Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Al can create stunning portraits, but what does that mean for the art world?


Got asked this question the other day.

Al can create stunning portraits, but what does that mean for the art world?

It will probably create a little more competition in terms of commercial art and designers because there will be more people using it to create art and it will probably bring the costs down slightly for digital creators.

I suspect that it will affect the costs slightly of print on demand and also lower the value of digital illustrators. Reduced money for digital illustrators. For example, photo illustration and running photographic portraits through Photoshop and running some filters to distort, stylize and change how they look has been a standard for more than 15 years. Most portraits in magazines and online publications already have been manipulated so I don’t think this will change. I think more people will take photos, run them through AI and sell them on platforms like Society 6 and Redbubble. I don’t think that AI will have a significant affect on people who want to buy a physical canvas or watercolor of a person or a one of a kind portrait for example, an oil on canvas.

In terms of commissioned portraits it probably won’t affect the higher end of the market. When people commission a portrait they have several things in mind. They are buying a physical product made by a specific person. I am buying a “Sargent” oil on canvas. It will be one of a kind made by a specific person. Other things that affect this are the fact that AI still doesn’t deal with creating texture and original works or art often valued because of the texture.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Aftercare, 36x36 inches oil on stretched canvas by Kenney Mencher


Aftercare, 36x36 inches oil on stretched canvas by Kenney Mencher

$4,000.00

FREE SHIPPING ON THIS ORIGINAL OIL PAINTING

The title of this painting, "Aftercare," is designed to be suggestive. Often in some sexual encounters, especially those that involve BDSM, there is a recovery time in which the dominant person takes care of war shows affection to the submissive partner. Although the theme in this painting is not necessarily one of sadomasochism, I was thinking that these two men had engaged in a sexual encounter. Part of the story in my head when I design the painting was that these are two gay men who have been cruising and had a nearly anonymous sexual encounter in which there was no time for them to engage in any of the niceties of "aftercare."

These multiple figure paintings have been pretty popular and I feel like it’s somehow my chance to grow and improve my art into a more conceptual way. Although most of my work is about the beauty of the male figure painted as skillfully as I can, the anatomy, shading and textural qualities of the paint, I feel like I’m growing in terms of the subject matter by including more narrative or story telling elements in my art. These new paintings are meant to be a bit of a “thematic apperception test” called by shrinks the TAT. When I was in college, I learned about a psychological technique developed by American psychologist Murray at Harvard University during the 1930s. The idea for the TAT emerged from a question asked by one of Murray's undergraduate students who reported that when her son was ill, he spent the day making up stories about images in magazines and she asked Murray if pictures could be employed in a clinical setting to explore the underlying dynamics of personality. I thought this would be a great point of departure for people looking at art.

I'm trying to take my subject matter a more meaningful place step beyond what I've been doing in terms of my art, where I usually paint a single beautiful or interesting looking man. In this case I was thinking of two more mature men, possibly married, in a relationship to one another. I'm attempting to tell more of a story by including multiple figures in a more complex composition. I've been working with the idea of juxtaposing a clothed figure against a nude figure and trying to tell more of a story and excite the viewers' imaginations. I wanted to go beyond the single nude or seminude figure which at times can be pretty predictable as a format in homoerotic art.

One of the things that I am proud of about the more formal elements in this painting are the color combinations, Rendering of the anatomy, clothes, and the paint texture. This painting took several days to complete and I had done several preliminary studies for it including a small 12 x 12" oil that has already been collected by a gallery owner in Palm Springs. I built on the original smaller studies by layering the paint and increasing the thickness and gestural paint handling in this painting.

You will not need to frame this painting unless you want to because the canvas wraps around the edges and the stretcher bars are about an inch and a half thick. Please see the photos.

https://www.kenneymencher.com/shop/p/aftercare-36x36-inches-oil-on-stretched-canvas-by-kenney-mencher

The following are the only sites that are licensed or permitted to represent me or my work.



Sunday, January 29, 2023

Classic Greek Sculpture to Late Hellenistic

 

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Hellenistic Art

800-700 B.C.= Oriental Influence
700-500 B.C.= Archaic Period
480-350 B.C. = Classic Age
350-100 B.C.= Hellenism (Hellenistic Art)
 
 
 

Hermes (Mercury) and the 
Infant Dionysus.
by Praxiteles or his followers
c340-320 BCE
marble with remnants of
red paint on the lips and hair
height 7'
Classic or Hellenistic

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Form: This statue's anatomy is considerably more realistic than earlier sculptures.  The musculature is softer, and more sensuous and there is even a bit of body fat.  Although the statue is in contrapposto position to indicate slight movement the "S" curve of the body is heightened and the movement is more exaggerated by the arm that is held aloft.  The head of the adult figure is turned towards the infant that is reaching towards the extended arm.  This sculpture although still frontally oriented, is even more in the round than others.  The viewer can begin to move to the far left and right to see a more interesting and complete view of the figure.

