Saturday, 31 March 2012

Artefacts and meaning: Le Pautre & Piranesi


What are the motivations behind portraying architectural ornaments?



For a change of focus from my previous posts, this week I have decided to contribute my own drawings to the discussion, but first let me address the topic at hand. There is a long tradition in the graphic arts of portraying architectural ornaments, such as, column capitals, urns, volutes and cornucopia. Sometimes these forms are used to reference the spirit of a classical past in terms of contextualising them with classically attired staffage and settings. For example, Aegidius Sadeler’s (1570–1629) engravings of monumental vases after drawings and designs by Polidoro da Caravaggio (c.1492–1543) and Jean Le Pautre’s (1618–82) engravings featuring urns so large that they dwarf the folk mingling beneath them (see below). Other artists portray architectural forms for scientific illustration particularly in the field of archaeological documentation. The most famous of these illustrators, Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–78), goes further than simply depicting the forms. He adds drama to their portrayal with strong lighting and curious viewpoints. He also projects the idea that the featured architecture is in a state of transience (the notion of vanitas that was popular at the time) by focusing on cracks, crumbling edges and vegetation taking root within stonework.

 
Jean Le Pautre (1618–82)
Architecture Etching—Decorative Vases
Published by Charles Antoine Jombert Paris in 1751 for"Oeuvres d'architecture de Jean Le Pautre..."
Etching, 14.5 x 22 cm (sheet)
 
Condition: strong impression on laid paper with watermark. The print is in pristine condition and is cut on or inside the plate mark.
  Detail of Jean Le Pautre’s Architecture Etching—Decorative Vases

Jean Le Pautre (1618–82)
Architecture EtchingFountain
Published by Charles Antoine Jombert Paris in 1751 for"Oeuvres d'architecture de Jean Le Pautre..."
Etching, 21 x 14.5 cm (sheet)

Condition: slightly rubbed but otherwise a good impression on laid paper. The print is cut on or inside the plate mark and has two 1.5 cm tears towards the middle-left and a 3.5 cm tear on the upper right.

  Detail of Jean Le Pautre’s Architecture EtchingFountain

Jean Le Pautre (1618–82)
Architecture Etching—Urn
Published by Charles Antoine Jombert Paris in 1751 for"Oeuvres d'architecture de Jean Le Pautre..."
Etching, 18 x 11.5 cm (sheet)

Condition: strong impression on laid paper. The print is cut well inside the plate mark and is in pristine condition.
I am selling the three above Le Pautre prints for the combined total price of $115 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.





Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–78)
Towers Which Fortify the Wall, 1756–7
From the 2nd edition, 1784, of Le Antichità Romane (Roman Antiquities), tome 1, tavola 8, figure 2,
Etching, 13.2 x 19.7 cm
(Ficacci, Luigi 2012, Giovanni Battista Piranesi: The Complete Etchings, Vol 1, Taschen, Koln, p. 167.)

Condition: marvellous impression on laid paper with 3 cm chainlines and wide margins. The print has light scattered stains lower centre that are well away from the image. There are hinge marks from previous mounting, pencil notation “F. 158”, an ink inscription “GB Piranesi” on the far left corner, a previous collector’s ink stamp and signature on verso and the same collector’s ink monogram on the far right corner.
  Detail of Towers Which Fortify the Wall, 1756–7
 

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–78)
View of the Remains of the Peristyle of the House of Nero, 1756–7
From Le Antichità Romane (Roman Antiquities), tome 1, tavola 36, figure 1,
Etching, 13.2 x 19.7 cm
(Ficacci, Luigi 2012, Giovanni Battista Piranesi: The Complete Etchings, Vol 1, Taschen, Koln, p. 196.)
Condition: marvellous impression with wide margins. The print is in pristine condition. There are hinge marks from previous mounting, pencil notation “16-I-61” on the bottom edge, a previous collector’s ink stamp and signature on verso and the same collector’s ink monogram on the far right corner.
I am selling the two above Piranesi prints for the combined total price of $450 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.
 




