Dosso Dossi (c. 1489-1542)– whose actual name was Giovanni de Lutero–was an Italian Renaissance painter who belonged to the School of Ferrara. Its scores of artists painted mainly in the Venetian style greatly influenced by Giorgione (c. 1477-1510). Dosso Dossi dominated the school that maintained its tradition of painterly artificiality. Melissa is Dosso Dossi’s masterpiece–a benign personage in the Italian epic poem Orlando Furioso (1516) of Ludovico Ariosto (1574-1533). The enchantress frees humans from the black arts of the wicked sorceress Alcina. The painting depicts Melissa at the moment she burns the seals and spells of Alcina and liberates two men from the tree trunks. The realistic dog is certainly a human being under Alcina’s spell who will be liberated by Melissa and take up again the suit of armor he watches earnestly. The trees are Giorgionesque–stylized, artificially-lighted elements that provide the magical setting for the poem’s characters. The figure of Melissa, draped in a fringed red-and-gold-brocaded robe and enriched by Titianesque glazes, is particularly alluring in the sparkling gold and green setting moored by meticulously and softly portrayed meadows, background figures, and distant city towers.
SOURCE: History of Italian Renaissance Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, Third Edition, Frederick Hartt, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1987.
Duccio di Buoninsegna (c.1255-c.1319).
The artistic tradition of the Sienese master, Duccio di Buoninsegna (c. 1255-c. 1319), was based on older Greek painting. Yet Duccio was no less “modern” than Giotto (1266-1377). Giotto, who was trained by Cimabue (1240-1302), directed his creative artistry towards concrete reality whose perception derived from the artist’s thoughts and feelings of it. Duccio would achieve a similar but unique synthesis through and from a different direction.
Duccio modernized the older Greek style creating the painting styles of the Sienese school as well as all of early Renaissance painting. Duccio’s artwork is distinguished by his discriminating advance of the Byzantine Post-Hellenism tradition in Tuscany—and following his own encounter with Cimabue who gave the Sienese artist his first important commission in Florence in 1285 —in a masterly delicate way. This delicacy and discrimination are seen in Duccio’s elegant, often light and airy, compositions and rich colors.
Over the next almost 25 years Duccio learned and deployed the elements of various pictorial traditions that by his constant intelligent blending enriched them. Duccio’s style used the iconographic schemata of the ancient Oriental-Byzantine tradition including its glorious color and poetic composition along with the ultra-contemporary French and Gothic linear style. Duccio’s oeuvre epitomizes the artist’s temperament and taste as well as a lifetime of artistic education and culture.
Yet beyond its representation of an event in a scene, Duccio’s painting, not unlike Giotto’s histories, is raised to another level by some of its formal elements – a figure, episode, or gesture – into the artist’s magical world. This quality of Duccio’s art provides a textually clear and comprehensibly observed episode—such as of the Gospels— within a setting that is carefully observed and delineated—and with its totality imbued in finer artistic and aesthetic sensibilities.
The imminent drama manifested in Duccio’s iconography works to transcend its representational anecdote, even as figures or episodes of the Bible are easily recognizable. His artwork’s plasticity, with figures and surroundings in serene harmony, emanates a power whose message supersedes, or at least is contiguous to, the painting’s ostensible, usually religious, subject matter.
In the display of such a unique artistic quality, Duccio’s artwork functions in a dream-like and imaginatively timeless dimension—a unique poetical language—while it conveys an historical condition in any of his intentionally-varying episodes. Duccio’s carefully delineated religious scenes, softly and carefully conveyed, would characterize emerging Sienese painting and make religious painting exceedingly popular in Europe over the next 450 years.
SOURCE: Giotto and His Contemporaries, Enzo Carli, trans. Susan Bellamy, New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1958.
Duccio Di Buoninsegna (c.1255-c.1319), The Apparition of Jesus at the Closed Doors. The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena, Italy.
Profile Portrait of Leonardo da Vinci, attributed to Francesco Melzi, circa 1515–1517, Royal Trust Collection.
On May 2, 2019,
the world remembered the day 500 years ago when Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519),
Italian Renaissance artist and polymath, died. The 67-year-old applied the
spheres of the human brain to its many branches of knowledge and voraciously
fused his interests and studies into one lifetime that inspired universal
learning in Europe.
Leonardo da Vinci made original contributions as an inventor, draftsman, painter, sculptor, architect, scientist, musician, mathematician, engineer, writer, anatomist, geologist, astronomer, botanist, paleontologist and cartographer.1Leonardo was involved in military science, hydraulics, aerodynamics, and optics. Used by princes and admired by kings, charming and handsome Leonardo da Vinci could show in his notebooks that he was often misanthropic.2 A significant part of his important visionary achievements is that Leonardo da Vinci painted two of the most reproduced artistic masterpieces of all time: the Mona Lisa (1503, Louvre. Paris) and The Last Supper (1490s, Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan). Leonardo, after a lifetime of adventure, curiosity, and solid achievement died in Amboise, France, following a short illness.
Italy, c. 1500.
In 1516 Leonardo left Italy for the first time to live in France under the protection of its most cultured young French king, François I (1494-1547). As a dedicated artist, Leonardo experienced a lifetime of disappointment from most of his would-be patrons starting with his father through to Lorenzo de’ Medici, the Magnificent (1449-1492), hapless Milanese duke Ludovico Sforza (1452-1508), Milanese governor Charles II d’Amboise (1473-1511), and Lorenzo’s son and a papal brother, Giuliano di Lorenzo de’ Medici (1479-1516), among others. As Leonardo was ahead of his times it can be said that only at the end of the artist’s life—in 1516, under the wing of François I—that the bulk of his times, that is, the temporarily powerful men in them, had failed him and mankind’s enduring greatness. François I was Leonardo’s first unconditional patron3—while the rest, relatively speaking, are history’s minor players.
François I, Jean Clouet, c. 1530. Louvre, Paris.
Lorenzo the Magnificent, Agnolo Bronzino (1503-1572), Uffizi, Florence, Italy.
Ludovico Sforza (detail), Master of the Pala Sforzesca, c.1495, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, Italy.
Charles II d’Amboise, Andrea Solario, 1507.
Giuliano de’ Medici, Raphael.
death his reputation as an artist and man rested, as Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574)
relates, on his physical strength, generosity, and artistic innovations which
brought art and society out of its reliance on the past and its well-intentioned
model books into a future of science and art which characterized the best of
the Renaissance period. Because of Leonardo’s lifetime of study and work, mostly
in isolation from a majority of his fellow artists’ and other practitioners’
careers, he bore the fruit of innovation, including new and creative forms and
motifs for art. These emanated out of the imagination of the individual artist who
closely observed the workings of nature. Leonardo’s artistic innovations
included the subtle skill of sfumato
(shadowing) and, as a draughtsman, progressive chalk and cross-hatching
techniques. These inspired other great artists, like Michelangelo Buonarroti
(1475-1564), and only begins to account for the knowledge Leonardo gained from
the physical sciences, particularly anatomy.
Leonardo spent his final three years in Italy in the Vatican (1513-1516), effectively a refuge from petty Italian tyrants. He departed for France in 1516 under the protection of its warrior and cultured 21-year-old new king, François I, whom 64-year-old Leonardo first met in late 15154. Like his cousin and father-in-law predecessor King Louis XII of France (1462-1515) and his cultured mother Louise de Savoie (1476-1531), François I worked hard to recruit the Italian High Renaissance’s most inventive artist for the Gallic Kingdom. When Leonardo finally crossed the Alps he carried with him his recent paintings of the Mona Lisa, Saint John the Baptist, and the Virgin and Child with Saint Anne—all works in the Louvre in Paris today.5 In the second edition of Vasari’s Lives of the Artists6 he described Leonardo in his last months of life in France. In 1519, after a happy period in France at the Château de Cloux, Leonardo was a sick and bedridden man. At the very end, Vasari writes, Leonardo “could not stand [and had to be] supported by his friends and servants.”7. The King paid Leonardo “affectionate visits” in these last days. Vasari intimates that the dying artist consciously felt himself honored to be ministered to by François I Vasari and that Leonardo realized the distinct privilege to “[breathe] his last in [the king’s] arms.”8 This death bed scene, particularly Vasari’s tender detail, has been subsequently imagined in the artwork of artists, including Ingres’ famous painting dated 1818 in the collection of the Petit Palais in Paris.
Louis XII of France, Workshop of Jean Perréal, c. 1514. Cousin and father-in-law of François I Louis admired and collected Leonardo and passed down this admiration to France.
Louise de Savoie, School of Jean Clouet, Toulouse, France. The mother of François I worked hard to convince Leonardo to leave Italy for France. Leonardo carried with him over the Alps to France three of his recent paintings — the Mona Lisa (1503), Saint John the Baptist (1513), and the Virgin and Child with Saint Anne (1503). All are in the Louvre today.
Châteaux de Cloux (Clos Lucé), Amboise, France.
Leonardo’s room, Châteaux de Cloux.
Death of Leonardo, Cesare Mussini (1804-1888).
Death of Leonardo, pencil, 11 x 8½ in. (28 x 21.8 cm.), Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867).
Death Of Leonardo da Vinci, 1818, oil on canvas, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Petit Palais, Paris.
Ink consecrated to the artistry of Leonardo da Vinci is vast. The Bible-like exhibition catalog for Leonardo da Vinci, Master Draftsman from the 2003 show at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is a 786-page testament. That tome presents and discusses about 100 drawings by the master. This article focuses on one image – Leonardo’s Battle of Anghiari, particularly its central section called the Battle of The Standard.
In October 1503 Leonardo’s commission by the Florentine Republic was to commemorate the military victory of the Florentines over the Milanese in 1440. It would be one of the major artworks in the newly-built Sala de Gran Consiglio (Grand Council Hall) by IL Cronaca (“The Chronicler”) to the rear of the Palazzo della Signoria, also known as the Palazzo Vecchio.9 The commission was given to Leonardo by Republican standard-bearer Piero Soderini (1450-1522) with one of Leonardo’s contracts signed by Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527)—and so entered into the annals of what became a fabled art competition (“concorrenza”).
Ink consecrated to the artistry of Leonardo da Vinci is vast.
