Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Rosalba Carriera and the Rococo Style

            Rosalba Carriera was an influential female portrait artist during the Rococo period in Italy and France.  She specialized in using the pastel medium, which most artists at the time used only for simple sketching. She was known to soften figures with stumping or rubbing with a dry cloth and developed a dry-brush technique that helped to give a gauzy appearance to clothing (AICMS Vol. 26).  Her skill and technique proved that pastel’s could be used as a medium for finished works of art.  Even though she didn’t come from a wealthy family, her mother was a lace maker and her father was a clerk, she was raised with a humanist education and learned music, Latin, and French.  She started her career as a miniature portrait artist, and developed into doing full portraits for tourists, often young gentlemen doing their Grand Tour to Italy.  Soon after arriving in Paris, her artistic skill was recognized and she was asked to become a member of French Royal Academy in 1720, an honor that had been bestowed to very few women at the time.

            Carriera also created allegorical pictures along with portraits.  “A Young Lady with a Parrot” is a combination of portraiture and allegory.  Done with pastel on paper, the portrait captures the rich pastel colors of the clothing, the varied texture of clothing and hair, the graceful lines of the figure and the hands, and the provocativeness and grace of the female figure.  The picture also captures the Rococo characteristics of lavishness and the theme of eroticism and the interest in nature.

            Even though the picture is done in pastel, Carriera still captures the rich color of the satin garments and the luminescent glow of the pearls that wrap around the neck of the figure.  The dark monochromatic background seem to make the colors of the garment and the pale skin of the figure seem to almost glow and standout.  There is an interest in texture, similar to that of Northern European artists, which helps to accentuate the richness of the figure.  The satin garment seems to shine and glow and there is a sense of lightness and sheerness to the lace, the soft curls of the hair frame the porcelain like face with it’s smooth skin, and she even portrays the texture of downy feathers on the parrot.  The lines of the arm and the hands are graceful.  There isn’t the strong sense of diagonals and energetic compositions of the baroque period, instead there is a soft dreamy feel to the picture. The composition forms a loose triangular composition.  The figure’s right arm forms one side of the triangle leading the eye to the top of the triangle at the head, then to the right side of the triangle, which is formed by her slightly exposed chest, and the parrot she holds in her left hand.  The parrot not only shows the Rococo interest in nature but is also said to be an allegory for seductiveness.  The provocative gesture of “baring one’s breast” is transferred to the parrot (AICMS Vol.26).  The theme of eroticism and the lavishness of the woman’s jewelry and clothing are other characteristics of the Rococo style.  Because of the intimate nature of the portrait, it was probably meant for an intimate setting. 

According to Bernardina Sani, the sitter could be the figure of a young Englishwoman, maybe one of the daughters of Lord Manchester (AICMS Vol. 26).  There is an interest in naturalism in the figure and with the parrot, but the figure has also been idealized.  The anatomy seems true to life but the woman is shown at the peak of young womanhood with very pale skin and incredibly rosy cheeks, and unnaturally red shiny lips.  The skin shows no wrinkles or flaws, or even any creases and the fingers of the figure’s left hand seem very skinny and somewhat elongated.

The portrait of “A Young Lady with a Parrot” shows Carriera’s skill as a portrait artist using pastel medium to create finished and provocative works of art that fit with the Rococo style of the early 18th century.  She creates an idealized figure of a young woman that has a dreamy and soft, yet charged with sexuality.  She shows off the aristocracy’s interest in wealth by showing the rich texture in the satin and the lace, and by showing off the abundant string of pearls and the jewels that decorate the young lady.  The figure demonstrates the Rococo interest in nature with the parrot but also the interest in love and seductive subject matter with the revealing of the figure’s chest.


National Museum of Women in the Arts

The Art Institue of Chicago
“A Young Lady with a Parrot”

A Young Lady with a Parrot, c. 1730
Rosalba Carriera
Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies
Vol. 26, No. 1, Maineri to Miró: The Regenstein Collection since 1975 (2000), pp. 30-31+93

Art History. Stokstad, Marilyn and Cothren, Michael.  Prentice Hall.  Fourth Edition.  2011.  Saddle River, NJ.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Incorporation of Renaissance Ideals in Baroque Art of the 17th century

            The Baroque period of the 17th century incorporates some of the ideals of the Renaissance period, but not all of them.  By comparing Bernini’s sculpture of “David”, which gives a sense of some of the Baroque characteristics of drama and emotion, and a sense of movement, with Michelangelo’s “David”, we can get a sense of Renaissance characteristics and those that define the Baroque period.

