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Just three patches of fresco remain in St Catherine’s, following restoration work carried out after the church was handed over to the Russian Orthodox Church by local legislators in 2010

German heritage advocates have accused the Russian Orthodox Church of causing irreversible damage to the 14th-century Brick Gothic church of St Catherine at Arnau near Kaliningrad, especially to its frescoes.
“The… iconography of the painting[s] in St Catherine’s Church in Arnau from the 14th century had not yet been thoroughly researched [and they] are irretrievably lost,” wrote Nicole Riedl, an expert in Medieval wall paintings at Hawk University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Hildesheim, Germany in her report, after she visited the church in July with a group of activists from the German-based Kuratorium Arnau.

Walter Rix, a German academic who led the trip and is one of the founders of Kuratorium Arnau, which was created in 1992 by German historians, theologians and art experts to save the church and its frescoes, described St Catherine’s in a 2010 report to the Nordic World Heritage Foundation as the second oldest “within the total of the historic realm of the Order of Teutonic Knights”.

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Sophia Kishkovsky
The Art Newspaper

Impression, Sunrise (Impression, soleil levant), 1872. Artist: Monet, Claude (1840-1926)
First light … Claude Monet’s Impression: Sunrise, 1872 (oil on canvas). Photograph: Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

The birth of impressionism now has an exact date and time: it was invented at 7.35am on 13 November 1872, according to an astrophysicist who has calculated exactly when Claude Monet painted Impression: Sunrise, his smoky dawn vision of the port of Le Havre.

This makes a nice headline, but history, sadly for journalists, does not work like that. Things never really happen in a neat, packaged way. That’s why the first historian, Herodotus, dedicated so much of his epic book about the wars between Persian and ancient Greece to a digressive discussion about the entire history of the known world: he was trying to get at the complexity of cause and effect.

Art is just as complex as war. When Monet called his intensely atmospheric morning scene Impression: Sunrise he coined a name for this art movement in which French painters dedicated themselves to capturing the fleeting light of never-to-be-repeated moments. But it was not until they had a group exhibition in 1874 that they were recognised as fighting for a common cause. On the other hand, the ideas impressionism was to make notorious, then famous, then revered, were not new at all.

At the heart of impressionism is a desire to paint the immediate, sensual passing scene, in city or country – ideally and mythically – by placing an easel in the open air. John Singer Sargent beautifully captures this ideal in a portrait of Monet at work in the flux of nature, his easel set up amid the balmy elements.

But this idea did not appear like a flash when Monet painted Impression: Sunrise at 7.35am on 13 November 1872. It had evolved over nearly two centuries – at least. Oil sketching in the open air was already common in the 18th century, when it reflected a Newtonian belief in empirical truth and the Romantic pursuit of oneness with nature. The Welsh 18th-century artist Thomas Jones was a particularly bold Georgian proponent of painting in the open air.

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Jonathan Jones
The Guardian

Was Michelangelo's painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling inspired by religion, or just funded by it
Was Michelangelo’s painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling inspired by religion, or just funded by it? Photograph: Carmine Flamminio/ Carmine Flamminio/Demotix/Corbis

Further to the correspondence inspired by Ian Flintoff on Richard Dawkins, the notion that religious inspiration has contributed to the bulk of great art in the past (Letters, 16 August) needs more careful examination.

For a significant period of European history, including the pre-Christian Roman era, commercial success for an artist, and therefore survival of art works to the present day, entailed tacit or more often explicit conformity with social, political and especially religious norms, in societies where religious institutions formed a key part of the political power structures. It was the power of those institutions to employ artists and pay for their materials which “inspired” or prompted the production of art. It is noteworthy also that in societies where the religious institutions largely discouraged or refused to fund the production of figural art, such art flourished within the more limited secular market, although survival of its products has been significantly hampered by those same religious institutions.

Artists may or may not have been “inspired by religion”, but we will never know, except in those rare cases where they explicitly denied such inspiration and usually suffered the consequences. For the rest, we can only try to read implicit meaning from their work – a notoriously inaccurate form of analysis, rather akin to the belief system espoused by Flintoff himself and so coherently criticised by Dawkins and other rationalists.

