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Nativity – 2023

I’ve chosen the religious name for Russian Christmas this year. Indeed, I wanted to stress the religious aspect of this holiday in Russia. So many people visit churches on January 6th and 7th, post themed cards and images on social networks, exchange them in messengers! There are lots of themed events, and of course, there’re many wonderful dishes cooked and eaten today in the most religious households because on the 7th the 40-day long St Philip’s, or Nativity, Lent ends.

After my friend and I have undertaken the labour of love with the Christmas Calendar I now realize how Christian our world is. It remains Christian despite endless attempts to rid it of any hint at religious faith, of veneration, adoration, and all-encompassing Love. I was gradually turning to Orthodox Faith since 2014, but it wasn’t until 2018 that I saw the proof of God’s watching over us, supporting and helping us. And after I saw that I know today that He loves us in any state of mind and body, as per the parable of the prodigal son. He knows our hearts like we rarely do, and He is happy to give us the best He has for us. Alas, we are so entrenched in vanity and pride that we want to be the god of our own life and so we demand Him to give us what we’ve made up for ourselves. And when He doesn’t, we get offended.

Prince Grigory Gagarin, Nativity

This is the quest some parts of the world are currently going through. People there have convinced themselves and are trying to convince others that God’s will is void, and that everyone is free to choose everything, including a gender. The fact is that humankind knows no other way of reproducing itself except by marrying a Man and a Woman. There may be other ways but they are not human, all in all.

So, on the day of Russian Orthodox Nativity let us turn our hearts and minds to the beautiful story of God the Father materializing miraculously in this life via a Maiden. I read the akathist to the Nativity of Jesus Christ today and I was moved a few times quite potently. It is a great joy that Our Saviour was born; and in spring, at Easter, He will be born again – into Eternal Life. Each time our world is born and resurrects with Him.

Lorenzo Lotto, The Adoration of the Shepherds

Happy Christmas 2022!

As I’m narrating a Christmas story on the mentioned Telegram channel, I vividly realise what importance the story of Nativity had for the people of the past. Their world was indeed reborn and had a new chance. So moved were they by the story of God coming to this world that they tried to reimagine it in detail. St Birgitta envisioned Our Lady miraculously giving birth, and St Francis of Assisi reproduced the manger which he saw in Bethlehem during his voyage with the Crusaders, giving the start to the tradition of presepe, or crib. The “Golden Legend” and various other literary works wanted to break through the time and space – and indeed the legendary ambiguities – to reconstruct the life of the most important characters of the New Testament beyond what was known about them.

And whereas the centuries since the 18th did much to deconstruct the above in order to demonstrate the “truth” and to denounce the past affection for “romance” and “lies”, what they have generally failed to do is to discover another source of inspiration that would be just as potent as this Christian legend. These critics mocked the story of the Good coming on Earth but they couldn’t invent another Good.

And so please accept my greetings on the Day of Our Saviour coming to this life. God bless us all.

Giotto, Nativity. Capella della Scrovegni, 1303-05

Christmas Calendar Festival in Telegram

Christmas Calendar is a Telegram channel dedicated to celebration of Nativity of Jesus and other winter festivals in arts throughout history

This year I decided to venture to pastures new: to hold my (nearly) annual Christmas in Arts series in a private channel in Telegram, renamed as Christmas Calendar. And so as of December 1st, that is, for over 2 weeks now, I’ve narrating the story of Nativity and Christmas celebrations in arts. Best of all, I’m doing this in collaboration with my former student and a good friend, a musicologist Gleb Konkin.

We have gone over the pictorial story of Nativity, watched The Gospel of Matthew by P.P. Pasolini and the Russian and Italian versions of La Freccia Azzurra, and listened to W. Bird, B. Britten, J. Schutze, and J.S. Bach. We watched the stained glass of the Chartres Cathedral and that of some English churches, notably of Birmingham, where the glass was made by Sir Edward Burne-Jones. And recently, we have revisited the aristocratic traditions of celebrating Christmastide that started on December 25th and ended on January 5th with the Twelfth Night, commemorated by W. Shakespeare. Incidentally, the latest post was on the Russian screen adaptations of this fantastic Christmassy play.

