Interacting with artworks online: A few new(ish) resources

The global push to make art more accessible to the public has led to some impressive digital creations in the past year. The following are ones I’ve really enjoyed exploring, some released as recently as this month. They all focus on a particular artwork or era or (in the case of the Jewish art database) faith tradition. I will cover the more all-encompassing digital art initiatives/databases and commendable museum websites in a future series of posts, where I will give them more individualized attention. Some of the creations below represent single projects within those broader initiatives.

“The Audacity of Christian Art”: Written and presented by Dr. Chloë Reddaway, this series of seven short films looks at paintings from the (London) National Gallery’s Renaissance collection and explores some ingenious artistic responses to the challenge of painting Christ.

As curator of art and religion at the museum, Reddaway’s role is to understand more about the paintings’ religious content and context. (Her main academic background is theology.) She also lectures for the MA in Christianity and the Arts at King’s College London. I love how she defines her primary research interest: “visual theology, especially the recovery of historic works of art as a resource for contemporary theology.”

The trailer for “The Audacity of Christian Art” is below, followed by links to all seven episodes. All are shot in ultra-high resolution and feature stunning details.

Episode 1: “The Problem with Christ”
Episode 2: “Christ Is Not Like a Snail: Signs and Symbols”
Episode 3: “Putting God in His Place: Here, Everywhere, and Nowhere”
Episode 4: “Time and Eternity: Yesterday, Today, and Always”
Episode 5: “This World and the Next: Christ on Earth, Christ in Heaven”
Episode 6: “So Near and Yet So Far: Visions and Thresholds”
Episode 7: “Unspeakable Images: When Words Fail”

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The Census at Bethlehem by Pieter Bruegel: “Online exhibitions” are something I’ve seen more and more of recently—that is, the presentation of artworks in a digital rather than physical space, using tools unique to that medium to enhance the viewing experience. Last year Google Arts and Culture launched one in conjunction with the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, centered around Pieter Bruegel’s The Census at Bethlehem (1566), which sets Mary and Joseph’s census registration within the hustle and bustle of a Brabant village. The interface guides you through a sequence of bite-size commentaries, sometimes presented as text alongside an image detail, sometimes as a short video. What makes it an “exhibition” is that other works are shown alongside it to locate it within a larger tradition of Netherlandish painting. One frame, for example, shows how Bruegel furthered the innovative “alla prima” technique introduced by Hieronymus Bosch.

Census at Bethlehem by Pieter Bruegel
Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Dutch, 1525/30–1569), The Census at Bethlehem, 1566. Oil on panel, 116 × 164.5 cm (46 × 64.8 in.). Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels.

I studied this painting in college (through slides and textbook reproductions) but have never seen it in this much detail and am now all the more in awe of it. Bruegel’s paintings, which almost always depict a flurry of activity, lend themselves particularly well to this viewing format: it’s helpful to be guided through the various vignettes, each one a window into sixteenth-century Dutch life. Up close, you can see kids blowing up pig-bladder balloons and running across the ice pushing cow jaws they got from the butcher; you can see adults patronizing a tavern in the hollow of a tree, called “In De Swaen”; and much more.

Census at Bethlehem (detail)

Census at Bethlehem detail

Census at Bethlehem detail

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“Jheronimus Bosch, the Garden of Earthly Delights”: Created in 2016 by a thirty-four-person team, this “interactive documentary” provides an in-depth audiovisual tour though the Dutch artist’s most famous—and, arguably, most bizarre—painting. The interior of the triptych shows, in the central panel, life before the Flood—a depraved orgy in which humans cavort shamelessly with a whole host of beastly creatures conjured from the artist’s imagination.   Continue reading “Interacting with artworks online: A few new(ish) resources”

“Ecce Homo” by Andrew Hudgins

Ecce Homo by Hieronymus Bosch
Hieronymus Bosch (Dutch, ca. 1450–1516), Ecce Homo, ca. 1500. Tempera and oil on oak panel, 71 × 61 cm. Städel Museum, Frankfurt, Germany.

Christ bends, protects his groin. Thorns gouge
his forehead, and his legs
are stippled with dried blood. The part of us
that’s Pilate says, Behold the man.
We glare at that bound, lashed,
and bloody part of us that’s Christ. We laugh, we howl,
we shout. Give us Barabbas,
not knowing who Barabbas is, not caring.
A thief? We’ll take him anyway. A drunk?
A murderer? Who cares? It’s better him
Than this pale ravaged thing, this god. Bosch knows.
His humans waver, laugh, then change to demons
as if they’re seized by epilepsy. It spreads
from eye to eye, from laugh to laugh until,
incited by the ease of going mad,
they go. How easy evil is! Dark voices sing,
You can be evil or you can be good,
but good is dull, my darling, good is dull.
And we’re convinced: How lovely evil is!
How lovely hell must be! Give us Barabbas!

Lord Pilate clears his throat and tries again:
I find no fault in this just man.
It’s more than we can bear. In gothic script
our answer floats above our upturned eyes.
O crucify, we sing. O crucify him!

This poem was originally published in The Never-Ending (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991) and is reprinted here with the permission of the poet.   Continue reading ““Ecce Homo” by Andrew Hudgins”

Roundup: Fiction for Lent, art as commodity, major Bosch retrospective, Easter art retreat

> Sarah Arthur is the editor of the just-published Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide. She has written an article for Christianity Today, “The Best Books to Read for Lent (That You Won’t Find in a Christian Bookstore).”

> Writing for the New Yorker, Ken Kalfus reviews the new novel Laurus by Russian medievalist Eugene Vodolazkin: “Medieval Russia was a land trembling with religious fervor. Mystics, pilgrims, prophets, and holy fools wandered the countryside. . . . [Laurus] recreates this fervent landscape and suggests why the era, its holy men, and the forests and fields of Muscovy retain such a grip on the Russian imagination.”

> In “Art as a Commodity: Does Time Equal Value in Art?” artist Scott Laumann discusses one of the most annoying questions he is asked at gallery shows: “How long did that take you?”

Garden of Earthly Delights
Hieronymus Bosch (Dutch, ca. 1450–1516), The Garden of Earthly Delights. Oil on oak panels, 220 × 389 cm. Museo del Prado, Madrid.

> This year marks the five hundredth anniversary of the death of Dutch artist Hieronymos Bosch, known for his grotesque depictions of human depravity. To commemorate his life and work, the Noordbrabants Museum in ’s-Hertogenbosch, the city of Bosch’s birth, has brought together his panels and drawings from all over the world in what is the largest Bosch exhibition of all time. Bosch invented an entirely new religious iconography: landscapes filled with bizarre, nightmarish creatures doing freakish things to or with humans—meant not as a prediction of what will one day happen to the damned but as a lament for what is already happening. Jonathan Jones, reviewer for The Guardian, gives the retrospective five stars.

Lumen Christi: In the Light of the Risen Christ—Easter Encounters with Art”: The monastic ecumenical Community of Jesus on Cape Cod will be hosting a five-day art retreat from April 5 to 9, led by art historian Timothy Verdon and artist Gabriele Wilpers. Focused on the theme of resurrection, the retreat will feature lectures and discussion, group workshops, studio mentoring, and daily worship services. For more information, follow the link above.