Tag Archives: artist

Rembrandt

The Hundred Guilder print

Side-note: One of my favorite artists, Rembrandt, was a boy in the Netherlands while the Pilgrims were there. When I was a new Sunday-school teacher, I joked that everything I knew about the Bible came from looking at Rembrandt paintings. A benefit of the Netherlands being a haven for religious minorities was that there was a Jewish quarter in Amsterdam. Rembrandt lived in and had friends there. He depicted Christ and the Holy Family as Jews (which they were, of course), using his friends as models. This was a departure from tradition. https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/rmbt/hd_rmbt.htm
Look at Christ’s hands in the Hundred Guilder print. Rembrandt drew with a steel stylus, cutting lines into a copper plate. Yeah, he could draw.

https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/1.5160992
https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/371732

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I’ve been Apple Festivaling

Two apple festivals on two weekends! I had a blast drawing caricatures and am grateful to everyone who sat for one.

Mucho mejor

Much better. I made Rosinantes just a little bit bigger—115%. It made all the difference.

Don Quixote

What Picasso might have created if he’d learned how to draw. I have to admit I may have made Rosinantes too small. I’ll fix that when I paint him.

We did it! We slogged through every first piece of vernacular Western literature (written in the author’s own language rather than Latin)—at least all the ones I can think of. German, English, Italian, French, Spanish. Chivalry and knights in shining armor sure was a popular subject. It’s as if: even as writers were moving everyone into a more modern age they needed to fondly look back and say so-long to the Middle Ages.

Spanish author Miguel Cervantes (mee-GEL sair-VAHN-tez) was having none of that. It was the late 1500s, the Middle Ages were over and their foolishnesses needed to be lampooned. In his book, El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha (The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha), the doddering old gentleman Don Quixote (DON kee-HO-tay) is obsessed day and night with reading those poems of chivalry and knights and their mighty deeds—to the point where his brain dries out. It’s cooked. Don Quixote loses his marbles; he becomes demented. Don Quixote gets the idea he should put on an old suit of armor he finds in a barn and become a knight-errant to restore honor to Spain. He talks a local peasant, Sancho Panza, into being his squire by promising him a parcel of real estate. The Don chooses as his steed a moth-eaten, played-out scrawny old horse named Rosinantes. As a nod to courtly love, he fixates on a local girl he calls Dulcinea—but she has no idea that she’s being honored this way.

Don Quixote and Sancho go adventuring across the countryside, questing for wrongs to be righted and monsters to vanquish. In the book’s most famous scene, Don Quixote (whose eyesight isn’t so good) mistakes a windmill for an ogre and charges at it with his lance. He gets caught up in the windmill’s vanes and has to be untangled. In nearly every other adventure, Don Quixote and Sancho get beat up by whomever they encounter.

Don Quixote is considered to be the first modern novel (a book-length work of fiction). Cervantes intended to move us out of the past into modernity, and he sure did. One bit of pure writing genius: Don Quixote speaks Old Spanish while the other characters speak modern Spanish. For us English speakers, imagine a modern novel’s character speaking like Chaucer or Shakespeare. Cervantes’ readers understood Don Quixote’s dialogue but he sounds antique and out-of-step.*

* In fact, Aldous Huxley used this gag in Brave New World to give us information about a character—https://www.litcharts.com/lit/brave-new-world/chapter-7

Wikipedia has a comprehensive entry for Don Quixote, including a summary of the story:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_Quixote
Look! You can get a poster of the title page of the 1605 edition of Don Quixote: https://www.amazon.com/Quixote-Ntitle-Cervantes-Published-Valencia/dp/B07C4K5LDY/ref=asc_df_B07C4K5LDY/?tag=hyprod-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid=527702999903&hvpos=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=9503647619533183764&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9005111&hvtargid=pla-1401775165677&psc=1
https://www.biography.com/writer/miguel-de-cervantes
And here’s Peter O’Toole in the musical Man of La Mancha. In this scene, Cervantes is in prison, entertaining his fellow prisoners. In real life he’d been imprisoned twice, the first stretch for 5 years as a guest of the Turks. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iH9nDlBr3b4
You can visit Don Quixote’s windmills—https://www.awayn.com/listing/all_listings/consuegra-spain-consuegra-the-windmills-of-don-quixote-hiking-trip/

Hey, whadayaknow—Sophia Loren’s in this movie, too! She’s Dulcinea, who maybe wasn’t so unaware of being treated like a lady. I know, it’s hokey, but I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff—https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42y15BYusmA&t=209s

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A tiny little sermonette from your old Uncle John


I suppose a cynic might say these stories of knighthood and chivalry were propaganda—they glorified the feudal system by trumpeting the goodness of the upper class. True enough. But the stories also inspired better behavior from their readers, which wasn’t a bad thing. Stories help us define ourselves. We all need heroes who set an example. A code of honor is a necessary element of civilization. It’s a social contract. If you can’t count on other people to behave within a common set of rules—to behave morally—a civilization won’t last very long.

