The Essential Vermeer Glossary: J - P
Samuel van Hoogstraten
This glossary contains a number of the terms in this site which may not be clear to all readers. Some of these terms are also discussed as they relate to Vermeer's art. Each of the four sections of the glossary can be accessed from the menu top of each page of the glossary entries. In the near future, each word in the site's text which is listed in the glossary will be signaled by an icon that will link directly to that term.
An engraving of Samuel van Hoogstraten, Dutch painter and writer on art. Although Van Hoogstraten painted genre scenes in the style of De Hooch and Metsu and a few portraits, as a painter he is best known as a specialist in perspective and tromp l'oeil paintings. One of his "perspective boxes" which shows a painted world through a peep-hole, is in the National Gallery, London. Only in his early works can signs be found that he was a pupil of Rembrandt. Hoogstraten traveled to London, Vienna, and Rome, worked in Amsterdam and The Hague as well as his native Dordrecht. He was an etcher, poet, director of the mint at Dordrecht, and art theorist. His Inleyding tot de hooge schoole der schilderkonst (Introduction to the Art of Painting, 1678) is an invaluable source for understanding Dutch 17th-century art theory and also contains one of the rare contemporary appraisals of Rembrandt's work.
- Liefhebbers van de Schilderkonst
- Light in Painting
- Local Color
- Luster, Sparkle, Glimmer, Glitter, Splendor and Highlights
See also, sprezzatura.
Je ne sais quoi [Fr. literally: I don't know what] is an intangible quality that makes something distinctive or attractive, which is, however, ultimately unsayable. It is sometimes associated with other historical terms such as sprezzatura, galanterie, honnêteté. Je ne sais quoi suggests the impossibility of definiting the term itself. Since different individuals perceive it differently, it is not a rational value.
Je ne sais quoi is assumed to be a quintessentially French phenomenon and to belong purely to the realm of the literary. Richard Scholar1 argued that in the early modern period it served to address problems of knowledge in natural philosophy, the passions, and culture and that major figures of the period such as Montaigne, Shakespeare, Descartes, Corneille, and Pascal alongside some of their lesser-known contemporaries can be a tied to it. The term shows up Voltaire’s Dictionnaire philosophique under finesse, but seems to have no other influence until the next century. 2
See also, spatial depth.
Kenlijckheyt, (Dutch, obsolete: perceptibility) is a term used to describe pictorial space is perceived in relation to the surface qualities of a painting. Since as far back as ancient Greece, it was believed that light tones tend to advance towards the viewer advance darker tones tend toward the background. However, Rembrandt’s pupil Samuel van Hoogstraten explained that the texture of the paint on the canvas could help strengthen or weaken the illusion of three-dimensionality. Thickly painted highlights create uneven surfaces that tend to reflect light, making those elements appear closer to the viewer. Smoothly painted areas, instead, appear more distant.
Samuel van Hoogstraten, made this point about kenlijkheyt in reference to Rembrandt’s The Night Watch:
I therefore maintain that perceptibility [kenlijkheyt] alone makes objects appear close at
hand, and conversely that smoothness [egaelheyt] makes them withdraw, and I therefore desire that that which is to appear in the foreground, be painted roughly and briskly, and that which is to recede be painted the more neatly and purely the further back it lies. Neither one color nor another will make your work seem to advance or recede, but the perceptibility or imperceptibility [kenlijkheyt of onkenlijkheyt] of the parts alone.
"Interesting, Hoogstraten did not apply this proposition, which he advances with great emphasis, to his own paintings in the period he wrote these words; they are smoothly executed, in both foreground and background."3
A lake is a pigment which has been made by precipitating or fixing a dye upon (usually in the form of a fine, fluffy powder) an semi-transparent inert pigment or lake base in order to give it bulk so that it might behave like other paints. This process may be compared to that of dying cloth. It requires a high degree of skill to achieve good results. Lakes are made in a great range of hues and strengths. Alumina hydrate, chalk and ground egg shells were used base for lakes.
Lakes were typically used in oil painting to produce effects of richness and depth over opaque underlayers (see glaze - glazing) although it is known that Rembrandt typically admixes lakes directly with other pigments to enrich their color.
Some lakes had organic and unusual origins."Until the middle of the last century, when it was discovered that aniline dyes could be made from coal tar, most dyes were obtained from natural substances in plants or animals called carmine lakes. There are two varieties of carmine lake, both produced from insects, cochineal lake and kermes lake and both employed as a dye and lake. Cochineal lake comes from cochineal beetle, native to the New World, which was used by the Aztecs for dyeing and painting and was brought to Europe in the sixteenth century following the Spanish conquest. Kermes lake comes from an other species of cochineal living on certain species of European oaks. These insects were scratched from the twigs with the fingernails and produced a powerful permanent scarlet dye believed to be that obtained from the Phoenicians by the Hebrews to dye the curtains of their tabernacle."4
Indigo and rose madder, two widely used lakes, are now produced more cheaply from synthetic sources, although some use of natural products persists, especially among artisans. The food and cosmetics industries have shown renewed interest in cochineal as a source of natural red dye. Schietgeel, (Dutch pinke or fading yellow), another widely used lake, was made from Buckthorn berries and fixed onto a substrate of aluminum hydrate. Schietgeel in oil is perfectly transparent since the refractive indices of aluminum hydrate and oil are very close to each other. Unfortunately the yellow color in schietgeel, rhamnetin, is not light-fast, causing the yellow glaze to fade, and if over a blue underpaint to produce green, the bluefish color underneath will become dominant.
Vermeer used lakes pigments which are commonly found on Dutch painters' palettes of the time:
red madder - A natural dyestuff from the root of the madder plant (rubia tinctorium), formerly cultivated extensively in Europe and Asia Minor. The coloring matter is extracted from the ground root by fermentation.
weld - A natural yellow dyestuff, obtained as a liquid or as a dry extract of the herbaceous plant, Dyer's Rocket (Reseda luteola) formerly cultivated in central Europe a widely used to dye cloth. Grown easily from seed, weld grows as far north as Scotland and has been extensively naturalized around the world in temperate areas. This pigment was known to be susceptible to fading.
It has been suspected that weld was admixed or glazed over the foil age of the Little Street but has faded producing an unnatural bluish color.
indigo - Is present in various plants, not only in the East Indian indigo plant, but also in woad. It is the most important plant dye. Indigo was recognized as a valuable blue dye by most early explorers of the Indian region. The Venetian explorer Marco Polo described in detail the Indian indigo industry and by the eleventh century, Arab traders had introduced indigo to the Mediterranean region, where it became more popular than the local blue dye (woad). Indigo was brought to Britain in Elizabethan times (1500-1600), but its use was banned there and in other European countries due to protests from woad growers, whose business was being undercut. Today, indigo is still used to dye jeans the irregular attachment of the dye causes the bleaching and mottling effect. Indigo has become naturalized in the southern United States.
cochineal - Natural organic dyestuff made from the dried bodies of the female insect Coccus cacti, which lives on various cactus plants in Mexico and in Central and South America. First brought to Europe shortly after the discovery of those countries.
This pigment has only been identified in the late Love Letter.
Land transformation occurred in the North Netherlands, during the 17th century. The physical geography of northern Holland was dramatically altered by the reclamation of about two hundred thousand acres of land from inland sea, by means of a complex system of dikes and drainage.
The creation of land was a commercial investment made by private citizens. By 1612 over one hundred citizens had invested in the scheme. Projects such as these dramatically altered the appearance of the region. These speculators constructed a system of canals and forty-two windmill pumps across the land. The resulting landscape was an extremely flat land, as recorded in Van Goyen's View of Leiden (1647). The land was highly regular polder, punctuated by a grid like system of canals and waterways across the drained areas.
Although landscape had always existed as a descriptive element of history painting, it only became independent in the early 16th c. 17th century Dutch landscape paintings have been described as empirical, naturalistic images of the real Dutch landscape, yet they also reflect the social issues and aspirations of the time. Perhaps because the pressures of art theory in the Netherlands had weakened, landscape began to occupy a major place in art production. Landscape was avidly collected by the growing middle class who did not speak French or Latin and were not educated with humanist reverence for classical antiquity but who loved valued land as a national identity.
"By 1600, both the terms lantschap and its diminutive or frequentative lantschapken (later lantschapgen or lantschapie) were already well established in the inventories and sales records of Amsterdam, Delft, Haarlem and Antwerp, and they remained dominant in describing landscapes of all sorts until the very end of... the 1670s. The words lantschap/lantschapje... denoted a relatively abstract, generic category into which many specialties were folded."5
"That Dutch countryside is oddly striking - it almost demands to be painted, although it has little of the drama of the tropics or of mountainous terrain. In fact, the land has almost no verticals at all but is conspicuously flat; the horizon is ever-present -- so much that the Dutch language has four words for horizon. The wind sweeps over the low land. The changeable sky, with its towering clouds reflected in rivers and canals, is more dramatic that the earth: nature in itself seems as moody as man himself.
In their efforts to catch the essence of this ever-changing setting, the new landscapist painted pictures that were different that anything seen before. Nature was portrayed for its own sake rather than as a background ton divine or human enterprises, or an artificial arrangement to convey literary allusion."6
Johan Huizinga in 1968 ably described the Hollanders' "intense enjoyment of shapes and objects, the(ir) unshakable faith in the reality and importance of all earthly things, a faith that... was the direct consequence of a deep love of life and interest in one's environment."
