This limited edition (run of 50) print uses the image of my original acrylic painting Trumpcissus, available on my website (link below). This mixed media creation adds new dimensions to the painting, the magazine cover as well as the image of Carvaggio’s famous Narcissus.
Did Caravaggio predict Trump, print 12″ x 16″ approx, 30 x 40 cm
Among the notable things in Vilnius, the capitol of Lithuania, are the spires and the architecture, featured in the background of this painting. Lithuania is nominally a Roman Catholic country, with 75% of the population purportedly members. However the statistics show that half the population does not believe in the Christian deity. I have portrayed the irony of this apparent contradiction through the unusual placement and distortion of the spires, which serve at once to unite and divide the couple.
Couple in Vilnius, acrylics on paper, 11.7 x 16.5″, A4 30 x 42 cm
After a few days in the Latvian countryside, Kuldiga being of most interest, we hopped the bus taking us from Riga to Vilnius, the only Baltic republic we have yet to visit. It’s a four-hour drive in the cold gray weather through flat, unremarkable countryside. A few days later I had to make a return visit, having left my Italian passport on a pharmacist’s counter. It was waiting for me at the Italian embassy in the heart of the old town. It was just as uneventful.
The Baltic countries do not get much attention in US history classes but there is much of value and interest. We’ve been to the Ducal Palace, reconstructed on site and now offering a rather detailed story of the country, much more important up to the 1800’s than it is now. But the people here have Russia very looming on their borders, a Russia whose history of occupation dates to around 1700, with but a brief respite between the wars before the occupation resumed as the Nazis retreated. In their world view, the history of their relationship with Russia is not a side-show, of course, nor is the past respect shown them by other European nations. I expect to post more on this.
The University of Vilnius is just a few minutes from our plain vanilla apartment. I have posted some photos of the delightful, on the one hand, and strange art on the other hand, here University’s mural and fresco.
Not far from us as well is the Vytautas Kasiulis Art Museum, home of the paintings of Lithuania’s most famous painter, who came to light in Paris after escaping from his home country subsequent to the Soviet takeover. It is art worth seeing. His paintings are what I would term transitional, bridging the gap between the figurative and the abstract. Over time he increasingly removes references to the substance of the image until he gets to the essence, still figurative but just a tad away from abstraction. These photos are from the museum that bears his name, Vytautas Kasiulis
Vytautas Kasiulis, earlier piece
Vytautas Kasiulis toward abstraction
Vytautas Kasiulis, towards abstraction
The old town section is, like that of Tallinn and Riga to the north, is a World Heritage site and the main attraction.
I think this is called The Sisters
Vilnius Cathedral, some of its art
No visit to any of these countries would be complete without a visit to what the locals call “The Dark History,” referring to the Nazi and Soviet occupations. Here as in Riga you can visit the Gestapo/KGB head quarters for a look at this grim period. It does not seem that the extent of spying on its citizens compares with what happened in East Germany, but the torture, imprisonment and deportation to the sparsely populated areas of the Soviet Union are, and they’ve well documented in the museum. The museum visit includes the dank cellar with its torture, isolation and execution chambers.
Solitary confinement, barely big enough to sit in
I’ll have some notes on the more cherry subject of the hope-you-like-pork cuisine – and what other observations I might have about the culture, such as the dearth of beauty parlors. They have salons where you can get your hair combed out, though.
Petras Repšys (1940) painted a rather strange set of scenes on the ceiling and walls of a room at the University of Vilnius. It is worth a look. He is a graduate of Vilnius Art Institute (1967) Works in sheet, book, graphic arts, ex libris, easel paintings, frescoes, sculptures, medals. The exilibrisus began to develop in 1969 . Here are some photos of his fresco “Seasons of the Year,” executed from (1974-1984).
Band at El Carmen, 12th century monastery in Valencia. They performed during an event I attended. These monasteries were once brightly painted, but not like this! I have the freedom to decorate the Gothic arches as I please, and I like them bouncing off the page.
Band at el Carmen, acrylics on paper, 11.7 x 16.5″, A4 30 x 42 cm
Artemesia Gentileschi, one of few women painters in the 1600’s, and among the finest of either sex.
Born in Florence in the Baroque era, Artemesia (1593 – c. 1656) was one of the finest painters of her day, and the only one of her sex to achieve recognition. She was the first woman to become a member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence was employed by patrons from the Papal states Italy, Naples, and England. Her father Orazio was also very well known and respected as a painter, sharing his knowledge with her from an early age, yet for years they were estranged until possibly near the very end of his life when they worked together in London for the royal family.
Her most famous painting is Judith Slaying Holofernes, a bloody affair that demonstrates her powerful use of light and shadow allo Caravaggio. She made use of her own image in this and many of other paintings.
