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Article

Anna Moszynska

Term applied in its strictest sense to forms of 20th-century Western art that reject representation and have no starting- or finishing-point in nature. As distinct from processes of abstraction from nature or from objects (a recurring tendency across many cultures and periods that can be traced as far back as Palaeolithic cave painting), abstract art as a conscious aesthetic based on assumptions of self-sufficiency is a wholly modern phenomenon (see Abstraction).

In the late 19th century, and particularly in Symbolist art and literature, attention was refocused from the object to the emotions aroused in the observer in such a way that suggestion and evocation took priority over direct description and explicit analogy. In France especially this tradition contributed to the increased interest in the formal values of paintings, independent of their descriptive function, that prepared the way for abstraction. In his article ‘Définition du néo-traditionnisme’, published in L’Art et critique...

Article

Term applied to a drawn or painted representation of the human figure, most commonly made as part of the instruction in an academy or art school. Although the practice of making drawings from nude models had developed during the Renaissance and was commended by such theorists as Alberti, it was only with the foundation of academies of painting in the 17th century that such drawing became formalized as part of a rigorous programme of training. Indeed, by the mid-18th century, the word ‘académie’ was defined in Diderot’s Encyclopédie as ‘a public school where painters go to draw or paint, and sculptors to model, after a nude man called the model’. In France one of the principal means by which the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture asserted its predominance was by maintaining a monopoly on life classes. After the student had mastered the difficulties of copying engravings and plaster casts, he was set to draw from the nude figure under the supervision of the professor. The model was almost invariably male because female models were forbidden at the Académie Royale, and elsewhere they were extremely expensive to hire. Classes lasted two hours, and the pose was usually changed twice a week. The student began by drawing with red chalk on white paper and later progressed to black chalk on tinted papers, applying white chalk for highlights. Such drawing was an exercise in shading, hatching, graining and stumping, and increasingly the results became so homogeneous in style that unsigned examples are almost impossible to attribute. Painted academy figures (...

Article

Carmen Bria, Celia Rabinovitch and Michael Sickler

Although ‘acrylic’ has become a generic term for any synthetic paint medium, acrylics are a specific type of manmade polymer that has become standard in the commercial paint industry as well as widely used by artists from the mid-20th century; most synthetic paint media in contemporary artistic use are based on acrylic emulsions. Acrylics are thermoplastic, have great optical clarity and excellent light stability, good adhesion and elasticity and resist ultraviolet and chemical degradation. Their unique surface properties, transparency and brilliance of colour, together with the possibilities they offer for indeterminacy, immediacy, randomness and the ability to rework immediately and to achieve extremely thin or thick surfaces, are qualities that have been exploited fully by such painting movements as Abstract Expressionism in the 1950s, and, subsequently, colour field painting, hard-edge painting and Pop art.

See also Paint, §I; Polymer colour; and Plastic, §2, (ii).

Acrylics were first prepared in ...

Article

Jonathan Stephenson

revised by Andy Penaluna

Hand-held painting instrument, of about the same size as or slightly larger than a pen, that delivers paint in a controlled spray. It is connected to a supply of compressed air by a flexible hose and draws paint from an integral reservoir or attached cup. Depending on the sophistication of the model, the user may control the supply of air and paint and the spray pattern in varying degrees. Additional effects are achieved by a form of stencilling, using special masking film or other means to protect areas of the artwork that are either yet to be worked upon, or have already been completed by the artist. An airbrush may be used with any paint if it is sufficiently thinned and contains pigment particles that are suitably fine. Dyes are also employed. Versions of several media exist that are specifically intended for airbrush application.

Airbrush evolved due to popularisation of the photograph and a demand for enlarged photographic likenesses, especially in portraiture. Crayon and pastel were commonly employed. In an attempt to provide more permanent and expeditious alternatives, pigment atomisation devices were designed in the 1870s. Frank E. Stanley of Auburn, Maine, and Abner Peeler of Fort Dodge, Iowa patented alternative forms of artist’s atomisers, termed ‘Paint Distributors’. In ...

