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Heading home: early Rubens masterpiece returns to the artist’s Antwerp studio for the first time

Peter Paul Rubens, The Massacre of the Innocents (around 1610)
© 2018 Art Gallery of Ontario 2014/15..

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Peter Paul Rubens, The Massacre of the Innocents (around 1610)
© 2018 Art Gallery of Ontario 2014/1581

This September, Peter Paul Rubenss early painting The Massacre of the Innocents (around 1610) heads back home to the Rubenshuis museum in Antwerp, where the artist lived and worked, for a solo presentation (26 September-April 2019) during Antwerp Baroque 2018. The work was given in 2008 to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) in Toronto by the collector Ken Thomson, who bought it in 2002 at Sothebys London for £49.5m, then the record sum in sterling for a painting at auction. It was falsely attributed to the relatively minor artist Jan van den Hoecke during the 18th century, when it was in the collection of the Princely Family of Liechtenstein, and reattributed to Rubens only in the 20th century.

The focussed look is “a nice precursor” to its display in The Early Celebrity of Peter Paul Rubens, a major exhibition co-organised by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, where it is to be shown at the Legion of Honor from 6 April to 8 September 2019, and the AGO, where it is due to travel that October. Large shows “dont always afford the opportunity to stop and pause and think around one painting”, says the AGOs curator of European art, Sasha Suda.

Seeing The Massacre of the Innocents in the artists studio, to which it had never before returned since its sale, “We can imagine with disbelief that he painted as much as he did within that relatively small space over a relatively short period of time… He establishes what is arguably the most productive artistic studio of all time to date in that space,” Suda says.

This dynamic, large-scale work, a heart-wrenching depiction of the Biblical story, was made shortly after Rubenss return to Antwerp after eight years in Italy. It is a crucial demonstration of an “alchemical meeting” between what the artist learned there—an “incredible respect” for sculpture, the human body and a Caravaggesque “drama and enjoyment of light and contrast”—and Northern and Flemish characteristics such as directness, saturated colours and precise brushstrokes, Suda says. “Theres a dynamism for me of what comes out of that sort of alchemy that makes his early work feel like its so full of tension.”

During its time in Antwerp, “we hope to further research the commission and provenance of the picture”, which “will act as a catalyst for further research on Rubenss workshop”, says Benjamin van Benden, the director of the Rubenshuis. The museum and the adjacent research institute Rubenianum plan to hold a symposium around the Massacre next March. The painting will also undergo imaging research in Antwerp. There are no plans for restoration work, as it is in “astonishingly” good condition and has only needed very minor restoration in the past, Suda says. “Theres no question that it experienced a sort of benign neglect” when it was hidden away in storage by the Liechtensteins for many years, she says.

Why was the masterpiece neglected? “Its a tough picture in terms of its subject matter and the directness of the way he depicts it,” Suda says, and the Liechtensteins were known to deaccession violent works. “When you look at pre-Rubens Massacres, they tend to be quite a lot more choreographed and aesthetically sensitive, and he just subverts that expectation—if there was one—and creates something that is so visceral that you cant turn away from it.”

This “extreme violence” is logical when you think of life in what was then the Spanish Netherlands during the Counter-Reformation, the curator says. Rubens made the work during the Twelve Years Truce, a respite to the violence, and Suda thinks such paintings are “demonstrations that history repeats itself”. With issues like migration and a “decline in human decency” today, she says, “this painting is really relevant to me.”

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Arts

Bryan Adams dedicates Pirelli’s 2022 calendar to ‘the great stars of music’

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cnn– Pirelli has unveiled “On the Road,” its 2022 calendar starring some of the music industry’s biggest names, including Iggy Pop, Cher, Grimes and Jennifer Hudson. This edition of the renowned calendar, which was put on pause last year due to the coronavirus, was shot by Canadian singer-turned-photographer Bryan Adams and is dedicated to the “greatest talents in the world of music,” according to a news release.