View of Florence (detail, Arno River, Palazzo Vecchio, Duomo), c. 1561, Giorgio Vasari.
Piero Soderini (1450-1522) by Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio. The statesman of the Florentine Republic awarded Leonardo the mural commission for the Battle of Anghiari in October 1503.
Today’s Salone dei Cinquecento by Giorgio Vasari, 1563-1572. In the process of re-decorating this room with its coffered ceiling and walls with paintings of battle scenes dedicated to the exaltation of Cosimo I de’ Medici, Leonardo da Vinci’s innovative fresco of the Battle of Anghiari was lost or destroyed.
Battle of Marciano by Giorgio Vasari, 1571, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, Italy.
Peter Paul Rubens’ copy of 1603 of the lost Battle for the Standard, the central section of the Battle of Anghiari fresco by Leonardo, 1503-06, in Palazzo della Signoria (also, Palazzo Vecchio) in Florence. While Rubens’ copy is the best known, there are copies of Leonardo’s work by other 16th century artists.
After Leonardo Da Vinci, Fight For the Standard (from the Battle of Anghiari), oil on canvas, 28.625 x 33.125 in. (72.8 x 84 cm).
After Leonardo Da Vinci, Fight For the Standard (from the Battle of Anghiari) oil on canvas, 16th century, Museo Horne, Florence.
In 1503 Leonardo da Vinci was at the height of his artistic powers. The
of Anghiari was a commission for a large scale, complex and dramatic fresco mural
on one wall of the Sala de Gran Consiglio in Florence during
the short-lived restored Republic (c.1492-1512). Leonardo looked to paint the fresco
in dazzling oils and glazes but his complicated experimental techniques to
adhere the pigment to the wall largely failed.10 With the fresco’s ultimate destruction in the early 1560’s
under Vasari who redecorated the Great Council Hall with six of his own massive
battle scenes, he and his Medici rulers were faced with another of Leonardo’s
deteriorating frescos similar to the disastrous flaking of The Last Supper in Milan. The Battle of
Anghiari was not in an obscure
monastery refectory but the central hall of changing political power in
Leonardo’s Last Supper fresco in Milan started flaking almost as soon as it was painted in the 1490’s. Leonardo’s experimental painting techniques for that project had largely failed.
Fragmentary remains by Leonardo of his Florentine project are his preparatory
drawings whose subjects include horses, riders, and combatants on the
battlefield in various stages of creative development. Some of these drawings
were made by Leonardo immediately upon receiving his commission in late 1503.12
Several copies and copies of copies made by other artists also survive. While
the preparatory drawings do not complete the full composition— though
contemporary written sources lend credence to books of sketches that are lost13—Leonardo
possibly did not even complete a cartoon before he started painting on the
wall.14 While copies by others
intrigue, they are problematic to envision Leonardo’s final fresco of the Battle
of Anghiari—yet each of these sources provide insights.
The Battle of Anghiari is arguably Leonardo’s most important
public commission.15 It manifested itself in the context of
impactful local history, civic pride, city government, and the artist’s own
vision and skills in its employ. Florence was Leonardo’s native city and he
wanted to make a strong impression. Sixty years after Leonardo left his
brilliant fresco on the west wall.16 Vasari,
whose redecoration of the Palazzo Vecchio included a fresco cycle of his own almost
certainly covered over all or part of Leonardo’s unfinished fresco. A desire
for new artwork to showcase the Medici restoration under Cosimo I de’ Medici
(1519-1574) naturally extended to the Grand Council Hall. The late-fifteenth-century
Republic had commissioned Leonard’s battle fresco—and that form of government
had ended in Florence in 1512.
Portrait of Cosimo I de’ Medici, 1535, Alessandro Allori (1536-1607), oil on poplar, 86 x 65 cm (34 x 25 5/8 in.), Florence. Cosimo I de’ Medici (1519 -1574) ruled Florence from 1537 until his death.
Cosimo I de’ Medici (detail), c. 1564, by Giorgio Vasari, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence.
relates in his Lives of the Artists, Leonardo depicted a scene from the
life of Niccolò Piccinino (1386-1444), an Italian mercenary officer or “condottiere”
in the service of the politically brilliant and physically repulsive duke of
Milan, Filippo Maria Visconti (1392-1447). Fighting for Milan, Piccinino—aided
by two score of cavalry squadron, many foot soldiers17and
treacherous Florentine exiles—was defeated by a force led by the Republic of
Florence under Francesco I Sforza
(1401-1466). The victory at the Battle of Anghiari on June 29, 1440 handed the
Florentines domination of central Italy. At the turn of the sixteenth century
the new republic of Florence continued to face warring tyrants as neighbors
including Cesare Borgia (1475-1507). At the start of a new century and Republic
the timing was ripe to depict in its government hall valorous Florentine
warriors defeating political enemies. In 1503, Florentine officials gave
Leonardo an in-depth orientation of the 1440 battle using historical texts but
the artist brushed these aside as he conceived the scene to be depicted, a
virtually cinematic induction of the battle’s climax —the mortal contest by the
Florentines to capture the standard from the Milanese. Leonardo’s first sketches
for it are of a condensed melée full of the swirling movement and
stirring sensations of battle.18 The actual standards taken during
the battle had been kept in the Grand Council Hall as a trophy.19
Niccolò Piccinino. Defeated at the Battle of Anghiari, the Italian mercenary becomes the central protagonist of Leonardo’s fresco.
Front (Recto) of a medal of Duke of Milan, Filippo Maria Visconti, by Pisanello (1395-1455).
Local battles such as the Battle of Anghiari were usually
part of larger campaigns— in this instance, The Lombardy Wars of 1423-1454— and
fought by hired warriors. Mercenaries usually provided terms to competing foes
that protected the mercenary’s best interest. Following the Battle of Anghiari,
Piccinino, who had been captured, was soon after released. In the next battle
at Martinengo, he defeated and captured Sforza. Because of these endless war
games, Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527)
advised in The Prince that
a ruler should not be tempted to use these swords for hire – and cited Francesco
Sforza by example.20
Mercenary Francesco Sforza, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.
Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito (1536-1603). Machiavelli, author of The Prince, signed an order to commission Leonardo to create the fresco commemorating the Battle of Anghiari for Florence’s newly-built Sala de Gran Consiglio (Grand Council Hall).
Leonardo’s sketches of probably Cesare Borgia.
Cosimo I de’ Medici who ruled Florence starting in 1547 was interested in that which supports power— including art. Vasari’s new paintings of Cosimo I de’ Medici’s wartime exploits was partly a political act. By ridding the hall of Leonardo’s Battle of Anghiari — a Republican military victory from long ago — Vasari worked his political masters’ desires. The ultimate reasons and fate of Leonardo’s artwork is not known but if Vasari destroyed the mural he would not be the first Italian artist to destroy a competitor’s artwork as shall be seen.
In late 1503 Leonardo, installed in a temporary workshop at Santa Maria Novella, about a fifteen-minute walk to the Palazzo, was given a deadline for the mural’s completion of February 1505. Like the fabled competition between Leonardo and Michelangelo that was intentionally arranged by Florence’s political operatives, the deadline for completion was also a demand for Leonardo’s art outside the artist’s concerns. The first late winter deadline passed as did those in spring and summer. Setbacks included Leonardo’s meticulously slow work, other projects he took up that kept him away from the fresco, and even bad weather.21
Leonardo’s designated workshop for the mural commission was the Dominican church built in 1420, Santa Maria Novella.
In early 1504
the wall painting of the Battle of Anghiari and its 51-year-old artist
was joined by Michelangelo Buonarroti who would paint his Battle of Cascina
in the same room and possibly on the same wall. Michelangelo, recently turned
28 years old, would depict the Florentine military victory over Pisa in 1364.
Neither this imposed rivalry or proximity encouraged their friendship.22
Michelangelo was intense, pious, and unwashed contrasting to Leonardo’s genial,
independent, and stylish manner.23 However, their professional
relationship temporarily influenced each other’s artmaking.
Leonardo da Vinci, (Lucan) Self-Portrait.
In 1504 and
1505, Michelangelo learned to use Leonardo’s innovative stylus cross-hatching
technique along with the chalk technique that Leonardo was continuing to exploit
in the Battle of Anghiari. Inspired by Michelangelo, Leonardo did
masterful drawings of nude figures though he did not use them. In
Michelangelo’s preparatory drawings for the Battle of Cascina—that and
copies by others are what survive of the project– the younger artist used
Leonardo’s cross hatching technique for the pull of the skin. He experimented
with Leonardo’s chalk technique to display types and degrees of muscular
tension on figures.24 Yet, according
to Vasari, the two clashed at almost every turn. Michelangelo’s use of
Leonardo’s advanced techniques was restricted to the short period of their
common commission and Leonardo openly disparaged Michelangelo’s cartoon of male
nude bathers as coldly analytical.25
Two Michelangelo chalk studies. Above: Life Study for a bathing soldier in the lost cartoon for theBattle of Cascina, black chalk, 404 x 258 cm, Teylers Museum, Haarlem, The Netherlands. Below: Male back with a flag.
Leonardo da Vinci, Anatomical Studies of the Nude, connected with the Battle of Anghiari, c. 1504, Royal Library, Windsor. Though influenced by Michelangelo’s nude drawings in this time, Leonardo’s design and imagery for his battle scene looked to invention and unexpected drama rather than the nude.
In spring 1505
Michelangelo’s cartoon was finished but his painting barely started—and the
younger artist left Florence for Rome. Michelangelo accepted the commission to
build the tomb of Pope Julius II (1443-1513) although it would not be completed
until 1545 and on a much-reduced scale. He returned to Florence the following
spring but was soon back in Rome to paint, between 1508 and 1512, the Sistine
Chapel ceiling. In 1506 Leonardo’s gradual departure for Milan, complete by
1508, began. Leonardo stayed in Milan until 1513 when he was invited by the
pope to the Vatican. Leonardo and Michelangelo had in Florence shared a common
commission from the Republic. Their two battle scenes presented, each in their
own way, a tangle of intertwined figures. Otherwise, each artist created compositions of varying subject matter and
style which proved seminal for art-making schools of the future. Leonardo’s
swirling horsemen in the Battle of
Anghiari inspired the Baroque
style and Michelangelo’s bathers in the Battle of Cascina
displayed a perfect template for Classicism. These two great artists also
shared, despite their age difference or varying temperaments, the fact that
neither of them completed their commissioned work.