Article

Annie Dell’Aria

Term coined during the height of Abstract Expressionism in the USA, with particular relevance to the work of painter Jackson Pollock. The ‘all-over’ quality of works such as Lavender Mist: Number 1, 1950 (Washington, DC, N.G.A.) refers to its lack of compositional structure (no apparent foreground, middleground, or background) as in traditional representational painting. It also suggests the lack of spatial delineations or focal points of any kind, creating an entirely abstract work that asserts the canvas’s flat surface and eschews any attempt at representational or symbolic interpretation (see fig.). The large scale of Pollock’s drip paintings made their all-over quality all the more impressive as the sprawled paint made the viewer survey the entire surface. Though initially used to describe Pollock’s drip paintings, the term was later applied to the colour field painters of the second generation of Abstract Expressionists. Furthermore, the term ‘all-over’ can be applied to a variety of abstract design strategies (for example, some works by Cy Twombly)....

Article

[Gr. allegoria, description of something under the guise of something else]

Term used to describe a method of expressing complex abstract ideas or a work of art composed according to this. An allegory is principally constructed from personifications and symbols (see Symbol), and, though overlapping in function, it is thus more sophisticated in both meaning and operation than either of these. It is found primarily in Western art and constitutes an important area of study in Iconography and iconology.

Allegory, a means of making the ‘invisible’ visible, is a product of the philosophical thought of Classical antiquity and was used by the ancients not only in the fine arts but also in literature and rhetoric (Cicero: On the Orator, xxvii.94; Quintilian: Principles of Oratory, VIII.vi.44; IX.ii.92; Plutarch: Moralia, 19, E-F). In contrast with the symbol, which is a phenomenon of nearly all cultures and religions, allegory is thus essentially a feature primarily of Western art.

The mechanism of allegory further distinguishes it from both symbolism and personification. ...

Article

Willem F. Lash

Type of allegorical representation of the artist’s conception of himself and his work. Many allegories of art owe their origin to attempts, in the 16th and 17th centuries, to classify the fine arts, especially painting, as artes liberales. An improvement in the status of art was to bring with it an improvement in the social standing of the artist. The allegory of art took many forms, which often appeared in combination with one another, including: personifications of Pictura or Disegno, sometimes in the role of inspirer in portraits of the artist; the conquest of Ignorantia and Invidia; and pictures of private galleries. The decoration of the artist’s own house—such as Vasari’s at Arezzo and Florence and Federico Zuccaro’s in Rome—provided an obvious opportunity to develop the theme (see Artist’s house).

The theme of the artist’s inspiration originates in Classical art: the inspiration of the poet by the muse, which is frequently depicted on sarcophagi. It was continued in Late Antique portraits of authors and in early Christian portraits of the Evangelists. A miniature in the Vienna ...

Article

Alexander Nagel

[Fr. postautel, retable; Ger. Altar, Altaraufsatz, Altarbild, Altarretabel, Altarrückwand, Retabel; It. ancona, dossale, pala (d’altare); Sp. retablo]

An image-bearing structure set on the rear part of the altar (see Altar, §II), abutting the back of the altarblock, or set behind the altar in such a way as to be visually joined with the altar when viewed from a distance. It is also sometimes called a retable, following the medieval term retrotabulum [retabulum, retrotabularium].

The altarpiece was never officially prescribed by the Church, but it did perform a prescribed function alternatively carried out by a simple inscription on the altarblock: to declare to which saint or mystery the altar was dedicated. In fact, the altarpiece did more than merely identify the altar; its form and content evoked the mystery or personage whose cult was celebrated at the altar. This original and lasting function influenced the many forms taken by the altarpiece throughout its history. Since the altarpiece was not prescribed by the Church, its form varied enormously. For this reason, it is often impossible, and historically inaccurate, to draw neat distinctions between the altarpiece and other elements occasionally associated with the altar apparatus. For example, movable statues, often of the Virgin and Child, were occasionally placed on altars according to ritual needs, and at those times fulfilled the function of the altarpiece....

Article

Kenneth B. Roberts

Depictions of the structure of the human body as shown by dissection. The study of anatomy (Gk.: ‘cutting apart’) has informed and stimulated European artists since the Renaissance and has also led to many remarkable feats of illustration.

