Monday, May 30, 2016

Not Quite Bedhead, But…

Yesterday I woke up with a terrible case of “bedhead.” My hair seriously looked like it used to in the late 80s when I purposely got it to look that way with a can of Aquanet. That got me to thinking about the many busted hairdos of history that I’ve seen in works of art. Let’s subtitle this week’s posting “tidbits of fashion history—hairdos.”

Ancient Egypt, Head from a Female Sphinx, ca. 1876–1842 BCE. Schist, 15 5/16" x 13 1/8" x 13 15/16" (38.9 x 33.3 x 35.4 cm). © Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-1147)
I know that the Egyptians shaved their heads because of the heat and wore wigs on special occasions. Although, I think a buzzed head is cooler than a wig. Just my opinion. What’s interesting about this beautiful sculpture is that this artist chose to make sure no one would wonder if this was a wig an Egyptian woman would wear on this semi-divine creature. Sphinxes were traditionally lion bodies with a human, often female head. This one seems like a portrait. Her wig reminds me of how big my mother’s hair used to be in the mid-1970s.

Ancient Rome, Portrait Head of a Woman, 100–125 CE. Marble, height: 13 3/4" (35 cm). © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (MFAB-552)
This hairdo appears on many portraits of wealthy Roman women during the Trajan-Hadrian era on ancient Rome (ca. 98–138 CE). For such an idealized face on this woman, the artists certainly took pains to reproduce her curls. I can’t even imagine how much work this look took every morning, or, perhaps, this style was reserved for special occasions. Flavian hairstyles such as this were achieved with padding and artificial curls to create height. The writer Juvenal (60–130 CE) commented that Roman women looked tall from the front but short from behind. 

Pakistan, Bust of a Bodhisattva, 100s–300s CE. Gray schist, 28 3/8" x 19 3/4" x 8 1/4" (72.073 x 50.17 x 20.95 cm). © Dallas Museum of Art. (DMA-20)
After Alexander the Great died in 323 BCE, his conquests of Asia disintegrated into numerous contentious petty kingdoms run by his erstwhile generals. The Romans took over Alexander’s conquests eventually, establishing trade with China via the Silk Road that ran north of India/Pakistan. Indian artists were exposed to Greco-Roman sculpture that influenced some of the (thought-to-be) earliest images of the Buddha with decidedly Greek influence. I’m fascinated by this artist’s interpretation of Greek curls. I’m wondering if it was under the influence of Greek sculpture that the “ushnisha” (or “topknot”) came about in depictions of the Buddha, since it was never mentioned in accounts of his physical appearance. The ushnisha came to be a symbol of Buddha’s reliance on the spirit.

Rogier van der Weyden (1399/1400–1464, Flanders). Madonna and Child, ca. 1454–1464. Oil on wood, 12 9/16" x 9" (32 x 23 cm). © Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. (MFH-10)
Even though religion usually focuses on the life of the spirit, it’s amazing the visual symbols artists had to resort to in order to put a point across when realism was a concern. Rogier van der Weyden was one of the masters of the Northern Renaissance, where artists were the first in Europe to prefer oil paint to tempera. What’s compelling in his depictions of the Madonna is representing the medieval idea that a high forehead indicated wisdom. Apparently, some women at the time shaved their hairline back to look more “thoughty.”  I doubt such a trend would catch on nowadays.

Rogier van der Weyden (1399/1400–1464, Flanders), Portrait of Jean Gros, left wing of a diptych, 1460–1464. Oil on panel, 15 1/8" x 11 3/8" (38.5 x 28.8 cm). © Art Institute of Chicago. (AIC-389)
And, yes, at the same time, boy bangs were really popular. 

Nicholas Hilliard (ca. 1547–1619, Britain), Portrait Miniature of a Woman, ca. 1590–1595. Watercolor on vellum, 2" x 1 5/8" (5 x 4.3 cm). © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (MFAB-1165)
Queen Elizabeth I (died 1603) of England suffered from smallpox when she was 29. Not only did it damage her skin to the point where she supposedly used makeup of lead mixed with egg white, she also suffered hair loss. She wore wigs of curls exposing a high forehead (no longer, I guess, a sign of wisdom?). Needless to say, the women of her court imitated the fashion, because she was a much beloved ruler.

