The Venus de Milo—A Classic Love Symbol

You have probably heard of the “Venus de Milo” but did you know that it is a sculpture whose creator is now debated in art circles?  The famous image of the armless statute calls to mind some of the most fundamental cultural beliefs we hold about love, but we do not even know for sure who originally created this famous statue!

The Venus de Milo has been a mystery ever since its discovery in 1820.  The statue was discovered in the ruins of Milos, an ancient city on the Greek island of Milos.  The statue was missing its arms, but a hole over the right breast shows where a tenon would have supported a raised right arm.  Near the ruins of the statue, which was in two pieces, was a hand holding an apple.  This strongly suggests that the original concept was that of Venus or Aphrodite, the goddess of love, holding the apple given to her by Paris.

The story itself illustrates the power of love.  Aphrodite, the goddess of love, argued with her sister, Athena, and her mother, Hera, over who was the most beautiful.  It was decided that Paris, a prince of Troy, would make the ruling.  Each of the goddesses promised Paris something wonderful:  Athena that he would be skillful in battle, Hera that he would conquer great lands and Aphrodite that he would win the love of the world’s most beautiful woman.  Perhaps predictably, Paris chose Aphrodite as the most beautiful of the goddesses.  Her reward was a golden apple inscribed “For the Fairest.”  It is this apple that is believed to be represented being held by the statue’s missing hand.

While this statue is also known as the Aprhodite of Milos, its more common name has come to be the Venus de Milo.  It is said to represent everything that is beautiful in women.

Aphrodite, the goddess of love, also has another connection to Valentine’s Day.  It is her son, Eros or Cupid, who is often depicted on cards as the chubby angel shooting his deadly arrows of love into the unwary.

The actual sculptor of the Venus was thought for many years to be Praxiteles, a famous Greek.  However, recent evidence suggests that it is actually the work of Alexandros of Antioch.  The Venus de Milo was eventually bought by the French and taken to Paris.  It is currently displayed in the Louvre Museum where it has been since the end of World War II.

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The Venus de Milo—A Classic Love Symbol

Blair StoverYou have probably heard of the “Venus de Milo” but did you know that it is a sculpture whose creator is now debated in art circles? The famous image of the armless statute calls to mind some of the most fundamental cultural beliefs we hold about love, but we do not even know for sure who originally created this famous statue!

The Venus de Milo has been a mystery ever since its discovery in 1820. The statue was discovered in the ruins of Milos, an ancient city on the Greek island of Milos. The statue was missing its arms, but a hole over the right breast shows where a tenon would have supported a raised right arm. Near the ruins of the statue, which was in two pieces, was a hand holding an apple. This strongly suggests that the original concept was that of Venus or Aphrodite, the goddess of love, holding the apple given to her by Paris.

The story itself illustrates the power of love. Aphrodite, the goddess of love, argued with her sister, Athena, and her mother, Hera, over who was the most beautiful. It was decided that Paris, a prince of Troy, would make the ruling. Each of the goddesses promised Paris something wonderful: Athena that he would be skillful in battle, Hera that he would conquer great lands and Aphrodite that he would win the love of the world’s most beautiful woman. Perhaps predictably, Paris chose Aphrodite as the most beautiful of the goddesses. Her reward was a golden apple inscribed “For the Fairest.” It is this apple that is believed to be represented being held by the statue’s missing hand.

While this statue is also known as the Aprhodite of Milos, its more common name has come to be the Venus de Milo. It is said to represent everything that is beautiful in women.

Aphrodite, the goddess of love, also has another connection to Valentine’s Day. It is her son, Eros or Cupid, who is often depicted on cards as the chubby angel shooting his deadly arrows of love into the unwary.

The actual sculptor of the Venus was thought for many years to be Praxiteles, a famous Greek. However, recent evidence suggests that it is actually the work of Alexandros of Antioch. The Venus de Milo was eventually bought by the French and taken to Paris. It is currently displayed in the Louvre Museum where it has been since the end of World War II.

