Category Archives: History

Drawing Gothic

The early styles of the International or High Gothic period are dominated by a lack of perspective. Artists at this time were rediscovering the ways of showing three dimensions and their attempts are an interesting exercise in drawing.

3bec70db40e6dfde02ae3a4769e550faGothic art

They were aware that things changed over distance but were not sure how to depict distances or foreshortening. Although devices are commonly found in Greek and Roman art, down the years the techniques had been discouraged and lost. Now artists found themselves experimenting to reinvent the illusion of depth.

With a relaxing of regulations by the church controlling art and a growing merchant class with money to spend, more naturalistic lifelike studies  began to emerge. People, landscapes, buildings and vegetation all appeared in paintings.

Drawing perspective

DUCCIO FIRST DENIAL OF PETERThe first uses of perspective were simple oblique projections, whereby angled ,parallel lines were used to indicate that a building was going into the distance. Ariel perspective, the bluing of the horizon, was another early device for showing objects further away.

Gradually the idea of vanishing points took hold and artists had all lines converging at a single point. Quite often this was the centre of the room and painting panelled ceilings and tiled floors were popular to show their mastery of the technique.

There was however a tendency to give each object their own vanishing point in the picture, which gives the scenes a chaotic but interesting look. There are chairs at strange angles, beds that Annunciation of Death of the Virgin_Siena,Museo dell opera del Duomoseem to float and objects that sit in a completely different plain to the things they rest on.


Painting nature

By the end of the High Gothic artists could comfortably draw ellipses, understood how objects sat next to each other and where shadows naturally fell. All important developments in illustrating three dimensions.  As each mystery unfolded their worlds took on a more realistic appearance.

KitchenDrawingOver the next two hundred years the skill of using one, two, three and four point perspectives would be unlocked and by the start of the Renaissance  artists were comfortably creating realistic rooms, elegant street scenes and marvelous landscapes.

It was through these early experiments during the Gothic period that led to the later, accomplished designs. They do provide an interesting instruction on how to draw perspective and show how the different ways effect the look of a painting.

 

The International Gothic – A Break from Tradition

The International Gothic or Late Gothic art period covers the 13th – 14th centuries and came during a time of religious upheaval and political change. The Christian church was witnessing the growth of Protestantism with its new fangled ideas and the establishment of City States. These too had their own, personal, political agendas and particular allegiances. Very much like the world of today.

lorenzetti_street2The growth of the merchant class provided a challenge to the financial muscle of the church and Europe’s royalty.

These nouveau riche still wanted art on a more personal level but art that reflected their view of the world. It wasn’t  burdened by outdated dictate and accurately reflected the people of the times. The church’s ideals on how and what art should depict was being intellectually challenged. People wanted frescoes and paintings that illustrated real life. Therefore there was an increase in naturalistic imagery and the showing of everyday life.

Gothic art

Annunciation of Death of the Virgin_Siena,Museo dell opera del DuomoThe artists during this period spent their time rediscovering the ancient ways of showing nature. Perspective, foliage and realistic depiction were once again on the menu. Here current artists played their part in trying to understand how the Greeks and Romans set about doing this.

Suddenly it was possible to paint trees, water, buildings and furniture. Painters could populate their worlds with people and animals, fields and hills. But how?  It is interesting to see the artists development of perspective. Each creating strange views with multiple vanishing points, rooms with weird angles and impossible furniture scattered throughout the pictures.

Social painting

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽdaThese strange, other worlds, with their experiments at three dimensions provide a unique viewpoint into life during the Late Medieval period. They show the lives of the ordinary people in the fields alongside royalty.

You can see palaces, castles and cathedrals but also simple houses, barns and sheds. As much as you can see wars and battles there are farmers sowing crops and peasants tending sheep.

Artistic licence 

Giotto di Bondone, Simone Martini, the Lorenzetti brothers in Italy and  Conrad von Soest in Germany and the Limbourg brothers from France all played their part in developing the distinctive style of the International Gothic.

