Category: Arty Musings

Art in the Middle Ages

The Middle Ages in France was a time of almost fanatical religious belief, when the Catholic Church held great power. Indeed, the dominant aspect of culture was the Christian faith. Since the manner in which a society spends its wealth expresses its values, it is not surprising that art in the Middle Ages was permeated by religious themes. This is evident in manuscript illumination, cathedral architecture, sculpture, and tapestries, much of which were commissioned for or by the Church.

Duccio, central panel, Maestà altarpiece, Siena Cathedral, 1311

Duccio di Buoninsegna (c.1255-1319), Madonna and Child Enthroned with Angels and Saints, central panel, Maestà Altarpiece, Siena Cathedral, 1311, Tempera and gold on wood

The predominant type of painting in the early Middle Ages was the decoration of bibles. This manuscript illumination was brought to France by Charlemagne as part of his attempt to renew the state of Classical culture which existed in the Late Antique period in Rome. To achieve this, Charlemagne imported scholars, artists and other knowledgeable people to his court at Aachen. These people promoted the learning that was essential to Charlemagne’s plan of a cultured nation. The copying of bible books, borrowed from Rome, was paramount to attaining this goal.

St Mark, The Gospels of St. Medard de Soissons

Lion leaning down from heaven to communicate the first words of the gospel to St. Mark, from the gospel book of Saint Medard at Soissons, from the court academy of Charlemagne, early 9th century (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale)

The eminent illuminated manuscript produced during the reign of Charlemagne (768-814) was the Godescalc Evangelistary. But the portrait of Christ, instead of evoking Roman art, combined several existing artistic styles. Some Classical elements may be seen, such as the architecture, the Roman-looking robe, and the sandals. However, the halo, the large eyes, the crushed flat drapery with abstract folds, and the three-dot pattern of the material show a Byzantine influence. Unfortunately, the most evident influence is the Barbarian one, that is, the inability to draw realistic, lifelike figures. Problems with body proportion are obvious in the posture of Christ. He appears to be sitting but the supporting cushion cuts through his back. The remaining space is filled with interlacing and abstract designs done in rich colors.

Christ in Majesty, miniature of Christ in the Godescalc Evangelistary

Christ in Majesty, miniature of Christ in the Godescalc Evangelistary

In short, Charlemagne’s attempt at recreating Classical civilization failed, at least in terms of manuscript illumination: his artists forged ahead, creating a unique style. And alas, illuminated manuscripts were eventually replaced by stained glass as the foremost medium of artistic expression. This reflected a shift to a public focus for art.

One type of artistic expression that was more permanent, although the style changed radically, was the cathedral. This monumental structure was an important addition to a town, because it contained the seat of the bishop, thus conferring great status upon the town. In an age when the King of France had little authority over the independently governed provinces, the people looked to the Church for stability and guidance. Thus, a cathedral was an indication of the wealth and prominence of one’s town. In addition, the soaring edifice was a source of immense civic pride.

Consequently, an increase in building activity of churches in the eleventh century signaled the beginning of the Romanesque period of architecture, so called because the rectangular shape and exterior sculpture were reminiscent of Classical Roman buildings. This Romanesque look is characterized by thick walls, heavy buttresses, tiny arches, few windows, square towers, and barrel vaulting. The church of St. Philibert’s at Tournus (early eleventh century), with its severe dignity, was typical of this style of church architecture.

St. Philibert's at Tournus

St. Philibert’s at Tournus , By D Villafruela – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9882420

As Christian fervor continued to permeate the culture of the French people, ideas emerged to glorify the church even more. Thus, the Romanesque style soon became obsolete as it gave way to a glorious new style which later art historians call Gothic. The Gothic style of architecture evolved largely because of the vision and efforts of Abbot Suger who began creating his Abbey Church at St. Denis in 1135. His cathedral possessed pointed arches, flying buttresses, many stained glass windows, and a lacy, graceful exterior. This new style of architecture, with its high ceilings, was the perfect showcase for stained glass, since the dark, cavernous space cried out for light. Abbot Suger’s goal was to transform the interior of the church into a heaven-like area. Only stained glass windows could create this effect. Light filtered through, creating pools of bright colors, which changed depending upon the time of day. The effect was designed to awe the worshipper, to make him believe in the glory of God. Thus the Church gained an element of control over the people.

