Henri Matisse referred to his painting the Harmony in Red almost dismissively, calling it a “decorative panel.” And like a piece of ornamental furniture, he scattered the massive canvas with arabesques and floral pattern — a dining room scene with no conventional focal point and a strangely flattened perspective. But the paintings hallmark flood of powerful crimson is radically different than the original painting.
By exposing photosensitive paper soaked in iron salts to light, Hippolyte Bayard created some of the first direct positive prints — beautiful impressions of ferns and lace laid. Sadly, Sir John Herschel invented the Cyanotype the same year, stealing yet another photography milestone from the unlucky Bayard.
John Everett Millais, painter and inveterate whiner, was a member of the insufferably romantic boy's club known as the Pre-Raphaellite Brotherhood. Early in his career, Millais was a dedicated realist, working in a densely detailed style, and at the age of only 22 he began what would be one of his most successful paintings. Millais began 'Ophelia' in 1851, painting the river and background by the river Ewell near Kingston-Upon-Thames. But painting outdoors is difficult for the time-intensive work of realistic painting, and Millais was sure to let people know of his suffering, describing the experience in a letter:
The Alterpiece Tryptich was an old idea by the time that Heironymus Bosch got ahold of it. Three painted panels in an elaborate frame, often telling a story from right to left. Giotto's Stefaneschi Triptych for St. Peter's cathedral is a good example of what a tryptich should look like — Christ, serene, surrounded by adoring disciples. But Bosch had a different story to tell. The Garden of Earthly Delights is a folding tryptich, the left and right panels fold inwards, and when closed is shows a meditative image of the world during its creation, painted in the gray-green grisaille common to Netherlandish triptychs of the time. A moment of solemnity before the leaping madness inside is revealed.
We don't know much about Wenzel Hablik's painting of the glittering cosmos. Titled, Starry Sky, Attempt, Hablik seems to understand the imperfection of his vision. It's too full, too bright, too hopeful. He paints a universe as alive as a busy street, outer space with a pulse. But that's Hablik for you, the boy who stared into crystals and saw palaces inside, the man who designed cities perched on mountain tops. The man who lived through WWI, and was still able to say "Speak out! Speak out! Delight in existence — in the universe— in being and perishing."
In this illuminated miniature by Bichitr, the Mughal Emperor Shah-Jahan welcomes his three sons and his father-in-law Asaf Khan. The miniature is part of the Padshahnama, a beautiful collection of 22 single and 11 double-page miniatures by 14 of the finest artists of the Mughal courts. The Padshahnama, also known as the "Chronicle of the King of the World" describes the reign of Emperor Shah-Jahan in rich color and gold leaf.
Ancient Rome owed much of its art and culture to Greece, whose obsession with physical perfection and philosophical rigor left an easily co-opted legacy of art and myth. This Roman statue of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, was itself a copy of a statue made nearly 500 years before by the Greek sculptor Praxiteles. Aphrodite herself was a Greek goddess originally, renamed Venus by the Romans.
Why Not Sneeze, Rose Sélavy? was an elaborate prank by Marcel Duchamp. An assisted readymade — a found object 'enhanced' by the artist, in this case by filling a birdcage with 152 marble 'sugar cubes,' a thermometer and cuttlefishbone. The sculpture's title references Rose Sélavy, Duchamp's drag queen alter ego, for seemlingly no reason, but the purpose of the object was helpfully clarified by Duchamp's friend and fellow Dadist André Breton:
"I have in mind the occasion when Marcel Duchamp got hold of some friends to show them a cage which seemed to have no birds in it, but to be half-full of lumps of sugar. He asked them to lift the cage and they were surprised at its heaviness. What they had taken for lumps of sugar were really small lumps of marble which at great expense Duchamp had had sawn up specially for the purpose. The trick in my opinion is no worse than any other, and I would even say that it is worth nearly all the tricks of art put together."
Marcel Duchamp's readymades were sculptural assemblages of found objects, often created as jokes, visual puns, or as with the 'Bicycle Wheel' — for the simple pleasure of the juxtaposition. Duchamp described the wheel, saying: "I enjoyed looking at it, just as I enjoy looking at the flames dancing in a fireplace." He apparently enjoyed the wheel enough to remake it several times, and although the original is now lost, his later versions can be viewed at the MOMA in New York, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The photo above is of Duchamp's third Bicycle Wheel, made in 1951.