Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Oskar Laske, the White Angel Apothecary & mosaic


As soon as I read the comment left by Andreas this morning about Oskar Laske, I knew I had a lead for another post. And here it is. But the result is unexpected.

Laske began his professional life as an architect. His father (also Oskar) had been an architect in Czernowitz and young Oskar began training in fine art in Vienna when he was about thirteen before moving to the Technische Hochschule, a leading school of modern architecture and design at the age of eighteen. Six years later, he moved on to the Academy where Otto Wagner was director and then began to practice. It was not to last very long.

The designs for the White Angel Apothecary at 8, Bognorstrasse, were made soon afterwards between 1901 and 1902. The mosaics he had made for the façade suggest why his career in architecture might have been such a short one. There is something abnormal about his angels; they are too overstated and imaginative for a pharmacy and too much like a pair of dragonflies.

I suggested in the last post they he must have visited Istanbul by about 1910 but the mosaics begin to make me think he had visited while still a student. The C11th image above shows Empress Zoe, the wife of Constantine IX, in what was then the Church of the Holy Wisdom in Constantinople.

Laske was not the only Viennese artist to make use of mosaic. Gustav Klimt incorporated them into his designs for the Palais Stoclet in Brussels, which was built after Laske's designs had been made. What I do think is Laske responded to mosaic in a way that Klimt did not. Byzantine art remains a kind of  lost aspect of European art, anomalous but one of tremendous craftsmanship and tremendous feeling.

Klimt adapted the old technique with verve and imagination but Laske's paintings owe just as much to the example of mosaic but lead off in an other direction, well away from the impressiveness of the great mosaics of Ravenna and Damascus and others like these marvellous apostles at St Michael in Chora in Istanbul. Andreas also mentioned a trip Laske made with Emma Bormann to Sicily and Tunisia organised by the University of Vienna in 1913. I have to assume again that one good reason for going as far as Sicily was to see the mosaics in Palermo and at Monreale. Here he is as a soldier-artist about three years afterwards. Now have a second look at Zoe's eyes and face.



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