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Tag Archives: baroque

Memories of the Museo Del Prado

Visiting the Museo Del Prado was an all day marathon event for me – I was close to the front of the line gained entry just after it opened at 9 am. I had been told that it was impossible to see the Prado in one day but I was determined to prove them wrong. I systematically ticked off room after room on my map. I ate like a marathon runner, lots of carbohydrates and sugar.

That day in Prado I fell in love with the Baroque that day, especially Ribalta, Ribera, Valazeques and Meléndez. Ribera’s paintings of people are so human, wrinkles and all and he paints it all with so much feeling.

I had prepared for this visit by reading Visionary Experience in the Golden Age of Spanish Art by Victor I. Stoichita (Reaktion Books, 1995). The portrayal of internal private experiences, such as visions, in a visual media creates a complex visual grammar distinguishing between the real and the imagined.

An American tourist was laughing out loud at Alonso Cano’s Lactation of St Bernard (c.1658-60). He couldn’t believe what he was seeing the clarity of this lactation porn looks crazy to modern eyes. It is not St Bernard who is lactating but a painting of the Virgin Mary. The American has to point out to me – “She is shooting a jet right into his mouth!”

It was not the craziest painting in the Prado created from the fermented and distilled Catholic thought of the 17th century. That honour has to go to Francesco Rossi Salvaiati’s Sacred Family with Parrot presented by an Angel (1543) – what’s next the teenage Jesus presented with a Playstation by presented by an Angel?

Situated in a couple of the galleries there were coin operated machines, like those old chocolate machines on English train stations, selling little Gallery Guide books for major artists available in English, French, Spanish and German. I bought the guides to Velázquez and Bosch (the Prado is the place to see Bosch).

Pieter Brueghal the Elder, The Triumph of Death, 1562

Pieter Brueghal the Elder, The Triumph of Death, 1562

I am particularly taken by Pieter Brueghal’s The Triumph of Death but I wonder what would happen to this zombie apocalypse now that the living out number the dead?

There is a 16th century copy of La Gioconda (aka Mona Lisa) sans the background landscape.

I was disappointed with seeing Goya’s work for the first time, his big brushstrokes were much better in reproduction, but then he did start his career painting the designs for tapestries so they were always, in a way, intended to be reproduced in another media.

By the end of the day my feet were sore, particularly my big toes, something about the way that you move in a gallery – walk, stand, walk… Checking my watch I had twenty minutes to see the last four or five small rooms on the second floor but I was sure that now my eye was well tuned and that I could spot the paintings that were worth looking at. I would look around the room and select one or two paintings for a closer look and then move to the next room.

At 6pm the Prado was shutting but I had completed every gallery and I was exhausted, dizzy and disorientated with a bit Stendhal syndrome. I’d had Stendhal syndrome before so I wasn’t surprised by it. I staggering into a bar and ordered a whiskey. I could remember all the paintings but the wet streets of Madrid were almost unrecognisable.

The next day at 9 am I was back in the Prado again, it was free entry on that day and I walked around looking again at my favourite works. Maybe you can’t see the whole Prado in one day.

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Sophie Hewson @ Lindberg

Lindberg Contemporary Art was dark, black-labels, the black walls with the only light spotlighting the neo-baroque paintings of Sophie Hewson’s exhibition “Solstice – City of the Godless.” It takes a few minutes for my eyes to adjust to the gloom.

The first painting that I am looking at is a large literary painting: “Goodnight Atala.”  Atala is an early Romantic novella by François-René de Chateaubriand, in the novel Atala falls in love with Chactas, her half-brother, but cannot marry him as she has taken a vow of chastity. In despair she takes poison and dies. There were many paintings of Atala done in the 19th Century by Luis Monroy, Girodet and Rodolpho Amoedo. However, this is perhaps the first painting of Atala done for over 100 years.

Another painting of another pair of tragic lovers “Hero and Leander”, Again this is part of early19th century Romantic literature with the poem, “Hero and Leander” by Leigh Hunt in 1819.

There is eroticism to Sophie Hewson’s paintings; the erotic of curve, the twist, the transformation the revelation and, its counterpart, the hidden. It is the mysterious eroticism of white underwear that is featured in many of her paintings. It is an eroticism mixed with the instinctual knowledge of death and darkness. The putrescent flesh of a dead pig or a damp woman humping an inflatable dolphin; Sophia Hewson paints them with the same loving devotion. Her brush caresses and creates this flesh. Her paintings are then covered in thick resin, sealing in the images like insects trapped in amber. The resin fills, flooding the ornately decorated black frames.

Sophie Hewson’s paintings are similar to those of Sam Leech with their resin, dark backgrounds and evocative neo-baroque sensibility. Many contemporary Melbourne artists have a neo-baroque sensibility. The baroque could be seen as a re-examination of the meaning of a metaphor, as a shifting image. Before the 17th century the meaning of the metaphor was defined by established social conventions, the world was the metaphor of the Christian god. But amidst religious schism and other social changes metaphors become a puzzle, a cipher with double meanings, perhaps even an unsolvable mystery.

It is an impressive first solo exhibition for Sophie Hewson and I am looking forward to seeing more.

Along with renewed the artistic interest in the baroque there has also been academic interest. There is Angela Ndalianis, Associate Professor and Head of the Cinema Studies Program at the University of Melbourne, New Baroque Aesthetics and Contemporary Entertainment and Gregg Lambert’s The Return of the Baroque in Modern Culture.


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