A group of us Arts and Music students used the day on Wednesday to go into the city to visit the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. It was a cold, breezy day so we were all bundled up in jackets and hats. As we got off the E train and walked toward the museum, its appearance was not what I expected it to be. The museum was an elegant, beautiful building made of what looked to be marble; not the big, brick monstrosity I had expected. Once we walked into the museum, it was even more elegant on the inside.
The marble staircase had sculptures on each side leading up to the rotunda where white Christmas lights were strung around the banister in decoration for the Christmas season. Saint Catherine by El Greco was found in the European Old Master Paintings section of the museum. A brief history of Saint Catherine stated that she was widely renowned for her learning and wisdom, so much so that the Roman emperor Maximilian wanted her to be his wife. Her Christian faith was so strong that she refused the pagan ruler; in retaliation, he ordered that she be tortured.
Catherine was bound to a spiked wheel, but freed when a thunderbolt from heaven shattered it. In this painting, she displays the martyr’s palm while resting her left arm on a fragment of the wheel; her right hand holds the sword with which she was ultimately beheaded. The painting was painted somewhere in between 1610 and 1614. The style of western art El Greco uses in this piece is called psychological perspective. Saint Catherine is painted looking down which is a symbol of the reverence and respect we are to have for her.
Her skin tone is very pale; a symbol of her godliness. In this piece, she seems larger than life; St. Catherine has been painted to take up the majority of the canvas, a symbol of her great importance. The sky in the background is very powerful. It appears dark and mysterious, as though to set the mood for her approaching death. The two objects in her hands are metaphorical symbols. In one hand she holds a palm branch referencing to her martyrdom. In the other hand she holds a sword, which is a reference to the decapitating sword that was the cause of her death.
Picasso’s painting entitled “Standing Figure” depicts a nude woman with her arms crossed behind her head. It was painted in 1908 during a key period of invention and experimentation, as Picasso began to construct his paintings in a new way. The figure is translated into simplified, geometric forms, reflecting Picasso’s interest in the art of Africa and Oceania. Using only a few colors, he focuses the viewer’s attention on the intersection of these geometric forms. It seems as though Picasso uses the blue lines in this painting like some sort of directional device, drawing attention to the outline of the woman’s figure.
As we discussed in class, the style of cubism uses multiple or contrasting vantage points. Another element of cubism is simplifying more complicated scenes into geometric forms. Cubism rejected the inherited concept that art should copy nature, or that they should adopt the traditional techniques of perspective, modeling, and foreshortening. They wanted instead to emphasize the two-dimensionality of the canvas. Turner’s “Fall of the Rhine at Schaffhausen”, painted between 1805 and 1806, creates a sense of panic for the viewer.
The water has an overwhelming presence in this piece. Compared to the force of nature in the waterfall, the people and animals are dwarfed. One woman is depicted rushing to try and save her child. Turner captured the force of the waterfall by flattening thick paint with a palette knife so the water seems as solid as the rock. The ? ”Fall of the Rhine at Schaffhausen” emphasizes the insignificance of human concerns before the power of nature. This emphasis of the power of nature was very much a romantic theme.
Turner is considered to be one the most original of landscape painters. Because of this, he is considered to be a major influence for the French impressionists who also used landscapes much of the time in their paintings. Manet’s “Execution of the Emperor Maximilian” unfortunately was not on display at this time in the Museum of Fine Arts. This may have been your way of discovering whether your students actually made the trip to the museum to look at the paintings in our assignment. Maybe not. I found it interesting enough to mention in this paper.
The artists of these three paintings all have their own distinct and different styles, ranging from different time periods in history as well. Each painting had unique techniques and color and proportion usages. It seemed that the slightest change in method or color could change the meaning of the painting. Of course, each person that views these paintings may have a different interpretation and opinion of the art. However, anyone with any sort of intelligence can appreciate the skill and talent it takes to create beautiful paintings such as these.