The Female Body and Horizontal Images

Sherman, Untitled 94, "Centerfolds" series, 1981

Over the past few weeks I’ve been reading Lives of the Artists by Calvin Tomkins. I’ve been thinking a lot about the chapter dedicated to Cindy Sherman, particularly when she discusses the controversy regarding her “Centerfolds” series from 1981. This series began as a commission from Artforum‘s editor Ingrid Sischy. The format of the commission would have involved two facing pages, which led Sherman to think about “centerfold” photographs from men’s magazines like Playboy. Sherman decided to highlight this reference by using a horizontal format for her photographs, although she added an element of irony by depicting clothed women in supine or semi-supine positions. However, the pictures were never included in the magazine; it was thought that the irony would be lost and “misunderstood” by militant feminists.1 Sherman continued to explore this horizontal format, however, and finished the “Centerfolds” series despite the rejection.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled 96, "Centerfolds" series, 1981

Reading about the “Centerfolds” series and its horizontal format has prompted me to think about about various ways in which the orientation of a work of art can convey meaning. I can understand why the horizontal orientation would be used for a centerfold in a magazine, if only for practical purposes. But I have realized that the horizontal format also is preferred for a lot of depictions of nude females over the centuries. The paintings that immediately come to mind for me are Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1538), Ingres’s The Grand Odalisque (shown below) and Gauguin’s Spirit of the Dead Watching (“Manao Tupapau”, 1892).

Ingres, "The Grand Odalisque," 1814

So, why would a horizontal format be preferred by some artists of the female form? I approached this topic through the lens of feminist analysis (in relation to female objectification and the “male gaze”), and here are some ideas which I came up with:

  • The horizontal orientation the medium implies rest and repose. The image is “at rest” – as emphasized by the horizontal lines on the top and bottom of the canvas or medium itself. This suggestion of repose can perhaps suggest a contrast between the active viewer and the image itself.
  • Repose and rest is emphasized in the horizontal orientation of the subject matter. In this way, the object can be interpreted as passive as well, which draws a contrast with the active viewer.
  • It may be easier to objectify a body through a horizontal orientation, since the body might be more visually approachable to the viewer in a horizontal format. A horizontal body can fill the field of vision on part of the viewer, for example. Along these lines, viewers may find it more approachable to see a large-scale depiction of a body that is horizontally oriented: one may feel unable to objectify a vertically-oriented image in which the sitter towers over the viewer.
  • A thought: Could it be that the female form is more predisposed to horizontal orientations because females are traditionally associated with the land and earth? I’m reminded of the horizon lines of landscapes and wonder if there might be some parallel. In contrast, I often think vertical lines often are associated more with masculinity (e.g. phallic imagery, skyscrapers, etc.).

Cindy Sherman noted herself that the horizontal format conveyed certain meanings to viewers of her “Centerfolds” series. She said, “…the horizontal format was a problem. Filling that space meant using some kind of prone figure, and that made it seem to some people that I was glorifying victims, or something.”2 As a change, Sherman decided to adopt a vertical format for her next series, called “Pink Robes.”

Sherman, Untitled 98, "Pink Robes" series, 1982

Although these vertically-oriented images do not automatically suggest a centerfold spread in a magazine, Sherman explained the following about the “Pink Robes” series: “I was thinking of the idea of the centerfold model. The pictures were meant to look like a model just after she’d been photographed for a centerfold. They aren’t cropped, and I thought that I wouldn’t bother with make-up and wigs and just change the lighting and experiment while using the same means in each.”3

In contrast to the objectification that seems to be implied through the horizontal orientation of the “Centerfolds” series, I think that “Pink Robes” puts more stress on the subjecthood and identity of the model, particularly due to the vertical format. The subjects imply activity and alertness because they are propped “upright” through the vertical position of the frame. Even though the subjects in these scenes imply some vulnerability through their loosely-draped pink chenille bathrobes, the vertical format still suggests strength and presence.

What types of meanings do you think can be conveyed through horizontally- or vertically-oriented images of the female form? Can you think of other examples of representations of the female form which seem to relate to the orientation of the composition and medium?

