Monday, 9 October 2017

The Staedel - Even More Art

Since this is the third post on the Staedel, I probably do not need to have an introduction. However, if you have landed up here and haven't read my previous posts, I'll refer you back to the post on the Old Masters, and the Modern and Contemporary. Anyway, we'll jump straight into looking at various works of art that the Staedel has to offer.

The first painting is by Valkenborch and is called 'Winter Landscape near Antwerp'. It is actually a painting of the Scheldt frozen over, which for a river that is 400 meters wide, is something that doesn't happen all that often. However, during the Little Ice Age it did that quite often. In a way this is like when we see something odd and whip out our mobile phone and take a picture of it, and then post it on Facebook - when we woke up one morning in Melbourne to discover the city covered in mist we did just that. However, this was in the days before photography, so the work of the artist was much more time consuming. However, despite all that, it is still quite a beautiful scene.

As I have explored previously, religious art was quite popular, and Bosch's Ecco Homo, while being a popular subject, was given a new dimension. Here we have Pilate presenting Jesus to the crowd - behold the man. The question that is raised is how can this wretched individual being the 'Son of God'. In fact let us consider the phrase 'the man' - it is as if Pilate is telling that crowd that this individual before them is no god, just another human. However, consider also the crowd - these are not beautiful humans, but wretched individuals. Bosch is confronting us with our sinfulness, and the reality that we have rejected God for our own selfish desires.

Let us now head to Italy and look at a work of one of the great masters - Botticelli. This painting is of Simonetta Vespucchi, who at the time was considered to be one of the most beautiful women in Florence. Here she is painted as if she were a nymph - a Greco-roman nature spirit. She was said to be the ladylove of Guiliano di Medici (though they said that they were only ever friends). However, she died young, at the age of 23, childless. Such seems to be the fate of beauty in this fallen world.

The following comes from the wings of an altarpiece, and is a work by a German artist Lochner. While I could go into details of each of the frames, I won't and instead let the images sink in. Basically what we are seeing are the martyrdoms of the twelve apostles. These were the founding fathers of Christianity and they went to their deaths, some of them quite hideously, over their belief that not only was Jesus the son of God, but that he also rose from the dead. One of the arguments of the apologists is that people would not have gone through such tortures and deaths for something that was based on a lie. While I disagree to an extent, it is still something to ponder.

Art is much more than just pretty pictures - it is also a means of creating a legacy, and also cementing one's place in the world, not just for the artist but also for the subject. This is the case with our next work by Tieppo. Here the Crotto family had moved from provincial Italy to Venice and were attempting to establish themselves. As such they had Tieppo paint this scene depicting an ancestor from a thousand years ago. The story has St Gratta calling upon her parents to convert to Christianity. She is flanked by the martyrs Fermus and Rustica, and in her hands holds the head of St Alexander. Notice that instead of blood coming from his neck, we have flowers - evidence of his approval from God.

Let us now jump to the 19th Century and a landscape by Karl Lessing. Actually, in the museum it is simply called landscape, but it is also called Retreating Storm. It reflects the result of the violence of nature, and the way that it can simply come down and strip civilisation bare. In a way, despite our technology, and our civilisation, we are still at the mercy of nature. Whether it be a storm, a fire, or an earthquake, no matter how we build, and what protections we erect, nature can still flatten our cities. This, sadly, is only going to get worse as the ravages of climate change take hold.

The next painting, by Angilbert Gobel, broke the boundaries of the traditions at his time. While poor people were painted, they weren't painted in such a large scale, nor so prominently. In a way poverty is something that many of us have sought to ignore or put in the too hard basket. Okay, we may toss some change to them in the street, but in many cases we either turn away, or blame them. In fact it is sad how many people simply use the statement 'they had the same opportunities that I have had and they have not used it'. What is more confronting with this painting is that they sit in front of the church, suggesting that the churches close their doors to the poor, as if only those who have succeeded in life are worthy of salvation. The reality is that the poor tend to reach out for god much further than those of us who live a rather comfortable life.

The next painting, by Joseph Anton Koch, is called Landscape with Noah Offering a Sacrifice. I guess this is sitting with the Staedel's original purpose of providing an outlet for traditional religious art in the 19th century. However, this is slightly different in that traditional religious art focused on the topic of the painting, while here we see a landscape merging with the religious. Koch here is creating the beauty of a landscape, while also drawing us to Noah's piety in sacrificing to God in thankfulness at having survived the flood. Also, remember that this was after the world had been cleansed so we are seeing a return to the ideal, but also a new beginning. Notice also how the storm clouds are retreating - God's wrath has come and gone, and we now have a new beginning in a paradise. Something to look forward to.

