The Tree of Life | Art for Easter 6C

The Tree of Life
Gustav Klimt
The Tree of Life
1905
Click image for more information.

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Commentary by Hovak Najarian

The Tree of Life, Mixed Media, 1905, Gustav Klimt, 1862-1918

In the latter part of the nineteenth century, people often turned to nature as a relief from living conditions brought on by industrialization. In art, there was a rejection of nineteenth century “history painting” and during the last two decades of the century, and into the early part of the twentieth century, there was renewed interest in hand crafts and the decorative arts. Artists working in these areas tended to gravitate toward stylized curvilinear shapes and the undulating lines of nature. They also were attracted to exotic subjects with symbolic content. In Austria, Gustav Klimt was the leader of the Vienna Secession and in style his work was linked to “Art Nouveau.”

Humans throughout history and in many cultures have ascribed symbolic meaning to trees. The writer of Genesis tells us of trees in the Garden of Eden; among them the tree of life: “And out of the ground the Lord made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of good and evil.” (Gen. 2:9). The tree of life is mentioned again in Revelation with a note that it bears twelve types of fruit and that its leaves are for the healing of nations (Rev. 22:1-2). Like trees we come into the world, grow according to our genetic plan, and encounter a world that may be both supportive and threatening. Klimt did not comment on any of his work but a variety of influences may be seen; these include motifs from sources such as Byzantine mosaics, and the arts of Egypt and Asia. Klimt’s “Tree of Life,” has its roots in a colorful mosaic-like soil suggesting earthly attractions that are there to be tapped. Its thick trunk spreads out into tendrils that fill the painting with Fibonacci spirals; spirals are known to represent the sun as well as the cycle of seasons and the cycles of life. Interspersed among the branches of the tree are rounded eye-like orbs and the eye(s) of Horus. A raven is waiting.

Standing on the left side of the painting is a youthful woman who is facing life and projecting her thoughts with the hope that her future will be fulfilled (symbolized by an embrace on the right side of the painting). Based on the images in “The Tree of Life,” we can surmise Klimt is saying this young woman’s experiences – and what she makes of them – will affect her journey as life unfolds. The spiraling branches suggest growth, progression, and life’s complexities. There will be earthly pleasures and watchful eyes; the Egyptian healing Eye of Horus is included several times among them. Yet death symbolized by a raven is perched on a branch and will be part of the journey as well. Experiences await us as we enter the labyrinth of branches life places before us. We make choices as we continue with hope.

Note

We often see the familiar Rx symbol displayed at pharmacies (the “R” is made with an extended leg that is crossed to make the “x”). Persuasive evidence suggests this symbol is derived from the Eye of Horus. Ancient Egyptians were known to wear amulets of the Eye of Horus in the belief it would help ensure good health.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

The Baptism of the Neophytes | Art for Easter 6 B

Acts 10:47 “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”

The Baptism of the Neophytes
MASACCIO
(b. 1401, San Giovanni Valdarno, d. 1428, Roma
The Baptism of the Neophytes)
(Frescoes from the life of St Peter)
1426-27
Fresco, 255 x 162 cm
Cappella Brancacci, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence.

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Commentary by Hovak Najarian

From a technical point of view, sculptors in ancient times met success more easily than painters. When Praxiteles carved stone, physical energy was expended but he was not faced with the challenge of creating an illusion of depth on a flat surface. His block of marble was a three dimensional physical reality existing in real space; it was only necessary to carve away the areas he didn’t want. Painters, on the other hand, worked usually on flat surfaces and if an effect of depth was desired, they would have to organize visual elements to create an illusion. Progress in that direction was seen in Roman wall paintings but medieval artists had other concerns and did not seem interested in pictorial space.

During the fourteenth century, as painters studied the work of the past, they gained insights into how effects of space could be achieved. Renaissance artists were the beneficiaries of several centuries of contributions; each leading to a resolution of a particular problem. By the time Masaccio was a young man in the early fifteenth century, scientific perspective had been demonstrated and other illusion-creating devices had been established. He understood them well and utilized them with greater success than any artist before his time. Although we are always aware of a painting’s surface, Masaccio treated it as a window; as though the surface were not there. He had the insights and requisite skills to create an illusion of depth through linear and atmospheric perspective and through gradations of colors and values. Along with depth, he used value changes to suggest light sources within the space he created.

In The Baptism of the Neophytes, Masaccio modeled Peter’s robe and defined the muscles of the neophytes (new converts to Christianity) through the use of light and shadow effects. Peter is closest to the picture plane and behind him are two figures believed to be sponsors; we interpret them as being behind Peter because they are blocked partially from our view. From experience we know objects that are farther away appear smaller in size; therefore, because of size differences and being higher in the picture plane, we interpret Masaccio’s neophytes as being farther from us. Masaccio also is aware that when objects are far away, textural details are not discernable and we are not able to determine color. Atmosphere causes values to become lighter; thus, the hills in the far distance are progressively lighter in tone. Before Masaccio’s time, painters had limited success in creating a sense of depth. Masaccio created pictorial space and made it all seem natural; unless we analyze how he did it we are not consciously aware of the illusionistic devices he used.

