Tuesday, November 29, 2011


(Madonna & Child, Pompeo Girolano Batoni, 1742, Galleria Borghese, Rome)

There has always been a special place in my heart for the subject we are looking at today:

The Madonna and Child.

Italian artist, Pompeo Girolamo Batoni,  painted this "Madonna and Child" masterpiece in 1742.

Pompeo was, quite simply, the most successful painter in 18th century Rome.

What happened to bring him to this point of prominence?

Well, it's never just one thing, is it?

It's obvious to any person with normal vision that Pompeo was born with raw talent.

But weather was definitely a factor.

Rain, specifically.

Pompeo was busy drawing sketches of the Palazzo dei Conservatori in Rome in the spring of 1727.

The rains hit Rome hard in April of that year.

An Italian count happened to drop by seeking shelter under the portico of the palace.

He scoped out Pompeo's sketches and was impressed.

Batoni invited the good count to his studio to view more of his work.

The result?

Pompeo's first commission:

A new painted altarpiece for the chapel of the count's family in San Gregorio Magno al Celio.

Folks flocked to see the painting in the chapel.

They liked what they saw.

And a star was born.

Of course, it didn't hurt that celebrated painter, Anton Mengs, Pompeo's only serious rival, decided to head for Spain in 1761.

Later, Pompeo became a highly regarded portrait painter.

The movers and shakers in British society were especially attracted to his work.

Many of these upper crust VIP's stopped by Pompeo's studio in Rome to sit for their portraits.

Indeed,  records show that  Pompeo painted over 200 portraits of the British elite during his show-stopping career.

American painter, Benjamin West, visited Rome in 1760.

Pompeo's work was the talk of the town.

West said that Italian artists "talked of nothing, looked at nothing but the works of Pompeo Batoni."

And we can see why.

Eventually,  Pompeo bought a sizable house in Rome, which included his studio, exhibition rooms and a drawing academy.

It became the meeting place for Rome's social and intellectual elite.

Master Batoni had it made in the shade.

And then some.

One glance at his "Madonna and Child" tells the tale.

This is an exquisite painting.

It is clean.


Simplistic in design.

It is technically brilliant.

The sublime colors drift hazily against the charcoal backdrop.

And the subject?

It is perhaps the most hallowed in the history of art

We are looking at the world's preeminent model of motherhood, Mary, the mother of Christ.

Eyes lowered, she quietly gazes upon her holy infant.

The virgin's head is turned toward him as his tiny hand cups her chin in his hand.

Mary's left hand gently touches the back of her son in a motherly embrace.

Her right hand barely grasps his swaddling wrap.

And what about the Christ child?

His plump little body is perched on two gold-tasselled pillows.

The babe's head is pointed upward toward his mother.

His eyes are fixed on Mary.

What could be more natural?

Christ depends on his adoring mother for every needful thing.

He looks to her for life itself.

Mary understands.

There is a bond between them that speaks of the highest love.

And the deepest dignity.

Christ cradles a ripe apple in his right hand.


It reminds us of the apple eaten in the Garden of Eden.

That bitten apple would someday require a sacrifice of unthinkable magnitude.

Only a perfect God could offer such a sacrifice to the world.

The infant Christ, holding the fully ripened apple,  is the appointed one.

The Anointed One.

But the time is not yet.

There is a season for all things.

Now is the season for blossoming growth.

A season of learning......



and childhood joys.

Mary will be with her precious son every step of the way.

This is a mother who knows all too well that she must live in the moment.

She will stand by His side with the kind of devotion that only a mother can give.

At the end of His days, she will stand with Him until His work is finished.

Because that is what a mother does.

And what does a divine Son do?

He asks a beloved friend to look after His anguished mother in His absence.

Because His love for her is pure, holy, and without blemish.

This Son knows she will suffer.

His heart's desire is for His mother's burdens to be lightened.

By one He can trust to stand in His stead.

Near the end of His agony, Christ speaks to John and says,
"Behold, thy mother."

Mary will be cared for until the end of her days.

By John, Mary's son in spirit.


Motherhood is the highest of callings.

Every woman who has ever lived is called to that noble stewardship.

It does not matter if the woman has birthed biological children or not.

It simply does not matter.

What does matter is this:

The motherly woman will desire to love, teach and shepherd children.

This woman will gladly offer her individual talents, gifts and skills to that end.

And because of her motherly desires,

and because of her personal talents and gifts,

each of these women will become the most unique mother the world has ever known.

Motherhood is the most sacred sort of work.

