Tag Archives: Italian art

Before the ocean and the earth appeared

Magnum Chaos (c. 1524 ) by Lorenzo Lotto

“Before the ocean and the earth appeared— before the skies had overspread them all— the face of Nature in a vast expanse was naught but Chaos uniformly waste. It was a rude and undeveloped mass, that nothing made except a ponderous weight; and all discordant elements confused, were there congested in a shapeless heap.” (trans.Brookes More)

490 years ago Italian artist Lorenzo Lotto produced the image above. The design is a representation of chaos and is entitled Magnum Chaos. It is an intarsia made for a church choir in Bergamo, North Italy. It feels very modern today.

It’s a nice example of the eye as independent body part, the eye carried forth by two legs and two feet and in control of both arms and hands.

It is also an example of a what we in Dutch call a ‘kopvoeter’ (lit. headfooter) or a ‘koppoter’ (lit. headlegger), a style of drawing made by children from about age three in which people are drawn without a body and with arms emerging directly from the head. (see Child_art#Pre-symbolismbelly face and body image.)

They are called bodyheads in English. See update.

Apparently, Rudolf Steiner says something about child art and ‘bodyheads’ in Allgemeine Menschenkunde als Grundlage der Pädagogik, 1919, but I have been unable to find out what.

The Magnum Chaos reminds me of the André Masson acéphale illustrations.

And other grotesques of course.

The image shown above is upside down from the original at Bergamo.

Update 20/2/14: A possible English translation of kopvoeter and koppoter is bodyhead, a neologism coined by English artist Paul Rumsey and given as the title to a number of prints.