Statement:

Melody Barnett Deusner is an art historian for whom the networked conditions of our present world have sparked a series of investigations into the ways that an international range of artists and their audiences experienced and visualized the interconnected world of the past. As a Fulbright Scholar based at the University of Birmingham’s American & Canadian Studies Centre, she will be walking the canal towpaths and exploring the rail systems that served as key components of the nineteenth-century transportation, communications, and economics networks at the heart of her current research and teaching. Her own pathways have led her from Texas to an undergraduate degree at Rhodes College, a Ph.D. at the University of Delaware, and a post at Indiana University, Bloomington, where she serves as a specialist in American art to 1945. Her work has been recognized and supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Henry Luce Foundation/ACLS, and the Kress Foundation.

All welcome; refreshments served
Enquiries to Sara Tarter: SET497@student.bham.ac.uk

GrosvenorGalleryElectricalNetworkSmall

Grosvenor Gallery Electric Network

MooreBirds1878

Albert Moore, Study for Birds, 1878

Bosch, Bosch, Bosch

JAMIE EDWARDS

In a few days’ time, the exhibition Jheronimus Bosch – Visions of a genius will close the Noordbrabants Museum, ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Most of the works are then being shipped to Madrid, where, on the 31st May, another Bosch exhibition will open at The Prado: Bosch. The 5th Centenary Exhibition (31.05.2016 – 11.09.2016). The trailer (which has a curious voiceover) is here:

Regular readers will remember that the Prado and Noordbrabants museum have come to blows this year (the 5th centenary year of Bosch’s death), mainly over the Bosch Research & Conservation Project’s findings. The findings call for the “downgrading” of several works previously thought to be by Bosch that are held by the Prado. This led, at the eleventh hour, to the Prado’s decision to withdraw the Cure of Folly and St Anthony from the show in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Those works will now be included in the Prado’s own exhibition, which will also include the monumental (so-called) Garden of Earthly Delights (1480s) that the Prado owns (and obviously didn’t lend to the Nordbrabants Museum).

Turner and his Fighting Temeraire make the new twenty quid note

JAMIE EDWARDS

New 20£

The Bank of England have revealed the design of its new £20 note (above), which will begin circulating in 2020. It features Turner’s 1799 Self-Portrait (now in the Tate Britain) and his almost ubiquitously familiar painting The Fighting Temeraire, of 1839 (NG, London; below). Also featuring on the note will be Turner’s famous quote ‘Light is therefore colour’, a phrase first uttered by Turner in an 1818 lecture delivered at the RA.

Turner, The Fighting Temeraire, 1839; NG London

Turner, The Fighting Temeraire, 1839; NG London

The new design is the result of a landmark public vote, the first time that the public was invited to nominate candidates to feature on a new note. The bank ended-up with a list featuring some 29,000 nominees, 590 of which were artists. From these, a shortlist was drawn up: Turner, Charlie Chaplin, Barbara Hepworth, William Hogarth, and designer Josiah Wedgwood, and eventually Turner won.

This story has been the subject of some controversy. Rightly, it was pointed out that women are conspicuous only by their relative absence from the new batch of notes–by 2020, the £5, £20 and £50 notes will feature portraits of notable blokes, whereas only one woman (besides HMQ Elizabeth II, obviously) has got a look in: Jane Austen, who will feature on the £10 note from 2017. Caroline Criado-Perez, head of the campaign for more women to appear on banknotes, was rightly, I think, miffed that only one woman made it on to the Bank’s list of five notable historical figures for inclusion on the new notes, quipping that “I guess the Bank of England thinks one woman out of five historical figures ticks off their gender quota.” The Bank’s governor, Mark Carney, meanwhile, has admitted that although diversity was a consideration in the decision nevertheless conceded that “further progress” could be made in this regard.

I DO think, though, that we should acknowledge the Bank’s efforts to increase transparency and independence by involving the public in a vote (even if the final decision was made by a board headed by the Bank’s deputy governor, other high-fliers and some specially drafted in “advisors” etc.). I do also think–laying the gender inequality aside, if such a thing can ever be done–that Turner makes for a very appropriate choice. Turner is, after all, without doubt one of the preeminent and most important figures in British art history.

