Thursday, December 31

New Year's Eve is Overrated

If you can't spend the evening sitting around staring at a painting from American Minimalist Frank Stella's "Protractor Series"

Tahkt-l-Sulayman Variation II
Frank Stella, 1969

(Like I plan to do the year I win the lottery... )

Harran II
Frank Stella, 1968

You should throw on this colorful number from Anthropologie as you ring in 2010.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 25

Merry Christmas

May God bless your family this Christmas Day.

The Mystical Nativity by Sandro Botticelli
c. 1500-1501
The National Gallery of London

Happy Birthday Jesus

Merry Christmas! Best wishes for a Christmas filled with love, time with family, and a remembrance of the birth of the Word made flesh today on this blessed day.

We also wish you safe travels and an overall safe Christmas. We hope that no one pulls a crazy-lady-in-red on you and knocks you down like that woman did the Pope! In case you missed it, here's a link to the madness that happened yesterday.

Madonna and Child, c. 1600s
Hearst Castle, California

Speaking of safe travels, I hope that all of your lovely Christmas cards made it on time to their destinations! I know our family's haven't...but maybe that's because it hasn't been written yet. Haha. Maybe some of you sent them with this accompanying postage stamp.

The painting is by this man:

Self-Portrait, c. 1600s
The Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy

Giovanni Battista Salvi, better known as Sassoferrato, was born in 1609. To commemorate his birthday 400 years ago, the United Postal Service decided to use Madonna and Child as its Christmas emblem this year. Again, Merry Christmas! And let's not forget what Sassoferrato has unintentionally reminded us of today- that facial hair like that is no longer in style. Praise Jesus!

Thursday, December 24

Christmas Eve

Let's take a cue from the reverent shepherds depicted here and adore all that the Christmas season is about together :)

Adoration of the Shepherds, c. 1644
Georges de la Tour
Musee du Louvre, Paris

Wednesday, December 23

A Secret Christmas

Look at this everyday scene of a typical 16th century Netherlandish town:

Children are playing on the frozen canal:

People are standing in line outside of a tavern while the village butcher is prepping for dinner:

Joseph is leading the Virgin Mary through the crowd to report for the census:

Wait a minute....

No, your eyes aren't playing tricks on you, that's THE Joseph and THE Mary. And there is a really good reason why they are hanging out in the freezing cold with a bunch of Dutch people and not in Judea.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder painted Census at Bethlehem at a pivotal and dramatic point in Dutch history. The Netherlands was at war and the art world, which had flourished in Northern Europe during recent decades of prosperity, was ripping in two. Catholic painters fled south to Spanish Flanders as protestants lashed out at one of the Catholic Church's most important teaching and veneration tools--the image.

In 1566, torch bearing bands of Calvinists went from town to town in the young Dutch Republic, burning churches, destroying icons and altarpieces and defacing statues of God, Mary and the Saints. When the anger and embers cooled a few weeks later, countless precious works of art had been destroyed and remaining Catholic artists were in hiding. Facing inquest, financial ruin and violence, artists were forced to choose-- either find new inspiration or find a creative way to mask it. But, as protestant influence grew stronger, critics grew bolder and more creative.

Peter Bruegel, a Catholic, was one of these critics. The possiblity of backlash was real even for him, an artist living in the relative safety of Flemish Antwerp. In fact, the threat was so real that he ordered his wife to destroy several paintings as he lay on his death bed, fearing their discovery would result in her persecution.

Bruegel masterfully hid both religious figures and political criticism in plain sight. (His work The Beekeepers is an excellent example this.) A protestant inquisitor would simply overlook the pretty young woman dressed in blue riding on a donkey. But a Catholic, aware of heightened ridicule of religious icons, would see the Virgin Mary there as clear as day.

Look again. Do you see her now?

Census at Bethlehem by Pieter Bruegel the Elder c. 1566
Museum voor Oude Kunst, Brussels

Tuesday, December 22

Let it Spode, let it Spode, let it Spode!

