Las Meninas, after Velazquez by Pablo Picasso

Las Meninas, after Velazquez by Pablo Picasso (1957)

The last art gallery I visited when I was in Vienna earlier this month was the Albertina.  They were advertising two main exhibitions, one of Michaelangelo sketches and one of works by Picasso.  I made this gallery my last port of call and in a way I was pleased with that decision.  I liked the Michaelangelo sketches but, sad to say, I am not a lover of Picasso’s works of art.  As an art lover, I know that is a terrible thing to admit to, but one knows what one likes and vice versa.  Why should I pretend that I love his work when in fact I can find little to like about it.

So why am I making it one of My Daily Art Display offerings?  The reason is that yesterday I offered you Las Meninas by Velazquez and today I am offering you one of Picasso’s many interpretation of that work of art which I saw at the Albertina and I will let you judge which version pleases you the most.

Pablo Picasso was fourteen years of age when he first saw Velazquez’s painting of the two Maids of Honour and the Indfanta entitled Las Meninas and this was just a few months after his seven-year old blonde-haired sister had died from diphtheria.    Two years later, at the age of sixteen, Picasso produced his first sketch relating to the Las Meninas characters.   In all, from the time of his adolescence, Picasso, who adored the Velazquez painting,  devoted much time to analysing and interpreting this work of art.

Today’s painting for My Daily Art Display is Las Meninas after Velazquez by Pablo Picasso and was completed in 1957.  It is one of his fifty eight interpretations of Velazquez’s original painting of the same name.  The main characters in Picasso’s work remain the same as in the original Velazquez painting, namely, Velázquez;  Doña Agustina de Sarmiento and Doña Isabel de Velasco the two maids of honour (las Meninas) , Doña Margarita, the Infanta; the two dwarves, Maribárbola and Nicolasito Pertusato, and he even reproduces the shape of the dog lying on the floor.  In the background, he also keeps the looking-glass, in which one can see two images which represent the king and queen of Spain.

So it is up to you to look at today’s and yesterday’s versions of Las Meninas and decide for yourself which you prefer.

Las Meninas by Velazquez

Las Meninas by Velazquez (1656)

My Daily Art Display painting of the day is Las Meninas (the Maids of Honour), an oil on canvas work by Diego Rodriquez de Silva y Velázquez.  He completed this painting in 1656 just four years before his death at the age of sixty one.  It is often referred to as “a painting about a painting”.


In the painting, the setting of which is believed to be Velazquez’s high-ceilinged studio in Madrid’s Alcázar palace, the painter has just stepped out from behind the great canvas.  At the centre of the painting is the five-year old princess Doña Margarita Maria of Austria, simply known as the Infanta, with her two maids of honour (las Meninas), Doña Maria Agustina on the left and Doña Isabel Velasco on the right.  These girls, who were brought up to serve at court and come from aristocratic families, look respectfully at the Infanta.   Various courtiers stand in the background.  José Nieto the Queen’s Chamberlain stands in the doorway.  Doña Marcela de Ulloa and a Guarda Damas (male escort for ladies of the court) stand directly behind the two Maids of Honour.   In the foreground with his foot on the dog is the dwarf Nicolasito Pertusato and to the left of him is a second dwarf,  Maribárbola


  So who is the subject of the painting?  Although the two maids of honour, are focusing their attention on the Infanta, almost all the other characters are looking out of the surface of the painting.  So who are they looking at?    If one looks carefully at the mirror on the rear wall, one can make out the fading reflection of the Infanta’s parents, King Philip IV and Queen Mariana.  Are they whom everybody is looking at?  Does this mean the king and queen were spectators watching the artist at work or in some way were they actually the subject of the painting on Velazquez’s easel?  One interpretation of this faded reflection in the mirror is that Velazquez’s drew it thus in the belief that the fall of the Spanish empire would begin, and its power fade, once the king had died


The size of this painting, over ten feet tall and nine feet across place it in the noble convention of portraiture of the time and an exceptional example of the European baroque period.   Thomas Hoving, a former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, wrote of the painting in his book Great Works of Art of Western Civilisation:


“… [it could] well be the most thrilling portrayal of humanity ever created, a combination of portrait, self portrait, illusion, reality, dream, romance, likeness and propaganda ever painted…”


Frederic Taubes, American artist and author, in his book The Illustrated Guide to Great Art in Europe, For Amateur Artists wrote of the painting:


“….the overall mastery in the use of pictorial means, the fact that it (Las Meninas) stands at the highest level any artist could attain, would not alone establish the painting in the galaxy of masterpieces. It is rather the imponderable that raises the realistic representation to the sphere of the transcendental….”

