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, October 29, 2017

Eruption - paintings of Vesuvius by Pierre-Jacques Volaire

(The paintings reproduced here - all circa 1770s-90s - have fairly generic titles, and I didn't feel compelled to wade into the research necessary to include them.)


Pierre-Jacques Volaire (30 April 30 1729, Toulon - 19 September 1799, Naples), French painter. From a well-known family of painters in Toulon, his own career got started in 1754, when the painter Joseph Vernet arrived in the city, sent by Louis XV to paint French ports. Vernet took Volaire as his assistant, and they traveled together for eight years; the younger artist would be strongly influenced by Vernet's compositional conceits and his dramatic use of moonlight. By 1764 Volaire had left for Rome where, for the next five years, he worked at painting landscapes and seascapes. He then moved on to Naples, where night scenes became his specialty. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 1771 inspired Volaire to paint the moonlit scenes of volcanic eruptions that would make his reputation. He exhibited in Paris only three times. He was denied official recognition in France when, in 1786, he tried to sell one of his Vesuvius pictures to Louis XVI; at the time, the work of a landscape painter - especially one who employed sensational effects - was not seen to be very worthy. Volaire also created pastels and drawings, and his works were frequently engraved.

Friday, October 27, 2017

En su casa-estudio en Colonia San Ángel - photographs of Frida Kahlo by Ivan Dmitri, circa 1940.


Kahlo poses inside and in the cactus garden of the paired home/studios designed by architect Juan O'Gorman and which she shared with her husband Diego Rivera until their divorce in 1939. Restored in 1997 it is now a museum dedicated to the two artists.

The San Ángel compound, which marked the operatic birth of modern architecture in Mexico, was designed in 1930 by O'Gorman, then 25. The architect came to Rivera's attention after he built his own simple, glass-fronted modern house in the town. Inspired by a studio designed by Le Corbusier in Paris, his plan for the Riveras' studios was more robust and extroverted. The bold volumes, clay-brick ceilings and cantilevered floors and stairs are punctuated by proudly displayed water tanks and downspouts. A southern sun ignites the intense blue and red that are taken straight from vernacular buildings. Working together, O'Gorman, Rivera and Kahlo made Mexican modernism, unlike its European counterpart, warm to the touch.

The modernist imagination has long been a major issue among artists in Mexico resistant to cultural colonization. The tension between being Mexican and modern plays itself out in these three houses
[the other two being the famous Casa Azul in nearby Coyoacán, where Kahlo was born and died and where the couple lived after their remarriage in 1940, and the Aztec-Tolmec house-studio in Anahuacalli, finished after Rivera's death in 1957] belonging to artists whose left-wing politics led them and their architect to nationalize the International style. In 1922, Rivera left Paris, where he had befriended Picasso and taken up Cubism, for a postrevolutionary, socially conscious Mexico. He turned to a populist realism that mythologized the nation's Indian past. Even his palette became earthier and brighter, with blood red, copper brown and the azure of the country's sky. Rivera and Kahlo's buildings, and even O'Gorman's other designs, moved from the abstract to the mythic, and the arc of their change starts in San Ángel with the galvanizing blue and red.

Given Rivera's emotional past, crowded with liaisons (including Paulette Goddard, Louise Nevelson and Frida Kahlo's younger sister, Cristina), separate studios for the two painters amounted to spatial wisdom. O'Gorman designed a large glass-walled red studio at the front of the property for Rivera and a smaller blue building at the back for Kahlo, next to a studio for her father, an architectural photographer. ''The architect thought like a psychologist and decided that Frida needed to live alone,'' said Blanca
Garduño, director of the Diego Rivera Studio Museum, in the San Ángel house.

Kahlo's studio is the more private of the two. Rivera's double-height studio was on the third floor, beneath the same saw-tooth factory skylights that Le Corbusier used in Paris. Their two-story living room and dining area on the second floor of the front building became a salon for the international avant-garde, where Rivera and Kahlo entertained their bohemian friends. Tubular steel furniture was supplanted by brightly colored peasant furniture, which remains in the house. Dedicated to reviving Mexican traditions, Rivera and Kahlo bridged the progressive and the primitive.

A strikingly cantilevered stair leads to a roof terrace on Kahlo's studio. The buildings are raised on columns that give the forms visual breathing room. The shock value of these bold blocks in a culture devoted to decorative styles borrowed from the European past must have pleased Rivera.

