Tutor Report – Assignment 2

Tutor report
Overall Comments

This is a competent and balanced second assignment, emphasising your good interpretative skills
Progress since the previous assignment: You are showing a more consistent appreciation of images and producing a more detailed study of visual material.

Assessment potential

I understand your aim is to go for the Creative Arts Degree and that you plan to submit your work for assessment at the end of this course. From the work you have shown in this assignment, providing you commit yourself to the course, I believe you have the potential to succeed at assessment. In order to meet all the assessment criteria, there are certain areas you will need to focus on, which I will outline in my feedback.

Feedback on assignment

Assignment 2 – Report on a visit to a house: Pollok House, Glasgow

Your assignment was good in addressing the objectives of this task (complimented by your images), and presented a structured narrative.
You distinguished some of the key elements of Georgian architecture (proportion, symmetry, employment of a decorative vocabulary derived from the classical period, accents of opulence etc). It was interesting to see you include a few references to the interior mouldings and their treatment of complexity, dimension, and taste (ref. Billiard Room). A couple of extra notes citing decorative objects/furnishings would have broadened your interpretation.
Your observations on the collection of Spanish paintings (El Greco, Cano, Murillo, Goya, Sanchez Coello, and high quality workshop versions of pictures by Velázquez and Ribera) demonstrated an awareness of the role of setting in determining how works of art are viewed and understood. You extended this with a more sustained identification of the images and understanding of why they had been related in the way they had. So, you thought about how the style of the rooms/artworks reflected the tastes, personal desires, cultural experiences, interests and mentalité of its owners.

An area to explore: The first photographically illustrated book on art was William Stirling’s (Sir William Stirling Maxwell’s) Annals of the Artists of Spain (1848).
As you noted, many of the paintings Stirling collected reflected his art historical interests in royal patronage (his Annals were arranged around this topic and he had a fascination for Charles V and Don John of Austria). Stirling’s acquisition of works such as Martinezde Gradilla’s Portrait of Philip IV, epitomises his interest in the historical, rather than necessarily the artistic value of works of art. (Stirling bought the painting in 1851 and few, if any, other collectors in Britain at the time would have recognised that this rather strange Spanish picture had any importance at all.)
Stirling was also concerned with the social status of artists in Spain and their attempts to increase this through the setting up of academies. He was particularly interested in the portraits of artists, such as Vicente Carducho’s Self Portrait.
Stirling’s collecting of Goya shows that he was also a connoisseur with modern tastes and ideas. As you observed, he greatly admired Goya as a satirist of monks, the Holy Office and the Court, and as “an inventor of horrible monsters, cloudy shapes suggestive of deeper horrors, or malicious frisking devilkins” (Stirling, Annals).

 

This entry has been updated taking into consideration these comments and noting that the entry was revised after my tutor report.

Please see: https://kappletonart.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=1152&action=edit

TUTOR REPLY TO QUERY RE. ADDITION OF MATERIAL INTO BLOG RETROSPECTIVELY – “In answer to your first query regarding incorporating new information and reworking material in the light of my comments, you can develop or add to sections of work that you have previously sent to me before you submit your material for formal assessment – if you want to, of course!  (Students are encouraged to develop their work to produce more detailed written submissions where appropriate.)  Just make a note stating that sections have been revised, so that you can show your assessors how you are reflecting on and responding to tutor comments.”

Project 1 – Analysis of a C16th Italian painting: Titian – Diana and Actaeon

You demonstrated understanding of the subject as a poesia (ref. Ovid’s Metamorphoses), and you scrutinised the arrangement and use of multiple design elements (autumnal light, vivid colour, texture and breadth of summary brushwork).
You also looked at how Titian celebrates the palpable physicality of sensuous, lustrous flesh (i.e. it is not bound by the contours of the figures, but imperceptibly blends into the surrounding air and landscape), which is made all the more tactile by comparison to the textures of flowing water, the transparent glass vessel by the fountain, and the swag of rose-red drapery.

