Eric Newton's European Painting and Sculpture PDF

By Eric Newton

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Both symbolism and representation are references to human experience, and any man with a well-stocked experience can understand them. Whoever knows the meaning of the word tenderness cannot fail to recognize that the Russian icon painter has discovered an adequate equivalent for it Christian propaganda, * ' And whoever knows what a beautiful woman and a well-nourished baby look like must admit that Tiepolo has made an adequate pictorial representation of them. But in paint. when the critic or historian comes to assess or describe form, words are no longer of much use to him.

Seurat worked out detailed theories of how horizontal lines were associated with peace, vertical lines with energy, and so but theorizing of this kind can never take us to the heart of the matter. In the case of the four Madonnas I can say with conviction, but without being able to give reasons that, considered for form alone, the Russian icon pleases me most, with the simple yet sinuous sweep of its lop-sided pyramid, the placing of the hands, the contrast between the light pattern of folds in the child's robe and the dark unbroken surface of the Madonna's, the combination of delicacy and strength in the lines, the queerness of the shapes (queer, again, in their own right, not merely queer in their violent distortion of human anatomy) and the relation between the mass occupied by the two figures and the plain background broken only by the hairline of the Madonna's halo and the monogram.

Greek paganism adored the body. Christianity equally whole-heartedly adored the soul. The origin of the Byzantine style presents a problem which has not yet been completely solved. What makes it important is that it marks the beginning of a cycle in art history, a double pendulum-swing of the pendulum, which has, perhaps, just come to an end. It is easy enough to think of European art as progressing from 'primitive' to 'mature', from decorative and symbolic to naturalistic and descriptive. The progression seems a natural one, but that I think is only because the pendulum constantly swings backwards and forwards between the two, and we in the twentieth century happen to have just come to the end of a long swing towards the descriptive and away from the symbolic.

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European Painting and Sculpture by Eric Newton


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