Sunday, 21 December 2014

ART SUNDAY - ZURBARÁN

Sic transit gloria mundi.”

For Art Sunday today, Francisco Zurbarán, a Spanish artist. He was born in the suburb of Fuente de Cantos in Estremadura, on the boundaries of Andalusia, Nov., 1598; died probably at Madrid about 1662. From his early years he showed great aptitude for drawing. His parents, honest peasants, placed no obstacle to his artistic tastes. While a young boy he frequented the studio of Juan de las Roclas, of whom he became a favourite pupil. Zurbarán's apprenticeship was undertaken in Seville, where he met Velazquez and became one of the city's official painters. His commission to decorate the king's palace in Madrid was most probably the result of his continuing friendship with the older, and more successful, Spanish artist.


Zurbarán was chiefly a portrait painter and his religious subjects, depicting meditating saints, found favour with southern Spain’s clergy. From 1628, he worked on a number of paintings to be sent to monasteries in the Spanish colony of Guadalupe. After 1640 his austere, harsh, hard-edged style was unfavourably compared to the sentimental religiosity of Murillo and Zurbarán's reputation declined. In 1658, he moved to Madrid in search of work and renewed his contact with Velazquez.


As he mainly worked for monastic orders, the majority of Zurbarán’s work consisted of religious imagery. Many of his theologically inspired paintings are simple, yet emotionally compelling, works that showcase his naturalistic style, as well as his skilled use of light and shadow. Zurbarán’s few secular pieces include exquisite still life images, such as “Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Rose” (1633), and a “Labours of Hercules” series painted for the Buen Retiro Palace in Madrid.


Although Zurbarán was an accomplished artist, some of his work has revealed his limitations. The creations of his workshop were occasionally of poor quality, perhaps due to his unfit assistants. And when Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s work became popular in Seville, Zurbarán found himself displaced as the city’s foremost painter, even though he tried unsuccessfully to imitate Murillo’s style. Zurbarán’s career was at its height in the 1630s. In the 1640s, monasteries offered fewer commissions, reducing his opportunities. With his domestic market in decline, Zurbarán turned to the New World, exporting a number of canvases. However, fleet seizures kept him from receiving some payments, which exacerbated his financial difficulties. In the 1650s, he once again focussed on domestic commissions, though Zurbarán no longer commanded the high fees he once had.


Zurbarán moved to Madrid with his third wife in 1658. He died there, in straitened circumstances, on August 27, 1664. Zurbarán’s artistic reputation may have varied during his lifetime, but today his best pieces mark him as a leading painter from the Spanish Baroque period.


The work above is oil on canvas, 46 cm x 84 cm, painted in 1650, and exhibited in the Museo del Prado in Madrid. The painting depicts household items on a ledge: Plates and various containers, three ceramic and three metallic. The artist represents successfully different textures, shiny or matte strikingly illuminated on a black background. The very simple arrangement of elements highlights their forms and subtle colour. It is one of the few still lifes of the Extremadura master and, as is usual with him, he is content with the pleasure of painting the different shapes and textures. The simplicity of the painting eludes any symbolic meaning.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

MUSIC SATURDAY - MICHEL CORRETTE

“The ultimate value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival.” - Aristotle

Michel Corrette (10 April 1707 – 21 January 1795) was a French organist, composer and author of musical method books. Corrette was born in Rouen, Normandy. His father, Gaspard Corrette, was an organist and composer. Corrette served as organist at the Jesuit College in Paris from about 1737 to 1780. It is also known that he travelled to England before 1773. In 1780 he was appointed organist to the Duke of Angoulême and some 15 years later died in Paris at the age of 87.

Corrette was prolific. He composed ballets and divertissements for the stage, including “Arlequin”, “Armide”, “Le Jugement de Midas”, “Les Âges”, “Nina”, and “Persée”. He composed many concertos, notably 25 concertos comiques. Aside from these works and organ concertos, he also composed sonatas, songs, instrumental chamber works, harpsichord pieces, cantatas, and other sacred vocal works.

As well as playing the organ and composing music, Corrette organised concerts and taught music. He wrote nearly twenty music method books for various instruments (the violin, cello, bass, flute, recorder, bassoon, harpsichord, harp, mandolin, voice and more), with titles such as “L'Art de se perfectionner sur le violon” (The Art of Playing the Violin Perfectly), “Le Parfait Maître à chanter” (The Perfect Mastersinger) and “L′école d′Orphée” (The School of Orpheus), a violin treatise describing the French and Italian styles. These pedagogical works by Corrette are valuable because they give lucid insight into contemporary playing techniques.

