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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16 Jan 2015 | 2 Comments

The Centrality of Tools

Art sometimes seems like a meditation on the brush. Certainly visual metaphors for art's tools abound from, say, Edouard Manet’s early Boy with a Sword (in effect he holds a giant paintbrush, see explanation) to Diego Velazquez’s Portrait of the Infanta Margarita in the Louvre whose figure...

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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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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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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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03 Mar 2014

The Brush-Sword of Mattia Preti

After the recent post on a new book of cartoons, Daggers Drawn, this one is on the same subject 350 years earlier.

Mattia Preti (1613-1699) was a major Italian artist who is little-known because he spent much of his life on the island of Malta where many of his pictures remain. Here he...

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23 Feb 2014

Daggers Drawn

Daggers Drawn. A new compendium of a political cartoonist’s 35 years in the business and on the cover he stands at his desk, pen drawn, facing the dictators and democrats he has followed, all with daggers drawn too. The conclusion is simple to draw. Daggers, swords and other sharp weapons are...

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20 Nov 2013

Picasso Hid a Sword in Nazi Loot

Sometimes I do no work at all. Things just pop in my face. I suppose I'm so used to looking for certain features that my eyes know what to look for subconsciously. That's what appeared to happen last week as I read the news that the Germans had confiscated a trove of paintings stolen by the...

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28 Sep 2013

How Manet and other artists shoot their paintings

Have you ever shot your mother? Directors shoot movies and nearly everyone has made a snap-shot with a camera but few imagine that artists shoot paintings. In fact they have shot nearly every canvas with a gun in it since the devilish implements were invented. The Irish poet Seamus Heaney...

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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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26 Mar 2013

When Degas made a boob ...on purpose

In a new entry published today you can see for the first time ever how Edgar Degas turned his friend, Edouard Manet (above), into the driver of a carriage holding his whip as a paintbrush flecked with white paint. He then transformed the artist's coat into a single-breasted jacket.1 The...

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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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30 Aug 2012

Manet’s Modern Methods

I was crossing the road when a delivery truck owned by a prominent online grocery in the New York area stopped at a light. It displayed a poster of their managers holding a blow-up of the product each specializes in (right). One of the meat managers or butchers, most interestingly (lower left),...

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25 Jul 2012

Manet’s Little Cavaliers

Major artists are often inspired by earlier masterpieces yet when the young Edouard Manet entered the Louvre to copy whatever he wanted he chose an insignificant little painting. Yes, it was then attributed to Velazquez but Manet, with an in-depth knowledge of technique, is likely to have...

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