Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Expression by juxtaposition: Kilian, Pintz, Orlik & Carracci


What are some of the most effective ways to express meaning?

At a very fundamental level, visual communication relies on the viewer of an artwork recognising relationships between the portrayed features. If I may push this bold statement a little further, visual communication also relies on the relationships between complementary (i.e. opposite) qualities of the portrayed features.

For example, if an artist wishes to express the concept of strong light (as discussed in the previous post), the viewer would need to see and, importantly, to compare areas of the portrayed subject illuminated by the light against the areas of the subject portrayed in shadow. Based on the compared difference in the two extremes of light and shadow a viewer can then rationalise the light’s level of intensity. Of course, there is a plethora of issues that may interrupt a viewer’s recognition of intended relationships in a clear communication of any idea; even one as simple as showing the effects of bright light.

From my experience, the potential for misreading an artist’s intention is minimised when artists pictorially abut the complementary features underpinning the concept with pictorial emphasis on one of the features; such as juxtaposing large brilliantly lit areas of the subject beside small darkly shadowed areas if the intention was about bright light. Going further, the expression of meaning can be further enhanced if this abutment of opposites is arranged at a pivotal point in the composition—such as abutting areas of black and white at an “eye-catching” line of intersection between light and shadow when communicating the concept of bright light—rather than dispersing the abutment of opposites in a broadly scattered manner.

A fine example of such a juxtaposition of light and dark can be seen in Lucas Killian’s (1579–1637) large engraving, The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes (shown below). Here, the silhouette edge of a hillock marks a line separating eight figures in the shadowy foreground from a horde of folk further back in the light. From a personal reading, this line differentiates the two figure groups. Those in the foreground I see as restless—perhaps because they are hungry as they are being attended to with food by two apostles—while the figures portrayed in the light are less agitated—perhaps because they have already been fed. Whether my reading is “correct” or not is not the point, but rather that the juxtaposition of opposites (i.e. dark with light and restless figures with relaxed figures) projects meanings that can be deciphered. If this line of demarcation were not such a noticeable feature in the composition I wish to propose that a viewer may have difficulty with framing a reading such as mine.



Lucas Kilian (1579-1637)
Die wundersame Brotvermehrung [The Miracle of the Loaves and the Fishes]; after Jacopo Tintoretto (1518-1594), 1602
Engraving and etching
Lettered at lower right: 'Jacobus Tinctoretus pinxit./ Lucas Kilian Aug.s scalpsit Venetiis.'
46.5 x 37.5 (plate); 48.5 x 385 cm (sheet)
Hollstein: 13.1
Condition: strong impression with traces of handling, a horizontal fold and a few spots commensurate with the age of the print.

Detail of Kilian’s The Miracle of the Loaves and the Fishes, 1602


For the following discussion I will move away from the juxtaposition of strong light and shade and address three other ways that artists use the juxtaposition of complementary attributes of the portrayed subject to express meaning.

As a first approach, I will to return once more to biblical imagery, but the use of juxtaposition in the images that I am about to examine is far from the approach used by Kilian and the artist he copied, Tintoretto. The source of the images is Jacob Scheuchze’s (1672–1733) Physica Sacra (also known as the Kupfer-Bibel) designed to showcase and explain by natural science his conviction that the Old Testament is a true account of our historical past. Sadly Scheuchze’s belief that he had discovered the fossilised remains of a victim of the great Genesis’ flood was later revealed to be that of a large salamander instead.

In Pintz’s illustration for this natural history interpretation of the bible, TAB. CCCCXVIIII. Reg. Cap. IV. V. 33. Cedrus, Hyffopus (shown below) an acorn from the cedar pine, Cedrus Hyssopus, is portrayed as a “real” specimen juxtaposed beside an elaborately framed image of a scene featuring the tree from which it grew. What is expressed by this juxtaposition is clear: the artist is showing the viewer the acorn as a representation of objective physical reality set against a background of pictorial invention. In this image the intersection of where these two realities intersect is the elaborate frame that can be seen as either a solid three-dimensional form (in the sense that Pintz has rendered the frame with light and shade) or as a schematic representation of a frame (in the sense that the frame features volutes that may be read simultaneously as a view from below and from above).


