Sunday, October 4, 2015

Cats in Art: Portrait of Don Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuniga (Lucientes)

From my continuing weekly Sunday series of cats in art. I am using some ideas from the coffee table book, The Cat in Art, by Stefano Zuffi.  

Image credit Metropolitan Museum of ArtPortrait of Don Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuniga, Francisco Goya Y Lucientes, 1788, oil on canvas, 50" x 40", held by Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Zuffi's comments:

The cat in the left--a female, judging by the three colored coat--has eyes that glitter with yearning.  The tabby on the right is more muted, while the black one in the background is almost invisible, except for the two yellow "lamps" focused on its prey.  It is difficult to arrive at a definitive interpretation of Goya;s famous painting, which is thick with symbolic and even Christological hints.  What is certain is that in the artist's incisive work, dense with meaning, the cat always has negative connotations, linked to evil and the demonic.

I personally think Zuffi has dropped the ball on this one.  While I almost always find his analysis to be spot on, in this case, it's like he has just phoned it in, saying, "The cat is evil, as usual."  And I find the magpie's trust to be fascinating--I mean, there are three kitties right over there, and the bird seems totally unconcerned.  Maybe the takeaway is that trust can be found in some strange, unexpected places.

I also found the museum's website to contain some interesting information.  First off, their quick analysis:

The sitter is the son of the Count and Countess of Altamira. Outfitted in a splendid red costume, he is shown playing with a pet magpie (which holds the painter's calling card in its beak), a cage full of finches, and three wide-eyed cats. In Christian art birds frequently symbolize the soul, and in Baroque art caged birds are symbolic of innocence. Goya may have intended this portrait as an illustration of the frail boundaries that separate the child's world from the forces of evil or as a commentary on the fleeting nature of innocence and youth.

But what I really found interesting was the fact that this image is currently not on display. Not on display? WTF???

They must have plenty of art in their vaults to have the luxury of keeping this one under wraps.  One can only hope that they trot it out real soon.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Latest Shooting

The bride and I have been aways this week, and I was totally unable to work my iPad to do some posts from the road.  Thus Mister Tristan (the blog, not the 7 year old human being) has been dark for the better part of a week.

I found some commentary on the campus shooting in Oregon that I will share, as these snippets capture pretty well my thoughts:

From Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo:
I'm embarrassed to say I get more numb to these shooting tragedies and I think it is because at this point we know with a moral certainty that absolutely nothing will be done to keep guns out of the hands of the rageful, narcissistic, delusional or psychopathic individuals who commit these atrocities. 
As a society, we've made our choice. 
I send my prayers and best wishes to the victims and their loved ones.

From Shakespeare's Sister:

I am already dreading the inevitable "this is not the time for politics" silencing of anyone who quite understandably argues in the wake of another school shooting for stricter gun laws. I am already dreading the inevitable othering of the shooter, trying to cast him as crazy and existing in some kind of vacuum outside the rest of the culture. I am already dreading politicians offering their prayers, instead of any meaningful legislation to prevent more school shootings, which have become so routine they hardly have the capacity to shock any of us anymore, even if we are angered and saddened beyond words.

It’s hurricane season and all along the east coast residents are girding themselves for major weather. Every once in a while a major storm makes landfall and property is destroyed and lives are lost. One hopes that doesn’t happen this year. But natural disasters are a fact of life people just learn to live with. Tornadoes, earthquakes and tsunamis, major floods and fires are considered to be acts of God and while we try to mitigate the damage everyone knows that we cannot stop them.  It’s just the way it is.
In America, gun violence is just another natural disaster. Like an earthquake for which you can never really be prepared, most people have come to see a mass killing like that which happened in Oregon yesterday as being unpreventable. We might as well try to stop the sun from coming up in the morning. All we can do is try to comfort the survivors and help people cope with the aftermath. On any given day we could personally be the victims of gun violence or turn on our TVs and computers and witness some kind of mass shooting, horrifying domestic dispute that ends in carnage, accidents or criminal activity. And that’s normal.

To the rest of the world, this is simply insane. Elsewhere they treat gun violence like a public health threat and limit the public’s exposure to it through strict gun regulation. Different cultures have slightly different approaches but there is no other developed country in the world that treats gun violence as if it were a simple fact of life they must live with.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Cats in Art: The Idle Servant (Maes)

From my continuing weekly Sunday series of cats in art. I am using some ideas from the coffee table book, The Cat in Art, by Stefano Zuffi.  This is the second week in a row that I'll feature the work of Nicolas Maes, with yet another bad kitty misbehaving.

