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March 31, 2006

'Michelangelo Drawings: Closer to the Master'

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Jackie Wullschlager, in her March 24 story in the Financial Times, came as close as a person can in words to conveying the extraordinary nature of Michelangelo's gift of transmuting flesh and blood into line and and shape that seem more alive than their source.

Here is her article, based on her visit to the current show of Michelangelo's drawings at London's British Museum.

There are those who'd prefer an online tour of the exhibit: no problema.

You'll click here.

The FT article follows.

    Precious sketches from the hand of a genius

    In old age, Michelangelo made a bonfire of most of his drawings.

    He had always hated showing them.

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    Few had been intended for public display: as studies, they revealed laborious preparation for his famous works that, in his virtuoso pride, he was reluctant to acknowledge.

    When he died in 1564, just 600 sheets remained from among many thousands.

    These have been prized ever since but, because of their delicacy and fragility, rarely displayed.

    At the British Museum, a hundred of the finest now form a sublime exhibition, Michelangelo Drawings: Closer to the Master.

    For me, the show makes the artist known even during his lifetime as "the divine Michelangelo" poignantly, achingly, deeply human in all his brilliance, passion, doubt and terror, for the first time.

    His reputation, godlike and unchanging, has towered for five centuries.

    His work is so truly iconic - Florence's statue "David", Rome's "Pietà", the Sistine Chapel's "Creation of Adam" - that although each masterpiece announces the individual hand of the artist, above all his obsessive exploration of male beauty, we tend also to see each as having sprung fully formed from his protean mind.

    Contemporaries observed how in his hands the marble block appeared to release figures that had always been there.

    These and his painted muscular bodies twisting across immensely grand designs seemed to rival, in their finished perfection, the perfection of nature's own creation.

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    That was how the artist wanted it.

    "Michelangelo was wont to say," recounted Giovanni Gelli, "that only those figures were good from which one had removed the effortful labour, that is, produced with such skill that they appeared the result of nature rather than art".

    But of course they were all underpinned by drawing, the single genre that unites Michelangelo's activities as sculptor, painter and architect, and the one that most movingly unravels the story of his life.

    In all sizes, styles, subjects, those at the British Museum speak to us with extreme directness.

    The hazily outlined, gravely introspective Virgin in the smoky black chalk "Epiphania" cartoon, made of 26 sheets of paper glued together, looms majestically above us.

    The swirling red chalk male nude, intensely shaded and hatched, modelled for a figure in the fresco "The Separation of the Waters", looks alive in its polished metallic gleam and chromatic richness.

    In a rare secular portrait, the smoothly finished, melancholy "Andrea Quaratesi", a Florentine nobleman - a love of Michelangelo's? - gazes beyond us with an anxious, watchful air, suggesting both Florence's un-certain political future in the 1530s and the middle-aged artist's musing on the fleeting charm of youth.

    There are repeated studies for sharply bent legs, kneecaps and shoulders, and throw-away sheets of heads or animals that Michelangelo prepared for his untalented pupils to copy, dotted with instructions in his florid, gorgeous hand ("Draw Antonio draw Antonio, draw and don't waste time").

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    Some are complex, some pared down to bare essentials; all shrink the centuries between the Italian Renaissance and now.

    For connoisseurs, here are the germs from which world-famous figures - "Adam", "Day" - developed.

    For aesthetes, there are no more beautiful depictions of the human form anywhere.

    But even for those who would not normally dream of visiting an exhibition of Renaissance drawings, this show is a must-see sensation for the way it quietly traces the arc of a triumphant yet tormented life in which genius and everyday humanity went hand in hand.

    The British Museum installation is thoughtful, simple and dramatically effective.

    Well-spaced works are hung in chronological groups in subtly lit interlocking sections; on the walls around them scholarly explanations, reproductions of masterpieces to which the drawings relate, intrude as little or as much as each visitor wishes.

    An overhead screen allows you to see the Sistine Chapel ceiling as it would have looked to Michelangelo, perched on scaffolding to paint it. Differences between Rome and Florence, as far apart in terms of style and travelling distance as continents are today, are explored, but from the start the show roots Michelangelo in Florence, where he grew up and whose republicanism he fervently supported.

    He studied there from the age of 12, and early comparisons tell how quickly he outstripped his teacher Ghirlandaio.

    By the age of 25, he had made his name as a sculptor in Rome with the St Peter's Pietà and, lured back to Florence by rumours of a huge slab of Carrara marble, won the commission for the colossal "David" - the first monumental marble sculpture made in Europe for more than a millennium.

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    At the same time, he shifted between Florentine workshops for different projects, reflected in drawings of breathtakingly expressive and dramatic range.

