Hi everyone! Since it’s now the summer break, I’m going to use this opportunity to show you some of the kinds of art works we looked at over the first year and hopefully introduce you to the sorts of things you should be looking for in art to help you understand it better.
This is The Raft of the Medusa by Théodore Géricault, completed in 1819.
Things to consider: (this is by no means exhaustive, it’s just the way I do it)
-What is the subject? (look for religious/political figures)
-What is the style, how has it been painted?
-How does your eye move around the picture, how has this been achieved?
-How have colour, light and shade been used?
-What information does the historical context of the painting give us?
So, we know by the title, this is a painting of the survivors of the Medusa, shipwrecked off the coast of Mauritania in 1816. It shows them just before they are rescued.
The use of bold colours and highlights, along with the dramatic way the figures have been posed and the date show us this painting is in the Academic style,yet the softness of the light and the vitality and action of the scene are more Romantic in style than Academic.
When you look at the painting, your eye travels from the bodies in the foreground, up the mast and across to the man waving the flag at the ship in the distance. This is because of the way the painting has been composed, in two pyramid forms:
The lighting is dramatic, there is a lot of bright highlight but there is a lot of dark as well. The dark in the sky highlights the danger the people are in, as does the dark shades in the water.
The date of this painting, 1819, tells us that when it was made, the sinking on the Medusa was a recent event (1816). Since Academic painters usually stuck to historical or mythological subjects, this makes the painting unusual. But we also know that the story of the sinking of the Medusa and the rescue of her survivors was somewhat of a national obsession, with extensive coverage by the media of the time. In this way, the artist is telling us that he feels the story of the survivors of the Medusa was so important that it deserved to be shown in the same way as classic figures of antiquity and mythology.
And there you have it! This is obviously the most basic of overviews, but it works. Try looking at other paintings and applying this check list and to see what you can come up with, it will be excellent practice if you are starting History of Art in October. I wish someone had given me a way to quickly analyse a painting a year ago, it would have saved me many hours of trawling the internet looking for information that was in the painting all along!
As a final word, because today is Fathers Day, I’d like to send some love to those of you who have terrible, absent or abusive fathers. I’m so sorry there is a national holiday apparently designed to shame you for things that are absolutely not your fault. Be safe, and I’ll be back on Tuesday with some more Things To Do In Leicester That Are Not Dependant On the Consumption of Vast Quantities of Alcohol to Have a Good Time.