Category Archives: art

“What is a week-end??”

Or, three days in London.  We wanted to see an exhibit (me) and a Vermeer (Alison), so we searched for hotel and flight packages on a whim.  It turned out that we found a great deal – around $930 – for three nights at the Thistle Hotel Trafalgar Square and a round trip flight on Virgin Atlantic from Dulles to Heathrow.  I guess, for some reason, no one much wants to visit London in January?  They are foolish!  So off we went for a long week-end.

The flight was uneventful, fortunately.  We both had carry-on bags that fit the teensy dimensions required by international flights (though VA seems a bit loose about this), so we were able to get off the plane and go right to a cab.  The trip was fine until it slowed way down due to traffic restrictions related to the changing of the Guard (per the cabbie), so it cost a bundle.  Oh, well, dropped our bags, picked up a quick sandwich lunch at Pret a Manger on the Square, and returned to the hotel for the necessary two-hour nap.

Above is the Square as it looks these days, with the (newish) London Eye in the background and a new sculpture in the foreground.  No worries, the pigeons, the fountains and the people making chalk drawings are still the same.

The hotel was perfectly situated for our itinerary, being literally around the corner from the (new) entrance to the National Gallery.  Alison, being a careful planner, had a list of art we wanted to see.  I didn’t take many pictures, but here are a few:

The Pentecost by Giotto is one in a series whose parts are scattered across the continent.  This one portrays the tongues of flame the apostles have as they are filled with the Holy Spirit.  I was particularly taken by the two observers who are admiring the words.

This is a detail from the Wilton Diptych, one of the great treasures of the National Gallery.  It was commissioned by Richard II for his private devotions, and he is the man kneeling.   There are many details whose religious or historical meanings are well described in The National Gallery Companion Guide, or here.  It is not very big but absolutely beautiful.

I loved the Late Gothic style of Uccello’s St. George and the Dragon.  It inspired poet UA Fanthorpe to write “Not My Best Side,” from the viewpoint of the dragon, the maiden and the saint. Notice her pointy shoes.

And here is a detail from Carlo Crivelli’s Annunciation.  The whole thing is quite bustling, commemorating the day when the city was granted limited self-government, so the city itself is featured in the model held by the local bishop.  The Angel Gabriel looks quite business-like, landing as he has in the middle of the street to bring the good news.  The pickle has puzzled many viewers and appears in many of Crivelli’s works.  Here’s a summary of some of the interpretations.

Although this  is not THE Vermeer Alison came to see, it’s always good to revisit old friends.  This is A Young Woman Seated at a Virginal.

An adequate dinner in the hotel restaurant, and an early bed.  Anticipating tomorrow’s visit to the BM and the Scythians!

 

Not so mean streets

We had a tour today with Context, a company that we have enjoyed for its knowledgeable, intellectually stimulating guides, and small groups.  Our first was a fabulous food tour of Paris, and to this day I am Facebook friends with one of the participants.   Since then we have visited the food stalls of Padua, met Rembrandt in Amsterdam and learned history in Venice, and enjoyed each one.  Today’s topic, “The Mean Streets of Caravaggio,” was led by Dr. Lauren Golden (left), laurenan excellent guide and a force of nature.  She was dressed in a long skirt, an elegant scarf and golden sneakers.  Besides being glamorous in an artsy way, she was incredibly knowledgeable and full of great stories.  She also had a remarkable ability to get us to SEE the pictures and tell each other what we were seeing.  

We met in the Piazza de Popolo, a large square with striking statuary at each end. piazza-del-popolo piazza-del-popolo-3In the middle was yet another Egyptian obelisk,

piazza-del-popolo-2moved here in 1589 from its original location in the Circus Maximus.  

There was just one other person joining us, Deborah from California who was small and smart and quiet. As the only Catholic in the group, she had secret inner knowledge about what we were seeing and was often told by Lauren not to answer the questions because of her advantage. 😉  

We started out at Santa Maria del Popolo, which features two stellar Caravaggios, The Crucifixion of St. Peter and Conversion on the Way to Damascus.

st-peter

Lauren encouraged us to look at where the light came from, the muscularity of the figures, the angles of the composition, and not least the man’s behind brilliantly lit at bottom left.  Facing this incredible painting is this one: 800px-conversion_on_the_way_to_damascus-caravaggio_c-1600-1

Again, the light, the angularity, the muscles and not least the horse’s behind.  Is it just by chance that the behind is facing the third painting in this altar, The Assumption of the Virgin by his rival Carraci?  It is powerful in its own way but much sweeter and more pastel, everything Caravaggio hated, so perhaps he really was making a statement.  I wouldn’t put it past him.

