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Friday, November 4, 2011


One of the hallmarks of the past hundred years of art, is the ease and degree in which the art from various "schools" and geographical areas are able to influence each other. In fact, we, as working artists in this time frame, have come to take for granted such "borrowing." More than that, we thrive on it, which may go a long way in accounting for the fact that various, schools, movements, and nationalistic styles all seem quaintly retro. The national media broadcasts the latest fine arts news to our highly receptive eyes and ears, we accept it (or reject it), but nonetheless make it a part of who we are as artists. On a more individual level, thanks to the Internet, the thousands of artist's Web sites, and hundreds of mailing lists and newsgroups, we can feast on an art smorgasbord of words and images limited only by the time and energy we can spare from our personal painting routines.

Madonna of the Rose (Garden),
1420-35, Stephano da Verona
(or Michelino da Besozzo)
However, before you get the idea that this is something predicated solely on modern communications technology, or modern "enlightenment," let me tell you it ain't necessarily so.  Over five-hundred years ago, the same thing was happening. No, Flemish painter, Jan Van Eyck, didn't, in 1420, type "Venetian painting" into his web browser and instantly become familiar with Stefano da Verona's Madonna of the Rose (left). But he was, nonetheless, familiar with it. He had to visit Venice to see it, but with the dawning of the Renaissance all over Europe, one of its most important elements was the ease with which artists and intellectuals were able to travel from city to city and country to country to see, to work, and to learn the art which the various, previously isolated, provincial areas called their own.

Portrait of a Woman, c. 1435,
Robert Campin
One of the most important improvements in Renaissance art in Italy came in its new naturalism. That trait came from the North where the patient study of modeling, detail, and light was cultivated to a degree that astounded the artists from the South. The secrets of oil painting itself came south from Flanders. The incredibly detail draftsmanship of German artists found a similar path, often through Venice, from there to Florence, thence to Rome and Naples. The work of Robert Campin (Portrait of a Woman, right), Konrad Witz (The Miraculous Draft of Fishes c. 1444, below), came south to influence Italian artists such as Colantonio, and the Spaniard, Bartolomeo Bermejo who happened to be studying in the Po Valley near Florence a the time. In trade, the artists from the North took back with them the rich tradition of color that was the hallmark of Italian painting. And the French, who have always considered Rome their private art academy, gathered up all these influences and took them home, igniting a glorious painting spectacle that lasted there for over three hundred years!  Today, we envy them as we sit before our computer monitors and wish we could see the real things.
The Miraculous Draft of Fishes, 1444, Konrad Witz

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