All entries for Sunday 21 May 2006

May 21, 2006

connoisseurship

Follow-up to a connoisseurship essay from Team Colour

Why do we need to know who painted what? How do we know this?

With regards to art and its histories, painting has always been a crucial standing block, if not the epitome of fine art and its progressions. When considering the question; “Why do we need to know who painted what?” it is fundamental to address first the importance of painting itself. Throughout our known records, painting has been closely criticised and highly acclaimed by connoisseurs and scholars from Vasari and Berenson to contemporaries such as Baxandall. The forefront of whose studies tended to focus towards painting as an art, seeing it as crucial in understanding art history and its progressions .This intellectual importance laid on painting stands to show its relevance to us today, and its continued importance; the importance of showing the styles and developments in artists and genres in such an accessible manner which has laid crucial foundations in our understanding of the history of art today.

Authorship of a painting is perhaps the key fragment in understanding the relevance and indeed the value of the art. As I have mentioned painting can provide a clear path through the progression of art from our earliest records. With the knowledge of authorship, we may categorise a painting in relation to a period, and hence its genre and style. With this knowledge we may study its social and historical relevance, and note any pioneering techniques, or better understand typical techniques and styles of the period and artist.

The appreciation of artistic styles and genres should perhaps first be concerned with the relevance of the artistic styles and genres. Style is perhaps the most difficult artistic term to define and hence there are many varying definitions and theories surrounding “style”. A useful definition resides in the Grove dictionary of art; an entry by James Elkens reading: ‘Term used for coherence of qualities in periods or people’. This is echoed by other scholars such as Meyer Schrapiro who defines style as ‘the constant form in the art of an individual or a group’. When considering style in this manner, we can immediately see the importance of authorship in the understanding of the development of artistic styles. For example artists belonging to a specific artistic movement, such as the Futurists or the Pre–Raphaelites; the authorship of the paintings may directly relate them to the movement and genre, hence giving us greater understanding both into the reasoning behind the painting and the artistic methods of the group.

Other definitions of style may demote the importance of authorship in relation to understanding and appreciating varying genres and developments in painting. This is perhaps most notable with Hegel, who also diminishes the value of the painter by classifying style as ‘the concept for the negation of the contingent’. Hegel’s beliefs stated that works of art within a certain period share characteristics which could be read across a large range due to the essence of “Zeitgeist” roughly translated as time ghost, or the essence of an age. In this respect, the artist is inspired only by the cultural spirit, and hence the production and creativity, indeed all the innovations in art history are inspired by an ulterior force, and the authorship of a painting is not needed to understand and appreciate its relevance. With regards to this essay however it should be beneficial to consider style as rather ‘Term used for coherence of qualities in periods or people’.

The attribution of many paintings to an artist provides us with the clarity with which we need to pass judgement on entire oeuvres and hence the ability to critique the artists themselves. A false attribution to an artist can severely damage their reputations, or indeed elevate artists to a false standing. The impact of authorship on the legacy of an artist is critical. An example of which is the continued debate on the authorship of the panel painting entitled “entombment” currently attributed to Michelangelo by the National Gallery, but fiercely opposed by academics such as Beck. The ferocity of this debate, and the widespread media attention, in and out of art circles, should lay weight to show the importance of the subject.

The clearly distinguishable renaissance painting is by all accounts no more than mediocre in its draughtsmanship and embodied skill (see figure 1). The composition is not solid, as there is little balance between figures; Christ’s feet appear entangled with those of St John the Evangelist. The use of chiaroscuro is not accomplished and the human figure appears out of proportion, with elongated limbs. This is not to comment on my opinion on the authorship of the panel, but merely to demonstrate and highlight the notable ineptitude of the artist within the painting. With this in mind we must again consider the attribution of the panel to Michelangelo as a proclaimed artistic genius. The panel’s attribution to the artist makes us question his proficiency.

