One of my most complex compositions is Dance of Philosophy, which was begun in 1999 and is still incomplete. It is a rare example of my working in the most traditional techniques possible. It was started with a hand-built stretcher bar onto which was stretched a fine weave Belgian linen canvas. This canvas was sealed with a coat of rabbit skin glue over which was applied several coats of oil based sanded gesso.
The composition is based on Raphael’s School of Athens, 1510-11, in the Vatican, Rome. As that painting is now 500 years old and is at the center of the period I chose for my graduate studies, I chose to depict it as continuing to live through its influences and as a demonstration of conceptual recycling in a spirit similar to the original. In this case I chose to depict the background architectural structure as a ruin that still houses the great philosophers, who have all aged even more. For the figures I chose to recycle a series of figure drawings by Andrea del Verrocchio and Leonardo of old men and women produced for unknown projects, along with figures from works by Raphael, Perugino, Botticelli and others. These drawings, many of which are fragmentary, have in many cases been completed and grouped in ways that reflect Raphael’s original groupings. In the center two old men, based on drawings by Verrocchio, continue the philosophic dance while others watch intently, argue, inspire, plot, drink, pursue and flee.
The focus of the composition, and at its perspectival center, is a fountain based on one in the Palazzo Pitti, Florence. Topping the fountain is the image of Verrocchio’s bronze Putto With a Dolphin, c. 1472, that originally stood in the garden of the Medici Villa at Careggie where the birthday of Socrates was celebrated annually by member of the Neo-Platonic Academy founded in 1439 by Cosimo De’ Medici. This sculpture symbolizes the very essence of the complex nature of love in its multitudinous aspects. Along the way my students, the late Jim Bunner, Francisco Franco and Leo Bratenas, assisted me in the drawing in of some of the figures.