Friday, 3 August 2012

Artists of Twitter: David Lee

Artists of Twitter: David Lee   @paintermann

 For me, David lee’s work is like a personal pick and mix of enigmatic works which offer mysticism, humour, fantasy, myth and a true, organic artist’s expression, amalgamating techniques and introducing an individual style- ultimately attracting the viewer to ponder these startling, uncanny but yet elegant, cleanly executed works of art. I will be concentrating on David’s Bodies and faces body of work. 
The first thing we notice about David’s bodies works are the enigmatic titles he has attributed to them. This acts as an aid in our subjective understanding as individuals, and leaves much room for interpretation. David is a mixed media artist, working in an impressive variety of mediums, yet still maintaining an echo of distinct, individual style and technique emanating through and through; a great achievement for an artist, in my opinion. David’s subjects include landscape, weather, faces, figures, semi-abstract (black/white), allegorical, and found objects. David was encouraged by his school teacher John Lally who recognised he had a talent and encouraged him to nurture it. “Rather than the religious imagery of Italy, I have always preferred art that has been sourced from the depths of the artists own, very often, nightmarish imagination- as in the manner of the more darker , Northern, earthy European painters like Bosch, Breugles, Durer and Vermeer”. Modern painters such as Max Ernst, Dali, Magritte ad Miro also influenced David, and interestingly, inspiration has also come in other artistic forms such as music and poetry. This is a good point to keep in mind when viewing David’s work. I can certainly see the influence of movement in “Minnie the Minx”. This is a warm, fiery piece which again is abstract in its delivery of subjection. We get a flavour of desire, mysticism, power and strength. The figure is swaying her hips towards us, head turned towards her left, mouth open, exposing her feminine mystique, yet emanating confidence; she isn’t asking anything of us, simply existing in her slightly hedonistic, yet smooth melodic stride. This piece reminds me of Marlene Dumas’ brazenly provocative works’ in both style and subject. “I work mostly from my own imagination through doodling; these doodles are very often the first manifestation of something that has been brewing away in my unconscious mind for a long time, rather like a poem does for a poet”. 
In David’s work I can see a strong reference to Art Nouveau, especially in his black and white pieces; they remind me of Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations for Oscar Wildes Salome. David’s piece named “Earth Mother” compositionally reminds me Rodin’s revolutionary sculpture Walking man, they both have a very similar stance and one which portrays a strong governance over space and metaphorically of course. I can also relate a likeness to Peter Howson and Max Beckman’s work, the dark heavy lines, mingling together to create a dense form, holding the viewers gaze whilst the forms play out an almost metamorphosis role. Take a look at David website and follow him on twitter to keep updated with his exciting body of growing works, this guy brings the mixed to Mixed Media!

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Hogarth’s Analysis of Beauty

Analysis of the title page of Hogarth’s Analysis of Beauty and a discussion of how the artist’s concept of “Variety’, is explained in his text, can be related to his design for the page.

Throughout Hogarth’s Analysis of Beauty, there is a recurrent theme throughout his chapters, namely of variety and its incorporation throughout nature. From his text we can see that he strongly regards the concept of “variety” and the “line of beauty” as the source of beauty, which is naturally around us in every aspect, not only in art but life also. I am going to be looking at his text including specific chapters and seeing how these ideas have influenced his design ideas for the title page “Analysis of Beauty”.
“Entertaining the eye with the pleasure of variety”1. Hogarth describes variety as being a necessity, such an element given to us by nature and therefore radiates such beauty. Throughout the analysis of beauty, different elements noted in various chapters of the book all combine together to define beauty, in Hogarth’s opinion. His title page for the book incorporates some of these elements and it is interesting to see the comparison from the text based theories to the actual design.  It is commonly known that the human eye and moreover, the brain prefers variety to such simplicity and Hogarth’s states that not just the eyes, but all the senses “delight in it”2. A further example of this is used with the idea of the ears reacting to sound. Music has many textures as well as the textures the eyes can see in a painting, and the various textures you can feel with your skin are countless, again brining more pleasure from variety. It is predominant that variety is the source of pleasure and the way in which Hogarth explores its ideas makes us believe it more so. This states the reason why Hogarth would incorporate the words variety into the design for the title page, amongst other important symbols of his ideas. The design itself is very carefully composed, relating to the fact that Hogarth mentions, “...and without design, is confusion and deformity”3.  From the justification and spacing of the text, to the pictorial design and decoration, the whole page is simply but uniformly designed.  There is in every line of the title page design an attribute which is of subject matter in the text, which in itself leads to variation. The title page also incorporates variation of perspective, which is evident in the pyramid shape that sits upon the variety plaque. Hogarth explains that “the pyramids diminishing from its basis to its point....gradually lessening to the centre, are beautiful forms”4. Again this image is incorporated into the title page design; of course the four pointed lines adjoining at the top create variation of perspective, adding beauty. Hogarth addresses this idea in the chapter of simplicity or distinctiveness, “There is no object composed of straight lines that has so much variety, with so few parts”5. The main point I think Hogarth is making here is that beauty doesn’t have to be complicated and that it is visible to everyone, but a number of attributes create such variety, in terms of light and shape and form and that simplicity is therefore more pleasing to the eye. This theory is very much used in his design for the title page, a variety of text and images all in different forms but hold the simplicity which in turn pleases the eye and therefore considers beauty, “Thus we see simplicity gives beauty even to variety, as it makes it more easily understood”6.
Another major implement of design for Hogarth’s title page is the use of lines. In chapter five he introduces the use of “wavering and serpent lines”7, which “that lead the eye a wanton kind of chase”8. This is not pictorially evident in the title page design, but is linked to the quote of Milton in the centre of the page. Milton is describing the scene in the Garden of Eden, when Eve is fighting temptation of the serpent. Of course, this very much relates to the imagery of “serpentine line”9, analysing its variation and becoming allured by its beauty. The “line of beauty”10 is also present in the design. It is situated inside the pyramid shape at the centre of the page. This is not surprising as Hogarth emphasised a considerable amount of importance of the line of beauty. It is interesting that he has positioned the line of beauty around straight lines, again adding variety as he explains in the text, “vast variety of changing circumstances keeps the eye and the mind in constant play”11. Here he is suggesting that straight lines have only the ability to vary in length but not in degrees, but still hold ornamental value. Whereas curved lines, such as the line of beauty, also obtain this feature as well as the ability to vary in “degrees of curvature”12 which is said to be even more ornamental and pleasing not only to the eye but to the hand whilst drawing it with a pencil, again referencing to the different variety of senses involved in the perception of beauty. But when a variety of different lines are put adjacent to one another, it creates beauty for the eye and mind, as Hogarth states, “varied contents; therefore all its variety cannot be expressed on paper by one continued line, without the assistance of imagination”13. This statement very much illustrates Hogarth’s reasoning for designing the lines the way he has, positioning the lines close together and explaining it to us visually by incorporating the word “variety” underneath them.
Another way in which Hogarth has used the concept of variety is through the use of composition and proportion.  It is obvious that the whole page is substantially varied in content, as it contains, text, again varied in different fonts and sizes, drawings, extracts from a poem, and use of straight lines. Hogarth suggests “In a word, it may be said, the art of composing well is the art of varying well”14. The design demonstrates this statement, through the use of space which is used and equally importantly, the space which has not. It is as if there is a heavy bold occupancy of space at the top of the title page, but as your eye is drawn down towards the bottom, there is a lighter, more delicate feel to the composition. The different proportions used in the design create much variety. Hogarth used bolder, bigger text to emphasise certain words on the title page and though it seems there is less body to the latter of the title page, it is brought into balance by the pyramid shape, creating an illusion of strong variety, whilst the mind is satisfied by a sense of symmetry. This point can be backed up by Hogarth, “...the nature of variety, and then its effects on the mind; with the manner how such impressions are made by means of the different feelings given to the eye, from its movements”15. In another chapter Hogarth mentions that “simplicity in the disposition of a great variety, is best accomplished by following nature’s constant rule, of dividing composition into five parts”16, this concept is evident in the title page design, by the use of lines. The four line separate varying pieces of the page, but brings a certain compositional variety, even if simple.
The movement of the eye from the top to the bottom of the page is also greatly affected by the use of light and shade, especially concerning the pyramid shape. There is a predominant contrast across the whole page; again with the bigger text being larger, darker tones have been applied. Then lighter areas of the page are created through smaller text and finer lines. Again this is another aspect of variety Hogarth included in his design and the text illustrates this, “All which again receives still more distinctness, as well as a greater degree of variety, when the sun shines bright, and casts broad shadows of one object upon another....fine opposition of shades, give life and spirit”17.
There is no doubt a certain emphasis on the way natures own variety is the source of such beauty. Hogarth seems to take a very humble approach to seeing beauty in most things. He explains the importance of nature being the foundation on which beauty can flourish. “How much the reverse are natures! The greater the variety her movements have, the more beautiful are the parts cause them”18. Here he is saying that nature is so diverse, which creates such variety in the world, thus creating beauty. This also relates to the idea that all of the various senses can delight in variety, as all of them were produced from nature herself.
In conclusion, “entertaining the eye with the pleasure of variety”19 as mentioned before is certainly what Hogarth set out to do whilst designing his title page for the Analysis of Beauty. Through his use of varying lines, the line of beauty, different positioning of straight lines etc, he creates variety on the page. It is the imagery that he uses in the pyramid object, gradually diminishing in shape, creating such variety of degrees of angles. The difference between degrees and angles in nature is so diminutive; therefore the extent of variety creates such beauty. Hogarth’s concept of variety is actually given to us in text form on the page which suggests to the reader that straight away, the analysis of beauty is in large part in accordance with variety and without it, beauty may not be so diverse.  The way in which the title page is designed with such simplicity yet also incorporates variety is very proficient. His views on composition, “dividing composition into five parts”20 is evident in the design, and creates different sections which are all of varying sizes, again emphasising the point of variety. But one of the main points I think Hogarth is trying to deliver is that to view beauty, is a natural instinct that can be attuned with a certain amount of artistic knowledge “Thus we see simplicity gives beauty even to variety, as it makes it more easily understood”21. Hogarth seems to use moral ideas as well as artistic ones, creating a sense of reality for the reader by using ideas in the form of human being and animals, which of course are primarily sculpted by nature. All of the chapters in the book do in accordance relate to the design for the title page , in one way or another, and as the reader it quite interesting to see how his ideas and knowledge become so apparent in the actual practical side of his work.