1 Calvin Tomkins, Lives of the Artists (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2008), 33.

2 Ibid., 34.

3 Paul Taylor, ‘Cindy Sherman’, Flash Art, no.124 (Oct.-Nov. 1985): 78-9. Source quoted online here: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/sherman-untitled-98-p77729/text-summary

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Raphael’s Studio, Graffiti, and “Grotesques” at the Vatican

Note: The following post was written in honor of my friend, the late Hasan Niyazi, who was the blogger at Three Pipe Problem. Several times Hasan and I would write posts that were in response to or inspired by something that the other had written. When writing this post, I was reminded that Hasan had already paved the way for my own research: he posted brief information about Raphael and the Vatican Loggia in January 2010 and in April 2012.

Hasan had a particular love for Raphael, and the art history blogging community thought it appropriate to honor Hasan on April 6th, which is Raphael’s birthday. You can find a compilation of links and tributes for this event HERE. Hasan and I enjoyed corresponding about myths and historical misconceptions surrounding art history, and I think he would have appreciated my detective work to determine whether or not Raphael actually left a graffito in the Domus Aurea (especially since Hasan mentioned in a post from January 2010 that he had difficulty finding an image of any inscriptions left by Renaissance artists on the walls – an issue I have tried to remedy here).

On another note, too, I think there are some interesting parallels between Hasan’s written text and the graffiti left by Renaissance artists. Just as these artists left a mark of their physical presence after their discovery and interaction with ancient Roman paintings, Hasan left his own text (a virtual signature) on a wall (a digital screen) after making artistic discoveries of his own. 

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Over the past several weeks, I have been listening to online lectures on ancient Roman architecture by Prof. Diana E. E. Kleiner of Yale University. Many of these lectures are found through Yale’s Open University website for the course. It has been fun and rewarding to listen to another professor teach about a subject with which I am familiar, although I know that there is always more to learn about the Romans.

I was particularly intrigued by one lecture that discusses some of the paintings that are located in Nero’s Domus Aurea (“Golden House”). This immense pleasure palace was never completed during the Roman period; it was left incomplete after the unpopular Nero was forced to commit suicide. Some sections of the palace and grounds were torn down afterward, while others were sealed and used as a foundation for the Forum of Trajan. These private apartments and other rooms were discovered during the Renaissance around 1480, when a man accidentally fell into one of the underground rooms.1

Plan of the Domus Aurea. Areas outlined in black date from the time of Nero. Walls on the south end (filled with diagonal slash lines) date from the time of Trajan. The rooms that are filled with dark gray were visited during the Renaissance period.

Due to their subterranean location, these rooms were called “grottoes,” and the decoration on the walls subsequently was called “grotesque.” (Later, the word “grotesque” took on other connotations.) Renaissance artists were stunned at this discovery, for the walls in the rooms were still painted, gilded, and stuccoed. In general, the Roman painting in the Domus Aurea can be interpreted as a transition between the Third Style into the Fourth Style of ancient Roman wall painting. The small fantasy-like vignettes and delicate, whimsical designs placed upon monochromatic backgrounds recall the Third Style, while other walls incorporate more elements from previous styles such as illusionistic vistas (an indication of the eclectic and inclusive Fourth Style, which combines elements from the First, Second, and/or Third Styles). One example of Third Style painting would be the cryptoporticus ceiling (image shown below). Perhaps the best extant example of Fourth Style painting from the Domus Aurea can be found in Room 78, although it should be noted that Renaissance artists did not visit this particular room.

Painter possibly Fabullus, Cryptoporticus (Room 70) wall painting, Domus Aurea, 1st century CE

Many Renaissance artists visited these grottoes, and many of them, paradoxically, left graffiti on the walls and defaced the paintings they so much admired. Some of the graffiti left in the Domus Aurea belong to students of Raphael, such as Pierino Fiorentino and Giovanni da Udine.2 Northern artists also visited the grottoes and left their names, including the artist and writer Karl Van Mander.3 Perhaps these artists felt like they could bridge some type of historical divide between them and the revered ancients through such markers.

