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Miracles and Russian Icon Copying “Errors”

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Take a good look at the icon below (without reading its name).

Holy Virgin of the Three Hands (Museum of Russian Icons)

Yes, the Madonna has three hands!  This is a more recent copy of the “Holy Virgin of Three Hands” icon originally created in the 8th century.  This work can be found at the incredible Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, MA.  Since icons are copied exactly from one version to the next, the history (or legend) surrounding this image has been perpetuated as well.

Icon as it may have initial appeared with votive silver hand

During the 8th century, Byzantine Emperor Leo III set forth reforms that included the destruction of icons and other religious imagery.  This Iconoclasm put Leo III at odds with St. John of Damascus who was a firm believer in images as worship aids.  St. John’s text, Apologetic Treatises against those Decrying the Holy Images, clearly enraged the Emperor.  As the story goes, Leo III commanded that St. John stop writing against Iconoclasm or else he would be punished.  Undeterred, St. John continued and Leo III had him arrested (or framed for a crime in some accounts) and his hand cut off to put an end to further writing.  St. John prayed unceasingly to the Holy Mother and miraculously regained his hand.  In thanksgiving, St. John affixed a silver hand to his icon of Mary which has been dutifully copied over the last nine centuries.

The third hand retains its silver color in this example of "Holy Virgin of Three Hands" (Russian Icons Project, Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation)

The icon above which is highly decorated with metal work may have been a traditional Madonna and Child that was adapted into the Holy Virgin of Three Hands.   The imagery seems to have evolved from this into the final composition I saw the the Museum.  The three painted panel examples herein are nearly identical in their composition which is what you expect from an icon – the very consistency of the image is what makes it an Icon.  I especially like that the third hand is sometimes depicted with a silver shade, distinct from the other two hands.  Overall, this was an interesting iconography lesson and another reminder to look critically at art.

"Holy Virgin of Three Hands" which is compositionally nearly identical to the Icon at the Museum of Russian Icons (Photo: Russian Icons Project, Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation)


Filed under: Art, Art History, History Tagged: art, art history, Byzantine, humor, icons, miracles, Museum of Russian Icons, Russia

Istanbul Ice Cream Show

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Who doesn’t like ice cream? (Photo: Daydream Tourist)

Turkish ice cream, or dondurma, is thickened with mastic and flour so that it takes on a wholly different consistency.  It stretches like taffy and is kneaded like dough but is still essentially milk and sugar.  Because of these sticky properties, ordering a cone in Turkey usually comes with a string of “think fast” tricks in which the vendor moves ice cream back and forth over two cones and flips your dessert away as you reach for it from the serving stick.

After dinner of the mixed grill plate for two at Konak Kebap on Istiklal Street (very delicious and so much food), we watched the restaurant’s ice cream stand sell a few cones which was pretty funny.  It turns out that a good natured offer for “extra” is just a ploy to get your cone back on the stick.  I didn’t end up trying dondurma that night; I was just too full for ice cream – at least ice cream I had to work for!

ice cream performance, Istanbul

One final cone flip as this woman tries to pay for her ice cream (Photo: Daydream Tourist)

To see an Istanbul ice cream vendor in action, check-out it out on YouTube.


Filed under: Travel Tagged: Dondurma, food, humor, Ice cream, Istanbul, street vendors, travel, Turkey

Star Wars Recreations of Famous Images

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I have a special place in my heart for parodies of iconic works of art but Dave at 365 Days of Clones has taken tribute parody to the next level.  After posting a new photo of Star Wars Clone action figures everyday in 2011, Dave has started a series “52 Weeks of Star Wars” in which he combines these already well-known characters with pop culture spoofing movies, albums, photographs and paintings.  I’m not even a big Star Wars fan but these images are incredibly creative and superbly executed!

“Princess with a Pearl Earring” by Dave Eger (Flickr, egerbver) – if you link to it full size, you’ll see that there is even craquelure

“Our Only Hope” by Dave Eger (Flickr, Eger)

"A New Hope" - Dave Eger (Flickr, egerbver)

“A New Hope” – Dave Eger (Flickr, egerbver)

“Trooper vs Trooper” by Dave Eger (Flickr, egerbver)

I was blown away to see a version of ”Power House Mechanic Working on Steam Pump” by Lewis Hine.  This is one of my favorite photographs because of its composition and the juxtaposition of industrial factory elements and the human form.  I recognized it immediately!  The Clone version of “The Falling Soldier” by Robert Capa is amazing too.  The picture is really well done, mimicking the soldier in mid-air and the hazy gray of the landscape.  It’s also an interesting choice to duplicate since the original image was criticized for being staged.

