Artifacts Archive

Sand, Gravel, and Stone:  A Guide to Kyoto’s Gardens
Uncategorized

Sand, Gravel, and Stone:  A Guide to Kyoto’s Gardens

Kyoto’s gardens are as varied as they are numerous.  The fine raked gravel of Zen gardens, like an abstract painting, provoke contemplation.  The stroll gardens, with their ponds and evergreens, foster mindfulness and offer a new view around every turn.  And finally, there is the refined rustic simplicity of the tea garden, which provides an oasis of calm…

20 Accomplishments of Michelangelo (From David to St Peter’s)
Michelangelo

20 Accomplishments of Michelangelo (From David to St Peter’s)

Giorgio Vasari begins his famed biography of Michelangelo not on Earth, but in the realm of the divine.  He recounts how God – pitying mankind’s vainglorious artistic efforts – sent to Earth Michelangelo, a man “genius universal in each art.”  Thus, according to Vasari, humankind was shown “perfection of line and shadow… sound judgment in sculpture,” and…

Night to Day and Dusk to Dawn: Michelangelo’s Meditations on Death
Michelangelo

Night to Day and Dusk to Dawn: Michelangelo’s Meditations on Death

 “The Day and the Night speak thus:  We, in our swift course, have brought Duke Giuliano to his death…..  In revenge… he has taken the light from us.  With his closed eyes, he has closed ours, and we shall no longer look upon the earth.”  This is a poem composed by Michelangelo Buonarotti on the…

Bacchus by Michelangelo: Sculpting Intoxication
Michelangelo

Bacchus by Michelangelo: Sculpting Intoxication

Just around the corner from Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio is the often overlooked Bargello.  Eclipsed by the Uffizi and the Accademia Galleries, the Bargello nevertheless houses an impressive collection of Renaissance and Baroque sculpture.  One notable item tucked away within its halls is an early work by Michelangelo – a life-sized sculpture of the god Bacchus. …

Battle of the Centaurs by Michelangelo: The Classical Hero Reborn
Michelangelo

Battle of the Centaurs by Michelangelo: The Classical Hero Reborn

In 1490, a young Michelangelo Buonarroti scrounged a three-foot slab of marble from a nearby building site.  On this rough slab, Michelangelo made his first attempt to carve what would become his signature subject, the classical male nude.  Inspired by tales from Ovid and Hygnisus, Michelangelo set to work carving a famous scene from Greek…

Criminals and Courtesans: Caravaggio’s 20 Most Famous Paintings
Caravaggio

Criminals and Courtesans: Caravaggio’s 20 Most Famous Paintings

By the late 16th century, art in Central Italy had hit a plateau.  Still in the shadow of Renaissance greats like Michelangelo and Raphael, painters strove to capture the ideal of beauty embodied in the muscular figures and bright classical backdrops of these earlier masters.  Then arrived Caravaggio, who in the words of one near contemporary had…

Art of the Plague Saint: Tintoretto at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco
Tintoretto

Art of the Plague Saint: Tintoretto at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco

In 1575, Tintoretto began work on his masterpiece – the monumental narrative paintings decorating the chapter hall of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco.  This was no ordinary commission.  The Scuola Grande was one of the most prestigious institutions in Venice and the custodian of the relics of Saint Roch, the patron saint of plague…

Tintoretto’s Last Suppers: From the Harmonious to the Mystical
Tintoretto

Tintoretto’s Last Suppers: From the Harmonious to the Mystical

The Last Supper has been a popular subject in art since the earliest days of Christianity.  This was especially true during the Renaissance, which produced the most famous depiction of the subject in Leonardo Da Vinci’s mural for the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie.  Even in its poorly conserved state, we still admire the…

The Crucifixion by Tintoretto: A Divine Presence in a Fallen World
Tintoretto

The Crucifixion by Tintoretto: A Divine Presence in a Fallen World

The Crucifixion is one of Tintoretto’s most dynamic works.  Painted to decorate the boardroom of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, it is a classic Tintoretto piece, giving equal focus to both the primary subject of the scene and the wide range of individuals there to witness it.  On the one hand is the powerful…

Tintoretto’s Paradise: The Trials of Painting Heaven
Tintoretto

Tintoretto’s Paradise: The Trials of Painting Heaven

On December 20, 1577 disaster struck Venice.  The Doge’s Palace – the architectural gem of the Venetian Republic – was hit with a devastating fire, leaving massive damage to the southern portion of the building.  The damage was so great that some wondered if the whole Palace shouldn’t be torn down and rebuilt.  It was…

Miracle of the Slave by Tintoretto: A Tale of Gravity
Tintoretto

Miracle of the Slave by Tintoretto: A Tale of Gravity

As the 1540’s progressed, Tintoretto’s career was floundering.  His apprenticeship to Titian, the great Venetian Renaissance master, had ended acrimoniously.  Patrons were turned off by his experimental painting style.  And he never seemed able to obtain the sort of major public commission other artists had used to establish themselves in the city.  He needed a…

