GRA 102 - LESSON II.pdf - GRA 102 u2013 HISTORY OF ART II...

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Unformatted text preview: GRA 102 – HISTORY OF ART II LESSON II • Gothic artists did not know that they were Gothic or even medieval but the Renaissance artist was well aware that he was different. No previous movement in Western art has been so self-conscious. • The whole idea of a Renaissance or ‘rebirth’ of Classical culture, with dark Middle Ages intervening between it and the fall of the Roman Empire, was largely a myth propagated in the late 14th and 15th centuries by Italian Classical scholars. • ‘When darkness breaks, the generations to come may contrive to find their way back to the splendor of the ancient past’ wrote poet Petrarch. • In fact, as we have seen, the Classical heritage survived throughout the Middle Ages. Greek as well as Latin literature continued to be read. There were many medieval artists who were neither blind to the beauty of Classical art nor indifferent to Classical legends and history. • But humanists of Renaissance differed from medieval theologians and others who has studied Aristotle, Cicero and the Neoplatonists. • The humanists found in Classical antiquity absolute standards by which cultural and all human activities could be judged. They created or re-erected a structure of values different from that on which medieval ideals of chivalry and nobility were based. • Humanism was nurtured in Italian city-states, which could trace their history back to ancient Roman times and with their republican governments, epitomized the new ideals of self-reliance and civic virtue. • The growth and spread of humanism is pre-eminent in the intellectual history of 15th century but its relationship with the visual arts is complex and ambiguous. Although humanists were not initially anti-clerical, still less anti-Christian, they were preoccupied by problems of the here and now rather than of the hereafter. • The visual arts remained largely religious both in Italy and northern Europe. For 15th century was the golden age of Flemish as well as Florentine painting and only towards its end did Italian painting require international prestige. • The Beginnings of the Italian Renaissance • The Pazzi Chapel in Florence (left below) and the choir of St. Lorenz in Nuremberg (right below), although belonging to different centuries and worlds are almost contemporary. The architects of St. Lorenz developed the High Gothic style to create a space of great complexity and apparent freedom. Although the plan is symmetrical and mathematically determined, a series of subtly differing patterns of lines soaring to the intricate tracery of the vault is presented from every viewpoint. • In the Pazzi Chapel, there are no mysterious depths of soaring heights, no sense of the beyond. Space is precisely defined in cubes, half-cubes and hemispheres. Horizontal and vertical axes held in balance and the effect is supremely simple, lucid and static. • It is ascetic and spiritual in its renunciation of superfluous ornament and in its concentration on the purity of geometrical volumes. Simple proportional relationships, mathematically determined and emphasized by the articulation of the walls and even the grid of the inlaid marble floor has metaphysical significance, reflecting the perfection. • Such perfection could, of course, be realized only by an exceptional architect Filipo Brunelleschi (1377-1446). Brunelleschi was the first of a new type of architect, one who has served no apprenticeship in a masons’ lodge. The son of a well-to-do Florentine notary, he was given a liberal education. • Brunelleschi was praised in 15th century both for his engineering skill and his revival of antique architectural forms. Brunelleschi probably went to Rome early and may well have been the first architect or artist since ancient times to go there to study its ancient monuments. • Brunelleschi’s contemporaries credited him with another achievement of equally great and far-reaching effect: the invention of linear perspective. • Various devices has previously been used to suggest distance in pictures and drawings but Brunelleschi worked out a system by which it could be rendered in a scientifically measurable way. • He was the first to realize that if a picture is regarded as a window between the viewer and what he sees, the objects on it can be made to obey the same laws. • The key to his system was lay in the observation that all parallel lines running into space at right angles to the ‘window’ will seem to converge on a central vanishing-point at the viewer’s eye-level. • These lines (orthogonals) provide a geometrical network defining a pictorial space. Brunelleschi demonstrated his system in two paintings. The enthusiasm with which Brunelleschi’s discovery was greeted can hardly be exaggerated. At a stroke, it had raised the art of painting to a science. • It opened the door to the idea of picture as an illusionistic viewpoint. More important, it seemed to impose order on the