Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cloister Graveyard, Friedrich

The relationship with nature in this painting is particularly interesting. Nature does not at first overwhelm as quickly as it has in many other paintings and pieces of art on this blog. Instead, one's eye is drawn to the cathedral ruin placed dead-center on the canvas, a clear depiction of man's presence. The same goes for the copious amounts of graves scattering the expanse, evidence of a significant human presence. Yet, upon further examination, it is nature that appears dominate. The two trees in foreground give the effect of stretching higher than the edifice of man. Noted, some might argue that this is because of perspective, but the effect still stands. They are solid and domineering in both size and color and the manner in which they confront their audience. Nature also proves champion by being so long lasting. The structures of man lie in ruin and the bodies of its creators and benefactors decompose beneath the roots of these trees we see all around. Though leafless and bare in the winter snow, these trees can claim the promises of spring unlike the human that populate their common ground. 

The Great Wave, Hokusai

The Great Wave is well-known, centuries after its creation. It adorns college dorm walls and hangs framed in many homes, and yet most don't even know who created it. It was Hokusai, a Japanese artist and printmaker who lived in Japan from 1760 until 1849.

Hokusai was a student of the ukiyo-e tradition, a style combining both wood-block prints and painting. At first, he learned just to use this method for the purpose of portraiture, but eventually adapted it to create scenes like The Great Wave. Like the typical Asian art tradition, many of his works focused on nature, the power of it, or its ability to dwarf human beings within its massive expanse. 

Pine Forest, Tohaku

Tohaku's six fold screen was not meant to be a piece on display. It was instead intended for reflective purposes. The simplicity of this piece is much in line with the Buddhist tradition. The material and ink united together and in different intensities create an ethereal, almost eerie effect. 
Such a scene seems more fitted for the interior of one's mind than an actual outdoor scene, though it does depict trees familiar to the Japanese. Perhaps that was the aim or inspiration...

Splashed Ink Landscape, Sesshin

This method of painting was very imaginative for the Japanese. Having originated in China, Japanese artist took it and applied it to their own artwork as a more playful way of depicting their usual natural landscapes. The places these splashed ink pieces show are usually completely imaginative, no longer based on actual places visited by the monks painting these ink strokes. They usually splashed the ink on the paper to create the basic outline of mountains, hills, and rivers--the larger geographic features. Then, they would come back in and add the smaller, more detailed elements like houses, temples, and bridges with smaller calligraphy brushes.

Saiho-ji Temple Gardens, Japan

This Zen Buddhist temple is located in Kyoto, Japan. Some of its features are the Golden Pond which is a pond with borders shaped into the Chinese figure for "heart" and/or "mind" and three islands within it. The moss gardens on the premises are also one of the most well-known facets of the gardens. Soft and natural, these gardens aim to leave guests with the feelings of serenity and peace.
Saiho-ji Moss Gardens
Unlike the gardens of Versailles, these gardens are not completely geometrically laid out. Everything is not linear and sculpted, but instead close to scenes you would actually find in nature. The concentration is completely on nature instead of on the aim of human perfection of nature.

A path of stepping stones in the Saiho-ji Gardens, evidence to the natural way in which the Japanese designed their gardens contrary to the European tradition. These stepping stones are not pointing completely straight in one direction. They look as though they have been dropped there in a haphazard fashion. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Autumn Mountains, Qichang

Living during the late Ming Dynasty, Dong Qichang was a painter that somewhat deviated from the norm in Chinese art. Instead of aiming to depict landscape with complete accuracy, he painted with more emotion. Though not abstract, his works focus on the emotion that he felt from the natural setting instead of it's exact appearance.


