Rococo: The 18th Century Playboy

About Rococo

For 72 years, King Louis XIV ruled France with an iron fist. History books describe him as Europe’s crème de la crème monarch and the longest reigning king in French history. Known as a micromanaging control freak, Louis XIV transformed his country into a military powerhouse as well as Europe’s financial and cultural superpower. The country was so prosperous that the French peasant class owned 40 percent of the farmland and enjoyed more privileges than other European peasants. France dictated the Western world’s taste in culture, art and fashion.

Portrait of King Louis XIV by an unknown artist in 1685.
Portrait of King Louis XIV by an unknown artist in 1685.

After King Louis XIV’s death, all hell broke loose. Five-year-old Louis XV ascended to the throne. His uncle, Philippe, Duke of Orléans, ruled in his stead as regent until the child turned 13. History books describe Louis XV as a whoremonger whose only accomplishments were his harem of mistresses and nurturing the arts. Louis XV is best known for his Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, later the Marquise de Pompadour, who was his “maîtresse en titre,” the official and favorite royal mistress.

Louis XV, by Louis Michel van Loo, (Château de Versailles).
Louis XV, by Louis Michel van Loo, (Château de Versailles).

He may have been one of the worst monarchs in European history, but without him, we wouldn’t have had Rococo art. The word is a mashup up of the French world for shell, “rocaille” and the Italian word for Baroque, “barocco.” Rococo followed Baroque and was hallmarked by curves and waves that can best be seen in the opulent furniture and décor of that time period.

Perhaps Rococo is art imitating life. Critics condemned rococo art for blatant sexuality and tasteless frivolity, which was also why French aristocrats embraced the licentious art style. While the royal mistress became synonymous with Rococo because of the vast amounts of tax dollars Madame de Pompadour siphoned into art, the style was also a favorite among fabulously wealthy aristocrats who saw the light-hearted style as a way to show off their money. was known to insist that an artist start over, if she did not like how she was portrayed in commissioned paintings.

Madame_de_Pompadour
Madame de Pompadour (1756), portrait by François Boucher (1703–1770)

This flamboyant style emerged in the 1720s and spread throughout Europe. While art of the Renaissance and Baroque periods were absolutely influenced by religion, this shallow style was about decadence and opulent displays of wealth mixed in with light-hearted fun. It was a celebration of the gross wealth of the aristocracy  and their dalliances. Paintings showed outdoor scenes, picnics and naughty portraits of aristocrats’ mistresses. The nudes were designed to entice, not show the beauty of the human body like Michangelo’s David. Since paintings weren’t intended for cathedrals, art was smaller to fit into the décor of a mansion or palace. The colors are light and pastel, a stark contrast to the darker colors associated with Baroque.
According to Fady Zaki of IdentifyThisArt.com, “the era’s paintings portrayed “the French high society’s taste at the time, summed up in the words of Emilie du Châtelet, 1706-1749, aristocratic French scientist, mathematician and mistress of the famous writer Voltaire: ‘We must begin by saying to ourselves that we have nothing else to do in the world but seek pleasant sensations and feelings.’” Perhaps this is why the Rococo began to decline 40 years later because of the backlash from harsh condemnation from intellectuals like Voltaire.

Centuries before Playboy, there was Rococo paintings

I like the back stories associated with Rococo paintings as much as the joie de vivre personified by this style. Rococo has an exuberance and a naughtiness that the devilish part of me can’t help but enjoy. The genre is honest enough to not try to be something it’s not and could never be. Rocco is characterized by an in your face honesty and unabashed revelry in hedonism. Think of it as Playboy in oil paints centuries before Hugh Hefner.

The SwingThe Swing (1767) by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732 – 1806)     

The Wallace Collection

Jean-Honoré Fragonard was meant to paint The Swing, so much so that even the artist originally commissioned to paint the piece agreed. Legend has it that a gentleman of the court who wished to remain anonymous commissioned Gabriel-François Doyen to paint his mistress. Doyen was horrified to discover that the patron wanted his lover portrayed on a swing being pushed by a bishop while he was admiring the view up her skirt. Poet Charles Collé, who is attributed to telling the story, claims that Doyen insisted that the commission be given to Fragonard, who completed more than 550 paintings with none of them as enduring as The Swing.