1-21, Hogarth. W, The Analysis of Beauty, Yale University press, New Haven & London, 1997. 

Monday, 21 May 2012

What does Lacan mean by the ‘Mirror Stage’. How does Mulvey use Lacan’s theory in her critique of film?

In order to describe what Lacan means by the term ‘mirror image’ it is essential to identify the key components of the theory, which Lacan illustrates as one of his four fundamental concepts of psycho-analysis. Throughout the text, Lacan explores the ideas of, physical reflection as wholeness, misrecognition, nature, the human being and reality, a fragmented body and ultimately the formation of the ego. Through analysing each of these components of the mirror stage, it will provide a notion of how the mirror stage theory is a key component of psychoanalysis.  Lacan was a fundamental influence on contemporary critical theory, namely film theory. By outlining the components of Lacan’s mirror stage, it will provide a point of comparison to how Mulvey uses the theory in her critique of film, and the psychological workings of the film viewer.

It is interesting to note that Lacan was interested in the surreal ideal and was good friends with surrealist artists of the time when this paper was presented at the international congress of psychoanalysis 1949. It was a particular painting of Salvador Dali’s that caught Lacan’s attention, and consequently gave him the inspiration for the proposal of the mirror image theory. The painting is called Metamorphosis of Narcissus. By looking at the painting we can see why he may have proposed the theory, two similar figures, represented as if they were each a mirror image, but with imperfections and obvious differences which describe the notion of the wholeness and fragmentation.  Lacan explains the notion of the ‘mirror stage’ in his first paragraph of the text; he describes it as “the formation of the ‘I’ as we experience it in psychoanalysis”.  Lacan mentions that the stage occurs in children between the ages of six and eighteen months. During this period, an infant is able to recognise itself as an ontological being in a mirror and distinguish itself from the reflection and not looking at anyone else. By identifying with its own reflection, a sense of self or ‘I’ is formed. Thus process ultimately forms the self conscious mind, which is essential to Lacan’s theory later when describing ones creation of the ideal self, otherwise known as ‘ego’.  Lacan states “we only have to understand the mirror stage as identification...the transformation that takes place in the subject when he assumes an image...” this suggests that the creation of the ego is primarily the result of identification in the subject. Homeomorphic identification, which is the identification with one’s self, the same person. This is interesting because when an infant is six months old, it still lacks informed coordination; an ability to make conscious movements on their own, but they are able to identify with their reflection as themselves and know that it is not anybody else, but that other people exist that are physically different; Heteromorphic identification. This then brings in the idea of the reflection as a visual identity being perceived as fantasy ‘wholeness’ in relation to the realistic ‘fragmentation’. This suggests that from the beginning, the subject strives for mastery but will never be achieved; the image in the mirror looks better than his actual self and seems more ‘perfect’ and idealised. This creates a conflict, between the infant and its reflection which introduced the notion of beauty and the ‘ego’. Because the infant is not in control of coordination, the “wholeness” of the image becomes fragmented, creating rivalry between the infant and the image of itself.  Lacan describes the function of the mirror stage is to “establish a relation between the organism and its reality--or, as they say, between the Innenwelt and the Umwelt”. This means that the inner self is able to connect with its outside world, more like a reality within its environment. This idea also coincides with the idea of heteromorphic beauty, that in the subject’s environment, it sees beauty in other things that characterise within themselves or their physical exterior. This may be why people strive to adapt themselves to other people’s characteristics, in order to ‘boost’ their own ego and move closer towards their idealised image of themselves. This is obviously fictional and will never happen; it is about the subject being able to face up to reality and being truthful to it. Lacan describes the role of the mirror image as being derived from human nature and other animals.

