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Spanish history in art and literature

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Wooly thinking
09 April 2021

According to a news article in the Guardian, Pre-Covid Spain had been hit by a falling population and empty rural towns. Castilla, Galicia and Leon have more than 3,000 abandoned villages. The owners of the land have disappeared and records of ownership, which would have been patchy at best, are now gone forever. The old have moved to the towns to be nearer to hospitals and their children. The infrastructure of roads and transport that would have served the isolated villages is gone, and many of the roads are impassable. The population prediction for Spain is gloomy, with an expected 50% fall in population by 2100. Other countries in Europe are seeing the same fall in populations and overall an area of land the size of Italy will have been abandoned by 2030.

But there is an upside to this story. Forests that had been cut down for agriculture have grown back, and records for Galicia show that the 1900 forest cover of 8% has grown to 25%. As the villages empty, the farmland returns to nature. France, Italy and Romania have shown even greater reforestation in recent decades.

At the turn of the first century, the forest cover in Spain was much greater, and this re-wilding has reversed a centuries long war against the Spanish woodlands that was brought about by an inoffensive Moorish immigrant.

When Marin ibn Wartajan al-Zenati became leader of a nomadic tribe in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco he gave the tribe his name. From then on, they were called the Marinids. They were nomadic because of the unique breed of sheep that they kept required to be moved between the high summer pastures in the mountains and the winter pastures in the river valleys. With the arrival of the Arabs in the 11th and 12th centuries, the Marinids moved to the north-west of present-day Algeria, before migrating en-masse into Morocco at the beginning of the 13th century, where they began to challenge the ruling Almohads for dominance.

When the Marinids, now led by Abu Yusuf Yaqub, had subdued the last of the Almohad outpost of Marrakech, they turned their attention on al-Andaluz. Abu crossed the straits, took control of the isolated Almohad taifas in al-Andaluz, and formed an alliance with the Nazrids to defend and enlarge Muslim controlled parts of Iberia. When they invaded, the Merini farmers who followed the warriors brought their sheep with them and, of course, this novel animal to Spain was called the Merino.

 Photo: Shutterstock.

The reconquest raged back and forth, and eventually the Moors were driven out of most of Spain. But Christian farmers liked the Merino’s fine wool, so they adopted it, as well as the same nomadic existence as the Berbers had lived in Africa.

In 1273 King Alfonso X created the Mesta, which was an association for sheep farmers. At first sight this seems to be a trivial innovation, but it came at a time when the traditional dominance of the English woollen trade had slumped. By coordinating the efforts of the nomadic Castilian pastors, Alfonso rejuvenated exports of Castilian wool to all Europe, and this vital clothing commodity became his kingdom’s biggest export, earning it the name of “oro blanco.” Flax had been the commonest fibre for clothmaking until then, but wool proved to be a much warmer and more versatile replacement.  The long fibres could be spun into fine threads that, when woven, gave a closer weave, which to a certain extent, gave a more waterproof cloth. It was also much less coarse when worn against the skin. 

Alfonso was a very clever king, and he was well aware that for every bale of wool that was exported, he received a tax payment. Organising the shepherds into a co-op would ultimately be to his benefit. By 1476, Queen Isabel and her husband King Ferdinand were the owners of extensive flocks of their own Merinos, and Isabel was made Grand Master of the Mesta. Fifty years later, there were three and a half million Merinos in Spain.

Painting: Pastoral, Alan Pearson.   alanpearson.pixels.com 

The problem was that the highland summer pastures in Spain were 500 miles from the lowland pastures. This meant a twice yearly trek for the shepherds, and it was important that the huge flocks of sheep had good grass to graze on during their month-long journey. By 1500’s, the Moors were gone from Spain, and the southern pastures of Andalucia were opened to summer grazing for the Merinos . The bi-annual migrations now involved huge numbers of sheep, and they followed well-known tracks of cleared land called cañadas so that the sheep had enough to eat on their trek. As the flocks became bigger the cañadas s were widened and forests were cut back to clear more land. The cañadas s grew to be a hundred meters wide, and farms on either side of the tracks were forbidden to fence their lands so that the sheep could graze. The Mesta, now controlled by the crown, requisitioned more land for the cañadas and for the Merino’s summer pastures in the mountains. Any farmer who refused to give his land faced the death penalty. The forests were cleared and the cañadas ran like a ribbon down half the length of Spain. In the lowlands, the shepherds were given permission to cut the young shoots of the trees and feed them to the sheep, preventing further growth, and by the middle of the sixteenth century much of the forests that covered central Spain was gone.  Over large areas the land was treeless, and winter storm erosion removed the topsoil leaving rocky barren hillsides. The agriculture of Spain has not recovered to this day.

Modern Spain’s human populations may be falling, but wild animal populations are increasing. Populations of wild boar and roe deer have risen steeply, which means that the large carnivorous predators that feed on them are on the increase, too, and in Galicia’s case, the brown bear has been seen again after an absence of 150 years.

Brown Bear, Photo: Wiki.

Spain in general has seen the resurgence of the Iberian wolf, and although wolf hunting has been banned throughout southern Spain, the wolf population there is practically nonexistent. Recently, the ban has been extended to the north-west, where there is a significant population of between 2000 and 2500 wolves in 290 packs. This is the largest wolf population in Europe, but in the mid-nineteenth century it numbered as many as 9,000. 

Photo: Aturo de Frias Marques

A program of culling reduced the number to 400 and confined their population to Castilla and León, but the deliberate poisoning of wolves was banned in the 1970’s and since then their numbers have risen dramatically. When the ban was lifted, only Castilla and León, Asturias and Cantabria objected.  In these areas the annual loss of livestock to wolves is now around 15,000 animals at a cost of 5.5 million euros. At the moment there is unrest about lifting the ban, but not all the farmers are against it. 

 

The lynx and wolverine populations have shown similar rises.

Even though the Lynx rarely makes headlines, a mention in the television series “Seven Worlds, One Planet,” brought it to the attention of 7 million viewers. The Lynx is at the top of the food chain as a carnivore, and as such has no predators to worry about, but it has been suffering losses because of road traffic incidences, with 35 of the cats being killed in 2019. The region has an estimated population of 830 Lynx, and has a healthy growth rate to replace the losses, but conservation groups have organised the building of culverts and ecoducts which allow lynx to pass underneath busy highways that cross their territories with signs posted along the roadsides to alert drivers to their presence.

The Covid pandemic can only have increased the number of people abandoning the country as unemployment in general and the collapse of rural agriculture will accelerate the amount of land abandoned to nature again. What has been a bad year for humans could turn out to be a good year for Spain’s wild animals.

 

 

 

 



Like 3        Published at 09:22   Comments (2)


Waiting for a sign
25 March 2021

Chris Reed commented in a previous blog about the significance of hand positions in religious art. I didn't find anything much about hand positions, but I did find this.  

When we talked about the Islamic conquest of Spain we dealt mostly with battles, but it was not all war, and we often forget the other things that were established or changed during this period. Just to give you some idea of where we are starting this story, we must go back to a period of turmoil in Spain’s history. Around the year 995, Sancho Garcia, was heavily embroiled in a conflict with his father, Count García Fernández, which led to the partition of Castile. As was typical of the times, he had allied himself with Al-Mansur of Córdoba in order to take his father’s title. He didn’t get the title then, but had to wait until his father died five years later. He illustrated the untrustworthiness of Christian kings by immediately renewing the Reconquista and turned against his ally Al-Mansur. He was defeated at the Battle of Cervera in July 1000. By September the same year, he had to fight against a, not unreasonable, Córdoban invasion of his county. Al-Mansur died in 1002, leaving the Caliphate of Córdoba in crisis, but this meant that the caliphate was no longer a threat to Castile. Sancho was now left with nobody to fall out with, so he turned on his own family and started trouble there. Castile was not at peace again until Count Sancho Garcia died in 1017.

However, King Sancho did do one good thing during his life that would be of benefit to mankind, even though it was unintentional. For his daughter, Tigridia, he founded the San Salvador Monastery in Oña. It was a double monastery combining a convent and a monastery. The nuns came from the convent of the Monastery of San Juan in Cillaperlata, while the monks were from the Monastery of San Salvador in Loberuela. The charter of the monastery lists a huge number of towns, churches, estates and other monasteries which Don Sancho granted to his foundation. Large portions of the present provinces of Burgos and Santander were placed under the jurisdiction of the monastery, and its wealth grew with the centuries as more and more kings and noblemen donated territories and extended privileges to it. Tigridia certainly benefited from her father’s benevolence; she became the abbess of the monastery and was canonized upon her death.

 

The Monastery of San Salvador: photo Spottinghistory.

In 1033, King Sancho III of Pamplona (a different Sancho) gave the monastery to the Abbey of Cluny, and it became part of the largest monastic group in the area. The group flourished during this period, later growing to have over 70 other monasteries and churches under its authority. This organisation continued for another 450 years throughout one of the most turbulent times in Spanish history. Personally, I can only applaud the nuns and monks who withdrew behind their monastic walls to live a life of peace whilst carnage, hatred and intolerance raged unchecked outside.

Aside from its material wealth, its library housed a very rich collection of classical and medieval manuscripts and was a centre of learning. In the fifteenth century, the reign of the Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile brought about decisive changes in Spain and altered life in the Monastery of Ofia. The monastery lost much of its autonomy and some privileges when it was brought under the control of the Spanish Benedictine Congregation, whose centralizing policy was favoured by Isabella and Ferdinand.

