BELLINI and MANTEGNA : FAMILY LIFE

having derives from another’s possession

Transformation, where true possession takes place,

Transformation, all transformations, man’s furnace,
crucible of patience,
I say all waiting is pure patience
If these words be spoken at the crossroads of space!
(The voice of the Karaw,  African praise poem)

ANDREA MANTEGNA, Presentazione di Gesù al Tempio, c. 1453, tempera su tela, egg tempera on linen, 77.1 x 94.4 cm  Gemäldegalerie – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
   © Gemäldegalerie – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

GIOVANNI BELLINI,  Presentazione di Gesù al Tempio, 1470, olio su tavola, oil on wood panel, 82 x 106 cm
Fondazione Querini Stampalia di Venezia   © Fondazione Querini Stampalia Onlus – Venezia

HAND OF THE FUTURE

by Rosanna Albertini

Pure patience in me had evaporated. It was early June and Venice was as hot as Africa. Yet I was cooking patience in my crucible as if my love for Venice were floating on the laguna, waiting to reach at least one place, one image calming my senses. Eventually I found two. Right now Venice is a theater for lost souls, a market of cheap, repetitive masks and glass beads to feed the savages, a park of shaggy grass surfaces, Chinese Cafes and bridges and floors trodden by a million feet. My self was an empty basket quickly filled with nausea from lack of space between humans, and disgust in front of German kids filling their mouth with water and spitting it brutally on the pigeons. The charming place where I had lived in the early 70s was gone.

“One participates in things (understands their language). In this condition understanding is not impersonal (objective), but extremely personal, like an agreement between subject and object. In this condition one really knows everything in advance, and the things merely confirm it. Knowing is reknowing.” ROBERT MUSIL

You have been here already, haven’t you, you know where to go, right?” I crossed the entire third floor of the Querini Stampalia palace, the art gallery, as fast as possible, attracted by a magnetic force toward two paintings, or the same painting made twice, the first by Andrea Mantegna, the second about twenty years after by his brother in law Giovanni Bellini. Noticing I was spellbound, the museum guard, an old Venetian, couldn’t wait to tell me the story.

 

PREMISE: The two versions of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple were painted when Venice was at the peak of its power and splendor: 1453 and 1470. Venice was the second biggest European city after Paris and the richest. Jacopo Bellini, Giovanni’s father and an artist himself, who was the head of the most interesting and successful “bottega” in Venice, will be my principal narrator. His slightly strabic, dark and piercing eyes, look at us from center of the paintings. He is a grumbling man, for good reasons.

The two paintings are family portraits. Bellini enlarged the group with two figures. From the right: Giovanni Bellini and Andrea Mantegna are the young men (self portraits), Simeon the priest not identified, Jacopo Bellini the father, Jesus is the baby boy born from Mantegna and Jacopo’s daughter, the Madonna a symbolic figure with no name, at her left Nicolosia, Jacopo’s daughter and Mantegna’s wife, the last woman at the left is Giovanni’s wife. 

Because both these paintings underwent five centuries of transformations in the restorers’ hands – Mantegna’s background was probably blue, hard to imagine now – I will avoid conjectures already deployed by art historians and experts of technology, often contradicting one another. I will stick to the story. Not long ago Venice was still permeated by whispers and talks in Venetian, flying around like a wisp of wings. We are in Bellini’s bottega.

 

Jacopo (father)          Would you close the curtain please? I saw the usual shadow coming up from campo Santa Margherita. Yes, I know you like him he is a good artist, but I don’t want Nicolosia to see him and besides, I do not want to scuffle with her.

Giovanni           Cossa vusto, father? What do you want?  Antonello da Messina gave us access to the oil color making he learned from the Flemish, so we learned to make more luminous works, almost sparkling. He is charming, has curly hair and big eyes. Think of the business. 

Jacopo          I do, but, Nicolosia is my daughter, she just gave me a boy to adore, Mantegna’s sun. Maybe a son of ambition rather than love, with marriage Andrea bought his freedom from his adoptive father Squarcione and got his own studio in Padua. It’s true the family painting he just gave me as a thank you present is still mat, quite sculpted on linen with perfect proportions —he always loved the colors of ancient sculptures, and the stones’sensuality. He is so good he doesn’t need oil paint. The other guy from the south instead uses every kind of trick. Tempera, you know, is still my favorite. He likes pretty much to slip under the skirts…That’s why he came to Venice, our putee (unmarried girls) are wonderful. Oh, the boy painted by Mantegna is a mummy, a cocoon. Antonello could give me another grandchild… can I be a collector of grandchildren from the most talented painters of these days?

