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The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2018

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JUNE 2018 Issue
Critics Page

Cosimo Tura 1430 – 1495 Notes—Thoughts

Madonna and Child in a Garden, National Gallery of Art, Washington

Cosimo Tura, The Virgin and Child Enthroned, mid-1470s. Oil and egg on poplar, 239 x 101.6 cm. The National Gallery, London.

How large her head, how long, how thin her fingers. Look and see how the halo fits so shelf-like with the use of his fine home-made frame. His ability to include decoration and complicated finery as framework is a challenge, an unusual and successful challenge. (Cosimo uses this device over and over again.) The snakes forming tondos for two more small “portraits,” so thoughtful and kooky. How creasy-crumply her robe. Her bench, grey stone top, strange and complicated geo-pattern on the base. What a mind, bold and sure. The boldest pods that furnish the background remind so much of that Fontana bronze egg edition. Anyway, the whole thing is unusual, little Jesus is not pretty; he is kind of ugly, really. I don’t mind that, but it is disturbing. Enough of this garden picture.

The Virgin and Child Enthroned, The National Gallery, London

I first discovered Tura in London at the National Gallery so many years ago. The colors alone, this palette of pink and brightest of green, and then the three blues. Tura is a genius as far as color and unusual combinations.

His stand on architecture is marvellous. His invention of scale and detail, yes detail, detail, detail. Here is the true believer in “more is more,” yet gracefully without being sloppy.

Cosimo Tura, The Virgin and Child Enthroned, mid-1470s. Oil and egg on poplar, 239 x 101.6 cm. The National Gallery, London.

I say he is about one hundred years before his time, his mannerist potential is so obvious. Cosimo Tura is certainly the Father, éminence grise, the earliest visionary of Mannerism.

And what about his use, obsession really, with beads and necklace-like garlands? Huge rock crystal and coral beads hang above the women he loved most, I mean the ones he was painting. Check out A Muse. This has to be one of the most over-the-top unexpectedly weird, brilliant, futuristic portraits ever made. Check out her chair/throne. The creatures, from the deep sea; or the deep space? Eyes of rubies, sharpness all over. Look at this palette. What color exactly of red is that, a personal mix, the blue, deeply black, the green-skirted knee?

What about her head and face? What about the forehead? Again, a massive wonderful bald head, highlighted with an intricate hairstyle only starting very far back.

Cosimo Tura, Madonna and Child in a Garden, c. 1460/1470, Tempera (and possibly oil) on poplar panel, 24 x 17 x 3 1/4 inches with frame. National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.

He made and designed clothes.

He made and designed banners.

He made and designed silver.

He made and designed all sorts of decorative arts and jewellery.

O.K., enough, enough, I could go on forever. This dark and unusual spot in art history has been and remains an obsession of mine.

I am pleased that Isabella Stewart Gardener appreciated Cosimo Tura. The Circumcision, a tondo, was acquired by Isabella in 1901. This is enough for now . . .

Merida, May 2018


James HD Brown

James HD Brown is an artist. He lives in Merida, Mexico.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2018

All Issues