For the obvious reasons, February is associated with love and nothing seems more appropriate than to finish the month discussing a piece of art that simultaneously reveres and ridicules love. The Allegory of Love, or Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time was executed by Agnolo Bronzino in 1546. Vasari wrote that the finished canvas was given to King Francis I (of France), although by whom we cannot be sure — potentially Cosimo I de Medici or Mannerist painter Francesco Salviati. Either way, it is apparent that it was in an attempt of flattery to the king, with its dense iconography, detailed narrative, and complex composition.
Victoria Hammond begins her chapter in David Stephenson’s revolutionary book about the dome with this quote: the dome offers ‘a kaleidoscope of shifting visions of heaven ranging from the grand cosmology of imperial Rome, through richly embroidered Byzantine worlds and the mystical geometry of Islam, to the sublime serenity of the Renaissance and the gravity-defying transfigurations of the Baroque, culminating in the ethereal lightness of the rococo and beyond.’ This encompasses the immense propagation of the domical form across eras and cultures, and shows its profound use in helping us to trace this architectural history. The first section of this essay shall discuss how the domed edifice has developed from ancient sacred forms, then moving forward to discuss the specific effects that this history has had on the dome structure. The last section will focus on the importance of dome decoration in tracing history. In choosing three examples — the Cathedral of the Assumption (Fig 1) in the Kremlin, consecrated in 1479, the Alhambra’s Sala de las dos Hermanas (Fig 2), built in the Islamic style in 1258, and the dome of Murray Edwards College, Cambridge (Fig 3), finished in 1965 — I hope to give a comprehensive conclusion to the idea that domes take their form from a wide range of times and places, and tracing this complex history gives a thorough understanding of the meanings that can be attributed to them.
‘Just as the dome form itself represents the transcendent sphere, so its history transcends race and religion.’ The dome has a complex and varied history, to which it owes its ‘transcendent sphere’ form, and the place to begin is with the primitive shelter concept. At the most primitive level, the most prevalent type of constructed shelter was circular in plan and covered with a curved roof. Circles of saplings or leaves would have been bound together and bent inwards at the top to form a roof. This was the easiest method of construction, as there was no need to bind a separate roof to the structure. From this, the associations of the dome and curved drum with ‘a tribal and ancestral shelter’, therefore home, came about. In fact, the Arctic Inuits continue to build their snow homes, igloos, using a domical structure. The etymology of the word, coming from ‘domus’, meaning ‘house’, illustrates this quality further, also extending the dome’s purpose to ‘house’ other things. The Middle Ages and Renaissance saw the word translate into Domus Dei , the Italians into duomo, the Germans and Danish into Dom, and as late as 1656 in England, dome meant ‘Town-House, Guildhall, State-House or Meeting-House.’
In the quest to understand what manuscripts are, one should first turn to the Latin ‘manuscriptus’, meaning ‘written by hand’, which precedes the word utilised now. Manuscripts replaced papyrus scrolls as the primary object used for recording history and law, conveying biblical stories and creating fictional stories, through the means of text. Manuscripts were generated in four stages: parchment making, writing, illumination and binding, and formed the shape of a book, making them easier to handle and more practical than scrolls. The Anointing of a Bishop from Renaud de Bar’s unfinished Metz Pontifical from 1303-1316 sheds light on the technique of the first two processes. Manuscripts could be created by a single person, for example a monk carrying out a devotional act, or by a holistic team of artisans with specialities in different areas. The former had more religious sentiment, but the latter was cheaper, more time efficient, and potentially produced even better results from the multitude of skills available. In the magnificent Dover Bible shown in the Fitzwilliam Museum, the work of monks and of artists may be intertwined, with the writing process carried out in the monastery of Christ Church, Canterbury by monks, and the illumination, done by hired professionals. This illumination, from grisaille sketching to gold punching, encompasses everything that involved the ‘lighting up’ of the manuscript. As the Fitzwilliam’s Colour Exhibition illustrates with its focus on its namesake, illumination played a vital role in the final versions of many manuscripts, as can be seen in the striking, foliate ‘O’ initial, by artist Cristoforo Cortese, from the Entry into Jerusalem story from a Venetian 1410-1420 Gradual, owned by the museum. These three works all highlight different aspects of the process of manuscript making, and are each unique in their illumination. They were all also chosen by the curator of the Colour Exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, for display.
