Perspectives: The Every Day or "God is in the Details"
|Paul, Herman and Jean Limbourg. (The Limbourg
Le Tres Riches Heures du duc de Berry 8"x5" 1413
tempera on parchment French Renaissance
Le Tres Riches Heures du duc de Berry 8"x5" 1413
tempera on parchment French Renaissance
|Form: This book is tiny! At 8" by 5"
the artist had a very small area to work with in rendering his subjects,
yet each image is extremely detailed and realistic. The figures clothing,
postures, and environments such as landscapes and homes were extreemly
carefully and accurately rendered. Nevertheless, the artists who
painted these did not bother with the strict conventions of linear perspective
that we see in Italian art from the same period.
The space is constructed using a combination of intuitive perspective, some linear and vertical perspective. Atmospheric perspective is out of the question.
Iconography: The depiction of genre scenes, the depiction of everyday life and everyday events, is a convention that really begins with Giotto's and Assisi's humanism. If one sees the face of God in every event and every interactaction, well then one might behave. The realer it looks, the more we can personally realte to it and the more pursuasive it might be. God is then in the everyday details. However, the lack of linear and atmospheric perspectives of these images is iconic or at the very least somewhat symbolic of a very Northern idea, that "God is in the details" in another way as well.
For the Limbourg brothers, the idea that images should be didactic first is a prime concern. Even though the images are very real looking and therefore we can relate to them because the realism is so pursuasive and the clothing so accurate it was more imortant that the ideas were clear. Sometimes realism was sacrificed for clarity.
These pages are out of what's called a "Book of Hours." According to the Brittanica, a "Book of Hours" was,
devotional book widely popular in the later Middle Ages. The book of hours began to appear in the 13th century, containing prayers to be said at the canonical hours in honour of the Virgin Mary. The growing demand for smaller such books for family and individual use created a prayerbook style enormously popular among the wealthy. The demand for the books was crucial to the development of Gothic illumination. These lavishly decorated texts, of small dimensions, varied in content according to their patrons' desires.Most likely, the use of the book of hours and specifically this one is based on this Bible passage from Ecclesiastes. The passage and the pages might share the following. In almost all of the images from this manuscript there are images of work in the foreground of the image. In the background are images of castles and churches. It might be possible to conclude, at the risk of reading too much into things, that the kingdom of heaven awaits after all the hard work of living a righteous life is done.
Ecclesiastes Chapter 3
If you count your time on earth and keep track of the days and seasons, well then there is still a possibilty of making it into heaven. The book of hours and its tracking of the heavenly bodies and the seasons also refers to Aquinas ideas having to do with the harmony of the universe.
Limburg also spelled LIMBOURG (all b. after 1385, Nijmegen, Brabant [now in The Netherlands]--d. by 1416), three Flemish brothers who were the most famous of all late Gothic illuminators. They synthesized the achievements of contemporary illuminators into a style characterized by subtlety of line, painstaking technique, and minute rendering of detail. The sons of a sculptor, Arnold van Limburg, they were also the nephews of Jean Malouel, court painter to the Duke of Burgundy, and are sometimes known by the name "Malouel." The brothers worked together, and although the most celebrated appears to have been the eldest brother, Pol, it is difficult to distinguish their individual styles.
About 1400 the brothers were apprenticed to a goldsmith in Paris, and between 1402 and 1404 Pol and Jehanequin were working for the Duke of Burgundy in Paris, possibly on the illustration of a Bible moralisée now in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. Some time after Burgundy's death in 1404, they entered the service of his brother, the Duke de Berry, and it was for him that their most lavishly illustrated books of hours (the popular form of private prayer book of the period) were produced. The Belles Heures (or Les Heures d'Ailly; now in The Cloisters, New York) show the influence of the Italianate elements of the contemporary French artist Jacquemart de Hesdin's illuminations. The Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry (Musée Condé, Chantilly, Fr.), considered their greatest work, is one of the landmarks of the art of book illumination and ranks among the supreme examples of the International Gothic style. It is essentially a court style, elegant and sophisticated, combining naturalism of detail with overall decorative effect. An awareness of the most progressive international currents of the time, particularly those deriving from Italy, suggests that at least one of the brothers visited there. The Très Riches Heures was left unfinished in 1416 but was completed about 1485 by Jean Colombe.
