Friday, April 9, 2021

19th C Technology and Architecture

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Technologies: Architecture

Sir Joseph Paxton, The Crystal Palace 1850-51Originally in 
Chatsworth, England
Queen Victoria's husband Prince Albert, and the Duke of 
Devonshire's gardener, Joseph Paxton.
Most of the following text is "borrowed" from the following website.
Full text and story at

Form: This structure is based primarily on an earlier greenhouse design Paxton used to house the giant Victoria Regia lily in Chatsworth England and incorporates iron, wood and glass.  Paxton's design won the commission primarily because the  materials were benefitial: the fact that they were lighter and cheaper.

The dimensions of the building based on 24 foot intervals were a result of the maximum size of a sheet of glass that could be manufactured at a reasonable cost (49 inches was the cheapest for reliable 16 oz glass).  Mostly site construction using pre fabricated componets, some of which were cast less than 24 hours earlier. The cast iron columns were tested on site, and on site milling and machine painting included miles of wood glazing bars.

Even temporary fencing material was designed to be used in the final building so little was wasted. The transept was strategically placed to preserve and temporarily cover the large elm trees on the site. When the building was torn down and moved to Sydenham, broken glass was remelted providing some of the replacements.

Iconography: The Crystal palace was built to showcase the achievements of Great Britain during the Industrial Revolution. The British were very secure in their belief that they were the ideal of Industrialization that they felt it neccesary to show the rest of the "less civilized" world by staging this enormous exhibition. "The prevailing attitude in England at the time was ripe for the somewhat arrogant parading of accomplishments. Many felt secure, economically and politically, and Queen Victoria was eager to reinforce the feeling of contentment with her reign. It was during the mid-1850s that the word "Victorian" began to be employed to express a new self-consciousness, both in relation to the nation and to the period through which it was passing.

Context: "Despite outbursts of opposition to Albert by the press the family life of the Victorian court began to be considered increasingly as a model for the whole country. Albert had appreciated the achievements of Prime Minister Robert Peel's political and military advances and publicly advocated the advancement of industry and science. These facts began to sway opinion in his favor as respectable foundations of family life and industrial supremacy were becoming rapidly acquainted with the monarchy of Victoria and Albert.  Conceived by prince Albert, the Great Exhibition was held in Hyde Park in London in the specially constructed Crystal Palace. The Crystal Palace was originally designed by Sir Joseph Paxton in only 10 days and was a huge iron goliath with over a million feet of glass. It was important that the building used to showcase these achievements be grandiose and innovative.  Over 13,000 exhibits were displayed and viewed by over 6,200,000 visitors to the exhibition. The millions of visitors that journeyed to the Great Exhibition of 1851 marveled at the industrial revolution that was propelling Britain into the greatest power of the time. Among the 13,000 exhibits from all around the world were the Jacquard loom, an envelope machine, tools, kitchen appliances, steel-making displays and a reaping machine from the United States.The objects on display came from all parts of the world, including India and the countries with recent white settlements, such as Australia and New Zealand, that constituted the new empire. Many of the visitors who flocked to London came from European cities. The profits from the event allowed for the foundation of public works such as the Albert Hall, the Science Museum, the National History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum."


Gustave Eiffel 1887-1889 Eiffel Tower Paris, 
France 984-foot (300-metre)
International Exposition of 1889 
to celebrate the centenary of the French Revolution
Form: Huge tower built of steel beams and girders." obtain the 300 meters, the Tower is basically composed of two elements : - a base, which is a sort of bar stool, very sturdy, standing on 4 main pillars that are bonded and extended with a much lighter batter at the smaller level that constitutes the second floor, - a tower firmly attached atop. The value of the pillar base is directly related to the swaying caused by wind forces."
" The parts used to construct the Tower:
All of the iron came from the factories of Mr. Dupont and Mr. Fould, blacksmiths located in Pompey (Meurthe-et-Moselle), who were represented in Paris by their director Mr. A. Prègre and who kept us informed on iron grades. They were delivered at the following prices:
Equal angles from 40 to 100 ..................................13.25 F per 100 kg 
Standard sections, 1st and 2nd grades..................................13.25 F per 100 kg 
Standard sections, 3rd and 4th grades ..................................13.75 F per 100 kg 
Wide flat bars up to 500..................................15.00 F per 100 kg 
Ordinary sheet iron..................................15.50 F per 100 kg 
Checkered plate ..................................16.50 F per 100 kg 
Special tee-sections (designated in Eiffel's book)..................................16.00 F per 100 kg 
Open and closed angle sections, at made to order angles ..................................20.00 F per 100 kg 
The rivets came from Mr. Letroyeur and Mr. Bouvard in Paris. The quality was that of boiler or locomotive rivets."

Iconography:  " The plan to build a tower 300 metres high was conceived as part of preparations for the World's Fair of 1889.  Emile Nouguier and Maurice Koechlin, the two chief engineers in Eiffel's company, had the idea for a very tall tower in June 1884. It was to be designed like a large pylon with four columns of lattice work girders, separated at the base and coming together at the top, and joined to each other by more metal girders at regular intervals. The company had by this time mastered perfectly the principle of building bridge supports. The tower project was a bold extension of this principle up to a height of 300 metres - equivalent to the symbolic figure of 1000 feet. On September 18 1884 Eiffel registered a patent "for a newconfiguration allowing the construction of metal supports and pylons capable of exceeding a height of 300 metres".  In order to make the project more acceptable to public opinion, Nouguier and Koechlincommissioned the architect Stephen Sauvestre to work on the project's appearance. Sauvestre proposed stonework pedestals to dress the legs, monumental arches to link the columns and the first level, large glass-walled halls on each level, a bulb-shaped design for the top and various other ornamental features to decorate the whole of the structure. In the end the project was simplified, but certain elements such as the large arches at the base were retained, which in part give it its very characteristic appearance. The curvature of the uprights is mathematically determined to offer the most efficient wind resistance possible. As Eiffel himself explains: "All the cutting force of the wind passes into the interior of the leading edge uprights. Lines drawn tangential to each upright with the point of each tangent at the same height, will always intersect at a second point, which is exactly the point through which passes the flow resultant from the action of the wind on that part of the tower support situated above the two points in question. Before coming together at the high pinnacle, the uprights appear to burst out of the ground, and in a way to be shaped by the action of the wind". 