Now that Lacan’s Mirror image theory has been described, we can now outline how Mulvey has incorporated this theory into her critique of film and how it relates to the film viewer. Mulvey describes one of the main concepts of Lacan’s theory which is the idea of the screen of which the film is showing becomes a mirror metaphorically. The person who is sitting watching the film identifies with a character on the screen, creating a rivalry between the subject and what they see in front of them, again reiterating the idea of a fragmented body, which will never be ‘whole’. Mulvey uses the idea of complete alienation of the subject’s feelings, because of the cinemas influence upon the subject to strive for a certain look, mainly a Hollywood movie star. This idea also coincides with the idea that the persons view is isolated; it is only the subject seeing the film, therefore the one desired image. The image being a handsome Hollywood film star, usually considered to be closest to the subjects ideal image of themselves and the nearest thing to a perfect image. So why do we continuously attend cinemas when we know we will never reach our own idealistic image as we see ‘mirrored’ at the cinema? Mulvey explains this using Lacan’s concept of animal morphological mimicry. Lacan states “animals seek to replicate features of their environment, not because it serves as camouflage against predators (it doesn't) but because the development of a notion of self is tied to the mastery of one's physical space”. Mulvey conveys this idea using a slightly different approach. The subject is already in rivalry with its self image which it reflects, in comparison to its inner self, but by going to the cinema, they are building a relationship with the ideal image...Subconsciously bringing the image closer to their ideal Hollywood image. But in reality, this brings false hope to the subject, creating an ongoing strive that will never be fulfilled, commonly known as the ego which is constantly trying to be ‘inflated’. Mulvey uses Lacan’s concept of the “I”, when discussing the role of women actresses in film and the notion as the ‘woman as an image’. Mulvey describes women as being in a “traditional exhibitionist role” and that they are traditionally looked at and displayed.  This suggests that women have two main functions in a film one of which relates to Lacan’s ideology. She is an erotic object for the characters within the screen and in the storyline. Secondly, adhering more to Lacan’s theory, is that she is an erotic object for the spectator within the auditorium. She then goes on to say with a “shifting tension between the looks on either side of the screen”; again this applies to Lacan’s idea of the mirror image and the constant strive for ego enhancement in the sense of the spectators view.  An example we could use, is seeing this idea in a male perspective. The two functions of the woman in the film become unified to the male spectator, in the sense that the male viewer can identify with the male character in the film. The role of the man in the film in his heroic character transforms the woman into a spectacle, thus for a moment creating a highly sexualised moment “outside its own time and space”. Maybe creating a sense of wholeness within the male spectator, but in reality this image is already fragmented and will always be so. The notion of the male viewer identifying with another male is Lacan’s idea of heteromorphic identification. Mulvey mentions that the “cinema satisfies a primordial wish for pleasurable looking” a fascination with likeness and recognition with outer body parts and the relationship between them and its environment. This relays Lacan’s mirror stage theory, at the stage when a child for the first time recognises its own image in the mirror, which is crucial for the creation of its ego. A major concept of this is that the ego then imitates misrecognition, the stage when once the ideal ego image has been formed; the real reflected image is the source of alienation for the subject.

In conclusion we can see a significant amount of Lacanian mirror image ideology in Mulveys’ critique of film. Although Mulvey seems to emphasise relationship with one’s self during the mirror stage, she uses this concept as her main focus point throughout her critique. With Lacan’s key concepts on his mirror image theory discussed, it becomes apparent how Mulvey has incorporated his ideas. For example, her notion of the screen being the mirror, which in Lacan’s theory would be the reflection of the subject or infant. The idea of the ‘whole’ and ‘fragmented’ body also appears in Mulvey’s critique. The idea of the film being a tool in which spectators battle their own ego and constantly ponder with their own view of their self image the ‘I’ the reality image and the false inner image that is striven for in ones life. “Innenwelt and the Umwelt” is the term Lacan uses to describe this. The idea of the role of an actress in films also uses ideology from Lacan’s theory, and how the spectator reacts to the erotic significance of the actress whilst a relationship is formed with the male character in the film. Thus creating an idea of heteromorphic identification and its interaction with the battle with ones ego. Homeomorphic identification on the other hand, is the subject’s identification with its self, when for the first time sees its reflection and identifies the image as “me”. As we can see Mulvey uses Lacan’s image quite extensively in order to describe the relationship between psychology and film.


J. Lacan. ‘The mirror stage as formative of the function of the I as revealed in psychoanalytic experience’ 1977, Ecrites: A selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (London: Routledge, 1977) 1-7.
L. Mulvey, ‘Visual pleasure and narrative cinema’, screen 16.3 (autumn 1975) 6-18. 

Saturday, 19 May 2012

The David’s of Donatello, Verrocchio and Michelangelo.

How did materials, sculptural traditions and political contexts shape each artists work? To what extent did the positioning of sculptures affect their meanings and even allow them to be appropriated? What particular challenges did the figure of David offer sculptures and what accounts for their different responses to them?

When we think of the most famous statue in the world, we are most likely to recall the figure of David. Large figure sculpture was an important element in renaissance art and played a key role in the growth of artistic culture in renaissance Florence. However, with three different artists having sculpted three different variations of David, it is interesting as to why within the renaissance period; they would result in being so visually contrasting. Here I will be answering the question as to why the three artists, Donatello, Verrocchio and Michelangelo, created such different perceptions of David, and what was it that may have encouraged these differences.  Looking at the sculptures from an artistic viewpoint, I will be questioning how materials, sculptural traditions within Florence, and the positioning of the sculptures may have given rise to challenges for the artists, and what it was that created the differentiation between the three of them. Moreover, I shall be analysing the political situations of renaissance Florence, what were people’s reactions to the statues and how this may have affected the artist’s choices as well as the end products.
Firstly, it is important to consider the importance of large figure sculpture in renaissance Florence and how the ideas for these sculptures emerged.  The substantial use of sculpture throughout Florence is a result of artistic tradition throughout the culture movement; the renaissance.  The Medici family, who was granted the greater part of European commerce for their success in new business methods, after Florence’s economy had been severely hit by the Black death of 1348[1], donated a large portion of their profit to public projects, most importantly towards improvement of the arts.  The seven guilds were created to run Florence, they consisted of the trades and professions considered most important, all having a strong social and political standing.  So how was sculpture used by patrons in this sense? Sculpture was commissioned largely by the guilds and political parties, which would accompany and aesthetically maintain the architecture of city. This leads us onto why the three statues of David were commissioned, why they were so important to Florence and finally how the artist’s executions of the three different pieces differ with reference to materials, sculptural traditions and political context. 