If you don't know the story of the Spode Christmas tree, it is a pretty cute one. In the 1930s, one of the designers for the British ceramic company's dinnerware was asked to create a Christmas tree design. The man had never seen an American Christmas tree before and at first drew the tree with presents hanging off the branches! Upon learning that this was not how the presents were placed, he moved them to their traditional spot underneath the tree and drew the tree with decorations of ornaments.

He also didn't know what trees were topped with, hence the santa claus figurine drawn atop the tree where a star or angel would normally go.

If you don't already own a set of these plates and/or glasses from Spode, just remember that it's never too late to add on to your wish list!

(Images courtesy of Spode - order straight from the website!)

Sunday, December 20

Christmas Rush

Did all that last minute Christmas shopping this weekend leave you feeling like this?

Christmas Rush (Tired Sales Girl on Christmas Eve)
by Norman Rockwell
Saturday Evening Post Cover, December 27, 1947

Saturday, December 19

A Perfect Tree

We are very blessed, for lots of reasons. This is one of them:

Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina
Photo by Hugh Morton

Jenny and I were raised in a beautiful state, with rugged mountains filled with perfect trees. Growing up, my favorite book was about one of these perfect trees, grown on the peak of my favorite mountain in Avery County, NC.

Appalachian writer Gloria Houston's book, The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree, tells the story of Ruthie, a little girl who picks out the perfect Christmas tree with her daddy before he leaves to fight in WWI. While the story is wonderful, the illustrations really make the book.


Houston's story is brought to life by award winning illustrator, Barbara Cooney. Ms. Cooney's folk art graces the pages of over 100 books, including 15 books that she authored herself.

Grandfather Mountain
Barbara Cooney
The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree

The Brooklyn born artist's long and active career as an illustrator began in the 1940's. In 1959, she was awarded the Caldecott medal for most distinguished children's picture book for her book, Chanticleer and The Fox. She won the award again in 1980 for Ox-Cart Man. (Other Caldecott winner's include Where the Wild Things Are, The Polar Express and Madeline's Rescue.)

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree was published in 1988 and was one of Ms. Cooney's last collaborations. She passed away in 2000 leaving behind a legacy that lives on in the book shelves of millions of children and adults alike.

Friday, December 18

Sinterklaas is Coming to Town!

The Dutch are often credited for bringing Santa Claus to the US, though that is definitely up for debate (the Calvinists of the 16th century Netherlands weren't exactly keen on Catholic Saint Days!)

But the Dutch did (and still do) celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas with a visit from "Sinterklaas" on December 6 and this amusing genre scene by famous Dutch Master Jan Steen captures the excitement and chaos of Christmas morning.

The Feast of St. Nicholas
Jan Steen, 1663-1665
Rijkmuesum, Amsterdam

As her amused parents look on, the little girl at the center of painting excitedly throws her empty shoe on the floor to hug the small treats that St. Nick left for her the night before.

But her disobedient brother awoke to disappointment, finding only a switch in his shoe:

In the background, the oldest brother points out Sinterklaas' favorite way in to his siblings, the chimney:

Will your house look like Jan Steen's next week?

Thursday, December 17

Sedes Sapientiae!

What is sedes sapientiae, you say? It's latin for "Always wear underwear." NOT! Haha, That's semper ubi sub ubi. Sedes Sapientiae, for all of us that aren't dead language scholars, is latin for throne of wisdom.

The throne of wisdom is a devotional phrase that describes Mary and her role as a vessel for the Christ child. Physically her body, especially her lap, is a throne for Jesus. Seeing that Jesus is the living word of God, it makes sense that He would be referred to as "wisdom."

This sculpture representing the throne of wisdom is the earliest known sculpture of the Virgin Mary to date. It goes all the way back to 980 AD.

