When looking at a painting, a statue or a sculpture or perhaps a tapestry, what do you think? How do you view the work? Where do you stand? Or Sit? Does your position affect how you receive the work? How many perspectives are there to a creative piece?
Here in Melbourne we lie on the floor to gaze at one of our favourite works of art. In the Great Hall of the National Gallery of Victoria we have a most glorious stained glass ceiling, created by Australian artist Leonard French in 1968.
The glory of this masterpiece can only be appreciated from one viewpoint- prostrate- though not face downwards as practised in some religions but face upwards gazing towards the glory above.
I’m sure you’re wondering where all of this is heading. I'm not suggesting you start lying all over the floors of the world’s great galleries. Actually why not? But what I’m really saying is that when you look at a work of art you will gain more from the viewing if you appreciate the multiple layers that constitute the image. You will gain more if you think about the different perspectives embedded in, for example, a painting. Though this is also true of a sculpture, statue, tapestry. Consider what you see from your perspective as the viewer. For example, if there was room and The Vatican would allow it, you would gain a great deal more from lying on the floor to gaze at the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel.
(Credit: Khan Academy)
If you had the time and could see clearly into Michelangelo’s painting of Separation of Light from Darkness you would notice that God’s neck has been painted in such a way as to appear as an exact copy of a cross section of the human brain with the vertical line in his robe appearing as the spinal column.
(Credit: Wikipedia) (Credit: ResearchGate)
We do know that Michelangelo was not only an expert painter, sculptor and architect, he was also a very experienced anatomist having started at the age of 17 to dissect corpses from the graveyard. He used this knowledge to produce the lifelike drawings and paintings of the human figure. There are from all accounts several anatomical sketches hidden in the paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel which were discovered by American scientists Ian Suk and Rafael Tamargo from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. These researchers suggested in an article in the journal Neurosurgery (May 2010) that Michelangelo concealed neuroanatomical images in the Separation of Light from Darkness.
Suk and Tamargo showed that the anatomical details in God's neck in Separation of Light from Darkness are unlike those of other necks painted by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel or of other necks painted by Michelangelo's contemporaries, such as Leonardo da Vinci and Raffaello Sanzio (Raphael). (Wikipedia)
Suk and Tamargo suggested that Michelangelo concealed a sophisticated image of the undersurface of the brainstem in God's neck and that by following Michelangelo's lines in God's neck, one can outline an anatomically correct image of the brainstem, cerebellum, temporal lobes, and optic chiasm. (Wikipedia)
Why would Michelangelo do this? What was his perspective on the painting he was commissioned to produce? A growing body of theorists believe it was the artist’s attempt at a clandestine attack on the church’s contempt for science at the time.
Follow this link if you would like to read more about the hidden perspective in the Sistine Chapel
Wikipedia also has an excellent article on the same topic
We were introduced to the idea of multiple perspectives in Robert Bissell’s painting Rushing Mist where the viewer has an extra perspective to that seen by the bears at the bottom of the waterfall. The viewer can see above the waterfall and that extra knowledge puts the viewer in a position of advantage. What does this do to your feelings about the image? What do you feel? Do you want to tell the bears about the scene above them? Do you feel sorry that they can’t seen what you can see? Do you feel superior because you can see more?
My favourite artist L.S. Lowry (oh yes, I can bring Lowry into any conversation we are having) has an excellent example of the double perspective or what we might term the hidden perspective - hidden from the view of the subjects in the painting. Study Lowry’s An Accident for a few minutes.
In this picture (featured above) you will see a large group of people staring into a lake on the right. This might seem perfectly mundane though most viewers would wonder what is going on within the crowd. A genuine local suicide actually inspired the painting, and Lowry's matchstick men are all gathered to look at a waterlogged corpse. The remaining people in the painting go about their daily routines oblivious of the drama unfolding nearby.
In many of Lowry’s paintings people go about their daily lives as nearby, fist fights, people being evicted from their homes, sufferings of all kinds are occurring. The pain, the suffering is so much part of their lives it has to be ignored for survival to be achieved.
In Going to the Match Lowry has shown the crowds of spectators blending into almost one body, streaming towards the entrance of the stadium. But look carefully and you will see that at least one of the crowd is walking past. His perspective is different to all the others. And Lowry has acknowledged that not everyone wants to watch the football or maybe he is on his way to work and can’t stop to watch. Maybe he hasn’t the money to pay for Entrance? How do we know that it is a football match? I will leave you to think about that!
The Hero Image today is my painting Windows on a Time:Two. This painting shows two time periods. Dominant is the ruined wall of an old building, decaying from years of standing, standing in the present. In the background I have painted the people and their town as it might have existed 100 years or more back in time. The people are going about their daily activities largely oblivious to the fact that they and the buildings are decaying. On each side however I have a man staring into the ruins of the building, implying that they are curious about the building in front of them and are aware of a different perspective. Perhaps they can see into the future.
Tomorrow I will show you some hidden perspectives in a painting by Vermeer. Also the works of Diego Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo will serve as an example that it is unwise to upset an artist and seeing is not believing.