Monday, December 12, 2011

Oregon last summer

Road trip to Oregon August 2011. I'm thinking ahead to other places, other lives. Well, actually this life, but another chapter. There's that constant feeling that I might be missing something, that there's something else. Oregon might be fun to explore. So I loaded up the car, contacted my nephew, and made one hotel reservation (in Hood River, Oregon).

I love to drive, but my stamina for the concentration it takes to drive all day is getting lower. Not to worry, this is America, where motels are abundant, my credit card bill is paid up, and I can speak the language. First stop for the night was Arcata, CA, in Humboldt County, home to a State College and long known for pot production and dropping out into the forests of the Trinity Alps. It is a cute little town, with a town square surrounded by shops and restaurants, laid-back atmosphere. I stayed at a Motel 6, ate at a popular Mexican restaurant and strolled around the square.

As I drove back to the motel that night, I saw a lighted sign above the freeway warning that 50 miles ahead cars were stopped on Hwy 101. Highway 101 is the only route to Oregon at the coast, and its closure would mean that I'd have to travel inland through the mountains, an extra 3 hours of driving that would detour around miles of beautiful Oregon coastline. I asked at the motel desk about the closure, but they had no information. I called the California Highway Patrol but they had no information; as far as they knew the road was open.

So next morning I ventured north, trusting in the highway gods. Almost to the border, traffic suddenly did slow to a clawl. As I inched along, I saw cars parked on the shoulder and dirt and people walking along the road toward a bridge. It suddenly occurred to me that the highway was crossing the Klamath River, where a grey whale and her calf had wandered some weeks before. After about a week the calf had swum back to sea, but the mother whale had stayed behind. No one knew why, and there were fears that the fresh water would harm her skin, and that she wouldn't find enough to eat in the shallow delta.

I parked my car and walked out to the bridge. When I got to the middle, I could see her. Below me, a huge pale shape circling below, blowing air and water out of her spout, and seeming to be enjoying herself for the amusement of onlookers, or waiting, biding her time in the dark green of the Klamath. Mesmerized, I stayed and watched too. She had room to turn easily and to almost disappear into the water, but it was clear that an animal this size could not live in such a small amount of space. I was on the road because I needed more space. I knew that she was in distress ... I certainly would be, if I had wandered into such a restricted environment. There must have been scientists around to monitor, but I couldn't see anyone bothering her. The people watching were quiet, respectful, but also interested.

A tall young woman carrying one and trailing two or three children and a husband came to stand next to me on the bridge. We exchanged greetings and I asked if she knew anything about the whale. She lived nearby and had been to the bridge daily, she said, for two weeks. Authorities had been trying to chase the whale out into the sea by making noise up river, and by making whale sounds down river. But she was not expected to live much longer. I expressed my sorrow. The woman told me that the Hurok Indians, who lived along the riverbanks, had told her they find whale skeletons near the river frequently. It would seem that this might be a hospice for grey whales. Perhaps it was her time. She and her calf had come up river, mother had said good-bye to her baby, sending it back to sea, and she was waiting to die. This, then reminded me of the nature of things. I felt grateful that the Klamath opened into the sea, to allow what was there to find a peaceful place to rest.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Annunciation paintings 11/30/2010

I have probably seen 10 or more paintings of The Annunciation, the moment when an angel appears to Mary, wife of Joseph, and informs her that she is pregnant, by immaculate conception, with the son of god. On seeing the first painting, not knowing what it was, I was struck by the sense of tension between the angel and Mary… she not comprehending, he (the angel is male, I believe) simply present with the news There must be symbolic and prescribed forms in all of the paintings… Mary usually holds a book; there is a dove or bird overhead; the background is somehow divided so that Mary and the angel are of different worlds, but united vividly in the foreground by the news; Often, there are rays of light emanating from the angel towards Mary.

My first inclination is to identify with Mary … to put myself into the state of receiving such news … a virgin … having a child … pregnant ….