Michelangelo, The Tomb of Pope Julius II, completed 1545, San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome.
Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel ceiling, 1508-1512, Rome (The Vatican).
Michelangelo’s David had just been placed Florence’s central square when the painting competition (“concorrenza“) between himself and Leonardo da Vinci began. Leonardo had served on his native city’s committee which decided where to place Michelangelo’s 17-foot tall marble sculpture. Today a copy stands outside the Palazzo Vecchio.
At the time of the public commission in Florence, Leonardo had just finished his Mona Lisa (1503, Louvre, Paris) and Michelangelo had just installed, in the city square, his David (1501-1504, Accademia Gallery Museum, Florence). Leonardo had been part of the city committee to recommend where Michelangelo’s David should be placed.26 Over the next decade, until 1512, Leonardo’s and Michelangelo’s unfinished wall paintings—that they both had abandoned (a worthy reason for a later Medici to paint it over)—adorned the same room possibly side by side. Michelangelo’s work was mutilated first with the fall of the Republic. Young artists had flocked to study and copy these unfinished artworks, including a young Raphael.27 In 1512 one of these artists, a 24-year-old named Bartolommeo Bandinelli (1488-1560)—he had been obsessive in studying Michelangelo’s cartoon to the point of sneaking in to the Council Hall at night—in one moment grabbed the cartoon and cut it into pieces. The motivation for Bandinelli’s destruction is unclear. The center section of Leonardo’s Battle of Anghiari – namely, Battle of the Standard– remained intact on the wall and for decades saw copies and written descriptions made of it. After 1508, neither Michelangelo nor Leonardo were anywhere near Florence as both moved on to larger opportunities.28
Michelangelo, Battle of Cascina, 1504-6, destroyed copy by Aristotile da Sangallo, grisaille on panel, 30 x 52 in. The Courtauld Institute of Art, London. Leonardo openly disparaged Michelangelo’s cartoon of male nude bathers as coldly analytical. Younger artists preferred the noble and expressive form of Michelangelo’s nudes to Leonardo’s messier constructions.
Leonardo’s Battle of Anghiari, and, particularly, the Battle of the
Standard, its central panel, one is impressed by Leonardo’s revolutionary
approach to drawing. Leonardo shattered
tradition, specifically in drawing. First, Leonardo was not tidy in his
drawing. Medieval tradition was fundamentally concerned with conserving the
controlled line. A draftsman’s artistic ability was judged by patrons and cultural
tastemakers by the accurate lines he created directly out of an existing
model-book. Leonardo’s early silverpoint
drawing of a Bust of a Warrior in the
British Museum demonstrates his ability to masterfully fulfill this Renaissance
expectation.29 As Leonardo the artist developed, by the end of the
fifteenth century he was attacking this long-held linear tradition in his
notebooks as a failed technique.30 The fiery scribbling of
Leonardo’s drawing style expresses his process of creative exploration but
equally his rebellion towards the old technique. In its place, Leonardo shows
himself in his drawings to be actively pushing outside the linear restraint of quattrocento drawing and formulating a
new artistic standard derived from orientation to the model. As an avant-garde
artist in this mode Leonardo practiced it alone for 25 years.31 The
profligacy of his drawings – often multiple images on the same page of paper
expressing his changing primo pensiero
(“first thoughts”) – indicates the brilliancy of Leonardo’s creativity. His
drawing technique points to the artist seeking to free the immaginativa to emphasize dramatic invention that included
individual details (such as heads) and unto an entire scene. Leonardo’s artistic practice worked to
overturn, or revolutionize, the tradition-bound formulas imposed on art. He replaced
it with a new and radical conception of nature ever-changing as the drawing
Leonardo da Vinci, Bust of a Warrior in profile, 28.7 x 21.1 cm, silverpoint, c.1478, The British Museum.
Model-book page, 1390’s, pen and ink with wash and watercolors on parchment, workshop of Giovannino de’ Grassi (1350-1398).
Giorgio Vasari, Self-portrait, 1560’s. Vasari goes into admirable detail on Leonardo’s Battle of Anghiari in his Lives of the Artists in editions of 1550 and 1568. That Vasari destroyed or painted over this same work by Leonardo around the same time during a re-decoration of Florence’s Grand Council Hall is difficult to reconcile with his writings.
Quattrocento cultural taste-makers and practitioners found danger in
Leonardo’s new artistic direction. Art producers and patrons could not
understand why a single artist for his own personal exploration would forsake
generations of practiced skill and systematics. The challenge for Leonardo after
he discarded the model-book was difficult and clear– to invent figures and
forms to replace it. This monumental task helps explain some of the artist’s
motivation for working in many areas such as anatomy, mechanics, botany, and
geophysics. Wide study was certainly owing to Leonardo’s “unquenchable curiosity”32
but its practical application worked to fulfill his ambition to locate source
material to replace the model-book’s groupings, movements, and forms that he
had audaciously sacked. The culmination of his approach is manifest in the Battle of Anghiari. To discover some of Leonardo’s unfolding
revolutionary creative process makes this artwork exciting to consider as Vasari
describes it in detail in his Lives:
“The great achievements of this inspired artist so increased his prestige that everyone who loved art, or rather every single person in Florence, was anxious for him to leave the city some memorial; and it was being proposed everywhere that Leonardo should be commissioned to do some great and notable work which would enable the state to be honored and adorned by his discerning talent, grace, and judgement. As it happened the great hall of the council was being constructed under the architectural direction of Giuliano Sangallo, Simone Pollaiuolo (known as Cronaca), Michelangelo Buonarroti and Baccio d’ Agnolo, as I shall relate at greater length in the right place. It was finished in a hurry, after the head of the government and the chief citizens had conferred together, it was publicly announced that a splendid painting would be commissioned from Leonardo. And then he was asked by Piero Soderini, the Gonfalonier of Justice, to do a decorative painting for the council hall. As a start, therefore, Leonardo began work in the Hall of the Pope, in Santa Maria Novella, on a cartoon illustrating an incident in the life of Niccolò Piccinino, a commander of Duke Filippo of Milan. He showed a group of horsemen fighting for a standard, in a drawing which was regarded as very fine and successful because of the wonderful ideas he expressed in his interpretation of the battle. In the drawing, rage, fury, and vindictiveness are displayed both by the men and by the horses, two of which with their forelegs interlocked are battling with their teeth no less fiercely than their riders are struggling for the standard, the staff of which has been grasped by a soldier who, as he turns and spurs his horse to flight, is trying by the strength of his shoulders to wrest it by force from the hands of four others. Two of them are struggling for it with one hand and attempting with the other to cut the staff with their raised swords; and an old soldier in a red cap roars out as he grips the staff with one hand and with the other raises a scimitar and aims a furious blow to cut off both the hands of those who are gnashing their teeth and ferociously defending their standard. Besides this, on the ground between the legs of the horses there are two figures, foreshortened, shown fighting together; the one on the ground has over him a soldier who has raised his arm as high as possible to plunge his dagger with greater force into the throat of his enemy, who struggles frantically with his arms and legs to escape death.
It is impossible to convey the fine draughtsmanship with which Leonardo depicted the soldiers’ costumes, with their distinctive variations, or the helmet-crests and the other ornaments, not to speak of the incredible mastery that he displayed in the forms and lineaments of the horses which with their bold spirit and muscles and shapely beauty, Leonardo portrayed better than any other artist. It is said that to draw the cartoon Leonardo constructed an ingenious scaffolding that he could raise or lower by drawing it together or extending it. He also conceived the wish to paint the picture in oils, but to do this he mixed such a thick composition for laying on the wall that, as he continued his painting in the hall, it started to run and spoil what had been done, So shortly afterwards he abandoned the work.”33
It seems nearly
inconceivable that Vasari could write so appreciably of Leonardo’s fresco and
then destroy it. Yet its removal, whether wholly destroyed, or lost by being
painted over or misplaced, is a fact. Leonardo who no longer relied on the
model-book as his authority the artist answered with his own creative immaginativa and all of the facets of nature.
In this revolutionary creative process, Leonardo further anticipated the modern
era’s introduction of the psychological component into a drawing. The
psychological element that Leonardo introduced extended to the figures Leonardo
depicted in drawings but it benefited the individual artist’s ability to think
and dream creatively. To this end Leonardo consciously devised mental exercises
to produce psychological effects in himself.34
Leonardo da Vinci, Head of a Warrior in Profile, black chalk, 220 x 116 mm, Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice. Leonardo anticipated the modern era’s introduction of the psychological component into a drawing.
Leonardo da Vinci, Study of a Warrior’s Head for the Battle of Anghiari (Recto), Red chalk on prepared paper, 22.6 × 18.6 cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest. It is half life size from a live model. Over the years some scholars have doubted its authenticity as a Leonardo drawing.
Verso of Study of a Warrior’s Head for the Battle of Anghiari (above drawing).
Leonardo da Vinci, Study of Two Warriors’ Heads for Battle of Anghiari (c. 1504–5). Black chalk or charcoal, traces of red chalk on paper, Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest. This is one of the most famous drawing studies by Leonardo da Vinci for the Battle of Anghiari fresco mural project.
study in the physical sciences, Leonardo attempted everything̱– and did not
always finish. It was the immensity of his study and his loathing of the
finished quality of the model-book that allowed Leonardo to abandon projects and
pick up new and creative directions and methods. Leonardo’s world view as an
artist for his art was universal—indeed, he personified the popular definition
of “Renaissance Man.” In his artistic boldness and innovation, Leonardo’s
methods and objectives found him its sole practitioner for years—even decades.
Yet Leonardo was a man of his times. The era of the mid-to-late fifteenth
century was one of social awakening to the globe and its conquest by nations
and kingdoms. The historical period saw great changes in cultural perceptions
based on European cities achieving charters of economic and political freedom as
well as new scientific and other discoveries. These included the heliocentric
model of the solar system by astronomer and mathematician Nicolaus Copernicus
(1473-1543) and the international voyages of discovery by Christopher Columbus
(1451-1506). It was an age of revolutionary ideas and technology and Leonardo
da Vinci had no doubt it included art.