View Through the Trees

This painting allows itself to be dominated by the greenery that encroaches in from both sides. In this painting, nature is overwhelming not in scope but simply in the closeness of it and its supremacy over the scene. Glimpses of a house (or perhaps even ruins) through the alleyway of trees speaks again to its insignificance in both importance or presence in comparison to nature. It is also interesting in terms of the Art and Nature relationship that the people are plentiful between the trees, a clue that they'd possible rather be there than in the structure beyond. Still the way in which the trees block out light and darken the picture make nature seem assertive and powerful, yet without appearing completely menacing.

Return from Cythera

In comparison to The View Through the Trees, this painting is brighter and livelier. Even more people populate the canvas and their colorful finery and energetic positions suggest an activeness not entirely conveyed in the other. Still, this painting echos the darkening on the left and right sides of the painting, due to nature's overwhelming growth. It also draws one's focus down the middle of the portrait, alluding the the place from which these people might have come and their joy in now being where they are.

Versailles’s Gardens 

Situated on the west side of the Versailles Palace, the gardens cover over 800 hectares of land. The entire garden is arranged in the French Garden style administered by Andre Le Notre. The land and creation of the gardens were purchased and ordered by Louis XIII in 1632. Renovations, additions, and maintenance continued on the gardens through the reign of Louis XVI in 1775. After the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Age, the gardens underwent a restoration in 1817 with the return of the Bourbons and Louis XVIII. 
The gardens hold numerous bosquets (a formal planting of at least five trees of the same species, in straight line or linear formation), fountains, a grotto of statues, and a labyrinth. 

Landscape with Cattle and Peasants,  Lorrain

Lorrain's walks and explorations around the countryside of Rome provided the main inspiration for some of his most famous landscape paintings. He was fascinated with portraying nature accurately and playing with the fall of light on his subjects and scenes. Lorrain is most noted for not letting nature be sacrificed to any historical scenes being portrayed in his artwork. He believed that myths and historic events could be depicted and yet still be made beautiful and enhanced by their powerful natural surroundings. Even though this specific painting does not convey an important event, the awe-inspiring landscape is still the focus and enhances and almost beautifies the mundane task taking place in the foreground.

Et in Arcadia Ego, Poussin

Even in Arcadia, I exist. 

This pastoral piece by the French artist, Nicolas Poussin, shows the contrast of life and death through the Greek shepherds gathered around a newly-found overgrown tomb. The shepherds have discovered this tomb in their wandering it appears and their fascination with it is almost eerie. The shepherd kneeling is tracing his own shadow on the tomb, an unconscious action speaking to his ultimate fate of one day being in a tomb very similar. 

Normally this titular phrase, Et in Arcadia Ego, is normally believed to be said by Death. However, most believe that Poussin interpreted it in the most literal way "Even in Arcardia, I," as in, "that person in this tomb is from Arcadia." 

Flower Still Life, Ruysch

Rachel Ruysch was a Dutch artist whose expertise was in painting still-lifes of flowers. She is one of the few female artist that had a significant role in the Dutch Golden Age of painting. Her attention to detail in her paintings may have come from her exposure to botany at a young age since her father was Frederik Ruysch, a renowned anatomist and botanist in Holland. After that exposure, she was apprenticed with the famous painter, Willem van Aelst, and then even married a fellow painter, Juriaen Pool.
Her paintings take into account the small intricacies of nature. In the above painting, the cornucopia of fruit, flowers, and greenery is interspersed with little lizards, beetles, butterflies, and robin's eggs hidden in the the foliage.
The vibrancy of her colors highlight the beauty and emotion that nature conveys. Her paintings give off positive vibes because it focuses purely on the beauty of nature and her attempt to capture the raw, god-given visual appeal onto a canvas. The folds of each petal and the splash of blue pansy pleases the viewer almost as much as a surprise bouquet delivered at work.