Image of the graffito of Giovanni da Udine (signed as "ZVAN DA VDENE FIRLANO") from the cryptoporticus (room 70) in the Domus Aurea

Although I can find no evidence that Raphael left his own graffito on the walls, Vasari does record that Raphael visited the site with his assistant, Giovanni da Udine.4 The wall paintings definitely left an impression on the two painters. The influence of the walls of the Domus Aurea on the style of Raphael and his pupils are especially clear when viewing Raphael’s paintings in the Vatican Loggia of Pope Leo X as well as the Loggetta and Stufetta of Cardinal Bibbiena (an image of the Loggetta is shown below). Out of these three spaces, the Loggetta and the Stufetta were decorated in the antique style first. The Loggia, however, is probably the best well known and most influential, since it served as the prototype for modern grotesques.5

Studio of Raphael (particularly Giovanni da Udine, who was assigned the task by Raphael), The Loggetta of Cardinal Bibbiena, 1516-1516. Image courtesy the Web Gallery of Art

Studio of Raphael, detail of the ceiling of the Loggetta Bibbiena, 1516-1517. Vatican.

Many of these paintings have decorative elements which recall the Third Style of Roman wall painting, such as the monochromatic white background and lyrical vegetal designs. I particularly appreciate the whimsical designs that include animals, and I think that the fantastic and whimsically illogical aspect of the Third Style is shown in many details with animals.6 For example, one detail of a pilaster in the Loggia depicts a fat rat and round squirrels resting on delicate acanthus leaves, while swans perch on spindly tendrils (see image below).

Studio of Raphael, detail of Pilaster IX, with acanthus foliage populated by animals, and flanking half-pilasters, 16th century

Scholars have debated the contribution which Raphael had in the decoration of these areas. Most recently, Nicole Dacos asserted that Raphael supplied the initial designs and sketches for the Loggia, although none of these sketches survive.7 After this point, studio assistants including Francesco Penni, Giulio Romano, Giovanni da Udine, and Perin del Vaga, and Polidoro da Caravaggio completed the decoration. Raphael is also thought to have provided the designs for the Loggetta and the Stuffetta, although he gave Giovanni da Udine “carte blanche” to paint with assistants in the Loggetta.8

I think it’s really neat to see a way in which Roman wall painting influenced Renaissance painters. During the Renaissance, artists often had to look toward ancient sculpture for artistic inspiration, since sculpture survived much more easily than painting.9 One can only imagine the excitement of Renaissance painters to discover ways in which the ancient Romans worked with color, utilized their imaginations to create fantastic imagery (which would have fit well with the Renaissance concept of ingegno, I think), and also explored modeling and illusionism.

It is unfortunate, then, that these paintings were so well loved that they were “gradually effaced by the grafitti and torch smoke of the very people who came to admire them. So great, indeed, was the prestige of the Domus Aurea paintings that their rapid deterioration gave rise to the story, which persisted into the late eighteenth century, that Michelangelo, Raphael, and other masters had intentionally destroyed the frescoes after copying them, so that no one would be able to identify the source of their great art.”10 Even in recent times, the Domus Aurea still has been under threat from a conservational standpoint: the building has been closed since 2006 due to risk of structural failure and collapse. Luckily, though, it was just announced that the structurally-sound portions of the building will reopen between July and September of this year. How exciting!

Do you know of any other ways in which Renaissance painters were directly influenced by specific Roman paintings? Please share!

1 Hetty Joyce, “Grasping at Shadows: Ancient Paintings in Renaissance and Baroque Rome” in The Art Bulletin 74, no. 2 (1992): 219.

2 Nicole Dacos, La Découverte de la Domus Aurea et La Formation des Grotesques a la Renaissance (London: The Warburg Institute, 1969), 148.

