Velazquez, like every great artist, tempered his method with doses of instinct.
—From Jonathan Brown and Carmen Garrido's "Technique of Genius", Yale University Press, 1998.
Velazquez, like every great artist, tempered his method with doses of instinct.
—From Jonathan Brown and Carmen Garrido's "Technique of Genius", Yale University Press, 1998.
Notes on the notes: this post is long overdue! My glorious trip to the National Gallery occurred almost one year ago and the following notes I took on my iPad before, during and after my time in the National Gallery. I had put off publication mainly because I was going to accompany these notes with a video to, but I don’t see that happening any time soon so no need to wait further.
For a look at some of the pictures taken during my time in London, please visit this page on my paintings and drawings website.
Finally, good luck to my friend Peter, who is heading to the National Gallery this January to copy Rembrandt!
December 26th, 2012, writing from Noci, Puglia
Day before the first day of copying, sitting in The National gallery in front of both paintings.
Philip IV is smaller than I imagined in my mind; Rokeby Venus is larger.
(I’m shocked by how small the virgin Mary is!)
Looks like the Admiral attributed to V by Solomon is now attributed to Mazo!
Flesh is darker than I imagined in general, especially in the Pondering of Christ by a Christian Soul.
Is the secret to exceptional flesh really more about subtlety in value and less to do with color?
There will be quite the crowd tomorrow. I must get a good night’s sleep!
Zan and Neil are the two men I met at the Duty Manager office.
Note the color of the wallpaper: creme red/burgandy red with a kind of floral pattern.
Note also the frame around both paintings. I wonder the story and age of each.
Have worked for two hours. Pleased so far (see photo) but very difficult to understand the flesh tones. Time for lunch.
Palette so far:
Still don’t have the luminosity in the flesh. See second photo. Is that something that can be achieved alla prima, or will I get that only after it has dried and I can lay in more paint.
Question: try your v flesh? Or t flesh?
Color I forgot to mention: Lapis Lazuli.
Worked the V flesh (michael Harding Transparent Red Oxide + Cremnitz white with walnut oil)… Definitely improved the luminosity, but it does not yet seem to rival the brilliance of the original.
See photo 3: drawing is good, but something not yet right with drawing. Too wide? Yes, I think so, on the right side.
Am stopping for today… 5 pm. So 10:30 to 5 with one hour for lunch.
Carol, Sheila, Pat, Di, Mary… Some nice ladies I just spoke with after cleaning up. Sitting now in front of the work… Waiting to take a quick video… But the guard is standing right next to me! Guard names: Sheik, Me-lanie, Boris.
Review of today’s process:
Brushes used: hog bristle for background, bull hair for flesh and sometimes the da Vinci synthetic for small details.
First session complete (see next photo), about one hour on the background. Used yellow ochre and ivory black with a touch of raw umber, but I wonder if the solidity of the background wouldn’t benefit from more raw umber?
In the black shirt used straight ivory black with some Lapis lazuli… The black in the clothes is certainly more of a blue black.
Brushes note: the block studio bristle worked much better than the Jackson’s black hog bristle.
Flesh: I held up the V flesh on the grey ground to the painting and it appears to brighter than the flesh on the actual painting. Curious.
Next step, darken shadows in flesh.
Eureka! Shortened the forehead… Made a big difference. Next photo. Now must fix hair.
2pm, next photo. Hair looks pretty good, but I wonder if it is still too wide.
Finding wonderful colors with raw umber, white, vermilion, burnt umber.
Used my verdaccio middle grey on the collar.
I thought that I would need naples yellow in the hair, but instead stayed with yellow ochre, white, raw umber and burnt umber.
Note the solidity of the paint! Also, have been using very little oil.
Next photo… Batteries running low on camera.
5:45, no more photos as batteries are dead.
Drawing is better, though something still leaves perplexed; I continue to suspect that the head is too wide…or maybe i just need to push the forehead back up?
I am using the Doak raw olive umber dark with the ivory black. Working well. Better covering power, which was needed.
Great stories to tell…
Marguerita. Or Maria Marvel! (read with your best indigo Montoya / Banderas Puss-in-Boots Spanish accent):
“Oh, this is wonderful, but the head is longer, you see? You must make it longer. But you are almost there… You are so close!”
Moments later, “I think I know what is wrong; the eye drops, you see. His right eye, which is on our left, it drops. You have a straight line, but there it drops.”