It speaks of holy sacrifice.

And unnumbered blessings.

With every swish of Pompeo's brush......

he testifies to that truth.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


(Louis XIV, Hyacinthe Riguad, 1701, Louvre)

One of my favorite characters in all of history is France's illustrious leader, Louis XIV.

Known as the Sun King, Louie made his mark on French history for a boatload of reasons.

Here is the short list:

 *  He enjoyed the longest royal reign in European history to this point - 72 years!

*   He believed he was destined to rule France by "divine right" so he wasted no time imposing bunches of rules and regulations to keep his 20 million subjects in line.

*   Because he desired to dominate Europe,  he directed his army to engage in a series of wars in order to gain power and position on that continent.

*   He was a tireless promoter of French culture and the arts.

That last point is the one I want to focus on today.

Louie loaded his palaces with paintings, sculpture, tapestries, candlesticks, vases, chandeliers, mirrors, rugs, porcelains of every variety and luxurious fabrics.

(Louie used this candlestick to kill Mrs. Peach in the library, Versailles)

Money was no object.

(Louie liked to feather his nest.  Bed canopy complete with ostrich feather plumes, Versailles)

If Louie liked it, Louie acquired it or he had it built to his personal taste.

(Louie's media room, Versailles)

And he wasn't particularly shy about sharing the joys of his "cottages" with the ladies and gentlemen of his court.

(Louie's casual portrait, Chenonceau)

Louie loved throwing lavish dinner parties and spectacular balls for his 12 million closest friends.

All in all, he was quite the dude!

That's why I love the top portrait of Louie by renowned court painter, Hyacinthe Rigaud.

I have affectionately titled it, "I'M DA MAN!"

One glance at this portrait and there is little doubt in anyone's mind who is king of France.

Mercy! - where do we start?

How about that magnificent robe?

First of all, it's cobalt blue topside is literally smothered in fleur-de-lis, the coat of arms of the French royal family back in the day.

And just in case you missed them, Louie's chair/throne, ottoman and pillow are swathed in the same "I am the head honcho" symbols.

The white underside of this robe is ermine, by the way.

That massive robe had to be scorching hot to wear, don't you think?

Louie is probably thinking to himself, "Hey, Hyacinthe, would you get on with it, my man?  I'm dying a slow death under this furry tent!"

Next, we notice that Louie is leaning ever so regally on his scepter which just happens to be pointing to his gold crown.

How's that for subtlety?

It's obvious by now that Louie liked to live large.

Check out the size of that column behind his right arm.

And what about that dramatic ruby-red drapery hanging from the rafters?

Have you noticed that gold sword dangling from his left hip?


Look at the size of it!

I'm pretty sure Louie could spear 300  soldiers at once with that thing.

Not that he'd ever want to, of course.

I hate to get personal but let's take a closer look at Louie's more delicate attire.

He's drowning in lace and silk as was the custom of the day for aristocratic males.

Frankly, I'm coveting those lacey cuffs on his sleeves.

And I wish my legs looked as good as Louie's.

You can tell he really knows how to strut his stuff.

But I'll bet his tootsies are screaming for breathing room in those darling little heels!

I've just got to say it - Louie can seriously keep his curly black wig.

That's just a little too much hair for me to deal with on any day of the week.

Well, now, I've thoroughly trashed the good king, haven't I?

Here's the thing:

Sometimes art is just plain funny.

Especially if the subject of the art is kind of asking for it.

Which, viewed from our 21st century American perspective, he is.

It's okay to snicker in an art museum.

You can even laugh your silly little head off if you want to.

Visitors will probably turn around and shoot you a death stare but that's their problem.

This is the wonderful thing about art.

It's supposed to be a human experience.

Not everything in life is drop dead serious.

Ditto for art museums!

So, go!




Have a rollicking good time.

But here's a final thought:

Louie's portrait is hanging proudly in the Louvre these days.

That's in Paris, France.

This is just me, but I'd probably skip the "laugh your silly little head off" directive if I was standing in front of Louie and his over-the-top painting.

Louie's French museum guards might not take too kindly to my gut busting outburst.

Grinning, however, would be good.

Don't be surprised if Louie flashes one right back at ya!


Louis XIV founded the academies of Painting and Sculpture in 1655.  He established the academy of Science in 1666 and the academy of Architecture in 1671.

In 1680, he created the Comedie Francaise.

Louie's interest in improving Paris never waned.

