A Little History of Art 9780300265538

A thrilling journey through 100,000 years of art, from the first artworks ever made to art’s central role in culture tod

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H I S T O RY of




Copyright © 2022 Charlotte Mullins All rights reserved. This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part, in any form (beyond that copying permitted by Sections 107 and 108 of the U.S. Copyright Law and except by reviewers for the public press) without written permission from the publishers. For information about this and other Yale University Press publications, please contact: U.S. Office: [email protected]  yalebooks.com Europe Office: [email protected]  yalebooks.co.uk Set in Minion Pro by IDSUK (DataConnection) Ltd Printed in Slovenia by DZS-Grafik d.o.o. Library of Congress Control Number: 2021946783 eISBN 978-0-300-26553-8 A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. 10  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1 iv

Contents   1 First Marks


  2 The Story Unfolds


  3 The Illusion of Life


  4 Copycats


  5 Paths to the Afterlife


  6 Art Embraces Religion


  7 Storm Clouds Gather


  8 The Art of Propaganda


  9 Masons, Moai and Materials


10 The Renaissance Begins


11 Northern Lights


12 A Matter of Perspective


13 East Meets West


14 The Return of Rome


15 Fire and Brimstone


16 Here Come the Barbarians


17 The Reign in Spain


18 The Theatre of Life


19 New Ways of Seeing

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20 The Lie of the Land


21 Still Life and Life Stilled


22 Rococo Escapism and London Life


23 The Royal Academy: Home and Away


24 Liberty, Equality, Fraternity?


25 Romanticism to Orientalism


26 Reality Bites


27 The Impressionists


28 Artists Take a Stand


29 The Post-Impressionists


30 Standing on the Shoulders of Giants


31 Ripping up the Rule Book


32 Art Becomes Political


33 Land of the Free?


34 The Aftermath of War


35 American Art Comes of Age


36 Sculpture Breaks the Mould


37 We Don’t Need Another Hero


38 A Postmodern World


39 Go Large or Go Home


40 Art as Resistance


Illustration Credits




C HA P T E R 1

First Marks It is 17,000 years ago. Two people climb through a narrow hole

and pull themselves up into a long winding passageway deep within a cave system in southern France. A river churns beneath them, pushing its insistent way through the rock. It is charcoalblack in the passage and no sounds from the outside world reach them. The adult holds a flaming torch and its smoky flame throws out fingers of light. The teenager follows behind, glancing at the engravings of bison and reindeer carved into the walls. At times they have to crawl on all fours as the cave walls close in or pick their way around skeletons of long-extinct cave bears, their canine teeth wrenched out by previous visitors to become pendants and necklaces. Together the pair head to the furthest point in the cave system, over half a kilometre from the entrance. There, balancing on their heels so their feet don’t get stuck in the mud, they squat down and cut a heavy slab of clay from the damp cave floor using a sharp piece of rock they have brought along for this purpose. Their feet 1


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sink further in as they lift the slab and carry it across to a rocky outcrop and set to work. Slowly the soft clay is transformed into two bison, each the length of an adult arm. The bison follow the contours of the rock but stand proud of the surface, the male rearing up behind the female. The creators stand and hold the torch high. The bison seem to come to life, their manes standing up on their necks, their distinctive humped backs and tails twitching in the flickering flame. * Were these sculptures made as part of a fertility ritual, to celebrate the magical creation of life? Or was the teenager taken deep into the cave system as part of a coming of age ceremony, a rite of passage on the journey to adulthood? We can only guess. The two bison at Tuc d’Audoubert in France are from the Palaeolithic age. They are prehistoric, made before written records began, long before writing was even invented. They are the world’s earliest known relief sculptures (the sculptures remain attached to the background but project away from it). Archaeologists and palaeontologists can figure out how, and by whom, the bison were created using clues left in the cave – heel marks preserved in the mud and finger strokes imprinted on the sculptures. It is incredible to see these marks – they make it seem as if the bison were sculpted only moments ago, that the artists who left their fingerprints in the clay have just stepped away. But what we cannot be sure of is why the sculptures were made. What did art like this mean to our ancestors, and what does their art mean for us today? Did they even consider what they did ‘art’ at all? Throughout this book we will look at a vast and diverse array of material from around the world, all of which is considered art today. But just what do we mean by ‘art’? Art is a slippery term. Its meaning and value changes over time, but ultimately it is created to express something that goes beyond words. The contemporary painter Ali Banisadr says that all art, from cave art onwards, is about magic. The cave artists, he says, ‘were trying to tap into magic, to put something in a visual language that we can’t really understand. It’s always been about magic.’ What does this mean? Banisadr is not talking about ‘Abracadabra!’ magic, about pulling

First Marks


Two sculpted bison in the Tuc d’Audoubert cave in France, around 17,000 years old

rabbits from hats, but of a mysterious force, an unexplainable power. This kind of magic can transform an object or set of marks on a wall and give it the ability to communicate powerful ideas far beyond the reach of spoken language. Sometimes these ideas are expressed rapidly or with breathtaking complexity. Artists tap into this magic to transform the simplest of marks or everyday materials – charcoal, stone, paper, paint – into works of art. When artists sculpt an animal or paint a figure they are not necessarily trying to create a likeness, but they are trying to express something important about that animal or that figure. This is why art – no matter how diverse it appears on the outside – ultimately shares a common thread. Artists throughout history (and prehistory) have always searched for the best means of expression for their ideas. This is art’s own ‘magic’, the element that allows it to connect with us, to move us emotionally even if sometimes we cannot explain why. Art can help us see the world differently or understand our place in it a little more clearly. It is powerful stuff. In this book we will journey from some of the oldest sites of art to the present day to explore how art and artists have shaped and


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influenced our world. There is not one clear path through history for us to follow, despite previous accounts suggesting there is. Instead we will walk together exploring how multiple paths interconnect as we journey through time. We will meet artists who are anonymous today, like the two who sculpted the bison all those millennia ago, and we will meet those who were praised during their lifetimes but whose careers have been overlooked ever since. There will be artists who are still household names and those who, despite their talents, are largely unknown. We will roam the world together, reinstating forgotten artists and expanding the traditional view of art history. Our journey begins, incredible as it sounds, 100,000 years ago, when modern humans first made paint by grinding red ochre stones and combining the dust (pigment) with the fatty juice from burnt bones. Conch shells containing 100,000-year-old paint have been found in Blombos Cave in South Africa. No art has been found that dates this far back, and the paint prepared in the shells may have been used for body adornment or burials. But the ability to make paint, and therefore to alter the world purposefully and creatively, existed. By the time modern humans started to migrate from Africa to Europe and Asia around 60,000 years ago they had begun to use paint to make decorative marks on objects and walls. Decoration can make surfaces more appealing but there is no deeper message. Dots or crosses on a pot are not trying to tell us anything about what it is to be alive, to be a human. We need art for this. No prehistoric wall painting has so far been found in Africa, but the similarities between later Indonesian and European examples suggest a shared way of thinking that had its origins in Africa before our mass migration began. Tantalisingly this remains a theory for now. Some of the earliest known marks are clusters of red dots and handprints found on cave walls alongside paintings of animals. Red ochre paint was blown over a hand using the hollow bone of a bird to leave a stencilled copy in place. In Chauvet Cave in France one prehistoric person had a crooked little finger and their distinctive handprint recurs throughout the cave system. In Borneo early

First Marks


handprints exist in a remote cave system in East Kalimantan and in Sulawesi they appear on the limestone walls of Leang Timpuseng. These sets of handprints, all made around 35,000 years ago, are thousands of kilometres apart but have the same message: I was here, this is my mark. These handprints are not art – they are more like signatures, perhaps made by those trusted to paint the animals. The earliest depictions of animals are the first works of art. Now our journey can really get going. Paintings of animals appeared around the same time or even earlier than the handprints. Alongside the Sulawesi hand is a babirusa or pig-deer, painted in long sweeping strokes. It is at least 35,700 years old. Deep within the Leang Tedongnge cave three wild pigs have been dated to an incredible 45,500 years old, making them the world’s earliest known example of figurative art (art that depicts recognisable forms). In both Indonesia and Europe animals were painted in profile using bold outlines. The focus was on their silhouette and distinctive features: horns, manes and antlers. Lit by torches deep within cave systems they must have been an awe-inspiring sight. Small sculptures have also been found embedded in cave floors where modern humans lived. Bones, mammoth tusks and stones were carved into animals or human–animal hybrids, such as the 40,000-year-old Lion Man made from mammoth ivory. Others were shaped into female figures with large breasts and bottoms, their stomachs swollen with pregnancy, like the 25,000-year-old limestone Venus of Willendorf. These figures may have been talismans, small portable sculptures believed to have protective powers, designed to keep the owner safe or help them have many children. Today archaeologists can date sculptures and paintings using scientific techniques. They can tell the age of the materials used or date the mineral deposits that formed over them. However, until the twentieth century, people would have laughed if you had suggested that this art had been made thousands and thousands of years before the Romans. The Victorians believed that the world was only a few thousand years old and the earliest date they allowed for art was ‘pre-Roman’. Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin’s


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ground-breaking research into geological time and the evolution of species introduced the idea that the world and its inhabitants were a lot older, millions of years older, than previously understood. Only after Lyell and Darwin’s theories were published did archaeologists begin to catalogue remains – flint axes and prehistoric human skeletons – to support this idea. Early skeletons were one thing, but in 1879, when 9-year-old Maria Sanz de Sautuola and her father Marcelino reported seeing prehistoric bison and horses painted across the roof of an ancient cave system, the academic world guffawed and said the paintings were fakes. Prehistoric men and women couldn’t paint, they laughed, they weren’t sophisticated enough! The paintings in question were on Marcelino’s estate in Altamira, Spain, in a cave system made up of several large chambers and passageways. All were decorated with engraved and painted animals with red ochre bodies and charcoal outlines. Marcelino died in 1888, ridiculed for his claim to have discovered prehistoric art. It wasn’t until 1902 that the animals were acknowledged for what they are. Now some Altamira paintings are known to be 36,000 years old. Discovering cave art is a life-changing moment. The wild pigs in the Leang Tedongnge cave in Sulawesi were only discovered in 2021 and other recent finds are still being documented. Many examples in Europe have been known for decades and consequently more research has been conducted on them. One of the most famous is Chauvet Cave in France. The Chauvet paintings date as far back as 33,000 years ago. They were discovered in 1994 when three experienced cavers felt a draft coming through a pile of rocks and decided to investigate. They discovered one of the greatest preserved examples of cave art in the world. A pride of lions stalk across one wall, their eyes alert, their speckled muzzles sniffing out prey. On another wall a crash of rhinoceros battle below a team of horses, their black manes bristling, ears pricked. Each animal makes way for the next, all drawn in assertive charcoal outlines with occasional shading to give them added weight. Some legs appear multiple times, as if captured in movement.

First Marks


Charcoal lions stalk the walls of Chauvet Cave in France. They are 33,000 years old

Ultimately we have no way of knowing how the paintings and sculptures found in caves such as Chauvet were first experienced. Many caves seem to have been used, abandoned and then reused thousands of years later, new art forming around the old images. Using dating techniques certain Chauvet animals are known to have been added several millennia after the first. That’s like us adding a figure or two to Tutankhamun’s tomb today! There are bear skeletons in Chauvet Cave but no human remains, suggesting it was not a place where early humans lived but rather a place that was used for ceremonies. It appears not unlike a cathedral or mosque, or even an art gallery. It is a naturally large and impressive venue for groups to come together, perhaps when children became adults or to mark aspects of the seasonal calendar or the migration of animals. The animals on the walls may have been woven into stories by the group’s leaders. Our ancestors may have told tales of epic hunts, illuminating the animals to evoke the drama, or the paintings may have been used by shamans (witch doctors) to conjure animal spirits – some of the animals depicted were not hunted for food but would have been feared and respected.


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It’s important to recognise when we look at these first paintings and sculptures that we are looking back through time with twentyfirst-century eyes. When we look at a reproduction of the Chauvet lions in this book our first thought is not that they are going to spring to life and eat us. We can marvel at the paintings today but they are unlikely to conjure the same sensations in us as they did when viewed by torchlight 33,000 years ago. For this reason, at the beginning of each chapter in this book, we are going to step back in time, to see art as it is made and try and imagine its impact at that moment. For this I am going to need you to become a time traveller with me. Next stop, Mesopotamia.

C HA P T E R 2

The Story Unfolds It is 3300 BCE. In a temple dedicated to the goddess Inanna, in

Uruk, Mesopotamia, the ruler of Uruk stands and contemplates a tall decorated vase. It is over one metre high and is covered in figures carved into the alabaster stone. It tells a story of worship and gratitude. Its surface is divided into four separate friezes, horizontal bands of relief sculpture that circle the vase one above the other. The ruler starts to follow these, to ‘read’ them, from the bottom up. At the base a wavy line indicates flowing water. Flax and date palms grow on its banks. Above, trotting around the vase, are sheep and goats: this is fertile land and these are plentiful times. A line of naked men carry food and drink in the next frieze. They hold baskets and amphorae (clay jars) filled to the brim. The top frieze explains what they are doing – they are processing towards Inanna’s temple, bringing offerings to honour her. She is the patron goddess of the city and they are thankful for her kindness in allowing their crops and animals to grow. Large containers overflow with food, donations from her grateful followers. Inanna herself stands outside 9


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The metre-tall Uruk Vase, around 3300 BCE

the temple overseeing things. Beside her is a clothed male figure. Their closeness suggests he also has god-like powers, even though he is mortal. To confirm this the word for ‘priest-king’ is carved above his head. The ruler, looking at the vase, smiles at this. He is pleased to see himself immortalised on the vase, standing next to the goddess, as powerful as Inanna herself. * The Uruk Vase is one of the earliest known examples of narrative art in the world. It narrates a story, one that we can understand by looking at the various layers of images that unfold, a bit like a

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cartoon strip does today. In prehistoric times a shaman or a group elder probably told stories about cave paintings to bring them to life. By 3300 BCE artists were beginning to tell the stories using detailed relief carvings like those on the Uruk Vase. Anyone could then look at the relief sculptures and ‘read’ the story for themselves. The Uruk Vase is covered in relief carvings. Unlike the bison sculptures in Chapter 1, which were built up in clay on top of the rock, the figures on the vase have been cut into the stone surface. An artist would have first drawn a design on the plain stone vase using charcoal or ochre. Then stone masons would use hammers and chisels to cut away at the stone to create the three-dimensional shapes. They were not aiming to sculpt animals like the bison, as close to real life as possible. Rather they concentrated on aspects that made each animal or human distinctive, using side profiles to show movement. It would have taken a great deal of time to carve something as intricate as the Uruk Vase. Only a society that was well organised and wealthy could fund such time-consuming art. In Mesopotamia (now Iraq), small villages had grown into towns by around 4000 BCE. The largest was Uruk (now Warka), with well-ordered streets and outer walls that were 10 kilometres long. Money was collected from the population by a central authority (like a government) and writing was invented to keep track of it. The Uruk Vase is the earliest known work of art to include writing. Uruk is the world’s oldest city and its art was used to glorify gods like Inanna. This suited Uruk’s ruler, the anonymous ‘priest-king’ we met in the introduction to this chapter, because he was glorified as Inanna’s equal on the Uruk Vase. Artists across the fertile lands that stretched from modern-day Greece and Turkey to Iran, Iraq and India created similar works of art for royal tombs, temples and palaces. These artists were employed to carve powerful stories of gods and rulers. The rulers paid the artists and therefore controlled the narrative. Half a world away in Mesoamerica (now Mexico) the Olmec civilisation preferred to honour their leaders in a different way. From 1800 BCE colossal heads carved from basalt (volcanic rock) were positioned on top of giant earth mounds. Food surpluses


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enabled the Olmecs to support full-time artists. They used stone tools to carve the heads that were up to 3 metres tall and weighed 8 tons or more. The stone blocks came from 100 kilometres away, a feat of transportation that employed rafts and log rollers to move them. Ten such heads have been found at the important Olmec centre of San Lorenzo, where a giant earth platform rose 50 metres above the ground. Unlike the stylised figures of the Uruk Vase, the Olmec heads show a solid understanding of anatomy. Each head has fleshy cheeks and carefully defined features, and they probably represented specific leaders. Often wearing close-fitting helmets, as if ready for battle, they have stern expressions, a frown wrinkling a crease between brow and nose. Now they have blank eyes but these heads were originally painted and would have looked startling and intimidating staring out from the corners of the earth platform. If you were the new leader you would have felt the need to live up to your predecessors’ achievements. You also would have felt powerful in having them on your side. The sheer difficulty in carving these heads and levering them up into position shows how highly they were valued. In Egypt similar colossal sculptures of living pharaohs (godkings) were commissioned to emphasise their power. There was no expectation that these figures should be lifelike or realistic. The ancient kingdom of Egypt was nearly as old as Mesopotamia and lasted for 3,000 years. From the very earliest ruling dynasties the style of Egyptian painting and sculpture stayed recognisably, reassuringly, consistent. Like the Mesopotamians, Egyptian artists were not aiming to sculpt or paint a true likeness but to capture the essential qualities of a figure, whether a pharaoh, a god or a woman working in the fields. Egypt was a wealthy country so it was not just palaces, temples and royal tombs that were decorated. Nebamun Hunting in the Marshes is a wall painting from around 1350 BCE from Nebamun’s tomb in Thebes (now Luxor). Nebamun was an accountant at the Temple of Amun and spent his days crunching numbers on grain production. In this wall painting we see him hunting birds with his wife Hatshepsut and their daughter. He stands in profile, his legs

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The tomb painting Nebamun Hunting in the Marshes, around 1350 BCE

and feet walking in one direction. His body and shoulders, however, are turned towards us as if we are looking straight at him. His head is a fusion of viewpoints: we see the face in profile but his left eye stares out at us, as if his head were square on. Egyptian artists took the most recognisable bits of a human and spliced them together, creating symbolic and immortal stand-ins for people as they journeyed beyond death in their highly decorated graves. Much Egyptian art was designed to accompany the deceased into the afterlife. Tomb art was valued particularly highly because it performed a crucial role for Egyptians, showcasing the lives they would live in the afterlife. Nebamun Hunting in the Marshes suggests Nebamun wanted to spend his days hunting with his family rather than working. One thousand years after the pyramids were built the pharaohs decided to build new burial chambers inside the cliffs in a place now known as the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens. Every


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new ruler would commission a tomb to be cut into the rock. Imagine how hard that must have been to achieve! Once the tomb was finished it was decorated. The tomb of Seti I, who reigned around 1290 to 1279 BCE, was the first in which every room leading to the burial chamber was decorated. To create such tombs required a large team of sculptors, painters, scribes (writers) and surveyors to be constantly working on site. As with the Olmecs and Mesopotamians, there was enough food in Egypt to allow artists to focus on making art rather than tilling the fields. The pharaohs valued their skills and housed them in a dedicated artists’ village called Set Maat, ‘the place of truth’ (now Deir el-Medina), where they and their families were given food, clothing and wood so they could concentrate solely on the tombs. One such artist was Sennedjem. We know about Sennedjem because when he wasn’t working on a succession of pharaohs’ tombs he was working on his own. He died during the reign of Seti I and was buried with his wife Iyneferti in the local cemetery for artists near Set Maat. On the walls of his burial tomb were paintings of the two of them ploughing a field and cutting corn, surrounded by the life-giving waters of the river Nile. Neither of them were farmers and the kingdom gave them their food so these paintings are not literal. Rather they are episodes from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, ensuring each body has everything it needs for the afterlife. It was a form of writing your own destiny – if you painted yourself having a great time in a land of plenty on the walls of your tomb it would be so in the afterlife. This is why Sennedjem spent his leisure time still with a paintbrush in his hand. For a civilisation that prioritised art it is surprising that the Egyptians did not embrace the use of bronze, an alloy of copper and tin used to make metal sculptures from around 2800 BCE in Mesopotamia and India. The knowledge of how to cast bronze was passed along early trade routes, and it was embraced in China. Chinese culture valued items that required time and effort to make. Bronze casting was time-consuming but it allowed the crafting of very intricate metal sculptures and objects and quickly became the material of choice for the Shang dynasty. Chinese artists made a mould by wrapping a model of the finished object in

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clay. When dry the clay sections were pulled away to form the mould. Molten bronze was then poured in and left to set before the mould was prised away and the bronze sculpture was revealed. An example of a work made in this way is the bronze Tigress wine vessel that dates to the late Shang dynasty, around 1100 BCE. It would have been used by a priest-king in a ceremony to honour his ancestors and was buried with him so that he could continue to offer tribute even after death. It is highly ornate and shows a tiger squatting on her haunches and using her tail for balance. Her front legs envelop a small human figure who clings to the tiger’s belly beneath her fang-encrusted jaw. Burying such a precious object in a tomb emphasised how important the dead priest-king was. Assyria, in northern Mesopotamia, started to expand around the time the Shang ruled northeastern China and eventually the Neo-Assyrian empire stretched across modern-day Syria, Israel and Iran. Leaders fortified cities, built irrigation systems and constructed temples and palaces. Huge sculptures of bulls and lions with human heads and eagles’ wings guarded city gates and palace entrances, their scale designed to intimidate any who passed beneath them. Brightly painted alabaster relief sculptures lined palace halls with packed scenes showing the king heroic in battle and communing with the gods. This was art as propaganda, just like the Olmec heads and the colossal Egyptian figures. Ashurbanipal reigned from 668 to 627 BCE and rebuilt the North Palace in Nineveh, Assyria. Panels along its corridors depicted a royal lion hunt. The lions, let out of cages for the king to hunt, appear with tousled manes and snarling mouths. The carvings show a detailed anatomical knowledge of lions and a knack for dramatic storytelling. The king is triumphant in all scenes as he hunts on horseback, on foot and from a chariot and many dead lions litter the ground. Each figure is stylised like those in Egyptian reliefs but is far more detailed. The king and his retinue have tightly curled beards, decorated tunics, coiled armlets, bracelets and earrings. These panels are mightily impressive, the pinnacle of narrative art from the ancient world, but imagine what it must have been like seeing them inside Ashurbanipal’s palace. Lit by torchlight, each man and


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beast brightly painted, the hunt exploding around you – who were you supposed to fear more, the lions or Ashurbanipal? In 612 BCE the Neo-Assyrian empire abruptly unravelled as rival countries attacked. Many of its cities were destroyed and a new Babylonian empire in southern Mesopotamia grew in its place, to be replaced the following century by a vast Persian empire. Further west, however, a radical new approach to the sculpted human figure was starting to emerge in Greece.

C HA P T E R 3

The Illusion of Life In Kerameis, the potters’ quarter in the city of Athens in Greece,

two men are hard at work. It is 540 BCE and Amasis is putting the finishing touches to a small lekythos, or oil jar. It is going to be painted with women working on a loom, weaving woollen cloth for their family to wear. Amasis employs others to paint for him so he can concentrate on making the pots. He loads more clay on to his wheel and starts work on an amphora. His painter already has a plan for this one too – it will show naked warriors preparing for battle and a woman holding a spear. Meanwhile, in a different workshop, the painter Exekias is also working on an amphora. It shows his favourite character, Achilles, a hero from popular stories about the Trojan War. Exekias has decided to show Achilles and fellow warrior Ajax playing dice, a game of chance, while they take a break from fighting. Achilles still has his helmet on and both men hold their spears ready. Exekias is a master of black-figure painting, but there is fierce competition in Kerameis. Pots are exported around the 17


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Mediterranean and the best potters and painters are much in demand. Exekias knows there is no time to rest. He picks up his brush again and begins to paint in Achilles’ shield. * Athens was the centre of black-figure painting in Exekias’ time. The technique had been developed in another Greek city, Corinth, but because of painters like Exekias, who increased the scale and started depicting Greek myths and stories, Athens soon dominated the market. They painted using a watery clay solution called slip. After painting the figures they would then carve through the slip, back to the clay base, creating swirls on helmets and intricate patterns on cloaks. The slip became black and glossy when fired in the kiln but the exposed areas of the clay pot stayed orange. We value these pots today for the inventive figures the painters created using only clay slip. The figures are flat and stylised but the best examples, such as those by Exekias, are often highly detailed and characterful. However, 2,500 years ago painters who worked on panels and walls were more highly regarded than those who painted on pots. By this date a distinction was made between those who painted scenes to be looked at on walls, people we now call ‘artists’, and those who painted scenes as decoration on useful objects like amphorae. These painters were seen as ‘artisans’ or craftspeople. Artists were praised by ancient writers such as Pliny the Elder, who wrote that they regularly competed to create the best illusions of real life, a technique now known as trompe l’oeil, or ‘trick the eye’. Few wall painting fragments survive but those that do show that by this date artists were highly skilled. This book concentrates on artists, not artisans; on visual art and not the decorative arts. Exekias is a rare occupant of both camps because while his paintings make pots more attractive they also go beyond being mere decoration. While they do not use fashionable trompe l’oeil they do tell stories of their own, drawn from Greek myths and full of drama and tension. Exekias combines the artisan skill of decoration with the art of painting. While it is hard to study Greek painting today because so much has disappeared, there are many examples of Greek sculpture that

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still exist, either as originals or later copies. Sculptures were not made to be useful like amphorae but were designed to be looked at, studied and admired for themselves, as art. Initially Greek sculptors were influenced by Egyptian statues. However, during the century when black-figure vases were all the rage, these stiff stone sculptures began to loosen up. Limbs became better proportioned and faces more animated and lifelike. The sculptures stopped looking like idealised youths frozen in time and started looking like real men and women. This is the beginning of what we now call classical art and it was a radical departure from all that had gone before. Did this change happen because Athens had become the world’s first democracy? Democracy meant that the people governed the city, rather than a single unelected leader. (At this time ‘the people’ excluded slaves, women and children.) Real people were now making the laws for the city, and the city’s sculptures became increasingly lifelike. Greek art is the foundation on which the whole of Western art is built. And yet, at the time, Greece wasn’t a country at all but a collection of city-states. In 508 BCE when Athens became a democracy it was the city of Sparta that dominated the area. The two cities only worked together when Persia invaded in 490 BCE. Ultimately Athens made alliances with over two hundred Greek cities to repel the Persian empire. All the cities contributed financially to a centralised fund and as a result Athens became very wealthy and powerful. Greek sculptors had begun to work in bronze in the sixth century BCE but bronze really came into its own after the Persian wars. There was a growing demand for larger, more dynamic sculptures and bronze was the perfect material. It could be polished to reflect light on skin and artists could insert glass eyes and silver teeth. Unfortunately, bronze could also be melted down and consequently very few Greek bronzes survive. Those that do have either been fished out of the sea where a ship carrying them foundered, as with the Riace Warriors, or found buried under earthquake rubble like the Charioteer of Delphi. These bronzes show us how sculptors pushed to make their figures more and more lifelike. The Charioteer of Delphi from


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around 474 BCE is life-size and dressed in a long tunic with short sleeves, the uniform of a charioteer. He holds the reins of a team of horses that would have formed part of the original sculpture. The sculpture was commissioned by a victorious athlete who won the chariot race at the Pythian Games, held in Delphi every four years. The bronze charioteer looks serious in victory, his youthful face framed by curls escaping his circular hair band. His glass and onyx eyes are surprisingly realistic, fringed with copper eyelashes. However, his tunic looks more like an immobile Greek column than fabric over an athlete’s body, and at this point the sculpture’s naturalism, its natural appearance, falters. Two decades later and there’s no such faltering for the Riace Warriors. They are naked for a start, so their muscles and strength can be seen. These men originally formed part of a monument dedicated to victory over the Persians. They are nearly 2 metres tall

The life-size Riace Warriors from Greece, 460–450 BCE

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and would have originally carried wooden shields on their raised left forearms and spears in their right fists. One figure appears slightly younger than the other, his muscles pert, shoulders back, eyes looking out not down. Monuments brought glory to the person who erected them and there is evidence of both men and women commissioning statues, but you needed to be very wealthy to afford them. Building temples was the equivalent expense for the city. The Temple of Zeus was completed in Olympia in 456 BCE. Within a decade Athens had begun work on its own rival temple, dedicated to the city’s patron goddess Athena and located on the lofty outcrop of the Acropolis, which dominated the city. This temple, the Parthenon (447–432 BCE), was purposefully larger than the Temple of Zeus – or any other Greek temple – and it was built entirely of marble. Using tribute money paid by cities under Athenian control the city’s leader Pericles employed the sculptor Phidias to oversee the Parthenon’s grand scheme of art. As you climbed to the top of the Acropolis and entered the gates you approached the Parthenon from behind. A high frieze carved on marble panels wrapped itself around the building, a visual narrative designed to accompany you on your journey around the exterior. The frieze, which was originally painted in bright colours, depicted the Great Panathenaia, a lavish summer festival held every four years that ended with a new peplos (robe) being presented to Athena, the city’s protector. You became part of the procession as men and women carried amphorae and brought animals to be sacrificed. It was like the procession on the Uruk Vase but on a much grander scale. As you turned the corner near the entrance the frieze changed – large seated figures indicated that you were now in the presence of the gods. Inside was a giant standing sculpture of Athena, over 12 metres high, entirely covered in ivory and gold. Imagine that – a sculpture the size of a three-storey house! The gold alone weighed over one ton and ivory was one of the most expensive materials available. The ivory had been transformed into Athena’s skin by unfurling elephant tusks and laboriously moulding them across her cheeks,


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neck, arms and hands. This single statue cost more than the rest of the Parthenon put together. It was as vast a statement of power, prestige and wealth that the city could make. Phidias’ centrepiece, the great Athena, no longer survives but we know what it looked like because its likeness was imprinted on coins. Its influence was also acknowledged in Olympia where Phidias was next employed to make a similar sculpture for the Temple of Zeus. It’s a great shame this no longer exists either because at the time this colossal seated figure of Zeus was seen as Phidias’ masterpiece and became known as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Temple grounds were once filled with thousands of bronze sculptures, their plinths lining the streets between buildings, sometimes two or three deep. Most of these sculptures are now missing, melted down for their valuable metal in later wars. At Olympia upwards of 1,000 empty plinths have been found. In the next chapter we will see marble copies of some of these when we venture to Rome, but marble didn’t come back into fashion as the first choice for Greek sculptors until the fourth century BCE and the work of Praxiteles. Praxiteles was very successful in his lifetime and he seems to have been relatively well off. He was an Athenian, the son of a sculptor, and used live models as the basis for his sculptures. He started out working in bronze but chose to move to marble and became well known for being able to make the hard stone look like soft skin. One of his works, the Aphrodite of Knidos, became particularly celebrated. Carved around 350 BCE it was the first ever life-size depiction of a naked woman and it is the starting point for the history of the female nude in Western art. Male artists – working for male patrons and male viewers – have repeatedly returned to the naked female body, turning it into an object to be looked at. This was what Praxiteles did with Aphrodite. She has just taken off her clothes for a bath (a water jug stands to her left). She isn’t publicly displaying her body as a sign of heroic strength, like the Riace Warriors or as men did when exercising naked at the gymnasium. Women were only naked in private, and Aphrodite’s

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A Roman copy of Praxiteles’ Aphrodite of Knidos (original around 350 BCE)

privacy has been disturbed – she attempts to cover her body with her hands. Using contrapposto (a twisting pose) Praxiteles adds curves to her body: she places her weight on one foot, has a bent leg, a raised hip and a dipped shoulder. Aphrodite was originally placed in the centre of a temple and could be viewed from all angles. The sculpture became something of a tourist attraction and the city that owned it, Knidos (a Greek city on the southwestern shore of modern-day Turkey), proudly used an image of the sculpture on its coins. Aphrodite didn’t represent the might of a city, as the colossal Athena had done, but rather the power of the artist, one who could turn cold marble into living,


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sensual flesh. The original is now lost but a battalion of Roman copies and later plaster casts have ensured that her fame has endured to this day. Praxiteles was one of the leading sculptors of his generation and his work was much in demand. Around the time he made Aphrodite he was one of several noted sculptors working on a vast tomb for Mausolus, a Persian ruler who had lived at Halikarnassos (now Bodrum, Turkey). Sculptors travelled widely to fulfil commissions as wealthy regional leaders understood the value of art in their bid for immortality. Mausolus’ vast tomb was covered in sculptures by Greek artists. It was so impressive that it inspired the word mausoleum, meaning a grand tomb building. The influence of Greek art beyond mainland Greece became known as Hellenism, spreading further as the fourth-century BCE Greek leader Alexander the Great conquered all the former Persian lands from Egypt to India. One hundred years later and half-way around the world in China another ambitious leader began to assert himself. His mausoleum was to be unprecedented in scale, the biggest sculptural project ever attempted.

C HA P T E R 4

Copycats The year is 210 BCE and the ruthless Chinese emperor Qin Shi

Huangdi has just died. An army has amassed to guide him to the afterlife and thousands now stand in ordered ranks. There are archers and officers, infantrymen and cavalry, all facing the lands Qin conquered as he united the whole of China under his banner. The Imperial Guard stand four abreast in ten seemingly endless columns, spears in hand to guard against attack. This army never sleeps for these are no ordinary soldiers but life-size painted replicas made from terracotta (clay). They are part of a vast mausoleum that the emperor first ordered to be built when he took power as a regional king of the state of Qin aged thirteen. Thirty-six years later the army now guards a replica of Qin’s capital city Xianyang that includes his palace, where his body has been laid to rest. Passageways connect the entombed palace to the rest of the duplicate city, which stretches for miles. Bronze chariots are parked in pits with bronze horses in full harness and a coachman ever ready to drive the dead emperor around. Terracotta 25


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musicians and acrobats are on hand for entertainment; replicas of Qin’s courtiers and employees mill about, ready to offer service. Clay geese and swans ‘swim’ on an underground lake so the emperor will never run out of food. * Earlier rulers insisted on human sacrifice at their death so they could be staffed in the afterlife but Qin commissioned thousands of terracotta stand-ins who could serve him in perpetuity. To create them, clay was mixed with sand to strengthen it during firing and distributed to individual workshops to ensure the same quality across different production lines. The figures were made in identical pieces by over 1,000 workers but were configured differently, so that one soldier with studded armour may have a moustache while another may not, or one with a top knot may have a thicker scarf than his neighbour. These discrepancies make the figures seem more human. Traces of paint still on the clay show us they were originally painted in lifelike colours. Today we know these soldiers as the Terracotta Army and thousands of examples have been excavated since the site was rediscovered in 1974. At the same time as Qin was building his empire, the Nok culture was flourishing in west Africa, north of the Niger river (now Nigeria), and many Nok sculptures, also made from terracotta, have survived. Nok artists were women and they coiled ropes of clay to make hollow figures in ceremonial dress, some originally standing over one metre tall. As the sculptures were drying, details were cut into the clay, such as textured necklaces, anklets and bracelets, weapons, hair braids and facial features. The faces of the sculptures were stylised and distinctive. Each head featured high arched brows, large triangular eyes with bulbous eyeballs and indented pupils. On the larger sculptures the mouth, ears, nostrils and eyes were drilled to make holes so the air could vent from inside the sculpture as it was fired in the kiln, to prevent the sculpture cracking. Nok sculptures now largely exist as fragments, mainly heads, and it is thought that they may have been broken and buried as part of a ritual such as a ceremony to honour ancestors or a funeral. Sadly no written records exist to tell us more of Nok culture.

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A terracotta Nok sculpture from west Africa that is over two thousand years old

Sculptural attributes such as a seashell head decoration and a pharaoh’s crook positioned in an armlet suggest the Nok had a substantial trade network that resulted in cultural exchange stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to Egypt. The Romans’ answer to building a trade network was to invade neighbouring territories and expand their own empire. Rome grew from a small town to an imperial superpower that controlled vast swathes of the Mediterranean in the second century BCE. Appetite for sculpture in Rome was voracious. Over one million people lived in the city and there were sculptures everywhere: gods in the temples, Roman generals on street corners, portrait busts of Greek


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philosophers in homes and carved tombs by the roadsides. Sculptures were taken as war booty from every town conquered and were paraded through the streets of Rome in showy processions called Triumphs. Sculptors were commissioned to make marble replicas of the most celebrated Greek sculptures by Polykleitos and Praxiteles and these were shipped to Rome by the boatload. Plaster casts of famous works started to circulate so Roman artists could create further replicas – literally thousands of naked Aphrodites and Venuses survive and over sixty-five marble copies of Polykleitos’ bronze Doryphoros, a spear-thrower dating from the fifth century BCE, have been found. Wealthy Romans didn’t just have one or two sculptures in the atrium (entrance hall) of their homes but often had dozens and dozens of them lined up in the peristyle (courtyard) as well. As the Roman empire expanded it becomes harder to date sculpture. Why? For the Romans copying works and recycling earlier ideas was standard artistic practice. Everyone wanted to own Greek sculptures because the Romans much admired the Greek way of life, but there simply weren’t enough to go around. So copying them or creating new sculptures based on Greek originals was widespread. One work in particular gets to the nub of this difficulty: the Laocoön. This is a fantastic sculpture, full of energy and high drama. Three writhing male figures – the priest Laocoön and his twin sons – struggle to break free as giant sea snakes pin them down, mouths ready to bite. All the men are naked, their muscles contracted in fear. The central figure is Laocoön, sentenced to death by a vengeful god for trying to warn his besieged city of Troy not to accept the gift of a giant wooden horse. As Laocoön and his sons are attacked by the snakes, the belly of the horse opened and Greek soldiers swarmed out into Troy and won the war. The story of the Trojan wars had been around for centuries. (You will remember that Exekias the Greek vase painter was a big fan.) Homer’s Iliad recounted it in the eighth century BCE and the Roman poet Virgil updated it in the Aeneid (29–19 BCE), adding in the story of Laocoön for dramatic effect. For the Laocoön sculpture three artists from the Greek island of Rhodes – Hagesander, Polydorus

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and Athenodorus – translated the tale into marble, creating a turbulent, expressive masterpiece with stone transformed into straining flesh. The sculpture was acquired by the wealthy Roman commander (later emperor) Titus. His contemporary, Pliny the Elder, called it ‘a work superior to any painting and any bronze’. Today no-one can agree when the Laocoön was actually made. It looks similar in style to sculptures made in the third century BCE in Pergamum (now in Turkey but then considered part of Greece). Other specialists prefer to date it to the first century BCE.

The classical marble sculpture Laocoön, 200 BCE–100 CE


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Pliny named the three sculptors from Rhodes who made it and these three also seem to have made theatrical sculptures about the Trojan wars for Emperor Tiberius’ sumptuous seaside villa at Sperlonga. However, this would date the Laocoön to the first century CE. There’s no inscription on the sculpture itself and ultimately no way of knowing, even when stylistic comparisons are made with other works, because copying older styles was common practice. The one area where Roman artists didn’t lean on Greek art for inspiration was the sculpted portrait, known as a bust. Classical Greek sculpture depicted men as clean-shaven adolescents and women with wrinkle-free symmetrical faces. They were the supermodels of their day. By contrast the Romans favoured faces rich with age and experience, individual quirks represented by sticking-out ears, drooping jowls and doughy faces. The Head of a Roman Patrician from Otricoli from around 75–50 BCE features a protruding chin and sunken cheeks. His mouth is set firm but worries furrow his brow and shade his eyes. This style of sculpture was dubbed ‘verism’, from the Latin for ‘true’, but today we have no way of knowing if these portraits are any more true-to-life than the Greek heads. They were both representations of an ideal but for the Romans this was experience over youth, wisdom over innocence, dependability and stoicism over superficial beauty. Verism wasn’t just favoured by senators and military officers but also by tradesmen and artisans who had their own warts-and-all likenesses carved on their tombs. The only problem with verism was if you actually were still youthful, with little experience in body or mind. Such a problem was faced by Octavian, the great-nephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar who went on to become the first Roman Emperor Augustus aged thirty-two. There was no credible way he could have a likeness made of himself as old and wise, so he reverted to the Greek model of idealised youth. Throughout his forty-one-year reign sculptures of him were eternally youthful, his jaw clean-cut and beardless, his small fleshy mouth and unwrinkled eyes topped by thick locks of cropped hair. Busts of Augustus have been found across the Roman empire. A bronze head that dates to around 25 BCE was found in the Sudan in Africa and there are Egyptian

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busts with him wearing the headdress of a pharaoh. These busts stood in for him and represented his authority when he wasn’t there. A profile likeness appears on denarius coins minted in Spain in 20 BCE, so you could literally carry the emperor – his power and protection – around with you. Historically sculptures commissioned by aristocratic or ruling families such as Augustus’ were made of marble and bronze, robust materials that could outlive their patrons. For this reason the Italian towns of Herculaneum and Pompeii are an unusual and invaluable source for art historians. These cities were buried under some four to six metres of ash and pumice when Vesuvius, the nearby volcano, erupted in 79 CE, freezing in time all of city life, rich and poor. Excavations, begun in 1738, are still ongoing. The interiors of the excavated houses, with their mosaics based on Greek paintings and wall panels depicting myths, landscapes and architectural illusions, offer valuable insights into how art was folded into everyday life. We know from Pliny that painting was prized for its illusionism. Pompeii’s painters used trompe l’oeil liberally in villa interiors, painting plaster to look like marble, birds perching on fabric swags and views through windows. The central atrium was the first room visitors saw and it was like a stage set, with art and furnishings arranged to best convey each owner’s tastes and aspirations. Statues of Dionysus, the Greek god of pleasure, suggested you had ample leisure time; portrait galleries of Greek philosophers and Roman ancestors suggested a cultural heritage and an educated mind. Public rooms beyond the atrium often had mythological scenes or ceremonial rituals on the walls. In the Villa of the Mysteries one room is lined with wall paintings that show preparations for a wedding. Young women and men process through rooms thronged with gods associated with love and fertility including Dionysus and Eros. The large painted figures are solid and believable, adopting poses like Greek sculptures, and they appear to move in a shallow space in front of vivid red walls. This serves to propel them towards guests who enter the room, enveloping them as if they too were part of this mysterious ceremony.


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In the House of the Faun, one of the grandest of Pompeii’s houses, a Greek painting of Alexander the Great fighting King Darius of Persia was recreated as a mosaic covering the floor of a garden room. The mosaic measures 6 metres by 3 metres and originally comprised around 3 million tesserae, tiny cubes of stone in yellow, brown, white, black and grey from which the artist recreated the dynamic battle scene. It is the moment of Darius’ defeat and he turns to look back at Alexander as his men retreat, spears still pointed at the enemy. A horse struggles to break free from the soldier holding it, drawing us right into the heart of the action and revealing the skill of the artist at foreshortening (we see the horse’s rump and head as if from behind). This mosaic is the only known record of the original painting, which could have been either a fourth-century BCE celebrated depiction of the Battle of Issos by Helena of Egypt or a battle scene that Pliny mentioned in his checklist of Greek masterpieces. Either way it exists today solely in the form of this mosaic, preserved by chance by volcanic ash in 79 CE. By the time Vesuvius erupted, the Roman empire stretched from England to Africa, Spain to Turkey. When we rejoin it in 110 CE in the next chapter, it is nearing the height of its powers.

C HA P T E R 5

Paths to the Afterlife It is 110 CE and the Forum in Rome is a building site. Emperor

Trajan is determined to build the biggest meeting place for the senate and the people the city has ever seen, complete with a shopping centre, public meeting rooms, a large central square and two libraries (one for Greek texts, one for Latin). In the middle of all this a giant marble column has been erected, 35 metres tall, built from twenty-nine discs of Luna marble. It is being paid for by war booty and will eventually be topped with a bronze sculpture of Trajan himself. There’s a viewing platform reached by a spiral staircase hollowed out inside the column from which the whole of his new Forum can be seen. On the exterior, sculptors are carving a victorious account of Trajan’s recent military campaigns against the Dacians (Dacia is in present-day Romania). The frieze curls upwards around the column in low relief. The scenes are full of movement and the figures are very intricate. The soldiers come alive as they toil to cut trees in the forest or hammer nails into fortifications, the veins in 33


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their arms bulging, every plate in their armour flexing with the effort. The frieze is just over 1 metre high and 200 metres long – unravelled it would be as long as the one that wraps around the Parthenon in Athens. * This visualisation of military victory on an epic scale was not invented by the Romans but it was much used by them. Trajan’s Column was designed by the Forum’s architect, Apollodorus of Damascus, and the frieze spirals round it twenty-three times. At the beginning, horses, oxen, sheep, standard bearers, trumpeters and hundreds of soldiers pour through the city’s gates on the way to war. Trajan can be seen crossing the river Danube, his boats loaded with provisions to supply his army. His two campaigns are recorded in detail and the frieze ends with the suicide of the defeated Dacian leader Decebalus. Trajan appears fifty-nine times in total in a range of scenes, all of which show him in a good light and a little taller than his troops so you can pick him out more easily. There’s a vast amount of detail, so much so that modern historians can study the frieze for its depictions of Roman armour and weaponry. However, there is a major problem with studying the frieze in person: it’s hard to see. The libraries that Trajan built had windows looking out on to the column but it was still impossible to see the full relief. It was originally painted and the relief panels are slightly larger towards the top of the column, but ultimately much of the narrative is invisible from the ground, which is a real shame. As we have seen in Pompeii, wealthy Romans could afford to commission mosaics and sculptures to decorate their homes but Roman emperors went one step further. From Augustus onwards emperors competed with each other to build bigger and more impressive temples, meeting places and monuments. Augustus had built a forum in the heart of Rome, clad in marble and filled with sculptures. Trajan’s Forum, built one hundred years later, was three times the size. His column was the tallest in Rome when it was built. Why go to such extraordinary lengths? The column was a massive declaration of Trajan’s victory in battle and his success as an emperor. The many hours spent on the reliefs and the level of

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detail attested to the ability of Rome to achieve the (near) impossible. A heroic narrative and 1,100 tons of carved marble worked in tandem to confirm the power and strength of the Roman empire. It was also about immortality. Trajan’s Column became Trajan’s tomb. His ashes were buried in the base of the column and his exploits in Dacia became a fitting memorial. The column was probably completed by the next emperor, Hadrian, and he would have been happy to keep funding the project as he was now in charge of Trajan’s powerful and strong empire, so the column made him look pretty good too. Hadrian did some impressive building himself in Rome – the Pantheon was erected during his reign. However, Hadrian’s summer palace in the hills outside the city was his ultimate artistic legacy. Built between 110 and 130 CE and modestly called Hadrian’s Villa, it covered an area twice the size of Pompeii and could house his entire administration and staff as well as many guests. Its fame rests on the concentration of sculpture amassed there by Hadrian. The villa showcased the greatest hits of Greek and Roman art, sometimes with multiple copies of the same sculpture. Sculptures we have come across before were there, including a copy of Praxiteles’ Aphrodite housed in a replica of her circular temple. Away from their original context many sculptures were lined up as if in a modern-day art gallery, gathered to be looked at and admired. Polykleitos’ muscly spearthrower Doryphorus was housed in the Villa’s baths. A copy of Myron’s popular Discobolus (discus-thrower, originally fifth century BCE) was also displayed at the Villa, grouped with other sculptures from different locations and time periods. Hadrian mixed his prized Greek copies with contemporary portraits of his young lover Antinous. Antinous appeared naked and styled like Greek and Egyptian gods. He had drowned in the river Nile in Egypt before he was twenty and Hadrian, distraught with grief, made him a god. Ultimately Hadrian’s sculptural display was a giant memorial to Antinous. Another form of memorial was portraiture, the capturing of a person’s likeness for posterity. Portraiture remained popular throughout the Roman empire and statues were often erected to celebrate the funding of public buildings and edifices. A


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Roman marble sculpture of the powerful Plancia Magna, 121 CE

larger-than-life sculpture of Plancia Magna was erected in the Roman town of Perge (now in Turkey) in 121 CE, marking her generosity in substantially refurbishing the main city gates. Magna’s family were Roman citizens who had moved to Perge several generations earlier. They still participated in the senate in Rome but were now also members of the Perge elite. The sculpture shows Magna dressed in fine fabrics that gather in delicate folds, indicating her wealth. She wears a diadem decorated with tiny busts of

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Roman emperors. This shows she was a priestess of the imperial cult, a form of state religion where the emperor was worshipped as a God. The sculpture’s inscription says she was a daughter of the city and worked for the good of its people. She was also the highest-ranking government official and a powerful figure in Perge and this sculpture underlined her importance to the town. Sadly many women died prematurely in childbirth, the biggest cause of death for young women in Rome at this time. They were commemorated on tomb sculptures that lined the roads beyond the city’s walls. On merchants’ tombstones across the empire women were often depicted in active roles, selling vegetables, working as midwives or seated alongside a chest of money to show they were directly involved in trade. A tombstone from the northeast of England was commissioned by Barates, originally from Palmyra (now in Syria), when his English wife Regina, a former slave, died aged thirty. She sits in a carved niche, her arms jangling with bracelets, her fingers opening a heavy box used for storing jewellery and personal wealth. She and Barates were clearly rich, as this elaborate full-length tombstone attests. The inscription below her is in both Latin and Aramaic, Barates’ own language, and reads ‘Regina, freedwoman of Barates, alas’. The Romans worshipped many gods, like the Greeks, but as their empire expanded they came into contact with other belief systems. In Faiyum cemetery in Egypt – part of the Roman empire – the bodies were preserved following Egyptian custom but the traditional mummy mask was replaced with a lifelike portrait of the deceased, painted on wooden panels. The Faiyum portraits were painted in encaustic (pigment mixed with beeswax), and recorded the glint of gold earrings and necklaces, rich red robes and fashionably curled hair. Pale faces glow with life, quick brushstrokes adding colour to lips and amber light to almond eyes. The importance of ancestors to Roman families may have contributed to this new portrait tradition, which only became established in Egypt after the country was absorbed into the Roman empire in 30 BCE. These portraits are now very valuable for art historians as they are the only panel paintings to survive from the ancient world.


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At the same time as the Faiyum portraits were painted, in Teotihuacan (now in Mexico), the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent gave Mesoamericans direct access to their own underworld. Giant snake heads lined the pyramid’s façade, each weighing more than four tons, brightly painted to intimidate any who approached. Teotihuacan was the most important city in Mesoamerica 2,000 years ago, with a population that peaked at 150,000. The Aztecs later called it ‘The birthplace of the gods’ and made pilgrimages to the city’s ruins. However, the Aztecs didn’t have access to what lay beneath the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent because its underground entrance was blocked off around 225 CE. This passageway, rediscovered in 2003, is lined with thousands of offerings to the gods and stretches over one hundred metres. At the end is a miniature mountainous scene, complete with three tiny lakes filled with mercury. Shards of mica are embedded in the tunnel’s ceiling and walls. In torchlight the mica sparkles, transforming the roof into the night sky. Was this immersive experience a powerful evocation of the underworld, connected as it was to other important temples by the Avenue of the Dead? The hieroglyphics found in Teotihuacan cannot yet be understood and much about the people and artists who lived there remains a mystery. Fragments of stylised bird and animal paintings once decorated homes and public spaces and large sculptures of gods adorned the pyramids. The Great Goddess, found near the Pyramid of the Moon, is the largest sculpture discovered in the city. The blocky water goddess has a simplified face but her clothes are highly patterned and intricate, suggesting the fabric had symbolic value. In Mesoamerica and South America textiles were a central component of artistic culture. Textiles from Paracas in Peru were highly prized and incredibly detailed, taking thousands of hours to produce. Women embroidered each funerary mantle or cloth collaboratively and these could reach up to 10 metres in length. Textiles today are not always recognised as art but for Peruvians at this time they were the most prized cultural objects. The bodies of community leaders were encased in many such mantles when they died. The more intricate the pattern, the more highly prized they

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Block colour mantle from Paracas, Peru, around 100–200 CE

were, as time had literally been woven into it to honour the deceased ruler. ‘Linear’ style, which used straight lines and only a few colours, made way for the later ‘block colour’ style where overlapping stitches created solid areas of colour and more complex curved outlines. The popular flying shaman design looks very modern to our eyes with its motif of the witch doctor repeated in varying colours as they freefall across the material. Each shaman’s head is thrown back, hair streaming, as if they are being propelled by a greater force. Some Paracas designs became purposefully abstract, preceding Western abstraction by more than a millennium. Further south, at Nasca in Peru, a more experiential set of artworks now called geoglyphs were produced. Over a 700-year period, long lines were scratched into the land between the Nasca and Ingenio rivers. The dark rocks that covered the plain gave way to a much paler layer around 30 centimetres below the surface. Lines could be created by raking away the dark rocks and the lack of rain in the area means they have remained visible to this day. Some stretch 20 kilometres in a straight line while others curve and meander into the shapes of animals and people hundreds of metres wide. They are impossible to see unless you are airborne, so why did the Nasca make them? They could never see them in their


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entirety. Perhaps they had to be experienced instead? All the designs were made using a single line so it is thought there was a ritual aspect to them, a route to be walked as a group as part of a water or fertility ceremony. Radiating paths which start from cairns dotted across the plain could have guided people to various motifs: a lizard, a monkey with a spiral tail, a hummingbird with a wingspan greater than a jumbo jet. Ultimately we cannot know if the Nasca lines had a spiritual purpose, but religion was increasingly at the heart of art in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, as we will see in the next chapter.

C HA P T E R 7

Storm Clouds Gather It is 726 CE. Darkness has fallen and it is time for the ceremony to

begin. The Maya king, Shield Jaguar II, is about to enter a new temple and dedicate it to his favourite wife, Lady K’ab’al Xook. This is the first temple built at Yaxchilan (in modern-day Mexico) for 150 years. Shield Jaguar II is hoping it will breathe new life into the region and reassert his power. He has ruled for forty-five years and K’ab’al Xook has been his loyal supporter, appeasing the gods when necessary to ensure his reign and his people’s survival. The gods need blood to live so prisoners have to be sacrificed regularly. At times only royal blood will do – K’ab’al Xook took part in a bloodletting ritual by pulling a rope barbed with shards of obsidian (volcanic glass) through her tongue. This act is now recorded in stone, carved into three intricate limestone panels that have been placed above the temple’s doors. The panels took sculptors three years to complete and have been painted in vibrant greens, reds and yellows. The sculptors have done an exceptional job capturing all the details of K’ab’al Xook’s 48

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richly embroidered cloak, her sun-god medallion, even the blood spurting over her cheeks. She shows no emotion as she does her royal duty. * The panels from this temple, known today as Structure 23, are now in the British Museum in London and the Museo Nacional de Antropologia in Mexico City. The paint has flaked off and they no longer mark the entrance to a sacred temple, yet they retain their intense power. In the first panel the king stands wearing an ornate headdress and jewellery, holding a flaming torch above K’ab’al Xook to light the scene. She kneels and feeds the barbed rope through her extended tongue. In the next panel she sits on the floor, head thrown back in a trance, holding a basket of paper that has absorbed the blood from her tongue. (There was a lot of blood – another basket sits on the floor nearby.) From the blood sprouts a double-headed serpent, at one end disgorging the storm god Chac and at the other an illustrious ancestor, armed for battle.

Carved limestone panel from Yaxchilan, Mexico, 723–6 CE


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Mayan hieroglyphics in each panel connect this ancestor to Shield Jaguar II, affirming his royal blood and providing the dates of his reign and of this blood-letting event. In the third panel we see K’ab’al Xook giving her husband a shield and a jaguar mask, the attributes of his name and with which he enforces his right to rule. These superbly detailed and intricate carvings influenced the wall paintings of nearby Bonampak, the last cultural flourishing of the Maya civilisation. The paintings were completed sixty-five years later and stretch across the walls and ceilings of three rooms in a modest temple. They are dedicated to Shield Jaguar IV of Yaxchilan, and place Bonampak at the service of the region’s ancestral king. They make lavish use of an expensive, luminous blue paint made from indigo (a plant dye) and ground azurite (an expensive mineral) and many of the painted eyes were originally inset with precious stones. On the walls of the first room there’s a party going on. Wealthy Maya in white cloaks queue up to present gifts to the royal family while three young lords in feathered costumes dance to turtle-shell drums. In the second a battle erupts and fighting fills the room. On the wall surrounding the entrance it is clear who has won – the victorious Maya warriors in leopard-skin cloaks and headdresses stand at the top of a flight of steps while their captured prisoners lie scalped or with blood dripping from their fingers, all their fingernails having been ripped out. Room three seems to be a return to the party with the feathered lords once again displaying their fantastical costumes, but up near the ceiling a royal woman is involved in blood-letting, a rope through her tongue like K’ab’al Xook, perhaps to mark the victory and pay tribute to the gods. There’s no natural light in these rooms and the doorways were originally covered by curtains. In the gloom you would feel these figures mass around you as you became one with them: paying tribute, fighting and honouring the gods. The end of life at Bonampak must have been swift. The paintings are dated 791 CE but a quarter of the hieroglyphs remain unfinished, suggesting work suddenly halted. It seems as if the next war didn’t go

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their way and the site was abandoned, covered by rainforest for over one thousand years until it was rediscovered in 1946. Different civilisations adopted different belief systems and religions but all turned to art as a means of glorifying their god or gods. In India and Southeast Asia multiple gods were worshipped by Hindus. Rock temples continued to be constructed and at Ellora, in Maharashtra, India, caves were variously dedicated to Hindu, Buddhist and Jain gods. The most celebrated Hindu cave at Ellora doesn’t look like a cave at all. It was carved from the rock both externally and internally so it stands proud of the cliff-face like a temple built of stone rather than carved from it. Kailasa temple, begun in 775 CE, is over 30 metres tall and is dedicated to Shiva, one of the three main Hindu gods (along with Vishnu and Brahma). Vast narrative reliefs relay the epic story cycles of the Mahabharata and Ramayana. Shiva appears in multiple guises, destroying three cities in one large relief on the gateway, stepping on a demon at the entrance and appearing as an ascetic, abstaining from worldly pleasures, in the central shrine. Shiva’s multiple appearances emphasise his importance (just like the fifty-nine Trajans who crop up on the emperor’s column in Rome). All the sculptures and reliefs on the Kailasa temple would have been painted, an overwhelming feast for the devout eye. The religions of India spread to Southeast Asia through trade routes and led to the building of vast temple complexes. Near Yogyakarta in central Java is Borobodur, the largest religious complex in Indonesia. Built around 800 CE it offered a visual account of the teachings of Mahayana Buddhism. It was also a statement of power by the ruling Buddhist family, the Shailendras. Each side of the square base is 123 metres long and it was built in three tiers to represent the three Buddhist divisions of the universe on the path to nirvana. Relief sculptures stretch two and a half kilometres around eight levels of terraces depicting the life of Buddha and scenes from his earlier incarnations. Over 400 seated Buddha sculptures are displayed in niches or at prayer overlooking the Kedu plain below while further sculptures adorn the upper levels, hidden by stupas (bell-shaped coverings for religious objects).


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The imagery that covers Borobodur and the Kailasa temple reinforces and celebrates religious belief. In Constantinople however a rift was developing between those who believed Christian figurative art had an important role to play in bringing the Bible and its characters to life and those who distrusted ‘icon’ paintings of Christ and the Virgin Mary. These two camps were known as the Iconophiles and the Iconoclasts. The Iconophiles were art enthusiasts led by icon-loving monks. The Iconoclasts were icon haters and were led by successive Byzantine emperors. In the eighth century CE, fearing that idols were being worshipped as equal in importance to God, Leo III decreed that religious imagery was banned throughout the Byzantine empire. Iconophiles disagreed. They argued that these images allowed for a deeper understanding of God, that they were a conduit or link between God and the people. These arguments for and against religious imagery rumbled on for over one hundred years. Throughout this period Iconoclasm destroyed many religious icons and works of art, with mosaic images of Christ scraped off walls and replaced with simple crosses. In 843 CE the argument was finally won by the Iconophiles and the worship of icons was permitted in the Byzantine empire once more. This dispute over images was not entered into by the Pope in Rome. The Pope appointed a new emperor, Charlemagne, to head the Holy Roman empire, further severing ties to Constantinople and the Byzantine empire. Charlemagne ruled from Aachen, now on the western border of Germany. In this region church imagery was not hampered by Byzantine iconoclasm – quite the reverse. Life-size sculptures of Christ on the cross now began to be displayed above altars. One such example is the Gero Crucifix, from around 960–70 CE. It is an oak crucifixion commissioned by archbishop Gero for Cologne Cathedral. Christ is nailed to a simple gilded cross, arms outstretched and raised above shoulder height, his body straining beneath, knees sagging. Up to this point crucifixion sculptures had shown Christ smiling through death but this Christ is suffering – head down, eyes closed, mouth drooping. The veins in his arms bulge with

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Gero Crucifix in Cologne Cathedral, around 960–70 CE. The dazzling golden background is a later addition

effort and his stomach is swollen. While the physical likeness is not as naturalistic as Greek sculpture, for example, we feel every inch of this man’s pain. He may be divine, as the halo tells us, but he suffers like a human. The Gero Crucifix is one of the first fully rounded sculptural figures on this scale since late classical times and marked the beginning of a new era for expressive church sculpture.


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At this time other cultures were also creating art centred around death and resurrection. The Great Serpent Mound in modern-day Ohio, America, is a giant raised earthwork in the form of a snake. It formed the backdrop to Native American funerary rituals and provided a meeting place for people to gather from far afield, to socialise and to trade. At Bura in the Niger valley, Africa, female potters created grave markers that spanned the first and second millennia. Over one hundred burial urns have been found featuring warriors on horseback and bulbous heads with slits for eyes and scarified cheeks and foreheads. These figures are symbolic, not naturalistic, an approach also seen in the illuminated manuscripts and stained glass of medieval Christian churches. While much art stemmed from or celebrated religious beliefs at this time, fine examples survive of secular (non-religious) art. Ivory had been used for art for centuries by the time the court artists of Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain) started crafting it into intricate royal gifts in the tenth century CE. The artists of Al-Andalus used ivory from African elephants’ tusks imported from Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Valuable tusks were transported along the eastern coast of Africa by sea then overland to Egypt where they were traded in Cairo. Caskets, jewellery boxes and perfume cases were carved from this strong and smooth material. Although many of the luxury ivory objects created during this time fall into the category of decorative arts rather than ‘art’ proper, the astonishing Pyxis of al-Mughira shows the level of skill ivory relief sculptors could achieve. Carved in 968 CE, the Pyxis is a cylindrical box with a domed lid made to store silver perfume flasks. It was given to al-Mughira, the son of the caliph (ruler), on his eighteenth birthday. It was carved in the capital Córdoba and is incredibly intricate, covered in small figures and animals, birds and foliage, the surface teeming with detail. The ivory has been carefully worked using a drill so the tiny figures stand out almost in the round. In the central panel two men on horseback pick dates from a palm tree, reminding the teenage owner of his ancestral Umayyad home in modern-day Syria.

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Boxes such as the Pyxis of al-Mughira featured scenes from the ‘princely cycle’, a story of courtly leisure and entertainment first used in Islamic art during the Umayyad caliphate, when the Umayyad dynasty ruled the Muslim world. By the tenth century CE the Umayyad caliphate was a distant memory – the Abbasid dynasty had seized control in 750 CE. Only in Al-Andalus had the Umayyad dynasty clung on to power. In the next chapter we will see the ‘princely cycle’ used again, but on a far grander scale, as art is put to work in the service of kings and conquerors.

C HA P T E R 8

The Art of Propaganda It is 1077 CE and Bishop Odo is preparing to consecrate his new

cathedral in Bayeux, northern France. He has commissioned an embroidery for the occasion and it is now on display. It stretches over 70 metres, nearly the whole length of the cathedral. Eleven years earlier Odo had fought alongside his half-brother William in the Battle of Hastings. The embroidery tells the epic tale of the 1066 battle, a fight between William, Duke of Normandy, and the English King Harold, for the right to rule England. When the French won, Odo’s reward was the English county of Kent. He used the county’s revenues to help pay for his cathedral and had the Kent nuns make the embroidery. Ten different colours were used, made by dyeing the wool with madder roots for red and woad plants for blue. Odo walks down the length of the embroidery, reading the Latin text that narrates the Norman account of Harold’s treachery and his comeuppance at the hands of William the Conqueror. Odo can see the men cutting down trees to build William’s fleet and the way 56

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they take off their shoes and hose (leggings) when climbing into the boats so as not to get them wet. He can see them carrying chain mail to the boats in France and then the soldiers riding to battle in England wearing it, every circle carefully stitched to follow the body’s contours. It is all there – the way Harold died in battle, an arrow through his eye; the way the Norman boats had Viking figureheads to show their ancestry; the masses of dead on both sides who spill out of the main tapestry into the decorative friezes that edge the linen sheets. There are over 600 men and women and 200 horses. As Odo walks along its length the battle rages with spears, swords and arrows flashing, horses falling, soldiers dying. They all move diagonally to give the embroidery real pace, and Odo feels as if he is on the battlefield once again. * The Bayeux Tapestry, as this embroidery is now known, is a powerful piece of propaganda. It recounts the battle squarely through Norman eyes. Propaganda means there’s a bias to information you are given, usually of a political nature. In this case the battle was embroidered in a way that favoured the invading Normans. It is also a masterpiece of medieval information and artistic construction and a rare secular survivor from the eleventh century. Another example of secular art, this time from Japan, also shows how restrictions placed on artists could shape the final work. The Tales of Genji, written around 1010 CE by Lady Murasaki Shikibu, is thought of as the world’s first novel. Its fifty-four chapters deal with contemporary life and romance in the Japanese court and it was much copied. The earliest known illustrated version covered twenty scrolls and was finished in 1130 CE. Only fragments survive today. The calligraphy was written by men but the paintings were completed by women at court who had significant influence over cultural life in Japan during the Heian period. There’s no action in the paintings as expressing emotion was frowned upon by the court at this time. Instead the characters appear poised for the story’s next twist and turn, with only the tiniest indicators – the colour of their clothes, the placement of screens in a room – giving the reader clues as to how they are feeling.


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Scrolls were intimate, personal works of art. They would be contemplated at leisure while you were seated at a table, a single scroll partially unrolled in front of you. As you moved through the narrative you would roll up the scroll on the right and unroll a little more on the left, following the story as the scene unfolded in front of you. The paintings in The Tales of Genji show the world from above, as if you are looking down and seeing everything that is going on, reminiscent of the innovative approach to landscape painting seen in the Mogao Caves in China in the sixth century CE. Japanese art was heavily influenced by Chinese painting, although certain periods in its history – such as the Heian period – show far greater independence of style. The Tales of Genji is full of colour in contrast to the monochrome landscapes popular in China at this time. Japanese painting was laborious though, with various stages of colour application, reapplied outlines and objects picked out in gold foil. As we have already seen, art could also help religions assert their ideologies, or set of beliefs. Since the definitive end of Iconoclasm, icons had reasserted themselves as an integral part of Eastern Christianity. Icons were believed to derive from ancient portraits of the Virgin Mary and Christ by the gospel writers themselves. They had been repeatedly copied ever since using traditional methods, each timeless version supposedly recreating the original true likeness. Over time this led to the stylisation of features and a flattening of the body, similar to the saints in the Lindisfarne Gospels. Goldleaf backgrounds, like those used for religious mosaics, further reduced any sense of naturalism, causing the icons to shimmer with divine light. They also ensured the holy figures existed on the surface, accessible to churchgoers who could touch and kiss the icons as a way of connecting with the Virgin or Christ. They could also be paraded around the streets to raise church funds. The Virgin of Vladimir, dated 1131 CE, is the most famous icon painting in existence. It is a depiction of the Virgin and Child and the faithful believe it is based on St Luke’s original version. Early icons were often painted in encaustic, like Roman funerary portraits, but the Virgin of Vladimir is painted in tempera. Tempera

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The Virgin of Vladimir icon by an anonymous artist, 1131 CE

is made by mixing pigment with egg yolk to create a fast-drying paint. It had been used alongside the slower-drying encaustic in classical times but by now nearly all panels were painted in tempera. There’s no sense that the unknown artist of the Virgin of Vladimir was trying to create a lifelike woman and child. Christ has a disproportionately tiny head and blocky body and both are clothed in highly stylised drapery. Yet there is a tenderness between the pair, whose faces touch cheek to cheek, and the Virgin’s sad expression hints at what is to come for her only son. This icon functions as a conduit to that story, an entry point, and was venerated for this reason. It was made in Constantinople and gifted to the city of Kiev in Russia, a political as much as a religious gift to cement Russia’s choice of Eastern Orthodox Christianity as the state religion. The icon was soon moved to the city of Vladimir and has been the


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subject of many subsequent copies. Byzantine artists were also employed in Saint Sophia, Kiev’s cathedral, to create Orthodox mosaics, just as they were in the basilica of Torcello in Venice. Art, religion and power were bound together in the expertise of these artists and the ambitions of the Orthodox church, which had finally and decisively split from the Pope and the Catholic church in the ‘Great Schism’ of 1053 CE. While Orthodox Christianity was asserting itself in Russia, Islam had extended its reach throughout the southern Mediterranean, with major Islamic cities established in Egypt, the Maghreb (northern Africa), Spain and Sicily. However, the Normans wrestled Sicily and southern Italy back from Islamic rule. They did not reject Islamic traditions but wove them into their own inclusive culture. The Cappella Palatina, built by the Norman King Roger II in Palermo, Sicily, is an outstanding example of this. The cathedral was begun in 1132 CE and took just eight years to build. Gold mosaics of St John and the founding fathers of the church were added to the walls while one thousand paintings of Roger and his family covered the ceiling. What makes this building surprising and unique is that the ceiling is an Islamic muqarnas ceiling, an intricate honeycomb of wooden shapes and facets. It is the most complex Islamic ceiling remaining from this period. In a cathedral dedicated to Christ and trumpeting the power of the Normans, Roger II chose to fuse Italian architecture with lavish Byzantine mosaics and top it with an Islamic tour de force. The ceiling is very high. If we use strong binoculars we can just make out individual paintings of Roger and his court playing chess and hunting game, jousting and wrestling, taking part in dances and processions. The painted figures that cover the wooden ceiling appear similar to those in Christian stained glass and illuminated manuscripts, as well as secular Islamic art, with their large almond eyes and stylised bodies. The many activities they pursue come from the Islamic ‘princely cycle’, last seen on the Pyxis of al-Mughira in Spain. Roger’s use of this well-known Islamic theme for his cathedral was crafty. The painted ceiling exists to show the integration of diverse cultures in Norman Sicily, where Christianity was the official

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religion but Arabic was the language of the court. The fusion of styles and themes suggests that all cultures have been integrated by Roger and now all glorify his right and power to rule. Christian mosaics hold up the Islamic ceiling, as if Christianity is strong enough to acknowledge and support the coexistence of Islam. Individual religious figures also used art to express persuasive new ideas. Christian monks and nuns endlessly copied illuminated biblical manuscripts for churches, cathedrals and the libraries of wealthy patrons. By the twelfth century illuminated books were being made that expressed religious ideas interwoven with new thoughts about the cosmos and mysticism. A notable example is the Scivias by Hildegard of Bingen. Completed in 1152 CE it is an illustrated account of twenty-six of her visions. Hildegard was an influential Benedictine nun from the Rupertsberg convent in

A page from Hildegard of Bingen’s Scivias, showing Hildegard receiving God’s visions, 1142–52 CE


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Germany, a convent she had founded. She came from a noble family and was well connected. She corresponded with the King of England and the Empress of Greece; the Pope himself affirmed that the visions she had had since childhood were genuine and divine. In the Scivias she framed Christianity through mysticism, exploring the power of womanhood in her paintings of giant winged women that represented Ecclesia, the mother church, and Synagoga, the synagogue. She saw herself as a prophet, communicating through her visions. Hildegard’s paintings did not follow the Egyptian method of figure painting, a splicing together of standard elements – an eye, a foot – based on prior knowledge of the human form. Nor did she follow the Greeks and study nature closely, carefully painting what was seen. Instead she painted what she felt and experienced, creating a version of God’s realm that was supernatural and not based on our world. Forms did not have to be lifelike so long as the sentiment she wished to express was conveyed. In the Scivias Hildegard depicted her supernatural visions coming down into her mind like tentacles of fire from heaven. She painted herself with her drawing block, seated in church. The visions entered her and she drew them instinctively, as though guided by the hand of God. Her scribe, Volmar, appears next to her, taking down her words to form the accompanying text. Thirty-five versions of the Scivias still exist and Hildegard was a powerful voice within the church, writing and illustrating several books and over sixty hymns. The Scivias was copied and circulated but access was necessarily limited, as every book produced had to be laboriously copied out by hand. At the other end of the scale stood the Pope’s new cathedrals, giant public statements of power by the Catholic church.

C HA P T E R 9

Masons, Moai and Materials It is early morning in northern France in 1219 CE. Twenty stone-

masons gather in their lodge, a makeshift shelter where they eat and huddle around a fire to keep warm before they start work. They are part of a 200-strong team, who are working on Chartres Cathedral. They are rebuilding it in the new style first seen in Abbot Suger’s church at Saint-Denis, 80 kilometres away. It has taken over twenty-five years and is nearly finished. Inside the cathedral different teams are installing vast windows along the nave. They are creating pictures out of glass pieces stained various colours, with blue for God’s kingdom of heaven and red for Christ’s blood. The light seeping through the finished windows purples the interior and illuminates the stories depicted – the lives of the saints, of Christ, of the Virgin Mary. Other workers are painting the interior walls a vibrant sunflower yellow, filling the cathedral with radiance despite the overcast day. The stonemasons are working on the north portal, carving sculptures to decorate the ornate entrance. Overall, there are to be 63


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1,800 sculptures in the cathedral, some placed so high that they are no longer visible to the masons who made them. These have not been carved for human eyes but for God and contribute to the building as a whole, a statement of Christianity’s power and presence. The masons who created the sculptures for the cathedral have been commemorated in one of the windows. At the bottom of the window celebrating St Cheron, masons can be seen, hammers and chisels in hand, cutting stone and working on sculptures. * If twelfth-century Christian art had been about conveying the symbolic and supernatural power of God and his team of saints and angels then the thirteenth century saw a steady return to depicting flesh and blood and rooting figures back in the real world. God was no longer to be feared but to be understood. Chartres Cathedral is one of the best examples of the new Gothic style. This style saw sculpture, stained glass and architecture all working together to create a single soaring edifice that celebrated God’s glory. These vast light-filled churches shed the solid stony weight of their Romanesque predecessors in favour of walls made of glass and pointed archways that directed the eye towards heaven. Gothic sculpture spread across Europe in the first half of the thirteenth century, filling ever-taller Gothic cathedrals. Larger and larger sculptures of saints and prophets were brought to life as masons increasingly carved them standing free of the pillars or panels that supported them, as seen on the Chartres portals. Not all sculptures at Chartres were of divine figures. Around the outer edge of the north portal are twelve sculptures of women. Six stack up on each side of the entrance arch and show women reading prayer books and washing, carding and winding wool. The sculptures of the women at work are particularly animated – we can see the effort needed to tease the wool into strands. One woman sits with her legs apart for balance, her hands forcefully dragging combs through the wool, her body twisting with the effort. These women represent God’s flock and are shown in quiet devotion and at work. They seem to ‘pop’ out of the architecture, defying gravity as they curve around the pointed entrance arch. We

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don’t know who carved these sculptures because Gothic art production was rarely about a single named individual and was completed by a large anonymous team. Chartres is a Gothic masterpiece, retaining much of its original sculpture and stained glass. Having the best materials to work with was of fundamental importance for artists. In Europe art was squarely in the service of God and the finest materials were sourced to create it: marble from Italian quarries, ivory and gold from southern and west Africa. Gold had long been used in Europe and the Middle East for Byzantine mosaics and it entered Europe through the trade markets in Egypt, supplied by camel trains that crossed the Sahara desert or by sea from Tanzania and Mozambique. Gold was traded by African nations for necessities (salt) and luxuries (glass beads) but it was also used by them to create their own art. In this chapter we will see how different societies sourced local and imported materials for their artists. Gold was prized in southern Africa but traded in west Africa for the more robust copper. In Rapa Nui in Polynesia different coloured stone was quarried from two separate sites at opposite ends of the island to create colossal standing figures. In the Middle East gold and expensive pigments were used for manuscript paintings, while in China less was more and the blank page on which an artist worked had as much importance as the drawing upon it. Mapungubwe, close to the modern border of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana, was a city of great wealth in the thirteenth century. Around the time Chartres was being completed in limestone, artists in Mapungubwe were using gold to create sculptures of high-status animals including an ox, a wild cat and a rhinoceros. Each animal has a wooden core around which beaten gold was moulded and pinned in place. These were buried in royal graves alongside gold crowns and sceptres, all conveying the ruler’s power and wealth. In west Africa at Ife, the spiritual capital of the Yoruba people and now in modern-day Nigeria, artists preferred to work in terracotta, brass and copper. They used trans-Saharan trade routes to sell locally sourced gold in order to obtain stronger metals from


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Bronze head of the Ooni, from Ife, west Africa, around seven hundred years old

north Africa for their sculptures. The city’s spiritual leader, the Ooni, is thought to be portrayed in many of the brass heads that date from around the same time as the Mapungubwe animals. Several of the heads have ceremonial scars, with narrow incised vertical lines following the contours of the forehead, eyes and cheeks, down the bridge of the nose and under the lips. The lines draw our gaze down the face towards the Ooni’s mouth, emphasising his full, symmetrical lips. The Ooni’s eyes look out with a tranquil steady gaze. An ornate crown, originally painted red, rests on the high forehead of one sculpture. Other examples have rows of holes around the hairline suggesting beaded hair may have been added. Some of the heads have holes at regular intervals around the mouth and chin as well, perhaps for a beaded beard or a veil to cover the mouth of the divine leader. Thousands of kilometres west of Africa, on a small and remote Polynesian island named Rapa Nui (also known as Easter Island), another culture was producing sculptures of important ancestors and leaders. These were not delicate likenesses cast in metal but were vast blocky figures called moai, hewn out of volcanic stone quarries and ‘walked’ across the hillsides to their various coastal destinations by

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using ropes to rock them from side to side. The giant stone figures – some measuring over 10 metres tall and weighing 80 tons – were hoisted on to specially built platforms. With their backs to the sea these grey stone giants gazed inwards, some topped with giant red stone topknots that had been carved in a different quarry and added once the figure was completed. Despite being produced over six centuries they are surprisingly consistent in style, with sharp jutting chins, deep-set eyes, long earlobes and wide noses. Their bodies are highly simplified with protruding nipples and belly buttons, arms carved pinned to their sides and hands resting under their stomachs. Altogether 125 moai stand along the coast on Rapa Nui but hundreds of others lie in and around the quarry site of Rano Raraku, and there are nearly 900 in total. White eyes made of coral with black obsidian pupils were added to bring them to life, possibly for important ceremonies. If people gathered around the front of the figures they would experience the moai framed against a backdrop of breaking surf and rolling seas. The original islanders most probably came in boats from South America 1,000 years earlier across this watery mass, bringing with them their knowledge and traditions of monumental stone carving. Costly materials were employed by painters who worked in book illumination centres in the cities of Mosul and Baghdad in modern-day Iraq. Until the destruction of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258 CE, Islamic workshops produced renowned illuminated manuscripts of secular texts including the Maqamah (Assemblies). This collection of humorous stories, written by Abu Muhammad al Qasim ibn Ali al-Hariri in the eleventh century, recounted the adventures of the rogue Abu Zayd. The most celebrated illustrated version is by Yahya ibn Mahmud al-Wasiti and dates from 1237 CE. Al-Wasiti worked on parchment made from animal skin using bright colours and costly gold leaf. Ninety-nine paintings – some so large they spanned two pages – brought the stories to life. We see chickens on the roof of a mosque during prayer and a camel’s teeth about to bite. Figures cluster together in the shade while drinking and listening to music while others throng a bridge to try and witness the burial of a plague victim. There are slave markets


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and campsites and processions of pilgrims heading to Mecca. There are fights and discussions and marital disputes. It is for his attention to detail and his contemporary Islamic figures full of personality that the book is held in such high esteem today, but at the time its expensive materials and the number of illustrations would have also marked it out as a particularly lavish volume. Mongols from Mongolia invaded the Middle East and China and destroyed much that went before them, razing towns such as Baghdad to the ground and killing thousands. Artists were sometimes exempt from the genocide. Those in Baghdad for example were forcibly removed to Mongolia to work for their new master. China succumbed to Mongol rule in the 1270s. Painting flourished in the new court and Chinese artists were tolerated but initially Mongol taste was for colourful portraits and ornate sculptures rather than the quiet contemplative monochrome landscapes of the Chinese literati. The literati had been in existence for a thousand years by the time the Mongols invaded, but ironically it was during the Mongol reign that this movement came to dominate Chinese painting. The highly regarded literati were well educated and often worked as government officials. In their spare time they strove to excel in poetry, calligraphy and painting. Perhaps because of time constraints certain literati dedicated their lives to painting only one particular subject, such as blossoming plum trees, regional birds or groves of bamboo. Many of the literati initially lost their court positions under the Mongols. They retreated to country houses where they could paint uninterrupted. One such artist was Zhao Mengfu (1254–1322), who worked on landscape paintings in his birthplace of Wuxing (now Huzhou) for ten years following the Mongol conquest. In 1286 CE, however, Zhao was persuaded to join the Yuan (Mongol) administration as a high-ranking official and from then on he had to juggle his government commitments with his passion for painting and poetry. He maintained friendships with artists and scholars and formed his own art collection. Perhaps he even discussed art with Marco Polo, the Italian merchant and explorer who overlapped with Zhao in the Mongol court of Kublai Khan for four years.

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Detail of Guan Daosheng’s scroll painting Bamboo Groves in Mist and Rain, 1308 CE

In the year Zhao returned to court he married for the second time. His new wife was Guan Daosheng (1262–1319), a successful artist who experienced support and patronage from both men and women in the Mongol court. The two artists frequently worked together on poetry, calligraphy and paintings and Guan was well known for her landscapes such as Bamboo Groves in Mist and Rain, from 1308 CE. In this scroll painting, feathery shoots of bamboo sprout alongside a river. A low-lying fog obscures half the bamboo, created by leaving a swathe of the scroll blank to suggest a dense white mist hovering above the river. Guan invented the tradition of painting bamboo on riverbanks, and her spare evocations of bamboo groves, water and atmospheric conditions in black ink would unfurl as the viewer slowly unrolled a scroll from right to left. The literati would load meaning into their delicate monochrome landscapes and Guan’s repeated use of bamboo as her main subject was seen as embodying the Confucian desire for endurance, to bend without breaking, particularly during the challenging rule of the Mongol invaders. Guan’s style remained influential up to the twentieth century. Chinese art was deeply rooted in tradition and until recently much value was placed on the continuation of styles and themes. In Europe, medieval symbolism had dominated for nearly one thousand years. But this was all about to change as a generation of artists made a full-scale bid to return to the naturalism of classical Greece and Rome.

C HA P T E R 1 0

The Renaissance Begins It is 1305 in Padua, Italy, and Giotto is showing his assistant where

to spread today’s fresh plaster on the chapel wall. He is going to paint on it while it is still damp using a technique called buon fresco, so his colours sink into the plaster to form a luminous wall painting. It is quite a challenge, knowing just how much plaster to apply. He has to paint the whole lot in one day or it will dry out and his colours will no longer be locked in but will sit on top. He knows what he is doing though – he has been painting frescoes in Enrico Scrovegni’s private chapel for over two years now. The chapel will soon be complete, the walls covered in frescoes and the ceiling twinkling with gold stars against a dark blue heavenly sky. Giotto’s patron Enrico inherited his wealth from his father, Reginaldo, who was a money lender. The church believes the act of lending money for profit is a mortal sin, and Enrico wants to make amends. He is spending much of his inheritance on this sumptuous chapel to honour God. He has asked Giotto to include a portrait of him in the frescoes. In the Last Judgement, which now fills the back 70

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wall, Enrico presents a model of the chapel to the Virgin Mary as he leads the virtuous towards heaven. Enrico also asked Giotto to paint his father hanging from a gibbet in hell. He wants to be clear he is on the side of the angels, unlike Reginaldo. Giotto steps back to contemplate his work. A vast wooden scaffold fills much of the chapel but he can still see his frescoes beyond it, wrapping around the walls. As well as the ambitious Last Judgement he has painted scenes from the lives of the Virgin Mary and Christ. These may be biblical scenes but Giotto has set them in fourteenth-century Padua and has tried to capture everyone’s expressions as if they are living, breathing, feeling people. * Giotto (Giotto di Bondone, 1266/76–1337) travelled across Italy for his work, painting altarpieces and frescoes in Naples, Rome, Padua, Assisi and Florence, his home town. Italy at this time wasn’t a unified country but a series of city-states and kingdoms. Each had their own laws, and artists such as Giotto had to navigate these as they established temporary workshops and employed local artists to help them complete each commission. Giotto would have learnt how to do this from the influential artist Cimabue (Cenni di Pepo, around 1240–1302), who trained him during his teenage years and was responsible for taking him to Rome for the first time. In Rome Giotto and Cimabue saw paintings by Pietro Cavallini (around 1250–1330), an early supporter of returning to the study of the human body from life, not copying it from icon paintings and illuminated manuscripts. Why was this? In Italy people were starting to be influenced by a new branch of philosophy called humanism. The humanists valued the art and philosophy of ancient Greece and Rome above anything produced subsequently. Humanists also believed in man’s responsibility to live a good life on earth rather than subsequently in heaven. They chased down ancient Latin and Greek texts that had survived in distant monasteries and sat up late into the night debating the merits of Greek philosophers such as Plato. Humanism was popular in intellectual circles in Italy’s cities and studious secular men now supplanted medieval monks as the leading thinkers of their time. Under the


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Giotto’s frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, painted around 1305. The Lamentation is second from the left, next to the Crucifixion

influence of humanism artists began to move away from the stylised representation of figures, as seen in medieval paintings like the Virgin of Vladimir icon, and started to study classical art and real bodies again. For example, Cavallini’s Last Judgement in the Church of Saint Cecilia (now only partially remaining) includes figures clothed in robes that drape over knees and forearms suggesting real bodies beneath. They are in proportion and have expressive lifelike faces. This late-thirteenth-century fresco has several elements in common with Giotto’s Last Judgement and may have influenced him. However, in the cycle of stories that unfold around the Scrovegni Chapel, Giotto took things further, creating scenes of expressive drama and really bringing the Bible to life. Arms fly out, mouths gape, tears fall. In the Lamentation we experience the grief of the women tending the dead Christ through their hunched shoulders, clasped hands and bowed heads. Fabric falls over their bodies, following gravity, revealing curved backs bent in mourning and thick-set arms.

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It is in the work of Cavallini and Giotto that we see the reawakening of classical naturalism in Italy. Since the sixteenth century, biographers such as Giorgio Vasari have praised these painters for their ‘observations of things in Nature’. Vasari singled out Giotto for opening ‘the gates of truth’. These painters were influenced by the world around them, seen through humanist eyes, rather than the medieval religious art of their predecessors. In Italy, many of the leading artists of the day worked for the main church of the Franciscan order, San Francesco in Assisi. Cimabue, Giotto and Cavallini all created work there, as did Simone Martini (1284–1344) and the Lorenzetti family. Giotto’s workshop painted a life cycle of Christ, in places reusing scenes from the Scrovegni Chapel. Successful artists such as Giotto ran workshops to enable them to keep up with demand. Giotto would have created the original design for the fresco cycle but a large part would have been painted by assistants, from child apprentices and ambitious young artists to seasoned hands. Giotto may have only returned to add faces and finishing details. The church’s exceptional St Francis cycle includes twenty-eight scenes from the saint’s life. The focus is on storytelling and the realistic figures look like those by Cavallini and Giotto, although we don’t know for sure who painted it. These paintings were designed for a congregation to study and, like Giotto’s Scrovegni Chapel, they spoke directly to their audience, reflecting their expressions and making them feel part of the action. In a Christmas scene with St Francis blessing a baby we, as viewers, stand inside the choir with a crowd of men to witness Franciscan monks singing in celebration of the nativity. For female pilgrims in the congregation this would have been a novel experience because they were not allowed in the actual choir area. Artists outside Italy also experimented with naturalism. In Constantinople (Istanbul) at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Saviour there is a resurrection scene that is every bit as dramatic as Giotto’s Last Judgement. The Anastasis, by an unknown artist, was created around the same time and shows a bare-footed and energetic Christ hauling Adam and Eve out of their graves to


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join him in heaven. Satan has been defeated and is tied up under Christ’s feet next to the broken gates of hell. The fresco sits in a half dome above Byzantine mosaics of saints who appear unmoving, icon-like, in their flat patterned robes. This explosive meeting of contrasting styles helps visualise just how great a shift in thinking and seeing was now occurring. Most early examples of this new, exciting form of naturalism were to be found in Italy. A particular climate had arisen thanks to the growing interest in humanism, increased wealth and fierce rivalry. Cities, churches and patrons competed against each other to attract the best artists and commission the most impressive works of art. These were increasingly focused on the natural world and expressed a renewed interest in all things classical, from Greek myths to increasingly lifelike carvings of human bodies. In order to look at how this renewed interest in the natural world led to the Renaissance (the ‘rebirth’ of art) we are going to have to follow one specific path for a while. I want to show you the breadth and range of the Renaissance because it lasted for over 200 years and continues to influence artists around the globe today. But to do so, we must suspend our world-inclusive view for a few chapters. Remarkably, for a long time this restricted view was not of much concern: Western art history simply ignored art from beyond Europe. Art historians often didn’t even consider it art at all. Today, in the twenty-first century, art from around the world made by a wide variety of makers is championed and celebrated. Already in this book we have looked at many examples, and there are a lot more to come. For the next few chapters, though, we are going to meet the artists and patrons who were responsible for the European Renaissance, an unparalleled flourishing of the arts in the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Scientists, philosophers, mathematicians and artists created a society of deep curiosity and invention, introducing the study of perspective and optics and a medical understanding of anatomy and reintroducing drawing from nature and life models. The lasting legacy of the Renaissance – including the Northern Renaissance in Germany, Belgium and

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The central panel from Duccio’s Maestà altarpiece, 1308–11

the Netherlands – is the art that was created during this period and its subsequent influence on Western art training and practice that lasted for 400 years. The early Renaissance introduced a new addition to church art: the altarpiece. It was created when priests began to conduct part of the service with their backs to the congregation. To help focus attention large multi-panel paintings were placed on the altar for people to look at. An early example is the Maestà by Duccio (Duccio di Buoninsegna, active 1278–1319), a majestic painting of the Virgin Mary seated on a throne, holding Christ and surrounded by saints and angels, dating from 1308–11. Long since broken up into component parts, the Maestà once comprised an incredible seventy panels and occupied the central altar in Siena Cathedral in Italy. Duccio had been a pupil of Cimabue’s, like Giotto. In the Maestà he painted a vast number of onlookers surrounding the Virgin and Christ. They rise up in tiers as if standing on benches for a school photograph. There’s an overwhelming quantity of gold but there is also a great amount of realistic detail. St John the Baptist wears a shaggy fleece tunic and St Catherine stands in an ornate brocade cloak and veil. Duccio’s figures don’t quite have the physical weight Giotto gave to his, and Duccio’s Virgin still has the exaggerated features of Byzantine icon painting, with her long nose and almond


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eyes. But she is far more lifelike than the Virgin by their teacher Cimabue, which looks very two-dimensional and stylised by comparison. The cathedral board had Duccio sign a contract for his work on the Maestà. The cathedral would supply all materials, including the considerable quantities of gold needed. For his part Duccio was not to take on additional commissions and only he and his workshop were allowed to work on the painting. Twenty years later Siena Cathedral underwent major building work and new artists were commissioned to create four additional altarpieces to flank Duccio’s Maestà. Each was dedicated to one of the city’s patron saints and Simone Martini was asked to complete the altarpiece for St Ansano. Martini ran his own workshop and collaborated on this altarpiece with his brother-in-law, Lippo Memmi (around 1291–1356). Martini chose to depict the moment of Christ’s conception, known as the Annunciation, where the angel Gabriel flies down from heaven to give Mary the news of her God-given pregnancy. Mary backs away, scared by his intrusion – judging by the way Gabriel’s cloak flutters in the air he has just this minute arrived. His words are carved into the gold-leaf background and stretch between his mouth and the Virgin’s shining halo. St Ansano looks on from a side panel, holding Siena’s black-and-white city flag in his hand. Martini’s style is different to anything we have seen so far in painting – his figures are elongated with narrow shoulders and pale cheeks. They look like slender Gothic sculptures and there’s an overriding Gothic feel to this altarpiece. Martini ended up working for the French-speaking court of the King of Naples in the south of Italy and ultimately moved to France. Through artists such as Martini the Gothic style, which we first encountered at Chartres Cathedral, was translated into painting and is now known as International Gothic. This lavish style employed rich colours and gold leaf and was popular at royal courts. International Gothic paintings were incredibly detailed but often scenes were not realistic in terms of scale. The style flourished in Northern Europe, as we will see in the next chapter.

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Northern Lights Richard II, King of England, enters Westminster Abbey in London

on a winter’s day in 1397. He is heading for a tiny chapel at the far end of the nave. It is only wide enough for one person to pray at a time and so is very private. He walks past the chapels of St Edmund, St Edward the Confessor and St John the Baptist before he reaches his own. Inside, his new altarpiece gleams in the candlelight. It is not huge, about the size of a large book, and is hinged in the middle. He smiles as he approaches it for he sees himself in the painting, kneeling in devotion in front of the three saints whose chapels he has just walked past. In the painting he offers his prayers to the Virgin and Child. They are exquisitely conjured on the facing panel, surrounded by delicate angels with tall feathered wings. This diptych (a two-panel work) was enormously expensive, fashioned in gold leaf and pricey ultramarine paint, each figure so delicately painted that he can see individual hairs curling on St Edward’s grey beard. The angels walk on a carpet of flowers and all wear his emblem, a white hart (deer) 77


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The Wilton Diptych by an anonymous artist, around 1395

with magnificent antlers. He too wears the white hart over his cloak of spun gold. He also wears a chunky necklace of broomcods, the seed pods from the broom plant, as do the angels. This links him to France as broomcods are part of the French king’s livery, just as the white hart is part of his. Richard was born in France, employed a French artist to paint the altarpiece and it was the birthplace of his young bride so he is pleased the broomcods have been included. * This painting by an unknown artist dates from around 1395 and is now known as the Wilton Diptych. It is a superb example of International Gothic. The elegant faces and elongated fingers of Richard and the Virgin bring to mind Simone Martini’s Annunciation, and the lavish attention to detail and expensive raw materials make it a precursor to the luxury Book of Hours produced for the Duke of Berry by the Limbourg brothers. The Limbourg brothers – Pol, Herman and Jean de Limbourg – used the best ultramarine when they began the richly decorated Book of Hours around 1410. It was painted on the finest white

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vellum, cut from the centre of calf skins to ensure it was wrinklefree, and is about the size of a modern hardback. It includes twelve pages showing the months of the year that are packed with details of court life. Although a full prayer book follows, it is these twelve calendar pages that particularly fascinate viewers today. The scenes are sumptuous and decorative rather than being realistic. The figures vary quite significantly in shape and scale, much like those in medieval illuminated manuscripts. Yet aspects of the months are highly detailed, right down to the bristles on the hogs being herded in November and the feathered hats of the courtiers in April. International Gothic bridges medieval and Renaissance art and ultimately these paintings are a hybrid of the two styles. They are both courtly illumination and the beginnings of a Northern Renaissance tradition showing a close observation of nature. The Duke of Berry and Richard II may have had enough money to commission expensive illuminated books and private altarpieces, but at the turn of the fifteenth century it was the French court of the Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Bold – the Duke of Berry’s older brother – that was the wealthiest in Europe. Philip built an entire monastery in Champmol near his capital Dijon to ensure a suitable home for his family tomb. The monastery’s cloister was 100 metres wide and Philip asked the head sculptor of his court, the Netherlandish artist Claus Sluter (1340–1405), to design something eye-catching for the middle. It was not an easy commission as the cloister surrounded marshy ground. Sluter’s solution was to sink stone foundations 4 metres underground and use the water that was displaced to form a well that encircled the base like a pool. On this he built a stone plinth surrounded by six life-size prophets and smaller angels. Sprouting out of the top was a slender stone column, covered in gold, supporting Christ on the cross. The Great Cross, also known as the Well of Moses, from 1395– 1403, stretched 11 metres into the sky. It remained in position for over three hundred years, but today only the plinth and prophets survive. The prophets were originally painted by another court artist, Jean Malouel (around 1365–1415), and stripes of blue and


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white can still be seen on David’s floor-length tunic. All the prophets adopt animated poses, their feet curling over narrow ledges as if they could step off at any moment. While the figures are still attached to the plinth at the back they are nevertheless far bolder and more free than the Gothic sculptures at Chartres. Sluter and Malouel made liberal use of blue paint on the Great Cross. They used cheaper azurite pigment for the first layers topped with high-grade ultramarine on the prophets’ cloaks and robes. A small pot containing just 25 grams of ultramarine – the weight of a single AA battery – would have cost the same as Sluter was paid for a week. You could have bought 8 kilograms of lead white paint for the same amount. Ultramarine was made by grinding the expensive mineral lapis lazuli to form a pigment, or coloured powder. It was imported from the mines in Badakshan (now Afghanistan) via Baghdad and Venice. Azurite, ten times cheaper, was sourced more locally from German and Slovakian mines. Under the patronage of the Dukes of Burgundy and Berry artists could enjoy lifestyles usually reserved for noblemen. The Duke of Berry gave Pol Limbourg (around 1386–1416) a grand house, and all the brothers received clothing and gifts as well as salaries. The Duke of Burgundy gave Sluter and Malouel additional money when they both caught a serious illness so they could pay their medical bills. Most artists didn’t live with this kind of security. They had to fund their own workshops, win commissions and balance the cost of materials versus possible sales on the open market. Not surprisingly artists therefore tended to congregate in cities where wealthy merchants and nobles would buy their work. One such city was Tournai, now in Belgium but then part of the Duke of Burgundy’s lands. The art painted in this region is now known collectively as Netherlandish art. Robert Campin (around 1378–1444) lived and worked in Tournai and ran a large workshop. His 1427–32 Annunciation triptych (a three-panel painting) is now known as the Mérode Altarpiece. In the central panel the Virgin sits reading by the fireplace as Gabriel descends to deliver his message. The painting is full of symbolic detail – for example,

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the lilies in the blue-and-white vase stand for the Virgin’s purity. On the left wing we see the painting’s donors praying. (These donors paid for the altarpiece to be made.) On the right, Joseph is surrounded by his carpentry tools. Beyond him, through unshuttered windows, we see tiny people milling around the town square. Campin was one of the first to add these detailed views to his paintings. What a difference to the Limbourg’s stylised Book of Hours – it is as if we are looking through actual windows on to the street beyond and this makes us feel as if we have stepped into the Virgin’s world. This level of observation marks out the Mérode Altarpiece as an outstanding early example of Northern Renaissance art. Hinged altarpieces were the norm in Netherlandish art, in contrast to the fixed panel paintings seen in Italy. And while in Italy artists worked in tempera, Netherlandish artists used oil paint. Pigment mixed with oil such as linseed had been used in northern Europe for several centuries but it was only in the fifteenth century that it took centre stage, used by all the leading Netherlandish artists. Their work was exported to Italy and Italian artists soon started experimenting with it as well, as we will see in the next chapter. Unlike fast-drying tempera, which gave a bright flat finish, oil paint took days to dry and could be applied in layers of thin glazes. Each glaze had to dry before another could be applied so using oil paint was a slow process, but it allowed artists to create colours with a depth and subtlety that wasn’t possible in tempera. In Ghent (now in Belgium) two brothers created the most magnificent Netherlandish altarpiece of the fifteenth century using oil paint. The Ghent Altarpiece from 1426–32 was begun by Hubert van Eyck (around 1385–1426) and finished by Jan van Eyck (around 1390–1441). While the Mérode Altarpiece was made for private devotion, the Ghent Altarpiece was made for the Church of Saint John (now Saint Bavo’s Cathedral). It comprises twenty-four panels, with the wings painted front and back. When the wings of the Ghent Altarpiece are unfolded they extend over 5 metres across. In the centre a larger-than-life Christ in red robes appears seated on a golden throne, his hand raised in


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a blessing. Adam and Eve look on from the wings, their nakedness surely startling at the time. While they hold leaves to cover their genitalia we can still see pubic hair curling over the top. When the altarpiece is closed the story of the Annunciation is played out across the central panels. The donors, Elisabeth Borluut and her husband Joos Vijd, pray below. They are not young and Van Eyck has not flattered them, so they kneel before us as real, not idealised, people. Van Eyck has painted them in architectural niches, or shallow spaces. Next to them two ‘sculptures’ occupy similar spaces. These ‘sculptures’ are of course made of paint – Van Eyck is highlighting his skills, showing that paint can trick the eye and convince you that you are looking at real people and real sculptures in real rooms. Remember how Pliny praised the ancient Greeks for their skill at trompe l’oeil in Chapter 3? Renaissance artists were taking on the Greeks at their own game. Jan van Eyck settled in Bruges in 1431. His work was highly valued for its incredible illusionism and his ability to recreate different textures, from the heavy weight of a brocade cloth to the pitted skin of imported oranges. In his Arnolfini Portrait from 1434 we see these oranges on the windowsill of the wealthy Italian merchant Giovanni Arnolfini and his wife Costanza Trenta’s house. The couple stand together as if welcoming guests. Daylight streams in from the open door and windows and this harmonious light has us believing in the illusion of the double portrait, despite the fact that the couple’s heads are distinctly different sizes. It may also have us believing in life after death. Giovanni’s black hat and the single candle burning in the ornate brass candelabra above his head suggest he is in mourning for his young wife who died, aged twenty, the year before this was painted. Rogier van der Weyden (1400–1464), a former pupil of Campin’s, moved to Brussels (now in Belgium) to establish his own workshop. Van der Weyden’s portraits matched Van Eyck’s for their attention to detail but went further in conveying emotion. In his Descent from the Cross from around 1435 we see the depth of expression he was capable of achieving. The panel painting was commissioned for the high altar in the Chapel of Our Lady Outside

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Rogier van der Weyden’s Descent from the Cross altarpiece, around 1435

the Walls in Leuven near Brussels and was paid for by the Crossbowmen’s Guild. Ten figures in contemporary dress appear in front of a gold background. The gold does not flatten the surface like an icon painting. It sits behind the figures, as if they are actors on a shallow stage in front of it. The wooden panel itself has been shaped to allow the top of Christ’s cross to be included. A man is perched on a ladder behind the cross, his pincers a graphic reminder of his job to pull the nails out so Christ can be lowered for burial. Three men hold the lifeless corpse, their faces downcast, their eyes glassy with tears. Christ’s mother Mary faints and falls to the ground, her pose mimicking that of her son’s, their hands nearly touching, in a powerful double portrait of death and grief. The shape of their arms resembles the curve of bows, a visual acknowledgement of the guild that commissioned it. Oil paintings like this made Netherlandish art highly soughtafter. Non-commissioned works were sold at international markets in Antwerp (now in Belgium) and elsewhere and exported to eager


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collectors in Italy. Van der Weyden and Van Eyck were considered the most important artists of their generation, the masters of illusion, just like the ancient Greek painters before them. In Italy this illusionism was pushed further still thanks to new developments in perspective.

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A Matter of Perspective It is 1444 and Cosimo de’ Medici is standing next to the architect

Michelozzo on a plot of land off the Via Larga in Florence, Italy. They are discussing plans for Cosimo’s ambitious new palace, a classical building with several storeys and a central courtyard. Cosimo initially appointed the celebrated architect Brunelleschi to design it but rejected his plans for being too showy. Cosimo has a lot of wealth as head of the Medici bank but his father always advised him not to flash it about. Instead he has opted for Michelozzo’s restrained plans, which still include space for his growing collection of paintings, sculptures and books. For the courtyard Cosimo is going to commission one of the leading sculptors of the day, Donatello. He will ask him to sculpt a figure of the shepherd David from the Bible to stand on a plinth in the centre. This is daring – sculptures normally occupy niches on buildings, they do not take centre stage. The story of David and Goliath is one of cunning and guile over brute strength. Because of this David has long been embraced by the proud Florentines as a 85


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symbol of their city, a city that maintains independence from the Pope and rival city-states. Donatello has already carved one such David, housed in the Palazzo della Signoria, the seat of Florence’s government. He emphasised David’s youth and beauty instead of his kingly qualities and dressed him in a skin-tight tunic and a robe slashed to the thigh. It looks more like a classical Greek sculpture than anything made in recent history. Cosimo wonders how Donatello will approach this new commission. He knows the new David will stand out because it will be cast in bronze, making it something that only the richest banking families – perhaps the Medici alone – can afford. * The bronze David by Donatello (Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi, around 1386–1466) created in the 1440s is a celebration of male youth and beauty. David stands totally naked save for a pair of open-toed knee-high boots. His helmet looks more like a widebrimmed hat with leaves wound around the crown and his thick curls reach below his shoulders. His left hand rests on his hip and his left foot rests on Goliath’s severed head. David’s hairless body gleams as his polished bronze skin reflects the light. He stands alone, no longer part of the architecture, and demands to be looked at. Nobody had been able to pull off a sculpture like this for well over one thousand years. The last time a new sculpture of a nude male figure graced a plinth the Romans had been in charge. Although the sculpture has a biblical origin its true subject is male beauty and a classical appreciation of the body. Cosimo de’ Medici was a humanist and was well educated in classical ideas and art. He supported Donatello throughout his career, giving him board, lodgings and regular work. This was a time in Italy when the vast majority of works of art were the result of direct commissions. The city’s richest guilds ordered sculptures from artists such as Donatello to adorn churches. Wealthy families bought plots inside major churches for funerary chapels and paid artists to embellish them. Rich families strove to outdo each other. Over the next three chapters we will look at how three rival Italian city-states – Florence, Venice and Rome – supported artists

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Donatello’s bronze David from the 1440s

and contributed to the Renaissance. In the fifteenth century Rome reasserted its place as the epicentre of the Catholic Church and the city benefited hugely from the Pope’s bottomless pockets. Venice’s wealth was built on international trade while Florence was a republic, ruled by a governing body of successful merchants who valued their freedom. In each city art flourished on a scale not seen since classical times. In Florence the Medici were the wealthiest and most powerful family and many artists benefited from their patronage. The friar Fra Angelico (Guido di Pietro, around 1395–1455) was one of them. Cosimo de’ Medici paid for seventeen Dominican friars to be relocated to the city’s San Marco convent. He built them a new monastery and an impressive library which he stocked with classical and theological books. The Dominicans took vows of poverty but this didn’t stop them adorning their monasteries with works of art, particularly when one of the most talented painters in Florence lived


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among them. Fra Angelico spent the 1440s working with assistants to cover San Marco with frescoes glorying God. A Crucifixion dominated the Chapter House and each of the forty-one austere square bedrooms known as cells were painted with spiritual scenes. At the top of the stairs a large Annunciation shows Gabriel resplendent in multi-coloured wings that unfurl down his spine in burgundy, teal, peach, lemon and white stripes. Another Annunciation painted in one of the cells is more restrained, the walls of the simple arched room in which the Virgin kneels colourmatched to the plaster walls of the cell as if her space is an extension of the friar’s bedroom. Art, life and faith were interwoven and Fra Angelico’s paintings were above all visual aids for devotion. Cosimo used his money to reinforce his piety, just as Enrico Scrovegni and Philip the Bold had done before him. Cosimo even had his own cell at San Marco where he could pray privately. Artists used commissions by the Medici and the church to experiment with a new technique that would become the backbone of Renaissance art: perspective. Lorenzo Ghiberti (around 1378–1455) spent fifty years creating two pairs of elaborate doors covered in biblical reliefs for Florence’s baptistry, finally completing them in 1452. Donatello worked as his assistant on the first set, but when he left to experiment with the new mathematical concept of perspective in Siena, Ghiberti reworked his own designs for the second set of doors to accommodate the new technique. Just what is perspective? It is a way of recreating a realistic threedimensional view on a flat surface by making some objects seem closer than others. Brunelleschi and Masaccio (Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone, 1401–1428) experimented with perspective in Florence before Leon Battista Alberti published the principles that underpinned it in his 1435 book On Painting. While perspective revolutionised painting, it is easier for us to grasp its fundamentals if we compare the two sets of doors Ghiberti completed. For the first set, the North Doors (with twenty-eight scenes from the New Testament), the ground in each scene appears like a shelf, projecting forwards out of each image. For the second set, the East Doors (with ten larger scenes from the Old Testament), the ground appears to

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slope inwards, inside the scene. In this second set Ghiberti’s figures shrink as they recede into the distance and his buildings reduce in scale. By using a fixed horizon and a vanishing point – an unmoving spot on that horizon – all lines in each scene gravitate towards this point, informing the position of walls, the pitch of roofs, the angles of floor tiles. This creates a scene that unfolds in art as it appears to do in life when viewed from a single position. Geometry underpins the whole viewing experience, bringing order and control. Perspective was the final piece in the puzzle to create the closest semblance of life on a flat surface, the ultimate trompe l’oeil. Piero della Francesca (around 1415/20–1492) was fascinated by scientific breakthroughs in art and he wrote treatises on perspective and geometrical bodies. Paolo Uccello (Paolo di Dono, 1397–1475) was also obsessed with perspective. His drawings look like threedimensional mathematical models and he used commissions to showcase his research. In The Battle of San Romano from around 1438–40 broken lances litter the battlefield, emphasising the geometric lines of perspective that help achieve depth in the painting. In The Flood, a lunette (semi-circular) fresco in the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence from around 1447, desperate figures cling to the edge of a vast ark. The ark looks more like an impenetrable wall than a floating vessel but it served Uccello’s desire to emphasise the laws of perspective. It stretches back as far as the vanishing point, which is marked by a red lightning bolt. Uccello also includes

Paolo Uccello’s fresco The Flood, around 1447


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objects that were usually only seen in drawing exercises, such as the circular headdress frames called mazzocchi that Uccello places around the neck and head of two figures, using the geometry of perspective to make them seem three-dimensional. The crow pecking out the eyes of a corpse on the right does not draw our attention as much as the mazzocchi, or the dramatically receding walls of the ark, do. Perspective is the true subject of this astonishing painting. Many of Florence’s greatest artists completed work for the church of Santa Maria Novella, including Masaccio, Uccello, Sandro Botticelli (Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi, around 1445–1510) and Domenico Ghirlandaio (Domenico di Tommaso Bigordi, 1449–1494). Botticelli painted the Adoration of the Magi for the altar of Gaspare di Zanobi del Lama’s new funerary chapel around 1476 (although it is now in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence). By now perspective had become an integral part of painting, no longer something that was showcased. The ancient ruins that stretch into the background in the Adoration of the Magi follow the laws of perspective but don’t shout about them. Instead, Botticelli used this painting to get into the Medici’s good books. Del Lama belonged to the same bankers’ guild as the Medici, and this may have been the reason Botticelli included so many of their portraits within the painting. Cosimo de’ Medici is immortalised as one of the wise men, bending his knee to the Virgin and Child at the centre. By this point Cosimo was dead, as was his son Piero (another wise man in the painting). Cosimo’s grandson, Giuliano de’ Medici, appears on the far left dressed in the latest fashion, his chest puffed out in youthful pride. On the right, directly behind two of the wise men, stands Lorenzo de’ Medici in a short black cloak. He is Giuliano’s older brother and Botticelli has painted him as next in line to meet the Christ child, a fitting position for a young man who recently inherited the family business. It was a flattering portrait of Lorenzo and he became Botticelli’s steadfast patron for many years. Botticelli positions himself on the far right of the painting, looking out at the viewer as if to say, so, what do you think? Lorenzo was only twenty when his father Piero died, leaving him in control of the international Medici bank and the de facto leader

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of Florence. In April 1478 a rival Florentine family, the Pazzi, tried to assassinate Lorenzo while he attended church. The Pazzi managed to kill his brother Giuliano but Lorenzo escaped and brought the conspirators to justice. He had them thrown out of the windows of the Signoria where they dangled on makeshift gibbets until they were strangled to death. Botticelli was commissioned to paint life-size portraits of all the conspirators on the wall of the jail next to the Signoria. These portraits no longer exist but must have made gruesome viewing, a reminder to the populace to cross the Medici at your peril. Despite endless political wrangling, wars between the various city-states and troubles with his banking empire, Lorenzo maintained his patronage of artists and poets, establishing a university in Florence and creating posts for recently displaced Greek scholars who had escaped Constantinople when it fell to the Turks. This was an extension of Lorenzo’s interest in humanism, still a dominant force in intellectual Florence. Lorenzo’s own motto, ‘Le temps revient’ (the time returns), referred to this continued interest in classical Greece and Rome and also points to our word for this period today: the Renaissance, or rebirth. Artists in Florence responded to this unquenchable thirst for ancient art and ideas, recreating sculptures in the round like Donatello’s classical David and painting Greek myths, such as Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (1485–6). By contrast, Venetian artists lived in the present, part of an exciting city that thronged with merchants from across the known world. In the next chapter we will see that while Venetian artists began to employ Florentine perspective they also dialled up the colour. In their epic narrative cycles they shone a light on the many factions who lived, worked and traded in this affluent city-state.