Sarah Lambert
The Guardian

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Post-it note discussing two paintings; installation view, Art Is Therapy, 2014. Courtesy of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Photo: Olivier Middendorp.

Viewers are supposed to marvel at Rembrandt’s Night Watch (1642), but do they really? Many of us have unsatisfying responses to the works of the Masters, yet we still troop through the museums by the millions. This disconnect has led Alain de Botton and John Armstrong to guest-curate a selection of 150 works at the Rijksmuseum from their pragmatic point of view.
De Botton and Armstrong assert that art’s purpose is to heal some of the pain and malaise felt in life. It would be easy to dismiss this as didactic and anodyne. But reclaiming this broad, utilitarian view of art and reconnecting with the public in an approachable way is not simplistic. It is an important critical challenge to the reductive and self-referential intellectualism that dominates much contemporary discourse.
Tagging each work with large, yellow Post-it-style notes, the curators chat with the audience about the psychological dynamics of viewing art in a large museum. The notes aim to demystify the thoughts and feelings of viewers. Some notes describe the purpose of museums (“cathedrals of art”), while others name the alienation we feel in a room crowded with strangers. Democratizing the viewing experience in this way touches the soft underbelly of art, where contemporary critique has rejected notions of social purpose, beauty, and meaning and thus alienated much of the public.

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Daily Serving

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“Ian Hamilton Finlay: Arcadian Revolutionary and Avant-Gardener” is abuzz with aphorisms, quotations, and various verbal parries.

Imagine yourself strolling through a verdant park, enjoying the pleasant vistas, the richer oxygen, the weird, wrap-around three-dimensionality of it all (so unlike a screen), and then, out of nowhere . . . Zzzzzp. (Ouch!) And a minute later . . . Zzzzzp! (Yeow!) And so on.

Not insects, but words deliver these rousing stings. And their little pricks of poison are felt not on the skin but in that part of the body encrusted with cant and cliché called the brain.

Hello, and thank you, Ian Hamilton Finlay.

Finlay (1925-2006), a Scotsman, is the subject of a small but deeply engaging show at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum this summer. Although most of the work is indoors and on framed pieces of paper, it’s advisable — it’s almost inevitable — that, while viewing it, you imagine yourself wandering through a carefully tended neoclassical garden, receiving Finlay’s verbal (but also graphic and sculptural) stings with varying degrees of dismay, pleasure, and irritation.

Gardening was one of Finlay’s abiding obsessions. The others were classical poetry and philosophy (above all Virgil and his “Eclogues”), the French Revolution, World War II, boating, and the sea. A strange mix, on the face of it, but they all combined symphonically in Finlay’s 5-acre garden, the pungently named “Little Sparta,” in the Pentland Hills, smack bang in the center of southern Scotland.

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Sebastian Smee
Boston Globe

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A detail of the newly re-designed Clark center and reflecting pool. (Photo: Courtesy Clark Art Institute )

“I started to cry a bit when I saw the finished result for the first time this morning,” said architect Annabelle Selldorf at the June 27 press preview of the newly expanded Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Michael Conforti, director of the Institute, also teared up as he addressed the crowd gathered to celebrate the reopening after 10 years and $145 million of time and funds were invested into reconstruction. Visitors might have similarly emotional reactions to the results, including Pritzker-winner Tadao Ando’s multipurpose visitor center, which prioritizes circulation and the views of lush hills behind the Clark; landscape architecture firm Reed Hilderbrand’s stepped pools , which create a peaceful setting primed for meditation; and Selldorf’s redesign of the main museum building’s interior, which glorifies the Clark’s collection.

Though thorough and comprehensive, the Clark’s transformation is decidedly understated. The refrain “Bilbao of the Berkshires” was used time and again over the weekend to describe the project, but that phrase isn’t really accurate. The Guggenheim Bilbao is a monumental, sculptural showpiece that draws attention away from the cityscape unto itself; the new Clark pays homage to the surrounding landscape with understated architecture and interiors that frame views of the neighboring hillside and the art on view.

