PERSPECTIVE: Uncanny Leaps of Expression and Identity

Within a single generation early in the fifteenth-century, three Flemish artists gave final, consummate expression to the Gothic spirit…

Perspective, as a systematic distortion paralleling the action of the eye- which is all perspective is, mechanically- becomes a form of expression in its identity with coherent , continuous space.

To emphasize this point, the rather choppy space of the Master of Flemalle’s “Annunciation” can be used for contrast, although we are putting that admirable painting at an unfair disadvantage. This choppiness has a great deal to do with the picture”s basic character as a somewhat bookish catalogue of symbols. We are looking down into the room, for the most part. We look down at the table-top and down at the floor from an eye level that would have to be several feet from the ceiling. Yet we also look up at the ceiling. We look head-on at the back wall and head-on at the faces of the angel and the Virgin; if these were in the same perspective as the table, we would see much of the tops of the heads.

Campin Merode Altarpiece "Annunciation" Center Panel. John Haber:Whatever the reason, time and again paintings after Campin included two vanishing points. An annunciation by Jan van Eyck or a follower, also in the Met's collections, could stand for many. The foreground plain tilts sharply upward. It implies a gradual recession into depth and gives the actors ample space for a timeless drama. Above then and behind them, the top of the panel tells a different story. There the landscape recedes quickly into depth. The perspective just will not add up, because it is out to create distinct realms of experience. In the fifty years after Campin, artists, even in manuscripts, learn to eliminate any dual perspective. They want no glitches in their command of their art. They increasingly crowd out the sacred. They give another shape—and another voice—to the sanctity of experience. Art, in short, will increasingly exchange miracle for meaning.

We look straight-on at the end of the bench at the right, yet we also look down onto its seat and sideways at its length. Without regard for true perspective the various elements of the composition have their separate and insistent outlines. The picture thus becomes an enumeration of objects that, bound together spatially, might fuse ideologically. As it is, their combination seems arbitrary, although one by one they are directed toward the same explanatory end.

The “Annunciation” must be absorbed detail by detail before we comprehend its total message. The Arnolfini picture, on the contrary, absorbs us so immediately, and so completely into its warm, grave and quiet world that the examination of its details is only an accessory pleasure- if so great a pleasure can be described as accessory to anything.

van Eyck.Arolfini Portrait. The subjects exist as complete beings, an individual man and an individual woman whose tender relationship to one another is fully expressed without any sentimental intrusion. The symbols, rather than being grafted onto the picture, are both an integral enrichment of a mood and a declaration, established by the painting as an independent pictorial expression.

The textures of metal, glass and wood, of velvet and linen, of the fur of the little dog, all accepting the light to reveal their own natures ; the consistency of this light’s flow from its sources; the continuity of the space as we look into the picture, and the unquestionable truth with which each object assumes its distance from the eye and its proper relationship to the other objects in the painted room- all this description of light, space, and solid volumes unifies the picture in ways that are explicable technically, even if they are all but superhuman in technical execution. This level of craftsmanship becomes genius, but the picture is also held together by the unanalyzable factor of the artist,s sensitivity to psychological unity.

Rogier van der Weyden. Annunciation. "The painting seems to have been designed to suit the Flemish taste for intimate domestic scenes, according to which painters were expected to portray religious themes in familiar bourgeois interiors. Yet, this does not derive from any concern for the minutiae of realist detail, but from properly theological reasons. The new religious tendency in Flanders at that time was the "devotio moderna". This doctrine urged the believer to meditate on Christ's humanity, by representing it to himself in the context of his present life. In Rogier's painting, the contemporary setting, underlined by the absence of haloes, is meant to draw the viewer in so that he effectively participates in the scene before him. This is why the angel Gabriel appears before Mary dressed in an immaculate alb and magnificent brocade cope, as if he had come to celebrate mass, rather than deliver a message."


This entry was posted in Art History/Antiquity/Anthropology, Feature Article, Ideas/Opinion, Miscellaneous, Visual Art/Sculpture/etc. and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>