Example: Art History
Diana Ellsworth '01
Art History 2
March 6, 1998
When artists create new works, they must pay careful attention to every decision they make. Everything from the hues of their palletes to the positioning of objects with regard to the horizon contribute to the overall meaning of a work. Artists must use color, line, space, perspective, size, and subject matter to achieve their final goals, and thus a close inspection of these same elements helps a viewer to distinguish what an artist is trying to convey. While Raphael's School of Athens (1509-1511), recreated by Giorgio Ghisi, and William Hogarth's Marriage-a-la Mode Plate I (1743), recreated by Louis Gerard Scrotin, have certain elements in common, others differ, making the artists' divergent intentions apparent.
In both cases, engraving was the obvious choice for recreating the original works because it allows more emphasis to be put on detail than do the similar methods of etching and drypoint. Raphael and Hogarth both employ intense detail in their original paintings, but as the means to different ends. School of Athens, depicting philosophy as one of four branches of knowledge, is one of four wall murals Raphael completed in the Stanza della Segnatura. Displaying fine detail in the figures and garments of the great philosophers helped Ghisi to recreate a sense of esteem for the clarity of thought born from these high minds. In recreating Hogarth's modern moral subject, Scotin recognizes the necessity of detail to fulfill intentions of his social commentary. In examining his Marriage-a-la Mode, Plate I, one finds numerous symbols and allusions that could have easily been lost in translation to another medium. For example, the two dogs in the foreground are linked by a chain, symbolizing the couple about to be tied together by the marriage contract being negotiated. Both Ghisi and Scotin succeed at recreating the original work as a more easily accessible piece without losing the key use of detail.
Both engravings portray a group of people, but different perspectives and use of space lead to different overall attitudes. In Ghisi's work, the world's ancient philosophers are gathered in a great hall, almost resembling actors on a stage. While they engage in animated interactions with one another, the viewer is left standing outside the picture space, slightly below the eye-level of the engraving's figures. A sense of veneration is almost demanded by the composition, with the lines from the vaulted ceiling, the tiled floor, and the upper window all converging to one vanishing point directly between the heads of Aristotle and Plato. While this leads to a balance between their two philosophies, a symbolic merge of two great minds, it also emphasizes the distance between the historical figures and the viewer, particularly in Raphael's enormous original, which looms several feet over the viewer's head.
On the contrary, Scotin employs numerous devices to make the viewer feel part of the scene. Not only is the viewer on the same level as the subjects of the work, but the figures appear close to the front of the picture space. Also, the aristocrat's slightly rolled-up family tree almost reaches the bottom edge of the picture. If it were to unroll the rest of the way, it would extend beyond the edge and enter the viewer's actual space. Scotin's copy of Hogarth's design goes against all the Renaissance ideas of linear perspective. By not showing the left wall, Scotin forces the viewer to approach the scene from an awkward angle. All of the figures are on a relatively even level, causing the viewer's gaze to travel from one to the other, but the slight diagonals and the angle formed where the walls meet the ceiling eventually cause it to rest on the couple in the corner. The pair, the bride-to-be and one of the lawyers, leans towards one another, foreshadowing their eventual affair. The husband-to-be, meanwhile, is too interested in his own reflection to notice. The subjects are not removed from the viewer's own space and time; rather, they are right there with him, a part of his life. Forcing the viewer to recognize the satire in the art and see it as an aspect of his own society, Hogarth effectively used his work to motivate social change.
Another similarity between School of Athens and Marriage-a-la Mode, Plate I, is the presence of art and architecture within the engraving. Tremendous statues of Apollo, patron god of the arts, and Athena, patron goddess of wisdom, appear on either side of Ghisi's work, decorating the facade of a series of arches, and again stressing the high status of the engraving's subjects. The monumental arches not only refer to the High Renaissance idea of returning to the ideals of ancient Rome, but they also make reference to Bramante's plan for the new St. Peter's.
Scotin uses art in his engraving for a dual purpose. The architecture seen through the window is in the Neo-Palladian style, tying the scene to the original viewer's time. However, the building is incomplete, stressing the socio-economic situation of the time; the wealthy aristocrats who had previously been the patrons of the arts were losing power and money as the rising merchant class gained ground. The artwork hanging on the walls also connects the engraving to a specific time while making a statement about the scene occurring below. Many of the paintings are recognizable, such as Caravaggio's Medusa which stares with horror at the intimate exchange between the young woman and the lawyer. Many of the other paintings are religious images depicting suffering, symbolically foreshadowing the young couple's future. By connecting the work to the viewer's own society, Scotin makes the social commentary harder to ignore.
While Giorgio Ghisi and Louis Gerard Scotin used the same printing process, they recreated two tremendously different works created with two tremendously different motives. However, the essences of both Raphael's High Renaissance mural and Hogarth's Rococo painting were preserved in the successful engravings.
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