    A single sheet contains both a rough pen and brown ink sketch for the Bruges "Madonna and Child", the infant solemnly slipping free of his mother to take his first steps, and a black chalk group of three frenziedly energetic nudes who are models for the Florentine soldiers in the "Bathers", Michelangelo's massive, unfinished patriotic project to depict the Battle of Cascina.

    Shape and density of muscle and bone, described through swelling contours and diversely weighted and directed strokes; the use of light, shade and smudgy surfaces for emphasis; lively touches of white lead to suggest a glistening sheen of sweat: these straining, explosively dynamic figures have a tactile physical presence that is still powerful now and exerted an inestimable influence on the portrayal of the nude.

    Among few drawings displayed in Michelangelo's lifetime, the Cascina cartoon was, according to the sculptor Benvenuto Cellini, "a school for all the world".

    These figures and the languorous red chalk Adam, among the greatest of all Michelangelo's creations, are high points in a sensual glorification of the idealised beauty of the male form.

    In both, drawing from a model did not prevent Michelangelo adjusting the forms for artistic effect; Adam's stretching motion is so persuasive because of the naturalness of the observation, but in fact it depends on an entirely contrived dislocation of the upper body.

    An unrivalled skill at blurring boundaries between artifice and the realities of the human frame, and at placing his subjects in theatrically enthralling compositions, creates the heightened expressiveness that makes this show such a rich emotional experience.

    In a spiralling, diagonal motion, the struggling, acutely foreshortened red chalk Haman stretches his arms desperately at us, as if he would leap off the paper in fear.

    In "The Lamentation", Mary turns away, unable to bear the sight, while a crowd of contorted figures rush headlong at the corpse.

    In a tremulous "Crucifixion with the Virgin and St John", drawn when the aged Michelangelo's control of line was so weak that he constructed the cross with a ruler, Mary presses her face and hands to her son's body, conveying universal desolation and loss.

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    Shortly after he had drawn these searing figures, the 88-year-old Michelangelo was found wandering alone outside his house in Rome in pouring rain by a pupil, who meekly asked why.

    "And what would you rather have me doing? I am ill and can find peace nowhere," the artist replied, waving his arms wildly.

    Three late Crucifixions hang here in a final room, flanked only by a Michelangelo sonnet: "My life's journey has finally arrived/after a stormy sea, in a fragile boat/at a common port, through which all must pass... So I now fully recognise how my fond imagination/which made art for me an idol and a tyrant/was laden with error... Neither painting nor sculpture can any longer quieten/my soul...."

    In the extremes of Christian iconography, from the blistering freshness of newly created Adam to the collapsing body of Jesus on the cross, Michelangelo found a visual language for human hope, desire and despair.

    We have long lost that language, but in these drawings we recover it, in all its immediacy and pathos, through the haunted imagination of one of the greatest artists of all time, who was also one of us.

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"Michelangelo Drawings: Closer to the Master" is at the British Museum, London, until June 25. Tel 020 7323 8181

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If you simply won't be able to make it, the British Museum has very kindly created a free PDF version of "Closer to the Master: A Book About Michelangelo," which you can download here and print out to read at your leisure.

March 31, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Shesham

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No, not a magical command to make your genie appear — alas, not yet at least but trust me, I have over a hundred of my finest minds out back in the bookofjoe skunk works laboring feverishly 24/7, burning out their brain cells in an attempt to bring you just that — but, rather, an exotic wood from India which has suddenly surfaced in the latest Williams–Sonoma catalog in the form of cutting boards (above and below).

Perhaps I need to spend more time in Uttar Pradesh.

From the website:

    Shesham Cutting Board

    Prized for its intriguing juxtaposition of light and dark hues, shesham has long been used in India to create elegant furniture and objets d’art.

    Here, this densely–grained hardwood brings its distinctive coloration an exceptional durability to our reversible cutting boards.

    Handcrafted in India from locally harvested wood, the boards can double as presentation pieces.

    Natural variations in color and pattern make each one unique.

    Round Board: 10" diam., 1" high.

    Rectangular Board: 10" x 15" x 1" high.

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The round one costs $25; you want corners, that'll run you $30, both here.

March 31, 2006 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Hovercraft Iron

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From oliso.

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$99.

[via Jura Koncius and the Washington Post]

March 31, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Official Napoleon Dynamite iPod Accessory

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Res ipsa loquitur.

$5.98.

March 31, 2006 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

MorphWorld: Eva Longoria into Kate Beckinsale

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A thought: do you think it's possible that the worldwide information network blanketing us in images whether we try to avoid them or not creates an unconscious desire in both actress and stylist to mimic the look of one already famous and embedded — as it were — in the visual cortices (is that a word, I wonder?) of the global gestalt™?

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How else to explain the slow approach of the desperate housewife (above) towards dead ringerhood with the 21st century queen of the vampire movies (below

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and

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yet again)?

