This painting was long called The Artist in His Studio, and we may in effect presume that the artist seen from behind was himself. The idea that Vermeer, in his discreet manner, portrayed himself from the rear, painting the muse of history, is attractive, but it must be discarded. Even if a mirror reflected a face, it could not be correlated with a portrait of Vermeer since none has been identified. The painting was done as a celebration of the art of painting, not as a self-portrait. As early as February 1676, less than three months after Vermeer's death, the artist's widow referred to it as 'de Schilderkonst' (The Art of Painting), not as a portrait of her deceased husband. In the following year she gave it the same title.
This bridge was paid for in 1747 by the Member of Parliament, Samuel Dicker, whose house is among the buildings on the far bank of the Thames, at the left. The view Canaletto has chosen shows the river from the Middlesex, or north side, looking upstream. He has peppered the scene with naturalistic details and human incident: a storm cloud with sheeting rain effectively contrasts with the white latticed wood of the bridge, over which an impressive carriage is drawn; in the foreground the mast of a boat has been lowered so it can travel beneath its arches, and a seated artist, who must be Canaletto himself, is depicted.
Old Walton Bridge was painted for Thomas Hollis; it bears the inscription on the reverse 'Made in the year 1754 in London for the first and last time with the utmost care at the request of Mr. Hollis, my most esteemed patron - Antonio del Canal, called Canaletto.' According to an old catalogue of the Hollis collection the three standing figures to the right of the artist are Hollis himself, his friend Thomas Brand who inherited the painting, and his Italian servant Francesco Giovannini; the little animal between them is Hollis's pet dog, Malta.
This paintings was always considered one of Caravaggio's great masterpieces. He painted it for Marchese Giustiniani. The figure sets up a direct, special and privileged relationship with the viewer, with an immediate appeal that is truly extraordinary. One is bewildered by this painting, by the absolute freedom that the subject obviously enjoys, detaching himself from mere mortals who must obey the laws of nature. The figure is in the act of mocking the world with a complete impunity, a self-assurance that produce a mixture of astonishment and envy. The figure has a torso that recalls Michelangelo's Victory.
The painting probably shows Earthly Love triumphant over the Virtues and Sciences, symbolized by the musical instruments, pen and book, compass and square, scepter, laurel, and armor at his feet.
Caravaggio's Amor, a teenager with a gloating smile, "reigns" over a pile of weapons, instruments, a book (sheet music), drawing utensils, and a laurel wreath. He places his left knee lightly over these objects, while he holds a bunch of arrows in his right hand. Since the attributes of war, military glory, science and arts are scattered at Amor's feet, the painting reminds the viewer of a Vanitas still-life. Some objects in this still-life are emphasized: pieces of a suit of armour, a lute and a violin with a bow. These may refer to Mars and Venus, who, according to some classical genealogies, including that of Virgil's Aeneid I. 664, were the parents of the playful little winged deity Amor.
Thus in this painting the musical instruments represent Venus herself rather than either art in general or, through the association of fading melodies, transitoriness of human life. It is likely, of course, that the viewer of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries may have thought of all the previous connotations, too, since he was used to the multiple meanings of symbols.
Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 4 minutes):Francesco Gasparini: The Meddlesome Cupid, aria
Catalogue numbers: F 820, JH 2010.
Blossoming spring branches symbolise the rebirth of nature, or hope and redemption in a wider sense. Van Gogh used this motif in a similar sense, referring mostly to events in his own life. On 16 May, 1890 he left the asylum by his own will and left Saint-Rémy. When he arrived in Auvers-sur-Oise near Paris, he was greeted by rampant vegetation. He had spent early spring down in the South, in Provence, but the North unexpectedly surprised him with a second spring, the inspiring effect of which can be seen in his choice of subject.
In Auvers, van Gogh painted the old chestnut trees on the street with white and pink flowers about to drop their petals, whereas in the present painting he depicted the blossoming chestnut branches as a still-life, in a jug together with rhododendrons. The unorthodox cutting of the picture and the asymmetrical composition reflect the influence of Japanese prints as in van Gogh's works of similar subjects.
Apostle St James the Less is generally regarded as the same person as James 'the Lord's brother', mentioned by St Paul (Gal. 1:19), who became the first bishop of Jerusalem. Though 'brother' could here apply to any male relation, it came to be taken in the strict sense and was the source of the tradition that represents Christ and the saint somewhat alike in appearance. This similarity is helpful in identifying St James in scenes such as the Last Supper. It was sometimes given as the reason for the kiss of Judas, because the soldiers then knew which man to arrest. According to early sources James was martyred by being thrown from the roof of the Temple and then stoned and beaten to death. The Golden Legend relates that 'a man in that company took a fuller's staff and smote him on the head, that his brains fell all abroad'.
Apostle St James the Less in Art
James holds a fuller's staff, which may be short- or long-handled, having a clubbed head; or it is shaped like a flat bat. It was once used by the fuller in the process of finishing cloth, to compact the material by beating it. From the early 14th century, especially in German art, he may instead hold a hatter's bow, which was used in the manufacture of felt for hats and by wool-workers to clean wool. It may be shown without a bow-string.
James was the patron saint of hat-makers, mercers and other similar medieval guilds. As bishop of Jerusalem he may wear episcopal robes, with mitre and crozier.
El Greco's painting does not follow thetraditional representations of the Apostle.