“On the road is where I have been for the last 45 years,” Adams said in the statement, “because the life of a musician is made up of roads, travel, waiting in hotels, hours backstage.”
Since 1964, the Pirelli Calendar has been interpreted by a total of 37 photographers — including Annie Leibovitz, Mario Testino and Herb Ritts — and has featured an impressive roster of talent, such as models Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell and actors Sophia Loren and Maggie Cheung. For the 2017 calendar, Peter Lindbergh captured a throng of Hollywood actors, including Uma Thurman and Kate Winslet, in a series of stripped-back, black-and-white portraits.
The 2022 version, which is the Italian tire company’s 48th edition, is a curated glimpse into the life of a touring artist. From the glamorous multi-story billboards that tower above street level to the remnants of room service: silver cloches strewn aside, half-eaten salads and empty water tumblers. The photographs follow a playful narrative arc: each month, Adams introduces not only a new star but a new scene.
For May, the phrase “entering backstage” introduces three images of Cher strutting through an unnamed venue’s labyrinthine hallways like a stage manager. In November, only the word “aftershow” accompanies several photos of Rita Ora posing inside a bathtub, absentmindedly pouring liquor over the edge. Each month is timestamped, too, meaning Adams’ story of life on the road is neatly packaged to represent the span of a single day: beginning in January at 7:45 a.m. and stretching into the small hours of a December morning at 4:12 a.m.
It’s rockstar iconography at it’s finest, drawing on the beloved — if not slightly clichéd — imagery of smashed lipsticks, abandoned microphones and stars perched atop pianos. The entire calendar was shot in just three days, with most celebrities photographed in Los Angeles at the Chateau Marmont or the Palace Theatre, while photos of Saweetie were taken from Hotel La Scalinatella in Capri, Italy.
Adams’ himself closes the calendar, with an aviator-clad self-portrait and the wistful kicker: “On the way to the next show.”

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Arts

The Great British Bake Off crowns its 2021 winner

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bbc– Spoiler alert! If you do not want to know the result of the Great British Bake Off final, please look away now…

Giuseppe celebrated victory on Tuesday after what judges on the Channel 4 show described as the closest finale yet.

The 45-year-old Bristol resident pipped this year’s fellow finalists Chigs and Crystelle, who all had to make food for a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

“There are no words, I am speechless for once,” said the show’s first Italian winner.

In the final episode, he made dough filled with chocolate and hazelnuts, shaped in the form of a giant mushroom. He also produced mango and passion fruit panna cottas, orange and fig heart-shaped muffins, and asparagus and pea-filled choux pastries shaped like a caterpillar.

Series 12 of the show saw a dozen bakers initially enter the Bake Off bubble at the start of the competition in September, before judges Paul Hollywood and Dame Prue Leith turned the heat up on them with a series of knock-out challenges over 10 episodes.

They set the final three bakers three tasks: to make carrot cake, produce Belgian buns and recreate a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, while showing four different baking disciplines.

The victorious Giuseppe dedicated his win to his parents. “All I can think of is the reaction from my mum and dad,” he continued.

“The fact is that everything I have done to deserve this comes from his [my dad’s] heritage, it’s the best thank you note I can possibly send him.

“He is going through a very bad time health-wise, so I think this is going to be a great boost.

“I don’t say often or lightly that I am proud of what I do, but in this case I am really proud of what I have done. It’s unbelievable!”

Italian job

Giuseppe’s achievement arrives in the same year that his compatriots won Euro 2020 and Eurovision. “I feel it’s been a great year for Italy,” he noted on the show.

“I truly can’t believe it or take it in, this has made me so incredibly happy to be a Britalian. Dell’Anno is my surname which translates in English to ‘of the year’ – and I feel this has certainly been my year.”

Hollywood said he had “done an incredible job”.

“The first time I walked into the tent and in the first signature I saw his mini rolls, I thought that looks like our winner, you could see the heart and soul going into his baking,” declared the judge.

Fellow judge, the recently-honoured Dame Prue added: “He is such a classic beautiful baker and he represents a long tradition of classic Italian baking. He has done it brilliantly all the way through.

