Two Works of Art From a Museum Thesis

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Botticelli's Madonna and Child with an Angel

Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi, who is far better known as Sandro Botticelli, painted a large number of renditions of the Madonna and Child, many of them with angels appearing in the scene as well. It is not known exactly when the particular piece hanging in the Bob Jones University Museum as part of the Italian Renaissance collection was painted, but it is believed that it was painted sometime around 1490 during the political and religious upheaval caused by Dominican proselytizer Savonarola. The work was done in tempera paint on a small wooden panel, a typical form of the period, in the classic Early Renaissance style. More specifically, Botticelli was a member of the Florentine school and part of what was later termed the "golden age" of painting. The Early Renaissance style, exemplified by Botticelli in this work and in others, was typified by the simplistic yet elegant use of line in ways that are not only define the subjects and limits of a painting, but even border on the symbolic in their grace.

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In the painting, the Madonna figure is holding the Child in a manner that suggests he is standing, or at least pushing up with his legs. Her head is bent downwards towards his, pressing her cheek upon him. His head is also turned up to complete this gesture of mother-child affection. His hands are also reaching up, with one just barely visible coming around the nape of her neck and the hand in the foreground lying on the hair at her throat. She is cradling the Child with one hand coming around to hold his hip, and the other propping him up against his lower chest. Trapped between her hands and the body of the Child is the long piece of fabric that looks something like a shawl over the Madonna's head before draping down and around the Child. In the background, an Angel is holding a book -- almost certainly a Bible -- and appears to be reading aloud from the scripture while marking its place with its finger.

TOPIC: Thesis on Two Works of Art From a Museum Assignment

The painting's border is circular, giving an unusually restricted frame to the image, which is almost completely taken up by the dark-blue clad figure of the Madonna. Her left hand, placed in the foreground on the Child's chest, is at the direct center of the painting, which is almost certainly no accident. This suggests that the underlying message of the work is not something that is limited to religion, but rather extends to each and every human life -- the bond between a mother and child. Everything else in the painting radiates out from this central image; even the Child's arms reaching out about the Madonna's neck -- that is, the love he is showing for her -- becomes secondary to the protective caress she bestows upon him.

Special attention is also given to the angel in a way that seems to throw the painting off balance, especially given the circular frame. The side of the painting on the viewer's right is dominated by the Madonna's robe and the gray pillar or wall of the background -- basically, the colors here are muted and subdued. The other side, however, contains a light blue sky and the white-clad angel, as well as the white of the pages of the Bible. This brightness calls attention to this side of the painting, drawing the viewer's eye to the angel and Bible despite the fact that they are in the background. This is also the side that the Child appears on, and his pale flesh matches the brightness on the left of the painting. This provides a second yet also very significant underlying meaning to the painting. Though the mother-child bond is made central by the painting's composition, the Child and the Scriptures are the elements that contain the most light in the painting.

The style of Madonna and Child with an Angel is deceptively simplistic. The mostly vertical lines are long and clearly defined, with minimal curvature. It also appears as though anatomical details were not a major consideration; the arm of the Child that disappears around the Madonna's neck is impossibly long, and there are other anatomical details that are somewhat out of proportion. The style clearly emphasizes meaning over form, and there is a subtle use of iconography in the softly brushed halos visible in small circles around each of the heads of the three figures. The way these lightened circles intersect further distorts and obscures them, making one wonder if they might not have been purposeful. Given Botticelli's attention to detail, however, this is unlikely. Just as the composition seems to split meaning, the subtlety used in the iconography seems to suggest the importance of divinity and holiness while at the same time placing these elements somewhat in the background. The lighting in the piece emphasizes the already noted difference in color and tone, casting extra light on the angel and Child while the Madonna figure was cast in shadows. This increases the juxtaposition of the painting's images and meanings by de-emphasizing the otherwise prominent Madonna.

The overall impression one gets from this painting is that of a clam and almost motionless scene of contrasting colors and tones. Whether Botticelli meant to emphasize the maternal relationship depicted most obviously by the images in the painting or if the redemptive values of the Child and the Scriptures are meant to be the true meaning of the work will never be known with any certainty. All of these elements contribute to both the visual and intellectual perspectives on the painting.

De Champaigne's The Christ of Derision

The oil on canvas depiction of Christ already wearing his crown of thorns painted by Phillippe de Champaigne in 1655 s a prime example of the artist's French Baroque style that still shows hints of his Flemish origins. The richness and contrast of the colors in the painting are the primary details typical to Flemish painting that appear in this work, and the mixture of these with the incredible details and realism of the Baroque period make for a painting that shows immense craft and vibrancy. The Christ of Derision portrays Christ seated on a stone outside, with a building and pillar visible in the immediate background and other building barely visible slightly further behind, perhaps across as street or public square. This is a portrayal of Jesus shortly before his Crucifixion,, and the crown of thons has already been set upon his head. This makes the setting almost certainly Jerusalem, and though there are no other figures visible in the painting it is equally certain that Christ is under guard at this time, awaiting his fate.

Christ's seat on the carved stone hardly seems to diminish his height; despite his downcast eyes his head, shoulders, and torso are all erect -- this is clearly a Christ who is saddened but not at all defeated. In addition to the crown of thorns, Christ is wearing the robe of mockery and carrying the reed as a marker of the same condition as described in the gospels. His other hand holds the whip of flagellation, and a small patch of his forehead and robes are already stained with his blood. There are also some incredibly fine drops of blood staining the stone floor at his feet. There is no action to the painting, but instead a meditative pallor is cast over the work. This is mirrored in the expression of Christ as he sits among the instruments of his torture.

The underlying meaning of the work is impossible to nail down with any certainty. Certainly, the viewer is meant to reflect on the pain and humiliation which Christ endured despite the full knowledge of everything he is to go through. His possession in the painting of the objects of his torture and humiliation increases the sense of Christ's agency that one sees in this painting. In this way, rather than emphasizing the pain or the humiliation themselves, de Champaigne is emphasizing the foreknowledge and acceptance that Christ bears in relation to these more negative elements. At the same time, Christ's expression and downcast eyes forces reflection on the conditions that made such sacrifice on his part necessary. That is, the painting reminds the viewer that it was human suspicion and cruelty that led to Christ's suffering, and in fact that his suffering was carried out in spite of these shortcomings on the part of humanity. Knowing full well what he would have to endure at the hands of the people he was protecting and saving, de Champaigne depicts Christ at the moment of what might be his truest agony, when he is reflecting on the dual necessity and immediate futility of his actions.

The style of the work is mainly French Baroque, though de Champaigne's birth and early training in Brussels continues to show an influence even in The Christ of Derision, one of his later works.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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