"By 1600, both the terms lantschap and its diminutive or frequentative lantschapken (later lantschapgen or lantschapie) were already well established in the inventories and sales records of Amsterdam, Delft, Haarlem and Antwerp, and they remained dominant in describing landscapes of all sorts until the very end of... the 1670s. The words lantschap/lantschapjea denoted a relatively abstract, generic category into which many specialties were folded. Some of the ost commone were, wilderness (woestyjne), hunting (jacht), harvest (oogst), mountain(s) (gebercht(en)) , fishing (visserij), beach (strand, zeestrand), ruins (ruzjnen) , moonlight (maenschijin), woods (bos, bossagie), pastorelle, hermitage, ice promenade (qjsgangh), dawn (morgenstond, dagerat), evening (in landscape) (avondstond), dunes (duijnen), river (rivier) and panorama (verschiet)."7
In the noted 1696 Dissius Amsterdam auction of 21 paintings by Vermeer, three landscapes are mentioned although only two have survived. Items 31, 32 and 33, with relative description and sales price in guilders are listed below.
31. The Town of Delft in perspective, to be seen from the south, by J. van der Meer of Delft 200-0
32. A view of a house standing in Delft, by the same 72-0
33. A view of some house, by ditto 48-0
Item 31. certainly corresponds to the View of Delft. Although it fetched the highest price (200 guilders) it is curious to note that the Milkmaid, a fraction of the View of Delft's dimension, was paid almost the same price, 175 guilders. The View of Delft is somewhat an anomaly in as much it had always highly considered throughout its known history while many other of Vermeer's painting slipped into complete neglect and even received signatures by other artists to augment their commercial value. This large work is also considered to be perhaps the first true "urban landscape" in European painting. Unfortunately, one of the two "view of house(s)" mentioned in the Dissius auction is missing.
In Vermeer’s day there was a fast-growing but distinct interest in art and artists, with a public that was designated as Liefhebbers van de Schilderkonst ("Lovers of the Art of Painting"), composed principally of gentlemen from the upper classes.
Liefhebbers van de Schilderkonst read treatises like Roger de Piles’ Conversations sur la connaissance de la Peinture, which linked the present with the grand traditions of arts of the past. Liefhebbers often took drawing classes and some even learned to paint. However, the key to understanding the secrets of art was to visit artists' studios and and meet other connoisseurs. Some joined the Guild of Saint Luke alongside practicing painters, whose works they may have bought. As guild members they could probably resell paintings they had purchased from artists.
"A small painting on copper by Antwerp artist Hendrick van Steenwijk the Elder (1550-1603) satirizes the overly worshipful nature of art lovers, as the allegorical figure of Fama opens the door to an artist’s studio while a crowd of elegantly dressed gentlemen in tall hats and gallant capes push through the threshold. Some liefhebbers were interested only in the fame of the artist, and not his art. Rembrandt pupil and art theorist Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627-1678) disparaged the "naem koopers" (name buyers) in his 1678 Inleyding tot de hooge schoole der schilderkonst (Introduction to the Art of Painting) or those who purchased art simply because of the status of the artist, the result of uneducated art devotees and a consequence of the spread of individual fame and name recognition of Dutch artists."8
"At a time when the public wanted images of famous people, the rise of the art lover and his interest in the artist increased the demand for images of the artist as well. Prints became an important media by which images could be produced. Because prints were inexpensive to make and series of prints could be bound together in books, they were widely distributed and easy to collect. Of course, the art lover, who wanted to link himself to the artist, formed the perfect market for these collections of prints. Prints also were ideal for propagating the image of the artist’s new status in society. The artists’ own image could now be circulated to potential patrons and collectors as a reputable and even distinguished member of society."9
Other than that of the Frenchman Baron Balthasar de Monconys (1611-1665), the only written eyewitness account of Vermeer's paintings was penned by liefhebber Pieter Teding van Berckhout (1643-1713), a young scion of a landed gentry family. In his diary, May 14,1669, he wrote:
"Having arrived in Delft, I saw an excellent painter named Vermeer," stating also that he had seen several "curiosities."
Van Berckhout had arrived in Delft accompanied by Constantijn Huygens and his friends—member of parliament Ewout van der Horst and ambassador Willem Nieupoort. Huygens was an artistic authority in his own day, maintaining contacts with the famous Flemish painters Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck and recording in his own diary some remarkably insightful comments about the art of, among others, Rembrandt van Rijn. However, it is doubtful that Huygens visited Vermeer's studio along with Van Berckhout.
"Although the painter who uses effects of illumination is very much aware of their power, the influence of light and shadow is experienced in everyday life mostly in very practical ways. The seeking or avoidance of light is common at all levels of the animal world, and in the same way man seeks light when he wants to be see or be seen and avoids it otherwise. For these practical purposes, however, light is merely a means of dealing with the objects. Light and shadowed objects are observed, but hardly consciously for their own sake.They define the shape and spatial position of things and are consumed in this service. The naive observer is unlikely to mention them when asked to give a careful detailed description about objects and their adherent properties.
"Without light, the eyes can see no shape, no color or movement. But light is for human beings more than just the physical cause of what we see. Yet since man’s attention is directed mostly towards the objects and their actions, the debt we owe to light is not widely acknowledged. Even psychologically it remains one of the most fundamental and powerful of human experiences."10
In the case of representational painting, the artist of both the past and of present must come to grips with one of the principal dilemmas of his craft: how to render the dialogue of natural light and shadow with paint. In regards to this problem, at least, the painter has a decisive advantage over the photographer.
Photographers or all levels know that in conditions of intense light it is completely impossible to make a perfectly exposed photograph. If the highest lights are captured correctly, the darks will be uniformly dark if not pitch black. On the other hand, if the camera aperture is exposed to capture the shadows, the great part of the sunlit areas will be bleached out. Instead, the painter may "expose" lights and darks differently according to his artistic necessities and represent them "correctly" on his canvas. He is free to exalt or suppress any tonal value he observes and create a "perfectly" exposed image.
However, the capacity to simultaneously expose areas of dark and light does not alleviate the difficulty of expressing in pictorial terms the extraordinary range of natural light’s intensity. Beginning with the actual source of light, the sun, and terminating with the total absence of light in the deepest shadow, the range of light in nature is unbounded when compared to the range of light and dark paints available to the artist which do not emit, but only reflect light. While black pigment suggests fairly well the deepest darks we see in nature, the lighter end of tonal values is exceptionally limited.
If the face of this seemingly insurmountable limit, the Great Masters devised simple yet extremely efficient pictorial tactics to artificially extend the range of lights and darks. Moreover, by combining various types of paint application the number of visual effects that can be represented with oil paint is greatly multiplied allowing the painter to suggest optical phenomena of all sorts that cannot be matched with photography. In fact, the paint surfaces of the early masters display a full range of texture, from the most diaphanous veils of fluid paint to layers of impasto paint so rugged that they seem to be tree bark.
See also, diagonal line.
Line is essentially a convention because it is generally believed that lines do not exist in reality. Lines must be thought of as boundaries between different tone values, the edges of adjoining areas of light and dark or darker tones.
Line is the most basic art and design element, the foundation that other elements are built on. Line was used by the ancient cave painters, and it is used in children's art. Theoretically, it is a one-dimensional element measured only in length—an abstract concept that is more perceived than actually viewed.
In the visual arts, instead, lines are characterized by their length, weight (darkness/thickness) and direction. There are different kinds on line.
From a visual point of view the simplest line is the straight line, but the straight line is by no means the simplest to draw. On the contrary, a complex muscular arrangement must be activated to produce straightness, the reason being that the upper arms, lower arms, hands and fingers are levers, which naturally pursue curved paths.11 Straight lines look stiff in comparison to curved lines. Curved and irregular lines dominate European and oriental painting alike. They introduce linear extension in space and thereby direction. Compositional lines, or implied lines, guide the viewer's eye within the composition of a painting and designates the action within the picture. Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) noted in his journal that "the straight line never occur in nature, they exist only in the brain of man."
Vertical lines have the ability to convey a variety of different moods ranging from power and strength (think of skyscrapers) to growth (think of trees). An image filled with strong vertical lines tends to give the impression of height and grandeur. The straight line is imbued with symbolic attributes that denote moral rectitude and is woven into the imagery of literature and media to represent order, strength and stability.12
Horizontal lines tend to convey a sense of homeostasis (lack of change) and stability. They are commonly found in landscape paintings giving the impression of calm, tranquility, and space. Both horizontal and vertical lines become particularly powerful in painting if they extend from one side of the canvas to the other. If the artist emphasizes line, the term linear is used to describe his or her style. If the lines are broken and lost amidst the artist’s brushwork, we use the term painterly.
Outlines describes the outer boundary of an object such as a hand, although it can also distinguish objects or abrupt changes in planes that lie with an object, such as the wrinkles or nails of a hand. Outlines are generally uniform thickness.
Contour is the use of line to define the edge of an object but it also emphasizes its plastic qualities of volume or mass of the form. Contours may describe the shapes and variations in relief (such as an eye or a nose) that lay inside the outline. Outline, then, is perceived as flat while contour emphasizes the three-dimensionality of an object.
Gestural lines are quick marks that capture the impression of a pose or movement rather than the shape and volume of an object.
Implied lines are broken lines that are aligned in such a manner that the immigration is able to complete them. Implied lines can be suggested by objects disposed in sequence or even by the glance seen in someone’s eyes. These lines, called implied lines and are completed with the viewer’s imagination through the concept of closure.
Analytical line is a formal use of line. Analytical line is closer to geometry with its use of precise and controlled marks. A grid is a very popular analytical use of visual line as a way to organize a design. The Golden Section is an example of the traditional use of analytical classical line, which uses calculated implied lines to bring unity to the structure of a painting composition.
