November 04, 2008
Jan Lievens — 'Rembrandt's Rembrandt'
Long story short: Lievens' 1631 painting, "The Raising of Lazarus" (above), hung above the mantel in Rembrandt's home.
It's among the works of the long-forgotten artist in the show "Jan Lievens: A Dutch Master Rediscovered," at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. through January 11, 2009.
Blake Gopnik's rave review in this past Sunday's Washington Post has more, and follows.
- Beside Rembrandt, Another Brush With Greatness
Four years ago almost to the day, National Gallery curator Arthur Wheelock launched a fantastic show on the little-known Dutchman Gerard ter Borch. It led us to declare him a more important painter than his friend Johannes Vermeer.
Now Wheelock has launched the first-ever survey of Jan Lievens, an even more obscure Dutch artist. If you've actually heard of Lievens, it's likely because he was a momentary rival of the young Rembrandt, as the two launched their careers together in Leiden.
So has the Lievens show tempted us to declare him greater than the great Rembrandt?
We wouldn't go further than to claim the artists tied. In their own day, at least, that's how things might have seemed.
Though Lievens, born in 1607, was a year younger than Rembrandt, he hit his stride first. This show includes a stunning, over life-size picture of an elderly woman [below]
that could have been painted as early as 1621 — when Lievens was 13.
In the later 1620s, Constantin Huygens, the famous courtier and connoisseur, described the young geniuses as equals. "Rembrandt is superior to Lievens," Huygens wrote, "in his sure touch and liveliness of emotions. Conversely, Lievens is the greater in inventiveness and audacious themes and forms.... In painting the human countenance, he works miracles." It seems that Huygens tested them by getting the same subjects from both. Judging by this show, the almost unknown test-pictures by Lievens aren't obviously weaker than the very famous versions Rembrandt came up with.
Throughout his life Lievens won more big-name, international commissions than Rembrandt ever did. He was a favorite of the nobility, the clergy and the wealthy in Flanders, England, Germany and Holland. In the 1650s and '60s, he was honored with two of the commissions for the decoration of Amsterdam's grand new city hall. (It's now the Royal Palace of the Netherlands.) Lievens's pictures, for which he earned a mint, are still there; Rembrandt's single contribution to the project was so flawed his patrons took it down almost the moment it went up in 1662. (He died in poverty seven years later. Lievens, equally down on his luck at the end, outlived him by another five.)
Rembrandt himself appreciated Lievens's talent. He made etchings based on prints by Lievens — the only colleague Rembrandt copied so directly. His paintings often come so near to works by Lievens that many pictures in this show have, at one point or another, been thought to be by Rembrandt. (During their Leiden years, they were in fact so close that they painted on planks from the same tree.) One fine drawing from the National Gallery's own collection is included in this show as a Lievens; Wheelock says his colleagues in the drawings department will probably reassign it to Rembrandt once the show is over. If so many "Rembrandts" have turned out to be by Lievens, could it be that the Rembrandtesque in general should in fact be rethought as a riff on Lievensism? It seems likely it was Lievens who first came up with some parts of the look Rembrandt later trademarked as his own.
A stunning "Raising of Lazarus" by Lievens [top], probably painted as one of those Huygens test pieces, may even be stronger than the version by his rival. Rembrandt liked the Lievens plenty: It hung above the mantel in his home.
Gopnik's piece was accompanied by a story by him on why objective connoisseurs might well choose a painting by Lievens over one by Rembrandt; that piece follows.
- Six Reasons Why You Gotta Love Lievens
If "Jan Lievens: A Dutch Master Rediscovered" were a sales pitch for its hero, would it get you to buy? Here are half a dozen reasons why clients back then, and art lovers now, might pick Lievens over that other Leiden guy.
1. His Portraits Sing: Get Rembrandt to paint you, and you look like a Rembrandt. Not always a pretty sight. Choose Lievens, and you look like yourself -- only better. Lievens spent a couple of years in England, home of the great court portraitist and flatterer Sir Anthony van Dyck. The best painted portraits by Lievens, including several of himself [example below],
make his Dutch sitters look like English cavaliers. His finely finished portrait drawings are flattery, distilled.
2. His Brush Is Smart: Lots of Dutch artists could ladle on oils. Lievens had a way of doing it that set him apart. Rather than using his thick paint to indicate the play of light and shade across an object, he manipulated it to echo specific, material features of the things that he portrays. To render the stray, stiff hairs in an old man's beard, Lievens would drag the butt end of his brush through the wet paint. Whereas to render the newly brushed hair on a tow-headed little girl, he used a soft brush that left a row of tiny parallel ridges. To paint the spots of ink dripped from the pen of Saint Matthew, Lievens used brusque dabs from the broad tip of his brush. A fussier technique might have been more faithful to all the tiny details in a true splat of ink, but Lievens's boldness captures the idea of splashes better.