Originally titled, The Happy Accidents of the Swing, the piece is a masterpiece of playful eroticism without indecency. Fragonard vetoed the bishop, instead an older man, perhaps her father or aging husband, pushes a beautiful young girl on the swing. It’s an opulent outdoor scene with a vision of loveliness in pink and lace playfully flirting with what seems to be the cherubic statue. Concealed by lush foliage is her young lover (the anonymous patron) enjoying the view up her skirt.  The vixen is poised in mid-air, tantalizing both men. Its a fun painting. What I like best is that painting shows a love triangle: the cuckolded husband, a dashing secret lover and a beautiful woman who is playing them both.

Reclining Girl

Resting Girl (Louise O’Murphy) *oil on canvas *59.5 x 73.5 cm *signed b.r.: F. Boucher / 1751 Reclining Girl was painted in 1751 and can be seen in the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne.
Resting Girl (Louise O’Murphy)
Reclining Girl was painted in 1751 and can be seen in the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne.

I tease my wife that I am going to hang a print of the Reclining Girl in our bedroom. Speaking of bedrooms, François Boucher’s painting of Marie-Louise O’Murphy landed her in the bedroom of King Louis XV. In his memoirs, Casanova says he discovered young Marie-Louise who had been working part time as a dancer at L’Opera and occasional model and introduced her to the artist and the King.

This painting should be vulgar. But somehow, its lasted the test of time as bonafide art with an intriguing back story. Some art historians have said that she was painted face-down on a chaise-lounge because she was only 14 at the time of the portrait. Nevertheless, the painting is as unabashedly erotic as any modern Playboy centerfold. Marie-Louise is offering herself up on a golden platter or in this case, a chaise-lounge. Her bottom and splayed thighs are the focal point of the painting. While the painting may not show frontal nudity and she is looking away, her body language invites sexual intercourse. Clearly it was the intended message. Shortly after seeing the painting, Mary Louise became one of the King’s many lovers. She rose up the hierarchy of mistresses and courtesans. She was banished from the palace after a failed attempt to oust Madame de Pompadour as the favorite.

The Bath of Venus François Boucher (artist) French, 1703 - 1770 The Bath of Venus, 1751 oil on canvas overall: 107 x 84.8 cm (42 1/8 x 33 3/8 in.) framed: 132.1 x 110.2 x 7.6 cm (52 x 43 3/8 x 3 in.) Chester Dale Collection
The Bath of Venus François Boucher (artist)
French, 1703 – 1770
The Bath of Venus, 1751
oil on canvas
overall: 107 x 84.8 cm (42 1/8 x 33 3/8 in.) framed: 132.1 x 110.2 x 7.6 cm (52 x 43 3/8 x 3 in.) Chester Dale Collection

The Bath of Venus

It’s impossible to highlight Rococo art without a painting of Jeanne Antoinette Poisson. Thanks to Madame de Pompadour, Boucher, became the first painter to Louis XV. The artist takes a classical mythical goddess, Venus, and transforms her into a sexpot that was painted for the marquise’s bathroom of all places. Its an aesthetically beautiful painting. Venus, of course, is modeled after Madame de Pompadour. You can see the curving lines and bright, yet pastel colors that characterize Rococo. The Bath of Venus is gorgeous. I must admit that I am creeped out by the pouting Cupid who is accompanied by two putti, chubby male children portrayed in art. Something weird about naked little boys in art. I know its classic, but ick!

Works Cited

“The Bath of Venus.” The Collection. National Gallery of Art, n.d. Web. 28 June 2015. <http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/Collection/art-object-page.12200.html&gt;.

Carosio, Gil. “Fragonard, Jean-Honore.” Gil Carosio YouTube Channel. YouTube, 11 Apr. 2008. Web. 28 June 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqoeEqMN7xc&gt;.

Carosio, Gil. “Francois Boucher _ Rococo Painter.” Gil Carosio YouTube Channel. YouTube, 9    Nov. 2009. Web. 28 June 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fp7Dop66nTE&gt;.

Harris, Beth, Ph.D., and Steven Zucker, Ph.D. “A Beginner’s Guide to Rococo Art.”         Smarthistory. Art, History, Conversation. Khan Academy, n.d. Web. 27 June 2015.             <https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/monarchy-enlightenment/rococo/a/a-   beginners-guide-to-rococo-art>.