Basilica of Saint-Denis Ambulatory. Source

Stained glass windows served to educate the illiterate masses in the stories of the Bible. In the Cathedral of Chartres we find depictions of Mary, Jesus, and the Apostles.

Scene from the Good Samaritan Window, Christ tells the Good Samaritan parable to the Pharisees (1205-1235). Source

In the second half of the eleventh century, there developed a new interest in the Virgin Mary. Stories of her miracles were collected, churches were dedicated in her name, and increasing numbers of images were created of her. The Virgin Mary was considered wise, humble, pure and tender. These qualities were possessed by ordinary women, but in Mary they embodied the ultimate perfection. This interest in Mary is thought to reflect an emerging appreciation for women in general.

This worship of the Virgin Mary is manifest in the large number of wooden statues which were created at the time. “The Virgin and Child Enthroned,” from the Auvergne region of France, late twelfth century, exemplifies this trend. The two-foot high sculpture is rigidly frontal, and displays the typical Medieval problems with proportion. The Virgin’s upper body is much longer than her lower body, because her legs from knees to hips are too short. However, the real problem is the Christ Child who has not the plump, rounded body of a baby, but that of a fully grown, albeit tiny, man. He sits stiffly upright on the Virgin’s lap, not a very baby-like position, with his right hand raised in the priestly gesture of blessing and his left resting on an open book, symbolizing his divine wisdom. The Virgin is seated on a four-legged stool, rather than a throne, indicating her humility.

Enthroned Virgin and Child 1150-1200, Met Cloisters. Source

Tapestry making flourished in the Middle Ages. The wool tapestries were first woven in monasteries and convents as wall hangings for churches. Few of these early tapestries, which depicted religious scenes, exist today. Nobles liked the heavy, portable tapestries and used them to create a warm atmosphere in their living quarters. As society became more secularized in the later fourteenth century, perhaps due to the emerging middle class, tapestries began to depict non-religious scenes such as the “Nine Heroes” tapestry. (Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters, New York).

Joshua and David (from the Nine Heroes Tapestries) Source

In summary, Medieval artists translated their religious energy to art. Their art was not an end in itself, but also a tool used by the ruling classes to create objects of worship and to educate the common people.

Bibliography

  • Gold, Penny Schine. The Lady and the Virgin. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1985.
  • Stokstad, Marilyn. Medieval Art. New York: Harper and Row, 1986.
  • Young, Bonnie. A Walk Through the Cloisters. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1979.
  • Carolingian Painting. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1976.
  • Burke, John. Life in the Castle in Medieval England. New York: British Heritage Press, 1978.

Victor Shearer, Berks County, Pennsylvania, Artist

In my childhood home, I often looked at two paintings that hung on the wall in our family room. They were similar in size and style, painted in oil on canvas, with gold frames. One was a seascape and the other a landscape.

Victor Shearer Seascape, 1936

Victor Shearer Seascape, 1936

Victor Shearer Landscape, 1936

Victor Shearer Landscape, 1936

Recently, I wanted to learn more about the paintings and here is what I found out.

The artist was Victor Shearer, a landscape and seascape painter in traditional style who reportedly created many similar paintings “selling them for a few dollars apiece on the streets of Reading.”

Victor was born in 1872, the son of artist Christopher High Shearer (1840-1946) and his wife Sarah. and lived primarily in Reading, Pennsylvania. Before pursuing painting in the early 1900’s, he worked as a basket maker. Victor died at age 79 in 1951 and is buried in Alsace Lutheran Cemetery.

