Any egg tempera paintings?
Oh, let me look into that! Are you an artist? I have found that artists are often interested in materials.
Sort of! I just came from the library and saw some really amazing egg tempera paintings.
Many of the religious paintings in the Beaux-Arts Court, where you are, were painted with tempera. In the Renaissance-era, tempera was mixed with egg and that material practice has been used actually since ancient Egypt through the Renaissance until it was eventually replaced with oil paints.
Oh! Awesome! Why was it replaced?
Mainly because the effects that can be achieved with oil paints are much greater than with tempera. Artists could achieve more color, depth and contrasts with oil. Oil takes much longer to dry allowing the artist to continually make changes and add layers of color. The surface is often brighter.
How did they achieve a blue this vivid?
The beautiful blue of Madonna's cloak was made using the pigment ultramarine, derived from the precious blue mineral lapis lazuli. Found exclusively in the mountains of northern Afghanistan, lapis had been laboriously mined by the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans from early antiquity. Towards the end of the Middle Ages, it began to be ground into powder and made into ultramarine, quickly becoming the finest and most expensive pigment of them all.
Do you know of any other religions aside from Hinduism where a certain color is connected to certain gods?
In most polytheistic religions (and monotheistic religions, for that matter) there is a level of association between deities (or religious figures) and colors. Colors tend to carry a lot of symbolism throughout history. In Infinite Blue, there is a small section dedicated to Blue Gods of Egypt and several images of the Madonna wearing her characteristic blue mantle. On the third floor you can see more Egyptian gods in their associated colors. You can also see more images of the Madonna clothed in blue.
Why is Mary often depicted in blue?
Mary is often depicted with a blue mantle because blue was associated with the sky and Mary was being portrayed as the Queen in Heaven. Additionally, blue pigments were very expensive and were often reserved for the holiest figures in a given scene.
Religious iconography had to be consistent so that illiterate worshipers could identify key figures. The blue mantle is also a useful visual device used throughout the history of Christianity!
Did both purple and blue signify royalty?
If only the wealthy could afford a certain pigment, it became associated with those in power. Purple pigment has also at various points in history been difficult to obtain.
The popularity of a particular color depended on location and time period, since trade and development of new pigments play a key role in what is expensive! Blue was associated with royalty when pigment was only being made from lapis lazuli, a difficult to obtain stone. When synthetic blue pigment became available in Europe, it was no longer associated with wealth and royalty, as it was much easier to come by!
Woah, that's crazy. Thanks for sharing all your wisdom.
Why is baby Jesus throwing a ball and who is he throwing the ball at?
That is actually an apple, which is a symbol of original sin, symbolizing the Christ child's power to redeem the sins of humanity.
Wow, cool thanks!
Why are all of their heads surrounded by circles?
Those are called halos. They suggest the divinity of the subjects, their heads ringed with light. The shiny gold finish on the circles helps to demonstrate this further.
Tell me more.
This is a 15th century painting of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. You can see in this work several symbols that were popular in depicting the pair at the time, including the golden halos around their heads and the apple that the child reaches for.
The blue of the Madonna's mantle is another popular motif. Here the cloak was painted using ultramarine, made from the mineral lapis lazuli. We have several sculptures of the same material on the other side of the exhibition!
What's the correlation between the color blue and the images of women in the infinite blue exhibit?
There are quite a few images of women in this show! and the relationship between the woman and the color sort of depends on the work you're looking at.
For example, if you're looking at the Virgin Mary in a work of art from a Christian culture: blue is associated with royalty, and blue was also very expensive as an artist's pigment, so when you see Mary in a blue robe, you know that she is very important in the Christian narrative.
I am looking at the paintings of the Virgin Mary. Do you know if lapis lazuli was used in any of the particular paintings?
Unfortunately none of these Virgin Mary paintings have been tested to determine the makeup of the pigments. However, the deep blue of the Virgin Mary's cloak was painted with costly lapis lazuli pigment in paintings of the time, so it's definitely a possibility.
Even if the ultramarine pigment is not present, the shade itself is still symbolic and is meant a reference to the stone.
Am I correct in remembering that at this time blue was more expensive and so when commissioned, artists would also negotiate color with their patrons?
You are correct! Throughout history blue has been a difficult and/or expensive color to produce which is part of the story that this exhibition tells.
During the Italian Renaissance, the most expensive blue, Ultramarine, were made from lapis lazuli, a blue stone that was only mined in Afghanistan and thus had to be transported great distances.
We only see the Virgin and child and four angels. Where is the redeemer? Or is baby Jesus the redeemer?
Yes, you are exactly right! The Christ Child is the Redeemer here. Do you see how he is holding an apple? The fruit is a symbol for sin and Christ's role as redeemer. In Latin, the word for "apple" and "evil" are the same - malum.
Also, in the pediment above the frame, there is an image of Jesus Christ with his right hand up in a symbol of blessing.
Is that real gold hammered and attached to the painting?
Yes! Gold was hammered very thinly until it was a very light, thin leaf.
Most artists put a red clay paint called "bole" under the gold leaf, to make the gold look warmer. If you look closely, you can see some of the red showing through!
So the bole also acted like a glue?
Yes, the bole was a sticky reddish clay that provided a flexible, adhesive surface for the fragile gold leaf. After applying the gold, the surface would be burnished (rubbed) to smooth and polish the surface.
