PART ONE / PROJECT 1: EXPLORING THE FIELD
into Pre Modern Art
My research for this first project based on the Pre Modern Timeline has lead me from initial scanning through art books, to watching art history videos, visits to my local museum, The Israel Museum here in Jerusalem and back to YouTube.
My main source of information to gain an overview of the history and the art work has been Otis Art History Videos, produced and narrated by Dr Jeanne S. M. Willette from Otis College, California. While the videos are, as such, a secondary source of information, I felt they were sufficiently unbiased in giving a good outline and back drop of the various periods and movements in the art history of the epoch and enough for me to create copious pages of notes in my sketch book.
I intend to cover, briefly, what I learnt/discovered about some of the periods in the timeline and then focus in more detail on some work that resonates more with me.
Prehistoric cave painting fascinating, the forms, colours, pigments used. The suggestion of movement and weight in the drawing of animals and figures was quite sophisticated. Probably created by artisans employed in a variety of disciplines within nomadic communities.
Beginning of writing-hieroglyphics. In Egypt much art like hieroglyphics. Culture of death and after life. In painting and sculpture, figures show no emotion. There is no concept as the individual artist.
With the Greeks there was a shift from the archaic, the Egypt symbolic. Human centered society dominated the arts – a close observation of nature. A desire to create beauty with the human form. Man — the measure of all things but the Greeks equated humans as gods. When the Romans conquered the Greeks they removed Greek art from its original social and Religious context. Greek and Roman cultures had different needs — the Greeks favoured idealism, the Romans, realism and function.
It took hundreds of years for the art to move from the catacombs to official recognition in society. Although Christian religious expression was new, the culture it emerged from still used Roman forms. Existing and new decorative art forms used in service of religion.
Concepts of the Medieval culture seemed to be exhausted and new approach to painting and sculpture began to emerge. There was a revival of Classicism. Artists and patrons saw no distinction between art and craft.
Throughout this period there was a renewed interest in realism and classicism. There was the concept of Renaissance Man, the person of many skills and achievements. Brunelleschi was a significant figure. He made small scale sculptures as well as being a major architect. He developed the concept of perspective which was considered a science. Artists continued to work in the service of Church and State but increasingly finding more autonomy with their work projects.
There was a gradual rejection of the prevalent Renaissance style. While High Renaissance art emphasised proportion, balance and ideal beauty, Mannerist artists such as El Greco distorted and elongated elements in their work. Often the use of colour was bolder and compositions more asymmetrical.
Defined in terms of a general style it contrasts with Classicism. Light sources are specific and focussed while other areas are obscured and vague as in the work of Caravaggio. With Rubins, we see dynamic compositions and vivid colours. The Baroque style was eventually adopted in Northern Europe, the shift of influence moving to France and Holland. In France King Louise 14th would begin to change the way art was practised when he established the French Royal Academy resulting with the separation of the fine arts from the crafts.
The style can be seen as an extension and elaboration of Baroque with its curvilinear forms, decoration, soft pastel colours and soft brushstrokes. It was dismissed by many for wallowing in the erotic but popular with the idle aristocracy.
There was a renewed interest in a pure and reduced form of Classicism fueled by the discovery of Pompeii and the Elgen Marbles from the Parthenon. The head of the newly established Royal Academy of Art in London, Joshua Reynolds, also adhered to the same. The French Revolution and the philosophy of art-for-arts-sake converged at about the same time. The French Royal Academy, in particular, would become a battle ground for artistic quarrels — the artist had to choose between the rules of the Academy and new ideas of artistic freedom.
VISIT TO LOCAL ART MUSEUM
I paid a visit to my local Museum, The Israel Museum, to see what I could find of interest relating to the Timeline. The images below grabbed my attention for potential exploration for the next project. The historical paintings are from the Baroque period. I find the sense of movement, colour, dark/light contrast, interesting motifs in communicating the narrative of the paintings. The painting ‘St. Peter in Prison’ is the only Rembrandt in the Museum collection. The landscape by Corot I liked a lot. He uses a narrow tonal range to create the required atmosphere. I have done some charcoal landscape sketches in the past in a similar vein, though not quite up to this quality!
