Benvenuti in queste pagine dedicate ad arte e letteratura. Amelia Carolina Sparavigna

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Raphael in Florence

I have proposed in the previous post "Raphael's portrait of Leonardo", that Raphael depicted in his fresco, the School of Athens, the philosopher Plato with the features of Leonardo. We can ask ourselves where and when Raphael met Leonardo. Probably in Florence around 1504, because in this place and years, both artists where working there, according to the book,  RAPHAEL, by  HENRY STRACHEY, LONDON, G. BELL & SONS, LTD., 1911

"Lo Sposalizio" in the Brera at Milan, may  be said to mark a further stage in Raphael's emancipation. It bears, on the temple in the background of the picture, the inscription, "Raphael Urbinas, M.D. IIII." 
Vasari's allusion to this picture seems to indicate that he considered this work to show that the young painter  was throwing off the trammels of Perugino. He says:" In this work the process of excellence may be distinctly traced in the manner of Raphael, which is here much refined, and greatly surpasses that of Pietro." ...  Somewhere about this time Raphael most likely went to Siena, for Vasari says that Pintoricchio,  who was about to paint in the Piccolomini Library, sent for Raphael to help him. There seems nothing unlikely in this story, and it would account for the drawing made from the antique group of the three graces, which was then at Siena, and which drawing Raphael used for the little picture of the " Graces," of  the Dudley collection. ... According to Vasari, Raphael left Siena on hearing of the great artistic stir then taking place in Florence, caused by the exhibition of Leonardo's and Michelangelo's cartoons for the decoration of a hall in the Palazzo Vecchio. It seems that Leonardo began to make preparations to paint in February 1505. This would accord with Vasari's story, and with the letter which the Duchess of Urbino wrote to the Gonfaloniere Soderini, recommending " The painter Raphael of Urbino." She says "The talent which he possesses has decided him to come to Florence for a time, to perfect himself in his art. His father was dear to me for his many excellent qualities, and I had not less affection for his son, who is a modest and agreeable 
young man, and one who will, I hope, make all possible progress." The letter is dated October 1, 1504. One cannot help being amused at the worthy Duchess's hope that the agreeable young man will make progress, when he was no other than the painter of " Lo Sposalizio." 
It is quite possible that Raphael may have been to Florence before this, as it seems clear that Perugino 
was in the habit of going backwards and forwards between the Tuscan capital and Perugia; and he may have taken Raphael with him. However, it is not until the visit which seems to have been made at the end of  the year 1504 that we can trace a stage in the development of the painter attributable to the influence of Florentine art. Raphael stayed in Florence from 1504 to 1508,  paying occasional visits to both Perugia and Urbino. At the former place he carried out two important works, the "Madonna di Sant Antonio" once in the South Kensington Museum, and the "Madonna Ansidei" in  the National Gallery. While in Florence he painted that wonderful series of Madonnas, beginning with the "Gran Duca" and " Terranuova" the full list of  which will be found in the chronological table given at the end of this volume. 

Friday, 2 December 2011

Raphael's portrait of Leonardo

Published as An image processing of a Raphael's portrait of Leonardo, by Amelia Carolina Sparavigna, Dipartimento di Fisica, Politecnico di Torino, http://arxiv.org/abs/1111.6030
Abstract: In one of his paintings, the School of Athens, Raphael is depicting Leonardo da Vinci as the philosopher Plato. Some image processing tools can help us in comparing this portrait with two Leonardo’s portraits, considered as self-portraits.

The "Scuola di Atene" is one of the most famous paintings by Raphael, the Italian Renaissance artist. Painted between 1510 and 1511, this fresco decorates the wall of one of the rooms, the "Stanza della Segnatura", in the Apostolic Palaces of Vatican. The great Greek philosophers are represented inside a classic architecture. At the central position of this masterpiece, we see two philosophers, Plato on the left and Aristotle, his student, on the right. Plato is shown as a wise-looking man (see Fig.1). It is believed that Raphael based the Plato's face on the features of Leonardo da Vinci [1]. The two artists probably had established a direct interaction when Raphael spent a period of his life in Florence, perhaps from about 1504 to 1508 [2-4]. Leonardo da Vinci returned to Florence from 1500 to 1506: therefore, if the image of Plato is a portrait of Leonardo, this means that Raphael depicted him when Leonardo was 52 or 54 year old.

Fig.1 Raphael’s Plato (image source:  http://www.aiwaz.net/)

There is a portrait in red chalk, dated approximately 1510 and held at the Biblioteca Reale of Turin, which is widely accepted as a self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci. It is thought that Leonardo drew this self-portrait at the age of 58 or 60 (see Fig.2). Ref.5 tells that this well-known drawing is not universally accepted as a self-portrait, because the depicted face appears to be quite old, suggesting that Leonardo represented his father or grandfather. Another possibility is that Leonardo altered himself, in order that Raphael might use it for his Plato. However, Plato does not look so old in the painting by Raphael.

Fig.2 Leonardo’s portrait in red chalk (dated approx. 1510) held at the Biblioteca Reale of Turin.