Theory no. 37,987,869*: the Mona Lisa really shows Leonardo’s gay lover

JAMIE EDWARDS

Mona Lisa

The Telegraph reports today the latest Mona Lisa theory.** Silvano Vincenti–the art detective, who has spent the last few years digging around in the ground beneath S Ursula’s convent in Florence looking for Lisa del Giocondo’s (née Gherardini) remains–has finally “come up with an answer to a question that has divided scholars for years – who was the Mona Lisa based on?”. Vincenti says that we’ve all been wrong for years, and that the Mona Lisa is actually not, strictly speaking, a portrait of Lisa at all. It’s really a portrait of Leonardo’s live-in assisatnt, and conjectured lover, Salai. Partly based on examinations of infra-red images, Vincenti says that the “androgynous” Mona Lisa is a fusion of Lisa’s face with the best bits of Salai; he says that the forehead, nose and that smile, are all Salai’s features. Underlying all this is the speculation that Leonardo and Salai were gay lovers–hence Vincenti’s comparison between the face of the Mona Lisa with the face of the Incarnate Angel, here reckoned to be a portrait of sorts of Salai, and notable because the angel has a stonking erection. Reading between the lines, the Mona Lisa thus goes from idealised portrait of a Florentine merchant’s wife, to a secret homage to Salai, Leonardo’s gay lover.

Leonardo, Angel Incarnate, Private Collection

Leonardo, Angel Incarnate, Private Collection

Frankly, Vincenti should’ve known better. The basic premise that the identification of the portrait’s sitter is ‘a question that has divided scholars for years’ is a false one. No scholar–or else, no serious one–actually doubts whether the portrait is a picture of Lisa, however idealised or imaginative it may, in many respects, be.

At any rate, it is frankly misleading to claim that even if Leonardo found Salai attractive, and even if he had, somewhere in his mind, Salai’s features when producing his pictures, that those pictures must then be understood as pictorial manifestations of Leonardo and Salai’s gay romance. This is a misunderstanding of the artistic process, what it entails and how it works. It’s also a rather naïve take on sexuality in the Early Modern period, during which relationships between older men and young boys would never have been understood according to a modern taxonomy of sexuality (gay, homosexual etc.). To say the Mona Lisa is actually about gay love, articulated in those terms, is simply anachronistic.

This latest theory is therefore a kind of dramatising and skewing of the known facts that gives rise, in this case, to a view not dissimilar to the wholly problematic interpretations of Michelangelo and Tomasso dei Cavalieri’s relationship and the works of art, poetry etc. that they exchanged.

Anyway, as Prof. Martin Kemp has been saying for years–and this is repeated in The Telegraph‘s article–we don’t actually know what Salai looked like. Vasari’s written description of him is generic, to say the least, and conforms to a standard type: “he was pretty and had curly hair”, basically. So any attempt to spot Salai’s features in Leonardo’s work is a lost cause from the off, and any results are wholly conjectural.

Thus Kemp’s view: “This is a mish-mash of known things, semi-known things and complete fantasy…”.

To put that another way, this is Dan Brown stuff.

 

* This is, by the way, the second time Vincenti has peddled this “theory”. This is just a re-hashing. In 2011, he said the same.

** do wish people would stop referring to Leonardo as “da Vinci”.

Silly but funny? will.i.am at The Louvre

JAMIE EDWARDS

Rembrandt.i.am

Stumbled across this on t’internet and I’m conflicted. Is it brilliant? Is it terrible? Or just plain weird? I won’t know, maybe it’s all those things. I’ve gotta say that will.i.am’s face super-imposed on the Old Masters is quite funny, but the new captions on the frames are better: “Rembrandt.i.am”! Even funnier still is the moment Scherzinger begins warbling as the Mona Lisa. 

 

New Caravaggio found in attic?

JAMIE EDWARDS

BBC reports that a new Caravaggio might just have been discovered in the attic of a house in Toulouse. The picture, showing Judith Beheading Holofernes, came to light two years ago (on the occasion of trying to mend a leaking roof apparently). It subsequently fell into the hands of Eric Turquin (pictured below alongside the painting in question), who now suspects that the painting is another autograph version of Caravaggio’s famous Judith Beheading Holofernes (1598/99; Palazzo Barberini, Rome).

