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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Painting Feet

Ascension of Christ, 1958, Salvador Dali--seeing Christ from a different angle.
This is not a lesson on "how to" paint feet. I suppose, perhaps, you might consider it a lesson to help you paint feet. But most of all it's about painting feet and how artist down through the ages have handled the problem of rendering what has to be one of the ugliest parts of the human anatomy God ever devised. And yet, there are artists who apparently enjoy painting feet; who glorify them; who emphasize them. They may, in fact, have something of what we call a foot fetish. It's about artists who, on rare occasions, have even managed to paint beautiful feet...depending upon the eye of the beholder, of course.

The Crucifixion, 1512-15, Mathias Grunewald
It might be fair to say that Jesus Christ has had his feet painted more often than just about anyone in the history of art. Salvador Dali's Ascension of Christ (top), dating from 1958, is certainly not the first time anyone painted such a depiction though it may be one of the most unusual, and in its own way, one of the more beautiful. Compare it to The Crucifixion (above) by the German artist Mathias Grunewald, painted around 1512-15, as the central panel in the Isenheim Altarpiece. Crucifixions from the Northern Renaissance tend to be gruesome. This one is that, but also occupies a place well towards the top of any list of the ugliest paintings ever rendered. Grunewald's nail-pierced feet of Jesus (lower-right detail) are downright painful to look at...just as the artist intended.

Lamentations over the Dead Christ. ca. 1490, Andrea Mantegna
Hardly much better in that regard are the feet of Jesus in Andrea Mantegna's 1490 Lamentations over the Dead Christ (above). His work, a masterpiece of foreshortening, represents Italian Renaissance painting at its best. It's as technically adept, compositionally daring, and emotionally moving as anything painted by Raphael, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Botticelli, or any of the other quattrocento demigods. I have to wonder if, five-hundred years later, Dali wasn't influenced by Mantegna when he chose to paint a risen, triumphantly ascending Christ emphasizing the soles of his feet. Noticed that, unlike Mantegna, Dali chose not to depict the nail holes in Christ's feet.

David's feet by Michelangelo--cut from marble between 1501 and 1504.
they're huge, but no match for those of Constantine.
Statue of Constantine, Rome, the foot
Painters have never had a lock on depicting feet. Sculptors as far back as the Egyptians cut them from red sandstone while later, around 315 AD, the marble Colossus Statue of Constantine (right) has feet some five feet, eight inches in length. That's somewhere around a size 67 E. Italy is famous for its custom-made men's footwear, but that would have required leather from an elephant. It's little wonder his sculptor carved him barefooted. Constantine may have led the pack in terms of big feet, but Mich-elangelo's David (above) had some rather large "footsies" as well, and he was still a growing boy. I think it's fair to say David's feet are a good deal more gracefully carved than Constantine's surviving exam-ple. The seated figure of Constantine would have been about forty feet tall. Incidentally, Michelangelo is said to have had a part in "saving the pieces."

The critical factors in drawing feet--position, angle, age, and lighting.
In painting them, add to that the complexities of flesh tones,
muscular definition, and somewhat more detail.
Anyone who has ever struggled in a figure drawing class to render that which they hope looks vaguely like a foot can easily appreciate the difficulty to be found trying to paint them, or still worse, trying to carve one or more from marble. Never fear, Irys Ching has come to your rescue with her "foot chart" (above). I won't say there's every possible angle and position you'll ever encounter, but you might fine it useful to make a printout of the above image for future reference. In teaching school kids figure drawing I constantly had to point out that drawing the stereotypical side view of a foot is far different from that of the front. In drawing feet, perhaps as much or more than any other part of the body, drawing what you see, is critically important, rather than what you think a foot should look like.

Irys Ching's  foot "steps" in foot painting.
Irys Chink has made a similar chart detailing the various foot steps (I couldn't resist that) in drawing and painting a foot (above). As in drawing hands, I recommend drawing the overall shape of the foot as if it's wearing a sock, before adding details, especially toes. Divorcing shape from details tends to allow more accurate judgments in eye-hand coordination. Embodying a totally different approach to "foot art," Vitoria Duarte (below) nearly overwhelms us with her expertise in anatomical foreshortening, which serves to emphasize the feet in all their homely splendor.

As most people would say, "Oooooo, gross!"
Either Big Foot or the Emperor Constantine was here.

Hands and Baby Feet, Svenja


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