The Madonna of the Grand Duke by Raphael

The Madonna of the Grand Duke by Raphael (1504)

I wonder if you have ever considered what subject has been depicted the most in art.  If I was to guess and knowing the plethora of religious paintings I would have to say it was the depiction of the Madonna and Child.  It is very interesting to study how both the Virgin Mary and the Christ child are visually represented in these paintings and how they differ down the ages.  In some the young Christ Child almost has the face of a grown man.  In some the Virgin Mary has a very wooden expression and her looks would be described in modern terminology as plain.   Today I was attending a talk about the artist Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, better known simply as Raphael and one of the paintings we looked at was his Madonna of the Grand Duke and the more I looked at it the more I fell in love with it,  so come and join me in this journey of discovery of what I believe is one of the most beautiful Madonnas.

The Madonna of the Grand Duke, or to give it its correct title Madonna del  Granduca, was painted by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael Sanzio in 1504 shortly after he arrived in Florence and was owned by Grand Duke Ferdinand III, hence the name of the painting.  It can be found now in the Palatine Gallery of the Pitti Palace in Florence.  In the painting Mary is shown standing and we see her in more length than in Raphael’s other Madonna paintings such as the Madonna Tempi and Virgin with Chair. She has the features of a beautiful Italian girl.   She is wearing a long cloak that begins in a veil over her head which then cascades downwards and in doing so emphasises the long vertical lines of the frame.  Instead of the baby being held at shoulder height the Christ Child is tenderly held and supported by her at almost waist level.  It is almost as if the characters are painted to fit with the long length of the frame.  This has allowed Mary to be shown in a more majestic and venerable pose.  There is a dignified look about Mary but one also detects a look of sadness.  Whereas Mary gazes downward in an almost trance-like expression the Christ child is wide eyed and inquisitive.

Many artists despaired at Raphael’s talent.  His depictions of the Madonna, like today’s painting, and other female portraits show tenderness, warmth and elegance which other artists struggled to attain.  To many he is simply the painter of sweet Madonnas, which have become so well known as hardly to be appreciated as paintings any more.  Today’s painting is a classic and for artists that followed Raphael it acted as a standard of perfection. 

I challenge you to find me another Madonna painting of such exquisite beauty

The Discovery of the Body of Holofernes and the Return of Judith by Alessandro Botticelli

The Discovery of the Body of Holofernes by Botticelli (c.1470-1472)
The Return of Judith by Botticelli (c. 1470-1472)


Two for the price of one today.  Actually they were originally two panels of the same diptych, which had a carved and gilded walnut frame but which has since been lost.  These two tempera on wood panels can now be found as separate items in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.  There is, as you would expect, a story connecting the two works of art.  For those who are slightly squeamish and don’t like the sight of blood, I apologise !

Both of today’s paintings are by Alessandro Botticelli and both refer to an Old Testament story from the Book of Judith (13:10).  It is very much like the story of David and Goliath, in which the underdog triumphs against great odds, a sort of virtue conquering vice.  Holofernes was the Assyrian general whose army was laying siege to the Jewish settlement of Bethulia. Under intense pressure from the enemy, some of the residents voiced their opinion that they should surrender.  However a rich widow, Judith, conceived a plan which would save her people.  One night, dressed in her finest clothes and looking her most alluring she passed through the town gates and with her maid and walked across the valley to the camp of her town’s oppressor, Holofernes.  She gained an audience with him by telling his guards that she would provide them with a route which would enable them to enter Bethulia.

Judith told Holofernes that she had deserted Bethulia and had been sent by God saying that her people had turned away from religion and therefore deserved to be destroyed and she would aid Holofornes in his battle.  Holofornes was pleased with this and said that Judith could remain in his camp and would be allowed to leave each evening with her maid, Abra, so as to pray.  He was mesmerised by Judith’s beauty.  On the fourth night Holofernes held a banquet for his commanders and Judith dressed seductively, went to Holofornes tent.  Holofernes drank excessively and sent all his men away so he could be alone with Judith.  Due to the amount he had drunk, he rapidly lost consciousness.  When he finally fell into a stupor Judith grasped his sword and with two mighty blows decapitated him.  Then she and her maid left the camp as they did each evening on the pretence to pray before returning.

