Tag Archive: Jan Van Eyck

Artful Saturday: Fernando Botero

Things have been crazy busy this week with starting a new schedule that includes a new job, putting my child in full-time daycare,  and getting used to the extra driving. Thankfully my son is handling things pretty well, although he’s been feeling under the weather with some sort of sinus/stomach bug thing. I still have to work at my other job today and tomorrow, as this is Holy Week for Christians (with the exception of Greek Orthodox as their Easter isn’t until May 5) and Easter is on Sunday. So figured that this art post on Botero and his most recent series Via Crucis: The Passion of Christ was rather appropriate today, as it is all about the events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. If anyone is interested, I have found a medical opinion on the subject.

I first discovered Fernando Botero through my college roommate. She was taking a class on Modern Latin American art and he was one of the artists she was studying. An abstract figurative artist from Colombia, Botero is famous for his overly exaggerated full-figured ladies (almost like plus-size on steroids) and likes to take elements from many different art historical periods including Renaissance, Latin Colonial art, Romanticism etc and mixing it with modern style. According to this website, “His images are rotund and swollen to almost monumental proportions, exhibiting a highly personal concept of aesthetic beauty. They articulate both his profound conciseness of artistic tradition and a satirical observation of his fellow man. His paintings offer wit, irony, and a dose of social commentary, all while displaying exceptional skill and technical ability.” I thought his art was cool, not only because he liked to imitate Old Masters and reproduce his paintings, like the examples below, but also because of the way he seemed to glorify large women. Being one myself, it is rare to see a painter paint women like this unless it was a Rubens painting (another favorite artist of mine). An example of the restyling of art periods is his painting Mademoiselle Riviere. The original version was done in 1806 by French Neoclassical artist Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, while Botero’s version was completed in 1979.

Mademoiselle Caroline Riviera - Ingres 1806 Mademoiselle Riviera - Botero 1979

Another work that I just discovered is Botero’s interpretation of Jan Van Eyck (again another of my favorite artists – see this post for details as to why) 1434 painting The Arnolfini Wedding aka The Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his wife. We studied this painting in great detail in my Northern Renaissance class during my undergraduate career, so I know about all the cool details about the painting.  For example, the mirror in the back center of the painting reflects not only the distorted scene in reverse but also the artist himself. The dog signifies fidelity and the oranges could signify wealth as they were still very hard to get in the 15th century. This webpage describes the symbolism of the candle: “The chandelier only has one candle, which was carried in the bridal procession and then placed in the couple’s nuptial chamber. The candle may also be a religious symbol, representing the all-seeing eye of God. The painting was thought to represent the first painting of a civil wedding ceremony, which takes place not in a church but in a chamber of the home, in this case, the bedroom.” Giovanna, the wife of Giovanni, is made to look pregnant as that was the fashion, but there was to be no children for the couple. Botero’s The Arnolfini (after Van Eyck) was completed in 1997.

Jan Van Eyck The Arnolfini Wedding, 1434

The Arnolfini Wedding - Jan Van Eyck 1434

Fernando Botero, The Arnolfini (after Van Eyck), 1997

The Arnolfini (after Van Eyck) - Botero 1997

Via Crucis is Latin for the stations/way of the cross. If you happen to be in Jerusalem, you can visit these in person, but most of the time people do them inside of church with icons/paintings set up to symbolize the path. It can be done throughout the season of Lent, in particular, Good Friday (which was yesterday). I know for sure that Catholics and Episcopalians still do this, but I am unsure about other Protestant religions. Normally there are 14 Stations of the Cross (illustrated below and Spanish-English info taken from this webpage):

1. Jesus is condemned to death

2. Jesus carries the cross

3. Jesus falls under the weight of the cross

4. Jesus meets his mother, the Virgin Mary

5. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry his cross

6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

7. Jesus falls the second time

8. Jesus meets the daughters of Jerusalem and they weep over him

9. Jesus falls the third time

10. Jesus is stripped of his garments

11. Jesus is nailed to the cross

12. Jesus dies on the cross

13. Jesus is taken down from the cross and given to his Mother, the Virgin Mary

14. Jesus is laid in the tomb

Stations of the Cross

The original series done in 27 oil paintings and 34 drawings in mixed media (including pencil and watercolor) on paper, was show in the artist’s hometown of Medellin, Colombia, as well as the Marlborough Gallery in New York City. He features scenes of both Manhattan, such as the Central Park background setting for one of the crucifixion scenes and of his native Colombia, like in The Flogging of Christ, where a Columbia soldier is carrying out the sentence instead of a Roman one, a comment on the violence of the country as carried by the military. He even manages to include himself in a small 21st century self-portrait on the left side of The Kiss of Judas, whose figures are predominantly dressed like  1st century men from Jesus’s time, with the exception of Judas, who is also dressed like a modern man. Botero’s addition of himself into a religious painting is keeping up the tradition of other artists who have done the same thing, like Michelangelo depicting himself as the distorted skin of St. Bartholomew who was flayed alive, in the Sistine Chapel’s Last Judgement.  According to this website, the writer Cristina Carrillo de Albornoz writes this about the artist and his work,  “Botero, who in his own words is ‘at times a believer, at times an agnostic,’ has captured the intensity and cruelty but also the piercing poetry of the tremendous drama of Christ’s journey along the Way of the Cross toward his crucifixion.” In regard to Botero’s style she astutely quotes the English poet, Francis Bacon, “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.”

