Thursday, February 15, 2018


Title: Winter Landscape with Church
Artist: Caspar David Friedrich
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 33 x 45 cm
Date: 1811
Location: Museum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, Dortmund.

In this contemplative scene, near the viewer a man is leaning back against a boulder and gazing up the crucifix in front of a cluster of young fir trees. He has flung his crutches demonstratively far away from him into the snow. He leans against a sturdy rock, raising his hands in prayer before a crucifix gleaming against the vigorous evergreen branches of young fir trees. On the horizon the facade and spires of a Gothic church, whose silhouette echoes that of the firs, rise like a vision out of a bank of mist. Shoots of grass push through the snow, and the sky is streaked with the glow of dawn. This combination of motifs has been interpreted as a reference to the security of the Christian in his faith, into the hope of resurrection, and the salvation vouchsafed through Christ's sacrifice on the cross.

'Winter Landscape' was painted with surprisingly few pigments, suggesting that Friedrich was less interested in color than in smoothly graduated tones. He achieved the striking effect of shimmering, transparent haze by careful stippling with the point of the brush, using a blue pigment - smalt - which is transparent in an oil medium.

Caspar David Friedrich (1774 - 1840) is considered to be the greatest German Romantic painter and one of the most original geniuses in the history of landscape painting. Born at Greifswald on the Baltic coast, he studied in Copenhagen until 1798 before settling in Dresden. He came of age during a period when, across Europe, a growing disillusionment with an over-materialistic society led to a new appreciation for spiritualism. This was often expressed through a re-evaluation of the natural world, as artists such as Friedrich, J. M. W. Turner and John Constable sought to depict nature as a "divine creation, to be set against the artifice of human civilization", and to convey the spiritual experiences of life. Friedrich is best known for his later allegorical landscapes, which feature contemplative figures silhouetted against night skies, morning mists, barren trees, and Gothic ruins. His primary interest as an artist was the contemplation of nature, and his often symbolic and anti-classical work seeks to convey the spiritual experiences of life.

Monday, February 12, 2018


Title: Our Lady of the Snows
Artist: J. Watson Davis
Medium: Tempera
Size: tbd
Date: c. 1942
Location: Mary Chapel of the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows, Belleville, Illinois.

The devotion to Mary under the title of Our Lady of the Snows is the oldest devotion to Mary in the Catholic Church, and can be traced to Rome in the year 352 AD. The legend tells of how, at the height of the Roman summer, snow fell during the night on the summit of the Esquiline Hill. A Roman patrician John and his wife, in obedience to a vision of the Virgin Mary that they had the same night, built a basilica in honour of Mary on the very spot that was covered with snow. The devotion to Our Lady of the Snows was first introduced to the US midwest in 1941 by Fr. Paul Schulte of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

In the 1940s, Davis painted a version of Our Lady of the Snows for St. Henry's Seminary in Belleville, Illinois. Sources are unclear as to whether Davis was commissioned to complete the painting or asked as a personal favor; but he was acquainted with Father Paul Schulte, O.M.I., a German immigrant known as the "flying priest of the Arctic," for personally flying a plane to reach peoples of northern Canada and Alaska with his missionary and medical work. In this painting Davis has elevated Mother and Child above the surrounding figures in a vertical composition, in which the vision emanates from the Northern Lights; Fr. Schulte's plane appears as an element in the painting.

John Watson Davis (1870 - 1959) was an American illustrator whose career spanned six decades. In addition to his religious commissions, his drawings appeared in Zane Grey novels, in editions of Sherlock Holmes tales and Bluebeard, and in other books and magazines. Born in New York, Davis moved with his family to Paris when he was ten years old, where he received his art training. Davis returned to Brooklyn when he was in his twenties, and began his commercial artist career. To avoid confusion with other artists named "John W. Davis," he began signing his work "J. Watson Davis."

Friday, February 9, 2018


Title: Winter Landscape with the Flight into Egypt
Artist: Joos de Momper the Younger
Medium: Oil on panel
Size: 69 x 115 cm
Date: tbd.
Location: Private Collection

Matthew 2:14 “So Joseph got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and escaped to Egypt.”