In any case, let us try to find some matching points between the portraits, that of the man in red chalk (Fig.2) - let us call it from now on the self-portrait in red chalk – and the image of Plato (Fig.1) that Raphael had depicted in his fresco. To match the two faces, the image processing is fundamental: in particular, we will use another Leonardo's portrait merged with the self-portrait in red chalk. This portrait is a drawing of the Codex on the Flight of Birds, which Leonardo had partially hidden by his writing, as shown in Fig3, left panel. According to Carlo Pedretti, an Italian historian expert on the life and works of Leonardo, this is a self-portrait [6,7] made when the artist was young. The codex dated approximately 1505, but the portrait is older for sure: Leonardo recycled the paper for the composition of the Codex.
To use this portrait it is necessary to remove the written text. Carlo Pedretti was the first to suggest a “restoration” of this drawing, of course not of the real page of the Codex, but made on a photographic plate. It was only two years ago, in 2009, that Piero Angela, an Italian scientific journalist, presented the digital restoration of the portrait [8,9], that is, the restoration of the corresponding digital image. In 2009, I have proposed a simple approach that uses an iterative procedure based on thresholding and interpolation with nearest neighbouring pixels [10,11]. Recently, I proposed a further processing with a wavelet-filtering program, Iris [12-14]: the result is shown in Fig.3, right panel. According to Pedretti, this is the young Leonardo da Vinci self-portrait.

Fig.3. A page of the Codex on the Flight of Birds contains a Leonardo’s portrait. Using a digital restoration that removes the writing, the portrait appears.

For any comparison with the Raphael’s portrait, we have to complete this image, since the artist abandoned it unfinished. We use another processing tool, the GIMP [15], for this purpose. Using GIMP, we can add this drawing of the young man to the self-portrait in red chalk of the old man. The result is given in Fig.4: besides showing that the two faces have the same relative distances of eyes, nose and mouth, this portrait makes the old Leonardo look younger.


Fig.4 Using GIMP [15] we can add the portrait of the young man (Fig.3, right) to the self-portrait in red chalk (Fig.2) of the old man.

 Fig.5 On the right, the Raphael painting and on the left, the result of a merging of two Leonardo’s drawings

In Figure 5 we have the two images, the Raphael painting on the right and the result of merging the two Leonardo’s drawings on the left, shown side by side. Let me remark that we are looking at two images obtained from originals created by two artists who used different techniques and a different rendering of the head position. Moreover, there is another fact, which is in my opinion quite important, that the two portraits are showing a distinct side of the face. And we know very well that the two sides are not equal and that the existing small differences create the "good" and "bad" side of our faces [16].

Let us remember that for all the living creatures, the bilateral symmetry [17] of the body is an approximate symmetry: the two halves, left and right, of the body and then of the face, are not perfectly symmetrical. The symmetry of human faces is a subject of several studies. Some researchers are supporting the idea that more symmetry means more beauty and freedom from diseases [18-20]. On the other hand, a face, which is too symmetric, gives the impression of being unnatural [21].

Fig.6. Let us consider two canvasses, having on them a self-portrait and a portrait respectively, with the head depicted in the same position. The side of the face is different. When an artist is depicting a self-portrait, he is looking at the face in a mirror. Assuming the position of the head as above, the self-portrait is showing the left side of the face. In the case that it is another artist depicting the portrait, he is looking at the face directly, and then the side depicted is the right one.

The fact that the two sides are different is quite relevant if we are comparing a self-portrait with a portrait, because we must be sure to compare the same side of the face. For the explanation, let me use Fig.6. Let us consider two canvasses, having on them a self-portrait and a portrait, with the head depicted in the same position, the two paintings are showing a different side of the face. When the artist is depicting a self-portrait, he is looking at the face in a mirror. When it is another artist depicting the portrait, he is looking at the face directly. For this reason, if the face on the canvas has the same position, the depicted sides turn out to be different. Therefore, if the left image of Fig.5 is a self-portrait and the right image is a portrait, it is necessary to reflect one of then, to point out that we are seeing different sides.
I decided to change the Raphael’s image, with a reflection and a small rotation using GIMP. Moreover, I converted the colours in grey tones, to avoid the vision of different hues. Fig.7 gives the result. Is the figure showing the same person? I guess that there is this possibility, but further studies are necessary. Let me then avoid a direct answer and just write some conclusions.

Fig.7 Is this the same person?

Using the image processing we had compared portraits having quite different origins. This is telling that several processing tools, some of them freely available, can help in the study of history and arts. For what concerns the specific case, it seems from Fig.7, that the structure of the two faces, in particular of nose and cheekbones, is quite similar. We can also see that one of the eyes is a little bit larger in both images. According on the previous discussion on portrait and self-portrait (Fig.6), I tend to consider the Raphael’s Plato based on a direct interaction between Raphael and Leonardo, when Raphael was in Florence, and then on a previous portrait or drawing that Raphael made of Leonardo.

