Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Mannerism (pt. 1)

When Raphael painted the Alba Madonna c. 1510, Italy was at peace in theocracy, but in just a few decades the religious unity of Western Christendom was shattered.  The Protestant Reformation, led by Martin Luther, officially began in 1517 with the publication of Luther's 95 Theses.  The tension, unrest, and disorder in Rome led to an art style known as Mannerism, which was a deliberate revolt by artists against the goals of the Renaissance.  Mannerism tried to achieve imbalance and restlessness.  Humans had impossible poses and looked supernaturally graceful.  The quintessential example of this is Parmigianino's Madonna with the Long Neck, painted around 1535 (yeah, that's its real title).
The Madonna is enormous and looks calm even though her Child is about to fall.  Christ's proportions are unnatural, and He looks quite pale with His arms spread in the position of crucifixion.  The crowd on the left seems uninterested in the baby Jesus, and Mary herself seems unconcerned with Christ (perhaps a critique of the church for its increasing worldliness).  The background of the painting is quite confusing.  Is the setting interior or exterior?  (It would appear to be both).  The background on the right is spacious, whereas the foreground is crowded.  The man in the background holding the scroll is unidentified.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Northern European Renaissance (pt. 15)

Henry VIII, as you know, is somewhat infamous for having many wives (six).  After his third wife died, the king was in search for a bride and was considering Anne of Cleaves, a German noblewoman.  The king asked Holbein to paint a portrait of Anne to bring back to him and show him whether or not she was beautiful enough to be his bride.  Sir Thomas Cromwell, the king's chief minister, instructed Holbein to paint a beautiful portrait of Anne because her marriage to the king was desired; yet Holbein also had to paint Anne as realistically as possible, for such were the king's orders.
When the artist visited the Lady Anne, she turned out to be dull, plain, and uneducated.  And so Hans Holbein was faced with a challenge: he had to paint Anne as beautiful but also had to show her plainness to the king.  The finished product...
Henry VIII married Anne but soon became enraged by her dull character, and the two were divorced only months later.  The artist, however, was never punished.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Northern European Renaissance (pt. 14)

During this time we also see more expertise in the area of optical illusion.  This totally random painting by Hans Holbein (the Younger), called The Ambassadors, features such an illusion.
Okay, here's what you got to do: turn your computer monitor to the left, so that you're looking at it sideways from the far right end.  Now, look at the bottom of the painting from that side view.  (Oooh!  Creepy, isn't it!)  So, by their attire and by objects placed on the table between them, we surmise that these are two wealthy, educated men of considerable knowledge and talent.  But the hidden message is...they, too, will die.  (This kind of theme will come back in just a little bit).
Hans Holbein also painted this portrait of Edward the VI as a Child.
It was a New Year's gift in 1539 to King Henry VIII (Edward was the king's 14-month old son and heir).  The child looks very dignified, doesn't he?  He's ready to rule.  Actually, he was crowned king at the age of nine, and he died of illness at age fifteen.  The text below him is a Latin verse commending virtue.  Can anybody read it?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Northern European Renaissance (pt. 13)

Rogier van der Weyden is another key name of the Northern European Renaissance.  He, like so many others, usually painted images with religious themes.  Here is his Descent from the Cross panel.
This, like Giotto's Pietà, almost looks like a stage picture from a play; each character strikes a different pose and indicates an expression of sorrow over the death of Christ.  Mary's and Jesus' pose are identical, each of their bodies curving in an "S" shape.  Mary's and Christ's hands almost touch but do not—like Michelangelo's Creation of Adam, except no effort is being put forth here because one character is dead and the other passed out unconscious.  Mary's other hand rests next to a skull.
Van der Weyden also specialized in portraits.  Here is his Portrait of a Lady, which displays the ideal submissive woman of the time.  Once again, this is propaganda.
There is very little color or excitement in this painting, eh?  This woman does not wear much jewelry (an indication that she is humble), and yet the belt buckle and ring at the bottom indicate that she is wealthy.  She wears mournful black and pure white.  She looks down submissively.  Her hands are folded together.  This is all propaganda for this woman, what would have been intended as an advertisement for her to possible suitors.  Would you want to marry this woman?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Northern European Renaissance (pt. 12)