            In Michelangelo’s “David” we can see the Renaissance period’s interest in Classicism and in Humanism, balance of form, naturalism, and idealism.  David’s naked form is posed in the contrapposto stance and bears a similar composition to the “Spearbearer”.  Both bear weight on their right leg, which is fairly straight, while the other leg is relaxed and bent slightly back.  The right arm hangs loose and relaxed straight along the body, while the other arm is bent.  Michelangelo’s David seems still.  The composition is fairly vertical and balanced with the relaxed appendages balancing out active ones.  The lines of the body, the legs and the figure’s right arm form fairly straight lines.  There are a few slight vertical lines with the figure’s left leg, the bent arm and the angle of the jaw, which is shown in profile.  The body is frontally orientated, with just the head twisted and shown in profile.

            There’s an interest in naturalism.  Michelangelo has carefully rendered the muscles and tendons on David’s arms, stomach, legs, and neck.  He even idealized the figure by making the figure older than Donatello’s figure of David.  Instead of a youth, we see a young man at the prime of life, who is healthy looking with very defined muscles, even in the groin muscles (which couldn’t naturally get so defined), no wrinkles, scars, or flaws.

            Bernini’s sculpture of “David” still shows an interest in humanism, an interest in the human form, and an interest in naturalism, but we see much more interest in the Baroque style of drama and motion rather than the interest in visual harmony.  His figure, like Michelangelo’s, depicts a young man in peak physical condition.  There is an interest in naturalism of the Renaissance period, which can be seen in the defined muscles of the leg, stomach, and arms.  The very defined muscles suggest some idealized rendering, but there is also more of an interest in naturalism than in Michelangelo’s David.  Bernini depicts the tense lines of the furrowed brow and the lines that can be seen under the eyes, and the hair that looks disheveled by the wind.  He also shows an interest in the different textures of the hair, the smooth skin, the small sack, and the drapery of cloth, and the scaling of the garment at David’s feet.

            In composition Bernini’s David is drastically different from Michelangelo’s David.  Instead of the Renaissance’s interest in balanced composition and depicting a David that is thinking and contemplating his next move before taking action, Bernini’s David is a dramatic twisting form that is at the peak moment of action, a Baroque characteristic.  The sense of drama is strengthened by the use of strong diagonal lines formed from the leg going back and the arm that is reaching down on the figure’s right side.  There aren’t the straight vertical lines like there are in Michelangelo’s figure, instead there is a dramatic twisting of the hips, arms and shoulders, with the neck twisting in the opposite direction of the shoulders.  There is an active sense of tensed action and movement, and because the figure isn’t frontally aligned, it encourages viewer interaction by encouraging the viewer to look at the figure from other angles and move around the body, another characteristic of the Baroque period.  Another characteristic that encourages viewer participation is that the figure seems to step forward with his front leg into the viewer’s space and the rock, according to the figure’s gaze, seems to be intended for someone standing behind the viewer.
            By comparing Michelangelo’s David from the Renaissance period with Bernini’s David from the Baroque period, the viewer can get a sense of Renaissance ideals that were still incorporated in the Baroque period, along with the characteristics that define the Baroque period.  We can see the incorporation of the Renaissance ideals of humanism, naturalism, and some idealism.  From Bernini’s statue, we can see the Baroque period’s interest to show even more naturalism through the lines around the eyes and the interest in texture.  We can also see the interest in drama and movement instead of visual harmony.  Bernini’s figure also encourages viewer interaction, which is in keeping with the Counter-Reformation guidelines for art of the Roman Catholic Church.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Impacts of Protestant Reformation in Northern Europe

            The Protestant Reformation had an impact on the visual arts in northern Europe.  As the art in southern Italy became more chaotic and stylized, which can be seen in the Mannerist paintings of Pontormo’s “Descent from the Cross” and Parmigianino’s “Madonna with the Long Neck”, art in Northern Italy turned away from Catholic art.  Instead artists were interested in secular scenes of landscapes that often depicted the everyday lives of peasants and workers.
The main interest in Northern Europe turned to secular scenes. Artists started specializing in different types of art, such as graphic artists who would often depict moralizing and satirical scenes.  Some artists depicted scenes of the common laborer and showed people at work or performing actions found in their daily lives.  Landscapes also became popular in Northern Italy and they would often incorporate these scenes of common people.  Ironically it was wealthy and sometimes aristocratic patrons that would commission these paintings and place them in their homes.  This characteristic showed a continued interest in classicism, and was based on the ancient Roman interest in decorating their country villas with landscapes. 