I said to her, “ok, stand there and watch, I’m going to fix it.” Michelangelo, the hand of David and Marble dust came to mind.
“Oh, yes, much better. It is wonderful, you are very close.”
I told her to come see me in Rome. We’ll see.
* * *
Julie Jackson: she started to talk to talk to me about paints, Michael Harding, then medium and she noticed there wasn’t any smell of turps… Only walnut oil, I told her.
Then: “I run a life drawing course at the Royal Academy on Wednesdays, would you like to come?”
* * *
Maurizio and Daniel, some nice end of the day critics. But just before :
“That looks nothing like him.” without turning I chuckled; I knew it was Angela. And Kareen was there. They took some fantastic pictures. And Angela had some really good guidance, especially regarding the flesh. Which brings me to the ultimate lesson: solidity.
Eowyn and I mixed some paint yesterday and made some really interesting discoveries: for a good flesh base, the best formula appears to be Doak Flemish white with a touch of Williamsburg Lemon Yellow Ochre and a tickle of Vermilion… Later adding some of the Italian Roman Black Earth to get a nice shadow tone.
We also muted and warmed up the Galena Grey / New Titanium White mix by adding a “wash” of burnt umber, Italian black roman earth and flemish white.
National Gallery: 2 days before the Venus. Sitting in front of her as I write.
It really is about solidity: the ability of a color to hold a space and how visual strength of the color depends on its thickness.
I had previously asked the question: “are there areas of painting that are painted thinly but represent the illusion of solid forms, like stone, flesh etc?”
But it is the opposite that should be examined: are there areas that are painted thickly, yet not intended to hold the space? The thickness of paint, I think corresponds to two things: 1. The importance and power of the space and area and 2. The importance it plays in the overall balance of the composition.
Sweet Venus! See you day after tomorrow.
Flesh tones are MUCH darker than anticipated. Using only vermilion, Flemish white, roman black earth and a touch of lemon ochre. Also, using walnut oil to draw, but stand oil and calcite to mix the body of the paint.
Still perfecting the drawing… Though I have played with some of the flesh colors on her bottom. Now back to the drawing…
Right away I saw the drawing that needs adjustment: bottom buttock needs to be longer to the right, maybe higher up.
Angle of back also need to arc a little higher to the right.
Head position looks good but I think the right arm needs to come lower. Yes, looking at it now the bottom of her thumb must be even with top left of where her shoulder meets her neck.
Need to make background much darker to get a better sense of light in figure; when my painting sits beneath the picture it appears to be brighter, but when it is on the easel it appears darker.
I have a very pink figure; I’ll need to think of ways to make her a little more golden and a little more blue (purple) in the shadows.
No guts, no glory.
Okay, I think I have figure a few things out:
Now going to use a second bull hair brush to work the shadows around the neck…
2:18 pm, just back from lunch. The head needs to be smaller.
Understanding flesh tones:
Ground: galena grey + new titanium white, washed with burnt umber, lead white and roman black earth.
Roman Black Earth: top right background with varying body to creat the gradiation.
Lapis Lazili + Lemon Ochre + Ivory Black: bottom blue drape and covering chiffon. Note the extraordinary transparency covering her lower buttock! Also worth remembering that this was painted over an initial layer of blue painted with black and blue ultramarine.
Vermilion + Crimson Lake + Lead White: top right curtain, ribbon. Note: ribbons were one shot! Laid in shadows first, then pulled the whites and reds over the top.
Flemish White: laid over the under painting for the white sheet.
Sent from my iPad
Annotation Summary for: velasquez-RAM-stevenson
List of illustrations
The true effect of art is slow.
The energy and eloquence of a Ruskin and the sympathetic comprehension of a whistler or Carolus-Duran are needed for Madrid.
Delacroix; complaints of those who see beauty only in line.
Genius = a compound of original seeing, intellectual courage and some gift of expression.
… That you may not think at all,or act for yourself, is to add the very zest of piracy to experiment in life and originality in thought… A chest with a false bottom… The audacity of private thought.
Artist and King grew old together.
WHAT he painted concerned him less than HOW he painted.
YES! Transformation from hard realism to suavity of impressional beauty.?. Unrelaxing criticism of beauty distinguishes the highest order of artist alone.
Does this refer to me?…
Carl justi’s book… I have this, right?
One is apt to see too readily in a canvas what one reads in a book.
Periods of his life and work
V married his daughter Francisca to his pupil, J.B. Del Mazo… As V himself married Pacheco’s daughter.
