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The MET Visit

Upon entering the MET I was overwhelmed by the grandiosity of the building, and the abundance of space that inhibits thousands upon thousands of beautiful and historical works of art. To say that I was overwhelmed might be a bit of an understatement. I knew that with my easily distracted nature and lack of awareness of my surroundings I could’ve easily gotten lost, and having dragged my poor mother along with me, I couldn’t let that happen. I asked a kind worker to direct me to the parts of the museum where I could find works of art that are byproducts of the 15th and 16th century Renaissance era as well as the 17th century Baroque era. With my backpack positioned in the front of me like a makeshift Juno costume (courtesy of the stern guard checking my ticket), I walked those beautiful and frightening flights of steps up to the second floor, and found myself stumbling upon a plethora of works of paintings from both of these integral eras of art history.

It was difficult to narrow down all of the works of art I saw to just one painting from each era. Nevertheless, the painting I’d like to hone in on that substantially highlights all the features and qualities that the art of the Renaissance embodied is Giovanni di Paolo’s Madonna and Child with Two Angels  and a Donor. This artwork dating back to 1445 is a painting on what was most likely the center panel of an altarpiece. How we can tell this piece is of the Renaissance era is by the serenity it invokes alongside the idealization of the subjects. Madonna is cloaked in her usual blue robe to signify her virginity and purity and a golden halo surrounding the top of her head remains a marker of her holiness. However if the halo didn’t serve enough of a purpose to present her as a holy figure, the two angels floating beside her and the small donor at her feet all continue to attribute to this idealization of the Virgin. There is also a sense that we are in no specific moment in time here as there is no set scene. Instead it is embraced as a scene of eternity. We also find ourselves quite reserved and distant from this piece as it is very confined, the figures closed inside the blue pentagon surrounding them. This further accentuates that these figures are otherworldly, not belonging in our space and us not belonging in theirs. The highly saturated colors work to further remind us that this still is just a painting, not very naturalistic one, that works outside of our realms of the world. The emphasis of gold in the painting also adds to the idealization of these allegorical figures.

Georges de La Tour’s 1640 painting The Penitent Magdalen caught my immediate eyeIf you did not know the title of this work of art, there’s no telling that this is a depiction of the allegorical figure Mary Magdalen. She sits at her vanity table, her long dark hair pin straight and trailing down her back. Her face is turned and we are given no clear facial features of the woman. The candle that is lit in front of her vanity mirror is reflecting on her dress, highlighting the white of her blouse and chest as well as her profile. All of this then draws our eyes down to her hands which are folded as if she is pensively in thought (or prayer), and sitting on her lap there lies a skull. Just by the use of light alone, we can observe this painting as one from the Baroque era. Unlike Giovanni di Paolo’s Madonna and Child with Two Angels and a Donor, The Penitent Magdalen is so clearly set in time and is most certainly does not intend to remove us from the world the artist is creating but rather welcoming us into it, relating us to it. While it’s depicting an allegorical figure, she is one that is amongst our world as well, and isn’t seen as an untouchable holy figure.  The Baroque art era created figures deeply human and real and Mary Magdalen here is represented as just that. There is a mirror in front of her suggestive of vanity, as well as a skull in her lap symbolizing mortality. Both of these are common attributes to humans and are most certainly not idealized ones. The emotion that Mary Magdalen is portrayed with here is perhaps a remorseful one or a pleading one, but it is one that is certainly intense. We have caught Mary Magdalen in a specific moment in time, almost as if we intruded on a private moment of hers.

 

Final Project Outline

Overall Topic: For my final project I will create a mock tour guide that acts as a satire to pick apart the limited roles in which women are placed within works of art during the Renaissance and Baroque period. I find that for the most part there seems to be only three archaical roles in which women are depicted and portrayed as within both eras. These roles are stereotypically the idealized virginal biblical figures (Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene), the superlunary depiction of mythological goddesses (Diana, Venus, etc) and the delineation of ordinarily simple and mundane women. These three roles bind women to either the very high standards of being the perfect virgin, the otherworldly headstrong and beautiful goddesses within Roman mythology, or push them to embrace the simplistic life of domesticity. I will judge and fully exemplify all three of these archetypes in my tour at the MET. This tour will be divvied in three different venturings and in each venture we will view two pieces of art that speaks to and verifies the limited archetypes we’re exploring and working to confirm. The 6 works of art that will be viewed in this tour are…

Thesis: The roles in which women were strategically placed within Renaissance and Baroque art worked to subject them to very limited and two-dimensional roles within society that offered no proper insight to the true complexity of their nature.

