The Ladies of Liberty

I’ve always found it heartily satisfying that throughout history “liberty” is depicted as a woman. Ladies, how cool is that?:-)  From the majestically imposing figure of the Statue of Liberty that rises above New York harbor, to Eugène Delacroix’s bare-breasted French flag-waver in Liberty Leading the People, women have provided the allegorical symbol of freedom since the classical age.

One of my personal favorites is the Statue of Freedom in Washington, D.C. A 19 foot tall bronze female figure, designed by American sculptor Thomas Crawford, which stands atop the dome of U.S. Capitol building. This is one badass gal. I’d honestly like to walk around in this get-up; the sword, the eagle-feather headdress, the fringed toga. Fabulous!

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The idea to blog about this topic came to me this morning at church, when a fellow parishioner handed me the program for the day’s service. In honor of the 4th of July weekend Fr. Byrne selected this lovely vintage Lady Liberty illustration for the cover:

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The church program reminded me of this superb lithograph by Currier and Ives,  again Lady Liberty with the American flag. This is Star-Spangled Banner from the online collection of the Library of Congress. Wonderful composition.

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A stunning $20 gold coin of Lady Liberty bearing olive branch and torch, minted 1921, designed by the renowned American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. From the National Museum of American History:

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A happy Independence Day to my readers in the United States, and blessings of liberty, goodwill, and inspiration to all. Let freedom ring …

Pietàs of Passion

The word “pietà” means “pity” in Italian. Its Latin origin translates into “piety” or “duty”. In art, a Pietà is any representation of Mary mourning the dead body of the crucified Christ. It is a scene of powerful emotional import. If other figures from the New Testament are also depicted, the work is often called “Lamentation”. On this Good Friday, a collection of pietas for my readers.

The pietà subject presents many options for artists, both compositionally and stylistically. Some are horizontal, others are vertical. Some depict the body of Christ with blood and wounds, while others omit them in favor of an unscathed figure. Some emphasize the pain, agony, and grief of the moment, while others take an almost serene, quietly mournful approach.

We’ll start with the archetype, the pietà that sets the standard for all others; Michelangelo’s sculptural masterpiece located in St. Peter’s Basilica. Completed in 1499, and carved from a single slab of Carrara marble, it is the only work by Michelangelo that he ever signed. It received much criticism for its portrayal of an impossibly youthful Mary, who appears far too young to be the mother of a 33 year old man. But Michelangelo defended his choice. Designed in a pyramid shape, Michelangelo’s Pietà is considered a foremost example of Renaissance sculpture:

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One of my favorite pietas is this painting by Annibale Carracci, 1600. The hand gesture of Mary is an extraordinary detail, and I love the lights and darks:

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William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s Pietà, 1876, is presented in the French academic style for which the artist is known. Mary stares straight ahead, surrounded by sorrowful angels:

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A striking Pietà by Luis de Morales, 1570. Again, the prominent placement of Mary’s hands.

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Andrea Del Sarto, 1524, oil on wood. Christ’s face is barely visible here, as the surrounding figures seem to dominate the composition:

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A surrealist Pietà from Salvador Dali who clearly modeled this work after Michelangelo. His works of religious themes are really impressive. I’m a huge fan. I posted his Ascension of Christ here a few years ago:

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Sebastiano del piombo’s Pietà, ca 1515, takes a different approach, with Christ lying flat on the ground as Mary prays:

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Lamentation Over the Dead Christ, 1485, in tempera by Carlo Crivelli, is a fine example of the early Renaissance style:

Crivelli-Pieta

Pietà by Moretto da Brescia, ca. 1530. Sorrow and pain come across in the facial expressions and gestures:

Moretto da Brescia (Italian, 1498 - 1554 ), Pietà, 1520s, oil on panel, Samuel H. Kress Collection

The desolate landscape works to great effect here in this Pietà, 1854, by the superb symbolist painter Gustave Moreau:

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And here’s something you won’t see in any museum. A “pieta” on the streets of New York. Spring Studio‘s Minerva Durham plays Mary to a Jesus acted out by artist’s model and dancer Magic Distefano, in the middle of Lafayette Street. That’s Andrew Bolotowsky on flute. There wasn’t a music accompanist at Calvary, but there is in SoHo:

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To all my readers, a blessed Easter weekend … lift up your hearts in rebirth, renewal, the coming of spring, and light everlasting …

Love you all:-)

Claudia

Sculpture, Picasso Style

Regular museum visitors know the rules when it comes to photography. At most New York museums, photography (with no flash) is allowed in all the galleries which house works of the permanent collection. Special exhibitions, however, prohibit photography of any kind. Try to take a quick pic on your iPhone and you can expect one of the guards to admonish you. “Sorry ma’am, no photography”. You will then be handcuffed and escorted to an interrogation room <– just kidding😉 So imagine my delight when I was told that photography WAS allowed at the recent “Picasso Sculpture” show at MoMA. Yay! The show ended its five month run on February 7th, and I saw it in its final few days, which is how I see most of the big acclaimed art shows in town – when the end date is looming! I’m very glad I didn’t miss this one.