In order to make comparisons, we must look at each piece of work carefully in chronological order and in correspondence to its artist and their methods. Why a sculpture of David in renaissance Florence? David represented the Florentine republic. Donatello’s bronzed David was the first to be sculpted, with work starting in the 1430s when the piece was commissioned by wealthy patron Cosimo De Medici, ending in the 1460s ready to be installed in the court of the Palazzo Medici. Donatello had been known as being a sculptor of marble, but once he had become established, he started working in bronze which applies a different method than the subtraction of marble; bronze is a modelling type of material. The piece is made from a technique known as bronze casting which in renaissance time needed much equipment, expertise and money. It has been noted that it was the first artistic piece in which catalysed the emergence of renaissance art in Italy. So how did Donatello execute this commission artistically speaking? The key idea surrounding this piece is heroism. Donatello created the David in a true renaissance style of triumph, pride and elegance. As we know and see in David’s numerous depictions, he was to kill Goliath the giant using a sling and stone. In this particular statue, Donatello created the moment after the killing had taken place. It is interesting that the story suggests such masculinity and strength, but when we look at the statue we can’t help but feel a sense of ambiguity towards its representation. This notion is reinforced in the way that the young David is shown in a feminine cotrapposto, predominant S curved pose, whilst the contrast is created by David holding goliaths sword, creating an aura of physicality. In sculptural tradition, a statue as ambiguous and flamboyant as this had not been seen before. After all Donatello’s David is considered the statue in Florence, which created much controversy for the following political reasons. During the renaissance period, at least at the beginning, homosexuality was illegal and therefore considered a crime. So why did the statue create such controversy in regards to political context and previous classical tradition? Visually, the statue is flamboyant, stylistic, and rather decoratively accessorized; all attributes which were considered being reflective of an effeminate statue, it was open to question therefore the sexuality of Donatello its creator.  The statue is smooth, sleek and slender promoting a rather feminine feel towards it. David is also wearing an elaborately designed hat covering his long wavy hair which could well be a shepherd boy hat, as the bible describes David as a simple shepherd boy; along with knee high boots. Whether it was a conscious decision of Donatello’s to make the piece so feminine, or whether he was overtaken with the idea of creating something so decorative and elaborate that the end result was in case rather ambiguous, is an interesting question to raise when at a time of such political values were put in place. The piece accentuates a female anatomical pose with its positioning otherwise known as lordosis, which provides a tilt to the pelvis and creates a groove in the lower back creating a larger accumulation of fat around the abdomen; also his legs are much wider than those of a male nude. The piece reminds us of the womanly hourglass shape, created by accentuating the hips and pelvis. The inclusion of the hat, boots and sword seem to accentuate the nakedness of the statue, as well as the heroism and youth of David. Bearing this in mind, the statues nakedness and exposition of the genital area was indeed also seen as controversial as no one had seen an artwork including a naked man since the times of classical antiquity, maybe this was the breakthrough, a chance to rebel against tradition; which is what this statue and in essence what the renaissance provided. It is as if this statue was in rivalry with the antiques.  There is enough evidence from antiquity that this David was made as an adaption from studies of  iconographical works seen throughout antiquity,  because is it true that in Christian purity iconography we do not see firstly nude bronze statues, but also the sword and additional aesthetic detailing? In political terms the piece has been described as being commissioned by the Medici in order to “To cloak their dynastic ambitions under the ideal of republican rule”[2] as well as being a clear reference towards tyrannicide. With the Medici’s control over Florence being threatened , in 1458 Cosimo devised changes that would weaken the traditional republic governmental structuring, which meant that the citizens voting system was supervised by armed military ensuring the families consolidation of power would be carried out. This of course was successful in that the Medici’s ruled for a further eight years. In order to then make themselves seem less tyranny led, having the statue of David in an open space in their courtyard serves as a political strategy in conveying the family as patriotic leaders who were proud of the Florence they had help pioneer through the use of art. 
The next Sculpture of David we will be analysing is by Verrocchio. Of all the three sculptures we will be looking at, it is Donatello and Verrocchio’s pieces in which we can visually see a strong connection artistically speaking.  Verrocchio’s David was also commissioned by the Medici, Lorenzo and Giuliano, when work began in 1473 taking 2 years to complete. The statue is bronze like Donatello’s David and exaggerates the use of cotrapposto, but we can see a striking difference between the levels of modesty Verrocchio has given his statue in comparison to Donatello’s nude. I think Verrocchio’s approach to portraying a young David in this sculpture was to make him represent the epitome of heroism. We are given the clear indication as to the time frame in which we are seeing David; a severed head belonging to Goliath indicates the killing of Goliath has already taken place. Obviously the piece is an accentuation of Donatello’s David, which is most striking in the placement of the sword and raised arm with the hand placed upon the hip. Donatello’s David seems to be inferior in the ideal of a hero when compared to Verrocchio’s; this becomes evident by looking at the expression on Verrocchio’s David alone. Verrocchio has portrayed David as a strong, confident warrior, all dependants of a masculine anatomy which is portrayed through the use of prominent chest muscles, which are covered with a decorative but not overly elaborate breast plate, his arm and leg muscles seem to still be tense, maybe from the action that had occurred, this notion is brought to life by the prominent veins and tort muscle definition. The bronzing method used to make the piece compliments this idea also, making the outline of the body create life like formations, the light and shade gives the statue the essence of actual space and magnificent grandeur.

Michelangelo’s David 1501-1504[3], is one of the world’s most recognisable pieces of sculpture, considered a masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance and one of Michelangelo’s most celebrated works. It captures David in a pose dissimilar to the statues of Donatello and Verrocchio. The main difference is in the material used by Michelangelo, the piece is made from strong Carrara marble, as opposed to the bronze of both previous states looked at. Michelangelo’s depiction of David is not one of victory or combat, but merely a representation of David’s calm contemplation towards the killing of Goliath, displaying strength of the human form.  On Michelangelo’s return from Rome in 1501, he found himself in Florence beginning the statue of David which he saw as a symbol of Republican government.  So how does this last piece compare and contrast towards the earlier David’s of Verrocchio and Donatello we have seen? To begin with Michelangelo’s depiction of David is the most iconic, in the sense of spirituality and energy. The giant marble piece has a relic appeal about it, and without any weapons or armory protection this shows the strength. The facial expression displays the brave, noble charisma of a victorious mortal hero. The figure is shown stepping forward but captured in a moment in time as if standing still, whereas the previous two statues are stylised poses.  We can see Michelangelo’s “Neo-platonic myth”[4] approach towards his sculpture very much present in his David, often referred to as one of the great works of the high renaissance. The piece played an important political role within Florence in the form of its site position within the city. The majority of Florentine artists made up a committee and were the group to decide the setting of David; the Piazza della Signoria was the site of the civic government of Florence, with the warning stare headed towards Rome as a reminder of the Medici’s control over the city.

Looking at the three different statues of David and how the three different artists chose to portray  him in different ways, it is interesting to see why each artist chose to do this and how their designs were interlinked with Florence’s political issues at the time. I think the artists were heavily influenced by the Medici’s control and demands for a republican representative, in which case was David himself. However with three different statues being commissioned, the artists were bound to create them with reference towards the previous David’s created prior to their execution. We can see this was evident in the styles and general positioning of the statues. One main differing element is the materials used, Donatello’s statue was the first bronze male nude since antiquity, he created the field within renaissance sculpture as many bronze works followed, namely the David of Verrocchio which is very distinctive of Donatello’s work. This was a break with tradition, which saw a new tradition in sculpture and fundamentally the sculpture of the renaissance. With sculpture becoming more established with the artists, Michelangelo sculpted the David which is most reminiscent of the male anatomy. With Michelangelo basing his creation on drawings from real bodies and anatomical studies the result also saw the tradition of life-drawing and detailing of proportion rise. The artwork cannot be seen as ever creating difficulties for the artists whilst designing and sculpting, but the challenges I would say lied within the public’s perception of them, after they were unveiled. Living in the times of the Medici rule would of course mean that statues of the likes of these were sure to create some controversy. However, all three statues are celebrated amongst art historians and general art admirers for their role within Florence and as a catalyst for aesthetic creation of work and admiration in the Renaissance.

Avery.C, Florentine Renaissance Sculpture, John Murray Ltd. London, 1970.
Greenhalgh.M, Donatello and his sources, Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd, London, 1982.
R.J.M Olson, Italian Renaissance Sculpture, Thames and Hudson Ltd, London, 1992- reprinted 1997.