If you know some Russian or can automatically translate the posts, you can join our online festival from wherever you are. There are two tariffs, the cheapest lasts a week, for the full one Christmas will become a “movable feast”, as you will be able to get back to it whenever you want.

Join Christmas Calendar via link: https://paywall.pw/ywo1yxy4kgob.

More in Christmas in Arts and Xmas 2022

Moscow Celebrates 874th Anniversary

For the 874th anniversary of my native city I went to the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. There are currently two “Italian” exhibitions. One, in collaboration with Pinacoteca di Siena, focuses on the rise of the Sienese school of art. It features at least one work attributed to workshop of Duccio di Buoninsegna and works by Simone Martini, Giovanni di Paolo, and others. It also demonstrates some rare Sienese biccherni and 13-14th Italian paintings and altarpieces from the Pushkin Museum collection.

Another exhibition features works by Giambattista Tiepolo (18th c.) and other Italian painters of 17-18th cc.

In the city, in one of the boulevards, there is an exhibition of Soviet photography. Photos span 1930s-1980s and focus on celebrations in Red Square and Moscow architecture.

Below is one of exhibits, a painting by a 17th c. Neapolitan master, “The healing of the man sick with palsy”.

Monday Verses: Michelangelo Buonarotti – Sulla morte di Cecchino Bracci (1545)

David Hockney, In Memoriam Cecchino Bracci

In 1544, a handsome 15-year-old boy named Cecchino (Francesco) Bracci died, leaving his uncle Luigi del Riccio shattered. At the time Luigi was a close friend and counsellor to Michelangelo Buonarotti, whom he kindly asked to execute a tomb for Cecchino and compose an epitaph.

I was reading a book by Sigmund Freud recently, and the Austrian narrated a story of how a young scientist asked him to review his work. Freud agreed; however, he couldn’t force himself to do it; eventually, he accepted that he didn’t actually want to do the review, and excused himself from the task.

Believe it or not, in 1540s in Italy Michelangelo was in the exact Freud’s position. He barely knew the boy, and it turned out that, in spite of his famous beauty, Cecchino never sat for a portrait. The only source of knowledge and inspiration was supposed to be Cecchino’s uncle, Luigi.

Michelangelo’s autograph of the epitaphs

A kind soul as it seems, Michelangelo took to the job. Luigi sent generous hampers to feed a rather indifferent Muse, which gifts the artist sometimes acknowledged in the draft epitaphs and sketches he’d sent back to del Riccio. Indeed, the texts we have demonstrate the hard times Michelangelo could have when the subject failed to ignite his poetic flame. Even the words stumble, and the lack of acquaintance with the boy fully manifests itself. Several months and almost fifty epitaphs later, Michelangelo pulled out from the job. And yet, in 1545 he’d sent Luigi a beautiful sonnet. It is a short study of the poet labour’s lost, with a beautiful ending that actually re-interprets one of the draft epitaphs, pointing out to the fact that it is a lover who preserves the image of the beloved. In spite of what we know of the Renaissance homoerotism, and Michelangelo’s in particular, I insist that Love here needs to be understood as a pure affection, not a hint at any sexual interest.

The tomb (image: Wikipedia)

The tomb was eventually made by another artist and can be seen at the church dell’Aracoeli in Rome. In 1962, David Hockney painted In Memoriam Cecchino Bracchi. This post also includes the sketches by Michelangelo that were eventually used as the basis for the tomb. The final epitaph was composed in Latin.

