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What Destiny Holds For Painter Ferdinand Hodler


Ferdinand Hodler, one of the leading figures in modern European paintings, developed outside the mainstream of the so-called avant-garde, and his life and work bridged the gap between the 19th and 20th centuries. At the end of the XIX century, he was the one of the leading Symbolist painters.
Here is a self-portrait of the artist.



Born into a very modest craftsman’s family in Berne, 1853, and losing not only his parents but also his siblings very early (they were killed by tuberculosis), he fought hard in life. The eldest of six children, Hodler was then orphaned at the age of fourteen, but he was also very ambitious and determined to become an artist.
If you know anything about art, you might know that becoming an artist takes a certain special kind of determination, because unlike other trades, visual artists, in the context of history, are almost certainly doomed to poverty and mental illness – and that’s if they’re successful!

Moving to Geneva, then the main artistic center in Switzerland, Hodler was noticed by Barthelémy Mann, a student of Ingres, and teacher at the Geneva School of drawing. He studied with him between 1872 and 1877.
Mann completed Hodler’s visual and cultural education. He taught him to respect drawing and form and introduced him to French painting.

Here is Ferdinand Hodler’s Thunersee mit Stockhornkette


Hodler’s early paintings were marked by harsh, powerful realism which resembled Courbet; it disconcerted the critics of Geneva who were divided into two opposing sites- one censured his indulgence of ugliness, other praise the originality of his artwork.

In the mid 1880s, Hodler met poets, critics and journalists, the admirers of Wagner, Mallarme and Verlaine, who formed the first Symbolist circle in Geneva, in which Hodler was closely involved. His art developed towards a style of realism coupled with idealism and symbolism.


His portraits of the artisans at work and of the destitute were the starting point for a wider reflection on man’s destiny. A Glimpse into Eternity – an old man is making a child’s coffin; this rigorous composition and the powerful light was the significant development.
Recreating the details of the carpenter’s work very carefully, Hodler links the scene to a superior order through the old man’s attitude of prayer. Here is the work itself, albeit small.


In a gradual way, divested of any reference to everyday life or specific social environment, the theme develops towards a radical portrayal of our inexorable march towards death. In this period at the end of the 1880s and the beginning of the 1990s, death had become an obsession for Hodler who, since his childhood, has been faced with the loss of his family.

The Night

It was triumphed in (1889/1890) The Night, a capital large format of strong expression and dramatic tension, when the author faced the phantom of death. It is a manifesto of Hodlerian Symbolism. The realism of the nudes and the poses of these couples in The Night cause a scandal in Geneva in February 1891.
The painting was not accepted for the Beaux-Arts exhibition in Geneva.

ferdinand_hodler_the night

In The Night, the painter portrays himself as having been rudely awakened by the figure of death. Around him are entwined men and women asleep; with self-portraits slipped in along with the portraits of the two women with whom Hodler shared his life: Augustine Dupain, his companion since the early days and the mother of his son, and Bertha Stuckie, his wife from a tempestuous and brief marriage.

The artist presented a period of his life in an autobiographical picture at the scale of a history painting, just as Courbet did in The Studio. The meaning of the work is universal for it is symbolic: it doesn’t represent any particular moment, but evokes the essence of death and night.
In The Night, Hodler combines a heightened realism and a very strict decorative order to an extent which had never been equaled, and which became the trademark of Hodlerian Symbolism. The sequencing of the figures are according to Hodler’s own principle of symmetry, as well as the search for frontality, is one of the most stunning expressions of a parallelism- as the repetition of similar forms, a principle defined by Hodler.
Parallelism is more than a principle of formal composition, it is a moral and philosophical idea, relying on the premise that nature has an order, based on repetition, and that in the end all men resemble each other.

This piece overshadows the compositions of The Disappointed, Tired of Living and Eurhythmy, with the images of old men descending from the stage of life. There are, however, more sophisticated pieces, such as The Chosen One and Path of the Chosen Souls.

Here, below, is The Chosen One by Ferdinand Hodler


In the meantime, Hodler abandoned the realism of the 1880s in favor of a realism of expression and color. He was inventing a specific and original form of Symbolism; drawing on the men’s lost harmony with nature.
It was a celebration of vital energy: a woman became the spiritual heroine and a child symbolized the innocence and the force of life; the emphatic gestures were inspired by modern dance and experimental ways of expressing emotion. These compositions, harmonizing with each other in the spirit of great Symbolist themes, brought him success in Europe, especially in the newly formed Secessions in Vienna, and Jugendstil in Berlin.

Take a look at Ferdinand Hodler’s Aufstieg I


Quarrel Of The Frescoes

As early as in 1880s, and from 1900 onward, Hodler was regarded as one of the great decorators and history painters. He was elaborating topics from the history of Switzerland and Germany. His first two works in Switzerland in this field were the subject of a great controversy.
The first was the decoration in the Palais des Beaux-Arts, for the Swiss National Exhibition in Geneva, 1896, and the second was for a painting of The Retreat at Marignano for the Swiss National Museum in Zurich.

The commission resulted in what would become known in Switzerland as the ‘’quarrel of the Frescoes’’ and continued for almost two years (1898-1900). Hodler was reproached for not keeping closer to the historical and for not expressing the heroism normally extolled in more descriptive and narrative history paintings.

The Retreat at Marignano (below)


Nonetheless, he had to wait more than ten years for his mural on the opposite wall to The Retreat at Marignano to be confirmed. It was The Battle of Morat, and it was the last artist’s historical panel on which he worked on from the summer of 1915 in France, then left unfinished in 1917.
However, this episode was the end of Hodler’s radical attempt at simplifying the genre. He regenerated it profoundly by his own choice of bright colors, applied without depth, and by the power of his expression.

Of his excellent historical compositions The Battle of Fraubrunnen, Wilhelm Tell, The Battle of Näfels: only The Retreat at Marignano was chosen as a final work ( Schweizerisches Landesmuseum in Zürich). Hodler became a significant mural painter at the turn of a century: he later produced Iena for the Iena University (1909) and Unanimity for the Hannover Town Hall (1912/13).

Wilhelm Tell by Ferdinand Hodler (below):



Hodler is considered to be the greatest representative of monumentalism, defined by German historiography as one of the important trends of Stilkunst um 1900, art of style around 1900. At the same time, he successfully accepted the nervous, elegant and refined lines of Jugendstil (Dream, Poetry).
In addition, he was considered a herald of German expressionism.

His fame in Europe was contributed to the most by the XIX exhibition of Viennese secession in 1904, where he had a separate hall. At the time, he was admired by the best: Klimt, Hoffman, Liebermann Jr.
Kokoschka, Kandinsky interpreted musical features of painting by his work.

Young Man Admired by Women (below):


Famous and rich, Hodler turn to worldly joys, as testified by his monumental allegoric compositions (Days, Emotions, the Young Man Admired by Women, Love, etc), which emphasized his sense of beauty and sacredness of life.
They are full of young women placed before shallow floral background – in the apse or in the frieze; the composition rests on a firm architectural and rhythmic analysis of surface, with a rich linear play on top of it.


Hard To Resist

This is the time when the beautiful and young Jean-Charles entered Hodler’s life. In 1901-1916, she was to be his favorite model: she posed not only for all the compositions listed, but also for the Swiss fifty franc note- her face did appear on it, for a sequence of individual portraits.
This is visible in her collection which covers over four decades (1873-1914) and gives a considerable insight into the artist’s opus, especially the intimate part of it.


While posing for Hodler, Jeanne married the musician A Cerani (1905) and became a widow (1914), which never disturbed her relationship with the painter, a polygamist. He was never reluctant to maintain relationships with several women while married to Berthe Jacques, with whom he spent 20 years, until he died, and to whom he referred as ‘’his elegant half’’.
Thus, for instance, in 1910/11, he was with Jeanne and the Italian Giulia Leonardi, the Parisienne Valentine Godé-Darel, who was, in a way, the woman of his life, and who later became the mother of his daughter Paulette.
The most important women in Hodler’s life have lived in his artworks- the oldest commoner Augustine Dupin, the mother of his son Hector, the ones listed, and Gertrud Müler, a rich collector and a dear friend.