Even though Pieter Bruegel the Elder started in prints, he specialized in landscapes.  His painting “Return of the Hunters” and “The Harvesters” are examples of an interest in landscapes, especially by humanists and those still interested in the Classics.  They both show the Northern European interest in naturalism and an interest in details.  “The Harvesters” show the figures in the foreground and who are at work and at rest in a field of grain.  The field of grain is a warm golden color that draws the eyes and seems to reach far into the background.  The field is interrupted by swaths of green trees that seem to reach even further into the background and seem to fade away in a smoky haze, which shows a continued interest in atmospheric perspective and naturalism.  The golden fields are repeated in the background on the left side of the scene and really help to draw the viewer’s eye into the scenery and to notice the minute details of the houses figures in the background.  His painting “Return of the Hunters” shows naturalistic figures in the foreground, who diminish in size as they walk further into the background.  It also opens up into an expansive landscape.  There are many small details of houses and figures ice-skating, which again shows the Northern interest in small details.  The eye is also drawn to the craggy mountains that he depicts in the background, which helps to lend a naturalistic sense of depth and scale.  This painting and the harvester painting were part of a series of six large paintings that were commissioned to show landscapes of the different months.  This depiction of the months and of the seasons ties into the Northern tradition of calendars and Books of the Hours.

            Patronage interest in religious art waned in Northern Europe.  There were still some religious works produced, such as Hieronymus Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights”, which is quite fantastical and full of allegories about human sin.  The painting that was separated into three different sections like a triptych, shows the transition from the first people of Adam and Eve, to the human centered pleasures of the flesh in the central panel.  The central panel and the right panel, which depicts the torture of hell, depart from the carefully rendered realism during the Renaissance period.   Instead the panels show an imaginative and fantastical world.  The scenes are chaotic in the middle and right panel, with figures gathered in huge groups and circles with no real focal point.  The pictures are almost claustrophobic with so many figures and abstract structures and creatures.  Bright colors have been used to show the sinful fruits, and the dark color of the water in the middle panel, and the sky in right panel, contrast with the pale skin of the human beings who are depicted paying for their sins in hell in the right panel.

Catholic art went from the High Renaissance style of showing realism and great attention to detail, with classical reference to humanism, the use of pyramidal and linear perspective in Southern Italy, and the use of intuitive perspective in the North, to a more chaotic and stylized style during the Mannerist period.  The Mannerist artists did not always have an obvious focal point, which was common with Renaissance art where the viewer new the focus by the pyramidal or triangular composition which would lead the eye to the main focus.  Mannerist paintings, such as Pontormo’s “Descent from the Cross” often have figures that are not even facing the viewer sometimes leading the eye away from the main subject or focus of the painting.  The figures too were highly stylized, often with elongated fingers and hands, their bodies were often contorted and twisted in unrealistic poses, and sometimes they seemed off balance or about to fall.  They were sometimes depicted in unusual and unrealistic colors, such as the front figure on his toes in the foreground of Pontormo’s painting.

Where religious Italian art showed the growing unease and unrest with the Protestant Reformation through their expressive and chaotic use of different manneristic styles of off balance figures, often stylized, and sometimes contorted and twisted in different positions, the Northern European style went to mainly secular interests.  There starts to be an interest in landscapes and this classical interest can be seen in Bruegel’s landscape paintings.  There was also an interest in art that showed morals and a humanist view of trying to teach a lesson to improve oneself, such as Bosch’s painting showing the consequences of human sin.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Looking at “The Origin of the Cornucopia” and “Leda and the Swan” and How they Fit in with the Mannerist Style

            The two works of art found at the Seattle Art Museum, “The Origin of the Cornucopia” by Abraham Janssens and “Leda and the Swan and Her Children” by Vincent Sellaer, show the stylization and characteristics found during the Mannerist period of the Late Renaissance.  Both paintings depict elegant but confusing scenes, and the composition and stylization of the figures within the scenes are similar in style to other paintings done in the Mannerist style.  We can fit these paintings within the realm of Mannerism through the composition and the stylization of the figures, and by comparing the paintings with others from the time period that share similar characteristics in composition and the stylization of the figures. 

