Tag Archives: Renaissance

Creative Juice #269

Creative Juice #269

It’s the weekend, baby! (A former college boyfriend used to tell me this every Friday afternoon.)

Fra Angelico, the Angelic Friar

Fra Angelico, the Angelic Friar

Fra Angelico (born Guido di Pietro circa 1395—died February 18, 1455) was an Italian painter of the Early Renaissance. His nickname in English-speaking countries, Fra Angelico, means the “Angelic friar,” referring to his devout and humble demeanor.  He earned his reputation primarily for with the series of frescoes he made for his own friary, San Marco, in Florence.

The earliest recorded document concerning Fra Angelico dates from October 17, 1417, when he joined a religious confraternity at the Carmine Church, still under the name of Guido di Pietro. This record reveals that he was already a painter. The first record of Angelico as a friar dates from 1423, when he is first referred to as Fra Giovanni (Friar John), following the custom of taking a new name upon entering a religious order.

These images from the Linaiuoli Madonna Alterpiece by Fra Angelico are available from the Metropolitan Museum Store

Images from the Linaiuoli Madonna altarpiece by Fra Angelico: store.metmuseum.org

According to Vasari (a sixteenth century artist and art historian), Fra Angelico initially received training as an illuminator, possibly working with his older brother Benedetto, who was also a Dominican and an illuminator. The former Dominican convent of San Marco in Florence, now a state museum, holds several illuminated manuscripts that are thought to be entirely or partly by his hand. According to Vasari, the first paintings of this artist were an altarpiece and a painted screen for the Charterhouse (Carthusian monastery) of Florence; neither still exist.


Annunciation, Fra Angelico

From 1408 to 1418, Fra Angelico lived at the Dominican friary of Cortona, where he painted frescoes, now mostly destroyed, in the Dominican Church. Between 1418 and 1436 he was at the convent of Fiesole, where he also painted a number of frescoes and the Altarpiece for the church.

In 1436, Fra Angelico was one of the friars from Fiesole who moved to the newly built  friary of San Marco in Florence. This was an important move which put him in the center of artistic activity of the region and won him the patronage of Cosimo de’ Medici, one of the wealthiest and most powerful members of the city’s governing authority and founder of the dynasty that would dominate Florentine politics for much of the Renaissance. Cosimo had a cell reserved for himself at the friary in order that he might retreat from the world. At Cosimo’s urging, Fra Angelico set about decorating the friary, including the magnificent fresco of the Chapter House, the often-reproduced Annunciation, the Coronation of the Madonna with Saints, and the many other devotional frescoes depicting aspects of the Life of Christ that adorn the walls of each cell.


San Marco Altarpiece, Fra Angelico

In 1439 Fra Angelico completed one of his most famous works, the San Marco Altarpiece at Florence, which was unusual for its time. Images of the enthroned Madonna and Child surrounded by saints were common, but they usually depicted a setting that was clearly heaven-like, in which saints and angels hovered about as divine presences rather than people. But in this instance, the saints stand squarely within the space, grouped in a natural way as if they were able to converse about the shared experience of witnessing the Virgin in glory.

442px-Fra_Angelico_012 Crucified Christ

The Crucified Christ, Fra Angelico

In 1445 Pope Eugene IV summoned him to Rome to paint the frescoes of the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament at St Peter’s, later demolished by Pope Paul III. Fra Angelico was offered the Archbishopric of Florence, but he refused it, recommending another friar for the position. In 1447 Fra Angelico was in Orvieto, creating works for the Cathedral there.

404px-Fra_Angelico_ Transfiguration

The Transfiguration, Fra Angelico

From 1447 to 1449 Fra Angelico was back at the Vatican, designing the frescoes for the Niccoline Chapel for Pope Nicholas V. The scenes from the lives of the two martyrs,  St. Stephen and St. Lawrence, may have been executed wholly or in part by assistants. The small chapel, with its brightly frescoed walls and gold leaf decorations gives the impression of a jewel box. From 1449 until 1452, Fra Angelico returned to his old convent of Fiesole, where he was the Prior.

635px-Angelico St. Lawrence

St. Lawrence Distributing Alms, Fra Angelico

In 1455, Fra Angelico died while staying at a Dominican convent in Rome, perhaps while working on Pope Nicholas’ chapel. He was buried in the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.