Context:  " An engineer by training, Eiffel founded and developed a company specializing in metal structural work, whose crowning achievement was the Eiffel Tower. He devoted the last thirty years of his life to his experimental research... His outstanding career as a constructor was marked by work on the Porto viaduct over the river Douro in 1876, the Garabit viaduct in 1884, Pest railway station in Hungary, the dome of the Nice observatory, and the ingenious structure of the Statue of Liberty. It culminated in 1889 with the Eiffel Tower. After the end of his career in business, marred by the failure of the Panama Canal, Eiffel began an active life of scientific experimental research in the fields of meteorology, radiotelegraphy and aerodynamics. He died on December 27,1923."

All text and more fun readin about the tower at

John Augustus Roebling Brooklyn Bridge 1867-1883
Form: Length of river span: 1595.5 feet
Total length of bridge: 5989 feet
Width of bridge floor: 85 feet
Suspension cables: four, each 15.75 inches in diameter and 3578.5 feet long,
containing 5434 wires each, for a total length of 3515 miles of wire per cable
Foundation depth below high water, Brooklyn: 44 feet 6 inches
Foundation depth below high water, Manhattan: 78 feet 6 inches
Tower height above high water: 276 feet 6 inches
Roadway height above high water: 119 feet (at towers)
Total weight, not including masonry: 14,680 tons
Source: Blue Guide to New York, 1991, p616. ISBN 0393304868. 

Iconography: "In 1855, John Roebling, the owner of a wire-rope company and a famous bridge designer, proposed a suspension bridge over the East River after becoming impatient with the Atlantic Avenue-Fulton Street Ferry. Roebling worked out every detail of the bridge, from its massive granite towers to its four steel cables. He thought his design entitled the bridge "to be ranked as a national monument… a great work of art."..." Responding to those who doubted the need for the bridge, Roebling responded that projected growth in the cities of New York and Brooklyn would necessitate the construction of additional bridges. Specifically, Roebling suggested future construction of the Williamsburg and Queensboro bridges further north along the East River.Two years later, in June 1869, the New York City Council and the Army Corps of Engineers approved Roebling's design. Later that month, while examining locations for a Brooklyn tower site, Roebling's foot was crushed on a pier by an incoming ferry. Roebling later died of tetanus as a result of the injuries. Immediately following Roebling's death, his son, Washington, took over as chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge...The Brooklyn Bridge cost $15.1 million to build, $3.8 million of which was to purchase land for approaches and the remainder going toward construction. This was more than twice the original cost estimate of $7 million.On May 23, 1883, President Chester Arthur and Governor Grover Cleveland officially dedicated the Brooklyn Bridge before more than 14,000 invitees. Emily Roebling was given the first ride over the completed bridge with a rooster, a symbol of victory, in her lap. After the opening ceremony, anyone with a penny for the toll could cross the Brooklyn Bridge. On the first day,the bridge carried trolley lines, horse-drawn vehicles, and even livestock."
Full text at

Context: " is Roebling's 1840 patent for the in-situ spinning of wire rope that has to be recognized as one of the decisive breakthroughs in modern suspension bridge technology. This patent brought John Roebling a commission to build a cable-suspended, wooden aqueduct over the Allegheny River in 1845. Roebling built a number of such aqueducts before receiving two major bridge,commissions in his mid-career: his 821-foot-span Niagara rail bridge of 1841-55 and his 1,000-foot span Cincinnati Bridge of 1856-67; both of which were prototypes for the 1,600 foot Brooklyn Bridge, whose construction ran through two generations of Roeblings between 1869 and its completion in 1883.The twin masonry support towers of this vast span necessitated the building of foundations 78 feet below the water level...
— Kenneth Frampton and Yukio Futagawa. Modern Architecture 1851-1945. p31.


St. Genevieve Library

Bibliotheque St. Genevieve, Labrouste, 1842-1850

Form: This building uses the barrel vault design, supported by the many decorative arches found within.

Iconography: "The  Bibliotheque Sainte-Genevieve is located in the Quartier Latin in Paris, France.  It is located across from the Pantheon, built in1790, and in former years became the church of Ste.Genevieve.   Labrouste originally invisioned the library having a fore court, which would be planted with big trees and decorated with statues.  Instead he chose to embellish the vestibule to resemble a garden.  The size of the site  was approximately 278' x 69'." ( 

Context:  "One of the greatest cultural buildings of the nineteenth century to use iron in a prominent, visible way was unquestionably the Bibliotheque Ste.-Genevieve in Paris, designed by Henri Labrouste and built in 1842-50. The large (278 by 69 feet) two-storied structure filling a wide, shallow site is deceptively simple in scheme: the lower floor is occupied by stacks to the left, rare-book storage and office space to the right, with a central vestibule and stairway leading to the reading room which fills the entire upper story. The ferrous structure of this reading room—a spine of slender, cast-iron Ionic columns dividing the space into twin aisles and supporting openwork iron arches that carry barrel vaults of plaster reinforced by iron mesh—has always been revered by Modernists for its introduction of high technology into a monumental building."
 —Marvin Trachtenberg and Isabelle Hyman. Architecture: from Prehistory to Post-Modernism. p478.


