Previous Posts: August 2015
Sooke on Pop Art
August 31 2015
My friend Alastair Sooke has piblished a new book on Pop Art, with a front cover design by none other than Peter Blake. Here's the blurb:
Pop Art is the most important 20th-century art movement. It brought Modernism to the masses, making art sexy and fun with coke cans and comics. Today, in our age of selfies and social networking, we are still living in a world defined by Pop.
Full of brand new interviews and research, Sooke describes the great works by Warhol, Lichtenstein and other key figures, but also re-examines the movement for the 21st century and asks if it is still art? He reveals a global story, tracing Pop's surprising origins in 19th-century Paris to uncovering the forgotten female artists of the 1960s.
Order your copy here.
Collecting the present
August 31 2015
The statistics and polling site fivethirtyeight.com has an interesting article on the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which has recently put online its museum database (works painted, collection number, year made, year acquired, that kind of thing).
The above chart shows how, over time, the museum has begun to acquire younger and younger works. Or, as the 538 article says:
The [graph] shows the paintings MoMA has added to its collection each year and when the additions were painted. The red regression line shows the “modernizing” of MoMA’s collection — how quickly the museum has moved toward acquiring recent paintings.
MoMA’s official mission is to aid the understanding and enjoyment of “the art of our time.” And judging by its acquisitions, it’s succeeding. It has established a solid body of works from the late 19th and early 20th centuries and occasionally still reaches back to acquire something older. But its focus is new work. As you can see from the thick blanket of points at the frontier of the scatter plot, much of its yearly acquisitions are of recent pieces — the art of our time.
I suspect Moma isn't the only gallery whose collecting patterns lean increasingly towards the present. 'We must buy these great works now', say the acquisitions committees, 'because if we don't then...'
Then what? They might get even more expensive? Or the artists might make another? Or another series? There is no shortage of contemporary works, great or not.
And then we come to the question of price. The other useful statistics to look at, given the boom in contemporary art prices, are the relative prices per work, and how that changes in regard to acquisition date. In other words, does it make sense these days for museums to buy works so soon after the date of creation, at the moment of greatest hype and thus price - and before their artistic reputation has really been tested by time. Or is it better to wait?
At the moment, because we're so busy chasing our tails in the contemporary art market, prices do indeed seem to rise and rise. Thus, the sooner you can get 'in' on an artist the better. But such a policy assumes that the present is some kind of artistic golden age. I'm not sure it'll seem that way in 50 years time.
It's never too early...
August 31 2015
...to teach your kids a bit of art history. I start with mine before they can walk. Captive audience.
August 28 2015
Picture: via Artnet, and Copenhagen Police
The above bust by Rodin was stolen 'in broad daylight' by two thieves (below) at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Museum in Copenhagen. They walked in, took the bust of its plinth, put it into a bag, and walked out. Just like that.
'Caravaggio by Private Jet'
August 28 2015
Picture: Private Jet Tours
On the back page of my newly arrived Royal Academy Friends magazine is an advert for probably the most expensive art history tour in the world; 'Following Caravaggio by Private Jet'. 8 nights, in 'five star hotels' takes you to Rome, Malta and Sicily - for £10,995 ('based on Twinshare'). Wowee.
Since I'm sure all AHNers will be queuing up to go... here are the highlights from Private Jet Tours' website:
We are very pleased to have secured, what we believe, to be one of the best VIP Private Jets for group travel. A division of Iceland Air offers an exclusive Boeing 757-200 aircraft with services tailored to our needs. The aircraft comes in a 50-seat configuration with lie-flat sleeper seats.
All meals including 3 “your choice” dinners offering a choice of restaurants.
Local English speaking guides and our own expert, Canon Dr Anne Davison (a NADFAS Accredited Lecturer).
Private viewing at Galleria Borghese in Rome.
Private lunch at a Nobleman’s House in Rome - 'Day3' 'We will then visit one of the palaces of Rome where we will meet a member of the aristocratic family who currently resides in the palace and we will also enjoy some fine Italian cuisine.'
Private viewing at Co-Cathedral Valetta of 2 Caravaggio’s paintings.