            Starting with “The Origin of the Cornucopia” from Abraham Janssens we see an unusual composition.  The viewer’s eyes are drawn to the center of the painting by following the lines of the arms that are being extended by the somewhat central figure in yellow and the right figure in blue.  Instead of drawing the eye to one of the forward figures, instead the two figures and their arms, the one in yellow and the one in blue, frame two smaller figures in the background.  And, yet, these figures don’t seem to be the main focus of the scene, they seem to be involved in their own work and maybe conversation with one another.  Instead, the viewer’s eye is drawn to the figure in blue’s hand, which seems to be pointing back toward, and to the left, of the viewer.  It is hard to tell if she means to point towards the squash on the ground or to something that is off the canvas.  The figures seem to barely fit the size of the canvas and they seemed scrunched or folded to fit within the scene.  We see a similar effect done with the Venus in Bronzino’s Allegory with Venus and Cupid.  She too seems folded and fit into the scene by her unusual posture and her folded legs.  Some of the figures in the painting of the cornucopia seem to be tensed and not quite balanced.  The figure in red, on the viewer’s left, who is stretching down to reach for the squash, seems to be leaning forward towards the viewer as well, giving a sense that he might topple forward, especially since his left leg is outstretched and not braced on the ground.  This unstable position of the figures is characteristic of Mannerist paintings and can be seen in the figures in Pontormo’s “Entombment” and in the figure of Venus in the allegory painting.

The composition of Vincent Saellaer’s painting of “Leda and the Swan and Her Children” is unusual as well.  The composition of the figures causes the eye to move in a circular movement within the scene.  Starting with the swan and Leda’s head, the eye is drawn to her eyes and her hand, both of which are directed to one of her son’s on her left side.   He is looking back at her but his arm points to her side and abdomen, and not to another figure.  His arm also forms a cross with her left arm, which seems to reach down to another son who is leaning or crawling from behind her leg.   Her left leg seems to be contorted back at an unrealistic and unnatural angle, or it’s reaches down into some hidden hole in the ground where her son appears to be crawling from.  The circular composition is interrupted by her very large leg which seems to come out at the viewer.  On the left side of the scene we have her other son who is leaning and reaching outside the scene.  The unusually large looking swan with the artificial curve of the neck, which can only be achieved if the swan was to raise it’s body up and be in a more vertical position, brings the eye back to the figure of Leda whose arm is resting unnaturally on the neck of the swan.  This circular composition is somewhat similar to Pontormo’s Entombment where the eye is drawn to the figures that form a circular composition, and where the arms point to a “dead space” in the center.

The stylization of the figures can be seen in both the paintings.  In the cornucopia scene, the figure on the right is so muscular in the arms and the shoulders, that at first it appears to be a man.  The head seems small in proportion to the body and the neck seems to be at an odd unnatural angle.  The arms seem to be very large and elongated.  The leg that can be seen looks huge with a very muscular calf.  The central figure in the foreground, her right arm seems large and her left hand on top of the cornucopia has very elongated fingers.  The figure on the left side of the scene, again has very large muscular arms, and the legs seem very long compared to the length of the torso.  All three of the main figures have unnaturally bright pink cheeks, and where the two side figures are very pale, the central figure is almost the same pink as the robe in the background.  In the Sellaer’s painting of Leda, Leda’s neck seems elongated slightly and her shoulders look somewhat small compared to her head.  She too has the elongated fingers and the enormous leg that seems to reach into the viewer’s space.  The elongated fingers and disproportionate front leg can also be viewed in Parmiagianino’s Madonna with the Long Kneck.  The Madonna’s leg is very large in comparison to the size of her torso.

We can see through the composition and the stylization of the figures of the paintings of Janssens and Sellaer that they both fit into the Mannerist style, even though Janssen’s The Origin of the Cornucopia wasn’t done until the 17th century.  The both have unusual composition that reflect similar characteristics found in the painting of Pontormo’s Entombment from the period.  They also share stylization of the figures, the elongation of the fingers and hand, the disproportionate large or long limbs, and the unusual colors that can be seen in the paintings of Bronzino’s Allegory with Venus and Cupid and in Parmigianino’s Madonna with the Long Neck.