A Day in the Life of an AHA course

Part 1: The Morning Session

The timetable said we would “begin our exploration of Rome with an introductory walk and a Church crawl via the Pantheon and Piazza Navona.”

That doesn’t begin to describe our delight as we ventured out amongst the ochre-coloured buildings of various ages, over the Roman cobbles. And already the learning begins …

MBell street view
Roman street (Photo: Michael Bell)

The cobbles are called “Sampietrini” which translates as “little St Peters”: they were mined from the surrounding volcanic hills by the ancient Romans, so some are 2,000 years old.  I’m amazed when I see from some repair work that they are shaped like little teeth, the root going down into the earth.

Our hotel is in the charming and lively Campo Dei Fiori, the old flower market. It now holds the most tempting selection of food you can imagine from stripy aubergines to freshly chopped salads and huge, whole Parmigiano Reggianos. I can’t wait to buy our picnic lunch …

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Campo dei Fiori market

 

We are heading towards the Piazza Navona, when the tutor diverts us into an imposing courtyard and asks us to look up (a phrase we’ll hear a lot).  Around the upper levels are niches filled with extraordinary statues which we are encouraged to explore with our eyes … is that a pair of dolphins at the feet of one figure … what does it all mean?

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Statue in the Palazzo Spada courtyard (Photo: Michael Bell)

A “forced perspective”

We learn that this is the Palazzo Spada bought by the Cardinal Spada in 1632.  The stucco work in the inner courtyard is full of symbolic devices: dolphins at the feet of a female figure signify Venus, who was carried ashore by them.  Our tutor then points out an arch in the courtyard which goes through to another courtyard.  We are all enjoying the lovely long vista to a distant statue, when someone in the other courtyard steps into the vista.  Suddenly it feels all “Alice in Wonderland” – what’s going on?

It turns out that what we thought was a life size sculpture at the end of the vista is only 60 cm tall! Cardinal Spada commissioned Borromini to work on his palazzo and it was he who, with the help of a mathematician, created the forced perspective optical illusion in the arcaded courtyard (see title photograph).

In it, diminishing rows of columns and a rising floor create the visual illusion of a gallery 37 metres long (it is 8 metres) with a lifesize sculpture at the end.  We are amazed: to think that Borromini was working in the 1600’s, over 400 years ago with no engines and no electricity.

The “pièce de résistance” of the Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona, Rome
Piazza Navona, Rome (Photo: Michael Bell)

But the Palazzo Spada’s clever tricks are just an aside on our orientation: we push on to Piazza Navona.

Moving from the tight-knit street to the glorious Piazza gives a sense of space and freedom that delights. The sun gleams on the dome of Sant’Agnese in Agone, which we learn is the titular church of the Pamphilj (Pope Innocent X’s family).

Everyone is drawn to the central fountain, the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers), built in 1651 by Bernini and topped by the Obelisk of Domitian. It is stunning. The water looks so clean and we’re told you can drink the water from all of Rome’s fountains … it’s delicious.

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Fontana alle Quattro Fiumi, Piazza Navona

The sculpture on the huge fountain is impressive and amusing when you see that it drains through a fish’s mouth.   Examining it in detail, it seems extraordinary that anyone could create it out of marble: it is truly monumental.

The square itself is humming with people, busy restaurants and the man selling helium balloons who has them on his fishing rod so they float high in the blue sky, advertising his wares.  As we absorb the Italian background hum, we notice the different shades of ochre and pink that the surrounding buildings are painted, the false windows on the house opposite the Quattro Fiumi, and the evidence of past wealth, politics and a fascinating history over many centuries.

The Romans invented concrete …

The Pantheon, Rome
The Pantheon, Rome

Covering a few more “sampietrini” we come out into a square, Piazza della Rotonda, with an incredible building to one side. Another obelisk to mark the spot and what looks like a triple row of huge columns* announces the grandeur of the Pantheon.

Our tutor explains a little of its history but nothing prepares you for the immense, circular space behind the columns, the open hole at the top, the “oculus”, allowing light and weather into this ancient place. And then we’re told the roof was made of concrete … in 200 AD! The Romans invented it but the art of making it was lost when the Empire fell and not “re-discovered” until the 1800s. To hold the weight the wall is over 6m thick and it is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome.