She has, in all of the paintings, a humanity to her … a face that reveals surprise, acceptance, shock, resignation, disbelief, refusal ….the emotions that a woman would normally feel at this kid of news. Was she raped? Did she dream this implantation? What would her husband say? Who is this child? How will I deal with this? Get outta here! I don’t think so! Unwilling, powerless, accepting fate, wanting to escape, refusing this commitment, curious about the babe.

There is pregnancy in the paintings themselves … the tension leads the viewer to wonder what will happen next … who she will become, where the angel comes from and who will take care of this mother in waiting.

Michelangeo Buonorotti 11/2010

Michelangelo was born in Arezzo but moved as an infant to Florence. The family lived in the Casa Buonarotti near the Santa Croce and the house still stands to this day. He was given a formal education including Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, wrote poetry, had fine handwriting, lived a religious life. We know nothing definitive of this personal life, though through his poetry he expresses emotions, friendships and loves. He was a small, but strong man.

He had a connection with stone masons and a quarry through a distant relative, who was a mason. In Settegnano, a town where his wet nurse lived, he developed strong bonds with the industry of stone cutting. He was apprenticed maybe at Ghirlandaio’s studio at Santa Maria Novella for two years. Later, when working on the Sistine Chapel, he hired workers from Ghirlandaio’s studio.

He was a lousy student at school, liked to draw in class, as many students do. As he grew up, around him were the Giotto frescos and alters at Santa Croce, the Peruzzi chapel, the Brancacci Chapel, where the Florentine artists went to draw. There are drawings which show the influence of Giotto and Brancacci. There are the cross hatchings in his sketches which presage the later cross hatching of his sculpture.

In the 1490s Lorenzo the Magnificent was thinking about the lack of fine arts in Florence. Donatello had sculpted his grandfather, Cosimo, but there had been no fine artists since then. He began to scout around for talent to include in his school of arts, to be opened in the Medici Palace. Mich was 15 years old and was chosen from Ghirlandaio’s studio to live in the Palace with the Medicis. He was about the same age as the eldest son, who would become Pope Leo? And was given referred treatment by Lorenzo who basically educated Mich in the neoclassical schools. Mirandola and Poliziano were his teachers.

Bertoldo di Giovanni was the master of the sculpture school and under his tutelage, Mich completed as “exercises” , Madonna of the Steps (after Donatello) and The Battle of the Greeks and Centaurs (1491), which shows his emerging style in high relief. This work revealed the psychological conflict and tension that Mich was to exhibit in his life and work.

After Lorenzo died, Mich went back to his father’s house and started dissections of corpses at Santa Spiritu church in an effort to understand more about the human anatomy. Though his drawings were not extensive and scientific, like Leonardo’s, what he found out informed his sculpture profoundly. His drawings were not done in situ; he was studying them for movement and the drawings and wax sculptures he did revealed his understanding. Mich gave the prior at Santo Spiritu a wooden crucifix as compensation for letting him get into the mortuary (now exhibited at the Santo Spiritu chapel, although contested as to its authenticity).

Politically, Savonarola is now preaching divine punishment and repentance sermons in the piazzas of Florence, against the Medici, who had become corrupted by power. Threats were also coming in from France and in 1494 Charles VIII of France entered Florence. For the next 30 years Florence was in turmoil., changing governments and rulers every few years.

Mich went to Venice, then Bologna. He is 19 years old. Piero di Medici is thrown out of Florence, Charles VIII enters and tentatively welcomed by the Florentines.

From Bolongna, Mich went to Rome and worked on private sculpture commissions. The Bacchus (1496-7) and the Pieta (1497-1500) established him as a major talent. The Pieta form had come to Rome’s attention from work done in Northern Europe and a French cardinal commissioned it for Saint Peter’s Basilica.

