17 February 2017

Grotesque Obsession: Pulchrior in Luce

In which we relive another great moment found by peering through doorways
"Pulchrior In Luce" ~   More Beautiful in the Light
Coffered ceiling with grottesca decoration by Bernardo Poccetti

Wandering along the Borgo Pinti I found the unassuming entry of an austere-looking palazzo with its giant, stud-riddled door wide open.  Flashes of a grottesca ceiling caught my eye in what is currently the entry to a hotel. So naturally  I inquired inside, and learned that it was known as the Palazzo Marzichi-Lenzi, which is the former palace of the Neri-Ridolfi family whose coat of arms is painted in the center of the ceiling.

The painted ornament is attributed to Bernardino Poccetti (1548 – 1612), also known as Barbatelli, a prolific and famous local artist whose work includes the sgrafitto decoration of the Palazzo Bianca-Cappello; the Medici Villa di Artimino; ceiling vaults of the Ospedale degli Innocenti, and the murals in the grand salon of the Palazzo Capponi. Earlier in his career he was known as a great designer of grottesche, in his later years he painted more monumental and naturalistic figurative murals. This ceiling ornament dates from the early 1580's and was beautifully restored by Gioia Germani in 2001.

With its coffered ceiling this space really looks to me like an oddly empty library or even a stripped-out studiolo. The room feels private, even more so because of the esoteric symbolism in the ceiling paintings. As is often the case this palazzo has been remodeled so many times it's hard to say where the original entry was or how this space came to be used in this way.  

The coat of arms of the Neri-Ridolfi family, presented with a double cartouche and festoons of fruit

The ceiling is made up of  almost-square as well as rectangular  coffers, all of which are slightly skewed and in some cases completely wonky, which as a painter I find to be typical in even newly-built coffered ceilings.  I found the lighting in this space to be extremely difficult, and I was compelled to return with a flash (*gasp*), in order to shoot this ceiling.

 So now, let's have a closer look at these marvelous little paintings, shall we?

"Malio Lumina" features the the stone cold glare of Medusa as "Evil Eyes"

Medusa is a familiar face in Renaissance art. In Greek mythology, the gorgon Medusa's very glance could literally petrify a man, turning him into stone, and she came to symbolize the "Evil Eye."  
Perseus set Medusa's severed and bleeding head on the riverbank while he washed his hands, and her blood turned the reeds into red coral. Thus to protect against the Evil Eye one wears or displays branches or beads of precious red coral. 

Spectacular coral piece on display at l’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence (nfs)

Red "precious" coral  (see first image "Pulchrior in Luce" above) appears a lot in Renaissance art, as the coral is not only beautiful but is reputed to have both healing and protective properties, and it is sometimes seen as a symbol of Christ's blood. Branches of it appear in treasuries and wunderkammers, portraits and altarpieces.
 (Latin geeks, please weigh in on the play on words in these two panels' mottos- Lumina vs Luce.)

"Suo Succo" - its essense
Visitors to my studio will recognize this emblem which has been tacked to my door for some years.
Each of the soffits has symbolic  imagery in the center with a latin motto, resembling the pages of an Emblamata (emblem book) owing in part to the small scale of the individual panels.  However, overall they are just pared-down versions of the same compositions used in many larger grottesche ceilings- with a central image or allegorical figure, corner elements oriented towards the center dividing the panel with an "X",   and symmetrical but not identical pairings of fantastical beasts and ornamental flora. 
Often the grottesche will echo or enhance the central element:  the coral tree is surrounded by pearls, shells, and imaginary sea-creatures;  a bulb springing to life is surrounded by birds, butterflies and garden trellises arranged in a Maltese Cross configuration.  The usual features of the grottesca style are present in masks, birds, vases, harpies and other winged creatures, little garlands and floral scrollwork.

"Tenet Usque" ~ Hold constant
A rudder held straight, surrounded by the four seasons;  the face of the sun with 12 rays, burning torches, harpies (one of which appears pregnant), and landscapes; each detail has some meaning assigned to it.

"Omnibus Idem"~ (the sun shines on) all the same
The exact meaning of this group of images, whether they all reference a particular source, or if they were designed by a scholar or philosopher, is unknown. I approach such things as a painter first and foremost, but years of studying art history tell me there is an interesting story underneath the beautiful painting. In my more recent research I was thrilled to find a detailed 2015 paper on this ceiling by renowned art historian Liana De Girolami Cheney, who clearly knows a lot more about this than I do and has some great insights, but alas, the ornament's true meaning and purpose remains a mystery for now.

"Ex Pulchris Optima Libant"~ from beauty, the best offer

"Te Ipsum" ~ (see)  Thy Self
Is it just me or would these make amazing designs for scarves? 

The Palazzo Marzichi-Lenzi is now home to the Hotel Monna Lisa

all images in this post by Lynne Rutter  2014-2017 



detail of a ceiling in the Uffizi

My heart is broken, I said.  So is your ankle, he said.

