11 Jan 2015

Hans Memling and Cubism

Every time I look at this Portrait of a Man by Hans Memling I feel a little sick. I’m serious. It makes me slightly nauseous. Perhaps Walter Pater, the 19th-century art historian, felt similarly about the Mona Lisa. He described her as a weirdo and he's right.1 No Renaissance woman had...

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29 Dec 2014

For how long have we read the Bible literally?

I learnt an astonishing fact today.1 The habit of reading the Bible as though it is historically true (especially the New Testament) started during the Protestant Reformation which began in 1517 and lasted more than a century. For the first 1,500 years the New Testament like all scripture...

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10 Dec 2014 | 1 Comments

Van Eyck’s Alpha and Omega

The world seems to work in our favor. Things happen which I used to call coincidence but which, in hindsight, are often far too fortuitous to be chance. Carl Jung described such events, at least the unusually important ones, as synchronicity and did not think they were coincidence. As an idea I...

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05 Dec 2014 | 2 Comments

As in Painting, so is Poetry

The image above, a detail of a painting by Balthus called The Painter and His Model, goes particularly well with the poem below by James Merrill. Balthus, his head wrapped in a cloth to keep paint off his hair, seemingly pulls the curtain aside but, on our level, he really has the extended arm...

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03 Dec 2014

Claws, Paws and Prints

Many animals, like cats, dogs or the mythical griffin, have sharp claws. Let loose in a house, some of these charmers will engrave table legs, floor boards or virtually anything wooden. Artists who naturally have acute visual perception often relate this type of instinctual behavior to their...

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02 Dec 2014

How Portraiture Causes Blindness

Specialisation has crippled art history, blinding its practitioners to what is common. For over six years EPPH has been arguing that many portraits by major artists are fusions of the artist's facial features with the sitter's. They were never intended (by the artist, at least) as an accurate...

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02 Dec 2014 | 11 Comments

Your Go: Explain this picture!

OK, readers, this a chance to practice your own powers of perception and interpretation before I comment: 

Explain below what this Crucifixion scene might mean and the oddity of Christ’s loincloth. I am drawing attention to that particular detail because, as always, oddities, "errors" and...

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20 Nov 2014

Actual size of Michelangelo’s figures

How large are Michelangelo's figures on the Sistine ceiling? Visitors find it difficult to tell from the chapel floor because they are so far away. It was not until I saw the photograph at right that I realized their true size. Jonah's thigh is wider than the height of the art historian's...

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08 Nov 2014

3 Practical Ways to Understand Art

Artists of the past generally practised their craft from a very young age.They often prayed at their easels too. Today we who wish to understand their works cannot mimic their practice to any great extent. Yet their experience helped form their art. It probably included intellectual discussions...

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30 Oct 2014

An Artist’s Path to Certainty

How does a great artist know he is on the right track before being recognized as canonical? Van Gogh, for example, knew his own importance despite commercial and critical failure; Picasso was convinced at a very young age. The answer, I believe, is that they study art in ways few others do and...

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24 Oct 2014

Science, Religion and Art: Einstein on the Inner Tradition

Perhaps the most difficult part of understanding art is the Inner Tradition, the path that links not only all the world’s major religions but science, literature and music too. Religious believers strongly attached to a particular creed are unlikely to accept this; committed atheists like...

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23 Oct 2014

The Male Artist and His Female Muse

Mona Lisa was Leonardo’s muse and he kept the portrait with him until his death. The beautiful, semi-nude La Fornarina was Raphael’s. Titian’s muse and Palma Vecchio’s are both called Beautiful or La Bella in Italian. Parmigianino’s is known as Anthea. Today not one of these women has...

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17 Oct 2014

Brushing up on the Painter’s Sword

The mind of an artist is poetic so, if you want to understand painting and sculpture, read poets. Their literary metaphors are the artist’s visual ones. However, beware: poets understand visual art no better than most people. Emile Zola, Charles Baudelaire and Stéphane Mallarmé all wrote...

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06 Oct 2014 | 1 Comments

Dürer, Titian, Art and Blasphemy

For those who have trouble - I certainly did - understanding how artists like Dürer (top) and Titian (below) could have portrayed themselves as Christ, here is a poem attributed to an 11th-century spiritual master of the Greek Orthodox Church.1 The truth he writes about - that we are...

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24 Sep 2014 | 2 Comments

Reading Art: Manet, Picasso and Alfonso Ponce de Leon

My vision, like most people’s, is often cloudy which is why when the sun breaks and I gain some understanding, I get excited. You must excuse me. It may sometimes seem as if no-one before me has made similar observations. After all, all my entries on EPPH must include something unknown to...

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