Drafts (image: Michelangelo.ru)
Drafts (image: Michelangelo.ru)

The Russian poet Andrei Voznesensky also translated two of the epitaphs on the death of Cecchino. I guess the interest in this series of epitaphs lies in several facts. The genre of an epitaph is unique in itself, and when a famous artist-cum-poet composes the whopping 42 quatrains, it does attract attention. Cecchino’s death devastated “the whole of Rome”, according to his uncle, although the age at which the boy died was likely the main reason. And even though Michelangelo’s pen and Muse refused to work together, he nonetheless appears to have been excited at the opportunity to explore one of the favourite themes of the early Baroque poetry, namely vanitas and preference given to the other life.

I didn’t try to translate the epitaphs. Yet back in 2008, when I discovered the 1545 sonnet, it captivated me so that I had to translate it. I must admit, I fully experienced Michelangelo’s own hardships, it was the first time I was translating from Italian, and as always before my task was to try and preserve the original rhythm and melody in the Russian translation. I was, however, satisfied with the result. It is included below, together with the English translation by John Addington Symonds.

In 2013 my Russian translation was awarded the First Diploma in the “Poetry” nomination in Music in Translation competition.

Michelangelo Buonarotti – Sulla morte di Cecchino Bracci

A pena prima aperti gli vidd’io
i suo begli occhi in questa fragil vita,
che, chiusi el dì dell’ultima partita,
gli aperse in cielo a contemplare Dio.
Conosco e piango, e non fu l’error mio,
col cor sì tardi a lor beltà gradita,
ma di morte anzi tempo, ond’è sparita
a voi non già, m’al mie ’rdente desio.
Dunche, Luigi, a far l’unica forma
di Cecchin, di ch’i’ parlo, in pietra viva etterna,
or ch’è già terra qui tra noi,
se l’un nell’altro amante si trasforma,
po’ che sanz’essa l’arte non v’arriva,
convien che per far lui ritragga voi.

John Addington Symonds – English Translation

Scarce had I seen for the first time his eyes,
Which to your living eyes were life and light,
When, closed at last in death’s injurious night,
He opened them on God in Paradise.
I know it, and I weep — too late made wise:
Yet was the fault not mine; for death’s fell spite
Robbed my desire of that supreme delight
Which in your better memory never dies.
Therefore, Luigi, if the task be mine
To make unique Cecchino smile in stone
For ever, now that earth hath made him dim,
If the beloved within the lover shine,
Since art without him cannot work alone,
You must I carve to tell the world of him.

Julia Shuvalova – Russian Translation

Я только раз взглянул в глаза того,
В чьем взоре ты черпал и жизнь, и свет,
Как в вечном сне он их сомкнул, чтоб впредь
Смотреть в раю на Бога самого.

Как глуп я был! И плачу оттого!
Но, право же, моей вины в том нет.
А ты хранишь вовеки счастья след,
Хотя бы Смерть и унесла его.

Луиджи, просишь ты: пусть сохранит
От тлена несравненную улыбку
Чеккино мой прославленный резец.

Но любящий любимого творит,
И, раз уж Муз дела идут не шибко,
Тебя мне должно взять за образец.

October 2008

На русском 

В июне 1544 г. в Риме умер юный Франческо (Чеккино) Браччи, племянник поэта Луиджи дель Риччо. Луиджи, хорошо знакомый с Микеланджело, обратился к поэту-художнику с просьбой создать надгробие для мраморного памятника Чеккино, а также написать текст эпитафии. Микеланджело согласился. До нас, действительно, дошли четыре эпитафии. Однако ни одна из них не украсила надгробие Чеккино, да и сам памятник, в конце концов, был успешно создан другим мастером.

Причина, по которой Микеланджело уклонился от исполнения договора, вероятнее всего изложена им самим в приведенном сонете. Вопреки тому, что можно прочесть в популярных статьях о глубине отношений Микеланджело и Чеккино, степень близости была невелика, что и подчеркивает первая строка сонета. Несмотря на то что Чеккино славился своей красотой, ни один художник, похоже, не соизволил запечатлеть его при жизни. Переводы нескольких набросков эпитафий, сделанные А. М. Эфросом, демонстрируют бесплодные усилия пера Микеланджело, которое дель Риччо изо всех сил старался подпитать – в прямом смысле этого слова:

Здесь рок послал безвременный мне сон,
Но я не мертв, хоть и опущен в землю:
Я жив в тебе, чьим сетованьям внемлю,
За то, что в друге друг отображен.

