Friday, July 10, 2015

Art Appreciation III


Jules Mastbaum’s Gift To The City Of Philadelphia

Philadelphia was the first city in the United States to exhibit works by Auguste Rodin. In 1876, the French artist sent eight of his early sculptures to the Centennial Exposition in Fairmount Park, the event commemorating one hundred years of American independence and which led to the founding of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. His work was awarded no medals and the press made no mention of the young sculptor, leaving Rodin disappointed by his American debut. He had no idea the city would one day house one of the greatest single collections of his work outside of Paris.

The Rodin Museum and its vast collection are in Philadelphia thanks to one of the city’s great philanthropists, Jules Mastbaum (1872-1926). A product of Philadelphia public schools and a graduate of the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, Mastbaum began building his fortune in real estate. By the late 1890s he turned his attention to the emerging motion picture industry, opening his first movie theater in 1905 at the southeast corner of Eighth and Market streets. By 1920, the Stanley Company of America---named for Mastbaum’s brother who died in 1918---was the largest operator of movie theaters in the United States.
Mastbaum embraced his role as a “movie mogul,” becoming well known in the sports world as a breeder of thoroughbred dogs and indulging his appetites while traveling the world in grand style. It was while visiting Paris in 1923 that Mastbaum discovered the works of Rodin.

As the story goes, Mastbaum was captivated by the small bronze sculpture, Hand, he saw in a shop window not far from what today is the Musée Rodin. He bought it, discovered the name of the artist, sought out more work, and an obsession was born. The Rodin Museum is the product of that obsession, fulfilling Mastbaum’s desire to form a fully representative collection of Rodin’s work as both a sculptor on an intimate scale and also the maker of great monuments.

Rodin himself had died in 1917, willing his estate to the French government and giving permission to make casts of his works after his death. Mastbaum began buying bronze casts directly from the Musée Rodin in 1924, and by 1926 had acquired most of the works in the Paris museum’s collection. Some of the bronzes had been cast during Rodin’s lifetime; others, however, were cast especially for Mastbaum. The Gates of Hell is the most notable example.

Although Rodin worked on its vast panorama of figures for the last 37 years of his life, this masterpiece had not been cast before his death. In 1925 Mastbaum ordered two casts, the first for the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia and the second for the parent institution in Paris, which was then in dire financial straits. His commitment to Rodin went beyond collecting sculptures---he also contributed funds for the rehabilitation of Rodin’s home and studios in the forest of Meudon, just outside Paris, which were in disrepair in the 1920s. In return for his generosity, the French Government presented Mastbaum with six of Rodin’s plasters.

While the sculptures were arriving at the port of Philadelphia, Mastbaum went to work creating a building designed specifically to house the number of works in his collection. He approached landscape architect Jacques Gréber of Paris, who had conceived the overall design of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, who sited the museum on the Parkway and designed the garden layout, while the local firm of Paul Philippe Cret, a fellow Frenchman and professor of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, created designs for the museum building. (Cret was concurrently designing the house and gallery of Dr. Albert C. Barnes in the nearby suburb of
Merion.) Among those who worked on the project was the young Louis Kahn, a student of Cret who would go on to a career as one of the 20th century’s most influential architects. Kahn’s widow Esther recalled that he proposed to her within the walls of the Rodin Museum.

Mastbaum’s proposal to erect and maintain the Rodin Museum was formally accepted by the Commissioners of Fairmount Park on May 12, 1926. Unfortunately, he died suddenly on December 7, 1926, before construction had started. His widow, Etta Wedell Mastbaum, saw that his dream became a reality by completing the building and transferring the collection to the City of Philadelphia, with the provision that the City assume responsibility for its maintenance. The Museum was finally opened to the public on November 29, 1929, in the presence of, among others, Paul Claudel, the French ambassador to the United States and brother of the sculptor Camille Claudel, who had been Rodin’s lover. Over the years, several important works have been added to the collection. They include the original plaster Eternal Springtime (1884), which the Rodin presented to the writer Robert Louis Stevenson in 1885, and a rare cast of The Athlete (1901-04), which was a gift from Mastbaum’s friend Samuel Stockton White III, who had served as the model for this sculpture.

The Lost Art of Patronage

Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

A history of art patronage, including the building of the great cathedrals. The word patron, in Latin, means Father; hence, a patron of the Arts is one who "begets" and protects the Arts.

Behold the penurious artist, too poor to rent more than an attic in a middle class household, itself fallen upon hard times, and clothed in oily rags that might be better suited to wipe paint spills than to be worn. Each night he wrestles with his old companion, the internal argument over which means of self- immolation is most aesthetically pleasing. Each night he splatters his soul over another canvas for what may be the very last time. After all, there is only so much rejection one man can sustain.

Unexpectedly, he hears from an acquaintance of a friend that someone has taken an interest in his art and might be persuaded to lend monetary support to his high and holy calling which has seemed to him like the prophetic mission of a Jeremiah. Such notes of hope have been blown before, only to echo silently into the blinded night. But this time the patron, his salvation, is in earnest, and the man buys from him only the second painting he has sold in the last three years. Suddenly, he finds himself with a modest audience, and in the years to come he is enabled to devote himself exclusively and with a religious fervor to his holy calling.
He is saved, all because of his deliverer-patron.
So the story goes.

Whenever I hear the word 'patron' my subconscious plays for me a short tape of a scenario similar to the one just described. I don't know where I learned the story, but I'm sure that somewhere in the motlied history of art a story like that may be found.

One thing I'm certain of, and that is that it has never been the norm.
Nevertheless, the concept of the patron in the arts is crucial to an understanding of the arts. More than this, we as Christians must understand our calling to patronize the arts if we are ever to reclaim the domain of the arts for Christ and His kingdom.

The concept of the patron which is still with us originated in the times of Rome and designated a Roman citizen who was a protector (the patronus) of a foreigner who had settled in Roman territory (the cliens). The relationship between the patron and his client (clientala) was an especially close one and involved many of the terms found in feudal contracts between lords and vassals. This Roman concept of the patron was extended into the medieval and Renaissance times, during which artists were afforded protection and sponsorship by various nobles and merchant princes.
In contemporary society the word 'patron' has lost some of its original connotation. Today we usually reserve the term for one who is specifically a "patron of the arts". Certainly, the closeness of the original relationship between a patron and his client is no longer implied in the term.

To better understand how a patron might or should function in our contemporary world, I would like to sketch a brief history of patronage through the ages and then examine how we might be able to interpret the role to the patron in the past to our present. But before I turn to my sketch pad, allow me to offer a brief apology for the necessity of the patron.

We must begin with a clear motivation for patronizing the arts. While it is beyond the scope of this essay to assay the reasons for the necessity and purposes of art, let me at least say that art is an inevitable part of what man does. Being created in the image of God and with the capacity for imagination and thought, man will have his art. You can be sure that the most primitive and wretched of all human societies is a culture which has surrounded itself with artistic objects (though what they mean by art and use it for may differ). It is therefore not a question of "Shall we have art or not" but a question of "Which art should we support?"

Secondly, we must recognize that art is always religious in nature. This should in no way be considered a shocking or exaggerated claim, since it is clear that all of life is inherently religious. Men may or may not acknowledge their religious nature, just as they may or may not acknowledge their Creator, and the art they produce may or may not be consistent with their religious beliefs. Nevertheless, all art is religious. Whether we are considering a Shakespeare play, a Seurat painting, or a Cage non-composition, all art reflects a certain worldview, which is to say a certain religion. This means that art is not neutral. Something is being asserted about God and the world He has made, and that something measures up to varying degrees to what God Himself has revealed to us.

Therefore, we have a clear motive for care in selecting the art with which to adorn our environments. We must never permit ourselves to be lulled to sleep by our contemporary ease of procuring art or by the surfeit of goods which has been spread before us. Every artistic choice we make (and we make many during a typical day) is a vote for a particular piece of art, and that vote has consequences as real and effective as the political votes we cast.

This, then, is our motive in patronizing the arts: art and the making of artistic choices are inescapable. The question remains: will we be found to be faithful stewards of what God has given us? The Scriptures do not allow us to take this responsibility lightly, for Whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things (and by extension "participate in and promote these things"). A choice to watch The Last Temptation of Christ is a choice not to watch Babette's Feast or The Navigator. Obviously, I am not saying that no one who watches one cannot or will not ever watch the other. What I am saying is that any choice at a given moment always displaces all of the other choices that could be made. At any one time you cannot vote both Republican and Democrat, nor can you serve both God and Satan simultaneously.