Hodler was not just an irresistible man, but also- more importantly – he was a man of strong character and integrity, a fearless fighter for justice, equality, unity, which was, from 1881 onwards, reflected in his doctrine of parallelism based on rhythmic repetition of similar shapes in symmetry, with an aesthetic, social and metaphysical dimension.
It is therefore not surprising that Switzerland recognized the idea of its national identity in his work: independence, love for freedom, democracy persistence, etc.


When the Germans bombed The Reims cathedral at the beginning of World War I, Hodler signed a protest of artists and intellectuals of Geneva (where he lived from 1872 until his death in 1918), against this ‘’barbaric act’’.
In Germany, a campaign was launched immediately against the artist praised until not long before that: They threw his paintings out of public places; they attacked him, everywhere, at occasion. His friends advised him to remove his signature from the ‘’ Geneva protest’’: he refused.

These unfortunate events coincided with the slow and painful death of his dearest Valentine to cancer. He truthfully expressed his feelings in almost two hundred paintings and drawings, considered by some to be ‘’the most dramatic series on the entire history of art’’. With an almost unbearable documentary brutality, he records the inexorable progress of her illness and suffering.
This exceptional series, was not only an escape from pain and grief, but it was part of his much wider reflection on death which, with its ghostly appearance in The Night, and as the common destiny for all in Eurhythmy and Tired of Life became with Valentine, the great stylizer, exposing the truth about the body and the face.


The discovery of this series, Ein Maler von Liebe und Tot / A Painter before Love and Death,1976/1977, as well as the discovery of incredible expression and versatility of his portraits- Selbstbildnisse als Selbstbiographie / Self-portraits and Autobiography, Bern, 1979, for both again we owe gratitude to Jura Brüschweiler.
A historiographer of such format and such dedication is Hodler’s posthumous reward for his life.


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After Valentine had died, Hodler found peace in painting large horizontal of death flattening all the differences: it was the body of the beloved woman, and landscape including Earth and Heaven – the entire Universe.
For Hodler, landscape painting had a philosophical dimension. He thought that the painter had to reveal the laws of nature and of the world through a patient structured study of location. This order relies on parallelism, repetition and symmetry.
According to this artist landscape painting should ‘’show us nature made greater and simpler, pared of all insignificant details’’. The Hodlerian landscape is known for the elimination of all that is irregular and incidental and characterized by the suppression of aerial and chromatic perspective.


During the remaining three years of his life, Hodler painted his master-pieces, and he reached his peak in the last ten landscapes, made just before he died, with Mont Blanc at dusk and dawn.
These burning, cosmic landscapes lead Dieter Honisch to a daring conclusion that Hodler heralded the radicalism of Rhotko and Newmann: an image becomes “pure contemplation’’.

Beauty and celebration of light, which chased away the forces of darkness, goes beyond any individual destiny.

Let us recall the ancient teaching that only separate existence means suffering, and the return to the source, “the great unity’’ liberates us from the pain of confinement in the individual, the interim, and the transient.
Thus the drop returns to the Ocean, in order to free itself from its tiny I, and to immerse into the great Self.


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Famous Ossuaries From Around The World – Take The Tour!


Ossuaries are containers of bones, ranging from buildings to boxes. They have a very long history, with some common threads throughout time. In all cases, the bodies were temporarily buried or stored to allow the natural process of decay to take place.

Once some time had passed, the bones were removed, cleaned and moved to the ossuary. Some ossuaries aren’t terribly interesting; they’re shelves with bones. Others are significantly more creative.

Here now are some of the most famous ossuaries in the world. Take the tour with us and prepare to look death straight in the eye socket!

The Crypt Of Santa Maria della Concezione

The crypt of the church of Santa Maria della Concezione contains the bones and remains of 4,000 Capuchin friars. The chapel preserves some bodies fully intact, dressed in the Capuchin habit. Most of the bones have been disassembled, and used for artistic decoration on the walls, doors and pillars of the church.


A sign, printed in three languages, reads, What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you shall be.” Delightful. The bones of the friars were collected and assembled in Santa Maria della Concezione between 1500 and 1870.

The Capuchin friars came to the crypt to pray regularly.

Here is a short video to give you an idea of the morbid splendours of this ossuary. Enjoy!

Chiesa de San Bernadino alle Ossa Church in Milan, Italy

Chiesa de San Bernadino alle Ossa is a church in Milan, Italy. While the majority of the church is rather ordinary, the side chapel is quite unusual. In 1210, a room or chapel was built to hold bones, as the adjoining cemetery had become full.

In 1269, a church was attached to the ossuary, and in 1679, the ossuary was redesigned.


The church, but not the ossuary, burned in 1712, and a larger church was rebuilt as the ossuary was already becoming quite famous. The walls, doors and pillars of the ossuary are covered in human bones, predominantly from the patients of the local hospital and the monks who cared for them. The vault is decorated with frescoes by Sebastiano Ricci, painted at the end of the 17th century.

Here is a video showing the inside of the church. Have fun!

The Chapel of Bones in Evora in Portugal

The Chapel of Bones in Evora, Portugal offers another perspective on the ossuary. By the 16th century, cemetery space was becoming a problem, so the monks chose to move the bones from the cemeteries to an interior chapel.

The ossuary was inspired by San Bernadino alle Ossa. Like San Bernadino alle Ossa, the chapel has walls, doors and pillars covered in bones. It also contains several key relics associated with martyrs, and several desiccated corpses, hung on the wall next to the crucifix.

The Chapel of Bones in Evora in Portugal

An inscription at the entrance reads, “We bones are waiting for you”.

Here is a short video taking you inside the ossuary. Cheers!

Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic

In the Czech Republic, the Sedlec Ossuary is a small chapel, located beneath the Cemetery Church of All Saints. While work on this ossuary began in the early 16th century, the finished chapel dates to 1870 and is the work of a woodcarver, Frantisek Rint.


The chapel contains a massive central chandelier, containing at least one of every bone in the human body. Draped garlands made of bones decorate the space, and the walls, coat of arms, and other decorations are made of bones.

Get better acquainted with Sedlec Ossuary in this short video. Maybe if you grease their palms a little bit, your skull could even be in there some day…

Basilica of St. Ursula in Cologne, Germany

The Basilica of St. Ursula in Cologne, Germany is a Romanesque-era church with a Gothic style choir; it is particularly remarkable for one of its small chapels. The Golden Chamber or Goldene Kammer features the bones, it is said, of St.

Ursula and her 11,000 virgins, found in 1106. The original legend stated that Ursula died with 11 virgins, but that number grew over time.


The chapel contains significantly more than 11 skeletons, but fewer than 11,000. The bones are not all women, but include men, children, and even mastiff dogs. The bones are arranged in letters, swirls and designs on the walls.

Unlike the other ossuaries, this one is designed as a reliquary, and bears the costly and lavish decoration you would expect in gold and silver throughout.

Just watch this video and you’ll be wondering, “Who was this talented interior decorator who went to all this trouble?”

Beinhaus in Hallstatt, Austria

Not every ossuary is decorative. Some are simply practical, like the catacombs in Paris or the Beinhaus in Hallstatt, Austria. These spaces hold bones, because storage was needed. While they are open to the public, the bones do not serve a significant decorative function.

In the catacombs, cleaned bones are neatly arranged. In the Beinhaus, they are painted and decorated, but sit on simple wooden shelves.



Ossuaries served a dual function; they were practical, providing a space to store bones when sanctified space for cemeteries was in short supply. When integrated into a religious space, they also provided a sort of memento mori for the viewer, a reminder of the fleeting nature of life, and of the realities of mortality.

Have a great day!

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Dadaism – The Negation Of Art At Its Finest


As a reaction to World War I, a little something called Dada – the artistic and literary global movement – arose in 1916 in Zurich, Switzerland. The name came during a clandestine meeting when two German poets stuck a paper knife into a French-German dictionary.

In that clearly inspired moment, the word “dada”, which in French means “hobbyhorse”, was randomly chosen. It echoes the first words of a child, and these associations with childishness appealed to the artist, who wanted to create distance between themselves and conventional society.

And – guess what? It worked!

Before we get into the history of Dada, here is a more recent clip to show you, in case you already had doubts, that it isn’t exactly a long-forgotten art movement.

Origins Of Dada

In the night club Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, poet Hugo Ball brought together artists who, through the absurd and idea of coincidence, fought against logic and reason.

