The French term Renaissance emerged in the 19th century and was used to describe an entire period of rebirth, occurring between the 14th and 17th centuries. Artists of this time looked back to those before them while incorporating a greater sense of light and color through new mediums. Creating a sense of space was also a major innovation of the time, as was perspective, a clever device that causes your eye to see in three-dimension. Art during the Renaissance was mostly made for commissions or religious reasons. Baxandall points out that by the end of the 15th century, contracts concerning commissions specified that most of the painting must be done by the masters’ hand. It was the work of the master that brought with it the most money and prestige.
The Renaissance proved to be a time of great transformation of the artist as they came to occupy a different place in society, for art was becoming more than just a craft. Renaissance society was dominated by guilds, which represented the important trades in the city. All were connected to a patron saint and each looked out for their fellow members, ensuring that all had a job and a decent income. Workshops were also abundant, where a master paid to take on an apprentice to teach practical skills in the field.
Giorgio Vasari is a very important
man for anyone studying the Renaissance for he provides much information
about most artists in “The Lives of the Most Excellent Sculptors, Painters
and Architects” published in 1550.Vasari gives us an image of the middle
ages where at the end of darkness comes light, the light being the Renaissance.
He breaks down this time period into three major parts, saying that the
14th century was a period of infancy (and the works of Giotto), the 15th
century a period of adolescence (and the works of Masaccio), and the 16th
century as a period of maturity (and the works of da Vinci). It is these
artists that light the way out darkness.
Giotto, The Visitation
Giotto's makes an attempt to show
perspective in The Visitation. The colors used as well as the unified
light source show that much thought was put into making this painting work
as a whole. The facial expressions of the figures reflect their inner feelings,
and the attention to their clothing show the effect of light and shade.
Masaccio. Tribute Money Brancacci Chapel, Church of Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence 1427
The subject matter of Masaccio's
Money is played out in a continuous narrative where the atmospheric
perspective including the spaciousness and depth of the landscape as well
as the unified light source play an important role. Masaccio leads us through
the space by having us follow Peter through the interweaving of arms. He
uses oppositional colors and heavily modeled drapery to represent light
and shade. It is through the lines and perspective as well as gestures
of the figures and their facial expressions that tell us the story that
Masaccio paints for us.
Leonardo da Vinci. The Last Supper Santa Maria della Grazie, Milan, late 15th
Leonardo clearly understands linear perspective as well as the importance of light as the unified light source in the painting is related to the real light source. Christ sits in the middle with his arms spread out in a pyramid shape, symbolizing stability, equality, and permanance. The apostles around him are grouped in threes which gives a balance to the whole and maintains a sense of visual unity. Gestures and colors link one group to the next and allow the narrative to flow. Facial expressions of each figure are very individual allowing the viewer to follow the story.
In terms of expression in Renaissance art, it is important to remember that this was a time when art was being brought back to life. An excellent primary source from the 15th century is the voice of Leon Battista Alberti. In his treatise, On Painting (1435-6), Alberti deems the istoria or history painting, as "the painter's greatest work". Istorias "take their themes from classical literature" and religious sources, "and gain emotional power by representing a number of people reacting to the central event portrayed". Alberti supports the expressiveness of the figure when he says "the istoria will move the soul of the beholder when each man painted there clearly shows the movement of his own soul: we weep with the weeping, laugh with the laughing, and grieve with the grieving. These movements of the soul are made known by movements of the body" (trans.,p.77).
In his treatise On Painting, he uses many ancient sources and speaks of the expressive nature of art during that time. Alberti was a Florentine whose family was exiled for having the wrong political view. After they were reinstated, Alberti went back to Florence to find that many changes had occurred in terms of art. He set out to write about this change and his treatise On Painting came to be the first theory of art. Dedicated to Brunelleschi, On Painting breaks down the visible world into its basic forms: line, shape, color, space and texture. Alberti refines ideas that have already been formulated and lays out a guideline for painters to follow. He was very concerned with perspective and proportion, and spends much time describing in detail the correct way to set up a composition and figures. He says that viewers will be moved by the clearly demonstrated feelings of the figures that are portrayed through the movements of the body. Because this expression is so important, painters must know about all movements of the body, and how to reflect the precise emotion of the figure without confusing the viewer. Alberti believes that nature plays a great role as it is from nature that these emotions come.