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Thursday, April 8, 2021

18th C Neoclassical Art

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Academic Art

"The École des Beaux-Arts, in full École Nationale Supérieure Des Beaux-arts, school of fine arts founded (as the Académie Royale d'Architecture) in Paris in 1671 by Jean-Baptiste Colbert, minister of Louis XIV; it merged with the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture (founded in 1648) in 1793. The school offered instruction in drawing, painting, sculpture, architecture, and engraving to students selected by competitive examination; since 1968, architecture is no longer taught there." (

In the 19th century the French Academy (École des Beaux-Arts) that David had taken over still flourished.  Artists who worked in David's style continued to dominate the French art world.  The style that they worked in was referred to as "Academic" however they didn't just paint Neoclassical scenes but also painted scenes depicting Arabia, Turkey and India and this subject matter was called "Orientalism."
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Apotheosis of Homer, 1827. 
Oil on canvas, approx. 12' 8" x 16' 103/4". Louvre, Paris. 
French Academic Painting

Raphael School of Athens 1509-1510
Stanza della Segnatura, Vatican, Rome

Form:  This painting is rendered in a very slick and detailed fashion.  No brushstrokes are visible in Ingre's paintings.  Although photography hadn't been invented yet, this painting recalls the photo realistic surfaces and textures of David and Jan Van Eyck's paintings.  The overall design of this image reflects a Neoclassical sense of composition and a Renaissance sense of perspective.

The picture plane is arranged in a sculptural frieze like band that takes its cue from antique sculptural friezes such as those found on the Ara Pacis and the Parthenon.  Like its classical counterparts, the image is constructed so that most of the figures are placed in the foreground and even though there is the creation of deep space, the background is not as important as the figures. 

It is also classic in that the composition is arranged symmetrically with the most important figure, proclaiming the oath, in the center.  The use of perspective also focusses on this figure.

Iconography:  The vessel depicts the apotheosis of Homer which is a kind of crowning scene.   Homer is about to be crowned by a winged victory figure called a nike. To the right of the nike figure is a figure who hands Homer his harp.

This painting contains some similar types of elements as Raphael's work.  The figures in the foreground represent important thinkers and paintings from the last three centuries. 

In the lower right hand corner is Isaac Newton.  Above him and to the left is Rene Descartes.  In the lower left hand corner is an image of Poussin, the hero of the French school of painting who gestures up towards Homer on his throne.  Behind the figures is an ionic temple that serves as both a visual and conceptual frame with which to view the work.

Context: Ingres was David's student and came to Paris because he was awarded a scholarship to study there.  Throughout his life he became one of the giants of the French academic style and he was instrumental in maintaining the Academy's integrity despite the competition it had with a style of art called Romanticism.


Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, 
Jupiter and Thetis, 1811
oil on canvas, 130 X 101"
Annibale Carracci 
The Farnese ceiling-1597-1601
depicting the Loves of the Gods
ceiling frescoes in the Gallery, 
Palazzo Farnese, Rome.
Venus and Anchises  (detail)
Form:  This painting falls into all the major characteristics of the Academic style.  It is painted almost photographically, it is symmetrical and textures and the human forms are rendered extremely naturalistically and exactly by using glazes.  However, one of the qualities that begins to show up in Ingre's work is that he subtly distorts or stylizes the anatomy of the figures.  Usually the females have very thin sloping shoulders and slightly rubbery elongated torsos which was the ideal of female beauty at the time. 

Iconography: one of the criticisms of the French 19th century academic style was that the uses of classical themes were no longer elevated as they had been in the earlier paintings of David. 

Here we see an eroticized almost Mannerist looking interaction of two mythological figures that looks almost as if it might belong on the ceiling of the Farnese Palazzo rather than in a French 19th century drawing room.  Even the figures are stylized almost in a similar manner to Carracci's works.

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Large Odalisque. 1814
oil on canvas, 35"x64" Louvre, Paris
French Academic/Orientalist 

TIZIANO Vecellio (Titian) Venus of Urbino 1538 Oil on canvas, 119 x 165 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italian Renaissance

Form:  This painting falls into all the major characteristics of the Academic style.  It is painted almost photographically, it is symmetrical and textures and the human forms are rendered extremely naturalistically and exactly by using glazes.  It is also very Ingres- like in his distortions of the figures.  Here is a perfect example of his thin sloping shoulders and slightly rubbery elongated torsos which was the ideal of female beauty at the time. 

Iconography:  This painting is a European fantasy of what a Turkish harem girl might look like but if she is a Turkish woman why is her skin so pale?

In many ways this painting refers almost exactly to the schema that Titian established in his Venus of Urbino and Boucher established in his Brown Odalisk.  These artists chose to juxtapose the eroticized female form with commodities or luxury items.  By playing the textures and body of the female against expensive fabrics, feathers, and jewels, the artist is also making the human female form another commodity which can be bought and sold.  In this way, the wealth of the patron is also eroticized. 

A certain amount of moralizing is happening too.  The artist wants to paint naked pictures of beautiful French women to appease the "male gaze."  But cannot unless it is a classical goddess.  Here Ingres finds a new strategy to display the nude female form under the disguise of an ethnographic image very similar to a "National Geographic" magazine. 

Since these women are foreign, exotic, and somewhat barbaric it's OK to look at them as long as it's for an anthropological type of study.  Even the photographic aspect of this image supports that this is a documentary type of image.  And, if they are barbaric, we as good Christian soldiers need to go to these places and "civilize" them.

In this instance, the luxury items that Ingres plays her body against happen to be the silks and ostrich feathers of the so called orient are by products of our efforts to civilize these people.  In this way the style of Orientalism is a kind of advertisement that justifies the colonization of the east.