Anatomy was being practised at Alexandria c. 300 bc, but no images remain from the Classical world. Illustrations demonstrating anatomy occur in European manuscripts from the 12th century onwards. They are sometimes grouped in a series of five or six diagrams of the complete human figure, each showing a frog-like, or squatting, posture. Examples of this series bear a family resemblance, showing that they were copied from earlier examples. It has been suggested that they derive from early Alexandrian originals. Similarly squatting figures occur in many cultures, possibly without connection. The frog-like series in European, and likewise in Persian and Indian manuscripts, include separate figures for representing the skeleton, arteries, veins, nerves and muscles, and often also a pregnant woman. These figures are not observations of bodily structures as seen in dissection but rather symbolic representations of the subject-matter of anatomy, ...

Article

Nigel J. Morgan

[Ger.: ‘devotional image’]

Type of religious image intended for devotional contemplation and the stimulation of affective piety that evolved in the late Middle Ages. Many of these images were developed in the 14th century in response to the writings of the Cistercians and Benedictines, in particular, but also of the Franciscans and Dominicans. Many of the authors encouraged self-identification with the joys and sufferings of the Virgin and Christ, and the images served as a means of meditating on the events described in the texts. They were frequently painted on small panels or illustrated in Books of Hours and were available to a wider audience through woodcuts and engravings (see Book of Hours). Larger carved representations and altarpieces were also common in churches.

Many of these devotional images were extracted from a narrative and in some cases preserve its essential elements, for example such close-up emotive groups as Christ and St John the Evangelist from the Last Supper, or the Pietà from the Lamentation at the foot of the Cross (see below). Other ...

Article

Lucia Tongiorgi Tomasi and Edward J. Nygren

Although animals have been represented in the art of almost all cultures from prehistoric times, the depiction of animal subjects in painting and the graphic arts became a particularly well-established tradition in Western art following the Renaissance, as European explorers discovered new species, as the demand for illustrated books increased and as the traditional Christian interpretation of the relation between humanity and the rest of creation began to be reappraised. Moreover, while hunting, falconry and similar pursuits continued to provide artists with subjects, animals came to have a more complex relation to society, as curiosities, status symbols or in a domesticated role. Animals continued to occupy an ambiguous role in 19th- and 20th-century Western art, as the subjects of human science, as opportunities to demonstrate technique, and as the instinctive, unrestrained vehicles for a range of Romantic and post-Romantic symbolic possibilities. It is this Western tradition that is discussed in this article; discussion of the depiction of animal subjects in the art of other cultures may be found in the respective regional and cultural surveys....

Article

Walter Liedtke and Daniela Coia

Paintings in which a building or a group of buildings or ruins constitutes either the main subject of the composition or plays an important role in it. The term is modern and owes much of its currency to Jantzen’s fundamental survey (1910) of 16th- and 17th-century Netherlandish architectural paintings (see bibliography under §2 below). Works most commonly described as architectural paintings include views of church interiors, both real and imaginary; interior and exterior views of imaginary palaces and, occasionally, country estates; and exterior views of important buildings, such as cathedrals, town halls and country houses. In some cases, especially in earlier periods, a Townscape is referred to as an architectural picture. Indeed, there is a considerable body of Italian Renaissance paintings devoted to general urban views, in which such picturesque architectural elements as turreted walls, cupolas, bell-towers, palazzi, porticos and temples are emphasized (usually arranged according to artistic licence rather than by strict adherence to topographical accuracy). Whereas in the Middle Ages the image of the city had generally served simply as a background for religious narrative scenes, by the early Renaissance increasing interest in both ancient and contemporary architecture meant that it came to be seen as an appropriate subject for painting in its own right. It is not always possible to make a clear distinction between a townscape and an architectural picture: views such as that by ...

Article

Arricio  

Article

[Fr.: ‘with three chalks’]

Term applied to a drawing in black, red and white chalks, often carried out on tinted paper; the technique was particularly employed by Antoine Watteau, among others, in the early part of the 18th century. The variant terms aux deux crayons (black and red chalks) and aux quatre crayons (black, white and two shades of red chalk) are occasionally also used (...

Article

Artists have depicted battle for almost as long as wars have been fought. This article deals with military themes in Western art from the 16th century, when distinct approaches to the subject were fully established, until the outbreak of World War I in 1914, after which the idealization of war in art was most forcefully rejected.

In Italy Michelangelo’s Battle of Cascina (c. 1506) and Leonardo’s Battle of Anghiari (1503–6; both untraced but known through copies and fragments of cartoons; see fig.) established a Renaissance tradition of the heroic battle piece, which was developed in Giulio Romano’s seminal fresco, the Battle of the Milvian Bridge (1523–4; Rome, Vatican, Sala di Costantino). This is a formal, almost abstract depiction of men and horses in violent conflict, and on a grand scale. It is deeply indebted to Classical sarcophagi and to Trajan’s column, from which it borrows many images to recreate a battle scene of the late Roman era. The semi-naked combatants, in Classical or gladiatorial clothing, struggle fiercely and apparently indiscriminately in bellicose poses, while Constantine, in Roman uniform, leads his Christian standards serenely through the carnage. The event was of great importance to church tradition and is aptly rendered in a mythical style. The fresco became widely known outside Italy from its preliminary drawings and subsequent engravings. ...

Article

H. B. J. Maginnis

A small painted panel, initially created as a cover for official documents of the civic government of Siena between the 13th and 17th centuries. The Italian word derives from the chief financial office of Siena, the Biccherna, a name that first appears at the beginning of the 13th century; it was supposedly inspired by the imperial treasury of the Blachernae Palace in Constantinople. The term has also been extended to designate painted covers and small panels connected with other Sienese civic offices and institutions, such as the tax office (Gabella), the hospital of S Maria della Scala, the Opera del Duomo and various lay confraternities. Most biccherne, however, are from the office of the Biccherna itself.

The officials of the Biccherna comprised a camarlingo, charged with expenditure on behalf of the Comune, and four provveditori, responsible for revenues and for approving disbursements. All officials were appointed for six-month terms, at the end of which the working accounts were transferred to parchment registers to be presented to the Consiglio Generale of Siena for inspection. Initially these were prepared as two distinct volumes: the ...

Article

Ralph Hyde

Prints, drawings or paintings that incorporate high-level perspective: the viewer has the sensation of looking at the ground from the clouds. Views taken from just above roof-level and map-views—pictorial maps that have a consistent scale—fall outside this category. Bird’s-eye views have also been called ‘aeronautical views’, ‘balloon views’ and ‘aero-views’. The advantage of the high angle is that more detail can be displayed, as the foreground does not obscure the background. This has made the bird’s-eye view the ideal medium for representing battlefields, a purpose for which it was first used in the Classical period (see Rome, ancient, §IV, 1, (iv), (b)). It has also been found useful for depicting proposed urban developments, such as estates, docks and railways, and for landscape garden plans. It has been widely used for depicting palaces and country houses and, in the 19th century, for individual factories, the choice of the bird’s-eye medium being motivated by landlords’ and capitalists’ pride of ownership. Civic pride has contributed to the even more widespread use of the method for depicting towns and cities....

Article

Bistre  

Jonathan Stephenson

Warm brown, transparent pigment obtained by boiling the soot from a wood fire. It may also have been produced by burning resin or peat. Its history is uncertain, as references to the use of soot, even if they imply a brown colouring rather than a black, are often too vague to be associated with bistre. As well as being used as a watercolour, bistre tended to be used alone as a monochrome wash, and its name is associated with the shading of drawings in that way; however, the extent of its use is unclear because Van Dyck brown, Cologne earth, sepia and various inks all produce effects that are difficult to differentiate from bistre. It was listed by name in the 17th century by Sir Théodore Turquet de Mayerne (London, BL, MSS Sloane 1990 and 2052), although it was not mentioned with any frequency in England until the following century, when watercolour methods began to develop. Around the beginning of the 19th century it was eclipsed by sepia....

Article

Bitumen  

Rupert Featherstone

Dark brown solution of asphalt, a naturally occurring petroleum residue, dissolved in oil or turpentine and used as a brown oil paint from the 17th century to the 19th. It shows undesirable characteristics on ageing, as it never completely dries and, when applied in thick films, forms a network of broad cracks resembling an alligator’s skin, revealing the ground colour below. The use of bitumen is evident in many paintings by ...

Article

Rupert Featherstone

Ready-mixed oil paints, prepared commercially and contained in a bladder of animal membrane. The bladder was pierced and resealed with a tack of metal or bone, and the paint remained usable for several months. Bladder colours were available from the mid-17th century until the 1840s, when they were superseded by metallic tubes....