Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Book of Kells

For historic background on the Book of Kells go to my blog historyscharacters.blogspot.com

The Book of Kells is probably the most famous book of illuminated manuscripts. It is certainly one of the most beautiful. I had the opportunity to see it in person on two occasions. Once, when it was on tour. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York was one of the stops. I went and stood on line for at least an hour then got to look at it for about two minutes. Very disappointing. The second time was when I was in Dublin. I went to Trinity College where the Book of Kells is on permanent display. There was no one else there other than a security guard. The book is encased in a glass box and each day they turn the page. Well, since no one else was around, the guard opened the case and let me look at several pages. (That was 30 years ago. I imagine that wouldn't happen nowadays.) It was beautiful.
The colors, the intricate designs are breathtaking. Knots, swirls, fauna and flora, there is so much there that it takes a while to take it all in.
Even the tiniest section is elaborately done.

Thge picture above is the Chi-Rho page. This is the insular of the Book of Matthew. The Greek letters Chi and Rho were often used in Medieval manuscripts to abbreviate the word Christ. The letter chi dominates the page with the rho sort of snuggled underneath.This
There are all these tiny swirls and knots. The entire inner part of the letter is filled. Some pages have have animals or human figures popping up, occasionally fighting or doing acrobatic stunts.There are apostles and angels watching over the manuscript. There is whimsy and humor. yet none of these take away from the script itself.
Some of the pages have no manuscript but are full page representations of the Apostles, Mary,and Christ.
But the images speak for themselves. Here are a few more.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Tribute to Jennifer L. Howley

Today's posting is a little different. Project 2996 has asked those of us who signed up to write a tribute to one of the victims of 09/11/2001 to post it on our blog. My tribute is to Jennifer L. Howley

Jennifer L. Dorsey Howley - Director at Aon Insurance and Risk Management

Jennifer Lynn Dorsey was born to Lyle and Donna Jean Dorsey on July 7, 1967 in Lincoln Nebraska. Jennifer graduated from Lincoln Southeast High School in 1985. She had a lifelong love of music and took part in several choral ensembles as well as the high school theater department. After high school Jennifer moved to New York City and in 1987 began working in the insurance industry. For a while she lived in Fort Lauderdale and worked for Sedgwick James. Co-workers there remember her positive attitude and energy. She was always there for someone with a problem. She took pride in everything she did and inspired others to do the same.
In 1994 Jennifer returned to New York and started working for Aon at 2 World Trade Center, on the 92nd floor. She had recently been promoted from Senior VP to Director.
In 1997 Jennifer married Brian Howley. At the time of her death she was expecting their first child. She and Brian lived in New Hyde Park in Queens, New York.
As mentioned before, Jennifer had a life long love of music. In honor of Jennifer, Lincoln Southeast High School , her alma mater, opened the Jennifer L. Dorsey Howley Performing Arts Center in February 2009. The Theater opened with a play by Christopher Cartmill entitled "The Choir." This play was inspired by Jennifer's life and her love of music.
The family has also established a scholarship fund in Jennifer's name for a qualifying LSE senior who demonstrates an interest in the fine arts by being involved with the LSE fine arts program.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Filippo Brunelleschi and "IL Duomo"

Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) was one of the most important architects, engineers, and sculptors of the Italian Renaissance. His most famous structure is the Dome - Il Duomo - part of the Church Santa Maria del Flore, the Cathedral in Florence, Italy.
Brunelleschi was trained as a goldsmith and a sculptor in a workshop in Florence in 1392. Around this time he met Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli who became a mentor to young Filippo. Toscanelli was a merchant and medical doctor and he taught Filippo mathematics and science, especially the principles of geometry. He was also able to bring out Filippo's interest in technology.
In 1401, Brunelleschi entered a competition proposed by the Lord of Florence to design the bronze doors of the Florence Baptistry. Seven artists entered. Brunelleschi tied with Lorenzo Ghiberti, but the judges gave Ghiberti the commission, proposing that Brunelleschi act as his assistant. Filippo did not like this idea and withdrew. Both artist's panels can be seen in the Bargello Museum which is housed in the Palazzo del Bargello in Florence.
After this,Filippo turned to architecture. He was great friends with the sculptor Donatello and they spent several years in Rome studying . Brunelleschi immersed himself in the study of antiquity, especially Roman engineering - temples, buildings, baths, amphitheaters, paying particular attention to construction of architectural elements such as vaults and cupolas.
Brunelleschi also did work in mathematics. His most important work in that field was the rediscovery of the principles of linear perspective using mirrors. He did studies of the scale and computed the relation between actual length of an object and its length in the picture depending on its distance behind the plane of the canvas. Using these principles, he drew various scenes of Florence with correct perspective.
The Cathedral in Florence, Santa Maria del Fiore, had a partially completed dome. Work on the cathedral had begun in 1296 and over a hundred years later it was still not completed. The painter Giotto had worked on the building from 1334 until his death in 1337. Brunelleschi became interested in the dome - called Il Duomo - around 1409. The dome had posed a problem for architects for years and many had tried to find a solution. Part of the problem was that when the Cathedral was built no one knew how the dome could be constructed. It was to be larger than the Pantheon's dome in Rome and no dome of that size had been built since antiquity. And buttresses were forbidden by the city. The fact that the dome was to go over the octagonal Baptistry didn't help. Brunelleschi decided he was going to find the solution.
Since childhood, Filippo had been interested in mechanical things - clocks, wheels,, gears, and, especially, weights. In 1418 the wardens of works of the cathedral set up a competition to find a solution to the dome problem. Brunelleschi used his artistic and mathematical skills and his understanding of mechanics and came up with a proposal. His idea was to use brick as a building material, laid in rotating herringbone patterns. His methods included ways of lifting the materials into position, avoiding the use of scaffolding but including the use of machines, which he designed specifically for the project. Once again he was up against Ghiberti but this time he was the one given the commission (in 1420).
It was a long difficult project. Brunelleschi used more than 4 million bricks. He invented a new hoisting machine for raising the masonry needed for the dome. He issued one of the first patents for the hoist in order to prevent theft of his ideas and was granted the first modern patent for his invention of a river transport vessel.
By 1446 the Dome was nearly completed. The only thing left was to hang a huge lantern which was to hang from the center of the dome. This lantern was to help support the dome. But pundits said it wouldn't work and Brunelleschi was forced to take part in another competition before they would let him install it. Unfortunately he died(in 1446) before he could complete the job but it was finally finished according to Brunelleschi's specifications by his friend Michelozzo in 1461.
Il Duomo was the first octagonal dome in history to be built without a wooden supporting frame. At the time, it was the largest dome ever built; it still holds the title of largest masonry dome in the world. It weighs 37,000 tons and contains over 4 million bricks. The dome also used horizontal reinforcements of tension chains of stone and iron. Brunelleschi's dome paved the way to the future of iron and steel reinforcements, such as reinforced concrete in later centuries.
The facade of the cathedral was demolished in 1587-1588. It was not replaced until yet another competition was held in 1864 to design a new facade. The new facade was completed in 1876.
Brunelleschi worked on several other buildings, even as he was working on il Duomo. Among his other churches are Basilica di San Lorenzo di Firenze and Santo Spirito di Firenze

Giorgio Vasari was an artist, biographer, and contemporary of many of the great Renaissance artists. His Lives of the Artists is a classic. Click the link to read what Vasari had to say about Brunelleschi.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Grant Wood

Grant Wood was an American artist He was born in Anamosa, Iowa on February 13, 1891. His family moved to Cedar Rapids in 1901.After graduating high school he enrolled in art school in Minneapolis. He returned to Cedar Rapids a year later to teach. In 1913 he enrolled the School of Art Institute in Chicago and worked as a silversmith.
Between 1920 and 1924 he made four trips to Europe. He immersed himself in various styles of art, especially Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. But the artist who influenced him the most was Jan van Eyck. (see May 23 posting)
In 1932 Grant Wood helped found the Stone City Art Colony which was located near his hometown. The idea behind the colony was to help artists get through the Great Depression.He also began lecturing throughout the country on "regionalism in the arts"
Wood taught painting at the University of Iowa's School of Art from 1934 until he died. He supervised mural projects, mentored students, produced his own works, and become an important part of the University's cultural life. On February 12, 1942 he died of liver cancer.
Besides paintings, Grant Wood produced a large number of works in various other mediums, including charcoal, lithography, ceramics, metal, and wood. In order to have a steady source of income, he often did advertisements for many Iowa-based businesses. He designed the stained glass windows for the Veterans Memorial Building in Grand Rapids.