Note: A formalistic art criticism would see the curtain as a prop brought in for the balance of the composition. It has a prominent part, in arresting the attention of the observer from far off before they move closer to take in the detail of the action, but is Titian’s curtain more than a formal device? What is its function in the drama itself?
A close consideration of Actaeon’s thought and action before the moment of revelation makes clear the need for a hinge to create a dramatic shift. Thus the role of the nymph who draws back the curtain becomes crucially significant. She does not merely occupy the scene as an extra to the action; she has a performing part. She has used the curtain to lure and deceive Actaeon. (X-rays have revealed that Titian made an important change to the nymph’s pose. Previously, she looked not at Diana, but at Actaeon.)

You touched on the way in which Titian has chosen to focus upon the suddenness of the moment, contrasting Diana and Actaeon in their expressions of surprise. You considered the artist’s orchestration of Actaeon’s action through the treatment of draperies (i.e. Actaeon has arrived in a hurry – a cloth attached to his quiver flies and his own tunica continues to move towards the right when he himself has already come to a sudden stop), and the daring liberties Titian has taken with Diana’s twisting anatomy to convey the intensity of her recoil and rage. (Titian took immense trouble with the figure of Diana, first painting her realistically from the side, and only at the end deciding on the anatomically impossible pose that shows the breast in profile as well as nearly the whole of the back.) Is Diana looking down and seeing Actaeon’s reflection in the water, or is her glare a sidelong glance?
Your management of comparisons with other works was good, but think a bit more about an oddity of perspective that appears in both Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto. In the latter, Titian uses two scales for his figures. The group of Diana is larger than that of Callisto, and the effect of an extended perspective distance between them results. Actaeon is also on a larger scale than the other figures of the scene in which he appears. The short ‘real’ distance between the recoiling principals on the picture plane helps counteract the centrifugal tendency of the composition and keep taut the lines of communication between them. In addition, around the theme of bathing, both pictures are about the revealing of what has been hidden.

Consider the influence of Raphael: Titian seems to have been particularly taken by Constantine’s gesture of surprise when confronted by the vision of the cross (Sala di Constantino, Vatican), for he reworked it in his Diana and Actaeon:

This entry has been updated taking into consideration these comments and noting that the entry was revised after my tutor report.

Please see: https://kappletonart.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=608&action=edit

Annotated Images
David – Death of Marat: Your overview identified: the methodical construction (David’s manifesto of revolutionary virtue); the detailed realism; overall contrasts in light and shade (a warm [divine?] light falls on Marat’s face and shoulders, infusing him with sympathy and a halo-like glow; a harsher, almost clinical light shines on Corday’s letter).
You examined David’s dramatic and inventive staging, with the expansive barren background (a proto Rothko surface, the scumbling setting up vibrations of light and dark across the surface) dominating the top half of the painting and Marat (all heavy tones and idealised flesh and form) the lower half. (Between the bottom half and top half a binary opposition is set up, active vs. passive, full vs. empty, flesh vs. spirit.)

It would have been worth noting that David probably based Marat’s figure on Christ in Michelangelo’s Pieta (see also Caravaggio’s Entombment of Christ), with the elongated arm hanging down. Marat’s limp arms, painted with a careful modulation of colour hues, also stress and balance the sharp horizontal and vertical planes of the lower half of the painting. (David made the painting a kind of “altarpiece” for the new civic “religion”.)

You referred to other features of interest such as: the use of muted colours (browns, greens and grey-yellow) to create a sober atmosphere, the iconography (e.g. the unclothed body may have associations with the renditions of heroes from classical mythology/history, making the bath a Roman sarcophagus), and details like the splintered crate.

 

This entry has been updated taking into consideration these comments and noting that the entry was revised after my tutor report.

Please see: https://kappletonart.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=993&action=edit

Poussin – A Dance to the Music of Time: You commented on the absolute rigour with which Poussin has composed his picture. (In terms of the manipulation of paint, the whole surface of the painting is gently softened by the prints of Poussin’s left thumb, which the supposedly cerebral artist applied to the canvas before priming to give it the most intimate of personal touches.)

