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The Internet Personified: A tour of the Gemäldegalerie
Skip if art history bores you
Bonus newsletter this week because I went to the Gemäldegalerie (museum of paintings, old masters etc) and I had a great time just focussing on the little details of some of the artwork so I could tell you all about it. Mostly it was to make fun of it and make us both laugh, but then I started to research the history behind the images and it turned out to be quite fascinating so I’ve included little nuggets of that for you too. Not usual content, no, so go ahead and delete it if it’s not your thing.
In the amazing years of portraiture, you could “sit” for a portrait and choose exactly what sort of pose and angle and background you wanted, so the incredible thing about this picture is that this guy CHOSE IT ON PURPOSE. Like he really thought his pointy little tongue coming out of his mouth like that represented him as a great and noble man. You’d think otherwise that the artist had a grudge against this guy, but seeing as it is a picture of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, I think that sort of grudge would be pretteee dangerous.
Charles’ dad was called Philip the Handsome (of Hasburg) and his mother was (sadly) called Joanna the Mad (of Trastamara) so those were the genes handed down to him. Anyway there’s a lot of history stuff about this guy (wars and so on) so you can look that up if you feel so inclined, but here are three (3) salient facts about his life:
a) he was born in a bathroom because his mother went to a ball even though she was so pregnant she had already started labour.
b) he actually wrote up the charter that said slaves could be transported directly from Africa to America without stopping first in Portugal or Castile, so that changed a lot for the transatlantic slave trade.
c) One of his mistresses was his step-grandmother.
I only took this photo because while it is a very gory representation of a post-Crucifixion scene it is also the most accurate representation of a hangover I’ve ever seen. I love everything about it. I can’t find out anything about it despite running it through a reverse image search so we can just admire it out of context. Look at that downturned mouth, that blue and red wound in his side.
Just looking at this face again makes me want to laugh. Also gotta love the careful handkerchief places in front of the cherub’s nethers, a cherub who is trying very hard to present said nethers to you—all spread thighs and concerned face.
This is from a painting called The Rest on the Flight to Egypt, another Biblical story, and it was painted by a guy called Lucas Cranach the Elder. Him and Martin Luther were super tight, and thanks to this friendship, Cranach had a lot of powerful patrons, including a duke who gave him the exclusive printers copyright to the Bible (!!!) and also said he was the only guy who could sell medicines in Wittenberg.
The Nazis really loved his stuff—so much so that they looted nearly all of it, killing Jewish owners and collectors to get to them. Even Hitler “owned” one of his paintings, surprisingly not a Bible scene but one called Cupid Complaining to Venus (below) featuring a super naked and quite sexy Venus. (It always surprises me that none of these naked models have pubic hair: did the artists only use pre-pubescent women or did they paint without hair and then not know what to do with the labia, leaving it in a smooth triangle not unlike a Barbie doll?)
This artist had clearly never seen a woman before so just drew a muscular man and added two small round breasts. This was from a section of the museum called “Fantastic Beasts” and this is apparently a maiden (?) being frightened by a griffin while behind her, her other friends from gym frolic. I like that she’s completely naked except for her fancy sandals and two long chain necklaces and also that she’s holding a stick thing to keep the beast at bay, while at the same time looking only slightly annoyed, like “oh good lord, what now, why can’t I go back to focussing on leg day?”
Question: do angels fart? Because this photo (of a photographic reproduction of a Jan Van Eyck painting) is very clearly showing one of the angels smelling a fart. She’s like, “Okay, I’ll keep holding this note but what is that smell? Is it Corinthea? I told her angels don’t eat turnips.” Corinthia being the one in front, of course, whose slight frown shows her bearing down on her fart.
You already know Van Eyck, but the guy who is responsible for this picture (and many others) being in the Gemäldegalerie was a collector called Edward Solly, who so indiscriminately bought art that there’s a quote hanging over his section of the museum that basically says apart from 10 or 15 pieces most of the other stuff is pure JUNQUE.
Not this piece though. It’s part of the Ghent altarpiece (now returned to Ghent) (Solly sold most of his collection to the Prussian king, which was his plan all along). These angels were specifically drawn un-angel-like, so no wings or halos, so that you, the church goer, could identify with them. Which is nice. We’re so apt to think of history as something that happened to alien people, a long time ago, that sometimes we forget they were human too, prone to fidget or think unworthy thoughts. Or I guess look at some angels on an altarpiece and want to be more like them.
Obviously I had to zoom into this dog and this cat in the foreground of this painting. Either the dog is very small or the cat is very large and really, there’s no way this giant cat would just lie on its side and snarl when the dog was bothering it so I’m just concluding this is one of those fanciful details the painter added because he needed to fill some empty space.
This artist actually loved to draw cats. His name was Gabriel Metsu and he was constantly chucking cats into his pictures, including this one which is meant to be a family portrait but your eyes are distracted from the family because of the dog and the cat right in front of them. There’s not much more available about his life apart from the basic details, but he did like cats.
Ages ago, I did a little post on time travel where I posited that I’d stay hidden from people by posing as a maid or an ayah, and I used this painting as an illustration. So when I saw it hanging there I was thrilled, like meeting an old friend.
Two more interesting things about this painting (the first interesting thing being my own history with it, of course). The first is that this subject, this nanny, was actually named in the portrait so that is unusual and rare, and suggests she had a personal connection with the family. (Her name is Clarinda.) The second is that the vampiric-looking child she’s cradling so tenderly is Jane Austen’s cousin Eliza, who was actually Jane’s model for the character of Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park (the only character worth reading that book for, in my humble opinion.)
Clarinda is extremely beautiful in the manner of a Raja Ravi Varma portrait and I wish we knew more about her, how she came to be named (and painted at all in the family portrait) and also what’s the story with all her jewellery, but alas, all is lost to the mists of time.
Gotta love this lady and how lovingly she’s holding her ridiculous looking dog. “See my pug,” she’s saying with a smug smile. She’s really proud of it!
This is a copy made by an artist called Anna Dorothea Therbusch of a painting by Antoine Pesne of his daughter with her dog, I guess? I don’t know why Anna decided to copy this picture, she was a very talented artist in her own right and made many original paintings so why this random one of a woman with her dog? Did she even know the Pesnes? Did she like this girl so much that she had to own her image? Or is this just one of her copies that survives: smug girl with pug?
Finally, here is a baby. It’s meant to be the Holy Family I think, but come on. Its weird little toes, its strangely creepy expression, its much-too-tight outfit, this is the kind of baby that you’d have to search for other compliments for if you met it the first time. (Eg: “oh, I love his….necklace!”) This kid looks like he should be named something with many syllables. Chiranveer. Mrityuanjay. You know?
This is a very long letter about art from someone who really doesn’t know much about art, so you are totally welcome for all my great information. Talk soon!
Who are you? Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, writer of internet words (and other things) author of seven books (support me by buying a book!) and general city-potter-er.
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