Reply To: Painting

  • Encyclios

    April 24, 2023 at 9:12 AM

    From the Renaissance to the early twentieth century

    Renaissance painting, whether Florentine or Flemish, was born on this cultural terrain, as a scientific rationalization, by means of “perspective” and “proportions” (derived both from optical science and from the discoveries of classical statuary), of natural reality, reserving for itself, with respect to architecture and sculpture, a function more immediately linked to man and his fundamental values, relatively to the culture of the time: if Masaccio represents Saint Peter in his human guise of a poor fisherman and Andrea del Castagno the psychological drama of Judas’ betrayal, Piero della Francesca exalts the “classical” heroism of the princes of the time, while Mantegna and Raffaello magnify the cultural civilization.

    The most important technical innovation was the spread, by the Flemish masters, of oil painting, which allowed a use of color much closer to the “truth” of tempera. This contributed towards the middle of the 15th century to the attainment of a formal perfection consciously sought by the Renaissance painter in his double and indissoluble role of scientific researcher and “artist” (Leonardo and later Dürer).

    In the sixteenth century, the painting technique reached a complete mastery of language, so it was able to differentiate according to different themes. The new lay patronage in fact, beginning a process that was destined to culminate in the nineteenth century, determined the great development of the easel painting, usable in private homes, with the consequent differentiation of genres according to the destinations. On the one hand, therefore, traditional courtly painting continued (frescoes, religious altarpieces), institutionalized within the academies, while on the other, a genre painting developed, produced as a consumer object according to precise market laws and destined to have great development, especially in the seventeenth century in Holland.

    In Venice, in the sixteenth century, within a tradition firmly “coloristic”, was perfected the tonal painting (Giorgione), which realizes the relationship with reality through color and light rather than through the perspective construction; in it came together different experiences, from the atmospheric rendering of the Flemish to Leonardo’s meditation on the technique of painting, shadows and lights. In the Baroque age, painting experienced a great differentiation in style and content, in a continuous dialectical relationship between academic forms and the search for renewal of language (especially through color), while the historical and social fabric in which the artist acted deeply affected, and with increasing evidence, on the pictorial production. The traditional dichotomies Carracci-Caravaggio, or Rubens-Rembrandt should be understood in this sense; the total difference that exists between two contemporary pictorial forms such as, for example, French courtly painting, determined by the cultural policy of Louis XIV, and Dutch genre production, which reaches the exceptional formal quality of a Vermeer; the distance that separates the rigorous coldness of the classicist currents and the passionate religious altarpieces that meet the needs of the Counter-Reformation.

    In the eighteenth century, painting developed, on the basis of Baroque figuration, its expressive and aesthetic possibilities in an essentially coloristic sense (Tiepolo, Guardi, Watteau), reflecting the philosophy of life of its aristocratic recipients. At the same time, the culture of the Enlightenment and the bourgeoisie led to a growing awareness of the civil function that painting could take on (Hogarth, Longhi), leading to the theorization of painting as a political manifesto during the French Revolution (David, Goya).

    In the nineteenth century, painting assumed a pre-eminent position with respect to the other arts and corresponded perfectly in content to the new values of the bourgeoisie of the industrial age (romanticism, generism, realism, impressionism), while the “free” artist chose the road of continuous formal research, to achieve a language essentially pictorial that adhered to the continuous evolution of values (Delacroix, Ingres, Courbet, Manet, the Impressionists, Van Gogh, Cézanne). The continuous avant-garde position, which often corresponds to a precise and conscious progressive political commitment, also characterizes all the valid and innovative production of twentieth-century painting, which with Cubism and Abstractionism begins a relationship with reality no longer linked to optical vision begun in the fourteenth century, but to human instinct and subconscious, which is certainly not alien to the knowledge of psychoanalysis and psychology of vision.