When I speak of patronage of art, I am not speaking necessarily of Art or the fine arts. Sometimes the term 'art' is reserved for the art of painting, and sometimes it also includes all of the fine arts. But art is never limited to these. Look around you - you will be surprised at the amount of art twentieth century man has surrounded himself with, much of it unconsciously.

Finally, our motivation in patronizing the arts should be to encourage those whose calling before the Lord is in the arts. We are exhorted in Galatians 6:2 to "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." Being an artist in a culture which has turned from God and in a ghetto-ish community which is sometimes slow to comprehend or appreciate the arts is a calling in much need of support. We have much to learn from the artists in our midst, just as we have much to learn from those who are scientists, businessmen, or housewives. Artists are a vital part of the body of Christ, perhaps akin to our eyes. Without them our sight begins to fail.
A Brief History of Patronage

Any student of history, broadly speaking, is well-equipped to grasp immediately the history of patronage. The history of patronage follows the history of culture, including its theo- politico- econo- socio- psycho-history. (Is one allowed that many O's?) Where monarchs have been ascendant, monarchial patronage has also reached its summit. When the church has extended its kingdom, then ecclesiastical patronage has flourished with it. And wherever the middle class and common man have come into their own, then middle class and common patronage has become ubiquitous. The following sketch of patronage through the ages is not meant to be complete or definitive but only suggestive.

Let me begin by briefly mentioning a kind of patronage of the arts we see in the Bible. Here we find a kind of divine patronage, wherein God Himself commissions the Israelites to create certain forms of art. God is, of course, the Great Artist, and yet upon occasion He has also taken on the role of patron. In Exodus 25-30 we find God commissioning the creation of the tabernacle and all of the elements within it. He gives his people very precise instructions concerning the construction of the tabernacle, and these instructions are given in the context of the giving of the Law. The writer of Hebrews assures us that the reason for such precise instructions from the mouth of God Himself is that the tabernacle was a model of things which are in heaven. Furthermore, in Exodus 31 we learn that God specially chose two leaders from the artistic community, Bezalel and Oholiab, who not only were filled with the Spirit but also with all sorts of skills and knowledge. Of course, immediately thereafter the Israelites decided to make the unauthorized object of art known as the Golden Calf.

King Saul was another patron of the arts who commissioned certain songs from the lyre of David, and we know that David himself was a poet and songwriter of unparalleled dimensions. Presumably, he became a patron of the arts during his long reign as king.

We do not, however, find an extensive system of art patronage during Old Testament times. It is not until the coming of Christ and the establishment of His glorious and eternal kingdom that the arts and their patrons begin to manifest the glory of that kingdom. As we might suspect, there is not a great deal of Christian art during the first few centuries of the New Covenant. But we should not be misled into thinking that there was none. Naturally, the difficult circumstances the early Christians found themselves in made it improbable that they would be capable of a highly developed system of art or patronage. In fact, though, a distinctively Christian art did begin to emerge from the debris of the Roman empire. Early Christian painting, for example, was clearly based on Roman models, and yet it was not long before it began to emerge as something very distinct from a 'degenerative' art based on Rome.

Patronage in the early church developed fairly early, as soon as it became possible for Christians to accumulate wealth and positions of status. Pierre du Bourguet concludes that "for the Christian faith to have penetrated as it did the social circles in which Constantine moved at the end of the third century, it is evident that the Imperial court must have included a certain number of Christians throughout the period preceding the Peace of the Church and even while the persecutions were raging" (Pierre du Bourguet, Early Christian Painting, New York: Viking, 1965, p. 47). The first form of patronage in the early church probably involved the use of private houses in worship, houses which it was necessary to decorate in ways appropriate to worship. The arts involved in such decoration would include not only painting but primarily architecture. As the place of worship for Christians evolved from 'ecclesial houses' to mansions to basilicas, the amount of patronage involved necessarily increased, and other art forms such as mosaic began to be incorporated.
After Christianity had found an imperial sponsor in Constantine, the church became an even greater sponsor of the arts, including ways not necessarily tied directly to corporate worship. Funds from the imperial treasury were now available to the church to patronize Christian art, and the decorative arts in general and more specifically painting were supported, as were the best artists.

What we never find in the patronage of the early church is an art for art's sake mentality. Actually, "art for art's sake" is a peculiar interpretation of art developed in the nineteenth century, and I suppose what I really mean is a notion of art as an entity which is capable of standing on its own, divorced from its explicitly religious context. The early church is not alone in this idea; every culture that has existed, with the notable exceptions of Greco-Roman civilization and its modern, secular heir (which in this sense would have to be dated from the Renaissance) has understood art as primarily a means of worship. It is a relatively recent idea that art is something completely different and separable from worship and even religion in general. Donald Jay Grout states that "The basic proposition in the philosophy of the church Fathers was that music is the servant of religion. Only that music is good which, without obtruding its own charms, opens the mind to Christian teachings and disposes the soul to holy thoughts. Music without words cannot do this; hence instrumental music was excluded from public worship, though the faithful were allowed to use a lyre to accompany the singing of hymns and psalms in their homes and on informal occasions" (Donald Jay Grout, A History of Western Music, New York: Norton, 1960, p. 31).

The theater was eschewed on even more serious grounds, for it carried connotations of a decidedly pagan nature, the same paganism from which most of the early church had recently converted. Any art which was enjoyed merely for its own sake was immediately suspect because of the necessarily pagan associations it had for the early church. It is not at all strange that the church should have taken what to us appears such a philistine attitude toward art. Augustine himself expresses a tension within him between the desire to acknowledge the "great utility of singing" on the one hand and its "dangerous pleasure" on the other (Confessions, X, Ch. 33). Even today, when Christians are converted, it is sometimes necessary for them to proclaim a personal fast from certain art forms which have been associated with a pagan past. At some later date the Christian is then able to reclaim what has been fasted from and feast upon it. Christianity is a religion which proceeds from the fast to the feast.

I have already briefly alluded to the nature of early church patronage concerning the pictorial and architectural arts, which were originally derivative of Roman models and used in relation to formal worship. But it is really the twin arts of poetry and music to which the early church devoted herself, although even here we do not find the kind of patronage which would develop later. There was much poetry and music written during the period of the early church, but it is not poetry as a separate entity as we think of it today. Rather, the poetry and music of the period are to be found in the hymns of the church. Like all of the arts employed by the early Christians, poetry and music were not conceived of as devices in their own right but as things to be used as a means of direct worship. Many of the early hymns were not even wholly original creations but commentaries on Scripture, particularly in the East. The hymns of Ambrose and others can be seen as testimonies against Arianism and in favor of orthodoxy, and music was seen, as I have shown earlier, as strictly in the employment of religion. It is interesting to observe that, according to Schaff, "The council of Laodicea, about A.D. 360, prohibited even the ecclesiastical use of all uninspired or 'private hymns', and the council of Chalcedon, in 451, confirmed this decree" (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 7 vols., 3rd ed. New York: Scribner's, 1884, p. 579). We find as well that nearly all of the composers of these hymns were clergymen and many of them eminent theologians. Under these circumstances it appears as if little of what we would think of as patronage today took place, except from the increasingly central authority of Rome which unified the relatively independent practices of the local churches.

However, with the ascension of Rome to a position of clear central authority, the church's patronage of the arts increased. As the head of pagan Rome was crushed under the foot of the church it became possible for the church to redeem some of what it had previously rejected. In order to abbreviate my historical discussion, I will be taking Gregory the Great and the Medici family as examples of patronage during the time of the church from the sixth through fifteenth centuries. Finally, I will devote a separate section to the building of those living stones of theology we find in the cathedrals.

It must be stated at the outset that Gregory the Great's contribution to music has been greatly exaggerated. His role in the growth of papal power and the authority of the church and his zeal for converting the heathen nations, as evidenced by his sponsorship of, for example, Augustine, must be acknowledged. Some of the changes in music ascribed to Gregory were begun before he was even born and some occurred after he had died, and it is not likely that he actually composed much of the music we associate with his name. It is also true that much of the revision of the liturgy that took place in the fifth through seventh centuries must be credited to the Benedictine monks. In fact, monks in general must be considered among the most important patrons of the arts, in light of their contributions in music and their preservation of literature and other documents relating to the arts. In addition, the Schola Cantorum, a training school for church musicians sometimes credited to Gregory, had already been established before Gregory was elected pope.
Nevertheless, it is beyond dispute that Gregory was an important patron of music. According to Grout, Gregory "recodified the liturgy and reorganized the Schola Cantorum. He caused a collection of chants to be compiled from those already in use, retaining as many as were serviceable, revising where necessary; he assigned particular chants to the various services throughout the year in an order that remained essentially untouched until the sixteenth century; in short, he brought all the music of the Western church for the first time into a systematic and well-proportioned whole" (Grout, History of Western Music, p. 29).

