May 2010

Visualizing Art in Novels

I’ve noticed that when I read novels that describe or include art, I often end up imagining a work of art with which I’m already familiar (even if the description in the novel doesn’t match up perfectly). That being said, I couldn’t help but think of Francis Bacon’s Study after the Velasquez Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1953) the whole time I read Oscar Wilde’s The Portrait of Dorian Gray. It was a little frustrating, especially since my imagination had to constantly morph and tweak the painting to actually fit Wilde’s descriptions. Plus, hey, it’s not that pleasant to continually think about Bacon’s painting for the three hours that it took me to read the book.

For those of you who are not familiar with the Wilde novel, the plot revolves around a beautiful man who essentially sells his soul in order to remain beautiful and youthful. Instead of growing old or ugly, Dorian Gray owns a portrait of himself that shows the effects of age and sin in his life. His own visage constantly remains beautiful, despite the passage of time and horrible things Dorian does in his life. The portrait is described as pretty horrifying, since it gives evidence of Dorian’s black soul.

I recently discovered that a 20th century artist created a painting that was inspired by the The Portrait of Dorian Gray. In fact, Ivan Le Lorraine Albright was commissioned to create a portrait of Dorian Gray for Albert Lewin’s 1945 film adaptation of the novel.

Ivan Le Lorraine Albright, The Portrait of Dorian Gray, 1943

There is a detail of Dorian’s murderous, blood-stained hand here. It’s a pretty creepy painting, don’t you think? Now I feel kind of glad that I visualized something as tame as a Francis Bacon.

Do you visualize certain paintings or sculptures (usually ones with which you are already familiar) when you read novels? Which works of art does your imagination seem to prefer?

New Find: Terracotta Warriors in "Rich Colors"

A couple of months ago I posted about how much I want to see the terracotta soldiers in Xi’an. And now, after reading this recent post by CultureGrrl, I’m even more excited to see these soldiers. It was recently reported in China Daily that 114 new terracotta warriors have been unearthed, with most of the warriors painted in rich colors.

How cool! The China Daily report mentions that the warriors have “black hair; green, pink, or white faces; and black or brown eyes.” I wonder if the different face colors have any significance. (Do I have any readers with a background in Chinese art or culture?)

Pictures are supposed to be available within the month, but China Daily does have photos available here and here.


Possible Raphael found in Modena

Remember when there was a lot of hype over “La Bella Principessa,” the painting recently attributed to Leonardo? It looks like similar excitement has built over a new painting, which possibly could be attributed to Raphael (shown right). The painting was discovered in a storage room in the ducal palace of Este, located in Saussolo (outside of Modena, Italy). Mario Scalini, state art superintendent for the area, was going through the storage inventory and found the painting tucked away. After noticing the high quality of the painting, he wondered if it could actually be by Raphael (instead of an 18th century painting, as it was previously described). There was no record of a Raphael currently in the estate collection, but Scalini went through the ducal archives and found a 1663 reference that mentions a “portrait of a woman” by Raphael. There is no record that this Raphael painting was ever sold from the collection or loaned, so it could be that this painting was simply forgotten.

It will be interesting to see what results from tests and analysis of this painting. The History Blog points out that recent tests have revealed the painting was restored in the 17th and 19th centuries, which shows that the painting is older than the 18th century. In addition, these restorations also show that artwork was valued, since people made the effort to restore the painting throughout different centuries.

So, what do I think of the possible attribution to Raphael? I think it’s possible, but I’m trying to not get too excited. At this point, I think the most exciting discovery is that a Raphael painting was listed as part of the ducal collection. In regards to the painting itself, I’d recommend that you read this great post from Art History Today, in which the author discusses some reservations about the painting being by Raphael. I agree with the ideas that are presented there; I think it is possible that this painting might be by a student of Raphael (perhaps Giulio Romano?), but not the master himself.


Meritamen and Rosette Musings

For several weeks I’ve wanted to reconnect with my ancient art self. Lately I haven’t had many opportunities to think about any art created before c. 1400, which makes me sad. So tonight I sat down with this book that I recently got as a present, and just perused through the first hundred pages or so. This statue of Meritamen, nicknamed White Queen (shown left, c. 1240 BC, Egyptian Museum, Cairo) caught my eye, largely because I thought it was interesting that instead of depicting a nipple, her left breast is decorated with a rosette. I tried to do some research and see if there was any precedent or symbolism for this, but I can’t find anything definitive (although this site suggests that the rosette may be associated with kingship, but that doesn’t make too much sense in this context for a queen, right?).

I think the flower looks too different from a lotus to make any symbolic associations (which is too bad, since the lotus is associated with creation and birth, which could tie into the nurturing function of the breast). It also would have been cool (and also added significance) if this breast-rosette was drawn in the same pattern as the Flower of Life, but unfortunately I don’t much visual similarity.

Thoughts, anyone? Maybe I’m looking to deeply for answers. Perhaps the Egyptian artist just wasn’t good at depicting nipples, and decided to cover up one breast with a goddess statue and depict a rosette on the other? Ha!

Meritamen was the daughter-turned-wife of Ramesses II. There is an inscription on the back pillar of this statue, but the name is missing. This sculpture wasn’t determined as a depiction of Meritamen until after 1981, when a colossal statue of Meritamen was discovered at Akhmim. This colossal statue has similar inscriptions to the Egyptian Museum statue, which solidified the attribution. You’ll notice, though, that the Ahkmim statue does not have similar rosettes on her breasts. Hmm…


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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.