V second trip to Rome, meets: Rosa, Bernini, Algardi, Poussin, paints Innocent X.
Sensitiveness to form and an interest in solid and direct painting.
Learned to model with surprising justness b ut for a long time he continued to treat a head in a group as he would if he saw it alone. Only slowly slowly he learnt the impression of a whole scene as the true motif of a picture.
Comparison of early Velazquez with the Venetians: he lacks unity of aspect. That aspect may have been more remote in it’s relation to nature, but it was certainly ampler and more decoratively beautiful.
V’s second period after his first trip to Italy brought a decorative character to his art.
Exceptional analysis: V relaxed his naturalism (meaning what, exactly?); not that he slackened his grip upon form, but he seems to have accepted in Italy the necessity for professional picture-making. His colors became a shade more positive or less bathed in light, and his unity to some extent an adopted decorative convention.
His third period starts with Innocent X.
Chapter III Comparison of the three stages of Velazquez
The traditional cult of beauty
“Surrender” follows the lead of his favorite Venetian masters.
Excellent analysis of Surrender: V combines decorative splendor and historical clearness with the subtle mysteries of real tone and the impressionistic unity that lift truth into poetry.
No subject in itself can make or mar art: subject is indifferent except for it’s favorable or unfavorable effect on the artist.
Simply genius: subject in painting differs from subject in literature…
Yes!!! Purpose determines expression, not subject! This IS IT.
Clumsy drawing. Another good description of B and even Cy.
Tricks of the metier.
Unequalled sensitiveness of this man’s eyesight.
Formal unity vs. Impressional unity. Could this be the same as pictorial unity and illusional unity? Bacchus vs. Surrender.
The unity of work of art should be organic and pervasive, like the blood in a man’s veins, which is carried down to his very toes.
BRILLIANT! Force in art is an affair of relation… Strong points in a picture kill each other.
Technique is the language of the eye.
Chapter IV the dignity of technique
Abstract and speculative vs. Concrete and sensuous.
Sentiment is not imagination; spirituality is not artistic feeling.
We are all spirits; it is not in spirituality that theai ter differs from us, but in that sensitive perception of visible character which enables him to imagine a picture all of a piece, all tending to express the same sentiment, all instinct and alive with feeling.
Pure art = music… Every shade of complicated emotion in a symphony by Beethoven depends entirely upon technique-that is to say, upon the relations established amongst notes which are by themselves empty of all significance.
None pursue the beauties intrinsic to their medium (until the 20th century)… All are double stars linked like Algol to a dark companion.
Record impression and decorate.
An artist must study how the eye takes in nature, and how it takes pleasure in a canvas; and he must learn to reconcile these two ways of seeing when they disagree, as sometimes may.
… No to e so bright that a brighter can’t make it dark.
An artist must be master of… Harmony, contrast, and gradation; but he must learn to obey e “laws of decorative effect.”
Modus vivendi must be found between the imitative and the decorative… And this compact may be called the convention of the art of painting.
Yes! To object to the conventionality of art is to believe in absolute realism, which, if possible, would be a science not an art. Continue…
Drawing a line on canvas commits you to art…
Different readings of the convention = variations: ideal form vs. Real form; local color or atmospheric, detail or general aspect.
Technique as important to an art as the body to man; both act for two hidden questionable partners, sentiment and soul.
Chapter V Composition of V
Draw by the eye = one thing is not more difficult than another.
V was not an embroiderer of given spaces but a trimmer of spaces to fit given impressions.
The vertical direction of las meninas…
Analysis of Veronese, marriage at Cana…
The surrounding must serve the figure…
Yet another definition for “illustration”…. And even then they knew a catalog could make a painting look better than it actually is.
Old master (renaissance) paintings built up by blocks of color.
The dignity, the quality, the sense of artistry in the presentation of a thing depends very much upon it’s proportion to surroundings.
It might be worth someone’s time to inquire into the sewing together of canvases…
V and Whistler: Truth is the introducer that bids these two shake hands over several centuries.
Hardness, confusion, and spottiness can be corrected only by a noble decorative ideal.
The art stowed away in las meninas…
PADASOR: the rule was and still is that every space must co-operate in the effect, but not necessarily by lines, agitated colours and defined forms… Top of las meninas as grand as the alps.
…an art that fits the eye. PLOG: My art is a testament to the pleasure of seeing… No, the intimacy of looking at another and knowing that you are looking.