As you stated, although the four dancing figures could be the Seasons, they are usually identified as representing the cycle of the human condition. So, in the background is Poverty, on the right Labour, in the foreground Wealth, and on the left Pleasure.

You talked about the use of colours, with the rosy flesh, the cool, purplish light streaming in from the left, and the central circle with its dazzling triad of blue, white, and gold fabrics. For more information on this see Beresford: “Poussin…needed to characterise the figures in terms of dress, pose and facial expression. Thus Pleasure is dressed in the primary colours blue and red, while Wealth is in gold and silver. Poverty and Labour are in earthier colours. The latter’s dull brick-red is daringly close in hue to the gold of Wealth, but lacks its lustre. The poses and facial expressions are also telling. Poverty gazes longingly at Labour, while Labour strains to catch a glimpse of Wealth. Wealth seems to disdain the hand of Labour, and her own self-conscious dignity contrasts with the glowing face of Pleasure.”

Note that Poussin almost certainly developed his personifications from Ripa’s Iconologia (first published in 1593 and again in expanded form in 1603), the standard allegorical handbook for artists of the day. (Hence why the putto blithely blows bubbles, Poverty wears a wreath of dried branches, and pearls adorn the hair of Wealth.) (Poussin also blends two sources in this work: the Wheel of Fortune and the Cosmic Dance.)

Observe the way in which the earthbound body is a strong theme of the picture: the dancers are caught in a soft ‘plié’; great attention is lavished on feet – heels and arches and gripping toes; the putti are seated with their legs splayed, knees torqued towards the ground and one hand set down for support, so as to show multiple points of magnetic contact between skin and earth. (All of this weightiness is offset by the angels of the Hours flying in the clouds above.)

It was good to see you record that the picture was a commission for Giulio Rospigliosi, but you could develop this point further. Poussin’s implicit coupling of Pleasure and Poverty in relation to Janus, the guardian god of warnings (the Term with two heads, young and old, draped in garlands standing stolid at the left edge of the painting), provides a subtle clue to the moral message of the ‘Dance’: their juxtaposition in fortune’s circle warns against submission to sensual pleasures. According to Poussin’s pictorial logic, overindulgence in feminine delights leads a man to destitution. This was an appropriate warning for the pious prelate who commissioned the painting. By all accounts Rospigliosi was a devoted and highly respected man of religion, committed to chastity and selfless service to the Church, so an admonishment against the pitfalls of earthly pleasures, particularly those offered by women, fits his moral code.

You included some useful comparisons with other works such as Poussin’s The Triumph of Pan (ref. highly centralised composition with the revelers arranged in a tightly knit group, harmonious rhythms, brightly coloured billowing drapery etc), Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne (e.g. the richness of colour [an immensity of implausibly pure, undiluted ultramarine, a stabbing jolt of vermillion, crimson, green etc], the great whirl of movement), and Claude’s The Dance of Apollo and the Seasons.

 

This entry has been updated taking into consideration these comments and noting that the entry was revised after my tutor report.

Please see: https://kappletonart.wordpress.com/2014/01/22/annotation-of-two-17th-century-art-works

Rembrandt – The Abduction of Europa: You appraised how the literary elements of foreshadowing and climax are used visually in the painting, recording Rembrandt’s vivid characterisation of human emotion (drama/psychological nuance, energy, and the physical impact of the abduction) and his contrasting of the looming, shadowed landscape with the fluttering figure of Europa and the shimmering surface of the sea (sense of atmosphere and space).

You scrutinised: the use of chiaroscuro; the brilliant, jewel-like palette; the fine brushwork; the juxtaposition of rich golden browns with cool tones of blue; the varied textures; the intricate articulation of the detail. You commented on the depiction of the city (Tyre/Amsterdam) and how it helps make this work ‘historical’ at the same time as informing our understanding of C17th Amsterdam and the patron. (Note also that Europa is decked in pearls fitting for the heiress of an equally Phoenician or Dutch maritime empire.)

