malraux: art of pictorial fiction

Andre Malraux’s The Metamorphosis of the Gods…The dawning Renaissance bids farewell to Eternity, dragons, and sacred art-Venus descends from Olympus to become a naked woman…

Later ages, particularly the Renaissance, praised Giotto for his illusionism, his still relatively primitive, so it was thought, but nonetheless revolutionary faithfulness to nature. Giotto does indeed break with the rigidly formalized Byzantine tradition of painting, but not in the cause of realism. He does not, for example, invent the sky, as is sometimes said; he uses a deep blue background which is sometimes mistaken for being realistic, although it completely ignores the horizon; in fact it is not the sky of man but the sky of Christ.

Pre Renaissance
Another six by six foot panel from the Arena Chapel, Lamentation is the scene that takes place after the Crucifixion but before the Entombment. The now late Jesus is stretched across the lap of his mother Mary who is searching his face for any possible sign of life. This piece is very emotional as people gather to mourn the death of Christ. As a first time in art, there are two anonymous mourners that have their backs to the viewer to bring the viewer into the scene. In the image is a diagonal line on the rocky outcrop that goes from Jesus and runs up to a dead tree in the background. This line is tying in the Old and New Testaments together with the tree representing the Tree of Life from Genesis. —Read More:

Similarly, Giotto’s towns are anything but realistic; “when photography isolates their details, they make us think of a religious Cezannism.” Giotto relates events, as does the narrative imagery proliferating on the elaborate altar screens- the narratives which Christendom henceforth expects of art. His medium is akin to the Christian imagination of the great Gothic period, but where that was linked to the cathedral, Giotto’s is linked to the new world of pictorial fiction. He incents an imaginary theater whose plays are still sacred events and whose human characters bear the same accent of majesty that Romanesque and early Gothic sculpture gave to Christ.

—Give us no more of body than shows soul!

Here’s Giotto, with his Saint a-praising God,
That sets us praising, — why not stop with him?
Why put all thoughts of praise out of our head
With wonder at lines, colours, and what not?
Paint the soul, never mind the legs and arms!
Rub all out, try at it a second time.—Read More:

Giotto’s great achievement is that “he discovers a power of painting hitherto unknown to Christian art; the power, without sacrilege, to place a sacred scene in a world that resembles the world of man.” ( to be continued)…


Derek Allan: All this changed rapidly in the closing years of the nineteenth century and the early decades of the twentieth. Not that the Raphaels, the Caravaggios, the Titians and the Poussins were banished. But suddenly, after long centuries, the boundaries of the domain of art began to shift and blur. The so-called ‘primitives’ of European art such as Cimabue and Giotto began to grow in esteem. Selected artefacts from non-European cultures, which, if preserved at all, had been confined strictly to archaeological or anthropological collections, began to migrate by ones and twos into art museums. The process was gradual—gradual enough anyway that it seldom ‘made news’ as contemporaneous developments in twentieth century art, such as abstract art or ‘ready-mades’, made news. But its effects were no less revolutionary.The new world of art included not just earlier periods of European culture—Medieval, Romanesque, and Byzantine—but also a steadily widening range of non-European cultures, from Ancient Egypt to Pre-Columbian America, from Africa to India, China and the islands of the Pacific. By the mid-twentieth century, art for the West encompassed objects from the four corners of the earth and from cultures stretching back to the dawn of prehistory. The fetishes, idols, and ‘monstrosities’ had moved in beside the Raphaels and the Caravaggios to become works of art, and in many cases masterpieces. A different world of art—a transcultural world of art—had come into being.

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