– Не хотел посылать вам это, потому что скверно вышло,
но форели и трюфели одолели бы и само небо. Вверяю себя вам.

К благой судьбе я смертью приведен:
Бог не желал меня увидеть старым,
И так как рок не властен большим даром,
Все, кроме смерти, было б мне в урон.

– Теперь, когда обещание пятнадцати надписей выполнено,
я больше уже не повинен вам ими, разве что придут
они из рая, где он пребывает.

Рисовать эскиз надгробия оказалось еще тяжелее: “Посылаю вам с запиской дыни, рисунка же пока нет, но я изготовлю его непременно со всем искусством, на какое способен”. И однако же искусства было мало:

Чеккино – в жизни, ныне – я у Бога,
Мирской на миг, небесный навсегда;
Счастливая вела меня звезда:
Где стольким в смерть, мне в жизнь была дорога.

– Так как поэзия этой ночью молчала, посылаю вам
четыре надписи, за три пряника скряги и вверяю себя

Андрей Вознесенский также перевел две из этих эпитафий:

Я счастлив, что я умер молодым.
Земные муки – хуже, чем могила.
Навеки смерть меня освободила
и сделалась бессмертием моим.

Я умер, подчинившись естеству.
Но тыщи дум в моей душе вмещались.
Одна на них погасла – что за малость?!
Я в тысячах оставшихся живу.

Проведя не один месяц в творческих муках, Микеланджело отклонил заказ дель Риччо. Но в 1545 г. написал для него вышеприведенный сонет. При отсутствии каких-либо изображений юноши, Луиджи, как любящий дядя и воспитатель, для которого смерть Чеккино явилась тяжелым ударом, мог бы единственным “источником” вдохновения для художника. На это и намекает Микеланджело, с присущими его веку изяществом и легким юмором предлагая изваять самого дель Риччо, дабы сохранить в веках память о Чеккино. Одновременно в этом сонете сходятся многие темы, поднятые Микеланджело в черновых вариантах эпитафий, в частности, в этих строках: “Я жив в тебе, чьим сетованьям внемлю, за то, что в друге друг отображен”.

История жизни и смерти Чеккино Браччи, о которой известно ровно столько, сколько можно извлечь из этих коротких посланий Микеланджело, послужила источником вдохновения для английского художника Дэвида Хокни (In Memoriam Cecchino Bracci, 1962).

В 2013 г. за перевод этого сонета я получила диплом I степени в номинации “Поэзия” на международном конкурсе перевода “Музыка перевода”.

Original Paolo Veronese Pieta Found In Tashkent

An original painting by Paolo Veronese (La Pieta) was identified at Tashkent Art Museum. It was thought to belong to an unknown painter of the Venetian school.

While some Russians openly express disdain for workers from Uzbekistan, the capital of the CIS state has now got an impressive claim to fame. One painting at the Tashkent Art Museum has long been ascribed to an unknown artist. It is now declared to be the original Paolo Veronese’s La Pieta (The Mourning of Christ). Veronese was a celebrated master of the late Italian Renaissance. The image currently shown by RIA Novosti website does indeed resemble Veronese’s manner and lighting:

Paolo Veronese, La Pieta (RIA Novosti)

The painting that used to hang on the third floor of the art museum was brought to Tashkent by the Grand Duke Nikolas Constantinovich (1850-1918). His diary mentions that this was an original painting, most likely brought from one of his journeys to Europe in 1860-70s. However, it was only the restoration work that led to revisiting the diaries, conducting analyses and eventually declaring that Tashkent State Fine Arts Museum happens to own the painting by the great Italian.

