Frederic Edwin Church, Twilight in the Wilderness, 1860
The most renowned figure in American Art in this period, Church’s enigmatic work utilizes his trademark luminism and meticulous detail to depict the essence of God in the American wilderness and perhaps the uncertain times ahead for his country. A member of the Hudson River School and the only student of Thomas Cole, Church combined Cole’s epic vision with an interest in meticulous detail to create this vast panorama as poetic expression. Here, Chruch does not depict a specific place but rather vast undeveloped American wilderness. It was common of church and others of this time to believe the vast wonders of nature contained the essence of God. Additional symbolism can be suggested as the sky bears a resemblance to the American flag. Painted on the eve of the Civil War, it may represent the uncertain times facing the country and the ongoing debated of slave vs. free states and expansionists vs. preservationists. Hudson River school artists often included Northern values in their paintings, however this one may speak to the impending misfortune of the imminent civil war.
(image from artrenewal.org)
Thomas Cole, The Oxbow, 1836
An early example of American Romantic Landscape apinting, Cole presents his “improved” landscape presenting America’s “history” aka – nature. Cole is considered the founder of the Hudson River School of American landscape painters – a school that established a quintessential American style. Cole helped raise the status of landscape paintings, his style falling between the imaginative of Friedrich & Turner and the earthiness of Constable. Painted for an exhibition at the academy of design in New York, Cole shows a panoramic view from the top of Mt. Holyoke out onto a bend in the Connecticut river, Believing that too much detail could ruin a painting, Cole painted his exaggerated landscape from a series of sketches. This vast landscape is America’s antiquities – not the ruins of ancient Rome. The storm is dissipating, giving way to a pastoral valley and encroaching civilization. This could perhaps reflect the idea of manifest destiny gripping Americans. The old and new growth show the cycle of death and regeneration. Cole paints himself into the work at his easel, a dot of red drawing the eye as he looks back at the viewer, inviting the viewer into the work itself.
(image courtesy of wiki)
“I truly believe in the difference between art and life because I think art is political and thus it has to be symbolically separated from daily life, otherwise it has no meaning. That’s why I really disagree with Kaprow, because I think unless you separate life and art, it doesn’t imply a conscious motivation, it doesn’t imply a will, it doesn’t imply resistance. And art is the only arena in American culture in which difference is tolerated. I mean, I don’t even think it exists in politics…what scares me about contemporary art is the merging of it with the entertainment industry…because once the entertainment industry can produce fake resistance then you don’t have real resistance.”
Sofonisba Anguissola, Bernardino Campi painting Sofonisba Anguissola, Late 1550s
Sofonisba’s clever self-portrait shows her assertion of her artistic genius in the face of partriarchal society. One of the few female Renaissance artists, this work is a portrait of herself being painted by her teacher Bernardino Campi. She was born to a noble family who took a keen interest in educating their daughters. Conscious of her patriarchial society, Sofonisba is consciously collapsing the subject-object position. A peculiar conflation of the subject and obeject that befell women artists, Sofonisba asserts herself as the artist (subject) but also a model for the male aritst (object) subverting a common situation, Sofonisba asserts her superiority by showing Campi relying on a mahlstick. Additionally she renders Campi more realistically than he does her. To further the point, Campi has painted her with a little more revealing neckline than she typically shows in her other self portraits. Psychologically engaging, Sofonisba’s skill did not go unnoticed as she achieved international renown and was lauded by Vasari. Because she could not study anatomy, Sofonisba used subjects that were available to her, but has advanced beyond simple self-portraits creating this complex work which creates a rapport with the viewer.
(image from Wikimedia)
Andrea Palladio, Villa Barbaro, Maser, 1550’s
Palladio’s High Renaissance villa outside Venice highlights his versatility in developing a classically inspried villa that caters to his clients needs. Located in the Veneto, perhaps a reaction against the Venetian Empire’s conflict with the pope (the Barbaro’s were allies of the papacy), Palladio’s rigorously symmetrical villa presents a new development in residential architecture. Palladio has used a temple front when building a house. Daniele Barbaro was a Vitruvius scholar and humanist and as such they applied Vitruvian teachings to residential architecture, by approaching Roman/Classical temple architecture, Palladio is breaking new ground. A small working farm, the central living area was balanced with extending wings. A natural spring irrigated the farm, running through the house into the kitchen and even supplying a semicircular nymphaeum. Consulting other ancient texts, Palladio sought to recreat a triclinium described by Pliny the Younger. The entire villa was frescoed by Veronese. Palladio’s new architectural style, his versatility in appropriating classical elements for residential structures would influence residential architecture throughout the western world.
(image courtesy of bhrtrevisohotel.com)
Titian, Venus of Urbino, 1538
Executed for the Duke of Urbino, Guidobaldo Della Rovere, the foremost Venetian High Renaissance Master, Titian, imbued the work with the trademark ambiguity of La Serenissima. Reminiscent of a reclining ‘Venus’ by Giorgione, Titian’s is more ‘Venus’ is more likely a high-class courtesan. While the myrtle plant suggests it could be Venus, no Cupid can be seen, in addition to the direct gaze of the female as well as a maid present and in a contemporary interior would suggest otherwise. Further confounding the situation is the presence of a cassone in addition to a spaniel – a symbol of fidelity. Lastly, in a letter from Guidobaldo to the artist, he referred to the painting as the “naked woman.” Even featuring a variation of the ‘Venus Pudica’ pose, the Venus might actually be adding to her provacativity rather than modesty, by drawing the viewer’s eye to her crotch. Guidobaldo kept the painting behind a curtain for perhaps this reason. Titian’s use of color organizes the form of his painting and his ability to render texture adds sensuousness to the piece. Regarding of the Venus’ intention, Titian’s work is in line with the popular Venetian ambiguity; with Titian bring this with him to the court of Urbino.