''Besides the influence of Le Corbusier, you can feel the influence of Soviet ideas,'' said Victor Jiménez, who as the former director of architecture in the National Institute of Fine Arts was responsible for the restoration of the San Ángel house. ''The exposed pipes and chimneys were very machinelike and close to the sensibility of the Russian avant-garde. It's a very interesting interpretation of functionalism.''

Photographs taken by Kahlo's father, Guillermo Kahlo, a German emigré, served as archival documents that helped re-establish the home as it looked in 1932. ''We reinstalled the original electrical cabling so that it was plain to see,'' said Mr. Jiménez, now head of a literary foundation, ''and restored the water tanks and metallic trash ducts, which had disappeared.'' The strong colors, which leap off the walls, must have been defiant when the house was built. The blue used was most often associated with cantinas, and was considered in bad taste.

In 1940, Kahlo, who had been injured in a streetcar accident when she was young, left the San Ángel home and retreated to her paternal house, the Blue House
[the Casa Azul], now the Frida Kahlo Museum, in Coyoacán. ''She was very angry in the San Ángel house, because she felt she suffered there in two ways,'' Ms. Garduño said. ''Physically, because of her fragile condition, it became very difficult to walk upstairs, and emotionally, her heart suffered because of all the women who visited Diego. She realized that Diego had to make love, because these relationships were one way, with all his financial pressures, for him to promote his work.''

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Marc'Antonio Pasqualini Crowned by Apollo, by Andrea Sacchi, circa 1640

Marc'Antonio Pasqualini (25 April 1614, Rome – 2 July 1691, Rome), Italian castrato opera singer of the Baroque period, described as the foremost male soprano of his day. (Despite being historically addressed as a soprano, Pasqualini's vocal range extended no higher than B5, thus a mezzo-soprano by modern classification.) Following his training at the French national church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome, he came to the attention of Cardinal Antonio Barberini, who is cited as the singer's protector upon his entry into the Sistine Choir in 1631. Pasqualini benefited greatly from the generosity of his patrons, the Barberini family of Pope Urban VIII. During the following decade he starred in most of the operas staged at the Palazzo Barberini, establishing a reputation for vocal brilliance as well as arrogance.

He is also believed to have conducted an ongoing homosexual relationship with Cardinal Antonio; the singer would have been about seventeen at the time the two first met, the Cardinal, only twenty-four. Contemporary testimony leaves little doubt that the "veritable passion" the cardinal felt, extended to more than Pasqualini's beautiful voice. Cardinal Antonio had a suite of rooms in the great Barberini Palace which were dedicated to music and his collection of musical instruments, and his protégé had rooms in the north wing attic. Pasqualini was also a composer, setting the Cardinal's poetry to music, and going on to write more than 250 arias and cantatas.

In Sacchi's allegorical portrait, Pasqualini's hand rests on the keys of an upright harpsichord, decorated with the figures of Daphne and a bound satyr. The figure of Apollo, the pose loosely based on the ancient sculpture known as the Apollo Belvedere, stands in front of Marsyas, tied to a tree with his bagpipes beneath him. A modern viewer might find this odd but beautiful painting more troubling than would its contemporary audience. Not at all unusual or decried at the time, to us the "alteration" necessary to produce the particular voice of a castrato seems all too uncomfortably referenced here. With the exact compositional centrality of Apollo's decidedly unaltered anatomy, and even its proximity to the singer's right hand, it's impossible not to ponder the difference in the two men in the foreground, the incomplete mortal and the intact god.

The earliest description comes from Bellori: "Andrea [Sacchi] applied his greatest industry in the portrait of Marc'Antonio Pasqualini, a famous soprano in his day and a close friend in the court of Cardinal Antonio Baberini. This is not a simple portrait but a most beautiful conceit, [Sacchi] having shown [Pasqualini] in the costume of a shepherd with Apollo who crowns him. He places his hands on a spinet, or rather an 'arpicembalo' with keys, and the cords upright in the guise of a harp, and while playing he turns to display his face, most beautifully painted from life... Opposite is shown Apollo, who with one hand places the crown of laurels on [the singer's] head and with the other holds a lyre at his side. On the ground lies a bound satyr, to signify his competition and punishment."