The leader of the restoration project Dilshod Azizov said that more “important announcements” were to made at a later stage.

The initial announcement came earlier in November, and the Radio Liberty correspondents and art historians from the West were not quite sure the canvas could indeed belong to Veronese, although they did not doubt its Venetian origins.

The Grand Duke Nikolas was an eccentric member of the Russian imperial family, and Tashkent museum holds another testimony of the love for Italian art on the part of this Romanov. During one of his voyages to Europe with his beloved Fanny Lear, a divorcée from America, he visited the villa Borghese where he saw a nude sculpture of Polina Borghese, Napoleon’s sister, by Antonio Canova. The Grand Duke was so impressed that he commissioned a similar sculpture to an Italian master Tommaso Solari, but obviously with Fanny’s face instead of Polina’s. The exact copy was later sent to St. Petersburg where it stood in a park for a number of years. When the Grand Duke was already in exile, forever separated from his beloved American, his mother found the sculpture during a walk in the park and decided to send it to Tashkent.

So the exact copy of Canova’s sculpture commemorating an American woman who, inadvertently perhaps, led the Grand Duke to ruin, can now be seen in full glory at Tashkent State Fine Arts Museum. But a Western or Russian traveller needs not to go so far to see it: a smaller copy is displayed at the Yussupov Palace in St. Petersburg. And of course, there are other Italian Renaissance paintings in Russia, but to see the original Paolo Veronese La Pieta you will now need to go to Uzbekistan.

Tommaso Solari, a copy after Antonio Canova,
Tashkent State Fine Arts Museum (Wikipedia)

Other posts in Renaissance Painting archives.

Venus Anadyomene by Arthur Rimbaud

Representation of Venus Anadyomene in painting and in Arthus Rimbaud’s sonnet reveal two strikingly different viewpoints.

Titian, Venus Anadyomene
When we consider the impact that the Symbolists had on how the following generations of artists treated beauty, the best example may well be Arthur Rimbaud’s sonnet, Venus Anadyomene.
A contemporary of Degas and the Impressionists, Rimbaud, like painters, saw his Venus as a “real” woman, unravelling to us her terrifying beauty, complete with bad hair and cellulite. Rimbaud rampantly went against the custom image, showing the birth of Venus from behind. As Somerset Maugham would say in Cakes and Ale: or, the Skeleton in the Cupboard in 1930, it was unforgivable to write about women as if they had no anus at all – and Rimbaud in 1870 certainly held the same viewpoint.
Sandro Botticelli
So, as you proceed to reading Venus Anadyomene by Rimbaud in several languages, you may also compare various representations of the birth of Venus in painting, starting as early as a fresco in Pompeii. Rimbaud’s poem is also in sharp contrast with a melodic long poem by Rainer Maria Rilke that again studies Venus as it emerges from the water, facing us.
William Bougereau
Arthur Rimbaud – Venus Anadyomene (1870)

Comme d’un cercueil vert en ferblanc, une tête

De femme à cheveux bruns fortement pommadés
D’une vieille baignoire émerge, lente et bête,
Avec des déficits assez mal ravaudés;
Puis le col gras et gris, les larges omoplates
Qui saillent ; le dos court qui rentre et qui ressort;
Puis les rondeurs des reins semblent prendre l’essor;

La graisse sous la peau paraît en feuilles plates;

L’échine est un peu rouge, et le tout sent un goût
Horrible étrangement ; on remarque surtout
Des singularités qu’il faut voir à la loupe…

Les reins portent deux mots gravés : Clara Venus;
– Et tout ce corps remue et tend sa large croupe
Belle hideusement d’un ulcère à l’anus.
German translation by Eric Boerner
Theodore Chasseriau
Wie aus ‘nem Weißblechsarg erscheint ein Frauenkopf,
Die braunen Haare dick pomadisiert,
Aus alter Badewanne, träge, dumpf, es tropft,
Die Defizite sind nur mäßig renoviert.
Dann – feist und grau – der Hals, weit klaffen Schulterblätter,
Der kurze Rücken hebt sich, beugt sich wieder vor;

