Friday, 12 July 2013

An Evolution in Representation (Part One): Wierix; Lorrain; Poussin; da Vinci; Michelangelo; Mellan; Pitteri: Bowen; Houbraken & Fantin-Latour

What are some of the historical approaches used by artists to represent what they see?


One of the joys of living today is being able to access a virtual sea of information. For instance, only this morning I was feeding a pair of neighbourhood ducks—George and Mildred—and silly quandaries about their life expectancy and why they wag their tails so furiously were quickly answered with a Google search on my phone: I discovered that ducks live for around ten years (unless eaten earlier) and the reason that they wag their tails is because they are happy or that they have just had a bath and were wiggling their tails to dry their bottoms. Twenty years ago the idea of trying to find answers to such idle musings would have been relegated to the pit of “pointless questions that are too hard to answer” as the task of determining what would be an appropriate book to consult and finding it would have been too difficult. Despite today’s easy access to information, there is still thinness in freely available web-based information on some topics. This is especially true regarding how artists’ perceptions of reality have evolved through history. By this I am not referring to the discovery of principles such as perspective or innovative shading techniques like the dotted lozenge for portraying form (discussed in the earlier post, “Dotted Lozenge”) or even a timeline of “big bang” moments of period styles in art. Rather, I am referring to a much simpler history that documents the evolution of how artists “thought” that they perceived the temporal world.

Without apologising too much for nipping off inconvenient truths about how artists represent the world around them, the following discussion is the first of four accounts focused on explaining four pivotal ways and the principles underpinning them that artists have applied to portray their vision:
· Consecutive vision—a way of looking at a subject employed during the Renaissance where the artist consecutively examines and renders each portrayed feature with the same degree of focal clarity;
·    Binocular vision—a way of looking at a subject employed by many Impressionists where the artist perceives a point of convergence through the simultaneous effect of looking with both eyes open at a focal point while clarity diminishes in 360 degrees away from this point focal;
·    Monocular vision—a way of looking at a subject employed by Photo-realists where the artist examines a subject through one eye (like the lens of a camera) at a plane of focal clarity parallel to the eye while in front of this plane and behind it focal clarity diminishes; and,
·  Gestalt vision—an term coined for convenience rather than accuracy employed by many contemporary artists to portray a subject in a way that takes into account current perception theory such interpreting a subject based on points of focal fixation and the ever-expanding theories regarding how the mind interprets configurations of critical details from one moment to the next.

For this first instalment, I will focus on Consecutive vision and its ramifications for both the artist and viewer. 
Heronymous Jerome Wierix (1443–1619)
The Flagellation, 1619 (before)
From the series, The Passion of Christ
Engraving on laid paper
Inscribed below image: Ipse vulneratus est propter iniquitates/nostras; disciplina pacis nostrae super eum,/& liuore eius sanati sumus. Isaiae 53/Hieronymus Wierx fecit et excud. Cum Gratia et Priuilegio. Buschere.
8.4 x 5.2 cm (sheet)
Mauquoy-Hendrickx 173; Alvin 348; Hollstein 213 (The Wierix family) 
Condition: very fine impression trimmed to border line and hinged to mount with two pieces of archival tape on the back. Also on the back, is an ink inscription by a previous collector
I am selling this rare engraving for $127 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
During the Renaissance, artists were fully aware of the need to ensure that figures of religious or social importance were portrayed in ways signifying their elevated status. After all, financial success and reputation rested on meeting this expectation of the artist’s patrons and audience. For example, Heronymous Jerome Wierix’s (1443–1619) portrayal of Christ in The Flagellation (shown above and with details below) is designed to present Christ as more than an ordinary man in terms of his halo. Moreover, Christ is marginally taller than his surrounding tormentors and bathed in light in the middle of the scene. This obligation to make the key subject pictorially arresting and conceptually important (i.e. “special”), does not mean that Christ is also depicted in sharper focus than any other feature. Instead all features are displayed with the same degree of focal clarity and it is this focal democracy which defines the principle of consecutive vision.



