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Subject: ‘Famous artists’
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Posted in Art, Artist, Famous artists, Historical articles, History, Religion on Tuesday, 28 January 2014
This edited article about Michelangelo first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 528 published on 26 February 1972.
Michelangelo with St Peter's, the Sistine Chapel and the Pieta
Michelangelo Buonarroti, was born at Caprese in Tuscany in 1474 or 1475. His father was a nobleman, although the family was no longer affluent, and his mother was also of noble birth.
The infant Michelangelo was nursed by a stonecutter, which caused the great sculptor to say jestingly to his friend and biographer Vasari, the painter and historian of the Italian artists, “Giorgio, with the milk of my nurse, I sucked in the chisels and hammers wherewith I make my figures.”
From an early age, the boy’s talent for drawing was self-evident and he was sent to study in Florence. But at the age of 14 there was nothing more his teacher – himself a famous artist – could teach him. “The boy,” he said, “knows more about it than I do.”
At that time, a nobleman of Florence, Lorenzo de Medici, was decorating his garden with beautiful examples of Greek and Roman sculpture and there he founded a school for artists. Michelangelo entered this school at the age of 15 or 16 and one day he sculptered an antique satyr’s head in marble with extraordinary skill.
Admiring the work, Lorenzo remarked in jest that Michelangelo’s satyr had its mouth open, showing the teeth all complete, which was strange for so old a person as the satyr seemed to be. Michelangelo thereupon knocked out one of the teeth with a hammer, to Lorenzo’s great amusement.
Thereafter, the Medici nobleman took the boy into his own family and treated him like one of his own children.
When Lorenzo died, Michelangelo, aged 18, was launched upon his long career of ceaseless, almost miraculous creation. He went to Rome where he executed his first large sculpture, the “Pieta” (the dead Christ with his mourning Mother), now in St. Peter’s Cathedral. This lovely group established his fame.
After executing his David in Florence, Michelangelo returned to Rome to work for Pope Julius the Second. Here he carved an awe-inspiring image of Moses.
Here too, he painted the gigantic frescoes on the vault of the Sistine Chapel, working day and night for 20 months in a constant fury of divine inspiration. And here he laboured for 17 years as the architect of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome.
Working, always working, he was nearly 90 when he died, leaving another brilliant artist, Raphael, to “thank God that he was born in the time of Michelangelo,” and the painter Vega to describe him as “the master, the prince, the deity of Design.”
Posted in Art, Artist, Famous artists, Historical articles, History on Tuesday, 28 January 2014
This edited article about Renaissance sculpture first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 528 published on 26 February 1972.
The head of David by Michelangelo
The two great artists looked at the vast block of marble, felt its texture, took measurements, and stepped back to survey its length, all the time making notes on their pads. At last, they turned away thoughtfully and walked out from the yard of the Opera del Duorio where the marble block lay, into the hard bright sunlight of the streets of Florence.
The two artists were Sansovino the sculptor and Leonardo da Vinci, who is best described as all things to art. The giant marble block they had come to look at was fast becoming a bit of a nuisance to the authorities of Renaissance Florence.
For more than 20 years it had lain in the Opera yard. An artist-sculptor, Agostino di Duccio, had attempted to make something of it with no success. In doing so, he had cut it about so much that most people thought it was no longer of use to anyone.
Now Sansovino and Leonardo had both agreed to check its proportions to see if their brilliant hands could make something of this huge problem stone.
While they were considering the problem, a young man rode into Florence. He was broad-chested with muscles of iron and there was a defiant, independent look in his eye.
Although he had come northwards from Rome, Michelangelo Buonarroti, for that was his name, was no stranger to Florence. For years before this his talents had dazzled even that dazzling city. But during his sojourn in Rome he had produced works which had made his fame all over Italy. And now he was returning to his favourite city in search of something out of the ordinary.
It was not long before Michelangelo and the problem hunk of marble in the Opera yard made each other’s acquaintance. He might have had doubts as he surveyed it, for to fail with it would have been a serious setback to his career.
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Posted in Arts and Crafts, Famous artists, Historical articles, History, Music on Monday, 16 December 2013
This edited article about music first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 495 published on 10 July 1971.
The violin: Stradivarius in his workshop
On a bright March day in 1783, Father Ascensio, a violin maker and friend of the Spanish King Charles IV sat down at his desk and opened his diary.
