Two Gods, Two Mediums

This is a 2016 essay of mine on the Analysis of

“Hermes and the Infant Dionysius” and “Madonna in the Meadow”

Praxiteles was born circa 390 B.C., and died circa 332 B.C.  He was considered the greatest sculptor in Greece and was known as the “sculptor of grace” for his use of softer forms and displaying the Greek gods as humanlike and gentle instead of indignant and distant.  His work, “Hermes with the Infant Dionysus” is the only known work of art done by him that has survived.  The statue made of marble, which was Praxiteles’ choice of medium, shows softness in lines and form and humanistic style (“Hermes and the Infant Dionysos”).    

The sculpture portrays Hermes carrying baby Dionysus to the nymphs in the mountains.  The mythological story tells us that Zeus had an affair with a mortal woman named Semele.  Once he showed himself to her, she burned to death by the warm radiance he possessed as a god.  Dionysus was produced from their love, and Zeus’ wife, Hera, found out and wanted to kill the infant and anything else that reminded her of his affair.  With that, Zeus called on his messenger, Hermes, to take Dionysus and deliver him to the nymphs that live in the mountains for his safety and to raise him.  This sculpture captures the playful moment of Hermes with baby Dionysus on their journey to the nymphs.  Dionysus grew up and became the god of wine, festivity, and theater (“Hermes and the Infant Dionysos”).

The statue was most assuredly commissioned for the sanctuary, and it was, indeed, housed in the Temple of Hera at Olympia.  In 1877, German archeologists discovered the sculpture in that temple.  

Praxiteles’ work, “Hermes with the Infant Dionysus,” truly reflects the late Classical style of that era, as well as represents the Greek pagan religion at the time where many temples to the various gods and goddesses housed statues like Praxiteles’ beautiful sculptures.  

The inclusion of children/babies in Greek art is evident of Late Classical sculpture.  Praxiteles promoted a new decree of proportions, which displayed a naturalistic, thinner, softer, taller, and more intimate sculpture style that had never been seen before.  His sculpting design is more secular and worldly than depicting the divine.  It signifies social changes and predominance of secular and touching representations from then on (“Hermes and the Infant Dionysos”).

 Raphael’s oil painting on wood, “Madonna in the Meadow” was created and completed between the years of 1505 and 1507.  Raphael, whose full name was Raffaello Sanzio or Santi, was born in Duchy of Urbino, Italy, on April 6, 1483, and died April 6, 1520.  His parents, Margia di Battista Ciarla, died in 1491, and his father, Giovanni Santi, first taught him to paint, not too long before his death.  Giovanni had also exposed Raphael to humanist philosophy at the court.  The city in which Raphael had lived, Urbino, was a cultural center under the rule of Duke Federico da Montefeltro.  

Most of Raphael’s basic learning of the arts was while living in Urbino.  His talent was exceptional at barely 17 years old.  In circa 1495, Raphael went to Perugia and began his work through commissions by the Church between 1501 and 1503, through his connection to and learning from a great artist and master from Urbino named Pietro Perugino.  Perugino’s excellent style influenced Raphael, and later, also Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo’s amazing works.  He was one of their students (“Raphael”).

Raphael worked on his many paintings of the Madonna between 1505 and 1507.  In his painting, “Madonna in the Meadow,” it shows the Virgin Mary sitting on a large stone gently grasping baby Jesus and watching he and baby St. John the Baptist, who was just six months older than Jesus.  The colors used in Christian art are of great importance.  For example, the Virgin is dressed in red and blue clothing.  The red signifies her mortality or humanity and the blue, her holiness.  Raphael’s use of chiaroscuro in the painting was an influence of da Vinci, as well as by his sfumato – the use of very fine, soft shading in lieu of line/characterized forms and features.  He used aerial perspective to give the appearance that the landscape was far away.  Raphael created unique figures with round, tender faces that were not complex, but expressed basic human feeling.   His technique also elevated them to precision and peacefulness.  He strived to create a more personable style to make a popular and accessible form of visual connection (“Raphael”).

Raphael’s painting, “Madonna in the Meadow,” reflects the Renaissance period in which he lived.  There is the Classical aspect of the work reminiscent of ancient Greco-Roman Classical art, and there is the humanistic aspect of the Renaissance era, which stressed the excellence and integrity of the human being.  Christianity was still prevalent at the time, despite the troubles in the Catholic Church, the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation, and the ushering in of more reason than religious thinking.

These two artworks have many similarities. They share mystical and mythological representations.

Praxiteles’ “Hermes with the Infant Dionysus” depicts two Greek gods of Greek mythology, which was the religion of the Greeks throughout the ancient and Classical Greek periods. Raphael’s “Madonna in the Meadow” displays the blessed, holy Virgin and her son, Jesus Christ, reflecting the religion of Christianity’s true God incarnate.  

