Topsy-Turvy Purple Drunk

A picture is worth a thousand words, said Napoleon. A thousand and a few, I would say, if there is an awesome story in there somewhere…

Leonardo da Vinci. The Last Supper (Il Cenacolo or L'Ultima Cena)

Leonardo da Vinci. The Last Supper (Il Cenacolo or L’Ultima Cena)

When Leonardo da Vinci worked on  The Last Supper, a mural painting on the refectory wall of the Convent of Santa Maria della Grazie in Milan, he run into a difficulty finding models for Jesus and Judas. One day, at last, Leonardo spotted a young church singer to be his Jesus.

For the next three years Leonardo was on a lookout for a suitable Judas until, by chance, he came across the drunkard, lying in the gutter. The drunk was a young man still, but excessive libations aged him beyond his years. Leonardo invited a man to model for him, and immediately started working on Judas.

After a few sessions, nearly sober, the man admitted that he posed for Leonardo once before. A few years back it was, when he sang in the church chorus, and Leonardo painted Jesus. “Christ,” Leonardo might’ve said…

Ilya Repin.  Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on November 16, 1581

Ilya Repin. Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on November 16, 1581

Ilya Repin (1844 –1930) was a leading Russian painter and sculptor.  Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on November 16, 1581 is one of his many masterpieces.

Ilia Repin. Ivan the Terrible (Detail)

Ilya Repin. Ivan the Terrible (Detail)

In 1913, the insane painter-iconographer slashed the picture with a knife. Repaired by skillful restorers, it was about to go on display again. Repin himself arrived to Moscow to inspect the restoration, and decided to re-paint the head of Ivan the Terrible, which he did.

Incongruously, he has done it in a disagreeable purple tones, which greatly conflicted with the palette of the original. When Repin left, the restorers stubbornly removed his patches and returned the painting to its exact pre-damage state. The artist had seen the restored picture later… and did not notice the “correction of the correction”. Perhaps, his “purple period” has passed, much to the delight of his numerous admirers.

Tivadar  Csontvary Kosztka    The Old Fisherman (1902)

Tivadar
Csontvary Kosztka The Old Fisherman (1902)

The painting above is The Old Fisherman by a famous Hungarian painter Tivadar Kosztka Csontváry. Although it was painted in 1902, its not-too-deeply-buried secret was discovered only recently… reflected in the mirror.

Put the mirror exactly in the middle, on the left, you will see a man — wise-looking and sad — resting with his back to the serene mountains and the calm sea. He is God.

Put the mirror exactly in the middle, on the right, you will see a man — evil-looking and menacing — with his back to the  erupting volcano and the stormy sea. He is Devil.

The Old Fisherman. Mirror, Mirror.

The Old Fisherman. Mirror, Mirror.

In 1961, in the New York Museum of Modern Art was exhibited Henri Matisse’s The Boat. Only after 47 days, someone noticed that the painting is hanging upside down. The canvas depicts 10 purple lines and two blue sails on a white background. The second sail is a reflection of the first in the water. The larger sail has to be at the top of the picture, and the peak of the sail should be directed to the upper right corner. Go and figure… Paraphrasing Samuel Butler, any fool can paint a picture, but it takes a genius to hang it upside down…

Henri-Émile-Benoît Matisse. The Boat

Henri-Émile-Benoît Matisse. The Boat

Ambrose Bierce, the incomparable author of a satirical lexicon The Devil’s Dictionary, gave this definition of painting:  Painting, n.: The art of protecting flat surfaces from the weather, and exposing them to the critic. 

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