Salzillo: Spain’s Holy Week Sculptor

La Oración en el Huerto, obra del escultor Fra...

La Oración en el Huerto, obra del escultor Francisco Salzillo (1754). Fotografía tomada durante la Procesión del II Congreso Internacional de Cofradías y Hermandades, celebrado en Murcia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Easter processions of ‘Semana Santa’ are part of the most important fiesta in the Spanish religious calendar. In virtually every town and village, huge floats called ‘pasos’ with statues depicting scenes from the life and death of Jesus are carried in solemn processions this week. Each ‘paso’ is carried by a particular group, called a ‘cofradia.’

The statues that are carried are beautifully made and are treasured and protected by the cofradias throughout the year before being dressed, covered in flowers and mounted on the pasos for the big event of the year. The processions take place throughout Holy Week (Semana Santa), starting on Palm Sunday and finishing on Easter Sunday.

Francisco Salzillo

Spain’s most famous sculptor of these figures was Francisco Salzillo (1707 – 1783), considered by some to have been one of the great Spanish sculptors of the 18th century and by others to be nothing more than a folk artist. He was born in the city of Murcia in southern Spain, where there is now a museum dedicated to his life and work. He always worked in polychromed wood and his first statue, of St. Ines de Montepulciano, was completed when he was just twenty. The work had been begun by his father, an Italian who had moved to Murcia to work alongside Nicolás de Bussy, but was completed by the young Francisco.

Among his most famous works are a ‘Last Supper,’ created in 1763 and depicting Jesus and his twelve apostles seated around a table and ‘The Agony in the Garden’ created in 1754 which shows an angel showing Jesus a chalice whilst three apostles sleep under a palm tree. The ‘Last Supper’  has undergone restoration recently and appears at the Easter procession on Good Friday in Murcia City. Francisco Salzillo also created a magnificent ‘Belén’ or Nativity Scene for Jesualdo Riquelme y Fontes, a Murcian Marquis, consisting of 556 pieces, many of them created from life models of workers in and around the city of Murcia at the time.

Salzillo Museum in Murcia

During the Spanish Civil War (1936- 1939) many of Salzillo’s works were destroyed but enough remain to show the mastery of the sculptor and to make the museum dedicated to his life and work well worth a visit.

Easter message from Kyle Colona

Hurricane Sandy 2012

Hurricane Sandy 2012 (Photo credit: charliekwalker)

Easter message from Kyle Colona

Kyle is a friend who lives on Long Island in the USA. He and his family lost virtually everything in Hurricane Sandy. He is a great poet and writer but surviving that disaster has made his words more powerful. It doesn’t matter what religion you are, or even if you don’t have any religious beliefs, read what he has written about Easter.

Beatrice Mtetwa gets bail

Beatrice Mtetwa gets bail

Finally, common sense has prevailed and the High Court judge in Harare, Zimbabwe has let well known Human Rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa out of jail on a bail of $500. This was after huge international pressure. It does not bode well for the elections due to take place later in the year in Zimbabwe.

The ‘Hat Rack’ Building in Glasgow

The very first thing I posted on this blog was a photograph of a building that reminded me of some of the Gaudi buildings I had seen on a visit to Barcelona. I have a habit of wandering around looking up at architecture which is not very smart as I need a walking stick to walk and there is always the likelihood of falling down the many potholes that litter the streets of Glasgow.However, you see some amazing things when you look up rather than at the pavement!

Having taken the photograph, I decided to find out a bit more about the building itself. It is situated in St Vincent Street, Glasgow and is a very narrow building. It was built from red sandstone in 1899 with lavish use of what was then a novelty, wrought iron and lots of glass. The architect was one James Salmon who was a contemporary of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

The building is ten stories high and has the strange cupola made of lead that you can see in the photo. Many people thougt it looked like a hat rack, so the building has been known as such ever since. Despite the narrowness of the building, the architect managed to squeeze in more than forty windows including a drum shaped stained glass window which has a sailing ship design.

The building was renovated in 1990 and is now an office block. I didn’t manage to go in but according to letting agent blurb, the lifts are still in the original wrought iron art nouveau style but presumably with up to date machinery.

Pablo Picasso’s ‘Guernica’

Pablo Picasso, 1937, Guernica, protest against...

