A delicate fresco and one of the earliest anthropomorphic representations of Buddha dated II-III c. AD — from the South side of the Monastery of Bagh-Gaï, Hadda Gandhara, 10 km of what is today the city of Jalalabad, Afghanistan.
For some 700 years, Buddha was represented through symbols such as a footprint, an empty throne or a tree. The first anthropomorphic images date from the mid II c. AD in the Gandhara region and around the Indian city of Mathura.
Photo taken at the Musée Guimet des arts asiatiques, Paris.
“La soupe” Picasso, 1902-1903.
The Blue period of Picasso is one of intense silent emotions; exquisite lines with bodies stretched like the ones of El Greco, one of Picasso’s inspirations; and one that saw the young painter gently find a way to depict his own solitude and despair through the portrayal of the most marginalized, such as women in prison.
This monochrome melancholic period started with the suicide of his friend, the Spanish poet Carles Casagemas in 1901, and lasted three years. By 1904, he shifted to what is known as the Pink period, lasting less than two years, where emotions gently made their way through the portrayal of street performers (saltimbanques), yet never in performance but rather focusing on their family lives.
While in the Blue period, Picasso portrayed most people with their eyes closed or turned away and in complete silence, in the Pink and then Ocre periods, they come alive and sounds start to infiltrate the paintings. By 1907, the great transformation occures with angles and the use of primitive patterns, culminating in “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” (MoMA), considered the first modern painting in the history of Western art.
Inspiration: “Picasso: bleu et rose,” Musée d’Orsay, Paris (jusqu’au 9 Janvier 2019).
I saw the painting at the above mentioned exhibit. It is generally on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Ottawa, Canada.
“Nativity” — a fresco by Bernardino Luini (Italy, 1485-1532), made around 1520-25.
In my eyes, this Nativity representation is most special because of the serenity that emanates from it and the gentleness in the gestures of all the ones present.
Being a fresco, the colours appear to us after so many years subdued, giving the scene a most serene and warm feeling. The use of the full spectrum of colours from warm to cold hues is remarkable in that there is no clash and everything remains soothing to the eyes.
And of course, the influence of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) is undeniable. Da Vinci was a contemporary and a friend of Luini, and his influence can be seen through the softness of the facial expressions and the delicate touches of light. Actually both painters used similar technics, and until recently some paintings by Luini had been attributed to Da Vinci.
This fresco was originally in a private chapel in Milan. It is now at the Louvre, Paris. The photo was taken by me and the colours are exactly as you see them.
“Li Bai chanting poetry” by Laing Kai, China XIIIth c. (Southern Song Dynasty) – via Tokyo National Museum
An ink painting on paper remarkable for its simplicity in technic made with just a few brush strokes; and in the portrayal of Li Bai (701-762), one of the great Chinese poets of the Tang Dynasty, known for his unencumbered use of words and depth of poetry.
The robe seems to blend with the background and a faint shadow suggest that Li Bai is walking during the evening. The painting has no elaborate details and yet we can feel the serenity of both the poet and the setting.
There is one poem by Li Bai that has always moved me and that with time, I have come to understand:
“The birds have vanished down the sky,
and now the last cloud drains away.
We sit together, the mountain and I,
until only the mountain remains.”
“Biiga” — a beautiful wooden doll representing a spirit child, sometimes used during the initiation rights after a young girl attains puberty. From the Mossi tribe in Burkina Fasso, dated mid-20th c.
Via Galerie d’art africain, Paris.
Inspiration: toys, simplicity.
“Pine trees” by Hasegawa Tohaku, dated 16th c. (Azuchi-Momoyama Period), Japan
– via the Tokyo National Museum.
This is one of two six-fold panels. Painted with ink on paper, it is considered one of the jewels of Japanese ink painting.
In Japanese and Chinese art, pines symbolise winter, wisdom and longevity, since they do not loose their needles with the cold.
By drawing pines in the mist, the author sought to illustrate the Zen concept of “Ma” 間, generally translated as “negative space,” where contradictory things can connect and co-exist. In other words, “Ma” is the delicate moment of total awareness when what is and what is not merge.
Looking at the kanji may help understand it better. The kanji is made of “gate” (門) under which is the “moon” 月. Together they denote the space filled when the light of the moon shines through a gate. Because of the light (what is), one becomes conscious of the space that is void (what is not).
On the practical level, the concept of “Ma,” which I find extremely delicate and simple, is to allow the creation of moments of quietness, of deep reflection and of detachment. It is creating the potential from which harmony and tranquility may prevail.
* In Japan, the concept of space is more subtle and complex than in Western thought. Space is seen as a place of connection, it is not useless emptiness since it is where time and things can pass through and exist. In many ways, the same notion can be found in the Chinese Tao idea that the emptiness within a bowl is what makes it a bowl as much as its material —without the space it could not hold liquid and hence would be useless. In Japan, four kinds of spaces are generally thought of: relational space (wa), location (tokoro), space that helps create connections to produce knowledge (ba) and negative space (ma).
Detail from “Supper at Emmaus” (Italian: “Cena in Emmaus”) by Caravaggio, painted in 1601- at the National Gallery, London.
Caravaggio needs no words.