Doing so much reading about art and no ‘doing’, I’ve started a sketchbook. I haven’t had a sketchbook (or really a desire for one) since I did my A-level art about 20years ago. I’m really enjoying it too. I’ll have more time for it once the course finishes obviously but I try to get to it every few days. I’ve even gone to a couple of drop in life drawing classes. At the moment there’s lots of half-finished things in there. Now I’m coming up to my final assignment and see the light at the end of the book reading tunnel I’ll be able to go back to it.
I kept a visual diary of for July, trying to see or do something visually interesting every day. I’m not planning to submit it for the course (I still plan on a digital only submission) but I thought I’d mention it as a positive affect the course has had. I also have a pin hole camera to start playing with once the course ends. It will be really interesting to go back to those chapters in the WHA and re-evaluate in light of practical application (but again this will be once the course finishes for my own development).
I was finger painting with my daughter (who only has primary colours) and tried a little experiment to paint her in a fauvist manner. It turns out to be really hard. The dodgy brushes notwithstanding, choosing the colours for the face from primary colours is quite alarming.
So following on from the first watercolour experiment I thought I’d have another go. I reviewed my reflection notes and to combat the curling sketchpad paper problem I raided the stationary for these —>
There was nothing I could do about the time limit issue, but to combat the cold and unpleasant outdoor experience I painted indoors from a photo I’d taken of a place I know very well, the ruins of 13th Century Hadleigh Castle. I was able to paint over 3 lunchtimes that way. Here is my finished picture:
In the eighteenth century ruins were a very popular topic for artists. Constable and J.M.W. Turner were among those who toured Britain in search of ruins and picturesque landscapes. I picked on Hadleigh because it is one of the locations that Constable had painted at. This view point isn’t exactly as his was because the area has changed quite a bit in the last almost 200 years. Whatever high viewing place he was situated on no longer exists. Neither does the large tree or half of the castle ruins. It also looks as though we’ve reclaimed a lot more land because I could only see the sea as a tiny blue line in the distance from where I stood.
My paining is not as true to life as the photo. It would have been easier to paint if i hadn’t added the clouds but I thought it needed something other than blue sky. Also, Constable always had interesting skies in his pictures. He took scientific study of clouds to get them more accurate. Also, the colour of my sky is wrong, too deep. I enjoyed experimenting with the brush to create the different textures for the greenery but this wasn’t very 18th C of me because they were painstakingly meticulous and would have drawn it all much more accurately than I have the patience for unfortunately. I think this sketch was more successful than the last one (of St Pauls), because I am more comfortable indoors generally. I would not have had the time to paint this scene from life because it’s too far from London for a lunchtime jaunt and at the weekends I have my toddler with me. Also, the clips (and lack of wind) really helped with curling paper situation. I toyed with the idea or adding some people but in the end decided against it.
Constable also didnt do his giant canvas in the field, he created this pencil sketch in 1814, the only time he visited Hadleigh.
He wrote to his future wife Maria: ‘At Hadleigh there is a ruin of a castle which from its situation is a really fine place – it commands a view of the Kent hills, the Nore and North Foreland & looking many miles to sea’ (letter of 3 July 1814; in R.B. Beckett, ed., John Constable’s Correspondence, II, Ipswich 1964, p.127).(Tate, 1998)
From that he made some oil sketches such as this one in the Tate to work out any kinks in the compositional details:
As an aside, the technical paper on this sketch is very interesting. Explaing how they know that someone other than Constable has extended the canvas to add to the sketch and composition on the left (and slightly less on the right). Even in the small reproduction, once its been pointed out, you can clearly see the slightly yellow tone to the edge of the sky on the left and far right.
Constable started painting his 6 footers in 1818, and he submitted his Hadleigh Castle, The Mouth of the Thames–Morning after a Stormy Night to the Royal Academy exhibition in 1829, the year in which he was elected an Academician.
Constable’s wife Maria died in November 1828, and the sombre, desolate tone of the work is generally assumed to reflect his mood at this time. In a letter of 19 December of that year, he wrote to his brother Golding: ‘I shall never feel again as I have felt, the face of the World is totally changed to me‘ (in C.R. Leslie, ed. Hon. Andrew Shirley, Memoirs of the Life of John Constable, R.A., London 1937, p.234). (Tate, 1998)
“Today a painted portrait can be compared with other sorts of images, notably photographs, but we have no such points of reference (apart from written descriptions and further portraits) for portraits created before the mid-nineteenth century” (Course notes p 93)
This exercise is to research portraits and make your own version. The text specifically mentioned some by name so I thought I’d start with those.
Hans Holbein the Younger: Erasmus paintings
Firstly, Holbein’s various Erasmus paintings. He made several versions.
