Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Leonardo da Vinci – the Renaissance man

Have you ever heard of the Renaissance Man; what about the painting called ‘Mona Lisa’; do you know of the one who first thought of the possibility of flying that he even went ahead to execute drawings of flying machines centuries before man ever actualised that dream? These and many more are all attributable to one man, indeed one of the greatest geniuses if not the greatest, that ever walked the surface of this planet earth. I am talking of Leonardo da Vinci. Thus this is my personal perception of the universe man whose body of works has continued to astound everybody around the world. That is Leonardo da Vinci - the legend and enigma; a bundle of unquantifiable creative opulence.

‘Virgin of the Rocks’ - Painting

Thus Leonardo da Vinci was born on April 15, 1452, in Vinci, republic of Florence or present day Italy; he excelled in everything he ever set out his mind to do: He was outstanding as an artist (painter, sculptor, and draughtsman); he was equally outstanding and accomplished as an architect, poet, anatomist, writer, musician, mathematician, inventor, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and engineer. The world’s most famous piece of painting today, and the most expensive at that – Mona Lisa, is the work of this genius, and it is at least five hundred years old now. If you think of the popular painting called ‘The Last Supper’, it is also attributable to this great man of the arts and sciences. 

‘The Last Supper’ - Painting by Leonardo da Vinci

So much of Leonardo da Vinci’s anatomical drawings have given vent to the drawings of anatomy that medical doctors make use of today. He sort of exemplifies the meaning and essence of the entire Renaissance period in that he stood as a figure towering centrally about this epoch. This was the period of European history at the close of the Middle Ages and the rise of the modern world; a cultural rebirth from the 14th through the middle of the 17th centuries. 

Monday, January 19, 2015


Have you ever heard of the ‘Sistine Madonna’? This is just one of the many in the popular series of the ‘Madonna’ pieces of (oil) paintings executed by the leading light of Italian High Renaissance Classicism. It was indeed his last work in the series which he completed around 1514. The Madonna (and child) series simply depict a portrait of the Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus. Well, for me this is the first image I have in my mind that calls up the fantastic artistic persona that is simply referred to as Raphael. Raphael was among the foremost figures of the Renaissance period that blossomed in Europe and centred mainly on Italy. 

Self portrait by Raphael

 Raphael, born Raffaello Sanzio was an infant genius of some sort. He was born on April 6, 1483, in Urbino, Italy. He was apprenticed to Perugino in 1504. He was a prominent personality of the Italian High Renaissance Classicism. At the tender age of eleven when his father died, Raphael took over the management of his father’s (Giovanni Santi – a painter for the Duke of Urbino) studio. Even as a teenager he did not waste time in surpassing his father’s accomplishments and started to attract huge commissions as he was already the most important painter around. Some of the big official commissions the very young Raphael garnered included paintings for the Church of San Nicola in the neighbouring town of Castello.

Later in the same year 1504, Raphael left his apprenticeship career under his master Perugino and went to Florence. There he was exposed to the numerous and ambitious works of great Italian master painters who had come before him such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo,  Fra Bartolommeo, and Masaccio.

Raphael grew up learning and working tirelessly, and in no time became an accomplished and celebrated Painter and Architect. He did a series of ‘Madonnas’ one of which is The Sistine Madonna, and executed also a number of frescoes when he moved to live in Rome. He thus decorated parts of the vatican (room) ‘Stanze’ with great compositions including the ones he called The Triumph of Religion and The School of Athens at the instance of Pope Julius II.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Mona Lisa

Can you just imagine a priceless pieceof artwork that is beyond insurance? Mona Lisa unlike most people would think is not actually an imaginary title of a piece of art work. Rather, this painting (1503-7), executed by the greatest artist and creative mind so far modern history has known, arguably, – the Italian Renaissance master, Leonardo da Vinci, and measuring 77cmx53cm, is the portrait of the wife of a local Italian peasant.

Today this painting also arguably, is the most important singular piece of artwork that is available, both in terms of value, as well as popularity, and bearing in mind that it is after all not a very large scale job per se. The Mona Lisa is the most famous painting in the history of art and continues to inspire oil painting reproductions, parody, scientific theory, and more. According to the Guinness Book of world Records, Mona Lisa was assessed for insurance purposes at $100 million in 1962, but insurance was not concluded because the cost of the strictest security precautions was less that of the premium.

'Mona Lisa' by Leonardo da Vinci

Mona Lisa which is housed in the popular (Gallery) Louvre in Paris, France, is a jealously and heavily guarded and secured piece of art. It is protected in a climate controlled environment and encased in bullet proof glass, a room which caused seven million dollars to build at the time. This painting which is considered priceless and cannot be insured has since become a proud property of the French people and government, and has therefore survived more than 500 years today.

