The story of Zeus and Callisto is part of Greek mythology and involves Zeus, the king of the gods, and Callisto, a beautiful nymph and one of the companions of the Artemis, goddess of the hunt and the equivalent of Diana in Roman mythology. Zeus is the same king of the gods as the Roman god Jupiter. The story of Zeus and Callisto serves as a tale about the capricious nature of the gods in Greek mythology. One of the most well-known versions can be found in Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”.
According to the myth, Callisto was a devoted follower of Artemis (Diana) and like the other companion nymphs in the group of Artemis, Callisto also swore to remain a virgin for her entire life. They are hunting together, bathing together and were a great subject for painters throughout the centuries to depict a group of female nudes. With the exception of Vermeer, who portrayed Artemis and her nymphs in a very discreet and decent manner.
However, Zeus, known for his numerous affairs and infidelities, set his eyes on Callisto and decided to seduce her. Disguising himself as Artemis, Zeus approached Callisto and took advantage of her, resulting in Callisto becoming pregnant.
When the truth came to light, Callisto faced the wrath of Artemis, who was furious at her for breaking her vow of chastity. The goddess could not bear to look at Callisto anymore, and she banished her from her company. Callisto was devastated and left to live a life of solitude.
As her pregnancy progressed, Callisto’s appearance began to change and she now has a baby belly. Hera, Zeus’s wife and the queen of the gods, noticed these changes and grew suspicious of her husband’s involvement. Feeling betrayed and enraged, Hera sought revenge on Callisto. After the nymph gave birth to a son named Arcas, Hera transformed Callisto into a bear.
Arcas, son of Zeus and Callisto
In the meantime Arcas, the child of Zeus and Callisto, grew up and became a skilled hunter. He lived in a beautiful land and was chosen to be the king of that peaceful and pastoral area, called “Arcadia”, named after Arcas. Throughout history the name “Arcadia” has continued to be a symbol of an unspoiled and idyllic natural world.
As a bear, Callisto was forced to roam the wilderness, unable to communicate or return to her human form. Years passed, and one day, Arcas, now a young hunter, came across his mother-bear in the forest. Unaware that the bear was his own mother, he prepared to shoot it with his arrow. However, Zeus, who had been watching the events unfold, intervened to prevent a tragic outcome. To protect Callisto and her son, Zeus turned Arcas into a bear as well and placed them both among the stars, forming the constellations Ursa Major (the Great Bear) and Ursa Minor (the Smaller Bear). In this way, they were immortalized in the night sky, and their bond was forever preserved.
Hera did not like this at all; too much honour for Callisto and Arcas to be in the sky as stars. So, Hera descended from heaven and arrives with her carriage drawn by peacocks on sea-level, to complain to her friends the god Oceanus and his wife Tethis, a sea-goddess. Hera tells them that, in punishment for having such honorable place at the sky, they should never let the Callisto and Arcas, as Great and Smaller Bear, touch their waters and be able to wash themselves. Hera therefore instructs the gods of the sea that they shall not let either constellation sink below the horizon, and passing into the waters of the ocean. Indeed neither Ursa Major nor Ursa Minor ever set below the horizon, viewed from most regions in the Northern hemisphere.
Ursa Major (Great Bear) and Ursa Minor (Smaller Bear)
The Big Bear constellation is also known as Ursa Major, which means “Great Bear” in Latin. The more popular term “Big Dipper” is actually a colloquial name for a prominent asterism within the Ursa Major constellation. The Big Dipper is a group of seven bright stars that form a distinctive shape resembling a ladle or a dipper. This shape is a well-known feature of the northern night sky. The Great Bear has served as a navigational tool for travellers to determine directions.
Polaris (North or Pole Star)
Polaris, commonly known as the North Star or Pole Star, is the brightest star in the constellation Ursa Minor (the Smaller Bear). It holds a special place in the night sky because it appears very close to the celestial north pole, the point in the sky around which all other stars appear to rotate as Earth spins on its axis. This makes Polaris a valuable navigational reference point, especially for travellers in the Northern Hemisphere. Polaris appears relatively stationary in the sky while other stars appear to move in circles around it as the night progresses. This unique characteristic made Polaris an important celestial marker for ancient sailors, explorers, and navigators who used it to determine their northward direction. Polaris can be found by extending the two outer stars of the Big Dipper’s bowl (from the constellation Ursa Major) in a straight line. This extension leads you to Polaris, making it a helpful guide for finding true north in the night sky.
Greek and Roman Gods
The three gods involved in the story of Zeus and Callisto are:
Zeus (Ζεύς) is the god of the sky and thunder, and king of the gods, married to Hera. His symbol is the eagle. The Roman equivalent is Jupiter, also knows as Jove. Read more about Zeus in The Twelve Olympians.
Hera (Ήρα) is the goddess of marriage, women and family and the queen of gods, wife of Zeus. Her symbol is the peacock. The Roman equivalent is Juno. See Hera in The Twelve Olympians.
Artemis (Ἄρτεμις) is the goddess of the hunt, and to be recognised by the moon crescent as tiara on her head. Her Roman equivalent is Diana. More about Artemis in The Twelve Olympians.
The National Gallery purchased the life-size painting of Saint Bartholomew by Bernardo Cavallino at Sotheby’s New York back in January 2023 from the Fisch Davidson collection – one of the most important collections of Baroque art ever to appear on the market. The cost was $3.9 million (hammer $3.2m). This depiction of Saint Bartholomew, a most splendid work by Cavallino, dates to the 1640s, when the Neapolitan artist was at the height of his artistic powers.
Saint Bartholomew sits alone in the wilderness. His expression is one of grim determination, at once horrified and resolved. Enveloped in the folds of his mantle, he turns towards us, unable to look at the knife clasped in his left hand. This will be the tool of his martyrdom, for Bartholomew was flayed alive. One of the Twelve Apostles, Bartholomew was said to have preached the gospel in India and in Armenia. When he refused to make a sacrifice to the local gods, he was horribly killed, first stripped of his skin and then beheaded. Gruesome depictions of Bartholomew’s martyrdom were popular in seventeenth-century Naples and often showed the act of flaying in progress. This painting’s power comes from how extremely it has been pared back. Bartholomew is the sole protagonist in this almost monochromatic, intensely psychological picture. Stark light illuminates the mantle and the flesh, which provides the only colour in a work otherwise composed of silvery grey tones. We are not confronted here with violence: rather, it is the threat and imminence of violence that is so menacing. Instead of witnessing Bartholomew’s flayed flesh, the picture is dominated by the creamy mantle, whose folds are so elaborate that they cannot help but make us think of skin. Whether in the crisply delineated edges of the fabric or the strong sense of outline created by pulling the white paint right up to the flesh, everything seems to allude to layers and unpeeling, the act of incision unseen but ever-present.
Bernardo Cavallino (1616 – 1656?) was one of the leading Neapolitan artists of the first half of the 17th Century. While many details of his life and career remain shrouded in mystery, he was renowned in his lifetime for his small, sensitive paintings of mythological and biblical subjects which he painted for a private clientele. Cavallino probably received his training in Naples, the city of his birth. He was strongly influenced by Jusepe de Ribera (1591–1652), and seems to have mostly worked for private patrons, producing small, sensitive paintings of mythological and Biblical subjects. This life-size depiction of Saint Bartholomew, with its drama and intensity, is one of Cavallino’s masterpieces. Although we do not know for whom he painted it, its size and grandeur suggest it was an important commission. It probably dates from the latter years of the artist’s life, in which he became increasingly focussed on the emotional power of his works. Just eight of Cavallino’s known works are signed or initialled, and only one is dated. Cavallino probably died during the plague that devastated Naples in 1656. He was well regarded in the decades following his death, but knowledge of his paintings – which were often mistaken for the work of other painters – remained rudimentary until the second half of the 20th century when scholars developed a fuller sense of his poetic contribution to 17th Century art.
The influence of the Jusepe de Ribera is immediately apparent in Cavallino’s Saint Bartholomew, which recalls Ribera’s life-size portrayals of saints from the late 1630s and 1640s and resonates profoundly with Ribera’s near-contemporaneous depiction of the same saint, today in the Prado, Madrid.