Jean-Jacques Caffieri (?) (1752–1792, France), Bust of the Sculptor Corneille van Cleve (1646–1732). Marble, height: 27 1/2" (70 cm). © Cleveland Museum of Art. (CM-361)
Since the 1500s, long hair for men was fashionable. The French powerhouse King Louis XIV (1638–1715) always prized his flowing locks. Unfortunately, starting in 1655, he began losing his mane. Thus was begun a fashion of wigs for men that endured until the late 1700s in Europe, as courtiers adopted wigs to soothe the ruler’s ego. Louis is reported to have hired 48 wig makers for his personal collection. This portrait of the sculptor Corneille van Cleve shows one of the most glamorous styles of men’s wigs. Is this where the term “bigwig” originated?

Joshua Johnson (ca. 1765–1830, US), Portrait of Edward Aisquith, ca. 1810. Oil on canvas, 22 1/2" x 18 3/8" (57.2 x 46.7 cm). © Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-2763)
During the height of fervor for classicism in the West (ca. 1780s to 1810s), all sorts of fashions were inspired by “antique” dress, including hairdos. Men’s hair was brushed forward to imitate the forehead curls of such ancient greats as Julius Caesar (100–45 BCE). In France the style was called “coups de vent,” literally “blows of the wind,” because, we all know such glamour is achieved merely by walking outdoors on a windy day. Nowadays, a look like this might be mistaken for a combover?

Gosotei Toyokuni II (1777–1835, Japan), Bust Portrait of a Courtesan, late 1820s. Color woodcut print on paper, 14 3/8" x 9 1/2" (36.5 x 24.2 cm). © Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-2741) 
Kitagawa Utamaro (1753–1806), Shinowara of the Tsuruya House. Color woodcut print on paper, 14 15/16" x 9 13/16" (38 x 25 cm). © Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-942)

During the Edo Period (1615–1868) in Japan, the Ukiyo-e prints chronicled the latest fashions as worn by famous beauties in the entertainment districts of Japanese cities such as Tokyo (Edo) and Osaka. What started in the 1700s as understated elegance in hairpins shown in the work of artists such as Suzuki Harunobu (1725–1770) and Kitagawa Utamaro (1753–1806), by the late Edo period became gaudy and overdone. Note the stunning poise of Gosotei’s model with the weighty hairpins. I especially appreciate the “X” framing her face with the delicately penciled in eyebrow situation. Gosotei was the most prolific and most copied artist of actor and beauty prints from Osaka. 

Paul Delaroche (1797–1856, France), Portrait of Madame de Therville, ca. 1830. Pastel and chalk on paper, 8 5/8" x 8 1/4" (22 x 21 cm). © Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. (MFH-350)
What succeeded the Neoclassical period was Romanticism. One would think that people would prefer the simple hairstyles of antiquity. But no, hair gradually grew in scale from the 1820s until it reached ridiculous complexity in the 1830s. Notice any similarity to the Flavian woman from Ancient Rome above (well, except for the dour look on this woman’s face)? These styles were often festooned with ribbons and flowers for really special occasions. Again puffs and pads helped achieve these up dos.