1. Raffaello Sanzio, presentato da M.G. Ciardi Dupré, Milano, Fratelli Fabbri Editore, 1963.
2. Cecil Gould, The Sixteenth Century Italian Schools, National Gallery Catalogues, London 1975.
3. Raphael, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raphael,
4. The School of Athens, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_School_of_Athens
5. Cultural depictions of Leonardo da Vinci,
6.. E. Crispino, C. Pedretti, C. Frost, Leonardo: Art and Science, Giunti, 2001.
7. C. Pedretti, A Chronology of Leonardo Da Vinci's Architectural Studies after 1500, E. Droz, Geneva, 1962.
8. ANSA.it - News in English - Leonardo self- portrait 'discovered', 2009 and also BBC NEWS Europe - 'Early Leonardo portrait' found, 2009.
9. http://www.leonardo3.net/
10. Amelia Carolina Sparavigna, 2009, The Digital Restoration of Da Vinci's Sketches, http://arxiv.org/abs/0903.1448
11. Amelia Carolina Sparavigna, 2009, Digital Restoration of Ancient Papyri,http://arxiv.org/abs/0903.5045
12. Amelia Carolina Sparavigna, 2011, A self-portrait of young Leonardo,http://arxiv.org/abs/1111.4654
13. Iris © 1999-2010, Christian Buil, http://www.astrosurf.com/buil/us/iris/iris.htm
14. Amelia Carolina Sparavigna, 2009, Enhancing the Google imagery using a wavelet filter, http://arxiv.org/abs/1009.1590
15. GIMP © 2001-2011, http://www.gimp.org/
16. I have read on the Glamour Magazine about a simple experiment by P. Gugliemetti, Do You Have A Good Side And Bad Side Of Your Face?, 11-13-2008. The author writes "At a party over the summer, I mentioned to someone how I have a good side and bad side, and she thought I was just being dramatic. So I had her take a photo of each side and we showed the shots to random people in the room, asking them to vote on which side was my prettier one. Every single person voted right! Then we tried this on other people, lining them up one-by-one against a white wall, shooting their sides, and having people vote. Only a couple had equally attractive sides."
17. Bilateral symmetry of a body means that there exists a plane which is dividing the body into two mirror image halves. An operation of reflection shows that the two halves coincide.
18. G. Rhodes and L.A. Zebrowitz, Facial Attractiveness - Evolutionary, Cognitive, and Social Perspectives. Ablex. ISBN 1567506364, 2002
19. R.J. Edler, Journal of Orthodontics Vol.28(2), pag.159, 2001
20. K. Grammer and R. Thornhill, Journal of Comparative Psychology, Vol. 108, pag.233, 1994.
21. R. Kowner, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, Vol.22, pag.662, 1996.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Leonardo, Genio e Mito

Alla Venaria Reale (Torino) si apre la mostra su Leonardo da Vinci. Il titolo è "Leonardo, il Genio, il Mito".
In esposizione vi è l'autoritratto della Biblioteca Reale e il Codice del Volo.
In una pagina del codice, sotto la scrittora di Leonardo, vi è un ritratto, forse un suo autoritratto da giovane.

Image processing della pagina del codice, A.C. Sparavigna

Friday, 14 October 2011

Mela, Pomponius

"Pomponius Mela, who wrote around AD 43, was the earliest Roman geographer. He was born in Tingentera (Algeciras) and died c 45 CE. His short work (De situ orbis libri III.) occupies less than one hundred pages of ordinary print. It is laconic in style and deficient in method, but of pure Latinity, and occasionally relieved by pleasing word-pictures. Excepting the geographical parts of Pliny's Historia naturalis (where Mela is cited as an important authority) the De situ orbis is the only formal treatise on the subject in Classical Latin."
Munich Digitization Center
Digitised works/ Author: Mela, Pomponius

Monday, 4 July 2011

Moon over Japan

Moon over Japan.
White butterfly moon!
The waters wash against the sacred islands
Where steps lead down to the sea,
Where neither death nor birth is permitted,
Where the heavy-lidded Buddhas dream
To the sound of the cuckoo's call,
The whitened mists lie adrift among the
And steal the color from the bright-leaved maples
On the mountains where the deer pasture and the monkeys sleep among the branches.
The white wings of moon-butterflies
Flicker down the streets of the city.
Brushing into darkness the useless wicks of round lanterns in the hands of girls.

This is the initial part of “Sky Lotus,” by Elizabeth J. Coatsworth, published in the July 1919 issue of Asia, “The American Magazine on the Orient,” published by the American Asiatic Association.

Hokusai manga - fox

Hokusai manga
Museo Arte Orientale, Torino

Four actors

A group of four actors
Tang Dinasty, first half of the 8th century AD
Museo Arte Orientale, Torino


Gandhara, II-III secolo d.C.

Il Bodhisattva Padmapani siede su un alto trono con il piede sinistro posato a terra e la gamba destra piegata a appoggiata sul ginocchio opposto. L’alto seggio su cui Padmapani è seduto ha una spessa base su cui si appoggiano i sandali (infradito!). Il Bodhisattva indossa paridhana e uttariya. Porta un turbante a fascia, grandi orecchini a testa di leone, collane e un cordone con piccoli involucri porta-preghiere, portato di traverso dalla spalla sinistra al fianco destro. Padmapani tiene nella mano sinistra un grosso bocciolo di fiore di loto, mentre l’altra, mancante, era rivolta verso la testa.