(Image from google art project/wikipedia)
Michelangelo Buonarotti, Laurentian Library, S. Lorenzo, Florence, 1524-1534, staircase, 1559
Built in Michelangelo’s Mannerist architectural style, the Laurentian Library made the Medici library public, an attempt to establish themselves as intellectuals. Attached to the Florentine Church of San Lorenzo, the Medici Pope Clement VII commissioned Michelangelo to build this library. The library is most notable for its tall constricted vestibule, which contains a massive staircase heading to the main, narrow reading room. The horizontal reading room contrasts strongly with the verticality of the vestibule. While one might consider the reading room rational in comparison to the vestibule, it lacks a focus and thus appears to continue on and on. The vestibule is a great example of Mannerist Architecture, using pietra serena typical of Florence, Michelangelo uses classical elements but confounds them, creating blind windows and multifaceted corners. He is using an exterior architectural vocabulary on the interior. The staircase spills into the viewers space adding to the claustrophobia, leading the viewer’s eye to the reading room entrance. All together the vestibule creates an other worldly space, surprising the viewer and preparing them to enter the library, cognizant that they have left the bustling street behind them for the literary realm.
(images courtesy of arttrav.com & lib-art.com)
Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel Ceiling, Vatican, Rome, 1508-1512
Commissioned by Pope Julius II, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling established a powerful new style in the High Renaissance and produced some of the most visually striking biblical scenes of any era. Part of Julius’ array of artistic commissions, he pried the prickly artist away from sculpting the Pope’s (his own) tomb to repaint the ceiling which supposedly had cracked. The original plan had been comparatively modest, but Michelangelo demanded he have free reign. We see this through the generous inclusion of ignudi - strewn about the architectural framework which was not intended to fool the eye. Additionally, prophets and sibyls replaced the 12 apostles who were included in the original plan. Ancestors of Christ were placed in the architectural lunettes. The main narrative program was the story of genesis, starting with the creation over the altar and ending with the drunkenness of Noah. The powerful scene of the creation of Adam contrasts with the more detailed scenes completed earlier, a product of the realization that they were too detailed to be seen properly from below. The monumental undertaking shows the origin of Michelangelo’s drift toward Mannerism with bright colors and exaggerated forms.
- The program flows from divine to flawed humans, i.e. creation -> drunk Noah (aka parishioners are underneath the human scenes, priests under the divine)
-Synthesis of pagan and religious (typical Julius II)
-“Painted architecture” “painted sculpture”
-Not trying to trick eye, a la trompe l’oeil of Mantegna’s Camera degli Sposi
(image courtesy of Wiki)
Raphael, School of Athens, Stanza della Segnatura, Vatican, Rome, 1510-1511
Raphael’s painting shows the culmination of High Renaissance formal and spatial harmony, its rational design reflecting the encyclopedic summation of Western thought created by the figures depicted. Decorating Julius II’s papal library, the program reflected the pope’s humanist interests, each wall a different subject: music, poetry, theology and philosophy. Depicting philosophy here, Raphael includes the most influential figures in Western philosophy - specifically Plato and Aristotle in the center. They walk towards the viewer and towards the wall of theology, the Disputa- two pagans walking towards Christ. Raphael paints an architectural frame, easing the transition from real space to illusionistic space and placing the figures in a idealized architectural setting, perhaps alluding to what the New St. Peters Basilica was to look like. The clear, rational, perspectival space and modeled naturalistic figures suggest an arrival at truth through reason. A part of Julius’ remaking of Rome, Raphael’s most important commission celebrations the great pagan intellectuals reflecting his humanist pursuits but suggesting their potentiality towards Christianity.
(image courtesy of wikipedia)
Parmigianino, Madonna of the Long Neck, 1534-1540
Parmigianino’s unfinished painting of the Madonna is representative of the post-High Renaissance style calledMannerism, a reaction against the rationalism of the High Renaissance. Commissioned by Helena Baiardo, the work features a drastically uneven composition - the sensual Madonna pushed up against the picture plane, flanked by a crowd of angels on one side and a great recession of space on the other. An unsettling take on a well-known subject, the bloated Christ child recalls thepietain his pose, foreshadowing his eventual death. The erotic aloof virgin queen rests her foot on a pillow to be kissed creating an idolatrous relationship with the viewer. An opposing view could perhaps be taken that earthly devotion to the Virgin is a stepping stone to eternal life. The Madonna is idealized in a manner described by Firenzuolo, comparing a woman to a vase. A long neck, small breasts, thin fingers, high arch - all characteristics seen in Parmigianino’s Madonna. The eroticism of the work caught the wrath of the Council of Trent and the subsequent counter-reformation, which decreed that religious imagery must be straightforward and conservative.
-Exquisitely contrived beauty
-A simile found in medieval hymns to the virgin that likened her neck to an ivory tower
-engorged nipples = nourish the faithful
(image courtesy of wiki)