The monthly ArtSmart Roundtable brings together some of the best art-focused travel blogs to post on a common theme. This month we are discussing Concepts in Art! Take a look at all the creative interpretations of his topic at the bottom of the page.
Art museums are sometimes criticized for being stale and distant. Mill about, look at the pieces, and under no circumstances do you touch the art! Paintings haven’t always received this degree of reverence. While today we analyze the artist’s intent and interpret the underlying meaning of the work, for centuries paintings we just decorations. Owners could change something as easily as we repaint a bookcase or substitute a bathroom light fixture. So today I want to think about the concept of “finished” art and what it means when paintings are changed by people other than the original artist.
(left) “A Dominican, with the Attributes of Saint Peter Martyr” by Giovanni Bellini and (right) a digitally created image based on scientific data illustrating what the original Bellini painting would have looked like. Later alterations transformed the naturalistic portrait into a devotional religious painting. National Gallery, UK (Images)
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.
The Mona Lisa’s mysterious sfumato being quantified. (Image from )
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.
We sometimes forget that beautiful works of art may have been created with ulterior motives. Think of a pharaoh using a heroic frieze to solidify his power, an elegant Renaissance chapel donated to erase the sins of the patron, or a lovely oil portrait sent to encourage a royal marriage. Sometimes the circumstances behind the message change and the image must be adjusted. I notice one such major revision in Chicago and was surprised to hear about some political turmoil that led to the defacement of a glorious royal sculpture.
The Khorsabad Gate, Oriental Institute, University of Chicago (Photo: American Lady, Flickr)
Admittedly, my Friedrich Wahle research has been on the back-burner since I found the print version of my painting. I’ve mostly been trying to monitor the auction market where a few of his paintings surface every year. Interestingly, I happened across a television appraisal of a Fritz Wahle painting on Kunst & Krempel (Art & Stuff), the German version of Antiques Roadshow. It’s a well executed scene of a couple sharing a few private words at a dinner party which I think the show entitled “Eavesdropping”. While the image is beautiful, it was the frame that really got my attention – it is the same as the one on my Wahle!
Friedrich (Fritz) Wahle, “Eavesdropping” as appraised on Germany’s Kunst & Krempel on 22 Sept 2012 
Michelangelo’s David-Apollo on display at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC on loan from the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence (Photo: adapted from NGA publicity materials)
I personally love artworks with a little mystery and what could be better than an unfinished sculpture by Michelangelo? His David-Apollo is currently on display at the National Gallery of Art in DC until March 3rd, on loan from the Museo del Bargello in Florence. The sculpture is so named because there is no real consensus on whom it depicts. In 1530, Michelangelo started a small marble of David. It has been speculated that he abandoned this symbol of Florence and tried to adapt it to a classical Apollo but ultimately left the piece unfinished. To me, there is no evidence to suggest that this figure was ever meant to be an Apollo. More likely, it was a victim of Michelangelo’s legendary perfectionism. The beauty of unfinished pieces is that one can walk around them, examine the carvings and try to understand the master’s thought process up close.