“Han Solo Working on the Hyperdrive” by David Eger (Flickr, egerbver)

“Death of a Clone Trooper” by Dave Eger (Flickr, egerbver)

365 Days of Clones is definitely creative enough to fill out the remaining second half of the year with awesome images.  But if I can offer some unsolicited advice, here’s what I would parody with Star Wars characters.

Rene Magritte "Ceci n'est pas une pipe"

René Magritte’s surrealist classic “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” is an easily recognizable image and would be so simple to stage with action figures.  I’m thinking “Ceci n’est pas un Ewok” would be good.  But an even better version would be C-3PO and R2-D2 with text that reads, “Ceux-ci ne sont pas les driods que tu recherches”!  This is appropriately enough Obi-Wan’s famous line and the classic Jedi mind trick.

The Scream - Edvard Munch

If you didn’t already know “The Scream”, it has been in the news recently after one of the four versions was sold for almost $120 million.  Given C-3PO’s anxious nature, the panic and desperation captured in “The Scream” makes this a logical Star Wars portrait of the protocol droid.  And really, with the big eyes, oblong head shape and golden skin, this guy looks a little like C-3PO already.

Washington Crossing the Delaware - Emanuel Leutze

La liberté guidant le peuple (Liberty Leading the People) - Eugène Delacroix

There are big heroic themes in Star Wars and so I’d also like to see the characters do something grand and historic like “Washington Crossing the Delaware” by Emanuel Leutze or “Liberty Leading the People” by Eugène Delacroix.  I imagine either of these could be done with good guys or bad guys.  I can picture Vader or Obi-Wan in the first image as Washington, while a pile of dead clones would be good in the second image.

I got plenty more where that come from but I think I’ll just sit back and enjoy what 365 Days of Clones comes up with!


Filed under: Art Tagged: 365 Days of Clones, action figures, art, art history, David Eger, Edvard Munch, Eugène Delacroix, humor, Lewis Hinds, Lewis Hine, parody, photography, René Magritte, Robert Capa, Star Wars, Vermeer

A Surrealist House?

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surrealist apartments

Exterior of the Orbis South Melbourne “Surrealist” condo building

I recently found this article (via this blog) from Melbourne’s The Weekly Review about a new 48-condo unit Surrealist-inspired building.  It is supposedly based on the work of “international sculptor Anish Kapoor and Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte”.  This may sound like bizarre inspiration for home design but before you judge, let me give you a tour of the apartment amenities!

Each unit has 2-3 very large bedrooms:

Rene Magritte - The Listening Room

Colorful and spacious living rooms:

Additionally, two story townhouses are available:

Rene Magritte - Forbidden literature (The use of the Word)

Each unit has a large fireplace:

Rene Magritte - La Duree poignardee

The study area can be convert to a play room which the kids will love:

Some units have city views:

While other units have forest views:

Prices range from a flying tortoise to 17 wooden dowels.  Pre-order today! 

(Personally, I going to wait for the Cubist apartment building….)


Filed under: Art Tagged: Anish Kapoor, architecture, art, art history, design, housing, humor, Melbourne, René Magritte, Surrealism

A Good Laugh in Turkey, No Translation Needed

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I should preface this by saying I really did try an learn some Turkish before visiting Istanbul and the western coast.  I had some language podcasts and a phrase book.  There were times when that was great, times when the basics and hand gestures were enough and a couple times when conversation wasn’t even needed but I still felt like I was following story.  This is one example of the latter.

fisherman in Anadolu Kavağı

We took a day trip ferry ride up the Bosporus to the last village of Anadolu Kavağı.  We had a few hours to explore before the boat would return.  After a quick lunch, we climbed the hill to the medieval fortress for some amazing views.  It was well worth the climb to see the Black Sea but didn’t take as long to reach as we though and so we wandered back to the waterfront to look around before our ferry left.

Oil tanker coming from the Black Sea, Anadolu Kavağı

Expecting literally a boat load of tourist each day, the docks of Anadolu Kavağı are lined with fish restaurants and their aggressive touts looking for your business.  By now lunch was over and the men were just standing around talking.  They were staring intently at the cobblestone gutter alongside a building leading into the ferry terminal square.  They pointed and waved me over to look too.  A cat had caught a mouse and was playfully moving it through the gutter!  We all laughed as it batted the mouse and threw it up in the air.  Maybe we startled it, but the orange cat picked up his prey and scurried over to a circular bench in the center of the square.