Modeling line is used to create the illusion of volume in drawing. Hatching is the use of parallel lines to suggest value change. Parallel lines on another angle can be added to create cross-hatching to build up a gradation and more value in areas of a drawing.
Vermeer’s compositions are pervaded by straight lines. They divide, join and frame objects and the space around them. By dividing the composition in simple geometric forms, the artist created a stable foundation which reinforce the actions of the painting's sitters and to their gestures and bestows an air of restful permanence to the composition as a whole. Many times discontinued straight lines are aligned along the same axis in order to bring into relation diverse parts of the composition.
The following writing by Lawrence Gowing (Vermeer, 1950), author of one of the most penetrating interpretations of Vermeer's art and a painter himself, elegantly sums up the atypical relation between linear and and tonal in Vermeer's art.
An example of an implied line can be clearly seen in Vermeer’s Astronomer wherein a single horizontal line that run horizontally from one side of the picture is implied by various straight but interrupted contours. The light-toned horizontal line representing the lower illuminated edge of the window extends itself towards the right and almost connects with the horizontal stand of the globe. This line proceeds to the right and is picked up by the upper edge of the astronomer’s extended arm and finally reaches the other side of Vermeer’s composition through the lower edge of the picture-within-a-picture which hangs to the right behind the scientist. This line gives a sense of purpose to the overall composition which is also reflected upon the psychology of the astronomer himself. On the other hand, the gaze of the young woman of the Young Woman with a Pearl Necklace seems to imply a line between herself and the mirror hanging on the wall to the extreme left of the composition. Implied lines are fundamental tool for organizing compositions and guiding the spectators eyes throughout the composition or directly towards the key areas of interest.
His is an almost solitary indifference to the whole linear convention and its historic function of describing, enclosing, embracing the forms it limits, a seemingly involuntary rejection o the way which the intelligence of painters had operated from the earliest times to our own day. Even now, when the photographers has taught us how to recognize visual as against imagined continuity, and in doing so no doubt blunted our appreciation of Vermeer's strangeness, the feat remains as exceptional as it is apparently perverse, and to a degree which may not be easy for those unconcerned with the technical side of a painter's business to measure. However firm the contour in these pictures, line as a vessel of understanding, has been abandoned and with it the traditional apparatus of draughtsmanship. In its place, apparently effortlessly, automatically, tone bears the whole weight of formal explanation.
Local color is the true color of an object removed from all outside influence. Thus, the local color of a lemon is yellow and the local color of a tree's leaves is green. Every local color has its own intensity. Lead-tin yellow, the pigment used to depict the yellow morning jackets worn by Vermeer’s female sitters, is an intense yellow, while yellow ochre is dull in comparison. Cobalt blue paint straight from the tube is very intense. When it is mixed with white or black, it becomes less intense
Strong light in nature tends to destroy local color. If all the objects in painting were rendered only with their local colors they would appear flat and unnatural.
Perhaps the most striking example of the use of strong local color in Vermeer's painting is The Milkmaid. Other paintings, such as the Woman Holding a Balance, present such limited areas of local color that one wonders why the paintings seems so natural. It is surprising to note how restricted a role local color plays in some of Vermeer’s most intensely illuminated works such as the Officer and Laughing Girl or the Woman with a Pearl Necklace. Although both pictures seem literally bathed in sunlight, only a minimum part of the surface is painted with full color.
See also highlight(s).
Although the optical phenomena which forms distinct highlights on objects with highly reflective surfaces (known also as of what could be called "luster," "sparkle," "glitter," "glimmer," or "splendor") had been know to the since the antiquity, it had been revived by Northern painters of the 1400s who painted real highlights on metallic objects such as organ pipes that were distinguishable from mere lights which, instead are meant to give volume to objects rather than describe a surface quality. However, the "full potentiality of lustro [luster] to reveal not only sparkle but sheen is a discovery that will always remain connected with the Van Eycks." 13 Later Leonardo da Vinci was the first to write about and explain way luster varies according to the observer's viewpoint. He distinguished two forms of reflected light: so-called lume by which he meant randomly scattered light, and lustro which was responsible for the gleam which is to be seen "on the polished surface of opaque bodies." According to Leonardo the luster "will appear in as many different places on the surface as different positions are taken by the eye." Leonardo's text reads as follows (and see image below left):
Of the highest lights which turn and move as the eye moves which sees the object. Suppose the body to be the round object figured here and let the light be at the point a, and let the illuminated side of the object be b c and the eye at the point d: I say that, as luster is everywhere and complete in each part, if you stand at the point d the luster will appear at c, and in proportion as the eye moves from d to a, the luster will move from c to n.
The principle behind Leonardo’s observation is that luster appears at the point of intersection of the cathetus (the perpendicular from the image) and the ray, such that the angle of incidence is equal to the angle of reflection.
"The optical instability of lustre varies according to other factors, one of which is the size of the luminous source. When a surface is illuminated from a relatively small source--say a distant window--the visibility of the reflected highlight is critically dependent on the viewpoint, whereas if the scene is more broadly illuminated--say from the sky--the reflected lustre is relatively widespread and the visibility is comparatively resistant to changes of viewpoint. Even so, the fact that a highlight is preferentially reflected at one angle rather than another means that the lustre unmistakably fluctuates when viewed from different positions. This is not observable, however, in pictorial representations, since the highlight is depicted on a two-dimensional surface and cannot vary as spectators change their position. The same applies to the legendary eyeline of a portrait which is said to follow the spectator around the room. It does no such thing, of course. The gaze, like the lustre, is represented on a flat surface and it cannot change its appearance with alterations in the observer's position.
"Another factor which influences the visibility of lustre or sheen is the curvature of the surface from which it is reflected. Highlights which are thrown off from sharply angled surfaces come and go with captivating abruptness, should either the object or the observer shift. This is why diamonds glitter or scintillate when twiddled in the incident light. Another characteristic of lustre is the fact that it seems to hover somewhere below the surface in which it appears. In contrast to the local texture anti colour of the object, which are coextensive with the plane of its surface, the sheen or gleam appears to be in the depths. Once again, this is less apparent in a flat picture than it is in three-dimensional reality." 14
Masterpiece (or chef d'œuvre) is a term now loosely applied to the finest work by a particular artist or to any work of art of acknowledged greatness or of preeminence in its field. Originally it meant the piece of work by which a craftsman, having finished his training, gained the rank of "master' in his guild. Great care was therefore taken to produce a fine piece in whatever the craft was, whether confectionery, painting, goldsmithing, knifemaking, or many other trades. The Royal Academy in London is one institution that has acquired a fine collection of "Diploma works" as a condition of acceptance.
Although it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to articulate a definition of masterpiece that could be accepted universally, superlative craftsmanship, extraordinary design, great antiquity, rich materials, purity of form, artistic genius, originality and influence on other artists must be taken into consideration.
Matthijs Jonker, "Meaning in Art History: A philosophical analysis of the iconological debate and the Rembrandt Research Project". <http://www.dbnl.org/tekst/_zev001200801_01/_zev001200801_01_0014.php> (This article is based on Jonker's master thesis " The Practice Turn in Art History. A new philosophical framework for art historical research", University of Amsterdam, 2006)
"Since the origins of their discipline in the nineteenth century art historians have silently worked with a certain conception of meaning. In this conception the meaning of a work of art is seen as some kind of aura accompanying it, an essential or intrinsic property of the artwork. Therefore, I will call this the ‘essentialist’ conception of meaning. The application of this conception in art history has two main variations. In the first one, the artist is seen as the origin and sole source of an artwork's meaning. Through his creativity, brilliance and sometimes even through divine inspiration he expresses his ideas, intentions and emotions by infusing his materials with some intrinsic quality or concept, turning them into art with a given meaning. The art historian attempting to understand this meaning seeks to plumb the intentions, emotions, or other mental conditions the artist had at the time of the artwork's creation. In the other variation, an artist is seen to express (often no less brilliantly) the mentality of a nation or the underlying principals of a culture. Although the artist and his mental conditions are still important in this view, they are no longer crucial for understanding the meaning of a work of art. The meaning of a work of art is analyses by reconstructing the mentality or the principles of his culture. In this variation, culture is seen as a homogenous and ideal entity. The two variations can also be combined: in that case, the intentions of the artist are reconstructed, but they are regarded less as individual choices than as reflections of the mentality or underlying principles of his culture.
"The essentialist view tends to downplay or ignore a circumstance that has received increasing attention in recent decades in art history as in other fields. That is, the social dimension of the work of art. This has been acknowledged in the last three or four decades in a large number of art-historical studies infused with concepts and methods."
Since Vermeer’s instatement in the Pantheon of European art beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, the meanings given to his paintings have steadily multiplied. His work has been a catalyst for a head-spinning array of theories, illuminating and obscure. Scholars have cross-examined every detail, no matter how inconsequential, in the hopes of uncovering some sign of what the artist meant to tell his viewers. A humble ceramic tile with a barely recognizable Cupid scribbled by some anonymous Delft artisan informs us that what the bare-armed, no-nonsense milkmaid had her mind not so much on the bread pudding she is making, but on a loved-one.
Parallel to specialist study, Vermeer’s oeuvre have been ensnared in an incessant reevaluation of Dutch art at large. A broader overview of relevant literature suggests that Vermeer, willing or not, has been a painter for all seasons, a chameleon whose uncluttered images are somehow able to mirror the interests of anyone who wished to see in them something more than chairs, maps, checkered floor tiles and a few not-too-particularly pretty young woman.