Papua New Guinea, Malagan mask, late 1800s. Wood, paint, opercula shells, lime plaster, plant fiber, rattan, 15 1/4" x 9 1/2" x 12" (38.7 x 24.1 x 30.5 cm). © Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. (MFH-614)
The Malagan was a ceremony to honor a deceased person or spirits of deceased ancestors. “Malagan” refers to both the ceremonies that occur after burial, and the masks, figures, and posts made for us in them. This mask used for the Malagan is called “tatanua” after the dance for which it is used. The mask is danced in pairs or in groups of dancers. The spirit of the deceased was traditionally thought to enter the mask. It is possible that such masks were “portraits” (stylized) of the ideal male. They were meant to honor the deceased, ward of malevolent intentions, and sever the deceased from possessions in the physical world. The feather part of the mask imitates the hairstyle worn by young men for Malagan ceremonies, in which the head was partly shaved and the hair stiffened with lime (healthier than Aquanet?). Learn more in my post from April 21st

Sylvia Sleigh (1916–2010, US born Wales), Annunciation: Paul Rosano, 1975. Oil on canvas, 90 3/16" x 51 15/16" (229 x 132 cm). Photo courtesy of the late artist. © 2016 Estate of Sylvia Sleigh. (8S-18364)
Yes, this hairdo has made a comeback in the 2010s. I love the work of Sylvia Sleigh because she turned the tradition of the “nude” on its head during the Feminist Art Movement of the 1970s. Before that time, the word “nude” in art was almost always associated with a female model. Sleigh went one better with her male models—rather than idealizing the nude as was traditional—by delineating every hair on their bodies, if you know what I mean. 

Alex Katz (born 1927, US), Red Tie, 1979. Oil on canvas, 71 13/16" x 96 1/8" (182.5 x 244.2 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2016 Alex Katz / Licensed by VAGA, New York. (MOMA-P1643kzvg)
Anyone who lived through the 1970s can appreciate the unique sophistication and elegance of men’s fashions from that period. All I can say about this painting is that at least they don’t have lumberjack beards and man buns.

KC, 1986
Speaking of glamour, poise, and sophistication, this is what the well-groomed art historian with an MA did with his hairdo in the mid-1980s. And yes, I did go to work on the subway in Chicago everyday looking like this!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Contemporary Bamboo

Nagakura Kenichi (born 1952), Curve, 2001. Bamboo (madake), 10" x 10" x 9" (25.4 x 25.4 x 22.9 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art. © 2016 Nagakura Kenichi. (PMA-6743)

Bamboo (“take” or “dake” in Japanese), the fastest-growing woody plant on Earth, has been a cultural underpinning in Japan since forever. It has been used there to make everything from cups and tea whisks, to timbers for the roofs of houses. Bamboo sprouts (“dakenoko”) have also been used in cooking. It is variously a symbol of strength, because of its sturdiness, and also purity and innocence, because it is simple and unadorned. There were a lot more master bamboo artists in the past, but plastic has overtaken bamboo in the department of utilitarian arts. Nonetheless, there are estimated to be about 100 master bamboo artists, and we were lucky enough to get some of their gorgeous works for our digital image collection from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. These works are proof that the art form is definitely alive and well! In the past, some bamboo master artists have been named National Treasures in Japan.

Bamboo grows all over Japan because of the humid, warm climate. There are roughly 1000 recorded species of the plant. Some bamboo species are amazingly fast growing, some as fast as 47 5/8" (121 cm) a day! That seems amazing, but it must account for the fact why bamboo is so relied upon in Japan as a lumber stock.

Bamboo is often included in arrangements with pine boughs at New Year because of its auspicious nature. Pine stands for longevity and endurance, while bamboo is strength and flexibility. Along with plum branches (representing a young spirit), they symbolize the cardinal qualities of long life, hardiness and vitality.

The artists represented here have created objects, both utilitarian and sculpture, of amazing grace and complexity, showing the versatility of bamboo. As is evident with these artworks, the most common way to use bamboo in Japan is to split it into strips to use in basket arts. It is quite literally a “green” art form, because bamboo is a sustainable crop. How wonderful that such a venerable, ancient art form can come into the 21st century in exciting new forms.

