David Franchi – Saturday, 9th January 2016.

"The Self –Portrait. A cultural history" by James Hall, Thames and Hudson ed., London.

“The Self –Portrait. A cultural history” by James Hall, Thames and Hudson ed., London.

“The Self – Portrait. A cultural history” of James Hall is a captivating and erudite art book, by Thames and Hudson, London.

I have been recently involved in many events about self portraying, a private gallery exhibition Autoritratti, the Goya show, and I have seen many self-portraits in various art events.

Every artist, of every style and period, experimented on self-portraying at one time or another. The Self-Portrait by James Hall is an extensive study from an historic point of view. This book is a broad cultural survey of the genre. James Hall is an art historian and a critic. Covering the full range of self-portraiture, the book is a mapping from the earliest examples to today contemporary artists.

The book starts with a prologue focused on antiquity, from which the first examples of self- portraying can be dated, in particular, the Egyptian ones which are the most consistent. The best of them are by Bak, chief-sculptor to the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten (1353 – 1336 BC). Despite, antiquity generated examples of genre it is not enough to draw an articulated history.

To find the real starting point of self-portraiture, we need to arrive to the Middle Ages. Terminating with the twelfth century, a strong growth of the tradition is recorded, mostly referring to the monastic environments.

Afterward, the improvement of the mirror technology allowed a significant step forward in self-portraiture. An obsession for mirrors aroused in Europe and the second chapter examines that. To possess a mirror became a status symbol for both writers and artists in general.

In the following chapters James Hall describes the craze for mirror that characterizes the Renaissance. Making parallels with the fecund period the author explains that from this moment self –portraiture is a must for every artist. However, he supports the theory that the flourishing of self-portraiture and the advances in mirror manufacturing are not strictly linked, because the interest in such art genre started long before the technology progress.

The artist became a mirror of society himself during the Renaissance,. It is from this period, in fact, the differentiation between artist and artisan. Artists used self-portraiture to affirm their role in to the society, to show their skills, to spare on model, and to create networks.

During the XVI century, the artist became a sort of hero for the society and this brought to the opposite consideration, defined by James Hall, as mock –heroic self-portrait, and to which he dedicates a chapter.

During the seventeenth- century the artist starts to be considered as a sort of myth and everything connected to him has a special reference. This period sees also the birth of the first self –portraiture broad collection.

Passing through the centuries, “The Self – Portrait. A cultural history“ explores the passages and defines the genre as typically British, but without forgetting the authors of other nations, including Goya, Van Gogh or Picasso. There is an entire chapter dedicated to the influence of personal situation of artists. Considering also the sexual aspects, artists were in search of a balance between their private and artistic lives.

The last chapter focuses on the modern and contemporary self-portraiture. We learn that the name itself is a modern adoption dating the 1920s, when the old definitions ‘Portrait of the Artist’ and ‘Portrait by/of Himself’ were abandoned. During the last century, the head and, above all, the eyes, considered the mirror of the soul, are left aside and portraiture focused on other parts of the body.

Last paragraph cites the ‘selfie’ as the new frontier of the self-portraiture. Selfie was even named word of the year by the Oxford Dictionaries in 2013.

“The Self – Portrait. A cultural history.” is an exquisite book, full of accurate information. James Hall can show here his notable culture and the profound knowledge he has of the matter. It is even too much, such information is important and a bit overwhelming, and can confuse light hearted spirits, such the artists themselves.

James Hall is an art historian lecturer and broadcaster. He is visiting fellow at the University of Southampton. He holds an MA from the Courtauld Institute of Art and a PhD from University of Cambridge. Formerly art critic of the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian, he also wrote art books.

The Self – Portrait. A cultural history.” is a key book, not ot be missed, by James Hall for Thames and Hudson edition, London. 

Summer Task 3

Thank you very much. Really much appreciated.