Giovanni           True enough, Mantegna is the master. Perspective! You are good father, and have been innovative, but he is like anybody else. Too much work in Mantua. Nicolosia is young and lonely. Did you notice his self-portrait in the right corner? A tired face. He is so meticulous. Admirable, no stencils, no cartoon. I keep learning from him. Who knows if in a far away future people will understand the emotional depth of each detail, his ability to make lively figures out of lines and brush strokes, almost revealing their souls’ precision with egg tempera!

Gertrude Stein          I am thinking of attacking being not as an earthly kind of substance but as a pulpy not dust not dirt but a more mixed up substance, it can be slimy, gelatinous,  gluey, white opaquy kind of thing and it can be white and vibrant, and clear and heated.

Jacopo       Whose voice is this? It makes me nervous. I’m talking about men and women. Not my language. 

Gertrude Stein           I begin again with telling it, the way I feel resisting being in men and women. It is like a substance and in some it is as I was saying solid and sensitive all through it to stimulation, in some almost wooden, in some muddy and engulfing, in some thin almost like gruel, in some solid in some parts and in other parts liquid, in some with holes like air-holes in it, in some hardened and cracked all through it, in some double layers of it with no connections between the layers of it.

Jacopo           Who is she? Stein? Never heard of her; familiar though, she sounds like a painter. We were saying of master Mantegna that each of his painted characters is locked into an invisible hole, inside. Six bodies together, in the family portrait, and the bottom of them is somewhere else. 

Giovanni          Starting with you, father, What were you thinking? 

Jacopo          Oh, I was jealous, I wanted to kill him for being so young.

Giovanni             For the same reason would you kill me and my brother Gentile, like Chronos did with his children? I’m for sure your son, although I heard rumors about my real mother. I don’t blame you, and I love Gentile, we often put our brushes on the same painting. Did you call him Gentile because of your apprenticeship with Gentile da Fabriano?

Jacopo           We all share the same passion. First I want to see what you are able to paint. Maybe I will save you for the business.

1470 – Seventeen years later

As the former baby is already searching a mate, Giovanni remakes the family portrait adding himself and his wife to the scene. Same structure, same figures, not at all the same imaging: this family is not sacred anymore, halos around the heads have disappeared. Mary and Simeone look at each other, Mantegna sends an oblique gaze toward his wife, Giovanni looks obliquely out of the painting, his wife and Nicolosia seem to share a secret, pensively. Jacopo looks directly at us, is he thinking of his death, that will happen one year after? And the baby is the only one speechless, probably hoping to reach his mother’s breast. 

Dresses are more simple, and colors are dominated by a light bouncing on them from the outside world. Not anymore contained in each figure like the mystery of life. “The image of each [painted] object becomes a wordless experience; and the description of the symbolic face of things and their awakening in the stillness of image belong without doubt in this context.” (ROBERT MUSIL) Then undeniably symbols move out of the hands, like the growing baby, in a world of conflicts, of doubts and uncertainties. As if by accident, or accepting fate, the painter had left the invisible hand of future modernity posed on the painting, transforming its message.

Willem De Kooning           When I used the newspapers in the paintings, it was just an accident. When I took it off, I saw the backprint of the papers, and I thought it was nice. That’s about all.

Bellini                         Mantegna

 

A legacy by Giovanni Bellini: the most remarkable students of his studio were Giorgione and Titian.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bellini Mantegna – Masterpieces face to face – The Presentation Of jesus to the Temple, Milano, SilvanaEditoriale, 2018  and Fondazione Querini Stampalia, Venezia (Italy)

Gertrude Stein, The Making of Americans Being a History of a Family’s Progress, 1906-1908.  Something Else Press, Inc., 1966

Robert Musil, Precision and the Soul, Edited and translated by Burrton Pike and David S. Luft, The University of Chicago press, 1990

The African praise poem from Technicians of the Sacred, edited by Jerome Rothenberg, University of California Press, third edition, 2017

Giorgio Vasari, The Lives of the Artists, Oxford University Press, 1991

Emile De Antonio and Mitch Tuchman, Painters Painting – A candid history of the modern art scene, 1940 – 1970  New York, Abbeville Press, 1984

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FOTO DI TERRA : MARIO GIACOMELLI

typographer and self-taught photographer (1925-2000) from Senigallia (Italy)

MARIO GIACOMELLI’s  MOTHER EARTH

and my planet of leaves languages and trees meeting Anouar Brahem playing music on his oud (a Middle eastern string instrument)

MARIO GIACOMELLI, metamorfosi della terra, 385 x 278 mm

MARIO GIACOMELLI,  metamorfosi della terra, 385 x 278 mm

Mario Giacomelli passed away three days ago of some years ago November 25th and Mario Merz who was born the same year 1925 followed him on November 3d a few years after why should it be easy to remember dates that are not not at all interesting numbers they don’t shape the history of the person nor do they participate in the natural history not to mention the natural art made with numbers which is sister to music and spirals in the shells

Dans ce progrès invincible, et comme impeccable, de la forme, … qui semble créer son temps propre, on admire la combinaison du rythme, marqué par les taches ou les aspérités régulières, et du movement indivisible. C’est là voir de la musique. Paul Valéry, L’homme et la coquille 1937
an invincible almost impeccable progress of form… seems to create its own rhythm holding spots or regular asperities and an indivisible movement that is like seeing music

each of us surfing on a limited truth flows through life where time doesn’t exist as a peculiar volume buzzing with particles it can’t be stopped until mother earth disappears in meanders of memories that remake, retell the story so many times there is not a first image anymore over unfinished thoughts

tonight I don’t feel like breathing with commas and periods

I wish words could be sensitive like Mario Merz (1925-2003) forced them to be foglie tenere di acqua leaves tender with water or Giacomelli calling his pictures foto di terra photos made with dirt  rather than photos of earth because Italians at least some of us think of ideas like odd ghosts slipping away from the physical matter of a decomposed and ruined space where the animal person looks for abstraction – freedom

it didn’t happen to me for a while this need of disobeying it makes me see words sinking into Giacomelli’s blacks and whites while written lines are traced like furrows with trees and bushes in a wood of punctuation left behind for writers obsessed with grammatical intersections their soul not knowing where to go

effortlessly ancient habits join our art as if calligraphy and drawing were only one thing sharing the same space as five or six centuries ago in hybrid Chinese paintings meant to be poems of words and nuanced landscapes

Extraordinary events came to shake suddenly the quotidian life of millions individuals. We are projected toward the unknown, with immense fears, joys and hopes. What’s happening goes beyond imagination. It took me a long time to be able to write this music. Anouar Brahem Souvenance

Giacomelli says that language becomes the environment within which the image breathes as it flies toward a new life called art

more can be seen in a landscape that is language more than anything else sometimes plowed by the peasants under the artist’s request

more can be felt through the energy that connects our hands brain and feet to the larger scene of reality with it’s musical score inviting us to listen and share our part in it

ahead of the current localism Anouar Brahem’s music is an harmonious journey of intermingled songs that seem to pick from music of every kind petals of hope and strings of voices determined to expand together in a long rope of sounds free from style traditional forms and rigid obligations for beauty herself sings from the window waiting for the prince

the wind that goes around the column
goes round inside the column
it happens when one paints an image
giving reality to an image, the house runs with the world.

Mario Merz, Lo spazio è curvo o diritto 1990

MARIO GIACOMELLI IN HIS IMAGES AND WORDS

Attraverso le foto di terra io tento di uccidere la natura, cerco di toglierle quella vita che le è stata data non so da chi ed è stata distrutta dal passaggio dell’uomo per ridarle una vita nuova…

Through photos of earth (foto di terra) I try to kill nature, and take away from her a life received from I don’t know whom and destroyed by humans to give her a new life…

MARIO GIACOMELLI, presa di coscienza sulla natura, 300 x 405 mm

MARIO GIACOMELLI,  presa di coscienza sulla natura, 300 x 405 mm

Signs like light tension. It is like having emptied, carved the white out and filled it with dark.

Language becomes the environment within which the image breathes.

MARIO GIACOMELLI, Pesa di coscienza sulla natura, 388 x 283 mm

MARIO GIACOMELLI,  presa di coscienza sulla natura, 388 x 283 mm

The mark remains, the scar, the symbolic image of my intervention, as an act of expression to escape from a reality that does not leave space for creativity.

MARIO GIACOMELLI, storie di terra, 235 x 300 mm

MARIO GIACOMELLI,  storie di terra, 235 x 300 mm

I wish I could slide under the skin of things, to show the energy passing through my soul and the things around me

To express the potential that overturns the real into poetry

MARIO GIACOMELLI, presa di coscienza sulla natura, 392 x 298 mm

MARIO GIACOMELLI,  presa di coscienza sulla natura, 392 x 298 mm

I am not interested in repeating the visible things, but making visible what filters through my unconscious.

