Art and the world – the turbulent, disillusioning world – are frequently at odds with each other. Art seeks to convey beauty, or some variant thereof. But the world too often has other plans and instead obscures the beauty with violence, despair, and the fear and hopelessness of terrorized people. Look no further than the current events of today; the heartbreaking photos of desperate migrants and refugee children drowning during passage to safer lands. So what is the inspired artist to do when confronted with horror and chaos? Well, they can imitate life as art often does, something Picasso exemplified masterfully with Guernica. Or they can defiantly push forth with sheer beauty in spite of political and personal turbulence.

It’s hard to imagine what it was like to live in Europe during the Napoleonic Wars. Beethoven was a firsthand witness to much of it, and the great composer found himself and his art roped into the tempestuous atmosphere, unwittingly or otherwise. Like all future tyrants, Napoleon rose to power as a “liberator”; a revolutionary who sought to demolish the aristocracy’s control over the common man and secure rights for all citizens in an egalitarian ideal. An appealing message to be sure. And to the authority-hating Beethoven, who resented class distinctions and roundly rejected the idea that any grown man should bow to another, Napoleon’s message resonated deeply as it did for so many.

Mounted Trumpeters of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard, 1814, Théodore Géricault:


But Beethoven eventually learned a lesson with regard to charismatic political leaders and their promises. After completion of his monumental and miraculous Third Symphony, which he had named the “Bonaparte” in honor of Napoleon, Beethoven was informed that the supposed liberator Napoleon had now declared himself “Emperor” of France. Emperor. Oh dear. Enraged with feelings of betrayal by a figure he had respected and admired, the composer angrily scratched out the dedication on his manuscript’s title page. Beethoven refused to honor with his music a man he now realized “will become a tyrant like all the others” and “think himself superior to all men!”. In a principled, albeit impulsive, gesture Beethoven changed the Bonaparte to “Eroica”. But that was not the end of Beethoven’s irritations with the French megalomaniac.

Napoleon Receiving the Keys of Vienna, by Anne-Louis Girodet:


In the spring of 1809, after Austria had declared war on France, Napoleon’s army laid siege to Vienna. While many had fled before it was too late, Beethoven remained in the city. With his house in the direct line of artillery fire, he relocated to his brother’s house which unfortunately didn’t provide the relief he had hoped, as there was no real escaping the onslaught of Napoleon’s military forces. Holed up in the cellar, the 39 year-old Beethoven was determined to finish composing his Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major. But the circumstances were harrowing. This was a man who was already enduring the traumatic process of going deaf, with relentless buzzing and ringing and diminished auditory capacity. For a composer of all people, this is pure hell. Now he was being assaulted by the ear-splitting sounds of cannon fire day and night. Beethoven pressed pillows against his ears to block out the din, crouched in corners of the room in anguish, terrified that his already delicate and deteriorating ear drums would be blasted into dead silence .. permanently. And yet somehow, remarkably and incredibly, during and after that war-ravaged spring in Vienna, Beethoven did what brilliant and persevering artists do: he created his work. And boy, was it a doozy. His fifth and final piano concerto. Arguably his best. Although it has come to be called the “Emperor Concerto” that moniker was not Beethoven’s doing. It’s actually something of a cruel irony that the piece has been named as such, given Beethoven’s feelings about the matter.

The death mask of Napoleon. It was cast in May of 1821, two days after Napoleon died while in exile on the island of St. Helena. For a man of such an egomaniacal nature it’s unusual that he didn’t like to sit for portraits. Virtually all of the portrait paintings of Napoleon were done from secondhand accounts with some imagination thrown in. The man in this mask with the chiseled features is the most accurate representation of what Napoleon really looked like. Well, in death at least.

Death mask of Napoleon Bonaparte, 1821

And now, on our Music Monday, the beloved and exquisite 2nd movement of Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto. I selected a recording with two acclaimed greats of classical music: conductor Bernard Haitink and pianist Claudio Arrau. This is the creation Beethoven fought for tooth and nail during that miserable, besieged time, amid shelling, explosions, and his busted ears hanging on for dear life. In a melodic, spiritual dream of pathos and joy, art’s transcendent beauty emerges from a deafening war zone. Napoleon may have been defeated at Waterloo, but he was truly “conquered” by Beethoven. God bless this man.

