Tag Archives: art history

Butades, or, the magic of shadows, or, the invention of art

The Invention of the Art of Drawing (1791) illustrates the Butades myth.

The myth is reported by Pliny.

This is the story: a certain Kora (also called Callirhoe), was in love with a boy at Corinth who had to leave the country. Whereupon she drew on the wall the outline of the shadow of his face. From this outline her father Butades modeled a face in clay, and baked the model, thus preserving for his daughter a face in relief of the boy she loved.

My thoughts? Amazing, but, couldn’t Butades  just as well have made a death mask of the face of the boy?

This post is inspired by Victor Stoichita‘s book Short History of the Shadow (1997).

PS Pliny’s shadows remind me of da Vinci’s stains.

 

Why is it that what appeals to our imagination in poetry will not please our eyes when painted?

Page from "Letter on the Deaf and Dumb" which illustrates Denis Diderot's take on medium specificity

 

There is one page (above, [1][2]) in “Letter on the Deaf and Dumb” on which Diderot illustrates the concept of medium specificity down to a T.

At the top of the page is a musical composition represented by musical notation. Below that is a drawing of a reclining woman.

Both represent a dying woman.

Diderot answers the question “why is it that what appeals to our imagination in poetry will not please our eyes when painted?

I am a god in the deepest core of my thoughts

A Pilgrimage to San Isidro (1819–23) by Francisco de Goya

Detail of A Pilgrimage to San Isidro (1819–23) by Francisco de Goya

I’m a stickler for firsts and origins, almost childishly so, or at least obsessively.

While researching Goya I stumbled on a letter by Goya to Bernardo de Iriarte dated January 4, 1794, in which I read:

I have devoted myself to painting a group of pictures in which I have succeeded in making observations for which there is normally no opportunity in commissioned works, which give no scope for fantasy and invention.” (tr. Enriqueta Harris)

Goya’s insistence on his artistic freedom (key to the notion of “romantic originality“) in making art with ‘fantasy‘ and ‘invention‘ “for which there is normally no opportunity in commissioned works” makes this dictum one of the candidates for a Manifesto of Romanticism.

Other dicta which emphasize the egomaniac (wording by Nordau) importance the Romantics placed on untrammelled feeling is the remark of the German painter Caspar David Friedrich that “the artist’s feeling is his law” and William Wordsworth‘s ascertainment that “all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings“.

In the Dutch language, the poet Willem Kloos said “I am a god in the deepest core of my thoughts,” giving voice to the Romantic conception of the artist.

Goya was a god too (and perhaps the first Romantic painter) though not a god that sought to please, soothe, nor comfort.

Illustration: A Pilgrimage to San Isidro, one of the black paintings by Goya

The details and the big picture

Portrait of Giovanni Morelli by Franz von Lenbach in the Accademia Carrara

I’ve just canonized Giovanni Morelli  (1816 – 1891) and Carlo Ginzburg (born 1939).

Morelli for paying attention to the details, Ginzburg for painting the big picture.

Morelli on the details:

“Except the face, probably no part of the human body is more characteristic, individual, significant, and expressive than the hand; to represent it satisfactorily has ever been one of the chief difficulties which artists have had to contend with, and one which only the greatest have been completely successful in overcoming. Of this, both painting and sculpture afford us ample proof. I have given a few examples of characteristic hands.” —Italian Painters[2]

Ginzburg on the big picture:

“… kinds of knowledge which tend to be unspoken, whose rules […] do not easily lend themselves to being formally articulated or even spoken aloud. Nobody learns how to be a connoisseur or a diagnostician simply by applying the rules. With this kind of knowledge there are factors in play which cannot be measured-a whiff, a glance, an intuition.” –“Morelli, Freud, and Sherlock Holmes

Whiffsglances and intuitions are all examples of infrathin, that fine and fuzzy concept of Marcel Duchamp.