In 1506 the San Salvador monastery joined the Benedictine Congregation of Valladolid, which had begun a program to reform the monastic life and follow a strict interpretation of the Rule of Saint Benedict, which requires that the monks take a vow of silence. Silence plays a salient role in Benedictine life. It is thought that by clearing the mind of distraction, one may listen more attentively to God.

But a vow of silence brings difficulties when it comes to the day to day running of a monastery, and the monks overcame this problem by developing a series of hand signals which they had used and developed over the centuries. The Trappist rubric, (meaning instructions, or a guide) for “Living in silence", has illustrations of centuries-old hand gestures which were developed to “convey basic communication of work and spirit”.

The changes gave rise to an increased exchange with other Benedictine monasteries and resulted in the transfer of Fray Pedro Ponce from a monastery at Sahagfin, León, to the Monastery of Ofia. Although he was a member of an illustrious Spanish family, not very much is known of Pedro Ponce de León. He was born in the town of Sahagfin, and took his monastic vows in the Benedictine monastery of his home town on November 3rd, 1526. A contemporary describes him as a reserved, humble devout man, a keen observer who devoted much time to the study of nature, collecting herbs and investigating their uses. The Monastery of Ofia was thus an ideal place for such a person.

It was also an ideal place for the Marquis of Berlanga, Juan Ferndndez de Velasco, to keep his two deaf sons out of the sight of society. The Velasco family had been one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in Spain since the thirteenth century. One of its members, Don Bernardino de Velasco, who died in 1517, had been appointed by the Catholic monarchs first Condestable of Castile, i.e., Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. That title became in time a hereditary and honorific one.

In those times, the deaf, dumb, mentally disabled, disturbed or insane were all grouped together. There was no science to differentiate them, and the church excluded them all because they were considered to be too subnormal to be educated. If they were incapable of learning the sacraments they were outside of the church and ineligible for salvation. Some even believed that they were possessed by evil spirits.

This is where Girolamo Cardano joins the story. Girolamo was born in 1501 in Pavia, Lombardy, and if his mother had had her way he would have been aborted before birth. His father was Fazio Cardano, a mathematically gifted jurist, lawyer and close personal friend of Leonardo da Vinci. His mother was Chiara Micheri, and when she learned that she was pregnant she took "various abortive medicines” to end the pregnancy. Girolamo was illegitimate, and just before his birth his mother had to flee from Milan to Pavia to escape the plague which had taken her three other children. I am not religious, but I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that his survival was a miracle. 

Cardano grew to become a visionary thinker and published two encyclopaedias of natural science which contain a wide variety of inventions, facts, and occult superstitions. He is also credited with the invention of the Cardan suspension, or gimbal, which allows a ship’s compass to remain horizontal whatever the motion of the ship. But it is his comment on people who were deaf that is of interest to us. He wrote sometime around 1550 that "writing is associated with speech, and speech with thought, but written characters may be connected together without the intervention of sounds. The deaf can hear by reading, and speak by writing."

Significantly, in the history of education of the deaf, he said that deaf people were capable of using their minds, argued for the importance of teaching them, and was one of the first to state that deaf people could learn to read and write without learning how to speak first.

It is not known whether Pedro Ponce had read about Cardano’s theory, but what is recorded is that he gave lessons to Gaspard Burgos, a deaf man who had been refused membership of the Benedictine order because of his handicap. Under Ponce’s tutelage, Burgos learned to speak so that he could make his confession. It is not known if Pedro Ponce taught him the Benedictine hand signals, but it seems highly likely that such a ready-made method of communication would be used. Burgos went on to write a number of books, which unfortunately have been lost to time.

The Marquis of Berlanga heard about Pedro’s successes in teaching the deaf to read and write and he paid the friar to tutor his sons. They learned to read write and speak in a fashion, and were able to inherit the title of their father and join society again.

 Statue of Fray Pedro Ponce de León in the monastery grounds.

There are no drawings or documents in the archives to prove it, but Ponce is thought to have developed a manual alphabet which would allow a student who mastered it to spell out (letter by letter) any word. This alphabet was based, in whole or in part, on the simple hand gestures used by monks living in silence. He apparently traced letters and indicated pronunciation with lip movements to introduce and develop speech among his students. He first taught his pupils to write the names of objects and then to try to say them. Ponce de Leon's method proved that, although we learn first to speak and then to write, the reverse order worked for the deaf. This was a bold step for the times, and was not universally accepted.  Pedro Ponce died in 1584, but the recognition for his pioneering work did not spread much further than the area around the monastery.

This is where Juan Pablo Bonet, another Spanish priest, joins the story. Bonet was born in in 1573 at Torres de Berrellén in Aragon, and he eventually became secretary to Juan Fernández de Velasco, 5th Duke of Frías, Condestable of Castile.  The Duke’s second oldest son was deaf, and he had employed a tutor to teach him to read, write and use sign language. Bonet was intrigued and became friendly with the tutor who explained his teaching methods in detail.

 Juan Pablo Bonet

In 1620 Bonet published a treatise in Madrid entitled, "Reduccion de las Letras y arte para Enseñar a hablar los Mudos". He made use of a manual alphabet, invented a system of visible signs representing to the sight the sounds of words, and gave a description of the position of the vocal organs in the pronunciation of each letter. The book is considered the first modern treatise of phonetics. It also depicts the first documented manual alphabet for the purpose of deaf education. His intent was to further the oral and manual education of deaf people in Spain. Bonet's manual alphabet has influenced many sign languages, such as Spanish Sign Language, French Sign Language, and American Sign Language.

 Bonet's publication.

His work contains many valuable suggestions useful to modern teachers of articulation and lip-reading. He became a pioneer of education for the deaf, but many historians believe that he had been told of Pedro Ponce’s work, read his notes, and used much of the material in his treatise. He never credited Pedro Ponce de León for any of the information and exercises in his book, but really it doesn’t matter.  The important thing is that he published the information to the world, which helped hundreds of thousands of deaf people to lead normal lives.

 



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Last Supper: The Film
27 February 2021

The painter of our final Last Supper was born on 26 October 1935 in a small Italian village called Sant’Antonino just outside Treviso. Renato Casaro had a teacher in his local school who spotted his talent and encouraged it from an early age. The boy carried a notebook with him everywhere and made sketches and caricatures of the people that he saw.  His mother frequently scolded him for making drawings in all of his schoolbooks instead of practicing his writing and arithmetic.

But Renato’s greatest passion was the cinema.  He watched every new film that came to town, and usually its arrival was announced with a poster.  When the film moved on to another town, Renato asked for the poster that had advertised it. He would rush home to get out his pencils and paints to copy it in his bedroom.

As well as the cenema posters, Renato had another treat which arrived once a week. Somebody in Treviso had ordered the Saturday Evening Post at the newsagent, and Renato eagerly awaited the day when the magazine arrived.  Usually, the cover had been illustrated by Norman Rockwell, whose work he worshipped. He copied every piece of advertising artwork he saw, and as he grew and his talents developed, Renato realised that he had gone beyond the abilities of his schoolteachers to teach him and if he wanted to learn more he would have to leave Treviso and go to Rome.

He had become very proficient in technical drawing, and his father was a shipbuilder who understood the kind of drawings that engineers work with. He helped Renato hone his talents in that direction, and things would have gone differently if his father had anything to do with it.  Renato could have easily found work at one of the big car plants that were appearing in post-war Italy. His parents wanted him to have a “normal” career despite his yearning for the cinema. A poor compromise was struck, and he went to work for a publicity agency that supplied advertising posters for local producers. His first commission was a painting of a panettone, a kind of Italian Christmas cake.

Each morning, on his way to work, he passed Cinema Garibaldi. The building had an outside wall on which were painted advertisements for the week’s coming film.  Renato asked if he could have the job of painting the adverts, and after seeing his work, they told him to start immediately. This was more like it! Among some of his first paintings was Burt Lancaster in Apache, and Marilyn Monroe in River Without Return.

Renato faced his first crisis at the age of 20 when he told his family that he wanted to go to Rome and be a film poster artist. His mother was worried about him living alone in the big city, but he was adamant that this was what he wanted. He gathered all the photographs that he had taken of his cinema paintings and a portfolio of artwork and sent them to Studio Favalli, a famous design and art studio working for the Rome film industry. He was hired, and immediately left his family and set off to Rome. His new employers were pleasantly surprised to find that he was quick to complete projects that were given to him, and for this reason he was given the nickname ‘Renato fa presto’, which translates to ‘does quickly’.

There was a break when he had to do his compulsory 18 months national service, but the Air Force asked him to paint their recruitment posters and provided him with his own studio, so he painted for them during the day and carried on with film posters in the evening. His first big film poster commission came when he was only 25 and it was for The Magnificent Seven.

In 1966 he was asked by the Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis to paint the posters for The Bible and this was the first of a long list of posters that he produced for De Laurentiis.

Some of his artwork during this time include Waterloo, Flash Gordon, Dune, the German version of Dances With Wolves and Conan the Barbarian.

He established his Studio Casaro in Rome, and by the beginning of the 70’s he was taking on work from many different studios in Europe. Some of his older rivals were retiring, but Renato was still developing his techniques, and it was around this time that he began to use an airbrush for his artwork. He was singular in that he always had the say in how or what he painted for a poster, but the directors were always happy with the results.  Renato was soon working on worldwide marketing campaigns for numerous films in America, Germany, the UK, France, Japan and many other countries.