This break with the traditions of the Byzantine paved the way for what would become the greatest advances in art with the arrival of the Renaissance. The steps started by the International Gothic would flourish during the next period and set new standards in artistic representation.  However, I still find the exploration of the 13th and 14th centuries some of the most compelling works on view.

 

A Hundred Years of Dada

“Art needs an operation” – Tristan Tzara

Dada Movement

Cabaret Voltaire

Exactly 100 years ago, at the height of the First World War, in 1916 the Dadaist art movement began.  To escape the conflict, refugees, artists, intellectuals, anarchists, political dissidents and pacifists fleeing war torn Europe and gathered  in neutral Switzerland. It was in Zurich, at the Cabaret Voltaire nightclub, that a chaotic gathering gave birth to one of the 20th centuries most influential art styles.

Always destroy

Dada Cabaret Voltaire

Dada Performance

Romanian artist, Marcel Janco captured the evening in a painting that clearly shows the anarchic, chaos and mayhem that stylised the Dadaist approach to art. The scene depicted is a noisy, uncontrolled riot, which reflects perfectly the anti-art standpoint the Dadaists wanted to promote.

Then, as now, six nights a week the Cabaret Voltaire resounded to nonsensical music, wordless poems, tribal masks and primitive art.  It embraced African influences, European folk traditions and constantly explored new ways of creating and celebrating art and culture. The live events brought together visual arts, costume, poetry, music and dance in a way that defied the bourgeois conventions of the day.

Dada Manifesto

Dada Performance

Hugo Ball

The group included such famous names as Hugo Ball, Emmy Hemmings, Tristan Tzara, Jean Arp Kurt Schwitters and Hans Richter who were at the forefront of the revolutionary art movement. They were joined by the likes of Andre Breton, Phillippe Soupault, Hannah Hoch, Sophie Taeber, Otto Dix and Max Ernst.

Their unbound energy and artistic creativity continued into the mid-nineteen twenties when the group went on to pastures new. Taking on solo projects or became involved in other art groups.

Thought is made in the mouth

Marcel Duchamp

Fountain

However, Dada’s legacy was far reaching and is still felt in the works of art movements, musicians and performers of today. In 2004, Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 sculpture “Fountain” was voted the most influential art piece of the 20th century. This was ahead of Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica”, Matisse’s “Red Studio” and Andy Warhol’s “Marilyn Diptych”.

Surrealism, Photo collage, Pop Art, Assemblage, Happenings, Punk and Rap music all have their origins in the anti-establishment sentiments of the Dadaist movement. Their strongly held desire to break with tradition and create a new form of expression were picked up by later artists and performers. The rebellious displays and offending images of today all have, at their core, a little of the Dadaists intentions.

Not bad for a drunken, Wednesday evening down the club in 1916.

 

 

Dressing the Part

BeatoAltarPiece

Martini’s Altarpiece with predella designs below

Sometimes art requires that you do strange things.

On a recent project with Dr Gaie Burnet, about a lost predella of Simone Martini,

walkingPeasantTH

Peasant with mop staff

I was given the opportunity to try on women’s skirts in the name of art. This was not out of some sexually repressed need to dress as a woman, after all, I’m British and this comes as second nature to us. However it was necessary for me to capture the likeness of medieval peasants for the panel.

And why?

It did come as a surprise to my wife, when I walked into the sitting room to ask her a question, wearing one of her skirts, I did explain it was for artistic integrity. Bags, walking sticks, a dressing gown for a flying monk’s habit, hats and belts all helped in creating the right look for the drawings.

My dogs were somewhat concerned by my behaviour as I darted around, changing clothes and then setting the camera to timed, running across the kitchen to strike a pose. Only to repeat the chaotic process two seconds later. For them balancing, prone on a stool, to imitate the flying saint was the final act of a madman.

Martini in Siena

FlyingSaint

Flying monk

 

 

 

In this way and with the absence of my own willing peasant I managed to create a series of pictures that were used in drawing the missing panels from Beato Augustino’s altarpiece, which is now on display in the Palazzo Siena (check). The exercise was an illustration for Dr Burnet’s own work on the painting and how it may have been used for religious instruction and as a way of establishing the Augustinian Order during a time of great change.