Consider the themes of power, authority and governance. (Ref. Zeus, as the all-mighty and all-powerful god who imposes his will on a defenseless populace, who can be seen as a metaphor for government imposing itself on those it governs, raising issues of rights and responsibilities.)

Your remarks on Titian’s Rape of Europa strengthened your annotation, as you responded to the bold diagonal composition, free handling/blurred contours, and swirling, vivid combination of blues, reds, greens and flesh tones. (As you hinted, everything in Titian’s landscape seems to be in motion. In addition to its violence, there is also a primordial quality to the scene – a cosmos new-born.)

Your section comparing Rembrandt and Poussin in terms of landscape and atmosphere, use of light, depiction of figures, and poses, was very good and you might find the following useful too:

  • Plesch writes: “The quality that distinguishes Rembrandt from all his artistic contemporaries is that he not merely brings his subjects to life with colour, likeness and expression as they did too, but that he breathes a soul into them.”
  •  Rosenberg, explaining the formal qualities of Rembrandt’s art, writes: “Forms, in his compositions, are not allowed to become too definite or to have finality…If Rembrandt’s chiaroscuro has any deeper purpose, it is this: to suggest, to keep alive these mysterious relationships, so true yet so impenetrable for the purely rational approach, so strongly felt by the artist’s intuitive and religious mind, yet closed to the view of the aesthete and the Classicist who insist upon beauty and a fully controlled order.” So, Poussin’s work, by contrast, is considered a paradigm of academic classicism – his name is invoked in opposition to Rembrandt.
  • The debate over Rembrandt’s talents as a draughtsman in France can be traced as far back as the C18th, when Antoine Coypel compared Poussin’s and Rembrandt’s drawing techniques and found Rembrandt lacking.

 

This entry has been updated taking into consideration these comments and noting that the entry was revised after my tutor report.

Please see: https://kappletonart.wordpress.com/2014/01/22/annotation-of-two-17th-century-art-works

Learning Logs or Blogs

You produced a detailed review and set of personal reflections against the assessment criteria, covering the components of contextual understanding, wide reading, and the synthesis of information to develop your interpretations. (I would encourage you to demonstrate more of your analytical skills when looking at artworks and sources.)

I feel that I am changing in the way I write up my reports. Rather than just regurgitating facts I am trying to put more of my personal analysis into the study. I notice that this analysis is going on in my head all the time but I haven’t been aware of it. My task now is to notice my thoughts and try to jot these down when I have them. I struggle with this and find myself lapsing back into facts and figures but hopefully I can work on this with practice.

In terms of communication, note that this includes using the appropriate academic referencing conventions. So, your bibliographies for each project should employ the Harvard Referencing system. Further information on this can be found in the OCA’s guide to Harvard Referencing (available via the student site), but I have outlined a couple of the key points below.

List all the items that make up your background reading alphabetically by author. The general format varies depending on the type of work you are citing.

For books, it follows this pattern:
Author/editor surname, initials. (Year) Title: subtitle. Edition. Place of Publication: Publisher
For journals, the journal name is italicised, not the article title. The journal volume is in bold:
Author surname, initials. (Year) Title of article. Journal name. Volume number (issue or part number), first-last page numbers
When citing an electronic source, always give the URL (the address of the web page) and the date on which you accessed it.

I have started using this system in all my new entries and plan to go back and rework the bibliographies in my old entries.