Dada is a new tendency in art. One can tell this from the fact that, “Until now, nobody knew anything about it, and tomorrow everyone in Zurich will be talking about it.”

With those perplexing words, Ball presented his Dada Manifesto on the first public Dada party.

Soon enough, rebellious ideas of Dadaism had spread through Europe.

Key figures in the movement included Hugo Ball, Tristan Tzara, Hans Arp, Raoul Hausmann, Hannah Höch, Francis Picabia, Richard Huelsenbeck, George Grosz, John Heartfield, Man Ray, Hans Richter, Max Ernst, among others.

Dadaist performance brought down the boundaries that separated the different art practices, because visual artists, musicians, writers, poets and actors worked together to propagate these absurdist notions.

Senselessness for these artists has become a tool which were supposed to shake the audience out of its bourgeois serenity and conventional ways of thinking.

Artists attacked the rational-minded, which they blamed for being the cause for creating a “deviant” people who are responsible for the horrors of war.

“Dada is not modern at all, it is rather a return to a quasi-Buddhist religion of indifference. Dada puts an artificial sweetness onto things, a snow of butterflies coming out of a conjurer’s skull. Dada is stillness and does not understand the passions.” -Tristan Tara

Dada movement wanted to overthrow the political, moral and aesthetic values of the society and that through anarchy bring down bourgeois order.

Through the nonsense artists hoped that they would produce a tabula rasa (blank slate) and, on the way, set a new foundation for understanding the society and the world around it.

“We had lost confidence in our culture. Everything had to be demolished. We would begin again after the tabula rasa.” – Marcel Janko

Have a look at this piece, called “Relief Concert” by Jean Arp, who is one of the best-known Dadaist visual artist, famous for his abstract collages…

How To Write Dada Poem

Dadaist songs were written by pulling words out of a hat. The artists recite their poems, in unusual primitive cardboard costumes and masks, accompanied by arrhythmic drum strokes.

Sometimes the different verses of a poem simultaneously were read in the same language or the one song were read in several languages in the same time.

The point was in the random intertwining of words.

If you want to see how Dada performances looked like, but also to hear the recitation of Dadaist If you are inspired, you can also write your own Dadaist poem by recipe of Tristana Tzare:

Take a newspaper.

Take a pair of scissors.

Choose an article as long as you are planning to make your poem.

Cut out the article.

Then cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them in a bag.

Shake it gently.

Than take out the straps one after the other in the order in which they left the bag.

Copy conscientiously.

The poem will be like you.

And hire are you a writer, infinitely original and endowed with sensibility that is charming though beyond the understanding of the vulgar.

To this day, artists are still using methods like this to influence their art. It might be said that English recording artist Radiohead’s early 2000’s album Kid A is a product of dadaist thought, since they apparently wrote the lyrics by tossing words and phrases into a hat.

If you listen closely to the words, you can even tell…

Dadaism in Berlin – Spirit of Dada

Ok, where were we? After the war ended (WW1), many artists left the Zurich and Dada in this city was extinguished.

In Germany, the consequences of the war had led to class conflict in 1919 which were initiated by communists.

In post-war Berlin, Dada became less anti-art and adopted a more political stance.

Artists were political activists, and they created the political art statements. Some of them, such as George Grosz and John Heartfield were members of the Communist Party.
Raoul Hausmann was known as a leader of the Berlin Dadaists, and was most recognizable for his use of language and photo montage. Those works are a visual counterpart to the Dada sound-poems that were heard at the Cabaret Voltaire.

Also, in his work, we see a new approach to experiencing the sculpture.

He has been collecting various items that were considered as garbage and merged them into a new relationships through which he sent a message about condemnation of materiality, and the loss of personal identity and individuality.

Freud’s Theory Of The Unconscious As Inspiration

Dada in Cologne looked up to the Berlin movement but was never quite so political.

Freud’s theories of the unconscious intrigued artists who were drew into their works figures from the mechanical, and human forms.

Max Ernst through dream theories investigate his deep psyche in order to explore the source of his own creativity.

He organized exhibition in one pub in Cologne (because The Association Of Artists refused to present his work) and encouraged visitors to smash up certain exhibits and provided them with a hammer to do so, enlisting their participation in the anti-art spirit of Dada.

Bitter much?

Have a look at “Sacred Conversation” by Max Ernst, eg. art by a guy who gives people hammers to smash other art.


Across the Ocean – The New Dadaists

New York was popular center for artistic exiles during the war. Dadaism movement was formed around Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia. At that time, the word dada is never used to describe their art.

It was later applied because their spirit was similar to one which was conceived in Zurich.

New York Dada was quiet, without such political activism. It was focused on a reconsideration of art’s essence. Importantly, it was carefree and funnier then European Dadaism, which is observed on the humanoid machines in Picabia’s paintings.

The highlight of the Dada movement in New York is Duchamp Fountain. He took over items from everyday life and put them into new contexts, which are provocative and which raise the question, “What is art?”

This unassuming urinal, filtered through Duchamp’s Dadaist eyes, became artwork and statement of mocking conventional fountains, which is generally perceived as a symbol of tradition and fine arts.

Which fountain you like better, is it Duchamp’s on the left, or this Baroque fountain on the right?

Dada was (is) a form of artistic anarchy that challenged the social, political and cultural values of that time. Do you qualify as a torch bearer of the Dadaist spirit? Read the following phrases either aloud or to yourself, and decide if you want to align yourself with the movement.

No one has to know, do they? Just you and us.

Dadaism denies art.

Dadaism denies itself.

Dadaism is nothing!

We leave you with this…

“DADA, as for it, it smells of nothing, it is nothing, nothing, nothing.” – Picabia

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Every Day Is Halloween – The Symbolic Meaning Of Skulls In Art


If you’ve ever walked through a museum, through the galleries of European paintings, you might have noticed something a little bit unusual. There’s a preponderance of skulls in these paintings. Portraits have skulls, still lives have skulls, and even religious artwork has skulls at every turn.

Unless you are a mortician or a grave robber, you might be wondering what is going on with all of these skulls?


Every Day Is Halloween

It’s not that skulls are a particularly delightful subject to paint, or that it was considered aesthetically appealing to add a skull to your still life of flowers; in fact, the skulls had a clear and distinct meaning in the art of the early modern world.

Let’s simplify that meaning in modern terms, “Here today, gone tomorrow.” The skulls (and skeletons and bones) were a reminder that earthly life was short. Particularly in the past, life was not only short, but often quite unpredictable.

Early death was common, and wealth did not protect anyone from that.


Danse Macabre

Art historians use several different terms to describe these reminders of mortality; the most common are memento mori, which translates to “Remember that you have to die,” and vanitas, meaning emptiness. Sometimes works are much more obvious about their references, with skeletons playing a key role in the work.

These works fall into the category of the Danse Macabre. Occasionally, skulls and bones play a different role in art. They can symbolize a particularly saint, or a saint’s relics, but most of the images you’ll see of skulls in art are there to remind you that you have to die.

Danse Macabre even has its own soundtrack, so to speak, which emerged later (1875), thanks to French composer Camille Saint-Saëns.

The Danse Macabre is the oldest of these representations in European art, and dates to the late 14th century, not long after the Black Death devastated much of the known world. The first versions of the Danse Macabre were didactic, or teaching, poems in the form of dialogues between a living person and death.

Murals portraying the Danse Macabre were common in churches throughout the 15th century, but varied. Most showed a round dance led by the figure of death, or alternating dancing live people and skeletons.

We must admit, it does look like a lot of fun!


Eventually, the imagery of death moved from the church walls to private art, particularly as the Protestant Reformation in the late 15th century changed the art world. Well-known artist Hans Holbein the Younger created a woodcut series of prints for the Danse Macabre (shown at the top of the article), but also produced one of the more interesting skull images of the period.

Holbein’s 1533 painting, the Ambassadors, shows two men, leaning against shelves of worldly goods. On the floor in the foreground of the painting, there is an image of a distorted skull, clearly visible only when viewed from a certain position to the right of the painting.

If you want to learn more about The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein The Younger, watch the below video and enjoy this detailed lecture on the topic.

Skulls are a common addition to portraits in the period, often arranged alongside other decorative items on a desk, table or shelf, or held in a simpler, seated portrait. With The Ambassadors by Holbein, as elsewhere, the skulls remind the viewer of the temporary nature of life.