Detail of View of the Remains of the Peristyle of the House of Nero, 1756–7


Although the motivations behind the tradition of portraying architectural ornaments have shifted over the centuries, three hallmarks of the tradition are constant and still resonant: objectivity, accuracy and clarity of visual expression. These hallmarks certainly underpin my two drawings: Finial showing the urn-shaped base of an ornament that once crowned a building façade and Finial Crown showing the conventionalised acorn-shaped upper section of the same ornament (see images below). For instance, both drawings feature the subject centred horizontally on the page. By design, this symmetrical arrangement presents the subject in an objective way (i.e. the arrangement presents the subject as a specimen without subjective meanings). The drawings also exhibit traces of the initial stage of the drawing process as can be seen in the faint horizontal and vertical measurement lines laid before the formal rendering of the subject commenced. Again, by design, the retention of these early construction marks hints at the care taken with measuring and plotting proportions and attests to the second hallmark attribute: accuracy. Regarding the final hallmark, clarity of expression, the drawings follow the Western convention of lighting a subject from the top-front-left—a convention based on a left-to-right reading direction—that facilitates a viewer’s understanding of the finial’s form.



James Brown (see my profile on the side bar)
Finial (an architectural feature from the old East Flinders Street printery and excavated from the site by the JCU archaeological team), 2010–12
Pen, ink and lemon juice on watercolour paper, 76 x 57 cm
I am selling this drawing for $850 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.
 




James Brown (see my profile on the side bar)
Finial Crown (an architectural feature from the old East Flinders Street printery and excavated from the site by the JCU archaeological team), 2010–12
Pen, ink and lemon juice on watercolour paper, 76 x 57 cm

I am selling this drawing for $850 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.


Of course, there is more to these drawings of the finial than simply reflecting the tradition of depicting such an object. The central motivation behind their execution is to explore ways to portray the non-visual element of an aura of presence that the artist perceived—a legacy extending from the note of drama that Piranesi imbues his prints. Interestingly, this element is easier to express by not engaging in aesthetic arrangement and contextualisation with other objects. Based on the explorations with these drawings, the projection of an aura of presence seems to arise from the treatment of the subject itself. For instance, the choice of colour and the transparency of the medium, the lighting angle and strong tonal contrast all play integral roles.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Inverse-Square Law: Berchem

How does the Inverse-Square Law play a role in image making?


Although most artists use a pattern of light and shade when creating the illusion of three-dimensions, there can be more to the art of portraying this illusion than simply reproducing such a pattern. To give an insight into the complex issues involved, the following discussion focuses on the subtleties and difficulties inherent in applying the Inverse-Square Law with reference to one of Nicolaes Berchem's (1620–83) etchings.


First let me offer a brief explanation of the Inverse-Square Law. This law, with its ancestry arguably stretching back to Newton’s exploration of the relationship between gravity and distance, proposes that there is a correlation between the degree of illumination on a subject and the distance that the subject is away from the light source. The rule is that the degree of illumination decreases at the following ratio: the distance that a subject is away from the light source squared. For example, if one evening a light were to be placed in a yard full of dogs, a dog that was one metre away from the light would be four times more brightly lit than a dog that was two metres further away. The video below graphically illustrates the maths involved even if the focus is on the art of buttering bread.



The inverse square law a beginners guide Uploaded by fizzicsorg




Undoubtedly, the Inverse-Square Law offers a useful mathematical base upon which artists can determine the precise degree of illumination cast on a  subject. But for artistic expression the law is usually more of a broad guide rather than a strict rule for pictorial representation. After all, very few artists would wish to engage in careful measurement and calculation that is necessary to follow this scientific rule. Moreover, equally few viewers’ eyes would be so attuned to see exact differences of illumination even if a highly disciplined artist ensured that the law was obeyed with absolute precision. For instance, viewers are very unlikely to see precise changes of illumination in daylight separating every dog in a yard. But this does not mean that most viewers would not be sensitive enough to recognise broad changes in lighting differentiating the position of one dog from the next. For example, consider how Berchem has altered the degree of tonal contrast to differentiate each of the three dogs shown in the etching below (i.e. the standing dog is rendered with the strongest contrast while the foreground dog shows slightly more contrast than the dog further away).




