Research: Who were the Medici’s

This is a very late addition to my blog as I am literally submitting for assessment tomorrow but I cannot forget to add an albeit very brief piece on the Medici family who I have read about so many times during this course.

In essence the Medici family were the ruling family of Florence for many generations and also Tuscany for a period  and they include two popes – Leo X and Clement VII.  The family were originally bankers going back to the 14th century and were founded by one Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici who was born in 1397.   It seems the family business was based on cloth and silk manufacturing as well as banking – I confess to not being aware of the textile background to the family before this research. As well as banking the family were also politicians which of course makes sense with their eventual rise to power.

Giovanni founded the bank that eventually became the Pope’s bank such was its power.  Giovanni also apparently introduced a new taxation method as well as commissioned art and buildings by the likes of Brunelleschi or Donatello and that is where I have first come across the family – the Medici’s were wealthy and well-known patrons of the arts throughout the Renaissance and Baroque periods as I discovered through my research into Artemisia Gentileschi.  Two of the Medici son’s albeit different generations had a tomb made for them by none other than Michelangelo  – the Medici Tombs of Florence and this further displays the regard in which the family were held or at least the power that they held at the time.

During the lifetime of Giovanni’s son the bank expanded as far as London, Rome, Barcelona and Bruges and also into Rhodes and Cologne but then it started to go wrong during the next 2 generations and due to a combination of corruption, bad investment and bad management it collapsed in 1494.

The last Medici ruler died in 1737 without an heir but many of the ruling families of Europe can trace their lineage back to this family – one descendant, Catherine became Queen of France as the wife of Henry II  and 3 out of their 4 sons also became Kings of France.

It is a family which is rich in history and with tales of corruption and power and certainly money but from an art history point of view it is a family who commissioned some of the great works of the Renaissance and Baroque eras.

As I write this brief blog I am now more curious about the Medici family with both their personal history and how far the genes reach throughout the European families of today but also about the influence on the arts and the sheer power they held through the centuries and I have no doubt that I will do further research as my studies into art history continue beyond this course.


A+E Networks Digital. 2017. The Medici Family [online].  [Date Accessed:  January 2017].  Available from:

Encyclopedia Britannica. 2017.  Medici Family Italian Family [online].  [Date Accessed:  January 2017].  Available from:

Sansom, I. 8 May 2010.  Great Dynasties of the World:  The Medici Family [online].  [Date Accessed:  January 2017].  Available from:

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Long-lost Caravaggio ….

This is an unexpected blog concerning an article discovered as I have been checking over my essay in preparation for assessment!

caraaIn 1599 Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio painted Judith Beheading Holofernes which is based on the biblical story.  Now it appears the second long lost version of this work has possibly been discovered in the hands of private owners in France according to a French newspaper – it is certainly known that Caravaggio painted two versions with on on display at the National Gallery of Ancient Art in Italy.

However according to the article I have discovered online  the second version has been missing since the 17th century … until 2016 that is and until its authenticity can be estabilshed the Ministry of Culture in France has banned it from leaving the country.  It seems an American museum has expressed an interest in the piece already despite there being no direct evidence which confirms its provenance.

According to the article a specialist in Caravaggio, one Mina Gregori, has not found evidence of Caravaggio’s hand or workmanship in this recently discovered work.  However the French paper Le Figaro has pointed out that she has been misguided or incorrect in some of her recent attributions so her words cannot be taken as confirmation that it is not the lost work and clearly more investigations will have been ongoing since the article was written in March 2016 and these include Giuseppe Porzio and Maria Cristina Terzaghi who are Italian experts and Caravaggio experts.

If this is indeed the lost second version of Caravaggio’s masterpiece the painting could be valued at $113 million US dollars if it were to be sold but this could be a conservative estimate for an incredible art work.


Munso-Alonso, L. April 2016.  Long-Lost Caravaggio Painting Possibly Found in France [online].  [Date accessed:  January 2017].  Available from:


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Summary or overview of the final 3 chapters from 1900 to post World War 2

My tutor suggested in her final feedback I did a summary of the final 3 chapters with a concentration on 4 headings:

  • Art as a social commentary
  • Art as a cultural property
  • How politics shapes art and art shapes politics
  • Learning about the past to inform the present and shape the future

These 4 headings could apply to the history of art as a whole and so I base my answer as a reflection on the whole course but with my thoughts on my notes of the final 3 chapters.  My headings have made me consider my responses carefully which are based on my notes of the last chapters as well as my notes throughout the course.

Art as a social commentary

Art is a reflection of society due to it being a visual record of events and this applies down the centuries.  There can be no doubt of the changes that began to take place socially at the turn of the 20th century and which gathered pace due to the devastation of the two World Wars and eventually resulted in a very consumer and materialistic society.  The art of each period mentioned in the chapters reflected those changes including breaking with the traditions that dated back to the 14th century – the use of colour, perspective, form and line changed from that of naturalism and realism to expressionism, surrealism and abstraction in all the variances of style.  Artists observed society in the same way as before but reflected the social changes and were consequentially highly influenced by them – this can be seen for example in the work of the documentary photographers or the Mexican muralists.  The artists were also influenced hugely by the advances in science and technology as well as the psychologists which were all a part of the ever changing societies of the period.  Art is literally a window into the differing eras and therefore the commentary of the artists who were part of those societies.

Art as a cultural property

The Mexican muralists are perhaps the best example of this because the art reflects their culture and also the era in which it was painted and this is also apparent in the different countries worldwide. I question whether art is a cultural property or part of cultural identity and for this I must look to the past as the art of the Dutch Golden Age can be distinguished from that of a 17th century Italian Baroque painter in the same way that the art of the English landscape painters of England and American each had their different styles – for example the English Romantic painters and the Hudson River School painters who were influenced by the former but there is a distinct variance in style which reflected their landscapes and culture.  African and Oceanic art influenced the Cubists and Expressionists but these two forms of art very much form the cultural identity of the people and in our multicultural society of today we witness the different artistic styles of many different countries or religions and each is part of their cultural identity and each artistic style is the cultural property of that country or people.   The consumerist society of America post-World War II influenced very directly the culture and society of firstly America and then England and in turn influenced the art – the Pop Art culture is almost iconic for many in the same way that Cubism is very much a European style.

david-mcneil-fun-with-acrylic-paintingAt this point I must stress the fact that culture does not just refer to country or to a specific group of people but of course to religion and religious art is very much part of cultural property as it has been throughout the ages – this acrylic painting by David McNeil from a Facebook group, who has given me kind permission to share his work, is an example as it is a Christian image and any member of the Christian community would say that this represents their culture.  Art from the various religions around the world is instantly recognisable – statues of Buddha for instance or the different architectural styles between churches, mosques or temples.  This particular painting despite its relatively simple composition also speaks of a very strong message of the Christian church, without the need for words,  as it is concerning the Crucifixion and the purple cloth with its reference to royalty due to the fact Christ was believed to the King of Heaven. This painting also crosses into art as a social commentary in the fact that the art is associated with a social community, albeit a religious one,  and speaks of the beliefs of that community.

