China artists work up-close with old masters in Madrid

Updated 27 January 2013
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China artists work up-close with old masters in Madrid

With brushes and paint-splotched palette, Chinese artist Yang Feiyun adds the finishing strokes to his latest work: a portrait of the moustached 17th century Spanish King Felipe IV.
An untrained eye would fail to tell the difference between Yang’s canvas and the original by the Spanish master Velazquez, hanging inches away in a crowded gallery at Madrid’s Prado Museum.
“I have been painting my whole life, ever since I was a child, and Velazquez is a master among painters. He is known in China for his great depth,” Yang tells AFP.
A respected artist in China, where he is head of oil painting at the state Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, Yang is now leading 17 other specialists on a pilgrimage to the Spanish capital.
Their mission: to make first-hand copies of some of the jewels of European oil painting and take them home to use in training curious Chinese artists.
“Our aim is to learn a lot and have these works as teaching material in China,” Yang told AFP.
“There is not a long history of oil painting in China — just the past 100 years or so. We are in a learning period.”
In other halls of the vast museum, their walls heaving with masterpieces by Titian, Rubens, Goya and El Greco, Yang’s companions work quietly at their easels under the curious gaze of visitors.
A few steps from Yang, his companion Guo Zhangzheng is executing a smaller version of Titian’s “Emperor Charles V at the Battle of Muehlberg,” a three-meter portrait of the lance-wielding monarch on horseback from 1548.
The Chinese artists — from the state academy and another top fine arts school, the China Academy of Art — are due to stay for just over two weeks. Each aims to produce a copy of two works from the Prado’s collection.
Yang’s first go at copying Velazquez has taken him just five days to render virtually complete.
Paintings on the list for their first week’s work included “The Three Graces” by Peter Paul Rubens and Goya’s “The Third of May 1808 in Madrid,” a harrowing image of French occupying forces executing Spanish patriots by firing squad.
The copies will be exhibited in Beijing, the Prado said.
In a corner of one gallery Sun Wengong, 47, stands plying his brushes in front of Vicente Lopez’s grim-faced 1826 portrait of the painter Francisco de Goya in a grey-blue coat.
“When I’m in a museum in front of the originals, I always feel like I want to copy them or try and do my own version,” Sun says, the messy palette at his feet resembling that of the man in the portrait.
“It helps me a lot as a painter. I have seen lots of prints of the paintings, but prints are nothing like the originals. Being here in front of the originals, you have more direct and true contact with the artists,” he added.
“To be here copying the masterpieces of these painters is the best apprenticeship you could have.”


Revealing the secrets of an ancient Assyrian ruler

Updated 26 min 28 sec ago
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Revealing the secrets of an ancient Assyrian ruler

  • Exhibition on King Ashurbanipal reveals treasures from the 7th-century kingdom that stretched across northern Iraq and eastern Mediterranean.

LONDON: Priceless treasures from the archaeological archives of ancient Assyria are to go on display at the British Museum for the first major exhibition on the empire’s last great ruler, King Ashurbanipal.

Described as the most powerful person on earth during his reign in the 7th-century BC, Ashurbanipal ruled with an iron fist from his seat in Nineveh, now northern Iraq.

He presided over a vast kingdom that stretched from the shores of the eastern Mediterranean to the summits of western Iraq.

During his reign he amassed the largest library in existence, showcasing his scholarship and harnessing the power of learning to build his status as “King of the World, King of Assyria.”

Hundreds of these texts survive, telling the story of life at Ashurbanipal’s famously extravagant court in ancient cuneiform script, hammered out on clay tablets.

These are among the 200 objects on display at the museum, which has brought together pieces from across the world, from the History Museum of Armenia, Yerevan to the Musée du Louvre in Paris to supplement its existing collection of artefacts from the glory days of ancient Assyria.

Many have been brought over from the archaeological sites in Iraq, including Nineveh and Nimrud, cities recently ransacked by Daesh in its attempt to wipe out pre-Islamic history and destroy the region’s ancient wonders.

Gareth Brereton, exhibition curator, said: “As present-day Iraq looks to recover the history of damaged sites at Nineveh and Nimrud, this exhibition allows us to appreciate and relive the great achievements of an ancient world and celebrate its legacy.”

This exhibition, with its magnificent stone sculptures, delicately carved reliefs, lavish gold ornaments and elaborate weaponry, captures the scale and splendor of the era before Ashurbanipal’s empire fell to the Babylonians and recalls a time when the influence of Assyrian monarchs reached across the world.

“This exhibition will bring visitors face to face with a king whose reign shaped the history of the ancient world,” Hartwig Fischer, director of the British Museum, said.

The exhibition “I am Ashurbanipal: King of the World, King of Assyria,” will open in November