In Leonardo’s drawings there is the
untidy immaginativa quality in its hasty,
scribbled animations. Studies for the Battle
of Anghiari present a cacophony of images—drapery studies; grotesque heads;
armory; horses. For each area, Leonardo’s drawing between 1503 and 1506 had
reached mature stylistic development.35 Not since Leonardo’s The Adoration of the Magi in 1482 had he
created a composition achieving the cohesion of gestures and
inter-relationships among figures.
Nikolaus Copernicus, The Torun portrait, Anonymous, c. 1580.
Leonardo da Vinci, Adoration of the Magi, 1482, oil on wood, 246 cm × 243 cm (97 in. × 96 in.), Uffizi, Florence.
speculatively three panels or sections completed for the Battle of Anghiari. The
most recognizable is the large central panel or section known as the Battle for the Standard. It is known by its copies by other
artists. Leonardo’s central panel depicts four men, one partially hidden,
riding war horses. They are engaged in the heat of combat, frozen in a frame of
animated movement, for the capture of a standard during the battle. Other
sections of the Battle of Anghiari—derived
from Leonardo’s small preparatory sketches—depict a wild, galloping horse and a
pair of belligerents on horseback. These are briefly discussed below. The most
well-known copy of the central section of Leonardo’s fresco (the only section
he apparently painted) is by the great artist Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). In
the collection of the Louvre, Rubens’ copy dates from 1603 and is, in fact, a copy
of a copy. Rubens copies Lorenzo Zacchia’s (1524-c.1587) copy dating from 1553
which he possibly took directly from the fresco or a lost cartoon. There are
three extant copies by other artists of Ruben’s copy of a copy of the possibly
original artwork.36 These copies at various removes provide insight
into the impact for art through the centuries. The rest of Leonardo’s composition
is conjectured based on drawings.37 The left panel or section Leonardo
could have intended to be horsemen charging into battle while the right panel
or section could be the taking of the bridge over the Tiber on horseback which
was a key action for victory. The preparatory drawing sheets have images on top
and below and may be related as part of a narrative sequence that Leonardo
worked to clarify and simplify as a design until he started painting the
composition.38 Throughout the project
Leonardo had detail and atmospherics in mind though in its piece meal condition
today, a full aspect of his creative process is irretrievably lost.39
Peter Paul Rubens, Copy of Leonardo’s Battle of the Standard (from the Battle of Anghiari), 1603, Louvre.
Horses are one
of Leonardo’s favorite subjects. The Battle for the Standard portrays three
soldiers on three horses with swords brandished in the smoke and flame of
hand-to-hand combat. A fourth soldier on horseback is partially hidden. Two more
soldiers have fallen beneath the hooves of their reeling horses and attempt to
cover themselves with their shields. The weight of the horses is depicted in
their meaty haunches. The horses’ heads are ancient and noble. They crush,
bite, and plow into the heat of battle. The screaming head of Niccolò Piccinino
–the protagonist of the Battle for the Standard — and from whose hands
the standard is wrested away by Florentine soldiers (the profile on his
immediate right) wore a large red cap as described by Vasari.40
configuration of the scene is Leonardo’s Renaissance construction of the type
of dense figures discovered on ancient Greek and Roman sarcophagi. The
stylistic effect of Rubens’ copy of Leonardo’s Battle of the Standard
is, by virtue of its similarity, carried forward into the seventeenth century
as witnessed by Rubens’ The Hippopotamus Hunt (1616) and The Lion Hunt (1621) both in the Alte
Pinakoteck in Munich. The question can be posed: to what degree is Rubens’
stylistic effect, by virtue of his 1603 copy of a 1553 copy of Leonardo’s 1503
image, inferred into Leonardo’s Battle of the Standard? Yet Leonardo’s
battle, seen by thousands over decades before its demise, can be said to have
directly influenced battle scene depictions whose style continued into the
Romantic Period in mid19th century France.41
Fall of Phaeton, Greek marble Roman sarcophagus, 62 x 220 cm, c. 150 AD, Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
Peter Paul Rubens, The Hippopotamus Hunt, 1616, Alte Pinakothek, Munich.
Peter Paul Rubens, The Lion Hunt, 1621, Alte Pinakothek, Munich.
Tintoretto, Saint George and the Dragon, oil on canvas, 157.5 x 110.3 cm, The National Gallery, London.
Eugène Delacroix, The Combat of the Giaour and Hassan, 1826, The Art Institute of Chicago.
Bronzino, Allegory of Venus and Cupid, c. 1560, The National Gallery, London. The screaming head in the background on the left side of the painting is speculatively based on the head of Leonardo’s protagonist in the Battle of the Standard.
these artistic innovations and achievements by Leonardo in a long, lonely
process of exploration the hallmark achievement of the Battle of Anghiari
is its reckless artistic inspiration.
While historical construction of Leonardo’s drawing method requires speculation,
existing studies for the work, including those specific to the Battle of
Anghiari, provide insights. For instance, Leonardo deployed the pen as well
as chalk in preparatory drawings for the Battle of Anghiari. This
practice continued the spontaneous and dynamic plasticity of his drawing
technique from the 1490s42 and
contained psychophysical and temporal effects.43 Up to Leonardo, the
general practice for using a pen or stylus was by way of short parallel lines.
In the Battle of Anghiari Leonardo is the first Italian artist to
systematically use curvilinear hatching.44 A complementary contrast
to Leonardo’s inventiveness is that he valued and paid attention to his work
experiences. After the early 1480s he retained his sense of form and design and
continued to work through particular problems that interested him within a
general trend of development.45
Leonardo da Vinci, Study of Rearing Horse, light fine red chalk and hatching with traces pen and brown ink, 153 x 142 mm, Royal Library, Windsor. The horse drawn from life shows a tense rider pivoting.
drawings, including his preparatory studies, convey a sensational appearance of
continuous movement. Formed into a triangle the figures of combatants in the
central section of the Battle of Anghiari and elsewhere move in a
swirling motion similar to the apocalyptic liquid cascades Leonardo would later
draw. Facial expressions, gnarled and strained on both man and beast, add their
distinctive vitality to the animated whole. The Battle of the Standard
works similarly to Leonardo’s mechanical drawings in their careful
construction. The “machine” operates as an expression of the physicality and
emotional and psychological intensity of men fighting to the death. Leonardo,
as discussed, based this key scene for the city-state commission on an episode
described in historical written texts.46
Leonardo in his
first draft of a drawing worked to establish this general sense of movement. In
first drafts he attempts the pictorial pitch that he will develop. In the
second stage (“per ripruova”) Leonardo begins to create major motifs.47
The two most important primi pensieri for the Battle of Anghiari
are pen and ink drawings from the Gallerie dell’ Accademia in Venice, Italy.
Scholarship’s quest to reconstruct Leonardo’s creation of the Battle of
Anghiari has been identified as “quixotic,”48 yet these drawings while no larger than the size of a
clenched fist give out significant clues.
Leonardo da Vinci, Battle Study, two skirmishes between horsemen and foot soldiers, c.1503, pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash, 147 x 154 mm (6 x 6 in.) Gallerie dell’ Accademia, Venice, Italy.
Leonardo da Vinci, Battle Study, Skirmish between Horsemen, Foot soldiers and Foot soldiers Wielding Long Weapons, pen and brown ink over black chalk and stylus, c.1503, 147 x 154 mm (6 x 6 in.), Gallerie dell’ Accademia, Venice, Italy.
In one of the
preparatory drawings the horseman on the left is looking back over the horse’s
haunches, a dramatic image among the handful of fighters in close combat that
Leonardo will condense into a dominant motif in the Battle of the Standard.
The artist’s steady progression belies his reputation as a slow worker though
this inventive stage of drawing appealed to him most. For each stage,
Leonardo’s drawing is a fully animated artistic expression of his subject
matter. While the creative process of Leonardo’s drawing brings the image, as
Heinrich Wöfflin observed, to the “verge of the unclear,”49 it also
begins to reveal some of the inner workings of Leonardo’s brilliance. In exchange
for the free and kinetic character of drawing studies taken to the brink, the
later and final work becomes increasingly plastic and compact.50
Leonardo da Vinci, Fight for the Standard at the Bridge and Two Foot Soldiers, pen and brown ink, 99 x 141 mm, Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice. It is speculated that this preparatory drawing was for the right panel (or section) of the fresco. It depicted the taking of the bridge over the Tiber River that was a key historical action to military victory for the Florentines over the Milanese at the Battle of Anghiari on June 29, 1440.
Leonardo da Vinci, Study of charging horses and Soldiers, red chalk on paper, 167 x 240 mm, Royal Library, Windsor. Anticipating Degas’s racehorses 350 years in the future, this drawing of horsemen charging to battle may represent the left panel (or section) of the Battle of Anghiari that Leonardo envisioned as a three-part narrative sequence.
Copy of a horseman from the Battle of Anghiari, pen and brown ink, brush and gray wash, white gouache on paper, 267 x 237 mm, The British Museum.
In the drawings
for the Battle of Anghiari he communicates in lively action and
engrossing drama the close physical contact of the horses and their riders
encircling and falling upon one another in the passion and violence of war.51
The fresco in the Florentine council chambers would remind leaders of war’s
brutality and, though a glorification of civic heroism and pride, the
wall-sized image served to show the fury of slaughter that military battles
cost. The Battle of the Standard was an image that conveyed the phrase
that typified the meaning of war for Leonardo: pazzia bestialissima (“beastly
Bertoldo’s battle scene that originally decorated the Florentine palazzo of
Lorenzo de’ Medici (“the Magnificent’) and based on an ancient Roman
sarcophagus, proffered to the viewer no identifiable sides. War is not a
glorious narrative, but combatants falling into one another. In addition to its
classical and Renaissance allusions, its plastic form appealed to Leonardo’s
beliefs and attitudes about the intrinsic nature of combat that he then looked
to dramatize in the Battle of Anghiari.