Mona Lisa has been an object of great inspiration for many a creative mind all over the world: notable among the many is the sonorous African American voice of decades ago – the great Nath King Cole of blessed memory. As you fall in love with the melodious music extolling the virtues and beauty of Mona Lisa, you equally fall for the unmistakable and arresting beauty of the lady in the picture.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Social Re-Engineering and the Need for a National Policy on Art

  • Culled from an essay first published in The UNION Newspaper (Sunday March 9, 2014) by the same author  

The business of art is a topic that is hardly discussed or considered in corporate or investment circles in Nigeria. This is evident of the level of unawareness that pervades our entire society. However, it is also a fact that a depressed economy is not exactly a fertile ground for the flowering of a robust art culture; hence it is popular knowledge that art is mostly an elitist meal. A patron of art must have the power of purchase as it were. But that is speaking in the formalistic sense. Suffice it to say however that in everyday human existence there is art, and so in that sense we all are indirectly and unconsciously involved in the patronage and usage of art and artistic creations.

Dr. Nnamdi Asikiwe by Ben Enwonwu

But the issue is that our society is still a fledgling and so we are still grappling with the pedestrian issues of survival and consumption culture. As a people, we wallow in a self imposed life style of distractions, anxiety and disorientation. Among the signposts of development and I dare say, civilisation and modern development, is the level of artistic nay creative awareness and cultural values. By the time a conscious awareness and orientation is built into the system by purposeful policies, it generally rubs off on every sector of societal developmental machinery.

It is sad to say that the spirit and power behind our great artistic heritage and civilisations of the world renowned Igbo Ukwu, Nok, Benin and Ife cultures, etc, were lost somewhere along the line in the course of time. The instrument necessary for the quest for societal change and leadership thrust lie in the letters, art, and an informed sense of aesthetics. The leadership will necessarily employ the instrumentality of these tools in galvanising society. Thus scientists, engineers as well as designers, and technocrats alike, etc, are put to work by a consciously defined timeless philosophy that is built on beauty and taste.

In the advanced climes it is normal, and it is also a matter of policy that every public building have in its plan and construction, provision for artistic embellishment. It is a part of the architectural policy; it is also a part of the landscaping, and tourism policy, for all that it matters. And these will generally include historical, aesthetic, monumental, cultural, and economical considerations and all their implications.

Ideally in this manner, every civic project development ought to have a certain portion (at least one per cent of the total budget) allocated to fund art that will be incorporated into it. A reserve fund also should always be in place at the local council, state, or central government authority, for the consistent fuelling of this vital ingredient for a harmonious interior and public ambience. And the ramifications and advantages are awesome.

Art appreciation and the value of aesthetics as a matter of conscious policy decisions must be inculcated into our leadership and the citizenry to birth this revolution. And by the time this is done, we will begin to see a great attitudinal redirection and changes that will on their own begin to fashion our existence as a civilised people and nation.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

African Artists Foundation Annual Art Competition (2014) - Erasmus Onyishi wins

Finally the art competition organised by the African Artists Foundation and Nigerian Breweries Plc, has come to a glorious conclusion especially for Erasmus Onyishi who won the first prize and carting away the handsome reward of 2 million naira in cash. Also, for the outstanding concept prize winner – Modupe fadugba, it was sweet victory going home with a cash of 1 million naira. The outstanding production prize of 1 million naira too, went to Paul Mbah, while two other finalists – Nkechi Ebubedike and Amarachi Okafor won for themselves 500 thousand naira each for their equally superlative performances.

Lines patches and pathos - mixed media by Erasmus Onyishi

The competition, and event of the prize presentation and exhibition that followed, which took place at the Civic Centre on November 26, 2014 in Victoria Island – Lagos, lived up to its billing and high standards. The juried competition was raised in stature and allure by the judging panel of respected professionals led by eminent artist and university don, Professor El Anatsui with the inclusion of a special jurors’ prize this time around.

They also had to increase the prize money for the winners because of the high standard and quality of works of art that were seen in this year’s turn out by the participants. This laudable project which was inaugurated in 2008 first came out with theme – ‘Unbreakable Nigerian Spirit’ at that time. But this year the contending artists had to weave their creative energies round the concept of Intervention. I thought it was an interesting and highly engaging theme which encouraged artists to conceive a perception of their environment in consideration of its ever changing socio-cultural as well as political coexistence, and variegated nuances of the present milieu.

The Civic Centre, location of African Artists Foundation

I am highly encouraged and indeed full of praises for the work of the African artists Foundation and their partners – Nigerian Breweries Plc for the nature and steady growth of this project. Thus by the time twelve artists were shortlisted from the crowd of hundreds that submitted proposals, a week-long retreat and art workshop followed immediately where the artists were guided by highly experienced professionals through a process of fleshing up their creative ideas. Very importantly, they were each given stipends to enable them fully bring to birth what their creative energies had conceived in the form of the final artworks for the competition and exhibition.

All in Your Eyes