The present painting, depicting this brief passage from Matthew, belongs to Momper’s most inventive winter landscapes. Here we find the townsfolk seemingly going about their daily business, running errands, playing on the frozen river, with only Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus, nondescript in the lower left of the image, moving away from what will become the scene of a massacre. The staffage in this painting is the work of Frans Francken the Younger, Momper's exact contemporary. Francken and Momper collaborated frequently.

Joos de Momper the Younger (1564 - 1635), one of the most important landscape painters of the early 17th century, was the leading member of an Antwerp family of artists and dealers. He was trained by his father, but he probably went to Italy in the 1580s, in which case he would have seen the Alps: he lived in Antwerp, but his works are invariably of great mountains, sometimes influenced by Bruegel, and they form a transition between Mannerist landscape and the realistic type developed in the Netherlands in the 17th century, e.g. by van Goyen. Only a small number of the 500 paintings attributed to de Momper are signed and just one is dated. The large output points to substantial workshop participation. Attribution is further complicated because of the other members of the family who worked in a similar style.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018


Title: Alpine Winter Madonna and Child
Artist: Willy Juttner
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 52 x 40 cm
Date: c. 1920
Location: Private Collection

This painting, a depiction of the nursing Madonna (aka Virgo Lactans, or Madonna Lactans), is an iconography of the Madonna and Child in which the Virgin Mary is shown breastfeeding the infant Jesus. Usage of the depiction seems to have intensified with the Cistercian Order in the 12th century, as part of the general upsurge in Marian theology and devotion. Milk was seen as "processed blood", and the milk of the Virgin to some extent paralleled the role of the Blood of Christ. After the Council of Trent in the mid-16th century, clerical writers discouraged nudity in religious subjects, and the use of the Madonna Lactans iconography began to fade away.

Despite the cold blues of the background mountains and plains, there is a distinct warmth in Juttner’s portrayal. The crimson dress of the Madonna alludes to the Blood of Christ, which is, in fact, reflected in the warm rosy glow emanating from the Christ child’s cheeks as he suckles.

Willy Kurt Reinhold Juttner (1886 - 1940) was a Munich based painter and illustrator influenced by the Symbolists. During World War One he produced a very large set of postcards depicting German soldiers engaged in a variety of activities from writing letters to charging into battle. These cards were very popular and were printed in large numbers. In addition to his print work, he was also, as we can see here, a very accomplished painter, and he is known to have taken part in several Munich Exhibitions during his lifetime.

Saturday, February 3, 2018


Title: Resurrection
Artist: Piero della Francesa
Medium: Mural in fresco and tempera
Size: 225 x 200 cm
Date: 1463-65
Location: Piero della Francesca Museum, Sansepolcro

This composition is divided into two separate perspective zones within a framework formed at the sides by the two marble columns. The lower area, where the artist has placed the sleeping guards, has a very low vanishing point. Above the figures of the sleeping sentries, Piero has placed the resurrected Christ, portrayed with a more central vantage point. Christ’s solid peasant features are a perfect representative of Piero's human ideal: concrete, restrained and hieratic as well. The splendid landscape also belongs to the repertory of popular sacred images: Piero has symbolically depicted it as partially immersed in the barrenness of winter. The further the viewer looks to the left, the more the landscape appears bare and hostile, whereas the right half is already brought back to life - resurrected - by springtime.

Piero della Francesa (ca. 1415 - 1492) was a Italian painter, who, to his contemporaries was also known as a mathematician and geometer. Nowadays Piero della Francesca is chiefly appreciated for his art, which had been virtually forgotten for centuries after his death, but regarded since his rediscovery in the early 20th century as one of the supreme artists of the quattrocento. His painting is characterized by its serene humanism, its use of geometric forms and perspective. According to tradition, and by comparison with the woodcut illustrating Vasari's Lives of the Painters, in this mural the sleeping soldier in brown armor on Christ's right is a self-portrait of Piero.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018


