Posts Tagged ‘Kingdom of Ife’

Blackpaint 132

May 11, 2010

Kingdom of Ife

A few blogs ago (Blackpaint 123),  I was writing about the mixture of naturalistic and stylised features in the atrifacts  of this culture as if it were something unique.  it isn’t of course, and I realised this looking at the picture of Nebamun, a “reckoner of grain”, hunting fowl in the marshes, done on a tomb wall in Egypt around 1390BC (30.000 years of  art, Phaidon, page 113).  The hunter is in the typical Egyptian profile pose, one leg advanced, body turned towards the viewer, face side view; the animals, however, particularly a cat, are “Unfettered by the strict conventions that applied to representations of people” – and are portrayed in a more naturalistic way.  There are, no doubt, many other examples from other cultures.

Renaissance Drawings (cont.)

Leonardo, “An old man and young man in profile”; parallel and tonal shading.  Little sketches of his war machines, revolving sickles and circular tanks like little flying saucers.

More Leo – a very densely shaded little sketch, I think of St. Anne with the infant that became the cartoon.  Also, the man in profile with the bizarre winged hat, and that fantastic left leg done in red chalk. 

Sangallo (?) – a poet tearing up a scroll; like the Pollaiulo Adam, very dodgily proportioned arms and legs.  Maybe this is intentional stylisation  which appears “wrong” in the presence of all this virtuosity.

Piero Di Cosimo, St. Jerome in a rocky landscape, done in charcoal on 5 sheets of paper joined together,  it looks like a soft pencil drawing.  The label says the lion is in there, but I couldn’t find it.

In a side room, a sketch for Raphael’s “St.George” that I blogged about on St.George’s Day in Blackpaint 118.  Cross hatching and parallel shading, top left to bottom right.  Also a facsimile of the painting.

More Raphael – an “Entombment”, with cross hatching in the “Michelangelo” style.  Raphael’s male figures, although beautifully drawn, tend to be fleshier and smoother than those of Michelangelo and Leonardo; I wonder if he was less involved in dissecting bits of dead body that the others, who show great relish for delineating the exact dimensions and shape of muscle, bone and tendon.

Michelangelo – best in show, I think; a youth beckoning, with a fantastic back, cross hatching, and the legs and one arm “ghosted” in, fading away from the centre of the drawing;  Loads of big, fat babies their skin in folds, all cross hatched; two perfectly drawn legs upside down on page.  Most of Mick’s stuff is like real sketching in a modern book, jostling for room on a page or intersecting with other drawings.

Carpaccio – lovely effects on blue paper with lead white.

Botticelli – a “Pallas” with two adjacent heads and three eyes, one shared by both heads!

Fra Bartolomeo, Virgin and Child, showing distinct Leonardo influence.

Del Verocchio, Leo’s master – several beautiful, demure heads or women and angel, one of which is the poster girl for the exhibition.

Lorenzo Monaco, whose sketches look decidedly modern, but in painting become those archaic saints  with the dark faces and spade – shaped beards.

Finally (for me, anyway, because I went the wrong way round), that beautiful pair of cheetahs or leopards done by “a follower of De Grassi”. 

Generally then, some very great drawings – I’ll be going again, so will not spoil this with any of my usual cynicism.  To my mind, the exhibition serves to underline the supremacy of L and M; but plenty more of interest too.

Head of St.Anonymous by Blackpaint



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.