Picasso had formal training in painting and drawing only. So his approach to sculpture was motivated by experimental impulses, ingenuity, and his fertile creative mind, all of which were abundantly on display in this exhibit. What we witnessed, from gallery to gallery, was a man engaged in self-taught exploration, working in three-dimensions, letting his imagination run free, salvaging metal and wood scraps, found objects, paper and paint, cardboard, string, nails, plants, plaster, bronze, and anything he could get his hands on. In a wide array of subject matter – women, animals, children, instruments, etc. -Picasso’s sculptural expressions alternate from childlike to muscular, classical to avant-garde, spontaneous to engineered. He worked big, he worked small, and continued to experiment with sculpture for decades – a perpetual student – up to the mid-1960s. It was a truly fun and fascinating show.

This is just a sampling of the works, and among the ones I’ve chosen to post there is surely something for everyone here. I took all the photos in this post, so feel free to download, keep, and share!

Woman with Hat, painted sheet metal:

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Maquette for Richard J. Daley Center Sculpture, oxidized welded steel:

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Head of a Woman, painted sheet metal and iron wire:

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Little Horse, painted metal with wheels:

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Sylvette, painted sheet metal:

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Kneeling Woman Combing Her Hair, bronze:

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Head of a Woman (Fernande), bronze:

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Guitar, ferrous sheet metal and wire:

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Picasso did six versions of this, Glass of Absinthe, in painted bronze with an actual absinthe spoon. He made the sugar cube also from a piece of bronze. A very popular alcoholic spirit in Picasso’s day, absinthe was prepared by pouring it over a sugar cube and then diluting with water:

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Guitar, painted sheet metal, painted tin box, and iron wire:

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Composition with Glove, glove, cardboard, plants sewn and glued, coated with sand:

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Seated Woman, bronze:

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Part of the memorial monument to Guillaume Apollinaire, French poet and friend of Picasso who died in 1918. Head of a Woman, iron, sheet metal, springs, and painted metal colanders:

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Also from the Monument to Apollinaire, Woman in the Garden, welded and painted iron:

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Head of a Woman, plaster:

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One of my favorites, The Reaper, plaster and wood:

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And another one of my favorites, this rough but quirky Little Owl, painted bronze with nails:

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Woman Carrying a Child, painted wood and section of palm leaf:

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Cat, bronze:

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The Orator, plaster, stone, and metal dowel:

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Man with a Lamb, bronze:

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The Bathers, wood and gesso:

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I’ll let the man himself sign off this post. Picasso’s signature on the back of one of his sheet metal creations:

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Art Around Town

Well hello there friends! It wasn’t my intention to go so long without a new blog post. I’ve just been completing a long sculpture pose at Grand Central Atelier and then jumped right into a weekend workshop with Max Ginsburg. So it’s been modeling duties, and the resulting body rest, that have occupied me for the past several days. I was worried that pilates class on Monday would be agonizing, but it wasn’t! Felt really good actually. My spine was grateful:-)

My good friend Francisco Malonzo shared something with me that I’d like to share with all of you. It reminded me that artists and models can appreciate the same experience of seeing artwork on the wall – artists delight at seeing their creation on display, and we models delight at seeing ourselves on display. A collector here in NYC took pictures of Francisco’s pieces in his Upper West Side apartment and they’re wonderful to see. A portrait of me is among the collection. You can view them on Francisco’s blog. Francisco’s dazzling work has appeared on Museworthy several times over the years. You can view previous posts here and here .

Also, I thought I’d share a photo from the sculpture class at Grand Central Atelier. It was a terrific gig with a lovely small class. I did a standing pose, which is fairly common for sculpture, and it was well worth it as you can see in this impressive work by fourth year student Charlie Mostow:

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Lastly, in keeping with three-dimensional creations, a photo I took last night at a gathering at the Armenian Diocese here in New York, where a new sculpture was unveiled to commemorate the centennial of the Armenian Genocide. Michael Aram designed this stainless steel work called “Migrations”, and on a beautiful moonlit October evening in the city, clergy members, artists, and Armenian New Yorkers were deeply moved by the dedication of this piece. My phone pic is okay but you can see it more clearly at Architectural Digest with an accompanying article.

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That’s all for now, friends. I’ll see you soon!

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Sculpture is more divine, and more like Nature,
That fashions all her works in high relief,
And that is Sculpture. This vast ball, the Earth,
Was moulded out of clay, and baked in fire;
Men, women, and all animals that breathe
Are statues, and not paintings.

– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Grand Central Atelier, sculpture studio:

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To my Museworthy friends – have a splendid few days and let’s meet right back here on Thursday for our annual blog celebration. See you then!:-)

Crimes and Misdemeanors

If for nothing else, social media interactions can spur discoveries and offer interesting shares that one might have been unfamiliar with. Block out the irritations of the Internet and some cool stuff can come your way. The Ashmolean Museum recently posted an image to Twitter that caught my attention. It was this self-portrait by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the celebrated sculptor of the Baroque era. I’ve seen most of his self-portraits – he did quite a few – but I’d never seen this one before. He created it in black, red, and white chalk, circa 1635:

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The drawing has a strange intimacy to it that intrigues me. His gaze is hard to pinpoint. Oddly, it is direct but a little preoccupied. Engaged but a little jaded. Cool but a little confused. I honestly can’t decide if he’s saying “You lookin’ at me, pal?” or “Whatever, dude”. His overall appearance is informal, with unkempt hair and a five o’clock shadow. He could almost be a young hipster barista making cappuccinos at a coffee bar in Greenpoint, Brooklyn instead of the 17th century artistic wunderkind.

