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ARTD 1010 Final Project: Religious Altarpieces Paper Proposal

Religious Altarpieces and their significance to followers

Introduction:

I am looking specifically these art pieces because they relate to my topic of art with religious symbolism. This is also why they are all religious altarpieces. Christian followers have prayed to these pieces so they are guaranteed to have significant religious importance. They were objects of worship in churches and possibly in homes that represented the people’s faith in God. This strong devotion can be seen in the religious symbolism of the artwork. And some of these altarpieces are also built in a way that it surrounds you because they are large in size to create a sense of awe. I mainly want to look at the religious references like how a devoted christian would see it in an scholarly point of view. Why did they see these as important parts of their lives?

 

-Lorenzo Monaco, The Nativity, 1406-1410

Location: The Met

This is a painting made by Lorenzo Monaco between 1406-1410, titled “The Nativity”. It’s dimensions are 9 in by 12 in. There are 3 main figures in the painting. The Christ child is the center of attention, the virgin that is kneeling to the left adoring the Christ child she came birth to while the sun is above her head, and saint Joseph in the right looking up to the vision of the angel announcing to the Shepherd in the up right corner. Behind the Christ child is an Ox and a Donkey looking down on it. The virgin, saint Joseph, the angles and Christ child are represented as divine because they have visible golden halos. But Christ child and the angels are showing more divinity because they are emitting golden rays of light from their bodies. This includes the sun that will obviously emit rays of light. Their importance is even more accentuated  by the contrast of the bright divine figures lighting up the dark backdrop. This can be seen as telling people that God’s light will make things clear and show you the path towards clarity. I chose this painting because it is an religious Altarpiece like all the other works below. I also chose this because it is symbolic of the devotion followers have for Christian divinity.

 

Source: The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/459007.

 

-Robert Campin, Merode Altarpiece, 1425

Location: The Met

Merode Altarpiece was made in 1432 in the workshop of Robert Campin. It is also known as “Annunciation Triptych”. It’s dimensions are 2 ft by 4 ft. The painting depicts the archangel Gabriel Virgin announcing to Virgin Mary that she will give birth to Jesus Christ in a house that looks to be from Northern Europe in the 1400’s even though this scene would have fallen place 1500 years before the painting was made. This biblical event takes place in a typical high class household to make these figures feel closer to followers, making prayers feel more profound and closer to God. This painting is also dense with objects that have symbolic meaning. Much of it has been lost but there are a few items that are clear. The shiny pot in the back represents the Virgin Mary’s purity and sinlessness. There is a small figure holding a cross gliding towards the the Virgin, representing the Holy Spirit that will make the Virgin pregnant with Christ. When Christ is born, it’s when one world ends and another begins. In this world it’s possible for human beings to be saved because Jesus died on the cross for everyone’s sins. I chose this painting because it potentially holds large amounts of religious symbolism with its many objects in view and its purpose was to make you feel close to God when you pray to the altarpiece.

 

Source: Harris, Beth and Zucker, Steven. Workshop of Campin, Annunciation Triptych (Merode Altarpiece). YouTube, commentary by Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker. 4 Feb. 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1X0Lj7YEMs&t=607s

 

-Jan van Eyck, Ghent Altarpiece, 1432

Location: Saint Bavo Cathedral

This altarpiece is very large and definitely creates a sense of awe when opened up fully. Even when closed, it is a large painting that is to be admired. It is truly a religious altarpiece of the highest caliber. When fully opened, it is 11ft by 15 ft, and when closed, it is 11 ft by 7.5 ft. This is essentially 2 painting in one piece of artwork. It most likely stayed closed most of the year and opened up on feast days as a revelation.