Background history of Michelangelo’s David. In the 1460s, the Medicis planned to decorate the great Duomo with Old Testament prophets. Agostino di Ducchio is commissioned to make David for the rear o the Duomo. He, in his arrogance, decides he wants to carve a colossal figure (2 or 3 times human size) to compete with the ancients and wants to do it out of one piece of marble. This had never been done before, as most sculptures (even small ones) are carved in several pieces and then resined together. A huge piece of marble was cut at Carrera… 20 feet tall and weighing 6 tons. It is brought with great effort and care into Florence and installed at the wool guild where Agostino will begin work on the David. At the beginning of his work, Agostino breaks into the stone and finds a unacceptable black stain, thereby wrecking the marble for the design he had planned. In the dead of night, he leaves Florence, and goes to England, never to return. The block of marble sits in the wool guild quarters for 40 years, untouched.

1492--Lorenze d’Medici is on his deathbed. Mich has been at the Medici Palace for only 2 years. Savonarola s preaching against the neo Platonists, who have been Mich’s tutors. Savonarola refuses to give Lorenzo the last rites unless he promises to give up his power and supposedly wicked ways; Lorenzo refuses to abdicate power and thereby refuses the last rites. Next in line, Piero di Medici takes power uneasily and defensively, and this doesn’t go down well with the public, or Savonarola, who leads a rebellion against the Medicis. Some of them go to Rome, leading in later years to their ascension to the papacy. Savonarola starts a reign of terror against the art of the Medicis, burning books, paintings, etc. This is known as the Bonfire of the Vanities, The Pope in Rome commands him to cease and desist his rants. Savonarola refuses and insults the Pope, who then lets the Florentines know that they may do what they like with him. They promptly arrest, condemn and burn him to death, and a new republic is instituted.

In 1501, the president of this new Florentine republic asks Mich to come back to Florence to sculpt the colossal David, which has been waiting for 40 years. This will be a symbol of humanism, liberty and individuality. Mich offers to do it without pay until it’s finished, and let the government of Florence pay what they will. As the figure is finished, Mich wonders about the placement of the statue. It is so huge that there are logistical problems with installing in on the Duomo. The government and various artists (including Leonardo) meet over the controversy. It’s decided that David will be placed at the door of the Palazzo Vecchio and become a civic symbol rather than a religious one.

Neo Platonists believed that creation came about by the removal of the obscurities of nature to reveal the soul and essence in objective form. Mich adopted this philosophy in his sculpture, preferring to sculpt stone with the intention of taking away that which obscured the artist‘s vision, rather than adding paint or clay to create the piece of art. David was the ultimate ‘ex uno lapide’ (one piece of stone, which, in tact, could reveal the figure of perfection, the soul). David reveals the ‘vita activa--active life; as well as ‘vita contemplativa’ the thoughtful life, that were (and are) present and in conflict in every human being. He shows us both as David stands, alert and planning to throw the stone that will kill Goliath. On one of the drawings Mich made before the sculpting he writes “David with the sling, but I (Mich) with the arc (the sculpting tools.).

Walk around Rome 10/29/10

Lonely Planet guide books writes up a short walking tour that pays homage to Roman Holiday, the film that won Audrey her fame and Oscar. While I didn’t do the whole route and didn’t pray at each site, it was a manageable walk for a sunny day.

The Castel Sant’Angelo is about 10 minute walk from my pensione, on the banks of the Tiber. It’s a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian and his family, built in 128 AD. Converted to a fortress in the 6th century. Of more interest to me is the Ponte (bridge) d’Angelo also built by Hadrian. Bernini and his students created the angels which decorate the bridge.

I diverted from the walk here and crossed toward the center of old Rome to the Piazza Navona, where there are 2 fountains--one to Neptune, the other depicting the 4 great rivers--Ganges, Nile, Danube and Plate … another Bernini creation. Lively, full of art vendors of varying quality, stilted mimes in gilded costumes, bubble blowing salesmen, music, pigeons and surrounded by the Chiesa di Sant=Agnese in Agone and the Palazzo Pamphili.