This time, however, they kept walking.  At the gate of Bethulia, she called for entry, showed her trophy, and told the men to mount an attack on the Assyrian camp next morning. They did so, and when the Assyrians ran to Holofernes’s tent to rouse him, they found their leader headless. Horrified, the Assyrians decamped. The Israelites plundered the camp; all the best things of Holofernes were given to Judith, who then passed them to her late husband’s heirs.

So there you have it, the story of Judith and Holofernes.  The paintings, on offer today, are depictions of this tale.  One shows the headless body of the Assyrian leader being found by his servants.  Look at the faces on the servants.  Notice the shock and horror as they gaze down upon the muscled almost naked headless corpse of their leader Holofernes.  Study the musclature of the body.  It is an excellent nude study.  Note the skilful combination of colours and in the use of light to illuminate the clothing as well as the bedsheet on which the body of the dead Holofernes sprawls.

In the other painting, The Return of Judith, she and her maid are seen in flowing robes looking similar to young nymphs that are often found in this era of painting.  We see a jubilant Judith returning home with her maid, Abra, who carries the sack in which is the decapitated head of Holofernes. In one hand Judith has the bloodied sword which she used to kill Holofernes and countering that act of violence she carries in her other hand an olive branch which symbolises peace.  The painting of Judith shows a female heroine and depicts female dominance which is a theme that Botticelli often used in his paintings.  Botticelli has succeeded here in capturing both movement and stillness in a unique balance. Judith is pausing a moment in her striding forward to turn towards the observer, self-assured if not without a touch of melancholy, exactly as if she wished to present herself as the victor.

Although you do not get a sense of the size of the paintings, you may be surprised to know how small they are, measuring only 31cms x 24cms.

The White Horse by John Constable

The White Horse by John Constable (1819)

If I was to ask you what was your idea of an English countryside I am sure a large number of you would think about the paintings of John Constable, such as his famous work, The Hay Wain.  Certainly when I conjure up in my mind the tranquillity of the countryside, I reflect on the beauty of the English country landscapes paintings of the English Romantic artist John Constable.  In fact the term “Constable Country” is often used to describe the loveliness of that part of the eastern England located on the Suffolk and Essex border.  It is a truly wonderful area with countryside which lends itself easily to paintings.   Like Thomas Gainsborough, Constable was influenced by Dutch artists such as Jacob van Ruisdael. The works of Rubens proved to be useful colouristic and compositional models. However, the realism and vitality of Constable’s work make it highly original.

John Constable was born in 1776 in the village of East Bergholt in the county of Suffolk.  Art historians tell us that he was not a naturally gifted artist and it took many years of hard work and his love of art to place him alongside Turner as one of the two greatest figures in the history of British landscape painting.   He always wanted to pursue an artist’s life and had to fend off pressure for him to become a clergyman.  Eventually after leaving Dedham Grammar School he trained for a career in the family business.   Whilst living at home he had many opportunities to sketch the Stour area and he met up with and became a close friend of Sir George Beaumont, an artist and collector, who would later establish the National Academy.  It was he who would once again awaken Constable’s love of painting and would later tutor him at the Academy.  

When he was twenty three and after much pressurising of his father, he was allowed to leave the family business and follow his passion for art and he became a student at the Royal Academy Schools of London.  Also studying at that Academy was Turner, although they never became close associates. 

He exhibited his first paintings in 1802, but unlike Turner, Constable did not sell many of his works.  In fact during his lifetime he only sold twenty paintings and failed to gain the recognition achieved by Turner in Britain although that was not the case in France where his works were well received.  His paintings, especially his “six footers” greatly influenced the French artist Delacroix and the French Romantic Movement.  He also inspired the Barbizon School, which is the name given to a community of mid-19th-century painters who worked in and around the village of Barbizon in the forest of Fontainebleau, south-east of Paris.   They painted landscapes and scenes of rural life, occasionally working in the open air.  John Constable died in Hampstead, London in 1837, aged 60.