Golden Madonna of Essen, c. 980s
Artist: Mystery
Location: Mystery as far as I can find...

This wooden sculpture coated in gold leaf has been restored a number of times and has come close to collapsing into itself!

Here's a more...shall we say...modern version of Sedes Sapientiae:

Madonna of Bruges, c. 1501-04
Church of Our Lady, Bruges, Belgium

This beautiful sculpture has an interesting take on Mary's grasp on Jesus. She sits somewhat complacently as the baby Jesus begins to walk away from her. It is as if she is coming to terms with her Son's destiny.
...Boy oh boy have these two inspired a lot of artists! :)

Wednesday, December 16

A Dutch take on the Annunciation

Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" The angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.

-Luke 1:34

Merry Christmas everybody! As the story goes, Mary first learned of the Lord's will to send his only Son out into the world by immaculate conception from a visit by the angel Gabriel. This is formally called the Annunciation and is the subject of so many renaissance works. Rogier van der Weyden, a famous dutch artist from the early 15th century, used many Christmas themes as subjects of his paintings. Weyden, along with Jan van Eyck, epitomize the style of Renaissance art from Northern Europe at the time. The artists both painted their own versions of the Annunciation.

The Annunciation, c. 1430s
by: Jan van Eyck
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

The Annunciation c. 1440
by Rogier van der Weyden
Musee du Louvre, Paris

These two works have a lot of similarities.

Per usual, the Virgin Mary is painted in rich blue drapery. Deep blue was a color worn by empresses dating back to the Byzantine Empire. Lapis blue was also the most expensive dye for painters for a time and therefore was reserved for only the most special aspects of a work. The ever pious Mary is shown in both works with what was most likely a gospel book in front of her. The angel Gabriel wears a fabric with an intricate design. Even the carpet in the two works is painted with a bold pattern. Mary's hands are held up in the air, ever ready to take in what the Lord has in store for her.

As the anniversary of Christ's birth draws near, take the time to appreciate all of the Christmas art we've got to show you!

Tuesday, December 15


Welcome to our first annual Christmas Countdown Party! How about some nog?

Check out this year's lovely decor, its all by Andy Warhol.


You didn't know Andy did Christmas? He sure did!


Beginning in 1956, Mr. Warhol, a relatively unknown artist new to New York, was commissioned to do a line of Christmas cards for the Tiffany & Co. flagship store on 5th Ave. He worked with the store until his career took off in 1962. (Johnathan Jones, The Guardian UK)


This charming book written by Tiffany's design director John Loring brings together the full collection of Warhol's cards. It would make an excellent gift for the Warhol (or Tiffany's) lover in your life!

If you want more check out this slide show of Andy's cards.

Monday, December 14

The Party Starts Tomorrow & You're Invited!

Yeah, about that...

This is what hard drive failure looks like:

A tombstone would be a much more appropriate icon.

I'm not going to get into the gory details involving the weekend death of my macbook, but let me just say I highly recommend this.

Somewhere on that dead little glossy white computer is a well researched post about the most famous pair of American lithographers ever. Unfortunately, this is not that post.

However, I didn't want to leave you totally hanging. So I came out of mourning for a minute to write this, Merry Christmas.

If you guessed Currier and Ives, you are correct (and awesome.) They get really popular around this time of year as millions of Americans send Christmas cards featuring their quaint images of sleighs and snow. Images like this:

"A Spill Out" on the Snow published in 1870

And this:

American Homestead in Winter,
Part of the American Homestead series produced in 1869

And of course this, which inspired this slightly annoying, but very Christmasy song written in 1948 and performed by practically every singer since:

"A Brush" on the Snow published in 1871

Nathaniel Currier and James Merritt Ives revolutionized lithography, bringing cheap, mass produced hand-colored images into Victorian homes throughout the world. They were arguably some of the most important artistic ambassadors this country has ever known. Their prints depicting American life defined our unique reputation of rugged individualism, industrial might and faith-filled helpfulness and communicated it to the world through pictures. While they are now mostly remembered for their snowy scenes, their prints touched on almost every aspect of American life, from popular past times like fishing, sailing and hunting to politics, history, current events, industry and manifest destiny.