How politics shape art and art shapes politics

Politics has a very direct influence on the art world whether it is political politics or religious politics.  Politics shaped art particularly regarding  being used for propaganda purposes during the political unstable era of the first half the 20th century and a prime example is the Futurists of pre-World War I eventually distanced themselves after the war due to the increasing  membership of far-right organisations.  Politics uses the visual message of art to be able to inform the people affected by the manifestos but in the same way the artists or the art reflects the people of society and the feelings of those people and this in turn can shape the politics of the era.  In effect art of any nature can be used as a political tool in a visual form in the same way that the stained glass windows or art of the Catholic Counter Reformation was able to spread the message that the way of the Catholic Church was the right way.  Pablo Picasso’s Guernica is one of the most powerful paintings of the Spanish Civil War as it speaks of the devastation caused the Nazi’s – the art tells the general public of events that have happened without necessarily using words and therefore the message can be stronger and evoke more emotions and this in turn can be used by the political parties to stir up support for their party or hatred for another party or group of people.  The posters of the World War I in England were used for moral boosting messages by the political parties and this happens repeatedly throughout the 20th century and indeed into the 21st century in the newspapers. A further example is  protest art, including that of the Futurists, that had a direct effect on the politics because it was the people’s way of getting their message across over what they wanted to their politicians.

Learning about the past to inform the present and shape the future

Firstly I must think of the rejection at the beginning of the 20th century of all forms of naturalism and the break away from the traditions of the 14th century – yes this is not learning about the past directly but to be able to break away or reject something you must first be knowledgeable about it.  Artists over the 20th century have sought to find new ways of expressing themselves using new technology and inventions but the artists also sought new ways of exhibiting without being constricted to the established galleries or exhibitions which were the accepted way of becoming known in the past – art has become more accessible.  I am studying art history in order to inform my studies and shape my future and I feel that to learn about the artists of the past or their art means I have a clearer understanding of not just the paintings or the sculpture but also the political or economic and for me possibly most importantly the social history which shaped the art and influenced it.  The artists of the 20th century wanted to express their inner feelings or express what they felt and saw around them but they also had to be aware of the past conventions and history in order to develop the new styles or the new ideas which formed their future.

I do not feel that the future can be shaped or the present can be informed if the past is not a part of the lessons – to look at a Cubist or Surrealist painting you must first learn of the eras that preceded that.  I could not understand Minimalist art or Colour Field art or abstraction or Expressionism if I had first not studied the Romantics, the Realists, Rococo, Medieval or Greek art or any of the styles and eras in between and knowing what the Western Classical Canon is – to be able to understand and appreciate modern art and to be able to shape your own artistic future you must study the art of your predecessors.


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Notes and questions regarding ways that artistic representation expresses cultural values – Tutor Report Assignment 5

My tutor, in her report on my final assignment, has asked me to reflect on the ways that artistic expression represent cultural values and this was in response to the Mexican muralists and their celebration of their mixed-race heritage (mestizaje) and how muralism as an art form was promoted regarding social and political engagement – at the time of writing this is incredibly relevant as I am writing this just 2 days after the inauguration of a new American president.

Reflecting firstly on how artistic expression represents cultural values is I feel, based on my reading and research, that art is a reflection on our individual cultures and our cultures directly influence the art.  For the Mexican muralists their heritage was vitally important to them and murals emerged as a form of art reflecting the way they wished to be defined in much the same way as any culture the world over uses their art to display their cultural identity and this has happened since before language was even developed.

My tutor then asked the following questions:

  • What is the goal of art? Art has no one single goal – in different eras and centuries it meant different things including promoting the stories of the bible to the illiterate poor in past centuries and moving forward as a way of getting the message across regarding a certain political or social movement or just simply to record every day life as an artist witnessed.  Throughout this course I have come to the conclusion, based on my reading, that the goal of art was to somehow inform the viewer about something whether it was a portrait, particularly before the invention of photography, a landscape, a biblical scene or a mythological scene with a moral message or a still life with all the hidden iconography. However some art is just purely done for aesthetic purposes and here I think of the floral works of art although even they convey a message about the time in which they were painted.
  • To what extent is art supposed to be autonomous and separated from everyday life? I don’t think it is separate from every day life, or at least it isn’t in our modern era – art is a part of life everywhere you look with digital art of all forms and artists of all genres and also with the proliferation of more traditional forms of art such as paintings and sculpture which can be seen everywhere from your local town centre to the park and the museums, homes and shops or places of worship.  In historical terms art was more separated due to artists holding different levels of status throughout the centuries and this includes the craftsman and the architects as well as the sculptors and painters.  However in terms of autonomy I do feel increasingly that art does govern itself and acts independently although historically this was not the case – art and artists have increasingly sought the freedom to be independent of galleries and commissions due in part in this modern era of high commission fees from galleries and increasingly high expenses for exhibitions and art fairs.  Artists are having to be independent and find ways of marketing their work which is financially affordable particularly to the proverbial struggling artist. If I consider the word ‘supposed’ in the question art is supposed to be very self governing but the lure of the galleries and exhibitions, despite the expenses or commissions involved, is still irresistible as they are still a way of the general public getting to know your work, as well as securing further commissions,  despite the independence that is so desperately craved and it is the galleries and exhibitions that take away the independence of the artist and art.  Art is however autonomous, but not separate from everyday life in that it is continually evolving and changing style in tune with the social, political and economic times – as I review the words I have just written I must come to the conclusion that art is not autonomous at all due to the fact it cannot be if it is influenced so much by the world that exists in which it is part of.
  • Does art that has a function cross the line from art to propaganda or is there a hazier area between the two?  Yes I think art that has a function can cross that line – art has been used as propaganda throughout history if you define ‘propaganda’ to get across a point of view whether political or religious and I immediately think of the art of the Catholic Counter Reformation right up to the work of the Mexican muralists or propaganda posters of the two World Wars. debbie-thornhill-urban-sketchers-la-womens-marchArt that has a function does not necessarily cross that line but yes there can be that hazy border – this piece by Debbie Thornhill, who  has given me very kind permission to reproduce her urban sketch, of the Woman’s March in Los Angeles that have took place this weekend in response to President Trump’s election and the feared erosion of women’s rights.   I do not feel it is propaganda because it was done as a visual record of that march sketched by an eye witness although it could be conceived as being in that hazy border because it records a political event – I have not asked Debbie if she was a participant or merely an observer because maybe that is where the art crosses the line i.e. if the artist is a direct participant in the event unfolding or the political movement then does the art become propaganda? or if the artist is merely an observer is the art function merely as a visual record? david-lowther-urban-sketchersOn the other hand David Lowther, who has again given me kind permission to use his ink and collage sketch, has produced a piece of art that has a function in the sense that it records the Manchester Bridgewater Hall as he has seen it – it is a sketched equivalent of a documentary photograph but it does not cross any line into propaganda and is purely a visual record and that is its sole function.
  • Also considering the value of public art in society – what does public art accomplish? Public art can be purely decorative for aesthetic purposes and it can even cause controversy if the public feels the money should be spent elsewhere particularly in the austerity of the modern day.  Public art can accomplish speaking of a message or honouring a valued member of the community or in the case of murals it can simply brighten and lift the visual appearance of an area which in turn can be morally uplifting.  Public art takes all forms and is seen in every different size that is possible from light installations to small sculptures – it can literally be anything that has been planned and executed with the intention of being seen by the general public and can evoke a range of emotions and responses.  As I write I reflect on the National Memorial Arboretum of Staffordshire and the huge variety of memories in different forms – the NMA is a place of peace, reflection and beauty as well has having areas that are sombre but the whole area is one of reflection and somewhere you see a wide variety of groups of people or individuals with a range of emotions exhibited from sorrow through to joy.  Public art evokes emotion and it makes people think and look and can convey a message either through subtle means or blatant propaganda.
  • If muralism is monumental and public, how are its conditions different from small, private works of art that are made for consumption by the art market and institutions like museums?  Muralism is completely different due to the fact it is large and it is public and therefore seen by so many but private works of art may be only seen by very few people depending where they are to be displayed.  Works of art purchased by museums may be on display permanently or may be on temporary display in others if loaned out to them and this again must have its own set of conditions.  Many smaller works of art may be done without a specific patron and done for the open art market but many are specially commissioned and this is where I note the similarity to the public works of art as the majority will be specifically commissioned due to the size and expense involved – at this point I question whether similar financial amounts could potentially exchange hands despite the difference in scale.  The difference in the two differing art genres is when the works of art are done for the aforesaid open market as the artist is working independently and is free to choose the subject and style but if a piece of art is commissioned then the artist may only have the freedom of the initial idea but may be bound by certain rules restricting the freedom to let the work of art evolve during its creation.