Leonardo da Vinci, Study of horses for the Battle of Anghiari. Leonardo depicts horses displaying emotion.
Leonardo da Vinci, Study of group of riders in the Battle of Anghiari, c. 1503, charcoal and black chalk reworked with brush and brown wash, Royal Library, Windsor. The left-handed hatching is for a drawing taken from a clay or wax model.
Bertoldo di Giovanni (ca. 1440–1491), Battle, c. 1480–85, Bronze, 17 3/4 × 39 1/8 in. (45 × 99.5 cm), Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence.
The artistic drawings that survive which reveal Leonardo’s artistic process are an invaluable piece of a final enterprise that ultimately failed to materialize on several levels despite Leonardo believing the high-level commission was vital to his reputation as an artist.53 In the end, Leonardo was viewed by the oligarchs as not only procrastinating but having not fulfilled his contract and they sued Leonardo for breach. Yet more enduring than a legal concern was the art project involving Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti. The work accomplished by these two giants of art reverberates through the centuries to today. Theirs is a legacy of the individual artist still being sought out—though by chairmen and presidents rather than popes and princes. A legacy that says artists are no longer craftsmen or tradesmen but artistic personalities in their own right with a unique and appealing style who are thus engaged for their singular brilliance.54 In the face of what was an incomplete, sometimes failed, and ultimately abandoned project—its competitive nature notwithstanding—all the variations of Leonardo’s creative activity funnels into a tremendous example for the mission of the artist –that is, to serve first neither patron nor purse nor artistic reputation —but the glory of making one’s art.
Leonardo, Self-Portrait, c. 1512, Royal Library of Turin, Italy.
Acidini Luchinat, Christina, Butters, Suzanne B., Chiarini,
Marco, Cox-Rearick, Janet, Darr, Alan P., Feinberg, Larry J., Giusti,
Annamaria, Goldthwaite, Richard A. , Meoni, Lucia, Piacenti, Kirsten
Aschengreen, Pizzorusso, Claudio, Testaverde, Anna Maria, The Medici,
Michelangelo, And The Art of Late Renaissance Florence, Yale University
Press in association with The Detroit Institute of Arts, New Haven and London,
Ames-Lewis, Francis, Drawing in Early Renaissance Italy,
Revised Edition, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, Second Edition,
2000 (originally published 1981).
Ames-Lewis, Francis, The Intellectual Life of the Early Renaissance
Artist, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 2000.
Bambach, Carmen C., editor, Leonardo da Vinci, Master
Draftsman, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and Yale University
Press, New Haven and London, 2003.
Berenson, Bernard, The Italian Painters of the
Renaissance, Phaidon Press, London, 1959.
Braham, Allan, Italian Paintings of the Sixteenth Century,
The National Gallery, London in association with William Collins Sons & Co.
Ltd, London, 1985.
Braudel, Fernand, Out of Italy: 1450-1650, trans. Siân
Reynolds, Flammarion, Paris, 1991.
The Millers, Theodore, Elizabeth Lee, Erik, John and Florence, in 1923.
In the first decades of the twentieth century it became increasingly common practice for established American families to reflect and display their personal lives as well as social status in the timely gathering of photographic portraits. Progressively, the American family unit grew more compact in tandem with its greater personal affluence in an economy increasingly dominated by mechanization and the manufacture of consumer goods, all of which worked relentlessly to replace farming as the engine of American enterprise.
The Millers of Poughkeepsie, New York, – a seventeenth century town eighty miles north of New York City which in the eighteenth century had progressed to an early state capital and, by 1910, a significant stop on the railroad line1 – shared that prototypical family form as they gathered for their family portraits between 1914 and 1932. After 1900, camera availability and quality had markedly improved. Moving into the popular culture, photography allowed the display of a family image that is relaxed and natural as well as a time capsule of its members. In the instance of the Millers their formal and informal photographic portraits capture what appears to be a cohesive family unit expressive of their times. They are within a thoughtfully creative pose and posture likely managed by the head of the household, Theodore Miller, an energetic lifelong amateur photographer. These portraits are ambitious for an aesthetic which manifests as a controlled vibrancy in the sitters as well as overall composition. The outcome for these portraits which all include Lee Miller as a child and teenager are photographs that combine the qualities of the fine arts with the more delicate workings of a machine.
Lee Miller at about eight months old, c. December 1907. Taken by her father Theodore Miller, the amateur photographer would photograph his daughter near incessantly from her childhood into adulthood. Part chronicle, part creative project, their photographer-model relationship could be unusual as he photographed his daughter nude at times over the same time period.
Lee Miller at 8 years by Theodore Miller, 1915.
The Millers, headed by highly credentialed mechanical engineer and amateur photographer Theodore Miller (1872-1971) and his wife Florence (1881-1954), saw the couple produce a handsome family: brothers John MacDonald (December 15, 1905-2008) and Erik Theodore (born May 22, 1910-?) and middle daughter, Elizabeth Lee, later Lee Miller, Lady Penrose (April 23, 1907-1977).
In childhood, Lee was curious, had her special interests and likes, especially the newly invented movies, and was encouraged by her parents to be free and active. Rambunctious in youth, Li-Li (Elizabeth Lee’s nickname) expressed herself as a sort of tomboy and later a definite teenage rebel. In school she was often undisciplined and, as the ringleader, provocative.2
When she was ten years old in 1917, her father gave Li-Li an inexpensive and popular Kodak Brownie to take photographs. Kodak used the box camera to sell more products and popularize photography. Almost more like a toy, the Brownie series was first introduced in 1900 and extensively marketed to children,3 although they were taken by soldiers into World War I. In the age of the American invention, teenage Li-Li Miller, intelligent and creative, was also fascinated by her father’s enduring experimentation with new camera gadgets including stereoscopy. That photographic application produced two-dimensional images which, when combined in the brain, gave the perception of three-dimensional depth.4
The Millers in 1914: Florence, Erik, Lee, John, Theodore.
Lee Miller and her mother in 1914.
In an almost desperate search for an academic program to constructively engage their daughter’s interest, the Millers placed Li-Li in and out of several schools around Poughkeepsie. Lee traipsed through Governor Clinton school to Oakwood Quaker to St. Mary’s Catholic to Eastman Business College to Putnam Hall known as the prep school for local Vassar College. Even with extra-curricular dance and theater activities as well as sojourns into creative writing – along with extended trips to New York City and, accompanying her father on business, to Puerto Rico on a cruise – by 1920 Li-Li seemed only most uniquely prepared to embrace the intrepid nonchalance of the flapper whose age had arrived thanks to the appearance of This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The teenager bobbed and later permed her golden hair as she looked for the next exit out of Poughkeepsie. At the end of a record-cold spring of 1925, Li-Li, called spoiled and well-to-do by many of her neighborhood classmates, took a ship for Paris, France, on May 29. The Millers’ intention was not to internationalize the shortcomings of their daughter’s educational career, but to assist in the rebellious 18-year-old’s discovery and development of a talent and skill to match her artistic temperament.5 No one could predict in 1925 that after spending this short period of time in Europe as a teenager, Li-Li Miller of Poughkeepsie, New York, will, as Lee Miller, finally return there to spend most of the rest of her life, over 50 years.
The Millers in 1920: Lee, Erik, Theodore, Florence and John. With the onset of the flapper age, 13-year-old Lee swiftly bobbed her hair to match the oncoming decade’s new style.
In the cold spring of 1925, Lee Miller joined by her father boards the ship that will take her to Paris to study. Hopes are that in Paris she will find and develop the talented skill to express her artistic temperament.
By John P. Walsh. This presentation is excerpted from content of university course I taught whose research project is ongoing.
Nadar was born on April 6, 1820 to 26-year-old Thérèse Maillet and 49-year-old Victor Tournachon at 195 rue Saint-Honoré in Paris. His parents didn’t marry until 1826. After Gaspard-Félix (Nadar’s birth name) was born his parents moved to 26 rue de Richelieu. A younger brother, Adrien, was born in 1825. In an age of political censorship, Victor Tournachon’s printing business began to decline and the family moved again to 45 rue Saint-André-des-Arts on the Left Bank. Tournachon brothers’ upbringing was marked by this financial difficulty of their father, especially after the July Revolution in 1830. After Victor Tournachon closed his business in 1833 he moved with his family to Lyon. Gaspard-Félix stayed in school at Versailles where he started his creative writing and had a natural inkling for making friends. His school career effectively ended in 1837 when his father died and Gaspard-Félix moved to Lyon. Though he started medical studies with the idea of supporting his mother and brother, it belied his active interest in journalism.
In 1838, Gaspard-Félix returned to Paris. Into the 1840’s his expanding circle of friends became his new family where his nickname of Nadar began to evolve and he started a journalism career working for up-and-down literary publications, writing reviews and short stories, and drawing caricatures. Throughout the 1840’s he traveled in bohemian literary circles, made the rounds of Paris cafés and met a string of artists, writers, critics and poets such as Gérard de Nerval (1808-1855), Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) and Théodore de Banville (1823-1891) – all of whom became subjects for Nadar’s photography. Part of the reward for this aesthetic conviction was to spend time in a Paris debtor’s prison at the start of the 1850’s. While Nadar’s literary and artistic activities continued for the next forty years he also remained a type of eccentric politically-radical bohemian even after he was rich and famous.