The ancient cobblestones in this ancient city are famously treacherous.  We've had a very interesting week figuring out how to navigate with a wheelchair; how to manage 135 stone steps up to our flat on crutches; and how to rest a camera on a crutch while photographing a ceiling.

The universe is telling me to slow down and look where I am going.


12 February 2017

Back in Florence

In which we go back, in order to go forward.

A ceiling panel in the Ufizzi Galleries, depicting the destruction of Florence by retreating Nazi troops at the end of WWII.

I was trying to recall the last time I was truly happy.  I think it was three years ago, before all this happened. I had spent a year planning my sabbatical in Florence, and then learned my father had cancer.  His treatment was encouraging, and so we were encouraged to go.  "What else are you going to do?" my father asked me "sit around here and watch me drool?"   And so we passed three months in a rainy Tuscan winter, while I sought out material for my book.  When I called each morning,  my father assured me that despite any rumors of his demise, he was not yet dead.  He and my mother were genuinely interested in what I was doing, shared their own travel stories, asked me for specific photos, told me their news, sometimes bad news.
We made the most of our time well aware of how limited it was.

Later that year, my father died. And then all too soon after that, my mother got cancer, and all too soon she also died.  My family had to move out of their home in what felt like a terrific hurry.  During all this I could see the avalanche coming and I knew I could not outrun it.  And so I let it wash over me, and bury me, and bury my ambitions and my dreams and my joy, and pretty much everything else.   I just stayed there under all that grief, living each moment of it in great detail, until I could no longer breathe.

Where was I before that? In Florence I think it was, three years ago.  And here I am again.

11 July 2016

The Hermitage: four times in a week

In which we make repeated visits to the world's most fabulous museum and find we are not a bit jaded.
"The Gallery of the History of Ancient Painting" in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg.

I had the good fortune to attend the International Salon of Decorative Painters, held this year in St. Petersburg, Russia. This annual gathering attracts many of the finest painters in my field, from dozens of countries and several continents, and this time was well-attended by incredibly skilled Russian artists as well.   The venue for this event, the Exhibition Center for the St.Petersburg Union of Artists,  is a short walk to one of the greatest museums in the world, the Hermitage. 
Like other major museums, the Uffizi, the Met, the Louvre, it cannot be done in one visit, it's too overwhelming. So I popped over every chance I got. The Hermitage is open late on Wednesdays and Fridays.
The museum is famous for its prodigious art collection, the Rubens paintings and sketches, and countless masterpieces of European art, but as usual, I was staring at the ceilings, walls, huge malachite urns, marquetry floors- because this building is first and foremost one of the most gloriously decorated palaces in the world.

Exterior of the Hermitage, painted with a distinctive and inspiring malachite green, ochre, and white color scheme

Just as in the (amazing film) Russian Ark, even the most organized tour through the Winter Palace will prove bewildering. The decor alone encompasses 300 years of Russian History. The collections reach through millennia. 

I forget what this room is for. Let's ring for tea, shall we?
Rococo styled rooms give way to Neoclassical spaces and "Russian Empire" style, and everything in between. Some interiors are pure fantasy.  I loved it. Every minute of it.

Ceiling detail from the lovely blue and white room used as the "silver cabinet"
Walls covered in gold leaf need plenty of candlelight to show it all off
In every space, gilding of a particular rosy color of gold leaf is used to great effect. OK I admit, in some cases, maybe it's over-used.  Nevertheless, the sheer level of craft is awe-inspiring.

nice example of Russian Neoclassicism in this trompe l'oeil ceiling
The Empire style found a great place in Russian design.  Large quantities of malachite were mined in the Ural Mountains and the famous Ural mosaic techniques were used to create columns, table tops, giant urns. A fairly liberal use of this intense green stone made for some eye-popping Empire interiors.

Gold and Malachite go so well together
Interior of the Malachite Room of the Hermitage, as painted by Constantine Andreyevich Ukhtomsky in 1885 image via hermitage.org
One of my favorite rooms is the"Gallery of the History of Ancient Painting." A long hall which houses a collection of white marble figures by Italian sculptor Antonio Canova (1757-1822) and his followers.

"The Gallery of the History of Ancient Painting"  neoclassical design by  Leo von Klenze
The walls and ceilings of the gallery are decorated with grottesca (or grotesque) ornament in a vaguely Pompeiian scheme. Insets panels of encaustic paintings on brass plaques by Georg Hiltensperger are meant to illustrate ancient painting techniques.

Encaustic paintings by Georg Hiltensperger depict ancient painting techniques.

Still from the film "Russian Ark"  in which the Stranger wanders into the Raphael Loggia
The most breathtaking space of all, has to be the gallery known as the Raphael Loggia.  Designed by Giacomo Quarenghi and painted by Cristopher Unterberger and his workshop in the 1780s, the loggia was commissioned by Catherine the Great as a replica of the Vatican Loggia in Rome, originally frescoed by Raphael and his atelier in 1512.   

