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Jason's Search for The Golden Fleece: The story of two paintings

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Argo Nave  de Ethan Hill.jpg

The Ship of the Argonauts: Jason and the Golden Fleece  
pastel  painting, 19" x  25"
Artwork of my student Ethan, 2006

Triptych of Jason  : the Hero with one sandal
4'   x  6 '
preparatory charcoal drawing for my TRIPTYCH

In 2007 after a one-month sketching trip to Naples, Italy, I returned to my then-home, Miami, Florida, bewitched. Starting my trip first by spending a few days with the first-born of 9 nieces, Malena, who lived in Brussels at the time, I took the opportunity to visit from there Jan Van Eyck's "Adoration of the Lamb" Altarpiece in the Flemish town of Ghent, and to sketch onsite several majestic triptychs by Peter Paul Rubens located in nearby churches of Antwerp and Brussels. But the SKETCHBOOK in which I recorded some of these encounters then steered toward Naples. And during one month, while I stayed at the B&B that has been my "home" in that city ever since -- MISERIA E NOBILTA -- I filled my travel journal book with page after page of freehand drawings showing the streets, buildings, and human figures of this city. 

Once back in Florida, U.S.A., the images in my sketchbook earned me a new status of respect among my peers at the University of Miami/School of Architecture(SOA), where I had been teaching Freehand Drawing since 2000; humility aside, this body of work showed that I had taken to task what most of the professors at the SOA urged their students to do as they studied to become designers of homes, public spaces, gardens, and commercial venues. One day, not long after I had returned from Italy, Associate Professor Teofilo Victoria invited me to teach the 2008 Fall Semester in Rome "Drawing Component," an offer which I readily accepted. Meanwhile, in my Miami Studio in The Roads, my Naples sketchbook and I were transforming those freehand drawings into the 3-panel (triptych) narrative screen that is the focus of this web page, and I was using as location one of my favorite neighborhoods in Naples : the quartiere of  La Sanità, as setting for the mythical Greek figure of Jason and his quest for the Golden Fleece.


Jason's story had entered my repertoire of narratives as a child in Cuba, along with Swift's Gulliver's Travels and Journey to the Center of the Earth, by Jules Verne. But my sojourn in Naples and my dedication to drawing and painting had given it a different spin, which was crowned by the opportunity in the early 2000s to teach, two or three times a week, after school, the son of a fellow St. John's College alumnus, William, who showed some talent in holding the pencil just right and laying the right amount of pressure on his pastel crayons -- plus, he was eager to put to paper with me his own wonder-filled sense of the scenes of the Voyage of the Argonauts, which he avowed were largely from his own memory! Ethan and classics-loving family had spent several months sailing in the Mediterranean and the Ionic Sea not long before, and he had been impressed by what he must have seen still as footprints of Jason in some parts of the Dardanelles and the Greek port city of Corinth.

The image and, indeed, the very concept of the mythical ship ARGO, which the goddess Athena helped to construct Jason's shipbuilder, named Argos, inspired my young drawing student to create the wonderful masterwork that lords over this page. I recall his parents' enthusiasm when they saw the pastel painting. Their son had a meaningful, personal imprinting of the story, and that personal feeling and coherence, I must say, came through in his painting. "At one point," Ethan's parents told me, "we got off our own ship and took Ethan and his sister up to the Acrocorinth!"---- certainly one of the most dramatic ports of call of Jason and his mariners, though this time accompanied by none other than MEDEA, the princess of Colchis whose herbs and magic help Jason get a hold of the Golden Fleece! 


As mentioned above, in those first years of the 2000s when I taught Ethan after school, I was myself employed as Freehand Drawing instructor at the University of Miami's School of Architecture. Serendipity then stepped in, and I discovered the Jason & the Golden Fleece thread in the university's lovely Coral Gables Campus. Wasting no time, I proposed to his mother that we take Ethan and his sister on a field trip to the university's Lowe Art Museum, so that they might see firsthand how "another great American artist, like Ethan!" had chosen to illustrate Jason's saga of the Golden Fleece. Ethan's sister, quite the learned scholar of ancient myths at the time, was just as thrilled to see the majestic canvas that hung in the Lowe Art Gallery, and she filled us in on who was who in the painting -- from Jason, wearing only one sandal, to evil uncle Pelias who remarks on the "problem" of the one-shod young man, etc.  If the reader CLICKS the BUTTON, a photo of this masterpiece appears.  "Jason Returns Home to Claim His Father's Kingdom."  The ---unfinished!--- canvas by American Grand Tour artist Washington Allston (1779-1843), after our family excursion to the Lowe that day, became as exciting as a saling trip to those regions of archetypes and adventures.