Title: St. Sergius the Builder
Artist: Nicholas Roerich
Medium: Tempera on canvas
Size: 73.6 x 177 cm
Date: 1925
Location: Private Collection

Venerable St. Sergius of Radonezh (ca. 1314 September 1392), also known as Sergey Radonezhsky or Serge of Radonezh, was a spiritual leader and monastic reformer of medieval Russia, and is one of the Russian Orthodox Church's most highly venerated saints. Born within the Rostov principality, the future saint received the baptismal name of Bartholomew (Varfolomei in Russian) in honor of the Apostle Bartholomew. Upon his parents' death, Bartholomew went to Khotkovo near Moscow, where his older brother Stefan was a monk. He persuaded Stefan to find a more secluded place to live the ascetic life, and in the deep forest at Makovets Hill they decided to build a small cell and a church dedicated in honor of the Trinity. After some time Stephen left, and Sergius became increasingly well-known as a profoundly spiritual figure in the Russian wilderness, attracting followers and eventually organizing them into a community that became the famed Holy Trinity Monastery.

This image portrays the legend of a bear that used to come to the holy man. Seeing the animal did not come to harm him, but rather to get some food, the saint brought a small slice of bread from his hut, and placed it on a log or stump. The bear learned to come for the meal thus prepared for him, and having eaten it went away again. If there was no bread, and the bear did not find his usual slice, he would wait about for a long while and look around on all sides. At this time Sergius had no variety of foods in the wilderness, only bread and water from the spring, and these were very scarce. Often, bread was not to be found; then both he and the bear went hungry.

Nicholas Roerich (October, 1874 – December, 1947) was a Russian painter, writer, archaeologist, and theosophist, who in his youth was influenced by a movement in Russian society around the spiritual. He believed that although earthly temples and artifacts may perish, the thought that brings them into existence does not die but is part of an eternal stream of consciousness—man’s aspirations nourished by his directed will and by the energy of thought. Finally, he believed that peace on Earth was a prerequisite to planetary survival and the continuing process of spiritual evolution, and he exhorted his fellow man to help achieve that peace by uniting in the common language of Beauty and Knowledge. Nicholas Roerich died in Kullu on December 13, 1947. His body was cremated and its ashes buried on a slope facing the mountains he loved and portrayed in many of his nearly seven thousand works.

Sunday, January 28, 2018


Title: Landscape with Snow and the Crucifixion
Artist: Karel van Mander, the Elder
Medium: Oil on panel
Size: 67 x 118 cm
Date: 1599
Location: Private Collection

Though this painting is based on a work by Lucas van Leyden dated 1517, Karel van Mander uses this inspiration to create what is likely the first painting of the Crucifixion depicted with snow. Van Mander was following a tradition started by fellow Dutch painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder, who, about thirty years prior, had done a series of biblical paintings set in the Dutch winter. Due to the virtual disappearance of religious painting from the Protestant society of the Netherlands, preference had shifted to non-religious themes such as still life and landscape painting, and Bruegel had started a vogue for Netherlandish winter paintings.

Dark skies and snowy hills dominate this landscape of Golgotha. Banners and cloaks billow in the winter wind while hungry dogs scavenge the bones of dead animals littered among barren trees. As the mortal life drains from Jesus, the earth itself waits, dormant and lifeless. Van Mander, with his use of stark contrast between sky and snow, was able to produce a stunning landscape depicting a Flemish winter, and still capture a scene charged with more emotional resonance than many of Bruegel’s preceding works.

Karel van Mander, the Elder (1548 - 1606) was a Dutch Mannerist painter, poet, and writer whose fame is principally based upon a biographical work on painters - Het Schilder-boeck (1604; "The Book of Painters"). Born of a noble family at Meulebeke in Flanders, van Mander studied under Lucas de Heere at Ghent, and under Pieter Vlerick at Courtrai and Tournai. After much wandering, in 1583 he settled at Haarlem, where he co-founded a successful academy of painting. Van Mander's paintings, which were mainly religious and allegorical, adopted the elongated forms of the Mannerist, but his later works showed a greater tendency towards naturalism.