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The Gallery Companion: Understanding Western Art

de Marcus Lodwick

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From Achilles to Zephyr, from Abraham to Ursula, The Gallery Companion provides a complete background to the classical and biblical knowledge necessary for a fuller appreciation of paintings.
Adicionado recentemente porglenncruz, MikeFutcher, AudBri, CJ2005, BeeKyb, PennyAnne

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I was slow getting into the rhythm of this reference book, but once I did, it was extremely informative and enjoyable!

This book is designed to be a museum supplement in a portable size, similar to DK Eyewitness travel books with glossy pages. Its contents are chiefly divided into two halves – classical characters from the Greek, Roman times and biblical characters. An intro, glossary, and index facilitate research. For each half, the characters are in alphabetical order; each character has a description, references, attributes, and several major art works identified with one painting shown. Homer, Hesiod, Virgil, Ovid dominated the reference sources for the classical characters. Being unfamiliar with the bible, I appreciated a clear delineation separating those from the Old Testament, New Testament, vs. the Saints.

Though I have studied Greek/Roman mythology in the past, this book provided omg moments re-reading the antics of the gods and how they screwed with each other and with humans. The background of some characters was eyebrow-raising as though reading a non-school-appropriate version for the first time; see Centaur and Minotaur. For the first time, I understood ‘rape culture’ was established long ago by none other than Jupiter/Zeus. Similarly, ‘victim shaming’ was established by Diana; see Callisto. I am a bit sad coming to this realization having often enjoyed mythology. Well, I’ll appreciate the art for the artistry itself. Meanwhile, people are violent during the biblical times! All those beheadings, burnings, and flaying. Why do people blame video games and TV/movies for today’s violence? The bible started it! All kidding aside, this book provided great reminders and new learning. By no means is this book meant to be comprehensive, which is simply not possible. Covering major characters in the classical and biblical times, this book is a homerun.

Some observations, interesting tidbits, and/or simply lovely art:

Classical Times:
Apollo – For the first time, I learned Cupid is the true culprit who screwed with Apollo and Daphne resulting in Daphne being turned into a tree by her father, the river god Peneius. Bernini’s ‘Apollo and Daphne’ is one of the most stunning sculptures in memory.

Bacchus/Dionysus – News to me: “Part of Bacchus’ Greek cult involved his followers entering trancelike, ecstatic states (possibly helped by wine) and then ripping apart animals, eating the raw flesh and drinking the warm blood, so symbolically devouring the god himself and becoming part of him.”

Callisto – A lovely nymph who was a favorite of Diana, the virgin goddess of hunting, vowed to a life without men but was raped by Jupiter. Diana declared Callisto to be impure and chased her away. Victim shaming!! Notable art: Peter Paul Rubens’ ‘Diana and Callisto’

Centaur – “Centaurus, taken with a passion for the wild horses on Mt. Pelion in Greece, had mated with the mares who gave birth to a new race of creatures formed with the head and chest of a human above the body of a horse.” Beastiality, anyone?

Cupid/Eros and Psyche – Baron François Gérard’s ‘Cupid and Psyche’ is a darling depiction of the couple – his kiss on her forehead so gentle, her expression so lovely.

Diana/Artemis – François Boucher’s ‘Diana and Endymion’ emits erotically charged prelude involving some possible toe-sucking. LOL

Echo and Narcissus – Echo was a nymph who distracted the goddess Juno with an endless flow of chatter while other nymphs, who had been making love with Juno’s husband, Jupiter, had time to scatter. Juno punished Echo by making her unable to say anything of her own except to repeat what others have said. Echo! Notable art: John William Waterhouse’s ‘Echo and Narcissus’

Flora – Goddess of flowers. Sandro Botticelli’s wall sized ‘La Primavera’ at the Uffizi was so stunning that I sat down on the bench admiring this stunning piece for a long while. Then I stood by it and enjoyed the details of each flower, petal, hair strands up-close.

The Graces – I laughed at this comment about their famous sensuous triple pose, “In the Renaissance, artists returned to the subject with enthusiasm since it enabled the female form to be shown nude from differing viewpoints.” Horny artists and patrons find legit ways to draw nudes. Notable art: Raphael’s ‘The Three Graces’.

Juno/Hera – It’s painful just looking at Tintoretto’s ‘Origin of the Milky Way’, where Jupiter tricks Juno into suckling Hercules. Yikes!

Jupiter/Zeus – Numero uno rapist. Long ago, it was humorous reading about his antics. The mature me finds his tales to represent rape culture, male dominance, and power abuse.

Mercury/Hermes – Notable Art: Antonio Correggio’s ‘Mercury with Venus and Cupid (The School of Love)’ – “The crafty messenger-god Mercury, in his characteristic winged sandals and helmet, instructs Cupid in the art of mischief, whilst the infant’s mother Venus stands by.”

Minerva/Athena – Her unusual birth – “…Jupiter had swallowed his pregnant wife after being warned that he would be overthrown by her second child; however, when it was time for the first child, Minerva, to be born, the god Vulcan struck Jupiter’s head with an axe and out sprang an adult Minerva, fully armed.”