Mid-nineteenth-century Paris was a city in upheaval both politically and physically. The Revolution of 1848 ended up toppling the constitutional monarchy and replacing it with a second republic. Georges-Eugène, Baron Haussmann’s renovation of Paris literally turned over the old city. These developments perfectly mirrored Nadar’s character to be restlessly innovative, curious, energetic, concrete, and persuasive. In a writing career that worked in the burgeoning literary world of newspapers, magazines, journals, gazettes, etc., and, as the press was starkly partisan, Nadar encountered many personalities who favored the liberal side of the political and cultural spectrum. By way of a journal for which he was editor in chief, Nadar in 1839, met Honoré de Balzac. An active member of the Société des gens de lettres since 1844, Nadar connected to the professional literary group for friends, funds and more writing opportunities, mainly short pieces for periodicals. Nadar never became disenchanted with writing or wanting to be a literary celebrity, but starting in 1844, began to augment his skills and income by publishing caricatures. He made sketches and drawings for a short-lived Journal du dimanche, the influential Le Charivari, an antisocialist LeJournal, a new weekly La Revue comique, and also Journal pour rire (which became Journal amusant), Tintamarre, Illustrated London News, and Count Charles de Villedeuil’s L’Éclair. Nadar’s success as a draughtsman – as well as his intuitive grasp of the emerging celebrity culture in Paris – led to the establishment in 1850 of the first studio under the Nadar brand name. Patronage for his caricatures allowed him in 1854 to move to 13 rue Saint-Lazare with his mother who, with Adrien, had returned to Paris in 1845. This address eventually served as Nadar’s photographic studio. When Nadar began his photographic services career there was a handful of professional photographers in Paris. By 1870, around the time Nadar exited the full-time profession in 1873, there were many hundreds. Nadar was at the start of a cultural sensation. Practicing a new and exciting medium, the photographer still held an undetermined and possibly precarious socio-economical position in Paris –was he an artist or technician? Was Nadar’s photographic services installed in what should be called a studio or shop?
Nadar married Ernestine-Constance Lefèvre (1836-1909) in 1854, a woman half his age, who fully supported her husband’s photographic venture. His young wife was one of his first—and final–photographic models. Nadar’s portraits included a wide range of sitters, many of whom were bohemian friends and notable personalities of his day. Nadar who for years had made portrait caricatures of celebrities such as in his lithographic project, Panthéon Nadar, now took their photographic portraits. A large number of Nadar portraits included painters, sculptors, actors, writers, historians, philosophers, politicians, journalists, and musicians as well as the public bourgeois clientele. The subject Nadar photographed the most was Nadar himself. A sitter would be welcomed into the outdoor courtyard on rue Saint-Lazare which served as Nadar’s studio. His first work was often done in the natural light that achieved a high contrast between light and dark on the sitter’s features. Like in a theatrical production, sitters were costumed by Nadar in place of their street clothes which worked to generalize their social position and contemporaneity. Using plain dark backgrounds and no props to begin, Nadar’s portraits are spare. Another key practice by Nadar to achieve a successful portrait is the photographer’s skillful lighting of the sitter. From the mid1850s until the early 1870s Nadar’s relaxed and easy style inviting friends and celebrities into his studio for portraits resulted in a sympathetic rapport between a seductive and energetic photographer and his trusting and extemporaneous subjects enthusiastically interacting to produce these portraits.
Adrien learned how to take photographs from Gustave Le Gray (1820-1884). Le Gray, who was the same age as Nadar, was already one the most important photographers of his time. Adrien first set up photographic services with his older brother taking portraits. Yet Adrien and Le Gray remained contacts for Nadar only through the 1850s: Le Gray fled France in 1860 because of creditors and the brothers split professionally in a lawsuit brought by Nadar and decided in 1859. In April 1860 Nadar took over renting Le Gray’s sumptuous studio at 35, rue des Capucines and expanded it with an iron-and-glass penthouse which opened in September 1861. This became Nadar’s fashionable quarters until 1872 when he retired and, in 1873, left a thriving photographic business to his son, Paul Nadar. In 1861 the new establishment, lavish and sporting its famous outdoor sign “Nadar,” one of its unforgettable modern notes made by 21-year-old Antoine Lumière (1840-1911), was packaged to attract the urban bourgeois. Nadar also looked to charge high prices based on his appeal as an anti-establishment photographer who sometimes took erotic photographs and always cultivated Paris’s society of artists and political radicals.
At the new studio his photographs were more polished than his and Adrien’s work on rue Saint-Lazare in the 1850’s. Nadar took photographs of Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) and George Sand (1804-1876) in several sittings. Nadar was a man of constant curiosity and enthusiasm which led to creative innovations in taking photographs. In addition to portraiture, Nadar used artificial light to photography the Paris catacombs in 1864. For anyone who has visited this underground necropolis, it is naturally always pitch dark. The Paris sewers, a modern marvel, also attracted Nadar’s camera and artificial lighting. The first aerial photographs in history were taken by Nadar when he hooked up a gondola to a balloon and lifted into the air over Paris in 1865. It promoted both the cause of human flight and his photography business. During the seige of 1870, Nadar took to the air again with his camera for patriotic reasons.
The Great Nadar: The Man Behind the Camera, Adam Begley, Tim Duggan Books, NY, 2017.
Nadar: Gaspard-Félix Tournachon (55), James H. Rubin, Phaidon Press, 2001.
The World of Proust as seen by PaulNadar, edited by Anne-Marie Bernard, The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2002.
Nadar, Maria Morris Hambourg, Françoise Helibrun, Philippe Neagu, et.al., Harry N. Abrams, 1995.
Nadar, Self Portrait, 1854. Throughout his career, Nadar took images of himself. This was used as a simple record of the artist but also a form of publicity for his business.
Nadar, Self Portrait, 1855.
Nadar, Atelier at 35, boulevard des Capucines, c. 1861. Nadar moved out of his mother’s house where he had his first studio into this grandiose showplace on the new boulevard which attracted celebrities, onlookers, and those eager to have their portrait taken in the nineteenth century. The script sign “Nadar” across the building’s facade at its upper floor offered a dramatic advertisement for the enterprising photographer.
The Nadars, c. 1864. Paul Nadar (1856-1939), Gaspard-Félix Nadar (1820-1910), Ernestine-Constance Nadar née Lefèvre (1836-1909). A family portrait portrayed both a close family unit of mother, father, and son, as well as the dynastic quality of Nadar’s photographic business to be inherited by none other than young Paul by the 1890’s.
Nadar (and Adrien Tournachon), Gérard de Nerval (1808-1855), 1855. The poet played a major role in introducing French readers to the works of German Romantic authors, including Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724-1803), Gottfried August Bürger (1747-1804), Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) and Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805). His own poetry was a major influence on Marcel Proust (1871-1922), André Breton (1896-1966), and the avant-garde movement of Surrealism in 1920’s that sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind. Nadar claimed that Nerval sat for him just once and only days before the bohemian poet committed suicide.
Nadar, Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), 1855. In an early portrait by Nadar, his friend Baudelaire reclines in an armchair with an intense and dreamy gaze. The poet and critic was involved in producing poems to be published in 1859 as Les Fleurs du mal. Baudelaire’s critique of photography was its negative impact on judgement and feeling of the beautiful.
Nadar, Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), 1855. The lumpy coat is likely a costume provided by Nadar that helps contrast the sitter’s slim frame and fine facial features. The formal gesture of the right hand inside the coat, a pose known in Ancient Greece to indicate good manners, had appeared in eighteenth century art to establish calm and deliberation in its subject so posed. Baudelaire’s left hand in the pocket is informal and could intentionally serve to undermine or mock the classical gesture. Nadar’s portrait series of Baudelaire is important to view as a group since these are the few images of the French Symbolist poet that exist from the mid nineteenth century and in a manner of pose inspired by the artistic interchange of the diverse and inventive Nadar and his subject who was also his friend, the experimental modernist writer Baudelaire.
Nadar, Baudelaire, c. 1856.
Nadar, Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), c. 1862. Rather than dreamy, Baudelaire’s expression — mouth turned down, eyes gleaming — is defiant and the pose is stern but whimsical.
Nadar, Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), c. 1862.
Nadar, Théodore de Banville (1823-1891). Banville was a French poet , writer and critic who was a leader of the Parnassians and whose work was later influential on French Symbolism. His first book of verse, Les Cariatides (“The Caryatids”) in 1842, owed much to the style and manner of Victor Hugo (1802-1885). The chief quality of his poetry is its technical virtuosity — he experimented with forms such as the ballad and rondeau that had been neglected for 300 years — though contemporaries also admired his poems’ erudition, wit and whimsy. His best-known collection, Les Odes funambulesques (“Fantastic Odes”) published in 1857, is dedicated to Hugo who praised it. Such is the first stanza of Mascarades: Le Carnaval s’amuse!/ Viens le chanter, ma Muse,/En suivant au hasard/ Le bon Ronsard!
Nadar, Théodore de Banville, 1854.
Nadar, Henri Murger (1822-1861), Paris, c. 1855.
Nadar, Charles Philipon, Paris, 1854. The founder of Le Charivari in 1831, among other popular journals, Charles Philipon (1800-1862) was Nadar’s mentor and an important collaborator in Nadar’s bid to establish himself as a caricaturist. Philipon and Nadar, though from different generations, both shared an energetic and inventive personal character as well as a keen interest, skill, and talent for contemporary caricature (though censorship killed political cartoons after 1851). Charles Philipon, however, being the better businessman, provided Nadar in this period with editor in chief jobs at new magazines that Philipon founded and, until the day he died in 1862, stayed solicitous of Nadar’s future in illustration. Except that, after Charles Philipon died, Nadar lost all interest in the practice.
Adrien Tournachon (1825-1903), c. 1855. Nadar’s younger brother was a quirky and talented artist and photographer in his own right. By the mid-to-late 1850’s Adrien collaborated closely with his older brother in the photographic studio’s services. Their work in this period is often enmeshed so that an exact delineation between them can be difficult to ascertain. Is this photograph a self portrait or a collaborative (self-)portrait? The photograph presents Adrien at about age thirty, wearing casual attire and posing with a bohemian air marked by a broad-brimmed dark straw hat and holding a hand-rolled and lit cigarette in his mouth. Adrien Tournachon opened a photographic studio at 11, boulevard des Capucines in 1853. The two brothers worked together closely in photography which each also worked in other professions, Nadar as a caricaturist and Adrien as a painter (whom Nadar helped to establish). Adrien’s photography career included being active in newly-formed photographic societies, securing a patent for a photo-mechanical process, and later specializing in horse and animal photography as well as other photography-related businesses.