 My Daily Art Display for today is The White Horse which Constable completed in 1819 and is part of the Frick Collection in New York.  This was the first of Constable’s “six footer” exhibition canvases, a set of 6ft x 4ft landscape paintings he completed between 1818 and the mid 1830’s.   He started with sketching the scenes outdoors but because of the size of the finished paintings he had to come indoors to work on the finished product.  

The view in this work of art is from the south bank of the River Stour, looking back across the river just below Flatford. The barge on the left has taken on board the white horse and is about to set off to reach a spot downstream where the tow path resumes on the opposite bank. Cows can be seen wading in the shallow waters.   Just beyond the barge is a small island called ‘The Spong’. Willy Lott’s house, which is featured in Constable’s The Hay Wain, is just visible to the left centre in the middle distance. Following the exhibition of this work, Constable was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy.

If you liked today’s painting why not go and discover other  Constable’s  “six footers” such as, Salisbury Castle from the Meadows, 1831, Stratford Mill, 1820 and of course The Hay Wain, 1821.

His” six footer” painting entitled Hadleigh Castle, which he painted a year after his wife Maria died of tuberculosis, is a more sombre painting which probably reflects Constable’s mood at the time and who said of his late wife:

” I shall never feel again as I have felt.

The face of the world is totally changed to me.”

Take some time and ave a look at some of John Constable’s works and see if you have a favourite.

Archduke Leopold William in his Gallery at Brussels by David Teniers the Younger

Archduke Leopold William in his Gallery at Brussels by David Teniers the Younger (1651)

The other day whilst researching the family tree of the Bruegels I came across the Teniers, an artistic family who had a connection with Peter Bruegel as David Teniers the Younger was married to Anna Brueghel, the daughter of Jan Brueghel the Elder and granddaughter of Pieter Bruegel the Elder. 

David Teniers the Younger, a Flemish artist of the Baroque period, was born in Antwerp in 1610.  His father David Teniers the Elder, his son and his grandson were also celebrated artists.   However he has always been looked upon as the most accomplished painter of the Teniers’s dynasty.   He was a prolific painter with over two thousand pictures attributed to him.  He was influenced by the Flemish painter Adriaen Brouwer.   Many of his greatest works were completed between 1640 and 1650.  He painted almost every genre of picture but his favourite appears to be that of peasant life.  A century later a number of these paintings were made into designs for tapestries.  Like his wife’s grandfather, Pieter Bruegel the Elder David Teniers the Younger was a master of portraying crowd scenes with each of his figures displayed with a tender, human and often amusing touch.   A good example of that would be a painting he completed in 1646 entitled The Village Fête

David Teniers married Anna Brueghel in 1637.  In 1647 he and his family moved to Brussels and became the court painter and the keeper of the art collections of the then regent of the Netherlands, the archduke Leopold William,  who was a great art lover and who spent an immense fortune in acquiring paintings.  He was by far the most important collector of paintings among the Habsburgs.  Whilst curator of the royal art gallery he took time to make small-scale paintings of some of the works in the gallery by the foreign artists, especially those of Italian artists, for use by engravers who produced the illustrations.  He painted many views of Leopold William’s picture gallery and today’s offering for My Daily Art Display is one he painted in 1651 entitled Archduke Leopold William in his Gallery in Brussels, which portrays  the archduke along with his paintings in a fictionalized gallery setting and which now hangs in the Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna.

Leopold William is portrayed on a visit to his own gallery accompanied by his courtiers and Teniers himself.  These “gallery interiors”, a traditional genre in the Netherlands, were sent as gifts to other princely collections.   Today’s painting was owned by Leopold William’s brother, Emperor Ferdinand III, in Prague.  There are fifty one Italian paintings depicted in this picture, some of which have had their proportions altered to achieve an impression of decorative profusion.  They are from the collection of the Duke of Hamilton, from whom Leopold William had purchased them, shortly before this painting was commissioned.    Most of the paintings are now housed in the Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna.

I wonder how many you can recognise.

Winter at Barbizon by Ion Andreescu

Winter at Barbizon by Ion Andreescu (1881)

 My Daily Art Display for today is a kind of  “first” as it is the first time that I have “showcased” a Romanian artist –  so see what you think of this offering.