Harris, Beth, Ph.D., and Steven Zucker, Ph.D. “Fragonard, The Swing.” Smarthistory. Art,  History, Conversation. Khan Academy, n.d. Web. 27 June 2015.             <https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/monarchy- enlightenment/rococo/v/fragonard-the-swing-1767>.

“Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732 – 1806) The Swing.” Wallace Live. The Wallace Collection, n.d.    Web. 27 June 2015.       <http://wallacelive.wallacecollection.org/eMuseumPlus?service=direct%2F1%2FResultD            etailView%2Fresult.tab.link&sp=0>.

“Jean-Honoré Fragonard.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 27 June 2015.             <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Honor%C3%A9_Fragonard&gt;.

Jonathan5485. “Reclining Girl by François Boucher.” My Daily Art Display. Jonathan5485, 30      Mar. 2011. Web. 28 June 2015.    <https://mydailyartdisplay.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/reclining-girl-by-francois-            boucher/>.

“Louis XIV.” Bio. A&E Television Networks, 2015. Web. 01 July 2015.

“Louis XV.” Bio. A&E Television Networks, 2015. Web. 01 July 2015.

Lubbock, Tom. “Boucher, François: Mademoiselle O’Murphy (1751).” The Independent.    Independent Digital News and Media, 18 July 2008. Web. 27 June 2015.            <http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/great-works/boucher-franccedilois- mademoiselle-omurphy-1751-870379.html>.

Maylon, John. “Rococo Art.” Artcyclopedia: The Guide to Great Art Online. Specifica, Inc., n.d. Web. 27 June 2015. <http://www.artcyclopedia.com/history/rococo.html&gt;.

“NGA -18th-Century France: Boucher and Fragonard.” The Collection. National Gallery of Art,   n.d. Web. 28 June 2015. <https://www.nga.gov/collection/gallery/gg55/gg55-      over1.html>.

“Secrets of the Wallace: The Swing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1767).” YouTube. Ed. The        Wallace Collection. YouTube, 27 Dec. 2013. Web. 01 July 2015.      <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ose70MS6684&gt;.

Zaki, Fady. “Rococo Art Movement.” IdentifyThisArt.com. Identify This Art, 25 Sept. 2011.  Web. 27 June 2015. <http://www.identifythisart.com/art-movements-styles/pre-modern-art/rococo-art-movement/&gt;.

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Impression Launches a Radical Artisic Movement

Impressionism

When Louis Leroy published his hostile criticism of Claude Monet’s Impression, Sunrise, he unwittingly defined one of art’s most significant movements, Impressionism. In the April 25, 1874 issue of the Paris newspaper, Le Charivari , Leroy trashed Claude Monet’s Impression, Sunrise, describing it as an unfinished impression of a painting rather than a piece of art. Leroy’s review, “The Exhibition of the Impressionists” highlighted independent artists — Monet, Renoir, Paul Cezanne, Berthe Morisot, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, and Armand Guillaumin—who exhibited their art together as the Societe Anonyme des Peintres, Sculpteurs et Graveurs (Anonymous society of painters, sculptors and engravers).

Style

Impressionism paintings are characterized by short, quick brushstrokes that give the impression of a scene, as if the viewer caught a glance. Rather than defined lines and detail, Impressionism depicts the essence of the subject. The vibrant colors are applied without waiting for layers of paint to dry so the hues mingle together. Impression, Sunrise clearly illustrates essence rather than definition. There is an outline of what I see is a bridge and three dinghies. Nothing in clearly defined. Somehow the colors run together in a way that shows the movement of the water and rising sun.

ArtistClaude Monet Year 1872 TypeOil on canvas Dimensions 48 cm × 63 cm (18.9 in × 24.8 in) Location Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris
Claude Monet
Year 1872
Type Oil on canvas
Dimensions 48 cm × 63 cm (18.9 in × 24.8 in)
Location Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

Impression, Sunrise (French: Impression, soleil levant)

I appreciate Impression, Sunrise. To the untrained eye, it may appear sloppy because the paint runs together. Rococo is defined by curves and soft pastel colors. Impression is more like puddles of light and color. It’s like the woman with messy bed head hair, it may look like she rolled out of bed, but you know it took her at least an hour with a curling iron and handful of styling products to get her hair to look just right. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s critic, Margaret Samu describes vivid Impressionism as a “radical technique, the bright colors of Impressionist canvases were shocking for eyes accustomed to the more sober colors of Academic painting.”