MARIO GIACOMELLI, Le fogli, 258 x 390 mm

MARIO GIACOMELLI,  le foglie, 258 x 390 mm

My latest ideas that are growing inside me from typography. In my latest photographs, naturally also in Landscapes, there are many apparitions. The object is always modified, but remains as a memory with the signs of the antique and present time, with a new memory, which is also that of the gesture, the movement, the document.

MARIO GIACOMELLI, presa di coscienza sulla natura, 305 x 404 mm

MARIO GIACOMELLI,  presa di coscienza sulla natura, 305 x 404 mm

Archivio Mario Giacomelli – Sassoferrato
http://www.archiviomariogiacomelli.it

These and others  photographs by Giacomelli are currently on display at Galleria Studio Guastalla, Modern and Contemporary Art, Milano (Italy).  I went to see the exhibition because Silvia Guastalla, curator and director of the gallery, decades ago was one of my students in the Department of Philosophy of the University of Pisa. A great joy to see her again and having her this time guiding me through Giacomelli’s art.

VILLA PANZA : A HOUSE FOR ART — GIUSEPPE PANZA’S HOME

BIUMO-VARESE (ITALY)

Things have a need of us in order to exist, or to feel that they exist, and, without us, remain in a state of waiting. And hence man feels an anxious uneasiness: the pressure in us of all that has not yet been and wishes to be ― of all the unknown that asks for its little moment of thought, seems to entreat us for existence, because everything has to go that way — and as if there were some joy in telling oneself that one has been ― when one is no longer.
André Gide, Reflections

 

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      Villa Panza and Robert Wilson A House for Giuseppe Panza, 2016

 Photo: Tenderini Fotografia  for FAI, Fondo Ambiente Italiano

I gasp with surprise when young artists or people who are not completely uninterested in contemporary art ask me: “who is Giuseppe Panza?” And I feel pedantic to correct: “He was.” I would be wrong. For the first time in this blog I say with no hesitation he was the greatest art collector of the last century. But because he gave his spirit and love, almost an act of faith, to an unrepeatable, awkward collection he started when Robert Morris, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Robert Rauschenberg, Douglas Huebler, Antony Tàpies, Franz Kline -and others now august members of art history- were still struggling for survival, Giuseppe Panza is the living mind giving trust and home to minimal and conceptual art pieces. His name and feelings will be with them, forever. They needed him in order to exist. With them he waited, thirty years sometimes, before recognition arrived. He filled with art his house and family life. He also happened to be perplexed, not sure, not able to understand at first sight. He took his time. With Robert Ryman and Brice Marden, for instance. Suddenly, after a year he realized that Marden’s paintings were very beautiful.

Paintings made with wax, a semitransparent material. I sensed the light going into the matter and being absorbed. A matter that seemed to absorb the viewer’s gaze. It was the beginning of a journey toward the unknown, hidden by penumbra and obscurity. It was seeing the power of the matter, a power impossible to define. If one considers matter as something final, it’s impossible to go beyond. Marden opened an endless possibility.
The same is happening in the most advanced scientific researches.” (G.P.)

I visited the villa one more time at the beginning of November, the last day Bob Wilson’s video Tales were in final testing before the opening. Guided by the FAI* responsible for the exhibition, Giovanni Giorgetti, I was struck by the attention he paid to Giuseppe Panza’s desires, not to violate the sacredness of his place, as if Panza were in his small studio, on the second floor, waiting to see the finished installation. Not a museum, despite the rotation of public events, still and more than ever VILLA PANZA is Giuseppe Panza’s house, where he left more than paintings and sculptures. He helped the artists to install their work, sometimes forcing them to reveal the emotional secret of their art. Dan Flavin, for whom Panza changed some angles between floor and walls, making them curved, or worked on the windows in order to perfect the sunlight’s reflexions, avoided talking to him, only speaking with his wife. The result is the most convincing and intense experience of Flavin’s art one can stumble into.

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Artists today pay homage to Giuseppe Panza with a sort of awe: they know his spirit is there. Bob Wilson gave him a new house, American style: a tiny church Shaker-style, painted with the same exterior colors of the old house. A place of intimacy in the park, for reading and listening to the silence as John Cage would.  So many spirits among us! Out of their bodies, they grow gigantic. The trees around the little house sing their mysterious cantico which is one with the movement of the air and the sound of birds. A blue light shines inside, on a book with no words, for a man with no body. A House for Giuseppe Panza by Bob Wilson, 2016, is an act of thanks, giving back to him what he gave to so many artists.