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Friday, April 2, 2021

Linear Perspective

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  • Art History: Prehistory to the 1300
  • Art History: Renaissance to 20th C

    Webster's dictionary defines "perspective" in a variety of ways:

    2 a: the interrelation in which a subject or its parts are mentally viewed <places the issues in proper ~>; also: point of view b: the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance <urge you to maintain your ~ and to view your own task in a larger framework --W. J. Cohen>

    So perspective is really just a point of view.  This section will deal with a variety of points of view.  Visual systems such a linear perspective will be discussed as well theological, humanistic and neoplatonic points of view.

    Cimabue, Madonna Enthroned c1280
    Late Gothic Italian 

    space,  picture plane, and overlapping

    Paintings on a flat two dimensional space employ different ways of creating space.  Before the Renaissance period artists looked at a picture as a kind of window.  The front of this window is sometimes referred to as the picture plane.  As you look through the front of the plane, like a window, you will see things that are in the foreground or front of the picture, then in the middle ground, and finally the background.  In this painting in particular, this artist, named Cimabue, is trying to create the illusion of space by layering or overlapping one figure in front of another, however, you can see that he really does not create the illusion of space or deep space too convincingly.

    Giotto, St Francis Giving his Mantle to a Poor Man, c1305
    Late Gothic sometimes his style is considered 
    Proto Renaissance or Early Renaissance
    Giotto, a student of Cimabue, is one of the first Italian artists to really try to create some sort of space in the picture plane.  If you look at this painting you can see that he has claerly created a foreground, where the men and the donkey are, a mid-ground, where the mountains start to rise, and then a background where the buildings are.  He creates this illusion in several ways. 

    One way is that he overlaps or layers the figures.  The other is that he uses dimunution.  Things in the background diminish, or get smaller.  Giotto creates space is that he changes the size of things as they move back in space.  The buildings and mountains are much smaller than the people are in the foreground.  This difference in size is refered to as a size scale relationship

    The building in this image and the others like it are rendered with the illusion of space called intuitive perspective and isometric perspective.  (This kind of perspective is not as illusionistic as the linear perspective that is invented during the Renaissance around 1400 CE.)

    Different artists and different cultures through out time have tried their hand at creating the illusion of space or realism in their art.




    Fowling Scene from the tomb of Nebamun
    1400 BCE - 1350 BCE
    Thebes, Egypt
    Dynasty 18
    According to the Brittanica:

    Perspective is a method of graphically depicting three-dimensional objects and spatial relationships on a two-dimensional plane or on a plane that is shallower than the original (for example, in flat relief).

    Perceptual methods of representing space and volume, which render them as seen at a particular time and from a fixed position and are characteristic of Chinese and most Western painting since the Renaissance, are in contrast to conceptual methods. Pictures drawn by young children and primitives (untrained artists), many paintings of cultures such as ancient Egypt and Crete, India, Islam, and pre-Renaissance Europe, as well as the paintings of many modern artists, depict objects and surroundings independently of one another--as they are known to be, rather than as they are seen to be--and from the directions that best present their most characteristic features. Many Egyptian and Cretan paintings and drawings, for example, show the head and legs of a figure in profile, while the eye and torso are shown frontally . This system produces not the illusion of depth but the sense that objects and their surroundings have been compressed within a shallow space behind the picture plane.

    Leonardo da Vinci, Last Supper, 1495-7 Milan, 
    Santa Maria delle Grazie 

    According to the Brittanica:
    In Western art, illusions of perceptual volume and space are generally created by use of the linear perspective system, based on the observations that objects appear to the eye to shrink and parallel lines and planes to converge to infinitely distant vanishing points as they recede in space from the viewer. Parallel lines in spatial recession will appear to converge on a single vanishing point, called one-point perspective. Perceptual space and volume may be simulated on the picture plane by variations on this basic principle, differing according to the number and location of the vanishing points. Instead of one-point (or central) perspective, the artist may use, for instance, angular (or oblique) perspective, which employs two vanishing points.
    Linear perspective is a mathematical system for creating the illusion of space and distance on a flat surface. The system originated in Florence, Italy in the early 1400s. The artist and architect Brunelleschi demonstrated its principles, but another architect and writer, Leon Battista Alberti was first to write down rules of linear perspective for artists to follow. Leonardo da Vinci probably learned Alberti's system while serving as an apprentice to the artist Verrocchio in Florence.

    To use linear perspective an artist must first imagine the picture surface as an "open window" through which to see the painted world. Straight lines are then drawn on the canvas to represent the horizon and "visual rays" connecting the viewer's eye to a point in the distance.

    The horizon line runs across the canvas at the eye level of the viewer. The horizon line is where the sky appears to meet the ground.

    The vanishing point should be located near the center of the horizon line. The vanishing point is where all parallel lines (orthogonals) that run towards the horizon line appear to come together like train tracks in the distance.

    Orthogonal lines are "visual rays" helping the viewer's eye to connect points around the edges of the canvas to the vanishing point. An artist uses them to align the edges of walls and paving stones.

    Please visit this site for more of an explanation.


    Masaccio, Trinity with Donors, c1425 - 8?
    fresco in the 
    Church of Santa Maria Novella, Florence
    According to the Brittanica:
    The early European artist used a perspective that was an individual interpretation of what he saw rather than a fixed mechanical method. At the beginning of the Italian Renaissance, early in the 15th century, the mathematical laws of perspective were discovered by the architect Filippo Brunelleschi, who worked out some of the basic principles, including the concept of the vanishing point, which had been known to the Greeks and Romans but had been lost. These principles were applied in painting by Masaccio (as in his "Trinity" fresco in Santa Maria Novella, Florence; c. 1427), who within a short period brought about an entirely new approach in painting. A style was soon developed using configurations of architectural exteriors and interiors as the background for religious paintings, which thereby acquired the illusion of great spatial depth. In his seminal Della pittura (1436; On Painting), Leon Battista Alberti codified, especially for painters, much of the practical work on the subject that had been carried out by earlier artists; he formulated, for example, the idea that "vision makes a triangle, and from this it is clear that a very distant quantity seems no larger than a point."

    Linear perspective dominated Western painting until the end of the 19th century, when Paul Cézanne flattened the conventional Renaissance picture space. The Cubists and other 20th-century painters abandoned the depiction of three-dimensional space altogether and hence had no need for linear perspective.

    Linear perspective plays an important part in presentations of ideas for works by architects, engineers, landscape architects, and industrial designers, furnishing an opportunity to view the finished product before it is begun. Differing in principle from linear perspective and used by both Chinese and European painters, aerial perspective is a method of creating the illusion of depth by a modulation of color and tone. 

    Dennis Hwang, a student from Stanford was so taken with the three dimensional quality of the image that he designed a virtual reality image that simulates another view of Masaccio's fresco.


    Masaccio, Trinity with Donors, c1425 - 8?
    fresco in the Church of Santa Maria Novella, Florence
    Form: This is a tremendous work of art.  The figures in the work are just slightly bigger than life size.  The overall composition of the works is symmetrical and the composition within the arch is based on a stable pyramidal form.  While not strictly in accordance with the rules of perspective, this form is a visual device that draws the eye back into the picture plane.

    The figures of God the Father, The Spirit (which is a Dove that doubles for God's collar) and the crucified Jesus are placed with a Roman triumphal arch complete with Pantheon like coffers and ionic columns on the edges.  Moving out of the arch on either side are two flattened pilasters (squared off half columns) that have corinthian capitals.

    The work is executed in one point perspective with the horizon line placed right on the level of the first trompe l’oeil ledge at the viewer's eye level.   The figures representing the two donors or patrons are located on a ledge about six feet off the ground, just outside of the arch slightly above the viewer's point of view. Beneath the ledge/horizon line is a painted skeleton representing a tomb.

    Iconography:  Symbolically speaking this image is packed with all kinds of different perspectives. 

    The linear perspective is both a formal device, which creates space, and a way of including the viewer.  The fact that the use of linear perspective is used actually symbolizes that the real subject of the painting is not the Trinity but rather the Renaissance man's relationship to it.  This leads us to discuss the various themes that are hidden within the obvious meaning behind the fresco.

    It's almost a shopping list of ideas. 

    Overall, the fresco does represent a theological (religious) point of view.  More specifically it represents a unification of the Trinity as expressed in the Catholic Nicene Creed.
    We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of his Father, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.
    The Brittanica refers to Masaccio's Trinity as "rational, human-scaled and human-centred, and inspired by the ancient world."  This statement illustrates that beyond a theological point of view, the naturalistic life-size scale and placement of the figures of God the Father, The Spirit, within a Roman triumphal arch complete with Pantheon like coffers and ionic columns on the edges, represents how the Renaissance person was framing their view of the world within a classicizing and humanistic point of view.  Jesus' body is idealized and he looks almost as if he is a Greek god.  God the Father looks like a Greek or Roman philosopher and these representations make reference to the new ideas concerning neoplatonism and humanism.

    The neoplatonic aspect, deals with the concept of humankind's ability to be perfected to an ideal state.  One that is more spiritual and mental than flesh.  The humanistic point of view deals with the concept that while humankind is spiritual it is also physical and emotional.  When the body of Christ is depicted as a real human's body, the artist is showing you a point of view based on a more human and possibly even fallible point of view of the world.  The perfectibility of man and the ideal conception of a what a perfect person should be is discussed in Mencher, Liaisons 109-112 Baldassare Castiglione (1478-1529) Il Cortegiano (The Courtier) Excerpts from "The First Book of the Courtier"  and William Shakespeare c1600 excerpts from Hamlet 115-117All of these points of view are pulled together in by the appearance and text above the skeleton.

    Above the skeleton is inscribed, "What I was you are.  What I am, you will become."  This idea that we are to be reminded of our mortality and frailty is a reminder or a lesson referred to as a memento mori.  A literal reminder of death.  This them is taken up not just in the visual arts but also in literature and theatrical productions.  Read Mencher, Liaisons, William Shakespeare c1600 excerpts from Hamlet115-117 for another example.  What kinds of iconography to they both share?

    Masaccio. Tribute Money, and Expulsion, fresco c1427 
    Brancacci Chapel, Santa Maria del Carmine Florence, 
    Italy, Italian Renaissance

    Context: Masaccio. Tribute Money, and Expulsion, fresco c1427  are prime examples of many of the innovations that marked 15th century Italian art.  In addition to demonstrating all of the formal views concerning perspective, these frescoes also express all of the more philosophical points of view.