The forms are sculpted and painted in soft, beautiful lines and classical beauty.  With Hermes’ weight bearing on his right leg and his left leg gently touching the ground, his sinuous body curves in an S shape.  This lack of equilibrium in the statue was a new form at that time, which was called the “Praxitelean curve” (“Hermes and the Infant Dionysos”).   

There are smooth and graceful curves in Raphael’s oil painting through the soft curves of the Madonna’s shoulders against the gentle curves of the landforms behind her.  Both pieces of art contain children in them of great importance.  Infant Dionysus is the offspring of a god, Zeus, and a mortal, Semele, and likewise, Christ is the offspring of God, the Holy Spirit, and mortal, Mary.  

Baby St. John the Baptist is a messenger from God.  His purpose on earth was to pave the way for Jesus Christ’s entrance into the world and his future ministry.  Hermes is a messenger from the god, Zeus, and in this case, he is delivering Zeus’ son, Dionysus, to the nymphs for his safety and care.  

Another similarity between the two mediums is displaying the human body nude and also donning robes or cloaks.  Both art periods honored the human body and considered it beautiful.  The oil painting and sculpture share the depiction of a protective, gentle adult caring for a child.  In the Classical Greek tradition, the naked body portrayed moral virtue and heroism (Mount).  In Raphael’s era of the Renaissance, the naked human body was also considered beautiful and revered (Sorabella).  

There are differences in the two artworks.  Praxiteles’ work is a sculpture made of marble, whereas Raphael’s work is an oil painting on wood.  “Hermes with the Infant Dionysus” depicts two Greek gods from Greek mythology, which are demigods – they produce children and have relations with mortals/humans producing children.  They share human emotions, especially jealousy and anger (“Hermes”), but this is not so for the Christian God, who does not have such emotions as jealousy.  

In Praxiteles’ sculpture, Hermes’ body is off-balance, shaped in an S curve that makes it asymmetrical, which Praxiteles brought to the Late Classical Greek art (“Hermes with the Infant Dionysus”).  In Raphael’s painting, there is a pyramidal blueprint with the position of the three subjects that gives it a sense of quality, tranquility, and symmetry that was commonly employed by Renaissance artists (“Raphael”).  In the painting, “Madonna in the Meadow,” the viewer is able to see the scenic background of the meadow through its aerial perspective and two-dimensional form, but a background isn’t shown in “Hermes with the Infant Dionysus” largely because it is sculpted in the round, which means that it is not attached to a background and can be seen from any angle.  

In conclusion, Praxiteles’ “Hermes with the Infant Dionysus” and Raphael’s “Madonna in the Meadow” share the Classical style of both their eras and portray the mystical and gentle beauty in their lines and forms, and therefore complement each other.

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Works Cited

“Hermes with the Infant Dionysus.”  Museum of Antiquities.  n.d.  Web.  3 March 2016. 

http://www.usask.ca/antiquities/our-collection-/greek/classical-greek/sculpture/hermes-with-the-infant-dionysus/index.php

“Raphael.”  Artsy.  2016.  Web.  3 March 2016.  https://www.artsy.net/artwork/raphael-

            madonna-on-the-meadow

“Hermes and the Infant Dionysos.”  Museum of Art and Archeology.  2016.  Web.  3 March

2016.  https://maa.missouri.edu/?q=collection/hermes-and-infant-dionysos

“Raphael:  Italian Painter and Architect.”  Encyclopedia Britannica.  2015.  Web.  3 March 2016.

http://www.britannica.com/biography/Raphael-Italian-painter-and-architect

Mount, Harry.  “Why Are Greek Statues Always NAKED?”  Daily Mail.  2015.  Web.  3 March

2016.  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3010353/Why-Greek-statues-NAKED-

extraordinary-answer-s-laid-bare-magnificent-risque-exhibition-British-Museum.html

Sorabella, Jean.  “The Nude in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.”  The Metropolitan

Museum of Art.  2008.  Web.  3 March 2016. 

https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/numr/hd_numr.htm

“Hermes.”  GreekGods.org.  2016.  Web.  3 March 2016.  http://www.greek-gods.org/olympian-

            gods/hermes.php

Christina and Nathan’s Story Coming Soon!

My latest novella, Painted With Good Intentions, is in the hands of my editor now. So, in the next few weeks, my story will be edited, and book cover created, along with a tentative publication date of May 3, 2022!  This story is fantastic. I love the characters – Christina, Nathan, Becky, and George. Hope you’re looking forward to getting a copy when it comes out and reading it. A great summer/beach read, too. 

Lake Lucerne and a Greek Slave in D.C.

Washington Monument July 6 2018

Last weekend, Friday July 6 through Monday July 9, my family spent it wandering around our historic nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.  We walked those four days and got quite the workout.  Except for the first day that was sweltering hot, transforming me into a soggy, drippy human puddle, the walk was absolutely beautiful and a good challenge to my under-exercised body.

Lincoln Memorial July 6 2018

We visited the Lincoln Memorial, World War II Memorial, Korean War Memorial, and Martin Luther King’s Memorial on the first day.