His initial work was similar to his father’s, realistic and traditional, but he later developed his own style.

As a child, I much preferred the seascape to the landscape. Something about the waves and the boats, I suppose. It also had a sense of danger about it. Would the sailboat crash into the rocks? It seemed likely. As an adult, I still prefer the seascape, but now I can appreciate the composition, the heavy mass of rocks at the bottom right, opposed to the airy mass of sea and sky at upper left. The waves leaping into the rocks and spiraling back around counter clockwise, leading the eye through the painting again. The solitary sailboats strike a vertical counterpoint to the horizontal weight of the sea.

Source:
Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art

Oh Orange, How I Love Thee, Let Me Count The Ways…

Orange is my happy color. It radiates warmth and happiness and combines the physical energy and stimulation of red with the cheerfulness of yellow. I have touches of orange throughout my home, in the form of furnishings like throws, vases, framed art, flower pots, curtains, and candles. Although I was tempted, I refrained from painting entire walls orange, instead using it as an accent color. I find the color orange to be immensely cheerful and uplifting.

The Shades Of Orange

The Shades Of Orange

I decorated my spare bedroom with orange. The walls are painted an unassuming beige, but the curtains, bedspreads, are blankets are orange. The floor is hardwood with a natural finish and takes on an orange tone, especially when the afternoon sun streams in through the west-facing window. The spare bedroom is where we host foster children for respite care so I was delighted to learn that the color orange offers emotional strength in difficult times, helps us bounce back from disappointments and despair, and assists us to recover from grief. Hopefully we can provide some small amount of healing to our young guests, although they are with us only for a short time.

Monsters are the secondary theme for our spare bedroom makeover. What color? Orange, of course! I chose orange colored furry monster friends for the beds and an assortment of monster creatures in the form of wall decals. Meet them below:

Orange Monsters

Orange Monsters

The wall decals were purchased online from Amazon, the chunky monster at the left is from Target, and the faux furry guy on the right is one that I made a few years ago. I hope that the stuffie monsters will help our foster children scare away the monsters in their own heads.

The Meaning of Orange

Orange is associated with a number of positive aspects, including the following:

happiness • fun • joy • enjoyment • optimism • determination • stimulation • enthusiasm • invigoration • encouragement • rejuvenation • heat • sunshine • health • creativity • success • freedom • expression • strength • endurance

Objects That are Naturally Colored Orange

carrots • pumpkins • sweet potatoes • cantelope • mango • curry powder • paprika • saffron • poppies • marigolds • poppies • daylilies • fall leaves • canaries • tigers • foxes • butterflies • fish • koi • goldfish

The Color Orange in Art

The color orange was used in early art in ancient Egypt, the Roman Empire, and in China on tomb paintings and frescoes from pigments made from the minerals realgar and orpiment. It appeared in Medieval art and Renaissance art.

In the early 1800’s, a synthetic pigment, chrome orange, was invented from the mineral crocoite or lead chromate. Orange became popular with the Pre-Raphaelites in Britain later in the century. One of my favorite paintings is that of Flaming June by Lord Leighton. See it below, along with a gallery of other striking paintings using orange in large part.

Using Orange in Your Art

Orange has very high visibility, so you can use it to catch attention and highlight the most important elements of your design.

Orange Inspiration

Lose yourself in my Pinterest board, “Orange You Glad for the Color Orange?” for great orange color inspiration!



Texture in Art and Collage Painting

Texture is one of the elements of design that refers to the surface quality in a work of art, whether two-dimensional or three-dimensional. Texture in painting is often expressed with layers of paint built up in various areas to indicate form or to supply energy or movement to the work. In collage painting, texture is very easy to achieve using any number of found materials as texture tools, along with different acrylic mediums.