Daily life in Anadolu Kavagi

The cat continued to play but the mouse woke up.  It started running along the base of the bench trying to escape.  I held my breath and quietly giggled along with the men who had been watching.  We could see the mouse, with cat in close pursuit, heading underneath some unsuspecting tourists seated there.

cat and mouse

The mouse and cat eventually ran under the legs of three older ladies who were sitting on the bench.  One woman screeched and flew off the bench!  Her friends quickly followed.  We exploded in laughter!  Miming what had happened, we continued to chuckle.  The cat picked up the mouse and ran off into the dining area of the nearest outdoor restaurant.  One man in our group hollered and ran after the cat in his restaurant.  We all started laughing again as he tried to chase it out.  After a few more smiles, our little crowd dispersed and I headed back to Istanbul having observed the hilarious wildlife in Anadolu Kavagi with the locals.


Filed under: Travel Tagged: Anadolu Kavagi, Bosphorus, cats, hanging with locals, humor, Istanbul, mice, travel, Turkey

ArtSmart Roundtable – Trust me, that’s a lion

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The monthly ArtSmart Roundtable brings together some of the best art history-focused travel blogs with a post around a common theme.  In honor of April Fool’s Day, April 1, were looking at funny, weird or optical illusions in art.  You can find links below to all the group’s examples this month.  Enjoy!

With zoos and photography, we all know what exotic animals look like and certainly take that for granted.  But what if you lived 500 years ago?  If the you are trying to tell a story that required an animal you’ve honestly never seen before, then what do you do?  Well most artists just made it up!  Whales, leopards, and eagles can all look way off.

I’m always amazed to see representations of lions.  Between St. Mark the evangelist’s symbol, Daniel in the den and St. Jerome befriending a lion, you can see lions quite frequently.  Having been decimated in Europe and North Africa by the Romans for sports, there were very few living lions for artist to observe in most parts of Europe.  As a result they tend to look like dogs, bears and even bulls with which locals were more familiar.

male zoo lion in winter

An actual African lion at the Pittsburgh zoo (Photo: Wikimedia)

Flemish master Rogier van der Weyden (1400-1464) had a staggering skill for realistic portraiture.  St. Jerome and all his wrinkles are softly rendered below in “Saint Jerome and the Lion”, but the lion itself is nothing like a real animal.  In fact, the lion has such human eyes, nose and hair style that this almost looks like a person in  a lion costume.

Rogier van der Weyden -

Rogier van der Weyden – “Saint Jerome and the Lion” c. 1450, Detroit Institute of Arts

In the illuminated manuscript below, we see that lions can look like a bear or a dog too.  The symbol of the St. Mark is now the evangelist’s best friend!

St Mark Boucicaut Master or Workshop

St Mark Boucicaut Master or Workshop – “St Mark Cutting a Pen” c. 1420

Even a simple decorative lion can be poorly drawn.  In this 18th century Delft Charger that recently sold at auction, the “lion” looks like a meaty sheep with a beard.

Dutch Delft Lion Charger

18th century “Dutch Delft Charger with Lion and Gate Decoration”, Skinner Auctions, March 3, 2013.

I wish I could find a picture of it, but the ceiling of the Salzburg Cathedral has a lion that looks just like a bull!  Compared to the bull pictured with St. Luke, St. Mark’s “lion” really is just a cow with a mane.  It makes sense.  Austrians definitely knew what bulls looks like but had only a faint understanding of lions and so they adapted something they already could paint.

As the city of St. Mark and an important trading center, Venice had both a duty to depict lions with some accuracy and the ability to get specimens or quality drawings from others.  You’d think Venice would have excellent lions then, but not quite.

Lion from the Piazza San Marco in Venice

Aside from the sword and wings, a fairly accurate lion from the Piazza San Marco in Venice

Lion from outside the Venetian Arsenal

A somewhat out of proportion lion from beside the entrance to the Venetian Arsenal

Not every lion in European art is so awkward looking.  Some of best Renaissance drawings of lions came from in life sketches.  While unfinished, Leonardo da Vinci’s St. Jerome in the Wilderness accurately renders the haunches and repose of a living lion.  Durer’s sketches were taken from an animal in a royal menagerie.