Natural Essence vs. Out of Control Nature

The Progress of Love: The Meeting by  Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Oil on canvas painted from 1771 until 1772. Dimensions 317.5 × 243.8 cm (125 × 96 in) Current location: Frick Collection Fragonard Room (140)

Take Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Progress of Love: The Meeting. Like other Rococo paintings, it’s one of four panels depicting the four scenes of a couple’s relationship. The Meeting is a Romeo and Juliet scene of forbidden lovers that culminates in what I think is marriage in the final panel. Khan Academy critics, Drs. Beth Harris and Steven Zucker describe this painting as “nature out of control.” The garden seems have over taken what looks like a patio. The rose bushes are spilling over from the gate and the pots. Just like the couples love is over flowing it looks like they are just about to have a clandestine meeting. She seems to be looking over her shoulder from some authority figure and he is checking out if the coast is clear.

I also like Rococo because I can see what’s going on. There is a story in The Meeting. In Impressionism, it’s more like stick figures (although highly artistic splashes of paint stick figures) giving a one sentence plotline. Rococo tells the scene from the mama statue scolding little Cupid for shooting his arrow into a mismatched pair to the out of control passion manifested by overgrown rosebushes and trees and the star crossed lovers.

Works Cited

Hansen, Phil. “Impressionism – Overview – Goodbye-Art Academy.” YouTube. YouTube, 16 Mar. 2014. Web. 11 July 2015.

Harris, Beth, Ph.D., and Steven Zucker, Ph.D. “Fragonard, The Meeting.” Smarthistory. Art, History, Conversation. Khan Academy, n.d. Web. 11 July 2015. <https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/monarchy-enlightenment/rococo/v/jean-honor-fragonard-the-progress-of-love-the-meeting-1771-1773&gt;.

Samu, Margaret. “Impressionism: Art and Modernity”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/imml/hd_imml.htm (October 2004)

Las Meninas: A Portrait of an Artist’s Brass Balls

Royalty elevates art and artists

Money has always influenced art. It would be foolish for an artist to paint still life when they were paid for a portrait. The artist must adapt their creative expression to fit the criteria provided by the patron who commissioned the piece. It wasn’t just money that shaped royalty’s influence on the arts. Royalty elevated artists from craftsmen to artisans. By recognizing and rewarding an artist’s talent, royalty added intrinsic value to art by prestige and high social status based on the artist’s merit rather than the social status of their birth.

The fourteenth century was a defining time for the influence of royalty in the arts. Starting in the late Middle Ages and extending through the Early Modern period, European monarchs selected a Court Artist to join their royal household. It was a high status position because the artist was considered a member of the royal family and had a personal relationship with the Monarch. Artists including Jan Van Eyck, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Peter Paul Rubens, and Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez’s were celebrated Court Artists. These crème de la crème of the elite artists had only one job duty—paint flattering but still realistic portraits of the royal family.

Originating in Rome during the 17th century, Baroque art spread throughout northern Europe. Just like during the Renaissance, religious paintings dominated the period. But as Baroque became infused with local traditions and culture, paintings began to include still life, landscapes, royal portraits and other pieces depicting private and court life as well as historic events. No longer restrained by the High Renaissance, Baroque overpowered with dramatic intensity and embellished pageantry. This artistic style quickly became a sensation among royal courts because it illustrated power and wealth.

Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez

The first of seven children born to working-class parents in Seville, Velázquez’s talent was recognized early. He began an art apprenticeship with master painter Francisco Pacheco at age 11 and by 18 was certified as a master painter by the Seville Painters Guild. By 24, Velázquez was selected by King Felipe as Spain’s Court Artist, a position that he held for the rest of his life. During the Baroque era, portraits continued as a coveted status symbol among royalty, aristocrats and others of immense wealth. For King Felipe and his family, these portraits flaunted their affluence and immortalized them wearing their finest clothes and jewelry. For Velázquez, these treasured status symbols earned his place in history as one of Europe’s most influential artists and elevated him to nobility. Although artists were held back from ascending to nobility because they worked with their hands, Velázquez received the Knighthood of Santiago, one year before his death as a reward for the nobility of his art.

