Sunday, February 28, 2021

Europe at a Crossroads

Heading from the 18th century into the 19th century, Europe was at a crossroads.  Events such as the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars shook the continent to its foundation.  In art and architecture there were also great changes.  The Baroque and the Rococo were cast aside for Neoclassicism which took its inspiration from the ancient Greeks and Romans.

One of the galleries of the Cleveland Museum of Art has a selection of artwork from the late 1700s and early 1800s.   

Prominently displayed in the gallery are five paintings by the French artist, Charles Meynier. They were done between 1798 and 1800 and represent Apollo and the Muses.  They were acquired by the museum in 2003, and experts spent five years meticulously cleaning and restoring the canvasses.  During much of that time the entire museum had been closed for renovation and expansion.  When the main floor of the original building was reopened in 2008, the paintings were debuted with much fanfare.

Polyhymnia, the Muse of Eloquence

Erato, the Muse of Lyrical Poetry

Apollo, the God of Light, with Urania, the Muse of Astronomy

Clio, the Muse of History

Calliope, the Muse of Epic Poetry

When I used to take students to the museum, this painting always elicited some giggles as we passed by.  

It was painted in1817 by Jacques-Louis David, the preeminent Neoclassical painter.  (You would surely recognize his famous portraits of Napoleon.)  This canvas depicts the myth of Cupid and Psyche, but instead of portraying Cupid as an idealized lover as other painters did, the artist here shows Cupid smirking over his sexual conquest.

Antoine-Jean Gros was a pupil of Jacques-Louis David.  This portrait, done in 1824, is of Count Jean Antoine Chaptal, who played a major role in the development of industry in France after the French Revolution.

Gros also did numerous historical paintings depicting the victories of Napoleon.  One of them was a massive painting of the Battle of the Pyramids.  After Napoleon's downfall, the new king, Louis Philippe asked Gros to paint additions onto either side of the painting, perhaps to diminish Napoleon's importance in the picture.  The museum has two sketches which Gros did in preparation for those additions.  (The "sketches" are more than eleven feet high!)

This is General Kleber, who had been absent in the original painting.

On the other side, an Egyptian family, with the father standing defiantly against Napoleon's army, was added.

I uploaded this picture of what the entire painting with the additions looks like.  It is in the museum of the Palace of Versailles.

One of the giants of Spanish art, Francisco de Goya, straddled the two centuries and produced paintings that ranged from portraits of the royal family, images of the horrors of war, to ghoulish scenes out of a nightmare.

This portrait from about 1817 is of Don Juan Antonio, one of the leading intellectuals of Spain at that time.  He was the director of the Academy of San Fernando, the official academy of artists and architects.

At first glance, one might think that this is one of Goya's paintings of the Spanish royal family.  

It is indeed a portrait of a Spanish prince, Don Luis de Borbón, but it was done by a German painter by the name of Anton Rafael Mengs.  Mengs worked at the court of King Charles III in Madrid.  He is considered a precursor of neoclassicism.

In the next entry from the Cleveland Museum of Art, there will be more European Neoclassicism.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

From A to Z

 When I was in elementary school I started collecting stamps.  It was a hobby which I continued (judging by the dates on the stamps) until my college years.  I would often walk down to Woolworths and buy packets of stamps from far away countries.  I created my own stamp albums.  I mounted my stamps on typing paper, used a hole punch, and put the pages in Duo Tang folders.  I eventually had stamps from most of the world's nations, from Afghanistan to Zanzibar (a country which no longer exists).  

Stamps from an era long before there was a Taliban, and before the country was on the front pages of our newspapers.

One lonely stamp from Zanzibar, which was an island nation off the east coast of Africa.

In 1964 it merged with Tanganyika to form the country of Tanzania.

My stamp albums have been sitting in a closet for decades.  Alejandro's nephew Ezra is about the same age as I was when I began to collect stamps.  So I decided to give him my collection when I go down there in April.  The old Duo Tang folders were rather shabby looking, so I bought a loose-leaf notebook and put all the pages in that.  

