Category Archives: Uncategorized

Renaissance Angels of Florence

A year ago I was in Florence, and I found myself collecting angels. On December 21, the darkest day of the year in North America, I’m thinking we could do with a few angels to watch over us.

I’d be looking at a masterpiece like this “tondo” (round painting) in the Uffizi Gallery and then I’d go in for a closeup of the angels. Lorenzo di Credi painted “Adoration of the Christ Child” between 1505-15. (The placard says it’s an unfinished painting, but I’d like to even start a painting this good).

There are a lot of angels in Italy. In Florence, anybody with an angel phobia would be out of luck. Some angels travel in crowds, as in Beato Angelico’s “Glorification of the Virgin with Angels and Saints,” c. 1434-5.

In Florence, the cradle of the Renaissance, there was new interest in the individuality of ordinary humans, and their importance in the scheme of things. This carried over into the portrayal of angels and saints as well. Each personality is distinct.

Fittingly, the crowd of human saints is placed closer to the viewer than the troops of angels. But some angels mix right in with the humans, and they pretty much look like regular humans with wings.

Sometimes, baby angel-faces with double sets of wings float around in clouds. Those above are from “The Trinity and Saints Benedict and Giovanni Gualberto,” 1470, a panel by an unknown artist, taken from the Church of Santa Trinita and now in the Uffizi. (Sometimes, glare got in the way of my photos and I had to sort of mosey over to the side to get a halfway-clear image).

I especially like this toddler angel in her Sunday best, from the same panel.

Angels like music a lot.

The two above are celebrating “The Crowning of the Virgin,” a panel by an unknown painter around 1470-1480. Again, there are the double-winged angel-babies.

Some angels have especially colorful wings, not to mention their bright robes.

The elegant angels above are from a very grand altarpiece by Lorenzo Monaco, around 1414.

One of Filippo Lippi’s most famous paintings, “Madonna and Child with Two Angels,” wowed everyone in 1460, and still does. Do the humans look just like angels, or vice versa? The friar’s fresh take on a traditional theme influenced any number of other artists, including Sandro Botticelli.

My photos hardly do justice to Botticelli’s sublime “Annunciation,” 1481. His angel looks half real, half apparition and all beautiful.

In Neri di Bicci’s “Annunciation,” 1465, the starring angel, Gabriel, has brought along a couple of mini-me’s to help out.

I love their modest expressions. They’re not even looking up at the action, just there to do their job.

Actually, my favorite angels are often the ones off to the side of the action, like the one in the lower right-hand corner of one of Filippo Lippi’s most important paintings, “Coronation of the Virgin,” 1439-47. It’s a monumental painting–it is no wonder he worked on it for years.

I especially like the gentle angel in the corner, unfurling a banner but not calling attention to herself.

Time to leave the galleries and wander the narrow streets of Florence, where the glorious Duomo dominates. The cathedral was begun in 1296, just before the dawn of the Renaissance in Florence. It was completed in 1496 when Filippo Brunelleschi figured out how to top it off with his glorious dome. (Over the centuries, the builders must have figured, “Well, how hard can it be?” But eventually they discovered they’d built too big for any known dome construction).

Finally, in the 19th century, Emilio De Fabris frosted the cake by adding the pink, green and white marble Gothic Revival facade. He stuck a welcoming angel next to the main entrance.

Whatever theology or non-theology one has, I think angel-collecting is a fine way to spend time in Florence, or anyplace where there’s fine art.

Happy Scandinavian Christmas!

I don’t know exactly what’s going on here, but I want in. The painting, from Norway’s National Gallery in Oslo, is “Traditions of Christmas” by Adolphe Tideman, 1846. It looks like a sheaf of wheat is being hoisted up on the rooftop for hungry birds. And there are skis, and puffy snow to tumble into. Works for me!

Viggo Johansen painted his family celebrating in “Silent Night,” 1891, now in the Hirschsprung Gallery, Copenhagen.

He painted his wife, his children, and a servant around their tree with lighted candles.

The artist most likely only painted himself as an arm reaching for his son’s arm behind the tree. The museum commentary explains that Christmas was the best day for quite awhile in the Johansen household. Within a day or so, all the kids were down with measles. The artist left the tree up for four months so he could finish the painting while also tending a houseful of sick children.

In Copenhagen right now, street markets are bright with berries, and the grand assembly room at the Workers’ Museum is set up for a party.

Children are cozy in their insulated onesies. Every time I see one, I want one for myself.

I’m not sure the sun is shining today in Copenhagen, but it was a sunny day a couple of weeks ago at City Hall.

Back in my hometown of Minneapolis, where many Scandinavian people ended up as immigrants, the Swedish Institute has decked the halls.

The lakes are frozen, there’s just enough snow to call it a White Christmas, and it’s COLD.

And at Christmas dinner today, I have not only grandchildren but a new granddog: a sheepadoodle. Merry Christmas to all!

Christmas Time in Copenhagen

Danish flags and paper cutouts are popular on Christmas trees.

The upscale Magazin du Nord department store is festooned with paper cutout garlands.

