Unit 23 – Photographic Media, Techniques and Technology criteria P 1,2,4
Thinking more about our studio Portrait task and varying the previous darker images I have seen of monks in prayer, like below,
I have been considering doing something along the same lines as the Vanitas still life I am Planning. Why not try to have a common theme between the portrait and studio tasks and perhaps even the cruel and tender part.
I saw the image below at the National Gallery on a trip and was Intrigued by the pose more than anything else. The man reaching from the canvas seemingly mid speech or conversation, gesturing to an unseen audience yet looking lost in thought.
The artist Frans Hals was born in Antwerp around 1582. His family were forced to leave their home and flee to Haarlem during the siege of Antwerp by Spanish troops. Hals studied under the Mannerist painter, Karel van Mander. In 1609 he became a member of the city’s painter’s union and society, the Haarlem Guild of St Luke and began to earn a living by working for the town council as an art restorer.
Unlike his fellow artists of the time he demanded that his patrons came to him rather than for him to leave his family and travel the country to seek out patronage and make his fortune. Frans Hals died in Haarlem in 1666, aged 84 with very little to show financially for his artistic career. He had been penniless on many occasions and had often been taken to court by his creditors. Left destitute, the town council had little choice but to subsidise him for the last two years of his life.
This painting is entitled Young Man Holding a Skull (Vanitas) and was painted by Frans Hals between 1626 and 1628. On first sight I immediately thought of the scene from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet when Hamlet was seen holding the skull of Yorick in the graveyard of Elsinore.
For many play and theatre buffs this scene is a lasting favourite and remains one of the most memorable images of the melancholy Prince. The play was first performed in 1600 so maybe Hals based his painting on that very scene. But art historians cannot agree and many believe it is much more likely to be a Dutch Vanitas allegory.
Vanitas paintings feature an object (or objects) which symbolises our own mortality and the fact that life is short and reminds us of the transient nature of all our earthly pleasures and achievements.
The Vanitas paintings are meant as a warning and ask us, the viewers, to think about death . The inclusion of a skull in a painting was a typical motif of a Vanitas and Momento Mori painting.
However this is more than just a Vanitas painting. In front of us we have a boy holding a skull. His rosy cheeks, similar in colour to his lips, give him a youthful appearance. His right hand reaches towards us as he gestures. You can see how the artist has skillfully shortened his arm and hand in such a way that it seems to be bursting out of the canvas towards us. In his left hand is the skull, glowing in comparison to the darkness of the boy’s palm and clothes.
The light comes from the left hand side of the painting causing a dark shadow on one side of the boy’s face. This should be relatively easy to replicate with studio lighting using barn doors and snoot to highlight the skull against the slightly darker figure.
The painter was famous for his style. He worked quickly, often painting “wet on wet”. Wet-on-wet is a painting technique in which layers of wet paint are applied to previous layers of wet paint. This technique requires a fast way of working, because the art work has to be finished before the first layers have dried. This technique results in vibrant swirls of semi-blended colour. Van Gogh admired this technique and wrote:
….eyes, nose, mouth done with a single stroke of the brush without any retouching whatever,,,,, To paint in one rush, as much as possible in one rush…..I think a great lesson taught by the old Dutch masters is the following: to consider drawing and colour [as one]….”
This is an interesting portrait. There is a beautiful simplicity about it but let us not overlook the skill of the artist who has given us such a work of art which certainly gets you thinking about the circumstance behind the pose and the meaning behind the image.
Now I must look at how to light this and perhaps reimagine the scheme and pose yet take inspiration for a scene without being a direct copy of the original which, I think, would be impossibly hard to match the nuance and beauty of the original.
Daily art display