When singing my praise, don’t liken my talents to those of Apelles.
Say, rather, that, in the name of Christ, I gave all I had to the poor.

The deeds that count on Earth are not the ones that count in Heaven.

I, Giovanni, am the flower of Tuscany.

— Translation of epitaph

Information for this article came from Wikipedia.

Video of the Week #230: Florence–Making Art the Old Way


B is for Botticelli


I am a lover of Renaissance art, and particularly of religious art. Sandro Botticelli (c. 1445 – May 17, 1510), who was an illustrious member of the Florentine School, painted religious and mythological themes as well as portraits.


Self-portrait of Botticelli, within his Adoration of the Magi.

Interesting facts about Botticelli:

  • He was first trained as a hammerer of gold leaf.
  • One of his neighbors was the explorer Amerigo Vespucci, after whom North and South America were named.
  • His second apprenticeship was to the painter Fra Filippo Lippi; when Botticelli set up his own workshop, Filippino Lippi, his master’s son, joined him there.
  • He was one of the painters of the Sistine Chapel; some of his work was later painted over to make room for Michelangelo’s work.
  • He was obsessed with Dante’s Divine Comedy and wanted to produce illustrations for it; the project was never completed.
  • He almost completely abandoned art during the last years of his life due to the preaching of Girolamo Savonarolawho advocated the destruction of secular art and culture in favor of more spiritual pursuits. If not for the intervention of his patron, Lorenzo de Medici, and his friends, he would have starved.

Examples of Botticelli’s mythological subjects:


Probably Botticelli’s most famous painting, The Birth of Venus.


Primavera by Botticelli


Venus and Mars by Botticelli.


Pallas and the Centaur by Botticelli.

Some portraits:

Religious art, including some of Botticelli’s beautiful Madonnas:


Cestello Annunciation by Botticelli.


Magnificat Madonna by Botticelli.


The Bardi Altarpiece by Botticelli.


Madonna with Lilies and Eight Angels by Botticelli.


Lamentation of Christ by Botticelli.


St. Sebastian by Botticelli.


I love the graceful figures of Botticelli’s art, and the hair–the curls and flowing hair and flowing beards. The draped garments and the sheer veils and fabrics. The beautiful faces (and yet the Christ Child looks a little creepy in some of the paintings). I especially love the Cestello Annunciation with the landscape visible through the window; and the Madonna with Lilies and Eight Angels. Mary looks like a friend of mine, and the four angels on the right could be looking at a cell phone or even posing for a selfie.

Information for this article came from Wikipedia.




Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino was born March 28 or April 6, 1483 in Urbino in central Italy. Known as Raphael, he was a prolific Renaissance painter. His father Giovanni Santi was court painter to the Duke. His mother Màgia died in 1491 when Raphael was eight. His father soon remarried, but succumbed to death on August 1, 1494, when Raphael was eleven. His father’s workshop continued and, together with his stepmother, Raphael helped manage it from a very early age.


The Self-Portrait Raphael drew as a teen.

He had already shown talent, according to Giorgio Vasari, an Italian painter and historian, who says that Raphael had been “a great help to his father.” (A self-portrait drawn while a teenager shows his skill.) Vasari records that Raphael’s father placed him in the workshop of Pietro Perugino as an apprentice. The influence of Perugino on Raphael’s early work is apparent. Vasari wrote that it was impossible to distinguish between their hands at this period. Apart from stylistic resemblances, their techniques were very similar as well, probably due to Perugino’s instruction.



Raphael’s first documented work was part of the Baronci altarpiece for the church of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino in Città di Castello, a town halfway between Perugia and Urbino. In the following years he painted works for other churches there, including the Mond Crucifixion. These are large works, some in fresco, which Raphael executed in the style of Perugino. He also painted many smaller paintings in these years, probably mostly for the connoisseurs in the Urbino court, like the Three Graces, and he began to paint Madonnas and portraits.

359px-Mond CrocefissioneRaffaello

The Mond Crucifixion.

Raphael led a nomadic life, working in various cities in Northern Italy, but spent a good deal of time in Florence from about 1504.