GIOTTO AND THE ‘LAMENTATION’ FRESCO
I want to give a little more attention to the artist Giotto (1267 – 1370) and the Lamentation fresco, one of many commissioned by the Scrovegni family for the Arena Chapel attached to a Palace in Padua, Italy, c1305. The frescos depict the life of Christ from birth to resurrection and I may use some of this research for further practical work in the next project.
Giotto was born into a profoundly changing world and he eventually became a very influential figure for many artists in the new emerging Renaissance period.
He was apprenticed to the well known artist Chimabue at the age of twelve in Florence. His apprenticeship could have lasted up to ten years, his early work probably involved grinding pigments for paint and making frames for altar pieces. Later, Giotto would have been taught to paint stories or narratives according to a strict set of rules, copying from pattern books.
Much later on, Giotto joined Chimabue and his workshop in Assisi where St. Frances lived, working on frescos at a church attached to a monastery there. Many lessons and ideas that emerged from this cycle of work are those developed by Giotto for the rest of his career.
Giotto returned to Florence and set up his own workshop, receiving many new commissions while continuing to experiment with paint techniques and pigments.
The series of frescos at the Arena Chapel are some of Giotto’s most famous and well known work. Giotto is a great story teller. The role of the artist/artisan was still very much that of educating/informing. In this Lamentation painting Giotto combines all his compositional, technical skill and knowledge to tell the “story” of the crucified Christ figure, removed from the Cross, being lamented by his mother and followers. Everything in the composition directs the eye to the faces of Jesus and Mary and the pathos of the moment. From the diagonal line of the boulder, the gaze of all the characters in the scene including the angels and even the unseen gaze of the two figures, (bottom left). The two main characters are not placed in the centre but near bottom left and the background is simplified. There is a correlation with another image in the fresco cycle, The Nativity, where, again,there is a similar intimacy between mother and son, with Mary holding Jesus on her lap.
There is a solitary tree, while looking dead, would grow it’s leaves and fruit again, an analogy to the new life of the Resurrection. And there is the figure of Mary Magdalene at Jesus feet, she, who at an earlier point in the biblical narrative had anointed Jesus feet with oil.
This fresco is typical of a shift away from the conventions of the day, the medieval styles that now seemed somewhat exhausted. With the depiction of the angels, there is a sense of foreshortening and with the two figures at bottom left, focused on Jesus, there is an illusion of space, of looking into the scene. The figure, (bottom right) shown on solid ground again reveals the shift away from the flat, floating images of the conventional painting of the day.
STYLE AND TECHNIQUE
Giotto’s earlier work and probably this fresco was painted on still wet plaster. The colours are somewhat muted but also semi translucent. He experimented with tighter than normal brush strokes to create more realistic looking figures. In his middle years, Giotto painted in a solid more classical way. The subjects in his compositions are placed in such a way the viewer appears to have a place in the painting. In his latter years Giotto’s works showed more masterful use of perspective and greater use of the technique of chiaroscuro.
REFLECTIONS FROM STUDY
This research has been interesting and illuminating as there were large gaps in my knowledge within this epoch, for example, the Minoan art of Crete and the Ravenna Mosaics. It’s also been frustrating as the epoch is a vast period and I spent too much time in the history rather than concentrating as much on areas of style and technique that could have been explored more for the next project. I intended to
explore in more detail the work of Rembrandt, Poussin and possibly Piero della Francesca but I ran out of time with my deadline.
I discovered areas of interest, such as the simplicity, also accuracy of observation in prehistoric and cave art, the merging of hieroglyphics and images in Egyptian wall painting and the dramatic compositions and use of chiaroscuro in Carravagio’s work.