Discovery of the Mississippi published in 1876

Print commemorating the appearance of Swedish singer
Jenny Lind at the Castle Garden Theater
on on Sept. 11, 1859.

Their shop, which was in business from 1857 to 1907, produced over 7,000 images, many of which are still reproduced today. (Robert Newman, The Old Print Shop) Currier and Ives' prints appear on everything from greeting cards, ornaments, coffee mugs and even lampshades.

Isn't this hideous?

Currier and Ives have become typecast by their playful winter images, which is a bit of a shame. Their influence on American culture, not to mention the print media, is simply astounding. So when you open your mail today remember that what you may be holding is more than just a Christmas card, it's actually a really important piece of Americana.

*Currier and Ives images from this very good website

Friday, December 11


Tomorrow's post is going to be a bit of an art history lesson (did I mention I'm kind of the history nerd? If you want good art analysis, Jenny's your girl.)

Here's a little hint:

Any guesses? (If you get this right, you'll have me doing this.)

See you tomorrow!

Wednesday, December 9

Raphael Rakes in Record

Raphael, Head of a Muse, 1510-1511

This chalk drawing by Raphael was just sold by Christie's last night for a mind blowing £29.1 million ($48 million). The drawing was part of a series of sketches made for this fresco in the Vatican Library:

From Raphael's Parnassus 1510-111
The Vatican

Check out that eye-less mask the redheaded muse is holding, creepy. That's the guy/girl? from the sketch on the right, wearing the poofy hat:

Raphael's Parnassus 1510-111
The Vatican Library

Full coverage of last night's auction can be found in today's Wall Street Journal. WSJ art writer Kelly Crow seems to think it was a good buy at its predicted price of $24 million, but that the bidder got a bit overzealous when he drove the price up to almost $50 million. Talk about blowing all of your money in one place! Ms. Kelly does provide evidence that this Raphael has shown a good return on investment (8.1%) over the last 159 years. Now whether the mystery buyer will get his money back this time around is a good question. He may have overpaid.

But lucky for him, buying a Raphael is kind of like investing in gold-- it will never be worth zero and the chances of it falling out of fashion are slim to none. If he were to buy a more modern work, say, something by Jackson Pollock for example, he may lose out on resale value if the painting loses its appeal. Contemporary art hasn't proven its staying power yet, while the masters of the Italian Renaissance have things pretty well locked up.

For more of Ms. Crow's thoughts on this sale, read her column at the WJS Speakeasy.

*1:15 pm: I just caught a seriously embarrassing spelling error. If you read this post prior to the correction I'm sure you know exactly what I am talking about. Please do not judge me-- I'm fighting what I am pretty sure is the flu (not swine, just regular) and my spell checker betrayed me big time this morning!

Tuesday, December 8


Oh, how I love December! Not only does it contain two very important birthdays, (Jesus's ...and mine, haha just kidding) but it's when you really need to start bundling up.

The Snow Maiden, c. 1890s
Art Museum of Ryasan, Ryasan, Russia

Like this lady. This dainty painting by the Russian artist Mikhail Aleksandrovich Vrubel was a sketch made for the opera by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. I don't know what I like more- the over-sized snowflakes that have stuck to her hair, or the little squirrel to her left. The only thing about this painting that's off to me is the unsettling gaze of the woman at something next to the viewer. However, even that is pretty in a haunting sort of way.

Seeing Red

Henri Matisse, The Dessert Harmony in Red
1908, The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia

The most perfect shade of red.

Saturday, December 5

No, too Sexy!

I'm not going to get too excited about this because it hasn't been made official yet, but rumor has it there is going to be a reunion.

