Saturday, July 13, 2019

BEETHOVEN’S FINEST OPERATIC MOMENT: The Fidelio Act One Quartet




Fidelio - Act One Quartet 
Mir ist so wunderbar (I feel wonderful)

Four people - same situation - Four different realities.

Extraordinary, and all from such a simple tune.
Then again, isn’t one aspect of genius its elegant simplicity combined with awesome power? 

Take the four and a half minutes to listen to the Act I Quartet from Fidelio, and let this sublime music and its meaning wash over you.

Yes, it is about the power of love. 

https://youtu.be/Qop7e81OazA

Gundula Janowitz, William Wilderman, Stella Richmond, Misha Raitzin, 
IPO, Zubin Mehta conductor

NEVER FINISHED, YET PERFECT: Leonardo’s Saint Jerome in the Desert



Saint Jerome in the Desert
  Leonardo Da Vinci (c. 1480)
Tempera and Oil on Walnut Panel 
Musei Vaticani 

Submitted for your wonder and fascination is Leonardo’s never finished, iconic and brilliantly conceived painting of St Jerome in the Desert.

So many of Leonardo’s ideas - in engineering, science, medicine and art- never were completed. He could never say “done,” even for La Gioconda (Mona Lisa), and yet there is always a perfection of form and power of meaning even in his drafts and uncompleted works. 

St Jerome in the Desert, one of only seven Leonardo’s 20 or so extant works that are indisputably only in His hand, will be coming to the Met from the Vatican later this year, as a one-painting show to honor the 500th anniversary of the death of the Master.

The painting shows St. Jerome at prayer at the end of his life, a hermit in the wilderness, alone save for his lion companion—a common Renaissance subject. And yet it stands alone in its deeply moving, intimate depiction of the penitent saint in a moment of private reverie. As Jerome stares up at his crucifix, his spiritual struggle is plain to see, even though many passages of work show little more than the ground preparation on the wood panel, with hastily sketched outlines.
And we literally have Leonardo’s hand in this masterpiece- his fingerprints can be found in the upper left of the painting it as he rubbed and smoothed his oils and tempera on the walnut. 

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/11/arts/design/davinci-saint-jerome-metropolitan-museum.html



Thursday, June 13, 2019

CORRECTING A MOZART MYTH: The Truths about the Mozart Allegri Miserere Story


The “Bologna Mozart” portrait
The 1777 copy of the lost 1770 portrait of Mozart
wearing the medal of the Order of the Golden Spur
Accademia di Musica di Bologna 

For as long as I remember as a Mozartian, which goes back to my teenage years, I have heard the story of the ”secret” Gregorio Allegri Miserere and Mozart’s “miraculous” feat of
copying it out “perfectly” upon “one” listening.
It sounded like a Mozart myth.
So I decided to do my own research to find out the truth.
There is indeed a kernel of truth in this well-worn story. The story of Mozart’s two April 1770 visits to the Vatican during Holy Week and the Allegri Miserere “caper,” have gone through many permutations, most of them distorted and hyperbolic.
Below is my research that removes the encrusted accretions of two centuries of  hyperbole, gets the facts straight, and shows you exactly how a young genius could have done it.

During the first (1770) of their three Italian journeys,the trips that were formative in Wolfgang's compositional embryogenesis, Wolfgang and Leopold found themselves in Roma during Holy Week.
Wolfgang and Leopold arrived in Roma from Firenze on Wednesday , 11 April 1770, a rainy afternoon in the Eternal City.
During the Tenebrae Service at the Vatican on Thursday April 12th (Holy Thursday in Christian tradition), the Mozarts heard Gregorio Allegri's sublime nine-part, two-choir. polyphonic 1635 masterpiece, Miserere (Miserere mei, Deus).

One of many Mozart myths is that the Miserere manuscript was “heavily guarded” at the Vatican and that there were “no other copies.”

Untrue.

By 1770, one hundred thirty-five years after the Miserere was composed, there were a number of copies around Europe, several specifically in London, where the Mozart family sojourned for several months in 1764. The Allegri Miserere was performed a number of time times in London in the 1760s.
Could Wolfgang have heard it as an eight year-old when he was in London?

