“The temptation of Saint Anthony” (1 of 2)

A driving momentum has built up and like a train I’m speeding down the track at full speed with only my final destination in mind. It is nine forty four in the morning on Monday the twenty seventh of November and there are 8 foundation classes left in the semester. The last few months have gone by at a rate difficult to stop. I can’t take a brake, or a look back to see how things have changed. But today is different. I have a chance to look at the past. I have changed and now I must express what I have learned. Although we have not reached the 16th century in art history I have learned new things about art and my painting, “The temptation of Saint Anthony,” by the Flemish painter Jan Wellens De Cock.

On an earlier visit to the museum I gathered a small amount of information about my painting from a plaque located on the wall. The plaque summarized the story being told through symbolism in the painting. At first this attempt to tell a story was the only thing I had respect for in the painting. I still find this interesting and have sense learned that the subject matter expresses a new phase where the saints occupy the same realm as the people. This was a new phenomenon in the 15th century, and was explored by painters like Robert Complin. Despite the religious content of the painting in “The Temptation of St. Anthony,” the figures are placed in a real life setting that does not separate them from the every day world. Saint Anthony is depicted in common cloths and doesn’t seem divine.

I disliked the untextured style of painting that hides the qualities of the paint itself. I thought that the painter was disinterested in the medium, however I have sense revised my opinion. Through reading about Flemish art in the 1400 and 1500 I have learned some interesting facts about art at the time. Garners Art history talks about Flemish painting in the 15th century, none the less I feel like the main points of interest still apply to my work, “The temptation of St. Anthony”, 1522/25. Oil paint was a relatively new medium at the time and was still being explored. In the past people had been using the Italian paint, tempura. In comparison to the sharp flat images of tempura, oil paint was known for intense color, tonality, and transparency. Oil paint seemed to glow from within, as though the light could penetrate it. This was different from the hard wall of opaque tempura paint. This aspect interested the painters, as it’s obvious in the intense color of my painting. Northern European Flemish painters also wanted sharply focused images and hard edges to give sparkling clarity and detail. They were interested in the appearances of texture, the surfaces of things touched by light, perspective, composition, anatomy, mechanics of body motion, and proportion through measure.

I wrote about the ideas the painters were interested in as negative qualities in my first paper, “The stones of the wall are very well defined…it seems too clear for reality…contrast of light and shadow is too sharp.” I noted the strong composition that overpowered the canvas, the attempt at a realistic depiction of the people and the interest in linear perspective. I know from what I have read that the qualities I found so underdeveloped were ideas being explored. What I see with my modern eye and knowledge of design tells me this painting is boring, the symmetry is not interesting and the subject matter boring. However, for the era was experimental. This artist had obviously not mastered the art of linear perspective, or oil paints but was learning. Today much is seen as artistic intent. I assume each painting was made to be as it is. I live in a world where many images go by every day and only a few stay in my mind. I look at a painting and I give it 3 seconds of attention, if I am not intrigued I move on. However, I have learned there is something to gain by stopping to give objects more attention than they may seem to deserve and learning the story behind them .

I like this painting, not for its aesthetic value or its subject matter, but for the time and history involved. When I look at, “The Temptation of St. Anthony”, I see a painter living in a different world, working on new ideas and excited about life. I begin to imagine what it must have been like during that time and it takes me to another place; exploration of intense color in oil paint, painting becoming suffused with religious significance. I’m sure that in the future, when I visit the museum, I will head to my painting and see what new information it has to offer.

Categories: Writing

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