lisa-belding-fear-fun-with-acrylic-paintingAs I read through my answers I come to realise how subjective art is and how we view a piece of art can be down to the context we see it in – the urban sketch by Debbie Thornhill of the Women’s March could be deemed to be propaganda if it was seen amongst many others, particularly those who are very supportive of their political cause or it could be seen to be just that visual record if seen with other non-related pieces.

This painting by Lisa Bellfield, a fellow member in a Facebook group and who has also given kind permission to share, was painted the night President Trump got elected and like Debbie’s work could be seen in two entirely different contexts.  It is a visual record of the emotions of the artist and this is for me personally the goal of art and it encompasses art into everyday life.  The more I become involved in the art world and the more passionate I become about art the more I begin to realise that art should be autonomous but it should not be separate from everyday life because it records every day life.  Art can be propaganda in its entirety or it can show the fear of an artist who is worried for the future as a new era in her country’s political future begins – Lisa’s piece would no doubt have been done by someone which ever candidate had been elected. Art can also simply be there to serve the function of recording a visual scene such as the one of by David Lowther,  done to raise funds for a new church or community building roof or simply for the fact that a rose is too beautiful not to paint.

As a footnote propaganda art can be seen as a motivational tool or promoting solidarity and in the World War II it encouraged American to buy war bonds which were crucial to their war effort and in the UK the propaganda posters and art encouraged rationing or encouraged people to be discreet in what they said or vigilant in their movements due to safety concerns and it was highly necessary.  The word  ‘propaganda’ has started to have negative connotations and seen in a very narrow viewpoint and this includes the art but it can be used very much for the good because art is a visual tool that does not need words and at this point I refer back to the stained glass windows and art of the Catholic Counter Reformation or the stained glass windows of even St Mary’s Catholic Church by Pugin  here in Derby, which was built much later in the 19th century,  which were done to inspire devotion particularly combined with the gargoyles on the outside which told the congregation of the sins outside of the building – effectively those carvings were to scare the people into the church whereby they were confronted by the religious images and in effect all were propaganda!


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Tutor Report on Assignment 5 with my response

My responses to my tutor’s feedback are in italic font throughout the report.

Overall Comments

Thank you for your final assignment and well done for completing the course!

This submission demonstrates accurate knowledge and manipulation of key ideas. You have developed your acuity in observing, identifying, and analysing visual culture, and you have also displayed good working habits (such as the keeping of a learning blog).

I would recommend trying to demonstrate more awareness of underlying theoretical/methodological issues (and their wider significance). You should also try to expand your analytical comments – make sure your observations are critical rather than overly descriptive. Check through your written work to eliminate examples of simple assertion/opinion that are not supported or sustained by evidence.

I have gone through my blog and checked my work in accordance with this advice and also tried to expand or develop the issues or comments my tutor has suggested.

You will need to clearly show your assessors that you have attempted to synthesise and reflect upon a range of research sources. The more you can display your ability to engage constructively with art historical arguments/debates to inform your essay, projects, annotations, and learning blog, the more likely you are to pass at assessment.

Again I have gone through my blog and tried to reflect on a range of different research sources although I am aware of the limitations due to simply not being able to access the range I would have liked.  I believe I have demonstrated an ability now to engage in art historical annotations in my annotations, essays etc – I can see a definitive learning curve throughout the course now and certainly have improved in confidence.

There are a number of areas that I would encourage you to rework or expand on in relation to this assignment, which I will outline below. In particular, see my comments on your review.

Feedback on Assignment

Assignment 5

Reading notes

General: Some of the themes central to artists in the period from 1900 to 1950 are listed below – check that you have covered them:

 Art as more than a mere visual representation of objective reality: why is there such a shift in the visuality of art around 1900? What motivating factors are there?

 Art as the depiction of modernity: how do representations of the modern city often define modern art? What sorts of visual tropes allow us to discern an artist’s attitude toward modernity and the new city?

 Art as a means of social or political engagement: how does art continue—from a trajectory started in the middle of the nineteenth century—to approach issues of social justice or to allow politics into its form and subject matter?

 Art as a reflection of history: how do historical events or changes direct the course of art in the early twentieth century?

I have taken these questions into account and either answered them directly at the end of my notes or they have been answered separately in additional blogs.


Given Modernism’s penchant for short-lived movements preceded by manifestos that expressed their unique aims, Caws’ Manifesto: A Century of Isms (Omaha: University of Nebraska Press, 2000) may be a useful source if you would like to read such groundbreaking works as the “Founding and Manifesto of Futurism” by Marinetti.

As you stated, the Post-Impressionist Cézanne was credited by two of Modernism’s pioneers—Matisse and Picasso—for laying the groundwork for twentieth-century art. Among other things, his depiction of objects from multiple viewpoints and his use of colour as a building block for form (rather than as a necessary attribute of form) led both to the fracturing of form in Picasso’s Cubism and the use of arbitrary (non-naturalistic) colour in Matisse’s Fauvism.

While some critics recognised the passion and vitality of Matisse and his followers’ new direction, others challenged Matisse for painting in this radical idiom, and his reaction said a lot about the new territory of Modernism. Responding to charges of ugliness made about his Blue Nude of 1907, Matisse famously quipped: “If I met such a woman in the street, I should run away in terror. Above all, I do not create a woman, I make a picture.” As you hinted, this idea—that art could be about something greater than mere representation—marked a radical shift that was taken up by two of Modernism’s major movements, Expressionism (ref. Kandinsky’s use of colour and form to express internal/extra-pictorial qualities such as spirituality and emotion) and Cubism (e.g. the hard geometry underlying Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon [and the use of Primitivism to find new forms of expression]).