In the lower half of this fresco, Peter is baptizing a man by pouring water over him as he kneels in a stream. After we look at the baptism, our focus shifts to the waiting neophytes and we see their facial expressions and body language. Our eyes then progress from the left side to the right and we are guided back to the central foreground figure being baptized. In addition to a convincing depiction of a Biblical event, The Baptism of the Neophytes is a very balanced composition and the continuity of images keeps us engaged.

The Baptism of the Neophytes is among other frescos painted for the Brancacci Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence, Italy. Masaccio worked with Masolino when painting began but then when Masolino left, the frescos became Masaccio’s responsibility. Masaccio went to Rome before the paintings in the Chapel were completed and died there at the age of twenty-seven. Artists who came after him were indebted greatly for what he taught them through his paintings. It is said the Brancacci Chapel is the birthplace of the Renaissance.

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© 2012 Hovak Najarian

Elohim Creating Adam | Art for A Easter 6

Acts 17:26 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live.

Elohim Creating Adam
BLAKE, William
(b. 1757, London, d. 1827, London)
BLAKE, William
Elohim Creating Adam
1795
Watercolour, 420 x 535 mm
Tate Gallery, London
Click image for more information.

 

B Easter 6, Art for May 13, 2012

MASACCIO
(b. 1401, San Giovanni Valdarno, d. 1428, Roma)
Click to open Web Gallery of Art Artist Biography and to explore other works by this artist.

The Baptism of the Neophytes
(Frescoes from the life of St Peter)
1426-27
Fresco, 255 x 162 cm
Cappella Brancacci, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence
Click to open Web Gallery of Art commentary page. Click image for large view.

Related art commentary by Hovak Najarian.
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The Baptism of the Neophytes, Fresco (1426-27), Masaccio, (1401-1428)

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Related post B Easter 6, Art for May 13, 2012

From a technical point of view, sculptors in ancient times met success more easily than painters. When Praxiteles carved stone, physical energy was expended but he was not faced with the challenge of creating an illusion of depth on a flat surface. His block of marble was a three dimensional physical reality existing in real space; it was only necessary to carve away the areas he didn’t want. Painters, on the other hand, worked usually on flat surfaces and if an effect of depth was desired, they would have to organize visual elements to create an illusion. Progress in that direction was seen in Roman wall paintings but medieval artists had other concerns and did not seem interested in pictorial space.

During the fourteenth century, as painters studied the work of the past, they gained insights into how effects of space could be achieved. Renaissance artists were the beneficiaries of several centuries of contributions; each leading to a resolution of a particular problem. By the time Masaccio was a young man in the early fifteenth century, scientific perspective had been demonstrated and other illusion-creating devices had been established. He understood them well and utilized them with greater success than any artist before his time. Although we are always aware of a painting’s surface, Masaccio treated it as a window; as though the surface were not there. He had the insights and requisite skills to create an illusion of depth through linear and atmospheric perspective and through gradations of colors and values. Along with depth, he used value changes to suggest light sources within the space he created.

In The Baptism of the Neophytes, Masaccio modeled Peter’s robe and defined the muscles of the neophytes (new converts to Christianity) through the use of light and shadow effects. Peter is closest to the picture plane and behind him are two figures believed to be sponsors; we interpret them as being behind Peter because they are blocked partially from our view. From experience we know objects that are farther away appear smaller in size; therefore, because of size differences and being higher in the picture plane, we interpret Masaccio’s neophytes as being farther from us. Masaccio also is aware that when objects are far away, textural details are not discernable and we are not able to determine color. Atmosphere causes values to become lighter; thus, the hills in the far distance are progressively lighter in tone. Before Masaccio’s time, painters had limited success in creating a sense of depth. Masaccio created pictorial space and made it all seem natural; unless we analyze how he did it we are not consciously aware of the illusionistic devices he used.

In the lower half of this fresco, Peter is baptizing a man by pouring water over him as he kneels in a stream. After we look at the baptism, our focus shifts to the waiting neophytes and we see their facial expressions and body language. Our eyes then progress from the left side to the right and we are guided back to the central foreground figure being baptized. In addition to a convincing depiction of a Biblical event, The Baptism of the Neophytes is a very balanced composition and the continuity of images keeps us engaged.

The Baptism of the Neophytes is among other frescos painted for the Brancacci Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence, Italy. Masaccio worked with Masolino when painting began but then when Masolino left, the frescos became Masaccio’s responsibility. Masaccio went to Rome before the paintings in the Chapel were completed and died there at the age of twenty-seven. Artists who came after him were indebted greatly for what he taught them through his paintings. It is said the Brancacci Chapel is the birthplace of the Renaissance.

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© 2012 Hovak Najarian