In addition, they bring a sobriety to the portrait, a message about the sitter’s virtue and interest in the afterlife. The sitter may engage with the skull, or ignore it entirely. Oh, and by the way, if you’re looking at this piece and wondering where the skull is, Hans Holbein The Younger was kind enough to put it in the painting using anamorphic perspective.

What Are Vanitas Paintings?

Vanitas paintings are still life images that include aspects of death, often a skull. Still life painting was largely decorative, and most popular in the Netherlands. In Protestant countries, religious art was entirely unacceptable.

Still life painting avoided any potential question of religious content, but still strove to be serious, and to portray a message about the purchaser. Opting for Vanitas images added a severity and seriousness to what were often frivolous paintings.

In some cases, the skulls are replaced by other images of death or decay, like rotting food, insects, or decaying flowers.


So, Why All The Skulls?

So, to answer that initial question, “Why all the skulls?”, we have to recognize that while skulls may share the same basic meaning, the reason for their portrayals may differ. In churches, the reason was clear; death is coming, be prepared.

In portraits or still life works, it is less clear. These images don’t serve to inform or teach. They may preserve an image, serve as a sort of publicity in an era before widespread printing, or decorate.

Here in the above work, the skulls say something about the patron, the sitter or the purchaser. They recognize that this world is temporary, even when the object itself, an oil painting, is a luxury item.

They say that the patron or sitter knows that life is short, and is thinking, already and appropriately for the time, about the afterlife.

There’s one more depiction, if you can call it that, of skulls we did not discuss—the ossuary. Come back soon for the creepiest architecture and construction of them all!

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The Portraits Of Arcimboldo – Strange Amusements Of The Hapsburg Court


When you think of the art of the late 16th and 17th centuries, you likely picture the early stages of Italian Baroque, or maybe the later years of Mannerism—it’s stately, emotional, and dramatic, but mostly tasteful and even traditional.

Shapes and colors are sometimes exaggerated, but it’s not anything you’d expect to inspire the likes of Salvador Dali or Marcel Duchamp.

It reflects the art of the Counter-Reformation, or the movement to strengthen Catholicism through much of Europe. When you move a bit further east, to the capital of Bohemia, the city of Prague, you’ll find something very different.

The court of the Hapsburg emperors, including Rudolf II, produced some of the most playful, whimsical and unusual art found in nearly any period before the 20th century.

emperor rudolf II

Here’s a “quick” 30-minute video about Rudolf II and the times in which he lived, called “”The Apparition Of Knowledge In The Court Of Rudolph II”, to give you some context on the artistic atmosphere for the time, place, and persons in question in this article (namely, Guiseppe Arcimboldo).

Don’t have 30 minutes? Skip ahead, this isn’t school… its the internet!

Ah, yes, Rudolf II created a remarkable court, bringing in writers, poets, humanists, astronomers, and artists. He was especially fond of foreign artists, and collected a wide range of work. He even created an entire cabinet of curiosities, his Kunstkammer.

Rudolf II collected a range of art, with an interest in the unusual, bizarre and erotic. Perhaps some of the most curious works enjoyed by Rudolf II were those of Italian artists Giuseppe Arcimboldo.

Arcimboldo painted portraits, but these were not ordinary portraits at all.


Arcimboldo painted portraits by composing figures of various objects, like fruit, vegetables, books and fish. From a distance, the portraits look quite ordinary. Up close, they’re far from ordinary. The objects weren’t at all random; in fact, they were carefully chosen and frequently quite meaningful.

His composite portraits began with an allegorical series of paintings of the four seasons in 1563. The Four Seasons series sought to display the imperial Habsburg court and its rulers as symbols of power and nature.

They ruled, according to Arcimboldo, because it was part of the natural order for them to rule.

Here is Arcimboldo’s “The Four Seasons”…pretty radical for the 1500’s, no?


In 1590, Arcimboldo painted Rudolf II himself, crafting the emperor’s image out of gourds, peapods and other vegetables. Rudolf embraced Arcimboldo’s unusual style, and apparently quite liked the strange portrait. We’ve shown it above the previous image – you can’t miss it.

The composite portraits are certainly playful—and to the modern viewer, maybe even a little bit surreal.

They’re also a clear reflection of the growing interest in science and botany in the period. Arcimboldo’s portraits show a careful observation of the natural world. They incorporated a range of exotic produce, including things like corn and eggplant.

Many of these crops, native to areas other than Europe, would have been quite unusual in the late 16th century.


Was Arcimboldo brilliant or mad? Did he embrace Rudolf’s tolerant court or mock it? The answers to these questions are still unclear. We do know that the Hapsburg courts, first under Rudolf’s father Maximillian and later under Rudolf II, liked Arcimboldo’s work.

He not only painted their portraits, but also designed costumes for royal pageants and presentations, frequently in the same style.

Arcimboldo’s works were largely lost during the Thirty Years’ War, and only rediscovered in the early 20th century. Twentieth-century theorist Roland Barthes wrote, of Arcimboldo, “Before one of Arcimboldo’s Composed Heads, I am led to not only say of it: I read, guess, discover, and understand, but also: I like, I don’t like.

Uneasiness, fear, laughter, desire all enter the game.” This quote reflects the perceptions of not only Barthes, but many of his contemporaries who took an interest in Arcimboldo’s work, including Rene Magritte, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali.


Arcimboldo’s Reversibles

The painting below shows one of Arcimboldo’s famous reversibles, where, if you turn it upside down, you see that the painting began as a still life including a bowl of curiously arranged vegetables. But here, we see that it is meant to suggest the appearance of a person.

Very interesting, especially considering that still life paintings weren’t yet an established painting style.


Lost Arcimboldo works continue to come to light, and to inspire the art of today.

Recently, sculptor and filmmaker Philip Haas produced a series of large-scale fiberglass sculptures inspired by Arcimboldo’s 1563 series The Four Seasons. The portraits are in profile, but the sculptures offer a three-dimensional take on Arcimboldo’s images.

Each portrait is portrayed as its own sculpture, measuring some 15-feet tall. The imagery present in each represents both the season and Arcimboldo’s work. Oh look, there’s one now!


We sometimes think of the interest in the strange, the bizarre or the unusual as a modern phenomenon, born in the days of Dada and Surrealism; however, as Arcimboldo shows, those same interests appeared long before the modern era.

For Arcimboldo, as for many artists of the modern world, innovations and discovered served as the inspiration for art and for creation, whether those discoveries are the new materials and technology of today, or the new fruits and vegetables of yesterday.

Here is a documentary talking about Guiseppe Arcimboldo and his unique style.

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What Is Expressionism In Art? Hint: It may include prostitutes


Expressionism is one of a number of art “isms from the early 20th Century. The movement developed between 1905 and the 1920s and reflecting a number of crucial themes. Artists were deeply concerned about the state of the world and modern city life.

Despite having some doubts about Modernity, artists were still captivated by the more “immoral” activities of modern life.

Later Expressionist work responded to the aftermath of World War I and its devastating effect on humanity. Most Expressionists were German, although other artists worked out of Russia, Norway, Czechoslovakia and Austria. The movement was adopted in film, music, art and architecture.

Directors like Robert Weine and Fritz Lang used Expressionism in their set design, costume and marketing.

Here’s Robert Weine’s film “The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari” from 1920. As you will see, the aesthetic of expressionism hints at darker themes, and traces of madness and illusion.

With expressionist architecture, there was a similar leaning as with film in that architects were concerned with new forms, innovation, but also a certain oddness that permeates some of the greatest works. Architects like Bruno Taut and Erich Mendelsohn also began to explore Expressionism, creating two of the most iconic works of the day.

Perhaps you are familiar with Bruno Taut’s “Glass Pavilion” from 1914 (shown below).


…or Erich Mendelsohn’s The Einstein Tower…


At the turn of the century, a shift in style lead Expressionists to reject Impressionist ideas. Where Impressionism was a more optical response to art, Expressionist art became more visceral. These artists wanted to capture more than mere fleeting moments in time.

They set about placing spirituality and authenticity back into art.

With Claude Monet’s famous “Bridge Over A Pond Of Water” from 1899, we see an artist who is attempting to visually capture the essence of a place, using light and color, and is arguably the opposite of the type of more symbolic and deeply personal work that the Expressionists would explore not long after this time.


