Archive for Painting

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Point of View

Point of view is an essential concept in both philosophy and art. In philosophy, point of view highlights the problem of conscious experience. To understand the consciousness of another individual we must be able to experience that individual’s point of view. This may be partially possible among individuals of the same species and culture. Yet, as Thomas Nagel (1974) points out, this becomes next to impossible when the individuals use different perceptual processes. Bats determine where things are in space by perceiving the echoes of their own ultrasonic sounds. We can track the sounds as they are emitted and received; we can record the response of the bat’s neurons to these sounds; yet we will never really understand what it is like to be a bat.

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Journey of the Magi

A blog for the season. One of the most vivid and intriguing Christmas stories concerns the visit of the Magi from the East:

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. (Matthew 2: 1-2)

In 1461 Benozzo Gozzoli completed a sequence of frescos depicting the Journey of the Magi for the Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence. Illustrated below is the first of these paintings. A crowd of important people follow the Magi toward Bethlehem. At their head can be recognized the great lords of Florence, Sforza and Rimini. Among the crowd are diplomats and scholars from the Byzantine Empire (see previous blog). Indeed, one of the Magi is thought to represent the Emperor John VII Palaeologus. The painting commemorates the Council of Florence (1439), when representatives of the Eastern and Roman Churches had met in an unsuccessful attempt to reconcile their doctrinal differences. The Byzantine visitors were probably as exotic to the Italians of the 15th century as the Magi were to the Jews of the first.

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Late Byzantine

The Byzantine Empire began with the founding of the city of Constantinople by the Emperor Constantine the Great in 330 CE. By the 12th century Constantinople was the largest and richest city in Europe. Byzantium maintained its glory until the sacking of of the city by the forces of the Fourth Crusade in 1204 CE. After this the Byzantine Empire existed only in fragments. The Ottoman conquest of the Constantinople in 1453 CE ended the empire, replacing Eastern Christianity with Islam.

The art and architecture of the Byzantine Empire is justly famous. Buildings such as the Hagia Sophia taught the world the use of space; the mosaics of Ravenna, Venice and Palermo gave the Christian religion its iconography. This is the Byzantium of Yeats’ poem Sailing to Byzantium (1927)

O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre
And be the singing-masters of my soul.

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Still Life

The genre of painting known as “still life” deals with our perception of the natural world. As such it has much in common with the empirical sciences.. However, whereas the scientist analyses the world, the artist tries to recreate it.

The still-life artist selects and arranges what will be depicted. If landscape is observation, then still life is experiment. The view of the world typically includes artificial as well as natural objects. More often than not, the arrangement of the objects provides a moral meaning, typically one related to transience or “vanity.” The still-life painting thus comments on both the nature of reality and the process of creation.

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