Ion Andreescu was born in Bucharest in 1850.   He was the son of a brandy merchant and graduated from the Bucharest Art College.  In 1872 he became a teacher of drawing and calligraphy in a provincial grammar school in Buzau. 

He exhibited his first painting, a still life, entitled Gooseberries at in 1874 at the Exhibition of Living Artists, held in the Academy Halls of Bucharest University.    Andreescu’s paintings were noticed by one of the founders of modern Romanian paintings, Nicolae Grigorescu and he ibecame his mentor.  In 1879, having been awarded a travel scholarship to France, he set off for Paris where he spent two years at the Academie Julian in Paris.  He also attended the Barbizon school named after the village it was situated in, a short distance from the Fontainebleau Forest, a favourite spot where artists gathered.  His work was exhibited alongside the works of the great Impressionist painters Manet, Monet and Renoir.

Ion had been suffering from tuberculosis when he went to Paris and sadly a year after his return to his homeland he died of the disease in 1882 at the young age of 32.

Today’s oil on canvas painting is entitled Winter at Barbizon and was completed by Ion Andreescu in 1881.   His pictures depicting scenes of nature are notable for their rich green colours of the grass and foliage and the stunning blues of the skies.  However in this picture of the Barbizon village scene he has encaptured the winter setting with its nuanced whites, greys and light ochres.

I am always a little excited when I discover a “new” artist.  It makes me want to research into his or her life and search for more of their works of art.  I hope I have in some way stimulated your curiosity regarding Ion Andreescu.

Maximillian I with his Family by Bernhard Strigel

Maximillian I with his Family by Bernhard Strigel (1516)

One of the things I aim to do with My Daily Art Display is to offer up a painting by an artist which may be unknown to many.  Today’s featured artist is Bernhard Strigel, the German painter who straddled the late Gothic and Renaissance period in painting.  He was born in Memmingen, in the Allgäu region of southern Germany in 1460 and came from a family of talented artists.   His early paintings concentrated on religious subjects but then later in his life he turned to portraiture.  It was possible that his abandonment of religious paintings was on account of his Protestant sympathies.  In 1515 he left Germany and went to Vienna where he became court painter to Emperor Maximillian I.  Shortly after he had completed today’s painting he left the court of Maximillian and returned back to Memmingen but he still continued to work on commissions for Maximillian whilst back in Germany.  He died in Memmingen in 1528, aged 67.

Today’s work of art is Emperor Maximillian I with his Family which Strigel painted in 1515 and now hangs in the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna.  This painting was commissioned by the Emperor and is one of the earliest group portraits in Germany.

Emperor Maximillian was a great arranger of marriages for the greater territorial glory of his Austro-Hungarian House of Habsburg.  He gained the Low Countries and Burgundy by marrying Mary of Burgundy and he married off his son Philip the Handsome to Joanne of Castille who was heir to the Spanish throne.  However Philip died of typhoid at the age of 26 and his wife was driven mad with grief. Because of her mental state of mind,  the Spanish throne passed to his Philip’s young son Charles who became Charles I of Spain in 1516 and three years later Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire when Maximillian died.

In the painting we see Maximillian on the left.  His first wife, Maria of Burgundy, who died over thirty years before this painting was commissioned, is on the right.  Their son Philip the Fair, who died ten years before the painting was completed, is in the centre.  In the foreground are two of Maximillian’s grandchildren, Ferdinand I and Charles V as well as Maximillian’s adopted son Ludwig, who as heir to the kingdoms of Hungary and Bohemia  later became Ludwig II of Hungary.  Thus the painting refers to the double betrothal of 1515 in Vienna which sealed the union between the Habsburgs and the Magyar Jagellon Royal Family

The painting is an example of the way in which Maximillian used his family to carry out his political plans and his desire to document his intentions in works of art.

For those of you who just want to see a painting, I apologise for the history lesson !!!

