Posts Tagged ‘Elephantiasis of the testicles’

Blackpaint 123

April 29, 2010

Kingdom of Ife

At the British Museum.  Very fine brass and copper and terracotta heads and sculpture, in some cases comparable to the best of Renaissance sculpture and portraiture (similar dates  too), involving great skill, especially with copper.  They are all different in features, and were surely modelled from life.  Some photographs showing collections of  these heads, resting on rough brick platforms, look like severed heads after the guillotine.  Many are heads of chiefs, or gods, or chiefs who were deified; there are also very finely detailed whole body sculptures, for instance, of a hunter with his weapons, and a damaged one of a man seated on the ground.

This one was interesting, in that it was sculpted in a naturalistic way  “throughout”; that is to say, the torso, arms, legs and feet were lifelike, the ends of the toes sweeping back diagonally, rather that squared off as in the hunter for example.  Clearly, the Ife artists were capable  of naturalism.

So the Ife sculptures in some cases pursue both naturalism and stylisation simultaneously; naturalistic head on stylised body, legs and feet (legs are cylindrical columns, feet are thick, flat squared-off slabs – the sort of stylisation copied by Leger, Picasso etc.).  Why?  Why not the whole-body naturalism of the Italian Renaissance?

The book of the exhibition notes the simultaneous naturalism and “abstraction” and offers some ideas based on the notion of an “outer” and “inner head” – the latter (abstraction) being a sort of representation of the soul, for  want of a better word.  but  this does not answer the question of the body and limbs.

Presumably the answer has something to do with the importance of the individual in Renaissance Europe (or in ancient Greece and Rome, since the Renaissance artists were following them), anatomical curiosity, etc.; or perhaps it’s to do with the function of the sculptures; ritual, maybe.  It certainly doesn’t seem to be a matter of technical ability.

There are also depictions of some physical diseases and deformities, the most grotesque of which is a case of elephantiasis of the testicles – what was the function of these depictions?  Other questions that occurred to me were whether there were “professional” and “amateur” sculptors in Ife society and whether the artist performed all the stages in production or was there a visit to tradesman who did the technical job of producing the sculpture (by the “lost wax” method).  Maybe these questions were answered in the book.  The exhibition really ought to be seen in combination with the Renaissance drawings – for some reason, you can’t buy a combined ticket to both.

Christen Kobke

Exhibition at National Gallery of this 19th century artist from Copenhagen; his father was Master Baker (say it carefully) at Charlottenburg, castle/fortress in the city.  Beautifully executed, but rather boring pictures of castle and its environs, bridges, cottages etc., mostly bathed in a restful, golden early evening light.  Lots of red brick too.

However, he also did portraits and there are some fine smaller ones, mostly of family members, that are full of character and have a matte finish.  There are two that are particularly good; his sister in law, with her direct gaze and serious expression and another of a doctor.  Not so good are the larger portraits, which are more highly finished; as a result, he loses the matte quality and the immediacy, somehow – the skin is shiny on the big ones.

There is one large canvas done from the roof of the castle with the lowest “base line” I’ve seen in a landscape – consequently, its about seven eighths sky!  Well worth a look.

One of my heads – St. Agatha.