Details of Wierix’s The Flagellation
With regard to landscape imagery and the use of consecutive vision, Claude Lorrain (1604/5?–1685) and Nicolas Poussin (1594–1695) are fine exemplars. Lorrain’s way of portraying animals, for instance, is similar to his treatment of trees and surrounding terrain, as shown below in his etchings: The Vision [L’apparition] and The Two Landscapes [Les deux paysages]. Similarly, Poussin drawings, such as The Death of Germanicus (c.1626-7), exemplifies a way of looking wherein no element in his composition has more attention given to its depiction than the next. One consideration that should be borne in mind regarding Poussin and other artists who apply consecutive vision is that what is depicted is not necessarily what is signified. In the case of Poussin, according to Christel Godicke in the foreword to Oskar Batschmann’s rich and insightful Nicolas Poussin: Dialectics of Painting (1990) “He differentiates between the simple and natural kind, the aspect, and the attentive observation of objects, the prospect, which looks for the means of understanding vision and perceiving objects” (p. vii).

Claude Lorrain (1604/5? –1685)
The Vision [L’apparition], 1630?
Etching on wove paper
State v (of v) published in the 1816 Schulze edition of 200 Etchings
10.4 x 17.1 (plate); 10.9 x 17.4 cm (sheet)
Robert-Dumesnil 2; Blum 3; Knab 121; Duplessis 2; Russell 7; Mannocci 5
Description from the British Museum:
“The apparition; at the edge of a wood, near a river, a cleric listening to an angel, with a city in the background.” (http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=1346348&partId=1&searchText=claude+lorrain+etching&page=1 [viewed 9th July 2013])
Condition: very rich, well-inked impression, trimmed close to plate mark in near pristine condition.
I am selling this print for $230 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 Lorrain’s The Vision

© The Trustees of the British Museum
Claude Lorrain (1604/5? –1685)
The Two Landscapes [Les deux paysages], 1630?
Etching
13.2 x 20.1 cm
Robert-Dumesnil 40; Blum 42; Knab 114; Duplessis 42; Russell 6; Mannocci 4
The British Museum: 1973,U.641
Curator’s comment from the British Museum:

The two impressions shown below are from the 1816 publication, 200 etchings. In this publication, the two images were separated and presented as two prints.
I am selling both of these small prints (upper print is 6 x 4.2 cm; lower print is 5.9 x 5.3 cm) that came from the same plate for a combined total price of $210 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.


These prints have been sold

© The Trustees of the British Museum
Nicolas Poussin (1594–1695)
The Death of Germanicus [La mort de germanicus], c.1626–7
Pen and brown ink, with brown wash
18.3 x 25.6 cm
Collection: British Museum

As always, there are exceptions to any rule. Especially the idea that all Renaissance art is the result of what I have described as consecutive vision. At this point I must admit to an inconvenient truth: some Renaissance images do not conform to the principle that all pictorial features are rendered with the same degree of focal clarity. For example, there may be a case to argue that Leonardo’s The Mona Lisa (La Gioconda in Italian, or La Joconde in French) (shown below) reveals a change in focal clarity from foreground to distance resulting from Leonardo’s  depiction of the smoky effect of atmospheric haziness—an effect termed, sfumato, created by the softening of a subject’s edges. There are also many Renaissance drawings displaying a vignette treatment and which clearly show greater focal clarity towards the central area of the images than at their peripheral edge (see, for example, Michelangelo’s drawing, The Erythraean Sibyl, shown further below).

Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519)
The Mona Lisa (La Gioconda [Italian] or La Joconde [French]), c. 1503–19
Oil on wood (poplar panel)
77 x 53 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris
Detail of The Mona Lisa
© The Trustees of the British Museum
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475–1564)
The Erythraean Sibyl, 1508–12
Michelangelo catalogue page 118 Ex. no. 19 recto 
Brown wash and pen and dark brown ink over a black chalk under-drawing
38.4 x 25.8 cm
Museum number: 1887,0502.118,
Beyond the issue that not all Renaissance images reveal the use of consecutive vision, I also wish to propose that the idea of portraying all pictorial details with the same degree of focal clarity did not end with the Renaissance. Certainly the grand tradition of academic art celebrates the value of portraying the chosen subject with finely tuned focus on all details depicted, as may be seen in J.T. Bowen’s nineteenth century training manual for budding academic students, Studies of the Human Figure (shown below). Interestingly, this approach of consistent sharp focus appeals to most art students at their beginning stage as they wish to portray their chosen subject with as much detail as possible. Of course, they later realise that a plethora of detail can be visually indigestible for viewers and that the adage, “less is more” (a phrase from Robert Browning’s 1855 poem, Andrea del Sarto [called The Faultless Painter]) provides a more inviting image for viewers to contemplate.

J.T. Bowen
Studies of the Human Figure. Circa 1850
18 loose lithographs in damaged binding cover
25.5 x 33.5 cm (cover); 24 X 33cm (lithograph sheet)
Condition: all sheets in the book are loose and show signs of handling (several of the sheets even have a “student” copies in pencil on their verso) with light soiling, chipping of sheet edges and age toning.
I am selling this book of lithographs 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 below.
This book has been sold
Illustrations from J.T. Bowen’s Studies of the Human Figure
Arguably, Claude Mellan’s (1598–1688) engraving, Sudarium of Saint Veronica [Veil of St Veronica] (1649) shown below, is a prime example of stylistic consistency in applying consecutive vision. This engraving is a feat of technical virtuosity in that by use of a single spiralling line Mellan has portrayed Christ’s image that miraculously appeared on St Veronica’s veil after the saint wiped Christ’s head on his way to Calvary. The single spiralling line renders the image of Christ as a filtered pattern wherein all his portrayed features share the same focal clarity—with the exception of the tip of his nose where the spiral terminates.


Claude Mellan (1598–1688)
Sudarium of Saint Veronica [Veil of St Veronica] (1649)
engraving
42.9 x 31.7 cm
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Claude_Mellan_-_Face_of_Christ_-_WGA14764.jpg 
[Viewed 9 July 2013])

Detail of Mellan’s Sudarium of Saint Veronica
Another approach to achieving consistency of style and focal clarity is exemplified by Giovanni Marco Pitteri’s (1703–1767) use of parallel lines phrased with varying thickness. In his engravings shown below, St Francis, after Ribera, and The Release of Peter from Prison, after Ribera, his use of parallel strokes to render light and shade is not designed to give contoured form to the portrayed figures in the sense of each stroke matching the curves of the surfaces depicted. Instead, the parallel lines give conceptual distance to the scenes as if the viewer were looking through a fine fabric scrim. To fully appreciate the effect of Pitteri’s style of rendering, compare his two engravings with Jacobus Houbraken’s (1710–80) The Sacrifice of Manoah that is a similar scene executed with cross-hatching strokes replicating the contours of the surfaces depicted. 

Giovanni Marco Pitteri (1703–1767)
St Francis on the Thorns, c.1750, after a painting by José de Ribera (1591–1652) in the Royal Collection (Gemäldegalerie) in Dresden. Nineteenth-century impression, published in Recueil d'estampes d'après les plus célèbres tableaux de la Galerie Royale de Dresde, edited by Carl Heinrich von Heineken, 1753–57 (see http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Gem%C3%A4ldegalerie
_Alte_Meister_%28Dresden%29,_%C3%9Cbersicht_Galeriewerke [Viewed 10 July 2013]) This print is described by the British Museum as “An angel appearing to St Benedict of Nursia [rather than St Francis] who is stretched out on the ground on a bed of brambles” (http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=3005899&partId=1&searchText=Marco+Pitteri&images=true&page=1 [Viewed 10 July 2013])
Engraving and etching on wove paper
36.9 x 41.4 cm (plate); 47.3 x 62.5 cm (sheet)
Condition: strong impression with wide margins. There are stains in the margins otherwise in excellent condition.
I am selling this print for $360 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. This is a large print and so it will be posted rolled in a cylinder. 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 Pitteri’s St Francis on the Thorns
Detail of Pitteri’s St Francis on the Thorns
Giovanni Marco Pitteri (1703–1767)
The Angel Appearing to St Peter, c.1750, after a painting by José de Ribera (1591–1652) in the Royal Collection (Gemäldegalerie) in Dresden. Nineteenth-century impression, published in Recueil d'estampes d'après les plus célèbres tableaux de la Galerie Royale de Dresde, edited by Carl Heinrich von Heineken, 1753–57 (see http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Gem%C3%A4ldegalerie_Alte_Meister_%28Dresden%29,_
Engraving and etching on wove paper
36.9 x 41.4 cm (plate); 48 x 63.3 cm (sheet)
Condition: strong impression with wide margins. There are stains in the margins otherwise in excellent condition.
I am selling this print for $360 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. This is a large print and so it will be posted rolled in a cylinder. Please contact me using the email link at the top of the page if you are interested or click the “Buy Now” button below.