Image credit Web Gallery of Art, The Idle Servant, Nicolas Maes, 1655, oil on panel, 28" x 21", held by National Gallery, London.

And a close up of the infamous idle servant, plus the bonus kitty:

Again, a misbehaving kitty taking advantage of a human lapse.  Looks like the cat is going to make off with a small chicken or piece of meat.  The mistress or head servant seems rather unconcerned, even bemused, by the dozing young lady, despite the mess on the floor that needs cleaned yup.  The boss might not be so complacent if she saw the kitty's evil deed in progress somewhat behind her.

As we saw last week, Maes--a student of Rembrandt--uses diffuse light to focus our attention on the primary elements of the scene, letting the background recede into darkness.

The Web Gallery of Art site offers this analysis, which kinda leaps out at you once you read it:

Maes's personal contribution is the emphasis he places upon creating the illusion of interior space in which the scene is set. Here the stress on the expanse of the floor is not fully successful - the pots and dishes are dangerously close to sliding off it.
Once you read that, the floor definitely seems slanted and the dishes look about to tumble onto the viewer's lap!  But at least the cat seems stable on the cupboard.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Appalachian Trail Maintenance...and Ultrarunning

Well, I've reached a life goal that I've had for many years: I am now officially a maintainer of a piece of the Appalachian Trail!!

I've been a volunteer with my local trail maintenance organization--the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC)--for a few years now, but to this point my responsibilities have been for the Reese Hollow Trail and Shelter, which feeds to the area's other long-distance trail, the Tuscarora Trail.

So now I've added another task, that of being co-overseer for the 4+ mile section of the AT that heads south from Pine Grove Furnace State Park in southern PA.  The existing co-overseer, Dan, and I did a walk-thru yesterday with a bit of weed lopping and shelter clean up (overseeing the Tom's Run Shelter is also part of the job).

I've run this section of the trail many times, but seeing it at a walk is a bit different, especially when one's eye is focused upon the work that may need doing, rather than foot placement to keep from face-planting.

[Image credits Gary]

Perhaps 1/4 mile away from the AT through this stretch is the site of a former POW camp used in WWII.  Nothing remains but foundations, but this is just another example of the kinds of cool history one can find along the AT:

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Cats in Art: Old Woman Praying (Maes)

From my continuing weekly Sunday series of cats in art. I am using some ideas from the coffee table book, The Cat in Art, by Stefano Zuffi.  

Unremembered by me until I searched through my Cats in Art archives, I have previously posted twice on the work of Nicolas Maes, here and here.  The former work, Woman Plucking a Duck, is one that the bride and I actually saw in 2012 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  

Today's image, by the same artist, Old Woman Praying, is in that same genre:

Image credit here, Old Woman Praying, Nicolas Maes, 1655, oil on canvas, 52" x 44", held by Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Zuffi's analysis:

This justly famous canvas is considered to be Maes' masterpiece, and one of the most moving paintings of 17th century Dutch art.  Maes was a a gifted and original pupil of Rembrandt.  The modest yet neat simplicity of the table, and the woman's sincere religious ecstasy create an image of exemplary value.  But the painting contains a surprise, which may elude viewers who are concentrating on the protagonist's intense devotion: a large cat peers out from the lower far right of the canvas, tugging at the tablecloth with its claws.  While the woman is saying her silent evening prayer, the greedy, predatory spirit of the hungry cat makes its appearance.

Which brings us to the close-up (of course!) of that busy kitty down in the right corner:

That is a very bad cat, who not only ignores the act of prayer but attempts to swipe food.  Cats have a way of introducing disorder and chaos into an otherwise orderly situation.  And they don't care.  They don't care.  They're cats.  That's what they do.

As another aside, I may have also seen this work with my own eyes, for the bride and I were at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam last fall.  As we roamed the halls we were deliberately keeping our eyes peeled for, well, cats in art, to use here at Mister Tristan (the blog, not the 7-year old human being).  But if we saw this painting--we simply cannot recall now--we obviously missed the bad kitty in the corner.

Gary note: With my Cats in Arts posts, I encourage you to scope out the art appreciation site Artsy (I have no financial interest in the site, I just like it), where you can explore many aspects of the world of art.  You'll certainly be entertained and enlightened!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Bopping Around in my Minivan

The other day when I was driving my Sienna minivan--that some would call the essence of suburbia--the Who came on the Classic Vinyl channel of my Sirius XM radio, singing We Won't Get Fooled Again (link is here if the embed doesn't play):

I immediately did some cranking: cranked down the window, cranked up the air conditioning (it was 85 F outside), and cranked up the volume to DEAFENING.  Oh, and sang at the top of my lungs.