3 Ibid., 144, 152.

4 La Découverte de la Domus Aurea et La Formation des Grotesques a la Renaissance by Nicole Dacos includes an extensive appendix of the graffiti were left in the Domus Aurea during the Renaissance and afterward. An additional list in this appendix includes the list of graffiti that were mentioned in an earlier publication by Weege in 1913, which were no longer visible when Dacos published her book in 1969. Raphael’s signature is not specified in either of these lists. For information on Vasari’s account regarding Raphael’s visit to the site, see chapter on Giovanni da Udine.

5 Nicole Dacos, The Loggia of Raphael: A Vatican Art Treasure (New York: Abbeville Press, 2008), 7. The Loggia is found in the old Papal Palace; it is located on the second story of three superimposed stories. Raphael assumed the project of constructing the third floor and decorating the second floor of the galleries when Bramante, the original architect, died. In the sixteenth century the second story was known as “la loggia,” and the name that specifically refers to the second story has remained.

6 The Roman architect and historian Vitruvius decried the illogical aspects of Third Style painting, writing, “We now have fresco paintings of monstrosities, rather than truthful representations of definite things. For instance, reeds are put in the place of columns, fluted appendages with curly leaves and volutes, instead of pediments, candelabra supporting representations of shrines. . . . How is it possible that a reed should really support a roof, or a candelabrum a pediment with its ornaments, or that such a slender, flexible thing as a stalk should support a figure perched upon it. . . .?” See Vitruvius, De archaetectura VII, 5. Text available online here: http://nlp.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Vitr.%207.5&lang=original

7 Ibid., p. 10.

8 Ibid., 34.

9 We can tell that ancient sculpture also served as a source of inspiration for the Loggia paintings, in fact. Nicole Dacos points out that a sculpture of Diana (Artemis) of Ephesus appears in one of the paintings of the Loggia, which may have been derived from a statue known at the time of Pope Leo X. Ibid.., 40-45.

10 Joyce, 220.

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Dali’s “Metamorphosis”: Paranoiac-Critical Activity and the Artist-Genius

Philippe Halsman, "Invisible Dali," 1954

I love this photograph of Salvador Dali, because I think that it typifies a lot of ideas regarding Dali’s own persona and his art work. On one hand, the photograph is somewhat similar to a double image (a typical visual trope that appears in Dali’s art), since the white negative space implies a face without depicting one. The other reason I love this photograph, though, is that casts Dali in a certain type of light. As an “invisible” figure in this photograph, Dali is a person, but obviously not a “regular” or “normal” person. He is special.

Ever the eccentric, Dali wanted to be seen as someone who was different from regular society. In many ways, I think that his career and personality are an explosive reaction to the “artist-genius” construct which had slowly developed in Western society since the Renaissance. (In fact, speaking of the Renaissance, I think that Dali also viewed himself as a “Renaissance Man,” as evidenced by how he characterizes himself during his appearance on the game show “What’s My Line?” in 1957.) Dali wanted to claim special creative powers and psychological abilities as an artist-genius, which I think ties into Dali’s “paranoiac-critical method” (his term) that he used when creating art.

On a basic level, I think that the paranoiac-critical method can be defined as a way in which Dali cultivated and explored how a paranoid person can “misread, mangle, and misconstrue ordinary appearances.”1 So, as a result of self-induced paranoiac-critical activity, the artist can see things simultaneously, both as rational and irrational objects. In other words, Dali claims that he, as a unique individual, has the special ability to see things as a rational being (an objective artist) and also as a paranoid person. Dali maintained that he was not mad, but could participate in paranoic delirium as both an actor and a spectator.2 Dali’s theory, then, is based off of a willful misreading of Freud, since Dali claimed that he could intentionally embrace both the conscious and unconscious minds.3

Just like Dali wanted to be seen as fluctuating between the sane and insane, Dali often painted “double-image” works of art (as a result of paranoiac-critical activity) which can simultaneously be “read” in at least two ways. One of the best examples of such double imagery is Metamorphosis of Narcissus (see below). There are lots of things in this painting that can play with the viewer’s eye and mind, but I think that the most common example is that the figure (Narcissus) looking into the water on the left is mirrored on the right by the image of a large hand holding a cracked egg. More double-image details in this painting are discussed in a short video clip by Smarthistory.