Some of the bamboos seen here are:
  • Madake, timber bamboo—the most common type
  • Nemagari, a short, mounting form common in Nagano Prefecture (sasa senanensis)
  • Menyadake, a form in which three branches grow out of each node on the main stalk
  • Susudake, the most prized, smoked bamboo 100 years or older taken from old roof timbers, usually from the late Edo Period (1615–1868)

Honma Hideaki (born 1959), Graceful Figure, 1997. Bamboo (menyadake and nemagaridake), 30" x 15" x 10" (76.2 × 38.1 × 25.4 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art. © 2016 Honma Hideaki. (PMA-6727)

Morigami Jin (born 1955), Untitled, 2001. Bamboo (madake) and rattan, 18" x 10 1/2" x 14" (45.7 x 26.7 x 35.6 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art. © 2016 Morigami Jin. (PMA-6740)

Mimura Chikuho (born 1973), Cloud on the Peak, 2005. Bamboo (madake), 7 1/2" x 17" (19.1 x 43.2 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art. © 2016 Mimura Chikuho. (PMA-6738)

Kawashima Shigeo (born 1958), Cosmic Ring II, 2002. Bamboo (madake) and cotton thread, 16" x 16 1/2" x 7 1/2" (40.6 × 41.9 × 19.1 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art. © 2016 Kawashima Shigeo. (PMA-6732)

Nakatomi Hajime (born 1974), Fragrant Wind II, 2003. Bamboo (madake) and rattan, 14" x 8 1/2" (35.6 x 21.6 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art. © 2016 Nakatomi Hajime. (PMA-6745)

Honda Syōryū  (born 1951), Dance, 2001. Bamboo (madake) and rattan, 11 3/4" x 14" x 11 1/2" (29.8 x 35.6 x 29.2 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art. © 2016 Honda Syōryū. (PMA-6725)

Kosuge Hōunsai Kōgetsu (born 1932), Hanging flower basket with comb pattern (“kushime”), 2005. Bamboo (Susudake, sadodake and nemagaridake) and rattan, 9 1/2" x 5" x 3 1/2" (24.1 x 12.7 x 8.9 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art. © 2016 Kosuge Hōunsai Kōgetsu. (PMA-6736)

Correlations to Davis Programs:  Explorations in Art Grade 4: 6.35; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 4.studio23-24, 5.25; A Personal Journey: 3.1, 3.4, 3.5; A Community Connection: 3.2, 5.2; A Global Pursuit: 7.5; Beginning Sculpture: 6; Exploring Visual Design: 6, 11; The Visual Experience: 7.2, 10.2, 12.4, 13.5, 16.8; Discovering Art History: 2.2, 4.4

Monday, May 16, 2016

Hand Gestures in Art

A couple of days ago while I was crossing the street—with the walk light on—some dope decided he didn’t want to wait for a green light and drove through the red, across my path, not three feet in front of me. As he passed me he gave me a certain hand gesture, why I don’t know. I thought, “Geez, and I had the walk light!” Well, the hand gesture was a definite negative. And you know what this art historian does with a negative? He turns it into a positive art history story!

Ever since I first studied Asian art in college, I’ve been fascinated by the hand gestures carved or painted on images of Buddha or bodhisattvas. This tradition goes way back to the very first known carved images of the Buddha from northern India/Pakistan. This is an early example of the abhaya mudrâ. 

Pakistan, Buddha Sakyamuni, from Peshawar, Gandhara, ca. 150–200 CE. Schist, height: 47 1/8" (119.7 cm). © Cleveland Museum of Art. (CL-206)

Representations of the Buddha and bodhisattvas are almost always shown with their hands making certain gestures. These gestures have been ritualized and stylized down through the history of Buddhist art. These stylized gestures have symbolic meaning relating to the Buddha’s ministry, and are known as Mudrâs. Mudrâ comes from the Sanskrit root mud, which means “to delight in.” They are a traditional part of classic Indian dance, Yoga, and spiritual practices. Representations of some aspects of the Buddha require a certain mudrâ, and some require specific objects to be held.

Harina and Avakasha mudras
The harina, or “lion gesture,” is always shown on the right hand. It is meant to symbolize peace and protection. The avakasha is a left hand gesture of leisure. Bodhisattvas are generally saints, people who have achieved enlightenment but forsake Nirvana to remain with humans to help them find their way. Arhats are considered “perfected people” who have found Nirvana.

