Whitbeck Notes
              Summer 2023
    The east and the west. Thoughts and ideas that pass from one to the other. The arts, science, fashion, food, military technology, the back and forth. You often read about this with the growth of the 16th and 17th century world and its people. Large and small influences that brought about large and small changes in the everyday life of the citizens who inhabited the cities, towns and villages of Europe and Asia.
    So much that we love and admire in the artwork from these periods were influenced and inspired by things exotic arriving from the east. As time went on and individuals pushed for more profit and easier and faster ways to span these huge distances, that span became less and less, the result being that most everyone, over time, could enjoy in these exchanges. In 1562 a merchant in Antwerp received bales of cloth from Constantinople as well as a handful of tulip bulbs. He thought they were onions, had them roasted and ate them with oil and vinegar, "Others he dug into his garden amongst the cabbages and other vegetables..." Not everyone in these early days of the introduction of the tulip ate the bulbs, and so this extraordinary flower was then brought into the lives of westerners and over time the form of the tulip could be found in tapestry, paintings, porcelain and many other art forms.

Brass Vase
12" x 9"   oil on panel
    I love the idea of these two cultures mixing in this way. Any book on 16th and 17th century Dutch and Flemish art will, to some extent, talk about this exchange and mention the influences the eastern world had on the western. The beautiful Chinese kraak porselein (kraak deriving from the work carrack, the type of Portuguese vessel the Dutch captured and looted this porcelain from) found its way, first, into the homes of the wealthy and middle-class merchants, and then, eventually, the common folk. At which time the painters started to include these fine blue and white dishes into their still life set-ups, arranging common, everyday scenes or ones of great extravagance with silver and gold. Not long after pottery makers in the Dutch Republic also started making copies of these imports, bringing down the price. But the west did not yet have the knowledge on making that fine, milky white porcelain that the Chinese did, and so they had, for some time, their own cruder version.

16" x 20"   oil on panel
    For years I have read about all of this fascinating interchange. Rightfully so, the authors would concentrate on the artists and their environment; the art guilds, who apprenticed to who, patrons and that sort of thing, with usually only a mention of the trade routes and people that would bring much of these objects into their studios. But there is a deep, complex, socially and culturally intertwined web behind all of this back and forth of exchange that I always felt intrigued by, but never satisfied by with most of these books. I was just not finding the right books. The writer would alight, ever so briefly and then off, quick as could be, leaving me oh, so curious.
    Agents of Empire; Knights, Corsairs, Jesuits and Spies in the Sixteenth Century Mediterranean World by Noel Malcome. Sounds like a great adventure, and the right book! For those who follow my recommendations on books, this one is a must for your library, and I highly suggest it for the filling in of that middle world in between the east and west. Basically it focuses on the life and careers of the Bruti and Bruni families from the city of Ulcinj (ul-tsin-ya) on the Adriatic coast in Albania. In this period, mid to late fifteen hundreds, the Ottoman Turks were pushing in hard on the European west and towns and cities, like Ulcinj, were engulfed in this ever expanding empire. These border areas are what I find so fascinating, and this book really paints the best of pictures, getting rid of the idea of that hard, fixed line of Christian Europeans in the west and Muslim Ottomans in the east doing battle against one another. This, of course did happen, but there is so much more to it then that. The people and their lives, the exchanges, the barters, marriages, trading, farming. The living and the loving as well as the conflict. Such a complicated web and not one to be fully understood from a brief glance. For generations Christians lived amongst Muslims and visa-versa. And they would be under the rule of whatever distant emperor had gained that territory, be it the Doge in Venice, Phillip II in the Escorial or Sultan Murad III in his far off Topkapi palace.
Kings Banner
20" x 18"   oil on panel
    I cannot do justice here in these Notes to the fascinating intricacies of this book, but suffice it to say that after reading it you will have a better understanding of the land, politics and people living between these two cultures and the cogs, continually turning, bringing people and goods from the east to the west and back again. It is also the colorful story of Antonio, Bartolomeo and Cristoforo Bruti and Giovanni, Gasparo and Antonio Bruni, their lives as they endeavor to make their way, navigating the complex, ever shifting world of this middle land. " As popes and kings made ever more unrealistic plans for the defeat of the Sultan and the triumph of Christendom, the day-to-day business of interacting with the Ottoman world depended, in reality, on people such as these." -Noel Malcome, Agents of Empire. And in the end it fills in the void and makes for a more complete, vivid picture when trying to understand the behind the scenes of this back and forth of traversing and trading of ideas and technologies, for better or worse. And it also gives a better idea of the people who opened the pathways for objects from the east to end up in a still life set up of a painter on the shores of the North Sea.

Owl and Mouse
16" x 20"   oil on panel

Orange and Silver
36" x 36"   oil on canvas
40" x 30"  oil on canvas
    Having just returned from our Midwest Tour I find myself with the good problem of not having enough paintings for my next show. Fortunately that next show, in Lancaster, Pa., is not until September, so about two months. Long enough to get some more work done and add to the paintings I already have. But with the time consuming technique of many thin layers and the drying time for varnish at the end I could hope to maybe have four more finished pieces before its time to pack up the van and head out again. Like I said though, a good problem. 57th Street and Old Town in Chicago and Des Moines made for one of our better tours and my wife Gale and I had a great time in between with camping and visiting friends (as well as picking up a 10 week old Brittany puppy in Peoria who joined us for our Des Moines show! What an adventure that was!).
    So keep an eye on my website www.jameswhitbeck.com to see available paintings and follow the new ones that become completed for the Lancaster show. And feel free to write or call about any inquiries for available work or commissions. Click here to visit my commissions page to see the process behind having one done.

All my best!
And have a great summer.
James Whitbeck

(413) 695-3937