MLK Monument July 6 2018

On the second day, which was the most pleasant weather wise, we visited a few museums:  The Natural History Museum, American History Museum, and African American History Museum in the National Mall (all part of the Smithsonian).  My sons who had not been excited about coming, did enjoy some exhibits.  Both of them loved the butterfly pavilion and insect area in the Natural History Museum.

My oldest, Nicholas, also liked the African American History Museum.  We both did.  It was a very moving and impacting experience.  It is three stories full of the history of African Americans, starting with their origins in Africa to the slave ships, slave trade, sugar plantations and the like, and the distinguished men and women in the latter years, including Phillis Wheatley, for whom I wrote about in a blog post a couple of weeks ago!  That was especially cool for me to read an excerpt from her poem on display and see her statue.

Each floor progressed further in history.  The second story was my favorite.  It held the 1950s and 1960s Civil Rights artifacts and videos.  It also had a special exhibit going on while we were there.  What timing!  They had on display for a limited time, the casket that young Emmett Till had been buried in until 2005/2006 (can’t remember which year, but it was one of them).  There was a line meandering through the second floor.  We waited about forty-five minutes or so to go into the room where the coffin was to read about it and look at it.

Gospel music was playing when we entered the room, which tested my ability to keep my tears at bay, and a large sized photograph of Emmett’s destroyed face taken by a newspaper (I think it was Jet) was in a gold picture frame set in the coffin representing him.  Thankfully, the casket was elevated, and the coffin’s ledge of the open casket was at my eye level, and I couldn’t see the photo.  Incidentally, I’d already seen the photo when I’d watched the excellent documentary Eyes on the Prize a couple of years ago.  I didn’t need to see it again.

My oldest son, Nicholas, was behind me sniffling.  He said he saw a sliver of the side of Emmett’s battered face and couldn’t bear to see anymore, so he looked away.  We walked out of there feeling the grief of the murder of a young boy.

A video was in an alcove explaining the murder of Emmett.  Nicholas, poor guy, shed many tears and sniffled a lot.  What a huge heart my son has!  I managed to stave off the tears that had collected in my eyes.

The next day we went to the Air and Space Museum and looked at all the airplanes and early aircrafts used to fly.  We also watched a twenty-five minute film in the planetarium on dark matter, which was fascinating.  Don’t ask me to explain dark matter because most of what was presented in the film was quite complicated.  But we collectively agreed that was the most interesting film we’d ever see in a planetarium, and we’d seen quite a few in the past!

Air and Space Museum July 8 2018

We then headed to one of the museums I’d been waiting for, the National Gallery of Art.  This was a HUGE edifice, as were the others, but this one had two unattached buildings that were a West and an East building.  We only got through the first floor and partially the bottom floor.  There was too much to take in in the few hours open and available to us!  But I saw the early art work by the American artists I’d studied last term in my American Art class, and that was really cool.

I took a picture of one of the paintings of my favorite landscape artist, Albert Bierstadt.  It’s called Lake Lucerne, if I remember correctly.  What a beauty!  I wanted to walk into the scene, it’s so peaceful and gorgeous.

Bierstadt painting lake Lucerne July 8 2018

Lastly, I took a picture of artist, Hiram Power’s incredibly beautiful sculpture, The Greek Slave.  I studied this piece in my American Art course.  It was quite the talk of the public and controversial at the time.  Here’s an excerpt on the story behind the sculpture via The Metropolitan Museum of Art:

“The full-length female nude represents a bound prisoner being sold in a Turkish slave market, an allusion to the atrocities that the Turks committed during the Greek War of Independence, and, by implication, to the ongoing debate over slavery in the United States. The Greek Slave toured American cities from Boston to New Orleans between 1847 and 1849, and again into the 1850s, where it drew huge crowds and brought forth, alternatively, outpourings of protest and praise. Miner Kellogg, manager of the statue’s organized tour, assembled a descriptive pamphlet emphasizing the figure’s “high moral and intellectual beauty,” suggesting that—though nude—it was “clothed” in Christian piety. The Greek Slave was also shown in London in 1845 and 1848, and was a centerpiece of the United States display at the Great Exhibition in 1851.”

The Greek Slave statue July 8 2018

I’d seen a black and white photo of it in a linked article in my American Art course and a color one in the printed textbook I have, but that did little justice to what I saw in person.  It was beyond beautiful in person.  A real brilliant and gorgeous work of art!

We then walked up to Chinatown that my son, Nicholas, wanted to see so much.  We bought a few souvenirs there and headed back to the hotel.

Chinatown DC July 8 2018.jpg

We finished off our vacation with a visit to Arlington Cemetery where we saw the graves of some well known figures in American history.

JFK grave July 9 2018

(John F. Kennedy grave)

Robert Kennedy July 9 2018

(Robert Kennedy grave)

Medgar Evers July 9 2018

We’ll be back some time soon to see all the other museums and the rest of the art museum!

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