Pantheon Rome 2014-06-25 14.46.48
Oculus, The Pantheon, Rome.

Built on the site of an earlier building (like everything in Rome, it would seem) it was completed by the Emperor Hadrian in about 126 AD. He kept the inscription from the earlier building which reads “M[arcus] Agrippa L[ucii] f[ilius] co[n]s[ul] tertium fecit” or “Marcus, Agrippa, son of Lucius, made [this building] when consul for the third time”.

We have learned so much in such a short time and already it is lunchtime. It’s not far to a restaurant where the owner greets our tutor by name and we know that we’ll be eating like the Romans do … with such a lot to discuss.

*It is actually 8 in the first row and two groups of 4 behind.

The Diagnostic scans of Leonardo da Vinci’s Adoration of the Magi, by AHA tutor Freddie Mason.

It is often said that the life of Maurizio Seracini is like something out of the Da Vinci Code. He studied bioengineering at Harvard in the 70s before returning to his home, Florence, to develop technology to investigate Florentine renaissance paintings diagnostically and non-destructively. Since then, he has adapted medical and military technology to scan paintings and disclose secrets locked within the layers of paint.

In the 90s he used this technology to scan the walls of the Salone dei Cinquecento in the Palazzo Vecchio to find a lost Leonardo fresco, The Battle of Anghiari, believed to be under the Vasari frescoes that are visible today. More recently, he turned his attention to an investigation of da Vinci’s Adoration of the Magi. What his work uncovered in this latter piece is simply spell binding.

 

 

Leonardo’s Adoration of the Magi, 1481

I recently helped to write a chapter in a book to be published about what was discovered. I thought I would share some of my thoughts on what Seracini’s work means for Leonardo da Vinci scholarship and the future of art history.

Leonardo’s enigmatic Adoration is unfinished and in a somewhat unsatisfactory state. The yellowing varnish that covers the entire piece mutes the vibrancy of the forms a great deal. Art historians have long suspected that a hand other than Leonardo’s applied the paint to the work at a later date. The dark brown smears in the foreground certainly seem much cruder than the delicate forms of the congregation.

But despite its unsatisfactory condition, it is clearly a bold work, exhibiting the young Leonardo’s precocious talent. With the painting, Leonardo broke decisively from the moods of pageantry and celebration that Gentile da Fabriano chose for his famous Adoration half a century earlier and instead gave the event a highly unusual sense of troubled urgency. Figures approach the Madonna in a state of unrest, desperately trying to catch her attention or a glimpse of the miraculous occasion. Gone are the dreamy, utopian landscapes of, say, Domenico Ghirlandaio’s Adoration, and instead we have a work that finds a kind of disquiet in the worship of the young Christ. It is a painting, I think, which associates the coming of Christ from the trauma of his crucifixion.

With Seracini’s scans we are able to see Leonardo’s original intentions for the piece. They provide us with unseen Leonardo drawings and a fascinating insight into his compositional process. We are literally able to ‘step into’ the painting.

 

 

Underdrawing for Leonardo’s Adoration.

Notice how the leg of the Virgin is bathed in an ethereal light in the under-drawings. This detail is completely lost in what is visible today. The scans restore a former luminosity to the seated Madonna and a sacred atmosphere to the event. This luminosity perhaps explains why one of the figures to her left appears to be shading his eyes.

Notice how Leonardo thought it necessary to design a much more complete architectural setting in his preparatory sketches. This is a truly remarkable insight into Leonardo’s compositional process: he seems to have felt the need to build the temple first before subjecting it to imaginary ruination. In the discovery of these hidden sketches we can see Leonardo working as a master of naturalistic gesture and anatomy, but also as an architect.

Notice how Leonardo included figures rebuilding the temple in his preparatory sketches. The ruined temple is a common theme in adoration scenes. It is meant to represent the decay of paganism at the birth of Christ. But, its rebuilding displays a desire to preserve, reawaken and revere the forms and ideals of pre-Christian antiquity. It seems Leonardo intended a more complex symbolic duality to the image of the ruined temple. The condemnation of paganism combined with the respect for classical antiquity is after all a contradiction at the heart of all renaissance religious painting.

