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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Antonio Pollaiuolo

Hercules and Anataeus, 1475,
Antonio Pollaiuolo
As we all grow older, the aches and pains of maturity from time to time send us all to the medical profession in search of relief. If we have sore feet, we go to a podiatrist, if we have a sore disposition at the other end of our anatomy, we go to a psychiatrist. If we use a general practicioner at all, it's often just as a conduit to a doctor that really knows what ails us. The same is true of artists too. There are portrait artists, landscape artists, still-life artists, photography artists, sculpting artists, graphic design artists, everyone is a specialist nowadays. All but me, I'm just a good old country artist who still makes housecalls on occassions. Today, I'm a rare bird. Like all-purpose doctors, all-purpose artists are a vanishing breed. There was a time though, ohhh, maybe five hundred years ago, when this wasn't the case. Then, if a guy wanted to call himself an artist he had to be good at all art. Michelangelo was one of these. Leonardo was too. And so was Leonardo's master, in whose studio he worked, arming himself with the skills of his trade. That master was the Florentine master, Antonio Pollaiuolo.

Hercules Clubs the Hydra,
1475, Antonio Pollaiuolo
For the pronunciationally challenged, the name Pollaiuolo is like talking with a mouthful of bubble gum. It's pronounced, PWAW-lu-AL-low. Once you learn how, it's a beautiful name that just rolls around the tongue and tumbles out like penny gumballs. He was born in 1432 which, if labels are your thing, would make him an artist of the early Renaissance. Like his next door neighbor, Andrea del Verrochio (whom Leonardo also studied under), Pollaiuolo also ran a shop. It was kind of a cross between an art boarding school and art factory populated mostly by the Master, his family (who usually lived upstairs) and a high-spirited staff of teenage boys who slept out back over the stables. Among the apprentices, there was a strict pecking order, from stable boy to the master's assistant (who might be in his early twenties). Pollaiuolo's workshop was one where whatever you wanted, a bronze sculpture of Hercules, a painting of St. Sebastian shot full or arrows, an etching of a bunch of naked men sword fighting, or a cruicifix, all you had to do was ask...and pay of course. No prima-Donna specialists here!

Apollo and Daphne, 1470,
Antonio Pollaiuolo
Polliauolo did have a special interested in the nude figure in action, however. And while his creative outlets were quite broad and equally adept, what we would today call "action figures" play quite prominently in his work. His 1475 sculpture of Hercules and Antaeus (top left, a mere 18 inches high), cast in bronze of is an excellent example. In it, Hercules, lifts the slightly larger figure of Anateus off the ground (which was the source of his strength) in order to slay him. His 1465-70 etching the Battle of the Ten Naked Men (bottom) gives you some idea of where Michelangelo learned to draw. By the way, all ten figures were drawn from the same model (talk about over exposure) in different action poses. In painting, we find Pollaiuolo's favorite character, Hercules, again, this time slaying a seven-headed hydra (above, right). The painting is an exquisitely detailed little masterpiece, a mere seven by five inches. Moving up in scale, his Apollo and Daphne (left, still only 12 by 8 inches), from 1470, has the lovely Greek miss sprouting Laurel branches for arms just as Apollo grasps the object of his affections only to lose her as she becomes a tree (it's a long story, get out your Greek mythology). In any case, there is a lively interaction plainly visible in all his figures, regardless of media, that set the standard for human depiction for Leonardo, Michalangelo, Raphael, Correggio, and all those they influence right down to our present video game action figures. They Make you wonder what kind of action figures Pollaiuolo might have come up with had he had a computer to play with.
Battle of the Nudes (one of several titles), 1465-70,
Antonio Pollaiuolo

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