Here are a few examples of backgrounds I’ve created for my collage painting:

I’ve used layers of paint and acrylic mediums like soft and heavy gel medium, glass beads medium, and stucco paint effect medium. I used found objects like toilet paper rolls to imprint circle shapes, bubble wrap to stamp dots on my canvas, and cardboard, sticks, plastic, and more to incise lines or patterns. And that’s just the background! I then continue on, adding more elements such as scrap papers, photos, tape, and embellishments.

Of course, texture is also evident in other forms of art, including fiber art, pottery, jewelry, furniture-making and more, as seen in my Etsy treasury, Texturium.

Texture also exists in nature and in many aspects of our lives. See my Pinterest board for the many examples of textures in life, nature, art, and our everyday world:



Please pin this!!!

Texture in Art and Collage Painting Graphic by Trilby Works

Texture in Art and Collage Painting Graphic by Trilby Works

En Grisaille: Painting and Art in Shades of Gray

Grisaille is a French term (pronounced gree-zeye) for painting executed entirely in monochromatic color, usually in shades of gray (gris in French), although many grisailles in fact include a slightly wider color range with inclusion most often of browns and creams. A grisaille may be executed as underpainting for an oil painting; for its own sake; or as a preparatory design for a sculptor or engraver.

En-Grisaille-Graphic by Trilby Works

Grisaille As Underpainting

Grisaille as a preliminary underpainting for an oil painting can be seen in this Odalisque in Grisaille (ca. 1824–34) by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (French, 1780–1867) along with assistance from his students. It’s a beautiful rendering in shades of gray of a previous painting (La Grande Odalisque) done in full color. Unfinished, the work was painted in oil on canvas and would have been overpainted with numerous layers of color glaze.

Odalisque

Odalisque in Grisaille, ca. 1824–34, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (French, 1780–1867) and Workshop, Oil on canvas, (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

The Grande Odalisque of 1814 (Musée du Louvre, Paris), also by Ingres, is an example of a finished work using grisaille underpainting to control tone and warmth of hue.

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, La Grande Odalisque, 1814

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, La Grande Odalisque, 1814 (Musée du Louvre, Paris)

When pigments were scarce and expensive, underpainting in gray permitted artists to achieve a textural ground that reflects light through the many layers of paint and glaze while minimizing the use of colored paint. The end result showed great luminosity, one of the traits of the great masters.

Grisaille As A Finished Work

Examples of grisaille as finished artwork abound in the Renaissance, where painters take the technique to its ultimate result, achieving previously unknown depth and realism, indeed almost a three-dimensional quality. Flemish painter Hugo van der Goes provides us an example with the frontispiece to his Portinari Altarpiece, completed in the 1470’s. This work was commissioned by the Portinari family to grace the church of San Egidio in Florence.

van der Goes, Hugo, Annunciation, Portinari Triptych Frontispiece, c1476

Hugo van der Goes, Annunciation, Portinari Triptych Frontispiece, ca. 1476 (Uffizi Gallery)

The frontispiece depicts the Annunciation, the announcement by the angel Gabriel to Mary that she is to bear the Christ child. When opened, the doors reveal further scenes from the lives of Joseph, Mary, and Christ on three panels, known as a triptych. The doors are remarkable for their realistic look of a marble sculptural relief.

Grisaille as a Preparatory Design

Grisaille drawings were often created by artists as a guide, study, or model for a painting, tapestry, sculpture, fresco, or stained glass window. Some, especially those used for fresco, were known as cartoons, from the Dutch word “karton” or the Italian “cartone” meaning strong, heavy paper or pasteboard, they were full-sized sketches in monochrome that served as guides for the executing artist.

Grisaille Today

Some artists who paint in the classical style of oil painting still use this technique, yet we also see the influence of a monochromatic palette in the broader world of art and craft today.

For myself, I love the paired down, simple color range of grays and other neutrals in art and craft. In this Etsy treasury, monochromatic grays in shadows and lights make for a pleasing, calming compilation:

I also have a Pinterest page for neutrals, grays, and shadows: