Traditional Art

Discussing art and media trends and organisations generally

Traditional Art

Postby Andrea » 25 Dec 2013, 19:51

I recently came across this article by Theodore Dalrymple a few days ago and...it vexed me: http://www.salisburyreview.com/Theodore_Dalrymple/grog.html

I have been an admirer of his work for several years, and in general agree with his views on a variety of topics. Now, it is silly to think that one will agree with him on everything, but still I found this short article, plainly put, rather mean-spirited. I'm a historian and I specialise in the time period that Jordaens was from, and so this was of particular interest to me.

Portrait of a Family.png

Portrait of a Family by Jordaens, 1650-2.

There are a few things that Dalrymple wrote, which I would like to comment upon:
Jordaens is best known for his acres of canvas covered with depictions of unattractive fat flesh and bacchanalian drinking scenes. These usually include someone vomiting quietly in the corner while an obese, grog-blossomed king wassails away in the middle of the picture.


AllegoryofFertility1623.png

Allegory of Fertility, 1623, by Jordaens.

Anyone with a rudimentary study of Baroque art would immediately understand the prevalence of "fat flesh" and indeed, "bacchanalian drinking scenes" - if one finds such portliness offensive, dare I suggest that one refrain from visiting Baroque art exhibitions? Surely Dalrymple understands the historical context: that these large figures were from a time when the wealthier an individual was, the greater amount of food and rich delicacies they were able to obtain, and therefore they were usually rather fat.

If anyone compares the figures in the paintings to today's obesity pandemic, they would be completely wrong to do so. Now in Western nations, the poorer the neighbourhood, the likelier they are to be obese? Things have reversed - the rich are slim and are expected to be slim, expected to go to yoga and purchase their groceries at the expensive Whole Foods and are in general healthier; while poorer folks tend to go to eat fried chicken and chips from their local fast food establishment. Before anyone says that it's possible to eat healthily cheaply, yes, I know this, but many do not.

Offering to Ceres.png

Offering to Ceres, Goddess of Harvest, 1618-20 by Jordaens.

"Fat" people were considered comely during the Baroque, and the figures we admire now were considered scrawny and unfashionable. Obviously, trends change. Jordaens (1593-1678) was not the only painter to paint heavy models. Where does the term "Rubenesque" come from? Why, from Rubens - who lived from 1577-1640. Van Dyck (1599-1641), famously painted heavy bodies as well. Jordaens was no different from his immediate contemporaries.

Frankly I think they are all in the most appalling taste, badly drawn and vilely over-coloured; but in a way it is reassuring that bad taste is not a phenomenon of our own times alone.


He is entitled to express his opinions, though I wish he had been a bit nicer and a little less categorical when doing so. His comments about the comments in the guest book say more about him than of the visitors. I have often visited art exhibitions and the vast majority are cultured, decent, educated people - I have rarely seen any vulgarians in museums. It is simply not something they are interested in.

I like to think I have exceptionally good taste in art (if I may so say myself) and I do not find the vast majority of Jordaens' works remotely lacking in taste, nor are they without artistic merit. The Baroque, need I remind readers, is supposed to be elaborate and ever so slightly ostentatious (but in a good way). Baroque paintings often depicted mythological, allegorical, Biblical and historical themes, which explain the appearance of less-than-savoury elements. The Baroque artists showed all aspects of life - from its ugliness to its greatest beauty.

I was saddened by the tone of the article, I must admit, but I hope you will all be open-minded when you look at Baroque art, and not judge it through your 21st-century minds, with all its modern prejudices.
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Re: Traditional Art

Postby Gavin » 25 Jan 2014, 17:32

Slightly spooky, haunting, video here (excellent sound design too) as classical paintings are brought to life. This must have taken some time to make...

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Re: Traditional Art

Postby Kevin R » 25 Jan 2014, 20:14

Just a few thoughts on this..

I must admit I was myself a little disappointed at TD's reluctance to see Jordaen's work in a contextual light other than that of so many clichés of rusticated offences against pictorial beauty. I would have expected at least a little more perspicacity or wit from the good Doctor. As Jordaens was not living in the rarefied court atmosphere of late 15thC Urbino, but in the Antwerp of the early 17th - a small city of just over two hundred streets populated by over 90,000 people - then it can't be that surprising that some of the ambience of it's hearty, if not somewhat occasionally febrile life, antic dispositions and low appetites set amidst the thirty years war, subsequently crept into the pictorial allegories of it's prominent painters. Although I'm not saying that such a simple psychological determinism is the unassailable yardstick for all aesthetic musings.

In the main, I can't agree that his work is too technically impoverished; yes, the drawing sometimes lapses a little, but his proficiency and handling are sometimes of a competence matching much of Rubens' capacity with the brush. But there lies the rub of course, for Rubens' shadow was one that Jordaens will probably always walk in. It was Rubens who - through the application of early study and copying in Italy -rapidly wrought his own inimitable style by blending the influences of Venetian colour and technique, the mannerist style of Michelangelo, and the detailed chiaroscuro of Caravaggio.. obviously with a copious measure of his own formidable talent. This was galvanised by the discovery of new approaches to painting provided by the discovery of more ductile mediums with which to depict the shadowy flux of material reality, hence the rather rich colouration and deep tonality of the Flemish Baroque work of the period. As both artists shared commissions and the same working/artistic environment, it's not surprising that there was therefore a seepage of all this from the greater to the lesser man. As for the emetic predelictions in Jordaen's subject-matter, well.. Rubens was no stranger to visceral horror, as was Caravaggio before him, or Goya after him, but as in all these things, context is all important. A device included for it's own sake is afforded nothing but sterility. If paint can be made lyrical and poetic, can we make vomiting look beautiful? It certainly isn't in real life, unless you're a contemporary poet of course..

In the history of western art (if indeed we can construct a fully coherent one) the question of whether it is nobler in the mind to opt for Plato or Aristotle in the search for beauty is one I'm sure would be fruitful to contemplate, if you happen to have a few years to spare to read all that has been written or painted on the subject. In the meantime I suspect that the argument will continue de gustibus non est disputandum..

In the meantime, I'll continue to look at Jordaens wherever he crosses my path, I owe him that much..
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Re: Traditional Art

Postby Andrea » 26 Jan 2014, 15:38

Kevin R wrote:I must admit I was myself a little disappointed at TD's reluctance to see Jordaen's work in a contextual light other than that of so many clichés of rusticated offences against pictorial beauty. I would have expected at least a little more perspicacity or wit from the good Doctor. As Jordaens was not living in the rarefied court atmosphere of late 15thC Urbino, but in the Antwerp of the early 17th - a small city of just over two hundred streets populated by over 90,000 people - then it can't be that surprising that some of the ambience of it's hearty, if not somewhat occasionally febrile life, antic dispositions and low appetites set amidst the thirty years war, subsequently crept into the pictorial allegories of it's prominent painters.


I couldn't agree with you more, Kevin - that is one of the things I found odd about his little write-up. I use Jordaens as an example quite often, and I do think he is overshadowed by Rubens (although they were quite similar in style). I don't know, perhaps Dalrymple was in a bad mood that day and unable to see any quality in this man's art?
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Simon Vouet

Postby Andrea » 26 Jan 2014, 15:46

Another artist I'm particularly drawn to is Simon Vouet.

Saturn, Conquered by Amor, Venus and Hope
1645-46:
Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 15.40.05.png


St Jerome and the Angel,1622-25:
Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 15.43.53.png


Toilet of Venus, 1628-39:
Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 15.39.40.png
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Re: Traditional Art

Postby Gavin » 26 Jan 2014, 17:08

Lovely art, and by the way, Andrea alerted me to the video posted further up.

TD is not infallible, I dare say, and occasionally an article seems a bit bad tempered! Like his spat with Sam Harris, and one or two other articles. In general though, what an outstanding writer.
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Re: Traditional Art

Postby Kevin R » 27 Jan 2014, 19:06

Vouet did a cracking self-portrait now in the museum in Lyon:


Vouet-autoportrait-lyon.jpg


Just as with Rubens, a lengthy stay in Italy moulded a style from Caravaggio, via Guercino and the mannerism of the Carraci. Although tempered with a somewhat more restrained French classicism.
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Re: Traditional Art

Postby Kevin R » 27 Jan 2014, 19:27

Whilst we're on the subject of TD's distaste at the repellent subject-matter in art, I'm reminded of this classic image.. But is it art, or inspired pictorial journalism?


GinLane.jpg



In the spirit of his social criticism, I must say that it does remind me of a typical Saturday night scenario in ---------------- (please insert your preferred provincial British town /city in space provided).
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Re: Traditional Art

Postby Andrea » 04 Feb 2014, 20:37

Kevin R wrote:Whilst we're on the subject of TD's distaste at the repellent subject-matter in art, I'm reminded of this classic image.. But is it art, or inspired pictorial journalism?


GinLane.jpg




I think it's both. Hogarth was a social critic and used his art as a means to express his criticisms. Whilst his image of Beer Street seems almost like paradise in comparison with Gin Lane, the former still had its share of problems! Nice Vouet self-portrait earlier, by the way!
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Re: Traditional Art

Postby Andrea » 07 Jun 2014, 16:28

Once again, Dalrymple has written an article criticising yet another great painter, this time Veronese. We must have completely different views on art, but Dalrymple writes:

"Veronese, a painter I dislike for his shallowness, lack of feeling, showiness, superficiality, etc (his mastery making his mastery all the worse, not better). The critics, however, said that this was the exhibition of a lifetime, if not longer, and nothing gives me greater pleasure, than to contradict received opinion."