Edgar Ende was a surrealist, and this work is an example of the movement. While not as prominent as Dali's, it still gives us an idea of the nature of the movement. Here we have a bleak landscape, in one sense a desert, but in another sense even bleaker than that. Deserts aren't empty - they are teaming with life and natural beauty. This is a world that has been destroyed by technology, and the only shade from the blistering heat of the sun is a console. In the distance is a pillar, but it's nature and identity is a mystery. Where as at one time the console was a symbol of control, now it only exists to provide shelter from the elements and the bleak landscape.

The invention of the camera certainly caused the style and nature of art to change, some say for the good while others suggest that it is for the worse. This is an example of a new style of art, Max Bechman's Hauptbahnhof. This is the main railway station in Frankfurt, but while it looks like the building, it isn't an exact rendition of it. Instead it seems that Bechman has moved on from the post impressionist style of artists like Van Gogh. Here it has a more cartoonish and childish feel to it. In a sense it looks like something that would hang on the wall of a kindergarten. However it isn't, it is hanging on the wall of the Staedel. The painting looks like it was painted from one of the buildings across from the station. I also like the cat sitting on the windowsill to the foreground.

During the Franco-Prussian War Monet took refuge in Paris, and then he and his family moved to Amsterdam and lived just outside the city. This was a low point for the French, particularly since Paris lay in ruins. However, this gave the city the opportunity to rebuild, and to become the beautiful city that it is today (it is hard to believe that it was anything but, but I assure you that the city hasn't always been that amazing, in fact for quite a while it was a pigsty). The paintings of this period were focused more on pleasant scenes with soft colours. The house is a great example of traditional Dutch architecture.

Harbours, especially at the turn of the 20th Century, were dirty places. Actually, in many cases they still are (which is why I am surprised that Tripadvisor suggest that the harbour in Antwerp is actually a tourist attraction). Harbours have always been a haven for the rougher side of society, but then again travelling the oceans was never something for the faint of heart. This work by Kirchner depicts the western harbour of Frankfurt, but in a much more expressionist style. We have the faceless stevedores in the foreground, depicting the nature of being a member of the working class. Further, the water isn't blue, it is a sickly green. Harbours are generally places that are kept hidden, but Kirchner challenges our blindspot by presenting it to us directly.

The following is a painting by German artist Eugenie Bandell and is called Japanese Dolls with Apples. While it is a still life, like a lot of modern paintings it takes the concept of the still life in a new direction, focusing more on colour and on emotion.

I'll finish off with a couple of pieces from the contemporary art collection, the first being a 'sculpture' that has been made out of 4200 cans of condensed milk. The piece is by pop artist Thomas Bayrle and is called Gl├╝ckslee. Like the works of Andy Warhol, this sculpture (for want of a better word) is designed to capture the nature of modern culture - in particular consumer culture. The reason behind using condensed milk, to create a giant sculpture of a can of condensed milk, was to pay homage to the economic miracle that it represented, as well as the promise of happiness that filter coffee and condensed milk would bring to the German people.

The final work is by artisty Marie-Jo LaFontaine and is called liquid crystal. Basically it is a photograph, or a collection of photographs, of some young people. Well, not just any young people, young people who come across as rebels. They dress as rebels and they look like rebels, and they stand there rather disillusioned with the world around them. I guess that is the nature of youth, were we have come of age and can think for ourselves, but have people running around telling us what to do and forcing their opinions on us. The catch is that when we were young we really didn't know what was good for us - we thought we did, but in reality we didn't. However, what the work seems to do is to try to drag us back to that time and help us see the world their their eyes.

Oh, yes, it is also called Liquid Crystal, which suggests constant change. In one sense they are the same, but in another sense they are maluble and changeable. I guess that is the danger of youth - we are likely to be influenced by a lot of different areas, and our lack of wisdom means that we actually have yet to learn how to make a good choice. In fact, that lack of wisdom, and the choices that are laid before us, have the potential of having drastic, and long lasting, effects on our lives.

 (pic - Art) Lafontaine - Liquid Crystal Notes 01
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The Staedel - Even More Art by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me