Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Ballad of Love and Death

Today I waited in line for nearly two hours to enter a church that I deemed worthy of the wait - Sainte Chapelle. This Gothic masterpiece, built in the heart of Paris in the 1240's, is an example of high "Rayonnant" Gothic architecture. I have never seen such massive towering expanses of stained glass look so delicate and weightless. It's as if the stone structural skeleton is not even present.
Below is my little homage to Sainte Chapelle - sadly I wasn't allowed to paint it on-site due to tourist traffic, rules etc.

King Louis IX built Sainte Chapelle inside the Palace as a private chapel for the monarchs, and also to house some high-profile religious relics that were once in it's possession - most notably Christ's crown of thorns. Thank you Dave H. For insisting that I add this gem to my itinerary.

I then moved on to the Musee d'Orsay to see a newly hung exhibition that I have anticipated since I arrived in Paris - "Une Ballade d'Amour et de Mort". Translation: "A Ballad of Love and Death" (sounds more beautiful in French, doesn't it?) This show centers on the photography of the PreRaphaelite artists in 19th century Great Britain.

This group of painters known as the "Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood" retreated into their own romantic ideas about beauty in a time when Victorian England was becoming increasingly industrialized, urbanized, and modernized. They looked to poetry, history, and religion for inspiration. Arthurian legends and Biblical metaphors frequent their works. Admiring the detailed narrative work of Italian artists who came before Raphael, they took the name, the "PreRaphaelites". John Ruskin, their contemporary, an artist and critic, encouraged artists to spend as much time outdoors studying nature as possible. The "daguerrotype" photograph was a new invention that allowed artists and photographers to capture extreme detail on the delicate silver surface of the exposure. Many artists used daguerrotype photos as references, and these photographs comprised the exhibition I saw today. Gorgeous sepia photographs of landscapes with gnarled trees, crusty moss-covered rocks, dense forests, craggy mountains and curling ferns as well as romantic and theatrical figures and portraits in enchanted literary settings.

My favorite of the entire exhibition was work of the great prolific female photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, friend and neighbor of Alfred Lord Tennyson.

At a time when portrait photography was dismissed because the long exposure time made the sitter appear stiff and unnaturally posed, Julia Cameron perfected the medium of portrait photography as an exquisite art form that revealed the soul of the subject and could tell a powerful story.

These haunting photographs will always be in my mind's eye. Ms. Cameron is my new "she-ro".

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Paris, France

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