This painting, known commonly as “The Ambassadors” is an amazing painting that explores the rift between the religious and the secular. One of the men is dressed like a cleric while the other wears the robes of a merchant. The instruments on the table between them, globes, lyres, books etc. all hold significance in the two respective worlds.
WIKIPEDIA: Among the clues to the figures’ explorative associations are two globes (one terrestrial and one celestial), a quadrant, a torquetum, a polyhedral sundial and various textiles: the floor mosaic, based on a design from Westminster Abbey (the Cosmati pavement, before the High Altar), and the carpet on the upper shelf, which is most notably oriental. The choice for the inclusion of the two figures can furthermore be seen as symbolic. The figure on the left is in secular attire while the figure on the right is dressed in clerical clothes. Their flanking of the table, which displays open books, symbols of religious knowledge and even a symbolic link to the Virgin, is therefore believed by some critics to be symbolic of a unification of capitalism and the Church.
The main thing I want to explore is that weird, bizarre, angled skull smack dab in the middle.
This example of anamorphism (a distorted projection or perspective requiring the viewer to use special devices or occupy a specific vantage point to reconstitute the image) skews the skull so it is almost unintelligible. We have to bend down, squint and change our position to see what it could be.
I’d love to see this painting in a museum. I’d love to see the crowd standing in front of it, with one random guy bending weirdly in the front row. This is something that art is supposed to do. Force you to look at something from another angle, to bend a bit out of the normal stance. And when you bend to see, in this painting we are forced to stare death in the face.
Goya is a weird man. Many of his paintings seem to be inhabited by monsters, inspired by tragedy.
His painting THE THIRD OF MAY
seen here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Francisco_de_Goya_y_Lucientes_023.jpg
shows us the execution of revolutionaries. Go check out the picture and them come back.
Notice the dead bodies, those who have already been shot. Notice those covering their faces in grief, and anticipation of their own death.
The notice the man in white, arms spread wide. Look closely at his palm turned towards us. A slight mark, as if pierced bu a nail.
Is this Christ? Or an allusion to him?
I hope so.
I need to believe in a Jesus who stands with us in tragedy, who stands amongst us in persecution, who weeps and who flings his arms wide to take on the pain alongside us.
I just watched another amazing episode of Antiques Roadshow. I love it. In the episode based in Raleigh, NC (a rad little town by the way), a collector brought in their original Andrew Wyeth painting. It was a beautiful watercolor of a fur hat and some boots hanging on a wall. Very simple, but elegant.
I have always been a fan of Wyeth. His simple paintings of American rural life have always been romantic. Not in the sentimental way of other American scene painters, but in a realistic sense that connects the tragedy and suffering of the American past. The brown, grey and duller tones of his paintings draw a connection to winter, or a bad year of drought. His most famous work, “Christina’s World” shows a young girl sitting in the foreground looking over a field of bronze wheat to a weathered home over the hill.
Wyeth paintings are powerful in that they connect us to those quiet moments of life. Those moments often passed over. Those moments that are not remembered but mean so much. The divine moments of the everyday.
Some examples here.
“I want very much to tell, to talk about, the wholeness inside every human being. It’s a strange thing that every human being has a sort of dignity or wholeness in him, and out of that develops relationships to other human beings, tensions, misunderstandings, tenderness, coming in contact, touching and being touched, the cutting off of a contact and what happens then.”
As quoted in Ingmar Bergman Directs (1972) by John Simon
“The demons are innumerable, arrive at the most inappropriate times and create panic and terror… but I have learned that if I can master the negative forces and harness them to my chariot, then they can work to my advantage…. Lilies often grow out of carcasses’ arseholes.”
As quoted in “Bergman talks of his dreams and demons in rare interview” by Xan Brooks The Guardian (12 December 2001)
I just discovered this painting and this artist. Josef Chelmonski, a Polish painter who died in 1914.
Cross in Blizzard ,1907.
I am blown away by the simple beauty. The small, weather worn and wooden cross makes us see a humble Christ. This is no ornate, gilded crucifix hanging in a cathedral. This is the Jesus of the rural, the muddy country road, or the wanderer. This Jesus belongs to the off the beaten path kind of folk who look into the brambles, or who bend to pick the dirty potatoes.
Is this a scarecrow? Is this a landmark, a way to tell the way?
In any case, I see a Jesus who is humble, who is hung in the cold and who is there for those who will have him.
“People ask what are my intentions with my films — my aims. It is a difficult and dangerous question, and I usually give an evasive answer: I try to tell the truth about the human condition, the truth as I see it. This answer seems to satisfy everyone, but it is not quite correct. I prefer to describe what I would like my aim to be. There is an old story of how the cathedral of Chartres was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. Then thousands of people came from all points of the compass, like a giant procession of ants, and together they began to rebuild the cathedral on its old site. They worked until the building was completed — master builders, artists, labourers, clowns, noblemen, priests, burghers. But they all remained anonymous, and no one knows to this day who built the cathedral of Chartres.
Regardless of my own beliefs and my own doubts, which are unimportant in this connection, it is my opinion that art lost its basic creative drive the moment it was separated from worship. It severed an umbilical cord and now lives its own sterile life, generating and degenerating itself. In former days the artist remained unknown and his work was to the glory of God. He lived and died without being more or less important than other artisans; ‘eternal values,’ ‘immortality’ and ‘masterpiece’ were terms not applicable in his case. The ability to create was a gift. In such a world flourished invulnerable assurance and natural humility. Today the individual has become the highest form and the greatest bane of artistic creation.
The smallest wound or pain of the ego is examined under a microscope as if it were of eternal importance. The artist considers his isolation, his subjectivity, his individualism almost holy. Thus we finally gather in one large pen, where we stand and bleat about our loneliness without listening to each other and without realizing that we are smothering each other to death. The individualists stare into each other’s eyes and yet deny the existence of each other.
We walk in circles, so limited by our own anxieties that we can no longer distinguish between true and false, between the gangster’s whim and the purest ideal. Thus if I am asked what I would like the general purpose of my films to be, I would reply that I want to be one of the artists in the cathedral on the great plain. I want to make a dragon’s head, an angel, a devil — or perhaps a saint — out of stone. It does not matter which; it is the sense of satisfaction that counts.
Regardless of whether I believe or not, whether I am a Christian or not, I would play my part in the collective building of the cathedral.” Ingmar Bergman
Caravaggio painted the picture below, entitles The Death of The Virgin. A painting of Mary’s death. Many were outraged to find that the model for the painting was a prostitute from the wrong side of the tracks. “How dare he!”
“Mancini: “Thus one can understand how badly some modern artists paint, such as those who, wishing to portray the Virgin Our Lady, depict some dirty prostitute from the Ortaccio, as Michelangelo da Caravaggio did in the Death of the Virgin in that painting for the Madonna della Scala, which for that very reason those good fathers rejected it, and perhaps that poor man suffered so much trouble in his lifetime.”
I think, how perfect. In essence he took a prostitute, a woman pushed aside, and made her into the mother of the Messiah. This woman had been redeemed. The Virgin was not defiled but us, the sinners, those who need to redemption can find it. As illustrated by Caravaggio.