Sep 182018

Konstam will demonstrate evidence that the Parthenon was damaged by pollution from the Phidian foundry.  This evidence radically alters both the arguments for the marbles return to Greece and the aesthetic assumption that Greek originals are vastly superior to the Roman copies. On the contrary, the Roman copies from the Parthenon have been more widely praised than the Greek originals. There are four ways in which the layman can tell Greek from Roman (colour, texture, style and weathering). The experts have chosen to ignore this disturbing news.
For this and other relevant discoveries see www.nigelkontam.com
In photograph one can confuse shadows with soot. To be fully convinced you need to see the primary evidence at the British Museum with your own eyes.
It is hoped that doubters will enliven the debate on Nov. 4th.2018

Your comments and support on YouTube may promote truth in art history by bring  these discoveries to a wider public.

Sep 182018

British historian Nigel Konstam (correction Nigel is actually a sculptor and teacher and founder of the Verrocchio Art Centre) has published a booklet arguing that many of the works stolen from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin in the 1800s are in fact Roman reproductions of the Greek originals.

His theory is based on the recent discovery of a chimney near the Parthenon used by the great 5th century sculptor Phidias to cast his giant bronzes.

Konstam suggests that the originals had been eroded by acid rain caused by chimney effluent.

He argues that the Roman statues were carved differently and look much cleaner than the Greek ones, which were etched (carved) with fragile iron and bronze tools, causing bruising and microcracks which allowed the smoke to penetrate deeper.

The British Museum’s senior curator Ian Jenkins described Konstam’s theory as “radical”.

“I have never heard before the connection between Roman replacements of the west pediment sculptures of the Parthenon and smoke…Nobody been so radical as to suggest that the entire west pediment is a Roman replacement,” he was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail.

Lord Bruce a descender of Lord Elgin is not convinced. Speaking to the British tabloid he said he can’t believe there was that much pollution caused by the chimney.

“His theory is at least not as ridiculous as one currently doing the rounds that the Parthenon was a burial ground for young maidens,” he added.

Aug 062018

The word imagination shimmers in the mind along with ‘inspiration’ on a higher level than invention, construction or observation. In the Renaissance and earlier consciousness the true artists were the poets. Painters and sculptors suffered under the lesser designation as artisans/craftsmen. Unrecognised as artists because they were simple copyists, therefore without imagination. Vasari and his artist subjects worked hard to change this by equating their efforts with the imagination of the poet. Thanks to their efforts the visual arts now seem to top the charts as far as prices paid for our products are concerned. But there is a down side.

In the arts the word has come to mean working without reference to nature. So the expectation of imagination from the visual arts has inadvertently come to mean fantasy: to out-weigh observation. Whereas what we have actually admired in the past is the vivid observation of nature in which imagination enters as much and as little as in daily life. The patches of light that come to our retina have to be interpreted by the brain, that can only be an act of imagination because they are recognised usually in spite of inadequate data certainly not by perfect matching.

Every act of recognition requires memories and imagination. When I look at the chair beside my bed I see patches of dark brown and lighter brown light. The colour relationships remind me of corduroy and my memory of casting aside my trousers allows me to recognise the patches of light as my trousers but there is no evidence in the shapes I see that these are indeed trousers. It is the memory of light on corduroy that has given the clue to my deduction. Every act of recognition could be described as a discovery because we need imagination for the simplest acts that allow us to find our way in the world. Imagination is not rare it is an everyday necessity.

When Copernicus discovered that the earth was circling the sun he was using his imagination to see the orbits from outer space. That discovery has shaken the world so badly that had he advertised it he would probably have been burnt at the stake. There is a qualitative and a quantitative difference between my finding of my trousers and Copernicus’ vision based on data that was thousands of years old but not recognised. His was the greatest leap of the imagination made by Man. It has reduced our status from the centre of the universe to a tiny speck in a probable multiverse. The human imagination has grown in status based on Copernicus and his like but it is sensible to regard it also as normal and everyday. We need to distinguish between the low flights of recognition and the high flights of imagination.

The significance of a discovery needs to be the measure of its importance. We need to take some of the unreasoned shine from the word. Imagination can be vastly important or everyday insignificant. I fear that art historians have been over impressed by Vasari’s arguments and have illogically reasoned that as Rembrandt is undoubtedly exceptional he must therefore have worked from imagination. Alas. this is hopelessly wide of the mark. Yes, Rembrandt possessed a wonderful imaginative empathy with his subjects but to realize feelings he needed to observed them in reality. The scholars have imposed on a master of huge importance, one who consistently claimed to work from observation “anything else was worthless in his eyes”- a method of work that does not fit at all. To make him fit his new work description scholars have had to discard more than half his genuine works. When Rembrandt is obliged to work by construction, with flying angels for instance, he makes sure that we do not take him seriously; he adopts a looser style (Link to flying angels)

It is indeed surprising that so many scholars have subscribed to the absurd idea of his imaginative construction for so long in the face of so much contrary evidence, and while doing immeasurable harm to our understanding of the master. My article on Rembrandt’s use of mirrors (Burlington Feb.1977) should have dispelled any remaining doubts about the unanimous testimony of Rembrandt’s contemporaries in this respect. Changing entrenched beliefs requires much patience – as Max Plank observed “science advances funeral by funeral”. The damage to Rembrandt and therefore to art continues unabated. At Harvard the only time we came near to debating the issue – I would claim to have won hands down but clearly the scholars took a different view because they have brushed aside my evidence as if it did not exist. There is no evidence for their view other than the fact that many scholars have accepted it unquestioningly for nearly a century! All the evidence favours my interpretation.