The representation of women within the art of the Renaissance and Baroque era

  1. Venus and Adonis by Peter Paul Rubens
  2. Diana the Huntress by Giampietrino
  3. Madonna and Child with Angels by Cosimo Rosselli
  4. Portrait of a Woman, Possibly a Nun of San Secondo by Jacometto
  5. The Love Letter by Jacob Ochtervelt
  6. The Lacemaker by Nicolaes Maes                                                                                         The first two paintings hone in on the vital and ever present depiction of Roman goddesses throughout the Baroque and Renaissance period. The third and fourth paintings are specifically from the Renaissance period serving as the paintings that hone in on holy, biblical, or simply virginal women. The last two paintings focus on the stereotypical roles women resorted to, a desire for love and a duty to domesticity. All of these paintings work to give us a closer look into not just these artists interpretation of women and the purpose these women serve during these periods of time, but what purpose women were thought to serve according to societal standards as well.

Bibliography

Chadwick, Whitney. Women, Art, and Society. Langara College, 2016.

In this novel, Whitney Chadwick’s survey reexamines works of arts and the ways in which the women within them have been perceived as “marginal, often in direct reference to gender”. To build on this further, she also addresses the “closely related issues of ethnicity, class, and sexuality”.  All of these work to support my thesis of the less than ideal way in which women are perceived in works of art.

Cruz, Katryna Santa. “Guided History.” Artistic Representation of the Female Gender from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, blogs.bu.edu/guidedhistory/historians-craft/katryna-santacruz/.

This article touches base on a plethora of published works that discuss the representation of women in art throughout the Renaissance era to the Enlightenment era. Through Cruz’s discussion of the contents of these works, she too highlights women in religious art and imagery, sexuality and eroticism, as well as the overall gender differences that are easily found within the art of these times.

Faulkner, Katherine, et al. “Representing Women.” Courtauld , The Courtauld Gallery, courtauld.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Goyateachersresourcesfinal.pdf.

Containing many different articles and authors, this pdf remarks skillfully so how exactly “art has played an important role in perpetuating stereotypical images of women and femininity; both negative and positive”. I think it’s important to include this work in my research paper so that I don’t find myself focusing entirely on the negative nature of my theme, but rather try to see some of the good that I might not have been so intuitive of before.

Gilboa, Anat. “Gender in Art.” New Dictionary of the History of Ideas, edited by Maryanne Cline Horowitz, vol. 3, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2005, pp. 876-882. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com.ez-proxy.brooklyn.cuny.edu:2048/apps/doc/CX3424300308/GVRL?u=cuny_broo39667&sid=GVRL&xid=373e27a0. Accessed 11 Dec. 2018.

In using this scholarly article, I am able to gain a better insight historically of the roles that society placed on women and the meaning behind such a placement. The perception of women of the Renaissance and Baroque era becomes clearer with more of a historical context to back it up. While the other works I’m citing add the wood to the fire for my guided tours theme, this source acts to answer “But why?” It focuses on eroticism and women as allegorical references, two archetypes I myself mention and am eager to further explore.

Hungus, Karl. YouTube, YouTube, 31 Oct. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=ta-s_vzxWn8.

Here we have John Berger’s second episode of his series “Ways of Seeing” in which he discusses the concept of the female nude. He differentiates nudity from nakedness, and remarks that in order for a naked body to become a nude, “it must be completely objectified and exist only for the sexual pleasure of the owner or viewer”. Berger discusses a contradiction in European paintings of female nudes between “the painter’s, owner’s and viewer’s individualism and… the object, the woman, which is treated as abstraction.” Much like what I’m trying to prove in this tour, Berger strongly believes that these stark differences deeply affect our culture and how our society perceives women (how women perceive themselves even).

