Is it essential to see a painting in the flesh?

My tutor passed me an interesting link as part of my assignmnet feedback for A3, a debate on whether it is essential to see a painting ‘in the flesh’?

Both sides are well argued. I found it ineresting that it was the painter who was arguing for yes and the poet arguing for no, he was arguing that the painting is an accessory for the description which i thought was an interesting point because when you’re pushed for time you do read the caption blurb to cheat a bit and see if it describes how you’re supposed to interpret the work. Ultimately though he was still arguing that it added something extra to see it, but i got from his argument you need to see it but you also need to read about it first to see it in a context, whereas the first arguemnt was more along the lines of you only need to see it.

At the bottom of the piece is a poll, I voted yes and apparently so did most other people.





Essential Reading: 18th Century ‘Enlightenment and Liberty’ – WHA Chapter Fourteen

Political, economic or social factors

Despite being the Age of Reason, Christianity still prevailed across both Protestant & Catholic countries in the 18thC, now concentrating on personal devotion & piety (reflected by simplicity of external forms of religious buildings). In France, in 1699, Louis XIV requested that paintings be more light-hearted & youthful for Versailles so Rococo style developed, rebelling against the Academy whose biennial salons were the only important art exhibitions at the time, it reasserted its authority by the 1750’s though. Elaborate open air festivals had played an important part in European court life ever since the Renaissance, combining entertainment with instruction about the magnificence, wisdom and power of princes. Hence the creation of Zwinger in Germany. p617 In England, George I (1714-27) developed a constitutional monarchy which gave political power to land-owning oligarchy & Classicism & Roman republican virtues of Cicero taught in schools, ideas over the landscape garden began to change. Love seen as a ‘natural’ passion but one which should be restrained within the social convention. “Natural signified not the wild and lawless, but the divinely ordered universe, as revealed by Newton, in which everything had its appointed place. Liberty could be regarded as natural only within this structure, which provided the model of the social system“. p623 New discoveries at Herculaneum (1738) & Pompeii (from 1748) fed new insights into ancient culture into Classicism. Museums regarded for first time as institutions for public education. Artistic works were commissioned for sole purpose of improving public morality eg “The Oath of the Horatii” work by political painter Jacque-Louis David (1748-1825). The subject, the nobility of ancient roman stoicism & patriotism would have been approved by Louis XVIs minister for the arts but became a symbol for impending revolution. The latter half of the 18thC was characterised by wars & revolution. 1754-63, 7years war started by conflict between Britain & France. Art increasingly used as propaganda, America’s Declaration of Independence meant US became the promised land of the Enlightenment. Classicism was regarded as being in line with their political ideals, Benjamin West’s Death of General Wolfe, 1770, was a poster child & popular print representing a turning point in modern history, in contemporary dress (reportage) but painted in the Grand Style.  French Revolution! 1789 saw the Bastille demolished, the King of France lost control of Paris & subsequent political changes (including formation of a national assembly, declaration of rights of man, abolition of feudal rights, nationalisation of church property, riots) forced every voting Frenchman to take a side. Jacobin club extremists administrated the Terror, the guillotine saw a lot of action including Louis XVI & Marie Antoinette. When more moderate views came in many were imprisoned, including JL David. Napoleon Bonaparte rose in prominence, leading a coup in 1799. Venetian government on point of dissolution during life of Francesco Guardi & Canaletto, finally falling to Napoleon in 1797.

Changes to status or training of artists

In 18thC France, private collectors were prominent enough to provide work for artists. A dispute between those who favoured drawing over colour because it appealed to the intellect (Poussinists) & those who believed colour was needed to imitate nature making an impression on the senses (Rubenists) bisected the French Academy. Louis XIV changed favour from those artists who supported the Academy to those who dissented. Engravers respected & well paid because they produced prints of the works of artists, spreading their fame. Venetian Fresco painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770) was greatest & most expensive of the time. Collaborations between architects, painters & sculptors meant integration of skillsets. Robert Adam (1728-92) set the tone for architects ruling supreme whilst craftsmen merely carried out his designs, the gap between artists & craftsmen widened especially in England where industrialisation was more advanced. In Josiah Wedgwood‘s (1730-95) pottery factory for example artisans followed predetermined patterns. Artists demanded recognition of superior status resulting in Royal Academy (RA) founding in 1768 with first president being Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-92), knighted year after founding, who was obsessed with status. He elevated status of portraiture, posing his sitters in classical poses of mythical figures. Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807) was only one of 2 women founders of the  RA until 1920s. She was commissioned to paint 4 large oval self-portraits for the ceiling of the lecture hall covering the 4 elements of painting, colour, design, composition & genius of invention. Sculptor Antonio Canova (1757-1822) refused state sponsored training in Rome to copy the Greek masters because he didn’t want to be a mere copyist so he went self-funded on his own terms. He was given a block of marble to carve as he wished, rather than prescribed by a patron, Theseus & the Dead Minotaur was a success, he was awarded important commissions in Rome despite his youth.