One of his most memorable trips was to Tabernas in Almeria, Spain, for the Dino De Laurentiis production of Conan the Barbarian. It was around 1979 when he met Arnold Schwarzenegger on the set of Conan in Almeria at a time when no one knew who he was. He was famous in weight training circles, but all they knew him for was that he had this very impressive powerful body. Of course, nobody working on the film had any idea how famous he would eventually become. Renato was also shown around the Western area of the set at Tabernas and he was very impressed by the faithful reproduction of the set. It was like a piece of old America had been reconstructed in Spain. He had just missed the start of another superstar’s career which began at Tabernas in 1965 when Clint Eastwood filmed A Fistfull of Dollars there. Sandro Symeoni had painted the original Italian poster for the film, but Eastwood was an unknown at the time and he was badly painted in the poster. When the film was re-released in Germany at the end of the 1970s, Leone asked Renato to make sure this poster had a good likeness of Clint. However, Rene did paint the poster for Bad Man’s River starring Lee Van Cleef in 1971.

The light and ambience at Tabernas fascinated him and he promised himself that he would return someday. Unfortunately, the next few years saw him working seven days a week producing artwork. The Studio Casaro in Rome was working flat out now, but the long punishing hours that he worked took a toll on his marriage, and he and his wife decided to divorce.

After marrying his second wife, Gabriele, they moved to Munich for a while and worked for the German film industry.  There was a dearth of good poster painters here during the 80’s, and for a while he had pick of the market. But times were changing, and he could see the end of his career as a film poster painter. Many of the new films were computer generated, and so were the posters. The last poster he did was for the film Asterix and Obelix vs Caesar in 1999.

That was when he started working on a new series of paintings depicting film stars, which he called Painted Movies. Renato explained, “It was a great feeling to be able to work on an image of these actors I admired without having the pressure of a delivery deadline. I was free to choose the way they were depicted, and I had a lot of fun doing it.” He decided that it was time to return to Spain. He had a house built in Málaga, and opened a studio and gallery at Puerto Banus. From then on, he and his wife decided to live and work in Spain.

It was no coincidence that he chose Puerto Banus to have his gallery. Sean Connery and many of the other film stars that he painted owned houses in the complex around the port, and some had their private yachts in the marina there, too. In the early years of Puerto Banus, the list of film stars who holidayed there was impressive. Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant and Laurence Olivier, all visited the Marbella Club, making it the Costa del Sol's first luxury hotel. The prospects of selling his paintings here were obvious.  Many of the Painted Movies are of films that he would have liked to work on, films that he saw as a young boy, or films that others painted the posters for. His main theme was cinema, and once he was free of production constraints he could let his imagination roam.

Renato has also painted a new range of pictures themed on the Islamic occupation of Andalucia, no doubt to woo some of the Saudi royal family who have built houses in Marbella.

 The Saudis are all keen falconers, and Renato painted a series of pictures for them. He has also begun a new series of wildlife paintings which are gaining in popularity.

But it is his cinematic Last Supper in the style of Da Vinci that has set the tone for Renato’s light hearted look at Hollywood.

He follows up this with A Break in Filming, a parody of the famous photograph of steelworkers taking their break above New York.

When the lockdown is over, and we can move about again, why not visit Renato’s gallery in Marbella. For most of you guys it is just a couple of hours down the AP7. The address is on the internet. I never got to see it when I lived in Spain because I simply did not know about Renato, but when things are safer, I am going there. 

I also want to visit Madrid again because I never got round to visiting the gallery of Joaquin Sorolla, one of Spain’s greatest painters (In my humble opinion). Also, I would like to visit Gaudi’s houses in Barcelona and see the Sagrada Familia again. In England, I am going to make the pilgrimage to see Giampietrino’s Last Supper in the Magdalen College, Oxford. For those of you who have moved to Spain, don’t waste the opportunity to see its amazing cultural heritage. In the wake of Coronavirus, promise me that you will go and see some of these Last Suppers.



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From Coca Cola to the last supper!
20 February 2021

Joseph Harry Anderson was born on August 11, 1906. His family were devout Seventh-day Adventists and his father, Joseph, named all of his son’s Joseph, so each son went by his middle name, and this is the name that Harry used throughout his life. Harry had a sister and two brothers and all of them were outstanding students, with Harry excelling in mathematics.

His aim was to study maths at university, but in the interval between college and university Harry worked as a stock boy in large stationary store. When the store sign painter could not meet his deadlines Harry offered to stand in. His manager found Harry to be more than satisfactory, and he let him use a fourth floor room as a studio and he became the store’s permanent sign painter.

He enrolled at the University of Illinois in 1925, but when he came to register for his sophomore year he had to choose another subject. The maths course was hard work and Harry wanted something easy that would not overtax him. He chose a course in still life painting. After his first year in the art classes, his teacher, who was an alumnus of the Syracuse School of Art, asked him if he had considered art as a profession rather than mathematics. In the autumn of 1927, he began attending classes at Syracuse as a full-fledged art student with friend and fellow artist Tom Lovell.

The two attended classes together and shared a studio in the attic of Anderson’s dormitory. As well as working on course subjects, they earned extra money freelancing with Harry working on lettering jobs and Tom painting pulp covers. They both graduated with honours in 1931and moved to New York City to set up a studio in some old stables in McDougall’s Alley just off Washington Square. They had arrived in the illustration world in the middle of the depression and work was very hard to find. Harry served behind the counter for a sweets store in the evenings, and by day toured the agencies with his portfolio of artwork. Finally, after months of small jobs producing book jackets, he got his first commission from one of the big magazines, Collier’s.

With Collier’s under his belt was more confident about approaching the big publishers and agencies and began to earn enough to support himself with art alone. He quit the sweet store and paid off his debts, but he was tired of the rat-race in New York and began to save for his fare to return to Chicago where he knew the biggest prize was.

The Stevens-Gross Art Agency was the most successful art service agency in the Midwest, if not the entire country. They had a studio room where all their artists worked together and had models and photographers working along with the artists. Reps toured the country and brought in orders from advertisers and the top magazines in America. For providing this service, Stevens-Gross took 50% of sales, but Harry thrived on it.

His first big assignment was a series of illustrations for a Cream of Wheat advertising campaign, produced in 1937. Big commissions began to come to him: American Airlines, Ovaltine and Ford all asked for Harry to paint their advertisements. By 1940 he was working for Collier’s, Redbook, The Saturday Evening Post, Woman’s Home Companion, Ladies’ Home Journal, and Cosmopolitan.

           Cosmopolitan,                         Woman’s Home Companion,                               Cosmopolitan. 

              Esso,                                                  Coca Cola,                                                 Colliers. 

It was whilst he was working for Stevens-Gross that he met a young woman called Ruth Huebel who was working as a model in the studio room. They dated for a while during 1940 and finally married. It is Ruth who modelled as the mother comforting her young daughter in the Collier’s painting above. Harry had kept his faith throughout the years and he and Ruth joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Harry was now very well established in his own right and could leave Stevens-Gross and work for the Haddon Sundblom studio. Shortly after this move he had a crisis of faith. He felt that, due to his religious beliefs, he could no longer continue to paint for some of the publishers or companies that he had been working for in the past. The decision would have a big impact on his income.

By 1944 Harry and Ruth had two boys and a daughter to look after, and were struggling financially. Because of his strong beliefs and his fame as an artist, Harry was approached by The Review and Herald Publishing Association to produce religious illustrations for them. Harry agreed, and his first commission for the church was to paint Jesus talking with children. He broke with the long traditions of the publishers to show Jesus in a modern setting rather than a biblical one. He painted Jesus in a garden with a young girl dressed in modern clothes sat on his knee. There are other modern children around him and the girl on his knee is asking about the crucifixion marks on his hand. Harry called the picture What happened to your hand? The painting caused a furore within the church, and the editor was urged not to print it because it was blasphemous. He was on the verge of returning Harry’s work when the editor’s daughter saw the picture and said that she wished she could sit on Jesus’ knee and hold his hand. That made up the editor’s mind. He printed the picture, and instead of the predicted disapproval, it was met with great acclaim. Harry continued with his modern theme and produced around 300 religious illustrations for the Review and Herald Publishing Association over the next 35 years. Eventually, this huge body of work comprised half of the total artistic output of Harry’s life. He continued to paint commercial art, but he split his time between that and work for the church. Throughout the rest of his career he charged only the minimum wage for his religious artwork.

In 1946, the Andersons moved to Washington. D.C. to be closer to The Review and Herald offices. He continued working for several of his old customers and in 1949 he painted covers for a whole year’s editions of Woman’s Home Companion. The theme for each cover was “brother and sister” and Harry’s own son was model for some of them, but Harry was beginning to feel a little isolated and missed the interaction with other illustrators that he had enjoyed over the years. Finally, in I951, the Andersons moved closer to the New York City area. During this period, Anderson began to receive awards from several of the associations that he had worked for, and he was featured in a 1956 issue of American Artist in recognition for his contribution to art.

In the mid 60’s he was asked to paint a number of paintings for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For the church’s pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair he painted a large mural in oils of Jesus ordaining his apostles. Re-prints of this painting can be found hanging in nearly every Latter-day Saints Church meetinghouse and temple in the world, following this, he did nearly two dozen more paintings for the LDS Church and his paintings are also still widely used by the church for many of its printed and online materials.

I have seen a large print of The Apostles close up, and I can verify the detail and accuracy of skin colours and the textures of the clothes. This is, to my mind, his crowning masterpiece. Harry continued painting at this level for several more years, and because of his fame, his work was exhibited in the most prestigious and visible venues.  But technology was overtaking him. From the 70’s onwards, photography had become the preferred medium for advertising. Harry carried on painting for Esso (later Exxon), Humble Oil, John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company and Redbook. He also continued his devotion and professional relationship with the Seventh Day Adventist Church and the Review and Herald. By now, Harry was in his eighties and painted just for enjoyment.

