On Friday, October 27th, I took a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. This is my first time visiting this museum, but my impression is tremendous. The museums have a wide range of art collections, exhibitions and special spaces that has strengthened my understanding my personal art experience. This multi-culture museum is gorgeous inside and out and has sculptures and painting from all around the world. The museum has successfully installed an overall picture that reflects the aesthetic values, history, religious beliefs and daily life.
I was in amazement at all the pieces and the interesting stories behind them. The first piece I chose is Washington Crossing the Delaware because it is one of the paintings I often see in the U. S history textbook. The sheer size of Leutze’s canvas, 25 X 21 feet pulls anyone standing before it into the scene. The 1851 oil-on-canvas representational painting depicts George Washington, then a general in the American Revolutionary War, crossing the half icy Delaware River with his troops on a winter night of December in 1776. This was to make a surprise attack on the Hessian forces in the Battle of Trenton in New Jersey.Order now
I was surprised to find out that it was not painted by American artist but by a German artist named Emanuel Leutze who did it in response to German politics. Leutze was a German immigrant who grew up in American and returned back to Germany as an adult. He strongly believed in liberal democracy and painted this American Revolution scene to encourage Europe’s liberal reforms during the European Revolutions of 1848. As his aim was to glorify the General Washington and his military action, there is little historical accuracy and composed more symbolism in the painting.
First, the size of the boat is far too small to bring the twelve men who occupy it. It would not be also possible to carry two horses on the boat or stand on the thin icy layer in the middle of the river to control the horse. At the first glance, I can notice who George Washington is even if I did not remember his appearance. His body proportion is slightly bigger than the other figures. His green saber really stands out to me as he is a powerful warrior. Wearing his army uniform, hat, boots, and a red-lined cape, Washington is standing upright on one leg and is looking straight to left where the boat is heading.
I feel Washington’s determination and courage in facing the battle ahead as he leans forward into the wind. I can also see the obvious implied movement in the painting because other men on in the lead boat are struggling to break the choppy ice and puddling the boat. Other boats follow, crowded with soldiers and horses. The critics have also noted that the people on the boats are different ethnicity that would have been present in that time as they all have the different clothing designs. There is also a man, behind Washington, holding a flag which is moving by the wind seems to suggest that it is the inspirational symbol for the troops.
Leutze used a number of elements in this painting. First thing I notice is the use of a triangular composition. The lead boat forms a large triangle which extends from the top of the flag to the boat’s bow and back to its stern. Other triangles can be also seen in other boats. The use of the atmospheric perspective is eminent in this painting. In the background, there are not outlines which convey the illusions that the interminable line of boats seems to go on forever. An atmospheric haze also indicates the distance of the opposite shore.
Figures in the background are smaller than those in the foreground. The use of color of the cloud is interesting for me as well. On the right side, there is the dark kind of ominous clouds whereas the left side has the unnatural source of light which is shining brightly. I feel that this metaphorically suggest that Washington and his troops are moving out from the underneath of the clouds of darkness and despair into the light and the brightness of their nation’s future. This clearly complete Leutze’s aim of inspiring the reformers to hold the American revolution as an example of a battle for freedom.
I chose Perseus with the Head of Medusa marble sculpture as my 2nd piece to discuss because my imagination of the face of Medusa is very different from how she was portrayed in the statue. This artwork was commissioned by Count Jan and Countess Valeria Tarnowski and sculptured by Italian neoclassical artist, Antonio Canova between 1804 and 1806. In the Greek mythology, Medusa was originally a human who has a beautiful golden-haired, fair lady with gentle, love-inspiring eyes. Having read about the life of Medusa before, I noticed that there are many different stories on how Medusa looks after she turned into a monster.
Some myths portrayed her as the victim who was forced to lose virginity whereas other described as a villain who seduced a god, therefore, she was punished. Either way when Athena learned what had happened, she cursed Medusa with snakes for hair. The way her facial appearance expressed in the stories are also very contradictory. Some described she still has a beautiful face. Other stories said that she possesses an ugly face which excited fear and disgust in the mind of the viewer. With the curse, Gazers upon her hideous face would turn to stone.
As this statue is to glorify Perseus’s heroic act, I thought that Medusa would be ugly to show her identity as a villain. Surprisingly, Canova created the face of Medusa just like a beautiful lady, but her face is writhing in pain. Her snake-hair is very representational and doesn’t look like real snakes. As the Greek Mythology stated, I can see Perseus is a handsome and strong young man. Canova construct the proportionally ideal image. The figure has the winged helmet which flies him to the world where Medusa lived, a cap that made him invisible and a sword.