A Place in the Sun

I return to art modeling in eleven days. Should I put a countdown clock on Museworthy, à la the third period of a hockey game? :lol: Honestly though, half of me is looking forward to modeling again, while the other half of me wants to wallow a little longer in these lazy, utterly unproductive summer days. And by utterly unproductive I mean falling asleep in a lawn chair in the middle of the afternoon with an open book in my lap and a half full bottle of Mike’s Hard Lemonade on the grass next to me. THAT is unproductive, folks. It’s an art form :-)

Since I can’t control the march of time, I can present a wholly summer-inspired blog post. When I haven’t been falling asleep in lawn chairs I’ve taken several leisurely drives over to the Queens Farm to pet the sheep, hang out with the clucking egg-laying hens, watch the hardworking young volunteers get hands-on experience in sustainable agriculture and, most of all, to patronize their farm stand. It opens at 12:00 but if you arrive early, like many of us do, you’re treated to the marvelous sight of those young people approaching from the fields pushing wheelbarrows and carrying bushels, all filled to the brim with freshly-picked and trimmed produce. That corn is to die for.


While I was waiting for the farm stand to open I took this picture of a tall, resplendent Helianthus. That’s “sunflower” to you and me. There’s hundreds of them on the farm. I like it against the blue summer sky:


Not as bright and cheerful as my picture, but Egon Schiele’s Sunflowers is unique. Oil on canvas, 1911. Van Gogh wasn’t the only artist to be inspired by these beauties. How could you not be? They’re awesome.


I looked for a work of art with both “farm” and “sun” in the title, and Piet Mondrian served it up splendidly. In a departure from all the traditional farm scenes of green fields, plows, and horses, this is Farm Sun in imaginative colors:


Now, you see the woman in this painting? She’s my hero. You go girl :-)
In the Sun by Nicolae Vermont:


One Sweet Hour

Lying in Grass, by Hermann Hesse

Is this everything now, the quick delusions of flowers,
And the down colors of the bright summer meadow,
The soft blue spread of heaven, the bees’ song,
Is this everything only a god’s
Groaning dream,
The cry of unconscious powers for deliverance?
The distant line of the mountain,
That beautifully and courageously rests in the blue,
Is this too only a convulsion,
Only the wild strain of fermenting nature,
Only grief, only agony, only meaningless fumbling,
Never resting, never a blessed movement?
No! Leave me alone, you impure dream
Of the world in suffering!
The dance of tiny insects cradles you in an evening radiance,
The bird’s cry cradles you,
A breath of wind cools my forehead
With consolation.
Leave me alone, you unendurably old human grief!
Let it all be pain.
Let it all be suffering, let it be wretched-
But not this one sweet hour in the summer,
And not the fragrance of the red clover,
And not the deep tender pleasure
In my soul.

Winslow Homer, Boys in a Pasture, 1874


Resurrection at the Whitney

Back in May I posted about the grand opening of the new Whitney Museum here in New York City. I finally visited the Whitney since that post, and am pleased to say that I enjoyed it immensely, much more than I expected to. Of course, it helped that I was accompanied by my dear friend Fred Hatt, who was also seeing the new Whitney for the first time. Fred is a fantastic museum buddy :-)

Much of the new Whitney experience, for New York museum regulars, is seeing “old friends” hanging on display in their spanking new home. The galleries are crisp, uncluttered, flooded with clean, nuanced light.

This de Kooning is one of the old friends from the original Whitney on the upper east side. It’s looking mighty fine in its new downtown digs:


But it was in the 8th floor gallery where I was momentarily awestruck by a painting I don’t recall ever seeing before. As Fred and I strolled around leisurely, taking in the surroundings, I stopped in my tracks in front of this striking piece and thought, “Whoa”. Heavily abstracted paintings don’t usually make me go “whoa”, but this one sure did. Here is a photo I took of Resurrection by John Covert. And click here for the artwork page of this piece on the Whitney Museum website. My picture includes the frame which I think presents the painting even better.


The wall text offered no background description, only that the work was created in 1916 using oil, gesso, and fabric on plywood. In person, it is absolutely luminous and magnetic. It thoroughly owns that corner of the gallery in a way I can’t describe. Fred and I studied it for a while and agreed that Covert’s modernist, avant-garde depiction of Christ’s resurrection was like no other we’d seen. Note the stony shapes of a tomb, the rising shape in the center, and that spot of red, presumably the blood of Christ, strategically placed to draw the eye. The entire composition works magnificently. But of course, no photograph can really do it justice.

