Following my recent mini interview with Soho Editors on how painting influences my work I thought I would dedicate this blog to expend on my answers and talk a little bit about the work of some important Renaissance artists.
"Renaissance art is rich not only in terms of beauty, aesthetics and technique but also in terms of the colours and symbols that it carries, portraying an insightful visual language.
There are some symbols that have held consistency in their meaning and make recurrent appearances in prominent masterpieces. The deeper you delve into the renaissance art, the more intriguing and open to interpretation it becomes. The world of renaissance art is the bridge between past, present and future."
The techniques used in early renaissance compared to high renaissance can differ quite dramatically.
Whilst renaissance art is known for its religious and traditional symbolism, important new techniques were introduced during this period that marked the transition of Europe from medieval period to the early modern age.
Techniques such as Sfumato and Chiaroscuro are perfect examples of this important transition.
Sfumato: The term was coined by Leonardo Da Vinci, and refers to a fine art painting technique of blurring or softening of sharp outlines by subtle and gradual blending of one tone into another through the use of thin glazes to give the illusion of depth or three-dimensionality.
Chiaroscuro: when drawing on coloured paper, the artist worked from the paper's base tone toward light using white gouache, and toward dark using ink, bodycolour or watercolour, creating a ‘shading’ effect, where three-dimensional volume is suggested by the value gradation of colour and the analytical division of light and shadow shapes.
The High Renaissance period saw some remarkable Italian painters such as Titian, a painter from the Venetian School known for The Assumption of the Virgin, a painting that combines human action and drama with spectacular colour and atmosphere.
His painting methods, particularly in the application and use of colour, would exercise a profound influence not only on painters of the late Italian Renaissance, but on future generations of Western art
"Lorenzo Lotto was another Italian painter active during the High Renaissance. Unable to compete with Titian, Lotto worked mainly outside Venice.
His works are characterised by the use of deeply saturated colours, bold use of shadow, and a surprising expressive range, from the nearly caricatural to the lyrical. He is one of the most individualistic of the great Italian painters.
In Lorenzo Lotto’s painting “Portrait of a woman inspired by Lucrecia” 1530-1532
You can see a sumptuously dressed young woman holding a drawing of the Roman heroine Lucretia. The story of Lucretia, who lived in the early sixth century BC, is told in Livy's 'History of Rome'. One night, Lucretia was abused by Prince Sextus Tarquinius; she took her own life after telling her husband and father who couldn't stop her from commenting suicide.
Lucretia’s last words are written on a paper on the table in this portrait. The Latin phrase is difficult to translate but roughly means that by killing herself Lucretia will deprive unchaste women of a possible excuse for living. Also on the table is a yellow wallflower, sometimes a lover's gift. The woman wears a gold wedding ring and a type of jeweled gold pendant associated with weddings. The empty chair may suggest her absent husband.
The sitter in Lotto's portrait, who was very likely called Lucretia, seems to be saying that she would follow her heroine's example."
The statement is strong, the choice of colour is very interesting, rich and complementary, from a ‘venerable’ palette, with mid tones of colours such as maroon, mahogany, hunter green and Antique gold… Interestingly, this palette of colour speaks to a certain heritage. the colours are noble yet, the choice of complementary colour in the woman’s dress brings opposition, strength and power, she will decide of her own fate.
The light is also strong on the woman, bringing attention to her face, upper body and to the table where we can notice the symbolic yellow wallflower and Lucretia letter.
Renaissance was the era that saw painters introduce the use of light and shadows to create a more dramatic effect as well as the use of symbolic colours.
"All colours held different meanings. Reds always meant high social status, Orange was worn by middle ranked people, Yellows depicted prostitutes, Green symbolised youth, love and joy, Light blue was for women of marriageable age, White for purity, Browns were for religious dressings, Grey for peasants , Purple was again a rich colour as it was popularised by the Medici family which wore Purple. Most of the artists used to make their own brushes, and colours. Blue was the most expensive colour used in art as it was made from crushing the valuable gemstone Lapis Lazuli, it was usually used to depict Virgin Mary’s clothes or special parts of the paintings".
To this day, colours have held a meaning in Art; in purely abstract paintings such as Wassily Kandinsky’s late work (from the Bauhaus); colours and shapes are there to resonate with the observer’s soul. Interestingly, Kandinsky conducted painting classes and workshops in which he augmented his colour theory with new elements of psychology.
Yellow Red Blue 1925- Kandinsky- Bauhaus
As we know, similar techniques are widely used in films and advertising, the psychological effect of colours is known to influence viewer’s emotions and perceptions.
For a chance to catch a glimpse of Lorenzo Lotto’s work, don’t miss this fantastic free exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery organised by the National Gallery and the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.
Uncover the symbolism and psychological depth of Lotto’s Renaissance portraits at the National Portrait Gallery from the 5 Nov 2018 to 10 Feb 2019.