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June 2009

Correggio as Proto-Baroque

I think that the painter Antonio Allegri (better known as Correggio) deserves more study and placement in art history texts. Even though his painting Jupiter and Io graced the cover of my first art history textbook, he didn’t get a whole lot of discussion in that edition of Art Through the Ages. (BTW, I noticed Jupiter’s face and hand in that painting after owning that textbook for a few years – can you spot them in the cloud?) The subsequent editions of Art Through the Ages seem to mention less and less of Correggio.

Correggio was a Late Renaissance painter from Parma, Italy. His illusionistic ceilings like Assumption of the Virgin (1526-1530, Parma Cathedral dome; shown right) were a source of inspiration for many Baroque painters who followed in the 17th century. These 17th century artists revered Correggio and considered him and Raphael to be the great Old Masters. Subsequently, Correggio’s works were widely collected; people went to great lengths (ahem, scandalous lengths) to get a hold of his art.1 Although Correggio’s influence on Baroque painters has been mentioned before, I am particularly interested in how Correggio influenced my favorite Baroque sculptor, Bernini.

So far, I have read two comparisons between Bernini’s work and that of Corregio.2 Bernini’s sculpture Truth Unveiled by Time was influenced by the figure of Minerva in Correggio’s Allegory of Virtue:

Bernini, Truth Unveiled by Time (1645-52), Borghese Gallery
(Don’t be confused because Time isn’t depicted, the allegorical figure was never executed.)

Correggio, Allegory of Virtue (1528-1530), Louvre

In addition, Bernini’s St. Longinus has been compared to the Correggio’s apostles at Parma Cathedral:

Bernini, St. Longinus (1629-38); St. Peter’s Cathedral, Rome

Correggio, detail of apostles (1526-30), Parma Cathedral dome
(You can see how St. Longinus’ outstreched arms mimic that of the apostle in the red robe.)

I’ve always loved Bernini and been intrigued by Correggio. It’s fun to find a connection between these two artists, and it makes me like Correggio all the more.

Do you like Correggio? Do you know of any other connections between Correggio and Baroque artists?

1 David Ekserdjian writes, “The Este family of Modena were exceptionally insatiable and unscrupulous: they secretly replaced [Correggio’s] ‘Notte’ by a copy, the discovery of which caused a riot in Reggio Emilia.” See David Ekserdjian. “Correggio.” In Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online, http://www.oxfordartonline.com.erl.lib.byu.edu/subscriber/article/grove/art/T019595, accessed 19 June 2009.
2 Ibid.

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Case Studies vs. Survey

I recently was offered a position to teach art history next year at a local university. I will be teaching an introductory art history course that covers Renaissance to contemporary art. I’m excited to teach this class – it will be a new challenge for me, since this art history program focuses on teaching case studies for each period, instead of the traditional method of a survey course (where students learn about/memorize artists, works of art, dates, etc.). Instead of using the texts Gardner’s Art Through the Ages or Stokstad’s Art History, I will be teaching out of the Art and Its Histories series. These books are structured with one specific case study for each major period in art. The case studies focus on a specific artist, a group of similar works of art, or a common theme in art.

The textbook which introduces the Renaissance – Rococo art is The Changing Status of the Artist (edited by Emma Barker, Nick Webb and Kim Woods). So far, I like the things that are introduced in this book. It seems to help students think critically about art and art history (the introduction wastes no time in explaining how the “artist as genius” idea is a construct), and it also introduces ideas by major art historians. This stress on critical thinking and art historical arguments is something that I think is important – and I also think that it is missing from the major survey texts that tend to be a little to authoritative (and not leave room for questions or debate). So, I think the class will be fun to teach. These smaller case studies and ideas also generate a lot of room for discussion in class, which should be fun.

I also worry though, about how to find a good balance between teaching survey material and these case studies. I feel like there is a lot of value to the survey course – while it is necessary to learn how to think critically, it is also important to learn about stylistic characteristics, major artists, influential works of art, etc. I also feel like some of the works of art that are selected in these books might not be the most indicative of the stylistic traits from certain periods – but does that matter? I’m trying to decide that.

The faculty is very awesome and have given me complete leniency with my lesson plans. I’m going to use these books for sure, but I also hope to find a good balance by introducing other important information and concepts that aren’t mentioned in the case studies.

If you have taken an introductory art history class, what was yours like? Did you take a survey? Or did you focus on case studies? What textbooks did you use? What things did or didn’t you like about the class structure?

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Team Athens or Team London?

When I went on an art history study abroad several years ago, we began our trip in Athens and traveled north, finally finishing our studies in London. It was weird to have our term begin with a trip to the Parthenon, and then have the term end with a trip to see the Parthenon statues…in the British Museum in London. Although it was fun to get close and examine details that would be difficult to see if the statues were in situ, I still couldn’t help but think how wonderful it would be to see these statues in Greece, where they originated. Recently, I have been thinking about how the Elgin Marbles are a good example of how European culture claims (and repossesses) the ancient Greek culture as European heritage. (Although, arguably, ancient Greek culture has become European heritage because of the Enlightenment.)

