Lecture Notes- Unit Two
Part One--Wolflin's Method
the Webmuseum. You will have to visit there
to see the full size images.)
After much research, Wolflin developed four pairs of stylistic differences which apply to much of the painting from the Renaissance through the late Romantic period and can be used to identify examples from different eras. In fact, his categories can be applied to all paintings, but as we get into the twentieth century, we will find all four pairs being represented by paintings seemingly randomly (which, we will discover, is part of the "style" of the twentieth century; that is, that it uses all styles.)
The easiest way to get started is to look at a pair of pictures that represents each of the pairs of stylistic elements.
A linear painting tends to have well-defined outlines. The figures seem to stand out slightly from the background. A painting that is painterly has a bit more blurry edges to the figures and the background will often fade out around the edges or at the top of the horizon. This draws our attention slightly to the "painted" aspect of the work.
This is Pietr Breugel's The Fall of Icarus. Notice the clarity. The edges of the figures are well defined and the slight blurring of the horizon is clearly trying to capture the way we actually see something far away rather than trying to be "painterly."
The Village Fete by Peter Paul Rubens, on the other hand, seems to be a mass of colors. It relies on our sense of what people look like and what space they take up in order to distinguish the various figures. And the blurring of the horizon is definitely less "real" than Breughel's. Yet the sense of movement this style creates is just right for what the painting is trying to capture.
in the Temple by Fra Angelico aligns the figures with the plane of
the canvas. The arch runs parallel and the figures, while not all on the
same plane, also run parallel with the surface of the painting. Finally,
the planar aspect of the painting which helps us to see that the figures
are parallel is the stone step the three upper figures are standing on.
If we were to look down on this scene from above as it would be in 3D,
we would see something like the figure below--
However, it is important to remember that all paintings of all eras can be discussed using these pairs, which is why I put in the Delacroix (from neo-classical period) as an example. Works of other eras may combine the pairs differently, but the design elements will still be there and will provide you with a way of talking about the painting.
Now let's look at de La Tour's The Education of the Virgin in terms of these pairs.
One would have to say that the outlines of the figures are clean and distinct, as in the linear style. Yet the single source of light suggests the element of multiplicity as the figures blend into the background at the point where the light is blocked. The colors are both distinct and shaded, again, depending upon whether the color is in the direct pool of light or not. As for planar/recessional, a first look would suggest that it is indeed planar, with the two figures being parallel with the canvas. But the candle, book, and shadow of the basket (go to the larger version for a better look at the shadow) create diagonals with the book being the center of a V . We are drawn to see the figures in the room in relation to the book, which creates several diagonals.
As to open and closed form, it is mostly closed. The fading into blackness keeps us from imagining anything other than the scene we are seeing.
Of course, nothing is ever as cut and dried as Wolflin's four pairs would make analyzing paintings seem to be. Where de La Tour lived (the north of France, near the Netherlands) had a strong influence on his work as the style of the North countries had more impact on him than the style being practiced in France and Italy. Still, these four design element pairs make an excellent analysis tool and help us to continue our conversation about Art.
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