From the Studio Masters Palettes Techniques

The Holy Grail of Flesh Tones, Part II: Velazquez

A funny thing happened the other day as I was googling through the web universe in search of greater enlightenment on flesh tones…

Masters Techniques

Odd Nerdrum’s Ground

I just had a conversation with my Maestro about this tonight… though I have managed to concoct my own “Italian version” of the ground, you can read a super explanation of the actual materials used here on Art Babel.

Art = Math Masters

The Library of Velazquez

Often before I leave on a trip I print and assemble a packet of articles to read along the way.  In the Summer of 2010 I collected a series of essays and investigations on Velazquez.  These included:

  • “Sargent after Velazquez” by Richard Ormond and Mary Pixley pulished in The Burlington Magazine in September of 2003;
  • “Velazquez as Connoisseur” by Enriqueta Harris published in The Burlington Magazine in July of 1982;
  • “Two Letters from Camillo Massimi to Diego Velazquez” by Jose’ Luis Colomer and Enriqueta Harris published in The Burlington Magazine in August of 1994;
  • “Velazquez’s Portrait of Camillo Massimi” by Enriqueta Harris published in The Burlington Magazine in August of 1958;
  • “Velazquez and the Queen of Hungary” by Enriqueta Harris and John Elliott published in T The Burlington Magazine published in January of 1976;
  • “The Problem of Velazquez’s Drawings” by Gridley McKim-Smith published in Master Drawings, Vol. 18, No. 1 in the Spring of 1980.

But there was one last essay that revealed a piece of information I found intriguing to the point of intoxication… and have headily dwelt on it these past several months.  In fact, I’ve even written (via email) to the Prado museum asking for further information.  I have yet to get an answer.

The work is entitled “New Facts About Velazquez,” written by F. J. Sanchez Cantón and published in The Burlington Magazine in December of 1945.  (If you are wondering how I got so much material regarding The Burlington Magazine, check out your friendly neighborhood JSTOR.)  In it, the author reveals that upon Velazquez’s death, an inventory was taken of his worldly belongings, which included his library.  Mr. Sanchez Cantón had the opportunity to view this inventory in 1925 and then goes on to say: “In 1942, I succeeded in publishing the inventory in full.”

Despite my reasonable research skills, I have not yet found this.


Masters Materials Techniques

Titian: His Colors and Technique

My friend and colleague, the Classicist Paul Gwynne, called my attention to this documentary just a couple of weeks ago: he had it on VHS, but I would have to wait to see it.

Not known for my patience, I immediately searched YouTube… but didn’t find anything.

Well, nothing can cure mediocre research skills like a good case of insomnia.  Tonight (this morning), I found it:


A Recent Look at Las Meninas

A Spanish documentary interviews several local experts about the myths behind the masterpiece.  Worth watching for all you “V-philes”; my Italian helped me follow most  of it.


Everybody Wants Some

News in Italy today that there is a newly discovered Caravaggio.

I’ve seen an image… and that most definitely is not a Caravaggio.

Masters Techniques

Sfumato = 30 Layers?

French Scientists Crack Secrets Of ‘Mona Lisa’

Masters Travels and Museums

“Old Masters & Modern Science”

Review of the show “Close Examination: Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries,” by Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times in London.

Essays and Enquiries Masters

The Calling of Someone at the Table

A painter’s analysis of Caravaggio’s Calling of Saint Matthew by Timothy Joseph Allen.
Written as a response to my late great colleague Professor Terry Kirk in December, 2006.  Published on pLog July, 2010.

Terry, your analysis and interpretation of this painting is intriguing.  I especially like your idea about pinpointing the exact moment in time that has been captured–and if I’ve understood correctly–you assert it is just after the words of Christ have been spoken, but just before the words of Christ have been heard by its intended recipient–the figure on the far left.

However, I would argue that Levi–soon to be Matthew–is indeed the one in the center of the table.  I’ve created the following diagram to support my argument.

Tip: right click to open in new window to see a bigger version in a separate window while you read.
Masters Techniques

Caravaggio Techniques and the Camera Obscura

Today I had a lively in-studio conversation with friend, colleague and restorer Eowyn Kerr on Caravaggio, his technique (did he glaze?) and why a painter should never underestimate the potential of a good table cloth.  She was even kind enough to make for me a lovely sketch on how to understand the cross-section of a painting sample (though she refused to sign it) and, in doing so, she suggested to me that Caravaggio did not lay in a lead white base for flesh to then glaze down, but rather, worked with a flesh mid-tone, then made the highlights with a flesh-colored lead white mix.  To be specific: begin the flesh with an “extender white” or “shell white” (once known as “Biacco di San Giovanni”) mixed with some yellow ochre, green earth and vermillion, then, over that, the lead white flesh.


Michelangelo’s Brain

Concealed Neuroanatomy in Michelangelo’s Separation of Light From Darkness in the Sistine Chapel

Book Notes Masters

V for Velázquez

I’ve begun reading the essays included in a catalog I picked up last May while visiting the Prado and so far the first one is truly fantastic (if only all art analysis were written with such grace and clarity!).

The catalog is called Velázquez’s Fables and the first essay is entitled “Velázquez as History Painter: Rivalry, Eminence and Artistic Conciousness” written by Javier Portús (I’m guessing that whoever translated should be given credit for a wonderful translation, though perhaps dear Señor Portús also writes in English?).  Please note, I’ve added this catalog to the Bibliography.

I’d like to share two excerpts, first an anecdote:

Antonio Palomino published the first in-depth biography of Velázquez in 1724.  This account, which promplty served to distinguish the artist as a unique figure in the history of Spanish painting, still proves an indeispensable reference work on Velázquez as an individual and on the context in which he developed his work.  One of the paragraphs in this Life that merits attention is the one in which the author elucidated the reasons behind the painter’s unrivalled position in the Spanish court: “He was very pithy in his remarks and repartee: His Majesty said to him one day that there were not lacking poeple who declared that his skill was limited to knowing how to paint a head; to which he replied: ‘Sire, they favour me greatly, for I do not know that there is anyone who can paint a head.’  What a remarkable reaction to jealousy in a man who had proved his universal command of the art….”

Second, a keen analysis:

… another crucial aspect of Velázquez’s career and of the history of painting itself, namely, that formal conquests advance narrative discoveries.  Hence, the more sophisticated the tools of representation the artist has at his command, the greater the means at his disposal to construct a complex narrative plot… whereas in the aforementioned early work the elements that can be imbued with meaning (the old woman and the young maid, the objects on the table, adn the background scene) are independent of one another and their integration proves somewhat awkward, in the Fable of Arachne there is a very fluid interrelation between the different elements and they all serve to make up a coherent whole.

Exceptional writing, exceptional insight.  Thank you, Javier!

Book Notes History Masters

Notes on “Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling”

Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King

P2 – Pieta’ – 1496, “a few years later”, “surpassing not only the sculptures of all of M’s contemporaries but even those of the ancient Greeks and Romans themselves–the standards by which art was judged.”

P3 – Julius’ plan for his monument: “…a memorial that was to be the largest since the mausoleums built for Roman emperors such as Hadrian and Augustus”, 34 x 50 ft, 40 figures.

P7 – Bramante = Ravenous


Discovery of a Velazquez at the Metropolitan

New York Times article, September 9th, 2009