It’s all about perspective…

It’s fascinating how perceptions of art change over time.

As you may recall, the Pre-Raphaelites were so named because they rejected the Royal Academy’s unquestioning devotion to Raphael’s style of painting. There is still some question as to whether the Pre-Raphaelites were primarily focused on rejecting Raphael himself (less likely), or whether they merely disdained the Academy’s insistence that they ape the Rapahel-like style of painting. Either way, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood rejected slavish devotion to the artistic heroes of the past, and Raphael was one of the most obvious targets.

The Miraculous Draught of Fishes, 1515 is a perfect example of what irked the Pre-Raphaelites about Raphael. It is unquestionably a lovely work, but also seems a tad insincere. The subjects are posed in an unnatural way, and their grand gestures seem a bit overwrought, though you have to love the fellow on the far right who seems determined to show off his abs and bulging triceps. But on the other hand, Raphael’s work was also dignified, beautiful and graceful, which is doubtless why the Academy used him as a standard example for their students.

Of course, it’s ironic that one of the chief contemporary criticisms of the Pre-Raphaelites is that their work is chocolate-boxy and picture-perfect (the shoe is on the other foot now, eh?). I’m sure most members of the PRB would be stunned that their work, once so controversial, is now decried as downright twee (in the future will we look back on the work of the Young British Artists and think of their work as cute? That’s a scary thought…).

Stimulating…or saccharine?

Over time, I have grown to appreciate (and often prefer) contemporary art, and although I still enjoy the work of the Pre-Raphaelites, I probably wouldn’t display it in my home. From my perspective, the work of the PRB is an important part of art history that was very influential for generations of artists (whether they want to admit to it or not), and I love to study it. But I wouldn’t like to see artists today imitating the style of the PRB or – for that matter – the style of any other artists or historical period.

What do you think? Would you like to see the artistic style from one of your favourite historical periods come back in fashion? Or do you prefer to keep the past in the past?

There has been a lot of exciting news over the past few months about art on the web. Google recently launched their Art Project, Twitter is teeming with artists, art lovers and art historians, and H Niyazi of Three Pipe Problem just launched the Art History Database, which permits visitors to search some of the best art and history sites on the web for relevant art-related content.

Yesterday, another exciting entrant launched the beta version of their site. aims to connect visitors to new art through their website. Many of you are likely familiar with Pandora – the music service that automatically builds playlists for listeners based on their preferences. aims to offer the ability do something similar, helping visitors discover new artists by using their “magic tour.”

The magic tour works by showing you a set of four paintings, from which you choose your favorite (or you can skip the entire set if you don’t like any of them).  This is done 3-4 times, after which a slide show is created based on your earlier choices.

The site mentions plans to develop applications for mobile and tablet devices, with the goal of sharing profits with the museums, galleries and artists featured on the site. Since there will be no cost to museums and galleries, this could be a really wonderful way for museums to increase revenues – especially when times are tough and arts funding is in so much jeopardy across the globe.

I was a bit disappointed that the website is weighted so heavily in the direction of pre-20th century art, although there are works by early 20th century artists like Matisse. Of course, as anyone who blogs knows all too well, it can be tough to get permission to show modern and contemporary works. This is a shame, but I hope things will change going forward. Obviously, Artfinder doesn’t want to get slapped with a copyright suit their first day in business! Hopefully once artists (or their estates) are aware of the site, they will be willing to consider allowing their images to be displayed.

I really like the concept. The website has begun with 250,000 artworks, and you have the option to share paintings (right now it’s just paintings and sketches, though they have said that they will be adding sculpture in the future) with friends through social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.

I was a bit disappointed with the magic tour, which is probably largely due to the fact that I am in a bit of a modern/contemporary art mood at the moment, and there is little of that on the website. So, I chose a few 19th century paintings. The results seemed a bit random, but I did find a few artists I was not familiar with. I liked most of what I saw, but I’m not sure if that was because of the accuracy of the “magic tour”, or because I’m not that picky!

Overall, I think it’s a great site and I’m very impressed with what Artfinder is trying to do. It’s still in beta, so there are some wrinkles to be sorted out. However, I would definitely recommend it to readers of this blog, and I am very excited to see that art is alive and thriving in our web 2.0 world.

St. George and the Dragon, 1811 by Franz Pforr, Image courtesy Wikimedia

Pre-Raphaelite exhibits at Oxford and Cambridge: Pre-Raphaelites and Italy and Pre-Raphaelite Portraits by John Brett

My family and I enjoyed a wonderful–if slightly frenetic–weekend visiting family in Washington state. It was quite the whirlwind weekend – shopping, a wedding and visiting a couple of friends. We had a great time though. Seattle is a beautiful city, and Washington is so pretty in general…but it did go by so quickly that the whole thing was a bit of a blur. Fortunately, Edmonton was so cloudy when I got back that I feel like I’m still in Washington! The strangest part is that, even though I was only gone for a weekend, when I returned, Edmonton was already in the middle of Autumn. Trees are changing colors and losing their leaves already! I’m excited though – Fall really is one of my favourite times of year. 