No, they are not making another Zorro. Sorry to disappoint. But it is something equally, if not more, awesome.

According to IMDB, Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones are set to reunite onscreen as Salvador Dali and Gala Eduard Dali sometime in 2010. I don't know about Jones, but Antonio is a pretty obvious choice for this role. Not only is he Spanish but he is a dead ringer for Dali. See:

This movie has the potential to be really good. That is, if they don't ruin it by making it more about the Banderas-Jones reunion than about the painter.

Most people know Salvador Dali because of this:

Dali, The Persistence of Time c. 1931

Sadly, this is usually the only painting that gets mentioned in art survey books. I just checked my trusty, 1198 page standby and his section is tiny (like 2 paragraphs). It's just not right. So bear with me, I'm going I tell you a little bit more about Mr. Dali. It may help to explain why they are possibly (fingers crossed) making a major movie about his life.

Salvador Dali was born in 1904 in a small town in the shadow of the Pyrenees mountains, not far from the French border. (The Dali Museum, History) While his career was defined by surrealism, a style that encouraged painting with photographic clarity while exercising almost no rational thought, it is important to point out that Mr. Dali was first and foremost a classically trained artist. In fact, he first gained international success at the age of 24 with a still life, not a surrealist masterpiece.

Salvador Dali, The Basket of Bread c. 1928

By the end of the 1920's Dali was living in Paris and had fully transitioned into surrealism. Works like The Persistence of Time and my personal favorite, Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate One Second Before Awakening, helped to make him one of the world's most recognizable artists.

Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around
a Pomegranate One Second Before Awakening

c. 1944

*The title alone is a work of art*

In Paris he began to explore different artistic pursuits. He joined the world of high fashion, working on several collections with famed french designer Coco Chanel. The two remained close for decades. Dali's eyes and curly tipped mustache even appeared on the label of a Chanel No. 5 parfume bottle in the mid 1950's.

Dali with Coco Chanel, 1936

As the Germans began to assert control across France at the start of WWII, Dali and his wife Gala fled to the US. (He met her while she was married to her first husband, poet Paul Eluard. It wouldn't be his first affair.) (The Dali Museum, History)

Dali pictured on the set of "Spellbound" 1945

The already world famous, bizarrely mustached Spaniard was an instant Hollywood celebrity. Dali thoroughly enjoyed his American fame, so much in fact that he was often criticized in the art world as being a sell out. He didn't seem to care what the critics had to say.

While in America, he explored a new medium, film. His most famous film work was as set director for Alfred Hitchcock's "Spellbound," for which he designed the dream sequence had by actor Gregory Peck.

Like most celebrities, he made the rounds on TV talk and game shows, appearing on "What's My Line" and as a guest on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. His appearance on "What's My Line" is actually really funny--thanks to YouTube, you can see it in its entirely.

Dali definitely had a flair for rhetoric and was flamboyantly and unapologetically proud of himself. He once declared, "each morning when I awake, I experience again a supreme pleasure - that of being Salvador Dali." (Reading that quote, I can't help but think of this scene from Talledega Nights.)

While he did gallivant around Hollywood quite a bit, he never quit painting. Throughout the 40's and into the 50's Dali revisited his classical roots, turning his focus to large history and religious works. He completed his massive Discovery of America By Christopher Columbus in 1959.

Discovery of America By Christopher Columbus c.1959
The Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, FL

He and Gala moved back to Spain in the mid 1950's where he painted profusely. Many of his later works point to his return to the Catholic faith.

Dali, Ecumenical Council c. 1960

He passed away on January 23, 1989, at the age of 85. A quick internet search couldn't confirm this, but I believe he is the only artist known to die in his own museum surrounded by his own artwork. I remember a professor mentioning that once...

Dali Theater- Museum, Figures, Spain

Dali was definitely a colorful character and it will be a challenge not to make him out to be a buffoon of sorts. I look forward to seeing if Antonio can pull this off.