Sacchi's portrait combines features of contemporary musical practice with allegory to produce a picture that can be read on several levels. Bellori understood Pasqualini's costume to be that of a shepherd, a costume that doubtless evoked one of the singer's roles. It is a solo performance such as Pasqualini had so often given that Apollo awards, but one elevated to a mythic status by its contrast to Marsyas's punishment for his bold and unsuccessful challenge to a musical contest on his rustic pipes (here shown as bagpipes such as a real shepherd might use). This picture admits the viewer into the world of late Renaissance-early Baroque musical practice. Himself a musician, Sacchi was a close friend of Pasqualini and designed some of the stage sets and props for his performances. It isn't known who actually commissioned the portrait, but the most probable candidate is Pasqualini himself, whose friendship with Sacchi and vain character accord perfectly with the self-adulation implicit in the imagery. Indeed it now appears that in the seventeenth century successful musicians emerged not only as outstanding personalities but also as significant patrons.

The instrument he plays is a rare type of clavicytherium, or keyed harp, that gave a delicate, sweet sound suitable to chamber performances. One such instrument is listed in the Barberini inventories, and Sacchi may, in fact, show a specific clavicytherium on which Pasqualini performed. Similarly, the table, supported by three dolphins reminiscent of Bernini's Triton Fountain outside the Palazzo Barberini, may have existed.

(Text derived and adapted from several sources, including the Metropolitan Museum's catalogue entry by Keith Christiansen, 2015.)


Cardinal Antonio Barberini, by Simone Cantarini, circa 1633, not long after he met Pasqualini.
(Note the pentimento visible on the Cardinal's mozzetta.)


Andrea Sacchi (30 November 1599, Rome – 21 June 1661, Rome), painter in Rome in the second quarter of the seventeenth century, his work a leading example of High Baroque Classicism. The son of an undistinguished painter, he initially entered the studio of Cavalier d'Arpino. Quoting Bellori:
[...]hence Benedetto, his father, as soon as he saw that he was being outstripped by his son in his childhood, no longer having the courage to educate him, wisely thought to provide him with a better master and recommended him to Cavalier Giuseppe d’Arpino, who gladly took him into his school, perceiving him to be more attentive and bent on progress than any other youth.
He later studied in the workshop of Francesco Albani. Much of his early career was helped by the regular patronage by Cardinal Antonio Barberini, who commissioned art for the Capuchin church in Rome and the Palazzo Barberini.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Grand - Madame Grand/Catherine de Talleyrand-Périgord, Princesse de Bénévent by Vigée Le Brun and Gérard

Portrait by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1783.

Very loosely adapted from the Metropolitan Museum's website - both paintings are in their collection - and other sources:

Noël-Catherine Verlée (or Worlée; 1761, Tranquebar, Tamil Nadu  – December 10, 1834, Paris), was the daughter of a minor French official posted to India. At the age of barely sixteen Catherine married a civil servant of Swiss descent working in Calcutta, George Francis Grand. The couple separated soon after, due to her brief but scandalous affair with Sir Philip Francis, a British politician. Subsequently, Madame Grand removed to London.

In about 1782 she moved to Paris where, being a beautiful blond, ill-educated but musical and clever, she became a very fashionable courtesan; the portrait that Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun painted of her in 1783 when she was only twenty-two attests to her lively personality and stunning looks at the time. She returned to Britain just before the French Revolution, but by 1794, with the Revolution waning, Madame Grand had returned to France.

Madame Grand now entered into a highly visible affair with Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, later prince de Bénévent, the brilliant - and infamously wily - statesman and former bishop of Autun, who had become a principal figure in the emerging government of the Directory. When she was arrested on suspicion of espionage in March 1798, Talleyrand secured her freedom. That same year, having been estranged from her husband for more than ten years, Madame Grand obtained a divorce in absentia.

Portrait by François Pascal Simon, baron Gérard, circa 1804-5.

Elaborate negotiations with Napoléon and the Vatican were required before the former bishop was allowed to marry, at Neuilly, on September 10, 1802; despite the First Consul's strong reservations, Napoléon and Joséphine signed their marriage contract. Upon their first official reception at the Tuileries, Napoléon is alleged to have remarked, "I hope that the good conduct of citoyenne Talleyrand will cause the fickleness of madame Grand to be forgotten." (The alternate - and more likely - version of the marriage negotiations is that Talleyrand was actually quite reluctant to regularize their union, and had to be coerced by Napoléon for the sake of propriety and his political career.)

With her less than respectable personal history, Napoléon ensured that Madame de Talleyrand was rarely at court; his Empress' own scandalous past was problem enough. At any rate, the couple quickly drifted apart, living separately; Talleyrand had already taken an official mistress, Madame Dubois, when he married, and was soon preoccupied with other women. Eventually, he arranged that his wife should go and live - luxuriously - in London. She returned to Paris in 1817, during the Restoration, and lived there quietly until her death at the age of seventy-three.