In recognition for the 70 years of his professional life, he received the Grumbacher Purchase Prize from the American Watercolour Society, the Clara Obrig Prize from the National Academy of Design, and numerous awards from the Art Directors Club. Additionally, he was elected to the Illustrators Hall of Fame in 1994. Harry died in 1996, aged 90.

But where’s the Last Supper? Well, this is Harry’s Last Supper, and it’s the most believable last supper of them all. There is no huge table as Da Vinci painted, or the great feast with half a dozen servants as Tintoretto painted, and nobody bought a place at this table. Harry was meticulous about detail, and he painted what he thought that meeting so long ago in one of the poorer houses of Jerusalem would have looked like. The dress of the disciples is that of men who have wandered from town to town following Jesus as he preached. They all eat frugally, and now Jesus tells them that he will be betrayed in the morning and must die soon. The photograph here is poor, but the painting is up to Harry’s high standards and is beautifully done.

We’re nearly at the end of the last suppers.  I have missed out half a dozen worthy of mention. In fact, there are hundreds more Last Suppers, but they would have become tedious.

There is only one more Last Supper left, and I know that you will enjoy it.      

 



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A love lost, but a faith renewed.
13 February 2021

Jacques Joseph Tissot was born in Nantes in October 1836, France to a fervent Catholic family. His father, Marcel Théodore Tissot, was a successful drapery merchant and his mother, Marie Durand, was a designer of hats. Marie instilled in her son a pious devotion to her Catholic faith. Jacques spent his youth in Nantes, and many of his later paintings contained river scenes and the shipping that he would have seen working up and down the River Loire.  His father was adamant that Jacques would follow him in the family business, but by the time he was 17 the boy knew that he wanted to be a painter. His mother supported him in his choice of career, and Jacques decided that he would change his forename to the more anglicised James.   

In 1856 or 1857, Tissot travelled to Paris to enrol at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts to study in the studios of Hippolyte Flandrin and Louis Lamothe whilst lodging with a friend of his mother, painter Elie Delaunay. Around this time James began meeting other influential artists of the day, the American James McNeill Whistler, and French painter Edgar Degas who was studying in the same school along with Édouard Manet. His first exhibition was in the Paris Salon in 1859 during which he displayed five paintings. Success for James came a year later when the French government paid 5,000 francs for The Meeting of Faust and Marguerite, which he again exhibited the following year along with other paintings. Fellow artists, Claude Monet and Alfred Stevens were exploring Japanese art, and James also dabbled with the theme for a while before returning to his more familiar subjects. It was during this period that his friend, Degas, painted James’ portrait working in his studio.

 

Degas' portrait of James now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

He became an international artist when he exhibited in the 1862 international exhibition in London at the gallery of Ernest Gambart and James sensed that if he changed his approach he would be more successful. He began to accept commissions for portraits and scenes depicting contemporary life and was rewarded with critical acclaim.

 Un dejuner, 1836

Things were going well for James until the States of the North German Confederation led by the Kingdom of Prussia decided to invade France in 1870. The war lasted seven months, from July 1870 to 28 January 1871. The Germans defeated the French armies in northern France and surrounded Paris, which fell on 28 January 1871, and just two months into the war, the French formed a new government for national defence and fought on. James was living in Paris, and when the Germans took the city, the Parisians formed a revolutionary group called the Paris Commune, which seized power and held the Germans at bay for two months. Tissot joined the Garde Nationale and fought with them on the barricades, more to protect his own belongings from looters than fighting for an ideal. The commune was bloodily suppressed by the regular French army at the end of May 1871, and having seen enough of war Tissot packed his bags, gathered his belongings, and sailed for London.

He had enough money to buy a house in St John’s wood, and found that his good reputation had preceded him. He had already worked as a caricaturist for Thomas Gibson Bowles, the owner of the Vanity Fair and he resumed his work for the magazine using the pen-name Coïdé. He gained admission to the Arts Club of London and Invitations to exhibit at the Royal Academy soon followed. By 1874, one jealous critic wrote sarcastically that he had “a studio with a waiting room where, at all times, there is iced champagne at the disposal of visitors”. In 1874 his old friend Degas asked him to return to France and join a new movement of painters who called themselves the Impressionists. Tissot declined, though he never lost contact with his old friends, and travelled to Venice with Édouard Manet and regularly saw Whistler, who influenced his Thames river scenes.

His decision to remain in England brought James his greatest reward when in 1875 he met a young divorcee called Kathleen Newton. She moved into his house in St. John’s Wood in 1876 and gave birth to a boy, Cecil George Newton. She lived with James for the next six years before she died of consumption in 1882. In the years that followed, James always referred to his time with Kathleen as the happiest days of his life. Despite all the acclaim for his art and the money that he had earned, nothing could replace the love of Kathleen and the family that he had briefly found.

 James' portrait of Kathleen

The loss of Kathleen led to a profound change to James’ life. There is a little known painting of his that had been assumed destroyed or lost for decades. It is now in Tissot’s collection of photographs and paintings in his studio in the rural Bouillon region of southern France. It’s called The Apparition. After her death he visited several spiritualists, but the dark painting shows the well-known spiritualist and medium, William Eglinton, accompanied by a woman. Both are shrouded in white and holding orbs of light. It is supposedly based on a vision Tissot had in a séance with Eglinton.

Shortly after Kathleen’s death Tissot returned to France, but he was not the same man who left a few years earlier. When all of France was buzzing with Impressionism, James changed to watercolours and he began painting biblical pictures. Some have argued that he took advantage of a growing movement of Catholic revival, but his conviction to his new theme was strong enough for him to visit the lands of the Bible. Between the years of 1886 and 1896 he travelled to the Middle East three times to make sketches of the people and towns. His watercolours, always well researched, moved towards realism and accuracy of detail. He produced a series of 365 gouache watercolours which he exhibited in France in 1894/5, London 1896 and New York in 1898/9. In 1900 the Brooklyn Museum bought the collection and published them in two versions; one in French and the other in English. After the first exhibition in France in 1895 Tissot was awarded the Légion d'honneur, France's most prestigious medal. James carried on painting subjects from the Old Testament and exhibited 80 of them in Paris in 1901.

 

Tissot's illustrations for sale on the internet, second hand at £3,760. Published by M. de Brunoff & Cie, Paris, 1904

One of the gouache paintings that he painted was the Last Supper. If you remember the Agape Feast drawings in the catacombs of Rome, the people at the table were laying down on beds. This is what Tissot saw for himself on his visits and accurately drew in his pictures. The table is sparse, but the symbolic Holy Grail is placed in front of Jesus. He painted another picture whose theme is less familiar, but will show up again later on. It shows the disciples standing in a circle with Jesus on the right apparently blessing them. Both paintings convey an air of sadness and knowledge of the horrors to come.  

That could be the end of the story, but there’s more.

Tissot’s depictions of the Holy Land had a historical value, and when film director William Wyler began a remake of the 1925 silent film Ben Hur in 1959 he began looking around for authentic biblical scenes. His researchers showed him Tissot’s drawings and he used many of them for his scenes, especially What our Lord Saw from the Cross.

When George Lucas was writing The Raiders of the Lost Ark in the 1970’s he had to ask what the Ark of the Covenant actually looked like. He was shown Tissot’s Moses and Joshua in the Tabernacle and The Ark Passes over the Jorden and when the time came for making props he ordered copies of Tissot’s ark to be made for filming.

Just to add a topical note. The Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in northern Ethiopia is the reputed resting place of the real Ark of the Covenant.  According to the Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, it was taken there by the Queen of Sheba’s son Menelik and King Solomon of Israel after Jerusalem was sacked in 596/587 and Solomon’s temple destroyed. It has been guarded by monks who are forbidden to leave the church grounds until death. The war that is going on there is putting the ark in danger. Eritrean troops have been looting churches in the area and reports of mass shootings of civilians and photographs of damage to the church are emerging. I write theses blogs sometimes weeks in advance, so by the time you read this there may be more news.

 

 

 

 



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Chalk or cheese for supper
06 February 2021

We are now in the middle of a string of Last Suppers, but they are of a different mettle to those which came before. Leonardo made a bold statement with his imposing fresco, but some of the faces might have been taken from Leonardo’s grotesque sketches, and the almost mathematical spacing of the disciples along the table was very formalised, but meant that none of the disciples had their backs to the viewer. These next two artists made their Last Suppers much more believable.  

Vicente Juan, known as Juan de Juanes was born in Fuente la Higuera, Valencia, in 1523. His father was an artist who was influenced by Raphael, and Vicente followed in his father’s style, but he has infused some Italian influence into his paintings. He uses bright colours combined with a high technical skill, and is one of Spain’s best known and most liked religious painters. In Spain, this is the definitive Last Supper, not Da Vinci’s. Each disciple has a halo with his name painted within it. Only Judas has no halo, and he is at the far right with his body half turned away trying to hide the purse containing the bribe to betray his master. Their faces are those of real people filled with adoration as Christ explains the Eucharist to them. Juan was the forerunner to most of the Spanish religious painters and sculptors whose continuing work you can see in all parts of Spain. 

His family was devout catholic, and Juan never painted a profane subject. Before he began each painting he took Holy Communion, and the progress of the painting was accompanied with solemn prayers and fasts. He was never short of patronage from the church, and his patrons included the Jesuits, Dominicans, Minims, Augustinians and Franciscans. Juan’s style is the one adopted by many of Spain’s religious painters and can be best seen in the Sagrada Familia shown below. All his surviving work is in Valencia, and his work was continued by his son and two of his daughters who were all painters in their own right. His life was successful and profitable, but not very interesting. His Last Supper now hangs in the Museo Del Prado, Madrid.

 

Sacred family. Holy Family for the sacristy in the Cathedral of Valencia.