“The Keeper of the Royal Musical Instruments,” he wrote, “has brought me a violin today asking me, by order of His Royal Highness, to Improve the tone. The instrument is dated 1709, and bears the name of Antonio Stradivari.”
Father Ascensio looked at the violin which lay on the table beside him, then closed the diary. It was a magnificent instrument, this Stradivarius, with a deep lustre made even richer by the morning sun which flooded in through the windows.
“It’s almost a crime,” he told himself. “This instrument is perfect. The tone is mellow, but powerful, and the craftsmanship is superb.”
The violin that had so impressed Father Ascensio had been made by Antonio Stradivari, one of the greatest violin-makers of all time, and a painstaking perfectionist.
Stradivari was born in the Italian town of Cremona, although the exact date of his birth is not known. At the age of 12, he had been apprenticed to the violin maker, Nicolo Amati. But Amati soon realised that the boy needed little tuition. He had a genius for his trade.
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Posted in Art, Artist, Famous artists, Historical articles, History on Thursday, 12 December 2013
This edited article about art first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 491 published on 12 June 1971.
Captain Frans Banninck Cocq was standing in the artist’s studio, among a litter of etchings, canvases, drapery and other bric-a-brac. And he was an angry man.
He had commissioned a picture of his officers from the foremost painter in Amsterdam, Rembrandt Harmens van Rijn, and now the picture was finished it embarrassed him. His officers were bewildered by it. The background was dark and undefined, the figures looked vague.
The year was 1642 and the picture, The Night Watch, was one of his greatest works. But it marked the end of his career as a fashionable painter.
Rembrandt painted his sitters in dark clothes against a deeper, shadowy background, with only part of the flesh illuminated by a shaft of light.
When the rich burghers suggested that these pictures were gloomy and unflattering and asked for alterations, Rembrandt showed them the door.
The Night Watch is today honoured in the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam, but there is no doubt at all that it was the cause of his troubles. Or rather, that the attitude he adopted to paint this picture caused his troubles. Rembrandt was not a stupid man – he must have known that all the officers would wish to be as much in the foreground as the others, and as they were paying for the picture it was only right that they should get what they paid for. This was no time for the painter to indulge his wish to produce a personal masterpiece. Considering that artists of Rembrandt’s calibre must have been hard to find, one wonders if perhaps, after his quarrel with the officers, the artist did not forget about trying to please the people and was therefore responsible in part for his own poverty.
Rembrandt died in 1669, at the age of 63. His debts were enormous, but they had not stopped him painting.
Today, on the few occasions that Rembrandt’s paintings have come up for sale, fortunes have been paid for them. Each picture has fetched the sort of money that would have kept the artist in luxury all his life.
Posted in America, Art, Artist, Cinema, Famous artists, Historical articles, History on Thursday, 26 September 2013
This edited article about cinema originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 411 published on 29 November 1969.
In 1834 W. G. Horner invented a machine which he called a zoetrope
Slowly, painfully, and with much grunting, the squat, misshapen figure completed the outline of a bison on one of the walls of the cave in which he lived. It was only one of several drawings of a bison, all of them crudely done, which was understandable enough as the artist was a prehistoric man. For all that, he had done something quite remarkable – he had analysed movement and had drawn it in a series of pictures. He was, in fact, the first animator.
The problem of making a series of successive images move was not solved until the beginning of the 19th century, when a Belgian professor, named Plateau, invented the phenakistoscope, a revolving disc, with figures drawn on it, which came to life when viewed through a series of slits. Two years later, in 1834, W. G. Horner, an Englishman, invented a similar machine called a zoetrope. Emile Reynaud of France took the next step forward with his machine, called a praxinoscope. By 1888 he had developed it to such a degree that he was able to give public performances by projecting his pictures on to the back of a screen which greatly enlarged the image. These performances, which were accompanied by special music and sound effects, were so successful that he opened a larger theatre in the Musee Grevin, in Paris, which remained open from 1892 until the turn of the century. During that time, no less than half a million people attended his performances.
But Emile Reynaud’s work in the field of animation was soon to be overshadowed by the moving pictures of the Lumiere Brothers. Unable to compete with the rapidly-growing cinema industry, Reynaud became so depressed that he finally threw most of his apparatus into the River Seine.