Salvador Dali, "Metamorphosis of Narcissus," 1937. 51.1 cm x 78.1 cm (approx 1.67' x 2.5'). Tate Museum, London

The Tate Modern site claims that Metamorphosis of Narcissus (painted 1937) was Dali’s first painting made entirely in accordance with the paranoiac-critical method.4 However, this isn’t the first painting by Dali to incorporate double images. Several years before this painting was made, Dali’s wrote an essay (“L’Âne Pourri” in June 1930) which already mentioned the double image is part of the paranoiac thought process. At the time this essay was written, Dali had begun painting The Invisible Man (see below).5

Salvador Dali, "The Invisible Man," 1929-1933. 140 cm x 81 cm (approx. 4.5' x 2.65'). Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid

Dali began to work on The Invisible Man, therefore, about the same time that he began to establish his ideas about the paranoia-criticism. Dali’s ideas about paranoia-criticism changed and morphed (as did his art) over time, which make his theory difficult to discuss in a nutshell.6 (If you do know of other ways to concisely discuss this method, please share!) But I agree with Haim Finkelstein in that Dali wanted to promote his method in order to gain favor and theoretical legitimacy with the Surrealist group in the 1920s.5 In that sense, Dali didn’t want himself to be seen as an “invisible man” among the more scientifically-engaged Surrealists at the time.

Dali’s relationship with the Surrealist group did not last forever. In a famous trial in 1934, Dali was expelled from the group. In some ways, I think that his paranoiac-critical method was a little too personalized for the other Surrealists. This ego-centric methodology and mentality of an artist-genius must have been confirmed to the other members of the group when Dali said, “I am Surrealism!” in response to his expulsion.

From what I can tell, Dali seems to be the only Surrealist artist who claims to experience a state of paranoiac delirium without any other external aid. His method differs from the artistic methods (such as automatism) employed by other Surrealists, which could involve drug-induced hallucinations or “sleeping-fits” in order to help aid the artist in approximate irrational and unconscious thought.7 Dali, in contrast, famously said, “I have never taken drugs, since I am a drug. I don’t talk about my hallucinations, I evoke them. Take me, I am the drug: take me, I am hallucinogenic!”

Of all the artists who have described or claimed to be an artist-genius, I’m pretty sure that Dali is the only one who has claimed to a drug! You can’t get much more unique than that.

1 Marilyn Stokstad and Michael W. Cothren, Art History, 5th edition (Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, Pearson, 2014), 1058.

2 Haim Finkelstein, “Dali’s Paranoia-Criticism or the Exercise of Freedom” in Twentieth Century Literature 21, no. 1, Essays on Surrealism, (Feb. 1975): 64.

3 Dr. Steven Zucker, Smarthistory video, “Metamorphosis of Narcissus”: http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/dali-metamorphosis-of-narcissus.html

4 It is interesting to consider how Dali was proud of Metamorphosis of Narcissus as an example of his method and work. When Dali met Sigmund Freud in 1938, he took this painting with him to show Dr. Freud an example of his method and work.

5 Finkelstein, 62.

6 For a more complete discussion of Dali’s paranoiac-critical method, see Finkelstein article.

7 One such example of how other Surrealists methods differed from Dali is in Max Ernst’s essay “Au-delá de la peinture” (first published 1936). Ernst skeptically differentiates between Dali’s method and Ernst’s own practical process of frottage. Ernst also says that how Dali’s paranoia-criticism is “a pretty term which will probably have some success because of its paradoxical content” but cautions that “inasmuch as the notion of paranoia is employed there in a sense which does not correspond to its medical meaning.” See Finkelstein, 59.