Covert’s painting of this subject also reminds me of a comment exchange I had with Bill MacDonald here on Museworthy. On my blog post for Easter this year, he and I wondered about the strange lack of effective and powerful art renderings of the Resurrection. It’s rare that a modernist painter outdoes Renaissance or Baroque masters on a Biblical event, but Covert may just have done so in this case. I welcome thoughts from readers, so feel free to share!

I looked up John Covert on the internet. He was a Pittsburgh-born American painter who trained and worked for years in the conservative academic style. Upon returning to the United States after studying abroad, Covert settled in New York City and started to break out of his traditionalist bubble. He became more receptive to the modernist and cubist influences that were shaking up the art world around him, and jumped on board. Covert befriended Marcel Duchamp and was one of the founding members of the Society of Independent Artists.

In my blog post from May I talked about how the new Whitney’s location in Manhattan’s meatpacking district was, in itself, central to the spirit of its new incarnation. Fred took this excellent photo from one of the museum’s many outdoor terraces, where visitors can take in the sweeping views that extend from the Hudson River and New Jersey, lower Manhattan and the Freedom Tower, midtown, and everything in between. The patio with the colorful seating is another level of the Whitney, the trees indicate the High Line, and down below on the left there’s a sign that’s hard to read. It says “Weichsel Beef”. Hey it is still the “meatpacking district” after all. And there you have the epitome of urban juxtaposition and invading entities; a beef wholesaler adjoining a $422 million art museum. Welcome to New York :-)


Veronica of Venice

Throughout junior high and high school, I was quite the vocabulary geek. When I wasn’t cutting chemistry class and doodling “I <3 Paul” in my spiral notebook, I was compiling word lists on my own time for my own personal study. I used to scribble stars next to the ones I had trouble remembering. But once in a while I’d gloss over a word I encountered and just presumed to know what it meant by its written context; something like “18th century courtesans enjoyed lives of social freedom and financial stability”. So a courtesan is just a high class society woman, right? Not exactly.

When I eventually looked up the word “courtesan” I was a little taken aback by its straightforward definition: “a woman who has sex with rich or important men in exchange for money”. So in other words, a prostitute. Wait, what? I was confused. Courtesans were written about in a way that conveyed glamour and high repute. Keep in mind that I grew up in New York City – pre-Guiliani New York City that is – and my understanding of prostitutes was the short-skirted women with bad skin who loitered on street corners on the west side, soliciting men with “you lookin’ for a date?” and leaning into open car windows.

Naturally, I came to learn that some words are history-specific, and that New York City circa 1982 was a world apart from Venice circa 1570. (Or was it? Hmm…) No one uses the word “courtesan” in ordinary conversation anymore, but it came back to me recently when I started to research this extraordinary portrait by either Jacopo Tintoretto or one of his protégés:


The woman in this painting, with red hair and peek-a-boo nipple, is Veronica Franco, one of the most celebrated and respected courtesans in Venice during the 16th century, a time when that city was a thriving, cosmopolitan commercial and cultural center. Franco was a member of the cortigiane oneste class of courtesans: educated, sophisticated women who provided companionship, sexual or otherwise, to wealthy men who served as benefactors. These courtesans hobnobbed with the elite and often had careers of their own in fields like the arts, even business. Interestingly, they enjoyed social and professional freedoms that were not as easily available to traditional wives.

Veronica Franco was born 1546 into a family of native Venetians – a class of people who were referred to as cittadini originari or “original citizens”. This stratum of society was bestowed with certain rights and privileges and only ranked below the nobility in terms of social standing. Franco’s mother was a courtesan herself and provided all her children, Veronica and her three brothers, with private tutors and a well-rounded education. After a failed marriage to a physician at an early age, Veronica Franco embarked on her career as a courtesan and, more impressively, a published poet and literary editor.