Critique of Raphael’s Transfiguration.
Titian “Assumption” = “too unmysterious” ? Interesting! Cover the top half to suggest the mystery!
Explosion of color demands the sacrifice of tone… ?
YES! V uses the expression of space as well as expression of form to give character to his picture.
Impressionistic style vs. Realistic style…
V relied little on parallelism of line or whirlpools of curves leading the eye to the center…
… To a conventional society a realistic representation of human passions appears madness.
Two reasons why no one can lay down the law with assurance:
PADASOR: how V paints a face… Also gradations of tone to create intimacy… Ver nice idea!
Holbein vs. V. “while a painted Holbein differs very little in method and aim from a holbein drawing on paper, a picture by velazquez belongs altogether to another branch of art. Drawing vs. Painting. Mine. Barnes was right. Find fluidity I have in my drawing.
V in his later work not guilty of sub-compositions.
A study of Las meninas in England?
Some have it that V was working from a mirror…
Spinners was painted after Las Meninas…
FIND: Avenue of the Queen by V. Recalls Corot and Whistler, though neither ever saw it.
Also, Fountain of the Tritons…
Figures out of scale; Justi thinks they were added by Mazo.
V’s landscapes owe in part to a hazard of nature and to an accident of the way he looks at nature.
Of many qualities possible to painting and useful in composition, proportion is at once the most enduring in it’s effect, and the most unobtrusive in its compulsion to the eye.
A work of art should charm us both when we examine it and when we dream over it half-consciously.
Extraordinary! Proportion, like a fine day, puts us into a pleasurable frame of mind without conscious effort on our part…
… V’s art is less evident, less exciting at first, and less fatiguing afterwards. The more you know his work the more you see in it, and what appeared the most wonderful effort of artless realism becomes the most consummate finesse of art.
It is impossible to discriminate between good and bad color with scientific certainty.
Extravagant Venetian color vs. Natural poetry and sober dignity of a fine Velazquez.
Yes! … As this is so, I need scarcely apologize for speaking of my own feelings; art is meaningless without personality and its action can only be studied inits effect upon oneself.
Breda: unnaturally bright and spotty coloring.
THIS IS WHAT I THINK ABOUT TITIAN’S ARIADNE: To show strong color thus governed by the tone of the ensemble is not the same thing as to play with strong color in an artificial scheme of decorative harmonies, and you may count on your fingers the men who have done it with success.
All art is a convention… Use of color does not treat the mystery of real lighting with poetic insight.
There must be some who feel with me that many bright colors of extreme chromatic difference confound the perception of tone, and give the picture an air of insincerity, shallow pomp, and decorative flashiness. The solemn mystery of nature is lost for the sake of a costumier’s taste for courtly splendor.
Venetian art ( I.e. Use of color) is a triumph of artifice, not a great victory of the emotions.
To some, V appears to be a decorator with an unaccountable taste for certain cold harmonies of a restrained kind… Black and grey.
To the unthinking, color is absolute.
When we call a single color beautiful or ugly we unconsciously compare it with the general hue of nature as a background. Such is the power of relations within a key.
A good way of comparing realism to Impressionism.
Interesting: three categories: decorative, realistic, impressionist.
… No traces of glazing or saucing… V’s pictures are among the few that have not gained with time.
The general principle that unites the colors in hs late pictures is not a feeling for decorative fitness (which governed his middle period) nor is it a love of dark hues as seen in Ribera.
The principle instead revolves around a broader and more imaginative outlook upon the values of color as they are affected by juxtaposition, by atmospheric conditions and, above all, by their inclination to the source of light.
A change of plane on which a color lies tends to make it not only lighter or darker, but also changes it’s hue.
Analysis of Moenippus…
V flushes blacks with a greenish light… Like in the background in his crucified Christ.
Analysis of Vulcan: the rest of the picture consists of originally Gregory colors, drowned in brown vehicle.
Angel in christ at pillar is same as Apollo in Vulcan.
The Spinners: where real atmosphere plays upon the widest range of color.
Chapter VII His Modeling and Brushwork
Yes! What is the convention? Which is to say, what is the technique… “modeling is the basis of the art of painting, the master-trick of the craft, since it is imposed upon the painter by the very convention which compels him to express depths of space and inclinations of surface by shades of color laid on one plane.”
Impressionists are the descendants of the perspectivists; they fight not to show how things are but how they seem.
V passed from piecemeal modeling to impressionistic modeling.