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Marshes in Ancient Egyptian Art

Marsh Scene, Tomb of Menna, 1924, facsimile of original from ca. 1400-1352 BC, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Tonight I stumbled across some interesting information which has caused me to think more deeply about the reason why marsh scenes sometimes appear in Egyptian tomb imagery. To be honest, when I previously have considered these types of scenes (the most famous one being the “Fowling Scene” from the Tomb of Nebamun, shown below), I have usually thought more about the act of hunting than the marsh setting itself. Perhaps I’ve taken marshes for granted in Egyptian culture, since I know that they are located along the Nile. However, the marsh setting has a lot of symbolic associations in ancient Egyptian culture and mythology, most notably with life and resurrection.

There are several reasons why marshes are connected with life and resurrection in Egyptian culture. In the creation mythology for the ancient Egyptians, life was first formed out of the primeval waters of chaos (Nun), creating a primeval marsh and mound of fertile earth (the latter is sometimes referred to as the benben, due to the benben stone at Heliopolis which represented this primeval mound). Marshes, therefore, were a reference to creation and life. In the case of the two images that I have included in this post, the tomb owners Menna and Nebamun draw parallels between their hope for rebirth in the afterlife and the original birth of the world by depicting themselves within a marsh.

Additionally, marshes were also significant in Egyptian mythology because Isis helped to prepared her husband Osiris’s body for resurrection by hiding his coffin in a marsh.1 Later, Osiris’s evil brother Seth stumbled upon the casket and tore Osiris’s corpse into various pieces (the number of pieces vary in accounts, ranging from fourteen to forty-two). Isis searched for each of the pieces and buried each at the place where it was found.2 Later, Osiris resurrects: the dismembered body comes together to form the first mummy.

Fowling Scene, Tomb of Nebamun, ca. 1400-1350 BC. British Museum

There are many other elements within marshes that also have symbolic associations with life and resurrection, most notably the papyrus and lotus plants. In both of these images, Menna and Nebamun hunt birds that are found in a thicket of papyrus. The thicket of papyrus also might be a reference to the mother-goddess Hathor, who sometimes appeared as a cow in a similar thicket of papyrus (see one such example from the Papyrus of Ani).3 Hathor, who is associated with motherhood and fertility (among other things) reinforces the symbolic associations between papyrus, the marsh, and life in this context.

Detail images of family members holding lotus blossoms from tomb of Menna (left) and tomb of Nebamun (right)

In both of these scenes, the family members of Menna and Nebamun hold lotus blossoms in their hands. The lotus has several associations with death and rebirth. For example, the lotus blossom sinks underwater at night, only to reemerge out of the water and bloom during the day. It was also believed that a giant lotus blossom came out of the primeval waters of Nun, out of which emerged the sun-god. The Book of the Dead also included a spell to transform someone into a lotus, which would ensure the promise of rebirth to the deceased.4

Do you know of any other symbolic associations with marshes in Egyptian culture? Do you know of any other Egyptian fowling scenes that are set in marshes? I know that marsh imagery also appears in other contexts as well, such as the Great Hypostyle Hall at Karnak. There, the capitals of the columns are decorated with lotus and papyrus blossoms. Considering the number of columns that appear in that vast hall, I’m sure that ancient Egyptians within that space felt very much like they were in a marsh thicket. Within that sacred space, I imagine that the symbolic associations with the marsh would have been very clearly understood.

POSTSCRIPT: There are a few more things that I want to add about these two hunting scenes, just so I can remember them in the future!

  • “The act of throwing a throwstick in ancient Egyptian is qema, for the Egyptians this would recall the word qema meaning ‘to create’ or ‘to beget.’ In the same way the word for spearing fish is set, which resembles another word seti meaning ‘to impregnate.’ Through these puns the actions of the tomb owner can be read as having meanings appropriate to rebirth.”5 I think it is interesting to note that both Menna and Nebamun’s powerful poses recall the similar raised arm of Narmer in the Palette of Narmer, which was created about 1,650 years before!
  • The wild birds in these scenes represent chaos. By hunting these birds, the male figure is restoring order. In this sense, the men are equating themselves with Osiris. Unsurprisingly, fowling is one of the activities of Osiris, who triumphed over chaos by defeating his evil brother Seth.
  • Both Menna and Nebamun are shown as youthful, energetic figures. This suggests that both men hope to have a similar, youthful forms in the eternities. I’ve always associated youthful idealism with the Greeks up until this point, but I can see that youth was also favored by the Egyptians too. Could it be that the Greeks were influenced by Egyptian thought in this regard?

