Lunedi Lunacy

Pam Ayres is a rather unlikely British entertainer: she reads her poetry on stage. Her 44 year careers as a UK favourite began when she appeared on Opportunity Knocks (an earlier, kinder version of Britain’s Got Talent without all the needless manufactured hysteria) and won first place. Since 1975 she has toured her one-woman show extensively, had her own TV series, done Royal Command performances, produced records and DVDs, written six books and been a guest on every major British talk show. Sadly her gentle take on the comedy of life has never transferred to North America – I’m not sure it would play well here but I happen to love her.

As well as writing poetry Pam has a way with a story – I have to admit it took me a bit to get use to her almost self-conscious delivery but I find that part of her charm.

There is a longer clips on YouTube of one of her concert performances: it’s worth a look just to hear her tell the story of how she got into show business in the introductory minutes.

August 4th is Work Like A Dog Day so get to it you lot! And I’m not sure how people who go commando do today but it is also National Underwear Day.

Bronzino – Limmericks and Holy Pictures

I thought I’d posted more of the enchanting observations on a few of the paintings that were in the Bronzino exhibition that just closed in Firenze. You may recall that Italian author Roberto Piumini wrote doggeral verses in the style popular with the painter and his friends at the Academia and Konrad Eisenbichler used them as his inspiration for English verses. They thought of them as “ways to look at Bronzino”.

I think this is perhaps one of the loveliest paintings I have ever seen of a sleeping child – you almost feel John’s kiss awakening his little cousin.

*“Dear Mary,” Joseph says, “if in a while,
Our little Jesus should awake
And want to eat, I’ll light this little pile
of sticks so you might cook a meal or bake,

But note,” then Joseph adds, “his cousin John
has come to play with him, and when they’re done
Pursuing one another on the lawn
They’ll both be very hungry, for a bun.”

“I’ll bake some sweets for them,” she says and smiles,
“Some buns, some pastries, and a healthy snack.
I’ll make some cookies, too, in various styles.
But where is my flour? Where is that sack?”

Holy Family with Saint John (Panciatichi Maddona) – 1538-40 – was one of five paintings commissioned by the wealthy and influential Bartolomeo Panciatichi.

«Maria,»
dice Giuseppe, «se fra poco,
Gesù si sveglierà, a vorrà mangiare,
io accenderò con la legna un bel fuoco,
ma tu, che cos’avrai da cucinare?”

«E poi,»
Giuseppe dice, «è arrivato
anche Giovanni, suo cugino, e sai
che è un bambino molto affamato…
Maria, Maria, cos cusinerai?»

Lei sorride e risponde: «Farò
frittelle di farina, dolci e bionde.»
Vedi un sacco di farina? Io no.
Tu guarda melgio:” dove si nasconde?

As with many painters of the period Bronzino found himself suddenly constrained by the decrees on art that came out of the Council of Trento – decrees that effected not only the spiritual but the physical content of what took place in Catholic churches. Subjects that had once been considered part of the normal Christian iconography were banned and strict use of symbols and groupings were carefully watched by the unsettled church authorities. This simple and beautiful Christ Crucified straddles the two worlds with a severity that is almost Protestant but with all the required iconography demanded by the Council. It was painted for Bartolemeo and Lucrezia Panciatichi, who at the time were suspected of having “Reformationist” leanings and were investigate by the Church until a gentle word from Cosimo caused the authorities to back away.

Christ Crucified – circa 1540 – Bronzino for the Panciatichi chapel.

Around the time that Bronzino became part of a group exploring the virtues of one form of art over the other – painting over sculpture being the most heatedly debated. Certainly this study could have been achieved in wood and polychrome but Bronzino’s technique and artistry has turned it into a “real dead-body”.

*Bel gioco l’altalena, in verità
si v agiù e poi su, alternamente.
Ma vedi? C’è qualcosa che non va
in questa altalena risplendente …

Un angelo la regge con la mano,
e il piccolo di destra porta su:
chi e quello che in basso, scuro e strano,
l’altro, a sinistra, tiene a tire giu?

