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Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Art - ancient, Renaissance, Baroque, modern

It's been said that modern art allows the viewer to make what they want out of it and is liberating in that sense. Historically, art was commisioned by the landed gentry and therefore very flattering portraits abound - still portraying double chins and rotund bellies. The subjects had to be recognisable but perhaps made to look taller and less wide with elaborate wigs covering balding heads.

The other day, while stopping for tea at a Japanese restaurant, my senses were so taken over by their teapots - particularly by the one served to me with tea in it. The spout, for one, was hidden underneath and pouring the tea used fluid movements with plenty of time left for ceremony. With normal English teapots I invariably splash the tea around while "being Mother" and end up pouring hot tea on the guests if they want seconds. I recall reading about another teapot created in the St Petersburgh porcelain factory after the era of the Czars. Until then, teapots may have been opulent affairs on par with the Faberge diamond encrusted eggs found in Czarish parlours. After these immodest excesses the revolution turned over factory production to a band of men known as the Suprematists of the calibre of Malevich, Kadinsky, Chekonin and Suetin, who took the opportunity to redirect the story of art.

Malevich's first step was to design the notoriously impractical Suprematist tea set. And here it is.

Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel has so far been seen as his masterpiece but recently discovered documents show that Michaelangelo was r4esponsible for the design, creation and supervision for the Sforza Chapel in the Basilica of Santa Moria Maggiore. It is now a serious contender for the title. Until now it had been thought that Michaelangelo delegated the work to his assistant, Tiberio. It's "a visionary work that prefigures the Baroque era". Rome would be well worth a visit, 2 weeks minimum. I've only been to Milan (for modern fashionistas only) and Naples (a smelly, corrupt sea-side port). Though the long and well established tradition of scholarship in which the Medici and the city of Florence are seen as the vanguard of modernism, Milan was the first city state to develop modern government (along with its bureaucracy) and diplomacy.
The BBC showed a documentary of how Raphael developed his art by surreptitiously understudying Michaelangelo at every opportunity. Raphael also promoted himself and his work at the Vatican court by stooping to deride the work of the other artists including Michaelangelo's at every opportunity.
One day he snuck into the Sistine chapel where Michaelangelo kept his work under lock and key. Raphael was struck dumb as the beauty and wonder of the scene unfolded before his eyes. He quietly went to his corner of the Vatican and paid homeage to his master. In his work School of Athens he included a figure, burly, disgruntled and in dirty work clothes, seated alone by a rectangular marble slab, and at odds with the other figures dressed in courtly attire. The figure is now generally acknowledged to be Michaelangelo. The work of Michaelangelo and Raphael belong to the Renaissance era but it interests me that the Sforza Chapel is credited with setting the stage for the Baroque story of art. Unfortunately I cannot find a picture of the interior of Sforza Chapel.
Baroque art was less formalist and had more realism, involving more of the emotions. Leading artits are Caravaggio, Rembrandt and Rubens. The paintings get much darker in lighting and subject which are a trademark of old Dutch masters.
Following were the Impressionists, Romantics,Realists, Cubists from more westerly parts of Europe and later America,but Italy had reached the pinnacle of it's great artists and now lead in the design of furniture, clothes and cars. How does an artist cap the style of Michaelangelo and Raphael ? It'd be harder for Italian artists as they would be justifiably so proud of their art heritage.

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