The whereabouts of Cavallino’s Saint Bartholomew were untraced until it was sold in 1903 (as by Ribera) at Christie’s, London. It next resurfaced in 1988, after which the painting’s correct attribution to Cavallino was reinstated. The painting was last exhibited in public in 1993, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in in New York, so the public will now be able to enjoy it for the first time in 30 years. Saint Bartholomew is on display alongside other Italian 17th Century Baroque masterpieces in Room 32 of the National Gallery, London, where Saint Bartholomew will make its natural home among pictures by artists such as Caravaggio, Artemisia and Orazio Gentileschi, Guercino, Reni and Ribera.
More about Saint Bartholomew and the Twelve Apostles, click here.
More about the National Gallery, London, click here.
Wives of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob).
In the context of the Jewish and Christian Bible, the term “matriarchs” refers to a group of prominent women who are considered the female founders or ancestral mothers of the Israelite people.
Sarah: wife of Abraham and considered the first matriarch. She is known for her faith and trust in God, as well as her role in the birth of Isaac, her son with Abraham.
Rebecca: wife of Isaac and the mother of Jacob and Esau. She played a crucial role in facilitating Jacob’s reception of his father’s blessing. Rebecca is remembered for her beauty, kindness, and her participation in God’s plan for the chosen lineage.
Leah: the older daughter of Laban and the first wife of Jacob. Though initially unloved by Jacob, she bore him many children. Leah is recognised for her perseverance and her significant role in the establishment, through her sons, of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Rachel: the younger daughter of Laban and the beloved wife of Jacob. She is known for her beauty and her deep love for Jacob. Rachel gave birth to Joseph and Benjamin, two significant figures in the biblical narrative. Her tragic death during Benjamin’s childbirth is also a notable event.
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam hold that the patriarchs, along with their primary wives, the matriarchs Sarah, Rebekah and Leah, are entombed at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, a site held holy by the three religions. Rachel, Jacob’s other wife, is said to be buried separately at what is known as Rachel’s Tomb, near Bethlehem, at the site where she is believed to have died in childbirth.
Sarah (wife of Abraham)
Sarah is a biblical figure and the wife of Abraham. She is an important figure in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Sarah and Abraham faced challenges in conceiving a child, but according to the biblical account, God promised them a son. In their old age when Sarah was 101, she miraculously gave birth to Isaac, who became a significant figure in the religious traditions that followed. Sarah is celebrated for her faithfulness, loyalty, and resilience. Her story emphasizes the importance of trust in God’s promises and the strength of the family lineage that descended from her and Abraham. On the Goltzius engraving we see the very old Sarah laughing when she hears the angels on the background tell Abraham that they will get a son. Sarah cannot believe what she is hearing. It’s the background narrative on te print that depicts the encounter between Abraham and three angelic visitors who deliver this important message.
According to the story, Abraham saw three men standing near him. Recognising their divine nature, he hurriedly approached them and offered them hospitality, inviting them to rest and partake in a meal. Abraham and his wife Sarah quickly prepared a generous meal for their guests, consisting of freshly baked bread and cooked meat. As the guests enjoyed the meal, they engaged in conversation with Abraham. During the conversation, the visitors revealed that they were messengers from God and brought a message of great significance. They informed Abraham and Sarah that they would soon have a son, despite their old age and Sarah’s previous inability to conceive. Sarah overheard the conversation from inside the house and laughed incredulously, as she found it hard to believe such news. In response to Sarah’s laughter, one of the visitors questioned Abraham about her disbelief, asking, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” This emphasized the divine power and ability to fulfill their promise. It also served as a reminder that God’s plans can exceed human expectations and limitations.
The story of Abraham and the three angels highlights themes of hospitality, faith, and divine intervention. Abraham’s generous and welcoming nature, serves as an example of righteousness and compassion. The announcement of Sarah’s impending pregnancy, despite her age, showcases the fulfilment of God’s promises and the possibility of miracles. And indeed, Sarah gave birth to Isaac.
Rembrandt’s Abraham Entertaining the Angels of 1646 depicts the foretelling of the birth of Isaac to the elderly Abraham and his wife, Sarah. This episode, from chapter 18 of Genesis, begins with the visit of three travelers, to whom Abraham offers a meal and water with which to wash their tired feet. While eating, the guests ask about Sarah, and one of them announces that she will give birth to a son in a year’s time. Hearing this, the old Sarah, on the painting standing in the doorway on the right, laughs in disbelief, prompting the speaker – now identified in the text as God – to chastise her, asking, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” He thus reveals to the couple the divine and providential nature of his announcement.
Abraham (as Ibrahim) is also one of the most important prophets in Islam and is seen as a father of the Muslim people through his first child, Ishmael.
A Son Is Promised to Sarah, Genesis 18: 1-151One day Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest part of the day. 2He looked up and noticed three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran to meet them and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground. 3Abraham said, “if it pleases you, stop here for a while. 4Rest in the shade of this tree while water is brought to wash your feet. 5And since you’ve honored your servant with this visit, let me prepare some food to refresh you before you continue on your journey.”
“All right,” they said. “Do as you have said.” 6So Abraham ran back to the tent and said to Sarah, “Hurry! Get three large measures of your best flour, knead it into dough, and bake some bread.” 7Then Abraham ran out to the herd and chose a tender calf and gave it to his servant, who quickly prepared it. 8When the food was ready, Abraham took some yogurt and milk and the roasted meat, and he served it to the men. As they ate, Abraham waited on them in the shade of the trees.
9“Where is Sarah, your wife?” the visitors asked. “She’s inside the tent,” Abraham replied. 10Then one of them said, “I will return to you about this time next year, and your wife, Sarah, will have a son!”
Sarah was listening to this conversation from the tent. 11Abraham and Sarah were both very old by this time, and Sarah was long past the age of having children. 12So she laughed silently to herself and said, “How could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure, especially when my my husband is also so old?”
13Then the visitor (who in meantime revealed himself as God) said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh? Why did she say, ‘Can an old woman like me have a baby?’ 14Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” 15Sarah was afraid, so she denied it, saying, “I didn’t laugh.” But the Lord said, “No, you did laugh.”
Rebecca (wife of Isaac)
Rebecca is a biblical figure, also mentioned in the Book of Genesis. She is one of the matriarchs and the wife of Isaac and the mother of Jacob and Esau. According to the biblical narrative, the patriarch Abraham wanted to find a suitable wife for his son Isaac. He sent his servant with a convoy of camels to his homeland to find a wife and there the servant encountered Rebecca near a well. He approached Rebecca and asked for a drink of water. In a remarkable display of hospitality, Rebecca not only gave him water but also volunteered to draw water for his camels until they were satisfied. He was impressed by her kindness and hospitality and believed she was the chosen woman. The servant gave her gifts of jewellery and asked for her hand in marriage on behalf of Isaac, and Rebecca agreed to go with him.
Rebecca married Isaac and became the mother of their two sons, Jacob and Esau. She played a significant role in the story of the deception that led to Jacob receiving Isaac’s blessing instead of Esau. The story of Rebecca at the well highlights themes of divine guidance, hospitality, and faith. It is regarded as a pivotal event in the biblical narrative, shaping through Jacob the future of the Israelite people.
A Wife For Isaac, Genesis 24: 1-67
1Abraham was now a very old man, and the Lord had blessed him in every way. 2One day Abraham said to his oldest servant, the man in charge of his household, 4"Go to my homeland, to my relatives, and find a wife there for my son Isaac. 9So the servant took swore to follow Abraham’s instructions. 10Then he loaded ten of Abraham’s camels with all kinds of expensive gifts from his master, and he traveled to the distant land. 11He made the camels kneel beside a well just outside the town. It was evening, and the women were coming out to draw water.
12“O Lord, God of my master, Abraham,” he prayed. “Please give me success today, and show unfailing love to my master, Abraham. 13See, I am standing here beside this spring, and the young women of the town are coming out to draw water. 14This is my request. I will ask one of them, ‘Please give me a drink from your jug.’ If she says, ‘Yes, have a drink, and I will water your camels, too!’—let her be the one you have selected as Isaac’s wife.” 15Before he had finished praying, he saw a young woman named Rebecca coming out with her water jug on her shoulder. 16Rebecca was very beautiful and old enough to be married, but she was still a virgin. She went down to the spring, filled her jug, and came up again.17Running over to her, the servant said, “Please give me a little drink of water from your jug.”