Nicholaes Berchem (1620–1683)
Three Hunting Dogs, c.1650, from A Man’s Sketchbook 11 (a suite of 8 prints)
Etching, 9.9 x 11.3 cm (plate); 10.5 x 11.6 cm (sheet)
 
Condition: strong impression on thin laid paper with 2.8 cm chain lines. The sheet is cut close to the plate mark as was once the custom. There is a faint trace of a pencil line on the bottom left and a brown mark towards the upper right. The print is not laid down and is in a remarkable condition considering its age.
Bartsch 7.56 (281)
I am selling this print for $85 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.

This print has been sold
Details showing variations of tonal contrast in the three dogs


Despite Berchem’s differentiation of the dogs by tonal contrast, there is a problem with the position of the dogs in terms of their hierarchy of tonal contrast relative to their distance from the light. In short, the dog in the foreground should have been rendered with the sharpest contrast as it is arguably the closest to the light and the standing dog should have been rendered with the softest contrast because it is the furthest away from the light (see exaggerated reconstruction of the placement of tonal contrasts below).



  Exaggerated reconstruction of tonal contrasts following the Inverse-Square Law
 


An artist can draw upon other principles when applying the law to give more subtlety to the rendering of tonal contrasts. One of these principles is the “lighting ratio” that photographers consider if the lighting of their subject is too harsh. This ratio involves making adjustments to the lighting so that the main source of light (the “key”) is balanced by other scattered light (the “fill”) to allow details in any cast shadows to be visible.

In Berchem’s rendering of the three dogs, the knowledge of how to adjust the lighting ratio to depict the effects of light reflected on hair is one of the fundamentals of portraying form: superficial details are not shown in those areas of brightest light or in areas of darkest shadow but are restricted to those areas in half light. For example, the pattern of light and shade on the foreground hound’s snout shows a line of demarcation separating the lights and darks (see detail below). The accentuation of tonal contrast along this line helps to signify that the dog is in strong light. To ensure that details of hair on the snout are not lost in portraying the effect of strong light, these details are shown in the half light (i.e. the shadow areas abutting the line of demarcation but before areas of the darkest shadow).


Detail of the foreground dog’s snout


There is another principle extending upon the last to show changes in the pattern of light and shade over a form: varying the tonal contrast along the demarcation line itself so that the contrast is strongest where the angle of light directly illuminates a form. Berchem’s approach to portraying form falls short of employing this principle but his contemporary, Karel Dujardin (c.1622–78)—discussed in an earlier post—is a perfect example of an artist who applies it. In Dujardin’s Cow and Calf (see image below), for instance, take note of how the line of demarcation on the cow is beautifully phrased with strong contrast where the light hits directly upon the hip bone and then softens in contrast as the light tangentially brushes on the cow’s belly.





Karel Dujardin (c.1622–78)
Cow and Calf, c. 1655
Etching, 15 x 136 cm (plate); 17.1 x 16.6 cm (sheet)
Holistein lll (of lll); Bartsch 1.3.1 (166)

Condition: very good impression on laid paper with 3 cm chainlines. There is scattered faint foxing otherwise in a clean condition. The print is not laid down.
I am selling this print for $145 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.

This print has been sold

  Detail of Cow and Calf, c. 1655

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Advancing & receding forms (Part 1): van Sichem II

How does an artist make a tree lean towards you?





One of the simplest and most effective ways that an artist can employ to make a tree lean towards you is to use curved contour lines (sometimes described as “bracelet marks”) to suggest that you are under the tree. This means that the contour lines are “U”-shaped like a smile resulting from the artist depicting the underside of the tree limbs. As an example of this device see the detail below from van Sichem II’s 17th century woodcut, John the Baptist Preaching in the Wilderness.


  Detail of John the Baptist Preaching in the Wilderness, 1648 

Conversely, an artist may make a tree lean away from you by using contour marks suggesting that you are above the tree; that is, marks that are shaped like an inverted "U"—a sad mouth (see detail from the same woodcut below).