From the collection of Museo del Prado  this is another portrait believed to be of Veronica Franco, this time by Jacopo Tintoretto’s son, Domenico. It’s appropriately titled Lady Baring her Breast. Veronica liked showing those off it seems. And the pearl necklace is a nice touch :-)


Franco collaborated with her male counterparts to compile poetry anthologies. She forged an especially close relationship with Domenico Venier, poet and head of a prominent literary academy in Venice. “Terze Rime”, Veronica Franco’s volume of poetry, was published in 1575. Her voice is frank, insightful, passionate, often defiant. In this excerpt of her verse, Franco challenges the misbehaving men of her day with the spirit of a feisty early feminist:

Look with the eyes of your good sense
and see for yourself how unworthy of you
it is to insult and injure women.
Unfortunate sex, always led about
by cruel fortune, because you are always
subjected and without freedom!
But this has certainly been no fault of ours,
because, if we are not as strong as men,
like men we have a mind and intellect.
And virtue does not lie in bodily strength
but in the vigor of the soul and mind,
through which all things come to be known;
and I am certain that in this respect
women lack nothing, but, rather, have given
more than one sign of being greater than men.
But if you think us inferior to you,
perhaps it’s because in modesty and wisdom
we are more adept and better than you.
And do you want to know what the truth is?
That the wisest person should be the most patient
squares with reason and with what is right;
insolence is the mark of the madman,
but the stone that the wise man draws from the well
was thrown in by a foolish, imprudent man…….

Not long after the the publication of Franco’s poetry, Venice was hit with a devastating outbreak of the plague. A port city with a mercantile economy, Venice was particularly vulnerable due to infected rats and other disease-carrying vermin entering the city via trade ships. Veronica Franco, like thousands of others, fled Venice to escape the Black Death. The city was ravaged, and its strict caste system now meant nothing as rich and poor alike, nobleman and laborer, succumbed equally under the outbreak. Epidemic disease doesn’t care who you are or who your parents were.

The Grand Canal, Venice, by Franz Richard Unterberger:


When Franco returned to Venice, her home and possessions had been looted, and her life entered a second chapter marked by poverty and other difficulties. In 1580 she was brought up on bogus charges of witchcraft. An inquisition was held and she was exonerated. But the damage done to her reputation was irreparable. Then in 1582, her dear and loyal friend Domenico Venier died which left Veronica with no significant ally in Venetian social circles.

Franco was a prolific letter-writer, and her surviving correspondence provides compelling insight into her values and attitudes. In one letter, she strongly discourages an advice-seeking mother from allowing her daughter to become a courtesan. Using blunt language, Franco warns the woman that the life of a courtesan is not glamorous but tainted with degradation and stigma, and that she, as the girl’s mother, should be more protective of her daughter’s welfare and well-being. Franco urged her not to “slaughter in one stroke [her] soul and [her] reputation, along with [her] daughter’s”. So the life of a “courtesan” wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. And my vocabulary confusion over that word wasn’t so crazy after all.

In her last years, Veronica Franco tried to establish a shelter for the destitute women of Venice and former prostitutes. At the time of her death in 1591 at the age of 45 (younger than I am now) she was not intestate. Franco had left a detailed will that demonstrates thoughtful instructions for the distribution of her limited assets and custodial care for her children. Though she ended up falling into obscurity, Veronica Franco’s fascinating life is worthy of a revival for anyone interested in topics of Venetian history, poetry, or women’s rights. The 1998 film “Dangerous Beauty” was based on Veronica Franco from Margaret Rosenthal’s biography The Honest Courtesan

The Blogger is Here

Dear friends, I am so terribly sorry for my missing-in-action behavior with the blog lately. I don’t know what ‘s wrong with me these days :( I guess a confluence of worries, anxieties, writer’s block, laziness, missing someone, still keeping my fingers crossed about an opportunity I hope works out, and now an ear ailment that’s affecting my hearing. I had to model yesterday with this constant loud whooshing and whirring in my ear and it was not exactly pleasant. When my timer went off I couldn’t even hear it! Okay that’s enough. :orders self to stop complaining:

I’m doing my best to snap out of this funk. Well, actually I’m not doing my best but I’ll get on it! After I sit for a portrait pose tonight I have a few days off and I’ll try to get my shit together. Plus I have Jessie the cat to cheer me up, and she does a fine job of that, my little roly-poly angel :-)

Girl with Dove, 1914, Henri Lebasque:


Still . . .

i carry your heart with me –

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
.  … . . . . . . . . . . . . i fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

— e.e. cummings

Nude from Back on a Background of the Sea, Francis Picabia, 1940: