Conceive of a Work of Art Term Paper

Pages: 6 (2021 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Art  (general)

Art Conception: Early Renaissance

Imagine a statue of Pallas Athena, the ancient goddess of wisdom and the protector of the city of Athens being born, as was alleged, from the skull of her father Zeus, or Jove (as the ancient Romans preferred to call the King of the gods). According to legend, Zeus feared that the daughter of one of his consorts named Metis would be more intelligent than he was, so he swallowed the pregnant woman. But Athena, or Minerva, was born from the skull of her father, after the god suffered a colossal headache. Hepatus, her half-brother, freed her from Zeus' skull with an anvil. Thus Athena or Minerva as she was called by the Romans was born.

In the statue, Athena would emerge, naked and beautiful from the large skull of Zeus. She would be wearing a helmet as she is often portrayed as donning in ancient Classical sculpture. What more fitting an image for the city of Florence during the Early Renaissance! The image would signal the birth of something new, embody the wisdom of the city, pay tribute to the small, yet militarily fierce power, and also show how the city was supplanting the role of ancient Athens in its glory.

What we think of as the Early Italian Renaissance was really the flourishing of Florence as the capital of Italy's cultural and political revolution. The Renaissance was a time when humanism as an ideology was on the rise, rather than the guilt and intense self-consciousness of the Middle Ages. This did not mean, however, that the Catholic Church was in decline. After a century of dueling Popes, once again a single Pope reigned, and Papal bankers had established themselves in Florence. But even more importantly the Medici "the pre-eminent family of Florence spent astronomical sums of money on architects and artists, who built and decorated Florence to the total delight of all who lived there and ruled from behind the throne" filled the role of patron in the ancient city (Essak, 2007, p.1).

During the early Renaissance, greater toleration was shown to classical subjects even by religious authorities -- and once again, the human unclothed body could be revealed to the world and glorified. Existing foundational images from this period fuse the renewed interest in the Classical era of Greece and Rome, Italy's earlier glory with a celebration of the human form and goodness of God's created world. This is seen in works like Botticelli's painting "The Birth of Venus" which features the proud, naked glory of the goddess of love coming from the Italian sea, fully formed. "Humanists had the revolutionary notion that humans, purportedly created in the image of the Judeo-Christian God, had been given the ability for rational thought to some meaningful end" and purpose (Essak 2007, p.1).

For the first time as well, portraits of living human beings were acceptable, and even landscapes were shown in art, indicating the importance of the present moment as well as the Biblical past (Essak, 2007, p. 2). But Renaissance artists did not merely seek to portray nature; they also strove to uplift the everyday world, to "go beyond straightforward transcription of nature, to instill the work of art with ideal, intangible qualities, endowing it with a beauty and significance greater and more permanent than that actually found in nature. These characteristics -- the rendering of ideal forms rather than literal appearance and the concept of the physical world as the vehicle or imperfect embodiment of monumental spiritual beauty -- were to remain fundamental to the nature and development of Italian Renaissance art" (Pioch, 2002). In other words, although the Athena of the sculpture should be beautiful, she would be an idealized representation of a woman, and an idealized physical form of the idea of wisdom in general. She would be both the Platonic form of the city, femininity, and wisdom.

Of this new, envisioned artwork of Athena coming from the forehead of Jove in sculpture, a member of the Medici clan would be its undoubted patron -- who else would have the money or influence during this period? Clearly, the human form must be the focus of the proposed work, but in such a way as would glorify the Medici -- perhaps this new Athena or Minerva would look like the wife of one of the leaders of the clan, like Cosimo de Medici's wife, if that would not be considered too much of a disrespectful affront as Minerva or wisdom was being born from the head of power (PBS.com, "Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance." 2007). A more modest connection might be drawn by making wisdom's father, the face of Jove, resemble Cosimo, showing how his wisdom was giving birth to Classical wisdom that would elevate the glory of the city. Jove was the father of the gods, just as Cosimo strove to be the father of Florence -- and also to lead Florence, and to be a de facto king, even though the city was technically a republic.

The commissioned work should be a sculpture that could be put on public view to demonstrate the great glory of its patrons, and to show what they had done for the city, yet also glorify the city of Florence. It could stand side-by-side Michelangelo's Biblical sculpture of "David" outside the city gates, also exhibiting the fusion between Classical and Biblical, how the city celebrated both its ancient as well as its Christian connections. One reason that "David" was such a popular symbol for Florence was that although Florence was one of the richest city states in Europe, it was also quite small in size and lacked many natural resources. Hence Michelangelo's decision to use the image of the shepherd boy in his work. "David, powerful in spirit and mind but not physically intimidating" symbolized the city's spirit for Florence was "the smallest major power on the political stage of Italy," thus "the city saw itself as a young David contending with such powerful Goliaths"("Masterworks," National Gallery, 2007).

Athena or Minerva would also be an image of a small power suddenly made large, embodying the glory of Man and God and the Medici family and the ascendancy of a new world order under the leadership of Florence. First of all, Athena, the goddess of wisdom, was the patron goddess of Athens, which was not the largest city-state in Greece, but was still one of the most intellectually and artistically important cities in the history of the world. Athens had an empire, but it was not a militaristic state like Sparta. It had also overcome powerful adversaries, like the Persian army, during its heyday. Of course, one might protest that Athens was not fitting representational analogy for Florence, given that Florence was a Roman city. But consider the fact that unlike Rome, Florence was not an empire during the early Renaissance. It did not preside over all of Italy; rather it perceived itself as fighting for survival against more powerful city-states like Athens.

Through guile, wit, wisdom, and manipulation the Medicis had dominated the city, but the position of Florence was by no means secure, despite its financial resources, at least it did not enjoy same level of security that Rome had during its Imperial period. Also, Athena was the patron goddess of Odysseus, a man known for his cleverness and his ability to outwit other people stronger than himself. The hero of Homer's "Odyssey" was not a moral man, like the Medicis, but he had a strong mind. The imposing presence and goodness of Michelangelo's David would counterweight some of the problematic moral ambiguity of a non-Biblical figure representing the city in a still Christian world.

The motivation for the commission would thus partially be to make an argument for the superiority of guile and the mind over brute force in the form of Florence, and also to covertly suggest that the Church was not the only powerful ideological force in the world. Like "David," the sculpture would be crafted from a block of the finest marble. Perhaps, however, there would be some gold, to show the powerful financial influence of the Medici banking fortune. As in the traditional rendition of the myth of Athena and Zeus, the ironsmith of the gods, uses an anvil to break open Zeus' skull, this tool of the getting of wisdom could be the lone, metallic gleam in the pure white stone, to show the importance of money in the getting of wisdom.

The primary goals of the patron Medicis would obviously be to justify their power. But for the artist, showing the glory of Athena's naked, beautiful form, and both paying homage to Classical representations of femininity yet taking them to a 'new level' would also be accomplished through the rendering of the art. The art would be complex and difficult, and a tribute to the artist's skill -- imagine the great head of the king of the Gods, the beautiful emerging form of Athena, naked yet respectfully… [END OF PREVIEW]

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