Period documents say nothing of what meanings Vermeer may have undefended to convey to his contemporaries. The only qualified assessment of Vermeer’s art in his own age was written on May 14, 1669 by an up-and-coming aristocrat and aspiring liefhebber van de schilderkonst (lover of the art of painting), Pieter Teding van Berckhout. Van Berckhout made no mention of "balance," "transience," "suspended time," "allusiveness," "optical way" or any other of the concepts recurrently associated with the artist today. Instead, he unequivocally affirms that the "most extraordinary and most curious aspect" of Vermeer’s art "consists in the perspective." Although the perspectival constructions of Vermeer’s paintings have been analyzed in recent years, not a single art scholar or museum goer would designate perspective as a salient feature of the artist’s oeuvre. From this we may presume Vermeer’s art was viewed differently in his own age than ours.
Following Van Berckhout’s brief diary entry, critical silence cloaked Vermeer’s art for 200 years until the his artistic identity was recovered and his oeuvre provisionally reassembled by the French art connoisseur, collector and active socialist Joseph Théophile Thoré.
Oil paint is made from a drying oil bound with a pigment, the actual coloring substance. Binders are usually vegetable oil which dry to a tough hard film by oxidation through absorption of oxygen from the air. Numerous different oils are used in paints, however the most common is linseed oil made from the pressed seeds of the flax plant. Walnut and poppy seed oils are also commonly found used as paint binders.
Drying oils were known to painters of the 14th century and earlier but was not widely adopted for use until about 1400. By the middle of the 16th century it was fully in use as the main form of paint medium. This medium leaves paintings with a well saturated rich tonality to the colors.
Ideal mediums are colorless, permanent, flexible, and do not influence the color of a pigment. Learning the particular properties of a drying oil is part of the essential technical knowledge an oil painter should have.When an oil paint feels dry to the touch, it will still be drying under the surface for some time, which is why the principle of painting 'fat over lean' is so important in oil painting.
Linseed oil is made from the seeds of the flax plant. It adds gloss and transparency to paints and is available in several forms. It dries very thoroughly, making it ideal for underpainting and initial layers in a painting. Refined linseed oil is a popular, all-purpose, pale to light yellow oil which dries within three to five days. Cold-pressed linseed oil dries slightly faster than refined linseed oil and is considered to be the best quality linseed oil.
Stand oil is a thicker processed form of linseed oil, with a slower drying time (about a week to be dry to the touch, though it'll remain tacky for some time). It's ideal for glazing (when mixed with a diluents or solvent such as turpentine) and produces a smooth, enamel-like finish without any visible brushmarks. Sun-thickened linseed oil is a mixture of linseed oil and water which has been exposed to the sun for weeks to create a thick, syrupy, somewhat bleached oil, with similar brushing qualities to stand oil.
As linseed oil has a tendency to yellow as it dries, avoid using it in whites, pale colors, and light blues (except in underpaintings or lower layers in an oil painting when painting wet on dry). Stand oil and sun-thickened oil yellows very little.
Poppy seed oil is a very pale oil, more transparent and less likely to yellow than linseed oil, so it is often used for whites, pale colors, and blues. It gives oil paint a consistency similar to soft butter. Poppy seed oil takes longer to dry than linseed oil, from five to seven days, making it ideal for working wet on wet. Because it dries slowly and less thoroughly, avoid using poppy seed oil in lower layers of a painting when working wet on dry and when applying paint thickly, as the paint will be liable to crack when it finally dries completely. Poppy seeds naturally contain about 50 per cent oil.
Walnut oil is a pale yellow-brown oil (when newly made it's a pale oil with a greenish tinge) that has a distinctive smell. As it's a thin oil, it's used to make oil paint more fluid. As it yellows less than linseed oil (but more than safflower oil) it's good for pale colors. Walnut oil dries in four or five days. It's an expensive oil and must be stored correctly otherwise it goes rancid (off). Walnuts naturally contain about 65 per cent oil.
Turpentine is the traditional solvent used in oil painting. It's based on tree resin and has a fast evaporation rate, releasing harmful vapors. Turpentine is principally used to clean brushes.
Vermeer most likely used simple oil/pigment paint since no other element has been detected in his paint other than inert pigments and a protein based material. These elements, however, were commonly mixed with particular pigments such as lakes, azurite and smalt to mitigate their inherent defects and render them more adapted for painting.
For centuries it has been assumed that the great masters, and especially Rembrandt, used complex mixtures of drying oils, resins and other materials to obtains the extraordinary technical effects which later painters were at a loss to explain. However, recent research into the exact composition of Rembrandt's painting medium has shown that he used primarily linseed oil and that resins and wax, which were believed to have been present in his paint, were not detected.
However, it is quite probable that he added amounts of egg (egg yolk, egg white or both) and perhaps water to his mixtures of white impasto (heavy opaque paint). The oil and egg contents of this kind of paint create an emulsion. The emulsion has more body than simple oil paint and brushes easier. The textural effect of emulsion is greater than that of oil/ pigment. However, the presence of emulsion in Rembrandt's work should not be considered a "secret" since emulsion in various forms was widely employed in European easel painting.
The term "genre," which is widely used by art historians to describe a variety of subject matter found in Dutch paintings of contemporary life, was not employed by 17th-century Dutch viewers, who, instead, used more specific terms to such as gezelschappen ("merry companies") and koortegardje ("guardroom pieces"). During the 17th century, a small army of Dutch artists made a discreet living painting gezelschappen which compassed a wider range of styles and subject matter, both "high" and "low."
Although many merry companies display typical elements of contemporary life they cannot be seen as records of real life circumstances but pictorial conventions continually repeated and elaborated upon over many generations to meet and better the expectations of art collectors.
The origins of the merry company motif were colorful paintings of flamboyantly dressed young people engaged in merry-making and amorous play in open garden terraces (buijtenpartij), which in turn may have been transformations of the "Courtly Garden on Love" which had lived a long life in late medieval manuscript illuminations and paintings. Other sources of the merry companies may have been the "Garden of Fools" and the biblical parable of the Prodigal Son, both of which moralized against lasciviousness and drink.
By 1610, Willem Buytewech and Dirck Hals, Fran’s younger brother, were actively producing merry companies in Haarlem in which the careless young, fritter away their lives on drink, women and revelry. "Whilst Willem Buytewech seems to have been responsible for moving scenes of merry companies to the indoors, he only painted a handful of pictures of this type." Buytewech, however, died prematurely in 1624 and left only a few works. "It remained for Dirck Hals to develop the theme, updating it and restyling it in a more secular vein. In his hands, the didactic character of the early prototypes largely disappears and is replaced by a new emphasis on modern manners and pastimes. Judging by the considerable number of scenes of merry companies produced by Hals during his career, his new gloss on the traditional theme must have struck a positive chord with the art-buying public."15
Most of the first merry companies were small in scale and bright, if not gaudy, color which featured people of different generations. However, later generations of painters gradually transformed the typically packed merry company scene excluding all but two or three figures. The scenes were no longer staged in flat space but set in boxlike rooms in elegant interior settings decked out with the latest style of dress and most elite social decorum. While the first painters who brought ushered in the more gentrified merry company motif were Anthonie Palamedesz. and Dirck Hals. Pieter Codde and Willem Duyster brought hitherto unseen refinements to both in subject matter and technique and provided important precedents for other artists, the most significant of which was the representation of guardroom scenes. Duyster’s merry companies strike a contemplative note that was altogether foreign to works of the early 17th-century renditions of the motif. In this, more than any other genre painter of his generation, Duyster’s merry companies anticipate those of Gerard ter Borch, perhaps the finest exponent of the motif.
Despite the apparent lowliness of subject matter of some merry companies—one of the more direct examples is Jan Miense Molenaer's group scene in which people sing, dance, drink and smoke while two skeletons lurk, Merry Company With Death Entering the Door (c. 1631)—such pictures were quite popular in the Netherlands and could demand high prices.
Various works by Vermeer would have been considered merry companies, such as the Glass of Wine, the Girl with a Wine Glass, the Girl Interrupted in her Music and the Concert. By the 1660s, artist who pained merry companies no longer had to spell out his intentions clearly whether they be a reminder that love, youth and beauty are as transient as the music’s sweet strain. Like today, these paintings could appreciated for its sheer elegance and technical facility.
Mimesis is one of the oldest, most fundamental concepts in Western aesthetics. Generally speaking, mimesis is the imitation of life or nature in the techniques and subject matter of art and literature. Mimesis is a species of imitation, although the word has specialized uses ensuring that it is not a straightforward synonym. Mimesis is the enactment of the elements of a text as opposed to the imagination of them—in other words, the showing of things as opposed to the telling of things (diegesis). One of the major concerns of painting in the Western world has always been representing the appearance of things.
Moshe Barasch in Theories of Art (New York: New York University Press, 1985) states that "there is...one belief that was regarded as dogma and that was reverently observed by everybody who thought, or wrote, on painting and sculpture: the belief that the visual arts imitate nature". Barasch continues: "Not a single Renaissance treatise fails to make the point that the imitation of nature is the very aim of painting and sculpture and that the more closely a work approaches this aim the better that it is." This tradition, wherein the painter's task is to rival the truth of nature which had became a fundamental, has survived to the present day, and the more accurately a painting represents the real world, the greater the aesthetic value attached to it.
In Leonardo da Vinci’s world, the assessment of art is largely a mimetic one, where the beauty of an artwork is judged in part by its visual approximation of Nature. Giorgio Vasari, the 16th-century da Vinci biographer, describes the artist's Mona Lisa thus:
If one wanted to see how faithfully art can imitate nature, one could readily perceive it from this head; for here Leonardo subtly reproduced every living detail. The eyes had their natural luster and moistness….The mouth, joined to the flesh tints of the face by the red of the lips, appeared to be living flesh rather than paint. On looking closely at the pit of her throat, one could swear that the pulses were beating. …in this painting of Leonardo’s there was a smile so pleasing that it seemed divine rather than human; and those who saw it were amazed to find that it was as alive as the original.