1 Mark Getlein, Living with Art, 10th edition (New York: Mc-Graw HIll, 2013), 331.

2 For more information on the Osiris and Isis mythology, see Ian Shaw and Paul Nicholson, The Princeton Dictionary of Ancient Egypt (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008), 238-239.

3 Gay Robertson, Women in Ancient Egypt (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1993), 188. Text available online here: http://books.google.com/books?id=UTSA88SVHCMC&lpg=PA188&ots=lC2k15W4SO&dq=symbolism%20of%20marsh%20%22ancient%20egypt%22&pg=PA188#v=onepage&q&f=false

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

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Art in My Home

Today is somewhat of an exciting day at my house. We moved into our place a few years ago, and over the past several months we have been accruing reproductions of our favorite pieces of art to display around the house. Today, the final framed print arrived! Although I’m sure that we will buy some more pieces over time (and hopefully actual works of art one day, not just reproductions), I think we are set in our arrangement for the time being.

I wanted to jot down some things about the pieces that we decided to purchase for our home over the past few years, so I can remember a little bit about each work. (I also remember enjoying when my friend Hasan wrote a similar post last fall, which ended up being one of the last posts on his site.) Keep in mind that my husband and I have a collective aesthetic that is very narrow. I love older historical pieces, while my husband prefers modern and contemporary art. We usually are able to find a middle ground in art from the nineteenth century as a compromise.

Roy Lichtenstein, Rouen Cathedral promo set, January-July 1969

We have a small set of prints that were made to promote Lichtenstein’s “Rouen Cathedral” series. Of course, Lichtenstein’s printed series was made in homage to Monet’s famous paintings. The painted series by Lichtenstein is made out of ben-day dots, and the paintings are blown up to a large scale so that the dots are extremely visible.

I’m not sure if the complete series by Lichtenstein was finished. When we bought this set, we also received a flyer (printed in April 1969) which mentioned that the actual projected series had fourteen paintings by Lichtenstein, although it remained unfinished at the time the flyer was written. (If anyone knows more information on this series, please share!) At present, I am aware of two sets from this series: Rouen Cathedral, Set V (1969) and Rouen Cathedral (Seen at Five Different Times of Day), Set III (1968-69).

Odilon Redon, "A Vase of Blue Flowers," c. 1905-1908. Pastel on paper, private collection.

My husband gave this Redon print to me for Christmas a few years ago, as the first work of art to hang in our new place. Unlike the bizarre and fantastic imagery which Redon created during much of his career, Redon created a lot of pastels of flowers during the last fifteen years of his life. I like a lot of his floral still lifes, but this one works especially well within our living space.

Gustave Caillebotte, "On the Pont de l'Europe," 1876. Oil on canvas. Kimbell Art Museum.

We got a print of On the Pont de l’Europe (1876-1877) by Caillebotte after seeing the original during a trip to the Kimbell Art Museum in December 2011. I really like the bluish-grey color palette and asymmetrical composition of this piece. In fact, I think I like this painting better than Caillebotte’s other treatment of the same bridge (see Le Pont de l’Europe from 1876). One of the things that I think is interesting about my print is that the scene overlooks the Saint-Lazare train station, a place which served as subject matter for many of Monet’s paintings. More information about this painting can be found HERE.

Manet, "The Monet Family at Argenteuil," 1874

I got a print of “The Monet Family at Argenteuil” around the time that I wrote a post which included this painting. In that post, I mentioned that Manet and Renoir worked side by side in 1874 to paint the Monet family members. I think Manet’s painting is so much better; Renoir’s Madame Monet and Her Son (also called Camille Monet and Her Son Jean in the Garden at Argenteuil) is simply atrocious in comparison to Manet’s strong composition and use of color.

Arthur Melville, "The Blue Night - Venice," 1897. Watercolor and gouache on board, Tate Museum.

