If art is among your full-blown obsessions or just a budding interest,Google, which has already altered the collective universe in so many ways, changed your life last week. It unveiled its Art Project, a Web endeavor that offers easy, if not yet seamless, access to some of the art treasures and interiors of 17 museums in the United States and Europe.
I studied 'St. Francis in the Desert' for a long time and then kept coming back to it as I looked at the rest of the Frick's magnificent collection. If you haven't been there and you go to NYC put it on your to-do list and allow enough time to really savor this collection which is just the right size in my mind to spend a morning or afternoon savoring. I had been doing densely layered, heavily pigmented watercolor for ten years. I was ready for a new challenge and trying various techniques in oil but none of them resonated with me. When I saw this painting I had to find out how it was done and did research on oil and tempera which to be precise was oil over egg tempera. I finally tracked down the only person I could find who was teaching the intricacies of this technique which had come about as oil paints were being developed in the early renaissance and painters were moving from egg tempera to oil. Oil over egg tempera was developed by Van Eyck whose family made stained glass to replicate the look of viewing through many layers of glass and indeed that is why Bellini's "St. Francis in the Desert" is so unbelievably luminous.
If you go to the Frick now through August 28, 2011 you can see massive study that went into this painting and go into a room with several computers and browse the symbols, the layers and the making of this work of art. I will be going in July and I will come back with a full report of my adventure with my favorite painting. Check out all sidebars on the link for the Frick above to see a lot of information about what they discovered 'below the skin' of this painting.
When I went to NYC to study the technique I planned to be there for a month. By the end of the month all I had learned was the meticulous steps for creating the panels as support. I ended up staying for four months and still was loath to leave but my sublet was over so I went back to the studio on our farm in Western Pennsylvania and began to develop my own voice in this luminous technique. We moved to Florida a couple of years later and this technique was perfect for the humid, colorful landscape of the sub-tropics. I received quite a bit of recognition in Florida and elsewhere for these pieces included in five of my solo museum shows, two traveling shows and a Florida Individual Artist Fellowship which also included a traveling show of that year's recipients.
Here are a few of the pieces still available from that period of my work.
To see more go to this link and make sure to also scroll over the feature article done on my work in American Artist magazine and on two of the pages you can see a breakdown of SOME of the layers of egg tempera crosshatching and then the many many layers of oil glazes that go into creating a piece in oil over egg tempera demonstrated in my painting "The Feast" now in a collection in Texas. There are many more layers than they could show in the two page spread of the making of "The Feast".
Flutes and Trumpets by Fran Hardy copyright
Oil over egg tempera on panel
Night Bloom by Fran Hardy copyright
Oil over egg tempera w/22kt gold leaf on panel
"Flash", by Fran Hardy copyright
oil over egg tempera w/22kt gold leaf, 22kt moon gold and 22kt white gold leaf on panel
The Ecstasy of St. Francis (or St. Francis in the Desert) is a painting by the Italian Renaissance master Giovanni Bellini, who started this painting in 1475 and finished it around 1480. It is now housed in the Frick Collection in New York City, displayed prominently in what was Henry Clay Frick's living room. This painting is oil on panel, which recalls Mantegna. Still in very good condition, though it has been cut down, it has otherwise apparently been well-cared for since its creation.
The work is signed IOANNES BELLINUS on a small rumpled carta visible in the lower left corner.
It portrays St. Francis of Assisi in ecstasy whether receiving the stigmata, as Millard Meiss suggested, or, as the saint's mouth is open and his face lifted to the sky, perhaps singing his Canticle of the Sun, as Richard Turner has argued. The representation is a fresh one; it corresponds to no specific legend of the saint's life known to be circulating in the fifteenth century, nor does it follow any of the established iconographic motifs.
In the left middle-ground is an immobile donkey which can be interpreted as a symbol of humility and patience, but also of laziness, stupidity or obstinacy. In the lower right corner, on a rustic reading table, is a skull, representing mortality, welcomed in the last stanza of the saint's Canticle. The cave may relate Francis to Jerome. The stream in the left middle-ground symbolizes Moses and the great spring, while the barren tree in the center of the painting represents the burning bush; the saint has left his wooden pattens behind and stands barefoot like Moses. In the distance rises the still-empty Heavenly Jerusalem. The overall composition is also thought to be a meditation of St. Francis on the creation of the world as stated in the book of Genesis.
Tempera, also known as egg tempera, is a permanent fast-drying painting medium consisting of colored pigment mixed with a water-soluble binder medium (usually a glutinous material such as egg yolk or some other size). Tempera also refers to the paintings done in this medium. Tempera paintings are very long lasting, and examples from the 1st centuries AD still exist. Egg tempera was a primary method of painting until after 1500 when it was superseded by the invention of oil painting.
Tempera painting starts with placing a small amount of the pigment paste onto a palette, dish or bowl and adding about an equal volume of the binder and mixing. Some pigments require slightly more binder, some require less. Distilled water is added.
The most common form of classical tempera painting is "egg tempera". For this form most often only the contents of the egg yolk is used. The white of the egg and the membrane of the yolk are discarded (the membrane of the yolk is dangled over a receptacle and punctured to drain off the liquid inside).
The paint mixture has to be constantly adjusted to maintain a balance between a "greasy" and "watery" consistency by adjusting the amount of water and yolk. As tempera dries, the artist will add more water to preserve the consistency and to balance the thickening of the yolk on contact with air.
Different preparations use the egg white or the whole egg for different effect. Other additives such as oil and wax emulsions can modify the medium.