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East Meets West Gentile Bellini blows into his hands to warm them before taking

up his brush. He makes tiny strokes on the canvas to thicken the brown beard of Sultan Mehmet II. It is springtime in Constantinople but it still feels cold. Bellini travelled from his hometown of Venice six months ago, leaving on a galley (ship) with two assistants in September 1479. The Ottoman Sultan had requested a painter skilled in portraiture as part of the ongoing peace negotiations between his kingdom and Venice. The two territories – one a rapidly expanding empire, the other a wealthy Italian city-state – had been at war for fifteen years and it had proved ruinous to Venetian trade, and the city’s coffers. Bellini was chosen to travel to Constantinople, a great sacrifice for Venice as he is considered the leading artist of his generation. In the Ottoman capital Bellini experienced Islamic culture previously only known to him through luxury items traded in Venice – carpets, books and velvets. He sketched people on the streets and painted scribes at work. Mehmet’s court teemed with 92

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scholars who translated the writings of ancient Greek and Persian philosophers and historians. These scholars told Bellini that Mehmet wrote poetry and spoke several languages. Bellini had actually found the leader rather quiet when he visited him, and rumour has it he is ill. Bellini has completed a series of sketches of the Sultan and is now finishing an oil portrait, portraying him behind an ornate architectural arch and a parapet (low wall) that is covered with a richly jewelled cloth. For the portrait sittings the Sultan wore a heavy red kaftan wrapped tightly over his chest and a thick sleeveless fur coat. On his head was the turban worn by all Ottoman men, a red felt cap with a long white cloth wound around it. Bellini is aware that this painting is part of the peace negotiations and so he doesn’t emphasise the crow’s feet that score the Sultan’s 50-yearold face. He has been employed to capture the Sultan’s likeness though, so he can’t avoid his overbite or the distinctive curve of his nose and chin, although he does soften it. * Mehmet II must have been pleased with his portrait for he knighted Gentile Bellini (1429–1507) and gave him a substantial gold chain. Mehmet, who had invited Italian artists to his court since the 1450s, admired Italy’s lifelike portraiture and how it seemed to keep the sitter alive, even after death. By commissioning a portrait by an Italian artist he also acknowledged his international connections and his position as a world leader. In the painting he maintained his Ottoman dress but is painted as a Renaissance man. This was close to the truth for he appreciated humanism and surrounded himself with Greek, Muslim and Italian scholars who were well versed in texts from classical antiquity. In the 1450s he had conquered Greece and spent time in Athens where he was fascinated by the Parthenon, which he converted into a mosque. If Mehmet hadn’t died just a year after Bellini’s portrait was finished he probably would have tried to conquer Italy to reunite the lands of the once formidable Roman empire. Like the Roman emperors before him, Mehmet’s portrait was reproduced on bronze medals and widely circulated. Several of


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Portraits of Sultan Mehmet II by Gentile Bellini (left) and Sinan Beg, 1480

these medals were made in Italy and sent to Mehmet as diplomatic gifts. Lorenzo de’ Medici sent one as a thank you for Mehmet handing over one of the Pazzi conspirators who had tried to kill him. Mehmet also commissioned portraits by Persian and Turkish painters in his court in Constantinople, the former Byzantine capital of the Eastern Roman empire. Commissioning both Italian and Turkish portraits suggests he wanted to show that his influence spanned both the East and the West. Only a few miniatures survive today. They have little sense of spatial depth of the kind you would find in a European portrait but they are richly detailed and patterned. In a watercolour painting, thought to be by the Turkish painter Sinan Beg (active 1470s–1480s), Mehmet is seen in threequarter profile. The top of the Sultan’s left ear is bent over from the weight of the turban. Such portraits did draw on aspects of Italian naturalism and combined them with the traditions of Persian and Turkish miniature painting. This created a new hybrid style that expressed Mehmet’s multicultural empire and it remained influential well into the sixteenth century.

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There was also interaction between the artists at court. A pen, ink and watercolour drawing of a seated scribe from the time Bellini was in Constantinople (and therefore often attributed to him) shows how Mehmet’s patronage encouraged a fusion of styles. The scribe sits cross-legged, dressed in a velvet robe and turban. He is a solid presence, existing as a body in space, suggesting a European artist painted him, possibly from life. Yet the decorative patterning, the Arabic lettering on the right side and the use of ink on paper suggest the artist was also knowledgeable of Persian and Turkish miniature painting. In a further blurring of traditions, Beg created a similar image, this time of a seated painter. Beg uses a flatter, more decorative style, in keeping with the traditions of miniature painting. The figure floats in space but is no less detailed and the face is modelled naturalistically, like an Italian portrait. Often this painting is seen as a close copy of the seated scribe but what if they were painted at the same time, by two successful artists in the same court, both experimenting with each other’s styles? On his return home Bellini may have been struck by the similarities between Constantinople and Venice, for both cities were vast trading centres and were thronged with people from different cultures speaking many languages. The Greek Cardinal Bessarion offered high praise to Venice when he called it ‘another Byzantium’, on a par with Constantinople. French diplomat Philippe de Commynes described Venice as ‘the most triumphant city I have ever seen, and one which honours ambassadors and foreigners.’ Flemish merchants, eager to buy luxury items shipped from Constantinople and the Silk Road, rubbed shoulders with Eastern ambassadors. Muslims, Jews and Christians mingled in the central square, where the buildings were a fusion of European Gothic and Islamic architecture and where Byzantine domes and mosaics covered the Catholic church of Saint Mark (San Marco). There were enough Germans and Dalmatians living in Venice to form their own confraternities, which were called Scuole. Each group (or Scuola) had their own headquarters and trading zone within the city. Bellini specialised in narrative paintings that lined the walls of wealthy Scuole and government buildings including the Doge’s


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palace. Along with artists such as Vittore Carpaccio (around 1465–1525), Bellini celebrated Venetian daily life as he set his scenes of religious processions, miracles and Bible stories against a contemporary backdrop of the city, showcasing its diverse residents. These paintings are incredibly detailed, as if offering eyewitness accounts of real processions and miracles. In Bellini’s Procession in the Piazza San Marco from 1496, painted for the Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista, we see members of this Scuola processing around the square in front of the Byzantine basilica of San Marco and the Gothic and Islamic Doge’s palace. Daily life continues all around them: four Greek merchants in black-brimmed hats talk business on the left of the square while three men in turbans stand in front of the basilica. In Carpaccio’s Miracle of the Relic of the True Cross on the Rialto Bridge from 1494, painted for the same Scuola, the religious event of the title takes place on a first-floor loggia (covered balcony) on the far left. Our eye, however, is drawn to the action on the Grand Canal, Venice’s main thoroughfare. We see Armenian merchants and Turkish men negotiate on the Rialto bridge, the centre of Venetian trade, and an African gondolier guides a gondola along the busy canal. The various Scuole who favoured narrative painting embraced the diversity of a city built on an international trade network that extended from northern Europe to Constantinople and into Asia and Africa. While Gentile Bellini was celebrated as the leading Venetian artist during his lifetime, it is the paintings of his younger brother Giovanni (around 1430–1516) that are held in the highest regard today. Both built on their father Jacopo’s early explorations of Florentine perspective and Venetian colour. To this Giovanni added luminosity, a way of making paintings glow with life by using thin oil glazes to build colour. We first saw this technique in paintings by Northern Renaissance artists such as Jan van Eyck and by the end of the fifteenth century these were increasingly being exported to Italy. Giovanni Bellini, working in oil paint on wooden panels, breathed new life into Venetian portraits and religious scenes. He

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Vittore Carpaccio’s tempera painting Miracle of the Relic of the True Cross on the Rialto Bridge, 1494

was commissioned to paint the incoming Doge, Leonardo Loredan, in 1501 and the resulting portrait shows Loredan in his official celebratory robes, standing behind a stone parapet against a vivid blue background. Giovanni Bellini captures the gleam of the expensive white and gold silk damask, giving it just the right amount of weight as it sits in thick folds around the shell-like fastenings at the front of the robe. The light falls as if from the Doge’s right and enhances the gold trim of his corno ducale (hornshaped hat) and is absorbed by his ageing skin. The Doge’s features are serious despite his far-away gaze, and his wide mouth is resolute – this is a man painted with every inch of his authority intact. It would have originally hung in the council chamber in the Doge’s palace, above Gentile Bellini’s narrative history paintings, placing


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Loredan in a long line of leaders who had maintained Venice’s independence and managed its wealth for centuries. When we compare the portrait of the Sultan by Gentile Bellini with that of the Doge, we can appreciate the great skill of his brother, Giovanni. The Sultan is lifelike and sits behind a parapet and the same can be said of the Doge. But the Doge looks as if he may turn and look at us at any moment with his steely eyes. We forget we are looking at a painting and feel as if we are looking at a man who is in the room with us. The German artist Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) visited Venice and praised Giovanni Bellini as ‘the best painter of them all’. The city was a magnet for ambitious artists and Dürer stayed in Venice twice, keen to study Renaissance art first-hand and to look for wealthy patrons. On his second visit he painted his important early work, the Madonna of the Rose Garlands (1506). Despite running into difficulties with the authorities and jealous rivals this painting established his reputation in Venice. The Doge and the Patriarch, head of the Catholic church in Venice, both came to see the painting in Dürer’s studio and Dürer later wrote that the Doge had asked him to stay and work for the city. (He refused.) The Madonna of the Rose Garlands was installed in San Bartolomeo, the church associated with the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, the trading centre and home for all German merchants. The Madonna of the Rose Garlands nods to the Venetian palette of Giovanni Bellini with its clear blues and luminous yellows. Both artists drew inspiration from the naturalism and attention to detail seen in early Northern Renaissance paintings. However, in contrast to Giovanni’s tranquil scenes, Dürer’s painting is all action. The Virgin, Christ and angels all hand out rose garlands to a kneeling congregation that includes the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor. Somehow – despite the angels scooting around the air on insubstantial clouds and the Virgin touching the head of the emperor – Dürer manages to make this improbable outdoor ceremony seem real. The central pyramid of forms – with the Pope in gold, the emperor in red and the Virgin in blue – seems wholly natural. This is largely because Dürer paints the grass beneath their knees, the gnarled trees that

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frame the scene and the distant mountains beyond with such accuracy that we overlook the more artificial elements. Venice was a melting pot of nationalities and cultures, with diverse and wealthy patrons who commissioned great art. Most Venetian artists felt no need to travel to other city-states to look for work but this was not the case elsewhere in Italy. Increasingly many of Italy’s most ambitious artists chose to move to Rome to try to work for the Pope. In the next chapter we will follow three of the greatest Renaissance artists as they all leave the city of Florence for lucrative commissions. These artists are so familiar to us today that we know them simply by their first names: Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael.

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The Return of Rome It is midnight on 14 May 1504 as a giant naked man begins

to move through Florence’s silent streets. The man is David, Michelangelo’s most ambitious sculpture to date. It has taken him two years to carve and has taken the cathedral board almost as long to agree on where to locate it. Michelangelo signed a contract to make a colossal sculpture for the top of the cathedral’s façade but ultimately the board decided to give it a more public home. It is now to be placed outside the Palazzo della Signoria, home to Florence’s government. The tall, narrow marble block that the church had given Michelangelo to use was far from ideal. Two other sculptors had already attempted to work on it, but abandoned it as unusable in the cathedral grounds. Michelangelo was paid a monthly rate of six gold florins (about £1,000 today), plus materials and assistants, to complete the new sculpture. Now the giant David stands naked like a Greek god, the slingshot over his shoulder the only indication of his role in the biblical story of David and Goliath. 100

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Michelangelo wants David to compete with the ancient Greek and Roman sculptures he has seen in Rome, particularly the colossal naked figures of Castor and Pollux he encountered at the emperor Constantine’s baths. His David has tousled curls and a classically beautiful face. His body is lean and muscly, his hands veined and strong as a sculptor’s. David has been carved to be seen from far below and consequently his head and hands are larger than they might otherwise have been. Now they have ropes tied around them and the whole sculpture rests on a platform that is being rolled from Michelangelo’s sculpture yard to the Palazzo della Signoria. Forty men crowd around it, taking the strain of the ropes, as David slowly begins his journey. * As a teenager Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564) trained at Lorenzo de’ Medici’s new sculpture school in Florence. Lorenzo supported artists at all stages of their careers and, aged fifteen, the hot-headed Michelangelo became part of his family and lived in the Medici palace for two years. There he would have been able to study Donatello’s bronze David in the courtyard. Donatello’s sculpture is the height of a teenage boy; Michelangelo’s David is more than three times the size. It is 5 metres tall, taller than a doubledecker bus, and was the largest sculpture made in Italy since Roman times. Michelangelo was an ambitious young artist who was able to paint as well as sculpt. As he finished carving David he was commissioned to paint one of two battle scenes for the Great Council Hall in the Palazzo della Signoria. Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) had returned to Florence from Milan to paint the other scene, but in the end neither was completed. Michelangelo moved to Rome and Leonardo began to paint a wealthy silk merchant’s wife, Lisa del Giocondo. We know this painting as the Mona Lisa today. Leonardo’s use of oil glazes and fine brushes allowed him to blend colours to the point where it was impossible to see where one stopped and another started. The technique was known as sfumato, meaning smoky or blurred. In the Mona Lisa the merchant’s wife


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Leonardo da Vinci’s oil painting Mona Lisa, 1503–6

sits, hands together, in a dress embroidered with gold thread, her hair loose under a transparent veil. Her body is angled away but her head is turned and she looks straight out. A glimpse of a smile plays over her lips as her eyes calmly meet our gaze. Behind her, a fantastical landscape melts into the distance, giving the painting a dreamlike quality. Leonardo never gave the painting to Lisa or her husband, keeping it with him until he died. Though it is regarded as a masterpiece today, Leonardo may have considered it to be unfinished; he completed comparatively few of the paintings he started, frustrating those who had commissioned them. He often experimented with different types of paint, not always successfully (the battle scene for the Great Council Hall began to slide down the wall before he had even finished it). He was fascinated by the world. He had dead bodies sliced open so he could study them and

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sketched all stages of life from the foetus to old age and deformity. He studied how birds flew and translated this into designs for a prototype helicopter. He created machinery for wars, water distribution and city fortifications. He was left-handed and wrote his notes in reverse, from right to left. This may have been so he didn’t smudge them or to protect them from prying eyes (you need a mirror to read them). Leonardo did complete exquisite oil portraits of several women and promised to paint Isabella d’Este, the wife of Francesco Gonzaga, ruler of Mantua, a small but wealthy Italian city-state. Isabella and Francesco had married fifteen years earlier and from that moment she had become a voracious collector of art. She created a studiolo, an ornate study room filled with paintings commissioned from leading artists, and a grotta or collection room in which she could display ancient art, books and medals. This was an unprecedented move for a woman at this time. She had pleaded with Leonardo to paint her portrait and he had agreed, but only two chalk drawings materialised. She kept up an impressive correspondence with various informed art insiders across Italy, following Leonardo’s activities through the letters of a monk in Florence and hearing of Michelangelo’s sculptures available for sale from her art agent in Rome. Under Pope Julius II, and for the first time since antiquity, Rome was fast becoming the most important Italian city for art. Julius had come to power in 1503 and was determined to make Rome the greatest city in Europe. He realised art was key to achieving this. He commissioned the most ambitious projects and employed the best artists he could find. His patronage mirrored that of the Medici in fifteenth-century Florence. Lorenzo de’ Medici had supported many artists, including Michelangelo and Leonardo, but he had died in 1492. His eldest son Piero did not share his leadership skills and within two years the Medici family had been banished from Florence. The time of Lorenzo ‘the Magnificent’ was over. With the Medici in exile Rome became the new centre of the Renaissance. Michelangelo, Leonardo and the promising young painter Raphael (Raffaello Santi, 1483–1520) all moved to Rome. Michelangelo


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arrived first when the Pope commissioned him to create his monumental tomb, three storeys high and covered with over forty figures. Michelangelo was working on this when the ancient Laocoön sculpture was excavated at a vineyard in Rome and the Pope sent him to take a look. At the time of its making, Pliny the Elder had said the Laocoön was the best sculpture in existence, but it had been presumed lost until this moment. The Pope promptly purchased it for his sculpture garden at the Vatican (the headquarters of the Catholic Church) where Michelangelo could study it at his leisure. The Pope’s tomb was fraught with problems for Michelangelo. In the end it took him forty years to complete and was vastly scaled back once Julius died. As Michelangelo worked on it initially, however, people became jealous of his talent. According to Michelangelo’s first biographer, Ascanio Condivi, the architect Donato Bramante persuaded the Pope to give Michelangelo a new commission, interrupting his work on the tomb. Bramante’s hope was that this would frustrate Michelangelo so much that he would storm off, leaving Rome for good. The new commission was to paint the entire ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Botticelli, Ghirlandaio and other artists had frescoed the lower walls of the chapel thirty years earlier, when the ceiling had been painted blue with gold stars scattered across it to represent the cosmos. Now the Pope wanted the whole ceiling to be covered with biblical figures. Michelangelo had completed several paintings by this point but he must have been daunted by this commission, not to mention angry that he had to stop working on the tomb to tackle it. Unsurprisingly he wanted to get the ceiling done as quickly as possible. The only problem was that it was 40 metres long and over 13 metres wide – about half the size of a football pitch. It was curved, and at its highest point it was over 20 metres above the ground. Michelangelo’s first task was to work out how to get up there, and he designed his own wooden scaffold. Using the fresco technique he painted onto fresh plaster which had to be applied each morning. To ensure his figures were to scale and each section aligned he worked from full-size drawings called cartoons. The outlines on these large sheets were pricked with a pin at regular

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intervals. The cartoons were then held up over the day’s damp plaster and powdered charcoal was dusted over the top, leaving black dots that recreated the drawing’s outlines. Begun in 1508, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel took Michelangelo four years to complete. Nine panels based on Genesis, the first book of the Bible, stretch along the length of the ceiling. God illuminates the world and gives life to Adam and Eve by outstretching his divine hand. The couple are subsequently banished from Eden and God punishes humanity by unleashing the great Flood. Michelangelo painted the figures as if they were sculptural forms like the Laocoön, giving them weight and solidity, carefully working out foreshortening so when seen from the ground they look as if they are actually sitting or lying across the curved ceiling. Extending down the side walls are giant sibyls and prophets, all seated in a painted architectural setting that deceives the eye into thinking the ceiling is a vault of cornices and columns. The sibyls – female prophets who could foretell the future – are far larger than the figures of God, Adam and Eve. They show an incredible understanding of the musculature of the human body although many, like the Libyan sibyl, seem rather masculine with their broad backs and strong forearms. Michelangelo chose to sketch from nude men, not women, and as an unmarried gay man his knowledge of the female form was restricted. Twenty beautiful Ignudi (nude men), who lounge and recline across the ceiling framing the central panels, seem more accurately observed. Michelangelo worked at the top of his scaffold, arm extended, neck craned back, painting against gravity. Raphael meanwhile was working in much more favourable conditions just across the courtyard from 1509 to 1511. Aged twenty-five Raphael painted frescoes in the Pope’s private apartments. One room, now known as the Stanza della Segnatura (Tribunal room), was earmarked for the Pope’s library. Its design theme reflected the four branches of humanist knowledge: philosophy, theology, literature and justice. Instead of creating allegories of philosophy or justice (figures symbolising these areas of knowledge) Raphael painted real people, bringing to life the writers of the books that would line the walls beneath the frescoes.


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Raphael’s fresco The School of Athens, 1509–11

Raphael celebrated historic and contemporary thinkers, painting them in settings that evoked both ancient Greece and contemporary Rome. His frescoed wall of philosophers, scientists and mathematicians is now known as The School of Athens. Raphael painted an arch through which we see an airy interior lined with sculptures. Philosophers of all ages gather in conversation, with Plato talking to his pupil Aristotle in the centre. Plato appears as an old man with flowing white hair and beard and this may be a portrait of Leonardo. The surly loner resting his elbow on a block of stone in the foreground is Raphael’s portrait of Michelangelo (in the guise of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus). Raphael even included his own portrait, a young figure in a black beret glimpsed behind Ptolemy on the far right. After the Sistine Chapel and the Pope’s rooms were completed, Michelangelo returned to Florence, where the Medici had regained control of the city. Raphael stayed in Rome, happy to enjoy his court position and take on new commissions for Pope Julius II and

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his successor, Pope Leo X. The new pope was Lorenzo de’ Medici’s son. He wanted to put his own stamp on the Sistine Chapel, but how could you compete with Michelangelo’s ceiling? His solution was to commission Raphael to design a set of tapestries to hang beneath it. The tapestries depicted the lives of St Peter and St Paul, the founding fathers of the Christian church. They cost ten times as much as Michelangelo had been paid for the ceiling. Despite the cost, multiple sets of these tapestries were woven in Brussels from the same elaborate painted cartoons. The English King Henry VIII was to commission a set for his palace at Westminster. He ordered these a few years after he had decisively wrested England from the Pope’s control and founded the alternative Church of England. We will have to wait until Chapter 16 to visit the court of Henry VIII, but in the next chapter we will see how religious unrest was already stirring north of the Alps. This impacted on artists as Protestantism started to rise and religious reformer Martin Luther accused the wealthy Catholic Church of corruption.

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Fire and Brimstone It is 1515. In the small town of s’-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands,

Hieronymus Bosch puts his brush down and considers the finished painting in front of him. Perhaps he should say paintings, because there are three oak panels that will be framed together as a triptych, with the left and right panels closing over the central image. On the outside he has painted a poor man sticking to his path despite the dangers and temptations that surround him. On the inside people are not so smart. They greedily grab handfuls of hay from a loaded cart, ignorant of Christ who hovers in a cloud above, judging them. The devil steers the haywain into hell but nobody notices, not even the Pope who follows behind on horseback, blinded by greed. On the left wing their sin begins, with Eve picking the apple in the Garden of Eden. On the right is a fiery evocation of hell, with men disembowelled, eaten by dogs and pierced with stakes. Usually hinged panels are painted for churches and feature stories from Christ’s life. The Haywain Triptych isn’t destined for a religious 108

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setting though – Bosch is not sure any church would display it! It is a satire on human stupidity. Selfish and rude behaviour are a one-way ticket to hell in his eyes. Bosch thinks back to an earlier triptych of his which also took sin as its theme. In this painting, the Garden of Earthly Delights, Adam and Eve also occupy the left wing. The fertile landscape of Eden extends into the central panel and in this false paradise men and women frolic in the sunshine, coupling at will and feasting on ripe strawberries. He wanted it to be like a dream, their black and white naked bodies dwarfed by giant birds and oversized berries, the whole painting like an overripe fruit, sweet but riddled with decay. The dream turns into a nightmare on the right wing. A harp and a lute become crucifixes while a giant bird-man eats figures whole. Bosch has studied birds and animals at length, as well as grotesque beasts on illuminated manuscripts and in prints by fellow artists. But he still thinks the best creatures he paints come from his own imagination and he puts them to work to reveal the depths humanity can sink to. * Bosch was born Hieronymus van Aken (around 1450–1516), the son of German immigrants to the Netherlands. He became known as Bosch because his home town was s’-Hertogenbosch. (Many artists lost their birth names in this way.) Bosch’s ancestry may

Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, 1490–1500


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have led him to study the prints of German artists such as Martin Schongauer (active 1471–1491). The ornate tree in the foreground of the Garden of Earthly Delights, its palm fronds reaching towards heaven, is similar to one engraved by Schongauer. He may also have been inspired by the popular poem Roman de la Rose by Guillaume de Lorris. The poem is set within a dream in a garden filled with songbirds and tinkling fountains. Bosch, however, injected this dream with damnation, creating his scathing take on the Bible’s Last Judgement. Bosch died in 1516 as Raphael was completing the detailed cartoons for Pope Leo X’s pricey tapestries. At this time Mathis Gothardt, now known as Matthias Grünewald (1470–1528), was one of the leading artists in Germany along with Albrecht Dürer (who we met when he visited Venice in Chapter 13). Grünewald specialised in painted crucifixion scenes and they must have been as shocking as Bosch’s eye-popping scenes of depravation when they were first installed in churches and monasteries. Grünewald’s best-known crucifixion, from 1512–16, covered the closed wings of the Isenheim Altarpiece, a towering multi-panelled work made for the high altar of the hospital chapel in the monastery of St Anthony of Isenheim in Alsace. In it he gives us the most tortured Christ in Western art. The over life-size figure is painted nailed to a rudimentary cross against a bleak dark landscape. His fingers curl up towards God in spasms of pain. His emaciated body, dressed in nothing but a tattered loin cloth, is covered in sores and stuck with thorns and his skin has turned a putrid grey-green as if gangrene is setting in. His eyes are closed, his mouth open in pain, and the crown of thorns has caused rivulets of blood to flow down his cheek and matt his beard. Under the cross his mother Mary faints, her hands locked in prayer. St Anthony and St Sebastian look on from the wings as helpless witnesses. The hospital in Isenheim treated those who suffered from St Anthony’s Fire, a widespread disease in the sixteenth century. The victims would be driven mad as gangrene claimed their hands and feet. Grünewald’s Christ, with his rotting flesh, seems to embody their pain as well as his own.

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Matthias Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece, 1512–16

When the panels of the Isenheim Altarpiece were opened the mood became more celebratory. The Annunciation and Nativity on the left were balanced by Christ’s Resurrection on the right, his restored body surrounded by golden light. These inner scenes would only have been displayed to the congregation on specific days of the year, and on the feast day of St Anthony these inner leaves would also fold back to reveal two further Grünewald paintings depicting the saint’s torture by feathered and horned monsters. These inner paintings flank a gilded sculpture of the saint by Niclaus of Haguenau (around 1445/60–1538). Niclaus of Haguenau’s sculpture at the heart of the altarpiece lacks the passionate expression of Grünewald’s paintings. Sculptors were often employed to create the central figurines hidden inside altarpieces. The best German sculptor of the period was Veit Stoss (1447–1533), who brought wood to life with all the skill that we saw Claus Sluter apply to stone back in Chapter 11. Stoss carved figurines for inside altarpieces as well as for church display. He used the largest limewood trees for his most ambitious sculptures such as


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the Annunciation of the Rosary from 1517–18, which hung in the choir of the church of Saint Lorenz in Nuremberg in Germany. An oval rosary taller than Michelangelo’s David encircles two massive figures of the angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary. Stoss hollowed out the inside of his sculptures to lighten their weight (and reduce the chance of them splitting). He carved deep into the wood to create ringlets of hair and thick folds of drapery and used expensive paints to make his carvings seem like flesh and blood. Many northern European artists of this generation were involved in the politics of the age. They became ardent followers of Martin Luther, a religious reformer at Wittenberg University in Germany who dared to call out the Catholic Church on charges of corruption and greed. In 1517 Luther made public his accusations by nailing them to the door of a church in Wittenberg, so beginning the Protestant Reformation. Artists including Grünewald, Dürer and Lucas Cranach (1472–1553) were quick to rally to his cause, with Dürer and Cranach both painting portraits of Luther, and Cranach illustrating his incendiary pamphlets. Bosch would have approved – Luther believed humans had a natural tendency to be sinful and could only be redeemed by their faith in God and their own moral compass. They should not be able to buy forgiveness from the Pope in the revenue generator that was the papal sale of ‘indulgences’, a way of having your sins pardoned for a fee. The printing press was a great asset to Luther as it allowed for the speedy distribution of his pamphlets and ideas to an international network of like-minded individuals. The moveable-type printing press had been invented by Johannes Gutenberg around 1450 in Germany and quickly spread throughout Europe. (Before this date all books had to be hand-written.) Images cut into wooden blocks could be printed alongside type-set text and multiple copies could be made rapidly and cheaply. In 1521 Luther brought together the text of Philip Melanchthon and the woodcuts of Cranach for his Passional Christi und Antichristi, a pithy compare-and-contrast series of thirteen pairs of images where the wealth and excesses of the Catholic Church were pitted against the virtuous life of Christ. As the Reformation gathered pace Protestants came to challenge

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the use of imagery in worship, just as we saw the Orthodox iconoclasts do in Chapter 7, but initially Luther utilised the best artists to help strengthen and disseminate his religious views. Cranach’s prints are an example of how imagery could be put to work in the service of this new religion to create powerful propaganda. Cranach depicted a barefooted Christ whipping the moneychangers out of the temple, while the opposite image showed the Pope seated on a raised dais on a cushioned throne, watching money roll in as he signed indulgences. In another pairing Christ preaches outdoors as the Pope enjoys a sumptuous feast. The Pope is often elevated in Cranach’s woodcuts, fussed over by cardinals in ornate robes, removed from the lives of everyday people. He is shown in all the trappings of office, participating in theatrical ceremonies. Christ, by contrast, moves freely among his followers, telling stories or healing the sick. The scale of Pope Julius II’s tomb, which Michelangelo was still labouring on as Cranach made these woodcuts, gives you an idea of the Catholic Church’s love of grandeur and excess. Dürer, a firm friend of Cranach, also made woodcuts and used the technique for his Apocalypse series, creating some of the most expressive woodcuts ever seen. Ultimately though, woodcut as a medium had limitations in terms of subtlety and tone and Dürer increasingly turned to making engravings. Following the outlines of a drawing, a tool called a burin was used to carve an image onto a copper sheet, called a plate. Ink was rubbed into the grooves and damp paper was placed on top. The plate and paper were then rolled through a printing press, which pushed them together, causing the ink from the grooves to transfer to the paper. When the paper was peeled away a reverse print of the drawing engraved into the copper plate was left. This process could be repeated hundreds of times before the lines on the plate started to blur and the plate had to be abandoned or recut. Dürer lived in Nuremberg and was the most gifted printmaker of the sixteenth century. He was not aiming for mass communication with his prints (unlike Luther and Cranach), but for the widest dissemination of his art to a market that appreciated quality. Unlike


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paintings and sculptures, which were mostly made to commission, printmakers created works they hoped would be popular. They travelled around the country or even more widely selling their prints individually or in series at town fairs. Dürer’s love of nature informed his prints, which were often populated with carefully observed animals and birds. Knight, Death, and the Devil from 1513 is a large print that was a huge success for him. Based on a humanist text by Erasmus of Rotterdam it shows a Christian soldier on horseback, steadfast in keeping to the road despite the devil trying to distract him. The level of detail makes the print come to life – we see the shine on the horse’s coat and the gleam on the knight’s armour. Dürer manages to give the print all the texture and detail of a painting without using any colour. Dürer’s wife Agnes and servant Susanna sold prints like this at German fairs and when the three of them travelled to the Netherlands in 1520–1 this was one of the many prints they took with them. They sold copies to patrons, swapped them for work by other artists and used them to barter for expensive materials such as ultramarine. An avid collector of prints and works of art, Dürer exchanged drawings with Raphael and acquired a miniature of Christ by the teenage Susanna Horenbout in Ghent (we will meet her again soon). While visiting the Netherlands he paid to have altarpieces opened so he could study them, including Van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece that we looked at in Chapter 11. He called it ‘a most precious painting, full of thought’. He was also one of the first northern Europeans to witness the wealth of material sent from the ‘New World’ by the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés when it was displayed at the Coudenberg Palace in Brussels in 1520 as part of a European tour. The sculptures from Mesoamerica (now Central America) astounded Dürer, who called the heartland of the Aztecs the ‘new land of gold’. ‘All the days of my life,’ he wrote, ‘I have seen nothing that rejoiced my heart so much as these things, for I saw among them wonderful works of art, and I marvelled at the subtle characters of men in foreign lands.’ For Europeans in the early sixteenth century the world was expanding rapidly and, as we shall see in the next chapter, Dürer heartily embraced it.

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Here Come the Barbarians Moctezuma II, ruler of the Aztecs, thinks about what he has just

heard. It is 1520 and a group of Spaniards led by Hernán Cortés, who landed on the shores of his kingdom just a few months ago, have found and melted down a vast array of gold Aztec sculptures and battle equipment. And for what? So they can ship the gold back to their impoverished homeland. They have no respect, he curses; they are greedy like wild pigs. When the Aztecs invade rival cities they respect the art found there, he thinks. Brightly coloured Toltec sculptures of chacmools (reclining figures) are now used in his city’s temples to hold sacrificial hearts and the artists of the conquered Tehuacan Valley now work for him on his grandest projects. The eyes of the Spaniards have been on stalks ever since they entered his city of Tenochtitlan. It is as if they had never seen anything so magnificent: houses built of stone rising from linked waterways; interiors covered in wooden relief carvings; huge stone sculptures depicting the gods on pyramid temples. Coatlicue in 115


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particular seems to frighten them and he is not surprised: the goddess is one of four giant stone sculptures on the Templo Mayor in the sacred precinct at the centre of the city. She is headless, decapitated, with two coral snakes forming a scaly mask so she can see forwards and backwards through their eyes. She wears a necklace of human hearts and hands, gifts to her from past sacrifices, and a skull hangs from her waist. * The conquistador Cortés eventually killed Moctezuma II and razed the city of Tenochtitlan to the ground. (He rebuilt it as Mexico City.) Cortés had wanted to destroy the Aztecs’ gods in order to introduce Christianity, the religion at the core of Spain’s growing empire. The Spanish melted down many gold and silver objects so the bullion could be transported back to Europe and they ordered stone sculptures to be destroyed. Thankfully Coatlicue survived because it was buried, only coming to light centuries later, but innumerable others were lost. Cortés sent smaller items back to Europe – skulls covered in obsidian and gold, double-headed serpents picked out in turquoise tesserae, costumes decorated with prized quetzal feathers. While Dürer saw these as ‘wonderful works of art’, Cortés shipped them back as curios. Artists may have appreciated the mystery and ‘magic’ of Aztec works but for men like Cortés they were primarily financial assets: curiosities for display or a lucrative source of precious materials. The Aztecs, by contrast, respected the art of their adversaries, rather like the Romans and Greek art. The Aztecs employed Mixtec artists who came from conquered states such Oaxaca and created the finest metalwork. They also reused and studied art from other cultures such as Toltec chacmools and Olmec heads (we saw these giant sculptures in Chapter 2). To them the Spanish must have seemed like heathens, melting down precious artefacts and destroying cultural buildings and sculptures. Not every European country was so barbaric in their approach to foreign lands. The Portuguese were also travelling widely by sea in the early sixteenth century and they too were searching for gold. By 1520 they had explored the west coast of Africa, rounded the

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Cape of Good Hope and established trade routes as far as India. By 1543 they had reached Japan. Art made at this time records the extent of their cross-cultural meetings. In 1521 Dürer had become close friends with Rodrigo Fernandez d’Almada, Portugal’s international trade secretary in Antwerp. Dürer bought himself African works of art, spending three florins (about £500 today) on two ivory saltcellars from Sierra Leone. (To put this in context, Dürer paid two florins for the miniature by Susanna Horenbout; a small painting of his own would have sold for the same amount.) Saltcellars by Sapi sculptors from Sierra Leone had been sold to the Portuguese for several decades by the time they were imported to Antwerp, the northern European centre for Portugal’s intercontinental trade. Artists carved deep into the ivory to create a spherical central container – the saltcellar – that was supported by a cluster of figures. Covered in detailed carvings, these saltcellars were not intended for use but rather to be looked at and admired as art objects. As Portugal strengthened its ties with west Africa there was a degree of exchange, resulting in Afro-Portuguese saltcellars that combined carvings of African men, women and animals with Portuguese merchants, soldiers, ships and biblical scenes. The names of the artists who created the saltcellars are no longer known, but they were highly skilled and quickly adapted to the needs of their new patrons. They used engravings from European prayerbooks and travel memoirs to create a fusion of the two cultures. Comparable saltcellars were also produced in the State of Benin (now part of Nigeria) by Edo and Owo artists. One sixteenthcentury example has four stylishly dressed Portuguese merchants encircling the saltcellar while a tiny Portuguese boat complete with rigging and a bird’s nest lookout perches on top. The Benin saltcellars are not as finely carved as those from Sierra Leone but the figures are full of detail, from the beaded crucifix around the neck of one of the merchants to his splayed decorated boots. These figures have more in common with the bronze and brass relief panels made in Benin at this time.


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Brass plaques now known as the Benin bronzes, showing Benin’s leader, the Oba (left) and a Portuguese man, sixteenth century

Portuguese traders bought ivory in exchange for brass and copper manillas, a form of currency that looks like a chunky metal bracelet and could be melted down to create works of art. Benin and Portugal had a good trade relationship and Benin artists recorded historical meetings and exchanges between the Portuguese and the Oba (Benin’s king) on rectangular brass and bronze plaques that were displayed on the pillars of the Oba’s palace. Benin artists had worked in bronze since the thirteenth century, learning their trade from the Ife, whom we encountered in Chapter 9. They worked in specific guilds – there was one for bronze and one for ivory – and lived on Igun Street, close to the Oba’s palace. The plaques they made offered an account of the Oba’s life that glorified him in a similar way to the relief sculptures of Ashurbanipal that we saw in Chapter 2. They record important battles as well as meetings between court officials and Portuguese merchants. In many the Oba appears heavily armed in a substantial plated helmet with a ring of leopard claws around his neck and forehead. He appears invincible, always flanked by smaller attendants who brandish shields and spears. The Portuguese are easy to identify – some have moustaches and all have beards. Long straight hair frames

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their narrow faces and rounded hats sit above pointed noses. They wear fitted jerkins over decorative tunics with pleated skirts. The Portuguese had sailed as far as Japan by the 1540s and there was a regular flow of Portuguese ships entering Japanese harbours until the country banished foreign trade in the early seventeenth century. Japanese artists responded to the arrival of the Portuguese with a new form of screen art that featured the namban-jin (‘barbarians from the south’) and the screens, which could be 4 metres in length and were often made in pairs, became highly sought-after by Japanese collectors. The best screens came from the Kanō school in Kyoto, one of the most celebrated schools in the history of Japanese painting. It had been founded one hundred years earlier by Kanō Masanobu (1434–1530) and continued until the nineteenth century. Kanō Masanobu started working in the Chinese brushstroke style but the school soon developed its own traditions and depicted scenes from daily life using the Japanese yamato-e style, which featured bright colours and a liberal use of gold leaf. The use of gold simplified compositions (the way a work of art is arranged), replacing skies and clouds, roads and landscapes. Attention was focused on what remained, notably the people. Portuguese traders were depicted in bombacha, distinctive baggy trousers worn by Europeans to stave off mosquitoes, while Indian, Malay and African sailors can be seen among the crews of the Portuguese trading ships.

Namban folding screen by the Kanō school, late sixteenth century


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Within Europe at this time an exchange of cultural ideas also occurred as artists from different countries migrated to the wealthiest royal courts. Susanna Horenbout (1503–around 1554) moved to England with her brother Lucas (around 1495–1544) when she was a teenager. She had grown up working in her father Gerard’s workshop in Ghent and was known for her skill at painting miniatures, tiny paintings of religious figures or portraits of nobility, often only a few centimetres wide. Horenbout and her brother had been invited to England by Henry VIII’s adviser Cardinal Wolsey and they both painted many miniatures of the king. In 1526, four years after she joined Henry’s court, Horenbout sharpened up the king’s image. While her brother had painted 35-year-old Henry as doughy faced with pinched features, she had squared his jaw and given him an alert gaze. She emphasised his broad chest, included a beard for gravitas and tweaked his black cap so it sat at a jauntier angle. In doing so she made Henry VIII appear assured and powerful, and this miniature became the template for the king’s official ‘look’. Artists including Hans Holbein the Younger (1487/8– 1543) went on to follow her lead and this miniature became the founding image of Tudor portraiture. Henry VIII appears to have been grateful – when Susanna married John Parker later that year the king promoted Parker from a minor position at court to keeper of the Palace of Westminster as her wedding present. Miniatures came of age in the sixteenth century. They were exchanged among European royalty and nobility as diplomatic gifts and the best Flemish and Netherlandish artists were much in demand in England. These artists were valued for their attention to detail, a legacy of the Northern Renaissance, and their ability to work on a small scale. Horenbout later worked alongside another Flemish artist, Levina Teerlinc (1510s–1576), for Queen Catherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth wife. Catherine commissioned many miniatures to hand out to friends and allies and they became fashionable as dress accessories, worn like jewellery. The German-born Holbein painted Henry VIII many times but it is one of his private commissions, a great double portrait called The Ambassadors from 1533, that most captivates us today. Painted

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in the year Henry VIII split from Rome and established the Church of England, it is a portrait of the French ambassador to London, Jean de Dinteville, and his close friend Georges de Selve, Bishop of Lavaur. They stand in fine clothes next to shelves packed with scientific, musical and exotic objects including a Turkish rug, a lute, celestial and terrestrial globes and a Lutheran hymnbook. It is all so detailed we feel as if Dinteville may reach for one of the globes at any moment. Behind the pair a heavy curtain has been drawn back to reveal a small silver crucifix and across the front of the painting – in a daring display of illusion – lies a distorted skull, which only becomes clear when viewed from a particular angle (the bottom right corner). Did Dinteville display this painting on a staircase, so you would see the skull as you ascended? Is the prime subject of The Ambassadors mortality, with the objects and fashionable clothes all transient and only God eternal? Why add a Protestant book by Martin Luther to a portrait of a Catholic Bishop? It is these unanswered questions that continue to fascinate us today. Holbein was a court artist, working alongside the Horenbouts and Teerlinc. Across the world royalty employed the best international artists to glorify their kingdoms and commemorate their reigns. Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, who reigned over the Ottoman empire for more than forty years (1520–66), had many artists – Turkish, Islamic and European – in his court and his patronage led to a golden age of Ottoman art. A team of artists, now anonymous, laboured over the appropriately magnificent Süleymannâme (Book of Süleyman), a sumptuous chronicle of the sultan’s first thirty-five years in office. The book, an epic poem in Persian by Arif, includes sixty-five full-page paintings, many of which depict an idealised Süleyman engaged in various bloody battles. One victim’s head explodes in a cloud of blood as an Ottoman soldier thrusts his sabre through it; another is trampled to death by an elephant as Süleyman watches. Gold backgrounds and flattened perspective give the paintings the feel of Byzantine mosaics but the detailed patterning throughout is drawn from Islamic art and the rich colours echo Persian miniatures. This fusion of styles is


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appropriate for art recording an empire that stretched from Algeria and Egypt to Syria, Hungary and the Black Sea. In the second half of the sixteenth century, one European royal court exceeded all others for artistic patronage. The Spanish court of Philip II, who reigned for over forty years from 1556, attracted some of the very best foreign artists, including Titian and Anguissola, whom we will meet in the next chapter.

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The Reign in Spain It is 1555 in Cremona, northern Italy. Sofonisba Anguissola is

studying Minerva and Lucia, two of her five sisters, who are playing a game of chess. Sofonisba is the eldest sister – she has a stick of charcoal in her hand and is sketching them, trying to capture their expressions. She had private tuition in drawing and painting when she was growing up and now she is an artist. She has painted them playing chess already. In the Chess Game Minerva and Lucia are opposite each other, the board between them on a narrow table covered with a patterned Turkish carpet. Their younger sister Europa watches them play. Minerva raises her right hand in protest and Lucia looks out to make sure everyone is watching before she makes her move. The rules of chess have recently been updated in Italy, creating an all-powerful Queen (the game we know today) – perhaps Lucia’s hand rests on this piece as she pushes home her advantage. Europa laughs out loud at Minerva’s complaints.



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Sofonisba Anguissola’s Chess Game, 1555

In the Chess Game Sofonisba based Europa’s expression on a drawing she did some time ago, when she captured her sister laughing as she studied the alphabet. Their father Amilcare sent her drawing to the famous Michelangelo, asking what he thought. Amilcare was ambitious for his daughters and was an enthusiastic promoter of Sofonisba’s art. Michelangelo responded with a challenge – to see if she could draw a crying boy, a subject he considered harder to capture. So she did a charcoal sketch of her young brother Asdrubale whose curiosity led to his fingers being nipped by a crayfish in his sister’s basket. In the sketch his hand pulls back, curled in shock, while his mouth opens to cry and his brow furrows in pain. It is a drawing full of expression. Michelangelo was so impressed he sent it as a gift to Cosimo I de’ Medici, along with a drawing of his own. Boy Bitten by a Crayfish will end up in the collection of the humanist librarian Fulvio Orsini in Rome where it will be influential in showing other artists how a single moment could be captured without losing its vitality. *

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Sofonisba Anguissola (1532–1625) was highly skilled in capturing fleeting emotions. She created her own pictures of everyday life called genre paintings. She followed the example set by Flemish artists and sparked a new trend in Italy. She must have regularly sketched from life to attain such fine skills for capturing emotions and expressions and her painting Chess Game, like Boy Bitten by a Crayfish, has all the freshness and vitality of a lived moment. Anguissola was ambitious, but because she was a woman of noble birth she couldn’t be seen to sell work. So when King Philip II requested her presence at his court in Spain in 1559 it must have seemed like a great opportunity. His court was the most powerful in Europe. She became lady-in-waiting to Philip’s third wife Elizabeth and was a respected artist, painting many members of the royal family, including Philip. Philip II transformed the arts in Spain from provincial to internationally respected during his long reign from 1556 to 1598. He invited foreign artists to his court and collected work from across Europe. He amassed 1,500 paintings and his displays of art at his various palaces set the standard for today’s modern galleries. Philip’s vast empire spanned Europe, the Americas and the Philippines, and included the Netherlands (now Belgium and Holland), where Philip lived for a decade before returning home in 1559, the year Anguissola joined his court. He never ventured out of Spain again. Resentment of Spanish rule in the Netherlands grew throughout the 1560s and by 1568 the two countries were at war. Philip II had studied Netherlandish art and admired its detailed naturalism. He acquired many examples and had the largest collection of work by Hieronymus Bosch, including the Garden of Earthly Delights, which we encountered in Chapter 15. Philip’s aunt sent him Rogier van der Weyden’s Descent from the Cross after he admired it. (We also admired it in Chapter 11.) These masterpieces are now in the Prado museum in Madrid, Spain, because Philip II collected them over four hundred years ago. While Philip bought many works by Netherlandish painters, most of the artists at his court were Italian, like Anguissola. Italian artists could paint a likeness and fill it with emotion. Anguissola


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became an inspirational figure for women artists who wished to follow her example, such as Lavinia Fontana, who we will meet in the next chapter. As Anguissola joined Philip II’s court, another Italian artist, Titian (Tiziano Vecelli, 1490–1576), was finishing a grand cycle of mythological paintings called ‘Poesie’ for the king. As a young artist in Venice, Titian’s altarpieces had been the largest the city had ever seen, his figures full of energy and expression, his colours rich and bold. He had trained with the Bellini brothers and was famous for his lifelike portraits. But as he aged his style became looser and more lively and he spent his last years working on commissions for Philip II. Titian’s ‘Poesie’ were based on classical mythology from the Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses and had taken eleven years to complete. What would Philip II’s fiercely devout Catholic court have made of them? They are essentially magnificently painted dirty pictures. There are over twenty women across the six canvases and all of them are naked or exposing breasts and thighs. Two of the ‘Poesie’ feature Jupiter, king of the gods, a stand-in for Philip II. In both scenes Jupiter rapes a goddess. He is disguised as a shower of gold as he impregnates Danaë and as a bull when he kidnaps Europa. These are emphatic statements of power: of Philip’s rule over much of Europe and of men’s continued dominance over women. One of the leading artists of the sixteenth century, El Greco (‘the Greek’, born Doménikos Theotokópoulos, 1541–1614) was excluded from Philip II’s lavish patronage, despite having moved to Spain to seek royal commissions. El Greco was born in Crete and was of Greek descent. He moved to Venice in his twenties after training and working as a painter of icons in the tradition of the Virgin of Vladimir that we saw in Chapter 8. As he travelled around Italy his stiff painting style relaxed and he embraced the high colour of Titian, with whom he had spent time as a mature student. Ultimately El Greco was an artist caught between two completely different modes of painting and his Italian works don’t set pulses racing today. It was only when he moved to Spain, where he lived

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for nearly forty years until his death, that his mature style took shape, a curious blend of everything he had absorbed along the way. His late paintings beat with colour, have a wilful disregard for perspective (born out of his training as an icon painter) and crackle with emotional and spiritual charge, painted as they were in a nation whipped into a religious frenzy by the Spanish Inquisition. El Greco was cut off from Philip’s patronage after painting the Martyrdom of Saint Maurice and the Theban Legion from 1579–82 for the king’s chapel in the Escorial palace. The painting was deemed inappropriate because it featured male nudes and recognisable military leaders and it was quickly replaced. Despite this setback El Greco’s visionary religious paintings soon made him one of the most sought-after artists in Spain. Spain was in the grip of Catholic mysticism, where devout followers believed they could talk to God directly in visions. In El Greco’s Vision of Saint John from 1608–14 there’s no sense of him trying to create a credible setting for his figures because the truth to be conveyed is spiritual, not physical (as it is in an icon painting). The legacy of Titian’s reds and blues energise the crinkled clothes of St John who kneels, legs spread, arms raised, chin tilted up, eyes rolling in his head as he experiences a vision. The body is manipulated for maximum expression. The saint’s thighs are the length of entire legs and his neck supports an improbably tiny head. Behind him a sky that seems alive swoops and dips across the canvas. In late works such as this El Greco’s style is so extreme that no artist dared follow in his footsteps until the twentieth century. In Italy, Venice remained a crucial centre for art. With Titian now working almost exclusively for Philip II commissions were awarded to younger artists such as Tintoretto (Jacopo Robusti, 1518–1594) and Veronese (Paolo Caliari, 1528–1588). They filled Venice’s Scuole, churches and palaces with sumptuous and energetic canvases such as Veronese’s Last Supper from 1573 (renamed Feast in the House of Levi), painted for a Venetian convent. Tintoretto and Veronese’s painterly exuberance was countered by other Italian artists who spent their whole lives within monasteries and convents. Sister


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Plautilla Nelli (Polissena Nelli, 1523–1588) entered the Dominican convent of Santa Catarina in Florence aged fourteen. She taught herself to paint by studying the works on public display in the city. She became prioress of the convent and ran a team of artists who sold paintings and sculptures to other religious centres as well as to the Florentine nobility. Nelli’s own version of the Last Supper from around 1568, with its crisp white tablecloth and simple setting, has more in common with Leonardo da Vinci’s version than Veronese’s, her contemporary. It is the first known Last Supper painted by a woman artist and was installed in the convent’s refectory (dining hall). It is huge, nearly 7 metres long, but Nelli wasn’t striving for public recognition in the way that competing Venetian artists were. Her primary aim was to allow her fellow nuns to connect with the subject portrayed and she drew on historical examples, rather than contemporary ideas, to support their meditation. By the time Nelli completed her Last Supper the Renaissance was well and truly over. Among artists the talk now centred on style, or maniera, and paintings became more elaborate and exaggerated. Style, or how something looked, was more important than how it might really appear if you sketched it from life. Limbs grew longer and poses more complicated. Nowadays these artists, such as Parmigianino (Francesco Mazzola, 1503–1540) and Pontormo (Jacopo Carucci, 1494–1557), are collectively referred to as Mannerists. Giambologna (Jean de Boulogne, 1529–1608) was a leading Mannerist who squarely established Florence as Europe’s centre for sculpture in the sixteenth century. The irony is that he wasn’t Italian at all but was born in Flanders (now part of Belgium). He had travelled to Italy as a 21-year-old intent on studying classical sculpture in Rome. He was particularly fascinated by Hellenistic sculptures that captured explosive movement, such as the Laocoön. On his homeward journey he was persuaded to stay in Florence by the Medici, still the city’s ruling family. His name was Italianised to Giambologna by his new Italian patrons. Giambologna became the most influential sculptor in Europe, creating technically astounding works that went beyond what classical and Renaissance sculptors had believed possible. The masterpiece

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Giambologna’s life-size marble sculpture Samson Slaying a Philistine, 1560–2

that made his name was the over life-size Samson Slaying a Philistine dated 1560–2, originally the centrepiece of a fountain. It is a masterclass in movement in stone, the two bodies manipulated and twisted to create the drama of the overall composition. Samson stands and wields the jawbone of an ass as a weapon in his right hand. He is naked, his muscles taut with anticipation of delivering the killer blow, his body spiralling with the effort. He yanks the crouching Philistine’s head back with his left hand as the man writhes beneath him, trying to break free. Everything in this sculpture is about movement as the two bodies coil around each other. It demands to be walked around, to be seen from every angle, a dramatic swirl of action, a declaration of sculptural bravado.


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Mannerism is a catch-all term invented in the eighteenth century to accommodate the period from the end of the Renaissance to the start of the Baroque. Someone like Giambologna, his sculptures full of movement and theatrical drama, could easily be called an early Baroque sculptor instead. He anticipated the art of Baroque giants Caravaggio and Bernini, two artists who will wow us with their theatrics in the following chapters.

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The Theatre of Life Caravaggio is packing up his things. It is 1595 and he is about to

move to his new lodgings in the house of Cardinal del Monte in Rome. The Cardinal bought his Gypsy Fortune-Teller and Card­ sharps paintings last year and now Caravaggio is to work for him. Caravaggio reflects on his good fortune. He only came to Rome three years ago, a hot-headed 21-year-old, employed as a flower and fruit painter in the studio of Cavaliere d’Arpino. Now he has a cardinal for a patron. Caravaggio loves to paint handsome boys with fleshy lips and sparkling eyes, alluring and provocative. He is planning a new painting, one inspired by a drawing he saw recently in the collection of one of the cardinal’s acquaintances, Fulvio Orsini, Cardinal Farnese’s librarian. The drawing is Boy Bitten by a Crayfish by Sofonisba Anguissola. In Caravaggio’s version, Boy Bitten by a Lizard, he will paint an adolescent boy, not a toddler, but he wants to convey the same sense of shock, the right hand drawing back and trying to shake off the creature that has bitten him, the boy’s 131


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brow furrowed with pain, his mouth open. Caravaggio can see it now, ripe cherries scattered on a table in front of the boy, a flower tucked behind his ear. The deliciousness of youth and the sharp bite of love. He enjoys painting these young boys but he knows he needs larger commissions if he is going to take on Cavaliere d’Arpino and become the most sought-after painter in Rome. Cardinal del Monte may just be the man to help him achieve this. * Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610) lived with Cardinal del Monte for five years. By then there was another rival for the title of Rome’s greatest artist, Annibale Carracci (1560– 1609). Carracci, like Caravaggio, was from northern Italy. He arrived from Bologna where he had run a successful studio and art academy with his brother Agostino and cousin Ludovico. There he had championed a return to drawing from life, in contrast to the artificial exaggerations of the Mannerists, and he had studied the work of Titian and Veronese. He arrived in 1594, already a successful artist, and was swiftly awarded prestigious commissions. While Caravaggio studied the drawings collection of the Farnese librarian, Carracci frescoed an entire ceiling of Cardinal Farnese’s palace. It teems with love stories from ancient mythology with naked gods and goddesses cavorting in idealised landscapes, each scene framed by ‘sculptures’ rendered entirely in paint in a virtuoso trompe l’oeil. The ceiling was designed to complement Farnese’s impressive collection of antique sculptures, many of which were displayed in niches below, but its true aim may have been to prove that painting, not sculpture, was the superior art, an ongoing debate known as the paragone that peppered contemporary theoretical texts. Rome was fizzing with artistic talent at the turn of the seventeenth century. Why did so many artists still make the move to Rome? It was home to the deepest pockets and grandest commissions as the Catholic Church grew in strength once more. Artists also came from all over Europe to study classical art and the Renaissance brilliance of Michelangelo and Raphael. While in

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Tiberio Cerasi’s chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome, with Carracci’s The Assumption of the Virgin (centre) and Caravaggio’s The Crucifixion of Saint Peter (left), 1600–1

Rome they competed for commissions or were pitted against each other, creating paintings for the same location. In July 1600 Carracci was commissioned to fresco the ceiling and paint the altarpiece for Tiberio Cerasi’s chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome. Two months later Cerasi, a wealthy lawyer who was Treasurer-General to the Pope, commissioned Caravaggio to paint two large panels to flank the same altar. Carracci’s altarpiece, The Assumption of the Virgin, is a masterclass in harmonious movement. The Virgin ascends to heaven, arms outstretched. Divine light provides her with a golden halo as angels bear her upwards. As you approach the chapel she seems to welcome you with open arms. What a contrast to the two panels


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painted by Caravaggio on the adjacent walls. Instead of transcendent blues, reds and golds we fall right back down to earth with Caravaggio’s palette of browns, whites and ochres. There are flashes of red – to catch the eye and rival the Assumption for our attention – but his two panels are rooted in the earth, in the real world, despite their saintly subjects. On the right, in Caravaggio’s Conversion on the Way to Damascus, we see St Paul sprawled on the ground in front of a skewbald horse that picks its way around him. St Paul raises his hands to heaven, his body dramatically foreshortened, his eyes blinded by divine light, and it is as if he is really there, in front of us. Caravaggio’s dramatic use of lighting and inky shade thrust St Paul into our space. His arms seem sculptural, occupying real space, unlike those of the Virgin in Carracci’s Assumption, which remain part of the painted surface. On the left, in The Crucifixion of Saint Peter, Caravaggio went even further and there’s such energy in the zigzag composition that it feels animated. For us today, raised on a diet of cinema and television, Caravaggio’s dramatic realism connects with us in a way that Carracci’s idealised classical style does not. It’s an example of how mindful we have to be when looking at art, to understand that we bring our own experiences to it. Caravaggio speaks to us loud and clear and contemporary artists still respond to his powerful and dramatic canvases. Caravaggio and Carracci are now called Baroque artists. Baroque is a broad term applied to all art of the seventeenth century. At its heart is a sense of drama, of movement, of action, typified by Caravaggio’s exciting paintings. At the time, however, it was Carracci’s classical style, with its roots in ancient sculpture, Greek mythology and the Renaissance, that dominated teaching in the new art academies. Early art biographers similarly preferred Carracci’s idealism to Caravaggio’s startling realism and consequently Carracci’s style became the aspiration for every academy student for the next three hundred years. At the time of the Cerasi chapel commission Caravaggio and Carracci were stone-cold rivals. Imitators of Caravaggio’s dramatic style had sprung up almost instantly across Europe and were

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known as the Caravaggisti. The Carracci Academy in Bologna ensured a steady supply of classicists to counter them, such as Guido Reni (1575–1642). Lavinia Fontana (1552–1614) also grew up in Bologna but she didn’t qualify for the Carracci Academy on account of her gender. Fortunately her father, Prospero Fontana, was one of the leading Mannerist painters in Bologna and trained her at home. Despite marrying and having eleven children Lavinia Fontana was the family breadwinner, painting religious scenes, altarpieces and portraits of Bolognese nobility while running her own workshop. Bologna’s university, founded in 1088, had long advanced the education of women and the city consequently led the way in supporting women artists. She was able to set prices for her work, something that had not been possible for women artists before her, and she worked on commissions for the Medici and Philip II of Spain, consciously competing with the legacy of Sofonisba Anguissola. Early biographers state she earned the same as leading male artists of the time and church accounts note she was paid more for her altarpiece for Bologna Cathedral than the Carracci family were paid for a similar work. Following a successful career in Bologna, Fontana moved her entire family to Rome in 1604 to work for the Pope. One of her first paintings in Rome was Nude Minerva. The Roman goddess of war appears in a transparent shift woven with gold, which catches the light. She wears a helmet, plumed with red and white feathers, and is about to dress for battle. Despite her naked body being visible under her shift, Minerva is not presented as a passive object of beauty. She is seen from the side, walking towards the breast plate she will soon sport, her strong thigh, buttock and bicep alluding to her physical strength. This painting was praised in a contemporary poem by Ottaviano Rabasco and Fontana enjoyed much fame in Rome, being accepted into the all-male artists’ Academy of Saint Luke and living in the city until her death in 1614. By the time Fontana died, the Rome of Carracci and Caravaggio had also disappeared. Carracci had died in 1609 aged forty-nine following a nervous breakdown and was buried alongside Raphael


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in the Pantheon. Caravaggio bolted after killing Ranuccio Tomassoni in an illegal duel and died in Tuscany in 1610, aged thirty-eight. But in the work of the Caravaggisti and classical academy painters their styles lived on. The painter Orazio Gentileschi had been one of Caravaggio’s friends and was a Caravaggisti. Orazio’s daughter Artemisia (1593– 1653) grew up among artists and her early talent was nurtured by her father. While still a teenager she was painting large biblical scenes such as Susannah and the Elders (1610), based on a story where two men spy on the young Susannah while she takes her bath, hoping to take advantage of her. For Artemisia Gentileschi

Artemisia Gentileschi’s second version of Judith Beheading Holofernes, 1620–1

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life imitated art when two men (one an artist working with her father) raped her when she was seventeen. Following a lengthy court case they were banished from Rome but they never left. Instead she relocated, marrying another painter in Florence and living there for seven years before returning to Rome. Gentileschi’s time in Florence secured her reputation as an exceptional painter. She responded to the work of Caravaggio and created paintings that were very physical and real. Taking a subject painted by Caravaggio in 1599, Judith Beheading Holofernes, she reinterpreted it, giving far more credibility to the Jewish widow Judith as she slices through the neck of the drunk Assyrian general Holofernes, a man about to destroy her home town of Bethulia. In Gentileschi’s first version (1612–13) Holofernes lies on a bed, his head towards the viewer, with Judith and her maid Abra the only other figures in the dark tent. Knowing that a woman such as Judith could not match the strength of a combat soldier Gentileschi has the maid pin him down as Judith draws the sword across his throat. Judith grasps a handful of his hair with her left hand and pulls and twists at the blade, one knee on the bed for counterbalance. In her painting Gentileschi transfers the energy Caravaggio gave to the dying Holofernes to the two women who murder him. Within a year the 20-year-old Gentileschi had painted the scene again, this time for Cosimo II de’ Medici. In it she gave even more force to Judith, who now twists her whole body behind the lengthened sword. Blood stains the sheets and spurts up from his neck, splattering her arms, dress and breasts. Gentileschi doesn’t hold back from showing what an active woman’s body looks like. Judith’s brow is furrowed and her chin is doubled as she strains with the blade, her breasts crushed and rolled inside her bodice as she turns. You can’t help feeling Gentileschi spent time in front of a mirror studying herself in this pose to make the scene as realistic as possible. With this painting she asserted her place as one of the great Baroque painters. She became the first woman to be accepted into Florence’s Academy of Art and she managed to establish a studio away from the family home, no easy feat for a woman at this time. Her portrayal of women as credible heroines of history, active and


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engaged, stands in sharp contrast to those by successful male artists of the day, whose women were still often painted as passive objects of desire. The careers of Gentileschi and Fontana mark a pivotal moment for women artists. There had been successful women artists before them, women who had painted kings and queens like Susanna Horenboult and Sofonisba Anguissola, or run successful convent painting schools like Plautilla Nelli. But, as you can see from the chapters to date, they appear as the exception not the rule. With Gentileschi and Fontana, however, something shifts. They take on subjects traditionally painted by men, biblical scenes and female nudes, and present them from a different viewpoint, transferring power to the women they paint, who appear strong and assured. In their own lifetimes they were recognised as exceptional talents, becoming the first women to enter the all-male art academies in Florence and Rome. Gentileschi and Fontana proved that women painters could match men and be accepted by their (male) peers. You will see their impact as more and more women artists feature in this book from here on.