Yes! V expressed form with the sorcery of truth… Vs. arbitrary modeling.
V taught himself not to over-model… Read this more carefully.
In a difficult passage of naturalistic modeling, painters are apt to take refuge in line, which contradict and destroy the consistency and mystery of revelation by true light.
Proportion, tone and the ensemble of the whole! Read from “it is said that in France…” to end of paragraph.
The ensemble of a scene hypnotized and fascinates an impressionist as if it were a real, personal, and indivisible entity and not a mere sum of small quantities.
Analysis of V’s Crucifiction
Handling is always discreet… Does not seek an effect of bravura dexterity. (Not sure I agree.)
V inclines to brush in the obvious direction… In some cases he smudges so subtly as to convey no sense of direct handling. The limb or object treated seems to grow mysteriously out of dusky depths and to be shaped by real light.
One cannot easily fathom the depth of his insight nor weary of his endless variety.
Notes on some pictures
Martinez montanes reminds one of Carolus Duran.
Yes! Aesop’s head supports the legend of “swaggering dexterity.”
Moenippus: accessories all bathed in liquid depths of air.
Analysis of las meninas…
FIND: J. B. Del Mazo
PADASOR: In all the best canvases of V, you will find the accessories vitalized by just degrees of force instead of being killed by an equal realization all over the canvas.
V’s style changed according to the aspect of each picture and not by preconceived principles.
PADASOR No lines are wanted to bring out the shapes; the painter’s science of values is all sufficient.
Chapter IX His relation to older art.
V taught himself to picture the impression made by any sight upon his brain.
… All true art originates in the personal predilections of an individual mind, and in personal sensitiveness to nature.
V was one who tampered the least with the integrity of his impression of the world.Every one of his pictures was a fresh effort, less at finding a new and striking subject than St realizing more absolutely a way of seeing things in general that was personal to him.
Scotch painter, John Lavery, “six months of copying Vwas not sufficient.
It is in the last dozen years of his life that V makes the most marvelous use of paint.
… You seem to be behind his eye…
In a word, his work is resembles the fine writing in which style is so docile a servant of matter, that it never draws attention to itself; you read as you might eat a meal in the Arabian Nights, served by invisible hands.
PADASOR Not nature, but man’s impression of nature should be complete and definite… In the hands of V these accomplishments never became mechanical, never degenerated from inspired seeing to trained labor.
PADASOR Need we fear to advance towards truth and accuracy, when he who adventures farthest seems to encourage us by the grandeur and surpassing sentiment that rewarded his devotion to the metier (craft)?
V’s influences: Caravaggio, Greco, Ribera, Sanchez Coello, Titian and Tintoretto.
V praised Titian’s execution and Tintoretto’s rendering of light and the just depth of space. (source? How do we know this?)… Here!…
Great anecdote of V talking about the Italians…
PADASOR … We could not wish artists otherwise; were they tepid to the beauties they see in the world, they could arouse in us but a feeble response to their works. Art without personal prejudice…
FIND: “Mary Tudor” by Antonio More
The Dutch, in their day, preferred Van der Helst to Rembrandt… It was in the cause of beauty that these great artists sacrificed the accurate map of the features that pleases family friends and the provision of hard accessories that ministers to family pride.
A painter may not with impunity take the free generous style of Titian and Rembrandt and correct it with a dose of patience and accuracy of tamer spirits. Grandeur and carefulness will usually quarrel like a medicine of I’ll-mixed ingredients in a patient’s stomach.
For what great thing can be done in art with only patience, method, and accuracy of eye? (And yet that is the spring board!)
Writers of V: Pacheco, Palomino, Sir W. Stirling Maxwell, Richard Ford, T. Thore’, Carl Justi…
A “realism of general aspect” that approaches the “convincing truth” of V
ECCO! Carolus-Duran: Duran set himself to teach art less on the venerable principle of outline than on a method adapted to his own fashion of looking at nature–by masses and constructive planes.
According to Duran, the whole art of expressing form should progress together and should consist in expressing it, as we see it, by light.
Duran regarded drawing as the art of placing things rightly in depth as well as in length and breadth; and for this purpose he would call attention to various aspects of form–the intersection and prolongation of imaginary lines, the shape of inclosed spaces, the interior contents of masses, the inclination of planes to light and the expression or characteristic tendency of any visible markings.
pLog: as in Greece, so in later Europe, it was portraiture that keptvart sincere and vital.
