Thursday, December 16, 2010

Homage to New York, Tinguely

Tinguely's Homage to New York incorporated more than just his mind into the creation of a sculpture for the Museum of Modern Art's sculpture garden. What was created is a direct correlation to the numerous minds working on it, speaking to the tendency to see things differently from one mind to another. While machine-like in its appearance, the above sculpture doesn't actually aim at producing anything. Instead, all ideas were simply thrown together with no mind as to how they would actually work together. With it chaotic nature, this piece is an interesting commentary on the Big Apple city itself. As the machine basically destroyed itself, viewers clamored to get pieces of it to take home. These pieces became new functioning pieces of art within their homes, remembrances of what was once whole. It speaks to New York's ever-evolving status and ever-changing population and interests. 

Living Still Life, Dali

Salvador Dali certainly dwells in the realm of the irrational within the artistic world. In “Living Still Life,”  Dali takes the normal concept of a still-life and turns it on its head. It appears to be almost a magic trick, with all the normal still-life objects (apple, bowl, utensils, a cup) hovering above the table. Dali tricks his viewers’ minds while simultaneously challenging their accepted notion of a still-life. The knife and glass appear to be in motion simply because they are not sitting still atop the table. It is ironic because nothing in this picture is still, yet it is captured as a still life. It also provides a challenge with placing the location--half outside, half in, above water, yet a hand reaching over the railing. It is completely irrational and yet the cleverness comes through. Still, one remains questioning the concept of the still life--if anything is ever really staying still, fully restrained from changing or moving.

Starry Night, Van Gogh

Van Gogh’s paintings are not normally put into the category of “the irrational.” There topics and subject matter are discernible, but his style and depiction of these elements are what stretches over into the creative, atypical realm. Take “Starry Night” for instance. We understand that those glowing, swirling orbs are stars, but his portrayal of them is one that takes us out of our universe. We see them as the pulsing orbs of gas that they are and with a strength rarely witnessed on earth. The wind itself has become visible, and not just through the effects it has on trees and ground-bound objects. The moon, though clearly a crescent moon in the real world scene he is aiming to depict, glows with such intensity that it appears to illuminate the full circle of itself. The landscape itself is not specifically important: the focus becomes the sky and the cypress tree which is obstructing the full viewing of it. The irrational does not necessarily imply ridiculous or otherworldly in every case, just a new way of seeing.

The Kiss, Klimt

The work of Gustav Klimt, the Austrian painter most known for “The Kiss,” focuses on the depiction of the irrational, but in a way that relies on the rational. Klimt is most famous for his ‘Golden Phase,’ the period of time in which he created works heavily reliant on gold-leafing. This period is the one in which “The Kiss” was created as well as many others that utilize the same blanketing gold and smattering of designs to cover up the bodies and positioning of his subjects. While these paintings rely on actual human subjects and familiar objects as their subject matter, what in turn dominates the painting is the presence of his asymmetrical, random designs. There is a freedom given to his viewing audience as well in covering up the areas of the body that would tell a story through their action. He has clearly rejected the naturalistic style and aimed to use the body as a canvas for conveying a sense of freedom that visually breaks with tradition.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Garden of Earthly Delights, Bosch

This picture is so obnoxiously detailed that I have to make it un-aesthetically pleasing and enlarge it EXCESSIVELY. What were you thinking, Bosch-man? 

On the left you have Adam and Eve in Eden in the presence of God. 

On the right you have hell in all its horror and torture. 

And in the middle you have one big orgy. 

Whether Bosch was trying to portray this as a scene of immense, unimaginable pleasure or a warning against excess we don't know.  Either way, the artist puts his viewers in the position of peeping toms, making people from his era and ours probably feel a little uncomfortable and a little curious as to what was happening. 

I feel as though this is an "irrational" image because I don't believe that the middle ground between paradise and hell is excessive copulation. Personal opinion though. Others are free to disagree. 

CARMEN (A True Madrilena--the best student you have in your Modern Art Class) THINKS
"It portrays the twisted views that the Medieval people had of paradise and hell....(she'll continue in Spanish)...este triptico muestra la vision dualista el mundo, que los artistas medievales tenian del cielo y el infierno,siendo este ultimo, un lugar actualmente fisico, en el que los hobres seran castigados por sus pecados de gula, pasion y fornicacion.


Presentation to a Mayan Ruler, Bonampak mural

The palace of Bonampak help to illuminate aspects of the Mayan culture that still remain mysterious and dark. In one room, the murals depict the presentation of the next heir to the Mayan throne. It is a very lavish celebration with a huge procession of nobles proceeding the newest leader of the dynasty, giving a sense of solidarity in the impending leader change. The other room tells the story of a major battle in which the Mayans were triumphant. It shows them processing their enemy captives in front of the ruling heads as those prisoners lament their captivity. 

I don't understand why, being that the Mayans are a real culture, that this is categorized as an irrational image. 

Dionysian Mystery frieze

This detailed frieze in the Villa of the Mysteries stretches along all the walls of the room. It is known to be in honor and praise of the god, Dionysus. He is included in the mural, and although he is on the section on which the most damage is found, we are still able to determine that it is him because of his head wreath of vine leaves and his thyrsus, the pinecone-topped staff he always carries. It is believed to possibly be a room in which the Dionysian initiation ceremonies took place. On the left there is a naked boy reading a scroll, possibly one containing the rites of such a ceremony, while a servant woman holds a tray of possible offerings. 

Chimera of Arezzo

The chimera is an ancient mythological animal that was part lion, part goat, and part serpent. This Etruscan version (one of the most famous pieces of Etruscan art that we have) also seems to incorporate almost dragon-like spikes along its spine. It's a common creature in Greek mythology and so its adoption into the Etruscans only further illustrates the cross-cultural relationship that they had. 

This creature was first referred to by Homer in the Illiad. The description is a brief one, just saying its front was a lion, the back a serpent, and the middle a goat. I find it fascinating that after such a brief mention, the creature was 1) so latched onto and popularized in other literary works and 2) that its depiction was what it was with such a limited physical description. 

Lacoon Grouping

This ancient work's artist is unknown. The only hint we have as to who the creators of this piece are is a reference by Pliny the Elder naming three artists who are said to have worked on this together.

We do however know what's happening in this sculpture, as disconcerting as it is. There is a forever lost play by Sophocles that we have references to in secondary sources that spoke of the story of Lacoon and his sons. Lacoon was a Trojan who did not believe the ruse of the wooden horse left for them by the Greeks. He went to stab it with a spear and Athena, in defense of the Greeks, sent serpents to attack him. Thinking this was a sign to accept it (as it was, though for an evil outcome), the Trojans welcomed it in, to their demise.

Great Sphinx 

The Great Sphinx is probably one of the most recognized symbols left behind by an ancient culture. Located in Giza, this sculpture was carved out of a plateau of bedrock. The creature is surely an irrational one--a combination of a lions body and human head. It is believed to have symbolized the Pharaoh's role as the god Atum here on earth. Currently it is undergoing restoration so that this huge monolith will not be lost forever. 

The reason the Sphinx doesn't have a nose any more is because Napoleon's forces shot it off with a canon by accident. Damn French. 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Mercenaries, Golub

These powerful images by Leon Golub are from his collection entitled Mercenaries. Social issues have always been points of interest in his art, having run the gamut from race/hate crimes to the Vietnam War. In the 1980s when Golub created this collection along with others, his focus was acts of terrorism and injustice. It wasn't just a statement on war anymore, but how racial inequalities, sexual ambiguity and inequality, and extreme violence are continuing to permeate society on all different levels. These paintings on linen show the larger, international/military perspective, but he also created pieces that focused on the atrocities of gang wars happening on our own streets and the prejudices harbored within one's own home. While many of his pieces are extremely difficult to look at, his rawness delivers the message that isn't always broadcast through our news outlets to incite his audience into action and rebellion against the growing prevalence of these negative issues. 

Nigredo, Kiefer

Anselm Kiefer was born the year World War II ended in Germany. Still, much of his art reflects themes and reminders of the dark times preceding his birth. This piece is photographic at its base, with different materials and artistic procedures added on to the top of it. It's massive canvas is devoted wholly to a German landscape. That landscape though is not a beautiful one. It is torn apart and devastated, recalling the years of war that left Germany in ruin both agriculturally, socially, politically and economically. Kiefer captures that destruction in this piece. However, he gives hope by writing the word, Nigredo, in the top left corner of the painting. Nigredo refers the alchemy, the process of the Medieval times that was believed to turn regular matter into gold. Nigredo is the first step of this long-ago process in which a burning takes place that is then followed by the presence of light. Through his painting, Kiefer is able to fortify his belief that though his country has been brought to its knees by years of conflict and war, it still has the power to rise up and become something beautiful and luminous. 

Monument for the 3rd International, Tatlin 

Vladimir Tatlin saw his piece of architecture as a way to celebrate the success of the Bolshevik Revolution. It was to be erected in St. Petersburg (Petrograd at the time), but it never was. Hearing his plans for this structure in this day and age, it makes sense. The building was quite beyond its time in construction and technology.

The three levels were going to have one room of different sizes and shapes on each. The bottom level of a cube would be used for conferences and meetings, the middle pyramid for executive activities, and the top cylinder for press activities. Each level would rotate at a different speed respectively: a year,  a month, and a day.  It would be the headquarters for the Comintern.

Never having been built, it stands as a fitting testament of the Soviet mission and its failure to follow-through.

“When I Put My Hands...," Wojnarowicz

Incorporating text works into a photograph that the he took himself, Wojnarowicz uses the piece to deliver the message clearly. His words illuminate what the picture was most likely intended to convey, enhancing them and leaving no doubt. Specifically, the words speak of an event in which the speaker puts his hands on the body of another and sees the body unravel beneath him, revealing all the common layers of the anatomy that we all share. In my opinion, the words are exceptionally poetic, but the idea they are conveying is extremely creative. The photo behind shows how his words are true--that we are all the same underneath and will one day look the same despite our present exterior differences.

MetroMobiltan, Haacke 

Haacke blends political, environmental, industrial, and humanitarian concerns all into this one piece of art. Aimed to look like the front banners of the Metropolitan Museum, Haacke uses this display to speak about the involvement that the Mobil Corporation has had in Africa. Behind the banners are the reality of the disservice the company is doing--a collage of pictures from Black South Africans' funerals. The elevation of the piece off the fiberglass layer beneath it gives the impression of a great weight being lifted or maintained aloft. 

The cornice piece above does not display the normal carved words either. It speaks to the beneficial effects of sponsorship relationships between corporations and groups of people. That is on the facade along with the banners that seem to support the same "positive" impact of the corporation. Both of these pieces and their intended messages are devalued when beneath them stands the truth--the negative impacts of such relationships. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Cornered, Piper

This piece of art deals with issues of race. The woman on the TV talks about how she is black when on the surface she does not appear to be. However, the birth certificates to the left and the right of the television screen show the differences of perspective on the issue, tracing the same name back to two different racial backgrounds. The art display invites viewers to sit down and partake in the dialogue of the woman on the screen. The table overturned beneath her seems to symbolize the need to overturn standard perception and conception of ideas. The piece challenges society to think outside preexisting racial stereotypes and expectations.

Homeless Projection, Wodiczko 

Wodiczko uses the facades of buildings and monuments as his canvas. He projects slides or videos on their surfaces with the purpose of drawing the public's attention towards issues that are socially unsavory, in this specific picture: homelessness. Wodiczko even went around during the day, asking homeless men and women to display their belongings around the base of his monument now transformed into a bundled up homeless person. This alone helped to enhance the reality of his message. 

Migrant Mother, Lange

Lange worked for the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression, working to bring the real, raw images of the hard times gripping the country to the masses. This photo gained popularity as it displayed the truth of the situation. The woman's name is Florence Owens Thompson. While Thompson's son disagrees with some of the details in Lange's remembrance of the moment she met and shot Thompson's image, it is still an interesting recounting worth including in this entry:

I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean-to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it.

After Pearl Harbor was bombed, Lange worked to photograph the injustices against the Japanese as internment started to take place. Her popularity with the government declined during those years when she strove to criticize their decisions through her photography. 

Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Maya Ying Lin

All of these art pieces, with the exception of The Raft of Medusa, deal with the topic of war. This final piece in monument form, The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, works to avoid commentary on the war exclusively and instead focus on those who served in it. In a way, it is the culmination of the points delivered through these many works of art.  When Maya Ying Lin designed the plan for this memorial, she was aware of the controversiality of the war it was remembering, but chose to concentrate instead on “the reality of war and...the people who gave their lives” (Kleiner, 1008).  Her use of the earth and its materials to create this monument lead one to see the possible proverbial arrows Lin laid to point to a “no-war” perspective.  The black granite that laces the edge of a deep cut into the earth summons up dark images. Lin says “I had an impulse to cut open the initial violence that in time would heal. The grass would grow back, but the cut would remain,” showing that the war itself was a deep scar that could never be completely healed (Kleiner, 1008). The monument’s walkway delivers the feeling of descent to its viewers, as they walk deeper into the slash in the earth and wall continues to grow taller and taller. It is overwhelming, the names of the dead and missing, but in this same monument, elements of positivity can be found. First, it is a place of remembrance, and the remembrance of heroes. It is cathartic and healing, a place of solace and honor. It evokes compassion and thought in its visitors and literally reflects the life that still walks the earth in the polished walls of stone. Lin successfully created “an interface between the world of the light and the quieter world beyond the names” (Kleiner, 1007).  This monument is not founded on the goal to “dictate response” but instead “encourages personal exploration” (Kleiner, 1007). 

A photograph showing how the memorial is like a gash in the ground

Der. Kreig, Otto Dix

The German artist, Otto Dix, also confronts his audience with unpleasant images that ultimately deliver the same aftertaste of disgust. In his triptych entitled Der Krieg (The War), Dix  captures the destruction of war on both the land and the bodies of young men. There is little trace of life in the entire piece. Even the marching soldiers appear in the left panel appear ghostly and dreamlike as does the character that he said to be himself in the far right panel. One cannot distinguish whether or not the horizontal soldiers at the bottom of the middle panel are sleeping or dead, but their greenish tint helps to encourage opinions of the latter. Life appears a frozen, distant inaccessible reality and there is no shortage of the gory details of war that The Battle of Issus and The Death of General Wolfe were lacking. When one consults Dix’s own commentary on his work, the message he is sending is not necessary a revolt against all war, but instead a concentration on its honesty reality. As a volunteer soldier for World War I, Dix has this to say about his experience with war: 

“I had to experience how someone beside me suddenly falls over and is dead and the bullet has hit him squarely. I had to experience that quite directly. I wanted it...I had to see all that myself. I’m such a realist, you know, that I have to see everything with my own eyes in order to confirm that it’s like that. I have to experience all the ghastly, bottomless depths of life for myself…” (NGA) 
Dix appears more concerned with portraying things the way they are in reality, and yet it is this reality that has the power to influence the choices and beliefs of a decision-making body. Therefore, through his art, Dix is providing powerful, seemingly direct commentary without intentionally meaning to; he is simply portraying “states, states that the war brought about, and the results of war, as states” (Kleiner, 942). A series of Dix’s etchings under the same name emit the same echo as  the larger piece. “This nightmarish, hallucinatory quality pervades all of the Der Krieg images. Paradoxically, there is also a quality of sensuousness, an almost perverse delight in the rendering of horrific detail, which indicates that there was perhaps, in Dix’s case, an almost addictive quality to the hyper-sensory input of war” (NGA). 

One of Dix's Etchings 

Tattooed Warriors of Marquesas Islands

The tattoos of the inhabitants of the Marquesas Islands fascinated the French explorers. Though the practice was outlawed by the French officials that took over the area, the tattooing practice still continued as it was a symbol of success within the tribes. When the French came to this region, the set up of their tribal societies were quite unlike those that the French were used to. They were egalitarian in nature and numerous different sectors of society (shaman, warrior, property owners) could gain persuasive power without their position acting as a inhibiting factor. There was one instance in which a missionary asked where the king was and his response was: 

"You are king. I am king. We are all kings."

Pretty cool society, no? The same policy for ruling went with the practice of tattooing. Gender, rank, or profession did not dictate the art one placed on their bodies. However, the wealthier one was, the better artist they could hire and support during the process of tattooing. Yet, it was not essential, not used as a clear marker of class or rank. Some of the most respected religious figures in the tribe remained un-inked, showing that, like today, it was a personal choice specific to the person. 

Easter Island Moai

Everyone's heard of them. And everyone wonders how they got there. 

Here's one belief as to how these monoliths were moved to their locations: 

These massive statues carved from the rock of Easter Island easily weigh 75 tons and surround the border of the island. They are believed to represent the ancestors, now deified, of the indigenous peoples of the island. They convey the importance the Polynesian cultures placed on the head. The heads are three-fifths the size of the bodies of these sculptures and receive much more detail than the rest of the body. Expressions can even be discerned from each individual sculpture. It has always been a question as to how they got to their resting places. Legend among the people there (unsurprisingly) gave credit to the gods for helping them move their creations. However, the movie link above sheds some light on a theory that is growing to be widely excepted. Check it out.

Asmat Bisj Poles

The Asmats are found in New Guinea and they carve these Bisj Poles as memorials of deceased men of their tribe. The culture used to participate in headhunting and cannibalistic rituals in which the Bisj Poles played a more important role. Carved from the nutmeg tree, these poles would help to satisfy the spirits of men who had been headhunted in their tribe, giving them peace to proceed on into the afterlife. Sometimes carved as tall as 25 feet, the bisj poles depict men incorporated with phallic symbols or prows of the canoe. The phallic symbols were to represent the virility and continuation of the tribe and the canoe, a vehicle to the afterlife. Many times, at the base of these poles, they would place the heads of enemies they successfully hunted, to please those who had gone before them. The rituals and carving surrounding this tradition were always an exclusively male affair. While the rituals and thirst for revenge that usually prompted their creation are no longer acted on today, the poles are still used for ritual within the tribe today.

Rue Transnonain, Daumier

This lithograph is by far one of Daumier's most famous prints. It was also one of great controversy. The existing prints that we have of this published piece to this day are highly valued because when it was first printed and distributed in La Caricature, a publication that spoke out vehemently against censorship of the press, it was rounded up by the government and destroyed--the lithograph print stone included. Only copies successfully hid by individuals exist today. 

Daumier speaks out doubly against the actions of the French National Guard and the government that directs them. The scene is not a caricature as was Daumier's expertise. Instead it is a very disturbing depiction of the result of the actions taken by the National Guard against a family during a time of riot. Women and children were killed mercilessly and Duamier speaks to the barbarian cruelty of these acts while also challenging the attempts to censure opposing opinions about government affairs. 

Departure of the Volunteers, Rude

Rude was a great supporter of the Bonaparte ideals and was called upon the complete the Arc de Triumphe in 1833. He was given the task of immortalizing the actions of French Volunteers who on their own accord mobilized and defended the Republic. Rude had a personal connection with this being that his father had been one of those many volunteers and Rude had been involved in the mission of this swelling group at the time, a member of the young boys volunteer group himself. Rude took the fairly recent scene and casted it back into the mythological context. Above the volunteers nude or clad is Grecian armor is the ever-popular symbol of the revolution: Liberty. She is reminiscent of the Winged Victory now housed at the Lourve and perhaps a clear connection between the two was intended--that liberty delineated victory.

Rude's relief work on the Arc was well-received by the French people. They called it the Marseillaise rather than its formal title, aligning it with what became France's national anthem, but what began as the theme song of the revolution.

Liberty Leading the People, Delacroix

This painting celebrates the July Revolution of 1830 with seized the control from Charles X. She is a direct symbol of what the revolutionists were fighting for: LIBERTY. The word was constantly on their lips and Delacroix simply personified the concept into an embodiment of strength, but a figure that one could love and desire to defend--that of a woman. She carries a French bayonet and the tri-color flag, France's flag today, but at that time is was the rallying symbol for the revolution. Delacroix sticks with his well-known and revered romantic tradition by placing Liberty at the top of a pile of bodies that have perished for the cause, yet leading more forward. It speaks to the sacrifices of many already, but the necessity and ability to continue until the end result is finally achieved. While the painting depicts extended struggle and a continuation of the journey, Delacroix painted it in a moment of victory and cemented his spot in artistic fame forever.

Raft of the Medusa, Gericault 

The work of Theodore Gericault by the name of The Raft of Medusa does not continue in this vein of using art to endorse wars and other governmental actions.  Instead, this massive painting, measuring sixteen by twenty-three feet, speaks to the disgust Gericault felt towards government officials. Their actions not only prompted the deaths of over one hundred frigate passengers because of bureaucratically-motivated promotions, but they also refused to take responsibility for these actions by promoting the captain of the poorly directed frigate. The powerful X-formation of this painting grips audiences initially. The prominent X, using elements of the raft and the human bodies themselves to create the shape, sits directly in the center of the page and draws the eye along its diagonal slope--forcing the audience to take in the poorly-constructed sail, the bloated dead bodies, and the desperate appeals for help by those still barely living. By angling the raft, Gericault brings the reality of the raft closer to his audience, transforming their viewing space into a space into which the dead could potentially slide. This entire piece reverberates with the horrific quality of the event, from the dark colors to the tumultuous ocean waves and the general sense of collapse. Gericault even uses this piece to comment on another controversial political piece of his time: slavery. “The artist was a member of an abolitionist group that sought ways to end the slave trade in the colonies. Given his antipathy to slavery, it is appropriate that Gericault placed Jean Charles, a black soldier and one of the few survivors, at the top of the pyramidal heap of bodies” (Kleiner, 788). This painting does not elicit the same praise for government action as does The Death of General Wolfe, because the fact that it could have been avoided and such a massive number perished overshadow the small number of passengers that actually survived. For Gericault, art was indeed a way to communicate his opinion of current events, and in this case, opinions of distinct displeasure and disappointment. 

Third of May, Goya

Goya's representation of the French execution of Spanish citizens in Madrid after the Spaniards rose up against the invading French forces who had manipulated Spanish loyalties to try to capture territory for themselves. Goya himself was once a proponent of the French struggle for change and revolution, but after their actions against his country, that opinion shifted and his painting reflects that sadness and disappointment as he abandons his former point of view. 

The man clad in yellow and white in the center is a stirring figure. One of the disorderly crowd, he reflects the light and color of the lantern and spreads his arms in either a proclamation of appeal or defiance. Personally, his face seems to me to call for appeal and a return to reason and civility. The haphazard arrangement of the Spanish citizens contrasts the domineering straight line of the French firing squad, conveying their panic and the lack of French mercy. Increasing this opinion of French cruelty is the space in which Goya places the event--on the outskirts of town in an extremely narrow space. The firing squad appears remarkably close to its victims, almost unnecessarily so. It only serves to encourage the thoughts about how unnecessary and wrong the entire situation was. 

Coronation of Napoleon, David

David was the quite the political commentator through his art. Here is yet another scene of French nationalism. Perhaps it was his profession as a popular artist that obligated him to paint scenes promoting the events occurring in France at that time, because the previous too French pieces speak favorably to the country as well--an unusual message during a time of complete political upheaval. 

The painting does not depict the coronation of Napoleon himself. Upon close examination, the figure kneeling is not Napoleon, but his wife Josephine. Holding the crown that is about to grace her head is Napoleon. Behind him stand the religious figures who would usually preform the coronation duties and rituals. However, previous to the moment which this painting depicts, Napoleon had seized the crown from the hands of these clerics and placed it on his own head, signifying his absolute rule and almost god-like claim to power. Now Josephine receives her crown from the hands of the king, once again reinforcing his authority. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Death of Marat, David

Shown here is David's painting of Jean-Paul Marat, depicting him specifically at the moment of his death. During the French Revolution, Marat was an extremely outspoken political voice, urging the French people on to violent revolution. In July of 1793, a young woman from the opposing movement gained an audience with Marat in his home. Her name was Charlotte Corday and she ended up stabbing Marat while he was in his bathtub, a place of refuge for him due to his persistent skin disease. Her actions were motivated by the thought that she would prevent the civil war that Marat was encouraging by silencing him forever. However, she only ignited his followers to further radicalism and the revolution proceeded in its increasingly bloody nature. 

David's depiction of Marat is poetic and sympathetic, clearly a positive piece of artistic propaganda for the revolution. He is depicted as a martyr, an attempt to lend an almost religious fanaticism to the cause. 

Oath of the Horatii, David

This picture shows the ancient Roman family of the clan Horatius taking on the challenge of fighting three members of the Curatii family. This fight between the groups of three would decide the outcome of the war between Rome and Alba Longa. The father holds the swords that the sons eagerly reach for, showing the commitment of all four men to the cause. The women in the background show expressions of sorrow, a typical artistic expression of the sex. Knowing the legend, one of these women, a sister of the brothers, will be killed upon the surviving brother's return for mourning the loss of her Curatii fiance over the death of her other two brothers. Painted a few years before the French Revolution, David's painting symbolizes unwavering support for the state and its endeavors. It urged the French to go with what was best for the state---the impending revolution---rather than the individual pleas of secular or clerical mouthpieces. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Death of General Wolfe, Benjamin West 

One can look to Benjamin West’s oil on canvas, The Death of General Wolfe, and immediately notice its keeping with the same endorsement of warfare and the spoils of international conflict. While the title and the painting itself might initially seem to indicate otherwise, it is the glory attached to this scene by the artist that cements this interpretation. West used this canvas to “[depict] the mortally wounded young English commander just after his defeat of the French in the decisive battle of Quebec in 1759, which gave Canada to Great Britain” (Kleiner, 764).  While the side of General Wolfe’s service won, his personal experience was a pyrrhic one.  Like in the Battle of Issus mosaic, there is no bloody detail; in the case of this painting, the havoc of war is even more downplayed as it is simply a blur in the background.  Though West paints a moment of great loss for the British at the death of Wolfe, he glorifies his subject’s sacrifice by first surrounding him with a large group of mourning comrades. Their varied uniforms reveal the different forces and stations of command from which they hail and yet they are all deeply concerned about the welfare of General Wolfe.  At the time of its creation, West’s painting gained criticism for displaying his subjects in their typical war-time garb. During that time, it was “much more becoming [to] the inherent greatness of [one’s] subjects” to dress them in “the classical costume of antiquity” as opposed to the typical war uniforms (Mitchell, 20).  West defended his decision as follows, once again instilling his belief in the importance and heroism of this particular historical event:

“It is a topic that history will proudly record, and the same truth that guides the pen of the historian should govern the pencil of the artist. I consider myself as undertaking o tell this great event to the eye of the world; but if, instead of the facts of the transaction, I represent classical fictions, how shall I be understood by posterity!...I want to mark the date, the place, and the parties engaged in the event; but if I am not able to dispose of the circumstances in a picturesque manner, no academical distribution of Greeks or Roman costume will enable me to do justice to the subject” (Mitchell, 20-21)
 Secondly, West places Wolfe in a position that immediately summons images of the crucified Jesus being held by the Virgin Mary. By affiliating Wolfe’s death with a Christ-like sacrifice, one can only assume that his cause is a worthy one that must simply be obtained through undesirable means. Through this painting, West represents his view clearly: General Wolfe’s death was a sad casualty of the war, but one that aided the ultimate achievement of a goal that was worth the conflict. It in no way condemns war, but instead glorifies those that lead us into such conflicts, just as The Battle of Issus mosaic.

Battle of Issus, Altdorfer

Similar to the ancient mosaic, this painting by German artist Albrecht Altdorfer captures the moment of Alexander's victory over Darius of Persia. Though the angle of the painting is physically impossible, it helps to emphasize the greatness of the victory by showing the multitude of troops and also the incredible expanse of landscape beyond that is now assumedly Alexander's. The sky is quite a point of awe and concentration for the viewer's eye. It's bright blue hue and large expanse immediately draw one in. However, the fiery setting sun and high crescent moon, surrounded by the threat of swirling storm clouds lend an increased importance to this pivotal moment as if the heavens themselves have been changed. The sky seems to mirror the scene below metaphorically: soldiers of both sides are present like the sun and the moon, but it is finally the moment when one of them of them takes possession and precedence over the other, wholly altering the reality from that moment on. 