Forse questa non è un’altalena…
E se un angelo salva l’innocente,
chi sarà quello che, con brutta lena,
trascina l’altro giù, dannatamente?

Saint Michael the Archangel – circa 1525-28 – the fact that it is on canvas, unusual for a time when most paintings were done on wood suggests this may have been a banner made for a confraternity.

A seesaw, wow! That’s lots of fun!
You’re up and down, you laugh and scream.
But look! This seesaw has begun
To go off-balance. See the beam?

An angel holds it in his hand,
And on the right that boy is up,
But on the left a grasping hand
has seized the boy that’s in that cup.

What kind of seesaw could this be?
If that’s an angel helping out
Then who’s that figure that I see
Grabbing the boy who seems to shout?

* Cherci nei Quadri/Hide and Seek
Roberto Piumini – Konrad Eisenbichler
2010 Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Firenze
2010 Alias, Firenze
It may be purchased through their on-line store.

31 gennaio – Sant’Armentario

More Bronzino Dogs and Doggerel

In his portraits of the rich and ruling, Bronzino would include props that indicated the various virtues and achievements of his sitters. Take as an example the dog in this painting of Guidobaldo II della Rovere, the first official portrait painted by the Florentine artist in 1530-32 during his stay in Pesaro. No doubt the dog was a favourite of young nobleman but he is also a symbol of his station in life. The animal would reflect his noble origins, hunting being the pastime of aristocrats. And notice how he draws our attention to two things very subtly: Guidobaldo’s hands lead our eyes to the helmet, indicating his military position and to his faithful companion, his hunting dog – there is no doubting his caste. The purpose of the large codpiece was not necessarily to suggest an actual physical feature of the 18 year old heir to the Duchy of Urbino but more to stress his virility and ability to produce sons to carry on the family line.

Guidobaldo II della Rovere – Bronzino 1530-32 Pesaro

And this portrait of unknown Lady – the exhibition catalogue goes into a lengthy hypothesis on her identity – is filled with symbolic details that would have literally painted a glowing picture of her character to all viewers. The little lap dog isn’t just a noble lady’s toy – a spaniel, such as this little guy, alludes to fidelity and in this case most likely refers to conjugal faithfulness. In the same way the rosary wrapped around her wrist tells us of her religious devotion and the books so readily to hand suggest that she is a lover of poetry. A devoted wife, a devote catholic and a devotee of poetry – the perfect portrait of a noblewoman.

a4cf0-lady-with-dog-final
Portrait of a Lady with a lap dog – Bronzino 1530-32 Pesaro (?)

And in their delightful verses – that they have wittily subtitled Twenty ways to look at Bronzino – Roberto Piumini and Konrad Eisenbichler remark on how well behaved this little creature is.

Ad una dama non pesa posare,
restando ferma lì, per ore e ore,
perché, alla fine, potrà ammirare,
il bel ritratto fatto dal pittore.

un cucciolo, però, come lo tieni?
A lui, cosa importa del ritratto?
Non lo fermi con lacci né con freni:
ma allora, questa dama, come ha fatto?

Guardi, e scopri il gioco. Lei teneva
qualcosa (ma che cosa?) e annuciava:
«Ura la butto!» ma non lo faceve,
e lui, paziente e immobile, aspettava.

This fine lady is willing to pose
For long hours and she doesn’t care
For she knows that this sitting all goes
For a portrait of her in her chair.

But, her little pet dog, what’s he know?
What’s he care of her portrait, so fine?
He is dying to jump up and go
Play with balls, and with toys, and with twine

Do you know how she made him sit so still?
She kept twirling that ball in her hand
With a grace that concealed a great skill
And enchanted her dog just as planned.

Cherci nei Quadri/Hide and Seek
Roberto Piumini – Konrad Eisenbichler
2010 Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Firenze
2010 Alias, Firenze
It may be purchased through their on-line store

18 gennaio – Santa Prisc