Izzy's the Curator

A Journey into a Month with Izzy the Curator

April 1

My name is Izzy McDougal and I am curator of the Bjorn Museum located in Zoeland.  This month we are preparing an exhibit of paintings showcased by a man considered to be the father of Art History, Girorio Vasari.

There is so much to do when preparing for an exhibit but it won't stop me from copying the masters using pen, pencil, watercolor a gouache. I encourage my patrons to do the same because even though our sketches may not be great, we will learn so much along the way. Plus if you look at artwork long enough, you begin to feel some ownership. 

 It is hard to describe the feeling I get from copying. One minute I am lost in the history of it, another lost in the subject or colors. Then finally in the end I always feel part owner.  Good art is like the moon in that we can all say it belongs to us.

The gala opening for April 29th, there is work to do! 

Yesterday our first shipment arrived into the loading dock of the Bjorn Museum. The  Metropolitan Museum of art has agreed to lend us a painting for next month’s exhibit. Tomorrow I’ll open the first one up!

April 2

The Crucifixion

Fra Angelico's 
cicra 1420-1423AD

Even though I have so much to do,  I just had to sit back and appreciate this painting for over an hour. The photo never does the actual painting justice. The real thing transports me back into a timeless moment where the art was born. So many words came to mind as I started taking notes. Death, pain, suffering, compassion, drama, grief, motherhood, heaven, angels, mercy, ego, horses, roman soldiers, symbolism etc. etc. After my stare fest I got to researching. One interesting tidbit is that no one knows for certain who painted this painting. In 1988, however, Luciano Bellosi, an Italian art Critique argued and everyone seems to have agreed that it is Fra Angelica's work. Read more on the link below.

Fra Angelico was a Dominican Monk, he was also called Guido di Pietro or Fra Giovanni or Beato. The numerous aliases make for interesting reading and lots of detective work. I am forever thankful to the countless hours spent by so many Art Historians who manage to piece together the past.

Below I have sketched the left side grouping in my sketch book . I used watercolors for this one.

The character on the right looking up at the crucifixion of Jesus is called Longinus. He is considered the unnamed soldier who pierced Jesus's side with a lance so that he could end his suffering. A true act of Mercy.  I am struck by the compassion and full range of other emotions found on their faces. 

These drawings are all just first passes with my sharpie. My goal is to capture the facial expressions that tell the story.

April 3

Quote of the day

"Everything that needs to be said has already been said."

So I am continuing with my sketches of Fra Angelico's painting of the Crucifixion. What can I add that has already been said about this painting? Here's are my questions. How are these characters making order and meaning out of this heartbreaking moment of the Christ Story? The notion of making order out of life's chaos is an abstract one and a highly subjective task. Their mysterious faces  pull me into the painting as I try to make sense of the mystery. And that is a good thing.

April 4

The Seven Liberal Arts

Domenico di Michelino
Circa 1460
On loan from the Louvre

Today's shipment is from the Louvre! This painting was completed by a fan of  Fra Angelico named,  Domenico di Michelino as he illustrates and celebrates the fathers of the seven liberal arts; Math, Geometry, Music, Astronomy, Logic, Rhetoric, and Grammar. 

I have taken this opportunity to sketch each discipline below. The images were found from many source materials.


Section from The School of Athens

 Subject is
Pythagorus Born in the 500 BC
Artist was
 Raphael Sanzio da Urbino 
circa 1510 AD

Location: The Apostolic Palace in Vatican City



Born around 300BC

This is a sketch from painting found on the internet with no source info available. Euclid's mathematical proofs were instrumental in the principles of one point perspective. One point perspective has added realistic dimensionality to renaissance paintings. For more information on one point perspective, visit this lecture presented by the Kahn Academy


 Tubal Cain

A biblical figure Genesis 4:22. 
The is sketch is from a Fresco 
by Andrea di Bonaiuto. 

Tubal Cain forged Brass and other metals allowing for the creation of musical instruments.


Claudius Ptolemy 

Born around 100AD. 
The is sketch is an old Door Panel Painting
Artist unknown


Aristotle teaching Alexander 

Historical setting 300BC
Charles Leplante 


The Young Cicero Reading

Historical setting30 AD
Vincenzo Foppa 
circa 1464 AD


The Seven Liberal Arts

Aelious Donatus 
Historical Setting 300AD
Teacher of Saint Jerome
 Domenico di Michelino
Circa 1460

April 5

Lorenzo de Medici

circa 1533
by Giorio Vasari

Lorenzo de Medici was born in 1449 and died in 1492 (doing the math he lived 
43 years and still managed to have 10 children! ). The portrait was painted Posthumously about several decades years after his death.

