On This Island

Island Distance

When we first visited the Island we heard people refer to “Island distance” or terms to that effect.  And on our first trip outside Charlottetown I noticed that often none of the road signs indicated how many kilometres it was to the place we were heading, just the direction.  And it seemed that when most people were asked they would say that such-and-such a place was about 40 minutes away.  Now we know that isn’t quite true, many things are an hour or more away but we find we are now using 40 minutes as almost a standard.   Suffice is to say that distances are compressed and as my friend Don says “It’s all a matter of scale.”  And you begin to adapt to “Island distance” as a norm.

A few weeks ago I realized that I had adapted more than I thought.  Our friend Cathy was visiting and Laurent suggested we should go to The Mill, Emily Well’s restaurant, up to New Glasgow.  I was surprised.  “All the way up there?” said I with an air of incredulity.  “But… but…. it’s ….” I sputtered in my normal articulate manner.  “Twenty-five minutes away,” said Laurent, trying not to use that tone that reminds me of my mother when I made a foolish statement.  Well now didn’t that stop me in my tracks.  He was right, it was a twenty-five minute drive, maybe thirty if you got behind an Amish horse and buggy.  I know people who drive more than that twice a day to and from work.   Still it was 25 minutes away!!!!

Several of our friends suggested that I had indeed gone “Islander”.

Red Head Harbour

Once you’ve travelled that 40 minutes (give or take 30 minutes or even two minute outside our door) you’ll find some glorious sights and sites.  Sights and sites that lend themselves to a painter’s brush.  Though red is not an unknown hair colour here to the best of my knowledge Red Head Harbour does not derive its name from a predominance of gingers in the area.  A mere 32 minutes from our place it is nestled in a corner of St Peter’s Bay and as well as being picturesque as all get out is the home of a  major PEI Mussel processing centre.  And we all know there is nothing like a big feed of PEI mussels steamed in white wine and herbs served up with home cut french fried PEI potatoes with a dollop of garlic mayonnaise .

Red-Head-Harbour-Map

Unfortunately the day that my friend Catherine and I were there it was cold, grey, cold, wet, cold,  windy, and did I mention cold?  But fortunately I was able to find a photo of Red Head Harbour on a more pleasant day.

red harbour 3

And better yet I was able to come home and bask in a sunny day at Red Head Harbour as captured by Wendell Dennis in his oil on wood painting Still Water.  And even better, on a grey, dreary day I can see this hanging in our dining room and be reminded of the beauty that surrounds me.

Red Head Harbour

Dennis is one of a number artists who shows at Details, Past and Present, a gallery on Victoria Row only blocks way from our place.  This particular painting caught my eye and …   well there we go, I don’t have to make that long thirty-two minute drive – I can see Red Head Harbour from my dining room table!

On this day in 1798: The Battle of Oulart Hill takes place in Wexford, Ireland.

 

Family Portraits

Despite my constant complaining about their website TrenItalia does make travel within Italy remarkably easy to most of the major cities. With their new Frecce high speed trains Napoli is only 90 minutes from Roma as is Firenze in the other direction. So Sunday it came as no surprise heading back on the 2010 out of Firenze to see a fair number of people in our car clutching – as where my friend Peter and I – programmes from the Maggio Musicale performance of Verdi’s La Forza del Destino and catalogues from the Bronzino exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi.

We had taken a morning train up and arrived – in the pouring rain – at Santa Maria Novella with enough time to catch the exhibition, have a leisurely lunch at Trattoria 4 Leoni and make the late afternoon performance at the Teatro Communale. And we were back home in Roma by 2200. A full day but a good one.

Peter had seen the exhibition earlier in the fall and wanted another peak in. I wasn’t all that familiar with Bronzino’s work so was more than happy to accompany him. We hadn’t reserved and being a Sunday and rainy we had to line up for about 20 minutes but as with all line ups here the wait had its entertainment value. Its always fun to watch the attempts to jump queue and the pantomimes of astonishment or indignation when the heretofore invisible line up is indicated and suggestions made that the culprit go to the end of it. The attendant was obviously adroit at handling myopic and offended patrons of the arts who had never waited in a line at any other museum anywhere else in the world.

