‘Figures in a Wooded Landscape with Ruins’, by Paul Brill (1554-1626). Oils in copper. This is one of Brill’s small, intense paintings. It’s Just 20.3 by 25.7 cm. It’s been suggested that the owl in the upper right hand corner is wearing glasses and that this could be the artist's signature device, because "bril" in Dutch means glasses. (If you pinch and zoom the first image you can just able see the owl).
Alhough born in Antwerp, the artist is recorded as a member of the Accademia di San Luca in Rome by 1582 and he became principal there in 1620. Though Bril's early landscapes are closer to Flemish prototypes his later works, for example those that post-date 1605, are more greatly influenced by those of his contempories in Rome, such Annibale Carracci and Adam Elsheimer. Painting onto polished copper meant that he was able to work in astonished detail. This little gem sold for $109,000 at Sotheby’s in New York in 2008. (There’s a painting by Brill in the Charles I exhibition at the RA in London)
Included in the spectacular exhibition; ‘Charles I - King and Collector’ at the Royal Academy of Arts in London is ‘The Triumph of Caesar’ - a series of nine canvases which can be counted amongst the finest achievements in Italian Renaissance art created by Andrea Mantegna (1430 – 1506). They were probably painted for Franceso II Gonzaga (1466-1519), who became the 4th Marquis of Mantua in 1484. were acquired by Charles I in 1629 when he purchased a large part of the collections formed by the Gonzaga family. They were clearly then considered to be the masterpiece of the collection. The canvases have been hung at Hampton Court since the probable date of their arrival in England in 1630, and tapestries based on some of the scenes were woven at the Mortlake factory. The vast central room in which they are currently displayed at the RA has been painted with a dark tone and these huge panels have been hung above eye-level on three sides. The effect is magnificent and will be a great revelation to many visitors who haven’t seen these works at Hampton Court. My suggestion to to spend a significant amount of time in the room, allowing one’s eyes to adjust the low light levels. Only then will the magnificent colours and details emerge. The palette seems subdued because the scenes are painted in gouache in canvas which has been covered in varnish which has yellowed and darkened. Use your mind’s eye to recreate the original image. (I’ve only shown 6 panels here - there are 9 in total). This vast processional painting obviously inspired the great genius Lord Frederic Leighton as he painted several huge panoramas in which many figures pass by the viewer, dazzling us with their majesty.
My obsession with Paolo Veronese (1528-1588) continues: If you’ve visited Le Musée du Louvre in Paris you’ve probably had the opportunity to study this gigantic canvas while almost everyone else has their back turned upon it (because tourists are far more interested in a tiny, dark portrait called ‘The Mona Lisa’ which is hung facing it). ‘The Wedding Feast at Cana’ was painted by Veronese in 1563. It depicts the Biblical story of a wedding banquet at which Jesus converts water to wine (John 2:1–11). The work is huge - (a whopping 6.77 m × 9.94 m). It’s executed in the Mannerist style of the High Renaissance (1490–1527). The painting is the largest canvas in the Louvre’s collection.
It’s a monumental triumph of a painting and one wonders if it can ever be bettered. Veronese trained as a stone cutter, which explains why the architecture is rendered so perfectly. He positions his figures with an elegance often found in great buildings, yet there’s a dynamism in the composition which seems to prefigure the operatic stage. Such theatricality - yet the individuals are never whimsical or lightweight. Veronese is famous as a colourist, and what a tour de force this is! It’s a veritable mosaic of intensely saturated jewel-like hues.
The influence of Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael is obvious (think Last Supper and School of Athens), but those paintings of the High Renaissance emphasised ideal proportion, balance, and beauty - Here, Veronese’s Mannerist approach exaggerates those ideals with asymmetric and unnaturally elegant compositions. Veronese’s created a sense of tension and instability which is extraordinarily exciting. [The painting was commissioned on 6 June 1562 to decorate the new refectory of the Benedictine Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice; the dining hall had been designed by the architect Andrea Palladio]. Scroll, zoom and GASP!
‘Feast in the House of Simon’. Painted in the 1560s by Paolo Veronese (1528–1588). Yes, you read that correctly - the 1560s. This is another masterpiece by an artist I’m currently obsessed by. Veronese was a master of composition. This scene has the appearance of a grand theatre-set, against which a cast of characters are set in dynamic action. The two main figure-groups at the base of the canvas are a towering achievement of design. Figures emerge out of the shadows in the strong Italian sunlight. Their richly coloured robes create a spectacular mosaic in the lower half of the picture, whereas the upper half is mainly a delicate assembly of sky-blues and stone greys. The deep shadow on each side create an incredible intensity and they solidly fix the composition in place. Our focus is upon the great line of heads which sweeps from left to right in an enormous wave. But look at those assertive verticals! Those columns that bravely strike through the entire canvas. It’s breathtaking! This is a triumph in oil-paint that has rarely been equalled. If I was a minister of education I’d suggest that every school pin up large reproductions of great classical paintings on their walls (Contemporary Art is everywhere on social media so I’d stress classical art in schools). It’s possible for many young people to pass through their early years without being exposed to awe-inspiring works of art - Or, to be precise: to have had the greatness of these works introduced and explained to them.
I can trace my love of classical music to two experiences: Being taken by my parents to hear an orchestral performance of Saint-Saens’ ‘Carnival of the Animals’ when I was ten years old, and hearing a lecture about Smetana’s ‘Má Vlast’ (My Country) in a school lesson at the age of 12. I can trace my love of Italian Renaissance paintings to an illustrated bible I found in a library when I was around the same age. In both these mediums I sensed a nobility and sublimity that we rarely experience in daily life - unless we climb a mountain to gaze upon the view beneath us, or listen to a distant woodpecker in a forest a dusk. (This Painting is at The Sabauda Gallery in Turin).
La caravane d’Edouard VERSCHAFFELT (1874-1955)
Verschaffelt ayant vécu la plus grande partie de sa vie dans le sud algérien, son parcours est parfois comparé à celui d'Etienne DINET (1861-1929). Toutefois, c'est au Maroc, dans les premières années du siècle, qu'il a découvert le monde oriental et peint ses premières œuvres orientalistes.
Formé aux Beaux-Arts de Gand, le peintre découvre Bou-Saâda en 1919. Il y revient en 1924 et y épousera une jeune femme de la tribu des Ouled Sidi Brahim. Verschaffelt s'y retire trouvant dans sa famille saharienne à la fois ses modèles et son bonheur personnel. Il ne retourne à Alger que pour les vernissages de ses expositions en galerie ou pour accompagner ses envois au Salon des artistes algériens et orientalistes.
M.VIDAL-BUE, L'Algérie des Peintres 1830-1960, édition Edif 2000, Paris 2003.
ORIENTALISME, Exposition samedi 25 novembre de 11h à 18h, Hôtel Drouot, salle 1