March 31, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Marcel Duchamp Picnic Table — And Benches — In a Valise

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The artist would approve.

From the website:

    Wooden Picnic Table

    Carry this picnic table & chairs with you just like a briefcase, then unfold & set up in the blink of an eye.

    When deployed, it offers plenty of space for 4 people.

    Yet it's easy to carry when collapsed.

    A complete picnic table and chairs that fold away into their own carrying case.

    It doesn't get any more compact or convenient than this.

    Made out of durable, lightweight materials — you can take this picnic set anywhere.

    Imagine the infinite uses.

    Take it with you on camping trips.

    Take it to a party where more seating is needed.

    Pull it out for extra seating at family gatherings.

    Use it for a poker party or pool party in the back yard.

    Maybe you're just an incurable romantic who has a moonlit dinner planned on top of a mountain peak.

    Because it has been engineered to be a wholely self-contained set that folds away, storage is made easy.

    Just fold it up and close the case.

    Made of high quality lightweight materials.

    Solid wood construction for table and seat surfaces.

    Legs of table and seats made of metal.

    You can be sure the Wooden Picnic Table will last a lifetime.

    • Open dimensions: 38" x 32" x 30".

    • Closed dimensions: 33" x 21" x 6".

    • Weight: 26lbs.

$69.95.

March 31, 2006 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

'Gourmet Shops of Paris' — by Pierre Rival

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As I read Suzy Patterson's Associated Press story/review of this new book in last week's paper I got more and more worked up, wanting to take a copy along on a languorous tour of the City of Light.

'Course, what with the people there doing their best impression of a country run by General Motors, considering the fixation on what's gone before and fear of what is — inexorably and inevitably — going to appear in its place, now might not be the best time.

Deferred.

But I digress.

Here's the article.

    An epicurean tour of Paris by book

    It's a visual delight and a palate teaser, a coffee-table book that would be an asset to any epicure's library: "Gourmet Shops of Paris" by Pierre Rival, with striking photographs by Christian Sarramon (Flammarion, 2005, $40 [$25.20 at Amazon]).

    Spring is a traditional time for a visit to Paris, but this glossy volume is a rich, any–season resource, even for those who aren’t planning travel.

    More than just a guide to the city’s food and wine stores, both celebrated and humble, it's a good read, too.

    It's packed with history and colorful background on movers and shakers in the food world, past and present.

    It's also eminently practical, with a lengthy address list that includes some big names, such as Fauchon, not featured in the main body of the book.

    From sweet to savory, from expensive fare to soups and snacks, from the traditional to the forward-looking, "Gourmet Shops" covers a mouthwatering range of boutiques, wine stores and bars, tearooms and coffee shops.

    In making his picks, Rival is a stickler for absolute freshness and the highest quality.

    He doesn't agree with critical gourmands who carp at what they see as today’s indifference and sinking standards, and the inroads of fast food.

    "The French people still appreciate high standards, and are eager to try new tastes and angles," he said in a phone interview.

    "In some ways, food variety and quality have never been higher."

    He sniffs out new food ideas from wide–ranging travels, and says he loves adventures in taste.

    The book's choices are clearly his personal favorites.

    He gives kudos to good olive oil, for example, which he says he uses daily on his breakfast bread.

    "I must consume about a liter of olive oil a month," he says, pointing out the olive oil–dipping habit originated in Spain, not in France.

    After celebrating the overall richness and entertaining variety of food establishments in Paris, Rival's book launches into a detailed tour of specialties.

    His "Sweet Paris" chapter features not just candy to buy, but welcome shoppers' respites such as the charming Laduree tearooms, famous for pastries, sandwiches and light lunches.

    The original shop on rue Royale has exuberant Belle Epoque decor as well as marvelous macaroons in flavors from raspberry to licorice and mint.

    Another colorful spot with an original flavor is Les Cakes de Bertrand, downhill from Pigalle and Montmartre, with its Jazz Age motifs.

    Besides its lovely sweet and fruit cakes, clients hanker for its savory versions, too, including cakes flavored with cheese, olives and bacon, or tandoori chicken.

    Chocoholics love the Maison du Chocolat, founded by Robert Lynxe in the 1970s.

    He astounded Parisians with the perfection of his slightly crunchy coatings, his creamy ganache fillings and inventive flavors such as unsweetened marrons glaces, or fresh mint.

    Another chocolatier, Jean–Paul Hevin, says he thinks of chocolate in terms of haute couture, fashioning "collections" of new shapes, and flavors from fruit and spices to Roquefort cheese.

    He tells the author, and anybody who cares to listen, that "I want to provide a moment of happiness."

    Turning to "Savory Paris," which includes its variety of daily bread and cheeses, Rival praises the late Pierre Poilane for reviving the once–nearly–lost art of making bread with real taste.