Where were the other copies?
The Vatican, of course, had a copy (likley the original autograph manuscript ) of the Miserere. Another copy was in Bologna in the possession of Mozart’s friend and early musical mentor, Padre Giovanni Battista Martini.  The King of Portugal also had a copy.

After hearing the Miserere on Holy Thursday, April 12th, Wolfgang went back to his apartment and, with his eidetic memory and absolute pitch, wrote out on several sheets of composition paper what he remembered of the work.
Wolfgang and his father went back to hear the Miserere performed again on Saturday, April 14th (Holy Saturday in Christian tradition), the day before Easter Sunday.
Finding some mistakes in the copy he had made, Wolfgang made corrections.
The Mozarts went on to Napoli to attend an opera at San Carlo (which Mozart didn’t care for) and then on to see Pompeii.
Somehow and at some point, Wolfgang's fair copy got into the hands of Pope Clement XIV.
The Pope, instead of excommunicating Wolfgang, decided to award Wolfgang the honor of Chevalier of the Order of the Golden Spur (Caveliere dello Sperone D'Or), First Degree.
Recieving the Order of the Golden Spur was an extraordinary honor for anyone, especially a teenager. The Pope went one step further in giving Wofgang First Degree honors, a higher rank than that conferred on most other recipients, including Christoph Willibald von Gluck.
On July 5th 1770, Cardinal Lazzaro Pallavicini, the papal secretary to Pope Clement XIV, conferred LonSperone D'Oro di prima classe (The Order of the Golden Spur in the First Degree) on Wolfgango Amedeo Mozart, a rank equal to the Order of the Golden Spur the Papacy had previously conferred only on Orlando di Lasso, some two hundred years earlier.

How did Wolfgang do it?
He did it as follows:
1) he used his eidetic memory;
2) he used his absolute pitch:
3) perhaps he had seen a manuscript in London in 1764  (there were a number of copies there);
and most importantly,
4) the work is short and VERY repetitive - in fact it repeats six times.

It was quite doable for Wolfgang to copy out what he had heard.
The Miserere is about twelve minutes. But, it is actually a two-minute compsition repeated six times. A genius such as Wolfgang would have had very little trouble remembering the melody. The polyphony would have been the issue.
What is truly astonishing, therefore, and in my view, was Wolfgang's remarkable ability to parse out the nine-part polyphony that comprises the heart of the Miserere, not putting a repeat sign at the end of a two-minute composition.
THAT is the stuff of genius......

Listen to the haunting, mystical Gregorio Allegri Miserere, in the iconic, benchmark 1980 performance by the Tallis Scholars.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nKj1iK2WKS8

Vincent DeLuise

Image: The so-called Bologna portrait of 1777. This is the 1777 copy by an unknown artist of the lost 1770 oil painted of Mozart for Padre Martini’s Gallery of Composers for the Accademia di Musica di Bologna e Verona. Note that Mozart is wearing the Order of the Golden Spur in this portrait. Leopold said that Wolfgang was “sick” when he sat for the portrait but that the portrait resembled Wolfgang almost exactly.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

A MUSEUM OF VISION: CELEBRATING THE HUMAN EYE



A NEW MUSEUM OF VISION:
A CELEBRATION OF THE HUMAN EYE

Kudos to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) and museum chairs Drs Marmor, Truhlsen and Medow, for launching an extraordinary new Museum of Vision, to be unveiled at the AAO headquarters in San Francisco next year. 
This public museum of over 38,000 objects will be a fascinating and edifying resource for young and old to learn about our most prized possession, our sight, and all that Ophthalmologists are doing world-wide to protect our vision throughout our lives.
Here is the link to a short video which details the Academy’s wonderful new initiative.


https://lnkd.in/d4jYBzg

Saturday, April 27, 2019

THE PALE BLUE DOT



THE PALE BLUE DOT

“Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. 
“On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

“The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

“Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

“The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

“It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.”