Development of materials and processes

Industrialisation was the theme for 18th C processes, factory-like efficiency pervaded. The world’s 1st factory created (1717 -1721), the Silk Mill by the River Derwent, for twisting or doubling silk into thread. The 1st spinning machine was patented in England in 1738, the first spinning mill in 1771 which was developed by Richard Arkwright in Derbyshire. In Rome, Antonia Canova developed an efficient studio practice where he modelled statues firstly in clay, then took plaster casts which were marked at points from which assistants could roughly carve the marble blocks, then he could finish with chisels, drills & rasps allowing for more output. Duplicates of Houdon’s sculptures were churned out in his studio in various sizes & media as propaganda for the ‘cult of great men of modern times that was promoted by thinkers of the Enlightenment’. p628.

Styles and movements

Music in the 18th C was mostly religious despite chamber music and opera developing, notable artists included Bach (1685-1750), Handel (1685-1759), Mozart (175-91), Haydn (1732-1809). In painting, secular works were in minority but the innovative art of the time, more romantic themes emerged. Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) painted fête galantes, fanciful paintings of well-dressed people frolicking outdoors. Early 18thC style of architecture (as seen in French townhouses and German churches) was one of a plain exterior and lavish interior, more concerned with manipulation of space than with form.  French Rococo was ‘delicate, sensual and often capricious’, ‘a frivolous confection of shells and shell-like forms’. p608, & later in the 18thC was dismissed as catering to the whims of the upper classes. It was criticised at the time for being at odds with the rational thought of Enlightenment, but its spontaneity & novelty deviated from the demands of academic rules. ‘Its genius lay in nuances, subtle juxtapositions of forms, gentle gradations and mingling of colours, the elusive dancing rhythms of only slightly differentiated motifs’ p609. It introduced taste to small rooms such as boudoirs & a more intimate feel for larger. Spaces which fit the inhabitants, eg ‘A reading of moliere’ by Jean francois de Troy (1679-1752), p611, Rococo interior which reminded me of some of the rooms in Hylands House. Genre pittoresque was a decorative style created by Nicolas Pineau (1684-1754) & Juste-Aurele Meissonier (c1693-1750), with pictorial motifs such as shells and tendrils with defined structure. Lightness, elegance & gaiety, p612 Eg Hotel de Soubise in Paris. The curvilinear forms also lent themselves to sensual and carnal paintings, intended to be for boudoirs, e.g. ‘Hercules and Omphale’ by Francois Boucher (1703-70). Jean-Simeon Chardin (1699-1779) on the other hand painted ‘downstairs’ scenes & used more earthy, wholesome colour palette often with moral overtones & of new themes showing the middle class life. Both appealed to the same patrons though. Louis XV’s mistress Mme du Barry commissioned Jean-Honore Fragonard’s work ‘The Progress of Love’ (4 parkland scenes), which palpitated with a new life and amorous energy, but it was rejected in favour of 1 by Joseph-Marie Vien (1716-1809) whose work was more solemn and classical in style and almost a direct critical opposition to Rococo. German Rococo developed from exuberantly Italianate Baroque (Borromini and Guarini) and the difference between the two in Germany & Italy is slight & can only be measured subjectively. Church interiors were designed to give a vision of heaven. French trained Francois Curvillies (1695-1768) introduced Genre picturesque to Germany. Johann Balthasar Neumann (1687-1753) was a prolific German architect who designed the lavish Rococo staircase of the Residenz, Wurzburg, Germany, Tiepolo’s painting on the ceiling above the stairs was designed to be seen from multiple viewpoints whilst climbing. ‘Painting, architecture, and sculpture (stucco figures and huge shells in the corners) interpenetrate to create a total environment masking the frontier between realty and fiction.‘ p619. Neo-Palladian style of architecture developed from the English distaste of baroque, Scottish architect Colen Campbell (1676-1729) was one of several architects who wanted to return to Classical principles by way of Andrea Palladio. The style showed off social standing amongst the wealthy by the classicism of implied Roman republican virtues. ‘A Neo-Palladian house declared its owes respect for propriety and decorum and with its dressed stonework , columns and pediment, marked his social standing far move obviously than the 17th century brick-build gentlemen’s house’ p622 It can be seen in paintings by William Hogarth which also show Italianate pictures on the wall & Rococo style interior. The landscape park (as seen in Gainsborough’s work Mr and Mrs Andrews 1749) was the most important British contribution to visual arts, seen as a symbol of liberty, contrast with the rigidly formal gardens of Versailles. The ditch which separated gentleman’s park from land beyond was called a ‘ha-ha’. These picturesque English gardens often had a classical temple to lend them a note of nostalgia for one’s Grand Tour which rounded off a classical education for the wealthy where they could see old masters painted in the grand style. In America, enlightened thinkers demanded moral rectitude, simplicity, clarity & logic. True style developed, founders of the US were depicted as god-like figures from mythology but Jefferson (1743-1826) & George Washington were depicted in contemporary dress (by Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741-1828), leading sculptor of his day). Houdon’s sculptures were a return to nature. Contemporary dress in art suggested reportage or ‘truth’ of the moral message. Rococo finally renounced in 1750s, seen simultaneously in France, Germany and England. In Neoclassicism, an extension of the True style, compounded by Wincklemann’s writings, mythological scenes were portrayed which had  not actually been described before, classicism no longer a slavish imitation, eg Canova & JL David. Canova  revived sculpture, with a style that was less personal & gentle liberating it from architectural settings, designing work to be seen from a revolving plinth. His were the first great works of art to be was specifically intended for Museums. David’s style of painting fused classicism with contemporary reportage, and secular intensity almost religious & political propaganda (examples include commemorating the martyrs of the French revolution such as Marat, recording the Tennis Court Oath & equestrian portrait of Napoleon crossing the Alps). Architectural parallels to David’s work can be found in designs of Etienne-Louis Boulee (1728-99) and Claude-Nicolas Ledoux (1736-1806). There was a return to antiquity with new boldness & simplicity, no frivolities only unbroken contours , clean-cut lines, right angles & simple shapes. The emphasis on geometry as opposed to free-flowing space.

