Q: How does Cubist space differ from Renaissance space?
A: To the uninformed viewer Renaissance space appears to be ‘very real’; to the artistically aware it has depth created by either linear or atmospheric perspective, or both; while to the art historian it reflects the emergence of a new scientific and humanist approach to art in its various forms.
In Pre-Renaissance times art was based on theology, with depictions of significant religious scenes concentrating on the narrative rather than the visual reality. ‘Renaissance humanists did not discard theological concerns, but reaffirmed the human dimension, respected scientific exploration, and cultivated the classical literature of Greece and Rome.’ (Artforms, Prebble, p. 319) The Greeks had used the idealized physical form in their art, while the Romans had concentrated on physical accuracy in man and animal. This return to naturalistic depiction began at the end of the 13th century with Giotto, in Italy, but gradually spread throughout Europe.
By studying light, anatomy and geometry the artists were able to imply deep space on the flat surface, by the creation of linear perspective. Van Eyck introduced linseed oil as a medium, and as a result of the flexibility and consistency it gave, was able to paint ‘in minute detail, achieving an illusion of depth, directional light, mass, rich implied textures, and the physical likenesses of particular people’ (ibid, p. 321) as in his painting GIOVANNI ARNOLFINI AND HIS BRIDE. (ibid, p. 320 #425)
Giovanni Arnolfini and his Bride – Van Eyck; Birth of Venus – Botticelli
Patinir created atmospheric perspective – the illusion of receding distance in landscape painting – by using ‘warm brownish colors and strong value contrast in the foreground [shifting] through greens to light blue-green cool colors in the distance.’ (ibid, p. 322) Durer added careful observation, and Lippi added worldly dimension to religious art, while Botticelli used lyric grace to depict his unclothed figures of Greek mythology as in his painting BIRTH OF VENUS. (ibid, p. 324 #429) Lippi was among the first of the Florentine artists to use local models, like the children in his painting MADONNA AND CHILD, showing a religious image but with human emotions – the humanist approach. he also manipulated scale to show receding distance, and linear perspective in the architrave of the window.
Adoration of the Magi – Durer; Madonna and Child – Lippi
Thus the Renaissance space was naturalistic, created by both geometrical principles and colour and value graduations, the creation of chiaroscuro in depicting the human form realistically, the face of which would display human emotions and portray an actual person.
Cubist space, on the other hand, was the opposite – giving no illusion of depth at all. Rather the artists concentrated on promoting the flatness of the picture plane. This concept was gradually developed by Picasso and Braque, the former influenced by the primitive abstract sculptures of Africa and the oceanic region. He used ‘the fractured triangulation of forms and the merging of figure and ground . . . which led to the style known as cubism’. (ibid, p. 384)
Gardanne – Cezanne; Houses at L’Estaque – Braque;
Maisons sur la Colline – Picasso
The return to the use of the flat picture plane was a gradual process during the Post-Impressionist era, with Cezanne, using multiple planes in his painting GARDANNE (ibid, p. 385 #501), being an important onfluence onthe development of Cubism. But while Cezanne was a Colourist, Picasso and Braque worked monochromatically, concentrating on the formal structure of the paintings, without the distraction of the emotions evoked by colour. Thus Braque’s painting HOUSES AT L’ESTAQUE (ibid, p.384 #500) and Picasso’s painting MAISONS SUR LA COLLINE (ibid, P. 385 #502) are analogous and monochromatic abstractions of similar subject matter, showing the build-up of geometric forms rhythmically in a very shallow space.
Gradually the subject matter became even less important, merely a jumping-off point for the geometric shapes with and underlying it. ‘Cubism is a re-creation of objects, based on perceptions of mental and visual geometry.’ (ibid, p. 385) This era of development was called Analytical Cubism, where the artists analyzed their subjects from multiple angles, showing them as the eye perceives them. By 1910, when Picasso painted PORTRAIT OF DANIEL HENRY KAHNWEILER (ibid, p. 386 #503), in which the image spread across the surface as a series of interlocking planes, angles, lights and darks rather than being recognisable as Kahnweiler, Cubism had become a fully developed style.
Guitar – Picasso; Three Musicians – Picasso;
With the taking of Cubism into sculpture, when Picasso created his sheet-metal GUITAR (ibid, p. 388 #506) it became constructed as well as carved and modelled. By introducing colour, texture, pattern, and cut-outs to their Cubism, Picasso and Braque developed Synthetic Cubism. The space was still shallow or flat, but the images were built-up with collage work or various papers, and materials; and they used over-lapping of forms and colours to imply shallow space. Picasso’s painting THREE MUSICIANS (ibid, p. 390 #510) is in the flat Synthetic Cubist style, influenced by cut-out shapes of collage. Braque’s painting THE ROUND TABLE demonstrated the mixture of Analytical and Synthetic Cubism – the former due to the merging of the subject with the background planes in the top section, and the latter by the ‘cut-out’ nature of the table and items it held – collage-like. Duchamp, with his painting NUDE DESCENDING A STAIRCASE (ibid, p. 394 #515) – one of my favourite Cubist paintings – added a sense of movement to Cubism, by showing all phases of an action at the same time – like still photographs superimposed. The work was very linear, yet consisted of simple body planes, monochromatic colour and flat space.
The Round Table – Braque Nude Descending a Staircase – Duchamp
Thus Cubist space shows no illusion to depth whatsoever, with its sometimes shallow space being created by overlapping, and the advancing and receding of various colours, rather than as an attempt to create depth. Renaissance space, however, was a deliberate attempt to create the illusion of depth, by using both geometric means ( linear perspective), colour (atmospheric perspective) and value (chiaroscuro) manipulations.
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(C) Jud House 1/09/2016
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