This desire to look “inward” began around 1890. Post-impressionists like Paul Gauguin, Paul Cezanne and Vincent van Gogh questioned Impressionism’s need to only paint what they saw. Instead, they considered emotions, memories, and their background in order to connect to viewers on a deeper level.

By using colour and shape they expressed how they felt about the world around them. Paintings became more abstracted than before, and the artists started to look at the way paint was applied to the canvas surface.

Take a look at Paul Cezanne’s “Les Joueur De Cartes”, from 1892-95.


So how did the Expressionists set about making their work feel more authentic? One way was to look at different cultures displayed in museums and at world fairs. Primitive art from both Oceania and Africa influenced the painting of faces and bodies.


Another way Expressionists made their art more “real” was by tapping into the intensity of their own emotions. Expressionism became an intensely personal body of work for these artists. Artists began to express their own reactions to the world with swirls and vigorous brush strokes.

New technology and massive urbanization altered peoples’ worldview, and the Expressionists were no exception. This migration to the larger cities brought new social problems that artists showed in their work.


New Schools For Artistic Expression

New schools of creative thought also emerged. Die Brücke (The Bridge) was formed in Dresden in 1905 continuing until 1913. The renowned artist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner became the group’s spiritual conscience, and insisted on artists expressing their inner thoughts.

The work produced in Dresden mashed German art and Primitive African art with post-impressionist and fauvist influences.

die brucke

Other shared studios emerged in Berlin and Munich. Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider, 1911-14) was named after Kandinsky’s painting that graced the cover of the group’s manifesto. The school was established in Munich during 1911 where August Macke, Paul Klee and Franz Marc were major contributors .

These artists would become some of the most important artists of the movement.


New Objectivity

The third key group of Expressionists ran out of Berlin. The New Objectivity movement included Otto Dix and George Grosz who added a strong sense of Realism to their art. Their work was often satirical, commenting on wartime and post-war corruption.

This resignation and cynicism is seen in both Dix’s and Grosz’s works. Their “visual commentary” was aimed at the fruitlessness of World War I, and those who profited from the war.

Characteristics to look for:

Certain common characteristics are found across most Expressionist work. When you find yourself looking at any Expressionist work consider:

  • Expressionists were more spontaneous than other movements, and this is seen in the wildness of the brush strokes of many artists.
  • Colour – strong, vivid colours were used in much of the work, linking Expressionism to the Fauves’ use of intense colour.
  • Urban subject matter – including responses to migration, and the changes in technology and society at the time. The Expressionists has much to draw upon!
  • Objects were painted from an emotional inner sanctum. The artist drew upon this powerful emotion, often at the sacrifice of accuracy.
  • Figures and objects were often distorted and exaggerated (like that found in Oceanic and African Primitivist artefacts).
  • The importance of achieving harmony of forms was less important. Instead Expressionists concentrated on the highest intensity of expression possible
  • Swirls and the exaggeration of brush stroke create a sense of agitation. These techniques add to the vivid, jarring, distorted and exaggerated appearance of these works.
  • Extreme angles
  • Flattened forms


Themes -The City, Modernity and Alienation


The urban landscape of the early 20th Century became food for thought for some Expressionists. They started to paint their own reactions to the troubles of the modern world. These “painted social criticisms” of Modernity, highlighted the alienation of individuals who lived within the city.

This was seen in paintings by artists like George Grosz. His work commented on the social decay, alienation, and the corrupting force of Capitalism. Grosz’ paintings of prostitution for example, are visual commentaries on this social and moral decay.


Expressionist Works

Here is a selection of key Expressionist artists and their works. There are many great Expressionist paintings out there. Unfortunately, there are too many to show here. This is a small representative sample of different artistic styles from leading artists who worked within this movement.

Oskar Kokoschka – The Tempest (The Bride of the Wind), 1914


(Characteristics: swirling forms, strong colour, spontaneous and exaggerated brush strokes, intensity of expression, flattening of forms)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Deutsch: Nollendorfplatz, 1912


(Characteristics: use of colour, the city as subject, strange distorted angles, exaggeration, flattening of the space)

Also by Kirchner is “Street, Berlin” from 1913…

(Characteristics: use of vivid colour, the city as subject, dense angular forms, flattened forms, influence of primitivism, jagged strokes, urban subject matter – a Berlin Street, including prostitutes)

Emile Nolde, A Long Time


(Characteristics: use of vivid colour, expressive vigorous brush stokes, flattened forms)

Emil Nolde, The Prophet, 1912


(Characteristics: the use of the wood cut was often used in Expressionist work. Jagged and distorted angles, Primitivism – a mask-like face, intense emotional impact- shown in the sunken eyes and hollow face, flattened form)

Wassily Kandinsky, Munich Schwabing Church of St Ursula


(Characteristics: vivid strong colours, jagged angles of the buildings, flattening of form, spontaneous brushwork, urban subject – the factory and modernity)

Wassily Kandinsky, Concert


(Characteristics: Clear use of bold vibrant colours, flattened space, expression of intensity, exaggeration of brush strokes)

August Macke, St Mary’s with Houses and Chimney, 1911


(Characteristics: strong use of colour, urban subject matter, distortion flattened forms, angular)

August Macke, Promenade, 1913


(Characteristics: flattened forms, distortion, bold and vivid colours, urban setting (walking in the Gardens), swirls and exaggerated brush strokes)

Franz Marc, The Large Blue Horse, 1911


(Characteristics: bold vibrant colours- purples reds pinks oranges and yellows, swirling motion of brush)

George Grosz, Suicide, 1916


(Characteristics: Urban setting (alienation of his work seen in the dead man and the prostitute), vivid strong colours, extreme angles, flattened forms, jagged jarring and distorted)

George Grosz, Explosion, 1917


This painting is also influenced by the Italian Futurists who were trying to capture the speed and violence of the city.

(Characteristics: Urban setting, vivid strong colours, extreme angles, flattened forms, jagged jarring and distorted)

Otto Dix, Picture of the Journalist Sylvia von Hardern, 1926


(Characteristics: Urban subject- journalist, flattened figure, distortion(face) and Primitive mask-like quality, intense use of strong colour, exaggeration of form (hands))

Other Expressionists worth investigating include: Marc Chagall, Max Beckmann, Lionel Feininger, Paul Klee, Max Pechstein, and Czech Alfred Kubin …

Expressionism’s Power To Influence

Expressionism inspired the work of new generations of expressionists in the second half of the Twentieth Century, namely Abstract Expressionists and Neo-expressionists.

Abstract Expressionism (AbEx)

Abstract Expressionism surfaced in the USA around 1945 and was particularly strong in New York during the post war period. The emotional outpourings of the artists have often been linked to the feelings of disillusionment, and horror, experienced after two world wars.

Mark Rothko, Light Red Over Black, 1967


Characteristics & Background

  • Developed in the U.S. that had now become the centre of avant-garde art in the world.
  • included work by Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko, amongst others
  • lack of defined figures
  • very gestural strokes of the paint brush, linked to earlier Expressionism
  • use of colour an essential part of the work
  • divided into colour-field painters, (Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman) and the more gestural works (Jackson Pollock and Willem De Kooning)

Willem de Kooning, Woman I, 1952

Characteristics & Background

  • Rooted in German Expressionism and hit the world stage during the 1970s
  • Movement include US artists but also German, Italian and French artists
  • Revival of formal elements of both Expressionism and AbEx
  • Re-establishing subjectivist approach and the return to more personal expression by the artist
  • Flashy textural brush work and distorted figures re-emerge for the Expressionist movement
  • Works by Julian Schnabel and Anselm Kiefer, Gerhard Richter and Francesco Clemente in particular

Gerhard Richter, Abstract Painting (809-4),1994


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David Lynch’s Sons – Who Are They?


With the long-anticipated Twin Peaks Showtime reboot just around the corner (set to premiere April 2017), it seems no one can get enough of director and transcendental meditation advocate David Lynch.


Whether looking to attend his highly anticipated, sold-out Festival of Disruption, or merely re-watch some of their favorite movies such as Eraserhead, Blue Velvet or Mulholland Drive, his fans are lining up by the dozens to know more about him. But as rumors and chatter that the legend may soon retire flourish the media, his fans may wonder, who will carry on his legacy once he’s gone?

Well fear not, David Lynch has two wildly talented up-and-coming sons named Austin and Riley, both whom are film makers and just starting to make a name for themselves.