In thinking about how the visual innovations of Cubism and Expressionism catalyzed artists across Europe who sought to express the modern age in their art, you referred to the way in which Italian (and later, Russian) Futurism embraced modernity, specifically seeking to incorporate advances from science and industry into their multifaceted production. (Ref. the Futurists belief in the concept of simultaneity.)

It is important to consider that there are very different demands, limitations, and criteria when it comes to architectural innovation and history. Architecture in the twentieth century is a huge topic, so it was good to see you concentrate on two brief architectural narratives originating in the United States and Europe – the International Style and the designs of Frank Lloyd Wright. (Lloyd Wright fervently critiqued the International Style and this critique was revived, mid-century, in the multifaceted designs of Postmodernism—which, again, tried to break open the International Style’s ‘glass box’.)

I pay particular attention to the last paragraph due to having worked for an architect and it is interesting to study the differing styles of the last century and I note the differing demands, criteria and limitations which my tutor states. 

Between the two World Wars

It is worth emphasising that in the arts, there was a decided shift following World War I toward concepts of order, harmony, and beauty to counteract the chaos, division, and ugliness of the war machine. This is not to say, however, that all attempts at postwar organisation and harmony were retreats. Some of the most radical abstraction that Modernism featured was also built around principles of simplicity, order, and functionality. (Ref. Neoplasticism and Constructivism.)

As you indicated, a set of ideas more than a coherent movement, Dada has been referred to as an ‘anti-art’ movement due to its iconoclastic nature and its tendency to critique and question the very principles underlying the commissioning, creation, and dissemination of art. Dada stood for an embrace of the irrational and original versus traditional concepts of reason and tradition, and Duchamp’s Fountain raises a number of important questions regarding the status of art itself. What is a work of art? Who gets to decide? If the artist gets to decide what a work of art is, then is choosing a work of art significantly different than creating it? Can an idea—not an object—be a work of art?

I have answered the questions my tutor mentions at the end of my blog in reference to my own opinions which I have considered carefully and in context.  

You clearly outlined how, following the philosophical concepts of psychologists like Freud, Surrealism claimed precedence for the irrational, for chance, for the uncanny, and for the unconscious, which it sought to connect with through automatism and the interpretation of dreams.

Your comment on Diego Rivera was good, but try to reflect on the ways that artistic representation expresses cultural values. For example, in the 1920s when muralism began, there was a concern with defining a new ‘Mexican’ character. This often led to themes of mestizaje (celebration of Mexico’s mixed-race heritage), but also recognition of the native value of the indigenous Indian. Stemming from a 1921 manifesto written by Siqueiros, muralism was pitched as an art of social and political engagement. So, muralism provides a chance to talk about the intersection of art and politics. What is the goal of art? To what extent is art supposed to be autonomous and separated from everyday life? Does art that has a function cross the line from art to propaganda, or is there a hazier area between the two? Another major theme to discuss is the value of public art in society. What does public art accomplish? If muralism is monumental and public, how are its conditions different than small, private works of art that are made for consumption by the art market and institutions like museums?

I have answered this paragraph and my tutor’s questions in a separate blog which can be seen at:

Bauhaus was a revolutionary new take on the traditional art school model, bringing the fine arts and the applied arts under one roof and one curriculum. Can you say a bit about the architectural design of the Bauhaus? Look at Gropius’ Workshop Wing, created in Dessau in 1925–6. Here, ‘form follows function’ is taken to its logical extreme, with no superfluous additions. Gropius adopted new industrial materials and, with the added support of steel, introduced the glass curtain wall. This pared down aesthetic could also be related to the ideals of Modernism, such as the streamlined aesthetic of Piet Mondrian’s De Stijl movement, which attempted to find the universal essence of painting. Like Mondrian, Gropius’s ‘honest’ approach attempted to express the essence of these new industrial materials without hiding them behind decoration.

I have said a little more, as suggested, about the architectural design of Bauhaus at the end of the relevant blog and understand my tutor’s points.

In terms of the history of photography, how have twentieth-century photographers balanced the camera’s capacity for documentation with its aesthetic possibilities in order to convey a variety of social and cultural messages? In particular, explore further Dorothea Lange’s photographs. This Getty video is a useful resource:’s-documentaryphotographs/ Think about Lange’s Migrant Mother – what makes this photograph iconic? How does it relate to other images you have seen? A thought-provoking article you might like to look at is Stein’s “Passing Likeness: Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother and the Paradox of Iconicity”: Consider how the meaning of a photograph is constructed, and how meaning might change through time or in a particular context. What is the value of documentary photography?

This is another paragraph I decided to answer as a totally separate blog and this can be seen at:

Post War to Post Modern

Try to focus on the fundamental questions of art history as they apply to contemporary art:

 What motivated artists to develop new artistic styles and practices in the midtwentieth century?

 How have these historical developments influenced the production of art today?

 How does contemporary art build upon, and depart from, its historical precedents?

I have directly answered these questions in brief at the end of the relevant blog and it was interesting to consider my answers.

Your section on Abstract Expressionism was solid, and you briefly underlined the fact that the genesis of this ‘school’ of artists was built upon a number of motivators. (I.e. many of its artists were influenced by the large-scale works of the Mexican mural movement and the WPA mural project that derived from it. The arrival of a large number of avant-garde artist-refugees from Nazi-occupied areas of Europe in the 1930s brought new techniques and philosophies. Additionally, the growing cultural milieu created by earlier New York City artists set the stage for this ‘next big thing’.)

You alluded to Pollock’s ‘drip paintings’. Pushing painting to the limits of two-dimensionality and non-objectivity prescribed by earlier artists like Mondrian, consider how Pollock and his cohorts imbued their canvases with psychological and emotional values, trying to reach something of a chaotic, primal human universality in the wake of WWII rather than the precise, orderly geometric universality of the preWWII avant-garde.

Your notes on the Colour Imagists (or Colour Field painters) Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman highlighted the metaphysical dimensions of the movement, but bear in mind its relationship to the historical sublime too. (This connection can be demonstrated through comparison to nineteenth century Romantic landscape painting, which encouraged viewers to contemplate their place in the vastness of nature, while Colour Imagists relied on expansive canvasses awash in fields of colour to generate similar responses among their audience.)

You included some useful information on Rauschenberg’s ‘combine’ paintings and Jasper Johns’ paintings of popular subjects like flags that collapsed the distance between the real object and its artistic representation. Similarly, it was good to see you refer to works by Warhol, Lichtenstein, and Oldenburg, which exemplify the subjects and techniques of American Pop Art, as well as the movement’s relationship to mass production and consumer culture. (Note that Pop Art and Minimalism emerged in a broad context of social unrest, characterised by student protests, anti-war sentiments, and the rise of the Feminist, Civil, and Gay Rights movements.)

For information on Conceptual art, see the seminal 1968 essay “The Dematerialization of Art,” by Lucy Lippard and John Chandler, which acknowledges the shift away from painting and sculpture in favour of art that emphasizes creative process over the final object:

Unfortunately this pdf is no longer available as it has been archived or suspended.