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3 Famous Nativity Paintings

Nativity paintings have been around for a long time. Blair Stover highlights three famous nativity paintings, which memorably interpret the birth of Christ.

painting by Sandro Botticelli

painting by Sandro Botticelli (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

El Greco painted The Adoration of the Shepherds as personal picture. It was painted to hang near his own tomb toward the end of his life. Classical balance and proportion are displayed as harmonious colors with rational space express his devotion to God. The figures of St. Joseph, Mary and the three shepherds are elongated and tilt forward toward the viewer. Flickering light illuminates the painting.

Peter Paul Rubens created The Adoration of the Magi around 1642. This nativity is oil sketched on an oak panel, and remains one of the treasures of London’s Wallace Collection. It was painted as an altarpiece for St. Michael’s Abby Antwerp. In a bustling and crowded composition, Rubens manages to differentiate each of the Magi in terms of personality, gifts they bear, age, and clothing. Gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh are presented.

Sandro Botticelli painted Mystic Nativity. In this painting, the rules of proportion and perspective are abandoned. This makes the order also seem abandoned as the harmony and rhythm typically characteristic in Renaissance paintings in Florence are not presented. Painted in 1498, following the execution of the reforming preacher Gerolamo Savonarola, the painting is inscribed with the second coming of our Lord and defeat of the Antichrist.

Depicted in this painting are Mary, Joseph and Jesus as a family. They appear as giants surrounded by the three kings and shepherds on sides of the manger. A dancing circle of angels is suspended from a golden dome of heaven above. Additional angels are in the foreground embracing mortal men.

Do you have a favorite Nativity painting? Or even just a holiday painting in general that holds a special place in your heart. Share below in the comments!

 

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Russian Icons: A Quick Overview

An icon is a painting that bears religious meaning of an event or sacred person. The icon has an underlying principle that God became visible in Christ, making it the first time he could be depicted. Apostle Luke was the first icon painter, as legend would have it, and the tradition has only grown since then.

Luke the Evangelist painting Vladimirskaya ico...

Luke the Evangelist painting Vladimirskaya icon of Our Lady. Евангелист Лука, пишущий икону Богородицы. Сер. XVI в. Псковский музей-заповедник (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although roots of the icon can be traced back to ancient Egypt tomb portraits, in Russia icon painting flourished and gained precedence as the years went on. Throughout the medieval period, Russian icon painting continued its development. Once the reforms of Peter the Great occurred, painting was secularized greatly. A renewed interest in icons came in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Restorations and collections of icons were made, leading to a newfound knowledge about icon painting art.

Old Russian painting was acknowledged for its aesthetic achievements. A reevaluation of Russian art history came as numerous scholarly studies of icond were made. Moscow and St. Petersburg were major art museums of the times and had special sections established to exhibit and house the newly restored icons.

It is common to find icons in churches upon special screens or walls, called iconostasis, separating the nave from the sanctuary. This is a Byzantine form of church decorating that became greatly developed in Russia. A number of tiers of icons make up the iconostasis. Biblical history of the church is often depicted though religious icons are popular as well.

Though icon painting has declined since the older days, the traditions and rich history behind this particular art style lives on. Many Russian orthodox churches still proudly display icons and the art form remains a fixture in the world of art history for the influence it had in art styles and the evolution of subject matter within the art world.

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Freedom From Want

OURs... to fight for Freedom from Want is a co...

OURs… to fight for Freedom from Want is a color lithograph created in 1942 by Norman Rockwell and published in the Saturday Evening Post as part of a series illustrating the “Four Freedoms.” The aim of the series was to promote the buying of war bonds by Americans during World War II. Copyright held by the Curtis Publishing Company. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This holiday season, Blair Stover visits The Thanksgiving Picture, or Freedom from Want. Painted by Norman Rockwell, it is one of Four Freedoms paintings delivered on January 6, 1941 to the 77th United States Congress. Rockwell was inspired by the State of the Union Address delivered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, known as Four Freedoms, and created four iconic portraits that have remained with us centuries.

Sister paintings in this group include Freedom from Fear, Freedom of Worship, and Freedom of Speech. Freedom From Want, of the four paintings, is the most often seen with critical review and commentary in art books.

As a symbol of nostalgic holiday celebration in America, an elderly couple is depicted serving up a fat turkey to a table full of eager and happy children and grandchildren. Although all four paintings were hoped to stimulate patriotism during time a war, this Norman Rockwell idealized Thanksgiving work has held an important place in promoting family togetherness in the enduring marketplace.