I.G. Pintz [Johann Georg Pintz] (1697–1767)
TAB. CCCCXVIIII. Reg. Cap. IV. V. 33. Cedrus, Hyffopus, 1731
From Scheuchze’s (1672–1733) Physica Sacra
Engraving on laid paper
32 x 20.5 cm (plate); 42.8 x 25 cm (sheet)
Condition: superb impression with no foxing and minor traces of handling. The print has generous borders on three sides but the right side has a 1 cm border from the plate mark.
I am selling this print for $97 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. This is a large print and will be shipped in a tube. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the “Buy Now” button below.




Detail of Pintz’s TAB. CCCCXVIIII. Reg. Cap. IV. V. 33. Cedrus, Hyffopus, 1731
Detail of Pintz’s TAB. CCCCXVIIII. Reg. Cap. IV. V. 33. Cedrus, Hyffopus, 1731

The use of a frame to differentiate two ways of looking (i.e. objective and subjective) is taken a stage further in Pintz’s illustration, TABDXXVI—IOB. Cap. XXX. V.4 Pauperiores Iro. (shown below). Here, the featured frame is adorned with plant specimens from the landscape portrayed within the frame in an even more physically abutting manner than employed in the last print. The abutment, however, goes beyond the frame. Even the pictorial space of the portrayed framed landscape is overlaid with a trompe-l'oeil (i.e. a pictorial illusion designed to “fool” the eye that what is represented is “real”) of a pseudo-scientific illustration showing botanical details on a battered leaf of paper wedged into the frame’s top lip (see details further below). From my reading of the expressed meaning of these visual devices, the juxtaposition of “real” objects (i.e. the plant specimens and the trompe-l’oeil slip of paper) with fabricated reality (i.e. the pictorial space of the landscape within the frame) expresses a conscious intent by the artist to link reality with concept. This intent is made apparent once again by the use of alphabetical inscriptions that would correspond with text-based explanations annotating the illustration. This approach to juxtaposition to express meaning may be intimately connected to Scheuchze’s Physica Sacra but it opens a way forward to other artists exploring links between illusion and reality.


I.G. Pintz [Johann Georg Pintz] (1697–1767)
TABDXXVI—IOB. Cap. XXX. V.4 Pauperiores Iro., 1731

From Scheuchze’s (1672–1733) Physica Sacra
Engraving on laid paper
32 x 20.5 cm (plate); 43 x 25 cm (sheet)
Condition: superb impression with no foxing. The extreme edges of the sheet have browned (probably from dirt accumulating on the outer edges of the book. The print has generous borders on three sides but the left side has a 1 cm border from the plate mark.
I am selling this print for $97 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. This is a large print and will be shipped in a tube. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the “Buy Now” button below.

This print has been sold
Detail of Pintz’s TABDXXVI—IOB. Cap. XXX. V.4 Pauperiores Iro., 1731
Detail of Pintz’s TABDXXVI—IOB. Cap. XXX. V.4 Pauperiores Iro., 1731

A second way to juxtaposition complementary attributes of the subject also involves different realities but this time these realities are to do with contrast between graphic space (i.e. a conceptualised space represented by the artist’s personal way of making marks such as scribbled lines to represent abstract ideas) and pictorial space (i.e. an illusionary space of superficial appearance). Excellent examples of this type of abutment may be seen in artworks by the Vienna Secessionists like Gustave Klimt (1862–1918) but for this discussion I wish to focus on Emil Orlick’s (1870–1932) lithograph, Porträtstudie [Portrait Study] (shown below). 

Emil Orlick (1870–1932)
Porträtstudie [Portrait Study], 1899
Chine colle colour lithograph on heavy wove paper
Text inscription: “DRUCK K. K. HOF- UND STAATSDRUCKEREI, WIEN.” (lower left); “PORTRÄTSTUDIE. ORIGINAL-LITHOGRAPHIE VON EMIL ORLIK.” (lower centre); 
“VERLAG DER GESELLSCHAFT FÜR VERVIELFÄLTIGENDE KUNST, WIEN.” (lower right)
40 x 30.2 cm (chine colle image); 54.4 x 45 cm (sheet)
Condition: strong impression. The sheet has no tears but there is scattered light foxing on the support sheet. There are two white flicks on the image but these may be part of the print rather than surface damage.
I am selling this print for $285 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. This is a large print and will be shipped in a tube. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the “Buy Now” button below.