Aug 062018

In his“Triumph of Art” Part 4 of the TV series Civilizations Simon Schama described Velásquez’ Las Meninas as “a triumph of illusionistic painting”, also, as “a huge brain teaser”. Velasquez himself is “the most cerebral painter of his generation”. Schama asked what is painted on this large canvas we see the back of? possibly the princess or perhaps the king and queen ? “Generation after generation of writers commentators and artists have tried to explain it” but, Schama thinks that “no one has quite got to the bottom of it”. He does not exaggerate the degree to which scholars have found mystery where as a practicing sculptor I have often found a simple, practical explanation for scholars’ mysteries. Of course, it is Las Meninas painted on the front of the huge canvas, self portraits often include the back of the canvas (Las Meninas is approx 3m high). I cannot disagree with his final explanation – the painting is about who is in charge of the way we see but alas my answer is unfortunately the theoreticians, not the painter as Schama implies!

Las Meninas Velasquez

Las Meninas Velasquez

My own inquiry started from the question how did Velasquez actually see what he was painting – obviously he needed a mirror to paint a self-portrait. He could not have seen those standing beside and in front of him without seeing them in the same mirror in which he saw himself; so it must be worth asking the question did he actually use a mirror. It would have had to have been a big one, plate-glass did not exist in 1656 when this picture was painted but there was a hall of mirrors in the royal palace in Toledo which Velasquez was in process of transferring to the new Palace in Madrid at the time he painted Las Meninas. Spain had been receiving tribute from Holland and the mirror we see painted reflecting the king and queen in Las Meninas is in a Dutch frame. The same mirror or an identical one can still be seen in the sacristy of the cathedral in Toledo. We would need two rows of four such mirrors mounted together to cover the figures within the subject matter in the painting. But for a Royal Hall of Mirrors that does not seem an exaggerated possibility. Unfortunately there’s no record of the size of mirrors in the hall but the painting seems to represent the room next door (with minor modifications). When we ask the question did Velasquez actually use a mirror? the answer comes back from the painting itself -YES, eight times. 1. Velasquez changed himself to a righthander, 2. he painted the Infanta in the same year with her parting on the other side of her head. 3 the lighting of the group on the left depends on reflected light from the mirror. Are these not proof enough that he used the mirror I published these ideas in The Artist Magazine in March 1980 but scholars continue to pursue mysteries in painting, clearly miracles are preferred by them to practical explanations.

My straightforward explanation would be useful to artist today who undertake group portraits. It is a technique which I suspect was used by Velasquez’ assistant for his family portrait and by Goya for his royal group, both artists included a self-portrait. But they disguised their method,. Velasquez did nothing to disguise his method. Art scholars think very differently to artists, they prefer written, cerebral evidence to visual clues; and as they have come to dominate the discussion of art in the media and everywhere else, so useful ideas for artists get lost. There seems to be only a one-way traffic between the theoreticians and the practitioners of art. I have offered similar practical explanations for a number of art miracles many of them are on YouTube (see www.nigelkonstam.com). The use of mirrors by Brunelleschi to invent scientific perspective, by Velasquez as above, by Rembrandt to multiply his subject matter and by Vermeer to augment his use of the camera obscura which I believe he used solely to observe unfocused light. Two mirrors crucially helped him to observe light and allowed him to work in a modest sized studio (3m deep). For artists and those who prefer practical explanations to miracles, I strongly recommend my answers to art historical questions.

I can also explain why I believe half the Elgin Marbles are Roman copies. Furthermore, to our surprise the Roman reproductions have been generally preferred to the Greek originals. (see my Elgin Arguments, Also on Youtube

). The extraordinary speed with which the Greeks freed themselves from the previous Egyptian formula which had endured 3000 years can be explained by their use of wax casts from life as the basis of their miraculous transformation in both bronze and stone (see The Bronzes of Riace for bronze and Dionysos for stone). These revelations bring the master works to which they refer down to human scale, examples from which living artists can profit.

I am still looking for a publisher for all this useful information, I have been looking since 1977.

Oct 222015

To become a Rembrandt scholar you need to pass out top of a prestigious course in art history. They are the crème della crème; but they are gravely mistaken about Rembrandt and resist correction no matter what the evidence for revision. This article is designed to convince you they need to be replaced. They will not renew themselves.