When closed, it shows 8 paintings in total. The 4 at the top shows the prophets and sybils predicting the coming of Christ. Below them is the actual event of the coming of Christ where archangel Gabriel is on the far left panel is announcing to Virgin Mary on the far right panel that she will give birth to Christ, the same scene depicted in the Merode Altarpiece. Gabriel is holding white lilies that represent Mary’s purity and virginity. There are actual words coming out of her mouth from writing on the painting in Latin where she says “Hail Mary, full of grace, blessed art thou among women”. Mary also has words coming out of her mouth with a dove above her head which represents the Holy Spirit. She replies “Behold the handmaiden of the lord”. The difference is that it’s backwards and upside down because she is replying “back”. Although these 4 panels show a high degree of realism, these words stick up in golden lettering, making them ethereal and speaks to God. The 4 panels below show 4 figures, 2 being the patrons that commission the piece and two sculptures that are the 2 Saint John.

 

Source: Harris, Beth and Zucker, Steven. Van Eyck, Altarpiece (1 of 2). YouTube, commentary by Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker. 4 Nov. 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udgNvPpDb2I

 

When opened up, you’re overwhelmed with a wall of colors. First thing you see is a large figure in the center depicting of God the father dressed like a king with a gold jeweled papal crown on his head and a gold jeweled crown at his feet to show that he is the king of kings. He also has a scepter that has a clear crystal handle and embellished in gold to represent power. The running theme is God’s saving grace and power, depicting his plan to forgive and redeem mankind. On the left of him is Mary, looking like a queen wearing a crown and on the right of him is Saint John the Baptist. Another symbol of his forgiveness is a pelican, which in the medieval tradition, it was believed that when it’s young was starving, it would pick at it’s flesh to feed them. Representing the sacrifice of God to save humanity. One panel further out is angels singing and playing instruments in heaven. And on the farthest left and right are Adam and Eve naked. They look deeply human and imperfect compared to the other figures mentioned, which can be reflecting God’s willingness to reach out to humanity despite imperfections. Directly below God is an image of 4 groups of people looking towards the scene in the center where a lamb is on an altar. The lamb has a wound on its side where it is pouring out blood into a chalice, representing Christ’s sacrifice. This is because the lamb is shown to be calm and serene with rays of light extending out of it’s head, overcoming earthy pain/suffering. Surrounding the lamb are angels carrying the torture instruments inflicted on Christ to create a sense of sacrifice for the redemption of mankind. These two set of paintings tell a story of Christ and how God has forgiven mankind for its sins through religious symbolism, showing intense devotion to Christianity, creating a sense of awe and pride to be a follower of God.

 

Source: Harris, Beth and Zucker, Steven. Van Eyck, Altarpiece (2 of 2). YouTube, commentary by Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker. 10 Nov. 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVhwinCiELI

 

Conclusion:

    These altarpieces are have clear religious significance when looking at religious symbolism represented in the art. All depicting the birth of Christ and Virgin Mary’s importance. The Nativity by Lorenzo Monaco depicts the moment Christ was born, the Merode Altarpiece depicts the announcement to Virgin Mary that she will have the Christ child, and the Ghent Altarpiece depicts the announcement to Virgin Mary and a dense amount of religious symbolism that tells the story of Jesus Christ’s and God’s sacrifice to mankind. The dense symbolism and constant appearance of Mary and Christ tells me that the birth of Christ is seen as the beginning of a world where humans can be forgiven for their sins because of God’s and Christ’s sacrifice. Followers truly believed that they basked in the light of through prayers. I believe that if we didn’t know the deep analysis of these paintings, we wouldn’t understand the deeply established and rooted beliefs of Christianity and would undermine the intense devotion followers had for the the divine. These altarpieces aren’t just pretty paintings, because it’s much more than that.

   

Final project annotated bibliography

-The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/459007.

    The painting made by Lorenzo Monaco between 1406-1410, “The Nativity” is described in an audio guide. This is a summary of it. There are 3 main figures in the painting. The Christ child is the center of attention, the virgin that is kneeling to the left adoring the Christ child she came birth to while the sun is above her head, and saint Joseph in the right looking up to the vision of the angel announcing to the Shepherd in the up right corner. Behind the Christ child is an Ox and a Donkey looking down on it.