Portrait of Pope Leo X with Two Cardinals

Portrait of Pope Leo X with two Cardinals (c.1518)

There is a saying that “Art follows Money”.  By that, one means that the very rich can afford to buy the very best paintings and whereas once the major works of art headed to the USA they are now more likely to end up in the Middle East or Asia, which are now areas of wealth.  In earlier times, the wealthy classes would become benefactors to the great artists.  The rich bankers and merchants could order paintings of subjects of their choice.  The church and the papacy had the wealth and power and much of the art was for them or commissioned by them and the subject of the art was of their choice.  During those days religious paintings were to the fore as there were so many rich and powerful religious benefactors.

My Daily Art Display today is Portrait of Pope Leo X with two Cardinals.  The artist was Raphael Sanzio  da Urbino, better known simply as Raphael,  and the painting can be found in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.  The painting, completed around 1518, was believed to have been commissioned by Raphael’s great patron, Pope Leo X himself.  A great deal has been written about the symbolic meaning of this painting and many art historians have written profusely regarding how one should interpret the picture, often disagreeing with each other so let me just outline the fundamentals of this exquisite work of art.

In the picture seated at the table is Giovanni de’ Medici who was elected pope in 1513 and took the name Leo X.  The man standing behind the pope with his hand resting on the pope’s chair is the cardinal Luigi de’ Rossi.  He was Leo’s first cousin, slightly older, and a particular favourite of the pontiff.  The cardinal to the left of the picture is Giulio de’ Medici, the future Pope Clement VII, and was Leo’s right hand man in the papal court.

The reason for Raphael painting this picture is rife with conjecture and I will choose the most popular theory which is that it was a wedding present.  Theory has it that Leo X commissioned the painting so that his effigy would be present at the banquet celebrating the wedding in Florence of Lorenzo de’ Medici and Madeleine de la Tour d’Auvergne an event which he could not personally attend.  According to Lorenzo’s mother Alfonsina her son placed the portrait above the middle of the banquet table next to where the bride sat thus allowing her papal uncle and cardinal cousins to be symbolically present at the occasion.

Raphael has depicted Pope Leo X with a degree of realism, rather than idealism, showing him as being rather overweight and with a dour expression.  This look of solemnity may be due to the troubled times of his papacy with Martin Luther’s challenge to its authority and his condemnation of Leo’s method of selling indulgences to fund work on the reconstruction work on St Peter’s Basilica.  Leo, who was noted for his near-sightedness can be seen clutching a magnifying glass in his left hand which he may have been using to read the book on which his right hand rests.  This book has been identified as his own copy of the Hamilton Bible, which his father Lorenzo the Magnificent had given him.

In the foreground on the table there is silver bell with a golden scalloped dome on the side of which is a raised design of acanthus leaves, flowers and two Medici symbols, namely the Medici insignia, a diamond ring and three feathers and to the left and only just visible, the six-palle coat of arms of Leo X surmounted by the crossed papal keys and tiara.  The art critic and historian of the time Giorgio Vasari described the bell as “a little bell of wrought silver, which is more beautiful than words can tell”

All in all a magnificent painting, which has collected a myriad of different interpretations and elicited many theories regarding the symbolism of it as a whole and its many parts, should just be enjoyed and admired as a great work of art.

The Nativity by Correggio

The Nativity by Correggio (1530)

The name of many painters derives from their place of birth.  Today’s featured artist is no exception.  Antonio Allegri was born around 1490 in the Italian town of  Correggio, a small town a hundred miles south-east of Milan.  Little is known about Correggio’s early life or his artistic training except that his father was a merchant and he may have initially trained under his uncle the painter, Lorenzo Allegri.  When he was seventeen an outbreak of the plague forced him and his family to leave Correggio and move to Mantua. 