The Limburg brothers were among the first to render specific landscape scenes with accuracy. Their art did much to determine the course that Early Netherlandish art was to take during the 15th century.
"LIMBOURG." Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM. Copyright © 1994-2001 Britannica.com Inc. November 26, 2002.
Robert Campin (the Master of Flemalle) Merode Altarpiece c. 1425
|Form: This image shares much in common with the
portrait. The first thing one is struck with when looking at this
painting is how "real" it looks. This too was probably painted first
in tempera paint and then glazed in succesive layers with oil paint.
According to the Brittanica,
Oil paints are made by mixing dry pigment powder with refined linseed oil to a paste, which is then milled in order to disperse the pigment particles throughout the oil vehicle. According to the 1st-century Roman scholar Pliny the Elder, whose writings the Flemish painters Hubert and Jan van Eyck are thought to have studied, the Romans used oil colours for shield painting. The earliest use of oil as a fine-art medium is generally attributed to 15th-century European painters, such as Giovanni Bellini and the van Eycks, who glazed oil colour over a glue-tempera underpainting. It is also thought probable, however, that medieval manuscript illuminators had been using oil glazes in order to achieve greater depth of colour and more subtle tonal transitions than their tempera medium allowed.Part of the images reality is also based on the fact that the image appears to have some sort of depth, however, if one was to really diagram the image and trace all the orthagonals in the image you will discover that rather than having a single vanishing point or horizon line, this image has a zone where the lines kind of converge. Campin chooses to do away with the perspective system but I'm not sure if it's on purpose or because he hasn't chosen to master it and Stokstad avoids the issue by saying that Campin is perpetuating the international Gothic style.
If this image looks familiar to you it's probably because it is very similar in for to some earlier paintings of Annunciations we have looked at.
The Merode Altarpiece was created by Robert Campin, a Flemish artist (previously known as "the Master of Flemale"). The picture is a triptych, composed in three hinged panels (the outer wings can be closed over the middle panel, and probably has another painting on the closed wings). A particularly northern aspect of this painting are the many details, which are rich with symbolic meaning. The central panel focuses on Mary, who is absorbed in her reading. The angel Gabriel comes to her, announcing that she will be the mother of the Christ child. Symbols of her purity include the vase of white lillies, the open biblical text, (Mencher's note: the open biblical text is probably a book or hours like the Limbourg brothers) and the white linen. Close inspection also reveals an image of Christ on the Cross, floating from the direction of the circular windows, and the extinguished candle probably also relates to his death. The tilted perspective of the room allows all of the contents to be seen more easily than if he had used linear perspective (which has, by now, spread to the north, but not always used). Note also the gothic details evident in the architecture. To the left, a couple kneels at Mary's doorway to witness the scene (these are the donors who paid for the painting), and the right panel reveals Joseph working in his workshop. He is building mouse-traps, which is symbolic of Jesus' "trapping" of evil.The iconography of flowers plays particularly strong into this image because in the left hand panel we have an image of who is most likely the patrons of the image who are kneeling just outside of the door. This patron could be in the guise of a Saint, perhaps Peter, because of the key, or John the Evangelist. The flowers he is almost kneeling on are violets. Violets, although royal in color, grow close to the earth and are often walked on. In this way, these flowers represent Mary, who is both royal an humble. The rose bush behind them also may represent Mary because images, such as the rose windows of Gothic cathedrals, represent Mary and her passion.
Context: You've probably noticed that the caption above gives two names: Robert Campin and the Master of Flemalle. This is because there originally was a series of paintings attributed on the basis of style to a single painter but historians didn't know his name but they knew he was from Flemalle. Later on researchers discovered,
Documents show that Campin was established as a master painter in Tournai in 1406. Two pupils are mentioned as entering his studio in 1427--Rogelet de la Pasture (generally identified with the great Rogier van der Weyden) and Jacques Daret. The only documented work by Jacques Daret, an altarpiece executed for the Abbey of St. Vaast near Arras, shows close stylistic analogies with works by Rogier van der Weyden on one hand and works earlier in style by the Master of Flémalle on the other. Both seem to proceed from common models, for they obviously are not copies of one another. As the Tournai records give the name of Campin as master of both Daret and Rogier, it has been generally assumed that the Master of Flémalle may be reasonably identified with Campin. Some scholars, however, have stylistically considered the works ascribed to the Master of Flémalle as early works by Rogier himself.And so the debate goes on.
