Sunday, December 2, 2012

Ufizzi Galleria

Ufizzi Galleria, photo courtesy of Wikipedia CC

Built in 1581 under request of Grand Duke Franciso de’ Medici, son of Cosimo I, the Uffizi Galleria was originally designed by Giorgio Vasari. In 1560, work was began to create the horseshoe-shaped building that reaches from the Ponte Vecchio in Piazza della Signoria, to and along the Arno River. The building was originally intended for offices and to host bureaucratic meetings for various magistrates, but evolved into a sort of museum, housing the Medici’s many art pieces (2).  Once Vasari had died, building and extension work continued, with each successive member of the Medici clan adding to the increasingly rich treasure trove of the family's art collection.
The façades of the Uffizi bordering the courtyard are decorated with niches containing statues of important historical figures and has been described as the focal point of both the architecture and sculpture of the Uffizi. Some argue that Vasari’s use of the triumphal arch motif for the façade may reflect a modification for dramatic effect of Bartolommeo Ammannati’s apparently unsolicited suggestion, embodied in a drawing in the Biblioteca Riccardiana, to repeat the arch as a structural and decorative motif along the ground level of the lateral wings. It is suggested that the building was actually meant to be two separate facing buildings as indicated in Domenico Poggini’s foundation medal of 1561 (1). Conceived by Cosimo I Medici, the project to arrange the Gallery on the 3rd floor of this large building, was realized by his son Francesco I. Later Cosimo III had the Gallery made larger in order to house the works inherited from his uncle Cardinal Leopold. With the extinction of the Medici dynasty, the last of the family, Anna Maria Ludovica, who died in 1737, arranged that all the art treasures gathered by the powerful dynasty forever remain at the disposal of the Florentines and of the visitors of the entire world.

King's Walkway

Vasari Corridor seen from inside Ufizzi, photo courtesy of Wikipedia CC
                Architect of the Ufizzi Giorgio Vasari built a secret corridor, the King’s Walkway now known as the Vasarian Corridor, after the original construction of the offices.  Commissioned by Cosimo I of the Medici family, the secret passageway connects from the Palazzo Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti across the Arno river.  The Vasarian Corridor runs atop the Ufizzi and over the shops of the Ponte Vecchio, passing through the church of Santa Felicita (so the Medici could pause for mass in secret), before ending at the Boboli Gardens of the Palazzo Pitti.  The purpose for this corridor was to allow the Medici family and other important figures to pass safely throughout the city.  The Medici understood that they went unloved by many Florentine citizens at certain periods throughout their reign, and wanted to protect themselves from assassination attempts from rival families.  The corridor stretches a huge length of Florence’s antic district, and is today a vastly private passageway, holding some of the Ufizzi’s most prized paintings.

Vasari Corridor connecting from Palazzo Vecchio to Ufizzi, photo courtesy of WCC

Sunday, November 25, 2012

FAST FACTS: Ufizzi History

  • Built in 1581 under request of Grand Duke Franciso de’ Medici, son of Cosimo I
  • Original design was by Giorgio Vasari.
  • In 1560, work was began to create the horseshoe-shaped building that reaches from the Ponte Vecchio in Piazza della Signoria, to and along the river Arno
  • Built rapidly despite minor difficulties and major social events taking place in he area.
  • Originally intended for offices and to host bureaucratic meetings for various magistrates.
  • Once construction of the Uffizi was complete, Cosimo I had Vasari, his favorite architect, create a passageway connecting the Palazzo Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti, running atop the Ponte Vecchio which is just down river from the Uffizi Gallery.
  • In 1584, the Octagonal Platform was built by Vasari’s successor Buontalenti.  It consists of a weathercock connecting to an inside pointer alluding to the air element.  The sky vault and red upholstery allude to the water and fire elements.
  • On the other side of the building were the labs of smaller limbs, the foundry (or pharmacy) and over the loggia of the lanzi there was a hanging garden.
  • The project to arrange the Gallery on the 3rd floor of this large building, conceived by Cosimo I Medici, was realized by his son Francesco I
  • Later Cosimo III had the Gallery made larger in order to house the works inherited from his uncle Cardinal Leopold.
  • With the extinction of the Medici dynasty, the last of the family, Anna Maria Ludovica, who died in 1737, with the so called "family-pact" held in Vienna in 1737, arranged that all the art treasures gathered by the powerful dynasty forever remain at the disposal of the Florentines and of the visitors of the entire world.
  • The Lorraines, successors of the Medici, enriched the Gallery and built the beautiful room of Niobe to house the marble group called Niobe and her children struck by Apollo and Diana. After the expulsion of the Lorraine (1859), the Gallery passed under the State and was completely reorganized according to modern criteria.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Processes of Sculpting