However, if this painting was not attributed to Michelangelo its material value would be greatly diminished. The material value of fine art owes a lot to authorship, as we can again see when looking at “the Entombment”. This painting is partially paid for by the British public through the National Lottery Fund, making the value and hence the authorship of the painting highly relevant to a great many people.

When we can see how vitally important the attribution of a painting is, it is therefore a logical step to enquire as to how exactly we may make a firm attribution. This has been a well explored and highly debated subject, and many art historians have compiled methods by which a conclusion to the attribution of a painting may be considered. Famous connoisseurs are not as readily available today, as the prestige of the profession has been in decline for the last forty to fifty years, however the golden age of connoisseurship heralded important figures such as Bernard Berenson, and later, though to a lesser extent; Robert Longhi. These men played a large part in attributing authorship to a large number of paintings, and hence offer us a lot to learn from.

Bernard Berenson was known to have a highly visual emphasis when attributing works of art. It is said that Berenson, with a magnifying glass would stare at a painting for extended periods of time, tap the painting and eventually murmur a name. Other scholars conducted more scientific approaches to the analysis of art, such as Heinrich Wöfflin. Wöfflin, not interested in the origin of paintings, and more so in the development of art, constructed the “five antithetical concepts of stylistic change”. This is a method by which one can compare a paintings technical aspects concerning; linear, planimetric and recessional, closed and open forms, multiplicity and the clarity of an image. Using this method we can classify a painting into a genre, narrowing the fields of possible artists, however this is more problematic with imitation genres, seen when Renaissance art concerned itself with the classic antiquity arts of ancient Greece.

In modern practise it is more widely acknowledged that a combination of scientific technique and the technique of a connoisseur is a more concrete method of analysis. However despite our progressions in the field, modern circumstances can lead to complications in the field of attribution, as restorations, and adaptations make the attribution of authorship more complex. The development of photography, printing and computer technology can lead to different visual interpretations of works of art, upon which scholars have been known to base their opinions. Yet despite the modern difficulties, progressions relevant to art authorship in the sciences are undeniably revolutionary and provide us with evidence greatly needed in the field.

X–rays, ultraviolet rays and infrared waves all allow visibility which is beyond the human eye, often showing crucial evidence to the viewer. For example; infrared reflectography, which is a new progression, allows the observer to view an under drawing (if present), the technique of under drawing was used by certain artists, and can often show preparatory alterations, which are unlikely to be seen in an imitation. Samples of paint may also be taken from the surface and cross–sectioned to show layers of paint pigmentation. This can highlight restoration, and the date of production through the types of paints and base chemicals used. The technique of layering paint can also act as a signature by certain artists who have specific styles. Approximate dating can be accomplished by tracing the isotopes of lead in lead based paints, and a similar technique called “carbon dating” can be used to date wood panels for panel pieces.

These scientific progressions are included in the general methodology of artistic attribution. This model is offered by James Beck and shows the many different aspects which one must consider whilst attempting the attribution of a painting. First one must look at the painting in a purely analytical fashion, considering the intended viewing angle of the painting. One should note the state of completion, the balance, use of light and composition of the design and its style. Also important to note is the condition and material of the painting. Finally one should note the subject matter of the composition. The second stage of analysis should be technical, and involve the scientific interpretation of the painting, using the techniques offered earlier. Basic measurements should be taken into consideration and attention should be given to the damage and aging of the painting; and any alterations. Next it is necessary to closely study the subject matter of the painting, identifying characters and props where relevant, for example in mythological paintings. Any topography or iconography within the painting could be highly relevant and should be noted, setting the painting in a location, with political, historical or religious meanings, creating possible links to the artist.

Not all evidence linking authorship lies within the painting itself. Historical documentation, the provenance of the painting and the existence or non–existence of copies relay key information placing the paintings origin. Historical documentation such as contracts, church records, family archives, letters and inventories often states the painter in a clear coherent fashion, enabling a swift and relatively confident attribution.