During his lifetime his artistic reputation was unexceptional but after his death his works of art were appreciated more and the influence he had on art was acknowledged.  Art historians believe his work was influenced by Andrea Mantegna, who had a studio in Mantua and maybe the two men encountered each other.  Correggio completed numerous altarpieces and small devotional works but his major work was to start when he was just twenty five years of age,

In 1514 he went to Parma and in 1522 he was contracted to paint the fresco of the Assumption of Our Lady on the central cupola of the cathedral.  It took him eight years to complete this major work.  However the fresco of the Virgin Mary ascending to heaven through a sea of limbs was not well received by the officials of the cathedral  with one priest stating that the fresco reminded him of a “stew of frogs’ legs” and it also met with bemusement from the public.  However, later, after Correggio’s death, this domed fresco was to be considered highly influential on the development of Baroque dome painting.  Whether it was due to the criticism at the time of this fresco or the death of his young wife but he became very depressed and returned to his birthplace were, at the young age of thirty six, he died.

As today is Christmas Day I thought my offering should be connected to the feast of Christmas and so have chosen The Nativity by Correggio.  It can be found in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden.  The work of art was commissioned by Alberto Pratoneri for his family chapel in the church of St. Prosper of Reggio Emilia.  Correggio finished the work in 1530.  In 1640 it was moved to Modena and a century later to Dresden.  This painting was described as one of the first monumental nocturnal scene in European painting.  Correggio used a style and interpretation similar to that of some of Titian’s works.  The scene is fully à la chandelle with the light appearing to both bathe and emanate from the Child Jesus.  The Virgin Mary looks lovingly down at the Child as she cradles Him.  Looking on are the shepherds and St Joseph whilst up above in the clouds are the angels.

The Holy Family in the Open by Hans Baldung

The Holy Family in the Open by Hans Baldung (Grien) c.1512

For me, the joy of walking around art galleries is to discover artist I had never heard of and then later examine their life and other works of art they have completed.   When I was walking around The Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna I came across this quirky picture of the Virgin and Child which was unlike any other I had seen before.  It is often used on Christmas cards as it has a jolly feel to it.  The painting entitled The Holy Family in the Open is by Hans Baldung, a German Renaissance artist born in Swäbisch Gmund in 1484.   In Briesgau and Strasbourg he was the dominant influence on religious panel painting in the early sixteenth century.

Baldung joined the Albrecht Dürer workshop in 1503 and remained there for four years where he was looked upon as a most talented pupil and was even left in charge of it whilst Durer made his second journey to Italy.   Maybe because of his love for the colour green, which he used a lot in his works, he was nicknamed Grien.  His work was very varied in its nature and included religious paintings, allegorical and mythological pictures, portraits, and designs for stained glass, tapestries and book illustrations.   He also had a great fascination with witchcraft and made many beautiful images on this subject in different medias some of which were of an erotic nature. 

In 1509 he bought a citizenship to the, then, German city of Strassburg, now the French city of Strasbourg, where he became a member of the town council and owned a number of local properties.  He died there at the age of sixty one.

Today’s painting; The Holy Family in the Open, tempera on wood, was painted around 1512.  Baldung adopted a view of landscape that was close to the Danube School and reflected the unique romantic character of the alpine foothills.  Today’s painting features this atmospheric mountainous landscape.  The main character in this composition is Mary who lovingly holds the Christ Child in her arms.  She can be seen sitting on the ground beneath the crown of a vast mossy tree which acts as a canopy, and the scene is set in the midst of a flowery meadow with animals and plants.  A spring trickles out of the earth besides her where a small putto quenches his thirst, secretly watched over by Joseph.

All the elements in this picture, namely, the spring, the stream, the lush meadow, the shady tree, Mary embracing the child in such a loving manner all call to mind the atmosphere of a paradise garden even though it is not enclosed but incorporated in a mountainous scene.

Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe by Édouard Manet

Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe by Edouard Manet (1863)

My Daily Art Display for today is the Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe (Luncheon on the Grass) by Édouard Manet which can be found in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

 Manet, who is acknowledged as one of the most famous artists from the second half of the nineteenth century, was born in Paris in 1832 to a wealthy and well connected family.   His father Auguste was a French judge and his mother, Eugénie-Desirée was the goddaughter of the Swedish crown prince.   Although his father expected Édouard to follow him into the judiciary his uncle encouraged him to become an artist.

Today’s painting is an intriguing one for many reasons and caused a stir over its alleged indecency when it was first exhibited in 1863 under the title Le Bain at the Salon des Refusés in Paris having been previously rejected for exhibition at the Paris Salon.  Here the presence of two fully clothed men with a naked woman scandalised some, whilst others found it humorous.   As with all controversies the perpetrator of a public controversy and outrage often becomes a cult hero and the same was true in this case as it made Manet a hero in the eyes of the young painters of the time and brought together in his support the group from which the Impressionists emerged.

