Amorini, Ambassadors of LOVE!

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Feb 8, 2020

Plump, naked, and adorable, amorini are those androgynous winged babies that tumble and flutter through Renaissance, Baroque, and Rococo art. You may have also heard the related term putti. Both terms are Latin diminutives; amorini for love and putti for “putus,” meaning “boy child.” Amorini are typically depicted as angelic cherubs in religious scenes or frolicking cupids in mythological narratives. In both cases, their presence, whether divine or earthly, always symbolizes love and joy.

However young these playful, ever-curious and fetching flying bambini appear, they’re quite old . . . going back to classical antiquity, when they were winged messengers of the Greek gods known as “erotes,” members of Aphrodite’s train, who conveyed various forms of love to humans. They were recast as child-angels in early Christian imagery but fell out of favor during the dour and dreary Middle Ages.

Then came their rediscovery, along with a cornucopia of other classical images, during the Renaissance when masters like Donatello and Raphael breathed new life into them, creating a new generation as bacchanalian as their ancestors. Ever popular and ubiquitous today, especially around Valentines’ Day, amorini bring delight and enchantment to whatever tableaux they join.

A Neapolitan Christmas Card

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Dec 24, 2019

The tradition of nativity scenes began with Saint Francis of Assisi who staged the first nativity in 1223 with people and live ox and lamb. Overtime this evolved to life-sized wooden figures placed in front of churches and then, into scenes made of small expressive terracotta figurines.

During the 1700s, crèche figures were an obsession in Naples. Weal­thy families competed to create the most im­pressive ones. When Don Carlos of Bourbon (the future Charles III of Spain) ruled Naples and Sicily from 1734-1769, he reputedly owned a crèche with nearly 6,000 figures. Neapolitan crèches were often given as presents to royalty all over Europe so such figurines can appear on the antique market even today.

The 18th century crèche of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the finest in the US and features over 200 figurines made by the Neapolitan artisan Giuseppe Sammartino and his pupils. All the figurines have finely painted terracotta heads; legs, arms, and wings carved from wood; and bodies of hemp and wire. No two are alike. The graceful angels decorating the tree all have different faces and clothing and carry different objects. The Nativity scene surrounding the majestic twenty-foot blue spruce features the three main elements characteristic of 18th-century Naples: adoring shepherds and their flocks, the Three Kings in procession, and colorful peasants and townspeople engaged in quotidian tasks. In the background are dozens of animals and architectural pieces including quaint houses, market stalls, Roman ruins, and even a typical Italian fountain.

The Neapolitan Crèche and Baroque Angel Tree located in the Met’s Medieval Courtyard are on display through the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6th (the 12th day of Christmas) marking the arrival of the Three Wise Man bringing their finest gifts for the new born King.

Seduced by the Light . . . Artists’ Views of Venice

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Nov 30, 2019

For centuries Venice has been a beacon for writers . . . Lord Byron, Robert Barrett Browning, Henry James, Marcel Proust and, later, Ernest Hemingway and Truman Capote, just to name a few. For 19th and 20th century painters, Venice was a siren that called like no other place on the planet. Perhaps one of the reasons for its irresistible allure is that it is really two cities — one of majesty and solidity above, and an ephemeral one echoed in the shifting waters below. Venice’s shimmering reflections tell you so much about the essence of this city of mirrors and mirages … at once substantial and fluid, with a past that reverberates in its architecture.

The romanticized, mythical Venice may be hard to grasp on a steamy day in midsummer when the city swells with tourists . . . but when the fog, la nebbia, settles in, it is easy to imagine that things can appear and disappear in its labyrinth of canals, or that you could turn the corner and walk into the past.

This slideshow was put together with the hope that in the aftermath of last month’s historic flooding, Venice will be restored and once again appear as it did in the magnificent paintings by the likes of J.M.W.Turner, Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Signac, Raoul Dufy, Anders Zoran, Maurice Prendergast, John Singer Sargent, and James McNeil Whistler. (I am grateful to have seen and photographed so many of these wonderful paintings; photos I didn’t take myself are from Wikimedia Commons). Please consider donating Save Venice