A Pontifical produced in Metz for Renaud de Bar, Bishop of Metz Cathedral and wealthy Lorraine nobleman affords the spectator an overview of manuscript making, as you leaf from the unfinished back, still in the sketching stage, to the front, completed before de Bar died in 1316. A page of the Anointing of the Bishop found in folio 123 depicts an incomplete miniature of the Archbishop, who can be found centrally in the small illustration at the top of the page, anointing the head of a bishop (from the Office for Consecrating a Bishop), above a block of text in black script, switching to red further down the page.
“The colour that seems the softest can often speak the loudest" — Robin Cembalest
Pink, thought to be named after the frilled edge of a small flower of the Dianthus genus, emerged in the 17th century as a gender-neutral fashion choice for Europe’s elite, only becoming associated with femininity when men transitioned into business suits in the 19th century. The colour began to take on a more active role when it became the symbol of various campaigns in the twentieth century. One of these was post-World War II propaganda to lure women back into the kitchen. A more benevolent campaign, however, was that in the fight against breast cancer, with the symbol of the crossed pink ribbon.
From October 2013 to May 2014, the Boston Museum of Fine Art held a phenomenal show, “Think Pink”, charting the history and associations of the colour pink. It juxtaposed clothing (both men’s and women’s), accessories, graphic illustrations, jewellery, and paintings to shed light on changes in style; the evolution of pink for girls, blue for boys, and other colour associations were analysed. Not only all of this, but the exhibition also touched on the topic of breast cancer, and its pink link, including a selection of dresses and accessories from the collection of the late Evelyn Lauder, who was instrumental in creating an awareness of breast cancer by choosing the pink visual reference.
The word ‘fresco’ heralds from the Italian for ‘fresh’, which is exactly what characterises this technique of painting. It requires all painting to be done directly onto the damp surface, as in oil when painting wet-on-wet, and the colours and patterns fuse with the intonaco mixture of plaster and lime, to form a durable, long-lasting image. In the Trecento and Quattrocento, this style saw the beginning of its heyday, and due to its inherent need for a dry climate, was unique to the Southern regions, particularly Italy. One ringleader in the development of this style was Giotto di Bondone, with his Paduan Arena Chapel showcasing his profound intellect and skill, particularly in the method of fresco. With a clear focus on the depiction of form and perspective, Giotto proves his worth to patron Enrico Scrovegni and his society, and Dante reinforces this by pointing out in his Divine Comedy that Giotto has eclipsed his predecessor and teacher, Cimabue. Upon the building blocks of competition between artists, Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone, commonly known as Masaccio, began to shine with his inventive use of the fresco technique, and it is to him, and more specifically the Florentine Brancacci Chapel, that we look to behold a great example of fresco painting in Early Renaissance Italy. The chapel, commissioned between 1432 and 1435 by the Brancacci family, near the end of Masaccio’s short life, contains the fresco cycle of the legend of St Peter. Because of his early death, and knowledge of patronage, we are aware that Masaccio was not alone in his work on the chapel, with Masolino and Filippino Lippi also greatly contributing to the works now found there. The frescoes that are primarily attributed to Masaccio are Tribute Money, the Expulsion of Adam and Eve, St Peter Healing with his Shadow, and the Distribution of Communal Goods and the Death of Ananias. They shed some light on the use of fresco in this period, instilling in the viewer moral and intellectual awareness, and show a clear influence of both the patron’s and the artist’s motive.