'Day 2' - Following a leisurely breakfast we transfer you to the Harrods Aviation Private Jet Terminal at London Luton Airport which is a quiet haven away from the main terminal where we check in and relax with a coffee or tea before boarding our jet for the first time.
And just in case you're worried about not getting prime spot in the Jet...
We do operate a seat rotation system and move people around the aircraft for each sector which we believe is a fair way of allowing most a chance to sit at a window, at the front or at the back of the aircraft.
So that's all right then.
It's not my cup of tea, but doubtless there's some people out there who can afford it, and would like to know more about Caravaggio in some style. I suppose if I was offered a free place on such a tour for 'Van Dyck by Private Jet', would I go? Deffo. Though I'd politely skip the visit to 'the Nobleman's house'.
The tour departs on 16th April 2016. Sign up here!
Back and forth with Rembrandt
August 27 2015
Picture: Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen's University
[This isn't 'news' - but it's my blog, and I'll indulge myself with a rant about bad connoisseurship if I want to].
I was doing a little research into Rembrandt the other day, and came across an example of just how misguided the early days of the Rembrandt Research Project could be when deciding what is and is not 'a Rembrandt'.
The picture above belongs to the Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen's University in Canada. It was given to Queen's by Alfred Bader, the chemical magnate, art collector, philanthropist, and occasional art dealer (in which guise I got to know him quite well some years ago). It looks (for what it's worth) like a Rembrandt to me - a rather fine one - and has done to many others in the past. Much of the willingness to accept the picture as a Rembrandt arose out of the engraving of 1634, below, by J.G. Van der Vliet, which names Rembrandt as the author, and the fact that the picture is signed, 'RHL'.
But the early Rembrandt committee decided that:
Though having a thematic affinity with a number of Rembrandt works from around 1630 no. C 22 cannot be accepted as autograph, because of the poorly organized and (particularly in the lit areas) remarkably coarse manner of painting, of the muddy shadow areas and of the strange flesh tints that tend towards a yellow. It can however be assumed that an etching by J. G. van Vliet dated 1634, and naming Rembrandt as the inventor, reproduces this painting.
In other words, someone other than Rembrandt in the early 1630s, before Rembrandt was the internationally famous artist he later became, painted the picture Rembrandt's style, signed it as by Rembrandt, and, finally, persuaded a contemporary engraver to publish the picture as by Rembrandt.
Who was this villainous and talented fiend? And why, when they were evidently extremely talented, did they not paint under their own name? As with so many rejected Rembrandts that have similarly convincing evidence behind them, we are not told. Instead, the RRP rejected the picture because of such things as 'strange flesh tints that tend towards yellow' - as if Rembrandt, one of the strangest painters in art history, never used anything yellow in his flesh tones.
The later guise of the RRP, under Ernst van der Wetering, reversed the above opinion, and the picture is now accepted once again as a Rembrandt. Phew.
Has a Nazi art train been found?! (ctd.)
August 27 2015
Probably not (still) but there has been great excitement in the news that maybe one has been, in the Polish town of Walbrzych.
Update - the news reports say 'a gold train' has been found (or rather, as the Mail says, a train 'HAS been found'):
Speaking at a press briefing in the capital Warsaw this afternoon, Piotr Zuchowski, Poland’s National Heritage and Conservation Officer, said: 'Information about where this train is and what its contents are were revealed on the deathbed of a person who had knowledge of the secret of this train.'
He added that Polish authorities had now seen evidence of the train’s existence from pictures taken using a ground-penetrating radar.
Mr Zuchowski said the find was 'unprecedented', adding: 'We do not know what is inside the train.
'Probably military equipment but also possibly jewellery, works of art and archive documents.
'Armoured trains from this period were used to carry extremely valuable items and this is an armoured train, it is a big clue.'
Of course, the picture we'd really hope to find on the train is the Czartoryski Raphael.
New Botticelli exhibition
August 27 2015
Here's a picture from a photocall at the V&A to publicise their new show happening in March next year, Botticelli Reimagined. Of course, being a 'modern' show, this is not simply about Botticelli - but how later and contemporary artists and designers have ripped off 'reinterpreted Botticelli'. But the good news is that 50 works by Botticelli are to be included.