Iconography:  This sculpture probably represents Hermes and Dionysus.  Hermes is the wing footed messenger god who served as a temporary "nurse maid" for Dionysus in order to protect the young god from Hera.  Hermes is holding out a bunch of grapes, and young Dionysos's reaching for them is prophetic symbol of  Dionysos's role as the god of wine.  The scene is a bit of a genre scene and probably symbolizes the more humanistic or playful attributes of the gods.

Context:  Stokstad asserts that this is probably a copy because of the anachronistic elements of the footwear and the fact that Romans often used braces and other elements to further support their sculptures.  I believe that this sculpture is really Hellenistic because it exhibits the more dramatic and lifelike qualities of that period. This sculpture represents a break with the earlier periods in the fact that the anatomy is a bit more sensuous and realistic and that the scene is more of a dramatic and interactive moment.

Stokstad (page 210) discusses the idea that Greek art around 320 BCE goes through a marked shift and begins to change into a style that stresses life-like and less general themes.  Hellenistic style art is very similar to the changes in film between the 1950 and the 1980's in the United States.  If one was to think of a gangster film from the 1950's the themes, dialogue, sexual content, and violence were fairly restrained and the moral of the film would usually be that good conquers over evil or something just as high minded.  Today, we have films that are much more violent, more dramatic and the higher moral them is harder to understand.  The same dramatic shift happens in Greek art between the classic age and the later Hellenistic phases.  The sculpture by Praxiteles is an excellent example of this shift.  It is a fine example of a transitional work of art between the two periods.

 


 


Nike of Samothrace 190 B.C.E.
by Pythokritos of Rhodes?
Marble, height 8'
Louvre, Paris
Hellenistic
Form:  This sculpture is a massive sculpture of a composite creature known as a Nike.  The convincing anatomy is heightened by the use of wind whipped wet drapery of her chiton and the forward moving posture of the figure.  Originally this sculpture would have had extended arms and probably a face with a fierce facial expression.

She is placed on the prow of a stone boat.  Gardner describes that the setting of the sculpture would have been augmented with the sculpture's placement in the upper basin of a two tiered fountain that would have suggested to all the senses that the ship was moving and splashing through the water.

Iconography:  Homer and other poets often described victory as being "winged."  Images of flight and floating above the water are almost part of every culture's collective unconscious.  The iconography of the the figure is clearly defined and augmented by her location on the prow of a stone boat as winged victory leading the navy into victorious battle.  The massive size, movement, and youthful body of the figure are symbols of power as well.

Context:  Stokstad describes the conditions and condition the sculpture was found in her book.


 


Laocoon and his sons, c1C BCE by
Hagesandros, Polydoros, and Athenadoros 
of Rhodes, marble 8' tall
Vatican Museum, Rome
Hellenistic

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Form: The anatomy of each of the three figures are illustrations of ideal anatomy for their ages.  The counterpoise and twisting of the figures, while not contrapposto (which is a standing pose) is a pose that inspired Michelangelo.  Michelangelo referred to such twisting and turning as serpentata (serpentine).  The individuals' faces are highly dramatic and expressive and the figures themselves interact with each other and with the serpent that attacks them.  Overall, this is one of the best examples of how Hellenistic art pushed the envelope from the Classic period.

Iconography:  This sculpture represents an episode out of the Roman poet Vergil's Aeneid. This particular scene recounts an event about the Fall of Troy. Laocoon, a celibate priest in the service of Poseidon, was punished by Poseidon, for acts of hubris against the god. (Hint: Notice he has children)  Another interpretation of this tale and his subsequent punishment was that he warned the Trojans "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts" when they opened the gates and were presented with the famous Trojan horse in which Odysseus and his men hid.  Either interpretation of this yields that this sculpture is a warning against interacting with or offending the gods. 

Context:  The origins or provenance of this work is still in question.  One of the questions that arises in the study of this sculpture is, is it a Roman copy or a work of art made by late Greek Hellenistic sculptors Hagesandros, Polydoros, and Athenadoros?  Who was the work made for?  Either way, the work was found in the remains of the emperor Titus in Rome in 1506.  Recently evidence seems to suggest that this work is the original and not a copy.  According to Gardner, there are accounts by a historian from Titus' time named Pliny of the sculpture and several fragments illustrating similar stories from the Odyssey were found 6o miles from Rome in the seaside villa of first century emperor Tiberius.  One of the fragments was signed by Hagesandros, Polydoros, and Athenadoros.

The fact that this work was almost certainly made for a Roman audience by Greek artists inspires another interesting observation.  Greek art under Roman patronage might have been freed to become even more dramatic and violent.  Parallels of this exist in a possible comparison between the accounts of the fall of Troy as portrayed in the literature of the Greek Odyssey, and Roman Aeneid.  The Greek account barely mentions Laocoon while the Roman account is a bit more detailed.  (Hint: This would make an awesome paper topic)


 
 

Monday, January 23, 2023

Using oil based house paints to make some of my paintings.