 

Harris, Beth and Zucker, Steven. Workshop of Campin, Annunciation Triptych (Merode Altarpiece). YouTube, commentary by Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker. 4 Feb. 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1X0Lj7YEMs&t=607s

    This video looks at the Merode Altarpiece and analyzes the religious symbolism and how it has is such an important biblical event to remember for Christian followers.

 

Harris, Beth and Zucker, Steven. Van Eyck, Altarpiece (1 of 2). YouTube, commentary by Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker. 4 Nov. 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udgNvPpDb2I

    This video analyzes the closed position of the large altarpiece and describes the multiple elements like the annunciation and the donors and statues.

 

Harris, Beth and Zucker, Steven. Van Eyck, Altarpiece (1 of 2). YouTube, commentary by Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker. 10 Nov. 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVhwinCiELI

    This video looks at the opened position where it analyzes the story of the painting where God and Jesus Christ sacrifices so much to mankind despite their imperfections.

Metropolitan Museum of Art Project

    I got to the museum after a 30 min walk and had to go through the usually trouble of getting the ticket, which is waiting among a mass of tourists. It’s pretty clear that many museum goers are not New Yorkers. I have been to the Met many times in my childhood, but I really never cared for it because the museum is not relevant to my life. This apply to the present me because I don’t have any personal reasons to go the museum unless it is for an assignment. I’ll skip all the things in between and get to the exhibit. I walk through the door, and I am greeted by a large room with paintings. Being very familiar with this scene, I start looking for art pieces to use. I can obviously see the skilled artistry behind these paintings. They are beautifully painted and show dedication to the arts. But at the same time, I am annoyed by the amount of tourist here. It makes me want to leave as quickly as possible. Even with the large amount of paintings here, I have trouble see the painting unless I walk past the crowds of people here in this large room. But when I think about it, the museum really has a lot of these old historical and influential painting; I realize that many tourist come here because if this. Some of these may be from the where the painting was painted and have never seen it. I find my two pieces and start typing on a bench. In the middle of the many rooms in the gallery. I choose Joos van Cleve, The Crucifixion with Saints and a Donor from 1520 for renaissance art. Charles Joseph Natoire, The Rebuke of Adam and Eve from 1740 for Baroque art.

 

The Crucifixion with Saints and a Donor is an altarpiece made in the 1520. It depicts a group of people at the site where Jesus Christ was crucified on a cross. My eyes first focus on Christ himself and then I notice the masterful depictions of greenery in the background. Hills and rock formations covered in grass looks beautiful in the building. Then I notice the people at the feet of Christ. The ones to the far left and right seem uncaring and not really in pain. The ones in the middle are however interacting with Christ’s dead body. A nun is praying, a man is setting the cross, a women seems distressed, a priest is on his knees praying. This scene represents humans in a very calm state of mind, showing the mental strength of human beings. It also has people seemingly having individual thoughts on the situation, showing individualism. These traits reflect humanist values.

The Rebuke of Adam and Eve from 1740 show Adam and Eve begging for forgiveness for eating the golden fruit of the tree and God accompanied by angels looks furious and with a finger pointed up, looks ready to curse the pair. The first thing I recognize is the somewhat exaggerated poses of the characters compared to the altarpiece. These poses tell a clear story of drama due to the eating of the forbidden fruit. I also see the clear contrast of light and dark to create a dramatic tone. This is seen from the light that God is surrounded by versus the real world that had greenery from the trees and plants that are darker in comparison. These are typical traits of baroque art.

Final Project Outline

Thesis: These art pieces relate to my topic because they are all altarpieces and has significant religious importance. They were objects of worship in churches, representing the people’s faith in God. This strong devotion can be seen when looking at religious symbolism in the artwork. These altarpieces are also built in a way that it surrounds you because they are usually large in size to create a sense of awe. I mainly want to look at the religious references like how a devoted christian would see it in an scholarly point of view. Why did they see these as important parts of their lives?

