The Saddest Words in Art…

The Louvre, 1911  after the theft of the 'Mona Lisa'

The Louvre, 1911 after the theft of the ‘Mona Lisa’

 NOW LOST These two devastating words have inspired most of my novels.

I write about missing art and the lost lives of artists and their forgotten models who, over time, have become the anonymous heroes and heroines of art.

While it can’t be helped that galleries and museums and houses sometimes burn to the ground and priceless art is destroyed. Some artefacts have been burned in ignorance (such as the last, stuffed, dodo from the Ashmolean Museum) and others from acts of violence. The vanity fires of the fifteenth-century spring to mind. Thousands of objects, including paintings and sculpture considered profane, were burned during the time of Savonarola’s religious cleansing.

But, it’s the confiscated (read stolen) items that still exist out there in actual space that captivates my imagination.

You can tell from the stark space between a lacklustre presentation of paintings displayed in a row, that ‘Lisa’ was not yet the star of the Louvre. Her abduction in 1911 transformed her from an ‘oh, hang it over there as it’s the same size’ to a front page news celebrity with her own glass case.

So, why would a present day artist ever plant their paintings in a casual art show, public display, or the walls of a busy local restaurant, hanging on a single nail, and not expect them to grow legs? Granted, the larger ones may have a chance to escape light-fingered ‘art collectors,’ and some paintings would be hard-pressed to give away, being less than covetable, but art with heart is a temptation.

The 'Buccleuch Madonna'

The ‘Buccleuch Madonna’

In 2003, Leonardo’s ‘Madonna of the Yarnwinder,’ known as the ‘Buccleuch Madonna’ was stolen from a Scottish castle. Two thieves posing as tourists made a lighthearted quip to a surprised observer saying, “Don’t worry, love, we’re the police. This is just practice,” and continued exiting through a window. The painting is approx. 19 in. X 14.5 in. It remained on the missing paintings list until 2007, and is now safe in a secure gallery.

Curiously, there are many copies of this work from Leonardo’s studio, but none contain a key detail documented by an eye-witness report during its creation. A basket is missing from all known versions, none of which is considered the prime original. Does this masterpiece wait ‘out in the open’ under dirt and varnish to be discovered, sold to the highest bidder, and become ‘lost’ to the rest of the world?

The ‘Mona Lisa’ was in the ‘small enough to stuff under a coat’ variety, and left via the museum door in broad daylight, in what Leonardo liked to call hiding the obvious in plain sight where it would be assimilated as nothing noteworthy to rouse suspicion.

Sometimes the words: ‘sold at auction’ are as sad as ‘now lost.’

The most subtle forms of iconography blend under the radar, and provenance often ends with a murky flash of ‘now you see it; now you don’t; now it’s lost; now it’s found; now it’s sold; now it’s… somewhere.’

Which rather lends creative meaning to the term: vanishing point.

 

Posted in Books, Fine Art, Historical Fantasy, Historical Fiction, literary fiction, Lost Paintings, Second Lisa, women's fiction | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Nothing Up Her Sleeve

GINEVRA de BENCIStuff happens…

The lower third of this painting by Leonardo is missing. Where did it go? Was it destroyed through accident or by malicious design? What was this girl holding in her hands? I premise it was a bouquet of flowers that held a sinister secret.

Only the perpetrator or perpetrators of this crime know the answer, since the details of her sabotage are as lost as the damaged portion of the panel. It was cut down to form a square – an awkward and unlikely shape for Leonardo, who was committed to the divine proportions of the golden section. The sides may have also been trimmed to eliminate an odd ‘landscape’ format. To my mind, it is most unlikely for Leonardo to have painted half-a-tree, as seen on the right, in the uncropped original.

This painting reveals another hidden secret – a fingerprint made when the portrait was wet, has recently been discovered.

Ginevra de Benci details

‘Ginevra de Benci’ details of fingerprint

The Latin inscription, ‘virtuem format decorat’ which means beauty adorns virtue’ (perhaps a tad tongue-in cheek) on the reverse of the painting is off-centre which is further indication of a compromised original ‘format.’ Although I cannot speak for Leonardo (other than in my novels) he seems to be a symmetrical thinker. His inscription would most probably be centered to balance the overall shape of the panel.

back of the 'Ginevra de Benci' painting

back of the ‘Ginevra de Benci’ painting

 

Any guesses as to how this work of art came to be destroyed?

In my trilogy, Second Lisa, there is an original image, changed under bizarre circumstances of jealousy and rage, and it becomes a prime example of ‘momento mori’ (Latin for ‘remember that you will die. Often portrayed as a still-life painting of decaying fruit and flowers)

portrait of Cecelia Gallerani by Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo painted one woman holding a ferret. How much magnificent detail would be lost forever if it had been ‘edited’ by a vindictive hand? How many ‘Leonardos’ have been retouched, over-cleaned, and purposely disguised to evade ‘capture?’

