Notes from The Artistic Ape by Desmond Morris – Traditional Art

What follows is the series of notes I have taken whilst reading the chapter Traditional Art from the book The Artistic Ape. The notes have taken the form of mealy a condensed version of Desmond Morris’s writing and with the paintings he is referring to. There may also be some of my own conclusions, pondering’s or examples of work that I think fit the bill.

The book The Artistic Ape by Desmond Morris is fantastic, offering a well rounded and general description of arts history and how it has evolved. Simply put it is: an exploration of man’s relationship with art from prehistoric times to the modern day. also with chapters on non-human art, child art, roles of art and the rules of art. If the chance to read it should arise one should not pass up that chance…

  • Collapse of ancient civilisations bought about a so called Dark Age in the Europe where Christian faith rose to dominate the arts.
  • Painting virtually vanishes to behind monestry walls as did sculpture, now mostly limited to religious icons (Madonnas, Christ)

 

  • 14Th century Europe sees revival in the arts, when a few painters and sculptures turn to ancient Rome and Greece for inspiration.
  • Pisano in Pisa a sculptor and Giotto in Florence a painter. Began to produce more lifelike and naturalistic work
  • Although still deeply rooted in religious matter this was the ‘rebirth’ of art in Europe. The figure is presented as real and three dimensional, painted and carved with enormous skill.
  • This laid the way for the great masters such as Botticelli, Vicello, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Rapheal, Titan, Tintoretto .

 

  • Period from 1500 to 1900 is now predominately concerned with representing subject matter in a realistic and lifelike way. Although there was plenty of small variation, respect for natural, seemingly three dimensional forms remained he basis for all fine art during the 1500 to 1900 period.

 

  • 9th century the visual arts had overpowered the visual arts in some regards, for example the pictorial “cartoon” The Garden of Eden in the Grandval Bible – AD 834 – 843, Tours, France. Arts continued to be dominated by the church however. 

 

  • 10th century European art comes under the pressure of Islamic art. This brought about distinct art styles particularly in Spain. Muslim rulers were tolerant of Christians as long as taxes were paid. This allowed for the hybridisation of the two religious art styles. Geometric and Calligraphic with the the figurative. e.g.- Commentary on the Apocalypse – Beatus of Liebana.
  •    

 

    • 11th century Beatus manuscripts continue to appear reaching a pea of colour and imaginative imagery in 1407 with Beatus of Facumdus.  In to the 12th century Byzantine art and artists are experiencing great popularity – with mosaics seeing a great revival but mostly on walls rather than floors. e.g. Cathedral of Manreale near Palermo, Sicily.

Cathedral of Manreale

  • One of the curious  shortcomings of art up to this point is lack of facial expressions or emotion of the artworks figure – mostly deadpan expressions.

 

  • 13th century Italian painter Duccio began adding spiritual intensity – a sense of depth of feeling.
  • Now, the portrayal of human figures is set to become more realistic and naturalistic. This did not mean sacred art disappeared -(although not in Europe its worth considering Russia, sacred art was strong right up to the 19th century.)

 

  • Rise of Naturalism
  • Beginning of the 14th century saw movement towards more natural scenes.
  • Central to this development is Giotto. His work is said to be starting point of Renaissance art in Europe. His figures have depth and shading with postures suited to the dramas they were depicted in.
  • Perspective is introduced – ‘according to nature’- Giotto
  • Giotto may not have necessarily have been more technically skilful than his predecessor masters but rather, more daring and developing different techniques and skills.
  • Giotto’s introduction of naturalistic postures expressions and gestures, accurately observed human body language was an important innovation that would make a hug e impact on art for years and years to come.
  • Giotto – Annunciation

     

  • 15th century was the highlight of the Renaissance.
  • Italy- Botticelli, Uccello, Da Vinci, Masaccio
  • Germany- Durer, Holbein
  • Netherlands- Van Eyck, Dosch, Memling and Van der Weyden

 

  • Most innovative of all the grand masters was Masaccio from Florence.
  • He introduced the idea of scientifically calculated vanishing points in his art.
  • For the fist time true perspective, first proper shadows and first to employ a single light source, introduced the idea of colours fading with distance and brighter in the foreground as in real life. Da Vinci studied his work.

 

  • A generation later Sandro Botticelli took Masaccio’s pioneering work further. Beautifully refined work with outstanding technical skill, but he is mostly forgotten after his death until the Pre-Raphaelites rediscover him in 19th century.
  • The Annunciation – Botticelli

Mary with the Child and Singing Angels – Botticelli

  • Da Vinci – Painter, sculptor, designer, draughtsman, architect, musician, scientist, theorist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, astronomer, botanist and writer. Only 15 fully completed paintings, a massive procrastinator he rarely finished anything.
  • Lady with an Ermine – Da Vinci

     

  • Renaissance reached its peak at start of 16th century. Sistine Chapel in Rome. Michelangelos frescos 1508 – 1512 originally meant to be the 12 Apostles but given a ‘free hand’ by the Pope at his request and produced 343 figures.
  • ‘The Creation of Adam’ – Michelangelo

  • The Last Judgement which was completed after the ceiling was frowned upon- controversial and a cardinal complained – a pupil of Michaelangelo was brought in to conceal genitalia.
  • ‘The Last Judgement’ – Michelangelo

 

  • 16th Century sees Titan, Cellini, Tintoretto and Veronese continuing the Renaissance tradition.
  • Perseo – Cellini

  • In the Netherlands Brueghel’s attention turned to scenes of peasant life. Brueghel heralded a new dawn for representational art as a visual record of daily life. “He was dispassionate observer of the human condition. Subjects: hard work, drunk, crippled, dancing intimately composed scenes.  Against lofty religious sacred and pretentious art. as was Arcimboldo –  unique paintings apparently influenced my no-one particularly, no-one knows why he chose such strange ideas to paint- he was popular- revisited by the Surrealists.
  • Vertumnus – Arcimboldo

  • Hans Holbein famous for meticulous portraits but with bizarre and strange aspects, anamorphic distortion in ‘The Ambassadors’ 1533 for example. Here we are seeing undercurrents of imaginative creativity pushing through tradition.
  • The Ambassadors – Hans Holbein

     

  • Caravaggio, Italy, early 17th century, was a violent and ill-mannered young man but a genius with a brush, died at 38. Hired a prostitute to model as Virgin Mary. Work centred on religious topics, naturalistic style, employed exaggerated light and shadow.
  • Madonna – Caravaggio

     

 

  • Rembrant was another troubled artist with disruptive hectic personal life. Painted over 80 self portraits obsessing over the process of his ageing.
  • Following generation after Rembrant and Rubans came Ian Vermeer.
  • Disinterested in religious and biblical scenes and used bright colours and ordinary people as subject matter rejecting the styles of Rembrant and Rubans. His genius is in the way he used light, especially in his studio.
  • The Milkmaid – Vermeer – 1660

     

  • Early 17th century – the still life becomes very important in Dutch painting. Group of unusually skilled painters all competing to paint the most impeccably naturalistic painting.
  • Urban middle classes are growing and thus a major new source of patronage. The demand for paintings increased. Still life was essentially art for the upper middle classes. Portraiture and still life flourished.
  • Landscape art also begins to be taken very seriously in the later 17th century.

Tafel mit Hummer – Pieter Claesz

 

  • 18th Century – lots of new  rich land owners who want to show of their wealth. Gainsbourgh and Reynolds meet this demand. Combining portraits and landscapes – family, land, wealth, power.
  • Wealthy art patrons of the 18th century favour images of estates, grandeur, canals of Venice and the boudoirs of the French Court.
  • Madame Bergeret – Boucher

  • Meanwhile London life is explored and portrayed by Hogarth.
  • The Rakes Progress – Hogarth

 

  • Early 19th Century – JMW Turner obsessed with the extreme effects of light revolutionises landscape art. As he grew older his paintings had less and less detail more and more abstracted until he rendered patches of light and dark. Atmospheric quality disturbed critics.
  • Slave Ship – Turner

     

  • Distant – JMW Turner

     

  • France was now becoming the focus of visual inventiveness. Ingres, Corot, Caurbet, Daumier, Delacroix take centre stage.
  • Delacroix’s work is full of natural movement, vivid, rich, lively and emotional scenes. Figures often caught in violent movement.
  • Liberty Leading the People – Delacroix

     

  • Key in 19th century art is Edourad Manet – seen as the bridge between realism of earlier part of century to impressionism in the later part. Careful meticulous brush work replaced by looser more expressive marks. Parisian daily life often the subject.
  • At the Cafe – Edouard Manet

     

  • 1874 Monet, Sisley, Pissarro, Degas and Renoir exhibit their new method of painting. Several different techniques. Thick short brush-strokes, dabs of colour rather than mixing. Observers eye does the merging of colours. Quick paintings capturing feelingness of time. On location – moving out of the studio more. Dark tones from complementary colours rather than using black and greys. Importance of light conditions – twilight shadows, glancing sunlight, reflected light, blue shadows. Painting into wet paint, blurring lines.

    Blue Dancers – Oil Pastel – Degas

    Dace in Bougival – Renoir

 

  • At the very end of the 19th century we find ourselves at post impressionism – prominent artists are Gauguin, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Seurat.
  • Pointillism – Seurat and Signac experimenting with colour and light.
  • Seurat

 

  • Van Gogh – Dark outlines, objects stronger more conspicuous, broad wild strong brush strokes. Tormented air to his works reflecting tormented personality.
  • Van Gogh

 

  • Cezanne – Trying to present a direct observation of nature as it was before him, but at same time to reveal its underlying abstract structure. Search for right balance of abstraction. Wanted to ‘treat nature by the cylinder, the sphere and the cone.’
  • This would be taken as an analytical starting point of cubism – the first great art movement of the 20th century.
  • Cezanne

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