A View of Haarlem, Ruysdael

This painting depicts a typical Dutch landscape. The sky takes up the majority of the canvas, painted with such natural accuracy and realism. Beneath the rays of sun peaking through the clouds are strips of linen stretched across a field for the purpose of bleaching them. The red roofs, the distant windmill and church can be seen dotting the landscape. This painting speaks to the great expanse of nature and the tiny imprint that human activity has on it. Despite this being the picture of a town, the elements and marks of humanity are minimized and far less interesting than the scope of the natural world that Ruysdael captures. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Distant View of Dordrecht

Aelbert Cuyp was born in Dordrecht, South Holland, lived, and died there. Many other of his pictures depict scenes of this town that he would have seen on a regular basis. Some of the features depicted in the background are actually found in other paintings of his town. The cows in this picture draw most of the focus and appear statuesque in their resting and standing position, but the kindness of the milkmaid is evidenced in their placid manner and her hardworking air. 

Flight Into Egypt, Carracci

Now housed in the Galleria Doria Pamphilj in Rome, this painting was created by Annibale Carracci, an Italian Baroque artist. It was one of six lunette paintings commissioned by a Cardinal to be displayed in his family chapel. In this painting, the natural landscape draws more of the audience's focus than the characters in the forefront. The emotion is not just in the posture of the people and our understanding of their movement away from the city, but also tied to the beauty of the land they are being forced to leave.

Hunters in the Snow, Breughel

Pieter Bruegel’s painting Hunters in the Snow shows the shift in the relationship between humans and nature in the art world.  Far removed from the ancient cave paintings of Lascaux, this work of art was created in the year 1565 and frames nature’s role in a different light. Believed to be part of an original series of twelve paintings depicting seasonal change, Hunters in the Snow certainly focuses on aspects of nature, but in relation to its effect on the humans living within it. In fact, it is the way in which nature is dealt with that forms the defining story of this painting. The weather is an imposing element which humans struggle against. The weary hunters in the forefront of the landscape trudge back from an exhausting winter hunting excursion, beating by the elements and their attempts to best nature, their success of which is not known to a great extent. The attempt to cultivate fire occurring in the left of the painting shows the attempt of humans to counter the domineering effect of nature’s seasonal habits, granted for survival. Other activities occurring within the frame of Bruegel’s detailed painting such as the ice-skating and bundled up residents traversing the ice to do chores are prompted by the nature’s demeanor. However, Bruegel’s work speaks to a shift from that early-human perspective on nature. The inclusion of humans within this landscape painting is a clear difference. And they are not just included as an extraneous subject to fill space; they speak to a shift in the human perspective on nature. The season of winter is clearly marked by the backdrop of nature’s recognizable face during that particular time of year, but, it appears most defined by the activity of the humans within the scene, a symbol that the seasonal change is often times associated with what humans must change in their behavior or attire, rather than what changes they see in nature. 

Meat Still Life

Painted by Pieter Aertsen in 1551, this painting overwhelms audiences with its plethora of hanging raw meat and the crowding on the canvas in general. There is so much to take in that one can easily overlook the human activity occurring in the background. Through the doorway on the left, one can spy the Virgin Mary fleeing to Egypt after the birth of her Savior son, Jesus. It is said that the man back in the tavern on the right is actually the prodigal son. The hanging pretzel and the mug are presumed to be representations of the communion feast. And finally, the overpowering of these strikingly realistic images is said to speak to one of the seven deadly sins, gluttony, and the blinding quality it can have on one's devotion and recognition of God's work in the world around them.

A Great Piece of Turf

A Great Piece of Turf, by Albrecht Durer

Created in Nuremburg in 1503, the picture is an incredibly accurate depiction of precisely what the title declares: a piece of turf, and not much else. Upon examination, many of the plants have been identified as common plants like dandelion and daisy and meadow grass. Durer's ability to capture nature in such exquisite detail is still worthy of praise despite the rudimentary models. It is both scientific and artful, displaying even the root system of this piece of turf in great detail.

