The stories of my life on a little island in the middle of the Mediterranean sea ... and my occasional adventures beyond these shores.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Famous sculptures from antiquity to the Renaissance that I love

Any time we travel, we always make sure that, apart from seeing the sights and trying out the local food, we also get to visit a few museums that will enrich us culturally. I consider myself lucky that I have seen all these famous sculptures in person. Although beauty is always in the eyes of the beholder, I think that you will all agree that the sculptures I will be sharing with you are formidable works of art that have ensured that their creators will remain immortalised forever.

David by Michelangelo at the Galleria dell' Accademia (Florence)

David was created between 1501 and 1504 by a young Michelangelo. It depicts the Biblical hero David and was intended to be positioned along the roof-line of Florence's world-famous duomo the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. However, once the statue was finished, the city authorities realised that raising the 6-ton sculpture to the roof of the cathedral was going to be a close-to-impossible feat. Instead, David was placed in Piazza della Signoria next to the entrance to Palazzo Vecchio - the town-hall. David remained there until 1873 when the sculpture was removed to the Galleria dell'Accademia to protect it from the elements. A replica now stands in its place. Michelangelo seems to have captured David right at the moment when he has taken his decision to face Goliath and what we see depicted here is not bravery as much as a steely determination to see this thing through. Here is a sculpture that embodies youth, vigour and invincibility.

David (Galleria del Accademia, Florence)


The Winged  Victory of Samothrace (sculptor unknown) at the Louvre (Paris)

This Greek statue from the 2nd century BC depicts the goddess Nike (the Greek goddess of Victory) and was probably created to honour a sea battle. Despite the fact that parts of it, including its head, are missing, it is still a sculpture of mesmerising beauty. The flow of the goddess's robes, the triumphant stance, the overall feeling of fluidity and movement create the impression that what we have before our eyes is not a marble statue but a living being that is somehow frozen in time. I think that if I had to choose an absolute favourite from this list it would be this ethereal creation from antiquity.

Winged Victory of Samothrace (Louvre Museum, Paris)


The Dying Gaul (sculptor unknown) at the Capitoline Museum (Rome)

This statue is thought to be a Roman copy of a Greek original and, as the title suggests, depicts a dying man. There is no sense of movement or any type of urgency in this sculpture. On the contrary, I got the feeling that there is a poignant pause: that we are catching a glimpse of the everlasting moment between life and death. The man depicted there before you knows that his time is nigh. You can almost sense his resignation, his acceptance of his fate: the winner takes it all; the loser … well he gets to darken the earth with his life's blood.

The Dying Gaul (Capitoline  Museums, Rome)


Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss by Antonio Canova at the  Louvre (Paris)

This masterpiece of Neo-Classical sculpture was created by Antonio Canova in 1787. It shows Cupid waking his beloved Psyche from her death-like sleep by gently pricking her with one of his arrows and kissing her. Canova expertly captures the sensuous moment between the lovers, imbuing the marble figures with life.

Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss (Louvre Museum, Paris)


The Colossus of Constantine (sculptor unknown) at the Capitoline Museum (Rome)

This massive statue that was sculpted some time between the 3rd and 4th century AD depicts the Roman emperor Constantine the Great. Judging by the size of the still-intact pieces (the head, legs and arms) this colossal, seated statue was probably around 12 metres high. This sculpture screams power and haughtiness, both reflected in the unyielding eyes of the emperor. Here is a man whose word was law and who held the power of life or death over hundreds of thousands. It's no wonder that even in it's fragmented form I felt intimidated by the unwavering stare of the first Christian emperor.

The Colossus of Constantine (Capitoline Museums, Rome)


The Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna in Piazza della Signoria (Florence)

The three figures that make up this dynamic sculpture are carved out of a single block of marble. They give the impression of writhing movement that starts by the woman's outstretched arms, continues in the body of the young Roman from whom she is desperately trying to flee, and ends in the raised arm of the dominated male figure at the base of the sculpture.  The twisted, intertwined bodies draw the eyes upwards, creating a composition that seems to change depending on the angle it is viewed from. The sinuous nature of this sculpture creates the impression that the three figures are locked in a strange, morbid dance from which they cannot escape.  The Rape of the Sabine Women is truly a remarkable sculpture from the late Renaissance and its creator, Giambologna, is considered to be amongst the greatest sculptors the world has ever known. Somehow, just by looking at this masterpiece, I was able to feel the woman's fear and torment, the harshness of her abductor and the desperation of the husband or father who is overpowered and unable to aid the horrified woman. I could sense their struggle but I could do nothing to help.