These are just some of the amazing details you discover when observing Seracini’s scans. I think it is safe to say that his work has changed art history for ever.

Crucially, the scans are not just an important moment for scholarship, but also a deeply pleasurable aesthetic experience.

 

 

As we approach Easter, Richard Stemp enjoys a minor Passion

One of the great joys of teaching for Art History Abroad is the possibility to see some of the great masterpieces of world art on a regular basis. Given this ‘regularity’, students – both young and old – regularly ask which is my favourite city, and even which is my favourite artist. Finally, I can give you a definitive answer: I really don’t know. But in a balloon debate between the Sistine Chapel (Michelangelo and others), the Brancacci Chapel (Massacio, Masolino and Filippino Lippi) and the Scrovegni Chapel (Giotto) I would definitely save the last. Not that you could get a whole chapel into a balloon. It has an astonishing cycle of paintings, entirely by Giotto, with the early, apocryphal life of Mary at the top, the Nativity and Mission of Jesus in the centre, and on the lowest level, closer to us because it is the most important, the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. It is an astonishing sequence of images, superb storytelling, and scans perfectly across the walls. Throughout there are links between adjacent images, from side to side and, perhaps more remarkable, from top to bottom. And there are resonances crossing the chapel, making the whole space ring with beauty and meaning. You need to be there to appreciate it fully, it takes time to see each image, let alone the whole, and it has been a real privilege to share this wonder with many of our gap-year students, and to learn from their fresh insights and vital enthusiasm.

 

Giotto The Scrovegni Chapel Padua (c. 1305)

The Passion Cycle, leading towards the altar on the ‘north’ (left) wall, is particularly moving. Of course the subject is one of the great staples of Roman Catholic art, and can be just as beautiful and moving even when not as well known or, for that matter, as well preserved. Approaching Easter, I was reminded of a small, incomplete cycle I saw in Switzerland when on a failed ‘pilgrimage’ to see a curious relic of St John, not far from the German lakeside city of Constance (see my earlier post, from 17 February). Located in the village of Landschlacht (population a mere 850, apparently), it was painted in the first quarter of the 14th Century. Stepping off the train, it is not immediately apparent that this tiny place could house a church, let alone a fresco cycle. The 11th – 12th Century chapel of St Leonhard is unprepossessing: without the little steeple it could easily be mistaken for a barn. Like many churches, the frescoes were whitewashed either during the Reformation (which, around Constance, didn’t last very long), or later – the 17th Century probably – for reasons of taste, which we now find hard to comprehend, or changing fashion, which often had an impact on pre-existing art. Whatever the reason, it explains why the surfaces are worn, and why not all of the cycle survives.

St Leonhard’s Chapel, Landschlacht, Switzerland (11th-12th Century)

This very fragility of the material itself is one of the things that makes the paintings so moving, something which is all but impossible to reproduce photographically, the delicacy of the painted surface somehow contributing to the delicacy of Chirst’s damaged body. The first complete image is the Flagellation, conceived more pragmatically than later examples. Caravaggio’s painting, for example, glorious as it is, is designed to display a beautiful, physical form, but, despite its emotional depth, it is one of the few paintings in which he fails to communicate the physical reality of the act: Christ’s back is next to the column, how could they whip him? Here Christ’s arms are tied around the support, he all but hugs it, his back exposed to the lashes.  The extreme tilt of the neck allows us to see his face whilst also communicating an overbearing agony, which continues through the extreme, but elegant, sagging of the hips, bend of the knees and splaying of the feet.  By contrast, in the Crowning with Thorns, Jesus sits upright, regal, fully in control, blessing us, the onlookers, while the torturers use a metal bar to press the unmanageable thorns onto his head. Their calm concentration on the imposition of pain contrasts with his serene forbearance, and emphasizes how calculated their cruelty is.

Unknown Constance Master The Flagellation and Crowning with Thorns

The Virgin Mary assists on the Way to Calvary, her hands covered by her cloak just as a priest would hold the consecrated host: the cross is seen as a holy relic, even before it has performed its sacred function. She takes the same position – at the right hand of Christ – in three successive images. In the Crucifixion her heart is pierced with a sword – an illustration of the prophecy of the priest Simeon in St Luke’s Gospel: ‘Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed’. In the Deposition she takes her son’s right arm in the same way she supported the right arm of the cross, hands covered, wary of defiling the body (Christ and the Cross are one). John the Evangelist, looking even more than usually effeminate, stands across from Mary in the Crucifixion at Christ’s left, as is traditional, and in the Deposition supports his left arm. The two images are further united by the continuation of the cross as a bold horizontal from one painting to the next, and despite the lowering of the body the knees remain equally bent – Christ buckles up in front of our eyes.