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New Ways of Seeing It is 1614 and Peter Paul Rubens is standing in the soaring white

nave of the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp. He is positioned between two columns, looking into a chapel close to the high altar. Above the chapel’s altar, framed in gold, is his Descent from the Cross. The painting is huge, over 3 metres high, and is flanked by two side wings that close over the central figure of Christ. Rubens studies the painting. It features three bearers of Christ: the Virgin Mary, Simeon and the crucifix on which Christ was killed. He sees Mary on the left wing, dressed as a fashionable Flemish lady, her hand resting on her pregnant belly, the unborn Christ within. On the right wing he sees the aged Simeon, who holds Christ as an infant. But it is the central panel of the crucifix that ultimately draws his eye. Christ’s lifeless body is removed as the sun sets on Golgotha near Jerusalem, drops of blood staining the white cloth suspended behind him. Rubens has used this cloth to add a swathe of light to the centre of the painting, swooping from top right to bottom left. It is held by many hands – the 139


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Peter Paul Rubens’ altarpiece Descent from the Cross, 1614

workman at the top even uses his teeth to keep it in place. John the Evangelist supports Christ’s body from below. John is braced to take on his legacy, his voluminous red gown symbolising the blood of the sacrificed Christ. * Rubens (1577–1640) was an exceptional artist who fused the lessons he had learned in Italy with the needs of his northern European patrons. He was a high-level diplomat and a court painter, a humanist known for his work ethic and energy. He ran a hugely successful studio in Antwerp, employing assistants to complete paintings based on his oil sketches and attracting artists of the calibre of Anthony Van Dyck, whom we will meet later in this chapter. As a young man in Italy, painting for the Duke of Mantua, Rubens had sketched classical sculptures in Rome, including the Laocoön. He used this understanding of form to give the bodies in Descent from the Cross depth and solidity. He drew on the hot colours of Titian for the red and gold robes, the clean lines of Raphael (by way of Veronese) for the figures in the side wings and the drama of Caravaggio for the workmen above the cross. As a northern European counterpoint there also seems to be a nod to Rogier van

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der Weyden’s Descent from the Cross reflected in the bowed position of Christ’s arms and his lolling head. Rubens spent much of his life moving between the royal courts of Europe, working as a diplomat and creating cycles of paintings for European royalty. As we have seen, wealthy European courts often employed artists from overseas – Holbein in England, Anguissola in Spain – and similarly the Mughal emperors in India chose to bolster their court workshops with Persian artists from Iran. One such artist was Aqa Riza (Reza Abbasi, active 1580– 1635), a Safavid painter who worked for the fourth Mughal emperor Jahangir. Artists such as Riza brought the Persian traditions of linear surface pattern and formal composition to the Indian court. Riza ran Jahangir’s painting workshop at his court in Allahabad (now Prayagraj, India) but his career ebbed as Jahangir’s interest in Western naturalism grew. Riza’s son Abu’l Hasan (1588– around 1630), however, became the most highly regarded court artist of his generation. Persian and Mughal court workshops had long been communal affairs, with many artists working anonymously on sumptuously illustrated books. By the seventeenth century, however, these workshops began to mirror those in Europe. They became competitive and hierarchical, with roughly one master for every ten painters employed, and Mughal artists were increasingly valued as individuals. Like Western artists they began signing their work, including self-portraits in scenes and developing their own unique styles. Jahangir’s interest in naturalism stemmed from the recent availability of Western art in India. His father Akbar had formed a sizeable collection of Western paintings and prints, often gifts from Europeans seeking to negotiate trade deals. The naturalism in European prints began to spread to Mughal painting, giving figures solidity and scenes depth and allowing stronger emotional relationships to be expressed. As a boy of thirteen Hasan had copied the figure of St John from Dürer’s 1511 Crucifixion print, carefully replicating the interlaced fingers clasped in prayer and the sorrowful eyes. Later, in Hasan’s Squirrels in a Plane Tree from 1605–8, you can see how he responded to European perspective and drawing


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from life. He maintains the traditional gold background and stylised tree of his father’s work but adds a receding rocky landscape and a selection of carefully observed animals including a scurry of red squirrels bounding over the branches. Hasan went on to paint scenes for the Jahangirnama from 1615–18, the official version of Jahangir’s memoirs, in which the emperor described Hasan as ‘at the present time [having] no rival or equal . . . truly he has become the wonder of the age’. Mughal emperors enjoyed collecting Western art and European missionaries tried a similar tack in China, taking European paintings with them to the imperial court. But the Chinese literati, the highly respected amateur artists whom we first met in Chapter 9, took little notice of this strange new way of depicting the world and Western art did not gain a foothold in China until the nineteenth century. According to the artist Dong Qichang (1555–1636), art in seventeenth-century China fell into two camps. There was the northern school, dominated by trained professional artists such as Cui Zizhong (1574–1644), which largely painted figures, and the southern school, dominated by literati such as Dong and their love of monochrome landscapes. Dong’s writings on art remained hugely influential in China for centuries but were little known in the West until recently. They stand in contrast to the Western model of individual genius and classical mimesis. While competing Western painting styles were fashionable for a few decades at most, Chinese artists tapped into traditions that were millennia old. Dong believed artists had to absorb nature through travel then bring this to bear as they worked through the styles of past great Chinese artists. They should create a personal style that expressed originality while also deferring to those who had preceded them. Consequently, Dong’s landscapes did not try to replicate exact observations taken from nature but the essence he had observed within it, as expressed by his predecessors. In 1620 he created his album Eight Scenes in Autumn, a muted set of riverbanks, trees, grasses, mountains and snow, that draws on earlier interpretations while showcasing his versatility with ink and brush. Each scene includes a thoughtful poem that brings the landscape to life,

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written into an area of the painting purposefully left blank to allow space for the viewer’s mind to wander. Much sixteenth-century European exploration had been conducted by the Portuguese and Spanish, but it was the Dutch who came to dominate international trade in the seventeenth century. The Dutch Republic had fought its way into existence, wresting its lands from the Spanish court, who still held on to Flanders in the southern Netherlands. Now, when goods such as Chinese porcelain were shipped to the Dutch Republic, the profits lined the pockets of the Dutch middle class not Spanish royalty and turned the densely populated towns and cities into wealthy enclaves. This created a buoyant market for art, a so-called Dutch golden age. But this was not art on the scale of Rubens’ Flemish altarpieces. Instead people bought smaller paintings from fairs, shops and art dealers and chose scenes that reflected daily life or the objects and landscapes that surrounded them. The dominant market for art was no longer the church or the state and artists had to respond to the needs of their new clientele. Much of the art that survives today was originally painted for the grandest clients and it can skew our understanding of how art was experienced by everyday people. The art of the Dutch golden age allows us to see what kind of paintings would have hung on the walls of homes like ours, had we lived in the seventeenth-century Dutch Republic. Still life was one of the new types of painting that became popular and Clara Peeters (around 1588–after 1657) led the way, painting tables laden with food, from breakfasts to banquets. She drew on the detailed naturalism of the Northern Renaissance and conjured multiple contrasting textures in each work – the hard crust of a loaf, the soft sheen of feathers, the lustrous curve of a pewter flagon. In Still Life with a Sparrow Hawk, Fowl, Porcelain and Shells (1611) a female sparrow hawk, golden eye blazing, grips the handle of a wicker basket on a table strewn with dead birds including a mallard, two plucked pigeons and a bullfinch. The birds share a table with four shells and a stack of porcelain. The owner of these items, the grouping implies, is a wealthy and worldly person, as the shells come from the Caribbean and west Africa and the porcelain has been


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Clara Peeters’ Still Life with a Sparrow Hawk, Fowl, Porcelain and Shells, 1611

imported from China. Still life paintings were largely sold after completion, that is, not commissioned. They expressed the aspirations and values held by their owners rather than marking actual ownership of the objects depicted. Some people preferred to have figure paintings in their home and the exuberant fast-and-loose style of Frans Hals (1582/3–1666) was very popular, as were paintings by Judith Leyster (1609–1660), who probably trained in Hals’ workshop in Haarlem. Hals specialised in portraits, often painting a merry middle-class man raising a toast, or a musician strumming a tune. Hals was at his best when he captured the fleeting expressions of life – a peal of laughter, a sideways glance, a drunken smile. Leyster created genre scenes such as The Proposition, dated 1631. Hals influenced her use of broad lively brushstrokes and the Caravaggisti inspired the dark shadows she used to propel her figures closer to our world. Leyster’s scenes have more emotional depth than those by Hals as she wove a moral tale into each work. The Proposition was not a double portrait but a story of female resilience and thwarted male

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desire. A woman sits shrouded in a pure white shawl that reflects the lamp light and illuminates her face. She has her head down, concentrating on sewing, and refuses to be distracted by the man in a fur hat who paws her shoulder, his right hand heavy with coins for her if she will agree to his advances. Back in Spanish Flanders, Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641) had left the employ of Rubens, realising that while Rubens remained in Antwerp he would always be in his shadow. So he travelled to Italy, first to Genoa, then Rome, then Palermo, where he sketched and painted an elderly Sofonisba Anguissola while they discussed painting. Rarely in one place for more than a couple of years, Van Dyck painted his way around the royal courts, picking up commissions. He captured the wealth and lifestyles of his sitters, painting the English adventurer Sir Robert Shirley wearing Persian dress in Rome and the Earl of Arundel and his wife Aletheia Talbot at home in Sussex, planning a British colonisation of Madagascar and pointing to the country on a large globe. Van Dyck became the leading portrait painter of seventeenthcentury England. Charles I knighted him in 1632 and Van Dyck became his principal painter for the next nine years. In 1635 he was asked to paint the king from three angles in order that the leading Italian sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, might carve his likeness. Van Dyck depicted the king front on, in profile and in threequarter pose. His is a pale face, narrow and bearded, with large, slightly hooded brown eyes. His full lips are soft but unsmiling and his slender fingers clasp satin robes under intricate and extensive lace collars. It is tempting to see Charles I’s later fate – beheaded for treason after losing the English Civil War to Oliver Cromwell – in this guarded, melancholy, almost haunted face. Van Dyck’s brilliance as a portrait artist was his ability to capture the person within, using every small asymmetrical detail to build a picture of a human being, not just a likeness. With the growth of new markets for art in the seventeenth century, particularly the middle class, different types of art began to emerge. Still life was one; another was landscape, to which we turn next.

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The Lie of the Land It is 1648 and Nicolas Poussin stands and contemplates the two oil

paintings in front of him. They show the death of the Athenian general Phocion, poisoned by his enemies in 318 BCE and denied a burial within the city’s walls. In the first painting, Landscape with the Body of Phocion Carried Out of Athens, the dead general is on a stretcher, wrapped in a white shroud, borne along a dirt road by two men, their heads bowed. They follow the road as it snakes through the countryside. In the second painting, Landscape with the Ashes of Phocion Collected by his Widow, a woman crouches in the shadows, scooping up the ashes of her dead husband with her bare hands while a servant keeps lookout. Trees crowd the foreground while beyond a classical temple draws the eye upwards towards distant ruins. As Poussin moves between the paintings he glimpses his viewing box on a table nearby. It is like a miniature theatre that holds each scene he paints. He spends days crafting figures and buildings from wax, blocking out the light and then carefully introducing it 146

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Nicolas Poussin’s Landscape with the Body of Phocion Carried Out of Athens, 1648

from one particular angle so he can study the shadows it creates. Nothing is left to chance: he controls every aspect of each scene in order to create balance and harmony. Poussin has completed these two paintings for a merchant called Cérisier in Lyon, France. France is the country of his own birth. He often paints for French collectors, despite having lived in Rome for twenty-four years. His patrons are all humanist intellectuals who enjoy his reasoned, measured paintings where classical action has been stilled and condensed into philosophical reflections on life. * Why did Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665) travel to Rome aged thirty and settle there? He did not follow the lead of Caravaggio and create theatrical showstoppers. He did not dip into the bottomless papal purse for his commissions. No, Rome for Poussin was the epicentre of classical art which, following Carracci, continued to fascinate French artists and antiquarians (those who study classical art) throughout the seventeenth century. Increasingly Poussin’s mythological and religious scenes were dwarfed by the landscape in which they were set. Why? Up to this


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point landscape had been little more than a backdrop, something glimpsed through Northern Renaissance windows or in the distance in the Mona Lisa. Now it was quickly becoming the star of the show. For Poussin landscape painting allowed him to present idealised views of the ancient Roman countryside for his humanist patrons and supporters. He used his own drawings, often sketched in the hills outside Rome alongside another French painter, Claude Lorrain, now often referred to simply as Claude (Claude Gellée, 1604/5–1682). The two French artists were the cornerstones of this new classical landscape tradition that became hugely popular in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Claude’s collectors were not Poussin’s intellectuals but the aristocracy of Europe. In Claude’s paintings, trees again frame the landscape and draw us in to the view. In Pastoral Landscape from 1647 the trees flank the river, which lures us further into the scene as we follow its path to the hazy mountains in the distance. People are present only to give scale and pinpoints of colour. In many of his scenes the sun is rising, casting a golden glow over every leaf and blade of grass. The rich morning light hovers over, under and in front of everything it touches. Landscape is not natural; it doesn’t simply exist. Landscape is not the land itself but a carefully selected view that is sketched or painted to tell a particular story of man’s relationship to the earth. For Poussin and Claude it is dotted with fictitious Roman temples and harks back to the dawn of classicism. For Dutch artists, by contrast, landscape reflected aspects of contemporary life. Windmills and churches rise from flat swathes of land; boats and ships set sail under heavy skies. The rise in Dutch landscape painting was fuelled by the interests of the middle-class collectors who bought them. They didn’t live in private palaces or cathedral cloisters but out there, in the real world, where their ships bobbed at anchor and their windmills turned in the fields. They had fought hard for their land, battling rival nations and even the sea itself, by pumping low-lying lakes dry to create more land for farming. 1648 was the high point of Poussin and Claude’s classical landscapes in Italy, but in the Netherlands the date signified the end of

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a thirty-year war that had pitted the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor against Protestant states, which included the Dutch Republic. The Treaty of Westphalia, signed in 1648, ushered in a new era of peace. Despite the cost of the war, the Dutch golden age showed no sign of waning. Money flowed in from territories and trade missions around the globe and the merchants who benefited were quick to spend it on paintings to embellish their homes. Over one million paintings were produced between 1640 and 1659, and the most popular type of art was landscape painting. Dutch painters such as Jacob van Ruisdael (1628–1682) from Haarlem had hugely successful careers as landscape specialists. The flatness of the land in View of Naarden with the Church at Muiderberg from 1647 makes the sky dominate, its vastness allowing you to feel the wind blowing in your face as clouds scud across the sky, threatening rain. Such paintings were a breath of fresh air for the merchants who bought them, holed up as they were in towns and cities across the Dutch Republic. Landscape paintings didn’t offer a literal reproduction of what existed but they appeared to. Sand dunes faced up to the encroaching grey sea and trees stretched branches up towards lively skies. There was little sign of the new drainage systems used to reclaim the land from the sea, or the growing canal network. The landscapes that merchants bought in their millions may seem nostalgic to us today, an idealised view of country life, but they would probably have seemed this way to seventeenth-century Dutch city-dwellers too. Other Dutch painters such as Aelbert Cuyp (1620–1691) were influenced by Claude and painted golden views of coastal towns. In his View of Dordrecht from around 1655 a large two-masted ship is anchored, dwarfing the fishing fleet huddled along the quay. This ship, flying Dutch colours, could cross oceans and alluded to the global networks of the Dutch West and East India trading companies. While the East India Company operated successful trade routes in Asia, the West India Company was active in Brazil, establishing colonies along the coast to process sugar. The governor of the Brazilian colony recruited Dutch artists to map this ‘new’ land and Albert Eckhout (1610–1666) and Frans Post (1612–1680) both spent time there in the 1640s.


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Post painted the holdings and fortresses of the new Dutch colony during his eight-year stay, but it was his exoticised landscapes of Brazil, completed on his return to the Dutch Republic in 1644, that propelled his career. He depicted anonymous black workers in spotless sugar mills nestled in well-tended landscapes, with palm trees added for ‘exotic’ difference. It was clearly a fictitious account – the reality was that thousands of slaves died working in unsafe sugar mills each year. By the time Post painted Sugar Mill in 1659 – one of twenty-five versions he completed – the Dutch dream in Brazil was over, the colony lost to the Portuguese five years earlier. Despite the rise of landscape painting across Europe in the seventeenth century, many artists continued to work from the figure. The self-portrait was a form of artistic calling card often used by artists to showcase their skills. In a 1640s self-portrait Flemish painter Michaelina Wautier (1604–1689) sits facing the viewer in front of a stretched canvas, a palette in her left hand and brush in her right. She is dressed in a fashionable double collar edged in lace, a cream satin skirt and voluminous velvet mantle – not the clothes she would have worn for painting. She shows her skill by capturing the gleam of the pearls at her neck and wrist, the muted shine of the satin, the flush on her cheeks. Her paintings of the 1640s and 1650s show a similar ability to breathe life into her sitters. She had real skill in capturing the lustre of hair, the plump volumes of children’s faces and the weather-beaten wrinkles of old men. Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680) feared sculptors could not compete with painters such as Wautier because they could not work in colour, only light and shade. He proved himself wrong with his vast sculptural displays of Baroque brilliance funded by a succession of Popes and cardinals. For the chapel of Cardinal Federico Cornaro in the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome, Bernini created The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa around 1651. St Teresa wrote of her mystical visions in her autobiography. She saw a beautiful angel with a golden flaming spear: ‘With this he seemed to pierce my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails.’ When he pulled it out ‘he left me completely afire with a great love for God’. Look at her: head thrown back, eyes closed, arms open in

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Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s theatrical installation of the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa in Rome, around 1651

abandonment, toes spasmed as if her whole body is responding to the sensation. An anonymous contemporary text said Bernini had ‘prostituted’ the saint and Teresa does seem to experience the touch of God as if it is orgasmic. Bernini emphasised this, lighting the sculpture from a concealed window in the canopy above so she glows. He even gave her an audience, carving donor portraits into the chapel walls as if people were in boxes at the theatre, watching the ecstatic vision unfold on stage. Bernini worked with a large team of assistants who scaled up his terracotta bozzetti (clay models) into marble sculptures, allowing him to create such large-scale works as the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa and the Four Rivers Fountain in Piazza Navona in Rome in the same year. Designed for Pope Innocent X, whose family palace faced onto the piazza, the fountain is a tour de force of colossal figures, animals and geology, topped with an ancient Egyptian obelisk. Just as Bernini was completing the fountain for Innocent X, the Spanish artist Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599–1660) finished painting him. Velázquez’s probing eye and intense realism


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shouldn’t have come as a surprise to the Pope for Velázquez had already painted several of his retinue. But perhaps Velázquez cut a little too close to the bone for the 75-year-old’s taste. His mouth is a tense grimace, a frown crosses his brow and his skin is reddened from good living. He sits in linen robes under a red satin cloak and cap and looks as if he may stand at any moment, impatient to get back to work. The finished painting was never publicly displayed in the Pope’s lifetime, instead being consigned to the gallery in his family’s private palace, but it is a magnificent portrait of the heavy burden and corrupting influence of power. Velázquez made copies of the portrait when he returned to Madrid in 1651. He had worked for Philip IV, King of Spain (and Philip II’s grandson), for nearly thirty years at this point and had spent many hours studying the royal collection of Italian art that included Titian’s racy ‘Poesie’. By the time he painted Philip’s daughter in Las Meninas in 1656 he had an assured and confident style. Las Meninas is a portrait of the 5-year-old Infanta Margarita and her attendants. But it is also a portrait of Velázquez at work, as he included himself painting a giant double portrait of the Infanta’s parents, whom we only see as a blurry reflection in the mirror on the back wall. Velázquez presented the act of painting as a subject fit for a king’s collection. By painting himself into a royal portrait he emphasised the elevated position of court artists. In this way Las Meninas is also a political painting. In Spain at this time manual workers, a group that traditionally included artists, were not allowed to join the highest orders of society. Artists campaigned for their work to be seen as a liberal art, more akin to poetry than manual labour. Las Meninas was Velázquez’s contribution to the debate and two years after it was completed, aged fifty-nine, he was awarded the highest military knighthood on offer. This was a triumph for Velázquez and, by association, all Spanish artists. Sadly, for another great artist who had been hugely successful in his own lifetime, things were sliding in the other direction as he approached his sixties: Rembrandt van Rijn.

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Still Life and Life Stilled It is 1658. Rembrandt looks at the painting on his easel: a large,

seated self-portrait. In it he looms from the inky blackness, dressed in an ornate gold tunic and heavy cloak like some ancient king, his left hand holding a silver cane as if it were a sceptre. His hat shades his careworn eyes and there’s more than a little stubble on his chin, but his hand – his right hand, the one he uses to paint – curls around the chair’s arm and is fully illuminated as if it is the star of the show. Increasingly his portraits are painted with broad brushstrokes. Sometimes he even uses a palette knife to squash the paint on, working coarse pigments into the surface to add texture. In this self-portrait only his face and right hand are detailed, as if they are the only things that matter. It is this hand, after all, that has brought him great fame. The paintings it produced allowed him to buy the property he now stands in, situated in a wealthy and fashionable quarter of Amsterdam. He furnished the imposing five-storey town house with all manner of art and prints by artists including Titian and 153


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Dürer and his studio is stuffed full of costumes and props from around the world – Chinese silks, Persian turbans, Dutch weaponry. But all his spending has caught up with him. Once the leading painter of the Dutch Republic, bankruptcy is now forcing him to sell everything. * Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606–1669), now known as Rembrandt, was a character. But which character depended on the day. Throughout his life he painted, sketched and printed selfportraits and more than eighty survive. At twenty-three he mimicked his unruly brown hair by drawing into wet paint with the wrong end of his brush, surrounding his peachy likeness with wild energy. At twenty-five he stood in a Persian turban and padded silk robe, a poodle at his feet, presenting himself as an ambitious artist keen to mark himself out as an international star. He appeared in furtrimmed doublets and patched jackets, laughing and drinking with his first wife Saskia, and styled as a wealthy burgher in a fine white ruff. He could transform himself into any character while retaining a penetrating likeness and, by association, he could do the same for you if you commissioned him. He soon became the leading artist for wealthy metropolitan merchants and the city’s guilds, all of whom were eager to have Rembrandt paint their portrait. Rembrandt was commissioned by a division of the harquebusiers (the armed civic guard) to paint the entire group in 1642. Now called The Night Watch, this huge painting saw him reinvent the group portrait, turning what would previously have been a static line-up captured for posterity into a celebratory scene of the guard in action. Captain Cocq and his men march through an archway to the beat of a drum, guns and spears at their side and banners flying. A dog barks and a young girl turns to watch the procession. This was Rembrandt at his peak. But by 1658 his portrait commissions were drying up, his looser style at odds with the fashion for detailed naturalism, and he increasingly spent his time making prints. Rembrandt used the etching process for printmaking. Etching was similar to engraving, but instead of laboriously carving lines into metal Rembrandt used the burin to draw into a thin wax layer

Still Life and Life Stilled


that had been melted over the copper plate. When the finished drawing was dipped in an acid bath the acid bit into the exposed metal where the wax had been scraped away, creating lines that would hold the ink for printing. Rembrandt often reworked his prints several times, obliterating figures, adding more shadows or highlights, using varnish to fill in lines that were no longer needed. Much of his fame, both during his lifetime and afterwards, was based on the wide distribution of his richly toned etchings of religious subjects such as The Three Crosses from 1653–60. Amsterdam’s fortunes were chequered during the second half of the seventeenth century, due to wars both at home and abroad. An unsettled period in China restricted the export of porcelain causing shortages in Europe. This was good news for Dutch potteries, particularly those in Delft, who now turned their hand to creating blue-and-white copies of Chinese porcelain. The copies became known as Delftware and the potteries turned into cash cows. They helped transform the small city of 20,000 inhabitants into a wealthy centre for art. Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675) was born in Delft and Pieter de Hooch (1629–1684) moved there from Rotterdam in 1650. Vermeer was influenced by the genre scenes of Gerard ter Borch (1617–1681), a well-travelled Dutch painter who had spent time in Rome and the court of Philip IV in Spain before returning to the Dutch Republic. Ter Borch was an exceptional painter of fabric and staged intimate scenes of wealthy domesticity – lute playing, letter reading – in order to display his ability to capture the subtle gleam of white satin skirts. Vermeer also painted women playing instruments or reading letters but there is a distinct stillness to his paintings. Instead of satin skirts he reproduced simple elements in meticulous detail: the studs on a chair back, the folds of a map recently hung on a wall and the cool grey light that fell steadily on his pregnant wife Catharina as she stood facing a window in Woman in Blue Reading a Letter from 1663–4. In the last chapter we saw that Poussin would position wax figures inside a viewing box and manipulate the light source so he could control a scene before painting it. Many believe Vermeer went even further thanks to developments in optics, turning his


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Johannes Vermeer’s Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, 1663–4

home into a stage set for a camera obscura. The camera obscura was a precursor to the camera as we know it. It reflected the view in front of it and – by using a lens – projected it, upside down, on to the wall of a dark chamber behind. This would have allowed Vermeer to try out chairs, tables, jugs, even people in a variety of positions, balancing elements for each composition. Given that he was a notoriously slow painter this would have been a useful tool. He could even have traced the outlines of the projected scene to give him a head start on the canvas itself. In this way he could concentrate on what interested him most: capturing the way light transformed the people and objects in front of him and building harmonious compositions using only a few colours, notably Delft blue and yellow ochre.

Still Life and Life Stilled


Pieter de Hooch also took the domestic house as his subject but instead of restricting the scene to a corner of a room like Vermeer, he revelled in showing open windows and doorways, with other lives or views glimpsed beyond. He also ventured outside into back yards, painting water pumps and brooms, flagged floors and open gateways as in Woman and Maid in a Courtyard from around 1660–3. His scenes were painted in Delft and Amsterdam, where he moved in 1660, and largely featured women, both servants and home-owners, engaged in daily life, whether rocking a crib, counting coins, instructing children or cooking. The paintings of seventeenth-century artists like Vermeer, De Hooch and Ter Borch don’t offer us stories from historical literature or the Bible like those of their Italian counterparts. In the choice of objects on a table, or the arrangement of figures, a moral message could often be teased out, but seventeenth-century Dutch artists seemed to revel in the lack of story to bring the art of painting itself – light, form, composition – to the fore instead. They prioritised looking and optical skill, the hot scientific topic of the period. They investigated how the world was seen rather than how stories imagined it to be. By contrast, Elisabetta Sirani (1638–1665) was an Italian artist who painted such stories. She trained in her father’s workshop in Bologna, taking over the running of it and its male assistants aged just sixteen when her father became crippled with gout. For the next ten years she outdid her father – who had been Guido Reni’s most accomplished pupil – and became a leading Bolognese painter. Like Artemisia Gentileschi, her speciality was strong female heroines drawn from biblical or classical sources. However, unlike Gentileschi, she didn’t paint with theatrical bravura or dramatic lighting but followed the classical path of idealism first seen in Annibale Carracci’s work, and passed down to those who studied at the Carracci Academy, such as Reni. Despite the dramatic moment Sirani chose for Portia Wounding her Thigh from 1664 there’s little of the passion Gentileschi instilled in her women. Portia, wife of the Roman senator Brutus, is shown passively holding the dagger with which she has injured herself, her


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body smooth and idealised. Portia stabbed herself to show that women could be as courageous and brave as men and therefore should be entrusted with male secrets, in this case the proposed assassination of Julius Caesar. Sirani does not portray Portia conversing with the other women, who occupy a distant room, or pleading with Brutus. Instead Sirani focuses on her solitary courage, how Portia is master of her own destiny. Perhaps Sirani identified with her, a woman trying to make her way in a man’s world. Four years prior to this painting Sirani had founded a women’s art academy, the first to exist in Europe. Bologna had always been at the forefront of women’s education, and although elsewhere in Europe women artists were slowly beginning to be recognised in a professional capacity, it was still relatively rare for women without artist parents to become artists themselves. Sirani’s academy was important because it allowed women from non-artistic families to train. She trained her younger sisters and fourteen other women to become professional painters, and left nearly two hundred of her own paintings when she died at the age of twenty-seven. Although neglected in later art histories, at the time of her death she was considered as an equal to Reni. The city gave her a ceremonial funeral and she was buried in Reni’s own tomb. In the Dutch Republic and Flanders there were no academies like Sirani’s, but male artists would take on female pupils. One such artist was Jan Davidsz de Heem (1606–1684) in Antwerp, an established floral still life painter into whose workshop Maria van Oosterwijck (1630–1693) entered aged sixteen. Her Vanitas (1668) incorporates a display of flowers similar to those by De Heem but she added symbols of mortality such as a human skull, a mouse devouring a corn cob and a red admiral butterfly. Flower paintings became a popular addition to the still life market after ‘tulipomania’ had engulfed the Dutch Republic in the 1630s. This craze for tulips saw single bulbs selling for the price of a house in a frenzied bout of trading that ended with a spectacular market crash, the first of its kind. Paintings of these and other flowers were now among the most expensive. The prized striped tulip would often appear alongside lilies and roses – despite them

Still Life and Life Stilled


not flowering at the same time. Painters drew upon illustrated flower catalogues to portray flowers from different seasons. Rachel Ruysch (1664–1750) became the leading flower painter of her generation, painting well into her eighties. While many Dutch artists were competent at combining individual blooms from books to create floral arrangements, Ruysch brought hers to life. Her father was an anatomist and botanist, and so she would have had access to hand-coloured engravings in books such as Maria Sibylla Merian’s New Flower Book from 1680. She also animated her paintings using light and shade to give each flower depth, carefully arranging them in dynamic displays. In Ruysch’s Vase with Flowers from 1700 a dark blue flag iris is counterbalanced by a red-and-white striped tulip, its petals blown. Below, pink peonies, wild white roses and a blue-tipped

Rachel Ruysch’s Vase with Flowers, 1700


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convolvulus cluster under a broken stem, as if a dying flower has already been taken out of the display. This underlines the message of every floral arrangement, of the beauty and brevity of life. Such sentiments, and such art, were beginning to fall out of fashion at the turn of the eighteenth century in France. There was a growing trend among the French aristocracy for frothy decorative paintings where death was overlooked and life was played out as a timeless fantasy. But this luxurious escapism would ultimately come at a price.

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Rococo Escapism and London Life It is 1717 and Jean-Antoine Watteau stands with his back to the

windows in the Assembly Room at the French Academy in Paris. In front of him the leading artists of his generation are all looking at his latest painting, Pilgrimage to the Isle of Cythera. Watteau was asked to submit a work five years ago but he has been busy trying to keep up with all his private commissions and time slipped by. He also wanted his submission to be the best work he had ever painted. This painting will enter the Academy’s collection – the price of membership – and be displayed in one of the Academy’s rooms that stretch across the first floor of the Louvre (a former royal palace). It will be seen by artists who are training in the lifedrawing classes, by esteemed visitors and by all his peers and rivals. The director now addresses him and explains that there is a problem. Every artist who enters the Academy is placed into a category: history painting, portraits, genre scenes, landscape or still life. There’s a hierarchy, with history painting at the top – valued for its ability to combine intellectual subject matter and 161


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Jean-Antoine Watteau’s Pilgrimage to the Isle of Cythera, 1717

painterly touch – and still life at the bottom. The problem for the Academy is where to place Watteau. This painting of his, showing aristocratic couples on Cythera, the ancient Greek island of love, is part mythological landscape, part court portraiture. The air is a shimmering haze as Aphrodite works her magic and small cherubs frolic on the air currents. What to do with it? And what to do with Watteau? The Academicians are puzzled. The Academy has existed for seventy years but they don’t remember having this problem before. Finally, a proposal is made to introduce a new category and submit his work this way. They will call it fêtes galantes, meaning courtly outdoor scenes. So Watteau finally enters the Academy as a painter of fêtes galantes. * Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684–1721) drew inspiration for his fêtes galantes from Titian and Rubens. He staged love stories in classical landscapes under soft dreamy skies, sweetening his colours to pastel shades to complement the gilded rococo interiors of his patrons’ homes. His wildly fashionable paintings were swiftly copied on to porcelain vases, snuff boxes and screens that were

Rococo Escapism and London Life


sold in their thousands to Europe’s aristocracy. They were also translated into prints and disseminated across Europe, influencing artists as diverse as Thomas Gainsborough and François Boucher. Like Watteau, Boucher (1703–1770) came from a poor family and didn’t train at the Academy. At this time leading artists were often classically trained. They began studying form by sketching Greek and Roman sculptures before progressing to life models to obtain a thorough understanding of the body. Then they were expected to work towards the highest rungs of the academic hierarchy and aspire to paint ancient history or mythological scenes. Boucher, however, was trained by his father and initially made his living as a printmaker, completing etchings of Watteau’s paintings. His was a more hands-on art education than sketching marble torsos in the Louvre. However, Boucher – like Watteau – also became an Academician. His entry painting was Rinaldo and Armida from 1734, a seductive retelling of a sixteenth-century poem where the Saracen enchantress Armida tricks Rinaldo into falling in love with her. After Rinaldo and Armida was accepted it was hung in the grande salle, the heart of the Academy where the finest paintings and sculptures were displayed. Boucher was given a studio in the north wing of the Louvre, as many Academicians were, and there he painted domestic scenes set in fashionable interiors, designed to appeal to the aristocracy who increasingly craved new luxury items to display their wealth and refined taste. From the sober vantage point of the nineteenth century, the art of Watteau and Boucher was grouped together under the derogatory title ‘rococo’. It was frothy and light-hearted, erotic and frivolous, escapist art for an escapist society that was to meet its end under the guillotine’s blade. Rococo was the opposite of classicism. In admiring Rubens and prioritising colour over line the rococo painters offered an alternative to the art of the classically trained Academicians. Throughout the eighteenth century, in magazine and newspaper articles on art, line was pitched against colour and intellect against truth to nature. Novelist Denis Diderot made it very clear which


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side he favoured. From 1737 the Academy held regular free exhibitions in the Salon Carré, a large room in the Louvre at the far end of the Academy’s apartments which the public could enter from the street. Diderot reviewed these biannual exhibitions, known as Salons, and dismissed Boucher’s paintings as ‘a waste of talent and time’, criticising his ‘rosy and dimpled behinds’. Diderot much preferred artists who presented sober, thoughtful compositions such as Jean-Siméon Chardin (1699–1779). ‘Here is the real painter,’ he effused. ‘This magic is beyond comprehension.’ If Boucher’s paintings were a powder-puff of artifice and eroticism destined for aristocratic bedrooms, Chardin’s offered sober moments of daily life. He exhibited two genre scenes at the 1737 Salon, Girl with a Shuttlecock and The House of Cards. Both depict children playing when they should have been otherwise occupied – the girl’s sewing scissors hang prominently from a thick blue ribbon by her side and the servant boy is taking a break from clearing up to build a house of cards. Frivolity and fun are shortlived and transient, these paintings suggest, and come at the neglect of more pressing duties. Girl with a Shuttlecock and The House of Cards were bought by the prime minister of Saxony (in Germany). The Salon quickly became a major event in the Parisian calendar and drew international collectors. It was the origin of the contemporary art exhibition in Europe. In later years Chardin painted a series of self-portraits using pastels – manufactured sticks of coloured chalk that were popularised as a medium for portraiture by the Italian artist Rosalba Carriera (1675–1757). Carriera had spent a year in Paris in 1720–1, swapping works with Watteau and capturing the likeness of King Louis XV in pastel. Pastel is an unforgiving medium – easily smudged, brittle and difficult to use. Prior to Carriera it had only been used for sketching. Carriera, however, used it to blend skin colours so cheeks took on natural glows and clothes shimmered. She only spent one year in France but her portraits were hugely influential in the development of rococo art and she was made a member of the French Academy. Subsequently she returned to Venice and her studio was a magnet for European nobility who

Rococo Escapism and London Life


visited the city as part of the Grand Tour – the name given to the continental journey made by young, largely male, European aristocrats to complete their classical education. Trained in Latin and Greek, they had a deep understanding of classical mythology and thought and travelled to Italy to study Roman art and architecture in situ. Rome was their final destination but there were many fruitful stops along the way, including Paris, Florence and Venice. Many of those visiting Venice on the Grand Tour became entranced by the city, which rises from the lagoon like a mirage. If you wanted a view of the Doge’s Palace or the Grand Canal for your English stately home there was only one studio to head for: Canaletto’s (Giovanni Antonio Canal, 1697–1768). Canaletto had trained with his father as a theatrical scene painter but quickly switched to creating dazzling vedute (view paintings) of his native city for a largely English clientele. The British consul Joseph Smith acted as his agent and together they made purchasing a Canaletto the highlight of the Grand Tour experience, even though it seems demand exceeded supply and sometimes a bribe was needed to ensure your painting was completed. The aristocracy had long relied on portraiture to record their likenesses for posterity. With the rise of landscape painting (including vedute) these two genres of art became fused in the work of Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788). Mr and Mrs Andrews from 1750 is set in England’s Stour valley. The harvest has been gathered in but there is no sign of any workers. Cultivated parkland abuts the fields and at its edge sits Mrs Frances Andrews, young and straight-backed, a little unsure of herself, in backless house mules and unmuddied blue skirts. She is eighteen and recently married. Her husband, Mr Robert Andrews, is seven years older. He lolls against the side of the bench, one leg crossed casually over another, hand in his pocket. His long-barrelled shotgun has been included in the portrait as if he is out to shoot game. The centre of Mrs Andrews’ lap remains unpainted. Was it left blank so she could cradle his kill, or so a baby, a future heir, could be added at a later date? This painting may be styled as a marital portrait in a natural outdoor setting but it is a fake. There is no way Frances


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could have walked to such a bench in those heels! Ultimately the painting is a statement of ownership. The couple’s union created the sizeable estate of nearly 3,000 acres that rolls out behind them. Gainsborough was just starting out when he painted this. He was the same age as Robert Andrews and they had been at school together. Gainsborough went on to become one of the leading painters of his generation, famed for his portraits and landscapes and a founding member of London’s Royal Academy. In 1750, however, he was happy to be painting the Essex countryside and not London, for the city was in trouble. Highwaymen were robbing coaches in broad daylight in Piccadilly and hordes of disbanded soldiers and sailors had turned to crime to survive. Those stuck in the city’s slums had turned to gin in ever-greater quantities. William Hogarth (1697–1764) offers a sharp contrast to Gainsborough and his aristocratic escapism with his unrelenting focus on the gritty aspects of London life. Hogarth came from a poor family and started out apprenticed to an engraver. Although he taught himself to paint and completed many portraits and conversation pieces (group portraits in domestic settings) it was his prints that made him a household name and a thorn in the government’s side. In 1751 Hogarth published Beer Street and Gin Lane. He offered them for a shilling each, a price he kept purposefully low. Prints had circulated at European fairs for centuries – we saw Dürer sell his there in Chapter 15 – but they were sold as works of art. Hogarth’s prints, while valued as art today, were biting social commentaries designed to reach as broad an audience as possible. Gin had first been imported into England from the Dutch Republic sixty years earlier and now had many members of the working class in its grasp. Hogarth’s friend, the novelist Henry Fielding, had reported on the devastating consequences of the gin epidemic in January 1751 and Hogarth published these two prints just a month later. (Ultimately the gin laws were rewritten following Fielding and Hogarth’s campaign.) In Gin Lane a woman sits in a stupor, her baby falling to its death from her arms. A skeletal singer still holding his gin glass looks like he has breathed his

Rococo Escapism and London Life


William Hogarth’s pair of prints Beer Street and Gin Lane, 1751

last. In his basket is the score for a ballad, ‘The downfall of Madam Gin’. Madam Gin can be seen working her mischief across Hogarth’s jagged cityscape – a man hangs from a derelict house beam and a woman is loaded into a coffin. Only the pawnbroker is doing a good trade. By contrast Beer Street offers a jolly, saucy, patriotic alternative to the death and destruction caused by gin. Beer may add to your girth but Hogarth presents it as the drink of honest, industrious men and women. In this alternative reality it is the pawnbroker who is on his uppers while the rest of the city thrives. Hogarth was an incredible observer of human nature and had an eye for the tics and mannerisms of all classes of society. In Marriage à la Mode (1743) he tells the story of a loveless marriage between the daughter of a wealthy city alderman (councillor) and the syphilis-ridden son of an impoverished earl across six paintings. In the fourth painting, La Toilette, a black servant serves hot chocolate as the wife hosts her lover in her bedroom. A younger black boy dressed in a feathered turban plays with small statues from the late Earl’s collection that are about to be auctioned for extra cash. All is for show, from the ‘exotic’ black servants to the castrato and flautist who entertain her foppish guests.


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Ultimately, Hogarth wanted his scenes of contemporary England to be judged alongside the greatest history paintings of all time and he grew increasingly grumpy when this didn’t happen. He died four years before the Royal Academy of Arts was founded in London but, given his dislike for theorists and academies, it’s unlikely he would have joined. He was too much of a realist, a man of the street, for the likes of Academicians on both sides of the English Channel.

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The Royal Academy: Home and Away It is 1772 and most of the founder members of the new Royal

Academy of Arts in London are crowded into the life-drawing room. It is night, and the only light comes from a large oil lamp hanging from the ceiling. Underneath, on a shallow platform, sit two male life models. One is already naked and is being posed by George Moser, the artist in charge of the Academy’s schools. Moser slips the right hand of the model into a string noose hanging from the ceiling to enable him to hold his arm up and maintain the awkward position. Life drawing is at the heart of academic training in the eighteenth century – without it no artist can aspire to greatness. The Royal Academy’s first director, Joshua Reynolds, elegant in a black jacket with white satin lining, his silver ear trumpet catching the light, is not looking at the model but is listening to the Academy’s secretary speak. Meanwhile members in wigs and stockings fill the semi-circular drawing benches. The landscape painter Richard Wilson leans into a corner and the visiting Chinese artist Tan-che-qua stands behind the lounging figure of American 169


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history painter Benjamin West. Tan-che-qua doesn’t talk to West but rather looks towards the far wall, towards two portraits of women artists. They are the only ‘women’ to be found in the room for this is a life-drawing session and women are strictly forbidden from entering. * This gathering didn’t really happen. Or, at least, not like this. For this is a painted scene, The Academicians of the Royal Academy from 1771–2. It is a group portrait by one of the first Royal Academicians, German-born Johann Zoffany (1733–1810), who has placed himself in the bottom-left corner with his paint palette. What is accurate is that the two women in the painted portraits – Mary Moser (1744–1819) and Angelica Kauffman (1741–1807) – had never seen inside the Royal Academy’s life-drawing room, despite being founder members. (A few male members, notably Gainsborough, Reynolds’ chief rival, also didn’t make it into the final painting.) The Academicians of the Royal Academy is a modern interpretation of Raphael’s School of Athens, which we looked at in Chapter 14. It shows dozens of Academicians artfully arranged in a composition known as a conversation piece. Zoffany excelled at this and as soon as he had finished the painting he was commissioned by Queen Charlotte to paint another along similar lines. The subject was the Tribuna (masterpieces room) at the newly opened Uffizi Gallery in Florence, which thronged with English Grand Tourists. In The Tribuna of the Uffizi from 1772–7 paintings line the octagonal room from floor to ceiling. The Uffizi was filled with the Medici collection and, in Zoffany’s painting, highlights have been pulled out for closer observation. There’s a connection between The Academicians of the Royal Academy and The Tribuna of the Uffizi. They both focus on aristocratic and artistic men, with women only included as an image to be looked at. In the Tribuna, bewigged men surround the naked sculpture of the Hellenistic Medici Venus and Titian’s Venus of Urbino. And in the Academicians, the two female members are not shown as active participants, posing models in the life-drawing

T h e R o ya l A c a d e m y : H o m e a n d Away


room or talking to Reynolds about his theories of art. Instead, they appear as head-and-shoulder portraits, as objects to be looked at. (The next woman to become an Academician was Laura Knight in 1936, nearly two hundred years later. It remained a man’s world until very recently.) Mary Moser, the daughter of Academician George Moser, was a noted flower painter, while Angelica Kauffman was a deft portraitist who aspired to the top rank in the academic hierarchy, that of history painter. Born in Switzerland, Kauffman travelled with her father, a journeyman painter (someone who worked for other artists). She was a talented musician but pursued painting, completing her first known self-portrait aged twelve. In her twenties she lived in Italy – in Florence, Bologna and Rome – before moving to London in 1766 where she would remain for fifteen years. She was granted membership of the art academies of all four of these cities, which attests to her ability, and she garnered a loyal following and some influential patrons, including Queen Charlotte. Despite not being allowed to train in front of the nude model – seen as essential for history painting – she still managed to paint successful mythological and historic subjects such as Zeuxis Choosing Models for his Painting of Helen of Troy from 1775–80 and The Sorrow of Telemachus from 1783. She was hugely successful and her influential engravings circulated Europe, causing the Danish Ambassador in London to recount in 1781 how the whole world had gone ‘Angelicamad’. Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792) was a portrait artist who elevated his sitters to the status of goddesses and heroes and competed against mythological history paintings such as Kauffman’s in the Academy’s exhibitions. But when his fellow Academician Benjamin West turned a contemporary scene from the Battle of Quebec into a grand history painting in The Death of General Wolfe in 1770, Reynolds was horrified. Up to this point historical subjects were classical and edifying, not current and real. West retained the soldiers’ contemporary uniforms and included a seated Mohawk warrior, whose detailed tattoos and beaded accessories suggest West had previously made careful studies of such a man. Despite


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Benjamin West’s The Death of General Wolfe, 1770

Reynolds’ concerns, West gave the contemporary scene the gravitas of a classical history painting. His dying general was slumped like the dead Christ in Rubens’ Descent from the Cross (seen in Chapter 19), an idealistic rather than a real death. The Death of General Wolfe was hugely popular, becoming a best-selling print, and West took over as director of the Academy when Reynolds eventually stepped down. New works by the Academicians were exhibited in an annual exhibition, the English equivalent to the French Salon. It was accessible to anyone who had a spare shilling (five pence; about £5 today) and the Academy became the heart of the London art world as it tried to rival Paris. Not every Academician was convinced the exhibition was a match for the Salon and they took matters into their own hands. John Singleton Copley (1738–1815) was an American follower of West and became an Academician in 1779. He repeatedly infuriated Reynolds and the other Academicians by exhibiting his contemporary history paintings in hired rooms to ensure the focus was on his work alone. It cost one shilling to see Copley’s Death of Major Peirson (1784), a painting that had been

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commissioned by John Boydell and was destined for wider circulation as a print. Boydell hoped to replicate the sales of his print of West’s The Death of General Wolfe which made £15,000 (a whopping £3 million today). Major Peirson was not a well-known figure before his death but Copley’s scene was nevertheless charged with patriotic vigour and loyalty. Peirson had died during an attack on French troops in Jersey. In Copley’s interpretation of events, as the white major lies dying, his black servant takes up arms and shoots the perpetrator. The servant’s coat tails fly as he takes aim, his braced body echoing the diagonal lines of soldiers advancing and women and children fleeing, a sense of momentum echoed by the oversized swirling Union flags. These diagonals speed the battle along, taking you to the heart of the action. Not all Academicians stayed in England. As a young man William Hodges (1744–1797) spent three years on board Captain Cook’s vessel, Resolution. He circled the globe on Cook’s second world voyage from 1772 to 1775, painting the flora, fauna and people he saw in Tahiti, New Zealand and Rapa Nui. This was the height of the Enlightenment, a time when scientific knowledge was rapidly expanding, when Europeans wanted to see, understand and classify the entire world (a world they were simultaneously exploiting through aggressive empire-building). The botanist Joseph Banks, who had sailed with Cook on his first voyage, was due to accompany Cook again. Banks had enlisted the services of Zoffany as his artist on board but Cook refused to accommodate all of Banks’ entourage and the botanist pulled out, taking Zoffany with him. Zoffany went to work in Florence for Queen Charlotte and Hodges replaced him as the official artist for the second voyage. Hodges’ paintings of Oceania, completed on his return to England, are not accurate renditions of the tropical landscape he encountered. Instead he bathed it in Claude’s golden atmospheres and transformed it into picturesque views that Europeans could understand. The paintings are in keeping with contemporary European taste as exemplified in Britain by the landscape painter Richard Wilson (1714–1782), with whom Hodges had trained.


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Hodges’ paintings feature detailed observations of island vegetation and often include buildings or boats used by islanders, but Hodges was ultimately driven by European preoccupations. The Tahitian men in the boats in A View of Matavai Bay in the Island of Otaheite, dated 1776, are dark-skinned and paddle war canoes along the coast, defending the island’s shores. By contrast the women in Hodges’ companion painting A View Taken in the Bay of Otaheite Peha are pale-skinned. They bathe naked in a calm inlet, only the tattoo stretching across the buttocks of one marking them out as different to European women. The rangy palm trees and a Tahitian ti’i carving (much enlarged) have been added as ‘exotic’ elements in an otherwise familiar landscape view of a meandering body of water framed by trees and distant mountains. French navigator Louis-Antoine Bougainville’s popular account of Tahiti, published in English in 1771, described Tahiti as a new Cythera, the island of love we came across in Watteau’s work in the last chapter. Hodges perpetuates this, and the viewer in England could gaze on the women and the landscape, enjoying visual ownership of both. Both Hodges’ paintings were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1776 alongside Reynolds’ Portrait of Omai, a ‘likeness’ of the Ra’iatean islander Mai (known in London as Omai) from Polynesia who joined Cook’s second voyage and became part of English society on his arrival in London. This wasn’t a commissioned portrait; Reynolds predicted that audiences at the annual exhibition would be curious to see this ‘exotic’ foreigner. Reynolds’ distortion of Mai can seem distasteful, even racist, today. He dressed the bare-footed youthful Mai in voluminous white robes and turban, his tattoos only visible on his hands. His skin is significantly lighter than in Hodges’ own portrait of Mai. Hodges gives him a far broader nose and mouth, unlike the Westernised features of Reynolds’ portrait, and there’s a sense of visual scrutiny that has been subsumed by Reynolds in favour of theatrical grandeur. Ti’i carvings, as seen in Hodges’ A View Taken in the Bay of Otaheite Peha, were brought back to England from Cook’s voyages. Nowadays we see these carvings as sculptures but this was not how

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they were viewed in the eighteenth century. They were seen as anthropological curios, as exotic and different to Western eyes as Mai was. They were not considered art in Europe because the anonymous artists who made them did not attempt a true likeness. Whether idealistic or naturalistic, loose-brushed or trompe l’oeil, all art in the eighteenth century was judged by its mastery of mimesis, the ability to mimic or copy the natural world, which (as we have seen) had its origins in the art of classical Greece and Rome. Two ti’i figures, a man and a woman, are now in the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. They possess essential traits rather than clearly marked features. Their heads are oversized and their short legs bowed while eyes and fingers are indicated by scored lines. It was not until modern artists such as Paul Gauguin encountered similar works at world fairs in the late nineteenth century and began to turn to them as rich sources of inspiration that the West slowly came to appreciate their aesthetic value. (We will follow Gauguin to Tahiti in Chapter 29.) Even then, the original context of such

Wooden ti’i figures from Tahiti, collected during Captain Cook’s second voyage, 1772–5


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works was never acknowledged and we don’t know if these figures represented Polynesian deities, were connected to belief systems or had a primarily artistic purpose. Islanders were not thought to have engaged with Western modes of art during Cook’s voyages. Consequently, a series of figurative watercolours of early encounters between British naval officers and Polynesian locals were thought to be by a British crewman. Only in 1997 did a letter from Banks reveal that the Ra’iatean high priest Tupaia had learned to draw in the Western style while travelling with Cook during his first voyage. Tupaia’s subsequent watercolours include Banks in his breeches and buckled shoes bartering for a spiny lobster with a tattooed Maori in a flax cloak. Tupaia also painted the costume of a ceremonial chief mourner, abstracting it to its essential form, something it would take Western artists another 150 years to come close to. For, as we have seen, European academies were still beholden to classical traditions and teaching. This approach was exemplified by the paintings of France’s new neoclassical star, David.

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Liberty, Equality, Fraternity? It is 1785 and Jacques-Louis David has finally finished The Oath

of the Horatii. It is over 4 metres wide and features the Horatii family preparing for war. The four men are life-size – three brothers stand and form a fraternal salute towards their swords, which are held aloft by their father Horatius. They are swearing an oath to defend Rome, their father gazing skywards as if calling on the gods to bless the allegiance. David has based the painting on an ancient story where two sets of brothers fight to resolve a dispute between Rome and the nearby city of Alba. He has placed the Horatii family in an austere classical interior with three arches framing the family groupings. On the left are the beardless young brothers, dressed for battle in helmets and breastplates. The father stands in front of the central arch, bearded and strong, draped in a red cloak to catch the eye. Against the third arch are female family members and their children, an emotional counterbalance to the men’s steely resilience.