Without attempting an analysis of the costs and benefits of the Renaissance, it is important to note that a very different kind of patronage began to emerge with the rise of the Italian city-states and the new wealth gained by nobles and merchants. In summary, to be rich in Milan, Venice, Florence, Naples or the Papal States was to be a patron of the arts. Unfortunately, this new wealth and patronage often resulted in an ostentatious display of wealth and power designed to reflect a new, humanistic conception of the prince. With the Renaissance there was also a return to a more classical notion of art as something distinct and set apart from religion. In some ways, art became a kind of new religion, and the artist began to emerge as a kind of hero or prophet. This new form of patronage, with its emphasis on calling attention to the patron and its idea of art being worthy in and of itself of contemplation, bears the distinct marks of the modern conception of the arts and patronage. An interesting example of the new prominence of the patron is the number of patrons who appear in paintings of the Renaissance and after, not only in portraits but peering into a scene or even thrust into Biblical scenery!

Most noteworthy among Renaissance patrons are the Medici family, particularly Cosimo (1389-1464), known as the "Father of His Country", and his grandson Lorenzo (1449-1492), known as Lorenzo the Magnificent. Although Cosimo did not actually hold political office, he controlled political appointments in Florence, and he used his wealth and position to encourage literature and the fine arts. He built churches, villas, the Medici Library, and aided Greek scholars who were fleeing Constantinople in 1453. Donatello, Fra Angelico, and many others were among the artists he supported with his generous gifts. Over a period of 37 years he spent a sum equivalent to 10 million dollars, much of which went to the church.
Lorenzo's influence on the arts was equally as great. He himself was a poet and man of letters, and he took a personal interest in the lives of his artist friends, as had his grandfather. Among the artists patronized by Lorenzo were Botticelli, Fra Filippo Lippi and others, and he was a friend as well of the young Michelangelo. Under his rule, which has been alternatively seen as tyrannical and capricious by some and liberal and full of great judgment by others, Florence became known as a worldwide center of culture. Other members of the Medici family who were great patrons of the arts include Giuliano (1479-1516), Ippolito (1511-1535), Cosimo I (1519-1574), and Cosimo II (1590-1621), who was a patron of Galileo.

In the period after the Renaissance, we begin to see the development of the middle class. Already, the merchant class had emerged and, as in the case of the princes in Italian Renaissance, become patrons of the arts. New markets in all kinds of arts developed with the emergence of the middle class. In response to this new class and their new markets, new forms of art developed. In painting we see the influence of the middle class, especially in Holland where an entire new group of patrons arose. This new group of more common patrons influenced the creation of new genres in painting. An excellent example of this new emphasis on more common themes is the work of Pieter Brueghel. Music also began to be cultivated by the middle class as well. In Germany, land of Luther, the collegium musicum, a society of citizens who met to play and sing for their own pleasure, was formed in many towns. In literature the development of the novel reflected a particularly middle class mentality and outlook.

With the increased concern for the individual and his rights a new class of artists began to emerge as well. Beethoven, who wrote for no particular patron but for himself and an idealized and universal audience, serves as an excellent example.
Patronage in the twentieth century has taken an ironic twist, if we limit patronage to a more formal kind of definition, for in this great age of the individual, power appears to be concentrated in the hands of a few. (As we have seen, in one sense patronage involves every act of every individual who chooses to participate in art). One center of power is the state-supported university which cranks out artists and art majors with remarkably similar and limited styles. Often, there is little training in the fundamentals of drawing. Creative writing programs churn out writers who feel that a dreary cataloguing of brand names or references to contemporary culture or lack of discernible plot suggest profundity. Another major patron is the Museum, which, as Robert Hughes recognized "has replaced the Church as the main focus of civic pride in American cities" (Robert Hughes, Shock of the New, 2nd ed.; New York: Knopf, 1991, p. 366). There is an almost religious and messianic character to such museums as the Museum of Modern Art in their favor to promote certain kinds of art.


The most holistic, magnificent, and extensive example of patronage in history is undoubtedly the building of cathedrals. Nowhere else in the history of mankind do you have so many arts integrated with each other into one supreme and spiritual vision. Many excellent things have been said about the grandeur and spirit of the great cathedrals, even by pagans. It is as if the glory of the buildings inspires man to his greatest desires, thoughts, and expression nearly a millennium after their erection. Consider, for example, the words of William Anderson regarding the place of cathedrals in history:

"Before science could achieve such command over the resources of nature, it was necessary that the imaginations of men in relation to nature should be enlarged by the construction of huge permanent reminders of their actual and potential power over matter."

This new power over matter shows further how Christianity freed the men and women of Western Europe from being slaves of their environment and the puppets of the gods and spirits of forest, river, field, and sky. The building of the great cathedrals was an act of liberation from the forest-bound mentality of Northern Man, transforming the prison of the woods into temples of stone trees. That the iconography of the cathedrals, from the west front of Chartres to that of Rheims, reveals an ever-increasing emphasis on the Doctrine of the Incarnation has been interpreted as showing the desire of the clergy to defend that doctrine against the attacks of heretics such as the Albigenses, who slighted or disbelieved it. It has, however, a deeper significance in terms of our subject: as God became Man in Christ so He sanctified all the elements of which men and women are made and, as Christ in death descended into Hell, He changed the stony bowels of the Earth from being the fastness of the damned to the very material from which the art of His praise should be fashioned in the great Gothic cathedrals and churches (William Anderson, The Rise of the Gothic, Salem, New Hampshire: Salem House, 1985, p. 57).

Naturally, something so enormous, so grand, and so glorious as the cathedrals of the late Middle Ages does not sprout fully formed from the mind of one man or even one generation. Instead, we must let them stand as a testimony to the theology of an entire epoch in history. Once again, we find ourselves indebted to the labors of the monks, whose buildings may be considered the precursors of the great cathedrals. This is especially true of the monastery at Cluny where the abbots and monks thought on a grander scale than elsewhere. While some continued to struggle with the concept of apostolic poverty, this was definitely not true of the monks at Cluny in Burgundy, who surrounded themselves with beautiful worship and objects of worship and also began to accumulate wealth. Such beautiful worship, of course, needed to be conducted in a building just as beautiful. The third abbey church built there was to become the largest church built until the reconstruction of St. Peter's, and it was this church that set the model for Gothic architects and where the artists who founded the school of Burgundian Romanesque were brought together.

In similar fashion, it was in a monastery, the one at St. Denis in France under Abbot Suger's vision, that we witness the culmination of the conceptions of theology and architecture which were to be incarnated most gloriously in the Gothic cathedrals. In Suger we see clearly the effect of one man's vision and determination of the arts and all they touch and transform. Suger had great aesthetic acumen, was a passionate collector, and had a taste for fine things such as precious metals and gems, vestments, architecture, and stained glass (his architectural theology began with the idea that "God is light.") He saw not only the need to create a beautiful house of worship ("Everything that is most precious should be used to celebrate the Holy Mass") but as a form of theology published in the form of architecture. (Sadly, his theology was somewhat misguided.) He wished for St. Denis that it would tower above all other churches and incorporate all of the aesthetic innovations he had come to understand. To this end, Suger devoted the wealth of his monastery, and his vision, which was the Gothic vision of high vault, glass walls, and a church full of light, came to dominate cathedral building over the next few centuries.
Suger's vision served as the model for the great age of cathedrals, when bishops (cathedral=bishop's chair) began to exert the influence of their power and wealth over church architecture. Not every motive of the bishops was pure. Often, the cathedral was built to exalt the prelate's power. Sometimes the money was extracted through admittedly burdensome taxation, but it was also true that many a bishop willingly devoted funds to the building of the cathedral he might truly have desired for some other purpose. There was also an unmistakable desire to see the glory of God and the beauty of His truth embodied in the cathedrals. But the vision was not the vision of the bishops alone: kings, nobles, merchants, craftsmen, and peasants alike contributed to the vision. The kings, nobles, and merchants, ever mindful of their eternal standing before God, were concerned that their God-given wealth be used for His purposes. Sometimes, as well, there was still guilt associated with the wealth accumulated by the merchants, who might then give out of fear or guilt.