 I sometimes use oil based enamel paints from a hardware store to make my paintings.  Of course some people have asked me if it's a good idea. Here are a couple of the videos I made about it and some correspondences I've had with other artists and the questions they've asked.

My question to you (as it seems you also use enamel paints in your projects, can I use the hardware store bought enamel paints directly on a standard cotton stretched canvas? 

I think as long as you are working on a gessoed canvas that isolates the fibers from the enamel paint you should be okay.  Franz Kline and Jackson Pollack both used oil based enamel paints to make their paintings.  Kline's work is holding up really well but Pollack sometimes didn't put a gesso coat down so some of them are deteriorating.  There's actually an anecdote about Franz Kline's agent replaced his paints with artist's grade paint and Kline threw away the newer more expensive paints and went to the hardware store for more oil based house paint.  

I noticed you used both canvases and masonite boards for her paintings. Doing some google searches, there are some warnings about using Enamel paint on canvases. 

I think they should last about a hundred years or so before the paints fade and or interact in some way with the surfaces.  I'll be dead by then so I'm pretty confident that it's okay!


Saturday, January 21, 2023

Ancient Greece During its "Classic" or "Golden Age" Focus on the city Athens and its Acropolis

 Ancient Greece During its "Classic" or "Golden Age" Focus on the city Athens and its Acropolis

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The Panathenaic Way and Victory Temple


 

Quick Time Line:
Geometric Period     1050 BCE - 700 BCE (700 BCE) 
Orientalizing Period     700 BCE - 600 BCE (600 BCE) 
Archaic Period     600 BCE - 480 BCE (600 BCE)
The Golden Age of Perikles (Classic Phase) 480-350 BCE (450)
Late Hellenism 350-30 BCE


 


The Acropolis, Athens, Greece. 
450 BCE The Classic Era 
Architects and artists: Iktinos, Kallikrates and Mnesicles were the main architects for the complex. Phidias was one of the sculptor/painters responsible for the design of much of the ornamentation.
The Acropolis

Context:  Located on the highest point in Athens, Greece, the Acropolis was first constructed as a fortress/governmental palace for the king or Anax around 1000 BCE.  However, after the Athenian defeat of the Persian army, the city embarked on a new Classical Era and began to rebuilt the site.  The version we now know dates from 450 BCE, which is sometimes referred to as the "Golden Age of Perikles", the Athenian leader at the time.  There are many acropolai (the plural for Acropolis) in Greece; however, the one in Athens is the most famous in existence.

The Acropolis is equivalent to our modern day civic center. On it there were galleries, temples, a bank and at its base was a marketplace and two theaters. Temples were included because religion and patriotism were combined. There was no separation of church and state as in our government; however, like us, the Athenians were a democratic culture. At the base of the Acropolis are markets called "stoas" where merchants would sell their goods. Philosophers would rent out stoas to preach their beliefs and pass out pamphlets.

The term "acropolis" is actually two words placed together. "Acro" means high and "polis" means city: so the Acropolis of Athens is the highest point of the city. Although the Acropolis was originally established around 1000 BCE, the Acropolis and the buildings on it we are most familiar with were renovated during the leadership of the Greek General named Perikles. The Greek period we will be discussing the most is between 480-400 BCE.

Perikles, who fought as a general in the Persian War (c480 BC), returned home to find that his city and most of the Acropolis had been destroyed by the Persians in his absence. Perikles took it upon himself to rebuild the city and to do so he founded an alliance of city states in 478 BC called the Delian League. The money from the Delian League was the primary source of funding for the reconstruction of the Acropolis.

Around 480 BCE, Sparta, Athens, and Corinth formed the League of Delos(1) (equivalent to or modern day NATO). The Greek island Delos was originally the "bank" for the League; however, Perikles, a great economist, wanted Athens to be the treasury of the Delos League. He knew that the island would boost the economy of Athens and once he found the ACropolis completely destroyed, he used the money from the Delos League to rebuild it.

A good way to understand Perikles and his role in Athens is to read "Perikles’ Funereal Oration" which was recorded by the Greek historian Thucydides.  Find it in Mencher, Liaisons 49, 87-90 (Thucydides: Perikles' Funeral Oration) 


 
 


Context: The Panathenaic Procession
This next section will be in the order of the procession in which the Athenian celebration would have encountered the buildings of the Acropolis.  The term Panathenaic literally means "all of Athens." "Pan"- Means "all" and is also associated with the god of all the woods, "athenaic" - Athenian.

Although the Acropolis was home to a polytheistic (many gods) culture, the majority of the complex was devoted to Athena, the goddess of wisdom and the main goddess of the city. Below is the basic plan of the Acropolis, its buildings and the two theaters at its base. Along the perimeter of the hill on which it is perched is a pathway, marked in gray. On certain festival days, every four years, the entire town of Athens came out and took the long route around the Acropolis to its top which is known as the "Panathenaic Procession." 

