Legend has it that Michelangelo was selected to
paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in an attempt
to ruin him. However, this is unlikely. Though it was well known that
Michelangelo considered himself first and foremost a sculpter, no one
could have doubted his ability to sucessfully complete the ceiling.
His exceptional skills as an artist of every sort was not doubted by
anyone. Even if it was true and it was an attempt to ruin him. He certainly
proved them wrong. The ceiling is an induring masterpiece, one of the
most respected of all time. The Creation of Adam, especially, is arguably
the most famous painting in history.
The Creation of Adam
480 x 230 cm
Sistine Chapel, Vatican City
Subject: This portion of the fresco shows God breathing life
into Adam. According to Genesis (the book that the frescoes of this
ceiling are based on) God first created Adam, and then Eve from a rib
of his. He places them in the Garden of Eden, a place of perfection.
God is seen in presumably heaven, surrounded by cherubs and in the crook
of his arm is Eve looking down at Adam with curiosity. She is created
after Adam and is thus still just a thought or a whim of God's at this
point. Eventually, of course, this innocense is gone and the sinners
are banished from the Garden, and they, like all humans after, are doomed
Artist's Work: Michelangelo composes this piece in a very horizontal
fashion. It flows beautifully, with the central image being the hands
captured just at the moment of touch. God, and his heavenly sphere of
angels flows and looks to be floating carelessly in the breeze. The
fact that Adam is technically not created yet, but is reaching out to
God is representative that man wishes to exist. He reclines naturally
and is nude but he does not look crude. Instead he looks innocent. His
face is kind and almost naive. The plant matter implies a very earthly
surrounding, while the white of the background is representative of
heaven. It, like all the otehr works of the ceiling were originally
thoguht to have been painted in dull hues, but a cleaning has revealed
beautiful pastels instead. God's gentle nature is accentuated by the
pink. Shown in other panels and being powerful and perhaps vengeful,
he is strongly contrasted here.
Reaction: This is one of the most famous images in our culture,
so it is hard to look at it without picturing one of the infinate parodies.
However, I have always been fascinated by three portions of the painting
in particular. One, the hands. They look so completely effortless, but
at the same time convey a great feeling of emotion, especially love.
It is no surprise to me that many people have a detailed view of just
the hands hanging in their home. It symoblizes the connection between
man and God, and the dependence on him. The other is God is powerful
but gentle, and Adam is innocent looking: he has not yet been tainted
by temptations. That is another thing I love about this. He looks so
natural. Almost like a grown baby. He has, after all, just been "born".
Most amusingly of all, and probably my favourite, is Eve. She looks
so mischievious! Of course if we look farther into the Bible she ends
up causing a lot of trouble, but for now she just looks like a little
imp. Not evil in any way, just naive like Adam.
Virgin of the Rocks
Leonardo da Vinci
oil on panel
199 x 122 cm
Subject: This painting depicts the Virgin Mary guiding Saint
john the baptist towards Jesus who is seated on the ground with the
angel Uriel. John has a crucifix in one version. Saint John the Baptist
is a very important figure in Christianity. He was responsible for many
baptisms in the Jordan River, as he predicted an upcoming doomsday would
damn all those who were not bapstized. He was most natbly the person
to baptize Jesus, who himself was a follower and supporter of John.
Herod Antipas, the man responsible for the later death of Christ, felt
that John was a threat and ordered him to be executed. He is often shown
in art as having been beheaded. Normally, John is shown as an adult
as his time as a baby wasn't nearly as important as that as Christ's.
Artist's Work: This is one of two almost identical pieces by
the same name. One is located in the Louvre, and the other in the National
Gallery in London. The second work contains a couple of differences,
including John holding a crucifix and halos around the heads of all
but Uriel. In both works, he makes great use of chiaroscuro (the contrast
between light and dark to draw focus). Especially bright are the hands
of Mary and the Angel. Mary reaches for Jesus, drawing our attention
there. He points at the hand of Uriel who is painting obviously at John.
He himself is reaching towards Mary's hands. Thus, our eyes continue
is an oblong square pattern. The background is somewhat unusual, containing
bizarre looking jagged rocks, giving the painting a feeling of forboding.
In Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, it is implied that the baby
to the left with Mary is actually Jesus and that controversy was created
at the time because Jesus was praying to John. It is also suggested
that Mary grasps an invisible head and Uriel motions to be slicing the
neck of the infant. Art historians have unanimously agreed that this
is extremely unlikely, and that the church at the time had abosulutely
no problem with the piece.
Reaction: This painting is distinctly Leonardo da Vinci, and
I am not a particularly great fan of his paintings. His faces appear
as if his has painted them in a gentle way, however they look almost
like someone forcing a smile. The hands are also overly controlling
of where one looks in the picture; we are forced to look at each of
the children in turn. The background looks almost unearthly, which I
don't enjoy next to realistic figures. In fact, a 1957 science fiction
story called The Light had a twist where the background turns
out to be what the surface of the moon looks like. The way that the
people are sitting looks to me to be entirely contrived. While I cannot
deny the artistic genius of Leonardo da Vinci, this painting doesn't
speak to me on any level. Spiritually, artistically or even from a technical
The School of Athens
500 x 770 cm
Apostolic Palace, Vatican City
Subject: This painting is one of several meant to depict the
theme of knowledge, in hopes of inspiring those (especially the Pope)
who would be in the library. This one represents philosophy in particular.