The Vision of Saint Jerome by Parmigianino

The Vision of St Jerome by Parmigianino (1527)

Another day, another painting and as was the case yesterday, I present you with an Italian artist whose known name is a derivative of the name of his birthplace.  Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola is the full name of today’s artist and he was born in Parma in 1503.  He is more commonly known by his nickname Parmigianino which means “the little one from Parma.  Parmigianino was the leading painter of Parma after Correggio, an artist he studied under, and is celebrated as one of the originators of the Mannerism movement.  He was influenced by artists such as Michelangelo and Raphael and was also a prolific draughtsman and printmaker.

He was one of  eight children.  His father was also a painter but sadly died of the plague when Parmigianino was only two years of age, who then went to live with his aunt and uncle, Michele and Pier Ilario, who were also both artists.  He became active in and around Parma.  In 1524, at the age of twenty-one, he went to live in Rome where he remained until 1527, the year the   Sack of Rome by Imperial troops took place.  His workshop was invaded by German soldiers but, according to Vasari, they were so amazed by his work they left him to continue unhindered.  However that year he left Rome and went to Bologna.  In 1530 he moved back to Parma.   There, he was contracted to paint frescos in Santa Maria della Steccata but failed to complete the commission and was jailed for breach of contract.   According to Vasari, the Renaissance art biographer, after Parmigianino returned to Parma he lost interest in his art and became infatuated with alchemy.   He died in 1540 at the young age of 37 and is buried in Caslamaggiore.

My Daily Art Display today is the altarpiece The Vision of St Jerome which Parmigianino completed in 1527 whilst in Rome and can be found in the National Gallery, London.  It is considered to be his most important work of this time.  Parmigianino experimented with complex poses, contortion and twisting of the human body and in this painting one can see an example of this style.  In a number of his paintings and as can be seen in this work, his figures are elongated, taking up twisted, if slightly unnatural, poses.

In today’s painting we have the Virgin Mary with the Infant Christ held between her knees.  We see Saint Jerome lying on the ground in a deep sleep dreaming of his vision of John the Baptist.  His cardinal’s hat is balanced on the jaw of a skull.  In the foreground we have John the Baptist who leans in a dramatic fashion towards the viewer.  His body is twisted around as he points heavenwards with his right index figure towards the Christ Child whose coming he had predicted.  This pointing gesture was often used by Leonardo.  Attached to his belt is a bowl which he employs for baptism and in his left hand he holds a reed cross.  The Christ Child assumes a contrapposto posture, hovering as if just about to take a step forward.

The Visitation by Jacopo Pontormo

The Visitation by Jacopo Pontormo (1528)

Today’s featured artist is Jacopo Carucci, who because of his birthplace, was usually known as Jacopo Pontormo.  He was an Italian Mannerist painter who was born in 1494 in the small town of Pontormo near Empoli.  Most of his work was carried out in and around Florence where he was recognised as one of the most exceptional painters of his time.  He studied with the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Albertinelli, and worked in the workshop of Andrea del Sarto, where he served his apprenticeship.

My Daily Art Display today is Pontormo’s painting The Visitation which he completed in 1528 and now adorns the altar of a side chapel in a small church called the Pieve di San Michele in Carmignano, a town west of Florence. 

The setting for this painting is the visitation of the Virgin Mary on her pregnant but aged cousin Elisabeth who was the wife of Zacharias.  The two figures in the painting with their interlinked arms form a lozenge shape.  This intertwining of figures was one of Pontormo’s trademarks as was the way he makes the characters seem to be almost floating.  The two main characters, Elizabeth and Mary, who are painted in profile, gracefully embrace each other as they exchange glances of mutual affection.  They dominate the canvas as they stand on the threshold of Zacharias’s house. 

The two other figures in the background seem quite unbending and statuesque as they look at something outside the picture.  There is a lack of emotion in their faces and they seem to be taking no part in the main event.  They seem older than the main characters and may indeed be servants awaiting their instructions. 

In the middle ground of the picture, on the left hand side, we can just make out two small figures seated on a wall looking on at the greeting scene.  They are just small specks in comparison to the main figures and maybe Pontormo, by doing this, is saying that in comparison to Mary and Elisabeth the onlookers are just mere mortals watching an historic event.