Looking through the collection there were a number of other nations which no longer exist, such as Czechoslovakia and East Germany.

Other countries have changed their names... Ceylon is now Sri Lanka and Burma is Myanmar.

And then there are some oddities from colonial empires like North Borneo, a British colony which is now part of Malaysia.

Bet you have never heard of Ifni, a former Spanish enclave on the coast of Morocco!

If you have ever collected stamps, you know that you do not glue your stamps into the album.  You use a stamp hinge, a small, folded, transparent piece of paper that has a mild adhesive.  A few of my stamps had come loose after all these years, so I went on-line to a stamp company to buy a package of hinges.  1000 hinges only cost $3.00, so I bought a couple packets of stamps so that Ezra could add to his collection... 300 stamps from Mexico, and a set of stamps from Spain from the year 1975.

Ezra seems to have an interest in other countries, so I hope that he enjoys his gift.

Friday, February 26, 2021

More from France

Here are more items in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art dating from the eighteenth century when France was the trendsetter in luxurious living among the aristocracy...

We imagine the nobility of that era leading a frivolous, "let them eat cake" lifestyle, and much of the art reinforces that image.  The Baroque style gave way to the highly ornamental Rococo style.  In the early 1700s many paintings belong to a category known as "fete gallante" (gallant party) which portray a carefree aristocracy at leisure.

"Dancers in a Pavilion" by Jean Baptiste Pater

"The Declaration of Love" by Nicolas Lancret

These cutesy paintings by Francois Boucher are entitled "Cupids in Conspiracy" and "Music and Dance".

Boucher also did this painting called "The Fountain of Venus".

"Sleep" by Jean Bernard Restout

The winged, nude figure with poppies (the source of opium) is Morpheus, the god of sleep.

Of course every aristocrat had to have his or her portrait painted.

Jean Gabriel de Theil, the secretary of foreign affairs for King Louis XV, as painted by Jaques-André-Joseph Aved.

Or you could be immortalized in a realistic bust.

"Portrait of Melle de Vandeul" by Jean Baptiste Lemoyne the Younger

This carpet was made for the dining room of one of King Louis XV's chateaux.  In the center is the coat of arms of France topped with a crown with eagle wings.

A grouping of 18th century furniture

A tall clock from1744
The clock movement included a music box.

The chest of drawers has Oriental decoration. On top of it are a pair of covered vases from the Meissen Porcelain Factory in Germany.

Another chest of drawers with an Oriental motif.  The pieces of porcelain are from China.  Above is a portrait of the Marquise d'Aguirandes painted by Francois Hubert Drouais.

Not every work of art from the era was extravagant.  This humble still life by Jean Simeon Chardin is entitled "Kitchen Utensils with Leeks, Fish and Eggs".

The stark realistic detail of Jean Baptiste Oudry's "A Hare and a Leg of Lamb" is influenced by the scientific rationality of the Enlightenment.  A painting such as this might have hung in hunting lodge.

"Head studies" were an important part of a painter's artistic education.  They gave an artist practice in painting facial expressions.  This study of a shepherd was done by an unknown painter.

Supposedly King Louis XV remarked, "Apres moi, le deluge -  After me, the deluge", a premonition of the events that were to shake Europe before the end of the century.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Flag Day

Yesterday, February 24th, was "Día de la Bandera" (Flag Day) in Mexico.  It commemorates the day in 1821 that the tri-color banner that was to be the basis of the current Mexican flag was first used by the insurgents who were about to win Mexico's independence from Spain.  

I was on the computer yesterday morning when I received an email from Alejandro.  His nephew Ezra's school was going to have a streaming ceremony in honor of the day on YouTube.  (The schools in Mexico are still conducted on-line or on television.  Ezra has not been in his school building for almost a year.)  I made it to YouTube just as the ceremony was beginning.

After the pledge to the flag and the National Anthem, several students, dressed as historical figures, told the history of the evolution of the flag.  Here are some of the characters that were portrayed: 

José María Morelos was one of the heroes of the War for Independence.
His banner featured the eagle perched on a cactus which would become central to the Mexican coat of arms.