Although a large number of rather primitive cartoon films were made in America and France during the first years of the 20th century, the animated film did not begin to come into its own until the early years of the First World War, when the cartoon character, Felix the Cat, began to appear regularly on cinema screens all over the world.
Felix was simply drawn, and the films in which he appeared did not even have sub-titles, but everyone loved him. Technically, he was no better drawn than most of the other cartoon characters of the time, but he had a special appeal of his own, thanks largely to the imagination of his creator, an Australian, Pat Sullivan, who had learned his craft drawing comic strips. Felix also had the honour of having a special theme tune written for him called, “Felix Kept on Walking,” which was hummed by children everywhere.
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Posted in Famous artists, Historical articles, History, Industry, London on Friday, 6 September 2013
In a silk weaver’s cottage in Spitalfields we see Tom Idle on the left and Francis Goodchild on the right, in a scene common in pre-industrial England. They are the chief protagonists in William Hogarth’s series of twelve prints entitled Industry and Idleness. This picture is called ‘The Two Prentices at their Looms’, and presents a series of clear signifiers to the viewer in order to convey the moral of the series, which of course is that work pays and idleness corrupts. Hogarth genuinely believed in the efficacy of such art, and wanted to influence “the manners of Youth of this great Metropolis”. His reputation was established with several such series of engravings, the most famous being The Rake’s Progress. In this Spitalfields attic we can see that Tom Idle has lines from the racy novel ‘Moll Flanders’ pinned above his dormant loom, while he himself dozes off and his copy of The Prentices Guide lies discarded on the floor. Goodchild, on the other hand, has a bright sunny countenance, and his copy is open nearby and obviously well read. A Master Weaver looks in at the door, noticing the very different attitudes of his apprentices.
Many more pictures relating to Spitalfields can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.
Posted in Art, Artist, Arts and Crafts, Famous artists, Historical articles, History, London on Tuesday, 3 September 2013
This edited article about art originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 393 published on 26 July 1969.
No. 56 Warren Street, off Tottenham Court Road, has a blue plaque bearing the name of Charles Turner, once one of England’s foremost engravers. He lived in a house on this spot for fifty years. It was both his home and his workshop.
Turner was a country boy, but he had an unusual background and there is no doubt that he later found this an advantage. He spent his early years in the servants’ quarters at Blenheim, the home of Sir Winston Churchill’s ancestors, where his mother had charge of the Duchess of Marlborough’s china. His father was an Excise (Customs) officer.
When he was 21, Turner left Blenheim and travelled to London to become an art student at the Royal Academy’s school. The craft of engraving fascinated him from the first, and once his learning days were over, he lost no time in joining John Boydell as an assistant. This was a wise and happy choice for Boydell was the leading exponent of the craft of engraving, which was then largely ignored in England. It was Boydell who made English engravings famous, both by the quality of his own work and that of the young men he trained.
John Boydell gave Turner a very thorough training and by the time he was ready to stand on his own feet, his work was already becoming known.
His speciality was the mezzotint, a method of engraving pictures on copper so that prints could be made from them.
Once he was established, Turner’s connections with the house of Marlborough were obviously valuable, and many Marlborough family portraits were engraved by him. Among other famous figures he portrayed were Wellesley, Nelson, Napoleon and Sir Walter Scott.
Turner carried out a great deal of work for his namesake, the famous painter of landscapes Joseph M. W. Turner, and the two men eventually became firm friends. A dispute about payment estranged them for a while, and though this was only temporary, it must have cost the engraver a great deal of money since Turner the painter afterwards sent much of his work elsewhere.
In 1812, Charles Turner was appointed engraver-in-ordinary to King George III. His pictures were soon appearing regularly at Royal Academy exhibitions, but it was not until 1828 that he was elected an associate of that distinguished body.
Charles Turner died at his house in Warren Street in 1857 and was buried at Highgate cemetery. His work lives on. It may be seen at the British Museum, which is the proud possessor of a complete collection of his work. He is the “other” Turner; not so famous as Joseph Turner, the painter, but a remarkable artist in his own particular and no less distinguished field.
Posted in Art, Artist, Arts and Crafts, Famous artists, Historical articles, History on Monday, 2 September 2013
This edited article about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 391 published on 12 July 1969.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti painting Elizabeth Siddal, later to become his wife.