Las Meninas

meninas

Acclaimed as an artistic treasure, Velázquez’s, Las Meninas, is a stunning painting that now hangs in the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, Spain. The title translates into “maids of honor” and it is described by art historians and critics as Velázquez’s magnum opus. Las Menina’s greatness is attributed to the artist’s brilliant use of focal point, lighting and size. The painting is considered genius because of Velázquez’s clever idea of painting through a mirror.

The reflection of the King and Queen of Spain in the mirror in Las Meninas was directly influenced by Jan van Eyck’s masterpiece, The Arnolfini Portrait, which was painted in 1434. This Netherlandish Renaissance painting is a portrait of Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and his wife Giovanna Cenami. One of the most notable things about this remarkable piece is the mirror on the center of the rear wall. The ornate mirror is decorated with medallions from the Passion of Christ and the Crucifixion. The reflection details different view of the room, two visitors standing in the doorway and a rear view of the Arnolfinis.

mirror van eyck

Velázquez would have been familiar with The Arnolfini Portrait because the painting was part of Spain’s royal family art collection from the mid-sixteenth through the early nineteenth century. The Arnolfini Portrait and Las Meninas both include a black mirror that reveals another perspective to the room’s details and has two people standing in the doorway. In Velázquez’s painting, the reflection is the King and Queen of Spain. Scholars and art aficionados have debated for centuries whether the King and Queen are visiting the studio or posing for a portrait.

Reflections3

While Las Meninas is clearly influenced by royalty, it stands out from other court paintings because the piece was painted to hang in  King Philip IV’s private office rather than displayed publicly. Las Meninas seems spontaneous and comfortable, especially compared to other commissioned paintings. The painting’s focal point, Infanta Marguerita, is dressed elegantly, but casually rather than in a regal gown and crown. This is a stark contrast with official royal deliberately posed and almost stiff portraits.  Las Meninas still has all the hallmarks of lavish, royally-influenced paintings.

Painted in oils on canvas in 1656, Las Meninas measures more than 10 feet tall and 9 feet wide, because for royalty, size matters. The frivolity of being able to commission such an opulent painting is a distinct status symbol because it’s something that only royalty could afford. Another indicator of royal wealth is the servants—two maids and dwarves— and two ladies in waiting who are also present in the painting. The presence of these servants is another element that makes Las Meninas so different from royal portraits, because portraits were usually reserved for the top 1 percent of society. Velázquez’s reputation as Spain’s preeminent artist adds another echelon of royal privilege to the painting because of the prestige of commissioning a portrait that is intended for a small and personal audience.

From the Baroque art that we learned about in this lesson, I liked Las Meninas the best, because it was so different from the other pieces. It’s a painting of a painting in a painting. It also shows Velázquez had “brass balls.” How many other artists would have the confidence to paint themselves into a royal portrait? By adding himself into the portrait, Velázquez is essentially portraying himself as part of the royal household and certainly someone worthy of nobility. It’s impossible for me not to respect a man with that much chutzpah. Las Meninas is so different from royal portraits in that it’s a casual snapshot of life in the Spanish palace, yet it encapsulates the spirit of royal portraits in that it flaunts the royal family’s wealth. Well done, Velázquez.

Works Cited

“The Arnolfini Portrait (1434).” Arnolfini Portrait, Jan Van Eyck: Interpretation, Analysis. ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ART EDUCATION, n.d. Web. 22 June 2015. <http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/famous-paintings/arnolfini-portrait.htm&gt;.

Art Now. “Velazquez – The Painter’s Painter.” Art Now’s YouTube Channel. YouTube, 21 Feb. 2014. Web. 21 June 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HgRWMsYBgbE&gt;. “The Baroque Era In The Arts.” Head Of David International World History Project. Ed. R. A. Guisepi. History World International, n.d. Web. 12 June 2015. <http://history-world.org/baroque_era.htm&gt;.