Here is some delightful chamber music by this composer:
Sonata in D minor, Op. 14, No. 1
“Les delices de la solitude”, Op. 20: No. 6 Sonata in D major 7:00
Sonata in D major, Op. 14, No. 2 18:07
Sonata in E minor, Op. 25, No. 4: “Les Amusements D’ Appollon Chez Le Roi Admete” 25:35
Sonata in A major, Op. 14, No. 3 38:30
Sonata in F major, Op. 14, No. 4 45:18
Sonata in D minor 51:27Sonata in G major, Op. 14, No. 5 57:07
Sonata in E minor, Op. 14, No. 6 1:06:15

Friday, 19 December 2014

FOOD FRIDAY - SALMON PASTA


“I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you till China and Africa meet and the river jumps over the mountain and the salmon sing in the street.” - W. H. Auden

A light pasta dish today for Food Friday. There is usually some smoked salmon lurking in our fridge and the cupboard always has some pasta. However, if one uses fresh pasta, it’s all the better…

Smoked Salmon Linguine
Ingredients
300 of fresh linguine
200 g smoked salmon
200 mL sour cream (light)
3 tbs olive oil
4 sprigs fresh dill
5 Spring onions
Grated Parmesan cheese
salt, pepper to taste

Method
Boil the linguine for about 6 minutes in salted water into which a tsp of olive has been added (helping to keep pasta from sticking together). Try the pasta to see if it is cooked according to your taste (I prefer pasta to be cooked past the al dente stage…). Drain and reserve.
Chop the smoked salmon into 1 cm x 2 cm pieces, reserve. Chop the dill finely (or use kitchen scissors to cut it up). Clean and chop the spring onions finely, reserve.
Put the olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan and let it heat up. Fry the Spring onions until light golden and add the salmon pieces, stirring constantly for about 2-3 minutes. Add the sour cream and stir thoroughly until heated right through. Season with pepper to taste and add the dill, stirring constantly.
Add the drained pasta to the salmon/cream mixture and fold until covered thoroughly. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan and serve immediately. Accompany with a seasonal fresh green salad.

Add your own favourite recipe using the Mr Linky tool below:

THE NAKED TRUTH

“Happiness is like a butterfly. The more you chase it, the more it will elude you. But if you turn your attention to other things, it comes and softly sits on your shoulder.” - L. Richard Lessor

The naked female figure has always been an important image in western art and civilisation. We still talk of the “naked truth” and many paintings take the opportunity to show truth as a beautiful woman, yes, naked. In classical times, goddesses (especially Aphrodite) were shown naked, their perfect body symbolising their divinity.

Phryne was a famous hetaera of Ancient Greece (390-330 BC) who adjusted her prices for customers depending upon how she felt about them. When the King of Lydia wanted her favours she named a truly absurd price because she considered him loathsome; he paid the price and then levied a tax on his subjects to raise the sum. On the other hand, she gave herself to the philosopher Diogenes for free because she admired his mind.

Famously, when she was tried for “impiety” for impersonating Aphrodite in the nude during public festivals, the case was nearly lost and Phryne was ready for the death penalty, when at the prompting of her unconventional counsel and orator Hypereides, she avoided conviction by lowering her robe and revealing her flawless breasts. The judges relented and let her off – not because they were overcome by her body, but because physical beauty was often seen as a facet of divinity or a mark of divine favour.

Athenaeus of Naucratis has the following to say about the event:
“When she (i.e. Phryne) was brought to trial by Euthias on a capital charge she was acquitted; this so enraged Euthias that he never afterwards pleaded another case at law, according to Hermippus. As Hypereides, while defending Phryne, was making no progress in his plea, and it became apparent that the judges meant to condemn her, he caused her to be brought where all could see her; tearing off her undervests he laid bare her bosom and broke into such piteous lamentation in his peroration at the sight of her, that he caused the judges to feel superstitious fear of this handmaid and ministrant of Aphrodite, and indulging their feeling of compassion, they refrained from putting her to death.

And after she had been acquitted a decree was passed that no person speaking in a defendant’s behalf should indulge in lamentation, nor should the accused man or woman on trial be bared for all to see. As a matter of fact, Phryne was more beautiful in the unseen parts. Hence one could not easily catch a glimpse of her naked; for she always wore a tunic, which wrapped her body closely, and she did not resort to the public baths.