Unit 2 Summary

The Ancient World is a mass and expansive subfield within Art History. It is here in unit 2 of our class where we delve further into the art of this Ancient World. We are taking a closer look at the art that has shaped Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. In analyzing the art of each of these civilizations, we are able to conceptualize them better and overall gain a better understanding of their ways of life, values and ideals. We have learned what is unique to the art of each of these civilizations as well as what common ground they share amongst one another.

Ancient Egypt contrasts a little more sharply when comparing it to the latter art of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. This contrast is accounted for in recognizing that the purpose of Ancient Egypt’s art was mainly divine worship, which isn’t predominantly seen in Greece and Egypt. For the Ancient Egyptians however, art was a way for them to worship the divine in order to ensure that their Gods and Goddesses would reward them not only in this life but in the afterlife as well. They often carried around small statues made out of limestone so that if they didn’t have time to extensively pray, these statues stood in place for them and acted as that prayer. They were usually designed with large eyes and ears to portray that the Egyptians were paying close attention to their divinities. Statues of gods, royalty, as well as the elite weren’t uncommon in Ancient Egypt and worked to “convey an idealized version of that individual” (Ancient Egyptian Art, by Dr. Amy Calvert). Ancient Egyptian statues, at least those of stone, were always respectfully clothed, and mainly were non expressive and rigid. Wood and metal statues, however, allowed the Egyptians to be more expressive in their art. Moving away from statues, two dimensional Ancient Egyptian art are vital to mention. In Ancient Egyptian paintings we see registers, which help depict hierarchy, hunting scenes, or instructions for the afterlife.

What makes art from Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome so different from that of Ancient Egypt is the fact that the concept of humanism was introduced and implemented in both of these civilizations. Instead of divine worship being the prime agent of change to make things happen, humanism is the belief that Man instead is the prime agent for change to make things happen. It is now Man who is the center of cosmological order and the ultimate recipient of blame due to their greater ability to make social and materialistic change. Inspired by this new way of thinking art in Ancient Greece and Ancient, we see a change in the way that art is being made. The human body is not vulnerable in a bad way that we go to the otherworldly representations.

In Ancient Greece we see an emphasis on naturalism, anatomy and movement-an emphasis on what it is that Man can do. Even when we see depictions of something otherworldly (such as Gods and Goddesses) within Ancient Greek art, these Gods and Goddesses even  look more and more like humans (no animal heads for them like in Ancient Egypt). These Gods and Goddesses interact with people as well as take on human traits (such as vanity and jealousy). Ancient Greeks (and Ancient Romans) felt that human beings were of great value. This is reflected substantially so in Ancient Greek statues, which were all originally made in bronze (eventually melted down to only be later replicated in marble by the Romans). In Ancient Greek statues we see an emphasis of physicality and facial expressions that even depict personality. These statues are mainly nude, as the Ancient Greeks took pride in nudity and the human body, much different from the Ancient Egyptians who would’ve felt embarrassed of such a thing. Ancient Greece is more anatomically accurate as well, the statues are much more like us, existing in our space and moving into it. Unlike the rigidness of Ancient Egypt, in Ancient Greece there is a sense of movement. Once the Ancient Greeks decided they were bored with creating statues that idealized the human body, they moved onto capturing motion and emotion better.

Ancient Roman art follows Ancient Greek art quite closely in the way that it focuses on the same concept of humanism. Much like Ancient Greece, Ancient Roman statues breathed life and had movement to them that emphasized the importance of humanity. Unlike the Ancient Greek’s though, Ancient Roman’s didn’t focus on portraying an ideal and perfect beauty through their work. Instead Ancient Romans found that it was important

 

Humanism in Greek

Humanism can be best defined as a shift of focus and placement of importance on Man in regard to who is the center of the universe. Previous to this belief, people placed a heavy emphasis on the gods and divine/supernatural matters when concerning anything and everything. However, with humanism, Man is now the center of the cosmological order. He is the prime agent for change, and it is Man’s duty to help himself and make things happen. Man is the agent of cause and effect, not any of the gods or divine nature from the past or present.