Regional was a movement that was primarily in the Midwest and advanced figurative painting of rural American themes in a rejection of European abstractism. There were three artists in the forefront of the movement: Grant Wood, John Steuart Curry, (right: Tornado Over Kansas) and Thomas Hart Benton. (left: Parks, the Circus, the Klan, and the Press)

Wood's best known painting is American Gothic (top)painted in 1930.It is probably the most famous painting in American art. A painting which has become a cultural icon like the Mona Lisa and The Scream (by Edvard Munch). It was first exhibited in 1930 at the Art Institute of Chicago where it still hangs. It brought Wood instant recognition (and a $300 prize). Since then it has been used in hundreds of advertisements, satires, and cartoons. Art critics who liked the painting (e.g Gertrude Stein, Christopher Morley) assumed that it was meant to satirize rural small-town life, portraying it as narrow-minded and repressive. The trend to criticize rural America (and Middle America) began in the early part of the 20th century with such works of literature as Winesburg, Ohio (1919) by Sherwood Anderson and Main Street (1920)by Sinclair Lewis. Wood denied this interpretation.

Wood was inspired by a cottage in Eldon, Iowa. The house's architecture was "Gothic Revival" thus the title of the painting.Wood decided to paint the house along with"the kind of people I fancied should live in that house." The painting depicts a farmer and his spinster daughter. The models were Wood's dentist, Dr. Byron McKeeby (1867-1950), and Wood's sister Nan (1900-1990).
The severity and detailed technique were inspired by Northern Renaissance paintings which Grant had seen on his trips to Europe. Eventually he became aware of the Midwest's own legacy which also plays a huge part in this painting.
Personally, I did not know much about Grant Wood nor his work until doing this posting. American Gothic is the only painting of his that I knew. I have discovered that I like some of his work a lot. I find his Paul Revere's Ride (right) particularly interesting. It appears three-dimensional, like a village in a miniature railroad scene. The other painting below is Young Corn

Link to the Cedar Rapids Museum www.crma.org/Content/Grant_Wood/Default.aspx

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was born on September 29, 1571 in Milan, Italy. He is considered the first great artist of the Baroque period. He is known for highly emotional paintings and his dramatic use of lighting. He is considered one of the greatest European artists.
Caravaggio's life was as dramatic and intense as his art. Contemporaries regarded him warily; his reputation was of a rebel - enigmatic and even dangerous. He never lacked for commissions and made a good living with his art. But he was always ready for a fight and others found him difficult to get along with. In 1606 he killed a young man in a brawl and had to leave Rome in exile. Over the next four years there were other brawls and possible attempts on his life.On July 18, 1610 he died, supposedly from a fever.
Caravaggio arrived in Rome in 1592 (after quarrels and a wounding of a policeman in Milan). He arrived with nothing but in a few short months he was working with
a successful painter, Giuseppe Cesari.His earliest known painting is Boy Peeling a Fruit .He was very particular and detailed in his work. The painting Boy with a Basket of Fruit (right)has been analyzed by a professor of horiculture who was able to identify individual cultivars right down to "... a large fig leaf with a prominent fungal scorch
lesion resembling anthracnose.*
In 1594 he went out on his known and met some highly influencial people. His painting The Cardsharps attracted the attention of Cardinaldel Monte, who was one of the leading connoisseurs in Rome. Caravaggio produced several music themed works at the request of the Cardinal and his friends.
He then began a series of religious works. While artists at that time painted the human figure in a sort of perfect or superhuman way, Caravaggio preferred to paint them realistically, as they would be seen walking down the street, flaws and all. His reputation as artist was on the rise.
Caravaggio was now just one step away from the success he was hoping for - public commissions. For that he he needed to be noticed by the Church. In 1599 he was contracted to decorated the Contarelli Chapel in the church of San Luigi del Francesi. Two works make up this commission: the Martyrdom of Saint Matthew and the Calling of Saint Matthew (see painting at top) which were finished in 1600. They were an immediate sensation.
Most other artists were taken with this new artist. Some faulted him for painting from life and not using drawings but for the most part he was now a star. He began receiving a stream of commissions. They were usually religious works but they featured violent scenes, decapitations, torture, and death. Some were rejected and had to be redone or find new buyers.
While his dramatic execution of a subject was admired, the realistic way he portrayed them was not. His first version of Saint Matthew and the Angel portrayed St.Matthew as a bald peasant in a torn shirt with dirty legs.This had to be redone and was renamed The Inspiration of St. Matthew.
After his exile from Rome in 1606, he traveled from place to place, often beiong forced to leave. In 1608 he spent time in prison for assault. He still received commissions though. His style began to change and more often than not his paintings depicted lonely, shadowy figures. They show the fraility of man while at the same time show the beauty of humility.

While the technique of chiaroscuro was used by painters for a long time before Caravaggio, it was he that perfected it. Chiaroscuro is a term meaning contrast between darkness and light. Caravaggio darkened the shadows and placed the subject in a blinding shaft of light. Somehow through this technique he was able to capture both the physical and the psychological reality of his subjects. For instance, the look on the face of St. Peter shows the guilt and pain of the denial, even before Peter has admitted it to himself. In the Calling of St. Matthew, St. Matthew points to himself as if saying "who me?" yet at the same time there is a look on his face that says he knows he is going with this man. Caravaggio somehow was able to capture this.
Above - The Conversion of St. Paul
Below: left - The Denial of Saint Peter; right - The Supper at Emmaus

Below: Caravaggio's last painting The Martyrdom of St. Ursula

*Caravaggio's Fruit: A Mirror on Baroque Horiculture (Jules Janick, Department of Horiculture and Landscape Architecture, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Art sites for children

When I got the idea to list these sites I had presumed that most museum websites had subsites for kids. Wrong. Here are four that I have come across.

Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC) This is a really
cool site with a lot for kids to do. There's Degas'
ballerinas, knights in Central Park, Japanese
picture scroll,Marco Polo, about 18 different
subsites. The whole website is terrific

Museum of Modern Art (NYC) nicknamed MOMA.
I wasn't thrilled with this one. It's ok but takes
longer to load and it's kind of cutsie. This museum
has Van Gogh's Starry Night so that is one of the
pictures you can interact with.

National Gallery of Art (Washington D.C.)
I like it better than MOMA but not as much
as the Met. They go into detail about a few
paintings. Plus there is interactive art you
can make online.

The Hermitage Museum (St. Petersburg, Russia)
This has a couple of subsites - Virtual Academy
and Games Room. I couldn't really check these
out as it requires Internet Explorer 5 and I use

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bridget Riley

I am not a big abstract art fan. Occasionally there is something I like but generally not a big fan. But I do like Bridget Riley's work. I first her paintings while I was still in my teens -early 70s I guess. The Museum of Modern Art had a special exhibit. Some- thing about it just fascinated me. Since then, I have tried to do similar drawings (mostly through doodling.)
Bridget Riley was born on April 24, 1931 in London and grew up in Cornwall. She began doing semi-impressionistic paintings, then in the late 50s did her version of pointillism (see Seurat). It was through studying Seurat that she became interested in optical effects. In 1960 she began doing studies in black and white and had her first solo exhibit in 1962. Her style of work was dubbed "Op-Art".
Her works give the viewer sensations of movement or color. In the 1960s it is said people would experience varied sensations such as seasickness or sky diving.
In 1967 Riley began to experiment with color with her
first stripe painting. And in the early 1980s, after a trip
to Egypt, she was inspired by the hieroglyphics and began
to explore color and contrast. Some these paintings use lines of color to give a shimmering sensation; in others she uses tessellating patterns. (also used by M.C. Escher in many of his works) At right Shadow Play (1990) an example of tessellation.
Here is a link to an interview she gave last year.
There is the question though - is this great art or is Bridget Riley a decorative artist. Personally I wouldn't put her up there with the greats. I find her paintings fun but she is no Monet. Here is a link to a discussion on this

Paintings shown: Top: Movement in Squares (1961); Above left: Brittania (1961);
Above right: Orphean Elegy I (1978)

Bridget Riley does not do her own painting. Would you believe she has others do it for her!