visible world. • The system of perspective was quickly taken by other artists, notably Masaccio (1401-28), in the fresco of the Holy Trinity. • In a medieval painting, the donors would have been much smaller than the sacred figure. Here they are slightly larger. For with the aid of the new system of perspective Masaccio painted all figures to scale and set them within a single unified space. Thus the tomb is read as a projection into the church and the chapel as a view through the wall. • The chapel with its coffered vault depicted with such care that a measured ground plan can be drawn of it. The perspective system is rather less simple than it may at first appear. • The virgin and the St John are foreshortened to show that they stand beyond the two columns and the Virgin gazes down on the spectator, whose attention she directs with a gesture to the figure of Christ. But the Trinity is depicted from a much higher, literally supernatural viewpoint without any foreshortening. Two levels of reality, temporal and eternal, are thus indicated and in the temporal sphere past and present are visually detached yet spiritually linked with one another and with the world without end. • ‘Progress’ in Sculpture • Mastery of perspective was assumed to evince progress and thus set the new men of the early 15th century apart from their immediate predecessors. • Andrea Pisano (1290-1348), in 1401, invited sculptors to compete in making trial reliefs for a second pairs of doors. • The winner was Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455) who maintained Andrea Pisano’s scheme of 28 gothic quatrefoils enclosing narrative scenes or single figures. He has improved himself on Andrea Pisano and surpass him on what is known as Porta del Paradiso. • In Ghiberti’s second pair of doors the reliefs are fewer, larger and gilded overall. A single scale of proportions is used throughout so that the foreground figures are of the same size in all the scenes. In the two central scenes, he seems to have incorporated buildings, one on a rectangular and the other on a circular plan, just to show how well he could present them. • The work of Sienese sculptor Jacopo della Qurcia (1374-1438) provides an antidote to the Florentine version of the Renaissance. • Hardly affected by Brunelleschi’s rationalization of pictorial space, no more than marginally interested in antique art, della Quercia evolved a new style when in his Gothic niches, his saints seem to be unaware of themselves, so deeply are they immersed in themselves. • A New Style in Flanders • By mid-15th century, Italy and Flanders – the two most densely urbanized areas in Europehad emerged as the two great centers of European art. Although Florence was nominally a republic, while Ghent, Bruges and Ypres, the three leading Flemish cities of the time formed the part of duchy of Burgundy. • While Florentines were working out theories and systematic rules for representation of three-dimensional space, the Flemish discovered linear perspective. This is a fundamental distinction. Despite their lack of interest in antiquity, they made a break with their predecessors. • In Flanders, there had previously been little if any large-scale painting. There were magnificient, richly glowing stained-glass windows. But the great contribution Flemish painters were to make to Western art owed more to the tradition of manuscript illumination. It was in this context that oil painting was developed. • From as early as the 10th century, various oils had been used as media to bind powdered pigments. Not until early in the 15th century and in Flanders, did artists begin to explore the potentialities of pigments mixed with oil in applying translucent films of opaque colours to give an appearance of depth beneath a hard enamel-like surface. • Where as artists who use tempera, which dries in a matter of minutes, were obliged to work quickly across the surface of a panel, piece by swiftly painted piece, those using oil could build up a picture slowly. • This process permitted and encouraged the great precision of detail which is perhaps the most immediately appealing feature of 15th century Flemish painting. • The Flemish artists who developed this technique, which revolutionized the art of painting in Europe, with linear perspective, are shadowy figures. No biographies were written about them not were their works so much as listed by contemporaries. • Only in Italy, an account of Jan Van Eyck (1390-1441) – to whom the invention of ‘oil painting’ was long ascribed- was written at the court of the king of Naples. • The skill of Van Eyck in oil painting was extraordinary. The transparency of the pigments gives his paintings a unique jewel-like quality to which no reproduction can do justice. They seem to emit light from within. • He developed the medium to give palpable solidity to Adam and Eve on the great altarpiece in Ghent Cathedral. These almost disturbingly lifelike figures owe their impact also to his mastery of perspectival foreshortening – they are