From my standpoint, the intriguing beauty of this profile portrait of a young woman rests with my eye being caught in a visual play between looking at first at the highly refined—almost photographic—grey-toned rendering of her face and then at the largely flat background of red-orange edged with a warm black border. To my eye there are opposing tensions between the three-dimensional treatment of her face—viewed as pictorial space—and the two-dimensional treatment of the space surrounding her—viewed as graphic space. This tension of contrasting opposites presents her face as physically real (in terms of three-dimensional appearance) while at the same time it draws attention to the flat planes upon which her face is set. The important link between the abutment of these two spaces—graphic and pictorial—is the hair. In representing the hair, Orlik uses lightly drawn details of the hair locks over the otherwise flat brown-black shape of the hair mass (see details below). These lightly drawn details act as the conceptual bridge connecting the complementary spaces of three-dimensional form and flat pattern.

Detail of Orlik’s Porträtstudie [Portrait Study], 1899
Detail of Orlik’s Porträtstudie [Portrait Study], 1899

The last approach I wish to discuss is one that engages the viewer in looking, thinking and responding, consequently it is an important one for visual communication: the juxtaposition of reflexive and reflective responses. To have an image that engages with a viewer in a way that prompts a reflexive response (i.e. an instinctive automatic response) means that the viewer is no longer an impassive spectator. Instead, the viewer is drawn to “participate” (in the sense of unmediated personal involvement) with the meaning projected by the image. After this initial involuntary response (a bit like being tapped on the knee by a doctor when testing one’s reflexes) the viewer may then choose to engage with the image in a reflective way; seeing relationships between portrayed features, deciphering meanings and correlating what is observed with associated experiences from the viewer’s past.

An example of how the juxtaposition of imagery for both readings is set in motion may be seen in Agostino Carracci’s (1557–1602) A Satyr Approaching a Sleeping Nymph (shown below). Here, a satyr portrayed approaching the viewer and a sleeping nymph holds up a finger to his lips in a gesture to the viewer to be quiet (see detail further below). For the viewer—or at least for me—this gesture and the way the satyr’s eyes are directed towards the viewer generates a reflexive response that he is making eye contact with the viewer and to be silent. This reading (for me) is unambiguous and automatic but the reason for the reflexive response is driven by the context where the satyr’s actions are contextualised with the sleeping nymph. The deciphering of the satyr’s need for silence is to involve the viewer in a complicit act of voyeurism with peeping on the sleeping nymph. Not all viewers may respond to the satyr’s “invitation” and at this point of reading is where there is a leap from reflexive response to reflective contemplation

Agostino Carracci (1557–1602)
A Satyr Approaching a Sleeping Nymph c. 1590–95
From the Lascivie series of fifteen prints
Engraving on laid paper
Only state
Bartsch: XVIII, 108.128; Bohlin 184
Condition: slightly grey impression trimmed to plate in pristine condition
I am selling this print for $360 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the “Buy Now” button below.

This print has been sold
Detail of Carracci’s A Satyr Approaching a Sleeping Nymph

The potential to misread the satyr’s intention for lascivious behaviour is minimised nevertheless by the compositional arrangement. By design, the satyr and the nymph are pictorially linked together by the overlapping of their arms; a connection made even more noticeable by the contrast of the satyr’s dark tone juxtaposed with the nymph’s light tones (see detail below).


Detail of Carracci’s A Satyr Approaching a Sleeping Nymph 
All of the above approaches to project meaning using juxtaposition of complementary attributes of the subject rely on how well contextualised the meaning is and how attuned the audience is to read the intended meaning.  Of course, no matter how well orchestrated the image is composed there remains what some may see as the fundamentals of the viewer seeing (in an everyday biological sense) what is portrayed. In this regard I have to remind myself of the down-to-earth quip by the marvellous arts writer Peter Fuller after hearing a formal sociological explanation by a “prominent post-structuralist” as to why the central figure in the classical sculpture, The Laocoon Group, could be interpreted as being in pain: “’But Griselda, he’s being strangled by a sea monster.’ ‘Yes,’ she retorted, ‘but we have no means of knowing whether or not he’s enjoying it. …’” (Fuller, Peter 1983, The Naked Artist: Art and Biology. Writers and Readers, London, pp. 2–3)