3. His Faces Get In Ours: It seems Lievens and Rembrandt may deserve joint credit for inventing the peculiarly Dutch art of the character study, known as a "tronie." They both etched heads that weren't admired as portraits of known people, but as impressive life-studies of peculiar, anonymous types. When it came to painted tronies, though, Lievens had a trick all his own. He is one of the only artists, ever, to have scaled up such heads to larger than life-size. Like anything shown in a picture, his heads seem to sit behind the surfaces they're painted on. And yet they're so big they seem in front of them, too, and very much in your face. He gives his heads a presence that is hard to ignore.
4. His Woodcuts Rule: At their best, Lievens's etchings rival Rembrandt's. But when it comes to woodblock prints, Lievens wins by default. That's because he is just about the only artist of his age to return to that antiquated medium. (Rembrandt never touched it.) Lievens seems to have realized that the jagged edges and heavy blacks that come from cutting into wood could give his images a unique expressive weight. A few trees in a woods, or a prelate sitting calmly on a chair, become potent forces thanks to Lievens's carving knife. It took almost another 400 years before some modern expressionists re-realized what woodcuts could do.
5. His Landscapes Storm: Another Lievens innovation: Landscapes so vigorously brushed that you can barely tell a bunch of leaves from a clod of earth. The Dutch already had a taste for landscape as an independent art form, but that usually meant depicting nature that was picturesque. In landscapes by Lievens, it's the wild act of painting that carries the aesthetic weight; their subjects can be quite banal. At their most radical, Lievens's landscapes smack of impressionism, centuries before the term was coined.
6. His Trademark Is Not Having One: Whatever the occasion or commission, Rembrandt did his Rembrandt thing. Lievens, on the other hand, preferred to suit the medium to the message. Ask him to paint a "Sacrifice of Isaac" for a Catholic church in Flanders, and he could put on Italian airs worthy of Titian. Ask Lievens for a courtly allegory, and he throws in a hint of Rubens. Call for cardsharps and you get some Caravaggio. And, of course, when you need a picture of a solid Amsterdam burgher — or even of an Old Testament sage — Lievens could do the Rembrandt thing about as well as anyone. Including, sometimes, Rembrandt.
"Thirty-three magnets showing a variety of insults from Shakespeare's plays."
"The tartness of his face sours ripe grapes."
"Bolting hutch of beastliness."
"Out, you green-sickness carrion!"
"Your breath first kindled the dead coals of wars."
"She is spherical, like a globe, I could find out countries in her."
"Thou smell of mountain goat."
"How ill white hairs become a fool and a jester!"
Selected by the British Library so you know they'll be spot-on.
Yma Sumac is dead
Below, Adam Bernstein's obituary from yesterday's Washington Post.
Above and below, videos of the über-diva.
Yma Sumac, 86; Postwar Sensation Had Unique Voice
Yma Sumac, a Peruvian folk entertainer with an astonishing vocal range who surged to fame in the 1950s with an "Incan princess" mystique that captivated millions of record-buyers in search of exotic sounds, died of cancer Nov. 1 at an assisted living facility in the Silver Lake section of Los Angeles.
She was believed to be 86, according to personal assistant Damon Devine, who said he had seen the birth certificate.
Nearly every biographical aspect of Ms. Sumac's life was long in dispute, including her age, her town of birth and her ancestral claims that on her mother's side she was a descendant of the last Incan emperor, Atahualpa.
Fueled by an intensive publicity machine, the rumors grew so thick at one point that she was jokingly rumored to be a "nice Jewish girl from Brooklyn" who had merely reversed her name, Amy Camus.
Ms. Sumac (pronounced EEE-maw SUE-mack) thrived during a postwar period of American music when the exotic was hip and the composer Eden Ahbez ("Nature Boy") was briefly in vogue.
Los Angeles Times music critic Don Heckman once called Ms. Sumac "a living, breathing, Technicolor musical fantasy — a kaleidoscopic illusion of MGM exotica come to life in an era of practicality."
Onstage and off, Ms. Sumac adopted a regal poise and stretched back her raven hair to make her haughty cheekbones even more pronounced. She was fond of flamboyant clothing often laden with gold and silver jewelry, and she spoke of her musical influences among jungle animals.