CloakedPeasant

Peasant with cloak

Both Dr Burnet and myself found the process of working together an interesting one and exploring Martini’s works at Assisi and Siena was a wonderful experience. It was fun to see how these great works were not just pretty frescoes illustrating the lives of the saints, bishops and Christ but were being used for political propaganda, very much like today’s elaborate electioneering boards proclaiming one belief over another.

Dissecting the message

While I was able to bring my knowledge of painting, colour and design to the project, for me, it was fascinating to hear the political and religious history around the time the artist was working and discover the messages his patrons were most likely trying to convey. What, on the surface of things, appear to be simple depictions of people are quite often more complex, with much of the true meaning being forgotten over time.

I would thoroughly recommend artists and academics working together on projects like this, as both stand to gain a lot more than they realise about the process of making art. Both from a practical perspective of painting and design but also in terms of understanding what clients were trying to get across when commissioning these great works.

DSCN6127

Beato Augustino flying in

 

Simone_Martini_072

Saint saves baby

JMW Turner in Umbria

Turner_selfportrait

Turner Self-portrait

By 1819, Europe had returned to relative peace, Napoleon had been defeated at Waterloo and tourists were once again travelling the continent. This was the year the painter, Joseph Mallord William Turner first journeyed into Italy. At the age of 44 he created a collection of images detailing his travels as he meandered his way to Naples.

 

Turner’s sketchbooks

Upon his death in 1851, Turner gave his sketchbooks to the British people and some of these are now available to look through online, while you can thumb through others, under supervision, at the Tate Britain Gallery. Upon discovering this I sought out the books relating to his tours of Italy and have had fun tracking his route though Umbria, where I now live.

Turner’s skill in conveying, in very simple lines, the complexities of the Italian countryside cannot be understated. Using these small sketches and with the aid of my own knowledge of the area and Google maps, I have been able to follow his tour along Umbria’s eastern borders.

Crossing the Alps

PiazzaRepubliccoFolignoJMW, like many before, crossed the Alps at Mont Cenis through the Simplon pass and travelled down through Milan to Florence. Then making his way over to the Adriatic coast, visiting Ancona and negotiating the Apennines, into Umbria. Passing through Macerata, Coliferito and Pale, his first major destination in the green, landlocked province was Foligno.

PiazzaRepubliccoFoligno_001

Piazza della Repubblica, Foligno

Wandering around Umbria in the 1800s was much like driving around the countryside today in a well-worn Fiat Panda with a dodgy suspension over rough terrain. The ride was very rickety, which is evident from some of the drawings that he did along the way. Sadly, in Umbria, the intervening 200 years have not seen much in the way of highway progress and the state of many of its roads still leave much to be desired. Potholes, landslides and large muddy puddles were as much a part of travel then, as they are now.

 

Visiting Foligno

RoadBtwFolignoTreviThe coach didn’t stop in Foligno but by following the order and pictures, it seems the travellers simply skirted the town walls and headed on out along the via Flaminio in the direction of Terni. Here the trip takes Turner along the foothills of the Apennines through the village of Sant Eracole, the Torre di Matigge and passed the towering vistas of Trevi.

It looks likely that one of the stops was at the

TorreMattige

Torre di Matigge

Roman temple of Clitumnus, where he made a number of sketches of the scenery and a detailed study of the building. After this break the bumpy ride continued on to Spoleto and here again it looks like Turner just rode around the town walls, making notes of the town as he went.

Spoleto sights

He did manage to catch some views of the ViaRomaViewSpoletoRocca that dominates the skyline and an interesting drawing below the Torre d’Olio, a view that has changed quite a bit over time. Leaving Spoleto, he recorded the Ponte della Torri and the castle, a picturesque spot that is still a popular photo opportunity with today’s visitors.

Carrying on along the via Roma and over

ViewViRomaSpoleto

View leaving Spoleto

the Somma pass he sketched the village of Palazzaccio di Strettura with what was then a ruined castle nestled in the valley. Today this ancient fortification is a modern, refurbished hotel and makes a great resting point on the way to Rome.