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Now David has to figure out how to get the painting to the Academy in Paris in time for the Salon, where it will be exhibited. This isn’t going to be easy. Although David has been working on this for the French king Louis XVI he has painted it in Rome, home to classical sculpture and the birthplace of neoclassicism. * In France The Oath of the Horatii rebooted classicism. The buried Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum had been discovered earlier in the century and influential books on classical art had been published. This revival is now known as neoclassicism, where ‘neo’ simply means ‘new’. Jacques-Louis David’s (1748–1825) neoclassical paintings were based on ancient stories and – as history paintings – they occupied the top slot in the French Academy’s rigid hierarchy of art. The Academy had strict rules. It also only allowed four women to be members at any one time and, as in the Royal Academy, no women were allowed in the life-drawing room. Painters Adélaïde LabilleGuiard (1749–1803) and Elisabeth Vigée Lebrun (1755–1842) were

Jacques-Louis David’s The Oath of the Horatii, 1785

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both members. In the same Salon as David’s The Oath of the Horatii, Labille-Guiard showed her large Self-portrait with Two Pupils, an emphatic statement about the need to educate and support women artists. In the following Salon she exhibited Portrait of Madame Adélaïde, a painting of the king’s aunt, her steadfast patron. The Salon was a chaotic place, with paintings hung from floor to ceiling and a packed crowd jostling for the best view. Artists had to catch the eye of the distracted viewer in any way they could – through sheer scale, by using bright colours or by commandeering such a reputation that you secured the best spot on the wall, what Academicians on both sides of the Channel called ‘on the line’ (a metre above head height). This is where David’s paintings were hung. It says something of the reputation of Labille-Guiard and Vigée Lebrun that when the 1787 Salon opened their portraits were hung side by side just above David’s Death of Socrates, not ‘skyed’ with the lesser-known artists whose works were pressed against the ceiling. Vigée Lebrun’s 1787 Salon entry was a flattering portrait of Marie Antoinette and her Children. It had been commissioned by the royal family as a last-ditch attempt to save the reputation of Marie Antoinette, who was seen as frivolous and out of touch by the public. This painting’s importance to the family can be judged by the fee they paid Vigée Lebrun – more than was paid for the largest history paintings of the day. By this date, however, the political climate was so fragile that Vigée Lebrun’s painting was only hung after the Salon had been officially opened to minimise the chance of a public outcry. Vigée Lebrun would pay for being Marie Antoinette’s favourite painter – when the French Revolution began two years later she went into exile to escape the guillotine. Portraits of the aristocracy were rapidly falling out of fashion in France as the country moved closer to deposing the king. They were replaced by sober and moralising neoclassical scenes by David and others. As we have seen, the neoclassicism of David had its origins in Rome, where the Venetian-born Antonio Canova (1757–1822) also had his studio. These artists championed a return to classicism shaped by the influential writings of Johann Joachim Winckelmann.


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In books such as History of the Art of Antiquity, first published in 1764, Winckelmann wrote about classical sculpture with verve, bringing works to life, finding in them a universal beauty, encouraging contemporary artists like Canova to follow the lead of the ancient Greeks. Winckelmann had a specific perspective on beauty in art. He was a white European man at a time when such men were classifying everything in the name of the Enlightenment, labelling – and thereby ordering and controlling – the world around them. Winckelmann’s homosexuality underpinned his descriptions of male classical nudes, which were often breathy with excitement. He advocated that the most beautiful Greek nudes were male, praising the Apollo Belvedere as the ‘highest ideal of art’. His views became the foundation stone on which the modern discipline of Western art history was built. He believed that all subsequent art should aspire to the Greek ideal of ‘noble simplicity and a calm grandeur’. The British on their Grand Tour had found Baroque sculpture too theatrical and wanted a sober timeless art to fill their neoclassical homes. French collectors wanted art that was the opposite of rococo decadence. A return to classical values could deliver all this, Winckelmann argued, with white marble conjuring ideal forms. For Winckelmann, as he looked at these sculptures of male bodily perfection, of action stilled and flesh exposed, the thrill of eroticism was also never far away. Canova leaned heavily on Winckelmann’s ideas but didn’t totally cast off the early Baroque skill of carving in the round (seen in the work of Giambologna in Chapter 17) or the rococo fascination with love. They all had a part to play in his works such as Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss from 1787–93, an elegant and erotic sculpture of star-crossed lovers. The mortal Psyche is embraced by her winged lover Cupid, her near-naked body reaching up to hold him as he caresses her. Cupid is an updated version of the beautiful Greek youths that Winckelmann expended so much ink on. There were no end of monuments dedicated to white male heroes in the eighteenth century, from Etienne Maurice Falconet’s (1716– 1791) bronze equestrian statue of Russian Tsar Peter I in St Petersburg to Jean-Antoine Houdon’s (1741–1828) life-sized sculpture of

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George Washington in Richmond, America. But the period also saw sculptors begin to work from black models. An early bust of an unknown black man, possibly an athlete, by the British Grand Tour sculptor Francis Harwood (1727–1783) shows the sculptor using a black stone instead of marble to capture the likeness. Houdon sculpted a black woman for a fountain he designed for the Duke of Chartres. Cast in lead, she was the attendant for a white marble woman taking a bath. Only a painted plaster study survives today as the fountain fell victim to neglect when the Revolution began and the Duke lost his head to the guillotine in 1793. In England, visionary artist and poet William Blake (1757–1827) supplemented his income by engraving book plates for publishers. In 1796 he illustrated John Stedman’s Narrative of a Five Years’ Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam, which detailed the brutal torture and killing of plantation slaves in the Dutch colony of Suriname in South America. In one coloured engraving Blake illustrated a particularly barbaric punishment – a bound black man hangs from a gibbet by an iron hook that had been pushed through his ribs. Skulls on poles dot the landscape behind him as a Dutch trading ship leaves the bay, taking sugar produced by slaves to greedy European tables. Stedman’s book was adopted by British anti-slavery campaigners and this engraving became one of the most significant and widely reproduced pieces of antislavery art. Previously, black subjects had only been included in paintings to fulfil one of two roles: that of the fashionable ‘exotic’ servant in conversation pieces such as those by Hogarth, as we saw in Chapter 22, or as the African royal Balthasar, one of the three kings who followed the star to Bethlehem and brought gifts for Christ, as in versions of the Adoration of the Magi by Dürer, Bosch and Rubens. But towards the end of the eighteenth century, when France became a (short-lived) democracy following the Revolution, artists began to paint black models as individuals. One of the most impressive examples is the Portrait of Deputy Belley by Anne-Louis Girodet (1767–1824), which was exhibited at the 1798 Salon. Belley was a child slave from Senegal who had been freed after


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years of labour. He went on to serve in the French Revolutionary Army and rose to the rank of captain, then became a deputy in the National Convention (an interim French parliament) representing the French colony of Saint-Domingue, located on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola (now Haiti). Belley used his position to argue against slavery and was present when the Convention abolished it in French colonies in 1794. When this portrait was exhibited Belley had recently stepped down and he was about to return home – Saint-Domingue can be seen in the painting’s background. Belley’s portrait met with a warm response at the Salon and he was seen as symbolic of the aims of the French Revolution, namely liberty and equality. Belley was as clearly recognisable as the marble bust he leans against, a portrait of Abbé Raynal, an early white advocate for the abolition of slavery who had died the previous year. Belley wears the uniform of his former office, his greying hair brushed back. Girodet doesn’t completely allow him to assimilate into French society – he sports an earring – but overall this is a sympathetic portrait, one Girodet embarked on because he believed in Belley and all he stood for. As such the portrait stands on the cusp of romanticism, a new heartfelt and dramatic movement that we will explore in the next chapter. Girodet had been an assistant of David’s but now positioned himself as his rival. Marie Guillemine Benoist (1768–1826) was the same age as Girodet, and she too had spent time in David’s studio, as well as being a pupil of Vigée Lebrun. Her Portrait of Madeleine made her reputation when it appeared at the 1800 Salon. Madeleine is a young black woman who sits and looks directly at the viewer, meeting our gaze with steady eyes. She is dressed in a loose white robe with an orange sash, a blue shawl draped over the chair back. It was unprecedented to present a black woman in this way, as a subject in her own right and not playing a role (slave or royalty). Could she be symbolic of Mother France, newly liberated from the monarchy, a country reborn with equality at its heart, a country that had abolished slavery? Did she symbolise emancipation for black people and for women? If she did symbolise these things, the vision was momentary. Despite winning Salon medals Benoist was

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Marie Guillemine Benoist’s Portrait of Madeleine, 1799

forced to give up painting when her husband was promoted. And as for the abolition of slavery, Napoleon reinstated it in 1802. The French Revolution killed a king and created an emperor, whose heart was now set on conquering Europe (and beyond) and stripping each country of its treasures. By the time Napoleon marched on Spain in 1808 he had filled the halls of the Louvre with cartload after cartload of stolen masterpieces. He had taken delivery of the Medici Venus, the Apollo Belvedere and the Laocöon from Italy. His representatives had looted Rubens’ Descent from the Cross from Antwerp and he had tried to prise Raphael’s fresco The School of Athens from the Vatican’s walls. Veronese’s vast 10-metre wide The Wedding Feast at Cana, from the Dominican monastery in Venice, split in two as it crossed the Alps and had to be hastily repaired. Napoleon was eventually halted and ultimately many of the works of art were returned, but not before his six-year incursion into Spain. This war, known as the Peninsular War or Spanish War


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of Independence, was documented by Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (1746–1828). The resulting print series, The Disasters of War from 1810–15, is the most harrowing body of work relating to war ever created. Goya, by now old and deaf, completed eighty-two prints using etching and the new process of aquatint, which could add areas of tone (grey-scale colour rather than line). There are scenes of starvation, of madness, of unimaginable violence. On plate thirty-nine he etched three dismembered castrated bodies hanging from a tree; on plate five women face armed soldiers with nothing more than rocks and wooden stakes, clutching their babies behind their backs to protect them. The Disasters of War was so damning that Goya didn’t dare publish it in his own lifetime. It wasn’t officially published until 1863, thirty-five years after his death.

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Romanticism to Orientalism It is July 1819 and Théodore Géricault puts down his brush. It is

finished. He has spent the last nine months in a painting frenzy, locked in his studio and covering a canvas 7 metres wide and nearly 5 metres high with an emotional painting of shipwreck survivors. There are African soldiers, Mediterranean sailors and pale French corpses on a small raft far out to sea. A bare-chested black man is held aloft to wave a makeshift flag to attract the attention of a passing ship, but the wind in their small sail is taking them in the wrong direction. Waves threaten to engulf the men and death has already taken five of them. Géricault looks around his studio. His friends have stopped calling round – the smell has become too much for them. He paid to have dead bodies delivered so he could study their limbs, their skin tones, and they have been here a while. All around are drawings and paintings relating to The Raft of the Medusa. It occupied him night and day as he interviewed survivors and worked on different composition ideas to bring the plight of the castaways to life. 185


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The painting is based on the 1816 disaster where the French frigate Medusa, which had run aground off the coast of Senegal, abandoned 150 crew and passengers on a makeshift raft. They were left to drift for thirteen days before a passing ship rescued them – only fifteen men were left alive and tales of cannibalism returned to shore with the survivors. Géricault has painted many of the men reaching towards the distant ship, which is no more than a tiny triangular sail on the horizon. Géricault can hear their cries, can smell the brine of the sea, can taste the fear. Theirs is a battle between life and death and he has been determined to do it justice. * The Raft of the Medusa won a gold medal at the 1819 Salon but it was not bought by the state immediately, perhaps because of the key position given to a black man at a time when France had resumed its participation in the slave trade. Critical reaction was split between those who praised Théodore Géricault’s (1791–1824) realism and those who felt that elevating a grisly episode of contemporary life to the scale of a classical history painting was too much. For Géricault The Raft of the Medusa represented his belief that the artist should not be beholden to Academy rules but should be free to paint what moved him. Géricault died just five years later but his painting was seen as a clarion call for artists who wished to express themselves and let their emotions shape their work. These Romantics, as they became known, rejected neoclassicism and chose to express their own personalities and experiences instead. They prioritised colour, emotion, feeling and sensations as they distanced themselves from classical training. Romanticism was the first chink in the armour of the dominant European academies, who up to this point had controlled how art was taught and which styles were deemed important. European landscape painting had been heavily influenced by Claude throughout the eighteenth century but now Romantic artists searched for a deeper, more spiritual experience where nature completely overwhelmed the senses. They began to express emotional states by painting soaring cliffs and endless seas. Their

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Théodore Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa, 1819

landscapes jolt you into life, filling you with a sense of awe, a fearful wonder of nature’s power. This is known as the sublime. European intellectuals such as Edmund Burke had written about the sublime in the eighteenth century but it was most ably expressed in art half a century later by Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840). For Friedrich the German landscape became a site for personal contemplation and spiritual connection. He was born into a strict Protestant family and many of his landscapes feature religious symbols: a crucifix on a mountaintop; the ruins of an abbey in a wintry wood; a monk standing on a sand dune contemplating the enormity of the sea. Friedrich amplified natural features to increase the sense of the sublime in his paintings. In The Wanderer above a Sea of Fog from 1818 a man stands on the edge of a rocky outcrop, looking down into a valley swathed in low-lying cloud. The wind catches his hair and we want to ask him to step away from the edge. The landscape he contemplates is vast. Friedrich often invoked this sublime aspect of nature, one that makes us catch our breath, to convey the divine majesty of the natural world.


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In England John Constable (1776–1837) focused on the flat Suffolk fields of his English childhood. While Friedrich wanted to capture the experience of the sublime, Constable aimed to reproduce nature’s daily domestic moods. He wanted to convey the fresh changeability of English summer days with clouds scudding over fields bowed with barley. Constable was ambitious for his landscapes and wanted them to compete with history painting in the Royal Academy exhibitions. For this reason he painted ‘six-footers’, canvases that were 2 metres across such as The Hay Wain from 1821. Under a changeable sky a horse-drawn cart (called a wain) makes its way through the shallows of the river Stour near Flatford Mill, owned by Constable’s father. Every leaf seems alive in the sunlight and the dappled field beyond the river reflects the cloud formations above. While Constable’s reception in England was often lukewarm, The Hay Wain won a gold medal when it was exhibited in Paris at the 1824 Salon. Constable was applauded as a Romantic artist in France and influenced other Romantics, including Eugène Delacroix. Around this time British-born Thomas Cole (1801–1848) was establishing himself in America. Cole had no formal training and had started out as an engraver but he was drawn to the newly developed tourist areas of east coast America – the Hudson River, the Catskill Mountains – and became a painter of landscape vistas. Cole was the first to paint in this way in America. For colonial Europeans, America’s land was something to be conquered and owned, a resource. It was not seen as a view simply to be looked at until the first tourist hotels opened up and the sublime tumble of a waterfall or soar of a mountain peak could be enjoyed from a viewing platform. There was one major problem from Cole’s perspective. He couldn’t include ancient classical buildings as Claude had done as they simply didn’t exist in America. So he drew upon the country’s own history and included Native Americans instead. In 1826 his friend James Fenimore Cooper had written the historical novel The Last of the Mohicans. It was set during the earlier French and Indian War and Cole seized upon it as an opportunity to paint

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‘landscape compositions’, landscapes with an imaginative element to convey a deeper meaning. In Cora Kneeling at the Feet of Tamenund from 1827 a circle of Native Americans stand on a rocky outcrop in a mountainous setting, with Cooper’s heroine Cora in front of them, pleading for the release of her sister and companions. Cole’s inclusion of this tribal council, by which Native Americans debated the important issues of the day, allowed him to tap into their long history. For Cole this was his equivalent of Romans in the Forum. Here was a different history to Europe’s but an equally valid one. In nineteenth-century Japan, Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) and Utagawa Hiroshige (Ando Hiroshige, 1797–1858) had a far more pared-down approach to landscape, but the resulting woodblock prints they published could be equally dramatic. Japan remained closed to foreigners until the 1850s but the Dutch were allowed to send trade ships and these carried books on Western landscape painting and prints, including Italian vedute. These views were admired for their mathematical perspective. They were called uki-e, or ‘floating pictures’, because Japanese viewers felt as if they were falling into them. They led to the development of landscape prints as a genre in Japan, practised to such effect by Hokusai and Hiroshige and known as ukiyo-e, or ‘pictures of a floating world’. They could be bought for the price of a double helping of noodles, allowing all but the poorest families to own them. Hokusai lived in Edo and created prints throughout his long life, latterly helped by his daughter Katsushika Oi (around 1800–1866). It is for his later landscapes of the volcanic Mount Fuji that he is best known in the West. The most famous example is the Great Wave from around 1829–33, from his series ‘Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji’. In this coloured print a stylised wave with clawing white foam threatens to engulf three boats, barely visible in the monster swell. A snow-covered Mount Fuji seen in the distance centres the print, the sea’s foam blizzard-like as it surrounds the mountain. This combination of near and far elements is typical of ukiyo-e, where every part of the composition works towards the harmony of the overall print.


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When these prints started appearing in Europe in the 1850s and 1860s, as Japan opened up once more to global trade, they became highly sought-after by young artists working in Paris. We will see the influence of Japanese prints on artists including Vincent van Gogh in subsequent chapters. However, before ukiyo-e arrived in France, artists had to travel beyond Europe for new viewpoints and perspectives. The Romantic artist Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863), who had posed for his hero Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa, exhibited his passionate and political Liberty Leading the People at the 1831 Salon. By 1832 he had left France and travelled to Morocco in northern Africa. Delacroix accompanied diplomats to Morocco but he was there to paint the ‘Orient’. The ‘Orient’ was a Western term for countries beyond Europe that fringed the African shore of the Mediterranean and stretched across the Middle East. Interest in the region had been reawakened by Napoleon’s occupation of Egypt at the turn of the century and France’s invasion of Algeria in 1830. Visiting the Maghreb (north Africa) in person was overwhelming for Delacroix. He wrote: ‘I’m like a man in a dream, seeing things he’s afraid will vanish from him’. He spent six months in Morocco, returning via Algeria, and when he left he wrote, ‘Rome is no longer to be found in Rome.’ The ‘Orient’ had become another chink in the armour of Academic training that was still squarely centred on the classical art of Rome. The older French artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780– 1867) also painted fantasies of the Orient but from the comfort of his studio in Rome. Ingres was a former pupil of David’s and another neoclassical star. Ingres’ careful lines and polished surfaces were the polar opposite of Delacroix’s energetic, emotional, Romantic brushwork and the two artists were often caricatured as adversaries – fighting pencil versus brush – in the press. In 1814 Ingres had painted his first odalisque, or female slave. La Grande Odalisque is a man’s fantasy – a naked woman in an imagined Orient lies in bed and awaits your company. Surprisingly it was commissioned by a woman, Queen Caroline of Naples, as a gift for her husband. It was highly unusual for women to commission

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Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ La Grande Odalisque, 1814

paintings of female nudes – they were seen as the preserve of men, who enjoyed looking at and ‘possessing’ them. Caroline’s husband had already bought Ingres’ Sleeper of Naples in 1808, a full-frontal nude on a bed. The nude commissioned by Caroline presented a different view. For a start, La Grande Odalisque has her back to us. It is an improbably long back but this adds to her sensuousness. She has a scarf wound around her head like a turban and holds a peacock-feather fan. You may look upon her smooth curves but you will have to meet her gaze, as she turns her jewelled head to meet your eyes with her own. It is tempting to wonder if Caroline had a hand in this composition. The odalisque is not simply an object to be looked at ‘free of charge’: her eyes scrutinise you as you look at her. Delacroix used the drawings and sketches he made in situ in Africa for Women of Algiers in their Apartment dated 1834, his first Salon painting based on his travels. Paintings by Delacroix, Ingres, Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824–1904) and David Roberts (1796–1864) became increasingly popular as ‘Orientalism’ took hold. Orientalism was a distorted view of Arab culture for a Western audience, depicting it as an ornate world of female sex slaves and men puffing on pipes. Artists and collectors fell for the idea of Orientalism for the inequalities it perpetuated, particularly the


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idea that women were segregated and sold as sex workers at a time when European women were increasingly vocal in their campaign for equal rights. Delacroix’s response to Africa was prolonged, affecting his subject matter and palette. Joseph Mallord William Turner, on the other hand, chose to respond to modern Africa only once, in a late masterpiece based on events from sixty years earlier that still had the power to shock when his Slave Ship was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1840.

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Reality Bites It is a warm June day in 1840. The young student John Ruskin

stands in his cravat, coat and top hat in front of Turner’s painting Slave Ship at the Royal Academy’s summer exhibition. Ruskin drinks it in, overwhelmed by the turbulent sea, the pitching ship, the sky aflame as the sun sets. His eyes linger on the choppy waters in the foreground, where a single leg can be seen above the waves, its ankle banded with the tell-tale shackles of a slave. As he looks he can make out hands reaching out of the foaming sea, circled by fish and gulls eager for food. His own hunger is for the fiery sunset as it sinks blood-red behind the storm-tossed silhouette of the ship. Aged twenty-one, Ruskin is taking a break from Oxford University for mental health reasons and is about to embark on a year-long tour of Italy. He has admired Turner’s art ever since his parents gave him an illustrated guide to Italy for his thirteenth birthday that was full of his Italian views. He even owns a watercolour by Turner, another birthday present, and he is hoping to meet the great painter soon. He has corresponded with him already and 193


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found him funny and generous, although Ruskin knows most people find him coarse and unintellectual. Ruskin read this year’s reviews of the summer exhibition with despair. While he thinks Turner is the most important artist alive the critics laughed at his latest works, saying he had ‘outTurnered’ himself with his ‘freaks of chromomania’. Ruskin doesn’t understand why they can’t see how brilliant he is. * John Ruskin became nineteenth-century Britain’s most influential art critic. He published the first volume of his master work Modern Painters just three years after seeing Turner’s Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying – Typhoon Coming On), a work he would come to own. In Modern Painters he writes that the real subject of Slave Ship is ‘the power, majesty and deathfulness of the open, deep, illimitable sea’. What he totally skirts around is the contemporary subject on which Turner based this sublime reflection of ‘deathfulness’: slavery. Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) supported the abolitionists, who had finally managed to put an end to Britain’s involvement in slavery in 1833. It had taken over fifty years of campaigning. Slave Ship is based on historical accounts of the inhumane actions of the captain of the slave-ship Zong. The ship ran low on water on its voyage from Ghana to Jamaica in 1781. Many of the slaves in the hold were ill and so, with a storm approaching, the crew were told to throw more than 130 of them overboard, alive and in shackles, so the owners could claim insurance money – their policy would reimburse them for slaves lost at sea, not those lost to disease on board. Critics were not averse to the subject matter of Turner’s painting – in the same exhibition François Auguste Biard’s (1799–1882) The Slave Trade was praised for its cleverness and accuracy. What critics couldn’t fathom, in fact all they could talk about, was the way Slave Ship was painted. The novelist William Thackeray ridiculed it for its ‘horrible sea of emerald and purple’ while another reviewer criticised its ‘passionate extravagance of marigold sky’. By contrast, it is Turner’s late paintings like Slave Ship that communicate most

Reality Bites


J.M.W. Turner’s Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying – Typhoon Coming On), 1840

directly with us today. As we confront the despicable actions of those in charge of the Zong the setting sun simultaneously marks the end of the slave trade, the tragic end for these particular slaves, the depths sea captains sank to for money and the brutal insignificance of all humankind when faced with the might of the sea. Turner’s late canvases, full of emotional intensity, were often misunderstood by critics who were used to polished academic works. But the Romantics, including Turner, had shown that art didn’t have to be like that and, in France, young artists took confidence from this and confronted academic taste once again. Gustave Courbet (1819–1877) retained the scale and grandeur of history painting while choosing as his subject figures from poor backgrounds who would leave no other mark on history – travelling musicians and stone-breakers, peasants and farmers. In A Burial at Ornans from 1849 over fifty figures attend a funeral in Ornans, Courbet’s hometown in eastern France. Each figure is life-size and together they stretch across a vast canvas well over 6 metres wide.


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There are no heroes to focus on, no central characters. Courbet used people from the town to model for him and wanted to create a work of unflinching realism, a million miles away from David’s neoclassical scenes. As Courbet wrote in 1851, ‘I am . . . above all a Realist . . . for “Realist” means a sincere lover of the honest truth.’ He weaponised art in support of the working class but his paintings were too much for many critics and they railed against them, finding them too ugly, too inelegant, too large, too socialist. Critics preferred the work of Rosa Bonheur (1822–1899). Her energetic canvases of working horses and cattle were a big hit and she became France’s most successful female artist in the nineteenth century. The Horse Fair from 1853 is a spirited swirl of Percheron draft horses only just kept in check by hopeful traders. At over 5 metres wide it was the largest animal painting ever shown when it was exhibited at the Salon. Although, as a woman, she still wasn’t allowed to attend life-drawing classes at the Academy, no such rules applied to the abattoir and horse fairs. She did have to obtain special permission to wear trousers so she could disguise herself as a man in order to draw in peace, but her subsequent sketches from life enabled her to paint horses and other animals that seem to snort and whinny across her canvases. In England, a different revolution was underway, spearheaded by a group of precocious artists who styled themselves the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, or PRB. Again, theirs was a rejection of the traditional teaching of art academies. They felt the Royal Academy exhibitions were full of bloated works that slavishly followed mannered styles of painting. They wanted to sweep recent history away and look back to Giotto and Van Eyck, to an innocent time before art became too knowing. John Everett Millais (1829–1896) had entered the Royal Academy’s Schools in 1840, the youngest ever student at the age of eleven. There he met Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882) and William Holman Hunt (1827–1910) and in 1848 they formed their secret group, the PRB. In 1850 Millais exhibited Christ in the House of his Parents at the Academy’s annual exhibition. A young Christ stands in Joseph’s carpentry workshop, every wood shaving and fleck of sawdust carefully painted on the unswept floor. Christ

Reality Bites


appears pale and wounded, having cut his hand on a nail in the door Joseph is working on, a premonition of his later crucifixion. This painting drove critics mad – the holy family didn’t look divine, they looked ordinary. The writer Charles Dickens blustered that Christ had just climbed out of the gutter, ‘a hideous, wry-necked, blubbering, red-headed boy, in a bed-gown’. It was John Ruskin who jumped to the PRB’s defence, insisting their paintings were not ‘repulsive and revolting’ (Dickens again), but through their attention to detail, to nature, the Pre-Raphaelites were striving towards a deeper truth. By the time the PRB was formed, photography had been in use commercially for nearly a decade. It seemed to offer the ultimate mimesis – for the first time in history artists were not the only ones who could reproduce images of the world. While the camera obscura had been known for centuries it wasn’t until the 1820s that inventors figured out how to capture the image it produced. In 1839 in France Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851) fixed his images on to silver-coated copper plates using light-sensitive salts, creating a ‘positive’ image of the camera’s subject. It took several minutes for his daguerreotype to appear and early sitters for portraits were strapped in to neck braces to ensure they didn’t move. In the same year the British pioneer of photography William Henry Fox Talbot (1800–1877) fixed his images on paper ‘negatives’, known as calotypes. The initial images were not as sharp as daguerreotypes but the negative could be reproduced many times, like a print. Ultimately the two distinct processes of ‘drawing with light’ led to the collodion method, developed in the early 1850s, which captured the view as a negative on a glass plate from which repeated sharp copies could be printed. In the 1850s photographs took off as a cheap form of portraiture and a way of saying ‘I was there’. Photographic studios rapidly sprang up around the world, and cameras went off on expeditions to the Arctic and into the theatre of war in the Crimea. By the 1850s photography was widely practised at the Iranian court of Nasir al-Din Shah, himself an enthusiastic amateur photographer. Photography wasn’t seen as an art form at this time but as a useful tool for artists, a modern-day sketchbook and pencil, and it


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immediately exerted an influence. The 1856–7 Persian miniature Portrait of Prince ‘Ali Quli Mirza by Sani’ al-Mulk (Abu’l Hasan Ghaffari, 1814–1866) looks just like a fashionable studio portrait photograph, with its ornate setting and carefully arranged furnishings. Similarly in China the important Shanghai School artist Ren Xiong (1820–1857) painted a startling self-portrait where his naturalistic shaved head and bare chest have the clarity of a photograph but rise out of a highly stylised traditional Chinese jacket and trousers. Some early photographers, however, did begin to experiment with the artistic possibilities of the new technology. In France, artists such as Gustave Le Gray (1820–1884) used the camera to take landscape photographs such as The Great Wave, Sète from 1857. In Britain Julia Margaret Cameron (1815–1879) explored the camera’s creative possibilities for portraiture, drawing on Renaissance art for inspiration. She created soft-focus compositions that transformed children into angels and dreamers and young women into the Greek enchantress Circe and the Virgin Mary. Sculpture had to wait a little longer for its own revolution and the neoclassical style remained popular throughout the nineteenth century on both sides of the Atlantic. However, it was increasingly used for new sculptural subjects by a bold group of American women who lived in Rome in the 1850s and 1860s. Called the ‘strange sisterhood’ by novelist Henry James, the women moved to Rome to access the best marble, to see classical sculpture and because there was a plentiful supply of skilled assistants. The lure of a country in which they could work unimpeded, freed from the usual restrictions placed on nineteenth-century women, must have clinched the deal. Harriet Hosmer (1830–1908) was one of the first to arrive in 1852. She later wrote, ‘Here [in Rome] every woman has a chance if she is bold enough to avail herself of it.’ Hosmer had studied anatomy privately in Boston and had a thorough understanding of the body. While she created highly marketable cherubic sculptures to finance her stay in Rome she also carved powerful women such as Zenobia in Chains (1859). Zenobia was a third-century CE queen of Palmyra, in modern-day Syria, who was placed in chains by her captors. While her head is

Reality Bites


Forever Free, marble sculpture by Mary Edmonia Lewis, 1867

slightly bowed she stands tall, nobly accepting her imprisonment. When the sculpture was shown in England in 1862 critics argued that such a piece couldn’t have been carved by a woman. They said it must be by her former tutor or by Roman workmen. Hosmer promptly sued the two magazines who alleged this and issued a lengthy rebuttal in the form of an article that explained the collaborative process of working with assistants, something that applied equally to male and female sculptors. Hosmer’s circle also included Mary Edmonia Lewis (1844– 1907). Lewis arrived in Rome from America in 1865 having raised money for her passage by selling busts of Civil War heroes and medals of abolitionists at a time when America was finally offering


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black slaves their freedom. As a mixed-race woman with an African-American father and Native American mother Lewis was subjected to many prejudices in America and chose to spend much of her time in Rome, only returning home for the inauguration of her public sculptures. Instead of toeing the line in terms of traditional subject matter she created sculptures of black emancipation as in Forever Free from 1867. Two years later the sculpture was installed at the Tremont Temple in Boston. A black man stands, hand in the air, celebrating President Lincoln’s proclamation of freedom for all slaves. A woman kneels by his side, hands raised in prayer and thanks. Rome may have been forward-looking for American women artists in the 1860s but France was still doggedly wedded to the Academy and the Salon. In 1863, however, an explosive exhibition at the heart of the establishment changed things for ever.

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The Impressionists It is 1863 and Edouard Manet’s ambitious painting Déjeuner sur

l’herbe (Luncheon on the Grass) is hanging prominently in a Paris exhibition that is attracting over 1,000 visitors a day. He has made it into the famous Salon – the only problem is, it is the wrong Salon. In 1863, for the first time, the Emperor of France Napoleon III bowed to pressure from disgruntled artists and declared that all those works of art that had been rejected from the official Salon – nearly 3,000 of them – could be exhibited in a one-off show called the ‘Salon des Refusés’ (Exhibition of Rejected Art). Let the public see for themselves why the jury turned them down! So Manet’s painting is squashed in alongside many others that have been deemed too unfinished or too adventurous by the conservative Salon jury. The paintings are arranged like a jigsaw puzzle and stretch from floor to ceiling. Ladies in billowing dresses and men in top hats crane their necks for a better view. Déjeuner sur l’herbe is hung in prime position in the middle of one wall. It is seen as the most 201


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outrageous work on display because it features a naked woman picnicking with men who are fully clothed. Male artists have been painting women with no clothes on for centuries, disguised as nymphs or goddesses to imply they are not real but imagined. However Manet’s woman is not a nude. She is too real to fit that description. She sits alongside the fashionably dressed men, her clothes strewn around her. The people at the exhibition can’t fathom out her relationship to the men and her nakedness makes them uneasy. But what is really outlandish is the way she is coolly holding the gaze of the Parisian audience. ‘And?’ She seems to say. ‘What are you looking at?’ * Manet painted scenes of modern life throughout his career but ultimately all he wanted was to be accepted by the Salon (the official one) and be judged against his predecessors, artists he admired like Velázquez and Hals. In France, up until 1863, the Salon was the only public place to exhibit your paintings. The artists who ran it still clung to the eighteenth-century hierarchy – history painting at the top, still life at the bottom – and judged art predominantly on mimetic likeness. Manet’s painting was fresh, exciting and unpolished, the shadows harsh, the subject unexpected. He embodied the artist described by the writer Charles Baudelaire in his influential essay ‘The Painter of Modern Life’, published the same year. This artist ‘makes it his business to extract from fashion whatever element it may contain of poetry within history, to distil the eternal from the transitory.’ Manet wanted to find essential truths in everyday material. But for the Salon jury and the public Manet’s subject was just too real, too modern, too shocking. Although Manet never gave up striving for his work to be shown at the Salon, and achieved success there towards the end of his life, it was the ‘Salon des Refusés’ that opened the door for his generation of artists. It was the first time an exhibition had been held where the public could judge art for themselves. Up to this point ambitious artists had to study at the Academy and rise dutifully through the ranks, showing their work in the official Salon where important collectors would see it. The Academy was still training

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and promoting artists who painted mythological goddesses and genre scenes like William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825–1905). In his Birth of Venus from 1879 the naked goddess floats across the sea on a scallop shell, surrounded by centaurs, nymphs and cherubs. The sea is green, the sky is blue and everyone is happy. Bouguereau’s figures are as flawless as classical sculptures, his painting style polished and refined. There’s nothing wrong with his paintings today, they just seem a bit bland and rather dated. They have no connection whatsoever with the time in which they were made, a world that was hurtling full-pelt into the modern age. In the 1860s artists increasingly felt that the Academy was too set in its ways, too old-fashioned. They realised if they banded together then the Salon would no longer be the only avenue open to them. Throughout the 1860s and early 1870s a group of young artists including Claude Monet (1840–1926), Berthe Morisot (1841–1895), Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919) and Camille Pissarro (1830–1903) tried with varying degrees of success to have

Claude Monet’s Impression: Sunrise, 1872


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their work exhibited at the Salon, where Bouguereau reigned supreme. When they were accepted their work was often hung in tucked-away places for it was relatively small in comparison to the large-scale history and mythological paintings that dominated the walls (Bouguereau’s Venus was 3 metres tall). These artists increasingly worked side by side and in 1874 they staged an independent exhibition as the ‘Company of artists, painters, sculptors and engravers’. They rented rooms at the photographer Nadar’s studio on Boulevard des Capucines in Paris. The show of 165 works included Monet’s Impression: Sunrise from 1872, a sketchy view of a red sun rising behind grey silhouettes of boats, rigging and factories, the light bathing the water below and sky above in a peachy glow. The critic Louis Leroy zeroed in on Monet’s title and dubbed the group the Impressionists. It was not a compliment. He meant that only an impression had been painted, a glimpse of something, a sketch. It was not a fully fledged painting with a well-thought-out composition. Other critics such as Jules Castagnary were more forgiving. ‘They are impressionists in the sense that they render not a landscape but the sensation produced by a landscape,’ he wrote. The name ‘Impressionists’ stuck, and by the time the third exhibition opened in 1877 the group themselves had embraced it. The Impressionists worked on a modest scale because they often worked outside, directly in front of what they wanted to paint, their canvases carried into position each day. They strove to capture a moment in time, to reveal how light played over water or how shadows changed colour throughout the day. They used quick brushstrokes to try and pin down changing conditions. They benefited from the invention of paint tubes (much more portable than colours mixed by hand in the studio) and the introduction of new vibrant hues such as cerulean blue and viridian green. Their bright palettes were also influenced by the theories of Michel Chevreul, who designed a colour wheel to show how complementary colours such as red and green sparked off each other and appeared brighter. These artists explored all aspects of modern Parisian life, from the new wide streets known as boulevards recently built by Baron

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Haussmann to concert halls and cafés, parks and train stations, living rooms and gardens. But many of them were simultaneously trying to capture the atmosphere of each scene, from the steam clouds at Saint-Lazare train station in Monet’s Gare Saint-Lazare (1877) to sunlight catching on frosted furrows in country fields in Pissarro’s White Frost (1873). This was the new reality for the Impressionists, one where constant change and flux replaced the traditional unchanging way of representing the world as promoted by the Salon. Figures were sometimes reduced to dashes of paint, as in Monet’s La Grenouillère from 1869, his attention focused on the way trees were reflected in the ever-moving waters at this popular bathing spot on the river Seine. It is as if we see a fragment of life – a snapshot or fleeting moment – and not the whole view. This comes close to how we actually experience the world, as a series of momentary glimpses that our memory helps stitch together into more comprehensive scenes. Many of the artists involved were influenced by the relatively new medium of photography, which offered views of contemporary life significantly at odds with Salon painting. Edgar Degas (1834–1917) was a painter and sculptor but he also took his own photographs. The unusual viewpoints he adopted in his paintings were influenced by his own photographic experiments and by Japanese prints, which he avidly collected. For example, limbs were often cropped at the edge as in Two Dancers on a Stage from 1874, as if the dancer was already moving away. Morisot’s framing of scenes was not dissimilar. Morisot and her sister Edma enjoyed early success as painters, exhibiting at the Salon every year from 1864 to 1867. Morisot met Manet the following year and eventually married his brother Eugène. Edma married a naval officer and had to give up painting, something she complained about in her letters to her sister. Morisot was involved in seven of the eight Impressionist exhibitions, only missing one following the birth of her daughter Julie. Society forbade her from going to cafés on her own, as the male artists did all the time to meet up after a day of painting, but she could attend Manet’s weekly drinks parties. Her work sold well and


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Mary Cassatt’s Woman in Black at the Opera, 1880

in 1877 a critic for Le Temps newspaper called her the ‘one real Impressionist in this group’. She painted her mother and sister at home and women reading but she also worked outdoors and painted park vistas, boating trips and family outings. The American artist Mary Cassatt (1844–1926) also enjoyed early success at the Salon. Degas saw her paintings there and invited her to join the Impressionists, which she did in 1877. ‘At last,’ she wrote, ‘I could work absolutely independently, without worrying about the opinion of any jury!’ Her 1880 painting Woman in Black at the Opera tackled a popular subject for the Impressionists, a woman in a box at the theatre or opera. In Renoir’s La Loge (The Box) from 1874 for example a woman in a stylish black-and-white striped gown gazes out, her neck circled by pearls, a small pair of gold opera glasses in her gloved hand. The man behind her is using his own opera glasses like binoculars to take a good look at people in the audience. We study her as the

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man studies other women – as if she were an object on display. It is interesting to compare this to Cassatt’s approach. Her woman is seated alone. She is dressed in black so we know she is a widow. A widow did not need to be chaperoned to the theatre and enjoyed more freedom than other women of her background and class. Cassatt’s woman doesn’t face us in her finery, as an object, but instead she is actively involved in observing, like the man in Renoir’s painting. She is concentrating – she holds her fan firmly in her left hand and her ungloved right hand strains to keep her opera glasses in position. Unbeknown to her a man is looking at her, leaning out from a box further around the circle, his elbow mirroring her own on the edge of the box. However, she doesn’t acknowledge him and he remains out of focus and distanced. In this way Cassatt controls both how we view the woman and how we look at the painting. By painting the man and the theatre as a blur we concentrate on the widow, who is clearly shown in control of her own gaze. Eva Gonzalès (1849–1883) also portrayed women and men at the opera, but she didn’t exhibit with the Impressionists. Like Manet, she kept her sights trained on the Salon as an official mark of success. She had studied with him and there is much of his influence in her early work, such as A Box at the Theatre des Italiens (1874) with its dense black background and harsh lighting. Gonzalès’ woman also holds opera glasses and stares confidently at the viewer while the man presents his profile for scrutiny in a neat gender reversal of Renoir’s La Loge, painted in the same year. Gonzalès and Morisot enjoyed the support of Manet but not all female artists at the time were so fortunate. Marie Braquemond (1840–1916) was a talented painter who exhibited with the Impressionists but her husband, the printmaker Félix Braquemond, was as likely to hinder her career as he was to promote it, his jealousy often getting the better of him. Have you heard of her before? No? This is probably why. The eight Impressionist exhibitions stretched from 1874 to 1886. Collectively the fifty-five artists who exhibited there had a phenomenal impact on art. They set it on a new path, one which will take


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us all the way to the twenty-first century. They allowed the invention of photography to free them from Renaissance rules of perspective and classical mimesis. They strove to capture what it was really like to see, to witness the sun moving over popular leisure spots or smoke filling train stations. But while Impressionism was growing in France, other artists were also pushing art’s boundaries to explore the edges of what was possible. At times this led them into trouble. Big trouble.

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Artists Take a Stand The flamboyant American James Abbott McNeill Whistler walks

towards the courtroom in London on 26 November 1878, swinging his cane. Aged forty-four, he cuts a dash with his curly dark hair, monocle, tight-fitting coat and patent-leather shoes. Today is day two of the trial Whistler versus Ruskin. He is suing John Ruskin over a bad review and is in court to fight for his reputation. (He could also really use the £1,000 damages he has applied for to pay off his mounting debts.) Ruskin, by now Britain’s most influential art critic, had written a damning review of Whistler’s latest exhibition. A long-time champion of the careful study of nature, Ruskin boiled with rage as he homed in on Whistler’s Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket, a painting that captures the fleeting moment of a firework exploding over the Thames. He called Whistler a ‘coxcomb’ (a vain man) and spluttered that he dared to ask ‘200 guineas [about £15,000 today] for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face’. Whistler wasn’t aiming for realism 209


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in Nocturne in Black and Gold. He wanted to capture the pattern the sparks made against the night sky and the mood of the evening. Only Ruskin didn’t see that at all. The courtroom is packed as Whistler takes the stand. Ruskin has appointed the attorney general, Sir John Holker, to defend him. Holker labours over Whistler’s paintings, struggling to understand them. ‘Did it take you much time to paint the Nocturne in Black and Gold?’ he asks. ‘How soon did you knock it off?’ The jury laughs. Whistler plays along and says, ‘I knocked it off possibly in a couple of days.’ Holker thinks he has him cornered. ‘And that was the labour for which you asked 200 guineas?’ Whistler says, no, the sum was for the knowledge he had gained over a lifetime. Applause breaks out and Whistler remains hopeful of victory. * Whistler (1834–1903) did win the most famous libel battle of the nineteenth century, but instead of being awarded £1,000 damages he was granted a solitary farthing, or a quarter of a penny. And he had to pay his own costs. It was a pyrrhic victory – a triumph that is a loss in real terms. You can only think that the judge had no patience with either of the successful men before him, fighting over a few words. Both men were damaged by the trial but Whistler lost everything: his new Japanese-style White House, his furniture, his collection of prints and china, the paintings in his purposebuilt studio. He was bankrupt. Born in America, Whistler spent part of his childhood in Russia, where his father was advising on the country’s new rail network. He then studied art in America and France, absorbing the different artistic climates of each country. Friendly with the Pre-Raphaelites, Whistler finally settled in England and became a leading figure in the Aesthetic movement in Britain. Artists and designers associated with the movement believed colour, shape and line could create beautiful and harmonious works without the need for an underlying figurative subject. Their motto was ‘art for art’s sake’. Whistler responded to the harmony he found in Japanese art and applied it to Western oil painting. His portraits are studies in white or grey, his river scenes atmospheres of pared-back greys,

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James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket, 1875

blues and blacks. His art was important because it moved painting away from depicting the real world and explored the language of painting itself. He was like a classical musician working with notes and tones to create moods and atmospheres (rather than a singer belting out popular melodies). As Whistler said in a later lecture, ‘Nature contains the elements, in colour and form, of all pictures, as a keyboard contains the notes of all music. But the artist is born to pick and choose . . . until he brings forth from chaos glorious harmony.’ His work would give early twentieth-century artists the confidence to go even further and eliminate the subject altogether to create Western art’s first abstract paintings. The art of Whistler’s contemporaries who lived and worked on America’s east coast couldn’t have been more different. Winslow


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Homer (1836–1910) painted the version of America that people yearned for following the brutal Civil War that had seen more than 600,000 troops killed between 1861 and 1865. Boston-born Homer had trained as a printmaker and covered the war for the popular magazine Harper’s Weekly. He quickly left the violence behind him to paint nostalgic scenes of countryside life. Throughout the long recession of the 1870s his cast of characters rode and swam, fished and learnt to sail, as in Breezing Up (A Fair Wind) from 1873–6. In Watermelon Boys, dated 1876, three boys enjoy a stolen watermelon. One holds a long strip of rind as he looks nervously to his left, acting as lookout. The other two tuck in, lying on their stomachs, eating their fill. By painting black and white boys together Homer suggested a level of racial integration that was far from reality in America. The country was still deeply segregated, despite the end of slavery in 1863. Thomas Eakins (1844–1916) from Philadelphia sought to show Americans that colour was only skin deep. In The Gross Clinic, dated 1875, Eakins revealed his training in anatomy by showing the esteemed surgeon Samuel Gross dissecting a man’s leg in front of eager students in an auditorium. Four men help the surgeon as Gross explains to the class how he is removing a spur of dead bone in order to save the patient’s leg from amputation, a bloody scalpel still in his hand as he talks. This level of realism turned the stomachs of many and The Gross Clinic was refused entry to the 1876 ‘Centennial Exhibition’ in Philadelphia, dismissed as violent, ugly and obscene. Only after Gross campaigned for its inclusion did it make it in, and only then on the walls of the medical pavilion. It was displayed as an illustration of surgery, not as a portrait of bodies, inside and out. Eakins believed in the democracy of the body, observing its physicality in black and white subjects with little prejudice. But if the American battle for equality was racial, in Russia it was a class issue. In 1861, two years before President Lincoln abolished slavery in America, Tsar Alexander II released all peasants from serfdom (a form of slavery), although their lives remained incredibly hard. Russian artists increasingly felt it was their duty to create art with

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a social purpose and thirteen of them broke free from the dominant Academy of Art in St Petersburg, an academy that still championed neoclassicism. The group called themselves the ‘Wanderers’ as they held exhibitions in small towns across the country, taking their realistic, nationalistic art to the people. Where Whistler had fought simply to clear his own name, the Wanderers took up the cause of the downtrodden and persecuted and fought their corner instead. Ilya Repin (Il’ia Efimovich Repin, 1844–1930) seems an unlikely Wanderer at first glance – he spent three years in Paris as the Impressionists were banding together – but in 1878 he joined the group. He became an important member, one much admired by other artists and the realist writer Leo Tolstoy, whom he painted many times. Like Courbet in France, Repin and the Wanderers used their art to comment on society, illuminating the suffering of the lowest paid as in Repin’s Barge Haulers from 1870. In his largescale painting They Did Not Expect Him from 1884, he painted the return of a Narodnik (a campaigner for reform) who had been exiled to Siberia by the government. The man stands in the parlour still wearing his coat like a stranger, his face almost lost in shadow, his eyes dark empty sockets. His children look at him as if he is a novel curiosity, not recognising him, and only his mother, rising from her chair in widow’s weeds, approaches. The bare floorboards suggest life has been hard with him gone. Why did artists choose to paint such people? The Wanderers wanted to shine a light on them and give them a voice, just as Courbet had done in France. They also wanted to honour the lives of these people, aware that the modern world was now extinguishing traditions that had stood for hundreds of years. To capture the old ways before they disappeared artists travelled on newly laid railway lines to the fringes of countries where land meets sea: to Pont-Aven in Brittany, Zandvoort in the Netherlands and Newlyn in England. These coastal villages offered cheap accommodation and ready subjects – fishermen and women, villagers in traditional dress attending church, picturesque rural settings. They were as far away as possible from the buzz of


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modern city life that so fascinated the Impressionists and offered artists a chance to capture a more traditional way of life. Elizabeth Forbes (born Elizabeth Armstrong, 1859–1912) was a Canadian-born artist who had studied in London and New York before travelling to Pont-Aven and Zandvoort, painting A Zandvoort Fishergirl in 1884. A young woman stands, hand on hip, her right arm holding a tray of fish. Forbes positions her in front of a nondescript wall so all our attention is on her uncompromising gaze. She stares straight out at us, her hair and apron haloed by the early morning sun. Forbes’ mother accompanied her on her travels and together they settled in Newlyn in Cornwall, England, where she shared her studio with giant piles of fishing nets. It was while living in Cornwall that she met her husband Stanhope Forbes (1857–1947). His A Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach from 1884–5 was a busy snapshot of coastal life as a fishing fleet landed its catch to be auctioned. A ray, a mackerel and other fish are strewn at the feet of two young women who are talking to a grizzled fisherman still wearing his sou’wester. Other women carry heavy baskets laden with catch as grey waves lap at their feet. Stanhope Forbes exhibited in London and soon whipped up a belief that a ‘Newlyn School’ existed. Stanhope and Elizabeth established a gallery, now called the Newlyn Art Gallery, and a painting school. The Newlyn School was the foundation for a strong artistic presence in the area that continues to this day. Many French artists chose not to travel abroad, aware that some of the most exciting developments in art were happening on their doorstep in Paris. The Impressionists painted the capital and held their final exhibition there in 1886. It included Georges Seurat’s (1859–1891) A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte from 1884–6 which was painted in a ground-breaking new style. Seurat used the same scientific colour theory as the Impressionists but turned it on its head. He understood that if you mixed two paints together – let’s say red and yellow – you get a new colour, in this case orange. But what if you didn’t mix the paints together on the canvas and applied them as red and yellow dots instead, letting

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Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 1884–6

the colours mix in your eye? What if you overlaid these with dots of complementary colours, to make the colours really zing? The result was A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, a huge painting over 3 metres wide. La Grande Jatte is a large island in the Seine on the outskirts of Paris. In Seurat’s painting a middle-class couple stand in the shade looking at the shimmering river, straight-backed and formal in their Sunday best. Around them are monkeys and dogs, children running, women making flower posies and working men relaxing. The critic Félix Fénéon was in awe: ‘The atmosphere is singularly transparent and vibrant; the surface seems to tremble.’ Seurat painted the whole canvas and frame using dots. Red dots on the frame line up next to the grass in the painting, causing the green surface to pop and fizz as if it were alive. The people, by contrast, appear static and lifeless. Painted largely in profile, as if they were figures on a frieze, they sit or stand alone, isolated in their own pockets of shade, a reflection on the anonymity of modern city life. Seurat’s dazzling new style, known as pointillism, offered a clean break from Impressionism and inspired a whole host of followers.


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Fénéon hailed it as the start of a new art movement called neoImpressionism. He called it a rejection of Impressionism’s ‘fugitive appearances’ and said it showed a desire to capture the timeless essence of a scene. The artists who followed him we now call postImpressionists: Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne. Their work is among the most highly valued in the world. During their own lifetimes, however, they hardly sold a painting. Despite this lack of public support their dedication to their art was at times dangerous and even fatal.

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The Post-Impressionists It is late September in 1888 and Vincent van Gogh is sitting at a

table in his studio in Arles, in the south of France. In front of him is a half-written letter to his brother Theo, an art dealer in Paris. Van Gogh writes hundreds of letters a year and many are to Theo. His brother still supports him as an artist, paying his rent and buying him paints. In May Van Gogh used Theo’s money to rent the house he now sits in. He has called it the Yellow House and has set it up as his ‘Studio of the South’. He is hoping others, such as his friend Paul Gauguin, will come and join him in Arles and create an artists’ community. For now he sits alone, pen in hand, and tells Theo about a painting he has just finished. It is called The Night Café, a depiction of the all-night bar he used to live above in Arles. The owner stands by a billiard table while men slump over drinks at shared tables and a couple chat intimately at the back. The clock marks time; it is just after midnight. Gaslights fill the café with new artificial light, which radiates from the ceiling in concentric circles. ‘In my 217


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picture,’ he writes, ‘I have tried to express the idea that the café is a place where one can ruin oneself, go mad or commit a crime.’ He tells Theo about the harsh greens and sulphurous yellows he has used, about the delirious atmosphere he has created. He stayed up for three entire nights to paint it inside the café, using contrasting colours, reds and greens, to express the emotions of the drunk customers and their woozy state of inebriation. * Vincent van Gogh’s (1853–1890) early paintings were sombre pictures of Dutch peasants. As he moved south – from the Netherlands to Paris then Arles – his paintings became brighter and bolder. He took Japanese prints with him to the Yellow House, including Utagawa Hiroshige’s The Residence with Plum Trees at Kameido (1857), and Sato Torakiyo’s Geishas in a Landscape (1870s). He had bought the prints in markets in Antwerp and Paris and they influenced his painting style as he eliminated shadows and used thick dark lines to outline objects, as in The Night Café. Why did so many Western artists turn to Japanese prints for inspiration? They seemed to offer a way beyond Western perspective and polished academic mimesis. Artists admired how their Japanese counterparts interpreted the landscape, creating flat scenes that didn’t try to look natural but instead captured the underlying harmony of nature. They suggested new ways to turn the three-dimensional world into a flat two-dimensional image. Van Gogh showed his admiration for Japanese prints by painting a version of Geishas in a Landscape, with Mount Fuji in the background, in his own Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear from 1889. Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear was painted when Paul Gauguin (1848–1903), who had joined Van Gogh in Arles, left the Yellow House after two months of arguments. Van Gogh cut off his own ear lobe in anger. His mental health deteriorated rapidly and he moved in and out of hospitals and asylums, although he continued to paint. Within two years of The Night Café he was dead, having shot himself in the fields he had painted so vividly in Wheat Field with Crows in 1890. He only sold one painting during his lifetime.

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Vincent van Gogh’s The Night Café, 1888

Van Gogh was an artist who worked largely in isolation, but now we can see his expressive paintings have parallels with the work of other Northern European artists, particularly Edvard Munch (1863–1944). Munch was born in Norway but studied in Paris then moved to Berlin in Germany. His art and life were bound together like Van Gogh’s, and his most famous painting, The Scream from 1893, offers a tortured cry from a skull-like head. The sky boils red behind and the sea swirls underneath, an agitated state that reflects the emotions of the central figure who seems to scream from their very soul. The Scream was the culmination of Munch’s ‘Frieze of Life’ series. The series expressed the torment of men, the mysteries of women and the looming presence of death. Munch was an important forerunner of German Expressionism, an art form where the inner emotional world was prioritised over physical views or subjects. He drew on his own personal experiences of the illnesses and deaths of loved ones and his own depression to shape his art.


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Paul Cézanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire with Large Pine, around 1887

He wrote in his diary that art should not be placid pictures of people reading or knitting but instead should feature ‘real people who breathed, who suffered, felt, loved’. Van Gogh and Munch both reacted to the pressures of modern life. They struggled with mental health issues and rejection during their lifetimes but now their work speaks to people with great intensity as it taps directly into our own emotions and anxieties. Their art moved beyond Impressionism as it reconnected with hidden emotions and inner realities. Paul Cézanne (1839–1906) also wanted to push beyond Impres­ sionism’s fleeting glimpses of the world to paint essential truths. He studied in Paris but later returned to Aix-en-Provence in the South of France, where he was born. He wrestled with painting throughout his career, exhibiting alongside Manet in the ‘Salon des Réfusés’ in 1863 and then with the Impressionists before abandoning exhibitions completely until his first one-man show in Paris at the age of fifty-six. He retreated from the art world to concentrate on trying to express the essence of forms – their colour, weight and shape.

