Allegory of Vanity
Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione
Italian (Genoese), 1609-1664
Oil on canvas
Castiglione was the leading Genoese artist of the 17th century, and many of his works, including this example, are rich in symbolism. The subject is encapsulated by the Latin inscription Vanitas (Vanity) on the base of the urn at the center. The vanity of sensual pleasures, intellectual pursuits and power are symbolized by the overturned urn of flowers that will soon fade and by the discarded instruments of music, science and war. Love is depicted in its most transient form, lust, by the bacchante with her tambourine in the foreground. At her feet lies a sprig of myrtle, a plant symbolizing Venus, goddess of love, and Bacchus, god of wine. The union of Venus and Bacchus produced a son, Priapus, god of lust and fertility before whose statue revelers dance in the background.
1924 Oil on canvas mounted on board
"Named for the small German town it depicts, Gaberndorf II features shifting, luminous planes of color. The prismatic hues may evoke the feeling of a Bach fugue, a layered musical composition of interwoven parts elaborating on a common theme. Lyonel Feininger, who called music the first influence in his life, revered Johann Sebastian Bach above all other composers.
Feininger created this painting while teaching at the Bauhaus, Germany’s innovative art and design school founded in Weimar in 1919. Dedicated to principles of economy, efficiency, and spiritual renewal, the Bauhaus (House of Construction) came to define Modernism."
Portrait of a Woman
Roman Period, 130-161 C.E.
Encaustic on wood panel with gilt stucco
This portrait of an unknown woman was made when Egypt was part of the Roman Empire. It was meant to be placed over the face of a mummy.
The portrait is arresting: her wide eyes, framed and emphasized by her heavy brows, stare out at the viewer as though she is alive today.
The artist painted it using the encaustic technique. Mixing organic colors in hot beeswax, he applied the hot paint to a specially prepared wooden board. One Greek writer, the so-called Pseudo-Plutarch, appropriately commented:
"A beautiful woman leaves in the heart of an indifferent man an image as fleeting as a painting on water. In the heart of a lover, this image is fixed with fire like an encaustic painting, which time can never erase."
Untitled (Still Life)
1921 Oil on canvas
"Pink rosebuds and one full blossom rise from a deep blue vase in this vibrant still-life painting. Suzanne Valadon was the first woman painter to be admitted to the prestigious Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. A child of poverty, she began working at the age of 11, selling vegetables at markets and, later, as a circus acrobat and artist model. Among her friends were fellow artists Edgar Degas, André Derain, and Pablo Picasso. She was the mother of artist Maurice Utrillo."
At the Risk of the Sun
Oil on canvas (1949)
"Strange, organic forms appear in this dramatically illuminated, desolate landscape. A heart form can be seen on the right. To the left is an imaginative array of stacked shapes, referencing parts of human and animal bodies. Yves Tanguy and other Surrealist artists sought to reveal the contents of the unconscious mind. Inspired by Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theories, they depicted images from their dreams, nightmares, and memories. Tanguy based this image on the prehistoric stone monuments he saw as a child in Brittany, France."
The First Lesson of Fraternal Friendship
French (1773 or 1775)
Oil on canvas
'In a rustic interior are six figures, representing a family of the upper classes (father at left, mother third from right, older son in black bonnet, white shirt and pants, blue sash) paying a visit to their youngest son, in the care of a wet nurse. The two brothers kiss; at right, a young male peasant and an old woman survey the scene. At right is a covered bed, in right foreground is still life of brass pot, ceramic jar, onions, and cabbage.
In this painting, an aristocratic couple has taken their older son to a wet nurse’s cottage to visit his baby brother. The practice of wet nursing, in which families sent their babies away to be breast-fed for the first few years of their lives, was common throughout most of the 18th century. By the time Etienne Aubry painted this scene, wet nursing was coming under attack by Enlightenment thinkers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau for being unnatural and detrimental to a child’s development.'
Giorgio de Chirico
Italian (born Greece)
Oil on canvas (1913)
In this deserted Italian city, a lone equestrian statue and the arcade of a building cast deep shadows across an empty piazza. Giorgio de Chirico’s sharp perspective and strong colors evoke the melancholy, mystery, and heat of a late afternoon. In the distance, two rippling flags provide the only hint of motion.
Combining his interest in classical architecture, Renaissance perspective, and the unsettling philosophical writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Otto Weininger, de Chirico painted works that were intended to awaken the unconscious mind and reveal the metaphysical realities experienced in dreams.