The picture above, tweeted by the V&A, shows the picture being held up with someone in white gloves, even though it's on an easel. Regular readers will know of my fondness for unnecessary white glove shots. Anyway, here's more on the show in The Guardian.
August 26 2015
In The Guardian, the writer Julian Barnes has some wise words for us on the origins of contemporary art guff:
[...] he said artists were today expected to explain and write about their work far too much: Matisse had offered good advice to young practitioners “when he said that ‘artists should have their tongues cut out’, because it has increasingly become the case that from a very young age artists have to have a narrative about what it is they are actually doing. You sometimes feel that the narrative is almost floating free from the art; it’s part of the publicity that they have to do. You feel that instead of gradually discovering what it is they are doing they seem to have to have a thesis to begin with.”
By way of example, he offered a text written by American artist Jeff Koons to accompany his work Puppy [above], a vast sculpture formed from flowering plants belonging to the Guggenheim Bilbao in northern Spain. Reading aloud from Koons’ text, he told the Edinburgh audience that Puppy “helps you have a dialogue about the organic and the inorganic. It’s really about the issue of the baroque, where everything is negotiated. The different aspects of the eternal through biology. Whether you want to serve or be served, love or be loved, all these types of polarities come into play because Puppy sets them up.”
Barnes added: “To use the technical term of art criticism, it’s bollocks. I know it’s like shooting fish in a barrel but sometimes fish need to be shot.”
I think Barnes is right - that these days the narrative (that is, the words) must come before the art. Furthermore, the assumption that words and theories must come first has infected not only art criticism but also art history. Hence the profusion of art guff even about works from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
I recently went to a selling exhibition of works by a reasonably well known Scottish landscape artist. I won't embarrass him or his gallery by naming either here. The artist is in his eighties, and paints extraordinarily beautiful but straightforward landscapes.
In Constable's day, the honest and evocative rendering of landscape was seen as a Good Thing in itself. But now, as Barnes reflects, such pictures need 'narratives'. Sometimes, artists, especially those of an older generation, aren't especially good at drumming up the words beloved in art speak; these artists prefer simply to paint. And in such cases a wordsmith is often drafted in on their behalf; in this case the exhibition catalogue had an introduction by a well regarded, young art historian academic evidently steeped in contemporary artspeak.
I've no doubt that those fluent in artspeak understood what the academic was trying to say in the catalogue. But personally I couldn't figure out why the fine landscapes on display were about such things as 'subsiduary dualities', and 'dualities of the present'. I just about understood the bit about a 'deeply human connection' with the landscape, but wondered if human connections with landscapes - whatever they are - could ever be 'deep', or indeed rendered in a painted form.
To see if the artist himself (who was at the preview) understood his paintings in the manner described, I decided to ask him about one of the landscapes on display. And, charmingly, he told me all about the particular scene he had painted, when he did it, and how. I heard not a word about 'dualities', and was reminded of Turner's remark on Ruskin; 'he sees more in my pictures than I ever painted'. I appreciated the picture even more on hearing the artist's own interpretation, and bought it.
Update - Dr Matt Loder of the University of Essex tweets:
Steven Spielberg thinks Jaws is about a shark, Bendor. Artists are rarely the best people to ask about their work.
On which basis too much art history, as an academic discipline, has become what it has; a bullshitter's charter to impose upon a work or works of art whatever social, political or economic theory happens to be in fashion at the time, even though it may be impossible to base such a theory on contemporary evidence. I have no problem with people who go in for this sort of thing, and some of it is interesting and stimulating - at least in the sense that it poses questions. But it's not the way I see pictures, and I don't think it's the way artists painted them either.
Mirror, mirror, on the floor
August 25 2015
It's interesting to see how the internet continues to change the art market. Today I went to a provincial auction house up here in Scotland, hoping to buy myself a wee 'sleeper' (that is, a picture which had been miscatalogued). The saleroom was well off the beaten bath, and I thought I was in with a chance of securing a picture worth (if my hunch on the attribution turned out to be right) about £25,000 for not far off the estimate of £100-£200. Surely, not many people would be looking at a general antique sale in the Scottish highlands?