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Some of Cézanne’s best-known paintings are of a single local landmark, Mont Sainte-Victoire. The mountain was as important to him as Mount Fuji was to Japanese printmakers. It was a symbol of Provence that he framed with pine trees in the 1880s, painted purple in the 1890s and reduced to a series of coloured marks on paper and canvas in the early 1900s. The box-like houses in the fields below and the mountain itself fuse together with the sky and the foreground trees in Mont Sainte-Victoire with Large Pine (from around 1887) to recreate the experience of drinking in a landscape all at once as if it were a single patchwork of shapes and colours. Cézanne spoke of wanting to treat nature ‘by means of the cylinder, the sphere, the cone’. This new way of painting, of reducing objects to their essential forms, offered another way of moving beyond Impressionism and influenced many artists including Pablo Picasso, who built on Cézanne’s style to create Cubism, as we will see in the next chapter. Paul Gauguin also chose to leave Paris to pursue his art and his paintings offer a third way beyond Impressionism, this time through a renewed interest in symbolism. He initially joined the summer exodus of artists to Brittany on the northwest coast of France, staying in Pont-Aven and painting the local women and their customs. Here he drew on Japanese prints for inspiration and developed a style of flat colour and strong outlines that he called synthetism. Like many artists of the time, Gauguin wanted to turn his back on the rapidly modernising world and observe the traditions of people living away from the cities, believing these lives were lived more simply and were more deeply rooted in nature. For Gauguin, however, Brittany was not remote enough. Gauguin yearned for something even more ‘primitive’, an escape from his reality into a place of timeless fantasy where he could be free. And so he headed to Tahiti, the tropical island William Hodges painted in 1775, and that we visited in Chapter 23. Tahiti, part of Polynesia in the Pacific Ocean, had been colonised by the French in 1880. Eleven years later Gauguin sailed there. ‘It seems to me,’ he wrote to Mette, his long-suffering wife who remained in Europe, ‘that all the things that make life in Europe so troublesome


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do not exist anymore, and tomorrow will be just the same as today, and so on, until the end.’ The Tahiti seen in Gauguin’s paintings is a myth. He painted Tahiti as if it were an untouched paradise filled with beautiful, sexually available young women who lounged in tropical glades or on sandy beaches – a place where he could indulge his fantasies and get back to nature. The reality was a Polynesian island turned French colony riddled with sexual disease (inadvertently introduced by Europeans) and Protestant missionaries. Gauguin continued to write to Mette while he lived with Tehemana, a 13-year-old Tahitian girl who became his vahine, or Tahitian wife. He repeatedly used her as his model, painting her on rough sacking canvas, fusing nature and female sexuality with local spiritual beliefs to create his exotic colonial fantasies. His sexual exploitation of underage girls and his colonial attitude to Tahiti as a place he could reinvent to suit his needs make him a problematic figure for us today. Gauguin’s most ambitious work was Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? from 1897. It was 6 metres wide, the width of the studio he had built on the island. The women in the painting represent the various ages of humanity. The central figure picks an apple as if she were in the Bible’s Garden of Eden but she stands in a landscape populated by Tahitian gods. This painting is like a dream, full of hidden meanings. It isn’t meant to be a real scene but a symbolic one. Symbolism was another way of moving art away from naturalism. It was about the expression of ideas and emotions through objects, not simply reproducing the objects themselves. As Gauguin set sail on his two-month journey to Tahiti, the American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859–1937) was preparing to spend his first summer in Gauguin’s earlier retreat, Pont-Aven. Tanner lived in France for nearly fifty years, finding the climate less racially charged than America. An African-American, he had grown up in Philadelphia where his father later became Bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Tanner studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Arts but found that the white students wouldn’t accept him as an equal. Despite early support

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from Thomas Eakins, whom we met in the last chapter, he experienced ongoing prejudice in America and used money from sales of his early work to pay for a one-way ticket to Paris. Tanner made a brief trip back to America in 1893 to attend the World Congress on Africa in Chicago, where he delivered a lecture titled ‘The American Negro in Art’. During this visit he painted The Banjo Lesson, his best-known work today. It is a sympathetic portrait of an old black man teaching a young boy to play the banjo. Tanner painted genre scenes of black Americans to give them a presence in art history and to represent them seriously, as real people. Tanner had a successful career in France but, a continent away, historical African art was being treated in a very different manner. On 9 February 1897 British troops arrived at the Niger Delta in west Africa. They disembarked and proceeded towards Benin City (now in Edo State in southern Nigeria). A small British raiding party had been murdered by Benin City guards a month earlier and this new attack was a vastly inflated retaliation. The British were armed with rocket launchers and machine guns and they annihilated the Edo soldiers who fought back from the surrounding trees. Ultimately Benin City was captured and its royal palace complex burned to the ground after being systematically looted of all its treasures. This included hundreds of Benin bronzes, the historical plaques we admired in Chapter 16. There was no archaeological cataloguing of the sculptures before they were removed from shrines or plaques from storehouses. Rather they were gathered in courtyards and divvied up according to Western ideas of value, with the most ornate works reserved for Queen Victoria, such as a pair of ivory leopards inlaid with copper spots. The most complex plaques were taken back to the Colonial Office in London to be sold to help finance the expedition. Two-thirds of these plaques entered the collection of the British Museum and an exhibition was held there seven months later. When people saw the bronzes they were amazed. Europeans didn’t think African art was so sophisticated or technically advanced. At this time African art wasn’t even considered ‘art’ at all. It was


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labelled ‘primitive’ and filed away in ethnographic museums. If it was admired it was by those who thought it showed a closer bond between man and nature, the almost childlike innocence that Gauguin was hankering for in Tahiti. But the Benin bronzes made it obvious that a high level of artistry had developed in Africa, independent of Western art. It turned out Africa had its own history of art. The Benin bronzes were the continent’s masterpieces – and the British had just stolen them.

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Standing on the Shoulders of Giants It is 1903 in Berlin, Germany, and Käthe Kollwitz is looking at her

newly published catalogue of prints with its essay by the director of the Dresden Print Room, Max Lehrs. Printmaking is very popular in Germany and Kollwitz is one of its leading artists. Her prints are exhibited in Berlin, Paris and London where collectors and museums compete to buy her work. Kollwitz’s powerful prints convey the hardships of life. People toil in the fields, starve, watch their children die at home. She has access to these people through her husband’s work as a doctor. He treats the poor in his surgery below their apartment on Weissenburgerstraße (today the street is called Kollwitzstraße). Her prints are not portraits of specific individuals but of collective suffering. Faces are often invisible as hands cover them in grief. Max Lehrs says she captures a universal sorrow through her powers of expression. Kollwitz puts the catalogue down and picks up her latest etching, Woman with Dead Child. Often she publishes work in series but this 225


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image stands alone. A woman fills the print, her bare legs crossed, her shoulders hunched over. In her arms she cradles a small child, its head hanging back, its body curled inside the woman’s last embrace. Her grief appears infinite. Kollwitz used her 7-year-old son Peter and herself as models for this print, but the sadness comes from the death of her baby brother Benjamin when she was a child. * Käthe Kollwitz (1867–1945) was the first woman elected to the Academy of the Arts in Berlin. The jury at the 1898 Great Berlin Art Exhibition voted to award her a gold medal for her first major print series, A Weavers’ Revolt. The emperor Wilhelm II, however, refused. ‘I ask you gentlemen, a medal for a woman, that would be going too far,’ he said. As you can see, the climate for women artists was still very challenging. German magazine editor Hans Rosenhagen criticised all women’s art, saying, ‘Absent from women’s art production is powerful expression, originality of invention, and depth of feeling.’ Yet all these traits are powerfully present in Kollwitz’s work. One look at her prints of bone-tired workers and grieving mothers shows her to be one of the most expressive artists of her generation. She used historical accounts and contemporary examples of social inequality to create images of great power and there is as much emotion and expression in them as in Edvard Munch’s work. German artists continued to express inner emotional states and married this with a bold jagged style to create German Expression­ism. In Dresden and Munich artists banded together and published manifestos (mission statements) laying out their beliefs. In 1905 four students including Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880–1938) formed Die Brücke (The Bridge). Die Brücke’s manifesto claimed: ‘As youth, we carry the future and want to create for ourselves freedom of life and of movement against the long-established older forces’. Kirchner painted busy street scenes of lonely people in garish colours and increasingly spiky diagonal lines, paintings that assault your eyes with their sharp energy. Other artists set up Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) in 1911. This group included Wassily Kandinsky (1866– 1944), Gabriele Münter (1877–1962) and Franz Marc (1880–1916) and expanded the idea of what art could be to include glass painting,

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Käthe Kollwitz’s etching Woman with Dead Child, 1903

Russian folk art and the art of children. They used these diverse inspirations to push themselves further and further away from representational academic art. Like Van Gogh’s fascination with Japanese prints these artists looked beyond traditional academic ways of seeing to push the boundaries of what art could and should be in the twentieth century. Artists in Germany and neighbouring Austria also responded to other European trends. Worpswede was an artists’ community in north Germany, similar to that at Pont-Aven in France. The artists of Worpswede painted outdoors and embraced the slower pace of country life. Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876–1907) moved there aged twenty-two; she painted blocky women using heavy outlines and the bright colours of Gauguin, inspired by visiting his large 1906 Paris retrospective (an exhibition covering an artist’s entire career). She painted with far greater emotional depth than Gauguin,


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aiming to give her work the expressive power of Van Gogh. Mother and Child Lying Nude from 1907 shows a woman on her side, a sleeping baby snuggled up to her. We see the mother’s breasts and pubic hair but there is nothing erotic about this nude, unlike Gauguin’s. It is a painting of maternal love, fertility and togetherness, of solidity and strength. The Worpswede artists emphasised the importance of the ‘earth mother’ as an alternative to anonymous mechanical city life. Sadly the reality of motherhood was very different for Modersohn-Becker and she died a few days after giving birth. In German and Austrian cities artists rebelled against academic teaching as they had all over Europe. They set up alternative institutions called Secessions where they could exhibit new and exciting work inspired by Gauguin, Van Gogh and Cézanne. The work of the Impressionists and post-Impressionists was not shown in Germany until the first decade of the twentieth century. Before that artists had to travel to Paris to witness this exciting new art for themselves, much as artists had travelled to Rome in previous centuries, because Paris was now seen as the European centre of art. The artistic fervour in Paris inspired sculptors to move beyond neoclassicism and become more expressive. In 1900 the 60-yearold sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840–1917), who lived and worked in the city, exhibited his work at the Paris World Fair. He staged the exhibition himself and it included polished marble figures that seemed to breathe themselves into existence, such as The Kiss, completed in 1898. He also exhibited more experimental sculptures. Rodin enjoyed manipulating wet plaster and clay, leaving signs of how the sculpture was made on the surface. In his Monument to Balzac from 1892–7 he swathed the French novelist Honoré de Balzac in an oversized dressing gown draped over his shoulders like a cloak. The sculpture is now cast in bronze and stands on the Boulevard du Montparnasse in Paris (with another bronze cast in the garden of the Musée Rodin), but at the time only a full-size plaster version was exhibited. This plaster version caused an outcry as it was seen by critics as unfinished, the body unformed, all but invisible under the lumpy dressing gown. Rodin said he was

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trying to portray the writer’s spirit, his towering creativity, rather than his physical appearance. Monument to Balzac seems so powerful and imposing today that it is hard to imagine people not connecting with it. Now it is seen as the first modern sculpture, the first time a Western sculptor had purposefully deviated from creating a physically lifelike form for centuries. Other artists took courage from Rodin’s sculptural experimentation. Camille Claudel (1864–1943) worked in his studio and created her own bronze sculptures that fused detailed figures with more expressive free-flowing sections, as in The Waltz from 1895. Rodin supported women artists and championed the AfricanAmerican sculptor Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller (1877–1968), who worked in Paris before returning to America. Fuller took AfricanAmerican injustice as her theme and was guided by Henry Ossawa Tanner (whom we met in the last chapter). Many artists visited Rodin’s studio, including Henri Matisse (1869–1954). Matisse was both a sculptor and a painter. He leapt to fame as the leader of a group who exhibited together in 1905. They were quickly nicknamed the ‘Fauves’, or wild beasts, by a shocked critic. In The Woman with the Hat Matisse had given his wife Amélie a green stripe for a nose! The important collector Gertrude Stein bought this painting and others by Matisse. She saw that while he had indeed used a bold stripe of green down the bridge of his wife’s nose, he had used it not only to convey shadow but also to contrast with the red top lip below. This caused the complementary colours red and green to fizz with life. Over his long career Matisse would continue to prioritise colour, from his early portraits and interiors to his later collages made from brightly painted paper shapes. His contemporary, the young Spaniard Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) who settled in Paris in 1904, also began by working in colour, creating early series now known as his rose and blue periods. But increasingly Picasso’s experimental canvases relied on the drawn line and were influenced by new art forms including non-Western sculpture. It was Matisse who first introduced Picasso to African art. Picasso was visiting Gertrude Stein when Matisse appeared holding a


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wooden Vili figure with an upturned mask-like face from the Congo that he had just bought in a curio shop. Picasso immediately sought out more examples of non-Western art at the Trocadéro, an anthropological museum dedicated to the study of humans. Many of the non-Western sculptures and masks Picasso and Matisse saw in Paris had been shipped from France’s new colonial territories in west and equatorial Africa, from Gabon and Mali, the Congo and the Ivory Coast. These works were catalogued as artefacts, not art. The importance of these sculptures and masks for Matisse and Picasso’s work cannot be overstated. ‘Van Gogh had Japanese prints,’ Picasso said, but ‘we had Africa.’ What fascinated them about African art (as well as Oceanic and Iberian art) was its very different concept of space and form. The body was evoked using non-realistic shapes – cylinders for eyes and cubes for mouths. African art expressed the essence of a subject rather than simply a mimetic likeness. Matisse and Picasso studied the formal shapes of non-Western art with little consideration for its original cultural value. In the new colonial museums there was no indication whether the sculptures were of kings and queens or gods and shamans. They didn’t know that particular Grebo masks, for example, invoked forest spirits. (Picasso later owned a Grebo mask from the Ivory Coast and hung it in his studio.) Each mask and sculpture had been uprooted from its original context and time and was now presented in the West as an undated African curio. Picasso had studied how Cézanne had reduced his subjects to arrangements of flat patches of colour on canvas and he now combined this with his thinking on non-Western art. He didn’t copy a particular mask or sculpture directly but realised that collectively they showed him an entirely new way of looking at the world. He began to experiment with how the body could be reduced to an arrangement of lines and shapes that could still be understood. In 1907 the result was an explosive painting – Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Young Women of Avignon Street). In the painting five women stand in a room on Avignon Street in Barcelona and look out at us. It is as if they are on a stage or displaying themselves in a window. They are naked sex workers,

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Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907

posing to show off their bodies, but their large eyes have a dead stare. Two of them have impossibly long concave noses and their faces resemble the Gabon masks Picasso had seen in the Trocadéro. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon remained hidden in Picasso’s studio for nearly a decade. The critics and artists who saw it there felt it was a rupture in art that was too abrupt and offensive. When Georges Braque (1882–1963) saw it he said it was as if Picasso had been ‘drinking turpentine and spitting fire’. While the painting was considered too shocking to show publicly, Braque and Picasso used its energy to fuel other paintings, pushing their art to the very limits, working side by side ‘like mountaineers roped together’. Cubism was the result, a style of painting that unpicked bodies and objects and rebuilt them using a series of flat angular planes. By 1910 only hints of a subject remained, such as a moustache and a pair of clasped hands in Picasso’s portrait of the art dealer


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Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler or the scroll of a violin and the handle of a jug in Braque’s Violin and Pitcher. The rest was a jagged surface of overlapping shapes in greys and browns. Only by using the tiny remaining clues could you hope to reconstruct what might be there. The Cubists were fascinated by how our understanding of a solid object is largely constructed from memory. When we look at a face from the side and see one eye we know there is another eye out of sight because we have seen faces before. The Cubists wanted to come closer to how we actually see, how we construct an object from incomplete glimpses over time. In their work, instead of painting the known object they painted the tiny clues or signs from which we build that object in our minds. In the next chapter we will see sculptors drawing on this Cubist technique as well as on non-Western art as they pushed their own work in exciting new directions.

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Ripping up the Rule Book It is an overcast day in 1913 as the young French sculptor Henri

Gaudier-Brzeska and American poet Ezra Pound approach the studio of Jacob Epstein in London. They have come to see Epstein’s latest sculpture, Rock Drill. Epstein’s studio near the British Museum used to be a garage and it is damp and cold. Epstein stands next to a large shape in the gloom. As the two men enter he heaves off the tarpaulin that covers his new sculpture. And there it is, standing over 3 metres tall, a white armoured figure straddling a black drilling machine. The figure rides the rock drill like a horse, at one with the machine, in control. A foetus nestles in its chest as if it will give birth to a new generation of hybrids, part human and part machine. It is made from white plaster but there’s no sign of human manufacture, no artist’s thumbprint or unfinished corner. This giant beast is all machine, its shoulders and head armour-plated, its fingers clutching the controls of the drill as if it were a machine gun. It is an alien form balancing on the drill’s tripod legs, ready to annihilate the ground, nature, life itself. 233


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Pound starts to speak enthusiastically about it but GaudierBrzeska tells him to shut up, tells him he understands nothing. Epstein turns to face him then, one sculptor to another, and Gaudier-Brzeska knows that this sculpture changes everything. * Jacob Epstein (1880–1959) was born in New York but moved to London in 1905 after studying in Paris for three years. He trained in neoclassical sculpture but rejected this approach, as Rodin had done, instead choosing to study African and Egyptian art in museums, like Picasso. His early figures were solid and blocky and reflect his fascination with non-Western sculpture and the essence of form they captured. This was a rising trend among European sculptors such as Epstein and Gaudier-Brzeska (1891–1915), Amedeo Modigliani (1884–1920) and Constantin Brancusi (1876– 1957), who all knew each other. But Rock Drill also revealed Epstein’s interest in industry and the machine age. Half of the sculpture was a real machine he had bought from a quarry in Wales. This angered critics when he exhibited it in 1915. How could a piece of machinery, something already made, ever be considered art? Shortly after this exhibition Epstein dismantled Rock Drill and amputated the figure at the waist. He removed one arm before casting it in bronze and later exhibited the mutilated torso without the drill. The First World War, which had started in 1914, stripped him of his enthusiasm for futuristic machinery. He wrote that the Rock Drill figure now represented ‘the armed, sinister figure of today and tomorrow. No humanity, only the terrible Frankenstein’s monster we have made ourselves into.’ The battle droids in Star Wars bear an uncanny resemblance to Epstein’s original figure – inhuman robots each wielding an automatic weapon. When the First World War began, the Futurists had been championing machines, war and speed for five years. This group of Italian artists published their manifesto on the front page of France’s Le Figaro newspaper on 20 February 1909. Their spokesperson was the poet Filippo Marinetti, who exclaimed: ‘We want no part of it, the past, we the young and strong Futurists!’ Marinetti championed youth, danger and fast cars, and scorned history. ‘We

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will sing of great crowds excited by work, by pleasure, and by riot,’ he promised, ‘we will sing of the multicoloured, polyphonic tides of revolution in the modern capitals.’ Futurist artists such as Giacomo Balla (1871–1958) and Gino Severini (1883–1966) translated Marinetti’s words into paintings, creating whirling, blurred scenes of fast-paced city life. Umberto Boccioni (1882–1916) captured a similar sense of movement in his sculpture Unique Forms of Continuity in Space from 1913. His armless figure strides, head down, as if walking in a strong wind. Its whole body is made of facets and planes, like a threedimensional Cubist painting, contoured by the urgency with which the figure moves forwards. The Futurists wanted to position Italian art at the centre of Western artistic production, but look where they launched their new movement: Paris. The city was firmly at the heart of the avantgarde (a collective term for artists who push the boundaries of art at any given time). Russian artists Lyubov Popova (1889–1924) and Natalia Goncharova (1881–1962) spent time in Paris absorbing Cubism and Futurism. They created hybrid movements back in Russia known as Cubo-Futurism and Rayonism. Goncharova’s Cyclist from 1913 has the rider’s Futurist wheels spinning along a cobbled street. He rides across a cityscape of Russian advertising that is fragmented like a Cubist painting. Art movements that originated in Paris around the turn of the century had immense reach. Cubism influenced artists from South America to Asia, where Gaganendranath Tagore (1867–1938) became the first Indian Cubist artist in the 1920s. Amrita Sher-Gil (1913–1941) fused the flat planes of Gauguin’s synthetism with the warm colours of Moghul miniatures. She painted Indian scenes of domestic life that led to her being considered one of India’s most important modern artists, despite her early death. So many artists were creating such diverse new work that increasingly they had to form themselves into groups in order to stand out. They gave their groups names, often ending in ‘ism’, to suggest they represented a whole new movement of art. The name often defined the movement’s direction: Futurism was all about the


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future; Impressionism had been all about the fleeting impression. In the first decades of the twentieth century there was a rash of such ‘isms’. The overarching term for them all is modernism, a hundred-year period in art culminating in the 1960s that saw artists continually push the boundaries of art. During the First World War Futurists gobbled up newness and celebrated war. But war did not celebrate artists and gobbled them up instead. Boccioni died, as did Gaudier-Brzeska, Franz Marc and Cubist sculptor Raymond Duchamp-Villon (1876–1918). Other artists switched continents to avoid the war, such as Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968), Raymond’s brother, who moved to New York. In 1912, before he left Paris, Duchamp finished Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2). He painted it in a fusion of Cubist and Futurist styles using the scientific photographs of Etienne-Jules Marey as inspiration. Marey printed multiple exposures taken over time on to a single print to reveal simple movements such as a person walking. Duchamp translated this into paint, transforming the nude body into a series of dynamic planes as if a figure was walking down the stairs. Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) startled many people. When Duchamp tried to exhibit it in Paris, Cubist artists (including his own brother Raymond) blocked him. It was a provocative painting on both sides of the Atlantic. When it was shown at the Armory Show in New York in 1913 the critic for the New York Times dismissed it as ‘an explosion in a shingle factory’. Subsequently Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) became a hugely influential work, showing how painting could lock in movement and time, but at that moment Duchamp reacted by giving up painting and concentrating on sculptures made from everyday objects. Epstein had used the rock drill as an unusual base for his sculpture but Duchamp went even further. In Bicycle Wheel from 1913 he mounted a single wheel on its fork, set upside-down on a stool. By bringing two objects together he turned them into a sculpture. In 1917 he went further still, taking a factory-made ceramic urinal, naming it Fountain, signing it (with a false name, R. Mutt) and presenting it for exhibition in New York. Even though the

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Marcel Duchamp’s provocative sculpture Fountain, 1917

exhibition was supposed to be open to all, Fountain was refused entry. Duchamp, who had been on the exhibition committee, resigned and published a written protest saying, ‘whether Mr Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He CHOSE it.’ Fountain went on to become the most famous sculpture of the twentieth century. Why? Duchamp called his sculptures ‘readymades’ because they were created from things someone else had already made. They revolutionised sculpture by showing that anything could be art if the artist said so. The idea or concept behind a work became as powerful as the actual object presented. Many artists across Europe were pushing their art in a different direction: towards abstraction. What is abstract art? It is art that has no subject beyond itself. It is not trying to represent a person, or a violin, or a horse. It is only interested in expressing what it has to offer as paint, colour, form, light, line. Whistler and the Aesthetic movement, whom we met in Chapter 28, came close to abstraction, and their motto ‘art for art’s sake’ encapsulates Western abstraction. In non-Western art abstraction wasn’t a new idea, but since the Renaissance Western art had been wholeheartedly wedded to mimesis and realism. In the twentieth century, as artists challenged all aspects of traditional art-making, many saw abstraction as opening up exciting new opportunities.


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In the 1910s abstract art appeared in Russia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, America and beyond. Russian-born Kandinsky, whom we met briefly in the last chapter as a member of Die Blaue Reiter, worked in Germany for nearly twenty years. His paintings were inspired by Russian and German folk art and stories, and he slowly replaced the horses and castles that peopled them with free-flowing shapes and lines, spots of colour and geometric shapes. In his influential book Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1911) he asserted that art tapped into something essential or spiritual. He saw this as connecting with African and Oceanic art, like the ti’i sculptures we encountered in Chapter 23. ‘Just like us’, he wrote, ‘those pure artists wanted to capture in their works the inner essence of things, which of itself brought about a rejection of the external.’ In the Netherlands, Piet Mondrian (1872–1944) spent five patient years from 1908 to 1913 distilling the essence of each subject he painted – an apple tree, a pier in the ocean – to a series of horizontal and vertical lines. Mondrian believed abstraction would allow him to paint something universal. He wanted to translate the world into flat lines, to paint absolute truth, because in his eyes flatness in painting was more honest than the illusion of space. His paintings ultimately became black and white grids arranged asymmetrically on the canvas with the occasional rectangle of red, blue or yellow, a style he called Neoplasticism. Nearly a decade before these artists claimed to be at the forefront of Western abstraction, the Swedish artist Hilma af Klint (1862– 1944) had created huge canvases of mystical abstraction, patterned with flowing lines, targets, prisms, ovals and spirals. Called ‘The Paintings for the Temple’, her series of nearly 200 works from 1906–15 was a vast exploration of spiritual, scientific and artistic life. Her 1915 Altarpiece No. 1 celebrates the act of painting. A graded colour chart rises up like a pyramid, framed by a golden orb with a purple corona. Af Klint did not show these paintings publicly in her lifetime. She was a spiritual medium and the spirits she ‘talked’ to at her seances convinced her that this series was too advanced for the world to understand. She stipulated that it should

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Hilma af Klint’s Altarpiece No. 1, 1915

not be shown until twenty years after her death and it has only received widespread recognition in the twenty-first century. By contrast, the leap into abstraction cemented the careers of her male contemporaries and guaranteed them a place in all subsequent art history books. Russian artists Kasimir Malevich (1878–1935) and Vladimir Tatlin (1885–1953) mimicked the traditional presentation of Russian Orthodox icons by hanging their abstract paintings and sculptures in the corners of rooms. What they presented wasn’t religious in the traditional sense. Tatlin, the leader of the Constructivist movement, made corner reliefs from flat sheets of metal like three-dimensional Cubist paintings. Malevich was the leader of the Suprematist movement, launched in 1915 at the ‘0.10’


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exhibition in Petrograd (now St Petersburg). All ten participants in this exhibition were striving to take art back to zero, the place where art existed as an essential form. For Malevich this led to Black Square, a flat square of black paint on a white canvas. Abstraction appeared simultaneously across Europe. Artists turned to it to push beyond the reproduction of objects as they tried to express universal truths. It was as if they were trying to paint a global idea rather than a physical presence (like trying to paint faith or beauty). Abstraction could be lyrical and graceful, like the paintings of Kandinsky and Af Klint, or it could be reductive, like the geometric lines of Mondrian and the black square of Malevich. Despite its lack of subject (beyond art itself) it remains popular and continues to be practised to this day. Alongside the rise of Western abstraction was the parallel development of Dada, a short-lived but influential movement. Dada led to a host of new styles including surrealism and photomontage, as we will see in the next chapter.

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Art Becomes Political It is late July 1920 and the First International Dada Fair in Berlin

has been open for a month. The rooms are crowded with paintings and sculptures and a pig hangs from the ceiling, dressed in a military uniform. Posters across the walls shout ‘Dada is political’ and ‘Dada stands beside the proletariat revolutionaries!’ On one wall is George Grosz’s A Victim of Society, an unhappy portrait of a suicidal inventor. Raoul Hausmann’s Mechanical Head (Spirit of the Age) sits on a plinth in the centre of the room, a wooden wigmaker’s dummy with a measuring tape, ruler, wallet and parts of a typewriter stuck on to boost brain power. Hannah Höch’s Cut with the Kitchen Knife through the Beer Belly of the Weimar Republic hangs nearby, a collage of faces, machine parts and words clipped from newspapers with no coherent sense of scale or depth. Altogether nearly two hundred works have been packed into the gallery. The catalogue for the fair has just arrived and on the cover Hausmann exclaims: ‘The Dadaistic person hates stupidity and loves nonsense!’ The Dadaists hope the catalogue will help boost 241


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Hannah Höch’s photomontage Cut with the Kitchen Knife through the Beer Belly of the Weimar Republic, 1919

visitor numbers. They hired a professional photographer for the opening and sent photos to international magazines. Alongside these images ran reviews, but most have been pretty damning and visitor numbers remain in the low hundreds. * Dada had its origins in both Switzerland and New York in 1916 but it quickly spread to much of Europe. Its name was nonsense; one account suggests it was chosen at random from a French–German dictionary (‘dada’ is French for ‘rocking horse’). The Dada artists were anarchic and wild. They celebrated absurdity, hated war and were anti-art. Berlin Dada was the most political of the groups that sprang up. Germany had lost the First World War and a new democratic government called the Weimar Republic had been elected. There was much economic hardship and violent protests by different groups created a volatile climate.

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Artists were disillusioned with politicians and a society that had allowed a world war to claim 16 million lives. The Dada goal was to destroy traditional art, which had been created by this society, and allow something new to replace it. The First International Dada Fair was the first major Dada exhibition in Berlin, and the artists involved hoped it would be a success. But what did they mean by that? Commercially, it was a flop, and two of them were later put on trial for exhibiting offensive material. Fewer than a thousand people paid the ticket price to enter, despite an eight-week run. But Dada was contrary and claimed that success was the destruction of the art market, a devaluing of art itself. The catalogue championed John Heartfield as ‘the enemy of the picture’. John Heartfield (born Helmut Herzfeld, 1891–1968) and George Grosz (born Georg Groß, 1893–1959) had been soldiers and were now committedly anti-war. They changed their names to British equivalents as a protest against growing German nationalism. Along with Hannah Höch (1889–1978), the only woman in the group, and Raoul Hausmann (1886–1971) they turned to photomontage – photographs collaged together – as a way of exposing the failures of the Weimar Republic. In doing so they transformed photomontage into an art form, the irony being that Dadaists had initially used collage because it was the opposite of fine art. Their collages were battlegrounds and scissors were their weapons. They brought ready-made objects and images together to form new associations. They used photographs as Duchamp – himself a Dadaist – had used the bicycle wheel and stool. There was no attempt at creating a three-dimensional scene as chance placements eliminated perspective and logic. There was no clear narrative, no spiritual message. Instead these images represented the modern world – fastpaced, disjointed, political, fragmentary, provocative. Dada as a movement was short-lived, burning out by the mid-1920s, but its radical nature continues to inform art to this day. Photography was increasingly being used to create works of art. Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946) photographed the rapidly modernising city of New York. In 1902 he had founded the Photo-Secession Group to promote photography as an art form and exhibited work


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by members at his influential 291 gallery. He didn’t see photography as a useful tool for artists but as an art form in its own right. As an advocate for art photography he was hugely influential and many photographers’ careers were boosted by Stieglitz’s support. In Europe, artists such as Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky, 1890–1976) and Claude Cahun (1894–1954) used photography to create hybrid images. Lucy Schwob adopted the name Claude Cahun in 1917 to position herself beyond gender (seen as binary – him/her – at this time). Cahun’s partner, Suzanne Malherbe, also adopted an androgynous name, Marcel Moore (1892–1972), and together they staged self-portraits. They appear as shaven-headed clones in Que me veux-tu? (What do you want of me?) from 1928 and Cahun appears as a circus strongman in Portrait of Claude Cahun from around 1927. While she poses with huge weights in shorts and a top that makes her look like a bare-chested man she also sports kiss curls, hearts on her cheeks and an exaggerated pout. She is both male and female, theatrically macho while words scrawled on her chest read ‘I am in training don’t kiss me’. These photographs were kept private, only coming to light in the 1980s. They are now seen as important precedents for the exploration of identity, gender fluidity and photographic performance, something that was taken up more recently by women artists such as Cindy Sherman (born 1954) and Zanele Muholi (born 1972), as we will see in Chapters 37 and 40. Man Ray started working with photography in 1922, claiming ‘I have finally freed myself from the sticky medium of paint, and am working directly with light itself.’ He laid objects on light-sensitive paper and exposed them to the sun, creating rayographs. He also photographed African art after seeing an exhibition of it at Stieglitz’s 291 gallery in 1914. In Noire et Blanche (Black and White) from 1926 his white model Kiki holds a dark Baule mask from the Ivory Coast. Her almond-shaped face, with its closed eyes and pencilledin eyebrows, echoes the mask’s essential features. Man Ray also reversed the image, so Kiki’s face turned black while the mask glows white.

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Man Ray and Cahun were both connected to the surrealists, a group that had its centre in Paris. Surrealism was announced to the world in 1924 by André Breton, a flamboyant poet who was its selfstyled leader. Initially surrealism was a literary movement, but soon Breton began to include an international body of artists in his magazine La Révolution surréaliste and many Dada artists became surrealists. Breton included the German artist Max Ernst (1891– 1976) and Spanish painter Joan Miró (1893–1983) in his magazine. Miró’s early paintings explored the colour of his dreams and the abstract shapes and symbols that populated them. Ernst was a Dadaist who experimented in automatic (subconscious) ways of creating art, from taking rubbings to making collages from found materials. His works from the early 1920s were surrealist in spirit. In Celebes (1921) Ernst painted an African corn-bin as if it was an elephant. It turns its horned head, as if contemplating following a headless female nude who wears a single red glove. The surrealists wanted to set the imagination free by delving into the subconscious, the part of your mind you use without thinking when you dream or doodle. They built on the influential psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud and his theories on sexuality and the subconscious. They wanted to let words and images flow unchecked by reason. Breton quoted a nineteenth-century writer, the Comte de Lautréamont, when he described surrealism as being open to chance, saying it was ‘as beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table’. Artists who came to associate themselves with the movement included Salvador Dalí (1904–1989), René Magritte (1898–1967) and Meret Oppenheim (1913–1985). They all brought diverse materials and objects together to surprise and confound viewers. Dalí’s Lobster Telephone from 1938 has a red plaster lobster curving over the telephone’s receiver, while Magritte’s The Treachery of Words from 1929 is a painting of a pipe with the words ‘This is not a pipe’ underneath it. For Oppenheim’s Object of 1936 she lined a teacup and saucer in gazelle fur, making something strokable yet also disturbing and uncanny out of an everyday item.


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Surrealism was a vast international movement that grew in size throughout the 1930s. The British Surrealist Group was founded in 1936 and Eileen Agar (1889–1991) exhibited in the first International Surrealist Exhibition in London that year. Agar bound a mannequin’s head with fabric and feathers for Angel of Anarchy. A ribbon blinded its eyes, suggesting we should look inside (not outside) ourselves for inspiration. The Afro-Cuban painter Wifredo Lam (1902–1982) similarly came to surrealism in the 1930s, meeting Breton and Miró through Picasso when he moved to Paris in 1938 and saying of that time, ‘I began to paint most deeply . . . this strange world started to flow out of me.’ By contrast, in the 1930s in America and Mexico artists pursued a form of Social Realism (realist art with a social or political message). We will look at their art in the next chapter, but at this time Social Realism wasn’t always adopted by choice. In 1934 in the Soviet Union – the new name for Russia from 1922 to 1991 – Social Realism became the country’s official art style. Art had to be easily understood and promote the Communist Party’s beliefs in unwavering nationalism and collective ownership and labour. Only an uplifting figurative style was allowed; all other forms of art were banned. Vera Mukhina’s (1889–1953) huge sculpture Industrial Worker and Collective Farm Girl is an example of Soviet Social Realism. An idealised man and woman constructed from steel plates stride forwards holding aloft a hammer and sickle, their working tools that were also the chosen symbols of the new Soviet flag. At 25 metres tall this sculpture was a giant piece of propaganda. It topped the Soviet pavilion at the 1937 World Fair in Paris and afterwards went on public display in Moscow. In Germany too, modern and avant-garde art was under threat. In 1937 Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party staged an exhibition called ‘Entartete Kunst’ (Degenerate Art). In just three weeks a committee confiscated a staggering 17,000 works of art from over 100 museums. (They were never returned and many were destroyed.) Over 650 works were chosen for the exhibition, which toured Germany and was seen by 3 million people. It was designed to show how degenerate or morally damaged avant-garde art was. The Nazis disliked

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Vera Mukhina’s vast steel sculpture Industrial Worker and Collective Farm Girl, at the 1937 World Fair in Paris

any art that distorted the body or showed an individual point of view. There were more than 100 artists included, many of them home-grown German Expressionists including Kirchner and Marc. Works by Picasso, Mondrian and Kandinsky also featured. The walls of the exhibition were covered in slogans and texts damning the art. The ‘Degenerate Art’ exhibition was one of a pair. The ‘Great German Art Exhibition’ opened a day earlier and included neoclassical paintings and art the Nazis felt was full of ‘German feeling’. This show’s visitor numbers were a fifth of the ‘Degenerate Art’ exhibition, which recorded 20,000 attendees a day. Did this make


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it a success for the Nazis or for the ‘degenerate’ artists? Visitor reactions varied from people spitting on the paintings to others making repeat trips – Höch saw it four times. It remains the most visited show of modern art ever held. In the same year the German pavilion was unveiled in Paris at the 1937 World Fair. It was an austere limestone edifice surmounted by a giant golden eagle. Its blank face of architectural might faced the Soviet pavilion and Mukhina’s figurative sculpture. Between them the Eiffel tower rose like a peacekeeper, separating the Soviet Communist regime from the Nazi Third Reich. The Spanish pavilion, by contrast, was a low-slung modernist building, all glass and air. It housed two large politically charged paintings by Miró and Picasso, both of whom had been commissioned by the Spanish government to respond to the civil war, a military revolt by rightwing Nationalists led by General Franco that was still raging in Spain. On 26 April 1937 the Nazis and Italian Fascists had helped Franco by bombing the Basque town of Guernica, killing hundreds of civilians. Picasso’s response was the brutal painting Guernica. Nearly 8 metres wide, it was painted entirely in black and white, the size and colour of newsreel footage. It turned the bombing raid into a Cubist nightmare of flames, screaming women and animals, dead children and fallen soldiers, a vast anti-war statement that subsequently toured Europe and America.

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Land of the Free? It is 1933 and Frida Kahlo is watching her husband Diego Rivera

paint a huge mural of Detroit’s car assembly plant and workforce for the Detroit Institute of Arts. Kahlo and Rivera are both Mexican but have been in America for three years. Rivera has been creating murals across the country and Kahlo has been painting powerful self-portraits. Kahlo remembers the first time she met Rivera. It was 1922 and Rivera was painting a mural on the walls of her school auditorium in Mexico City. He was thirty-six and had recently returned from Paris where he had made his name as a painter while hanging out with Picasso. Mexico has been through a turbulent time while Rivera has been abroad but a new socialist government now championed the rights of Mexican people and employed artists such as Rivera to inspire change. Rivera was one of the Mexican muralists tasked with covering walls in public buildings with inspiring stories of local history to foster a new national identity. They believed they could bring about a cultural revolution, and Rivera 249


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painted Aztec temples, pre-Columbian sculpture and Mexican workers rather than colonial buildings and European influences. Kahlo remembers that, up on his makeshift scaffold in the school auditorium painting giant Mexican figures for his Creation, Rivera didn’t see her creep in. The auditorium was out of bounds to students but she didn’t care. She was fifteen, still at school, and intrigued by this giant of a man in his Stetson hat and workman’s clothes. She thought he looked like a frog. On that day she stole some of his lunch. She returned to the auditorium often to watch him paint but she didn’t start painting seriously herself until she was severely injured in a bus crash three years later. She met Rivera again, at a party in 1928, and despite the age gap they fell in love and were married. Now Kahlo takes a final look at Rivera high up on the Detroit scaffold before taking her leave, keen to return to her own work. * While Diego Rivera (1886–1957) completed the Detroit Industry Murals, Frida Kahlo (1907–1954) painted Self-portrait on the Borderline between Mexico and the United States. She stands in a floor-length pink dress between two contrasting scenes. On her right is the fertile earth of Mexico with its rich spiritual ancestry. On her left is industrial America, where the American flag is barely visible behind the smoky emissions from the Ford car plant. She holds the Mexican flag and the deep roots of the desert plants in Mexican soil stand for her own sense of belonging. She worked in America, alongside Rivera, but her heart, their hearts, remained in Mexico. Following the bus crash at the age of eighteen, Kahlo was in pain every day of her life. Her back, pelvis, right leg and foot had all suffered multiple breaks and she was wrapped in plaster for months on end. When she was first injured her mother had a special easel built so she could paint lying down in bed. She largely painted intense self-portraits which connected directly to her emotions and often reflected her broken body. Sometimes she painted her heart with arteries snaking around her limbs, or she would paint her spine as a broken and crumbling column from a

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Frida Kahlo’s Self-portrait on the Borderline between Mexico and the United States, 1933

Greek temple. In other paintings her eyes drip with tears or she is covered in blood or wounded by arrows. She didn’t shy away from showing how she felt in her paintings but she never wanted people to pity her. Rivera was the bigger star during their lifetimes, but it is the emotional fire in Kahlo’s work that speaks to us more loudly today. A big retrospective looking back over Rivera’s career was held at the newly opened Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1931. Americans loved his art: it was easy to understand, unlike the abstract paintings filtering into America from Europe, and Rivera and Kahlo were fêted as celebrities. At the same time Dorothy Dunn (1903–1992) was setting up the Studio School as part of the Santa Fe Indian School in New Mexico. Native Americans were invited to join her painting programme and many did so, including Pop Chalee (Merina Lujan, 1906–1993) and later José Vicente


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Aguilar (Sua Peen, born 1924). Dunn taught a particular style of painting, with heavy outlines and flat planes of colour. Students were encouraged to explore their own cultural heritage for ideas and subjects. While the school’s artists ran the risk of all painting in a similar way, some of the alumni praised the Studio School as an important stepping stone. It was a place that allowed them to be proud of their cultural traditions. Their work also inspired wider popular culture. The animator and film producer Walt Disney visited the school and was much taken by Chalee’s paintings of long-legged horses and deer leaping through fantastical forests. He bought one of her watercolours and his 1942 film Bambi owes much to her work. Rivera finished his vast Detroit Industry Murals in 1933. He thought they were the best thing he had ever painted. It was his largest commission, costing $20,000, and was paid for by Edsel Ford, the son of the founder of the Ford car assembly plant in Detroit. Its subject was the Ford family’s own factory, the largest car plant in the world. Rivera painted towering steel-grey machines that whirred and rotated as workers in overalls and flat caps processed car parts on the factory floor. Unsmiling men in pinched ties oversaw production, their clipboards recording progress. It is clear with whom the left-wing Rivera’s sympathies lay and it wasn’t with the bosses. Rivera had been in America for three years and during this time the number of workers at the Ford plant had halved, as had their salaries. Protest marches in Detroit led to police shootings as the Great Depression began to bite. America had become a major overseas investor during the First World War and its economy had boomed as a result. It led the world in manufacturing and became a superpower. But in 1929 the American stock exchange collapsed, in what is now known as the Wall Street Crash, and manufacturing slowed rapidly. By the time Rivera finished the Detroit Industry Murals America’s fortunes had hit rock bottom. The government had to step in with rescue programmes and reforms as mass unemployment pushed millions of people into extreme poverty. Projects such as the Farm Security Administration were established to

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combat rural hardship, employing photographers such as Dorothea Lange (1895–1965) and Walker Evans (1903–1975) to record the fate of farming families who had migrated west to California, driven off their land by mechanisation and drought. The Great Depression had a significant impact on 1930s American art and led to a preference for realistic paintings that came to be grouped under the name Regionalism. Magazines trumpeted that this was ‘real American art’. Grant Wood’s American Gothic from 1930 is the most iconic image of America from this time. A man in faded dungarees holds a gleaming pitchfork and stares directly at us. His round metal glasses circle cold brown eyes and his wide mouth is set in a tight line. Next to him stands a woman with a pinafore over her clothes suggesting she has been working and doesn’t want to dirty them. She doesn’t look out like the man but looks to the side, a slight frown worrying her brow. She stands just behind him as if he is in charge or is protecting her. Is she his wife or his daughter? Their relationship is ambiguous and this adds to the painting’s power. We keep looking to try and figure it out. What is he defending? Is the wooden house behind them their home? He is only armed with a pitchfork. Is the artist suggesting we laugh at them or does he admire them? They are dressed in old-fashioned clothes from the 1890s and Wood used his sister Nan and a local dentist as his sitters. But the meticulous way Wood has painted them lends the painting a realism that we can’t help but believe in. One artist beat even the Regionalists as a chronicler of 1930s America. Edward Hopper (1882–1967) worked as an illustrator before becoming a full-time artist aged forty-two. Hopper loved the cinema and theatre and there is something of his early training designing cinema posters in his art – the way he builds the background of his paintings like a set and then installs his characters. In New York Movie from 1939 a smattering of people sit in a darkened theatre watching a black-and-white film. In the side corridor a female usher in navy jacket and trousers leans against the wall, taking the weight off her heeled feet. She is lost in thought, her face downcast, as she stands by the exit waiting for the movie to end.


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Hopper captures her boredom and loneliness and amplifies it so it now feels like the loneliness of a whole city, a whole country. Hopper enjoyed enormous success in the 1930s. The Great Depression fuelled a desire for an authentic, realistic art of America. Hopper’s world, from Cape Cod lighthouses and country gas stations to cramped New York apartments and late-night cafés, had widespread appeal. Major museums bought his paintings and showered him with exhibitions. He captured the beauty of the everyday – the way light illuminated a wall or reflected in a darkened window – but ultimately he brought into the spotlight the growing alienation of modern American life. Jacob Lawrence (1917–2000) recorded a different side of the Great Depression, one that had its roots in the First World War and continued to 1970. The Great Migration saw six million AfricanAmerican people move from the rural south to northern industrial cities such as Detroit and New York in the hope or promise of factory work. The migration was fuelled by drought and disease that destroyed crops and therefore the livelihoods of poor tenant

Panel 1 of Jacob Lawrence’s ‘The Migration Series’, 1940–1: During World War I there was a great migration north by southern African Americans

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farmers. In 1940 Lawrence began painting sixty panels in response to the ongoing exodus. His accompanying captions documented the reasons for the migration and the experiences of those who made the arduous journey, and included reports of lynchings and new levels of discrimination found in the north. Lawrence was African-American and grew up in Harlem, New York, during the Harlem Renaissance, an eruption of creative black talent across the arts that fused pride in black lives with a rising awareness of inequality and discrimination. In the 1930s Harlem was a neighbourhood that attracted many families from the south. Lawrence listened to their stories of ‘coming up’ and responded in paint. The sparse settings and empty bowls he depicts are reminders that families mostly left because they had to, not because they wanted to. Anonymous black figures are dressed in bright colours – red, yellow, turquoise, green. They are not recognisable as individuals and this allows the story to be about all migrants, the collective journey, rather than specific characters. White people rarely appear but when they do they are in positions of power or involved in racist abuse. Despite its challenging content ‘The Migration Series’ was well received when it was exhibited at Edith Halpert’s Gallery in New York in 1941. Sadly the series was subsequently broken up with the odd-numbered panels acquired by the Phillips Collection in Washington DC and the even-numbered panels entering the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. They are now regularly reunited for exhibitions. Other artists preferred to turn their back on social issues and consider the vastness of the American landscape. Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986) had studied in Chicago and New York and her early paintings were of city skyscrapers that were just starting to be built. But when she first travelled through New Mexico by train she said, ‘From then on I was always on my way back.’ She spent part of each year painting the state’s flowers and landscapes, often on a huge scale. O’Keeffe was inspired by the cycles of nature, of new growth, reproduction and decay. Animal skulls float over mountain ranges like ancient talismans as in Ram’s Head – White Hollyhock – Little Hills, New Mexico from 1935, while her studies of irises and


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poppies are full of sensuous folds. She lived at the Ghost Ranch near Taos, buying a small house (called an adobe) there in 1945. She described the view from her studio window in a letter to another painter: ‘The earth pink and yellow cliffs to the north – the full pale moon about to go down in an early morning lavender sky.’ She lived and worked immersed in this arid desert landscape until her death, aged ninety-nine.

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The Aftermath of War It is 1943 and Barbara Hepworth is just about to move Oval

Sculpture into her studio in the house behind her. She has been carving it in the garden at her home in Carbis Bay in Cornwall. She can see the fishing town of St Ives in the distance and the sea, green and glittering, below her. Oval Sculpture is one of the first pieces she has completed since war broke out four years ago. Its egg-like exterior is carved from nut-brown plane wood and is curved like a pebble worn smooth by the sea. Hepworth has cut holes through the wood and she is going to paint these internal spaces white. While her sculptures do not literally reproduce nature they are always informed by it and Oval Sculpture reminds her of the foam of a wave as it crashes on the beach, the inside of a crystal and the shape of a head. Earlier in the year, and despite the war, Hepworth had her first retrospective exhibition in Yorkshire, where she was born, and she is now working on an exhibition for Wakefield City Art Gallery. But she also has children to look after, meals to cook, a long list of 257


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chores and a mountain of letters to write. Still, she thinks, she must keep working. Tonight she will begin a letter to her husband Ben Nicholson, who is away in London, asking him to buy more supplies of her favourite paper and paint because she has spent much of the war drawing. For now she manoeuvres Oval Sculpture into the house and goes to meet the nanny as her triplets return from school. * Before the war Barbara Hepworth (1903–1975) and Ben Nicholson (1894–1982) lived together in Hampstead in north London, part of a cluster of artists who included Naum Gabo (Naum Neemia Pevsner, 1890–1977) and Mondrian. Nicholson and Gabo published Circle, a short-lived magazine that championed European Constructivist artists. London had become a haven for Russian and German artists who had fled the increasingly restrictive conditions for creative people in their own countries. The Constructivists all used geometry and abstraction to create their works. Gabo’s transparent plastic sculptures were strung with wires to highlight the space within them while Nicholson made white reliefs of circles and squares. Hepworth explored Constructivism and abstraction in the 1930s and at times her stone and wood carvings verged on geometric. She also later used strings in her work. But she returned time and again to a more instinctive way of working, carving organic rounded forms that hinted at mother-and-child relationships or objects from the natural world, a sensibility shared with another Yorkshire sculptor, Henry Moore (1898–1986), who also lived nearby in Hampstead. With the arrival of the Second World War in 1939, many artists left London. Hepworth, Nicholson and their 5-year-old triplets moved to St Ives in 1939. Naum Gabo and his wife Miriam joined them there later in the year. Artists had travelled to St Ives since the 1880s, taking advantage of its incredible light, its creative community and its remoteness. This remoteness allowed Hepworth to continue working and the war didn’t impact significantly on her choice of subject matter, although it did reduce her access to blocks of wood and stone. She moved to Trewyn Studio in St Ives after the war and remained there until her death in a studio fire in 1975.

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At the beginning of the war Francis Bacon (1909–1992) had moved to a lodge in the grounds of Bedales school in the south of England. The dust from the Blitz had compromised his asthmatic lungs but by 1943 he could return to London. He rented a groundfloor flat in a house that had formerly belonged to the successful Pre-Raphaelite painter Millais. Bacon set up his studio in the old billiard room and finished Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion the following year. A flightless bird with blinded eyes grimaces in the central panel. On the right a beast-like creature screams into the vivid orange sky while on the left a third figure crouches on a table. These hybrid forms turned humans into animals as if the world had gone mad. Bacon showed Three Studies at the Lefevre Gallery in 1945. It was a bold move – he was not well known and the painting was a wild searing cry, an uncontainable expression of anger, pain and grief. The critic Raymond Mortimer complained that Bacon’s paintings were ‘symbols of outrage rather than works of art’. Bacon, undeterred, went on to become the most powerful figurative painter of his generation. His screaming Popes and isolated figures were attacked by the paint that conjured them, their faces and bodies liquifying in the onslaught. Audiences found Bacon’s paintings to be a searing expression of the brutality and anonymity of the twentieth century. Bacon often used lines to draw cages or ‘space-frames’ around his figures as if penning them in or imprisoning them. The sculptor Germaine Richier (1902–1959) also used a form of spaceframe to control and activate her figures. Thin metal rods linked wrists to feet, knees to fingers and energised the space between them. Richier had run her own traditional sculpture studio in Paris before the war but in the 1940s her work changed significantly. Her figures transformed, turning into toads and bats, bark creeping up their shins. Her sculptures captured the moment of metamorphosis, as in Praying Mantis from 1946, where a woman’s arms and legs bend and stretch as they adopt the insect’s predatory pose. Was Richier recalling stories of transformation and mythology from childhood or was this a more immediate response to the war? Were


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Germaine Richier’s bronze sculpture Praying Mantis, 1946

her figures morphing into insects and birds in a desperate bid to escape reality? After the Second World War and the shocking discovery of the Nazi concentration camps, humanity was at breaking point. In Paris, still regarded as the cultural capital of Europe, artists questioned what art could be in the wake of such persecution and destruction. Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness had been published in 1943 and was an exploration of existentialism. The philosophy of existentialism emphasised the lived experience, that each person was responsible for their own actions and for giving meaning to their own lives. After such a prolonged trauma as the Second World War, existentialism became a way for Parisians to navigate their lives. Why am I here? They asked. What is my purpose? The sculptor Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966) had been a Cubist and surrealist but after the war his figures became skeletal, all

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knobbly joints and elongated necks, as if the figure had been stretched so it almost snapped. This is all that is left, they seem to say, this is the existential core of humanity. Jean Fautrier (1898– 1964) spent part of the war working in a studio in the grounds of a clinic for mental health patients in the outskirts of Paris. He was lying low from the Germans who believed he was active in the French resistance. In the surrounding woods he could hear the screams of prisoners being tortured and killed by the German occupying forces. These memories informed his ‘Hostages’ series of paintings and sculptures, first exhibited in 1945. For the paintings he mixed oil paint into a thick paste so it resembled scarred flesh. Decapitated heads roll over bloody ground, their faces eyeless and deformed, victims of a brutal war. His bronze sculptures, such as Large Tragic Head from 1942, bring to mind injured soldiers, half the face gouged away as if by a bomb blast. European artists responded in different ways to the horror and brutality of war. Jean Dubuffet (1901–1985) turned for inspiration to the art of children, those who were self-taught and those in mental health institutions. Dubuffet called this ‘art brut’ (raw art), work he saw as ‘untouched by artistic culture’. Dubuffet felt that trained artists couldn’t move beyond the atrocities of the war, but by looking at art produced outside the mainstream he sensed that ‘everything was possible . . . millions of possibilities of expression exist outside the accepted cultural avenues’. After the war he collected examples of art brut. He visited patients in hospital, such as the schizophrenic Aloïse Corbaz (1886–1964), who drew busy fantasies of female royalty in coloured pencil, and amateur artists such as Joaquim Vicens Gironella (1911–1997) who carved scenes out of cork while working in a cork factory in Paris. In 1951 Dubuffet’s entire collection, some 1,200 works by 100 artists, was shipped to America where it remained for a decade and was much visited by American artists. Dubuffet’s own work after the war was inspired by art brut and graffiti. In Wall with Inscriptions (1945), he painted dirty concrete walls covered in slogans and cartoons. A simplified figure, arms pinned to their side and head turned in profile, stops to read the


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slogans and becomes part of the wall itself. In other works Dubuffet scratched into the paint to create caricatures of French writers. He reproduced a child’s innate way of seeing, painting oversized heads, shrinking the things he was less interested in such as legs and feet. The Second World War was the first war to impact Australia directly, with Japan bombing Darwin and northern Australia in 1942. Up until this point colonial Australian art had centred on the cities that lined the coast. Following the war, however, artists increasingly looked to the interior of Australia and began to immerse themselves in the indigenous landscape. Australia was colonised by Britain from 1788 but the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples had lived on the continent for over 50,000 years. Their art evolved over millennia and each group developed their own distinct designs. Initially drawn on rocky overhangs and shelters, these designs were also used for ceremonial body art and for huge temporary floor paintings drawn in the sand. Spirals, circles and lines were often connected by numerous dots that seemed to pulse with life. Indigenous Australians believe that the land owns them, a contrasting view to the Western idea of land ownership. It was about being at one with the land instead of claiming rights over it. Their paintings can look abstract to Western eyes but they were always rooted in this deep connection to the earth as expressed in their creation stories, now known as the Dreaming. Margaret Preston (1875–1963) campaigned throughout the 1930s and 1940s for Aboriginal art to receive recognition as Australia’s true artistic heritage. Preston lived in Sydney but refused to accept the dominant view of the Sydney art establishment that prioritised the art of the coloniser over the colonised. She travelled to many indigenous communities and felt their art should be central to building a national identity for Australian art. In her own works she drew on the different perspectives offered by Asian, Aboriginal and European art to create dynamic landscapes such as Flying over the Shoalhaven River from 1942. While Preston was campaigning for Aboriginal art to be taken seriously, some indigenous artists trained in Western art, such as

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Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly, 1946

Albert Namatjira (1902–1959). His expansive watercolour landscapes showed Australia’s baked interior and proved very popular. But it wasn’t until the 1970s that traditional Aboriginal art began to be painted on canvases and exported around the world. There was concern among indigenous Australians that the Dreaming would be weakened by sharing its stories in this way, but many artists who had previously worked on temporary designs now created new permanent works. One of the most intricate dot paintings is Warlugulong from 1977 by Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri (1932–2002), now in the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. Non-indigenous Australians such as Sidney Nolan (1917–1992) explored the country’s colonial history. In 1946 he began a series on the life of Ned Kelly, the notorious nineteenth-century outlaw who became a cult hero. Kelly was finally captured in 1880 after a stand-off with police in which he faced them wearing a homemade suit of bullet-proof armour. Nolan dressed Kelly in his armour for the whole series, recasting his helmet so it became a flat black square against the bright landscape. The helmet looks like


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Malevich’s abstract Black Square, which we encountered in Chapter 31, by now the most easily recognisable image of Western abstraction. But the square cannot contain the wide expanse of Australian landscape that stretches beyond it in all directions. Abstraction limits vision, Nolan seems to say. The Second World War was a truly global cataclysm. When it ended in 1945, some countries, such as Australia, bounced back, but Europe was bankrupt, and in only a few years New York became the epicentre of Western art for the first time.