    According to the Brittanica: 

    The Brancacci Chapel. Shortly after completing the Pisa Altarpiece, Masaccio began working on what was to be his masterpiece--the frescoes of the Brancacci Chapel (c. 1427) in the Florentine Church of Santa Maria del Carmine. He was commissioned to finish painting the chapel's scenes of the stories of St. Peter after Masolino (1383-1447) had abandoned the job, leaving only the vaults and several frescoes in the upper registers finished. Previously, Masaccio and Masolino were engaged in some sort of loose working relationship. They had already collaborated on a "Madonna and Child with St. Anne" (Uffizi Gallery, Florence) in which the style of Masaccio, who was the younger of the two, had a profound influence on that of Masolino. It has been suggested, but never proven, that both artists were jointly commissioned to paint the Brancacci Chapel. The question of which painter executed which frescoes in the chapel posed one of the most discussed artistic problems of the 19th and 20th centuries. It is now generally thought that Masaccio was responsible for the following sections: the "Expulsion of Adam and Eve" (or "Expulsion from Paradise"), "Baptism of the Neophytes," "The Tribute Money," "St. Peter Enthroned," "St. Peter Healing the Sick with His Shadow," "St. Peter Distributing Alms," and part of the "Resurrection of the Son of Theophilus." (A cleaning and restoration of the Brancacci Chapel frescoes in 1985-89 removed centuries of accumulated grime and revealed the frescoes' vivid original colours.)

    There are other forms of perspective and one of them, which is slightly later development used by Masaccio but perfected by Leonardo is called aerial perspective.  According to the Brittanica,

    Masaccio. Tribute Money, and Expulsion, fresco c1427 
    Brancacci Chapel, Santa Maria del Carmine Florence, Italy, Italian Renaissance

    Photo of atmospheric perspective 

    Aerial perspective also called ATMOSPHERIC PERSPECTIVE, method of creating the illusion of depth, or recession, in a painting or drawing by modulating color to simulate changes effected by the atmosphere on the colours of things seen at a distance. Although the use of aerial perspective has been known since antiquity, Leonardo da Vinci first used the term aerial perspective in his Treatise on Painting, in which he wrote: "Colours become weaker in proportion to their distance from the person who is looking at them." It was later discovered that the presence in the atmosphere of moisture and of tiny particles of dust and similar material causes a scattering of light as it passes through them, the degree of scattering being dependent on the wavelength, which corresponds to the color, of the light. Because light of short wavelength--blue light--is scattered most, the colours of all distant dark objects tend toward blue; for example, distant mountains have a bluish cast. Light of long wavelength--red light--is scattered least; thus, distant bright objects appear redder because some of the blue is scattered and lost from the light by which they are seen.

    The intervening atmosphere between a viewer and, for example, distant mountains, creates other visual effects that can be mimicked by landscape painters. The atmosphere causes distant forms to have less distinct edges and outlines than forms near the viewer, and interior detail is similarly softened or blurred. Distant objects appear somewhat lighter than objects of similar tone lying closer at hand, and in general contrasts between light and shade appear less extreme at great distances. All these effects are more apparent at the base of a mountain than at its peak, since the density of the intervening atmosphere is greater at lower elevations.

     "aerial perspective."   Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.   Copyright © 1994-2001 Inc.   November 19, 2002. 



    The picture plane is further unified by its value structure or shading.  This use of light and shadow to create a dramatic and consistent picture plane is  referred to as chiaroscuro.

    According to the Brittanica, 

    Chiaroscuro (from Italian chiaro, "light"; scuro, "dark"),
    technique employed in the visual arts to represent light and shadow as they define three-dimensional objects.

    Some evidence exists that ancient Greek and Roman artists used chiaroscuro effects, but in European painting the technique was first brought to its full potential by Leonardo da Vinci in the late 15th century in such paintings as his "Adoration of the Magi" (1481; Uffizi, Florence). Thereafter, chiaroscuro became a primary technique for many painters, and by the late 17th century the term was routinely used to describe any painting, drawing, or print that depends for its effect on an extensive gradation of light and darkness.

    The scene depicted in "The Tribute Money" is consistently lit from the upper right and thus harmonizes with the actual lighting of the chapel, which comes from a window on the wall to the right of the fresco. The mountain background of the fresco is convincingly rendered using aerial perspective; an illusion of depth is created by successively lightening the tones of the more distant mountains, thereby simulating the changes effected by the atmosphere on the colours of distant objects. In "The Tribute Money," with its solid, anatomically convincing figures set in a clear, controlled space lit by a consistent fall of light, Masaccio decisively broke with the medieval conception of a picture as a world governed by different and arbitrary physical laws. Instead, he embraced the concept of a painting as a window behind which a continuation of the real world is to be found, with the same laws of space, light, form, and perspective that obtain in reality. This concept was to remain the basic idiom of Western painting for the next 450 years. 

     "chiaroscuro."  and "Masaccio"  Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.   Copyright © 1994-2001 Inc.   November 19, 2002. 

    Although Giotto uses the technique somewhat in his paintings, notice how chiaroscuro is employed by Masaccio in the image on the left to make the figures appear more life like. 

    Also notice how Masaccio has become so involved with perspective that the halo atop the apostles heads are represented as an elliptical plates floating above rather than the more traditional circle of light that surrounds the heads of Giotto's and Cimabue's figures.

    Context and Iconography:  In order to really understand this next section you need to know the story of the Tribute Money.  I think that what Masaccio was doing was following the lessons and type of sermons that would have been delivered in Church.  In these sermons, two stories concerning the testing of Jesus might have been combined.
    Matthew Chapter 17
    24  When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax approached Peter and said, "Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax?"
    25 "Yes," he said. When he came into the house, before he had time to speak, Jesus asked him, "What is your opinion, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take tolls or census tax? From their subjects or from foreigners?"
    26 When he said, "From foreigners," Jesus said to him, "Then the subjects are exempt.
    27 But that we may not offend them, go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax. Give that to them for me and for you."
    Matthew Chapter 22
    15  Then the Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap him in speech.
    16 They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone's opinion, for you do not regard a person's status.
    17 Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?"
    18 Knowing their malice, Jesus said, "Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?
    19 Show me the coin that pays the census tax." Then they handed him the Roman coin.
    20 He said to them, "Whose image is this and whose inscription?"
    21 They replied, "Caesar's." At that he said to them, "Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God."
    22 When they heard this they were amazed, and leaving him they went away.
    Masaccio also uses linear perspective to focus the attention on the viewer to the central figure of Christ.  In addition to this, he also places the heads of the apostles on the horizon line almost as if they were ducks in a shooting gallery.