Dann schwingen Lendenwülste sich wie zum Flug empor;
Das Fett unter der Haut erscheint wie flachgeplättet;

Das Rückgrat ist leicht rot, vom Ganzen schwelt ein Duft

Befremdend fürchterlich; doch man bemerkt mit Lust
Die Einzelheiten dort, die nur die Lupe findet …
Und CLARA VENUS ist den Lenden eingraviert;
– Der ganze Leib bewegt sich, spannt den breiten Hintern

Und scheußlich schön erscheint am After ein Geschwür.

A fresco in Pompeii
Russian translation by Mikhail Kudinov

Из ржавой ванны, как из гроба жестяного,
Неторопливо появляется сперва
Вся напомаженная густо и ни слова
Не говорящая дурная голова.

И шея жирная за нею вслед, лопатки
Торчащие, затем короткая спина,
Ввысь устремившаяся бедер крутизна
И сало, чьи пласты образовали складки.

Чуть красноват хребет. Ужасную печать

На всем увидишь ты; начнешь и замечать
То, что под лупою лишь видеть можно ясно:

«Венера» выколото тушью на крестце…

Все тело движется, являя круп в конце,

Где язва ануса чудовищно прекрасна.

Brazilian Portuguese Translation by Ivo Barosso (source)

Antonio Lombardi
Qual de um verde caixão de zinco, uma cabeça
Morena de mulher, cabelos emplastados,
Surge de uma banheira antiga, vaga e avessa,
Com déficits que estão a custo retocados.

Brota após grossa e gorda a nuca, as omoplatas
Anchas; o dorso curto ora sobe ora desce;
Depois a redondez do lombo é que aparece;
A banha sob a carne espraia em placas chatas;

A espinha é um tanto rósea, e o todo tem um ar
Horrendo estranhamente; há, no mais, que notar
Pormenores que são de examinar-se à lupa…

Nas nádegas gravou dois nomes: Clara Vênus;
— E o corpo inteiro agita e estende a ampla garupa
Com a bela hediondez de uma úlcera no ânus.

English translation by Wallace Fowlie
As from a green zinc coffin, a woman’s
Head with brown hair heavily pomaded
Emerges slowly and stupidly from an old bathtub,
With bald patches rather badly hidden;

Then the fat gray neck, broad shoulder-blades
Sticking out; a short back which curves in and bulges;

Then the roundness of the buttocks seems to take off;

The fat under the skin appears in slabs:

The spine is a bit red; and the whole thing has a smell

Strangely horrible; you notice especially
Odd details you’d have to see with a magnifying glass…

 The buttocks bear two engraved words: CLARA VENUS;
—And that whole body moves and extends its broad rump
Hideously beautiful with an ulcer on the anus.
J. A. D. Ingres
Out of what seems a coffin made of tin
A head protrudes; a woman’s, dark with grease –
Out of a bathtub! – slowly; then a fat face
With ill-concealed defects upon the skin.
Then streaked and grey, a neck; a shoulder-blade,
A back – irregular, with indentations –
Then round loins emerge, and slowly rise;
The fat beneath the skin seems made of lead;

The spine is somewhat reddish; then, a smell,
Strangely horrible; we notice above all

Some microscopic blemishes in front…

Horribly beautiful! A title: Clara Venus;
Then the huge bulk heaves, and with a grunt
She bends and shows the ulcer on her anus.

The First Day of Spring (and a Short Report of My Travels)

Sandro Botticelli, Primavera (1482)

My congratulations to all of you on the occasion of the first day of spring! Today, in fact, was a wonderful day: I learnt that two of my former colleagues have got engaged at the end of January. I am very, very happy for both of them, it’s wonderful news, and a great way to start the season often associated with Love. Sandro Botticelli knew this well when he painted his famous Primavera that apparently served as a wedding gift.