It was commissioned by Alessandro de Medici a distant cousin of Lorenzo.

The painter Gioria Vasari was what you would call today a true renaissance man in that he mastered many subjects including that of a painter, sculptor, architect, and art historian. Vasari wrote a book called LIVES OF THE MOST EXCELLENT PAINTERS, first published in 1568 and later translated into English in 1912. Which is a good thing because I was able to download and read some of it last night. He wrote about most of the paintings that will comprise this exhibit. And as you can see he was a wonderful painter in his own right. I hope to have time to write a nice biography on the wall next to this painting as he is truly the father of Art History. It is one thing to be a wonderful painter, but then to also write about and hold in great esteem other painters, now that is something!

Lorenzo, the subject of this painting was known as a great patron of the arts. And he could sure afford to be one as he is from one of the wealthiest families in Florence. Along with his grandfather Cosimo de Medici they donated more than 663,000 florins or $460 million US dollars. He had 10 children and died ironically died April 8th which is tomorrow! His body's final resting place is found beneath Michelangelo’s the statue of Madonna.  A quick internet search has revealed many portraits of this famous man as  he is featured in  art by Botticelli, Michelangelo, Andrea del Verroccohio, Girolamo Macchetti, as well as on a coin from Florence around that time.

He was known to have a broad frame, short legs, a squashed nose, short sighted and a harsh voice. With such a description I should have great fun drawing his likeness.

Here is a collage of my sketches. I decided to just paint only choice bits using my Tombo marker and paintbrush.

April 6th

Christ Glorified in Heaven

Fra Angelico
Circa 1430

On loan from the National Portrait Gallery of London

This painting is a depiction of the Communion of Saints. Which is an idea that there is spiritual union available with all beings living today and those gone before. You don't need to be a saint to be part of this union. The "rule" is that you need to be baptized but I like to think you just need to be born.

Pope Francis explains it better on this short video.

April 7th

Christ the Pantocrator

Aritist Unknown
Circa 700
Found at Saint Catherine's Monastery in Egypt

This is the earliest version of an image of Jesus Christ in history. Christ the Pantoctrator is typically a half-length image, where Christ holds the New Testament in his left hand and makes the gesture of teaching or of blessing with his right. And so he is represented as half man and half God.

Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt has been home to this painting since 700AD., which was lucky because had it been in Constantinople, it would have been destroyed during a period of Byzantine Iconoclasm. Instead during this time, Saint Catherine’s was protected the Muslims reigning over the fertile crescent.

The Khan Academy provides a nice discussion on Iconoclasm.

I went ahead and painted my own version using gouache The halo is collaged in there.  Even though I have requested a loan of this painting, I don’t think they will send it to me.  Time to pray for a miracle.

In any case it was fun to try and render.

April 8th

Adoration of the Magi

Lorenzo Monaco
Circa 1420

On loan from the Uffizi Gallery

Everyone knows I am a fan of art. But truth be known, I like this early renaissance period because I can sketch the faces. Today my 5th painting has arrived!  This is one of many adoration paintings commissioned in the renaissance.  I love the way their characters are all wearing 15th century clothing.  Patrons were often painted into this mythical scene.

Lorenzo Monaco was Fra Angelico’s teacher. So I will place the two painters work together on the same wall for the exhibit. I am using the center room for this special exhibition as these old paintings need special climate and lighting conditions.

The rest of the rooms in the Bjorn museum are full of great natural lighting. I am always on the lookout for some nice more contemporary art in those spaces.

Tomorrow a very very old book arrives.

April 9th

The Last Judgement in Initial C

 A Page (Miniature) from a 20 Volume set of Choir Books
Created for
The Camaldolese Convent of Santa Maria degli Angeli, Florence
 It was 135 years in the making

1370-1505 AD

An eye for eye, tooth for a tooth. "It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye." Jesus said this in 30 AD. Ok I am paraphrasing, but you get the idea. There is everlasting peace for those who believe in love and compassion, even for our enemies. That is what this illustration is alluding to.

According to the sixteenth-century biographer Giorgio Vasari these illuminated texts were the most beautiful in all of Italy.  He even contemplated taking them to the Basilica of Saint Peter’s  for Pope to Leo admire.

This pages has the  initial C on it which represents one of the responses for the celebration of the Office of the Dead. (who knew the dead had an office? I must look into other translation of this word)

The response in latin

Credo quod redemptor meus vivit, et novissimo die terra resurrecturus sum, et in carnee mea videbo Deum, Salvatorem meum

The response in English

 I believe that my Redeemer lives, and that on the last day I shall rise from the earth and in my flesh I shall see God, my Savior.