Your blog included relevant exercises and ‘research points’ (e.g. on Seurat/Pointillism) and your work for the Roman palace and prints for sale exercises showed imagination. Your annotations were varied and impressively thorough. I particularly liked your pieces on Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (surveying the melancholy, distracted expression of the female, Suzon, and the inconsistency to the relationship between the reflections in the mirror and the real things – note the inspiration and influence for the work was Velázquez’s Las Meninas), and Caravaggio’s The Taking of Christ. In terms of the latter, you appraised the psychological depth of the piece and the compressed composition/close-up view (involving the spectator in the drama). You looked at how the figures are ingeniously arranged in a semicircle that suggests movement, the emphatic chiaroscuro, and how the picture glows with brilliant colour. (See Tom Lubbock’s interpretation of this painting in The Independent [April 6, 2007]: “In the Newton’s cradle, one ball, Judas, strikes a second, Jesus, which remains unmoved, but knocks a third, Mark, flying. It would be quite wrong then, compositionally and psychologically, to see Mark’s cry as Jesus’ implied next stage. It is there as a contrast to Jesus’ response. Well, it’s both. The two heads are certainly contrasted, opposed. But they are also arranged so that one appears to be the bodily and emotional next stage of the other. This makes their relationship interactive. Something is suggested, but also denied”.)

Building on your study of paintings by Poussin, you might like to work on this extension activity: Research the Poussinistes vs. Rubenistes controversy – i.e. the argument as to whether line or colour held more sway in the definition of form in a two-dimensional painting. (The Poussinistes insisted on line’s capacity for specific articulation – for delineation, and the Rubenistes insisted on the capacity of colour to flesh out palpable form.) Think about how the debate echoed the opposition, posed by Vasari, between the C16th schools of Tuscany and Venice, and the associated concepts of disegno and colore. What does the debate tell us about C17th mentalities, and the conceptions that shaped them?

I plan to do a blog entry for this topic.

It was good to see you recording gallery visits. Getting up close and personal with an image helps you experience the emotion and passion of that artist/creator and it might be useful to think about your responses to some of the following: how important is it to have seen the size, perspective and other distinct variables that an in person viewing allows? What is the value of the art gallery experience? Are there occasions when a reproduction presents a better showing than the original?

I certainly think that viewing the original work is far superior to seeing a reproduction. The size of a work of art can change the viewers experience, if it’s large it can create awe and an amazing emotional response. Likewise smaller works inspire their own impressions which are part of the viewing experience. Colour is of particular importance. No reproduction will ever be 100% correct in it’s imitation of the colours used and some are downright terrible. The curators spend a great deal of time considering the works relationship to other pieces in history and theme and this can also help the viewing experience.I will try to remember these points during a gellery visit in future so I can reflect on the work with this in mind.

Remember, although your blog is based on assignments and projects, it is also the place where you should be recording the story of your development through the module as evidenced by: your writings on art; your engagement with questions of art theory; your reflections on how what you have learned is relevant to you and how you will use the new information in the future; your notes on the extent to which your learning objective has been achieved; the processes you have been through.

I will try to include more entries that are “extra” to the assignments  and reflect this development. It is something that often goes on in my head but doesn’t get written down. This is probably due to my time constraints but I understand its an important element that I need to reflect on.

Suggested reading/viewing

Beresford, R. (1998) A Dance to the Music of Time by Nicolas Poussin. London: Wallace Collection
Bowron, E. P. et al. (2010) Titian and the Golden Age of Venetian Painting. New Haven: Yale University Press
Brown, C. (1991) Rembrandt: The Master and his Workshop. London: Yale University Press
Vaughan, W. & Weston, H. (eds.) (2000) David’s The Death of Marat. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Looking ahead to Assignment 3:

Harrison, C. & Wood, P. (eds.) (2002) Art in Theory 1900-2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas (2nd edition). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell
Hughes, R. (1991) The Shock of the New: Art and the Century of Change (revised edition). London: Thames and Hudson
Schama, S. (2004) The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age. London: Harper Perennial

Exhibitions:

Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh – The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize (until 26 May)
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh – Titian and the Golden Age of Venetian Art (until 14 September)

Pointers for the next assignment

Think about concepts, values and debates.
Try to produce a ‘dialogue’ between the artworks you are studying and your observations and critical evaluations of them.
Focus on discussing new ideas on your blog.
I will look forward to receiving your next assignment on the 21st of July.

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