Étiquette : Louvre

 

Uccello, Donatello, Verrocchio and the art of military command

Uccello, Donatello, Verrocchio and the art of military command. An inquiry into the key events and artistic achievements that created the Renaissance. By Karel Vereycken, Paris.

Prologue

Catalogue of the 2019 Exhibition in Washington.

If there is still a lot to say, write and learn about the great geniuses of the European Renaissance, it is also time to take an interest in those whom the historian Georgio Vasari condescendingly called « transitional figures ».

How can one measure the contributions of Pieter Bruegel the Elder without knowing Pieter Coecke van Aelst? How can we value Rembrandt’s work without knowing Pieter Lastman? How did Raphaelo Sanzio innovate in relation to his master Perugino?

In 2019, an exceptional exhibition on Andrea Del Verrocchio (1435-1488), at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., highlighted his great achievements, truly inspiring outbursts of great beauty that his pupil Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) would theorize and put to his greatest advantage.

The sfumato of Leonardo ? Verrochio is the pioneer, especially in the blurred features of portraits of women made with mixed techniques (pencil, chalk and gouache).

Andrea del Verrocchio, head of a woman, mixte technique (pencil, charcoal, gouache, etc.), 1475-1478.

The joy of discovery

Leafing through the catalog of this exhibition, my joy got immense when I discovered (and to my knowledgne nobody else seems to have made this observation before me) that the enigmatic angel the viewer’s eye meets in Leonardo’s painting titled The Virgin on the Rocks (1483-1486) (Louvre, Paris), besides the movement of the body, is grosso modo a visual “quote” of the image of a terra cotta high relief (Louvre, Paris) attributed to Verrochio and “one of his assistants”, possibly even Leonardo himself, since the latter was training with the master as early as age seventeen ! The finesse of its execution and drapery also reminds us of the only known statue of Da Vinci, The Virgin with the laughing Child.

Many others made their beginnings in Verrocchio’s workshop, notably Lorenzo de Credi, Sandro Botticelli, Piero Perugino (Raphael’s teacher) and Domenico Ghirlandaio (Michelangelo’s teacher).

Coming out of the tradition of the great building sites launched in Florence by the great patron of the Renaissance, Cosimo de Medici for the realization of the doors of the Baptistery and the completion of the dome of Florence by Philippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446), Verrocchio conceived his studio as a true “polytechnic” school.

In Florence, for the artists, the orders flowed in. In order to be able to respond to all requests, Verrocchio, initially trained as a goldsmith, trained his students as craftsman-engineer-artists: drawing, calculation, interior decoration, sculpture, geology, anatomy, metal and woodworking, perspective, architecture, poetry, music and painting. A level of freedom and a demand for creativity that has unfortunately long since disappeared.

The Ghiberti legacy

Self-portrait of Ghiberti, bronze Gates of the Baptistry of Florence.

In painting, Verrocchio is said to have begun with the painter Fra Filippo Lippi (1406-1469). As for the bronze casting trade, he would have been, like Donatello, Masolino, Michelozzo, Uccello and Pollaiuolo, one of the apprentices recruited by Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455) whose workshop, starting from 1401, over forty years, will be in charge of casting the bronze bas-reliefs of two of the huge doors of the Baptistery of Florence.

Others suggest that Verrocchio was most likely trained by Michelozzo, the former companion of Ghiberti who said up shop with Donatello. As a teenager, Donatello had accompanied Brunelleschi on their joint expeditions to Rome to investigate the legacy of Greek and Roman art, and not only the architectural legacy.

In reality, Verrocchio only perpetuated and developed the model of Ghiberti’s « polytechnic » studio, where he learned the art. An excellent craftsman, Ghiberti was also goldsmith, art collector, musician and humanist scolar and historian.

His genius is to have understood the importance of multidisciplinarity for artists. According to him « sculpture and painting are sciences of several disciplines nourished by different teachings ».

The ten disciplines that he considered important to train artists are grammar, philosophy, history, followed by perspective, geometry, drawing, astronomy, arithmetic, medicine and anatomy.

You can discover, says Ghiberti, only when you managed to isolate the object of your research from interfering factors, and you can discover by detaching oneself from a dogmatic system;

as the nature of things want it, the sciences hidden under artifices are not constituted so that the men with narrow chests can judge them.

Anticipating the type of biomimicry that will characterize Leonardo thereafter, Ghiberti affirms that he sought:

to discover how nature functioned and how he could approach it to know how the objects come to the eye, how the sight functions and in which way one has to practice sculpture and painting.

Ghiberti, who was familiar with some of the leading members of the circle of humanists led by Salutati and Traversari, based his own reflexions on optics on the authority of ancient texts, especially Arabic. He wrote:

But in order not to repeat in a superficial and superfluous way the principles that found all opinions, I will treat the composition of the eye particularly according to the opinions of three authors, namely Avicenna [Ibn Sina], in his books, Alhazen [Ibn al Haytam], in the first book of his perspective, and Constantine [Qusta ibn Luqa] in the first book on the eye; for these authors are sufficient and treat with more certainty the things that interest us.

Deliberately ignored (but copied) by Vasari, Ghiberti’s Commentaries are a real manuel for artists, written by an artist. Most interestingly, it is by reading Ghiberti’s Commentaries that Leonardo da Vinci became familiar with important Arab contributions to science, in particular the outstanding work of Ibn al Haytam (Alhazen) whose treatise on optics had just been translated from Latin into Italian under the title De li Aspecti, and is quoted at length by Ghiberti in his Commentario Terzio. Author A. Mark Smith suggests that, through Ghiberti, Alhazen’s Book of Optics

may well have played a central role in the development of artificial perspective in early Renaissance Italian painting.

Ghiberti, Saint John the Baptist, bronze, Orsanmichele, Florence.

Ghiberti’s comments are not extensive. However, for the pupils of his pupil Verrocchio, such as Leonardo, who didn’t command any foreign language, Ghiberti’s book did make available in italian a series of original quotes from the roman architect Vitruvius, arab scientists such as Alhazen), Avicenna, Averroes and those european scientists having studied arab optics, notably the Oxford fransciscans Roger Bacon, John Pecham and the Polish monk working in Padua, Witelo.

Finally, in 1412, Ghiberti, while busy coordinating all the works on the Gates of the Baptistry, was also the first Renaissance sculptor to cast a life-size statue in bronze, his Saint John the Baptist, to decorate Orsanmichele, the house of the Corporations in Florence.

Lost wax casting

However, in order to cast bronzes of such a size, the artists, considering the price of metal, would use the technique known as “lost wax casting”.

This technique consists of first making a model in refractory clay (A), covered with a thickness of wax corresponding to the thickness of the bronze thought necessary.

The model is then covered with a thick layer of wet plaster (B) which, as it solidifies, forms an outer mold. Finally, the very hot molten bronze, pored into the mold it penetrates by rods (J) provided for this purpose, will replace the wax.

Verrocchio’s David, for which it is thought he used his young pupil Leonardo as a model.

Finally, once the metal has solidified, the coating is broken. The details of the bronze (K) are then adjusted and polished (L) according to the artist’s choice.

This technique would become crucial for the manufacture of bells and cannons. While it was commonly used in Ifé in Africa in the 12th century for statuary, in Europe it was only during the Renaissance, with the orders received by Ghiberti and Donatello, that it was entirely reinvented.

In 1466, after the death of Donatello, it was Verrocchio’s turn to become the Medici’s sculptor in title for whom he produced a whole series of works, notably, after Donatello, his own David in bronze (Bargello National Museum, Florence).

If with this promotion his social ascendancy is certain, Verrocchio found himself facing the greatest challenge that any artist of the Renaissance could have imagined: how to equal or even surpass Donatello, an artist whose genius has never been praised enough?

Equestrian art

This being said, let us now approach the subject of the art of military command by comparing four equestrian monuments:

  • Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius on the Capitoline square in Rome (175 AD) ;
  • Paolo Uccello’s fresco of John Hawkwood in the church of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence (1436);
  • Erasmo da Narni, known as “Gattamelata” (1446-1450), casted by Donatello in Padua.
  • Bartolomeo Colleoni by Andrea del Verrocchio in Venice (1480-1488).

Equestrian statues appeared in Greece in the middle of the 6th century B.C. to honor the victorious riders in a race. From the Hellenistic period onward, they were reserved for the highest state figures, sovereigns, victorious generals and magistrates. In Rome, on the forum, they constituted a supreme honor, subject to the approval of the Senate. Apart from being bronze equestrian statues, each one is placed in a place where their troops fought.

While each statue is a reminder of the importance of military and political command, the way in which this responsibility is exercised is quite different.

Marcus Aurelius in Rome

Copy of the Marcus Aurelius statue in Rome (175 AD).

Marcus Aurelius was born in Rome in 121 A.D., into a noble family of Spanish origin. He was the nephew of the emperor Hadrian. After the death of Marcus Aurelius’ father, Hadrian entrusted him to his successor Antonin. The latter adopts and gives him an excellent education. He was initiated early in philosophy by his master Diognetus.

Interested in the stoics, he adopted for a while their lifestyle, sleeping on the ground, wearing a rough tunic, before he was dissuaded by his mother.

He went to Athens in 175 A.D. and became a promotor of philosophy. He helps financially the philosophers and the rhetoricians by granting them a fixed salary. Concerned with pluralism, he supported the Platonic Academy, the Lyceum of Aristotle, the Garden of Epicurus and the Stoic Portico.

On the other hand, during his reign, persecutions against Christians were numerous. He saw them as troublemakers – since they refused to recognize the Roman gods, and as fanatics.

Marcus Aurelius, original in the Museum.

Erected in 175 A.D., the statue was entirely gilded. Its location in antiquity is unknown, but in the Middle Ages it stood in front of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, founded by Constantine, and the Lateran Palace, then the papal residence.

In 1538, Pope Paul III had the monument of Marcus Aurelius transferred to the Capitol, the seat of the city’s government. Michelangelo restored the statue and redesigned the square around it, one of the fanciest in Rome. It is undoubtedly the most famous equestrian statue, and above all the only one dating back to ancient Rome that has survived, the others having been melted down into coins or weapons…

If the statue survived, it is thanks to a misunderstanding: it was thought that it represented Constantine, the first Roman emperor to have converted to Christianity at the beginning of the 4th century, and it was out of the question to destroy the image of a Christian ruler.

Neither the date nor the circumstances of the commission are known.

But the presence of a defeated enemy under the right foreleg of the horse (attested by medieval testimonies and since lost), the emperor’s gesture and the shape of the saddle cloth, unusual in the Roman world, make us to belief that the statue commemorated Marcus Aurelius’ victories, perhaps on the occasion of his triumph in Rome in 176, or even after his death. Indeed, his reign (161-180) was marked by incessant wars to counter the incursions of Germanic or Eastern peoples on the borders of an Empire that was now threatened and on the defensive.

The horse, while not that large, but looking powerful, has been sculpted with great care and represented with realism. Its nostrils are strongly dilated, its lips pulled by the bit reveal its teeth and tongue.

One leg raised, he has just been stopped by his rider, who holds the reins with his left hand. Like him, the horse turns his head slightly to the right, a sign that the statue was made to be seen from that side. Part of his harness is preserved, but the reins have disappeared.

The size of the athletic rider nevertheless dominates that of a powerful horse that he rides without stirrups (accessories unknown to the Romans). He is dressed in a short tunic belted at the waist and a ceremonial cloak stapled on the right shoulder. It is a civil and not a military garment, adapted to a peaceful context. He is wearing leather shoes held together by intertwined straps.

The statue is striking for its size (424 cm high) and for the majesty it exudes. Without armor or weapons, eyes wide open and without emotion, the emperor raises his right arm. His authority derives above all from the function he embodies: he is the Emperor who protects his Empire and his people by punishing their enemies without mercy.

The fresco by Paolo Uccello

Paolo Uccello, fresque en honneur de John Hawkwood (1436), Dôme de Florence.

In 1436, at the request of Cosimo de’ Medici, the young Paolo Uccello was commissioned to paint a fresco depicting John Hawkwood (1323-1394), the son of an English tanner who had become a warlord during the Hundred Years’ War in France and whose name would be Italicized into Giovanno Acuto.

Serving the highest bidder, especially rival Italian cities, Hawkwood’s company of mercenaries was no slouch.

In Florence, although it may seem paradoxical, it was the humanist chancellor Coluccio Salutati (1331-1406) who put Hawkwood at the head of a regular army in the service of the Signoria.

This approach is not unlike that of Louis XI in France, who, in order to control the skinners and other cutthroats who were ravaging the nation, did not hesitate to discipline them by incorporating them into a standing army, the new royal army.

The humanists of the Renaissance, notably Leonardo Bruni (1370-1440) in his De Militia (1420), became aware of the curse of using mercenaries in conflicts and of the fact that only standing army, i.e. a permanent army formed of professionals and even better by citizens and maintained by a state or a city could guarantee a lasting peace.

Although Hawkwood faithfully protected the city for 18 years, his ugly “professionalism” as a mercenary was not unanimously accepted, to the point of inspiring the proverb “Inglese italianato è un diavolo Incarnato” (« An Italianized Englishman is a devil incarnate »).

Petrarch denounced him, Boccaccio tried in vain to mount a diplomatic offensive against him, St. Catherine of Sienna begged him to leave Italy, Chaucer met him and, no doubt, used him as a model for The Knight’s Tale (The Canterbury Tales).

All this will not prevent Cosimo, a member of the humanist conspiracy and a great patron of the arts, returning from exile, from wanting to honor him. But in the absence of the bronze equestrian statue (which had been promised to him…), Florence, will only offer him a fresco in the nave of Santa Maria del Fiore, that is to say under right under the cupola of the Duomo.

UV study of Uccello’s fresco showing condottiere with helm.

From the very beginning, Paolo Uccello’s fresco seems to have stirred quite a controversy. A preparatory drawing in the collections of Florence’s Uffizi Museum indicates the commander, more armed, taller, and, with his horse in a more military position. Uccello had originally depicted Hawkwood as « more threatening », with his baton raised and horse « at the ready ».

A recent ultraviolet study confirms the fact that the painter had originally depicted the condottiere armed from head to toe. In the final version, he wears a sleeveless jacket, the giornea, and a coat; only his legs and feet are protected by a piece of armor. The final version presents a less imposing rider, less warlike, more human and more individualized

In the dispute, it was not Uccello who was considered faulty, but his sponsors. Moreover, the painter was quickly given the task of redoing the fresco in a way deemed “more appropriate”.

John Hawkwood par Uccello, détail.

Unfortunately, there is no record of the debates that must have raged among the officials of the church fabric (Opera Del Domo). What is certain is the fact that in the final version, visible today, the condottiere has been transformed from a warlord running a gang of mercenaries, into the image of philosopher-king whose only weapon is his commanding staff. At the bottom of the fresco, we can read in Latin: “Giovanno Acuto, British knight, who was in his time held as a very prudent general and very expert in military affairs.”

The position of the horse and the perspective of the sarcophagus have been changed from a simple profile to a di sotto in su view.

If this perspective is somewhat surrealistic and the pose of the horse, raising both legs on the same side, simply impossible, it remains a fact that Uccello’s fresco will set “the standards” of the ideal and impassive image of virtue and command that must embody the hero of the Renaissance: his goal is no longer to “win” a war (the objective of the mercenary), but to preserve the peace by preventing it (the objective of a philosopher-king or simply a wise head of state).

Paradigm shift

As such, one might say that Uccello’s fresco announces the “paradigm shift” marking the end of the age of perpetual feudal wars, to that of the Renaissance, that is to say to that of a necessary concord between sovereign nation-states whose security is indivisible, the security of one being the guarantee of the security of the other, a paradigm even more rigorously defined in 1648 at the Peace of Westphalia, when it made the agapic notion of the “advantage of the other” the basis of its success.

One historian suggests that the recommissioning of Uccello’s fresco was part of the « refurbishing » of the cathedral associated with its rededication as Santa Maria del Fiore by the humanist Pope Eugene IV in March 1436, determined to convince the Eastern and Western Churches to peacefully overcome their divisions and réunite as was attempted at the Council of Florence of 1437-1438 and for which the Duomo was central.

Interesting is the fact that Uccello’s fresco appeared at around the same time that Yolande d’Aragon and Jacques Coeur, who had his Italian connections, persuaded the French king Charles VII to put an end to the Hundred Years’ War by setting up a permanent, standing army.

In 1445, an ordinance was passed to discipline and rationalize the army in the form of cavalry units grouped into Compagnies d’Ordonnances, the first permanent army at the disposal, not of warlords or aristocrats, but of the King of France.

Donatello’s “Gattamelata” (1447-1453)

Donatello, statue équestre d’Erasmo da Narni, dit Gattamelata, 1447-1453, Padua.

It was only some years later, in Padua, between 1447 and 1453, that Donatello would work on the statue of Erasmo da Narni (1370-1443), a Renaissance condottiere, i.e. the leader of a professional army in the service of the Republic of Venice, which at the time ruled the city of Padua. An important detail is that Erasmo was nicknamed “il Gattamelata”.

In French, « faire la chattemite » means to affect a false air of sweetness to deceive or seduce… Others explain that his nickname of “honeyed cat” comes from the fact that his mother was called Melania Gattelli or that he wore a crest (a helmet) in the shape of a honey-colored cat in battle…

The man was of humble origin, the son of a baker, born in Umbria around 1370. He learned to handle weapons from Ceccolo Broglio, lord of Assisi, and then, when he was in his thirties, from the captains of Braccio da Montone, who was known for recruiting the best fighters.

In 1427, Erasmo, who had the confidence of Cosimo de’ Medici, signed a seven-year contract with the humanist Pope Martin V, who wished to strengthen an army corps loyal to his cause with the aim of bringing to heel the lords of Emilia, Romagna and Umbria who were rebellious against papal authority.

Donatello: Gattemelata (detail).

He bought a huge suit of armor to reinforce his high stature. He was not an impetuous fighter, but a master of siege warfare, which forced him to take slow, thoughtful and progressive action. He spied on his prey for a long time before trapping it.

In 1432, he captured the fortress of Villafranca near Imola by cunning alone and without fighting. The following year he did the same to capture the fortified town of Castelfranco, thus sparing his soldiers and his treasure.

Those who were unable to grasp his tactics, accused him of being a coward for “running away” from the front-line, not realizing, that on a given moment, this was part of the tactics of his winning strategy.

He was a prudent captain, with a very well-mannered troop, and he was careful to maintain good relations with the magistrates of the towns that employed him. He obtained the rank of captain-general of the army of the Republic of Venice during the fourth war against the Duke of Milan in 1438 and died in Padua in 1443. Following his death, the Venetian Republic gave him full honors and Giacoma della Leonessa, his widow, commissioned a sculpture in honor of her late husband for 1650 ducats.

The statue, which represents the life-size condottiere, in antique-style armor and bareheaded, holding his commanding staff in his raised right hand, on his horse, was made by the lost-wax method. As early as 1447, Donatello made the models for the casting of the horse and the condottiere. The work progresses at full speed and the work is completed in 1453 and placed on its pedestal in the cemetery that adjoins the Basilica of Padua.

Donatello, Gattemelata, détail du visage.

Brilliant for his cunning and guile, Gattamelata was a thoughtful and effective fighter in action, the type of leader recommended by Machiavelli in The Prince, and which appears in the sixteenth century by François Rabelais in his account of the “Picrocholine wars”.

Not the brute power of weapons, but the cunning and the intelligence will be the major qualities that Donatello will make appear powerfully in his work.

Contrary to Marcus Aurelius, it is not his social status that gives the commander his authority, but his intelligence and his creativity in the government of the city and the art of war. Donatello had an eye for detail. Looking at the horse, we see that it is a massive animal but far from static. It has a slow and determined gait, without any hesitation.

But that’s not all. A rigorous analysis shows that the proportions of the horse are of a “higher order” than those of the condottiere. Did Donatello make a mistake and make Erasmo too small and the horse too large? No, the sculptor made this choice to emphasize the value of Gattamelata who, thanks to his skills, is able to tame even wild and gigantic animals. In addition, the horse’s eyes show him as wild and untameable. Looking at him, one could say that it is impossible to ride him, but Gattamelata manages it with ease and without effort.

Because if you look at the reins in the hands of the protagonist, you will notice that he holds them in complete tranquility. This is another detail that highlights Erasmus’ powerful cunning and ingenuity.

Next, did you notice that one of the horse’s legs rests on a sphere? If this sphere (which could also be a cannonball, since Erasmus was a warrior) serves to give stability to Donatello’s composition as a whole, it also indicates how this animal of gigantic strength (symbolizing here warlike violence), once tamed and well used, allows the globe (the earthly kingdom) to be kept in balance.

Having told you about the horse, it is time to know more about the condottiere.

He has a proud and determined expression. The baton of command, which he holds in his hand, delicately touches the horse’s mane. The baton is not just a symbolic object; he may have received it in 1438 from the Republic of Venice.

Unlike Uccello’s fresco, Gattamelata is not dressed as a contemporary prince of commander, but as a figure beyond time embodying both the past, the present and the future. To capture this, Donatello, who takes care of every detail, has taken an ancient model and modernized it with incredible results. The details of the protagonist’s armor include purely classical motifs such as the head of Medusa, taken from Marcus Aurelius, in Greek mythology one of the three gorgons whose eyes had the power to petrify any mortal who crossed her gaze.

Although the helmet of Gattamelata would have allowed to identify him at eyesight, Donatello has discarded this option. With a helmet on his head, he would have been the symbol of a bloodthirsty warrior, rather than a cunning man. Even better, the absence of a helmet allows the artist to show us a fearless commander whose fixed gaze shows his determination. With the figure slightly bowed and legs extended, the sword in its scabbard placed at an angle, Donatello gives the illusion of an “imbalance” that reinforces in the viewer’s mind the idea that the horse is advancing with full strength.

Art historian John Pope-Hennessy is emphatic:

The fundamental differences between the Gattamelata and Marcus Aurelius are obvious. The (roman) emperor sits passively on his horse, legs dangling. In the fifteenth century, on the other hand, the art of riding implies the use of spurs. The impression of authority that emanates from the monument designed by Donatello comes from the total domination of the condottiere over his horse. (…) The soles of the feet are exactly parallel to the surface of the pedestal, as are the large six-pointed spurs, stretched to the middle of the animal’s flank.

As a result, Gattamelata is not a remake of the “classical Greek or Roman sculpture” of a hero with a sculpted physique, but a kind of new man who succeeds through reason. The fact that the statue has such a high pedestal also has its reason. Placed at such a height, the Gattamelata does not “share” our own space. It is in another dimension, eternal and out of time.

Verrocchio’s Colleoni

Verrocchio’s Colleoni.

Some thirty years later, between 1480 and 1488, Andrea del Verrocchio, after a contest, was selected to make a large bronze equestrian statue of another Italian condottiere named Bartolomeo Colleoni (1400-1475).

A ruthless mercenary, working for a patron one day and his rival the next day, he served from 1454 the Republic of Venice with the title of general-in-chief (capitano generale). He died in 1475 leaving a will in which he bequeathed part of his fortune to Venice in exchange for the commitment to erect a bronze statue to his honor in St. Mark’s Square.

The Venetian Senate agreed to erect an equestrian monument to his memory, while charging the costs to the widow of the deceased…

In addition, the Senate refused to erect it in St. Mark’s Square, which was, along with St. Mark’s Basilica, at the heart of the city’s life. The Senate therefore decided to interpret the conditions set by Colleoni in his last will and testament without contradicting them, choosing to erect his statue in 1479, not in St. Mark’s Square, but in an area further from the city center in front of the Scuola San Marco, on the campo dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo.

Although Verrocchio had started working on the project since 1482, it remained unfinished at his death in 1488. And it is, not as Verrocchio wished, his heir Lorenzo di Credi who will cast the statue, but the Venetian Alessandro Leopardi (who lost the contest to Verrocchio), who will not hesitate to sign it!

The four horses of the Triumphal Quadriga overseeing the Basilica of Saint Marc in Venice.

If the horse is in conformity with the typology of the magnificent horses composing the quadriga overseeing the Basilica of Saint Mark of Venice (Greek statuary of the IVth century BC brought back by the crusaders from Constantinople to Venice in 1204) and of the horse of Marcus Aurelius, its musculature is more nervously underlined and traced. Objectively, this statue is ideally more proportionate. There is also more fine detail, a result of new pre-sculpture techniques, making the work captivating and realistic to look at.

Andrea del Verrocchio, statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni.

The sculpture overflows its pedestal. According to André Suarès quoted in The Majesty of Centaurs:

Colleone on horseback walks in the air, he will not fall. He cannot fall. He leads his earth with him. His base follows him […] He has all the strength and all the calm. Marcus Aurelius, in Rome, is too peaceful. He does not speak and does not command. Colleone is the order of the force, on horseback. The force is right, the man is accomplished. He goes a magnificent amble. His strong beast, with the fine head, is a battle horse; he does not run, but neither slow nor hasty, this nervous step ignores the fatigue. The condottiere is one with the glorious animal: he is the hero in arms.

Verrocchio’s Colleoni (détail).

His baton of command is even metamorphosed into a bludgeon! But since it is not Verrocchio who finished this work, let us not blame the latter for the warlike fury that emanates from this statue.

Venice, a vicious slave-trading financial and maritime Empire fronting as a “Republic”, clearly took its revenge here on the beautiful conception developed during the Renaissance of a philosopher-king defending the nation-state.

On the aesthetic level, this mercenary smells like an animal. As a good observer, Leonardo warned us: when an artist represents a man entirely imprisoned by a single emotion (joy, rage, sadness, etc.), he ends up painting something that takes us away from the truly human soul. This is what we see in this equestrian statue.

If, on the contrary, the artist shows several emotions running through the figure represented, the human aspect will be emphasized. This is the case, as we have seen, with Donatello’s Gattamelata, uniting cunning, determination and prudence to overcome fear the face of threat.

Leonardo’s own, gigantic project to erect a gigantic bronze horse, on which he worked for years and developed new bronze casting techniques, unfortunately was never build, seen the hectic circumstances.

Da Vinci’s gigantic project.

Finally, beyond all the interpretations, let us admire the admirable know-how of these artists. In terms of craft and skill, it generally took an entire life to become able to realize such great works, not even mentioning the patience and boundless passion required.

Up to us to bring it back to life !

Bibliography:

  • Verrocchio, Sculptor and Painter of Renaissance Florence, Andrew Butterfield, National Gallery, Princeton University Press, 2020;
  • Donatello, John Pope-Hennessy, Abbeville Press, 1993;
  • Uccello, Franco and Stefano Borsi, Hazan, 2004;
  • Les Commentaires de Lorenzo Ghiberti dans la culture florentine du Quattrocento, Pascal Dubourg-Glatigny, Histoire de l’Art, N° 23, 1993, Varia, pp. 15-26;
  • Monumento Equestre al Gattamelata di Donatello: la Statua del Guerriero Astuto, blog de Dario Mastromattei, mars 2020;
  • La sculpture florentine de la Renaissance, Charles Avery, Livre de poche, 1996 ;
  • La sculpture de la Renaissance au XXe siècle, Taschen, 1999;
  • Ateliers de la Renaissance, Zodiaque-Desclée de Brouwer, 1998;
  • Rabelais et l’art de la guerre, Christine Bierre, 2007.
  • The Greek language project, Plato and the Renaissance, Karel Vereycken, jan. 2021.
Merci de partager !

On Leonardo da Vinci’s « Vitruvian Man »

By Karel Vereycken

Leonardo da Vinci’s « Viruvian Man ». Since we’re commemorating this year (2019) Leonardo Da Vinci, who died 500 years ago, many silly things are presented by fake scholars trying to make a real living.

Since I was introduced into the canon of proportions of the human body during my training as a professional painter and engraver, I want offer you some hints on how to look at what is called Da Vinci’s « Vitruvian man », a drawing currently on exhibit at the Da Vinci show at the Louvre in Paris.

Hence, as Leonardo underlines himself in his notebooks, adopting Cusanus wordings, it is only with the « eyes of the mind » that art becomes visible, because the « eyes of the flesh » are intrensically blind to it.

Canons of proportions

Europe, and Classical Greece, as everybody should know, emerged largely by absorbing several major discoveries accomplished much earlier by other civilizations. Much of it came from Asia, but African and especially Egypt, were key.

The very practice of mummification, a process which takes at least 60 days of work, made Egypt the key area of anatomical research.

Left an egyptian stutue. Right a Greek archaic Kuros.

As demonstrated by early Egyptian sculpture, the exact size of the entire adult human body is 7,5 times the size of the head. The size of a newborn is only four heads, that of a seven year old, six heads and that of a 17 years old adolescent, 7 heads.

Drawing class card of the author.

If one subdivides the overall 7.5 proportion, for an adult, from the top of the head till the lowest part of the torso, one measures four heads, one till the nipples, one till the belly button and a fourth one till the lowest part of the pubis. Going up from the sole till the middle of the pelvis, one measures 3.5 heads: 2 heads till the knee and 1.5 till the middle of the pelvis. That brings the total till 7.5 heads for the entire length of the adult human body and it is proportional in the sense that people with smaller heads also have small bodies.

Polikleitos versus Lysippus

In the Vth Century BC, the Greek sculptor Polikleitos’ spear bearer (The “Doryphoros”) of Naples National Archeological Museum applied this most beautiful canon of proportions, known as the “Polikleitos canon”.

During the Renaissance, the nostalgics of the Roman Empire preferred another Greek canon, that of Greek sculptor Lysippus (4th Century BC), formalized by the Roman author, architect and civil engineer, Vitrivius (1st century BC).

Vitruvius only transcribed the prevalent taste of his epoch. Roman sculptors, in order to give an athletic and heroic look to the Emperors which they were portraying, adopting the canon of Lysippus, could reduce the head of their models to only an eight of the total length of the body. The trick was that by reducing the relative size of the head, the body looked more preeminent and powerful, something most emperors, who were often physical failures, appreciated and secured their popularity. Even extreme cases of 12 to 15 heads of body length appeared. In short, Public relations ruled at the detriment of science and truth.

Today’s comic strip drawers chose proportions according to purpose:

–For real life, 7.5 or “normal canon”
–For a movie star, 8 heads, with the “idealistic canon”;
–For a fashion magazine: 8.5 heads;
–For a comic book hero: 9 heads for the “heroic canon”

Vitruvian man

« Vitruvian man », drawing of Leonard da Vinci.

Text accompanying Leonardo DaVinci’s Vitruvian Man:

Vitruvius, the architect, says in his work on architecture that the measurements of the human body are distributed by Nature as follows that is that 4 fingers make 1 palm, and 4 palms make 1 foot, 6 palms make 1 cubit; 4 cubits make a man’s height. And 4 cubits make one pace and 24 palms make a man; and these measures he used in his buildings. If you open your legs so much as to decrease your height 1/14 and spread and raise your arms till your middle fingers touch the level of the top of your head you must know that the centre of the outspread limbs will be in the navel and the space between the legs will be an equilateral triangle.

The length of a man’s outspread arms is equal to his height.

From the roots of the hair to the bottom of the chin is the tenth of a man’s height; from the bottom of the chin to the top of his head is one eighth of his height; from the top of the breast to the top of his head will be one sixth of a man. From the top of the breast to the roots of the hair will be the seventh part of the whole man. From the nipples to the top of the head will be the fourth part of a man. The greatest width of the shoulders contains in itself the fourth part of the man. From the elbow to the tip of the hand will be the fifth part of a man; and from the elbow to the angle of the armpit will be the eighth part of the man. The whole hand will be the tenth part of the man; the beginning of the genitals marks the middle of the man. The foot is the seventh part of the man. From the sole of the foot to below the knee will be the fourth part of the man. From below the knee to the beginning of the genitals will be the fourth part of the man. The distance from the bottom of the chin to the nose and from the roots of the hair to the eyebrows is, in each case the same, and like the ear, a third of the face.

Of course, Da Vinci’s exploration of the Vitruvian man doesn’t mean he approves or disapproves the stated fakery in proportions.

Soul or muscle?

It should be known that in Italy, the pure Roman taste has become trendy again following the discovery in 1506 of the statue of the Laocoon on the site of Nero’s villa in Rome. From that moment, artist will feel obliged to increase the volume of the muscular masses in order to appear as working « in Antique style ».

Although Leonardo never openly criticized this trend, it is hard not to think of Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, when the artist, seeking to raise the spirit to unequalled philosophical heights, advised painters: « do not give all the muscles of the figures an exaggerated volume » and « if you act differently, it is more a sort of representation of a sack of nuts that you will have achieved than to that of a human figure » (Codex Madrid II, 128r).

Drawing by the architect Giacomo Andrea, a close friend of Leonardo da Vinci, who had studied the work of the Roman architect and engineer Vitruvius.

No doubt inspired by his friend, the architect Giacomo Andrea, in « The Vitruvian Man », Leonardo is above all interested by other harmonies: if a person extends his arms in a direction parallel to the ground, one obtains the same length as one’s entire height. This equality is inscribed by Leonardo in a square (symbol of the earthly realm). But if one stretches his arms and legs in a star shape, they are inscribed in a circle whose center is the navel. The location of the navel divides the body according to the golden ratio (in this example 5 heads out of a total of 8 heads, 5+3 being part of the Fibonnacci series: 1+2 = 3; 3+2 = 5; 5+3 = 8; 8+5 = 13; 13+8 = 21, etc.).

Leonardo clearly understood what the golden section really means: not a “magical” number in itself, but the reflexion of the dynamic of least action, the very principle uniting man (the square) with the creator and the universe (the circle).

So if you take a look, beware of what you see and especially what you don’t !

Merci de partager !

Léonard en résonance avec la peinture traditionnelle chinoise

Karel Vereycken

人民网>>

Mon entretien avec le Quotidien du Peuple: (People’s Daily)

Version chinoise (mandarin) suivie de la version française (FR) et anglaise (EN):

2019年12月18日17:03  来源:人民网-国际频道 分享到:

人民网巴黎12月17日电(记者 葛文博)今年是达芬奇逝世500周年,长居法国的比利时版画家、艺术史学家、美术评论家雷尔·维希肯(Karel Vereycken)近日接受人民网记者采访,阐述其多年研究达芬奇绘画技法的心得,认为《蒙娜丽莎》一画同中国古代绘画技法异曲同工。

在他看来,许多人采用“欧洲中心”的视角将透视法归于西方独创和所有,这是错误的。维希肯通过观察中国古代尤其是宋代的绘画作品,提出中国才是透视法的先驱,后世包括达芬奇在内的许多欧洲艺术家的作品都能同中国古代绘画理论和技法产生共鸣。

人民网:您认为中国绘画如何启发了透视法?

维希肯:中国从公元6世纪开始,一些艺术著作不仅记录了文艺实践,也启发了更为活跃的绘画艺术。中国南北朝著名的画家、文艺理论家谢赫提出的“六法”,既要“气韵生动”又要“应物象形” 。宋代画家与书画鉴赏家郭若虚在其《图画见闻志》中写道:“人品既已高矣,气韵不得不高;气韵既已高矣,生动不得不至”。这显然超脱了绘画的“技术”层面,升华进入了精神和道德领域。它突破单纯形制而追求由内而外的生命力,成为透视法的重要理论基础。

人民网:这与达芬奇绘画技法有何契合之处?

维希肯:我在2007年发表的文章《达芬奇,捕捉运动的画家》中就指出,这位画家渴望绘制运动、转变的场景。达芬奇非常认同希腊哲学家赫拉克利特斯的名言“世上唯有‘变化’才是永恒的”。然而,要掌握的不是物体的形式或它们所处的时空,而是要掌握它们在变化过程中在给定时刻的外观,这就有必要深入了解产生变化的原因。

宋代苏轼在其《净因院画记》中提出,人类、家禽、宫殿、居室、器物、使用的东西,都有其经常所处的形态。至于山川、岩石、竹子、柴木,流水、海波、烟雾、云朵,虽没有经常所处的形态,但有其存在的本质。我发现,苏轼追求本质、重视变化的观念同达芬奇寻求运动的思路不谋而合。

唐代诗人王维在其《山水论》中更为详尽地阐述其对透视的理解:“远人无目,远树无枝。远山无石,隐隐如眉;远水无波,高与云齐”。 对画面的空间、层次、疏密、清晰度等做出细致描述。这与达芬奇采用的“空气透视法”也完全契合。

人民网:这种契合如何表现在达芬奇的《蒙娜丽莎》画作中?

韦雷肯:除了形体的运动以外,达芬奇还试图表达一种“非物质的运动”,他将其分为五类。第一个是时间,因为它“包容了所有其他事物”,其他分别还有光、声音和气味的传播。在他看来,这些并非实体的运动恰恰使事物充满生机。

但是,如何描绘这种生机呢?仅凭借固定的形式是不可能的,因为死死抓住形式不放,就如同费心捕捉美丽的蝴蝶却将其用钉子钉住制成标本,生命力就消逝了。雕塑家、诗人和画家必须在作品中制造讽刺、矛盾和模糊,就像伟大的思想家林登·拉鲁什(Lyndon LaRouche)所说的“中间状态”,以揭示潜在的运动和变化。

蒙娜丽莎的脸上就充满了神秘的“矛盾”:嘴巴的一侧微笑,另一侧微笑的程度略小;一只眼睛透出认真的眼神,另一只眼睛则透出愉悦;一只眼睛看着你,另一只眼睛则越过了你,等等。蒙娜丽莎的微笑难下定义,因为它恰好在“中间状态”。她是真的微笑还是哭泣?她的微笑能拥有这样迷人的力量,是因为她身后的风景更为迷人。这副画风景的透视更接近之前我们所述的中国画的规则,而不是彼时欧洲的死板规定。

在中国画中,水与山之间的相互作用是普遍转变的象征,可以将不同层次的山、水、雾等联系起来。从公元10世纪开始,中国画寻求与人类视觉经验相符的构造,不仅采用焦点透视,反而创造运用随着视线投射变化产生的散点透视。这种透视恰恰存在于达芬奇的《蒙娜丽莎》之中,在人物的左侧,视线位于鼻孔的高度,在人物右侧,水平线则升至眼角。这样打破常规的透视法,令我们感受到蒙娜丽莎鲜活的生命和活泼的灵魂,聆听着到画作与中国传统绘画穿越时空的共鸣。 (责编:李婷(实习生)、燕勐)

Cet article a été repris par les sites chinois suivants:

Version française:

Léonard en résonance avec la peinture traditionnelle chinoise

Karel Vereycken, un peintre-graveur et historien d’art amateur d’origine belge vivant en France, travaille depuis longtemps sur la perspective. En 1996, dans une étude approfondie publiée dans Ibykus, le magazine allemand de l’Institut Schiller, il résuma ses recherches sous le titre « L’invention de la perspective ». Selon lui, par une lecture euro-centrique étriquée, la majorité des « experts » attribuent la paternité de cette découverte (la représentation de l’espace sur un plan) de façon exclusive à l’Occident.

Or, en examinant, non seulement les œuvres mais tout autant les écrits des peintres chinois, notamment ceux de la Dynastie Song (960-1279 après JC), Vereycken s’est rendu à l’évidence que la Chine a été pionnière dans ce domaine et a pu influencer certains artistes européens, dont Léonard de Vinci. Il a développée cette question dès 1996 dans son article intitulé « Sur la peinture chinoise et son influence en Occident ».

Etant donné qu’en 2019-2020 le Musée du Louvre, consacre une belle exposition à ce peintre extra-ordinaire, dans le cadre du 200e anniversaire de sa disparation, nous avons demandé à Karel Vereycken de présenter l’influence chinoise sur son œuvre.

Quotidien du Peuple : M. Vereycken, quel a été l’apport de la Chine à l’invention de la perspective ?

VEREYCKEN: L’avantage de la Chine, et mes confrères chinois me corrigeront le cas échéant, c’est que l’on y trouve, dès le VIe siècle, des écrits témoignant, non seulement de la pratique artistique dans le pays, mais évoquant l’état d’esprit qui doit animer les peintres. Je pense notamment aux six règles de base de la peinture chinoise détaillées par Xie He (500-535) pour qui « la résonance intérieure » doit « donner vie et mouvement » mais exige aussi la « fidélité à l’objet en représentant les formes ». L’on constate tout de suite, que ce qui prime, ce n’est pas la performance « technique » du peintre, mais sa valeur spirituelle et morale. Le peintre des Song, Guo Ruoxo, écrit par exemple en 1074, que « Si la valeur spirituelle (renpin) d’une personne est élevée, il s’ensuit que la résonance intérieure est nécessairement élevée, alors sa peinture est forcément pleine de vie et de mouvement (shendong). On peut dire que, dans les hauteurs les plus élevées du spirituel, il peut rivaliser avec la quintessence ».

Quotidien du Peuple : En quoi cela a un rapport avec Léonard de Vinci ?

VEREYCKEN: Comme j’ai tenté de le développer dans mon article « Léonard, peintre de mouvement » de 2007, ce qui rapproche ce peintre de la philosophie chinoise, c’est sa volonté de peindre les transformations. Léonard se reconnaissait pleinement dans la phrase du philosophe grec Héraclite pour qui « Il n’y a que de permanent que le changement ». Or, pour saisir, non pas la forme des objets ou de l’espace-temps dans lequel ils se situent, mais leur apparition à un moment donné dans un processus de transformation, il faut savoir pénétrer les causes qui les engendrent.

Or, les « Notices sur les peintures du Jingyinuan » de Su Shi (1036-1101), révèlent une approche si semblable à Léonard qu’on risque de les confondre avec ses « carnets » ! Su Shi écrit « Au sujet de la peinture, j’estime que si les figures humaines, les animaux, les bâtiments ou les ustensiles ont une forme constante, par contre, les montagne et rochers, les arbres et bambous, eaux courantes et vagues, comme les brumes et les nuages, n’ont pas de forme constante, mais gardent un principe interne constant. Lorsque la forme constante est défectueuse dans sa représentation, tout le monde s’en aperçoit ; cependant, même un connaisseur peut ne pas s’apercevoir que le principe constant n’est pas respecté. C’est pourquoi tant de peintres médiocres, afin de tromper le monde, peignent ce qui n’a pas une forme constante. Or un défaut dans la représentation d’une forme ne touche qu’une partie de la peinture, alors qu’une erreur dans le principe constant en ruine la totalité. Car lorsqu’il agit de la représentation des choses qui n’ont pas de forme constante, il faut respecter son principe interne (li). Certains artisans sont capables de dessiner les formes exhaustivement ; par contre, pour leur principe, seuls y parviennent les esprits élevés et les talents éminents… »

Quotidien du Peuple : et au niveau de la perspective ?

VEREYCKEN : Léonard, qui décrit la « perspective d’effacement » aurait pu adhérer sans problème à ce qu’écrit l’érudit Wang Wei (701-761) pour qui : « d’un homme à distance, on ne voit pas les yeux ; d’un arbre à distance, on ne distingue pas les branches ; d’une montagne lointaine aux contours doux comme un sourcil, nul rocher est visible ; de même nulle onde sur une eau lointaine, laquelle touche l’horizon des nuages. ». Et pour qui, il est impératif de « distinguer le clair et l’obscur, le net et le flou. Établir la hiérarchie entre les figures ; fixer leurs attitudes, leur démarche, leurs saluts réciproques. Trop d’éléments, c’est le danger de l’encombrement ; trop peu, c’est celui du relâchement. Saisir donc l’exacte mesure et la juste distance. Qu’il y ait du vide entre le lointain et le proche, cela aussi bien pour les montagnes que pour les cours d’eau. »

Quotidien du Peuple : comment voyez-vous cette influence sur La Joconde ?

VEREYCKEN : Il faut bien comprendre, qu’au-delà du mouvement du corps, Léonard chercha à exprimer les « mouvements immatériels » qu’il classe en cinq catégories. La première est le temps car il « embrasse toutes les autres ». Les autres sont la diffusion des images par la lumière, celle des sons et des odeurs, le mouvement « mental » est celui qui anime « la vie des choses » (Codex Atlanticus, 203v-a).

Mais alors, comment peindre ce souffle de la vie ? Formellement c’est totalement impossible car dès qu’on attrape une forme, la vie s’en échappe comme celle d’un papillon qu’on épingle ! Pour y parvenir, sculpteurs, poètes et peintres doivent créer une ironie, une ambiguïté que le grand penseur Lyndon LaRouche (1922-2019) a exprimée en anglais comme mid-motion (un « moment d’entre-deux »), révélant le potentiel d’une transformation potentielle à un moment donné, pour ceux qui veulent bien le voir.

Or, regardez le visage de la Joconde, rempli de paradoxes énigmatiques : un coté de la bouche sourit, l’autre, moins ; un œil est sérieux, l’autre amusé, un œil vous regarde, l’autre regarde au-delà, etc. Ce sourire est indéfinissable car précisément « entre deux ». Va-t-elle sourire réellement ou éclater en pleurs ? L’énigme de son sourire n’aura jamais cette force sans le paysage encore plus énigmatique sur l’arrière plan. Or, la perspective de ce paysage obéit plutôt aux préceptes chinois qu’aux règles rigides de la perspective européenne.

Dans la peinture chinoise, l’interaction entre l’eau et la montagne étant symbole de transformation universelle, différents niveaux peuvent s’enchaîner du type : eau, petite brume, montagne, grande brume, nuage, eau, petite brume, montagne et ainsi de suite. Cherchant à se conformer à la vue humaine, les peintres chinois, dès le Xe siècle, feront appel, non pas à une seule ligne d’horizon, mais à une succession d’horizons accompagnant notre vue là où elle se projette. Or, c’est précisément le procédé mis en œuvre par Léonard dans La Joconde où les horizons se succèdent. A gauche de la figure, la ligne d’horizon s’établit à la hauteur des narines ; à droite, au niveau des yeux, le tout perturbant suffisamment nos habitudes visuelles pour que notre esprit s’ouvre à ce que Léonard jugeait essentiel : l’âme vivante de La Joconde.

English version (via google translate)

Leonardo Da Vinci’s « Mona Lisa » resonates with time and space with traditional Chinese painting



People’s Daily, Paris, December 17 (Reporter Ge Wenbo) This year marks the 500th anniversary of the death of Da Vinci. Belgian printmaker, art historian and art critic Karel Vereycken, who has lived in France, recently accepted an interview with a reporter on the Internet explaining his experience in studying Da Vinci’s painting techniques for many years, and he believed that the painting of « Mona Lisa » is similar to the ancient Chinese painting technique.

In his view, many people use a « European-centric » standpoint to attribute perspective to Western originality and ownership, which is wrong. Through observing the paintings of ancient China, especially the Song Dynasty, Vereycken proposed that China was the pioneer of perspective. The works of many European artists including Da Vinci in later generations could resonate with ancient Chinese painting theories and techniques.


People’s Daily: How do you think Chinese painting inspired perspective?

VEREYCKEN: From the 6th century onwards in China, some art works not only recorded literary practice, but also inspired more active painting art. The « six methods » proposed by Xie He, a well-known painter and literary theorist in the Southern and Northern Dynasties of China, need to be both « spiritual and vivid » and « appropriate ». Song Dynasty painter and calligraphy connoisseur Guo Ruoxu wrote in his « Pictures and Wenwenzhi »: « The character has become high, and the charm must be high« ; This obviously transcends the « technical » level of painting and sublimates into the spiritual and moral realm. It broke through the simplex system and pursued the vitality from the inside to the outside, and became an important theoretical basis of perspective.

People’s Daily: How does this relates to Da Vinci’s painting techniques?

VEREYCKEN: In my 2007 article « Da Vinci, the painter who captures movement, » I pointed out that the artist was eager to paint scenes of movement and change. Da Vinci agreed with the famous quote of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, « Only ‘change’ in the world is eternal. » However, it is not the form of the objects or their time and space that must be grasped, but the appearance of them at a given moment in the process of change, which requires a deep understanding of the reasons for the change.

In his Song of Jingyinyuan in the Song Dynasty, Su Shi proposed that human beings, poultry, palaces, houses, utensils, and things used often have their forms. As for mountains and rivers, rocks, bamboo, firewood, flowing water, waves, smoke, and clouds, although they don’t often exist, they have their essence. I found that Su Shi’s concept of pursuing essence and value change coincided with Da Vinci’s idea of ​​seeking movement.

The Tang Dynasty poet Wang Wei expounded his understanding of perspective in his « Landscapes and Landscapes » in more detail: « A distant man has no eyes, a distant tree has no branches. A distant mountain has no stones, faint like eyebrows; Yun Qi.  » Make a detailed description of the space, layer, density, and sharpness of the picture« . This also fits perfectly with the « air perspective » adopted by Da Vinci.

People’s Daily Online: How does this appears in Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa painting?

VEREYCKEN: In addition to physical movement, Da Vinci also tried to express a « non-material movement », which he divided into five categories. The first is time, because it « contains everything else, » and the other is the spread of light, sound, and smell. In his view, these non-substantial movements just made things full of life.

But how to portray this vitality? It is impossible to rely only on the fixed form, because holding on to the form is like trying to catch a beautiful butterfly but nailing it to make a specimen, and vitality is lost. Sculptors, poets, and painters must create irony, contradiction, and ambiguity in their works, as the great thinker Lyndon LaRouche called « intermediate states » to reveal potential movements and changes.

The face of Mona Lisa is full of mysterious « contradictions »: one side of the mouth smiles, and the other side smiles slightly; one eye reveals a serious look and the other eye expresses pleasure; One eye is looking at you, the other eye is over you, and so on. Mona Lisa’s smile is difficult to define because it happens to be in the « middle state ». Does she really smile or cry? Her smile has such a charming power because the scenery behind her is more charming. The perspective of this landscape is closer to the rules of Chinese painting we described earlier than to the rigid rules of Europe at that time.

In Chinese painting, the interaction between water and mountains is a symbol of universal transformation, which can link different levels of mountains, water, and fog. Starting from the 10th century AD, Chinese painting seeks a structure consistent with human visual experience. Instead of using focal perspective, it has created and used scatter perspective produced by changes in line of sight projection. This perspective exists precisely in Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. On the left side of the character, the line of sight is at the height of the nostril, and on the right side of the character, the horizontal line rises to the corner of the eye. This way of breaking the conventional perspective allows us to feel the lively life and lively soul of Mona Lisa, listening to the resonance between the painting and traditional Chinese painting through time and space.

Merci de partager !

La Vierge aux rochers, « l’erreur fantastique » de Léonard

La Vierge aux Rochers (1483-1486), Léonard de Vinci, Louvre, Paris.
 

Par Karel Vereycken

En 1992, j’ai réalisé une copie à taille réelle de la Vierge aux rochers, un des chefs-d’œuvre de Léonard de Vinci appartenant à la collection du Louvre.

La commanditaire, une enseignante habitant l’Est de la France, y tenait à titre pédagogique. Or, la ville où elle exerçait sa profession, n’avait pas de musée. Pour combler ce manque, elle installa plusieurs copies de maîtres anciens à son domicile.

C’est là qu’elle permettait à de nombreux enfants de vivre un de ces moments magiques qui font de notre existence un délice. Car dialoguer, lors d’un rendez-vous, avec un tableau d’une beauté extrême de Léonard, fait de nous des humains.

copie vierge aux rochers
Copie réalisée en 1992 par Karel Vereycken de la Vierge aux Rochers de Léonard de Vinci actuellement à l’Église Saint-Laurent (Paris, XIe arr.)

Pour des raisons diverses, ma copie a fini à l’Eglise Saint-Laurent de Paris, proche de la gare de l’Est, où on peut l’admirer et où il garde à ce jour une bonne place pour tout ceux qui désirent prier et méditer.

En 1992, en m’attelant à copier avec précision cette œuvre, j’ai constaté une chose étrange qui n’a cessé de me troubler. En plus, les plus grand spécialistes de Léonard dont j’ai consulté les écrits (Martin Kemp, Carlo Pedretti ou encore Daniel Arasse), semblent tous être passé à coté d’une énorme « erreur » anatomique présente dans ce tableau. Certes, ils n’ont jamais copié d’œuvres de ce type. Et évidemment, une fois identifiée, cette erreur ne quitte plus votre champs de vision ni votre esprit.

Les faits sont incontestables. Il s’agit d’une erreur anatomique majeure touchant l’ange situé à droite du tableau. Avant de préciser cette erreur, quelques mots sur l’œuvre comme un tout où cet ange joue un rôle majeur.

Le sens de l’œuvre

Le sujet de la Vierge aux rochers n’illustre aucun évènement spécifique des Évangiles et reste donc ouvert à toute interprétation. Il pourrait s’agir d’un évènement popularisé par le théologien du XIVe siècle Pietro Cavalca, quand saint Jean et le Christ enfant se sont retrouvés lors de la fuite de la sainte famille en Égypte.

L’ange serait alors l’archange Uriel qui, selon l’interprétation de Cavalca, protégeait l’enfant-ermite saint Jean. Or, Uriel, en hébreu lumière de Dieu, est l’ange qui apporte à l’humanité la connaissance et la compréhension du Divin.

Les ressemblances sont frappantes, tant au niveau du visage que des bras, de la pose ou de l’aile.
J’affirme ici, et je suis à ma connaissance le seul historien d’art à le faire, qu’il est presque certain que Léonard de Vinci, pour sa représentation de l’ange dans La Vierge aux Rochers, ait utilisé l’ange qui figure dans le bas-relief aujourd’hui attribué à « L’atelier de Verrocchio », atelier où justement Léonard suivait sa formation en tant que jeune apprenti.

Seule figure à nous regarder de face, c’est par lui que nous « entrons » dans le tableau. C’est lui qui pointe son doigt sur un des enfants, plus précisément Saint-Jean Baptise agenouillé en prière devant l’enfant Jésus qui à son tour le bénit. La Vierge, au centre, a sa main droite posée sur l’épaule de Saint-Jean Baptiste qui lui semble sur le bord d’un relief. Elle le protège et le retient. Entretemps, elle garde sa main protectrice au-dessus de l’enfant Jésus qui lui, également au bord d’un précipice, est protégé à son tour par la main de l’ange qui nous regarde. L’ange nous met donc sur la « bonne piste » pour comprendre le sens que Léonard a voulu faire ressortir de l’œuvre qui s’éloigne un peu de celui de l’immaculé conception, souhaité par ses commanditaires.

Platon ?

Il pourrait également s’agir d’une interprétation philosophique personnelle de Léonard de Vinci. Dans l’iconographie médiévale et pré-renaissante, l’ange de l’annonciation se rend auprès de Marie pour lui signifier que son heure est venue. Or, ici, l’ange se retourne vers nous tout en indiquant qu’il découvre sur place un autre annonciateur : saint Jean Baptiste.

Ce dernier, saint patron de la ville de Florence, fut parfois associé à Platon. Les grands humanistes de l’époque, en effet, considérait que la philosophie de Platon, bien qu’avec des limites et des imperfections, préfigurait le message de l’Évangile. Pour eux, les « petites lumières » de l’Antiquité (païenne) annonçaient timidement la grande lumière de la Chrétienté. Or, saint Jean Baptiste, qui avait vécu comme Platon avant le Christ, avait lui aussi annoncé sa venue. Par analogie, l’image de saint Jean Baptiste, pourrait être une métaphore du platonisme christianisé qui fut la puissance fondatrice de toute la Renaissance européenne.

A un moment où le Vatican, avec saint Thomas d’Aquin, avait fait le choix calamiteux de privilégier Aristote dont la philosophie est diamétralement contraire avec l’Évangile, le tableau de Léonard n’a pu qu’apparaître comme une terrible provocation. Le Vatican semble d’ailleurs ne lui avoir jamais pardonné car contrairement à Raphaël ou Michel-Ange, des propagandistes égotiques dont le contenu philosophique était largement inférieur à celui exprimé par Léonard, le Vatican n’a jamais honoré De Vinci de la moindre commande, une des raisons pour son départ pour la France.

La Vierge aux rochers (Léonard de Vinci, Louvre, Paris.) Détail de l’ange.
 

L’erreur

Lorsque l’on scrute avec attention, comme j’ai dû le faire pour réaliser ma copie conforme, la position anatomique de l’ange en bas à droite, l’on constate la chose suivante :

–Contrairement à l’impression initiale, l’ange n’est pas assis sur son fessier ;

–L’ange est agenouillé sur son genou gauche qu’on identifie sous le vêtement rouge ;

–Son genou droit est donc en hauteur derrière le corps de l’ange ;

–Par contre, son pied droit est posé au sol sur la végétation. Il est visible et on peut compter les orteils ;

–Par conséquent, avec son corps, et donc sa colonne vertébrale, dans cette position, le positionnement de la tête de l’ange, telle qu’elle est peinte, est strictement impossible. Pour un être « normal », cette tête doit s’inscrire dans la prolongation de la courbe que forme la colonne vertébrale, c’est-à-dire fortement s’incliner vers la gauche.

Comment l’expliquer ?

J’appelle cette erreur « fantastique » non pas parce qu’elle est digne d’un élève, une autre hypothèse plausible, mais parce qu’elle nous apprend quelque chose sur nous mêmes.

La Vierge aux rochers de Léonard de Vinci. A gauche, l’original du Louvre. A droite, la copie au National Gallery de Londres. Notez que dans cette dernière, le doigt de l’ange a disparu…

Deux pistent offrent des hypothèses pourquoi tant de gens « n’ont rien vu » :

1)      D’abord personne n’en a parlé et des milliers de copies ont déjà été réalisées. Notez que la plus connue, réalisée à l’époque et actuellement dans la collection du National Gallery de Londres, bien qu’elle a changé le sens de l’œuvre en amputant la main de l’ange, tente discrètement d’estomper l’erreur dont nous parlons ;

2)      L’amour rend aveugle. Nous sommes « bon public » et donc nous nous imposons une forme de cécité. Tout d’abord, puisqu’il s’agit de Léonard de Vinci, un des plus grands génies de tous les temps, surtout en anatomie ! Ensuite, la « gestalt » du tableau comme un tout est d’une telle puissance et d’une telle beauté, que nous « pardonnons » immédiatement toute erreur de ce type. Un peu comme lorsqu’un bon pianiste nous joue une sonate magnifique de Beethoven. Tant que l’interprète nous traduit avec fidélité l’intention sublime du compositeur, nous « n’entendons » pas telle ou telle fausse note. Et c’est pareil en peinture.

Merci de partager !

Hermaphrodite

Merci de partager !

Rembrandt et la figure du Christ

EXPOSITION
Rembrandt et la figure du Christ
Musée du Louvre, Paris 2011

Par Karel Vereycken, 2011.

EN version pdf
DE version pdf

En juillet 1656, la Cour suprême de la Hague accorde à Rembrandt (1606-1669) un cessio honorum, une autorisation de mettre lui-même en vente ses biens et ses meubles, les recettes étant partagées entre ses créanciers. Sans tarder, les magistrats se rendent chez lui pour dresser l’inventaire du contenu de sa grande maison dans la Jodenbreestraat, aujourd’hui le Rembrandthuis d’Amsterdam.

Cet inventaire nous révèle l’étendue de la précieuse collection du maître : sculptures, estampes, dessins et peintures de Mantegna, Dürer, Van Eyck, Lucas van Leyden et quantité d’autres grands noms de la Renaissance italienne et flamande dont il est l’héritier spirituel, sans oublier ses propres œuvres.

Démontrant à quel point le sujet était cher à l’artiste, dans l’agtercaemer (salle du fond) qui lui sert de chambre à coucher, l’inventaire relève deux têtes du Christ. Dans la cleyne schildercaemer (le petit atelier), « Een Cristus tronie nae ‘t leven » (Une tête du Christ d’après la vie, c’est-à-dire peint… d’après un modèle vivant).

Cette formulation, on la retrouve également dès la première phrase d’un poème composé par Herman Frederik Waterloos et inscrite sous la fameuse gravure La pièce aux cent florins : « Aldus maalt REMBRANTS naaldt den Zoone Godts na ‘t leeven » (Ainsi l’aiguille de REMBRANDT peint-elle le Fils de Dieu d’après nature).

Après que des générations d’historiens se sont interrogées sur ce paradoxe apparent – comment un artiste peut-il peindre le Christ d’après un modèle vivant ? – l’exposition du Louvre, riche de 85 œuvres, tente de dissiper ce mystère en montrant comment Rembrandt a représenté le Christ, tout au long de sa carrière, ainsi que les artistes qui l’ont influencé, et comment il a été repris par ses élèves.

Les pèlerins d’Emmaüs

Pour y parvenir, telle une composition de musique classique, l’exposition s’ouvre et se clôture par deux tableaux abordant le même thème, celui des Pèlerins d’Emmaüs, dont la figure du Christ occupe le centre. Le premier tableau, qui appartient au Musée Jacquemart André, est peint en 1629, lorsque l’artiste n’a que 23 ans.

Le deuxième, de la collection du Louvre et fraîchement nettoyé, date de 1648, année où se termine enfin la guerre de Trente ans, grâce au Traité de Westphalie mettant fin au règne impérial des Habsbourg. A l’intérieur de cette contrainte, l’exposition réussit avec brio à dérouler le fil rouge du « voyage intérieur » de Rembrandt.

Rembrandt, Les pèlerins d’Emmaüs (1629).

 

Dans le premier tableau (ci-dessus) sur le thème des Pèlerins d’Emmaüs, on ne voit que de profil la figure imposante du Christ, représenté à contre-jour.

La stupeur d’un pèlerin se lit sur son visage éclairé, tandis qu’un autre en est tombé à la renverse.

Comme dans La résurrection de Lazare ou Le Christ chassant les marchands du temple, le Christ y manifeste avant tout son autorité.

Imitation du Christ

Mais Rembrandt, s’inscrivant dans le courant de la Devotio Moderna répandue par les Frères de la Vie commune, puis par Erasme de Rotterdam, pour qui, loin d’une adoration passive, l’homme se doit d’« imiter », dans son for intérieur, l’engagement et la vie du Christ, ne se retrouvait pas dans le style baroque très en vogue à son époque.

Jusque-là, à part quelques exceptions comme Pieter Lastman, dont Rembrandt, tout comme son ami Jan Lievens, était l’élève, les peintres représentaient un Messie à la beauté glorieuse – doté d’un visage aux traits réguliers, barbu et chevelu, qui, même sur la croix, affichait un air certes dolent mais impeccable.

Quelques exemples de cette iconographie, dont de belles gravures de Dürer ou des œuvres de Mantegna, sont d’ailleurs présents au début de l’exposition. Dès 1631, son Christ sur la croix tranche avec les stéréotypes en vigueur. Alors que Rubens le peint athlétique, le Jésus de Rembrandt est peu musclé, les bras maigres, le ventre un peu gonflé. Martyrisé, il affiche une grimace peu esthétique. C’est bien un être humain qui souffre.

Cependant, s’il s’intéresse à la nature divine du Christ, il n’en oublie pas le caractère humain. Il va multiplier les dessins, à la plume, à la sanguine, du Christ dialoguant avec ses proches, avec Marthe et Marie par exemple. Jésus y est représenté à la fois diaphane et familier. Sans l’auréole esquissée au-dessus de sa tête, on pourrait croire à une scène familiale. Dans un tableau où il apparaît, après sa mort, à Marie-Madeleine qui le prend pour un jardinier, Rembrandt l’affuble d’une pelle.

Jésus, Roi des juifs

Rembrandt, Les pèlerins d’Emmaüs.

 

Ensuite, véritable tournant historique, Rembrandt, à la tête d’un groupe d’élèves qui travaille dans une belle communion d’idées, commence à faire des portraits de jeunes juifs et de rabbins de la communauté d’Amsterdam, afin de se rapprocher au plus près du visage qu’aurait pu avoir cet homme venu d’Orient.

Dès la Bible, le personnage du Christ réunit tous les paradoxes. N’est-il pas « le Roi des juifs », bien que crucifié par les pharisiens ?

Ensuite, n’est-il pas homme mais fils de Dieu ? Rembrandt nous démontre encore et toujours que pour s’approcher de Dieu, il faut s’approcher de l’humain et l’aimer pour ce qu’il possède de divin en lui, c’est-à-dire l’étincelle de créativité qui l’unit au Créateur.

Rembrandt, tête de Christ.

Pour conclure cette réflexion, la dernière salle offre au visiteur, pour la première fois depuis plus de trois siècles, les sept esquisses du Christ, réalisées d’après un jeune juif et ayant servi à préparer le tableau des Pèlerins d’Emmaüs.

Dans ces études au fond sobre, le Christ porte le même vêtement marron. La lumière illumine son visage, qui prend toutes les expressions, de la douleur au recueillement. Les yeux sont levés, baissés, la tête tourne…

Ici, c’est bien le même visage, aux yeux foncés et aux pommettes hautes du jeune juif, qui apparaît.

Terriblement humain, il n’en est que plus émouvant. Enfin, le Christ s’incarne.

Merci de partager !