Sean Thackrey :: Wine Maker

Sean Thackrey :: Wine Maker

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Work, of Art

I had no idea, until last year, that so many museums now allow us to photograph works of art without interference, as long as there's no noise and no flash; discovering this, I went into overdrive at the Met and Philadelphia during my last visit; and have gone on from there. So this is an album devoted purely to iPhone snapshots of works of art that I've seen that I think should be seen, and talked about as to what the work of art - that is, art's work - really is; which is the only reason I'm posting them here.

William Blake (1757-1827), The Nativity, Tempera on copper, 
ca.1800, 27.3x38.3cm., Philidelphia Museum of Art.
An astonishingly wonderful little painting by William Blake, at Philadelphia, which I had never seen nor even seen reproduced; and it's really hard to imagine a more enlightened understanding of the virgin birth of the Christ Child, surely one of the most vexed points of Christian dogma. Here it seems beautiful and credible, somehow; Joseph isn't a doddering old fool, but a passionate and powerful participant; and the child is a spiritual emanation perhaps from Mary's DNA, but not from some idiot notion of God somehow having immaculate sex with her. And the absolute beauty of Ste. Anne on the right, so passionately welcoming the newborn spiritual child...!

Close up of the Child, so beautiful, and being so beautifully welcomed...

click to zoom
[Cézanne quince] Artist, title of work here, date here,
medium and support here, size here, collection and whereabouts here.

What a pleasure to be able to study painting so closely, as in this magnificent Cézanne quince at Philadelphia, and then to be able to preserve so simply an image of how it truly looks in the flesh of its actual paint, not in the ruinous flat lighting of art book reproductions!

Paint as seen in the flesh, 2: 
Van Gogh's shoes, at the Met

Paint as seen in the flesh, 3: 
detail of poppies in a field of wheat: 
Van Gogh, at the  Met.

Paint, as seen in the flesh, 4: 
Van Gogh, Roses, at the Met.

Sunday, March 3, 2013


I've already posted one of my favorite paintings in the world, which is the Madonna del Parto of Piero della Francesca, in Monterchi. Despite a lifelong passion for Italian painting of the Quattrocento, I'd actually never known there were other representations of this same theme - of the Virgin Mary contemplating her own pregnancy and its implications.

For Piero, whose work - along with Giovanni Bellini's - is the very definition of what "gravitas" even means, such a representation could hardly have been a more serious issue, as he, and therefore she - the Virgin he painted & therefore we can actually see - shows us.

So now I'm posting another image, from a snapshot taken in the Accademia, where another Madonna del Parto is right up there larger than life, or at least delighted to be its source.

Maestro della Madonna del Parto angeli e donatori, tavola, 188x138cm,   fifteenth century.

The painter of the Accademia panel - identified on the tag only as the "Maestro della Madonna del Parto", which is not terribly helpful, since we knew that much already - has an entirely different understanding than Piero.

For that painter, the Virgin is pretty much as is the other gal, also in the Accademia, I posted earlier: an obviously nice and affectionate Italian mother completely delighted to be the literal matrix of the Virgin Birth of the Son of God and the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.

She's Italian: it's family.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Nothing More: Nothing Less

Nicolò di Pietro, Virgin and Child, tempera on panel, 1394, 107x65cm., Venice, Accedemia.
Again from the Accademia today, this image of a woman who really seems extremely nice & openhearted to me, in a way I think of a being particularly Italian, despite her blond hair, & being 600 years old, & with a quite happy, if slightly goofy, child. Apparently he's learned to read quite early, as he naively points out to us; but perhaps that's because he was encouraged, which is pretty much what I want to say here. 

I'm sure he was; and I'm sure they talked about it, endlessly. Italians constantly talk with their children; and no, that's not a little thing; it's one of the wonders, certainly one of the charms, and one of the explanations, of Italy.

I can't take a walk without seeing this. Along the Fondamente Nove, cold wind, it's early March; still the family coming toward me will have a couple of little things, bundled up like down bolsters with little automatic legs at the bottom and bright-eyed little faces at the top, dragged along nicely but firmly like pull-toys, piping away the whole time, and being answered thoughtfully by their parents; just as thoughtfully as their parents would respond to anyone else of any other age.

It dawned on me how important this was when it suddenly occurred to me that I had had an Italian childhood; a curious thought for an American whose family arrived in 1681 from Dublin, whose father was born in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and whose mother was from Bismarck, North Dakota. Not promising Italian heritage.

With exactly the exception that matters: we talked all the time. We started before I was a year old, and we never stopped. It was a quite conscious issue with my parents that I always be included, or at least know that I was welcome to inclusion, in any conversation, even those between my parents and their friends, which were at a pretty high level.