As discussed in the page of the above LINK button, the power of drawing and painting as a tool of understanding and asking questions about space, composition, tone, and construction is easily conveyed to an individual or to a large class of students by turning the attention to great works of art and from that, conducting a lesson on the analysis of the lines and mass hierarchies within the picture. So while young Ethan and I spent delightful lesson hours sketching out his scenes of the Jason myth, or others, I directed my SOA classes several times to the Lowe Art Gallery, where they looked at the lines, volumes, and color used by Allston not as disembodied, abstract terms of design, but as somehow underlying human dramas of identity, family ties, and city building. Because  the mural was begun and left unfinished by Washington Allston, an American artist living in Rome shortly after the French Revolution, the drawing lesson was even richer, as the three main levels of execution are distinctly visible - - under-painting, charcoal line drawing, and finished oil glazes. The mural is very much like the " section cut" of an architectural space or building, and it thus becomes a wonderful teaching tool for more than only the painting process.

Jason Triptych Back panels seen through

Quite a number of years have passed since I bought my three panels of pinewood in Miami's SHELL LUMBER on S.W. 27th Avenue, and set them up on a table inside my Studio and home in The Roads and began to paint the TRIPTYCH which is the subject of this page. 

Triptych of Jason  : Back Panels as seen inside my Miami Studio window 
oil on wood, 4'   x  6  4 '  x  6 '   ( 120 cm  x  180 cm)'

I remember distinctly, however, that as I searched for ways to represent "my" Jason in the context of a street in Naples, not only did I owe my fortune of finding an image to my knowledge and admiration for the work of Michelangelo Caravaggio (1575-1610), an artist who had lived and worked in that city while it was under Spanish viceroyalty rule, but to ideas and guides for drawing that I had come upon in Leonardo Da Vinci's Journals, regarding the power of mirrors and framing to focus a drawing student's attention as well as his/her ability to judge the aesthetics and logical force of a subject being drawn--- in this case a human figure that had inspired the many poets from Pindar to Apollonius of Rhodes to Washington Allston to "paint" him for their various audiences. For reasons too numerous for me to go into in the present page, I chose as precedent for my Jason, CARAVAGGIO's painting of the cousin of Jesus, John the Baptist. But, in short, I mirror-imaged his position in order to place him thus in my left panel of the Triptych. I did this as a sign of respect for the masterpiece original in Rome; and I did so because in my drawing lessons I invariably encourage freehand drawing students to avoid using cameras and photocopies to effect such inversions or reversals of forms and figures, as a way of strengthening the power of their inner eye, and their sense that a good command of composition is within reach of the human iris and the hand that holds the pencil, and of the mind that guides, like a pilot the journey of a drawing, from point A to point B.  

While the same exercise "mirror" image exercise ends up improving the draughtsman's ability to draw a symmetrical pair of forms on either side of center, and thus increases the capacity to balance left and right sides around a vertical axis, I also conceive of it as a way of "squaring" a space -- or squaring a curved contained area. Squaring the Circle.

Triptych Napolitano left.jpg

LEFT PANEL of the Triptych of Jason  : the Hero with One Sandal
oil on wood, 4'   x  6  4 '  x  6 '   ( 120 cm  x  180 cm)'
Triptych Napolitano Completo.jpg

Triptych of Jason  : the Hero with One Sandal
oil on wood, 4'   x  6  4 '  x  6 '   ( 120 cm  x  180 cm)'
Triptych Napolitano Completo RETRO.jpeg

Triptych of Jason  : Back Panels 
oil on wood, 4'   x  6  4 '  x  6 '   ( 120 cm  x  180 cm)'
Allegories side of Triptych early versio

What the Triptych of Jason  : Back Panels looked like when they arrived in Rome in 2008 
oil on wood, 4'   x  6  4 '  x  6 '   ( 120 cm  x  180 cm)'

In 2008, when I made the decision to remain in Rome at the conclusion of my Univesrity of Miami teaching assignment in this city, one of my first conundrums was how to finish the triptych that I had left behind in the United States. Ethan's family came to the rescue. And so did my Italian friend Alessandra whom I had met in the Italian Consulate in Miami and had already, in so many ways, shown support for my work in Miami, and now did a huge "mirror" reversal in her own mind, as she traced the passage of the three-paneled screen from Miami International Airport to Rome's Fiumicino/Leonardo Da Vinci air port. I am forever grateful for these friends and their understanding of the importance of lost sandals.

Videos of my Drawing Journals leading up to the Jason Triptych

 Video of JASON Triptych

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