"Campin, Robert." Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM. Copyright © 1994-2001 Britannica.com Inc. November 19, 2002.
Context and Iconography: Art historians have often described this image as one that is full of "submerged symbolism." This means that the symbolism of the image is not exactly clear and many historians invent complex theories in which to interpret the introuction of such elements as mouse traps. One historian has proposed that the mouse traps represent that Jesus is the rat catcher of heaven.
Some of the debate about the iconography of this image
stems form the development of new subject matter in art because of the
rise of a new class of people. The new merchant classes were now
beginning to commission artists to paint their portraits. In the
process of including every day people in these images an element called
began to show up in art. Genre in French means a kind, but
art historians have assigned a different meaning to the word. A genre
element is one in which an everyday person or objects appear in the
painting. Unfortunately for art historians, the introduction of genre
elements introduces some confusion into the interpretation of
some of these images. In general though, the introduction of
is symbolic of the rising of a new class of people who are patrons of the
arts in Europe.
Petrus Christus. Saint Eloy (Eligius) in his Shop.1449
Oil on oak panel, 38"x33" (98 x 85 cm) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
|Form: The use of oil paint to create an incredible
level of realism is quite evident in this image. Here, the artist
shows off again by showing how well he is able to paint the textures and
surfaces of all of these loveley items.
Iconography: We see all the images of wealth and power. Petrus Christus has probably even included a "cameo" shot of the patrons of the image next to the Saint. Everyday life is transposed on the story of Saint Eloy who payed a ransom for his fellow brothers out of his own pocket. The elevation of a goldsmith, or moneylender, who is roughly the equivalent of our bankers is certainly a way of giving one's profession a positive spin. Manuel Santos Redondo discusses this in the passage below.
St. Eloy (Eligius) in His Shop, 1449, by Petrus Christus,[xxix] is the clear representation of a goldsmith working in his shop and attending two clients: a rich, well-born bridal couple. It seems to be a representation of the goldsmith's trade, with the excuse of the portrait of a saint (hardly a subtle ploy, since St. Eloy is the patron of goldsmith's guild). The goldsmith sits behind a window sill extended to form a table, a pair of jeweler's scales in one hand, a ring in the other. Only his halo suggests that the painting deals with legend. On the right is a display of examples of the goldsmith's craft. The picture may very well have been painted for a goldsmith's guild (the one in Antwerp)
St. Eligius is the Patron of metalworkers. As a maker of reliquaries he has become one of the most popular saints of the Christian West. Eligius (also known as Eloy) was born around 590 near Limoges in France. He became an extremely skillful metalsmith and was appointed master of the mint under King Clothar of the Franks. Eligius developed a close friendship with the King and his reputation as an outstanding metalsmith became widespread. It is important to notice that most prominent features in the life of St. Eligius can be seen both as indications of sanctity and the best professional characteristics of a good goldsmith. In the goldsmith's trade, skills were as important as reliability, as Adam Smith notices in Wealth of Nations: “The wages of goldsmiths and jewelers are every-where superior to those of many other workmen, not only of equal, but of much superior ingenuity; on account of the precious materials with they are intrusted”.[xxx] Eligius is praised for both qualities. From his biography, we can see how important this reliability of his goldsmith was, for the king to become Eligius' protector: "The king gave Eligius a great weight of gold. Eligius began the work immediately and from that which he had taken for a single piece of work, he was able to make two. Incredibly, he could do it all from the same weight for he had accomplished the work commissioned from him without any fraud or mixture of siliquae, or any other fraudulence. Not claiming fragments bitten off by the file or using the devouring flame of the furnace for an excuse."[xxxi] The portrait Saint Eligius by Petrus Christus is a fine example of the “occupational portrait”, describing a goldsmith's shop, the only religious connection being the halo and the fact than the saint is the patron of the guild.Context: About the artist: Petrus Christus 1420-1472/73, Bruges
The moneychanger and his wife: from scholastics to accounting,
by Manuel Santos Redondo
Born in Baerle, a village in Brabant, in the early 1400s, PetrusChristus came to the bustling, cosmopolitan city of Bruges in 1444, when he purchased citizenship. His earliest extant works date from around 1445. They are deeply influenced by the supersharp delineations of Jan van Eyck. It used to be thought that Christus studied with Jan, but it is now known that he arrived in Bruges too late to have had any direct encounters with the master. Nevertheless, the many copies he made of Jan's work (several of which are included in this exhibition) suggest that he had access to Jan's workshop after his death.