Autumn will always call to mind the beginning of Fall classes, and now that I’m no longer in school, I tend to look for stand-ins. And usually that means new museum exhibitions! I received an email from a reader (thank you, Phillip), about two upcoming Pre-Raphaelite exhibitions in England. One is being held at Cambridge, the other at Oxford. Where better to soak up a bit of the excitement of the back-to-school atmosphere than at two Pre-Raphaelite art exhibits at England’s top universities? 

The Pre-Raphaelites and Italy will be held at the University of Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum and is scheduled to run from September 16 – December 5, 2010. The exhibit will feature works by John Ruskin, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and a host of other Pre-Raphaelite luminaries, and will examine the relationship these artists had with Italy. (For example, I find it fascinating that, while Rossetti grew up speaking Italian in an Italian-English home, he never actually visited Italy himself. Ruskin, on the other hand, was a frequent visitor and champion of Italian art and culture). This promises to be an excellent opportunity to see a number of Pre-Raphaelite works held by museums around the globe. 

The second exhibit I would like to share with readers is entitled Objects of Affection: Pre-Raphaelite Portraits by John Brett. John Brett is best known for his landscape paintings, but his portraits are the main focus of this exhibit. Interestingly, Brett was also a pioneer in the field of photography, and his photographic portraits will also be on display. This show is being held at Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum and runs from now until November 28, 2010. 

These exhibits look so interesting, and I must say I’m excited to see Pre-Raphaelites being the focus of simultaneous showcases at Oxford and Cambridge. Now, if only they would focus a bit on improving the online version of these exhibits for those of us who are a bit too busy with our families to cross the ocean to see them in person…

John Brett, Val d’Aosta, 1858 – image courtesy Wikimedia

September Issue of the Art History Carnival

Welcome to the September 1, 2010 edition of the Art History Carnival.

I was so pleased to receive so many fantastic submissions for this issue – thank you to everyone for making this possible!

art history

Jason, author of Executed Today presents his post 1599: Beatrice Cenci and her family, for parricide which examines “the reciprocal social construction between a family tragedy, a Romantic legend, and a (misattributed) painting.” You might also want to check out Jason’s post on the rather gruesome death of Marco Antonio Bragadin 1571: Marco Antonio Bragadin, flayed Venetian, which shows how current events informed Venetian artwork.

H Niyazi presents Painted Into Immortality : Dante and Virgil on a Hellish Boat Ride, posted at Three Pipe Problem, saying “great works of Art or Literature often share a truly special feature – they tie together ideas, people and places spanning many eras and summate them in manner that not only makes them relevant for the audience it was created for, but resonates just as strongly through time.” A beautiful and well-written post – be sure to check it out!

Hermes, author of Pre-Raphaelite Art, has has written a post on the Study for John William Waterhouse’s Lady of Shalott that examines the artistic process.

Monica Bowen, author of the beautiful art history blog Alberti’s Window presents a post correcting some misconceptions about ghiberti’s north doors that have managed to make their way into art history textbooks. I’m always amazed at how many errors find their way into scholarly works.

Meredith Hale presents Art and Design in Glasgow and Edinburgh posted at Meredith Hale: Art and Inspiration. She notes that ”this post is on art and architecture I had the pleasure of seeing in person in Glasgow and Edinburgh. It focuses on the works of Phoebe Anna Traquair and Charles Mackintosh.” An interesting that introduces some less widely known artists like Phoebe Anna Traquair.

H Niyazi nominated Wired Art History posted at Art History Today, saying, “David Packwood’s unique contemplation of Art History and cyberspace was a fascinating exploration of the way new technology is impacting on Art appreciation.”   The author has a very different perspective on this issue than I do, so it was a particularly fascinating read for me. I hope many of you will take the time to read this post and weigh in!

Romeo Vitelli presents a journey through the tortured psyche of artist Edvard Munch in Curing Munch, posted at Providentia.


Joanne Capella presents a review of the documentary “My Architect”, which chronicles the life of architect Louis Isadore Kahn posted at Design & Desire in the Twentieth Century


Helen, author of Art and Architecture, Mainly, has written an in-depth review of the Stadel Museum’s new exhibit:  European Masters: Städel Museum 19th – 20th Century, which will be on display until October 2010. 

Alexandra Korey presents Daniel Spoerri Sculpture Garden in Maremma, Tuscany | TuscanyArts posted at Tuscany Arts. This is a fabulous review includes photos, video and information about how to get around. If you plan on being in Tuscany, it looks like this is a must-see for art lovers!

H Niyazi nominated another post by Alexandra Korey, entitled Top 5 sculptures to see in the Bargello museum in Florence | TuscanyArts posted at Tuscany Arts, saying, “Based in Florence, Alexandra Korey provides valuable insights to art minded travellers to Tuscany and Florence!” Thank you for suggesting this post, Hasan.

That concludes this edition. I would  like to note that I chose not to include a number of wonderful submissions that were several months out of date. My sincere thanks to the authors that submitted them, but I would like to keep this carnival as up-to-date as possible. Thank you for understanding!

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