Johannes Vermeer, Allegory of Faith , Oil on canva
"Has been a lifesaver so many times!"
- Catherine Rampell, student @ University of Washington
"Exactly the help I needed."
- Jennifer Hawes, student @ San Jose State
"The best place for brainstorming ideas."
- Michael Majchrowicz, student @ University of Kentucky
Johannes Vermeer, Allegory of Faith , Oil on canvas, c. 1670
Paul Gauguin, La Orana Maria (Hail Mary) , Oil on canvas, 1891-1893
Erwin Panofsky, Perspective as Symbolic Form , 1924
Perspective as an Artist's Tool
The Renaissance of the 14th-17th century was a rediscovery of Greek philosophy and art in Europe. Intellectuals and artists alike embraced humanism, and art began to look markedly more lifelike than before. This was largely due to development of the concep t of perspective. Renaissance painters began to think of paintings as windows peering into another world. Now, to portray depth in paintings, artists began using more techniques than just foreshortening, especially gradation of color and vanishing points. We will examine two works in this paper: one painting which embraces the concept of perspective developed in the Renaissance and another painting which ignores this type of perspective. In analyzing and comparing these paintings, we will see how perspectiv e is used as a tool to guide the viewer's eyes and add meaning to a painting -- not just to make a painting look more naturalistic.
I. Allegory of Faith
Johannes Vermeer was a painter late in the Dutch Renaissance period known for painting middle class, domestic interiors (The Met). When this work was painted, the Netherlands was officially protestant, so Catholics had to worship in house churches in secret. This painting depicts one of these covert sanctuaries, and the tapestry in the foreground of the p ainting represents this secrecy. Behind the tapestry, a woman is sitting at a table, clutching her chest and looking towards a glass sphere hanging from the ceiling. A Bible, a goblet, and a crucifix sit on this table. Near the woman's feet are a globe, an apple, and a snake being crushed by a stone. Behind the woman is a painting of the crucifixion of Christ.
The Bible, goblet, crucefix , and the painting of the crucifixion in the background are items and decoration that would likely be in a church, but the rest of the items strewn about the room and the woman herself are symbolic of Christianity. First, the woman in the center of the painting is the titular Faith with the world at her feet. The globe she rests a foot on, of course, symbolizes the world. She is gazing up at Heaven which is symbolized by the glass sphere dangling from the ceiling.The blue dress she is wearing may allude to the blue robes of the Virgin Mary. The apple by Faith's feet symbolizes original sin, and the crushed snake is Satan being crushed by Christ, "the cornerstone of the church" (The Met).
Mostly muted, delicate colors make up the palette. Soft gradients of colors help to imply depth and form and this softness adds to the muted nature of the painting. The orange in the tapestry i n the foreground and painting on the wall in the background contrast with Faith's blue dress to help draw attention to her. The position of the vanishing point of the painting also points the eye to Faith.
II. La Orana Maria
Paul Gauguin was a Fr ench painter of the post-impressionist era, but he travelled to Tahiti to take part in the idyllic, Tahitian way of life. This painting was made before Gauguin took heavy inspiration from the religion of the Tahitian people. So, although everyone in the pa inting looks and is dressed like a Tahitian native, the painting is ultimately another depiction of the Madonna and Child.
Mary wears a traditional Tahitian dress that is a far cry from her iconic blue robes. Jesus is nude and perched on her shoulder, a pose nothing like the traditional "throne of wisdom." Both Mary and Jesus have thin halos around their heads. Without them, their holiness would be near indecipherable. To the left are two Tahitian women, "nudes dressed in pareus , a cotton cloth printed wi th flowers that can be draped from the waist" (The Met). The angle to the far left is hard to make out because it is somewhat obscured by the foliage, but it points out Mary and Jesus to the two women. Bowls of bananas take up the foreground. Flowering tr
View Full Essay