  Detail of John the Baptist Preaching in the Wilderness, 1648

Christoffel van Sichem II (1581–1658)
(recto) John the Baptist Preaching in the Wilderness, published 1648 (but most likely executed in 1620)
Woodcut, 10 x 7.3 cm (plate image); 14.3 x 9 cm (sheet)

Condition: the print is cut from the 17th century biblical text, t'Scat der Zielen, dat is: Het geheete leven ons Heeren Jesu Christi..., published in Amsterdam in 1648 by Pieter I. Paets. Printed in Old Dutch Gothic script with the artist’s CVS monogram bottom left corner on laid paper with chainlines at one inch. The sheet is in good condition with a small stain on the left edge away from the image. Another woodcut by van Sichem II is other side of the sheet (see below).

 verso of the same sheet







I am selling this print for $45 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



This print has been sold


To demonstrate the effectiveness of this principle for portraying advancing and receding forms I recommend the following exercise. First, draw a fundamental tree trunk (see figure 1 below). Next, draw in a very schematic way two limbs on the trunk without showing how they are attached to the trunk (figure 2 below). Finally, experiment with applying the two types of contour lines discussed above to see which makes the limb advance and which makes it recede (i.e. inscribe marks on the underside of one of the limbs and on topside of the other limb) (figure 3 below).




Of course, an artist can make any feature appear to advance or to recede using this principle. For instance, van Sichem has depicted the right arm of the figure on the bottom right of John the Baptist Preaching in the Wilderness gesturing away from us. This representation of a receding arm is achieved by showing contour lines on the top of his arm. By contrast, the same figure’s left arm is shown advancing towards us by contour lines placed under his arm (see details below).



Advancing and receding contour lines in detail of van Sichem II’s woodcut, John the Baptist Preaching in the Wilderness, 1648

Artists do not always have the flexibility to arrange subject features so that they may be depicted from either above or below. Despite this challenge, artists usually have the inherent gift to visualise form in their mind’s eye so that the appropriate orientation of contour lines can be applied. For example the drawing below features the same cylinder but the orientation of the marks rendering its form changes with the direction the cylinder faces.

Unfortunately the conceptualisation process of marrying the direction that a form faces with the appropriate alignment of contour lines sometimes goes astray. This can be seen in the detail of the foreground figure’s left hand (see the bottom-right detail above). Here van Sichem II leaves the viewer in a conundrum with his use of contour line to establish the location of the bend in the arm at the elbow.




In van Sichem II’s major prints however the true genius of his craft in portraying form is clear as can be seen in the title page print for the Epistle of Saint Paul (see below). Here, van Sichem II's subtle shifts of contour shading are amazing. For example, note how the contouring of the St Paul’s foot projects the foot forwards compared to the contouring of lines on the hilt (handle) of the sword on which St Paul rest his foot. More subtle than these is his contouring of marks around the saint’s head so that his body is shown gently arching forward. Such fine tuning of forms so that they move forward and back in space has earned him the enviable title of “The Dutch Durer.”




Christoffel van Sichem II (1581–1658)
(recto) St Paul, published 1648 (but most likely executed in 1620)
Woodcut, 34.2 x 21.7 cm (sheet)


Condition: a magnificent full-size folio leaf from the 17th century biblical text, t'Scat der Zielen, dat is: Het geheete leven ons Heeren Jesu Christi..., published in Amsterdam in 1648 by Pieter I. Paets. Printed in Old Dutch Gothic script with the artist’s CVS monogram bottom left corner on laid paper with chainlines at one inch. The sheet has minor tears and a nibbled corner. Otherwise it is in excellent condition. Another woodcut by van Sichem II is other side of the sheet (see below).



  Verso of the same sheet


I am selling this print for $135 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. 


This print has been sold

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Foote, Cone and Belding Grid: Daniel Heimlich

Is the arrangement of subject material that underpins the Foote, Cone and Belding Grid to be seen in early prints?

Ever since the development of the Foote, Cone and Belding Grid in the late 1970s, the FCB Grid has been an essential tool for the advertising industry. In essence, the Grid is a design template allocating the most appropriate places in an advertisement to insert imagery and information where a viewer will have the “right” mindset for negotiating meaning. For instance, on the left side of an image a viewer has a propensity to read information with an analytical mindset. Consequently, imagery that leans to a process of rationalisation is well suited if placed in this region. By contrast, on the right side of an image a viewer is more likely to want to respond to imagery intuitively. Thus imagery that is likely to excite the subconscious in a reflexive (i.e. automatic) way—perhaps emotionally—is best placed there. The lower region of an image is where a viewer tends to want to see everyday subject material. Therefore this is the ideal area for subject material addressing temporal issues. Finally, in the upper region of the image a viewer is disposed to see meanings dealing with the spirit. To tap into this way of looking and feeling, imagery evoking feelings of spiritual transcendence or mediates with a viewer beyond everyday concerns is shown here.

