Saturday, December 31, 2011

Fine Arts Any Day: Vermeer's Lacemaker

The Lacemaker by Johannes Vermeer, 1669-70.

In you are in England or heading that way, you have 15 days to see the exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge of Vermeer's Women: Secrets and Silence. The centerpiece of the exhibition is Vermeer's Lacemaker, which is on loan to the Fitzwilliam from The Louvre. Surrounding this masterpiece of an artisan rapt in concentration as she creates an object of beauty are paintings by both Vermeer and other artists of the 17th-century Golden Age of Dutch painting. The exhibition, as discussed in a wonderful podcast by its curator Betsy Wieseman, has been designed to probe the Dutch portrayal of that edge where private and public spaces meet, the secrets found in the private space, and the silence of women, especially, as with the lacemaker, when they are at work.

There are paintings of women in all kinds of stances and activities. A young girl eavesdrops as an older woman reprimands a young boy, a woman writes a letter with an engaging smile at the artist (now us), a woman sits with her back to us but her face is present in a mirror so we can see her secret-not-so-secret expression, an elderly woman with her back to us leans over to look out the window at the pale face of a child, a woman stands poised right at the edge of the private space looking down the street while her maid and a child are walking in the inner courtyard. These are some of the images painted by the Dutch artists of this period in their celebration of the sacrosanct domestic space that their national bourgeoisie carved out for their homes--drawing the line against the public space that homes used to be in the time of the Middle Ages.

For Vermeer, this celebration of private space was also a celebration of the soul. His portrayals of women in domesticity are transformed into great art through his painting of space here on earth unified and transformed by God's celestial light.

Although I have not been able to view this exhibition, I am grateful for the Fitzwilliam Museum of Cambridge University for organizing it. You can read more about Dutch interior space here and here.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Finally It Was Christmas!

Finally it was Christmas, and in a whirlwind my daughter and I decorated the house and prepared a Christmas dinner. Aside from multiple food and tree disasters (reminding us that all's well that ends well), it was a real pleasure to prepare a Christmas dinner--the kind you eat only once a year--and feast with good friends in an atmosphere saturated with golden candlelight. In my mind I kept thinking of the candlelit Christmas dinnner John Keats had with the family of Fanny Braune, in Bright Star.

And God Bless You, Everyone!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Portinari Altarpiece by Hugo van der Goes, 1475

Our Hope, Our Strength, Our Joy!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Fine Arts Friday: Winter in Pennsylvania

For Curious Acorn...

Near New Hope

Here are paintings by Fern Isabel Coppedge, a painter of southeastern Pennsylvania, who lived from 1883 to 1951. According to her online biography, snow scenes were her favorite subject. "The residents of Bucks County often saw Fern I. Coppedge traipsing through the snow, draped in her bearskin coat with her sketching materials slung over her shoulder, seeking the perfect scene to paint." To me, she captures the stillness of winter snow and the quiet veil of eternity it gives us a glimmer of.

Here are more of her winter scene paintings.

Hillside Village

The Hill Road

Mountain Creek

Bucks County Scene

I hope to report more about Mrs. Coppedge in the new year.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Restraining Myself in Advent

(Compliments of Anxious Moments)

Here in the great season of Advent I am trying to observe this time of penitence. This means to understand that the Christmas season does not begin until Christmas Eve, lasting through Epiphany to January 6--the 12 days of Christmas. In the meantime, we scrub our hearts and our homes as preparation for the birth of Christ. Since I do my Christmas shopping all year long, I do not have to join the commercialized Christmas frenzy. Inside I have an Advent wreath and candles. And instead of preemptive rejoicing and stringing white lights along the bushes in the front yard, as in other years, I have placed only the candles in the windows--a traditional signal of welcoming to the Lord, the true Light in the darkness. On December 24, I will string my lights outside and trim the tree. I can hardly wait...for Christmas.