Raimondi engraving Judgement of Paris

In the foreground of the picture is a basket of fruit which lies on the lady’s blue dress and seems to take as much importance as the main characters but shows Manet’s skill has a still-life painter.   The main characters in the painting were two fully clothed males and a nude woman looking directly out at us with a relaxed air and with little sign of embarrassment.     Manet must have known this would be controversial.  The subject of the painting was possibly borrowed from Titian/Giorgione’s Concert Champêtre and the posture of the male figure on the right hand side closely resembles that of a reclining figure in Raimondi’s engraving Judgement of Paris.   Whether he cared or not is a moot point as recently his father had died leaving him a substantial inheritance and he no longer needed commercial viability for his works of art.  The female in the painting was Manet’s favourite model Victorine Meurend and her two male companions in the scene were his younger brother Eugène Manet and his brother-in-law Ferdinand Leenhof. 

At the time, the painting style itself also brought about critical comments in some quarters.  There was no transition between the light and dark elements of the picture.  Gone were the subtle gradations and in their place was a brutal disparity of colour.  Depth and perspective seem to be lacking.  Look at the size of the woman standing in the water in the background in comparison to the rowing boat seen to the right of her.   Was this deliberate or was it just Manet’s refusal to conform to convention?

 Have you a favourite painting which you would like to see on My Daily Art Display?   If so, let me know and tell me why it is a favourite of yours and I will include it in a future offering.

The Glass of Wine by Johannes Vermeer

The Glass of Wine by Jan Vermeer (c.1659)

My painting today entitled The Glass of Wine was painted around 1662 by the Dutch Artist Johannes Vermeer and now hangs in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin.  The picture shows a woman seated at a table drinking a glass of wine.  Her face is almost hidden by the nearly empty glass. She is elegantly clothed wearing a red satin tabbaard with its dazzling ornate gold brocade suggesting that she has dressed to please her guest.  An elegantly dressed and debonair looking man stands at her side, keeping a respectful distance from her.  He looks straight at her with his hand, enclosed by a ruffled cuff, on a porcelain pitcher and seems to be waiting to fill her glass.  His drab coloured clothing is in contrast to the woman’s attire and aids the visual divide between the two characters in the painting.

A number of song books lie on the table which is covered by a heavy ornamental cloth.  On the Spanish chair there is a blue cushion on which sits a cittern, a stringed instrument dating from the Renaissance.   This is an instrument that often occurs in Vermeer’s pictures and symbolises both harmony and frivolity.  Should we believe, that moments before, the man had serenaded the woman?   Vermeer gives no indication as to the relationship between the man and woman or whether consuming alcohol will lead to the softening of her heart towards the gentleman.   Maybe Vermeer just hints at a relationship. 

The stained glass window to the left of the picture features a woman holding a level and bridle, personifying Temperantia (temperance).  The level symbolises good deeds and the bridle symbolises emotional control. The coat of arms has been identified as that of Janetge Vogel, first wife of Moses van Nederveen, who lived in a house on the Oude Delft canal.   Why this coat of arms?  Janetge Vogel had died in 1624, eight years before Vermeer was born and some thirty five years before he painted this work and even though Vermeer lived close to this house, it is unlikely that he had ever lived in it.  This coat of arms also appears in another of Vermeer’s painting The Girl with Two Men. 

The clothes of the figures, the patterned tablecloth, the gilded picture frame hanging on the back wall, and the coat of arms in the stained window glass all suggest a wealthy and high-class setting.  Vermeer has an interesting way of showing the light coming in through the leaded window and how it interacts with the people and objects in the room.

Dante and Beatrice by Henry Holiday

Dante and Beatrice by Henry Holiday (1884)

My Daily Art Display painting of the day is Dante and Beatrice by the English painter Henry Holiday who was born in London in 1839.  Holiday was a landscape painter as well as a stained glass designer, sculptor and illustrator.  At his death he was described as “the last Pre-Raphaelite.

The painting, completed in 1884, was considered to be one Henry Holiday’s most important painting.  The theme of the painting is based on the medieval poet Dante Alighieri’s work La Vita Nuova.   Dante concealed his love for Beatrice by pretending to be attracted by other women. The scene depicted in the painting is that of Beatrice refusing to greet Dante because of the gossip that had reached her. Beatrice is the woman dressed in white and she was modelled by Eleanor Butcher. The woman next to Beatrice is Monna Vanna, a companion of Beatrice and the mistress of Dante’s friend Guido Cavalcanti. Monna Vanna was modelled by Milly Hughes.  Whilst Beatrice looks stern and statuesque ignoring the presence of Dante, Monna Vanna, in contrast, looks back at Dante so as to judge his reaction to Beatrice’s behaviour.

Holiday paid much attention to detail, so much so, he visited Florence in order to carry out research for the painting and describes what his findings were in a letter:

“…..I wanted to get on the spot and see the general lie of the lines – the perspective in fact, of the buildings and still more the sense of colour, and as far as possible to collect such fragments, as remain of buildings of Dante’s time, so as to be able to alter the details to the character of the period… . “

He set the scene of the painting at the Ponte Santa Trinita, looking towards the Ponte Vecchio under which flows the River Arno.

Echo and Narcissus by John William Waterhouse

Echo and Narcissus by John William Waterhouse (1903)

The story of Echo and Narcissus comes from Greek Mythology and tells the tale of Echo, a wood nymph’s love for a beautiful youth, Narcissus.  Sadly for Echo although many loved Narcissus, who enjoyed the attention, praise and envy, he, on the other hand, loved nobody considering all his “worshippers” to be unworthy of him.  After Echo had died of a broken heart, Narcissus continued to attract many nymphs all of whom he briefly entertained before scorning and refusing them.  The Gods were angered by his behaviour and cursed him and made it so there was only one whom he would love, someone who was not real and could never love him back.

One day whilst walking through the woods, Narcissus came upon a pool of water.  He looked in it and caught a glimpse of what he thought was a beautiful water spirit but in fact was his own reflection.  He bent to kiss the image which mimicked his actions.  He reached into the pool to touch the spirit but of course the image was destroyed.  When the water settled the image reappeared only to be destroyed again every time he touched the water’s surface.   Narcissus could only lay by the pool gazing in to the eyes of his beloved vision.

My Daily Art Display painting today is entitled Echo and Narcissus and is by the English pre-Raphelite painter John William Waterhouse.  The painting which can be found in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool was painted in 1903 and shows the unhappy Narcissus gazing at his own reflection in the pool whilst the unhappy rejected nymph Echo looks on.  Waterhouse was of a younger generation of pre-Raphaelites than Dante Rossetti and his subjects of doomed and unhappy love were prettier, less disturbing and more widely popular than theirs.

Have you a favourite painting which you would like to see on My Daily Art Display?  

If so, let me know and tell me why it is a favourite of yours and I will include it in a future offering.

Three Philosophers by Giorgione

Three Philosophers by Giorgione (1509)

My Daily Art Display for today is entitled Three Philosophers and was painted in 1509 by Giorgione, one year before his death.   Little is known about the artist’s early life but Giorgio da Castelfranco, known as Giorgione, was born in Castelfranco, in the province of Venetia in 1477 and by 1500 had moved to the city of Venice.  There he studied under the great Bellini.  Sadly his life was cut short at the young age of 33 by the plague which raged through the land in 1510.  Less than a dozen of his paintings remain in existence and two of them hang in the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna.  

Today’s painting has left art historians in a quandary on how to interpret this work of art.    The picture shows three philosophers – one old, one middle-aged and one young.  The young man is looking at the cave at the left of the scene and could be measuring and noting down the features of the entrance.   Some postulate it is about three stages of man’s life viz., the young, the middle aged and the old.  Others say it concerns three different philosophical schools of thought; the young man representing the Renaissance, the man, maybe a Muslim, wearing a turban, the Muslim expansion age and the old man, the Middle Ages.  Yet others believe the three figures represent the three Magi, witnessing the first appearance of the star.  The figures seem to be astronomers or at least versed in interpreting the movement of the heavenly bodies, as confirmed by the charts and instruments held by the young man and the bearded old man.   The reason for this enigma is that the painting was made to order for an exclusive patron and the theme of it was only known to him, his friends and the painter.  This genre of the painting in which the landscape and the human figures attain the same importance was unusual in Giorgione’s work.   Giorgione’s painting methods for this work concentrated on colour effect.  The warm and delicately shaded colours he used over large areas of the canvas together with the way in which he allows one hue flow into another similar one creates an illusion of airiness and atmosphere.

Have you a favourite painting which you would like to see on My Daily Art Display?  

If so, let me know and tell me why it is a favourite of yours and I will include it in a future offering.