Leonardo da Vinci -

Leonardo da Vinci – “St Jerome in the Wilderness” c. 1480, Vatican Museums

Albrecht Dürer

Albrecht Dürer “Lions sketch” c. 1520

There are obviously stylized lions in the art of Japan, Assyria, Greece and other cultures that don’t look natural at all but have there own beauty.  What I’ve tried to point out here are places where the artist was trying for a realistic representation but created something entirely unique for lack of a living model.  Keep you eyes open for oddly drawn lions next time you travel!

So have you seen any weird looking lions in your travels? (Or perhaps some dogs with fluffy manes?)

scroll

For the rest of the April ArtSmart Roundtable, see:

And don’t forget to “like” our group on Facebook for art & travel news!


Filed under: ArtSmart Roundtable Tagged: animals, art, art history, drawing, history, humor, lions, nature, travel

Back from Spring Break!

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As you probably noticed, I’ve been slacking on my weekly daydreaming.  That’s because I picked up last minute, mileage tickets (read: free!) and had only 4 days to plan a whirlwind Spring Break!  I didn’t end up having the city and museum break that I was thinking about, but I had an incredible time!  Lots of new cities and new sights; I even wrapped up some unfinished business from this summer.

I have lots of art and history to share but first let me give you some clues about my trips via a new (well, actually very old) media.

cartoon 1

cartoon 2

cartoon 3

cartoon 6

cartoon 4


Filed under: Art History, Travel Tagged: art, art history, cartoons, embroidery, Europe, history, humor, Normandy, Spring, travel

Bernini’s Rejected French Sculpture

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st peters interior, Rome

Bernini created the interior marble facade, canopy and high altar of St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City (Photo: rachel_titiriga, flickr)

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598 – 1680) should be familiar to visitors to Rome.  He essentially created the Baroque city that we see today producing sculptures, fountains, buildings and the majority of the interior of St. Peter’s Basilica.  Considering that he started creating accurate portrait busts at 14 and continued to work until he was 82, Bernini is deservedly known as a prolific genius.  But did you know that even his work was occasionally rejected?

Bernini self-portrait

Bernini “Self-Portrait (1635)” Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy

Always eager to learn (and to technically travel to Europe for 3 hours), I attended a lecture by Prof. Franco Mormando on Bernini at the Italian Embassy in DC.  Besides now needing to read his biography of Bernini, I learned some interesting episodes from the life of the artist.  I was surprised to hear the story of a Bernini sculpture that was initially rejected and therefore ultimately saved.

Bernini, Bust of Louis XIV

Bernini, “Bust of Louis XIV” 1666, Versailles Palace, France

As a stipulation in a cease-fire agreement, Bernini was coerced into leaving his beloved Rome to serve 5 months in the court of Louis XIV.  (The armed conflict may have been started purely with this result in mind, but I digress.)  In Paris, Bernini dutifully created a portrait bust of Louis balancing his physical likeness with the grandeur that was “the Sun King”.

Bernini's terracotta model of the Louis XIV Equestrian Statue

Bernini’s terracotta model of the Louis XIV Equestrian Statue, Galleria Borghese, Rome

In another piece of royal propaganda, Bernini prepared an equestrian statue of the King dressed as a Roman General.  The terracotta model of the piece is above.  At the last minute, Bernini decided to carve the king smiling.  Louis was furious when he saw the final piece and wanted to destroy it.  Thankfully cooler-headed advisers counseled the King against this and had the face of the rider re-carved as a Greek General to “correct” the issue.  Still a somewhat disappointing sculpture for Louis XIV, the altered statue was relegated to a far section of the gardens of Versailles, the King’s palace at the time.

Bernini sculpture of Louis XIV

Lead reproduction of the altered Bernini sculpture of Louis XIV

About a hundred years later, revolutionaries stormed Versailles destroying images of the kings.  Bernini’s statue was spared because it obviously no longer depicted Louis XIV.  However, because of its placement at a far corner of the gardens, it continued to sit unnoticed for centuries.

In the mid-1980′s,  I. M. Pei was selected to re-design the courtyard of the Louvre.  To fit with his modern aesthetic and dramatic plans, he wanted all the statues and monuments removed from the palace courtyard, with one exception.  I. M. Pei loves Bernini’s work and as a tribute, asked for a copy of the altered Louis XIV equestrian statue to be placed in the courtyard.  Thus one of the few works designed by Bernini and executed in France by him (with his workshop) could be incorporated into the greatest art museum in the country.  The original stone statue remains at Versailles, although now it is inside and protected.