Terni and the waterfalls

Reaching Terni, Turner jotted down a few of the town’s Baroque buildings and made sketches of the town’s inhabitants Papigno_001as he relaxed. The Terni of today is a different place from the one he visited. After his time there the industrial revolution changed much of the landscape as it became a thriving steel centre. This was further altered when 80% of the town was bombed during the Second World War. Sadly many of the drawings from this time show places long lost to development and war.

Papigno2

Papigno

While in the area, Turner, like many artists and poets before him, took a detour into the hills above the town to visit the magnificent, 2,000 year old, man-made waterfalls at Marmore, the village of Papigno and tranquil waters of Lake Piediluco. He spent a good many hours around the area, chronicling the landscape and making notes of the hills and villages, before heading off to Narni.

The magical land of Narni

NarniWestNarni, dominated by its formidable castle, is one of those hill towns that is visible for miles around. Turner recorded his progress towards the town gates with a series of drawings. Judging by the quantity of sketches he made, it’s fair to suggest he spent at least the night here.

Narni is famous for its Augustinian Roman bridge, much ruined, as you’d expect after

NarniEast

Narni

2,000 years but still with sufficient structure to be of interest. Here he drew various views around this landmark, as well as the interesting looking medieval bridge with its own tower at one end. Unfortunately in an attempt to slow the Nazi’s retreat during WWII the Allies saw fit to bomb this old monument. While an arch and three pillars of the roman bridge can still be found, you can now only imagine the other pretty bridge.

On to Rome

RomanArchNarni_001Continuing south down the slopes of the Narni hills he finally left Umbria and entered the province of Lazio. At this point the coach wound its way along the River Tiber in the wide open plains of the Tiber Valley. Passing through the villages of Borghetto, Otricoli and Castello Formiche, drawing as he travelled until finally reaching the town of Civita Castellana. Where it looks like he spent another day exploring.

RomanArchNarni

Roman Arch, Narni

From here Turner bounced on to Rome where he made a series of sketches of the ancient monuments along with a number of paintings. After the eternal city he went on to the culturally diverse Naples and like many tourists both then and now he took in the spectacle of Pompeii. Again producing a number of watercolours from the resulting drawings he made on his trip.

Returning to Umbria

?Borghetto; and Another Sketch 1819 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Turner made his return journey in the winter, which is perhaps why he appears to have drawn less. He retraced his path through Rome and back up to Umbria, passed Borghetto, Narni, Terni and Trevi once more, making a few sketches as he drove by. At Foligno this time the coach went on to Assisi and probably below Perugia before skirting Lake Trasimeno, leaving Umbria then heading towards Cortona. As this part of his journey is

BorgettoCastle

Borghetto Castle remains

not documented, it can only be assumed that this is the route he took. This is a flatter road with bigger towns to stop.

Despite spending roughly two weeks travelling around Umbria, all that remains are his sketches. The draw of Venice, Rome, Naples and Pompeii seemed to have been greater subjects for his paintings. The diaries of his journey do make interesting viewing and while some areas have suffered destruction and heavy industrialisation there are many parts that have hardly altered at all over the last 200 years.

Turner’s Tour Map

Paint Like an Egyptian

What are the meanings behind the first rules of art?

Tomb painting

Egyptian figure painting

The style and painting  in Egyptian society 3,000 years ago is well known. Strangely contorted bodies specifically designed to show off a person’s best attributes and landscapes or events drawn as if seen from all angles at once.

This particular viewpoint was one of art with a purpose, magical art, which endured in Egypt for over a thousand years.

It was linked to their religious beliefs in life after death, and so in order to make it to the afterlife, you needed to preserve your image on earth. Hence mummification, but also the rules governing painting and especially the painting of people.

Egyptian figure painting

Bringing in the corn

Bringing in the corn

If you study figures from tomb paintings and reliefs you will see that the head is always in profile, the torso is twisted to show off the chest, arms hinged at the shoulders and the waist rotated sideways. The feet are also captured in a strange way, seen from the inside, always showing both big toes together. As if the person had two left feet.

