One of you denies me; one of you betrays me: The Last Supper in the Cenacolo di Sant’Apollonia

I have Jesus Christ Superstar on the brain. On. the. brain. I just can’t get enough of it. I love how human Judas is in the play/movie. He’s a real person with frustrations and justifications, real, true anger and real, true love. We know how it’s going to go. We know his fate before the movie even begins. And then I’m always so happy to see him show up again, all be-fringed and belting it out toward the end of the movie. So what does this have to do with the Cenacolo di Sant’Apollonia in Florence? I’ll tell you: the Judas in Andrea del Castagno‘s Last Supper there is about as far from the Jesus Christ Superstar Judas as you can get. But let’s step back for a minute. Here’s the painting:

Andrea del Castagno, Last Supper, 1445-50, fresco, Cenacolo di Sant-Apollonia, Florence

Andrea del Castagno, Last Supper, 1445-50, fresco, Cenacolo di Sant-Apollonia, Florence

It probably looks familiar – not exactly the same as Leonardo’s more famous, and later, version, but the format is similar. Andrea del Castagno’s Last Supper, again like Leonardo’s, is in a refectory (the place where monks/nuns eat in a monastery or convent, “cenacolo” in Italian) in a convent in Florence. Whether or not you’ve seen it before, take a moment and bask in its amazingness. Continue reading


Wait a second! They’re portraits! (Madame Tussaud’s Wax Sculptures)

Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in London was one of my favorite places when I was a kid.  Being dragged to museum after museum was usually bearable, but I would breathe a sigh of relief when Madame Tussaud’s was on the agenda.  That I was looking at art never occurred to me, though.  The lifelike sculptures, the Chamber of Horrors, including a particularly chilling wax rendition of The Death of Marat (painting of French revolutionary murdered in his bath, below), did not leave room in my child’s mind for thinking about art.

Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Marat, 1793, Oil on canvas, The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels

It turns out that the process for making wax sculptures today is relatively straightforward, if time-consuming.  At Madame Tussaud’s, the museum staff take measurements of the person for whom they’re creating a likeness, make a clay model and a steel frame, then a mold is made and hot wax is poured in to it, hair is inserted strand by strand, eyes and teeth are added, and paint is applied.  Like I said.  Straightforward.  Though in the past it must have been more difficult, wax always been particularly conducive to creating figures.

The real Madame Tussaud got her start making wax portraits of celebrities of the time, such as Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin.  She went on to make wax death masks of beheaded aristocrats during the French Revolution, including Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI, and Marat himself. The wax “masks” were carried through the streets of Paris by revolutionaries as both a “let that be a warning to you” and as trophies.

It really should have occurred to me before now that the wax sculptures are portraits, although in my defense, we don’t usually think of portraits as being created for entertainment purposes. But this fact still allows them to be portraits, doesn’t it?  I mean, take a look.  This is a portrait:

Judi Dench and Daniel Craig (from 007 set), Madame Tussaud’s, London

Continue reading

Henri Rivière: Printmaking, Processes, and the Chat Noir

I’m having one of those moments when I wonder where I’ve been.  I mean, seriously, how is it possible that I’d never heard of Henri Rivière until last weekend?  And now, I can’t get enough!

Henri Rivière, Vegetable Garden at Ville-Hue (Saint-Briac), 1890, From the Breton Landscapes, Color woodblock print printed from eight blocks on eighteenth-century Japanese laid paper. Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago.

I was in Chicago last weekend and stopped in at the Smart Museum of Art (University of Chicago) to see their exhibition, Awash in Color: French and Japanese Prints.  So much beauty!  Henri Rivière’s prints lured me in immediately. I love the combination of Japanese woodcut technique and appearance with French subject matter (think Hokusai meets The Gleaners).

Katsushika Hokusai, The Great Wave off Kanagawa, part of the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, no. 21, 1826-33, medium color woodblock print, Library of Congress, Washington, DC

Jean-François Millet ,The Gleaners,1857,color on canvas, Musee d’Orsay, Paris

A little bit about Rivière:  He was a late 19th/early 20th century painter, printmaker and the inventor of a very famous (at the time) and long-standing series of shadow plays at the Chat Noir cabaret in Paris.  Now here’s what I find fascinating:  Continue reading