The many guilds and craftsmen who were represented in the great work of a cathedral were often also great patrons. When necessary, they would devote not only their paid labor but additional labor or an entire stained glass window as a gift. The peasant themselves, far from feeling a Marxist alienation, eagerly embraced the universal vision of the cathedral. Naturally, this does not mean that there was never any resentment on the part of the townspeople if, for example, the bishop was extracting an exorbitant amount. But for the most part, they identified so completely with the cathedral that in many cases the cathedral became the symbol of the town itself, and all took great pride in its existence. In fact, the building of the south tower of Chartres cathedral "provoked an outburst of popular enthusiasm known as the 'cult of the carts'. The Archbishop of Rouen wrote to the Bishop of Amiens in about 1145 that Chartres men in their humility were yoking themselves to the carts carrying materials for its building and that miracles were reported associated with their devotion" (Anderson, p. 36). A measure of the dedication of the people of this time may be found in a statistic related to France during the Capetian monarchy in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. During this period an average of one-third of the resources of France each year were devoted to the building of churches, which included eighty cathedrals, five hundred large churches, and thousands of parish churches.

The cathedral elevated everything it touched - and it seemed to encompass every sphere of the medieval universe. Anderson states that the cathedrals "set the style for all great secular buildings.... [T]he effect of the gothic style spread from the spiritual heights downward. It changed and made more beautiful the halls and castles of kings and barons, granting a fuller expression to civic pride...."(Anderson, p. 65). The stones themselves, formed into the shape of a giant cross which could also be seen as the form of the human body, taught theology, as did the stone statuary. The stained glass lit the interior with their stories so that even the illiterate were sure to be taught. The process of erecting a cathedral united and inspired the people as surely as the completed building itself, and there was a communion of the saints connected by several centuries of labor in some cases. The most glorious liturgy was now matched by a place of worship just as glorious - if not more.
The cathedral quickly became the center of the medieval universe. Not only was it the center of worship (private prayers took place there as well as corporate worship), but it became the center for the very guilds which had helped build it.

These guilds took such pride in their creation that they continued to seek out the best and most beautiful for their own cathedral. The act of erecting a cathedral required a great many men and crafts, all working in harmony toward a single vision. Architects, masons, sculptors, workers in stained glass, goldsmiths and silversmiths, artists in such diverse media as stone, wood, ceramics, glass, and metal all came together, sometimes over a period of two centuries or more, to contribute their talents to one universal work of art. Such a grand endeavor naturally stimulated the work of the artist and craftsman. Elaborate choir stalls, for example, were erected, and the cathedral acted as a stimulant in the system of music at the time. During the time when cathedral architecture evolved from the Romanesque to the Gothic in the twelfth century, music began to change from the monodic plainsong of the monasteries to polyphonic music. Leonin and Perotin, the first known practitioners of polyphony, were the choir masters and organists at Notre Dame.

The cathedral also acted as a goad to those in the applied arts who were forced to grapple with many technological and scientific problems in route to completing a cathedral. Lay groups also used the cathedral for their purposes, and businessmen looked upon it as theirs to embellish with their gifts. According to Duby, "In the twelfth century the cathedrals of the Capetian realm were schools, in fact the only living schools" (Georges Duby, The Age of the Cathedrals, Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1981, p. 112). Cathedrals, and not monasteries, became the centers of education. In addition, the cathedrals helped extend and stimulate trade, the flow of knowledge and ideas, and travel, as people were drawn to the cathedral as visitors or pilgrims or to settle and be near the very heart and soul of medieval society.

Anderson, who has written so well of the power and glory of the Gothic cathedrals, has summarized the kind of patronage represented by the great cathedral builders of the Middle Ages: They were patrons in a sense that is hardly known today. We do not now have patrons who are concerned to direct our souls to salvation in the afterlife through the right practice and execution of art. We have directors of galleries of modern art who want to educate us to an awareness of what is vital or fashionable in art today. We have art-dealers whose living depends on their responses to the desires of private and public patrons. We have many artists and sculptors, often moved and inspired by the deepest religious convictions, but few even of these would claim that the power of their art could change the direction of men's lives today to the degree that was expected of art in the Middle Ages (Anderson, Rise of the Gothic, p. 45).

It is just such a view of the church, the arts, and patronage that must be reclaimed.
Possibilities for Patronage Today

But to limit patronage to these formal kinds of patronage is to become a slave to them and their tastes. I want to conclude by suggesting ways in which patronage can be comprehended and cultivated by Christians today.

1. Recognize the Calling of the Artist

The artist has a peculiar calling in culture which at its heart is no different than any other. For too long we have been influenced by Romantic notions of genius and the artist, but the genuine artist is not some alien in our midst and should not act like or be treated as such. Just as teachers, preachers, or evangelists contribute in their own unique way to the kingdom of God, so does the artist. Far from being afraid of the powers or influence of the artist or art, the church should be the first to promote these things. As Protestants, sometimes we are still in an inertial rebellion against all things Catholic. It is time for us to re-evaluate the role of the arts in the church and to study the Scriptures to see what they tell us about art, just as we might go to them for principles about education, economics, or government. The arts, like all other callings, have a dual role in the work of evangelism. They may be used as a means of presenting the gospel, contributing to the work of justification, or they may be used to edify the believer in the work of sanctification. A healthy Christian art is not only a part of the labor of the Great Commission: it will also make the more narrow work of 'witnessing' easier to do. In fact, it is not only a good idea for Christians to become involved in the arts: it is a moral imperative for us to create the most excellent art possible.

2. Learn About Art

It is impossible for the arts to impact culture in a Christian way if Christians refuse to educate themselves about art. The first step, as mentioned above, is to understand the arts and their place in culture. We must not only applaud the glory of the accomplishment of art in the past but laud the grandeur of contemporary art, wherever it is present. Christians, above all people, should have an intimate and extensive knowledge of history, including art history. In fact, a knowledge of any branch of history broadens and deepens the overall comprehension of history and other disciplines since all knowledge and history is interrelated. We must also be alert to the art which surrounds us on a daily basis, understanding that the art found in museums and galleries is only a minute fraction of all art and that there are much more influential forms right in front of our noses.

3. Encourage Artists and Sponsor Artists

Those who know of Christians involved in the arts are now in a position to support those artists in a special way. For some, this may mean financial support. Some of the arts are less expensive to the artist. For example, the painter will spend more on his art than the writer, and the filmmaker will spend more than almost any other artist (in fact, if there is one art today that most approaches the cathedral in terms of cost, number of arts involved, and influence in society, it is film.) But even the writer is always sacrificing time and energy and other things to his calling. Of equal or greater importance than financial support is the act of encouragement. The act of creation is always an uncertain one, and it is very easy for those with artistic gifts to become discouraged. As a writer, I know I have often found it difficult to dedicate myself to my calling the way I should because I sometimes feel I am the only one around who cares about this sort of thing. Some artists are starving for someone with whom they can intelligently and passionately discuss their work, and they often make the most interesting of friends. There is every reason to identify and encourage the work of the artist.
I recently came across an excellent example of how it is possible to both encourage and sponsor artists. In a March or April issue of Parade magazine, a sectional supplement found in many Sunday newspapers, there was a story about a couple who had spent twenty years of their lives patronizing the arts, in particular the art of painting. Though their tastes ran to minimal and conceptualist art, what they had done with their lives was quite remarkable and may be taken as instructive for us. They lived in New York, which gave them access to a large number of artists in their immediate area. What they did was to spend a certain amount of time each week getting to know various artists and their art. Over the years they developed an ability to discriminate between the art they liked and that which they liked not so well, and when they saw something that met their standards, they bought it. Their modus operandi was to buy the work of artists whose work they admired but who had not yet made it into the pantheon of recognized artists. Consequently, the works they bought were still very reasonable. Through a process of steadily studying and buying, they eventually accumulated a collection of art which was recently appraised at several millions of dollars.

Now the point of the story is not that "Yes, you too can make big money collecting art!" (though there is nothing wrong in pursuing such an endeavor.) Rather, what we should notice is the devotion this couple had to art. They were not merely content to accept the standards which had been spoon-fed to them like pablum, and they willingly and readily participated in the lives of the artists and their art. As Christians, we should especially be aware of the blessings associated with being responsible stewards over a long period of time. What this couple has done could easily be replicated by anyone willing to make the effort, although there is obviously no guarantee that at the end of a twenty year period you will find yourself the possessor of a multi-million dollar collection.

Recently, I myself had the opportunity to participate in the first of what I hope will be a long life of serving as just such a patron. Though I live in Tyler, Texas, by no means a hot bed of artistic fervor, I was blessed enough to have access to a Christian artist with considerable talent. I am speaking of my brother, Paul Erlandson, who in the last few years has committed himself to his art. Sometimes it is not always easy to identify your calling before the Lord, regardless of how much fear and trembling it is pursued with. Not only did I buy a lithograph called Aviatrix which he had done; I also commissioned him to do a painting titled The School of the Prophets, intended to be used in conjunction with a musical project of the same name which we were pursuing. Recently, I held an 'unveiling' for this painting after it had returned from being framed. The purpose of the unveiling was not to say "Look everybody! See what my brother did! Isn't he good?" but to stimulate an interest in the painting itself and the arts in general. Perhaps one of the children at the church who saw the painting will be encouraged to also pursue one of the arts. If nothing else, for one evening a Christian artist and his art, as well as the cause of the arts, was placed within view of those willing to participate.

Becoming such a patron is not as expensive as one might expect. I have always made at most a modest salary, and yet I have always tried to devote a certain portion of my capital to supporting the art of my choice. It is not necessary to have a brother for an artist to find exceptionally good buys. What is of paramount difficulty is identifying Christian artists with sufficient vision and devotion to their work. The church in the twentieth century has not been a very good patron of the arts, and when it has, excellence has not usually been its signature.

4. Begin Acting Like a Patron

The real question with regard to the role of the Christian as patron is not "Should I become a patron?" but "Will I act as a responsible patron?" In our culture everyone has become a king, and each of us has a developed (although usually invisible) system of patronage. We have access today to more resources, more time, more capital, more kinds of art and more objects of art than anyone in the history of the world. In a very real sense, nearly everyone living in the United States in the latter part of the twentieth century is richer than Louis XIV or Charles V. The irony is that like the Israelites, we have forgotten the source of all our blessings, and these blessings have been turned into curses (for example, the violence, pornography, propaganda, and blasphemy in movies or on TV or the NEA-funded art). Equally bad, for all our surfeit of art, we don't take it very seriously, although this does not mean it is any less influential in our lives.

We are justly concerned that our tax dollars are used to fund blasphemous, idolatrous, pornographic, and shoddy and unprincipled art. But how are we ourselves doing with our own time and money? How many of us have children who support the blasphemies and atrocities seen in a typical Schwarzenegger movie? Recent surveys have shown just how little difference there is between what Christians and non-Christians watch. We cannot use the excuse that we have no choices. I am not even speaking of the ever-present choice of abstinence, though the early Christians wisely abstained from certain forms of art. There is no need to abstain completely from the film form of art when you can go down to any Hastings and rent, for 49 cents, any of a number of excellent movies which do not blaspheme God or denigrate His image in mankind. Forget about boycotts. Forget about censorship. (I am not saying there is not a place for such things.) If every Christian would exercise his moral responsibility to flee from all ungodliness (I Cor. 6:18; I Cor 10:14; I Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22) and to think about whatever is true, noble, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8) those God-haters who produce such ungodliness would not be able to stand against our economic power, let alone any other kind.

I fear that if we do not patronize Christian art, the practitioners of ungodliness will patronize us. 

The Lost Art of Patronage
© 1992 by Charles Erlandson

American Collector and Patrons of art

American Collector

Isabella Stewart Gardner (April 14, 1840 – July 17, 1924)

Gardner was born on April 14, 1840 in New York City. She was the first daughter of David Stewart, a second-generation Scottish-American, and Adelia Smith, whose father had owned a tavern and stable at Old Ferry, Brooklyn. The Stewart family fortune came from a mining and iron business in Pennsylvania. However, her father had grown up near Jamaica, Long Island, New York, on a farm which his daughter would come to love during visits to her formidable paternal grandmother, to whom she was compared as a child because of her own headstrong ways. Called "Belle" as a young girl, Gardner spent much of her childhood in the genteel "Old New York" society chronicled in the novels of Edith Wharton and Henry James, both of whom she knew later as an adult. The family lived in a three-story townhouse at 10 University Place, near Washington Square Park. A sister and two brothers followed. She was educated at small private schools in the neighborhood for girls of affluent families.

La Sortie de Pesage by Degas
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, Massachusetts

Titian, The Rape of Europa, 1559-1562, oil on canvas, 73 x 81 inches 
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, Massachusetts

Henry Clay Frick (December 19, 1849 – December 2, 1919)

Henry Clay Frick was born, from relatively modest Mennonite stock, on December 19, 1849, in West Overton, a rural community in southwestern Pennsylvania. The second child of an immigrant farmer who married the daughter of a flour merchant and whisky distiller, Frick worked as a salesman in one of Pittsburgh's most prominent stores and became the well-paid chief bookkeeper of the family distillery; he retained an expertise in accounting for the rest of his life. West Overton was eight miles north of Connellsville, a center in the fledgling iron industry, whose rich coal beds yielded seams of high-grade bituminous coal, ideal for coking. In March 1871, Frick, in partnership with a cousin, invested family money to acquire low-priced coking fields and build fifty coke ovens. Within a decade, H. C. Frick Coke Company would operate some thousand working ovens and produce almost eighty percent of the coke used by Pittsburgh's burgeoning iron and steel industries.

François Boucher  (1703 - 1770)
A Lady on Her Day Bed, 1743
oil on canvas
22 1/2 x 26 7/8 in. (57.2 x 68.3 cm)
Purchased by The Frick Collection, 1937

Charles Deering July 31, 1852- 1927
Andrew William Mellon (March 24, 1855 – August 26, 1937)
Albert C. Barnes (January 2, 1872 – July 24, 1951)
Jules Mastbaum (1872–1926)

Gertrude Stein (February 3, 1874 – July 27, 1946)

Gertrude Stein was a noted American art collector of seminal modernist paintings and an experimental writer of novels, poetry and plays, which eschewed the narrative, linear, and temporal conventions of 19th century literature. She was born in West Allegheny (Pittsburgh), Pennsylvania, raised in Oakland, California, and moved to Paris in 1903, making France her home for the remainder of her life. For some forty years, the Stein home on the Left Bank of Paris would become a renowned Saturday evening gathering place for expatriate American artists and writers, and others noteworthy in the world of vanguard arts and letters. Entrée and membership in the Stein salon was a sought-after validation, signifying that Stein had recognized a talent worthy of inclusion into a rarefied group of gifted artists. Stein became combination mentor, critic, and guru to those who gathered around her. A self-defined "genius," she was described as an imposing figure with a commanding manner whose inordinate self-confidence could intimidate. Among her coterie she was referred to as “Le Stein” and with less laudatory deference as “The Presence.”

Gertrude Stein, 1905 –1906, Pablo Picasso

Henry Matisse, Woman with a hat

Abby Aldrich Rockefeller (October 26, 1874 – April 5, 1948)
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (January 9, 1875 – April 18, 1942)

Marguerite "Peggy" Guggenheim (August 26, 1898 – December 23, 1979)

Peggy Guggenheim was an American art collector who was as well known for her private life as for her art collection. She was born on August 26, 1898 in New York, the middle daughter of three and christened Marguerite. Her father Benjamin Guggenheim was one of 11 children of the wealthy Guggenheim family, but he had left the firm along with his younger brother William. Consequently, he didn't share in any of the profits of the company after 1906. Although he still had an income of over $250,000 a year, he also had an extravagant lifestyle with homes in New York and Paris, where he had several mistresses.

Peggy's mother Florette Seligman's family had looked down on the Guggenheim's. Although the Guggenheim's were wealthier, the Selgiman's had come to the United States ten years before the Guggenheim's and still considered them nouveau riche. Peggy's parents were unhappy together from the beginning. Her mother was an eccentric who sprayed Lysol on everything, and had a happy of repeating phrases 3 times. Her father Benjamin was a handsome engineer but a lousy businessman. Peggy from childhood was a Daddy's girl, she competed with her younger sister Hazel for her father's attention. After spending several years living in Paris, Benjamin had decided to come back to New York. Unfortunately he booked passage on the ill-fated Titanic and went down with the ship. Peggy and her sister Hazel spent the rest of their lives trying to find a father substitute with mixed results.