Leonardo’s drawing of hands may have been a study for the Ginevra commission. They are attributed as a precursor to Mona Lisa’s serenely-composed hands. A marble bust, believed to be Ginevra, sculpted by Leonardos’s first master, Andrea Verrocchio, posed her holding a bouquet of flowers, and several savvy poets dedicated sonnets to her during her ‘most popular girl of the month’ status. Many referenced their ‘it girl’ to a flower.

marble bust of Ginevra de Benci by Andrea Verrocchio

marble bust of Ginevra de Benci by Andrea Verrocchio

drawing of hands by Leonardo da Vinci

drawing of hands by Leonardo da Vinci

In my novel Second Lisa, I place something more sinister in Ginevra’s hands, and the portrait’s ‘abductor’ is revealed.

This is why writing historical fiction/fantasy is so cool. An author can listen to their muse and characters can reveal truths that even surprise themselves.

Read an excerpt for Second Lisa in the BOOKS category of this website.

 

 

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Cherry White

Cherry White_web

I spy with my little eye

something beginning with fire

 

genre: science-fiction
‘CHERRY WHITE’ synopsis: 

Cherry White considered her second life as a time traveler to be a curse until she encountered an untapped source of overwhelming love.

Once a human autistic savant, Cherry is now labelled an ‘it’ by her cybernetic creators, but her damaged senses regenerate when ethics challenge the cold logic of her new role as a sentient computer programmed to save art first, regardless of the consequences to those who created it.

Her function as an organic android is to sift time, scan for destroyed masterpieces, and harvest them for the Fire Gallery of the Phoenix Project.

Lost art consumed by fire is an asset the project’s syndicate of investors deem worthy of breaching the time continuum and human dignity to obtain, but Cherry’s rekindled memories demand a sacrifice when she’s faced with choices that threaten to eclipse her newfound love and destroy a priceless painting by Leonardo da Vinci.

When a surprising anthropology lesson reveals the mysteries of her distant past and explains her erratic life as a mystic savant, Cherry is inspired to mutiny.

Her new allies, the unexpected restoration of primal instincts, and an astonishing quickening of dormant genes create an opportunity to make historic reparation at the expense of extinguishing an amazing scientific breakthrough.

A bizarre plan of sabotage promises to rejuvenate the evolution of compassion in order to revive the highest order of humankind.

Lost art, lost love, a lost species, and a gathering of lost souls are at risk of annihilation, unless Cherry’s conflicting emotions and her allegiance to art can be resolved…‘in time.’

   “Joanne was relieved. She had been afraid the job was going to be clinical. The manicure had fooled her. Cherry was groomed to perfection like a doll, but she had emotional dirt under her nails. Genius dirt. The profound dirt of survival in a lonely world that continued to exploit her. The woman had Mona Lisa eyes.” 

page 88

state of the art meets an extraordinary state of mind

RED Cherry White_veronika

Cherry White, is a work in progress, due to be published in November, 2014 

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Erotic Million Dollar Leonardo Destroyed by an Hysterical Woman?

'Leda and the Swan' - a copy from the lost original by Leonardo da Vinci

‘Leda and the Swan’ – a copy from the lost original by Leonardo da Vinci

One 17th century woman may have decided this painting was an image too far. The original version of ‘Leda and the Swan’ by Leonardo da Vinci was last seen in 1625 and believed to be destroyed on the grounds of its adverse effects on the frazzled nerves of the wife of a diplomat, into whose hands it, unfortunately, came to rest. Fortunately, it was copied, and we can see Leonardo’s composition.

The ‘Leda and the Swan’ theme of the mythical abduction of Leda by Zeus after taking the form of a swan, was in great vogue during the fifteenth-century. However, subsequent times and super-sensitive moralities rendered the images lewd and too erotic to survive. See the copy of Michelangelo’s version, also considered destroyed.

Pass the smelling salts.

'Leda and the Swan' copied from Michelangelo's lost original by Peter Paul Reubens

‘Leda and the Swan’ copied from Michelangelo’s lost original by Peter Paul Reubens

So, in times for scapegoat (or scape-swan) sensitivities, a few self-appointed gatekeepers burned, erased, planted bumper crops of fig leaves for decorum’s sake, and painstakingly ‘corrected’ many priceless sketches and paintings.

But, Leonardo’s ‘Leda’ may yet be found. It may have been secreted away, or disfigured by an over-painting. At this moment, it may be lingering anonymously on an office wall or stored in an attic. Perhaps it’s still secreted away in a forgotten World War II cache of confiscated art.

I explore the whereabouts of Leonardo’s ‘Leda’ in my novel-in-progress ‘Cherry White,’ to be published in November, 2014. My next post will give the details.