S.B. McHam, Donatello’s Bronze “David” and “Judith” as metaphors of Medici Rule in Florence, Source: The art Bulletin, Vol. 83, No.1 (March 2001), pp.32-47. College Art Association. Accessed: 04/05/2010.

Image References:

[1]  Italian Renaissance Sculpture, Thames and Hudson Ltd, page 37.
[2] S.B. McHam, Donatello’s Bronze “David” and “Judith” as metaphors of Medici Rule in Florence.
[3] Avery.C, Florentine Renaissance Sculpture, John Murray Ltd. London, page 178.
[4] R.J.M Olson, Italian Renaissance Sculpture, Thames and Hudson Ltd, London, page 157. 

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Artist on Twitter – @KTeeartist Urban Art – Acrylics

I remember following @KTeeartist on twitter and the vibrant red avatar she had, It was only after a few days that I learnt two imperative things, 1. She was not Jeff Salmon; in fact she was a lady artist, and 2. She was a talented artist whose art was as awesome as her long list of films she had worked on!

Yes, @KTeeartist has a 10 year history of working as a prop maker in the film industry, with big names like Harry Potter, Bonds and Captain America to name a few on the list. Yes, @KTeeartist’s creativity has been used in blockbuster films; next time you watch them, be sure to tell your friends! With already a colourful background in art, @KTeeartist decided around 6 months ago, that she would become a full time artist and follow her dream of doing what she loves, in having the freedom in which to do so.

@KTeeartist has a set of paintings on her website, where a selection have been shown in a January 2011 group show at Brick Lane Gallery in London.  I began to get a flavour of @KTeeartist art, the main thoughts I had were that her Urban subject was extremely accessible, an attribute which is very rare in contemporary art today;  an intriguing mixture of reality and irony with regards to subject matter. Technique and interpretation go hand in hand, the way in which “Aimee” is painted; the angle and sudden accented introduction of paint halfway across the canvas gives the idea of the subject emerging from the canvas, coming into our space. For me, this is also a metaphor for the paintings subjective meaning, not purely pictorial. These painting are asking something of us, as a viewer. We see isolated subjects, focal points of the canvas, we as human beings look to judge what has been given to us to look at.  @KTeeartist provides titles with her works, and with a title such as “Innocent Hoodie”, the brilliant mechanism this sets up is that we are forced to take back and re-evaluate any preconceived notions about the image presented and its social meaning within an urban setting.  Would we still have these feelings about the piece if @KTeeartist hadn’t provided us with the title? Maybe, then again, maybe not?

The paintings play with our innate, internal ideas we have, be it about war, politics, our sociology and even our morals. The art is interactive, and as I said before, this compliments its accessibility to the everyday art viewer, which is important when painting such subjects.  We can certainly feel that bold statements are being made, and this is amplified by the use of bold contrasting tones, emanating from a calmer, quieter background colour.
The power of TV and twitter brought @KTeeartist’s attention to the self proclaimed “Demi-God of Four Rooms” Jeff Salmon.  After talking to @KTeeartist about her art, Jeff had 4 of @KTeeartist’s paintings installed in his London Gallery “Decoratum”.  Four Rooms was due for another series and @KTeeartist put the idea to Jeff about having his portrait in his room. “I suggested my idea of a portrait of him for his room, he loved the idea!”  I can certainly see why a portrait of Jeff was a good idea, for me the image is powerful, bold and its deep red surface emanates a quality of danger somehow. Its composition, colour and technique remind me of the iconic, universal “Che Guevara” image. This then serves as a simulacrum, which cleverly at the same time abolishes any prior trend, creating a whole new meaning for itself as an image. Jeff is a successful dealer, a maverick himself, and is coming into contact with old and new narratives constantly; this idea compliments this simulacrum idea nicely.  I liked how my interpretation seemed to be accurate, after seeing Jeff’s approach to dealing in the show! Dice, gambling= risk. “The one you see in the show is a print of the original; the original that hangs in his office is almost 2 meters high!” Yes, a very powerful portrait.

“My personal feelings on politics/war are quite strong so when I first saw a Banksy in 2003 I distinctively remember thinking, Yes! Speak your mind!” I love this. @KTeeartist is using an identifiable style in which to not only question our world, but to be outspoken and this is important for an artist’s point of view and of course the viewer. For what greater act is there, than as an artist creating a subject for debate in which people can question, reflect and most imperatively learn about such rich subjects that society is facing today ? And also, indeed what this may hold for our future generations and the sacrifices people have and will continue to make? The pieces suggest action, especially the soldier piece. The actions taken by others, people’s actions securing other peoples futures, futures being placed in other people’s hands, we are invited to rethink our actions, what will become of it all?

In summary, for me @KTeeartist subjects are a call for understanding, an awareness of what is happening. Her work arouses stirring feelings of poignancy. With all things considered, she is a significantly crucial talent in art who needs to be followed!

@KTeeartist is currently working on finishing her pieces for her first solo exhibition which is set to open at the Decoratum Gallery, Church Street, London this year.  With a new set up to her exhibit and promising bright colour, serving up some serious imagery, why wouldn’t you go and check it out! I know I shall be. You can catch her painting of Jeff in his room on Four Rooms channel 4 Wednesdays at 8pm.

Check out @KTeeartist’s website for all imagery and twitter for exhibition details.
and go Follow! - @KTeeartist

Monday, 30 April 2012

~ Transgressive Obsessive ~

I love what you hate,
I hate what you love.
I closely watch the magpie & crow,
Rather than the pure white dove.
True concept, only makes sweet sense,
When you start to inhale & tense.
Moving to an irregular beat, a way- I shall play.
My mind dances beautifully, a pretty kick.
Never a fleeting chance,
That the ordinary shall ever stay.

"Artists on Twitter" - @Oilybloke - Portrait Artist.

@Oilybloke  PORTRAIT ARTIST - Oils.

There are two things I love about @Oilybloke, which are relevant to this blog post. He paints the old masters in a style which is not only complimentary to them, but also oozes originality in style. Secondly, he shares my passion for cake. He has painted since he was a child, but progressed to paint with oils just 4 years ago. He states that it was his father, also a fine artist, who influenced him to do the same.

The first painting I saw of @Oilybloke’s was his Vermeer 'Girl with the Pearl Earring' study. Being a lover of contemporary art myself, there was something seductive to the mind, about the old masters being painted today, fresh and yet, still knowing what the cult value of such a representation means to the world of art. Of course this brings into question Walter Benjamin’s argument of aura and authenticity.  @Oilybloke’s painting flips Benjamin’s argument around. In that yes we know for sure it wasn’t painted by Vermeer, but instead of gripping onto the idea of authenticity, we still hold on to the fact that the piece still ignites a sense of aura, because it is the appreciation and homage being paid to Vermeer, which makes us take on a completely new thought process, for when we visually digest and connect to the piece.

Being a portrait painter, @Oilybloke not only reignites iconic portrait imagery into the 21st century, he also paints contemporary figures which are recognisable to our contemporary times.  This is what I love. Having the knowledge to understand the cultural and social disconnection between let’s say Jodie Marsh and the Girl with the pearl earring, but then again, because of @Oilybloke’s attention to detail and hyper realistic technique, we can form a relationship subjectively between the two, even the similarity in composition between the two aids us in this. Time scale becomes irrelevant and it is the representation of two women painted in a beautifully pure style. It is the technique and talent that we celebrate. When talking about a hyper-realistic style, @Oilybloke relates to artists who achieve realism in their work, such as David Kassan and Jeremy Lipkin. Ultimately, I can look at one of @Oilybloke’s portraits, not even know the person, but still be given an understanding of them, of their mannerisms and nature somehow. This is a great achievement for any portrait artist, and for me is paramount to our connection with a piece of art.

Not only does @Oilybloke paint a variety of subjects but we can also see a variety of style and certainly experimentation with colour and composition among his selection of works. I think one of the main attributes which attracted me to @Oilybloke’s work is his excellent use of chiaroscuro. A pioneering technique utilised by the old masters and as a monochrome photographer myself, a technique which is very pleasing to the eye in any form of art. @Oilybloke’s use of chiaroscuro highlights his attention not only to detail, but it is this detail which creates such an array of textures, which bring the pieces to life. I can be as bold to say that we could describe him as a “human camera!” reviewing a high resolution photograph and relaying all of the visual information onto a canvas, but with just as much personality, soul and charm, permeating through and diffusing from them. @Oilybloke’s portraits are deeply humanistic. They are fun, original and his choice of image, scale and composition makes for a great set of animated, vibrant pieces.

@Oilybloke has recently run a twitter competition, offering tweeters the chance of having their portrait painted by him, you can follow the progress of the winners images by checking out and following his blog GO FOLLOW!   @Oilybloke 

BY @JileyArtRade 

Sunday, 29 April 2012

What do were-jaguars tell us about the Olmec religious beliefs?

Mesoamerican cultures produced some of the most cultural intriguing artefacts that we have ever uncovered and are most ever likely to see. Their recovered art and architecture acts as a time capsule enabling us to learn about their culture, including their religious beliefs and practices. The style of art most primitive to Mesoamerican culture, namely the Olmec (1200-600B.C)[1]. Known as the “mother culture”[2] it is characterized by architecture, engravings, basalt sculpture and smaller portable relics all found within various sites of Mexico.  One recurring motif that is apparent throughout all mediums of these arts and certain cites is that of the “were-jaguar”.  The aim of this essay is to establish what the iconography of the “were-jaguar” in Olmec art meant to the Olmec civilisation, in terms of their mythology, religion and religious practices.
There are varying theories as to how the were-jaguar iconography originated in Olmec culture and why the motif is used at all. To be able to consider these theories and apply them to the artworks we must first distinguish the prominent features of the were-jaguar and why it was important to the Olmec religion. The Olmec way of life and beliefs were centred on the concept of duality. This is where the notion of the jaguar becomes fundamental, the Olmec believed in cosmic dualities such as night and day as well as Earth and sky. The Jaguar is part of a dualism which represents an optimum spirit, which possesses the mind and spirit of a man and the strength and agility of a jaguar, representing the dualism of the aerial and terrestrial. This becomes evident later when we consider the importance of the Olmec practice of shamanism.  So how realistic was the Jaguar featured when exemplified in Olmec art? The main attributes that were used and can be used to identify a were-jaguar in the art are an amalgamation of man and Jaguar incorporating a cleft head, almond shaped eyes which are sometimes slanted and a downturned open mouth. They weren’t prime examples of jaguars but the animalistic features notify the viewer that they are not wholly human. There is no solid evidence of the origin of the jaguar motif and is heavily debated, but there have been many theories to suggest its origins based upon the knowledge we now have of the Olmec civilisation and beliefs. I shall now address some of these theories. A theory that has become well established is the “Stirling Hypothesis” created by Matthew Stirling in 1955[3]. This theory proposes that the were-jaguar was produced through the mating of a Jaguar and an Olmec female human. There are other archaeologists who supported Stirling in this hypothesis, for example, Michael Coe[4]. Another theory suggests that the motif is a representation of genetic disorder that affected the Olmec civilisation through deformity, but why would the jaguar, an animal be the product of human genetic disorder?  There is also the obvious notion that the Jaguar could have had slightly different meanings to the Olmec throughout the civilization at varying times. However the remaining monuments cannot be allocated a time frame as the works were usually mutilated and then buried. The most probable belief of the origin of the were-jaguars motif is that the Jaguar held an incredible amount of spiritual meaning for the humans and therefore became incorporated into the Olmec iconography as a deity which was amalgamated with human representation. However, now we have an overview of possibilities as to how the were-jaguar motif was formed, it will be useful to look at the Olmec art which incorporated the motif in order to gain a more detailed insight as to how the motif was used for purposes in Olmec religion.
We can gain a higher understanding of Olmec religion in certain were-jaguar iconography artworks, the first one I shall analyse is the seated figure holding a were-jaguar baby found at Las Limas. This work has been considered the “Rosetta stone”[5] of Olmec art and has been referred to as a “Madonna”[6]. This sculpture is made from greenstone and is cradling an infant or “were-jaguar”, we know this because if exemplifies jaguar-like features. This piece of sculpture not only holds importance for the representation of the jaguar alone, if we look at this piece carefully it tells us more about the Olmec artistry and ultimately their beliefs.  The shoulder and knees of the human are inscribed with profile heads, four in total which represent Pantheon Gods. They are as follows; the death god, crocodilian earth monster, fire god and the god of spring vegetation. These gods reveal more about the Olmec mythology, for instance, the most important god was a dragon whom is opposed by a bird monster. We can also see the maize god inscribed on the chin of the figure which opposes the rain god which is represented by the were-jaguar baby itself.  The remaining two gods, the death god and the god of spring vegetation are also in opposition; the death god represented by a fish god, vegetation god is represented as a banded-eye god which is a motif for the rebirth of life. What this tells us about Olmec religion is that there was never only one reigning God, but rather multiple ones (much like their leaders) that were for different elements of worship within their belief system. Moving onto different artefacts that the Olmec created, which also carry the were-jaguar motif as well as the gods mentioned earlier are pectorals and axes or Celts, obviously used for different purposes than that of the sculptures. These give us an even further insight to Olmec religion as well as materials used within the culture. In interest of this essay, it is interesting to consider the axes and pictorials that are anthropomorphic in keeping with the were-jaguar motif. Were-jaguar motifs on Axes made of Jade were especially considered important because Jade itself was considered to withhold life within the stone; this was believed to revive humans in the afterlife by placing a “small circular piece”[7] in their mouths. One axe that is of particular importance and interest of this essay is one found at “Mound A, Tomb E at the site of La venta”[8] by Matthew Stirling who I mentioned earlier. The axe was made into two segments which represent a head and a body below, it is of trapezoid shape and crafted from a block of green stone which was cool to the touch which suggested a representation of the element water locked inside the stone. The were-jaguar motifs can be seen, such as the downturned mouth, flattened nose, and the V-shaped cleft, but there is more iconography represented through the use of the flame eyebrow motif. Bright red cinnabar situated in the grooves of the features identifies the fire dragon as well as blood which were a sacred substance, all of which define Olmec art. This is an important axe because it contains a duality that the Mesoamerican believed existed between the celestial realm and humans on earth, the amalgamation of the two fire and water elements as well as the incorporation of the jaguar suggests that they were closely associated with their gods and that metaphors were used for these dualities through the use of natural materials.
The Olmec not only included the were-jaguar motif in their sculptural art but it was also incorporated in art as body ornaments or otherwise known as “pectorals which were placed on the chest”[9].  Different from the mainstream sculptures and altars, I feel an analysis of a pectoral will ensure a wide range of sources covered in order to enforce the notion of the were-jaguars presence throughout a large portion of Olmec art and sites.  At the smaller Olmec site of La Encrucijada (twenty-five miles)[10] from La Venta an elliptical shaped pectoral was discovered which bears the were-jaguar features, most prominently slanted and elongated eyes, a wide flattened nose, the cleft in the head and the gummed downturned mouth. It proves that the were-jaguar motif was a fundamental design in Olmec art as it was even worn by the humans in the form of ornaments; of course, these could have been worn during religious shamanic rituals which I will now explain in more detail, of how the jaguar is of significance during ritual transformations.
According to Scott, “The blend of human and animal suggests shamanic transformation and the spirits seen in the shaman’s visions”[11].  Of course this could only be achieved alongside the intake of hallucinogens that would help human shamans reach a trance like state which was said to take the human soul higher towards the Gods, and by morphing into and reaching a were jaguar amalgamation a human would take on the status of the prestigious jaguar and be in the support of the Gods, in the process of retrieving stolen souls. If we are to believe the Stirling hypothesis, the jaguar would be the Olmec ancestors living in the underworld and celestial realms acting almost as an avatar between the alive and dead .The Olmec would rely on these journeys in order to gain power, with the guidance of animals as their guide. Whereas toads, which were also used in this process, represented a cycle, as in a shedding of a skin, this provides the metaphor as to how the humans embodied a transformed body of human and jaguar to become an entirely new species when entering the celestial realms of the Gods. When a shaman was depicted as being in a trance state, the Olmec would represent the were-jaguar in a kneeling pose, which to us signifies that a religious and spiritual practice is taking place. It was also common to depict certain stages within the transformation, which is interesting because when an artist created one of these works from sacred materials the artist’s power was said to become consumed within the object, essentially heightening its power. The actual transformation of the material through crafting aimed to equate to the power of the shamans following ritualistic transformation. It seems then that to evolve fully to jaguar status was incredibly important to shamans and that only full power would be achieved through a fully completed sacred artefact.  So what does this tell us about Olmec religion? The issue of duality appears here once again, the human leaders were trying to establish a duality with the gods through transformation during worship and with the jaguar being considered as a spiritual companion for humans and also a deity within Olmec religion. It is for the were-jaguar to be the example of shamanist morphing when exploring realms between earth and the higher realms. Having established the idea of shamanism alongside this, the Olmec may have used the morphing figures themselves as sacred relics when trying to reach the were-jaguar state during shamanism, in other words the art was created to give the shaman or ruler power equating the Jaguar to the shamans alter-ego as it were.
The main conclusion we can draw from analysing the Olmec civilisation and their art that featured the were-jaguar motif, is essentially that the motif was fundamental in their religious practices. It is widely utilised in their art to represent its importance in their beliefs, from sculptures, axes to carvings. We learn a substantial amount from these works, most importantly what kinds gods and rulers the Olmec worshiped, so we don’t only learn about the Olmec mythology, but also we learn about their craftsmanship and how they chose to represent them through iconography. Another major element of Olmec religion which is represented through the were-jaguar motif is the practice of shamanism. This informs us in that if what the Olmec believed about the underworld and celestial realms and transformation towards a higher plane; essentially establishing a cosmic duality with the gods. The materials used when making the were-jaguars, such as precious Jade stone shows that the Olmec were making actual relics that were so sacred that they were willing to use the most prestigious materials to make a statement. The were-jaguar was essentially a metaphorical motif which the Olmec used vastly throughout their art, it represented strength and agility of the Olmec by creating an amalgamation of the humans and of the strong, ferocious land animal, it is therefore considered a deity within their religion.

Benson,E.P,  B. Fuente, Olmec art of ancient Mexico, National Gallery of Art, 1996.
Eliade,M,  the Encylopedia of religion, Volume 11, Macmillan, 1987. Pp.66.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, John.P.O’Neill editor in chief, Mexico Splendours of thirty centuries, Bulfinch press, 1990.
Scott,J.F,  Latin American Art, Ancient to Modern, The university press of Florida, 1999.

Web Sources:

[1] J.F.Scott, Latin American Art, Ancient to Modern, The university press of Florida, 1999. Pp.27
[2] J.F.Scott, Latin American Art, Ancient to Modern, The university press of Florida, 1999.pp.29
[3] M.Eliade, the Encylopedia of religion, Volume 11, Macmillan, 1987. Pp.66.
[5] E.P.Benson, B. Fuente, Olmec art of ancient Mexico, National Gallery of Art, 1996. Pp170.
[6] J.F.Scott, Latin American Art, Ancient to Modern, The university press of Florida, 1999 Pp 28.
[7] J.F.Scott, Latin American Art, Ancient to Modern, The university press of Florida, 1999.pp 29.
[8] Metropolitan Museum of Art, John.P.O’Neill editor in chief, Mexico Splendours of thirty centuries, Bulfinch press, 1990. Pp65.

[9] Metropolitan Museum of Art, John.P.O’Neill editor in chief, Mexico Splendours of thirty centuries, Bulfinch press, 1990. Pp.66.
[10] Metropolitan Museum of Art, John.P.O’Neill editor in chief, Mexico Splendours of thirty centuries, Bulfinch press, 1990. Pp67.
[11] J.F.Scott, Latin American Art, Ancient to Modern, The university press of Florida, 1999. Pp. 27.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

“The Legend of Las Meninas”. To what extent can Velazquez’s painting be considered as a philosophy of art?

What do we think of when we hear the word legend? More importantly, can we apply it to a piece of 17th century art?  Velazquez’s Las Meninas, 1656, is a visually stimulating, carefully calculated yet complex piece, which has been established as a “philosophy of art”. Since its exposure in the Museo Del Prado which opened in 1819, it has become a subject of continuous debate amongst art historians, as to its interpretation of subject matter, critique of both portraiture and group portraiture, composition and its unfolding commutative techniques. It has been noted for its precise methodology. However more importantly, as the “Apex of Velazquez’s achievements”, eventually becoming famous for its influence on later pieces by modern artists such as Picasso and Salvador Dali.  By looking at these different elements of the paintings success, I will determine whether in painting the Las Meninas, Velazquez did achieve the notion of a “Philosophy of art” within a painting.
By looking firstly at the paintings visual techniques and pictorial mechanisms Velazquez used in the piece, it will become evident why such a complex piece of art has gained such high status in western art, over such a large time period. Velazquez himself used the painting to show his social status, after all he was the Court painter and Curator of King Phillip IV’s, given reasonable responsibility in his role. Velázquez soon became widely respected for his work within the field of painting and management of the Prado’s collection, which is said to still be influenced by Velazquez’s curatorship.[1] Of course, the painting very much respected throughout Spain, very much so in the 19th century, “(Las Meninas)...deserves to be regarded and protected as the most precious jewel of (Spanish) painting”, Narciso Sentenach[2]. This shows the extent of the master piece status people had placed on the piece. Now, by looking at Velazquez’s use of reality, illusion, composition, mystery and portraiture, we can begin to comprehend this notion of an amalgamation of artistic themes in a single piece of art. When we look at the piece, we see eleven faces looking back at us, some would say it is a complex group portrait, or it may also be perceived as many singular portraits all serving their unique purpose within the painting. In the centre we see Philip IV’s five year old daughter, the infanta Margarita[3], with two ladies in waiting at either side of her, with the one to her right, Maria Agustina Sarmiento de Sotomayor, attending to her with a drink on a tray. To the extreme right of the piece, stand two dwarfs, a female German named Maribarbola and to her left, an Italian named Nicolas Pertusato looking down at a rather elegantly painted Mastiff. In the middle ground to the right stands the princesses chaperone that is said to be in conversation with a bodyguard who is painted in shadow. In the far background we can see the Queen’s chamberlain looking into Velazquez’s studio; where the painting is set. To the middle left of the painting, stands Velazquez himself, working on a painting but of what we don’t know, could it be the Las Meninas? This leads us on to Velazquez’s use of mystery and illusion within the painting, which is a fundamental aspect of its relationship with the spectator and its legendary reputation.
The most famous critique of the piece is centred on the viewpoint of the spectator, and this is because of the portrait in the background which is rather ambiguous, in being that it could be a reflection of the King and Queen whom are being painted by Velazquez and the scene we look at is their family watching them being painted, or in fact it could be a framed portrait. This leads us to believe that we must be standing next to the King and Queen. If in fact the image is a reflection. This composition is a common debatable point amongst art historians, which ultimately makes us question art and its capabilities to rouse a debatable response from the spectator. The fact that Velazquez was able to do this in this way, by creating such mystery and illusion, it is therefore considered a theology of painting for other artists to be educated and create new works from. Las Meninas is surely considered one of the fundamental paintings in western art, much so, that in the 19th century it was proclaimed the “philosophy of art” by Sir Thomas Lawrence[4]. But what has made the painting such a legend? Here I will look at the factors contributing to the paintings high prestige and legacy. Firstly, if we look towards the later 20th century, in the early modernistic schools of art, we can see that Las Meninas had a direct influence among artists themes and techniques, namely Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali.
Picasso first saw the Las Meninas in 1895, when he was just fourteen years old. But in years to come he was to create his series of variations amounting to forty-five paintings plus thirteen related works. Picasso indeed recognised Velazquez as an old master of realism, but as the creator of cubism; he saw to paint within his own traditional style, creating full sized interpretations as well as smaller singular portraits. The one work from Picassos’ series, which is most faithful to Velazquez’s composition, is in fact the first painting of the series Las Meninas, after Velazquez I, 17 August 1957. The first thing we notice is the large figure of Velazquez, larger than any other of the figures. It is interesting how he has used a strikingly similar composition, but has managed to manipulate shapes as well as the light and shade in order to create something in a sense, unique to his style. The subject of the painting most influential to Picasso was the infanta. In Picasso’s first piece, we can see a distinct liking of the two; even though the comparison is quite uncanny. We know this aspect had a substantial influence upon Picassos work for the rest of the series; the infanta appeared in fourteen other variations, but as a single portrait. Salvador Dali, a fellow Spaniard of Picassos, is the next artists to create variations on the Las Meninas. It is well documented that Dali saw the variations as a challenging competition between himself and Picasso. He began with painting Velazquez painting the infanta Margarita with the lights and shadows of his own glory, 1958.  This is an interesting choice of subject to paint, as it centres on the infanta; one of Picassos continuing subject throughout this series. As with Picasso, who created a substantial amount of work on the Las Meninas style and influence; America saw James McNeill Whistler creating paintings of a similar style. If we look at the artist in his studio 1865-1866, we can see that the focus is on the artist, who is painted in a mirror image reflection pose of Velazquez in the original Las Meninas; his gaze is also fixed upon us as he paints. This suggests that the Las Meninas was fundamentally influential to some prestigious 19th century through to 20th century art around the world.
When considering the Las Meninas as a legendary masterpiece in western art, it is important to consider the regional prestige. Furthermore, this will help to consider the extent of the pieces’ “philosophy of art” status in various countries, namely 19th century Britain and America. Also known as “The maids of honour”, in Britain it was only considered a master piece in which many other artists were influenced, plus only as a “master piece in waiting”. Things started to change in the British opinion of Las Meninas through influential events in the 19th and 20th century. It was a combination of post World War 1, the Tate moderns’ gallery exhibition of Picasso’s 1957 variations series; British museums played a major part in exhibiting most of the art from Spain[5]. As well as critical research and writings, British artists and more importantly the British public recognised its influential prestige, as a masterpiece which displays uniqueness of context as well as portrayal of artistic excellence. It is important to recognise the British artist’s attitude to the piece, as it was them of course who created Las Meninas influenced works thereafter. As for America, Velazquez was well known to the Americans in the latter half of the 19th century. Velazquez, as a painter in general had a major impact upon the Americans, whom in the late 19th century were experiencing social hardships as a result of nationalism and the growing industrial manufacturing system. Americans stated that his work was a factor in developing American culture through tough times; though claiming his artwork to be a milestone in the “grand tradition of European art history”[6].

When we think of the term legend, we think of a tale or moment in time that has a tie to a historical event or location, which is believable but is not necessarily believed. So it is our choice as to whether we can validate Las Meninas legendary status from evidence shown throughout this essay. From looking at different aspects of Las Meninas successes, it is evident that Velazquez did paint a legendary piece of complex art, worthy as an example in arts philosophy and of course its influence upon later artists. The piece is certainly appreciated for its accumulation of Velazquez’s painterly and compositional techniques, as well as the use of mystery, illusion and portraiture. With some 19th century critics noting it as “photographic”[7] in regards to naturalism, this is all Velazquez could have wanted in such a work, and I agree that it has captured a discussion in a painting. Conclusively, it would seem that Las Meninas has gained a high philosophy of art status, as it is still talked about, people go to see it, to experience the grandeur of it, study it, and it is generally praised for being a masterpiece.

S.L, Stratton-Pruitt, Masterpieces of western painting, Velazquez’s Las Meninas, Cambridge University Press 2003.
David Howarth, The invention of Spain: cultural relations between Britain and Spain, 1770-1870. Manchester University Press, 2007. Pg190

Velázquez and Las Meninas, Madlyn Millner Kahr, the Art Bulletin, Vol. 57, No. 2, 1975, pp. 225-246. 

Websites: (Dali Image) (Velazquez Image) (Picasso Image)

[2] S.L, Stratton-Pruitt, Masterpieces of western painting, Velazquez’s Las Meninas, Cambridge University Press 2003. Pg. 8.
[3] Velázquez and Las Meninas, Madlyn Millner Kahr, the Art Bulletin, Vol. 57, No. 2, 1975, pp. 225

[4] David Howarth, The invention of Spain: cultural relations between Britain and Spain, 1770-1870. Manchester University Press, 2007. Pg190
[5] S.L, Stratton-Pruitt, Masterpieces of western painting, Velazquez’s Las Meninas, Cambridge University Press 2003. Pg.57
[6] S.L, Stratton-Pruitt, Masterpieces of western painting, Velazquez’s Las Meninas, Cambridge University Press 2003. Pg.80
[7] S.L, Stratton-Pruitt, Masterpieces of western painting, Velazquez’s Las Meninas, Cambridge University Press 2003. pg.89.