Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Snow Time -- S'No Time To Be Outside

The Limbourg Brothers, February
from Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry
Dutch, 1412-1416
Chantilly, Musée Condé  
MS 65, fol. 2v

Last night, with the entire East Coast hunkered down for a strong nor’easter and heavy snow, I couldn’t  resist stepping a bit outside my normal iconographic concerns to prepare some observations on the art of the snow scene.

From my windows today I can see the roofs of Manhattan covered in the white stuff, the pine trees planted on some penthouses as picturesque as in any Alpine scene. I am grateful that, for us at least, it wasn’t heavier and sorry for those to our northeast who took the full brunt of the storm.

With nowhere to go, since transportation is still limited, and with the power off in some locations, we find our twenty-first century selves thrown back – almost – to an earlier world, sharing with our ancestors the beauty and the disruption of snow.

The first snow scene we are aware of is the amazingly detailed and very charming one produced by the Limbourg Brothers (Jean, Herman and Paul) for the February calendar page of the Tres Riches Heures of the Duke of Berry, produced around 1415. 

Traditionally, the February calendar page in Books of Hours showed the activity of the month to consist either of keeping warm in front of a fire, eating beside it (same as January) or of chopping twigs in a snowless landscape, often combined with the fishes that are the astrological sign of Pisces.  
February from a Breviary
French (Paris), ca. 1345-`355
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M75, fol. 1v

The Limbourgs do present the warming scene and the astrological reference, but then devote the largest portion of the page to what is happening beyond the house.

Limbourg Brothers, February (detail)
from Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry
Dutch, 1412-1416
Chantilly, Musée Condé
MS 65, fol. 2v (detail)

They show the sheep penned up in their fold to keep them warm and safe, the snow covered bee hives, the pigeons and other birds feeding on some scattered grain.  On the far right a woman worker, her skirts hiked up above her knees, showing the very practical boots she is wearing, hurries to get indoors as she breathes on her cold hands which are covered by the shawl she is wearing over her head and upper body.  She is the very picture of shivering cold. 

Beyond the woven wall that surrounds the farmyard a man with an ax is chopping at a tree, presumably for more firewood. Another man drives a donkey, with panniers laden with what looks like logs, past snow covered hay stacks toward a distantly seen town.  For a first image it is a very strikingly successful rendering of the visual and emotional effects of winter snows and cold. 

Snow scenes remained a special field for northern painters, from the Low Countries, Germany and France, through the centuries, spreading later to America.  Mostly the scenes are simple landscapes, showing the effect of snow on the natural world, or scenes of daily human activities in the snow. 

Jean Bourdichon, January
from Grandes Heures d'Anne de Bretagne
French, 1503-1508
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 9474, fol. 4

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Hunters in the Snow
Flemish, 1565
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum

Denis van Alsloot, Winter Landscape
Flemish, 1610
Paris, Musée du Louvre

Joos de Momper, Winter Landscape with Wagon
Flemish, ca. 1620
Private Collection

Jacob van Ruysdael, Winter
Dutch, 1670
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Caspar David Friedrich, Winter
German, 1811
London, National Gallery

Barend Cornelis Koekkoek, Winter
Dutch, 1838
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Johannes Cornelis Hoppenbrouwers, Winter Landscape
Dutch, 1854
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

George Henry Boughton, Winter Twilight Near Albany
American, 1859-1869
New York, New York Historical Society

Thomas Hiram Hotchkiss, Catskill Winter
American, 1858
New York, New York Historical Society

Henry Farrer, Moonlight in Winter
American, 1869
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Claude Monet, Cart on the Snowy Road at Honfleur
French, 1865
Paris, Musée d'Orsay

Claude Monet, Snow at Argenteuil
French, 1874
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts

Claude Monet, Haystacks (Effect of Snow and Sun)
French, 1891
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Alfred Sisley, Rue Moussoir at Moret: Winter
English, 1891
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Paul Gauguin, Garden in Winter, Rue Carcel
French, 1883
Private Collection

Childe Hassam, Winter, Union Square
American, 1889-1890
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

George Bellows, Blue Snow, the Battery
American, 1910
Columbus, Museum of Art

Many feature the effect of snow and ice on the human sense of fun, showing people enjoying the frozen rivers and ponds in the same way we do today:  by strapping on a pair of ice skates, sledding, playing games or flirting.  