Consequences of War, Rubens

This painting is extremely harsh about the realities of war. It counters Rubens' painting for Charles I about the happiness of peace. Here, it seems that love cannot even weather the tumultuous wave of war. The nude woman latches on to the hand of a fighter but is pushed back by another soldier. The way in which the woman on the left laments, hands in the air, and the blurred chaos of bodies on the right only further work to show its sabotage of harmony, love, and all things good in a normal life. 

Battle of San Romano, Uccello

Dr. Collins hates this picture. 

The battle is not very realistic at all. The order of the men fighting and even the spears laying on the ground are in a linear order. While the foreshortening of the horse is impressive, the way in which they are arranged lends one to believe that they were simply painted separately as individual works, instead of characters and animals that were interacting together. The colors really don't do anything for me either. This painting depicts the battle between Florence and Siena. What is politically interesting about this piece is that both sides considered it a victory. So, by painting this scene in favor of one or the other, the artist is really making a bold political statement. 

Column of Trajan

This column is pimpppeeeddd out. 

The entire column is covered with praises for the events of the Emperor Trajan during the Dacian Wars. Like the Titian Arch, it was also commissioned by the Roman Senate. It is founded and prompted by the events of war, but it served as a political statement for the future. It helped to instill in Roman citizens a pride in their country and their leaders. By attributing this huge piece covered all with the actions and triumphs of one man, it most likely gave citizens an increased faith in their ruling body. The figure at the top however is not this man, Trajan. It is instead St. Peter, placed their by Pope Sixtus V, showing another political move. 

Arch of Titus

The first arch of its time built to honor the achievements of a ruler. In this case it is built to honor Titus though it was built after his death by his brother, Domitian. Specifically, this arch commemorates the military success that was the sack of Jerusalem (see below). 

The arch now stands as a tourist attraction and one of the sites to be seen along the Via Sacra. But, it has been restored by the Pope and used as a defensive tower during the Medieval times. Like so many other ancient structures of its time, it has transformed in use and meaning since the years of its creation.  

Ara Pacis

Translated, this piece is titled The Altar of Augustan Peace. It was consecrated in 9BC after being ordered by the Senate to commemorate the victorious homecoming of their emperor Augustus, coming from triumphant military endeavors in Gaul and Spain. It was a reminder of this Augustan Peace that their emperor sought to establish, though ironically by waging war with other "uncivilized" nations.

Composed of marble and carved with many relief friezes, the altar mainly depicts the procession and sacrificing done by the family of Augustus to honor the gods, further instilling their reputation with qualities of extreme piety and devotion to the state gods. The people that are carved into this altar are not just idealized images of youthful bodies. Some of those processing are still recognizable today as distinct individuals connected with Augustus' rule. Augustus's Peace Altar was not only just to glorify his doctrine, but to also speak to the basic important rituals and ideals that formed the nucleus of Roman culture. 

Gallic Chieftain Killing His Wife

This statue, though morbid, has got some incredible elements in it. Due to a lack of a decent sized picture of the side of this statue, you miss out on the strong stance of the husband and absolute dead weight of the already killed wife. She hangs from his arm languid and loose, bending so that one believes she would collapse out of the pedestal if her husband's supporting hand is retracted. The event that is occurring before the audience's eyes is shocking as well. Though lacking any gore, it is still disturbing and one wonders what would have initiated such an event. The husband's rotation of his head away from his wife could possibly suggest that he laments his own actions--perhaps he kills himself now because he feels so bad about killing her in a moment of rage, or perhaps he kills himself as planned after killing her first so that some oncoming injustice or tragedy would not have to be suffered through by either of them. 

Altar of Zeus

I did a presentation on this in class. I can't find my notes. I'll put them up when I can.