When considering Greek and Roman art in relations to Mesopotamian or Egyptian Art, humanism is difficult to push to the side because it practically is the difference. Taking a closer look at Mesopotamia and Egypt there is a repeated pattern of divine worship within their artwork. Greek and Roman art embody humanism within their work, and the Greek especially emphasized naturalism, anatomy, movement. They really honed in on what man can do. Even when there are depictions of divine Greek gods and goddesses, they oftentimes possess human qualities such as a greed and vanity, all of which work to further affirm that human beings are now viewed with value.

In taking a look at The King Menkaure (Mycerinus) and Queen sculpture in comparison to the statue of Polykleitos, Doryphoros, these differences are highlighted. Egypt’s statue of the King Menkaure and Queen are stiff, straight bodied, with very rigid figures. There is a lot of verticality seen as well and if you were to cut their figures right down the middle they would be symmetrical. They’re also clothed, or there’s at least the illusion of clothing. This is highly important to the Egyptians, as nudity was seen as an embarrassment. When looking at Polykleitos, Dorpyphoros the details of the work are crisper, and there’s an emphasis of physicality and freshness of the human body. Unlike The King Menkaure and Queen, we actually see a facial expression in Polykleitos, Doryphoros. There’s even a little personality seen within not just his facial expression but his stance as well, both working together to make him seem very passé. He’s not only anatomically correct but also shows a naturalism in his movement. He can move in almost any direction, there is potential energy. This frames him in a gentle S curve, that differs from the rigid and symmetrical ways of the Egyptian statue, a figure who seems fully alive.

Brooklyn Museum Assignment, Part 2 of 2 (Soul of a Nation)

While I found my ventures in the Ancient World exhibit of the Brooklyn museum to be knowledgeable and enjoyable, I found myself eager to reach the second part of this assignment. I already knew that in exploring the Soul of a Nation exhibit of the Brooklyn museum, I was going to gain a better understanding of the mental and emotional labor Black American artists poured into their art two decades after 1963 (an integral time period in American history for the black community). Considering the times we live in today, it is so important to support Black American artists and have an open and accepting environment where  their art is allowed to flourish and where their stories are their own, told through their voice and their voice only.

The piece that struck me the most was Sam Gilliam’s painting, April 4th. In using formal analysis to assess this powerful work, we’re all inclined to first take note of the size of it. I don’t buy picture frames and I’m not good at math, so my words will have to do the size of the painting some justice. It is colossal, taking up a good chunk of the museum’s wall. It was the first painting I had come across while walking through the exhibit and I had to stop. The size itself tells us something about this piece, that the emotions that have inspired the painting are far too big to hide, the loss it’s suggesting is not only a prominent one but a poignant one. Gilliam used acrylic paint in this particular work of his and the most prominent colors seen are purple, red, black and white. All of these colors work together to further invoke feelings of sadness, loss and, even before reading what exactly this painting commemorates, violence. When honing in on the red blotches, which look like blots of blood, the violence is expressed in shapes that look like bullet wounds to me. It is a beautifully composed mess. It almost looks as though the colors are melting into one another (almost like painted rain against a windowpane), but not enough so that you can’t address each of them a purpose of their own. When reading about this piece further and educating myself on where Gilliam’s piece is derivative of, I discovered this work is in homage to Martin Luther King Jr. on the first anniversary of his assassination. The colors of the painting reaffirmed my initial response of it being a melancholy piece that encapsulates loss and violence. The purple can be seen as a magisterial and the red marks (as I had suspected) might suggest bloodstains. The coupling of the two colors pay a respectful homage to Martin Luther King Jr. and appropriately address the loss (of not only who he was but who he represented for the black community) as tragic and detrimental. While the red blood splotches don’t monopolize the painting, they are there and representative of M.L.K.’s own fatal wound shots, the blood that will never wash away because they are stained on the hands of the U.S. government.