"Vermeer's use of perspective and camera obscura vision to outdo life was one response to the Renaissance idea that art is the rival and lover of nature, and that art's highest challenge is mimesis, the most persuasive representation of the visible world. In Dutch painting the goal of painting naer het leven (after life) was pursued with a whole range of new tactics. Seventeenth-century viewers relished the miniaturized reproduction of their world that painting offered. A contemporary praised Dou, for example, for bringing 'such perfection to his living subjects, on such a neat and small scale, that his creations can hardly be distinguished from life itself.' "16
Mise-en-scène is the way a director places people and objects on a stage to create verisimilitude in the in the theatre. In theatre and film, the stage setting, including all props, lighting effects, costumes, etc., but excluding the narrative proper. Mise-en-scène is especially critical in film studies, where it implies the orchestration of all the seen elements, with special reference to composition, visual weights, the function of the frame, and staged movements within the scene.
Although mixing different tones and colors of paint which each other is necessary to create the illusion of form, space and light, over mixing must be avoided.
Samuel van Hoogstraten, a Dutch artist and art theorist who at the time was influenced by his former teacher Rembrandt, warned painters against blending: "It is above all desirable that you should accustom yourself to a lively mode of handling, so as to smartly express the different planes or surfaces (of the object represented); giving the drawing due emphasis, and the coloring, when it admits of it, a playful freedom without ever proceeding to polishing or blending: for this annihilates feeling, supplying nothing in its stead but a sleepy constraint, through which the legitimate breaking of colors is sacrificed. It is better to aim at softness with a well nourished brush, and, as Jordaens used to express it, 'gaily lay on the color,' caring little for the even surface produced by blending; for, paint as thickly as you please, smoothness will, by subsequent operations, creep in of itself."
Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) later wrote, "To preserve the colors fresh and clean in painting, it must be done by laying on more color, and not by rubbing them in when they are once laid; and if it can be done, they should be laid just in their proper places at first, and not any more be touched, because the freshness of the colors is tarnished and lost in mixing."
In his Groot Schilderboek, Dutch painter Gerard de Lairesse, who later turned art theoretician after he became blind, first distinguished between the two modes of painting which he called "the Antique" and "the Modern." According to de Lairesse, "'the Antique' persists through all periods while 'the Modern' constantly changes with fashion." Therefore, the most adapted subjects of great painting were Biblical, historical and mythological themes, in appropriate the dress and settings and not representations of modern scenes such as those of Vermeer in contemporary dress since in this manner the viewers would become estranged by their paintings due to the continual changes. The idea of "the Antique" corresponds to our concept of "classicist."
A monochrome is a work painted in a single color, but the term is often used more loosely to describe works in which a single color predominates. In such pictures it is the subtle variation of tone which creates the desired effects.
There was a school of landscape painting in Haarlem in the early 17th century which painted "monochrome" landscapes. The school included Salomon van Ruisdael, Jan van Goyen and Pieter de Molijn.
The main theme or idea present in a work of art or elaborated and developed through separate works of art. The term also refers to a repeated form or pattern in work of art.
Many motifs that Vermeer painted are those that he encountered in daily life: a young woman absorbed in reading a letter in a corner of a sunlight room; a girl adorning herself in the morning with a pearl necklace, a girl making lace, a view the harbor filled with boats in front of the skyline of his native Delft and two young children quietly playing in front of their house under the watchful eye an elderly woman.
Naer het leven, in Dutch "from life." The alternative to naer het leve was uyt den geest, "from the mind." It was only in 1604 that working naer het leven was introduced as an art theoretical concept in Karel van Mander’s Schilder-boeck. Van Mander encouraged young artists to go into the countryside to observe nature and make drawings from life, but once back in the studio, the impressions gathered from nature needed to be transformed. In his opinion the aspect of invention, suggested by the expression uyt den gheest, is the most crucial within the process of artistic creation.
Although the Dutch school is primarily known for naturalism and illusionism, it is not know to what extent Dutch painters actually worked from or after life, as it is sometimes termed. Until then, artists had ubiquitously constructed their paintings within the confines of their studios with the aid of sketches from life of single objects, prints, memory and fantasy.
Michiel van Musscher
Oil on panel, 57 x 47 cm.
Historisch Museum Het Schielandhuis, Rotterdam
Most authorities doubt that Dutch landscape painters took their painting equipments outside and painted directly from life, as the Impressionist would do centuries later. Rather, the abundance of landscape drawings that have survived would indicate that 17th-century landscape painters habitually went of outdoor trips to make drawings, both quick sketches and finished drawings, which they brought back to their studios and elaborated in oil. An example the practice of working from drawings is emphasized in a work by Michiel van Musscher called The Painter's Studio (see image left) which represents a finely dressed painter who momentarily meditates on a number of ship drawings at the feet of his easel while he paints on a seacape using full color, a fact confirmed by the artist’s fully set palette tilted obligingly towards the viewer.
Amongst history painters, drawing from life was common practice, but the actual painting process was a different matter. Once the painter had produced a sufficient stock of drawings of figures or complicated props (backgrounds were largely done form fantasy or print), all the parts of the compositional puzzle were arranged together in a harmonious and detailed layout and subsequently painted uyt den geest, "from the mind."
On the other hand, some Dutch landscape painters stated on the title pages of series of landscapes had been done from sketches naer het leven thereby guaranteeing a higher degree of authenticity. As late as 1860 Johan Conrad Grieve felt compelled to declare it on the title page of a series of lithographs he published of various types of Dutch ships; he states the ships were "drawn from nature," and then lithographed by him.17
Nonetheless, only rarely did contemporaries describe single works as done from life. "A very long inventory, in which at a certain point three panels representing the face of Christ were listed. One in particular is defined in these terms: ‘Cristus tronie nae’t Leven’. Literally: ‘Head of Christ from life’. What did that specific ‘from life’ mean? The first scholar to publish the inventory in 1834, decided it was an oversight on the part of the Dutch magistrate, and thus ignored it and suppressed the description. Two years later, an attentive observer remarked the act of censorship and solved the problem for himself by a decidedly forced interpretation: ‘life size’. But in Dutch ‘nae’t leven’, a contraction of ‘naar het leven’, leaves no room for ambiguity: it means ‘taken from life’, that is from a living model.18
In regards to genre interiors, art historians and art specialists are divided into separate camps. On side, exemplified by art scholar Walter Liedtke, hold that Dutch painters, including Vermeer, were so technically well equipped that they were able to construct a good part of their paintings from acquired conventions of pictorial representations and from imagination. On the other hands, the London architect Philip Steadman, the author of a game-changing book on Vermeer and the camera obscura, believes that Vermeer not only assembled all the details of his scenes in a controlled studio environment in order to work from life and employed the camera obscura to help him compose and subsequently trace the device’s projected image directly to his canvas, shortcutting the need for tedious line drawings and problems of perspective. Unfortunately, there exist are no period documents which discuss the matter.
Term used to describe art that provides a visual representation of some kind of story, sometimes based on literary work. Narration, the relating of an event as it unfolds over time, is in principle a difficult task for the visual arts, since a work of art usually lacks an obvious beginning, middle and end, essential features of any story. Nevertheless, since ancient times many works of art have had as their subjects figures or tales from mythology, legend or history. The artists overcame the inherent limitations of visual narrative by representing stories that the viewer might be expected to know and would therefore retell in his or her mind while taking in the representation.
The function of narration is to deliver a narrative, although it may also include descriptive or other elements that are not narrative proper. In a simplistic distinction, the narrative is comprised of the events of a story, whereas the narration consists of the way(s) in which the story is presented, ranging from the implied author's tone to such things as the actual order of events.
Genre and history painting are each types of narrative art. While genre paintings depict events of an everyday sort, history paintings depict famous events.
Dutch genre painting of the period, in its apparent preoccupation with the description of interiors and domestic scenes, was fundamentally different in character from contemporary Italian painting, with its narrative portrayals of events, typically from classical mythology or the Bible. Svetlana Alpers argued that the descriptive Dutch painting should not be subjected to analytic and critical methods, such as Panofskian iconography, which had been developed for use in the interpretation of the narrative imagery of Italian painting. She particularly castigated a favorite method of some of the recent scholars of Dutch painting, which was to use the imagery they found in emblems to interpret, by extension, the subject matter of the genre paintings. To her, subjecting the immediacy and simplicity of Dutch painting to minute, iconographical analysis was an aberration.
Modernists largely rejected narrative art.
Although Vermeer worked within an accepted iconographic framework, the specific narrative content of many of his paintings remains unclear. Perhaps Vermeer deliberately left the narrative of his works open so as to not exclude the viewers' eventual participation or perhaps he wished to investigate more fundamental and universal human values.
A method of depiction in the fine arts and literature in which reality as the result of sensory experience rather than theory is represented as realistically and scientifically precise as possible.