This procession would begin in Athens's Agora  take the Panathenaic way (see the diagram of the Agora in Stokstad) and pass by the Herodean Theater continuing on past the Theater of Dionysus all the way around the base of the hill and finally ending with entry into the Propylaia, also known as the Pinakotheke.  By moving all the way around the hill instead of just walking up, each Athenian could understand the magnificence of this sacred high point. The journey would end at the Parthenon where the Athenians who had made the trek would leave their offering to the goddess Athena.


 
 


Form: These Athenian theaters follow the same design as the theater at Epidauros (see Stokstad 5-72).  The design is a symmetrical hemisphere (half circle) that is arranged similarly to modern day stadiums and can seat nearly 12,000 people.  The stone material and the shape of the theater allowed the sound of the actors, who stood in the orchestra, to be heard throughout the theater.  The actors entered onto the orchestra from the parados (wings).  Behind them was usually a static building that was the backdrop called the skene.   This backdrop had no ornamentation or painting and was fairly simple.  In fact, props were kept to a minimum on the stage. 

Iconography:  The theater itself was an important place for Athenians to gather and although it was probably not designed to be a symbol of civic pride, it developed a similar meaning to our stadiums and theaters within our own towns.  One modern example would be Oakland's "Coliseum."

Context: Theater and performance of Greek Tragedy and Comedy were an important component in the lifestyle of the Athenians. The theater was a place in which stories, mythology, and cultural values were conveyed and ideas were explored. The theater also served as an important social setting and helped the economy by bringing in tourists for festivals. The fact that a theater was devoted to the god Dionysus indicates the importance of the ideas and values personified by him. Dionysus (also called Bacchus) was the god of drama and of wine. In essence he was the god of liberation.  Theater was considered a type of liberation and served as a great distraction from the outside difficulties of the ancient world.

"Ancient tragic drama was a public event done in large scale. At Athens the Theater of Dionysus, built against the steeply rising east slope of the Acropolis, was large enough to accommodate fourteen to seventeen thousand people. This group sat together on benches without divisions so that as arms, legs, and haunches touched, emotions could race through the audience. A large crowd is characteristically animal. Probably it was in reaction to the natural volatility of a crowd that the Athenian assembly passed a law making an outright and provocative disturbance during a performance a capital offense. The setting offered little form of crowd control. Performances were out of doors, in daylight, continuous, starting at dawn in a large arena where there must have been constant movement, as at present-day sporting events or a Chinese opera. People leaving to relieve themselves, hawkers selling food, these were moving elements of the panorama as much as the actors and the chorus".

(Charles Rowan Beye, Ancient Greek Literature and Society
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1975 and 1987) 127-128.
One of the most important festivals in Athens focused on the performance of Greek drama. The festival named the City Dionysia or Greater Dionysia which took place in late March was an important event dedicated to the god Dionysus.

 
Form:  The physical form of the Greek theater strongly influenced the manner in which the plays were written and performed.  The actual components of a Greek play echo the physical form and symmetry of the theater itself.

Components of Greek tragedy and the structure of the Greek tragedy  This is the order of a play's performance, how each one of the acts is structured and what it contains.

prologos (prologue) This is the opening scene in which an opening monologue or dialogue is presented.  This establishes the background information in the play and also introduces the "conflict," by outlining some events to follow.  The prologos therefore is like the skene or setting because it provides the background information.

parados  The name for the wings of the stage on which the chorus stands and comments.  The parados is also the name for when the chorus enters, chanting a lyric.  Think of the word parody from our culture.  A parody is a commentary on a text that we are usually familiar with.

episode This is similar to individual acts in a play.  These usually consist of dialogues between actors, which are complimented by choral odes known as the stasimon.  The episode is similar to the central location of the main action that occurs on the orchestra.

stasimon The choral ode that usually comes at the end of each episode.  It is a type narrative in which the chorus summarizes the action and hints at what will happen next.  This is the instant replay and contains pretty much the same information as the parados.

exodos This is the last stasimon which accompanies the action and the ceremonial exit of the actors from the stage.  This could also be referred to as an ending stasimon.

More on Greek theatre available on this site.
 


 


Dionysus in a Boat by Exekias
(black and white photo) (click for color)
Interior of an Attic black-figured kylix
c 540 BCE diameter 12"
Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich
Archaic, Black-figure

Form:  The interior of this symmetrical, yet balanced kylix (wine cup) was decorated in black-figure style with the figure of the Greek god Dionysus in a boat.  Out of the deck of the boat springs a grape vine and surrounding the ship are several dolphins or porpoises.  The figures are painted with a slit watered-down clay over the red, therefore creating that black-figure style  The ground of the vessel is the natural red of the clay and the sail is heightened with white glaze.  The scraffito technique is used as a means to bring out the details with an etching tool.

