01 Aug 2015

Joanna Woodall on Cooking Artists in Dark Rooms

Many are the ways to demonstrate that a given picture represents the artist in his or her mind: resemblance, pose, apparent errors, "nonsensical" shading, tools expressed in metaphor, etc. We have shown you at least thirty different methods, most of them unknown to art historians in...

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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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20 Aug 2014

The Craftsman’s Christ

This is a scene by an unknown 16th-century artist, probably Flemish, at a time when artisanal effort was admired not just for the perfection of the end-product but for the artisan’s closely-guarded knowledge of materials. Wood, stone, minerals, plant extracts, gold-work, smelting etc. No-one...

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26 May 2014 | 1 Comments

Magic from Matisse and Michelangelo

What does Matisse’s figure from Dance II (1910) have to do with Michelangelo’s St Peter from the Last Judgment (1534-41). More than you might think. Bear with me. Both are nude against a blue sky, facing us and facing left; both look a little hunch-backed. Matisse’s dances;...

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08 May 2014

Dutch Royals Are All Artists

I received a message from the Rijksmuseum that their superlative site, the Rijkstudio, now has a collection of Dutch royal portraits. Anyone who has seen on EPPH how portraits of British, Italian and French royalty resemble the artist might wonder whether the Dutch did the same. After all even...

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17 Apr 2014

Manet’s Spanish Singer Raises a Leg

Inspiration can come from anywhere so it's a good idea to look at the art of all periods. Artists do so, no matter which century they live in. A few days ago I solved one of my long-standing problems with a picture by the19th-century artist Edouard Manet (left) while I was studying a...

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14 Apr 2014

Joseph Cornell gives birth to a box…

Birthing, physical birth, is one of poetry and art’s most powerful metaphors used for many centuries, perhaps ever since art first appeared. It plays on the relationship between sexual conception and mental conception while often conveying that our physical bodies do not determine our soul....

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13 Apr 2014

The Artist is Always Present

Very few novels use the first person pronoun, most using an impersonal narrator to describe the scene. The author David Henry Thoreau noted that, with the ‘I’ omitted, the reader forgets that it really remains there because the novelist is confined to his theme by the narrowness of his own...

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09 Feb 2014

Artists and the Thumb-hole of a Guitar

I read once that Cézanne prepared his palette with as many as 18 pigments and lined them up in a series like musical scales.1 It’s an apt analogy because painters have long portrayed musicians as an allegory of their own poetic performance in the studio. When Manet and Courbet painted...

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05 Jan 2014 | 2 Comments

How God became Woman

Art is so pregnant that it can take months for its hidden meaning to emerge in your thought. That’s why we try to enter the artist's mind, not just through social customs and the religious dogma of a period but also through art's own culture which, though barely known, is simpler to recall...

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26 Nov 2013 | 2 Comments

Tips to Tell Art from Illustration

My definition of art, as I've said before, is not as wide as that used by the public and most scholars. I do not believe, for instance, that children create art nor the vast majority of adult painters. True artists paint themselves; they paint inwards and they paint the wisdom of the ages.  


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21 Sep 2013

Pens, Palettes and their Visual Metaphors

Thoth was an Egyptian god best known in art as having the head of an ibis (above left). He had many functions but was perhaps most celebrated as the scribe of the gods, the inventor of heiroglyphs and writing, and who, when people died, wrote down the weight of each heart as they entered the...

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17 Jul 2013 | 1 Comments

Michelangelo Rocks in The Battle of Cascina (1504)

This post explains additional obervations not included in the original article here on Michelangelo’s The Battle of Cascina, a 1504 cartoon for a never-completed mural in the civic heart of Florence. It is one of the most celebrated and influential works in the history of art. A composition...

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18 Feb 2013

1+1=1: The Divided Self in Manet’s Railway

What is the girl up to? Who are they? What's happening? Why do they wear the same color clothes? Why is the girl's hair so odd?

In my explanation two years ago of Edouard Manet’s The Railway (1873) I noted that the extended arm of the girl, an alter ego, is “painting” the background and...

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01 Dec 2012

Pointing at the Edge

If you cruise the various interpretations on this site, you might have noticed a tendency to explain a figure with an arm or hand pointing to or touching the edge of the image as the artist himself painting a self-portrait. Michael Fried first noticed this phenomenon in an early painting by...

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