A combination of science, connoisseurship and historical reference lay for us, as art historians, a solid but not impermeable ground by which we can attempt to make an attribution for a painting. Using this we can gain a greater understanding of specific artists and also genres and periods, relating the progression and development of art, hence underlining the importance of the knowledge of authorship. Further improvements in science and a greater number of specialists in the field could produce a more consistent method for confident attributions of paintings, and these progressions will surely continue.


Feminism

Follow-up to Feminism from Team Colour

How were the visual arts involved in defining femininity and demarcating the role of women in late 19th century and early 20th century Britain?

During the period between the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the visual arts were expanding and becoming highly influential in defining the feminine. With the popularity of the Pre–Raphaelite painterly brotherhood, who wished to instil morals into contemporary Britain, visual arts were increasingly used to dictate the roles and virtues of women. During this period the roles of women were becoming increasingly separated from those of men, as the domestic and industrial spheres were separated, it is hence important to study how the visual arts were influential in demarcating the role of women in their domestic sphere. A particular target of the period, during an era of political unrest was the prostitute, becoming a myth through the creation of the visual arts, the “fallen woman” served as both a warning and an object of scorn and pity for women in the Victorian age. Progressively however, the political climate changes as we see the rise of the suffragist movement, and the use of different media in the visual arts, both by and against the female suffragette to model and define the woman of the period. The importance of the visual arts is exemplified by the vandalising of the “Rokeby Venus” (see figure 1) in 1914, by a suffragette who opposed the defined image of women portrayed in this painting of the mythical goddess of love: Venus. With this intensity of passion aimed towards the visual arts, I wish to distinguish whether the images of the period made a distinct impact on contemporary women and how the definition of femininity crafted by art affected the social stringencies on female character, passions and actions.

The late 19th century was a period of rapid industrial growth and it was in this environment that the perceived roles for the middle class woman were changing. The noisy and corrupted urban environment was a frightening development for many of the British public, and the male provider increasingly sought refuge in the confines of his home. The visual arts of the period reflected this notion in many genre pieces, like Philip Calderon’s “Woman’s mission: Companion of manhood” (see figure 2). In this image we see the idealised woman of the period, comforting her husband to the left. The painting’s setting shows the domesticated living space, and indicates the wife’s fulfilment of her household duties.

This “lived in” impression created in the painting is crucial in recognising the enforced roles on middle class women of the late 19th century, as idleness was seen to be a road to immorality. The dependence of the woman on her male provider is also seen defined in this image, intended to act as a role model for the feminine to abide. Although supporting her grief stricken husband, her reliance and obedience is seen in her posture; leaning on his shoulder she gazes up towards him, the height difference between the two figures lending the male a clearly higher status in the image. This definition of femininity enforced in this image gave to the male a standing of success and social position. The painting defines the feminine further by the woman’s modest and simple fashion. Her gown is a muted brown, concealing her from her neck to her feet, with minimal shape at the waist to express her figure. Instead her femininity is projected in the curvature of her neck, leaning dependently on her husband’s shoulder.

The defining of the female in her domestic sphere was not isolated to the middle classes. Although the lower and upper classes were seen as more susceptible to the corruptions of the new industrial age, we can see evidence of the visual arts demarcating also the role of the lower class wife. An example of this is in figure 3– George Elgar Hick’s “Sinews of old England”. In this image we see represented a supposed typical working class family; a husband, his wife and a young child. The male looks resolutely out of the painting, assumedly to the working wo his sphere. His frontal image is contrasted by his wife’s side profile, as she looks directly at her husband and her responsibilities as a woman. Similarly to “woman’s mission” the lower class wife appears to be reliant on her husband, on whom she leans echoing the above image by Philip Calderon. However the role of the lower class woman was different from that of the middle class wife; put by Lynn Nead in “The Magdalen in modern times: the mythology of the fallen woman in Pre–Raphaelite painting” as:

“The working–class model was defined in terms of her piety, thrift and conscientiousness, but, above all, she could not display aspirations above her class in either her personal or domestic adornment.”