The northern end of the piazza is anchored by one of the original gates into Rome, while the southern end  leads to the “trident,” three streets which angle out from here into Rome.  Rather than the ancient Via del Corso, we followed the Via di Ripetta, a street where Caravaggio lived and painted.  He was a difficult, violent, wildly talented man, easy to characterize as a bad boy but more complicated than that facile assessment.  I had read Graham-Dixon’s biography, so it was wonderful to see the building where Caravaggio had, according to his landlady, poked a hole in the ceiling to get more light.  Lauren spoke movingly of the few details we know from public records about him, including the number of books in his library that was left behind and sold after he was evicted – if only we could know just which books they were!

As we walked along Lauren pointed out the simple fountains that are found everywhere in Rome, along with the bigger and more famous ones.  To this day, Romans are proud of their clean water that is still transported into the city via aqueducts.  This everyday fountain is the kind called nasone, or big nose.  fountain

 Do you see that little hole at the top of the spout?  The trick is to put your finger on the spout, and the water will come straight up from the little hole, just perfect for bending down and drinking!  Otherwise, you can fill your bottles from the spout, and enjoy fresh, clean, free water.  (And notice the SPQR that is found on each fountain to this day.)

As we walked, we went by the Mausoleum of Augustus, side_of_mausoleum_of_augustus

and the Ara Pacis, or Altar of Augustan Peace, enclosed in a glass box, but we just strolled by these great momuments on our way to the next church.

Sant’Agostino was on the list because of this painting of the Madonna of Loreto.madonna-of-loretto

This is such a classic Caravaggo:  the elegant Madonna in the doorway of a broken-down building, her delicate features and velvet top contrasting with her bare feet and the dirty soles of the feet of the pilgrim.  Lauren made us really LOOK at the painting, again where the light comes from, the contrast among the figures, the lines.  Stimulating!

San Luigi dei Francesi, or the church of St. Louis of the French, was our last destination.  Our main interest was in the trio of St. Matthew paintings.  First is The Calling of St. Matthew, with this dramatic lighting and diagonal lines.  Lauren let us through an interesting discussion about who’s who in this painting.  Is Matthew the bearded man, or perhaps the boy slumped at the end of the table?  Theories differ.  calling-of-st-matthew

Lauren managed the churches really well, chastising those who used flash or were too noisy but never quite being obnoxious about it.  Along the way, she showed us where Caravaggio probably worked, railed against the Italians who are constantly on their mobiles (she’s right, even security people and guards are looking at them all the time) and envied us for our Malta trip and our Caravaggio views.  You know it’s a good tour when you are still talking about the ideas and opinions at dinner that evening!

After an afternoon rest (our MO on this trip), we walked up to the Trevi Fountain, which was TEEMING with people on this sunny Saturday afternoon.  We just gave in to the good-natured crowd, forced our way to the front and snapped away.  Here’s an idealized phototrevi-without-people

and here’s the reality.  trevi-with-peopleLots of selfies and selfie sticks, women throwing coins over their shoulders into the fountain, and generally the teeming masses enjoying themselves hugely.  Us, too.

Dinner was in the Campo again, fish again, delicious again.  Notice the little votive inside the tomato.fish-dinner

 

A relaxed, churchy kind of day

We had a leisurely start to the day, with no tours booked, so we took our time with coffee, news and breakfast.  Then we walked through the Campo to buy dinner for this evening – eggs, sausage, bread, arugula and a strange green called puntarelle that the nice vendor taught me how to cook  with garlic, oil, anchovies, salt, pepper and aceto (vinegar, pronounced ashetto, not achetto).puntarelle

There were lots of other delicious vegetables we could have bought,

but we tried to keep it simple because, by the end of the day, we have no energy for major cooking.

Today is a church day, because churches are where the art is.  We started with Bernini’s famous St. Teresa in Ecstasy in the high baroque church of Santa Maria della Vittoria.  The sculpture depicts the moment when the saint was pierced by the sword of an angel as she was overcome by the love of God.  Whew!  Tucked up in a chapel, it was not as visible as I had hoped but still filled with delicate tracery, a gold smile and throbbing joy.  st-theresaI can only imagine that the photo is a bit blurred because of the ecstasy.