Bernini, the uniquely gifted sculptor who could turn marble into flesh and render stone creations with stunning action and theatricality, is a compelling and charismatic figure in art history. One cannot imagine a survey of Western art without his Ecstasy of St Teresa or Apollo and Daphne. The man himself possessed a personality which matched the intensity of his art. His notoriously hot temper was offset by his gregarious, outgoing disposition, well-roundedness (he was also an architect, poet, writer, and stage designer) and dedicated work ethic. It’s been said that he would chatter up a storm while he worked, telling jokes and sharing gossip with his assistants as he chiseled away in his studio. Like many sculptors he was physically strong and agile. And because his astonishing talents were evident to all, Bernini enjoyed a largely easy ride in terms of his career. He was showered with praise and recognition from his early years and it never waned. This, as I’m sure you all know, can be both a blessing and a curse.

Bernini was neither a sweetheart nor a monster. At only one point in his life did he go completely batshit crazy. And that one time sure was a doozy. A disturbing, mad, jealousy-infused doozy. Are you ready for the twisted soap opera? Fasten your seat belts.

In 1636 Bernini began an affair with Costanza Bonarelli, the wife of Bernini’s assistant Matteo Bonarelli. To describe it as “hot and heavy” would be an understatement. Bernini’s sculpture of her will tell us everything we need to know. She is tousled. She is lusty. She seems to be in some ravished stage of pre or post coitus. Her lips are parted, her blouse is undone. She is fleshy and earthy. She is not a proper aristocratic lady sitting decorously for a commissioned sculpture bust. She is, quite clearly, Bernini’s lover and object of his infatuation.

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At the height of the torrid affair, Bernini was tipped off that Costanza was possibly sleeping with another man – not her husband but yet another lover. The lady got around apparently. The other man turned out to be none other than Bernini’s brother Luigi who was a rather unsavory character. Bernini, in the throes of unhinged jealousy, went ballistic. He spied on Costanza to confirm the rumor and, sure enough, spotted his brother emerging from her house. What ensued was pure madness. Bernini chased down Luigi and attacked him with an iron crowbar, breaking his ribs. He chased him again, this time with a sword, threatening to kill him. When his brother sought refuge in a church, the raging Bernini attempted to kick down the doors. But he wasn’t done with his vengeful impulses. Bernini ordered one of his servants to go to Costanza’s house and slash her face, which the man did, with a razor blade.

As for the fallout of this gruesome incident, Luigi fled to Bologna, fearing for his safety. Costanza, disfigured for life, was imprisoned for adultery. The servant who did the slashing was also sent to prison. And Bernini was issued a fine – a fine – which was eventually waived by his benefactor Pope Urban VIII, under the agreement that Bernini would marry, get his shit together, and live a respectable life. It pays to have friends in high places.

Another Bernini self-portrait:

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So Bernini went unpunished for his behavior, and Costanza paid the criminal price for adultery which the men eluded. This was, of course, 17th century Europe and a society structured in ways that baffle us. On the other hand, it’s not so baffling in that some aspects remain constant and are unlikely to ever change. Esteemed and advantaged people, like Bernini was then, receive special treatment, much like they do today. But for what it’s worth, Bernini did go on to marry, father eleven children, and live a pious life as a devout Catholic attending mass regularly. It appears he learned his lesson. Bernini suffered a stroke in his elderly years and died at the age of 82.

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So I bitched all summer over not having enough work and now as the summer comes to an end, and art modeling will soon kick into high gear, I’m like NOOOO!! NOT YET!! Okay, I’m a pain in the ass😆

I suppose since last spring brought a good share of professional aggravation and frustration, I’m feeling some ambivalence about facing the art scene full throttle. But I would be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to seeing certain people again that I’m fond of, and faithfully serving in my role as muse. I just hope my middle-aged body cooperates! I did a lot of running, biking, and exercising this summer, but I still could have done more.

I came across this video that I really enjoyed, “Sculpting the Female Torso” by Peter Rubino. Sculpture is amazing in that it begins as amorphous slabs and gradually transforms into a replica of the human form through molding, carving, scooping, and all those wonderful tactile sensations. Once when posing for a sculpture class I saw an artist get fed up with his tools and take out his plastic credit card, which he then used to scrape ridges in the clay with better precision. Sculptors get it done, one way or another. Beautiful final result in this video:

 

Not to be outdone by the three dimensional molders, artists who use pencil have to “mold” in their own way as well. Lights and darks, as we all know, are the keys to creating form on a piece of paper. This is my torso drawn by my dear friend Daniel daSilva.

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Have a great Labor Day weekend, everyone! Peace and blessings. See you soon:-)

Love, Claudia