Plato is central, pointing to the heavens. Beside him is Aristotle,
gesturing towards earth. They are both quickly spotted as they are locaed
in the vanishing point. Each of them are holding their philosohpical
and mathmatical texts. It is likely that the young Raphael may not have
had an immense knowledge of Ancient Greek philosphy and was probably
guided by Bramante and others.
Artist's Work: This work was painted for the Pope's library.
The left side is slightly awkward because it had to accomodate a door.
The mathmatical perspective is amazing, and the wall really looks like
a wall to outside, a wall to the ancient world. Plato is probably modelled
on Leonardo da Vinci. Pythagoras, the thoughtful man in purple towards
the front is probably Michelangelo. Raphael paints himself to the far
right, peeking out. This shows his modest nature. Many other artists
of this time would have painted themselves front and center. Raphael
sets himself apart in this way. The many philosophers are somewhat recognizable
but since no contemporary analysis is availible, it cannot be precisely
determined who is who. Some are holding the texts that they have written.
Some are shown gesturing or even doing that math that made them famous.
Others resemble busts or what popular opinion deemed them to look like.
Aside from Leonardo and Michelangelo, other figures may appear in the
work. The man teaching his students towards the bottom left may be Bramante.
The woman in white, Hypatia considered the first important female philosopher
is probably modelled on one of Raphael's mistresses. The figrue that
Raphael himself represents is an ancient Greek painter Apelles. Beside
him may be the likeness of another of his contemporaries Il Sodoma.
Reaction: I like this piece a lot. Like all of Raphael's works,
it has a wonderful realism and feeling that he hasn't had to work very
hard for such amazing results. The many philosophers look like they
are living in an idealized world. People are bickering, rationalizing,
learning. There is order. To me, this just looks perfect. The thought
of a meeting of all of these famous minds, artists and leaders is just
wonderful to me. It feels like heaven, where all of these men have gone
and can live out the rest of eternity learning, growing and talking.
Aristotle and Plato, though not moving violently, are clearly walking
towards the viewer and it almost makes me feel like I could speak to
them or learn from them. It is all very accessible. The painting certainly
inspires me... it conjures images on university and beyond. I believe
it fulfilled it's purpose amazingly well.
Titian was the most famous artist to come out of the Venetian Renaissance.
His work is much different than others at this time because he worked
in such away that the brushwork of his art was noticable. This meant
that when viewed from up close, his art appeared sloppy to some. However,
when viewed from a distance, his work has an incredible realism. He
was able to capture fabrics, texture and light in a new and very innovative
way. His works ranged from small to monumental, but all of his subjects
were painted with extreme expresiveness along with beautiful landscapes.
The symbolism is also very prevalent. Portraits, self-portraits, and
religious works were all done with great skill. Also very important
were his works depicting the Gods and legends of Antiquity. The Flaying
of Marcelus, for instance, or Bacchus and Ariadne as seen below.
Bacchus and Ariadne
oil on canvas
176.5 x 191 cm
National Gallery, London
Subject: This oil painting by Titian is one of several mythologically
themed paintings comissioned by Alfonso d'Este. This one depicts the
tale of Bacchus and Ariadne. Ariadne is the daughter of King Minos of
Crete and Queen Pasiphae. Her lover is Theseus, the legendary King of
Athens. They are together on the Naxos. However he leaves (the sails
of his ship can be seen in the distance) and she is heartbroken. Bacchus,
God of wine and parties comes leaping from his cheetah-drawn chariot
to comfort her. Behind him is a huge group of many mythical beats and
creatures. She looks shocked or fearful of him at first sight, while
he is in love with her at first sight. He proves his love to her by
making a circlet of stars as a crown for her, immortalizing her as a
constillation and winning her heart.
Artist's Work: Titian does a phenominal job here of capturing
movement. Bacchus is leaping off of his chariot and looks desperate
to reach his love in her time of need. Her time of need is painfully
evident as her arm and hand are thrown forward in terrible desperation
at her fleeing lover. She is barely clothed: she has just awoken to
find that he has escaped. Her face looks pained, used. There are many
mythical beasts. They have been interpreted in two (or more) ways. A
possibility is that they are his friends. Another, however, is that
they are beasts coming to attack Ariadne in her time of vulnerability
and he is defending her against them. The more likely explanation seems
to be the former though. The painting has two distinct halves, divided
clearly by a diagonal line doing from the bottom left corner to the
top right corner. The upper triangle is blue, and cloudy. It contains
the lovers. Theseus in the distance, Ariadne, and Bacchus. They are
surrounded by heavenly blue. On the bottom are the beasts and others.
Browns, greens and natural colours dominate here. One man is attacked
by snakes, and he is reminisent of Laoco÷n and his Sons, a sculpture
of antiquity. The dog is said to be a pet of the Duke.
Reaction: This painting is quite busy, and generally my favourite
paintings are much less so. In this case, however, it doesn't cause
me to completely hate the piece. There is a lot to look at, and it is
all painted in an expert fashion. The man grappling with the snakes
has striking musculature, and Bacchus's motion is captured perfectly.
Most amazing of all is probably the desperation caught on the shattered
Ariadne in both her face and her body language. The trees are also lovely,
looking somewhat different than others painted at this time. I believe
that Titian's visible brushwork is extremely effective in painting things
like clouds, trees and water and so these things all come out very well
here. The dog is also shown to be barking. How incredible it is to be
able to convey sound through paint on canvas. There is no doubt in anyone's
mind that this yappy dog is barking at the satyr. What I like most about
the painting is that sorrow is shown, but hope is also shown. I find
myself wondering what happens next, my mind pressing play on the paused