Korea, Amithaba with Six Bodhisattvas and Two Arhats, 1700s. Ink and colors on silk, 31 7/8" x 35 3/8" (81 x 90 cm). © Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-656)

Cincihna, the “gesture of understanding,” is a right-handed gesture. It symbolizes understanding in the sense of spiritual understanding. Guanyin is one of the most popular of the bodhisattvas. He is considered the bodhisattva of compassion. In this sculpture, he sits in the “position of royal ease.”

China, Bodhisattva Guanyin, 1279–1368. Wood, height: 50 3/8" (128 cm). © Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-1890)

Bhumisparsha and avakasha
Bhumisparsha, always the right hand, is the “gesture of witness.” It pertains to the time when Mara—the demon, or, symbolically the sum of blind passions in humans that keeps them from enlightenment—tried to obstruct Buddha from obtaining enlightenment while he was meditating under the Pippala tree. He basically threw obstructions and temptations at the Buddha, finally challenging him to provide proof of his virtues. Buddha touch the ground and the goddess of the Earth gave witness to his virtues. The leisure gesture shows how unperturbed the Buddha was with Mara’s machinations.

Myanmar, Seated Buddha, 1700s–1800s. Bronze, 15 3/4" x 6 1/2" x 5 1/4" (40 x 16.5 x 13.3 cm). © Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-6655)

This is the “gesture of meditation,” sometimes called Samadhi or Yoga mudrâ. It is commonly used for images of the Buddha Sakyamuni (“sage of the Sakyas”, Buddha’s clan), Buddha Amitabha (the Buddha of “Infinite Life,” connected with Pure Land Buddhism), and Medicine Buddha (fully enlightened human, healer of outer and inner sickness). Kannon is the Japanese translation of Guanyin. In depictions of Guanyin, the meditation gesture emphasizes his capacity to help humans achieve enlightenment through perfected meditation.

Kanō Motonobu (1476–1559, Japan), Bodhisattva of Compassion (Kannon/Guanyin). Ink, color and gold leaf on silk, hanging scroll, 61 7/8" x 30" (57.2 x 76.4 cm). © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (MFAB-783)

This is one of the oldest mudrâs seen in depictions of the Buddha. It is commonly associated as a “gesture of blessing,” “gesture of fearlessness,” or “gesture of protection.” It is sometimes depicted as a left-handed gesture. My professor in college said it literally indicates the Buddha expressing the idea of “have no fear.”

China, Seated Bodhisattva, ca. 530 CE. Limestone, 77 3/8" x 35 7/16" x 18 1/8" (196.5 x 90 x 46 cm). © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (MFAB-625)

This is probably the most common gesture in Christian Western art. It is primarily associated with images of Jesus in his capacity to bless/forgive/sanctify.

Hans Memling (ca. 1430/1433–1494, born Germany, active Flanders), Christ Blessing, 1481. Oil on panel, 13 13/16" x 9 7/8" (35.1 x 25.1 cm). © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (MFAB-258)

Correlations to Davis programs: Explorations in Art Grade 4” 2.studio7-8; Explorations in Art Grade 5: 5.29, 5.30; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 5.Connections; A Personal Journey: 4.4; A Community Connection: 1.1, 3.2; A Global Pursuit: 3.5, 4.5, 7.5; Discovering Art History: 4

Monday, May 9, 2016

A Different Way to Look at Rainy May Days

Most of May’s weather has been pretty cold and rainy so far, so I thought I’d look at art (which I do every day anyway) to take my mind off of it. Of course, a title including “May Rain” caught my eye, and got me contemplating yet another one of those fascinating dichotomies in art history: dueling philosophies. This one involves the Japanese print movements that arose after the Ukiyo-e style had more or less run its course during the Meiji period (1868–1912).  The Westernization of Japan after it was “opened” by the US and Britain in the mid-1800s really helped to make Ukiyo-e subject matter and style seem rather passé. It did not help that the official Japanese “academies” considered woodblock prints a “minor” art form compared to painting. An effort by groups of artists in the early 1900s to resurrect the spirit of Ukiyo-e resulted in the “shin hanga” (new print, the Kawase and Tsuchiya) and “sosaku hanga” (creative print, the Onchi and Azechi) movements.
Kawase Hasui (1883–1957), May Rain at Sanno, From the series “Twelve Subjects of Tokyo”, ca. 1920s. Color woodblock print onpaper, 11 3/8" x 10 3/8" (28.8 x 26.3 cm). © Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-2823)