18“Yes,” she answered, “have a drink.” And she quickly lowered her jug from her shoulder and gave him a drink. 19When she had given him a drink, she said, “I’ll draw water for your camels, too, until they have had enough to drink.” 20So she quickly emptied her jug into the watering trough and ran back to the well to draw water for all his camels. 21The servant watched her in silence, wondering whether or not the Lord had given him success in his mission. 22Then at last, when the camels had finished drinking, he took out a gold ring for her nose and two large gold bracelets for her wrists.
50Then later Rebecca's brother said 51"Here is Rebecca; take her and go. Yes, let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the Lord has directed.” 52When Abraham’s servant heard their answer, he bowed down to the ground and 53then he brought out silver and gold jewellery and clothing and presented them to Rebecca. He also gave expensive presents to her brother and mother. 54Then they ate their meal, and the servant and the men with him stayed there overnight.But early the next morning, Abraham’s servant said, “Send me back to my master.” 55“But we want Rebecca to stay with us at least ten days,” her brother and mother said. “Then she can go.” 56But he said, “Don’t delay me. The Lord has made my mission successful; now send me back so I can return to my master.”
“Well,” they said, “we’ll call Rebecca and ask her what she thinks.” So they called Rebecca. “Are you willing to go with this man?” they asked her. And she replied, “Yes, I will go.” 59So they said good-bye to Rebecca and sent her away with Abraham’s servant and his men. The woman who had been Rebcca’s childhood nurse went along with her. 61Then Rebecca and her servant girls mounted the camels and followed the man. So Abraham’s servant took Rebcca and went on his way.
62Meanwhile, Isaac, when one evening as he was walking and meditating in the fields, he looked up and saw the camels coming. 64When Rebecca looked up and saw Isaac, she quickly dismounted from her camel. 65“Who is that man walking through the fields to meet us?” she asked the servant. And he replied, “It is my master.” So Rebecca covered her face with her veil. 66Then the servant told Isaac everything he had done.
67And Isaac brought Rebecca into his mother Sarah’s tent, and she became his wife. He loved her deeply, and she was a special comfort to him after the death of his mother.
Leah and Rachel (wives of Jacob)
Leah and Rachel are prominent figures in the biblical narrative, specifically in the Book of Genesis. They are sisters and the daughters of Laban, who is Rebecca’s brother. They become the wives of Jacoband play significant roles in the story of the patriarchs.
Jacob, the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham, traveled to the land of his uncle Laban in search of a wife. Jacob encountered the beautiful Rachel at a well, where she was going to water her sheep. Jacob fell in love with Rachel at first sight and desired to marry her. In exchange for marrying Rachel, Laban asked Jacob to work for him for seven years. However, on the wedding night, Laban deceived Jacob by giving him Leah instead of Rachel. Upon discovering the deception, Jacob confronted Laban, who explained that it was not their custom to give the younger daughter in marriage before the elder daughter. Laban offered Rachel to Jacob as well but required him to work for an additional seven years. As a result, Jacob married both Leah and Rachel, becoming polygamous according to the customs of that time. Leah, who was described as having “weak eyes,” became Jacob’s first wife, while Rachel, whom Jacob loved more, became his second wife.
The story of Leah and Rachel portrays a complex and often troubled relationship between the two sisters. Leah, feeling unloved by Jacob, yearned for his affection. She gave birth to several sons, including Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. Rachel, on the other hand, initially faced infertility and struggled with jealousy over Leah’s ability to bear children. Eventually, Rachel conceived and gave birth to two sons, Joseph and Benjamin. Tragically, Rachel died while giving birth to Benjamin.
The story of Leah and Rachel encompasses themes of love, rivalry, fertility, and the complexities of family relationships. Their roles as the wives of Jacob and the mothers of the twelve tribes of Israel make them significant figures in the biblical narrative.
At the well, Jacob noticed a large stone covering its mouth. He asked the shepherds about the well and the people of the area. They informed him that they were waiting for all the shepherds to gather before they could remove the stone and water their flocks. While they were conversing, Jacob saw Rachel, Laban’s daughter, approaching the well with her father’s sheep. Overwhelmed by Rachel’s beauty, Jacob was immediately drawn to her. Filled with excitement, he approached the shepherds and asked them to remove the stone so that Rachel’s sheep could drink.
As Jacob helped Rachel water her flock, he was overcome with emotion. Without hesitation, he kissed Rachel and wept aloud. Jacob’s meeting with Rachel at the well is often romanticized as a moment of love at first sight. The story serves as a turning point in Jacob’s life, as it leads to his eventual marriage to Rachel and marks the beginning of his years of service to Laban in order to earn Rachel’s hand in marriage.
Jacob fell in love with Rachel and to earn her hand in marriage agreed to work as a shepherd for her father, Laban, for seven years. But, presumably under cover of the marriage veil, Laban substituted his elder daughter Leah for Rachel. When Jacob discovered the deceit the morning after the marriage, he was bitterly disappointed. He reproached his new father-in-law, but Laban argued that the elder daughter must be married first. He compromised by offering to allow him to marry Rachel as well – in return for another seven years work. The determined Jacob agreed, and was eventually simultaneously married to both sisters, and had 12 children.
Jan Steen in the painting above, portrays the dramatic moment of surprise when Jacob discovers the Laban has deceived him. The younger woman in the bed is Leah whom Jacob married the night before. Her handmaid kneels before her offering a bowl of water. To the left stands Rachel, while Laban is obliged to explain the deceit to a beseeching and agitated Jacob. Celebrants from the wedding night’s festivities give context and a bit of levity to the scene. The rich, theatrical setting and lush appointments of the bedroom set the scene in the historical past, a device that Steen may have adopted from contemporary Dutch theatre.
The story of Jacob and the speckled lambs depicts a scheme devised by Jacob to increase his own wealth while working for his father-in-law, Laban. After Jacob’s marriage to Laban’s daughters, Leah and Rachel, he agreed to work for Laban for a total of 14 years in exchange for marrying Rachel. During his service, Jacob became a skilled shepherd and developed a keen understanding of animal husbandry, although more relying on the hand of God than on Mendel’s Laws of Genetics.
Jacob noticed that Laban’s flock consisted mainly of solid-colored sheep and goats. He proposed a deal to Laban, suggesting that he would continue to work for him but requested a specific arrangement regarding the offspring of the flock. Jacob proposed that he would keep any lambs that were speckled, spotted, or otherwise marked differently from the rest of the flock as his own.
Laban agreed to this arrangement, likely thinking that the chances of such offspring were slim. However, Jacob had a plan. He took rods of poplar, almond, and plane trees and peeled off strips of bark to create striped patterns on them. He placed these rods in the watering troughs where the flock would come to drink. When the flock mated, Jacob strategically positioned the rods in the watering troughs so that the sight of the striped patterns would be imprinted in the minds of the animals during conception. As a result, many of the offspring were born with speckled, spotted, or striped markings.
Over time, Jacob’s flock began to grow, and Laban’s flock dwindled in comparison. Jacob’s understanding of animal breeding and the use of selective breeding techniques allowed him to increase his own wealth while Laban’s flock decreased. The story of Jacob and the speckled lambs demonstrates Jacob’s resourcefulness and cunning in outwitting Laban and increasing his own wealth. It also highlights the theme of divine intervention, as Jacob attributes his success to God’s guidance and favor.
Jacob arrives at the well, Genesis 29: 1-141Then Jacob hurried on, finally arriving in the land of the east. 2He saw a well in the distance. Three flocks of sheep and goats lay in an open field beside it, waiting to be watered. But a heavy stone covered the mouth of the well. 3It was the custom there to wait for all the flocks to arrive before removing the stone and watering the animals. Afterward the stone would be placed back over the mouth of the well.
7Jacob said, “Look, it’s still broad daylight, too early to round up the animals. Why don’t you water the sheep and goats so they can get back out to pasture?” 8“We can’t water the animals until all the flocks have arrived,” they replied. “Then the shepherds move the stone from the mouth of the well, and we water all the sheep and goats.”
9Jacob was still talking with them when Rachel arrived with her father’s flock, for she was a shepherd. 10And because Rachel was his cousin, the daughter of Laban, his mother’s brother, and because the sheep and goats belonged to his uncle Laban, Jacob went over to the well and moved the stone from its mouth and watered his uncle’s flock. 11Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and he wept aloud. 12He explained to Rachel that he was her cousin on her father’s side, the son of her aunt Rebecca. So Rachel quickly ran and told her father, Laban.
13As soon as Laban heard that his nephew Jacob had arrived, he ran out to meet him. He embraced and kissed him and brought him home. When Jacob had told him his story, 14Laban exclaimed, “You really are my own flesh and blood!”
Jacob Marries Leah and Rachel, Genesis 29: 14-30
14After Jacob had stayed with Laban for about a month, 15Laban said to him, “You shouldn’t work for me without pay just because we are relatives. Tell me how much your wages should be.”
16Now Laban had two daughters. The older daughter was named Leah, and the younger one was Rachel. 17There was no sparkle in Leah’s eyes, but Rachel had a beautiful figure and a lovely face. 18Since Jacob was in love with Rachel, he told her father, “I’ll work for you for seven years if you’ll give me Rachel, your younger daughter, as my wife.”
19“Agreed!” Laban replied. “I’d rather give her to you than to anyone else. Stay and work with me.” 20So Jacob worked seven years to pay for Rachel. But his love for her was so strong that it seemed to him but a few days.
21Finally, the time came for him to marry her. “I have fulfilled my agreement,” Jacob said to Laban. “Now give me my wife so I can sleep with her.” 22So Laban invited everyone in the neighborhood and prepared a wedding feast.
23But that night, when it was dark, Laban took Leah to Jacob, and he slept with her. 25But when Jacob woke up in the morning—it was Leah! “What have you done to me?” Jacob raged at Laban. “I worked seven years for Rachel! Why have you tricked me?” 26“It’s not our custom here to marry off a younger daughter ahead of the firstborn,” Laban replied. 27“But wait until the bridal week is over; then we’ll give you Rachel, too—provided you promise to work another seven years for me.”
28So Jacob agreed to work seven more years. A week after Jacob had married Leah, Laban gave him Rachel, too. 30So Jacob slept with Rachel, too, and he loved her much more than Leah. He then stayed and worked for Laban the additional seven years.
Jacob’s Wealth Increases, Genesis 30:25-4325Soon after Rachel had given birth to Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Please release me so I can go home to my own country. 26Let me take my wives and children, for I have earned them by serving you, and let me be on my way. You certainly know how hard I have worked for you.”
27“Please listen to me,” Laban replied. “I have become wealthy, for the Lord has blessed me because of you. 28Tell me how much I owe you. Whatever it is, I’ll pay it.” 29Jacob replied, “You know how hard I’ve worked for you, and how your flocks and herds have grown under my care. 30You had little indeed before I came, but your wealth has increased enormously. The Lord has blessed you through everything I’ve done. But now, what about me? When can I start providing for my own family?” 31“What wages do you want?” Laban asked again.
Jacob replied, “Don’t give me anything. Just do this one thing, and I’ll continue to tend and watch over your flocks. 32Let me inspect your flocks today and remove all the sheep and goats that are speckled or spotted, along with all the black sheep. Give these to me as my wages. 33In the future, when you check on the animals you have given me as my wages, you’ll see that I have been honest. If you find in my flock any goats without speckles or spots, or any sheep that are not black, you will know that I have stolen them from you.” 34“All right,” Laban replied. “It will be as you say.” 35But that very day Laban went out and removed the male goats that were streaked and spotted, all the female goats that were speckled and spotted or had white patches, and all the black sheep. He placed them in the care of his own sons, 36who took them a three-days’ journey from where Jacob was. Meanwhile, Jacob stayed and cared for the rest of Laban’s flock.
37Then Jacob took some fresh branches from poplar, almond, and plane trees and peeled off strips of bark, making white streaks on them. 38Then he placed these peeled branches in the watering troughs where the flocks came to drink, for that was where they mated. 39And when they mated in front of the white-streaked branches, they gave birth to young that were streaked, speckled, and spotted. 40Jacob separated those lambs from Laban’s flock. And at mating time he turned the flock to face Laban’s animals that were streaked or black. This is how he built his own flock instead of increasing Laban’s.
41Whenever the stronger females were ready to mate, Jacob would place the peeled branches in the watering troughs in front of them. Then they would mate in front of the branches. 42But he didn’t do this with the weaker ones, so the weaker lambs belonged to Laban, and the stronger ones were Jacob’s. 43As a result, Jacob became very wealthy, with large flocks of sheep and goats, female and male servants, and many camels and donkeys.
Abraham & Sarah
Two sons: Isaac (with Sarah) and Ismael (with Hagar).
Isaac & Rebecca
Two sons: Jacob and Esau
Jacob & Leah
Six sons and one daughter: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun and Dinah
Today 25th of March is the feast of The Annunciation, also referred to as the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is the announcement by the Archangel Gabriel to Mary that she would conceive and bear a son through a virgin birth and become the mother of Jesus Christ.
It’s easy to remember this date, as it’s a full nine months of pregnancy before Christmas, the birthday of Jesus. And it’s approximately the start of spring and the moment of the northern equinox when day and night are equally long. In medieval terms, start of spring is identified as the date of an unusual number of Biblical events: Adam’s and Eve’s fall into sin; Cain’s murder of Abel; Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac; the martyrdom of John the Baptist; and the Crucifixion. Still more strongly associated with this date is the Annunciation, at which, according to the Gospel of Luke, the archangel Gabriel brought word to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive the Son of God: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.”
The Annunciation has been one of the most frequent subjects of Christian art. Its composition and details vary in accordance with its setting: the Virgin might appear on a throne, in a loggia, in a bedroom, or outdoors, and she often is shown sewing or reading. A variant of particular interest is the depiction of the Annunciation at the Spring, also known as the Annunciation at the Well. Inspired by accounts preserved in early apocryphal (non-Bible) texts such as the Gospel of James, this variant of the Annunciation depicts the Virgin Mary greeted by the angel Gabriel as she is fetching water at a well.
There are two basic sources that describe the Annunciation. The Gospel of Luke (1:26-38) and the Gospel of James (v.11). Luke’s Gospel is part of the traditional Bible books and mostly the story that is depicted in Western art from the 14th Century onwards. The other source is the 2nd Century Gospel of James, which is an “apocryphal” book, meaning it’s not included in the traditional Bible collection of books. James’s Gospel is mostly the source in Eastern art up to the 15th Century and – remarkably – again by British painters in the 19th Century. The Gospel of James describes how one day Mary took the pitcher and went forth to draw water at a well when she heard an angelic voice: “Hail, you are highly favored, the Lord is with you, blessed are you among women.” And Mary looked around on the right and on the left to see from where this voice could have come.” During this first encounter, at a well or spring, the angel was heard but not seen. Mary appeared to be alone. Mary then went inside and it’s there that the angel appeared to her in person, while Mary is sitting on a throne-like chair.
From the 14th Century onward most Annunciations in Western art focus more on the story as written in the Gospel of Luke rather than the apocryphal Gospel of James. They dispense with the pitcher and the well and more and more they will also omit Mary sitting on a the throne-like seat. Many more images placed the event in a specific and unified space such as a portico (Fra Angelico), a private home (Rubens), or a church (Van Eyck).
When Cosimo de’ Medici rebuilt the convent of San Marco, he commissioned Fra Angelico to decorate the walls with frescos. This included the inside of the monk’s cells and inside the corridors; around fifty pieces in total. Out of all of the frescos at the convent, the Annunciation is the most well known. This fresco was not intended just for aesthetic purposes. Running across the loggia at the bottom of the fresco there is an inscription that instructs the viewer: “Virginis Intacte Cvm Veneris Ante Figvram Preterevndo Cave Ne Sileatvr Ave.” It means “When you come before the image of the Ever-Virgin take care that you do not neglect to say an Ave”. This was a daily reminder for the monks to pray.
March 25 was used as New Year’s Day in many pre-modern Christian countries. The holiday was moved to January 1 in France by Charles IX in 1564. In England, the feast of the Annunciation came to be known as Lady Day, and Lady Day marked the beginning of the English new year until 1752.
Here are the two stories, written by Luke and by James, both accounts of the Annunciation and written down in the first few centuries after the birth of Jesus.The story as told by Luke in his Gospel (1:26-38) is focusing on the discussion between the Angel and Mary. It’s as follows:
Luke 1: 26-38
God sent the angel Gabriel, to a virgin named Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her
The story as told by James in his Gospel (v.11) gives also details about the setting. It happens at the well and inside Mary’s house, and it mentions that Mary is doing some sewing and needlework. It’s as follows:
And she took the pitcher and went out to fill it with water. And suddenly a voice could be heard, saying: “Hail, you who has received grace; the Lord is with you; blessed are yiou among women!” And Mary looked round to the right hand and to the left, to see from where this voice came. And she went away, trembling, to her house, and put down the pitcher; and she took her sewing basket with needlework, and she sat down on her seat. And then, look, an angel of the Lord stood before her, saying: “Fear not, Mary; for you have found grace before the Lord, and you shall conceive, according to His word.” And she is hearing, reasoned with herself, saying: “Shall I conceive by the Lord, the living God? and shall I give birth as every woman gives birth?” And the angel of the Lord said: “Not so, Mary; for the power of the Lord shall overshadow you: wherefore also that holy thing which shall be born with you shall be called the Son of the Highest. And you shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.” And Mary said: “See, I am the servant of the Lord before His face: let it be upon me according to your word.”
Spring is in the air! I wrote about Winter in Art not so long ago. The pictures in that story were all about keeping ourselves warm in the cold season. It made me so much longing for Spring and Summer, even Autumn would be fine. Can the dark winter days be gone please, and will we soon see some spring flowers and sunshine! To get in the mood for the warmer weather, here are two series of the Four Seasons, both starting with Spring: a cute series of paintings by David Teniers (made around 1644) with seasonal activities, and four prints by Hendrick Goltzius (from 1601) with the seasons represented by children growing up and falling in love. These pictures are all to get you in the mood for the warmer seasons. Stay warm for now and enjoy!
Four Seasons by David Teniers (1610 – 1690)
The series of four small paintings by David Teniers is an allegory of the seasons where Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter have been given human forms that embody the essence of each. Teniers placed his characters, of an appropriate age and dressed accordingly, in the foreground with a symbolic seasonal object. In the background figures doing work associated with each season. The paintings are from c.1644 and pretty small, about 22x16cm.
David Teniers the Younger (Antwerp 1610 – Brussels 1690) is one of the most famous 17th-century Flemish painters and particularly known for developing the peasant genre and tavern scenes. He was working for the King of Spain, as well as for Prince William of Orange and the Governor of the Netherlands, the Archduke Leopold. Teniers moved to Brussels where Archduke Leopold became his main employer. One of Teniers’ key tasks was to look after and enlarge the Archducal collection, which grew to incorporate about 1300 works. The archduke’s collection became the nucleus of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.
Fours Seasons by Hendrick Goltzius (1558 – 1617)
The Four Seasons (1601), designed and drawn by Hendrick Goltzius and engraved by his pupil Jan Saenredam, offer lush depictions of flora and fauna through changing times of the year. The prints simultaneously follow a young girl and boy’s journey into adulthood. The discovery of the bird’s nest of Spring passes seamlessly into the harvesting of Summer’s ripe crops. Autumn’s root vegetables and fruits attract the interest of a full-grown goat and a pig, while the adults and their loyal hound skate the Winter away on a frozen river. On Spring and Summer an Amor figure is shooting his arrows of love towards the boy and girl, and in all four prints the warm or cold wind is blowing from the mouth of a child’s head high in the sky. This is a series about the four seasons, about falling in love, and about growing up.
Hendrick Goltzius (Dutch, 1558–1617), draftsman, engraver, print publisher, and painter, was one of the most important engravers and print publishers of his time. He lived and worked in Haarlem, close to Amsterdam, and established his own print publishing business. He trained a number of engravers to work in his distinctive style. Goltzius and his workshop were internationally acclaimed; his patrons included sovereigns from all parts of Europe, most notably the art-loving Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II who also granted Goltzius copyright protection, which can be seen on the Spring engraving. It mentions “Cum Privil Sa Cae M” which means Cum Privilegio Sacrae Caesarea Majestatis or With Privilege of his Holy Imperial Majesty, and with the date Anno – in the year – 1601. This should prevent other engravers from copying Goltzius’ design and prints. Once such privilege was granted, artists indeed went to court and took action against illegal copying of their works of art.
Jan Pieterszoon Saenredam (Dutch, 1565 – 1607) was a printmaker in engraving, born in Zaandam (hence his name). He showed great artistic talent and the young Saenredam was sent to learn drawing and engraving from Hendrick Goltzius in Haarlem, where he became a master at the age of 24. After working for some time with Goltzius, he encountered the almost inevitable professional rivalry and jealousy, prompting his departure and set up his own workshop in Assendelft (just north of Amsterdam and Zaandam). He died of typhus at the age of 41, and was buried in the Saint Adolphus church at Assendelft. Jan left his wife a sizeable estate as a result of lucrative investments in the Dutch East India Company.
David Teniers the Younger (Flemish, 1610 – 1690), Spring, The Four Seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, c.1644, Oil on Copper, 22x16cm, National Gallery, London.
Jan Saenredam, printmaker (Dutch, 1565 – 1607) after design by Hendrick Goltzius (Dutch, 1558 – 1617), The Four Seasons represented by four pairs of children: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, 1601, with Latin text by C. Schonaeus (Dutch, 1540 – 1611), Engraving on cream laid paper, 22×16 cm, The Art Institute of Chicago.
About the annotations on the prints:
H. Goltzius Invent. or HG Inve. This means that Hendrick Goltzius is the “inventor” or “drawer” of the design of the print.
I. Sanredam Sculpt or I.S Sculp. This means that Jan Saenredam is the “sculptor” or the “engraver” of the print.
Cum Privil Sa Cae M,. This means that the print was protected “Cum privilegio Sacrae Caesarea Majestatis” or “With imperial privilege from the Holy Roman Emperor”, as protection against illegal copies.
A° 1601 means “Anno 1601” or “in the year 1601”
C.S. means “Cornelis Schonaeus”, a scholar from Haarlem who wrote many Latin lines and verses that are found on prints of the Haarlem circle of print designers and engravers.
Two magnificent pictures by Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775 – 1851) returned to the UK for the first time in over 100 years. Harbour of Dieppe: Changement de Domicile and Cologne, the Arrival of a Packet-Boat: Evening are on display at the National Gallery, London, until 19 February 2023. Lent by The Frick Collection, New York.
Exhibited at the Royal Academy London in 1825 and 1826 respectively, the paintings reflect Turner’s lifelong fascination with ports and harbours. Turner’s sketching tours within Europe were central to his fame as an artist-traveller, drawing in sketchbooks and producing paintings from them back in his studio in England. These monumental paintings have always belonged together. “Dieppe” in brilliant afternoon sun, pulls you into the hustle and bustle of a fishing harbour; “Cologne” at dusk, is set at the shore of the river Rhine in the centre of the German city. In 1911 the two paintings were acquired by the American industrialist and art patron Henry Clay Frick.
Turner visited the French fishing port of Dieppe, in Normandy, twice in the early 1820s before painting Harbour of Dieppe: Changement de Domicile in his London studio. Set in the afternoon, the work draws from sketches made on site, as well as from memory and imagination. In this Romantic view, signs of modernisation, such as the steamboats then in use, are excluded. Turner focuses on the vibrant energy of the town filled with glowing sunlight and hundreds of figures engaged in lively activities. He captured the details of local dress, studied the ships and their rigging up close and made detailed renderings of the town’s architecture. The French subtitles Turner assigned the painting – “Changement de Domicile” (change of home address) – may refer to the couple to the right, who appear to be loading or unloading objects from boats.
Cologne, Germany, had long been a major commercial, educational, and religious centre. Situated on the banks of the Rhine, Cologne was still largely medieval in appearance when Turner visited. Only a small section of the city is visible in his painting: the tower and spire of the church of Groß St. Martin piercing the evening sky, with defensive towers, walls, and the customs house leading up to it. There is a sense of time standing still. The ferry boat carrying tourists to shore is about to disturb the peace of the scene.
Turner visited Italy in 1819 and was highly inspired by the Mediterranean sun. Light became an increasingly important motif in Turner’s later work, and these two paintings certainly are the start of that artistic journey. Turner said: “The sun is God”. These words and the two paintings on view in the National Gallery summarise his belief.
Charles Baudelaire (French, 1821 – 1867) wrote a collection of short prose poems “Petits Poèmes en Prose”, published in 1869, one of those is “The Port”. Turner’s use of light in “Dieppe” and “Cologne” is a poem in painting, as Baudelaire’s words are a poem in prose.
The Port A port is a delightful place of rest for a soul weary of life’s battles. The vastness of the sky, the mobile architecture of the clouds, the changing coloration of the sea, the twinkling of the lights, are a prism marvelously fit to amuse the eyes without ever tiring them. The slender shapes of the ships with their complicated rigging, to which the surge lends harmonious oscillations, serve to sustain within the soul the taste for rhythm and beauty. Also, and above all, for the man who no longer possesses either curiosity or ambition, there is a kind of mysterious and aristocratic pleasure in contemplating, while lying on the belvedere or resting his elbows on the jetty-head, all these movements of men who are leaving and men who are returning, of those who still have the strength to will, the desire to travel or to enrich themselves.
Le Port Un port est un séjour charmant pour une âme fatiguée des luttes de la vie. L’ampleur du ciel, l’architecture mobile des nuages, les colorations changeantes de la mer, le scintillement des phares, sont un prisme merveilleusement propre à amuser les yeux sans jamais les lasser. Les formes élancées des navires, au gréement compliqué, auxquels la houle imprime des oscillations harmonieuses, servent à entretenir dans l’âme le goût du rythme et de la beauté. Et puis, surtout, il y a une sorte de plaisir mystérieux et aristocratique pour celui qui n’a plus ni curiosité ni ambition, à contempler, couché dans le belvédère ou accoudé sur le môle, tous ces mouvements de ceux qui partent et de ceux qui reviennent, de ceux qui ont encore la force de vouloir, le désir de voyager ou de s’enrichir.
Now that we are in the middle of the winter, I’ve started thinking about how this “winter” concept has been represented in art. It’s the harshest season of the year, certainly when there was no electricity or gas, but some touching images have been produced over the centuries.
It was not just landscape painters who gave us winter scenes with frozen rivers and skaters. Painters also personified winter as an old man with a fur coat and warming his hands at a brazier. And from the the 18th century, artists depicted winter as a young woman, adding a sensual and warm touch to the cold.
I choose some ten works of art, all depicting winter as a “personification”; as a human figure depicted with symbolic attributes, representing the abstract idea of “winter”. Starting with the French Impressionist Berthe Morisot, as I like her paintings so much. And then going back in time to the 17th century Flemish painter David Teniers, to Madame de Pompadour – lover of King Louis XV of France, to the bedroom of King George III of England, to La Frileuse, the chilly girl, by the French sculptor Houdon. It’s an eclectic batch of art, but all lovely. They give inspiration and warmth in this cold season. Like Vivaldi’s Winter from The Four Seasons.
Along with its Summer pendant, Winter depicts a fashionable Parisian woman who personifies a season. Berthe Morisot debuted the paintings together at the Paris Impressionist exhibition in 1880. Morisot’s images of the Parisienne, a popular figure type representing an elegant, upper-class Parisian woman, were considered utterly contemporary. A critic said about Morisot’s Winter: “with its figure, so courageously modern, of the Parisian woman braving the cold in her furs.”
Berthe Morisot (Édouard Manet’s model and sister-in-law) was one of the most respected members of the Impressionist movement. At the beginning of the 20th century, her aura began to dim and her painting, labelled “feminine”, was relegated to second rank. Only recently, thanks also to the grand 2019 Morisot exhibition in the Musée d’Orsay, Berthe Morisot was incontestably regarded again as a great artist.
This old man by the Dutch Golden Age painter Abraham Bloemaert is representing Winter. Wearing a fur hat and very carefully warming himself at a small stove full of red-hot coals or charcoal. His nose and cheeks reflect the heat of the coal. It’s not only a representation of winter, but also hinting to love and passion. Love – and it’s pleasure – happens to be gallant to the ones who court the fire of love with caution.
David Teniers the Younger brings the cycle of the seasons to an end with an old man representing Winter. Wrapped in velvet and fur, he hunches over to warm his hands at a brazier, a small stove that’s heated with charcoal. His face is wrinkled, his beard long and frosted with white. In the background a small, monochrome skating scene. It’s a personification of winter and Teniers chose a character of an appropriate age and dressed him accordingly. Winter as the last season of life.
The tiny picture is on a copper base, which allowed the paint to flow more freely than it would on canvas. Teniers could show minute detail: the facial characteristics and expressions, Winter’s splendid hat and the objects on his table. Allegorical paintings of the seasons were popular at the time, and Teniers painted several versions of the subject. David Teniers was cashing in on the popularity of the series and turning them out quickly to fulfil demand.
This young woman by Caesar Boëtius van Everdingen warms her hands above a dish of glowing coals, holding her hands under a piece of cloth. She personifies Winter. This season was usually represented as an old man: old because the year is coming to an end, like towards the end of life. Van Everdingen’s choice of a young, richly attired woman is rather unusual. Cesar Boëtius van Everdingen was a Dutch Golden Age painter, from Alkmaar.
For this allegory of Winter and Summer, the painter Giovanni Battista Pittoni turned to traditional iconographic examples. Summer is personified as a young woman, and Winter as an old man warming his hands over a brazier. Summer gestures to a small angel-like figure in the top right corner (difficult to see on the picture). That’s the Spirit of Dawn whose urn of water provides the dew droplets of summer and frost in the winter.
The Winter pastel by Rosalba Giovannia Carriera was acquired by George III, King of England. It entered the Royal Collection in 1762 as “a Beautiful Female covering herself with a Pelisse”. In traditional images Winter was typically shown as an old man, but Rosalba Carriera transformed the subject into a beautiful young woman. “Winter” was put on display in George III’s bedchamber at Buckingham Palace, alongside “Summer”.
Rosalba Carriera was born in Venice. She began her career as a painter of snuffboxes, but rose quickly to fame for her pastel portraits, which became highly desired across Europe. Carriera made several sets of allegories of the Four Seasons. The largest group of pastels by Carriera belonged to Frederick Augustus Elector of Saxony. Over 100 of her pastels were on display at his residence in Dresden in a ‘Rosalba Room’. The artist became blind in later life and died in 1757.
François Boucher painted this Winter from the series The Four Seasons in 1755 for Madame De Pompadour, King Louis XV’s long-term official mistress. Their original location is unknown, but their peculiar shape suggests that they were used as overdoors, no doubt in one of Pompadour’s many properties in France.
Instead of the hardship that traditionally illustrates the theme of winter, Boucher depicts a delightful encounter in joyous colours, a frosty background and a landscape buried under snow. A Tartar in pseudo-Russian dress pushes an elaborate sleigh with the heroine – most likely referring to Madame de Pompadour herself. Glancing out at us coyly, she sports a billowing fur-trimmed gown and a little fur necklace. Her hands may be warmed by a muff, but her upper body is completely exposed. This combination of luxury and seduction, treated in a fanciful and humorous manner, is typical of Boucher.
In April 1764, the 42-year-old Madame Marquise de Pompadour, the official chief mistress of King Louis XV of France unexpectedly died, and in the workshop of her beloved sculptor Etienne Maurice Falconet, the last of the statues she commissioned remained unfinished – the marble Winter, a young woman sitting on an ice cube and gracefully covering flowers with her robe.