In this image we see the visual representation then of the defined working–class feminine. The female attire, contrasting to that in “woman’s mission”, is that designed for hard work with rolled up sleeves and a shorter skirt allowing more movement. Her domestic duties are again represented in the background of the image, yet her living space appears much more humble.

The most distinctive link however between these two images is the submissive nature of the woman to rely on her male counterpart. Even though the working–class woman is industrious; apparent by her attire; it is clear in her posture that she is required to be submissive, defenceless and reliant on her husband. This demarcation of feminine power in society played a key role in actually defining the feminine, and it was women who; under the cruel hammer of fate; experienced life without a partner, who were both feared and pitied during the period of the late 19th century. Such women were often governesses or seamstresses but the most highly depicted visual image of the grief stricken woman was that of the prostitute.

During the period, Britain was fighting to control overseas colonies, the fear and unrest created by these confrontations caused a mass fixation upon the morality of the nation, blamed for the political turbulence of the era. At the centre of this was the prostitute, who was at first feared, and then pitied for her immorality. The visual arts, in particular the Pre–Raphaelite brotherhood were heavily involved in creating and defining the ‘mythology’ of the prostitute in the late 19th century. In order to control fears of the possible economic manipulation of the prostitute, the visual arts defined the cult as that of a desolate, guilt ridden woman, desperate to reclaim childhood innocence to no avail, who would surely take her life to end her suffering, by jumping off a bridge. This common theme is seen in the image by George Frederic Watts “found drowned” (see figure 4).

The importance of the prostitute mythology in defining the feminine lies perhaps more in its warning to the virtuous middle–class women of the period. In defining the fallen woman, the visual arts set strict limitations on the actions of the feminine woman. Women were shocked into stringent rules about behaviour and modesty by the recurring theme of the fallen woman in the visual arts. More specifically seen in Augustus Leopold Egg’s triptych; “Past and present” (see figures 5–7)

These stark images depict the inevitable downfall of an unfaithful woman to destitution and also prostitution. Femininity was therefore defined by the visual arts as a permanent fixture to the male. Women seen out of the domestic sphere were viewed under suspicion of infidelity, and so the actions of the feminine woman were defined also by chastity and suspicion. However this became more relaxed towards the arrival of the early 20th century, when the virtuous woman appeared on the street performing duties of charity, showing good Christian faith and developing an image of morality outside of the domestic sphere.

Despite this emphasis on chastity the studied period was a time of erotic revival, where the visual arts produced and revived, in great popularity many sexually charged images. An example of such sexually provocative imagery is Lord Frederic Leighton’s “The bath of Psyche” (see figure 8). The image of psyche bathing has clear erotic undertones, as the nude female figure stands in a contrapposto pose, reminiscent of the antiquated classical mythological paintings of the Roman era. The body is turned so as to show the viewer the front of the figure of the clearly beautiful nude. These mythological images were popular by the male consumers who monopolised the art market of the period, as they were designed for the viewing pleasure of men, to engage in a beautiful female nude. This sensual pleasure aimed at the male audience had no such equivalent for female spectators. Again borrowing from Lynn Nead’s essay “The Magdalen in modern times: The mythology of the fallen woman in Pre–Raphaelite painting”, the differences defined in the studied period between male and female sensuality are thus expressed:

“The male sexual urge is thought of as active, aggressive and spontaneous, whilst female sexuality is defined in relation to the male, and understood as weak, passive and responsive.”

The visual arts created a sensuous field for the male viewer, but created no language for the expression of female sensuality, enforcing the belief that women’s bodies were for the pleasure of men, and that a sexual desire was not feminine.

