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Left panel of the Melun diptych by Jean Fouquet / Virgin and Child Surrounded by Angels, c 1452. Collection of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp, Belgium (Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen)

There is something disorienting about this painting. Although its location in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp is chronologically-correct, it comes as a surprise to realize that it was painted in the mid-1400s. It seems so contemporary!

Jean Fouquet (1420–1481) was perhaps the first French artist to travel to Italy to personally experience the early Italian Renaissance. Returning to Northern Europe sometime after 1437, he linked elements of the Tuscan style with the style of Hubert and Jan Van Eyck’s early Netherlandish school, and thus became the founder of an important new school of painting.

He was a master of both manuscript illumination and panel painting, and his excellence as an illuminator is evident in the precise rendering of fine detail and lucid characterization that we see in this Virgin and Child Surrounded by Angels. …


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Édouard Dubufe (French, 1819–1883). Portrait de Marie-Rosalie dite Rosa Bonheur, 1857. Oil on canvas, 51” x 37”, Musée de l’atelier Rosa Bonheur, Thomery, France. (With the permission of Édouard Dubufe, the artist, Bonheur painted in a bull where he had painted a table.)

Rosa Bonheur was perhaps the most famous artist in all of Europe and North America during her lifetime. Required to obtain a cross-dressing permit in order to venture into the world of men — for the sake of her art — she took that world by storm!

My earliest art-related memory is my mother telling me that her favorite painter was the 19th-century French artist, Rosa Bonheur. She was an “animalier” — a painter of animals — and her work appealed to young sensibilities. Mom showed me a handful of reproduction images of Bonheur’s paintings, and she instantly became my favorite artist too.

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Rosa Bonheur, Study of a Dog, possibly 1860s.
Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton NJ

Some years later, though, I began to think that something didn’t compute.

I studied art history in high school and college. Rosa Bonheur was never mentioned. I seldom found anyone else who had ever heard of her. …


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Have you ever wondered how a painting comes into being? We asked guest blogger and life-long artist Stede Barber to tell us about her painting process. Here she outlines three iterations — from beginning to completion — of a recent landscape painting, titled High Summer.

When I was a young girl, I did my first plein air oil painting. I had received the gift of a little oil paint set, and decided I would walk down the sandy road to paint the Pemaquid lighthouse. Somehow, I thought that a finished painting would flow right off my paintbrush onto the canvas! …


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As the world slowly, tentatively, begins to emerge from lockdown, people are wondering what the new social order will look like. A few folks are determined to hang on to their old ways, but most accept that things will be different for some time to come. The question is, “How different?”

As art geeks, we wondered about the re-opening of museums. What did Scott Stulen, Director of the Philbrook Museum of Art, mean when he said, “the museum we closed will not be the museum we reopen”?

We’ve looked into it, and we’re glad to say that this is one beloved familiar thing that will be just as rewarding as before! …


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Isamu Noguchi-1980 (detail) © The Estate of Yousuf Karsh

As a young man, the great American sculptor Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988) was almost diverted from the path of his true calling, his artistic aspirations squashed by really bad advice from a very big name in the field.

After completing high school, Noguchi apprenticed to Gutzon Borglum — the well-known American sculptor who is best known today for the four presidential portraits of Mt. Rushmore. The relationship didn’t last long; Borglum-old-school, opinionated and authoritarian-told Noguchi that he was not talented enough to become a sculptor. Discouraged, in 1923 Noguchi enrolled in the pre-med program at Columbia University.

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Young Isamu Noguchi at work, before adopting modernism

Luckily-while most parents are more likely to encourage their son to become a doctor over becoming an artist-his mother urged him not to give up his dream. Four years later he was moving to Paris on a Guggenheim scholarship where he gained an apprenticeship to work with the abstract sculptor Constantin Brancusi. That relationship was a far better match and Brancusi became a major influence on Noguchi. …


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This is the second of two articles. In the first piece we explored Ruben’s magnificent Baroque altarpiece, the Raising of the Cross (1610). Now we’ll take a close look at his Descent From the Cross (1612), which is of similar scale but quite distinct in composition and artistic sensibility.

Although I normally focus on art sites in the US, during this week leading up to Easter I want to consider two monumental Rubens altarpieces that are in the Cathedral in Antwerp, Belgium. …


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Peter Paul Rubens, The Raising of the Cross, 1610, Center panel. Our Lady Cathedral, Antwerp, Belgium

There are two art treasures in Antwerp’s Cathedral of Our Lady that stand out above all the rest, both painted by Peter Paul Rubens: The Raising of the Cross and The Descent from the Cross.

While I normally focus on art sites in the US, this seems like a good opportunity — this being Easter week — to take a look at these two magnificent triptych paintings. I studied them in depth 15 years ago, when I was preparing my audio guide to Our Lady Cathedral, Antwerp, one of ten audio-tour titles in the Jane’s Smart Art Guides series.

In this first of two articles, we’ll explore the Raising of the Cross. In size, composition, and iconography it is resplendent with the artistic ideals of the Counter-Reformation. …


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Claude Saint-Paul (c.1666-c.1710), Saint Roch and the Angel (n.d.). Église Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs, Paris

With little in the way of health science to call upon for deliverance from devastating epidemics, the Christian faithful of old turned to Patron Saints for hope. We see these saints in Medieval and Renaissance art, but can we fully grasp the profound meaning embedded in the works?

Without deep faith, and the agonizing fear and desolation wrought by unbridled contagion, perhaps full comprehension will always be beyond us. But today’s coronavirus pandemic may help us better understand the context that spawned these Patron Saints in art.

More than a dozen saints have been thought to provide protection and succor in times of pestilence. St. Roch is perhaps the most widely-recognized Patron Saint of the plague, but there are others who were — and still are — revered regionally. …


The First 3500 Years

More often than not, the paintings that really grab my attention are landscapes, and I like to think I’m a somewhat knowledgeable about them in terms of art history. So, I was surprised to learn recently that the word “landscape” — an anglicization of the Dutch landschap — was only introduced into the language — purely as a term for works of art — around the start of the 17th century. That is not to say that landscapes didn’t exist in art before then … apparently there just wasn’t a word for them.

In Western art, the earliest extant example of a painted landscape is a fresco in Akrotiri, an Aegean Bronze Age settlement on the Greek island of Santorini. The walls of one room are covered with stylized lilies (or papyrus) sprouting from colorful volcanic rocks, with swallows flying among the flowers. Beautifully preserved under volcanic ash from 1627 BC, it was only rediscovered about 50 years ago. …


Who was Everhard Jabach? He’s such an obscure figure today that he doesn’t even warrant a Wikipedia entry — but he must have been “Somebody,” to have been the subject of this out-sized painting by Charles LeBrun, court painter to King Louis XIV.

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Everhard Jabach (1618–1695) and His Family, c. 1660, painted by Charles LeBrun. Oil on canvas, 110 in. × 129 in. (280 × 328 cm) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

When it was acquired, in 2014, Thomas P. Campbell, then-Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, said: “This magnificent canvas by the leading painter of King Louis XIV is a landmark in the history of French portraiture. It depicts the family of a major figure in the world of finance and one of the most important collectors in 17th-century Europe.”

Context is the lifeblood of art appreciation. Happily, development and sharing of context is a big part of the art historian’s métier, so when I get to pondering some art-related question, I need only go on-line.

I do love to delve into the history that engendered the art we see on museums walls! And I did exactly that when I wondered “Who was Everhard Jabach?” …

About

I am an art geek, writing about art, exhibitions and museums. Discover more than 1600 art museums, artist studios, historic houses and gardens across the US.

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