Jean-Charles Deburau (1829-1873) as Pierrot series, c. 1855. This is another series of Nadar’s photographs–Deburau’s portrayal of the stock character Pierrot– that should be viewed as a group to appreciate the sitter portrayed in a single portrait, although this post includes only a small portion. A collaborative project by Nadar and Adrien. Nadar issued the invitation for Deburau to pose in the studio. Deburau is dressed as Pierrot, the famous commedia dell’arte character. These are rare full-length portraits in Nadar’s oeuvre and include Pierrot in a variety of dramatic poses, some more natural than others, in strongly sculptural light and shadow. There is Pierrot surprised, Pierrot listening, Pierrot in pain, Pierrot laughing and, most famously, Pierrot photographer which explicitly suggests the performative dialogue between sitter and photographer.
Nadar, Théophile Gautier (1811-1872), Paris, c. 1855. Gautier was a French poet, dramatist, novelist, journalist, and art and literary critic.
Nadar, Jules Michelet (1798-1874), c. 1858. Historian of France. Nadar positions his camera lens below the subject so that Michelet can look out from above and has arranged the light reflectors to sculpt Michelet’s features in high relief.
Nadar, Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski (1770-1861), c. 1858. A Polish patriot, Nadar’s portrait of the prince was exhibited in 1859 at the Société Française de Photographie. In 1848 Nadar had volunteered to fight for the liberation of Poland when Lamartine called for an expeditionary force of 300 Polish and 200 French (including Nadar) to incite revolution against a Russian regime there since 1830. Nadar was captured, spent time in prison in Germany, and returned by foot to Paris.
Auguste Préault (1808-1879), Paris, c. 1854. A student of David d’Angers (1788-1856), Préault was a sculptor who first exhibited at the Paris salon in 1833. Works by Préault are in the Louvre, d’Orsay, and other museum collections mainly in France.
Created in 1842, the medallion titled Le Silence in the Louvre is one of the most famous works of Auguste Préault, who was the romantic sculptor par excellence. Reduced to its simplest expression, the deeply-engraved artwork — a funereal figure with a finger on the lips evoking the chasm between Life and Death — both fascinates and terrifies. This is the sculptural work on the tomb of Jacob Roblès in Père Lachaise where Préault abandoned recent traditional funerary imagery begun by his mentor David D’Angers of artwork that evokes the person who died, and fashioning in its place an enigmatic and mysterious evocation of death itself. Préault, who died in 1879, is also buried in Père Lachaise.
Nadar, Pierre-Clément-Eugène Pelletan (1813-1884), c. 1857. Protestant minister, mystic, socialist pamphleteer, an associate of George Sand and Lamartine. This is lionizing portrait – gleaming eyes, furrowed brow – that epitomized for the photographer the nobility of the Romantic hero.
Nadar, Benoît Molin (1810-1894), Paris, 1858. A student of Baron Gros (1771-1835), Molin was a portrait, genre, Religion and History painter. Molin regularly exhibited at the Salon starting in 1843 and became the Director of Chambéry Musée des beaux-arts in 1850.
Molin, Le Baiser rendu (Judas et Satan), 1840s, Chambéry; Musée des Beaux-Arts.
Nadar, Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868). Italian composer who wrote 39 operas, including his French grand opera, Guillaume Tell (William Tell) in 1832 based on Friedrich Schiller’s 1804 play that is based on the previous William tell legend.
Gioachino Rossini: William Tell Overture (1829). London Philharmonic, Alfred Scholz.
Alexandre Dumas père (1802-1870), Paris, c. 1855. The French writer’s works have been translated into many languages, and he is one of the most widely read French authors. Many of his historical novels of high adventure were originally published as serials including The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, and Twenty Years After, among others. His novels have been adapted since the early twentieth century into hundreds of films.
Based on the 1844 novel Le Comte de Monte Cristo (The Count of Monte Cristo) by Alexandre Dumas père, this excerpt from the 1998 French-Italian TV miniseries finds Edmond Dantès (Gerard Depardieu), who is now the Count of Monte Cristo, encountering his beautiful former fiancée, Mercédès (Ornella Muti). When the count as a young man is unjustly betrayed and sent to the Château d’If – from which he escapes after several years – Mercédès has married not only another man but one of the Count’s betrayers. Though Mercédès regrets marrying Fernand and not waiting for Dantès, she never stops loving Dantès and ends up being miserable for it.
François-Louis Lesueur (1820-1876), Paris, c. 1855. Lesueur was a French actor.
Nadar (and Adrien Tournachon), Edmond Goncourt (1822-1896) and Jules Goncourt (1830-1870), Paris, c. 1855. The brothers were taste-makers of their time. The Prix Goncourt, the best known and most prestigious of French literary awards, is named for them.
Joan of Arc on Horseback, 1874, Place des Pyramides, Paris by Frémiet. The pedestal was designed by the architect Paul Abadie (1812-1884). The model for Joan was Aimée Girod (1856–1937).
Nadar, Louis-Charles-Auguste-Couder (1789-1873), c. 1856. French painter and student of Jean-Baptiste Regnault (1754-1829) and Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825).
Couder, Le Serment du Jeu de Paume, 20 juin 1789, 1848, Musée de la Révolution française, Vizelle.
Nadar, Mariette (Standing Nude), c. 1855. Only by viewing Nadar’s nude portraits in a group can the viewer begin to get a sense of the photographer’s inventiveness and grace in posing the model that achieves the maximum effect of the sitter’s degrees of vulnerability and beauty.
Nadar, Mimi, c. 1857.
Nadar, Draped Standing Nude, c. 1858.
Maria L’Antillaise, Paris, c. 1858.
Mademoiselle de Sanzillon, Paris, c. 1858. Nadar took photographs of this society woman of the time. In a time when married women were still the legal property of their husband, Nadar’s portraits reveal a liberality of practice to find and display the individual personality of each female sitter. This is achieved by how the photographer posed them and captured their expression and outward fashion. The extent of Nadar’s abilities in the area of photographing women is best appreciated by seeing a select grouping of small-sized portraits that illustrate the range of this quality that he produced though a fraction of his oeuvre.
Finette, c. 1857.
Mère Marie Jamet, c. 1860. From an inscription on the back of the photograph, it is speculated, though by no means certain, that this is the founder and mother superior of the Petites Soeurs des Pauvres (Little Sisters of the Poor).
Nadar (and Adrien Tournachon?), Musette (also Mariette), c. 1855.
Young woman in profile, c. 1859.
Marie Laurent (1826-1904), Paris, c. 1856.
Maria L’Antillaise, Paris, c. 1858.
Young Model, Paris, c. 1858.
Juliette Adam (1835-1936), Paris, c. 1858.
Carlotta Grisi ( 1819-1899), Paris, 1865.
Nadar (Adrien Tournachon), Jules Janin (1804-1874), Paris, c. 1855. Known as the “prince of critics,” Janin enjoyed a 40-year-career as a theater critic, novelist, and literary historian from the 1830’s to the 1870’s.
Kopp (d. 1872), Paris, c. 1857. Kopp was a comic actor at the Théâtre des Variétés, a theatre and “salle de spectacles” on the boulevard Montmartre in Paris. Several opéra bouffe by Jacques Offenbach premiered there in the 1860’s.
Le Théâtre des Variétés, sur le boulevard Montmartre, à Paris (IIe).
Nadar (and Adrien Tournachon), Émile Blavier, 1854. A young sculptor who gained recognition at the Salon of 1852.
Blavier, Buste de fillette au chignon.
Hector Berlioz (1803-1869), Paris, c. 1857. Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique: Épisode de la vie d’un artiste … en cinq parties (Fantastic Symphony: Episode in the Life of an Artist… in Five Parts) was composed in 1830. and is one of the most important orchestral works of the period. Franz Liszt made a piano transcription of it in 1833. Leonard Bernstein described the symphony as the first musical expedition into psychedelia because of its hallucinatory and dream-like nature. The symphony is in five movements.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra performances is conducted by Stéphane Denève.
Paul Chenavard (1807-1895), Paris, c. 1857.
Nadar, Pierre-Alfred Ravel (1811-1881). Master comic on the Paris stage at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal for a quarter of century. Each brilliant conversationalists, both sitter and photographer were both at the height of their powers. The glorious theater interiors that still stand in Paris today give the best indication of the celebrity quality that surrounded many of Nadar’s sitters.
Foyer, Théâtre du Palais-Royal, 38 Rue de Montpensier, (1e).
Théâtre de la Montansier/Théâtre du Palais-Royal, 1er, Paris.
Rosine Stolz (1815-1903), Paris, c.1857.
Pierre Cicéri (1782-1868), Paris, c.1857.
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875), Paris, c. 1857.
Honoré Daumier (1808-1879), Paris, c. 1857. Four masterful portraits taken in the same sitting. Nadar and Daumier both started their cartoon careers under Charles Philipon. Daumier started by drawing and was prompted, again by Philipon, to model unbaked clay figurines of lawmakers in the July Monarchy. For the rest of his long career Daumier was a master in drawing, painting, sculpture and lithography where the contemporary human element was key admired by Delacroix and Baudelaire. Daumier was friends with the sculptor Préault, painters Corot, Daubigny, Rousseau, and Dupré, and writers Théodore de Banville and Théophile Gautier. Although his first large solo exhibition (at Impressionist art dealer Durand Ruel’s gallery) was when the caricaturist was 70 years old, he had already been compared to novelist Balzac and philosopher Saint-Simon in that his art chronicled an era in French history. It is by viewing the several poses by Nadar of sitter during the same session that one begins to understand the appearance and personality of the subject for the first time.
Honoré Daumier (1808-1879), Paris, c. 1857.
Honoré Daumier (1808-1879), Paris, c. 1857. This portrait of Daumier was exhibited in 1859 at the Société Française de Photographie.
Honoré Daumier (1808-1879), Paris, c. 1857.
Daumier, Caricature de Photographie-A Collection of Ten Lithographs, lithograph, 36 x 24 cm. (14.2 x 9.4 in.), c. 1840–1867
Daumier, Le passé, le présent, l’avenir, lithographie, 19.6 x 21 cm, Coll. privée, “La Caricature.”
Gustave Doré (1832-1883), Paris, c. 1857.
Nadar, Gustave Doré, Paris, 1867.
Jean Journet (1799-1861), Paris, c. 1858. Fourierist “apostle.” Champfleury included Journet in his Excentriques and Nadar looked to achieve a passionate and inspired image in this photographic portrait portrait to offset Courbet’s anti-idealized artwork of Journet included below (Lithograph in black on wove paper, 1850, The Art Institute of Chicago).