The uncertainties provoked by the iconographical interpretations of Vermeer's painting have led to different reactions. "Painting is different from emblem books and other literary genre and its principal aim, unlike these and other forms of cultural production, was not didactic. While today it seems obvious that paintings of domestic interiors are not a mere mirror of reality, as occurred in then19th c., it is helpful to call attention, as [Svetlana] Alpers has done, to the fact that one of the main motivations of this kind of painting is a curiosity of the world, which is expressed in visual terms and is accessible through sight. This interpretation establishes parallels between painting and the interest which existed at the time in acquiring information about the natural world through scientific instruments such as the microscope (a Dutch invention), different types of lenses, the camera obscura and cartography. It also relates the realism of Dutch genre paintings to other spheres of contemporary thought such as the theories of sight proposed by Johannes Kepler (1571- 1630) or writing on the visibility of knowledge by Francis Bacon (1561-1626."19
drawn from Wikipedia, "Negative Shape":
The so-called "Rubin's vase" is a well known optical illusion in which the negative space around the vase forms the silhouettes of two faces in profile, a well-known example of figure-ground reversal.
Negative space, in art, is the space around and between the subject(s) of an image. Negative space may be most evident when the space around a subject, and not the subject itself, forms an interesting or artistically relevant shape, and such space is occasionally used to artistic effect as the "real" subject of an image. The use of negative space is a key element of artistic composition. The Japanese word "ma" is sometimes used for this concept, for example in garden design.
In a two-tone, black-and-white image, a subject is normally depicted in black and the space around it is left blank (white), thereby forming a silhouette of the subject. However, reversing the tones so that the space around the subject is printed black and the subject itself is left blank causes the negative space to be apparent as it forms shapes around the subject, called figure-ground reversal.
Elements of an image that distract from the intended subject, or in the case of photography, objects in the same focal plane, are not considered negative space. Negative space can be used to depict a subject in a chosen medium by showing everything around the subject but not the subject itself. Usage of negative space will produce a silhouette of the subject. Most often, though, negative space is used as a neutral or contrasting background to draw attention to the main subject which is then referred to as the positive space.
The use of equal negative space, as a balance to positive space, in a composition is considered by many as good design. This basic and often overlooked principle of design gives the eye a "place to rest," increasing the appeal of a composition through subtle means. The term is also used by musicians to indicate silence within a piece.
Many art critics maintain that Vermeer was highly conscious of the importance of negative shape in his finely gauged compositions even though there is no documentary evidence that negative shape was contemplated by 17th-century artists. In many of his paintings, especially of those of the mid-1660s, the viewer becomes aware that the pieces of background wall are not simply "leftovers" shaped by foreground objects, but rather positive forms in their own right capable of evoking an expressive response. Lawrence Gowing (Vermeer, 1950) certainly had the play of negative and positive shapes in mind when he stated: "Nothing else evokes the impression, certainly no printed reproduction, nothing but the canvas itself: we see, large and plain, a mosaic of shapes which bear equally on one another. They are clasped together by their nature, holding each other to every other in its natural embrace. We see a surface which has the absolute embedded flatness of inlay, of tarsia. And in an instant we recognize its shapes as emblems which carry in their stillness the force of the real world."
Neo-classicism literally means "new classicism" or a revival of classical values. The word is used as a style label and is applied to aspects of the arts of the later 18th and early 19th centuries. At that period there was a conscious revival and appropriation of classical models of art and architecture. The word classical is used in this context to imply both ancient works of art, especially architecture and sculpture, and those by painters of the 16th and 17th centuries such as Raphael and Poussin who were inspired by antique precedents, and in turn established ideals in their work which came to be regarded as "classic".
A renewed emphasis - both inside and outside the academies - on the public and didactic function of art was an important factor in the rise of Neo-classicism, as were the excavations of ancient sites in Italy and elsewhere painters for instance were a part of the Arte dei Medici e Speziali, the doctors' and spice merchants' guild. Elsewhere they were associated with sculptors. In the Netherlands, painters on cloth sometimes belonged to different guilds from painters on wood.
In many neoclassical paintings there is a clear, logical, planimetric structure to the composition: that is, a series of implied horizontal and vertical planes (straight layers or ‘slices’ through the imagined three-dimensional space of the painting) along which the whole is structured, so that the composition remains taut, stable and balanced. This stability was often achieved partly through the use of the straight horizontal lines of classical architecture, which locked figures and objects into a geometric ‘grid’. Figures, derived from antique statuary, are idealised rather than realistic, and arranged hierarchically so that heroes and protagonists and the planes on which they are located are clearly dominant. Neoclassical compositions of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries express the traditional values of a classical style: simplicity, unity, order, idealism, balance, symmetry and a general respect for rules and reason. They also adhere to the traditional classical practice of studying antique statuary and the posed academic model as a basis for figure drawing: if ‘nature’ was to be ‘imitated’ this had to be in a highly selective, idealising and refining way. The neoclassical style developed and championed by David offers a particularly striking version of the classical characterised by a stark linearity: clearly delineated, outlined or contoured figures and objects, standing out from a neutral, non-distracting background, and often arranged horizontally so that they line up directly in front of the viewer.20
A color which in color theory is neither warm nor cool. Neutral colors are said to result from the combination of two complementary colors (e.g., red and green, blue and orange, and yellow and purple). Neutral colors can also be mixed by other means. (See also complementary colors, and color temperature.)
An unfinished painting is referred to as non finito when the artist deliberately stopped working before the painting was finished in order to create an effect. Some art historians maintain that non finito had been invented by other Italian Renaissance artists including Donatello and Michelangelo, who left rough-carved surfaces in their works. Titian's Flaying of Marsyas, and his other late works, are other examples of Renaissance works left intentionally unpolished, rough, non finito.
But in general, the non finito is a Romantic idea; the 19th-century Romantics were in love with partial things, fragments, pieces, lost parts and orphaned forms. For a Romantic viewer, the tenuous, unpolished, wavering, dappled surface was far more evocative than the veneered and polished surface.
James Elkins, "Exploring Famous Unfinished Paintings in Google Art Project | Cézanne, De Kooning, Ofili (PHOTOS)", in The Huffington Post, 2011. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-elkins/post_1691_b_819376.html>
(or "œuvre" - plural "œuvres")
A substantial body of work constituting the lifework of a writer, an artist, or a composer.
Vermeer's oeuvre forms a far from homogenous group. The 36 (?) paintings which constitute his oeuvre were presumably made over a period of little more than twenty years, between his entry as a master into the Delft Guild of Saint Luke in December, 1653 and his death in December, 1675. They include the historically imaginative (such as Christ in the House of Martha and Mary in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh), the overtly personification and allegorical (such as the Allegory of Faith in the Metropolitan Museum, New York and The Art of Painting in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), the plausibly realistic, such as his two cityscapes (the Little Street in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam and the View of Delft in the Royal Cabinet of Pictures Mauritshuis, The Hague) and the majority of his scenes of domestic interiors with between one and three figures. Among them are works that appear to be hybrid: that is, paintings that combine the characteristics of the plausibly realistic with the allegorical or emblematic. These include the Woman Holding a Balance (National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC), and the Woman Standing at a Virginal.
Through more than one hundred and fifty years of rather painstaking study beginning in 1850, scholars have identified 35, perhaps 36 paintings they now safely attribute to Johannes Vermeer. Their task was made difficult for a variety of reasons: Vermeer’s varied and changeable painting style; the range of his choices of subject matter; the fact that he signed less than half of those works which yet survive and dated only one; and that, for several hundred years after his death in 1675, no one knew the true extent of his oeuvre. In addition, his contemporary reputation probably did not extend much beyond Holland, in all likelihood because only a small number of local connoisseurs collected his relatively few paintings. According to scholarly estimates, Vermeer completed perhaps no more than forty or sixty works, and he left no drawings or preliminary paintings behind.
When so little is known about an artist, the science of artistic attribution becomes a weaving of a few threads of hard historical data with the fabric of informed but subjective interpretive analysis based upon a shared sense of the artist’s style, technique, composition, and subject matter. An attribution’s authenticity is greatly strengthened if it can establish direct links over time to the artist himself or to an ownership during the artist’s lifetime or fairly soon after his death. And this is precisely what Vermeer scholars have attempted to do. In examining relevant records of art and estate auctions of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, they have rather confidently connected those documents with about two dozen extant Vermeer paintings. There also appears to be another nine (or maybe eleven) paintings which have survived for which no contemporary corroboration in Vermeer’s time has yet been found. Conversely, there seems to be at least six, and perhaps eight or ten, Vermeer paintings identified by historical records which today either remain hidden or have not survived. This latter group is known as the "missing Vermeer’s.
The Young Girl with a Flute at the National Gallery in Washington, DC, was likely begun by Vermeer but finished or restored by another; its lack of Vermeer's characteristic refinement has discouraged most scholars from making a firm attribution. For an informed discussion of this painting, see Arthur Wheelock's article, Young Girl with a Flute, in the catalogue of the 1995-1996 National Gallery of Art Johannes Vermeer Exhibition, pages 204-207. It is therefore cited by the National Gallery of Art itself as a work merely "attributed" to Vermeer.
Another work, the Young Woman Seated at the Virginal, which had languished in a critical limbo of defaced, has made headway amongst art historians and is now accepted as a secure addition to Vermeer's oeuvre by Walter Liedtke, one of the foremost Vermeer experts.
Another painting, St. Praxedis, has generated much controversy over the last 20 years as a possible addition to Vermeer's oeuvre. However, an overwhelming consensus among scholars has emerged recently backed by persuasive analytical evidence which argues against the inclusion of this work as a genuine Vermeer.