Riley Sweeney Lynch


Riley Sweeney Lynch is the younger of the two brothers. He was born in 1992 to David Lynch and Mary Sweeney who worked extensively together (on the original Twin Peaks, Mulholland Drive, and Blue Velvet to name a few).

Riley has an active social media presence on Twitter (riley_s_lynch), vimeo (rileysweeneylynch) and Instagram (rileylynchofficial). And while you may not have seen any of Riley’s film work, he has studied and the School for the Art Institute of Chicago has made a number of short films. riley-lynch-with-vagina-picture

In February, 2013 Riley launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a then untitled film project with two of his class mates. The film was funded in 10 days and surpassed its goal of $5000 from backers all over the world.

Not much was known about what the film would entail, other than a brief description that was included on Kickstarter: “A young man is unable to recall his dreams. Losing his source of inspiration, he seeks refuge in the home of a desert dwelling woman.” The film, ‘Meanwhile, the Night,’ was unleashed to the world a few months later at a Chicago Screening in August 2013 and is now available on Vimeo for those interested to see Riley’s work.

We’ll also embed it here, if we can.

Riley is credited for his behind the scenes work for Inland Empire (2006); as well fans can expect to see Riley in the new Twin Peaks in an acting role in the premiere and has a production role for the rest of the show’s run.

Austin Jack Lynch


Born ten years earlier than Riley, on September 7, 1982, is his older brother Austin Jack Lynch.

He is the son of David Lynch and Mary Fisk. He is best known for known for Interview Project (2009) which he is the creator and director.

Interview Project (2009) was shot over 70 days across the United States and features brief interviews with hundreds of different Americans. He also shot a film that documented the making of Terrence Malick’s ‘The New World’ entitled Making ‘The New World’ (2006). As well, you may know him from his acting role Inland Empire (2006) as Devon Berk’s Driver. Before that he had a brief screen role in the second season of Twin Peaks (1990) as a character only called Little Boy.

His character was Mrs Tremond’s grandson.


Following in the foot steps of his younger brother, Austin created a Kickstart his film ‘Gray house’, later in 2013. His film ‘Gray House’ was much more bigger and ambitious that his younger brother’s, and Austin set a goal of $25,000 USD.

In less than a month of crowdsourcing, his film had reached his goal. According to the description on Kickstarter: “Gray House is an exploration of domestic space that frames a conversation about nature, identity, consumerism and progress.” And despite the numerous stake holders, as 2016 the film has not yet been released nor are any public updates available.


Austin’s directorial style is somewhat comparable to his father’s. With a focus on narrative he provides audiences with highly empathetic characters. Austin’s films tend to be slightly less dark than his father’s. In addition to film-making Austin is an avid painter, with his interest in visual art starting in high school and continuing through college. From there he gained an interest in photography and attending classes at North Carolina School of The Arts.

The Return Of Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks fans held their breath throughout 2016. This year marked the famed 25 years later that promised Bob’s return. While everyone was hopeful that it may be a Twin Peaks relaunch, no one dared hope. However, much to everyone’s surprise, with a new run of Twin Peaks announced there will be a new generation of Twin Peaks fans and David Lynch fans.


Surely his younger sons are more than fit to carry the torch and carry on David Lynch’s legacy through creating new films for this new generation of Lynch fans to enjoy. Be sure to watch out for Riley Austin in the upcoming pilot of the new Twin Peaks and be sure to keep an eye out of the release of Austin’s Gray House. These two have already shown so much potential in their lives, and with their talent the sky’s the limits.

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What Is Renaissance Art All About?

After the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD, there was a time for a few hundred years known as the Middle Ages. People in the Middle Ages were very conservative and restrictive, and the art reflected this attitude, in that although it depicted life, it too lacked realism and flair.
Or, to put it another way, middle ages art was fairly blah. Oh, doest thou contest? Behold! A typical medieval piece of art…


The Church with the capitol C began to gain power because people needed so much emotional and spiritual support, and they could get that from religion. Much of the advances in the arts and sciences, and even government, that had been made by the Greeks and Romans, were lost when those societies collapsed. Even such things as sanitation systems, which were commonplace in ancient Rome, were now just a sweet memory.
For this and other reasons, some referred to this period as the Dark Ages.

Indeed, if you look upon the paintings of babies that were portrayed at this dark time, you will see that they had been Humunculi, not adorable cherubs, and we assert this as one more reason that Middle Ages art is likely either to strike you blind, or cause a narcoleptic episode the second you see it.

Here is a video which attempts to explain the homeliness of babies depicted around this time period.


Some Say, “Did The Renaissance Really Happen?”

In the early 1300’s, a rebirth in all aspects of society was thought to have begun. It was said to be subtle at first, but then picked up speed very quickly, according to most historians. The general consensus is that people were ready to feel some joy de vivre once again, and leave the dark times behind.

After the great societies of Rome and Greece collapsed, history draws a dark curtain over the people of Europe, but now those same people wanted to regain some elements of the “good life” that those ancient cultures had experienced but had since gone away.
It was time for new ideas and a feeling of being positive.

This was the beginning of the Renaissance, although some have even suggested that the Renaissance didn’t even happen… like Mr. Crash Course World History himself, John Green.

Ok, so maybe the Renaissance didn’t exactly happen the way some books say, but let’s give our art professors the benefit of the doubt here for a moment. Not everything in our history books is bunk.

Any art history textbook is going to tell you the Renaissance is generally considered to have started in the southern part of the Netherlands known as Flanders, and in Florence and Venice Italy, around the years 1350 to 1400.
It was time to bring emotions back into every day life, and, hence, into art.

One must consider that realistic art, which included not only people but the natural space that they existed in, it didn’t come all at once. In fact, those who disagree with the concept of a “Renaissance” suggest that it was not any kind of widespread grassroots movement.
Rather, it actually was specifically reserved for the upper echelons of society who had the money to buy the books that taught of the ways of ancient Greeks and Romans, and spread enlightened thought through then-modern Europe.


During the 14th and 15th centuries, common folk lead their lives in much the same way as they had in centuries previous, by living according to sunrise and sunset, with no real knowledge that big changes were coming for European society as a whole.
Be that as it may, change was in the air, even if the average pleb wasn’t able to kick back with a glass of wine and enjoy this “Renaissance” for themselves. There were those who were in favor of it, and these were the aristocrats.

To add perspective, here is what England looked like in the 1300’s, providing us with a taste of the “feudal” system that prevailed around this time. Surely these folk were not preoccupied by too many lofty aspirations…


Art In The Renaissance

So, no, do not think that there was a single moment where art changed overnight from drab Gothic art to nature-filled scenes of unbridled idealism and progressive thinking. Indeed, it took a few hundred years for paintings to fully transform from the rigid rules that had been established to anything a person from 2016 might consider lively and bursting with creativity.

However, it was during the 1400’s that painters like Fra Angelico began to inject some more natural color palettes into their work, not to mention likenesses of Jesus that began to look less like squint-eyed oldsters.
In these decidedly subtle shifts, the Renaissance had begun, but this was no small matter to art appreciators of the time.


Humanism In The Renaissance

During this time, a new movement had cropped up called “Humanism”, which you might call the specific mindset needed to get the Renaissance rolling along. Renaissance humanism was the beginning of thinking differently about life in general, although it was actually an intellectual movement which started with the elite classes and had to “trickle down” to the common man. Still, the more people read about the Greeks and Romans, the more educated the people became in a general sense.

One of the first humanist thinkers was Petrarch, pictured below, who was quoted as saying “I’m unlike anyone I know”.


As the Renaissance ideologies spread out across Europe, philosophers began to believe that everyone had a uniqueness and a value. Now, people thought that life could be enjoyable and they could have comforts.
They started to think that people should learn about art, music, and science once again, like they used to. This new information, it was decided, would make life better for everyone. This was a real change in the way people thought and this progressiveness is at the heart of what we consider to be the Renaissance.


The Medici Family And The Renaissance

There were many rich and powerful families in Florence, Italy at this time. Even though Europe was made up of countries with royal families who were very powerful, each city was in charge of its own future. The government was known as a city state. The Medici Family was one very powerful family living in the Florence area of Italy. Italy was divided in to city states that were controlled by wealthy families and the Medicis had the most money, so they basically controlled Florence.