Inside and outside influences

In the 18th C, thinkers, critics & writers of the Enlightenment inspired artists. Artists, architects & thinkers alike were influenced by Descartes & Isaac Newton (1642-1727), who was seen as hero of the enlightenment, eg Etienne-Louis Boulee. Artists inspired each other, Antoine Watteau inspired artists such as Boucher, Gainsborough & Goya who in turn was influenced by Rubens & various Venetian artists. The sensitivity of Chardin & sensuality of Boucher influenced Jean-Honore Fragonard (1732-1806). Bavarian sculptor Ignaz Gunther (1725-75) was influenced by Italian Mannerism, late 16thC German statues & heir to traditional German naturalistic style dating back to Middle Ages. Bolognese were influenced by their own early 17thC masters. Venetian’s including Francisco Guardi (1712-93) looked back at titian, Veronese & Tintoretto. Tiepolo’s ceiling was a tribute to his own Venetian school & the art of Paolo Veronese. Demand from English patrons for Canaletto’s cool clear views of Venice & Rosalba Carriera’s portraits. Classical influence on architects & artists with Gothic & Chinese affording amusing deviations to emphasise the classical norm. Rome was dominated by classicism of the High Renaissance & a classical education & Grand Tour influenced everyone. Classical influence on Americans after Independence, not because it was in fashion in Europe but because of the republican political morals perceived by it. Wincklemann’s reappraisal of art had a pervading  influence everywhere but especially in Rome, Canova & JL David had full artist conversion. Canova also influenced by Scottish painter Gavin Hamilton (1723-98) , Wincklemann’s friend.

Critics, thinkers and historians

18th C thinkers questioned Christian teaching but didn’t actually rejected religion. In 1784, German philosopher Immanuel Kant declared ‘Dare to know! … the motto of the Enlightenment’ (p.608). John Locke (1632-1704) wrote Concerning Human Understanding essay, 1690, outlining beliefs on colour. Claiming nothing was innate & all ideas were derived from experience. John-Baptiste Dubos (1670-1742) furthered this, writing what appealed to the senses outweighed what appealed to the mind. In 1711, Alexander Pope wrote a key essay on Criticism. Francois Marie Arouet Voltaire (1694-1778) thought that this could only be judged by ‘taste’, which was a preserve of the educated class. Denis Diderot (1713-84), art critic, novelist, essayist & editor of the French Encyclopédie, reviewed Paris Salons in 1760’s. His style of writing deemphasised the theory, it was if he were standing in front of the art, dismissive of Boucher, but pro Greuze & Chardin. Leading journalists in 1712 , Joseph Addison & Richard Steele, preached about secular moral attitudes, e.g. love as ‘natural’ passion within a social framework & inspired satire in artists such as Hogarth (1697-1764). Sir Joshua Reynolds delivered Discourses every year at the RA. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) was a fierce critic of ‘evils of contemporary social life’, p.628, he advocated cultivation of natural sentiments & called for didactic art to commemorate the men who had defended their country or those who had a great genius. Johann Joachim Wincklemann (1717-68) completely reappraised the art of antiquity in his first hugely influential book, ‘Thoughts on Imitation of Greek Works of Art’, 1755, written from point of view of a man of the Enlightenment, it discussed statues as living works of art & endorsed imitating antiquity only with a shift in emphasis from form to spiritual essence, art as an expressive medium rather than mimetic. Journalist Jean-Paul Marat, (immortalised in JL David‘s painting The Dead Marat, murdered in his bath by Political rival Charlotte Corday), extolled ‘the despotism of liberty‘.