 

-Lorenzo Monaco, The Nativity, 1406-1410

Location: The Met

 

-Robert Campin, Merode Altarpiece, 1425

Location: The Met

 

-Jan van Eyck, Ghent Altarpiece, 1432

Location: Saint Bavo Cathedral

 

-Jean Bellegambe, The Le Cellier Altarpiece, 1509

Location: The Met

-Joachim Patinir, The Penitence of Saint Jerome, 1512-1515

Location: The Met

 

-Joos van Cleve, The Crucifixion with Saints and a Donor, 1520

Location: The Met

 

My Art Story

To me, art is a completely subjective form of expression that can be show through many outlets like video, paper, books and so much more that it considered as vast as the world. All art has meaning behind it, no matter how strange it seems to be called art. A piece of gum carelessly stuck onto a piece of canvas may be low effort and considered trash by many, the art still has purpose and meaning behind it. Even if the artist just did it for the sake of doing so, that itself is the meaning and purpose. If people try to dispute this, high effort art is the same. If someone spent hours drawing and planning a huge painting of a human face, no matter how thought provoking and complex the reason to make it is, it still has a purpose and meaning like a piece of gum stuck on a canvas. To me, I am indifferent to art. I accept all forms of art but will only care for ones that appeal to me. I hope to understand art from a more educational perspective in this class.

Unit 2 Summary

    When the art in Mesopotamian, Ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman art are looked at together, you can identify the change from art depicting worship of Gods to art depicting the high potential of human beings, to verism. There is also evidence of each of these civilizations influencing one another showing the slow change towards humanism.

    Let’s start with Mesopotamia. There are one example of art depicting worship is the Statue of Gudea in 2150 BCE in Neo-Sumeria. It is a small stone figure built in such a way that it is built to be durable and last. It is the depiction of a ruler sitting down, praying to a God. Its eye wide open and arms clamped together show a devoted worshipper.

    The next example is is an art piece from Ancient Egypt. This was still a time of God worship, but large statues of rulers like the Pharaoh are pretty common.  These rulers were considered the link between their people and the Gods. They were in a sense worshiped like Gods themselves. Menkaure and Queen from 2490-2472 BCE is the Pharaoh and the Queen standing next to each other. It is also blocky like the Statue of Gudea but human sized. It is built to last and it’s reflected by the platform and the block it is connected to their backs.

    In Greek art, the first statue showing signs of Greek humanism is Kouros from 600 BCE. Greek humanism is to desire explanation for events in the nature world and to open up new possibilities for speculation. It mainly valued humanity and placed human experience as the center of events.

This is reflected in the statue because it is clearly the depiction of a standing man. But it still is not a naturalized human form. It is the idealized man with sense of perfection. It is not recognizable as a specific person. And it still has similarities to Mesopotamia and Egypt. Like the two pieces I mentioned, it is built to last and be durable. It is in a stiff standing pose that gives the stone strength, when you look at it closely the statue is very blocky that strengthens the stone even more.

A statue that represents humanism is the Roman copy of Polykleitos, Doryphoros from 450-440 BCE. This would have been made of bronze. I had a very natural standing pose, the detail of the statue isn’t blocky, it has a fleshy quality. It is still trying to show the idealized man in a humanistic way.

Lastly, there is Roman art. Their art was not the depiction of an idealized man. It was the depiction of a man in the truest sense, this is called Roman Portraiture. The example of this is a portrait bust of a man in 1st century B.C. This bust is clearly an old man with his wrinkles in full view. This because Roman portraiture features a accurate portrayal of a person’s’ face, a value in old age because it reflects wisdom, and that looking as you are is completely fine and not shameful at all.

