Thursday, December 29, 2011

The end is nigh!

Jeffrey F. Barken and I have nearly come to the end of our very interesting and enjoyable collaboration. The story is finished and a painting is underway.

Here is the final installment.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The people behind the portraits. 3: Simonetta Vespucci.

The thing about renaissance artists is that they didn't care much about getting a likeness. It is thought that artists would flatter the attractive elements of their sitter's faces to the point that it no longer looked like them .

In real life she was quite ugly.

So while its is possible to speculate. No one will ever be sure that the Goddess Venus/Aphrodite in Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus" was Simonetta Vespucci, and critics have argued the point, pointlessly, for centuries.

I believe that the chances are good that it is her. Due to the fact the he wasn't the only one who painted her and so we have a fair idea of what she looked like. Although most portraits are posthumous and her appearance had probably become more legendary than accurately remembered.

"Many's the day she'd be seen wandering the fields topless with a snake 'round her neck.."

One thing is pretty much certain, and that is that Botticelli painted one (possibly the only surviving) portrait of her while she was alive.

Simonetta Vespucci ( who married a cousin of Amerigo Vespucci.) Was the belle of Florence. Possibly because she was the only woman in italy who didn't shave her eyebrows. She became very popular with the Medici brothers. Lorenzo the magnificent,

Isn't he wonderful?

and Giuliano.

"Just Giuliano" as he was dubbed by historians.

Giuliano ' The sporty one', once flew a banner featuring her portrait, also by Botticelli, at a jousting tournament, but had an unfortunate accident soon after, involving an assassin's sword and his face.

Simonetta died at the age of 22 of an illness. Most likely TB. Reportedly she had a funeral procession of thousands. Which only goes to show that the public care more when beautiful people die.

After their deaths Lorenzo;

Here he is again. Magnificent!

commissioned Botticelli to paint her and Giuliano as Venus and Mars. Complete with his big lance.

No word on how her husband felt about any of this.

Many historians rubbished the idea that Botticelli was in love with her, and the theory that Simonetta's face was repeated in his most famous work was dismissed by Felipe Fernández-Armesto as ''Romantic nonsense".

"The vulgar assumption, for instance, that she was Botticelli's model for all his famous beauties seems to be based on no better grounds than the feeling that the most beautiful woman of the day ought to have modelled for the most sensitive painter."

He's probably right

So what if his paintings are a veritable "Where's Wally?" of Simonetta look-alikes.

But what about the fact that , on his deathbed, Botticelli asked to be buried at her feet at Church of Ognissanti??

Romantic nonsense?

Friday, December 9, 2011


Check out the the penultimate chapter of Mackerel by J Jeffrey F. Barken and illustrated by me!

I'm about to start an oil painting based on the story. Feedback greatly appreciated.

Read it HERE.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The people behind the portraits.2: Juan de Pareja.

Juan de Pareja was Diego Velázquez's assistant , and the subject of one of his most famous paintings. He also really should be the patron saint of unrecognised artists.

He was the guy who helped in the studio, grinding paint, preparing canvasses, cleaning up. Of course he did all of this for free... Just because he loved it! Just kidding! He did it for free because he was a slave.

Velasquez was considered quite the humanitarian in that he didn't starve, torture or otherwise abuse his slaves, but his kindness didn't extend to allowing the obviously talented de Pareja to paint.

Although this may have been because it was illegal for slaves to paint... Or do anything else that wasn't slaving.

So Juan de Pareja painted in secret. Because you cannot be surrounded by the works of Diego Velázquez all day long and not give it a go.

Velázquez was the official artist to the royal family.

He was the only one who could effectively capture the ridiculousness of their clothes.

One day King Philip IV was Visiting his studio and Juan de Pareja sneaked one of his own paintings into the room.

Just a little thing he threw together.

Just a little thing he threw together.

The king saw the work and asked who had done it, at which point de Pareja and his balls of steel stepped forward and said he had painted it, and asked for official recognition of his talent.

After this appeal the king's head began to vibrate, and smoke came out his ears like an android in a sci fi movie. You see, this did not compute. A slave, who was born a slave because God wanted him to be a slave... Could not be an artist.

The king proclaimed , that a man who painted like that ...Could not be a slave.

And Velasquez had no choice but to free him.

Unfortunately the ''Contract of liberation." Stipulated that he work for four more years for Velasquez. For pay one hopes. Must have been a tense working environment for a while there.

After he left , de Pareja made his living as a professional artist. His work is hard to find but some examples remain.

That steely, defiant glare has a whole new meaning now doesn't it?