Museo Arte Orientale, Torino

Il funzionario militare

Funzionario militare
Dinastia Tang, VIII secolo D.C.
Terracotta rossa, ingobbio bianco, pigmenti e oro
Military official
Tang Dinasty 8th centry A.D.
Red earthenware with white engobe, pigments and gold

Museo Arte Orientale, Torino


Stampe xilografiche, Giappone, Periodo Edo
Museo Arte Orientale, Torino

Sugawara no Michizane

Sugawara no Michizane che cavalca un bufalo.
Utagawa Sadakage (attivo dal 1818-1844)
Sugawara no Michizane (845-903) venne divinizzato
come dio protettore delle lettere e della calligrafia.
Viene rappresentato spesso sotto fiori di susino a
cavallo di un bufalo, che lo accompagna durante
l'esilio dalla capitale.
Museo Arte Orientale

Hokusai manga - supernatural

The Hokusai Manga (北斎漫画) is a collection of sketches of various subjects by the Japanese artist Hokusai. Subjects of the sketches include landscapes, flora and fauna, everyday life and the supernatural... The Manga comprise literally thousands of images in 15 volumes, the first published in 1814, when the artist was 55. The final three volumes were published posthumously, two of them assembled by their publisher from previously unpublished material. 
more Wiki

Museo Arte Orientale

Kongo Rokishi come Ercole

"Kongōrikishi are an interesting case of the possible transmission of the image of the Greek hero Heracles to East Asia along the Silk Road. Heracles was used in Greco-Buddhist art to represent Vajrapani, the protector of the Buddha, and his representation was then used in China and Japan to depict the protector gods of Buddhist temples. This transmission is part of the wider Greco-Buddhist syncretic phenomenon, where Buddhism interacted with the Hellenistic culture of Central Asia from the 4th century BC to the 4th century AD.*"
According to Wiki http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shukongoshin
* "The origin of the image of Vajrapani should be explained. This deity is the protector and guide of the Buddha Sakyamuni. His image was modeled after that of Hercules. (...) The Gandharan Vajrapani was transformed in Central Asia and China and afterwards transmitted to Japan, where it exerted stylistic influences on the wrestler-like statues of the Guardian Deities (Nio)." (Katsumi Tanabe, "Alexander the Great, East-West cultural contacts from Greece to Japan", p23)

Hokusai manga - cat

Un gatto di Hokusai
Museo Arte Orientale - Torino

Kongo Rikishi

Kongo Rikishi stante su base rocciosa
legno di cipresso giapponese dipinto, altezza cm 230,5
Giappone, periodo Kamakura, seconda metà XIII secolo

Imponente statua realizzata con pezzi assemblati (yosegi-zukuri). Rappresenta uno dei due guardiani del tempio e della dottrina buddhista posti in coppia ai lati della porta dei monasteri. Ha la bocca chiusa e contratta per esprimere l’esplosivo hum, il terribile mantra delle divinità furiose.

Museo Arte Orientale, Torino

Monday, 11 April 2011

Il Buddha dei Leoni

Il Buddha siede su un trono sorretto da tre leoni, che poggia a sua volta su un piedistallo fiancheggiato da due  devoti monaci. La veste monastica dalle pieghe accuratamente disegnate e priva di cintura rivela il corpo ben modellato. Il lembo dello scialle scende dalla spalla sinistra terminando in un doppia “coda di pesce”.
Il leone in questa iconografia evoca  il suo ruggito (simhanada) ossia la voce del Buddha che penetra lo spazio divulgando la Dottrina.
Museo Arte Orientale, Torino

Centenario - Emilio Salgari

Quest'anno è il centenario della morte di Emilio Salgari.
Chi non ha letto un libro o visto un film  il cui protagonista è Sandokan, la Tigre della Malesia?
Read more http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandokan

The Eye of Osiris

"The Eye of Osiris" is a novel written by Richard Austin Freeman (1862 - 1943). He was a British writer of detective stories, mostly featuring the medico-legal forensic investigator Dr Thorndyke. A large proportion of the Dr Thorndyke stories involve genuine points of scientific knowledge, from areas such as tropical medicine, metallurgy and toxicology. In this crime novel, Dr Thorndyke solved the mistery using a X-ray photography of a mummy.
"It was all clear enough so far. The peculiar sound that filled the air was the hum of the interrupter; the bulb was, of course, a Crookes' tube, and the red spot inside it, the glowing red-hot disc of the anti-cathode. Clearly an X-ray photograph was being made; but of what? I strained my eyes, peering into the gloom at the foot of the gallows, but though I could make out an elongated object lying on the floor directly under the bulb, I could not resolve the dimly seen shape into anything recognisable. Presently, however, Dr. Norbury supplied the clue. 'I am rather surprised,' said he, 'that you chose so composite an object as a mummy to begin on. I should have thought that a simpler object, such as a coffin or a wooden figure, would have been more instructive.' "
The novel is named from an Egyptian symbol, the Eye of Horus.
The Eye of Horus is an ancient Egyptian symbol of protection, royal power and good health. The eye is personified in the goddess Wadjet. The name Wadjet is derived from 'wadj' meaning 'green' hence 'the green one' and was known to the Greeks and Romans as 'uraeus' from the Egyptian 'iaret' meaning 'risen one' from the image of a cobra rising up in protection. More at Wiki
Wadjet was one of the earliest of Egyptian deities who later became associated with other goddesses such as Bast, Mut, and Hathor, who is also depicted with this eye. Burial amulets were often made in the shape of the Eye of Horus, to protect the owner in the afterlife and to ward off evil. Ancient Egyptian and Near Eastern sailors would frequently paint the symbol on the bow of their vessel to ensure safe sea travel (Charles Freeman, The Legacy of Ancient Egypt, Facts on File, Inc. 1997. p.91).
"Horus was the ancient Egyptian sky god who was usually depicted as a falcon. His right eye was associated with the sun Ra. The eye symbol represents the marking around a Peregrine Falcon's eye that includes the "teardrop" marking sometimes found below the eye."
It is interesting to note that, in the ancient egyptian calculus, the Eye Of Horus defined number one (1) = 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 + 1/16 + 1/32 + 1/64, by throwing away 1/64. The parts of the Eye were used to represent fractions.

Amulets on display at the Egyptian Museum, Torino

La Medusa di Wayland's Smithy

Un crop circle del 2009, che si vede con Google Maps. "Formazione anomala, e spettacolare. È stata riportata da tutti i media internazionali in quanto dotata di una rara quanto unica energia espressiva."

Wayland's Smithy is a Neolithic long barrow and chamber tomb site located near the Uffington White Horse and Uffington Castle, at Ashburyin the English county ofOxfordshire (historically in Berkshire).

Horse and dog - China

Riding with the dog

Museo Arte Orientale, Torino

Dedica al Giappone

Gyokusen - Schizzo
Museo Arte Orientale, Torino

Tiger - Tora

Paravento - Wind wall - Museo Arte Orientale - Torino
The tiger is revered not just in Japan but in the entire Asian adjoining societies. In Japan, the tiger (tora) is the emblem of the great aristocratic warriors, known as the samurai.
The tiger represents the virtue of courage.

Yashima Gakutei

Yashima Gakutei (1786-1868)
Dea con drago e sol nascente, Periodo Edo, c.1825
Xilografia su carta, nishiki-e con pigmenti metallici e gauffrage
Goddess with dragon and rising sun, Edo period, c.1825
Xylography on paper, nishili-e with metal pigments and gauffrage
Museo Arte Orientale, Torino

Nishiki-e (lit. "brocade picture") refers to Japanese multi-colored woodblock printing. It was invented in the 1760s, and perfected and popularized by the printmaker Suzuki Harunobu, who produced a great many nishiki-e prints between 1765 and his death five years later. Previously, most prints had been in black-and-white, colored by hand, or colored with the addition of one or two color ink blocks. A nishiki-e print is created by carving a separate woodblock for every color, and using them in a stepwise fashion. An engraver by the name of Kinroku is credited with the technical innovations that allowed the blocks of separate colors to fit perfectly onto the page, relative to others, in order to have the complete image.

Tenno - Fujiwara Period

Tenno, Uno dei Re Protettori
Legno di cipresso (hinoki), h. 119 cm 
Giappone, periodo Fujiwara, XII secolo
Museo Arte Orientale, Torino

Il museo possiede una coppia di statue (Ni-tenno, due tenno) dall’atteggiamento fiero che, calpestando figure mostruose, levano il braccio originariamente dotato di un’arma oggi perduta. Questa coppia è tratta dal gruppo dei Quattro Grandi Re degli Orienti (Shi-tenno) che la cosmologia buddhista colloca ai lati del Monte Meru. 
Come protettori, in Giappone gli Shi-tenno furono posti ai quattro angoli intorno all’immagine principale del tempio. Le due statue del MAO sono scolpite nella tecnica ichiboku zukuri in un singolo blocco di legno, salvo le braccia.

Shitennō and the four directions

The Shitennō are protectors of the four directions. They ward off evil, guard the nation, and protect the world from malicious spirits, hence the Japanese term Gose Shitennō 護世四天王, literally “four world-protecting deva kings.” Each represents a direction, season, color, virtue, and element. They originated in India but were later adopted into the Buddhist pantheon in China and Japan. They are venerated as temple guardians and protectors of the nation. In China, statues of the four are often placed near temple entrances, but in Japan, effigies of the four are more commonly placed around the central deity on the main altar. The four are commanded by Taishakuten, Lord of the Center. They are nearly always dressed in armor (yoroi 鎧), looking ferocious (funnusō 忿怒相), and carryingweapons or objects. They are also typically shown standing atop evil spirits (known as Jaki in Japan).
Shitennō iconography is related to the Four Celestial Emblems (dragon, red bird, tiger, turtle) of China, who also guard the four cardinal directions. In Japanese statuary, the Shitennō are almost always portrayed in animated warrior poses rather than static postures of ease or meditation...
Adapted from http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/shitenno.shtml
See also http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/buddhism.shtml


Legno scolpito e policromia
Giappone, inizi del periodo Edo, XVII sec.
Museo Arte Orientale

Tamon-Ten, guardiano del Nord, è il capo dei Re Celesti che sono preposti ai quattro punti cardinali e abitano il Monte Meru come protettori del Mondo e della Legge buddhista. A partire dal IX secolo divenne oggetto di un culto popolare in Giappone che lo rese quasi indipendente dagli altri tre Re Guardiani. Fu venerato in particolare come dio della prosperità. Ha il volto di un guerriero, è rivestito da una armatura  e siede su rocce stilizzate che simbolizzano il Monte Meru.

Buddha assiso

Buddha assiso - Gandhara

Le figure sono ricavate all’interno di un arco. L’arco poggia su due lesene con capitelli che richiamano le foglie di acanto dei capitelli corinzi. Sui capitelli sono collocati due grifoni dalle code fiammeggianti. Il Buddha è assiso, la gamba sinistra piegata a terra e il ginocchio destro sollevato su cui poggia il gomito destro. La mano destra mancante era sostegno al volto inclinato in atteggiamento pensoso. Al disopra della spalla destra del Buddha si scorge la figura di Vajrapani che impugna il simbolo del fulmine di Indra. Il fregio alla base del pannello presenta scene dalla vita di Shakyamuni e la sua figura emaciata dalle pratiche ascetiche intraprese prima dell’Illuminazione. 
Museo Arte Orientale, Torino 

The teacher appears

But lo! the teacher Jizô appears,
All gently he comes, and says to the weeping infants:
"Be not afraid, dears! be never fearful!
Poor little souls, your lives were brief indeed!
Too soon you were forced to make the weary journey to the Meido,
The long journey to the region of the dead!
Trust to me! I am your father and mother in the Meido,
Father of all children in the region of the dead."
And he folds the skirt of his shining robe about them;
So graciously takes he pity on the infants.
To those who cannot walk he stretches forth his strong shakujô,
And he pets the little ones, caresses them, takes them to his loving bosom.
So graciously he takes pity on the infants.
Namo Jizo Bosatsu!

The Legend of the Humming of the Sai-no-Kawara,
by Lafcadio Hearn (Koizumi Yakumo)

Jizo - matrix of the earth

Jizo was a bodhisattva (bosatsu in Japanese), a man who achieved enlightenment but forsaked nirvana to help others find paradise. He was worshiped as the protector of those in distress, of children, of mothers in childbirth, and of travelers. Worship of the bodhisattva Jizo began in the eighth century with the importation of esoteric Buddhist practices from China. Jizo, whose name means "matrix of the earth," was revered as one of the Eight Great Bodhisattvas of the esoteric sect. Jizo and his counterpart, Kakuzo ("matrix of the void"), represent the union of the physical and metaphysical realms.
The Jizo figure is defined by his clothing, by the objects he holds, and by his physical attributes. His head is shaven, and he is dressed in monk's robes, a simple rectangle of cloth (kesa) tied in front over a longer skirt. In his left hand, Jizo holds a wish-granting jewel; he would have held a shakujo (jingle-staff) in his right. The shakujo was used to alert insects and small animals of his approach, so that he would not accidentally harm them. Jizo's idealized face and head-the perfectly proportioned features, third eye, elongated ears, and folds of skin at the neck-also show attributes of an enlightened being.
adapted from http://www.lacma.org/japaneseart/sculpture/jizo.htm

Jizo Bosatsu

Il bodhisattva Jizo
Legno laccato e dipinto
Giappone, fine del periodo Muromachi, XV-XVI sec. 

Jizo Bosatsu, il bodhisattva Jizo, è venerato in Giappone come colui che interviene a trarre i fedeli dagli inferni in cui possono essere caduti. Nell’iconografia del Buddhismo giapponese è ritratto nelle vesti di un monaco dalla testa rasata, munito del bastone del pellegrino e del “gioiello che esaudisce tutti i desideri”. L’assenza di corona e ornamenti è compensata dall’eleganza regale del manto e della tunica decorati con ricami dorati di ispirazione cinese e centro-asiatica. La statua faceva parte della collezione del barone Wilhelm von Bode.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Copyrighting Guevara image?

Reuters - Irish artist bids to copyright Guevara image
"The Irish artist whose poster of Latin American revolutionary Che Guevara became one of the most reproduced images of the 20th century, said he has decided to copyright the image to block "crass commercial" use."
More http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/02/17/us-ireland-art-che-idUSTRE71G5UG20110217

According to Wiki, this image is in the public domain. "The photo was used for the first time internationally in 1967. It is in the public domain by Decree Law no. 156, September 28, 1994, to amend part of Law no. 14 December 28, 1977, Copyright Act (Article 47) which states that the pictures fall into the public domain Worldwide, 25 years after its first use."
This picture was taken by Alberto "Korda" Gutierrez, on March 5, 1960, in Havana, Cuba, at a memorial service for victims of the La Coubre explosion. Korda died 2001; well before, in reference to the image becoming a ubiquitous worldwide symbol, he stated “As a supporter of the ideals for which Che Guevara died, I am not averse to its reproduction by those who wish to propagate his memory" (Korda).

Friday, 28 January 2011


"Under a Wave off Kanagawa", also known as The Great Wave, is a woodblock print by the Japanese artist Hokusai. This particular woodblock is one of the most recognized works of Japanese art in the world. It depicts an enormous wave threatening boats near the Japanese prefecture of Kanagawa. It depicts the area around Mount Fuji and the mountain itself appears in the background. Copies of the print are in many Western collections.

Torino - Museo Arte Orientale

Gyokusen Shuga Cho

Mochizuki Gyokusen (1834-1913)

Torino - Museo Arte Orientale, Via San Domenico 11

M R James - The Treasure of Abbot Thomas

"Up to the present day there is much gossip among the Canons about a certain hidden treasure of this Abbot Thomas, for which those of Steinfeld have often made search, though hitherto in vain. The story is that Thomas, while yet in the vigour of life, concealed a very large quantity of gold somewhere in the monastery. He was often asked where it was, and always answered, with a laugh: 'Job, John, and Zechariah will tell either you or your successors.' He sometimes added that he should feel no grudge against those who might find it."

M R James - The Treasure of Abbot Thomas

Bel racconto breve di James sulla ricerca di un tesoro nascosto.

Ulysses' last voyage

I and my company were old and slow when at that narrow passage we arrived where Hercules his landmarks set as signals, that man no farther onward should adventur. On the right hand behind me I left Seville, and on the other already had left Ceuta. 'O brothers, who amid a hundred thousand perils,' I said, 'have come to the West, to this short eve which is the remaining of your senses, still be you unwilling to deny the knowledge, following the sun, of the unpeopled world. Consider the seed from which you sprang; you were not made to live like brutes, but for pursuit of virtue and of knowledge.' So eager did I render my companions, with this brief exhortation for the voyage, that then I hardly could have held them back. And having turned our stern to the morning, we of our oars made wings for this mad flight, evermore gaining on the larboard side.
Already saw the night all the stars of the other pole, and ours so very low that they did not rise above the ocean floor. Five days and nights lasted since we had entered into the deep pass, when a mountain appeared to us, dim from distance, and it seemed to me so high as I had never any one seen.
Joyful were we, and soon it turned to weeping; for out of the new land a whirlwind rose, and smote upon the fore part of the ship. Three times it made her whirl with all the waters, at the fourth time it made the stern uplift, and the prow downward go, as pleased Another, until the sea above us closed again."

arranged from Longfellow's Translation


Lo maggior corno de la fiamma antica comincio` a crollarsi mormorando pur come quella cui vento affatica; indi la cima qua e la` menando, come fosse la lingua che parlasse, gitto` voce di fuori, e disse:
Io e compagni eravam vecchi e tardi quando venimmo a quella foce stretta dov'Ercule segno` li suoi riguardi, accio` che l'uom piu` oltre non si metta: da la man destra mi lasciai Sibilia, da l'altra gia` m'avea lasciata Setta.
"O frati", dissi "che per cento milia perigli siete giunti a l'occidente, a questa tanto picciola vigilia d'i nostri sensi ch'e` del rimanente, non vogliate negar l'esperienza, di retro al sol, del mondo sanza gente. Considerate la vostra semenza: fatti non foste a viver come bruti, ma per seguir virtute e canoscenza". Li miei compagni fec'io si` aguti, con questa orazion picciola, al cammino, che a pena poscia li avrei ritenuti; e volta nostra poppa nel mattino, de' remi facemmo ali al folle volo, sempre acquistando dal lato mancino. Tutte le stelle gia` de l'altro polo vedea la notte e 'l nostro tanto basso, che non surgea fuor del marin suolo.
Cinque volte racceso e tante casso lo lume era di sotto da la luna, poi che 'ntrati eravam ne l'alto passo, quando n'apparve una montagna, bruna per la distanza, e parvemi alta tanto quanto veduta non avea alcuna.
Noi ci allegrammo, e tosto torno` in pianto, che' de la nova terra un turbo nacque, e percosse del legno il primo canto. Tre volte il fe' girar con tutte l'acque; a la quarta levar la poppa in suso e la prora ire in giu`, com'altrui piacque, infin che 'l mar fu sovra noi richiuso.

Profiles - Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley (1797 – 1851) was a British novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer, and travel writer, best known for her Gothic novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus (1818). Her husband was the Romantic poet and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley. Read more http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Shelley.
In 1816, the couple spent a summer with Lord Byron, John William Polidori, and Claire Clairmont near Geneva, Switzerland, where Mary conceived the idea for her novel Frankenstein.


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

- Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1818

Questa poesia parla di Ozymandias, altro nome di Ramses II.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Lord Arthur Savile's Crime

Un racconto di OscarWilde, parodia del "dovere", questo Lord Arthur Savile's Crime
In this story, Lord Arthur Savile, is introduced by Lady Windermere to Mr Septimus R. Podgers, a chiromantist, who reads his palm and tells him that he will be a murderer. Lord Arthur wants to marry, so he decides that he has no right to do so until he has committed the murder...

...Suddenly she looked eagerly round the room, and said, in her clear contralto voice, 'Where is my cheiromantist?'  'Your what, Gladys?' exclaimed the Duchess, giving an involuntary start. 'My cheiromantist, Duchess; I can't live without him at present.'
 'Dear Gladys! you are always so original,' murmured the Duchess, trying to remember what a cheiromantist really was, and hoping it was not the same as a cheiropodist.
 'He comes to see my hand twice a week regularly,' continued Lady Windermere, 'and is most interesting about it.'  'Good heavens!' said the Duchess to herself, 'he is a sort of cheiropodist after all. How very dreadful. I hope he is a foreigner at any rate. It wouldn't be quite so bad then.'
 'I must certainly introduce him to you.' 'Introduce him!' cried the Duchess; 'you don't mean to say he is here?' and she began looking about for a small tortoise-shell fan and a very tattered lace shawl, so as to be ready to go at a moment's notice.

Il Caronte di Virgilio

Nella mitologia, Caronte, figlio di Erebo e Notte, era il traghettatore dell'Ade. Trasportava le anime da una riva all'altra del fiume Acheronte, ma solo se i loro corpi avevano ricevuto i rituali funebri, con un obolo per pagare il viaggio; chi non aveva l'obolo, era costretto vagare tra le nebbie del fiume per cento anni. Si metteva così una moneta nella bocca del defunto prima della sepoltura. Alcuni ricercatori sostengono che il prezzo era di due monete, sistemate sopra gli occhi.

Pochissime anime vive son state trasportate da Caronte, tra di loro Enea, Ulisse, Orfeo e Dante.
Caronte viene descritto nell'Eneide da Virgilio al libro VI con le seguenti parole:

"Portitor has horrendus aquas et flumina servat
terribili squalore Charon, cui plurima mento
canities inculta iacet, stant lumina flamma,
sordidus ex umeris nodo dependet amictus.
Ipse ratem conto subigit velisque ministrat
et ferruginea subvectat corpora cumba,
iam senior, sed cruda deo viridisque senectus."

Ecco che Dante segue il suo maestro Virtgilio e riprende la figura di Caronte, la barba bianca, gli occhi di fuoco, ma sembra renderlo meno demone e più dannato egli stesso come le anime che traghetta.

Charon the demon

Ed ecco verso noi venir per nave un vecchio, bianco per antico pelo,
gridando: <<Guai a voi, anime prave! Non isperate mai veder lo cielo:
i' vegno per menarvi a l'altra riva ne le tenebre etterne, in caldo e 'n gelo.
E tu che se' costi`, anima viva, partiti da cotesti che son morti>>.
Ma poi che vide ch'io non mi partiva, disse: <<Per altra via, per altri porti
verrai a piaggia, non qui, per passare: piu` lieve legno convien che ti porti>>.
E 'l duca lui: <<Caron, non ti crucciare: vuolsi cosi` cola` dove si puote
cio` che si vuole, e piu` non dimandare>>. Quinci fuor quete le lanose gote
al nocchier de la livida palude, che 'ntorno a li occhi avea di fiamme rote.
Ma quell'anime, ch'eran lasse e nude, cangiar colore e dibattero i denti,
ratto che 'nteser le parole crude. ...
Caron dimonio, con occhi di bragia, loro accennando, tutte le raccoglie;
batte col remo qualunque s'adagia.

And lo! towards us coming in a boat an old man, hoary with the hair of eld, crying:
"Woe unto you, ye souls depraved! Hope nevermore to look upon the heavens; I come to lead you to the other shore, to the eternal shades in heat and frost. And thou, that yonder standest, living soul, withdraw thee from these people, who are dead!"
But when he saw that I did not withdraw, he said: "By other ways, by other ports thou to the shore shalt come, not here, for passage; a lighter vessel needs must carry thee." And unto him the Guide: "Vex thee not, Charon; it is so willed there where is power to do that which is willed; and farther question not." Thereat were quieted the fleecy cheeks of him the ferryman of the livid fen, who round about his eyes had wheels of flame.
But all those souls who weary were and naked their colour changed and gnashed their teeth together, as soon as they had heard those cruel words...
Charon the demon, with the eyes of glede, beckoning to them, collects them all together, beats with his oar whoever lags behind. 


Bronzo laccato e dorato, Thailandia, XVII-XVIII sec.
Museo Arte Orientale

Buddha del Paradiso d'Oriente

Museo Arte Orientale, Fusione in rame con tracce di oro freddo, Tibet centrale, XIV secolo

La statua mostra il Buddha del Paradiso d'Oriente nel momento della tentazione del Buddha Shakyamuni da parte di Mara e la sua incrollabile decisione di raggiungere l'Illuminazione. Il Budha siede su una doppia corolla di loto culminante in un filare di perle, con la mano sinistra nell'atteggiamento della meditazione e con la mano destra che sfiora il suolo nel gesto che chiama la Terra a testimone del diritto maturato in infinite vite precedenti.

Buddha Shakyamuni

Museo Arte Orientale, Buddha Shakyamuni, Rame dorato e pigmento azzurro, Tibet centrale, XIII sec.

Il Buddha siede nella posizione del loto. La spalla destra scoperta, un sottile panneggio ricade sulla sinistra dopo aver fasciato il busto. Il collo ha le tre pieghe di bellezza. Busto slanciato e spalle larghe e arrotondate. Viso ovale che si allarga in alto nella fronte spaziosa. Gli occhi si estendono verso le tempie con le palpebre abbassate a caratterizzare uno sguardo interiore. Questa immagine del Buddha venne creata per un monastero Tibetano, anche se risente della tradizione della scultura nepalese, nella fusione in rame e la ricca doratura al mercurio.