Another, anatomically-correct drawing of a male nude from Leonardo’s studio suffered the humiliation of being partially erased to appease its squeamish owner. The offensive realities of the flesh had been too much. The drawing is still worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, but imagine the audacity (read stupidity) to alter a work known to be a ‘Leonardo.’ It was bad enough that a few light-fingered enthusiasts cut segments from Leonardo da Vinci’s precious folios for their own collections, let alone disfigured or burned them under the guise of moral decency.

For many years, a generation of the British Royal Family overlooked the very trunk-load of Leonardo’s manuscripts which eventually became the heart of their famous Royal Collection. The treasure chest lingered in obscurity out of sight and mind, misidentified as insignificant. Who knows what works have not been publicly aired.

The recently unearthed 'Salvator Mundi' attributed to Leonardo da Vinci

The recently unearthed ‘Salvator Mundi’ attributed to Leonardo da Vinci.

The latest of two ‘Leonardos’ to emerge in our century, the ‘Salvator Mundi’ (the saviour of the world) was once sold at auction in 1958 for forty-five pounds sterling (roughly $90) and lingered in obscurity for fifty years more. It recently sold for $85,000,000 (a bargain considering it has been valued at three times that amount)

Sadly, the recent ‘buyers syndicate’ or singularly wealthy owner is not public knowledge, so the painting has disappeared again, into a personal location or storage vault when it should have become ‘Qualitus Mundi’ (the property of the world), on display for all to enjoy. Hopefully there will come a day when such masterpieces cannot be privately secreted away, where they’re likely to be copied, moved about surreptitiously, or otherwise compromised to join the underground ranks of the sad category ‘now lost’ which should be more correctly listed as ‘now lost… again.’

Can important art be privately owned? The answer of course, is yes. Especially in the past when travelers could pick up a master painting for a few desperate shillings, acquiring the unsung for a song.

The people fortunate enough, who unknowingly harbor such ‘dormant’ works, should be compensated for their discoveries by public galleries, but surely these masterpieces must become the property of art history.

What work of art would you most like to own? Presuming (tongue-in-cheek) it could be purchased for a little more than a self-published novel, or at least under a hundred dollars.

My choice would be Vermeer’s ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’… and if I were lucky enough to find myself the temporary owner of such a work, I would sell it on to a major gallery so everyone would be the richer.

Do you believe great art is the property of the world?

 

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Twinter

HOURGLASS OF TIME - a painting by Veronica Knox

‘HOURGLASS of TIME’ – a painting by Veronica Knox

TWINTER = a story of winter, twins, science, and magic

‘Twinter- the first portal’ is a novel-length fantasy for middle-grade readers, age ten to eleven. Recommended for advanced readers.

Twelve-year-old twins, Kit (a keen scientist) and Bash (a girl with a miraculous green thumb and a flair for elaborate words) are excited to be moving from a noisy city to Bede Hall, their eccentric grandmother’s crumbling stately home, set in the sleepy English countryside.

With all that’s gone horribly wrong for a year, it’s about time life got back on a positive track. Moving to a grand old mansion seems the answer that promises an adventure of endless exploration and freedom. Bash can create the garden of her dreams and Kit has an abandoned space to set up his own laboratory.

Instead, they begin to uncover the supernatural secrets of a mysterious village, meet the ghost of Bede Hall and some unexpected life-forms, some of whom, are just as haunted as the presence of the hapless young girl trapped in the attic.

Twinter_cover_temp.indd

It’s all ‘about time’ when the twins discover a portal to the future. Can they also travel to the past and unravel the truths of natural history in order to save the planet from a natural disaster? The answers lie in Ancient Egypt, but only time will surrender its hidden knowledge.

The responsibility of holding the future of the world in the twin’s hands is as bizarre as their grandmother’s magic snow globe.

'Twinter- the first portal'

‘Twinter- the first portal’

 

Twinter_cover_temp.indd

read an excerpt here

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Birds and Bees

Bee Angelus

‘Bee Angelus’ – by Veronica Knox, 2013

 Genetics aside, hybrid creatures can inspire the multifaceted characters who inhabit paranormal fiction.

Paranormal does not need to infer Gothic horror, but rather the magic of the imagination: time travel, fanciful species, dreams of living five-hundred years ago, indeed living a previous existence as a bee or a great artist.

Children’s stories sometimes have to  be told from a bee’s point of view: the fly on the wall or the bee on the flower, as did a TV animation featuring a girl bee named Maya who was a bit of a princess. Did she grow into the queen of her hive? If not, is there a new fairy tale about a restless girl titled ‘The Princess and the Bee’? The animation It’s a Bug’s Life transported us into a world which is true to scale and otherwise aligned to a metaphor that (for me) encapsulates the publishing industry. There are a million stories (read books) in the big anthill. Industrious barely describes the degree of activity involved in creating a book with a life of its own.