This song continues to be sung by the young and old in choirs all over the world.

April 10th

The Bjorn Museum

I headed outside for lunch and to enjoy a little time sketching my Museum. The grass is still a little wet after the morning rain and I notice a bird nesting under the eaves. I’m pretty sure they are swifts. This building was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. But he was never to see it built as he died in 1959. The plans were drawn for this space but my grandfather also died before the project could begin.  It was my father who had it built this in 70’s and so I lived in it for much of my childhood. After he died in 1993, I didn’t have the means to keep it as a family home so I turned to art patrons who have helped me convert the space into to a museum for everyone to enjoy. Sometimes I wish I had never changed my married name to McDougal as Izzy Bjorn packs such a punch. But at least my initials are IBM and well that has nice heft to it. So it all works out.

I thank my lucky stars for the contributors that keep this museum running. There are so many heroes in the background of life. Our common goal of preserving beauty is what it’s all about.

Below is a sketch of the architect Frank Lloyd Wright from a famous photograph.

Okay back work as there is so much to do before the gala opening!  Izzy Bjorn McDougal 2018

April 11th

The Nativity

Piero della Francesco
circa 1460

This was most probably his last work and it might be unfinished at that. Also, some damage may have occurred during a cleaning in the 19th century.

Here he places Jesus in humble surroundings and includes both a landscape and cityscape in the back ground. It sits in great contrast to Lorenzo Monaco's Adoration of the Magi in 1422, where opulence was the order of the day.

April 12th

The Visconti Semideus

an illuminated Text by
Pavia Cantone
CIrca 1438

Fed Ex delivered today's package directly from Russia! It has quite a history and I am so excited it can end up in my museum for a few weeks.

Julio is coming over to construct a glass display case that can sit in the middle of the room. Then, I will need to choose which page to leave open. Argh, that will be tough.

Here is a sketch of the cover. The actual book will remain in the packaging until the glass display case is built.

I first read about this manuscript from a book by Christopher de Hamel called "Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts, Twelve journeys into the Medieval World" circa 2016.

The Visconti Semi Deus is a practical treatise for princes on armaments and warfare, composed by a humanist and lawyer. His name was Cantone Sacco and was from a city near Milan called Pavia. He wrote it for Filippo Maria Visconti who was to become the Duke of Milan.

In it he explains methods for doing battle on the high seas. A handbook that is quite useful for the princes studying about how to keep their kingdom safe from invaders. One such story is about putting venomous snakes in pottery and then throwing them on to your enemy's ships in the hope that the pottery breaks and the snakes go about biting the sailors!

This book made it into several hands over the years and I have taken the following notes to detail the books journey's over the centuries finally arriving to Russia.

April 13th

The invitations to the Gala Opening are in the mail! At very least Zoey, Julio and Cindy know about the up and coming exhibit. And although  know word travels fast in a small town, I don't know who else knows about this. So invitation are in going to each and every person with an address in Zoeland. Something tells me that people need to be invited personally.

Cindy and I worked on the concept but then Cindy created the post card. Isn't it scrumptious? I love the soft colors and very bold eye that just draws you in. She is such a love!

And Cindy, who also designs the dresses in town has offered to help with ball gown orders. I think I am going to ask for a green and yellow dress that matches the eyes of the post card.

 I am not sure how to tell my friends to dress up! But it's time to make a fuss. This exhibit is the best thing to every happen in this town. To pull this off , I am calling Chris the newspaper reporter start a rumor about what I am wearing. Maybe it is time for a plunging neckline! Nothing like a little town gossip to stir up interest.

April 14th

I have also sketched out the layout and flow of the exhibit which is going to be in the Olmsted Wing. This wing was a generous endowment of the arts by great philanthropist, Steven B. Olmsted. He was an admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright as well as old and rare books.

Now I really have to get to making a long list to make sure this exhibit doesn't flop.

April 15th

Julio is just finishing up the glass display case for "Visconti Semideus." He thinks I should have a few blue viper sculptures in the case as well, lest anyone forget about the tactical recommendations delineated in the book. I'll have to get Zoey in on the project!

April 16th

Leonardo da Vinci was in his early 20’s when asked to help paint this one. He is thought to have worked on the back ground landscape, the trees and the young boy on the far left of the painting.  The boys pose was usual for paintings during this period but will be seen more as Leonardo continues to blossom into a master painter.