As with so many of the exhibitions here the design was exceptional, the flow from early works through the allegorical, the sacred and court portraiture was presented with style and flair. Pieces were put into the context of other artists and influences of the period and included poetry by Bronzino and his contemporaries who were members of a poet’s society of the time. Descriptions were in Italian and English and included verses – again in Italian and English – written in the slightly doggerel style Bronzino and his friends used in verses circulated amongst themselves.

Angelo Bronzino was a Florentine born and bred and though his travels took him to Pesaro and the delle Rovere court he returned to his home town and the employ of Cosimo I de’Medici. He was official court portrait painter to the Medici family from 1539 until his death in 1572.

It was these portraits that I found the most interesting and that gave me the greatest pleasure. When discussing it later on the train with fellow passengers I mentioned that the details was incredible but that it was the eyes that gave his likeness of the great and those around them life 500 years later.


Even the formal clothing of the court can’t hide the cheerful aspects of a pudgy two year old Giovanni de’ Medici painted in 1545. As healthy a child as he looks in this portrait he suffered from tuberculosis in his early teenage years. He was the son chosen to enter the church and was first Archbishop of Pisa and then made a cardinal at the age of 17. Two years later he was dead from a malaria attack. He* and his mother Eleanor of Toledo are the subject of the remarkable painting chosen for the poster and catalogue cover for the exhibition.

One of the more intriguing works was this double sided portrait of Cosimo’s dwarf Morgante. Braccio di Bartolo (his nickname was a joke based on the name of a giant in an epic poem of the period) had joined Cosimo’s court around 1540. Though he was an entertainer he also was known for for his kindness and cleverness and was much beloved by the Duke. He accompanied him on several diplomatic missions and Cosimo bequeathed him land and the right to marry.

This two sided portrait shows Morgante preparing for the night hunt with an owl on the retro and triumphantly displaying his catch on the verso. In the 18th century it was considered an obscene work and his nakedness was heavily over-painted with vines and grapes. It has been recently restored and is now being displayed for the first time in several centuries as Bronzino painted it. Though he had some privilege at court, like all dwarfs, he was there as a curiosity and was often the object of ridicule and humiliation from courtiers, functionaries and courtesans. Now 450 years later they have all been forgotten but Morgante lives on in Bronzino’s work and in sculptures by Giambologna and Valerio Cioli.

With the time at hand I couldn’t fully appreciate all of the more than 80 works on display so it may mean another day trip up to Firenze. After all thanks to TrenItalia its only 90 minutes away.

There are several articles on the Internet on the exhibition and an interesting video in English on YouTube: Bronzino in Florence.

*Though most sources indicate that the sitter is Giovanni, as mentioned in the catalogue, recent suggestions have arisen that given the date of the portrait – 1545 – it may be his elder brother Francesco.

29 novembre – Sant’Andrea apotolo

Sunlight on the Side of A House

I was first fully aware of who Edward Hopper was back in 1981 when I fell in love with Pennies From Heaven, a musical film fantasy with Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters based on Dennis Potter’s successful BBC TV Series. The settings for several scenes were right out of Hopper paintings – and the one I recognized immediately was his most famous: Nighthawks. A bit of investigation – the library, yes Virginia we went to the library back in those days – revealed more about him and his work and I number him amongst the 20th century artists that I adore.

When the Hopper exhibition at the Museo di Roma was first advertised on billboards throughout town I made a note to myself that I really had to catch it. And finally I did last weekend – further note to self: try to catch these things other than on the day before they close.

This retrospective has toured several cities here in Italy with Roma being its last stop. I had been hoping that Nighthawk would be amongst the paintings but sadly its still hanging in its usual place at the Art Institute of Chicago. But they did have a marvelous life-sized mock up of the scene and allowed you to have your photo taken in it. Being the shy person I am, I declined as really if Hopper had wanted an extra person in the scene he would have painted them in.

If his most famous painting wasn’t there then certainly others quite recognizable as the work of the Nyack born artist were. Included were some of his early work from Paris, including Soir Bleu and a series of wonderful caricatures. Many of his graphic works from his earlier New York days revealed the subjects he would return to again and again but in shades of black and white.

One of the interesting features was the work ups for so many of the paintings that were included – it appears that Hopper or more specifically his wife and chief model Jo saved pretty much everything he did. When she died in 1968 – a year after Hopper – she left almost 3000 items to the Whitney Museum. Needless to say much of the exhibition was on loan from them.

At the beginning of the exhibition Hopper is quoted as, rather ingeniously, saying: All I ever wanted to do was paint sunlight on the side of a house., And that he did do – on houses in both urban and rural settings. But he also painted lamplight in streets and parks, the flickering lights in a movie cinema, the clotted light of industrial cities, the clear air of New England, the glare of neon on an interior and the first sun of morning through an open window on the walls of a room and the body of his beloved Jo.

Morning Sun was painted in 1952 and as usual Hopper did a series of drawings before brush touched paint or canvas.

Hopper worked with Conté crayons for most of his preliminary drawings. The top drawing was obviously his initial thoughts on the composition and you can trace the line of this thinking as the drawings become more and more detailed.

What I found fascinating was his detailed notation on colours and shadings to be used once he got to work. Noting the effects he wants to achieve, the degrees of light and shadow within the painting and the shading of colours. This was the first time I was aware of an artist taking that approach – I guess much of my view on how painters work is based on how they do it in Hollywood.

Obviously these notations were meant as guidelines and there would be deviations but it is interesting to see how often those first thoughts are present in the finished work.


As with most of Hopper’s work the lines are clean, at first glance the colours deceptively seem primary and the subject seems very ordinary. What makes its extraordinary is Hopper’s ability to “paint sunlight”.

The preliminary drawings are all from the Hopper collection at the Whitney Museum, the painting itself is in the care of the Columbus Museum of Art in Ohio.

18 giugno – Sant’Erasmo di Formia

 

Things – An Icon

In his highly readable Byzantium, The Early Centuries, John Julius Norwich introduces the first age of iconoclasm:

Ever since the dawn of history, when man first became a religious animal and almost simultaneously – give or take a millennium or two- made his first clumsy attempts at adorning the walls of his cave, he has had to face one fundamental question: is art the ally of religion, or its most insidious enemy?

Byzantium, The Early Centuries – John Julius Norwich
Penguin Books

The Iconoclasts came down heavily on the later view for two extended periods in the history of Byzantium. Iconoclasm literally means “the smashing of icons” and some of the great works of Eastern Christian art were destroyed when they had the upper hand. Fortunately, for the art world at least, the Iconodules won out and icon painting spread throughout various parts of the Christian world and they are still being created today.

Last week in Athens we saw icons on display in shops everywhere. Some were strictly for the tourist trade – fine iconographic art from Chinese workshops, some were silver and gold encrusted meant for church use or private devotion and others were being sold as fine art in high end shops.

One such shop was across from our hotel on the Plaka. Koukos displayed some wonderful jewelry and beautiful art work in its windows. There was one piece that caught our attention immediately. For five days we went past it, looked at it, discussed it and even photographed it. Finally Friday morning I went in and asked the price. A quick exchange of text messages with Laurent, who was in Patras and we became the owners of this beautiful icon:

 
Our Icon

I don’t pretend that I have any great knowledge of the styles, schools or symbols of icon painting but several things had struck me. The borders are decidedly unconventional, almost like the decorations on a medieval manuscript. But more important the grouping is very unusual: Jesus with the Virgin Mary and her mother Saint Anna. These three figures seldom appear together in any type of Christian art. And though they have that slightly distant spiritual look you associate with Eastern religious art I also sense a warmth in the women’s faces that drew me to it immediately. And I find the drape of St Anna’s arm around her daughter’s shoulder a particularly lovely detail.

The artist, as with most Icon painters his name is not provided and the piece is unsigned, is from Salonika in the north of Greece and he is known for his unusual subjects and decoration. His central figures always follow the icon traditions but what surrounds them is often taken from other sources. He also follows a very old tradition of painting on canvas and attaching it to the wood rather than painting on the wood direct.

After I made the purchase the two shopkeepers showed me another of his works which again had an unusual appeal – a very traditional figure of St Mamas, the patron of Animals in a lovely miniature farmyard right out of a medieval book of hours. It was a struggle but I decide the family fortunes just couldn’t afford it. But who knows it may still be there on our next trip back in the spring.

Addendum: I received a comment from djedushka who tells me that icons are “written” not painted. As I look at our Icon and think about it, that is a wonderful way of describing its creation. Many thanks.

03 dicembre – San Francesco Saverio