This painting is perceived as overabundance in America from outside the United States. When seen in a positive light, the image appeals to the traditional values of Rockwell’s generation. Rockwell’s work was dominate in idealism and regionalism through the family life. In Rockwell’s own words, “I paint life as I would like it to be.”

The way Rockwell would like life to be seems to be in a Puritan tone without extravagance. His paintings are known for their homeliness, family continuity, and virtuous themes. The unity and abundance were idyllic hopes in a post-war world. Freedom from Want has endured reproductions for generations. Rockwell’s use of white on white remains one of the esteemed elements of the painting.

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History of the Cornucopia

Allegorical depiction of the Roman goddess Abu...

Allegorical depiction of the Roman goddess Abundantia with a cornucopia, by Rubens (ca. 1630) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The cornucopia has long been a symbol of Thanksgiving. A Latin word meaning horn of plenty, it long ago became a symbol of nourishment and abundance. As Thanksgiving draws near, Blair Stover delves into the history of the cornucopia.

A cornucopia is generally a container shaped like a large horn that is hollow inside. It is filled, and often overflowing, with produce, nuts, flowers, and other edibles or forms of wealth.

Modern depictions of the cornucopia are generally a wicker, horn-shaped basket containing festive vegetables and fruits. It has become associated with not only Thanksgiving but the harvest as well. In fact, Idaho’s state seal and flag depict two cornucopias. Furthermore, North Carolina’s Great Seal shows Liberty standing and Plenty with a cornucopia. Often, the horn of plenty is seen as body art symbolizing abundance, fertility and fortune.

But the cornucopia’s fame does not stop there. The Cornucopia is known in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada as an annual wine and food celebration. Columbia, Panama, Peru and Venezuela’s coat of arms also features a cornucopia to symbolize prosperity. Additionally, Victoria, Australia’s coat of arms depicts the cornucopia as a symbol of opulence.

The cornucopia is also seen in classical mythology. Its origin, as offered by mythology, involves Zeus’s birth and nurturance. Zeus had to be hidden from Cronus, his devouring father. As he was cared for in a cave, he was protected by divine attendants, one being the goat Amalthea. While playing, Zeus broke off a horn of hers accidentally. This horn then had the divine power of providing unending nourishment.

Because of its association with nourishment, the cornucopia often shows up around Thanksgiving, when plenty of nourishment is certainly available. So next time you see one decorating the Thanksgiving table, you’ll know why it’s there.

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The Night Watch

The Night Watch by Rembrandt, c.1642 (or The M...

The Night Watch by Rembrandt, c.1642 (or The Militia Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Finished in the 17th Century by Dutch painter Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, “The Night Watch” is a bit of a paradox at first glance. Seemingly a parody, few paintings inspire such Dutch pride as this one and is well known in Holland and is particularly famous for three things: its massive size, the use of light, and the perception of motion.

Painted during the Dutch Republic independence movement, “The Night Watch” is not your typical patriotic piece. Though the grandeur of Captain Frans Banning Cocq and his Lieutenant, Willem van Ruytenburch, are hard to miss, the rest of the company is decidedly less put together. A young girl is featured prominently in golden light to Cocq’s left and the ragtag team of soldiers seem to be comprised of older militia, farmers, gentry, and everyone else in between.

At the same time, however, it is this chaos that makes the painting seem to move. Rather than a traditional military piece of the time, with static poses, Rembrandt paints us a picture of movement. Chaos reigns in the background and no head or body is perfectly aligned with any other. Light interplays in the foreground even as darkness invades behind this almost misshapen army.

There is also a distinctly human element to the chaos in the fact that while no two soldiers are alike they stand together under one flag, despite the inky darkness encroaching. In a time of independence and the banding together of a country, Rembrandt’s painting epitomizes a community of idealistically strong yet flawed people, united under the golden glow that makes a nation.

Still displayed in the Rijksmuseum, “The Night Watch” has survived a turbulent era of Dutch history, an attack by knife in 1975, and being sprayed by acid in 1990. Rembrandt’s painting remains a strong symbol of Dutch pride to this day and will likely continue to inspire the idealist in us all for generations to come.