Fernando Botero, Crucifixion, 2011

The Crucifixion of Christ - Botero

Fernando Botero, The Flogging of Christ2011

The Flogging of Christ - Botero

Fernando Botero, The Kiss of Judas, 2011

The Kiss of Judas by Botero

I know it’s been ages since I’ve done one of these posts, and I apologize. Part of the reason was because they take me forever to compose and my attention span has been a bit wonky lately due to taking care of my child at home, trying to find a job and keeping afloat financially. I’ve been thinking about this post for a while now, as I have hinted at in previous posts. The Northern Renaissance is my favorite time for art and was the first period that I got interested in when I decided to study art history. It is roughly the time between the 1400’s – 1600’s AD/CE. When I was 16, I had the opportunity to go to Europe for the first time since I was born. One of the coolest things I got to see while I was over there was at St. Bavo Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium. It is an unassuming church but has, as I later found out, one of the most famous works of art of all time there. There was a separate chapel in the cathedral, where for a small fee, you could see The Ghent Altarpiece. Also known as The Mystic Lamb or The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, the painting was completed in 1432 by Jan Van Eyck and his brother Hubert. The group I was traveling with, high schoolers and a couple of adult chaperones, had seen a couple of churches before so I knew what altarpieces were. I figured, what the heck. I was blown away when I walked inside, as the altarpiece took up the entire room, literally floor to ceiling. I ended up getting a poster of it, so I could remember all of the details. I believe that this work of art, plus the trip as a whole, was the reason I decided to study art in college.

This is the polyptych (panel paintings divided into scenes) of the open altarpiece.

This is the altarpiece closed.

The cool thing is that earlier this year, in February, the Getty Foundation teamed up with St Bavo’s Cathedral to “undertake comprehensive examination and documentation of the altarpiece”, by removing it from its glass exhibition case so that the polyptych could be conserved. While it was out of the glass, the Getty Foundation came in and digitally photographed every centimeter of the painting, so that it could be examined more closely on a website that they were creating for the project. The painting is so detailed that a lot of its components get ignored. That is no longer the case with this website, where you can literally zoom in on any aspect of the painting that you want. If you would like to learn more about how they did it, which is really pretty fascinating in and of itself, check out the Closer to Van Eyck website address listed above.

The painting itself is one of the high points of the Northern Renaissance style of new realism. As this article from the Met Museum on the painting states: “the astonishing realism of the altarpiece rests not only in the fidelity with which figures, plants, and animals are represented in a convincing space, but also in its ability to forge a sense of continuity between the pictorial and the real world. On the exterior, the frames between the painted panels of the Annunciation scene appear to cast shadows into the Virgin’s chamber, in accordance with the actual direction of light in the Vijd Chapel. On the lower level, the technique of grisaille is used to depict fictive statues of the two Saints John, possibly as a painterly challenge to the long-established convention of sculpted retables. More astonishing still are the near-life-size nudes of Adam and Eve on the interior, who appear to project out of the depths of their niches into real space.” The subject matter, as is the case with most Northern Renaissance artwork is religion. Most artwork created during this time period was to glorify God and the people who commissioned the painting, to get them one step closer to heaven. The patrons of this piece are depicted on the very bottom left and right of the closed altarpiece. The title The Mystic Lamb points to the central bottom open panel where the Lamb of God (Jesus) is standing on the altar and his blood pours into a chalice, which is reminiscent of the Eucharist that Christians celebrate in churches today.

Another painter I really like from this time period is Robert Campin, also known as the Master of Flemalle. His most famous work is the Annunciation Triptych (The Merode Altarpiece)Again the Met has one of the best descriptions of his work in the following article: Like Van Eyck, Campin (and especially this work), is known for “its detailed observation, rich imagery, and superb condition.” You can observe this in the way the two artists depict the drapery on the figures. In the Annunciation Triptych, the central panel is the focal point. We see the Virgin Mary calmly reading while the Angel Gabriel comes in and tells her that she is to be the mother of Jesus, the son of God. The left panel features the donors/patrons of the painting kneeling and listening into what is happening with Mary and the Angel. The right panel shows Joseph, Mary’s fiancée, hard at work in his carpentry workshop. According to the Met, the central and right panel were probably painted first and then the left panel was added at a later time.