Alberti acknowledges that movements of the mind are a real challenge but the artist must be able to convey them. These include anger, grief, joy, fear, desire and so on. He then begins a detailed discussion on specific movements of the body in terms of positioning. He says that there are seven positional changes that an artist must include in a painting: up, down, right, left, going away, coming to, and going around in a circle. Alberti is very specific in his description of how these movements should work together within the painting and with the viewer. In order to make this more clear to us, Alberti discusses the attitude of the movements of the limbs, beginning with his observation that "in every attitude a man positions his whole body beneath his head, which is the heaviest member of all". Then if he rests his weight on one foot, it will be directly beneath his head, like a column, and the direction of the foot will parallel the direction that the face is turned.
Alberti moves on to balance between the placement of weight and other limbs, and discusses more observations that he has made about various positioning and placement of the body. He notices that the movements of the legs and arms are more free than movements of the rest of the body and when they are in action they do not interfere with the rest of the body. He goes even further to discuss the movement of inanimate objects such as hair and branches that add to the movement of the work. Alberti seems to understand the importance of movement in terms of expression as he has spent a great deal of time observing and studying the matter.
you think Alberti is correct in his assumptions and observations of expression?
Do you agree that Renaissance artists accurately portrayed and reflected
the inner emotions and feelings of the figures and subjects of their works?
Baroque art is generally associated
with the 17th century. Characterized by a focus on asymmetry, mass and
space, Baroque art also uses light and color in a new, dramatic way. While
in the 16th century there was a balance between the part and the whole,
now there is a sense of unity, where the part is submerged in the whole.
Art theory develops during this time, initially in Italy, and promotes
ideas of order and organization as well as instinctive immediate emotions.
Caravaggio, Entombment, Vittrice Chapel, Church of Santa Maria in Vallicella, Rome, 1603
Caravaggio places the viewer in
the middle of the action in this early 17th century painting. Everything
is taking place on the front plane so there is no depth to explore. However,
the motion in the process is quite clear and when completed it will be
in the viewer's space. There is a great sense of immediacy emphasized by
the position of the bodies and the realistic treatment of the subject matter.
The expressions on each figure's face signifies the emotional factor of
the event, and it seems as though Caravaggio wanted the audience to feel
that same emotion.
Jan Vermeer, Woman Holding a Balance, 1664
This Dutch Baroque painting by Vermeer exhibits calmness and quiet, as the woman expresses a state of deep meditation. The Last Judgment hangs on the wall behind her, adding a somewhat spiritual quality to the whole scene. Horizontal and vertical lines as well as ideas of vanity and spirituality balance Vermeer's composition. The scale in the woman's hand is also perfectly balanced, and the entire painting reflects the expressiveness of her.
Article One: John Rupert Martin spends an entire chapter in his book Baroque on forms of expression in the 17th century. Entitled "The Passions of the Soul", Martin begins by discussing the new emphasis placed on "the portrayal of the inner life of man", "through gesture and facial" expressions. He acknowledges Alberti and Leonardo, two painters of the past who as we know saw expression as of "fundamental importance to the history painter". While Renaissance artists began this quest to bring out the inner emotions of the figure, Martin says that Baroque artists had an "urge to expand the range of sensual experience and to deepen and intensify the interpretation of feelings".
Martin moves into 'The Expression of Feelings and States of Mind' and discusses how early 17th century painters sought "lively and spontaneous emotions" like Rembrandt's self-portrait of 1630.