A year later Falconet received an invitation from the Russian Empress Catherine the Great to work at her court. It was agreed that at the expense of the Russian treasury all unfinished work from the Falconet workshop would travel with him to Russia. And part of that deal was the unfinished “Winter” sculpture. Falconet completed “Winter” only 5 years after arriving in Russia. That’s how this statue, made by a French sculptor, ended up in the Winter Palace of the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. Contemporaries of Falconet received the work as a masterpiece and the artist himself wrote: “This might be the very best work which I can do; I even dare to think that it is good.”
L’Hiver or Winter is a bronze statue of a young woman cast by the neoclassical French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon. The statue personifies the winter season and is nicknamed La Frileuse, The Chilly Girl. This is reflected in both the medium (a cold, dark bronze) and the features of the sculpture, a young woman clad only in a shawl. Upon its completion and presentation at the 1787 Salon, the French yearly art fair, Winter shocked the French artistic establishment but delighted art lovers. The critics at the Salon indulged in some irony: “La Frileuse by Monsieur Houdon does not seem to achieve its effect. When someone is really cold, he tries to pull all his limbs close to him and covers his body more than his head. Nevertheless, it is pleasant to the eye and the proportions are correct” and “One must concur that winter would be a very desirable season if pretty shivering girls did not cover themselves in any other way.” Don’t think this critic will still have a job after saying this nowadays. In terms of her clothing, the Metropolitan Museum of Art describes it as “elegant but hardly adequate”. La Frileuse made me think of the song Let it Go from Frozen, “The Cold Never Bothered Me Anyway.”
The statue was bought by Louis Philippe Joseph, Duc d’Orléans, confiscated during the French Revolution and now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Shrouded in a heavy hooded cloak, this elderly man by Paul Heermann looks down with a deeply furrowed brow. As a personification of Winter, the bust gives visual expression to the chilling cold of that season. His old age refers to winter’s occurrence at the very end of the calendar year. This bust was probably part of a series of sculptures personifying the four seasons. At the Versailles Palace, it was fashion including statues of the seasons in the program for garden sculpture. The high level of finish and finely worked details of this bust, however, suggest that Winter was meant to be viewed up close, in an indoor palatial setting.
This Winter engraving has a very traditional iconography. The personification of Winter is an elderly man wearing a coat and warming his hands by holding a pot containing a fire; beyond is a wintery townscape with ice skaters and people collecting fire wood; the signs of the winter zodiac (Pisces, Aquarius and Capricorn) in the sky; and a cute little putto plays the cold Northern wind blowing into a cloud which results in rain and snow. And just so that we do not get it wrong, Hendrick Goltzius put the name “Hyems” just above the man, which is Latin for “Winter”.
Hendrick Goltzius designed four series with the seasons; Winter depicted here is from the set engraved by Jacob Matham.
Today March 19th is the day dedicated to Saint Joseph. Who is he? Joseph is one of the three members of the Holy Family, together with the Virgin Mary and her child Jesus.He is a carpenter from Nazareth and a widower, who married the Virgin Marry at that time already pregnant with Jesus. The virgin birth of Jesus is the Christian doctrine that Jesus was conceived and born by his mother Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit and without sexual intercourse. Joseph is therefore Jesus’s foster-father. In most paintings with the Holy Family, Joseph has a minor role and just in the background. Only from the 15th century artists gave more attention to Joseph and made him visible as head of the Holy Family. When the bible speaks about Jesus’s brothers and sisters, those are children of Joseph from a previous marriage.Saint Joseph is the patron saint of family life, fathers, unborn children and carpenters and in Western Christianity his celebration day is March 19th. And in Italy, this special day of Saint Joseph (San Giuseppe in Italian) is also Father’s Day. Joseph might be a lesser celebrity in the biblical world, but as “father” he is a figure that means so much in everyone’s life. Even when he is a foster-father.
This is the right-hand panel of a triptych. The old man Joseph, who is engaged to the Virgin Mary, works in his carpenter shop. The mousetraps he made, on the bench and in the shopwindow opening onto the street, are symbols of the crucifixion of Jesus which will only happen 33 years later. Jesus on the cross is considered the devil’s mousetrap.
Looking at the triptych as a whole, the middle panel shows the moment when the Virgen Mary gets the message from the angel Gabriel that she will be pregnant with Jesus. It’s even the moment of the divine impregnation itself. On the right panel Joseph in his workshop, busy making the mousetraps and no idea what is happening to Mary at this very moment. On the left the donors of this triptych.
When Joseph was engaged to Mary he found out she became pregnant, and certainly not by him! Joseph was very much doubting if he should indeed marry her. As he considered splitting up, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.” As is written in the bible, see Matthew 1: 18-20. On the picture above you can see Mary, pregnant with Jesus, and Joseph as an old man doubting about what happened. This is not a very common image to see in paintings and it’s obviously a mysterious element in the whole story and even a bit embarrassing for Joseph. The message from the angel to Joseph is then solving this element to everyone’s satisfaction, including Joseph’s. From the 15th century the Holy Family (Maria, Jesus and Joseph) as a subject became way more popular and that helped to raise Joseph in public esteem. Joseph is from then on represented more sympathetically and more prominently.
This painting by George de la Tour (1642, from the Louvre) cannot be missed in any story about Joseph. As patron saint of carpenters, Joseph is working on a beam, helped by his foster son Jesus. The arrangement of pieces of wood on the floor evokes a cross and prefigures the crucifixion of Jesus. The young Jesus with the candlelight shining on his face makes already a reference to becoming the “Light of the World”. George de la Tour shows that even Jesus lived a simple and innocent earthly life, but he included divinity’s presence by way of the light of the candle.
Here we see the Holy family with a playing Jesus and two caring parents in a domestic scene. It shows home life but also work, symbolized by Saint Joseph’s carpenter tools on the right. The almost leading role of Joseph, the foster father, corresponds to the increased worship of Joseph as a father figure within the Holy Family. Over the centuries the image of Joseph developed from a grumpy old man to a caring – and younger – father.
This is a painting from the Pre-Raphaelite painter Millais, showing a scene from the boyhood of Jesus and placed in Joseph’s carpenter workshop. It’s full of symbolic messages. Jesus, as a boy, has wounded himself at a nail and is being comforted by his parents Mary and Joseph. Blood is dripping from his hand on his foot. Both spots of blood are foreshadowing the crucifixion. On the right we see the young Saint John the Baptist with a bowl of water, as reference to the baptizing of Jesus Christ. At the back on the wall is a carpenter’s triangle, referring to the Holy Trinity of God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus son of God. And the dove, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, is sitting on the ladder.
The pre-Raphaelites wanted to strip-away all traditions of painting since Raphael. Millais removed all beauty and placed the scene in an ordinary carpenter workshop, with common people as the Holy Family. The picture prompted many negative reviews. The Times described it as ‘revolting’ and objected to the way in which the artist had dared to depict the Holy Family as ordinary, lowly people in a humble carpenter’s shop. Charles Dickens was one of the most vehement critics, describing the young Christ as ‘a hideous, wry-necked, blubbering, red-headed boy, in a bed gown’. The painting can be seen in the Tate Gallery, London, where it’s now considered one of their masterpieces.
This painting illustrates the belief that Jesus was both human and divine, by placing him in the middle of the two “Trinities”. The vertical line is the Holy Trinity, with God the Father, the Holy Ghost (the dove), and Jesus as the Son of God. Jesus looks up towards heaven, but affectionately holds hands with his human parents, Mary and Joseph. The three together, as the horizontal line, make up the Earthly Trinity. Mary’s loving gaze and gracefully upturned palm are directed towards her young son. Joseph looks out of the picture towards us, inviting us to adore Jesus. Murillo transforms a complex theological principle into a very human and accessible image. With Jospeh as the connecting figure between us humans and the divine world of God.