At the great assembly of the Eleusinia and at the festival of Poseidon, in full sight of the whole Greek world, she removed only her cloak and let down her long hair before stepping into the water; she was the model for Apelles when he painted his ‘Aphrodite Rising from the Sea’. So, too, the sculptor Praxiteles, being in love with her, modelled his Cnidian Aphrodite from her, and on the pedestal of his Eros below the stage of the theatre he wrote an epigram:
‘Praxiteles hath portrayed to perfection the Passion (Eros) which he bore, drawing his model from the depths of his own heart and dedicating Me to Phryne as the price of Me. The spell of love which I cast comes no longer from my arrow, but from gazing upon Me.’

In mediaeval times the naked body was considered to be a mark of lasciviousness and corruption and it was in the Renaissance that the classical ideals were once again revived and the naked figure once again glorified.

The painting above is “Phryne Before the Areopagus”, by Jean-Léon Gérôme, who has taken the incident a little bit further than what actually happened!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

POETRY JAM - JOY

“Find a place inside where there's joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.” - Joseph Campbell

The last Poetry Jam of this year has set the theme of “Spread the Joy” for participants. It is a busy time of the year for everyone and more so for me as I have been trying to finish a couple of work projects before Christmas. I dug into my poetry archive for a joyful poem and here is one, that foots the bill.

Have a wonderful Festive Season with health and happiness in 2015, fellow poets of the Jam, and I look forward to seeing you and your work again next year!

The Coming of Spring

A roseate dawn appears
While birds a-flutter sing.
Night swiftly flies and in mid-flight
Lets drop a star so shining bright
On the horizon-shell’s pink lip.

The sun comes up
The day is near.
Blossoms with sparkling dew bedecked,
Unfurl, offering precious gifts
Of multicoloured jewels.

Shimmering heat
And waking world.
A bright new day - promise of joy,
Spring passes by scattering perfumes,
Colours bright, new hopes, illusions...

The evening comes
A welcome guest.
The rising moon tempers the heat of day
And nightingale murmurs an evensong
A blessing uttered in the rite of spring.

THE SYDNEY SIEGE

“He who does not show mercy to others, will not be shown mercy.” – Muhammad Al-Bukhârî

This week in Sydney, two people died, along with an Islamist gunman, after commandos stormed a café in the centre of the City, to bring to an end a 16-hour siege. Local media have named those who died as Lindt café manager Tori Johnson, 34 and lawyer Katrina Dawson, 38. Four people were injured, including a policeman hit by shotgun pellets. Central Sydney was put in lockdown as the gunman, identified as an Iranian refugee, seized dozens of hostages early on Monday.

The incident raised all sorts of questions about our society, the way that we administer justice, the protection we offer to people in society and the way that we deal with people who have emotional and mental problems that need treatment. It also focuses world attention on Australia, which for decades has been wrestling with the issue of “isolation” and the “tyranny of distance” from the rest of the world, both a blessing and a curse, it seems.

The gunman who took innocent victims hostage was Man Haron Monis, a self-styled sheikh who hung a flag bearing the Shahada – “There is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God” in the window of the Lindt café at the beginning of the siege. There has been some speculation that Monis was acting on behalf of Islamic State. One of his demands was for an Isis flag, but Isis is yet to claim responsibility for Monis or the siege. Monis apparently was a deeply unstable person with a long history of violence and mental illness and he was on bail while waiting trial for a number of crimes, including the charge of being an accessory to the stabbing murder of his ex-wife, Noleen Hayson Pal, in December last year.

Bail is a core part of the criminal justice system and allows a person to be released from custody pending the outcome of a case against him or her, with certain conditions. Because the decision to refuse bail can impact on a person’s liberty before he or she has been convicted of an offence, it involves a careful assessment of factors including the potential risks posed to the community and the presumption of innocence.

Monis was facing two different sets of charges, the first relating to a series of sexual assault charges and the second relating to being an accessory to the murder of his former wife. He was initially refused bail on 14 April at Kogarah local court but later granted bail on 26 May at Parramatta local court. These decisions would have involved an assessment as to whether Monis might have committed a serious offence, whether he would be a danger to the community, whether he might interfere with evidence and the strength of the prosecution’s case. Questions remain as to why Monis was granted bail and whether it should have been granted, given the violent acts he committed, which resulted in his death and the death of two innocent people.

The head of the Iranian police, Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, has told journalists in Tehran that Monis fled Iran in the late 1990s wanted on fraud charges. He said the Iranian government had sought his extradition but Australia rebuffed that request. Rumour has it that Monis arrived as a representative of the Iranian government on a business visa and claimed political asylum later. Monis himself said he was involved with Iran’s ministry of intelligence but fell out with the regime because of his liberal views. He also said his wife and child were being kept under house arrest. The facts of the case are still unknown and an investigation will hopefully shed light on some of these questions.

As Australia becomes more and more involved in international affairs, as we begin to see our citizens becoming embroiled in political, religious, social and security affairs that are now of global concern, we need to examine the way in which our society functions so as to protect its members from events like the Sydney siege. Could our laws, our justice system and our daily life change in a beneficial way so that the quality of life we have enjoyed so far continue into the future? Or should we just bow our head down and acknowledge that the world has become a terrible place and as Australia is part this world resign ourselves to the fact that our “Golden Age” is no more?

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

MOVIE MONDAY - HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR


"A warless world will come as men develop warless hearts." - Charles Wesley Burns

A review of a classic 1959 film by Alain Resnais, Hiroshima,Mon Amour today. This is a film I have watched three times and enjoyed it immensely every time, was moved by it anew each time, was shocked and was forced to reassess my own soul each time, together with the film’s actors.

The year is 1959 and a young French actress has just spent a torrid night with a married Japanese architect. They are in Hiroshima, where she has been shooting an anti-war film. They find themselves embroiled in a white-hot passion and they are moved to disclosing their inner secrets to each other. She discloses to him her first love for a German soldier during the second world war in the French town of Nevers. The film is a love story, but it is not. It is an anti-war film, but it is not. It is a study of two people marked by tragedy, by loss, by disaster, but it is a hopeful document of renewal and rebirth.

The film relies on dialogue and images to reveal the souls of the two leads and the way in which their encounter changes them. The dialogue between the two lovers is also a conversation of their two pasts with each other. Each phrase exchanged between them is in juxtaposition with the mirrored images of their previous experiences. There is a rich interweaving of layers of images, symbols and metaphors. The growth of these two people is really revealing past destruction, the present peace they find themselves in is really an exposure of the recent war they have experienced, the love they are living through presently is really a sacrifice to the death they cheated in their past.

The script of the movie by Marguerite Duras is expressive, sensitive and revealing. There is poetry and great literary merit in it. Resnais has turned it into a magnificent film through his amazing direction and striking close-ups, the few locations used and his superb layering of images and scenes. The brilliance of the mise en scène is complemented by great acting, the masterly editing and the interweaving of past and present to create a powerful film.

The love story does not trivialise the tragedy of Hiroshima, but rather it makes it even more poignant and ultimately even more accessible on a personal level. The bombing of Hiroshima horrifies us and disgusts us, its significance on a world level makes us gasp with revulsion – on the other hand the personal tragedy of the two lovers makes us weep as our hearts are moved by their plight and as our hearts beat in sympathy with their own personal losses.

If you haven’t seen this film, go and get it and see it. It is a masterpiece of cinematic art, a film against war and a love story between two survivors. In the immense tragedies it documents, it is also a hopeful statement on life and love.

Monday, 15 December 2014

ART SUNDAY - PETER PAUL RUBENS


“My talent is such that no undertaking, however vast in size or diversified in subject, has ever surpassed my courage.” - Peter Paul Rubens

Peter Paul Rubens (June 30, 1577 Siegen Westphalia – May 30, 1640, Antwerp, Belgium) Peter Paul Rubens was one of the most famous and successful European artists of the 17th century, and is known for such works as “The Descent from the Cross”, “Wolf and Fox Hunt” and “The Garden of Love”. His patrons included royalty and churches, and his art depicted subjects from religion, history and mythology. Rubens’ style combined a knowledge of Renaissance classicism with lush brushwork and a lively realism.

He was born on June 28, 1577, in the town of Siegen in Westphalia (now Germany), one of seven children of a prosperous lawyer and his cultured wife. Following his father’s death in 1587, the family moved to Antwerp in the Spanish Netherlands (now Belgium), where the young Rubens received an education and artistic training. He served as an apprentice to several established artists, and was admitted into Antwerp’s professional guild for painters in 1598.

In 1600, Rubens travelled to Italy, where he viewed the art of such Renaissance masters as Titian and Tintoretto in Venice, and Raphael and Michelangelo in Rome. He soon found an employer, Vincenzo I Gonzaga, duke of Mantua, who commissioned him to paint portraits and sponsored his travels. Rubens was sent by Vincenzo to Spain, to the city of Genoa in Italy, and then again to Rome. A gifted businessman as well as a highly talented artist, Rubens began to receive commissions to paint religious works for churches and portraits for private clients.