This rather Cubist way of painting the figure was governed by a series of rules laid down centuries before and ahead of the Greek’s discovery of foreshortening.

Egyptian landscapes

Egyptian pool

Nabamoun Garden Pond – Thebes

The same all around view is used when looking at the landscape, ponds are seen from above with birds and fish both on and under the water in the same picture. Trees are drawn all around the edges, as if chopped down and neatly lined up. All aspects of the landscape are possible at the same time.

Here again the idea was to illustrate the perfect view of the dead persons world. All things depicted in an established formula, showing the world off to its best.  The gods and pharaohs were big, while the man on the street was drawn small, the little people.

Telling the story

wine making in Eqypt

How to make wine

Events were documented accurately too. They were  comic strip representations of the process, whether it  was bringing in the corn, making wine or fighting a battle. The artist drew all parts of the event in one panel, showing precisely what went on. Hunting trips show the pharaoh hiding in the bushes, stalking his prey, making the kill and taking the catch home. Understanding the visual narrative is key to reading an Egyptian painting.

Paint like an Egyptian

Tomb painting

Egyptian battle scene

I like the Egyptian painters idea of seeing things from all points simultaneously. I think that we all consciously edit our reality to create the perfect version of a scene. The Egyptian painters perfectly illustrate this theory. Think of your favourite destination and I guarantee you’ll edit out the things you don’t like or that you feel inappropriate.

Nothing is ever completely new in art. Just as the Cubists were seen as innovative in their own way, the Egyptians were possibly the originators of this concept of looking at the world through different glasses.

And just because I know you’ve been humming it while you read this post here are the Bangles. Walk like an Egyptian. 

Primitive Art – The Magic in Painting

I love the idea that art has a magical quality to it. When our ancient ancestors started painting, mark making, sculpting images, they believed there was some inherent magic that was embodied within the images they created.

Cave painting Lascaux

Cave painting Lascaux

By painting a wounded animal on a cave wall it would help them in the hunt, creating an image of an enemy and harming it also harmed the foe.These are sophisticated paintings, made by people rooted in their surroundings and closely connected to the land.

So were the earliest artworks more than just decoration for the cave or a way of adding some colour to the straw hut?

Not just decoration

The Venus of Willendorf

The Venus of Willendorf

These days pictures and sculptures are viewed as decorative objects, something to brighten a room, a thing that is nice to look at. However, in our past they were things of worship that had a definite purpose. The job of the art was to give the tribe strength and help to appease the gods.

By decorating sculptures and paintings by giving them recognisable features, primative painters instilled life in their creations. With the inclusion of eyes, a nose and mouth they believed gave a figure the ability to look out and take in its surroundings. Likewise poking the eyes out had the effect of blinding the person.

Magical art

Hunting scene

Hunting scene

People had such a strength and faith in the magic of early art, that it was fervently understood that an object’s power could effect things. Art as a living, breathing, potent force, this also gave artists a special place in the society. The skill to carefully craft artworks for the tribe was a valuable and essential part of the groups daily routine.

They were teaching aids, passing on valuable information about the seasons, hunting and farming. Large totums were erected to record the tribes stories and painted tombs to prepare the dead for the afterlife. You would not go to all the effort of building a pyramid unless you fervently believed its power would return the departed god king to his celestial realm.

Magic in Modern art

Carved head

Carved head

Even today, wanton acts of vandalism against artistic images such as destroying the eyes on a painting would cause feelings of unease. Try sticking a pen through a photo of your favourite celebrity and you’ll feel wrong. The graven image has a strong connection to our ancient primative selves and art is still able to conjure up passionate emotions and deep feelings deep within our soul.

So when viewing primitive, native or tribal art, remember that as well as being a beautiful decorative image it is so much more and had a specific purpose too. Can it ward off storms, protect the crops or induce fertility? Who knows? However, our ancestors thought so and it would be rude not to take advice from our elders and betters