Raphael was able to assimilate the influence of Florentine art while developing his own style. His greatest influence during those years was Leonardo da Vinci, who returned to the city from 1500 to 1506. Raphael’s figures began to take more dynamic and complex positions, and he drew studies of fighting nude men, one of the obsessions of the period in Florence. He borrowed the three-quarter length pyramidal composition of the just-completed Mona Lisa while retaining his own style.


By the end of 1508, Raphael moved to Rome, where he lived for the rest of his life, invited by the new Pope Julius II, perhaps at the suggestion of his architect Donato Bramante, then engaged on St. Peter’s Basilica, who came from just outside Urbino and was distantly related to Raphael. He was immediately commissioned by Julius to fresco the Pope’s private library at the Vatican Palace.


Study for The Three Graces.

This first of the famous Stanze or “Raphael Rooms” to be painted, now known as the Stanza della Segnatura, was made a stunning impact on Roman art, and remains generally regarded as his greatest masterpiece, containing The School of AthensThe Parnassus, and the Disputa. Raphael was then given further rooms to paint. He completed a sequence of three rooms, each with paintings on each wall and often the ceilings too, increasingly leaving the work of painting from his detailed drawings to the large and skilled workshop team he had acquired, who added a fourth room after his death.


The School of Athens

Raphael was clearly influenced by Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling in the course of painting the room. Vasari said Bramante let him in secretly. (Michelangelo disliked Raphael, claiming the younger man was conspiring against him.) The first section was completed in 1511 and the reaction to the genius of Michelangelo was the dominating question in Italian art for decades. Raphael, who had already shown his gift for absorbing influences into his own personal style, rose to the challenge perhaps better than any other artist. Michelangelo accused Raphael of plagiarism and years after Raphael’s death, complained in a letter that “everything he knew about art he got from me.”


Madonna of the Pinks by Raphael


The Vatican projects took most of Raphael’s time, although he painted several portraits, including Pope Julius II, considered one of his finest. Other rulers desired Raphael’s work, and King Francis I of France was sent two paintings as diplomatic gifts from the Pope. For Agostino Chigi, a banker and Papal Treasurer who was one of the wealthiest people in his world, he painted the Triumph of Galatea.


The Triumph of Galatea by Raphael.

Raphael built a workshop of fifty pupils and assistants, many of whom became significant artists in their own right. This was arguably the largest workshop team assembled under any single old master painter, and much higher than the norm. Most of the artists were later scattered, and some killed, by the violent Sack of Rome in 1527.


Portrait of Pope Julian II by Raphael.

Raphael was one of the finest draftsmen in the history of Western art, and used drawings extensively to plan his compositions. When beginning to plan a large painting or fresco, he would lay out a large number of stock drawings of his on the floor, and begin to draw rapidly, borrowing figures from here and there. Over forty sketches survive for the Disputa in the Stanze, and there may well have been many more originally. He used different drawings to refine his poses and layouts.


The Parnassus by Raphael.

When a final composition was achieved, scaled-up full-size cartoons were often made, which were then pricked with a pin and pounced with a bag of soot to leave dotted lines on the surface as a guide. He also made use, on both paper and plaster, of a blind stylus, scratching lines which leave only an indentation, but no mark.

Raphael died on April 6, 1520, at age 37. He is remembered as one of the trinity of masters of the Italian High Renaissance, together with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.

Information for this article came from Wikipedia.

Guest Post: “The Mona Lisa” by Leonardo da Vinci ~from The Joy of Museums


Thank you to The Joy of Museums for today’s guest post.

Painting of Mona Lisa

“The Mona Lisa” by Leonardo da Vinci

The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci is a portrait which he started in Florence around 1503. It is thought to be of Lisa Gherardini, wife of a Florentine cloth merchant. Leonardo took this painting with him to France when he joined the court of the French King, and after his death, the picture entered King François I’s collection. The Mona Lisa became part of The Louvre collection in 1797 and is considered to be one of the world’s best-known paintings, the most written about and the most parodied works of art in the world.