A representative republic is impossible if its citizens don’t share a moral code. I mean ALL its citizens. Without the social contract there’s chaos and thievery and violence, which invites an overbearing, armed-to-the-teeth government to step in and regulate everybody. In other words, we’d go back to feudalism. That’s not good, right? It means we’d go back to being serfs. Chivalry and honor are not trifles.

propaganda noun: the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person
https://www.worldhistory.org/Medieval_Chivalry/
https://www.facinghistory.org/nobigotry/readings/alexis-de-tocqueville-democracy-and-religion

One of my favorite movies is My Favorite Year. There’s a scene where swashbuckling-hero-movie-actor Alan Swann tells young Benjy Stone that he (Swann) is really only flesh-and-blood, life-sized. Benjy replies he has no use for a life-sized Alan Swann. He needs his Alan Swanns as big as he can get them. He needs heroes. Who doesn’t?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ioyAJUCTCkQ

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El Cid

Chuck Heston as the Cid

The first piece of literature written in Spanish was Cantar de mio Cid (Song of my Lord), whose author may have been Per Abbat who wrote it in either 1207 or 1307 or maybe it was Abu I-Walid al Waqqashi in 1095 or maybe it was one of those pieces of folk literature that gets passed from generation to generation. El Cid, the Cid, al Sayyid means ‘the lord’ or ‘the master.’ Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar was El Cid—an actual person—and he fought against Moorish control of Spain. His army reconquered Valencia so that Christianity could be reestablished there. Like Chanson de Roland, Cantar de mio Cid is a poem about knights who perform mighty deeds and strive to live virtuous lives by sticking to a code of honor.

https://www.actualidadliteratura.com/en/el-cantar-del-mio-cid/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Cid
You can take a biking vacation along the route of El Cid’s exploits: https://en.caminodelcid.org/cid-history-legend/cid-history/
When Charlton Heston wasn’t being Moses or Henry VIII, he was El Cid—with Sophia Loren, the most fabulous woman who ever trod the Earth—https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0054847/?ref_=fn_al_tt_2
https://www.gutenberg.org/files/996/996-h/996-h.htm
https://www.britannica.com/art/Spanish-literature
https://historyofspain.es/en/video/the-history-of-spanish-literature/

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Yes, I’m a King Arthur geek

Okay, okay. I’m getting a little sidetracked, but I just want to show you a bit more King Arthur illustration before we get back to late mediæval literature.



Brandywine is an American creek that runs through Chadd’s Ford, Pennsylvania and Wilmington, Delaware. The Brandywine School was a group of illustrators who left New York City and opened studios in the wilds of eastern PA where they posed costumed models against the countryside for their paintings. Their work has a vibrancy that you can’t match if you’re crammed inside a tiny studio in the Big City. Thanks to the railroad, the Brandywine artists could ship their illustrations to their clients in NYC and still make deadlines. Howard Pyle founded the Brandywine school. He was one of those thoroughly admirable and talented types who can illustrate and also write. Pyle produced a King Arthur book that’s packed with superb black & white drawings and some boffo color paintings, too. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Story_of_King_Arthur_and_His_Knights
Get yours here: https://www.thriftbooks.com/w/the-story-of-king-arthur-and-his-knights_howard-pyle/326253/item/9289845/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwu7OIBhCsARIsALxCUaNgzrRTspXOWPTAg64ytNGCJLrrujFSVb-mE9oHNZOdm-tfhAzWHMEaAraNEALw_wcB#idiq=9289845&edition=3431357 (the blurb sez Arthur drew Excalibur from the anvil. He didn’t. He got Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake. So there.)
https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Brandywine_School



Another of my favs is N.C. Wyeth who also did Arthurian illustrations—
https://www.illustratedgallery.com/artwork/original/3923/by-nc-wyeth/
https://www.google.com/maps/place/Brandywine+Creek/@39.8839034,-75.6071849,14z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x89c6fd524d5626bf:0xd0dba77af6c98645!8m2!3d39.7320579!4d-75.5313104

Pyle’s and Wyeth’s work surely must have been at least part of the inspiration for the Sunday comic strip, Prince Valiant. How I used to drool over Hal Foster’s inkwork when I was a mere slip of a thing. https://www.fantagraphics.com/collections/prince-valiant
https://www.comicartfans.com/gallerypiece.asp?piece=1421255

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Aubrey Beardsley

Pen, brush and ink on paper, you guys.

