Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Study: Why it Benefits You and Your Employer

It seems I’ve spent the last few years in one of three states; eagerly anticipating study, screaming because I was in the middle of study, or suffering post-study ennui. As I’m currently in between final course work and at the pre-research/planning stage for my 15000 word dissertation, this is a really good time to evaluate the impact that part time study has on my professional life.

It also doubles as an annoyingly motivational piece for January, given the tradition for resolutions and fresh starts. What more perfect resolution could there be than taking a course of study?

One of my library friends on Twitter asked how I was finding my course - what the workload with the day job/support/etc was like - because he was thinking of doing something similar. I was honest. If I’m being frank, my friends and family get neglected, annual leave is spent in the library, stress levels rise around coursework/assessment time and lecture evenings are reserved, no matter what. Sometimes day to day work is affected because of tiredness and, in my case, total distraction with a subject I love. All this sounds very negative and yet, I advised my friend to go for it as soon as possible. Why would anyone go to such lengths for study? 

Sunday, 12 January 2014

What is Sculpture?

Mama mia!
In the absence of any MA lectures this term most people are probably catching up with their friends, revisiting some nice art shows, having facials or watching Celebrity Big Brother or something. Which is why I am taking a sculpture course at the Courtauld. I was having a Christmas dinner with some similarly study addicted friends and during a conversation about how annoyed* with Birkbeck I was, she mentioned this venerable institution at Somerset House. It turns out they do some really excellent non stressy modules there, so I signed up for this term and these are my rough notes.

'Art is painting' many galleries would have us believe. Exhibitions have traditionally focused on the two dimensional, leaving sculpture, architecture, print makers, decorative arts under represented. Now, in my view, this opening gambit is being challenged, with many major institutions widening their scope to embrace other media. A glance at this years planned exhibitions show fashion, jewellery, design, architecture, which makes it interesting to be focusing on sculpture this term. A stroll around any part of London shows that we are surrounded by it - on the fronts of buildings, in our squares and churches, office lobbies and on our streets.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

The Montalto Madonna and the intellectual and spiritual life of Cardinal Peretti di Montalto

My thought soars not so high ; though duly bent
In reverence, and awe, and long attent,
To study Nature and the works and ways,
So wondrous, that surround us : but no mind,
Whom earthly fetters bind,
Though led to truth, and swift to utter praise,
Can pierce the crystal that enshrines above
The Flower of endless Love ; …

Torquato Tasso (1544-1595) 'The Nativity' Rome, December 1588

The poetic extract above precisely demonstrates the ease with which the sixteenth-century patron moved between the intellectual and religious; for them, there was little distinction. With this in mind this essay sets out to explore how a private devotional image can provide an insight into the mind and life of the commissioning patron. Although we cannot be certain how individual spiritual or even intellectual experience manifested itself in relation to small devotional images, Burt Treffer offers a useful line of thought. His method applies a mix of pictorial analysis and iconography, investigation into the purpose of the painting and who it was for, as well as a close reading of the associated literature.2 

A recently rediscovered devotional image by Annibale Carracci The Holy Family with the Infant Saint John the Baptist, or the Montalto Madonna (National Gallery, London) (c1600) is perfectly placed to demonstrate and reflect the pursuits of its first owner, the Roman Cardinal Deacon Alessandro Damasceni Peretti di Montalto (1571–1623). Taken in its wider context, this small painting on copper enables the art historian to explore reformation church politics, familial ambition as well as flourishing city wide intellectual pursuits. 

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Tasso and the Search for En-light-enment

It has long been appreciated that an interdisciplinary approach has to be taken when looking at the arts. A book from 1922 said the 'pictorial qualities of the arts corresponded psychologically and aesthetically to the musical qualities of literature'. But it was the author's next words that struck me as particularly relevant, 'the formal objects of the art historian and the literary scholar, as far as the Baroque is concerned, are ... similar because the mode of conceiving reality is the same, and this same type of concept is anchored in the spirit and will of the men of that epoch' (my emphasis).1

It's an old fashioned way of stating that art, literature, music – and not forgetting the natural sciences – are all products of a particular time and place. Therefore although I'm ostensibly focusing on a piece of art, I feel that it is crucial to see across as many disciplines possible, whether art, literature or music because all of these offer valuable insights into prevailing thoughts. This explains why the final part of my essay moves from baroque musical monody to a different kind of poetic voice.