Lu, Bellini and Picasso

by Kenneth Zammit Tabona

Kenneth Zammit Tabona and friends attend Jason Luís vernissage in Rome and take in a great lungful of Roman splendor in the process

The Eternal City remains as fascinating as ever no matter what time of the year you visit it. I have been to-ing and fro-ing from Rome for as long as I can remember. Its incredible squares, its labyrinthine streets, its thousands of churches, cobbles and ancient ruins gathered around conglomerations of palaces, borgos, towers and columns make it utterly unique.

A group of artist, all friends of fellow artist Jason Lu, descended on Rome to attend the vernissage of Jasonís latest exhibition Monad in the humongous basement of a new building in Via Casillina. Jason sees the world through the eyes of a fantasist. Maybe it is his Chinese heritage that has caused such a strange and interesting fusion of ideas to germinate. A deep, sometimes too deep fusion of East and West including numerology (always way beyond me) and the conceptual vision of the universe in objects that much be found deeply embedded in Jasonís psyche; Monad is the universal and indivisible one-ness. Jason spent most of the exhibition meditating in Yoni; as sort of embryo studded with 99 paris of clasped hands in the yoga Mudra position.

It was to us a splendid excuse to visit Rome and see some wonderful exhibitions. The Giovernni Bellini exhibition in the Scuderie of the Quirinale was a dream; a collection of this Venetian masterís work that became all the more fascinating, colourful and human as we progressed chronologically through his working life. Beautifully curated and displayed to their best advantage with the halls in almost semi darkness and the bright and vivid colours that so epitomize the Venetian School in brilliant illumination.

Bellini worked mostly for the church and therefore there are hardly and other subjects apart from religious ones. I found the Allegoria Sacralent by the Uffizi one of the most arrestingly original work on display. A diagonally tiled terrace lies in the foreground surrounded by a lovely lake and mountains on the left and a castle in the distance on a hill. Upon this classical marble terrace the Madonna sits in the shelter of one of the most oriental of baldachins I have seen out of India. Saints Paul, Catherine, Job,  Peter and Sebastian are placed around a group of four putti playing around a tree growing out of a black marble tub in the centre; one of them could or could not be the Christ Child sitting on a red velvet cushion oblivious of the adoration from all the great saints and patriarchs gathered around him.

This is a fascinating painting and one that has elicited deep study from scholars ever since it was executed in around 1502, possibly for that renowned bluestocking, Isabella díEste,  Marchioness of Mantua. The exhibition runs till January 11 and it well worth a visit.

When discussing boldness of design and innovation only one name springs to mind, Pablo Picasso, that great colossus, that controversial genius whose prodigious output dominates the 20th century so completely and totally. The exhibition at the Vittoriano comprised works executed between 1917 and 1937 and shows this uncompromising workaholic at his most creative.

Apart from the delightful harlequins that he loved so much there is much inspired by the Ballets Russes. While he broke all rules and set his mind to the imagery of a planet far, far removed from our own with triangular birds and bathers like drainpipes, he occasionally dipped his pen into lyricism with the monochromatic portrait of the Man with a Pipe though to be the ballet dancer Nicolas Sverev.

This work stands alone; a 1923 work that harks back to the purity of line of Madame Canali in the Barcelona Museum. When one views this work flanked by such outlandish creations at the Standing Nude of 1928 and the Head; Study for a Monument of 1929 or the Harlequin Musician of 1924 one can hardly believe that this little tough Spaniard with eyes like blackcurrants had such a far-reaching and intense imagination.

It was, however, the Suite Vollard that stole the show. One hundred etchings and works in pen and ink that depict a phantasmagoric view of sex and love that were commissioned by Ambroise Vollard who sadly died before their publication; incredibly facile and economical work in line that is lyrical in its simplicity and which conveys that fantasies of a true voluptuary;  Something that both Vollard and Picasso must have had in common. The Minotaur is a recurrent thematic presence in the suite while many times the sex is practically tantric in torpor of sensuality. This is an autobiographical depiction; offact or fantasy one may never know but seen collectively in this way one that cannot but rivet the viewer. Plate 93; Sculptor and reclining Model at Window viewing a Sculptured Torso is a poem in line; something that I, who have been using line in my own work since I was a child, felt deep in my psyche. The Picasso exhibition runs till February 9.