The Easel

27th February 2024

The Met is having a Black moment with the ‘Harlem Renaissance and Transatlantic Modernism’ show

The 1920’s Great Migration brought many Blacks to New York’s Harlem. New ideas about the “new Negro man” encouraged creativity in music and literature – the Harlem Renaissance. The visual arts, however, received scant attention, even though they produced a new “cosmopolitan Black aesthetic”. That aesthetic, says a curator, was a central force in American modernism because it “sought to portray the modern Black subject in a radically modern way.” Background on the Harlem Renaissance is here.

20th February 2024

‘Africa & Byzantium’ at the MET: A Stunning Look at One of History’s Overlooked Stories

The last configuration of the Roman empire – the Byzantine empire –  ruled the eastern Mediterranean and North Africa. Scholars debate much of its complicated history but all agree it should be less Euro-centric. In particular, art produced in northern Africa was distinguished and influential. One critic, whose review is somewhat more sceptical than the linked piece, calls the show “a fantastic achievement”. The writer agrees – this show “is incredibly important to art history”.

Who painted the first still life?

Still life paintings go back millennia – the ancient Romans painted fruit, and Tang dynasty artists painted bird-and-flower scrolls. Europe joined in in the early part of the Northern Renaissance. Flowers started appearing in paintings on canvas, as opposed to being wall or door decorations. Further, they started being the main subject matter, instead of merely lesser details in architectural settings. These still life works finally assumed a recognisably modern form around 1560.