The Parthenon statues in London, better known as the Elgin Marbles, were taken from the acropolis in the early 19th century by Lord Elgin (a British ambassador). This week’s edition of Newsweek has a great article which summarizes the displacement of the Parthenon sculptures, and also discusses the ongoing debate between the Brits and Greeks as to where the marbles belong. Understandably, the Greeks want their statues back. Part of the British argument is that there isn’t a proper facility in Greece to maintain the statues. Well, that argument will soon have less weight – the new Acropolis Museum will open to the public this month. (This museum looks really awesome too – there is a glass floor in the building to show an ancient site that was discovered during the excavation and construction of the site (see photo on left)).

I do think it has been great that the statues have been in London, since they probably would have been damaged or destroyed if they had stayed in Athens. (Although, ahem, the British “cleaning” of the statues in the 1930s was not exactly helpful.) However, with this new Acropolis Museum, I feel like it is the right time to let the Greeks enjoy and care for something that is inherently theirs. Although I realize there are a lot of problems that could happen with the transition of the statues (see the Newsweek article), I think that they should end up Greece. Really though, I’m a sucker for historical accuracy and original intent.

And if the Brits cannot compromise on that issue, I think that the statues should at least be sent to Greece on a long-term loan.

Where do you think the statues should be located? Are you Team Athens or Team London?

You can read more about the debate for/against the return of the Parthenon statues here – although the entry for returning the statues to Athens seems a little biased at present.

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Tree of Jesse Imagery

I was first introduced to the Tree of Jesse imagery by this window in Chartres Cathedral (c.1145-1155, shown left). This imagery was popular because it contained both Old Testament and New Testament themes, since Christ was part of Jesse’s lineage. At the bottom of the window, Jesse is reclining on a bed, with a tree stem growing out of his loins. (I have to admit, the tree stem growing out of Jesse is my favorite part of this imagery. I like how artists have depicted the scripture Isaiah 11:1 literally, even though sometimes I think the trunk is, uh, a little too suggestive of Jesse’s virility.)

The trunk and branches of the tree rise along a central axis of the window. Within the branches are four royal kings, each king filling a square central panel. These kings are not identified by specific attributes, but traditionally David appears as the first king “stemming” from Jesse, followed by Solomon. In this window, it is not certain who the other two kings specifically represent, but they obviously reference the rest of the royal line between Solomon and the Virgin Mary, who is depicted following the four kings. At the top of the tree is Christ, who is depicted after the Virgin.*

The Tree of Jesse has appeared in religious art for centuries, and it is found in all types of mediums. This window from Chartres Cathedral is very similar to the Tree of Jesse window in Saint-Denis (c. 1145), which isn’t surprising, since the windows were made about the same time. I especially like this window, because one of the frames contains a depiction of Abbot Suger presenting the Tree of Jesse window (19th century restoration, detail shown right). It’s a Tree of Jesse within a Tree of Jesse!

Are you familiar with other Tree of Jesse depictions? Do you have a favorite?

*Some of this paragraph was taken from information that I wrote for an academic database. I don’t know if that database will ever get published online, but if it does, just know that I actually did write the content for this post.

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Oz and Duchamp

One of my favorite early twentieth century paintings is Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (1912, shown right). I used to joke that this painting must look even more interesting through 3-D glasses. In all honesty, though, I think that this painting is a fascinating depiction of animation, movement, and form.

When looking at Nude Descending a Staircase, it’s easy to tell that Duchamp was particularly interested in the way form moves over time (he was inspired by Eadweard Muybridge’s photographic sequences), as well as the Cubist aesthetic. This painting also has been linked to Futurism, although Duchamp argued at the time that he had not seen any Futurist paintings first-hand.1

Duchamp became well-known in the United States after this painting was exhibited in the Armory Show in early 1913. Nude Descending a Staircase got a scandalous reception, and one critic described this work as “an explosion in a shingle factory.”2 Nonetheless, Duchamp’s status as a celebrity was solidified.

Subsequently, Nude Descending a Staircase was copied and parodied throughout the United States, including the memorable cartoon Rude Descending a Staircase (Rush Hour at the Subway). Duchamp’s painting even inspired the children’s author L. Frank Baum. His character Woozy in The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1913) was inspired by Cubism and Nude Descending a Staircase. Woozy is a character made out of rectangles and squares (he is hugging a tree in the illustration on the left). Although Baum described Woozy as blue, the illustrator of the book (John R. Neill) colored Woozy brown like Duchamp’s nude.3 I was excited to learn this connection between Woozy and Duchamp. I grew up reading all of the Oz books, and it’s fun to find that fine art influenced Woozy’s character. I never would have made that connection when I was a kid!

1Francis M. Naumann. “Duchamp, Marcel.” In Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online, http://www.oxfordartonline.com.erl.lib.byu.edu/subscriber/article/grove/art/T023894 (accessed June 3, 2009).

2 Charles C. Eldredge, “The Arrival of European Modernism,” Art in America 61 (July-August 1973): 35.

3 Katharine M. Rogers, “L. Frank Baum: Creator of Oz,” (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2002), 194.

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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.