After visiting London last summer, we got a copy of Melville’s The Blue Night – Venice (1897). I saw this painting while visiting the Tate with my cousin; my husband was visiting Cambridge that morning and missed going to the Tate with us. I took this photograph to show my husband, and we both liked the painting so much that we wanted to buy a print as a momento.

This painting captures some key places in Venice: the Campanile, the Doge’s Palace, and Saint Mark’s Cathedral. One of the reasons that I am drawn to this painting is due to the striking color and hazy definition of forms. I think that the striking properties of this painting are due to the fact that Melville championed a new watercolor technique. The TATE website explains: “He saturated the paper with Chinese white paint and used sponges to create a velvet-like texture. Before applying the paint, he tried out ideas on pieces of glass held over the painting. Colour, such as the blue used here, drew attention not just to the subject of the work, but to the medium itself.”

Gustave Klimt, "Attersee," 1901. Oil on canvas, approx. 2.5' x 2.5' (80.2 cm x 80.2 cm). Leopold Museum, Vienna

We have a very small print of Klimt’s “Attersee” (1901), which my husband got after a trip to Vienna last fall. This painting is of a Lake Attersee, which Klimt visited repeatedly as a summer retreat. Klimt would travel to Attersee to spend summers with his lifelong companion, Emilie Flöge, and her family. He also painted other works of art during this same retreat in 1901, including Tannenwald I and Tannenwald II. More information about this painting is found HERE.

Alfred Roller, Poster For the 14th Exhibition of Vienna Secession, c.1902

We also got this poster print after my husband returned from his trip to Austria. Some view this poster as an anticipation of Cubism and Art Deco.1 I am still trying to find more information about this poster and its imagery, but I did find out that this poster was included in an exhibition at Harvard, which highlighted a “subversive triumvirate” of the feminine, the decorative, and the abstract.

Van Gogh, "Les Alpilles Mountain Landscape Near Saint-Rémy," 1889. Oil on canvas, Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo, Netherlands

I have wanted to have a some type of Van Gogh print in my home for some time. I really love his Almond Blossom (1890) painting, but I don’t have the right wall colors in my home to complement the blue background. My husband and I liked this print not only for its colors, but also because we weren’t familiar with this painting before stumbling upon it online. This particular painting was done during the period when Van Gogh lived in Saint-Rémy (from May 1889 until May 1890); Van Gogh voluntarily admitted himself into the Saint-Paul asylum located in this area.

Willem van Aelst, "Floral Still Life with a Pocketwatch" ("Still Life with Poppies and Roses"), 1663. Oil on canvas, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The print that we received today is a copy of this painting by Willem van Aelst. I’m afraid that my print does not look nearly as luminous as the actual painting itself, but I’m still happy. I’ve liked the idea of having a Dutch still life in my home for some time, but my husband and I could not find a print that we both liked. However, my husband saw this painting in the Rijksmuseum during a recent trip to Amsterdam, and I readily agreed that it would look nice in our home. I love all of the little details in this painting, from the butterflies and bugs to the small key that is connected to the ribbon.

Willem van Aelst is perhaps somewhat a lesser known still life painter today, although he achieved a lot of fame and prestige during his lifetime. Today, I think that his pupil, Rachel Ruysch, is perhaps a little better known. According to a biography on van Aelst, he was one of the first painters to create asymmetrical still life compositions during his day. (It’s no wonder that my husband, with his modern eye, would be drawn to this composition!)

Bowen family, "Fake Albers," 2012

And, just for fun, I’ll end this post with some fake “Homage to the Square” prints that my family created a few years ago. My husband really loves the work of Josef Albers, but we couldn’t find prints in his square series which fit with the colors we wanted to highlight in our home. So, we designed our own! My son and I each picked out one of the color schemes, and my husband chose the final two. He designed the prints based off of actual Albers prints.

 1 Philip B. Meggs and Alston W. Purvis, Meggs’ History of Graphic Design, 5th edition (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2011). Text available online HERE.

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.