    The Tribute Money is a continuous narrative.  Meaning that all the episodes of the story are united in one picture plane, such as we see in Nicola Pisano's Nativityhowever in Masaccio's image the space makes more sense.  He also divides the story in three segments by using linear perspective.

    The vanishing point also divides the picture plane in two sections.  On the left we see the mountains and natural world depicted almost as an infinite place.  To the right of the picture plane, and on the left hand of Jesus, the place where the damned are traditionally placed are the manmade structures of the city.

    What this may represent is a concept that is expressed by the story of the Tribute Money as interpreted by St. Augustine 354-430.  According to the Brittanica, Augustine's, "adaptation of classical thought to Christian teaching created a theological system of great power and lasting influence. His numerous written works, the most important of which are Confessions and City of God, shaped the practice of biblical exegesis and helped lay the foundation for much of medieval and modern Christian thought."

    St. Augustine, came up with a concept in which he viewed the universe and man's existence as divided in two worlds.  One was the City of Man which was temporary and fallible.  This is represented by the architecture and the place in which the tax collectors stands and collects what is "due Caesar."  The other world is the City of God which goes on forever and in which god will provide for the faithful.  This is where Peter pulls the coin from the fishes mouth.

    Stokstad points out that this story was also used as a propagandistic tool and a way of instilling patriotism for Florence and raising funds.

    oForm:  These two nude figures are depicted in an anatomically accurate manner.  The angel of Michael above escorts them out of a triumphal arch and out into a seemingly featureless landscape.  The bodies are arranged in expressive poses.

    The torso of the angel floating above has been somewhat foreshortened.

    Iconography:  The classical arch symbolizes the figures expulsion from a classical and ideal world: the Garden of Eden.  The expression of there bodies ties in with some of the ideas of human expression that one can see in monuments like the Parthenon's metopes and the Ara Pacis Augustae, except in this case, Masaccio uses the language of gesture to directly communicate what each one of these figures is feeling.  My Professor Broderick, from Lehman college, suggested that the figure of Adam is ashamed of himself in a more internal way and therefore hides his face from us and from God.  In contrast to this, Eve, is more superficially ashamed and hides her body.  For Broderick, this was an expression of male and female roles during the Renaissance.


    Albrecht Durer, Alberti's Veil c1500
    One way of dealing with perspective and foreshortening is to use mechanical devices to help the artist figure out how perspective works. 

    In the central image, Durer is using a device based on a treatise by Alberti.  This device allows the artist to abstract the image and chart the image into a series of squares.  This gives the artist many more reference points and allows him to check and measure the way things are foreshortened.

    This machine is based on a device that artists used to make multiple copies of the same image or to enlarge a drawing accurately for placement on a wall or canvas.  This process is called "grid and transfer" or "squaring."  According to the Brittanica,

    "Squaring" in painting, simple technique for transferring an image from one surface to another (and sometimes converting the image from one scale to another) by non mechanical means. The original work to be transferred is divided into a given number of squares; the same number of squares is then marked off-- with charcoal or some other easily removable medium--on the surface of the receiving area. The contents of each square of the original are then drawn in the corresponding square of the reproduction. The use of the grid ensures the accurate placement of images onto the reproduction.

    The Egyptians used squaring at least 5,000 years ago. It has been used to transfer cartoons onto murals, to transfer preparatory drawings onto canvas paintings, and to alter the scale of any work in the same media.

    This process was used extensively during the Renaissance.  Check this out:

    also see this

    Two Point Perspective

    1) To draw a simple shape in two point perspective you start with a single line across the picture plane called the horizon line.

    3) Next, add converging lines from the top and bottom of the vertical line and draw two vertical lines which will become the back corners of the box.

    Then add two vanishing points.  Place one at each end of the horizon line. Then draw a vertical line as big as you want the first box.

    4) After erasing some of the horizon line (the part behind the box) it looks like a three dimensional form.

    A page with a great example of two point perspective.

    Gustave Caillebotte, Paris a Rainy Day, 1877
    French, Impressionism

    Here's an example of two point perspective in a painting.  This painting actually has multiple points on the horizon line but I've traced most of the orthagonals to the two most dominant ones in the black and white illustration.

    Here's how Giotto kind of had it right.


    Here's where the lines should have gone.


    Giotto di Bondone, Virgin and Child Enthroned, 
    (Ognissanti Altar,) c 1310. 
    Tempera and gold on wood, 10'8"x6'8"
    Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
    Cimabue, Virgin and Child Enthroned, 
    from the Church of Santa Trinita, Florence
    c 1280. Tempera and gold on wood, 12' 7"x7'4"
    Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