(Excerpted from Carl Sagan, _Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space_)

The Earth, from the Moon 

NASA photo Apollo 11

Friday, April 19, 2019

BALDASSARE CASTIGLIONE AND LA SPREZZATURA




Baldassarre Castiglione 
Raffaello Sanzio (Raphael)
c.1515
Louvre

THE GREAT COURTIER
(Il GRANDE CORTIGIANO)


Each time I have been to the Louvre, while everyone else is jostling for a quick look at La Gioconda (aka la Mona Lisa, that painting behind velvet rope and bullet proof glass ), I go to the room perpendicular to that room, and the next room, and say hello to the FOUR other Leonardos in the Museum, and to this sublime and elegant Raffaello portrait of the Courtier Baldassarre Castiglione, and usually, there is no one around me, because they are all angling for that long view of Lisa Gherardini. 
Go figure.
It was Baldassarre Castiglione who “walked the walk” as well as “talked the talk” of the Renaissance humanist: a courtly gentleman, polyglot and polymathic, suave and urbane, author and poet.  It was Castiglione  in his famous 1528 book, Il Cortigiano (The Courtier), who first defined that virtually untranslatable Italian word for elegant and effortless nonchalant coolness, Sprezzatura.
The guy was supersmart and supercool. 


Ars longa!

Friday, April 12, 2019

LEONARDO DA VINCI, THE UNIVERSAL HUMANIST




LEONARDO, THE UNIVERSAL HUMANIST

On the eve of the five hundredth anniversary of the death of Leonardo Da Vinci (2 May 2019), the superb medical journal, The Lancet, is paying homage this month to this greatest of geniuses and humanists.
Take a moment to observe and really see this wondrous red chalk portrait and read this elegiac tribute paragraph from the editors of The Lancet


“Leonardo's approach to life was built upon a vision of unity. The singular lens he used contrasts with modern dichotomous ways of seeing and thinking that separate the arts and sciences, and underlies Leonardo's diverse body of work spanning anatomy, neurology, optics, embryology, cardiology, medical education, architecture, engineering, and, of course, fine art. He perceived art and science as complementary dimensions of human experience, also believing that people and animals were inextricably entwined and interdependent on each other for survival. This was manifested in his (then radical) transition to a vegetarian diet, and through his appreciation of nature—in biodiversity and geology, and particularly through his use of the analogy of the microcosm of the human body reflecting the macrocosm of the Earth.”
The Lancet April 6,2019

Portrait of a man (possibly a self-portrait of Leonardo Da Vinci)
Biblioteca Reale, Torino

c. 1512

Saturday, March 30, 2019

WHO WAS THE MASTER OF THE FEMALE HALF-LENGTHS?



There is so much we still dont know about Art and Connoisseurship.
Paintings are attributed incorrectly all the time; we say this is a Leonardo and that is a Modigliani or a Corot, and often, we dont know.
If not often, then more than rarely.
There is actually a boat load of debate about a LOT of what you thought you had learned or knew.
It has become almost a parlor game to re-attribute works of Art, even "famous" ones (perhaps they are famous because of the mis-attribution instead of their inherent exqusiteness? Hmmmm.)
One exquisite example is the exquisite Art of the exquisite anonymous painter (or painters) of the Female half-lengths.
The Master of the Female Half-Lengths.
Who was she? or he? Or they?
I have been enamored of these paintings for years.
Whoever - she/he/they - was/were, they were Northern European artists who worked during the cinquencento - smack dab in the Renaissance.
Many names have been profferred, mostly in re either Jan or Hans Vereycke.
Many towns have been suggested as to where they/he/she worked, like Antwerp or Bruges, Ghent or Mechelen (the usual suspects).
Dates ranging from 1520 to 1590 have been proposed.
See how much (er, little) we know !
Calling the author "The Master of the Female Half-Lengths" is like calling a Bronzino a painting by the Master of Mannerist Firenze, if we didnt know it was by Agnolo di Cosimo.
I suppose that is better than saying "anonymous."
It is what is known in art historical parlance as a Notname.
Yes, a Notname
A Notname is not a not name, It is a word that stems from the Deutsch: Notname (German: Notname (German: [ˈnoːtˌnaːmə]
A Notname is a "necessity-name" (a  "contingency-name), in art historical terms, an invented name given to an artist whose identity has been lost.
We may Not know the Name of this Master of the Female Half-Lengths.
But she or he or they sure was/were amazing.