On to find the Pantheon, I turned the wrong way and wound through narrow streets, flanked by buildings of 4 stories or more, until I came to a street with a name I could find on the map … Victor Emmanuel, large boulevard (maybe one of those circular roads?). Anyway I followed it for a while, surprised at the moderate traffic, clean streets, rooftop gardens, ease of walking. I came to the “Sacred Site” which is a hole in the ground uncovering just that, …. And cats. The cats stay in the dig because they’re fed by the city. Adds to the attraction.

Going left across V.E. I found the Pantheon, partly by following groups of what could only be tourists enmasse … again not what I expected. Attributed again to Hadrian in 120 AD who built it over Marcus Agrippa’s 27 BC temple. Hadrian’s round outer walls are visible and strong, but the front fa├žade is what astounds. 16 Corinthian columns support the pediment; inside the dome (“the largest masonry vault every built”==I guess St. Peter’s is built of something else). Light comes in through the oculus at the apex which is a 9 meter opening in the dome. Here’s where a tour guide might have come in handy, but the quality of light and the circle of light it threw on the wall of the dome was spectacular, even without knowing anything about it.

I went in search of a WC at this point. There were a couple of ladies on segways labeled “tourist angels” and one told me that I needed to go back to the Piazza Navona and would there find a toilet. Though I’d circled for 30 minutes or more to find the Pantheon, P.N. was very close and I found a clean, free restroom once I remembered what WC meant. Walked back toward Pantheon and had lunch at one of the side street cafes. Touristy, but delicious and efficient … strozzopezi (curled pasta) with some tomato sauce, fresh tomatoes and fresh greens and parmesano shaved on top; a glass of vino tinto .. Yum… 10 euros.

Creature comforts taken care of, I moved on to the Piazza della Minerva, Bernini’s Elefantino sculpture, (a cute elephant with a mischievous eye and an obelisk on his back) and the Chiesa di Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, full of wonderful stained glass windows currently throwing colored light about the church, and frescos. Most moving to me was the chapel of the annunciation with frescos by Filippino Lippi..

Outside again I headed for the Trevi Fountain, also on the Roman Holiday walk and of course Anita Ekberg’s favorite bathing place. Tourist concentration increased as I approached, and through a narrow street marched hordes. Arriving was like being at Sea World with a gallery of onlookers already seated. The fountain is indeed stunningly beautiful--bright white, with blue pools of water around it. But forget throwing 3 coins into it and wishing; or experiencing existential angst or romance … this is more of a circus atmosphere … Juliet of the Spirits perhaps, not La Dolce Vita. I sat for a couple of minutes …these crowds are not obnoxious, somehow sweet, everyone really enjoying the idea as well as the fact that they are sitting or standing near the Trevi Fountain.

Continuing on to the Spanish Steps, up a gentle hill (not planned but this way I walked DOWN the steps, not up) past delicious looking sandwich shops (artistically put together cheese, olive and meats displayed in windows). No gelato yet, however. Reached what I assumed to be the top of the steps, although it was hard to tell, and there they were, full of people again, mostly resting, hanging out, as if in a park. At the bottom of the steps, I too rested, and then headed back to where I thought I could cross the Tiber again to my pensione. Did so easily and quickly.

Finally stopped for gelato about a ½ block from ‘home’. All I can say is that gelato in the States is not gelato. This is a food group, or should be. Met some Americans also enjoying the experience and we exclaimed over the creaminess, flavor, and total fullness of the perfect food
Wednesday Nov 3, 2010

Two hours at the Uffizi today visiting again with Filippino Lippo and his far more interesting father, Filippo Lippi, the horny monk who got a nun pregnant (twice). Moving back to 13th century room, I could see the progression to the beginning of perspective from Giotto and, more impressive to me, Ambrogio Lorenzetti and his brother, the other Lorenzetti. The small story panels look almost abstract … lack of perspective, but shape created with blocking the background and placing the figures on contrasting panels. Almost use of chiaroscuro in an attempt to place background in perspective to the figures.

Later, gilt paint makes the figures pop from the canvas like a cut-out card of psychedelic tromp d’oiel.