I feel that one thing missing in the sculpture is a mirror shied which allows him to see a reflection of Medusa’s face and to avoid being turned into stone. In addition, I feel that this sculpture is a snapshot of the moment after Perseus beheaded Medusa. Perseus is posed from one frontal viewing angle. Perseus stands triumphantly, holding up Medusa in the left hand and a sword in the right. His head is in perfect profile looking at the head. In this statue, the stretched arms of Perseus naturally balanced the center of gravity.
A figure stands with the left leg holding its full weight and the right leg is relaxed. So, the right side was balanced by the somewhat unnatural shape of the robe which is loosely hang on the left shoulder falling down to the right feet. This technique keeps the sculpture stable. Also, I saw Medusa’s head has a hole in the bottom. I think this is to reduce the weight of the head to prevent from breaking off. When I was wandering around the museum, the compelling atmosphere of the oil-on-canvas painting seizes me by the scruff. The surface of the painting looks like it is liquefied by heat.
This piece is The Vision of Saint John, ca. 1608-14. It has the dimensions of 87 1/2 x 76in and was painted by the Spanish Renaissance artist, El Greco. This piece is a large fragment of one of three altarpieces El Greco was commissioned to paint in 1608 for the church of the Hospital of Saint John the Baptist. The critics stated that it depicts a passage in the Bible, Revelation (6:9-11) portraying the opening of the Fifth Seal at the end of time and the distribution of white robes to souls of those who have been killed for the word of God.
This painting gives a sense that offered spiritual consolation to patients, promising salvation to those who died. When the painting was found later, the top part of the painting was cut away due to the destruction, and this part has never identified. In this painting, the elongated, ecstatic figure of Saint John is shown in the foreground. He wears a white robe and kneels in prayer on the red drapery. Both of his arms are upraised, and his head turned heavenward to God. Behind him are two groups of naked figures.
The three males on the right, seen against a green drapery, are reaching upward to get the white drapery offering by a flying cherub. The group on the left side have two male and two females and is covering their back with a big yellow drapery. Although this piece is for the religious purpose, I think this piece is non-representational and approaches secular ideas. He treated light and space irrationally and separate away from the reality. The spaces are ill-defined, and the distances seemed bizarre. I feel Saint John’s hands are touching the sky.
Besides, it seemed that the artist just pushed the paintbrush around to portray the sky with the color of red, white, navy and black. He ignored all the classical balance and proportions and harmonious colors. The clothes of Saint Johns and all the draperies seem to writhe and ripple. Also, the painting seems unfinished. While the face of some figures is perfectly illustrated with proper eyes, nose and mouth, others have faded mouths, hands and chins. This might be the reason why his use of expressive distortions inspired the modern artists, especially Picasso.
Its striking treatment of bodies and pictorial space greatly influenced the Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Picasso who found El Greco as an inspirational source. My last choice is a textiles tapestry called Hunting with a Hawk (from the Hunting Parks Tapestries) from ca. 1515-35. The name of the creator is unknown, but this work was in the bequest of George Blumenthal. It has the South Netherlandish culture and its overall dimension is 134 1/2 x 95 1/2in. The medium is wool and silk thread. Just by looking at this tapestry, I can immediately know that the owner might be from the wealthy social class.
It is enriched with the expensive wool and silk thread. In fact, tapestries at that time were seen often in the castles and churches and provide a form of decoration that could easily be transported. Moreover, tapestry art form was a central component of the magnificence used by powerful leaders to broadcast their wealth and power. The art style in this tapestry differed markedly from the other art styles I have mentioned. In this piece, there is no linear or atmospheric perspective. The color used in the tapestry are only different shades of green, red, orange and brown.
The middle part of the piece was occupied by the circular, enclosed hunting park. The fences are made of pointed wooden stands, each tied by two parallel woods. Metal posts with the ornamental collars are placed outside the fence at regular intervals. The center front entrance has an elaborate ogee arch decorated with leaves. The ground is hilly and covered with grass. Unlike the realistic painting, the ground goes from the bottom to all the way to top part of the tapestry. The hilly landscape also shows a single castle on the upper right. Orange and pear trees grow both inside and outside the parks.
I can see that different activities are taking place within and around the park. Inside the park is a young falconer sits astride a horse and upraise his arm to cheer his falcon bringing down a bird. On the left side, another man seems to be ready to play his horn to celebrate the hunt. We can see the does and a duck are staying calmly inside the park even though the hunting is going on. In the foreground, before the entrance, a couple dressed in fashionably wealthy clothing are holding hands and seems to be in deep conversation. On their left side are two men who are drinking and playing an old-fashioned flute respectively.
I feel that this tapestry had no religious connotations. It looks like a lovely place set in a garden and filled with pleasant flowers and animal. It shows some of the characteristic rural activities that people of various social stations engaged in. I spent 2. 5 hours by touring around the music. I am so glad that I took an art class this semester because I was able to see the art pieces and also make an interpretation based on the lessons. I got to see beautiful art, learn a lot of new things and spent my Friday night with friends happily.