Target, Jasper Johns

 Mobile, Alexander Calder

Everett (Chick) Austin, Jr. (December 18, 1900 – March 29, 1957)
Roy Rothschild Neuberger (July 21, 1903 – December 24, 2010)
Agnes Mongan (1905 - 1996)
Lincoln Kirstein (May 4, 1907 – January 5, 1996)
Edward M. M. Warburg. (1908–1992)
Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller (July 8, 1908 – January 26, 1979)

David Rockefeller, Sr. (born June 12, 1915)

David Rockefeller, is an American banker and philanthropist,
his formidable art collection, ranging from impressionist to postmodern, which he developed through the raising of his mother Abby and her establishment, with two associates, of the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1929. He is not a collector of most modern art himself but, as chairman and honorary chairman, has never hindered MoMA's acquisition of the newer works. He has donated many works to MoMA over the decades and more will go there after his death

Mark Rothko, White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose) 

White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose) by Mark Rothko was acquired by David Rockefeller in 1960, at the recommendation of Dorothy Miller, the first chief curator at the Museum of Modern Art. He purchased it from Elizabeth Bliss Parkinson, niece of Miss Lillie P. Bliss, one of the three founders of MoMA in 1929 along with Mrs. Cornelius J. Sullivan and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., through the Sidney Janis Gallery, one of the premier New York dealers of mid-century American and European art. That was the second time that the Sidney Janis Gallery handled the work, having originally sold it to Elizabeth Bliss Parkinson directly from the artist.

James Thrall Soby (1928-1975)

American Museum  

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York                        Established 1870
The Metropolitan Museum of Art was founded in 1870 by a group of American citizens. The founders included businessmen and financiers, as well as leading artists and thinkers of the day, who wanted to open a museum to bring art and art education to the American people. It opened on February 20, 1872

Philadelphia Art Museum                                                 Established 1876
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is among the largest art museums in the United States. It has collections of more than 227,000 objects that include "world-class holdings of European and American paintings, prints, drawings and decorative arts." The Main Building is visited by more than 800,000 people annually

Barnes Foundation                                                            Established 1922
The Barnes Foundation It was founded in 1922 by Albert C. Barnes, a chemist who collected art after making a fortune by co-developing an early anti-gonorrhea drug marketed as Argyrol and selling his company at the right time, before antibiotics came into use.
Today, the foundation possesses more than 2,500 objects, including 800 paintings, estimated to be worth about $25 billion. These are primarily works by Impressionist and Modernist masters, but the collection includes many other paintings by leading European and American artists, as well as ancient works from other cultures.

Paul Cézanne, The Card Players. Barnes Foundation

National Gallery of Art, Washington                                 Established 1937
National Gallery of Art was privately established in 1937 for the people of the United States of America by a joint resolution of the United States Congress. Andrew W. Mellon donated a substantial art collection and funds for construction. The core collection also includes major works of art donated by Paul Mellon, Ailsa Mellon Bruce, Lessing J. Rosenwald, Samuel Henry Kress, Rush Harrison Kress, Peter Arrell Brown Widener, Joseph E. Widener, and Chester Dale. The Gallery's collection of paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, sculpture, medals, and decorative arts traces the development of Western Art from the Middle Ages to the present, including the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the Americas and the largest mobile ever created by Alexander Calder.

Financier Andrew W. Mellon began gathering a private collection of old master paintings and sculptures during the First World War, but in the late 1920s he decided to direct his collecting efforts towards the establishment of a new national gallery for the United States. In 1930 Mellon formed the A. W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, which was to be the legal owner of works intended for the gallery. In 1930–1931, the Trust made its first major acquisition, 21 paintings from the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, including such masterpieces as Raphael's Alba Madonna, Titian's Venus with a Mirror, and Jan van Eyck's The Annunciation.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York                           Established 1870

Philadelphia Art Museum                                                   Established 1876

Art Institute of ChicagoChicago, Illinois                          Established 1879

Barnes Foundation                                                             Established 1922

National Gallery of Art, Washington                                 Established 1937

Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York

Guggenheim Museum, New York City, New York

High Museum, Atlanta, Georgia

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California

McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas

Menil Collection, Houston, Texas

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts 1870

Museum of Modern Art, New York City, New York

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, California

Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City, New York

Fogg Art Museum

The Body and Art

SELF-PORTRAITS  (chronological order)

Self-portrait of Albrecht Dürer as an Ecce Homo, c.1500
oil on panel, Munich, Alte Pinakothek

ALBRECHT DÜRER (1471-1528) – The real Leonardo da Vinci of Northern European Rennaisance was Albrecht Dürer, a restless and innovative genious, master of drawing and color. He is one of the first artists to represent nature without artifice, either in his painted landscapes or in his drawings of plants and animals

In addition of being the unquestionable genius of the German Renaissance, and one of the most important artists of the whole History of Art, Albrecht Dürer is the first master of the self-portrait. Dürer pictured himself in numerous paintings and drawings, the first of them created when he was only 13 years old. After this early work he created masterpieces like the self-portrait exhibited at the Louvre, in which Dürer depicted himself as a young, self-confident and proud artist, a role accentuated in the famous self-portrait (1498) exhibited at the Prado Museum in Madrid, in which the German artist combined the portrait with a beautiful landscape seen through a window.
The “self-portrait as Ecce Homo” in Munich is arguably the most developed of all the self-portraits painted by Dürer. While at first glance the fact of portraying himself as Jesus Christ could be interpreted as an act of self-idolatry, it should be noticed that the image of the Ecce Homo is the quintessential representation of pain and suffering. Humanity as a symbol and essence of the artist.

Self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci, c.1512
drawing, 33.3- 21.3 cm., Torino, Royal Library

LEONARDO DA VINCI (1452-1519) – For better or for worse, Leonardo will be forever known as the author of the most famous painting of all time, the "Gioconda" or "Mona Lisa". But he is more, much more. His humanist, almost scientific gaze, entered the art of the quattrocento and revoluted it with his sfumetto that nobody was ever able to imitate

There is no artist more legendary than Leonardo. In the whole History of Art, no other name has created more discussions, debates and studies than the genius born in Vinci in 1452. Painter, sculptor, architect, scientific and investigator, the figure of Leonardo has generated multiple legends, myths, and rumours about his possible homosexuality, also about his debated membership to a vast numbers of lodges and sects, not to mention the strange stories about his stay in Verrocchio's workshop, or even his allegedly weird relationship with many of his models, forming the Leonardesque Mythology in which the huge success of “The da Vinci Code” is only the most recent example
As far as we know, this extraordinary drawing is the only surviving self-portrait by the master. If the generally accepted date for this work (1512) is correct, it is quite remarkable that the artist had depicted himself as an ancient man, if we consider that he had only 60 years old or less at the time this drawing was finished.

Self-portrait of Rembrandt van Rijn, 1659
oil on canvas, 52.7- 42.7 cm., Edinburgh , National Gallery of Scotland

REMBRANDT VAN RIJN (1606-1669) – The fascinating use of the light and shadows in Rembrandt's works seem to reflect his own life, moving from fame to oblivion. Rembrandt is the great master of Dutch painting, and, along with Velázquez, the main figure of 17th century European Painting. He is, in addition, the great master of the self-portrait of all time, an artist who had never show mercy at the time of depicting himself

Rembrandt is the great master of the Dutch painting, and along with Velázquez the most important painter of the 17th century. He is also the great master of the self-portrait of all time: Rembrandt painted himself in more than fifty canvases and drawings, giving us not only an exceptional testimony of his matchless talent as a portrayer, but also a fascinating “painted autobiography”. The artist depicted himself young and old, laughing and shouting, surprised and quiet. This canvas, painted when the artist was over 50 years old, is arguably the best self-portrait ever created, a honest, sincere and ruthless portrait of an artist who had never shown mercy to himself

Self-portrait of Vincent van Gogh with bandaged ear, 1889 
oil on canvas, 60-49 cm., London, Courtald Institute Galleries

VINCENT VAN GOGH (1853-1890) – Few names in the history of painting are now as famous as Van Gogh, despite the complete neglect he suffered in life. His works, strong and personal, are one of the greatest influences in the twentieth century painting, especially in German Expressionism