Tivoli Park is full of lights and people.

Right, I’ll be next on the carousel giraffe!

The snow is not real yet at Tivoli, but it’s cold. Pink and purple hyacinths are planted everywhere. Their scent fills the air.

Festive music fills churches.

The Christmas market at the Gustaf Swedish Church is the best weekend party. Church ladies all wear costumes of Swedish districts. I have shawl-and-apron envy!

There are only about 5 million Danes in the entire country. The pace is relaxed, even in Copenhagen. Art galleries are pleasantly uncrowded and stuffed with beautiful things. Above is “Mary with the Christ Child and the Infant St. John” by Maurice Denis, 1898. It’s in the fabulous French collection at the Glyptotek.

Copenhagen’s City Hall is a work of art in itself. I’ll cheerfully wander its hushed halls for an hour anytime.

Cafes are cozy and store windows full of temptations.

Buying a gift? A friendly elf in ruffled pantaloons will wrap it up for you.

Is Copenhagen expensive? Oh, yes. We rented an apartment, ate in a lot, took in free concerts and recitals, and bought Copenhagen cards, which cover all the sights and all the excellent public transportation. It’s manageable and worth it!

Jimmy Reagan’s “Outsider” Art

Jimmy Reagan is a Minnesota artist in his twenties. At age 2, he was diagnosed with a complex form of autism. In his teens, he began working as a serious painter, and he’s had a lot of success. Above is a self-portrait. I saw his work in a recent exhibit in St. Paul.

Above is another self portrait: “Jimmy Painting Pretty Girl in Orange Dress and Pearls.”

He does a lot of portraits. Above is his mom.

Apparently Jimmy has done some traveling. Above is a portrait of a “Girl from Italy.” He often paints his backgrounds and sometimes his frames with what he calls “ticks”–bright splashes of brilliant color.

Jimmy lists his artistic influences as Picasso and Van Gogh. I can see the influences, but to me Jimmy seems totally original.

This is “The Emperor.” Looks pretty self-important, don’t you think?

I like his “Golden Hair Man.”

I’m an aspiring painter myself, and I know what a challenge it is to develop a distinctive style. It really takes a distinctive way of looking at the world.

My painting teacher recommended the book pictured above, “The Innocent Eye” by Jonathan Fineberg. I highly recommend it. Many artists we think of as “modern,” like Picasso, Klee and Kandinsky, were fascinated by children’s art. They actually collected and studied it, and even collaborated with children.

Picasso famously commented that all children are artists. He said that when he was age four, he could draw like Raphael–very probably true. But he said that it took him a lifetime to be able to draw “like a child.”

I especially like Jimmy Reagan’s animal portraits. Above is “Blue Sheep,” acrylic on foam carving.

Here is “Cow, Pig and Rooster.” Jimmy has sold a lot of prints of many of these pieces. I can see why.

“Just Cow” may be just a cow, but what personality. She’s acrylic on carved foam.

Elizabeth” is another cow, an especially joyful one.

My very favorite animal of Jimmy’s is “Dirty Happy Pig.”

On this Thanksgiving Day, I’m thankful there are “outsider” artists, and people who nurture and encourage them. I’m also thankful to be setting off on a trip, hoping to see lots of art. I’ll take Jimmy’s unique way of seeing the world with me.

Note on December 5, 2017:  Jimmy’s mother very kindly commented: “If you or your readers are interested, we are hosting a sale/exhibition on December 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th in Jimmy’s space at Sunfish Cellars in Lilydale, MN – We will have artwork and Jimmy’s merchandise available for sale. It is family friendly. All are welcome.”   I’ll be there!

Jimmy’s website is

Paul Klee’s Cats, and Mine

If I could choose one artist to invite over for dinner, it might be the Swiss painter and multimedia artist Paul Klee. He lived from 1879 to 1940. I’d have him bring along one of his favorite cats, maybe Fritzi. Paul Klee loved cats. He painted “Idol for House Cats” in 1924, shortly before Fritzi died.

It’s a watercolor, unusually done on primed canvas instead of the traditional paper. He made it multi-media by pasting on a black lace veil, maybe as a sign of mourning after Fritzi died. The cat looks inscrutable, a little intimidating, yet he has a sweet heart-shaped mouth. Cats are thought to be aloof, but try telling that to anyone who loves them.

“We are mourning him as if he were our child and best friend,” Klee wrote.

I saw quite a few Klee paintings recently at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California.

I loved “Tomcat’s Hunting Ground” too, from Klee in 1919. I think it was on loan from the Albertina in Vienna. I love the childlike joy in so much of Klee’s work.

Back in my home state of Minnesota for a fall visit, I saw an exhibit by a young artist who reminds me of Klee. Jimmy Reagan is a young autistic man in his twenties.

He’s been painting seriously for about ten years. I loved his cat, titled “Barbara.”

I loved his “Orange Lion” too. He carves some of his images into sheets of foam, then paints them. I think he’s wonderful. I’ll devote another post to Jimmy’s other work.

Then there are the ceramic cats one of my grandchildren made recently. This cat knows exactly how beautiful and amazing she is.