Judith Slaying Holofernes
Susanna and the Elders (1610). She was 17
Her success was threatened in the earlier years by the crime to which she was subject, and the subsequent trial. In 1611 at age 18 she was raped by Agostino Tassi, a painter Orazio hired to tutor her. At that time if you were raped and the rapist promised to marry you, rape was acceptable provided the promise was kept. She continued having sex with Tassi but he reneged on the marriage commitment – her continued relations with him was not considered exculpatory of his behavior. At the time he was still married and having a sexual relation with his sister in law as well. Part of the trial ordeal was a required gynecological exam. In addition all witnesses had to undergo torture. Their testimony would be deemed credible if they did not change their story. The prosecution was carried out not by her but her father as women did not have standing in these matters. Tassi was found guilty and sentenced to five years or banishment from Rome. He chose the former.
My Ode to Artesimia, acrylics on acrylic paper, 21 x 29.7 cm, 8.3 x 1
St Cecilia Playing a Lute
She handles light beautifully, her underlying drawings are magnificent.
She married a Florentine artist recommended to her by a friend, to which her father grudgingly assented, as was required if she were to marry anyone. Pierantonio Stiattessi was also a painter but not of her stature. He helped her get commissions, fathered their daughter Prudentia but later became a burden. They spent most of her married years apart despite a very good beginning. During these early years in Florence she was accepted into the prestigious Accademia di Arte del Disegno, which also required the approval of her father. During this period Michelangelo Buonarrot, the Michelangelo’s nephew, asked her and other artists to contribute a painting to the house he was building to honor his uncle.
Allegory of the Inclination
Her letters reveal a love affair with a wealthy Florentine named Maringhi . Her husband wrote to her lover in friendly terms using the backside of her love letters. Perhaps Maringhi provided financial or other forms of assistance. By 1621 she and her husband were no longer cohabiting, and she had returned to Rome. She found less success there than in Florence, and by 1630 she moved to Naples, finding lucrative work with the Viceroy. In 1638 she went to London to help her father with a ceiling for which he had been commissioned.
In Alexandra LaPierre’s Artemesia their reunion was awkward at best, coming after 25 years of separation. LaPierre portrays Orazio as fearful of being outranked by his daughter. By 1642 she had finished the work he had been hired to do, leaving England some two years following her father’s sudden death in 1639. She disappears from the records until 1648, when she is back in Naples
While it is true that there were few women painters in this period, there were others. Italians of the era were Sofonisba Anguissola, Lavinia Fontana, and Fede Galizia. Per LaPierre, Artemesia’s success in Naples encouraged a number of female competitors.
Judith and Her Maid Servant. Her treatment of robes is as good as anyone’s.
Most of her paintings feature women as protagonists. While most women were portrayed demurely, her’s were strong and uninhibited, and making a mark in history.
For a broader view of women in art in that era see the video by Art Historian Dr. Vida Hull
We are hours away from leaving. There is a special city filled with a special people, who threw off the yoke of Soviet rule, after having been invaded by the Nazis then crushed by the Soviet system, with just 20 years of freedom between the wars. Before that it was the Russia Empire. No wonder they worry about Putin, and made nervous by Trump. The Baltic countries are small, on their own unable to fend off a nation as large and well armed as Putin’s Russia. We need to have their back.
Their separation from the Soviet Union is chronicled in the Museum of the Popular Front, in what was its headquarters on Vespilcetas iela 13/15, a building worth visiting on its own merits. With the loosening of controls under Gorbachev, the Front
elected pro-independence delegates to the Soviet assembly
got recognition of the illegitimacy of the Soviet/Nazi pact of 1941
organized protests including the unbroken human chain that extended from the far end of Lithuania all the way to the coast at Tallin, Estonia, a total of 600 km /375 miles
organized barricades in the event of a crackdown after the one in Lithuania.
It is not just this heroic moment that endears me to this city, country, people. It’s the art, it’s the way they have all acquired a second language, these days mostly English by choice (German and Russian are also officially taught), not the edict of a foreign power.
Madonna of Marijas Street, Karlis Padegs
Johan Valters, Market in Jelgava, detail
It’s also the architecture, especially the Art Nouveau for which the city is famous:
Spiral Staircase. Museum of Art Nouveau
I like the fashion
I like the styles- not everyone is so gray!
Model display creations of Latvian fashion designer Agnese Narnicka
The food is less doughy than St Petersburg and much less expensive than Stockholm!
Gray Peas- or what’s left of them. Bit of bacon fat with that?
The most fabulous potato pancakes ever! They were fried in bacon, so no wonder. I will need a new liver by the time I get out of Latvia, though.
And the people are more open, friendly than in St Petersburg.
With the guard at the Art Nouveau Museum. They all dressed in period
More Latvia posts to come, and I hope to return, in the better weather.