Meanwhile, the RSVP for the Gala Opening are coming in!  The excitement is building! Cindy is working on a special design for my outfit. I have no idea what she is up to. We plan to meet early next week.

My sketch was fun to draw.  I can see that I didn’t have John the Baptist leaning enough inwards. But I do like the way his wrap turned out.  I used a light pencil to get the proportions correct before diving in with the black pen. The pencil really helped. I know I was going to try to give up on the pencil, but with these later period pieces, I feel it is a must to try and get the proportions correct.

April 17th

The Marriage of the Virgin

by Raphael
circa 1504
on loan from the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

This painting is part of an altarpiece created for the Franciscan Church of San Francesco Citta di Castello, Italy. I thought it an interesting choice to paint people milling around in the background while this famous union takes place in the foreground. While the characters on either side seem to be calm they also seem somewhat resigned that they are not the ones getting married. 

The pointy hats in the background beg for more research? I colored them so we could see how they point towards the heavens. I don't know if that was a new style or is steeped in meaning.   Joseph is the only one who is barefoot. Is there a hidden meaning to that as well? If I were in art school I could type ten double spaced pages on this one! Back and front!! But there is much to do and my visit and so study on this new acquisition will be short. Perhaps in May, during the exhibit I can revisit and sketch some more. 

My personal take on this particular marriage symbolic. Marriage is a venue in which we can experience the melding of the divine and earthly. Like the animal kingdom, we mate, yes, but the ultimate promise is to love one another in the hopes of opening that love to others, and all of life.

I am quite grateful that my Zoeland friends will have an opportunity to visit these masterpieces. It will be a wonderful conversation starter

April 18th

Through the eyes of our first Art Historian, Giorgio Vasari.

Every painting in this exhibit was viewed, admired and critiqued by Giogrio Vasari almost 500 years ago. This sampling is just a small number from his 10 volume book called THE LIVES OF MOST EXCELLENT PAINTERS, SCULPTORS AND ARCHITECTS. He himself was not only a painter, but a sculptor and architect as well. He is considered not only the father of art history, but a a true
renaissance man.

Well this is the beginning of the writing for the introduction essay to this exhibit. I have lots more writing to do. But at least I have the first paragraph started. And then on the next wall I want place a time line.

I can't decide if I am going to use this graphic above or a less readable but more detailed version like the one below. What do you think? On a huge wall I could make the fonts way bigger and more readable. What really struck me in the chart below is the variety of life spans. Some people live twice as long as others. And in the context of hundreds of years....well my own life spans feels kinda irrelevant. I so much want to make the most of it.  Izzy 2018

April 19th

Vasari’s book was published in Bologna in 1647 and was one of the first books printed instead of hand written. What a revolution that must have been!   190 bibles could be printed in the time it would take to manually transcribe one copy, which was about two years. Vasari’s 10 volume set would not have been possible before this time. The International Printers Museum in Carson, California has created a replica of this press and agreed to send it to me for the exhibit.  To see this piece amongst the renaissance paintings will be key to highlighting the  importance of making all art forms accessible to everyone. Now and then!
Izzy 2018

April 20th

April 21th

The title Vitruvian Man comes from a Roman architect who studied the ideal anatomical proportions of man.  Leonardo adds to this Roman's work by raising the arms and placing the second pose on a circle. Containing man into both a circle and square is an implied symbol of the essential symmetry of the human body. When I copied this sketch I started with the circle and square and then it was pretty easy to sketch. That is a great tip for future drawings. Sketch the large shapes first and then move inward.

Below is a translation of his notes having to do with basic proportions. Even today there is much variance about how many heads make a man, 7.5 or 8 etc. But the basics are still here.

April 22th

Here is my self portrait. I am waiting for Fiona to deliver the Vasari self-portrait, due in tomorrow. So in the meantime, I thought I would try my own selfie. I like my smile and think it is pretty good for a 50 year old! Like everything practice is key. I am still just using watercolors and ink, I am gathering courage to give the gouache a try.

I will have the full 15 items for my exhibit after tomorrow. "Wikki Peters" is helping me with each painting's  description. At this point I am completely in love with each one and might just sleeping over under the paintings tonight.  