Passing motorists must have thought I was nuts.  Perhaps I am.

Then I thought about what other classic tunes I would do the same for.  One that immediately came to mind was this gem from Steppenwolf (again, link here if the embed playeth not):

As above, the routine is to crank thusly:

--Window: DOWN
--Air conditioning: UP
--Singing: WITH ALL I HAVE

With the presidential primary circus ongoing, my confidence in the political system coming up with a leader who truly puts the people first rather than "the establishment" is pretty much nil.

So, heed the words of The Who above:

There's nothing in the streets 
Looks any different to me 
And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye 
And the parting on the left 
Are now parting on the right 
And the beards have all grown longer overnight 
I'll tip my hat to the new constitution 
Take a bow for the new revolution 
Smile and grin at the change all around 
Pick up my guitar and play 
Just like yesterday 
Then I'll get on my knees and pray 
We don't get fooled again 
Don't get fooled again 
No, no!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Cats in Art: 15th Massachusetts Monument at Antietam

From my continuing weekly Sunday series of cats in art. I am using some ideas from the coffee table book, The Cat in Art, by Stefano Zuffi. In this case I am departing widely from the book and using some real-life stuff from near my home.

The bride and I were traveling on MD Route 65 past nearby Antietam National Battlefield the other day, and we passed this monument.  Unfortunately, we were on a schedule and could not pause to take photos.

But...part of the Google Machine is Google Images, where it was but a few seconds' work to obtain some photos of this monument and to identify it as belonging to the 15th Massachusetts Infantry:

Image credit The History Tourist, here.  

The 15th MA got pretty much wrecked in the battle; the site lists casualty information for the regiment as follows (I did not independently corroborate these data):

The 15th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry had the highest casualty rate of any Union regiment.  Of the 606 men in the regiment, 75 were killed and 255 wounded.  Another 43 later died of their wounds.   Dedicated in 1900, their granite monument is of a wounded lion and it stands where they were positioned the morning of the battle, where most of their casualties happened.  The monument is inscribed with the names those who were killed, and in the foundation is a roster of the entire regiment.

And from another site, a close-up image of the front of the lion:

Image credit John Banks, here

The lion is referred to as a "wounded lion"; I can't verify that, but want to observe that to me the first image seems to project defiance more than anything, while the second image emphasizes fierceness.  I obviously don't know the sculptor's intent without a bunch more research, but those are the immediate reactions I have to the lion from two different perspectives.

I really need to stand there in person and see how the sculpture affects me then.  As with any art, being there is waaaay different from viewing 2-dimensional images in a book or on a screen.

This was particular brought home to me the very first time I ever saw a van Gogh painting in person.  It was a seaside painting, and Vincent really slopped on the paint: it was literally 1/4" deep, an effect that you can never get from a photo of it.  Absolutely amazing!

Which brings me to one final point on art and art appreciation.  Diana, a representative of the web site Artsy, recently contacted me about adding a link to their page here on Mister Tristan (the blog, not the 7-year-old human being).  I have checked out Artsy and see that it is a valuable resource for anyone wanting to dig deeper into a particular art-related topic.  So I heartily endorse it here and am adding a link to my right-hand sidebar (note I have no financial interest or connection to Artsy, it's just a great site).

I'll let Diana explain their mission, with an example included:

We strive to make all of the world’s art accessible to anyone online. Our Vincent Van Gogh page, for example, provides visitors with Van Gogh's bio, over 70 of his works, exclusive articles, as well as up-to-date Van Gogh exhibition listings. The page even includes related artist and category tags, plus suggested contemporary artists, allowing viewers to continue exploring art beyond our Van Gogh page.

I’m contacting certain website and blog owners, and asking them to help us achieve our mission by adding a link to Artsy.   

So now you have another tool with which to better enjoy and understand your art.  Scope out Artsy, where I am certain you will be entertained and enlightened!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Cats on Quilts

In the foreground we see Ca Beere, who, like any self-respecting cat, simply cannot help from getting onto any new item left on the floor.  In this case, it's one of the bride's quilts:

Image credit Gary

In the background we see Amanda, who pretends she is not really with us.