Alas. I knew something was up when, yesterday, I heard that no telephone lines available for the lot. All seven had already been booked. The auction room was not exactly bursting when the lot came up this afternoon, and as far as I could tell I was the only bidder actually in the room. But after a battle between phone and internet bidders the hammer came down at £12,000, which, with premium and Vat meant a final cost somewhere in the region of £15,000 for the anonymous internet buyer.
So here was a painting which, probably five or ten years ago, before internet auction sites became the efficient and comprehensive things they are today, might well have been bought for a few hundred pounds. Now, even the smallest provincial sale can reach millions of prospective bidders. And such is the demand for 'sleepers' from dealers - that is, pictures for which client won't easily be able to look up the cost price online - that miscatalogued paintings can make more at minor auctions than they would do fully catalogued at a major auction.
But - there's a catch to buying on the basis of internet photos, and that is condition. These days, as equal to the skill of being able to determine an attribution from photos is determining a painting's condition from photos. In this case, the photos seemed to suggest the picture, by the French artist Philip Mercier, was in pretty good state.* It was a little dirty, but the head and body seemed reasonably intact.
However, unnoticeable on the photographs was a large hole about 6 inches square to the right of the sitter's head, in an area that was otherwise dark and obscure. It seemed to me, after close examination, that we were dealing here with a picture that had been given a sizeable canvas insert, over which large swathes of overpaint had been added. It's possible that the overpaint was just covering a series of rips. But there was an ominous difference in the texture of the canvas surface, and as a result I dropped out at about £4,000. In other words, there's still an advantage to be had in visiting salerooms, and not just relying on photographs.
Anyway, also in the auction was the above mirror, which caught my eye. Described as 19th Century, I thought it was more likely to be 18thC, both in design and pattina - though I know diddly squat in this area. So I bought it, and am rather pleased with my consolation prize. I dont like coming away from an auction empty handed. It's large, about 5ft high, and I think is probably too heavy to hang safely on my walls. According to an old label on the back it might once have been in the Ipswich area. The glass is modern.
If any furniture expert readers happen to know more about it, I'd be delighted to hear from you...
*Forgive me for not posting a photograph of the painting here. I don't want to spoil the buyer's chances with the painting.
Boy knocks hole in 'million dollar painting'
August 25 2015
Video: via YouTube
Here's an odd story. In an art exhibition in Taiwan, a visiting boy has apparently tripped and punched a hole in a painting worth '$1.5m'. The painting is by 'the Italian master Paolo Porpora' (No - me neither). And I guess this is what happens if you put a trip hazard in front of an unglazed painting, and allow in people with drinks in their hand.
According to The Guardian, the CCTV footage above was 'released by the exhibition organisers'. Well, this is a curious thing. Normally, if you've organised an exhibition and something happens to a work of art under your watch, you don't publicise it. Things are different if there's a criminal case to prove, but in this case it was clearly an accident. And if you were the lender of a painting damaged like this, you absolutely would not want the news publicised.
But in this case, the 'exhibition' is not your usual art show. And the suspicion must be that the organisers have released the footage purely for publicity purposes. They even proudly showed off the damaged painting to the world's press (below). The story has appeared pretty much everywhere.
The exhibition is called 'The Face of Leonardo, Images of Genius'. You might wonder what a still life by a 17th Century artist is doing in an exhibition supposedly on Leonardo.
In fact, the exhibition is a mish mash of pictures apparently from the 15th Century to the 20th Century, of portraits, still lifes, and landscapes, almost all of which have nothing to do with Leonardo whatsoever. We're dealing here with an exhibition that has been marketed to the unsuspecting Taiwanese public as something to do with the greatest artist who ever lived. But which in fact contains nothing more serious than a modest Old Master auction view.
The central object, above, is a claimed self-portrait by Leonardo da Vinci (above). As you can see below, it is the star of the show, and has a special case all to its own. Strangely, the picture proudly displays some damage - but this has not been done by a passing Chinese schoolboy. Rather, the damage (including a split in the panel, and a gash across the cheek) has been left there, perhaps in an apparent attempt to give the picture an air of antiquity.
