Light in Chicago

Light in Chicago


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Chicago hotel interior, upper floor

Above is a detail of the historic building that houses my Chicago hotel.   I’ve spent an afternoon admiring historic artifacts, mostly painted, by the likes of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, David Hockney and William Turner.  These artifacts remain in use — the Chicago Art Institute displays them for your nurture.

Today’s blog focuses on a benevolent light that illuminates certain paintings by Tiepolo and the early light-hearted Goyas.  It may surprise you that this Tiepolo stopped me in my contemporary tracks.

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Armida Encounters the Sleeping Rinaldo, by Tiepolo         via Chicago Art Institute

The Art Institute’s sequence of four large paintings illustrating the ill-fated love of Armida and Rinaldo from Torquato Tasso’s epic poem Gerusalemme liberata once decorated a “cabinet of mirrors” in the Venetian palace of the distinguished Cornaro family. Giovanni Battista Tiepolo also provided smaller decorative panels and a ceiling painting for what must have been a sparkling, light-filled room. In this, the first narrative scene, the beautiful sorceress Armida sees the young knight Rinaldo asleep and, falling in love with him, decides to carry him away on her cloud-borne chariot. Her actions will distract Rinaldo from his quest of liberating Jerusalem, the chief subject of Tasso’s epic.

This is an impressive canvas, ca. 74 x 85 inches, and in it no light shines harsh.  Dreamy pastels, the unexpected floaty orange of the wafting drapery.  It’s lofted by what we’re sure is a warm caressing breeze.

A lady must note note that the warrior Rinaldo’s shirt seems to be painted directly on his admirable torso — so maybe he was asking for it when Armida abducted him.  As you follow Rinaldo’s adventures in the following pictures and captions you’ll see that he stays more modestly attired even while wooing the seductive Armida.

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Rinaldo and Armida in Her Garden, by Tiepolo   via artic

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Armida Abandoned by Rinaldo, by Tiepolo    via artic

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Rinaldo and the Magus of Ascalon, by Tiepolo    via artic


These Tiepolos hang in a room wonderfully lit and open to the museum interior. Radiance abounds. Which suits the ambiance Tiepolo painted. And is one of the magics that paint can confer across centuries, a sense of place that you can feel on your skin, the warmth, the softness.  Nature at her most generous.

Conferred to you with historical artifacts.

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Chicago Art Institute, Gallery 215


Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes, Goya to most of us, became a master of the dark pits of humanity.  A firing squad, a witches sabbath.  Yet earlier in his life he painted this same radiant light that shone for Rinaldo.  You’ll find it in Goya paintings such as the following — where the light tells you All is well.

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The Parasol, by Francisco Goya     via backtoclassics

Goya, Grape HArvest (Autumn) 600 px

The Grape Harvest (Autumn), by Francisco Goya     via thedishbypspr

And this last which is a brief walk away from the Tiepolos.  It was a glad surprise because I was feeling the strong Tiepolo/early-Goya resonance already.  The light on the boy’s face bounced from the sunlight on his ruff, the luscious browns rippling in his trouser leg.  Of course it sent me back again down the hall to the sunlit Rinaldos.

Goya, Boy on a Ram

Boy on a Ram, by Francisco Goya      via artic

May some of this beneficent light shine on you, my friends.


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Bottom of the mail chute, Chicago hotel interior, building lobby

Friendly hotel staff tell me that this mail chute was built in 1906.  Six years ago a time capsule of, well, six years ago was assembled and inserted here.  May delighted persons discover it long after word of it has been lost.  Historic artifact of of real people living in their real time.


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