September 19, 2016

colour study: blue x coral

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September 1, 2016

A historical look at how the nouveau riche have justified their wealth through art patronage

mariaMaria de’ Medici, Bronzino, 1551

Part 1/4 : Introduction

After coming back from Tuscany, home to Florence and the Renaissance masters, I’ve been thinking about art patronage as a means of justifying newfound wealth. Without the patronage of the Medici family, it is doubtful that Florence would have achieved its status as the cradle and beacon of the Renaissance. Yet the family that was responsible for ensuring its greatness was neither descended from noble stock nor charged with responsibilities of the church—a noteworthy detail, given that the two most traditionally powerful patrons of the arts at the time were the aristocracy and the Catholic institution. Instead, their dynasty was founded on the banking that propelled the patriarch of the clan, Giovanni de’ Medici, to far-reaching financial success. So what reasons, apart from genuine enjoyment, did Giovanni’s son, Cosimo, and his descendants have in being such ardent art patrons?

One likely explanation is in the fact that, as private citizens, the Medicis possessed none of the noble titles needed to impress those with whom they negotiated on behalf of the republic. However, by gracing the city with celebrated works of classic and contemporary art they showed that they belonged in the company of the most important feudal lords. They were supported in this endeavour by the Florentine public, who also sought to promote its leading family based on the understanding that the reputation of their city was tied to the outside honour paid to the Medicis. Painfully aware were the Florentines of their lack of hereditary pedigree, and the pageantry of their artistic projects was in large part an expression of their cultural insecurity.

In short, through their patronage, the Medicis were able to overcome the age-old problem of ‘new money.’ Ever since the notion of taste was invented, the nouveau riche have never had a favourable image among the elites of society, leaving them with the conundrum of how to convince ‘the right people’ that they, too, belong. After all, a reputation as a cultured arbiter of taste is not so easily bought as the items used to advertise a person of great means. This is because ‘taste’ relies upon the exclusivist idea that persons of a higher calibre possess certain trained parts: a trained eye, a trained ear, a trained manner of speech and handwriting, the entire training process to which only few are given access from childhood and encouraged to accept as the only hallmark of respectability.

And so we history buffs are left with a long global history of newly rich members of society seeking to demonstrate their ability to discern the fine from the crude by supporting the arts. As such, this series will explore three cases in which important historical figures from India, Japan, and Italy became benevolent art enthusiasts after their quick ascension to wealth and power.

Next (part 2/4): Medici vs. Sforza Patronage Styles

 

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August 22, 2016

colour study: fall brights x pastels

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July 25, 2016

colour study: navy x peach

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July 13, 2016

colour study: muted hues

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July 6, 2016

Jade in Ancient Meso-American & Chinese Funerary Rites

mesomerican.chinese.jade

The two images above of the funerary mask of Lord Pakal (603-683 A.D.), a Mayan ruler, and the burial suit of Prince Liu Sheng (c.135-113 B.C.) of the Chinese Han dynasty represent the different ways in which ancient civilisations utilised jade in their funerary rituals. In both ancient China and pre-Columbian Meso-America, jade was revered as not only precious but sacred and reserved for royalty, especially in their deaths.

Several Meso-American civilisations used jade in their funerary practices, including the Olmec (1000-400 B.C.), the late Yucatec Maya (100 B.C-900 A.D.), the Aztec (1000-1521 A.D.), and the Zoned Bichrome Period peoples of northern Costa Rica (300 B.C.-300 A.D.). Figurative jade pieces that have been excavated from Olmec burial sites in the present-day Mexican state of Tabasco show that the Olmecs preferred jades of a translucent blue-green quality, while the Mayans preferred bright green ones. Linguistically, as is the case in Aztec Nahuatl, many Mayan languages considered ‘blue’ and ‘green’ the same colour but regarded them as different hues. This provides one reason for why the Mayans painted their gods blue in their temple reliefs, as opposed to the skins of mortals, which they painted red: if ‘blue’ and ‘green’ were the same colour to them, then green jade and blue paint would have served the same purpose of indicating sacredness. The same sacred significance was also placed on Costa Rican jade, however, unlike the Mayans who used jade in both domestic and mortuary contexts, jade in Costa Rica was restricted from personal adornment and used solely for funerary purposes.

The death mask of Lord Pakal was found alongside a trove of other jade adornments when it was discovered in 1952 in a crypt below the Temple of Inscriptions at Palenque in Mexico. With the mask found inside the Mayan ruler’s sarcophagus were jade ear-spools, necklaces, and rings. A large jade was held in each hand and another was placed in the mouth, a practice also documented for the Aztec and Chinese.

The Chinese reverence for jade dates back to the Neolithic era and still continues to this day. During the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.), jade cicadas were placed in the mouths of deceased royals as symbols of cyclical resurrection, and jade pigs were placed in their hands. Jade burial suits such as the one above were also made for the nobility, although the type of thread used to hold the jade pieces together differed according to the status of the individual. According to the Book of Later Han (後漢書), gold thread was reserved for emperors; silver thread for princes, princesses, dukes, and marquises; copper thread for the sons or daughters of those given silver thread; and silk thread for minor aristocrats. Amusingly enough, despite the material worth of jade, Emperor Wen of Wei in 223 A.D. apparently ordered the practice of jade suits to be stopped because they attracted tomb looters who would burn the suits to harvest the gold thread.

 

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June 30, 2016

colour study: a dark rainbow

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June 15, 2016

colour study: popsicle shades

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May 30, 2016

colour study: sandwich shades

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May 18, 2016

colour study: carnival hues

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