Saturday, August 31, 2013

It’s not a symposium until somebody dangles their ‘nads

Scholarly debate can warm things up, but it isn’t until the pants come off that the logical arguments really start to fly.  At least, that was my impression on seeing Peitro Testa’s drawing “The Symposium” at the Uffizi gallery in Italy.  I am not an art person.  Nor am I a cultural person.  But a went to the Uffizi anyway because I had a day to kill in Florence, and even thought the subject isn’t my thing, I appreciate just about anything done well, and I try to do activities while traveling that I can’t do at home.  As a premier collection of Renaissance art, the Uffizi fulfills both requirements.

I did not take a tablet, speaking tours, or other digital media for simultaneous information gathering as I went through.  I did get a guidebook just so that I knew what was where, and I took a paper notebook and a pen, on the off chance I would have a thought or two and put a few sentences down.  My notes ran to five pages, and are typed up here for the amusement of those of my dear friends and family who are art people.

The Roman copy of a (presumably lost) Greek Herucles and the centaur Nessus statue is astounding- the look of concentration on his face is gripping, and the detail is such that you can see the veins bulging out of his forearms.

The whole gold leaf fad of the 1300’s could not have ended too soon.

I think this Botticelli guy could have spent a bit more time and effort depicting the water around the shell. 

Pallas and the Centaur is good- I need to read up on whichever myth puts them together.

One subtle but interesting feature of the Botticelli room is that if you glaze out- or even (in my case) take off glasses to totally defocus- and cast eyes around the room, The religious paintings that dominate the west and north walls are noticeable darker than the mythological ones on the south and east.  Part of this could just be contrast- there is shiny gold leaf on some of the religious ones (I thought you were above that, big B).  But I think there is more than that.  The religious paintings are dominated (in terms of fractional surface area) by people in dark or deep red robes.  The buildings are also dark, and the skies are generally dusky.

In contract, the classical paintings have brighter skies (forest excluded), fewer dark buildings, and more bright water.  Most importantly, perhaps, the people who dominate these paintings are wearing far fewer clothes than their religious counterparts.  So pale white skin replaces drab dark robes.  Also, the west wall isn’t actually Botticelli (glasses back on now so I can read the tags), so maybe it is just a personal style thing.

I like the lizard in the skull of Signorelli’s crucifixion.

Leonardo’s landscapes are more impressive, relative to his contemporaries, than his people.

Perspective must have been the 15th century equivalent of computer graphics.  Crazy math changing the way we render images of the world we see.

Nice floor in the classical sculpture room.

Grotesque hallway ceilings more interesting than the classical busts. 

The porphyry she-wolf could be ground up for zircons!

Ceilings have changed from grotesque cartoons to perspective heavens.  I like the one with the soldier falling back to Earth.

The mom in Michaelangelo’s Holy trinity reminds me of one of those WWII working women posters.  Must be the biceps.

Ariadne get a new head every 200 years!?

The murder of innocents is as horrible as it sounds.  Horrible, but masterful in its depiction of evil and the effect on society.  The expressions on the mother’s faces are heart-rending.

Montegna’s circumcision is fun to look at.  I like the composition, the style, the fantastical landscapes.  Not sure the foreskin ascending to Heaven adds much, tohugh.

Vecchio’s Adam and Eve:
Adam has bedroom eyes, and Eve is like, “The apple?  Are you kidding me?”

The boy with the thorn sculpture- random awesomeness.

“Rooms of foreign painters” Because all those masterpieces you’ve been looking at so far?  Those are just the local talent, bitches.

Allegory of Vanity.
I doubt Pereda meant it this way, but the Angel comes across as a passive-aggressive minion of evil.  I see no salvation in his dark lurking figure or slack-faces, cold-eyed stance. 

The hopeless decadence of the skulls, weapons, wealth, and trinkets is palpable, but the unsympathetic angel and fiery Armageddon suggest that the ministry of angels offers nothing but the perpetration of European destruction.

The brightest thing in the painting is the globe, centered on “America si ne India Nova”.  This suggests that the only hope of salvation lies in the New World.  Or maybe that’s just my American eyes interpreting it all.

Is Saint Jerome penitent or shocked? “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”

Was there an obesity epidemic in the 1600’s?  Potatoes coming back from the new world?

The landscape with dead birds ain’t all that, but I like the turtle.

“Ships in a storm” by Plattenberg.  Now that is a seascape.  Send notes ro Mr. Botticelli.  Seriously, though, the Dutch landscapers are pretty good. I’m guessing they inspired the Hudson River school north of New Amsterdam a few centuries later.

Every American should see Reuben’s Bacchanalia

Stella’s painting looks more like Christ scolded by angels.  The angels go from adoring to stroppy from back to front.  Did he use the same model and keep deferring her payment?

Gabbiani’s Ganymede looks like he’s about to be dumped.  The expressions are fantastic.  The boy is blushing, “Is this love?” and the eagle’s cold predatory eye is utterly remorseless.

So was Mazzola one of those folks who thinks kids should breastfeed until four?

Zimbo’s corruption of time is gruesomely graphic.  Rich people with sick taste commissioning horrors evidently ain’t a new trend.

I want to see the original Perseus and Medusa by Foggini.

Carvaggio’s Bacchus is suitable jaded, but his Medusa shield is cheesy and shallow.

The expressions in Stormer’s Annunciation are fabulous. “Who, me?”

Spardino’s banquet of the Gods is oddly portentous of a not-too-distant future where the powerful look down on earth, half in a stupor, from their windowless server farms and wreak havoc on those who displease them, or dare threaten their carnal bacchanalia.

And just when my brain filled up, there was the end.

You know you’re in an art museum when you aren’t sure if it is a urinal or a watersculpture.  Sometimes, all you have is context.  So if you need to go, and it’s just across from the stalls…

Monday, August 12, 2013

The best book you've never read...

My current job involves a fair amount of long haul air travel. This isn't great, but it does mean that I get to read a bit more than I used to. I generally chew through a paperpack per long haul flight.  So I've knocked off the usual suspects- Hunger games, Game of Thrones, various offerings, cultural and otherwise, from the late Iain M. Banks.  But I've also been lucky enough to catch some lesser known books.

The Woodenman series by Harry Connolly is a prime example.  A rare example of navel-gazeless urban fantasy, these books combine the velocity of a page-turning action story with the twists and turns of a whodunnit against the backdrop of unimaginable Lovecraftian horror. Refreshingly free of pretense and unapologetically relentless in their depiction of the corruption of power, the series balances accessibility and heft with style. The final book in the series is particularly gripping and poignant.  But just as Ray, the protagonist, is relentlessly drawn into battles between forces crueler and greater than himself, so went the books themselves.  "Circle of Enemies" was released just as the bookselling giant Borders was demolished, and failed to sell enough copies to extend the series.  Which makes is a very good book with a tiny circulation- a rare treasure in the ponderous landscape of pulp.
Ironically, though the loss of a bookstore chain doomed this story, its ghost lives on in the purgatory of the online retailer that slew it.  The e-books can still be conjured up via the internet, and even some paperbacks seem to still be in stock.
I'm don't know if the novelist will be publishing anything else- for all I know he's just a well constructed pseudonym of J. K. Rowling- but I hope he gets another chance, as his first three books were quite enjoyable.