 

Unknown Constance Master The Way to Calvary and Crucifixion

Other characters appear and disappear. In both scenes one of the other Maries stands just behind the Virgin, to the left. In the Crucifixion we see the Centurion, whose realization that, ‘Truly, this was the Son of God,’ would originally have been written on the scroll that curls behind John’s head.  He is replaced in the Deposition by the figure of Mary Magdalene, who takes the foreground and kneels at the feet of Christ, and by Nicodemus, who gently, affectionately lowers the body, the yellow of his sleeve cutting a swathe across the lifeless torso.
Sadly, this is where the cycle breaks up – of the next scene we can just make out the edge of the tomb, and appearing above a bubble of paint loss, the top of one of the witnesses to the Entombment. We know the story, but it would be wonderful to see how this unknown, uncelebrated artist depicted the ending. And I suppose that is just one of the reasons I would save Giotto over Masaccio or Michelangelo: his story telling in the Scrovegni Chapel is so brilliant, so carefully timed, so beautifully and movingly depicted, and so complete. However, if you can make your way to Landschlacht you will not be disappointed. And unlike Padua, you won’t have to book in advance, pay, or wait. It’s just there, in an unassuming chapel in a small, country village, near a beautiful lake. And you’ll probably have it all to yourself.

Unknown Constance Master The Crucifixion and Deposition

 

Grimy politics: Vittorio De Sica's 'Bicycle thieves'. A Review by Frankie Dytor

It is . Miserable poverty is everywhere. You can see it physically in the grime encrusted suits of men, but you can also see it mentally in the desperation that pervades every worn and beaten down expression. The portrayal is horrific. Not because you see famine or violence, but because you can see the total absence of dignity, the humiliation of having nothing.

The story follows Antonio Ricci and his futile attempt to find his
stolen bicycle. He is accompanied throughout by his small son Bruno. At the beginning of the film Bruno is full of the confidence that small boys often have, in their imitation of adult mannerisms, cocked head and marked speech. But as the film progresses, stretched out over two endless days, his fatigue slowly conquers him. His father will not help him, will not carry his little body that cannot keep walking. His ‘treat’ is to be taken to a restaurant to
get drunk – because they are ‘real men’. In many ways this is the real tragedy of the film. Antonio is unable to recognise that it is not the bicycle that truly matters, but the hope that can be found in Bruno. It is only at the end that they find some semblance of true understanding with one another.

The cheeky swagger of Bruno

The cinematography, described by most film critics as Neorealist in
style, powerfully evokes the hunger felt by Rome’s citizens at the time. It seems that this is a predominately destructive hunger. It is not the hunger of change, hope and revolution. It is the hunger of a stray animal, feral and self-centred. In the market-place, wheedling sellers grab and shove, forcing their wares even upon the six year old child. Gangs are clearly commonplace, and identity is obliterated in the pushing crowds.

The pluralisation of the title, occasionally omitted by some translations, is crucial for determining the tragic nature of the film. Without wishing to ruin anything for those who have not yet seen this masterpiece, there is more than one thief in the film. And certainly one of them, De Sica hints, is the State
for permitting such terrible desperation. The final shot of the film is as stirring as any horror film – you’ll have to see it to find out what it is – and leaves us with a lingering question: what redemption is there for Antonio and Bruno now?

Vittorio De Sica, 1948, Italian

Why Study Art History? Economics student Helena Roy discusses…

In July 2012, I went to northern Italy with AHA to study Art History for two weeks (I had never studied it before). After a gap year, I have now started university… studying Economics. Some may dismiss my trip as contrary, perhaps unnecessary; but there is an intrinsic value to studying Art History even if your speciality lies in another subject.