Louvre pyramid and equestrian statue

Louvre courtyard today showing the museum, I. M. Pei’s Pyramid and a copy of Bernini’s sculpture. (Photo: trekEarth)

Already in the shadow of the Louvre’s beautiful architecture and massive art collection, many visitors probably don’t notice the Bernini in the courtyard.  Even fewer people probably realize that this beautiful piece survived an angry monarch, a violent mob and potential oblivion to come to a place of honor today.


Filed under: Art History, Travel Tagged: art, art history, Bernini, France, humor, monuments, Paris, portraiture, Rome, sculpture, travel

Guest the Artist – Old Church Edition

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I liked playing “Guess the Artist” last month so I have another good one for you.

old church painting

old church painting

This is an early work of a famous painter. To make it difficult, I’m not going to give you any clues! (Other than this artist has a super obvious signature which I had to cover up in the picture.)

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It is almost not fair to look at this painting online and try to guess the painter.  If you look closely in person, you can see in the minutia, traces of who this artist would later become.

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Do you have a guess yet?

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Vincent van Gogh's "The Old Church Tower at Nuenen (The Peasants' Counrtyard)" from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam

Vincent van Gogh’s “The Old Church Tower at Nuenen (The Peasants’ Counrtyard)” from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam

Vincent van Gogh!  Known for his vibrant colors and unruly brushwork, Vincent started his career examining peasant life.  He produced this painting in 1885 as well as his famous “Potato Eaters” which uses a dark palette to highlight the bleak existence of rural farmers.

Vincent van Gogh's famous image of peasant life "De Aardappeleters (The Potato Eaters)" (Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam)

Vincent van Gogh’s iconic image of peasant life “De Aardappeleters (The Potato Eaters)” (Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam)

I was really surprised by the realism of “The Old Church Tower at Nuenen.”  The play of light off the stone tower and the smokey sky are lovely.  The subject matter, composition, and execution seems to bridge the realism and provincial subject matter of Corot’s work with the darkness and pessimism of Coubet’s peasant world.

"The Roman Campagna in Winter" by Camille Corot

“The Roman Campagna in Winter” by Camille Corot from 1830 illustrates the prevailing painting style for somber country scenes. (Chrysler Museum of Art, USA)

Vincent van Gogh is not know as a good draftsman.  His lines are often crooked, curvy and generally not accurate representation of the subject matter even in his small study drawings.  But in this month’s mystery painting he does a very good job of creating a solid and realistic tower.  Knowing that the tower should look as real as possible, he must have struggled to create the image.  I like looking at this painting and thinking about Vincent’s conscious effort here to copy a style.  The work must have been slowly and meticulous executed which seems light years away from his free “painting-a-day” pace at the end of this life.  Of course later he abandoned some of this rigid realism and painted churches in his own undulating way.

Vincent van Gogh - The Church at Auvers-sur-Oise

By comparison to the mystery painting in this post, “L’église d’Auvers-sur-Oise (The Church at Auvers-sur-Oise)” appears to be melting with its curved, undulating lines. (Musée d’Orsay, Paris)

Interestingly, early Vincent was already physically painting his own way.  Van Gogh’s works have linear strokes of color and very deliberate hash marks of parallel color.  While the church walls above are done in lines of green and yellow, they are done in muted roses and brown in the mystery painting.  If you look closely, the tower’s facade is a thickness of horizontal and vertical hashes which would have been a good clue toward Vincent Van Gogh.

Vincent van Gogh "The Old Church Tower at Nuenen (The Peasants' Counrtyard)" detail

Deliberate vertical and horizontal brushstrokes are a signature of Vincent van Gogh.


Filed under: Art History, Netherlands Tagged: art, art history, humor, museums, mystery, Painting, travel
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Happy Halloween from Boston

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Even the monuments get dressed up for Halloween in Boston!

Halloween Paul Revere

Paul Revere on Halloween!

This is the Paul Revere statue from the North End of Boston commemorating his famous “Midnight Ride”.  It looks like he’s dress up as the Headless Horseman from the Legend of Sleepy Hallow.  Very scary!


Filed under: Boston Tagged: art, Boston, Halloween, humor, statues, Street art, travel