Pontormo set great store, some say he was obsessive, in the portrayal of gestures of the characters in his paintings.  In this picture this factor is emphasised by the tense still gazes of the Mary and Elisabeth as they stare at each other, tight-lipped, with little hint of a smile.

Montagne Sainte-Victoire by Paul Cézanne

Montagne Sainte-Victoire by Cezanne (1887)

I suppose it is only natural that when a landscape artist moves to live in a new place the surrounding area will become subjects for their future paintings.  The year 1886 was a memorable year for the French Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne.  Firstly he married Hortense Fiquet, a model he had been living with for seventeen years and in this same year his father died.  After the death of his father, Louis that August, Cézanne inherited the family estate, Jas de Bouffain, which was situated on the outskirts of Aix, in Provence, and he moved there from Paris.  Nearby and to the east, looms the mountain, Sainte-Victoire, which dominates the countryside of this area.   Cézanne was mesmerised by, and fell in love with, the view of this peak and the surrounding area.  Locals venerated it for its legendary ties to antiquity—its very name had come to be associated with a celebrated victory by the ancient Romans against invading Teutonic armies.   Over many years, Cézanne produced forty four oil paintings and forty three watercolours of the area.

My Daily Art Display today features an early painting of this subject, simply entitled Montagne Sainte-Victoire which he completed in 1887 and hangs in the Courtauld Gallery in London.  It shows the mountain as viewed from the west, some eight miles away.  The tree branches in the foreground frame the panoramic view of the valley in the middle ground and the mountain in the background.  Cezanne has focused on a comparatively small part of the scene but the mountain has been given a dominant central position in the work.  The middle ground is dominated by farmland and the yellows of the wheat fields.  To the far right of the painting in the middle-ground, one can see the presence of a railway viaduct.

There is a gradual transition from the clearer greens of the vegetation and the orange-yellows of the buildings seen in the foreground of the picture to the softer atmospheric blues and pinks on the mountain in the background.  Cézanne has connected the foreground and the background by the way he has given the foliage in the foreground the blue and pink tinges similar to the colour shades of the mountain.

With this painting, Cézanne has captured the peaceful and serene beauty of this part of Provence.  This was Cézanne’s truly exquisite and picturesque Shangri-la.

The Family of Jan Brueghel the Elder by Peter Paul Rubens

The Family of Jan Brueghel the Elder by Rubens (c.1615)

My Daily Art Display for today is The Family of Jan Brueghel the Elder painted by Peter Paul Rubens circa 1613-15 and now hangs in the Courtauld Gallery, London.  He was a close friend of Jan Brueghel the Elder.  In the painting we have Jan with his second wife Catherina van Marienberghe and their children Pieter who was born in 1608 and Elizabeth who was born a year later.  For a family portrait it is unusual that the mother should be the central and most dominant of all the figures present.   It is thought that the original idea of the portrait was to be just that of Catherine and her two children and that Jan was missing from early copies but added, somewhat unsymmetrically in an otherwise balanced composition later.   All are dressed as if they were members of Antwerp’s wealthy and highly regarded middle class and maybe this was Rubens’ idea to establish that artists were on an equal social and professional footing to the likes of physicians, lawyers and bankers. 

Father and mother are dressed in black adding a certain amount of gravitas to the parents unlike the children who are dressed much more colourfully.  Jan, with his kindly features, is dressed soberley with a tall black hat enfolding his family with his outstretched left hand and in turn Catherina, the loving mother and wife, has one hand around her son, Peter can be seen touching his mother’s precious bracelet, probably a betrothal gift, as if to draw attention to it.   Catherina’s other hand clasps the delicate fingers of her daughter, Elisabeth who is gazing lovingly at her mother. This meeting of hands occurs in the very centre of the canvas and is intended to portray familial love and devotion.  The way in which the family are depicted in the painting, almost in a huddle, emphasises the closeness of the family.

This is a very touching family portrait with its unusual intimacy.  Sadly such family love and happiness was to be devastated ten years later, in 1625, when a cholera epidemic struck Antwerp and of the four people in the picture, only Catherine survived.