L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Giove pittore di farfalle, Mercurio e la Virtù, by Dosso Dossi, circa 1523-1524

"Jupiter painting butterflies, Mercury and Virtue". I'd never seen this painting before, and I think it's rather wonderful. An unusual, complex, but perfectly balanced composition. Lighting that is forceful but also nuanced. And, most of all, I find the color harmonies extremely beautiful. There are lovely details - the feathery trees, Mercury's feathered sandals/feet, Jupiter's lightning bolts, tossed at his feet - and many of the highlights look to be picked out in gold leaf. It also has that something extra I'm always thrilled to find in an otherwise merely beautiful painting: it's pretty damn nutty. I'm sure there are art historians, experts on Renaissance iconography and/or classical mythology who could explain the thing to us; there are probably innumerable scholarly treatises on just this single painting. I suppose it's some kind of allegory of painting. And from what I understand, the story goes that Virtue and Fortune were having a row and Virtue trotted off to Jupiter to get him to intervene. But Mercury told her to hold on, saying that the gods were busy "making cucumbers blossom and painting the wings on butterflies". Alright, fair enough. That still doesn't explain one very particular detail, one rather perverse artistic choice: having left off his typical macho styling and godly bravado, why is Jupiter - so languid his posture, head tilted back, legs coyly crossed - sitting there in that terribly fetching nightgown?


Dosso Dossi, né Giovanni di Niccolò de Luteri(circa 1490, San Giovanni del Dosso – 1542, Ferrara), Italian Renaissance painter. Little is known of his early life or training, but his father was employed by the Dukes of Ferrara. By his early twenties, Dossi himself had begun work for Alfonso I and Ercole II d'Este, Dukes of Ferrara and Modena; becoming principal court artist, he would continue for three decades, until his death. He often worked with his younger brother Battista Dossi, who had trained in the Roman workshop of Raphael.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Four sisters - photographs of the daughters of the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh

Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh, later Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, was the second son of Queen Victoria. The duchess, the former Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna, was the only daughter of Alexander II of Russia. The couple's first born, Alfred, died a suicide at the age of twenty-four. But they had four daughters: Marie "Missy" (29 October 1875 - 18 July 1938), later Queen of Romania; Victoria Melita "Ducky" (25 November 1876 - 2 March 1936), later Grand Duchess of Hessen und bei Rhein and, after that, Grand Duchess Kirill of Russia; Alexandra "Sandra" (1 September 1878 - 16 April 1942), later Princess of Hohenlohe-Langenberg; and Beatrice "Baby Bee" (20 April 1884 - 13 July 1966), later Infanta of Spain. The sisters were very close, the first three more so; they were only a year and two years apart in age. Beatrice was six year younger than her closest sibling and doesn't always appear in these group portraits.

Victoria Melita, Alexandra, Marie.
Marie, Victoria Melita, Alexandra. Though second born, Victoria Melita was always dominant among the sisters.
Alexandra, Victoria Melita, Marie.
Victoria Melita, Alexandra, Marie.
Marie, Victoria Melita, Alexandra.
Marie, Victoria Melita, Alexandra.
Beatrice, Victoria Melita, Alexandra, Marie.
Victoria Melita, Marie, Alexandra, Beatrice. Victoria Melita and Marie had by far the closest bond among the four.
Alexandra, Beatrice, Victoria Melita, Marie.
Beatrice, Marie, Alexandra, Victoria Melita. From a portrait by Friedrich August von Kaulbach, circa 1900.
Beatrice, Marie, Victoria Melita.
Marie, Victoria Melita, Alexandra.
Alexandra, Marie, Beatrice, Victoria Melita.


Addendum 4/5/2021:

Kaulbach's portrait of the four sisters, seen above in a reproduction from a vintage postcard, originally hung in the dining room of the Edinburgh Palace in Coburg. Unseen for many decades, it was thought that it might actually be lost. Only recently has it been confirmed as being safely held in the private collection of a family descendant.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Al Borge - unknown photographer, no date (circa 1950s)

Perversely, since I'm posting images of a "physique model", I have to say that I don't find the actual physique at all interesting. Though the photographs are classically posed and beautifully lit, the figure seems pretty generic "body builder" to me, too smoothed out. And the proportions are not perfect; the calves are, noticeably, too short. But the face. I think it's a wonderful face, expressive even in these static poses; you can somehow sense the thought at the back of his eyes, the words being formed in his mouth. It's a sensuous and elegant face. I almost wish I could go back those sixty-some years, tell him he needn't have spent all that time with the weights, with the tanning, with the oil. He needn't even to have taken his clothes off. It would have been enough for him just to return my gaze.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Met gouden haren - blonds and redheads, paintings by van Dyck

Study Head of a Young Woman, circa 1618.
James Stuart, Duke of Richmond and Lennox, circa 1633-35.
Santa Rosalia, circa 1622-27.
Cupid with love arrows, unknown date.
Allegory of Charity, 1632.
Head of a Young Man, circa 1617-18.
Mary Villiers, Lady Herbert of Shurland, circa 1636.
Self-portrait, circa 1640.
Daedalus and Icarus, circa 1615-25.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Élégie romaine - Roman Elegy - by Jacques-Henri Sablet, 1791

In the Protestant cemetery near the pyramid of Gaius Cestius in Rome, two unidentified men - dignified, elegant, soberly dressed in black - pose beside a neoclassical stele. The freshness of the stone's surface and the presence of the two white cloths suggest that the monument has just been cleaned or, conversely, that the carving has only recently been finished. In the background, two shepherds guard their grazing herds in the midst of the ancient tombs and ruins. This quiet and even melancholy painting is an example of  a "conversation piece", a genre long established in Great Britain which the Swiss-born, Paris-trained Sablet helped to popularize in France, where is was known as a "portrait de conversation". This double portrait can also be seen as a souvenir of the Grand Tour.  

In 1791, when this was painted, Sablet had been in Italy for sixteen years. He returned to Paris, along with a pension and artist's lodgings in the Louvre, three years later; the Terror had waned, but the flood of unrest instigated by the French Revolution had by then spread to the Apennine Peninsula.