Given that the body appears as a key theme in much art of the late twentieth century for artists interested in issues of identity, physical perception, and human interaction, try to have a look at works such as Marina Abramovic’s Rhythm 0 (1974):

I have watched that video and found it difficult emotionally but also fascinated as Marina Abramovic became not a person but an artistic object to the public who could not longer cope when she reverted back to her personality again as she herself stated – she puts herself as a piece of art to be created and lost her identity and discovered different ways in which she was perceived.  I found it disturbing that she was cut and also the bullet was put in the gun but considering the world in which we live now with its instability I question what would happen if this artistic experiment was repeated some 43 years later i.e. now in 2017 as opposed to 1974 when it was originally filmed.  The fact that someone put a rose between her hands, someone cut or took her blouse off and revealed her body and someone else wrote on her is fascinating and shows the different ways the human body is perceived and how we do interact with each other and that this point I must consider the fact this was filmed over 40 years ago and take into context the era and the different political times – the 1960’s were about freedom and expression for many and this experiment has echoes of that because each person who interacted with Marina was expressing something within themselves.

As you noted, Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970) serves as a canonical example of earth art, highlighting the emphasis on process, site-specificity, and broader questions around institutional context, geologic time, and mankind’s place in nature. For a short, general introduction to Feminist art (and a lively polemic!), see Blake Gopnik’s 2007 review of the exhibition Wack!:

Artists and images worth discussing include Cindy Sherman’s series Untitled Film Stills and Barbara Kruger’s collages (which address the history of the gaze in art, and often, like Sherman’s photography, use the visual lexicon of mass-media imagery to critique the systems that it reproduces, such as sexism and capitalism).

Unfortunately again the page suggested is no longer available but I understand my tutor’s points and also in reference to Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger.

A summary of the significant topics addressed in all three chapters could concentrate on:

 Art as social commentary

 Art as cultural property

 How politics shape art and art shapes politics

 Learning about the past to inform the present and shape the future

Annotated Images

*Try to refer to a wider range of sources – do not over-rely on material from the internet.

Braque – Houses at L’Estaque:

This was a solid annotation of a Cubist work that covered most of the principal features, including: the use of flat (toned-down) areas of colour (sober browns, dull greens and greys) borrowed from Cézanne; the shallow/compressed space; the simplified, fractured geometric forms; the grid-like structure.

As you noted, Braque breaks with the fundamental conventions of picture making to give the composition a fluctuating and elusive quality. This is neatly summed up by Golding, who states that “the picture plane is emphasised by the complete lack of aerial perspective…and by the fact that occasionally contours are broken and forms opened up into each other. There is no central vanishing point; indeed in many of the houses all the canons of traditional perspective are completely broken.”

I am happy with my tutor’s response to this annotation particularly considering I did not find Cubism easy to understand initially.

Derain – Le pont de Charing Cross:

You recorded the way in which the canvas, true to the aims of Fauvism (specifically, the aim of ‘liberating colour’ to give it greater emotional and expressive power) glows with intense, large, flat areas of colour (typically mosaic-like dashes of unmixed paint directly from the tube) utterly divorced from naturalistic description. So, you mentioned Derain’s use of complementary colours (e.g. oranges and blues), how the shadows in the piece are created by the extreme variations of colour, and the bright hues employed to form bold outlines.

In addition to the kinds of marks made on the surface of the canvas, think a bit more about the artist’s concern with volume and form, and the grouping of broadly suggested shapes to create harmony or a special rhythm. (The space is decoratively ‘staged’ – the organising principle of the arabesque is paramount.)

Note how Derain reflected the most important influences affecting the Parisian avantgarde (Symbolism, Neo-Impressionism, Gauguin, Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso, non-western art).

In terms of process, it is worth noting that Derain did not paint his views of London on the spot. The discovery of two sketchbooks with drawings and colour notations that match the compositions of the London views suggests that Derain drew each scene from nature but then painted the pictures back in his studio in Paris.

Your compare and contrast section was good, and you seemed to respond positively to Derain’s attempt to fundamentally reorganize our perceptual responses. (I.e. colour loses any sense that it is being used to capture the texture of one moment in time – it ceases to be presented as the quality of an object, meaning the relation of expression to experience is fragmented and left open to question.)

I have taken on board my tutor’s suggestions about thinking more about Derain’s concern with volume and form etc and adjusted my annotation accordingly.  I have also added a note regarding the fact he did not paint his views in London on location but rather back in the studio.

Analysis – Hamilton’s ‘Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?’ & Gonzalvez’s ‘Do Angels cry?’

Generally, this was a sound piece of writing based on an interesting choice of artworks. However, I would encourage you to consult and utilise more effectively a few extra sources to address central aspects of the two pieces. This should also help you to clearly identify the links or differences between the works so that you can build a logical and meaningful set of responses.

Your paragraph on Hamilton’s collage was good, and you outlined the way in which the image acts as a compendium of luxury items and exotica identified with modern life in North America but still rare in postwar Britain (e.g. a large-screen television set, a giant tinned ham, a tape recorder, and a far-reaching vacuum cleaner). Note details such as the table lamp decorated with the Ford insignia that establish the transatlantic origins of Hamilton’s dream world, in which every imaginable appetite can be satisfied instantly.

Hamilton’s collage presents a vision of the future in which a modern Hercules, with a giant lollipop in place of the traditional club, enjoys a life of perpetual, easy pleasure. How does Gonzalvez’s photograph respond to and challenge this work? Begin by looking at Gonzalvez’s comments on the portrait – she remarks that she has “become far less materialistic” since she started producing her intimate, powerful records of life on the street.

You described the ex-military man’s wrinkles and referred to the idea of London’s forgotten population, but make sure you have covered elements such as the lighting (tone, contrast), angles, scale, perspective (including depth of field), texture, and composition (the arrangement of different elements/the methods and techniques used by the photographer – cropping, containment/confinement).

I have amended my analysis taking on board these comments and questions although my amendments have taken me over the required word limit.  

Review – A biographical analysis of the art of Artemisia Gentileschi

Ensure that the presentation of your material conforms to the accepted conventions of good academic practice – e.g. full reference list, appropriate tone, use of good quality images with complete captions. Each illustration you use should be captioned using this layout (or a version similar to it): Figure number, Artist, Title (in Italics), Date, Materials, size, Collection or location.

For the purposes of Formal Assessment, when you will need to produce a Word document/hard copy, check that the pages of your essay are numbered, that you have left a space between each paragraph, that you have used 1.5 or double line spacing, and that your text is in a readable 12 point font (e.g. Times New Roman or Arial).

I have checked through my analysis very thoroughly to ensure everything conforms with good academic practice.

General Points:

Vocabulary – should be varied, precise and apt

Spelling – check technical, specialist terms in particular

Grammar – Sentence structure should be varied; not too simple, nor too convoluted Structure – Have you used signpost words (‘but’, ‘however’, ‘although’ etc.) appropriately, to give your essay cohesion? Have you generally signposted where you are taking your reader (‘There are two points here…’, ‘Having covered…’ etc.)?

As I indicated in my previous comments, writing an art history essay involves creating an argument about what you see (e.g. using the terms ‘how’ or ‘why’ in the essay title). (Something like ‘To what extent are Artemisia Gentileschi’s paintings autobiographical?’ might work better.) Make sure you have developed an interpretive thesis based on close visual analysis of the artworks.

I decided to use my tutor’s suggestion for my title and have also checked the vocabularly, spelling etc.