Manchester from my hotel
 North Wales from the Great Orme

Last week I briefly went to the UK. After a full year in Russia I thought I would be treated to something new, but no, things don’t change THAT quickly. Fair enough, there’s scaffolding on St. Ann’s church, and a new building has sprung at the corner of Tib St, but the rest was more of less the same (except that many shops in Stockport have been closing due to recession). I visited Leeds and Llandudno and had the most relaxing time, even though I had to do a lot. Unfortunately, once again I didn’t get the chance to visit Manchester Jewish Museum, but I nipped in and picked up a visitor guide and a fridge magnet, and had a brief conversation with Sarah about Russia, its history and people. I need this “inner” information for one of the stories I’m working on, so I’ll now have to get by with the Russian sources.

Otherwise, everything is going great, especially since I climbed the Great Orme in Llandudno. The pictures you see were taken at the summit.

After conquering the Great Orme…


Religious Paintings by Francois Boucher

Although better known for his sensuous paintings, François Boucher shows a more serious side of his genius, when tackling religious themes in his paintings. Among several completed canvasses and a few sketches some study the popular story of the flight into Egypt and Nativity, while others illustrate stories from both Old and New Testament.

1. Old Testament.

Hagar and Ishmael in the Desert. Boucher illustrates the ‘second’ expulsion of Hagar from the house of Abraham, when she went into the desert with Abraham’s son, Ishmael.

Genesis 21: 14-21 tells the story:

15 And the water in the bottle was spent, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs.
16 And she went, and sat her down over against him a good way off, as it were a bow-shot; for she said: ‘Let me not look upon the death of the child.’ And she sat over against him, and lifted up her voice, and wept.
17 And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her: ‘What aileth thee, Hagar? fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is.
18 Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him fast by thy hand; for I will make him a great nation.’
19 And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink.
20 And God was with the lad, and he grew; and he dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer.
As it often happened in paintings since the Renaissance, Hagar has contemporary headwear, that makes her resemble a 17th c. shepherdess. A Cupid-like Ishmael is lying next to her, and in the foreground there is an empty jug and a small sac with what seem like arrows. There is another sketch on the same topic, more robust, tempestuous, and dramatic.
Joseph Presenting His Father and Brothers to Pharaoh. In this 1723 painting Boucher managed to stay away from the temptation to dress his characters in contemporary clothes, and we see the particular line being illustrated, namely the presention of Joseph’s father. Dr Shimon Kuper has an interesting analysis of this story in the paper for the Bar-Ilan University’s weekly Torah reading.

Joseph went and told Pharaoh, “My father and brothers, with their flocks and herds and everything they own, have come from the land of Canaan and are now in Goshen.” He chose five of his brothers and presented them before Pharaoh. Pharaoh asked the brothers, “What is your occupation?” “Your servants are shepherds,” they replied to Pharaoh, “just as our fathers were.”  They also said to him, “We have come to live here awhile, because the famine is severe in Canaan and your servants’ flocks have no pasture. So now, please let your servants settle in Goshen.” Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to you, and the land of Egypt is before you; settle your father and your brothers in the best part of the land. Let them live in Goshen. And if you know of any among them with special ability, put them in charge of my own livestock.Then Joseph brought his father Jacob in and presented him before Pharaoh. After Jacob blessed Pharaoh,  Pharaoh asked him, “How old are you?”  And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers.”  Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from his presence. (Genesis 47: 1-10).

2. New Testament
The Dream of St. Joseph. All three dreams of St. Joseph were recorded in Gospel of Matthew and refer, in one way or another, to Nativity. In this painting Boucher illustrated the first dream:
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”(Matthew 1: 20-21).

St. John the Baptist and the Easter lamb. One has to forgive Boucher a doze of mannerism in presenting the young St. John. Of course, he looks like one of those cherubic figures in Boucher’s bucolic paintings. On the other hand, one cannot help comparing – rather successfully! – this image of St. John as a child with an earlier one by Parmigianino that depicts Jesus in a very “cherubic” style. As a result, Boucher appears to be continuing with the Renaissance mannerist tradition, rather than merely repeating his own habit of painting putti.

