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Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Fourth Dimension

Painters have always been mostly limited to depictions in two dimensions. Sculptors, by definition, deal mostly with three dimensions. But there is, of course, a fourth dimension, that being time. Only with the advent of motion pictures in the last hundred years have artists been able to adequately handle the element of time in their work. It has not been for a lack of trying though. From cave painting to comic strips, art has sought to encompass the passage of time.

As we saw yesterday, Duchamp, in Nude Descending a Staircase #2 tried to show an ongoing event involving several seconds in time. And, a work of art survives from the Italian Early Renaissance by the painting master Masaccio that makes a similar attempt. His painting, The Tribute Money, attempts to tell a story from the Bible in which Christ instructs one of his apostles to pay a tax collector with a coin obtained from the mouth of a fish. The central group involves the delivery of the instructions to the apostle. The left side of the mural depicts the man obtaining the coin while the right side of the fresco follows through with the rendering of the coin to the tax man.

The Tribute Money, 1424, Masaccio, Brancacci Chapel
Though strangely out of sync with the left-to-right comic strip scenario to which we are now accustomed, the painting is, nonetheless, effective given the fact that the worshipping masses of the time, who gazed up at it on the walls of Santa Maria Del Carmine in Florence, were largely illiterate.

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