How was the texture made on the halos? Was it scratched into plaster or a thick coat of paint or some other medium and then gilded?
The halos were executed in gold leaf applied to a gessoed wooden surface. The gold leaf was then applied and burnished to be smooth and lustrous. The textured design you see was applied after with incisions or punch marks.
Is there a name for that technique?
It’s simply referred to as “tooled gold.”
I am here with my 7 year old son and he would like to know what natural material the artist used to make this color blue. He guessed blueberry juice ;)
That's great guess! I'm sure it would have been beautiful with blueberry juice, but it also would have faded :( For bright colors to stay for a long time, it is usually best to use colors made from stones (like here) and metals!
This type of blue is known as ultramarine and is made from a stone called lapis lazuli. It was very expensive because it had to travel to Italy all the way from Afghanistan.
Thank you! Was it only used in Medieval times?
You're welcome! No! The first ever long distance trade route (that we know about) was established to move lapis from Afghanistan to Egypt about 6000 years ago! The ancient Egyptians, Mesopotamians, and other people of the ancient Mediterranean and Asia used the stone.
You can even find it in jewelry today and ultramarine paint is still made! It's less expensive though, with modern travel.
You just blew his mind ;)
Is this frame original? Was painting cropped to fit it?
It is housed in its original frame from the 1450s and it is the oldest frame of its kind in a New York collection!
The original painting was likely made with this frame in mind.
With respect to lapis lazuli, how was the rock turned into a paint?
The stone would be ground into a fine powder, then mixed with a binder or medium to create the paint.
Renaissance artists acquired pigments and media separately and mixed them together themselves in their studios.
This was a labor intensive process!
Thanks. Is that what made the pigment so expensive and why artists had to also use other materials for blue?
The main reason why lapis lazuli (referred to as ultramarine when processed into a pigment) was so much more expensive than other materials was because it had to be imported all the way from Afghanistan.
This is silly, but why are babies so weird looking from this era?
I would argue that it's the images of the babies that are silly rather than you question! The main reason is that artists were not sketching babies from life, they had to sort of imagine what they looked like and the way that they moved.
Sketching all people and animals from life was one of the innovations that took place during the Renaissance, so later we do say much more realistic images.
That is so awesome! That makes a lot of sense. I saw a website ridiculing Renaissance paintings of cats once, I imagine because they were also reconstructing their images mostly from memory. Thank you!
You're welcome! That's exactly what was going on!
Why do the subjects in Christian art of this era always look miserable?
What makes you think these figures look miserable? To me they look calm and solemn, maybe, but not necessarily miserable.
Now that you say it I see that too. Initially I saw the mother as world weary, run down.
I can see why you would interpret Mary as tired in this painting, her eyes are pretty heavily lidded!
In general The Virgin Mary served as a model of piety in paintings like this. Showing her as miserable wouldn't necessarily make the viewer aspire to be as pious as she is meant to be, so in my experience many of these paintings veer more towards tranquil and pure. Mary is even holding lily flowers in this work, a traditional symbol of purity.
Makes sense. Thank you!!
Are these both from the Renaissance?
Yes! They are both considered Italian Renaissance paintings (roughly 14th to 16th centuries). Zanobi Strozzi was working in Florence, arguably the center of the movement. Bernardino Luini was working in Milan and was heavily influenced by the style of Leonardo da Vinci.
Are there any important themes to look for in the Virgin and Child painting?
Yes, many. For example, the image in the pediment (the triangular top panel) shows Jesus Christ with his right hand up in a symbol of blessing. In his left hand, he holds the Bible. The idea of this image of Christ is that he has the power to redeem or forgive the sins of humanity.
Also, the following phrase is inscribed on the base of frame: "AVE MARIA GRATIA PLENA DOMINVS TECVM BENEDICTA TV" meaning "Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou".
Why is blue associated more with Mary and not other important religious figures?
Mary's blue garments are one way to pick her out in a group of Christian holy figures. She is often regarded as the most holy and most celebrated figure in Christianity after Christ. She is honored in artwork by being dressed in luxurious fabrics and colors. Deep blues were made from a pigment called ultramarine which was very expensive because it was made from lapis lazuli which had to be imported all the way from Afghanistan.
Christ's clothing, as an adult, on the other hand, is typically used to emphasize his own humble lifestyle. He is identified in artwork more often by a glowing halo and other attributes.
Who was Zanobi Strozzi?
Zanobi Strozzi was an artist born in 1412 to a wealthy family in Florence, Italy. He worked as a painter of miniatures and a manuscript illuminator. His work was in high demand in Florence and his work is thought to decorate many private chapels.
Is the red cochineal? Was that used at this time?
It looks like it can't be! I know that cochineal was being used in the Americas at the time, but the insects are only indigenous to the Americas. Therefore, Europeans like Strozzi, could not have been using the pigment until it was being imported following the Spanish conquests in the 16th century.
How do you know this is from 1450?
The 1450 date is approximate (the "ca." stands for "circa" meaning around). One clue to the date is that we know the artist, Zanobi Strozzi, lived from 1412 to 1468.
Another clue is that this Virgin and Child painting is a bit different than others known by Zanobi Strozzi, so scholars think that it was created later in his career, but still before he began work on a large commission for the Medici family which began around 1460 based on records.
Strozzi's earlier Virgins are the "humility" type where Mary is seated on the ground, like the nearby painting by Andrea di Bartolo. This one would be considered "enthroned."
Wow thanks for the information!