The Minotaur – Notable Art: George Frederick Watt’s ‘The Minotaur’. The forlorn look in this piece is affecting and surprising; it’s such an out-of-box thinking. “Watt imbues the Minotaur with a sense of sadness, as he gazes out over the sea – perhaps longing for his liberation from both his monstrous shape and his prison, the Labyrinth.” The conceiving of the Minotaur – Pasiphae, wooden cow, Neptune trouble-maker – you look it up yourself. :P

The Nymphs – Notable Art: John William Waterhouse’s ‘Hyles and the Nymphs’ – “The beautiful young nymphs of a pool entice the Argonaut Hylas towards them, drawing him to his death.” These nymphs are absolutely lovely.

The Satyrs – “Silenus, the tutor of Bacchus, was the oldest and most drunken of the satyrs… His drunken stupor empowered him with wisdom and prophecy, and he was once captured by King Midas… Silenus revealed that for man, it was best never to be born at all, if born, to die as soon as possible!”

Theseus – Of all references to the beauty of Helen of Troy, this piece is possibly the best. Odorcio Politi’s ‘Theseus and Perithous Playing Dice with Helen of Troy’.

Ulysses/Odysseus – The muscular and toughened sailors contrast dramatically with the ivory and alluring sirens in Herbert James Draper’s ‘Ulysses and the Sirens’.

Venus/Aphrodite – I can’t mention Botticelli’s ‘Flora’ without also paying homage to his ‘The Birth of Venus’.

Biblical Times:
Adam and Eve – Notable Art: Albrecht Durer’s “Adam and Eve” with vivid imagery and signature fig leaves

Angels and Archangels – The much beloved angels are the bottom of the totem pole amongst the nine ranks of celestial beings, acting as messenger of God.

St. Bartholomew – One of Jesus’ twelve disciples, St. Bartholomew was flayed (skinned alive), crucified, and beheaded. Eewww. The nature of his death led to him becoming the patron saint of those working with animal skins, leather, such as butchers, tanners, bookbinders. A rather creepy correlation, from being flayed to protecting those who flay – weird, right?

Bathesheba – Notable Art: Karl Brulloff ”Bathesda’ is alluring. King David (of Goliath fame) sent her poor husband to the front line to be killed so he can marry her.

St. Christopher – The popular saint of travelers is NOT a saint! The Catholic Church demoted him in 1969.

Jacob – Polygamy at work with two wives and two handmaidens, the four bored him twelve sons that became the twelve patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel. Kind of eewww.

Jesus Christ – Notable Art: Guercino’s ‘The Woman Taken in Adultery’ – “Jesus’ emphasis on moral sincerity rather than strict adherence to religious ritual” lead to his judgment of “Let him that is without sin cast the first stone”. In the painting, “…Jesus’ expression is a tour de force of compassion, forgiveness and love, an embodiment of his message.” In today’s times, Jesus would likely be the ‘libtard’ branded by conservatives with his messages of love and peace. Sigh.

Lot – With fire and brimstone raining down on the city, Lot’s daughters believed there is no one else left on earth. Wishing to give him descendants, his daughters got Lot drunk and got busy with him. Eewww. Notable Art: Albrecht Durer’s “Lot and his Daughters”

St. Luke – Notable Art: Rogier van der Weyden’s “St. Luke Drawing a Portrait of the Virgin Mary”. The artistry of the piece is wonderful, but I’m going to comment on the breastfeeding. I remember thinking WTH when I saw this piece in the museum. Somehow breastfeeding is ok if it’s VM and JC in 1435 but not with normal human beings in the U.S. Finally on July 25, 2018, all fifty states legally allow public breastfeeding.

Virgin Mary – Notable Art: Titian’s ‘The Assumption of the Virgin’. I recall the description from a travel guidebook: this piece shows VM in a state of rapture and ecstasy, with fingers spread, palms, fingers, mouth open, eyeballs looking upward towards God, who is a floating head with the body of dementor, and a ceiling of chubby cherubs that could be out of a horror flick. Paraphrasing as I added by own two cents. :)

Salome – Entranced King Herod into giving her anything, which is John the Baptist’s head on a plate. No wonder you don’t hear girls named as Salome.

Samson – Notable Art: Peter Paul Ruben’s ‘Samson and Delilah’. Her luscious boobs are enough to knock him out.

Solomon – When God asked Solomon what gift he desires, “Solomon asked for an understanding heart to govern justly and to distinguish good from evil. God gave him both wisdom and wealth.” Notable Art: Nicolas Poussin’s ‘Judgement of Solomon’ on the famous story of the two mom’s and cutting a child into two halves.

Susanna – Many museums seem to have a painting of ‘Susanna and the Elders’ – a biblical excuse to have a naked female in the house. Notable Art: Peter Paul Ruben’s – with two creepy peeping tom Elders with within the frame

St. Ursula – Famous for 11,000 martyrs that is likely an error. An inscription reading XIMV, standing for XI Martyres Virgines, meaning 11 Virgin Martyrs – which was misread as XI Milia Virgines, meaning 11,000 Virgins. The impressive error stayed. Most famous piece I saw (not identified in the book) is ‘St. Ursula Shrine’ housed in the Hans Memling Museum in the Old St. John's Hospital in Bruges. ( )
  varwenea | Jul 31, 2018 |
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