    In 1932, Poilane founded the original shop on rue du Cherche Midi that is now a tourists' magnet; here he made country-style loaves in a wood-burning oven, using honest ingredients like stone–ground flour and crushed wheat germ, plus live yeast rather than a substitute.

    Go there to smell the yeasty odors, sample the bread or spice cookies, and inspect the striking collection of paintings from grateful artists who had trouble paying for their bread.

    Rival calls Eric Kayser the most fashionable baker of the moment.

    Kayser offers four changing selections of bread yearly, one for each season, at Boulangerie Kayser shops where clients queue up patiently for the daily bread, and the sandwiches that are available in a couple of the five bakeries.

    Reminding readers that high–quality cheese is France's natural partner for good bread, and claiming that the cheese, aged or fresh, in the best shops is better than ever, Rival takes readers on an informative cheese tour.

    Marie–Anne Cantin, on the left-bank rue du Champ de Mars, is cited as the high priestess of cheese vendors and experts, in a rare profession for a woman. L

    Like other cheese specialists, she is proud of her offerings of authentic, unpasteurized, and sometimes strong-tasting cheese, though her mild cheeses are a great option, too.

    If she's the queen, Roland Barthelemy is the doyen and king of cheese sellers.

    At times you can hardly squeeze into his minute shop, decorated in old-style wood and marble, redolent of his pungent wares.

    Barthelemy is the first cheese specialist to have earned, in 2000, a rare title usually reserved for chefs and artisans, "Meilleur Ouvrier de France" — best craftsman in France.

    He was hailed for his ability to "propose subtle marriages of taste" such as Roquefort with gingerbread or fruit, and for the creation of new flavors, such as a creamy, truffled mascarpone, from the sweetish Italian cheese.

    At the top of Rival’s "fine-foods" category, unsurprisingly, is olive oil — especially as offered in branches of Oliviers & Co., founded by Olivier Baussan in 1996, a pioneer in developing local taste for it.

    According to Rival, "until ten years ago, Parisians knew hardly anything about olive oil."

    At lunchtime, at a long wooden table in the small rue Levis branch, olive–oil fans relish their choice, with their pasta or fish dishes or salads.

    Another lunchtime specialty is fine ham, for example at colorful Bellota Bellota, which offers rows of Spanish–cured hams, and plates for sampling.

    Rival surveys other luxurious places to eat or take out high-priced caviar, smoked fish and foie gras.

    Terres de Truffes sells truffles of all shades and seasons, even an eccentric truffle-flavored dessert featuring blancmange and apricot jam.

    In his chapter on wine, Rival picks out a few of the many flourishing wine shops and bars, great places to learn about vintages and pairings with food, at a wide range of prices.

    One example: Legrand Filles et Fils, known for promoting the top labels as well as little–known vintages, holds Tuesday wine tastings from a stock of around 100,000 bottles in a mellow setting of antique polished mahogany and gleaming brass.

    Among famous tea and coffee vendors, Rival writes about the incomparable Cafe Verlet, with its traditional decor, fine coffee and great atmosphere for conversation; and about La Maison des Trois Thes, near the Pantheon, an esoteric place selling about 1,000 Chinese teas.

    The book is not all about rare delicacies at fabulous prices.

    Rival affectionately lists some of the places, including sandwich shops, where you can find the simple, down–to–earth goodness of everyday food.

    Even soup can have cachet in Paris.

    Rival mentions Le Bar a Soupes, for a quick and comforting soup lunch.

    It is a modest little place near the Bastille, he says, but regulars love the offerings from a repertoire of over 80 soup recipes: split-pea with bacon, tomato and apple with ricotta, meatball soup with cumin seed, or gazpacho or carrot soup with coconut milk in summer.

    Homey desserts like fruit crumbles and tarts get his thumbs–up at the soup bar, which Rival calls "the most talked-about fast-food concept in Paris at the moment."

    An original touch among the gourmet provisioners is the apple–specialty store called Pomze on Boulevard Haussman.

    Here, the scent and sight of mounds of fresh apples greet you — many of the apples sold here are of ancient origin, including those still grown in the kitchen gardens of Versailles.

    A bar offers good apple ciders, sweet or dry, or potent Calvados from Normandy, and upstairs, hungry shoppers can choose from the restaurant's menu featuring — what else? — apples, in savory dishes or sweet desserts.

    Food lovers may or may not agree with Pierre Rival's sometimes–quirky choices in this handsome volume.

    But his book should whet the appetite of even a casual page-flipper, and may well inspire a return to the source to sample the gastronomic delights of Paris.

    Or if you’re lucky, it might take just a step around the corner — now that some of Paris’ top food stores have outlets in the United States.

March 31, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Deathless life

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March 31, 2006 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

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