François Guizot (1787-1874), Paris, c. 1857. Guizot was a government official in certain of the conservative governments that ruled in early-to-mid-nineteenth century France. Where Guizot was contentious and controversial as a public official, his breath of learning on French History and European Civilization led to the publication of historical tomes that he wrote on these subjects that are comprehensive and well written and remain exciting classics of the period.
Moses Saphire (1795-1857), Paris, c. 1857. A cartoonist and satirist known as Maurice Gottlieb.
Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863), Paris, 1858. Many volumes could be and are dedicated to the work of this great French Romantic artist and painter. The Musée Delacroix in Paris reports that the artist lived in ten different dwellings and changed studios six times prior to 1857, the year he moved to 6 Rue de Fürstenberg. The apartment he occupied there became the Musée Delacroix in 1932. Delacroix decorated the Salon du Roi (1833–1838) and the library (1840–1846) of the Assemblé Nationale, followed by the library of the Sénat (1840–1851). He was then commissioned for the ceiling of the Galerie d’Apollon for the Musée du Louvre (1850–1851). Between 1851 and 1854, he also created the décor of the Salon de la Paix in the Paris Hôtel de Ville, although his work was unfortunately lost in the fire of 1871. Apart from that particular ensemble, all of Delacroix’s secular decoration still remains in its original location for our viewing pleasure today. The Musée Delacroix has the model of the Orpheus for one of the hemicycles of the Assemblée Nationale ceiling, as well as the model for the hemicycle of the Sénat library depicting Alexander Placing Homer’s Poems in a Golden Chest.
Delacroix, Two Bearded Heads, after Veronese (detail from “The Marriage at Cana”), 1820, oil on canvas. Photo by author.
Delacroix, Lion Hunt (detail), 1861, The Art Institute of Chicago. Photo by author.
Adolphe Crémieux (1796-1880), Paris, c. 1858.
Isadore Severin, Baron Taylor (1789-1879), Paris, c. 1858.
Nadar, Philippe de Chennevières-Pointel (1820-1899), c.1855. Museum administrator and scholar. A good friend of Baudelaire who praised Chennevières’ modesty in the face of his humanitarian ideals and work ethic.
Emma Livry (1842-1863), Paris, c. 1859.
Nadar, Self Portrait, c. 1858.
Nadar, Self-Portrait, c. 1859.
Nadar, Self-Portrait, c. 1860.
Nadar, Self Portrait in artificial light, c.1859-1860.
Manet, Steamboat Leaving Boulogne, 1864, oil on canvas, The Art Institute of Chicago.
Manet, Le Christ mort et les anges / Le Christ aux anges (The Dead Christ with Angels), 1864, Oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Nadar, Legrand, c. 1858. An understudy to Baptise Deburau as Pierrot and a friendly rival to Charles Deburau, Legrand was short and stocky and in his performances was known for his deftness in pantomime to convey character, especially sentiment and tears.
George Sand (1804-1876), Paris, 1864.
Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923), Paris, c. 1864.
Sarah Bernhardt in her late teens, c. 1859.
Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923), Paris, c. 1864. In 1893 Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) took over the direction of the Théâtre de la Renaissance in Paris. Built in 1873, the theater stands next to the Porte Saint-Martin monument constructed in 1674. During the next six years (until 1899) many productions premiered in Bernhardt’s theater: Gismonda, a Greek melodrama in four acts, by Victorien Sardou (1831-1908) in 1894; La Princesse Lointaine, a play based on the story of a 12th-century troubadour, by Edmond Rostand (1868-1918) in 1895; two plays by Maurice Donnay (1859-1945), Amants in 1896 and L’Affranchie in 1898; La Figurante by François, Vicomte de Curel (1854-1928) in 1896; and two other productions in 1898, La Ville morte by Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863-1938) and Lysiane, a five-act play, by Romain Coolus (1868-1952). In 1896, Sarah Bernhardt in the Théâtre de la Renaissance, played the title role in Alfred de Musset’s Lorenzaccio, performing the part at the age of 52 and declared by the critics to be “from beginning to end, and at every moment, incomparably sublime.”
Théâtre de la Renaissance, Paris (10e).
Stage, Théâtre de la Renaissance, 20 boulevard Saint-Martin (10th), Paris. Sarah Bernhardt directed this theater from 1893 to 1899. It was built in 1873.
Sarah Bernhardt photographed by Nadar.
Sarah Bernhardt photographed by Nadar in the title role of Théodora in 1884.
In 1899 Sarah Bernhardt signed a long lease for the Théâtre des Nations/Théâtre Lyrique at 2 Place du Châtelet in the Fourth arrondissment and renamed it Théâtre Sarah-Bernhardt. It was designed by Gabriel Davioud (1824-1881) and built in 1862 by Baron Haussmann (1809-1891). It was virtually completely destroyed by fire in May 1871 at the end of Paris Commune and rebuilt according to the original plans in 1874. The renowned actress produced there until her death in 1923.
Impressive Haussmannian architecture of the Théâtre de la Ville has stood opposite the Théâtre du Châtelet, on the square of the same name in Paris, since 1862.
Théâtre Sarah-Bernhardt today is Théâtre de la Ville.
Part of a program for a production of La Vierge d’Avila in 1907-1907 at the Théâtre Sarah-Bernhardt.
Sarah Bernhardt photographed by Nadar in a production of La Tosca in 1887.
Jules Champfleury (1821-1889), Paris, c. 1865. French writer and modern art critic. Champfleury was a prominent supporter of the Realistmovement in painting and fiction and a champion of Gustave Courbet.
Gustave Courbet (1819-1877), Paris, c. 1866.
Courbet, Woman With A Parrot, 1866, oil on canvas, 51 x 77 in. (129.5 x 195.6 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York. When this painting was shown in the Salon of 1866, critics censured Courbet’s “lack of taste” as well as his model’s “ungainly” pose and “disheveled hair.” Yet the provocative picture found favor with a younger generation of artists who shared Courbet’s disregard for academic standards.
Nadar, Charles-François Daubigny (1817-1878), c. 1857. Born near Paris into a family of artists, Daubigny was first taught by his father, the artist Edme François Daubigny. His uncle Pierre Daubigny, a miniaturist, was also influential in his life. Daubigny carried on the tradition by his son Karl Daubigny (1846-1886), an accomplished landscape painter.
Daubigny, The Village of Groton, 1857, Oil On Panel, 29.8 x 53.7 cm (11 3/4 x 21 1/8 in.), Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
Nadar, Jean-François Millet (1814-1875), c. 1857. Nadar admired Millet of whom he wrote in 1857 was “one of the most serious talents of the French school.” Some wanted to make Millet’s canvases into sociopolitical manifestos such as in Courbet’s works, but Millet was not intentionally political. Rather Millet’s works looked to depict a toiling peasantry with monumentality and the noble simplicity.
Millet, The Angelus, c 1857, Oil on canvas, 55.5 x 66 cm, Musée d’Orsay.
Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880), Paris, 1875.
The famous can-can from Orphée aux Enfers (“Orpheus in the Underworld”) composed in 1858.
Charles Garnier (1825-1898), Paris, 1877. Architect of the opulent Opéra Garnier constructed between 1861 and 1875. The Palais Garnier is probably the most famous opera house in the world and one of the symbols of Paris.
Paris Opera exterior and interior. Stock photos.
Constance Quéniaux (1832-1908), Paris, 1861. Documentary evidence (a letter between Alexandre Dumas fils and Georges Sand) points to the sitter in Nadar’s photograph, a former dancer at the Paris opera and a mistress of the Ottoman diplomat and art collector Khalil Bey as the subject in Gustave Courbet’s erotic painting, The Origin of the World (1866), in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
Gustave Caillebotte, Les raboteurs de parquet (The Floor Scrapers), 1875, oil on canvas, 102 x 146.5 cm (40.2 × 57.7 in.). At his death in 1894, Caillebotte bestowed the painting to the Musée du Luxembourg where it was accepted. In 1929, it was transferred to the Musée du Louvre. It was relocated again in 1947 when it was moved to the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume. In 1986 it was brought to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
By John P. Walsh
The first Impressionist exhibition was held in Paris in 1874. Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894) who had in 1875 divided a more than two million franc inheritance with his priest-brother Alfred and sibling Martial was not of the Impressionists’ rank for that watershed show.
Henri Rouart (1833-1912) was of the same high social circle as his neighbor Caillebotte and one of the two signatures on the formal invitation to Caillebotte inviting him to exhibit in the second Impressionist exhibition in 1876. The other signatory was Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Caillebotte accepted and sent eight paintings including his famous The Floor Scrapers (Les raboteurs de parquet) that today hangs in the Museé D’Orsay.
The Impressionists were not purists to their collective cause and to varying degrees many of them if reluctantly exhibited in the Government’s annual exhibition known as the Salon. Despite its attempts at modernism, the Salon remained a conservative venue and while The Floor Scrapers of 1875 was exhibited in the Impressionist show in 1876 it had been rejected by the Salon in the previous year. In addition to its subject matter and artificially enhanced perspective, The Floor Scrapers was called “vulgar” and “leftist” by critics because the painting commutes the nude—a traditional academic subject—into the Impressionist specialty of a modern life subject.
The floor scrapers in the painting are not removing old wax as might be first suspected. Their efforts show them working in a new building where they are preparing the wood by inducing its buckling with water and scraping it smooth.
Gustave Caillebotte, Raboteurs de parquets (The Floor Scrapers), 1876, oil on canvas, 80 x 100 cm (31.5 × 39.375 in.).
Gustave Caillebotte, Jeune homme jouant du piano (Young man Playing the Piano), 1876, oil on canvas, 80 x 166 cm (31.5 x 45.625 in.). Private collection.
Gustave Caillebotte, Déjeuner (Lunch), 1876, oil on canvas, 80 x 166 cm (31.5 x 45.625 in.). Private collection.
Sources: Gustave Caillebotte: Urban Impressionist, 1995, Anne Distel, editor. The New Painting: Impressionism 1874-1886, 1986, Charles S. Moffett.