Michelangelo's David, photo courtesy
of Wikipedia CC
           There are three processes for creating sculptural pieces, all utilized during the Renaissance in Florence.  Each process is significantly different from the other; but all can create sculptures in the round.
            Michelangelo’s 17 foot tall David, sculpted between 1501-1504, was created using the subtractive process of carving marble.  Michelangelo characteristically used only one block of marble – in this case Carrara marble – to carve his sculptures.  David, meant to be viewed in the round, was commissioned by the Medici family and unveiled in 1504; and was placed in the Piazza della Signoria in front of the Palazzo Vecchio.  Currently residing in the Musei Accadaemia, the sculpture was a monument to the wealth and power of Florence during the Medici rein. 
Donatello's David, photo courtesy of
Wikipedia CC
            Eighty years prior, Donatello used the casting process to create his own David for the Medici family.  Circa 1430-1440, the Donatello David was made through a hollowed molding process of wax or clay, in which molten bronze was placed and hardened.  This statue, originally placed in the courtyard of the Palazzo Medici in Florence (currently in the Musei Bargello), was the first free-standing bronze statue of the Renaissance and is also viewed in the round.
The Virgin of the Lillies, photo courtesy of Wikipedia CC
            Modeled sculpture in Florence is more difficult to find – sculptors of the Renaissance built large statues out of bronze or marble.  However, small models or decorative pieces can be found, made out of such popular materials as terracotta.  Circa 1500-1550, the Workshop of Della Robbia family in Florence created a decorative “tondo”, or medallion out of glazed terracotta.  Entitled The Virgin of the Lillies, this piece is meant to hang on a wall.  An additive process, modeling basically takes a pliable material and builds it into

a three dimensional form.  This process allows the artist to rework the material in case of error, but can also leave little evidence of the artist’s fingerprints.  

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Printing Room

           The earliest printmaking printmaking process, known as woodcut, appeared in China in the ninth century and made it’s way to Europe around the year 1400.  Originally used for stamping designs on fabrics, textiles, or playing cards, it consists of carving an image in a wood block, covering the stamp with ink, and smoothing a sheet of paper over the image.  Edvard Munch’s 1896 woodcut print Anxiety exemplifies the linear properties of woodcut.  Because the etching itself appears as negative space, it can be difficult to create incredible detail, as Munch’s print shows.
            Etching, from the intaglio family of printmaking, was developed in the early 16th century.  Edward Hopper’s American Landscape from 1920 displays linear the linear aspects of this technique, like with woodcut.  Etched prints are made with embossed metal plates, and thus allow for more detail than woodcut, as exemplified in Hopper’s print.
            Lithography, invented in 1798 by German actor/writer Aloyes Senefelder, became widely used with color prints in the 1890s.  Because it is one of the most direct print making mediums, it was a popular resource.  Vija Clemins 1970 print, Untitled, demonstrates the strength in detail allowed by this medium, as the image is transferred directly from a drawing on limestone to a paper by lithographic press.  Clemin’s print looks as if it could be a photograph because the process allows for such heightened detail.
            Screenprinting, used most popularly during the 1930s by American artists, is a form of stenciling.  Roy Lichtenstien uses this technique over a screen of Benday dots – a yellow brushstroke with black outlines – for his 1965 print, Brushstroke.  The stencil work is evident and distinctive.  Like woodcut, this medium creates defined positive and negative space; but it does allow for great detail if done delicately and repeatedly on one work.  Lichtenstien’s print clearly exemplifies the freedom from linear mediums, such as woodcut and etching, that screenprinting allows – as well as its eye-catching nature.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Marvelous Mediums