Kerry Rusk Art Specialism

Task 3 asked us to research and visit a current and contemporary exhibition which related to an element of our study, I therefore decided to focus on the ‘drawing’ element as remembering that drawing does not have to be just pencil drawings, I felt I had more options. The exhibition I visited was ‘Pangaea ii: new art from Africa and Latin America” which was currently on at the Saatchi gallery. The exhibition itself was very interesting with a range of artwork, in a variety of mediums by a number of different artists. The exhibition itself had many artists who had ‘drawn’ using paint and any number of other materials. The purpose of this exhibition visit was to explore the work of one of the artists who featured within the exhibition, therefore I chose the artist Dawit Abebe.

We were set three tasks to complete while looking at our artists:

  1. Read…

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David Burlak – Sunday, 20th September 2015.

Ai Weiwei and Anish Kapoor at the St. Paul's Cathedral, London, walk in solidarity of refugees co. the artists ® London Art Reviews

Ai Weiwei and Anish Kapoor at the St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, walk in solidarity of refugees co. the artists ® London Art Reviews

The walk in solidarity with refugees by Anish Kapoor and Ai Weiwei has hit London, last Thursday, 17th September.

As Ai Weiwei and Anish Kapoor have highlighted, the walk has involved not just London, because the problems of solidarity and of the refugees are global.

As many participants, both Ai Weiwei and Anish Kapoor were holding blankets which were donated to the Refugee Council at the end of the London walk, as a sign of solidarity to those who are escaping brutality.

The walk started from the Royal Academy of Arts, where Ai Weiwei is hosting his current exhibition. It was about 8 mile long and passed through iconic London sites to terminate in Stratford, at the 2012 Olympic Park – where the sculpture of Kapoor ‘ArcelorMittal Orbit’ is located.

The complete route was the following: Royal Academy of Arts, Piccadilly Circus, Regent Street, Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, Victoria Embankment, Temple Place, Fleet Street, St Paul’s Cathedral, Bank, Old Broad Street, Bishopsgate, Fournier Street, Brick Lane, Whitechapel Road, Mile End Road and Stratford.

Anish Kapoor said: “We walk in solidarity with those hundreds of thousands across the world. It is a walk in sympathy and empathy.”

The Chinese dissident artist and the British-Indian sculptor have appealed for a humane, rather than political, response to the current situation. This year, the number of refugees in the world reached a record 60 million, according to the UNHCR- the United Nations refugee agency.

Being friend in real life, both the artists have united after difficult periods. Since years, Ai Weiwei is under the strong repression of the Chinese government. Last July, with an excuse the Chinese immigration office initially denied to him a six-month visa to enter Britain. In 2011, he has been convicted for 81 days and then released without charges.

For Anish Kapoor, instead, problems are coming from his sculpture ‘Dirty Corner’ at the Palace of Versailles, near Paris. Kapoor, who has Jewish origins, has seen his work vandalised twice in three months with anti- Semitic insult.

Often described as China’s most high-profile artist, Ai Weiwei said: “I think we can do a lot, if we open our heart, if we understand philosophically what refugee is about. We all are refugees as humans in some moment in the history. So we should understand this matter more profoundly, rather than just seeing them as a negative situation.”

The walk follows last week press meeting, where Ai Weiwei has requested to British government to do more to help refugees, while admiring Germany for its much civilised response to the crisis. He was speaking at a news conference on 11 September to mark the opening of his new exhibition at London’s Royal Academy of Art.

The London walk event was much participated and it sparkled curiosity to the people on the street. Small traffic jams at the crossroads were reported.

Solidarity walk for refugees by artists Ai Weiwei and Anish Kapoor happened in London, from Royal Academy of Arts (Piccadilly) to the Olympic Park (Stratford), on 17th September 2015.


David Franchi – Monday, 10th August 2015.

© Thames and Hudson, Rubens in Private.Rubens in Private. The Master Portrays his Family” is a fascinating book, published by Thames and Hudson, London.

Located in London, Thames and Hudson published the English edition of the book originally print for the exhibition “Rubens in private. The master portrays his family”. The show was a joint production between the Rubenshuis and Rubenianum, in Antwerp (Belgium), from 28th March until 28th June 2015.

The publication is appealing, full of information and images, accurate and precise. After all, Rubens is a topic about which it is possible to write a lot. Edited by Ben van Beneden, contributors are Nils Büttner, Nora De Poorter, Katlijen Van der Strighelen, Cordula van Wyhe, Johan Verberckmoes, Hans Vlieghe, and Bert Watteeuw.

The exhibition “Rubens in Private” focused on portraiture. It is curated by international Rubens experts and includes some 50 paintings and drawings from top-ranking museums, including the Uffizi in Florence, the British Museum in London, the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the Hermitage in St Petersburg and the collections of the Prince of Liechtenstein, and the Royal Collection, generously loaned by her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

The connection between Rubens and London are consistent. Perhaps, the most spectacular ceiling of London was painted by Rubens for the Banqueting House, during the reign of Charles I. It’s the only ceiling by Rubens still in situ. Also paintings of Rubens can be found at the National Gallery, The Courtauld Gallery, The Wallace Collection, and the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Sir Peter Paul Rubens was knighted by King Charles I of England in 1630.

Peter Paul Rubens was a genius. He had many abilities and was gifted in being an artist, a politician, a collector, an architect and had a keen interested in science.

Rubens was indicated as a ‘homo universalis’, an epithet reserved for those Renaissance persons who were able to manage different skills. A famous story from Sperling, reported that he found Rubens painting, while simultaneously dictating letters and listening an assistant reading Tacitus and of course having a conversation with Sperling himself.

The book “Rubens in private” exposes the portrait of the members of the family of Rubens is an aspect that was not investigated until present days. Together with his letters, these portraits reveal the deep affection Rubens felt towards his family.

From the point of view of the art history, the huge opus of Rubens can be divided into two distinct bodies: public and private. The latter category includes his landscapes and the portraits he made of his family. For some unknown reasons, the portraits of his family were not previously exhibited.

As Michelangelo and many others contemporary artists, Rubens did not considered portraiture a noteworthy genre. Portraiture was believed to be a mere depiction of what you can see and did not required any particular ‘invenzione’ (invention).

However, Rubens painted dozens of portraits for his prominent customers. But the best results he had in portraiture were in the works of this show, which were not intended to be publicly exhibited. Here Rubens is less inhibited and could express himself in a more free way.

Portraits were often a side job to be done together with more important commissions. The book “Rubens in Private. The Master Portrays his Family” takes into account not only of Rubens self –portraits, but also on his household environment together with domestic staff.

On 3rd October 1609, Rubens married nineteen-year-old Isabella Brant, who was coming from an important family of Antwerp. He depicted her in renowned “The Honeysuckle Bower”.

On 6th December 1630, Rubens married the sixteen-years –old Helena Fourment from a wealth family of merchants of Antwerp. Named Het Pelsken (The Little Fur), the portrait of Helena Fourment, Rubens’s second wife, plays an important key role in the Master’s oeuvre. Due to new technical examination, the exhibition made an innovative interpretation of this portrait. Some elements, in fact, were revealed by X-radiograph to be behind the dark background of the painting, and it is unknown why they were covered and from where they come from.

A few days before his death, on 27th May 1640, Rubens drew up a will in which he stipulated d that the portraits of his two views, and the corresponding portrait of himself, were not to be sold, but were to go to the woman’s respective children.

The book “Rubens in Private. The Master Portrays his Family” has a chapter focused on clothes and fashion. Dress in early modern Europe constituted personal and community identities – and up today nothing changed. Because clothes were costly, they were also an indication of social demarcation. The Renaissance was the cradle of the contemporary fashion culture. Therefore, Rubens in his work mirrored the moment and that culture.

The last chapter of this book is about the demographic of the Spanish Netherlands. The today Belgium and Holland have seen the first ever population census taken with the parish registers. However interesting, it is unclear how this chapter is related to the art of Rubens.

Full of information, “Rubens in Private. The Master Portrays his Family” is a good book. There are chapter dedicated to the homonymous exhibition in Antwerp. Half of the book is made of formal description of each items and interpretative text, with several, footnotes, bibliography, chronology and genealogical tables of the Rubens’s family, appendix of technical examination of the paintings and other critical apparatus.

From the homonymous exhibition in Antwerp, the book “Rubens in Private. The Master Portrays his Family” is published in the UK, by Thames and Hudson, London.