In 1911, Leonardo’s Mona Lisa painting was stolen from the Louvre, and the Louvre closed for an entire week during the investigations.  The theft created a media sensation and rewards were offered. Pablo Picasso was on the original list of suspects questioned and jailed for the robbery, but he was later released. After many false leads and claims, the Mona Lisa thief was caught when he attempted to sell it to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. It was returned to the Louvre in 1914 and the thief, a Louvre employee Vincenzo Peruggia only served six months in prison for the crime.  Peruggia was hailed for his patriotism in Italy as he claimed he wanted to return the Mona Lisa to the country that gave birth to the Mona Lisa and Leonardo. Perugia argued, that the Mona Lisa had been stolen from Florence by Napoleon and that he deserved a reward for doing his patriotic duty and returning it to its real home in Italy.

Monalisa uffizi 1913

The Mona Lisa is on display in the Uffizi Gallery, in Florence (Italy), just before it was returned to the Louvre.

Before the 1911 theft, the Mona Lisa was not widely known outside the art world. The nearly two-year hunt across multiple continents helped to publicise the Mona Lisa to the public imagination. In 1956, the painting was damaged when a vandal threw acid at it, which provided more publicity and notoriety. That same year, a rock was thrown at the canvas which left some minor damage.

Bulletproof glass was then used to protect the Mona Lisa. Which was fortunate when in 1974, a woman, upset by the museum’s policy for disabled people, sprayed red paint at the Mona Lisa. More recently in 2009, a Russian woman, upset for being denied French citizenship, threw a ceramic teacup at the famous painting.

The painting has been exhibited in New York City, Washington, D.C, Tokyo and Moscow with great success. Before the US tour, in 1962 the picture was assessed for insurance at $100 million. In today’s terms that translates to approximately $800m, considered to be the most valued painting in the world.

Leonardo da Vinci - Mona Lisa (detail) - WGA12713

In art terms, the Mona Lisa is the earliest Italian portrait to focus firmly on the sitter in a half-length portrait and set the standard for future artists. Depicting the subject in front of an imaginary landscape, Leonardo was one of the first painters to use perspective in this way. Da Vinci pioneered a shadowing technique at the corners of her lips and the corners of her eyes which give her a remarkably lifelike appearance and look of amusement.

An unexpected historical copy of the Mona Lisa was discovered in 2012 at as part of the Prado collection in Madrid. When the painting was cleaned, scientific analysis revealed that the copy was probably painted by another artist, possibly an apprentice of Leonardo da Vinci, who sat beside Leonardo and copied his work, brush-stroke by brush-stroke. The Prado painting suggests what the Mona Lisa might look like if layers of yellowed varnish could be removed from the original. The face, especially the smile, does look slightly different but it is a close copy in many other respects and dates to a similar time. The painting cannot be considered as a workshop copy due to its careful and thorough execution, as well as its use of materials such as lapis lazuli or red lacquer, which were used by Leonardo.

The Joconde by a student of Leonardo da Vinci

A copy of the Mona Lisa that was discovered in 2012 at as part of the Prado collection, in Madrid.

Leonardo da Vinci was an Italian painter, draftsman, sculptor, architect, scientist and an engineer who was already famous in his lifetime and is today considered a genius. Leonardo’s masterpiece had considerable influence during his lifetime and continued to influence and attract lovers of history and art in our life.

Mona Lisa:

  • Title:           Mona Lisa
  • Français:    La Joconde, La Gioconda
  • Artist:         Leonardo da Vinci
  • Created:     1503
  • Periods:      High Renaissance
  • Subject:      Not certain, possibly Lisa Gherardini
  • Media:        Oil paint on poplar wood
  • Dimensions: 77 cm x 53 cm
  • Museum:    The Louvre (since 1797)

Leonardo da Vinci:

  • Name:               Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci
  • Born:                 1452 – Vinci, Republic of Florence (present-day Italy)
  • Died:                  1519 (aged 67) – Amboise, Kingdom of France
  • Movement:      High Renaissance
  • Masterpieces:


“The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.” Leonardo da Vinci


Photo Credit 1) By Sambodhi Sakhare (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons 2) By Apprentice of Leonardo da Vinci. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 3) See page for author [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 4) Robert L. Knudsen [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 5) Leonardo da Vinci [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons ; Museo del Prado [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Creative Juice #71

Creative Juice #71

Your weekend dose of inspiration:

  1. A different kind of travel photos.
  2. Amazing photographs of spiders.
  3. Surreal murals.
  4. 25 free quilt patterns.
  5. How and why to read daily.
  6. Artist workspace.
  7. An orthodontist who’s also a very successful cartoonist.
  8. What to read next?
  9. Symbolism in a Renaissance painting.
  10. Unbelievably beautiful photographs submitted to National Geographic contest.
  11. Lovely Christmas ornaments to make by hand. Gift idea!
  12. A federal program to give work to artists? What a revolutionary idea!