The notes are still a bit long for the assignment but since they for my reference at this stage it doesn’t matter too much, I’ll do a bit more of the section and hopefully be able to shorten them at the end when I have all three chapters covered, I think this chapter runs nicely into the next with artists like JL David following Napoleon’s career trajectory.

I must say, I should have studied this section before my visit to Hylands house! It will certainly help me with the write-up and background reading on what I saw. ‘A reading of moliere’ by Jean francois de Troy (1679-1752), p611, Included a Rococo interior which reminded me of some of the rooms in Hylands.  p622 has some useful looking quotes  re Hogarth and the décor for example. I pity the fact that I couldn’t visit the grounds though (with a grumpy child and pushchair  in tow it wasn’t practical), the concept of the garden was as important as the building for a neoclassical country houses as I’m now coming to realise so perhaps I can check that bit out from above in google maps when I come to write up the visit in more detail.

The 18thC clearly splits stylistically into two, the fancy, twiddly Baroqueish Rococo style, which was all the rage with the very fashionable and the very rich European élite (it’s very over the top as many things of fashion are!) and then a return to classical in the latter half of the century when demands for liberty were widespread and they needed an art for free people, ordinary people and looked back to the ancient republics. This was the Age of Reason, due to the Enlightenment, the philosophical movement which swept Europe much as humanism had done in the previous century. The condemnation of despotism, criticism of the established church and state ended up with demands for liberty and political representation culminating in the revolutions, both American and French. I noticed that painters of the time are much more politically involved and this is shown in their art, especially JL David. I found his painting of The Tennis Court Oath really interesting because of the reportage contemporary look but with poses from antiquity making the scene like so many new Romans gathered. This age seems so much more ‘modern’ to me than much or the other chapters I’ve studied because every day I’m surrounded by (probably 18th C) classical buildings and columns whilst walking to work in the heart of the city in Bank, also when you watch the news from America’s political race its all set in and around the buildings which look like this, so its old, but it’s actually still a modern setting today. The images we see today are often politically motivated in the same sort of sense, lots of propaganda. Ditto the landscape, this was the age of the more natural looking landscape garden in England and much of the beautiful picturesque views that I drive past when I visit family in Dorset probably came out of these ideals. On a different note, I was unsurprised to learn that Canaletto’s work was a favoured by English patrons. I love his work, it was a fav of  my Grandma who passed that on to me from a young age of seeing the reproductions in her house. It helps that much of the famous views in Venice still look like that when you visit them now (except filled with modern tourists).



Honour, H & Fleming, J. (2009) A World History of Art. (7th Ed), London, Laurence King Publishing

Caravaggio was actually Merisi of Milan?

Another student directed me towards this interesting link, from March 2007, apparently a Milanese art historian had discovered that Michelangelo Merisi was not actually born in Caravaggio as previously assumed. He was born in Milan, on September 29, 1571, and baptised at the church of Santa Maria della Passarella according to the baptism records. Citizens of the town of Caravaggio were a bit sceptical (tourist revenue is at stake of course). It supports the legend that Caravaggio was the illegitimate son of Marchese Francesco Sforza, a member of Milan’s ruling family. His parents were married in Caravaggio and there is documentary evidence that he said he was from Caravaggio so perhaps he was brought up there and maybe even unaware himself of his birthplace?

Assignment 3

As with assignment 1 & 2, I have made the assignment as a pdf document which can be downloaded here: Assignment 3 PDF submission. The course notes lists the requirements in A4 page sizes and in a pdf is easier to keep track of that.

The assignment includes.

  • Four pages of notes (for three chapters in WHA, 15th-17th century)
  • Two annotations of paintings (Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait and Rubens Samson and Delilah)
  • One 500 word analysis of the stylistic differences between two a seventeenth-century painters.
  • References for assignment 3 (in Harvard referencing style)



On the run up to creating assignment 3 I re-read the feedback from assignments 1 & 2 to heed any advice and check I’m heading down the right pathway. As suggested in the helpful We Are OCA blog article on how to use tutor report I printed out and highlighted all the relevant bits, for now ignoring the reworking suggestions (because I plan to go back and revisit this when I’m not running behind on my assignment date). My take away info was as follows:

In general avoid over-reliance on websites and I need to “Engage with more broadly ‘theoretical’ texts so as to deepen your research and expand your comments” using a wide variety of source materials. “Compare and contrast information and evaluate others’ arguments.” When I started this section I reserved a whole heap of books at the library, getting these up front helped a lot with this as I was able to make use of my train journeys to read and digest. I still have a tendency to over note-take but I’m working on it with reading goals as suggested. I think I did much better with the WHA chapter notes (although I fell off the wagon a bit with the Arnolfini books). As I’ve already reflected (on each post) I tried to condense my material into one set of comments per section. The problem I found with this was I wasn’t sure how long the other chapters would be until I got there so I still overshot a little and had to trim slightly for the assignment.