Three Musicians
Master of the Female Half-Lengths
c. 1530
Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Thursday, March 14, 2019

THE AMBIGUITY AND ANDROGYNY OF GENIUS: Leonardo’s Mona Lisa



THE AMBIGUITY AND ANDROGYNY OF GENIUS
Leonardo’s La Gioconda

So much ink has been spilled about this wondrous and mysterious painting (thankfully not on it) that anything I say will be argued, critiqued, debated, perhaps even agreed upon,  and then we are still nowhere.
There has been much discussion about whether Leonardo painted himself in the Mona Lisa and not the historical subject who has been shown to be Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, whence the title “Mona Lisa” (Mona = Madonna = Madam Lisa) and the sobriquet “La Gioconda,” the wife of the wealthy merchant, Francesco del Giocondo, who commissioned Leonardo to paint his spouse.
(Gherardini was Lisa’s maiden name).
“Gioconda”also means, in a sense “quella che sia gioiosa” ”she who is happy.”
I use the Mona Lisa (La Gioconda) in my lectures on art and perception in re looking versus seeing versus knowing. If you look right at her, look right at La Gioconda, you can’t tell about her mouth. Is she smiling or smirking?
If you look away from her face (look at her forehead or chest), she is definitely smiling.
Why?  Because with our central ( foveal) vision we don’t see the muscles of facial expression (orbicularis oris, buccinator, zygomaticus major, inter alios).
When we look away, our peripheral (coarser) vision picks up these facial details and the smile is evident.
The question of whether Leonardo painted himself in his painting of her is the Ancient question of subconscious or conscious self-reference in Art and literature. It is a concept that has been accepted by many art historians and Comp Lit specialists. How often do we read autobiography into a novel? A lot.
For those who want a deeper dive into “ Every Artist Paints Themselves,” see Simon Abraham’s fascinating dicosurse (http://everypainterpaintshimself.com/essay_pdfs/PORTRAITS1_1.pdf
Has Leonardo painted a bit of himself here ? Maybe.
Why do so many of Leonardo’s subjects appear androgynous (cf. st John the Baptist) ? What is it about artistic genius that makes it so Ineffably inscrutable, so ambiguous and androgynous (cf. Shakespeare, Michaelangelo and Mozart).
My view is that Genius is the amalgamation of feminine and masculine, of secular and spiritual, of mystical and quotidian, of simple and fractal, thus it is inherently ambiguous and inherently androgynous.

La Gioconda
Mona Lisa
Leonardo da Vinci
? 1513 - we still don’t know when he began and when he finishes- more ambiguity
Louvre

Friday, February 15, 2019

THE EL GRECO FALLACY



Style or Substance ?
The Fallacy of the El Greco Fallacy

In your art history courses, you came upon with wonder and amazement the remarkable works of the visionary 16th century master, Domenikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco), and noticed his highly elongated figures. 
Was this a result of El Greco possibly having astigmatism? 
Or was it simply his unique and quite modern version of Mannerism?
The “logical” response to explain the elongations would be that it was his style, of course, and not astigmatism.
Why? 
Well, you respond immediately with the “self-correcting” algorithm, by which someone with astigmatism, even if they perceive a circle as an oval in their mind’s eye, will still depict it as a circle, thus self-correcting it. Any perceptual elongation that El Greco might have experienced as a result of astigmatism would have caused not only his subjects to be elongated but also his canvas. Hence, it should have been unnecessary for him to elongate his paintings to match his perception.
And you correctly propose as examples the masterpiece of St Jerome at the Frick Collection or a similar version at the Met, because how could Jerome’s face be depicted with a vertical elongation while at the same time his fingers are horizontally elongated. Astigmatism elongated in one meridian, not in two meridians orthogonal to each other. 
Then you posit the masterpiece that is “The Burial of Count Orgaz” in Toledo Spain, as your ace in the hole.
Here, El Greco paints the human figures at the bottom more or less naturally, but exaggerates Mary and Jesus and the angels in the Empyrean above.
It would be optically impossible (i.e. physically impossible) for someone with astigmatism to see part of their visual field normally and another part in an elongated way. 
So all is well. Right? 
Style and not a medical condition. 
Style and not Substance. 
Ah, but now 2014 comes around and you find this fascinating article, entitled “The Fallacy of the El Greco Fallacy” 
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24577418/) see comments for abstract.
So now what do you think? 🙂