Around the same time as the Peasant Wedding, Bruegel also painted an expressly religious painting called the Parable of the Blind, an allegorical painting showing five blind beggars walking in a line toward a pit, where the sixth beggar has already fallen.
The painting alludes to the biblical parable by using symbolism.  The pathway represents the road to eternal suffering, at the end of which lies a ditch (Hell).  The blind follow their blind guide and are doomed to make the same error when he falls into the pit.  A church is seen in the distance, the spire framed by two trees, but the blind have gone their own way.  The second man even wears a cross necklace, but he will fall too (not even the pious can save themselves).
Bruegel painted each of the blind men accurately for a more lifelike appearance—each of their faces communicates a different emotion, from confusion to fear.  Bruegel also made a study of vision impairments before painting this, and you'll notice that each man in the Parable of the Blind has a specific form of blindness.  He wanted to paint it as accurately and realistically as possible.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Northern European Renaissance (pt. 11)

I said there was an elevation of the middle class during this time.  We see it again with this painting by Pieter Bruegel called the Peasant Wedding, which shows just that.
There is absolutely nothing religious about this painting; it is a scene from everyday life (like Anguissola's Game of Chess).  What's more, this isn't even a painting of aristocrats or rulers; it's a painting of a group of lowly peasants feasting on pies and ale.  No Madonna, no Child, no host of angels; it's just a bunch of unnamed peasants.  This is Realism—not just the realistic style of making figures that look lifelike, but the entire concept of Realism, that art form attempting to present all aspects of life accurately.  Slowly, art will move away from the religious (though never entirely).

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Northern European Renaissance (pt. 10)

This is the Portinari Altarpiece by Hugo van der Goes.
This time the patrons appear on both left and right panels, surrounding the characters of the center panel, which shows the nativity.  A number of angels surround the baby Jesus.  Mary is wearing blue this time; she makes a heart shape with her hands.  Columbine flowers are at the bottom of the painting (they are a symbol for Mary, though I don't know why).  There is both a bull and a donkey in the stable to the left, the first looking ahead at the historic birth of Christ, the second not even minding it—showing that both the righteous man (bull) and the ass (donkey) can claim to be "near" to God.  Even so, in this painting there are both heavenly angels and lowly shepherds present to see Christ born, but van der Goes does not show the shepherds in a negative light like the donkey.  In fact, the shepherds are the liveliest bunch of the whole party, clapping their hands, smiling, and showing the most personality.  The faith of the lowly shepherds would seem to be the most vivacious ("blessed are the poor in spirit").

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Northern European Renaissance (pt. 9)

Dürer was a German artist who went to Italy to study the work of the Renaissance artists there.  He studied perspective and the theory of proportions.  He became most famous for his engraved images in metal plates via intaglio printmaking, which is a process in which ink is forced to fill lines cut into metal surface.  His famous work of the Knight, Death, and the Devil is an engraving made in 1513.
The figures in this picture are reminiscent of the strange creatures in Northern Gothic paintings, as Dürer liked to combine his own ideas with Renaissance ideas.  It shows a stalwart Christian soldier making his way to the heavenly Jerusalem (which we can see on the hilltop), accompanied by a loyal dog.  Death is the scary old man holding up the hourglass (indicating that his time is running out), and the Devil is a weird, almost silly-looking animal-like thing (Dürer here makes fun of Satan).
Dürer also made woodcuts—prints made from a design raised in relief on a wooden block.  The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a woodcut which he engraved.
This image was inspired by Revelation 6:1-8, where the Apostle John describes four horsemen to come during the End Times.  (From closest to farthest in the engraving I list them).  The rider on a sickly, pale horse is death; the rider holding a set of scales (weights) on a black horse is plague and famine; the rider carrying a sword on a red horse is war; the rider on a white horse is conquest (though Dürer makes a mistake in that in the biblical account the rider has a bow but no arrow).

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Northern European Renaissance (pt. 8)

Though Italy had become the essential place for Renaissance art, the monarchs in Europe helped to spread the Renaissance style, and artists moved around and spread their ideas.  German Renaissance artists include Matthias Grünewald and Albrecht Dürer.
Grünewald preferred the dreams and visions of Gothic art.  His painting The Small Crucifixion provided a visual sermon.  It shows the agony and pain of Christ's death.  Christ's body is sickly yellow against a black backdrop.  The whole painting expresses intense pain and sorrow.  Some people were said to have fainted upon seeing it.