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.

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