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Winter Landscape with Skaters and a Bird Trap
Belgian, 1565
Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts

Hendrick Avercamp, A Scene on the Ice
Dutch, 1625
Washington, National Gallery of Art

Aert van der Neer, Sports on a Frozen River
Dutch, ca. 1660
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Vincent van der Vinne, Winter Landscape with Skaters on a Frozen Canal
Dutch, Undated (lived 1736-1811)
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Francois Boucher, Winter
French, 1755
New York, Frick Collection

Currier and Ives, Central Park in Winter
American, 1877-1894
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

George Bellows, Love of Winter
American, 1914
Chicago, Art Institute

Religious Scenes

A handful of paintings make the snow a backdrop for religious storytelling,  
Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Census at Bethlehem
Belgian, 1566
Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts
Almost unnoticed amid the busy scene is the donkey carrying Mary led by Joseph.

Joos de Momper, Winter Landscape with Flight into Egypt
Flemish, Undated (lived 1564-1634)
Private Collection
As with the Brueghel painting, the flight of the Holy Family goes virtually unnoticed at the bottom left.

History Painting

George Henry Boughton, Pilgrims Going to Church
American, 1867
New York, New York Historical Society

Emanuel Leutze, Washington Crossing the Delaware
American, 1851
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art


Antoine Caron, The Triumph of Winter
French, ca. 1568
Private Collection
In this interesting painting the French Mannerist Antoine Caron presents an allegorical fantasy, a pageant of the Triumph of Winter taking place along the banks of the Seine in Paris, opposite the Tuileries.  Winter sits on the triumphal car drawn by cranes at the right.  Preceding him is a procession of the pagan gods led by Janus and including Apollo, Mercury, Diana, Mars and Vulcan.  They are heading for a small, round temple which appears to be floating in the Seine and are watched by citizens on both sides of the river as well as from boats on it.  The finely observed footprints in the snow suggest careful study of the reality of snow's physical effects.  One hopes, however,  that this is a work of  Caron's imagination or, if not, that the participants didn't die of frostbite!

Jacques de la Joue the Younger, Allegory of Winter
French, ca. 1740
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Much as we do with our own snow photographs the pictures tend to focus on the after effects of the storm, not on its fury.  Snow times s’no time to be out in it, but after the snow has passed it is the time to observe, admire and have some fun.

©M. Duffy, 2015

Monday, January 26, 2015

Get There While You Can

El Greco, View of Toledo
Greco-Spanish, 1597-1599
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
About two months ago I wrote an article outlining the amazing array of offerings in the museums of New York City available between the beginning of November and the end of January.  The distractions of two bouts of bronchitis and the flurry of activity surrounding Christmas and New Year, plus my concentration on researching and writing my still unfinished articles about the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary meant that I didn’t take the time to properly review and recommend any of those exhibitions.  

This is unfortunate, especially in the case of the recently closed exhibition of the paintings and tapestries of Pieter Coecke van Aelst.  That was a simply spectacular show, which ended with a weekend devoted to a scholarly symposium on Coecke and his period, part of which I attended. 

El Greco, St. Luke
Greco-Spanish, ca. 1600-1605
New York, Hispanic Society of America

However, several of the exhibitions are still open, at least through next Sunday, February 1, and two in particular are not to be missed if possible.

The Met will close two important exhibitions on February 1.  
El Greco, Holy Family
Greco-Spanish, ca. 1585
New York, Hispanic Society of America

The first is a lovely little show of the El Grecos in the Met’s own collection, including the two usually seen only in the Lehman wing, reminding us once again of the depth of the Met's holdings.  These are supplemented by several paintings from the little known collections of the Hispanic Society of America, which is located in a corner of Manhattan (at Broadway and 155th Street) not usually visited by tourists and seldom even by New Yorkers.   Indeed, I myself visited it for the first time only two years ago. 

The paintings from the Hispanic Society make a welcome addition to round out the Met’s familiar holdings.  They include a lovely Holy Family, featuring a very substantial Baby Jesus, a sensitive St. Luke and a Penitent St. Jerome which provides a nice pendant to the Met’s St. Jerome as a Cardinal from the Lehman Collection. 
El Greco, Penitent St. Jerome
Greco-Spanish, c. 1600
New York, Hispanic Society of America
El Greco, St. Jerome
Greco-Spanish, 1600-1614
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lehman Collection

But, the star among the Hispanic Society pictures, as far as I am concerned, is a beautiful head of St. Francis of Assisi.

El Greco, St. Francis of Assisi
Greco-Spanish, ca. 1590
New York, Hispanic Society of America
As the Met notes, the St. Francis head has been cut from a much larger canvas, one of the myriad paintings of St. Francis that came from the studio of the master.  But the head itself is so beautifully painted that it is probably from the hand of El Greco himself.  And, happily, it does not really suffer from its cut out state.  Instead, the profile view, seen against a black background produces almost the effect of a sculptural profile bust.  The effect is startling and very impressive.  The reproduction at left does not do it justice.   You should see it if you can.