Art History gives you a sense of perspective you can’t gain anywhere else. Aristotle argued that ‘the aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance’. Art uncovers that significance in the myriad of political, social and religious thoughts it conveys. Where literature offers fictional allegory, art offers visual symbolism – Orwell analyses the class system through animal fables, whereas Lowry does through paint.

The social state of the working class in Britain’s Industrial Revolution, as shown by LS Lowry in 'Oldfield Road Dwellings, Salford', (1927)

An obvious benefit (the clue is in the name) is that art reveals a plethora of historical sources. Dry statistics can only teach you so much: art can communicate emotional details about events. Who has not been moved – even if disgusted – by Picasso’s Guernica and the chaotic destruction it depicts? That the bombing of Guernica caused 41 fatalities per ton of bombs is informative, but in a wholly different way.

Picasso’s 'Guernica', (1937) – conveying the terror and intensity of war

My enthusiasm for the subject stems from the two weeks in Italy. Art History is the most fantastic travel companion. Appreciating and seeking it out facilitates deeper understanding of a place’s culture – how better to see consumerism in 20th century America than in Andy Warhol’s work, or understand the power of Catholicism in Italy in Baroque altarpieces?

Andy Warhol’s 'Campbell’s Soup Cans' (1962), the epitome of post-WWII American consumerism, on display the Museum of Modern Art in New York
Nothing beats viewing art in its contextual setting… 'The Inspiration of St Matthew' (1602) by Caravaggio – part of a cycle of paintings situated in the Contarelli Chapel of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome

In a time of dire employment prospects, students are turning to lucrative and traditional professions, allowing these to consume all facets of their interest as a means to realising that place on that bank’s graduate programme. But becoming a one-trick pony saps the energy and novel viewpoint someone can bring to the workplace. Work can only be balanced by hobbies you enjoy: study Art History, and you can benefit from it infinitely. (Picasso once said that ‘the purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.’) Besides, it is relevant to countless professions in itself – journalism, consultancy, law, marketing and branding to name a few – and vital to Britain’s economic health (the sector accounted for 1% of GDP in 2011, and pays on average 5% more than the UK median salary).

Ultimately, studying Art History engenders a broader attitude to life. Art is something everyone can relate to. It is the impetus for conversation and debate, and introduces you to a new sphere of people. To understand Art you need to understand its political and social history. Art is painted against a backdrop of archaeology, anthropology, literature, design, science, geography – and innumerable other subjects. This interdisciplinary approach gives you a mammoth diversity of perspective.

In an era that relies so heavily on visual literacy, Art History offers invaluable lessons in the study of civilization. We are surrounded by things that demand our vision – film, advertising, architecture. Kafka said that ‘anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.’ Art History offers the broadest education possible in analysing what you see, and discovering beauty in unexpected places.

I went to study Art History after a friend did an AHA trip and spoke of nothing else for the summer – she is now studying Chemistry at university. Art History need not be esoteric – it is there for everyone to enjoy. It’s easy, but mistaken, to doubt Art History’s significance without trying – so find your nearest gallery, visit churches or museums while abroad, or just start here!

With thanks to Wikipedia for photos.

Melon Ice-cream and Travertine: A student’s impression of Rome

The capital of Italy was our final and busiest city visit. Before I get to the art, I’m going to have to mention a couple of the most amazing things that happened in Rome. First of all: Melon Ice Cream (ever tried it?), this is best when made by ‘GROM’ and if you ever have the pleasure of going to Italy, your trip will be incomplete without this life-changing substance. Secondly, travertine stone – I admit – I originally thought this quasi-sedimentary calcium carbonate was rather boring – but Helen Oakden’s enthusiasm eventually had our whole group caressing a travertine stone in the centre of Rome. We ignored the slightly startled passers by.

GROM...

Melon and Travertine aside, the art in Rome was beyond belief. The Colosseum and Forum let us dive beyond the world of the Renaissance and appreciate the ancient Rome that was beneath our feet and The Vatican City certainly lived up to expectations. A short tan-top-up for the girls as we queued outside lead us to the most incredible frescos, sculptures, architecture and paintings I’ve yet had the pleasure to see.