The French Government has placed a 30-month export bar on the picture. In the meantime, analysts at The Louvre are working on ascertaining an attribution; should they authenticate it as a genuine Caravaggio, the French Government will have first dibs on acquiring it.

Caravaggio, Rome

Caravaggio, Judith Beheading Holofernes (1598/99; Palazzo Barberini, Rome)

New Caravaggio? AFP:Getty Images

New Caravaggio? AFP:Getty Images

I’m no Caravaggio expert, but when you put reproductions of the “new” Caravaggio next to the version in Rome, the former doesn’t seem “right”–the composition’s a bit clumsy; the flesh colours a bit stark; the curtains behind, a tad sharp and staccato. These comments come, of course, with the important caveat that they are being offered about a pretty bad reproduction of a painting that is supposed to have spent its recent history under a leaky roof, so caution is needed. However, the fact that Caravaggio courted such a huge following, the so-called Caravaggisti, seems to me to be clearly relevant and imposes yet another reason to be cautious about making excited pronouncements about this discovery. I’m sure that The Louvre will be able to shed some light when their investigations begin to yield answers.

 

One week to go: Flatpack Film Festival

OLIVER STEVENSON (Finalist; Student Ambassador for Flatpack)

FFFX_hires_widescreen-centred_ten_WEB

At the end of April (19th-24th), Birmingham will be taken over by Flatpack Film Festival for the tenth time. From its beginnings in a Digbeth pub and a Balsall Heath attic, Flatpack has grown and spread, and has become, over the course of a decade, an important week in Birmingham’s cultural calendar. Flatpack 10 will include shorts, documentaries, parties, installations, workshops, exhibitions and new features in venues all over the city from Brummie classics, such as the BMAG and The Electric Cinema to Centrala in Minerva Works and, for the last three days of the festival, in Action Space. “What is Action Space?” I hear you cry, well Action Space is new. An inflatable venue that will be right outside Birmingham Council House. It has to be seen to be believed.

I was lucky enough last year to go to some of the Flatpack 9 events, including a screening of the fantastic Sex & Broadcasting, a documentary about the independent, freeform radio station WFMU run out of Jersey City (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, I urge you to look it up). Though my personal highlight was a dinner party, but no usual dinner party. The installation The Dog House at Stryx, in Minerva Works, was what the festival described as ‘a dinner with a difference’. It involved being sat at a table with four others, all of us donning Oculus Rift virtual reality goggles, in order to experience a Danish family’s dinner time and all the dramas that ensue during. Before you sat down you had no idea what to expect or which character you’d be–I went with my girlfriend and she ended up being my boyfriend in the film. Each pair of goggles showed the film from a different character’s perspective so you end up discussing what you, and the others, saw. It was a truly unique and unreal experience that aimed to show the future of cinema (though by the time this kind of cinema becomes all the rage I’m hoping that the technology has evolved to make you feel less motion sick).

The Doghouse Installation1

The Dog House at Stryx; Minerva Works

Flatpack is a truly wonderful festival that brings so much to Birmingham. Though The Doghouse isn’t running this year, there is so much more to get involved with and have a try at. Go and see a film at The Electric Cinema (I am thinking of going and seeing the brilliantly named Chuck Norris Vs. Communism); go and see incredible light-paintings by the Japanese artists Tochka at the Ikon (which conveniently would also mean you get to see their Dan Flavin exhibition); explore the demonic presence in Birmingham with local historian Ben Waddington at Satan’s Birmingham; or join in with the lunar lunacy at the free Full Moon Party on the Friday of the festival (it’s free!).

Flatpack is definitely something that is worth getting involved in, and none of the events take place more than half an hour away from campus. The full programme is hereso don’t just take my word for it, go and book something and escape from the harsh realities of exams and deadlines just before the new term starts. It might just change your life.

Restoring Joachim Wtewael at the NG

JAMIE EDWARDS

Another excellent video by the National Gallery here, about the marvellous Jill Dunkerton’s work to restore their Raising of Lazrus (about 1605) by Joachim Wtewael. As Dunkerton explains, the picture was a right old mess just a few years ago, and this video charts her painstaking work to bring it back to something like its original glory.

Fascinating stuff, and another good example of how important conscientious conservation is for the preservation of important works of art for future generations to enjoy.

PS sorry about the lack of action recently (writing, writing, writing!). Many new posts coming next week!

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