Onchi Kōshirō (1891–1955), Tokyo Station, from the series “Scenes of Lost Tokyo,” 1931, reprinted 1946. Color woodblock print on paper, 10 1/4" x 7 7/8" (26 x 20 cm). © Worcester Art Museum. (WAM-528)

Just a little comparison with the Shin hanga print above (Kawase) and a classic Hiroshige depiction of rain. I love the vibrant colors of the classic Ukiyo-e, but the Kawase has such wonderful softly contoured forms. I can’t decide which I like better!

Utagawa Hiroshige I (1797–1858), The Fudo Waterfall at Oji, #47 from the series “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo”, ca. 1857. Color woodblock print on paper, 14 3/16" x 9 7/16" (36 x 24 cm). © Worcester Art Museum. (WAM-194)
The art form of the multiple-block woodcut print flourished in Japan during the Edo Period (1615–1868). It is primarily known in the West in the Ukiyo-e style, prints that showed city life and familiar landscapes as representations of the transient physical world. The style persisted briefly after the Edo Period, particularly in landscape and cityscape prints.

Shin hanga and sosaku hanga had their origins in Japan as a reaction to the rapid industrialization of the country after its “opening” to Western powers. At the turn of the 1900s, there was a great debate in Japan in artistic and literary circles about traditions in Japanese art.  This was in part influenced by the Japanese exposure to European modernism: many Japanese artists travelled to Europe during the 1890s. Another factor was the reaction by young artists during the first decade of the 1900s to stifling cultural strictures and the establishment in 1907 of the Japan Fine Arts Academy, which looked upon printmaking as a “minor art.” 

Artists of these print movements were committed to rejuvenating the spirit of the Ukiyo-e genre of woodblock printing in all its aspects. The artists of the shin hanga movement, which flourished between 1915 and 1947, emphasized the traditional hierarchy of artist, woodblock carver, and publisher as separate entities in the process of producing prints. This was in contrast to the sosaku hanga (creative print) artists who made sketches, drew the design, cut the woodblock and printed it themselves. Sosaku hanga evolved as an idea in the 1890s, and is sometimes assigned the “starting date” of 1904 with publication of creative prints in Myojo magazine. Sosaku hanga as a genre flourishes to the present day and the is sometimes referred to as “New Hanga.”

Both print movements reflected Western influence in style. Ironically, both shin hanga and sosaku hanga prints had more appeal abroad than in Japan.
Tsuchiya Kōitsu (1870–1949), Rain in Ginza, from The series “Tokyo Views,” 1933. Color woodblock print on paper, 12 15/16" x 17 3/8" (32.9 x 44 cm). Worcester Art Museum. (WAM-531)

Azechi Umetaro (1902–1999), Sunlit Plateau, 1940. Color woodblock print on paper, 15 1/2" x 10 13/16" (39.5 x 27.5 cm). © Worcester Art Museum. (WAM-669)

Correlations to Davis programs:  Explorations in Art Grade 1: 4.21; Explorations in Art Grade 2: 1.studio5-6; Explorations in Art Grade 4: 1.studio3-4, 1.MeetAndoHiroshige; Explorations in Art Grade 6: 2.7, 2.8; A Community Connection: 4.5, 8.2; A Global Pursuit 7.5; Experience Printmaking: 3, 4; Exploring Visual Design: 5; The Visual Experience: 3.5, 9.4, 13.5; Discovering Art History: 2.2, 4.4