The Glorious Basilica of St Peter

 

Michelangelo's incredibly moving Pieta

St Peter’s Basilica was incomprehensibly large – the small letters around the base of the dome interior were in fact, we learned, each 2m high… and finished nearly 400 years ago. Not only is this place the largest church in the world, but also it is also home to Michelangelo’s genuinely moving Pieta. I had never seen my favourite fresco, Raphael’s The School of Athens (best fresco in existence), in the flesh, but when I saw it in the Vatican Palace for the first time I really did feel like I was meeting an old friend.

Raphael's 'School of Athens' in the Vatican Palace
Amazement at seeing the School of Athens, finally...

The two weeks had been good enough already, but it made them all the more worthwhile. To top the day off we had also seen some mind-blowing classical sculpture. Us boys in the group did feel jealous upon seeing the Belvedere torso…!

The Belvedere Torso in all is muscular glory

Of course it wasn’t all go – we did have some down time; the ever-knowledgeable tutors took us out to supper to a roof terrace restaurant which was great fun albeit bittersweet as we knew we were coming to the end of our trip.

Bernini's David in the Borghese Gallery
Outside the Borghese Gallery on our last day...

Our final day was in a similar vein; while we were all soaking up the atmosphere and some incredible sculpture (Berlini’s David is both very emotive and unfortunately overshadowed by Michelangelo’s) in the villa Borghese, everyone was sad to be saying goodbye to such an atmospheric city, and of course to each other. Rome, in the true sense of the word, was awesome, and I know that all of us will want to go back very soon.

With thanks to Hugo Dunn, student on our Northern II summer course 2013.

Art that takes your breath away…AHA alum Catriona Grant on her favourite things

Excuse the cliche, but there are undeniably some geniuses in the history of art who have produced the most truly breathtaking objects ever to have existed.

These are by no means universal, and are rightly subject to each and every person’s individual opinions. What causes this reaction of course varies; it can be the smallest detail, the broadest concept, the emotion or idea it triggers, the person you share it with … the list goes on.

Anyway, to while away a rainy day, here are a few of the works of art and architecture that I find particularly inspiring, I hope you enjoy them too:

The passion of Rodin’s The Kiss.

The intensity of gesture and impasto brushstrokes of Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

Starry Night

The staggering photorealism of Luigi Benedicenti’s paintings.

The tangible flesh of Bernini’s sculpture of the The Rape of Proserpina.


The elevating character of the Andrea Pozzo’s ceiling frescoes in the Sant’Ignazio Church in Rome.

The thrilling design and stunning setting of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water.

Falling Water

The wistful nostalgia of Constable’s The Hay Wain.

The Haywain

The quietude of Turner’s Swiss watercolour, The Bay of Uri Above Brunnen.

The simplicity of Durer’s Turf of Grass.

The enigmatic context of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks.

The colossal embrace of the Pantheon in Rome.

Oh, and its just started snowing, even more excuse to don a onesie and have a self-indulgent evening looking up beautiful images and sunny places…

(Photos courtesy of Google Images).

Hidden Treasure in North London: The Estorick Collection

A short 5 minute walk from Highbury & Islington station will bring you to this hidden gem of a gallery; a Grade II listed Georgian building housing a fantastic specialist collection – the only gallery in Britain devoted to Italian modern art.

Eric Estorick (1913-93) was an american writer and political scientist who began collecting works of modern when he settled in England after the Second World War. His discovering Umberto Boccioni’s 1914 book Futurist Painting and Sculpture marked the beginning of his passion for Italian art, which gave rise to this world renowned collection. It has been displayed in major exhibitions around the world including one in the Tate Gallery in the 1956, and in 1994 was moved to its current home in Canonbury Square, Islington.

The refurbished interior of the beautiful Georgian townhouse creates a enchantingly domestic and intimate space for the display of the artworks, which hang in 6 different rooms across 3 floors – there were only 2 other visitors when I was there this week and it felt like I had been privileged with a private viewing of someone’s personal collection.

A great variation of artworks and movements is represented in the collection, including works of impressionism, surrealism, cubism, and futurism, as well as sculpture and a series of sketches, lithographs, and etchings. Including works by Modigliani, de Chirico and Boccioni, it is a diverse and lively collection that offers a taste of what it meant to be producing art in Italy in the first half of the 20th Century.