Of course every artwork engages with a viewer in different ways and so there are no inflexible rules for how an artist should express a personal vision. But this does not mean that the FCB Grid has no value as a guide for visual communication outside of advertising. To explain how the disposition of subject material into pictorial zones has always been a part of an intuitive mind map for artists, even before the FCB Grid was formalised, the following discussion focuses on the example of a remarkably dramatic etching by Daniel Heimlich (1740–96), Lightning in a Landscape.




Johann Daniel Heimlich (1740–96)
Lightning in a Landscape, 1765
Etching on laid paper, 13.1 x 17.6 cm (plate); 26.1 x 17.5 cm (sheet)
Condition: strong impression on sturdy laid paper. Typical of the period, the lower left margin has holes indicating it was once stab bound with other prints. There are many light handling creases, staining and a 2.5 cm horizontal tear on the right edge that is 2 cm from the plate mark. Verso has numbers (perhaps a collector’s inventory record) written in pencil at the bottom left and ink (?) smudges towards the upper left.
I am selling this print for $87 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. 



This print has been sold
Whether or not Heimlich placed his centre of interest, a lightning strike on a distant tower, on the left side because he knew that viewers are best equipped for looking at and thinking about lightning in this region is unknown. There can be no doubt, however, that Heimlich deliberately composed the image so that a viewer’s attention would be channelled to see the lightning strike on the left (see details below). After all, most of the structural lines point towards the lightning striking the tower; such as, the silhouette edge of the foreground hillock with a running man, the limbs of the two trees on the right, the head of land jutting into the water and the angle of the boatman's oar (see diagram below).
  Details of Lightning in a Landscape, 1765

Radiating lines creating a point of focus in Lightning in a Landscape, 1765

From my perspective, the arrangement of lines converging on the puff of smoke does more than invite me to ponder about what may be happening at the top of the tower. There is also a counter invitation for me to look in the reverse direction following the radiating divergence in the lines back to their source. This reflexive to-and-fro bounce in my reading of momentarily looking at the lightning strike and then looking at the surrounding landscape builds upon my understanding of the imagery as a coherent whole.  In terms of the FCB Grid, it is this relationship between the pictorial zones (left, right, bottom and top) and the mind's tendency to negotiate meanings from different mindsets in each of these zones is what makes this and other well composed images strong.

For instance, after seeing the lightning strike my eyes flick back from the tower to the running figure on the hillock edge (see detail below) and I respond with automatic recognition that the figure must be running away from the lightning. This immediate understanding of what is happening matches well with the right pictorial zone of the FCB Grid where a viewer is likely to respond intuitively to imagery.

  Detail of Lightning in a Landscape, 1765

The flick of my eyes back to the trees on the near hillside, also in the right pictorial zone, connects to my sense of drama. I respond to the writhing forms of the trees as analogues of anxiety. I see them as spooky ghosts of trees rather than trees to be examined as true representations of trees (see detail below).

  Detail of Lightning in a Landscape, 1765

Following the radiating lines my eyes also flick back to the folk on the boat (see detail below). Here, my mind reconstructs what I might be thinking if I were in their predicament. This propensity to empathise with these people is in keeping with the lower pictorial zone of the FCB Grid where viewers lean towards engaging with everyday concerns.







  Detail of Lightning in a Landscape, 1765


Arguably more critical to understanding the drama of the scene is the notion of the sublime that the lightning itself provides. Beyond the downward zigzagging route of the lightning bolt, my eye is also drawn upward to the fissure of light in the cloud bank (see detail below). This upward path has associations with religious imagery where meaning is conferred from a spirit above. There is also a sense of a transcendent spirituality conferred by the partly hidden source of the illumination. Perhaps this intangible feeling of spiritually is an inexplicable understanding of what is concealed in the heavens.