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Anna Kats
Blouin ArtInfo

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Goya’s “La maja vestida” and “La maja desnuda” in Spain’s Museo del Prado (photo by MamboZ/Flickr)

The Museo del Prado in Spain is missing 885 artworks, down from 926 in 2008, El País reported. A recent investigation carried out by the country’s Tribunal de Cuentas, or Court of Auditors, found that the losses were likely decades-old but nonetheless reflected inadequate infrastructure for tracking the collections. A spokesperson for the museum downplayed the situation, telling the paper that many works had been lost over the years to fires and even armed conflict, but without proof of destruction or loss the records for these works remain.

The audit was compelled by the regulatory law governing the Prado, which calls for “monitoring the integrity and security of the museum’s collections and funds.” As part of the audit, the government agency queried 82 Spanish institutions responsible for 1,789 Prado-owned works held in the country but outside of the museum itself (a total of 3,206 works are held internationally). Of this group, 65% of the works were satisfactorily confirmed by 53 institutions; discrepancies and other irregularities in the records provided by 25 museums were further observed.

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Mostafa Heddaya
Hyperallergic

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Madonna and Child With Four Saints (Spedalingo Altarpiece), by Rosso Fiorentino, 1518

Henri Matisse is supposed to have encountered someone who complained that the arm of a woman in one of his portraits was too long. “Madam, you are mistaken,” he replied. “This is not a woman, this is a painting.” She might have replied, “That’s not an argument, that’s attitude.” The painter’s bon mot is what E.H. Gombrich (to whose classic study Art and Illusion I owe the anecdote) called “one of the paradoxes with which modern artists and critics like to tease the long-suffering public.” Such paradoxes can be hard to avoid. Gombrich thought the development of pictorial illusionism—that is, of the European canon of realistic representation—“was stimulated by the dissatisfaction which certain periods of Western civilization felt with images that failed to look convincing.” The statement is itself paradoxical, because it ignores the question of who wants to be convinced by an image. Long before Matisse, the Italian artists of the sixteenth century who came to be known as Mannerists were willing to twist their figures out of proportion, and they did so to create not convincing images, but convincing paintings.

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Barry Schwabsky
The Nation

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A conservator wears goggles to protect his eyes from the dual laser beams that he wields to clean a Caryatid. (Photo: Thanassis Stavrakis, Associated Press)

Four marble maidens from ancient Greece have just gotten a facelift. Using a specially designed laser, conservators have labored since 2011 to strip away the black grime that encrusted the statues. Today the final figure to undergo the treatment is being revealed in all her splendor in the new Acropolis Museum in Athens, which celebrates its fifth anniversary this Friday, June 20.

Sculpted in the late fifth century B.C., the draped figures served as columns for the Erechtheion, one of the temples that stood on the Acropolis, the sacred rocky hill that rises 512 feet (156 meters) above the modern Greek capital.

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A. R. Williams
National Geographic

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Woman’s Kimono with Abstract Hemp-Leaf Pattern (Japan, early Shōwa period, c. 1935), silk plain weave, stencil-printed warp and weft (heiyō-gasuri meisen), Costume Council Fund (Photo: © 2014 Museum Associates/LACMA)

Many of us, when we picture kimono, envision the traditional Japanese garment covered in similarly traditional images: blossoming floral motifs, soaring or leaping animals, mountain peaks and cresting seascapes in Ukiyo-e style. But cross-cultural exchange between Japan and the West started in earnest during the Meiji period (1868–1912), causing the spread of different technologies and styles in both directions. By the time the Shōwa period rolled around in 1926, Japanese kimono looked quite different than they once had, with patterns that that were far more abstract and modern.

Opening on Saturday, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s (LACMA) exhibition Kimono for a Modern Age surveys this period of Japanese fashion innovation. The show presents 30 never-before-seen kimono from LACMA’s permanent collection. All date to the first half of the 20th century — chronology you might guess just by looking at the garments, which show a strong affinity with modern art of the period.

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Jillian Steinhauer
Hyperallergic

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