An adventure with Andrea Orcagna
By Joseph Parish
For this article entry I have decided to select Renaissance art for my topic of choice. These objects of art originated from the Renaissance period of history. This period of art is commonly recognized for its complex and ornate architectural patterns. Those paintings which have emerged from this time span were frequently commissioned by the church and as a result, customarily border upon religious topics. The influence of the church upon art at this period of time was exceptionally powerful and acceptance of one’s art by the church establishment was instrumental in securing success as an artist.
Although they may be rare and usually and not to predominant one can find some oils which have survived the many wars and crisis of the European nations over the centuries. It has been said that the Renaissance art acted as a transition point between the medieval and the modern art age and in some respects one can view this gradual movement through the techniques used and the novel artistic sensibilities found in the works. Perhaps these works of art may have been the inspiration for our modern styles.
Although Raphael would likely be my most admired artist within that time frame, I have selected a lesser known craftsman as a challenge. For this exercise I would like to discuss the Florentine painter Andrea Orcagna. Orcagna’s most notable contribution to the art field was his “Altarpiece of the Redeemer”. Completed in 1359, it has been credited with being his “most perfected” example of art.
However, I have chosen to analyze Orcagna’s fresco entitled “The Triumph of Death”. In these short pages I could never begin to report upon the complete fresco so I will use those portions which are frequently displayed in the usual college art textbook. In this view of his work we see several sick looking elders attempting to convince death to take them. Their sickness has caused them to despair and they wish only to end their suffering. I find this artwork to possess such elegant detail that it becomes difficult to take ones eyes off of the image.
The fresco “The Triumph of Death” centers upon the horrors associated with the great bubonic plague which killed a large number of people during the 1300s. An interesting thought concerning these types of art is that throughout Europe at the time you can encounter other artists who also explored the deaths associated with the plaque. Often on projects of this magnitude several artists would unit to complete a work of art together.
The usual procedure was that the master selected to perform the art work would complete the basic design labors, however he would than assign the actual painting tasks to apprentices for the final completion. It has been aptly stated that this was the case in Orcagna’s “Triumph of Death”. In either case, whether he completed the final product or case worked it out it is definitely a work of art and stands amongst the finest works created by man.
When one first views the fresco they immediately see the artistic merits associated with this work. To start out we view a well composed painting with a feeling of looking through a window at the subjects involved. The artist has taken great pains to portray the individuals in a realist aspect. Their faces show the burdens from all the death they have been viewing and that which is still to come. The lines are straight forward and provide no unexpected interruptions what so ever. Orcagna has taken the liberty to maintain his painting in a light and dark setting so as to enhance his efforts to create a deadly background. Often man associates dark colors with their final earthly act of dying. We can clearly see the shadows within the facial elements establishing vast numbers of stressful wrinkles as if they must do tasks which they would rather not do. His use of stout shapes for the frail bodies permits him to exaggerate in an effort to make his point consistent with his color selections. He employs a series of low-key, mixed shades saturated in skin tones. He has left little empty space in his images which directs our eyes to immediately be drawn towards the faces of the men displayed; the texture appears to be wrinkled as he so desired it to be.
The painting can best be described as Renaissance at its best. He has perhaps instilled within each of us the fear and emotional response that we too can and will at some future time depart this earth. The artist has done a splendid job of painting the people as well as the scenes involved in the complete fresco and the various elements of the painting’s surroundings such as the heavy rings being formed around the eyes or in another scene not shown where the devil drags an innocent person to hell. I feel he has successfully achieved his artistic goals.
Copyright @2011 Joseph Parish