Sunday, August 9, 2015

Self as Allegory

Mary Harju "Arte" oil on panel 11 x 14 inches 2015  collection of the artist
This charming piece by Philadelphia area-based artist Mary Harju caught my eye for its interesting blend of both action and contemplation. There is a thoughtful, almost dreamy, expression on the artist's face but her arms are tensely linked by one finger, cradling the head but ready to spring apart at any moment and get to work. To me this is nicely emblematic of what it's like to be an artist. In fact the title "Arte" refers to the entire concept of Art, and in the traditional iconography (visual symbolism) of western art, a female figure usually always symbolizes this ideal. (A well-known example is this self-portrait by Artemisia Gentileschi.)  

I asked the artist what was in her mind when she painted this self-portrait. She replied, 
"[In iconography] the emblem of "Arte" holds the tools of her trade in her hand. I'd been working on compositions for this that had seemed stilted and awkward. One day I noticed that I stick brushes in my hair as I'm working, rather like arrows on a quiver. So, this composition was born--it just clicked... I wanted the arms to feel full of potential energy--like an archer preparing to let go an arrow."

Harju studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the University of Pennsylvania and the New York Academy. Her work can be seen on her website:

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Princess of the Arts

Maria Antonia Walpurgis Symphorosa Self Portrait at the Age of About Forty c. 1772 
Maria Antonia Walpurgis Symphorosa, Princess of Bavaria (1724-1780) was born in Munich to Archduchess Maria Amalia of Austria and Elector Karl Albert of Bavaria (later Emperor Karl VII). The fourth in a family of seven children, she received a first-class education, particularly in the arts (including painting and poetry, as well as music.)
 Maria Antonia grew up to become, among other things, a highly respected composer, known particularly for her operas Il trionfo della fedeltà (The Triumph of Loyaltyand Talestri, regina delle amazoni (Thalestris, Queen of the Amazons.) Click here for a delightful YouTube clip of a modern production of Talestri!  She performed actively as a singer and keyboard player in court performances. In addition, she wrote a number of arias, a pastorale, intermezzos, meditations and motets. This intelligent and multi-talented woman also acted as the Regent of Saxony from 1763 through 1768. She was married and was the mother of nine children.
Maria Antonia's artistic fame stems from her musical achievements, but we can see from this self-portrait that she also continued to paint for her own pleasure, and very skillfully so, throughout her life.