Adoration of the Shepherds by Caravaggio: A Light in the Dark
Caravaggio

Adoration of the Shepherds by Caravaggio: A Light in the Dark

In late 1608, the famed artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio absconded to Messina, a city on the northeastern tip of Sicily.  On the run from powerful enemies, the city offered him protection, a safe harbor in a turbulent period.  Though Caravaggio did not know it at the time, it was here that he would paint…

The Sacrifice of Isaac and the Screaming Realism of Caravaggio
Caravaggio

The Sacrifice of Isaac and the Screaming Realism of Caravaggio

What if to satisfy God required the murder a child?  This is the question the great artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio challenges us to grapple with in his gripping work, The Sacrifice of Isaac.  On display at the Uffizi Gallery, the painting tells the story of Abraham, who God demands sacrifice his favorite son as a test of…

The Musicians by Caravaggio: The Joyful Toil of Artistic Creation
Caravaggio

The Musicians by Caravaggio: The Joyful Toil of Artistic Creation

Creative pursuits are by their nature a journey.  The final product the result of experimentation, practice, skill, and resolve.  Intermingled with this is a range of emotions, culminating (if one is lucky enough) in a sense of joy.  But to get to that stage is a long process, made up of lengthy periods alone with…

Basket of Fruit by Caravaggio: Finding Meaning in Still Life
Caravaggio

Basket of Fruit by Caravaggio: Finding Meaning in Still Life

At first glance, Basket of Fruit by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio seems entirely ordinary.  If you saw it outside of a museum, you might imagine it was a simple ornament or maybe even a pattern on some old wall paper.  The arrangement looks attractive enough, a bright red and yellow apple sits tantalizingly on top. …

Blog Update

Announcing a New Series

One of my favorite scenes from Michelangelo Antonioni’s classic film L’Avventura occurs near the beginning.  A woman walks into an art gallery in downtown Rome where she overhears an American couple fawning over the work of a local artist.  “He really knows how to use paint,” the wife suggests.  “Yes, lots of power and vitality,”…

The Bronze Age Collapse: The Fall of the First Globalized Era
Middle East

The Bronze Age Collapse: The Fall of the First Globalized Era

Imagine the world is rocked by a series of simultaneous cataclysms – earthquakes, drought, war, famine. Civilization as we know it completely collapses.  Infrastructure falls to ruin, historical records are destroyed, and the populations of entire nations are lost and scattered.  That could never happen, right?  Well, according to Eric Cline, it has.  In his…

Beijing’s Summer Palace: Intrigue in the Imperial Gardens
Asia

Beijing’s Summer Palace: Intrigue in the Imperial Gardens

Few places better embody the tragic legacy of China’s last dynasty, the Qing, than the “New” Summer Palace in northwestern Beijing. Completed in 1764, the New Summer Palace was built by the Emperor Qianlong (the last great Qing emperor) for his mother’s 60th birthday. Qianlong lavished attention on its design, endowing it with vast gardens,…

The Grand Bazaar and the Rebirth of Istanbul:  A History
Middle East

The Grand Bazaar and the Rebirth of Istanbul: A History

On the 29th of May 1453, Constantinople fell to the besieging Turkish army.  The fall of the great capital of the Byzantine Empire to the Ottoman Turks is often depicted as a great tragedy for Western civilization.  It had been Constantinople, after all, that had carried on the 2,000 year legacy of ancient Rome.  But…

Art and Buddhism:  The Ancient Murals in the Caves of Dunhuang
Asia

Art and Buddhism: The Ancient Murals in the Caves of Dunhuang

On the eastern edge of the Taklaman desert in Northern China sits the oasis town of Dunhuang.  For centuries, travelers from around the world passed through this way station on the ancient Silk Road.  These travelers brought with them not only trade goods and specie, but also their cultures and religions.  Among the earliest travelers…

St. Basil’s Cathedral and the Triumph of Ivan the Terrible
Europe

St. Basil’s Cathedral and the Triumph of Ivan the Terrible

Fairy tale, Disneyland, candy shop – these are the phrases you frequently hear people use to describe their first impression of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow.  It’s not hard to understand why.  The design of the Cathedral, with all its colors and swirls, seems whimsical.  Against the backdrop of the Kremlin’s red towers and the bright façade of…

Blog Update

Welcome

Welcome to Artifacts, a blog dedicated to the exploration of history and culture through stories, symbols, and art.  Over the coming weeks, months, maybe even years, I am going to seek out and write about stories from the past.  Stories you likely haven’t heard of yet provide a window into a certain world view.  One…