W is for Window Painting

Cosmé Tura, Virgin & Child 1453. Photo from wikimedia.

First of all, on the surface which I am going to paint, I draw a rectangle of whatever size I want, which I regard as an open window through which the subject to be painted is seen.

Leon Battista Alberti

Fenestra aperta. The window to the outside. It seems such a simple idea to paint light falling into a room, a mirror on the wall, or a landscape through a window. But it was new in the Renaissance. Windows themselves were changed, and the new technology and advances in understanding of mathematics spilled into painting.

STEM becomes Art

Alberti—architect, philosopher, and artist—was as famous for his ideas as his creations. But his idea about painting through the window inspired many of the painters who came after, from Da Vinci to Raphael. He was helping create the new idea of perspective, to help artists think of their canvas as a reflection of the world outside. But to be able to use that idea required a simple thing: the ability to see through the window.

Enter the Venetian glass makers: the guild, the island of Murano, sequestered and jealously guarding their secrets. I’ve mentioned before that the glass makers were a monopoly. The artisans were wealthy, but you could not leave the guild. Assassins were dispatched if a glass maker left with the secrets. Glass making technology improved significantly the early Renaissance, often shown in museums as elegant and sophisticated glass objects from Murano. But, just as significantly, the technology led to thinner, clearer glass–for windows. Everywhere.

Murano glass, revered for delicacy, also would lead to better windows. Photo by kajmeister.
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V is for Veronica Franco

Veronica Franco even had her own musical. Photo from USC Dormsife.

One of the most famous people in Renaissance Venice was not an artist, duke, noble, doge, pope or even wealthy merchant. But she did know all of them.

Veronica Franco, a poet, publisher, and high society intellect was also known cortigiana onesta: an honored courtesan. The famed artist Tintoretto painted her multiple times, sometimes etching her name on the back and sometimes not. Her notoriety led to multiple books, movies, and even a musical about her. She was the toast of the town in 1565, the Kim Khardashian of her day. Except that the Khardashians haven’t been called before the Inquisition. Yet.

Honored Courtesan, no Mere Prostitute

Cortigiana meant, for women, a position parallel to a male courtier, a word with connotations of splendor and high cultural accomplishments. Onesta can translate as “honest,” and biographers of her have used that adjective. But used with the courtier, it meant privileged, wealthy, recognized.

She was respected for her poetry as much as for her beauty. Some poems were sonnets, love poems, but others were early expression of feminist ideas:

When we women, too, have weapons and training,
we will be able to prove to all men
that we have hands and feet and hearts like yours;
and though we may be tender and delicate,
some men who are delicate are also strong,
and some, though coarse and rough, are cowards.

Franco: A Challenge to a Poet Who Has Defamed Her, from monstrousregimentofwomen.com
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R is for Raphael

St. George and the Dragon (1) by Raphael, in the Louvre. Wikimedia photo.

Raphael was a rock star. He was the Elvis of his generation, the “prince of painters,” at a time when painters were the A-List celebs. It pissed off Michelangelo and Leonardo to no end. He died young, as rock stars do, and there was even a legend around that.

The Pope’s Mission

Raffaelo Sanzio da Urbino was in his early twenties when he traveled to Rome from Florence and Urbino, two other Italian cultural centers of the time. It helped that he was buddies with the future Duke of Urbino and distantly related to Bramante, who was designing the dome for St. Peter’s Basilica. Pope Julius II invited him in for a chat and immediately gave him the commission to paint his private library.

The paintings won immediate acclaim, to such a degree that the rooms he ended up painting in the Vatican are now called the “Raphael rooms.” This first one included the School of Athens which I’ve included in posts on more than one occasion. This photo is a little wavy because it was hot and crowded on the Vatican tour (in 2018), and I was being jostled as I stood right at the wall, trying to take a quick photo. But it may give you a sense of the enormity of the canvas and its sense of grandeur. And such vibrant colors!

Standing in front of “School of Athens” by Raphael, photo by kajmeister.
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