Friday, October 11, 2013

The Spanish Retable

Portico Altar of St. Gregory the Great, St. Peter's Basilica, Rome, Italy
Retable, Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, Cuenca, Spain

The retable or "retablo" originates from the Latin word retrotabulum which translates to "behind the altar table". It's a framed altarpiece that is similar to an Italian Baroque portico altar, but with some major differences. The portico altar integrates decorative elements like sculpture, relief, and fresco into the backdrop of the altar to create an effect of a seemingly singular surface. On the other hand, the Spanish Baroque retables separate the frescos, sculptures, and reliefs into what appears to be a vertical grid or frame; it makes no attempt to dissolve the boundaries between each. And while the retable and altar serve as the main altar space, the portico altar that is a complementary worship area in a typical Italian Baroque church.

Retable, St. Mary's Cathedral of Astorga, Leon, Spain

The impressiveness of the retable has to do with the size. Characteristically, it is much higher than it is broad which accentuates its height. The piece sits on the ground and extends to the vault above drawing your attention from the bottom-up; the Brobdingnagian size combined with the heavy decoration overwhelm the viewer when it is first seen. The structure is constructed from wood or stone Various professions were employed to create the retable including painters, sculptors, polychromers (someone who practices the decorating of architectural elements, sculpture, etc. in a variety of colors), and guilders.

Paintings done in tempera on the retable, St. Peter's church, Girona, Spain

The paintings are done in tempera are situated under carved and gilded canopies that add depth to the structure. The art depicts the life of a saint or perhaps the stories of Jesus. In all paintings, the figure dominates leaving the backdrop and scenery secondary to the actual objects. The brightly painted colors contrast with the heavy gold setting found throughout the retable. 

Baroque and Rococo Art and Architecture / Robert Neuman

The Palazzo Interior

Colonna Gallery, Palazzo Colonna, Rome, 1661-1701, Antonio del Grande and Johann Paul

A palazzo interior has no specific kit of parts; the space depends on various factors having to do with the owner and what functions the space is to perform. One common trait between various interiors is related to the furnishings; during this period, the ability for furniture to be mobile was essential in being able to convert multiple household functions. The ceiling seemed to be the only fixed element in a room. Its coffered wooden frame would be adorned with bright frescos or with some other decorative element.

Wall coverings were popular among the wealthy. Heavy tapestries helped to retain heat during the winter months and were switched out for a lighter material, normally silk, during the summer. Along with the frescos that might have covered the ceilings and frieze, tapestries helped to tell a story of the elite's ancestors. The wealthy further distinguished themselves from the middle class by adding more decor to the walls, mainly consisting of art collections. The most prominent paintings were posted where all could see so as to further project an image of high social rank.

console table

Furnishings within a palazzo were equally as impressive. Chair, table, and cabinet design were ambitious in composition as much as material and cost. Unlike furniture from other periods which employed the work of carpenters and joiners, the furnishing for palazzos were commissioned to famous sculptors like Bernini, Cortona, and Schor. Console tables were extremely popular and unusual for this era; although it shows classic elements of the Baroque style within it design, the table itself was too heavy to actually move like other furnishings at the time. Because the console table is normally set against a wall, the front portion of the table is highly decorative but the back portion is left stark if it is not shown. The rooms were lit with candelabras and ornate chandeliers.

Baku, Azerbaijan from the New York Times

Baku, Azerbaijan

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel or the Cappella Sistina is a chapel of the Apostolic Palace. It was commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV in 1475, hence, it being named after him. It was designed with the purposed of being the chapel of the pope and to this date, is still where papal elections occur. The walls are decorated with frescoes by Botticelli, Ghirlandaio and Perugino, to name a few of the painters. The frescoes took 11 months to complete.

The fame of the Sistine chapel comes mainly from the ceiling painted by Michelangelo which was originally painted by Piero Matteo d'Amelia. This commission came to him in 1508 from Pope Julius II della Rovere. He was called away from his work on the pope's tomb and didn't want to paint these frescoes. It wasn't completed until 1512.

He was called back, again unwillingly, by Pope Clement VII to paint The Last Judgement on the Altar Wall.


The Dome of San Lorenzo

Architect: Guarino Guarini
Construction: 1668-1687

At the time is was believed that the classical order was the basis of architecture. Guarino Guarini on the other hand believed that the dome was the most important part of architecture. Because of this Guarini placed a huge emphasis on the vault and the dome of San Larenzo. He achieved this through his use of color, the combination of classic and Gothic orders, and the illusion of infinity.

Everything in this church draws your eyes up. His use of light makes the rest of the church seem dark compared to the amount of windows that are placed in the dome. Oval windows are directly above the pendentives allowing light to flood in. Continuing upward there are smaller windows that occur where the rib vault creates spaces.

The dome is octagonal in shape and is supported by eight transverse ribs. The ribs intersect each other where the lantern rises up on top of the dome. Within the lantern you see the continuation of the rib vaults which gives the illusion that the dome continues through to heaven. This illusion can only be seen by one person at a time who is standing in the center of the dome, creating an almost mystical experience.

Rudolf Wittkower explained Guarini’s Domes as “More than structural freaks. They seem the result of a deep-routed urge to replace the consistent sphere of the ancient dome, the symbol of a finite dome of heaven, by the diaphanous dome with its mysterious suggestion of infinity…” (413).

Rudolf Wittkower. Art and Architecture in Italy 1600-1750. (The Pelican History of Art). Third Revised Edition, 1973