seen as if from below, the under-side of Adam’s toes being visible and his right foot being stuck out over the edge of the frame. Strikingly naturalistic, they are nevertheless quite influenced by Classical sculpture, to which Italians habitually turned when painting nude figures. • Jan van Eyck also rivalled his Italian contemporaries in rendering space. In the Madonna of Chancellor Rolin, both the volume of the room and the extent view through the triple arches at its end are convincing. The landscape might be so convincing that attempts have been made to identify it. The room might also seem to be in a real building, though the architecture is of a type developed by van Eyck to depict the New Jerusalem. • Jan van Eyck was one of the first great European painters of portraits, descriptive rather than interpretative in their sharp concentration on physical interpretation. • The slightly younger Rogier van der Weyden (1399-1464) approached his sitters with less attention to detail than to general effect. The refinement of his delicate modeling and gently felt contours give to nearly all his sitters an aristocratic air. • The unknown young lady in one of his best portraits is very obviously well born to the tips of her exquisitely manicured fingers. • Her eyes are demurely cast away from our gaze but the fullness of the lips and the tenderness of the delicate clasped hands beautifully convey our nervous sensitivity. She is depicted in the three-quarter view which Rogier van der Weyden and other 15th century Flemish artists preferred. • Jan van Eyck and still more, Rogier van der Weyden set the pattern for north European painting until the first decades of the 16th century. • Architecture in Italy • Palazzo Medici, which set a pattern for Florentine town houses, is sober and severe, even a little forbidding. On the exterior, windows are simple and regular and the design makes its effect largely by very carefully adjusted variations in texture, massive blocks for the ground floor smooth rustication (is a range of masonry techniques used in classical architecture giving visible surfaces a finish texture that contrasts with smooth, squared-block masonry called ashlar) above and a flat wall-surface on top, overshadowed by a massive spreading cornice. • Not that an architect was any less important for a Gothic building that for one in the Renaissance style but in 15th century Florence, the role of the architect underwent a fundamental change due to one man: Leon Battista Alberti (1404-72). • Alberti might be said to have created the ideal image of the complete man of the Renaissance in his own image. Moralist, lawyer, poet, playwright, musician, mathematician, scientist, painter, sculptor, architect and aesthetic theorist, his range was extraordinary and his knowledge profound. No one did more to enhance the status of visual arts and artists. • To him, we owe the basic idea of an all-embracing Renaissance style. In his treatises on painting (1435), on architecture (1452) and on sculpture (1464-70), he developed a rational theory of beauty based on the practice of the ancients and what he called the ‘laws of nature’. • The illegitimate son of a noble family exiled from Florence, Albert was given a classical education. He began to develop an interest in architecture only after joining the Papal civil service in Rome in 1431. • Inspired by antiquity, he evolved a style more massively plastic than that of Brunelleschi and also more archeologically correct. Although his columns are more often used more decoratively rather than structurally, they are always combined with architraves (is the lintel or beam that rests on the capitals of columns), not arches. • One of his greatest achievements was to adopt the elements of the Classical post-and-lintel temple, in which the wall is conceived as no more than a filling between upright supports, to an architecture of walls pierced by openings. • A townscape painted a decade or so later neatly expresses the ideal towards which Italian architects and their patrons aspired. A circular building stands in the centre of a marble-paved piazza surrounded by buildings of varying size and character, yet all designed with the logical geometry as well as the Classical detailing of the early Renaissance style. Order is not so much imposed as accepted in a framework which permits individually so long as it is kept within the limits of decorum. The unkown painter was inspired by Piero della Francesca who worked for Sigismondo Malatesta at Rimini and for his great atagonist Federico de Montefeltro at Urbino. • Sculpture in Italy • Passion for antiquity inspired sculptors as well as architects and none more so than Donatello (Donato Bardi, 1386-1466). He began as an assistant on Ghiberti’s first bronze doors for the Florentine Baptistery and very soon emerged as an independent artist, who revitalized almost every form of sculpture from free-standing monuments to the low-relief. • Because of the cost of materials, a sculptor was necessarily limited to the commissions he received and those for large free-standing figures were rare in early 15th century Italy. So there can be little doubt that Donatello welcomed the commission for a bronze equestrian monument in Padua which gave him a chance to rival the famous antique statue of Marcus Aurelius in Rome. Its subject was to be the condottiere Erasmo da Narni, nicknamed Gattamelata, who died in 1443 after serving the Venetian republic for many years as captain-general of its armies. • In modeling the horse, Donatello seems to have kept in mind that ridden by Marcus Aurelius and also four even earlier bronze horses on the façade od S Marco in Venice, though he gave to his charger a new sense of controlled vigour. • Gattamela wears a Roman breastplate but is otherwise dressed in contemporary costume with a long-sword, armour on his legs and his feet in stirrups. • Donatello made other innovations. The head of Gattamela is not modelled to be seen at eye-level. The features were daringly distorted to make the maximum effect when the statue on its high plinth is seen from the ground. The work is an attempt to surpass antiquity. • In his last reliefs, modelled for the two pulpits in the church of S Lorenzo in Florence, all technical accomplishment was subordinated to the expression of fervently felt religious convictions. There is emotional violence in these profoundly moving scenes from the Passion. They convey a spiritual message with an almost brutally physical realm. • In that of Lamentation, the distraught grief of Christ’s mother and followers is felt only in expressive features and gestures but also in the composition as a whole, in the absence of logic, in the agonized confusion of the group of mourners, in the strange way in which the sharp diagonal of the ladder and the bodies of the two thieves are severed by the frame. • This frieze is largely by Donatello’s pupil and assistant Bertoldo di Giovanni (1420-91), later to be the master of Michalengelo and thus the link between the two greatest Renaissance sculptors. • There is a dichotomy rather than a conflict in Renaissance thought between Christianity and the humanism which encouraged the enhanced view of the dignity of man and the beauty of the physical world implicit in such works of art. • This becomes evident in humanist tombs, such as the monument by Desiderio da Settignano (1430-64) to Carlo Marsuppini, a Classical scholar, the first translator of Homer into Italian verse. • Marsuppini is shown lying in state with a book under his lifeless hands, probably as at his funeral, which was one of unprecedented pomp. Beneath him, there is a sarcophagus standing on a plinth, both carved with Classical ornaments which combine springing vitality with incisive precision. On either side stand slender naked boys carrying shields, winged but very obviously mortal children rather than angels. • There is not so much of a hint in all Christian beliefs or virtues. The monument is crowned by a relief of the Virgin and Child flanked by angels as beautifully carved as the rest. Christianity and humanism are thus visually detached from one another, yet each has its appropriate place within a framework of early Renaissance architecture. • Reliefs of the Virgin and Child were the stock-in-trade of Florentine sculptors in the mid and late 15th century. Many are sill to be seen in Florence, in churches, civic buildings, private houses and enshrined in tabernacles, in the streets; others are now scattered among the art collections of the world. • Reliefs of the Virgin and Child were also made in what was a new medium for sculpture, terracota coated with coloured enamel glazes, first developed by Luca della Robbia (1399-1482) and exploited by his nephew Andrea (1435-1525). • There was, however, a tendency towards the illusionistic in much 15th century Italian sculpture outside Florence. Guido Mazzoni (d. 1518)of Modena was one of the first and most gifted of a number of sculptors who modelled life-size and disturbingly lifelike figures enacting scenes from the Gospels – usually groups of the Nativity and the Lamentation. • Italian Painting and Church • The 15th century was a period of reform movements within Church led mainly by ascetic monks friars who tightened up the rules of their own orders and never ceased to exhort the laity to more intense devotion. • All the technical developments which enabled painters to give logical cogency to depictions of the physical world are here applied to an austerely spiritual end. The figures are ‘shown as if actually present’, just beyond the cell’s wall. • Paolo Ucello (1397-1475) was concerned more with visual realities than with their spiritual significance. The Flood, painted as a lunette below the vaulted ceiling of the cloister of S Maria Novella, Florence, vividly expresses the horror of the Biblical cataclysm with figures struggling for survival. Two young horsemen in the left background brandish weapons at one another, though th...
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