With such clearly defined roles of femininity created by the visual arts, and the distinct limitations placed upon women’s role in society, it is hardly surprising that with the rise of the suffragist movement, the role of the visual arts was to denounce the supposed rebellious females and further enforce ideals of femininity. In the early 20th century female suffrage was a focal point in British politics and the visual arts involvement in defining femininity addressed this new change using the increased variety of media, also developing during the beginning of the century. The most frequented form of media used in the visual arts to ridicule the suffragists was that of cartoons, which could be easily distributed to a large and relevant audience. One such example is “the shrieking sister” published in punch magazine (see figure 9). Although commenting on the more sensible and refined suffragette to the left of the image the archetypal suffragette creation of the visual arts appears to the right of the image. The suffragettes were depicted in the visual arts as unfeminine creatures; with a mystifying almost witch like savageness as we can see in this sketch. The female’s figure is straight, denying any feminine curves and her aggressive posture is a harsh comparison to the defenceless feminism enforced in the late 18th century by the arts. Her appearance is plain at best, as she wears glasses and contorts her face into a scream. This image of a suffragette implies that this type of woman; a woman who is radically, or politically minded; is unattractive and unfeminine. To be more precise, by stereotyping the suffragettes in this fashion, the visual arts attempted to demarcate the female movement in politics, by defining the feminine as the opposite to the suffragist movement.

However the suffragettes also used the visual arts to enforce their own ideas of femininity and the role of women in the early 20th century. Using the WUDS newsletter, the suffragettes created images enforcing the virtuous, brave and feminine ideals of the suffragist movement. An example of this is seen in the image “The forces of evil denouncing the bearers of light” (see figure 9). The female’s pose in the image is reminiscent of the ancient postures of female models, as she leans on one leg, the other gently bent. This reference to femininity is then corresponded with her suit of armour showing strength and ability.

The visual arts of the period concerned can hence be seen as having a hugely influential effect on what it was for a woman to be feminine; by defining the character, actions, and passions of a woman. By dictating what is feminine in this way the largely male dominated visual arts played a definitive role in demarcating women by placing stringent conventions upon which women could feel attractive and effeminate. Middle class women’s actions in the late 19th century were dictated by images of domesticated bliss, enshrining upon the female population a sense of responsibility to maintain a virtuous and tranquil home environment for their working husbands to return to. Defined too by limitations set out by the visual arts was a woman’s character; again to be defenceless and reliant on her male protector. The purity of a woman’s character was also strongly enforced by the visual arts providing harrowing warnings for the fallen woman who would surely walk a path to an agonising early grave. The passions too, the very essence of a woman were quelled and hence defined by the arts, denying the sensual pleasures of a woman, leaving her only with sexual duty, not pleasure. Her political passions too were condemned as unattractive and shameful, as anti–suffragette images mocked and characterised women with a political passion for female suffrage, as unattractive and “witch” like. Although towards the later end of the study period, the arts were adopted by the suffragists and constructed a visual which aimed to emancipate the strong minded female. Hence it was by defining what it was to be “feminine” in such a way that the visual arts actively demarcated the role of women in the period of the late 19th century to the early 20th century.


How can knowledge of technique enhance our understanding of medieval art?

Follow-up to Medieval Essay from Team Colour

How can knowledge of technique enhance our understanding of medieval art?

Medieval art is a vast subject spanning hundreds of years across continents. The art itself is voluminous with varying styles, techniques and products; from religious panel paintings, to exquisitely decorated chalices. So whilst taking on this mammoth task, of analysing both the technique and relevance of such in medieval art, I have focused on one, highly popular form of practical art throughout the medieval period; the technique of enamelling. Although this narrows my analysis somewhat, enamelling was used on a huge variety of art works in the relevant period, and so, I believe the study should be sufficient for this task. In reference to my study, enamelling is a complicated art work, requiring great technique on a wide range of surfaces, and so will provide ample study into the relevance of medieval technique in understanding medieval art.

