Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Byzantine and Early Medieval Art Option 1

Taking a look at Byzantine and Medieval art, there is a big discrepancy with regards to naturalism than what was seen in Greek or Roman art. I find this to be interesting because in time, one would think that abilities improve, so naturalism would improve, but that does not happen here.
                The first piece that I think illustrates this difference is the “Presentation page with Abbess Hitda and St. Walpurga” located on page 450. The lack of naturalism becomes clear very early with looking at the size of the two people in the image in relation to the buildings. Another part, the center character has his head outlined with a gold flat halo, which is more symbolism than who one would actually appear. The figures also have a black outline, this outlines is used for physical features along with outlining their cloths. The use of line in place of actual features was not used in Greek art and is not a naturalistic trait. There is no sense of physical form or features present, Greek and Roman art emphasized the physical form and muscles. In this piece, the people are covered from head to toe in very loosely fitting clothing reflecting no physical features at all. On top of this, their appendages do not match their bodies. Both figures have abnormally small hands and feet compared to the rest of their body. What is interesting about that, the character on the left, despite having small hands, has abnormally long figures. There seems to be a lack of caring when it comes to correctly adding proportions to the characters. It is also clear that like medieval and Byzantine art, the figures are elongated abnormally in this figure. The distance between their feet and their waste is not naturalistic at all. Overall, I get the sense that the content of the piece takes precedent in making the figures look natural.            
                Another image which adds to the idea that medieval art stepped away from naturalism is the “Matthew writing his gospel” on page 431. Although not as blatant as the first one, there are some aspects of the people in this piece which really go away from naturalistic works. First is the existence of the halos like in the work before, used in more of a symbolic form than natural looking. Onto of this, all of the figures use outline and lines to represent their features. For example, Matthew’s beard and hair, does not look natural at all. Instead, it is stylized using lines of different colors; I do not know one man who has colored lines like that for hair. Also, his body parts seem unnatural, his feet are awkwardly lines up one behind another, it actually reminds me a little of Egyptian art. I also see this with his hands; this second hand which rests on the bible seems to just disappear off into mid air, normally one would see the arm continue in some fashion. Although not as evident at the other work, this form seems to be also elongated, longer than a person normally would be. The clothing is also used to really hide a lot of the physical characteristic. Like the previous work,  it appears that emphasis is placed on the subject matter and story told rather than representing people naturalistically. 


  1. I think it's interesting that you mention that the artwork Mathew Writing his Gospel has some Egyptian like qualities. After you saying this and taking a second look I agree with your opinion. I also agree that the content of the artwork was far more important to the artists rather than depicting a realistic scene.

  2. When you mentioned that all the people are dressed from head to toe in loose garments, I believe this was a heavy theme because as the Christian religion came nudity was a big no no. Also tight fitting clothing that gave any indication of the human form was not accepted. The humans were not important in the composition, it was the message the art conveyed.

  3. The artists depiction of the figures in "Presentation Page," despite not showing much of them, is very stylized indeed. I'm not sure that the artist wasn't concerned for the forms, but this was just the representation which he chose to go with. Also, the use of line in the piece helps the more important parts stand out. It has already been said, but I also like how you compared "Matthew Writing" to Egyptian art. In a way, he is almost in a pose you would see in many pieces during that time.