Jan van Eyck’s The Crucifixion and the Last Judgment: Painted by a Committee

Jan van Eyck’s The Crucifixion and the Last Judgment: Painted by a Committee

The frames of Jan van Eyck’s (born circa 1390 – died  July 9, 1441) diptych masterpiece, The Crucifixion and the Last Judgment, each measure just 22.2 inches high and 7.8 inches wide; yet, they depict the horror of these two biblical events in great detail.


The Crucifixion and the Last Judgment by Jan van Eyck

The left-hand panel is the crucifixion scene. Christ’s followers grieve in the foreground. St. John supports Mary, the mother of Jesus. From the gospel record, we surmise that the two women looking on and weeping are Salome (wife of Zebedee and mother of the apostles James and John) and Mary, the wife of Cleophas. Nearby, in the green robe, is Mary Magdalene, her eyes on her crucified Savior.


Detail of The Crucifixion

The middle ground of the painting holds other onlookers, some concerned, some indifferent, and some sneering, including Roman soldiers, high priests, and temple elders.


Detail of The Crucifixion


Detail of The Crucifixion

At the top of the panel are the three crosses at Golgotha where Jesus and two thieves were executed. A soldier has just plunged a spear into the already-dead Christ’s side. Jerusalem is visible in the background.


Detail of The Crucifixion


Detail of The Crucifixion


The right hand panel of the diptych, depicting the Last Judgment, is also divided horizontally into three areas, representing (from top to bottom) heaven, earth and hell.

The entrance to hell seems to be the rear end of a skeletal representation of Death. The souls drop in head first to be tormented by demons with tentacles and mouths full of sharp, pointed fangs ready to tear them apart. Some of the damned appear to be clergy and  royalty–undoubtedly a risky undertaking for van Eyck.


Detail of The Last Judgment


Detail of The Last Judgment

This scene reminds me of The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450 – 9 August 1516).


The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch

detail of Hieronymus_Bosch_-_Triptych_of_Garden_of_Earthly_Delights_(detail)_-_WGA2526

Detail of The Garden of Earthly Delights

Back to van Eyck’s Last Judgment, between heaven and hell, the dead rise from their graves and from the sea. The Archangel Michael stands on death’s shoulders.


Detail of The Last Judgment

The upper portion of the panel shows the second coming of Christ. Four angels hover around Him, holding the cross (the symbol of our salvation), a crown of thorns, nails, and a sponge upon a spear. An angelic choir blows trumpets.


Detail of The Last Judgment

The Apostles, dressed in white robes, sit on two facing benches below Christ. Two angels usher the groups gathered at each side of the benches.


Detail of The Last Judgment

The heavenly portion of this panel is considered to have been painted more broadly and with less skill than the other sections, and is thusly attributed to other members of van Eyck’s workshop.

During the Renaissance, there were no art schools. In order to learn the art of painting, one needed to serve an apprenticeship to a master painter in his workshop.

Most apprentices entered artists’ shops in their early teens because they were members of families already engaged in painting, or because their parents decided that their son would become a painter or sculptor. Talent was not a requirement. He was there to learn a craft, and to make the master’s style his own. The artist Cennino Cennini (1370-1440) stated in his shop manual that the apprentice should not experiment with his own style until he had learned to duplicate his master’s.

The apprentice’s task was to assist the artist in the preparation of materials and, once the design had been formulated, to help him produce the work. More often they did the less important and quite tedious decorative parts of frescoes or statues.

The apprenticeship could last a decade or more. Training involved a series of progressive steps from grinding pigments, to copying, to executing the master’s design, and finally to creating one’s own artwork.

For more detailed information about these topics, click the links below:

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