    Masaccio, Madonna Enthroned, 1426,
    oil on panel, 56x29"
    London, National Gallery
    These two works of art on the left are ones that you have already studied extensively.  Compare these two works to this one by Masaccio.  Think about and be prepared to relate the concepts you have just learned about to them. n (1832) 1 a: devotion to the humanities: literary culture b: the revival of classical letters, individualistic and critical spirit, and emphasis on secular concerns characteristic of the Renaissance 2: humanitarianism 3: a doctrine, attitude, or way of life centered on human interests or values; esp: a philosophy that usu. rejects supernaturalism and stresses an individual's dignity and worth and capacity for self-realization through reason -- n or adj -- adj -- adv mo.ri n, pl memento mori [L, remember that you must die] (1596): a reminder of mortality; esp: death's-head n, pl -tos or -toes [ME, fr. L, remember, imper. of meminisse to remember; akin to L ment-, mens mind--more at mind] (1580): something that serves to warn or remind; also: souvenir n (1845) 1: Platonism modified in later antiquity to accord with Aristotelian, post-Aristotelian, and oriental conceptions that conceives of the world as an emanation from an ultimate indivisible being with whom the soul is capable of being reunited in trance or ecstasy 2: a doctrine similar to ancient Neoplatonism -- Neo.pla.ton.ic adj -- n

    trompe l’oeil - (French: "deceive the eye"), in painting, the representation of an object with such verisimilitude as to deceive the viewer concerning the material reality of the object. This idea appealed to the ancient Greeks who were newly emancipated from the conventional stylizations of earlier art. Zeuxis, for example, reportedly painted such realistic grapes that birds tried to eat them. The technique was also popular with Roman muralists. Although trompe l’oeil never achieved the status of a major artistic aim, from the early Renaissance on, European painters occasionally fostered illusionism by painting false frames out of which the contents of a still life or portrait appeared to spill, or by creating window-like images suggesting actual openings in the wall or ceiling. (Brittanica)

    Value Structure

    Is the lightness or darkness of a color or shade.  Chiaroscuro and tenebrism both employ the use quick shifts of light and dark.

    Value refers to the lightness or darkness of a color. It is a variable that can substantially alter a color's appearance, and as we will see later, it is also an important factor in achieving legibility with type and color. A hue changes in value when either white or black are added to it. A color with added white is called a tint (fig.7) ; a color with added black is called a shade (fig.8). Generally speaking, pure hues that are normally light in value (yellow, orange, green) make the best tints, white pure hues that are normally dark in value (red, blue, violet) make the most desirable shades. The palettes colors below shoes a spectrum of tints and shades based on the hues from the colors clearly shows that changes in value greatly expand color possibilities.



    The Northern Renaissance
    Jan Van Eyck and Perspective

    Jan van Eyck Arnolfini Wedding 1434
    oil and tempera, 33x22.5" London National Gallery
    Form:  The first thing one is struck with when looking at this painting is how "real" it looks.  Van Eyck was one of the first painters to really use oil paint.  For this reason sometimes he is attributed by some sources as the inventor of oil paint.  Stokstad doesn't mention this specifically about this painting but I think that it was probably painted first in tempera paint and then glazed in succesive layers with oil paint.

    According to the Brittanica,

    Oil paints are made by mixing dry pigment powder with refined linseed oil to a paste, which is then milled in order to disperse the pigment particles throughout the oil vehicle. According to the 1st-century Roman scholar Pliny the Elder, whose writings the Flemish painters Hubert and Jan van Eyck are thought to have studied, the Romans used oil colours for shield painting. The earliest use of oil as a fine-art medium is generally attributed to 15th-century European painters, such as Giovanni Bellini and the van Eycks, who glazed oil colour over a glue-tempera underpainting. It is also thought probable, however, that medieval manuscript illuminators had been using oil glazes in order to achieve greater depth of colour and more subtle tonal transitions than their tempera medium allowed.

     "Oil."   Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.   Copyright © 1994-2001 Inc.   November 19, 2002. 

    Part of the images reality is also based on the fact that the image appears to have some sort of depth, however, if one was to really diagram the image and trace all the orthagonals in the image you will discover that rather than having a single vanishing point or horizon line, this image has a zone where the lines kind of converge.

    Compare Masaccio's use of perspective with Van Eyck below.


    MASACCIO 1401-1428 Trinity with Donors c1428 
    Florence,S.Maria Novella 16' tall fresco

    Jan van Eyck Arnolfini Wedding 1434
    oil and tempera

    Iconography:  Traditionally this image was interpreted by Irwin Panofsky, a mid twentieth century art historian as a wedding contract. 
    The Marriage of Giovanni Arnolfini, commonly called the Arnolfini Wedding, is van Eyck's most famous work. The subject is obvious, given the pose of the couple. It may, however, be confusing to the modern viewer that he chose to portray them in their bed chamber, instead of in a church. Here, it is necessary to keep in mind that everything portrayed in this picture has symbolic meaning. The fact that the woman appears to be pregnant is symbolic of the holy purpose of their matrimony of bringing children into the world. This also explains the choice of the color of her dress (green representing fertility), and the fact that she is pulling her dress up in the front (signifying that she is willing to bear children). Other specifically sybolic imagery includes the dog who stands between them (fidelity to each other; loyalty to God), the sandals which have been removed (signifying that they are standing on holy ground), and the single candle in the candelabra (the presence of Christ in their union). A detail of the back wall reveals a convex mirror which reflects their backs and two other persons (probably the priest and the artist). A signature above which says "Jan van Eyck was here" testifies to the artist's presence during the ceremony, and it is possible that the purpose of the painting is partly a matter of documenting the legality of their matrimony.

    However, this interpretation of this iconography has come into question about ten years ago when Craig Harbison published his book, "Jan van Eyck: The Play of Realism."  (London: Reaktion Books,) 1995.

    Visit this website to get the opposing point of view on this image:
    From the Open University Website: Read The Mystery of Marriage at this Website

    Context and Iconography: Some of the debate about the iconography of this image stems form the development of new subject matter in art because of the rise of a new class of people.  The new merchant classes were now beginning to commission artists to paint their portraits.  In the process of including every day people in these images an element called genre began to show up in art.  Genre in French means a kind, but art historians have assigned a different meaning to the word.  A genre element is one in which an everyday person or objects appear in the painting.  Unfortunately for art historians, the introduction of genre elements  introduces some confusion into the interpretation of some of these images.  In general though, the introduction of genre is symbolic of the rising of a new class of people who are patrons of the arts in Europe.

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