Tablernacle of the Linen Workers Guild,
1433-35, photo courtesy of WCC
Tempera, fresco and oil create significantly differing stylistic effects due to the nature of the paint and what they are painted on.  During the Italian Renaissance, all three mediums were used frequently.
            Tempera consists of colored pigment with a water soluble binder, usually egg yolk.  It is permanent and fast drying, often used in the making of alter pieces.  Fra Angelico’s Tabernacle of the Linen Workers Guild exemplifies the possibilities with fresco on wood panel.  Painted between 1433 and 1435, it is an early Renaissance altar piece depicting the popular image of Mary and Jesus, sitting between the Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist.  The painting shows influence from both the new Renaissance techniques and traditional International Gothic style.  The lack of perspective and accurate proportion, use of heavy gold, and slightly elongated face of Mary all hail from this latter style. The depiction of baby Jesus – looking more like a miniature adult then realistic baby – comes from this artistic period as well.  However, the depth in shading of the drapery creates a three dimensionality that is purely Renaissance.
An Angel Appears to Zacharias in the Temple, 1485-90, photo courtesy of WCC
Fresco, or mural painting on lime plaster, was a technique utilized decades before the start of the Renaissance.  Domenico Ghirlandio’s 1485-90 fresco cycles of the life of Saint John the Baptist in the presbiterio of Santa Maria Novella exemplify how fresco painting transformed during the High Renaissance.  The fresco, An Angel Appears to Zacharias in the Temple, embodies a three dimensionality from accurate perspective and depth; and a realism from accurate proportion and sharp detail.  Ghirlandio and his workshop create trompe-l'oeil in the decorative background of the temple, adding in every aspect as much realism as possible.
Madonna and Child, 1520,
photo courtesy of WCC
(The only photo I could find)
  Lastly, oil painting heightens both drama and realism with the advantage of slow drying, saturated pigments which can be blended easily.  The 1520 High Renaissance painting Madonna and Child with Saints Augustine, Tobias and the Archangel Raphael by Giovanni Antonio Sogliani provides a wonderful example of the freedom of this medium.  Giovanni’s painting seems rather influenced by the Italian Renaissance painter Raphael, with soft lines and beautiful facial detailing; as well as in the colors and movement of the drapery and the certain heightened effect of light hitting his figures.  The medium allows for a dramatic chiaroscuro effect and thus greater physical depth.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


           The subject of this Renaissance drawing exhibition is angels.  During the Renaissance, religious paintings continued to be as popular as in previous eras – though the style of drawing changed drastically.  The drawings chosen here demonstrate the artists’ ability to create movement and the illusion of flight.  Each drawing reflects this, though the mediums are all different. 
God the Father Supported by Angels,
photo courtesy of ArtStor
The first in the exhibition, God the Father Supported by Angels, was drawn in 1530 by Il Pordenone.  It is made with pen and brown ink and gray wash, heightened with white, on green-gray laid paper. It depicts a twisted, upward turned Father, carried upward by three baby angels.  The mastery in this piece is within the human bodies, both in their structure and movement.  There is an intense amount of depth in their muscles.  The shading on their bodies create a sense of movement, as well as the flowing sheet which arches over the Father, grasped by an angel. 
Next, a red chalk drawing by Federico Zuccaro in 1563, is entitled The Dead Christ Supported by Angels.  It depicts Christ carried to heaven and surrounded by flying angels.  Once again, the angels surrounding Christ are babies, though this time winged. They appear serene as they fly amongst the clouds.
The Dead Christ Supported by Angels,
photo courtesy of ArtStor
Third in this installment is a brown oil painting, heightened with white on light brown paper.  Entitled Fall of the Rebel Angels and drawn in 1580-85 by Jacopo Palma il Giovane, it is a rough blended drawing depicting a great fight between angels.  The construction of this piece is very dynamic.  The winged angel at the top brings the eye downward to the upheaval.  Though it is roughly drawn, there is intense movement and a good amount of depth in the bodies of these angels.  They are typical classically perfect bodies.
Fall of the Rebel Angels, photo
courtesy of ArtStor
Lastly is an ink drawing from an unknown date by Luca Cambioso, entitled Angels in Glory.  In this drawing, winged baby angels seem to fly down from the heavens, playing and flying around each other.  Paired in groups of two, they fly in dynamic disarray.  This drawing has less intensity than the previous three, but it does depict beautiful movement and realism, though it has no shading.  The plump angels move about, facing forward and back, with a good sense of perspective.
Angels in Glory, photo courtesy
of ArtStor
There are several aspects of these drawings which tie them together.  First is the obvious use of babies as angels, which became very popular during the High Renaissance.  Second is the attention to idealized bodies, in the Father, Christ, and Fall of the Rebel Angels.  Taken from Classical tradition, this idealized human body became much more popular during the High Renaissance, a fact which is present here.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Botticelli Code