Raphael Loggia in the Hermitage
Grottesca detail of the Rapahel Loggia of the Hermitage
These paintings are of course clean and new looking, but by most accounts they are a faithful and direct copies of the Vatican originals, having been painted on site using tempera on canvas. The canvases were then sent to St. Petersburg for installation. Mirrors replace the Vatican windows, reflecting the northern light. And then there is that rosy color of gold trimming each panel.  The magic of this scene is difficult to describe. 
Hermitage Raphael Loggia
The jawbone of an ass- detail in the Raphael Loggia, Hermitage
Grottesca detail- from 1512 to the 1780s

The Hermitage Museum website has many lovely images, including 360 degree panoramas of entire rooms in their "virtual visit" feature.


21st century decorative artists:
Photos from Salon 2016 at Flickr

All photos in this post by Lynne Rutter unless otherwise noted,  May 2016. Click on images to view larger.

02 July 2016

A visit to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris

a breathtaking monumental "papier peint panoramique" by Desfossé, 1855
One of my favorite places to visit in Paris is the spectacular Musée des Arts Décoratifs, a comprehensive collection of the best of French design:  objects, architectural and applied arts from the middle ages to the present day. Generally uncrowded and serene, the museum is housed in the western wing of the Louvre, the beautiful Pavillon de Marsan, designed by architect Gaston Redon in 1905.
The lovely interior court of the Musée des Arts Decoratifs (image via MAD)
Like the Victorian and Albert in London,  the MAK (Museum fur Angewandte Kunst) in Vienna,  and the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, les Arts Décoratifs celebrates the finest work in applied arts,  but this museum is decidedly French, and notable for the depth and breadth of its collection.

Seemingly every possible decorative technique, material, or type of object can be found in the vast Arts Décoratifs inventories: tapestry, escritoire, eglomisé, shagreen, scenic wallpaper, jewelry, stained glass, wood, lacquer, plastic, and gold… but far from mind-boggling the collections are carefully edited and displayed chronologically, to encourage understanding of both the techniques used and the application of them. Meanwhile there are thousands of beautiful inspiring moments in each room.
Here are some highlights from my visit in October 2011.

"Cabinet des Fables" from the hôtel Dangé, Paris 1755 (repainted 1855)
Two adjoining rooms of boiserie taken from the hôtel Dangé on the Place Vendome, are displayed as one room here (you can see the gilt room in the mirror)- these really were meant to be small, intimate painted spaces.

a display of chinoiserie furnishings dating from the 17th century
A small gilt "cabinet" room from l’hôtel de Rochegude à Avignon, 1720. Oui.
Photography in the museum is allowed without a flash, but many of the rooms are kept very dim to protect the fabrics and delicate surfaces.  Despair not,  the MAD has an excellent database of images of its collection on its website.   Not only that, but the MAD bookshop at 107 Rue de Rivoli  is outrageous.  It is filled with fabulous books on your favorite subjects, all of them loaded with great pictures. Hard as you might try, you won’t be able to carry all the books out with you. Make note of the ISBN# so you can search for the books when you get home. [Here is a list of some of my recent favorites!]

wood doors decorated with gilt grotesque ornament, from the 15th century
Salon de l’hôtel Talairac, circa 1790
One of the many period roomsets on display at the MAD, the Salon de l’hôtel Talairac, circa 1790, is an early example of Egyptian theme interior design, which eventually became an all-out fad in the early 19th century.
detail from a Renaissance-Revival bedchamber, circa 1840
The boiserie decoration from the Renaissance-Revival bedchamber of Baron Hope is not typical for the Louis-Phillipe-era France. To me it seems more English Victorian. Have a look at the rest of the room here.

detail of a verre églomisé mirror frame.  Gasp!
detail of an entire wall of embossed leather, silver-gilt and amber-varnished to look like gold. circa 1600
detail of a splendid marquetry cabinet, made in 1670. I could stare at this all day.

One of the most fabulous room sets in this museum is the private apartment of Jeanne Lanvin. Designed by Armand Albert Rateau and built in 1925, it’s the ultimate feminine Art Deco interior.

The famous gilt and lacquered screen from Jeanne Lanvin's dining room is nearly 11 feet high, and was designed by Armand Albert Rateau, circa 1921 

Bedroom of Jeanne Lanvin, designed by Armand-Albert Rateau  (image via MAD)
The fabric in the private apartments of Jeanne Lanvin, a custom blue silk embroidered with cotton and copper thread,  is newly recreated and was all done by hand.

When you go:
Be sure to visit the Art Nouveau and Art Deco rooms, as well as the very interesting mid and late 20th century design rooms in the attic spaces of the pavillion.
Other tips:
The Mode et Textile Museum is just next door.
The Rue du Rivoli can be crowded and dirty.  It’s so much more stylish to arrive via the Carrousel entrance.  And be sure to dress fabulously, so you can have a bite at the Saut de Loup, the chic cafe on the terrace facing the Carrousel Gardens.

originally published via Artisphere Online
©2011 Lynne Rutter
all images in this post by Lynne Rutter unless otherwise noted. Click on images to view larger.
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