At the Virginia Museum of
Fine Arts, I noticed they had a little collection of
each type of art and art period. On the main hall there were
paintings from the Renaissance, in side rooms there were African
and Eastern arts, and Classical Greece, Rome and even Egypt
were included and represented. Then there were some post-Renaissance
Northern European paintings and finally a very tiny collection
of French impressionists and modern art like the pop art of
I started in the main hall and saw Paolo
De Matter's painting of Jesus and Mother Mary.
He was an artist during the late 17th and early 18th
centuries so this was not uncommon, but then again it was a
little reminiscent of the Renaissance. I liked the way the light
played a role, how it emanated from baby Jesus. I also liked
the colors including the rich blue of Mother Mary; she looked
so enlightened, both with the colors and with her facial expression
that the artist captured so well. Her facial expression actually
encompassed all her renown personal traits in one expression.
She looked peaceful, powerful, caring, and smart, keen and protective.
It was a foreshadowing of the life sheíd have to lead, the agony
of her sonís death that she could do little about. The muscles
of the characters were noticeable, making it quite detailed
and realistic, if not overly realistic. The clothes flowed with
motion and were all different, this was different than the Middle
Ages art where they were dull and simple and didnít have the
ripples and such that would be more realistic. The brush strokes
were hidden, as the paint was so smooth and lightly coated,
not anything like a century or so later with the impressionists.
In the Medieval times, the art was simplistic and nearly
all of it had to do with Christianity. It didnít look very realistic,
but it certainly had a style of its own. The faces were all
drawn and painted as angular and elongated, like the famous
Greek Icons in a sense. The faces were white, very white, and
there was no shadow or play with light. Also, the characters
depicted had no muscle definition; everything looked so flat.
The eyes all look puffy, sleepy, and almost Eastern even. The
characters were pudgy and seldom engaged in movement. And their
mouths were always closed. In the Medieval art, it seemed the
heads of the figures were always tilted down at the same angle
and manner in each and every painting. The people painted were
always in the same place, in some fake backdrop that was a fairytale
land with little detail. The number one subject matter seemed
to be the Virgin and her child. Possibly a result of the Church
having the most power and wealth at this time, as it could afford
to commission the artists. An example of this would be Giovanni
Di Paoloís Virgin and Child with Angels. Even
though it was done in 1470, it retained much of the Medieval
format. Jesus was pudgy and his head even resembled an apeís.
His face was white with rosy cheeks, very simplistic for color.
By walking around the gallery, I noticed that it seemed
by the late 1400ís to 1500ís, this was all changing. The paintings
were looking more realistic because of the muscle definition,
the shading, the use of light, the realistic facial structures,
the unique facial structures of each individual were all present.
Solarioís St. John the Baptist of 1510, this
is all noticeable. In the painting, the women were still very
white but this was reflecting what people of the time thought
beauty was. The expressions in the faces of the characters were
different from one another, they didnít all have that sleepy
look with the puffy eyes. The poses the characters were in were
much more complicated. In the Medieval art it seemed most of
them were standing straight up, or involved in other simple
postures and positions.
A Dutch or French follower of Caravaggio
did a painting of a man singing and playing the mandolin around
1600. All the features of the realistic art are present in full
force. The man singing provides a unique position and interesting
expression, his mouth is of course open, his hands working the
instrument. The entire painting is darkish, a deep shadow encompasses
all. This is much different than the cartoonish lighting and
color of the Medieval period. The man is half bald, also a more
realistic and complicated look than the uniform face and figure
of the Middle Ages. The "immediate drama" presented
by the singing and making of music is impressive.
I then noticed a difference between the Italian art of
the 1500s and the Dutch and Flemish 1600 art. Alexander
Keirincx, a Flemish artist in the first half of the
17th century had thinner brush strokes than all the
lofty paintings I saw before. This gave the opportunity for
finer detail, for smaller paintings in general, for the ones
before were quite large. These paintings were detailed, not
as angelic either, even more real than before in that sense.
The colors and objects were more solid looking, not as glowing
as the main hallís exhibit.
The Dutch paintings gave way to new facial structures.
The Greek-Roman Classical faces were replaced with the fat-nosed,
rough faces of Dutch peasants, which these artists werenít afraid
of painting. I saw scenes that were more ordinary. People drinking
and playing cards.
There was one called Winter Sports on a Frozen Canal
from 1643 by Aert
Van der Neer. People were ice skating and playing sports
on a frozen canal in Holland. This was impressive because
in the earlier art I saw, it was hard to tell where the painting
took place, or where the artist was from. The details here were
amazing. According to the museum, he used the butt of his brush
to "scratch the background details." The tree
branches were perfect for this and gave them a realistic looking
surface, some texture, and some depth. This Iím sure was also
revolutionary at the time.
The move from the Middle Ages to the 17th century
art was quite a change. For realtyís sake, it was an improvement.
But the Medieval art was still good art, just that it was a
different style. The only thing was that it was boring in the
sense that it was uniform. I found the Dutch and Flemish to
be "thinking outside the box" in a sense, as
theirs was down to earth at a time when the Enlightenment had
yet to arrive.
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