WHA (p.463) describes Holbein’s portrait of Erasmus as showing him: … standing beside a pilaster delicately carved with Classical motifs and resting his sensitive fingers on a book inscribed in Greek ‘The Herculean Labours’ and in Latin ‘of Erasmus of Rotterdam’. The origins of his scholarship are thus made quite explicit, but the purity and truth of his Christian humanism are also alluded to (in the decanter of clear water). It is the image of a new and peculiarly Renaissance type of man, the aristocrat of the intellect. (Course notes p 93)
I found several online, the one in the National Gallery and the one in the Met are of a similar ¾ length pose and half turned to the viewer, although the NG one has all the ‘props’ to reference to the man’s personality. The third one currently in the Louvre in France, shows him in portrait, again ¾ length but almost with his back to us, an action pose, a man of letters writing away.
Lucas Cranach the Younger: Martin Luther Paintings
“Martin Luther, on the other hand, is shown without any visual clues at all, but this is significant in itself. What the viewer sees is a plain but resolute man, free of the trappings of the Catholic Church or Renaissance academic life; by implication, he has rejected all this in favour of a focus on man’s eternal soul.“ (Course notes p 93)
Again, I found several online. The one in the Met is as stated above, however in the one in Vienna, he is holding a prayer book.
I was researching Titian’s Pope Paul III when I came across an article covering Papal portraiture by Joseph L Goldstein. Basically Raphael revolutionised the world or portraits of popes with his ¾ pose on the Papal throne in the Papal finery. Before 1500 the portraits were a mixture of him kneeling in prayer or with his cardinals. This pose has been repeated since then.
“Titian adopted Raphael’s general model in terms of pose and tenor but departed from it in a radically original way. Titian used color and light to produce the luster of the velvet, the stiffness of the linen and the vigor of the flesh (Fig. 1b). The secret to Titian’s technical innovation was his use of a bare minimum number of hues— two in this case, red and white—applied in the subtlest of gradations.” (Goldstein, J, 2009)
Velázquez next took up the job with Pope Innocent X.
“Innocent X was arguably the worst of all popes; he was hot-tempered, paranoid, ruthless and unscrupulously duplicitous in taking the name of Innocent. What’s remarkable about Velázquez’s portrait is how he paints Innocent X in the Raphael-Titian tradition, thus satisfying his demanding client with a flattering portrait, yet at the same time conveying a hint of the pope’s explosive personality and corrupt character (Fig. 1c).“ (Goldstein, J, 2009)
In 1953, Francis Bacon reinterpreted Velázquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X by placing him in an electric chair, surrounded by a yellow hexagonal rail. There are vertical lines that run up and down the painting like bars of a prison cell. He is dressed in bloodstained clothes and gripping the chair arms and screaming.
In 2008, an artist called Glenn Brown, reinvented this yet again by making his canvas glossy and smooth like a magazine and turning the pope on his head.
“Brown distorts the image of Pope Innocent X by removing his cape and cap, painting his hands gangrene green and rotating his body 180 degrees. Only the white apron and the Ring of the Fisherman are retained. In this painting, Brown literally turns the 500-year-old field of papal portraiture upside down and on its head.” (Goldstein, J, 2009)
In the introductory blogposts I researched portraits and self-portraits too, I noticed then the prominence of the ¾ length pose turning to the viewer during this period and made a copy of this Rembrandt self-portrait with an app on my phone.
Currently I’m readying a David Hockey’s Secret Knowledge which got me inspired to try a Camera Lucida to make my copy, seeing as I cannot afford a real one (they seem to sell them on ebay for just under £100!) I thought I’d go digital again and try one of the many apps you can get which uses the camera on your phone to give you a Camera Lucida’s experience of an image you already have. Ie, it overlays a ghost image on your page, so you look at the screen but your pen is under the phone on the paper. I tried to make a pencil copy of Pope Innocent X (the Velázquez version). Here it is, I took a picture with the pencil in the frame so you can see how tiny it turned out! You can still disern his meaness though.
I think it would take a bit of practice and skill to use a real one. Issues include knocking the device or the paper and then the image goes out of alignment. The real one, obviously allows you to draw from life but also would need you to be viewing from a certain constant angle or you’d lose the image.
Todo: when the book on signs and symbols I’ve reserved from the library comes in I hope to revisit this post. I was wondering what props I would use if I were to make a portrait of my tiny daughter. She has a suitable pink spotty chair, which perhaps I can drape her play mat behind as a “curtain”, not sure she’d sit still enough for the traditional ¾ length turning to the viewer pose though (even for a photo, she’s almost one and a half). I was thinking maybe I could use a balloon to represent her innocent joy or my hopes and dreams for her? A clear glass of water seems to represent purity. Perhaps some favourite toys? She has a good sense of humour, how would I interpret that? Will have a think.
Edit: So my book on symbols arrived. Its mostly religious and classical stories which is a bit disappointing. Thinking on the above problem I was able to glean that unicorns symbolised purity which is why the Christians commandeered it to represent Jesus and female chastity (which has kind of ruined them for me now) since the unicorn is usually seen with the Virgin. Innocence is represented by a lamb. Children blowing bubbles represents to brevity of life in ‘Vanitas’, which is just super depressing! I might try and go for my original ideas of her with a balloon, clear water and now a lamb.
“Do your images help you to understand classical figures? Have you noticed how each figure is represented – skilfully, accurately, clumsily, idealised, caricatured, etc.? How do you interpret the figure? What’s the significance of the figure’s pose, for example?
Does drawing or copying a work of art give you insights that you can’t get simply from annotating an image? If you want to put this to the test, annotate one of the images you’ve copied. ” p68 of the course notes.
I found the experience of drawing in the museum relatively unpleasant. I usually find drawing relaxing and peaceful but with all the other visitors shuffling past and around me I felt self conscious and way out of my comfort zone. I had a foldout chair to sit on (which they kindly supply but the information desk) so I wasn’t uncomfortable. It’s probably just knowing my drawing skills are pretty bad and that many people were glancing over my shoulder.
I was lower than everyone standing, which while disconcerting, gave me a different viewpoint of the sculpture than when I’d looked at it standing. I would say that the two positives of drawing the figures were, it made me slow down further, look for longer and I had a greater understanding of how the gallery lighting affected the look of the sculpture. This would not have been the same lighting the original owners of the sculpture would have used (pre-electric) so the folds and shadowy sections would have appeared differently to them.
The figures here were very skillfully rendered. From the position I was sat in to observe Being Veins was a little heavy in the trunk but that might be cultural (maybe they liked more pear-shaped women in those days) or perhaps it was altered the translation from the Greek original to this Roman marble copy? The marble would be a lot heavier so some adjustments to the composition may have had to have been made. As the caption points out, the original would have been made to view from all sides but this is less well rendered on the back.
It’s difficult to comment so much on the man because of the damage to him you can’t really tell what his pose would have been. His torso is beautiful carved but the folds of the cloth on his shoulder seem a bit basic when compared with the care taken over the hair carving on Venus. She’s crouched down (washing) but bashful of her nudity where as the man just has it all on display (what’s left of it). Greek athletes used to compete in the nude so it would have meant nothing to them but women were rarely depicted nude.
They both seem idealised but the man seems to have more personality to his face, that strong jawline, than the more generic beauty of Venus face.
Seeing the sculpture in person was invaluable, being able to look and walk around it. However I don’t think drawing it was any better than say annotating a postcard would have been while being about to observe in person. Perhaps if I drew at home from photos I’d personally taken it would have more benefits. If I get a chance I’ll test this out with some photos from this visit. Todo.
In my sketchbook (a real paper one this time) I’d had a go at drawing Jean de Dinteville from The Ambassadors, admittedly rather badly.
but I wanted to try the anamorphic skull from a method I saw in a video (1:10 in the video below), where light shines though a drawing on transparent paper to
create a distorted shadow. Do you think I could get it to work? I tried all sorts of light from lamps to torches to daylight and all sorts of levels of darkness in the room. The only think I could conclude is that the picture wasn’t big enough for the effect to work. The original is massive, and mine is only tiny to fit into my A5 sketchpad.
National Gallery YouTube. (2010a) Excerpt from ‘Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian’ – Symbolism in Holbein’s ‘Ambassadors’ [user-generated content online] Creat. National Gallery, London 13 July 2010 At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ReF2O8rzpb4
(Accessed on 5 February 16)
National Gallery YouTube. (2010b) Excerpt from Making & Meaning: Holbein’s Ambassadors – Holbein’s skull – Part one [user-generated content online] Creat. National Gallery, London 13 July 2010 At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KiVNIUMmCc
(Accessed on 5 February 16)
National Gallery YouTube. (2010c) Excerpt from Making & Meaning: Holbein’s Ambassadors – Holbein’s skull – Part two [user-generated content online] Creat. National Gallery, London 13 July 2010 At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mczs4muSUHc
(Accessed on 5 February 16)
Stebbins, F. A.. (1962) ‘The Astronomical Instruments in Holbein’s “Ambassadors”‘ In Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 56, p.45 [online] At: http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu//full/1962JRASC..56…45S/0000045.000.html
(Accessed on 7 February 16)
Rather than reading or blogging I thought I’d give my sketchbook app a go and sketch the Rembrandt self portrait. Don’t think I did him justice (what comes of not drawing for 20years) but it’s true that you notice much more about a painting when you sketch it. For example the fancy trim on his shirt collar or that he has blue grey eyes.