The next artist we look at lived his life a little on the wild side. And the lifestyles of the two artists together are like chalk and cheese.

Valentin de Boulogne was born in Coulommiers, France. His father and uncle were both artists, and he probably trained with them before setting out on his own. He first moved to Paris, but he soon learned that all the action was in Rome. He arrived there in 1620 and just missed meeting the art world’s second most famous bad boy. (Adolf Hitler has first place.)

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s work emphasized the common humanity of the apostles and martyrs and rejected the Mannerism that had preceded him. His paintings were three-dimensional, showing real people with expressions that displayed the full range of human emotions. He had initiated the Baroque era, and his style had attracted a large following from all parts of Europe. However, his lifestyle was as famous as his artwork, but for all the wrong reasons. Caravaggio had fled Rome just a few years before Valentin arrived, but he had left a legacy worthy of Rome’s lurid past.

As early as 1590 Caravaggio had a reputation for street brawls amongst gangs of young men in Milan. He committed a murder there and had to flee to Venice and then to Rome. Less than a decade after arriving in Rome, he was arrested for beating a nobleman with a club and he was frequently imprisoned for brawling. After one such spell of imprisonment, he knuckled down to painting for three years, but he was arrested in 1603 for defamation and sued. His imprisonment followed, but the French ambassador, who was his patron, stepped in and had him put under house arrest instead.

But it was in 1606 that he stepped over the line between saint and sinner. He had argued several times with Ranuccio Tommasoni, a gangster and the son of a wealthy local family, but this dispute ended in a duel in which Tommasoni was killed. It’s not clear whether his death was intentional, but Caravaggio was trying to castrate his opponent with his sword, and I don’t think that Tommasoni would have held still for that. Caravaggio was sentenced to beheading for murder and an open bounty was declared, enabling anyone who recognized him to legally carry the sentence out. Caravaggio was forced to flee from Rome to Naples, then Malta and finally Sicily.

 Simon Vouet, self portrait.

Valentin de Boulogne joined the studio of Simon Vouet, who was at that time very well established in Rome. Whilst Valentin was studying with Vouet, the latter was elected to be president of the Accademia di San Luca and was commissioned to paint an altarpiece for St Peter’s in Rome. Things could not have looked better for Valentin, and if he had stayed with Vouet, his life might have gone in a very different direction. Summoned in 1627 by the King of France, Vouet became Premier peintre du Roi, and was commissioned to paint portraits and decorate the mansions of royalty for the rest of his life. But Valentin chose a different route to immortality.

Valentin arrived in a Rome that was full of Caravaggio imitators, both in lifestyle and in art. He was one of many ex-pats (no offence intended) who came for one reason, but stayed for something else entirely. It was not long before he was initiated into the Bentvueghels (Dutch for “Birds of a Feather”) a group of mostly Dutch and Flemish artists who were known for their drunken celebrations and near worship of the Roman god, Bacchus. The initiation ceremony was usually paid for by the initiate, and consisted of a piss-up that could last for a whole day and night. For those who could still walk, the conclusion to the day was to stagger together to the Church of Santa Costanza, which was popularly known as the Temple of Bacchus, and surround the sarcophagus of Constantina, the eldest daughter of Roman emperor Constantine the Great, which had sculpted scenes depicting Bacchus on its sides. Here they raised a glass to toast the old Roman god before going home. Because of his Christian name, Valentin was given the nickname inamorato, meaning one in love.

 Initiation into the Bentvueghels.

Perhaps I have painted a rather gloomy picture of Valentin and his friends, because they actually maintained a very high standard of art, despite their bad behavior off-canvas. Valentin’s social life was in the bars and dives of Rome, and this shows in his artwork. For me, the ones who came before, and some who came after, lived in an ecclesiastical bubble dictated by their patrons’ purse strings. Valentin stepped outside these confines and showed the realities of life in the streets, the life that Jesus might have seen. The Fortune-teller is a beautiful example of his mastery of this theme.

A gypsy fortune teller is entertaining a group of young soldiers unaware that her purse is being stolen by a thief. The thief looks at the viewer with a conspiratorial eye, unaware that his pocket is being picked by a child. The intrigue apart, the sheer mastery of light, the credible emotions on the faces of the soldiers and the detail in the painting is stunning. We are so accustomed to photography and cinema now that we see this and think little of it, but in 1630 it was amazing.

So now we come to the Last Supper by Valentin. He has moved Judas to this side of the table on the left, and painted him surreptitiously holding a purse of gold behind his back. The faces of the disciples are entirely credible and their clothes are those of men who have spent the last few years on the road preaching. Valentin masterly paints the emotion of shock and disbelief that the real disciples must have felt. To me, this is a high point in the art of the suppers, and is only surpassed much later on. Many of his seventy or so paintings depict faithfully the whole range of emotions known to man and he could have become one of the great artists of the era.

Is there happy ending? Well, he may have been happy at the time, but the tragedy is that Valentin de Boulogne died at the age of 41. His cause of death … he had been on a drinking binge all day and he decided to round off the evening by bathing in the freezing cold waters of the Fontana del Tritone on Piazza Barberini. During the following few days he developed pneumonia and died.

There may be a lesson here, but who am I to preach.

 



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The furious artist
30 January 2021

For artistic rivalry that was bitter, and the next Last Supper, we have to go to Venice in 1518, the year before Leonardo died, and two years before the copies of his Last Supper were begun.

 Battista Robusti, a dyer or tintore, in Venice, had a son in October of that year whom they named Jacopo. As their son grew, he acquired the nickname of Tintoretto, “little dyer”, or “dyer’s boy”. Tintoretto is known to have had at least one sibling, a brother named Domenico, and the family was believed to have originated from Brescia, in Lombardy, which was at that time part of the Republic of Venice. Tintoretto showed artistic talent from an early age, and by 1530 his father had guided him to the point where he thought that he had enough ability to become an apprentice to one of the many artists running studios in Venice. Battista had enough faith in his son’s ability to send him to work for probably the most influential and famous artist in Venice.

 Tintoretto's self portrait in later life.

Tiziano Vecelli was better known as Titan (pronounced tishan) and would have been around 30 years-old when young Tintoretto came to study under him. Titian’s father was superintendent of the castle of Pieve di Cadore and managed local mines for their owners, as well as being a distinguished councillor and soldier. His grandfather was a notary, as were many of his family, and they were well established in the area around Venice.

Titan had begun his training with Giorgione, but it soon became apparent that the novice had more talent than the teacher. Nevertheless, he continued working with Giorgione on several frescoes and from this distance in time it is difficult to distinguish who painted what. Their styles were so similar and they were constantly adopting improvements from each other. Giorgione died when still young in 1510, but Titan carried on with improving the new art moderna that they had championed.  Michelangelo and Da Vinci, though still painting in their old style, were suddenly old school. Historians of art describe this period as the transition from High Renaissance to Mannerism. Needless to say Titan was in great demand, though his work showed the influence of his dead friend and rival with its bold and expressive brushwork. He was the rising star and darling of Venetian art.

Then along came young Tintoretto. The boy worshipped Titan, but for some reason, within the first few days, he incurred the displeasure of the master. The rejection of Tintoretto by Titan was catastrophic and final, and the boy was expelled from his studio. History has left no clues as to why this happened, but from then on Titan and his many followers disparaged Tintoretto relentlessly.

 Poor Jacopo did not give up, and instead worked with craftsmen who decorated furniture with paintings of mythological scenes, and when not occupied with this, he practised his painting and studied alone. He was, for most of the time, penniless, but he had his own studio and he wrote his high ideals over the door. Il disegno di Michelangelo ed il colorito di Tiziano: Michelangelo’s drawing and Titian’s colour".

Tintoretto was not without friends, and he worked with Andrea Schiavone, who was gaining commissions for frescos. Tintoretto often worked for nothing, which needless to say attracted commissions, but most of his early work has been lost to time. Two more paintings which are lost, but are remembered only because Titan was recorded expressing his praise of the work, was a portrait of Tintoretto with his brother, and an unknown historical painting. Significantly, both works attracted the praise of the Venetian public. Some of his early paintings had been attributed to Schiavone, but recent scrutiny (2012) has revealed that The Embarkation of St Helena, The Discovery of The True Cross and St Helen Testing The True Cross, are works by Tintoretto. He was also gaining another reputation from his growing fans. People who saw him paint were amazed at the speed and ferocity with which he painted. He gained another nickname; Il Furioso; the furious.

 The miracle of the slave.

His big break came with a commission for a large fresco for the Scuola di S. Marco entitled the Miracle of the Slave. Tintoretto fully realised the significance of the opportunity, and spent hours composing the picture before he started painting. He made full use of the drama and theatre of the scene and used unusual colours applied with his, by now famous, vigorous execution. The painting was a resounding success, and brought him several commissions one of which was for the Church of San Rocco and called Saint Roch Cures the Plaque Victims. This would be the first of his many laterali paintings, in which he displayed an amazing grasp of off-centre perspective. When he painted these wall scenes he realised that the congregation would view the frescos from below and at an angle, so he elongated the scene so that, to them it, looked in perspective.

 

Saint Roch Cures the Plaque Victims. This picture has been digitally corrected, but the one in the church is foreshortened to the bottom RH corner for viewing by the congregation. 