(The Burial of Count Orgaz
Domenikos Theotokopoukos  (El Greco)
1586
Iglesias di Santo Tome’

Toledo Spain)

ANCIENT MODERNITY: The Extraordinary Realism of the Fayum Portraits




ANCIENT MODERNITY:
The Extraordinary Realism of the Fayum Portraits 

Realism. That is the genre we usually associate with Corot and Courbet and Millet in the 19th century. But go back 19 centuries (!), yes 19 centuries, and you will find among  the first examples in history of Realism, in the extraordinary depictions of Roman Egyptians, the Fayum portraits, crafted in the first century CE.
These remarkably well-preserved paintings have survived for almost two millennia in the dry heat of the Fayum, a region southwest of Cairo. 

The portraits, about a thousand of which have been discovered, are extraordinary, and extraordinarily real. It is as if we are reaching back via a time machine almost two millennia and the subjects depicted in them are right in our living rooms saying hello. Shortly after these portraits and after Pompeii in central Italy (79 CE), the technique died away,  until Tiziano (Titian) and Rembrandt revived it in the 17th century.
The portraits portray a people who accepted Roman rule, Greek culture and Egyptian religion. ''What form could better exemplify this complex ethnicity than the combination of Greco-Roman clothings, hairstyles and jewelry, with the quintessentially Egyptian funerary practice of mummification?'' asked Roger S. Bagnall, a professor of classics and history at Columbia University. 

The two techniques used in these portraits were brought to Egypt by the Greeks: tempera, in which pigments are mixed with egg white; and encaustic, in which pigments are mixed with beeswax, presaging oil painting.The wood used for the portraits, lime and oak, was imported from Greece. 
The portraits had a religious and funerary function even though they look just as they should look if the sitter had asked for their portrait to be painted. 

Whenever we self-servingly think that we are more advanced than the ancients, that we are more “civilized” than they, that we are in some myopically egosyntonic way superior to them, we need only to look at these astonishing portraits and realize that very little is new under the sun.

“Nihil novi sub sole”

Vita brevis
Ars longa


Vincent DeLuise MD
@ 2019

Saturday, January 26, 2019

CHI RHO: THE FRACTALIC LIFE OF THE BOOK OF KELLS



CHI RHO:
THE FRACTALIC LIFE OF THE BOOK OF KELLS

Gaze upon any page in the 9th century illuminated manuscript, the Book of Kells, and you will be mesmerized and amazed. 
One of the most remarkable of pages is the Chi Rho page, the page that has the letters Chi, Rho and Iota depicted in such a sublime and lyrical manner.
The letters form one of the earliest forms of a christogram, a superimposition of the first three letters—Chi, Rho and Iota (ΧΡI) - of the Greek word ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ (Christos). 
What is even more astonishing about the Chi Rho page, is that the letters are not only abstractions, but are at the same time representational. Their size and position, their serifs and flourishes, create a textual understanding of the story they tell. 
There is also a lovely recursion in the letters. The Chi, Rho and Iota are seen not only as separate letters, but withIn the Chi letter itself, the Rho and the Iota can be seen as well.
This self-generating recursion (repetition) is a fractal.
Here is where things become miraculous. Between the letters and the filling of the page is a boundless infinitude of smaller and smaller designs, eventually so small that the eye can no longer discern their form. In this way, they are fractals, like the infinitely morphing ends of snowflakes and clouds, lightning and crystals, blood vessels and neurons. 
Self-regenerating. Fractalic. 
Life.