Did this "spoil" me? Exactly wrong. I didn't think I had anything exceptional to say; I didn't think conversation should stop when I chose to speak; I just piped up, as Lord knows I still do, given the slightest opportunity, because I took it for granted that I was just a natural part of the conversation; nothing more, but far more importantly, nothing less. 

It's hard to imagine a more important gift to give to a child than this, particularly when I consider some of the people the most important to me in the world who were not given this, and then am forced to see what the lack of something so apparently simple has actually cost them so many years later.

It's really a lot; and it's so stupid to deny it; and it's so huge; it should never happen.

That's why it's so nice to go to places like the Accademia, and be left undisturbed in the midst of rampant genius; it lets you think.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Snapshot

There. Now nobody can complain I haven't posted any tourist snapshots from my Venice visit. Here we are on the way out to Burano in the mist.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Cheerful Christ

Since I posted a couple of cheerful Marys, it seems only fair to post Christ in a pretty good mood as well (not the easiest mood to find him in, after all). This one is a 13th century mosaic in St. Mark's Basilica, Venice.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Detail and Anecdote

Vittore Carpaccio (1472-1526), The Healing of the Madman, Tempera, c. 1496,  365x389cm., Venice, Accademia.

Until now, after a visit to the Accademia, I had forgotten how enormous some of the most famous Venetian paintings are, and therefore how absurd it is to try to understand them in art book reproductions; it's like reading a violently condensed version of War and Peace or the Canterbury Tales, the essence of the real work being that it's not condensed. These all are works meant to be browsed and savored for their richness of detail and anecdote, the inexhaustible mess of existence. Take, for example, this exceedingly bright little dog, become ghostly after 500 years, no bigger in the actual paint than on most computer screens, yet a single snapshot detail from a Carpaccio the size of a basketball court; the number of similar details in this one painting is enough for hours of pleasure, a simple fact lost nearly entirely when seen in "reproduction", where whatever the color fidelity, the simple reduction in size has already rendered such "details", which are in effect the essence of such painting, effectively invisible.

click to zoom
Notice our little dog with so much snarky attitude is a mere speck at the bottom of the painting, completely invisible in reproductions, which is sort of my point. That is to say, one should look at paintings like this, only as an original.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Monterchi: Piero della Francesca's Madonna del Parto

Piero della Francesca (c.1415-1492), Madonna del Parto, 
Detached fresco, 1467, 260x203cm., Monterchi.
How extraordinarily blessed I felt to be honored with a completely private audience, no other (mortal) person there for more than an hour, with one of the world's handful of most beautiful paintings, in Monterchi: Piero della Francesca's Madonna del Parto.

And I suppose I should say something about what the extraordinary beauty of this painting is to me, since to many people, that beauty may not be obvious at all: she's just a sort of confused looking woman with a stomach problem. 

I can say this, but saying it is as close to blasphemy as I'd ever like to come. Blasphemy doesn't have to be against theology; against empathy is more than enough, and there are few things worse than blasphemy against that, perhaps the most crucial of all human emotions.

This is Mary, consumed with the attempt to realize the mystery of the child she bears; and that child is right there growing within her, as she shows us. No one has to be Christian to empathize with the enormity of that realization; and yet Piero emphatically was as Christian as any artist in history, and it thus meant that much more to him; yet there's not a trace in this painting anywhere of dogma or exclusion; pure empathy, and the absolute beauty of Piero's representation of it, to all of us.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Lion of Venice

Lion of Venice
s will quickly be made apparent to the dimmest of tourists by their resident Venetian handlers, the lion is the symbol of Venice. So I thought I might show one, alive and very much well, sunning his/her self on the handrail of a bridge in Cannaregio. The second image is of his/her lair, showing him/her at lower right just at the point of jumping up onto the bridge again. But what attracts me to all this is the presence of an alternate universe I could quite willingly have lived in, and may yet agree to, if the offer comes along in time. How extremely pleasant to be a boatwright (even for the pleasure of the English word) in Venice, in so charming an environment: an obviously warm and comfortable little house, a suggestion of a garden at left, a canal certainly, a yard full of boats the object of one's craft and looking very well because of it. I happened a few days later to pass by when the (predictably congenial) owner was coming out of that house; so of course I asked him the name of the lion; he asked which one, and I couldn't answer, since I hadn't met the others; so he told me there were four of them, and told me their names, which were fanciful, and which I'm afraid I've forgotten. Still, it's nice to know they're there, even if I'm not yet.

The lion's lair