WTF Art History

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  1. The Happy Eye

    Thanks to a friendly message from Amy about yesterday’s entry on Bernini, I was reminded of hands down one of the greatest exhibitions of all time: Bernini and the Birth of Baroque Portrait Sculpture  (2008) @GettyMuseum.  Anyone who knows anything about art or who has seen Angels and Demons knows that Bernini was a genius.  But the Getty exhibition also highlighted the work of his most talented pupil: Giuliano Finelli.  When you look at a sculpture by Finelli, you’re immediately mesmerized by his attention to detail, and it is this quality that causes most art historians to write about him as a “fussy” sculptor compared to Bernini’s elegance and grace.  Today’s entry is dedicated to one of the most charming details from a Finelli sculpture, and it is one that he and other sculptors of the 17th century often repeated.  I call it the happy eye.

    Giluiano Finelli, Bust of Maria Cerri Capranica, about 1640, marble.  The Getty Center, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los AngelesGiluiano Finelli, Bust of Maria Cerri Capranica, about 1640, marble.  The Getty Center, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

    Could you make it out?  If not, take a closer look…

    During the run of the Getty exhibition I attended a lecture in which one scholar argued that by sculpting an eye in this manner, an artist could convey a sense of the sitter’s eye color: if the carving is shallow (as it is in the Finelli bust above), then the sitter had light colored eyes, and if the carving is deep, then the sitter had darker eyes.  Makes sense right?  Either way, the “happy eye” motif is something that I now always look for in marble portrait busts.

    And just to reinforce the idea of Finelli as a fussy sculptor, take a look at another exquisite detail from the same sculpture.  Below you’ll see the most intricately chiseled lace, a meticulously carved beaded necklace, a subtle embroidery pattern on her garment, a neatly tied bow, and a massive pendant on a necklace showing the Holy Family (Mary, Joseph, and Jesus – be sure to spend time looking for Joseph).  Once you begin looking at a Finelli sculpture, it’s easy to get lost in the act.

    Giluiano Finelli, Bust of Maria Cerri Capranica, about 1640, marble.  The Getty Center, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

    And for those who haven’t seen the bust in person, here’s the full image.  But do make a point to visit the Getty and check out the sculpture in person.  You’ll be happy you did :)

    Giluiano Finelli, Bust of Maria Cerri Capranica, about 1640, marble.  The Getty Center, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

    There are also a number of great Flickr pages dedicated to this sculpture!

     
     
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