Chatoyant Skies

Chatoyancy is the term used to refer to the cat’s eye effect that occurs when a fibrous mineral or fibrous inclusions line up parallel to one another and create that famous shimmer. (It comes from the French for cat’s eye.) More generally it can be used to refer to that sort of shimmer and texture, even if it doesn’t create the classic cat’s eye effect.

As chrysocolla reminds me of Claude Monet, blue pietersite is a chatoyant stone that reminds me of El Greco.

Pietersite is breccia aggregate of hawk’s eye and/or tiger’s eye. (It’s chemical makeup is silicon dioxide.)

Those stones are created when silica replaces crocidolite (blue asbestos-sodium iron silicate), a fibrous mineral. Hawk’s eye is when the quartz replaces the crocidolite directly and the rich gold and browns of tiger’s eye occurs when some of the crocidolite has decomposed into iron oxide before the silica replacement happens.

Basically pietersite is hawk or tiger’s eye that’s been broken apart and twisted and generally mangled then squashed back together again. This gives each stone a unique patterning and coloration. Melding swirls, chunks of very different colors all together, a gentle variegation of shades, different angles of chatoyancy in the same color scheme– all in the rich gold and brown and red of iron oxide ranging to sleek grey and steel blues. The one of a kind nature makes for an addictive gemstone-each piece tells its own story.

The pieces with the blue and steel shimmer remind me of El Greco’s moody skies.

El Greco (1541-1614), Domenikos Theotokopoulos, was a Greek-Spanish painter. He was born on the island of Crete (then owned by Venice) studied in Italy, and spent his career in Spain. His time in Crete and Italy appears to have given a slightly Byzantine fascination with color and a feel for mannerist elongated forms.

He moved to Toledo with hopes of becoming a court painter and moving to the capital. He did get two commissions from King Philip, but the king wasn’t satisfied with the paintings and gave him no further commissions. So El Greco settled in Toledo.

His View of Toledo is one of my favorite paintings. The broody ambiance and deceptively simple perspective always intrigues me. Yet there’s something refreshing in the colors. Like a slightly raw breeze after a muggy day.

The Burial of the Count of Orgaz is a beautiful example of the elegance of his elongated figures, his skill at portraiture and shows off how well he handles the complexity of composition.

Sometimes there is a surreal edge to his paintings that makes for an interesting counterpoint to the almost hyperrealism that some of his Spanish Renaissance contemporaries espoused. (Juan Sanchez Cotan and Francisco de Zurbaran are my favorites in that category.)

El Greco’s painting of Laocoon is a great example of his taking the fluid and elongated figures to  nightmarish extremes. (And of a lighter but still tempestuous sky.) It’s inspired by a story from the Aeneid: Laocoon is a Trojan priest who tries to warn his people against taking in the wooden horse that the Greeks left behind. For his pains the vengeful gods send sea serpents to strangle him and his sons and frighten the Trojans into accepting the horse.

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3 Comments

Filed under Art, Gems

3 responses to “Chatoyant Skies

    • Thank you. I took an art history class on Spanish art, he was one of my favorites. (Though one of my classmates did a project on the Laocoon and kept mispronouncing the name and it drove me *nuts.* Which is a short trip, I will admit.)

  1. Pingback: Brecciated Backgrounds « Magpie's Miscellany

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