Your text could benefit from reference to more of a range of sources (books, journal articles etc.) and art historical approaches, which need to be acknowledged in the body of your essay. For example, you referred to Bal and Garrard in your bibliography, but these sources were not mentioned in your text!

I have amended my essay and Garrad is now cited although I could not pinpoint Bal precisely but have cited a third author in the correct manner my tutor mentions below.

Citing sources within the text of an essay: When making reference to an author’s work in your text, their name is followed by the year of publication of their work. Where you are mentioning a particular part of the work, and making direct reference to this, a page reference should be included. E.g. Garrard (1991) argues that… OR for quotations: “Quotation” (Garrard, 1991, p.200). You must also indicate a source even when paraphrasing. If you want to include text from a published work in your essay then the sentence(s) must be included within quotation marks. The quotation should also be emphasised (especially if it runs to 50 words or more) by indenting it.

I have been through my essay as I have re-worked it I have taken note of my tutor’s advice and amended accordingly.

It was good to see that you had formulated a punchy first sentence to get the reader interested and to open up an area for debate within the subject, but think further about the main section of your essay. This is where you lay out your response, mixing argument with supporting evidence (facts, illustrations, quotations). Try to see it as a series of points, each to be developed in a separate paragraph, though there should be an overall thread linking the points in a thematic way. As you know, a long biography of the artist’s life is NOT what is required, so you may need to reread and ‘tweak’ some sections accordingly.

I have tweaked the paragraph relating to Artemisia’s life and also considered the main section of my essay taking note of this advice accordingly.

Investigation, knowledge and understanding of the topic studied: You provided a good overview of the artist’s life and career, covering her training in her father’s workshop, the influence of Caravaggio’s style and dramatic treatment of psychologically intense subjects (although it is important to trace the iconographic similarities of Artemisia’s work to Caravaggio’s Judith Decapitating Holofernes, do not spend too long on this), her study of perspective with her father’s collaborator Agostino Tassi who raped her, and the trial of Tassi which involved Artemisia being tortured and a series of counter-allegations being made against her chastity.

Your scrutiny of the two versions of Artemisia’s Judith and Holofernes recorded the source material (the Apocryphal text of the Jewish heroine which tells the story of a political execution) and key compositional elements, but a slightly more searching approach to visual analysis would have been useful. In relation to the 1620 version you mentioned details such as how the colours are brought into an overall harmony of gold and deep red, and the artist’s use of black glazes to create the shadows, but try to expand on Artemisia’s pentimento (indicating that she altered Holofernes’ drapery to reveal slightly more of his right leg), or how blood spurts out of the wound in distinct curves. (Ward Bissell argues that is likely that in Artemisia’s determination to be utterly convincing and to startle, she “looked to memories of animals being slaughtered in the marketplace and to the arcs of spurting blood in Rubens’ ‘Judith Decapitating Holofernes’”.)

I have expanded on Artemisia’s pentimento as suggested and also tried to have a more searching approach to the visual analysis in my amended essay.

How convincing do you find the argument that the prominence given to the bed refers to the fact that in Latin the bed is called a lectulus, and therefore can be understood simultaneously as a nuptial bed, as a dining couch (with Holofernes’ body likened to the display of meat in a butcher’s shop), and as a bier?

I have addressed this argument in my essay and found it an interesting one to consider.

Your note registering Artemisia’s adoption of a more theatrical but also more sophisticated visual language, demonstrated in decorative and elaborate details relating to lavish costume and jewellery, was good.

Try to say a bit more about the way in which the lives and legends of exemplary individuals like Judith were highly popular at the time with artists and patrons alike. (The very idea of a female of exceptional strength and daring appealed to a seventeenth-century taste for the marvelous.) Think about how Judith also played a significant role within Counter-Reformation Catholicism, in terms of her association with the Virgin Mary and the battle against religious heresy.

I have taken these comments on board and adjusted my essay accordingly.

You briefly considered Artemisia’s paintings in relation to conflicting theories and compulsively biographic or psychoanalytical readings such as Garrard’s speculation that Artemisia’s art externalizes her need to revenge her brutal treatment by Tassi and all men. (Ref. painting as an act of emotional catharsis/means of carrying out psychic vengeance, in an equation described by Garrard as “both biblical and Freudian, linking decapitation and castration – the just punishment for rape in an eye-for-an-eye tradition”.)

However, you need to evaluate this line of reasoning. Read and reflect on Salomon’s statement (in The Art Historical Canon: Sins of Omission): “Whereas Vasari used the device of biography to individualise and mythify the works of artistic men, the same device has a profoundly different effect when applied to women. The details of a man’s biography are conveyed as the measure of the ‘universal’, applicable to all mankind; in the male genius, they are simply heightened and intensified. In contrast, the details of a woman’s biography are used to underscore the idea that she is an exception; they apply only to make her an interesting case. Her art is reduced to a visual record of her personal and psychological makeup.”

I have evaluated the above reasoning and addressed it directly in my essay.

See also Pollock’s criticism of Garrard’s model – she says that “For my money Gentileschi’s painting of Judith and Holofernes has nothing to do with her life experience… What is being so calculatedly decapitated here is the art of these artistic ‘fathers’…” (I.e. To what extent do you think Judith Slaying Holofernes provided a means for Artemisia to structure her desire for a certain kind of artistic identity?)

Pollock also poses some important questions, such as ‘How do I know that what I take to be the signs of a woman artist’s consciousness at work are not merely the imposition of culturally stereotyped ideas of social femininity that have shaped me, that define ‘woman’ in my own time and culture, in my own class and ethnic background?’ (I.e. we need to be conscious of what we are looking for and what we see in the work of women artists.)

I was unable to find Pollock’s criticism on Garrard’s model and also his questions but I have still been able to address his comments in my essay in an appropriate way.

Go over your conclusion again. The conclusion is where you pull together and restate the main points of your essay in order to make some overall statement in response to the question/title. Checklist: What general inferences can you draw from your argument (i.e. conclude, do not just summarise)? Where do you stand in relation to your case? To round off, can you very briefly place your response in a wider context?

I have changed my conclusion completely and feel I have responded to my title and pulled my arguments together with a definitive answer.   

Learning Logs or Blogs

It was good to see you include on your blog more notes on useful programmes and newspaper articles that you have consulted, and your gallery reviews and visit write-ups show how your understanding of the subject and related issues has developed.

As your remarks revealed, despite finding aspects of the material challenging, you have experienced the study of art as an enjoyable and rewarding activity, and have found the course useful. You have increased your appreciation for the process of making and displaying art and by recording your progress against the assessment criteria you have maintained a more reflective stance.

In terms of showing how you have become more of an active and aware learner, you might like to respond to some of the following questions: Which aspects of your work on this course did you think were most successful? How have you used and evolved your critical thinking skills? Do you think you are more confident in discussing aesthetics/using visual language? How would you judge your fluency in new ways of thinking, working, reasoning, and investigating? How difficult was it to use different techniques/approaches in your studies?


Suggested reading/viewing

Arnason, H.H. & Mansfield, E. C. (2012) History of Modern Art. 7th edition. New York: Pearson

Danchev, A. (2012) Georges Braque: A Life. New York: Arcade Publishing

Stiles, K. & Selz, P. (2012) Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artists’ Writings. 2 nd edition. Berkeley: University of California Press

Pointers for the next assignment

N/A. I hope that everything goes smoothly in the preparation and submission of your work for formal assessment. (Carefully read through the guidelines.)

The main points to think about include:

 Reviewing and reworking material prior to assessment: Check that all your annotations are as detailed as possible and that your projects are appropriately illustrated. As previously discussed, if you are making substantial changes/amendments in light of tutor feedback, briefly acknowledge that some revision has taken place. (Do not duplicate material.)

 Presenting your work to best advantage: Assessors will be looking for evidence that you have engaged with professional standards not only in the production of your work but also in the presentation of it. Include a clear contents list, label every piece of work (include your name and student number) and state which assignment it relates to. Record word counts and use the Harvard Referencing system. Ensure that your blog is carefully organised (e.g. into categories – visits, reviews, essays, reflections, reading notes etc).

I wish you luck in your future studies and do hope you continue to enjoy Art History.

I have taken a comprehensive note of all of this feedback and amended my blogs accordingly throughout as well as checking as thoroughly as possible of all my blogs for all the points and advice my tutor has mentioned.  

There is no question of the fact my love of Art History will continue long after this course has been assessed and will form a vital part of my studies in the future.

Posted in Tutor Reports | Leave a comment

Question asked in Tutor report for Assignment 5 – “How have twentieth-century photographers balanced the camera’s capacity for documentation with its aesthetic possibilities in order to convey a variety of social and cultural messages?”

This is a question that was posed by my tutor in my feedback to Assignment 5 and feel this deserved a separate blog.

My tutor advised me to look at the Getty video on Dorothy Lange’s photographs and also her image Migrant Mother and I was considering doing a separate blog comparing her work of the Great Depression with my own brother’s portraits of the homeless in his adopted town of Frederick, Maryland, USA and also making reference to  Shine Gonzalvez’s work regarding the homeless in the UK.

Dorothy Lange was a photographer during the Great Depression and photographed the migrant workers of the era as well as those who had lost jobs and her photographs are a remarkable window into the past and this is particularly so with her iconic image of the migrant mother.  By capturing the images of the Great Depression in American Dorothy Lange documented the suffering of the era in a similar way to which the Romantic artists portrayed the suffering of people in their reportage of events or the Realist artists painted scenes or reality of life which were not always pleasant.

My brother Andrew has photographed many of the homeless people of his community to raise awareness that these people are not just bunches of rags or blankets but real human beings with stories to tell of why they have ended up homeless in a similar way to how Shine Gonzalvez has with her images  – both of these photographers in two different countries are carrying on the work of the documentary photographers of the Great Depression and all those in the intervening years as they photograph the images that are not all pretty and pleasant and palatable but those that are far tougher to see.

If I think of the question regarding aesthetic possibilities in order to convey the social and cultural messages and I look at the work of Dorothy Lange or indeed the work of these two modern photographers I must consider that these are not the aforesaid pretty images but these are hard and at times brutal thought provoking images which no matter how much you want to look away effectively force you to look.  The iconic image of Migrant Mother with her two children looking away from the camera is one that conveys a direct message of despair and worry for the future and  although you want this woman to have hope you see none in her face or eyes – there is nothing beautiful about it but there is a cultural message about the era.

I note that Andrew and Shine have both taken photographs of the homeless in black and white rather than colour and I must presume this is because somehow in colour you loose some of the message you are trying to convey – the black and white allows the features of the face and the eyes of the person to tell their story to the viewer without the distraction of colour or the aesthetic qualities.

So to answer the question fully “how have the twentieth-century photographers balanced the camera’s capacity for documentation with its aesthetic possibilities …. etc” is to say I feel they have the camera’s capacity to document life as they see it, or as life indeed is, no matter how harsh and taken out the aesthetic possibilities in how they have composed the images – anything beautiful that can detract is removed.  Andrew and Shine have the option of many different Photoshop programs or filters at their disposal but Dorothy had essentially dark rooms and cameras that were incredibly basic in comparison to those of the modern era and so she had to consider the light, the composition and the specifics of what mood she wanted to capture or evoke with her photographs were seen by the public.

My last paragraph brings me on to the final question my tutor asks – “Consider how the meaning of a photograph is constructed, and how meaning might change through time or in a particular context.  What is the value of documentary  photography” …

A photograph is constructed and composed often with a specific meaning that the photographer wishes to convey – Dorothy wanted to convey what the Great Depression meant in reality to so many in the same way Shine or Andrew want to get across the message of the lives of the homeless or displaced on the streets today.  A photograph can be effectively composed in a studio or on a stage or it can be taken in a split moment in time which is often what Dorothy did according to the video when she asked for the car which she was a passenger in  to be stopped so she could document another scene or person.  Photographs do change over time with regards to meaning or if you take the context away and there is no question of that – the Migrant mother could be any mother on any of the intervening years since that image was taken, with only the clothing giving the era away, and a viewer could question whether it was taken in France, Germany, England or the USA amongst others and so the context of the Great Depression becomes meaningless as a viewer may just consider it be a mother in despair for a multitude of reasons including perhaps World War II.  That one photograph demonstrates this change of meaning in time or context more  perfectly than any other that I have seen.  Everyone has photographs of their families which at the time portrayed happy scenes but due to arguments or divorce no longer mean the same or hold the same values and this is the same with documentary photography – the emotions or atmosphere or cultural messages that the photographer wanted to evoke will change with time and as the era is seen in an entirely different context.

Often many people will look back on the Great Depression almost through ‘rose coloured spectacles’ in the same way many people romanticize the Wild West when in fact life was tough, it was harsh and it was unrelenting and perhaps that is what ultimately makes the Migrant Mother so iconic because it was all of those and so much more.  Documentary photography captures events and lives in sometimes brutal reality often in very short spaces of time as they capture an image – a painter will view a scene in a very different way to a photographer because the painter spends time noting and sketching if the work is then completed in a studio or spend considerable more time painting a scene as they see it if they work en plein air.  Documentary photographers are now considered a vital part of life with the images they capture and their value cannot be underestimated when you consider the work of people like Dorothy Lange or the photographers of World War I and II as well as the modern day – they capture life around us and the events that make history whether pleasant and aesthetically pleasing or brutal and harsh or anything in between.

Finally as I think of the comparison between Dorothy Langem Andrew and Shine I do not think of the differences but the similarities in the fact they use the camera not to capture purely pleasant images, although I am fully aware of my brother’s outstanding landscape images which he takes more for his own pleasure, but they take photographs of people who are the hidden of society or the downcast or downtrodden and who lives are tough and despairing.  Dorothy Lange used her skills to get the message across the world that the Great Depression was just that – depressing and tough and her images still get that message across with no romanticism.