“I am going home to make much more Italian cakes because they really are good.”

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Arts

Provocative art exhibition opens in Italy amid Chinese embassy protests

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cnn– At a museum in Brescia, northern Italy, Shanghai-born artist Badiucao is making final adjustments to an exhibition that has enraged Chinese officials.
Images of President Xi Jinping and Winnie the Pooh — a tongue-in-cheek comparison now widely censored on Chinese social media — hang alongside a tribute to Wuhan whistleblower Li Wenliang and a depiction of riot police pursuing a protestor. Mock posters for the forthcoming Winter Olympics show a snowboarder sliding across a CCTV camera and a biathlete pointing a rifle towards a blindfolded Uighur prisoner.
Badiucao’s provocative new works will be unveiled to the public on Saturday, despite protests from Chinese diplomats. In a letter to Brescia’s mayor, the country’s embassy in Rome said the artworks are “full of anti-Chinese lies,” and that they “distort the facts, spread false information, mislead the understanding of the Italian people and seriously injure the feelings of the Chinese people,” according to local newspaper Giornale di Brescia.
For the dissident artist, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Australia since 2009, the spat comes as little surprise.
“It’s almost impossible (to) avoid offending the Chinese government these days,” he says, showing CNN around the exhibition ahead of its opening. “Anything could be sensitive; anything could be problematic.”
Since the embassy lodged its complaint last month, museum officials and local politicians have framed the show — titled “La Cina (non) è Vicina,” or “China is (not) near” — as a symbol of free speech.
“I have to say, I had to read the letter twice because it surprised me,” Brescia’s deputy mayor, Laura Castelletti, recounts, calling it “an intrusion on a city’s artistic, cultural decision.” The request to cancel the show, she adds, has only “attracted more attention.”
The Brescia Museum Foundation’s president, Francesca Bazoli, meanwhile says that going ahead with the exhibition “was a matter of freedom of artistic expression.”
The Chinese embassy in Rome has not responded to CNN’s repeated requests for comment.

Ongoing censorship

A thorn in the Chinese Communist Party’s side for more than a decade, Badiucao has established a reputation for poking fun at politicians and prodding at sensitive topics, from the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre to the treatment of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo.
Last month, outspoken basketball star Enes Kanter — who has called out the Chinese government for alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Tibet — was pictured wearing several pairs of custom sneakers designed by the artist. The shoes, controversially worn on court during various NBA games, carried messages including “Free Tibet” and “Made with Slave Labor.”
The once-anonymous Badiucao came to prominence in 2011, when he began posting cartoons about China’s handling of Wenzhou high-speed train crash to the microblogging site Sina Weibo. The images were repeatedly censored, and even though he is now an Australian citizen, the country’s authorities have clamped down on his work ever since.
In 2018, a planned exhibition of his art in Hong Kong was canceled due to “safety concerns.” Organizers attributed the decision to “threats made by the Chinese authorities,” and the artist later revealed that members of his family in China had been contacted by officials ahead of the show. Admitting that his cover “had been compromised,” he unveiled his identity in 2019 after years of anonymity,
Badiucao says he is regularly harassed — and occasionally threatened — online, where he posts a regular stream of searing cartoons to Twitter and Instagram. “It’s like a battleground and that’s how you can use visual language and internet memes and that’s how you can dissolve the authority of censorship,” he says.
Given the political and commercial pressures facing his collaborators, the decision to proceed with the show makes Brescia “a role model for the rest of the world,” he adds.
“As an artist I have experienced censorship so many times, for so many years and in so many places — not just in China or Hong Kong, but also in Australia and in many other countries,” he says. “I rarely have an opportunity like this, to show (my work at an exhibition), because all the galleries, curators and museums worry that if they showcase my art … then they’re jeopardizing their Chinese market.
“China is very good at using its capital and money to control, manipulate and silence people’s criticism — and this is how it’s reflected in our world, the art market.”

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