The present day account of Vermeer's oeuvre is very close to that established in 1948 by Ary Bob de Vreis V (A. B. de Vreis, Jan Vermeer van Delft, London / New York (2nd.ed.), 1948) In his penetrating study of the artist (Lawrence Gowing, Vermeer, London, 1952 and 1970), Lawrence Gowing set an example followed by nearly all scholars afterwards by not listing rejected works. Ben Broos has been argued that any significant dispute was been laid to rest (until the case of the Saint Praxedis) with the publication of Albert Blanket’s book on the artist, Vermeer, Oxford, 1978)
Depending on the absorbency of a painting’s ground and the medium used to temper paint, the paint on the canvas will usually sink-in as it dries. Thus, mid-tones and especially darks will dry a lighter and more matte then when originally applied. Because it is fundamental to be able to judge value and color relatively of a painting during the working process, oiling-out allows the painter to correctly gauge the true values of his tones and color restoring the original values and luster. Oiling out consists in brushing on a very thin layer over the area that has sunken in ( the whole surface of the painting can also be oiled out). For small paintings, the oil may be spread out and thinned by using a badger brush or the ball of the hand.
Unfortunately, earth tones, which are among the most extensively used pigments in oil painting, and dark values are especially prone to sinking in. Once the oiling-out layer has thoroughly dried, it can be painted upon again. Oiling-out too much or too may times can create some long term problems such as yellowing. A thin layer of dammar varnish will normally suffice. Too much varnish will cause the brush to drag and cause problems when large areas of paint must be blended with one another.
Oiling-out may also be used to create a surface that can be painted into fluidly while the surface is still wet.
A painting medium in which pigments are mixed with drying oils, such as linseed, walnut, or poppy. Though oils had been used in the Middle Ages, it was not until the Van Eyck brothers in the early 15th century that the medium became fully developed. It reached Italy during the 1460s and by the end of the century had largely replaced tempera. Oil paint was preferred for its brilliance of detail, its richness of color, and its greater tonal range. Oil painting also has the great advantage that colors may be blended with great accuracy since the do not dry so quickly as water based paints.
"The complicated process of preparing oil medium and its subsequent instability may have frustrated painters who had much experience with painting in tempera, which has a comparatively straightforward preparation and a stable interface with pigments. In
contrast to viscous oils, paint bound in egg yolk and diluted by water, forms a liquid of a consistency between water and jelly, and thus allows the painters who were concerned with fine craftsmanship to achieve precise forms with certainty. In addition, the paint
film in tempera is arguably the toughest and most long-lasting achievable with any media, if the pigment-to-medium and water-to-medium ratio are correctly gauged. Therefore, unlike oil painting, considering their age, the astonishingly fresh tints of many medieval works is notable. Thus, to many of fifteenth-century Italian painters, tempera remained a favourable option, even when oil was available as a serious alternative."21
Only 36 (?) works by Vermeer have survived. Scholars hypothesize that he may have painted perhaps forty but no more than sixty. All of his extant works were painted oil on canvas except for the tiny Girl with a Red Hat and the Girl with a Flute, both on panel, and there exists no historical evidence that he worked on other mediums such as drawing, etching, fresco or watercolor.
A breakfast piece—an ontbijtje—is a still life painting that depicts simple foodstuffs, such as herring, ham or cheese with a bread roll and a glass of beer or wine. Though ontbijtje translates literally from the Dutch as "little breakfast," paintings categorized as such do not necessarily depict elements of a typical Dutch breakfast. Breakfast pieces were especially popular in the Netherlands during the 1620s and 1630s, and Pieter Claesz., Willem Claesz. Heda, and Osias Beert, among others, are remembered for their production.
The following information on ordinantie was drawn from:
Paul Taylor, "Composition in Dutch art theory", in Pictorial Composition from Medieval to Modern Art, ed. Paul Taylor and François Quiviger, London and Turin (Warburg Institute and Nino Aragno) 2000, pp. 146-71
Even though no European country had such a high production of paintings than the Netherlands, Dutch art theory, which had never evolved as an organic whole and was based on ideas reformulated in former times, is fundamentally encapsulated in five volumes written over a span of one hundred years. In good part, Dutch concepts of pictorial composition elaborated in these volumes overlap those of Leon Battista Albert in De pictura (On Painting, 1435). The 17th-century, the Dutch painter and art theorists Karl van Mander and Gérard de Lairesse furnished the most exhaustive account of pictorial composition or, ordinantie.
According to these art theorists, composition and narrative were indissolubly linked. For de Lairesse, ordinantie, was "first and foremost the attempt to tell a story clearly and logically." Key elements for a good composition were the disposition of figures, probability, force of narrative and posture. The centrality of narrative was so important that de Lairesse boasted he could compose a historia as well as any other painter notwithstanding the fact that he was blind.
On "probability," a term completely extraneous to any modern concept of pictorial composition, de Lairesse wrote, "Probability (waarschynelykheid) is the most important thing to bear in mind when composing a picture." One must make probability "evident not only in the general disposition, but also in each particular object, and attentively reject things which are in conflict with it." "To give an example: de Lairesse tells us that if we are painting a dining room we should make it clear whether a meal is about to take place, or has already taken place; if the latter, we should depict empty vessels lying in disorder, empty plates, a dog gnawing a bone, chairs strewn around and the table cloth pushed to one side, and so forth. We should also avoid painting details which are obviously improbable; thus he writes disparagingly of an artist who made a painting of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, in which the patriarch used a curved sword, but had a straight scabbard."
See also, spatial depth.
When one object partly obscures another, the first object is said to overlap the other.
There are two kinds of overlapping in mimetic painting, the overlapping of one illusionist object in respects to another within in the fictitious space created by the painter and real, physical overlapping of paint layers. The overlapping object partially obscures the object behind it another.
Overlapping is the most primitive but, nonetheless, unequivocal manner of creating the illusion of depth on a flat surface. Overlapping can be found in Paleolithic cave drawings, Egyptian art and Mesoamerican wall paintings. However, by itself, overlapping tells us only that one object is in front of the other but it does not tell us how distant the two objects are from each other. To achieve more convincing illusion of space, changing size and placement, linear perspective, relative hue and value and the degree of detail are necessary. Linear perspective is the most rational method of creating space.
Physical overlapping of paint layers compliment illusionist overlapping. This explains the logic of painting "back"to "front" recommended by Dutch art theorists. This method assures that the contour of the object nearest the viewer physically overlaps the paint surface of the object behind it.
Gérard de Lairesse, the Dutch art theorist and painter, wrote:
If a picture be well dead-coloured, and have a good harmony and decorum, we certainly render the second colouring the more easy; for then we can unbend our first general thoughts, and apply them solely to lay neatly and finish particular parts, and so to work on the former good ground. But, to do this in the best manner, we must, as I have said, begin from the greatest distance, the sky, and work forwards from thence: by this means we have always a wet ground to melt in with the out-lines of the forward figures, which otherwise they would not have; besides another pleasing advantage, that the piece goes forward, all parts well supported, and a good harmony in the whole; whence the eye must be satisfied, and the mind continually spurred.
"During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the paint used by artists was prepared in the studio. The painter purchased pigment from apothecaries and apprentices, who also prepared panels and grounds for the master painter, then prepared it for use as paint. To obtain a smooth spreading paint the pigments had to be ground into particles of fairly uniform size. Most pigments were ground as smoothly as possible to improve their color and to make a better flowing paint. The pigment was then mixed with sufficient medium to make an easily workable paint. The recipes or instructions used by painters were handed down from master to pupil. Many survive as manuscripts and printed books, such as Theodore de Mayerne’s 17th-century notebooks on painting and Cennino Cennini’s fourteenth century treatise, Il Libro dell’Arte.
"The oil paint used by artists from the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries consisted primarily of pigment and vegetable oil, although sometimes gums, proteins and resins were added for particular passages in a painting. Preparing oil paint involved mixing oil, typically linseed or walnut oil, with pigment that had been previously prepared by merchants or artists’ apprentices. The pigment and oil were mixed on a flat stone slab into a smooth paste with a muller. The paint was then placed into shells for immediate use or in pigs’ bladders for later use."22
Because some paints were rare and costly, painters learned to economize. Roger de Piles, who made important contributions in the 17th century to the understand of color wrote in his Dialogue sur le colori "(Dialogue on colours") :
We can make an observation here that makes use of certain oil colors in the underpainting with common colors sparing those colors of too great a price. For example, when one wants to finish a drapery with fine lake, you can use common colors in the underpainting. Similarly, a drapery that we must finish with the best ultramarine can be started in underpainting with the most common ultramarine. Finally, instead of ultramarine in the first hue shade and even in halftones, we can use willow charcoal, which is a little bluish, or bone black in the underpainting, and then finish with ultramarine, but the practice is not so good and the tints not so fresh.
It is a conventional belief that artists' paint began to be commercially produced during the Industrial Revolution. Until then, painters had to make their own paints by grinding pigment into oil. The paint would harden and would have to be made fresh each day. However, there is growing evidence that reveals that some tools of the painter's craft were already being produced industrially in 17th-century Netherlands, including prepared canvas and pigments.
Paint consists of small grains of pigment suspended in oil. Although it appears smooth to the naked eye, on a microscopic level, particles of pigment are suspended in oil. Oil paints do not "dry" by evaporation (as do watercolor paints); rather they harden through chemical reaction Contact with the air causes oils to oxidize and to crosslink. The paint sets and hardens over time. Paints of different pigments dry at different rates. Charcoal black retards the drying (creating a slow-drying paint); ochre accelerates the drying (producing a quick-drying paint).
Modern paint is different from older paints. In order to increase the covering power of a pigment, particle sizes are reduced to the smallest possible. The smaller the particles, the more the color nuances of the pigment are absorbed into its basic hue, as in inks that have no texture. Particles that are more consistent in shape and size also tend not to settle quickly and separate from their binder once inside a container. This increases the shelf life and thereby marketability of paint, but does not necessarily increase its desirability as a color for artists.