Greek Humanism in relation to art

 

Menkaure and Queen

Statue of Gudea

Kouros

Kroisos

Polykleitos, Doryphoros

Greek humanism is to desire explanation for events in the nature world and to open up new possibilities for speculation. It mainly valued humanity and placed human experience as the center of events. Greek and Roman art illustrates this in the way the human form is presented. One if the first evidence of it starting is in the Kouros figure made in 600 BCE. It is an idealized body of a man, but it is also very clearly a human. It stands on its own two feet giving it more of a up close and human quality compared to statues carved from walls, or with a block of stone supporting its back. Some of these statues are the Menkaure and Queen statue from 2450 BCE and the statue of Gudea from 2150 BCE.

    The the Menkaure and Queen statue is clearly 2 people standing next to each other, but it was built to last for as long as it could. It was the depiction of a godly Pharaoh so it could be considered a monument too. You can see this looking at the large block of stone it’s connected to to add stability and longevity. The statue of Gudea is the same concept. It is the depiction of a ruler sitting and praying to his god. The chair is a block of stone making it a thick and solid piece of stone. It was meant to last. Both these statues are however lacking in human qualities compared to Greek and Roman art. Both of these statues exude a more otherworldly presence.

    The Kouros figure is more human than the statues I mention above as it stands on it’s on 2 legs, but it was also built to last. It was very blocky, thick and large. The next statue down the line is Kroisos form 530 BCE. It was also blocky and large in a sense, but the shape and detail increases compared to Kouros. The arm are also more separate from the body. And one of the most strongest examples of humanity being the main focus is Polykleitos, Doryphoros form 450-440 BCE. It loses the stiffness and rigidity of the earlier statues. It has a very naturalistic pose. It is sculpted to imitate an actual human being. It’s skin looks soft and the face has emotion. This represents a shift from the the worship of Gods due to their power to a heightened responsibility for humanity to take care of their own problems.

   

Part 1

Figure of Goddess Nephthys, Ca. 664-30 B.C.E. Made in Africa

    This wooden figure represents the Goddess Nephthys. She sits kneeling on a colorful highly decorated rectangular box as a pedestal with her left arm resting on her thigh and her right arm held in front of her face. She has light brown skin, a blue wig, high yellow headdress, and a green garment bound under her exposed breasts.

Some of these colors represents her high status as a goddess. Her blue wig and yellow headdress that is supposed to represent gold symbolizes high status. This is also shown in her highly colorful and and detailed. The colors are red, yellow, blue, and green. The fact that so much color is even on the figure in the first place points to her importance as a goddess.

When we look the figures line, we can see a that this was carved by a skilled craftsmen. The figure has a smooth surface giving it a very recognizable silhouette. Examples are the large headdress Nephthys is wearing and the obvious shaped breasts on her chest.  This figure does not occupy alot of space. The dimensions of the piece is 16 by 7 by 11.5 inches. It seems to have been built to be mobile and placeable within a room.

This figure was definitely own by someone of high status because a figure of this quality would have been very expensive to purchase.  

 

Part 2

Mars Dust, 1972, By Alma Thomas

    This piece spoke to me because of its size that seemingly traps your gaze. I couldn’t help but be pulled in by the bold colors. I chose this because I immediately saw depth to it. There is a sense of complexity to it even though it looks simple and uniform. The piece relates to the rest of the exhibit because of how Alma Thomas is. She continued to create her art and express herself through it despite racial segregation and gained recognition and success through it all.

There are only three distinct colors utilized in the painting. Red, light blue and dark blue. The simplicity of the colors bring notice to the complexity of the painting. I creates a sense of 3D space. This is because the large splotches of light and dark blue behind the many splotches of red beads make it look like a beaded curtain with an unknown world behind it. And the messy lines that denies clarity is also a factor in its other worldliness.

As I have said in the first paragraph, the size being  69.25 by 57.125 inches creates a trap that steals your eyes. The size makes you want to walk right into it to discover a new world not your own. It looks like a huge portal that harbors the mystery of the world and I appreciate this feeling it portrays to me.