His next big break came in 1550 when he married Faustina de Vescovi, daughter of a Venetian nobleman who was the guardian grande of the Scuola Grande di San Marco. Faustina bore him several children, but his firstborn daughter, Marietta, attracted the gossips in Venice who rumoured that she was conceived before his marriage to Faustina. In any event, Faustina turned out to be a loving wife and a good housekeeper. Furthermore, Marietta turned out to be quite an accomplished portrait painter. Faustina brought him happiness and in 1564, more commissions for the Scuola di S. Marco: The Finding of the body of St Mark, the St Mark's Body Brought to Venice and St Mark Rescuing a Saracen from Shipwreck. But Tintoretti often did not get paid for his work. He was still well down the pecking order in the artists of Venice, and he sometimes offered to paint his frescos for nothing just to get his toe in the door. Faustina learned to be careful with her money, and when Jacopo went out she would wrap money in a handkerchief and expect a full account of his spending. Invariably he returned with empty pockets, explaining that he gave the money to the poor. He was an agreeable, witty person to talk to, but rarely smiled and he kept his work techniques secret. Sometimes he retreated to his study, where even his closest friends were not permitted to enter.

Titan, meanwhile, had gone from strength to strength, and by 1521he was nearing the peak of his career. His painting of St. Sebastian for the papal legate in Brescia brought him numerous commissions and numerous copiers of his works. He simultaneously produced The Death of St. Peter Martyr (1530), for the Dominican Church of San Zanipolo, and a series of small Madonnas like the Virgin with the Rabbit (Louvre). Titan, along with Giovanni Bellini, was commissioned to paint three large mythological scenes for Alfonso d'Este in Ferrara. Alfonso had created perhaps the most beautiful gallery of all time which gained fame as camerino d'alabastro (small alabaster room) in which he intended to hang the paintings of the most famous artists of the age.

For the camerino Titan produced The Bacchanal of the Andrians and the Worship of Venus (Now in the Museo del Prado), and Bacchus and Ariadne. (National Gallery London) Between 1530 and 1550 Titan and his studio artists were working flat out and his style was praised and copied everywhere. But he had neglected his contracts to paint for the Venitian government and they ordered him to refund the money they had paid him in advance. They asked his growing rival, Il Pordenone, to take his place. Pordenone died a year into the job, and a subdued Titan returned to honour the contracts. His material fortune was equal to Raphael and Michelangelo and in 1540 he received a pension from d'Avalos, Marquis del Vasto, and an annuity of 200 crowns (which was afterwards doubled) from Charles V from the treasury of Milan. He owned a villa in the Conegliano hills north of Venice, which is now known mostly for the production of wine, especially Prosecco. In 1546 he was given the freedom of the city of Rome. Four years later, he was summoned to Augsberg to paint Charles V and others. Whilst he was there, he painted the portrait of Philip II which was sent to Queen Mary of England, whom Philip later married. For the last 26 years of his life he worked for King Philip and mainly produced portraits of the nobility of Europe. At Philip’s request, he painted a series of large mythological paintings known as the poesie, mostly from Ovid, which scholars regard as among his greatest works. So many artists were copying his paintings that it’s difficult to separate the real ones from the fakes now.

The Black Death raged through Venice in 1576, and though he escaped the pestilence, Titan developed a fever and died in August that year. Soon after, his only son and heir, Orazio, died of the plague. Neither had thought to make out a will, and settling the estate of Titan took decades.

So, I hear you asking, where does the Last Supper come into this story?

Well, Tintoretto painted no less than 9 Last Suppers. Eight of them were in the style of Da Vinci, but the last was radically different. He swings the table around to create an offset viewpoint and then populates the canvas with a multitude of servants who are supplying the disciples with rich food, wine and fruits. But then he adds a host of unseen angels in the air around them, and you become aware that this instant is the defining moment of Christianity. Hardly the quiet supper after arriving in Jerusalem that the New Testament describes, but a painting which says that Jacopo was his own man, and that though self-taught, he could be counted with some of the finest artists the world has ever seen.

 The Last Supper

The elders of Venice had not forgotten their other son, and twelve years after Titan’s death, they asked Tintoretto to paint a picture for the Dodge’s palace. He was 70 years-old by then, and he had no pupils, so he and his son, Dominico, painted Paradise together. The work is the largest ever oil painting on canvas at 74 by 30ft (22x7 meters) with around 500 detailed figures. It took months to complete, and when it was unveiled all Venice came to see it and praise the artist. He was told that he could name his price for the work, but humble Tintoretto asked just for his expenses during the work to be reimbursed.

 Paradise

If you think that this is the end of the Last Supper you are wrong. It was a popular theme, and one which artists could use to further their careers.



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How to gatecrash the Last Supper and end up in a mine
23 January 2021

A hundred and fifty-two years after the cathedral in Siena received its altarpiece, and 30 years before Leonardo was commissioned to paint his Last Supper, the Leuven Confraternity of the Holy Sacrament were in the process of building a new church which eventually became known as St. Peter's Church. They commissioned an Altarpiece from a 49 year-old Flemish painter called Dieric Bouts, who had moved to Leuven 13 years earlier.

Bouts may have studied under Rogier van der Weyden because his work shows that he was certainly influenced by him and Jan van Eyck, both leading innovators in the Early Netherlandish style typical of Bruges and Ghent. Dieric was from Haarlem, as was the architect of the church, Antoon I Keldermans. Both had probably been recommended by the church leaders in Haarlem, where they had achieved some fame for their work. The Last Supper was to be the central part of the altarpiece of the new church and was to become the first ever Flemish panel painting of the Last Supper.

 

The central panel showing the Last Supper

However, the commission came with a long list of conditions. The Confraternity did not want the accepted scene of Christ’s revelation of betrayal; they wanted Christ in the role of a priest performing the consecration of the Eucharistic host from the Catholic Mass. Moreover, the two servants and some of the people who would have been painted as apostles were in fact portraits of local businessmen dressed not in the vogue of Jerusalem at the time of Christ, but in mid fifteenth century Dutch attire. To keep attention on the face of Jesus, the head of Christ is painted one-third larger than all the other faces, yet his face and some of the disciples are painted in a flat stylistic manner. However, those who paid to be included have quite good likenesses. Adding to this flagrant self-aggrandisement, the two faces in the serving hatch were the two priests who controlled the purse strings of the Confraternity, and who probably commissioned the painting. This just goes to show that even if you are a nondescript tradesman in a small town, you can elevate yourself to near martyrdom by buying an invite to Christ's last supper with his disciples.

Dieric’s painting of the Last Supper is also famous for its perspective, or to be more accurate, the mistakes in its perspective. Dieric was a student of Italian linear perspective, but he wasn’t too good at it. All the lines in the room should come to one vanishing point and Dieric decided to put his vanishing point in the middle of the lintel over the strange panelled doorway behind Christ. This high vantage allows you to look down on the table so that you can clearly see everybody sitting around it. But looking through the windows and open door, the horizon, which should also run through the vanishing point, is well below it. The side room on the right has a different vanishing point somewhere else, and the general effect is that of an architectural drawing rather than a work of art.

 

The panels shown in their original order.

Nevertheless, the full Altarpiece of the Holy Sacrament, as shown above, remained in St. Peter’s church, Leuven, until the late 1800’s, by which time the art world had lost interest in the early Dutch painters, and some of the side panels were sold to an antiques dealer in Brussels. They later turned up in the museums of Berlin and Munich. Shortly afterwards, the First World War swept across Europe, and when the carnage was over, the negotiators at the Treaty of Versailles demanded that Germany should return the panels to Leuven free of charge in reparation for the war.

And there they stayed until 1942, when the altarpiece was removed once again and taken to Germany. This is when life got really interesting for the Leuven Altarpiece of the Holy Sacrament.

When he became Reich Chancellor in 1934, Adolf Hitler had a dream of creating an art gallery in Linz, his home town. He wanted Linz to overshadow Vienna, where he had spent some unhappy years as a struggling artist.  His dislike of the city stemmed not only from its strong Jewish influence, but because of his own failure to gain admission to the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts.

Adolf is quite rightly vilified for his many other faults, but he initially established a fund from his own money to buy artwork to put in his proposed gallery. He used money from the sales of his book, Mein Kampf, profit from several property speculation deals, royalties from his image used on postage stamps and state birthday presents in the form of artwork. After a state trip to Rome, Florence and Naples in 1938 he was “overwhelmed and challenged by the riches of the Italian museums.” Hitler sent Heinrich Heim, one of Martin Bormann's adjutants, who had expertise in paintings and graphics, on trips to Italy and France to buy artworks.

After the Anschluss in March 1938, which brought Austria into the German Reich, both the Gestapo and the Nazi Party went on a spree of looting numerous artworks for themselves. Hermann Göring was chief culprit, and many of the purloined pictures ended up in his hands.  In response, on 18 June 1938, Hitler issued a decree placing all artwork that had been seized in Austria be placed under the personal prerogative of the Führer. The order was to guarantee that Hitler would have first choice of the plundered art for his planned Führermuseum, and this later became a standard procedure for all stolen or confiscated art and became known as the Führer-Reserve. Because he was Hitler’s second in command, Göring was given control of the ERR, (Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg für die Besetzten Gebiete) or The Reichsleiter Rosenberg Institute for the Occupied Territories. But when he thought Adolf’s men weren’t looking, he used it as his personal looting organization. At its peak, Göring’s art collection included 1,375 paintings, 250 sculptures and 168 tapestries.

On 21 June 1939, Hitler set up the Sonderauftrag Linz (Special Commission Linz) in Dresden and appointed Hans Posse, director of the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Dresden Painting Gallery), as a special envoy. Hitler gave Posse a letter which ordered all Party and State services to assist him. By December 1944, Posse had spent 70 million Reichsmarks (equivalent to 261 million 2017 euros) on accumulating the collection intended for the Führermuseum. The acquisitions amounted to "technical looting," since the Netherlands and other occupied countries were forced to accept German Reichsmarks, which ultimately proved worthless.

