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Posts from the ‘Art History’ Category

Re-Opening the Renwick and the Morning After

The quiet child of the Smithsonian family of museums re-opened this November with a surprisingly bold statement.  The aptly named Wonder exhibit is well worth a visit for its truly impressive installation pieces.  While I’m happy to have the Renwick Gallery back, this re-birthday party feels overly flashy, just a bit narcissistic, and certainly out of character for a museum dedicated to decorative arts.  While an entertaining show, I am left wondering about the future of this museum and the potential for a reinvented purpose.

Renwick Gallery facade

The “new” Renwick Gallery at dusk

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The Scrovegni Chapel: My Moment with Giotto’s Masterpiece

To enter the Scrovegni Chapel, you have to spend 15 minutes in a “environmental equilibration” chamber and video introduction before passing through two air locks into the chapel.  Shockingly, visitors only get another 15 minutes to look around before being rushed out by security.  However, if you are a clever art pilgrim (like yours truly) and book multiple back-to-back tickets, the museum escort chases everyone else out but leaves you alone for a few glorious minutes within the chapel.

Standing at the altar looking down the rows of painted vignettes, the rich pastel colors glowing warmly from the morning sunlight, has got to be one of the most profoundly beautiful art experience I have ever had.  To say I loved the Scrovegni Chapel would be an understatement.

Giotto Scrovegni Chapel, Padua

Photo of Giotto’s masterpiece, the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua (Photo: Art Bouillon)

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The Life of A Painting: Leonardo da Vinci’s St. Jerome in the Wilderness

We take it for granted that paintings should be shown behind glass, watched by security, and protected in museums. However, for centuries a piece of art was just another personal possession.  Someone could have a painting altered just as easily as having pants hemmed.  Even pieces by the great masters were not immune to harsh treatment.  Even an incredible painting by the Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci was carved up and nearly lost.

Leonardo da Vinci "Saint Jerome in the Wilderness", Vatican Museums (Pinacoteca), Rome

Leonardo da Vinci “Saint Jerome in the Wilderness (unrestored)”, Vatican Museums (Pinacoteca), Rome (Photo: Wikimedia)

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Mosaic Treasures at Sepphoris, Israel

You may never have heard of Sepphoris but this former Roman city has some fantastic mosaics.  Also known as Tzippori or Zippori , this archaeological site in the Western Galilee has been excavated over the last 30 years revealing wonderful treasures.  Ignored by tour buses, I had the site to myself  and could enjoy the best and most extensive collection of ancient mosaic art in Israel.

The Mona Lisa of Galilee, Sepphoris

This Roman mosaic Venus is known as “The Mona Lisa of Galilee” for her beauty and enigmatic smile.

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Science & Sfumato – Technical Analysis to Aid Art Historians

This post is part of a larger on-line symposium to honor the late Hasan Niyazi, the self-taught art historian behind Three Pipe Problem.  Hasan championed art history, critical analysis, valuable online discourse, and all things Raphael!  As part of this April 6th celebration (Raphael’s birthday), you can read all of the posts here.  He is missed by all those who knew him personally or through his active engagement with readers online.

mona lisa experiment, SRF

The Mona Lisa’s mysterious sfumato being quantified. (Image from [1])

I always appreciated that Hasan advocated for scientific research and technical analysis as a complimentary approach to historical research and stylistic connoisseurship.  Art is fundamentally material science even if the end result can be ascribed beauty or emotional intensity.  Thus it makes sense to use analytical techniques to understand how a piece of art was constructed in order to understand to creative process and the end product.

Given the numerous Three Pipe Problem posts on Leonardo da Vinci and the continuing struggle to attribute two recent works – Salvator Mundi and La Bella Principessa, I thought it would be useful to return to this enigmatic artist.  Da Vinci’s experimentation with material and techniques is anecdotally well-known.  But really what do we know about his luminous sfumato faces?  One recent study confirmed the nearly impossible.

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