Leonardo da Vinci's Journal Drawings

Leonardo da Vinci's journals' (numbering over 5,000 pages) were filled with fantastic drawings of scientific ideas and imaginative scenes. His drawings detail the construction of many machines and contraptions that we use today and his in-depth look at human and animal anatomy were completely accurate and monumental in furthering our understanding in the human body and its harmony and functions. His journals were composed in mirror-image cursive; scholars suppose this is for secrecy as well as possibly being an effect of him being left-handed and he found it easier to write in that direction.
Leonardo's drawing of a dissected uterus and the deceased unborn baby 

Leonardo's wildly famous Vitruvian Man 

His detailed examination of the arm 

A study in horses

Something quite unusual, a glimpse into Leonardo's humorous, creative mind: a woman playing a unicorn like a piano

Fantastical drawings of dragons

A study in cats, but with a tiny dragon thrown in among the array

Nazca Lines in Peru

The Nazca Lines are ancient geoglyphs found in the Nazca Desert in Peru. These detailed pieces of art are visible in their entirety from above. Mostly depicting animals, birds, and insects, they evoke a sense of wonder simply because the people creating these earthly designs did not have the ability to view them from the aerial vantage point from which they are most striking. The process behind the creation of these early pieces of eco-art were made with the assistance of surveying tools and wooden stakes. To contrast the hues of the lines to the soil around it, the top layer of iron-oxide-coated pebbles were scraped off to expose the chalkier, lighter color of the soil underneath.

Below are a few samples of the many Nazca Line pieces:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Serpent Mound, Ohio

The Serpent Mound is a earthen work that stretches 1,370 feet in the curving body of a snake. It is believed to be created by an indigenous culture, but there is debate as to which one it was. The Serpent Mound's form (height and width) works with the contours of the land, an advanced concept to calculate for the people of this time. Despite all its mystery and unknown, the way in which this monument works with the land is something that artists now are beginning to pick up on in the emergence and growing popularity of eco-art that works with the environment and using its elements as its tools of creation. It stands as a unifying element between man and nature--one of a positive nature. The mound, in its complexity and magnitude, gives off the impression that it is a mound in which to revere this animal and whatever symbolism it contains. 

Gardenscape Wall Painting-Villa of Livia

This painting is just one section that adorns the walls of the Villa of Livia in Primaporta, Italy. The entire mural as a whole aims to give the illusion of no walls looking out into a beautiful landscape as opposed to the confined quarters of the rooms four walls. The imperial painters painted these walls for Livia, the wife of the Emperor Augustus. In the foreground of the picture, a wall is clear and distinct while everything else beyond that is blurred and less detailed. This technique, called atmospheric perspective, was used to create depth, tricking the eye into believing that something was farther off in the distance if one could not make out the detail clearly.
A look at the 360 effect the artist aimed to create within this space

Diving/Fishing Mural (Etruscan Wall Mural)

Found in the Hunting and Fishing Tomb at Tarquinia, this mural is one of lively color and energetic action. The fact that they were found in a tomb speak to the importance that these scenes may have had to the Etruscans as part of the afterlife or as representations of happy memories of this earthly life. In this scene much action is taking place: fishing off of the boat while sailors also try to bring down birds in flight with their slingshots. 

A similar fresco has been found in a Greek Tomb called the Tomb of the Diver, but this work actually predates that one. It has led scholars to conclude that the Etruscans, artistically speaking, actually set some of type of precedent on their own and did not simply take from other cultures. 

The Sixth Chan Patriarch Chopping Bamboo 

Llang Kai created this hanging scroll with ink on paper. It depicts a Tang Dynasty monk chopping bamboo. 

