8 November 2013


You wouldn’t believe the people you meet when walking the streets of Paris. Here we were, my daughter and I, minding our own business in the Bar du Marché over a cup of coffee, when a woman walked in.

She looked vaguely familiar. Wearing a pair of dark shades and the latest fashion colour in earphones, she was madly nodding her head to an unheard beat. It must have been something fab she was listening to, because she kept smiling in a sort of transcendental way.

Then the waiter came and asked her what she wanted, but she obviously couldn’t hear a thing.
‘Que?’ she said dreamily, which I took to be Italian for ‘what?’

The waiter, no doubt used to the endless flow of foreign visitors, made a gesture with his hand that suggested a drink. Well, he shouldn’t have done that, because the Smiling Lady became inordinately irate. She knocked off the waiter’s cap, took a carafe of water from a table, poured it over his head and walked out again. We could see that she was smiling again.

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Allegory of the Night

6 November 2013



ALLEGORY OF THE NIGHT,   Oil on wooden panel.

by Michele di Rodolfo del Ghirlandaio (Florence, 1503 – Florence, 1577)

It is assumed that he painted this between 1553 and 1555.


The museum at the Jardin du Luxembourg is holding an exhibition of Renaissance art on the subject of sleep, dreams, reveries and nightmares.  This was quite fashionable at the time because it gave artists and their wealthy patrons carte blanche to indulge in their own fantasies, away from religious themes.  Dreams were not limited by reality or the church, and gave eroticism a socially acceptable framework.

‘Allegory of the Night’ was inspired by Michelangelo’s celebrated sculpture, and bears witness to the great influence this master had on other artists.  What the photograph can’t show you is that the surface is as smooth as enamel—an effect that can only be achieved on a flat painting surface like metal or wood.  Panel painting remained common until the end of the 16th Century in Italy, and was only gradually replaced by stretched canvas, which is rough by comparison.  Linen had many lumps and bumps and by its very nature gave birth to a freer style of brushwork.

What is immediately striking in this work is the skin tone of a luminous ivory.  Peasants at the time were working in the fields and became tanned.  Only the wealthy could afford to stay indoors and be protected from the sun.  And has it not always been thus?  What the wealthy can do is what becomes fashionable—hence the fascination with a pearly white complexion.  Or dazzling white breasts, as they are so often referred to in early literature.

And talking about breasts—no woman, not even in 16th Century Italy, would have had two protrusions so close to her armpits, with a large flat plane across her chest.  One can only wonder what would have given rise to that particular fashion in painting.  It was the look of the times, and can be seen in works by artists as broad-ranging as Albrecht Dürer and Hans Holbein.

Historic considerations apart, I myself am always looking at the use of colour whenever I am faced with a work of art.  It is interesting to note how the red in the left top corner attracts your attention and then leads your eye down to the subject’s feet; from there to the lips of the man’s face on the ground, and from there to her headgear.  It’s a circular motion, which invites the viewer to go round and round in an endless loop—an effective composition because it directs the eye.

What’s the woman dreaming about?  The putto in the background is about to light a lamp, so we can assume that it will be daytime soon.  Is this a dream before the moment of waking up?  What is it with all the men’s heads?  Ex-lovers?  Enemies?  Power figures?  Her relationship with any of them is not exactly of a sensuous nature.  Only the owl, symbol of the night, is close to her, and together they embody the ‘Allegory of the Night’.

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Rapp in the Studio

By: Katharina Rapp, 20 September 2013

Rapp in the Studio

What do you see when you look at the above painting?  A portrait of a woman sitting on a horse?  That’s correct, of course, but it’s only the quick answer.

The slow answer, like slow food, is much more complex—because thrown into the mix are cultural references, symbols, and philosophical views on life.

As the title suggests, this is a portrait of myself.  I painted it when I was young and beautiful—now I’m only beautiful, ha ha.  My German name Rapp, a shorter version of the word Rappe, means black horse, so it’s not altogether surprising that a dark steed keeps turning up in my paintings.

And since I’m banging on about things German—the national colours are black, red and gold.  It seemed a natural progression of thought to pull these three main colours together into one composition, as a self-portrait has to make reference to the country where one comes from.

Look at the trees.  They are autumnal, providing the golden colour I needed.  But are they real trees?  No, they are trees painted on a canvas, which is leaning against a wall.  Visual deception within visual deception.  Remember the famous pipe by Magritte?  It has the caption, ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’ – this is not a pipe.  How could it be a real pipe?  It’s a bit of cloth with some oily stuff on it.  The rest is no more than optical illusion.  That’s what I was playing with when I painted these trees on a leaning canvas.  It also helped to create a studio atmosphere, where half-finished canvases are stacked against the wall most of the time.

Look at the horse.  Is it a real horse?  No.  It’s a horse made up of many individual canvases, like a house of cards.  The rider on top, so confident looking, might come crashing down any moment.  The house of cards, or the puzzle pieces of the horse underneath her, could simply collapse one day.   Life is never certain.  One could crash in one’s career, or one could succumb to ill-health.  But while we’re on top, we might as well look splendid.

There is another bit of symbolism in this painting, and this one is pure ‘Rappland’.  My first name Katharina is a bit of a mouthful, and too long for a signature in oil paint.  Signing with K. Rapp was not the answer, either—a  friend of mine once called me Miss Krapp, in jest.  Who would want to be painter and critic at the same time?

That’s why I placed that palette with the droppings underneath the backside of the horse.  It’s symbolic for my full signature, if you like.

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