Chritiansen, Keith. “Reflections: Charles Le Brun’s Mirrored Presence in the Jabach Portrait.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, I.e. The Met Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 June 2015. <http://www.metmuseum.org/about-the-museum/now-at-the-met/2014/reflections-charles-le-bruns-mirrored-presence&gt;.

“Diego Velazquez, Las Meninas – Greatest Spanish Artists | Don Quijote.” Don Quijote Spanish Language Learning. Don Quijote, n.d. Web. 12 June 2015. <http://www.donquijote.org/culture/spain/art/painters/diego-velazquez&gt;.

Farber, Allen, PH.D. “Court Artist.” ARTH 200: Language of the Visual Arts. Art Department, State University of New York, at Oneonta, Spring 2014. Web. 18 June 2015. <http://www.oneonta.edu/faculty/farberas/arth/arth200/artist/court_artist.html&gt;.

Harris, Beth, and Steven Zucker. “Velázquez, Las Meninas.” Smarthistory. Art, History, Conversation. Khan Academy, 21 July 2011. Web. 21 June 2015. <https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/monarchy-enlightenment/baroque-art1/spain/v/vel-zquez-las-meninas-c-1656&gt;.

“Las Meninas, or The Family of Felipe IV.” Museo Nacional Del Prado: On-line Gallery. Museo Nacional Del Prado, n.d. Web. 14 June 2015. <https://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection/online-gallery/on-line-gallery/obra/the-family-of-felipe-iv-or-las-meninas/&gt;.

“Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez – Facts & History of the Painting.” Totally History Las Meninas Comments. TotallyHistory.com, n.d. Web. 12 June 2015. <http://totallyhistory.com/las-meninas/&gt;.

Miller, Olivia Nicole. “Velázquez, The Waterseller of Seville.” Smarthistory. Art, History, Conversation. Khan Academy, n.d. Web. 20 June 2015. <https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/monarchy-enlightenment/baroque-art1/spain/a/velzquez-the-waterseller-of-seville&gt;.

Zaki, Fady. “Baroque Art Movement.” IdentifyThisArt.com. Identify This Art, 16 May 2011. Web. 12 May 2015. <http://www.identifythisart.com/art-movements-styles/pre-modern-art/baroque-art-movement/>

The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’s colorful Catholic symbolism

Few masterpieces are as resilient or as coveted as The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. It’s narrowly escaped fiery destruction and rioting Calvinists. It’s been sold by a renegade cleric and stolen by Napoleon. During the first and second world wars, the painting was frequently stolen. In 1934, one of the polyptych’s 12 panels disappeared. Despite hundreds of leads, the heist’s case remains open. Nazi leaders Adolph Hitler desperately wanted the magnum opus as the crowning centerpiece for his museum, while Hermann Göring wanted it for his private collection. Finally, a team of miners and “commando double-agents” known as the Monuments Men rescued The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’s remaining panels (Charney).

Also known as the “Ghent Altarpiece,” the world’s first major oil painting was created by Flemish brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck. Art historians considered, The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, as “one of the cultural cornerstones of the Netherlandish Renaissance.” A year into the project, Hubert passed away so Jan took over at the invitation of Vijd. Beginning in 1425, the painting took seven years to complete. (Encyclopedia of Art Education)

Get a closeup look at the Ghent Altarpiece

The piece was commissioned by wealthy patrician Joos Vijd and his wife Lysbette Borluut. The masterpiece was created as the center piece above the altar for the Church of Saint John, Ghent, which is now the Cathedral of Saint Bavo in Belgium. The altarpiece consists of 12 oak panels with eight that are hinged on shutters and painted on both sides. It’s about 11×15 feet in size and features full-length nudes, still life, and sumptuous detail and colors. When the back panels are closed, Vijd and Borluut are depicted at opposite ends of the bottom left and right panels. The couple are dressed in red robes and are piously kneeling in prayer.

Outside panels

The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’s  Closed

The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb is renowned as one of the greatest religious masterpieces of all time. Rich in Catholic symbolism, the painting symbols communicate that the blood of Christ that gives us life. From God the Father to the lamb and chalice, these symbols demonstrate the sacrifice and blood atonement of Christ and the clergy who administer holy sacraments. The altarpiece’s meaning is underscored by the Latin inscription, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” (Encyclopedia of Art Education)

Inside panel

Inside of the The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’s

The Khan Academy’s Dr. Beth Harris describes the center of the inside panel of “The Ghent Altarpiece” as “an explosion of rich colors” only achievable by the skillful use of oil paints. The centerpiece of the polyptych panel painting is a portrait of God the Father “dressed like a papal king.” By dressing God the Father in papal robes Van Eyk attributes divine qualities to the Catholic Pope. God is wearing red robes and ornate gold jewelry. Hundreds of years later, the Pope still wears robes accented by red. The rich red color could also symbolize Christ’s blood atonement.

Another of the “Ghent Altarpiece’s” main features is the Lamb of God on the center altar that can be seen when the wings are open. According to Catholic and other Christian traditions, lambs symbolize Christ as the Lamb of God. The lamb is bleeding from its side, just like the sword that was thrust into Christ’s side while he was on the cross. The lamb’s blood is squirting into a gold chalice. During the Holy Communion, faithful drink watered down wine to symbolize the blood of Christ that was shed for them. The chalice is a symbol of this sacrament and the atonement of sin paid for by Christ’s suffering on the cross and Garden of Gethsemane. Just like the “The Ghent Altarpiece’s” over-elaborate detail, the chalice is one of the most opulent symbols in Catholicism. This panel can also be viewed as the church’s Mass. The ritual is “the source of eternal grace,” says Susan Jones, an art scholar from Caldwell College. She says this is illustrated by the “the stream of crystal-clear water gushing from the Fountain of Life in the center panel.”

While I am not Catholic, I certainly appreciate the beauty of this piece. The aesthetics transcend religion. To me it’s an artistic testimony of the Van Eycks’ belief in Christ as much as it is a testament to Vijd’s egotistical piety. It’s understandable why The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb is the target of so many art heists.

The Ghent Altarpiece – Cathedral of St. Bavon


 Works Cited

Anonymous. “Ghent Altarpiece.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 10 June 2015. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghent_Altarpiece&gt;.

Charney, Noah. “The Ghent Altarpiece: The Truth about the Most Stolen Artwork of All Time.” The Guardian [London] 20 Dec. 2013, United Kingdon ed.: n. pag. Guardian.co.uk. The Observer, 20 Dec. 2013. Web. 10 June 2015. <http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/dec/20/ghent-altarpiece-most-stolen-artwork-of-all-time&gt;.

Collins, Neil, MA LLB. “Ghent Altarpiece (1425-32).” Visual Art Encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 June 2015. <http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/famous-paintings/ghent-altarpiece.htm&gt;.

Harris, Beth, and Zucker, Steven DR. “Jan Van Eyck, The Ghent Altarpiece (2 of 2).” Khan Academy. Khan Academy, n.d. Web. 07 June 2015. <https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/renaissance-reformation/northern-renaissance1/burgundy-netherlands/v/ghent-altar-open>.

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Introduction and appreciating Sergey Rachmaninov

Hi, I’m Ryan. I am taking the last two classes I need to graduate with my bachelor’s degree. I am earning a degree in journalism and multi media. I have an associate’s degree in IT. I work as a graphic designer, website developer and IT.  I met my wife at UAF.  I enjoy playing pool. I have played in Fairbanks leagues and at the national championships in Las Vegas.

My mom is a painter and has a bachelor’s degree in art history from UAF so you could say I grew up with art. I am a graphic artist and wish I did less IT and more design. My wife is a public information officer for the UAF College of Rural and Community Development and does a lot of graphic design. She says she appreciates me giving her feedback and help with her projects.

I play the piano. Rachmaninoff still is my favorite to listen to if I am working out a problem or trying to decompress. I enjoy listening to classical music and want season tickets to the symphony.  I also took documentary film making and editing as part of my major requirements. I met my wife in the digital editing class.

Sergey Rachmaninov Portrait Acrylic Print by Preciada Azancot
Sergey Rachmaninov Portrait Acrylic Print by Preciada Azancot

I found a free online resource for anyone who wants to learn about the visual arts. The website, www.artyfactory.com, says that it can help you teach yourself how to draw, paint and design by using their step-by-step tutorials. There are also lessons to help you appreciate and enjoy art and design.