Rubens returned home to Antwerp in 1608. There he married Isabella Brant and established his own studio with a staff of assistants. He was appointed court painter to Archduke Albert and Archduchess Isabella, who governed the Southern Netherlands on behalf of Spain. In a time of social and economic recovery after war, Antwerp’s affluent merchants were building their private art collections and local churches were being refurbished with new art. Rubens received a prestigious commission to paint two large religious works, “The Raising of the Cross” and “The Descent from the Cross”, for Antwerp Cathedral between 1610 and 1614.

In addition to many projects for Roman Catholic churches, Rubens also created paintings with historical and mythological scenes during these years, as well as hunting scenes like “Wolf and Fox Hunt” (circa 1615-21). Rubens became known as ‘the prince of painters and the painter of princes’ during his career, due to his frequent work for royal clients. He produced a tapestry cycle for Louis XIII of France (1622-25), a series of 21 large canvases glorifying the life and reign of Marie de Medici of France (1622-25) and the allegorical “Peace and War” for Charles I of England (1629-30).

Following the death of his wife, Isabella, in 1626, Rubens travelled for several years, combining his artistic career with diplomatic visits to Spain and England on behalf of the Netherlands. When he returned to Antwerp, he married his second wife, Helena Fourment; his family group “Self-Portrait with Helena and Peter Paul” was a testament to his domestic happiness with his wife and new son. In the 1630s, Rubens produced several of his major mythological works, including “The Judgment of Paris” and “The Garden of Love”, an idyllic scene of courting couples in a landscape.

At the time of his death, on May 30, 1640, in Antwerp, Spanish Netherlands (now Belgium), Rubens was one of the most celebrated artists in Europe. He left behind eight children as well as numerous studio assistants, some of whom (most notably Anthony van Dyck) went on to have successful artistic careers of their own. Rubens’ skill at arranging complex groupings of figures in a composition, his ability to work on a large scale, his ease at depicting diverse subjects and his personal eloquence and charm all contributed to his success. His style combined Renaissance idealisation of the human form with lush brushwork, dynamic poses and a lively sense of realism. His fondness for depicting fleshy, curvaceous female bodies, in particular, has made the word ‘Rubenesque’ a familiar term. Admirers of Rubens’ work included his contemporary, Rembrandt, as well as artists of other regions and later centuries, from Thomas Gainsborough to Eugène Delacroix.

The painting above in the Royal Collection is “Pythagoras Advocating Vegetarianism” was painted 1618-1620 and illustrates a common practice of established art studios of Rubens’ time. Collaborative work on a painting could be carried out by a number of artists in the studio. In this example, Rubens was responsible for the composition of the work and he also painted the figures, while the vegetable/fruit still life was painted by Frans Snyders (1579–1657). The Rubenesque nude is period eye candy for the rich patrons commissioning the work – perhaps an equivalent of the ‘Playboy’ magazine of the time…

Saturday, 13 December 2014

MUSIC SATURDAY - BRAHMS' CLARINET QUINTET

“It is not hard to compose, but what is fabulously hard is to leave the superfluous notes under the table.” - Johannes Brahms

For Music Saturday a most delicious work for Clarinet and String Quartet by Johannes Brahms (7 May 1833 - 3 April 1897). It is his Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 115, written in 1891.

00:00 - I. Allegro
12:21 - II. Adagio
23:26 - III. Andantino - Presto non assai, ma con sentimento
28:03 - IV. Con moto

When Clara Schumann first heard this quintet, she wrote: “It is a really marvellous work, the wailing clarinet takes hold of one; it is most moving. And what interesting music, deep and full of meaning!” These poignant words by Brahms’ closest female friend belie Brahms' disingenuous comparison of the work with his earlier Clarinet Trio: “[It is] a far greater piece of foolishness.”

From the first movement, the music pulsates with yearning. In its opening measures are the seeds that germinate in the rest of composition, which is equally perfect in its power of evocation and its structural rigour. The autumnal mood of the work results in part from the subtle shifts throughout between the closely related keys of D major and B minor.

Most notable is the second movement Adagio, a tender love song whose wistfulness seems to reflect the entire decline of the late Romantic musical ethos. Of course there is more to this piece than its dreamlike evocations. Listen to the Presto, with its Hungarian folk-dance style and the finale’s intriguing variations, the last of which returns full circle to the opening theme of the first movement.

The quintet received its first private performance on 24 November 1891 in Meiningen, with Richard Mühlfeld and the Joachim Quartet, led by Joseph Joachim who often collaborated with Brahms. The public premiere was on 12 December 1891 in Berlin.