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Renaissance Icon Painter El Greco and The Light

Self Portrait of Greek-Spanish El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) Born around 1541, Domenikos Theotokopoulos began his career as an icon painter on the island of Crete. He is best known, under the name El Greco, for the works he created while in Spain, paintings that have provoked both rapt admiration and scornful disapproval since his death in 1614.

The life of the Renaissance painter Domenikos Theotokopoulos, better known as El Greco. El Greco took this style to extremes, creating luminous paintings of great intensity. By turns considered a prescient precursor of modern art or simply a man with bad eyesight, El Greco’s work embodied the exalted spirit of the Counter-Reformation in its zeal to annihilate all traces of Protestantism.

El Greco’s candid portraits have been consistently admired for their naturalism and psychological insight, even when (as in the eighteenth century) his other works fell out of favor.

Renaissance Painter El Greco took this style to extremes, creating luminous paintings of great intensity

Creating Luminous Paintings: El Greco and the Light

On a pleasant spring afternoon, a friend went to visit the painter El Greco. To his surprise, he found him in his atelier with all curtains drawn.

Greco was working on a painting which had the Virgin Mary as the central theme, using only a candle to illuminate the environment.

Surprised, the friend said: “I have always heard that painters like the sun in order to choose well the colors they will use. Why don’t you open the curtains?”

“Not now,” answered El Greco. “It would disturb the brilliant fire of inspiration that is burning in my soul and filling with light everything around me.”

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Herodotus and The Fountain of Youth

The Fountain of Youth, From mural at Manta Castle near Saluzzo, Italy

Herodotus introduced the concept of a mythological water source with the power of granting eternal youth

The Fountain of Youth is a mythical spring that is supposed to have the power of prolonging or restoring the youth of those who drink from or bathe in it.

Myths of such a fountain are to be found in various cultures, particularly throughout the Middle East. The first recorded mention of it is from the ancient Greek historian Herodotus (c. 484-435 BCE), who recounted a claim that there was such a fountain in Ethiopia. In the Middle Ages, stories about the Fountain of Youth circulated in the Islamic world and then spread to such European works as The Travels of Sir John Mandeville (c. 1356).

The Fountain of Youth, 1546 painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder

In the sixteenth century, the Spanish historian Peter Martyr d’Anghiera, who wrote early accounts of the European exploration of the New World, reported a native story of a miraculous fountain on an island in the Gulf of Honduras, an inlet of the Caribbean Sea. While the explorer Juan Ponce de Leon was indeed given a charter to discover and settle a legendary island (Beniny or Beimeni), the popular idea that he sought the Fountain of Youth there seems to have been invented by the sixteenth-century historian Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo, who maliciously added that Ponce de Leon hoped to cure his impotence.

However, the story about his search for the Fountain persists as a historical myth. Marcel Proust said in [[Remembrance of Things Past|Proust[Remembrance of Things Past, “The only bath in the Fountain of Youth would be … to possess other eyes.”

Few people take the story of the Fountain of Youth seriously today, but it remains a popular theme in literature and the arts (such as Darren Aronofsky’s film The Fountain, 2006).

It is also inevitable as a metaphor in discussing the modern concerns of prolonging lifespan and reducing the effects of aging.

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Posted in Music, Arts, and Culture Philosophy and Wisdom

Expressionism: An Art Movement

Vincent van Gogh's The Starry Night

Expressionism is an art movement that emphasized the importance of self-expression.

The Dutch Post impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-90) saw the world differently from most of the Impressionist painters who surrounded him. Instead of capturing the light and colors of the natural landscape as a dispassionate observer, as the Impressionists had done, van Gogh looked inside his troubled psyche and discovered a new style of self-expression. Van Gogh’s art provided a mirror for his angst-ridden soul and, years later, it would lead to the formalization of an entirely new kind of painting.

Van Gogh once wrote in a letter to his brother, Theo, “Instead of trying to reproduce exactly what I see before my eyes, I use color more arbitrarily to express myself forcibly.” Van Gogh’s The Starry Night (1889) depicts the view from his sanatorium window at night, but its swirling sky and luminous stars are no faithful representation of what he saw; exaggerated and distorted, they suggest his inner reality. The Starry Night is now seen as a pivotal painting in the march toward Expressionism.

The Scream (1893) by Norwegian painter Edvard Munch Four years later came The Scream (1893) by Norwegian painter Edvard Munch (1863-1944), another icon of Expressionism. The painting depicted Munch himself, pausing while crossing a bridge and crying out in desperation from the blur of his anxiety informed world. Edvard Munch once said, “My art is self-confession. Through it, I seek to clarify my relationship to the world”

Like The Starry Night, Munch’s painting has the ingredients of Expressionism—the use of strong, nonnaturalistic colors and distorted lines—many years before the Expressionist movement had its “official” beginnings with the German artistic group Die Brucke (The Bridge), who met together for the first time in Dresden in 1905.

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“La Justice” by French Painter Bernard d’Agesci

La justice by Bernard d'Agesci, Musee Bernard d'Agesci (Museum Niort)

“La justice” is a painting by Musee Bernard d’Agesci (Museum Niort) by 18th Century French painter Bernard d’Agesci.

Bernard d’Agesci’s “La justice” depicts a female that holds scales in one hand and a book in another. One page of the book reads “Dieu, la Loi, et le Roi” (“God, the law, and the king” in Latin) and the other page contains the Golden Rule.

Originally Jean-Charles-Henri-Auguste Bernard, Bernard d’Agesci painted religious and mythological subjects and portraits in Neoclassical style. Bernard d’Agesci commemorated in the Musee Bernard d’Agesci in Niort in Western France, the town of his birth.

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