Archive for June 17th, 2011

The history of the still life can be traced back to the Romans, but it came into full force around 1600, primarily in the Netherlands.  We have a still life by Caravaggio, but in Italy religious themes remained dominant.  In the Netherlands, where a republican government had taken root early and where a secular culture was in ascendancy, still life paintings became powerful objects of contemplation.  By the middle of the 17th century, Dutch art collectors filled their homes with landscapes, family portraits, still lifes,  and scenes of domesticity, with religious themes numbering (it’s estimated) only about one in five.  There was a special theme for a still life, devoid of religious references, that reminded the viewer of the transience of life.  Called “Vanitas” paintings or “Momemto Mori,” these paintings involved the human skull and other reminders of mortality such as candles, cobwebs;  the ephemeralness of fame as symbolized in cultural treasures like books and violins.

In a recent drawing class I set up such a Vanitas still life.  It turned out to be an inspiring subject, though half of the class avoided the skull, arguably the anchor of the still life, altogether. Some students invented background “atmospherics” in their use of shading or rectilinear forms.  I particularly like the choice of very oblique views of the still life so that the violin—the prima donna of the show—is actually seen from an obscuring angle.  The incompletion that we see in all of the drawings, this fading out of the lines and the shading as we get to the edge, this incompletion is a thoroughly modern technique.  It comes, as we have seen before (posts 2.21, 4.22, and 5.23.11) from early 19th century Romanticism.

Shown here are drawings by Maggy S., Karen G., In Young J., who gave us the most realistic rendering and Vera C., who drew the individual objects as if they were collaged together on the drawing paper according to dictates of the life in her composition.  The drawing by Louise F. will get a post of its own.

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.




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