As I never tire of reminding you, I’m an illustrator. So I have to tell you about this specially-illustrated edition of Le Morte d’Arthur that came out centuries after Malory and Caxton. It was illustrated by nineteen-year-old Aubrey Beardsley in 1893. Some of the drawings are—let’s face it—bizarre. But Beardsley had a breath-taking mastery of black & white. He would have made a swell cartoonist. Not only that, his style looks like it was designed for woodblock printing—so it feels right for his mediæval subject.

As the Enchanted Booklet tells it:

“William Morris’s Kelmscott Press produced exquisite limited editions, with elaborate woodcut ornamentation and vellum bindings.
J. M. Dent, a London publisher, wished to print a book as beautiful as Kelmscott’s publications but more affordable, targeting the middle class. He achieved this by using a new printing procedure with half-tone reproductions. But mostly he achieved his goal because he had the luck to meet a nineteen year old artist : Aubrey Beardsley.
The publisher recognized the unique powerful talent of Beardsley who was perfect in many ways including his eagerness to produce a huge amount of quality work for a small profit since he was working at the time as a clerk at an insurance agency.
That is how a wonderful book with 360 full and double-page drawings, borders, chapter headings, and ornaments of detailed illustrations, a total of over 1,000 decorations, arrived (in bookshops at) an affordable price.” https://enchantedbooklet.com/le-morte-darthur/

You can get your own copy: https://www.amazon.com/Morte-DArthur-Thomas-Malory/dp/051747977X
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aubrey_Beardsley

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The printing press comes to England


Poor old Tom Malory died in prison in March 1471, but his book was on its way to fame and fortune. William Caxton was a textile merchant who became interested in printing presses and decided to get one of his own. In 1471 Caxton was the first to print a book in the English language: Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye (A Collection of the Histories of Troy—kind of a spinoff of Homer’s Iliad where one of the supporting characters gets his own series). Caxton had a good sense of what would sell as well as what is great literature. He’d set up his first printing operation in Brussels, but—

“In 1476 Caxton returned to London and established a press at Westminster, the first printing press in England. Amongst the books he printed were Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’, Gower’s ‘Confession Amantis’ and Malory’s ‘Le Morte d’Arthur’. He printed more than 100 books in his lifetime, books which were known for their craftsmanship and careful editing. He was also the translator of many of the books he published, using his knowledge of French, Latin and Dutch. He died in 1492.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/caxton_william.shtml

Le Morte d’Arthur was printed in 1485. I link below to a site that shows all the pages of the first edition. You can see the typeface was trying to mimic hand-written calligraphy. It wouldn’t take long for printers to realize they could design typefaces that were meant to be printed.

https://www.bl.uk/people/william-caxton
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/caxton_william.shtml
This is just fantastic. You can see the original pages here: http://www.maloryproject.com/caxton_viewer.php

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Le Morte d’Arthur

sketch of King Arthur based on a painting by Howard Pyle

Thomas Malory was a gifted writer (and convict*) who in 1470 brought the Arthurian stories together and organized them into a grand epic novel. His book has a French title, Le Morte d’Arthur (The Death of Arthur), though the text is Middle English with some French and Latin thrown in. The title is kind of a spoiler. For a while Britain was ruled justly and happily, but Camelot was ultimately doomed because nothing lasts forever. The high ideals that shaped Arthur’s reign were abandoned with the passage of time. Even knights of the Round Table are born weak and live in a broken world. Arthur’s closest allies betrayed him. His court fell apart. It was fun while it lasted. And yet, Malory gives us hope that Arthur and Camelot may return someday: on Arthur’s tomb is written, ‘Hic jacet Arthurus Rex quondam Rexque futurus’ (Here lies Arthur, the once and future king).

I was a King Arthur geek when I was a tween. I did read Malory’s book and it was a glorious long slog. The version I read wasn’t in Middle English but somehow had the flavor of it (it was a library book and I can’t remember who translated it). Malory built the ‘once and future’ Camelot** word by word—the fellowship of the Table Round; the knights with their odd mannerisms and creaky old way of speaking; the exalted idealism; the shameful weaknesses. He showed me a sword magically embedded in an anvil and stone; a lady, naked as a needle, cursed to stand in boiling water until she was rescued by a very pure knight; a weird animal whose belly made the noise of a pack of hounds; ogres; giants; awkward love triangles; the Holy Grail (the cup Christ drank from at the Last Supper). Malory conjured a dear old island that stood in that very misty spot where paganism hadn’t quite taken its leave and Christianity was just getting started.

* Malory wrote Le Morte d’Arthur while he was serving time—probably as a political prisoner—at Newgate Prison. The prisons of the Middle Ages seem to have been full to bursting with authors cranking out the classics of Western Lit.

**The French poet Chretien de Troyes invented the name Camelot and created Sir Launcelot. That’s a lot.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Morte_d%27Arthur
https://www.cliffsnotes.com/literature/l/le-morte-darthur/book-summary
I can’t top this article about Malory and his book—
https://www.worldhistory.org/Thomas_Malory/

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