Raphael, La Belle Jardiniere
Yesterday one of the comments said that Ingres seemed souless next to Holbein or Clouet. I didn't really spend any time on that, and I was again asked the same thing. I love it when readers pose questions as it gives me a springboard for another post. They asked:
Not to beat a dead horse (well, okay, to beat a dead horse) but Ingres IS cold, and what I was hoping you'd speak to is, why? Why is Holbein warm and Ingres cold? What is the difference in the drawing? I think Ingres is great because he is cold, the passion is suppressed, but there, shimmering in the line (or in the silk in his painting).
Okay, I guess I will address that. In painting or most anything else in life there seem to be opposing schools of thought or method. Yesterday we discussed the linear and the mass approaches to drawing. There is another deeper aspect to this . Each of these approaches to drawing are actually manifestations of a larger philosophical divide in the history of painting. That is the between classicism and romanticism.
Classicism is a little foreign to us today. In the late 19th century there was a triumph over classicism by romanticism. Romanticism is so dominant today as to have pretty much eclipsed classicism. To most people today the ideals of romanticism are seen as the goals of all art and they are pretty much unaware of the other philosophical pole.
The Raphael at the top of the page is an example of classicism here is another;
This is an Ingres, La Source. Below is a romantic painting by Delacroix.
Romanticism is about expression. It is full of feeling, naturalistic and often exciting. Its designs are dynamic and it attempts to arouse and stir the emotions. Many of you are thinking,"so what? doesn't ALL art attempt to do that?"
No, classicism is exactly the opposite in its intentions. Classicism was deliberately non emotional, it was formal and balanced. Its designs were measured and often symmetrical. The idea was that it appealed at the highest possible level of intellect rather than sentiment. It was not "sentimental" but deliberately "cool". Classical art often has a stillness or eternal look, as opposed to the romantic which has an instant long glance at a scene that is transpiring in passing time.
Classical restraint marks the art of Raphael and has its roots in the art of ancient Greece. Today we don't pay a lot of attention to the Greeks, but the renaissance was driven by the rediscovery of that marvelous art, particularly the sculpture of the ancient world.
Much of the classical art of our culture was made for the church or for emperors or at least for the state. These patrons have pretty much disappeared and been replaced by private individuals who prefer the warmth and emotion of romantic art. Here is another example of that by Gustave Moreau;
Here is another seriously romantic piece;
This is a Turner of course. Strictly speaking all landscape painting is romantic, but I guess some is less so, here is an example of a more classical landscape, by Claude Lorrain.
One of the few places where we do have a degree of classicism in our modern world is oddly enough in the"international" style of architecture. Particularly at its most minimal in the 1950's and 60's, the stripped down, simplified and spare office towers and glass and steel boxes built as expensive homes during that era are classical more than they are romantic. ( now all of the architects reading this are going to be sniping at me).
I have wondered many times if the default setting of our art will always remain the romantic as that is the only mode of which most people are aware, or whether this is a cycle or fashion and there will be a resurgence of the classical. I think it would be nice to have both the classical and the romantic. Some of today's young realist painters might move in that direction.
There is a wonderful book explaining classicism by the American mural painter Kenyon Cox. It is an excellent read. however like most of the books I recommend it is not a quick easy read. It will however open your eyes to an entirely different way of thinking about painting. Cox has had an influence on my thinking. If you want to fill in what is probably a major hole in your understanding of our cultures historic art, this book will do that.
Incidentally Cox lived in Essex, Massachusetts and his estate on the marshes there is open to the public. I have painted it many times, and I posted a painting of an apple tree done there this spring. His son Allyn Cox was also a mural painter and did murals in the halls of the capitol building in Washington, D.C. He lived until 1982, here is of all things, a mural of Americas first moon landing from our National Capitol building, painted in1969. How strange is that?
Soon I intend to begin a series of real "how-to" pasts on the different ways of "sorting" light and shadow. That's real root level stuff.
Images on this posts kindly provided by artrenewal.org, The worlds
largest online museum. Here is a link to Amazon for the book.