This one is a jar that holds things, maybe cat treats.

And last but not least, there are the gorgeous, brilliant, not-at-all-aloof actual cats that share my house with me. I’m inspired to try painting their portraits. We’ll see how that goes!

Prince Henrik: The Ungrateful (Royal) Dead of Denmark?

Now I’ve heard the ultimate First-World problem:  what if a man married a queen, naturally expecting that would make him  a king, and had to settle for being a Prince Consort? Not even a King Consort? That is what happened to Prince Henrik of Denmark. A few months before his death, the Prince made world news with his announcement that he would not be buried beside his wife, Queen Margrethe, in the royal tomb that is already prepared.  I wrote a snarky post, which I’m revising now to be slightly less snarky. Especially after reading that he suffered from dementia, I felt that my post was a little mean-spirited.  I do feel some sympathy for his plight, even though I don’t completely understand it. I find the whole concept of royalty in the modern age both fascinating and baffling.

Among other places, the Prince is prominently featured in the spectacular series of seventeen wall-sized tapestries created to celebrate the 50th birthday of Queen Margrethe II in 1990. They actually took ten years to make, so they were finally hung in the Great Hall on her 60th birthday, in 2000.

The Prince gets to wear any number of medals and attend elegant events in the Great Hall. The photo is from a poster in the hall. Snarky comment: Sadly, my invitation to the event must have been lost in the mail.

Another snarky comment: I wasn’t invited to eat in the adjoining dining room, either.

Among other royal perks, there’s a royal yacht. We happened to be in Stockholm last spring when the Crown Prince of Denmark, son of Prince Henrik and Queen Margrethe, sailed in for a visit.

We stood around for quite awhile so that my granddaughters could lay eyes on an actual Prince and Princess. They duly emerged and waved to the small crowd.

The Danish artist Bjørn Nørgaard painted the “cartoons”–the full-size color plans for the seventeen tapestries in the Grand Hall of Christiansborg Palace.

A gift from many Danish businesses plus the state of France, the homeland of the prince, the tapestries depict the entire history of Denmark. They throw in some guesses at the future to boot.

I spent a couple of hours studying and admiring the seventeen tapestries.  They’re by far the best reason to buy a ticket to Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen.

All through 50 years of marriage, the Prince Consort groused about the slight he suffered. At age 83, a few months before his death, he made his shocking announcement.

As resting places go, Roskilde is pretty nice.

The medieval cathedral has been the resting place of Danish royalty for many generations.

There’s a King’s Door which can only be used by the King and/or Queen to enter. It’s not clear to me whether the Prince Consort was allowed enter through it. I believe anyone is allowed to LEAVE through this special door when it is used for a ceremony like a baptism, or possibly a funeral. Anyway, the bronze doors, polished and patinated to look like gold, replaced carved-oak ones from the late 1800s. They were newly designed and installed in 2010.

Royalty and nobles occupy beautiful chapels. I especially like the ceilings.

The memorial sculptures range from medieval times to the 1950s or so.

Bjorn Norgaard, designer of the magnificent Christiansborg tapestries, was commissioned some years ago to design a modern-yet-traditional monument for the future burial chapel of Queen Margrethe and Prince Henrik. Instead of the typical stone effigies of the great and good, it features their images sandblasted into a large gleaming egg of glass.

But Queen Margrethe will apparently occupy this resting place alone. Before his death on February 14, 2018, I wondered whether the Prince might still get a promotion, and if so, whether it would change his mind. That did not happen. If I had been in charge, I might have found some way to give him the title he wanted, in the interest of peace in the family. But I gather there were constitutional reasons why it could not be done. On the other hand, my egalitarian, practical mind has to wonder why a lifetime of royal luxury wasn’t enough. Wherever Prince Henrik rests, I hope he rests in peace.

A couple of articles about the situation are at: › world › … › royal-snub…

A Bad Day for Santa Croce

A Spanish tourist was just killed by a falling stone fragment inside Florence’s Santa Croce Basilica. How could this happen?

Santa Croce is one of the major sights in Florence. The interior is warmly lit and surprisingly peaceful, considering the number of visitors.

People pause to pay their respects at the tombs of the great and good:





Rossini, and many others I feel like I should know.

Santa Croce is said to be the largest Franciscan church in the world, with beautiful Giotto frescoes honoring the humble monk from Assisi. 

St. Francis is believed to have actually founded this church. 

And now, it’s closed while the authorities investigate why an unsuspecting tourist was killed by a chunk of falling stone.

No tourists will be gazing up at the beautiful ceilings for awhile. The faithful will have to light their candles and murmur their prayers elsewhere in the city.

Italy has artistic treasures everywhere, but it seems there is never enough money to properly take care of them, or to accommodate the number of visitors lining up to see them. 

In 1966, the Arno River overflowed its banks, flooding much of Florence. Damage to Santa Croce took years and years to repair. There are still high water marks in the building, and some of the artworks can’t be completely restored. I hope Santa Croce can be made safe again.

No doubt lots of ink will be used as the investigation goes forward. One article about it is at: