Posts Tagged ‘16th century’

You might think that this is a sketch, to be elaborated on later. You might think this is a hasty scribble on the back of an envelope, a reminder of the rough composition so that the artist would later work out details and make a “presentable, salable work of art.”
So wrong.
To be able to see like this!
This is a very advanced form of seeing.
FourPotsPhotoAIt’s not about documenting the shape of the pots. The photo does that. It’s not about proving that you’re diligent, that you put in the time and now you’ll price the drawing according to the time you slaved over the drawing. There are people who think like that. So master-servant 16th century. And if you think your five-year-old can do this, well, you need to come to class.
What makes the drawing so great is the form. Not the shape of the pots. The form of the drawing! Seeing form is like reading between the lines in a story, reading deeper than the narrative. It’s seeing through the shapes, seeing deeper than what’s illustrated. The artist here is not illustrating pots. She is creating a page that stands on its own.
She creates a tug between positive and negative space. We expect the pots, being graspable things, to hold our attention. The ground they stand on is supposed to just passively support objects. But notice that the shape of the ground is more emphatically articulated than the objects. It’s dark and has a stepped shape of its own. The shape of the pots is predictable and our expectation projects more information into them that is actually given. Even though they are presented in casual curves and ellipses, we read them clearly. We as viewers are engaged in completing the presentation. A good thing. We also notice that the whole page is a dialogue between the severe,angular, rational edge of the black ground and the curved, flamboyant, irrational lines of the identifiable objects. So good.
Back to the sketch idea. The drawing, above, was preceded by a more elaborate working out of this FourPots2motif. The artist put in some folds of the cloth that covered the table. In other words, details. This is also an interesting drawing, but not as exciting as the one featured here. The artist had to wrestle with details, with the impulse to represent more literally what she actually saw,  to attain the view of form that marks the stark drama of the final drawing.
Drawings by Maggy Shell, charcoal on paper, ~14”x18”
All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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By the middle of the 16th century the Protestant reformers were raging against Catholic dogma and inspiring their followers to ransack old churches, destroying stained glass windows, murals, paintings, statues, tapestries and candelabras. The Catholic hierarchy fought back and stood its ground. The battle of the Counter Reformation was so serious that the pope convened his cardinals intermittently for about twenty years. The Council of Trent (1545-1563) hammered out numerous dogmatic formulations and, interestingly for us, enlisted the Caravaggio-Crucifixion_of_Peter1arts in the fight. They declared that art should illustrate the dogmas and saints of the Catholic faith to the common people in an emotionally intense way.
The cardinals became very specific about how this end was to be achieved. They decreed that religious images were to be clear and dramatic, bodies were to be rendered to appear three-dimensional, physically real, emotionally intense, with vivid color and contrasts between light pauland dark–so as to draw the viewer emotionally into the scene and close to the biblical character being depicted. Appropriate and approved themes were: grandiose visions, ecstasies and conversions, martyrdom and death, intense light, and intense psychological moments.
Since, at the time, the pope and the clergy were the major commissioners of paintings, sculptures and other decorative objects, artists perfected their skills to conform to the church’s taste in art. The artists who opposed the church’s dictates were called the Mannerists, because they worked in the manner of the late Michelangelo, who as he matured (he died in 1564) became a skeptic about the faith he had been raised in. The Council of Trent’s decrees directly opposed the highly individual styles of the Mannerists.
What about Caravaggio? Caravaggio shared the church’s taste for high drama. Death, torture and falling off your horse were subjects he related to personally. To make these scenes emotional he painted the bodies (so much flesh!) and the drapery (so much drapery!) very convincingly, very three-dimensionally.
Well, now, class, how did he achieve these effects?
Everybody in unison: reflected light!
Verrry good. Everybody gets a gold star.

I do this demo on how to make a curved surface look convincingly three-dimensional , every term. People look over my shoulder as they unanimously pick out the cylinder that looks good and the one that is drawn wrong. Somebody brings up Caravaggio. Everybody loves Caravaggio, so amazing, and everybody knows that he was a master at reflected light and that reflected light is what did the trick for him.
Below, a passage from “The Death of the Virgin,” showing rims of reflected light, without which the shapes would look flat.

Now, you would think that all these Caravaggio-lovers would go home and practice drawing round objects, say an egg, a pear or an apple on their kitchen counter, using the reflected light trick. You would be wrong. Why is that?! Why do art students love the illusion created by Reflected Light, but don’t practice how to achieve it?!
(Btw, lest you think Caravaggio was a humble and obedient genuflector, he used a drowned prostitute as a model for the Madonna in this painting. Artists tend to be complicated characters.)
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 1571-1610
All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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