Sunday, September 23, 2012

Principles of Design in Sculpture

Sacrifice of Isaac, Photo courtesty of Wikipedia
Creative Commons & edited by Tessa Bookwalter

The piece I have chosen to discuss for this week is Brunelleschi’s Sacrifice of Isaac.  This relief depicts the scene from the scriptures in which Abraham, following God’s orders, takes his son Isaac to a mountain in Moriah to sacrifice him there. Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) sculpted the bronze relief in a competition to construct the bronze doors of the Florence Baptistery in 1401.  At its conclusion, Brunelleschi and the artist Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455) were declared equal winners and asked to design the doors together; but Brunelleschi would not accept the offer, remarking that two equal geniuses could not combine their forces to create a work of art. 
  1. Unity and Variety: The panel revolves around the center scene, with a figure on every side surrounding Abraham and Isaac.  Each character is necessary to create unity, because they draw the eye inward to the duo.  The angel Gabriel’s body and arm arch toward the center; and the mountain and brush opposite him curve inward as well, creating a line on either side which draws the eye in.  To the bottom, the characters create a foreground, which draws the eye up.  There is variety in imbalance from the rather empty top portion of the panel when compared with to the crowded foreground.  This variety helps to separate the sections of the piece, while the mountain in the foreground curves upwards on both sides, helping to create unity in the piece as a whole.
  2. Balance: As mentioned before, Brunelleschi’s panel is somewhat horizontally imbalanced.  The top half of the relief reveals empty space – Brunelleschi carves the figures of Gabriel, Isaac and Abraham affront a stark background.  As he moves downward, Brunelleschi carves behind his figures the mountain at Moriah (which Isaac, Abraham, and the lam sit atop), creating a busy background.
  3. Emphasis and Focal Point: The focal point of Sacrifice of Isaac is clearly the center, in which the figure Abraham takes a knife to his son’s throat.  The emphasis on this emotional scene is created in a variety of ways.  Most notably is the angel Gabriel, who swoops into the frame from the top left corner, arching his arm up and grasping Abraham’s outstretched hand.  The line created here draws the eye to Isaac’s face, which is perhaps the main focal point of the entire panel.  Abraham himself leans in toward his son, also creating a line drawing the eye to Isaac’s emotion filled face.  Each of the figures serves the purpose of drawing the eye in.  The horse in the foreground leans his head down to eat, in a line which draws the viewer directly to Isaac, and the two figures on either side curve inward, creating lines which draw the eye to the center.
  4. Rhythm: Rhythm in this piece helps – along with the other elements – to visually draw the eye inward.  The folded draperies on each of the figures swoop in such a way that they move the viewer from one particular section to the center.  The drapery also creates a rhythm that adds to the unity of the work as a whole.
  5. Scale: Brunelleschi is not entirely concerned with scale in his panel.  Although the characters are not entirely out of scale, there is little attention to perspective of any sort. 
  6. Proportion: Proportion seems to be more accurate.  In relation to themselves’, the characters’ bodies are relatively proportionate to real people with the exception of Abraham’s left hand, which seems larger for emphasis, and the horse in the foreground – which seems to have a head and legs that are rather disproportionate to the largeness of his torso.

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