It’s Advent time again, and so it is time for the fourth edition of Art Advent, my annual review of inspiring, cheerful and comforting artworks that I’ve seen over the year. Advent is a time of anticipation, and of light in the darkness. Although 2020 has given the notion of anticipation a whole new face, I believe there will always be art waiting around the corner to provide solace and new insights. Thus, also in this year of self-isolation and uncertainty, I hope you’ll join me on this Art Advent.
Here’s the final stretch of Art Advent 2020.
20 Dec. ART ADVENT #22
Today another artwork that directly engages with art history. In this painting, artist Zheng Guogu combined the depictions of two paintings by Andrea Mantegna: The Parnassus (1497) and Triumph of Virtue (1502). Both paintings are now in the collection of the Louvre, but were originally painted for the private studiolo of Isabella d’Este in the early sixteenth century. Zheng Guogu placed the two compositions, partly in negative on top of one another. Together with the color scheme, it results in a marvellously dynamic image. For the viewer it is hard to focus, the eye keeps being drawn to yet another part of the painting. Mantegna’s painting symbolize historical foundations of contemporary western Europe, in which rapid changes and transformations take place – symbolized by the dynamic viewing experience offered by the resulting painting.
Zheng Guogu, Visionary Transformation of the West, 2017. Seen at Bonnefanten, Maastricht.
21 Dec. ART ADVENT #23
This drawing depicts Christina Georgina Rossetti, a nineteenth-century poet. This is symbolized by the book lying in front of her. She wrote romantic and children’s poetry. This portrait of her, age 36, marked the occasion of a new poetry book she published, The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems. The drawing was made by her brother, the Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti. I especially like her pensive look, where would her mind have wandered off to? This image especially suits a grey and rainy day like today- the mind offers an escape to the most wondrous of worlds.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, 1866. In a private collection. Seen at National Portrait Gallery, London.
22 Dec. ART ADVENT #24
Today an old yet enduring love of mine. This vibrant depiction of the church in the town of Zoutelande, Piet Mondrian made during a summer’s stay in the southern Dutch province of Zeeland. He would spend several summers in Zeeland, inspired by sea, beach, and the light. Especially the notion of light translates into this dynamic painting style, called Luminism. Away from naturalistic colors, Mondrian uses a bright palette in which the colored patches are supposed to merge in looking at the painting. For Mondrian, it was not the aim to convey a realistic scene, rather a dynamic, or even spiritual, experience through color. A spirituality wholly other than the one represented by the church building itself.
Piet Mondrian, Sun, Church in Zeeland, 1909-1910. In collection of Tate, London. Seen at Singer Museum, Laren.
23 Dec. ART ADVENT #25
In their previous lives, before they were blue, these Madonnas functioned in liturgical spaces. During the late sixties and early seventies however, Dutch Catholic churches aimed to modernize. Neogothic sculptures like these Madonnas were considered kitsch and removed from church interiors. Various artists bought the removed sculptures, to incorporate these in their own artworks. The artist of this sculpture, Jacques Frenken, made this ‘Droste Madonna’ as a form of new sacred art. Although he intended the work to function in a modernized church interior, it was never accepted as such, perhaps regarded to be a little too modern. Now it is one of the modernist highlights in the collection of Museum Catharijneconvent – and one of my favorites.
Jacques Frenken, Blue Madonna, detail, ca. 1965. Seen at Museum Catharijneconvent, Utrecht.
24 Dec. ART ADVENT #26
For the last Advent post of the year, here’s one of the most enigmatic paintings I know. I still remember seeing it for the first time and being utterly confused by it. I loved it, but I couldn’t place it. Was this a modern painting? It depicts a grand moment: archangel Gabriel brings the message of Mary’s pregnancy to her. It’s an ultimate symbol of anticipation. But, it is not just a moment of joyful news. This depiction by Dante Gabriel Rossetti also shows Mary’s response to the unknown, its uncertainty, and the responsibility laid upon her in this moment. With such a multilayered depiction of anticipation, I feel this painting is a suitable end to the Art Advent of this strange and trying year. With anticipation, I look to new year. Despite its unknown and uncertain nature, I’m sure it will also bring joy. Because there’s always art that surprises, makes you wonder, and throws you of your feet. I wish you lots of this for the year to come. And a merry Christmas to you all
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Ecce Ancilla Domini! (The Annunciation), detail, 1849-50. In collection of Tate Britain, London. Seen at National Portrait Gallery, London.