One of the comments was to synthesise different art historians’ interpretations and explain which you find most convincing and why. I used this advice with the annotation of the Arnolfini portrait as there are many different interpretations of that. There were lots of comments on annotations in both sets of feedback so I obviously needed to work on that. The main point that came across was more depth, words like cursory and brief were used to describe them so hopefully I’ve done a better job this time. I spent a long time researching the Arnolfini portrait across several books (as well as websites). I tried to develop a sustained comparison between the two works I have annotated but I had more space on the second annotation so this is where I’ve mostly compared them. I found space in which to put all the annotations I wanted to say an issue in all three assignments. I expect it boils down to making my comments more concise and far-reaching rather than stating the obvious or anything too long and wordy. To head this off at the pass I created a full blog post for each of works to discuss them individually so I could comfortably get my head around them both (and all my words out) before comparing them and selecting only the salient points for my annotations. This might be the duel note taking approach which was not recommended for the reading notes but I’m not sure how else to approach it. I need to find a place to store all my research and the blog is supposed help me with my learning. I also took a look at the Open University study diamond model as recommended. My two full blogposts on the annotations are here: The Arnolfini portrait and here: Samson & Delilah. For the choice of annotation subjects, I chose the Arnolfini portrait at the beginning of the section (just seemed like it’d be more interesting than Giotto or Duccio frescos) and I choose Rubens but I didn’t know that much about him but the ones I’d seen in the National Gallery were very impressive.

I took a similar post, per topic approach to comparing two artists for the 500-word analysis. One here for Caravaggio and one here for Vermeer, this approach seems to work well for me because for the analysis I was able to stick within the word limit (well 518 words, but that’s probably close enough). The assignment specifies to compare between a seventeenth-century Baroque painter associated with the Catholic Counter Reformation and a seventeenth century painter from the Netherlands, I chose Caravaggio because I really enjoyed his work when I was reading about the Baroque era in the WHA (plus I did the analysis before the annotations and hadn’t decided between Rembrandt or Rubens for that yet and didn’t want crossover). I chose Vermeer because, again I didn’t want to choose Rembrandt, also Frans Hals and Jan van Goyen seemed less interesting in the WHA.

I really enjoyed this section, probably my favourite so far. I find having to cover so many different bits a bit of a rushed whistle-stop tour though, it’s nice to focus on a few in depth, but it takes time (which I’m quite short of, with baby and full time job). I enjoyed the visit too but the write up is quite cursory, I think it fits in much better with the next section of the course anyway so I’m going to come back and review it again.

Overall reflection against the Assessment Criteria:

  • Demonstration of subject-based knowledge and understanding – again there was a lot of reading in this section, and also I tried to use a few more books for the assignment research (as per feedback from assignment 1 & 2). I think I have demonstrated my understanding of the area in this assignment according to the research I have done (see above).
  • Demonstration of research skills – Where possible I tried to go and see the work I was researching in person, but also evaluated the sources I was looking at in books and on the internet for their scholarly worth. I think I was quite through for the Arnolfini Portrait but possibly a bit light on the Rubens, which might be picked up on in the feedback?
  • Demonstration of critical and evaluation skills – I tried to engage with the concepts throughout part three within each of the exercises that I actually completed, I knew I was running short on time so I skipped ahead to the assignment and have yet to do some of the exercises. I did better on sticking to the word count in the assignment analysis this time, putting all my long-winded thoughts and research into ancillary blogposts on my learning log. Also, I found the OU format that my tutor recommended for comparing works allowed me to review the works in my own words before diving into the research parts.
  • Communication – I think my ideas and points are written clearly. I try to reflect on bits as I go along since the assessor cannot be inside my head. I suspect the they won’t have the time to wade through every blogpost though.


Painting Review: Rubens – Samson and Delilah

For the second annotation I choose a narrative painting from Rubens, Samson and Delilah. I thought I’d jot down some initial thoughts & research on it since I can never fit it all into the one annotation page and my memory can’t hold it all.

Peter Paul Rubens, 1577 - 1640 Samson and Delilah about 1609-10 Oil on wood, 185 x 205 cm Bought, 1980 NG6461
Peter Paul Rubens, 1577 – 1640
Samson and Delilah
about 1609-10
Oil on wood, 185 x 205 cm
Bought, 1980

So in line with the review of the Arnolfini Portrait, I’ve tried to apply the techniques I learned in reading about the OU study diamond to this painting review too. Again, the grid format wasn’t that great for the blog so I’ve split into more of a questions and answers format.

Effects & techniques:

  1. What initially catches your eye? Where do you go next? And after that? To the group of four figures of Delilah, Samson, and the old woman and man
  2. Where do you end up? Do your eyes stray away from the work altogether? The men at the door
  3. Is there anything that you didn’t notice at first but saw later in your reading? The items on the shelves behind
  4. Did your eyes keep coming back to a particular part of the art work? The massive form of Samson
  5. Is there anything that you didn’t look at or thought wasn’t important? Not really


    1. Has a wide or narrow palette of colours been used? A narrow colour palate with lots of warm colours in it makes it feel sensuous. The only cool colours are on the interlopers
    2. Have contrasting colours been placed next to each other? Not really, this brings a warm harmony to the painting.
    3. Are there more warm colours than cool colours or vice versa? Many more warm colours makes the place seem inviting sensuous.
    4. Would you describe the colours as being bright or dull? Are there more bright colours than dull colours (or vice versa)? There are both, the background is a dullish wooden brown but the colours of the satin materials are bright. This brings the foreground as the main focus of the painting.
    5. In what way is dark and light colour used?

I. How wide is the range of colour values featuring in the art work? There is a wide range of colour values.

II. Are contrasting colour values present in the art work? Use of contrasting colour values pick out areas of interest and are heavily used to dramatic effect to pick out the details and two focus areas al la Caravaggio.

III. Are contrasting colour values used to model three-dimensional forms? Contrasting colour values are also used to model three-dimensional forms of the folds of the dress, lush fabrics and the man’s massive muscled body.

IV. In what way are the colour values distributed throughout the art work? The distribution of the colour values helps pull your eye around the composition, from the four figures in the foreground where the largest patch of light is, to the smaller patch on the right hand side where the men are hovering in the doorway. Your eye flows from the ‘front’ to the ‘back’ even through it’s a flat painted surface the illusion is made using lighting and definition


  1. Does the medium impose any limitations on the way the artist works, or allow any particular effects? The oil paint has been carefully blended to make the soft, seamless shadows to model the various textures, you really feel the soft skin stretched over the muscle on the man’s back , against the more directly applied highlights for the satin.
  2. Is the medium used unconventionally or is the medium itself unconventional and, if so, does this contribute to the expressive effect of the art work? This seems a pretty conventional use.
  3. Does the medium used suggest a particular mood? the medium adds to the sensuality of the mood and the impressive scale also.
  4. Does the medium used prompt the spectator to read the work in a particular way? not really


Representation of depth Technique: Samson & Delilah Effect: Samson and Delilah
(a) overlapping Y there is a clear front and back to the room, the front two figures overlap with the old woman and man cutting the hair. Also the edgy of Samsons body is overlapping the opening door
(b) diminishing scale Y the men at the door are much smaller than the main four figures, clearly in the background
(c) atmospheric perspective Y the brightest part of the room is also the front of the scene, Samson, Delilah and the bed area
(d) vertical placement Y Samson’s arm is foreshortened such that his hand is the same size as his foot which is further back. His arm leads up and back to his face and the face of the man behind him. Above that there is a statue in a niche on the wall in the background behind them
(e) linear perspective Y the opening door displays the linear perspective
(f) modelling Y the modelling of the various textures in the room, especially all the folds in her dress, the patterned blanket and the muscles on Samson’s back make the illusion realistic


Use of lines:

Directional lines (horizontal, vertical, and diagonal): There is a strong diagonal line of Samson’s back across the middle of the picture. There is a grounding horizontal line of the bed at the bottom of the picture and repeating little horizontals in the background, the shelves, the man’s cutting arm, the door frame. there are verticals too, the arm &, Samson’s face, the man’s face and then the statue already mentioned, also the shelves, niche, the doorway and figures of the waiting men all provide vertical interest

Contour lines – can also be used to outline forms; such contour lines can be described in terms of their thickness and sharpness. there are contour lines around the moulding in the furniture and the modelling of the cloth which are quite thick but seen as shadows and add to the illusion.

Meaning – initial thoughts from the observed ‘evidence’

Clearly something amiss is going on, if you didn’t know the story you can sense that the man is asleep after being seduced and people are sneakily cutting his hair. Armed men in the background seem to be glaring at each other to keep quiet and not wake the man. He is big and muscly but still, should they be worried? Clearly he’s been tricked by the woman (she still has her breasts out) but she looks a bit sorry. The old woman looks on in tension, biting her lip, that the man will wake up. You feel sorry for the deeply asleep man.

Context & Meaning:

This is based on a bible story (Old Testament, Judges 16: 17-20) where a Jewish hero, Samson, fell in love with Delilah. He was very strong and couldn’t be defeated by the Philistines so they bribed her to find out the secret to his great strength and help to capture him. She asked him many times and each time he gave her a false answer but eventually he gave up and told her that his strength was there because his hair had never been cut. So while he was sleeping they cut his hair, his strength left him and they captured, blinded, imprisoned and humiliated him. Then when his hair grew back his strength returned and he pulled a temple down on everyone, including himself and all the Philistines rulers.

This picture depicts the moment when they are about to cut his hair, they don’t actually know that’ll work this time and if it doesn’t and he wakes up they are all in trouble. Delilah places a soothing hand on his back to calm him so he doesn’t wake and kill them all. The Philistines wait just outside the door, trying to be quite. It’s quite a tense painting. It’s also sensuous, with all the fabric in the setting. Clearly they’ve just been intimate so it can be seen as a moral tale of sin only leads to trouble. He is very vulnerable in this moment, and trusting of Delilah, so can also been taken as ‘love hurts’ because she’s so thoroughly betrayed his trust.

“In a niche behind is a statue of the goddess of love, Venus, with Cupid – a reference to the cause of Samson’s fate.” (National Gallery, 2016a)

Delilah is not a prostitute (apart from the bribe) in the story but according to the Art historian Jacqui Ansell (in the little audio clip on the gallery page) the phrase ‘in Delilah’s lap’ meant to visit a prostitute in the 17th century when this was painted.

According to the blurb on the National Gallery page, this painting was commissioned by Nicolaas Rockox, alderman of Antwerp (and personal friend of Rubens), for his town house in 1609-10. Apparently it was designed to hang above a giant fireplace, so all the warm colours would look all the more sumptuous in that setting. The painting is hung at the same height in the gallery because it is a best height from which to appreciate the perspective.

“It shows the influence of the antique, as well as Michelangelo and Caravaggio. There is a preparatory drawing (private collection, Amsterdam) and a modello (Cincinnati Museum of Art).” (National Gallery, 2016a)

A modello is a small preparatory oil sketch on a wood panel, they could be used as a draft to get the clients approval and as a guide to composition for the finished work. Rubens often then handed over much of the preparation and painting of the main version to his assistants and pupils, carrying out only the final finishing touches.

This painting, like the Arnolfini Portrait, is on Oak as was the early Netherlandish tradition. This is made up of 6 horizontal planks glued together, probably by a professional panel maker. However, since then it’s been planed down to 3mm and stuck onto blockboard as an old method of preservation so there are no original markings on the back or edges. The panel was prepared with a white chalk ground with a binding of animal glue, another Netherlandish tradition. He also uses a limited number of pigments. Interestingly, although there is no green in the picture, some of the brownish paint on the old woman’s dress are no longer recognisable but have a high concentration of copper, which may have been green and browned with age so we may not be seeing it as it was originally painted.

Visit in person:

The painting was so large, I almost couldn’t fit it all into the photograph but I wanted to remember how vivid the colours were and the online reproduction (see above) doesn’t really convey that.

Peter Paul Rubens, 1577 - 1640 Samson and Delilah about 1609-10 Oil on wood, 185 x 205 cm Bought, 1980
Peter Paul Rubens, 1577 – 1640
Samson and Delilah
about 1609-10
Oil on wood, 185 x 205 cm
Bought, 1980

The painting is hung quite high but it seems to look much better according to the perspective than when you see it online, which is line with what I read about it being desinged to be seen at this height.



Biblegateway. (2016) Judges 16 – Samson and Delilah At:
(Accessed on 5 Oct 16)
National Gallery. (2016a) Peter Paul Rubens – Samson and Delilah At:
(Accessed on 5 Oct 16)
Plesters, J. ‘”Samson and Delilah”: Rubens and the Art and Craft of Painting on Panel’. National Gallery Technical Bulletin Vol 7, pp 30–49.
(Accessed on 5 Oct 16)

Open University. (2016) Making sense of art history At:
(Accessed on 15 Aug 16)

Oca Study Visit: Georgia O’Keeffe

Oca gathering
Bryan Eccleshall addresses the students before we enter

This saturday I took the opportunity to go on an OCA study visit to see the work of Georgia O’Keeffe at the Tate Modern. The tutor in charge, Bryan Eccleshall was very interesting, he wrote this blog post on WeAreOca before the visit (there’s another OCA review here too). I watched the this episode from the arts series ‘imagine…’ on the BBC iPlayer that coincides with the Tate’s O’Keeffe retrospective before the show and I was really glad I did. It allowed me to have a bit of context to her work and life as I went round.

There is so much information on the Tate website I won’t rehash it all here. I took a few photos of the ones I really liked or of those that I made notes on. I remember thinking as I went round that if ever there was an exhibition to make me give up photography and take up painting this might be it. Luckily there some gorgeous Ansel Adams prints near the end to restore my faith 🙂 Stieglitz wasn’t very good photographer (in my humble opinion of course), unfortunately for him his work is shown with hers and looks extremely dull and very dated while hers remains fresh and amazing. It seems to me as though it was his interpretation on her images as sexual which stuck with the critics even to this day. It was interesting to see both their works thought because they clearly had such a profound effect on each others work.

Room 1 was curated much like her first show at Stieglitz’s gallery ‘291’ gallery, alongside his photos of the show.

No. 15 Special. 1916-17. Charcoal on Paper. Georgia O'Keefe.
No. 15 Special. 1916-17. Charcoal on Paper. Georgia O’Keefe.

suzywalker20160910_114332 suzywalker20160910_115510

Paul Stand (1890-1976). Abstraction, Porch Shadows, Twin lakes, Connecticut. Abstraction, Bowls, Twin lakes, Connecticut. 1916, printed 1917. 2 Photographs , Heliogravure print on paper.
Paul Stand (1890-1976).
Abstraction, Porch Shadows, Twin lakes, Connecticut.
Abstraction, Bowls, Twin lakes, Connecticut.
1916, printed 1917. 2 Photographs , Heliogravure print on paper.
Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), Georgia O’Keeffe with watercolor paint box. 1918, Photograph, gelatine silver print on paper.
Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), Georgia O’Keeffe with watercolor paint box.
1918, Photograph, gelatine silver print on paper.

The tutor had an interesting take,  he said that artists only ever paint one thing,  over and over, hers is the v shapes and curves . But mostly it’s her connection to, and absorption into, her surroundings,  most often nature (but not in the case of NYC). The important thing for artists is discover their one thing. I think my one thing might be macro/closeness,  according to some of the comments from my tutor in a previous module (which of course I denied at the time). I shall have to reflect upon this in a separate blogpost. The thing that struck me about the Stieglitz photo of her in the first room (above) was how close she was to the flowerbeds.


Red and Orange Streak. 1919. Oil paint on canvas. Georgia O’Keeffe
Red and Orange Streak. 1919. Oil paint on canvas. Georgia O’Keeffe


I really liked her use of contours. Her work really appeals to me. I like the simplicity of shape and I love the gradations of colour. Her art school education (which I imagine would have been quite strict) didn’t teach her style or subject matter but it did teach her complete mastery over her medium so she could concentrate on style and subject on her own.

No. 12 Special. 1916-17. Charcoal on Paper. Georgia O’Keeffe
No. 12 Special. 1916-17. Charcoal on Paper. Georgia O’Keeffe

I notice that quite a few of the paintings in room two had a split down the middle sort of composition:

Georgia O’Keeffe Georgia O’Keeffe

In room 5, Natural forms gaspe –  1932, was the first I saw visible paintly application, I mean the others were so smooth and perfect, one twist of cloud was not as smoothly as the others, it was interesting to see.

Room 6: flowers

Georgia O’Keeffe

Calla Lilies on Red, 1928. Oil paint on canvas. Georgia O’Keeffe
Calla Lilies on Red, 1928. Oil paint on canvas. Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O’Keeffe

When looking at her close-ups of flowers I couldn’t help recalling my day in Kew Gardens, taking colourful close up photographs of the flowers for a past assignment.

Photograph for Colour Assignment in OCA module Art of Photography. Whole assignment set here:

The tutor said she abstracted them because no flowers are that perfect but I disagree in this case,  I think she just zoomed into the perfect bits. Also, critics say they’re meaning is sexual, which she’s always denied, personally I think she’s just painting the shapes that naturally exist and I agree that the critics see something that perhaps she did not intend.

Georgia O’Keeffe
Georgia O’Keeffe, Another church, Hernandez, new Mexico, 1931

In Another church, Hernandez, new Mexico, 1931, you can really sense the desert light, not in this reproduction (or any I’ve seen) but the painting itself seemed to shine with it.


Room 10: the black place and the white place.

Black Place III, 1944. Oil paint on canvas. Georgia O’Keeffe
Black Place III, 1944. Oil paint on canvas. Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O’KeeffeThis has been a very exciting visit.  I’ve enjoyed writing about it here as a way of reflective recollection of the exhibition and I’m sure I could write tons more (perhaps I’ll revisit it again with some photos of the pamphlet they supplied). I’m looking forward to seeing is anyone else from the visit writes a post because I missed the chat afterwards (I hung around for a while but no one appeared so I went to the National Gallery to do some more research for my assignment). I did take a picture from the balcony of the shop while I waited though. If you are an oca student on the visit and have a blog post please leave me a comment below with the link.

View fro the 3rd floor balcony of the Tate modern
View fro the 3rd floor balcony of the Tate modern