28 October 2023

Divine arrogance, Vive les artistes!



Titian, Portrait of Pope Paul III, 1543, Museo di Capodimonte, Napoli 

There is a wonderful anecdote about Titian that I've always loved. During one of his sessions while he was painting Pope Paul III, he dropped one of his brushes, then he apparently waited until the Pope got out of his chair to pick it up before continuing his work. 

The humility of the Pope is astounding, but the arrogance of the painter is divine. 

Chutzpa! As we say in New York, but then this was a period in history when Court painters were kings in their own right, their currency was their talent. But I suppose that today's contemporary art stars also garner the same status if not the same currency, because status these days is rather cheap.

I once spent two weeks on Capri back in the 1980's while on a painting trip. I found a funky sort of Art Deco hotel overlooking the port where the ferries come in an unfashionable area. It was inexpensive in those days and also quite simple and unpretentious, and I loved it. This was long before Instagram had arrived and declared that stars had been there since before Christ.

The Capodimonte in Napoli, which I discovered on that trip, is a magnificent museum and it houses some of the best of European Painting. 

I would take the ferry into Napoli about every other day or so when I wasn't painting on the other side of the island. This was a great solution for visiting both Capri and Napoli, but also far less stressful than staying in Napoli with a VW. 

I would take the hour long trip across this infamous bay and alight at the port, ready to be a tourist. I prowled around the city and also I went to the Capodimonti several times during that trip, my only one time in Napoli. On one of the top floors one walks into a large room where, I think, I counted about a dozen Titians around all the walls. I was spellbound. 

Among so much beauty there, is also one of my favourite things of all time too, a full length portrait of his daughter Lavinia, whom he used as a model for so many of his larger thematic pictures. It's a real gem, and this small detail of her head, survived decades by living on the inside cover of my small Filofax address book before the arrival of i-cloud. Now, her beatific expression is affixed to one of my tall white IKEA kitchen cabinets along with other relics of my possessive past that randomly decorate my kitchen.

But like so many other jewels hanging on those walls is also one in particular that lives on my computer desktop, a small portrait in profile by one of the greatest Humanist portrait painters of all time, Andrea Mantegna. I cannot resist displaying it here. It's as modern as Matisse but I've already written about these two painters together in the same spirit a few year's back. 

So what the heck, here are a few other things by Mantegna because in this crazy digital world, we need more depictions of real Humanism. I really love these things. They are the best of the best.

And speaking of artists, and the reverence  which they commanded in the cultured life of a great country like France for instance, where painters, writers, musicians and other notables in the sciences, were revered and celebrated enough to grace their bank notes back in the day of the French Franc.

Before the Euro arrived in 2002, Delacroix appeared on the 100 Franc note throughout the 1980's before Cezanne replaced him on the last one before the Euro. Both the writer, Saint-ExupĂ©ry and the painter, Quentin de la Tour appeared on the 50 Franc note but I forget when. Debussy on the 20 Franc note, Berlioz on the infamous 10 France note which I remember well, all these were lost to the Euro, alas! 

But on a reassuring note (no pun intended), shoppers are encouraged to caress the beautiful face of Giacometti that graces the 100 Swiss Franc note that came out in 2019.

Vive les artistes!

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