He razed the city's medieval walls, built the Invalides as a home for disabled veterans, planned the great avenue of the Champs-Elysees, and refurbished the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

His personal example of long, dedicated rule made France the bureaucratic model for 18th century, absolutist Europe.

Louie's influence on architecture and interior design was monumental.  His style was a French adaptation of baroque, emphasizing formal grandeur and lush ostentation.  The king's palace at Versailles was the supreme example of this style, in which all the arts - architecture, sculpture, painting, interior design, and landscape design - were integrated into a unified expression of royal taste.    

Monday, November 14, 2011


(Reclining Dress Impression with Drapery, Karen LaMonte, 2006, Hunter Museum of Art, Chattanooga, TN)

I can't stand it another minute.

I've got to write about Karen LaMonte's dazzling glass gown in the Hunter Museum of Art in Chattanooga.

This is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful sculptures ever created.

As I usually do, I decide to check out the wall plate at the Hunter so I can glean more knowledge about this stunning work of art.

As it turns out, Ms. LaMonte is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design.

If that doesn't scream major "creds" I don't know what does.

After she left Rhode Island, Karen moved to Prague with a handy-dandy Fullbright Scholarship in her hot little hands.

It goes without saying that this girl is off the charts with smarts and skills!

While hanging out in Prague, Karen got busy investigating Czech glass casting traditions.


it glows.




It reflects light like nobody's business.

What a glorious medium for an artist to work with!

Allow me to say right here and now that Karen's sculptures are life-size

She's not into tiny.

That's another thing I like about her work.

You don't have to carry around a magnifying glass in order to see her work.

How does Karen create her fabulous frocks?

I checked out a second dress and a second wall plate at the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio and latched on to some further details.

First, she forms a wax casting of a woman's body.

Then she dresses the wax casting in an evening gown.

Next, she makes another mold of this fully clothed "body."

And then she casts the whole thing into glass.

Finally, the glass is sandblasted and acid-polished.

By now, the waxy woman's body is long gone.

But it's definitely not forgotten

The "inner cavity" retains the image of the imprint of the body even though there is no actual body present.

And that's exactly why Karen's sculptures are so drop-dead gorgeous.

You get the feeling that you are looking at a gowned body.

But you are not.

You are looking at a gown as if it were clinging to a body.

And what a gown it is!

It's chock full of gathers, folds and pleats.

Just look at that cascading drapery!

It crunches, it smooshes, it crinkles.

Always in just the right places.

It fits our body-less woman like a glove.

And it does all of these things while glowing with a delicate frosty shimmer.

My stars!

This is beauty at its best.

According to my Hunter information, LaMonte enjoys "exploring the dress form as a metaphor for gender, identity and the human body."

Facts from the Toledo Museum of Art take us a step further:

"For LaMonte,  the "empty" dress evokes the fragility of the human condition.  Further, it references the idea of clothing as a kind of controlling container.  It projects ideals of appearance and wealth promoted by high fashion, while questioning the psychological and social implications of the way we dress."

Well, I'll be.

Isabella d'Este and I thought it was just a beautiful dress!

That's another thing I love about artists.

They try to teach us something about ourselves and our very human condition.

And that can often lead to surprising "A-ha" moments.

Still, there are days when I simply want to enjoy the gorgeous-ness of it all.

I want eye candy.

Karen's gowns are feasts for my feminine soul.

And you know what?

There are days when that's just what the doctor ordered.


For more photos of Karen's magnificent gowns, go to:


Wednesday, November 9, 2011


(Isabella d'Este, Titian, 1534, Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna)

The chink in Isabella's armor is one that nearly every woman can identify with in one way or another.

In fact, it seems to be a curse - sometimes a "blessing"-  that follows us from the minute we gasp our first breath of air until the moment we depart from this life.

For some, it is an issue that looms ghost-like over their feminine experience.

For others,  the ghost becomes all too real.

It can swallow a woman alive and destroy her mind, body and spirit.

The chink certainly played havoc in the life of Isabella d'Este.


when Isabella peered into her mirror, she did not like what she saw.

One writer has described Isabella as having "a lively grace."

What exactly does this mean?

Perhaps we'll never really know - at least in terms of Renaissance sensibilities.

But, for me, I think it implies that Isabella possessed a bright and shining personality.

I'm sure it also means that she enjoyed being around and interacting with people.

The word "grace" implies that Isabella knew how to move herself around a room full of people.

I'm thinking that she didn't step on a lot of literal toes.