Historical evidence suggests that paint was already being commercially produced in the mid 17th-century in major artistic centers in Holland. However, it is not to know exactly to what extent painters employed such paint since production methods are unknown and thus cannot be determined by laboratory analysis. However, if we consider Vermeer's highly perfectionist approach to the thematic, compositional and technical components of his art, it might be safely assumed that he was more apt to have made his own paint in order to assure the exact quality he desired. This attitude is confirmed by his use of the finest grade of the costly ultramarine (crushed natural lapis lazuli) instead of the cheaper and more common azurite.
Paintings are made of organic and inorganic materials which are put together by an artist to create a specific image. They form a simple construction consisting of one or more paint layers and a support for those layers. However, the structure of a painting can be very complex within these two general layers. Supports can themselves be supported. For example, a piece of paper could be attached to a canvas or panel. There can be additions or changes made by the artist or by another hand. With careful observation a trained eye should be able to detect many of these elements. The materials found in and on paintings are best considered layer by layer. Easel paintings are defined as paintings not attached to an immovable object and therefore portable (albeit often with difficulty). There exist many other kinds of paintings such as fresco.
Paintings age at different rates depending on the way they are created and with what materials have been used. Paint layers may dry and become brittle, eventually cracking, the varnish may yellow as well as the oil contained in the paint itself. Pigments can alter in co lour; oil paint becomes more transparent and underneath drawings may show through; the canvas may become brittle or weak, or slack; and the painting may become coated with a layer of dirt, nicotine, finger marks etc. Not all the effects of ageing necessarily impair our aesthetic enjoyment of the work of art although restoration may bring back some of the painting’s initial appearance.
The surface on which a painter will mix his colors. Also the range of colors used by an artist. The palettes that are represented in paintings of Vermeer's time are surprisingly small in dimension with relatively few pigments placed on them, always in an orderly fashion. Wood was preferred because it was lightweight, rigid and could be easily shaped. Another advantage of wood was its warm brown tone. Many painters started their work on a canvas primed with a warm brownish tone that was not dissimilar to the color of the palette. Since the perception colors are strongly influenced by the dominating tone that surrounds them, the paint that was mixed on the palette did not change perceptibly when applied to the canvas.
Earliest palettes were small and remained so until the end of the 19th century when they were about 10 to 12 inches long. Only in the 19th century did they assume a half table-top size which permitted artists to have available during every phase of the working process every pigments as well as areas for mixing a variety of specific tones. This larger palette allowed the artist to work on any area of the composition. Before the 19th century, instead, painters employed smaller palettes primarily because they worked on only one area of the painting at each painting session and thus their palettes contained only those pigments necessary for the day's work.
Representations of palettes often display pigments necessary for painting flesh tones. The flesh palette had a particular significance. Willem Beur, wrote: "Just as we humans consider ourselves the foremost amongst animals; so too, are we the foremost subject of the art of paintings, and it is in painting human flesh that its highest achievement are to be seen, whenever a painter succeeds in rendering the diversity of colors and string hues found in human flesh and particularly in the faces, adequately depicting the intricacy of the diversity of people or their different emotions." The layout of the pigments, from light to dark, was common.
Vermeer most likely used a wood palette like every painter of his time. In the 1676 death inventory of Vermeer's house in the front room of the first floor of the Oude Langendijk, there were listed "twee schilders eesels, drye paletten" (two painters easels, three palettes). In Vermeer's time the familiar painter's palette with a hole for the thumb had replaced the older rectangular kind with a handle. The artist held the palette with his thumb inserted into the hole leaving the rest of his fingers free to comfortably hold a number of brushes and the mahlstick on which he steadied his hand.
It is curious to note that in the representation of the artist at work in the Art of Painting, Vermeer has hidden the palette behind the artist’s body as well as a great part of the easel’s left-hand leg.
The following pigments have been detected in Vermeer's paintings. For a detailed study of Vermeer's palette and pigments, click here.
- CHARCOAL BLACK
- GREEN EARTH
- IVORY BLACK
- LEAD-TIN YELLOW
- MADDER LAKE
- RED OCHER
- NATURAL ULTRAMARINE
- WHITE LEAD
Painting on wooden panels. Until the introduction of canvas in the 15th century, wooden panels were the standard support in painting. In the Netherlands, France and England, oak panels were most common. Lime, beech, chestnut and cherry as well as oak were used in Germany and Austria. A seasoned plank, which had been allowed to dry out for some time, was layered with several coats of size, a glue made from animal skins. In Italy, the planks used for panel paintings were most often made of native poplar, a widely available wood that was, however, soft and vulnerable to warping. A piece of linen soaked in size was often laid over the front of the panel to conceal any surface flaws. Over this, coats of gesso were applied. Gesso, a mixture of powdered calcium sulfate (commonly called gypsum) and animal glue, provided the ground for preliminary drawings. Although canvas had become more popular, Dutch painters continued to employ panels as well. The extremely smooth surfaces of panels makes them particularly adapted for fine detail since their surface is extremely smooth.
Only two of the surviving 34-36 paintings by Vermeer are painted on panel: The Girl with a Red Hat and The Girl with a Flute (whose authenticity is not accepted by many scholars). However, in Vermeer's death inventory there were listed ten canvases and six panels in the front room of his house, a fact that would lead us to believe that he may have used more panels that is generally believed.
The Italian word paragone ("comparison,", pl. paragoni) refers to various theoretical discussions which include the comparison between the differing aesthetic qualities of the Italian and Venetian schools of painting (the so-called disegno/colore paragone) and whether painting or literature was the more effective medium. However, the term paragone most often refers to debate about the relative merits of painting and sculpture. This debate unfolded primarily in Italy but also in the Low Countries (Flanders and the Netherlands) and protracted well into the seventeenth century.
Leon Battista Alberti, in his treatise on painting of 1435 (De Pictura), set forth many of the arguments in favor of painting. Giorgio Vasari, the painter and author of Le Vite, a fundamental art historical text, and Benvenuto Cellini, one of Italy’s most celebrated sculptors, are among those who argued most eloquently for the superiority of their respective arts. However, the debate, which today has no more than historical importance, was also taken up by a significant number of artistic and literary theorists and practicing artists including Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Pompino Gaurico, Paolo Pino, Vicenzo and Raffaello Borghini, Angelo Bronzino, Giancristofero Romano, Baldassare Castiglione and in the following century, Federico Zuccari, Galileo Galilei and Giulio Mancini. Although Leonardo had committed significant energy to uplifting painting from of the charge of being a "mechanical art,"thereby elevating the artist from \mere artisan to the status of the poet and man of letters, in the 1350s the Italian poet Petrarch had already extolled the durability of sculpture over painting. Leonardo extended the comparison between painting and sculpture into the realms of poetry and music to argue that painting was the most noble and superior of all the arts.
In 1546, Benedetto Varchi, the Italian humanist writer and historian, canvassed eight prominent artists on the question. All eight responded in a predictable manner (the painters proclaimed the primacy of painting, while the sculptors) "but the main impression left by their letters is that they were genteel, skilled in the use of the pen, and well versed in the classic arguments on either side. This is further proof…that artists were no longer humble craftsmen but cultivated letterati whose opinions were worth having." "Only Michelangelo, eminently qualified in both fields, seemed a little irritated by the question."23
The Dutch art writer, Philips Angel, commented on why painting is superior than to sculpture:
[Painting] is capable of imitating nature much more copiously, for in addition to depicting every kind of creature, like birds, fishes, worms, flies, spiders and caterpillars it can render every kind of metal and can distinguish between them, such as gold, silver bronze, copper, pewter, lead and all the rest. It can be used to depict a rainbow, rain, thunder, lightning, clouds, vapor, light, reflections and more of such things, like the rising of the sun, early morning, the decline of the sun, evening, the moon illuminating the night, with her attendant companions, the stars, reflections in the water, human hair, horses foaming at the mouth and so forth, none of which the sculptors can imitate.
Those who favored the superiority of SCULPTURE argued that:
- Sculpture is more durable.
- Painting created only shallow illusion while sculpture shows objects in three dimensions and can be see from different angles.
- Painting was only good insofar as it imitated the three-dimensional qualities of sculpture (Michelangelo).
- While painters could improvise and retouch their works, there was no room for error in sculpture and therefore required greater skill.
Those who favored PAINTING argued that:
- Painting has greater potential for naturalistic representation because of its ability to render color and texture to create the illusion of any material or object.
- Painting could represent an entire scene as if viewed through a window (Alberti)
- The ability to create an illusion of reality on a flat surface required greater ability than sculpture
- Painting involved the intellectual demanding science of perspective.
- Painting was suited for depicting complex narratives (which Alberti considered the noblest type of subject matter).
- Painting required more mental ability than physical effort which was important in painters’ attempts to elevate their art to the level of a learned, scholarly endeavor.
- Leonardo also noted that painters sit while sculptors stand, and in their studios they are elegantly garbed while sculptors are covered head to foot with stone dust. Painting requires no greater physical effort so he can listen to poets reciting sonnets, or scholars reading aloud from the classics, or singers and musicians.
The debate over the merits of painting and sculpture also appears in works of art from the period. These examples often involve paintings which imitate sculpture and sculptures that imitate painting, a strategy of undermining claims about the unique advantages of one art over the other. Sculptors – first and most notably Donatello for his Feast of Herod and marble schiacciato reliefs, and Ghiberti for his Gates of Paradise – employed systems of linear and aerial perspective in narrative scenes, which painters had claimed as essential components of good painting. These reliefs are some of the most admired works of the early Renaissance, and had a great impact on the next generation of sculptors and painters alike. In works like his Nativity, Petrus Christus juxtaposed a rich,