Pablo Picasso, 1937, Guernica, protest against Fascism (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pablo Picasso is perhaps the most famous of the Spanish painters and certainly the one that most people of this modern era remember. He was born in 1881 in the city of Malaga in southern Spain. His father was an art teacher and young Pablo began drawing in earnest from the tender age of eight. He wanted to be able to be amongst the greats of Spanish art such as Velázquez or El Greco but there was a problem – he just could not get the composition of his paintings right.

Picasso As a Young Man

At the age of 17, he moved to Barcelona and became part of the avant-garde group there developing his style under the influence of the likes of Antoni Gaudi. He went through a series of different styles, known as the ‘Rose Period’ and then the ‘Blue period, the latter caused by the suicide of his close friend Carlos Casamegas. Although the ‘Blue Period’ did have to do with his state of mind, Picasso was also experimenting with the use of low light in the style of El Greco. From 1906, his style changed again, this time with an influence from Africa before developing into the style for which he is most famous, that of Cubism, which marked the start of abstract art.

The Bombing of Guernica

One of his most famous paintings is that of the bombing by German and Italian planes, under orders from General Franco, of the town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. The bombing took place on April 26 1937. Figures vary as to the number of people killed and injured. In an article written in the Times Newspaper on April 27 1937, the un-named correspondent describes the horror of the scene, “When I entered Guernica after midnight houses were crashing on either side, and it was utterly impossible even for firemen to enter the centre of the town. The hospitals of Josefinas and Convento de Santa Clara were glowing heaps of embers, all the churches except that of Santa Maria were destroyed and the few houses that still stood were doomed.”

Propaganda from both sides tried to either dismiss the death toll as around 250 or count the dead in the thousands, depending on which side of the war they supported. What is certain though is that a great many people lost their lives in terrible circumstances.

Creation of a Masterpiece

Picasso was horrified by the unprovoked bombing of the unarmed town, which contained mainly women, children and the elderly as the men were away fighting. He began to make preliminary drawings for his masterwork and around fifty studies. The final piece is an incredible 3.5 m by 7.6 m in size and took just 24 days to finish. There are many aspects to the painting, and very many interpretations of the different parts of the piece, but it can be seen as an outpouring of Picasso’s pain and grief at what was happening to his beloved country.

“Motifs of a woman screaming in agony as she clutches the limp body of her dead child; another woman stretching out from a window with a lamp, hoping in vain to illuminate the encroaching darkness; mutilated bodies and the gaping mouths of those hysterical with pain, fear and sorrow merge with a wounded horse and the ever-present bull to create a profound dramatic tension.”

His relationship with the French photographer Dora Maar also influenced his work and she in fact took photographs of him at work creating his masterpiece which show how the work changed and developed over the 24 days. She appears in the painting as the face of the woman bearing a lamp. He was also visited by the British Sculptor, Henry Moore and the Spanish painter Salvador Dali during the production of the painting.

Where to See The Painting

The painting can be seen in the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid but has also travelled round the world, first being exhibited at the 1937 Paris World Fair and then going on a world tour. Today, art critics still argue over the symbolism of the painting, especially the bull and the horse although Picasso himself is quoted as saying “the bull is a bull and the horse is a horse”.

Nigerian Author Chinua Achebe Dead

English: Chinua Achebe speaking at Asbury Hall...

English: Chinua Achebe speaking at Asbury Hall, Buffalo, as part of the “Babel: Season 2” series by Just Buffalo Literary Center, Hallwalls, & the International Institute. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sad news today. The 82 year old author of ‘Things Fall Apart’ died today in Boston. He was one of the best known African authors who spoke out against the government of his native Nigeria. ‘Things Fall Apart’ has sold more than ten million copies and if you haven’t read it yet, put it on your ‘must read’ list. Nelson Mandela has said of Achebe that he was a writer “in whose company the prison walls fell down.”

Free Beatrice Mtetwa

Free Beatrice Mtetwa

Beatrice Mtetwa is a well known Zimbabwean human rights lawyer who has been arrested and is being illegally detained following the referendum on the new constitution. Lawyers, human rights groups such as Amnesty International and the public at large are outraged at the treatment of Ms Mtetwa. In the meantime, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe was among those in the VIP section at the inaugural mass for the new Pope, Francis I. How can a man who claims to be a devout Catholic treat the people in his country, over which he has held sway for more than 30 years, in such a brutal way?