Rembrandt, Self-Portrait, 1630
Bernini's David is an example of what came out of such early experiments in expression. The intesity of the emotion portrayed here is really what characterizes this new Baroque form.
Gianlorenzo Bernini, David, 1623
Bernini captures the sense of the momentary through the expressive quality of this instantaneous split second. David's massive muscular body portrays a sense of drama and it is obvious that we are seeing a moment in an on going and active narrative. He is in full concentration, complete with a furrowed brow and pursed lips. Bernini's handling of the marble is quite ingenius for the hair, smoothness of flesh, and texture of armour make the scene very real. As was true in Renaissance art, David's bodily movements and facial expression reflect his own inner emotions and feelings, not those of Bernini.
Martin also tells us that the subject of love is quite abundant in Baroque art through scenes of classical mythology, the Old Testament and representations of actual life. Gestures and facial expressions are once again the signifiers of the emotions in these works. In his painting, St. Roch Distributing Alms, 1594-5, Annibale Carracci meets the necessary requirements of a Baroque history painting. Full of figures who represent all ages and states, the composition is well balanced, representative of all emotions and "a perfect action of natural movements".
Rubens, The Miracles of St. Francis Xavier, Jesuit Church in Antwerp, 1616-17
Great energy, passion and emotion overpower the figures and viewers in Rubens The Miracles of St. Francis Xavier. We learn from Rubens' notes that he took time to study the different passions and actions of the figures in the scene, sketching battles and passions in detail before beginning this painting. The intense movement of the composition and figures are enhanced further by the emotions seen on the faces of the sufferers, forcing us as the viewer to feel for them and understand their pain.
Martin asks us to consider the psychological interpretation of inner emotions and passions that Baroque artists were interested in. He touches on a treatise written by Descartes in 1649 on this subject, providing examples of works that were most likely influenced by it. In The Queens of Persia at the feet of Alexander, 1660-1, LeBrun attempts the impossible by making "visible through the actions of the prince not only his youth, gentleness, valour and the like, but four different and concurrent affections: compassion, clemency, friendship, and civility". The task of clearly representing this wide range of passion shows the artists' deep understanding of the importance of exhibiting emotion and passion as well as the process of doing so.
Great portraits of the 17th century
truly capture the personality of the person through facial expression.
Martin claims "whether rich or poor, that the Baroque artist was able to
penetrate the mask of mere outward appearance". In most there is a sense
of immediacy and the individual's emotion and state of mind is captured
quite accurately. In Bernini's bust of Costanza Buonarelli the "young woman's
sensual vitality is almost overpowering" as in Rembrandt's Jan Six
we understand this man to be "wrapped in thought" as "the subtle play of
light and shade round the face" evokes "a mysterious aura of consciousness".
Bernini, Constanza Buonarelli, 1635-6
Rembrandt, Jan Six, 1654
Martin continues on with the subjects of vision and ecstasy and the key role that facial expression and bodily position and movement play in capturing such deep emotion. Both religious and mythological subject matters are used to represent ecstasy. Martin moves into the role of martyrdom at the time, as it was this subject that "became from the first moments of the Baroque a vehicle for the portrayal of extreme states of feeling". While Christ was obviously a popular subject, other saints were also used. In terms of Baroque architecture, Martin tells us that churches were built to persuade one to enter and then to move them so deeply as to "produce an even more intense emotional response in the observer". Monumental structures left open provocative spaces, projecting forms and eye catching marble reliefs, gilt stuccoes and frescoes, giving an overall sense of majesty and invitation.
Questions: Is Martin's title,
"The Passions of the Soul" an accurate description of the subject matter
included in the chapter? Does he support his argument that Baroque artists
portrayed the inner life of man through the exaggeration of the Renaissance
concept of gesture and facial expression? Is it really possible to fully
understand and feel the deep inner passion of the figures portrayed at
this time? Are some artists more skilled in this area than others?
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