April 23rd

One more acquisition and a real feather in my Cap! This iconic self portrait of Vasari will be perfect for my exhibit. He was the man who started art history by recording  the lives of the masters.  The rest of the painters are his picks. This is the man from which our exhibit circles. Here are some more facts :
1. He dedicated his art history book to Cosimo  de’Medici
2. He was responsible for the coining the terms Gothic and Renaissance (rinaseita).
3. His book includes a section on technical issues; making the paint, brushes, charcoal etc.
4. He tells a funny story about young Giotto in 1280AD  painting a fly on the surface of a painting his teacher Cimabue that was so realistic his teacher tried to shoo it off.
5. And he was the architect of the courtyard called the Piazza della Signoria which is next to the famous Uffizi Gallery.
I for one am booking a flight to Florence this summer. I can’t stay away a minute longer!  Izzy 2018

April 24th


“Man paints with his brains and not with his hands” Michelangelo

Before he painted the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo created studies of various scenes. This is one such study. The figure is Libyan Sibyl, named  Phemonoe, the daughter of Zeus. She was the first woman oracle during the time of the Greeks.
Even after her death she “ceased not from divination.”

Here is the first line of her Oracle:
“I am by birth half mortal and half divine”
Sounds familiar no?

        Izzy 2018

April 25th

I have separated the artwork into two main categories, to be split into each room.

April 26th

This painting was a special delivery from Fiona. She picked it up in from the Capodimonte Museum in Naples. She has a thing for Luca Pacioli and believes this painting painted by non other than Leonardo da Vinci! And there is much evidence to back up the theory as Luca and Leo were good friends. Luca was a mathematician wrote a book using the Gutenberg press, containing the cutting edge latest mathematical studies of the time.

The book is called "Summa de Arithmetica, Geometria. Proportioni and proportionality." The last section includes the latest methods of accounting called Double Entry Book Keeping.

SO what is Double Entry Book Keeping and why is it so important.

For every financial transaction has equal and opposite effects in a least two different accounts. Liability and Equity

Assets = Liabilities  + Equity

Each entry is recorded to maintain the relationship. Allowing for ledgers to balance. But the end of the 15th century, bankers and merchants i Italy were using this system widely. This was a very practical bit of mathematics that contributed to a growing merchant class.

This red book featured on the right side of table.

Also portrayed in this painting is Slate, Chalk, Compass, and dodecahedron.  A rhombicuboctahedron which is half filled with water and suspended from the ceiling. Luca himself is shown demonstrating a theorem by Euclid.

The character on the right is was the Duke of Urbino, Guidobaldo da Montefeltro to whom the book is dedicated.

 My sketch started out as gouache but finished up with a lot of colored pencil. I rushed through the robe and draping ant it look terrible. The colored pencil helped at least add some dimension. I need more practice with gouache. How I wish I had one of the masters to help me! And a whole lot more free time.

Izzy 2018

April 27th

I have got to have the greatest friends! Cindy is an extrodinary fashion designer and offered to make me an outfit with my very own Bjorn Museum Logo.

Here she is just making some last minute adjustments to the sleeve. This weekend is going to be the most exciting ever. I have not only learned a ton of Art History and gotten some great painting practice in, I am also going to be able to gather together the greatest community ever!

This painting is NOT mine by the way. It is Natalie Charlesworth's! She is Cindy Avatar and quite talented in her own right. Some day I will have a museum exhibit featuring her work.

Izzy 2018

April 28th










Strickland Kid


April 29th

Here we are at the Gala Event!
I painted this one from a photograph of last night just before the party got really rolling.  And what a magical night it was! Cindy and I are on the left guarding the opening doors to make sure no food or drink goes into the exhibit.  Becker is in the front waiting for his friend, the art critique, Tony. Daphne from the White Wash Barn is here talking to Zoey and Fiona. The Strickland Kid is on the right mulling around with Chris waiting for their friends to arrive. The place started getting really crowded and when the chamber musicians arrived, everyone got in the mood for a sipping wine under the stars and musing about our short lives here on this planet. 

April 30th

What kind of mark shall we leave? How important are our friends who support us. Is it not unlike the Masters we study who soared so high. Were not their friends important as well? 

May 31rst

Marcel Duchamp pioneered a movement called Ready-Made Art. He declared that ideas were more interesting to him than visual products that were merely "beautiful."  The MoMa website on Duchamp challenges us with the following questions. Today I am answering.

What should art provide the maker and the viewer?


Who is it for?

Anyone it speaks to.

Where does one encounter art?

In the place where from and the formless meet. Which means, at ever turn, where ever our senses take us.

What is the role of the artist?

To facilitate the discovery of meaning, even if after careful inspection the meaning gets lost.

Art that stirs up controversy has no meaning for me.

Art should help us leave the realm of time and place 
where even our thoughts take a back seat.

Good Art takes us into a timeless spaceless dimension.

 Signed Izzy the Curator of the Bjorn Museum

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