The story of Van Gogh and his self-bandaged ear is so famous that we only need to make a brief summary of it: In December 1889, Van Gogh threatened Paul Gauguin with a razor –this version told by Gauguin have been discussed by some experts- and then he cut off the lower part of his own left ear, which he wrapped in a newspaper and gave it to a prostitute named Rachel in the local brothel, asking her to "keep this object carefully." Gauguin left Arles and did not see Van Gogh ever again.
This is one of the two self-portraits that van Gogh painted after the 'ear incident' (the other one, previously in the collection of Leigh B. Block in Chicago, was later bought by the Niarchos family). The expression of the artist's face is, paradoxically, calmer than in many other self-portraits by the artist; which can be interpreted as an effort of the painter to find in the painting his particular salvation. It is also remarkable the presence of a Japanese stamp in a self-portrait. In a letter to his brother Theo, Vincent affirmed that he envied the Japanese painters for “his style, as simple as breathing”

Self-portrait of Pablo Picasso, 1901
oil on canvas, 81-60 cm., Paris, Musée Picasso

PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973) – Picasso is to Art History a giant earthquake with eternal aftermaths. With the possible exception of Michelangelo (who focused his greatest efforts in sculpture and architecture), no other artist had such ambitions at the time of placing his oeuvre in the history of art. Picasso created the avant-garde. Picasso destroyed the avant-garde. He looked back at the masters and surpassed them all. He faced the whole history of art and single-handedly redefined the tortuous relationship between work and spectator

Picasso arrived in Paris just before turning 20, and his beginnings in the French capital were not easy. Alone and with economic difficulties, the young genius wandered by the huge metropolis immersed in the Bohemian atmosphere of the city. Prostitutes, alcoholics, tramps… Picasso began to depict the world in which he was living, creating a melancholic universe of blue tones filled with phantasmagoric and pale figures. It was the beginning of his so-called “Blue Period”.
This self-portrait is not the first that Picasso painted, but it is one of first works of the Blue Period. The work was painted shortly after the suicide of his friend Carlos Casagemas, committed when Picasso was still a stranger in the immense Paris . The calm and serenity of the portrayed, the austerity of the work, and the bohemian look of the moustached figure, impart the image of a brave and decided artist who could easily find his way in spite of all difficulties he could find in it.

Self-Portrait of Marcel Duchamp in Profile 1958. 
Torn colored paper on black background. 14.3 x 12.5 cm.  Private collection.

MARCEL DUCHAMP (1887-1968) – One of the major figures of Dadaism and a prototype of "total artist", Duchamp is one of the most important and controversial figures of his era. His contribution to painting is just a small part of his huge contribution to the art world.

Egon Schiele: Self-portrait, 1911
watercolour, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

EGON SCHIELE (1890-1918) – Another "died too young" artist, his strong and ruthless portraits influenced the works of later artists, like Lucian freud or Francis Bacon.

Died at only 28 years of age, Egon Schiele (1890-1918) is perhaps the most expressionist of all expressionist painters, the author of disturbing figures in tortured foreshortenings, bodies mutilated according to the aims of the artist. His obsession for the “obscure” and even the obscene (male figures masturbating, nude female bodies in explicit postures) scandalized many, but he also got the admiration –though not always admitted- of his contemporaries. Even the much admired Klimt had to admit that the young Schiele was “a better draughtsman than me”.
“My being, my decomposition, transplanted to permanent values, must produce my force in other more developed beings (…). I am so rich I have to give myself away”. No other model pleases the artist as much as himself; he enjoys his self-representation and wishes the world to see it. Schiele, the brutal narcissist, even removes the picture's background, annulling any distraction that could compete with the “permanent me”.

Self-portrait of Max Beckmann with glass of champagne, 1919 

oil on canvas, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Max Beckmann (February 12, 1884 – December 28, 1950) was a German painter, draftsman, printmaker, sculptor, and writer. Although he is classified as an Expressionist artist, he rejected both the term and the movement. In the 1920s, he was associated with the New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit), an outgrowth of Expressionism that opposed its introverted emotionalism.

Beckmann was one of the most important masters of European painting in the early 20th century. Although he is often considered an “expressionist”, he never identified himself with that movement, although he shared with several expressionist artists the “honour” of being considered a “degenerated artist” by the Nazis. Beckmann was one of the pivotal figures of the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), rejecting the rising abstraction, considering that painting had to follow the figurative way. Contrary to many members of the vanguards, he was a studious and admirer of previous masters, from Rembrandt to Cezanne. The influence of the first of them is visible in his now admired self-portraits, as this one from the Metropolitan Museum.

Although the name of Max Beckmann could not be as famous as other early 20th century artists, he is without a doubt one of the great masters of the self-portrait of all time. The Art market, at least, has already recognized it: one of his self-portraits fetched more than $22 million in a Sotheby's auction in May 2001.

Self-portrait of Frida Kahlo The broken column, 1944 
oil on canvas, Museo Dolores Olmedo, Mexico

FRIDA KAHLO (1907-1954) – In recent years, Frida's increasing fame seems to have obscured her importance in Latin American art. On September 17th, 1925, Kahlo was almost killed in a terrible bus accident. She did not died, but the violent crash had terrible sequels, breaking her spinal column, pelvis, and right leg.. After this accident, Kahlo's self-portraits can be considered as quiet but terrible moans

On September 17th, 1925, a 17 years old Mexican girl called Frida Kahlo was almost killed in a terrible bus accident. She did not died, but the violent crash had terrible sequels, breaking her spinal column, pelvis, and right leg. It also damaged her uterus, causing her to lose her reproductive ability.

“The broken column” is a ruthless testimony of the suffering that accompanied Frida for all her life. The artist has depicted herself with her nude torso surrounded by a brutal body cast, while a cruel breach in his body allows us to observe how a stone column -broken into several pieces- is replacing her spinal column, symbolizing the consequences of the terrible bus accident. In addition, Frida has exaggerated her "ugliness", highlighting her extremely joined eyebrows and the hair over her mouth. When we talked about Rembrandt's self-portraits, we pointed that the artist had shown no mercy for himself, representing his figure in a honest, stoical manner. Very different is the style of Frida, whose self-portraits can be considered as quiet but terrible moans.

Self-portrait of Francis Bacon, 1971 
oil on canvas, Paris, Center Georges Pompidou

FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992) - Maximum exponent, along with Lucian Freud, of the so-called "School of London", Bacon's style was totally against all canons of painting, not only in those terms related to beauty, but also against the dominance of the Abstract Expressionism of his time

In one of his last interviews, Irish painter Francis Bacon declared: “I have never considered my works to be disturbing”. Perhaps he did not, but the truth is that Bacon's figures -including his self-portraits- have caused all but indifference. Maximum exponent - along with Lucian Freud- of the “School of London”, Bacon's style refuses all the canons of previous Painting, not only those related to beauty. It is also against the dominant abstract expressionism of his time. 

He admired Picasso, “Picasso was the first person to produce figurative paintings which overturned the rules of appearance; he suggested appearance without using the usual codes, without respecting the representational truth of form, but using a breath of irrationality instead, to make representation stronger and more direct; so that form could pass directly from the eye to the stomach without going through the brain…” There is something “goyesque” -something from the Goya of the “disasters” and the “black paintings”- in Bacon's self-portraits, as well as in many of his most controversial paintings, like the portraits of Popes or the studies about the figure of his friend Georges Dyer.

Andy Wahol's "Three Self Portraits," 1986 
acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas

ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987) – Brilliant and controversial, Warhol is the leading figure of pop-art and one of the icons of contemporary art. His silkscreen series depicting icons of the mass-media (as a reinterpretation of Monet's series of Water lilies or the Rouen Cathedral) are one of the milestones of contemporary Art, with a huge influence in the Art of our days

Self-portrait of Jean-Michel Basquiat , 1982
oil on canvas, private collection

JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT (1960-1988) - Basquiat is undoubtedly the most important and famous member of the "graffiti movement" that appeared in the New York scene in the early'80s, an artistic movement whose enormous influence on later painting is still to be measured

Died at only 26, after a frenzy life highlighted with his ferocious graffiti art works, his multiple drug addictions and his problematic friendship with the also polemical Andy Warhol, Basquiat established himself not only as one of the most important artists of the second half of the past century, but also as a tragic icon of the contemporary Art world
This brutal self-portrait is a quintessential example of Basquiat's ferocious and rabid style, inspired by multiple references, such as contemporary artists like Picasso or Pollock, the jazz music, and perhaps even the heroin abuse. The disturbing figure of the self-portrayed is closely related to those mysterious statuettes of idols from Ancient Africa

The Body and Art

Ana Mendieta (18 November 1948 – 8 September 1985) was a Cuban American performance artist, sculptor, painter and video artist who is best known for her "earth-body" art work.

