Turner- A brilliant artist
Joseph William Mallord Turner was born in London in 1775 and was admitted to the Royal Academy Schools in 1789. Turner is famed for his romantic landscape paintings and there is even a permanent collection of his works in the Tate after he left many of his works to the nation after his death.
Romantic landscape painting developed in Britain during the first half of the nineteenth century for a number of possible reasons. An increase in industrialisation meant that artists wanted to portray an idealised version of the countryside landscape, rather than show the effect that the ‘age of steam’ was having on rural Britain. Even politically Chartists and Radicals advocated “a return to the land” as it was mans natural workplace. Another trivial reason being that the new middle class, a creation of the rapid growth in urban areas, just wanted something pretty to hang on the walls of their London homes.
Turner was deeply influenced by another landscape artist, Claude Lorrain, who painted more than a century before him. Turner admired Lorrain so much so that he even requested in his will that Lorrain’s Seaport with Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba (1648) be displayed in the National Gallery next to Turner’s own Dido Building Carthage (1815).

The two landscapes are similar in their compositions using classical architecture to frame the space and you can easily see the influence that Lorrain has had on Turner. Especially in relation to the way the sunlight affects the atmosphere of the painting overall, and both deeply romanticise the landscape.

The romantic landscape of Turner, I believe, evolved much further than for example his contemporary John Constable. Constable remains true to the ideals of romanticism and almost always depicts his ‘true to nature’ scenes of Constable Country. In my opinion Turner began to reject romantic ideals in favour of portraying a much more factual depiction of nature in Britain. Turners works were admired by many and had a particular influence in France, and I think that these later works such as and Rain Steam and Speed (1844) had a direct influence on Impressionism that emerged out of France during the 1870’s and 1880’s

Turner’s Snowstorm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps (1812) is a particular favourite landscape painting of mine. The figures depicted are very small, as in many of Turner’s landscapes, and almost do not need to be included in the painting as our attention is never actually centred on them and their story. When I look at this painting all I see is the epic landscape and the impressionistic treatment of the snowstorm.

Turner’s ‘The Fighting Temeraire’ (1839) is another favourite and was even recently voted by the nation as its favourite painting. It shows the Temeraire being tugged to its last berth before being dismantled. Apart from being quite a beautiful painting there may have been underlying connotations that Turner was trying to portray. The small ugly tug boat is representative of the new industrial era of the Victorian age and the large majestic ship is representative of the old Georgian era. The sun is setting on this era but even the smoke from the small tug boat blackens the sunset and is almost like the victory of industrialisation over everything that once was. The use of light to create atmosphere and his style influence me in my work.


Mannerism- The proof that sometimes they got it wrong.

The term mannerism itself derives from the Italian word maniera. For Vasari (the most prolific art biographer at the time) this term meant ‘the method of copying frequently the most beautiful things, combining them to make from what was most beautiful the best figure possible, and putting it into use in every work for all the figures’. The period of time that we generally contribute mannerist works to is from around 1520 to 1600. Evidence to suggest this comes from many works of principally Italian origin.
The principal characteristic of mannerist works of art is the elongation and distortion of the human figure. The muscles are also often grossly over emphasised creating forced and unclear compositions often resulting in great discrepancies in scale between the figures. Much of mannerism is a conscious revolution against the calm classicism and serenity of artists such as Raphael during the High Renaissance. The very perfection of Raphael led only to emulation in his successors and therefore they turned to the exaggeration of facial expression, gesture and lighting in order to produce a work of their own. Here are a couple of examples of mannerist art.

Jacopo Pontormo, The Descent from the Cross (1525-1528). This scene has no depth to it at all the figures are too closely intertwined and the whole space looks overly crowded. The contrapposto pose of Christ adds to the elongation of his limbs and makes him look very unrealistic. The only saving grace for the mannerist aspects of this work is the facial expressions, which are very pronounced, but as this is a deposition scene the horrified looks are acceptable. There are many other paintings that I think are badly composed with unrealistic portrayals of figures and poses. I understand the aims of mannerism; I just don’t think that they were always successfully executed. Mannerist characteristics in sculpture however seem to be more successful as in Cellini’s salt cellar.

Benvenuto Cellini, Salt Cellar for Francis I (before 1545). Although this is not a painting but a sculpture I think it demonstrates the aims of mannerism stated by Vasari very well. Cellini was primarily trained as a goldsmith and the fine detail here is extraordinary, and may well be what makes this piece so brilliant. This salt cellar was used as storage for salt and pepper and it depicts the god of the sea Neptune and the goddess of the earth Ceres. The elongation of the limbs and the depiction of ideal beauty here is perfectly acceptable as it has not been done to an extent that renders the piece ugly and poorly designed as in Pontormo’s deposition painting.

Parmigianino, Madonna of the Long Neck (1535)

Rosso Fiorentino, Dead Christ with Angels (c.1526)

Whenever you ask someone what they think of when you say ‘Michelangelo’, they will often reply with “The Sistine Chapel” or “David”. Michelangelo is one of the best documented sculptors of the sixteenth century and yet people do not know that much about his life as a sculptor. Obviously the brilliance of the Sistine Chapel cannot be ignored entirely, but to Michelangelo painting was an inferior art to sculpture, and he only painted the Sistine Chapel to prove himself as a painter as well as a sculptor.
Michelangelo was inspired by classical antiquity and often sculpted naked male figures as in his colossal statue David (1501- 1504) This shows the figure of David contemplating the fight that is to come between him and Goliath.

The treatment of the musculature is outstanding and the statue has become well known for its beautiful study of the human form.
La Pietà (1499) is another of Michelangelo’s best known works. A young depiction of Mary is holding the body of Christ in her arms and the treatment of the marble has left an outstandingly smooth finish. Christ’s anatomy is detailed and accurate and again demonstrates Michelangelo’s brilliance in depicting the nude male. Mary’s facial features are in my opinion the most beautiful part of this work. Her features are delicate and naturalistic almost making her appear flesh like. The drapery of the whole sculpture is also amazing.

The image of victory is often depicted as a woman, as is traditional. However, Michelangelo in his Victory (1525-1530) has depicted a man. It is likely that the figure of victory here depicts the politics of a newly liberated Florence. The extreme twist of the young male is almost beyond the realms of possibility, but Michelangelo manages to convince me that that this pose is natural.

Where Michelangelo was brilliant at depicting the male form I do not think he spent much time studying the female nude. In particular his Night for the Medici chapel looks like the body of a man. The muscles are too large on the arms and thighs, the shoulders are too broad and worst of all the breasts look like they have been stuck on as an afterthought.