The gallery’s best known, and perhaps most striking , works come from the Futurist movement. One of my favourite pieces is in this group: Giacomo Balla’s 1912 Hand of the Violinist, a captivating painting, which captures light effects to create an impression of rapid movement.

Giacomo Balla, The Hand of the Violinist, 191

 

The Estorick also hosts temporary exhibitions alongside it’s permanent collection. Currently on display is Giorgio Morandi Lines of Poetry,which features a large number of the artist’s prints depicting rural Italian landscapes, as well as a series of exquisite still life etchings of everyday objects, which Morandi brings to life through his slow and delicate labour.

Also being shown is the exhibition Nino Migliori Imagined Landscapes, a small collection of pieces by the Italian post-war photographer, which includes a series of large-scale reworked polaroids depicting emotive landscapes of the Italian village of Grizzana.

A trip to the Estorick is a fabulous way to spend a free hour or two in London. It hosts a superb and unique collection of art, is tucked away from any crowds of tourists, and has a sweet little cafe (and a lovely courtyard that looks like a great place to meet when the sun comes out)! Plus it is free entry for students, so there’s no reason to not pay a visit.

Nearest Station: Highbury & Islington (Victoria Line, Overground)

Entry (includes temp. exhibitions) : Adults – £5, Cons – £3.50, Students with valid ID – Free

Visit: www.estorickcollection.com

Food in the Baroque: Examining depictions of fruit in the works of Caravaggio

As a little change of pace from usual, this month, I’m not actually going to be writing about real food, but rather having a little look at depictions of food (well, just fruit really) in the work of everybody’s favourite Baroque painter, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. Caravaggio is obviously best known for his stark usage of dark and light, his hyper-realistic representations of biblical scenes, and of course, for being a bit of a loveable rogue (he famously killed a man after an argument over a game of tennis.) However, as well as all of this, Caravaggio had a supreme talent for still life painting.

The Supper at Emmaus (1601)

Granted many of these depictions are within larger pictures, such as The Supper at Emmaus (1601), housed at the National Gallery, and his Bacchus (c.1597) at the Uffizi in Florence, but there are instances where depictions of food take the centre stage, like the spectacularly originally named Basket of Fruit (c. 1595-96), in the Ambrosian Library, Milan.

Bacchus (c.1597)

What is perhaps most interesting in this painting, is that the fruit shown is not perfectly manicured and polished, instead it looks almost as if it is decaying. Some leaves sag wearily under their own weight, whilst others are pockmarked and filled with holes, whilst a central apple bears all the hallmarks of having a worm buried deep in its flesh. Even the grapes, so often shown as glowing orbs of purple and green, are distinctly dusty, and some even look to be rotten, turning to detritus quicker than their friends. As a painter, Caravaggio was never one to skirt around the truth, or do things by the book. He was renowned for using prostitutes and other folks of ill repute as models in his paintings, in order to portray a gritty realism onto his canvasses, and the slow decay of the fruit in Basket of Fruit is reflective of this style.

Basket of Fruit (c.1595-96)

In stark contrast to the slightly tatty, ragged appearance of fruit in Basket of Fruit, the work Still Life with Fruit on a Stone Ledge (dated between 1601 and 1605, but widely disputed) is a veritable smorgasbord of earthly delights. All of the produce seems to scream at the viewer ‘EAT ME!’ with its appeal heightened by the cross-sections of marrow and watermelon portrayed. One can almost see the juice dripping invitingly from the melon. Virtually all of the imagery in the painting is of immense fertility and life – a handful of art historians have even argued that the writhing, bulbous white marrows are decidedly phallic, bringing to mind Nicholas Poussin’s famously censored painting of Priapus (1634-38). The iridescent freshness and life of the fruit is contrasted greatly by the stone ledge upon which it is placed. Not only is it decidedly cold and grey, but it also cracked and chipped, perhaps serving as a reminder that the fruits will also perish one day.

Still Life with Fruit on a Stone Ledge (c. 1601-05)

Caravaggio is rightly seen as one of the most influential and important painters of biblical imagery in the history of art, however his still life works, of which there are many more than the two previously mentioned, tend to be overlooked. This in my eyes is a great shame. So I say next time you feel the need for a Caravaggio fix, ignore The Calling of Saint Matthew (1600), and Judith beheading Holofernes (1599), and instead look at a painting of some food!