Pallas and the Centaur, Botticelli
photo courtesy of Google Art Project

The paintings of Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) have been pondered over by art historians for centuries, due to the often abstruse subject matter and iconography riddled within them.  Botticelli was often commissioned – predominantly by the Medici family – to paint mythological subjects.  One particular painting that has been subject to much analysis is his 1482 oil on canvas, commonly accepted as Pallas (or Minerva) and the Centaur.  The painting depicts a woman draped in a shimmering white gown bearing the three interlocking rings of the Medici family, an emerald green fabric and adorned with olive branches, holding a lavish halberd in her right hand and grasping the hair of a forlorn looking centaur with her left.  She carries on her back a shield, while the centaur clings to a black and gold bo, the quiver draped from his back.  The pair stand in what appears to be a meadow with a lonely looking beach not far in the distance, a ship with no sails perched on the water.  To their right a ledge creeps its way into the frame, moss hanging from the ledge. 
Close up, Medici symbol, photo courtesy of Google
Art Project
Close up, photo courtesy of Google Art Project
Art historians have generally accepted this woman to represent Pallas Athena, the Roman Goddess of Wisdom, although there is no solid iconographical evidence pointing to it.  Regardless, according to a 1516 inventory of the Medici archives, the painting is entitled ja figura conuna Minerva e centauro in tela e asse dritto (roughly, the figure Minerva and centaur on canvas and straight board).  According to an article located in The Burlington Magazine, the most convincing interpretation relating the woman in Botticelli’s painting to Minerva is her relation to the centaur.  It appears to be a triumph of Wisdom over lust, which the centaur typically signifies.  In this case, the painting would appear to be a comment on chastity, a logical interpretation due to the fact that the painting was probably originally located in the bedroom of Lorenzo di Medici. 
Others believe her identity to be that of Camilla, a princess from Latium in Virgil’s epic Aeneid.  According to Freerick Hartt, Camilla was a chaste huntress dedicated to the service of Pallas Athena.  As with Minerva, there are no intrinsic symbols indicating this, only the title given it a 1498 inventory.  In this particular inventory, only a mere decade from when the painting was created, it is entitled Camila and a Satyr.  Though historians believe that the man who labeled it this title would not have been educated in the arts or history, they wonder who or what advised him to it – perhaps a title on the original frame.  Interestingly, Virgil writes of Camilla, “decus italae virgo”, or Splendor of Italy.  If this woman is in fact Camilla, then her personification exemplifies something particular about how the Medici family chose to be portrayed.  Moreover, she may symbolize the virtuous and civilizing nature of the family as portrayed to their city and country.
Close up, halberd, photo courtesy of
Google Art Project
            Perhaps the most intriguing argument over the identity of the characters and their meaning comes from A. I. Frothingham in an article for the American Journal of Archaeology.  Frothingham writes of the discovery of an image from the Roman calendar year 354, in which an Amazon woman represents the great Western city Trier – entitled Treberis.  The Amazon woman known as Treberis holds a spear in her left hand, while grasping the hair of a barbarian on her right, who has cast aside his bow and arrows.  The pair are surrounded by the riches of Rome and meant to symbolize the wealth of her great city.  Treberis herself represents the good government of Rome, which has granted the Germanic barbarian tribes with wealth and peace.  When viewed, the resemblance between the two pieces is shocking.  Though they are not exactly alike, they are similar in significant ways, such as the poses of the two characters, the weapons they carry, and most importantly the movement and personification of the women.  In Treberis, the Amazon woman represents the wealth and power of her country; but in Pallas and the Centaur she might be Florentia, representing ger great city, adorned in the olive branches symbolizing peace and under the watchful guidance of the Medici.  The halberd, also a symbol of guardians, furthers this argument.  She firmly grips the centaur, who may represent the chaotic and uncultured condition of Florence territory (according to Frothingham).
            Whoever the mysterious woman in Botticelli’s masterpiece really is, the symbols of the characters do lead historians in the right direction.  The Medici symbol provides evidence that the piece was commissioned for and representing the family, while the olive branch symbolizes peace, the halberd guardianship, and the centaur lust.  Art historians will unfortunately, only ever be able to guess at the true meaning, but so far they have provided students of art history a wealth of arguments and ideas from which to delve into.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Principles of Design in Sculpture

Sacrifice of Isaac, Photo courtesty of Wikipedia
Creative Commons & edited by Tessa Bookwalter