Ana Mendieta: ART; Her Body, Herself


WHO was Ana Mendieta? Was she an earth artist, a performance artist, a sculptor, a conceptual artist, a photographer, a filmmaker? She was all of these, but she was not defined by any one of them. Her art has been seen as evoking primordial images of womanly power, the supernatural heft of indigenous Latin American religious ritual and the pain of exile from her native Cuba, which she left at 12, fleeing the Castro revolution. It seems to have sprung fully formed from the fields and riverbanks of Iowa, where her childhood ended; yet it was shaped by the sophisticated artistic preoccupations of the 1970's generation.

Anna Mendieta. Galerie Lelong, New York

Anna Mendieta. Galerie Lelong, New York

Imagen de Yagul, from the series Silueta Works in Mexico 1973
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

When she began her "Silueta Series" in the 1970s, Mendieta was one of many artists experimenting with the emerging genres of land art, body art, and performance art. Mendieta was possibly the first to combine these genres in what she called "earth-body" sculptures. She often used her naked body to explore and connect with the Earth, as seen in her piece Imagen de Yagul, from the series Silueta Works in Mexico 1973-1977.

In 1972 she performed Untitled (Rape Scene) in her apartment in response to the rape and murder of a local student, and made the video Sweating Blood; in both works she again used her own body to address violence against women.

''Her story has never been presented objectively,'' said Olga Viso, deputy director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the curator of ''Ana Mendieta: Earth Body, Sculpture and Performance 1972-1985,'' a retrospective of some 100 works opening on July 1 at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Mendieta's life and art, Ms. Viso said on a recent visit to New York, have aroused strong passions -- from the polemics surrounding the Cuban refugee experience to the scandal attending her violent death in 1985, at 36, which transformed her into a feminist cause célèbre. Mendieta fell from a window of her 34th-floor Greenwich Village apartment where she lived with her husband, the Minimalist sculptor Carl Andre. He was charged with but eventually acquitted of her murder.

The Rockefellers’ Love of Art and Its Impact on American Culture


America's MedicisThe Rockefellers and Their Astonishing Cultural Legacy

With friends and students fretting about job prospects and other recession-related woes, I was not especially enthusiastic about reading what I thought would be a book lauding the massive fortunes and opulent estates of the Rockefeller family. I am, however, a frequent visitor to a beneficiary of their largess, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and I am fortunate enough to have an office just around the corner from another Rockefeller building, Riverside Church.

To my delight, Suzanne Loebl’s America’s Medicis: The Rockefellers and Their Astonishing Cultural Legacy turned out to be a very rewarding read. She uses correspondence and other archival material to offer a glimpse into the private family life of America’s most storied capitalist clan and their belief in the civilizing power of human creativity. In addition, Loebl provides a fascinating account of how iconic spaces in New York were conceptualized and created as a result of the Rockefellers’ sponsorship of cultural production.

Focusing on John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (Junior), his wife Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, and their sons’ philanthropy, each chapter is devoted to a particular set of efforts undertaken by the family in relation to the arts. It quickly becomes clear that the Rockefellers’ art purchases were not a matter of conspicuous consumption, but rather a result of their earnest appreciation for a wide variety of artistic styles. A fondness for art, of course, reaches whole new heights when one is able to draw on the considerable resources yielded by the Rockefellers’ Standard Oil empire. In a letter to his father, for example, Junior asks for a loan in order to acquire Chinese porcelain vases that would cost him over $1.5 million. Writing to the man who co-created the forerunner to ExxonMobil and Chevron, Junior states, “A fondness for these porcelains is my only hobby—the only thing on which I have cared to spend money.”

A devout Baptist, Junior worked with the pastor of his Park Avenue church to move the congregation to a less exclusive neighborhood. The new location was chosen near the Columbia campus in Morningside Heights, a block away from another Rockefeller project, the University’s International House. Given Junior’s devotion to European cathedrals, Riverside Church was built as a stunning Gothic masterpiece. Its soaring tower was populated by monstrous gargoyles and its entryways were ornamented with biblical figures. Throughout his lifetime, Junior donated over $32 million to the church, which would host memorial services for his son Nelson, a ceremony attended by Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford.

One of the world’s greatest museums, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), emerged from the enthusiasm for contemporary art that Abby Aldrich Rockefeller shared with her friends but not with her husband. Incredibly, within six months of an organizing meeting among Abby’s friends and the Buffalo lumber tycoon A. Conger Goodyear, MoMA opened to the public under the leadership of Alfred Barr. Abby and her son Nelson would remain avid stewards of the museum’s operations and collection. According to Loebl, “By 1959, it owned 19,000 items” and at the time of his retirement in 1967, “[Barr] had become America’s, if not the world’s, undisputed apostle of modern art.” Under Barr, MoMA acquired a permanent collection without equal and today features groundbreaking exhibitions of works in architecture and performance art. MoMA’s sculpture garden, which today hosts lavish parties attended by New York’s glitterati, is now fittingly known as the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden and occupies the spot where one of the original Rockefeller mansions once stood.

Another of Junior’s sons, John 3rd, spearheaded the construction of the Lincoln Center “cultural acropolis” on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. John 3rd skillfully led fundraising efforts and donated $11.5 million of the $186 million ultimately needed to build the center, a large portion of his contribution given anonymously. Already a home to theatre, dance, and opera performances, this year Lincoln Center also began hosting New York Fashion Week. Again skillfully interweaving family members’ own thoughts into her account, Loebl mentions several interesting diary entries by John 3rd. Knowing the undeniable mark that he and his celebrated family left on American history, it was astounding to read that John 3rd harbored the same insecurities as plenty of young adults today: “I have no personal attraction. Nobody wants to sit next to me at the table,” or, “I wish I was different in many ways than I am.”

The most famous of the Rockefellers’ Manhattan projects still bears their name and remains one of the city’s great iconic spaces. In addition to being the epicenter of New York’s holiday season merrymaking, Rockefeller Center is home to NBC and its popular Today Show, 30 Rock, and Saturday Night Live programs. The Center’s famous Radio City Music Hall was named by its original main tenant, the now extinct Radio Corporation of America (which once owned NBC). Through Loebl’s account of the site’s creation, I learned that the land was once controlled by Columbia University and was actually intended to be its main campus. When the University eventually decided to re-locate to Morningside Heights, negotiations led to control of the site by Junior, who worked with Raymond Hood on its now revered art deco design.

The Rockefellers’ impact is clear from one tip of Manhattan to the other, as seen in 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza in Lower Manhattan and the Cloisters in Upper Manhattan. Their mark is present in other parts of the country too, from Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia to the family’s Kykuit estate in Westchester County. Outside of New York, the family’s cultural interests led to their sponsorship of a variety of projects. While the family’s love for the art of the Far East resulted in the acquisition of an impressive collection, Junior’s interest in biblical history yielded the Rockefeller Archeological Museum in Jerusalem, which is now part of the Israel Museum. The Empire State Mall in Albany is named after Nelson, who was elected New York’s Governor in 1958 and reshaped the administrative center of the state’s capital. Contemporary art in line with Governor Rockefeller’s tastes were incorporated into the city’s new buildings, including works by Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Andy Warhol, who completed Pop portraits of several members of the Rockefeller family.

It’s not hard to see why Loebl’s tone is celebratory. As she writes, the family’s “most important contribution was to teach America that art and its enjoyment, message, and healing power did not belong to a rarefied elite, but could be loved, understood, and even owned by all.” Clearly, the Rockefellers’ mark on the preservation, display, and appreciation of American art is undeniable. The obvious set of questions emerging from this kind of historical account involves the long-term effect of the present recession on the degree to which high-income individuals will continue to support contemporary and experimental art. As recent auctions have shown, tens of millions are still being paid for works by Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, among several others. But are substantial amounts funding unknown early-career artists? With state and local governments hampered by crushing debt, will tycoons of the digital age like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sergey Brin also nurture the same devotion to art as the Rockefellers?

No comments:

Post a Comment