The Rape of the Sabine Women (Piazza della Signoria, Florence)


Venus de Milo by Alexandros of Antioch at the Louvre (Paris)

This is one of the most famous sculptures from ancient Greece that was created some time between 130-100 BC. It is thought to depict Aphrodite, or Venus, goddess of love and beauty and, although the statue is incomplete, there is no denying the grace and beauty of the female form. The missing arms and the covered lower limbs create a stream-lined silhouette that is, strangely, more visually and aesthetically pleasing. It now almost seems as if the arms were an afterthought and that, with them, the sculpture would look cumbersome and, perhaps, just a little bit ungainly. It is imperfectly perfect, an enigma that continues to allure us thousands of years after is creation.

Venus de Milo (Louvre Museum, Paris)


The Pieta' by Michelangelo at St Peter's Basilica (Vatican City)

This sculpture is the only work of art that Michelangelo ever signed. It was created some time between 1498 and 1499. It depicts the dead Christ on his mother's lap. It seems to be the final moment between Mother and Son before He is taken away for burial. I am sure that thousands, probably millions, have gazed at this sculpture and I am sure that every person has taken away something different with them. While I could detect the Mother's sorrow and felt her heart-breaking agony as she gazed on the lifeless body of her Son, I also got the impression that Mary's outstretched arm and the almost altar-like shape of the lower part of her body are presenting the dead body of Jesus as a sacrifice. It is almost as if she is telling us that she is giving him to the world with no conditions or strings attached.

The Pieta' (St Peter's Basilica, Vatican City)

I hope you have enjoyed my take on some of the most beautiful sculptures that exist. There are other famous sculptures that I love but I decided to focus only on those that I have experienced for myself. Naturally I am curious to know whether there are any that I have mentioned that you also count amongst your favourites. Please do tell and include any others that I have failed to mention.


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Tuesday, 14 February 2017

A blog at the crossroads

Dear readers, I feel that this blog is at an impasse. As I have probably already mentioned, I started this blog without putting much thought into it. After a few months, I made the (I now feel) mistaken decision to start another blog dedicated solely to Malta. The problem is that I now do not have the time to update both. Ironically, while I make most effort on this blog, Snapshots of an Island (my other blog), which I haven't updated since June, gets much more traffic (300 - 400 hits a day compared to around 50 hits on this blog). The reason for this is because there is more factual information on my other blog as opposed to my day-dreaming and musing on this blog. So what is the solution?

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I have been doing some research on how to make my blog more interesting (read that as 'more interesting to Google search engines'). There is a lot of advice out there, some of which I am not tech-savvy enough to understand. But there was one piece of advice (apart from hundreds of articles about SEO (search engine optimisation) and algorithms) that was repeated ad nauseum: Google loves it if we talk about current events. Ah, and there's the rub, as the most famous English bard put it. I am not quite ready to do that. It's not that I completely ignore all that going on around me. It's that here, on this blog, I want to get away from the corruption and the sleaze; from the whole ugly mess out there. Most days, when I watch the news, both local and international, I get so emotionally distraught that all I want to do is dig a deep hole and lie in it until it's all over - if it ever will be.

So it seems that I will ignore the advice and do what feels right for me. My blog isn't about a business or about putting myself out there to make a living off of it. It's just a place where I make my own rules and where I can stick my tongue out at Google and write about what I want. I was toying with the idea of starting a new blog but that seemed  too drastic and it felt like a  pity to abandon all that I had  built up (albeit, it's not much). However, some changes are necessary. I will definitely be going for a different look: a new font, new background, simpler layout. I will definitely be sharing more about Malta on this blog (including some factual posts that I promise won't be too heavy on the history) and also write more articles about the places we have visited on our travels. I feel that I have not done most them justice as there is still so much more I can dig up from my travel journals that is bound to be of interest to those that take the time to stop and read. Another plan is to interview readers of this blog and also authors (if they accept) of blogs that I read and find very interesting or informative. We will see how it goes. Please bear with me if you land on my page and it's in shambles. I will try to keep the changes in the background but I am sure I am bound to make a few errors in the process.

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None of these proposed changes will happen overnight but I hope that, by the end of this year, I will have a more defined style and a much more clear indication of the direction that I want this blog to go on. I know that a lot of my readers have been asking themselves whether what they have to say is relevant. I want to reassure them that, yes, it is relevant. As long as people stop by to read, it is relevant. As long as what you have to say,  or the photos that you share, brightens someone's day, then it is relevant. It is, perhaps, just a  matter of making some changes because if there is one thing that I have learned in  life, it is that change is constant and we just need to adapt while remaining true to ourselves. And although I know that I've talked about making changes a number of times but never got round to it, this time I am determined to see them through. All I ask is that you stay with me on what  may be a bumpy ride -at least for a little while. And I hope you won't mind me mixing things up a little bit.

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