For you have guessed right, dear AHNers; this picture is not by Leonardo (in my opinion). It is a later pastiche, probably based on a picture in the Uffizi which is also not by Leonardo, and certainly not early 16th Century. The picture being shown in Taiwan is something I wasn't aware of, but it's a classic case of how mis-applied science, and the misguided opinions of a few art historians can combine to 'annoint' a picture which is a copy into something with its own Wikipedia page, travelling exhibitions, visiting dignataries (here it is being admired by the Italian president), and paying crowds.
The 'Lucan' portrait, for that is what the picture is called, was apparently 'discovered' in 2008 'in a cupboard of a private house in Italy'. It has been put on display at something called the Museum of the Ancient People of Lucania (hence the tag 'Lucan'), and the picture was found and first declared a Leonardo by that museum's director Nicola Barbatelli. I would love to know who owns it. The people below seem to feature prominently in the painting's history online - Barbatellis is the chap in the beige jacket.
You can see more images of the picture here and here, and more on what apears to be the painting's website here. It's looks unlike a Renaissance work to me. It is doubtless the photos, but in some of them it almost looks as if the the back of the panel might have been aged with Ronseal*. The panel construction is extremely unusual - on th eback we see at the top and bottom two horizontal panels, but from the front of the painting it seems that there are other panels, with a diagonal join, in between the back and the paint surface. On the back of the panel are the words 'Pinxit Mea', written backwards - just like Leonardo!
Here are some other snippets from the Wikipedia page:
Carbon 14 dating gave 64% chance the wood of the panel dated between 1459 and 1523, making it contemporary with Leonardo, who was born in 1453 and died in 1519.
64% chance? Slam dunk.
The pigments were investigated using energy-dispersive X-ray fluorescence analysis (ED-XRF) and were shown, in the unrestored areas, to be compatible in age with the panel and showed no trace of modern pigments in the unrestored areas, however the feather was revealed to have been painted in a 'modern' titanium-based pigment not used in other parts of the painting.
And my favourite:
An analysis of the soft tissue of the face, applying methods used in facial surgery, was made by Prof. Felice Festa of the University of Chieti. The painted image was subject to detailed computer analysis and 3D imaging by Prof. Orest Kormashov, University of Tallinn, Estonia; Gianni Glinni, an engineer for the Museum of Antiche Genti di Lucania, and Helen Kokk, an expert in 3D graphic design. The recreated three-dimensional image was compared with other images believed to represent Leonardo da Vinci [...]
In 2010, there was a 'conference' to decide on the painting's authenticity, including such experts as:
David Bershad, Professor at University of Calgary (Canada), Peter Hohenstatt, Professor at the University of Parma, Felice Festa, Professor of Orthodontics and Gnathology at the University of Chieti, and Nicola Barbatelli, presented the findings in support of Barbatelli's attribution.
David Bershad is a real professor at Calgary. I'm surprised that a professor of art history at such a university thinks this picture is by Leonardo. Peter Hohenstatt appears to work for a company specialising in making museum cases. According to their site, he used to teach museography at the architecture school at the University of Parma. And so on. You'll struggle to find any widely accepted Leonardo scholars, or any major museums, giving an endorsement that this painting is by Leonardo. [Update - Uh oh - Carlo Pedretti has apparently said it's by Leonardo].
Why does all this matter? If the people of Taiwan want to go and see a show of pictures described as connected to Leonardo, but having little to do with him, so what? Well, to those of us who care about art, and the way it is presented, it's essential that people's exposure to exhibitions like this not be tainted with errors, over-blown claims, and downright disingenuity. I really want people in places like Taiwan to see and admire Renaissance paintings. But showing them later pastiches is wrong - isn't it? People of Taiwan - demand better!
You can see more photos of the exhibition here.
Update - I'm fascinated by this 'Lucan' portrait business. There are lots of photos of it online, which fall into the category of 'most curious'. Here is the picture arriving at an exhibition in the Czech Republic, under armed guard, and in a Samsonite suitcase.
Here is the picture being carefully unwrapped from the Samsonite suitecase. Note the white gloves.
Here, from a book on the painting, is a picture of the face without the damage visible.
Here is a close up of part of the damaged area of the face.
Normally, one would expect that the white area is 'fill' - that is, a filling put into a damaged area by a restorer before retouching begins. If that is the case, why leave a fill layer visible, but not re-touch it? If leaving the damage visible is your intention, for historical reasons perhaps, why not leave all the damage, pre-filling? If the white area is not fill, then what is it? I don't think you would expect to see such a bright 'ground layer' (the layer between the wooden panel and the paint layers) in a Renaissance painting.
I'm also interested in finding out more about the Museo Delle Antiche Genti di Lucania, or the Museum of the Ancient People of Lucano, where Prof. Barbatelli is director of, and where the painting is on display. I can't find much at the moment, but here's something from Tripadvisor:
An authenticated self-portrait by Leonardo da Vinci was found nearby and in return for permanently lending it to Naples University the university paid for this museum which is full of models of Leonardo's ideas.
Update II - a reader writes:
The thing that bothers me the most is the relative placement of the eyes. It's a jarring anatomical inaccuracy -- enough to make one seasick. Perhaps it is an exaggeration of the minor misplacement in the Morghen engraving. Surely a sign of a poor copyist/forger rather than the greatest draftsman in history.
his non portrait of Leonardo shows a relatively young face with an full beard lacking any gray. The skin has an oily youthful sheen that was unlike his portraits and would be a dull pallor later in life. Therefore the dating of wood and pigments would have to be from the first third of his life which is unlikely. Aside from that it just doesn't look like an austere Renaissance painting of his early years.
I am no Leonardoso, but I think he would have painted better than that with his toes.
Update III - here's a video of the Lucan Museum. A star exhibit seems to be a recently found painting 'attributed to Verrocchio'.
*All of this is just my opinion, litigious people please note.
Has a Nazi art train been found?!
August 24 2015
Most likely not. But Artnet has fun asking the question.
How to get ahead in French museums
August 24 2015
According to Vincent Noce in The Art Newspaper, the system by which French museum heads are appointed is scandalous - and it helps if you're a buddy of the Prime Minister:
Prime Minister Manuel Valls wanted the directorship of the Villa [Medici, the French Academy in Rome, above] for the wife of Gerard Holtz, a sports journalist who is a close personal friend. The woman in question, Muriel Mayette, was forced to quit her job as the head of the Comédie-Française last year in the face of a widespread revolt from the company that was founded by Molière.
Holtz denies having asked any favours of the prime minister—but the prime minister did intervene in a move that has been widely denounced. “Muriel Mayette has no competence at all for the post,” wrote the conservative newspaper Le Figaro, while Le Monde said that “everyone” finds such a nomination “despicable”. Mayette declined to comment.
Beware fake Van Goghs
August 24 2015
Some fellow has been arrested for trying to sell a fake Van Gogh self-portrait, for £11m. No photos of the fake have been released alas. But apparently the man had forged documents certifying its authenticity from the Van Gogh museum. More here.
'Soundscapes' vs 'Sensorium'
August 24 2015
When the National Gallery recently put on an exhibition called 'Soundscapes', where paintings were paired with newly commissioned music, the critics went bleeugh, and said it was unspeakably awful. But now Tate Britain have done pretty much the same - only with smells too - and called it 'Tate Sensorium'. Will the critics respond differently? I suspect they might.
Mona Lisa theory no.724
August 24 2015
It's August, news is slow (stock market crashes notwithstanding), and news outlets are forced to gorge themselves on Mona Lisa stories.
Ping into my inbox comes this press release:
The Mona Lisa Knot
My Journey Finding Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa
Caroline Cocciardi has found a message of love authored and painted by Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci on his most prized possession, “Mona Lisa”.
For the last 500 years this anomaly visible to the naked eye has gone unremarked-upon the Mona Lisa painting. The models only embellishment, a one inch by four inch interlocking embroidered knot pattern in the form of a series of geometric designs that do not belong on Mona Lisa's frumpy house dress!
Writer, filmmaker, and interior designer Caroline Cocciardi spent a decade in search of an unknown Leonardo da Vinci. “Not the masterful artist, engineer, or draftsman I was looking for Leonardo, the man who grabbed my soul with his mural, The Last Supper, in Milan in 1999. The experience lead me to discover Leonardo: The Lover.”
Cocciardi’s discovery of The Mona Lisa Knot holds a profound and surprising message from Leonardo in the only language he trusted to express his highest sentiments: mathematics. Leonardo’s The Mona Lisa Knot message is about to be revealed.
