Thursday, April 12, 2018

Human Figure as Index of Scale

Vivant Denon
Block of granite engraved with hieroglyphics in Upper Egypt
ca. 1802
drawing (print study)
British Museum

Muirhead Bone
Porch of the Pantheon, Rome
etching, drypoint
British Museum

"To all these remarks should be added the belief of philosophers that if the sky, the stars, the seas, the mountains and all living creatures, together with all other objects, were, the gods willing, reduced to half their size, everything that we see would in no respect appear to be diminished from what it is now.  Large, small, long, short, high, low, wide, narrow, light, dark, bright, gloomy, and everything of the kind, which philosophers term accidents, because they may or may not be present in things – all these are such as to be known only by comparison.  Virgil says that Aeneas stands head and shoulders above other men, but if compared with Polyphemus, he will seem a pygmy.  They say that Euryalus was most beautiful, but if compared with Ganymede, who was carried off by the gods, he might appear to be ugly.  The Spaniards think many young maidens fair, whom the Germans would regard as swarthy and dark.  Ivory and silver are white, but compared to the swan or snow-white linen, they appear rather pale.  For this reason, surfaces will appear very clear and bright in painting when there is the same proportion of white to black in it as there is of light to shade in objects themselves.  All these things, then, are learned by comparison.  There is in comparison a power which enables us to recognize the presence of more or less or just the same.  So we call large what is bigger than this small thing, and very large what is bigger than the large, and bright what is lighter than this dark object, and very bright what is brighter than the light.  Comparison is made with things most immediately known.  As man is the best known of all things to man, perhaps Protagoras, in saying that man is the scale and measure of all things, meant that accidents in all things are duly compared to and known by the accidents of man.  All of which should persuade us that, however small you paint the objects in a painting, they will seem large or small according to the size of any man in the picture.  Of all the ancients, the painter Timanthes always seems to have observed this force of comparison best.  They say that he represented on a small panel a Cyclops asleep, and put in next to him some satyrs embracing his thumb, so that the sleeping figure appeared very large indeed in proportion to the satyrs."

– Leon Battista Albert, from De Pictura (On Painting), originally written in Latin in Florence in 1435, edited and translated by Cecil Grayson and published by Phaidon Press in 1972

attributed to Maarten van Heemskerck
Study of the Colosseum, Rome
ca. 1536
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Sir James Dunlop
Interior of the Colosseum (with standing figure)
ca. 1847-48
salt print
National Galleries of Scotland

Antonio Joli
Capriccio with elegant figures outside and within a classical palace
before 1777
oil on canvas
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Henri-Joseph Harpignies
Near Crémieu
oil on canvas
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

attributed to Gian Paolo Panini
Interior of St Peters, Rome with a view of the vestibule, looking west
before 1765
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

attributed to Gian Paolo Panini
Interior of St Peters, Rome with Bernini's Baldacchino
before 1765
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson
Road and Trees
ca. 1843-47
calotype print
National Galleries of Scotland

Herman van Swanevelt
Rest on the Flight into Egypt
before 1655
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Jacob van der Ulft
Italian landscape with classical buildings
before 1689
Teylers Museum, Haarlem

Charles-Louis Clérisseau
Roman ruins
ca. 1749-66
British Museum

Antonio Zucchi
Landscape with classical ruins, a woman and child, and two seated men
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Landscape with St John baptizing
ca. 1615-20
oil on canvas
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge