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date: 27 February 2020


  • Robert W. Gaston


Principle of appropriateness, controlling composition, representation and location in the visual arts. Decorum may determine that a pictorial or sculptural subject is suitable for an architectural setting, such as Vulcan’s forge over a fireplace, or that kinds of buildings are fitting in urban or rural contexts or appropriate for persons of certain status. Liturgical functions influenced by decorum dictate the placement of paintings, mosaics and sculpture in religious buildings. In narrative painting, graphic art and sculpture, decorum affects how the protagonists dress, gesture and move, the intensity of their emotional expression, their facial or physical types and skin colour, the identifying attributes given the figures, their numbers, scale and proximity to sacred personages if they are the artist or patron and the historicity of the landscape or architectural settings.

Changing devotional and theological considerations also regulated these details. Compare, for example, the suppression of physical suffering in depictions of Christ’s Passion in Early Christian art and its accentuation in brutal martyrdoms painted for Catholic patrons in Counter-Reformation Italy. The display of the Christ child’s genitals in Italian Renaissance painting was sanctioned by Incarnation theology, but ...

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