A&E Television Networks, LLC (2017).  Dorothy Lange Photographer (1895-1965) [online].  [Date Accessed:  January 2017].  Available from:

Gonzalvez, S.  (date unknown).  Shine Gonzalvez Photography [online].  [Date Accessed:  January 2017].  Available from:

J. Paul Getty Trust. (date unknown).  Dorothy Lange’s Documentary Photographs [online].  [Date Accessed:  January 2017].  Available from:’s-documentary-photographs/

Natural Artistry Photography.  (date unknown)  Personal Projects [online].  [Date Accessed:  January 2017].  Available from:

Stein, S. (date unknown).  Passing Likeness Dorothy Lange’s Migrant Mother and the Paradox of Iconicity [online].  [Date Accessed:  January 2017].  Available from:

Posted in Coursework, Notes, Part 5, Research & Reflection | 1 Comment

Comparison between annotations of the Discobolus of Myron and Boxer at Rest

This is a very late edition to my learning log as I have realised that I did not take note of my tutor’s advice in doing this comparison so have decided to rectify that mistake.

img_4450My two annotations for Part 2 of this course are two sculptures who both originated in ancient Greece.  Discobolus is thought to date to 460-440 BC and the Boxer at Rest (Terme Boxer) between 4th century and 2nd century BC – the exact date for this sculpture is still debated.

Please note my image  reproduced here is a photograph of my annotation as my original photograph I took at the Ashmolean Museum of this cast has unfortunately corrupted on my camera card.


Both sculptures are thought to have been done by the lost wax technique and the evidence for this is apparent particularly regarding the Terme Boxer due to the fact he is totally hollow as can be seen through his eye sockets which would have originally had either semi-precious or precious stones inserted.

Myron’s original Discobolus  disappeared during Roman times but not before many copies were made and there are two notable marble copies that survive and the first of which is the 1st century AD marble Discobolus Palombara which was discovered at the Villa Palombara, Esquiline property of the Massimi family.  This version was excavated in 1781 and originally housed at the Palazzo Lancelotti, hence its alternative name the Lancelotti Discobolus, but eventually it was sold to Hitler in 1938 before being eventually returned to the National Museum of Rome in 1948.  The other version of Myron’s sculpture is also a marble copy and is thought to be  2nd century and known as the Townley Discobolus, excavated 1781 at Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli and named after the eventual purchaser who was one Charles Townley – a point of note is this statue was originally discovered minus his head and the head of another statue discovered nearby. My point with mentioning these marble copies is precisely that – they are marble and the reason for their survival no doubt rests on their material because bronze was often melted down and re-used and this in turn makes the Terme Boxer so remarkable as it is an original bronze sculpture from the 4th – 2nd century BC.

What is interesting to note is that the Terme Boxer was discovered on the Quirinal Hill, near the ancient Baths of Constantine in Rome in 1885 and it is thought that he was intentionally buried there to preserve him from the invading barbarians as the Roman Empire collapsed between the 4th and 6th centuries.  The maker of this sculpture is unknown which compares with knowing of  Myron of Eleutherae the maker of Discobolus.  Myron was said by Pliny to have sculpted the first naturalistic figures and he was also known to have mastered the portrayal of movement and harmony.  However little is known about Myron himself except for what is written by writers, such as Pliny, in the 1st century.

The obvious comparison between the two sculptures is the pose – the Terme Boxer is seated looking at his adversary whilst the Discobolus is an example of the Greek concept of rhythmos which is limbs being  balanced against one another whist encapsulating equilibrium as he literally caught between two movements.

The Terme Boxer is seated at rest on a new plinth and is slightly larger than life sized and clearly a man who has fought many fights  – the sculptor has inlaid copper on his face and torso to give the impression of blood and he also has a cauliflower ear and bruising to his cheek as well as a broken nose.   The boxer wears highly detailed caestus – Roman style boxing gloves consisting of leather strips attached to a ring and wound around the knuckled and fitted with wooden padding which tell of the fact that he must have been a sportsman of some repute due to the simple fact these are the ancient equivalent of knuckledusters and could subsequently be deadly.   He is also a man of considerable muscularity  and fitness and despite his battered appearance he has the air of a fighter albeit one of maturity as is shown by his hair and well kept beard.

In comparison there is the slighter and leaner body of the athlete caught in the middle of pulling back his arm and twisting his body to throw the discus.  The cast incidentally combines a headless statue discovered at Hadrian’s villa with a head of a statue apparently discovered near Rome but the Ashmolean Museum does not make direct reference to whether this is a copy of the Townley Discobolus although it would be reasonable to assume it is.   Myron has carefully incised the lines of the abdomen and groin which results in clear definition of the abdominal muscles which in turn combined with the definition on the hips and chest give the sculpture such a naturalistic appearance.  The athlete is also perfectly proportioned (symmetria) but there is an element of the figure being idealised in the fact the expression on his face is considered too calm and relaxed for what he is doing but I personally consider his face to be concentrating and feel he has a focus on the task in hand.  There is no question of the feeling of anticipation for the movement to continue indicated by the position of his arms and the twisting of his body – his upper body is open and in the midst of the movement whilst his lower body is closed and angular.

Both sculptures are naturalistic and realistic anatomically although somewhat idealised in the pursuit of the portrayal of perfection despite the fact that the boxer is so battered from his fight in appearance.  Myron lead the way in sculpting naturalistic figures and it would be a reasonable assumption to say that this eventually resulted in the almost startlingly realistic Terme Boxer.  There is a question of why the boxer was made – was he made for a patron or as a votive statue dedicated by a boxer at Olympia, was he a singular statue or as part of a group or was he simply just a genre statue or maybe even as a memorial to a boxer of repute.  Unlike Discobolus who was designed to be seen only from the sides on a single plane from the sides, the boxer can be seen from all angles so I personally question where was the boxer was originally displayed.  I also have the same questions for Discobolus – was this part of a group or was it made for a patron and if it was meant to be viewed from a single plane was it displayed on a plinth or perhaps in an alcove at an arena similar to the Colosseum or in a public forum but this is purely conjecture and  the answers for both sculptures are lost in the midst of time.

To summarise I chose two apparently different sculptures with one static looking up at potentially his adversary after a fight and the other caught in a moment between two movements whilst giving a real feeling of movement but the sculptures have distinct similarities in their potential technique and their naturalistic portrayals of a fighter and an athlete. Discobolus is the earlier sculpture by possibly up to 200+ years, or potentially less than 100,  and despite the attention to detail it is clear techniques progressed to produce the astonishing realism of the Terme Boxer including the aforementioned copper inlay in the wounds to give an impression of blood.

I would hope to visit the British Museum in the future to see the Townley Discobolus and likewise I would love to also visit the National Museum of Rome to see the Terme Boxer in person.


Ashmolean Museum. (date unknown).  Focus on Greek Sculpture Notes for Secondary School Teachers [online].  [Date Accessed:  January 2017].  Available from:

British Museum.  (date unknown).  The Townley Discobolus [online].  [Date Accessed:  January 2017].  Available from:

Butler, S. 2012.  The Discobolus [online]. [Date Accessed:  January 2017].  Available from:

Encyclopedia of Sculpture. (date unknown).  Myron (active 480-440 BCE) [online]. [Date Accessed:  January 2017].  Available from:

Mcdowall, C. 2013.  Ancient Bronze Masterpiece at the Met NY – A Boxer at Rest [online].  [Date Accessed:  January 2017].  Available from:

Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2000-2017.  The Boxer:  An Ancient Masterpiece Comes to the Met [online].  [Date Accessed:  January 2017].  Available from:


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