They have in fact stood Rembrandt on his head. Reversing his significance of perhaps the world’s most perceptive observer. They seek to persuade us that he worked largely from imagination. I believe that I have demonstrated this to be a fundamental mistake, yet they will not budge. As a simple example see my “Isaac Refusing to Bless Esau” on YouTube. I expect you will agree with me that Rembrandt was at his best as an observer.

Esau and Isaac

Click to play video

This disagreement as to whether Rembrandt relied on observation or invention is a fundamental error, which invalidates large areas of recent scholarship. An error from which Rembrandt scholarship is suffering and has suffer since 1922 at when this important drawing was dismissed – important because it shows us Rembrandt’s strengths and weaknesses. Because I accept the weakness I can believe in over 2,000 drawings by Rembrandt but the scholars’ refusal leads them to accept only 500! His position as a culture hero has fallen proportionately in my life time.

I find it very easy to win the observation argument, so I well understand why the scholars refuse to debate the point in public. Choosing instead to undermine my examples in their private world of scholarly publications so they can continue with their folly undisturbed. I have described the scholarship of Rembrandt drawings as “an unmitigated disgrace” for the following reasons:-

1. My paradigm changing discovery of Rembrandt’s Use of Models and Mirrors in 1974 has been neglected. These findings were published in the Burlington under that title in Feb.1977 (two eminent art historians, Prof. Sir Ernst Gombrich and Dr J. Montagu were thanked for their help in presenting my findings in that article). A similar article was published in Rembrandthuiskroniek vol.1 1978. In both I believe I proved, beyond reasonable doubt, that Rembrandt used groups of live models for himself and his students to work from. This idea is anyway corroborated by contemporaries of Rembrandt; what was all that theatrical wardrobe for if not to produce his groups? (an extensive wardrobe and props is seen in the inventory of his belongings taken in 1656.)
2.Recent Rembrandt scholarship has neglected the historical record, indeed reversed the known facts.
3. Over a period of 90 years they have apparently unanimously accepted this reversal, neglecting an abundance of evidence that should have warned them off. They do this in order to maintain their mistaken ideas of Rembrandt’s development as a draughtsman and his relationship with the school production; they have  substituted theoretical iconography where practical observation explains the school works better. These sins have suffocated the educational atmosphere of art history. The Rembrandt catastrophe could not have happen without unquestioning acceptance of the professor’s dictate.
4. The scholars refuse to discuss and continue with the destruction of Rembrandt in the face of overwhelming evidence of their folly – or worse.
5. As a sculptor of 60 years experience, I find their judgments often outrageous.

Sep 242015

inventory1

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Aug 192015

BURLINGTON

Enlargement of newspaper column

Aug 192015

GOWING

May 222015

I have discovered a number of truths missed by art history which have been vehemently resisted by both artists and art historians. I regard them as important because they explain how some important advances in perception were made. I explain the resistance by the fact that recent generations in both disciplines obviously regard them as cheating: they are the use of mirrors by painters and life-casts by sculptors.

Photography has been used by painters since its invention but this also is regarded as a bit of a cheat. Nonetheless, most of us would agree that we understand the movement of a galloping horse better since photographs fixed the movements for us. Degas also used photography to fix the space in compositions of friends who, for convenience, probably posed for the work one at a time. Before photography Velasquez used a mirror for the same purpose in his masterpiece “Las Meninas”. This work is not only a personal masterpiece but is often regarded as the “epitome of painting”. The evidence for this discovery is overwhelming; the fall of light, the reversal of the image, quite apart from the fact that Velasquez at the age of 56 achieved this entirely untypical masterpiece more swiftly than ever before.

Should not todays painters know of this useful technique? Do we scoff at Galileo because he used a telescope or Pasteur because he used a microscope? Why do we allow science to use technology but not artists?

In fact most of my discoveries demonstrate that many important advances in art were the result of the use of technology: The naturalism which developed in classical Greece between 500 BC and 450 BC was based on life-casting. It broke the traditional Kouroi mould that had lasted nearly 3000 years. Brunelleschi invented scientific perspective by the use of a burnished silver mirror. Velasquez advanced the depiction of space by the use of a much larger mirror and Vermeer captured light by the use of two mirrors. Technology advanced art as it did science. What is the problem?

Like many artists of my generation I believe in the training of observation. This is usually achieved by a combination of practice and a number of tricks to bypass the overwhelming habit of the human brain to abstract and categorize the information that comes to us through our senses. Those of us who had the benefit of a traditional training in art learned to catch the patches of coloured light that came our way  and meditate upon them before the brain substituted a word for sensations. Cezanne described his activity accurately when he advised artists to pay attention to their sensations. Traditional artists are interested in milking the whole meaning from their sensations where average perception is content with the minimum necessary for everyday life. Life becomes richer through such art. With the modern view, which has turned its back on observation, life becomes less rich.

We need to recognize that technology has often advanced perception both in science and art. If only to regain the lost confidence that the “miracles” invented by art history have squashed.