Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Still Life (pt. 1)

The Baroque age in art also saw the surge of the Still Life.  A still life is a painting of an arrangement of inanimate objects usually showcased on a tabletop or other flat surface in an enclosed space.  We have all seen paintings like this before and may have thought them simple or even boring enough, but "surely all this is not without meaning."
In this case, the "subject" is whatever is pictured in the image.  The subject of a still life can be a glass cup, a vase of flowers, a book, a skull, or (most popularly) an assortment of objects.  To the untrained eye these items can at first appear random, but as you will see, some still life paintings ambitiously tackle more subject matter, artistic form, color scheme, and picturesque detail than landscapes or historical paintings.
Still lifes—and I distinguish: the plural of "still life" is not "still lives"—can offer a unique blend of genres for both artist and viewer.  By simply painting immobile objects on a stationary table or drawer-top, the artist can have the chance of practicing his trade on something decidedly easier than, say, a portrait, where a live sitter is involved (who coughs, moves, easily becomes bored, and can distract the painter from his duty).  In the case of a still life, the objects are all completely motionless; the artist can take all day, or even a year—it matters not: the objects will still be there.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Dutch Baroque (pt. 12)

This is another painting from a kind of closet view, called The Love Letter.  There are two women in a room: one is a servant, the other is receiving a letter.  The woman with the letter looks at the servant, who smiles back.  A story is being told here in a very creative way.  The paintings on the wall might hint to us that the writer of the letter is away at sea.  The woman's expression implies that it is an important letter being given, and the title denotes a sentimental interpretation of that.  The servant's expression also seems to say that it could be a letter from a lover, and the fact that the lady is playing the lute also demonstrates that she is a romantic woman.  But all of this is seen from afar.  The viewer (that's us) is in a dark closet, but the two women are well-lit in the room in front.  Here, nearly half of the painting is concealed in darkness.  Once again, the black and white tiles on the floor show linear perspective and lead us into the action of that room.  We are drawn to the event taking place, but we remain far away in this private chamber.  Perhaps it was to give us the sensation that what we are seeing is completely real and candid, not prearranged and staged like other portraits of the time.  Perhaps he wanted to go a step further from Hals and display the true human emotions of individuals when they know that no one else is watching.  Why do you think Vermeer chose to paint from this perspective?

Monday, August 5, 2013

Dutch Baroque (pt. 11)

Known to be the artist's own personal favorite of his works, this painting is enigmatically titled The Allegory of Painting, and it is a prime example of Vermeer's stylistic approach towards painting.  The room is the main attraction, with dramatic lighting coming from a window on the left-hand side, allowing the viewer to begin with light and read over, from left to right, the images to follow (the painter of which is last).  Props in the room such as chairs, tables, tapestries, books, cloths, a mask, and an overhanging chandelier create an interest in the viewer towards this mysterious setting.  The tiles on the floor further act to bring us into the painting because of their stark three-dimensionality.  The tiles represent textbook one-point linear perspective (which we learned about in the Renaissance).
The intriguing aspect of this painting is of course its elusive title.  We see a woman posing in Greek literary attire for the portrait artist, whose back is turned to the viewer.  We can see neither his face nor much of the painting he has begun.  Also, where are the paints?  The artist has no palate.  Is he, then, really painting?  What is actually going on?  Taking a step back—which the perspective of this distant work is quite a few steps back—we cannot ignore the draping tapestry that covers almost a third of the painting.  It has been pulled back, almost as if the audience were secretly peering into a private chamber from behind the curtain.  Some hidden reality, some deeper truth is being shown here by the curtain being pulled back, and the riddle goes unanswered.