Piero della Francesca
Oil on canvas (1932)
Ad Parnassum (1932) is considered to be Paul Klee's masterpiece and the best example of his pointillist style; it is also
one of his most finely worked paintings. Ad Parnassum was created in the Dusseldorfer period. With 100 x 126 cm (39 x
50 in) it is one of his largest paintings, as he usually worked with small formats. In this mosaic-like work in the style
of pointillism he combined different techniques and compositional principles. Influenced by his trip to Egypt from
1928 to 1929, Klee built a colour field from individually stamped dots, surrounded by likewise stamped lines, which
results in a pyramid. Above the roof of the "Parnassus" there is a sun. The title identifies the picture as Apollon's and
the Muses' place.
Around 1930 Klee often made use of this pictorial structure, which recalls the Pointillism of the late nineteenth
century. 'Divisionism' was his name for it. A further geometrical element appears within the 'divisionist' structuring -
a triangle which, with no definite outline, exists solely by virtue of variations in the tonal gradations applied to the
little squares. As a result, the picture seems multi-layered, spatial and suffused with light. One genealog of modern
colour-light painting would progress from Georges Seurat to Klee. However, Klee was hardly interested in the
theories of colour so essential to Seurat. He simply made use of a pictorial method which, although its possibilities
were soon exhausted, helped him to create a number of masterful works. paulklee.net
The Latin phrase gradus ad Parnassum means "steps to Parnassus". The name Parnassus was used to denote the loftiest
part of a mountain range in central Greece, a few miles north of Delphi, of which the two summits, in Classical times,
were called Tithorea and Lycoreia. In Greek mythology, one of the peaks was sacred to Apollo and the nine Muses,
the inspiring deities of the arts, and the other to Dionysus. The phrase has often been used to refer to various books
of instruction, or guides, in which gradual progress in literature, language instruction, music, or the arts in
general, is sought. wikipedia
Paul Klee: Ad Parnassum, 1932 from MuseumofFineArtsBern on YouTube
Et in Arcadia Ego
Oil on canvas (1637-38)
Musée du Louvre, Paris
Et in Arcadia ego (also known as The Arcadian Shepherds) depicts a pastoral scene with idealized shepherds from
classical antiquity clustering around an austere tomb. The translation of the phrase is "Even in Arcadia, there am I".
The usual interpretation is that "I" refers to death, and "Arcadia" means a utopian land. It would thus be a "reminder of
During Antiquity, many Greeks lived in cities close to the sea, and led an urban life. Only Arcadians, in the middle of
the Peloponnese, lacked cities, were far from the sea, and led a shepherd life. Thus for urban Greeks, especially during
the Hellenistic era, Arcadia symbolized pure, rural, idyllic life, far from the city.
However, Poussin's biographer, André Félibien, interpreted the phrase to mean that "the person buried in this tomb
lived in Arcadia"; in other words, that the person too once enjoyed the pleasures of life on earth. This reading was
common in the 18th and 19th centuries. William Hazlitt wrote that Poussin "describes some shepherds wandering out
in a morning of the spring, and coming to a tomb with this inscription, 'I also was an Arcadian'." wikipedia
The scene is set in an atmospheric landscape, known as Arcadia, where some shepherds have found a tomb. Arcadia is
actually a barren, mountainous region of Greece, but through references made to it by the Roman poet Virgil (whose
Eclogues take place in Arcadia), it became idealized as a blissful pastoral paradise, and a symbol of perfect happiness.
The crouching figure is tracing the letters chiselled into the stone, "Et in Arcadia Ego". Most art critics agree that
the message on the stone has been left by Death, and the shepherds are coming to realize that this means that even in a
blissful paradise like Arcadia there is death. The richly-dressed female figure already understands this truth, and she
looks on sympathetically.
In addition, the action of the crouching shepherd is believed to be a reference to the origin of painting, believed to
have occurred in the first tracing of a person's shadow on a wall. Perhaps Poussin wanted to convey that painting is one
of the only ways to record a state of perfect happiness. It is possible that the red, yellow and blue robes of the two on
the right might represent the primary colours of painting and be a sign of hope. At any rate, the painting seems to be
saying that the discovery of art was the creative response of Man when he found out the shocking truth about the
inevitability of his death.
From left to right, the figures grow in understanding. The two stooping shepherds pointing to the letters help us to
focus on the central message of this work, while their knees and elbows balance each other. The woman, who could be
an allegorical figure (representing the art of painting that is challenging death's claim to rule over Arcadia), looks
like a figure from the classical past. Her face is in profile, recalling a Roman bust or statue, and her pose is as
motionless as a marble sculpture. Encyclopaedia of Art Education
Nicolas Poussin, Et in Arcadia Ego video on Khan Academy
Tempera on canvas (c. 1486)
The Uffizi Gallery, Florence
The painting depicts the goddess Venus, having emerged from the sea fully-grown (called Venus Anadyomene and
often depicted in art), arriving at the shore.
In the centre the newly-born goddess Venus stands nude in a giant scallop shell whose size is purely imaginary, and
also found in classical depictions of the subject. At the left the wind god Zephyr blows at her, with the wind shown
by lines radiating from his mouth. He is in the air, and carries a young female, who is also blowing, but less forcefully.
Both have wings. Vasari was probably correct in identifying her as "Aura", personification of a lighter breeze. Their
efforts are blowing Venus towards the shore, and blowing the hair and clothes of the other figures to the right.
At the right a female figure who may be floating slightly above the ground holds out a rich cloak or dress to cover
Venus when she reaches the shore, as she is about to do. She is one of the three Horae or Hours, Greek minor goddesses
of the seasons and of other divisions of time, and attendants of Venus. The floral decoration of her dress suggests she
is the Hora of Spring.
The subject is not strictly the "Birth of Venus", a title only given the painting in the nineteenth century, but the next
scene in her story, where she arrives on land, blown by the wind. The land probably represents either Cythera or
Cyprus, both Mediterranean islands regarded by the Greeks as territories of Venus.
Although the pose of Venus is classical and borrows the position of the hands from Greco-Roman sculptures, the
treatment of the figure, standing off-centre with a curved body of long flowing lines, is in many respects from Gothic
art: "Her differences from antique form are not physiological, but rhythmic and structural. Her whole body follows
the curve of a Gothic ivory. It is entirely without that quality so much prized in classical art, known as aplomb; that is
to say, the weight of the body is not distributed evenly either side of a central plumb line. . . She is not standing but
floating. . . Her shoulders, for example, instead of forming a sort of architrave to her torso, as in the antique nude,
run down into her arms in the same unbroken stream of movement as her floating hair."
Venus' body is anatomically improbable, with elongated neck and torso. Her pose is impossible: although she stands in a
classical contrapposto stance, her weight is shifted too far over the left leg for the pose to be held. The proportions
and poses of the winds to the left do not quite make sense, and none of the figures cast shadows. The painting depicts
the world of the imagination rather than being very concerned with realistic depiction.
Botticelli's art was never fully committed to naturalism. He seldom gave weight and volume to his figures and rarely
used a deep perspectival space. Botticelli never painted landscape backgrounds with great detail or realism, but this is
especially the case here. The laurel trees and the grass below them are green with gold highlights, most of the waves
regular patterns, and the landscape seems out of scale with the figures. wikipedia
Boticelli, The Birth of Venus, video from Smarthistory. Art, history, conversation on YouTube.
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