  Detail of Lightning in a Landscape, 1765


In conclusion to the above discussion, the question as to whether or not early artists, such as Heimlich, were aware of the arrangement of visual devices that underpin the FCB Grid, the answer is most likely negative. Nevertheless, the arrangement formalised by Richard Vaughn into the FCB Grid was not a layout constructed by theory but was devised from an inherent way that most viewers (including artists) respond to imagery. Mindful that the FCB Grid draws so directly upon most viewers' ways of negotiating meaning from an image then the arrangement has always existed and is "known" at a subliminal level.

 
  Recto and Verso of whole sheet

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

The fulcrum point: Pontius after van Dyck

How does an artist capture and sustain a viewer's interest?




Arguably, there are three essential requirements for an artwork to be memorable. The first is that the image must catch a viewer's attention. In literature this is called the “hook" and is usually an intriguing beginning sentence or turn of phrase acting as a metaphorical fishing hook waiting to catch a reader's interest. The second essential requirement is that an artwork must sustain the initial interest. This securing of interest may involve a viewer being drawn into deep contemplation of the artwork by an arrangement of visual devices designed to stimulate the eye and brain to see meaning. Interest may also be sustained by a viewer's reflexive response (i.e. a "gut" reaction) to the imagery in the sense that the artwork triggers a flood of associations and memories riveting a viewer's attention. The third and perhaps the most challenging requirement is that the artwork should leave a viewer feeling conceptually and/or aesthetically satisfied. In achieving this last goal the artwork may have personal significance for the viewer and which resonates with the viewer's mindset. It may also embrace social and cultural issues that are both pertinent and interesting to the viewer. Going even further, it may connect with and add fresh dimensions to the viewer's aesthetic sensitivities and conceptual leanings. For instance, the artwork may excite a viewer's sense of aesthetics in the terms of satisfying a psychological need and it may challenge a viewer's preconceptions about current issues in the visual arts. In short, the pivotal element that makes an artwork memorable is its ability to excite the senses and to challenge expectations.

To explain how these three requirements can make an artwork memorable I wish to use as an example an engraving by Paulus Pontius (also known as Du Pont) (1603–1658) after a painting by Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641), Theodorus Rombouts (Théodore Rombouts), 1645.



Paulus Pontius (also known as Du Pont) (1603–1658)
after a painting by Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641)
Theodorus Rombouts (Théodore Rombouts), 1645, part of the Iconographie series.
Signed in the plate lower left “Ant. van Dyck pinxit” and "Paul du Pont Sculp."
Below the portrait is inscribed: “THEODORVS ROMBOVTS | PICTOR HVMANARVM FIGVRARVM ANTVERPI Æ.” The lower right is marked “Cum privilegio.”
Engraving, 23.8 x 15.2 cm (plate), 27 x 18.3 cm (sheet)
Condition: strong impression on laid paper with faint foxing. The sheet is clean with darkening commensurate with the age of this early impression. There is a small area missing in the top margin with a tear extending to the plate mark but not entering into the image. Verso has a pencil inscription and traces of red staining.
I am selling this print for $135 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.


Regarding the idea that an image should catch a viewer’s attention, Pontius’ choice of a pose for Rombouts is certainly designed to engage with a viewer’s eye and at a visceral level. I envisage that most viewers would interpret the Rombouts’ elbow jutting towards them as psychologically confronting, perhaps even verging on insulting, in terms of socially dismissive and impolite body language.  And even if a viewer did not find the pose confronting, the advancing bent arm is visually arresting in the sense that its protuberance creates literally pokes the viewer in the eye. 


  Detail, Theodorus Rombouts, 1645

With regard to the requirement that an image should sustain a viewer's interest, this engraving exhibits a very interesting pictorial device employed to invite negotiations of meaning at many different levels: Rombouts' hand gesture that minimally breaks through the right borderline of the print. By virtue of the break in the borderline being so slight, the finger that probes through the borderline functions like a pictorial magnet in attracting the eye to the figure's hand. And, more important, to read the body language that the hand expresses: a gesture to look.