Mona Lisa theory no. 723
August 24 2015
Picture: Via Mail
Scientists at Sheffield Hallam University say Leonardo developed something called the 'uncatchable smile' with the Mona Lisa:
Researchers found that by expertly blending colours to exploit our peripheral vision, the shape of the subject's mouth appears to change according to the angle it is viewed from.
When viewed directly, the slant of the mouth is distinctly downwards, according to the research by scientists at Sheffield Hallam University and Sunderland University.
As the viewer's eye wanders elsewhere to examine other features, however, the mouth appears to take an upward turn, creating a smile that can only be seen indirectly, much like the Mona Lisa's.
The technique is called sfumato, and can be seen in both the Mona Lisa and La Bella Principessa.*
And while other artist's have attempted to use the same technique, none have done so as expertly as da Vinci, the researchers claim.
'As the smile disappears as soon as the viewer tries to 'catch it', we have named this visual illusion the 'uncatchable smile,' researchers Alessandro Soranzo and Michelle Newberry of Sheffield Hallam University wrote in a paper published in the journal Vision Research.
Yet another 'paper' on art history written by scientists who don't know enough about art history. More here.
*which is not certainly by Leonardo
Artists in Britain 1500-1640
August 19 2015
Picture: NPG, 1554 Self-Portrait by Gerlach Flicke, a German artist at work in England in the 16th Century.
The American art historian Prof. Robert Tittler has published online an extroardinary database of artists working in Britain in the 16th and early 17th Centuries. There are some 2,578 names.
Here's the abstract of the paper:
This resource identifies all those men and women who have been identified as painters of any sort working in England, Wales, Scotland or Ireland between the years 1500 and 1640. At this posting, it includes 2,578 such entries. It includes those who were native to the British Isles and also those aliens who came and worked there at any time during this era. It also includes those whom contemporary occupational descriptions refer to as pursuing any specialty within the general category of 'painter' including, e.g., 'limner', 'picture-painter', 'glass-painter', 'herald painter', 'manuscript illuminator', etc. Each entry indicates, wherever possible, the places of origin and of residence, contemporary occupational description, dates of life and of activity, details of training, known works, and general biographical information. Each name is also accompanied by a list of sources, and by the identity of those who researched that name.
I think this great effort, which reflects years of dedicated research, qualifies Prof. Tittler for my new award: 'Hero of Art History'. Future nominations are most welcome. To qualify, I think art historians must have done something to which we're all indebted, but which nobody else has ever done. A founder recipient - I was thinking today as I thumbed through one of his many tomes - must be Algernon Graves, whose indexing of things like loan exhibitions in the 18th and 19th Centuries is invaluable.
Update: a reader writes to nominate Frits Lugt - agreed!
'5,000 Years of Faith'
August 19 2015
I'm full of admiration for the philanthropist Jonathan Ruffer's (above) plans to create a centre for religious art in the north of England. Centred on Auckland Castle, which Ruffer bought from the Church of England (along with that series of Zurburans) and gave to a charitable trust, the new exhibition spaces will be in the Castle itself, a new gallery in Bishop Auckland, and the Bowes Museum in nearby Castle Barnard. Ruffer revels in the fact that such art is 'deeply unfashionable', and will plunder the storage rooms of museums across the country, where many great pictures are banished. You can read more about Ruffer's plans in Apollo, here.
And next time you hear anyone complaining about the impossibility of raising money for the visual arts from philanthropists outside London, remember Ruffer.
Perronneau mystery solved
August 19 2015
Picture: Neil Jeffares
Neil Jeffares has solved an intriguing mystery in the life of the gifted french pastellist, Jean Baptiste Perronneau. There has always been a gap in Perronneau's biography, when, between 1773 and 1777, nobody knew where he was. But now Neil has established that he was in Madrid, thanks to finding the above pastel in Lisbon in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, which has a dated inscription on the reverse placing Perronneau in Madrid in 1776.
A full, if characteristically modest description, is on Neil's blog here.
Update - of course Neil should be duly appointed a Hero of Art History for his online Dictionary of Pastellists. Though I have already appointed him 'King of all Things Pastel', so I'm not sure which honour is better.