Brooklyn Museum Assignment, Part 1 of 2 (Ancient World)

In walking to the third floor (after getting in for free with your Brooklyn college ID) of the Brooklyn museum, you are overwhelmed with the plethora of artwork you can explore in their Ancient World exhibit. I found myself reflecting back on our classes, trying to draw from what we’ve addressed and depicted. From the powerpoint slides of the small statues, the large statues and the wall paintings that we’ve examined and analyzed thus far, the Ancient World exhibit was a showcase for what felt like millions of these art forms. While I was in awe of larger works and works that seemed to be of imminent importance, I found myself drawn to the smaller statues that were showcased throughout all of the exhibit. I remember learning in class that while these statues are on the smaller size, they still retain an importance. In being so small they were most likely portable objects that people deemed not only vital but beneficial to carry around with them. The statue that I really adored was from ancient Mesopotamia titled Female Figure.

Before I read the description below the figure, I could already draw from previous knowledge that she was made of clay and most likely meant to inspire fertility, or accentuate and embody womanhood in general.  In using formal analysis, my eyes are drawn first and foremost to her breasts. She is cupping them with her hands and they are uneven and voluptuous. While the largeness of them could simply just be a depiction of womanhood in general (which heavily places an emphasis on a large chest), large breasts are also a signifier of pregnancy, holding the milk they’ll feed to the life they bring into this world. Her hips and thighs are also large, further emphasis of this being a grown woman who has come into herself, possessing a matured body that will support childbirth. It’s hard to tell whether or not she has no head at all, or her head is just very small and not detailed. In pinpointing the details that are lacking, she also has no lower legs or feet. Perhaps they were once present and haven’t been sustained, or perhaps it only speaks further to what body parts of the female anatomy are most important and will work to inspire fertility. Of course, in reading the description below we learn that while the statue can range from real to ideal to divine women, the main purpose of the statue in general was to indeed inspire fertility.

Unit 1 Summary

When deciding to take the course of Art History & it’s Meaning, I wasn’t sure where one would even begin in learning about a subject that seemed so broad and substantial. In looking at the syllabus and taking in what would be discussed in Unit 1, I was still lost. What is Formal Analysis? What is Critical Pedagogy? How do both of these fit into art history and it’s meaning? Despite being unsure, I was open to learning about both. All it could do for me is unlock the door to a subject that always intrigued me and further help me understand what it is I’ll be learning this semester.

It turns out that formal analysis is where one must start before delving further into art history and it’s meaning. Without learning about formal analysis, we wouldn’t be able to analyze or depict the artwork we’d evidently be exposed to further along in the semester. All formal analysis is asking us, as viewers, to do is simply take note of what the artist has done visually in his or her work. In formal analysis it is important to hone in on visuals such as color, line, space, mass/scale, material, contrast, position, composition, and illusionism. Taking note of each of these components works to conceptualize the artwork at hand and form an idea of what it is the artist is trying to express. An artist’s use of a certain range of color, their emphasis of line and linear contours and the space they create within their work are integral to the message the artist is trying to convey. Other vital components to pay attention to when using formal analysis is subject matter and historical context. While subject matter is more blatantly obvious to analyze in artwork, it still aids us in understanding the artwork at hand, what or rather who’s important. Historical context, however, requires some outside research. Once this outside research is conducted, we can understand the artists choices much better and it becomes clearer why certain elements were incorporated.

I enjoyed learning about critical pedagogy because my own beliefs were finally being firmly relayed before my eyes. My opinions in relation to the education system that we subject our children to have never been formed in an honorary degree. I have always believed it to be corrupt and degrading, and Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy and Power reaffirmed this for me. In his famous novel, Friere ridicules the education system by constructing the banking model of education. In doing so, he argues that the relationship between teacher and students is an oppressive one. The teacher is assigned all of the power and knowledge and all of the student’s previous knowledge before entering the school system is completely dismissed. Instead students become “empty vessels” in which the teachers simply deposit knowledge in them. In this kind of relationship, not only is knowledge limited but creativity is stunted. The teacher’s intelligence and authority can never be questioned, even if it should be, and the student can never pass along any information or intelligence of their own, because it’d be deemed unworthy and illogical. The students simply receive and memorize the knowledge bestowed upon them and spit it back out when taking standardized testing.

