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3 Rebels Born in July

Maerten Looten, by Rembrandt van Rijn
Marten Looten, 1632 by Rembrandt van Rijn



July is a month in art history that has produced some of the most idiosyncratic, passionate, sensitive and rebellious artists of all time. If you don't believe me, consider these names: Rembrandt, Artemisia Gentileschi (and her father Orazio), Camille Pissarro, Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, Edgar Degas, Salvator Rosa...all born in July. All rebellious in their own particular way. All brilliant. Let's explore a few of these great painters and find out why...




Marten Looten was a wealthy Dutch merchant from Leiden who commissioned this portrait. Although understated compared to some of his less formal portraiture, Rembrandt creates here a likeness that is painted with such sensitivity and depth that those penetrating eyes, tight lips, and thick hands convey a person who breathes through the paint. Normally Rembrandt loved using texture in his sitter's clothing to describe and identify their very soul, yet here the man appears very austere and formal in his body language, not letting us in except for that vulnerability in those eyes, something both the Dutch and Flemish were true masters of. Despite this Rembrandt conjures a tactile quality to this otherwise monochromatic palette. Note the way the folds of his cape drape snuggly over his shoulders. Rembrandt also scumbles a reddish tone on the lower half of the cape to suggest a worn, leathery texture over his very traditional Dutch garments. In his hand he holds a letter, another Dutch portrait convention, but here Rembrandt focuses on the face as the doorway to this man's inner world. Note also the heavy shadow atop of the portrait and the way the light falls on his face, an effect photographers and cinematographers would emulate centuries later for its quiet drama.









Artemisia Gentileschi - Giuditta decapita Oloferne - Google Art Project-Adjust
Judith and Holofernes, 1621 by Artemisia Gentileschi

It staggers the mind that some of the goriest paintings in history were painted by a woman, and at a time when women were barely even considered seriously as artists at all. Deeply influenced by Baroque painter Caravaggio, this very subject was first painted by Caravaggio only twenty years earlier but here Artemisia shows a very forceful Judith, cutting away methodically as if the head were a piece of mortadella. Holofernes is completely vulnerable in his drunken state here, with his blood dripping down the sheets, whereas in the Caravaggio version he is taken by complete surprise and despite his muscular body cannot stop the carnage. Artemisia's bitterness against men and her former lover is blatantly obvious here. Yet it also serves to illustrate the power of a biblical story told with the elements of passion, fiery light and colors, and the moral of excessive pride and overbearing militancy being punished...with another allegory of the Church conquering Protestantism. It is a painting rich in meaning and interpretation.






Alfons Mucha - 1896 - Summer
Summer, 1896 by Alfons Mucha

Czech painter of the Art Nouveau, Alfons Mucha was an incredibly versatile artist and illustrator known for his distinctive ornate, feminine style. What makes Mucha so appealing visually is the instinct he had for depicting women with such grace and natural composure that lacked formality. Note the choice of color palette here, contrasting warm and cool in a way that blends so naturally yet glows with warmth. Although this piece is more of an illustration it was still painted in oils. Mucha's whimsical sensibility here is really musical, and the overall impression this allegory conjures up of a warm summer afternoon with a beautiful woman personifying a season is both charming and apt. Despite the simplistic skin tones Mucha was as much a competent painter as any other artist, and wanted to be taken more seriously for his fine art but his advertising work became so popular during the late 1800's that he became an icon of an era that would foreshadow the consumerism of decades to come. Here, however, the innocence of his time is immortalized and improves, like a fine wine.

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There is nothing in all the world more beautiful or significant of the laws of the universe than the nude human body.
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Charles Louis Müller, A Standing Female Nude Leaning Against an Arch, ca.1864

Once again I decided to talk about some Old Master drawings and delve into the thinking behind how these drawings may have been created and the knowledge of the artist. In the above drawing by Müller, done in sanguine with white chalk highlights, the figure is drawn from a low view-point, with her body twisting toward her left side while resting on one knee. Note how Müller alternates the bent right leg with the bent left arm to create dynamic contrast. The right arm is also foreshortened and partially in shadow. Expressing power and femininity, this is a study that is Renaissance in spirit, even Mannerist, revealing the female nude as sculptural yet always graceful.







Anton Raphael Mengs, Seated male nude viewed from the back, 1755

One of several Academic nude studies by Mengs, this …

Guercino il Magnifico

Self-Portrait of the Artist holding a Palette, ca.1635


Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, known as Guercino was born on February 8, 1591 in Cento, a small city near Ferrara. He is one of the great masters of the Italian Baroque and poet of painters. Noted for his speed and efficiency, Guercino also worked in a number of mediums with equal passion whether ink, chalk, charcoal, or oils. His nickname, which means 'little cross-eyes' in Italian, derives in part from an apocryphal childhood accident where he supposedly awoke from a deep sleep as a child from a loud scream that caused his eyes to cross. Another story says something was thrown into his eyes. At any rate, he was self-taught as an artist from as early as nine years old and by his early teens was discovered by the eldest of the Carracci where he would spend some time at the Accademia Degli Incamminati before venturing out on his own. Despite his apparent 'handicap', his vision and talent would make him a giant that few…

Pompeo Batoni

Apollo and two Muses, 1719

Giant of the Rococo and early Neoclassicism, Pompeo Batoni was born on January 25, 1708 in Lucca, Italy. Immensely popular in his time, his name sadly is not commonly recognized today because like many Old Masters, his work is not defined by one or two singular masterpieces but by an oeuvre that is overall, incredible. Batoni is something of an anomaly in that he had the midas touch in every genre he worked in, whether portraiture, mythological, and biblical. He trained under a few painters, notably Sebastiano Conca yet he quickly fused his own style together by reinterpreting Classicism with his own vigor for dynamic posing, color and anatomy that he felt was lacking in many artists of the Rococo. His reputation as a portraitist in Rome was highly successful, particularly for many British patrons of the Grand Tour who had heard of Batoni by word of mouth and sought his genius.

In Apollo and two Muses above Batoni seems to conjure mythology and Classicism w…