Moved on to Lorenzo de Credi (stunningly beautiful Venua) and Raphael Santi.

Michaelangelo’s Nicodemis Pieta at the Museo d’Opera. Donatello statues of prophets and reliefs of angels. How does Michelangelo insert his spirit into the pieces he carves. The figures emote, therefore they live. Then lunch--a pizza and a bottle of water sitting on a bench outside the Duomo.

British Institute: Defining the Artist, Alan Pacuzzi

Greek - technic--technician
Modern: someone who creates, with a special skill, work of aesthetic value
Plato: liberal artes--intellectual (only free men) studied philosophy, math, music
Artes vulgaris -- crafts (for slaves) were painting and sculpture

Painter and sculptors were at the same social level as slaves, though they were paid. Their technical, rather than creative talent was valued.

In classical Greece, artists eventully became known for writing and someone wrote treatise on arts.

476 BC Roman takes over Greece. Roman liberal arts education (116-27 BC) includes architecture, music, and rhetoric alongside philosophy. 2nd C AD Galen added painting and sculpture to a list of liberal arts.

Still, painting and sculpting were not suitable professions for a Roman citizen.

312-337 AD Constantine
Naturalism of earlier works, which was pagan, changes to be seen as iconic images of power, not real people. Imperial Rome chose more sophisticated art to adorn their palaces.

787 Catholic Church starts to proscribe composition of paintings. Medieval art and culture is concentrated in the monasteries. For hundreds of years.

12th century brought monumental gothic cathedrals. Architects were masons/workers and had “no time to contemplate design”. They still had low social status.

However, in the 12th century Tuscanythere waa an increased demand for painting, then in the form of illuminated manuscripts done by monks or lay brothers.

In the late 12th and 13th century painter’s shops started… They joined the apothecary guild (because mixing paints was like alchemy). Business contracts began to be made for art work between artists and patrons, but medieval artists were still considered bufoons, bohemians, moody characters. Artists’ writing indicates they are fulfilled by the technical perfection of their work, not its content.

As cities grew, demand for the arts increased and competition begins among the buyers for fine artists to decorate the homes and palaces. Florence 1270-80 there was an economic boom, banking increased, population increased, and the florin was used all over Italy. Strong merchants guilds formed, there was a spread of religion and its artistic objects.

St. Francis and St. Dominic lived at this time. Religious spread for the following purposes.
1. Didactic art
2. Mnemonic device … remember the stories of bible

Artists now had become professional illustrators .. Guilds strengthen ARTE. By the end of the 13th century guilds had political power … sculptors and architects joined stone masons. Painters joined apothecaries. They were now considered skilled craftsmen.. unconventional, but individual and valued.


Brunelleschi & Duccio challenged the guild system by refusing to pay dues. They were jailed, but the Opera dell’Duomo freed them because they needed them to finish the design of Florence’s cathedral. Tension of group (guild) vs. individual artist starts in the artistic mind.

Brunelleschi does not work along with the masons/builders. He does the drawings and design; the others do the building.

Cennino Cellini wrote an artists treatise
Leon Batista Alberti (1404-73)… Treatise de Pictura or Comentarii della Pittura
Use nature as ultimate guide
Starts to turn artist to scientist (powers of observation recognized)
Use of perspective means artists must use math
Precusor of Leonardo?

Perspective was means by which artists could show the natural world by relying on absolute rules. All things within the space must be realistic and make sense. This led to the need to know anatomy, color, shade theory, etc.

Leonardo as the first to define the artist as an intellectual professional.
Painting without perspective is not art
Math in paintings elevates the mind
End of 15th century.. Artists no longer need guilds but have now merged into society with men of learning. Artst is more than craftsman. Artists are self aware and believe I their intellectual abilities. They put self portraits in their works … the extreme of self confidence

Leonardo: The painter is creator of anything he wants
Michelangelo: Whatever the artist has in his head, he can create with his hand.