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo: Spanish Baroque Artist

Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo - Immaculate C...

Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo – Immaculate Conception – WGA16381 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The most famous Baroque Spanish artist of his time Murillo’s works, having fallen out of style, are now back in their rightful place in Spain’s art history

The works of Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, along with those of Diego Velazquez, are probably the best known of the earlier Spanish painters outside of Spain itself. He was born in 1617 in Seville, a city famous for producing artists and writers of the greatest calibre. He lost his parents whilst still a young boy and was taken in by a local artist called Juan del Castillo from whom he learned to paint and draw. In his early years, he produced religious paintings for churches in Spain and in the Spanish colonies in the Americas as well as delightful pictures of local urchins, flower sellers and the like in his native city.

According to John Moffat in his book “The Arts in Spain”, “Murillo’s initially naturalist and tenebrist style, which he formed without leaving Seville, quickly changed to a diaphanous luminism following two visits to the Spanish court in Madrid”. The visits are believed to have been somewhere in the late 1640’s. Here he was exposed to the works of the great Italian and Flemish artists such as Titian, Rubens and Van Dyck. “Thereafter, practically single-handed, Murillo established a new, synthetic and forceful modelled style which was to dominate mainstream Spanish painting until the time of Goya.”

Religious Works of Art

His later works were nearly all on religious themes which he treated in an imaginative and richly coloured style. Works such as ‘Holy Family with Bird’ (c1650) , three versions of ‘The Immaculate Conception’ and various paintings of saints show this intense color and use of light which are the signature of his paintings as is the mist which often surrounds the main characters containing angels, giving his works an atmospheric effect not previously seen in Spanish works of art.

His paintings became widely popular, not just in his native Spain but across Europe and especially in England where the likes of Joshua Reynolds and John Constable were influenced by his style. Until the 19th century, he was the most famous Spanish artist known to the world and later Spanish artists were influenced and encouraged by his style and fame.

Murillo started an Academy of Art in Seville to encourage young artists and was himself a director. At this time, he received many commissions to produce religious works. It was while he was painting an altarpiece for the Capuchins Church in Cadiz in 1680 that he fell from the scaffolding he was using and was severely injured. He died in April 1682 from his injuries and was buried in the Cathedral in Seville, in front of one of his favorite paintings.

Death of the Artist

After his death, his paintings became even more popular, especially during the Rococo period of the first half of the 18th century, so much so that the King of Spain had to ban the selling of his paintings abroad. In the 20th Century, various critics called his work “weak” and Velasquez was considered to be, by far, the most influential of Spain’s artists but now, the paintings of Bartolomé Esteban Murillo are being re-evaluated by critics and his reputation as one of Spain’s greatest artist is being restored

Famous Glasgow landmark may be forced to close

The Willow Tearooms in Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow

The Willow Tearooms in Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Famous Glasgow landmark may be forced to close

The Willow Tea Rooms have been a tourist attraction in Glasgow for well over a hundred years. Designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the tea rooms are a part of Glasgow’s heritage. The current tenant is starting a campaign to try and raise funds to buy and restore the building. This is the article I wrote on the subject for Digital Journal.

Like Scot’s poet, Robert Burns? Then this may tickle your funny bone.

Most often, when I get sent all those ‘hilarious’ emails or FB messages, I either delete them or just glance at them whilst passing. But every so often one makes me laugh out loud and so, in the spirit of Comic Relief day, I share with you a joke sent by a good friend:

Prince Charles is visiting an Edinburgh hospital. He enters a ward full of patients with no obvious sign of injury or illness and greets one. The patient replies:

“Fair fa your honest sonsie face, Great chieftain o the puddin race, Aboon them a ye take yer place, Painch, tripe or thairm, As langs my airm.”

HRH is confused, so he just smiles and moves on to the next patient.

The patient responds:
“Some hae meat an canna eat, And some wad eat that want it, But we hae meat an we can eat, So let the Lord be thankit.”

Even more confused, the Prince moves on to the next patient, who immediately begins to chant:
“Wee sleekit, cowerin, timrous beasty, O the panic in thy breasty, Thou needna start awa sae hastie, Wi bickering brattle.”

Now seriously troubled, Charles turns to the accompanying doctor and asks, “Is this a psychiatric ward?”

“No,” replies the doctor, “This is the serious Burns unit.”