Once again, this piece of Chinese art involves nature and man's close relationship with it. In this case, man is utilizing it for his own means, but still there it is not devoid of a respect for the natural elements. The technique of painting on scroll has a double meaning when examined closely as well. The brushstrokes themselves resemble or echo the swift movement of chopping bamboo. The observer is able to see the link between the motion of the painter and the motion of this Sixth Patriarch, a connection that would have pleased a Chinese audience of this time being that it unifies the picture. 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Travelers Among Mountains and Streams 

Fan Kuan's Travelers Among Mountains and Streams is not only an impressive piece of art, but also an example of the Eastern mentality towards nature. This piece became a model to subsequent Chinese artists because of its presentation of nature as beautifully sublime. The landscape is the dominating factor in this painting, causing viewers to often overlook the people that are also included in this piece. That fact in itself speaks to the magnitude and captivating qualities of nature while also showing the handprint of the Taoist perspective in the creation of this piece. The figures are almost indistinguishable from the surrounding natural elements, thus achieving the goal of becoming one with nature and driving home the point that one is small and insignificant when in contest with nature. 

Fan Kuan believed in this principle heartily and spent the majority of his life as a recluse in the Shanxi Mountains. 

"Nature is the one true teacher" 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Marine Style Octopus Jar

Dated to around 1500BCE, this jar was found in the Knossos Palace in Crete. The images adorning it are indicative of the aquatic-centered lifestyle that the people of this time had. Filling the space between its outstretched tentacles, the octopus is surrounded by seaweed or coral as well as other fish and shells. Unlike the cave paintings of Lascaux, the artist that painted this sea-creature did not attempt to display multiple angles. They instead focused on the 2D perspective and let the familiar motif speak for itself.

The jar is expressive even through an animal that I have no connection to nor the time period in which it was created in. I still find the piece beautiful and whimsical, due to the fluidity of the octopus and its non-threatening nature. The body of the octopus seems suited for the curved surface with its tendril limbs and soft body, as well as the liquid contents that would have gone inside of this amphora.

Minoan Landscape with Swallows

Though painted in 1650BCE, this mural still maintains a vitality that it was most likely originally aiming to depict at the time of its creation. It is also referred to as the Spring Mural. The swallows in this landscape appear active, their heads tilted and some even depicted in the air as if in flight. There is a freshness to this painting that ties in directly with the season that it is illustrating.

Minoan Bull Leaper Fresco

The Minoan Bull Leaper Fresco depicts a rather unusual event, but one that formed a major part of Minoan Cretan culture during the Bronze Age. During religious ceremonies, leapers would use the bull and its momentum to help them perform somersaults as they flew through the air, while also delighting the crowd gathered with the daring and excitement of just approaching and surviving contact with the bull.

This fresco is just one example of the Minoan depiction of this sport. Other examples of this same event can be found on vases, sealstones, and various other frescos.


Located in Wiltshire, England, Stonehenge strikes awe in most of its viewers as well as questions about its creation. Believed to be erected around 2500BCE, this huge monolith's purpose is constantly questioned and investigated. Thanks to recent archeological finds of cremation remains, most scholars support the hypothesis that the structure was used as a burial sight and one of community. The supposed mingling of these two aspects, life and death, speak to the importance of Stonehenge as central to whatever group of people erected it. 

To some, Stonehenge is a mystical site built by druids or aliens of whose reasoning is unknown. Personally, I am simply amazed at the architecture of the structure itself and the skills of the people that made it. Additionally, the amount of time they spent crafting it was remarkable since most scholars believe that the monolith could have been in the works from 2500 up to 3000 BCE. 

Paleolithic Animal Paintings in Caves-Lascaux

The cave paintings at Lascaux date back to between 15,000-13,000 BCE. The paintings, made from natural plant matter such as ocher, adorn the cavern walls located far back from the mouth of the cave where early humans would have been dwelling most of the time. These images speak to the amazingly strong ties between these people and the natural world around them.

All the wild animals along these cave walls were animals that they would be seeing roaming by their cave mouth.  However, these animals were not necessarily the ones they were hunting. These were the intimidating species that when conquered were considered great triumphs. As seen in the picture above, many generations added to these sweeping illustrations, creating a seeming stampede.