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Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Art Theft of 1990

On March 18, 1990, The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts, fell victim to one of the most despicable crimes ever in the art world. Despite 20 years having passed, the case still remains unresolved. Blair Stover has more on the heinous crime below.

The Concert

The Concert (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Early Sunday morning March 18, 1990, the City of Boston received a mortal blow. Their sleek museum, the Isabelle Stewart Gardner, suffered the theft of 13 paintings by master artists Rembrandt, Degas, Monet, Vermeer, among others. The most valuable work was “The Concert” by the Dutch master Vermeer, an oil painting of 1660, valued at more than $250 million. The full amount of the stolen pieces amounted to more than $500 million. It seemed that these attackers knew what they wanted, or at least closely followed the indications of who hired them to make the assault.

One detail that confounded researchers for years was the abandonment of a Rembrandt self-portrait of 1629 in the corner of a second floor room, a great value. Today, agents are allowed to specify that the route followed by the thieves in the museum was, initially, orderly, but with the passing of the minutes this became chaotic and even absurd. In all retrospect, they either got what they came for or they missed some of the more valuable pieces by accident. Over two decades later, still no arrests have been made.

The Isabella Stewart is by far not the only art museum to suffer a blow. “La Gioconda” by Leonardo Da Vinci disappeared from the Louvre on August 21, 1911. It was missing until 1913 when it was returned. Since then, art lovers have lived a nightmare knowing that the enigmatic lady could be a forgery.

While the theft from the Isabella Stewart is newer than the missing Da Vinci piece, it remains one of the largest thefts from an art museum carried out to date and remains one of the most infamous of crimes in the art world.

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The Kiss

 

The Kiss 1907–1908. Oil on canvas. Österreichi...

The Kiss 1907–1908. Oil on canvas. Österreichische Galerie Belvedere. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, Blair Stover looks at The Kiss (Der Kuss), a famous oil and gold leaf work by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt. Finished in 1908, the work exemplifies his Golden Period and evokes a feeling of love and comfort. Regarded as perhaps Klimt’s most famous work, it is believed that Klimt was inspired to paint The Kiss after he visited the Church of San Vitale and its Byzantine mosaics, which led him to incorporate gold and silver in his paintings.

 

The Kiss portrays a man and woman in an embrace in a flowering meadow, with both the man and woman clothed in decorative gowns of gold, brown, yellow and green, which together make up the primary composition of the painting. Klimt’s use of gold leaf in the background draws more emphasis on the couple’s embrace and brings their gowns to life. Klimt incorporated mosaic, fresco and oil painting techniques in the work in order to bring a playful design in the flowers beneath the couple.

All of Klimt’s elements together evoke a feeling of unified love and passion that practically leaps off of the canvas. The positioning and appearance of the couple suggests a feeling of opulence and sensuousness, as well as one of gentleness and tenderness.

Today, the canvas hangs in Vienna and is considered an early modern masterpiece influenced by both the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts styles. The Austrian government has commemorated the work since and it appeared on a backside of a special coin, with the frontside depicting Klimt in his studio.

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A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

In this post, Blair Stover examines one of the most influential paintings in all of art history – Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. A large oil on canvas work measuring 6 feet 10 inches by 10 feet one inch, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte serves as a scintillating example of pointillism, a then-innovative technique when the work was released in 1886.

A Sunday on La Grande Jatte

A Sunday on La Grande Jatte (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The work depicts a typical Parisian afternoon, incorporating all ages and social classes enjoying the afternoon in the park together, in harmony. Seurat painstakingly took more than two years to create his masterpiece, utilizing tiny dots of color, rather than brush strokes, which together appear as a solid color and form to the human eye. When viewers look closely at the piece, they can see that these tiny points of color create everything in the painting, down to the umbrellas, water, trees and grass.

The painting was considered the start of the neo-impressionist art movement, which took a new approach to light, color and form. A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte received its fair share of criticism at the time of its release, as many felt that the work was too mechanical and void of emotion, as it was in sharp contrast as the broad, sweeping strokes seen in the then-popular impressionist works.

It wasn’t until many years later that the painting was widely accepted as one of the true masterpieces of its time – and any time – and Seurat’s use of pointillism celebrated. Today, the painting hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago and is studied and appreciated the world over.

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