Nativity. Boucher gets very intimate here, positioning the scene in its entirety in the foreground and drawing everyone in to the newborn Jesus. Not only the angels, but animals are watching too. The light goes from left corner (the figure of baby Jesus) to the top of the sketch. The scene transmits adoration and awe at the miracle of life. There is a completed 1758 painting of this scene, reversing Mary with the cradle, letting St. John the Baptist in, and omitting St. Joseph.

The Adoration of the Shepherds and The Adoration of the Magi. Apparently, The Adoration of the Shepherds (1750, left) is also known under the name The Light of the World, which is the phrase Jesus used to describe himself and which was most famously applied by William Holman Hunt to his painting depicting Jesus with a lantern. The Adoration of the Magi (right) came down as a pretty rough sketch; it’s hard to say who’s who about the Magi, although most likely we see Gaspar kneeling, Balthasar next to him, and Melchior is giving the gift to Jesus.
The Rest on the Flight into Egypt. Here Boucher illustrated the third dream of St. Joseph he received after King Herod died. Jesus and St. John the Baptist are seen playing together in the foreground, St. John wearing the animal skin, and the figure of Jesus glowing with gentle light. Mary is reading, and a small lamb is resting peacefully next to her.

After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.” (Matthew 2: 19-20).

Baby Jesus and the Infant St. John the Baptist. As above with the baby St. John, here we see both Jesus and St. John as unusually serious putti: St. John and angels attentively listen and contemplate the word of Jesus. In the foreground, half-hidden in the clouds, lies the staff with the banner with the Latin inscription, Ecce Agnus Dei (This is the God’s Lamb).

An Apostle preaching, with figures in the background. Boucher didn’t include any detail in this sketch that could help identify the apostle by name. What is peculiar, is that the 18th c. slowly began to draw attention to the poor, and so the apostle appears barefeet, with greasy hair, in tatters, surrounded by poor folk of different ages.

Read this post on Poverty in Art.

St. Peter attempting to walk on water. The painting depicts the moment of St. Peter getting out of the boat to walk towards Jesus. Once again we see Boucher “faithfully” illustrating Matthew’s Gospel. Although the story of Jesus’s walking on water is told in Mark 6:45-52 and John 6: 16-21, neither of these mention the episode of St. Peter’s attempt to walk towards Christ. Arguably, this is one of the most “biblical” paintings by Boucher in this series of religious canvasses: the spiritual union of the figures in the foreground is palpable, and only small angelic faces remind us of the Rococo period.

Peter, sitting in the boat, shouts out into the darkness: “‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’  So, He said, ‘Come.’ And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’ And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him” (Matthew 14:28-31).

And here’s what François Boucher said once about a woman and about the Titans of Renaissance.

Images are courtesy of FrancoisBoucher.org and Olga’s Gallery.

Leonardo’s Self-Portrait on Display at Turin

Leonardo’s self-portrait is on display at Turin until January 2012, along with modern artists’ takes on his work, including Duchamp and Warhol.

Image: ArtDaily.org

Leonardo’s self-portrait is still making waves. While Caravaggio is visiting Moscow, those who wish to travel to Italy may consider going to Turin. The exhibition marking the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy explores the development and impact of Leonardo’s gift. “Leonardo. The Genuis. The Myth” runs at the Palace of Venaria from November 17, 2011 until January 29, 2012.

The contemporary section of exhibition that explores the fates of Leonardo in modern art opens with Marcel Duchamp’s parody on Mona Lisa and continues with the interpretation of Last Supper by Andy Warhol. Leonardo’s studies in physiognomy also inspired Lavater, and influenced Goya, Daumier, and Grosz.

On display is also Leonardo’s most famous self-portrait, with a long wavy beard.

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