 

Hitler's proposed art museum in Linz.

The artworks that Hitler collected were stored in a number of places, mostly in the air raid shelters of the Führerbau in Munich. But Göring's ERR had selected several estates for storage that were remote and unlikely to be bombed by the Allies. In 1943 Hitler ordered that these collections be moved. Beginning in February 1944, the artworks were relocated to the 14th-century Steinberg salt mines above the village of Altaussee, code-named “Dora” The transfer of Hitler’s Linz collection to the salt mine took 13 months to complete, and utilized both tanks and oxen when the trucks could not navigate the steep, narrow and winding roads because of the winter weather. The final convoy of art arrived at the mine in April 1945, just weeks before VE day. The salt mines usually had a single entrance, and a small gasoline-powered narrow-gauge engine was used to navigate to the various caverns. Into these spaces, workmen built storage rooms which boasted wooden floors, racks specifically designed to hold the paintings and other artworks.

In April 1945 Eisenhower gave up Berlin as an objective that would not be worth the troops killed in order to take it. He ordered the Third and Seventh Armies to turn south, towards what the Allies feared might be an "Alpine Redoubt" from which Hitler or fanatical Nazis could operate a guerrilla campaign.

From early on in the war, George Stout, a first World War Veteran working at Harvard's Fogg Museum, had been campaigning for a commission to be set up to catalogue the artwork that he knew was disappearing. American and British authorities were, needless to say, too busy with the war to listen. But in December 1944, the Allies created the Monuments, Fine Arts, and archives program. (MFAA) Stout was in the Navy working on aircraft camouflage, but was transferred the small corps of 17 “Monuments men” who were charged with cataloguing and recovering the missing artwork. They began to follow clues which led them all to locations in the area that Eisenhower had chosen to liberate last.

Captain Walker Hancock, the Monuments officer for the U.S. First Army learned the locations of 109 art repositories in Germany east of the Rhine by interrogating the assistant of Count Wolff-Metternich of the Kunstschutz. Captain Robert Posey and Private Lincoln Kirstein, who were attached to the U.S. Third Army, questioned Hermann Bunjes, a corrupted art scholar and former SS Captain who had been working for Hermann Göring’s ERR. Their information led them to Heilbronn, Baxheim, Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein Castle, where much of Göring’s loot was hidden. 1st Lt. James Rorimer attached to the U.S. Seventh Army  had made contact with Rose Valland, a French resistance worker, who eventually shared the trove of information she had gathered at the Jeu de Paume museum while Göring’s ERR were using it as a store for stolen art.

 The Monuments men.

The gathering of the Monuments men became a frantic race when Hitler issued his Nero Decree shortly before the Russians overran Berlin. It called for all works of art to be destroyed in the event of his death or Germany falling to the Allies. Seemingly, Hitler had second thoughts about his decree and countermanded it, but after his suicide, the interpretation of his decree was left to officers in the field. August Eigruber, the Gauleiter of Upper Austria, had placed eight crates of 500-kilogram bombs amongst the artwork in the mine tunnels and he gave orders that they be wired and detonated.

The managers of the mine argued that the mine was their livelihood, and tried to remove the bombs. They were forced out of the mine by the Gauleiter’s troops who stood guard at the entrance whilst a demolition team set the charges. With the Americans just a few miles away, Eigruber fled with an elite SS bodyguard leaving his troops to finish the job.

Dr. Emmerich Pöchmüller, the general director of the mine, Eberhard Mayerhoffer, the technical director, and Otto Högler, the mine’s foreman approached Ernst Kaltenbrunner, an SS officer of high rank in the Gestapo who had grown up in the area and persuaded him to countermand  Eigruber’s orders. They also persuaded the mine guards left by Eigruber to allow them to re-position the bombs so that they sealed the tunnel entrances without damaging the artwork inside. The plan took three weeks to execute, and on 5 May the charges were detonated. The Americans and the Monuments men arrived on the 8 of May and, aided by the mineworkers, frantically began clearing the entrance and bringing out the artwork. They removed the last pieces just before the Russians arrived.

If you haven’t seen the 2016 film,  Monuments Men,  you should watch it.

To finish the story, Dieric Bouts’ Last Supper was returned to Leuven when the war ended, and that’s where it remains to this day.



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The seed of a legend germinates.
16 January 2021

The Last Supper did not originate with Leonardo da Vinci. It wasn’t even his idea. Somebody first painted it about 20 years after the crucifixion of Jesus, and it’s entirely possible that the artist could have been in the crowd that welcomed him into Jerusalem.

According to the New Testament, Jesus entered Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover and sent Peter and John ahead to meet a man who would show them to their accommodation. When they had rested from the journey, they all came together to eat. Jesus knew that he was in great danger, and it is very likely that he told his friends about his fears. During the meal that night, Jesus announced that he would be betrayed by one of his disciples. This caused consternation and howls of anguish from all of his friends. Jesus broke bread and gave it to his disciples, explaining that this was his body. He offered them wine, saying that this was his blood, and he charged them to spread his teachings after he was dead.  This meal is the basis for the Eucarist, but is much better known as the Last Supper.

His betrayal, arrest, trial and subsequent crucifixion separated him from the Jewish faith, which stretched all the way back to Abraham. From now on, he would be the long awaited Messiah, the son of God. In the New Testament, Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians (11:23–25) has the earliest reference to the meal and dates from the middle of the first century, 20 years after the crucifixion. Matthew (26:17–29) gives a detailed description of the betrayal, but was written 30 years later.  Mark’s (14:12–25) was 40 years later and Luke (22:7–38) 50 years later. Some of these accounts of the life and death of Jesus are hotly debated regarding origin and authenticity, but it is possible that what happened during the meal may have been elaborated upon when verbally passed on and spread amongst the early Christians shortly after Jesus’ death.

The first paintings of the last supper date from about the same time as Paul’s First Epistle, and they were found in the catacombs in Rome. The Fractio Panis fresco in the Catacomb of Priscilla on the Via Salaria is one of the most famous of catacomb paintings and it gives an idea of how early Christians took Communion. It is one of several from the first century CE and is the clearest example we have in catacomb art of the ritual of the Eucharist during the first two hundred years of the Gentile Church in Rome. In the New Testament book of Acts, (c. 63-70) there are references to Christians gathering to “break bread,” at what was called an “Agape Love Feast.” Considering that these figures are painted above an opening in the wall where a corpse was to be placed before bricking up the tomb, the paintings are more likely to show the poor soul attending a meal in heaven with Christ rather than a worldly event. Nevertheless, this was the first painting showing the concept of a Last Supper.

In the painting, seven people, one of whom is a woman, are reclining at a table where there is a cup of red wine and two large plates. One plate contains five loaves of bread, the other two fish, replicating the numbers in the multiplication miracle from the Gospels. A man at the left end of the table is breaking a small loaf in his hands. These pictures in the catacombs are the only illustrations of how early Christians of the first century after Christ’s death devoted themselves to the new religion, with baptisms and “breaking bread” in their homes, “with glad and sincere hearts.” (Acts 2:42 to 2:46) The catacomb paintings of Rome are the first depictions of a Last Supper, but we have to wait around 1,150 years before there is another painting of the Last Supper.

In 1196, the cathedral masons’ guild, the Opera di Santa Maria, was given the commission of the construction of a new cathedral in the city of Siena, which is about 50 km south of Florence. From the outset, this was designed to be a showpiece of art and sculpture that had no rivals. The architect /sculptor who directed the masons was Giovanni Pisano, whose work on the Duomo’s (The name of the Cathedral) façade and the pulpit was influenced by his father Nicola Pisano. His famous father had sculpted the pulpit in the Cathedral in Pisa, and it was he who was commissioned to sculpt the pulpit at Siena from Carera marble. Father and son worked together to build the west façade, which uses dark and white marble in horizontal stripes. This is the most impressive of the four façades of the Cathedral, with the middle of the three entrance portals overlooked by a huge bronze sun. 

The Dumo Catherdral, Siena

Work was started on the north–south transept, and by 1215 the priests were already holding daily masses in the new church. The pulpit was finished and added in 1268, and is the oldest original work of art in the Cathedral. However, by this time Nicola had died sometime before 1284, and though Giovanni had taken up residence in Siena, he left abruptly in 1296 after falling out with the Opera di Santa Maria. He returned to Pisa, (His and his father’s home town.) and began working on their Cathedral.

I imagine that you are wondering what all this has to do with the Last Supper, well here is the link.

The altarpiece showing front on the left and the rear on the right.

In 1308, the Bishop of Siena commissioned the artist Duccio di Buoninsegna, a local artist, to paint an altarpiece for the cathedral. The front of the altarpiece showed the Madonna and Child with saints and angels. The reverse had panels showing the life of Christ and the life of the Virgin in 43 small scenes. The wooden altarpiece was mounted on a plinth, or praedella, on which were painted panels showing the childhood of Christ. The idea was that it could be seen from all directions when installed on the main altar at the centre of the sanctuary. At five meters high, it was a pretty impressive altarpiece for the time, and turned out to be the artist’s biggest commission and greatest work.

The construction of the altarpiece itself before painting was a complicated job involving the cutting, jointing and gluing of many frames and panels. The central panel alone was 2.1meters by 4 meters. When the carpenters had finished, it was left to Buoninsegna and his assistants to paint the scenes on the panels in his studio close to the cathedral.

On 9 June 1312, the altarpiece was unveiled and carried around the streets of Siena in a great circle before being installed in the cathedral. All the shops and workshops in the city were closed and the bishop commanded that all the high officers and devoted priests, followed by the population of Siena were to file past carrying candles.  The cathedral bells rang and the poor received alms and the whole city prayed to the Holy Mother of God that she might “in her infinite mercy preserve this, our city, from every misfortune, traitor or enemy.”