In learning about formal analysis, art history and it’s meaning is prescribed a meaning. Without taking formal analysis into consideration, without using it, we’d be looking at art but we wouldn’t be seeing it. Formal analysis is integral to art history, without it one can argue that the study of art history and it’s meaning would be rendered useless. In also learning about Paulo Friere’s critical pedagogy, I’m even more aware of the faultiness of our education system. It helps me  appreciate the open and creative environment that I’m privileged with in attending college, where students thoughts and opinions are heard and valued. I believe unit one will prepare me immensely for the units that lie ahead and I’m interested in seeing how they aid me in my further understanding of art history.

What IS Formal Analysis?

The exploration and study of art history would be rendered useless if one did not properly use formal analysis. What formal analysis is and what it’s asking us to do is to simply take note of what the artist has done visually in his or her work. What the artist has done visually is a broad phrasing, so it is important to hone in on visuals such as color, line, space, mass/scale, material, contrast, position, composition, and illusionism. While it seems like a lot to take in, each component is vital to pay attention to in order to fully grasp what it is the artist is trying to convey through their artwork. An artists use of a certain range of color, their emphasis of line and linear contours and the space they create within their work all speak volumes of what it is they’re trying to convey. These components can be categorized as the formal properties of formal analysis, but there is also subject matter and historical context to take into consideration when formally analyzing a piece of art.

In addressing the subject matter and historical context whilst using formal analysis, we are able to understand what/who the artist and their society had valued at the time and what they deemed worthy of preserving. The subject matter is more obvious than historical context, because it is supplied to you via the art you’re analyzing. Like in Titian’s Venus of Urbino, the subject matter is clearly Venus herself as she is not only front and center but takes up the majority of the canvas as well. While the subject matter here is clear as day, most would not know that Titian painted this work as a gift for a young, newly wedded couple to give a push to consummate their marriage. However, while subject matter is easier to depict in formal analysis, historical context works to further give the artwork meaning. In short, formal analysis is integral to art history because it is essentially asking us to understand the crux of the artwork we’re examining. And what is art without us attempting to understand it and assign it meaning? What is art, without formal analysis?

Pedagogy and Power: What is the Banking Model to Friere? (And Me!)

In Paulo Friere’s novel Pedagogy and Power, he ridicules and dismisses the education system by creating a metaphor called the banking model of education. Friere constructs the banking model of education to appropriately describe the relationship between student and teacher as an oppressive one. Through Friere’s eyes, the teacher is seen as an all knowing being and the student an empty vessel. Their relationship consists of the teacher simply depositing all of their knowledge into the students like containers, establishing an inequality and reinforcing that there is only one right way to learn. It takes away any possibility that the teacher might not have all the right answers and takes away the possibility that the teacher could possibly benefit from a student’s knowledge (the student’s knowledge outside of the education system is ignored). Creativity is stripped away as well, when teaching methods remain rigid and authoritative. The students simply receive and memorize the knowledge bestowed upon them and spit it back out when taking standardized testing. This is not beneficial to either the donor or the recipient, however Friere is obviously assigning empowerment to the educator and disempowerment to

Before I went to college and read thought provoking and controversial pieces like Pedagogy and Power, I preached the banking model of education to anyone who would listen to me without even knowing they were Friere’s words. My entire 12 years of mandatory schooling within the education system is just flash images of me sitting in an uncomfortable desk listening to my teacher drone on and participating with answers and questions I knew they only wanted to hear. To question my teacher’s position as the proprietor was not only deemed as disrespectful but foolish as well. I don’t think I can narrow down my experience of the banking concept of education down to one moment in one class when I truly believe that my entire education from elementary school through to high school conformed to what Friere argued about. High School more so than perhaps middle school and elementary school, made me feel small and insignificant. The only class that made me feel as if what I had to say was important had to have been my English classes, but even then there was a right way to analyze a certain piece of literature that I might not have always got right. Having to deal with standardized testing (ELA’s, NY regents, etc) made me feel as though learning was a chore and pressured me into an anxiety ridden state of mind for not being able to digest and memorize all of the information thrown at me adequately. The only positives that I can think of concerning this way of learning as the student, is being open to the idea and prospect that we all still have plenty of learning to do and grow from.