Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Printing Room

           The earliest printmaking printmaking process, known as woodcut, appeared in China in the ninth century and made it’s way to Europe around the year 1400.  Originally used for stamping designs on fabrics, textiles, or playing cards, it consists of carving an image in a wood block, covering the stamp with ink, and smoothing a sheet of paper over the image.  Edvard Munch’s 1896 woodcut print Anxiety exemplifies the linear properties of woodcut.  Because the etching itself appears as negative space, it can be difficult to create incredible detail, as Munch’s print shows.
            Etching, from the intaglio family of printmaking, was developed in the early 16th century.  Edward Hopper’s American Landscape from 1920 displays linear the linear aspects of this technique, like with woodcut.  Etched prints are made with embossed metal plates, and thus allow for more detail than woodcut, as exemplified in Hopper’s print.
            Lithography, invented in 1798 by German actor/writer Aloyes Senefelder, became widely used with color prints in the 1890s.  Because it is one of the most direct print making mediums, it was a popular resource.  Vija Clemins 1970 print, Untitled, demonstrates the strength in detail allowed by this medium, as the image is transferred directly from a drawing on limestone to a paper by lithographic press.  Clemin’s print looks as if it could be a photograph because the process allows for such heightened detail.
            Screenprinting, used most popularly during the 1930s by American artists, is a form of stenciling.  Roy Lichtenstien uses this technique over a screen of Benday dots – a yellow brushstroke with black outlines – for his 1965 print, Brushstroke.  The stencil work is evident and distinctive.  Like woodcut, this medium creates defined positive and negative space; but it does allow for great detail if done delicately and repeatedly on one work.  Lichtenstien’s print clearly exemplifies the freedom from linear mediums, such as woodcut and etching, that screenprinting allows – as well as its eye-catching nature.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Marvelous Mediums

Tablernacle of the Linen Workers Guild,
1433-35, photo courtesy of WCC
Tempera, fresco and oil create significantly differing stylistic effects due to the nature of the paint and what they are painted on.  During the Italian Renaissance, all three mediums were used frequently.
            Tempera consists of colored pigment with a water soluble binder, usually egg yolk.  It is permanent and fast drying, often used in the making of alter pieces.  Fra Angelico’s Tabernacle of the Linen Workers Guild exemplifies the possibilities with fresco on wood panel.  Painted between 1433 and 1435, it is an early Renaissance altar piece depicting the popular image of Mary and Jesus, sitting between the Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist.  The painting shows influence from both the new Renaissance techniques and traditional International Gothic style.  The lack of perspective and accurate proportion, use of heavy gold, and slightly elongated face of Mary all hail from this latter style. The depiction of baby Jesus – looking more like a miniature adult then realistic baby – comes from this artistic period as well.  However, the depth in shading of the drapery creates a three dimensionality that is purely Renaissance.
An Angel Appears to Zacharias in the Temple, 1485-90, photo courtesy of WCC
Fresco, or mural painting on lime plaster, was a technique utilized decades before the start of the Renaissance.  Domenico Ghirlandio’s 1485-90 fresco cycles of the life of Saint John the Baptist in the presbiterio of Santa Maria Novella exemplify how fresco painting transformed during the High Renaissance.  The fresco, An Angel Appears to Zacharias in the Temple, embodies a three dimensionality from accurate perspective and depth; and a realism from accurate proportion and sharp detail.  Ghirlandio and his workshop create trompe-l'oeil in the decorative background of the temple, adding in every aspect as much realism as possible.
Madonna and Child, 1520,
photo courtesy of WCC
(The only photo I could find)
  Lastly, oil painting heightens both drama and realism with the advantage of slow drying, saturated pigments which can be blended easily.  The 1520 High Renaissance painting Madonna and Child with Saints Augustine, Tobias and the Archangel Raphael by Giovanni Antonio Sogliani provides a wonderful example of the freedom of this medium.  Giovanni’s painting seems rather influenced by the Italian Renaissance painter Raphael, with soft lines and beautiful facial detailing; as well as in the colors and movement of the drapery and the certain heightened effect of light hitting his figures.  The medium allows for a dramatic chiaroscuro effect and thus greater physical depth.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


           The subject of this Renaissance drawing exhibition is angels.  During the Renaissance, religious paintings continued to be as popular as in previous eras – though the style of drawing changed drastically.  The drawings chosen here demonstrate the artists’ ability to create movement and the illusion of flight.  Each drawing reflects this, though the mediums are all different. 
God the Father Supported by Angels,
photo courtesy of ArtStor
The first in the exhibition, God the Father Supported by Angels, was drawn in 1530 by Il Pordenone.  It is made with pen and brown ink and gray wash, heightened with white, on green-gray laid paper. It depicts a twisted, upward turned Father, carried upward by three baby angels.  The mastery in this piece is within the human bodies, both in their structure and movement.  There is an intense amount of depth in their muscles.  The shading on their bodies create a sense of movement, as well as the flowing sheet which arches over the Father, grasped by an angel. 
Next, a red chalk drawing by Federico Zuccaro in 1563, is entitled The Dead Christ Supported by Angels.  It depicts Christ carried to heaven and surrounded by flying angels.  Once again, the angels surrounding Christ are babies, though this time winged. They appear serene as they fly amongst the clouds.
The Dead Christ Supported by Angels,
photo courtesy of ArtStor
Third in this installment is a brown oil painting, heightened with white on light brown paper.  Entitled Fall of the Rebel Angels and drawn in 1580-85 by Jacopo Palma il Giovane, it is a rough blended drawing depicting a great fight between angels.  The construction of this piece is very dynamic.  The winged angel at the top brings the eye downward to the upheaval.  Though it is roughly drawn, there is intense movement and a good amount of depth in the bodies of these angels.  They are typical classically perfect bodies.
Fall of the Rebel Angels, photo
courtesy of ArtStor
Lastly is an ink drawing from an unknown date by Luca Cambioso, entitled Angels in Glory.  In this drawing, winged baby angels seem to fly down from the heavens, playing and flying around each other.  Paired in groups of two, they fly in dynamic disarray.  This drawing has less intensity than the previous three, but it does depict beautiful movement and realism, though it has no shading.  The plump angels move about, facing forward and back, with a good sense of perspective.
Angels in Glory, photo courtesy
of ArtStor
There are several aspects of these drawings which tie them together.  First is the obvious use of babies as angels, which became very popular during the High Renaissance.  Second is the attention to idealized bodies, in the Father, Christ, and Fall of the Rebel Angels.  Taken from Classical tradition, this idealized human body became much more popular during the High Renaissance, a fact which is present here.