"At night in my bedroom I hear the whoo-whoo of the little birds and I hear the dogs barking very sad," she told People magazine. "That's what I put in my records. I don't bark bow-wow, but I bark whoo, and I sing like the birdies."
As an interpreter of Andean folk-influenced songs, her voice sailed, growled, roared and yelped effortlessly across four octaves — from bass to soprano to coloratura soprano. She was adept at mimicking animal calls, from toucans to jaguars, and one never knew where she would dot melody with quick, piercing high-D notes.
"She's either got a whistle in her throat or three nightingales up her sleeve," said a bassist with whom she recorded early in her career.
Composer Virgil Thomson found her voice "impeccable" and recommended her for "the great houses of opera."
Ms. Sumac extended her heyday through the late 1950s with albums for Capitol Records, selling hundreds of thousands of copies.
After headlining in Las Vegas and touring internationally, Ms. Sumac drifted into obscurity by the 1970s. Her older recordings popped up on film soundtracks, ensuring that her sound, if not her name, remained in the popular consciousness.
Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chavárri del Castillo was born Sept. 13, 1922, possibly in the Andean community of Ichocán. Ms. Sumac said she was self-taught and developed great discipline in breathing technique.
She caught the attention of Moisés Vivanco, a musicologist and composer from Lima, and they married in 1942. She joined his 46-member troupe of Indian singers and dancers, became a presence on South American radio and began recording folk music under the name Imma Sumack.
In 1946, Ms. Sumac and her husband started a folk trio that mostly played on the Borscht Belt circuit and the back room of a Greenwich Village delicatessen. Her breakthrough was a 1950 engagement at the Hollywood Bowl, which attracted record and film executives.
Her subsequent album, "Voice of the Xtabay" (1950), sold more than 500,000 copies. (The "Xtabay" of the album title was fabricated as an Incan word.)
Other albums followed, including "Mambo!" (1954), with fiery arrangements by Billy May, and "Fuego del Ande" (1959). Many of the songs were composed by her husband and based on Andean folk themes, even if purists found them less than authentic.
She played an Arab princess in a short-lived Broadway musical "Flahooley" (1951) and appeared in the Hollywood films "Secret of the Incas" (1954) with Charlton Heston and "Omar Khayyam" (1957) with Cornel Wilde.
By the early 1960s, her popularity in the United States was waning, but she made a triumphant tour of the Soviet Union in 1961 — Nikita Khrushchev reputedly was a fan — and cultivated a small but devoted following in Asia, Europe and Latin America.
A comeback album of rock music, "Miracles" (1971), had a limited release, and her appearance on David Letterman's late-night show in 1987 was greeted by sarcasm by the host, who asked "Who is this woman?" after her heartfelt rendition of one of her earliest hits, "Ataypura."
Periodic concerts and the 2005 release "Queen of Exotica," a massive anthology of her work, kept her most-fervent fans happy and renewed her cult appeal. The magic-comedy team Penn & Teller used her music to score their stage routines.
To some music writers, she was an inspiration to punk and rock performers. "All the big stars came to see Yma Sumac," Ms. Sumac told Newsday in 1989. "What is the name of that one, I think Madonna?"
Ms. Sumac's personal life was troubled at times. Her marriage to Vivanco ended in divorce in 1957 after it was revealed that he had fathered twins with his wife's former secretary. She later told a reporter that Vivanco was "cuckoo," adding, "All men is cuckoo."
Survivors include a son from her marriage, Charlie, and three sisters....................
Cleanest mashup of the year.
Made in Russia.
[via Interior design room]
AllMyFaves — Why search?
Why indeed, when going here takes you right to a portal with around 450 popular websites just a click away?
"These weird little gummy candies taste and smell exactly like beer. Pint Pots are described as having a flavor somewhere between a brown ale and a cider. They are non-alcoholic and currently are available only in the UK."
20 for £0.99.
[via Social Cider]
Why so many of us think our minds continue on after we die
- Key Concepts
Almost everyone has a tendency to imagine the mind continuing to exist after the death of the body.
Even people who believe the mind ceases to exist at death show this type of psychological-continuity reasoning in studies.
Rather than being a by-product of religion or an emotional security blanket, such beliefs stem from the very nature of our consciousness.
There's a printer-friendly version here, if — like me — you prefer to wrap what's left of your mind around the piece in its dead-tree atomic as opposed to bit form.
Bronze Ball Vase
Designed by Michael Anastassiades.
26.5 pounds of cast bronze.