The Merode Altarpiece, ca. 1427-32

A student of Robert Campin, Rogier van der Weyden (also known as the Great Master of Tournai), is another of my favorites. One of his most famous paintings is one that was intended for a chapel in Belgium, but ended up in the Prado Museum, in the Royal Collections, because of the Spanish occupation in the 1500s. This occupation is how so many fantastic works of Belgian/Dutch art ended up in the Prado, the most famous example being Hieronymous Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly DelightsIt is entitled The Deposition or the Descent from the Cross, and shows Christ’s body being taken down from the cross after the Crucifixion. Again, notice the color of his sumptuous textured fabrics (such as Mary’s blue dress, created by grinding lapis lazuli) and as this website puts it, “the way he puts so many people (10 in all) in the scene without making it seem crowded, but rather intimate”. Jesus is being taken down from the cross by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea (the older bearded gentleman). His mother has fainted and collapsed due to her son’s death, and is being supported by Saint John the Evangelist. Mary Magdalene is depicted down by Christ’s feet. Despite the small size of the painting here, the actual piece is 7ft tall by 8 1/2 feet across.

The Deposition, ca. 1435

If you are interested in learning more about Northern Renaissance art and/or the Ghent Altarpiece, check out The Mirror of the Artist: Northern Renaissance Art in Its Historical Context by Craig Harbison and Stealing the Mystic Lamb: The True Story about the World’s Most Coveted Masterpiece by Noah Charney. I also found this series of videos on famous Northern Renaissance paintings such as The Ghent Altarpiece and The Deposition. 

I have a very love-hate relationship with modern art (1900 – present). Some pieces I really love, like Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space and then there are pieces I don’t care for or more precisely don’t understand, like pretty much all of Marcel Duchamp’s art. For more information on Duchamp, check out this website. One period of art that I sometimes have a hard time understanding is Surrealism. When most people think of surrealism, Salvador Dali usually comes to mind. While I think Dali as a person/creator was very interesting, I don’t particularly like most of his paintings.  Frida Kahlo is another story. I find her life story to incredibly fascinating and a bit heartbreaking, and yet she created such fascinating work. Frida never considered her work to be Surrealist and didn’t include her work in a Surrealist until 1940. She, according to this webpage, “used surrealistic elements to paint her own reality; she considered these elements to be the most honest expression of herself.”  This same website lists her work chronologically and found a couple pieces that I wanted to discuss. If you like Surrealist work, I would be interested to hear other people’s opinions on these works as well.

The first piece I would like to discuss is Memory (The Heart). According to www.fridakahlofans.com, where I found the painting, “In this self-portrait, she displays her anguish after learning that her younger sister Cristina was having an affair with her husband Diego Riviera.” In punishment for what her husband has done to her, she cut her hair really short (he loved her long hair) and adopted a more European/Western style of dress. On her right is a traditional native Mexican/Tehuana outfit, that Diego love to see her wear, but she now despises because of his betrayal. Her bleeding heart is on the ground. The hole where her heart was is impaled by steel rod and a cupid sits on either end. To her right is her school uniform, which according to the website’s author “reminds her of a happier time when she first met Diego.” This painting reminds me of a piece I did for a hand-building clay class during my undergraduate years. We had to create a vessel with a top. While I didn’t use a bleeding gaping heart as Frida did, I did use a brain with a giant screw coming out of it on top of a Pre-Columbian step pyramid. This piece was supposed to symbolize me getting screwed by my ex-boyfriend who broke my heart and cheated on me while I was studying art in Italy for my study abroad program.

Memory (The Heart), 1937

The second piece was done 12 years after the first one. Though this one is a lot more odd looking than the first one, I like it even better because of the Aztec mythology involved in the painting. In this piece, we see more of Frida’s maternal nature coming out. When she was 18, she was involved in a streetcar accident in which  “a metal handrail penetrated her abdomen, leaving her temporarily paralyzed. She fractured her pelvis and the handrail also pierced her uterus.” In fact, she miscarried three times during her lifetime, a topic on which she painted many pictures. I found this article on the Huffington Post, which the preceeding quote was taken from, which discusses how new medical studies have determined what actually made her infertile. Because of her inability to conceive, she tended to mother Diego, even though he was 20 years her senior. This is exactly what she is doing in this painting, holding him like the Virgin and child paintings popular during the Renaissance. “The Aztec Earth Mother, Cituacoatl, holds both Frida and Diego in her lap, and she is hugged by the Universal Mother. The dog sleeping in the foreground represents Xolotl, who guards the underworld (taken from this website).” I especially like the photo of the artist with the painting on the bottom right of this page.

The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Myself, Diego and Señor Xólotl, 1949



I discovered Jacek Yerka’s paintings a couple of weeks ago. He is a Polish Surrealist who started painting in 1980 and continues today. According to the biography on the artist’s website: “One need only glance at the luminous surfaces of Yerka’s canvases to perceive his adoration of, resonance with, the master painters of the 15th and 16th centuries; Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Bruegel, Hugo van der Goes and Jan van Eyck were powerful, early influences.” Jan Van Eyck, a personal favorite of mine, was incredibly detailed and used realism (which was very modern for the Renaissance time frame in which he painted). Hieronymous Bosch painted surrealistic landscapes circa 1500, 400 years before the Surrealist movement happened in modern art, his most famous piece being The Garden of Earthly Delights. Here are some of the Jacek Yerka paintings that I have found so far that I liked, which can all be found on his online gallery:

Aquarium, 2007

Brontosaurus Civitas (couldn’t find date)

Creating the Water (couldn’t find the date)

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