That just seems, in my opinion, to be rebelling for the sake of it. Let's have a look at some of Veronese's art, shall we?

The Rape of Europa:
Screen Shot 2014-06-07 at 17.15.50.png


Baptism and Temptation of Christ (1580-82):
04lattu2.jpg


Jupiter Hurling Thunderbolts at the Vices (1554-56):
1dieci.jpg


Frankly, Dalrymple has once again come across as a grumpy man jaded by the many horrible things he has had to encounter. It seems sometimes that he is unable to see beauty in real art (as this is) and that makes me sad. This kind of artwork is unquestionably beautiful and very deep. The accusation of its being shallow is easily refuted, for Veronese's work is rich in allegory and morals. There is a great deal of Biblical and mythological scenes in his work, and notice the last image above - Jupiter (Zeus, King of the Gods) is hurling thunderbolts at the vices. Dalrymple should approve.
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Re: Traditional Art

Postby Gavin » 07 Jun 2014, 18:02

I agree on this, and I am still curious about whether he actually likes any music at all! I've never really seen him write about that.
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Re: Traditional Art

Postby Andrea » 07 Jun 2014, 19:52

Indeed, it's always disconcerting when someone doesn't talk about music!
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Re: Traditional Art

Postby Lindsey » 07 Jun 2014, 22:39

Yes I find often in day to day life I do not wish to make the kind emotional investment in music that classical music requires, often i see music as just a simple pleasure. I especially like folk music and *cough* rock.
I think his opinion on art is often harsh especially as I paint classically among other styles, I've spent 9 months on a nude this year and it's going to be scrapped because its a failure. Painting is hard! I'm trying to learn enough to eventually enter the ARC salon competitions, but my real reason for painting is that I feel sublime when I paint, it's a form of meditation, a very long journey through thoughts light and form and once I've finished a piece I lose interest in it entirely , and so any judgement of art thereafter the event kind if misses the true experience of painting. I feel TD missed that with his critique if hyper realism. A lot of it is the pleasure of the meditation, the subject is deliberately mundane because the artist is simply enjoying themselves in the intensity of the focus. I spent a year illustrating locust anatomy once. I still keep them and marvel at their colour and structure. Sadly nobody wants to buy pictures of locusts. The world is a strange place!
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Re: Traditional Art

Postby Kevin R » 09 Jun 2014, 16:28

Here's what Brian Sewell thought of the exhibition..

http://www.standard.co.uk/goingout/exhi ... 04530.html
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Re: Traditional Art

Postby Kevin R » 10 Jun 2014, 13:53

I visited the Exhibition a couple of weeks ago whilst on a jaunt in London.

Until then, I'd previously only regarded Veronese's work mainly as opulent choreography in the Grand-Manner, glimpsed in the dusty old art-history tomes, interleaved between Titian and Tinteretto. I came away with that view still mostly intact. However, seen in the flesh and in strength (the largest masterpieces unable to travel of course), his lyricism with the brush, his expertise with the technique of scumbling, and the banquet of stately jewelled hues he employs are all undeniably captivating. It's spectacle and pageant all right, but there are surprising instances of the ability to reveal a deeper humanity just in the depiction of heads, even if they are sometimes markedly better supporting-players to the inferior lead of the production. For me, his genius lies in the handling of tone, and how he directs his smokey pinks, fiery rubies, emerald silks and lapis sweeps into a rich and stately pavanne. I could now see where my favourite painter Van-Dyke acquired the grounding of his tonal technique. He must have looked long and hard at the Venetian during his stay in Italy.

To return to TD's accusation of lack of feeling.. the nature of many of Veronese's biggest pieces meant that they were to be viewed at a distance as alter-pieces, and to the modern viewer this does tend to necessitate the success or failure of a venture upon a single inspired interpretation of the story or allegory, something that lifts it out of the mannerist shackles and into a more masterly expressive result. I think Veronese doesn't always achieve that, and more often than not he just can't produce that extra something. However, that doesn't mean his achievement is not worth seeing.. Like many modern commentators, perhaps TD is so used to the impress of Freudian expectations upon the interpretation of art (a delving into the soul as it were) that larger crowded spectacle cannot achieve his expectations in this respect?. After all, he did spend many years face-to-face in a small consulting environment, so I guess the mutability of human behaviour continues to fuel his thoughts and writing, and he looks for it's revelation in his choice of art.
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