Analysis of Leonardo’s chiaroscuro, which he “describes too often consisting of an arbitrary passage from dark to light by the use of two or three stock tones brushed together.”
His name (V) was for ever in the mouth of Duran.
… The influence of Corot at the time was great.. I have heard Duran say, “when you go into the fields you will not see Corot; paint what you see.”
Reference to “Manual of Oil Painting” by John Collier!
When truth of impression became the governing ideal, V became the prophet of the new school.
Carolus-Duran teaching method: planes made with big brush strokes with the proper flesh tone. No preparation in color or monochrome, but the face must be laid in directly.
Duran’s studio described in the Nineteenth Century… You have this.
One point to make on flesh tones…!
Read this again…
Corot and Millet
FIND: the painter Henner.
pLog: The test if a new thing is not utility, which may appear at any moment… The test is the kind and amount of human feeling and intellect put into the work. Could any fool do it?
The modern idealist whose whole cause seems to be hatred of matter, of the truth, of the visible, of the real and a consequent craving for the spiritual, the non-material.
Interesting… Similar to what I wrote as my recent thesis…
EXCELLENT: The true artist’s thought is of his material, of its beauties, of its limitations, of its propriety to the task proposed. He has to achieve beauty, but under conditions–of fact, of decoration, of a medium.
It was not only his immediate subjects but the whole art of seeing that V dignified in his paintings.
Seeing like a child…
The modern painter should concern himself with what seems and not what is… Toy horses
…vulgarity of the cheap method which exaggerates outlines, and replaces tone and gradation by false explanatory definition.
Silly lines in portraits…
More on las meninas…
Leonardo… And painting on a plane of glass.
The problems of modeling, widths, depths, and fulness of interest are to be solved by artistic feeling!
Analysis of the meanings of Impressionism and realism…
The difference between a realist and impressionist…
Until every part of the picture has been observed in the subservience of the impression of the whole, completeness can never be even begun.
Shadows that fill with color when looked at alone…
The tricks that confound when trying to finish a picture…
YES, Hats that block the sunset… And change the color of the ground.
They expected you to begin a thing by finishing.
Marked up using iAnnotate on my iPad
Where Velázquez is Grace, Caravaggio is Guts.
Where Velázquez is Economy, Caravaggio is Ambiguity.
A funny thing happened the other day as I was googling through the web universe in search of greater enlightenment on flesh tones…
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:
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.
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.
If you want Warhol
walk the aisle of a supermarket
If you want Koons
watch VHS porn
If you want Hirst
visit the morgue
If you want Caravaggio
build a bonfire in a cave
If you want Velazquez
plan a trip to the moon with a sliderule
If you want da Vinci
hike the highest mountain in Abruzzo in May
Here is what happened: I just listened to the story on NPR about Plato, which mentions Pythagoras, which makes me think “Art = Math”, which makes me think Velazquez, then Las Meninas, then I remembered mentioning that in a short story I wrote while rafting through the Grand Canyon in 2008.
Here is that story:
The First of Many
(Changed from the previous title: How Unspeakable Acts of Wickedness Shape my World View.)
Jan denied me an M&M again today. As her boat came along side mine I said:
“Hey, Jan! Throw me an M&M!”
She shook her head. “Only for my boat,” she said, and drifted past.
Of course, it is important to keep such moments of pain and unrequited pleasure in perspective, but I am slow in doing so. I reluctantly hear the voice of my father float back from down stream, from a past, not a future, and it reprises the irritating truth:
“In twenty years, who’s going to care?”
But in a river of walls that has seen its share of twenties, truth begs revision. How deep yet subtle our solipsism sets its roots and shapes our thinking. From now on I’ll say:
“In a billion years, who’s going to care?”
From now on I will begin discussions on precious art with the preamble that ten billion years from now our sun will explode–so Meredith says–and the finger of Thomas will melt away in the wound of Caravaggio’s Christ and the angelic face in Velazquez’s Meninas will incinerate. From now on I will tempt others with the unpopular: When measuring the probabilities of miracles, the most probable is the one you are living.
If nothing else, these ruminations are a satisfying distraction. A good way to keep my head up, to keep looking down stream, to the future, not the past.
Ahead I see Jan’s boat. Maybe tomorrow she’ll give me an M&M.
On the Colorado River, Grand Canyon
August 17th, 2008
PS Later in the afternoon I read Jan my story. That night she gave me a beer.
Note to self: write more stories about Jan.
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!