The government of Florence was a republic, which meant that the people elected their own leaders. There were so many rich families in Florence that they began to compete by hiring artists to create art for them. Religion was still an important theme. The Medicis were bankers and they supported the arts and the Humanism idea.

Here’s a video showing the Medici family at the height of their influence, and how they reigned over Florence at this time.


Education During The Renaissance

Education became very important also, and the wealthy families wanted the common people to become smarter (strange as that may sound) so those in power tried to improve the education system.

This was also a time when explorers were sent around the world to find new lands, to bring back riches that could support these new and fruitful ideas. It was a time when scientists were valued and many things were invented. This Humanist way of thinking began to spread increasingly throughout Europe, and the world was opening up. People such as Columbus, Galileo Gutenberg, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Da Vinci were all part of this movement.

Now, keep in mind, although a new way of thinking was spreading across the land, this did not always equal happiness for all. For instance, when Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492, he didn’t arrive in America to a crowd of enthusiastic revellers who immediately spit roasted ol’ Tom Turkey and toasted to their arrival.
Instead, the true tale is much more lurid.



What Is Naturalism In Art?

Naturalism describes a true-to-life style which involves the representation or depiction of nature (including people) with the least possible distortion or interpretation. Naturalism is different that realism. Naturalism is concerned with the method of painting and the techniques used to make the subject look accurate. The naturalism of the Renaissance was a method of painting that elicited emotions. It was a way to represent the all people as human with all kinds of emotions no matter how much money they had. Realism came later and was concerned with the content and why certain things were in the painting.

Jacopo Tintoretto: Summer, oil on canvas, c. 1555

As was expected, life in Europe became more and more complicated. There were always groups who wanted to be in control. The Church, the State, the Royal families, the aristocracies, and even the commoners, all needed to feel worthy and wanted control over their lives.
The Renaissance was evolving into a time when more risks were being taken. Around the beginning of the 1600’s, the Baroque period began.


Begin The Baroque

Baroque is a term used to describe a period and style of art. It is used to describe paintings, sculptures, architecture, and music of that allowed much freedom of expression. The Catholic Church was being challenged. Art was representative of what was happening to the people.

The Taking of Christ by Caravaggio

The Baroque style spread to where much of the art of the time became very dramatic, full of life, colours, movement, and emotions. There was lots of action and movement in the paintings, architecture, and sculptures. Angels flew, people fought, crowds cowered in fear, and saints rose to the heavens.
Baroque sculptures were often made of rich materials, such as colorful marble, bronze, or even gilded with gold.

Rococo art happened at the tail end of the Baroque period when artists tried to create lots of emotions through the use of light i.e. Caravaggio was thought of as the father of Rococo and Rembrandt was thought of as the best at it.


Meet famous artists and learn more about their work in the next in a series of articles on the Renaissance and Baroque art.


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Dark Surrealist Art


The concept of dark surrealist art has been a major aspect of surrealist work from its very beginnings. Surrealism (or “above realism”) has its dark roots in the aftermath of World War I and the Dadaist’s response.

Its outlook was an anti-rational, apolitical and social response to a world that allowed a horrific disregard for humanity. Whatever the reason surrealists rejected any degree of rational explanation. Instead they embraced chaos and unconscious desires, and Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis.

Surrealists believed that the adoption of these principles would help in discovering the true world – through the unconscious mind and interpretation of dreams. So what does this mean for dark surrealist art?

The Eye of Silence, Max Ernst, 1943-44

Psychoanalytic desires and unconscious thought was central to producing surrealist art. Chaos, unconscious desires, the interpretations of dreams, our repressed desires were important to their works. These superior thoughts and processes trumped all rational thought.

No longer shackled by society and its rules, surrealists were free to tap into their unconscious and paint whatever floated to the top. The unconscious meant that artists could tap into the sexual and violent thoughts and desires that were otherwise repressed.

This often meant that works had dark surrealist themes, and overtones, in the artworks of these early painters.

Freud’s interpretation of Dreams influenced surrealist work and still does. It legitimized the use of dreams and the secrets our unconscious hold. Surrealist artists painted dark themes of fantasy, violence and desire. As a result, artists painted works that forced viewers to think, without providing them with a definitive answer.

The Persistence of Memory, Salvador Dali, 1931

Characteristics to look for:

Certain characteristics can be found in almost all surrealist work. When engaging with dark surrealist art always consider their use of:

  • Distorted realities
  • Unexpected juxtapositions – objects at odds with others
  • Elements of surprise – objects that don’t normally align or discovery of things you don’t automatically see.
  • Dream like imagery – depiction of the world of dreams, nightmares and desires and imagination
  • Magical and instinctive elements including backgrounds and objects within the space
  • Realistic details combine in very odd and unrealistic ways
  • A blending of fleeting images for the unconscious to deliver a fantasy, just like a dream
  • Illogical uncensored thought
  • Use of spontaneous techniques like automatic drawing, frottage and decalcomania (folding painted paper surface then unfolding after adding pressure)
Dali Atomicus, Salvador Dali, 1948

Look also for some of the following devices:

  • Levitation – suspended objects in the space
  • Changing scale – objects presented in different scales, not possible in the rational world
  • Transparency – seeing through particular objects
  • Repetition – repeating an object in interesting ways within the space
  • Juxtaposed objects – objects placed in interesting and contrasting ways
  • Chance objects – elements that have no real link to each other
  • A reversal of natural laws – promoting a lack of rationality


Dark surrealist themes can be found in the artists’ dreamscapes where their memories, fears and neuroses go berserk across the canvas. Looking at the great artists of the 1920s and 1930s, you can find traces of many of their fears and anxieties.

Salvador Dali

Dali had pathological fears he carried from his childhood. He feared grasshoppers and blushing. He was profoundly fascinated with erotic fantasies, death and decay, feeding into Freud’s psychoanalytic theory. Evidence in his work:

Paintings infested with insects that terrified him…

  • Ants-black and swarming are frequently used by Dali and often signify decay and his fear of death
  • Floating (levitating) butterflies
  • Oversized grasshoppers – reflecting his childhood when children threw them at him for fun because of his fear.
  • Use of crustaceans signify protection – tough outer shell protecting the soft, vulnerable inside (lobster and hermit crabs)
  • Eggs – hard shell also signifies protection, but also seen as cracked and cooking.
  • The Vagina dentate – his fear of castration during intercourse (explains his aversion to sex but obsession with masturbation)


Dali was both scared, yet compelled, by death. The skull acted as a symbol for human mortality in his and other dark surrealist artworks.

Salvador Dali. Ballerina in a Deaths Head, 1939

In this work Dali uses his “paranoic-critical-method” to appeal to his hero, Sigmund Freud. This “dual concept” painting has no rational link between the images. Dali exploits this to show how the irrationality of the brain spontaneously links the skull and ballerina.

The result – an ambiguous image that can now be interpreted in multiple ways. Dark surrealist features include: levitation of the skull, element of surprise, unrealistic scales, hidden images.


The Face of War, Salvador Dali, 1941.

War had a major impact in the first half of the 20th century –with two world wars and the Spanish Civil War, death was all around. In this painting completed in 1940, the theme provides dark surrealist content.

The main focus is the horrible face of war, captured in the horror of this painting. The skull presents a view of war against an unfertile landscape. Its withered, miserable appearance, suggests a corpse in extreme misery.

The repetitious identical skulls that make up the eye sockets and mouth, implies a doomed sense of infinity. Surrounding it are serpents, biting at the skull and its abject misery. Key surrealist features: repetition of images (the skull), dream-like background, cooler colours, unrealistic scale,


Magritte’s work is seen as lighter than other surrealists’ work. However, this is a simplistic overview and he too has a darker surrealist side lurking. Magritte watched as his mother was fished from the river after she committed suicide when he was just 14.

He remembered her dress floating over her head and several works include a cloth that covers his subjects’ heads.


The Rape, René Magritte, 1945

Works like Le Voil, (The Rape), would knock Magritte’s bowler hat fans from their safety perch, given its explicit subject matter and form. Other darker surrealist works include murder scenes that hint at violence and perversity.

Two of his works that present this darker, more violent side of humanity, are The Menacing Assassin and The Titanic Days. Dark surrealist art explores these themes, exposing extreme and repressed desires.