Exhibition notes. by Roger Kimball New Criterion, May94, Vol. 12 Issue 9, p55, 2p HTML Full Text
MASSYS, Quentin. also called Metsys
The Moneylender and his Wife, 1514
Oil on panel, 71 x 68 cm Musée du Louvre, Paris
|by Manuel Santos Redondo says this about
Quentin Massys'[i]The Moneychanger and his Wife, dated 1514. On the table are placed coins, a set of scales, and various other tools of their trade. ("various other tokens of their wealth", says the art historian Jean-Claude Frère, 1997, p. 186. This is our first difference in interpretation). The man is weighing gold coins with great care. At that time, coins with the same face value varied in the amount of gold they contained (and therefore in their real exchange value), because it was a normal practice to file them down, clip them, or to shake them together in a bag in order to collect the gold dust they produced. So, the moneychanger is simply going about his business, not counting his money as a miser would do. And, if you look at his face, it is not the face of a miser, but the face of a concentrating working man, carefully carrying out his job. His wife is looking at the coins and scales too; but she has a book in her hands. The book is a religious one, an illustrated "book of hours". Marjorie Grice-Hutchinson, the historian of economic thought who first brought economists attention to the Spanish Scholastics of the "School of Salamanca", considers Massys painting an illustration of the intention of the Scholastics to make compatible the commercial practices of their time with the Church's doctrine on usury. According to her interpretation, Massys painting portrays the money lender at work and, at the same time, discussing with his wife the fairness of a particular commercial deal, helped by consulting the religious book his wife is reading.[ii]
Many other interpretations of Massys’s work consider this picture as to be a moralizing one, in a much stronger sense than that of Grice-Hutchinson's view. The Encarta Encyclopedia says: "In The Moneychanger and his Wife, the subtly hinted conflict between avarice and prayer represented in the couple illustrates a new satirical quality in his paintings."[iii] (It is curious that the "Web Gallery of Art", together with the Encarta article, provides this contradictory explanation:"The painting remains in the Flemish tradition of van Eyck, with the addition of a profane sense of beauty, sign of a new world").[iv) Another scholar says this about Massys: "Painters also began to treat new subjects. Men like Quentin Massys, for example, played an active role in the intellectual life of their cities and began to mirror the ethical concerns expressed by humanist thinkers with new paintings that used secular scenes to impart moralizing messages. Vivid tableaux warned against gambling, lust, and other vices."[v]
At the bottom of the painting there is a circular mirror; we can see the tiny figure of a man wearing a turban. For some reason, the following is the explanation of the art historian Jean-Claude Frère: "a side window, under which we can just make out the tiny figure of a thief. He would seem to be spying on the couple as they count their gold, while they would seem to be oblivious to his presence, blinded by their greed".[vi] Let us leave aside the greed and concentrate on the tiny man. Is he a thief? I don't know. But I'm sure he is not "spying on the couple as they count their gold": I am not an art historian, but it seems clear to me that the man is inside the room, he is reading a book and looking out of the window to the street. In think that this is not a casual mistake: it is consistent with art historians’ interpretation.
Symbolism, a source of moralistic interpretation My view is that art historians explanation of The Moneychanger and his Wife as a satirical work containing symbolic allusions hidden from contemporary observers, is merely a reflection of their own prejudices concerning certain economic activities. Let us consider the serious arguments supporting the symbolic explanations of paintings of the Flemish Renaissance, in order to be able to judge when a painting has this meaning and when has not. The famous art historian Erwin Panofsky held that the Early Flemish painters had to reconcile the "new naturalism" with a thousand years of Christian tradition. Based on St. Tomas Aquinas, who thought that physical objects were "corporeal metaphors for spiritual things", Panofsky (Early Netherlandish Painting, 1953) maintains that "in early Flemish painting the method of disguised symbolism was applied to each and every object, man made or natural".
The moneychanger and his wife: from scholastics to accounting,
by Manuel Santos Redondo
genre n [F, fr. MF, kind, gender--more at gender] (1770) 1: a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content 2: kind, sort 3: painting that depicts scenes or events from everyday life usu. realistically