  Detail, Theodorus Rombouts, 1645 




The projected meaning of this hand gesture goes beyond the pointing index finger. After all, body language is read from a cluster of different but related gestures. Here, Rombouts’ facial expression suggests that he is momentarily engaged in addressing another person outside the field of vision. This perception is supported by the slight clockwise twist of the face, the alignment of the hand gesture with the direction of Rombouts’ face and the counter movement of the arm on his hip. The relationship of face, hand and arm is not accidental. Clearly the hand, and more specifically the finger, is a fulcrum point in a triangulated relationship where the finger forms a spearhead point of balance (see below).

  Finger as the fulcrum point, Theodorus Rombouts, 1645

Some viewers will see the focus on the hand with its pointing gesture as signifying that Rombouts is a man of authority. Others may see the direction in which his hand is pointing as indicating that Rombouts is man engaged in abstract discussion (see last post, Saints & Sinners) with his upturned palm revealing an entreaty to non-didactic discourse. From my perspective, I see the relationship of hand, face and bent arm as signifying an insecure man. To my eyes he is portrayed hiding behind a strategically positioned arm and coat with a partly concealed (but pivotally important) hand and averted gaze. Of course, the more one ponders the disposition of the figurer and what may be signified the more interestingly complex the range of readings become. This is the layering of negotiated meanings that a memorable image is able to engender.
Regarding the final requirement that an artwork should leave a viewer feeling conceptually and/or aesthetically satisfied, this engraving functions on two levels. Conceptually, the print is memorable for historians as this is one of the few existing portraits of the Flemish painter, Theodorus Rombouts (1597–1637). There is more to this portrait, however, than just being memorable as a rare archival image. For viewers familiar with Rombouts' artworks, they would recognise how this portrait distills Rombouts' mannered gesture in the same Caravaggesque style characterising Rombouts' paintings. For viewers familiar with the Iconographie series of which this portrait is a part, the relation of this print in terms of pictorial and stylistic consistency with the whole collection makes the visual dialogue of comparison a very fruitful engagement. For instance, one could compare the composition and approach to expressing the mindset of Rombouts with that employed in Pontius' engraving (shown below) of the philosopher and writer, Caspar Gevaert (Casperius Gevartius), also a part of the Iconographie series.



Paulus Pontius (also known as Du Pont) (1603–1658)
after a painting by Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641)
Portrait of Caspar Gevaert (Casperius Gevartius), 1630–40,
part of the Iconographie series.
Signed in the plate lower left “Ant. van Dyck pinxit” and "Paul du Pont Sculp."
Below the portrait is inscribed: “CLARISSIMVS VIR, CASPERIVS GEVARTIVS IVRISCONSVLTVS | ARCHIGRAMMATEVS ANTVERPLANVS, CONSILIARIVS ET HISTO | RIOGRAPHVS CAESAREVS.” The lower right is marked “Cum privilegio.”
Engraving, 24.6 x 16.6 cm (plate), 36.7 x 25 cm (sheet)

Condition: very strong impression with wide margins on laid paper. The sheet is clean with slight darkening at the edges of the sheet commensurate with the ago of the print. There are several marks in the lower right margin with one mark extending 2 mms into the text margin but not entering into the image. Verso has a collector ink stamp and there is a 5mm tear at the bottom of the sheet 8 cms from the plate mark.
I am selling this print for $186 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.




Aesthetically, close scrutiny of Pontius' precise alignment of contour shading marks is as rewarding as exploring the mystery of nooks and crannies in a landscape. For example, the treatment of Rombouts' cloak (see detail below) is fascinating to contemplate especially how Pontius adjusts the curving lines to describe advancing and receding folds.



  Details, Theodorus Rombouts, 1645


Even examination of the hatching marks rendering the tone of the background is satisfying. Clearly, Pontius has angled the cross-hatched lines in the upper-left and in the lower-right areas of the background to align with the directional thrust of the figure's back and lower arm. This bias in the marks gives breadth to a viewer’s reading of the many folds in Rombouts’ cloak by simplifying their various angles to one direction. Moreover, Pontius’ use of a single layer of horizontal lines to render the background tone in the upper-right helps to provide an expansive space where a viewer has psychological room to respond to Rombouts’ gaze and hand gesture.



(left) whole sheet view of Theodorus Rombouts (Théodore Rombouts), 1645
(right) whole sheet view of Caspar Gevaert (Casperius Gevartius), 1630–40