The piece I have chosen to discuss for this week is Brunelleschi’s Sacrifice of Isaac.  This relief depicts the scene from the scriptures in which Abraham, following God’s orders, takes his son Isaac to a mountain in Moriah to sacrifice him there. Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) sculpted the bronze relief in a competition to construct the bronze doors of the Florence Baptistery in 1401.  At its conclusion, Brunelleschi and the artist Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455) were declared equal winners and asked to design the doors together; but Brunelleschi would not accept the offer, remarking that two equal geniuses could not combine their forces to create a work of art. 
  1. Unity and Variety: The panel revolves around the center scene, with a figure on every side surrounding Abraham and Isaac.  Each character is necessary to create unity, because they draw the eye inward to the duo.  The angel Gabriel’s body and arm arch toward the center; and the mountain and brush opposite him curve inward as well, creating a line on either side which draws the eye in.  To the bottom, the characters create a foreground, which draws the eye up.  There is variety in imbalance from the rather empty top portion of the panel when compared with to the crowded foreground.  This variety helps to separate the sections of the piece, while the mountain in the foreground curves upwards on both sides, helping to create unity in the piece as a whole.
  2. Balance: As mentioned before, Brunelleschi’s panel is somewhat horizontally imbalanced.  The top half of the relief reveals empty space – Brunelleschi carves the figures of Gabriel, Isaac and Abraham affront a stark background.  As he moves downward, Brunelleschi carves behind his figures the mountain at Moriah (which Isaac, Abraham, and the lam sit atop), creating a busy background.
  3. Emphasis and Focal Point: The focal point of Sacrifice of Isaac is clearly the center, in which the figure Abraham takes a knife to his son’s throat.  The emphasis on this emotional scene is created in a variety of ways.  Most notably is the angel Gabriel, who swoops into the frame from the top left corner, arching his arm up and grasping Abraham’s outstretched hand.  The line created here draws the eye to Isaac’s face, which is perhaps the main focal point of the entire panel.  Abraham himself leans in toward his son, also creating a line drawing the eye to Isaac’s emotion filled face.  Each of the figures serves the purpose of drawing the eye in.  The horse in the foreground leans his head down to eat, in a line which draws the viewer directly to Isaac, and the two figures on either side curve inward, creating lines which draw the eye to the center.
  4. Rhythm: Rhythm in this piece helps – along with the other elements – to visually draw the eye inward.  The folded draperies on each of the figures swoop in such a way that they move the viewer from one particular section to the center.  The drapery also creates a rhythm that adds to the unity of the work as a whole.
  5. Scale: Brunelleschi is not entirely concerned with scale in his panel.  Although the characters are not entirely out of scale, there is little attention to perspective of any sort. 
  6. Proportion: Proportion seems to be more accurate.  In relation to themselves’, the characters’ bodies are relatively proportionate to real people with the exception of Abraham’s left hand, which seems larger for emphasis, and the horse in the foreground – which seems to have a head and legs that are rather disproportionate to the largeness of his torso.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Touch and Feel: Texture in the Italian Renaissance

During the Italian Renaissance, realism in painting style spread rapidly.  Oil paints became the medium of choice as artists traded the fast drying and finicky egg tempera for paints that would blend beautifully and dry slowly, allowing artists time and flexibility to create realistic masterpieces.
This unique aspect allowed for artists to create amazing texture, a word which derives from the Latin “weaving,” describing surface character of fabrics and other materials experienced through the sense of touch.  The visual texture in pieces such as Fra Filippo Lippi’s Adoration of the Magi (1496) and Piero del Pollaiolo’s panel Temperance (1470) provide marked examples of the artists’ ability to create trompe l’oeil with only paint and canvas.

Adoration of the Magi, Filippo Lippi, 1496.  Photo
courtesy of wikipedia creative commons.
Fra Filippo Lippi (1406-1469), of the Carmelite friars in Florence, was an accomplished painter of his time.  His Adoration of the Magi, ripe with different textures, proves his mastery with the paintbrush.  Lippi creates the illusion of weight in heavy cloaks, utilizing chiaroscuro to create depth.  Every detail in this painting depicts some different texture, from the clouds in the sky to the wood and brush overhang above the Virgin and Child.  Those who pray around the duo wear light, silken scarves and are adorned with fur collars and cuffs, which look soft to the touch.  In this way Lippi creates the illusion of physical weight – the silks look light and airy while the furs and cloaks appear heavy, draped over bodies that seem to physically exist beneath them.

Temperance, Piero del Pollaiolo,
 1470. Photo courtesy of wikipedia
creative commons

Piero del Pollaiolo’s panel for Temperance, along with six others, originally formed the backrest decorations in the courtroom of the Guild of the Mercantanzia.  This panel in particular is exquisite in its fine detailing, from the throne in which the virtuous woman sits upon to her richly colored velveteen cloak.  Pollaiolo pays great attention to the work as a whole, but her cloak is the most striking when viewed in person.  Her deep red dress looks truly real, popping off the panel and seeming soft to the touch.  The stark contrast of the background’s solidity and her soft dress adds to this effect.  Pollaiolo paints the marble back ground so that it looks deep and cold, while her dress appears luscious with life. 
Lippi’s Adoration is full from top to bottom with different textures, so much so that it becomes overwhelming; whereas Temperance, much more tame, focuses mainly on a few different textures.  Temperance also portrays much richer textures, which leads me to believe that perhaps texture was key to this piece.  Adoration focuses less on this aspect; Lippi uses texture to add to the piece, not as an integral part of it.