Friday, 27 March 2015

Baroque to the Beyond

In Blood and Soul

It is hard not to be captivated by the sublime art of Roberto Ferri (b. 1978), an Italian artist inspired by Baroque painters, especially Caravaggio, and other old masters of Romanticism, the Academy, and Symbolism.

The Sphinx

Painting mostly nudes with anatomical perfection, he takes classical aesthetic and reinvents it, giving birth to something new and modern. Wrapped in a halo of antiquity, his work has a contemporary resonance and appeal.


Drawing on his use of colour, light and shadow, Ferri's images are full of drama and passion. Poses bathed in dramatic light of the Baroque period are given a sinister and metamorphic quality. 

From Hell

With his grand romantic mythical and biblical themes, he blends twisted absurdities and the imagery of torture in his epic pieces. Angels and demons, spiritual aspirations and the bonds of the flesh, purity and lasciviousness are some of the recurrent themes in Ferri's oeuvre.

Anima Mundi

He portrays an artistic vision of fantasy, corporal transmogrification, and the darker recesses of the soul. His paintings mirror the dreams or (perhaps) the nightmares of each of us.


Ferri has described his greatest achievement as “being able to understand the secrets of painting of the great masters of the past and making them my own.”

Credited to Inesvigo

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Worship of the Artists

Ettore Tito (1859 - 1941) was an Italian artist particularly known for his paintings of contemporary life and landscapes in Venice (the city which was his home for most of his life) and the surrounding Veneto region. After 1900, he increasingly turned to mythological and symbolic subjects inspired by 18th century Venetian painting.

Tito developed a painting technique renowned for its bright colour and vibrant brushwork. He exhibited widely, and his work was popular beyond his native Italy. His drawings and sketches were illustrated in several British and American magazines, including The Graphic, Scribner's Magazine, and Punch.  

His last major work, I Maestri Veneziani (The Venetian Masters) was completed in 1937 and shown at the Venice Biennale in 1940. Considered his "spiritual testament", the painting depicts Venice personified as a young Woman surrounded by the city's greatest artists (Tiepolo, Veronese, Titian and Tintoretto) who pay homage to Her, while Carlo Goldoni, the Italian playwright and librettist, and a harlequin look on.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Crushed by the Winter Queen

The Triumph of the Winter Queen: Allegory of the Just (1636) is a painting by the seventeenth-century Dutch master, Gerrit van Honthorst. A picture with an interesting storyline, it is part allegory, part family portrait.

Elizabeth Stuart, the recently widowed “Winter” Queen of Bohemia who was living in exile in the Netherlands, is featured sitting atop a chariot drawn by three lions. She is surrounded by her 13 children, some living and some dead. Among the latter is her eldest son, Frederick Henry, who appears at upper left with his father, the deceased “Winter” King; both hold palm branches and are bathed in a golden, celestial light.

The male figure crushed under the Queen's chariot’s wheels is Neptune, ancient Roman god of water and the sea, whose trident pokes out from under the cart. He is getting his comeuppance due to the fact that Frederick Henry had drowned in a boating accident in 1629.

The Winter King and Queen take their nicknames from the brevity of their reign. They were actually Frederick V, Elector (ruler) of the Palatinate, and Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of England’s King James I. In 1619, Frederick, who ruled portions of Germany, was selected as King of Bohemia (roughly today’s Czech Republic). Central Europe was divided by fierce religious and political conflict at the time, and Frederick’s selection helped ensure the descent into the Thirty Years War. As soon as Frederick, a Protestant, was crowned, the Holy Roman Emperor, a Catholic, claimed Bohemia as well. After just a year in power, Frederick and Elizabeth were driven into exile.

The Triumph of the Winter Queen was commissioned by Elizabeth to affirm her family’s right to the Palatinate and to convey her misplaced conviction that they would soon succeed in overcoming their misfortunes (although some of her children were ultimately to fare better)

Despite its age, size and many travels, the painting is in relatively good condition and has been recently improved through a restoration process.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

The Triumph of Knowledge

The English Pre-Raphaelite artist, John Roddam Spenser Stanhope (1829 - 1908) produced beautiful decorative paintings with striking colour harmony. This picture, called Knowledge Strangling Ignorance, was a late work, created when the artist was 73.

Reflecting the gendered incongruity often associated with Pre-Raphaelite art, the allegorical image features two contrasting protagonists: a Female with brightly-coloured flying drapery, portrayed as a divine-like figure with her stark-red wings, in the act of subjugating a naked, chained male, with unkempt hair, seated on the ground.

In fact, Stanhope painted two versions of the work: the first in 1890 and this one in 1902, which is recorded as having perished in a fire in 1991.

He came from an aristocratic, monied background, and was educated at Eton and Oxford. However, his privileged upbringing did not give him an easy entry into the world of art, as his parents were opposed to his becoming an artist, and actively discouraged his artistic ambitions.

Stanhope suffered severely from asthma, and as a result moved to live in Florence in 1880. The city remained his home for the rest of his life where he painted frescoes in the Anglican church there. The painter regarded himself as an exile.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

The Slapping Game

La Main Chaude was a parlour game of forfeits fashionable in the 17th century, and a popular subject for Dutch genre painters of the time (handjeklap in Dutch). Translated it means "Hot Cockles" or the "Hot Hand", also known as the "Red Hand" and "Slaps". The game is believed to have originated in the Middle Ages, and can be seen on ivories and miniatures of the period.

One player, the "penitent," hides his face in the lap of a second (called the "confessor," a referee who monitors the game) and places his hand flat behind his back. In turn, other players slap the penitent on the hand or the bottom, and he tries to identify who hit him. The player who lets himself be discovered then becomes the penitent.

This amusing Female-led painting titled Ladies and Gentlemen Playing La Main Chaude was thought to be by Hieronymus or Jeroom Janssens (1624 - 93), nicknamed Den danser, a Flemish genre painter, but is now considered to be the work of a follower of the artist. It can probably be dated by the clothes to about 1655.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Heracles Unchained

In Greek mythology, Omphale was Queen of the kingdom of Lydia in Asia Minor. In her best-known myth, she is the mistress of the hero Heracles during three years of required servitude. For murdering his friend Iphitus in a fit of madness, Heracles had been remanded as a slave to Omphale by the command of the Delphic Oracle, Xenoclea.

Omphale soon alleviated Heracles' lot by making him her lover - but at a price! The demi-god was effeminised and forced by the Queen to exchange gender roles with her. Heracles had to wear women's clothing and adornments, while assigned women’s work of spinning yarn, sometimes in the presence of the Queen’s maidservants. Omphale even wore the skin of the Nemean Lion and carried Heracles' olive-wood club. After some time, Omphale freed Heracles and took him as her husband.

This classical scenario offered writers and artists opportunities to explore sexual roles and erotic themes. This particular representation of Hercules at the Feet of Omphale (1912) was by the French Academic painter, Gustave Claude Etienne Courtois ( 1859 - 1923). He was a painter of portraits, genre scenes, and religious and mythological scenes often populated by voluptuous naked males. The male featured here was the Swiss-French athlete, Maurice Deriaz.

Other striking art depictions of this memorable scene are (in order below) by Peter Paul Rubens, Gustave Boulanger, Giovanni Francesco Romanelli and Francois Lemoyne.