September 2009

Yamasaki and Trade Center Towers

This is a very appropriate post for today. It discusses the architect for the World Trade Center Towers, Minoru Yamasaki. You should check it out – it’s quite interesting. I didn’t realize that another architectural project by Yamasaki was destroyed in 1972 (just two years after the World Trade Center towers were completed). Poor Yamasaki. I hope that none of his other work is destroyed in such a tragic fashion.


Sanmartino’s "Veiled Christ"

Sometimes I get so historian-like and analytical that I forget to appreciate the sheer beauty of art. I thought I’d post images a sculpture that I think is so beautiful and impressive, that it blows my mind. I hope I can see Giuseppe Sanmartino’s Veiled Christ (1753; Capella de Sansevero, Naples) in person one day.

I think one can get a good sense of the Baroque drama (with the dark shadows) in this photograph
Isn’t it amazing how Sanmartino sculpted the marble to give the impression of a thin, purely transparent veil? I’ve seen thin drapery folds before, but I think this is the only sculpture that makes me feel as if I’m looking through the marble. What technical mastery!

The Bayeux Tapestry and Halley’s Comet

The Bayeux Tapestry (ca. 1070-80 AD) is really impressive, not only in size, but also because of the figures and details depicted in the work. This immense strip of linen (it is 230 feet long!) depicts the Norman conquest of England in 1066. This tapestry is a great resource for historians to learn about Romanesque/early medieval life, clothing, architecture, armory, towers, churches, etc. And seriously, what a great resource – there are 1,515 objects, animals, and figures depicted therein!

It is pretty common for art historians to emphasize that the Bayeux Tapestry is not a tapestry. In actuality, it is an embroidered work. (But I’m going to call it a tapestry in this post, just for consistency with the title.) Legend has it that Matilda (William the Conquerer’s queen) performed all of the needlework, but this has never been proved and is highly unlikely.1 It is generally thought, though, that the needleworkers were either Norman or English women. So let’s give three cheers for one of the earliest extant examples of female artists! Hip hip hooray!

I have a couple of favorite scenes from the Bayeux Tapestry. One favorite is the funeral procession of Edward the Confessor (shown above). It was Edward’s death in 1066 that sparked the whole conflict with the Normans. The Normans believed that Edward had chosen William of Normandy as the heir to the throne, but the crown went to Harold, earl of Wessex (the king’s brother-in-law, who had already sworn allegiance to William). Anyhow, I really like this scene because of two reasons: 1) the finger of God pointing out of the sky towards Westminster Abbey, the church where Edward was buried and 2) the inclusion of Westminster Abbey itself. The abbey was consecrated on 28 December 1065, just a few days before Edward died. You can tell that the needleworkers took a lot of pains to record the architectural features of this new building.

My other favorite scene shows Halley’s comet. Yep, that’s right: Halley’s comet! You can see a group of messengers pointing out the appearance of the comet in the scene below:

It’s a pretty fun depiction of the comet too, huh? I think it’s especially interesting that this scene appears out of chronological sequence with the other events in the tapestry. The comet is shown just after the scene that depicts Harold’s coronation, when in actuality the comet appeared about four and a half months later. The inclusion the comet at this point in the tapestry, though, was meant to display divine judgment and foreshadow the impending evil which would follow Harold’s perjury.2

How cool is it that a comet appears in Romanesque art? Apparently, in 1986 there was a conference in Bayeux which discussed the 1066 comet and its interpretations.3 I wish that I could have been there (and would have been old enough to appreciate what was discussed!).

1 Lucien Musset,
The Bayeux Tapestry (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, 2005), 14.

2 Ibid., 178. See also John D. Anderson, The Bayeus Tapestry: A 900-Year-Old Latin Cartoon,” The Classical Journal 81, no. 3 (1986): 255.

3. Musset, 178.


Bruegel as Bosch

It’s easy for one to make comparisons between the bizarre paintings of Hieronymous Bosch and those of his later Netherlandish counterpart, Pieter Bruegel the Elder. One can see similar interests in moralizing subject matter, bizarre imagery, and convoluted compositions by looking at these works by Bosch and Bruegel, respectively:

Hieronymous Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights (central panel), c. 1500

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Netherlandish Proverbs, 1559

(These paintings are both so detailed and awesome that I should dedicate a post to each of them. Does anyone have a favorite vignette in either of these images? I really like the man in the foreground of Netherlandish Proverbs who is banging his head against a brick wall.)

It makes sense the Bruegel would have been influenced by Bosch, since the latter was widely popularized through prints and imitated by many artists. What I think is interesting, though, is that Bruegel’s print Big Fish Eat Little Fish (see image below) initially was sold as a Bosch engraving! This print was published by Hieronymus Cock, who was a leading humanist print publisher in Antwerp.1. It appears that Cock hired Bruegel to imitate Bosch’s work; Cock might have used Bosch’s name as a marketing strategy, since a Bosch print would sell more easily than something by the young (and lesser known) Bruegel.2

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Big Fish Eat Little Fish, 1556

One can see how this print could fit into Bosch’s canon of works, particularly due to the strange, nightmarish images. The title of the work also makes use of a popular proverb, which is similar to some of Bosch’s titles. Furthermore, the print has a moralizing, didactic message (as emphasized by the father in the foreground, who points out the moral to his young child).

I wonder how Bruegel felt to have his work touted as a Bosch. Would Bruegel have been proud to have his work pass off as something by the popular and esteemed artist? Or perhaps he would have been upset that his handiwork was not recognized as his own?

1 Emma Barker, Nick Webb, and Kim Woods, eds., The Changing Status of the Artist, (London: Yale University Press, 1999), 111.

2 Ibid., 174.


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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.