The technique of enamelling proved highly versatile and was used on a great variety of works, religious and secular. The use of enamelling also scanned from Anglo–Saxon Britain to Byzantine Constantinople. This we can see from the collection below of medieval enamel examples, figure one and two from northern Europe and figure three and four from Byzantium. From this collection of images one can clearly see the diversity of production of enamel throughout the medieval period in question. I have also chosen these examples to highlight the diversity of enamelling, used in fashion (figure 1), religion (figure 2), politics (figure 3) and the secular realm (figure 4). We can hence discuss the relevance of knowledge of technique in relation to understanding these different aspects of medieval enamelling.

After establishing the relevance of enamelling in this study, it is then necessary to understand the technique of enamelling in order to establish its necessity in regards to understanding the art. Enamel in essence is coloured glass, bonded with metal at high temperatures. To go into more depth however, I have looked at perhaps the best resource concerning medieval enamel work; that written in the medieval period (probably early 12th century) by a German Benedictine monk; Theophilus. His treatise ‘diversis artibus’ appears to be a lifetime’s work on glass manufacture and cloisonné enamel (cell enamel). However as some of Theophilus’ theories seem to be outdated; notably that involving “basilisks and the blood of a red bearded man” reading the more contemporary analysis by David Buckton on the treatise is a necessary undertaking.

Cloisonné enamel is so called as it comprises of cells, formed by metal wires, or strips, into which the glass is inserted to construct the composition of the enamel decoration. As we can see from figure 3; medieval enamels were often highly decorated, and the versatility of the enamel requires that all decorative fixtures about the enamel should be in place prior to the creation of the enamel itself. It is at this point that Theophilus begins a step by step instruction on how to make medieval enamel. First one must measure out a thin gold frame in the area selected for the enamel, using this measurement a second, thicker strip of gold should be wrapped about the first, leaving a small gap. In this space your ‘cells’ can be created by painstakingly laying very thin strips of gold in your desired pattern. To form the base of the cloisonné a sheet of metal is then placed in each of the cloisons, and then pasted in a fire to secure the enamel base.
Theophilus then turns to the glass itself, and its preparation. First it is suggested that the reader break off a small piece of each colour of glass, and test its melting point in relation to the other glasses, as if its melting point is different, it will not be satisfactory. Once tested, all the glass should be heated separately, and then splintered in cold water, ready to be broken down with a pestle into powder and washed. When the glass is prepared it has then to be applied to the base of the enamel, using a “goose quill, cut as fine as if for writing but with a longer point and unsplit”1. The glass and base should then be fired, and the process of filling the cloisons repeated until they reach or surpass the height of the metal borders. The process of enamelling is then completed by filing and polishing the works, in order to give a professional finish.

As I have previously mentioned this above process of enamelling was used across continents from Anglo–Saxon Britain to Byzantium where “the technique of enamels attained the highest degree of refinement and of expressiveness in the period of the Comnenian dynasty (1057 – 1187)”2. Enamelling had been greatly developed in cities such as Constantinople, and these techniques native to Byzantium, became incorporated into Venetian enamelling, with political gifts, and the lootings of war. However there was always a great difference between the enamels of Venice and Constantinople. Sergio Bettini notes in “Venice, the Pala d’Oro and Constantinople” the great difference in colour between these two manufacturers. With our knowledge of enamel techniques, we can clearly see that colour is a very important aspect of enamelling; it is colour and line alone which give the enamel its charm and style. Figure 5 shows an example of a Byzantine pendant with cloisonné enamel detail. With this example we can see the delicacy and translucency of colour in Byzantine enamels, Bettini describes a “balance between colour and line”. The Venetian examples used stronger colours and thickness almost to the point where the translucent effect of enamelling is lost. With technical knowledge it is then possible to appreciate the style of both these uses of colour in enamelling; in Byzantium where the two main features are harmoniously blended and in Venetian enamels, where the singularity of line and colour is exaggerated and exploited.

Other than enabling an aesthetic appreciation of enamelling, technical knowledge can prove to be useful in other disciplines of understanding the art. With the widespread popularity of enamel, across the globe, and the extensive movement of art between these areas, it is often difficult to locate origin, provenance and even date the art work. Technical knowledge of both the varying styles, for example between Venetian and Byzantine enamels, is only one area in which technical understanding may help. As previously mentioned, the height of Byzantine enamelling was the Comnenian period, however styles and techniques of making have varied throughout the medieval period, and knowledge and understanding of the different techniques can help to categorise different enamels into artistic, or dynastic periods.

The technique of glass making itself, core to the enamelling process can also aid our understanding of period and provenance. In addition to the enamelling process Theophilus also explains the techniques of glass making, and their various chemical and other components. Fundamentally glass is a composition of a type of silica and an alkali flux. The alkali is largely soda and can come from foliage3. This is crucial, as different areas at different periods obtained their alkali from different sources. For example in Germany and Bohemia:

“…the ash of marine plants was replaced, apparently by the tenth century AD, by the ash of certain hardwoods, notably oak and beech, producing a glass known as Waldglas ‘forest glass’.” (David Buckton – Theophilus and Enamel).
With this knowledge of varying techniques (and perhaps with the aid of chemical testing) we can both locate the Waldglas enamel as originating in Germany, and approximate its period, as after the 10th century AD. In this way our knowledge of technique has been shown to aid not only aesthetic and appreciative functions of understanding but also in practical methods of comprehension.

So far I have discussed how knowledge of technique can aid our understanding of medieval art, however I would like to highlight certain areas of understanding in which further knowledge is required. One such example is the understanding of a social and political context. Perhaps I should argue here why this is necessary in our understanding of art, and so I shall briefly underline why I think this is so, particularly in regards to medieval art. From the range of enamel examples throughout this essay it is clear to see that the decorative purpose of the enamel was also to serve a function, with regards to what it was decorating. With a great divide between the wealthy and the poor, in the monarchic system of the medieval period, it was only the wealthy who could afford, or commission art works leaving art as a very powerful and specialist tool. Perhaps it is also important to note here that most (save a rare few) ‘artists’ of the period are remembered by name, as the birth of ‘art’ as a concept had not been fully divulged in this period. Instead art was seen as a skill in conjunction with a creative subject.

Perhaps this is an argument for the necessity of knowledge in regards to technique, and I would not contradict this, however it does raise another issue. When the art has a specific purpose it is then necessary to understand this specific purpose in order to gain a full understanding of piece. If we then look again at figure 3; the votive crown of King Leo VI, we must recognise the enamels in their political context. As a symbol of power the enamels were designed to ordain and bring ‘majesty’ to the wearer. Further to this the enamels depict King Leo VI flanked by saints to enhance his ostensibly saintly predisposition as leader of the religious and secular state. With this knowledge I believe that one has a better understanding of the medieval art, which could not be accessed by knowledge of technique alone.

Whilst studying the art in its socio–political context we must also consider the practical function of many of the enamels, designed to decorate items with practicality. An example of which is the exquisite temple pendant and stick (figure 6). As part of court attire, the pendant was worn in pairs by men and women near the temple or cheek. As the pendant is hollow it is believed that the stick was used to insert a scented rag into the hollow cavity to give the bearer an elegant scent. Despite this practical function, the enamels also serve the purpose of displaying wealth and power, and perhaps highlight the refined elegance of the luxury of perfume.

In considering this then, it is necessary to take into account both the practical functionality of medieval art and its socio–political context, in addition to knowledge of the technicalities of making in order to fully understand medieval art work. It is necessary in such a skill orientated discipline as enamel to have knowledge of the technical methods involved in order to aid your understanding of the art as this can prove useful in appreciative, functional, and stylistic evaluations. However as I have also discussed to gain a comprehensive understanding it is necessary to take into account its context and function. The religious icons, used for worship and the secular decorations used to represent power and wealth comprise of much of the medieval art of which we have today, and so to understand it fully we must also gain knowledge of the context and function of the art, in correspondence with our practical understanding of the fundamental techniques, as these are also crucial for a complete understanding of medieval art.


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