Details of Pitteri’s The Angel Appearing to St Peter

Details of Pitteri’s The Angel Appearing to St Peter
Jacobus Houbraken (1698–1780) 
The Sacrifice of Manoah [Das Opfer des Manoah], after Willem Drost (1633–1659) 
in the Royal Collection (Gemäldegalerie) in Dresden. Nineteenth-century impression, published in Recueil d'estampes d'après les plus célèbres tableaux de la Galerie Royale de Dresde, edited by Carl Heinrich von Heineken, 1753–57
Engraving and etching on wove paper
38.3 x 41.4 cm (plate); 47.6 x 63.3 cm (sheet)
Condition: strong impression with wide margins. There are stains in the margins otherwise in excellent condition.
I am selling this print for $230 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. This is a large print and so it will be posted rolled in a cylinder. 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 Houbraken’s The Sacrifice of Manoah
There is also a stream of artists applying consecutive vision in a very different way to the Renaissance artists and academic classicists. Henri Fantin-Latour (1836–1904), for instance, uses a web of haptic contour strokes (i.e. marks that express a tactile exploration of form by curving with the contours of the subject) in which he pictorially “finds” his subject, as in The Source and Frontispiece: l'aveugle (shown below). Here, the visual democracy of imagery is all about the same degree of fuzziness—a type of consecutive vision where the portrayed subject is out-of-focus.  

Ignace-Henri-Jean-Théodore Fantin-Latour (1836–1904)
The Source, mid to late nineteenth century
Lithograph on thin wove paper
Signed in pencil, lower right margin “h. Fantin”
25.5 x 38.5 cm (plate); 40.7 x 50.7 cm (sheet)
Condition: light (perhaps proof?) impression with wide margins. There are light fold marks at the lower right corner, age toning and minor spotting.
I am selling this print for $260 AUD including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. This is a large print and so it will be posted rolled in a cylinder. 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 Fantin-Latour’s The Source
Ignace-Henri-Jean-Théodore Fantin-Latour (1836–1904)
Frontispiece: l'aveugle, 1903
Lithograph on cream wove paper
Signed in the plate, lower left margin “h. Fantin”
26.6 x 19.6 cm (sheet)
Condition: good impression as published. There is a row of numbers in pencil (collector’s inventory?) on the bottom edge of the sheet and a collector’s ink monogram on the right corner of the sheet (recto). There are mounting hinges, a collector’s ink stamp and an ink monogram/signature (verso). Other than these marks the sheet is in excellent condition with no foxing, tears, stains or signs of use.  
I am selling this print for $130 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 Fantin-Latour’s Frontispiece: l'aveugle
Regardless of whether an image is shown (and viewed) with a consistent high or low level of focal acuity, one significant outcome of applying consecutive vision is that the portrayed subject tends to inhabit a timeless moment (i.e. a non-specific moment in time as may be captured in a snapshot photograph, rather than a moment where the notion of time is inconsequential). This important attribute of consecutive vision can be an advantage for artists wishing to express an immutable essence of an subject. But it is not ideal if the artist wishes to capture fleeting impressions.


In the following posts I will address three other types of vision that are more tuned to the momentary glance.