And I doubt if she jostled many elbows as she breezed through a Renaissance salon in her pouffy embroidered gown

I would like to believe that Isabella's "lively grace" prompted her to be kind, compassionate and empathetic to those around her as well.

The same author states that Isabella possessed "lively eyes."

That's easy, isn't it?

The eyes being the windows of the soul and all.

I think we could safely say that Isabella's eyes shown brightly.

That's because they were filled with an inner light that sparked her very being.

Well, I don't know about you, but I'm sold.

Sign me up for the next shindig at Isabella's place!

I'll admit it.

I'm unabashedly charmed by people with Isabella's social skills and talents.

Our writer completes his critique of our lady's physical appearance with these words:

"She was slightly plump."

* * * * * *

Several months ago I heard about a woman named Aunt Kathy who was "slightly plump" as well.

Whenever family photographs were taken, Aunt Kathy refused to be in them.

She was embarrassed by her physical appearance.

Aunt Kathy's family adored her fun-loving spirit and engaging personality.

She was the life of every family gathering.

Then one day she passed away.

Soon, Aunt Kathy's loved ones began to hunt for a photograph of their beloved aunt.

They wanted a picture of her to help remind them of all the wonderful times they had shared with their "lively" Aunt Kathy.

But there were no pictures to be found - anywhere.

By refusing to have her picture taken, Aunt Kathy had in effect erased herself from mortal life.

All because she was "slightly plump."

That's one of the saddest stories I've ever heard.

Here's another one:

Some years ago, I watched a talk show about the pros and cons of face lifts.

A woman named Susan was interviewed at length by the host.

Susan admitted to having 26 face lift procedures done on herself over time.

Her face had been pulled so tightly across her head that her distinguishing features were no longer visible.

The host asked Susan this question:  "Why have you been willing to endure the pain of 26 face lifts?"

Susan's answer startled me:  "I know I have gained more beauty and self-esteem with each of my surgeries.  Each one has made me feel better about myself."

Next, the host held up a glossy 8 x 10 of Susan's pre-surgery face for millions to see.

I stared at the image in disbelief.

Susan had been a beautiful young woman with lovely features - perfectly proportioned in every way.

What IS it about us women?

What brings us to the point in life where we no longer believe we are beautiful just the way we are?

Are we born with these debilitating ideas in our little baby girl heads?

Or have they been drummed into our brains by our cultures over time?

Perhaps it's both of these things and a whole lot more.

* * * * * *

These are the words on the wall plate that accompanies Isabella's bust in the Kimbell:

"Isabella was not as attractive as she would have liked, and often complained that her portraits were unflattering."

Please allow me to illustrate this point with the following information:

The image at the beginning of this post is a portrait of Isabella painted by the great Venetian artist, Titian.

She was 60 years old at the time of the sitting.

(Detail of Titian's Isabella at top of post)

That's right.

Sixty years old.

That's gotta be the spiffiest 60 year old woman I've ever seen!

Now, for more of the story:

Originally, Titian had painted a more age appropriate Isabella.

But she wouldn't accept it.

Isabella was so unhappy with the first portrait that she made Titian go back to his canvas a second time.

The result?

A much younger looking Isabella.

Experts believe that she looks about 40 years younger, in fact!

Obviously, Isabella was not a proponent of truth in advertising.

We don't know if Flemish painter, Peter Paul Rubens, was either, for that matter.

One day Rubens decided to copy the original portrait that Titian had painted 65 years earlier.

(Today, Titian's original portrait of Isabella no longer exists.)

The image below is Ruben's interpretation of Titian's portrait - the one that Isabella did not like.

(Isabella d'Este, Rubens, 1605, Kunst Historiches Museum, Vienna)
{This portrait of Isabella was painted 65 years after her death}

Did Rubens age Isabella?

I'm thinking not a lot.

Did he put a little weight on her?

I think it's possible.

What do you think?

The larger question is this:

Why does any of this  matter?

Because it doesn't for women of any age who have leaned to divorce themselves from the tyranny of their culture's perceptions of beauty.

Admittedly, this is not an easy thing to do.

And it doesn't matter to a woman who has grown to love herself over a lifetime of challenges that have taught her who she really is.

Easier - but watch out for tricky obstacles along the way.


I would have loved to have seen the stick-my-face-out-there, 60 year old Isabella.

Wrinkles, lines, and saggy chin.

Bring it all on, girl!

Something tells me that you, my dear, were one hot tamale!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


(Bust of Isabella d'Este, Gian Cristoforo Romano, 1500, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas)

My heart was jumping when Bob and I walked into the Kimbell Museum of Art in Fort Worth.