Iconography: It makes perfect sense that a wine vessel would be decorated with an image of the Greek god of wine, theater and ecstatic liberation, Dionysus.  (The Romans called him Bacchus.)  The grape vine represents his role as the god of wine and the dolphins are probably transformed sailors who committed an act of hubris against the god in one of the myths that precede the story told by the Greek tragic play The Bacchae (also called the Bacchic women).  The "lucky" number of seven figures into the symbolism with seven dolphins and seven bunches of grapes.

Context: Origin of Dionysus.  (See Mencher Liaisons 49-86 (Ovid "Semele").  Dionysus's mother Semele, the daughter of King Cadmus of Thebes, had an affair with Zeus (called Jove by the Romans) who disguised himself as a shepherd boy.  Unfortunately, her family does not believe she is carrying Zeus' child.  Hera, Zeus' wife finds out about the affair and goes down to earth disguised as a nurse maid to comfort Semele. Hera, angry at her husband and jealous of the young maiden, tells Semele to make Zeus promise that the next time he appears to her it would be in all his glory (robes, thunder, etc.). When Zeus keeps his promise, his powerful presence burns the young woman to ashes and all that remains is Dionysus. Zeus picks him up and inserts him into his thigh where he is reborn. Hera finds out about Zeus' devotion to his new son and chops Dionysus into pieces. Zeus then swallows him and he is reborn a third time.

Dionysus then lives with the satyrs in the woods, away from Hera's harm.  They devoutly teach him the lessons of life and he becomes the god of liberation and goes back to his mother's land.  On  his way back to his home he comes across sailors who told the young god they would take him wherever he wanted to go.  Instead, they try to take advantage of him by using him as a slave, so Dionysus curses them by calling snakes and panthers to appear on the boat.  As the sailors jump overboard he ends the events by turning them into dolphins.  The kylix depicts Dionysus turning his boat around to go back to Thebes and take revenge upon his mother's family who did not believe that Zeus was her child's father.

The Athenian variety of gods consisted of a group of gods who exhibited extremely human characteristics: they would love like people, play favorites, steal from each other and cheat each other. In some ways, according to our culture's values, they were not very morally developed. There are many myths which discuss the exploits of the gods and use them as models to explain the faults and triumphs of human characteristics. These myths not only pass on the stories, but, transmit cultural values as well. Mythology was passed on in many forms, decorative motifs on pottery, walls, and architecture, as well through poetry and performing arts. At the base of the Acropolis are two theaters, the Herodean Theater and the Theater of Dionysus. The inclusion of these theaters as integral part of the Acropolis tells us quite a lot about the culture of the Greeks.

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The Greek Orders (Also see the Elements of Architecture page 164. in Stokstad)

Greek temple architecture is designed in the post and lintel style.  The posts are the columns and the lintel is the entablature that rests on top of them.  Each one of these columns is a different style or order and has a distinct physical appearance.
 
 



The Doric:
Form:  The Doric is the simplest of the designs.  It has no base, simple fluting up the shaft of the columns and a simple capital that has no intricate ornamentation.  The entablature is divided into three sections consisting of the unornamented architrave, the frieze, which is subdivided in to the triglyph (tri- three glyph marks) and the metope.  The metope can also contain relief sculptures. (By the way, the Parthenon is a Doric order.)

Iconography and Context: I was taught to look at the orders in a rather chauvinistic manner which is probably how the Greeks saw them as well.   The Doric order is the most dignified and masculine of the orders and was named after the Dorian region. 

Sometimes the Doric order will exhibit a slight swelling in the center of the column.  This swelling, known as entasis, is thought to either correct the curvature of a temple for the eyes or to show that the column is responding to the weight of the building as it is begin held up.

The Ionic:
Form:  The Ionic is more complex.  It has a base, simple fluting up the shaft of the columns and has an ornamented capital that makes it look like the letter "i".  The entablature of the Ionic order is less complex than the Doric and is divided in two sections.  These sections are the unornamented architrave and the frieze, sometimes decorated with relief sculptures.  (The Nike Temple is Ionic.)

Iconography and Context: I was taught to look at the orders in a rather chauvinistic manner which is probably how the Greeks saw them.   The Ionic order is a bit more feminine in its design because of the soft volutes of its capital.  It is a rather problematic column because it does not turn corners well as you can see from this detail of the Nike Temple corner.  It was named after the Greek region of Ionia. 

The Corinthian:
Form:  The Corinthian is as complex as the Ionic but a bit overdressed.  It has a base, simple fluting up the shaft of the columns and has an ornamented capital that makes it look like a salad basket with its acanthus leaves.  The entablature is divided in two sections consisting of the unornamented architrave, and the frieze which is sometimes decorated with relief sculptures. 

Iconography and Context: I was taught to look at the orders in a rather chauvinistic manner which is probably how the Greeks saw them.  But, in a more 20th century context, the Corinthian order is the Carmen Miranda or "drag queen" of the orders with its overly ornate basket on its head.  It was named after the region of Corinth, conquered by the Greeks. 

Carmen Miranda


 
 

Know these components and these orders.
 
 
 



Nike Temple, (Temple of Athena Nike) c425 BCE
by Kallikrates, Acropolis Athens,
Classic Greek Ionic Temple Style
Form: The Nike Temple  is a small (27'x9') ionic order temple. The temple is amphiprostyle with four columns on both the east and west facades.  There is little space between columns because of  stone's lack of tensile strength (flexibility).  There is a continuous running frieze in the entablature. The Nike Temple faces in one direction (west), but appears to have two entrances with blank side walls. Surrounding the temple is a low wall called a parapet which contained low flat relief sculptures. On the parapet's(3) side is a bass relief carving(4) (a statue) of Winged Victory, or Nike.

Iconography:  The goddess Nike is a winged female figure that represents victory.  The fact that this temple is located at the very entrance of the Acropolis could mean that victory is at the forefront of Athenian ideology.

Context:  This temple was in earlier times a type of "look out" from which Athenians could guard and foresee any intruders on the way in. 
 


 


Nike from Parapet 
of the Temple of Athena Nike -
A statue of Winged Victory c. 410 BC, 
Marble, 42" tall
Acropolis, Athens.
Classic
Form:  This high relief carving is just one of many of the same type of winged figures in different poses.  In this sculpture the winged figure of Nike is adjusting her sandal.  Unfortunately most of the head and the wings sprouting out of her back have been destroyed but the torso and legs are well preserved.  The anatomy and carving of the figure is very naturalistically rendered; yet it struggles to maintain a certain idealized figure.  In other words, her figure adheres to the natural parts of a human body, but it also tends to preserve certain features as ideal.  This mixture of natural and ideal is heightened by the drapery that clings to her body.  The style of sculpting drapery, as if it were wet, is called the wet drapery style.

Iconography: Winged figures in Greek art are personifications of victory.  These nike figures are placed about the pediment of the Nike temple in different attitudes or poses as if they are part of a parade in celebration of Athens' victory during the Persian Wars. The idealization of the female form here is probably an illustration of the concept of kalos.

Context:  Many of the male figures found on the Acropolis from all eras are nude. However, it isn't until the second century that we begin to see nude females in Greek art.  The wet drapery style is a happy medium for representing idealized women because the folds and contours can be used to highlight the ideal features of each figure.  Interpretations of the drapery covering this figure's form might be in keeping with our own taboos against female nudity.  In our culture men are allowed to reveal a larger part of their body than females yet we design fashions that tease viewers by accenting certain part of the female form.  The Greeks' use of wet drapery might fill a similar need and indicate the concept of the female form as submissive versus the male form representing strength.
 


 


Stele of Hegeso
c.410-400 BC, Marble, 5'9"
Athens. Classic
Form:  This stele is rendered in style very similar to the Nike parapet.  The two female figures are rendered in profile right against the front of the picture plane.  The figures inhabit what looks to be a post and lintel temple which gives the viewer the sense of an environment.  Each woman is idealized physically through the use of wet drapery.  The folds of each dress accent the protruding knees and fluid bodies.  The anatomy of their faces is naturalistic with some idealized features as well.  An example of this is the bridge of the noses is representing as a straight line, a minor distortion of how noses fit in with the geography of the face: the bridge is usually slightly curved at the top.  This aquiline feature is referred to as the Greek nose.

Iconography:  Scenes like this are called genre, or everyday, scenes.  This is a scene of everyday life in which a maid brings a jewelry box to her mistress and she examines her trophies.  This kind of scene, which is often referred to as the "Mistress and Maid" motif is one that can also be found on vases as well as steles.  It can best be interpreted as a typical scene of upper class feminine pursuits.  The maid, the jewels, the chair, and the implied literacy of the visitors to the grave by the inscription on the lintel, are emblems of economic power that compliment the seated woman's beauty and status. (Compare this to the iconography of vases that depict two males such as in the Exekias vase.)

Context:  This stele was used as a grave marker and is probably an attempt by the artist and the people who commissioned it to make an idealized portrait of the represented, seated woman, buried in this grave. 

 


 


Lekythos with "Mistress and Maid" 
theme- c. 440 BC, Athens.
white-ground and black-figure decoration
with touches of tempera,
15" tall Museum of Fine Art Boston
Classic
Form:  This stele is rendered in style very similar to the Stele of Hegeso.  The two female figures are rendered in profile view up close against the front of the picture plane.  Each is idealized physically and wearing wet drapery.  The anatomy of their faces is naturalistic but idealized as well: the bridge of their noses is a straight line which is a slight distortion of how noses fit in with the geography of the face.  This aquiline feature is referred to as the Greek nose.

The white-ground technique is a vase painting technique in which the pot was first covered with a slip of very fine white clay, over which black glaze was used to outline figures, and diluted brown, purple, red, and white were used to color them.

Iconography:  This scene is a slight correction on the Stele.  In this one the maid brings the mistress a stool for her maid.  (I think it is the chest itself.)  This is also a kind of genre scene, in which a maid brings a jewelry box to her mistress and she examines her trophies.  This motif, which is often referred to as the "Mistress and Maid", is one that can also be found on vases and can best be interpreted as a typical scene of upper class feminine pursuits.  The maid, jewels, the writing and the clothes are emblems of economic power that compliment the seated woman's beauty and status. (Compare this to the iconography of vases that depict two males such as in the Exekias vase.)

Context:  Stokstad relates that this vase was used as a memorial ornament and is probably an attempt by the artist and the people who commissioned it to make an idealized portrait of the woman who it memorializes. Art is then establishing male and female roles through its depictions.

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1. 1Delos is a small island off the coast of Greece. This is where the original treasury was to be kept.

2. 2(Charles Rowan Beye, Ancient Greek Literature and Society (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1975 and 1987) 127-128.

3. 3 According the Dictionary of Architecture, "a parapet is a low wall, sometimes battlemented, placed to protect any spot where there is a sudden drop, for example, at the edge of a bridge, quay, or house top."

John Fleming, Hugh Honour and Nikolaus Pevsner, "parapet," Dictionary of Architecture, Third Edition ed.: 237.

4. 4Bass- base or low relief -relieved or pushed out from the wall.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Mantegna's Use of Perspective in Italy

 

Mantegna's Use of Perspective in Italy

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Andrea Mantegna,  The Dead Christ, c1490-1501, 
tempera on canvas 20"x31" 
Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, Italy
Italian Renaissance

Form,  From the left hand side of the image are the two profile views of Mary and St. John who lean over the body of Jesus who is rendered in an idealized and muscular fashion 

The shroud which partially covers the lower part of the body accentuates the form of the anatomy beneath the drapery.

The most striking aspect of this image is the fact that the portrayal of Christ from a radical point of view.  This view is called foreshortening which you have already encountered in Giotto's Lamentation.   According to the Brittanica, foreshortening is a, 

method of rendering a specific object or figure in a picture in depth. The artist records, in varying degrees, the distortion that is seen by the eye when an object or figure is viewed at a distance or at an unusual angle.

In a photograph of a recumbent figure, for instance, those parts of it, such as the feet, that are nearest the lens will seem unnaturally large, those at a distance, such as the head, unnaturally small. The artist may either record this effect exactly, producing a startling illusion of reality that seems to violate the picture plane (surface of the picture), or modify it, slightly reducing the relative size of the nearer part of the object, so as to make a less aggressive assault on the viewer's eye and to relate the foreshortened object more harmoniously to the rest of the picture. Insofar as foreshortening is basically concerned with the persuasive projection of a form in an illusionistic way, it is a type of perspective, but the term foreshortening is almost invariably used in relation to a single object, or part of an object, rather than to a scene or group of objects.


Iconography:  The muscular and idealized quality of the figure probably relates back to the new humanistic and neoplatonic concepts now being used by the REnaissance artists.  Here Mantegna is getting you to identify with the more human qualities of the earthly or corporal body of Christ. 

In fact, the draper reveals how fully human he is.  To paraphrase the ideas from The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion, by Leo Steinberg, images of Jesus which accentuate how earthly nature, notice how the genitals are somewhat highlighted by the drapery, are an attempt to show the dual nature of Jesus.  Jesus was both of the flesh and spirit and the depiction of his ability to function fully as a carnal being is an attempt to demonstrate that Jesus made a choice to follow a more fully Platonic or ideal path.

Even though the figure is foreshortened, there is a bit of a problem in how the foreshortening is portrayed.  If you compare the foreshortening in Mantegna's work to the drawing below, you may notice that the feet are a bit too small in Mantegna's work and this appears to be done on purpose.    Why do you think this is so?  What purpose do you think it might serve? 

According to this site (I'm not sure how accurate it is but it sure is a great idea), http://www.sindone.org/en/icono/mantegna.htm

The body of Christ is partially covered by the shroud, it lays on a reddish stone with light white veins. (the anointing rock). . .

Although this rock is never mentioned in the gospels, it appears in  Costantinopolis as a passion relic in about 1170. The description which coincides with the painting of Mantegna was transmitted in reports made by pilgrims.  It was believed it came from Ephesus (Mary of Magdala took it there from Jerusalem) and the white veins were produced by the tears of Our Lady weeping next to the body of her dead son.

The boldness of the view makes the scene more dramatic; the vision from the top to the bottom and from the depth gives prominence to the nail open wounds which are no longer bleeding. The flesh beneath the torn skin is depicted by the precision of an anatomist.  On the left there are some characters: Mary is weeping, John is praying and Mary of Magdala perhaps is sorrowful. On the right there is a small flask of ointment and an opening towards a dark room: both signs of the imminent burial.


Mantegna, Camera Picta (Camera degli Sposi) Ducal Palace, Mantua, Italy. 1474


"Arrival of Cardinal Francesco Gonzaga," fresco 
by Andrea Mantegna, completed 1474

Stokstad gives a very good description and discussion of the form, iconography and context surrounding this room.  So I won't attempt to repeat those ideas here.  This section will consist of a guided viewing of some of the more important or interesting details surrounding this room.

Robert Hughes comments,

Taking classical sculpture as his model, Mantegna populated the new world of the Renaissance 

Andrea Mantegna has never been easy to approach, alive or dead. A The "rock-born giant," as Bernard Berenson called him, with his dedication to archaeology and his obsession with empirical vision, was one of the quintessential artists of the early Italian Renaissance. He was innovative, flinty and tough-minded, without an iota of sentiment. 

This son of a Paduan carpenter, who rose to become the cynosure of every humanist eye in northern Italy, once sent a gang of thugs to bash up a printer who fell foul of him, and then had the poor man denounced for sodomy--a crime that, in 15th century Venice, carried the death penalty. Mantegna could also be sardonic and disrespectful to tardy patrons, up to and including the Pope himself. When Innocent VIII hired him to decorate the chapel of the Villa Belvedere in the Vatican, he was puzzled to see, tacked onto allegorical roundels of the Seven Virtues, an eighth that held the sketched-in figure of an old woman. What did she signify? asked the Pontiff. "Ingratitude," snapped Mantegna, who had not yet been paid. 

You must go to his work; most of it cannot come to you--not the murals and not many of the paintings either, most of which are now considered too frail to travel. Neither the St. Luke Altarpiece nor The Lamentation over the Dead Christ, that unsurpassably bitter and poignant image of the corpse on the stone slab, can leave the Brera in Milan, and the Louvre will never lend the Madonna della Vittoria to another museum. 

A Genius Obsessed by Stone. by Robert Hughes. Time, 2/24/92, Vol. 139 Issue 8, p70, 2p, 3c HTML Full Text

According to the Brittanica,
Perhaps of even greater significance were his achievements in the field of fresco painting. Mantegna's invention of total spatial illusionism by the manipulation of perspective and foreshortening began a tradition of ceiling decoration that was followed for three centuries. Mantegna's portraits of the Gonzaga family in their palace at Mantua (1474) glorified living subjects by conferring upon them the over life-size stature, sculptural volume, and studied gravity of movement and gesture normally reserved for saints and heroes of myth and history.
This image really does demonstrate many of the concepts from the above passages.  Mantegna is showing off for us all of his "special effects." 
We see his use of atmospheric and linear perspectives in the background as well as a bit of humanistic perspective in the gestures.  His foreshortening of the horse and dogs' bodies is almost "show offy."

The landscape behind the figures is almost an attempt to show off the perspective of the land holding Gonzaga family, but, the landscape he portrays is actually a mountainous and craggy invented landscape.  The landscape around Padua was flat and fairly featureless.

The putti (cherubs) surrounding the main doorway elevating the familial inscription, are references to the classical past and could almost be a reference to their lineage in much the same way was accomplished in the portrait of Augustus.  In fact the Roman tradition of verism is clearly expressed throughout the room and the architectural details refer back to the ornamentation on the ara pacis. 

 

 

The images and medallions on the ceiling are also probably designed with a similar intention to the portrait of Augustus.  Here is a kind of made up reference to the ancestors of the Gonzaga family, which, they would have us believe, can be traced all the way back to the Roman Republican period.  Again the Roman tradition of verism is clearly expressed throughout the room and the architectural details refer back to the ornamentation on the ara pacis, to support these ideas.

 
This image is located above the mantel of the fireplace far enough above eye level that the viewer must look up at it.  From this point of view one can almost look up the tunics of the men who stand above you.  Mantegna has also used a consistent use of chiaroscuro across the picture plane to unify it and make it believable.

In this portrait image (see Stokstad for details) Mantegna shows both his strengths and weaknesses with the human form.  In some ways he gets an excellent likeness of each of the characters and their gestures and the foreshortening of the human form is well executed.  Nevertheless, there are some areas where he has some awkward patches.  The troll like child (click to enlarge) to the right of Barbara von Hohenzollern is one.  At times the anatomy of the figures seems a bit stiff.


According to the Brittanica, 
sotto in su (Italian: "from below to above"), in drawing and painting, extreme foreshortening of figures painted on a ceiling or other high surface so as to give the illusion that the figures are suspended in air above the viewer. It is an approach that was especially favored by Baroque and Rococo painters, particularly in Italy, in the 17th and 18th centuries.


The peacock is probably a classical reference to Juno or Minerva, the putti are similar again to those found on the base of the image of Augustus.  The image of the African is probably a reference to the sophisticated international qualities of the family or perhaps even an attempt to make the image a bit exotic.
 


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Wednesday, November 23, 2022