In reality, the insect world has far different challenges than ours, but however thinly sliced, the birds and the bees and the ants and the peacocks offer windows into the human spirit.

The peacock is a symbol of rebirth. The bee is known for its relentless dedication to the greater hive. Humans are referred to as ants on a giant spinning sphere. Then there’s the definition of animation (to have life) … Maya means illusion. These themes have to be squeezed into a ‘genre’ in order to be found.

I painted this bee bee-cause my daughter wanted a painting of a peacock. She also collects all thing ‘bee,’ and she asked for something different. What to paint? What to create for her? It was Christmas, so I was feeling kind of angelic.

In writing a novel, this different-but-the-same issue, arises.

Genres are categories meant to guide readers. Like a treasure map (the internet), one wants to avoid booby-traps (spin and spam), circumvent poetic clues (the overworked synopsis), and find the pot of gold (bestseller) at point X. But…

When is historical merely hysterical? When does a love story become a romance novel? What does one call an historical fantasy time-slip paranormal mystery adventure ghostly love story? When is a metaphor more than a literary device? How does an obscure author fly? How does a new novel create buzz?

… When is a bird a bee?

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Loving Botticelli

I love the concept of a painting interacting with a viewer. ‘The Portrait of Dorian Gray’ by Oscar Wilde aged while the man remained young. I have always wanted to step into a narrative painting and look around behind the scene and learn what hypothetical conversations the artist intended his figures to be having. What had just been said? What were they thinking? Why were they there?

Sandro Botticelli

Sandro Botticelli

Artists of the fifteenth century invented an ingenious way of letting the public (at the time) know who painted the work by painting their self-portraits in the right hand lower corner of their painting. From this position, they invited mortal spectators to join the painted figures and enter the picture plane to view the holy event of the Jesus’s birth. In the case of Leonardo’s unfinished ‘Adoration of the Magi’ (see my blog for June 23) he also gestured with his arm, indicating the way to follow.

Adorations were a popular theme. Rich patrons wanting to glorify their existence were painted in the crowd. In the 1475 Adoration by Sandro Botticelli, the artist stands aloof with his arms folded, and his eyes seem to dare one to enter, or do they say more? In my novel, ‘Adoration – loving Botticelli,’ they entice a ghostly lover from the twenty-first century.

There are other places to see the famous artists of the day. Raphael incorporated several likenesses of contemporary artists and dignitaries into his ‘School of Athens.’ This large panel is one of my personal favourites. Leonardo and Michelangelo are there as the young Raphael would have seen them or known other representations of them. In addition Raphael painted his self-portrait in roughly the same region as the convention of the day, in the lower right hand area of the painting. We can confirm it is the artist as he is in the position reserved for that of the artist/host and is making eye contact with the viewer to bridge the picture plane to the third dimension.

So, the dryness of art history can sometimes offer us a juicy photo gallery. Leonardo was also ‘captured’ in stone at the age of thirteen when he posed for Andrea Verrocchio’s statue of David.

In my next blog we will see Leonardo at thirteen, twenty-four, thirty-five, and as an elderly magus in his sixties. Perhaps he even posed as an infant for one of Verrocchio’s Madonna and child icons or even an angel. Think of all the holy infants in icons who were once plain offspring bounced on their mother’s knees for artists to capture and glorify, and the anonymous maidens culled from daily life to sit in robes of blue to represent the Virgin Mary.

The master, Verrocchio was both neighbour and friend to Leonardo’s lawyer father, Piero da Vinci. He was also a client. Large studios worked to contracts that outlined details of payment as well as time deadlines and the specific elements expected within a composition. Often these would be portraits of the benefactors and those in power they wanted to impress. In addition, it was expressly …. That the most senior master would paint the faces of the holy figures, which also accounts for so many poorly rendered infants. Verrocchio was first and foremost, an architect and sculptor. His painted figures are solid. Their draperies hang as heavy as stone, and their anatomy is static. The rest of a studio compilation was shared in reducing levels of competency from the highest assistants to the youngest apprentices.

Adoration_cover_May24.indd

‘ADORATION – loving Botticelli’ synopsis
Sixty-four year-old art history professor, Linton Ross-Howard’s, retirement allows her time to mull over her romantic past – the loves that failed to show and the ones that got away without leaving footprints. But one suppressed memory returns to offer a surprising new lease on romance she could never have imagined. When Sandro Botticelli’s 1475 painting, The Adoration of the Magi acts as both portal to the past and a fountain of youth, Linton embarks on a journey of sublime intimacy in this updated version of a feminine Dante in search of her star-crossed beloved.
botticelli-adoration-magi

‘Adoration of the Magi’ – Sandro Botticelli, 1475

 

Read excerpt here

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