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American Art Comes of Age It is 1947 and sculptor and printmaker Elizabeth Catlett is looking

at her new series, ‘The Black Woman’, at the People’s Graphic Arts Workshop in Mexico City. Catlett travelled to the internationally renowned centre last year to work on the series. She is not Mexican but African-American. She started making politically charged work a few years ago after visiting Chicago and experiencing how the artists there were creating work committed to social change. They wanted to show the hardships still faced by AfricanAmericans. She married one of these artists, Charles White, and for six years they worked side by side. She reasoned: ‘Art should come from the people and be for the people . . . It must answer a question, or wake somebody up, or give a shove in the right direction – our liberation.’ Catlett’s fifteen prints are linocuts (like the illustrations for this book). She made them by cutting into linoleum, a flooring material that offers artists a cheap and quick alternative to carving into wood. She used simple compositions to maximise the impact of 265


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her figures. Four women sit on a bus behind a sign saying ‘Colored Only’; in another a man lies dead, a rope around his neck, three men hanged above him. Catlett has given her prints individual titles that together tell a story of the injustices faced by black women, from social segregation on the bus in I have special reservations to the brutal murder of husbands, brothers and fathers in And a special fear for my loved ones. Now Catlett looks at I have given the world my songs, the fifth print in the series. A woman bends over a guitar, her face lined with sorrow. Catlett has printed a blue edge to the guitar, suggesting perhaps that the woman is playing the Blues. She has reason to – her memories float behind her, also printed in blue, and show a burning crucifix and a black man being cudgelled by a white man who wears the distinctive hooded costume of the Ku Klux Klan. * Elizabeth Catlett (1915–2012) grew up in Washington DC wanting to be an artist, even though there were very few African-American women artists working professionally at that time. There was racial segregation and in the south African-Americans were excluded from places such as art museums. Catlett circumnavigated such exclusions by negotiating to take the black art students she taught in New Orleans to museums when they were closed to the public. She expressed her goal in the title of the last print in ‘The Black Woman’ series: My right is a future of equality with other Americans. Not all African-American artists used their art to communicate so directly. Norman Lewis (1909–1979) pushed his paintings towards abstraction as he responded to the busy streets of Harlem in New York, where he lived. Cathedral from 1950 is a dense grid of black lines interspersed with swirls, dots and squiggles. A warm red glow accented by small patches of white, blue and yellow shines through. Cathedral looks like a stained-glass window, or as if sunlight has been reflected off the windows of New York’s towering skyscrapers and tenement buildings. Lewis was part of a body of artists in New York who became known as Abstract Expressionists, after a critic described their work as an abstract form of Expressionism in 1946. Others referred

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Elizabeth Catlett’s linocut I have given the world my songs, from ‘The Black Woman’ series, 1946–7

to this group as the New York School. The artists themselves always insisted that a singular movement did not exist and in reality they were very diverse. Lee Krasner (Lena Krasner, 1908– 1984) and her husband Jackson Pollock (1912–1956), Mark Rothko (1903–1970), Barnett Newman (1905–1970) and Elaine (1918–1989) and Willem de Kooning (1904–1997) started showing together in small galleries in lower Manhattan, around Ninth Street. Not all of them were abstract painters – Elaine de Kooning painted male figures in chairs, colours exploding around them, while Willem de Kooning turned nude women into bald beasts with cloven hooves. Many were abstract artists though. Newman


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Lee Krasner’s Abstract No. 2, 1947

painted vertical blocks of reds and blues separated by thin ‘zips’ of contrasting paint while Rothko floated ethereal zones of colour one above another. His canvases are almost spiritual: after standing in front of them for a while, the colour seems to absorb you and lift you upwards, as if you are floating. Krasner’s surfaces were like densely encrusted screens by 1947, when she painted Abstract No. 2. Her work has a distinct energy of its own. In Abstract No 2 our eye follows the red and yellow dots that dart like atoms, moving in and out of a smoky web of lines that cannot fully contain them. Pollock started dripping paint over canvases laid out on the floor the same year. It was revolutionary to paint without touching the canvas – no-one had thought to do that before. Huge swinging arcs of paint splattered the surface in rhythmic patterns like a calligraphic dance as in Summertime Number 9A from 1948 and his celebrated Blue Poles from 1952, both around 5 metres wide.

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There’s footage of Pollock painting on YouTube, taken from a 1951 film by Hans Namuth. Pollock has a cigarette clamped in his mouth and a tin of paint in his hand, and you can see that he paints by moving his whole body as he repeatedly dips a stick in the paint and then flings it across the canvas below him. The critic Harold Rosenberg dubbed this ‘action painting’. In the film Pollock drawls, ‘Having the canvas on the floor I feel nearer, more a part of the painting. This way I can walk around it, work from all four sides and be in the painting.’ People started talking of his canvases as ‘fields’, works so large that they filled your field of vision so you saw nothing else. Like Pollock, you too were ‘in’ the painting. Krasner and Pollock had married in 1945 and she promoted his work tirelessly, often at the expense of her own career. Now recognised as Pollock’s equal, at the time Krasner’s ambitions as an artist were overwhelmed by the Pollock myth she helped create. As early as 1947 the influential American critic Clement Greenberg had boldly pronounced him to be ‘the most powerful painter in contemporary America’, and two years later Life magazine had asked its readers: ‘Is He the Greatest Living Painter in the United States?’ For Krasner the odds were always stacked against her. She purposefully chose not to have children, as did Elaine de Kooning. They realised that they would not be able to devote as much time to making art. It felt like a stark choice to them – having a successful career as an artist or having children (male artists were able to have both). Women artists still faced gender prejudice on a regular basis. They were overlooked for shows and not included in publications. Krasner shortened her name to the more androgynous Lee and signed her works ‘L.K.’ to try and get around such bias. She wanted to be judged on her merits as an artist, not as a woman, and yet she would frequently be referred to as ‘Mrs Pollock’ or ‘the former Lee Krasner’ in articles that concentrated solely on her husband’s work. Pollock died in a drunken car crash in 1956. By this date America, and specifically New York, had become the centre of the Western art world. It now had the biggest collectors, the wealthiest museums, an abundance of art dealers and a wide range of artists with ambition


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and chutzpah. The American government used contemporary art as propaganda in overseas exhibitions during the Cold War. These paintings and sculptures, with their unbridled artistic freedom, were designed to yank Soviet chains as Communism did not support personal expression. The emphatic message was that American art (and therefore America) now led the way. Greenberg saw Abstract Expressionism as the high point for modern art and modernism, a form of pure painting only concerned with colour and flatness, divorced from the world it came from. But a new generation of American artists were quick to react against Abstract Expressionism and the idea that art existed in a vacuum by creating work that was anything but abstract. Jasper Johns (born 1930) used the marks of abstraction to paint flat patterns that also had meaning in daily life, such as his series of American flags from 1954–5. Robert Rauschenberg (1925–2008) brought the real world into his paintings in a physical way, using found materials such as advertising hoardings and old tyres. He even stuck a stuffed goat onto his floor-based canvas Monogram (1955–9). He called these works ‘combines’, a combination of painting and sculpture. Later he used photographs taken from newspapers and magazines so President Kennedy and astronauts appeared alongside Coca-Cola labels as symbols of the American dream. Rauschenberg used the silkscreen process to transfer photographs to his canvases. A fine mesh called a screen is lowered over the canvas. A stencil is added so certain parts of the screen will block paint from passing through the surface. Paint is then pushed through the screen using a squeegee and the print is made. Andy Warhol (1928–1987) was the king of screen printing. He wanted his art to feel like a machine had made it. He had experts transfer photographs of celebrities onto the screen so he could print directly from them in his silver foil-lined studio, which he called the Factory. Why celebrities? He was fascinated by fame, by the idea that somebody famous was unique but their image could be reproduced hundreds or thousands of times. He used well-known images of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley, printing them many times across a single canvas, changing the colour of their hair, their

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lips, their skin. He was obsessed with death and used newspaper photographs of car crashes and civil rights clashes, repeating the image until he reduced its power to shock. Warhol was a Pop artist like Roy Lichtenstein (1923–1997). Lichtenstein painted scenes from cartoons, populating his canvases with Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse. Fighter jets exploded with a ‘Whaam!’ and blonde pin-ups exclaimed, ‘Why, Brad darling, this painting is a masterpiece!’ The British Pop artist Richard Hamilton (1922–2011) described Pop Art as low cost, mass-produced, popular and witty. It was the opposite of Greenberg’s highbrow modernism with its ‘art for art’s sake’ mantra. Pop was art for everyone, rooted in the real world, and it was fun. It celebrated everything that had formerly not been considered art at all: American advertisements, cartoons, the branding on everyday consumer items like Campbell soup cans and Brillo boxes. While Pop Art is often thought of as an American phenomenon it first sprang up in Britain. A collage by Hamilton from 1956 typifies British Pop. It is called Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing? A modern couple cut from magazines occupy a stylish apartment. A cinema can be seen out of the window and the cover of a Young Romance magazine is framed as art on the wall. The rug looks suspiciously like an Abstract Expressionist painting, there to be walked over. The latest must-have home gadgets fight for your attention with the nude woman seated on the fashionable sofa. A giant lollipop, labelled ‘POP’, is held by a buff bodybuilder as if it were a lopsided dumbbell. This work was part of an influential exhibition held at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London called ‘This is Tomorrow’. Hamilton’s collage was reproduced as the exhibition’s poster. Picasso and Braque had first experimented with collage just before the First World War, and the Dadaists made photomontages just after. Pop artists loved using found images and the AfricanAmerican abstract painter Romare Bearden (1911–1988) also embraced collage when his art radically changed tack in 1962. He started making photomontages of contemporary life in black neighbourhoods, splicing together faces, bodies, street furniture and


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African masks, as in the busy street scene The Dove from 1964. He photographically enlarged his collages for exhibitions until they were the size of giant posters. He explained his sudden switch from abstraction to photomontage, stating that ‘the Negro was becoming too much of an abstraction, rather than the reality that art can give a subject’. He co-founded the Spiral group with Lewis to contribute to the Civil Rights movement that was mobilising all around him. In his work he wanted to make visible the lived black experience that was still largely invisible from American art galleries and museums. Pop Art was a mash-up of imagery that saw pictures taken from popular culture now grace the walls of the swankiest galleries. Photographs from magazines, cartoon strips from newspapers, labels from Coke bottles – nothing was beyond the reach of the Pop artist. But not everyone embraced this riotous explosion of imagery and colour. Artists who came to be known as Minimalists were taking art down a very different path, using machine-made components and geometric shapes to give modernism’s ‘art for art’s sake’ one final roll of the dice.

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Sculpture Breaks the Mould It is March 1966 and Carl Andre’s exhibition ‘Equivalent’ at the

Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York has just closed. He showed eight sculptures; none of them sold. Andre wants all his sculptures to be honest, to show the materials they are made from. So for this series he bought ready-made sand-lime bricks from a brickworks. He used 120 bricks for each sculpture, arranging them in different configurations on the gallery’s wooden floor. The bricks were neatly pressed together in two layers creating eight different shaped rectangles. Equivalent VIII was ten bricks long, arranged lengthways, and six bricks wide. Equivalent V on the other hand was twelve bricks long but arranged widthways so it appeared shorter, squatter. One sculpture was squarish and another looked like a long thin rectangle. This was the interesting part – while they all appeared different, occupying different shaped ‘footprints’ on the gallery floor, they were all built from the very same materials, in the same quantities. They were equivalent to each other. Andre is interested in this difference 273


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between how things seem (different) and how they are (essentially the same). For now though Andre needs to pay some bills. The sculptures are going to be dismantled and 840 bricks will be sent back to the Long Island City Brickworks so he can get his money back. He will keep enough for one sculpture, but no more. * The sculptures in his ‘Equivalent’ show may not have sold in 1966, but within a few years Carl Andre (born 1935) had sold Equivalent VIII to the Tate Gallery in London. The ‘Equivalent’ sculptures were his first flat floor works, where the sculpture rested directly on the gallery floor rather than on a plinth (a block on which sculpture was traditionally displayed). This seems like a simple difference now but until the 1960s it had never been done. Duchamp had been responsible for artists realising they could use ready-made objects as sculptures but artists in the 1960s were responsible for sculpture jumping off the plinth and sprawling across floors and rooms, occupying our world directly. Andre wasn’t the first to knock sculpture off its plinth. In England Anthony Caro (1924–2013) had been placing his metal sculptures on the floor since 1960. His brightly painted Early One Morning from 1963 was like a three-dimensional painting, its steel girders cutting through the air like red brushstrokes as you walked under them. In America, David Smith (1906–1965) similarly ditched the plinth and placed his increasingly abstract sculptures both inside and outside the gallery. By 1966 critics had grouped Andre with other young artists including Donald Judd (1928–1994) and Dan Flavin (1933–1996) and branded them Minimalists. Minimalism was a new term and one that none of the artists felt any connection to. What did it even mean? The artists all used industrial materials and geometric objects – bricks, lighting tubes, metal boxes – that were often arranged in series. Today we see Minimalism as the ultimate abstract art, in that it is about nothing beyond the material it is made from and the space it occupies. It doesn’t express the idea of a wave or the horrors of war. It just is what it is.

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The hard industrial edges of Minimalism were not for everyone. Eva Hesse (1936–1970) used fabric, plastics, latex, resin and metres and metres of string to create her organic, playful sculptures. They hung from ceilings and slid down walls onto floors. While she used some of Minimalism’s ‘language’ – the geometric cube, the repeated unit – she also reacted against it and her sculptures were often messy, imperfect, sprawling and fragile. In Accession II from 1969 a metal cube sits on the gallery floor. At first glimpse it could be mistaken for a sleek Minimalist work but look inside – there are hundreds of plastic tubes like the tentacles of anemones waving at you. They are as unexpected as the fur that covered Oppenheim’s surrealist cup and saucer in Chapter 32 – strange, seductive and disturbing all at once. Lynda Benglis (born 1941) poured, splashed and squirted her materials, flooding floors with coloured rubber and expanding foam into corners. In For Carl Andre from 1970 black foam layers ooze over each other. Benglis said she named the piece after seeing one of Andre’s brick pieces and feeling how it energised the gallery space. But it is also a provocative title – this work seems to be everything Minimalism was not. It is messy and handmade, pooling along the skirting boards, looking like a lava flow that had bubbled up in the corner of the room and been left to cool. Richard Serra (born 1938) offered another alternative to Minimalism. Like Benglis and Hesse he wanted to reconnect with the physical processes of making sculpture. He wanted to give the materials back their emotional power. If something was made from Cor-Ten steel, he reasoned, it should feel weighty, intense, threatening, and not just look like steel. In One Ton Prop (House of Cards) from 1969 he took apart the Minimalist cube, replacing its four sides with heavy lead slabs that all lean inwards to support each other. The sculpture is not welded together but balanced like a house of cards. Looking at it on the gallery floor you feel fear – what if it falls? Will you be crushed? It speaks to your emotions in a way that Minimalism does not. These artists used a wide variety of materials and worked with every surface in the gallery – the walls, floor, corners and doors.


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However, around the same time a number of artists decided to make work that could not be presented in a gallery space at all. Now known as land art, this was American sculpture on the largest scale. Artists cut through valley walls in Nevada, installed metal rods as a lightning field in New Mexico and pierced holes in concrete pipes to create sun tunnels. They built an observatory and turned Roden Crater in North Carolina into a giant work of art. They journeyed to deserts and salt flats, the wildest places they could find, just as Thomas Cole had done in the nineteenth century (although he preferred the mountains, as we saw in Chapter 25). The land artists believed art had lost its way and was only interested in itself, as ‘art for art’s sake’. Abstract sculpture spoke only of materials and shape and space, not of the world or its needs. People were waking up to the importance of looking after the planet – modern environmentalism was born and the first annual Earth Day was held in America in April 1970. This was the year Robert Smithson (1938–1973) completed Spiral Jetty. Like most of the land art works of the time, hardly anyone actually saw Spiral Jetty when it was first made because it was miles from the nearest town or airport. It existed in aerial photographs, films and magazine articles. Smithson created a spiral made out of thousands of tons of volcanic rock in the Great Salt Lake in Utah. It looks like a giant tendril reaching out from the shore, 500 metres long. Over subsequent decades the jetty has either been submerged or left high and dry during droughts. Smithson would have liked this flux. Entropy, or how the natural world moves from order to chaos, was at the centre of his beliefs. You can still visit Spiral Jetty and hear the crunch of salt crystals underfoot. In Brazil in the 1960s this sense of direct engagement between work and viewer became very important, especially after 1964 when a military coup clamped down on artistic freedom. Hélio Oiticica (1937–1980) was part of a cultural movement that opposed military rule and celebrated Brazilian creativity. The group was called Tropicália after his 1967 work of the same name. For Tropicália he created makeshift structures using coloured screens to represent Rio de Janeiro’s favelas (shanty towns) and

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Robert Smithson’s 500 metre-long Spiral Jetty in Utah, 1969–70

surrounded them with tropical plants. He wanted Tropicália to look like Brazil, to look like art that could not have been made anywhere else. People were invited to spend time in the structures hanging out, watching TV or chatting. At the time this was considered radical because the military had taken away many such personal freedoms. This is an early example of installation art, when a work of art becomes an entire environment. Other Brazilian artists including Lygia Clark (1920–1988) and Lygia Pape (1927–2004) also engaged viewers. Clark made abstract metal sculptures called Bichos (bugs) that viewers could bend and fold. Pape created Divider in 1968, a giant fabric square 30 metres wide with evenly placed cuts across it. People could push their heads through the cuts and be part of a group where any one person’s movements would affect the whole. Brazilian artists were interested in activating the viewer, making them part of the work of art, but elsewhere artists began to activate themselves. Instead of creating a sculpture or a painting, they created the work using their own body and actions. This became known as performance art. The Gutai group in Japan painted with


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their feet, ran through paper screens, swam in mud and wore dresses made of lightbulbs at the openings of their exhibitions in the 1950s. In America Allan Kaprow (1927–2006) ran events called ‘Happenings’ where artists, musicians and poets interacted with the audience in a kind of experimental theatre that had its roots in Dada. In Europe in the 1960s the Viennese Actionists used raw meat and buckets of blood to create performances that were gory rituals. The international Fluxus group, which stretched from Japan and Korea to Europe and America, performed experimental music and art concerts. Why this sudden desire around the world for artists to use their own bodies to create art? Was it a reaction to the Second World War, as Dada had been a reaction to the First, a need to go beyond the known edges of art (and reason)? Was it a reaction to the mass reproduction of ‘art’? Pictures were now everywhere: in books, magazines, newspapers and TV, on advertising hoardings and posters you could stick on your wall. Or was it anti-capitalist? Creating art with your own body could be seen as an antidote to consumerism. This art had to be experienced in real life, it didn’t last, and the performance couldn’t be owned. Performance art became a powerful means of expression for a whole generation of artists. Thankfully for us, performances were often photographed and recorded on video. This is how we can still experience a young Yoko Ono (born 1933) performing Cut Piece in 1964. Ono, a Fluxus artist, kneels on the floor in her favourite black clothes. She often used her own body to communicate bigger ideas about control, power and trust. Members of the audience are invited to pick up a pair of scissors and cut away a piece of her clothing. Initially men and women approach respectfully, snipping small sections of her sleeve or collar, but by the end of the performance she sits in shredded underwear with the audience holding the remnants of her clothes. Does this make the audience responsible for her nudity? Everyone who snipped away a small part of her clothing is complicit. Cut Piece is an important example of early performance art because it reveals the charged relationship between artist and

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A photograph of Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece performance, 1964

viewer. Looking at art is replaced by actively participating in art and consequently experiencing performance art is not something that is easily forgotten. Conceptual art also relied on viewer participation. This new form of art was all about the idea. Joseph Kosuth’s (born 1945) One and Three Chairs from 1965 is a good example of this. It is one of his first pieces of conceptual art. It consists of a wooden chair pushed against a gallery wall. Next to it, mounted on the wall, is a black-and-white photograph of the same chair in the same position and a dictionary definition of the word ‘chair’. What are we to make of this? Is the chair to be considered the art, and the other two elements documentation? Well, no, that’s not it. All three pieces hold equal value. This work of art asks us to consider the


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systems of language that underpin our society. There is one chair – the physical object, the one chair of the title – but at the same time three chairs exist as object, photograph and description. Conceptual art is all about the idea, the concept – the objects we look at help us understand the concept (that is, the art). Conceptual artists were interested in the latest theories on language, particularly semiotics. For artists this study of signs (words) and how we deduce meaning from them also extended to pictures. Semiotics asks how our expectations, our values, colour our judgement when it comes to reading signs. Women artists began to use semiotics to expose how society was prejudiced against them and how the female body was treated as an object by male artists, advertisers, directors and television producers. As feminism grew as a movement, women artists decided it was time to reclaim their bodies for themselves.

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We Don’t Need Another Hero It is 1975 and Martha Rosler stands at a kitchen table, tying

an apron behind her. ‘Apron’, she says. Next she picks up a bowl, using an imaginary spoon to stir its imaginary contents rather vigorously. ‘Bowl’, she says, then ‘Chopper’, as she brings a herb chopper crashing down into the bowl. She is working her way through the letters of the alphabet one implement at a time, demonstrating their use as she moves on to Dish, Egg beater, Fork, Grater. Rosler is recording herself using a video camera. She creates a six-minute film called Semiotics of the Kitchen. A woman standing in a kitchen, recorded as a black-and-white video, may look like a cooking show from television, but it is anything but. There is no food and no recipe. There is just the equipment, which Rosler demonstrates in a deadpan but aggressive way. She thrusts a knife towards the camera. She throws pretend soup over her shoulder and stabs the air with a fork as if she were stabbing a body.



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Now she reaches the final few letters. She doesn’t have any utensils beginning with V, W, X, so she takes up a carving knife and fork and enacts the shape of the letters with her own body. When she gets to Y she throws her head back. ‘Y’, she says, but it sounds like ‘Why?’ There’s a final slash through the air with the knife for Z – ‘Zee’ – and then she stands, mute, arms folded, a tiny shrug ending the ‘demonstration’. * Martha Rosler’s Semiotics of the Kitchen parodied 1970s American cooking shows that presented happy women baking in wellappointed kitchens. Rosler uses the study of coded language – semiotics – to highlight the artificial construction of a woman’s place being in the kitchen. As she stands at the table in a New York loft apartment, demonstrating implement after implement in alphabetical order, we pick up on her anger and resentment towards the gendered role society expects her to play. Semiotics of the Kitchen, freely available today on YouTube, is an important example of feminist art. What is feminism? Today it is a world-wide movement with a clear aim to end all inequality based on gender. In the 1970s it began as a radical belief system that galvanised women in many countries to demand equal rights in a world that was built by men for men. Yoko Ono and Yayoi Kusama (born 1929) are often seen as early feminists but it wasn’t until the 1970s that women artists actively engaged with feminism, starting collaborative groups, publishing magazines and running education programmes. They used a wide variety of media for their work, often turning to new art forms such as video and performance art because these didn’t have long histories of male dominance attached to them (unlike painting and sculpture). Video was a new medium and artists such as Bruce Nauman (born 1941) had started experimenting with it as an art form in the late 1960s. He used a video camera to record himself doing everyday actions in his studio – walking, jumping, stamping. Because of the camera’s ability to record events that unfolded over time, video offered a space within which artists could perform.

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Video was important for feminist artists as a platform for their work, as with Rosler’s Semiotics of the Kitchen, and to record performances. Many feminist artists used their own bodies in their art, often pushing them to extremes as in the performances of Carolee Schneemann (1939–2019), Ana Mendieta (1948–1985) and Marina Abramovic (born 1946). We can often only experience these performances today through video footage taken at the original event. In 1971 Nam June Paik (1932–2006) played videos of the musician Charlotte Moorman on three televisions stacked on top of each other. Moorman herself then ‘played’ the televisions as if they were a cello in Concerto for TV, Cello and Videotapes. This called into question the reality of what you saw – what was more real, Moorman on video playing a cello, or Moorman in front of you playing a cello made out of televisions? When we watch performance art from the 1970s today are we watching the original performance (ignoring how it was recorded) or a presentation of it (acknowledging how it was recorded and seeing this as part of its ongoing life as a work of art)? Not all feminist artists used video for their work. The American artist Mary Kelly (born 1941) took a different tack for Post-Partum Document (1973–9). She was living in England and had just given birth. Using the language of (male) business – its charts and log books – she built a vast archive of material that documented the development of her son: when he had his first meal, took his first step, made his first marks on paper. Post-Partum Document covers the first five years of his life and her own role in looking after him. It reveals the unpaid, unseen story of motherhood. Like Rosler, Kelly exposed the codes women were trained to accept as ‘normal’ – the maintenance of daily life, cooking and raising children. America was at the centre of the 1970s feminist movement. Sylvia Sleigh (1916–2010) left Britain for the US in 1961. She challenged art historical traditions, turning the depiction of the nude on its head in her paintings of naked men reclining on sofas and in Turkish baths. American-born Alice Neel (1900–1984) painted honest portraits of naked pregnant women. Other artists worked


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collaboratively staging exhibitions such as ‘Womanhouse’ in 1972 and creating ambitious installations. The Dinner Party from 1979 by Judy Chicago (born 1939) is one such installation. It is a celebration of herstory rather than history. A giant triangular table has been set for thirty-nine women from history including Georgia O’Keeffe, Virginia Woolf and Isabella d’Este. There are thirteen each side, like the Last Supper in triplicate. Each of the place settings is different; Chicago designed them to acknowledge each woman’s unique place in history. These settings wouldn’t look out of place on an altar as each has a chalice and an embroidered place mat. At their centre is a decorated porcelain plate, its central motif often resembling a vagina to celebrate female power. A further thousand names of famous women are written on the tiled floor beneath. Not all women artists felt the feminist movement benefited them. African-American women were in a double bind – they were women, and they were black, so they fought prejudice on two fronts. They found feminism to be blinkered, largely helping only white women artists. So they began to plan their own exhibitions specifically for black women artists. In 1972 Betye Saar (born 1926) was invited to take part in an exhibition at Rainbow Sign, a black cultural centre in San Francisco. This was where figures such as the artist Elizabeth Catlett and the poet Maya Angelou rubbed shoulders with members of the Black Panther Party (a militant political organisation). Saar submitted The Liberation of Aunt Jemima, a small, boxed collage featuring a figurine of a black woman in a headscarf, holding a broom and a gun. Saar remembered making the work for the exhibition: ‘I found a little Aunt Jemima mammy figure, a caricature of a black slave, like those later used to advertise pancakes. She had a broom in one hand and, on the other side, I gave her a rifle . . . I used the derogatory image to empower the black woman by making her a revolutionary, like she was rebelling against her past enslavement.’ Jemima was now armed to fight for her rights and Saar spearheaded the way for other black women artists to take back control of their story.

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Faith Ringgold’s American People Series #20: Die, 1967

A few years earlier, in 1967, Faith Ringgold (born 1930) had painted American People Series #20: Die in response to race riots. It is a work on the scale of Picasso’s Guernica, a brutal inter-racial scene of carnage. A white man fires a gun and a black man wields a knife; black and white women turn and flee, clutching bleeding babies. Their smart clothes imply they are all city workers. Ringgold suggests that everyone is caught up in racial violence, that nobody is guiltless and likewise nobody is singularly to blame. In other works she used the American flag, changing its colours to red, black and green – the colours of the Black Nationalist flag – to draw attention to racial injustice in America. As protests against racism and sexism grew in strength in the early 1970s Ringgold joined the fight in person, setting up the Women Students and Artists for Black Art Liberation group. It protested outside exhibitions that excluded women and black artists and pressure from such groups did see inclusivity slowly begin to rise. When the Black Arts Movement began in Britain a decade later, the young artist Lubaina Himid (born 1954) organised London exhibitions such as ‘Black Women Time Now’ in 1983–4 and ‘The Thin Black Line’ in 1985. These exhibitions showcased British art by black and Asian women such as Maud Sulter (1960–2008), Sonia Boyce (born 1962) and Sutapa Biswas


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(born 1962), all of whom went on to have successful careers. Himid herself won the Turner Prize, Britain’s most prestigious contemporary art award, in 2017. The work of all these artists is incredibly diverse but often at its root is a questioning of society’s long-held values. These are encoded in the world’s words and pictures – in advertising, magazines, films and art. Women are often presented as passive, as objects to be looked at and admired. In New York in the late 1970s women artists challenged these sources directly by modifying images and slogans and placing them back on the billboards they came from, in full public view. Barbara Kruger (born 1945) and Jenny Holzer (born 1950) both use language to question stereotypes and assumptions. Kruger takes images from magazines and reuses them. She crops the black-and-white images she chooses but otherwise leaves them as they are, overlaying them with her own words that are often printed in white on vivid red backgrounds. Over an image of a woman’s face seen in a shattered mirror she writes: ‘You are not yourself ’. Across the full body X-ray of a woman, her high heels and bangles still visible, she writes: ‘Memory is your image of perfection’. Her works make you stop and think. They make you question what you are looking at. A 1950s image of a young boy

Barbara Kruger’s Untitled (We don’t need another hero), 1987

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showing off his bicep to an awestruck girl in neat plaits and spotty dress is undermined by the slogan emblazoned across it: ‘We don’t need another hero’. Kruger has enlarged the original image so much that we can see the Ben-Day dots, the dots that create images in newsprint. If the image is breaking down then perhaps the idea that underpins it will too (with her help). Kruger works on a large scale and her art is often displayed outside the gallery, on billboards or building exteriors. Holzer does this too. Her Truisms from 1977–9 were originally pasted up anonymously on walls across Lower Manhattan: ‘Abuse of power should come as no surprise’; ‘Money creates taste’; ‘A man can’t know what it’s like to be a mother’. They were even displayed on electronic signs in Times Square in New York: ‘Protect me from what I want’ flashed up as shoppers walked below. Holzer harnessed technology and language to communicate her ideas. ‘I used language because I wanted to offer content that people – not art people – could understand,’ she said. For this reason she printed her slogans on everything from T-shirts to condom wrappers, wanting her art to reach deep into everyday life and ask people to question what they read as ‘truth’ in the press and advertisements. Cindy Sherman (born 1954) similarly wanted people to question what they saw, particularly in the movies. She highlighted the roles offered to women in her early series Untitled (Film Stills) from 1977–80. In seventy black-and-white photographs she poses in the guise of film stars acting out different characters: spurned lover, Bond girl, young runaway, down-at-heel housewife, maid in trouble. She inhabits hotel rooms and libraries, kitchens and bedsits. She is seductive, questioning, emotional, baffled, complicit. Who is the real Cindy Sherman? She is all these women and none of them. She uses her body to show how images can be deceptive, how they can trick you into believing that what you see is real. In other series she poses as a child, a man, a Madonna, a clown; she ages herself, gains weight, finds faith, sports a beard. We engage with her characters and create our own narratives for them, even as she points out how unbelievable they are with their excessive


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makeup and fanciful wigs. Other artists continued to question values ingrained in society throughout the 1980s, as we will see in the next chapter.

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A Postmodern World It is 1 June 1980 and the ‘Times Square Show’ has just opened in New York. It is unlike any other exhibition in the city. It has been organised by artists from Collaborative Artists Incorporated, known as Colab, and held in a disused four-storey building in the heart of the run-down entertainment district. Over a hundred artists have taken part and there is art everywhere. Videos play on monitors and there are sculptures in the gents’ toilets. Fashion shows, film screenings and performances are planned. It is going to be a non-stop party, a rolling event that continues day and night for a month. Colab believes in collaboration, in inclusivity, in even-handed displays of creativity. There is no single person in charge and works of art morph into one another, unlabelled. Who made what? Is that art or graffiti? Who cares! Colab wants to reach audiences that don’t go to art galleries. They are selling cheap art in the gift shop so anybody can afford it. Bypassing the traditional gallery, Colab asks: who decides what art is and where it can be shown? 289


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The ‘Times Square Show’ is busy now, with people spilling out on to the streets. The show’s title has been taped in large letters above the entrance and the artists involved have plastered the neighbourhood with homemade posters to boost attendance. Inside, people are looking at a slide show of photographs by Nan Goldin and Keith Haring’s drawings of stick figures in the toilets. Fab 5 Freddy has covered the exterior of the building with graffiti. Jean-Michel Basquiat – only nineteen but already famous as the street artist SAMO © – has painted his first canvas which now hangs behind the catwalk in the Fashion Lounge on the second floor. Models parade past it in dresses made from foam and silver tape. It’s going to be a hell of a month. * The Village Voice newspaper called the ‘Times Square Show’ the ‘First radical art show of the ’80s’. It launched the careers of JeanMichel Basquiat (1960–1988) and Keith Haring (1958–1990). Within a year the two young artists had become celebrities who lived fast and died young. Basquiat had left home when he was fifteen and slept on friends’ sofas in New York’s East Village. In his paintings he combined elements of street graffiti, American abstraction, textbook anatomy, black culture, jazz and hip hop to create large dynamic works using spray paint, oil sticks and acrylic. His first solo show sold out in 1982, the year he dated the pop star Madonna. The following year he became close friends with Andy Warhol. His art has a raw power that captures the messy energy of 1980s New York and a life of night clubs, dancing, graffiti and drugs. Basquiat died of a heroin overdose aged twenty-seven. His work still has a vibrancy that collectors go wild for: his Untitled painting of a black skull-like head from 1982 recently sold at auction for $110 million. Haring by contrast had a conservative upbringing in Pennsyl­ vania but was entranced by graffiti art when he moved to New York to study in 1978. Shortly after the ‘Times Square Show’ he had a eureka moment while admiring graffitied trains in the subway. He saw that subway advertising panels were covered in matt black paper before new adverts were added. This paper looked like a

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Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled, 1982

blackboard, a pristine surface on which to draw. He ran up the stairs, bought white chalk, and ran back down again. Within a minute he had created his first piece of street art. For the next five years Haring covered the subways of New York in his cartoon-like figures who hugged, kissed, danced and hula hooped, expressing his views on love, death, sex and war. He wanted his art to be on the street so everyone could see it. ‘You don’t have to know anything about art to appreciate it or to look at it,’ he said. ‘There aren’t any hidden secrets or things that you are supposed to understand.’ He became a celebrity and a gay icon and he didn’t shy away from using his art to express his views on the AIDS epidemic that ravaged gay communities in the 1980s. He died of an AIDS-related illness in 1990. The art of the 1980s comes under the umbrella term postmodernism, a vast catch-all term that covers the period after the abstract canvases and Minimalist sculptures championed by Clement Greenberg to the present day. Postmodernists criticised modernism’s idealism and belief in abstract truths. They drew their inspiration from the real world and questioned what they saw.


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Poster campaign by the Guerrilla Girls in New York, 1989

They used other people’s images and sampled other people’s styles, drawing on the past as much as the present for their art and erasing historical boundaries. It was about multiple viewpoints and diversity; you no longer had to work in one style or one medium. American artists continued to use the streets as a public gallery throughout the 1980s. In 1985 an anonymous group of women artists called the Guerrilla Girls used the sides of buses and billboards to expose the sexism and racism that still existed in the art world. Individually the Guerrilla Girls were all successful artists. They kept their collective anonymity by attending events wearing full-head gorilla masks and styled themselves the ‘conscience of the art world’. One of their most famous poster campaigns asked ‘Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?’ It featured a black-and-white reproduction of Ingres’ nude La Grande Odalisque, a painting we looked at in Chapter 25, set against a bright yellow background. Underneath this the Guerrilla Girls presented some eye-catching statistics – less than five per cent of the modern artists in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York were women, but eighty-five per cent of the nudes on display were female. (Change is

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slow: even today only ten per cent of the Museum of Modern Art’s collection is by women.) Adrian Piper (born 1948) similarly worked outside the gallery to provoke reactions from those who interacted with her art. In 1986 she designed two ‘calling cards’ that she carried with her, one white and one brown. The white one fended off men trying to chat her up. The brown card was for when she heard racist remarks. As a light-skinned African-American she was often thought to be white, so when she overheard racism directed at others she gave out the brown card, which began: ‘Dear Friend, I am black. I am sure you did not realise this when you made/laughed at/agreed with that racist remark.’ Each presentation of a card was a form of performance and a piece of conceptual art, an ongoing effort to tackle sexist and racist abuse one situation at a time. Despite the success of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, race relations in America had not improved significantly. Since the late 1970s Carrie Mae Weems (born 1953) has used black-andwhite photography to make visible lived and historical experiences of racial injustice. In Family Pictures and Stories from 1978–84 she presents her own family history to explore the Great Migration from the southern states to the north. In From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried from 1995–6 she uses found photographs of nineteenth-century black women who had previously been slaves. She adds statements over the images to make us think about who we are looking at as she lists the roles these anonymous women had been forced to perform, from nanny to prostitute. By questioning the original photographs she shows how these women were once viewed by colonial men. Artists like Weems offer a post-colonial perspective on Western colonialism, which dates from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries when European countries forced their rule on nations from the Congo to the Caribbean. Post-colonial studies looks at the legacy of this era when people, goods, land and services were all considered colonial property. By now artists had experimented with making art using everything from photography and video to calling cards and billboards. Critics such as Douglas Crimp declared ‘The End of Painting’. But


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artists themselves never gave up on the medium and in the 1980s painting had an unlikely renaissance. The landscapes of Anselm Kiefer (born 1945) and the figures of Georg Baselitz (born 1938) are full of expressive force. These German painters were called neo-Expressionists and their work is rooted in storytelling and myth. They participated in ‘A New Spirit in Painting’ in 1981 alongside the American neo-Expressionist Julian Schnabel (born 1951) and the portrait painter Lucian Freud (1922–2011). This huge and influential exhibition, held at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, was designed to showcase contemporary painting. There were thirty-eight artists involved including Warhol, Bacon and Picasso. All thirty-eight were men; no women were included. (Now you see why the Guerrilla Girls took to the streets.) Kiefer explored how artists could continue to work under the burden of national guilt following the Second World War. He painted architecture associated with Nazi rallies and railway lines that reminded him of the forced transportation of millions of Jews to concentration camps. In Iron Path from 1986 train tracks cut through the heart of the painting, veering left and right. Which tracks lead to death and which to life? It is impossible to tell. Kiefer loads the canvas with so much paint and other materials that his surfaces are almost sculptural. Real branches are attached to the painted tracks by lead bands. In his paintings we feel the deep history of the earth and the bones buried beneath the surface. German artist Gerhard Richter (born 1932), who was also included in ‘A New Spirit in Painting’, used found images as a jumping-off point for his paintings. He explored how photographs turned a view or a person into a surface that could be painted. Following his lead, European painting became more conceptual. An increasing number of artists painted from flat newspaper images rather than from life. They wanted to explore the power of the image, how this power was created and how meaning was conveyed. In 1986 the Belgian Luc Tuymans (born 1958) painted a small windowless room with a drain in the middle of the floor. It is nondescript, the colours faded like an old photograph, but is strangely unsettling. Only when we know its title, Gas Chamber,

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and realise it is derived from a concentration camp image, do we fully comprehend its potency. South African Marlene Dumas (born 1953), who lives in the Netherlands, similarly works with difficult source material. Like Tuymans she uses newspaper photographs and she has painted dead bodies, diseased faces, political prisoners, sex workers and those held against their will. Her paintings often carry a dark emotional charge despite being beautifully painted. Throughout the 1980s painters gained recognition everywhere. Argentinian Guillermo Kuitca (born 1961) paints maps on mattresses, investigating our understanding of place and home, while American Kerry James Marshall (born 1955) examines African-American life and black history. Paula Rego (born 1935) is a Portuguese painter who lives and works in Britain. She likes to challenge expectations in her paintings, often giving women leading roles but never making their lives easy. She paints them in all their robustness, strong even when events such as illegal abortions and sex trafficking conspire to make them powerless. In China, artists began to use Western styles of painting to express their own histories. Zhang Xiaogang (born 1958) grew up during the Cultural Revolution of 1966–76, Mao Zedong’s aggressive renewal of communism that led to the deaths of millions. Zhang uses old family photographs to explore this time in his paintings, his figures depersonalised in their workers’ uniforms but still brimming with pent-up emotion. Often one of the group is tinted red, the colour of Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book which was filled with directions for life: ‘Be resolute, fear no sacrifice, and surmount every difficulty to win victory!’ After the Cultural Revolution ended, Chinese artists were able to study art from other countries and Western art history had a big impact on their work. Yue Minjun (born 1962) uses his own face – eyes screwed shut, laughing manically – for every figure he paints. This repetition is disturbing, particularly when groups of figures stand pointing at you, doubled in laughter, or face a firing squad. Yue often uses the composition of Western art for his own paintings. By changing each figure into a near-naked laughing man


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he suggests the joke’s on us, that art history has become a pawn in a capitalist game of chess and that its deep meaning has been lost for commercial gain. From the raw energy of Basquiat’s canvases and the dark power of Rego’s paintings to the conceptual explorations of Richter and Tuymans and the unsettling histories of Zhang and Kiefer, painting was firmly back in the public eye in the 1980s. But for students in art schools their problem was how to get anything they had made seen by anyone at all. In Britain, a group of ambitious young artists decided to take matters into their own hands.

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Go Large or Go Home It is 25 October 1993 and Rachel Whiteread is standing with a

small group of people next to a road in east London. There used to be a terraced row of Victorian houses on this site but they were demolished to make way for a park. Only one house had remained standing, belonging to Mr Gale. He resisted moving out until the very end. Before his house was bulldozed, Whiteread asked to use it to create her largest sculpture to date. Up until now Whiteread’s sculptures have mostly been the size of furniture. She has used old baths, chairs and beds as moulds, pouring plaster inside them, letting it set. Then she prises away the furniture to reveal, captured in the plaster, all the scratches and marks left upon them, their history. Three years ago she cast the interior of an entire front room. Ghost was the result, a new ‘room’ made from fragile plaster panels that captured a negative print of the doors and windows, the tiles around the fire grate, the light switch. For her first public sculpture she has used Mr Gale’s entire house as her mould. Working with Artangel, a company that helps make 297


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large art projects happen, she and a team of assistants sprayed every room with concrete. Then, brick by brick, the original house was removed, leaving only the grey concrete cast. It took three months to make and the end result is very strange indeed. House, like Ghost, is uncanny – everything is in reverse. The air in the front room, the kitchen and the hallway is now solid, but the solid walls have disappeared. Whiteread can see the yellow paint of a top bedroom and the soot from the fireplaces stuck to the concrete. It looks like a house – albeit one without a roof – but it is everything a house is not. This house is a tomb, filled with one hundred years of family memories. * House was designed to be a temporary sculpture and it existed for less than three months, but during that time newspapers and magazines were filled with people attacking it or defending it. Some wanted it demolished and others petitioned for it to stay. One newspaper headline ran: ‘If that is art then I’m Leonardo da Vinci!’ Many found House deeply moving and a timely exploration of what makes a house a home. A piece of graffiti turned up on the side, asking ‘WOT FOR’? A little while later a reply appeared: ‘WHY NOT!’ House turned Rachel Whiteread (born 1963) into a reluctant household name and cemented her position as one of the most exciting artists of her generation. This generation was dubbed the Young British Artists or YBAs. Many of the YBAs had studied at Goldsmiths University in London under Michael Craig-Martin (born 1941). Craig-Martin was a conceptual artist and his teaching banished the usual divisions between materials. You didn’t have to aspire to be a painter or a sculptor at Goldsmiths – you could use any material and do anything. In 1988, while still a student there, Damien Hirst (born 1965) staged ‘Freeze’, an ambitious exhibition of work by his fellow students. He rented a disused building in south London and packed it full of art, then managed to persuade art critics, dealers and gallery directors to visit. In this show were works by Sarah Lucas (born 1962), Anya Gallaccio (born 1963), Michael Landy (born 1963) and Ian Davenport (born 1966). Others who quickly

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came to be associated with the YBAs were Tracey Emin (born 1963), Chris Ofili (born 1968), Steve McQueen (born 1969) and Whiteread. Although the number of contemporary art galleries in London rose sharply in subsequent decades, in the late 1980s there was nowhere for young artists fresh from college to show their work. The YBAs took matters into their own hands. Hirst filled rooms with butterflies and pickled sharks, Emin used episodes from her life to make installations and McQueen made short thoughtprovoking films. Davenport created bold abstracts by pouring household paint, Ofili painted black Madonnas with elephant dung breasts and Gallaccio made sculptures out of freshly cut flowers. There were no race or gender boundaries, just artists brimming with confidence and energy. The advertising mogul Charles Saatchi bought up entire shows and displayed their works in a rolling programme of exhibitions at his own art gallery in Boundary Road, north London. The YBAs achieved international fame and their work toured the world in the late 1990s. At the same time American artists made art films on an increasingly ambitious scale. Bill Viola (born 1951) creates films that often play out on multiple screens, such as his Nantes Triptych from 1992, originally made for a chapel in Nantes, France. Historically the triptych, or three-panel work, was reserved for religious painting but Viola uses it to showcase life itself. In a darkened room you watch as birth and death play out in real time. A baby is born and an elderly patient (the artist’s mother) takes her last breaths in a hospital bed. Between them a man floats underwater. Sounds of a person breathing accompany the film, a reminder of life, while the two side screens show the most private but most important moments of a person’s life – their birth and their death. Matthew Barney (born 1967) made a series of five art films called The Cremaster Cycle, a nine-hour surreal exploration of masculinity peopled by queens and cowboys, chorus-line dancers and non-binary nudes. Each film is different but intertwined. Cremaster 4, the first to be filmed in 1995, revolves around a tapdancing satyr played by Barney and two sidecar racing teams on the


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Isle of Man. Each film explores how gender is determined, with large doses of sex, violence, death and rebirth thrown in. Many artists chose to work in photography during the 1990s. Digital printing processes meant that photographs could now be reproduced in colour on a cinematic scale. Jeff Wall (born 1946) was one of the first artists to work with photography in this way, creating vast staged photographs for museum walls such as A Sudden Gust of Wind (After Hokusai) from 1993. He recreated the famous Japanese print by Hokusai as if it was a still from a movie. Andreas Gursky (born 1955) similarly used this new large format to turn city views of apartment blocks into near-abstract images as in Paris, Montparnasse from 1993. Other artists turned to photography because the camera could be discreet. Its compact size allowed them to take photographs of intimate moments. Nan Goldin (born 1953) captured her friends going to Pride parades, whizzing through New York on a bicycle in full drag, taking drugs and dying from AIDS. Sophie Calle (born 1953) used photography to record her ‘private games’, investigative journeys that saw her follow a man from a party in Paris to Venice for a fortnight and record the contents of strangers’ hotel rooms while she worked as a chambermaid. She presents her findings as books and framed photographs, creating stories out of chance happenings and anonymous lives. Other artists used photography to question its ability to record ‘truth’. In her ‘Qajar’ series from 1998 Shadi Ghadirian (born 1974) recreates the studio portraits of nineteenth-century Iranian photographers with painted backdrops, vintage costumes and props. Her props, however, are cassette players and vacuum cleaners and her women drink Pepsi from a can, ride bikes and wear sunglasses. They are not nineteenth-century women but contemporary Iranians. Ghadirian, who still lives in Iran, and Shirin Neshat (born 1957), an Iranian exile, use post-colonial and feminist theory to consider how Iranian women are viewed, both inside and outside Iran. In 1979 the Iranian government was overthrown and a conservative religious government took over. Women were made to wear

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One of thirty-three portrait photographs from Shadi Ghadirian’s ‘Qajar’ series, 1998

the veil, among other restrictions. Neshat, who had been studying in America, remained there in exile. In her series ‘Women of Allah’, created between 1993 and 1997, she photographed women, including herself, wearing a hijab (a religious veil) and holding a gun. Martyrdom poems and feminist texts in Farsi are written over the women’s faces. For many people viewing her work in the West, the radical poems remain unreadable, a calligraphic code written across cheekbones and chins. In the photograph Rebellious Silence from the series we are not sure if the woman holds a rifle to kill


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others or protect herself. Is she a martyr (as the poem that veils her face suggests) or is she a victim? These images are complicated – they make us question what we see and ask us to understand that life for Iranian women is not straightforward. Neshat has lived in exile for her whole career and her work is only ever shown outside Iran, yet Iran remains at the centre of her work. ‘Every Iranian artist, in one form or another, is political,’ she says. ‘Politics has defined our lives. If you’re living in Iran, you’re facing censorship, harassment, arrest, torture, at times execution. If you’re living outside, like me, you’re faced with a life of exile, the pain of the longing and the separation from your loved ones and your family.’ The 1990s saw art by Neshat and Ghadirian enter the cultural mainstream, largely thanks to the rapid rise of the mega-museum and new gallery franchises. The Guggenheim opened an outpost in Bilbao in Spain in 1996 and Tate Modern opened in London in 2000. These vast spaces were dedicated to modern and contemporary art and became hot spots for cultural tourism. Huge works of art were commissioned for their plazas and foyers, built by armies of assistants and specialist fabricators. Blockbuster exhibitions of work by Picasso and Matisse, Impressionists and surrealists, attracted larger and larger audiences. Cultural tourism also led to the rapid rise of biennials (also known as biennales), major contemporary exhibitions held every two years that take over entire cities for months on end. These global events bring together art from around the world in ambitious group exhibitions and national pavilions. The Venice Biennale in Italy had begun in 1895 and the São Paolo Biennial in Brazil in 1951. Documenta in Germany – unusual in that it is held only every five years – was founded in 1955. But in the 1990s many more biennials sprang up, from the Sharjah Biennial in the United Arab Emirates to the Gwangju Biennale in South Korea. By the twenty-first century there were around 300 biennials in existence, the most popular attracting between half a million and a million visitors each. Biennials are held in vast exhibition halls, where small-scale painting, sculpture, photography and video art can be easily

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overlooked. Biennials also tend to have deep pockets so are able to commission large new works to fill entire rooms or public spaces in the host cities. These pieces are often created specifically for the site and are known as site-specific art. Consequently, many artists working in the 1990s worked on a larger and larger scale to fill such venues.

Doris Salcedo’s Untitled installation for the Istanbul Biennial, 2003


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Artists were increasingly given free rein to create installations that ranged over entire national pavilions, covering exteriors in neon lights or giant pom poms. Videos were shown within rooms that looked like film sets. Sculptures were the size of buses; paintings looked like cinema screens. To coincide with the 2001 Venice Biennale British artist Mike Nelson (born 1967) transformed a disused brewery into a labyrinth of rooms, corridors and doors through which you had to navigate your way out. (A decade later he did the same to the Biennale’s British pavilion.) The 1990s was also the time of the super-curator. Curators had traditionally looked after museum collections but increasingly they organised ambitious exhibitions of work borrowed from international museums and galleries. Super-curators organised biennials so large that they could tackle giant themes such as ‘Dreams and Conflicts’ and ‘All the World’s Futures’. International artists responded to these new themes. In the Istanbul Biennial of 2003 the Colombian artist Doris Salcedo (born 1958) wedged 1,500 wooden chairs between two buildings. The empty chairs suggested homes that had been lost, lives that had been upturned, people who had gone away. They created a barrier where once had stood an apartment building, a community. Salcedo wanted to bring to mind the ongoing tensions between the city and its Greek and Jewish residents who had been forced to leave, creating these empty spaces. Increasingly contemporary artists use their art for social change. They make political statements about life in their countries or engage with global crises such as climate change. These are the artists we are going to look at in the final chapter. But first, let’s celebrate reaching the twenty-first century with some music . . .

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Art as Resistance It is late May 2018 and the gallery is completely empty except for two

people standing in front of a painting. It isn’t just any painting: it is Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, one of the most famous paintings in the world. And they aren’t just any people: they are Beyoncé and Jay-Z, wife and husband, two of the biggest musical artists on the planet. Today they have the whole of the Louvre Museum in Paris to themselves. Well – apart from the dancers, the stylists, the film crew and the director, that is. They are shooting a video for their latest single Apeshit. There are endless costume changes and dance routines, hours of retakes to get it just right. They have stood in front of ancient Greek and Egyptian sculptures, the Venus de Milo and the Great Sphinx of Tanis. Beyoncé has danced in front of David’s Coronation of Empress Josephine and Jay-Z has rapped in front of Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa. The camera crew have filmed Benoist’s Portrait of Madeleine and the director has staged scenes that echo recent works by Ringgold and Weems.



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Now Beyoncé and Jay-Z – The Carters – stand in pink and green suits filming the closing sequence, their backs to the Mona Lisa. They stare calmly, directly, at the camera, looking at you looking at them. Slowly they turn to look at each other and then at the Mona Lisa. Her fame has led her to a life cooped up in a bulletproof glass box, the star of thousands of photos a day. The Carters by comparison are fully in control of their fame. This video presents them as all powerful, able to empty this usually packed gallery and claim it for themselves. They have filmed the Louvre’s priceless art collection from a new perspective, highlighting the black sailor at the top of the Raft of the Medusa, the black woman who posed for Benoist, ancient Egyptian art taken from Africa. Napoleon now crowns Queen Bey instead of Josephine; Jay-Z takes his place on Géricault’s raft and is rescued. A new art history sparks into life. * Why open this final chapter with a pop video? The Carters’ awardwinning six-minute film shows how far art has entered the mainstream in the twenty-first century. They put the Louvre’s collection to work, using it to offer a new perspective on what art history can and should be. After Apeshit was released, attendance at the Louvre rose twenty-five per cent as visitors followed bespoke trails that highlighted art featured in the video. (We too have come across many of these works, meeting Leonardo’s Mona Lisa in Chapter 14, Benoist’s portrait in Chapter 24 and Géricault’s Raft in Chapter 25.) Surrounded by female dancers of different skin tones in matching nude lycra, Beyoncé repositions black bodies at the centre of the museum. She becomes the new Venus de Milo, but one who remains actively in control of how she looks and how we look at her. The colonial viewpoint that saw black women as either slaves or sexually available is rejected – the dancers and Beyoncé reposition the black female body as active, strong and in control. In this book we have looked at work from all over the world. We have celebrated artists who have been neglected in recent versions of art’s story and we have seen how that story has been swayed by the race and gender of the storyteller. (Remember Winckelmann and his love of classical male nudes in Chapter 24?) The Guerrilla

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Girls recently asserted: ‘We feel museums have a duty to tell the real story of art history, not just the white male artist part’. The Carters are part of this wider retelling of the story. This book is part of it too. The twenty-first century has seen a rise in artists challenging long-held views and offering fresh perspectives. Artists such as Zanele Muholi (born 1972) and Zarina Bhimji (born 1963) use their art to focus on persecuted communities. They want to give a voice to these groups. Muholi is a visual activist who identifies as non-binary and photographs the lesbian and trans communities of South Africa. ‘I have seen people speaking and capturing images of lesbians on our behalf, as if we are incapable and mute,’ Muholi says. ‘I refused to become subject matter for others and to be silenced.’ In Bhimji’s first major film Out of Blue, commissioned for Documenta in 2002, she considers the forceful eviction of all Asian people (including her own family) from Uganda by Idi Amin forty years earlier. The twenty-four-minute film is beautifully shot on location in Uganda, where she returned for the first time in 1998. She travelled to the places her father used to tell her about as she grew up in exile in Britain, but in the film these places appear steeped in melancholy and sadness, empty of life. The crumbling public buildings, decaying prisons and abandoned homes she filmed house only spiders today. For Chinese artist Ai Weiwei (born 1957) his art has directly resulted in him living in exile in Europe. His parents were poets and were persecuted during the Cultural Revolution. For Ai the politics of China have always had a direct impact on his work: ‘I have to face my reality: I did grow up in this society, my father and a whole generation were victimised by the political struggle, and today I am also being hurt or at least restricted by the situation . . . So it’s not my choice, it’s my life, and if I have to make sacrifices I have no regrets about that.’ These sacrifices included being held in prison for eighty-one days because of his response to the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. The earthquake on 12 May in southwestern China killed nearly 90,000 people including over 5,000 schoolchildren, largely because the schools were badly built. Ai visited the area and talked to


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bereaved parents. He recruited volunteers to help him publish a list of all the pupils who had died. At every stage the government blocked him. Ai wanted to make a permanent memorial to honour the young victims and point the finger of blame. He secretly bought up 150 tons of steel rebar (reinforcing bars) that had been salvaged from the ruins in Sichuan. It was the poor-quality rebar that had caused the schools to collapse. He employed a large team to straighten each bar by hand, knocking it back into shape as if turning back time. Then came his arrest and nearly three months in solitary confinement. When he was finally released he returned to the studio to find his team had continued straightening the bars in his absence. In 2013 Ai exhibited Straight at the Venice Biennale. Thousands of rusty bars lay one on top of another and looked like rolling hills of brown earth. When it was exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in London two years later it was surrounded by the names of the children who had died on that day. Many people cried when they saw it because it was a very powerful installation. The internet and social media platforms have allowed artists like Ai to muster support and to spread their message. These public arenas have helped artists and activists alike. Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey (both born 1959) have long been exploring environmental concerns in their joint work, from creating portraits made from living grass to growing crystals on the skeletons of whales washed up on Britain’s shores. Now their grass coats are worn by Extinction Rebellion activists and shared on Instagram to draw attention to climate change. In 2014 Olafur Eliasson (born 1967) transported twelve chunks of the Greenland ice sheet that had broken off to Copenhagen. Every second, 10,000 tons of ice is lost in Greenland because of climate change. Ice Watch was arranged like a clock in City Hall Square where the blocks slowly melted, a reminder of what climate change is doing to the Arctic. It was timed to coincide with the publication of a major United Nations climate report, ensuring maximum publicity for the cause. In the twenty-first century artists have continued to unpick histories that have long been presented from a white Western

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Ai Weiwei’s installation Straight, 2008–12, at the Royal Academy of Arts in London

perspective. Yinka Shonibare (born 1962), a British-Nigerian artist, uses British art and colonial history as his source material. He recreates historical figures and costumes using the bold colourful batik fabrics we associate with Africa. But these fabrics were originally imported to Africa from Indonesia by a Dutch company – the world has always been far more interconnected than the history books have led us to believe and Shonibare explores this in his sculptures. His installation Scramble for Africa (2003) shows fourteen headless mannequins in Victorian frock coats and cravats gathered round a table inlaid with a map of Africa. They represent the European leaders at the 1884–5 Berlin Conference, where they carved up Africa into colonial territories. They have literally lost their heads in greed. Other post-colonial artists such as Australian Tracey Moffatt (born 1960) and New Zealander Lisa Reihana (born 1964) have explored how their own cultural histories were supressed by white colonisers. Maori artist Reihana showed her film In Pursuit of Venus [Infected] at the 2017 Venice Biennale. Her hour-long film was ten years in the making and unfolds across a screen that is over 20 metres wide. As a starting point she used a French panoramic


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Installation view of Lisa Reihana’s post-colonial film In Pursuit of Venus [Infected], 2015–17

wallpaper from 1804 called The Savages of the Pacific Ocean. The wallpaper shows the lush backdrop of Tahiti with smiling islanders living simply in nature, inspired by Captain Cook’s journey to the island in 1769. In her film Reihana changes the perspective. Over seventy scenes of greeting, exchange, violence and death are acted out from the viewpoint of the islanders, challenging the original ‘story’ of the wallpaper. We now see soldiers with guns, European ships and trade negotiations. We hear snippets of conversation in several Pacific languages, not English. American artists such as Kara Walker (born 1969) and Theaster Gates (born 1973) explore the history of American slavery and racial injustice. In 2014 Walker created a giant sphinx out of bleached white sugar with the face of Aunt Jemima to connect the history of sugar to the slaves who made it. In 2019 Gates made a film about the mixed-race history of Malaga, a small island off the coast of Maine. Malaga had been home to a racially diverse community for fifty years when the governor of Maine ordered them all off the island in 1912. The island remains uninhabited to this day. Gates is an interesting artist because quite often he doesn’t produce art at all, or at least not in the way we traditionally think of it. At home in Chicago he is more likely to be found restoring derelict buildings. He refurbishes spaces such as the Stony Island Bank,

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turning them into community centres where people can tell their own histories. (Barack Obama told his when he visited in 2016.) Gates wants to broaden ‘history’ into multiple histories so the past can be rethought, something I’ve tried to do in this book too. Across forty chapters we have journeyed together from the origins of cave painting to the rise of contemporary art as a powerful force for change. We have listened to different artists’ voices and seen what art has meant to each society we encountered. We have witnessed the changing role of art from rite of passage to statement of power. It has been a funeral lament, an assertion of belief, a way of connecting with nature and a means of personal expression. Some artists tricked the eye into seeing windows in flat walls while others delved into mystical inner worlds and abstract realms. We have seen the impact of classical sculpture and the Renaissance on Western art but also explored other histories, from the giant stone figures of Rapa Nui to the Benin bronzes. Where will art take us next? Theaster Gates is an influential artist who represents a new way of making and thinking about art. For him ‘art’ is the ultimate activation of the viewer – people gathering together and talking. His art is about us coming together, from all our different backgrounds, and sharing stories to shape a collective future. Who will tell those future stories? Will it be you?

