On Bellini’s San Zaccaria Altarpiece

During Albrecht Dürer’s second stay in Venice, in 1506, he wrote back to his friend Willibald Pirckheimer in Nüremberg about his experiences in the Serenissima, amongst other things describing the artists at work there. Of the elderly but still very much active Giovanni Bellini, he wrote that he was still “der pest im Gemoll” — ‘the best in painting.’ When Dürer wrote this, Bellini had recently completed his altarpiece for the Church of San Zaccaria (where it remains), dated 1505, a so-called Sacra Conversazione, ie. the Madonna and Child surrounded by select saints, a traditional model in ecclesiastic art dating back centuries. But crucially innovative, hugely influential, and deeply touching.

This was a time when a trio of young, ambitious and singularly gifted artists, Giorgione, Sebastiano Luciani (later anointed ‘del Piombo’) and Titian — the latter two pupils and the former a close associate of Bellini’s — were poised to displace the older master as the central innovator in Venetian painting, and change its course forever. The San Zaccaria altarpiece, however, is evidence that Bellini himself understood what was happening. Far from oblivious to the innovations of Central Italian artists, especially Leonardo’s dissolution of the barrier between individual and world, Bellini was at this point consistently defining his figures in clear, but liquid light, proving that he was, indeed, still pest im Gemoll.

Ceci n’est pas dansk tegneseriekultur

Metabunkerens Afdeling for Moderne Kunstâ„¢ er stolt af at være først med afsløringen af nedenstående kunstværk. Der er tale om et stykke konceptkunst – en let bearbejdet ready-made: citatet stammer fra en diskussion på Danmarks største tegneserierelaterede site, seriejournalen.dk. Værket – “Ceci n’est pas dansk tegneseriekultur” er en både kompleks, subtil og tankevækkende afsøgning af det sprudlende tankegods, der sætter dagsordnen i dansk tegneseriekultur netop nu. Vi håber at Metabunkerens dansklæsende brugere vil værdsætte dette storværk-in-spe lige så højt som vi selv.

Og nu, mine damer og herrer: værket!

Worlds of Difference — Thoughts upon Gary Gygax’ Passing

gygax.jpgGary Gygax, who just passed away, changed my life. Indirectly but still. He was one of the great imaginary enablers of our time. His creation, along with several others, not so much of Dungeons & Dragons itself, but of the role-playing game as an immersive storytelling form, has been central to the development of my imaginary since I was about ten. I never knew much about the man, other than the fact that his name was eminently fitting — I always imagined him as a kind of warlock existing somewhere between fact and fantasy. The ancestor of the waking dreams my fellow travelers and I have shared for so many years.

I was first introduced to the idea of the roleplaying game by a good friend who was not only more streetwise than I, but had an older brother and through him a bunch of hoodlum-in-the-making big friends that also happened to enjoy imaginary worlds. What they were doing at this time was edgy, not nerdy. I simply didn’t get how all this was possible, but it sounded cool. So he invited me along to one of their D&D sessions, as an onlooker and -listener, and that was all I needed — everything clicked. The very next day in school, I drew up a map of a fantasy world in imitation of the one I’d seen the night previous and recruited a bunch of my friends as players to my gamemaster, establishing the pattern of most of my roleplaying since then.

Picks of the Week

The appearance of realism in a superhero costume made from real materials is generally recognized to be difficult to pull off, and many such costumes do not even bother to simulate the presumable effect on the eye and the spirit of the beholder were Black Bolt to stride, trailing a positronic lace of Kirby crackle, into a ballroom of the Overland Park Marriott.”

— Michael Chabon

The picks of the week from around the web.

  • The New Yorker: Michael Chabon, “Secret Skin.” This essay on the superhero costume might literarily be much ado about nothing, but it’s a crackling read.
  • American Gods for free! Neil Gaiman’s most succesful novel, and one of his best despite it petering out somewhat in the end (as usual), has now been made available for online reading in its entirety. A good read.
  • Venetian pigments. OK; this is rather old, and for nerds, but I hadn’t seen it, and am one. And it’s a great article, containing interesting new information on especially Bellini and Titian’s Feast of the Gods.
  • Hype: Smittekilde 10 Years

    I’m in Venice at the moment and have no steady internet connection, and am thus not able to do much here on the blog. But I’d like to take the time out to advertise this: the 10-year anniversary of Zven Balslev’s quality art zine/publication, and now art publisher and record label, Smittekilde! Congrats!

    If you happen to be in Copenhagen, there’s an anniversay reception going on tomorrow night. Details on the flyer. Also, check out Smittekilde Records here.

    One Flew Out of the Cuckoo’s Nest — Comics Between Old and New

    This essay was originally published in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition Comix — on the contemporary intersections between comics and the fine arts — at Brandts klædefabrik, Odense (Sep. 22 2007 — Jan 6 2008). Now that the exhibition is over, it is presented here in a slightly edited version. The catalogue is available in both English and Danish through Brandts bookshop here.

    Comics are both an affirmation of something old and an offer of something new in art. During the early modern era in Europe, comics became separated from the ancient narrative and pictorial practices to which they belong and with industrialization, and modernity they began a new, turbulent life as one of popular culture’s most obstinate bastard children. This existence outside the perimeter of high culture relegated comics to a relatively limited range of expression and genres, which they however cultivated in a way that ensured their survival as an independent and powerful art form. At the same time, comics served as one of the most fertile hibernation grounds for figuration and archetypical narration in times when these were having difficult times in high culture. Although the distance between them has always been short and it has been a long time coming, we have in recent years been seeing a confluence of comics and fine art so pronounced that the traditionally rather clear boundaries between them will have to be re-positioned, if not eliminated altogether. Not surprisingly, this all leads to highly interesting new work.