L’Assassin Menacé / The Menacing Assassin

This is s sinister scene that has at its centre, a dead naked woman, strewn across a bed, while the murderer packs up ready to flee the scene. Men stand outside ready to capture.

This is a banal scene, but its perversity is a rare glimpse into the mind of the artist.


The Menacing Assassin, René Magritte, 1927

The Titanic Days

A disturbingly dark painting. The Titanic Days is erotically charged, violent and disturbing. The scene depicts a man attacking a woman, an attempted rape. His hand forcefully pushes against her leg, and the terror of fear grips the female who is pressed up against her attacker’s shoulder.

The Titanic Days, René Magritte, 1928

André Masson

André Masson was traumatised by what he witnessed during WWI, WWII and the Spanish Civil War. He was injured himself, and this left an indelible mark on the man, who used his art to express his disdain for the absolute violence he witnessed.

While his palate is bright and full of colour, this painting explores dark surrealist themes.


In the Tower of Sleep, André Masson, 1983

Max Ernst

Ernst’s use of decalcomania highlights the devastation of war, scorched worlds, rotting corpses and the remains of people from the scourges of war. In The Eye of Silence, the distant horizon represents the lost world the subject grieves for.

The irony of the “great European New Order” Hitler promised is not lost here. Calcified bodies anchored to barbarous landscapes places this work in the realm of dark surrealist art.


Europe after the Rain II, Max Ernst, 1940-42

Today there are still many examples of surrealism being produced across a range of mediums. Here are a selection of painting and digitally rendered dark surrealist artworks. Under each caption are Surrealist characteristics found in the work.

source: blekotakra.deviantart

(Transparency, element of surprise, reversal of natural laws, juxtaposition, a contradiction in images, reassertion of Dali’s skulls.)

source: bigbad-red.deviantart

(Cooler colours, dreamlike, fantasy landscape, hyperrealist imagery/photography, exaggeration, free uncensored thought)

source: djajakarta.deviantart

(Repetition, the egg shell as protection (albeit cracked), cooler colours, dream-like landscape, levitating objects, unrealistic scales)

source: blekotakra.deviantart
source: blekotakra.deviantart

(The element of surprise, Dali skull motif, darker cooler colours, juxtaposition of the skull with head shot, photo=hyperreal)

source: panzerkorps.deviantart

(Juxtaposition of images, repeated image, dreamlike imagery, element of surprise, free uncensored thought, a contradiction in images)

source: stefanobonazzi.deviantart

(Dream-like subject matter, repetition of images, no guidelines, cooler colours, element of surprise)

new dark surrealism

(Juxtaposition of objects, dream-like landscapes, unrealistic scales, contradictions in images, element of surprise and uncensored thought)

source: xetobyte.deviantart

(Levitation, cooler colours, contradiction of images, element of surprise, reversal of natural laws, repetition of an image, dreamy landscape)

source: surrealismtoday
source: surrealismtoday

(Levitation, hidden images, elements of surprise, dream landscape, reversal of natural laws, uncensored thought, juxtaposition)

source: surrealismtoday

(Cooler colours, juxtaposition, element of surprise, contradiction in imagery)

source: silvia15.deviantart

(Levitation, transparency, dream-like fantasy backgrounds, repeated image, cooler colours, hyperreal, element of surprise, water fall from painting into room with the floating boat, reversal of natural law)

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Three Contemporary Surrealists You’ve Got to See

Charitable Octopoda

Surrealist art is a movement that began in the 1920’s and is still quite lively today. Surrealist art aims to capture the imagination of dreams, is often free of reason and convention, and plays on our perceptions of reality.

Surrealism followed Dadaism and inherited its anti-rationalist traits, but Surrealism is much lighter and playful in its execution.

Remedios Varo, Exploration of the Source of the Orinoco River, 1959
Remedios Varo, Exploration of the Source of the Orinoco River, 1959

Surrealism can be traced back to 1924 in Paris with André Breton’s Manifesto of Surrealism. Spanning nearly a century now, Surrealism is still alive and well with many artists around the globe.

Some think of surrealism as a movement which has already come and gone, but in truth, it is still very much here with us.

Here are three new surrealist artists you’ve got to see to believe. Each of them has their own unique style, and each one of them is an exemplary example of a contemporary surrealist artist.

Rob Gonsalves

Rob gonsalves contemporary surrealist artist

Canadian born Rob Gonsalves is as much a magician as he is a painter. Using his preferred medium, he turns acrylic on canvas into unimaginable landscapes that serve as a window into another world.

Over the years he has perfected his craft to create illusions that defy the laws of our universe yet appear that they could exist as scenic detour that’s a part of our life.

Visit Rob Gonsalves on Facebook to find out more

There are real moments of magic in our world, you just need to be open to them and Gonsalves helps to bridge that gap. Gonsalves began painting in his teenage years and studied at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto.

He then moved on to work in architecture: studying and then working in the field for five years before returning to painting.

His decision to return to painting came from an enthusiastic response to his work at the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition in 1990.

contemporary surrealism rob gonsalves
Visit Rob Gonsalves on Facebook to find out more

His time as an architect comes across in his paintings, many of which prominently feature architectural design. In addition to exhibition work, Gonsalves has has authored a number of books including: ‘Imagine a Night’ (2003), ‘Imagine a Day’ (2004), and ‘Imagine a Place’ (2008).

His book, ‘Imagine a Day’ has won the 2005 Governor General’s Award in the Children’s Literature – Illustration category.

Watch this short documentary about Rob Gonsalves to find out more about the man and how he approaches his work.

Eugenia Loli


Globe-trotting collage artist Eugenia Loli has lived many lives in many countries.

Her art she has been referred to as “modern vintage” and “surreal collage”, but the term surrealism is not hard to apply to her work, once you see it.

Rising Mountain
Visit Eugenia on Tumblr

Born in Greece, she has lived in Germany, the UK, and is currently residing in California.

In addition to having lived in so many places, she has also worked a number of careers, having worked as a nurse, computer programmer, technology journalist, and film maker.

Charitable Octopoda
Visit Eugenia Loli on Tumblr

As fascinating and compelling as her life may be, the works she creates are even more so.

Having already been inundated into art through animation, Eugenia became experimenting with collage in 2013 when she scanned images from vintages magazines and old science textbooks which she then compiled into collages.

Eugenia believes it is important that her work has something to say so she creates collages with meaning behind them which tease at a visual narrative.

She likes to think of her collages as a frame in a surrealist movie and encourages her audience to dream up whatever story line they believe would best go with her work.

Prior to her work in collages, she had an interest in animation. Her work has been featured in a number of publications, and is also readily available online as high-resolution images.

Her work is something to behold when set to music as well, such as the music of the band Tortoise.

Laurie Lipton


Laurie Lipton was born in New York and after spending many years living abroad in Europe she has moved back to the USA and is currently living in Los Angeles, California.

While living in Europe, her time was spent living across a number of different countries: Holland, Belgium, Germany, France, as well as the UK.

laurie lipton the carnival of death
Visit Laurie’s website to find out more

She began drawing at the very young age of four is and is the first graduate Carnegie-Mellon University in Pennsylvania with a Fine Arts Degree in Drawing (with honors to boot!).

Lipton was inspired by religious paintings Flemish School and wanted to teach herself to create art in the style of the Dutch Masters.

And while she considers that a failed attempt, the artwork she created now is detailed and complex, building up tone and texture using very fine cross-hatch techniques.

Visit Laurie website to find out more

One thing that stands out about her work is the distinct lack of color. She chooses to create her art in black and white using pencil. She feels that her image is what’s important and color would distract from the images she creates.

Additionally, she wants to create haunted, disturbing, otherworldly paintings which appear to frozen in time and believes that adding color to her work would ruin the atmosphere she is trying to create.

Lipton has exhibited extensively in the United States and Europe. Recently, film maker James Scott has released a short documentary on her called LOVE BITE: Laurie Lipton and Her Disturbing Black and White Drawings.

Here is a video showing Laurie giving a talk at La Luz de Jesus Gallery back in 2013 about her book of drawings called “The Drawings Of Laurie Lipton”. La Luz gave birth to “pop surrealism”, FYI.

While each of these artists have their own distinct style, medium, and methods; their art shares the common thread of surrealism. Each artist manages to capture our imagination and offer up images with a dreamlike quality that is out of this world.