Illustration Credits page 3 Sculpted bison, Tuc d’Audoubert cave, France, c. 17,000 years old. Granger / Bridgeman Images. 7 Painted lions, Chauvet Cave, France, 33,000 years old. Heritage Images / Fine Art Images / akg-images. 10 Uruk Vase, c. 3300 BCE. National Museum of Iraq. World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo. 13 Nebamun Hunting in the Marshes, c. 1350 BC. © The Trustees of the British Museum. 20 Riace Warriors, 460–450 BCE. DEA/G Nimatallah/Age fotostock. 23 Aphrodite of Knidos, plaster cast. no.232 (original: Glyptothek, Munich, inv. no. 258). © Museum of Classical Archaeology, Cambridge (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0). 27 Nok terracotta sculpture, over 2,000 years old. Goethe-Universität, Institut für Archäologische Wissenschaften, Archäologie und Archäobotanik Afrikas, Germany. 29 Laocoön and His Sons. Roman copy, marble. Musei Vaticani, Vatican City. Vincenzo Pirozzi/Bridgeman Images. 36 Plancia Magna, 121 CE. Antalya Archaeological Museum, Turkey. funkyfood London. Paul Williams / Alamy Stock Photo. 312

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39 Mantle, Paracas, Peru, c. 100–200 CE. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. William Alfred Paine Fund (31.501). 44 Theodora mosaic, 547 CE. San Vitale, Ravenna. Andrea Innocenti/ Age fotostock. 47 The Great Mosque of Damascus, Syria, 705–15 CE. Manuel Cohen / Alamy Stock Photo. 49 Carved limestone panel from Yaxchilan, Mexico, 723–6 CE. © The Trustees of the British Museum. 53 Gero Crucifix, c. 960–70 CE. Cologne Cathedral. Charles O. Cecil / Alamy Stock Photo. 59 The Virgin of Vladimir, 1131 CE. State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. Album / Alamy Stock Photo. 61 Hildegard of Bingen, page from Scivias showing Hildegard receiving God’s visions, 1142–52 CE. akg-images / Erich Lessing. 66 Bronze head from Ife, c. 14th/15th century. © The Trustees of the British Museum. 69 Guan Daosheng, Bamboo Groves in Mist and Rain (detail), 1308 CE. National Palace Museum, Taiwan. The Picture Art Collection / Alamy Stock Photo. 72 Giotto, frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, c. 1305. akg-images / Mondadori Portfolio / Antonio Quattrone. 75 Duccio, Maestà, central panel, 1308–11. Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana del Duomo, Siena. akg-images / De Agostini / G. Nimatallah. 78 The Wilton Diptych, c. 1395. The National Gallery, London / akg-images. 83 Rogier van der Weyden, Descent from the Cross, c. 1435. Museo del Prado, Madrid. akg-images / Joseph Martin. 87 Donatello, David, 1440s. Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence. akg-images / Rabatti & Domingie. 89 Paolo Uccello, The Flood, c. 1447. Church of Santa Maria Novella, Florence. akg-images / Rabatti & Domingie. 94 (left) Gentile Bellini, Portrait of Sultan Mehmet II, 1480. The National Gallery, London / akg-images. 94 (right) Sinan Beg, Portrait of Sultan Mehmet II, c. 1480. Topkapi Sarayi Muzesi Kutuphanesi, Istanbul. akg-images / Fototeca Gilardi. 97 Vittore Carpaccio, Miracle of the Relic of the True Cross on the Rialto Bridge. 1494. Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice. akg / Mondadori Portfolio/Electa/Paolo and Federico Manusardi.


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102 Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa, 1503–6. Musée du Louvre, Paris. akg-images. 106 Raphael, The School of Athens, 1509–11. Apostolic Palace, Vatican City. Wikimedia Commons. 109 Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, 1490–1500. Museo del Prado, Madrid. akg-images. 111 Matthias Grünewald, Isenheim Altarpiece, 1512–16. Unterlinden Museum, Colmar. akg-images / Erich Lessing. 118 (left) Brass plaque, Benin, 16th century. akg-images / Pictures From History. 118 (right) Brass plaque, Benin, 16th century. © The Trustees of the British Museum. 119 Namban folding screen, Kanō school, late 16th century. akg-images. 124 Sofonisba Anguissola, The Chess Game, 1555. National Museum, Poznań. Raczyński Foundation at the National Museum. 129 Giambologna, Samson Slaying a Philistine, 1560–2. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. akg-images / Album / Prisma. 133 Tiberio Cerasi chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome. Photo Scala, Florence/Fondo Edifici di Culto – Min. dell’Interno. 136 Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith Beheading Holofernes (second version), 1620–1. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence. akg-images / Rabatti & Domingie. 140 Peter Paul Rubens, Descent from the Cross, 1614. Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp. Bridgeman images. 144 Clara Peeters, Still Life with a Sparrow Hawk, Fowl, Porcelain and Shells, 1611. Museo del Prado, Madrid. akg-images / Album. 147 Nicolas Poussin, Landscape with the Body of Phocion Carried Out of Athens, 1648. Private Collection/National Museums of Wales. 151 Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, c. 1651. Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome. Martin Jung/imageBROKER/Age Fotostock. 156 Johannes Vermeer, Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, 1663–4. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. 159 Rachel Ruysch, Vase with Flowers, 1700. Mauritshuis, The Hague. 162 Jean-Antoine Watteau, Pilgrimage to the Isle of Cythera, 1717. Musée du Louvre, Paris. Wikimedia Commons. 167 William Hogarth, Beer Street and Gin Lane, 1751. Wikimedia Commons.

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172 Benjamin West, The Death of General Wolfe, 1770. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Wikimedia Commons. 175 Ti’i figures from Tahiti, 1772–5. © Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford. 178 Jacques-Louis David, The Oath of the Horatii, 1785. Musée du Louvre, Paris. Wikimedia Commons. 183 Marie Guillemine Benoist, Portrait of Madeleine, 1799. Musée du Louvre, Paris. akg-images / Erich Lessing. 187 Théodore Géricault, The Raft of the Medusa, 1819. Musée du Louvre, Paris. Wikimedia Commons. 191 Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, La Grande Odalisque, 1814. Musée du Louvre, Paris. Wikimedia Commons. 195 J.M.W. Turner, Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying – Typhoon Coming On), 1840. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. akg-images / Album. 199 Mary Edmonia Lewis, Forever Free, 1867. Howard University Art Gallery. Wikimedia Commons. 203 Claude Monet, Impression: Sunrise, 1872. Musée Marmottan, Paris. Wikimedia Commons. 206 Mary Cassatt, Woman in Black at the Opera, 1880. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Wikimedia Commons. 211 James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket, 1875. The Detroit Institute of Arts. akg-images / Erich Lessing. 215 Georges Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 1884–6. Art Institute of Chicago. Wikimedia Commons. 219 Vincent Van Gogh, The Night Café, 1888. Yale University Art Gallery. 220 Paul Cézanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire with Large Pine, c. 1887. London, Courtauld Institute Galleries / akg-images / Erich Lessing. 227 Käthe Kollwitz, Woman with Dead Child, 1903. Bremen, Kunsthalle/ akg-images / Erich Lessing. 231 Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907. Museum of Modern Art, New York. © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2022. Photo: Art Library / Alamy Stock Photo. 237 Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917. © Association Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021. Photo: Tate Images.


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239 Hilma af Klint, Altarpiece No. 1, 1915. By courtesy of The Hilma af Klint Foundation © The Hilma af Klint Foundation. 242 Hannah Höch, Cut with the Kitchen Knife through the Beer Belly of the Weimar Republic, 1919. © Hannah Höch DACS 2022. bpk / Nationalgalerie, SMB / Jörg P. Anders. 247 Vera Mukhina, Industrial Worker and Collective Farm Girl, 1937 World Fair, Paris. Album / Alamy Stock Photo. 251 Frida Kahlo, Self-portrait on the Borderline between Mexico and the United States, 1933. © Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / DACS 2022. akg-images / Erich Lessing. 254 Jacob Lawrence, The Migration Series, Panel no. 1: During World War I there was a great migration north by southern African Americans, 1940–1. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC. Acquired 1942. © The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle. Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and DACS, London 2022. Courtesy of The Phillips Collection. 260 Germaine Richier, Praying Mantis, 1946. © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2022. Photo by David Rato. MUSEU COLEÇÃO BERARDO. 263 Sidney Nolan, Ned Kelly, 1946. © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. 267 Elizabeth Catlett, I have given the world my songs, ‘The Black Woman’ series, no. 5, 1947. © Catlett Mora Family Trust/VAGA at ARS, NY and DACS, London 2022. Photo: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. 268 Lee Krasner, Abstract No. 2, 1947. © The Pollock Krasner Foundation. Photo provided by IVAM. 277 Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty, 1969–70. © Holt-Smithson Foundation/VAGA at ARS, NY and DACS, London 2022. Photo: George Steinmetz, courtesy Dia Art Foundation, New York. 279 Yoko Ono, Cut Piece, 1964. Photo by Minoru Hirata, © Yoko Ono. 285 Faith Ringgold, American People Series #20: Die, 1967. © Faith Ringgold / ARS, NY and DACS, London, Courtesy ACA Galleries, New York 2022. Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence. 286 Barbara Kruger, Untitled (We don’t need another hero), 1967. Courtesy the artist and Sprüth Magers. Whitney Museum of American

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Art, New York; gift from the Emily Fisher Landau Collection. New York, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). © 2022. Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence. 291 Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled, 1982. © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat / ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2022. Photo: Roth TJ. Sipa, USA. 292 Guerrilla Girls, poster campaign, 1989. © Guerrilla Girls, courtesy guerrillagirls.com. 301 Shadi Ghadirian, photograph from ‘Qajar’ series, 1998. Copyright: Shadi Ghadirian, courtesy Robert Klein Gallery. 303 Doris Salcedo, Untitled, 2003. © The artist. Courtesy White Cube. 309 Ai Weiwei, Straight, 2008–12. Artwork © Ai Weiwei. Photo: Marcus J. Leith. Royal Academy, London. 310 Lisa Marie Reihana, In Pursuit of Venus [Infected], 2015–17. Single-channel video, UltraHD, colour, 7.1 sound, 1 hr 4 min. Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of the Patrons of the Auckland Art Gallery, 2014. © Lisa Marie Reihana/Copyright Agency. Licensed by DACS 2021. Installation photograph by Jennifer French, © Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

Index Abstract Expressionism, 266–70 abstraction, 176, 237–40, 274 Ackroyd, Heather, 308 Aesthetic Movement, 210, 237 Africa: African art’s influence on Picasso, 229–30; African masks in European art, 244; brass plaques from Benin, 117–19, 223–4; British attack and looting of Benin City, 223–4; gold sculptures in Mapungubwe, 65; Ife bronze head, 66, 118; Nok terracotta sculptures, 26–7; the Portuguese in west Africa, 117–18; prehistoric art, 4, 6; saltcellars from Benin and Sierra Leone, 117; Scramble for Africa (Shonibare), 309; tomb art, 54; west African materials, 65–6 Agar, Eileen, Angel of Anarchy, 246 Aguilar, José Vicente, 251–2 Ai Weiwei, Straight, 307–8, 309 ancient Greece: Aphrodite of Knidos, 22–4, 35, 41; artists in, 17–18; Athenian democracy, 19; blackfigure painting, 18; bronze sculptures, 19–21, 22; Charioteer of Delphi, 19–20; the great Athena,


21–2; Parthenon, 21–2, 34, 93; pottery, 17–18; Riace Warriors, 20–1, 22; Roman replicas of statues, 23–4, 27–30, 35; sculpted portraits, 30; sculpture, 18–24; Temple of Zeus, 21, 22; Trojan wars, 17, 28 Andre, Carl, ‘Equivalent’ exhibition, 273–4 Anguissola, Sofonisba, 123–6; Boy Bitten by a Crayfish, 124, 131; Chess Game, 123–4, 125; Van Dyck’s sketch of, 145 animals: bison, Tuc d’Audoubert, 1–2, 3; in Christian art, 45–6; The Horse Fair (Bonheur), 196; in prehistoric art, 5, 6–7 Aqa Riza, 141 Australia: Aboriginal art, 262–3; non-indigenous art, 263–4; post-colonial artists, 309 avant-garde, 233–4 Bacon, Francis: ‘A New Spirit in Painting’ exhibition, 294; Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 259 Balla, Giacomo, 234


Banisadr, Ali, 2 Banks, Joseph, 173, 176 Barney, Matthew, Cremaster Cycle, 299–300 Baroque: period, 130, 134; sculpture, 128–9, 180; woman artists, 135–8; see also Bernini, Gian Lorenzo; Caravaggio Baselitz, Georg, 294 Basquiat, Jean-Michel, 290, 291 Baudelaire, Charles, 202 Bearden, Romare, 271–2 Beg, Sinan, 94, 95 Bellini, Gentile: narrative art, 95–6, 97; Procession in the Piazza San Marco, 96; Sultan Mehmet II, 92–4, 98 Bellini, Giovanni; portrait of Doge Loredan, 97–8; techniques for luminosity, 96–7 Benglis, Lynda, 275 Benoist, Marie Guillemine, Portrait of Madeleine, 182–3, 305, 306 Bernini, Gian Lorenzo: as a Baroque artist, 130; Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, 150–1; Four Rivers Fountain, 151; sculpture of Charles I, 145 Beyoncé, Apeshit, 305–6 Bhimji, Zarina, 307 Biard, François Auguste, The Slave Trade, 194 biennials, 302–4 black subjects: American late 19th-century, 212; Apeshit (Carters), 305–6; The Banjo Lesson (Tanner), 223; in Elizabeth Catlett’s art, 265–6, 267, 284; in Jacob Lawrence’s work, 254–5; 1970s black women artists, 284–6; Portrait of Deputy Belley (Girodet), 181–2; Portrait of Madeleine (Benoist), 182–3, 305, 306; The Raft of the Medusa (Géricault), 186, 187, 305, 306; Romare Bearden’s collage, 271–2 Blake, William, 181 Boccioni, Umberto, 234 Bonheur, Rosa, The Horse Fair, 196 Bosch, Hieronymus: Adoration of the Magi, 181; Garden of Earthly Delights, 109, 125; The Haywain Triptych, 108–9 Botticelli, Sandro: Adoration of the Magi, 90; Birth of Venus, 91;


portraits of the Pazzi, 91; Sistine Chapel, 104 Boucher, François: fêtes galantes, 163; Rinaldo and Armida, 163; as a rococo artist, 164 Bouguereau, William-Adolphe, Birth of Venus, 203, 204 Brancusi, Constantin, 233 Braque, Georges, 231–2 Braquemond, Félix, 207 Braquemond, Marie, 207 Brazil, 149–50, 276–7 Breton, André, 245, 246 bronze: bronze casting in China, 14–15; David (Donatello), 85–6, 87, 91, 101; Ife bronze head, 66, 118; plaques from Benin, 117–19, 223–4; sculpture, 19–21, 22, 66 Brunelleschi, Filippo, 88 Byzantine empire: Iconophiles/ Iconoclasts, 52, 58; Justinian and Theodora mosaic, San Vitale, 44–5; mosaics, 43–5, 60, 65; see also Constantinople Cahun, Claude (Lucy Schwob), 244, 245 Calle, Sophie, 300 camera obscura, 155–6, 197 Cameron, Julia Margaret, 198 Campin, Robert, 80–1, 82 Canaletto, 165 Canova, Antonio: as a neoclassical artist, 179, 180; Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, 180 Caravaggio: as a Baroque artist, 130, 134–5, 136; Boy Bitten by a Lizard, 131–2; Cardinal del Monte’s patronage of, 131–2; Conversion on the Way to Damascus, 134; The Crucifixion of Saint Peter, 133, 134 Caro, Anthony, Early One Morning, 243 Carpaccio, Vittore, Miracle of the Relic of the True Cross on the Rialto Bridge, 96, 97 Carracci, Annibale: The Assumption of the Virgin, 133–4; idealism of, 134, 135; in Rome, 132, 135–6 Carriera, Rosalba, 164–5



Cassatt, Mary, Woman in Black at the Opera, 205–6, 207 Catlett, Elizabeth: depictions of African-American life, 265–6; feminist movement and, 284; I have given the world my songs, 266, 267; printmaking, 265–6 Cavallini, Pietro, 71, 72, 73 cave art: bison, Tuc d’Audoubert, 1–2, 3; Chauvet Cave, 4, 6–7; Leang Tedongnge cave, 5, 6; see also prehistoric art Cerasi, Tiberio, 133 Cézanne, Paul: artistic style, 220; as an Impressionist, 220; Mont Sainte Victoire with Large Pine, 220, 221; ‘Salon des Réfusés’, 220; subject matter, 221 Chalee, Pop, 251, 252 Chardin, Jean-Siméon: Girl with a Shuttlecock, 164; The House of Cards, 164; self-portrait, 164 Charles I, 145 Chicago, Judy, The Dinner Party, 284 China: Ai Weiwei, 307–8; Bamboo Groves in Mist and Rain, 69; bronze casting, 14–15; influence of photography, 198; literati, 68–9, 142; Mogao Cave complex, 43, 58; Mongol art in, 68; porcelain, 143–4, 155; Qin Shi Huangdi’s tomb (Terracotta Army), 25–6; 17th-century art, 142; Sichuan earthquake, 307–8; Silk Road, 43, 95; Western styles of painting, 295–6 Christian art: altarpieces, 75, 80–1, 110–12, 114, 126; Cappella Palatina, 60–1; Celtic-Germanic style, 45–6; Eastern Orthodox Christianity, 44–5; Gero Crucifix, Cologne Cathedral, 52–3; Gothic style, 64–5, 76; the halo in, 42, 53; Isenheim Altarpiece (Grünewald), 110–11; by Italian nuns and monks, 128; Lindisfarne Gospels, 45–6, 58; Scivias by Hildegard of Bingen, 61–2; see also Renaissance Cimabue, 71, 73, 75, 76 Clark, Lygia, 277 classical art: artist training in, 163; beginning of, 19: classical

naturalism in the Renaissance, 71, 73–4, 143; Grand Tour, 165; historical subjects, 171; rococo contrasted with, 163; see also neoclassicism Claude Lorrain: and landscape tradition, 186, 188; Pastoral Landscape, 148 Claudel, Camille, 229 Colab, ‘Times Square Show’, 289–90 Cole, Thomas: Cora Kneeling at the Feet of Tamenund, 188–9; landscape, 188–9, 276 conceptual art, 279–80 Constable, John: The Hay Wain, 188; landscapes, 188–9 Constantinople: Anastasis, Church of the Holy Saviour, 73–4; mosaic art in, 43–4; within Ottoman Empire, 91, 92; as Roman capital, 41, 43 Constructivism, 239, 258 Cook, James, 173–4, 176, 309–10 Cooper, James Fenimore, 188–9 Copley, John Singleton, Death of Major Peirson, 172–3 Cortés, Hernán, 114, 115, 116 Courbet, Gustave: A Burial at Ornans, 195–6; realism, 195–6, 213 Craig-Martin, Michael, 298 Cranach, Lucas, 112, 113 Cubism, 221, 231–2, 234 Cubo-Futurism, 234 Cuyp, Aelbert, View of Dordrecht, 149 Dada: First International Dada Fair, 241–2, 243; movement, 240, 242–3; photomontage, 243, 271; Surrealism and, 245 Daguerre, Louis-Jacques-Mandé, 197 Dalí, Salvador, 245 Darwin, Charles, 6 Davenport, Ian, 298, 299 David, Jacques-Louis, The Oath of the Horatii, 177–8 decorative arts, 4, 54–5 Degas, Edgar, 205, 206 del Lama, Gaspare di Zanobi, 90 Delacroix, Eugène, 190–2; Liberty Leading the People, 190; Women of Algiers in their Apartment, 191 Dickens, Charles, 197 Diderot, Denis, 163–4


Disney, Walt, 252 Donatello: David, 85–6, 87, 91, 101; work with Ghiberti, 88 Dong Qichang: artistic style, 142; Eight Scenes in Autumn, 142–3 Dubuffet, Jean: art brut, 261; Wall with Inscriptions, 261–2 Duccio di Buoninsegna, 75–6 Duchamp, Marcel: Bicycle Wheel, 236; as a Dadaist, 243; Fountain, 236–7; Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2), 236; ready-made objects, 243, 274 Duchamp-Villon, Raymond, 236 Dumas, Marlene, 295 Dunn, Dorothy, 251–2 Dürer, Albrecht, 112–17; Adoration of the Magi, 181; Crucifixion, 141; Knight, Death, and the Devil, 114; Madonna of the Rose Garlands, 98–9, 110 Dyck, Anthony Van: portraiture, 145; in Rubens’ workshop, 140, 145 Eakins, Thomas: The Gross Clinic, 212; support for Henry Tanner, 223 Eckhout, Albert, 150 Egypt: Faiyum portraits, 37; Nebamun Hunting in the Marshes, 12–13; pharaoh sculptures, 12, 19; Set Maat artists’ village, 14; tomb art, 13–14 El Greco, 126–7; Martyrdom of Saint Maurice and the Theban Legion, 127; Vision of Saint John, 127 Eliasson, Olafur, 308 Emin, Tracey, 299 Enlightenment, 173, 180 environmentalism, 276, 308 Epstein, Jacob, Rock Drill, 233–4 Ernst, Max, 245 existentialism, 260 Eyck, Hubert van, 81–2 Eyck, Jan van: Ghent Altarpiece, 81–2, 114; illusionism, 84, 96 Fautrier, Jean, 261 female nudes: Aphrodite of Knidos, 22–4; Déjeuner sur l’herbe (Manet), 201–2; Guerrilla Girls, 292–3, 307; La Grande Odalisque (Ingres), 190–1, 292 feminism: black women artists, 284–5; Guerrilla Girls, 292–3, 307;


installation art, 284; nudes, 283–4; performance art, 282, 283; Post-Partum Document (Kelly), 282; Semiotics of the Kitchen (Rosler), 281–2, 283; as social challenge, 286–8; use of the body, 283; women artists and, 282 Fénéon, Félix, 215–16 fêtes galantes, 162–3 figurative art: early stylized figures, 11–13, 15–16, 18, 62; expressive depictions, 62; prehistoric animals, 5, 6–7; the symbolic body in Christian art, 45, 46; see also female nudes Flavin, Dan, 274 Florence: Adoration of the Magi (Botticelli), 90; Annunciation (Fra Angelico), 88; church of Santa Maria Novella, 90; David (Michelangelo), 100–1; The Flood (Uccello), 89–90; Fra Angelico, 87–8; Ghiberti’s baptistry doors, 88–9; Medici family, 85–7, 88, 90–1, 103, 106, 128, 137, 170; Pazzi family, 90–1, 94; Renaissance art in, 85–7, 91; San Marco convent, 87–8; sculpture in, 128–9; Uffizi Gallery, 170 Fluxus group, 278 Fontana, Lavinia, Nude Minerva, 135 Forbes, Elizabeth, A Zandvoort Fishergirl, 214 Forbes, Stanhope, A Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach, 214 Fra Angelico (Guido di Pietro), 87–8 France: bison, Tuc d’Audoubert, 1–2, 3; Chartres Cathedral, 63–5; existentialism, 260; Great Cross/Well of Moses, 79–80; neoclassicism, 177–80; 1937 World Fair, 246, 248; Paris as Europe’s artistic centre, 234; Paris as the European artistic centre, 228; Peninsular War, 183–4; Philip the Bold, 79–80, 88; post-World War II art, 260–1; ‘Salon des Refusés’, 201, 202, 220; slavery, 181–2, 183, 186 French Academy, Paris: hierarchy of art, 161–3, 178, 202–3; the Impressionists’ challenge to, 203–4;



Salon, 163–4, 172, 178–9, 182, 201, 202; women members, 178–9 French Revolution, 179, 180, 183 Freud, Lucian, 294 Friedrich, Caspar David, The Wanderer above a Sea of Fog, 187 Fuller, Meta Vaux Warrick, 229 Futurism: First World War and, 236; Italian art of, 234–5; Rock Drill (Epstein), 233–4; in Russia, 235 Gabo, Naum, 258 Gainsborough, Thomas: Mr and Mrs Andrews, 165–6; portraits and landscapes, 166 Gallaccio, Anya, 298, 299 Gates, Theaster, 310–11 Gaudier-Brzeska, Henri: First World War and, 236; and Rock Drill (Epstein), 233–4; study of non-Western form, 233 Gauguin, Paul: friendship with Van Gogh, 217, 218; influence on Paula Modersohn-Becker, 227–8; inspiration from Japanese prints, 221; in Tahiti, 175, 221–2; ti’i carvings, 175; Where Do We Come From? 222 Gentileschi, Artemisia: female subjects, 137, 157; Judith beheading Holofernes, 136, 137; Susannah and the Elders, 136–7; as a woman artist, 137–8 Géricault, Théodore, The Raft of the Medusa, 185–6, 187, 190, 305, 306 German Expressionism, 219, 226–7; Der Blaue Reiter, 226, 238; Die Brücke, 226; under the Nazis, 247–8 Germany: Academy of the Arts in Berlin, 226; Annunciation of the Rosary (Stoss), 112; art under the Nazis, 246–8; Berlin Dada, 241–3; ‘Degenerate Art’ exhibition, 247–8; Gero Crucifix, Cologne Cathedral, 52; Isenheim Altarpiece (Grünewald), 110–11; postmodernist painting, 294–5; prejudice against women artists, 226; printmaking, 225; Worpswede artists, 227–8 Gérôme, Jean-Léon, 191 Ghadirian, Shadi, ‘Qajar’ series, 300, 301–2

Ghiberti, Lorenzo, 88–9 Ghirlandaio, Domenico, 90, 104 Giacometti, Alberto, 260–1 Giambologna, 128–9; Samson Slaying a Philistine, 129 Giotto di Bondone: classical naturalism, 73; Last Judgement, 70–1, 72; Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, 72; workshops, 73 Girodet, Anne-Louis, Portrait of Deputy Belley, 181–2 Goldin, Nan, 300 Goncharova, Natalia, 234 Gonzalès, Eva, A Box at the Theatre des Italiens, 207 Goya, Francisco de, The Disasters of War, 184 Great Britain: Aesthetic Movement, 210, 237; attack on Benin City, 223–4; Black Arts Movement, 285–6; British Surrealist Group, 246; Constructivism, 258; Hogarth’s London, 166–8; Newlyn Art Gallery, 214; Pop Art, 271; see also Young British Artists (YBAs) Greenberg, Clement, 269, 270, 291 Grosz, George, 241, 243 Grünewald, Matthias, 110–12; Isenheim Altarpiece, 110–11; during the Reformation, 112 Guan Daosheng, 69 Guerrilla Girls, 292–3, 307 Gursky, Andreas, 300 Hals, Frans, 144–5 Hamilton, Richard, Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing? 271 Haring, Keith, 290–1 Harvey, Dan, 308 Harwood, Francis, 181 Hasan, Abu’l: Jahangirnama, 142; Squirrels in a Plane Tree, 141–2 Hausmann, Raoul, 241–2, 243 Heartfield, John (Helmut Herzfeld), 243 Henry VIII: The Ambassadors (Holbein), 121; Holbein portraits, 120–1; miniatures by Horenbout, 120; tapestries for the Sistine Chapel (Raphael), 107


Hepworth, Barbara, Oval Sculpture, 257–8 Hesse, Eva, 275 Himid, Lubaina, 285–6 Hiroshige, Utagawa, 189; The Residence with Plum Trees at Kameido, 218 Hirst, Damien, 298–9 Höch, Hannah: Cut with the Kitchen Knife through the Beer Belly of the Weimar Republic, 241, 242; Dada, 243 Hodges, William, 173–4; A View of Matavai Bay in the Island of Otaheite, 174; A View Taken in the Bay of Otaheite Peha, 174 Hogarth, William: Beer Street, 166, 167; Gin Lane, 166–7; Marriage à la Mode, 167; portrayal of London, 166–8; prints, 166 Hokusai, Katsushika, 189, 300; Great Wave, 189 Holbein, Hans the Younger: The Ambassadors, 121; portraits of Henry VIII, 120–1 Holzer, Jenny, 286, 287 Homer, Winslow, Watermelon Boys, 212 Hooch, Pieter de: in Delft, 155; the domestic house, 157; Woman and Maid in a Courtyard, 157 Hopper, Edward: depictions of American life, 254; New York Movie, 253–4 Horenbout, Susanna, 114, 117, 120 Hosmer, Harriet, Zenobia in Chains, 198–9 humanism, 71–2, 74, 86, 91, 93 Hunt, William Holman, 196 Impressionists, 201–8, 214; ‘Salon des Réfusés’, 201, 202, 220; subject matter, 204–7, 208, 214 India: Ajanta caves, 42; Ellora caves, 51; Mughal court workshops, 141; religious art, 42, 51; Silk Road, 43 Ingres, Jean-Auguste-Dominique: La Grande Odalisque, 190–1, 292; Sleeper of Naples, 191 Innocent X, 151–2


installation art: for biennials, 302–4; by feminists, 284; Straight (Ai), 307–8, 309 Iran, 197, 300–2; see also Persia Isabella d’Este, 103 Islamic art: book illumination, 67–8; Cappella Palatina, 60–1; Great Mosque, Damascus, 46–7; in Muslim Spain, 54–5, 60 Italy: San Francesco, Assisi, 73; Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, 70–1, 72; Siena cathedral, 75–6; see also Florence; Renaissance; Rome; Venice ivory carving: Pyxis of al-Mughira, 54; saltcellars by Sapi sculptors, 117 Jahangir, 141 Japan: the Dutch in, 189; influence of Japanese prints on Western art, 190, 218, 221, 227, 230; 19th-century landscapes, 189; namban-jin screen art, 119; the Portuguese in, 119; The Tales of Genji, 57–8; uki-e (floating pictures), 189; yamato-e style, 119 Jay-Z, 305–6 Johns, Jasper, 270 Judd, Donald, 274 Julius II, Pope, 103 Kahlo, Frida, 249–51; Self-portrait on the Borderline between Mexico and the United States, 250, 251 Kandinsky, Wassily, 226, 238 Kaprow, Allan, 278 Kauffman, Angelica, 171 Kelly, Mary, Post-Partum Document, 282 Kiefer, Anselm, 294 Kirchner, Ernst Ludwig, 226 Klint, Hilma af, Altarpiece No. 1, 238–9 Knight, Laura, 170 Kollwitz, Käthe, 225–6; Woman with Dead Child, 225–6, 227 Kooning, Elaine de, 267, 269 Kooning, Willem de, 267 Kosuth, Joseph, One and Three Chairs, 279 Krasner, Lee, 267–9: Abstract No. 2, 268



Kruger, Barbara, We don’t need another hero, 286–7 Kusama, Yayoi, 282 Labille-Guiard, Adélaïde, 178–9; Portrait of Madame Adélaïde, 179; Self-Portrait with Two Pupils, 178–9 Lam, Wifredo, 246 land art, 276 landscape: of the American colonies, 188–9, 276; classical tradition, 148, 188; Claude’s influence, 148, 186, 188; in Dutch art, 148–50; Japanese uki-e, 189–90; John Constable, 188–9; Nicolas Poussin, 146–8; photographic, 198; Richard Wilson, 173–4; by the Romantics, 186–7; the sublime and, 187; Thomas Gainsborough, 165–6; vedute, 165, 189; The Wanderer above a Sea of Fog (Friedrich), 187 Lawrence, Jacob, ‘The Migration Series’, 254–5 Le Gray, Gustave, The Great Wave, Sète, 198 Leo X, Pope, 107, 110 Leonardo da Vinci, 99–103; Last Supper, 128; Mona Lisa, 101–2, 305, 306 Lewis, Mary Edmonia, 199–200; Forever Free, 199, 200 Lewis, Norman, 266–7, 272; Cathedral, 266 Leyster, Judith, The Proposition, 144–5 Lichtenstein, Roy, 271 Limbourg brothers, 78–9, 80, 81 Luther, Martin, Passional Christi und Antichristi, 112–13, 121 Lyell, Charles, 5–6 Magritte, René, 245 Malevich, Kasimir, 239; Black Square, 240, 264 Malouel, Jean, 80 Man Ray, 244–5; Noire et Blanche, 244 Manet, Edouard, 201–2, 207; Déjeuner sur l’herbe, 201–2 Mannerism, 128–30, 132, 135 manuscripts: Book of Hours, 78–9, 81; Islamic book illumination, 67–8; Lindisfarne Gospels, 45–6, 58; materials, 67–8; Scivias by

Hildegard of Bingen, 61–2; The Tales of Genji, 57–8 Marc, Franz, 226 Marey, Etienne-Jules, 236 Marinetti, Filippo, 233–4 Marshall, Kerry James, 295 Martini, Simone, 76, 78 Masaccio, 88, 90 materials: in African art, 65–6; book illumination, 67–8; the colour wheel, 204; encaustic, 59; for European art, 65; for manuscripts, 67–8; of Minimalism, 274–6; oil paint, 81; paint tubes, 204; pastels, 164; of postmodernism, 289–94; techniques for luminosity, 96; tempera, 59, 81; ultramarine, 77, 78, 80 Matisse, Henri, 229–30 McQueen, Steve, 299 Medici family, 85–7, 88, 90–1, 103, 106, 128, 137, 170 Medici, Cosimo de’, 85–6, 87, 88, 90 Medici, Lorenzo de’, 90–1, 94, 101, 103, 107 Medici, Piero de’, 90, 103 mega-museums, 302 Merian, Maria Sibylla, New Flower Book, 159 Mesoamerica: art in 16th-century Europe, 114, 116; Bonampak wall paintings, 50–1; carved limestone panel, Yaxchilan, 49; geoglyphs, 39–40; K’ab’al Xook panels, 48–50; Olmec heads, 11–12, 116; Peruvian textiles, 38–9; sculpture, 114, 116; Spain’s conquest of, 115; Teotihuacan, 38; textiles, 38–9; Toltec chacmools, 115, 116 Mesopotamia: Assyrian art, 15–16, 118; bronze, 14; Uruk Vase, 9–11 Mexico: carved limestone panel, Yaxchilan, 49; Coatlicue, 115–16; Diego Rivera’s murals, 249–50, 251, 252; K’ab’al Xook panels, 48–50; Kahlo, Frida, 249–50, 251, 252; Olmec heads, 11–12, 116; People’s Graphic Arts Workshop, 265; social realism, 246; Tenochtitlan, 115–16; Teotihuacan, 38 Michelangelo: ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, 104–5; David, 100–1; in


Florence, 101, 106; move to Rome, 99, 103; Sofonisba Anguissola’s art and, 124; tomb of Pope Julius II, 104 Millais, John Everett, Christ in the House of his Parents, 196–7 miniatures: Persian, 94, 198; portraiture, 120; by Susanna Horenbout, 114, 117, 120 Minimalism, 272–6 Miró, Joan, 245, 246, 248 modernism, 235 Modersohn-Becker, Paula, 227–8; Mother and Child Lying Nude, 228 Modigliani, Amedeo, 233 Moffatt, Tracey, 309 Mondrian, Piet, 238, 258 Monet, Claude, 202–5; Gare SaintLazare, 205; Impression: Sunrise, 203, 204; La Grenouillère, 205 Moore, Henry, 258 Moore, Marcel (Suzanne Malherbe), 244 Moorman, Charlotte, 283 Morisot, Berthe, 202–6 Morisot, Edma, 205 mosaics: Byzantine, 43–5, 60, 65; in Islamic art, 46–7; Justinian and Theodora, San Vitale, 44–5; Roman villas, 31–2 Moser, George, 169, 171 Moser, Mary, 171 Muholi, Zanele, 307 Mukhina, Vera, Industrial Worker and Collective Farm Girl, 246, 247, 248 al-Mulk, Sani’, Portrait of Prince ‘Ali Quli Mirza, 198 Munch, Edvard, 219–20, 226; Frieze of Life series, 219–20; The Scream, 219 Münter, Gabriele, 226 Namatjira, Albert, 263 Napoleon, 183–4, 190 naturalism: Classical Greece and Rome, 20–1, 69; movement, 73–4, 94; in Mughal painting, 141; of the Northern Renaissance, 143; see also Renaissance Nauman, Bruce, 283 Neel, Alice, 283–4 Nelli, Plautilla, Last Supper, 128 neoclassicism, 177–80; The Oath of the Horatii (David), 177–8, 179;


Romantics’ rejection of, 186; sculpture, 180–1, 198 Neoplasticism, 238 Neshat, Shirin, 300, 301–2 Netherlandish art: Descent from the Cross (van der Weyden), 82–3, 125, 141; Philip II’s study of, 125; within the Renaissance, 79–84; in Tudor England, 120 Netherlands, the: artistic landscapes, 148; Delft pottery, 155; Dutch golden age, 143, 149; portraits, 144; 17th-century trade, 143, 149–50; still life, 143–4, 158–9; Tulipmania, 158–9; women artists, 158–60 Newman, Barnett, 267–8 Nicholson, Ben, 258 Nolan, Sidney, Ned Kelly, 263–4 Oceania: Captain Cook’s voyage, 173–4, 176, 309–10; moai Rapa Nui (Easter Island), 65, 66–7; postcolonial artists, 309–10; William Hodges’ landscapes, 173–4; see also Australia; Tahiti Ofili, Chris, 299 Oiticica, Hélio, Tropicália, 276–7 O’Keeffe, Georgia, 255–6, 284 Ono, Yoko, 278–9, 282; Cut Piece, 278–9 Oosterwijck, Maria van, 158 Oppenheim, Meret, 245, 275 Orientalism, 190–1 Ottoman Empire: fusion of Eastern and Western art, 94–5, 121–2; Sinan Beg portrait, 94; Süleyman the Magnificent, 121; Süleymannâme (Book of Süleyman), 121–2; Sultan Mehmet II (Bellini), 92–4, 98; Sultan Mehmet II’s court, 92–4; war with Venice, 92 Paik, Nam June, 283 Pape, Lygia, 277 Peeters, Clara, Still Life with a Sparrow Hawk, Fowl, Porcelain and Shells, 143–4 performance art, 277–8; Cut Piece (Ono), 278–9; use by feminist artists, 282, 283



Persia: court workshops, 141; influence of photography, 198; miniatures, 94, 198 perspective, 88–9 Peru: geoglyphs, 39–40; textiles, 38–9 Philip II, 125–7 Philip IV, 152, 155 photography: advent of, 197–8; artistic experimentation with, 198, 243–4; calotypes, 197; camera obscura, 155–6, 197; Carrie Mae Weems, 293; daguerreotypes, 197; EtienneJules Marey, 236; influence on the Impressionists, 205, 208; during the 1990s, 300; Portrait of Claude Cahun (Cahun), 244; portraiture, 197; Robert Rauschenberg, 270 photomontage, 243, 271–2 Picasso, Pablo, 229–32, 294; Cubism, 221, 231–2; Guernica, 248; Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 230–1 Piero della Francesca, 89 Piper, Adrian, 293 Pissarro, Camille, 202–4; White Frost, 205 pointillism, 214–16 Pollock, Jackson, 267–9 Pop Art, 271–2 Popova, Lyubov, 234 portraiture: Anthony Van Dyck, 145; Faiyum portraits, 37; of the French aristocracy, 179; Joshua Reynolds, 171, 174; miniatures, 120; photography, 197; portrait sculpture in the Roman Empire, 30–1, 35–7; Rembrandt, 153–4; self-portrait, 150, 164; 17th-century Dutch, 144; Thomas Gainsborough, 165–6; Tudor, 120; Velázquez, 151–2 Portugal, 116–19 Post, Frans, Sugar Mill, 150 post-Impressionists, 215–21 postmodernism: accessible art, 289–90; Guerrilla Girls, 292–3; materials, 289–94; movement, 291–2; painting, 294–6; street art, 290–2 pottery: ancient Greece, 17–18; Delft pottery, 155 Pound, Ezra, 233

Poussin, Nicolas, 146–8, 155; Landscape with the Ashes of Phocion Collected by his Widow, 146; Landscape with the Body of Phocion Carried Out of Athens, 146, 147 prehistoric art, 1–7; Altamira paintings, 6; bison, Tuc d’Audoubert, 1–2, 3 Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, 196–7, 210 Preston, Margaret, 262 printing presses, 112–13 printmaking: Albrecht Dürer, 113–14; aquatint, 184; The Disasters of War (Goya), 184; Elizabeth Catlett, 265–6, 267; engravings, 113, 181; François Boucher, 163; in Germany, 225; Japanese woodblock, 189; Rembrandt, 154–5; screen printing, 270; William Hogarth, 166 Raphael, 99, 103, 105–6; The School of Athens, 106, 170, 183; tapestries for the Sistine Chapel, 107, 110 Rauschenberg, Robert, 270 Rayonism, 234 realism: American Regionalism, 253–5; Gustave Courbet, 195–6, 213; traditional subjects, 213–14; the ‘Wanderers’, 213 Rego, Paula, 295 Reihana, Lisa, In Pursuit of Venus [Infected], 309–10 relief sculptures: of Ashurbanipal, 15–16, 118; bison, Tuc d’Audoubert, 1–2, 3; Borobodur complex, 51; brass plaques from Benin, 117–19, 223–4; Ellora caves, 51; Ghiberti’s baptistry doors, 88; Trajan’s Column, 33–5; Uruk Vase, 9–11 religious art: Buddhist art practices, 42–3, 51; Christian art, 42, 43–6, 58; Eastern Orthodox Christianity, 43–5, 58–60; Hindu art, 51; of the Holy Roman empire, 52–3; icon paintings, 52, 58–60, 71, 72; Iconophiles and Iconoclasts, 52, 58; Islamic art, 46–7; during the Reformation, 112; of the Renaissance, 70–2?; Virgin of Vladimir, 58–60, 72; see also Renaissance


Rembrandt van Rijn: 153–5; The Night Watch, 154; self-portrait, 153–4 Ren Xiong, 198 Renaissance: altarpieces, 75, 80–1, 110–12, 114, 126; Annunciation (Martini), 76, 78; Arnolfini Portrait (van Eyck), 82; classical naturalism, 71, 73–4, 143; Descent from the Cross (van der Weyden), 82–3, 125, 141; frescoes, 70–1, 72; Ghent Altarpiece (van Eyck), 81–2, 114; Gothic style, 76; Great Cross, Champmol, 79–80; humanism, 71–2, 74, 86, 91, 93; International Gothic, 76, 78–9; Maestà (Duccio), 75–6; Mérode Altarpiece (Campin), 80–1; Netherlandish art, 80–4; Northern Renaissance, 77–84, 96, 98, 143; overview of, 74–5; perspective, 88–9; sculpture, 85–7, 91, 100–1; Wilton Diptych, 77–8; see also Florence; Rome; Venice Reni, Guido, 135, 157, 158 Renoir, Pierre-Auguste, 202–4; La Loge, 206–7 Repin, Ilya, They Did Not Expect Him, 213 Reynolds, Joshua, 171; Portrait of Omai, 174 Richier, Germaine, 259–60; Praying Mantis, 259, 260 Ringgold, Faith, American People Series #20: Die, 285 Rivera, Diego: Detroit Industry Murals, 249–50, 252; New York retrospective, 251 Roberts, David, 191 rococo, 163, 164 Rodin, Auguste, 228–9; Monument to Balzac, 228–9 Roman Empire: busts, 30–1; Byzantium/Constantinople, 41–2, 43; Christianity, 41–2; Faiyum portraits, 37; Hadrian’s Villa, 35; Herculaneum and Pompeii, 31–2, 178; Laocoön, 28–30, 104, 128, 183; monumental art, 34–6; portrait sculpture, 30–1, 35–7; replicas of Greek statues, 23–4, 27–30, 35; sculpture, 22, 27–8; tomb sculptures, 37; Trajan’s Column,


33–5; Trojan wars, 17, 28; verism, 30; villa interiors, 31–2 Romanticism, 186–7 Rome: American 19th-century women sculptors, 198–9; art patronage by Julius II, 103; frescoes at the Vatican, 105–6; on the Grand Tour, 165; Renaissance art in, 86–7, 103; 17th-century art, 132–3; the Sistine Chapel, 104–5; tomb of Pope Julius II, 104 Rosler, Martha, Semiotics of the Kitchen, 281–2, 283 Rossetti, Dante Gabriel, 196 Rothko, Mark, 267, 268 Royal Academy, London, 168–74 Rubens, Peter Paul: Adoration of the Magi, 181; Descent from the Cross, 139–40, 172, 183; influences on, 140–1; Van Dyck as an assistance to, 145 Ruisdael, Jacob van, View of Naarden with the Church at Muiderberg, 149 Ruskin, John, 194, 197, 208; admiration of Turner, 193–4; court trial against Whistler, 208–9 Russia: abstract art, 239; CuboFuturism and Rayonism, 234; Suprematist movement, 239–40; the ‘Wanderers’, 212–13 Ruysch, Rachel, Vase with Flowers, 159–60 Saar, Betye, The Liberation of Aunt Jemima, 284–5 Salcedo, Doris, 303, 304 Sartre, Jean-Paul, 260 scroll art: Bamboo Groves in Mist and Rain, 69; The Tales of Genji, 57–8 sculpture: in altarpieces, 111–12; of ancient Greece, 18–24; Aphrodite of Knidos, 22–4, 35, 41; Baroque, 128–9, 180; Bernini’s sculptural displays, 150–1; Bicycle Wheel (Duchamp), 236; black subjects, 181; in bronze, 19–21, 22, 66; Chartres cathedral, France, 63–5; Coatlicue, 115–16; David (Donatello), 85–6, 87, 91, 101; David (Michelangelo), 100–1; Egyptian statues, 12, 19; ‘Equivalent’ exhibition (Andre), 273–4; in



Florence, 128; Fountain (Duchamp), 236–7; Futurist, 233–4; Gothic sculpture, 64–5, 76; the great Athena, 21–2; Industrial Worker and Collective Farm Girl (Mukhina), 246, 247, 248; land art, 276, 277; Laocoön, 28–30, 104, 128, 183; of the Mannerists, 128–30; from Mesoamerica, 114, 116; Minimalism, 273–4; moai Rapa Nui (Easter Island), 65, 66–7; Monument to Balzac (Rodin), 228–9; neoclassicism and, 180–1, 198; 19th-century experimentation in, 228–9; Nok, 26–7; Olmec heads, 11–12, 116; Oval Sculpture (Hepworth), 257–8; portrait sculpture in the Roman Empire, 30–1, 35–7; prehistoric, 5; Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss (Canova), 180; Rock Drill (Epstein), 233; Roman, 22; Roman replicas, 23–4, 27–30, 35; Samson Slaying a Philistine (Giambologna), 129; social realism, 246, 247; study of non-Western form, 233; Terracotta Army, 25–6; ti’i carvings, 174–5; Toltec chacmools, 115, 116; verism, 30; see also relief sculptures semiotics, 280, 281–2 Serra, Richard, 275 Seurat, Georges, 214–16; A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 214–15 Severini, Gino, 234 Sher-Gil, Amrita, 234 Sherman, Cindy, Untitled (Film Stills), 287–8 Shonibare, Yinka, Scramble for Africa, 309 Sirani, Elisabetta, 157–8; Portia Wounding her Thigh, 157–8 slavery: abolitionists, 181, 182, 194, 212; black subjects in paintings, 181–3; in Dutch Suriname, 181; La Grande Odalisque (Ingres), 190–1, 292; Lewis’ sculptures of black emancipation, 199, 200; Narrative of a Five Years’ Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam (Stedman), 181; Russian serfdom, 212; Slave Ship (Turner), 192, 193,

194–5; The Slave Trade (Biard), 194; Sugar Mill (Post), 150; 20th-century explorations of, 310 Sleigh, Sylvia, 283 Sluter, Claus, 79, 80 Smith, David, 274 Smithson, Robert, Spiral Jetty, 276, 277 Social Realism, 246, 270 Soviet Union (USSR), 246, 270 Spain: artists of Al-Andalus, 54–5, 60; Civil War, 248; conquest of Mesoamerica, 115; court of Philip II, 125–7; court of Philip IV, 152, 155; the Pyxis of al-Mughira, 54–5, 60; Spanish War of Independence, 183–4 Stein, Gertrude, 229 Stieglitz, Alfred, 243–4, 245 still life, 143–4, 158–60; Still Life with a Sparrow Hawk, Fowl, Porcelain and Shells (Peeters), 143–4 Stoss, Veit, Annunciation of the Rosary, 111–12 super-curators, 304 surrealism, 245–6 Tagore, Gaganendranath, 234 Tahiti, 174–6; Paul Gauguin in, 175, 221–2; The Savages of the Pacific Ocean, 309–10; ti’i carvings, 174–5 Talbot, William Henry Fox, 197 Tan-che-qua, 169–70 Tanner, Henry Ossawa, 222–3, 229: The Banjo Lesson, 223 Tatlin, Vladimir, 239 temples: Ajanta caves, India, 42; Borobodur complex, 51–2; Ellora caves, 51; Kailasa temple, 51, 52; the Parthenon, 21–2, 34, 93; Structure 23, Yaxchilan, 48–50; Temple of Zeus, 21, 22; Teotihuacan, 38 Ter Borch, Gerard, 155 textiles: Bayeux Tapestry, 56–7; Jahangirnama, 142; Peruvian textiles, 38–9; tapestries for the Sistine Chapel (Raphael), 107 texts: New Flower Book, 159; Passional Christi und Antichristi, 112–13, 121; Süleymannâme (Book of Süleyman), 121–2; see also manuscripts Thackeray, William, 194 Tintoretto, 127



Titian: at Philip II’s court, 126; ‘Poesie,’ 126, 152 Tjapaltjarri, Clifford Possum, 262 tombs: African tomb art, 54; Champmol, France, 79–80; Egyptian tomb art, 13–14; Great Serpent Mound, Ohio, 54; of Mausolus, 24; of Pope Julius II, 104; of Qin Shi Huangdi (Terracotta Army), 25–6; Roman tomb sculptures, 37; Trajan’s Column, 33–5 Torakiyo, Sato, Geishas in a Landscape, 218 trompe l’oeil, 18, 31, 82, 89 Tupaia, 176 Turner, Joseph Mallord William, 192–5; Slave Ship, 192, 193, 194–5 Tuymans, Luc, 294–5

(Dürer), 98–9; as a multicultural trading center, 95, 99; narrative art, 95–6; portrait of the Doge Loredan (Bellini), 97–8; Renaissance art in, 86–7, 91, 98, 127; Scuola, 95–6, 127; Titian’s altarpieces, 126; vedute, 165; war with the Ottomans, 92 Vermeer, Johannes: camera obscura, 155–6; Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, 155, 156 Veronese, Paolo: Last Supper, 127; The Wedding Feast at Cana, 183 video, 282–3; Apeshit (Carters), 305–6; Cremaster Cycle (Barney), 299–300; Nantes Triptych (Viola), 299; Semiotics of the Kitchen (Rosler), 281–2, 283 Vigée Lebrun, Elisabeth, 178–9; Marie Antoinette and her Children, 179 Viola, Bill, Nantes Triptych, 299

Uccello, Paolo, The Flood, 89–90 United States of America (USA): Abstract Expressionism, 266–70; art of the late 19th century, 211–12; depictions of race, 212; Rivera and Kahlo in, 249–50, 251, 252; feminism, 283–5; Great Depression, 252–4; Great Migration, 254–5, 293; Harlem Renaissance, 255; land art, 276, 277; landscapes, 188; Native American artists, 251–2; Native American subjects, 188–9; New York as the centre of Western art, 269–70; New York School, 266–8; 19th-century women sculptors, 198–9; painters of the 18th century, 171–3; racial prejudice in, 198–9, 212, 222–3, 265–6, 271–2, 293, 310; Regionalism, 253–5; social realism, 246; Spiral Group, 272

Walker, Kara, 310 Wall, Jeff, 300 Warhol, Andy: ‘A New Spirit in Painting’ exhibition, 294; Pop Art, 270–1 Watteau, Jean-Antoine: fêtes galantes, 162–3; Pilgrimage to the Isle of Cythera, 161–2 Wautier, Michaelina, 150 Weems, Carrie Mae, 293 West, Benjamin: in The Academicians of the Royal Academy (Zoffany), 170; The Death of General Wolfe, 171–2, 173 Weyden, Rogier van der: Descent from the Cross, 82–3, 125, 141; illusionism of, 84; influence on Rubens, 141 Whistler, James Abbott McNeill: artistic style, 210–11, 237; court trial against Ruskin, 208–9; Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket, 208–9, 211 Whiteread, Rachel: Ghost, 297; House, 297–8 Wilson, Richard, 169, 173–4 Winckelmann, Johann Joachim, History of the Art of Antiquity, 179–80 women artists: as Academicians, 170, 171, 178–9; Adélaïde

Van Gogh, Vincent: in Arles, 217–18; inspiration from Japanese prints, 190, 218, 227, 230; mental health issues, 218–19; The Night Café, 217–18, 219; Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, 218 Velázquez, Diego: Las Meninas, 152; portrait of Innocent X, 151–2 Venice: on the Grand Tour, 165; Madonna of the Rose Garlands



Labille-Guiard, 178–9; American 19th-century women sculptors, 198–9; Angelica Kauffman, 171; Anne-Louis Girodet, 181–2; Barbara Hepworth, 257–8; of the Baroque, 135–8; barred from life-drawing classes, 170, 178, 196; Berthe Morisot, 205–6; Clara Peeters, 143; in Dutch workshops, 158–60; Elisabetta Sirani, 157; Elizabeth Catlett, 265–6, 267, 284; Elisabeth Vigée Lebrun, 178; exploration of gender fluidity, 244; feminism and, 282; gender prejudice against, 269; Georgia O’Keeffe, 255–6; Hannah Höch, 241, 242, 243; Harriet Hosmer, 198; Impressionists, 205–7; Iranian, 300–2; Julia Margaret Cameron, 198; Margaret Preston, 262; Marie Guillemine Benoist, 182; Mary Edmonia Lewis, 199–200; Mary Moser, 171; Michaelina Wautier, 150; 19th-century prejudice against, 226; Paula Modersohn-Becker,

227–8; photographic artists, 244; Plautilla Nelli, 128; postmodernism, 292–3, 295; Rosa Bonheur, 196; Rosalba Carriera, 164–5; social challenge in the works of, 307, 308–10; Sofonisba Anguissola, 123–6, 131; surrealist, 245, 246; Susanna Horenboult, 114, 117, 120; women’s art academy, 158; Yoko Ono, 278–9; see also feminism Wood, Grant, American Gothic, 253 woodcuts, 112–13 World War II: in Australia, 262; German art under the Nazis, 247–8; impact on European art, 260–2 Young British Artists (YBAs) 297–9 Yue Minjun, 295–6 Zhang Xiaogang, 295 Zhao Mengfu, 68–9 Zoffany, Johann: The Academicians of the Royal Academy, 169–71; as a ship’s artist, 173; The Tribuna of the Uffizi, 170