I also discovered how certain historic artists resonate in the work of more contemporary artists, not necessarily in style but in the emotion conveyed, such as Rembrandt with artists such as Ken Payne (1) and, from the last century, Kathe Kollwitz. (2) Again, a number of artists, Leon Kossoff (3) and Cecily Brown (4) come to mind, have engaged with historical artworks as a source of inspiration in their own work.
Now — time to get the paints out again!
Notes and Research
Barry Sir G. (ed), Bronowski Dr. J. (ed), Fisher J. (ed), Huxley Sir J. (ed), (1964)
Man The Artist, His Creative Imagination, London, Macdonald & Co.
Lynton N. (1981), Looking At Art, London, Kingfisher Books Ltd.
Lowis K, Pickeral T, (2009), 50 Paintings You Should Know, Munich, Prestel Publishing Ltd.
Steinburg S. (2009), The Allure of the Sphinx, Ancient Egypt in European Art,
Jerusalem, Israel Museum Publication.
Zalmona Y. (2009), Nicolas Pousin, A Rediscovered Masterpiece, Jerusalem,
Israel Museum Publication.
Rembrandt, (2005), Capital Interactive.
Otis Art History Videos, Otis College of Art & Design, Produced and Narrated by Dr Jeanne
S. M. Willette.
Giotto, Arena (Scrovegni) Chapel, Lamentation, Smart History, Khan Academy, Art History
Videos and Essays.
Great Artists – Giotto, Art Doc Video, narrated by Jim Marbus.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Image 1 Prehistoric painting, Lascaux Caves, Dordogne.
Image 2 Tomb of Horemheb & Horus, Egypt.
Image 3 Marble Statue of the Diadoumenos, Attributed to Polykleitos Period.
Image 4 Etruscan Couple, 70-79 AD, Wall Painting, Roman.
Image 5 Christ Healing the Bleeding Woman.
Photo from Catacombs of Rome, Public Domain.
Image 6 Ravenna Mosaic, S.Apollinare Nuro.
Image 7 Ravenna Mosaic, Emlia Romagna.
Image 8 The Pastrana Tapestries – Portuguese Expedition to North Africa, (detail).
Image 9 Parmagianino, Madonna of the Long Neck, 1534 – 1540.
Image 10 El Greco, (1541-1614), The Repentant Peter, c1600, Phillips collection,
Image 11 Nicolas Poussin, Dance to the Music of Time, c1638, Wallace Collection,
Image 12 Carravagio, The Conversion of St. Paul, 1601, p.67
Lambert G. (2004), Carravagio, Koln, Tachen.
Image 13 Boucher, (1703-1770), Rinaldo and Armida, 1734, Louvre Museum
Image 14 Ingres, The Apotheosis of Homer, 1827, Louvre Museum Collection.
Image 15 Gainsborough, Figures with Cattle in Landscape.
Image 16 Paolo de Matteis, (1662-1728), The Song of Miriam,
Copy of original by Luca Giordarm, Israel Museum Collection.
Image 17 Detail of the above painting.
Image 18 Jean Baptiste Camille Corot (1796-1875), The Town of Avray, by the River,
Israel Museum Collection.
Image 19 Rembrandt, St. Peter in Prison, 1631, Israel Museum Collection.
Image 20 Nicolas Poussin, Destruction and Sack of the Temple of Jerusalem, 1625-26,
Israel Museum Collection.
Image 21 Detail of the above painting.
Image 22 Jusepe de Ribera, The Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew, 1618,
Israel Museum Collection.
Image 23 Giotto, Lamentation, c1303-1306, Fresco, Lowis K, Pickeral T, (2009), 50
Paintings You Should Know, p. 25, Munich, Prestel Publishing Ltd.
Image 24 Details from above Fresco.
1. Ken Payne, represented by Linda Blackstone Gallery, biography at,
2. Kathe Kollwitz
3. Between 1995 and 1999 Leon Kossoff immersed himself in the work of
Nicolas Poussin, more info from,
Drawn to Painting: Leon Kossoff Drawings and Prints After Nicolas Poussin
4. Cecily Brown