It should also be noted that the Frick is also running a small complementary exhibition of its own three El Greco paintings.  This will also close on February 1. 

Bartholomeus Spranger, Self-Portrait
Belgian, c.1585
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum
The second exhibition that warrants viewing at the Met called Bartholomeus Spranger:  Splendor and Eroticism in Imperial Prague.  

Like Coecke van Aelst, Spranger was an artist from a period of time and an area of Europe little known to American museum goers -- the later Northern Renaissance and Mannerist periods.  In the last ten years the Met has presented three shows devoted to the work of artists from this time and place.  The first, in the autumn of 2010, was of the work of Jan Gossart (sometimes known as Mabuse).  The second and third are the two recent/current exhibitions of Coecke van Aelst and Spranger.

All three men originated in the Belgian town of Antwerp, but had their success in other locations and under the patronage of members of the Burgundian Hapsburg royal family.  All three were extremely important in blending the art of the earlier Northern Renaissance artists, with their near miraculous oil painting techniques, and the classical art of the Italian Renaissance during that interesting and still not quite understood period known as Mannerism, with its exaggerated forms and complicated compositions.  All three started out as painters, but created some of their most interesting and important work as designs for tapestries, stained glass,  gold work, engravings and other "minor arts" to be executed by others. 
Bartholomeus Spranger, Lamentation of the Dead Christ
Belgian, c. 1576
Munich, Bayerisches Staatsgemaeldiesammlungen

Of the three, Spranger is the youngest.  Spranger received his initial training in Antwerp, then went on to work in Italy at Parma as an assistant to the painter Bernardino Gatti and, most importantly, in Rome where he worked with the artist Giulio Clovio in service to Cardinal Alessandro Farnese and to Pope Pius V.  After the death of Pope Pius he moved on to the service of the Emperor Maximilian II at Vienna (from 1575) and then to the service of Rudolf II at Prague, beginning in 1580.

Bartholomeus Spranger, Odysseus and Circe
Belgian, ca. 1580-1582
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum

Bartholomeus Spranger, God the Father
with The Holy Spirit and Angels
Belgian, ca. 1582
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum

He remained in Prague for most of the rest of his life, dying there in 1611.

All these movements and parts of his life are displayed in the three rooms of the exhibition, including a modern interpretation of what a portion of the Kunstkammer of Rudolf II might have resembled: combining paintings, drawings, prints, animal skeletons (on loan from the American Museum of Natural History across Central Park), ivory carvings and other curiosities into one grand display.

Partial view of the Met's installation reproducing the
Kunstkammer of Rudolf II
The large painting is Spranger's Jupiter and Antiope
of about 1596 from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna

Like Arcimboldo, about whom I have written previously, Spranger’s paintings easily fit right into this type of display. 
Bartholomeus Spranger, Allegory of Fame
Belgian, 1592
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum
This allegory refers to the hoped for victory
of Rudolf II over an invading Turkish army.
In reality, Rudolf suffered a defeat.

Like his fellow Mannerists Spranger’s oeuvre mixes Christian religious scenes with allegories and with stories of the doings of the pagan gods of antiquity, depending on the taste and requirements of the patron for whom he worked.

Hendrick Goltzius after Bartholomeus Spranger, Feast of the Gods at the Marriage of Cupid and Psyche
Belgian, 1587
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Arts
This engraving, following a drawing by Spranger in the Albertina Museum in Vienna, made Spranger famous throughout late 16th century Europe.  The original drawing  is displayed alongside the Met's own copy of the print (seen here).

Bartholomeus Spranger, Adoration of the Kings
Belgian, ca. 1595
London, National Gallery
Bartholomeus Spranger, Vanitas
Belgian, ca. 1600
Krakow, Wawel Castle

Many of the objects in the exhibition come from the Kunsthistorisches Museum and the Albertina in Vienna and from other collections in Germany, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Romania, Poland and Liechtenstein. For this reason alone the show is worth seeing and even more rewarding when seen as part of the wider European phenomenon of Mannerism that is represented by Spranger, Coecke van Aelst and Gossart in the north, by the artists of the School of Fontainebleau in France, El Greco in Spain and the Italian Mannerists like Rosso, Pontormo, Parmigianino, Giulio Romano, Vasari and others in Italy.

Bartholomeus Spranger, Noli Me Tangere
Belgian, ca. 1590-1600
Bucharest, National Museum of Art of Romania
Bartholomeus Spranger, Angelica and Medoro
Belgian, ca. 1600
Munich, Alte Pinakothek

Bartholomeus Spranger, Venus at the Forge of Vulcan
Belgian, ca. 1610
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum
So, if you can make it this week, get there while you can (but stay safe during the impending snow storm and wait till the end of the week, if possible).

© M. Duffy, 2015