Together with some of the leading young artists of the day he had rebelled against the type of picture which was then most popular. He hated the idea of working on a dark-brown background in which three quarters of the composition was in shadow, and decided to adopt a lighter and less artificial style. He believed that painting should be accurate in detail, and that colours should be brilliant.
“We will return to the ways of Nature in our paintings,” he stated. And this vow was echoed by Holman Hunt and John Millais who, with Rossetti, formed the core of the controversial Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The group took its name from the realism and naturalness found in pictures painted before the time of the great 16th century Italian artist, Raphael Santi.
To begin with, the Brotherhood made more enemies than friends, and the novelist Charles Dickens was among those who denounced the “ugliness” of their work.
But Rossetti – who was born of Anglo-Italian parents in London in 1828 – did not let this stop his search for his “golden girl.” As a painter, he was obsessed with the image of a model with long red-gold hair and a pure white complexion.
For a long time it seemed as though he would never find her; then, in the spring of 1850, one of his fellow artists came across Elizabeth Siddal, who was working in a “bonnet shop” off Leicester Square. As soon as Rossetti set eyes on the “noble, glorious creature” with the copper-coloured hair and pale skin, he knew that his quest was at an end.
By then, the Brotherhood were publishing their own short-lived magazine, The Germ edited by William Rossetti, the artist’s brother, in which their artistic beliefs were set out. Elizabeth typified the kind of beauty they extolled, and before long she was sitting as a model for the enraptured Rossetti.
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Posted in Art, Artist, Arts and Crafts, Famous artists, Historical articles, History, Royalty, War on Wednesday, 10 July 2013
This edited article about the Burghers of Calais originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 323 published on 23 March 1968.
Queen Philippa pleading with Edward III or clemency by C L Doughty
After the Battle of Crecy, in 1346, King Edward III blockaded the city of Calais by land and sea. For twelve months “the key of France” was under siege. The city’s stores of food became exhausted, and the garrison faced starvation.
King Edward III then offered the people of Calais mercy, on one condition: that six of the leading citizens, bare-footed, bare-headed, with halters round their necks, should surrender themselves and the keys of the city to him. The lives of the other citizens would then be spared.
The six burghers were Eustache de St. Pierre, Jacques and Pierre de Wissant, Jean d’Aire, Jean de Fiennes and Andrieus d’Andres.
The original memorial to these brave citizens, sculpted by Auguste Rodin, can be seen in Calais, but there are two replicas, one in Copenhagen, and the other in the Victoria Tower Gardens, in London.
Originally, only the figure of the old man, Eustache de St. Pierre, was commissioned; but when he was told that six men were concerned in the bid to save the city, M. Rodin executed the additional figures for no extra fee.
Erected in London in 1914, the bronze group was not uncovered until some years later (the First World War years were not considered a suitable time for such a ceremony). The site was chosen by Rodin himself and, at his request, the monument was set on a pedestal fifteen feet high. When, however, in 1956, the Gardens were given a new layout, the group was moved to a more central position and the height of the pedestal reduced so that the figures could be more easily seen.
The Burghers of Calais stand, with ropes round their necks, just as they did when they surrendered to the King of England over six hundred years ago.
Their story had a happy ending. King Edward listened to a plea for clemency from his Queen, Philippa of Hainault, and spared their lives.
Posted in Architecture, Art, Artist, Famous artists, Famous landmarks, London on Tuesday, 9 July 2013
Artists' Homes: 15 Little Holland House, Kensington, the residence and studios of G F Watts, RA; from The Building News, 7 October 1881
New Little Holland House was designed by Frederick Cockerell for the artist George Frederick Watts. It was so called because the painter had lived in the original or first Little Holland House, dower house of Holland House, the fine Jacobean mansion belonging to Baron Holland, whom Watts had met on a tour of Italy when a young man. When the twenty-one year lease expired the arrangement came to an end and the building was demolished. So ended two decades of artistic life in Holland Park, centering on G F Watts and Julia Margaret Cameron and a host of other Victorian luminaries. The new residence was a so-called studio house, several of which were erected in the area for the fashionable painters of the day, Lord Leighton’s being the most famous. The Watts house was similar in design to others in having a tall, airy studio wing with tall windows and tiered roof glazing. Its architect, Frederick Cockerell, was the second son of the more famous architect C R Cockerell, who had designed Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum and Taylor Institution. It was destroyed during a bombing raid in the Second World War.
Many more pictures of Holland House and its environs can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.