When nights are clear, in Biumo, I see a myriad of stars. Tiny luminous points in the endless immensity of the universe. I don’t feel lost in the night, I rather feel as if someone was there calling for me, making me confident. Life comes from the infinite void. A powerful life that attracts and absorbs every thing in herself. Do not know why this call is so strong. There is no theorem to justify it, nor a theory to prove it. I can only be sure that this call is stronger than any other. I am also a blade of grass lasting one season, like the ones gathered by Löhr **. (G.P.)

・・・

New York, April 1999.  I was in New York in the spring of 1999, when the trees start growing leaves and are full of flowers. I was staying with my wife on the 37th floor of the Essex House Hotel, Central Park South.
I was higher, much higher than the Madonnina of the Dome in Milan, the highest point of the city. Only a medium hight in New York… I came for the first time in 1954. … About half of my collection has been thought of, experienced and created in this city, the southern part, poor, in a range of a few miles. Ideally, my mind, emotions and thoughts were sharing the same life as the artists living there. I have been one of the first who discovered and loved them, among thousand who disappeared without traces left behind. Maybe I am the first who loved so much what they thought and felt, the first who wanted to have many of their art works. …
Although Rothko, Klein, Lichtenstein, Flavin, Judd, Huebler, Segal disappeared, their works live and re-live in us, still alive. Buying their art I gave my self into the soul of this city. (G.P.)

・・・

In my artistic choices I always had the future in mind, never the present and not even tomorrow; something distant in time not foreseeable, completely uncertain, that I could only hope. My wife and myself were sure we made good choices, meditated, heartfelt, intensely loved. When one loves and doesn’t ask for anything in exchange, to be wrong is more difficult. (G.P.)

・・・

Beauty is a powerful force and yet not intrusive, and generous if one looks for her without ulterior motives; otherwise she doesn’t reveal herself. It is the direct expression of a superior good, she doesn’t die, and is immortal because she is not made of matter, although she uses matter to manifest herself. No instrument can measure her. She is inside every thing, from the stones to the stars, from the flowers to our mind. Impossible to measure, she escapes from scientists who only believe in measurable things. She is the invisible motor of the universe and the sparkle for life. (G.P.)

All the quotes, translated by RA, are from Giuseppe Panza, Ricordi di un collezionista, Milano, Jaca Book, 2006

There is no conclusion. I’m walking on the grass of the park, smelling the fall of leaves still green in November but tired of such a long summer. I look from afar, around the terrace which is one of the most pleasant gardens I’ve met in my life. In Italian we have a word with no equivalent in English: le lontananze. Something absent and distant, says the dictionary. In lontananza, a distance of time more than geographical, I see my village and the house where I was born, half an hour by car from Villa Panza. Hard to tell, feelings are tangled. Panza, the house, the grass, the view on the valley, they talk to me of a Lombard soul which is proud and modest at the same time; daring and quite, never loud. The stronger the passions, the more secret.
Bob Wilson made Panza invisible, as if he was present in his mind; I would like, instead, to have a portrait of him and his wife painted by Lorenzo Lotto, like The Young Man in His Study, 1527, leafing through the book of life.

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To presume that we definitely know brings us to the death of knowledge, especially about contemporary art.  The quality of art is always an emotional phenomenon, an act of love, the happiness of looking at and possessing art is nothing but this love relationship. (G.P.)

 

*FAI – Fondo Ambiente Italiano. It’s a non-profit foundation supported by private citizens, companies and institutions in order to protect, preserve and develop the artistic and natural heritage of Italian landscape. Founded in 1975, it was built under the inspiration of the British National Trust and is affiliated with INTO – International National Trust Organization. Villa Panza is one of the 56 sites under FAI’s wings.

** Christiane Löhr, German artist who works with dry, and fragile vegetable elements preserved in glass boxes.

VILLA PANZA was bought by Giuseppe’s father in 1935 when Giuseppe Panza was 12 years old. The building was first conceived and realized in the mid 1700s by Paolo Antonio Menafoglio, “a merchant of money.” At his death in 1768 the property was sold and resold to various owners until it ended into the hands of Pompeo Litta in 1823. The Litta family was one of the richest in Milan. Some rooms were added to the Villa, and the park was modified. Pompeo Litta received the title of duke from Napoleon for his political views, he was “a liberal and democratic spirit.” When Panza’s father found and bought the Villa, the property needed to be restored. The project was directed by Portaluppi, in the thirties one of the most prominent architects in Milan.