The baroque ornamentation is just as gold and frou-frou as can be, as you can see from this view of the ceiling.della-vittoria

Dazzled but not tired, we walked on quite a way to the church of Santa Maria Maggiore.  The highlight here was seeing a few planks from Christ’s crib – just imagine!  cribYou can see the humble planks behind all the gilt.  It was right up there with the holy blood that we saw in Bruges.

Other highlights were Bernini’s tomb berninis-tomband more beautiful tile work.  Roman tiles really deserve their own post, but here’s a good one for now.  star-tilesAfter so much art and religion, we were ready for lunch.  We stopped at a cafe just across from the church and enjoyed watching the clericals go by – men in robes, women in habits, the real significance lost on me.  Oh, that Uncle Buzz had been with us to explain it all!  We enjoyed our delicous salads and for me a Campari soda, for Alison an Aperol spritz.  Refreshing for the weary art-lovers.

We had stopped earlier at a mosaic tile shop near our apartment, and the artist there told us that if we liked mosaics we should visit St. Maria in Trastevere.  We taxied over to the other side of the Tiber and enjoyed a very old church trastevere-churchwith beautiful gilt mosaics above the altar.  You can also spot them above the portico outside.trastevere-mosaicsMuch as I love the baroque, a little bit of sparkling mosaic was refreshing after our morning travels.  

Walking back home across the Garibaldi bridge we had a great view of St. Peter’s looming above the river.  We’ll be there in a few days…st-peters-and-tiber

Dinner was our market catch.  I have to confess that this picture makes it look slightly disgusting.  But in real life it was warm, fresh, and comforting.  Yum!dinner-at-home

Why we went to Kansas City

Johannes_Vermeer_-_The_Astronomer_-_WGA24685Since Alison plans to see every Vermeer in the world, she paid attention when an exhibit with two Vermeers was announced for Boston and Kansas City.  Though one was from the National Gallery, which we have seen repeatedly, the other, The Astronomer, was from the Louvre.  Maybe we saw it on our visit, but since neither of us has a clear memory of it, it doesn’t count.  Boston in the winter?  Nah, on to Kansas City in the spring!

After our visit to a famous quilt shop, we settled in to our hotel in Country Club Plaza, walking distance from the Nelson-Atkins Museum.  Too weary to drive to Gates Barbecue, we went at the suggestion of the hotel guy to this placeIMG_20160420_203450

where we had more meat than was good for us.  Yum, the burnt ends!  Alison was happy even before dinner began:IMG_20160420_192952

The next morning we took a walk around the Plaza, which is more interesting than it sounds.  Built in the 1920s in a style that borrows heavily from Spain and Italy, it’s filled with upscale national chain stores but also has some interesting architectural details.DSC06905DSC06911

Had we met this guy in Florence?  Yes, we had.

More Spanish influence:

The weather was raw and damp, and soon enough it was raining.  We scurried down the street to the imposing art museum.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

sculptures by Claes Oldenburg

We walked up the steps to this classic old-style temple of art, though the shuttlecocks give you a hint that there’s something else going on here.  In the imposing atrium was the exhibit banner, and the art-lover whose expression hints at what was to come…DSC06922

The exhibit was in the modern addition, a huge space that is seamlessly attached to the side and back of the old building.  We walked and walked and walked, and finally got to the exhibit itself.  Since no photos were allowed, I can only say that it was a fascinating exploration of class through 17th century Dutch art from museums around the world.  You can read more about the original show in Boston and peek at a few pictures here.

But as we came to the end, the Vermeer-lover looked around in confusion.  Where was The Astronomer??  No one could tell us, so we went up to the information desk and asked there.  Much to-ing and fro-ing, although both guides swore that there had only ever been one Vermeer in the exhibit.  In the end, we determined that between Boston and Kansas City, four paintings had been removed from the collection.  Insurance reasons?  Other bookings? Who knows.  Alison vows to contact the curator and determine what happened, but what can you do?

To make us feel better the guide encouraged us to view one of their jewels, the Caravaggio St. John the Baptist.  This will get us ready for Rome and Malta!  Isn’t he dreamy?Caravaggio_Baptist_Nelson-Atkins_Museum_of_Art,_Kansas_City

We enjoyed their Renaissance collection and their lovely cloister, and then had a ladies’ lunch in the stunning atrium cafe.  IMG_20160421_123702

I can only imagine the generations of Kansas City children who have been taken to the museum and then on to a special lunch or bite of cake here.

And now for something completely different, this stunning piece that looked like a quilt but wasn’t.  Created by Ghanaian artist El Anatsui, it’s made from bottletops.DSC06923

See more here.  Quilt designs are everywhere, you just have to look.