The Kimbell, though small in size, has a stellar reputation in the world of art.

This museum contains exquisite examples of art from many of the most talented artists who have lived on this planet.

Putting it simply, the Kimbell doesn't mess around with inferior stuff.

So, was I surprised when I saw "Renaissance Woman" Isabella d'Este staring at me face to face with her no-pupil eyes?

No......I wasn't.

But I was pleased as punch to see her again.

Isabella is an old friend

I've been running into her in my history books for years.

And a gazillion art museums as well.

Ms. Isabella was quite the Italian chick-a-dee.

She was intellectually gifted and a natural talent from the get go.

As a young girl, Isabella could read and translate Greek and Latin at the speed of light.

She learned to play the lute, sing and create new dances.

During her girlhood, she enjoyed discussing classic literature and the affairs of state with visiting ambassadors.

As an adult, Isabella loved pursuing cultural interests.

That may be the understatement of the year.

She collected art, of course, because she had the necessary funds to do so.

But she also sponsored a variety of philosophers, poets and painters of her day including the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Titian and Giovanni Bellini.

All heavy hitters in the world of art

It has been said that Isabella asked Leonardo to paint her portrait.

That particular request was never fulfilled.

But Leonardo eventually whipped up a drawing of her profile.

(Drawing of Isabella, Leonardo da Vinci, 1500, Art Renewel Center)

Nevermind that her husband gave the sketch away.


I'm thinking that may not have been the smartest move he ever made.

Here's another thing about Isabella:

She was politically brilliant.

When her husband was captured in 1509 and held hostage in Venice, Isabella swung into immediate action.

She directed Mantua's military troops and successfully held off that city's invaders until her husband's safe return in 1512.

That same year, she served as the official hostess at the Congress of Mantua.

The Congress was convening to discuss political issues between Florence and Milan.

Isabella  was a definite superstar in the political arena.

When her husband was advised of her many accomplishments,  it was said that he was angry and humiliated because Isabella's assertive leadership and political competency outshown his own.

Eventually, husband Francesco died.

Isabella became a dedicated head of state.

Taking this office seriously, she studied the problems facing her as ruler of Mantua.

Her great desire was to study those subjects that would have the most lasting benefit for her people.

She dug into the study of architecture, agriculture and industry.

In addition, she became a devotee of Machiavelli's, "The Prince," and personally adopted the principles outlined for rulers therein.

Oh, I almost forgot......

Back in 1500, she met up with French monarch,  Louis XII, in Milan who was visiting the area on a diplomatic mission.

On that occasion, she convinced Louis not to send in his troops against Milan.

It is said that the people of Mantua loved and respected Isabella.

I think we're beginning to see why.

Let's see now......

What else could this Renaissance Woman do?

She was a leader in the fashion world of her time.

She dressed in sumptuous gowns that were covered in rich embroidery.

That's pretty standard stuff for a woman of her position and financial means.

But Isabella was a fashion innovator as well.

She adored boyish caps and frequently adorned her head with them.

Eventually, these unusual but beautiful caps became her signature style.

Isabella's manner of dress was imitated all through Italy and France.

Anne of Brittany, a fan of Isabella's fashion sense, had a doll made in her likeness.

Well, now.

I hope I've managed to convince you that Isabella d'Este was indeed a Renaissance Woman.

But just in case you need a little nudge, I'd like you to know that Isabella started a school in Mantua for young girls.

And she converted her private apartments into a museum containing some of the finest art of the day.


That should pretty much do it.


Here's a fun fact for you:

Isabella d'Este created and mixed her own perfumes, wore them herself and gave them away as gifts.

I'm not a perfume lover myself - they give me headaches - but I am fascinated by that little tidbit about Isabella.

During her life and after her death, VIP's of all sorts paid tribute to Isabella.

Pope Leo X asked her to treat him with "as much friendliness as you would your brother."

The pope's secretary, Pietro Bembo, described Isabella as "one of the wisest and most fortunate of women."

Author of the day, Matteo Bandello, wrote that she was "supreme among women."

Not to be outdone, diplomat Niccolo da Correggio called Isabella "First Lady of the World."

Good night nurse!!!

I don't know about you, but just thinking about Isabella's beefy resume makes me feel like a complete slacker.

Here's a final fact for you:

There was a chink in Isabella's resplendent armor.

That chink was cause for much of Isabella's suffering.

We'll check out the chink next time.

I promise.