Agustín de Iturbide briefly ruled as Emperor of Mexico after the country gained its independence.  The three colors of the flag represented independence, religion and unity. Notice the imperial crown on the eagle.

Maximillian was a Hapsburg prince placed as puppet emperor by Napoleon III when the French invaded Mexico.  The flag had even more imperial trappings.

Venustiano Carranza was a leader of the Mexican Revolution, and President.  By this time the flag had assumed its current design.

The day was also the twenty first anniversary of the school.  There was a video that had been prepared by former students.

Ezra did not have a role in this ceremony.  (He had a part in an on-line school presentation for Revolution Day last November... and he did a very good job!)  Nevertheless I enjoyed watching his schoolmates perform.  

Wednesday, February 24, 2021


I wrote a few days ago that I am returning to Mexico in April and that I ordered a box of N95 masks for the trip.  The box was sent via UPS instead of through the regular postal service, so I have already received it.

The masks are quite expensive, but given the fact that they filter more than 95% of all germs, I consider them well worth the expense.  Between my vaccination, which will be complete by then, and these masks, I will be able to travel with peace of mind. 

Given their effectiveness at filtering everything out, I was surprised to see how thin they are.  I also like the fact that the straps go around the head, rather than over the ears.  Sometimes the straps on my cloth masks slip off of my ears.  I have been told that breathing through these is somewhat more difficult, so I hope that will not be gasping for breath in Mexico City's high altitude.

I will have to shave off my goatee before the trip, since facial hair would create gaps.  (The moustache can stay however.)

The masks are for single use only, although I have been told that in a pinch they can be reused if you let them air out for 72 hours.  However you cannot wash them like a cloth mask.  I have already ordered another box so that I will have enough for my entire trip.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

French Elegance

Louis XIV of France, who reigned from 1654 until 1715, considered himself not only an absolute monarch, but the absolute arbiter of taste.  He assembled the finest artisans and artists to furnish and decorate his lavish palace at Versailles.  France became Europe's hub of fine and decorative arts, and throughout the eighteenth century Europe continued to look to France as the epitome of elegance.  However, the glittering luxury of the aristocrats hid the suffering and inequality of the lower classes, and the old regime of the Bourbons would eventually be toppled by the French Revolution.

Here are some of the items in the Cleveland Museum of Art from the era of Louis and his successors.

This cabinet and clock were built around 1690 by André Charles Boulle, who was appointed as the cabinet maker to King Louis XIV,

These chairs are upholstered with tapestries that depict stories from the "Fables" of Jean La Fontaine.  They were made in 1717 for the wedding of a Count and Countess.

This bookcase from the early 1700s would have been filled with leather-bound books.  An  aristocrat of the era was supposed to enjoy reading, or at least give the impression that he enjoyed reading.

Nicolas de Largilliere was a portrait painter who was influenced by earlier Flemish painters such as Van Dyck.  This portrait of a French count, done in 1734, is remarkable for its informality.  The count's shirt is open and there is powder on his coat.

Jean-Marc Nettier was known for his portraits of the ladies of the court of Louis XV dressed in mythological attire.  This woman posed as Diana, goddess of the hunt.  Some think that it is a portrait of Louis's mistress Madame de Pompadour; others say that it does not resemble her.

Slightly erotic scenes from mythology were popular.  Jean Francois de Troy did this painting of "Pan and Syrinx".  The chaste nymph Syrinx fled the lecherous advances of Pan.  When she was trapped at the edge of a river, she asked the river nymphs for help, and they transformed her into reeds.

These figurines of a dancer and a bagpiper were produced in the mid-1700s by the Vincennes-Sevres Porcelain factory.

The same factory made this tureen and platter.

A gilt bronze candelabrum from around 1750

A gilt bronze clock

Not all luxury goods came from France.  This figurine of musicians came from the highly esteemed Meissen Porcelain Factory near Dresden, Germany.

Bohemia was famous for its fine glassware.

There is more to come from the elegant eighteenth century in France.