March is the month named after Mars, in Roman mythology the God of War. He is also an agricultural guardian. The month March, opening the year of farming, is considered the start of the year for the Roman calendar, which had only ten months. With March being the first, September is number seven, October number eight and November and December nineth and tenth. But who is Mars? Although being the god of war, he is also a god of peace (when sleeping!), an epitome of male beauty, and the secret beau of Venus, Goddess of Love. Let’s look at a few paintings with Mars and also some together with Venus. The last painting is revealing the real scandal!
This is not a common soldier. This is Mars, God of War, in a 17th Century human form. The harness on the painting is a very rich and precious piece of work made in Italy. It was owned by Hendrick ter Brugghen and kept in his studio. Exactly the same harness and helmet ended up on other paintings by Ter Brugghen and by his colleagues from Utrecht. Around 1648, the end of the Eighty Years’ War and a final end to Spain’s rule over the Netherlands, the painting was placed in its current frame. The weapons and tools of war on the frame are chained together and cannot be used any longer. Mars fell asleep; he now represents peace. In the true Dutch tradition when Mars, God of War, falls asleep, Mercury, God of Trade, will get active again. A political painting in its time.
Here is Velázquez majestic painting of Mars. Mars is lazily seating on a soft, unmade bed. The bedclothes belong to a luxurious bed much more suited to amorous struggle than to battles and war. Mars is only wearing his helmet; his shield and armour lie at the ground. This picture is a defeat of arms by love which conquers all. The painting was made for the Spanish royal hunting pavilion on the outskirts of Madrid, in a century when Spain was in continuous wars. An amorous Mars seems certainly more sympathetic than a war-god in full armour.
This Italian Renaissance painting by Botticelli shows Venus, the Roman goddess of love, and Mars, god of war, surrounded by playful and naughty satyrs. Venus watches Mars asleep – and snoring – and she contemplates her victory: love has conquered war. Although it’s unfaithful love, as Venus was in fact married to Vulcan, god of fire and an unattractive blacksmith. The little satyr guys are playing with Mars’s armour: one put the too big helmet on his head and another crawled inside his breastplate. Even one blows a conch shell in his ear to wake Mars, but of course unsuccessfully. The couple have been making love, and Mars obeyed to the male habit of falling asleep after sex. Most likely the painting was commissioned to celebrate the marriage of a wealthy Florentine couple, and was meant to decorate the bedroom with that witty representation of sensual pleasure. There is another thought about Mars’s state of undress. It was thought that looking at an image of a beautiful man would help to conceive a boy – the most desirable heir in those days.
The French rococo painter Louis Jean François Lagrenée shows us Mars, throwing back the curtains to reveal a sleeping Venus. Mars is captivated by her beauty; his shield and sword lie on the ground. A pair of white doves are building a nest in Mars’s helmet. A 18th Century example of “make love not war”. Mars gives peace a chance.
This painting depicts the adultery of Venus and Mars. Venus’ husband Vulcan – god of fire and standing with his back to us on the left – has caught the couple in the act. When Vulcan heard that Venus and Mars had an affair, he – as a skilled blacksmith – made an invisible bronze net to catch them in their love bed. The metal net was so delicate that the two beautiful gods did not know that they had been captured until it was too late. Vulcan invited all the gods from Mount Olympus to come and laugh at the trapped lovers. A detail: Mercury, god of trade, is getting jealous and said he is willing to replace Mars. He can be seen above the bed and Cupido is already sending an arrow in Mercury’s direction. The still-life in the foreground is Mars’s armour, Vulcan’s hammer and Venus her red slippers, an old-fashioned symbol of adultery.
Because of the erotic subject matter, the painting’s early owners will have concealed the painting behind a curtain. For a longtime this painting was kept in depot by The Mauritshuis “to protect an immature public against itself”. Only from 1987 this small painting is shown to the public in its full splendor; painted on copper, which is excellent for expressing fine details. It’s an erotic picture, very attractive for the viewers. But it’s certainly also a showcase for the skills of the Joachim Wtewael. And above all an embarrassment for Venus and Mars!
Gerard ter Borch, 1617 – 1681, was a highly skilled Dutch Golden Age painter, who influenced his fellow Dutch colleagues Metsu, Dou and certainly also Vermeer. Ter Borch painted men and women, mistress and servant, soldiers and civilians, in the sanctum of guard room and home and hinting at their love lives. As this is the pre-email and pre-chat era, messages were sent by letters. The love letter was the appropriate start of dating. Letters are a returning subject in Ter Borch’s paintings. And a lot is left to the imagination of the viewer. Look at the painting from the Royal Collection, London. What is the lady reading from that letter? And is the dog, symbol of fidelity and now sleeping, a hint?
Gerard ter Borch situates this scene in a guard room. The ace-of-hearts card on the floor suggests that the letter being written is an amorous one. The pieces of the clay pipe scattered around the card may refer to frustrations the letter-writer is having in expressing his romantic feelings. And the Trumpeter, a soldier-messenger, is waiting to deliver the letter. And he looks at us viewers to make us part of the story.
Three women appear in a luxuriously appointed interior. On the table is a letter with a broken seal and the answer back is in the making. The girl peers over the shoulder of the writer and tries to read what’s being written. The standing woman appears pensive or lovelorn. In the 17the Century letter writing was a common feature of courtship. Perhaps the woman at the table is helping her friend craft a response to a suitor?
A young officer is dictating a letter to a man with the quill, probably a soldier on duty who could write and read. Their comrade, a trumpeter soldier and messenger, will deliver the letter. His faintly amused expression and the way he catches the eye of the viewer creates a conspiratorial air: is there love in that letter?
A woman is writing a letter and we can only imagine for ourselves if its love she is thinking and writing about. Maybe the large pearl she wears has a meaning; it can be interpreted as a symbol of virginity. This painting with such minimal scene, certainly was an example for other artists, like Vermeer.
Here, we see a soldier receiving a letter from a messenger. The door on the left is still open and the messenger has his hat in his hand. He came rushing in, to hand over that letter. That is for sure not a love letter, but most likely a call to the front, away from the girl who leans against him so lovingly.
Gerard ter Borch’s works are comparatively rare; about eighty have been catalogued. Ter Borch died in Deventer, The Netherlands, on this day December 8, 1681.
is a European art style that follows Renaissance and precedes Baroque,
originating in Italy around 1520 and spreading over Europe. Mannerism lasted
until the end of the 16th Century, when Mannerism gradually turned into
the Baroque style.
did Mannerism originate and what is it all about? The artists from the Renaissance,
like Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, excelled in painting and sculpting ideal
beauty, balanced proportions and ultimate elegance. Their art had reached the
top of what could be achieved; Renaissance was considered the peak of
perfection. That gave the next generation of artists a feeling that they had
not much to add anymore, and therefor they started to search for additional
artistry on top of the Renaissance skills and values. This next generation
started to add wisdom and intelligence to their art. And that resulted in a “manner”
of over-sophisticated elegance. Mannerism is more about artificial and
intellectual beauty than the perfect natural beauty from the Renaissance times.
The word “Mannerism” comes from the Italian word “maniera”, meaning “manner”. The Mannerist painters were painting in the “manner” of Renaissance painters like Michelangelo, but topped it up with their own intellectual and sophisticated inventions. One could say that they overdid it a bit. The mannerist artists tried to exceed Renaissance art, but that resulted in an overcomplicated way of depicting nature. And ultimately that was followed by the even more complex manner of depicting beauty during the Baroque.
Look at Bronzino’s “An Allegory with Venus and Cupid” (1545). It’s an almost bizarre composition and an exaggerated anatomy of figures. It reminds us of Michelangelo, but with an over-the-top approach of beauty. And the meaning behind this painting is so over-intellectual, that one hardly understands what it is about. It’s passion and play, time and despair, love and seduction; with every figure having it’s own symbolic meaning and art historians nowadays in doubt of the actual meaning. Or look at the Virgin Mary with Child (1540) by Parmigianino. In his efforts to create more elegance, Parmigianino gave his figures those long stretched bodies. And ironically, the painting is now just known as “The Madonna with the Long Neck”. Both Bronzino and Parmigianino want to express that there is more to achieve than the old-fashioned way of traditional Renaissance painting. They show the viewer their new “manner” of dealing with art and beauty. Mannerist painters proudly created Modern Art in the 16th Century.