One of the panels showing the life of Christ is this scene showing the last supper. Buoninsegna was occupied with the Maestà of Duccio  as it became known, for at least two years and he was probably unaware that he was changing the style of art in the process. Until now, religious art had been very formalised and stylistic. Duccio, either deliberately or in haste, painted his scenes much more realistically. Church congregations in those days were mostly illiterate, and his depiction of the bible in everyday terms was very popular. Duccio became one of the most favoured and radical painters in Siena and his fame spread. Unlike many of the artists of the time, he painted in egg tempera and became a master in the medium.

Unfortunately, the local boy struggled with his own reality. There is little documentation concerning his life except for lists of unpaid bills. He is said to have been married with seven children, and when he died in 1260 his family disowned him because of his debts. His masterpiece fared a little better. The altarpiece remained in position for 465 years until it was decided to display it in pieces arranged between two alters. During the dismantling, many of the paintings were damaged and several disappeared or were sold. Some of the panels can now be found in in other museums in Europe and the United States. The panels that remain in Siena can be seen in the Duomo museum adjacent to the Duomo di Siena.

As we all know, this is not the end of the story for the idea of a last supper, or the artists who developed its potential.

 



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When it’s OK to copy
09 January 2021

Sometime around 1450 the Duke of Milan, Francesco I Sforza, ordered the construction of a Dominican convent and church at the site of a prior chapel dedicated to the Marian devotion of St Mary of the Graces. Construction of the church took several decades, and when Francesco died in 1466, his son Duke Ludovico Sforza decided to have the church serve as the Sforza family mausoleum. He rebuilt the cloister and the apse, both completed after 1490, and he added a mortuary chapel adjacent to the cloister. The Duke decided to have the walls of the mausoleum decorated with biblical scenes, above which he wanted to have painted the Sforza coat of arms. For this task he employed a 38 year-old artist called Leonardo, who had studied in the studio of the renowned Italian painter Andrea del Verrocchio and was gaining a reputation as an artist. Leonardo’s origins were not auspicious. He was born out of wedlock to a notary, Piero da Vinci, and a peasant woman, Caterina. They both lived in the Tuscan town of Vinci, in the region of Florence, and Leonardo became known as Leonardo da Vinci.

Leonardo was allowed a free hand in how he depicted his scene, but it seems likely that the Duke chose the subject of the Last Supper. Around 1495 Leonardo began preparing the wall of the mausoleum for painting. He decided to paint in the fresco style with oil and tempera paints. Da Vinci used experimental techniques on the painting. Instead on painting in the buon fresco style (applying pigments to wet plaster), Leonardo used a style known as a secco (painting on dry plaster). Because he painted on the dry plaster, the colours did not blend into the surface as well. This caused the painting to be much more fragile and led to its rapid deterioration.This was compounded by the fact that the other side of the wall was open to the often wet and sometimes freezing weather of Northern Italy, causing condensation and damp.

The opposite wall of the mausoleum  was covered by a fresco by Giovanni Donato da Montorfano showing the Crucifixion. Leonardo was asked to add figures of the Sforza family in tempera to the other fresco, and these figures deteriorated as quickly as his Last Supper. The work dragged on over three years, and there were long periods when Leonardo was absent. He was berated by a prior in the monastery who had been complaining to the Duke about the length of time Leonardo was taking over the painting, and an irate Leonardo told the prior that if he didn’t shut up he would paint his face on the figure of Judas.

The deterioration of the painting continued. Sixty years after Leonardo had finished the painting, the figures were unrecognisable, and 150 years later there was little evidence left that there had ever been a fresco painted on the wall, and a doorway was cut through which obliterated Christ’s feet. The greatest Last Supper of all time, painted by the greatest genius of the century was lost forever.

The now restored Last Supper in the Santa Maria delle Grazie

Leonardo de Vinci was tutor to many students who later followed his style. In the list of members of his studio that he kept, Leonardo mentions an artist called Giampietrino. This is a nickname, and scholars have struggled to ascertain the real name of the artist. It’s important because it was Giampietrino who helped Leonardo paint the Last Supper in the Santa Maria delle Grazie.

When Leonardo’s patron, Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, was deposed by the French in 1500, Leonardo fled to Venice where he was employed as a military architect and engineer. He spent the next six years in a number of roles, but he was given several important artistic commissions, one of which was a portrait of Lisa del Giocondo. In 1506 he was summoned back to Milan by the acting French governor of the city, Charles II d'Amboise. Upon his return, he took on another young pupil, Count Francesco Melzi, the son of a Lombard aristocrat, who later on became Leonardo’s secretary and lifelong friend.

During his earlier travels, Leonardo had been accompanied by a young man whom he had taken under his wing at the age of 10 as a garzone (studio boy) in the workshop. Now known only as Salaì, (little devil) he was the son of Pietro di Giovanni, a tenant of Leonardo’s vineyard near the Porta Vercellina, Milan. Leonardo sometimes used him as a model for his paintings, but he was an unruly boy and Leonardo described him as, “A liar, a thief, stubborn and a glutton.” after he had made off with money and valuables on at least five occasions and spent a fortune on clothes. Nevertheless, Leonardo kept him in his household for more than 25 years, and though he produced several copies of Leonardo’s paintings, (including a nude Mona Lisa) Salaì’s work is considered inferior. Leonardo’s sex life is very obscure, but it’s significant that there were never any women in his life.

By1508, Leonardo was back in Milan, living in his own house in Porta Orientale in the parish of Santa Babila. It was probably during this time that Melzi worked with Leonardo on the unfinished portrait of Lisa del Gioconda. Apart from all his other achievements, Leonardo will be remembered primarily for the Last Supper and the Mona Lisa, which was copied whilst Leonardo was alive, and probably with his guidance and approval. There are two paintings of the Gioconda in existence. The first is hanging in the Louvre, and is attributed to Leonardo. The other is in the Museo del Prado, Madrid and only came to be recognised for what it was when restorers began cleaning it. Exhaustive tests revealed that the second was painted at the same time as the first, and the most likely second artist was Melzi, Leonardo’s favourite student. However, nobody had yet copied the Last Supper.

During his second stay in Milan, it seems almost inconceivable that Leonardo did not return to Santa Maria delle Grazie and inspect his Last Supper painted 13 years earlier. He would have seen the paint and plaster peeling and realised that his masterpiece was doomed. It’s hard to say how he felt, but he was busy with so many things in his life that he probably had no time to do anything about it. Giampietrino, the student who had helped him paint it, was still living in Milan, and was a famous artist in his own right with a multitude of commissions from prominent figures of the aristocracy. But they were both together in Milan for around 7 years. Another of his old students was doing quite well, too. Andrea Solari followed Leonardo’s style, and was also working on a sizable number of commissions. Both of these artists frequently copied Leonardo’s paintings.

Then fate stepped in, and during October 1515, King Francis I of France recaptured Milan and a year later, Leonardo entered Francis’ service, being given the use of the manor house Clos Lucé near the king’s residence of the royal Château d’Amboise in the Loire valley.  He was given a pension of 10,000 scudi, and he was accompanied by Salaì and Melzi who also received pensions. It was during this time that Leonardo suffered a stroke that paralysed his right arm and stopped him from painting. More than one chronicler proposes that this is why he never finished the Mona Lisa. Leonardo died at Clos Lucé on 2 May 1519 at the age of 67. 

Meanwhile, in Milan around 1520, Giampietrino began painting an exact size-for-size copy of Leonardo’s Last Supper in the Santa Maria delle Grazie, but this time in oils on canvas. At virtually the same time, Andrea Solari, began another full-size copy of the Last Supper in oils.

To my mind, there are two ways to look at this. Both Giampietrino and Solari waited for Leonardo to die before copying his Last Supper, knowing that the original would soon be obliterated and they could vie to claim credit for the work. Or, during the time that Leonardo lived in Milan, he collaborated with his old pupils and helped them copy it so that it would not be lost. Giampietrino and Solari were already famous artists; they did not need to claim the Last Supper as their own. I would like to think that they copied it to preserve their old master’s masterpiece for posterity.

One thing is for certain, were it not for these copies, Leonardo’s Last Supper would have faded on the wall and been forgotten. If ever there was a good reason to copy another’s work this surely qualifies.

Over the centuries, the Last Supper in the Santa Maria delle Grazie has had six attempts at restoration, and one failed attempt to remove it in its entirety to a safer place. It was vandalized by French troops, bombed by the allies during the Second World War, (Which I suppose can also be classed as vandalism.) and finally restored in 1999 to the painting we see today. That it survived at all in its present form is a tribute to all those people over the centuries who tried to restore, protect and preserve it, but without the two copies, nobody would have known what the original looked like.

The cut-down Last Supper painted by Giampietrino

Giampietrino (Scholars of the art world now believe that Giovanni Pietro Rizzoli was the real name of Giampietrino.) went on to promote Leonardo’s style, and produced over 70 paintings which are hung in 47 museums or private collections around the world. The copy of the Last Supper that he painted now hangs in the Magdalen College, Oxford, and is part of the collection of The Royal Academy of Arts. Sometime after the copy had been made, the top third and the ends were sliced off of Giampietrino’s painting. Solari’s painting is still full-size, and is hanging in Tongerlo Abbey in Westerlo, near Antwerp.

The full size Last Supper painted by Solari

Over the centuries, Leonardo’s The Last Supper has become the most copied painting of all time, but Leonardo was not the originator of the idea of a Last Supper, nor is he the only one to exploit a theme that had many uses.



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